Marius the epicurean %E2.., p.10
Marius the Epicurean — Volume 2, page 10part #2 of Marius the Epicurean Series
CHAPTER XXIV: A CONVERSATION NOT IMAGINARY
 IN cheerfulness is the success of our studies, says Pliny--studiahilaritate proveniunt. It was still the habit of Marius, encouraged byhis experience that sleep is not only a sedative but the best ofstimulants, to seize the morning hours for creation, making profit whenhe might of the wholesome serenity which followed a dreamless night."The morning for creation," he would say; "the afternoon for theperfecting labour of the file; the evening for reception--the receptionof matter from without one, of other men's words and thoughts--matterfor our own dreams, or the merely mechanic exercise of the brain,brooding thereon silently, in its dark chambers." To leave home earlyin the day was therefore a rare thing for him. He was induced so to doon the occasion of a visit to Rome of the famous writer Lucian, whom hehad been bidden to meet. The breakfast over, he walked away with thelearned guest, having offered to be his guide  to the lecture-roomof a well-known Greek rhetorician and expositor of the Stoicphilosophy, a teacher then much in fashion among the studious youth ofRome. On reaching the place, however, they found the doors closed,with a slip of writing attached, which proclaimed "a holiday"; and themorning being a fine one, they walked further, along the Appian Way.Mortality, with which the Queen of Ways--in reality the favouritecemetery of Rome--was so closely crowded, in every imaginable form ofsepulchre, from the tiniest baby-house, to the massive monument out ofwhich the Middle Age would adapt a fortress-tower, might seem, on amorning like this, to be "smiling through tears." The flower-stallsjust beyond the city gates presented to view an array of posies andgarlands, fresh enough for a wedding. At one and another of themgroups of persons, gravely clad, were making their bargains beforestarting for some perhaps distant spot on the highway, to keep a diesrosationis, this being the time of roses, at the grave of a deceasedrelation. Here and there, a funeral procession was slowly on its way,in weird contrast to the gaiety of the hour.
The two companions, of course, read the epitaphs as they strolledalong. In one, reminding them of the poet's--Si lacrimae prosunt,visis te ostende videri!--a woman prayed that her lost husband mightvisit her dreams. Their characteristic note, indeed, was an imploringcry, still  to be sought after by the living. "While I live,"such was the promise of a lover to his dead mistress, "you will receivethis homage: after my death,--who can tell?"--post mortem nescio. "Ifghosts, my sons, do feel anything after death, my sorrow will belessened by your frequent coming to me here!" "This is a privilegedtomb; to my family and descendants has been conceded the right ofvisiting this place as often as they please." "This is an eternalhabitation; here lie I; here I shall lie for ever." "Reader! if youdoubt that the soul survives, make your oblation and a prayer for me;and you shall understand!"
The elder of the two readers, certainly, was little affected by thosepathetic suggestions. It was long ago that after visiting the banks ofthe Padus, where he had sought in vain for the poplars (sisters ofPhaethon erewhile) whose tears became amber, he had once for allarranged for himself a view of the world exclusive of all reference towhat might lie beyond its "flaming barriers." And at the age of sixtyhe had no misgivings. His elegant and self-complacent but far fromunamiable scepticism, long since brought to perfection, never failedhim. It surrounded him, as some are surrounded by a magic ring of finearistocratic manners, with "a rampart," through which he himself neverbroke, nor permitted any thing or person to break upon him. Gay,animated, content with his old age  as it was, the aged studentstill took a lively interest in studious youth.--Could Marius informhim of any such, now known to him in Rome? What did the young menlearn, just then? and how?
In answer, Marius became fluent concerning the promise of one youngstudent, the son, as it presently appeared, of parents of whom Lucianhimself knew something: and soon afterwards the lad was seen comingalong briskly--a lad with gait and figure well enough expressive of thesane mind in the healthy body, though a little slim and worn offeature, and with a pair of eyes expressly designed, it might seem, forfine glancings at the stars. At the sight of Marius he pausedsuddenly, and with a modest blush on recognising his companion, whostraightway took with the youth, so prettily enthusiastic, the freedomof an old friend.
In a few moments the three were seated together, immediately above thefragrant borders of a rose-farm, on the marble bench of one of theexhedrae for the use of foot-passengers at the roadside, from whichthey could overlook the grand, earnest prospect of the Campagna, andenjoy the air. Fancying that the lad's plainly written enthusiasm hadinduced in the elder speaker somewhat more fervour than was usual withhim, Marius listened to the conversation which follows.--
"Ah! Hermotimus! Hurrying to lecture!  --if I may judge by yourpace, and that volume in your hand. You were thinking hard as you camealong, moving your lips and waving your arms. Some fine speech youwere pondering, some knotty question, some viewy doctrine--not to beidle for a moment, to be making progress in philosophy, even on yourway to the schools. To-day, however, you need go no further. We reada notice at the schools that there would be no lecture. Staytherefore, and talk awhile with us.
--With pleasure, Lucian.--Yes! I was ruminating yesterday'sconference. One must not lose a moment. Life is short and art islong! And it was of the art of medicine, that was first said--a thingso much easier than divine philosophy, to which one can hardly attainin a lifetime, unless one be ever wakeful, ever on the watch. And herethe hazard is no little one:--By the attainment of a true philosophy toattain happiness; or, having missed both, to perish, as one of thevulgar herd.
--The prize is a great one, Hermotimus! and you must needs be near it,after these months of toil, and with that scholarly pallor of yours.Unless, indeed, you have already laid hold upon it, and kept us in thedark.
--How could that be, Lucian? Happiness, as Hesiod says, abides veryfar hence; and the way to it is long and steep and rough. I see myselfstill at the beginning of my journey; still  but at the mountain'sfoot. I am trying with all my might to get forward. What I need is ahand, stretched out to help me.
--And is not the master sufficient for that? Could he not, like Zeusin Homer, let down to you, from that high place, a golden cord, to drawyou up thither, to himself and to that Happiness, to which he ascendedso long ago?
--The very point, Lucian! Had it depended on him I should long agohave been caught up. 'Tis I, am wanting.
--Well! keep your eye fixed on the journey's end, and that happinessthere above, with confidence in his goodwill.
--Ah! there are many who start cheerfully on the journey and proceed acertain distance, but lose heart when they light on the obstacles ofthe way. Only, those who endure to the end do come to the mountain'stop, and thereafter live in Happiness:--live a wonderful manner oflife, seeing all other people from that great height no bigger thantiny ants.
--What little fellows you make of us--less than the pygmies--down inthe dust here. Well! we, 'the vulgar herd,' as we creep along, willnot forget you in our prayers, when you are seated up there above theclouds, whither you have been so long hastening. But tell me,Hermotimus!--when do you expect to arrive there?
--Ah! that I know not. In twenty years,  perhaps, I shall bereally on the summit.--A great while! you think. But then, again, theprize I contend for is a great one.
--Perhaps! But as to those twenty years--that you will live so long.Has the master assured you of that? Is he a prophet as well as aphilosopher? For I suppose you would not endure all this, upon a merechance--toiling day and night, though it might happen that just ere thelast step, Destiny seized you by the foot and plucked you thence, withyour hope still unfulfilled.
--Hence, with these ill-omened words, Lucian! Were I to survive butfor a day, I should be happy, having once attained wisdom.
--How?--Satisfied with a single day, after all those labours?
--Yes! one blessed moment were enough!
--But again, as you have never been, how know you that happiness is tobe had up t
--I believe what the master tells me. Of a certainty he knows, beingnow far above all others.
--And what was it he told you about it? Is it riches, or glory, orsome indescribable pleasure?
--Hush! my friend! All those are nothing in comparison of the lifethere.
--What, then, shall those who come to the  end of thisdiscipline--what excellent thing shall they receive, if not these?
--Wisdom, the absolute goodness and the absolute beauty, with the sureand certain knowledge of all things--how they are. Riches and gloryand pleasure--whatsoever belongs to the body--they have cast from them:stripped bare of all that, they mount up, even as Hercules, consumed inthe fire, became a god. He too cast aside all that he had of hisearthly mother, and bearing with him the divine element, pure andundefiled, winged his way to heaven from the discerning flame. Even sodo they, detached from all that others prize, by the burning fire of atrue philosophy, ascend to the highest degree of happiness.
--Strange! And do they never come down again from the heights to helpthose whom they left below? Must they, when they be once come thither,there remain for ever, laughing, as you say, at what other men prize?
--More than that! They whose initiation is entire are subject nolonger to anger, fear, desire, regret. Nay! They scarcely feel at all.
--Well! as you have leisure to-day, why not tell an old friend in whatway you first started on your philosophic journey? For, if I might, Ishould like to join company with you from this very day.
--If you be really willing, Lucian! you will learn in no long time youradvantage over all  other people. They will seem but as children,so far above them will be your thoughts.
--Well! Be you my guide! It is but fair. But tell me--Do you allowlearners to contradict, if anything is said which they don't thinkright?
--No, indeed! Still, if you wish, oppose your questions. In that wayyou will learn more easily.
--Let me know, then--Is there one only way which leads to a truephilosophy--your own way--the way of the Stoics: or is it true, as Ihave heard, that there are many ways of approaching it?
--Yes! Many ways! There are the Stoics, and the Peripatetics, andthose who call themselves after Plato: there are the enthusiasts forDiogenes, and Antisthenes, and the followers of Pythagoras, besidesothers.
--It was true, then. But again, is what they say the same or different?
--Yet the truth, I conceive, would be one and the same, from all ofthem. Answer me then--In what, or in whom, did you confide when youfirst betook yourself to philosophy, and seeing so many doors open toyou, passed them all by and went in to the Stoics, as if there alonelay the way of truth? What token had you? Forget, please, all you areto-day--half-way, or more, on the philosophic journey:  answer meas you would have done then, a mere outsider as I am now.
--Willingly! It was there the great majority went! 'Twas by that Ijudged it to be the better way.
--A majority how much greater than the Epicureans, the Platonists, thePeripatetics? You, doubtless, counted them respectively, as with thevotes in a scrutiny.
--No! But this was not my only motive. I heard it said by every onethat the Epicureans were soft and voluptuous, the Peripateticsavaricious and quarrelsome, and Plato's followers puffed up with pride.But of the Stoics, not a few pronounced that they were true men, thatthey knew everything, that theirs was the royal road, the one road, towealth, to wisdom, to all that can be desired.
--Of course those who said this were not themselves Stoics: you wouldnot have believed them--still less their opponents. They were thevulgar, therefore.
--True! But you must know that I did not trust to others exclusively.I trusted also to myself--to what I saw. I saw the Stoics goingthrough the world after a seemly manner, neatly clad, never in excess,always collected, ever faithful to the mean which all pronounce'golden.'
--You are trying an experiment on me. You would fain see how far youcan mislead  me as to your real ground. The kind of probation youdescribe is applicable, indeed, to works of art, which are rightlyjudged by their appearance to the eye. There is something in thecomely form, the graceful drapery, which tells surely of the hand ofPheidias or Alcamenes. But if philosophy is to be judged by outwardappearances, what would become of the blind man, for instance, unableto observe the attire and gait of your friends the Stoics?
--It was not of the blind I was thinking.
--Yet there must needs be some common criterion in a matter soimportant to all. Put the blind, if you will, beyond the privileges ofphilosophy; though they perhaps need that inward vision more than allothers. But can those who are not blind, be they as keen-sighted asyou will, collect a single fact of mind from a man's attire, fromanything outward?--Understand me! You attached yourself to thesemen--did you not?--because of a certain love you had for the mind inthem, the thoughts they possessed desiring the mind in you to beimproved thereby?
--How, then, did you find it possible, by the sort of signs you justnow spoke of, to distinguish the true philosopher from the false?Matters of that kind are not wont so to reveal themselves. They arebut hidden mysteries, hardly to be guessed at through the words andacts which  may in some sort be conformable to them. You,however, it would seem, can look straight into the heart in men'sbosoms, and acquaint yourself with what really passes there.
--You are making sport of me, Lucian! In truth, it was with God's helpI made my choice, and I don't repent it.
--And still you refuse to tell me, to save me from perishing in that'vulgar herd.'
--Because nothing I can tell you would satisfy you.
--You are mistaken, my friend! But since you deliberately conceal thething, grudging me, as I suppose, that true philosophy which would makeme equal to you, I will try, if it may be, to find out for myself theexact criterion in these matters--how to make a perfectly safe choice.And, do you listen.
--I will; there may be something worth knowing in what you will say.
--Well!--only don't laugh if I seem a little fumbling in my efforts.The fault is yours, in refusing to share your lights with me. LetPhilosophy, then, be like a city--a city whose citizens within it are ahappy people, as your master would tell you, having lately come thence,as we suppose. All the virtues are theirs, and they are little lessthan gods. Those acts of violence which happen among us are not to beseen in their streets. They live together in one mind, very seemly;the things which beyond  everything else cause men to contendagainst each other, having no place upon them. Gold and silver,pleasure, vainglory, they have long since banished, as beingunprofitable to the commonwealth; and their life is an unbroken calm,in liberty, equality, an equal happiness.
--And is it not reasonable that all men should desire to be of a citysuch as that, and take no account of the length and difficulty of theway thither, so only they may one day become its freemen?
--It might well be the business of life:--leaving all else, forgettingone's native country here, unmoved by the tears, the restraining hands,of parents or children, if one had them--only bidding them follow thesame road; and if they would not or could not, shaking them off,leaving one's very garment in their hands if they took hold on us, tostart off straightway for that happy place! For there is no fear, Isuppose, of being shut out if one came thither naked. I remember,indeed, long ago an aged man related to me how things passed there,offering himself to be my leader, and enrol me on my arrival in thenumber of the citizens. I was but fifteen--certainly very foolish: andit may be that I was then actually within the suburbs, or at the verygates, of the city. Well, this aged man told me, among other things,that all the citizens were wayfarers from afar. Among them werebarbarians and slaves, poor  men--aye! and cripples--all indeedwho truly desired that citizenship. For the only legal conditions ofenrolment were--not wealth, nor bodily beauty, nor nobleancestry--th
--Well! If you go the whole round, you  will find no betterguides than those. If you wish to get to Corinth, you will follow thetraces of Zeno and Chrysippus. It is impossible otherwise.
--Yes! The old, familiar language! Were one of Plato'sfellow-pilgrims here, or a follower of Epicurus--or fifty others--eachwould tell me that I should never get to Corinth except in his company.One must therefore credit all alike, which would be absurd; or, what isfar safer, distrust all alike, until one has discovered the truth.Suppose now, that, being as I am, ignorant which of all philosophers isreally in possession of truth, I choose your sect, relying onyourself--my friend, indeed, yet still acquainted only with the way ofthe Stoics; and that then some divine power brought Plato, andAristotle, and Pythagoras, and the others, back to life again. Well!They would come round about me, and put me on my trial for mypresumption, and say:--'In whom was it you confided when you preferredZeno and Chrysippus to me?--and me?--masters of far more venerable agethan those, who are but of yesterday; and though you have never heldany discussion with us, nor made trial of our doctrine? It is not thusthat the law would have judges do--listen to one party and refuse tolet the other speak for himself. If judges act thus, there may be anappeal to another tribunal.' What should I answer? Would it  beenough to say:--'I trusted my friend Hermotimus?'--'We know notHermotimus, nor he us,' they would tell me; adding, with a smile, 'yourfriend thinks he may believe all our adversaries say of us whether inignorance or in malice. Yet if he were umpire in the games, and if hehappened to see one of our wrestlers, by way of a preliminary exercise,knock to pieces an antagonist of mere empty air, he would not thereuponpronounce him a victor. Well! don't let your friend Hermotimussuppose, in like manner, that his teachers have really prevailed overus in those battles of theirs, fought with our mere shadows. That,again, were to be like children, lightly overthrowing their owncard-castles; or like boy-archers, who cry out when they hit the targetof straw. The Persian and Scythian bowmen, as they speed along, canpierce a bird on the wing.'
--Let us leave Plato and the others at rest. It is not for me tocontend against them. Let us rather search out together if the truthof Philosophy be as I say. Why summon the athletes, and archers fromPersia?
--Yes! let them go, if you think them in the way. And now do youspeak! You really look as if you had something wonderful to deliver.
--Well then, Lucian! to me it seems quite possible for one who haslearned the doctrines of the Stoics only, to attain from those aknowledge  of the truth, without proceeding to inquire into allthe various tenets of the others. Look at the question in this way. Ifone told you that twice two make four, would it be necessary for you togo the whole round of the arithmeticians, to see whether any one ofthem will say that twice two make five, or seven? Would you not see atonce that the man tells the truth?
--Why then do you find it impossible that one who has fallen in withthe Stoics only, in their enunciation of what is true, should adhere tothem, and seek after no others; assured that four could never be five,even if fifty Platos, fifty Aristotles said so?
--You are beside the point, Hermotimus! You are likening openquestions to principles universally received. Have you ever met anyone who said that twice two make five, or seven?
--No! only a madman would say that.
--And have you ever met, on the other hand, a Stoic and an Epicureanwho were agreed upon the beginning and the end, the principle and thefinal cause, of things? Never! Then your parallel is false. We areinquiring to which of the sects philosophic truth belongs, and youseize on it by anticipation, and assign it to the Stoics, alleging,what is by no means clear, that it is they for whom twice two makefour. But the Epicureans, or the Platonists,  might say that itis they, in truth, who make two and two equal four, while you make themfive or seven. Is it not so, when you think virtue the only good, andthe Epicureans pleasure; when you hold all things to be material, whilethe Platonists admit something immaterial? As I said, you resolveoffhand, in favour of the Stoics, the very point which needs a criticaldecision. If it is clear beforehand that the Stoics alone make two andtwo equal four, then the others must hold their peace. But so long asthat is the very point of debate, we must listen to all sects alike, orbe well-assured that we shall seem but partial in our judgment.
--I think, Lucian! that you do not altogether understand my meaning. Tomake it clear, then, let us suppose that two men had entered a temple,of Aesculapius,--say! or Bacchus: and that afterwards one of the sacredvessels is found to be missing. And the two men must be searched tosee which of them has hidden it under his garment. For it is certainlyin the possession of one or the other of them. Well! if it be found onthe first there will be no need to search the second; if it is notfound on the first, then the other must have it; and again, there willbe no need to search him.
--Yes! So let it be.
--And we too, Lucian! if we have found the holy vessel in possession ofthe Stoics, shall no longer have need to search other philosophers, having attained that we were seeking. Why trouble ourselvesfurther?
--No need, if something had indeed been found, and you knew it to bethat lost thing: if, at the least, you could recognise the sacredobject when you saw it. But truly, as the matter now stands, not twopersons only have entered the temple, one or the other of whom mustneeds have taken the golden cup, but a whole crowd of persons. Andthen, it is not clear what the lost object really is--cup, or flagon,or diadem; for one of the priests avers this, another that; they arenot even in agreement as to its material: some will have it to be ofbrass, others of silver, or gold. It thus becomes necessary to searchthe garments of all persons who have entered the temple, if the lostvessel is to be recovered. And if you find a golden cup on the firstof them, it will still be necessary to proceed in searching thegarments of the others; for it is not certain that this cup reallybelonged to the temple. Might there not be many such goldenvessels?--No! we must go on to every one of them, placing all that wefind in the midst together, and then make our guess which of all thosethings may fairly be supposed to be the property of the god. For,again, this circumstance adds greatly to our difficulty, that withoutexception every one searched is found to have something upon him--cup,or flagon, or diadem, of brass, of silver,  of gold: and still,all the while, it is not ascertained which of all these is the sacredthing. And you must still hesitate to pronounce any one of them guiltyof the sacrilege--those objects may be their own lawful property: onecause of all this obscurity being, as I think, that there was noinscription on the lost cup, if cup it was. Had the name of the god,or even that of the donor, been upon it, at least we should have hadless trouble, and having detected the inscription, should have ceasedto trouble any one else by our search.
--I have nothing to reply to that.
--Hardly anything plausible. So that if we wish to find who it is hasthe sacred vessel, or who will be our best guide to C
--What then is one to do, if the matter be really thus? Perhaps youknow better than I. All I see is that very few of us would have timeto examine all the various sects of philosophy in turn, even if webegan in early life. I know not how it is; but though you seem to meto speak reasonably, yet (I must confess it) you have distressed me nota little by this exact exposition of yours. I was unlucky in comingout to-day, and in my falling in with you, who have thrown me intoutter perplexity by your proof that the discovery of truth isimpossible, just as I seemed to be on the point of attaining my hope.
--Blame your parents, my child, not me! Or rather, blame mother Natureherself, for giving us but seventy or eighty years instead of making usas long-lived as Tithonus. For my part, I have but led you frompremise to conclusion.
--Nay! you are a mocker! I know not wherefore, but you have a grudgeagainst philosophy; and it is your entertainment to make a jest of herlovers.
--Ah! Hermotimus! what the Truth may  be, you philosophers may beable to tell better than I. But so much at least I know of her, thatshe is one by no means pleasant to those who hear her speak: in thematter of pleasantness, she is far surpassed by Falsehood: andFalsehood has the pleasanter countenance. She, nevertheless, beingconscious of no alloy within, discourses with boldness to all men, whotherefore have little love for her. See how angry you are now becauseI have stated the truth about certain things of which we are both alikeenamoured--that they are hard to come by. It is as if you had fallenin love with a statue and hoped to win its favour, thinking it a humancreature; and I, understanding it to be but an image of brass or stone,had shown you, as a friend, that your love was impossible, andthereupon you had conceived that I bore you some ill-will.
--But still, does it not follow from what you said, that we mustrenounce philosophy and pass our days in idleness?
--When did you hear me say that? I did but assert that if we are toseek after philosophy, whereas there are many ways professing to leadthereto, we must with much exactness distinguish them.
--Well, Lucian! that we must go to all the schools in turn, and testwhat they say, if we are to choose the right one, is perhapsreasonable; but surely ridiculous, unless we are to live as  manyyears as the Phoenix, to be so lengthy in the trial of each; as if itwere not possible to learn the whole by the part! They say thatPheidias, when he was shown one of the talons of a lion, computed thestature and age of the animal it belonged to, modelling a complete lionupon the standard of a single part of it. You too would recognise ahuman hand were the rest of the body concealed. Even so with theschools of philosophy:--the leading doctrines of each might be learnedin an afternoon. That over-exactness of yours, which required so longa time, is by no means necessary for making the better choice.
--You are forcible, Hermotimus! with this theory of The Whole by thePart. Yet, methinks, I heard you but now propound the contrary. Buttell me; would Pheidias when he saw the lion's talon have known that itwas a lion's, if he had never seen the animal? Surely, the cause ofhis recognising the part was his knowledge of the whole. There is away of choosing one's philosophy even less troublesome than yours. Putthe names of all the philosophers into an urn. Then call a littlechild, and let him draw the name of the philosopher you shall followall the rest of your days.
--Nay! be serious with me. Tell me; did you ever buy wine?
--And did you first go the whole round of  the wine-merchants,tasting and comparing their wines?
--By no means.
--No! You were contented to order the first good wine you found atyour price. By tasting a little you were ascertained of the quality ofthe whole cask. How if you had gone to each of the merchants in turn,and said, 'I wish to buy a cotyle of wine. Let me drink out the wholecask. Then I shall be able to tell which is best, and where I ought tobuy.' Yet this is what you would do with the philosophies. Why drainthe cask when you might taste, and see?
--How slippery you are; how you escape from one's fingers! Still, youhave given me an advantage, and are in your own trap.
--Thus! You take a common object known to every one, and make wine thefigure of a thing which presents the greatest variety in itself, andabout which all men are at variance, because it is an unseen anddifficult thing. I hardly know wherein philosophy and wine are alikeunless it be in this, that the philosophers exchange their ware formoney, like the wine-merchants; some of them with a mixture of water orworse, or giving short measure. However, let us consider yourparallel. The wine in the cask, you say, is of one kind throughout.But have the philosophers--has your own  master even--but one andthe same thing only to tell you, every day and all days, on a subjectso manifold? Otherwise, how can you know the whole by the tasting ofone part? The whole is not the same--Ah! and it may be that God hashidden the good wine of philosophy at the bottom of the cask. You mustdrain it to the end if you are to find those drops of divine sweetnessyou seem so much to thirst for! Yourself, after drinking so deeply,are still but at the beginning, as you said. But is not philosophyrather like this? Keep the figure of the merchant and the cask: butlet it be filled, not with wine, but with every sort of grain. Youcome to buy. The merchant hands you a little of the wheat which liesat the top. Could you tell by looking at that, whether the chick-peaswere clean, the lentils tender, the beans full? And then, whereas inselecting our wine we risk only our money; in selecting our philosophywe risk ourselves, as you told me--might ourselves sink into the dregsof 'the vulgar herd.' Moreover, while you may not drain the whole caskof wine by way of tasting, Wisdom grows no less by the depth of yourdrinking. Nay! if you take of her, she is increased thereby.
And then I have another similitude to propose, as regards this tastingof philosophy. Don't think I blaspheme her if I say that it may bewith her as with some deadly poison,  hemlock or aconite. Thesetoo, though they cause death, yet kill not if one tastes but a minuteportion. You would suppose that the tiniest particle must besufficient.
--Be it as you will, Lucian! One must live a hundred years: one mustsustain all this labour; otherwise philosophy is unattainable.
--Not so! Though there were nothing strange in that, if it be true, asyou said at first, that Life is short and art is long. But now youtake it hard that we are not to see you this very day, before the sungoes down, a Chrysippus, a Pythagoras, a Plato.
--You overtake me, Lucian! and drive me into a corner; in jealousy ofheart, I believe, because I have made some progress in doctrine whereasyou have neglected yourself.
--Well! Don't attend to me! Treat me as a Corybant, a fanatic: and doyou go forward on this road of yours. Finish the journey in accordancewith the view you had of these matters at the beginning of it. Only,be assured that my judgment on it will remain unchanged. Reason stillsays, that without criticism, without a clear, exact, unbiassedintelligence to try them, all those theories--all things--will havebeen seen but in vain. 'To that end,' she tells us, 'much time isnecessary, many delays of judgment, a cautious gait; repeatedinspection.' And we are not to regard the outward appearance, or th
--Philosophy, then, is impossible, or possible only in another life!
--Hermotimus! I grieve to tell you that all this even, may be in truthinsufficient. After all, we may deceive ourselves in the belief thatwe have found something:--like the fishermen! Again and again they letdown the net. At last they feel something heavy, and with vast labourdraw up, not a load of fish, but only a pot full of sand, or a greatstone.
--I don't understand what you mean by the net. It is plain that youhave caught me in it.
--Try to get out! You can swim as well as another. We may go to allphilosophers in turn and make trial of them. Still, I, for my part,hold it by no mean certain that any one of them really possesses whatwe seek. The truth may be a thing that not one of them has yet found.You have twenty beans in your hand, and you bid ten persons guess howmany: one says five, another fifteen; it is possible that one of themmay tell the true number; but it is not impossible that all may bewrong. So it is with the philosophers. All alike are in search ofHappiness--what kind of thing it is. One says one thing, one another:it is pleasure; it is virtue;--what not? And Happiness may indeed beone of those things. But it is possible  also that it may bestill something else, different and distinct from them all.
--What is this?--There is something, I know not how, very sad anddisheartening in what you say. We seem to have come round in a circleto the spot whence we started, and to our first incertitude. Ah!Lucian, what have you done to me? You have proved my priceless pearlto be but ashes, and all my past labour to have been in vain.
--Reflect, my friend, that you are not the first person who has thusfailed of the good thing he hoped for. All philosophers, so to speak,are but fighting about the 'ass's shadow.' To me you seem like one whoshould weep, and reproach fortune because he is not able to climb upinto heaven, or go down into the sea by Sicily and come up at Cyprus,or sail on wings in one day from Greece to India. And the true causeof his trouble is that he has based his hope on what he has seen in adream, or his own fancy has put together; without previous thoughtwhether what he desires is in itself attainable and within the compassof human nature. Even so, methinks, has it happened with you. As youdreamed, so largely, of those wonderful things, came Reason, and wokeyou up from sleep, a little roughly: and then you are angry withReason, your eyes being still but half open, and find it hard to shakeoff sleep for the pleasure of what you saw therein. Only,  don'tbe angry with me, because, as a friend, I would not suffer you to passyour life in a dream, pleasant perhaps, but still only a dream--becauseI wake you up and demand that you should busy yourself with the properbusiness of life, and send you to it possessed of common sense. Whatyour soul was full of just now is not very different from those Gorgonsand Chimaeras and the like, which the poets and the painters constructfor us, fancy-free:--things which never were, and never will be, thoughmany believe in them, and all like to see and hear of them, justbecause they are so strange and odd.
And you too, methinks, having heard from some such maker of marvels ofa certain woman of a fairness beyond nature--beyond the Graces, beyondVenus Urania herself--asked not if he spoke truth, and whether thiswoman be really alive in the world, but straightway fell in love withher; as they say that Medea was enamoured of Jason in a dream. And whatmore than anything else seduced you, and others like you, into thatpassion, for a vain idol of the fancy, is, that he who told you aboutthat fair woman, from the very moment when you first believed that whathe said was true, brought forward all the rest in consequent order.Upon her alone your eyes were fixed; by her he led you along, when onceyou had given him a hold upon you--led you along the straight road, ashe said, to the beloved one. All was easy after that.  None ofyou asked again whether it was the true way; following one afteranother, like sheep led by the green bough in the hand of the shepherd.He moved you hither and thither with his finger, as easily as waterspilt on a table!
My friend! Be not so lengthy in preparing the banquet, lest you die ofhunger! I saw one who poured water into a mortar, and ground it withall his might with a pestle of iron, fancying he did a thing useful andnecessary; but it remained water only, none the less."
Just there the conversation broke off suddenly, and the disputantsparted. The horses were come for Lucian. The boy went on his way, andMarius onward, to visit a friend whose abode lay further. As hereturned to Rome towards evening the melancholy aspect, natural to acity of the dead, had triumphed over the superficial gaudiness of theearly day. He could almost have fancied Canidia there, picking her wayamong the rickety lamps, to rifle some neglected or ruined tomb; forthese tombs were not all equally well cared for (Post mortem nescio!)and it had been one of the pieties of Aurelius to frame a severe law toprevent the defacing of such monuments. To Marius there seemed to besome new meaning in that terror of isolation, of being left alone inthese places, of which the sepulchral inscriptions were so full. Ablood-red sunset was dying angrily, and its wild glare upon the shadowyobjects around helped to combine  the associations of this famousway, its deeply graven marks of immemorial travel, together with theearnest questions of the morning as to the true way of that other sortof travelling, around an image, almost ghastly in the traces of itsgreat sorrows--bearing along for ever, on bleeding feet, the instrumentof its punishment--which was all Marius could recall distinctly of acertain Christian legend he had heard. The legend told of an encounterat this very spot, of two wayfarers on the Appian Way, as also uponsome very dimly discerned mental journey, altogether different fromhimself and his late companions--an encounter between Love, literallyfainting by the road, and Love "travelling in the greatness of hisstrength," Love itself, suddenly appearing to sustain that other. Astrange contrast to anything actually presented in that morning'sconversation, it seemed nevertheless to echo its very words--"Do theynever come down again," he heard once more the well-modulated voice:"Do they never come down again from the heights, to help those whomthey left here below?"--"And we too desire, not a fair one, but thefairest of all. Unless we find him, we shall think we have failed."
by Walter Pater / Essays / Literary Criticism / Fiction have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes