Diog. Pollux, I have a commission for you; next time you go up — and I think it is your turn for earth tomorrow — if you come across Menippus the Cynic — you will find him about the Craneum at Corinth, or in the Lyceum, laughing at the philosophers’ disputes — well, give him this message:— Menippus, Diogenes advises you, if mortal subjects for laughter begin to pall, to come down below, and find much richer material; where you are now, there is always a dash of uncertainty in it; the question will always intrude — who can be quite sure about the hereafter? Here, you can have your laugh out in security, like me; it is the best of sport to see millionaires, governors, despots, now mean and insignificant; you can only tell them by their lamentations, and the spiritless despondency which is the legacy of better days. Tell him this, and mention that he had better stuff his wallet with plenty of lupines, and any unconsidered trifles he can snap up in the way of pauper doles 12 or lustral eggs. 13
Pol. I will tell him, Diogenes. But give me some idea of his appearance.
Diog. Old, bald, with a cloak that allows him plenty of light and ventilation, and is patched all colours of the rainbow; always laughing, and usually gibing at pretentious philosophers.
Pol. Ah, I cannot mistake him now.
Diog. May I give you another message to those same philosophers?
Pol. Oh, I don’t mind; go on.
Diog. Charge them generally to give up playing the fool, quarrelling over metaphysics, tricking each other with horn and crocodile puzzles 14 and teaching people to waste wit on such absurdities.
Pol. Oh, but if I say anything against their wisdom, they will call me an ignorant blockhead.
Diog. Then tell them from me to go to the devil.
Pol. Very well; rely upon me.
Diog. And then, my most obliging of Polluxes, there is this for the rich:— O vain fools, why hoard gold? why all these pains over interest sums and the adding of hundred to hundred, when you must shortly come to us with nothing beyond the dead-penny?
Pol. They shall have their message too.
Diog. Ah, and a word to the handsome and strong; Megillus of Corinth, and Damoxenus the wrestler will do. Inform them that auburn locks, eyes bright or black, rosy cheeks, are as little in fashion here as tense muscles or mighty shoulders; man and man are as like as two peas, tell them, when it comes to bare skull and no beauty.
Pol. That is to the handsome and strong; yes, I can manage that.
Diog. Yes, my Spartan, and here is for the poor. There are a great many of them, very sorry for themselves and resentful of their helplessness. Tell them to dry their tears and cease their cries; explain to them that here one man is as good as another, and they will find those who were rich on earth no better than themselves. As for your Spartans, you will not mind scolding them, from me, upon their present degeneracy?
Pol. No, no, Diogenes; leave Sparta alone; that is going too far; your other commissions I will execute.
Diog. Oh, well, let them off, if you care about it; but tell all the others what I said.
12 In the Greek, ‘a Hecate’s repast lying at a street corner.’ ‘Rich men used to make offerings to Hecate on the 30th of every month as Goddess of roads at street corners; and these offerings were at once pounced upon by the poor, or, as here, the Cynics.’ Jacobitz.
13 ‘Eggs were often used as purificatory offerings and set out in front of the house purified.’ Id.
14 See Puzzles in Notes.
Before Pluto: Croesus, Midas, and Sardanapalus v. Menippus
Cr. Pluto, we can stand this snarling Cynic no longer in our neighbourhood; either you must transfer him to other quarters, or we are going to migrate.
Pl. Why, what harm does he do to your ghostly community?
Cr. Midas here, and Sardanapalus and I, can never get in a good cry over the old days of gold and luxury and treasure, but he must be laughing at us, and calling us rude names; ‘slaves’ and ‘garbage,’ he says we are. And then he sings; and that throws us out. — In short, he is a nuisance.
Pl. Menippus, what’s this I hear?
Me. All perfectly true, Pluto. I detest these abject rascals! Not content with having lived the abominable lives they did, they keep on talking about it now they are dead, and harping on the good old days. I take a positive pleasure in annoying them.
Pl. Yes, but you mustn’t. They have had terrible losses; they feel it deeply.
Me. Pluto! you are not going to lend your countenance to these whimpering fools?
Pl. It isn’t that: but I won’t have you quarrelling.
Me. Well, you scum of your respective nations, let there be no misunderstanding; I am going on just the same. Wherever you are, there shall I be also; worrying, jeering, singing you down.
Me. Not a bit of it. Yours was the presumption, when you expected men to fall down before you, when you trampled on men’s liberty, and forgot there was such a thing as death. Now comes the weeping and gnashing of teeth: for all is lost!
Cr. Lost! Ah God! My treasure-heaps —
Mid. My gold —
Sar. My little comforts —
Me. That’s right: stick to it! You do the whining, and I’ll chime in with a string of GNOTHI-SAUTONS, best of accompaniments.
Menippus. Amphilochus. Trophonius
Me. Now I wonder how it is that you two dead men have been honoured with temples and taken for prophets; those silly mortals imagine you are Gods.
Amp. How can we help it, if they are fools enough to have such fancies about the dead?
Me. Ah, they would never have had them, though, if you had not been charlatans in your lifetime, and pretended to know the future and be able to foretell it to your clients.
Tro. Well, Menippus, Amphilochus can take his own line, if he likes; as for me, I am a Hero, and do give oracles to any one who comes down to me. It is pretty clear you were never at Lebadea, or you would not be so incredulous.
Me. What do you mean? I must go to Lebadea, swaddle myself up in absurd linen, take a cake in my hand, and crawl through a narrow passage into a cave, before I could tell that you are a dead man, with nothing but knavery to differentiate you from the rest of us? Now, on your seer-ship, what is a Hero? I am sure I don’t know.
Tro. He is half God, and half man.
Me. So what is neither man (as you imply) nor God, is both at once? Well, at present what has become of your diviner half?
Tro. He gives oracles in Boeotia.
Me. What you may mean is quite beyond me; the one thing I know for certain is that you are dead — the whole of you.
Her. Ferryman, what do you say to settling up accounts? It will prevent any unpleasantness later on.
Ch. Very good. It does save trouble to get these things straight.
Her. One anchor, to your order, five shillings.
Ch. That is a lot of money.
Her. So help me Pluto, it is what I had to pay. One rowlock-strap, fourpence.
Ch. Five and four; put that down.
Her. Then there was a needle, for mending the sail; ten-pence.
Ch. Down with it.
Her. Caulking-wax; nails; and cord for the brace. Two shillings the lot.
Ch. They were worth the money.
Her. That’s all; unless I have forgotten anything. When will you pay it?
Ch. I can’t just now, Hermes; we shall have a war or a plague presently, and then the passengers will come shoaling in, and I shall be able to make a little by jobbing the fares.
Her. So for the present I have nothing to do but sit down, and pray for the worst, as my only chance of getting paid?
Ch. There is nothing else for it; — very little business doing just now, as you see, owing to the peace.
Her. That is just as well, though it does keep me waiting for my money. After all, though, Charon, in old days men were men; you remember the state they used to come down in — all blood and wounds generally. Nowadays, a man is poisoned by his slave or his wife; or gets dropsy from overfeeding; a pale, spiritless lot, nothing like the men of old. Most of them seem to meet their end in some plot that has money for its object.
Ch. Ah; money is in great request.
Her. Yes; you can’t blame me if I am somewhat urgent for payment.
Pl. You know that old, old fellow, Eucrates the millionaire — no children, but a few thousand would-be heirs?
Her. Yes — lives at Sicyon. Well?
Pl. Well, Hermes, he is ninety now; let him live as much longer, please; I should like it to be more still, if possible; and bring me down his toadies one by one, that young Charinus, Damon, and the rest of them.
Her. It would seem so strange, wouldn’t it?
Pl. On the contrary, it would be ideal justice. What business have they to pray for his death, or pretend to his money? they are no relations. The most abominable thing about it is that they vary these prayers with every public attention; when he is ill, every one knows what they are after, and yet they vow offerings if he recovers; talk of versatility! So let him be immortal, and bring them away before him with their mouths still open for the fruit that never drops.
Her. Well, they are rascals, and it would be a comic ending. He leads them a pretty life too, on hope gruel; he always looks more dead than alive, but he is tougher than a young man. They have divided up the inheritance among them, and feed on imaginary bliss.
Pl. Just so; now he is to throw off his years like Iolaus, and rejuvenate, while they in the middle of their hopes find themselves here with their dream-wealth left behind them. Nothing like making the punishment fit the crime.
Her. Say no more, Pluto; I will fetch you them one after another; seven of them, is it?
Pl. Down with them; and he shall change from an old man to a blooming youth, and attend their funerals.
Ter. Now is this fair, Pluto — that I should die at the age of thirty, and that old Thucritus go on living past ninety?
Pl. Nothing could be fairer. Thucritus lives and is in no hurry for his neighbours to die; whereas you always had some design against him; you were waiting to step into his shoes.
Ter. Well, an old man like that is past getting any enjoyment out of his money; he ought to die, and make room for younger men.
Pl. This is a novel principle: the man who can no longer derive pleasure from his money is to die! — Fate and Nature have ordered it otherwise.
Ter. Then they have ordered it wrongly. There ought to be a proper sequence according to seniority. Things are turned upside down, if an old man is to go on living with only three teeth in his head, half blind, tottering about with a pair of slaves on each side to hold him up, drivelling and rheumy-eyed, having no joy of life, a living tomb, the derision of his juniors — and young men are to die in the prime of their strength and beauty. ’Tis contrary to nature. At any rate the young men have a right to know when the old are going to die, so that they may not throw away their attentions on them for nothing, as is sometimes the case. The present arrangement is a putting of the cart before the horse.
Pl. There is a great deal more sound sense in it than you suppose, Terpsion. Besides, what right have you young fellows got to be prying after other men’s goods, and thrusting yourselves upon your childless elders? You look rather foolish, when you get buried first; it tickles people immensely; the more fervent your prayers for the death of your aged friend, the greater is the general exultation when you precede him. It has become quite a profession lately, this amorous devotion to old men and women — childless, of course; children destroy the illusion. By the way though, some of the beloved objects see through your dirty motives well enough by now; they have children, but they pretend to hate them, and so have lovers all the same. When their wills come to be read, their faithful bodyguard is not included: nature asserts itself, the children get their rights, and the lovers realize, with gnashings of teeth, that they have been taken in.
Ter. Too true! The luxuries that Thucritus has enjoyed at my expense! He always looked as if he were at the point of death. I never went to see him, but he would groan and squeak like a chicken barely out of the shell: I considered that he might step into his coffin at any moment, and heaped gift upon gift, for fear of being outdone in generosity by my rivals; I passed anxious, sleepless nights, reckoning and arranging all; ’twas this, the sleeplessness and the anxiety, that brought me to my death. And he swallows my bait whole, and attends my funeral chuckling.
Pl. Well done, Thucritus! Long may you live to enjoy your wealth — and your joke at the youngsters’ expense; many a toady may you send hither before your own time comes!
Ter. Now I think of it, it would be a satisfaction if Charoeades were to die before him.
Pl. Charoeades! My dear Terpsion, Phido, Melanthus — every one of them will be here before Thucritus — all victims of this same anxiety!
Ter. That is as it should be. Hold on, Thucritus!
Ze. Ah, Callidemides, and how did you come by your end? As for me, I was free of Dinias’s table, and there died of a surfeit; but that is stale news; you were there, of course.
Cal. Yes, I was. Now there was an element of surprise about my fate. I suppose you know that old Ptoeodorus?
Ze. The rich man with no children, to whom you gave most of your company?
Cal. That is the man; he had promised to leave me his heir, and I used to show my appreciation. However, it went on such a time; Tithonus was a juvenile to him; so I found a short cut to my property. I bought a potion, and agreed with the butler that next time his master called for wine (he is a pretty stiff drinker) he should have this ready in a cup and present it; and I was pledged to reward the man with his freedom.
Ze. And what happened? this is interesting.
Cal. When we came from bath, the young fellow had two cups ready, one with the poison for Ptoeodorus, and the other for me; but by some blunder he handed me the poisoned cup, and Ptoeodorus the plain; and behold, before he had done drinking, there was I sprawling on the ground, a vicarious corpse! Why are you laughing so, Zenophantus? I am your friend; such mirth is unseemly.
Ze. Well, it was such a humorous exit. And how did the old man behave?
Cal. He was dreadfully distressed for the moment; then he saw, I suppose, and laughed as much as you over the butler’s trick.
Ze. Ah, short cuts are no better for you than for other people, you see; the high road would have been safer, if not quite so quick.
Cne. Why, ’tis the proverb fulfilled! The fawn hath taken the lion.
Dam. What’s the matter, Cnemon?
Cne. The matter! I have been fooled, miserably fooled. I have passed over all whom I should have liked to make my heirs, and left my money to the wrong man.
Dam. How was that?
Cne. I had been speculating on the death of Hermolaus, the millionaire. He had no children, and my attentions had been well received by him. I thought it would be a good idea to let him know that I had made my will in his favour, on the chance of its exciting his emulation.
Dam. Yes; and Hermolaus?
Cne. What his will was, I don’t know. I died suddenly — the roof came down about my ears; and now Hermolaus is my heir. The pike has swallowed hook and bait.
Dam. And your anglership into the bargain. The pit that you digged for other. . . .
Cue. That’s about the truth of the matter, confound it.
Si. So here you are at last, Polystratus; you must be something very like a centenarian.
Si. And what sort of a life have you had of it, these thirty years? you were about seventy when I died.
Pol. Delightful, though you may find it hard to believe.
Si. It is surprising that you could have any joy of your life — old, weak, and childless, moreover.
Pol. In the first place, I could do just what I liked; there were still plenty of handsome boys and dainty women; perfumes were sweet, wine kept its bouquet, Sicilian feasts were nothing to mine.
Si. This is a change, to be sure; you were very economical in my day.
Pol. Ah, but, my simple friend, these good things were presents — came in streams. From dawn my doors were thronged with visitors, and in the day it was a procession of the fairest gifts of earth.
Si. Why, you must have seized the crown after my death.
Pol. Oh no, it was only that I inspired a number of tender passions.
Si. Tender passions, indeed! what, you, an old man with hardly a tooth left in your head!
Pol. Certainly; the first of our townsmen were in love with me. Such as you see me, old, bald, blear-eyed, rheumy, they delighted to do me honour; happy was the man on whom my glance rested a moment.
Si. Well, then, you had some adventure like Phaon’s, when he rowed Aphrodite across from Chios; your God granted your prayer and made you young and fair and lovely again.
Pol. No, no; I was as you see me, and I was the object of all desire.
Si. Oh, I give it up.
Pol. Why, I should have thought you knew the violent passion for old men who have plenty of money and no children.
Si. Ah, now I comprehend your beauty, old fellow; it was the Golden Aphrodite bestowed it.
Pol. I assure you, Simylus, I had a good deal of satisfaction out of my lovers; they idolized me, almost. Often I would be coy and shut some of them out. Such rivalries! such jealous emulations!
Si. And how did you dispose of your fortune in the end?
Pol. I gave each an express promise to make him my heir; he believed, and treated me to more attentions than ever; meanwhile I had another genuine will, which was the one I left, with a message to them all to go hang.
Si. Who was the heir by this one? one of your relations, I suppose.
Pol. Not likely; it was a handsome young Phrygian I had lately bought.
Pol. About twenty.
Si. Ah, I can guess his office.
Pol. Well, you know, he deserved the inheritance much better than they did; he was a barbarian and a rascal; but by this time he has the best of society at his beck. So he inherited; and now he is one of the aristocracy; his smooth chin and his foreign accent are no bars to his being called nobler than Codrus, handsomer than Nireus, wiser than Odysseus.
Si. Well, I don’t mind; let him be Emperor of Greece, if he likes, so long as he keeps the property away from that other crew.
Charon. Hermes. Various Shades
Ch. I’ll tell you how things stand. Our craft, as you see, is small, and leaky, and three-parts rotten; a single lurch, and she will capsize without more ado. And here are all you passengers, each with his luggage. If you come on board like that, I am afraid you may have cause to repent it; especially those who have not learnt to swim.
Her. Then how are we to make a trip of it?
Ch. I’ll tell you. They must leave all this nonsense behind them on shore, and come aboard in their skins. As it is, there will be no room to spare. And in future, Hermes, mind you admit no one till he has cleared himself of encumbrances, as I say. Stand by the gangway, and keep an eye on them, and make them strip before you let them pass.
Her. Very good. Well, Number One, who are you?
Men. Menippus. Here are my wallet and staff; overboard with them. I had the sense not to bring my cloak.
Her. Pass on, Menippus; you’re a good fellow; you shall have the seat of honour, up by the pilot, where you can see every one. — Here is a handsome person; who is he?
Char. Charmoleos of Megara; the irresistible, whose kiss was worth a thousand pounds.
Her. That beauty must come off — lips, kisses, and all; the flowing locks, the blushing cheeks, the skin entire. That’s right. Now we’re in better trim; — you may pass on. — And who is the stunning gentleman in the purple and the diadem?
Lam. I am Lampichus, tyrant of Gela.
Her. And what is all this splendour doing here, Lampichus?
Lam. How! would you have a tyrant come hither stripped?
Her. A tyrant! That would be too much to expect. But with a shade we must insist. Off with these things.
Lam. There, then: away goes my wealth.
Her. Pomp must go too, and pride; we shall be overfreighted else.
Lam. At least let me keep my diadem and robes.
Her. No, no; off they come!
Lam. Well? That is all, as you see for yourself.
Her. There is something more yet: cruelty, folly, insolence, hatred.
Lam. There then: I am bare.
Her. Pass on. — And who may you be, my bulky friend?
Dam. Damasias the athlete.
Her. To be sure; many is the time I have seen you in the gymnasium.
Dam. You have. Well, I have peeled; let me pass.
Her. Peeled! my dear sir, what, with all this fleshy encumbrance? Come, off with it; we should go to the bottom if you put one foot aboard. And those crowns, those victories, remove them.
Dam. There; no mistake about it this time; I am as light as any shade among them.
Her. That’s more the kind of thing. On with you. — Crato, you can take off that wealth and luxury and effeminacy; and we can’t have that funeral pomp here, nor those ancestral glories either; down with your rank and reputation, and any votes of thanks or inscriptions you have about you; and you need not tell us what size your tomb was; remarks of that kind come heavy.
Cra. Well, if I must, I must; there’s no help for it.
Her. Hullo! in full armour? What does this mean? and why this trophy?
A General. I am a great conqueror; a valiant warrior; my country’s pride.
Her. The trophy may stop behind; we are at peace; there is no demand for arms. — Whom have we here? whose is this knitted Drow, this flowing beard? ’Tis some reverend sage, if outside goes for anything; he mutters; he is wrapped in meditation.
Men. That’s a philosopher, Hermes; and an impudent quack not the bargain. Have him out of that cloak; you will find something to amuse you underneath it.
Her. Off with your clothes first; and then we will see to the rest. My goodness, what a bundle: quackery, ignorance, quarrelsomeness, vainglory; idle questionings, prickly arguments, intricate conceptions; humbug and gammon and wishy-washy hair-splittings without end; and hullo! why here’s avarice, and self-indulgence, and impudence! luxury, effeminacy and peevishness! — Yes, I see them all; you need not try to hide them. Away with falsehood and swagger and superciliousness; why, the three-decker is not built that would hold you with all this luggage.
A Philosopher. I resign them all, since such is your bidding.
Men. Have his beard off too, Hermes; only look what a ponderous bush of a thing! There’s a good five pounds’ weight there.
Her. Yes; the beard must go.
Phil. And who shall shave me?
Her. Menippus here shall take it off with the carpenter’s axe; the gangway will serve for a block.
Men. Oh, can’t I have a saw, Hermes? It would be much better fun.
Her. The axe must serve. — Shrewdly chopped! — Why, you look more like a man and less like a goat already.
Men. A little off the eyebrows?
Her. Why, certainly; he has trained them up all over his forehead, for reasons best known to himself. — Worm! what, snivelling? afraid of death? Oh, get on board with you.
Men. He has still got the biggest thumper of all under his arm.
Her. What’s that?
Men. Flattery; many is the good turn that has done him.
Phil. Oh, all right, Menippus; suppose you leave your independence behind you, and your plain — speaking, and your indifference, and your high spirit, and your jests! — No one else here has a jest about him.
Her. Don’t you, Menippus! you stick to them; useful commodities, these, on shipboard; light and handy. — You rhetorician there, with your verbosities and your barbarisms, your antitheses and balances and periods, off with the whole pack of them.
Rhet. Away they go.
Her. All’s ready. Loose the cable, and pull in the gangway; haul up the anchor; spread all sail; and, pilot, look to your helm. Good luck to our voyage! — What are you all whining about, you fools? You philosopher, late of the beard — you’re as bad as any of them.
Phil. Ah, Hermes: I had thought that the soul was immortal.
Men. He lies: that is not the cause of his distress.
Her. What is it, then?
Men. He knows that he will never have a good dinner again; never sneak about at night with his cloak over his head, going the round of the brothels; never spend his mornings in fooling boys out of their money, under the pretext of teaching them wisdom.
Phil. And pray are you content to be dead?
Men. It may be presumed so, as I sought death of my own accord. — By the way, I surely heard a noise, as if people were shouting on the earth?
Her. You did; and from more than one quarter. — There are people running in a body to the Town-hall, exulting over the death of Lampichus; the women have got hold of his wife; his infant children fare no better — the boys are giving them handsome pelting. Then again you hear the applause that greets the orator Diophantus, as he pronounces the funeral oration of our friend Crato. Ah yes, and that’s Damasias’s mother, with her women, striking up a dirge. No one has tear for you, Menippus; your remains are left in peace. Privileged person!
Men. Wait a bit: before long you will hear the mournful howl of dogs, and the beating of crows’ wings, as they gather to perform my funeral rites.
Her. I like your spirit. — However, here we are in port. Away with you all to the judgement-seat; it is straight ahead. The ferryman and I must go back for a fresh load.
Men. Good voyage to you, Hermes. — Let us be getting on; what are you all waiting for? We have got to face the judge, sooner or later; and by all accounts his sentences are no joke; wheels, rocks, vultures are mentioned. Every detail of our lives will now come to light!
Cra. Did you know Moerichus of Corinth, Diogenes? A shipowner, rolling in money, with a cousin called Aristeas, nearly as rich. He had a Homeric quotation:— Wilt thou heave me? shall I heave thee?
Diog. What was the point of it?
Cra. Why, the cousins were of equal age, expected to succeed to each other’s wealth, and behaved accordingly. They published their wills, each naming the other sole heir in case of his own prior decease. So it stood in black and white, and they vied with each other in showing that deference which the relation demands. All the prophets, astrologers, and Chaldean dream-interpreters alike, and Apollo himself for that matter, held different views at different times about the winner; the thousands seemed to incline now to Aristeas’s side, now to Moerichus’s.
Diog. And how did it end? I am quite curious.
Cra. They both died on the same day, and the properties passed to Eunomius and Thrasycles, two relations who had never had a presentiment of it. They had been crossing from Sicyon to Cirrha, when they were taken aback by a squall from the north-west, and capsized in mid-channel.
Diog. Cleverly done. Now, when we were alive, we never had such designs on one another. I never prayed for Antisthenes’s death, with a view to inheriting his staff — though it was an extremely serviceable one, which he had cut himself from a wild olive; and I do not credit you, Crates, with ever having had an eye to my succession; it included the tub, and a wallet with two pints of lupines in it.
Cra. Why, no; these things were superfluities to me — and to yourself, indeed. The real necessities you inherited from Antisthenes, and I from you; and in those necessities was more grandeur and majesty than in the Persian Empire.
Diog. You allude to ——
Cra. Wisdom, independence, truth, frankness, freedom.
Diog. To be sure; now I think of it, I did inherit all this from Antisthenes, and left it to you with some addition.
Cra. Others, however, were not interested in such property; no one paid us the attentions of an expectant heir; they all lad their eyes on gold, instead.
Diog. Of course; they had no receptacle for such things as we could give; luxury had made them so leaky — as full of holes as a worn-out purse. Put wisdom, frankness, or truth into them, and it would have dropped out; the bottom of the bag would have let them through, like the perforated cask into which those poor Danaids are always pouring. Gold, on the other hand, they could grip with tooth or nail or somehow.
Cra. Result: our wealth will still be ours down here; while they will arrive with no more than one penny, and even that must be left with the ferryman.
15 Homer, Il. xxiii. 724. When Ajax and Odysseus have wrestled for some time without either’s producing any impression, and the spectators are getting tired of it, the former proposes a change in tactics. “Let us hoist — try you with me or I with you.” The idea evidently is that each in turn is to offer only a passive resistance, and let his adversary try to fling him thus.’ Leaf.
Alexander. Hannibal. Minos. Scipio
Alex. Libyan, I claim precedence of you. I am the better man.
Han. Pardon me.
Alex. Then let Minos decide.
Mi. Who are you both?
Alex. This is Hannibal, the Carthaginian: I am Alexander, the son of Philip.
Mi. Bless me, a distinguished pair! And what is the quarrel about?
Alex. It is a question of precedence. He says he is the better general: and I maintain that neither Hannibal nor (I might almost add) any of my predecessors was my equal in strategy; all the world knows that.
Mi. Well, you shall each have your say in turn: the Libyan first.
Han. Fortunately for me, Minos, I have mastered Greek since I have been here; so that my adversary will not have even that advantage of me. Now I hold that the highest praise is due to those who have won their way to greatness from obscurity; who have clothed themselves in power, and shown themselves fit for dominion. I myself entered Spain with a handful of men, took service under my brother, and was found worthy of the supreme command. I conquered the Celtiberians, subdued Western Gaul, crossed the Alps, overran the valley of the Po, sacked town after town, made myself master of the plains, approached the bulwarks of the capital, and in one day slew such a host, that their finger-rings were measured by bushels, and the rivers were bridged by their bodies. And this I did, though I had never been called a son of Ammon; I never pretended to be a god, never related visions of my mother; I made no secret of the fact that I was mere flesh and blood. My rivals were the ablest generals in the world, commanding the best soldiers in the world; I warred not with Medes or Assyrians, who fly before they are pursued, and yield the victory to him that dares take it.
Alexander, on the other hand, in increasing and extending as he did the dominion which he had inherited from his father, was but following the impetus given to him by Fortune. And this conqueror had no sooner crushed his puny adversary by the victories of Issus and Arbela, than he forsook the traditions of his country, and lived the life of a Persian; accepting the prostrations of his subjects, assassinating his friends at his own table, or handing them over to the executioner. I in my command respected the freedom of my country, delayed not to obey her summons, when the enemy with their huge armament invaded Libya, laid aside the privileges of my office, and submitted to my sentence without a murmur. Yet I was a barbarian all unskilled in Greek culture; I could not recite Homer, nor had I enjoyed the advantages of Aristotle’s instruction; I had to make a shift with such qualities as were mine by nature. — It is on these grounds that I claim the preeminence. My rival has indeed all the lustre that attaches to the wearing of a diadem, and — I know not — for Macedonians such things may have charms: but I cannot think that this circumstance constitutes a higher claim than the courage and genius of one who owed nothing to Fortune, and everything to his own resolution.
Mi. Not bad, for a Libyan. — Well, Alexander, what do you say to that?
Alex. Silence, Minos, would be the best answer to such confident self-assertion. The tongue of Fame will suffice of itself to convince you that I was a great prince, and my opponent a petty adventurer. But I would have you consider the distance between us. Called to the throne while I was yet a boy, I quelled the disorders of my kingdom, and avenged my father’s murder. By the destruction of Thebes, I inspired the Greeks with such awe, that they appointed me their commander-inchief; and from that moment, scorning to confine myself to the kingdom that I inherited from my father, I extended my gaze over the entire face of the earth, and thought it shame if I should govern less than the whole. With a small force I invaded Asia, gained a great victory on the Granicus, took Lydia, lonia, Phrygia — in short, subdued all that was within my reach, before I commenced my march for Issus, where Darius was waiting for me at the head of his myriads. You know the sequel: yourselves can best say what was the number of the dead whom on one day I dispatched hither. The ferryman tells me that his boat would not hold them; most of them had to come across on rafts of their own construction. In these enterprises, I was ever at the head of my troops, ever courted danger. To say nothing of Tyre and Arbela, I penetrated into India, and carried my empire to the shores of Ocean; I captured elephants; I conquered Porus; I crossed the Tanais, and worsted the Scythians — no mean enemies — in a tremendous cavalry engagement. I heaped benefits upon my friends: I made my enemies taste my resentment. If men took me for a god, I cannot blame them; the vastness of my undertakings might excuse such a belief. But to conclude. I died a king: Hannibal, a fugitive at the court of the Bithynian Prusias — fitting end for villany and cruelty. Of his Italian victories I say nothing; they were the fruit not of honest legitimate warfare, but of treachery, craft, and dissimulation. He taunts me with self-indulgence: my illustrious friend has surely forgotten the pleasant time he spent in Capua among the ladies, while the precious moments fleeted by. Had I not scorned the Western world, and turned my attention to the East, what would it have cost me to make the bloodless conquest of Italy, and Libya, and all, as far West as Gades? But nations that already cowered beneath a master were unworthy of my sword. — I have finished, Minos, and await your decision; of the many arguments I might have used, these shall suffice.
Sci. First, Minos, let me speak.
Mi. And who are you, friend? and where do you come from?
Sci. I am Scipio, the Roman general, who destroyed Carthage, and gained great victories over the Libyans.
Mi. Well, and what have you to say?
Sci. That Alexander is my superior, and I am Hannibal’s, having defeated him, and driven him to ignominious flight. What impudence is this, to contend with Alexander, to whom I, your conqueror, would not presume to compare myself!
Mi. Honestly spoken, Scipio, on my word! Very well, then: Alexander comes first, and you next; and I think we must say Hannibal third. And a very creditable third, too.
Diog. Dear me, Alexander, you dead like the rest of us?
Alex. As you see, sir; is there anything extraordinary in a mortal’s dying?
Diog. So Ammon lied when he said you were his son; you were Philip’s after all.
Alex. Apparently; if I had been Ammon’s, I should not have died.
Diog. Strange! there were tales of the same order about Olympias too. A serpent visited her, and was seen in her bed; we were given to understand that that was how you came into the world, and Philip made a mistake when he took you for his.
Alex. Yes, I was told all that myself; however, I know now that my mother’s and the Ammon stories were all moonshine.
Diog. Their lies were of some practical value to you, though; your divinity brought a good many people to their knees. But now, whom did you leave your great empire to?
Alex. Diogenes, I cannot tell you. I had no time to leave any directions about it, beyond just giving Perdiccas my ring as I died. Why are you laughing?
Diog. Oh, I was only thinking of the Greeks’ behaviour; directly you succeeded, how they flattered you! their elected patron, generalissimo against the barbarian; one of the twelve Gods according to some; temples built and sacrifices offered to the Serpent’s son! If I may ask, where did your Macedonians bury you?
Alex. I have lain in Babylon a full month today; and Ptolemy of the Guards is pledged, as soon as he can get a moment’s respite from present disturbances, to take and bury me in Egypt, there to be reckoned among the Gods.
Diog. I have some reason to laugh, you see; still nursing vain hopes of developing into an Osiris or Anubis! Pray, your Godhead, put these expectations from you; none may re-ascend who has once sailed the lake and penetrated our entrance; Aeacus is watchful, and Cerberus an awkward customer. But there is one thing I wish you would tell me: how do you like thinking over all the earthly bliss you left to come here — your guards and armour-bearers and lieutenant-governors, your heaps of gold and adoring peoples, Babylon and Bactria, your huge elephants, your honour and glory, those conspicuous drives with white-cinctured locks and clasped purple cloak? does the thought of them hurt? What, crying? silly fellow! did not your wise Aristotle include in his instructions any hint of the insecurity of fortune’s favours?
Alex. Wise? call him the craftiest of all flatterers. Allow me to know a little more than other people about Aristotle; his requests and his letters came to my address; I know how he profited by my passion for culture; how he would toady and compliment me, to be sure! now it was my beauty — that too is included under The Good; now it was my deeds and my money; for money too he called a Good — he meant that he was not going to be ashamed of taking it. Ah, Diogenes, an impostor; and a past master at it too. For me, the result of his wisdom is that I am distressed for the things you catalogued just now, as if I had lost in them the chief Goods.
Diog. Wouldst know thy course? I will prescribe for your distress. Our flora, unfortunately, does not include hellebore; but you take plenty of Lethe-water — good, deep, repeated draughts; that will relieve your distress over the Aristotelian Goods. Quick; here are Clitus, Callisthenes, and a lot of others making for you; they mean to tear you in pieces and pay you out. Here, go the opposite way; and remember, repeated draughts.
Phil. You cannot deny that you are my son this time, Alexander; you would not have died if you had been Ammon’s.
Alex. I knew all the time that you, Philip, son of Amyntas, were my father. I only accepted the statement of the oracle because I thought it was good policy.
Phil. What, to suffer yourself to be fooled by lying priests?
Alex. No, but it had an awe-inspiring effect upon the barbarians. When they thought they had a God to deal with, they gave up the struggle; which made their conquest a simple matter.
Phil. And whom did you ever conquer that was worth conquering? Your adversaries were ever timid creatures, with their bows and their targets and their wicker shields. It was other work conquering the Greeks: Boeotians, Phocians, Athenians; Arcadian hoplites, Thessalian cavalry, javelin-men from Elis, peltasts of Mantinea; Thracians, Illyrians, Paeonians; to subdue these was something. But for gold-laced womanish Medes and Persians and Chaldaeans — why, it had been done before: did you never hear of the expedition of the Ten Thousand under Clearchus? and how the enemy would not even come to blows with them, but ran away before they were within bow-shot?
Alex. Still, there were the Scythians, father, and the Indian elephants; they were no joke. And my conquests were not gained by dissension or treachery; I broke no oath, no promise, nor ever purchased victory at the expense of honour. As to the Greeks, most of them joined me without a struggle; and I dare say you have heard how I handled Thebes.
Phil. I know all about that; I had it from Clitus, whom you ran through the body, in the middle of dinner, because he presumed to mention my achievements in the same breath with yours. They tell me too that you took to aping the manners of your conquered Medes; abandoned the Macedonian cloak in favour of the candies, assumed the upright tiara, and exacted oriental prostrations from Macedonian freemen! This is delicious. As to your brilliant matches, and your beloved Hephaestion, and your scholars in lions’ cages — the less said the better. I have only heard one thing to your credit: you respected the person of Darius’s beautiful wife, and you provided for his mother and daughters; there you acted like a king.
Alex. And have you nothing to say of my adventurous spirit, father, when I was the first to leap down within the ramparts of Oxydracae, and was covered with wounds?
Phil. Not a word. Not that it is a bad thing, in my opinion, for a king to get wounded occasionally, and to face danger at the head of his troops: but this was the last thing that you were called upon to do. You were passing for a God; and your being wounded, and carried off the field on a litter, bleeding and groaning, could only excite the ridicule of the spectators: Ammon stood convicted of quackery, his oracle of falsehood, his priests of flattery. The son of Zeus in a swoon, requiring medical assistance! who could help laughing at the sight? And now that you have died, can you doubt that many a jest is being cracked on the subject of your divinity, as men contemplate the God’s corpse laid out for burial, and already going the way of all flesh? Besides, your achievements lose half their credit from this very circumstance which you say was so useful in facilitating your conquests: nothing you did could come up to your divine reputation.
Alex. The world thinks otherwise. I am ranked with Heracles and Dionysus; and, for that matter, I took Aornos, which was more than either of them could do.
Phil. There spoke the son of Ammon. Heracles and Dionysus, indeed! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Alexander; when will you learn to drop that bombast, and know yourself for the shade that you are?
Ant. Achilles, what you were saying to Odysseus the other day about death was very poor-spirited; I should have expected better things from a pupil of Chiron and Phoenix. I was listening; you said you would rather be a servant on earth to some poor hind ‘of scanty livelihood possessed,’ than king of all the dead. Such sentiments might have been very well in the mouth of a poor-spirited cowardly Phrygian, dishonourably in love with life: for the son of Peleus, boldest of all Heroes, so to vilify himself, is a disgrace; it gives the lie to all your life; you might have had a long inglorious reign in Phthia, and your own choice was death and glory.
Ach. In those days, son of Nestor, I knew not this place; ignorant whether of those two was the better, I esteemed that flicker of fame more than life; now I see that it is worthless, let folk up there make what verses of it they will. ’Tis dead level among the dead, Antilochus; strength and beauty are no more; we welter all in the same gloom, one no better than another; the shades of Trojans fear me not, Achaeans pay me no reverence; each may say what he will; a man is a ghost, ‘or be he churl, or be he peer.’ It irks me; I would fain be a servant, and alive.
Ant. But what help, Achilles? ’tis Nature’s decree that by all means all die. We must abide by her law, and not fret at her commands. Consider too how many of us are with you here; Odysseus comes ere long; how else? Is there not comfort in the common fate? ’tis something not to suffer alone. See Heracles, Meleager, and many another great one; they, methinks, would not choose return, if one would send them up to serve poor destitute men.
Ach. Ay, your intent is friendly; but I know not, the thought of the past life irks me — and each of you too, if I mistake not. And if you confess it not, the worse for you, smothering your pain.
Ant. Not the worse, Achilles; the better; for we see that speech is unavailing. Be silent, bear, endure — that is our resolve, lest such longings bring mockery on us, as on you.
Diog. Surely this is Heracles I see? By his godhead, ’tis no other! The bow, the club, the lion’s-skin, the giant frame; ’tis Heracles complete. Yet how should this be? — a son of Zeus, and mortal? I say, Mighty Conqueror, are you dead? I used to sacrifice to you in the other world; I understood you were a God!
Her. Thou didst well. Heracles is with the Gods in Heaven,
And hath white-ankled Hebe there to wife.
I am his phantom.
Diog. His phantom! What then, can one half of any one be a God, and the other half mortal?
Her. Even so. The God still lives. ’Tis I, his counterpart, am dead.
Diog. I see. You’re a dummy; he palms you off upon Pluto, instead of coming himself. And here are you, enjoying his mortality!
Her. ’Tis somewhat as thou hast said.
Diog. Well, but where were Aeacus’s keen eyes, that he let a counterfeit Heracles pass under his very nose, and never knew the difference?
Her. I was made very like to him.
Diog. I believe you! Very like indeed, no difference at all! Why, we may find it’s the other way round, that you are Heracles, and the phantom is in Heaven, married to Hebe!
Her. Prating knave, no more of thy gibes; else thou shalt presently learn how great a God calls me phantom.
Diog. H’m. That bow looks as if it meant business. And yet — what have I to fear now? A man can die but once. Tell me, phantom — by your great Substance I adjure you — did you serve him in your present capacity in the upper world? Perhaps you were one individual during your lives, the separation taking place only at your deaths, when he, the God, soared heavenwards, and you, the phantom, very properly made your appearance here?
Her. Thy ribald questions were best unanswered. Yet thus much thou shalt know. — All that was Amphitryon in Heracles, is dead; I am that mortal part. The Zeus in him lives, and is with the Gods in Heaven.
Diog. Ah, now I see! Alcmena had twins, you mean — Heracles the son of Zeus, and Heracles the son of Amphitryon? You were really half-bothers all the time?
Her. Fool! not so. We twain were one Heracles.
Diog. It’s a little difficult to grasp, the two Heracleses packed into one. I suppose you must have been like a sort of Centaur, man and God all mixed together?
Her. And are not all thus composed of two elements — the body and the soul? What then should hinder the soul from being in Heaven, with Zeus who gave it, and the mortal part — myself — among the dead?
Diog. Yes, yes, my esteemed son of Amphitryon — that would be all very well if you were a body; but you see you are a phantom, you have no body. At this rate we shall get three Heracleses.
Diog. Yes; look here. One in Heaven: one in Hades, that’s you, the phantom: and lastly the body, which by this time has returned to dust. That makes three. Can you think of a good father for number Three?
Her. Impudent quibbler! And who art thou?
Diog. I am Diogenes’s phantom, late of Sinope. But my original, I assure you, is not ‘among th’ immortal Gods,’ but here among dead men; where he enjoys the best of company, and snaps my ringers at Homer and all hair-splitting.
Me. What are you crying out about, Tantalus? standing at the edge and whining like that!
Tan. Ah, Menippus, I thirst, I perish!
Me. What, not enterprise enough to bend down to it, or scoop up some in your palm?
Tan. It is no use bending down; the water shrinks away as soon as it sees me coming. And if I do scoop it up and get it to my mouth, the outside of my lips is hardly moist before it has managed to run through my fingers, and my hand is as dry as ever.
Me. A very odd experience, that. But by the way, why do you want to drink? you have no body — the part of you that was liable to hunger and thirst is buried in Lydia somewhere; how can you, the spirit, hunger or thirst any more?
Tan. Therein lies my punishment — soul thirsts as if it were body.
Me. Well, let that pass, as you say thirst is your punishment. But why do you mind it? are you afraid of dying, for want of drink? I do not know of any second Hades; can you die to this one, and go further?
Tan. No, that is quite true. But you see this is part of the sentence: I must long for drink, though I have no need of it.
Me. There is no meaning in that. There is a draught you need, though; some neat hellebore is what you want; you are suffering from a converse hydrophobia; you are not afraid of water, but you are of thirst.
Tan. I would as life drink hellebore as anything, if I could but drink.
Me. Never fear, Tantalus; neither you nor any other ghost will ever do that; it is impossible, you see; just as well we have not all got a penal thirst like you, with the water running away from us.
Me. Where are all the beauties, Hermes? Show me round; I am a new-comer.
Her. I am busy, Menippus. But look over there to your right, and you will see Hyacinth, Narcissus, Nireus, Achilles, Tyro, Helen, Leda — all the beauties of old.
Me. I can only see bones, and bare skulls; most of them are exactly alike.
Her. Those bones, of which you seem to think so lightly, have been the theme of admiring poets.
Me. Well, but show me Helen; I shall never be able to make her out by myself.
Her. This skull is Helen.
Me. And for this a thousand ships carried warriors from every part of Greece; Greeks and barbarians were slain, and cities made desolate.
Her. Ah, Menippus, you never saw the living Helen; or you would have said with Homer,
Well might they suffer grievous years of toil Who strove for such a prize.
We look at withered flowers, whose dye is gone from them, and what can we call them but unlovely things? Yet in the hour of their bloom these unlovely things were things of beauty.
Me. Strange, that the Greeks could not realize what it was for which they laboured; how short-lived, how soon to fade.
Her. I have no time for moralizing. Choose your spot, where you will, and lie down. I must go to fetch new dead.
Aeacus. Protesilaus. Menelaus. Paris
Aea. Now then, Protesilaus, what do you mean by assaulting and throttling Helen?
Pro. Why, it was all her fault that I died, leaving my house half built, and my bride a widow.
Aea. You should blame Menelaus, for taking you all to Troy after such a light-o’-love.
Pro. That is true; he shall answer it.
Me. No, no, my dear sir; Paris surely is the man; he outraged all rights in carrying off his host’s wife with him. He deserves throttling, if you like, and not from you only, but from Greeks and barbarians as well, for all the deaths he brought upon them.
Pro. Ah, now I have it. Here, you — you Paris! you shall not escape my clutches.
Pa. Oh, come, sir, you will never wrong one of the same gentle craft as yourself. Am I not a lover too, and a subject of your deity? against love you know (with the best will in the world) how vain it is to strive; ’tis a spirit that draws us whither it will.
Pro. There is reason in that. Oh, would that I had Love himself here in these hands!
Aea. Permit me to charge myself with his defence. He does not absolutely deny his responsibility for Paris’s love; but that for your death he refers to yourself, Protesilaus. You forgot all about your bride, fell in love with fame, and, directly the fleet touched the Troad, took that rash senseless leap, which brought you first to shore and to death.
Pro. Now it is my turn to correct, Aeacus. The blame does not rest with me, but with Fate; so was my thread spun from the beginning.
Aea. Exactly so; then why blame our good friends here?
Menippus. Aeacus. Various Shades
Me. In Pluto’s name, Aeacus, show me all the sights of Hades.
Aea. That would be rather an undertaking, Menippus. However, you shall see the principal things. Cerberus here you know already, and the ferryman who brought you over. And you saw the Styx on your way, and Pyriphlegethon.
Me. Yes, and you are the gate-keeper; I know all that; and I have seen the King and the Furies. But show me the men of ancient days, especially the celebrities.
Aea. This is Agamemnon; this is Achilles; near him, Idomeneus; next comes Odysseus; then Ajax, Diomede, and all the great Greeks.
Me. Why, Homer, Homer, what is this? All your great heroes flung down upon the earth, shapeless, undistinguishable; mere meaningless dust; ‘strengthless heads,’ and no mistake. — Who is this one, Aeacus?
Aea. That is Cyrus; and here is Croesus; beyond him Sardanapalus, and beyond him again Midas. And yonder is Xerxes.
Me. Ha! and it was before this creature that Greece trembled? this is our yoker of Hellesponts, our designer of Athos-canals? — Croesus too! a sad spectacle! As to Sardanapalus, I will lend him a box on the ear, with your permission.
Aea. And crack his skull, poor dear! Certainly not.
Me. Then I must content myself with spitting in his ladyship’s face.
Aea. Would you like to see the philosophers?
Me. I should like it of all things.
Aea. First comes Pythagoras.
Me. Good-day, Euphorbus, alias Apollo, alias what you will.
Py. Good-day, Menippus.
Me. What, no golden thigh nowadays?
Py. Why, no. I wonder if there is anything to eat in that wallet of yours?
Me. Beans, friend; you don’t like beans.
Py. Try me. My principles have changed with my quarters. I find that down here our parents’ heads are in no way connected with beans.
Aea. Here is Solon, the son of Execestides, and there is Thales. By them are Pittacus, and the rest of the sages, seven in all, as you see. Me. The only resigned and cheerful countenances yet. Who is the one covered with ashes, like a loaf baked in the embers? He is all over blisters.
Aea. That is Empedocles. He was half-roasted when he got here from Etna.
Me. Tell me, my brazen-slippered friend, what induced you to jump into the crater?
Em. I did it in a fit of melancholy.
Me. Not you. Vanity, pride, folly; these were what burnt you up, slippers and all; and serve you right. All that ingenuity was thrown away, too: your death was detected. — Aeacus, where is Socrates?
Aea. He is generally talking nonsense with Nestor and Palamedes.
Me. But I should like to see him, if he is anywhere about.
Aea. You see the bald one? Me. They are all bald; that is a distinction without a difference.
Aea. The snub-nosed one.
Me. There again: they are all snub-nosed.
Soc. Do you want me, Menippus?
Me. The very man I am looking for.
Soc. How goes it in Athens?
Me. There are a great many young men there professing philosophy; and to judge from their dress and their walk, they should be perfect in it.
Soc. I have seen many such.
Me. For that matter, I suppose you saw Aristippus arrive, reeking with scent; and Plato, the polished flatterer from Sicilian courts?
Soc. And what do they think about me in Athens?
Me. Ah, you are fortunate in that respect. You pass for a most remarkable man, omniscient in fact. And all the time — if the truth must out — you know absolutely nothing.
Soc. I told them that myself: but they would have it that that was my irony.
Me. And who are your friends?
Soc. Charmides; Phaedrus; the son of Clinias.
Me. Ha, ha! still at your old trade; still an admirer of beauty.
Soc. How could I be better occupied? Will you join us?
Me. No, thank you; I am off, to take up my quarters by Croesus and Sardanapalus. I expect huge entertainment from their outcries.
Aea. I must be off, too; or some one may escape. You shall see the rest another day, Menippus.
Me. I need not detain you. I have seen enough.
Me. My dear coz — for Cerberus and Cynic are surely related through the dog — I adjure you by the Styx, tell me how Socrates behaved during the descent. A God like you can doubtless articulate instead of barking, if he chooses.
Cer. Well, while he was some way off, he seemed quite unshaken; and I thought he was bent on letting the people outside realize the fact too. Then he passed into the opening and saw the gloom; I at the same time gave him a touch of the hemlock, and a pull by the leg, as he was rather slow. Then he squalled like a baby, whimpered about his children, and, oh, I don’t know what he didn’t do.
Me. So he was one of the theorists, was he? His indifference was a sham?
Cer. Yes; it was only that he accepted the inevitable, and put a bold face on it, pretending to welcome the universal fate, by way of impressing the bystanders. All that sort are the same, I tell you — bold resolute fellows as far as the entrance; it is inside that the real test comes.
Me. What did you think of my performance?
Cer. Ah, Menippus, you were the exception; you are a credit to the breed, and so was Diogenes before you. You two came in without any compulsion or pushing, of your own free will, with a laugh for yourselves and a curse for the rest.
Charon. Menippus. Hermes
Ch. Your fare, you rascal.
Me. Bawl away, Charon, if it gives you any pleasure.
Ch. I brought you across: give me my fare.
Me. I can’t, if I haven’t got it.
Ch. And who is so poor that he has not got a penny?
Me. I for one; I don’t know who else.
Ch. Pay: or, by Pluto, I’ll strangle you.
Me. And I’ll crack your skull with this stick.
Ch. So you are to come all that way for nothing?
Me. Let Hermes pay for me: he put me on board.
Her. I dare say! A fine time I shall have of it, if I am to pay for the shades.
Ch. I’m not going to let you off.
Me. You can haul up your ship and wait, for all I care. If I have not got the money, I can’t pay you, can I?
Ch. You knew you ought to bring it?
Me. I knew that: but I hadn’t got it. What would you have? I ought not to have died, I suppose?
Ch. So you are to have the distinction of being the only passenger that ever crossed gratis?
Me. Oh, come now: gratis! I took an oar, and I baled; and I didn’t cry, which is more than can be said for any of the others.
Ch. That’s neither here nor there. I must have my penny; it’s only right.
Me. Well, you had better take me back again to life.
Ch. Yes, and get a thrashing from Aeacus for my pains! I like that.
Me. Well, don’t bother me.
Ch. Let me see what you have got in that wallet.
Me. Beans: have some? — and a Hecate’s supper.
Ch. Where did you pick up this Cynic, Hermes? The noise he made on the crossing, too! laughing and jeering at all the rest, and singing, when every one else was at his lamentations.
Her. Ah, Charon, you little know your passenger! Independence, every inch of him: he cares for no one. ’Tis Menippus.
Ch. Wait till I catch you ——
Me. Precisely; I’ll wait — till you catch me again.
Protesilaus. Pluto. Persephone
Pro. Lord, King, our Zeus! and thou, daughter of Demeter! Grant a lover’s boon!
Pl. What do you want? who are you?
Pro. Protesilaus, son of Iphiclus, of Phylace, one of the Achaean host, the first that died at Troy. And the boon I ask is release and one day’s life.
Pl. Ah, friend, that is the love that all these dead men love, and none shall ever win.
Pro. Nay, dread lord, ’tis not life I love, but the bride that I left new wedded in my chamber that day I sailed away — ah me, to be slain by Hector as my foot touched land! My lord, that yearning gives me no peace. I return content, if she might look on me but for an hour.
Pl. Did you miss your dose of Lethe, man?
Pro. Nay, lord; but this prevailed against it.
Pl. Oh, well, wait a little; she will come to you one day; it is so simple; no need for you to be going up.
Pro. My heart is sick with hope deferred; thou too, O Pluto, hast loved; thou knowest what love is.
Pl. What good will it do you to come to life for a day, and then renew your pains?
Pro. I think to win her to come with me, and bring two dead for one.
Pl. It may not be; it never has been.
Pro. Bethink thee, Pluto. ’Twas for this same cause that ye gave Orpheus his Eurydice; and Heracles had interest enough to be granted Alcestis; she was of my kin.
Pl. Would you like to present that bare ugly skull to your fair bride? will she admit you, when she cannot tell you from another man? I know well enough; she will be frightened and run from you, and you will have gone all that way for nothing.
Per. Husband, doctor that disease yourself: tell Hermes, as soon as Protesilaus reaches the light, to touch him with his wand, and make him young and fair as when he left the bridal chamber.
Pl. Well, I cannot refuse a lady. Hermes, take him up and turn him into a bridegroom. But mind, you sir, a strictly temporary one.
Diog. Why so proud, Carian? How are you better than the rest of us?
Man. Sinopean, to begin with, I was a king; king of all Caria, ruler of many Lydians, subduer of islands, conqueror of well-nigh the whole of Ionia, even to the borders of Miletus. Further, I was comely, and of noble stature, and a mighty warrior. Finally, a vast tomb lies over me in Halicarnassus, of such dimensions, of such exquisite beauty as no other shade can boast. Thereon are the perfect semblances of man and horse, carved in the fairest marble; scarcely may a temple be found to match it. These are the grounds of my pride: are they inadequate?
Diog. Kingship — beauty — heavy tomb; is that it?
Mau. It is as you say.
Diog. But, my handsome Mausolus, the power and the beauty are no longer there. If we were to appoint an umpire now on the question of comeliness, I see no reason why he should prefer your skull to mine. Both are bald, and bare of flesh; our teeth are equally in evidence; each of us has lost his eyes, and each is snub-nosed. Then as to the tomb and the costly marbles, I dare say such a fine erection gives the Halicarnassians something to brag about and show off to strangers: but I don’t see, friend, that you are the better for it, unless it is that you claim to carry more weight than the rest of us, with all that marble on the top of you.
Mau. Then all is to go for nothing? Mausolus and Diogenes are to rank as equals?
Diog. Equals! My dear sir, no; I don’t say that. While Mausolus is groaning over the memories of earth, and the felicity which he supposed to be his, Diogenes will be chuckling. While Mausolus boasts of the tomb raised to him by Artemisia, his wife and sister, Diogenes knows not whether he has a tomb or no — the question never having occurred to him; he knows only that his name is on the tongues of the wise, as one who lived the life of a man; a higher monument than yours, vile Carian slave, and set on firmer foundations.
Nireus. Thersites. Menippus
Ni. Here we are; Menippus shall award the palm of beauty. Menippus, am I not better-looking than he?
Me. Well, who are you? I must know that first, mustn’t I?
Ni. Nireus and Thersites.
Me. Which is which? I cannot tell that yet.
Ther. One to me; I am like you; you have no such superiority as Homer (blind, by the way) gave you when he called you the handsomest of men; he might peak my head and thin my hair, our judge finds me none the worse. Now, Menippus, make up your mind which is handsomer.
Ni. I, of course, I, the son of Aglaia and Charopus,
Comeliest of all that came ‘neath Trojan walls.
Me. But not comeliest of all that come ‘neath the earth, as far as I know. Your bones are much like other people’s; and the only difference between your two skulls is that yours would not take much to stove it in. It is a tender article, something short of masculine.
Ni. Ask Homer what I was, when I sailed with the Achaeans.
Me. Dreams, dreams. I am looking at what you are; what you were is ancient history.
Ni. Am I not handsomer here, Menippus?
Me. You are not handsome at all, nor any one else either. Hades is a democracy; one man is as good as another here.
Ther. And a very tolerable arrangement too, if you ask me.
Me. I have heard that you were a god, Chiron, and that you died of your own choice?
Chi. You were rightly informed. I am dead, as you see, and might have been immortal.
Me. And what should possess you, to be in love with Death? He has no charm for most people.
Chi. You are a sensible fellow; I will tell you. There was no further satisfaction to be had from immortality.
Me. Was it not a pleasure merely to live and see the light?
Chi. No; it is variety, as I take it, and not monotony, that constitutes pleasure. Living on and on, everything always the same; sun, light, food, spring, summer, autumn, winter, one thing following another in unending sequence — I sickened of it all. I found that enjoyment lay not in continual possession; that deprivation had its share therein.
Me. Very true, Chiron. And how have you got on since you made Hades your home?
Chi. Not unpleasantly. I like the truly republican equality that prevails; and as to whether one is in light or darkness, that makes no difference at all. Then again there is no hunger or thirst here; one is independent of such things.
Me. Take care, Chiron! You may be caught in the snare of your own reasonings.
Chi. How should that be?
Me. Why, if the monotony of the other world brought on satiety, the monotony here may do the same. You will have to look about for a further change, and I fancy there is no third life procurable.
Chi. Then what is to be done, Menippus?
Me. Take things as you find them, I suppose, like a sensible fellow, and make the best of everything.
Diogenes. Antisthenes. Crates
Diog. Now, friends, we have plenty of time; what say you to a stroll? we might go to the entrance and have a look at the new-comers — what they are and how they behave.
Ant. The very thing. It will be an amusing sight — some weeping, some imploring to be let go, some resisting; when Hermes collars them, they will stick their heels in and throw their weight back; and all to no purpose.
Cra. Very well; and meanwhile, let me give you my experiences on the way down.
Diog. Yes, go on, Crates; I dare say you saw some entertaining sights.
Cra. We were a large party, of which the most distinguished were Ismenodorus, a rich townsman of ours, Arsaces, ruler of Media, and Oroetes the Armenian. Ismenodorus had been murdered by robbers going to Eleusis over Cithaeron, I believe. He was moaning, nursing his wound, apostrophizing the young children he had left, and cursing his foolhardiness. He knew Cithaeron and the Eleutherae district were all devastated by the wars, and yet he must take only two servants with him — with five bowls and four cups of solid gold in his baggage, too. Arsaces was an old man of rather imposing aspect; he expressed his feelings in true barbaric fashion, was exceedingly angry at being expected to walk, and kept calling for his horse. In point of fact it had died with him, it and he having been simultaneously transfixed by a Thracian pikeman in the fight with the Cappadocians on the Araxes. Arsaces described to us how he had charged far in advance of his men, and the Thracian, standing his ground and sheltering himself with his buckler, warded off the lance, and then, planting his pike, transfixed man and horse together.
Ant. How could it possibly be done simultaneously?
Cra. Oh, quite simple. The Median was charging with his thirty-foot lance in front of him; the Thracian knocked it aside with his buckler; the point glanced by; then he knelt, received the charge on his pike, pierced the horse’s chest — the spirited beast impaling itself by its own impetus — and finally ran Arsaces through groin and buttock. You see what happened; it was the horse’s doing rather than the man’s. However, Arsaces did not at all appreciate equality, and wanted to come down on horseback. As for Oroetes, he was so tender-footed that he could not stand, far less walk. That is the way with all the Medes — once they are off their horses, they go delicately on tiptoe as if they were treading on thorns. He threw himself down, and there he lay; nothing would induce him to get up; so the excellent Hermes had to pick him up and carry him to the ferry; how I laughed!
Ant. When I came down, I did not keep with the crowd; I left them to their blubberings, ran on to the ferry, and secured a comfortable seat for the passage. Then as we crossed, they were divided between tears and sea-sickness, and gave me a merry time of it.
Diog. You two have described your fellow passengers; now for mine. There came down with me Blepsias, the Pisatan usurer, Lampis, an Acarnanian freelance, and the Corinthian millionaire Damis. The last had been poisoned by his son, Lampis had cut his throat for love of the courtesan Myrtium, and the wretched Blepsias is supposed to have died of starvation; his awful pallor and extreme emaciation looked like it. I inquired into the manner of their deaths, though I knew very well. When Damis exclaimed upon his son, ‘You only have your deserts,’ I remarked — ‘an old man of ninety living in luxury yourself with your million of money, and fobbing off your eighteen-year son with a few pence! As for you, sir Acarnanian’— he was groaning and cursing Myrtium — ‘why put the blame on Love? it belongs to yourself; you were never afraid of an enemy — took all sorts of risks in other people’s service — and then let yourself be caught, my hero, by the artificial tears and sighs of the first wench you came across.’ Blepsias uttered his own condemnation, without giving me time to do it for him: he had hoarded his money for heirs who were nothing to him, and been fool enough to reckon on immortality. I assure you it was no common satisfaction I derived from their whinings.
But here we are at the gate; we must keep our eyes open, and get the earliest view. Lord, lord, what a mixed crowd! and all in tears except these babes and sucklings. Why, the hoary seniors are all lamentation too; strange! has madam Life given them a love-potion? I must interrogate this most reverend senior of them all. — Sir, why weep, seeing that you have died full of years? has your excellency any complaint to make, after so long a term? Ah, but you were doubtless a king.
Pauper. Not so.
Diog. A provincial governor, then?
Pauper. No, nor that.
Diog. I see; you were wealthy, and do not like leaving your boundless luxury to die.
Pauper. You are quite mistaken; I was near ninety, made a miserable livelihood out of my line and rod, was excessively poor, childless, a cripple, and had nearly lost my sight.
Diog. And you still wished to live?
Pauper. Ay, sweet is the light, and dread is death; would that one might escape it!
Diog. You are beside yourself, old man; you are like a child kicking at the pricks, you contemporary of the ferryman. Well, we need wonder no more at youth, when age is still in love with life; one would have thought it should court death as the cure for its proper ills. — And now let us go our way, before our loitering here brings suspicion on us: they may think we are planning an escape.
Me. Whether you are blind or not, Tiresias, would be a difficult question. Eyeless sockets are the rule among us; there is no telling Phineus from Lynceus nowadays. However, I know that you were a seer, and that you enjoy the unique distinction of having been both man and woman; I have it from the poets. Pray tell me which you found the more pleasant life, the man’s or the woman’s?
Ti. The woman’s, by a long way; it was much less trouble. Women have the mastery of men; and there is no fighting for them, no manning of walls, no squabbling in the assembly, no cross-examination in the law-courts.
Me. Well, but you have heard how Medea, in Euripides, compassionates her sex on their hard lot — on the intolerable pangs they endure in travail? And by the way — Medea’s words remind me did you ever have a child, when you were a woman, or were you barren?
Ti. What do you mean by that question, Menippus?
Me. Oh, nothing; but I should like to know, if it is no trouble to you.
Ti. I was not barren: but I did not have a child, exactly.
Me. No; but you might have had. That’s all I wanted to know.
Me. And your feminine characteristics gradually vanished, and you developed a beard, and became a man? Or did the change take place in a moment?
Ti. Whither does your question tend? One would think you doubted the fact.
Me. And what should I do but doubt such a story? Am I to take it in, like a nincompoop, without asking myself whether it is possible or not?
Ti. At that rate, I suppose you are equally incredulous when you hear of women being turned into birds or trees or beasts — Aedon for instance, or Daphne, or Callisto?
Me. If I fall in with any of these ladies, I will see what they have to say about it. But to return, friend, to your own case: were you a prophet even in the days of your femininity? or did manhood and prophecy come together?
Ti. Pooh, you know nothing of the matter. I once settled a dispute among the Gods, and was blinded by Hera for my pains; whereupon Zeus consoled me with the gift of prophecy.
Me. Ah, you love a lie still, Tiresias. But there, ’tis your trade. You prophets! There is no truth in you.
Ag. If you went mad and wrought your own destruction, Ajax, in default of that you designed for us all, why put the blame on Odysseus? Why would you not vouchsafe him a look or a word, when he came to consult Tiresias that day? you stalked past your old comrade in arms as if he was beneath your notice.
Aj. Had I not good reason? My madness lies at the door of my solitary rival for the arms.
Ag. Did you expect to be unopposed, and carry it over us all without a contest?
Aj. Surely, in such a matter. The armour was mine by natural right, seeing I was Achilles’s cousin. The rest of you, his undoubted superiors, refused to compete, recognizing my claim. It was the son of Laertes, he that I had rescued scores of times when he would have been cut to pieces by the Phrygians, who set up for a better man and a stronger claimant than I.
Ag. Blame Thetis, then, my good sir; it was she who, instead of delivering the inheritance to the next of kin, brought the arms and left the ownership an open question.
Aj. No, no; the guilt was in claiming them — alone, I mean.
Ag. Surely, Ajax, a mere man may be forgiven the sin of coveting honour — that sweetest bait for which each one of us adventured; nay, and he outdid you there, if a Trojan verdict counts.
Aj. Who inspired that verdict 16? I know, but about the Gods we may not speak. Let that pass; but cease to hate Odysseus? ’tis not in my power, Agamemnon, though Athene’s self should require it of me.
16 Athene is meant. The allusion is to Homer, Od. xi. 547, a passage upon the contest for the arms of Achilles, in which Odysseus states that ‘The judges were the sons of the Trojans, and Pallas Athene.’
Mi. Sostratus, the pirate here, can be dropped into Pyriphlegethon, Hermes; the temple-robber shall be clawed by the Chimera; and lay out the tyrant alongside of Tityus, there to have his liver torn by the vultures. And you honest fellows can make the best of your way to Elysium and the Isles of the Blest; this it is to lead righteous lives.
Sos. A word with you, Minos. See if there is not some justice in my plea.
Mi. What, more pleadings? Have you not been convicted of villany and murder without end?
Sos. I have. Yet consider whether my sentence is just.
Mi. Is it just that you should have your deserts? If so, the sentence is just.
Sos. Well, answer my questions; I will not detain you long.
Mi. Say on, but be brief; I have other cases waiting for me.
Sos. The deeds of my life — were they in my own choice, or were they decreed by Fate?
Mi. Decreed, of course.
Sos. Then all of us, whether we passed for honest men or rogues, were the instruments of Fate in all that we did?
Mi. Certainly; Clotho prescribes the conduct of every man at his birth.
Sos. Now suppose a man commits a murder under compulsion of a power which he cannot resist, an executioner, for instance, at the bidding of a judge, or a bodyguard at that of a tyrant. Who is the murderer, according to you?
Mi. The judge, of course, or the tyrant. As well ask whether the sword is guilty, which is but the tool of his anger who is prime mover in the affair.
Sos. I am indebted to you for a further illustration of my argument. Again: a slave, sent by his master, brings me gold or silver; to whom am I to be grateful? who goes down on my tablets as a benefactor?
Mi. The sender; the bringer is but his minister.
Sos. Observe then your injustice! You punish us who are but the slaves of Clotho’s bidding, and reward these, who do but minister to another’s beneficence. For it will never be said that it was in our power to gainsay the irresistible ordinances of Fate?
Mi. Ah, Sostratus; look closely enough, and you will find plenty of inconsistencies besides these. However, I see you are no common pirate, but a philosopher in your way; so much you have gained by your questions. Let him go, Hermes; he shall not be punished after that. But mind, Sostratus, you must not put it into other people’s heads to ask questions of this kind.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11