I have been guessing how you are likely to have expressed yourself upon reading my essay about dependants. I feel pretty sure you read it all and had a laugh over it; but it is your running and general comment in words that I am trying to piece on to it. If I am any good at divination, this is the sort of thing: To think that a man can set down such a scathing indictment of the life, and then forget it all, get hold of the other end of the stick, and plunge headlong into such manifest conspicuous slavery! Take Midas, Croesus, golden Pactolus, roll them into one, multiply them, and could they induce him to relinquish the freedom which he has loved and consorted with from a child? He is nearly in the clutches of Aeacus, one foot is on the ferryman’s boat, and it is now that he lets himself be dragged submissively about by a golden collar. 26 There is some slight inconsistency between his life and his treatise; the rivers are running up-hill; topsy-turvydom prevails; our recantations are new-fashioned; the first palinodist 27 mended words with words for Helen of Troy; but we spoil words (those words we thought so wise) with deeds.
Such, I imagine, were your inward remarks. And I dare say you will give me some overt advice to the same effect; well, it will not be ill-timed; it will illustrate your friendship, and do you credit as a good man and a philosopher. If I render your part respectably for you, that will do, and we will pay our homage to the God of words; 28 if I fail, you will fill in the deficiency for yourself. There, the stage is ready; I am to hold my tongue, and submit to any necessary carving and cauterizing for my good, and you are to plaster me, and have your scalpel handy, and your iron red-hot. Sabinus takes the word, and thus addresses me:
My dear friend, this treatise of yours has quite rightly been earning you a fine reputation, from its first delivery before the great audience I had described to me, to its private use by the educated who have consulted and thumbed it since. For indeed it presents the case meritoriously; there is study of detail and experience of life in abundance; your views are the reverse of vague; and above all the book is practically useful, chiefly but not exclusively to the educated whom it might save from an unforeseen slavery. However, your mind is changed; the life you described is now the better; good-bye to freedom; your motto is that contemptible line:
Give me but gain, I’ll turn from free to slave.
Let none hear the lecture from you again, then; see to it that no copy of it comes under the eyes of any one aware of your present life; ask Hermes to bring Lethe-water from below, enough to drug your former hearers; else you will remind us of the Corinthian tale, and your writing, like Bellerophon’s, be your own condemnation. I assure you I see no decent defence you can make, at least if your detractors have the humour to commend the independence of the writings while the writer is a slave and a voluntary beast of burden before their eyes.
They will say with some plausibility: Either the book is some other good man’s work, and you a jackdaw strutting in borrowed, plumes; or, if it is really yours, you are a second Salaethus; the Crotoniate legislator made most severe laws against adultery, was much looked up to on the strength of it, and was shortly after taken in adultery with his brother’s wife. You are an exact reproduction of Salaethus, they will say; or rather he was not half so bad as you, seeing that he was mastered by passion, as he pleaded in court, and moreover preferred to leap into the flames, like a brave man, when the Crotoniates were moved to compassion and gave him the alternative of exile. The difference between your precept and practice is infinitely more ridiculous; you draw a realistic word-picture of that servile life; you pour contempt on the man who runs into the trap of a rich man’s house, where a thousand degradations, half of them self-inflicted, await him; and then in extreme old age, when you are on the border between life and death, you take this miserable servitude upon you and make a sort of circus exhibition of your chains. The conspicuousness of your position will only make the more ridiculous that contrast between your book and your life.
But I need not beat my brains for phrases of reprobation; there is one good enough in a noble tragedy:
Wisdom begins at home; no wisdom, else.
And your censors will find no lack of illustrations against you; some will compare you to the tragic actor; on the stage he is Agamemnon or Creon or great Heracles; but off it, stripped of his mask, he is just Polus or Aristodemus, a hireling liable to be hissed off, or even whipped on occasion, at the pleasure of the audience. Others will say you have had the experience of Queen Cleopatra’s monkey: the docile creature used to dance in perfect form and time, and was much admired for the regularity and decorum of its movements, adapted to the voices and instruments of a bridal chorus; alas, one day it spied a fig or almond a little way off on the ground; flutes and measures and steps were all forgotten, the mask was far off in several pieces, and there was he chewing his find.
You, they will say, are the author (for ‘actor’ would understate the case) who has laid down the laws of noble conduct; and no sooner is the lump of figs presented than the monkey is revealed; your lips are the lips of a philosopher, and your heart is quite other; it is no injustice to say that those sentiments for which you claim admiration have ‘wetted your lips, and left your palate dry.’ You have not had to wait long for retribution; you spoke unadvisedly in scorn of human needs; and, this little while after, behold you making public renunciation of your freedom! Surely Nemesis was standing behind your back as you drank in the flattering tributes to your superiority; did she not smile in her divine fore-knowledge of the impending change, and mark how you forgot to propitiate her before you assailed the victims whom fortune’s mutability had reduced to such courses?
Now I want you to imagine a rhetorician writing on the theme that Aeschines, after his indictment of Timarchus, was himself proved guilty by eyewitnesses of similar iniquity; would, or would not, the amusement of the audience be heightened by the fact that he had got Timarchus punished for offences excused by youth, whereas he was himself an old man at the time of his own guilt? Why, you are like the quack who offered a cough-mixture which was to cure instantaneously, and could hardly get the promise out for coughing.
Yes, Sabinus, and there is plenty more of the same sort for an accuser like you to urge; the subject is all handles; you can take hold of it anywhere. I have been looking about for my best line of defence. Had I better turn craven, face right-about, confess my sin, and have recourse to the regular plea of Chance, Fate, Necessity? Shall I humbly beseech my critics to pardon me, remembering that nothing is in a man’s own choice — we are led by some stronger power, one of the three I mentioned, probably, and are not true agents but guiltless altogether, whatever we say or do? Or will you tell me this might do well enough for one of the common herd, but you cannot have me sheltering myself so? I must not brief Homer; it will not serve me to plead:
No mortal man e’er yet escaped his fate;
His thread was spun, then when his mother bare him.
On the other hand, I might avoid that plea as wanting in plausibility, and say that I did not accept this association under the temptation of money or any prospects of that kind, but in pure admiration of the wisdom, strength, and magnanimity of my patron’s character, which inspired the wish to partake his activity. But I fear I should only have brought on myself the additional imputation of flattery. It would be a case of ‘one nail drives out one nail,’ and this time the one left in would be the bigger; for flattery is the most servile, and consequently reckoned the worst, of all vices.
Both these pleas, then, being excluded, what is left me but to confess that I have no sound defence to make? I have indeed one anchor yet aboard: I may whine over age and ill health, and their attendant poverty, from which a man will purchase escape at any cost. The situation tempts me to send an invitation to Euripides’s Medea: will she come and recite certain lines of hers on my behalf, kindly making the slight changes needed? —
Too well I know how monstrous is the deed; My poverty, but not my will, consents.
And every one knows the place in Theognis, whether I quote it or not, where he approves of people’s flinging themselves to the unplumbed deep from sky-pointing crags, if one may be quit of poverty that way.
That about exhausts the obvious lines of defence; and none of them is very promising. But never fear, my friend, I am not going to try any of them. May never Argos be so hard put to it that Cyllarabis must be sown! nor ever I be in such straits for a tolerable defence as to be driven upon these evasions! No, I only ask you to consider the vast difference between being a hireling in a rich man’s house, where one is a slave, and must put up with all that is described in my book — between that and entering the public service, doing one’s best as an administrator, and taking the Emperor’s pay for it. Go fully into the matter; take the two things separately and have a good look at them; you will find that they are two octaves apart, as the musical people say; the two lives are about as like each other as lead is to silver, bronze to gold, an anemone to a rose, a monkey to a man; there is pay, and there is subordination, in each case; but the essence of the two things is utterly different. In one we have manifest slavery; the new-comers who accept the terms are barely distinguishable from the human chattels a man has bought or bred; but persons who have the management of public business, and give their services to states and nations, are not to have insinuations aimed at them just because they are paid; that single point of resemblance is not to level them down to the others. If that is to be the principle, we had better do away with all such offices at once; governors of whole provinces, prefects of cities, commanders of legions and armies, will all fall under the same condemnation; for they are paid. But of course everything is not to be upset to suit a single case; all who receive pay are not to be lumped together.
It is all a mistake; I never said that all drawers of salaries lived a degraded life; I only pitied those domestic slaves who have been caught by compliments on their culture. My position, you see, is entirely different; my private relations are as they were before, though in a public capacity I am now an active part of the great Imperial machine. If you care to inquire, you will find that my charge is not the least important in the government of Egypt. I control the cause-list, see that trials are properly conducted, keep a record of all proceedings and pleas, exercise censorship over forensic oratory, and edit the Emperor’s rescripts with a view to their official and permanent preservation in the most lucid, accurate, and genuine form. My salary comes from no private person, but from the Emperor; and it is considerable, amounting to many hundreds. In the future too there is before me the brilliant prospect of attaining in due course to a governorship or other distinguished employment.
Accordingly I am now going to throw off reserve, come to grips with the charge against me, and prove my case a fortiori. I tell you that nobody does anything for nothing; you may point to people in high places — as high as you like; the Emperor himself is paid. I am not referring to the taxes and tribute which flow in annually from subjects; the chief item in the Emperor’s pay is panegyrics, world-wide fame, and grateful devotion; the statues, temples, and consecrated ground which their subjects bestow upon them, what are these but pay for the care and forethought which they apply to public policy and improvements? To compare small things with great, if you will begin at the top of the heap and work down through the grains of which it is composed, you will find that we inferior ones differ from the superior in point of size, but all are wage-earners together.
If the law I laid down had been that no one should do anything, I might fairly have been accused of transgressing it; but as my book contains nothing of the sort, and as goodness consists in doing good, what better use can you make of yourself than if you join forces with your friends in the cause of progress, come out into the open, and let men see that you are loyal and zealous and careful of your trust, not what Homer calls a vain cumberer of the earth?
But before all, my critics are to remember that in me they will be criticizing not a wise man (if indeed there is such a person on earth), but one of the common people, one who has indeed practised rhetoric and won some little reputation therein, but has never been trained up to the perfect virtue of the really great. Well, I may surely be forgiven for that; if any one ever did come up to the ideal of the wise man, it has not been my fortune to meet him. And I confess further that I should be disappointed if I found you criticizing my present life; you knew me long ago when I was making a handsome income out of the public profession of rhetoric; for on that Atlantic tour of yours which included Gaul, you found me numbered among those teachers who could command high fees. Now, my friend, you have my defence; I am exceedingly busy, but could not be indifferent to securing your vote of acquittal; as for others, let them all denounce me with one voice if they will; on them I shall waste no more words than, What cares Hippoclides?
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52