Loosing from Sidon we were driven by violent winds to the Chelidonian isles. There the Pamphylian sea divides itself from the Lycian; and the floods, meeting several ways and breaking against the promontory, swell into terrible billows rising higher than the cliffs. But when we were now in great peril of our lives, the Lord had mercy on us. For he sent a star which, seeming to settle upon our top-sail, by a left-hand course directed our vessel again into the sea, just when it was ready to be dashed upon the cliffs. I had often before heard speak of these marvellous stars, but never yet had seen them; and although Artemidorus had taught me that they were no gods but mere effects of causes according to nature, yet, in such extreme peril, being filled with thankfulness for our deliverance, I could not but join myself with the mariners and the rest of the crew in doing worship to the twin-gods. That very night—having often before of late had visions of a man seated on the clouds and encompassed with brightness—there came to me another such vision, but of more than usual splendor, and he beckoned to me and said that the stars had been sent by him,122 and not by these twin-gods whom I had ignorantly worshipped. But I shook off the dream as being a mere phantasm of the night, not knowing that it was from the Lord.
Escaping from the peril of the seas, we sailed through the Arches, and thence were driven onwards, not however to Ephesus, whither we desired to have come, but to Piræus. There, owing to the sickness of Philemon, we spent some days, during which I lodged in the house of Molon the rhetorician; and when at last my master returned to Colossæ, I persuaded him to suffer me to remain at Athens for a while, that I might study rhetoric and attain the true Attic pronunciation and idiom, so that I might be the more useful to him as amanuensis and secretary. But I had other reasons for desiring to remain. For besides the delights and novelties of the city—which were all new to me because I had not been able to persuade Philemon to spend more than two days there when we last came to Greece to visit Lebadea—I had already conceived a love for Eucharis, Molon’s only daughter. But, of this, more hereafter. Meantime it chanced that Philemon, returning to Colossæ, much infected with the superstition of the Christians (as Artemidorus termed it), had caused the latter to suppose that I also was in the same condition of mind; which (to my shame be it spoken) was far from the truth. However, Artemidorus taking it to be true, and being sorely incensed against me, wrote the following letter which I will here set down, being the last I received from him on this matter:
§ 2. HOW ARTEMIDORUS REBUKED ME, SUPPOSING THAT I WAS IN DANGER OF BECOMING A CHRISTIAN.
“ARTEMIDORUS TO ONESIMUS, HEALTH:
“So Onesimus thinks it possible to reconcile philosophy with the vilest and falsest of superstitions. Come now and let me demonstrate to you, if your ears are not yet altogether stopped against the truth, 1st, the blasphemy and absurdity of your new religion; 2nd, the uselessness of it; 3rd, the self-conceit of it; 4th, the uncertainty of it; 5th, the folly and puerility and degradation of the man who stoops his neck to the yoke of it.
“To begin, then, it is blasphemous. For it teaches that the Supreme God has sent down his only son in the shape of a man to deliver men from sin. What! are we to suppose that the Son of the Supreme can be made like unto a mortal? As if a convention of frogs around a puddle should croak among themselves debating which is the greater sin, and should say, ‘Behold, the Supreme God has sent down his only son, in the shape of a frog, verily born of a frog, to deliver all the race of frogs from their iniquities;’ or as if a number of worms should examine their souls and say ‘Alas, alas, we are fallen away from the divine image of the Supreme; and therefore our Father in heaven hath sent unto us his Son made in the image of a worm.’ Away with this impiety of likening the Architect of the Universe to sinful frogs and self-introspective worms! For if there be a God—which I do not myself believe, but if there be one—doubtless he is as little124 like a man as a frog or a worm, but infinitely superior to all his creatures, and transcending all their knowledge.
“But sin forsooth is a terrible evil, and the usefulness of this new religion consists in this, that it is to ‘take away sins.’ Which of the Greek or Roman philosophers, of any note, has recognized this absurd fiction of sin? It is a mere Jewish fantasy, unknown among other nations, except where it may have been insinuated by these vagrant proselytizers into the minds of a few women and children or imbecile dotards. Error there may be; but sin cannot be, whether there be gods or not. For if there be no gods there can be no sin; and if there be gods, who made all things, it is inconceivable that they should have made sin. Nor, if sin had any existence, could it be increased or diminished. For all rational people know that there neither were formerly, nor are there now, nor will there be again, more or fewer evils in the world than have always existed; the nature of all things, and the generation of all things, being always one and the same. And whereas these Christians profess, ‘We were sinners by nature, but the All-Merciful hath changed us’—they ought to be taught that no one even by chastisement, much less by merciful treatment, can effect a complete change in those who are sinners by nature as well as by custom. Hence this boast of removing sins is an imposture, and the religion that makes the boast is useless. Moreover what an insult is it to their superior god that these men should admit that he made them after a certain pattern and then changed his mind and desired to remake them! Or else they are forced to introduce a certain125 Satan, who by his devices, perverted men forsooth from the divine image, and so for a time overcame the superior god. But it is clear, even to a blind man, that a superior god, overcome, though but for a time, by an inferior god, is for that time, no longer superior, much less Supreme and All-Powerful. Therefore your religion is proved to be not only useless, but blasphemous.
“In the third place, mark the impudence of it and the self-conceit. For admitting that the superior god could send his son as a man, can we possibly believe that he would send him as a Jew, and not as a Greek, or as a Roman, or as a man of no particular nation? I have heard you laugh at Zeus in the comedy when he wakes up after his day’s debauch and despatches Hermes to the Athenians and Lacedæmonians to complain that they curtail his sacrifices and keep him on short commons. But why do you not laugh at your own superior god who, awakening after the slumber of many thousands of years, despatches his son to one single nation, and that the smallest and vilest and most contemptible upon earth? Moreover consider how exacting and impudent is your religion beyond all others. Heracles, Asclepius, and Romulus, claim not to be the only children of God, but leave room for others also. And how many others! Worship, if you will, him who was put to death upon the cross, but set not your selves above the Getæ who worship Zamolxis, or the Cilicians who worship Mopsus, or the Acrananians who pay divine honors to Amphilochus, or the Thebans who do the same to Amphiaraus, or the Lebedians who (in company with yourself) pay reverence to Trophonius. For how is126 your Syrian saviour better than the Theban, or the Cilician, or any other of the host of his rival saviours? Nay, he is inferior, if we are to trust that which is reported concerning him and them by the followers of each. For Christus did but show himself to men in times past, whereas these others, if you are to believe those who worship them, are still to be seen in human form in their temples, appearing with all distinctness.
“Next, as to the uncertainty of your new religion. Consider that just such another as your Christus, might come into the world to-morrow, and indeed such are continually coming forward in the market-place of every town in Asia, who are wont to say, ‘I am God, or I am the Son of God, or I am the Divine Spirit. I am come to save you because ye, O men, are perishing for your iniquities;’ and they persuade their dupes by promises or threats: ‘Blessed is he who does me homage; on all the rest I will send down eternal fire.’ And then the followers of such an one in a confident voice call on us saying, ‘Believe that he whom we preach is the Son of God, although indeed he died the death of a slave; yea, believe it the more on this very account.’ If these people bring forward a Christus every year, what is to be done by those who ‘seek salvation?’ Must they cast dice to decide to which of all the saviours they should pay homage?
“But lest you should imagine that I am entirely dependent upon you for my knowledge of this sect, understand that both here, and in Hierapolis, and in Ephesus, I have made search concerning it; and I am become an adept in their ridiculous jargon which speaks of127 ‘the narrow way’ and ‘the gates that open of themselves;’ and ‘those who are being slaughtered that they may live;’ and about ‘death made to cease in the world;’ and how ‘the Lord doth reign from the tree;’ and of ‘the tree of life’ and ‘the resurrection of life by the tree.’ All this talk of timber, forsooth, because their ringleader was not only slain on the cross of wood but also a maker of crosses, being a carpenter by trade! And I suppose if, instead of being crucified, he had been cast down a precipice, or into a pit, or hanged by the neck, or if, instead of being a carpenter by trade, he had been a leather-cutter, or a stone-mason or a worker in iron, then these absurd people would have exalted to the skies a ‘precipice of life,’ or a ‘pit of resurrection,’ or a cord of immortality,‘ or a ‘stone of blessing,’ or a ‘sacred leather.’ What child would not be ashamed of such babble as this!
“And this brings me to my last point, the shame and disgrace that any philosopher must needs bring both upon himself and upon philosophy, in stooping to so puerile a superstition. If you know not this, at least your new friends know it; for like the hyena, they seldom attack a full-grown man, but for the most part children or imbeciles; and to the best of their power they would destroy reason saying (like so many Metragurtæ, or Mithræ, or Sabbadii) ‘Do not examine, but believe,’ ‘Your faith will save you,’ ‘The wisdom of the world is evil, foolishness is good.’ For this cause, because they distrust the wise and sober, they prefer to decoy the young, saying to them, ‘If ye would attain to the knowledge of the truth, ye must leave your fathers and tutors and go with the women to the women’s apartments, or to the leather shop, or to the fuller’s shop, that he may there attain perfection.’ And they retail the sayings of these illiterate creatures as if they were repeating the precepts of a Socrates: ‘Simon the fuller, or Eleazar the leather cutter, or John the fisherman affirmed this, or that.’ I say nothing also of the immorality of a religion, which asserts that God will receive the unrighteous, if he humble himself, because of his unrighteousness, but he will not receive the righteous man who approaches him adorned with righteousness from the first. All these immoral theories, these lies, and myths, and vile superstitions, are taught by the Christians; and taught in the name of whom? Of one who died as a slave after being deserted (according to their own confession) by his most devoted followers. And taught for what cause? Simply because a phantom of him was seen after his death by a half frantic woman and some dozen of his other companions who conspired together for the purpose of deception. For my part, if I must needs give a reason why this most absurd religion attracts the multitude, I should say that it is because the multitude in their inmost heart, prefer falsehood to truth; and if I desired a new proof that the world is governed by chance, or by fate, and not by gods, I should discern it in the growth of this pernicious superstition. Farewell and return speedily to thyself.”
§ 3. OF MY REPLY TO ARTEMIDORUS.
I was astonished at the passion of his letter; and though I was at this time neither a Christian nor likely to129 become one, the injustice of my friend moved me to say somewhat on the other side. My reply was to this effect:
“ONESIMUS TO ARTEMIDORUS, HEALTH.
“Your vehemence surprises me. That I am not, and shall not be, a Christian, must be clear from my previous letters; and that which I saw in Jerusalem has set me, even more than before, against the Jews and all things Jewish. Nevertheless, Artemidorus, I am far from agreeing with you in all your condemnation of this sect, which you seem to me, of set purpose to misunderstand.
“And why do you vent dogmas on me? How know you that God is unknowable? Were it not more seemly for a philosopher to conjecture, and not to know, where knowledge is impossible? Why, therefore, should a man be ashamed of conjecturing (in Plato’s company, I think), that the most perfect image of the Supreme God is neither a frog, nor a worm, but a righteous man? And if man be at all like unto the Supreme Goodness, then to be virtuous, I suppose is to be most like Him; and to be sinful is to be most unlike Him, a calamity from which the Supreme Being Himself might naturally desire to deliver mankind. However, I purpose not to argue with you, for I cannot think that you yourself believe in your own arguments, you who say that there is no difference between sin and error; or else I suppose you will be consistent and blame your slaves equally if Glaucus to-morrow commits theft or murder, and little Chresimus says that five and six make ten.
“But one word concerning Christus himself. It is but a few weeks ago that I heard you praise some Roman or other for saying that we ought to choose out some noble life, to be as it were a carpenter’s rule, by which we might straighten our own crooked life; why will you not praise me, then, if upon finding this Christus to be a truly great and noble man, I make his life the rule of mine? But you reply, ‘What do you know that is noble and heroic in him?’ I will answer this question when we meet. Meantime let me say that though I know but little, it is more than enough to assure me (for your letter proves it) that you know nothing of him. Do not again suppose that I am likely to be a Christian. I am prevented from this by arguments, and by feelings still more powerful than arguments. Yet I have at least this advantage, Artemidorus, over you, that I have not yet allowed prejudice unphilosophically to blind my eyes to the truth, and that, after studying the life of Christus, the store of the examples of great men, which you yourself have exhorted me to treasure up in my heart, is now enriched by the example of one more man, both good and great, who has been able, according to your own avowal (perchance by the mere memory of his goodness), to convert fullers and leather-cutters and thieves and adulterers into decent citizens. Farewell and be thyself.”
Although I spoke thus in defence of the Lord Jesus against the reproaches of Artemidorus, yet was I very far from following the Lord, yea and perhaps all the farther that I had learned to talk admiringly of him as of a man on a level with Socrates and Pythagoras and others. For this kind of admiration took up that place in my heart131 which should have been filled by faith or trust, and left no room for them. Nor indeed was I fit at that time to come to the Saviour because my eyes were not yet opened to discern my own sins so as to desire forgiveness; for the Saviour calls unto himself the “weary and heavy-laden,” but I was not yet weary enough nor felt as yet the burden of my sinfulness. And as for all those questionings of words, and traditions, and proofs, on which Artemidorus had set me, they had taught me indeed many new things about the Lord Jesus, and what other people believed concerning him, but they had not taught me the Lord himself, so that I might know him and love him and believe in him. And when at last I began to draw nigh unto him and to listen to his words and to meditate on them, behold, I was called away from my instructors in Antioch, and found afterwards no one like-minded who was willing to set forth before me the very words of the Lord; but, on the contrary, those of the brethren whom I met in Jerusalem cared not so much for the Lord as for the Law of Moses, and drove me back from him when I was desirous to draw near.
But why do I blame others when I was myself mainly to blame? For I erred in the pride of my heart, because I preferred the wisdom of the Greeks to the wisdom of the Lord Jesus. Therefore didst thou, O All-Wise, permit me to have my heart’s desire, and to serve the Greek Philosophy and to take that yoke upon my neck, that I might prove it and know it, whether that service were freedom indeed; and then didst thou make me to pass through the dark valley of affliction and didst suffer my132 wandering steps to stumble and sink in the mire of wickedness, to the intent that I might understand at last that the Wisdom of the Greeks, for all the beauty of it and the pleasant sound of it, has no power to lift up a drowning soul from the deep waters of sin.
§ 4. OF EUCHARIS AND OF MY LIFE AT ATHENS.
Partly perhaps because Eucharis had lived with her father some years in Rome, (where women lead not so sequestered a life as in Asia and at Athens) and partly for want of slaves, and because her mother had died when she was still in tender years, but also in great measure because of the ability of her mind and the depth and extent of her knowledge, Eucharis was rather as a pupil and companion to Molon than as a daughter and housewife. Her grace and beauty were more than equal to her learning; but that by which she drew my heart to herself was the gentleness of her disposition and the singular modesty with which she bore her many accomplishments. For though she was the flower of the house and the delight of her old father, yet did she never in any wise strain or try his affection by caprice or humors; yea rather, by reason of his poverty, and because he had scarce a slave whom he could call his own, she, to whom all should have ministered, was content and glad to minister both to the old man and to his friends, and this with all willingness and aptness, and yet so modestly and quietly that her coming was as noiseless as the sunshine, and we only knew that she had departed because the133 brightness seemed to have passed out of the chamber. When I became the old man’s pupil, and in no long time the most intimate of all his pupils, I obtained also a share in the pleasure of her constant and familiar society; and, by degrees, gaining the liking of my old tutor, I was helped to the friendship of his daughter as well; and conceiving for her an affection more intimate than friendship, I was blessed at last, in return, with the certainty of her undivided love.
The time had now come for me to put the kindness of Philemon to the proof. From the first, he had treated me rather as a son than as a slave; and, whithersoever I had accompanied him, his carriage towards me had always been such as to lead even those who knew that I had once been a slave, to suppose that I had been long ago emancipated. So I straightway wrote to him, telling him of my affection for Eucharis, and how I had obtained the consent of Molon; and although I did not venture to express the hope that he would make me free at once, yet I besought him to make some promissory emancipation (after the custom common in Asia) that I might be free, on condition of serving him faithfully for such period as he might please to name. This limited request I made, rather for form’s sake than as supposing that he would stand upon conditions; for, remembering his constant kindness, I looked for nothing less than that he should wholly emancipate me at once. So having sent off this letter I confidently waited for an answer. Meanwhile I spent the time pleasantly in the society of Eucharis, and Molon, and my companions in learning; and I also took a great delight in the beauties and antiquities of Athens.
The dreams and visions with which I had been visited in Syria, and still more while I was tempest-tossed sailing to Peiræus, soon ceased after I had been some few days in the house of Molon. Each day brought with it some new thing to see or hear. Though the streets of Athens were not to be compared with those of Antioch, being small and mean and narrow and not evenly built, yet the public buildings and temples and theatres far surpassed anything I had seen in any city of Asia; and as for the statues of the gods, they fairly ravished the heart with their beauty. Moreover an edge was given to every pleasure of sight by the hearing of some history or legend; how Demosthenes spoke in yonder place of assembly, and in these groves and porches walked Aristotle amid his disciples, or Plato taught, or Socrates conversed, and here the tyrant was slain by Aristogeiton, and there Pericles pronounced the funeral oration over them that fell in the wars. Also, it so chanced that, besides the daily sight of the palæstra and the attendance at the lectures, the Dionysian festival with its customary plays came round while I was still at Athens. I had seen plays before in Asia, yet these so enchanted me with the beauty of the masks and choruses and the marvellous skill of the actors that I was well-nigh swallowed up with the glory of the drama; and finding occasion to be introduced to some of the actors, I frequented their society and heard them rehearse, and sometimes myself practised recitations in their presence, endeavoring to gain some knowledge of their art. Amid all these engaging pursuits and delights, the time passed as if upon wings; and in the evening the greatest delight of all, after the thou135sand pleasant distractions of the day, was to talk with Eucharis and her father concerning all that I had seen and heard.
We conversed together of all matters of art and letters and philosophy, and not seldom about my own life, the sorrows of the past, and what remained in the future; and, as was natural, my travels in Syria were not forgotten. Yet about these I spoke seldom and sparingly, lest I should be forced to make mention of the Christians; concerning whom at that time I was loth, I scarce know why, to say aught either for good or evil. But on the last day of our being together, some fate (as I then called it) decreed that I should no longer keep silence concerning them. It was after this manner. We had been conversing together, Molon and I, touching the Pythagoreans, by what bond of fellowship their society was in former times bound together, and by what cause that bond was broken. And thereupon I all unwittingly let fall some words (and repented as soon as they had been spoken) how a certain Christus, a Syrian, had founded a society, somewhat akin to the Pythagorean sect. Then Eucharis straightway would have give me some account of this Christus and his society; and when I made as if I had not heard her, and afterwards would have put her off on some pretext—saying that the matter was not worth her hearing, or that I knew not much of it for certain, and the like—she looking steadfastly upon me and perceiving (I suppose) that I was in some confusion, besought me not to hide from her anything that I knew. So I, not finding any escape, began to describe to her the new Brotherhood or Commonwealth136 or Christus, as I conceived it; and being carried onward I spoke more freely than I had intended, and summing up all that I had heard and some things that I had imagined, I described how wealth and violence were to have no more power in the world, and there was to be no more oppression, and sin was to be taken away by forgiveness; and those that the world counted great were to be cast down, and he that was humblest and made himself least was to be lifted up and, in a word, the most willing servant of all was to be king of all; and all the nations of the earth were to be as one Family, wherein Christus was to be the Elder Brother, and the Father was none other than the Supreme God; and how (as his followers averred) he had foretold that he should be slain, yea, and declared that he would willingly die, but that, overcoming death, he should manifest himself to his disciples after death, and be constantly with them; and how his disciples alleged that somewhat of this kind had indeed come to pass, for that many of them had seen him in apparitions by day or dreams by night; and lastly how (whatever error else there might be among this sect) this Christus of a truth appeared to have a marvellous power to turn the vile and wicked to lives of virtue and purity.
All this time Eucharis was rapt in thought; but I was so intent on the matter of my discourse that I noted not her countenance till I had well-nigh made an end of speaking; but when I perceived it, I broke off, saying that after all, it was but a Jewish superstition, and that as for these apparitions of Christus, they were but according to nature, if there were indeed any apparitions at all. But137 Eucharis, still musing and pondering, made no answer for a while, and at last asked my opinion concerning all dreams and visions, whether they came from the gods or no. I said, “No, but from natural causes.” Then replied Eucharis, “Yes, but if, as your Artemidorus says, the twin-stars that bring mariners help, come to us from natural causes, and yet you worship the gods that send them; may it not also be that some dreams and some visions, though coming to us—like air and light and the fruits of the earth—in the common course of nature, may nevertheless be sent to us by the immortal gods?” Then after a pause she added, “And you too, Onesimus, while studying the life of this Teacher, have you too been visited by him in your dreams?”
Fearing to be engaged in any further discourse concerning this matter I rose up to bid Molon farewell, alleging the lateness of the hour; but at that moment there came a knocking at the door, and presently appeared Chresimus, a slave of Philemon, bearing a letter for me, and with the letter this message by word of mouth, that the old man desired my most speedy return. I broke the seal at once, fearing that Philemon might be sick and nigh unto death. But the latter said not a word touching his health, nor did it give any answer to my request for freedom, neither “yes” nor “no,” only bidding me use all expedition to return because “something of great import” had taken place, concerning which he would gladly have speech with me before resolving further in the matter on which I had written to him. I wished to have tarried yet a few days in Athens, but Philemon’s command was ex138press that I should return on the next day, and that Molon should excuse me to my friends; and, so saying, Chresimus went forth to make ready for our departure on the morrow. My heart sank within me as I turned to bid farewell to Eucharis, foreboding that I should henceforth live without her, and that life without her would be death. But she comforted me, saying that her memory must always live with me, as mine with her; and that we must take hope as our common friend; and clasping round my neck a little amulet, which I was ever to guard with the token of my brother Chrestus, “On thy brother’s gift,” she said, “there is written TRUST, and on mine there is HOPE; and with trust and hope we must needs do well; for as to love we need no assurance:” and with these words she bade me her last farewell.
§ 5. HOW I RETURNED TO COLOSSÆ, AND OF MY NEW LIFE WITH PHILEMON.
Even while Philemon embraced me on my return to Colossæ, I perceived that he was marvellously changed. Whereas he had been wont to wear on his countenance an anxious and restless expression, now he was calm and composed, with a cheerfulness that seemed to spring (not as in the former days of his settled health when I first knew him) from easiness and good temper, but from some deep change in his nature. The suspicion that came into my mind on beholding him was confirmed by the first words he uttered thanking the Lord for my safe return; and he immediately avowed that he had become a Chris139tian. Had he then, I asked, submitted himself to the Jewish law? No, he replied; Paulus (the same of whom we had heard so much while we were in Syria) who had admitted my master into the sect of the Christians, had taught him that it was neither needful nor fitting that he, being a Gentile, should observe the laws of the Jews. When I asked him what Artemidorus said, he bade me no more mention the name of the Epicurean, whose society, said he, I have for sometime renounced. Of others of my best friends he spoke in the same way, especially of Epictetus, and Heracleas; but he made mention of other persons, mostly bearing Jewish names, and men either not known to me or known to be illiterate and of the common sort, with whom he hoped I should soon be better acquainted; “for they,” said he, “belong to us—as will you also, my dear Onesimus, in due time, I hope and earnestly believe—and the brethren of Colossæ are wont to meet at worship at my house.” My thoughts being in a maze I thought to turn the discourse by questioning him concerning friends and kinsfolk, and I inadvertently asked whether his sister’s son—who was wont to come in from the country to visit him each year—was intending to come to the city at the forthcoming feast of Zeus; but Philemon, making some hasty sign to deprecate my speech about the festival, added gravely and with authority that he was assured I should no longer wish to take part in the procession nor to go to any of the games or public spectacles; “for,” said he, “it is not gods but demons that preside over such shows.” Much more he said on this topic; and I found that my last letter to Artemidorus (as the Epicurean had140 reported it, misconstruing it, I suppose, in his passion) had caused Philemon to think that I was already a Christian in heart. But, concerning Eucharis and emancipation, not one word.
After waiting a long while to see whether he would be the first to speak, I reminded him of my request. He replied that he had a good will, yea and a sincere affection for me, and that he fully intended to emancipate me; but he did not think it fit that I should take to wife the daughter of a rhetorician and declaimer such as Molon, one who was by pursuit, as well as by disposition and nature, devoted to the worship of false gods. He had therefore arranged for me a marriage with the daughter of a very worthy citizen, Pheidippides the wool-seller, who, though not as yet one of the brethren, was most favorably inclined towards them, and who was quite willing to give me Prepousa to be my wife, if Philemon would emancipate me and give me a sufficient estate; and this, said he, I shall willingly do.
I was speechless with anger. But Philemon supposed my silence to be caused by excess of gratitude unable to find vent in speech. So looking affectionately on me he said there was no need of thanks, for that he was willing to do much more than this rather than suffer my soul to be ensnared at Athens. Then, in the same tone of authority in which he had spoken throughout (unusual in him and to me most unexpected and distasteful) he said that I was wearied with travel and had need of rest; wherefore he desired that I should consider myself excused from my attendance and retire to my chamber. When I went141 forth from his presence, a great gulf seemed to divide me from Eucharis, and from freedom, and from all hopes of a happy future. As to the religion of the Christians I was no longer drawn to it even so much as before. Had I not in former time restrained Philemon from joining himself to it? Had he not in those days acknowledged that my understanding was superior to his, deferring readily to my advice? And now was I to confess myself in the wrong? Was I, slave-like, to bow to one inferior to me in mind, because he chanced to be the master of my body? How could I meet Artemidorus or Epictetus after so great a disgrace? On the morrow, therefore, when I attended Philemon in the library and he asked me what I thought of his proposals, adding that he trusted I should soon be willing to receive baptism, I with difficulty restrained myself so far as to answer merely that at present I was unwilling, and that in any case I did not wish to marry Prepousa. He was silent for a while and evidently displeased. Then he exclaimed, “If only Paulus were in Asia at this time, my hopes of thee would be speedily fulfilled.” But as I had been often present willingly at the Christian meetings in Antioch, he said that I could make no objection to be present at the meetings of the brethren in his house where I should receive instruction which, he hoped, would soon induce me to be baptized. About manumission as before, not a word; but I perceived that it was hopeless to ask for it.
That same day I was summoned to attend one of the meetings of the brethren, at which were present all the slaves of Philemon, and not a few belonging to other142 citizens, and many freedmen also, and some that were free-born; but these, few, and for the most part Jews, and not men of any breeding or education. And I, being wilful at that time, and contemptuous of others, and given to think far too highly of myself, looked down upon these unlearned brethren, and stopped my ears against the truth and hardened my heart, scoffing within myself at their faults of speech and solecisms, and at the barbarous dialect of their Greek; and besides, to speak the truth, the discourses of Archippus, the son of Philemon, were too much upon the prophets and too little upon him to whom the prophets bear witness. So they moved me no more than the discourses of Lucius at Antioch, or even less. Yet once when Tatias—the man whom Philippus had raised from the dead—stood up and testified how all things had become new for him since he had believed in the Lord, and how darkness had passed away and all was full of light and joy and peace, and how the Lord Jesus was a friend that never failed in the hour of need: then for the first time, spite of myself, my heart was touched and I seemed ready to stretch out my hands to the Saviour; but at that instant methought I saw Philemon watching me narrowly to see whether I was moved by the discourse, and thereon my heart rebelled again and I could think of nothing but the great gulf which my master placed between me and Eucharis. Thus was my heart still hardened against the truth.
Being in this condition of mind, I found my new life full of dullness and melancholy. Each day passed like the day before, and prepared for a morrow that should be143 still the same. The images of the gods had been removed from the hall and from the court-yard; no pictures, no songs, no garlands, no feasts, nor meetings of friends; our old acquaintance seemed to have disowned us, and there were no longer any occasions for discourse on arts, or letters, or philosophy. Even the library had been despoiled of many of the best and choicest books; the busts of most of the great poets and authors had been removed; and Philemon employed me during many hours of the day in transcribing, no longer Euripides or Menander, but the Greek translations of the books of the Jewish prophets. The only diversity in the circle of our daily life was that on certain days the household met for worship; but if I profited little from the first day of meeting, I gained even less from those that followed; for then a certain Pistus, a Paphlagonian slave, took a great part in the prayers and discourses, especially when Archippus was absent, and one might as well have hoped to gather grapes from brambles as good from the words of Pistus. If such was our life at home, it was vain to look for change in life abroad. For I was no longer permitted to go to any public spectacle; and the society of every friend and acquaintance for whom I had any affection was proscribed. In this solitude and dejection I looked for counsel, but could find none. To Artemidorus, being so near a neighbor, I durst not resort, for fear lest Philemon should be informed that I had disobeyed his prohibition, but I resolved that I would use the first occasion to go to Hierapolis that I might there ask the advice of the young Epictetus.
§ 6. CONCERNING MY VISIT TO EPICTETUS.
When I came to Hierapolis I found Epictetus keeping his bed and scarce able to move a limb. His master, he told me, had tortured him most cruelly, twisting his leg so as to force the bone from the socket; and the physician had declared that he would be lame for life. In answer to my execrations against all masters of slaves and Epaphroditus, his master, in particular, “Peace, my friend,” said Epictetus, “our masters are becoming better and not worse; and besides, ever since the sixth year of Claudius, we have a law in our favor. For, before, if we were turned out to die in the streets, and then were impudent enough to recover, our masters could claim us back again; but now the divine Claudius has decreed that if death spare us, our masters shall spare us also. However, my chief consolation lies not in the laws of Claudius, but in philosophy; for since you and I were last together, you must know I have become a philosopher.” “Prithee,” said I, “if slaves can indeed become philosophers, let me have some benefit of your philosophy; for assuredly I have need of it. Did not your philosophy fail you when that cruel wretch so wantonly injured you?” “Pardon me,” replied Epictetus, “he did not injure me, as indeed I explained to him at the time.” “Explain then to me,” said I, “this most mysterious riddle.” “I told him he could not injure me though he would injure himself. Hereon he retorted that he would break my leg. I replied, ‘In that case it would be broken, but what of that?’ At this he stared like a bull,145 and said that he would cut off my head. To that I rejoined, ‘And when did I ever tell you that I had a head of such a kind that it could not be cut off?’ Upon that he burst into a passion, threw me down, kicked me, and began to twist my leg. As he proceeded, I warned him and said, ‘If you continue, you will certainly break it.’ He continued; and then I said to him, ‘There, now my leg is broken; but you have not injured me, but only my leg and perhaps yourself.’”
All this seemed to me new and yet not new. Sitting down on the bench beside his pallet, I said, “Well, but, Epictetus, this differs not much from the philosophy of the Stoics or the Cynics.” “I did not maintain,” replied he, “that my philosophy was new. Nevertheless I do not perceive that it is very common in these parts.” “You mistake,” said I, “a great many in Hierapolis read Chrysippus, and not a few even in Colossæ.” “Read Chrysippus,” exclaimed my friend with a laugh. “Yes, read Chrysippus, but how many act Chrysippus? Much as if we were to go to a wrestler, and say to him, ‘Come, Milo, shew us how you can give your adversary a fall,’ and Milo should reply, ‘Nay, rather step into the next room, and feel the weight of my dumb bells.’” Then he turned affectionately to me and said, “It is not the object of life, my dearest Onesimus, to have read the hundred and forty volumes of Chrysippus, but to put the precepts of Chrysippus in use, and so set them before men in a brief form fit for use; and this is what I am endeavoring to do.” “Set them before me then,” said I,146 “for Zeus knows that if you have any philosophy fit for use, I can find use for it. What therefore is the foundation of your philosophy?”
“The foundation,” replied my friend, “consists in the distinguishing of things in our power from things not in our power. The things that are needful are in our power, viz. justice, temperance, truthfulness, courage and the like; but the things that are not in our power are not needful, such as wealth, beauty, reputation, health, pleasure, life and the rest. Many philosophers admit this in word, but do not carry it out in deed, partly because they talk much and do little, and being immersed in speculations are not ready for actions, when the hour for action is at hand. But if a man have this foundation once solidly built within his heart so as to be able to base all his actions on it, from that time he will be perfectly free and do all things according to his own will. Therefore make up your mind once for all what is your object in life; what it is you want. A dinner? or to escape a whipping? Well, then, you will do your master’s bidding to gain your dinner, or to escape a whipping. But a philosopher will not do this, because he does not fear hunger, nor a whipping, nor any master. ‘What,’ you say, ‘must not a philosopher fear Cæsar?’ No, for he does not fear the things that Cæsar can bring. For, mark you, no one fears Cæsar in himself, but only the things that Cæsar brings with him, such as the sword, banishment, poverty, torture, disgrace. But fetch me Cæsar here without his thunders and lightnings, and see how bold the veriest coward will be. Why then should a philosopher fear Cæsar, since he has no fear of Cæsar’s thunder and lightning?147
“Distinguish therefore between what you can and what you cannot do, and in that knowledge you will find freedom. If you are thoroughly persuaded in your inmost mind that those things only are yours which are really yours and which are needful to you, then you will aim at nothing which you will not attain; you will never attempt anything with any kind of violence to yourself; you will blame no one, you will accuse no one; nobody will ever hinder you from the accomplishment of your desires; in fine, you will never be subject to the least regret. Take an instance. My leg, you will observe, is inflamed, and it has certain sensations which are called painful. Good: that is the popular manner of speaking. But it is a mere imagination. My inflamed leg does not hinder me from being honest, just, and courageous; in other words from attaining the objects of existence and the aim of all my desires. Consequently I have accustomed myself to bear always in mind that pain of this kind does not concern me and is no real evil. For it is of the nature of things that have no dependence on me. ‘But you will be lame for life,’ say you. That is very probable, and indeed our physician tells me it is certain. But what then? When I am lame, my lameness will be an obstruction to my feet in walking, but not to my will in doing what it is inclined to do. It follows that sorrow and the signs of sorrow such as weeping and groaning, are all the mere results of false conceptions and imaginations. What is misfortune? Prejudice. What is weeping? Prejudice. What are complaints, discontents, repining, fretfulness, restlessness? All so many forms of prejudice, and prejudice moreover concerning things uncontrollable by the will.”148
He paused. “You have defined sorrow,” said I, “and how do you define death?” “A mere mask,” he replied. “It has no teeth. Turn it on the other side and you will find it does not bite you. It is a mere going away. Life is as it were a feast. At birth God opens the door to you, and says, ‘Enter.’ At death, the feast being now ended, God opens the door to you once again and says ‘Depart.’ Whither? To nothing terrible. Only to the source whence you came forth. To that which is friendly and congenial: to the elements. What in you was fire, goes away to the fire; what earth, to earth; what air, to air; what water, to water. There is no Hades, nor Acheron, nor Cocytus, nor Pyriphlegethon; but all is full of gods and divine beings. He who can think of the whole universe as his home, and can look upon the sun, moon and stars as his friends, and enjoy the companionship of the earth and sea, he is no more solitary nor helpless exile. Let death come to you when he will. Can death banish you from the universe? You know he cannot. Go where you may, there will be still a sun, moon, and stars, dreams and auguries and communications with the Gods.”
I interrupted him. “You say there is no Hades; are there then no Elysian fields?” “I do not know,” replied he; “but why seek any greater reward for a good man than the doing of what is good? After being thought worthy by God to be introduced into His great City, the Universe, so that you may discharge for him the duties of a man, do you still cry for something more, like a baby for its food? Do you need coaxing and sweetmeats to induce you to do what is right? Be not like a bad actor149 that forgets the part assigned to him, when he steps upon the stage. ‘I was sent in this world to play a part.’ Well said, Mr. Actor; and what part? ‘The part of a witness for God.’ Good: repeat your part. ‘I am miserable, O Lord; I am undone; no mortal cares for me; no mortal gives me what I want.’ What babble is this! Away with the fool. He has forgotten his part; hiss him off the stage.
“Or take another of my metaphors. God is your general, and you must be to him a loyal, obedient soldier, having sworn an oath of obedience, which you will sooner die than break. Dost Thou wish me to live? I live. To die? Then farewell. How wouldst Thou have me serve Thee? As a soldier? Then I go cheerfully to the wars. As a slave? I obey. Whatever post Thou shalt assign to me, I will die a thousand times rather than desert it. Where wouldst Thou that I should serve Thee? In Rome, or in Athens, or in Thebes? Thou art not absent from populous cities. Or on the rock of Gyarus? Thou wilt be with me even there. Only if thou shouldst send me to live where it is no longer possible to live conformably with nature, then, but not till then, should I depart, accepting as it were Thy signal of recall.”
Here he made an end, and I sat for some time silent. His words were to me as a trumpet-blast arousing within me a host of virtuous resolutions, which I at that time mistook for virtuous acts, and thought myself already an athlete or a hero; even as a drunken man supposes himself Heracles, or as the reader of the hundred and forty-three volumes of Chrysippus believes himself to be a man150 of virtue. Presently I arose and thanked him, saying that I went forth as it were to the Olympian contest, to put in use the precepts of Epictetus my trainer. He smiled, and as I went forth from his chamber, he called after me, “Yes, but Onesimus, for this contest you need not wait four years.”
§ 7. HOW I TRIED THE PHILOSOPHY OF EPICTETUS.
Epictetus was right; I had not long to wait for the contest of which he spoke. It began on the morrow, and continued without intermission; for day by day I was constrained to be present at the meetings of the Christians, and day by day Philemon questioned me whether I had not now at last been persuaded, and whether I was not willing now to be baptized. However, I followed the advice of Epictetus, and said to myself, “Truthfulness is in my power, but the goodwill of Philemon is not in my power, therefore it does not concern me, and I will not trouble myself about it.” But, in the evening of each day, when I perceived that the breach was widening between me and my master, and when I called to mind that it depended on him whether I should be free or a slave, and united to Eucharis or parted from her for ever, then my mind misgave me that I could not honestly say, “His goodwill concerns me not.” Oftentimes I checked myself, saying that I was placed in the Universe as a sentinel by God, and that I must not neglect my post wherever it might be; but as often as these words came to my memory, there came others also, namely that151 “if we were placed by him where we could not live conformably to nature, then we might accept this as the voice of a trumpet, sounding recall and bidding us quit this life for another.” And said I to myself, can it be considered living according to nature, that I should live in subjection to such a servitude as this? Or is it living according to nature, to be removed from all learning, just when I have been trained to use and enjoy it? and to live apart from all friends, consorting with none but slavish dispositions? and, in a word, having many faculties trained to noble uses, to be placed in a position where all those faculties must needs rust unused?
Meanwhile the conduct of Pistus widened the breach between my master and me and altogether envenomed my very soul against the faith. This man had been Philemon’s secretary during my absence at Athens; and now, finding himself like to be supplanted, he began to alienate Philemon from me by sly insinuations, hints, letters unsigned in a strange hand, and sometimes also by open questions cunningly asked of me in Philemon’s presence. As, for example, on the day when I had visited Epictetus, he asked me, in my master’s hearing, whether Epaphroditus was in good health, he being the master of Epictetus, and a very dissolute man. When I said “Yes, as far as I knew,” I could see from Philemon’s countenance that he greatly disliked my going thither; and I at once explained that I had not gone to see, nor had I seen, Epaphroditus himself, but only his slave Epictetus, who was sick. Yet the cloud on my master’s brow did not altogether vanish; and he did not forget it. For that same152 evening he took me aside, saying that it was time to have done with youthful passions and caprices, and had I considered his proposal—not about baptism, for he would not at that season make mention of higher matters—but concerning marriage, and was I willing to marry Prepousa? I said “No.” Hereat he became very grave, saying that it was a very suitable match for me, and well fitted to keep me from evil courses, such as young men were liable to; and he bade me think further of it and meantime to be more discreet what company I kept, for he disliked that I should so much as enter the house of such a one as Epaphroditus, though it were but to visit a sick slave. It was all in vain that I attempted (perhaps too obscurely, for I could not now speak freely with Philemon as in old days) to explain that I stood in need of counsel and that I had gone to Epictetus for it. “That is settled”—was all he had to say, before he dismissed me to my chamber. Only, as I was departing, he called me back, and asked me whether I had at least given up the thought of Eucharis. I said “No.” To which he replied that he was very sorry for that, for he could not consent that my soul should be ensnared by such a marriage, and so long as I entertained that foolish passion it was not possible for him to entertain the project of emancipating me. So saying, he dismissed me to my chamber, speechless with passion. In this mood I took up my pen and wrote thus to Epictetus:—
“ONESIMUS TO EPICTETUS, HEALTH.
“I leaned on your philosophy, and it has proved a broken reed. No longer can I live under the insupporta153ble yoke of my slavery here. Yet what am I to do? I cannot live conformably to nature. ‘Then die,’ say you. And what then becomes of Eucharis, who would break her heart for my departure? Your philosophy takes no account of wife, or children, or those dear friends who are second selves. Their happiness is not in your control; and yet how can you be tranquil in their unhappiness? Answer me that.
“One question more. A fellow here, a Paphlagonian, one Pistus, is poisoning Philemon’s mind against me, drops notes, in a strange hand and nameless, accusing me of deceit, theft, frequenting brothels and all manner of impurity. His last stroke has been to persuade Philemon to forbid me from visiting you. I hate him, and intend to hate him. Does your philosophy allow of hate?
“A third question. You say, We are soldiers and must die sooner than desert our post. But who shall go bail for our General, that he is not a fool or a knave, or anything but a name? Looking on the battle-field of the Universe I see a conflict but the issue doubtful; no signs of generalship, or at least of victory; in one place joy, in three places sorrow; pleasure here, pain there; virtue sometimes prevailing, more often vice; one master, twenty slaves; animals preying (by necessity) on other animals; men (by necessity or choice?) oppressing other men; everywhere conflict, the General nowhere. Read me these riddles, or be no Œdipus for me.
“Pardon me, dearest friend and guide, but I am beside myself with passion, anxious, not for myself but for one beyond the seas, who sits awaiting tidings from me and feels her life to be bound up with mine. Strong in your presence, absent from you I am most weak. Impart, I beseech you, some of your strength to one who sorely needs it.”
§ 8. HOW I WAS ACCUSED OF THEFT BY THE DEVICES OF PISTUS.
At this time, and before I had heard from Epictetus, I received a letter from Eucharis. After some delay, vainly hoping to be able to impart more joyful tidings, I had written to her putting as bright a color on the future as I could, but not concealing Philemon’s strong objections and present refusal; and now I received her answer. It was inclosed in a letter from Molon, in which he spoke of his class and his pupils, and hoped that I was continuing my studies at Colossæ, entering also into details about his recent lectures; at the close of his letter he added that Eucharis was not in good health, and that he feared she was troubled in her mind, being infected with superstition. Her old nurse Thallousa affirmed that she had been fascinated by the evil eye; but he thought the mischief had been in part caused by certain women of her acquaintance, Christians from Corinth, who had brought to Athens some strange rites and doctrines of one Paulus, and who seemed to have disturbed her mind. However he trusted that her trouble would pass away when better tidings came from Colossæ. The letter from Eucharis was to this effect.
“Do not cease to hope, dearest Onesimus. If I grieve, it is because I seem to see thee grieving. Could I but know that thou wert hopeful, I also could be both hopeful and happy. Thallousa would fain console me, when I weep, by telling me sad stories of others who have loved and have been made sad by separation, but I am not so cruel as to be made happy because others are sad; so I seek comfort elsewhere. Dearest, when we were last together, some doubtful words fell from thy lips, questioning, methought, whether there be any Elysian fields such as the poets sing of. Yet does it not seem (this present world being so very full of sadness) that there must needs be some Isles of the Blessed, called by whatever name, where those whom hard fate has divided here, but whom the good gods must surely destine to be some day united, shall meet, again never to be parted? Dearest Onesimus, dearer to me than my own life, what if we meet not again on this earth? May it not be that we shall meet elsewhere? Yet, even for this life, I still trust and hope; and do thou the like for my sake. To think of thee hopeless kills me. O dearest friend, sweet cause of my heart’s most bitter sorrow, think not that I reproach thee because thy love is cruel. Sweeter, far sweeter, to mourn as I mourn for thy absence, than never to have known and loved thee. Farewell and hope on; and believe me faithful to thy love, whether I live or die.”
At the end of the letter were added these words:
“I see I have ended my letter with a word of evil omen. Onesimus laughs at omens; but for my own pleasure I will avert the evil by repeating a former question. The visions concerning Christus that thou didst speak of, have they ever appeared to thee too in thy dreams? Because thou didst forget to answer this same question when I first asked it of thee, let this violet, which I now kiss, be my ambassador that thou forget not a second time.”
While I sat with the withered flower in my hand, musing on Athens, seeing, as if before mine eyes, the little chamber in which even at that instant perchance Eucharis sat spinning, and Molon reading by her side, a message was brought to me by Pistus that Philemon desired to see me in the library; “and,” said the Paphlagonian in a malicious tone, “you were best think of some subtle defense, for the old man knows what you have done. But you will probably prefer to appease him by confessing.” The man’s malice angered me, and I entered the room in some heat. It soon appeared that a copy of the plays of Aristophanes was missing from the library. Philemon was at that time reviewing his books with great exactness, destroying such as seemed unfit for a Christian household; and he had expressly enjoined on me not to take any of the works of the poets of the Old Comedy out of the library, and I had obeyed him. But when this book was missed, Pistus had affirmed that he had seen me reading it in my chamber. Understanding this I replied roundly that the Paphlagonian lied. But Philemon bade me bethink myself whether unwittingly I might not have taken it from the library, being always fond of the works of that poet, and having in former times been accustomed to take freely from any part of the library such books as I desired; and he added that, of the rest of the household, very few could understand the book, being illiterate, and those who157 could have read it would not do so, because they had received the seal in Christ and belonged to the saints. I could but repeat that I had not taken the book. On this Pistus said, with a sneer, that, if that were so, the worthy Onesimus would probably be quite willing that his room should be searched. I at once assented; but scarcely had two slaves quitted the room on their quest, when the villainy of Pistus was revealed to me; and I turned and took him by the throat saying that, if the books were found in my chamber, the Paphlagonian had hidden them there. Hereat Pistus fell on his knees, making as if he were terror-stricken by my violence, and calling the Lord to witness his innocence. Philemon indignantly bade me desist; but his indignation became still greater when the two slaves returned bearing the missing volumes, which they had found it seemed, hidden under my couch. In the presence of all the slaves he ordered me to return to my chamber, saying that at first he had never thought to accuse me of stealing the books, but only of thoughtlessly or wilfully borrowing them, but now he knew not what to think. So I went back to my chamber under suspicion of being a thief; and entering I found on my table this letter from Epictetus.
§ 9. HOW EPICTETUS FURTHER EXPLAINED HIS PHILOSOPHY.
“EPICTETUS TO ONESIMUS, HEALTH.
“A bad performer cannot sing alone but only in a chorus. In the same way some weak-kneed folk cannot walk the path of life alone, but must needs hold some158body’s hand. But if you intend to be ever anything better than an infant, you must learn to walk alone. It angers me to hear a young man say to his tutor, ‘I wish to have you with me.’ Has not the fellow God with him? But, Onesimus, you are not willing to take God as your guide in practice, though you profess to do so in theory. For with your lips you say, ‘O Lord, suffer me to go straight on for twenty-five furlongs and a half, and then to take the first turning to the left.’ However, let me attempt to answer your questions; but not in order, for first I must shew you that whether there be a good God or no, you must needs act as though there were a good God or else you must die. First then, that there is Demeter, is it not clear to all those who eat of bread? And that there is a Helios or Apollo, is not that also clear to all who enjoy the sunlight? Call the former Bread, and the latter Sunlight, if you will; still there they are, and you must partake of them and acknowledge them, as long as you partake of the Feast of Life.
“But you complain that the Host of the Feast is unkind or foolish, not making proper provision for his guests. Foolish man! Then why remain a guest? Do not be more foolish than children. When the game ceases to please them, they say ‘I will play no more.’ So do you, if the feast please you not, say ‘I will feast no more;’ and go. For remember the door is always open. But if you remain at the Feast, do not complain of the Host; for that is silly. Remember therefore that if the Host intends you to remain as His guest, in that case He has made all needful provision for you; but if He has not, that is a token that your way lies towards the door.
“Apply this rule to yourself and her whom you love. As it is better that you should die of hunger and preserve your tranquillity of mind to the last gasp, than that you should live in abundance with a soul full of all disturbance and torment, so is it better that Eucharis should die and you be in peace, rather than that your betrothed (or any else the nearest and dearest to you) should live and be in perturbation of mind. Nay, a father ought rather to suffer his son to become undutiful and wicked rather than himself to become unhappy. You are not to say, ‘If I chastise not my son, he will prove undutiful;’ but you are to prefer your own serenity of mind to the dutifulness of a son and to all other objects; and the same rule holds as regards Eucharis. Thus and thus only will you be always at peace, and able to despise the worst of omens.”
After this Epictetus fell to speaking in a more general way about philosophy and philosophers, and of their duty to the multitude; of which some part I omit, but the rest was to this effect:
“But perhaps you say, ‘The multitude has not this knowledge of the folly of sorrow; and if we bewail not with them when they bewail, we shall seem to them brutish, and be hated. Or how shall we explain our theory to the multitude?’ For what purpose should you desire to explain it to them? Is it not enough that you are convinced yourself? When I was a boy at Rome, as I remember, and when my master’s children came to me clapping their hands and saying, ‘To-morrow is the good feast of Saturn,’ did I tell them (think you?) that good does not consist in sweetmeats nor such things as they160 desired? Nay, but I clapped my hands too. In the same way, when you are unable to convince any one, treat him as a child, and clap your hands with him; or if you will not do that, at least hold your tongue. When therefore you see a man groaning because he, or his betrothed, is likely to be given in marriage to another, first do your best to recover him from his evil and mistaken opinion. But if he will not be persuaded, nothing hinders but you may pretend some sadness and a certain fellow-feeling of his affliction. Only have a care that grief do not effectually seize your heart while you think only to personate it.
“You see then that I forbid you sorrow either for yourself or for others. No less do I forbid you hate. For why should you hate, or even be angry, with a wicked man, a thief, say, or an adulterer? ‘Because,’ reply you, ‘they take from me that which I most dearly value, my wealth or my reputation or the affection of my wife.’ In other words they take from you those objects which you love, and desire to excess, though they do not depend on you. But the remedy is to abstain from loving these things to excess. Always remember also when any one injures you, as it is called, that the cause of the injury is ignorance or erroneous opinion. For no one would commit a crime if he knew that he was thereby destroying his own soul. Through erroneous opinions Medea slew her children and Clytemnestra her husband. Why therefore hate a man merely because the poor wretch is terribly ignorant and is doing himself the greatest of all injuries, while he falsely supposes he is injuring you?
“Bear in mind further that everything has two faces,161 whereof one is endurable the other unendurable. For example, when your brother is injuring you, look not upon him as an injurer but rather as a brother. Even if you cannot do this for your brother’s sake, you must do it for your own. For in all things you must consider not your brother nor your brother’s interest first, but yourself and your own serenity of mind. ‘My brother’—perhaps you say—‘ought not to have treated me so shamefully.’ Very true; so much the worse for him. But that is his business, not yours, and you are not to injure yourself on his account. However he treats you, you must treat him rightly. For your treatment of him is in your power, and therefore is your concern; but how he treats you is not in your power, and therefore concerns you not. If therefore your enemy reviles you, try to think well of him for not having struck you. ‘But he has struck me.’ Then think well of him for not having wounded you. ‘But he has wounded me.’ Then think well of him for not having slain you. ‘But I am dying of the wound he gave me.’ Then think well of him for having opened unto you that door which the Master of the Feast has appointed as your exit from His banquet. Apply this rule to Pistus, and if he has poisoned Philemon’s mind against you, think well of him that he has not yet poisoned your body itself.
“But the former rule is the more important, that you are not to set a value on the things that are beyond your own control. Does Fortune take things away? Laugh at her then. When Philemon and his friends deprive you of your wonted freedom, and take away your books, your reputation, your prospect of marriage, you must consider162 yourself before a tribunal of boys who are mulcting you of knuckle-bones and nuts. ‘So Epictetus makes light of love and marriage and the bands of family affection.’ Not so; he recognizes them for the common people but not for Onesimus and Epictetus, nor for other philosophers in the present war of good against evil. For as the state of things now is, the philosopher should hear the trumpet sounding for all good men to make ready, like an army drawn up for battle in the face of an enemy; and he should be without all distraction, entirely attending to the service of God.
“Finally, whatever betide, be not a slave. ‘I must go to the ergastulum’ says Onesimus. And must you go groaning too? ‘I must be fettered like a slave.’ Must you lament like a slave too? ‘Marry Prepousa,’ says Philemon, ‘and become a Christian.’ ‘I will not.’ ‘Then I will slay you.’ ‘Did I ever assert that I could not be slain?’ That is the language that befits my Onesimus; not to look at the spectacle of life like a runaway slave in the theatre, who shivers whenever any one touches him on the shoulder or mentions his master’s name. Instead of swearing allegiance to Christus to conciliate Philemon, swear rather never to dishonor God who loves truth, nor to murmur at anything that betides; for all things betide according to His will. At all times endeavor to listen to His voice; for he accosts you and speaks to you thus: ‘Onesimus, when you were at your lectures in Athens, what did you call death and imprisonment and all other such external things?’ ‘I? Things indifferent.’ ‘And what do you call them now?’ ‘The same.’ ‘What is the aim and object of thy life?’ ‘To follow Thee.’ ‘Go on then, boldly.’”
§ 10. OF METRODORUS AND HIS ADVICE.
I read and re-read the letter of Epictetus; but it could no longer settle my doubts nor quiet my mind. What was true in it seemed to be stale and useless, namely, that each man was able to do whatsoever he wished, provided that he wished only for those things that he was able to do. And again, what might have been useful, if true, seemed not true, or at all events not certain, I mean that the Master of the Feast was good. For all that Epictetus had said came to this, that if we remained as a guest at the Feast, each one was bound to act as if the Master was good, or else to depart from the Feast. But why was a philosopher bound to suppose something that might be false, or else to slay himself? For, all the while, there might be no Master of the Feast at all, but only a talk about Masters, and in reality neither Master nor Feast, but only a kind of scramble for sweetmeats. Or else there might be not one Master, but many, some good and kind, others bad and unkind. Or what if the Master were Himself good but thwarted by His wicked servants so that the guests were starved and not fed? In that case might not the guests fairly complain? And to make believe that the Master was perfectly good and wise (and all for the purpose of attaining for oneself calmness and tranquillity of mind)—this seemed a kind of flattering of the Master and deceiving of oneself, that was scarcely worthy of a philosopher.
This peace and tranquillity of Epictetus, the more I164 thought of it, the less I admired it. For, in spite of his denial, it seemed to loosen all love and friendship, as well as hate. How could I “preserve my serenity of mind” while I was reading the letter of Eucharis? Ought I to say to myself, “Whatever may betide Eucharis, I at all events shall be completely happy?” That seemed to me not possible; no, nor desirable. If Eucharis sorrowed, I felt that it would be sweeter for me too to sorrow than rejoice. Then again, as to hating, Epictetus would have me not hate Pistus for being bad, but speak well of him because he was not worse. Now this perchance might tend to tranquillity, but how could it be consistent with truth? For if a man steal from me one mina, am I to thank him for not stealing two? As well, when a man gives me one mina, abuse him for not giving me two! It is the duty of a philosopher neither to speak better of a man, nor to speak worse of a man than he deserves. Besides, Epictetus seemed to err in speaking of all wickedness and crime as merely caused by erroneous opinions, for to me such faults as slander, cruelty, and baseness, seemed altogether different, and fit to be differently regarded, from such a fault as an unskillful reckoner might commit in saying that six and seven make twelve. In all these matters Epictetus seemed to me (and indeed still seems) to go astray because he had wholly set his mind upon the attainment of an object which perchance the Master of the Feast does not intend His guests to attain in this world, I mean perfect and unchangeable serenity of mind.
Being in a great perturbation with all this conflict of thoughts, and inclining now more than ever to believe165 that there were no gods, I determined to disobey the command of Philemon and to resort to my friend Artemidorus that I might ask counsel of him. So I went to him on the morrow, when both Philemon and Pistus chanced to be absent from the city. But he had gone on some business of law to Laodicea. However I found in the courtyard of his house a certain friend of Artemidorus, known also to me, one Metrodorus, whom I believed (but did not for certain know) to hold the same opinions as Artemidorus. I saluted him gladly; and, because the sight of a friendly face was now rare for me, I took pleasure in conversing with him (although I had not been greatly inclined towards him in former days) walking up and down in the portico and discoursing about divers matters and in the end about matters of philosophy and religion. And to be brief, not having any other counsellor to go to, I imparted to this man (although I knew but little of him) some of my troubles and perplexities, asking what would philosophy advise me to do in my sore strait?
When I had made an end of speaking, Metrodorus ceased walking and stood still, near a broken slab of pavement in the portico, where some ants had built a nest and were passing busily to and from the crevice. So here Metrodorus coming to a stand, and looking down upon the ants and then up at me, said, “If there be gods indeed, as perchance there are, I will now show you what it is likely that they think of us mortals. Certain people say that the gods being infinitely wiser and nobler, as well as stronger, than we are, must needs have a care for us, and rule our actions aright. Now, my young friend, here166 stand we two upon this pavement, two human beings as much (I suppose) superior to these myriads of little busy insects at our feet, as the gods are superior to us. Well, my friend, do we have a care for these ants? Surely not. Do we sorrow for their sins and compassionate their errors? I think not. Do we rule their actions aright? Do we stir a finger to help them in the storing of their food or to avert the destruction of the whole republic of them? Nay, but we take not a single thought for all their doings and misdoings, their virtues and their vices (for doubtless these creatures have their virtues and their vices even as we have) except it may be to amuse ourselves withal, or to rid ourselves of them if they become inconvenient. But you say, men are so vastly superior to ants. Not more, I take it, than the gods (if any) are superior to men. But in men, you urge, there is so much more of diversity in character and in action. Who knows? Only stoop down and look at these diminutive beings more closely. Mark what a bustle they are in; all working, but not all doing the same work; some, look you, are the scavengers, carrying out the ordure, others the marketers carrying in vast fragments of bean-shell or hastening onwards along with pieces of barley-corn in their mouths; some also, as it seems to me, standing still and ruling or instructing the rest. And who knows also but, besides their architects and masons, they have their demagogues and counsellors, cooks also and musicians, yes and philosophers too after their manner, philosophising perhaps about us two at this very moment, and very prettily demonstrating the truth of the theories of the priest-ants, saying that ‘Man being167 a noble Being, infinitely powerful, and wise, and good, must needs take thought for us, poor mortal ants, and rule our actions aright, and in the end conform us to Himself’—whereas, my dear Onesimus, so far is this from being the case that on the contrary”—and here he stamped heavily upon the ant-hill—“I thus with one little movement of my foot, subvert the whole ant-universe, for no other cause but my own particular pleasure.
“O my dear Onesimus, is not belief in the gods by this time almost too antiquated? If there were some new fashion of it, I might recommend you to try it; but every fashion has been tried and has become stale. Your young friend Epictetus shows a preference for one god; but to the true philosophers his theories are like the rest, quite musty and past discussing. However, if you are resolved to deal in such wares, it is good to have a choice; and the choice is large. Perhaps you prefer a legion of gods and demons? Or, aiming at the golden mean, what say you to choosing a moderate few, an oligarchy of gods? Then there are in the market for you some gods that speak, and others that are mutes; some that are still active and vigorous, such as Isis, Serapis, and Sabazius; others that are past work and cashiered, such as old Ares, Enuo, and Hephæstus; or if you are curious about rank and precedence, you can have gods of different ranks, first class, second class, third class; some with bodies, some, if you prefer it, bodiless. Last of all in the market come the atheists, who will sell you a vacuum, if you will give them many years of your life for it. But is not the best course after all to keep your time and pains and money and avoid the market altogether: neither believing nor disbelieving, but never giving a thought to the matter?”
“And does Artemidorus hold these opinions?” said I, after a pause. “I think so,” he replied, “At least he never mentions the gods to me; and you best know whether he has often spoken of them to you; but from what you say yourself, I infer that he has not. However, even Artemidorus is not so consistent as I am. For he is ever fretting himself about the sun, and the moon, and the planets, and their motions, and about the tides and their courses, and sometimes he busies himself with noting the diverse superstitions of men; whereas to my mind the best kind of life is to vex oneself with none of these trifles, but to be content with myself and with all things around me, believing that they cannot be better, and so to eat and drink like Sardanapalus and to—
Sleep soundly stretched at ease—
as Homer sings of Ulysses sailing sweetly homeward. Therefore my advice to you is to take the goods which the gods (if there be gods) at this instant clearly destine for you. Make friends with Philemon. Become a rich man and obtain your freedom. Marry Prepousa and be happy with her, and, if need be, with others. And as for this Jewish purification, if, to obtain Philemon’s good will and a fortune to boot, it be necessary to endure a washing, why not wash? You can be as dirty as you like when you are rich and free. However time presses, and I must go. But in fine, I would have you take as your Mentor my sepulchre, for you cannot have a better pre169cept than that inscription.” “What inscription?” said I. “You must have seen it,” answered he; “it was the talk of all Colossæ three months ago, and they cannot have quite forgotten it so soon. However, you have not been much out of doors of late. You must know then, that some months ago, when my poor wife departed this life, she ordered these words to be engraved upon her tombstone:—
Though my soul dwelleth in earth
My soul dwelleth in heaven.
Now I could not gainsay the poor woman’s last wish, and therefore I permitted the inscription. Yet I felt, as a philosopher, that it was due to my philosophy that my epitaph should be of a very different character, consistent with my life. So considering with myself that my executors might possibly not carry out my instructions if I gave orders for an inscription over my body, in opposition to that of my lamented wife, I therefore caused these words to be cut in my lifetime, beneath my wife’s inscription, over the place where my body will in due time be laid:
Enjoy the present,
For when the spirit has left the body,
Descending to Lethe,
It will never again look on the world above.
“And you have not seen it? You will find it on the Laodicean road, on the right-hand side, about three furlongs from the gate. But I must be going. Farewell, my young friend, and take my advice. As for the wise people who profess to know everything and to teach everybody, no two of them agreeing together, pay no attention to them. Snap your fingers at all their philosophies and controversies. Take in a substantial cargo of good things. Trim your sails for a pleasant voyage through life, making up your mind to be often merry, seldom serious, and never sad.” So saying, he departed, and I returned to the house of Philemon.
§ 11. OF THE DEATH OF EUCHARIS AND HOW I WAS AGAIN ACCUSED OF THEFT.
The words of Metrodorus himself had not much weight with me. But the image of that ant-hill came again and again into my mind, making me ask, “Is it so indeed that men are but as insects in the eyes of the immortal gods?” And as day after day went on, and still no letter nor message from Molon, my nights being sleepless and my days given up to expectation and suspense, I resolved (even as a weak mariner yielding to wind and tide) that I would suffer myself to drift with the event: if the gods led me to good then I would believe in them, but if to ill, then I would not. So for the space of ten days my mind swayed this way and that, tossed with a very tempest of increasing troubles, and still no tidings from Athens, although nearly a month had passed since Molon’s former letter. At last I began to suspect that Pistus might have intercepted some letters from Eucharis; and if this suspicion had rankled long in my mind, it would have gone nigh to make me mad.
But toward the end of the month one of the slaves who was well affected to me brought me a letter bearing the171 familiar seal of Molon, which, when I had in all haste opened, it contained no letter from Eucharis, no, not so much as a little piece of paper, nor any words written in her hand, nor even a flower or aught else by way of token; and I shook it again, but still nothing fell out. So I sat down holding the letter in my hand, unread, foreboding the worst; and how long I sat I know not, but in those minutes (if they were minutes) there seemed to have passed over me years, yea ages of misery; and I had reckoned over my life even to the grave, and beyond the grave, into a darkness that was without end.
“Eucharis is dead”—so the letter began. The rest was very long and full of lamentations, telling how the Christians had caused her death, or else perchance her sorrow for my sake; how the followers of one Paulus had persuaded her to be baptized; how her father, though he had foreseen and noted the mischief, could not stay the progress of the disease, and how, for the rest of his life he must live alone in the world. But my eyes travelled idly over this to return again and again to the first words: “Eucharis is dead.” So suddenly had she passed away that at the last she could not so much as write me one word of farewell, nor do more than bid her father send me this message, that Onesimus must always keep the token she had given him and not forget her last words.
During my torpor, while I sat in a kind of trance of misery, the letter had fallen to the ground. Stooping to pick it up I unwittingly took in its stead the letter of Epictetus, and began to read it.172 “A bad performer cannot sing alone, but only in a chorus: in the same way some people cannot walk the path of life alone.” Most true! And I was one of those “bad performers,” one of those who “cannot walk the path of life alone.” But what then? Were there not “bad performers” as well as perfect actors, and was there no place for them in the world? I was not meant nor made to walk alone. But why had the gods made me of a nature to walk in dependence on some guide, and then, after mocking me with the semblance of the gift of so precious a guide as my beloved one, snatched her away that they might see me stumble and fall? Even so they had given me Chrestus, and snatched him away. So it had been with all their gifts to me. They had given me a love of learning; but now they forbade me to learn; they had given me a thirst for truth, but had driven the truth far away; they had given me the breeding and habits of a free man, but had condemned me to be a slave. Each gift had been a curse in disguise.
Now came back into my mind the image of the ant-hill of Metrodorus, and then there rose up from the depths of darkness the lessons I had learned in the ergastulum, which I had thought I had forgotten, but now they seemed as fresh as yesterday, and more real than any other memory of my life. And now once more I inclined to believe that some bad demon or demons possessed and governed the world, exulting in our miseries and mocking at our foolish prayers and silly gratitude. Either they, or chance, ruled over the Universe. In either case, no good God; no one to love, no one to trust, no one to whom in some invisible world I could intrust my darling Eucharis and173 my brother Chrestus, feeling confident that all was well with them. Eucharis and Chrestus! Say rather Dust and Ashes. Then Satan filled my heart and I lifted up my voice in blasphemy and cursed the Master of the Feast who had given command that I should depart, yet would open no door for my departure, and I looked about me for means to destroy myself. But the hand of the Lord delivered me. For when I had made a noose with the thongs of my sandals, and having fixed the end to a beam was now in the act of placing it round my neck, behold, Philemon entered the chamber with a stern countenance, and two or three slaves behind him. He at once accused me of taking many precious volumes from the library with intent to steal them. I denied it, but he affirmed that it must needs be so, for they had been found yonder, pointing to a hole beneath the floor in my apartment, and, said he, “your attempt to slay yourself convicts you; for having perceived that the books have been recovered, you desire to prevent the punishment of your theft.”
Perceiving that I was speechless—as indeed I was, marvelling at the iniquity of Pistus, or whoever else was my enemy—Philemon bade all the slaves depart the chamber, and then taking me by the hand, with tears in his eyes, he besought me to confess the truth, saying that he had noted, now these many days, how Satan had taken advantage of me because I had hardened my heart against the word of the Lord; and he implored me to repent and to wash away my sins. Now if I had shewn him the letter of Molon describing the death of Eucharis, I might per174haps have persuaded him that I was not guilty of theft, and that other causes drove me to attempt my life. But I could not do it; for in my madness I regarded him as her murderer. Therefore I in no way endeavored to persuade him, but merely answered with much vehemence that in truth I was not guilty, and that either Pistus or some enemy had devised this plot against me. Upon this, Philemon clapped his hands and called in the slaves, saying, in their presence, that it was useless to argue with me or to beseech me, and that I was fascinated by some woman who had ensnared my soul, adding withal some words not indeed gross nor unseemly, but very bitter to me at that season, knowing poor Eucharis to be but lately dead. So in that instant I leaped upon him and seizing the stilus which he held in his hand I attacked him with it, and assuredly, had not the slaves run together and stayed me, I should have slain him outright; but as it was, the Lord had mercy on me, and I did but wound him very slightly. But I foamed at the mouth as one mad; yea, and indeed I thank the Lord that I was verily mad at that time, and that I spoke not, but Satan spoke within me. For I seemed to see Christus as an evil demon pursuing me without ceasing, setting Philemon against me and inspiring Pistus with malice, and now last of all slaying my beloved Eucharis; wherefore I uttered such terrible execrations against the Lord Jesus, as even now fill me with horror so much as to think of; and write them down I durst not. But Philemon, stopping his ears, rushed in haste from the room, wringing his hands as if all hope were now lost, and leaving me struggling in the hands of Pistus and the rest of the household who were binding me.
That evening I heard what had been resolved concerning me. Philemon’s brother, a decurion of Smyrna, who had not yet been converted to the faith was very earnest that I should be crucified according to the custom; but Philemon was constant against it, partly out of his affection for me, even then not wholly destroyed; but partly because the brethren have been from the first always unwilling that any should be punished with that death whereby the Lord Jesus was slain. So it was determined that I should be sent into the country to an ergastulum about one hundred and twenty furlongs north of Laodicea.
But here must I needs pause. For now begins my pen to describe the deepest of the depths of my most sinful life; whereof, whensoever my mind unwillingly goes back to that black darkness, I can say no more than this: “All things are possible with thee; thy blood, O Lord Jesus, can cleanse from every sin.”