Charon. Clotho. Hermes. Shades. Rhadamanthus. Tisiphone. Lamp. Bed
Cha. You see how it is, Clotho; here has all been ship-shape and ready for a start this long time; the hold baled out, the mast stepped, the sail hoisted, every oar in its rowlock; it is no fault of mine that we don’t weigh anchor and sail. ’Tis Hermes keeps us; he should have been here long ago. Not a passenger on board, as you may see; and we might have made the trip three times over by this. Evening is coming on now; and never a penny taken all day! I know how it will be: Pluto will think I have been wanting to my work. It is not I that am to blame, but our fine gentleman of a supercargo. He is just like any mortal: he has taken a drink of their Lethe up there, and forgotten to come back to us. He’ll be wrestling with the lads, or playing on his lyre, or giving his precious gift of the gab a good airing; or he’s off after plunder, the rascal, for what I know: ’tis all in the day’s work with him. He is getting too independent: he ought to remember that he belongs to us, one half of him.
Clo. Well, well, Charon; perhaps he has been busy: Zeus may have had some particular occasion for his services in the upper world; he has the use of him too, remember.
Cha. That doesn’t say that he should make use of him beyond what’s reasonable. Hermes is common property. We have never kept him here when he was due to go. No, I know what it is. In these parts of ours all is mist and gloom and darkness, and nothing to be had but asphodel and libations and sacrificial cakes and meats. Yonder in Heaven, all’s bright, with plenty of ambrosia, and no end of nectar. Small wonder that he likes to loiter there. When he leaves us, ’tis on wings; it is as though he escaped from prison. But when the time comes for return, he tramps it on foot, and has much ado to get here at all.
Clo. Well, never mind now; here he comes, look, and a fine host of passengers with him; a fine flock, rather; he hustles them along with his staff like so many goats. But what’s this? One of them is bound, and another enjoying the joke; and there is one with a wallet slung beside him, and a stick in his hand; a cantankerous-looking fellow; he keeps the rest moving. And just look at Hermes! Bathed in perspiration, and his feet covered with dust! See how he pants; he is quite out of breath. What is the matter, Hermes? Tell us all about it; you seem disturbed.
Her. The matter is that this rascal ran away; I had to go after him, and had well nigh played you false for this trip, I can tell you.
Clo. Why, who is he? What did he want to run away for?
Her. His motive is sufficiently clear: he had a preference for remaining alive. He is some king or tyrant, as I gather from his piteous allusions to blessedness no longer his.
Clo. And the fool actually tried to run away, and thought to prolong his life when the thread of Fate was exhausted?
Her. Tried! He would have got clean away, but for that capital fellow there with the club; he gave me a hand, and we caught and bound him. The whole way along, from the moment that Atropus handed him over to me, he dragged and hung back, and dug his heels into the ground: it was no easy work getting him along. Every now and then he would take to prayers and entreaties: Would I let him go just for a few minutes? he would make it worth my while. Of course I was not going to do that; it was out of the question. — Well, we had actually got to the very pit’s mouth, when somehow or other this double-dyed knave managed to slip off, whilst I was telling over the Shades to Aeacus, as usual, and he checking them by your sister’s invoice. The consequence was, we were one short of tally. Aeacus raised his eyebrows. ‘Hermes,’ he said, ‘everything in its right place: no larcenous work here, please. You play enough of those tricks in Heaven. We keep strict accounts here: nothing escapes us. The invoice says 1,004; there it is in black and white. You have brought me one short, unless you say that Atropus was too clever for you.’ I coloured up at that; and then all at once I remembered what had happened on the way, and when I looked round and this fellow was nowhere to be seen, I knew that he must have made off, and I set off after him along the road to the upper world, as fast as I could go. My worthy friend here volunteered for the service; so we made a race of it, and caught the runaway just as he got to Taenarum! It was a near thing.
Clo. There now, Charon! And we were beginning to accuse Hermes of neglect.
Cha. Well, and why are we waiting here, as if there had not been enough delay already?
Clo. True. Let them come aboard. I’ll to my post by the gangway, with my notebook, and take their names and countries as they come up, and details of their deaths; and you can stow them away as you get them. — Hermes, let us have those babies in first; I shall get nothing out of them.
Her. Here, skipper. Three hundred of them, including those that were exposed.
Cha. A precious haul, on my word!-These are but green grapes, Hermes.
Her. Who next, Clotho? The Unwept?
Clo. Ah! I take you. — Yes, up with the old fellows. I have no time today for prehistoric research. All over sixty, pass on! What’s the matter with them? They don’t hear me; they are deaf with age. I think you will have to pick them up, like the babies, and get them along that way.
Her. Here they are; fine well-matured fruit, gathered in due season; three hundred and ninety-eight of them.
Cha. Nay, nay; these are no better than raisins.
Clo. Bring up the wounded next, Hermes. Now I can get to work. Tell me how you were killed. Or no; I had better look at my notes, and call you over. Eighty-four due to be killed in battle yesterday, in Mysia, These to include Gobares, son of Oxyartes.
Clo. The seven who killed themselves for love. Also Theagenes, the philosopher, for love of the Megarian courtesan.
Her. Here they are, look.
Clo. And the rival claimants to thrones, who slew one another?
Clo. And the one murdered by his wife and her paramour?
Her. Straight in front of you.
Clo. Now the victims of the law — the cudgelled and the crucified. And where are those sixteen who were killed by robbers?
Her. Here; you may know them by their wounds. Am I to bring the women too?
Clo. Yes, certainly; and all who were shipwrecked; it is the same kind of death. And those who died of fever, bring them too, the doctor Agathocles and all. Then there was a Cynic philosopher, who was to have succumbed to a dinner with Dame Hecate, eked out with sacrificial eggs and a raw cuttlefish; where is he?
Cy. Here I stand this long time, my good Clotho. — Now what had I done to deserve such a weary spell of life? You gave me pretty nearly a spindleful of it. I often tried to cut the thread and away; but somehow it never would give.
Clo. I left you as a censor and physician of human frailties; pass on, and good luck to you.
Cy. No, by Zeus! First let us see our captive safe on board. Your judgement might be perverted by his entreaties.
Clo. Let me see; who is he?
Her. Megapenthes, son of Lacydes; tyrant.
Clo. Come up, Megapenthes.
Me. Nay, nay, my lady Clotho; suffer me to return for a little while, and I will come of my own accord, without waiting to be summoned.
Clo. What do you want to go for?
Me. I crave permission to complete my palace; I left the building half-finished.
Clo. Pooh! Come along.
Me. Oh Fate, I ask no long reprieve. Vouchsafe me this one day, that I may inform my wife where my great treasure lies buried.
Clo. Impossible. ’Tis Fate’s decree.
Me. And all that money is to be thrown away?
Clo. Not thrown away. Be under no uneasiness. Your cousin Megacles will take charge of it.
Me. Oh, monstrous! My enemy, whom from sheer good nature I omitted to put to death?
Clo. The same. He will survive you for rather more than forty years; in the full enjoyment of your harem, your wardrobe, and your treasure.
Me. It is too bad of you, Clotho, to hand over my property to my worst enemy.
Clo. My dear sir, it was Cydimachus’s property first, surely? You only succeeded to it by murdering him, and butchering his children before his eyes.
Me. Yes, but it was mine after that.
Clo. Well, and now your term of possession expires.
Me. A word in your ear, madam; no one else must hear this. — Sirs, withdraw for a space. — Clotho, if you will let me escape, I pledge myself to give you a quarter of a million sterling this very day.
Clo. Ha, ha! So your millions are still running in your head?
Me. Shall I throw in the two mixing-bowls that I got by the murder of Cleocritus? They weigh a couple of tons apiece; refined gold!
Clo. Drag him up. We shall never get him to come on board by himself.
Me. I call you all to witness! My city-wall, my docks, remain unfinished. I only wanted five days more to complete them.
Clo. Never mind. It will be another’s work now.
Me. Stay! One request I can make with a clear conscience.
Me. Suffer me only to complete the conquest of Persia; . . . and to impose tribute on Lydia; . . . and erect a colossal monument to myself, . . . and inscribe thereon the military achievements of my life. Then let me die.
Clo. Creature, this is no single day’s reprieve: you would want something like twenty years.
Me. Oh, but I am quite prepared to give security for my expeditious return. Nay, I could provide a substitute, if preferred — my well-beloved!
Clo. Wretch! How often have you prayed that he might survive you!
Me. That was a long time ago. Now — I see a better use for him.
Clo. But he is due to be here, shortly, let me tell you. He is to be put to death by the new sovereign.
Me. Well, Clotho, I hope you will not refuse my last request.
Clo. Which is?
Me. I should like to know how things will be, now that I am gone.
Clo. Certainly; you shall have that mortification. Your wife will pass into the hands of Midas, your slave; he has been her gallant for some time past.
Me. A curse on him! ’Twas at her request that I gave him his freedom.
Clo. Your daughter will take her place in the harem of the present monarch. Then all the old statues and portraits which the city set up in your honour will be overturned — to the entertainment, no doubt, of the spectators.
Me. And will no friend resent these doings?
Clo. Who was your friend? Who had any reason to be? Need I explain that the cringing courtiers who lauded your every word and deed were actuated either by hope or by fear — time-servers every man of them, with a keen eye to the main chance?
Me. And these are they whose feasts rang with my name! who, as they poured their libations, invoked every blessing on my head! Not one but would have died before me, could he have had his will; nay, they swore by no other name.
Clo. Yes; and you dined with one of them yesterday, and it cost you your life. It was that last cup you drank that brought you here.
Me. Ah, I noticed a bitter taste. — But what was his object?
Clo. Oh, you want to know too much. It is high time you came on board.
Me. Clotho, I had a particular reason for desiring one more glimpse of daylight. I have a burning grievance!
Clo. And what is that? Something of vast importance, I make no doubt.
Me. It is about my slave Carion. The moment he knew of my death, he came up to the room where I lay; it was late in the evening; he had plenty of time in front of him, for not a soul was watching by me; he brought with him my concubine Glycerium (an old affair, this, I suspect), closed the door, and proceeded to take his pleasure with her, as if no third person had been in the room! Having satisfied the demands of passion, he turned his attention to me. ‘You little villain,’ he cried, ‘many’s the flogging I’ve had from you, for no fault of mine!’ And as he spoke he plucked out my hair and smote me on the face. ‘Away with you,’ he cried finally, spitting on me, ‘away to the place of the damned!’— and so withdrew. I burned with resentment: but there I lay stark and cold, and could do nothing. That baggage Glycerium, too, hearing footsteps approaching, moistened her eyes and pretended she had been weeping for me; and withdrew sobbing, and repeating my name. — If I could but get hold of them —
Clo. Never mind what you would do to them, but come on board. The hour is at hand when you must appear before the tribunal.
Me. And who will presume to give his vote against a tyrant?
Clo. Against a tyrant, who indeed? Against a Shade, Rhadamanthus will take that liberty. He is strictly impartial, as you will presently observe, in adapting his sentences to the requirements of individual cases. And now, no more delay.
Me. Dread Fate, let me be some common man — some pauper! I have been a king — let me be a slave! Only let me live!
Clo. Where is the one with the stick? Hermes, you and he must drag him up feet foremost. He will never come up by himself.
Her. Come along, my runagate. Here you are, skipper. And I say, keep an eye —
Cha. Never fear. We’ll lash him to the mast.
Me. Look you, I must have the seat of honour.
Clo. And why exactly?
Me. Can you ask? Was I not a tyrant, with a guard of ten thousand men?
Cy. Oh, dullard! And you complain of Carion’s pulling your hair! Wait till you get a taste of this stick; you shall know what it is to be a tyrant.
Me. What, shall a Cynic dare to raise his staff against me? Sirrah, have you forgotten the other day, when I had all but nailed you to the cross, for letting that sharp censorious tongue of yours wag too freely?
Cynic. Well, and now it is your turn to be nailed — to the mast.
Mi. And what of me, mistress? Am I to be left out of the reckoning? Because I am poor, must I be the last to come aboard?
Clo. Who are you?
Mi. Micyllus the cobbler.
Clo. A cobbler, and cannot wait your turn? Look at the tyrant: see what bribes he offers us, only for a short reprieve. It is very strange that delay is not to your fancy too.
Mi. It is this way, my lady Fate. I find but cold comfort in that promise of the Cyclops: ‘Outis shall be eaten last,’ said he; but first or last, the same teeth are waiting. And then, it is not the same with me as with the rich. Our lives are what they call ‘diametrically opposed.’ This tyrant, now, was thought happy while he lived; he was feared and respected by all: he had his gold and his silver; his fine clothes and his horses and his banquets; his smart pages and his handsome ladies — and had to leave them all. No wonder if he was vexed, and felt the tug of parting. For I know not how it is, but these things are like birdlime: a man’s soul sticks to them, and will not easily come away; they have grown to be a part of him. Nay, ’tis as if men were bound in some chain that nothing can break; and when by sheer force they are dragged away, they cry out and beg for mercy. They are bold enough for aught else, but show them this same road to Hades, and they prove to be but cowards. They turn about, and must ever be looking back at what they have left behind them, far off though it be — like men that are sick for love. So it was with the fool yonder: as we came along, he was for running away; and now he tires you with his entreaties. As for me, I had no stake in life; lands and horses, money and goods, fame, statues — I had none of them; I could not have been in better trim: it needed but one nod from Atropus — I was busied about a boot at the time, but down I flung knife and leather with a will, jumped up, and never waited to get my shoes, or wash the blacking from my hands, but joined the procession there and then, ay, and headed it, looking ever forward; I had left nothing behind me that called for a backward glance. And, on my word, things begin to look well already. Equal rights for all, and no man better than his neighbour; that is hugely to my liking. And from what I can learn there is no collecting of debts in this country, and no taxes; better still, no shivering in winter, no sickness, no hard knocks from one’s betters. All is peace. The tables are turned: the laugh is with us poor men; it is the rich that make moan, and are ill at ease.
Clo. To be sure, I noticed that you were laughing, some time ago. What was it in particular that excited your mirth?
Mi. I’ll tell you, best of Goddesses. Being next door to a tyrant up there, I was all eyes for what went on in his house; and he seemed to me neither more nor less than a God. I saw the embroidered purple, the host of courtiers, the gold, the jewelled goblets, the couches with their feet of silver: and I thought, this is happiness. As for the sweet savour that arose when his dinner was getting ready, it was too much for me; such blessedness seemed more than human. And then his proud looks and stately walk and high carriage, striking admiration into all beholders! It seemed almost as if he must be handsomer than other men, and a good eighteen inches taller. But when he was dead, he made a queer figure, with all his finery gone; though I laughed more at myself than at him: there had I been worshipping mere scum on no better authority than the smell of roast meat, and reckoning happiness by the blood of Lacedaemonian sea-snails! There was Gniphon the usurer, too, bitterly reproaching himself for having died without ever knowing the taste of wealth, leaving all his money to his nearest relation and heir-at-law, the spendthrift Rhodochares, when he might have had the enjoyment of it himself.
When I saw him, I laughed as if I should never stop: to think of him as he used to be, pale, wizened, with a face full of care, his fingers the only rich part of him, for they had the talents to count — scraping the money together bit by bit, and all to be squandered in no time by that favourite of Fortune, Rhodochares! — But what are we waiting for now? There will be time enough on the voyage to enjoy their woebegone faces, and have our laugh out.
Clo. Come on board, and then the ferryman can haul up the anchor.
Cha. Now, now! What are you doing here? The boat is full. You wait till tomorrow. We can bring you across in the morning.
Mi. What right have you to leave me behind — a shade of twenty-four hours’ standing? I tell you what it is, I shall have you up before Rhadamanthus. A plague on it, she’s moving! And here I shall be left all by myself. Stay, though: why not swim across in their wake? No matter if I get tired; a dead man will scarcely be drowned. Not to mention that I have not a penny to pay my fare.
Clo. Micyllus! Stop! You must not come across that way; Heaven forbid!
Mi. Ha, ha! I shall get there first, and I shouldn’t wonder.
Clo. This will never do. We must get to him, and pick him up. . . . Hermes, give him a hand up.
Cha. And where is he to sit now he is here? We are full up, as you may see.
Her. What do you say to the tyrant’s shoulders?
Clo. A good idea that.
Cha. Up with you then; and make the rascal’s back ache. And now, good luck to our voyage!
Cy. Charon, I may as well tell you the plain truth at once. The penny for my fare is not forthcoming; I have nothing but my wallet, look, and this stick. But if you want a hand at baling, here I am; or I could take an oar; only give me a good stout one, and you shall have no fault to find with me.
Cha. To it, then; and I’ll ask no other payment of you.
Cy. Shall I tip them a stave?
Cha. To be sure, if you have a sea-song about you.
Cy. I have several. Look here though, an opposition is starting: a song of lamentation. It will throw me out.
Sh. Oh, my lands, my lands! — Ah, my money, my money! — Farewell, my fine palace! — The thousands that fellow will have to squander! — Ah, my helpless children! — To think of the vines I planted last year! Who, ah who, will pluck the grapes? ——
Her. Why, Micyllus, have you never an Oh or an Ah? It is quite improper that any shade should cross the stream, and make no moan.
Mi. Get along with you. What have I to do with Ohs and Ahs? I’m enjoying the trip!
Her. Still, just a groan or two. It’s expected.
Mi. Well, if I must, here goes. — Farewell, leather, farewell! Ah, Soles, old Soles! — Oh, ancient Boots! — Woe’s me! Never again shall I sit empty from morn till night; never again walk up and down, of a winter’s day, naked, unshod, with chattering teeth! My knife, my awl, will be another’s: whose, ah! whose?
Her. Yes, that will do. We are nearly there.
Cha. Wait a bit! Fares first, please. Your fare, Micyllus; every one else has paid; one penny.
Mi. You don’t expect to get a penny out of the poor cobbler? You’re joking, Charon; or else this is what they call a ‘castle in the air.’ I know not whether your penny is square or round.
Cha. A fine paying trip this, I must say! However — all ashore! I must fetch the horses, cows, dogs, and other livestock. Their turn comes now.
Clo. You can take charge of them for the rest of the way, Hermes. I am crossing again to see after the Chinamen, Indopatres and Heramithres. They have been fighting about boundaries, and have killed one another by this time.
Her. Come, shades, let us get on; — follow me, I mean, in single file.
Mi. Bless me, how dark it is! Where is handsome Megillus now? There would be no telling Simmiche from Phryne. All complexions are alike here, no question of beauty, greater or less. Why, the cloak I thought so shabby before passes muster here as well as royal purple; the darkness hides both alike. Cyniscus, whereabouts are you?
Cy. Use your ears; here I am. We might walk together. What do you say?
Mi. Very good; give me your hand. — I suppose you have been admitted to the mysteries at Eleusis? That must have been something like this, I should think?
Cy. Pretty much. Look, here comes a torch-bearer; a grim, forbidding dame. A Fury, perhaps?
Mi. She looks like it, certainly.
Her. Here they are, Tisiphone. One thousand and four.
Ti. It is time we had them. Rhadamanthus has been waiting.
Rhad. Bring them up, Tisiphone. Hermes, you call out their names as they are wanted.
Cy. Rhadamanthus, as you love your father Zeus, have me up first for examination.
Cy. There is a certain shade whose misdeeds on earth I am anxious to denounce. And if my evidence is to be worth anything, you must first be satisfied of my own character and conduct.
Rhad. Who are you?
Cy. Cyniscus, your worship; a student of philosophy.
Rhad. Come up for judgement; I will take you first. Hermes, summon the accusers.
Her. If any one has an accusation to bring against Cyniscus here present, let him come forward.
Cy. No one stirs!
Rhad. Ah, but that is not enough, my friend. Off with your clothes; I must have a look at your brands.
Cy. Brands? Where will you find them?
Rhad. Never yet did mortal man sin, but he carried about the secret record thereof, branded on his soul.
Cy. Well, here I am stripped. Now for the ‘brands.’
Rhad. Clean from head to heel, except three or four very faint marks, scarcely to be made out. Ah! what does this mean? Here is place after place that tells of the iron; all rubbed out apparently, or cut out. How do you explain this, Cyniscus? How did you get such a clean skin again?
Cy. Why, in old days, when I knew no better, I lived an evil life, and acquired thereby a number of brands. But from the day that I began to practise philosophy, little by little I washed out all the scars from my soul,-thanks to the efficiency of that admirable lotion.
Rhad. Off with you then to the Isles of the Blest, and the excellent company you will find there. But we must have your impeachment of the tyrant before you go. Next shade, Hermes!
Mi. Mine is a very small affair, too, Rhadamanthus; I shall not keep you long. I have been stripped all this time; so do take me next.
Rhad. And who may you be?
Mi. Micyllus the cobbler.
Rhad. Very well, Micyllus. As clean as clean could be; not a mark anywhere. You may join Cyniscus. Now the Tyrant.
Her. Megapenthes, son of Lacydes, wanted! Where are you off to? This way! You there, the Tyrant! Up with him, Tisiphone, neck and crop.
Rhad. Now, Cyniscus, your accusation and your proofs. Here is the party.
Cy. There is in fact no need of an accusation. You will very soon know the man by the marks upon him. My words however may serve to unveil him, and to show his character in a clearer light. With the conduct of this monster as a private citizen, I need not detain you. Surrounded with a bodyguard, and aided by unscrupulous accomplices, he rose against his native city, and established a lawless rule. The persons put to death by him without trial are to be counted by thousands, and it was the confiscation of their property that gave him his enormous wealth. Since then, there is no conceivable iniquity which he has not perpetrated. His hapless fellow-citizens have been subjected to every form of cruelty and insult. Virgins have been seduced, boys corrupted, the feelings of his subjects outraged in every possible way. His overweening pride, his insolent bearing towards all who had to do with him, were such as no doom of yours can adequately requite. A man might with more security have fixed his gaze upon the blazing sun, than upon yonder tyrant. As for the refined cruelty of his punishments, it baffles description; and not even his familiars were exempt. That this accusation has not been brought without sufficient grounds, you may easily satisfy yourself, by summoning the murderer’s victims. — Nay, they need no summons; see, they are here; they press round as though they would stifle him. Every man there, Rhadamanthus, fell a prey to his iniquitous designs. Some had attracted his attention by the beauty of their wives; others by their resentment at the forcible abduction of their children; others by their wealth; others again by their understanding, their moderation, and their unvarying disapproval of his conduct.
Rhad. Villain, what have you to say to this?
Me. I committed the murders referred to. As for the rest, the adulteries and corruptions and seductions, it is all a pack of lies.
Cy. I can bring witnesses to these points too, Rhadamanthus.
Rhad. Witnesses, eh?
Cy. Hermes, kindly summon his Lamp and Bed. They will appear in evidence, and state what they know of his conduct.
Her. Lamp and Bed of Megapenthes, come into court. Good, they respond to the summons.
Rhad. Now, tell us all you know about Megapenthes. Bed, you speak first.
Bed. All that Cyniscus said is true. But really, Mr. Rhadamanthus, I don’t quite like to speak about it; such strange things used to happen overhead.
Rhad. Why, your unwillingness to speak is the most telling evidence of all! — Lamp, now let us have yours.
Lamp. What went on in the daytime I never saw, not being there. As for his doings at night, the less said the better. I saw some very queer things, though, monstrous queer. Many is the time I have stopped taking oil on purpose, and tried to go out. But then he used to bring me close up. It was enough to give any lamp a bad character.
Rhad. Enough of verbal evidence. Now, just divest yourself of that purple, and we will see what you have in the way of brands. Goodness gracious, the man’s a positive network! Black and blue with them! Now, what punishment can we give him? A bath in Pyriphlegethon? The tender mercies of Cerberus, perhaps?
Cy. No, no. Allow me — I have a novel idea; something that will just suit him.
Rhad. Yes? I shall be obliged to you for a suggestion.
Cy. I fancy it is usual for departed spirits to take a draught of the water of Lethe?
Rhad. Just so.
Cy. Let him be the sole exception.
Rhad. What is the idea in that?
Cy. His earthly pomp and power for ever in his mind; his fingers ever busy on the tale of blissful items; —’tis a heavy sentence!
Rhad. True. Be this the tyrant’s doom. Place him in fetters at Tantalus’s side — never to forget the things of earth.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57