Part 13 out of 17
To watch the violence and righteousness of men.
Aristachus says the word "righteousness" ([Greek omitted]) comes
from the words "to distribute well." Hence law ([Greek omitted])
seems to be called, because it distributes ([Greek omitted]) equal
parts to all or to each according to his worth. But that he knew
the force of law was conserved, if not in writing at least in the
opinion of men, he shows in many ways. For he makes Achilles
talking about the sceptre say (I. i. 237):--
And now 'tis borne,
Emblem of justice, by the sons of Greece,
Who guard the sacred ministry of law
Before the face of Jove.
For usages and customs, the laws of which Zeus is reported as the
lawgiver, with whom Minos the king of the Cretans had converse men
say; which converse is, as Plato bears witness, the learning of the
laws. Clearly in his poems he reveals that it is necessary to
follow the laws and not to do wrong (O. xviii. 141):--
Wherefore let no man forever be lawless any more, but keep
quietly the gifts of the gods, whatsoever they may give.
Homer first of all divided into different parts civil polity.
For in the shield which was made in imitation of the whole world by
Hephaestus (that is, spiritual power) he imagined two cities to be
contained: one enjoying peace and happiness; the other at war, and
exposing the advantages of each he shows that the one life is civil
and the other military. Neither did he pass over even the
agricultural. But he showed this, too, making it clear and
beautiful in his language.
In every city it is sanctioned by the law that there is to be a
meeting of a council to consider before the popular assembly is
called together. This is evident from the words of Homer
(I. ii. 53):--
But first of all the Elders
A secret conclave Agamemnon called.
Agamemnon collects the Elders, and examines with them how to arm
the people for the fight.
And that it is necessary for the leader before all things to care
for the salvation of the whole, he teaches in his characters by
the advice he gives (I. ii. 24):--
To sleep all night but ill becomes a chief.
And how it is necessary for subjects to obey their leader, and how
the commander should bear himself toward each class; Odysseus
shows this, persuading the superior class by soft words, but using
toward the crowd bitter words of rebuke.
To rise up for one's superiors is sanctioned in all laws.
This the gods themselves do in the case of Zeus (I. i. 535):--
At his entrance all
Rose from their seats at once; not one presumed
To wait his coming.
There is a rule among most that the eldest shall speak. Diomed by
necessity of the war having dared to speak first, requests to be
pardoned (I. xiv. 111):--
Nor take offence that I,
The youngest of all, presume to speak.
And it is an universal rule that voluntary offences are punished
and involuntary ones are excused. This, too, the poet shows, in
what the minstrel says (O. xxii. 350):--
And Telemachus will testify of this, thine own dear son, that
not by mine own will or desire did I resort to thy house to
sing to the wooers after their feasts; but being so many and
stronger than I, they led me by constraint.
There are three forms of polity intended to attain justice and good
laws,--Royalty, Aristocracy, and Democracy. To these are opposed
three which end in injustice and lawlessness,--Tyranny, Oligarchy,
and Mob Rule. Homer does not seem ignorant of these.
Throughout his whole poem he names kingly rule and praises it;
for example (I. ii. 196):--
For fierce his anger, and the Lord of counsel, Jove,
From whom proceeds all honor, loves him well.
And what sort of a man a king must be, he plainly reveals
(O. ii. 236):--
Be kind and gentle with all his heart.
And (O. iv. 690):--
One that wrought no iniquity toward any man, nor spake aught
unrighteous in the township, as is the wont of divine kings.
And severally where he enumerates five kings of the Boeotians, and
among the Phaeacians (O. viii. 390):--
Behold there are twelve glorious princes who rule among this
people and bear sway, and I myself am the thirteenth.
The image of democracy he shows clearly on the shield, in which he
makes two cities. The one he says is ruled democratically, since
they have no leader, yet all by their own will conduct themselves
according to the laws; then, too, he introduces a trial
proceeding. And he exhibits a democracy when he says
(O. xvi. 425):--
In fear of the people, for they were exceedingly wroth against
him, because he had followed with Topheon sea-robbers and
harried the Thesprotians, who were at peace with us.
A man ruling with violence and contrary to the laws he does not
call a tyrant, for the name is of more recent date. But his
nature he exhibits in his deeds (O. vxiii. 85):--
And send thee to the mainland to Echetus the king, the maimer
of all mankind, who will cut off thy nose and ears with the
And he shows Aegisthus tyrannical, who killed Agamemnon and lorded
over Mycenae. And when he was killed he says he would have had no
sepulchre if Menelaus had been there. For this was the custom with
tyrants (O. iii. 258):--
Then even in his death would they not have heaped the piled
earth over him, but dogs and fowls of the air would have
devoured him as he lay on the plain far from the town:
so dread was the deed he contrived.
Oligarchy he seems to show in the ambition of the suitors, about
whom he says (O. i. 247):--
As many as lord it in rocky Ithaca.
He describes the mob rule in the Trojan government in which all
are accomplices of Alexander and all are involved in misfortunes.
Priam accuses his sons of being the cause (I. xxiv. 253):--
Haste, worthless sons, my scandal and my shame!
And also another Trojan, Antimachus (I. xi. 124):--
'Twas he who chief
Seduc'd by Paris' gold and splendid gifts
Advis'd the restitution to refuse
Of Helen to her lord.
It is esteemed just among men to distribute to each according to
his worth. This principle concerns especially reverencing the
gods, and honoring parents and relations. Piety toward the gods he
teaches in many passages, introducing the heroes sacrificing,
praying, offering gifts to the gods, and celebrating them in
hymns, and as a reward for their piety they receive from the gods.
Honor to parents he shows especially, in the character of
Telemachus, and in his praise of Orestes (O. i. 298):---
Or hast thou not heard what renown the goodly Orestes got
among all men in that he slew the slayer of his father?
For parents to be cared for in their old age by their children is
just by nature and a debt of retribution; this he showed in one
passage where he says (I. xvii. 302):--
Not destin'd he his parents to repay their early care.
The good will and good faith of brothers to one another he shows
in Agamemnon and Menelaus, of friends in Achilles and Patroclus,
prudence and wifely love in Penelope, the longing of a man for his
wife in Odysseus.
How we should act toward our country he showed especially in these
words (I. xii. 243):--
The best of omens is our country's cause.
And how citizens should share a common friendship (I. ix. 63):--
Outcast from kindred, law, and hearth is he
Whose soul delights in fierce, internal strife.
That truthfulness is honorable and the contrary to be avoided
(I. ix. 312):--
Him as the gates of hell my soul abhors
Where outward speech his secret thought belies.
And (O. xviii. 168):--
Who speak friendly with their lips, but imagine evil in the
Households are chiefly well ordered when the wife does not make a
fuss over the undeclared plans of her husband nor without his
counsel undertakes to do any thing. Both he shows in the person of
Hera; the former he attributes to Zeus as speaker (I. i. 545):--
Expect not Juno, all my mind to know.
And the latter Hera herself speaks (I. xiv. 310):--
Lest it displease thee, if, to thee unknown,
I sought the Ocean's deeply flowing stream,
There is a custom among all people for those who go to a war or who
are in danger to send some message to their families. Our poet was
familiar with this custom. For Andromache, bewailing Hector, says
(I. xxiv. 743):--
For not to me was giv'n to clasp the hand extended from thy
Nor words of wisdom catch, which night and day,
With tears, I might have treasur'd in my heart.
Penelope recalls the commands of Odysseus when he set forth
(O. xviii. 265):--
Wherefore I know not if the gods will suffer me to return, or
whether I shall be cut off there in Troy; so do thou have a
care for all these things. Be mindful of my father and my
mother in the halls, even as thou art or yet more than now,
while I am far away. But when thou see'st thy son a bearded
man, marry whom thou wilt and leave thine own house.
He knew also the custom of having stewards (O. ii. 226):--
He it was to whom Odysseus, as he departed in the fleet, had
given the charge over all his house. that it should obey the
old man, and that he should keep all things safe.
Grief at the death in one's household he thinks should not be
unmeasured; for this is unworthy, nor does he allow it altogether
to be repressed; for apathy is impossible for mankind, whence he
says the following (I. xxiv. 48):--
He mourns and weeps, but time his grief allays,
For fate to man a patient mind hath given.
Other places he says (I. xix. 228):--
Behooves us bury out of sight our dead
Steeling our hearts and weeping but a day.
He also knew the customs used now at funerals, in other passages
and in the following (I. xvi. 456):--
There shall his brethren and his friends perform
His fun'ral rites, and mound and column raise
The fitting tribute to the mighty dead
And as Andromache says (before) the naked and prostrate body of
Hector (I. xxii. 509):--
But now on thee, beside the beaked ships
Far from thy parents, when the rav'ning dogs
Have had their fill, the wriggling worms shall feed
In thee all naked; while within thy house
Lies store of raiment, rich and rare, the work
Of women's hands: these I will burn with fire
Not for thy need--thou ne'er shalt wear them more
But for thine honor in the sight of Troy.
So, too, Penelope prepares the shroud (O. ii. 99):--
Even this shroud for the hero Laertes.
But these are examples of moderation. But exceeding these are the
living creatures and men Achilles burns on the pyre of Patroclus.
He tells us of them, but does not do so in words of praise.
Therefore he exclaims (I. xxi. 19):--
On savage deeds intent.
And he first of all mentions monuments to the slain
(I. vii. 336):--
And on the plains erect
Around the pyre one common pyre for all.
And he gave the first example of funeral games. These are common
to times of peace and war.
Experience in warlike affairs, which some authorities call Tactics,
his poetry being varied by infantry, siege, and naval engagements,
and also by individual contests, covers many types of strategy.
Some of these are worth mentioning. In drawing up armies it is
necessary always to put the cavalry in front, and after it the
infantry. This he indicates in the following verses
(I. ii. 297):--
In the front rank, with chariot and with horse,
He plac'd the car-borne warriors; in the rear,
Num'rous and brave, a cloud of infantry!
And as to placing leaders among the soldiers as they are arranged
in files (I. ix. 86):--
Seven were the leaders; and with each went forth,
A hundred gallant youths, with lances armed.
Some of the leaders fight in the front rank; some in the rear
exhort the rest to fight (I. iv. 252):--
And come where round their chief
Idomeneus, the warlike bards of Crete
Were coming for the fight; Idomeneus
Of courage stubborn as the forest boar
The foremost ranks array'd; Meriones
The rearmost squadrons had in charge.
It is necessary for those who are valiant to camp in the extreme
limits, making as it were a wall for the rest; but for the king is
pitched his tent in the safest place, that is, in the midst.
He shows this by making the most valorous men, Achilles and Ajax,
encamp in the most exposed spaces of the fleet, but Agamemnon and
the rest in the middle.
The custom of surrounding the camp with earth-works, and digging
around it a deep and wide ditch and planting it in a circle with
stakes so that no one can jump over it by reason of its breadth,
nor go down into it because of its depth, is found in the warlike
operations of Homer (I. xii. 52):--
In vain we seek to drive
Our horses o'er the ditch: it is hard to cross,
'Tis crowned with pointed stakes, and then behind
Is built the Grecian wall; these to descend,
And from our cars in narrow space to fight,
Were certain ruin.
And in battle those who follow the example of Homer's heroes die
bravely (I. xxii. 304):--
Yet not without a struggle let me die,
Nor all inglorious; but let some great act,
Which future days may hear of, mark my fall.
And another time (O. xv. 494):--
And if there be among you who this day shall meet his doom by
sword or arrow slain, e'en let him die! a glorious death is
his who for his country falls.
To those who distinguish themselves he distributes gifts
(I. ix. 334):--
To other chiefs and kings he meted out their several portions.
And he threatens deserters (I. xv. 348):--
Whom I elsewhere, and from the ships aloof
Shall find, my hand shall down him on the spot.
Why is it necessary to speak of the heroes in battle?
How differently and variously he makes them give and receive
wounds. One he thinks worthy of mention, because he thinks those
wounded in front are the more honorable because they prove
steadfastness and a desire to abide the shock. Those who are
struck in the back or neck were less honorable, since these blows
they received in flight. Both of these are mentioned in Homer
(I. xii. 288):--
Not in the neck behind, nor in thy back
Should fall the blow, but in thy breast in front,
Thy courage none might call in doubt
Shouldst thou from spear or sword receive a wound.
And again (I. xxii. 213):--
Not in my back will I receive thy spear,
But through my heart.
In putting enemies to flight he gives useful advice, not to be
busied with the spoil, nor give time for flight, but to press on
and pursue (I. vi. 68):--
Loiter not now behind, to throw yourselves
Upon the prey, and bear it to the ships;
Let all your aim be now to kill, then
Ye may at leisure spoil your slaughtered foe.
There are in his poetry successful deeds achieved by every age, by
which every one, no matter who he may be, can be encouraged:
the man in the flower of his strength by Achilles, Ajax, and
Diomed; by younger ones Antilochus and Meriones; the mature by
Idomeneus and Odysseus; the old men by Nestor; and every king by
all of these named and by Agamemnon. Such are in Homer the
examples of the discourse and action of civilized life.
Let us see now whether Homer had any familiarity with medicine.
That he held the art in high regard is clear from the following
(I. xi. 514):--
Worth many a life is his, the skilful leech.
Medical science appears to be the science of disease and health.
That it is a science any one can learn from this (O. iv. 23):--
There each one is a leech skilled beyond all men.
That it deals with disease and health (O. iv. 230):--
Many that are healing in the cup, and many baneful,--
he indicates with these things.
Medicine has, too, a theoretical side which reaches the knowledge
of particulars by universal reasoning and by inductive method.
The parts of this are the study of symptoms and the knowledge of
the courses of disease. The active part treating of action and
effect; the parts of it diatetic, surgical, medicinal. How did
Homer appraise each of these? That he knew the theoretical side is
evident from this (O. iv. 227):--
Medicines of such virtue and so helpful had the daughters
He calls them "of such virtue" because they were prepared by
But the study of symptoms he goes over in the case of Achilles.
For he was a disciple of Charon. He first observed, then, the
causes of the pestilence which was attacking the Greeks. For he
knew that the causes of common diseases were from Apollo, who seems
to be the same as the Sun. For he notices the seasons of the year.
If these are intemperate, they become the causes of disease.
For, in general, the safety and destruction of men are to be
ascribed to Apollo, of women to Artemis, i.e. to the Sun and Moon,
making them the casters of arrows by reason of the rays they throw
out. So dividing the male and female he makes the male of the
warmer temperament. On this account, at any rate, he says
Telemachus is of this type, "by the guidance of Apollo"; but the
daughters of Tyndarus grew up, he says, under the protection of
Artemis. Moreover, to these gods he attributes death in many
places, and among others in the following (I. xxiv. 605):--
The youths, Apollo with his silver bow;
The maids, the Archer Queen Diana slew.
Where he relates the rising of the Dog Star, the same is a sign and
cause of fever and disease (I. xxii. 30):--
The highest he but sign to mortal man
Of evil augury and fiery heat.
He gives the causes of disease where he speaks about the gods
(I. v. 341):--
They eat no bread, they drink no ruddy wine,
Thence are they bloodless and exempt from death.
For food, whether dry or humid, is generative of blood. And this
nourishes the body; if it is excessive or corrupt, it becomes the
cause of disease.
The practical part of medicine he carefully distinguishes. In this
is the dietetic. First, he knew the periods and cures of diseases,
as when he says (O. xi. 171):--
What doom overcame thee of death that lays men at their
length? Was it a slow disease, or did Artemis the archer slay
them with the visitation of her gentle shafts?
It is evident that he thinks a light diet is healthful. For he
pictures his heroes making use of cooked food and so removes
extravagant attention about things to eat. And since the stomach
needs constant repletion, when cooked food, which has the closest
relation to the body, is digested in the heart and veins, and the
surfeit is cast forth, he says words like the following
(O. vii. 215):--
But as for me suffer me to sup afflicted as I am; for naught
is there more shameless than a ravening belly, which biddeth a
man perforce be mindful of him.
And again (O. vii. 219):--
Yet ever more he biddeth me eat and drink, and maketh utterly
to forget all my sufferings and commandeth me to take my fill.
He knew, too, the difference in the use of wine: that immoderate
drinking is harmful. but moderate profitable; as follows
(O. xxi. 294):--
Honey sweet wine, that is the bane of others too, even of all
who take great draughts and drink out of measure.
The other so (I. vi. 261):--
But great the strength,
Which gen'rous wine imparts to men who toil
And that gives additional force.
and (I. xix. 167):--
But he who first with food and wine refreshed
All day maintains the combat with the foe.
His spirit retains unbroken, and his limbs
Unwearied till both armies quit the field.
And he thinks the agreeable taste contributes to good fellowship
(O. vii. 182):--
So spake he, and Pontonous mixed the gladdening wine.
The strong and heady kind Odysseus gives to the Cyclops, the sharp
kind for a medicine, for such is the Promneon brand, which he
gives to wounded Machaon.
That he advises the use of gymnastics is evident in many places,
for he makes his characters always at work, some in appropriate
occupations, some for the sake of exercise. Although the
Phaeacians are externally given to softness, and the suitors are
dissolute, he introduces them doing gymnastic feats. And moderate
exercise he thinks is the cause of health. For a tired body sleep
is a remedy. For he says "sleep came upon Odysseus" after he had
been tired out by the sea (O. v. 493):--
That so it might soon release him from his weary travail,
overshadowing his eyelids.
Nature requires a tired body to take rest. And where there is too
little heat, as it is not able to penetrate everywhere, it remains
at the lowest level. Why does the body rest? Because the tension
of the soul is remitted and the members are dissolved and this he
clearly says (O. iv. 794):--
And she sank back in sleep, and all her joints were loosened.
As in other things, immoderation is not advantageous; so he
declares the same with regard to sleep, at one time saying
(O, xiv. 394):--
Weariness and much sleep.
And another (O. xx. 52):--
To wake and watch all night, this, too, is vexation of spirit.
He knew, too, that clearness of air contributes to health, where he
says (O. iv. 563):--
But the deathless gods will convey thee to the Elysian plain
and the World's end, where is Rhadamanthus of the fair hair,
where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor yet
great storm, nor any rain; but always ocean sendeth forth the
breeze of the shrill west to blow cool on men.
He knew remedies for sufferings; for cold revives those who are
fainting, as in the case of Sarpedon (I. v. 697):--
He swooned, and giddy mists o'erspread his eyes,
But soon revived as on his forehead blew
While yet he gasped for breath the cooling breeze.
Heat is a remedy for cold, as in the case of storm-tossed Odysseus,
who bends down in the thicket, where there is a protection against
winds and rains, and he covers himself with the wood about him.
And other places he mentions baths and anointing, as in the case of
Diomed and Odysseus returning from their night expedition.
The special usefulness of baths he shows especially in the
following (O. x. 362):--
She bathed me with water from out a great caldron, pouring it
over head and shoulders, where she had mixed it to a pleasant
warmth till from my limbs she took away consuming weariness.
It is plain that the nerves have their origin in the head and
shoulders. So probably from this he makes the healing of fatigue
to be taken. This takes place by the wetting and warming;
for labors are parching.
We have now to consider how he treated the function of surgery.
Machaon heals Menelaus by first removing the javelin; then he
examines the wound and presses out the blood, and scatters over it
dry medicaments. And it is evident that this is done by him in a
technical fashion. Eurypalus, who is wounded in the thigh, first
treats it with a sharp knife, then he washes it with clear water;
afterward to diminish the pain, he employs an herb. For there are
many in existence that heal wounds. He knew this, too, that bitter
things are suitable; for to dry up wounds requires exsiccation.
After Patroclus has applied the healing art, he did not go away
immediately, but (I. xv. 393):--
Remaining, with his converse soothed the chief.
For a sufferer needs sympathy. Machaon wounded not with a great or
fatal wound on the shoulder, he makes using intentionally a
somewhat careless diet. Perhaps here he shows his art. For he who
takes care of himself at ordinary times is able to heal himself.
This is noted, too, in Homer, that he knows the distinction of
drugs. Some are to be used as plasters, others as powders, as when
he says (I. iv. 218):--
And applied with skilful hand the herbs of healing power.
But some are to be drunk, as where Helen mixes a medicine in a bowl
(O. iv. 221):--
A drug to lull all pain and anger, and bring forgetfulness of
He knows, too, that some poisonous drugs are to be applied as
ointments (O. i. 261):--
To seek a deadly drug, that he might have wherewithal to
smear his bronze-shod arrows.
Others are to be drunk, as in these words (O. ii. 330):--
To fetch a poisonous drug that he may cast it into the bowl
and make an end of all of us.
So much for medicines in the Homeric poems.
Divination is useful to man like medicine. A part of this the
Stoics call artificial, as the inspection of entrails and birds'
oracles, lots, and signs. All of these they call in general
artificial. But what is not artificial, and is not acquired by
learning, are trances and ecstasy, Homer knew, too, of these
phenomena. But he also knew of seers, priests, interpreters of
dreams, and augurs. A certain wise man in Ithaca he tells of
(O. ii 159):--
He excelled his peers in knowledge of birds and in uttering
words of fate.
And Odysseus, praying, says (O. xx. 100):--
Let some one I pray of the folk that are waking show me a
word of good omen within and without; let soon other sign be
revealed to me from Zeus.
Snoring with him is a good sign. A divinely inspired seer is with
the suitors, telling the future by divine inspiration. Once, too,
Helenus says (I. vii. 53):--
He was the recipient of a divine voice.
By revelation from th' eternal gods.
He gives cause of believing that Socrates had actually
communications from the voice of the daemon.
What natural or scientific art is left untouched? Tragedy took its
start from Homer, and afterward was raised to supremacy in words
and things. He shows that there is every form of tragedy;
great and extraordinary deeds, appearances of the gods, speech full
of wisdom, revealing all sorts of natures. In a word, his poems
are all dramas, serious and sublime in expression, also in feeling
and in subject. But they contain no exhibition of unholy deeds,
lawless marriages, or the murder of parents and children, or the
other marvels of more recent tragedy. But when he mentions a thing
of this kind, he seems to conceal rather than to condemn the
crime. As he does in the case of of Clytemnestra. For he says
(O. iii. 266):--
That she was endowed with an excellent mind as she had with
her a teacher appointed by Agamemnon, to give her the
Aegisthus got this tutor out of the way and persuaded her to sin.
He allows that Orestes justly avenged his father's death by killing
Aegisthus; but he passes over in silence the murder of his mother.
Many of the like examples are to be seen in the poet, as a writer
of majestic, but not inhuman, tragedy.
None the less, however, Comedy took from him its origin; for he
contains, although he relates the gravest and most serious things,
episodes which move to laughter, as in the "Iliad" Hephaestus is
introduced limping and pouring out wine for the gods (I. i. 599):--
Rose laughter irrepressible, at sight
Of Vulcan hobbling round the spacious hall.
Thersites is most contemptible in body and most evil in
disposition, from his raising a disturbance, and his slanderous
speech and boastfulness. Odysseus attacks him on this account and
gives occasion to all to laugh (I. ii. 270):--
The Greeks, despite their anger, laugh'd aloud.
In the "Odyssey" among the pleasure-loving Phaeacians their bard
sings the adultery of Ares and Aphrodite. He tells how they fell
into the snares of Hepheastus, and were taken in the act, and
caused all the gods to laugh, and how they joked frequently with
one another. And among the dissolute suitors Irus the beggar is
brought in, contesting for a prize with the most noble Odysseus,
and how he appeared ridiculous in the action. Altogether it is the
character of human nature, not only to be intense, but to take "a
moral holiday" so that the men may be equal to the troubles of
life. Such relaxation for the mind is to be found in our poet.
Those who in later days introduced Comedy to produce laughter made
use of bare and naked language, but they cannot claim to have
invented anything better. Of erotic feelings and expression, Homer
makes but a moderate use; as Zeus says (I. iii. 442):--
For never did thy beauty so inflame my sense.
And what follows, and about Helen (I. iii. 156):--
And 'tis no marvel, one to other said,
The valiant Trojans and the well-greaved Greeks
For beauty such as this should long endure
The toils of war.
And other things of the same kind. Other poets have represented
men taken by this passion uncontrollably and immoderately. This is
sufficient for this subject.
Epigrams are a pleasing variety of speech; they are found on
statues and on monuments indicating succinctly to whom they are
dedicated. And this, too, is a mark of Homer where he says
(I. vii. 89):--
Lo! there a warrior's tomb of days gone by,
A mighty chief whom glorious Hector slew.
And again (I. vi. 460):--
Lo! this was Hector's wife, who, when they fought
On plains of Troy, was Ilion's bravest chief.
But if any one should say that Homer was a master of painting, he
would make no mistake. For some of the wise men said that poetry
was speaking painting, and painting silent poetry. Who before or
who more than Homer, by the imagination of his thoughts or by the
harmony of his verse, showed and exalted gods, men, places, and
different kinds of deeds? For he showed by abundance of language
all sorts of creatures and the most notable things--lions, swine,
leopards. Describing their forms and characters and comparing them
to human deeds, he showed the properties of each. He dared to
liken the forms of gods to those of men. Hephaestus prepared
Achilles' shield; he sculptured in gold, land, sky, sea, the
greatness of the Sun and the beauty of the Moon and the host of the
stars crowning all. He placed on it cities in different states and
fortunes, and animals moving and speaking. Who has more skill than
the artificer of such an art?
Let us see in another example out of many how poems resemble more
those things that are seen than those that are heard. As for
example, in the passage where he tells of the wound of Odysseus, he
introduces what Eurychleias did (O. xix. 468):--
Now the old woman took the scarred limb and passed her hand
down it, and knew it by the touch and let the foot drop
suddenly, so that the knees fell into the bath, and the vessel
broke, being turned over on the other side, and that water was
spilled on the ground. Then grief and joy came on her in one
moment, and her eyes filled with tears, and the voice of her
utterance was stayed, and touching the chin of Odysseus, she
spake to him saying, "Yea, verily, thou art Odysseus, my dear
child, and I knew thee not before till I had handled all the
body of my lord." Therewithal she looked toward Penelope, as
minded to make a sign and the rest.
For here more things are shown than can be in a picture and those
can be weighed by the eyes. They are not to be taken in by the
eyes, but by the intelligence alone: such as the letting go of the
foot through emotion, the sound of the tears, the spilt water and
the grief, and at the same time the joy of the old women, her words
to Odysseus, and what she is about to say as she looks toward
Penelope. Many other things are graphically revealed in the poet
which come out when he is read.
It is time to close a work which we have woven, like a crown from a
beflowered and variegated field, and which we offer to Muses.
And we, we shall not lay it to the heart if any one censures us,
because the Homeric poems contain the basis of evil things, if we
ascribe to him various political, ethical, and scientific
discussions. Since good things are by themselves simple,
straightforward, and unprepared; but what is mixed with evil has
many different modes and all kinds of combinations, from which the
substance of the matter is derived. If evil is added to the
others, the knowledge and choice of the good is made easier.
And on the whole a subject of this sort gives occasion to the poet
for originating discourse of all kinds, some belonging to himself,
some proper to the characters he introduces. From this
circumstance be gives much profit to his readers. Why should we
not ascribe to Homer every excellence? Those things that he did
not work up, they who came after him have noticed. And some make
use of his verses for divination, like the oracles of God.
Others setting forward other projects fit to them for our use what
he has said by changing or transposing it.
END OF TWELVE--------------
THE BANQUET OF THE SEVEN WISE MEN.
THE SEVEN,--SOLON, DIAS, THALES, ANACHARSIS, CLEOBULUS,
NILOXENUS, EUMETIS, ALEXIDEMUS PERIANDER, ARDALUS, AESOP, CLEODEMUS, MNESIPHILUS, CHERSIAS, GORGIAS, DIOCLES.
DIOCLES TO NICARCHUS
No wonder, my friend Nicarchus, to find old truths so disguised,
and the words and actions of men so grossly and misrepresented and
lamely delivered, seeing people are so disposed to give ear and
credit to fictions of yesterday's standing. For there were not
merely seven present at that feast, as you were informed;
there were more than double the number. I was there myself in
person familiarly acquainted with Periander (my art had gained me
his acquaintance); and Thales boarded at my house, at the request
and upon the recommendation of Periander. Whoever then gave you
that account of our feast did it very inadequately; it is plain he
did it upon hearsay and that he was not there among us. Now, that
we are together and at leisure, and possibly we may not live to
find an opportunity so convenient another time, I will (as you wish
it) give you a faithful account of the whole proceedings at
Periander had prepared a dinner for us, not in the town, but in a
dining-hall which stands close to the temple of Venus, to whom
there was a sacrifice that day. For having neglected the duty ever
since his mother died for love, he was resolved now to atone for
the omission, being warned so to do by the dreams of Melissa.
In order thereunto, there was provided a rich chariot for every
one of the guests. It was summer-time, and every part of the way
quite to the seaside was hardly passable, by reason of throngs of
people and whole clouds of dust. As soon as Thales espied the
chariot waiting at the door, he smilingly discharged it, and we
walked through the fields to avoid the press and noise. There was
in our company a third person, Niloxenus a Naucratian, an eminent
man, who was very intimately acquainted with Solon and Thales in
Egypt; he had a message to deliver to Bias, and a letter sealed,
the contents whereof he knew not; only he guessed it contained a
second question to be resolved by Bias, and in case Bias undertook
not to answer it, he had in commission to impart it to the wisest
men in Greece. What a fortune is this (quoth Niloxenus) to find
you all together! This paper (showing it us) I am bringing to the
banquet. Thales replied, after his wonted smiling way, If it
contains any hard question, away with it to Priene. Bias will
resolve it with the same readiness he did your former problem.
What problem was that? quoth he. Why, saith Thales, a certain
person sent him a beast for sacrifice with this command, that he
should return him that part of his flesh which was best and worst;
our philosopher very gravely and wisely pulled out the tongue of
the beast, and sent it to the donor;--which single act procured him
the name and reputation of a very wise man. It was not this act
alone that advanced him in the estimation of the world, quoth
Niloxenus; but he joyfully embraces what you so carefully shun, the
acquaintance and friendship of kings and great men; and whereas he
honors you for divers great accomplishments, he particularly
admires you for this invention, that with little labor and no help
of any mathematical instrument you took so truly the height of one
of the pyramids; for fixing your staff erect at the point of the
shadow which the pyramid cast, two triangles being thus made by the
tangent rays of the sun, you demonstrated that what proportion one
shadow had to the other, such the pyramid bore to the stick.
But, as I said, you are accused of being a hater of kings, and
certain false friends of yours have presented Amasis with a paper
of yours stuffed with sentences reproachful to majesty; as for
instance, being at a certain time asked by Molpagoras the Ionian,
what the most absurd thing was you had observed in your notice, you
replied, An old king. Another time, in a dispute that happened in
your company about the nature of beasts, you affirmed that of wild
beasts, a king, of tame, a flatterer, was the worst. Such apothegms
must needs be unacceptable to kings, who pretend there is vast
difference between them and tyrants. This was Pittacus's reply to
Myrsilus, and it was spoken in jest, quoth Thales; nor was it an
old king I said I should marvel at, but an old pilot. In this
mistake however, I am much of the youth's mind who, throwing a
stone at a dog, hit his stepmother, adding, Not so bad.
I therefore esteemed Solon a very wise and good man, when I
understood he refused empire; and if Pittacus had not taken upon
himself a monarchy, he had never exclaimed, O ye gods! how hard a
matter it is to be good! And Periander, however he seems to be
sick of his father's disease, is yet to be commended that he gives
ear to wholesome discourses and converses only with wise and good
men, rejecting the advice of Thrasybulus my countryman who would
have persuaded him to chop off the heads of the leading men. For a
prince that chooses rather to govern slaves than freemen is like a
foolish farmer, who throws his wheat and barley in the streets, to
fill his barns with swarms of locusts and whole cages of birds.
For government has one good thing to make amends for its many
evils, namely, honor and glory, provided one rules good men as
being better than they and great men because greater than they.
But he that having ascended the throne minds only his own interest
and ease, is fitter to tend sheep or to drive horses or to feed
cattle than to govern men.
But this stranger (continues he) has engaged us in a deal of
impertinent chat, for we have omitted to speak or offer any
discourse suitable to the occasion and end of our meeting;
for doubtless it becomes the guest as well as the host, to make
preparation beforehand. It is reported that the Sybarites used to
invite their neighbors' wives a whole twelve-month before to their
entertainments, that they might have convenient time to trim and
adorn themselves; for my part, I am of opinion, that he who would
feast as he should ought to allow himself more time for preparation
than they, it being a more difficult matter to compose the mind
into an agreeable temper than to fit one's clothes for the outward
ornament of the body. For a prudent man comes not hither only to
fill his belly, as if he were to fill a bottle, but to be sometimes
grave and serious, sometimes pleasant, sometimes to listen to
others, and sometimes to speak himself what may benefit or divert
the company, if the meeting is intended for any good use or
purpose. For if the victuals be not good, men may let them alone,
or if the wine be bad, men may use water; but for a weak-brained,
impertinent, unmannerly, shallow fellow-commoner there is no cure;
he mars all the mirth and music, and spoils the best entertainment
in the world. And it will be no easy business to lay aside a
sullen temper; since we find divers men, angered in their
debauches, have yet remembered the provocation to their dying day,
the spite remaining like a surfeit arising from wrong done or an
insult received in drinking. Wherefore Chilo did very well and
wisely; for when he invited yesterday, he would not promise to come
till he had a particular given him of all their names who were to
meet him. For, quoth he, if my business calls me to sea or I am
pressed to serve my prince in his wars, there is a necessity upon
me to rest contented with whatever company I fall into, though
never so unsuitable to my quality or disagreeable to my nature and
humor; but voluntarily and needlessly to associate myself with any
riffraff rabble would ill become any man pretending to but
The Egyptian skeleton which they brought into their feasts and
exposed to the view of their guests, with this advice, that they
should not in their merriment forget they would shortly be
themselves such as that was,--though it was a sight not so
acceptable (as may be supposed),--had yet this conveniency and use,
to incite the spectators not to luxury and drunkenness but to
mutual love and friendship, persuading them not to protract a life
in itself short and uncertain by a tedious course of wickedness.
In discourses of this kind we spent our time by the way, and were
now come to the house. Here Thales would not be washed, for he had
but a while before anointed himself; wherefore he took a round to
view the horse-race and the wrestling-place, and the grove upon the
water-side, which was neatly trimmed and beautified by Periander;
this he did, not so much to satisfy his own curiosity (for he
seldom or never admired anything he saw), but that he might not
disoblige Periander or seem to overlook or despise the glory and
magnificence of our host. Of the rest every one, after he had
anointed and washed himself, the servants introduced into a
particular room, purposely fitted and prepared for the men;
they were guided thither through a porch, in which Anacharsis sat,
and there was a certain young lady with him combing his hair.
This lady stepping forward to welcome Thales, he kissed her most
courteously, and smiling said: Madam, make our host fair and
pleasant, so that, being (as he is) the mildest man in the world,
he may not be fearful and terrible for us to look on. When I was
curious to inquire who this lady was, he said, Do you not yet know
the wise and famous Eumetis? for so her father calls her, though
others call her after her father's name Cleobulina. Doubtless,
saith Niloxenus, they call her by this name to commend her judgment
and wit, and her reach into the more abstruse and recondite part of
learning; for I have myself in Egypt seen and read some problems
first started and discussed by her. Not so, saith Thales, for she
plays with these as with cockal-bones, and deals boldly with all
she meets; she is a person of an admirable understanding, of a
shrewd capacious mind, of a very obliging conversation, and one
that prevails upon her father to govern his subjects with the
greatest mildness. How democratic she is appears, saith Niloxenus,
plainly to any that observes her simple innocent garb. But pray,
continues he, wherefore is it that she shows such affection to
Anacharsis? Because, replied Thales, he is a temperate and learned
man, who fully and freely makes known to her those mysterious ways
of dieting and physicing the sick which are now in use among the
Scythians; and I doubt not she now coaxes and courts the old
gentleman at the rate you see, taking this opportunity to discourse
with him and learn something of him.
As we were come near the dining-room, Alexidemus the Milesian, a
bastard son of Thrasybulus the Tyrant, met us. He seemed to be
disturbed, and in an angry tone muttered to himself some words
which we could not distinctly hear; but espying Thales, and
recovering himself out of his disorder, he complained how Periander
had put an insufferable affront upon him. He would not permit me,
saith he, to go to sea, though I earnestly importuned him, but he
would press me to dine with him. And when I came as invited, he
assigned me a seat unbecoming my person and character, Aeolians and
islanders and others of inferior rank being placed above me;
whence it is easy to infer how meanly he thinks of my father, and
it is undeniable how this affront put upon me rebounds
disgracefully in my parent's face. Say you so? quoth Thales, are
you afraid lest the place lessen or diminish your honor and worth,
as the Egyptians commonly hold the stars are magnified or lessened
according to their higher or lower place and position? And are you
more foolish than that Spartan who, when the prefect of the music
had appointed him to sit in the lowest seat in the choir, replied,
This is prudently done, for this is the ready way to bring this
seat into repute and esteem? It is a frivolous consideration,
where or below whom we sit; and it is a wiser part to adapt
ourselves to the judgment and humor of our right and left hand man
and the rest of the company, that we may approve ourselves worthy
of their friendship, when they find we take no pet at our host, but
are rather pleased to be placed near such good company.
And whosoever is disturbed upon the account of his place seems to
be more angry with his neighbor than with his host, but certainly
is very troublesome and nauseous to both.
These are fine words, and no more, quoth Alexidemus, for I observe
you, the wisest of men, as ambitious as other men; and having said
thus, he passed by us doggedly and trooped off. Thales, seeing us
admiring the insolence of the man, declared he was a fellow
naturally of a blockish, stupid disposition; for when he was a boy,
he took a parcel of rich perfume that was presented to Thrasybulus
and poured it into a large bowl and mixing it with a quantity of
wine, drank it off and was ever hated for it. As Thales was
talking after this fashion, in comes a servant and tells us it was
Periander's pleasure we would come in and inform him what we
thought of a certain creature brought into his presence that
instant, whether it were so born by chance or were a monster and
omen;--himself seeming mightily affected and concerned, for he
judged his sacrifice polluted by it. At the same time he walked
before us into a certain house adjoining to his garden-wall, where
we found a young beardless shepherd, tolerably handsome, who having
opened a leathern bag produced and showed us a child born (as he
averred) of a mare. His upper parts as far as his neck and his
hands, was of human shape, and the rest of his body resembled a
perfect horse; his cry was like that of a child newly born.
As soon as Niloxenus saw it, he cried out. The gods deliver us;
and away he fled as one sadly affrighted. But Thales eyed the
shepherd a considerable while, and then smiling (for it was his way
to jeer me perpetually about my art) says he, I doubt not, Diocles,
but you have been all this time seeking for some expiatory
sacrifice, and meaning to call to your aid those gods whose
province and work it is to avert evils from men, as if some greet
and grievous thing had happened. Why not? quoth I, for undoubtedly
this prodigy portends sedition and war, and I fear the dire
portents thereof may extend to myself, my wife, and my children,
and prove all our ruin; since, before I have atoned for my former
fault, the goddess gives us this second evidence and proof of her
displeasure. Thales replied never a word, but laughing went out of
the house. Periander, meeting him at the door, inquired what we
thought of that creature; he dismissed me, and taking Periander by
the hand, said, Whatsoever Diocles shall persuade you to do, do it
at your best leisure; but I advise you either not to have such
youthful men to keep your mares, or to give them leave to marry.
When Periander heard him out, he seemed infinitely pleased, for he
laughed outright, and hugging Thales in his arms he kissed him;
then saith he, O Diocles, I am apt to think the worst is over, and
what this prodigy portended is now at an end; for do you not
apprehend what a loss we have sustained in the want of Alexidemus's
good company at supper?
When we entered into the house, Thales raising his voice inquired
where it was his worship refused to be placed; which being shown
him, he sat himself in that very place, and prayed us to sit down
by him, and said, I would gladly give any money to have an
opportunity to sit and eat with Ardalus. This Ardalus was a
Troezenian by birth, by profession a minstrel, and a priest of the
Ardalian Muses, whose temple old Ardalus had founded and dedicated.
Here Aesop, who was sent from Croesus to visit Periander, and
withal to consult the oracle at Delphi, sitting by and beneath
Solon upon a low stool, told the company this fable: A Lydian mule,
viewing his own picture in a river, and admiring the bigness and
beauty of his body, raises his crest; he waxes proud, resolving to
imitate the horse in his gait and running; but presently,
recollecting his extraction, how that his father was but an ass at
best, he stops his career and cheeks his own haughtiness and
bravery. Chilo replied, after his short concise way, You are slow
and yet try to run, in imitation of your mule.
Amidst these discourses in comes Melissa and sits her down by
Periander; Eumetis followed and came in as we were at supper;
then Thales calls to me (I sat me down above Bias), Why do you not
make Bias acquainted with the problems sent him from the King by
Niloxenus this second time, that he may soberly and warily weigh
them? Bias answered, I have been already scared with that news.
I have known that Bacchus is otherwise a powerful deity, and for
his wisdom is termed [Greek omitted] that is, THE INTERPRETER;
therefore I shall undertake it when my belly is full of wine.
Thus they jested and reparteed and played one upon another all the
while they sat at table. Observing the unwonted frugality of
Periander at this time, I considered with myself that the
entertainment of wise and good men is a piece of good husbandry,
and that so far from enhancing a man's expenses in truth it serves
to save charge, the charge (to wit) of costly foreign unguents and
junkets, and the waste of the richest wines, which Periander's
state and greatness required him every day in his ordinary treats
to expend. Such costly provisions were useless here, and
Periander's wisdom appeared in his frugality. Moreover, his lady
had laid aside her richer habit, and appeared in an ordinary, but a
very becoming dress.
Supper now ended, and Melissa having distributed the garlands, we
offered sacrifice; and when the minstrel had played us a tune or
two, she withdrew. Then Ardalus inquired of Anacharsis, if there
were women fiddlers at Scythia. He suddenly and smartly replied,
There are no vines there. Ardalus asked a second question, whether
the Scythians had any gods among them. Yes, quoth Anacharsis, and
they understand what men say to them; nor are the Scythians of the
Grecian opinion (however these last may be the better orators),
that the gods are better pleased with the sounds of flutes and
pipes than with the voice of men. My friend, saith Aesop, what
would you say if you saw our present pipe-makers throw away the
bones of fawns and hind-calves, to use those of asses, affirming
they yield the sweeter and more melodious sound?
Whereupon Cleobulina made one of her riddles about the Phrygian
flute, ... in regard to the sound, and wondered that an ass, a
gross animal and so alien from music should yet supply bones so fit
for harmony. Therefore it is doubtless, quoth Niloxenus, that the
people of Busiris blame us Naucratians for using pipes made of
asses' bones it being an insufferable crime in an of them to listen
to the flute or cornet, the sound thereof being (as they esteem it)
so like the braying of an ass; and you know an ass is hateful to
the Egyptians on account of Typhon.
There happening here a short silence, Periander, observing
Niloxenus willing but not daring to speak, said: I cannot but
commend the civility of those magistrates who give audience first
to strangers and afterwards to their own citizens; wherefore I
judge it convenient that we inhabitants and neighbors should
proceed no farther at present in our discourse, and that now
attention be given to those royal propositions sent us from Egypt,
which the worthy Niloxenus is commissioned to deliver to Bias, who
wishes that he and we may scan and examine them together. And Bias
said: For where or in what company would a man more joyfully
adventure to give his opinion than here in this? And since it is
his Majesty's pleasure that I should give my judgment first, in
obedience to his commands I will do so, and afterwards they shall
come to every one of you in order.
Then Niloxenus delivered the paper to Bias, who broke up the seal
and commanded it to be read in all their hearing. The contents
Amasis the king of Egypt, to Bias, the wisest of the Grecians,
greeting. There is a contest between my brother of Ethiopia and
myself about wisdom; and being baffled in divers other particulars,
he now demands of me a thing absurd and impracticable; for he
requires me to drink up the ocean dry. If I be able to read this
his riddle, divers cities and towns now in his possession are to be
annexed to my kingdom; but if I cannot resolve this hard sentence,
and give him the right meaning thereof, he requires of me my right
to all the towns bordering upon Elephantina. Consider with speed
the premises, and let me receive your thoughts by Niloxenus.
Pray lose no time. If in anything I can be serviceable to your
city or friends, you may command me. Farewell.
Bias, having perused and for a little time meditated upon the
letter, and whispering Cleobulus in the ear (he sat by him),
exclaimed: What a narration is here, O Niloxenus! Will Amasis, who
governs so many men and is seized of so many flourishing
territories, drink up the ocean for the gain of a few paltry,
beggarly villages? Niloxenus replied with a smile: Consider, good
sir, what is to be done, if he will obey. Why then, said Bias, let
Amasis require the Ethopian king to stop the stream which from all
parts flow and empty themselves in the ocean, until he have drunk
out the whole remainder; for I conceive he means the present
waters, not those which shall flow into it hereafter.
Niloxenus was so overjoyed at this answer, that he could not
contain himself. He hugged and kissed the author, and the whole
company liked his opinion admirably well; and Chilo laughing
desired Niloxenus to get aboard immediately before the sea was
consumed, and tell his master he should mind more how to render his
government sweet and potable to his people, than how to swallow
such a quantity of salt water. For Bias, he told him, understands
these things very well, and knows how to oblige your lord with very
useful instructions, which if he vouchsafe to attend, he shall no
more need a golden basin to wash his feet, to gain respect from his
subjects; all will love and honor him for his virtue, though he
were ten thousand times more hateful to them than he is. It were
well and worthily done, quoth Periander, if all of us did pay him
our first-fruits in this kind by the poll (as Homer said). Such a
course would bring him an accession of profit greater than the
whole proceeds of the voyage, besides being of great use
To this point it is fit that Solon should first speak, quoth Chilo,
not only because he is the eldest in the company and therefore sits
uppermost at table, but because he governs and gives laws to the
amplest and most complete and flourishing republic in the world,
that of Athens. Here Niloxenus whispered me in the ear: O Diocles,
saith he, how many reports fly about and are believed, and how some
men delight in lies which they either feign of their own heads or
most greedily swallow from the mouths of others. In Egypt I heard
it reported how Chilo had renounced all friendship and
correspondence with Solon, because he maintained the mutability of
laws. A ridiculous fiction, quoth I, for then he and we must have
renounced Lycurgus, who changed the laws and indeed the whole
government of Sparta.
Solon, pausing awhile, gave his opinion in these words. I conceive
that monarch, whether king or tyrant, were infinitely to be
commanded, who would exchange his monarchy for a commonwealth.
Bias subjoined, And who would be first and foremost in conforming
to the laws of his country. Thales added, I reckon that prince
happy, who, being old, dies in his bed a natural death.
Fourthly, Anacharsis, If he alone be a wise man.
Fifthly, Cleobulus said, If he trust none of his courtiers.
Sixthly, Pittacus spake thus, If he could so treat his subjects
that they feared not him but for him. Lastly, Chilo concluded
thus, A magistrate ought to meditate no mortal thing but
When all had given in their judgments upon this point, we requested
Periander to let us know his thoughts. Disorder and discontent
appearing in his countenance, he said, These opinions are enough to
scare any wise man from affecting, empire. These things, saith
Aesop after his reproving way, ought rather to have been discussed
privately among ourselves, lest we be accounted antimonarchical
while we desire to be esteemed friends and loyal counsellors.
Solon, gently touching him on the head and smiling, answered:
Do you not perceive that any one would make a king more moderate
and a tyrant more favorable, who should persuade him that it is
better not to reign than to reign? Who would believe you before
the oracle delivered unto you, quoth Aesop which pronounced that
city happy that heard but one crier. Yes, quoth Solon, and Athens,
now a commonwealth, hath but one crier and one magistrate, the law,
though the government be democratical; but you, my friend, have
been so accustomed to the croaking of ravens and the prating of
jays, that you do not hear clearly your own voice. For you
maintain it to be the happiness of a city to be under the command
of one man, and yet account it the merit of a feast if liberty is
allowed every man to speak his mind freely upon what subject he
pleases. But you have not prohibited your servants' drunkenness at
Athens, Aesop said, as you have forbidden them to love or to use
dry ointments. Solon laughed at this; but Cleodorus the physician
said: To use dry ointment is like talking when a man is soaked with
wine; both are very pleasant. Therefore, saith Chilo, men ought
the more carefully to avoid it. Aesop proceeds, Thales seemed to
imply that he should soon grow old.
Periander said laughing: We suffer deservedly, for, before we have
perfected any remarks upon the letter, we are fallen upon disputes
foreign to the matter under consideration; and therefore I pray,
Niloxenus, read out the remainder of your lord's letter, and slip
not this opportunity to receive what satisfaction all that are
present shall be able to give you. The command of the king of
Ethiopia, says Niloxenus, is no more and no less than (to use
Archilochus's phrase) a broken scytale; that is, the meaning is
inscrutable and cannot be found out. But your master Amasis was
more mild and polite in his queries; for he commanded him only to
resolve him what was most ancient, most beautiful, greatest,
wisest, most common, and withal, what was most profitable, most
pernicious, most strong, and most easy. Did he resolve and answer
every one of these questions? He did, quoth Niloxenus, and do you
judge of his answers and the soundness thereof: and it is my
Prince's purpose not to misrepresent his responses and condemn
unjustly what he saith well, so, where he finds him under a
mistake, not to suffer that to pass without correction.
His answers to the foresaid questions I will read to you.--What is
most ancient? Time. What is greatest? The World. What is wisest?
Truth. What is most beautiful? The light. What is most common?
Death. What is most profitable? God. What is most Pernicious?
An evil genius. What is strongest? Fortune. What is most easy?
That which is pleasant.
When Niloxenus had read out these answers, there was a short
silence among them; by and by Thales desires Niloxenus to inform
him if Amasis approved of these answers. Niloxenus said, he liked
some and disliked others. There is not one of them right and
sound, quoth Thales, but all are full of wretched folly and
ignorance. As for instance, how can that be most ancient whereof
part is past, part is now present, and part is yet to come;
every man knows it is younger than ourselves and our actions.
As to his answer that truth is the most wise thing, it is as
incongruous as if he had affirmed the light to be an eye if he
judged the light to be the most beautiful how could he omit the
sun; as to his solutions concerning the gods and evil genuises,
they are full of presumption and peril. What he saith of Fortune
is void of sense, for her inconstancy and fickleness proceed from
want of strength and power. Nor is death the most common thing;
the living are still at liberty, it hath not arrested them.
But lest we be blamed as having a faculty to find fault only, we
will lay down our opinions of these things, and compare them with
those of the Ethiopian; I offer my self first, if Niloxenus
pleases, to deliver my opinion on every one singly and I will
relate both questions and answers in that method and order in which
they were sent to Ethiopia and read to us. What is most ancient
Thales answered, God, for he had no beginning. What is greatest?
Place; the World contains all other things, this surrounds and
contains the world. What is most beautiful? The world; for
whatever is framed artificially and methodically is a part of it.
What is most wise? Time; for it has found out some things already,
it will find out the rest in due time. What is most common Hope;
for they that want other things are masters of this. What is most
profitable? Virtue; for by a right managery of other things she
makes them all beneficial and advantageous. What is most
pernicious? Vice; for it depraves the best things we enjoy.
What is most strong? Necessity; for this alone is insuperable.
What is most easy? That which is most agreeable to nature;
for pleasures themselves are sometimes tedious and nauseating.
All the consult approved of Thale's solutions. Cleodemus said:
My friend Niloxenus, it becomes kings to propound and resolve such
questions; but the insolence of that barbarian who would have
Amasis drink the sea would have been better fitted by such a smart
reprimand as Pittacus gave Alyattes, who sent an imperious letter
to the Lesbians. He made him no other answer, but to bid him spend
his time in eating his hot bread and onions.
Periander, here assumed the discourse, and said: It was the manner
of the ancient Grecians heretofore, O Cleodemus, to propound doubts
to one another; and it hath been told us, that the most famous and
eminent poets used to meet at the grave of Amphidamas in Chalcis.
This Amphidamas was a leading commander, one that had perpetual
wars with the Eretrians, and at last lost his life in one of the
battles fought for the possession of the Lelantine plain.
Now, because the writings of those poets were set to verse and so
made the argument more knotty and the decision more arduous, and
the great names of the antagonists, Homer and Hesiod, whose
excellence was so well known, made the umpires timorous and shy to
determine; they therefore betook themselves to these sorts of
questions, and Homer, says Lesches, propounded this riddle:--
Tell me, O Muse, what never was
And never yet shall be.
Hesiod answered readily and extempore in this wise:--
When steeds with echoing hoof, to win
The prize, shall run amain;
And on the tomb of lofty Jove
Their chariots break in twain.
For this reply he was infinitely commended and got the tripod.
Pray tell me, quoth Cleodemus, what difference there is between
these riddles and those of Eumetis, which she frames and invents to
recreate herself with as much pleasure as other virgins make nets
and girdles? They may be fit to offer and puzzle women withal;
but for men to beat their brains to find out their mystery would be
mighty ridiculous. Eumetis looked like one that had a great mind
to reply; but her modesty would not permit her, for her face was
filled with blushes. But Aesop in her vindication asked: Is it not
much more ridiculous that all present cannot resolve the riddle she
propounded to us before supper? This was as follows:--
A man I saw, who by his fire
Did set a piece of brass
Fast to a man, so that it seemed
To him it welded was.
Can you tell me, said he, how to construe this, and what the sense
of it may be? No, said Cleodemus, it is no profit to know what it
means. And yet, quoth Aesop, no man understands this thing better
and practises it more judiciously and successfully than yourself.
If you deny it, I have my witnesses ready; for there are your
cupping-glasses. Cleodemus laughed outright; for of all the
physicians in his time, none used cupping-glasses like him, he
being a person that by his frequent and fortunate application
thereof brought them first into request in the world.
Mnesiphilus the Athenian, a friend and favorite of Solon's, said:
O Periander, our discourse, as our wine, ought to be distributed
not according to our power or priority, but freely and equally, as
in a popular state; for what hath been already discoursed
concerning kingdoms and empires signifies little to us who live in
a democracy. Wherefore I judge it convenient that every one of
you, commencing with Solon, should freely and impartially declare
his sense of a popular state. The motion pleased all the company;
then saith Solon: My friend Mnesiphilus, you heard, together with
the rest of this good company, my opinion concerning republics;
but since you are willing to hear it again, I hold that city or
state happy and most likely to remain free, in which those that are
not personally injured are yet as forward to try and punish
wrongdoers as that person who is wronged. Bias added, Where all
fear the law as they fear a tyrant. Thirdly, Thales said, Where
the citizens are neither too rich nor too poor.
Fourthly, Anacharsis said, Where, though in all other respects they
are equal, yet virtuous men are advanced and vicious persons
degraded. Fifthly, Cleobulus said, Where the rulers fear reproof
and shame more than the law. Sixthly, Pittacus said, Where evil
men are kept from ruling, and good men from not ruling.
Chilo, pausing a little while, determined that the best and most
enduring state was where the subject minded the law most and the
lawyers least. Periander concluded with his opinion, that all of
them would best approve that democracy which came next and was
likest to an aristocracy.
After they had ended this discourse, I begged they would condescend
to direct me how to govern a house; for they were few who had
cities and kingdoms to govern, compared with those who had houses
and families to manage. Aesop laughed and said: I hope you except
Anacharsis out of your number; for having no house he glories
because he can be contented with a chariot only, as they say the
sun is whirled about from one end of the heavens to the other in
his chariot. Therefore, saith Anacharsis, he alone, or he
principally, is most free among the gods, and ever at his own
liberty and dispose. He governs all, and is governed and subject
to none, but he rides and reigns; and you know not how magnificent
and broad his chariot is; if you did, you would not thus floutingly
depreciate our Scythian chariots. For you seem in my apprehension
to call these coverings made of wood and mud houses, as if you
should call the shell and not the living creature a snail.
Therefore you laughed when Solon told you how, when he viewed
Croesus's palace and found it richly and gloriously furnished, he
yet could not yield he lived happily until he had tried the inward
and invisible state of his mind; for a man's felicity consists not
in the outward and visible favors and blessings of fortune, but in
the inward and unseen perfections and riches of the mind. And you
seem to have forgot your own fable of the fox, who, contending with
the leopard as to which possessed more colors and spots, and having
referred the matter in controversy to the arbitration of an umpire,
desired him to consider not so much the outside as the inside;
for, saith he, I have more various and different fetches and tricks
in my mind than he has marks or spots in his body. You regard only
the handiwork of carpenters and masons and stone-cutters, and call
this a house; not what one hath within, his children, his wife, his
friends and attendants, with whom if a man lived in an emmet's bed
or a bird's nest, enjoying in common the ordinary comforts of life,
this man may be affirmed to live a happy and a fortunate life.
This is the answer I purpose to return Aesop, quoth Anacharsis, and
I tender it to Diocles as my share in this discourse; only let the
rest give in their opinions, if they please. Solon thought that
house most happy where the estate was got without injustice, kept
without distrust, and spent without repentance. Bias said, That
house is happy where the master does freely and voluntarily what
the law would else compel him to do. Thales held that house most
happy where the master had most leisure and respite from business.
Cleobulus said, That in which the master is more beloved than
feared. Pittacus said, most that is happy where superfluities are
not required and necessaries are not wanting. Chilo added, that
house is most happy where one rules as a monarch in his kingdom.
And he proceeded, when a certain Lacedaemonian desired Lycurgus to
establish a democracy in the city. Go you, friend, replied he, and
try the experiment first in your own house.
When they had all given in their opinions upon this point, Eumetis
and Melissa withdrew. Then Periander called for a large bowl full
of wine, and drank to Chilo; and Chilo too drank to Bias.
Ardalus then standing up called to Aesop, and said: Will you not
hand the cup to your friends at this end of the table, when you
behold those persons there swilling up all that good liquor, and
imparting none to us here as if the cup were that of Bathycles.
But this cup, quoth Aesop, is no public cup, it hath stood so long
by Solon's trenchard. Then Pittacus called to Mnesiphilus:
Why, saith he, does not Solon drink, but act in contradiction to
his own verses?--
I love that ruby god, whose blessings flow
In tides, to recreate my thirsty maw;
Venus I court, the Muses I adore,
Who give us wine and pleasures evermore.
Anacharsis subjoined: He fears your severe law, my friend Pittacus,
wherein you decreed the drunkard a double punishment. You seem,
said Pittacus, a little to fear the penalty, who have adventured
heretofore, and now again before my face, to break that law and to
demand a crown for the reward of your debauch. Why not, quoth
Anacharsis, when there is a reward promised to the hardest drinker?
Why should I not demand my reward, having drunk down all my
fellows?--or inform me of any other end men drive at in drinking
much wine, but to be drunk. Pittacus laughed at this reply, and
Aesop told them this fable: The wolf seeing a parcel of shepherds
in their booth feeding upon a lamb, approaching near them,--What a
bustle and noise and uproar would there have been, saith he, if I
had but done what you do! Chilo said: Aesop hath very justly
revenged himself upon us, who awhile ago stopped his mouth; now he
observes how we prevented Mnesiphilus's discourse, when the
question was put why Solon did not drink up his wine.
Mnesiphilus then spake to this effect: I know this to be the
opinion of Solon, that in every art and faculty, divine and human,
the work which is done is more desired than the instrument
wherewith it is done, and the end than the means conducing to that
end; as, for instance, a weaver thinks a cloak or coat more
properly his work than the ordering of his shuttles or the divers
motions of his beams. A smith minds the soldering of his irons and
the sharpening of the axe more than those little things accessory
to these main matters, as the kindling of the coals and preparing
the stone-dust. Yet farther, a carpenter would justly blame us, if
we should affirm it is not his work to build houses or ships but to
bore holes or to make mortar; and the Muses would be implacably
incensed with him that should say their business is only to make
harps, pipes and such musical instruments, not the institution and
correcting of manners and the government of those men's passions
who are lovers of singing and masters of music. And agreeably
copulation is not the work of Venus, nor is drunkenness that of
Bacchus; but love and friendship, affection and familiarity, which
are begot and improved by and the means of these. Solon terms
these works divine, and he professes he loves and now prosecutes
them in his declining years as vigorously as ever in his youthful
days. That mutual love between man and wife is the work of Venus,
the greatness of the pleasure affecting their bodies mixes and
melts their very souls; divers others, having little or no
acquaintance before, have yet contracted a firm and lasting
friendship over a glass of wine, which like fire softened and
melted their tempers, and disposed them for a happy union. But in
such a company, and of such men as Periander hath invited, there is
no need of can and chalice, but the Muses themselves throwing a
subject of discourse among you, as it were a sober cup, wherein is
contained much of delight and drollery and seriousness too, do
hereby provoke, nourish, and increase friendship among you,
allowing the cup to rest quietly upon the bowl, contrary to the
rule which Hesiod (Hesiod, "Works and Days," 744.) gives for those
who have more skill for carousing than for discoursing.
Though all the rest with stated rules we bound
Unmix'd, unmeasured are thy goblets crown'd
("Iliad" iv. 261.)
for it was the old Greek way, as Homer here tells us, to drink one
to another in course and order. So Ajax gave a share of his meat
to his next neighbor.
When Mnesiphilus had discoursed after this manner, in comes
Chersias the poet, whom Periander had lately pardoned and received
into favor upon Chilo's mediation. Saith Cherias: Does not Jupiter
distribute to the gods their proportion and share sparingly and
severally, as Agamemnon did to his commanders when his guests
pledged one another? If, O Chersias, quoth Cleodemus, as you
narrate, certain pigeons bring him ambrosia every meal, winging
with a world of hardship through the rocks called PLANCTAE (or
WANDERING), can you blame him for his sparingness and frugality and
dealing out to his guests by measure?
I am satisfied, quoth Chersias, and since we are fallen upon our
old discourse of housekeeping, which of the company can remember
what remains to be said thereof? There remains, if I mistake not,
to show what that measure is which may content any man.
Cleobulus answered: The law has prescribed a measure for wise men;
but as touching foolish ones I will tell you a story I once heard
my father relate to my brother. On a certain time the moon begged
of her mother a coat that would fit her. How can that be done,
quoth the mother, for sometime you are full, sometimes the one half
of you seems lost and perished, sometimes only a pair of horns
appear. So, my Chersias, to the desires of a foolish immoderate
man no certain measure can be fitted; for according to the ebbing
and flowing of his lust and appetite, and the frequent or seldom
casualties that befall him, accordingly his necessities ebb and
flow, not unlike Aesop's dog, who, being pinched and ready to
starve with the cold winter, was a mind to build himself a house;
but when summer came on, he lay all along upon the ground, and
stretching himself in the sun thought himself monstrous big, and
thought it unnecessary and besides no small labor to build him a
house portionable to that bulk and bigness. And do you not
observe, O Chersias, continues he, many poor men,--how one while
they pinch their bellies, upon what short commons they live, how
sparing and niggardly and miserable they are; and another while you
may observe the same men as distrustful and covetous withal, as if
the plenty of the city and county, the riches of king and kingdom
were not sufficient to preserve them from want and beggary.
When Chersias had concluded this discourse, Cleodemus began thus:
We see you that are wise men possessing these outward goods after
an unequal manner. Good sweet sir, answered Cleobulus, the law
weaver-like hath distributed to every man a fitting, decent,
adequate portion, and in your profession your reason does what the
law does here,--when you feed, or diet, or physic your patient, you
give not the quantity he desires, but what you judge to be
convenient for each in his circumstances. Ardalus inquires:
Epimenides, to abstain from all other victuals, and to content
himself with a little composition of his own, which the Greeks call
[Greek omitted] (HUNGER-RELIEVING)? This he takes into his mouth
and chews, and eats neither dinner nor supper. This instance
obliged the whole company to be a little while silent, until Thales
in a jesting way replied, that Epimenides did very wisely, for
hereby he saved the trouble and charge of grinding and boiling his
meat, as Pittacus did. I myself sojourning as Lesbos overheard my
landlady, as she was very busy at her hand-mill, singing as she
used to do her work, "Grind mill; grind mill; for even Pittacus the
prince of great Mitylene, grinds" [Greek footnote ommitted].
Quoth Solon: Ardalus, I wonder you have not read the law of
Epimenides's frugality in Hesiod's writings, who prescribes him and
others this spare diet; for he was the person that gratified
Epimenides with the seeds of this nutriment, when he directed him
to inquire how great benefit a man might receive by mallows and
asphodel (Hesiod, "Works and Days," 41.) Do you believe, said
Periander, that Hesiod meant this literally; or rather that, being
himself a great admirer of parsimony, he hereby intended to exhort
men to use mean and spare diet, as most healthful and pleasant?
For the chewing of mallows is very wholesome, and the stalk of
asphodel is very luscious; but this "expeller of hunger and thirst"
I take to be rather physic than natural food, consisting of honey
and I know not what barbarian cheese, and of many and costly drugs
fetched from foreign parts. If to make up this composition so many
ingredients were requisite, and so difficult to come by and so
expensive, Hesiod might have kept his breath to cool his pottage,
and never blessed the world with the discovery. And yet I admire
how your landlord, when he went to perform the great purification
for the Delians not long since, could overlook the monuments and
patterns of the first aliment which the people brought into the
temple,--and, among other cheap fruits such as grow of themselves,
the mallows and the asphodel; the usefulness and innocency whereof
Hesiod seemed in his work to magnify. Moreover, quoth Anacharsis,
he affirms both plants to be great restoratives. You are in the
right, quoth Cleodemus; for it is evident Hesiod was no ordinary
physician, who could discourse so learnedly and judiciously of
diet, of the nature of wines, and of the virtue of waters and
baths, and of women, the proper times for procreation, and the site
and position of infants in the womb; insomuch, that (as I take it)
Aesop deserves much more the name of Hesiod's scholar and disciple
than Epimenides, whose great and excellent wisdom the fable of the
nightingale and hawk demonstrates. But I would gladly hear Solon's
opinion in this matter; for having sojourned long at Athens and
being familiarly acquainted with Epimenides, it is more than
probable he might learn of him the grounds upon which he accustomed
himself to so spare
To what purpose, said Solon, should I trouble him or myself to make
inquiry in a matter so plain? For if it be a blessing next to the
greatest to need little victuals, then it is the greatest felicity
to need none at all. If I may have leave to deliver my opinion,
quoth Cleodemus, I must profess myself of a different judgment,
especially now we sit at table; for as soon as the meat is taken
away, what belongs to those gods that are the patrons of friendship
and hospitality has been removed. As upon the removal of the
earth, quoth Thales, there must needs follow an universal confusion
of all things, so in forbidding men meat, there must needs follow
the dispersion and dissolution of the family, the sacred fire, the
cups, the feasts and entertainment's, which are the principal and
most innocent diversions of mankind; and so all the comforts of
society are at end. For to men of business some recreation is
necessary, and the preparation and use of victuals conduces much
thereunto. Again, to be without victuals would tend to the
destruction of husbandry, for want whereof the earth would soon be
overgrown with weeds, and through the sloth of men overflowed with
waters. And together with this, all arts would fail which are
supported and encouraged hereby; nay, more, take away hospitality
and the use of victuals and the worship and honor of the gods will
sink and perish; the sun will have but small and the moon yet
smaller reverence if thy afford men only light and heat. And who
will build an altar or offer sacrifices to Jupiter Pluvius, or to
Ceres the patroness of husbandmen, or to Neptune the preserver of
plants and trees? Or how can Bacchus be any longer termed the
donor of all good things, if men make no further use of the good
things he gives? What shall men sacrifice? What first-fruits
shall they offer? In short, the subversion and confusion of the
greatest blessings attend this opinion. Promiscuously and
indefatigable to pursue all sorts of pleasures I own to be brutish,
and to avoid all with a suitable aversion equally blockish, let the
mind then freely enjoy such pleasures as are agreeable to its
nature and temper. But for the body, there is certainly no
pleasure more harmless and commendable and fitting than that which
springs from a plentiful table,--which is granted by all men, for,
placing this in the middle, men converse with one another and share
in the provision. As to the pleasures of the bed, men use these in
the dark, reputing the use thereof shameful and beastly as well as
the total disuse of the pleasures of the table.
Cleodemus having finished this long harangue, I began to this
effect. You omit one thing, my friend, how they that decry food
decry sleep too, and they that declaim against sleep declaim
against dreams in the same breath, and so destroy the primitive and
ancient way of divination. Add to this, that our whole life will
be of one form and fashion, and our soul enclosed in a body to no
purpose; many and those the principal parts thereof are naturally
so formed and fashioned as to be organs of nutriment; so the
tongue, the teeth, the stomach, and the liver, whereof none are
idle, none framed for other use, so that whosoever hath no need of
nutriment has no need of his body; that is, in other words, no man
hath any need of himself, for every man hath a body of his own.
This I have thought fit to offer in vindication of our bellies;
if Solon or any other has anything to object to what I have said, I
am willing to hear him.
Yea, doubtless, replies Solon, or we may be reputed more
injudicious than the Egyptians. For when any person dies among
them, they open him and show him so dissected to the sun; his guts
they throw into the river, to the remaining parts they allow a
decent burial, for they think the body now pure and clean; and to
speak truly they are the foulest parts of the body, and like that
lower hell crammed with dead carcasses and at the same time flowing
with offensive rivers, such as flame with fire and are disturbed
with tempests. No live creature feeds upon another living
creature, but we first take away their lives, and in that action we
do them great wrong. Now the very plants have life in them,--that
is clear and manifest, for we perceive they grow and spread.
But to abstain from eating flesh (as they say Orpheus of old did)
is more a pretence than a real avoiding of an injury proceeding
from the just use of meat. One way there is, and but one way,
whereby a man may avoid offence, namely by being contented with his
own, not coveting what belongs to his neighbor. But if a man's
circumstances be such and so hard that he cannot subsist without
wronging another man, the fault is God's, not his. The case being
such with some persons, I would fain learn if it be not advisable
to destroy, at the same time with injustice, these instruments of
injustice, the belly, stomach, and liver, which have no sense of
justice or appetite to honesty, and therefore may be fitly compared
to your cook's implements, his knives and his caldrons, or to a
baker's chimney and bins and kneading-tubs. Verily one may observe
the souls of some men confined to their bodies, as to a house of
correction, barely to do the drudgery and to serve the necessities
thereof. It was our own case but even now. While we minded our
meat and our bellies, we had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear;
but now the table is taken away, we are free to discourse among
ourselves and to enjoy one another; and now our bellies are full,
we have nothing else to do or care for. And if this condition and
state wherein we at present are would last our whole life, we
having no wants to fear nor riches to covet (for a desire of
superfluities attends a desire of necessaries), would not our lives
be much more comfortable and life itself much more desirable?
Yea, but Cleodemus stiffly maintains the necessity of eating and
drinking, else we shall need tables and cups, and shall not be able
to offer sacrifice to Ceres and Proserpina. By a parity of reason
there is a necessity there should be contentions and wars, that men
may have bulwarks and citadels and fortifications by land, fleets
and navies abroad at sea, and that having slain hundreds, we may
offer Hecatombs after the Messenian manner. By this reason we
shall find men grudging their own health, for (they will say) there
will be no need of down or feather beds unless they are sick;
and so those healing gods, and particularly Esculapius, will be
vast sufferers, for they will infallibly lose so many fat and rich
sacrifices yearly. Nay, the art of chirurgery will perish, and all
those ingenious instruments that have been invented for the cure of
man will lie by useless and insignificant. And what great
difference is there between this and that? For meat is a medicine
against hunger, and such as use a constant diet are said to cure
themselves,--I mean such as use meat not for wantonness but of
necessity. For it is plain, the prejudices we receive by feeding
far surmount the pleasures. And the enjoyment of eating fills a
very small place in our bodies and very little time. But why
should I trouble you or myself with a catalogue of the many
vexations which attend that man who is necessitated to provide for
a family, and the many difficulties which distract him in his
undertaking? For my part, I verily believe Homer had an eye to
this very thing, when, to prove the immortality of the gods, he
made use of this very argument, that they were such because they
used no victuals;
For not the bread of man their life sustains,
Nor wine's inflaming juice supplies their veins;
("Iliad," v. 341.)
intimating meat to be the cause of death as well as the means of
sustaining and supporting life. From hence proceed divers fatal
distempers caused much more by fulness than by fasting; and to
digest what we have eaten proves frequently a harder matter than to
provide and procure what we eat. And when we solicitously inquire
beforehand what we should do or how we should employ ourselves if
we had not such care and business to take up our time, this is as
if Danaus's daughters should trouble their heads to know what they
should do if they had no sieves to fill with water. We drudge and
toil for necessaries, for want of better and nobler occupation.
As slaves then who have gained their freedom do now and then those
drudgeries and discharge those servile employments and offices for
their own benefit which they undertook heretofore for their
masters' advantage, so the mind of man, which at present is
enslaved to the body and the service thereof, when once it becomes
free from this slavery, will take care of itself, and spend its
time in contemplation of truth without distraction or disturbance.
Such were our discourses upon this head, O Nicarchus.
And before Solon had fully finished, in came Gorgias, Periander's
brother, who was just returned from Taenarum, whither he had been
sent by the advice of the oracle to sacrifice to Neptune and to
conduct a deputation. Upon his entrance we welcomed him home;
and Periander having among the rest saluted him, Gorgias sat by him
upon a bed, and privately whispered something to his brother which
we could not hear. Periander by his various gestures and motions
discovered different affections; sometimes he seemed sad and
melancholic, by and by disturbed and angry; frequently he looked as
doubtful and distrustful men use to do; awhile after he lifts up
his eyes, as is usual with men in a maze. At last recovering
himself, saith he, I have a mind to impart to you the contents of
this embassy; but I scarce dare do it, remembering Thales's
aphorism, how things impossible or incredible are to be concealed
and only things credible and probable are to be related.
Bias answered, I crave leave to explain Thales's saying, We may
distrust enemies, even though they speak things credible, and trust
friends, even though they relate things incredible; and I suppose
by enemies he meant vicious men and foolish, and by friends, wise
and good men. Then, brother Gorgias, quoth Periander, I pray
relate the whole story particularly.
Gorgias in obedience to his brother's command began his
When we had fasted now for three days and offered sacrifice upon
each of those days, we were all resolved to sit up the third night
and spend it in pastime and dancing. The moon shone very bright
upon the water, and the sea was exceeding calm and still; this we
saw, for we sported ourselves upon the shore. Being thus taken up,
all of a sudden we espied a wonderful spectacle off at sea, making
with incredible expedition to the adjoining promontory.
The violence of the motion made the sea foam again, and the noise
was so loud, that the whole company forsook their sport and ran
together toward the place, admiring what the matter should be.
Before we could make a full discovery of the whole, the motion was
so rapid, we perceived divers dolphins, some swimming in a ring or
circle, others hastening amain to that part of the shore which was
most shallow, and others following after and (as it were) bringing
up the rear. In the middle there was a certain heap which we could
perceive above the water; but we could not distinctly apprehend
what it was, till drawing near the shore we saw all the dolphins
flocking together, and having made near the land they safely
surrendered their charge, and left out of danger a man breathing
and shaking himself. They returned to the promontory, and there
seemed to rejoice more than before for this their fortunate
undertaking. Divers in the company were affrighted and ran away;
myself and a few more took courage, and went on to see and satisfy
ourselves what this unusual matter might be; there we found and
instantly knew our old acquaintance Arion the musician, who told us
his name. He wore that very garment he used when he strove for
mastery. We brought him into our tent and found he had received no
damage in his passage, save only a little lassitude by the violence
of the motion. He told us the whole story of his adventure,--a
story incredible to all but such as saw it with their eyes.
He told us how, when he had determined to leave Italy, being
hastened away by Periander's letters, he went aboard a Corinthian
merchantman then in port and ready to sail; being off at sea with
the winds favorable, he observed the seamen bent to ruin him, and
the master of the vessel told him as much, and that they purposed
to execute their design upon him that very night. In this
distress, the poor man (as if inspired by his good Genius) girds
about him his heretofore victorious, now his mourning cloak, with a
brave resolution to compose and sing his own epitaph, as the swans
when they apprehend the approaches of death are reported to do.
Being thus habited, he told the seamen he was minded to commit the
protection of himself and his fellow-passengers to the providence
of the gods in a Pythian song; then standing upon the poop near the
side of the vessel, and having invoked the help and assistance of
all the sea gods, he strikes up briskly and sings to his harp.
Before he had half finished his carol, the sun set, and he could
discern Peloponnesus before him. The seamen thought it tedious to
tarry for the night, wherefore they resolved to murder him
immediately, to which purpose they unsheathed their swords.
Seeing this, and observing the steersman covering his face, he
leaped into the sea as far as he could; but before his body sunk he
found himself supported by dolphins. At first he was surprised
with care and trouble; but by and by, finding himself marching
forward with much ease and security, and observing a whole shoal of
dolphins flocking about him and joyfully contending which should
appear most forward and serviceable in his preservation, and
discerning the vessel at a considerable distance behind, he
apprehended the nimbleness of his porters; then, and not till then,
his fears forsook him, and he professed he was neither so fearful
of death nor desirous of life as he was full of ambitious desire,
that he might show to all men that he stood in the grace and favor
of the gods, and that he might himself have a firm belief in them.
In his passage, as he lifted up his eyes toward heaven, and beheld
the stars glittering and twinkling and the moon full and glorious,
and the sea calm all about her as she seemed to rise out of it, and
yielding him (as it were) a beaten track; he declared, he thought
God's justice had more eyes than one, and that with these
innumerable eyes the gods beheld what was acted here below both by
sea and land. With such contemplations he performed his voyage
less anxiously, which much abated the tediousness thereof and was a
comfort and refreshment to him in his solitude and danger.
At last, arriving near the promontory which was both steep and
high, and fearing danger in a straight course and direct line, they
unanimously veered about, and making to shore with a little compass
for security they delivered Arion to us in safety, so that he
plainly perceived and with thanks acknowledged a Providence.
When Arion had finished this narrative of his escape, I asked him
(quoth Gorgias) whither the ship was bound; he told me for Corinth,
but it would not be there very suddenly, for when he leaped out of
the ship and was carried (as he conceived) about five hundred
furlongs, he perceived a calm, which must needs much retard their
arrival who were aboard. Gorgias added that, having learned the
names of the pilot and master and the colors of the ship, he
immediately despatched out ships and soldier to examine all the
ports, all this while keeping Arion concealed, lest the criminals
should upon notice of His deliverance escape the pursuit of
justice. This action happened very luckily; for as soon as he
arrived at Corinth, news was brought him that the same ship was in
port, and that his party had seized it and secured all the men,
merchants and others. Whereupon Periander commanded Gorgias's
discretion and zeal, desiring him to proceed and lose no time, but
immediately to clap them in close prison, and to suffer none to
come at them to give the least notice of Arion's miraculous escape.
Gentlemen, quoth Aesop, I remember you derided my dialogue of the
daws and rooks; and now you can admire and believe as improbable a
story of dolphins. You are mightily out, said I, for this is no
novel story which we believe, but it is recorded in the annals of
Ino and Athamas above a thousand years ago. These passages are
supernatural, quoth Solon and much above our reason; what befell
Hesiod is of a lower kind, and more proper for our discourse, and
if you have not heard of it before, it is worth your hearing.
Hesiod once sojourned at the same house in Locris with a certain
Milesian. In this his sojourning time it happened the gentleman's
daughter was got with child by the Milesian which being discovered,
the whole family concluded Hesiod, if not guilty, must be privy to
the fact. His innocence was but a weak fence against their
jealousy and aspersions; and therefore, rashly censuring him
guilty, the brothers of the woman waylaid him in his return home,
and slew him and his companion Troilus near the shrine of Nemean
Jove in Locris. Their carcasses they threw into the sea; that of
Troilus was carried into the river Daphnus, and rested upon a
certain rock compassed with waters, just above the surface of the
sea, which rock bears his name to this day. The body of Hesiod was
no sooner fallen upon the surface of the water, but a company of
dolphins received it, and conveyed it to Rhium and Molyeria.
It happened the Locrians were assembled at Rhium that day to feast
and make merry according to the custom which continues still among
them. As soon as they perceived a carcass floating or rather
swimming towards them, they hastened, not without admiration, to
see what it was; and knowing the body to be Hesiod's, they
instantly resolved to find out the murderers. It proved an easy
discovery. After conviction they threw them headlong alive into
the sea, and ordered their houses to be demolished to the very
foundations. The body they buried in the grove of the temple of
Jove, that no foreigner might find it out; the reason of this act
was that the Orchomenians had searched far and near for it at the
instigation of the oracle, who promised them the greatest felicity
if they could get the bones of Hesiod and bury them in their city.
Now if dolphins are so favorable to dead men, it is very probable
they have a strong affection for the living, especially for such as
delight in music, whether vocal or instrumental. And this we know
undoubtedly, that these creatures delight infinitely in music;
they love it, and if any man sings or plays, they will quietly come
by the side of the ship, and listen till the music is ended.
When children bathe in the water and sport themselves, you shall
have a parcel of them flock together and sport and swim by them;
and they may do it the more securely, since it is a breach of the
law of Nature to hurt them. You never heard of any man that fishes
for them purposely or hurts them wilfully, unless falling into the
nets they spoil the sport, and so, like bad children, are corrected
for their misdemeanors. I very well remember the Lesbians told me
how a maid of their town was preserved from drowning by them.
It was a very true story, quoth Pittacus, and there are divers
still alive who will attest it, if need be. The builders or
founders of Lesbos were commanded by the oracle to sail till they
came to a haven called Mesogaeum, there they should sacrifice a
bull to Neptune, and for the honor of Amphitrite and the
sea-nymphs they should offer a virgin. The principal persons in
this colony were seven in number; the eighth was one Echelaus by
name, and appointed head of the rest by the oracle himself; and he
was a bachelor. A daughter of one of these seven was to be
sacrificed, but who it should be was to be decided by lot, and the
lot fell upon Smintheus's sister. Her they dressed most richly,
and so apparelled they conveyed her in abundance of state to the
water-side, and having composed a prayer for her, they were now
ready to throw her overboard. There was in the company a certain
ingenuous young gentleman whose name was Enalus; he was desperately
in love with this young lady, and his love prompted him to endeavor
all he could for her preservation, or at least to perish in the
attempt. In the very moment she was to be cast away, he clasps her
in his arms and throws himself and her together into the sea.
Shortly after there was a flying report they were both conveyed
safe to land. A while after Enalus was seen at Lesbos, who gave
out they were preserved by dolphins. I could tell you stories more
incredible than these, such as would amuse some and please others;
but it is impossible to command men's faith. The sea was so
tempestuous and rough, the people were afraid to come too near the
waters, when Enalus arrived. A number of polypuses followed him
even to Neptune's temple, the biggest and strongest of which
carried a great stone. This Enalus dedicated, and this stone is
therefore called Enalus to this day. To be short and to speak all
in a few words,--he that knows how to distinguish between the
impossible and the unusual, to make a difference between the
unlikely and the absurd, to be neither too credulous nor too
distrustful,--he hath learned your lesson, Do not overdo. ([Greek
omitted], NE QUID NIMIS.)
Anacharsis after all this discourse spake to this purpose:
Since Thales has asserted the being of a soul in all the principal
and most noble parts of the universe, it is no wonder that the most
commendable acts are governed by an overruling Power; for, as the
body is the organ of the soul, so the soul is an instrument in the
hand of God. Now as the body has many motions of its own
proceeding from itself, but the best and most from the soul, so the
soul acts some things by its own power, but in most things it is
subordinate to the will and power of God, whose glorious instrument
it is. To me it seems highly unreasonable--and I should be but too
apt to censure the wisdom of the gods, if I were convinced--that
they use fire, and water, and wind, and clouds, and rain for the
preservation and welfare of some and for the detriment and
destruction of others, while at the same time they make no use of
living creatures that are doubtless more serviceable to their ends
than bows are to the Scythians or harps or pipes to the Greeks.
Chersias the poet broke off this discourse, and told the company of
divers that were miraculously preserved to his certain knowledge,
and more particularly of Cypselus, Periander's father, who being
newly born, his adversary sent a party of bloody fellows to murder
him. They found the child in his nurse's arms, and seeing him
smile innocently upon them, they had not the heart to hurt him, and
so departed; but presently recalling themselves and considering the
peremptoriness of their orders, they returned and searched for him,
but could not find him, for his mother had hid him very carefully
in a chest. (Called [Greek omitted] in Greek, whence the child was
named Cypelus.(G.)) When he came to years of discretion, and
understood the greatness of his former danger and deliverance, he
consecrated a temple at Delphi to Apollo, by whose care he
conceived himself preserved from crying in that critical time, and
by his cries from betraying his own life. Pittacus, addressing his
discourse to Periander, said: It is well done of Chersias to make
mention of that shrine, for this brings to my mind a question I
several times purposed to ask you but still forgot, namely,--To
what intent all those frogs were carved upon the palm-tree before
the door, and how they affect either the deity or the dedicator?
Periander remitted him to Chersias for answer, as a person better
versed in these matters for he was present when Cypselus
consecrated the shrine. But Chersias smiling would not satisfy
them, until they resolved him the meaning of these aphorisms;
"Do not overdo," "Know thyself," but particularly and principally
this,--which had scared divers from wedlock and others from
suretyship and others for speaking at all,--"promise, and you are
ruined." What need we to explain to you these, when you yourself
have so mightily magnified Aesop's comment upon each of them.
Aesop replied: When Chersias is disposed to jest with me upon these
subjects, and to jest seriously, he is pleased to father such
sayings and sentences upon Homer, who, bringing in Hector furiously
flying upon others, yet at another time represents him as flying
from Ajax son of Telamon, ("Iliad," xi. 542.)--an argument that
Hector knew himself. And Homer made Ulysses use the saying "Do not