"Chapter One" by Petronius.
Such a long time has passed since first I promised you the story of my adventures I am resolved to keep my word today, seeing we are happily met together to season those matters with lively conversation and tales of a merry and diverting sort.
Fabricius Veiento was discoursing very wisely to us just now on the follies of superstition, exposing the various forms of priestly charlatanry, the holy men's mania for prophecy, and the effrontery they display in expounding mysteries they very often
utterly fail to comprehend themselves. Is it not much the same type of madness that afflicts our declaimers, who shout: "These wounds I got, defending our common liberties; this eye I lost in your behalf. Give me a helping hand to lead me to my children, for my poor maimed limbs refuse to bear my weight." Even such extravagances might be borne, if they really served to guide beginners in the way of eloquence; but all pupils gain by these high-flown themes, these empty sounding phrases, is
this, that on entering the forum they imagine themselves transported into a new and strange world.
|This is the reason, in my opinion, why young men grow up such blockheads in the schools, because they neither see nor hear one single thing connected with the usual circumstances of everyday life, nothing but stuff about pirates lurking on the seashore with fetters in their hands, tyrants issuing edicts to compel sons to cut off their own fathers' heads, oracles in times of pestilence commanding three virgins or more to be sacrificed to stay the plague,-- honey-sweet, well-rounded sentences, words and facts alike as it were, besprinkled with poppy and sesame.|
Under such a training it is no more possible to acquire good taste than it is not to stink, if you live in a kitchen. Give me leave to tell you that you rhetoricians are chiefly to blame for the ruin of Oratory, for with your silly, idle phrases, meant only to tickle the ears of an audience, you have enervated and deboshed the very substance of true eloquence.
Young men were not bound down to declamations in the days when Sophocles and Euripides found the very words they wanted to best express their meaning. No cloistered professor had as yet darkened men's intellects, when Pindar and the nine Lyric bards shrank from emulating the Homeric note. And not to cite poets exclusively,-- I cannot see that either Plato or Demosthenes ever practised this sort of mental exercise. A noble, and so to say chaste, style is not overloaded with ornament, not turgid; its own natural beauty gives it elevation.
Then after a while this windy, extravagant deluge of words invaded Athens from Asia, and like a malignant star, blasting the minds of young men aiming at lofty ideals, instantly broke up all rules of art and struck eloquence dumb. Since that day who has reached the perfection of Thucydides, the glory of Hyperides? Nay! not a poem has been written of bright and wholesome complexion; but all, as if fed on the same unhealthy diet, have lacked stamina to attain old age. Painting moreover shared the same fate, after Egypt presumptuously invented a compendious method for that noble Art.
|iii||Such and suchlike reflections I was indulging in one day before a numerous audience, when Agamemnon came up, curious to see who it was they were listening to so attentively. Well! he declined to allow me to declaim longer in the Portico than he had himself sweated in the schools but: "Young man," he cries, "seeing your words are something better than mere popular commonplaces, and-- a very rare occurrence-- you are an admirer of sound sense, I will confide to you a professional secret. In the choice of these exercises it is not the masters that are to blame. They are forced to be just as mad as all the rest; for if they refuse to teach what pleases their scholars, they will be left, as Cicero says, to lecure to empty benches. Just as false-hearted sycophants, scheming for a seat at a rich man's table, make it their chief business to discover what will be most agreeable hearing to their host, for indeed their only way to gain their end is by cajolement and flattery; so a professor of Rhetoric, unless like a fisherman he arm his hook with the bait he knows the fish will take, may stand long enough on his rock without a chance of success.|
"Whose fault is it then? It is the parents deserve censure, who will not give their children the advantages of a strict training. In the first place their hopes, like everything else, are centered in ambition, and so being impatient to see their wishes fulfilled, they hurry lads into the forum when still raw and half taught, and indue mere babes with the mantle of eloquence, an art they admit themselves to be equaled by none in difficulty. If only they would let them advance step by step in their tasks, so that serious students might be broken in by solid reading, steady their minds with the precepts of philosophy, chasten their style with unsparing correction, study deep and long what they propose to imitate, and refuse to be dazzled by puerile graces, then and then only would the grand old type of Oratory recover its former authority and stateliness. Nowadays, boys waste their time at school; as youths, they are jeered at in the forum, and what is worse than either, no one will
acknowledge, as an old man, the faultiness of the teaching he received in his younger days.
"But that you may not imagine I disapprove of satirical impromptus in the Lucilian vein, I will myself throw my notions on this matter into verse:
"He that would be an orator, must strive
To follow out the discipline of old,
And heed the laws of stern frugality;
Not his to haunt the Court with fawning brow,
Nor sit a flatterer at great folks' boards;
Not his with boon companions o'er the wine
To overcloud his brain, nor at the play
To sit and clap, agape at actors' tricks.
But whether to Tritonia's famous halls
The Muses lead his steps, or to those walls
That Spartan exiles rear'd or where
The Sirens' song thrill'd the enraptured air
Of all his tasks let Poesy be first,
And Homer's verse the fount to quench his thirst.
Soon will be master deep Socratic lore,
And wield the arms Demosthenes erst bore.
Then to new modes must he in turn be led,
And Grecian wit to Roman accents wed.
Nor in the forum only will he find
Meet occupation for his busy mind;
On books he'll feast, the poet's words of fire,
Heroic tales of War and Tully's patriot ire,
Such be thy studies; then, whate'er the theme,
Pour forth thine eloquence in copious stream."
Listening attentively to the speaker, I never noticed
that Ascyltos had given me the slip; and I was still walking up and down in the gardens full of the burning words I had heard, when a great mob of students rushed into the Portico. Apparently these had just come from hearing an impromptu lecture of some critic or other who had been cutting up Agamemnon's speech. So whilst the lads were making fun of his sentiments and abusing the arrangement of the whole discourse, I seized the opportunity to escape, and started off at a run in pursuit of Ascyltos. But I was heedless about the road I followed, and indeed felt by no means sure of the situation of our inn, the result being that whichever direction I took, I presently found myself back again at my starting point. At last, exhausted with running and dripping with sweat, I came across a little old woman, who was selling herbs.
"Prithee, good mother," say I, "can you tell me where I live?" Charmed with the quiet absurdity of my question, "Why certainly!" she replied; and getting up, went on before me. I thought she must be a witch; but presently, when we had arrived at a rather shy neighborhood, the obliging old lady drew back the curtain of a doorway, and said, "Here is where you ought to live."
I was just protesting I did not know the house, when I catch sight of mysterious figures prowling between rows of name-boards, and naked harlots. Then when too late, I saw I had been brought into a house of ill fame. So cursing the old woman's falseness, I threw my robe over my head and made a dash right through the brothel to the opposite door, when lo! just on the threshold, whom should I meet but Ascyltos, fagged out and half dead like myself? You would have thought the very same old hag had been his conductress. I made him a mocking bow, and asked him what he was doing in such a disreputable place?
Wiping the sweat from his face with both hands, he replied, "If you only knew what happened to me!"
"Why! what has happened?" said I.
Then in a faint voice he went on, "I was wandering all over the town, without being able to discover where I had left our inn, when a respectable looking man accosted me, and most politely offered to show me the way. Then after traversing some very dark and intricate alleys, he brought me where we are, and producing his affair, began begging me to grant him my favors. In two twos the woman had taken the fee for the room, and the man laid hold of me; and if I had not proved the stronger, I should have fared very ill indeed."
While Ascyltos was thus recounting his adventures, up came his respectable friend again, accompanied by a woman of considerable personal attractions, and addressing himself to Ascyltos, besought him to enter, assuring him he had nothing to fear, and that as he would not consent to play the passive, he should do the active part. The woman on her side was very anxious I should go with her. Accordingly we followed the pair, who led us among the name-boards, where we saw in the chambers persons of both sexes behaving in such fashion I concluded they must every one have been drinking satyrion. On seeing us, they endeavored to allure us to sodomy with enticing gestures; and suddenly one fellow with his clothes well tucked up assails Ascyltos, and throwing him down on a bed, tries to get to work a-top of him. I spring to the sufferer's rescue, and uniting our efforts, we make short work of the ruffian. Ascyltos bolts out of the house, and away, leaving me to escape their beastly advances as best I might; but discovering I was too strong for them and in no mood for trifling, they left me alone.
After running about almost over the city, I caught sight of Giton, as it were a fog, standing at the corner of an alley close to the door of our inn, and hurried to join him. I asked my favorite whether he had got anything ready for our dinner, whereupon the lad sat down on the bed and began wiping away the tears with his thumb. Much disturbed at my favorite's distress, I demanded what had happened. For a long time I could not drag a word out of him, not indeed till I had added threats to prayers. Then he reluctantly told me. "That favorite or comrade of yours came into our lodging just
now, and set to work to force me. When I screamed he drew a sword and said, 'If you're a Lucretia, you've found a Tarquin'."
Hearing this, I exclaimed, shaking my two fists in Ascyltos' face. "What have you to say now, you pathic prostitute, you, whose very breath is abominable?" Ascyltos feigned extreme indignation, and immediately repeated my gesture with greater emphasis, crying in still louder tones, "Will you hold your tongue, you filthy gladiator, who after murdering your host, had luck enough to escape from the criminals' cage at the Amphitheater? Will you hold your tongue, you midnight cut-throat, who never, when at your bravest, durst face an honest woman? Didn't I serve you for a minion in an orchard, just as this lad does now in an inn?"
"Did you or did you not," I interrupted, "sneak off from the master's lecture?"
"What was I to do, fool, when I was dying of hunger? Stop and listen to a string of phrases no better than the tinkling of broken glass or the nonsensical interpretations in dream books? By great Hercules, you are dead baser than I; to compass a dinner you have condescended to flatter a Poet!" This ended our unseemly wrangle, and we both burst into a fit of laughter, and proceeded to discuss other matters in a more peaceable tone.
But the recollection of his late violence coming over me afresh, "Ascyltos," I said, "I see we cannot get on together; so let us divide between us our bits of common funds, and each try to make head against poverty on his own bottom. You are a scholar; so am I. I don't wish to spoil your profits, so I'll take up another line. Else shall we find a thousand causes of quarrel every day, and soon make ourselves the talk of the town."
Ascyltos raised no objection, merely saying, "For today, as we have accepted, in our quality of men of letters, an invitation to dine out, don't let us lose our evening; but tomorrow, since you wish it, I will look out for a new lodging and another bedfellow."
"Poor work," said I, "putting off the execution of a good plan." It was really my naughty passions that urged me to so speedy a parting; indeed I had been long wishing to be rid of his jealous observation, in order to renew my old relations with my sweet Giton. Ascyltos, mortally offended at my remark, rushed out of the room without another word. So sudden a departure boded ill; for I knew his ungovernable temper and the strength of his passions. So I went after him, to keep an eye on his doings and guard against their consequences; but he slipped adroitly out of my sight, and I wasted a long time in a fruitless search for the rascal.
After looking through the whole city, I came back to my little room, and now at length claiming my full tale of kisses, I clip my darling lad in the tightest of
embraces; my utmost hopes of bliss are fulfilled to the envy of all mankind. The rites were not yet complete, when Ascyltos crept up stealthily to the door, and violently bursting in the bolts, caught me at play with his favorite. His laughter and applause filled the room, and tearing off the mantle that covered us, "Why! what are you after," he cries, "my sainted friend? What! both tucked cozily under one coverlet?" Nor did he stop at words, but detaching the strap from his wallet, he fell to thrashing me with no perfunctory hand, seasoning his blows with insulting remarks. "This is the way you divide stock with a comrade, is it? Not so fast, my friend." So unexpected was the attack I was obliged to put up with the blows in silence.
Accordingly I took the matter as a joke, and it was well I did so; otherwise I should have had to fight my rival. My counterfeited merriment calmed his anger, and he even smiled faintly. "Look you, Encolpius," said he, "are you so buried in your pleasures, you never reflect that our money is exhausted, and the trifles we have left are valueless. Town is good for nothing in the summer days; there'll be better luck in the country. Let's go visit our friends."