"Chapter Eleven" by Petronius.
We had never a torch to guide our wandering steps, while the silent hour of midnight gave small hope of procuring light from chance wayfarers. Added to this was our own intoxication and ignorance of the locality, baffling even by daylight. After dragging our bleeding feet for the best part of an hour over all sorts of stumbling-blocks and fragments of projecting paving-stones, we were finally saved by Giton's ingenuity. For being afraid even by daylight of missing his way, he had taken the precaution the day before to make every post and pillar on the road with chalk. The strokes he had drawn were visible on the darkest night, their conspicuous whiteness showing wanderers the way. Though truly we were in no less of a fix, even when we did get to our inn. For the old woman had been swilling so long with her customers, you might have set her afire without her knowing anything about it. And we might very likely have passed the night on the doorstep, had not one of Trimalchio's carriers come up, in charge of ten wagons. Accordingly, without stopping to make any more ado,
he burst in the door, and let us in by the same road.
Going to my chamber, I went to bed with my dear lad, and burning with amorous ardor as I was after my sumptuous meal, gave myself up heart and soul to all the delights of love.
Oh! what a night was that! how soft
The couch, ye gods! as many a time and oft
Our lips met burning in o'ermastering bliss,
And interchanged our souls in every kiss.
To mortal cares I bid farewell for aye--
So sweet I find it in thine arms to die!
But my self-congratulations were premature. For no sooner had my enfeebled hands relaxed their tipsy hold than Ascyltos, that everlasting contriver of mischief, drew the boy away from me in the dark and carried him off to his own bed; and there rolling about in wanton excess with another man's minion, the latter either not noticing the fraud or pretending not to, he went off to sleep, enfolded in an embrace he had no sort of right to, utterly regardless of all human justice. So when I awoke, and feeling the bed over, found it robbed of delight, I declare, by all that lovers hold sacred, I had half a mind to run them both through with my sword where they lay, and make their sleep eternal. But presently adopting safer counsels, I thumped Giton awake, and turning a stern countenance on Ascyltos, said severely, "You have broken faith by your dastardly conduct and sinned against our mutual friendship; remove your things as quick as may be, and go seek another place to be the scene of your abominations."
He made no objection to this, but after we had divided our loot with scrupulous exactness, "Come
now," said he, "let's divide the boy." I thought this was merely a parting jest. But murderously drawing a sword, "Never," he cried, "shall you enjoy this prey you gloat over so selfishly. I've been slighted, and I must have my share, even if I have to cut it off with this sword." I followed suit on my side, and wrapping my cloak round my arm, took up a fighting posture.
In wretched trepidation at our unhappy fury the boy fell at our knees in tears and begged and besought us not to repeat in a miserable tavern the tragedy of the two Theban brothers, nor pollute with each other's blood the sanctity of so noble a friendship. "But if murder must be done," he declared, "lo! here I lay bare my throat; here strike, here bury your points. ‘Tis I should die, who have violated the sacred bond of friendship."
At these entreaties we put up our swords. Then Ascyltos, taking the initiative, said, "I will end this difference. Let the lad himself follow whom he will, so that he may be perfectly free to choose his friend and favorite."
For my part, supposing my long, long intimacy had bound the boy to me in ties as strong as those of blood, I felt not the slightest fear, but gladly and eagerly accepted the proposal to submit the question to this arbitrament. Yet the instant the words were out of my mouth, without a moment's hesitation or one look of uncertainty, he sprang up and declared Ascyltos to be his choice.
Thunderstruck at this decision, I threw myself just as I was and unarmed on my bed, and in my despair would certainly have laid violent hands on myself, had I not grudged such a victory to my adversary. Off goes Ascyltos in triumph with his prize, leaving me forlorn in a strange place-- me who so short a while before had been his dearest comrade and the partner in all his escapades.
Friendship's a name, expediency's mate,
The shifting symbol of the changing slate.
While Fortune's on our side, our friends stay true;
Let her once change, farewell the recreant crew!
So on the stage, one plays a father's part,
A son's, a rich man's, each with pliant art;
But when the play is ended, grave or gay,
Dropped is the mask, and truth resumes her sway.
However, I had no time to indulge my grief, but dreading lest, to complete my misfortunes, Menelaus, the under-professor, should find me alone at the inn, I
collected my traps together, and with a sad heart went off to hire a solitary lodging near the seashore. Shutting myself up for three days there, my loneliness and humiliation for ever haunting my mind, I spent my time in beating my poor breast, and with many a deep-drawn groan, crying again and again, "Oh! why has not the earth swallowed me? why has the sea, that drowns the guiltless mariner, spared me? Have I escaped the law, cheated the gallows, slain my host, that after so many proofs of spirit, I should be lying here a beggar and a vagabond, alone and forlorn in the inn of a paltry Greek city? And who is it has brought me to this desolation? A stripling defiled with every lust, who on his own freedom and enfranchisement by the prostitution of his body, whose youthful favors were sold to the highest bidder, who was hired out as a girl, when known to be a boy all the while. And what was the other? One who donned on the day of puberty the woman's frock in lieu of the manly gown, who was bent from his mother's womb on changing sex, who was whore to a barrackful of slaves, who after playing me false and exchanging the instrument of his lust, abandoned his old friend and, oh! the infamy of it! like a common strumpet sold everything in one night's vile work. Now the lovers lie twined in each other's arms whole nights together, and it may be, as they rest exhausted after mutual excesses, make mock of my loneliness. But they
shall not go unpunished. As I am a man, and a Roman citizen, I will avenge the wrong they have done me in their guilty blood!"
So saying, I gird on a sword, and that bodily weakness might not hinder my warlike intentions, recruit my strength with a copious meal. Presently I sally forth, and stalk like a madman through all the public colonnades. As I was prowling thus, with haggard, ferocious looks that threatened sheer blood and slaughter, ever and anon clapping my hand to the hilt of the weapon I had devoted to my vengeance, a soldier observed me-- if a simple soldier indeed he was, and not some nocturnal footpad. "Ho, there! comrade," he cried, "what's your legion, and who's your Centurion?" I named both legion and Centurion with confident mendacity. "Come, come," he retorted, "do the men of your division go about the streets in Greek pumps?" Then, my face and my agitation sufficiently betraying the imposture, he ordered me to drop my weapon and have a care I did not get into trouble. So despoiled and deprived of my means of vengeance, I retrace my steps to the inn, and my resolution gradually slipping away, I begin to feel nothing but gratitude to the footpad for his bold interference. It never does to trust too much to foresight, for Fortune has her own way of doing things.
Meantime I found it no easy task to overcome my thirst for revenge, and spent half the night in
debate. In hopes, however, of beguiling my melancholy and forgetting my wrongs, I rose at dawn and visited all the different colonnades, finally entering a picture gallery, containing admirable paintings in various styles. There I beheld Zeuxis' handiwork, still unimpaired by the lapse of years, and scanned, not without a certain awe, some sketches of Protogenes', that vied with Nature herself in their truth of presentment. Then I reverently admired the work of Apelles, of the kind the Greeks call "monochromatic"; for such was the exquisite delicacy and precision with which the figures were outlined, you seemed to see the very soul portrayed. Here was the eagle towering to the sky and bearing Ganymede in its talons. There the fair Hylas, struggling in the embraces of the amorous Naiad. Another work showed Apollo cursing his murderous hand, and bedecking his unstrung lyre with blossoms of the new-sprung hyacinth.
Standing surrounded by these painted images of famous lovers, I ejaculated as if in solitary self-communion, "Love, so it seems, troubles even the gods. Jupiter could discover no fitting object of his passion in heaven, his own domain; but though condescending to earthly amours, yet he wronged no trusting heart. Hylas' nymph that ravished him would have checked her ardor, had she known Hercules would come to chide her passion. Apollo renewed the memory of his favorite in a flower; and all these fabled lovers had their way without a rival's interference. But I have taken to my bosom a false-hearted friend more cruel than Lycurgus."
But lo! while I am thus complaining to the winds of heaven, there entered the colonnade an old white-headed man, with a thought-worn face, that seemed to promise something mysterious and out of the common. Yet his dress was far from imposing, making it evident he belonged to the class of men of letters, so ill-looked upon by the rich. This man now came up to me, saying, "Sir! I am a poet, and I trust of no mean genius, if these crowns mean anything, which I admit unfair partiality often confers on unworthy recipients. ‘Why then,' you will ask, ‘are you so poorly clad?' Just because I am a genius; when did love of art ever make a man wealthy?
The sea-borne trafficker gains pelf untold;
The hardy soldier wins his spoil of gold;
The sycophant on Tyrian purple lies;
The base adulterer with Crœsus vies.
Learning alone, in shuddering rags arrayed,
Vainly invokes th' indifferent Muses' aid!
"No doubt about it; if any man declare himself the foe of every vice, and start boldly on the path of rectitude, in the first place the singularity of his principles makes him odious, for who can approve habits so different from his own? Secondly, men whose one idea is to
pile up the dollars cannot bear that others should have a nobler creed than they live by themselves. So they spite all lovers of literature in every possible way, to put them into their proper place-- below the money-bags."
"I cannot understand why poverty is always talent's sister," I said, and heaved a sigh.
"You do well," returned the old man, "to deplore the lot of men of letters."
"Nay!" I replied, "that was not why I sighed; I have another and a far heavier reason for my sorrow!"-- and immediately, following the common propensity of mankind to pour one's private griefs into another's ear, I told him all my misfortunes, inveighing particularly against Ascyltos' perfidy, and ejaculating with many a groan, "Would to heaven my enemy, the cause of my present enforced continence, had any vestige of good feeling left to work upon; but ‘tis a hardened sinner, more cunning and astute than the basest pander."
Pleased by my frankness, the old man tried to comfort me; and in order to divert my melancholy thoughts, told me of an amorous adventure that had once happened to himself.
"When I went to Asia," he began, "as a paid officer in the Quaestor's suite, I lodged with a family at Pergamus. I found my quarters very pleasant, first on account of the convenience and elegance of the
apartments, and still more so because of the beauty of my host's son. I devised the following method to prevent the master of the house entertaining any suspicions of me as a seducer. Whenever the conversation at table turned on the abuse of handsome boys, I showed such extreme indignation and protested with such an air of austerity and offended dignity against the violence done to my ears by filthy talk of the sort, that I came to be regarded, especially by the mother, as one of the greatest of moralists and philosophers. Before long I was allowed to take the lad to the gymnasium; it was I that directed his studies, I that guided his conduct, and guarded against any possible debaucher of his person being admitted to the house.
"It happened on one occasion that we were sleeping in the dining-hall, the school having closed early as it was a holiday, and our amusements having rendered us too lazy to retire to our sleeping-chambers. Somewhere about midnight I noticed that the lad was awake; so whispering soft and low, I murmured a timid prayer in these words, ‘Lady Venus, if I may kiss this boy, so that he know it not, tomorrow I will present him with a pair of doves.' Hearing the price offered for the gratification, the boy set up a snore. So approaching him, where he lay still making pretense to be asleep, I stole two or three flying kisses. Satisfied with this beginning, I rose betimes next morning, and discharged my vow by bringing the eager lad a choice and costly pair of doves.
"The following night, the same opportunity occurring, I changed my petition, ‘If I may pass a naughty hand over this boy, and he not feel it, I will present him for his complaisance with a brace of the best fighting cocks ever seen.' At this promise the child came nestling up to me of his own accord and was actually afraid, I think, lest I might drop asleep again. I soon quieted his uneasiness on this point, and amply satisfied my longings, short of the supreme bliss, on every part of his beautiful body. Then when daylight came, I made him happy with the gift I had promised him.
"As soon as the third night left me free to try again, I rose as before, and creeping up to the rascal, who was lying awake expecting me, whispered at his ear, ‘If only, ye Immortal Gods, I may win of this sleeping darling full and happy satisfaction of my love, for such bliss I will tomorrow present the lad with an Asturian of the Macedonian strain, the best to be had for money, but always on the condition he shall not feel my violence.' Never did the stripling sleep more sound. So first I handled his plump and snowy bosoms, then kissed him on the mouth, and finally concentrated all my ardors in one supreme delight. Next morning he sat still in his room, expecting my present as usual. Well! you know as well as I do, it is a much easier matter to buy doves and fighting cocks than an Asturian; besides which, I
was afraid so valuable a present might rouse suspicion as to the real motives of my liberality. After walking about for an hour or so, I returned to the house, and gave the boy a kiss-- and nothing else. He looked about inquiringly, then threw his arms round my neck, and ‘Please, sir!' he said, ‘where is my Asturian?'
"‘It is hard,' I replied, ‘to get one fine enough. You will have to wait a few days for me to fulfill my vow.'
"The boy had wits enough to see through my answer, and his resentment was betrayed by the angry look that crossed his face.
"Although by this breach of faith I had closed against myself the door of access so carefully contrived, I returned once more to the attack. For, after allowing a few days to elapse, one night when similar circumstances had created just another opportunity for us as before, I began, the moment I heard the father snoring, to beg and pray the boy to be friends with me again,-- that is, to let me give him pleasure for pleasure, adding all the arguments my burning concupiscence could suggest. But he was positively angry and refused to say one word beyond, ‘Go to sleep, or I will tell my father.' But there is never an obstacle so difficult audacity will not vanquish it. He was still repeating, ‘I will wake my father,' when I slipped into his bed and took my pleasure of him in spite of his half-hearted resistance. However, he found a certain pleasure in my naughty ways, for after a long string of complaints about my having cheated and cajoled him and made him the laughing-stock of his school-fellows, to whom he had boasted of his rich friend, he whispered, ‘Still I won't be so unkind as you; if you like, do it again.'
"So forgetting all our differences, I was reconciled to the dear lad once more, and after utilizing his kind permission, I slipped off to sleep in his arms. But the stripling was not satisfied with only one repetition, all ripe for love as he was and just at the time of life for passive enjoyment. So he woke me up from my slumbers, and, ‘Anything you'd like, eh?' said he. Nor was I, so far, indisposed to accept his offer. So working him the best ever I could, to the accompaniment of much panting and perspiration, I gave him what he wanted, and then dropped asleep again, worn out with pleasure. Less than an hour had passed before he started pinching me and asking, ‘Eh! why are we not at work?' Hereupon, sick to death of being so often disturbed, I flew into a regular rage, and retorted his own words upon him; ‘Go to sleep,' I cried, ‘or I'll tell your father!'"
Enlivened by this discourse, I now began to question my companion, who was better informed on these points than myself, as to the dates of the different pictures and the subjects of some that baffled me. At the same time I asked him the reason for the supineness of the present day and the utter decay of the highest branches
of art, and amongst the rest of painting, which now showed not the smallest vestige of its former excellence.
"It is greed of money," he replied, "has wrought the change. In early days, when plain worth was still esteemed, the liberal arts flourished, and the chief object of men's emulation was to ensure no discovery likely to benefit future ages long remaining undeveloped. To this end Democritus extracted the juices of every herb, and spent his life in experimenting, that no virtue of mineral or plant might escape detection. In a similar way Eudoxus grew gray on the summit of a lofty mountain, observing the motions of the stars and firmament, while Chrysippus thrice purged his brain with hellebore, to stimulate its capacity and inventiveness. But to consider the sculptors only,-- Lysippus was so absorbed in the modeling of a single figure that he actually perished from lack of food, and Myron, who came near embodying the very souls of men and beasts in bronze, died too poor to find an heir.
"But we, engrossed with wine and women, have not the spirit to appreciate the arts already discovered; we can only criticize Antiquity, and devote all our energies, in precept and practice, to the faults of the old masters. What is become of Dialectic? of Astronomy? of Philosophy, that richly cultivated domain? Who nowadays has ever been known to enter a temple and engage to pay a vow, if only he may attain unto Eloquence, or find the fountain of wisdom? Not even do sound intellect and sound health any longer form the objects of men's prayers, but before ever they set food on the threshold of the Capitol, they promise lavish offerings, one if he may bury a wealthy relative, another if he may unearth a treasure, another if only he may live to reach his thirty million. The very Senate, the ensample of all that is right and good, is in the habit of promising a thousand pounds of gold to Capitoline Jove, and that no man may be ashamed of the lust of pelf, bribes the very God of Heaven. What wonder then if Painting is in decay, when all, gods and men alike, find a big lump of gold a fairer sight than anything those crack-brained Greek fellows, Apelles and Phidias, ever wrought.
"But there! I see your attention is riveted on that picture representing the capture of Troy; so I will endeavor to expound the theme in a copy of verses:
"Still the tenth summer saw the Phrygian host
A prey to doubt and fear, and Calchas' faith
Wavering and weak in spite of oracles,
When at Apollo's word, the wooded heights
Of topmost Ida lent their tallest trees
To shape the framework of a monstrous horse.
Within, a vasty cave and secret halls,
Capacious of an army, hold the flower
Of all the Greeks, by ten years' strife enraged;
Their own thank-offering hides th' avenging crew!
Oh! my unhappy country! now we dreamed
A thousand ships were scattered, and our land
Freed from the foe. So ran the lying words
Writ on the horse's flank, and so the tale
Of Sinon's wheedling tongue and traitor's heart.
Now through the gates, glad to be free at last,
The shouting Trojans hailed the pledge of peace,
While tears relieve the tension of their joy.
But terror checked their triumph; lo! the priest
Of Neptune, wise Laocoön, his locks unbound,
With cries of warning stays the eager crowd!
His brandished spear he hurled, but foiled by fate,
The blow falls harmless, and the sight renews
Their ill-starred confidence in Grecian guile.
Yet once again he summons all his strength,
And drives his ax deep in the monster's side.
Th' imprisoned warriors' groan resounds, and fills
The wooden hull with terror not its own.
In vain! the captives ride to capture Troy,
And end the tedious war by fraud, not force.
Another marvel! where above the deep
Tower the sheer cliffs of Tenedos, the surge
Is lashed to foam, and a fierce roaring breaks
The silence of the seas, as on a quiet night
The sound of pulsing oars is borne to land,
When fleets are passing on the distant main.
We turn our gaze; and there with rolling coils
Two water-snakes are sweeping toward the shore;
Their flanks, like lofty ships, throw back the foam,
They lash the main, their crests that ride the waves
Gleam fiery like their eyes, whose lightning flash
Kindles the deep, the billows hiss and roar.
All stare aghast. Behold, like priests attired
In Phrygian robes, there stand Laocoön's sons,
Twin pledges of his love, whom in their folds
The fiery snakes entwine. Each lifts his hands,
His childish hands, to guard,-- alas! in vain,--
His brother's head; from love's unselfishness
Remorseless death a sharper anguish wins.
Their sire, too weak to save them, shares their fate.
Gorged with fresh blood, the monsters drag him
Weltering in gore at his own altar's side
The priest a victim dies, in agony
Beating the ground. Thus from polluted shrines
The gods of fated Troy were driven away.
The rising Moon her beam had just displayed,
Kindling her radiant torch amid the stars,
When the impatient Greeks unbar the doors;
And forth on Troy, by sleep and wine betrayed,
The steel-clad warriors rush, as from the yoke
Just loosed, a gallant steed of Thessaly
Darts o'er the course tossing his eager mane.
They draw their flashing blades and wave their
And ‘havoc!' cry. One stabs the sleeping sot
With wine oppressed, one from the altar flames
Snatches a burning brand and fires the town,--
And Troy's own temples arm her foemen's hands."
Sundry of the public who were strolling in the colonnades now proceeded to pelt the aged reciter with stones. But Eumolpus, who was familiar with the sort
of applause his talents usually met with, merely covered up his head and bolted from the Temple. I was afraid he would claim me as a poet. So I started off in pursuit of the fugitive, and came up with him on the seashore. There we halted, directly we were out of range of the missiles, and I asked him, "Now what do you mean by this confounded malady of yours? I have not been a couple of hours in your company, and you've talked oftener like a mad poet than a sensible man. I don't wonder the populace pelts you. I am going to fill my pockets with stones, and every time I see your wits going, I shall bleed you in the head."
At this he changed countenance, and "Oh! my young friend," he said, "today is by no means my first essay; every time I've entered a theater to recite some trifle, the audience invariably welcomes me with this kind of treat. However as I am far from wishing to quarrel with you, I undertake a whole day's fast from poetry."
"Very well, then," said I; "if you'll abjure your crankiness for today, we'll dine together." So saying, I commissioned the housekeeper at my humble rooms to make preparations for our humble meal, and we went off straight to the Baths.