Ly. Said I not well? More easily shall a corpse lie mouldering in the sun, and the vulture mark it not, than any strange sight escape Timolaus, no matter though he must run all the way to Corinth at a stretch for it. — Indefatigable sightseer!
Ti. Well, Lycinus, what do you expect? One has nothing to do, and just then one hears that a great monster of an Egyptian corn-ship has put in to Piraeus. What is more, I believe you and Samippus came down on precisely the same errand.
Ly. So we did, so we did, and Adimantus with us; only he has got lost somewhere in the crowd of spectators. We came all together to the ship; and going on board you were in front, Samippus, if I remember, and Adimantus next, and I was behind, hanging on to him for dear life; he gave me a hand all up the gangway, because I had never taken my shoes off, and he had; but I saw no more of him after that, either on board or when we came ashore.
Sa. You see when it was we lost him, Lycinus? It must have been when that nice-looking boy came up from the hold, you know, with the beautiful clean linen, and his hair parted in the middle and done up in a knot behind. If I know anything of Adimantus, he no sooner saw that charming sight, than he said good-bye to the Egyptian ship-wright who was showing us round; and now stands urging his tearful suit. You know; his way; tears come natural to him in these affairs of the heart.
Ly. Well, but, Samippus, this boy was nothing great, that he should make such a conquest; Adimantus has the beauties of Athens at his beck; nice gentlemanly boys, with good Greek, on their tongues, and the mark of the gymnasium on every muscle; a man may languish under their rigours with some credit. As for this fellow, to say nothing of his dark skin, and protruding lips, and spindle shanks, his words came tumbling out in a heap, one on the top of another; it was Greek, of course, but the voice, the accent were Egyptian born. And then his hair: no freeman ever had his hair tied up in a knot behind like that.
Ti. Oh, but that is a sign of noble birth in Egypt, Lycinus. All gentlemen’s sons wear their hair done up till they reach manhood. It was the other way with our ancestors: the topknot, and the golden grasshopper to keep it together, were the proper thing for old men in their time.
Sa. Very much to the point, Timolaus; you allude to the remarks in Thucydides’s preface, about our old luxurious habits, as preserved in the Asiatic colonies
Ly. Of course! I remember now where it was we lost Adimantus. It was when we were standing all that time looking up at the mast, counting the layers of hides, and watching that marvellous fellow going up the shrouds, and running along the yards, perfectly comfortable, with just a hand on the yard-tackling.
Sa. So it was. Well, now what are we to do? Shall we wait for him here, or do you think I had better go back on board?
Ti. No, no, let us walk on; he has probably gone tearing off home, not being able to find us. Anyhow, he knows the way; he will never get lost for want of us to take care of him.
Ly. It is rather a shame, perhaps, to go off and leave one’s friend to shift for himself. However, I agree, if Samippus does.
Sa. Certainly I do. We may find the gymnasium open still. — I say, though, what a size that ship was! 180 feet long, the man said, and something over a quarter of that in width; and from deck to keel, the maximum depth, through the hold, 44 feet. And then the height of the mast, with its huge yard; and what a forestay it takes to hold it! And the lofty stern with its gradual curve, and its gilded beak, balanced at the other end by the long rising sweep of the prow, and the figures of her name-goddess, Isis, on either side. As to the other ornamental details, the paintings and the scarlet topsail, I was more struck by the anchors, and the capstans and windlasses, and the stern cabins. The crew was like a small army. And they were saying she carried as much corn as would feed every soul in Attica for a year. And all depends for its safety on one little old atomy of a man, who controls that great rudder with a mere broomstick of a tiller! He was pointed out to me; Heron was his name, I think; a woolly-pated fellow, half-bald.
Ti. He is a wonderful hand at it, so the crew say; a very Proteus in sea-cunning. Did they tell you how he brought them here, and all their adventures? how they were saved by a star?
Ly. No; you can tell us about that now.
Ti. I had it from the master, a nice intelligent fellow to talk to. They set sail with a moderate wind from Pharus, and sighted Acamas on the seventh day. Then a west wind got up, and they were carried as far east as Sidon. On their way thence they came in for a heavy gale, and the tenth day brought them through the Straits to the Chelidon Isles; and there they very nearly went to the bottom. I have sailed past the Chelidons myself, and I know the sort of seas you get there, especially if the wind is SW. by S.; it is just there, of course, that the division takes place between the Lycian and Pamphylian waters; and the surge caused by the numerous currents gets broken at the headland, whose rocks have been sharpened by the action of the water till they are like razors; the result is a stupendous crash of waters, the waves often rising to the very top of the crags. This was the kind of thing they found themselves in for, according to the master — and on a pitch dark night! However, the Gods were moved by their distress, and showed them a fire that enabled them to identify the Lycian coast; and a bright star — either Castor or Pollux — appeared at the masthead, and guided the ship into the open sea on their left; just in time, for she was making straight for the cliff. Having once lost their proper course, they sailed on through the Aegean, bearing up against the Etesian winds, until they came to anchor in Piraeus yesterday, being the seventieth day of the voyage; you see how far they had been carried out of their way; whereas if they had taken Crete on their right, they would have doubled Malea, and been at Rome by this time.
Ly. A pretty pilot this Heron, and no mistake, to get so far out in his reckoning; a man after Nereus’s heart! — But look! that is surely Adimantus?
Ti. Adimantus it is. Let us hail him. Adimantus! . . . Son of Strombichus! . . . of the deme of Myrrhinus! He must be offended with us, or else he is deaf; it is certainly he.
Ly. I can make him out quite clearly now; his cloak, his walk, his cropped head. Let us mend our pace, and catch him up. — We shall have to pull you by the cloak, and compel you to turn round, Adimantus; you will take no notice of our shouts. You seem like one rapt in contemplation; you are pondering on matters of no light import?
Ad. Oh, it is nothing serious. An idle fancy, that came to me as I walked, and engrossed my attention, so that I never heard you.
Ly. And the fancy? Tell us without reserve, unless it is a very delicate matter. And even if it is, you know, we have all been through the Mysteries; we can keep a secret.
Ad. No, I had rather not tell you; you would think it so childish.
Ly. Can it be a love affair? Speak on; those mysteries too are not unknown to us; we have been initiated in full torchlight.
Ad. Oh dear, no; nothing of that kind. — No; I was making myself an imaginary present of a fortune — that ‘vain, deluding joy,’ as it has been called; I had just reached the pinnacle of luxury and affluence when you arrived.
Ly. Then all I have to say is, ‘Halves!’ Come, out with your wealth! We are Adimantus’s friends: let us share his superfluities.
Ad. Well, I lost sight of you at once on the ship — the moment I had got you safely up, Lycinus. I was measuring the thickness of the anchor, and you disappeared somewhere. However, I went on and saw everything, and then I asked one of the sailors how much the vessel brought in to her owner in an average year. Three thousand pounds, he said, was the lowest reckoning. So afterwards, on the way back, I was thinking: Suppose some God took it into his head to make me a present of that ship; what a glorious life I should have of it, and my friends too! Sometimes I could make the trip myself, at other times I could send my men. On the strength of that three thousand, I had already built myself a house, nicely situated just above the Poecile — I would have nothing more to say to my ancestral abode on the banks of the Ilissus — and was in treaty for my wardrobe and slaves and chariots and stable. And now behold me on board, the envy of every passenger, and the terror of my I crew, who regarded me as next thing to a king; I was getting matters shipshape, and taking a last look at the port in the distance, when up comes Lycinus, capsizes the vessel, just as she is scudding before a wishing wind, and sends all my wealth to the bottom.
Ly. Well, you are a man of spirit: lay hands on me, and away with me to the governor, for the buccaneer that I am. A flagrant case of piracy; on the high roads, too, between Athens and Piraeus. Stay, though; perhaps we can compound the matter. What do you say to five ships, larger and finer ones than your Egyptian; above all, warranted not to sink? — each to bring you, shall we say, five cargoes of corn per annum? Though I foresee that you will be the most unbearable of shipowners when you have got them. The possession of this one made you deaf to our salutations; give you five more — three-masters all of them, and imperishable — and the result is obvious: you will not know your friends when you see them. And so, good voyage to your worship; we will establish ourselves at Piraeus, and question all who land from Egypt or Italy, as to whether they came across Adimantus’s great ship, the Isis, anywhere.
Ad. There now; that was why I refused to tell you about it at first; I knew you would make a jest and a laughing-stock of my Wish. So now I shall stop here till you have got on ahead, and then I shall go another voyage on my ship. I like talking to my sailors much better than being jeered at by you.
Ly. That will never do. We shall hang about, and go on board too.
Ad. I shall go on first, and haul up the gangway.
Ly. Then we shall swim across and board you. You seem to think there will be no difficulty about your acquiring these great ships without building them or paying for them; why should not we obtain from the Gods the privilege of swimming for an indefinite distance without getting tired? You made no objection to our company the other day, you know, when we all went across together to Aegina, to see the rites of Hecate, in that tiny little boat, at sixpence a head; and now you are furious at the idea of our going on board with you; you go on ahead, and haul up the gangway. You forget yourself, my Shipowner; you wax fat and kick; you withhold from Nemesis her due. See what comes of houses in fashionable quarters, and great retinues. Well, please remember to bring us back some of those exquisite smoked fish from the Nile, or some myrrh from Canopus, or an ibis from Memphis; — I suppose you would scarcely have room for a pyramid?
Ti. That is enough, Lycinus. Spare his blushes. You have quite swamped his ship; she is laughter-logged, and can weather it no longer. Now, we have still some distance before us; let us break it up into four parts, and each have so many furlongs, in which he may demand of the Gods what he will. This will lighten our journey, and amuse us into the bargain; we shall revel in a delightful waking dream of unlimited prosperity; for each of us will have full control of his own Wish, and it will be understood that the Gods must grant everything, however impracticable. Above all, it will give us an idea who would make the best use of the supposed wealth; we shall see what kind of a man it would have made of him.
Sa. A good idea. I am your man; I undertake to wish when my turn comes. We need not ask Adimantus whether he agrees; he has one foot on board already. We must have Lycinus’s sanction, however.
Ly. Why, let us to our wealth, if so it must be. Where all is prosperity, I would not be thought to cast an evil eye.
Ad. Who begins?
Ly. You; and then Samippus, and then Timolaus. I shall only want the last hundred yards or so before the Gate for mine, and a quick hundred, too.
Ad. Well, I stick to my ship still; only I shall wish some more things, as it is allowed. May the God of Luck say Yes to all! I will have the ship, and everything in her; the cargo, the merchants, the women, the sailors, and anything else that is particularly nice to have.
Sa. You forget one thing you have on board —
Ad. Oh, the boy with the hair; yes, him too. And instead of the present cargo of wheat, I will have the same bulk of coined gold, all sovereigns.
Ly. Hullo! The ship will sink. Wheat and gold to the same bulk are not of the same weight.
Ad. Now, don’t make envious remarks. When your turn comes, you can have the whole of Fames turned into a mass of gold if you like, and I shall say nothing.
Ly. Oh, I was only thinking of your safety. I don’t want all hands to go down with the golden cargo. It would not matter so much about us, but the poor boy would be drowned; he can’t swim.
Ti. Oh, that will be all right. The dolphins will pick him up and get him to shore. Shall a paltry musician be rescued by them for a song’s sake, a lifeless Melicertes be carried on their backs to the Isthmus, and Adimantus’s latest purchase find never an amorous dolphin at his need?
Ad. Timolaus, you are just as bad as Lycinus, with your superfluous sneers. You ought to know better; it was all your idea.
Ti. You should make it more plausible. Find a treasure under your bed; that would save unloading the gold, and getting it up to town.
Ad. Oh yes! It shall be dug up from under the Hermes in our court; a thousand bushels of coined gold. Well; my first thought has been for a handsome house — ‘the homestead first and chiefest,’ says Hesiod; and my purchases in the neighbourhood are now complete; there remains my property at Delphi, and the sea-front at Eleusis; and a little something at the Isthmus (I might want to stop there for the games); and the plain of Sicyon; and in short every scrap of land in the country where there is nice shade, or a good stream, or fine fruit; I reserve them all. We will eat off gold plate; and our cups shall weigh 100 lb. apiece; I will have none of the flimsy ware that appears on Echecrates’s table.
Ly. I dare say! And how is your cupbearer going to hand you a thing of that weight, when he has filled it? And how will you like taking it from him? It would tax the muscles of a Sisyphus, let alone a cupbearer’s .
Ad. Oh, don’t keep on picking holes in my Wish. I shall have tables and couches of solid gold, if I like; and servants too, if you say another word.
Ly. Well, take care, or you will be like Midas, with nothing but gold to eat and drink; and die of a right royal hunger, a martyr to superabundance.
Ad. Your turn will come presently, Lycinus, and then you can be as realistic as you like. To proceed: I must have purple raiment, and every luxury, and sleep as late as I like; with friends to come and pay court to me, and every one bowing down to the ground; and they will all have to wait about at my doors from early morning — the great Cleaenetus and Democritus among them; oh yes, and when they come and try to get in before every one else, seven great foreign giants of porters shall slam the door in their faces, just as theirs do now. And as soon as I feel inclined, I shall peep out like the rising sun, and some of that set I shall simply ignore; but if there is some poor man there, like me before I got the treasure, I shall have a kind word for him: ‘You must come and have dinner with me, after your bath; you know my hour.’ The great men will all choke with envy when they see my chariots and horses, and my handsome slaves — two thousand choice ones, of all ages. Well, so the dinner service is to be of gold — no silver for me, it is much too cheap — and I shall have smoked fish from Spain; wine from Italy; oil from Spain again; our own honey, but it must be clarified without heat; delicacies from all quarters; wild boars; hares; all sorts of birds, pheasants, Indian peacocks, Numidian capons; and special cooks for everything, artists in sauce and seasoning. And when I call for a beaker or goblet to pledge any one, he shall take it home with him. As to the people who now pass for rich, they, I need not say, will be paupers to me. Dionicus will give up displaying his silver plate and cup in processions, when he sees that my slaves eat off nothing but silver. I should set apart something for the public service, too; a monthly distribution of £4 a head to citizens, and half that to foreigners; and the most beautiful theatres and baths you can imagine; and the sea should be brought along a great canal up to the Double Gates, and there would be a harbour close by, so that my ship could be seen lying at anchor from the Ceramicus. And of you who are my friends, Samippus should have twenty bushels of coined gold paid out to him by my steward; Timolaus, five quarts; and Lycinus one quart, strict measure, because he talks too much, and sneers at my Wish. That is how I would live; revelling in every luxury without stint, superlatively rich. I have done. Hermes bring it all to pass!
Ly. Have you realized on what a slender thread all this wealth depends? Once let that break, and all is gone; your treasure is but dust and ashes.
Ad. How so?
Ly. Why, it is not clear how long this life of affluence is to last. Who knows? You may be sitting one day at your solid gold table, just putting out your hand for a slice of that peacock or capon, when, at that very moment, off flies animula vagula, and Adimantus after her, leaving his all a prey to crows and vultures. Need I enumerate instances? There have been rich men who have died before they knew what it was to be rich; others have lived to be robbed of their possessions by some malign spirit who waits upon wealth. The cases of Croesus and Polycrates are familiar to you. Their riches were greater far than yours; yet at one stroke they lost all. But leaving them out of the case, do you consider that you have good security for the continuance of your health? Look at the number of rich men whose lives are made miserable by their infirmities: some are crippled, others are blind, others have internal diseases. Say what you will, I am sure that for double your wealth you would not consent to be a weakling like rich Phanomachus; not to mention the artful designs, the robberies, the envy, and the unpopularity that are inseparable from wealth. See what troubles your treasure will land you in!
Ad. You are always against me, Lycinus. I shall cancel your quart now, for this last piece of spite.
Ly. That is so like a rich man, to draw back and break his promise; a good beginning! Now, Samippus, it is your turn to wish.
Sa. Well, I am a landsman; I come from Mantinea, you know, in Arcadia; so I shall not ask for a ship; I could make no show with that in my country. Nor will I insult the generosity of the Gods by asking for so much gold down. I understand there is no boon so great, but their power and Timolaus’s law can compass it; we are to wish away without ceremony, he says — they will refuse us nothing. Well then, I wish to be a king. But I will not succeed to a hereditary throne, like Alexander of Macedon, Ptolemy, Mithridates and the rest of them. No, I will begin as a brigand, in a troop of thirty or so, brisk companions ready at need. Then little by little we shall grow to be 300; then 1,000, and presently 10,000; and at last we shall total 50,000 heavy-armed, and 5,000 horse. I shall be elected their chieftain by general consent, having shown myself to be the best qualified for the command and conduct of their affairs. Already, you see, I have the advantage of ordinary kings: I am elected to the command on my own merits; I am no hereditary monarch, reaping the fruits of my predecessor’s labours. That would be like Adimantus, with his treasure; but there is much more satisfaction in knowing that your power is the work of your own hands.
Ly. Now really, this is a Wish, and no mistake; the very acme of blessedness; to be commander of that vast company, chosen on your own merits by 50,000 men! A genius, a master! of strategy and king-craft has been quietly growing up in Mantinea, and we not a whit the wiser! But I interrupt. Proceed, O King, at the head of your troops; dispose your forces, infantry and cavalry. Whither, I wonder, goes this mighty host, issuing from Arcadia? Who are to be the first victims?
Sa. I’ll tell you; or you can come with us, if you like. I will put you in command of the cavalry.
Ly. Why, as to that, your Majesty, I am much beholden to you for the honour; accept my most oriental prostrations; and manuflexions. But, with all respect to your diadem, and the perpendicularity of your tiara, you would do well to take one of these stout fellows instead. I am sadly deficient in horsemanship; indeed, I was never on a horse in my life. I am afraid that when the trumpet sounded to advance, I might fall off, and be trampled, in the general confusion, under some of those numerous hoofs. Or again, my spirited charger might get the bit between his teeth, and carry me right into the midst of the enemy. If I am to remain in possession of saddle and bridle, I shall have to be tied on.
Ad. All right, Samippus, I will command the cavalry; Lycinus can have the right wing. I have the first claim on you, after all those bushels of sovereigns.
Sa. Let us see what my troopers think of you for a leader. All in favour of Adimantus, hold up their hands.
Ad. All hands go up, look.
Sa. You command the cavalry, then, and Lycinus the right wing. Timolaus will have the left wing. I am in the centre, like the Persian monarchs when they take the field in person. Well; after due observance paid to Zeus, king of kings, we advance along the hill-road to Corinth. Greece being now subjugated (for no resistance will be offered to our enormous host, we shall merely walk over), we get our troops on to the galleys, and the horses on to the transports (arrangements having been made at Cenchreae for the requisite number of vessels, with adequate provision and so on), cross the Aegean, and land in Ionia. Here we sacrifice to Artemis, and finding the various cities unfortified, take easy possession of them, put in governors, and march on in the direction of Syria. On the way we pass through Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, the mountains and sea-board of Cilicia, and so at last reach the Euphrates.
Ly. If your Majesty has no objection, I will stay behind and be Pacha of Greece. I am a poor-spirited fellow; to go all that way from home is not to my liking at all. You evidently meditate an attack upon the Parthians and Armenians, warlike folk, and unerring shots. Let some one else have the right wing, and let me play Antipater here at home. Some arrow, from the walls of Susa or Bactra, might find a chink in my armour, and let daylight through me; and there would be a melancholy end of my strategic career.
Sa. Oh coward, to desert your post! The penalty for that is decapitation. — We are now at the Euphrates, and have thrown our bridge across. All is secured in our rear by the subordinates whom I have placed in charge of the various districts; officers have also been dispatched for the reduction of Phoenicia and Palestine, and, subsequently, of Egypt. Now, Lycinus, you cross first, with the right wing; I next, and Timolaus after me. Last comes Adimantus with the cavalry. We have now crossed Mesopotamia, and no enemy has yet shown himself; town after town has voluntarily given itself up; we reach Babylon; we enter its gates without warning, and the city is ours. The Persian king meanwhile is at Ctesiphon. He hears of our approach and withdraws to Seleucia, where he proceeds to muster his full strength of cavalry, bowmen, and slingers. Our scouts report that the force already collected numbers something like a million, including two hundred thousand mounted bowmen; and the Armenian, Caspian, and Bactrian contingents are still to come; only the neighbouring districts, the suburbs, as it were, of the empire, have contributed as yet. With such ease does the Persian monarch raise a million of men! It is now time for us to think what we are to do next.
Ad. Well, I say that you should all march for Ctesiphon, leaving me to secure Babylon with the cavalry.
Sa. Are you going to show the white feather too, Adimantus, now that the danger is near? — Timolaus, what is your advice?
Ti. We must march upon the enemy in full force, before they have had time to strengthen their hands with the reinforcements that are pouring in from all quarters; let us engage them whilst they are still making their several ways to Seleucia.
Sa. There is something in that. What do you recommend, Lycinus?
Ly Well, we have all been on our legs till we are tired out; there was the early walk down, and we must be a good three miles now on the way home; and the sun is extremely powerful — it is just about noon: how would it be to sit down for a bit on that ruined column under the olive trees, till we are sufficiently restored to complete the journey?
Sa. O sancta simplicitas! Did you think that you were at Athens all this time? You are in the plain before Babylon, in a great camp — engaged in a council of war.
Ly. Why, so I am. I forgot; we are drunk, of course; it is against rules to talk sense.
Sa. Well, now, please, to the attack. Bear yourselves gallantly in this hour of danger: be not less than Greeks. See, the enemy are upon us. Our watchword is ‘Lord of Battles.’ The moment the trumpet sounds, raise the war-cry, clash spear upon shield, and lose no time in coming to close quarters, out of danger of their arrows; otherwise the bowmen will give us a warm reception. No sooner do we get to work than Timolaus with his left wing routs their right; in the centre the conflict is even; for I have the native Persian troops against me, and the king is in their midst. The whole strength of their cavalry bears down upon our right wing; play the man, therefore, Lycinus; and encourage your troops to receive the charge.
Ly. Just my luck! Every single trooper of them is making straight for me, as if I were the only foeman worthy of their steel. If they go on like this, I think I shall have to turn tail and make for the gymnasium, and leave you to fight it out.
Sa. Nonsense; you have almost beaten them already. Now, observe, the king challenges me to single combat; honour forbids that I should draw back; I accordingly engage him.
Ly. To be sure; and are promptly wounded. No king should omit to receive a wound, when empire is at stake.
Sa. Well, yes; I do get just a scratch; it is well out of sight, however, so the scar will be no disfigurement. On the other hand, observe the fury of my charge: I send my spear through horse and rider at one stroke; cut off the royal head; remove the diadem therefrom, and am saluted as king with universal prostrations. That applies only to the barbarians; from you who are Greeks I shall have merely the usual title of commander-in-chief. You may imagine the rest: the Samippopolises I shall found, the cities I shall storm and destroy for slighting my supremacy. The wealthy Cydias will come in for the largest share of my attention; I have not forgotten his gradual encroachments on my property, in the days when we were neighbours.
Ly. Stop there, Samippus; after such a victory, it is high time you retired to Babylon, to keep festival. Three-quarters of a mile is your allowance of dominion, as I reckon it. Timolaus now selects his wish.
Sa. Well, tell me what you think of mine?
Ly. It seems to me, most sapient monarch, to involve considerably more trouble and annoyance than that of Adimantus. While he lives luxuriously, and hands about gold cups — hundred-pounders — to his guests, you are sustaining wounds in single combat. From morning till night, all is worry and anxiety with you. You have not only the public enemies to fear: there are the numberless conspiracies, the envy and hatred of your courtiers; you have flatterers enough, but not one friend; their seeming goodwill is the work of fear or ambition. As to enjoyment, you can never dream of such a thing. You have to content yourself with glory and gold embroidery and purple; with the victor’s garland, and the king’s bodyguard; beyond these there is nothing but intolerable toil and continual discomfort. You are either negotiating with ambassadors, or judging cases, or issuing mandates to your subjects. Here a tribe revolts: there an enemy invades. All is fear and suspicion. The world may think you happy; but you know better. And surely it is a very humiliating circumstance that you should be apt to fall ill, just like ordinary people? Fevers seem not to understand that you are a king; nor does Death stand in any awe of your bodyguard; when the fancy takes him, he comes, and carries you off lamenting; what cares he for the diadem? Fallen from your high estate, dragged from your kingly throne, you go the same road as the rest of us; there is no ‘benefit of royalty’ among the timid flock of shades. You leave behind you upon earth some massive tomb, some stately column, some pyramid of noble outline; but it will be too late then for vanity to enjoy these things; and the statues and temples, the offerings of obsequious cities, nay, your great name itself, all will presently decay, and vanish, and be of no further account. Take it at the best; let all endure for ages: what will it profit your senseless clay? And it is for this that you are to live uneasy days, ever scheming, fearing, toiling! — Timolaus, the wish is with you. We shall expect better things from your judgement and experience.
Ti. See if you can find anything questionable or reprehensible in what I propose. As to treasure-heaps and bushels of coin, I will have none of them; nor monarchy, with the wars and terrors it involves. You rightly censured such things, precarious as they are, exposed to endless machinations, and bringing with them more vexation than pleasure. No; my wish is that Hermes should appear and present me with certain rings. possessed of certain powers. One should ensure its wearer continual health and strength, invulnerability, insensibility to pain. Another, like that of Gyges, should make me invisible. A third should give me the strength to pick up with ease a weight that ten thousand men could barely move. Then I must be able to fly to any height above the earth; a ring for that, Again, I shall want to be able to put people to sleep upon occasion and at my approach all doors must immediately fly open; all bolts yield, all bars withdraw. One ring may secure these points. There remains yet one, the most precious of them all; for with it on my finger I am the desire of every woman and boy, ay, of whole nations; not one escapes me; I am in all hearts, on all tongues. Women will hang themselves for the vehemence of their passion, boys will go mad. Happy will those few be reckoned on whom I cast a glance; and those whom I scorn will pine away for grief. Hyacinth, Hylas, Phaon, will sink into insignificance beside me. And all this I hold on no brief tenure; the limitations of human life are not for me. I shall live a thousand years, ever renewing my youth, and casting off the slough of old age every time I get to seventeen. — With these rings I shall lack nothing. All that is another’s is mine: for can I not open his doors, put his guards to sleep, and walk in unperceived? Instead of sending to India or to the Hyperboreans for their curiosities, their treasures, their wines or their delicacies, I can fly thither myself, and take my fill of all. The phoenix of India, the griffin, that winged monster, are sights unknown to others: I shall see them. I alone shall know the sources of the Nile, the lands that are uninhabited, the Antipodes, if such there be, dwelling on the other side of the earth. Nay, I may learn the nature of the stars, the moon, the sun itself; for fire cannot harm me. And think of the joy of announcing the Olympian victor’s name in Babylon, on the day of the contest! or of having one’s breakfast in Syria, and one’s dinner in Italy! Had I an enemy, I could be even with him, thanks to my invisibility, by cracking his skull with a rock; my friends, on the other hand, I might subsidize with showers of gold as they lay asleep. Have we some overweening tyrant, who insults us with his wealth? I carry him off a couple of miles or so, and drop him over the nearest precipice. I could enjoy the company of my beloved without let or hindrance, going secretly in after I had put every one else in the house to sleep. What a thing it would be to hover overhead, out of range, and watch contending armies! If I liked, I could take the part of the vanquished, send their conquerors to sleep, rally the fugitives and give them the victory. In short, the affairs of humanity would be my diversion; all things would be in my power; mankind would account me a God. Here is the perfection of happiness, secure and indestructible, backed as it is by health and longevity. What faults have you to find, Lycinus?
Ly. None; it is not safe to thwart a man who has wings, and the strength of ten thousand. I have only one question to ask. Did you ever, among all the nations you passed in your flight, meet with a similar case of mental aberration? a man of mature years riding about on a finger-ring, moving whole mountains with a touch; bald and snub-nosed, yet the desire of all eyes? Ah, there was another point. What is to prevent one single ring from doing all the work? Why go about with your left hand loaded — a ring to every finger? nay, they overflow; the right hand must be forced into the service. And you have left out the most important ring of all, the one to stop your drivelling at this absurd rate. Perhaps you consider that a stiffish dose of hellebore would serve the turn?
Ti. Now, positively, Lycinus, you must have a try yourself. You find fault with everybody else; this time we should like to hear your version of a really unexceptionable wish.
Ly. What do I want with a wish? Here we are at the gates. What with the valiant Samippus’s single combat at Babylon, and your breakfasts in Syria and dinners in Italy, you have used up my ground between you; and you are heartily welcome. I have no fancy for a short-lived visionary wealth, with the humiliating sequel of barley-bread and no butter. That will be your fate presently. Your bliss and your wealth will take wings; you will wake from your charming dreams of treasure and diadems, to find that your domestic arrangements are of quite another kind, like the actors who take the king’s part in tragedies; — their late majesties King Agamemnon and King Creon usually return to very short commons on leaving the theatre. Some depression, some discontent at your existing arrangements, is to be expected on the occasion. You will be the worst off, Timolaus. Your flying-machine will come to grief, like that of Icarus; you will descend from the skies, and foot it on the ground; and all those rings will slip off and be lost. As for me, I am content with the exquisite amusement afforded me by your various wishes; I would not exchange it for all the treasure in the world, Babylon included. And you call yourselves philosophers!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11