"Chapter Seventeen" by Petronius.
As soon as ever I could get home, I went to bed, utterly worn out with fatigue; but I was unable to sleep a wink. My various disasters kept on running through my head, and quite convinced I was the most unfortunate wretch alive, I ejaculated, "Fortune has ever been my bitterest foe; it only needed Love's torments as well to make me utterly miserable. Doomed wretch! Fortune and Love now join their forces to conspire my ruin. Cruel Cupid has never spared me; whether lover or loved, I am perpetually on the rack! There is Chrysis now! she loves me madly and never ceases to tease me. Chrysis who looked down on me, when she was acting as her mistress's go-between, and scorned me as a slave, because I wore slave's clothes; she, I say, that same Chrysis who once loathed my humble condition, is now bent on following it up even at the risk of life itself. She swore she would never leave me alone, that time she declared the vehemence of her passion for me.
"But Circe has my whole heart; all other women I despise. Indeed who so fair as she? What was Ariadne's beauty, or Leda's, compared to hers? What had Helen of Troy, or Venus herself, to boast against her? If Paris, umpire of the rival goddesses, had seen her at the trial with her dancing eyes, he would have given up all to her, Helen and the goddesses three! Could I but kiss that mouth, could I press that divine, that heavenly bosom, maybe my powers of body would return, and those parts of me revive that now lie torpid and, I verily believe, bewitched. No insults exhaust my patience. I have been thrashed,-- 'tis nothing; I have been kicked out,-- 'tis a merry jest; if only I may be restored to favor."
|These and the like thoughts of lovely Circe's charms so roused my fancy that I disordered my bed with the repeated efforts of a sort of imaginary voluptuousness. But all my struggles remained unavailing. At last continual disappointment wore my patience out, and I cursed the evil enchantment|
that oppressed me. Presently however, recovering my self-control, and drawing what consolation I might from remembering how many heroes of antiquity had been persecuted by the anger of the gods, I broke out into these lines:
"Not I alone have Heaven's just anger felt,
The gods with others have severely dealt;
By Juno's rage the heavens Alcides bore,
And lost fair Hylas on the Pontic Shore.
Laomedon did Jove's resentment feel,
And Telephus bled by the fatal steel.
Fate's sure decrees no mortal power can shun,
Nor can the swiftest from Heaven's vengeance run."
Tortured by these anxieties, I tossed about wakefully the whole night long. At peep of day Giton, informed of the fact of my having slept at home, entered my room, and after chiding me severely for my licentious way of life, told me the whole household were complaining bitterly of my goings on, how I paid scarcely any attention to business, and was like a ruin myself over the fatal intrigue I was now engaged in. I gathered from all this he was well posted in my affairs, and guessed some one had been to the house to inquire for me. I asked my companion if anyone had been in quest of me.
"No one today," Giton replied; "but yesterday there was a woman, stylishly dressed enough, came in, and after a long talk with me and boring me to death with her forced conversation, ended by saying you deserved the gallows and would surely get a slave's scourging, if the individual you had wronged persisted in his complaint." This news tormented me extremely, and I launched out into fresh recriminations against Fortune. My invective was still in full swing when Chrysis came in, and throwing her arms wildly round my neck, exclaimed, "I have you in my arms, my heart's desire! My love, my joy! Never, never will you end this fire of mine, but by quenching it in my blood."
I was not a little disconcerted by this amorous display on her part, and resorted to a string of flattering speeches to get rid of her, fearing the madwoman's cries might reach Eumolpus's ears, who in the arrogance of success had now adopted the domineering ways of a real master. So I used every means to calm her excitement,-- feigning love, whispering soft nothings; in a word, so cleverly did I play the fond adorer she thought me genuinely smitten with her charms. I explained what peril we should both be in, if she were caught with me in my bedroom, Eumolpus being only too ready to punish the smallest indiscretion. Hearing this, she left me hurriedly, all the more so as she saw Giton coming back, who had quitted the room shortly before she joined me.
Hardly was she gone before one of the newly engaged servants rushed in to tell me the master was excessively angry at my two days' neglect of my duties. The best thing I could do, he said, was to get some plausible excuse ready; for it was hardly possible his angry passions could subside without somebody getting a thrashing.
Giton seeing me so vexed and disheartened, did not say one word to me about the woman; he merely spoke of Eumolpus, recommending me to treat the matter jocularly with him, rather than look gloomy about it. I was glad enough to take his advice, and approached the old man with so gay an air that, instead of showing severity, he received me banteringly, rallying me about my success in love and complimenting me on my grace and elegance, which made me such a favorite with all the ladies. "It is no news to me," he went on, "that a most beautiful woman is dying of love for you; now this may very likely be useful to us on occasion, Encolpius. Well then! play the fond lover, you; I will keep up the same rôle I have been acting all along."
He was still speaking when a matron entered, a lady of the highest distinction, Philomela by name, who in earlier days had won many a fat legacy by the charms of her youth; but who being old now and past her prime, used to put her son and daughter in the way of childless old men, and so continued to extend her old trade by the efforts of these successors. Well! this woman came to Eumolpus and proceeded to commend her children to his judicious guardianship, and confide herself and her hopes to his kindly good nature, asseverating he was the only man in all the world to train young people by the daily inculcation of healthy precepts; in fine, that she was leaving her children under Eumolpus's roof, that they might hear his words of wisdom, the only heritage worth having that could be bestowed on youth. And she was as good as her word; for leaving behind her a very attractive looking girl along with her brother, a stripling, in the old man's
chamber, she left the house under pretext of visiting the Temple to say her prayers.
Eumolpus, who was so careful a soul he was ready to take even me at my age for a minion, was not long in inviting the girl to sacrifice to the rearward Venus. But then he had informed everybody he was gouty and crippled in the loins, and if he failed to keep up the pretense, he ran considerable risk of spoiling the whole play. So, to maintain the imposture intact, he begged the girl to take a seat on that kindly good nature her mother had appealed to, ordering Corax at the same time to slip under the bed he lay on himself, and resting his hands on the floor, to hoist him up and down with his back. The servant obeyed, and gently seconded the child's artful movements with a corresponding, rhythmical seesaw. Then when the crisis was coming, Eumolpus shouted out loud and clear to Corax to work faster. Thus the old fellow, suspended between his servant and his mistress, enjoyed himself as if in a swing. This exercise he repeated more than once, to the accompaniment of peals of laughter, in which he himself joined. Nor was I idle; but fearing my hand might get out of practise from disuse, I assailed the brother, where he stood admiring his sister's gymnastics through the keyhole, to see if he were amenable to outrage. He made no bones about accepting my caresses; but once more, alas! I found the god unpropitious to my efforts.
However I was not so much cast down by failure this time as I had been on previous occasions; for very soon afterwards my vigor came back to me, and suddenly feeling myself in better condition, I exclaimed, "The great gods of higher heaven it is have made me a man again! Mercury, who conveys and reconveys the souls of men, has of his loving kindness given me back what an unfriendly hand had docked me of, to show you I am really more graciously endowed than ever was Protesilaus or any of the mighty men of yore." So saying, I lifted my tunic, and offered Eumolpus a view of all my glories. For an instant he stood panic-stricken; then, to make assurance doubly sure, he put out both hands and felt the good gift the gods had given me.
This great boon restoring our cheerfulness, we made merry over Philomela's artfulness and her children's proficiency, little likely to profit them much with us however; for it was solely and entirely in hopes of a legacy she had abandoned the boy and girl to our tender mercies. So reflecting on this sordid fashion of getting round childless old men, I was led on to think of the present state of our own fortunes, and took occasion to warn Eumolpus that this game of biting might easily end in biters being bit.
"Our every act," I added, "should be governed by caution. Socrates, wisest of mankind as both men and gods allow, was wont to boast he had never so much as glanced into a tavern, nor trusted his eyes to look at any crowded and disorderly assemblage. Nothing in the world is more advisable than always to speak within the bounds of prudence.
"All this is true," I insisted, "and no class of men is more liable to come to mischance than those who covet other folks' goods. How should mountebanks, and swindlers, live, unless they were now and again to toss a little purse or a jingling bag of money as baits to the crowd? Just as dumb beasts are enticed by food, so men are to be caught only with something solid in the way of
expectations to bite at. The ship from Africa with your money and your slaves has not arrived, as you promised. Our fortune-hunters are tired out, and already stint their generosity. Either I am much mistaken, or the jade Fortune has begun to repent of her favors to you."
"I have thought out a scheme," Eumolpus replied, "that will mightily embarrass our fortune-hunting friends," and drawing his tablets from his wallet, he read out his last wishes as follows:
"All who shall receives legacies under my will, my own freedmen excepted, will inherit the said bequests subject to this condition, to wit that they do cut up my body into pieces and eat the same before the eyes of the public there present.
"They need not be over and above shocked, I tell them; for we know that to this day some nations observe the custom by which the dead are eaten by their relatives-- so much so indeed that sick folk amongst them are often reproached for spoiling their flesh by being so long ill. I remind my friends of these facts, that they may not refuse to follow my directions, but rather consume my dead body with the same heartiness with which they prayed the living breath might leave it."
Just as he was reading the initial clauses, several of Eumolpus's most intimate friends came into his room, and seeing the document in his hand, begged him eagerly to let them hear its contents. He consented instantly, and read it out from beginning to end. On hearing the extraordinary stipulation about being obliged to eat his corpse, they were very much cast down. But the glamour of his wealth so dazzled the wretched creatures and stifled their consciences, making mere cringing cowards of them in his presence, that they durst enter no protest against the enormity. One of them, however Gorgias, was ready to comply, provided he had not too long to wait.
At this Eumolpus continued, turning to Gorgias, "I have no apprehensions of your stomach's turning rebellious; it will obey orders, once you promise it, in return for one hour's nausea, a plethora of good things. Just shut your eyes, and pretend it's not human flesh you've bolted, but a cool ten million. Besides, we'll find some condiments, never fear, to disguise the flavor. Indeed, no meat really tastes good by itself, but is always masked in some artful way, and the recalcitrant stomach reconciled to it. Why! if you want examples to fortify your resolutions-- the Saguntines, when hard pressed by Hannibal, ate human flesh; and they had no legacy to expect. The men of Perusia did the same thing in the extremity of famine, looking for no other benefit from the horrid diet but just to escape starvation. When Numantia was taken by Scipio, mothers were found grasping their children's half-eaten bodies to their bosoms. In fine, seeing it is merely the idea of cannibalism that can cause disgust, you must fight with all your heart to banish this repugnance from your minds, to the end you may receive the enormous legacies I put you down for."
These insolent extravagances Eumolpus reeled off with such reckless inconsequence as made the fortune hunters begin to distrust his promises. Instantly they began to scrutinize more closely our words and actions, and everything they saw only increasing their suspicions, they soon set us down for a gang of common cheats and swindlers. Hereupon such as had gone to more than ordinary expense for our entertainment, resolved to have at us and take their just revenge.
But now Chrysis, who was in all their secrets, warned me of what the Crotonians' intentions towards us were. This news scared me so terribly I fled instantly with Giton, leaving Eumolpus to his fate; and a few days later I learned that the Crotonians, furious at the old fox having lived sumptuously at their expense for so long, had massacred him in the Massilian fashion. To show you what this means, I must tell you that whenever the Massilians were visited by the Plague, one of the poorer inhabitants would volunteer himself as an expiatory victim, on condition of being maintained a full year at the public cost and fed on choice food. Later on, the unhappy man, bedecked with festal wreaths and sacred robes, was carried in procession through the whole city, and made the butt of general execration, to the end that all the calamities of all the State might be concentrated on his devoted head. This done, he was hurled headlong from a rock.