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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Tale of Aristomenes, the Commercial Traveler
By Apuleius (c. 125–c. 180)
 
From ‘The Metamorphoses’

I AM a native of Ægina, and I travel in Thessaly, Ætolia, and Bœotia to purchase honey of Hypata, cheese, and other articles used in cookery. Having heard that at Hypata, the principal city of Thessaly, fine-flavored new cheese was for sale cheap, I made the best of my way there to buy it all up. But as usual, happening to start left foot foremost, which is unlucky, all my hopes of profit came to nothing; for a fellow named Lupus, a merchant who does things on a big scale, had bought the whole of it the day before.  1
  Weary with my hurried journey to no purpose, I was going early in the evening to the public baths, when to my surprise I espied an old companion of mine named Socrates. He was sitting on the ground, half covered with a rag-tag cloak, and looking like somebody else, he was so miserably wan and thin,—in fact, just like a street beggar; so that though he used to be my friend and close acquaintance, I had two minds about speaking to him.  2
  “How now, friend Socrates!” said I: “what does this mean? Why are you tricked out like this? What crime have you been guilty of? Why, you look as though your family had given you up for dead and held your funeral long ago, the probate judge had appointed guardians for your children, and your wife, disfigured by her long mourning, having cried herself almost blind, was being worried by her parents to sit up and take notice of things, and look for a new marriage. Yet now, all of a sudden, here you come before us like a wretched ghost from the dead, to turn everything upside down!”  3
  “O Aristomenes!” said he, “it’s clear that you don’t know the slippery turns, the freaks, and the never-ending tricks of fortune.”  4
  As he said this, he hid his face, crimson with shame, in his one garment of patches and tatters. I could not bear such a miserable sight, and tried to raise him from the ground. But he kept saying with his head all covered up, “Let me alone! let me alone! let Fortune have her way with me!”  5
  However, I finally persuaded him to go with me; and at the same time pulling off one of my own garments, I speedily clothed him, or at any rate covered him. I next took him to a bath, scrubbed and oiled him myself, and laboriously rubbed the matted dirt off him. Having done all I could, though tired out myself, I supported his feeble steps, and with great difficulty brought him to my inn. There I made him lie down on a bed, gave him plenty of food, braced him up with wine, and entertained him with the news of the day. Pretty soon our conversation took a merry turn; we cracked jokes, and grew noisy as we chattered. All of a sudden, heaving a bitter sigh from the bottom of his chest, and striking his forehead violently with his right hand, he said:—  6
  “Miserable wretch that I am, to have got into such a predicament while having a good time at a gladiatorial show! As you know, I went to Macedonia on business; it took me ten months; I was on my way home with a very neat sum of money, and had nearly reached Larissa, which I included in my route in order to see the show I mentioned, when I was attacked by robbers in a lonely valley, and only escaped after losing everything I had. In my distress I betook myself to a certain woman named Meroë, who kept a tavern (and who, though rather old, was very good-looking), and told her about my long absence, my earnest desire to reach home, and my being robbed that very day. She treated me with the greatest kindness, gave me a good supper for nothing, and then let me make love to her. But from the very moment that I was such a fool as to dally with her, my mind seemed to desert me. I even gave her the clothes which the robbers in common decency had left me, and the little earnings I made there by working as cloakmaker so long as I was in good physical condition; until at length this kind friend, and bad luck together, reduced me to the state you just now found me in.”  7
  “By Pollux, then,” said I, “you deserve to suffer the very worst misfortunes (if there be anything worse than the worst), for having preferred a wrinkled old reprobate to your home and children.”  8
  “Hush! hush!” said he, putting his forefinger on his lips, and looking round with a terror-stricken face to see if we were alone. “Beware of reviling a woman skilled in the black art, for fear of doing yourself a mischief.”  9
  “Say you so?” said I. “What kind of a woman is this innkeeper, so powerful and dreadful?”  10
  “She is a sorceress,” he replied, “and possessed of magic powers; she can draw down the heavens, make the earth heave, harden the running water, dissolve mountains, raise the shades of the dead, dethrone the gods, extinguish the stars, and set the very depths of Tartarus ablaze!”  11
  “Come, come!” said I: “end this tragic talk, fold up your theatrical drop-scenes, and let us hear your story in every-day language.”  12
  “Should you like,” said he, “to hear of one or two, yes, or a great many of her performances? Why, to make not only her fellow-countrymen, but the Indians, the Ethiopians, or even the Antipodeans, love her to distraction, are only the easy lessons of her art, as it were, and mere trifles. Listen to what she has done before many witnesses. By a single word she changed a lover into a beaver, because he had gone to another flame. She changed an innkeeper, a neighbor of hers she was envious of, into a frog; and now the old fellow, swimming about in a cask of his own wine, or buried in the dregs, croaks hoarsely to his old customers,—quite in the way of business. She changed another person, a lawyer from the Forum, into a ram, because he had conducted a suit against her; to this very day that ram is always butting about. Finally, however, public indignation was aroused by so many people coming to harm through her arts; and the very next day had been fixed upon to wreak a fearful vengeance on her, by stoning her to death. She frustrated the design by her enchantments. You remember how Medea, having got Creon to allow her just one day before her departure, burned his whole palace, with himself and his daughter in it, by means of flames issuing from a garland? Well, this sorceress, having performed certain deadly incantations in a ditch (she told me so herself in a drunken fit), confined everybody in the town each in his own house for two whole days, by a secret spell of the demons. The bars could not be wrenched off, nor the doors taken off the hinges, nor even a breach made in the walls. At last, by common consent, the people all swore they would not lift a hand against her, and would come to her defense if any one else did. She then liberated the whole city. But in the middle of the night she conveyed the author of the conspiracy, with all his house, close barred as it was,—the walls, the very ground, and even the foundations,—to another city a hundred miles off, on the top of a craggy mountain, and so without water. And as the houses of the inhabitants were built so close together that there was not room for the new-comer, she threw down the house before the gate of the city and took her departure.”  13
  “You narrate marvelous things,” said I, “my good Socrates; and no less terrible than marvelous. In fact, you have excited no small anxiety (indeed I may say fear) in me too; not a mere grain of apprehension, but a piercing dread for fear this old hag should come to know our conversation in the same way, by the help of some demon. Let us get to bed without delay; and when we have rested ourselves by a little sleep, let us fly as far as we possibly can before daylight.”  14
  While I was still advising him thus, the worthy Socrates, overcome by more wine than he was used to and by his fatigue, had fallen asleep and was snoring loudly. I shut the door, drew the bolts, and placing my bed close against the hinges, tossed it up well and lay down on it. I lay awake some time through fear, but closed my eyes at last a little before midnight.  15
  I had just fallen asleep, when suddenly the door was burst open with such violence that it was evidently not done by robbers; the hinges were absolutely broken and wrenched off, and it was thrown to the ground. The small bedstead, minus one foot and rotten, was also upset by the shock; and falling upon me, who had been rolled out on the floor, it completely covered and hid me. Then I perceived that certain emotions can be excited by exactly opposite causes; for as tears often come from joy, so, in spite of my terror, I could not help laughing to see myself turned from Aristomenes into a tortoise. As I lay on the floor, completely covered by the bed, and peeping out to see what was the matter, I saw two old women, one carrying a lighted lamp and the other a sponge and a drawn sword, plant themselves on either side of Socrates, who was fast asleep.  16
  The one with the sword said to the other:—“This, sister Panthea, is my dear Endymion, my Ganymede, who by day and by night has laughed my youth to scorn. This is he who, despising my passion, not only defames me with abusive language, but is preparing also for flight; and I forsooth, deserted through the craft of this Ulysses, like another Calypso, am to be left to lament in eternal loneliness!”  17
  Then extending her right hand, and pointing me out to her friend Panthea:—  18
  “And there,” said she, “is his worthy counselor, Aristomenes, who was the planner of this flight, and who now, half dead, is lying flat on the ground under the bedstead and looking at all that is going on, while he fancies that he is to tell scandalous stories of me with impunity. I’ll take care, however, that some day, aye, and before long, too,—this very instant, in fact,—he shall repent of his recent chatter and his present curiosity.”  19
  On hearing this I felt myself streaming with cold perspiration, and my heart began to throb so violently that even the bedstead danced on my back.  20
  “Well, sister,” said the worthy Panthea, “shall we hack him to pieces at once, like the Bacchanals, or tie his limbs and mutilate him?”  21
  To this Meroë replied,—and I saw from what was happening, as well as from what Socrates had told, how well the name fitted her,—“Rather let him live, if only to cover the body of this wretched creature with a little earth.”  22
  Then, moving Socrates’s head to one side, she plunged the sword into his throat up to the hilt, catching the blood in a small leathern bottle so carefully that not a drop of it was to be seen. All this I saw with my own eyes. The worthy Meroë—in order, I suppose, not to omit any due observance in the sacrifice of the victim—then thrust her right hand through the wound, and drew forth the heart of my unhappy companion. His windpipe being severed, he emitted a sort of indistinct gurgling noise, and poured forth his breath with his bubbling blood. Panthea then stopped the gaping wound with a sponge, exclaiming, “Beware, O sea-born sponge, how thou dost pass through a river!”  23
  When she had said this, they lifted my bed from the ground, and dashed over me a mass of filth.  24
  Hardly had they passed over the threshold when the door resumed its former state. The hinges settled back on the panels, the posts returned to the bars, and the bolts flew back to their sockets again. I lay prostrate on the ground in a squalid plight, terrified, naked, cold, and drenched. Indeed, I was half dead, though still alive; and pursued a train of reflections like one already in the grave, or to say the least on the way to the cross, to which I was surely destined. “What,” said I, “will become of me, when this man is found in the morning with his throat cut? If I tell the truth, who will believe a word of the story? ‘You ought at least,’ they will say, ‘to have called for help, if as strong a man as you are could not withstand a woman! Is a man’s throat to be cut before your eyes, and you keep silence? Why was it that you were not assassinated too? How did the villains come to spare you, a witness of the murder? They would naturally kill you, if only to put an end to all evidence of the crime. Since your escape from death was against reason, return to it.’”  25
  I said these things to myself over and over again, while the night was fast verging toward day. It seemed best to me, therefore, to escape on the sly before daylight and pursue my journey, though I was all in a tremble. I took up my bundle, put the key in the door, and drew back the bolts. But this good and faithful door, which had opened of its own accord in the night, would not open now till I had tried the key again and again.  26
  “Hallo, porter!” said I, “where are you? Open the gate, I want to be off before daybreak.”  27
  The porter, who was lying on the ground behind the door, only grunted, “Why do you want to begin a journey at this time of night? Don’t you know the roads are infested by robbers? You may have a mind to meet your death,—perhaps your conscience stings you for some crime you have committed; but I haven’t a head like a pumpkin, that I should die for your sake!”  28
  “It isn’t very far from daybreak,” said I; “and besides, what can robbers take from a traveler in utter poverty? Don’t you know, you fool, that a naked man can’t be stripped by ten athletes?”  29
  The drowsy porter turned over and answered;—“And how am I to know but what you have murdered that fellow-traveler of yours that you came here with last night, and are running away to save yourself? And now I remember that I saw Tartarus through a hole in the earth just at that hour, and Cerberus looking ready to eat me up.”  30
  Then I came to the conclusion that the worthy Meroë had not spared my throat out of pity, but to reserve me for the cross. So, on returning to my chamber, I thought over some speedy method of putting an end to myself; but fortune had provided me with no weapon for self-destruction, except the bedstead. “Now, bedstead,” said I, “most dear to my soul, partner with me in so many sorrows, fully conscious and a spectator of this night’s events, and whom alone when accused I can adduce as a witness of my innocence—do thou supply me (who would fain hasten to the shades below) a welcome instrument of death.”  31
  Thus saying, I began to undo the bed-cord. I threw one end of it over a small beam projecting above the window, fastened it there, and made a slip-knot at the other end. Then I mounted on the bed, and thus elevated for my own destruction, put my head into the noose and kicked away my support with one foot; so that the noose, tightened about my throat by the strain of my weight, might stop my breath. But the rope, which was old and rotten, broke in two; and falling from aloft, I tumbled heavily upon Socrates, who was lying close by, and rolled with him on the floor.  32
  Lo and behold! at that very instant the porter burst into the room, bawling out, “Where are you, you who were in such monstrous haste to be off at midnight, and now lie snoring, rolled up in the bed-clothes?”  33
  At these words—whether awakened by my fall or by the rasping voice of the porter, I know not—Socrates was the first to start up; and he exclaimed, “Evidently travelers have good reason for detesting these hostlers. This nuisance here, breaking in without being asked,—most likely to steal something,—has waked me out of a sound sleep by his outrageous bellowing.”  34
  On hearing him speak I jumped up briskly, in an ecstasy of unhoped-for joy:—“Faithfulest of porters,” I exclaimed, “my friend, my own father, and my brother,—behold him whom you, in your drunken fit, falsely accuse me of having murdered.”  35
  So saying, I embraced Socrates, and was for loading him with kisses; but he repulsed me with considerable violence. “Get out with you!” he cried. Sorely confused, I trumped up some absurd story on the spur of the moment, to give another turn to the conversation, and taking him by the right hand—  36
  “Why not be off,” said I, “and enjoy the freshness of the morning on our journey?”  37
  So I took my bundle, and having paid the innkeeper for our night’s lodging, we started on our road.  38
  We had gone some little distance, and now, everything being illumined by the beams of the rising sun, I keenly and attentively examined that part of my companion’s neck into which I had seen the sword plunged.  39
  “Foolish man,” said I to myself, “buried in your cups, you certainly have had a most absurd dream. Why, look: here’s Socrates, safe, sound, and hearty. Where is the wound? Where is the sponge? Where is the scar of a gash so deep and so recent?”  40
  Addressing myself to him, I remarked, “No wonder the doctors say that hideous and ominous dreams come only to people stuffed with food and liquor. My own case is a good instance. I went beyond moderation in my drinking last evening, and have passed a wretched night full of shocking and dreadful visions, so that I still fancy myself spattered and defiled with human gore.”  41
  “It is not gore,” he replied with a smile, “that you are sprinkled with. And yet in my sleep I thought my own throat was being cut, and felt some pain in my neck, and fancied that my very heart was being plucked out. Even now I am quite faint; my knees tremble; I stagger as I go, and feel in want of some food to hearten me up.”  42
  “Look,” cried I, “here is breakfast all ready for you.” So saying, I lifted my wallet from my shoulders, handed him some bread and cheese, and said, “Let us sit down near that plane-tree.” We did so, and I helped myself to some refreshment. While looking at him more closely, as he was eating with a voracious appetite, I saw that he was faint, and of a hue like boxwood. His natural color, in fact, had so forsaken him, that as I recalled those nocturnal furies to my frightened imagination, the very first piece of bread I put in my mouth, though exceedingly small, stuck in the middle of my throat and would pass neither downward nor upward. Besides, the number of people passing along increased my fears; for who would believe that one of two companions could meet his death except at the hands of the other?  43
  Presently, after having gorged himself with food, he began to be impatient for some drink, for he had bolted the larger part of an excellent cheese. Not far from the roots of the plane-tree a gentle stream flowed slowly along, like a placid lake, rivaling silver or crystal.  44
  “Look,” said I: “drink your fill of the water of this stream, bright as the Milky Way.”  45
  He arose, and, wrapping himself in his cloak, with his knees doubled under him, knelt down upon the shelving bank and bent greedily toward the water. Scarcely had he touched its surface with his lips, when the wound in his throat burst open and the sponge rolled out, a few drops of blood with it; and his lifeless body would have fallen into the river had I not laid hold of one of his feet, and dragged him with great difficulty and labor to the top of the bank. There, having mourned my hapless comrade as much as there was time, I buried him in the sandy soil that bordered the stream. Then, trembling and terror-stricken, I fled through various unfrequented places; and as though guilty of homicide, abandoned my country and my home, embraced a voluntary exile, and now dwell in Ætolia, where I have married another wife.  46
 
 
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