Perceiving that my mind was under some trouble or disturbance, my master often turned the discourse to matters of morals and philosophy, and especially to the belief in the gods and the divine government of the world; and I told him plainly that I had no such belief, for that the world seemed to me governed by chance, or by fate, or by evil gods, but in no case by good gods, seeing that ill-doing prevailed in the world. Upon this Philemon, being grieved because of my unbelief, asked me whether I had had much discourse with his friend Artemidorus, the Epicurean, on these matters. When I said no, not much, but that my unbelief arose from my own experience of things, because I had seemed to discern more proof of the power of evil than of good, he bade me take comfort; for he would in due course emancipate me, and meantime I should be to him as a friend. After this he advised me to study the books of Plato and of Chrysippus, if perchance I might thus frame myself to a better mind. But when I urged (which indeed was not my own argument but I had heard it lately from Artemidorus) that the stories concerning30 the gods were full of all manner of myths, and fables containing portents, and metamorphoses, such as no sane man could believe, to this he replied that the whole world was full of no less wonders, if a man rightly considered it; for that summer should follow spring, and autumn summer, that storm should follow calm, and calm storm, and that the whole world should be so orderly and evenly governed as it was, this, he said, was a far greater wonder than the metamorphoses of which the poets speak. In particular he pointed out the wonderful things past all common course of nature, which were to be seen in that very neighborhood of Colossæ and Laodicea; and taking me with him up and down the valley of the river, called Lycus, which flows through that region, he shewed me how the water is there changed into stone of a dazzling brightness, so that the hills are in many parts covered with the appearance of snow, and cataracts abound of the same substance, and how other mountains vomit forth smoke and fire, and others have wells and springs bubbling upward hot from the earth. Again on another day he brought me to a certain pool sacred to the goddess Cybele, and bade me mark how sheep and goats and cattle, driven into this pool, straightway fell down and perished, but the priests of Cybele, entering into the same waters, stood upright and unhurt in the presence of many spectators; and upon this he asked me what more proof was wanting of the power of the goddess to protect her votaries? When I could make no reply, he affirmed that all these wonders were placed at hand31 to convince them that disbelieved in the gods; for if we were forced to believe in these wonders, being as they were before our eyes, why should we be so loth to believe other wonders that our eyes had not seen?
In course of time the words of Philemon and still more his kind deeds and the kindness of his wife Apphia, had power to quench that rancorous spirit which had inflamed my heart. Other friends also, both at Colossæ and in Hierapolis, moved me in the same direction, I mean towards a belief in the gods. Among these was the good Epictetus (a slave like myself and at that time a very young man) concerning whom I shall have much to say hereafter; and a certain Nicostratus of Laodicea, full of zeal for learning, but devout and liberal, and of a gracious nature. Nor must I forget Heracleas, a great reader of the works of the ancient poets as well as of the philosophers, who had studied for some time in Alexandria. These three, being of the acquaintance of Philemon, treated me with exceeding courtesy, seeking my society and willingly conversing with me; and I soon perceived that almost all the rest of our acquaintance though in no respect given to superstitions, nevertheless agreed in believing that the world was governed by good and divine powers.
§ 2. HOW SOME OF PHILEMON’S FRIENDS AVOWED A BELIEF IN ONE GOD.
I soon found that, although the philosophers whom I have mentioned above, believed in gods, yet their belief32 differed much from that of the common people; for the latter believe in many gods, but the former inclined to acknowledge one god under many names. It was at a symposium, during a public festival in honor of Artemis, that I first heard this opinion broached by Nicostratus who said that “there was in reality but one Power, however He may manifest Himself to mortals by many different shapes and names in several lands and nations, speaking also through different prophets, a Delphic woman in Pytho, a Thesprotian man in Dodona, a Libyan in the Temple of Ammon, an Ionian in Claros, a Lycian in Xanthias, and a Bœotian in Ismenus.” I looked that he should have been reproved and put to silence by my master; but Philemon said nothing except that this doctrine was not fit to be taught in that shape to the common people; and the rest seemed to assent to Nicostratus. Heracleas, in particular, said that “though the number of gods and demons, or demoniacal essences, be far more than the 30,000 whereof Hesiod makes mention, yet the mighty King of all this multitude, seated on his stable throne as if He were Law, imparts unto the obedient that health and safety which He contains in Himself.” To me also, in our private and familiar discourse, the young Epictetus would always speak, not of many, but of One, who guides all things and to whose will we must conform ourselves. As for idols and statues of the gods—of which I had always been wont at Lystra to speak as being themselves gods, so that I could scarce think of the gods apart from them—Nicostratus said openly at this same feast, that it was no marvel if the immortal powers33 preferred to inhabit beautiful shapes of gold and stone and ivory; which nevertheless were of course to be distinguished from the gods themselves, as being but the integuments of the divine senses; but Heracleas went yet further (and Epictetus with him) saying that one should no more accost an image than a house (instead of the householder); and that images were not needful but only helpful for the forgetful souls of men.
When Heracleas avowed his belief in the myths and metamorphoses and fables about the gods I said to him, “Why, O Heracleas, are there no metamorphoses in our days?” “Because,” replied he, “men have degenerated from their progenitors of ancient date. Therefore it is no marvel that the gods refuse to perform such wonders as of old for mankind upon earth. But in the former days the pious were naturally changed from men into gods, and these are even now honored, such as Aristaeus, Heracles, Amphiaraus, Asclepius, and the like. Having regard to these facts, any one may reasonably be persuaded that Lycaon was changed into a wolf, Procne into a swallow, and Niobe into a stone. At present, however, now that vice has spread itself through every part of the earth, the divine nature is no longer produced out of the human, or, in other words, men are no longer made gods but only dignified with the title thereof through excess of flattery, as some among us call the emperors gods even while they yet live.” To this Nicostratus assented, but added that34 “the lies of the multitude are sometimes to blame, pouring contempt upon undoubted facts in the attempt to adorn and exaggerate them, as for example, asserting not only that Niobe was changed into a stone, which is true, but also that Niobe on Sipylus still weeps, which is not true.” More passed between them; but this I discerned clearly that both they and many others, while acknowledging one god under many names, agreed with Philemon (and not with Artemidorus the Epicurean) in believing without doubt the myths and fables about the gods.
§ 3. HOW NICOSTRATUS URGED THAT, WITHOUT THE BELIEF IN THE GODS, THE LIFE OF MAN WOULD BE VOID OF PLEASURE.
It happened about this time that there was a great feast in honor of Artemis, and the customary processions and dances, and games also and chariot-races and plays exhibited in the theatre. Being sick at this time and not able to go abroad, Philemon besought Nicostratus to take me with him to the theatre, and to show me the pomps and shows of the festival, which far exceeded anything that I had ever seen in our little town of Lystra. So on the morning of the festival, early before sunrise, I went to the house of Nicostratus; who had no sooner saluted me than he began at once, after his manner, to take occasion of the festival to commend, in a long discourse, the belief in the immortal gods. “For seest thou not,” said he, “how to all men, poor as well as rich, slaves as well as masters, the festivals of the gods bring round brightness and gladness?” Methinks he noted that my countenance was altered when he spoke of “slaves,” for he hesitated and was silent for a moment; but anon, col35lecting himself, he continued cheerfully thus: “When I speak of slaves, I mean not such as thou art, being already half emancipated and rather thy master’s friend than his servant; but I mean rather the poor wretches toiling in chains or grinding at the mill, to all of whom the festival brings relief and some gleam of joy. For five days ago, before the feast began, sawest thou not how even at the approach of the holiday all was astir within the city, yea and without too; food and wine and fruits and oxen and sheep for sacrifice being brought in from the country; old garments purified and freshly decked out, new ones bought or borrowed from friends; the statues of the gods taken down and carefully cleansed and polished till they glitter.” At this point he was interrupted by a slave who had been waiting to tell him that it was time to go forth to the temple. Descending to the court-yard we found all the household awaiting us, clothed in their best attire, the little children bearing frankincense in their hands and the victims adorned for sacrifice. Regarding them all with a glad countenance and saluting many of them by name, Nicostratus bade me remember that at this same moment every householder in Colossæ, however austere or miserly by nature, was constrained by the observance of the gods to go forth in like manner to offer sacrifice. “And now,” continued he in an unbroken discourse,36 “we shall all go to the great temple. Prayers will be offered up; none but words of good omen will be uttered; no sound of quarrel or abuse or even of ribald mirth will be heard in the whole of the vast assemblage. After this, some offer sacrifice; the rest stand by as spectators. Then begins the feasting, some feasting in the temples, others at home where you and I will make merry together. And as for the rest of the day and the days following, thou shalt see how pleasantly they will pass. Yet all this is but a copy of that which happens at every festival in every city where the gods are rightly reverenced. For during the feasting, the whole city resounds with singing, some chanting hymns in honor of the god, others odes and songs, serious or merry, according to each one’s pleasure. I omit to speak of the processions and shows, all full of beauty and delight, but not more beautiful here than in a thousand other cities of Asia and Europe.”
Here he broke off, to salute some of his acquaintance. “Hail, Charicles! and you, too, Charidemus! I rejoice to see you in the city, and forget not that to-morrow you are bespoke to dine with me.” Then turning again to me, “Note, I pray you,” said he,37 “how all the people, both citizens and country-folk, are knit together in concord on such days as these. For there is scarce one citizen in Colossæ but has invited some stranger or some acquaintance from the country to partake of his good cheer. Amid the drinking old friendships are drawn closer, new friendships are begun. After dinner some show strangers about the city; others sit down in the market-place and talk pleasantly together. Throughout the day no law courts are open, no execution is allowed, no debtor need fear arrest, no slave dreads the lash; all quarrel, all strife receives at least a cessation, which sometimes brings about a permanent peace. In the evening the feasting begins again, and all sit down to sup; so many are the torches that the whole city is filled with light; each street resounds with the flutes and the joyful songs of the revellers. Austere sobriety is laid aside for once, and to drink a little to excess in honor of the gods is esteemed no great disgrace. Thus for three days the feast continues; and when it is over we part with vows of friendship, in peace and good will, praying that we may live long enough to see such another feast come round again. Now,” concluded Nicostratus, “take away the gods from out of the world and what cause remains why men should thus meet and rejoice together? For where there are no gods, there are none to be thanked, and therefore no thanksgiving; but thankfulness is the salt of life. Whosoever therefore takes away the gods from the life of man takes away the prime cause of human joy, and must be esteemed the enemy of all mankind.”
I felt in my inmost mind that a keen and subtle disputant, such as Artemidorus, might have had much to urge against these arguments of Nicostratus; yet at that time many things joined together to incline me to accept his reasonings. For having been now nearly a year at Colossæ I had received on all sides such tokens of good will, and I may almost say of affection, as had already well nigh won me out of my first condition of distrust; and although it were not according to reason to argue that whatsoever things are pleasant must needs be also true, yet did it appear beyond doubt that life without the gods would be full of dullness and gloom, all men being everywhere wholly given up to cares and self-searchings. And I reasoned thus with myself,38 “If indeed there be gods, then it were wrong not to acknowledge them; but if there be no gods, why even then it seems happier to believe that gods exist, and, in that case, how can ‘no gods’ deem belief in gods to be a sin?” So for my part, being at that time recovered from my melancholy, and young, and in good health, and taking pleasure in the pride of life and the pleasure of the flesh, I concluded to take the happier side and to believe that there were gods ruling the world to good ends.
§ 4. HOW PHILEMON, FALLING SICK, INCLINED TO SUPERSTITION.
About this time Philemon falling sick, turned to a melancholy, and becoming wholly changed from his former disposition, gave himself up to all manner of superstitions. Resorting in vain to all the physicians of the place, he was led at first to try charms and amulets, and then to consult soothsayers and astrologers and the priests of strange gods; and thus, little by little, partly by the burden of his disease enfeebling his understanding, and partly by reason of the company which he now frequented, he became daily more timorous and superstitious. He offered sacrifice almost every day, and anxiously awaited the report as to the entrails; he resorted often to the priests of all kinds of gods more especially Isis, Serapis, and Sabazius, and sometimes he would invite them to his own house, so that our house became a kind of temple in Colossæ; he purified himself many times a day both with the lustral waters and with other strange purifica39tions; he would wear naught but linen, and abstained from many kinds of flesh, and in the end from all flesh; if he saw a sacred stone he would fall down on his knees before it and anoint it with oil. Nay, once, during this melancholy fit of his, when we had set out after much preparation upon a journey to Ephesus, the sight of a weasel—though we were now fully a mile past the city gate—made him turn back and give up the journey altogether. At last, when no remedies and no charms availed anything, supposing himself to be under the special displeasure of some unknown god, he took to his bed and could not be persuaded to leave it.
My master having been about a month in this case, growing daily weaker, there came to him one Oneirocritus of Ephesus (the same to whom he himself had been intending to journey) who also himself had been sick of some disease insomuch that the physicians had despaired of him; but he was now quite recovered. This man coming into Philemon’s chamber questioned him concerning his condition and symptoms, and the sacrifices he had offered, and the gods he had propitiated. Then he spoke concerning himself and his own deliverance, how after he had been sick nearly twenty years, he had been healed by Asclepius at the famous temple in Pergamus; and he very earnestly exhorted Philemon to go thither with all speed. At the same time he described the wonders wrought by the god on those that believed in him, and the punishment he had inflicted on the impious and unbelieving. Upon this Artemidorus the Epicurean—whom, because of his exact knowledge of medicine and his skil40fulness in noting symptoms, Philemon would never exclude from his bed-chamber, even in his most superstitious moods—once more recommended Philemon to try the baths of the neighboring city of Hierapolis, saying that it was not wise to despise remedies merely because they were near and easy and familiar. “For this disease,” said he, “arises from no anger of the gods or any such matter, but from some disorder of the liver which may not improbably be removed by the hot baths of Hierapolis.” “But if the liver be disordered,” replied Oneirocritus, “truth compels me to speak of the virtues of a certain sacred well in the precincts of the temple at Pergamus availing for the healing not of one disease, but of all; for great multitudes of the blind, washing therein, have obtained their sight; others have recovered from lameness; others from asthma and pleurisy; nay, to some even the mere drawing of the water with their own hands, (it being so prescribed by the god) has restored soundness and health.”
Then others of the companions of Oneirocritus added other stories all tending to the honor of Asclepius; some indeed possible and deserving of attention, but others absurd and fit only to move laughter; how, for example, a sculptor in Pergamus had been punished with immediate disease for making a statue of the god with inferior marble, but having atoned for his fault by making a second statue of fit material, he straightway recovered; also how a fighting-cock, wounded in one leg, chancing to take part in the procession of song in honor of the god, extended his leg, no longer wounded but whole, and hopping onwards41 crowed in harmony with the songs of the choir; and lastly how a certain rich Epicurean having had a dream in the temple of the god, forthwith obeying the heavenly vision, burned the books of Epicurus, and having made a paste of their ashes applied a poultice to his stomach and thus was perfectly healed. This last story seemed to touch Artemidorus (because of the contempt, as I suppose, which it cast upon the doctrine of his master Epicurus) and he was on the point of making some rejoinder, when Oneirocritus, like one inspired with divine enthusiasm, broke out into a long and passionate discourse concerning the benefits that he himself had received from the god Asclepius: “For seventeen years,” he said,42 “I had kept my bed through disease, and for many more years I had been ailing and infirm, troubled with the falling sickness; yet such hath been the favor of the god toward me, manifested by continual tokens of his presence during my sickness as well as at my recovery, that I would not exchange my state for all the health and strength of Heracles. For I am one of those who have been blessed, not once only but many times, with a new life, and who, for this cause, esteem sickness a blessing. Many a time, half awake, half asleep, have I found myself not indeed seeing the god but conscious of his presence, my eyes full of tears, my hair erect, and a savor of divine odor in my nostrils. Thus have I received the most helpful manifestations. It was thus that the god revealed to me that I must go forth from Apamea, the day before the great earthquake; it was thus, half in a dream half in a vision, that he also showed me how Philoumene the daughter of my foster-mother had devoted her life for mine; and behold on the eighth day she died and I recovered from my disease. Moreover at one time the god appeared to me in no dream but in a vision, having three heads, and his body wreathed in flames; and at another time not Asclepius only but Athene herself also appeared to me and held converse with me. A sweet odor exhaled from the ægis of the goddess and she bore the shape of the statue of Phidias. My nurse and two other friends, who happened to be sitting by my couch, stared and were astonished, and at first they deemed me to be beside myself; but presently they also understood the discourse and were aware of the divine presence.”
While Oneirocritus was saying these words, his eyes kindled and his voice trembled, and he seemed ready to weep for joy and gratefulness; and there was not one present except the Epicurean who was not somewhat moved to sympathy. But after a pause Artemidorus praised the priests of Asclepius, saying that it was well known that they were wise physicians and prescribed wise remedies, but that their cures might well be believed to be according to nature. To which Oneirocritus replied with exceeding vehemence:43 “Nay, but let any one consider how strange and past all natural invention, yea, how contrary oftentimes to all the rules of art are the prescriptions of the god, some being bidden to swallow gypsum, others hemlock, others to strip naked and to bathe in cold water, (and these so weak and puling that their own physician durst not prescribe to them to bathe even in warm water) and assuredly, when all this is considered and the great multitude of them that are healed, beholding the sides of the temple all covered with the votive tablets of them that have given thanks for their recovery, surely the veriest atheist will cry out ‘Great is Asclepius, and holy is his temple.’ Therefore, O most excellent Philemon, my counsel is that you also, despising all other waters, whether they be of Cydnus, or Peneus, or Hierapolis should resort to the sacred well in Pergamus; and, if you do this and the god so will, you shall assuredly return healed of your disease.”
To this the greater part of those present gave assent. Only Artemidorus, when mention was made of the votive tablets of those that had recovered, whispered to me: “But where, O Onesimus, are the votive tablets of those that have not recovered? Or perchance the temple could not find room for so many?” And when Oneirocritus had departed, he did not conceal his judgment that of the things that he had related, some were according to nature, but others only the dreams and imaginations of one that was scarce master of himself. But the rest were entirely against the Epicurean and on the side of Oneirocritus. And so I found it both then and afterwards in most places whereof I had experience, not only in Asia but also in Greece and Italy: those that believed in the gods were many; and those that believed not were men of culture and learning, but very few. And with the multitude in some places to be an Epicurean or an Atheist (for it was all one with the common people) was deemed a crime sufficient to bring down the wrath of the gods in shipwreck, famine, pestilence, or earthquake. The magis44trates also everywhere dissembled, even though they were atheists; and they not only offered sacrifice and kept holidays, but also of their own free will, and at their own cost, they built and repaired temples, and set up statues to gods in whom they disbelieved, esteeming this kind of dissimulation to be a sort of piety. But as for myself at this time, I was in a strait between two opinions; for on the one hand I had begun to despise the excessive and unreasonable superstitions of Philemon, but on the other hand while I respected Artemidorus as an honorable man and a seeker after truth, I shrank from his philosophy as void of hope and happiness. So with my mind I inclined towards Artemidorus, but with my heart not indeed towards Philemon as he now was, but as he had been; and I believed in the gods with my wishes, but I disbelieved in them with my reason and understanding.
§ 5. HOW I ACCOMPANIED PHILEMON TO PERGAMUS.
On the morrow Artemidorus came again and would have dissuaded Philemon from going to Pergamus, maintaining more fully than before that he had spoken with many to whom the god had revealed prescriptions and that there was nothing divine in them: “for to some,” said he,45 “being of a melancholy temperament the god prescribes the hearing of odes, hymns and other music, or sometimes even farces; to others riding on horses; to others bathing in cold water; to others walking or leaping; to others frequent rubbing and careful diet; thus the god gives in each case wise and exact prescriptions such as a skilful physician would use; but in all these, and the cures at issue, there is nothing of the power of a god.” Philemon listened patiently enough, but replied (not without sense as it appeared to me) that if this were so, or were not so, in either case one of two good results might be expected; for if it were a god that prescribed, then he should receive benefit from a god’s prescriptions, but if it were not a god, but only the priests, even then he should have the prescriptions of physicians so skilful that they obtained the praises of Artemidorus and were esteemed by the multitude to have the wisdom of a god. So it was settled that to Pergamus we should go, and in the autumn of that year we came thither. There was much in the place to delight a youth such as I was then; first the town itself fenced in on two sides by rushing streams and on the north side by rocks scarcely to be scaled; also the stately buildings and especially the library; and as I had the charge of Philemon’s books I took pleasure in learning here the art of preparing parchments and smoothing and adorning them; for the place is very full of transcribers of books and the banks of the river (which is called Selinus) are covered with the shops of those who tan skins and prepare them for the use of booksellers. Thus passed seven days, pleasantly enough; and all this time I saw not Philemon, for he spent almost every hour apart from his friends in the temple, engaged in processions and purifications and the like.
But on the eighth day he came to me with a cheerful countenance saying that after he had thrice gone in the sacred processions, and had daily heard solemn music and been present at the thanksgivings of those who each day46 had departed whole from the temple, a sweet sleep had fallen upon him wherein he had seen a vision, namely, a chasm round and not very large, about five or six cubits in diameter, and himself on the point of going down into it, and behold, one prevented him and went down in his stead. When he recounted the vision to the priests, they bade him be of good cheer, saying that the interpretation of the dream was this, that he himself should not die nor go down to Hades (which was signified by the round pit) but that he should recover and some other should die in his place; and for the rest they bade him bathe daily in cold water, and walk often and hear cheerful music and abstain from overmuch study. So we returned to Colossæ with lightened hearts; and already Philemon began to shake off his melancholy and to recover apace. But in the second month after we were come back, Apphia fell sick and was nigh unto death. And hereupon Philemon’s distemper returned on him worse than before; and as his wife became better, he became worse, insomuch that he began to despair of his life. Then Oneirocritus of Ephesus came a second time to visit him; and he, when he had heard the account of Philemon’s vision, how he had seen a round chasm and one descending into it, affirmed that the meaning of the god was that Philemon should go to the cave of Trophonius in Lebadea in Greece, where there is even such a chasm, the same in shape and dimensions also, and men go down to it to learn things to come, and this, he said, was without doubt the intention of the vision; but the ministers of the temple had interpreted it amiss. Now therefore nothing would serve but we must needs go to Lebadea.
§ 6. HOW I WENT DOWN INTO THE CAVE OF TROPHONIUS.
As soon as the season of the year came round for a sea voyage, we sailed across to Athens, and thence to Lebadea, where we were to make ready for descending beneath the earth. When the day approached, Philemon was advised by some of his friends (and also by the ministers of the god) not himself to go down, because of his age and infirmities, lest the suddenness of some voice or apparition in the darkness beneath the earth, should affright him and drive him out of his wits or even slay him outright. For although no one that had at any time consulted the oracle had ever suffered anything fatal (save only one Macedonian of the body-guard of Antigonus who had descended for sacrilegious purpose, and in despite of the sacred ministers, with intent to seek for hid treasure, and he had been cast forth dead by some other passage and not by the way he went down) yet did all, whether strangers or natives, look upon the descent as a matter of some peril not to be lightly taken in hand. So when I perceived that Philemon desired me to go down in his place but would not urge nor so much as ask me, lest I should think myself enforced to consent, I willingly adventured to descend.
But I found it was no such short and simple matter as I had supposed. For on presenting my petition to the priests I was caused to wait many days, first of all in a kind of House of Purification, which was dedicated to Good Fortune, and during all these days I offered up sev48eral sacrifices, not only to Trophonius, and to his children, but also to Apollo and to Cronus, and to Zeus the King, and to Hera the Driver of Chariots, and to Demeter called Europa; and even when all these sacrifices had been inspected by the priests and pronounced propitious, yet my good fortune must needs still depend upon one last sacrifice of all. This was to be a ram offered on the last night, whose blood was caused to flow into a trench while invocation was made to Agamedes; which, if it had been unpropitious, would have made all the other sacrifices of no effect, and all my master’s money and my pains would have been spent for naught. Although I was in no humor for scoffing at that time, yet on that last evening, while I awaited the report concerning the entrails, I could not but marvel that any god should desire mortals to approach him by paths so costly and so tedious. For had I been a poor man, I had long ago spent all and more than all my substance in the sacrifices which I had offered, and the purifications I had undergone, and the fees I had paid to the ministers of the god. During the period of purification I had abstained from warm baths, and had bathed only in the cold waters of the stream called Hercyna; but on the last night of all, I was bathed with a special solemnity in the same stream by two priests called Hermæ. Then I was made to drink of two fountains flowing forth, one on either hand, whereof the former was called the fountain of Forgetfulness, the other the fountain of Remembrance. All this was done, they told me, that I might forget the past and remember the future and in particular the response of the god. Last of all they took out49 of a veil a certain very ancient image of the god, said to have been wrought by Dædalus; and on this they bade me look very reverently and intently even till my eyes were weary. This done, I was clad in a white linen tunic, curiously girt round with garlands, and led towards the cavern.
This was a pit, round at the top, but inside in shape not so much like a cylinder as rather a cone whereof the summit has been cut off; for the base was somewhat larger than the opening, the circumference at the top being about a score of cubits, and the depth, as I should judge, fifteen cubits; but of the circumference at the bottom I cannot speak exactly. The way to go down into the pit was by a ladder. Before I went down the priest told me that when I had touched the bottom I was to feel about for two small round holes in the side, a handbreadth or so from the bottom and near the foot of the ladder, each large enough to hold the foot and the lower part of the leg. Laying myself on my back I was to place my feet in these two holes, “and thereon,” said the priest, “though the openings be never so small, yet through these will the god draw inwards the whole of your body, as with the irresistible force of some whirlpool, and then in an inner recess, if he be so pleased, he will hold converse with you either by voice or by apparition, or perchance by both. But be of good cheer, bearing in mind that, except that sacrilegious Macedonian of whom I spoke to you, there was never any one yet that was harmed by the god.”
When I lay down, and the lights above had been taken away, my mind was all astir, not dizzy nor faint, nor dis50posed to torpor, but more active than my wont, tossing a multitude of thoughts to this side and that, neither believing nor disbelieving in the god. Then it came into my thoughts that Artemidorus had explained the wondrous pool of Cybele, fatal to cattle, by saying that some kind of creeping vapors adhered to the surface of the water, and he bade me take note at Lebadea, whether any kind of vapor could be seen or felt in the pit. So I drew a long breath or two but could neither feel aught nor taste aught, save only that my mind seemed still busier than before, tossing and retossing thoughts without end. Next, falling on a different course of thinking, I considered with myself whether perchance I was playing a sacrilegious part in thus coming into the midst of the god’s mysteries in order to spy them out and reveal them to Artemidorus; and I resolved that I would submit myself to the god and think only of the image of Dædalus, even as the priest had bidden me. Now all this takes indeed some time to set down, but to think the thoughts needed scarce a moment, and countless other fancies and imaginations and resolutions passed through my mind; but the last determination of all was that I would rebel against the god and not suffer myself to be drawn through the crevices; and scarce had I conceived this rebellious fancy, when lo, my chest began to heave and my heart to beat more and more violently, and I felt the throbbing of the veins in my temples; and then whether my body was indeed carried into an inner recess, or whether my spirit alone was carried, being separated from the body, or whatever else happened, I know not for certain; but there was51 as it were the clapping-to of a great door shut with a loud jar, parting me off from all things, and then a singing in mine ears, and a bright light that grew brighter, and then methought I lay as it were living, and yet beyond life, and not able to move hand or foot, yet able to think and hear; and there was a voice from the depths of the cave in the Bœotian dialect “Philemon must go first”; and presently I felt myself drawn upwards and heard the voices of the priests saying that “the man will soon come to himself,” and behold I was being carried to a throne called the throne of Recollection; whereon they placed me and straightway questioned me concerning the things that I had seen or heard while I was still staring and groping about me like one distraught. When I had made reply according to my ability, they wrote down my words on a tablet and gave me back to my friends who led me away, being still unable to guide myself and ignorant both of myself and them. But not many minutes had passed before I recovered my mind; and then a spirit of lightness and mirth possessed me, insomuch that I laughed loud and long and this without cause, and could not restrain myself from laughing; but when I was ashamed thereat and even Philemon was fain to rebuke me, one of the priests that stood by, said that there was no cause either for my shame or for his rebuke, for laughter after this fashion was ever wont to seize those with whom Trophonius had held converse.
§ 7. HOW ARTEMIDORUS SPOKE AGAINST THE BELIEF IN GODS.
That I had received a vision none doubted; but concerning the meaning of the vision there was much dispute. For the priests of Trophonius (though it was not their special duty to interpret the visions vouchsafed by the god, but only to prepare the way for them by introducing those that desired to consult the god) interpreted the words of the voice and the shutting of the gates as meaning evil for my master, namely, that he should enter Hades first, and that the gates should then be shut, so that I should not follow him till afterwards. But I thought, and so did some others, friends of my master that were with us, that the meaning rather was, that Philemon should enter into happiness first, but that I should be shut out; and even now methinks that was the truer interpretation; for Philemon indeed entered first into the Kingdom of Light, and I followed after. Notwithstanding at this time, between these two interpretations, we knew not what to think; and my master returned to Colossæ even more melancholy than before. Artemidorus said, scoffing, that we had a goodly time with the gods, only that they were slow of speech or fond of circuits; for Oneirocritus had sent us to Asclepius, and behold, that god had given us a dream but not the interpretation of the dream; and afterwards we had gone to Trophonius, and he had given us a vision, and an oracle in broad Bœotian to be the interpretation of the dream; and now nothing remained but we should go to Delphi to obtain some oracle that might53 serve as the interpretation of the dream; or last of all, if the son of Zeus should answer, like the rest, doubtfully and darkly, then must we go to Zeus himself in Dodona that the Father might enlighten for us whatever the Son might have left too obscure. I was not greatly moved by the gibes of Artemidorus; for the vision that I had seen, or seemed to have seen, weighed with me more than his mockery; nor did I then believe the word of the Epicurean, who constantly affirmed that the fit which had befallen me had arisen from the vapor of the cave, aided by the trickery of the priests and the force of imagination. But another scruple (so the Lord willed it) troubled me much more, coming into my mind again and again; I mean that all these rites and ceremonies, purifications, sacrifices, and the like were only possible for the rich, not for the poor; wherefore the religion that required these things was for the few and for the free-born and not for the many, and the miserable and the oppressed.
Yet can I not deny that Artemidorus also had a great share in loosening me by degrees from the worship of false gods. For as Philemon grew more and more melancholy, and I may almost say morose, he shunned all company and mine with the rest, and so left Artemidorus and myself to hold discourse together. At such times, when our speech naturally fell on the metamorphosis (for we could not call it otherwise) of my master, Artemidorus would speak at great length concerning the miseries of religion, and how great evils it had wrought on mankind, leading them to wicked sacrifices, and orgies, and to self-torturings and agonies of soul, and all to no purpose; and how54 much more beautiful it was to believe that all the universe is bound together by one fixed and unchangeable order which gives life and decay to all things according to law. And oftentimes he quoted to me the verses of the Latin poet Lucretius, praising those who with a discerning eye can look upon all apparent wonders in heaven and earth, perceiving that there is a cause of each. When I alleged on the other side such wonders as Philemon had spoken of, as being abundant in our own land—the burning mountains, hot wells, fatal vapors, and rivers and cataracts that changed into stone,—concerning all these he had causes and explanations to set forth, as also concerning the thunder and the lightning and many other supernatural things; and when he perceived that some of his explanations convinced me, then he would always add that there was no place left for the gods in the Universe, but that when men had learnt entirely to give up all thought of gods and Elysium and Tartarus, and had attained to seek and expect happiness in naught save a life of virtue upon earth, then all things would go well with us on earth, or at least much better than at present.
Now as for the immortality of the soul and the life beyond the grave, to these things I adhered, mainly because I loved to think of Chrestus as still existing; and as touching the existence of a god also, Artemidorus himself could not make it clear to me how the beginnings of the world came to pass without some Mind; so that as to these matters, though I was somewhat moved by him, I was not greatly shaken. But as for the myths and fables of the wondrous deeds and transformations of the gods he55 quite overthrew all my faith in any such things; urging that the order of the world testified against them, and that our often experience of the invention and refutation of like marvels showed that they were necessary for the vacant truth-contemning minds of the multitude, but none the less false and to be discarded by the seekers after truth.
Even to this day do I call to mind the time and place of that particular discourse of Artemidorus which most moved me. We were walking near the city of Hierapolis (which lies close upon Colossæ) amid the hills covered with the snow-like marble made out of water, whereof I wrote above, and I had taken him to see some of the vaporous springs which Philemon had shown me, inferring from such wonders the existence of the gods. Then Artemidorus spoke his mind to me freely, after his cynical manner, concerning these and other so called metamorphoses and miracles. For after he had with very great clearness and not a little cogency of words and reasons set forth his theory concerning the marble cataracts, finding me obstinate against his conclusion that all things are according to order and that all the stories of the metamorphoses are false, he suddenly changed his humor and said mirthfully,56 “But come now, most devout of mankind, lest perchance I should seem to you unfair, pressing unduly the argument on the one side but neglecting what might be said on the other side, see, I will take the part of Socrates and will maintain the truth of the ancient stories. At Philemon’s supper last night, you heard how stoutly the pious Nicostratus supported our most excellent host in affirming that it was possible that the loving Halcyone was translated into the sea-bird of that name, which is said ever to mourn for her husband. Now mark how far inferior is the devout Nicostratus to the more devout Artemidorus.” Then, adjusting his cloak and speaking in a pompous fashion with a sonorous voice after the manner of some philosophers of our acquaintance, “Alas,” he said,57 “blind creatures that we mortals are! Alas, purblind judges of the possible and impossible! For we, deluded ones, pronounce according to the ignorant and dull abilities of faithless men. And therefore many things, in themselves easy, seem to us difficult, and many things in themselves attainable seem to us not to be attained. And this befalls us sometimes through our inexperience, sometimes through the infancy of our minds. For, as compared with the First Cause of all, every man, be he never so old, is but a child; and human life, when compared with eternity, is but a childhood’s span. Who therefore shall decide what is likely? For which, think you is the harder or the more unlikely? To raise a stillness out of a blustering tempest, and to spread a cloudless sky over the whole of Europe and of Asia, or to change the shape of one woman into the form of a bird? We see even children every day shape distinct forms and figures from wax and clay. Then certainly God, who is too excellent in greatness and wisdom to be brought into comparison with the wisest of human beings, can effect more wonderful actions than these which are easy and familiar. Nature, we see, finding in a comb of wax a shapeless worm without legs or feathers, bestows on it wings and feet, and enamelling it with great diversity of fair colors produceth a bee, the wise artificer of divine honey! Seeing therefore this marvellous transformation, why doubt we of thy lesser wonder, O Halcyone, most dutiful of birds? Nay, but from henceforth I will not cease to scoff at the folly of poor puny mortals, who can neither comprehend great matters nor small, but doubt of most things, even of those which concern ourselves, and yet dare to deny the power of the immortal gods to transform halcyons or aught else. And for my part, even as the fame of the fable hath been conveyed to me from my ancestors, so will I extol the praise of thy songs, O thou bird of mourning, conveying it to my children and to their posterity after them; nor will I cease to repeat the story of thy virtuous love for thy husband, thy constancy and thy patience, to my wives Xantippe and Myrto.”
Then, putting aside all mirth, “Do you not see, my dear Onesimus,” said he,58 “that, upon such reasoning as this, any impostor can palm off any portent upon the credulity of mankind. Nay, so eagerly does the multitude seek after portents that they will oftentimes refuse to pay homage even to the truth, unless it come accompanied with portents: and indeed such is the nature of our Phrygians in this region (and the Paphlagonians are no better) that if a juggler will but play his tricks before them, taking with him a player on the flute or tambourine or cymbals, straightway they will gape upon him as on a messenger from heaven, and believe as he instructs and do as he commands. But it is not the part of a philosopher, my dear friend, to accept falsehoods through laziness, or credulity, or enthusiasm, but rather to esteem sobriety and incredulity to be the very sinews of the soul, remembering the words of him who said, ‘I love Socrates well and Plato well, but Truth best of all.’ And surely, if there be a god indeed, as you and your philosophers will have it, and this god a good god, then to such a god that man must be pleasing who most honors truth; but the man who serves falsehood must be unpleasing, whether folly or knavery be the cause of such a servitude.”
His words moved me not a little; for I seemed forced at least to this conclusion that whether there were an Elysium or not, whether gods or no gods, in any case truth must needs be better than falsehood; and when he spoke of falsehood as a “servitude” his words galled me all the more because I was a slave; and I confessed in my heart that I had been acting slavishly in resolving to believe what was pleasant, merely because it was pleasant, and without much regard to the truth of it. So I vowed within myself that howsoever Philemon might enforce my limbs to his service, he should not constrain my mind to this or that opinion contrary to what I believed to be the truth; for though my body might be the body of a slave, in my mind and thoughts I would be free.
§ 8. HOW I JOURNEYED WITH PHILEMON TO ANTIOCH IN SYRIA.
Now began my old fit of doubt and trouble and moroseness to return upon me. I had long misliked the excessive and, as it seemed to me, pusillanimous superstition of59 Philemon; and the more because, although he spared no pains nor cost in resorting to oracles and practising new superstitions, he had not yet bethought himself of his promise that he would emancipate me. Lately also he had built for himself a tomb at a very great expense, saying that it was unreasonable to prepare for oneself a sumptuous house wherein we should spend threescore years at the most, and yet to take no thought of that other abode wherein a man needs spend all his time hereafter for many years. But while he made this so costly and careful provision for his bones, he made none for his family nor for his slaves; for it was known that he had some months since destroyed his former will and he had not as yet made another; so that both I and all the rest of the household were in danger to be sold to we knew not what master, if anything evil should suddenly befall Philemon. Yet when Artemidorus urged him to the making of a will, he resented it as if it were done upon some expectation of his death. For at times, in his melancholy, he came to such a point of suspicion as to imagine that all men, even his household, were set against him and wished to murder him. So I began to rebel once more against the worship of the gods, partly (as before) because it seemed to be a religion for the rich and not for the poor, but partly also because it seemed possible to be religious and yet to be swallowed up with thoughts of self, having no regard unto others. Notwithstanding I gave not up as yet all belief in divine things; but I became a seeker after some religion which should afford redemption not for the few but for the many.
Now it chanced that one Eriopolus, a wool-merchant of Antioch in Syria, coming to Colossæ about this time to buy wool, and finding Philemon well-nigh despaired of, spoke to him concerning a certain sect of the Jews who, said he, were marvellously skilled in exorcising evil spirits and in the healing of certain diseases, adding, however, that not all the Jews possessed this power, but only those who worshipped a certain Chrestus or Christus, in whose name they adjured the demons. Then another, a dyer from Ephesus, confirmed his report, saying that the Jews which worship not this Christus, persecute the others, calling them “magicians;” and, said he, “not many weeks ago, at Ephesus, when some of the Jews which worship not Christus, had assayed to drive out evil spirits in this name, the man that was possessed leaped upon them, and overcame them, and drove them away grievously wounded.” “By what name, then,” asked my master, “are these Jewish magicians known?” “At first,” replied Eriopolus, “they were called Nazarenes or Galileans, but, of late, they go by the name of Christians (so at least the common people call them), and there are certain of them scattered up and down in several cities of Asia, and one of more than common note among them, Paulus by name, is at this time tarrying at Ephesus. But for the most part they congregate now in Antioch, although, as I have heard, the root and origin of the sect is at Jerusalem, the chief city of Judæa.”
Hearing this my master determined to journey to Antioch to make inquiry of this new sect; and Artemidorus also himself now encouraged him in his purpose, judging61 that anything was better than thus to remain at home brooding over his ill-health and imagining evil. Apphia also assented. So in the spring of that year (it was the second year of the Emperor Nero, and I was at that time in the twenty-first year of my age) we made ready for our journey. Though I loved to see new sights and faces, after the manner of youth, I was nevertheless loth to go on so superstitious an errand; and besides, I despised the Jews, so far as I knew them, as being a gain-loving people, full of pernicious superstitions, and so inhospitable as not even to eat with strangers. However, I would not willingly have suffered Philemon in his melancholy to go alone, even had I been his friend and not his slave. When we were to set forth, Artemidorus bade me write to him, as often as I had occasion, concerning the Jews at Antioch, and especially concerning this new sect; “for,” said he, “to those who have taken their stand upon the hill of Truth, it is sweet to look down upon the wanderings of them that stray in error, wherefore I ever take pleasure in the hearing of some new superstition or error among men.” So I promised that I would send him letters as often as messengers went to Asia from Philemon.
Our journey was first by land to Ephesus through a very fertile country; and thence by sea to Seleucia, a city which lies at the mouth of the river Orontes, and it is as it were the harbor of Antioch; which lies higher up the river, about forty miles by reason of the wanderings of the stream, but by the road distant no more than a score of miles or less. If I admired the country between Colossæ and Ephesus, the fruitfulness of the soil, the greatness of62 the mountains, and the beauty of Ephesus itself and the far-famed temple of Ephesian Artemis, much more did I admire the city of Antioch, which is the third city of the empire for greatness, coming next after Rome and Alexandria; and it lies along the river Orontes, for the space of four or five miles, stretching between the clear waters of the river and the high mountain called Silpius, surrounded by a wall not less than five and thirty cubits high and ten cubits in thickness. Being very spacious and indeed equal to three or four large cities in amplitude, it is divided into four wards or demes; and it has royal streets, built by kings desiring to do favor to the citizens of so goodly a city, and called after the names of the sovereigns that built them, namely, the street of Herod, the street of Seleucus, and others. Through the midst there runs a broad street adorned with four ranks of columns forming two covered colonnades with a wide road between, and along the whole street (which is more than thirty-six furlongs in length) there are statues and busts beautifully wrought of white marble. Greek names have been given to all the region round about, such as Pieria, Peneus, Tempe, Castalia, insomuch that to hear the names of the villages one might fancy oneself in the haunts of the Muses; and not two hours distant from the city there lies a fair large garden or paradise (as the people in these parts call it) Daphne by name, which the citizens of Antioch often frequent, and it is full of all manner of flowers and goodly trees and watered with a great abundance of streams, and noted for the worship of Adonis. Such and so full of all manner of delight was the place in which I now found63 myself, a city no less populous than spacious (for it numbered as many as five hundred thousand souls) and no less full of mirth than of beauty; for the people of Antioch are known throughout the world for their gayety. Here therefore I laid aside the austerity of my recent thoughts, and forgetting questions of religion and philosophy I disposed myself to be merry with the multitude of those who were making merry around me, so far at least as I could be permitted to do so by the duty of constant attendance on Philemon; and, if I had had my own desire, I should never have set foot in any synagogue of Jews or Christian.
But blessed be thou, O Guide of the misguided, who didst not suffer me for ever to stray in the paths of false pleasure and in the ways which lead to delusion, but in due course thou didst bring me to the door of thy fold; and though I stumbled at the threshold, yet didst thou not suffer me to fall for ever, but didst still uphold me and step by step didst turn me back again to the pastures of eternal peace.