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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 Amateur of Lying
By Lucian (c. 125–after 180)
 
From the ‘Philopseudes’: Translation of Emily James Putnam

Persons: Tychiades, Philocles

TYCHIADES—I have just come from a visit to Eucrates—everybody knows Eucrates—and at his house I heard a lot of incredible fables. Indeed, I came away in the middle because I could not stand the extravagance of what I heard. I fled from the tale of portents and wonders as though the Furies were at my heels.  1
  Philocles—What were they, in Heaven’s name? I should like to know what form of folly Eucrates devises behind that impressive beard of his.  2
  Tychiades—I found at his house a goodly company, including Cleodomus the Peripatetic, and Deinomachus the Stoic, and Ion;—you know Ion, who thinks himself an authority on the writings of Plato, believing himself the only man who has exactly understood the master’s meaning so as to interpret him to the world. You see what sort of men were there, of wisdom and virtue all compact. Antigonus the doctor was there too; called in professionally, I suppose. Eucrates seemed to be eased already; his difficulty was a chronic one, and the humors had subsided to his feet. He motioned me to sit down beside him on the couch, sinking his voice to invalid’s pitch when he saw me, though I had heard him shouting as I came in. So I sat down beside him, taking great care not to touch his feet, and explaining, as one does, that I hadn’t heard of his illness before, and came on a run as soon as the news reached me.  3
  They happened to be still carrying on a discussion of his ailment which had already occupied them some time; and each man was suggesting a method of treatment.  4
  “Now, if you kill a field-mouse in the way I described,” said Cleodomus, “and pick up one of its teeth from the ground with your left hand, and wrap it in the skin of a lion newly flayed, and then tie it round your legs, the pain will cease at once.”  5
  “Why, do you think,” I asked, “that any charm can work the cure, or that what you clap on outside affects a disease lodged within?”  6
  “Don’t mind him,” said Ion. “I will tell you a queer story. When I was a boy about fourteen years old, a messenger came to tell my father that Midas, one of his vine-dressers,—a robust, active fellow,—had been bitten by a snake about noonday, and was then lying with a mortifying leg. As he was tying up the tendrils and fastening them to the poles, the creature had crept up and bitten his great toe, disappearing at once into its hole, while Midas bawled in mortal agony. Such was the message, and we saw Midas himself borne on a cot by his fellow slaves; swollen, livid, clammy, and evidently with but a short time to live. Seeing my father’s distress, a friend who stood by said to him, ‘Cheer up: I will bring you a man—a Chaldæan from Babylon, they say—who will cure the fellow.’ And to make a long story short, the Babylonian came and put Midas on his feet, driving the poison out of his body by an incantation and the application to his foot of a chip from a maiden’s tombstone. And perhaps this is not very remarkable; though Midas picked up his own bed and went back to the farm, showing the force that was in the charm and the stone. But the Babylonian did some other things that were really remarkable. Early in the morning he went to the farm, pronounced seven sacred names from an ancient book, walked round the place three times purifying it with torch and sulphur, and drove out every creeping thing within the borders. They came out in numbers as though drawn to the charm: snakes, asps, adders, horned snakes and darting snakes, toads and newts. But one old serpent was left behind; detained by age, I suppose. The magician declared he had not got them all, and chose one of the snakes, the youngest, to send as an ambassador to the old one, who very shortly made his appearance also. When they were all assembled, the Babylonian blew upon them, and they were forthwith burnt up by his breath, to our astonishment.”  7
  “Tell me, Ion,” said I, “did the young snake—the ambassador—give his hand to the old one, or had the old one a crutch to lean on?”  8
  “You are flippant,” said Cleodomus.  9
  While we were talking thus, Eucrates’s two sons came in from the gymnasium,—one of them already a young man, the other about fifteen; and after greeting us they sat down on the couch by their father. A chair was brought for me, and Eucrates addressed me as though reminded of something by the sight of the lads. “Tychiades,” said he, “may I have no comfort in these,” and he laid a hand on the head of each, “if I am not telling you the truth. You all know my attachment to my wife, the mother of these boys. I showed it by my care of her, not only while she lived, but after her death by burning with her all the ornaments and clothing that she had pleasure in. On the seventh day after she died, I was lying here on the couch as I am at this moment, and trying to beguile my grief by quietly reading Plato’s book on the soul. In the midst of my reading there enters to me Demineate herself and takes a seat near me, where Eucratides is now.” He pointed to his younger son, who forthwith shivered with childish terror. He had already grown quite pale at the narrative.  10
  “When I saw her,” Eucrates went on, “I threw my arms about her and burst into tears and cries. She however would not suffer it; but chid me because when I burned all her other things for her good pleasure, I failed to burn one of her sandals, her golden sandals. It had fallen under the chest, she said, and so not finding it we had burnt its fellow alone. While we were still talking together, a little devil of a Melitæan dog that was under the couch fell to barking, and at the sound she disappeared. The sandal, however, was found under the chest and burned later.”  11
  On the top of this recital there entered Arignotus the Pythagorean, long of hair and reverend of face. You know the man, famous for his wisdom and surnamed “the holy.” Well, when I saw him I breathed again, thinking that here was an axe at the root of error. Cleodomus rose to give him a seat. He first asked about the invalid’s condition; but when he heard from Eucrates that he was eased already, he asked, “What are you philosophizing about? I listened as I was coming in, and it seemed to me that the talk had taken a very delightful turn.”  12
  “We were only trying,” said Eucrates, pointing to me, “to convince this adamantine mind that there are such things as dæmons, and that ghosts and souls of the dead wander on earth and appear to whom they will.”  13
  I grew red at this, and hung my head in respect for Arignotus.  14
  “Perhaps,” said he, “Tychiades holds that only the souls of those that have died by violence walk,—if a man be hanged or beheaded or impaled or something of that sort,—but that after a natural death the soul does not return. If that is his view, it can by no means be rejected.”  15
  “No, by heaven,” said Deinomachus; “but he does not believe that such things exist at all, or have a substance that can be seen.”  16
  “What do you mean?” asked Arignotus, looking at me grimly. “Do you think none of these things occur, although every one, I may say, has seen them?”  17
  “You have made my defense,” I said, “if the ground of my disbelief is that I alone of all men do not even see these things. If I had seen them, of course I should believe them as you do.”  18
  “Well,” he said, “if you ever go to Corinth, ask where Eubatides’s house is; and when it is pointed out to you beside the Craneum, go in and tell Tibias the porter that you want to see the spot from which Arignotus the Pythagorean dug up the dæmon and drove him out, making the house habitable forever after.”  19
  “What was that?” asked Eucrates.  20
  “The house had been vacant a long time,” said he, “because people were afraid of it. If any one tried to live in it, he straightway fled in a panic, chased out by some terrible and distressing apparition. So it was falling to ruin, and the roof had sunk, and there was absolutely no one who dared enter it. When I heard of this I took my books,—I have a large collection of Egyptian works on these subjects,—and went to the house in the early evening; although the man with whom I was staying, when he learned where I was going, tried to restrain me almost by force from what he regarded as certain destruction. I took a lamp and went in alone. In the largest room I set down my light, seated myself on the floor, and quietly read my book. Up comes the dæmon, thinking he had an ordinary man to deal with, and hoping to frighten me as he had done the others, in the guise of a squalid fellow, long-haired and blacker than night. Approaching, he tried to get the better of me by onsets from every quarter,—now in the shape of a dog, now of a bull or a lion. But I, having at hand the most blood-curdling conjuration, and delivering it in the Egyptian tongue, drove him into the corner of a dark room. Noting the spot at which he sank into the ground, I desisted for the night. But at daybreak, when every one had given me up, and expected to find me a corpse like the others, I emerged, to the surprise of all, and proceeded to Eubatides, informing him that for the future his house would be innocent and free from horrors. Conducting him and a crowd who followed out of curiosity, I brought them to the spot where the dæmon had disappeared, and bade them dig with mattock and spade. When they had done so, we found at the depth of about six feet a moldering corpse, only held together by the frame of bones. We dug it up and buried it, and from that day forth the house was no longer disturbed by apparitions.”  21
  When this tale was told by Arignotus, a person of exceptional learning and universally respected, there was not a man present who did not upbraid me as a fool for disbelieving these things even when they came from Arignotus. But I said, nothing daunted either by his long hair or his reputation, “What is this? You—truth’s only hope—are you one of the same sort, with a head full of smoke and spectres?”  22
  “Why, man,” said Arignotus, “if you won’t believe me or Deinomachus or Cleodomus or Eucrates himself, come, tell us what opposing authority you have which you think more trustworthy?”  23
  “Why, good heavens,” I replied, “it is the mighty man of Abdera, Democritus. I will show you how confident he was that this sort of thing cannot have a concrete existence. When he was living in a tomb outside the city gates, where he had locked himself up and spent day and night in writing, some of the boys in joke wanted to frighten him, and dressed up in black shrouds like corpses with death’s-head masks. In this guise they surrounded him and danced about him, leaping and shuffling with their feet. But far from being frightened by their make-believe, he did not even glance at them, but went on with his writing, saying, ‘Stop your nonsense.’ That shows how sure he was that souls cease to exist when they pass from the body.”  24
  “You only prove,” said Eucrates, “that Democritus was a fool too, if that was his opinion. I will tell you another story, not on hearsay but an experience of my own. When I was a young man my father sent me to Egypt,—to have me educated, as he said; and while I was there I conceived the wish to sail up to Coptus, and thence to visit the statue of Memnon and hear the famous notes it utters at the rising of the sun. On the voyage back it chanced that a man from Memphis was among the passengers,—one of the sacred scribes, a man of wonderful wisdom and conversant with all the learning of the Egyptians. It was said that he had lived twenty-three years underground in the precincts, learning magic under the tutorship of Isis.”  25
  “You mean Pancrates, my teacher!” cried Arignotus. “A holy man with a shaven head and clad in linen; he was of a thoughtful turn, spoke Greek imperfectly, was tall and slight, had a snub nose and projecting lips, and his legs were a trifle thin.”  26
  “The very man,” said Eucrates. “At first I did not know who he was; but whenever we put in anywhere I used to see him doing various wonderful things,—among others, riding a crocodile and swimming with the creatures, who cowered before him and fawningly wagged their tails. Then I perceived that he was a holy person; and little by little, through kindly feeling, I became before I knew it his intimate friend and the partner of his secrets. And finally he persuaded me to go off alone with him, leaving all my servants at Memphis; ‘for,’ said he, ‘we shall have no lack of attendants.’ Our mode of life after that was this: whenever we entered a lodging the man would take the bolt from the door, or the broom, or even the pestle, dress it in clothes, and then by pronouncing some charm set it walking, so that to every one else it seemed to be a man. It would go and fetch water, buy food and cook it, and in all respects act as a clever servant. And when he had enough of its service, he would say another charm and make the broom a broom again, or the pestle a pestle. This charm I could not learn from him, anxious as I was to know it; he kept it jealously, though he was most communicative in every other respect. One day I overheard it without his knowledge, standing almost in the dark. It was of three syllables. He then went off to the market after giving his orders to the pestle. The next day, while he had business in the market, I took the pestle, dressed it up, uttered the three syllables just as he did, and bade it bring water. When it had filled the jar and brought it to me, I said, ‘That will do: don’t fetch any more water; be a pestle again.’ But it would not obey me; it kept on bringing water until the whole house was flooded. I was at my wits’ end, for fear Pancrates should come back and be angry,—just what happened,—so I seized an axe and chopped the pestle in two. No use! Each piece took a jar and fell to drawing water, so that I had two of them at it instead of one. At this point, too, Pancrates arrived. When he realized what was going on, he reduced the water-carriers to wood again, and himself deserted me on the sly, disappearing heaven knows whither.” 1  27
  “At any rate,” said Deinomachus, “you know so much,—how to make a man out of a pestle.”  28
  “Will you never stop spinning your marvelous yarns?” I said. “You are old enough to know better. But at least respect these boys, and postpone your terrific stories to some other time. Before you know it they will be full of nervous terrors. You ought to consider them, and not accustom them to hear things that will haunt them all their lives, and make them afraid of a noise because they are full of superstition.”  29
  “I am glad you used that word,” said Eucrates. “It reminds me to ask you what you think about another class of phenomena,—I mean oracles and prophecies. Probably you have no faith in them either?”  30
  “I am off,” said I. “You are not satisfied with the field of human experience, but must needs call in the gods themselves to take a hand in your myth-making.”  31
  And so saying I took my leave; but they, I daresay, freed of my presence, drew in their chairs to the banquet and supped full with lies.  32
 
Note 1. Barham has used this story in the ‘Ingoldsby Legends,’—‘The Lay of St Dunstan.’ [back]
 
 
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