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CONCERNING SUCH WHOM GOD IS SLOW TO PUNISH. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 4 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 4.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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CONCERNING SUCH WHOM GOD IS SLOW TO PUNISH.
PATROCLEAS, PLUTARCH, TIMON, OLYMPICUS.
1.These and such like things, O Quintus! when Epicurus had spoken, before any person could return an answer, while we were busy at the farther end of the portico,* he flung away in great haste. However, we could not but in some measure admire at the odd behavior of the man, though without taking any farther notice of it in words; and therefore, after we had gazed a while one upon another, we returned to walk as we were singled out in company before. At this time Patrocleas first breaking silence, How say ye, gentlemen? said he: if you think fitting, why may not we discuss this question of the last proposer as well in his absence as if he were present? To whom Timon replying, Surely, said he, it would but ill become us, if at us he aimed upon his departure, to neglect the arrow sticking in our sides. For Brasidas, as history reports, drawing forth the javelin out of his own body, with the same javelin not only wounded him that threw it, but slew him outright. But as for ourselves, we surely have no need to revenge ourselves on them that pelt us with absurd and fallacious reasonings; but it will be sufficient that we shake them off before our opinion has taken hold of them. Then, said I, which of his sayings is it that has given you the greatest cause to be moved? For the man dragged into his discourse many things confusedly, and nothing in order; but gleaning up and down from this and the other place, as it were in the transports of his wrath and scurrility, he then poured the whole in one torrent of abuse upon the providence of God.
2. To which Patrocleas: The slowness of the Supreme Deity and his procrastination in reference to the punishment of the wicked have long perplexed my thoughts; but now, puzzled by these arguments which he produces, I find myself as it were a stranger to the opinion, and newly beginning again to learn. For a long time I could not with patience hear that expression of Euripides,
For indeed it becomes not the Supreme Deity to be remiss in any thing, but more especially in the prosecution of the wicked, since they themselves are no way negligent or dilatory in doing mischief, but are always driven on by the most rapid impetuosities of their passions to acts of injustice. For certainly, according to the saying of Thucydides, that revenge which follows injury closest at the heels presently puts a stop to the progress of such as make advantage of successful wickedness.† Therefore there is no debt with so much prejudice put off, as that of justice. For it weakens the hopes of the person wronged and renders him comfortless and pensive, but heightens the boldness and daring insolence of the oppressor; whereas, on the other side, those punishments and chastisements that immediately withstand presuming violence not only restrain the committing of future outrages, but more especially bring along with them a particular comfort and satisfaction to the sufferers. Which makes me no less troubled at the saying of Bias, which frequently comes into my mind. For thus he spake once to a notorious reprobate: It is not that I doubt thou wilt suffer the just reward of thy wickedness, but I fear that I myself shall not live to see it. For what did the punishment of Aristocrates avail the Messenians who were killed before it came to pass? He, having betrayed them at the battle of Taphrus yet remained undetected for above twenty years together, and all that while reigned king of the Arcadians, till at length, discovered and apprehended, he received the merited recompense of his treachery. But alas! they whom he had betrayed were all dead at the same time. Or when the Orchomenians had lost their children, their friends, and familiar acquaintance through the treachery of Lyciscus, what consolation was it to them, that many years after a foul distemper seized the traitor, and fed upon his body till it had consumed his putrefied flesh? — who, as often as he dipped and bathed his feet in the river, with horrid oaths and execrations prayed that his members might rot if he had been guilty of treachery or any other villany. Nor was it possible even for the children’s children of the Athenians who had been murdered long before, to behold the bodies of those sacrilegious caitiffs torn out of their graves and transported beyond the confines of their native soil. Whence, in my opinion, Euripides absurdly makes use of these expressions, to divert a man from wickedness:
And I am apt to persuade myself that upon these and no other considerations it is, that wicked men encourage and give themselves the liberty to attempt and commit all manner of impieties, seeing that the fruit which injustice yields is soon ripe, and offers itself early to the gatherer’s hand, whereas punishment comes late, and lagging long behind the pleasure of enjoyment.
3. After Patrocleas had thus discoursed, Olympicus taking him up, There is this farther, said he, O Patrocleas! which thou shouldst have taken notice of; for how great an inconveniency and absurdity arises besides from these delays and procrastinations of divine justice! For the slowness of its execution takes away the belief of providence; and the wicked, perceiving that calamity does not presently follow at the heels of every enormous crime, but a long time after, look upon their calamity as a misfortune, and calling it chance, not punishment, are nothing at all thereby reformed; troubled indeed they well may be at the dire accident befallen them, but they never repent of the villanies they have committed. For as, in the case of the horse, the lashing and spurring that immediately pursue the transgression correct and reduce him to his duty, but all the tugging at the bit and shouting which are late and out of time seem to be inflicted for some other reason than to teach or instruct, the animal being thereby put to pain without understanding his error; in like manner, were the impieties of enormous transgressors and heinous offenders singly scourged and repressed by immediate severity, it would be most likely* to bring them to a sense of their folly, humble them, and strike them with an awe of the Divine Being, whom they find with a watchful eye beholding the actions and passions of men, and feel to be no dilatory but a speedy avenger of iniquity; whereas that remiss and slow-paced justice (as Euripides describes it) that falls upon the wicked by accident, by reason of its uncertainty, ill-timed delay, and disorderly motion, seems rather to resemble chance than providence. So that I cannot conceive what benefit there is in these millstones of the Gods which are said to grind so late,† as thereby celestial punishment is obscured, and the awe of evil doing rendered vain and despicable.
4. These things thus uttered, while I was in a deep meditation of what he had said, Timon interposed. Is it your pleasure, said he, that I shall give the finishing stroke to the difficulties of this knotty question, or shall I first permit him to argue in opposition to what has been propounded already? Nay then, said I, to what purpose is it to let in a third wave to drown the argument, if one be not able to repel or avoid the objections already made?
To begin therefore, as from the Vestal hearth, from that ancient circumspection and reverence which our ancestors, being Academic philosophers also, bare to the Supreme Godhead, we shall utterly decline to speak of that mysterious Being as if we could presume to utter positively any thing concerning it. For though it may be borne withal, for men unskilled in music to talk at random of notes and harmony, or for such as never experienced warfare to discourse of arms and military affairs; yet it would be a bold and daring arrogance in us, that are but mortal men, to dive too far into the incomprehensible mysteries of Deities and Daemons, — just as if persons void of knowledge should undertake to judge of the methods and reason of cunning artists by slight opinions and probable conjectures of their own. And while one that understands nothing of science finds it hard to give a reason why the physician did not let blood before but afterwards, or why he did not bathe his patient yesterday but to-day; it cannot be that it is safe or easy for a mortal to speak otherwise of the Supreme Deity than only this, that he alone it is who knows the most convenient time to apply most proper corrosives for the cure of sin and impiety, and to administer punishments as medicaments to every transgressor, yet being not confined to an equal quality and measure common to all distempers, nor to one and the same time. Now that the medicine of the soul which is called justice is the most transcendent of all sciences, besides ten thousand other witnesses, even Pindar himself testifies, where he gives to God, the ruler and lord of all things, the title of the most perfect artificer, as being the grand author and distributer of Justice, to whom it properly belongs to determine at what time, in what manner, and to what degree to punish every particular offender. And Plato asserts that Minos, being the son of Jupiter, was the disciple of his father to learn this science; intimating thereby that it is impossible for any other than a scholar, bred up in the school of equity, rightly to behave himself in the administration of justice, or to make a true judgment of another whether he does well or no. For the laws which are constituted by men do not always prescribe that which is unquestionable and simply decent, or of which the reason is altogether without exception perspicuous, in regard that some of their ordinances seem to be on purpose ridiculously contrived; particularly those which in Lacedaemon the Ephori ordain at their first entering into the magistracy, that no man suffer the hair of his upper lip to grow, and that they shall be obedient to the laws to the end they may not seem grievous to them. So the Romans, when they asserted the freedom of any one, cast a slender rod upon his body; and when they make their last wills and testaments, some they leave to be their heirs, while to others they sell their estates; which seems to be altogether contrary to reason. But that of Solon is most absurd, who, when a city is up in arms and all in sedition, brands with infamy the person who stands neuter and adheres to neither party. And thus a man that apprehends not the reason of the lawgiver, or the cause why such and such things are so prescribed, might number up several absurdities of many laws. What wonder then, since the actions of men are so difficult to be understood, if it be no less difficult to determine concerning the Gods, wherefore they inflict their punishments upon sinners, sometimes later, sometimes sooner.
5. Nor do I allege these things as a pretence to avoid the dispute, but to secure the pardon which I beg, to the end that our discourse, having a regard (as it were) to some port or refuge, may proceed the more boldly in producing probable circumstances to clear the doubt. But first consider this; that God, according to Plato, when he set himself before the eyes of the whole world as the exemplar of all that was good and holy, granted human virtue, by which man is in some measure rendered like himself, unto those that are able to follow the Deity by imitation. For universal Nature, being at first void of order, received its first impulse to change and to be formed into a world, by being made to resemble and (as it were) partake of that idea and virtue which is in God. And the self-same Plato asserts, that Nature first kindled the sense of seeing within us, to the end that the soul, by the sight and admiration of the heavenly bodies, being accustomed to love and embrace decency and order, might be induced to hate the disorderly motions of wild and raving passions, and avoid levity and rashness and dependence upon chance, as the original of all improbity and vice. For there is no greater benefit that men can enjoy from God, than, by the imitation and pursuit of those perfections and that sanctity which is in him, to be excited to the study of virtue. Therefore God, with forbearance and at leisure, inflicts his punishment upon the wicked; not that he is afraid of committing an error or of repenting should he accelerate his indignation; but to eradicate that brutish and eager desire of revenge that reigns in human breasts, and to teach us that we are not in the heat of fury, or when our anger heaving and palpitating boils up above our understanding, to fall upon those who have done us an injury, like those who seek to gratify a vehement thirst or craving appetite, but that we should, in imitation of this mildness and forbearance, wait with due composure of mind before we proceed to chastisement or correction, till such sufficient time for consideration is taken as shall allow the least possible room for repentance. For, as Socrates observed, it is far the lesser mischief for a man distempered with ebriety and gluttony to drink puddle-water, than, when the mind is disturbed and over-charged with anger and fury, before it be settled and become limpid again, for a man to seek the satiating his revenge upon the body of his friend or kinsman. For it is not the revenge which is the nearest to injury, as Thucydides says, but rather that which is the most remote from it, that observes the most convenient opportunity. For as anger, according to that of Melanthius,
so reason does that which is just and moderate, laying passion and fury aside. Whence it comes to pass that men, giving ear to human examples, become more mansuete and gentle; as when they hear how Plato, holding his cudgel over his page’s shoulders, as himself relates, paused a good while, correcting his own anger; and how in like manner Archytas, observing the sloth and wilful negligence of his servants in the field, and perceiving his passion to rise at a more than usual rate, did nothing at all; but as he went away, It is your good fortune, said he, that ye have angered me. If then the sayings of men when called to mind, and their actions being told, have such a power to mitigate the roughness and vehemency of wrath, much more becomes it us, beholding God, with whom there is neither dread nor repentance of any thing, deferring nevertheless his punishments to future time and admitting delay, to be cautious and circumspect in these matters, and to deem as a divine part of virtue that mildness and long-suffering of which God affords us an example, while by punishing he reforms some few, but by slowly punishing he helpeth and admonisheth many.
6. In the second place, therefore, let us consider this, that human punishments of injuries regard no more than that the party suffer in his turn, and are satisfied when the offender has suffered according to his merit; and farther they never proceed. Which is the reason that they run after provocations, like dogs that bark in their fury, and immediately pursue the injury as soon as committed. But probable it is that God, whatever distempered soul it be which he prosecutes with his divine justice, observes the motions and inclinations of it, whether they be such as tend to repentance, and allows time for the reformation of those whose wickedness is neither invincible nor incorrigible. For, since he well knows what a proportion of virtue souls carry along with them from himself when they come into the world, and how strong and vigorous their innate and primitive good yet continues, — while wickedness buds forth only preternaturally upon the corruption of bad diet and evil conversation, and even then some souls recover again to perfect cure or an indifferent habitude, — therefore he doth not make haste to inflict his punishments alike upon all. But those that are incurable he presently lops off and deprives of life, deeming it altogether hurtful to others, but most baneful to themselves, to be always wallowing in wickedness. But as for those who may probably be thought to transgress rather out of ignorance of what is virtuous and good, than through choice of what is foul and vicious, he grants them time to turn; but if they remain obdurate, then likewise he inflicts his punishments upon them; for he has no fear lest they should escape.
Now let us consider how oft the characters and lives of men are changed; for which reason, the character is called τϱόπος, as being the changeable part, and also ἦθος, since custom (ἔθος) chiefly prevails in it and rules with the greatest power when it has seized upon it. Therefore I am of opinion, that the ancients reported Cecrops to have had two bodies, not, as some believe, because of a good king he became a merciless and dragon-like tyrant, but rather, on the contrary, for that being at first both cruel and formidable, afterwards he became a most mild and gentle prince. However, if this be uncertain, yet we know both Gelo and Hiero the Sicilians, and Pisistratus the son of Hippocrates, who, having obtained the sovereignty by violence and wickedness, made a virtuous use of their power, and coming unjustly to the throne, became moderate rulers and beneficial to the public. For, by recommending wholesome laws and the exercise of useful tillage to their subjects, they reduced them from idle scoffers and talkative romancers to be modest citizens and industrious good husbands. And as for Gelo, after he had been successful in his war and vanquished the Carthaginians, he refused to grant them the peace which they sued for, unless they would consent to have it inserted in their articles that they would surcease from sacrificing their children to Saturn.
Over Megalopolis Lydiadas was tyrant; but then, even in the time of his tyranny, changing his manners and maxims of government and growing into a hatred of injustice, he restored to the citizens their laws, and fighting for his country against his own and his subjects’ enemies, fell an illustrious victim for his country’s welfare. Now if any one, bearing an antipathy to Miltiades or Cimon, had slain the one tyrannizing in the Chersonese or the other committing incest with his own sister, or had expelled Themistocles out of Athens at what time he lay rioting and revelling in the market-place and affronting all that came near him, according to the sentence afterwards pronounced against Alcibiades, had we not lost Marathon, the Eurymedon, and lovely Artemisium,
For great and lofty geniuses produce nothing that is mean and little; the innate smartness of their parts will not endure the vigor and activity of their spirits to grow lazy; but they are tossed to and again, as with the waves, by the rolling motions of their own inordinate desire, till at length they arrive to a stable and settled constitution of manners. Therefore, as a person that is unskilful in husbandry would by no means make choice of a piece of ground quite overrun with brakes and weeds, abounding with wild beasts, running streams, and mud; while, to him who hath learnt to understand the nature of the earth, these are certain symptoms of the softness and fertility of the soil; thus great geniuses many times produce many absurd and vile enormities, of which we not enduring the rugged and uneasy vexation, are presently for pruning and lopping off the lawless transgressors. But the more prudent judge, who discerns the abounding goodness and generosity covertly residing in those transcendent geniuses, waits the co-operating age and season for reason and virtue to exert themselves, and gathers the ripe fruit when Nature has matured it. And thus much as to those particulars.
7. Now to come to another part of our discourse, do you not believe that some of the Greeks did very prudently to register that law in Egypt among their own, whereby it is enacted that, if a woman with child be sentenced to die, she shall be reprieved till she be delivered? All the reason in the world, you will say. Then, say I, though a man cannot bring forth children, yet if he be able, by the assistance of Time, to reveal any hidden action or conspiracy, or to discover some concealed mischief, or to be author of some wholesome piece of advice, — or suppose that in time he may produce some necessary and useful invention, — is it not better to delay the punishment and expect the benefit, than hastily to rid him out of the world? It seems so to me, said I. And truly you are in the right, replied Patrocleas; for let us consider, had Dionysius at the beginning of his tyranny suffered according to his merits, never would any of the Greeks have re-inhabited Sicily, laid waste by the Carthaginians. Nor would the Greeks have repossessed Apollonia, nor Anactorium, nor the peninsula of the Leucadians, had not Periander’s execution been delayed for a long time. And if I mistake not, it was to the delay of Cassander’s punishment that the city of Thebes was beholden for her recovery from desolation. But the most of those barbarians who assisted at the sacrilegious plunder of this temple,* following Timoleon into Sicily, after they had vanquished the Carthaginians and dissolved the tyrannical government of that island, wicked as they were, came all to a wicked end. So the Deity makes use of some wicked persons as common executioners to punish the wickedness of others, and then destroys those instruments of his wrath, — which I believe to be true of most tyrants. For as the gall of a hyena and the rennet of a sea-calf — both filthy monsters — contain something in them for the cure of diseases; so when some people deserve a sharp and biting punishment, God, subjecting them to the implacable severity of some certain tyrant or the cruel oppression of some ruler, does not remove either the torment or the trouble, till he has cured and purified the distempered nation. Such a sort of physic was Phalaris to the Agrigentines, and Marius to the Romans. And God expressly foretold the Sicyonians how much their city stood in need of most severe chastisement, when, after they had violently ravished out of the hands of the Cleonaeans Teletias, a young lad who had been crowned at the Pythian games, they tore him limb from limb, as their own fellow-citizen. Therefore Orthagoras the tyrant, and after him Myro and Clisthenes, put an end to the luxury and lasciviousness of the Sicyonians; but the Cleonaeans, not having the good fortune to meet with the same cure, went all to wreck. To this purpose, hear what Homer says:
And yet we do not find that ever the son of Copreus performed any famous or memorable achievement; but the offspring of Sisyphus, Autolycus, and Phlegyas flourished among the number of the most famous and virtuous princes. Pericles at Athens descended from an accursed family; and Pompey the Great at Rome was the son of Strabo, whose dead body the Roman people, in the height of their hatred conceived against him when alive, cast forth into the street and trampled in the dirt. Where is the absurdity then, — as the husbandman never cuts away the thorn till it injures the asparagus, or as the Libyans never burn the stalks till they have gathered all the ladanum, — if God never extirpates the evil and thorny root of a renowned and royal race before he has gathered from it the mature and proper fruit? For it would have been far better for the Phocians to have lost ten thousand of Iphitus’s horses and oxen, or a far greater sum in gold and silver from the temple of Delphi, than that Ulysses and Aesculapius should not have been born, and those many others who, of wicked and vicious men, became highly virtuous and beneficial to their country.
8. And should we not think it better to inflict deserved punishments in due season and by convenient means, than hastily and rashly when a man is in the heat and hurry of passion? Witness the example of Callippus, who, having stabbed Dio under the pretence of being his friend, was himself soon after slain by Dio’s intimates with the same dagger. Thus again, when Mitius of Argos was slain in a city tumult, the brazen statue which stood in the market-place, soon after, at the time of the public shows, fell down upon the murderer’s head and killed him. What befell Bessus the Paeonian, and Aristo the Oetaean, chief commander of the foreign soldiers, I suppose you understood full well, Patrocleas. Not I, by Jove, said he, but I desire to know. Well then, I say, this Aristo, having with permission of the tyrants carried away the jewels and ornaments belonging to Eriphyle, which lay deposited in this temple, made a present of them to his wife. The punishment of this was that the son, being highly incensed against his mother, for what reason it matters not, set fire to his father’s house, and burned it to the ground, with all the family that were in it.
As for Bessus, it seems he killed his own father, and the murder lay concealed a long time. At length being invited to supper among strangers, after he had so loosened a swallow’s nest with his spear that it fell down, he killed all the young ones. Upon which, being asked by the guests that were present, what injury the swallows had done him that he should commit such an irregular act; Did you not hear, said he, these cursed swallows, how they clamored and made a noise, false witnesses as they were, that I had long ago killed my father? This answer struck the rest of the guests with so much wonder, that, after a due pondering upon his words, they made known the whole story to the king. Upon which, the matter being dived into, Bessus was brought to condign punishment.
9. These things I have alleged, as it was but reason, upon a supposition that there is a forbearance of inflicting punishment upon the wicked. As for what remains, it behooves us to listen to Hesiod, where he asserts, — not like Plato, that punishment is a suffering which accompanies injustice, — but that it is of the same age with it, and arises from the same place and root. For, says he,
And in another place,
It is reported that the cantharis fly, by a certain kind of contrariety, carries within itself the cure of the wound which it inflicts. On the other side wickedness, at the same time it is committed, engendering its own vexation and torment, not at last, but at the very instant of the injury offered, suffers the reward of the injustice it has done. And as every malefactor who suffers in his body bears his own cross to the place of his execution, so are all the various torments of various wicked actions prepared by wickedness herself. Such a diligent architectress of a miserable and wretched life is wickedness, wherein shame is still accompanied with a thousand terrors and commotions of the mind, incessant repentance, and never-ceasing tumults of the spirits. However, there are some people that differ little or nothing from children, who, many times beholding malefactors upon the stage, in their gilded vestments and short purple cloaks, dancing with crowns upon their heads, admire and look upon them as the most happy persons in the world, till they see them gored and lashed, and flames of fire curling from underneath their sumptuous and gaudy garments. Thus there are many wicked men, surrounded with numerous families, splendid in the pomp of magistracy, and illustrious for the greatness of their power, whose punishments never display themselves till those glorious persons come to be the public spectacles of the people, either slain and lying weltering in their blood, or else standing on the top of the rock, ready to be tumbled headlong down the precipice; which indeed cannot so well be said to be a punishment, as the consummation and perfection of punishment.
Moreover, as Herodicus the Selymbrian, falling into a consumption, the most incurable of all diseases, was the first who intermixed the gymnastic art with the science of physic (as Plato relates), and in so doing did spin out in length a tedious time of dying, as well for himself as for others laboring under the same distemper; in like manner some wicked men who flatter themselves to have escaped the present punishment, not after a longer time, but for a longer time, endure a more lasting, not a slower punishment; not punished with old age, but growing old under the tribulation of tormenting affliction. When I speak of a long time I speak in reference to ourselves. For as to the Gods, every distance and distinction of human life is nothing; and to say “now, and not thirty years ago” is the same thing as to say that such a malefactor should be tormented or hanged in the afternoon and not in the morning; — more especially since a man is but shut up in this life, like a close prisoner in a gaol, from whence it is impossible to make an escape, while yet we feast and banquet, are full of business, receive rewards and honors and sport. Though certainly these are but like the sports of those that play at dice or draughts in the gaol, while the rope all the while hangs over their heads.
10. So that what should hinder me from asserting, that they who are condemned to die and shut up in prison are not truly punished till the executioner has chopped off their heads, or that he who has drunk hemlock, and then walks about and stays till a heaviness seizes his limbs, has suffered no punishment before the extinction of his natural heat and the coagulation of his blood deprive him of his senses, — that is to say, if we deem the last moment of the punishment only to be the punishment, and omit the commotions, terrors, apprehensions, and embitterments of repentance, with which every malefactor and all wicked men are teased upon the committing of any heinous crime? But this is to deny the fish to be taken that has swallowed the hook, before we see it boiled and cut into pieces by the cook; for every offender is within the gripes of the law, so soon as he has committed the crime and has swallowed the sweet bait of injustice, while his conscience within, tearing and gnawing upon his vitals, allows him no rest:
For the daring rashness and precipitate boldness of iniquity continue violent and active till the fact be perpetrated; but then the passion, like a surceasing tempest, growing slack and weak, surrenders itself to superstitious fears and terrors. So that Stesichorus may seem to have composed the dream of Clytemnestra, to set forth the event and truth of things:
For visions in dreams, noon-day apparitions, oracles, descents into hell, and whatever objects else which may be thought to be transmitted from heaven, raise continual tempests and horrors in the very souls of the guilty. Thus it is reported that Apollodorus in a dream beheld himself flayed by the Scythians and then boiled, and that his heart, speaking to him out of the kettle, uttered these words, I am the cause thou sufferest all this. And another time, that he saw his daughters run about him, their bodies burning and all in a flame. Hipparchus also, the son of Pisistratus, had a dream, that the Goddess Venus out of a certain phial flung blood in his face. The favorites of Ptolemy, surnamed the Thunderer, dreamed that they saw their master cited to the judgment-seat by Seleucus, where wolves and vultures were his judges, and then distributing great quantities of flesh among his enemies. Pausanias, in the heat of his lust, sent for Cleonice, a free-born virgin of Byzantium, with an intention to have enjoyed her all night; but when she came, out of a strange sort of jealousy and perturbation for which he could give no reason, he stabbed her. This murder was attended with frightful visions; insomuch that his repose in the night was not only interrupted with the appearance of her shape, but still he thought he heard her uttering these lines:
After this the apparition still haunting him, he sailed to the oracle of the dead in Heraclea, and by propitiations, charms, and dirges, called up the ghost of the damsel; which, appearing before him, told him in few words, that he should be free from all his affrights and molestations upon his return to Lacedaemon; where he was no sooner arrived, but he died.
11. Therefore, if nothing befalls the soul after the expiration of this life, but death is the end of all reward and punishment, I might infer from thence rather that the Deity is remiss and indulgent in swiftly punishing the wicked and depriving them of life. For if a man shall assert that in the space of this life the wicked are no otherwise affected than by the convincement that crime is a fruitless and barren thing, that produces nothing of good, nothing worthy of esteem, from the many great and terrible combats and agonies of the mind, the consideration of these things altogether subverts the soul. As it is related that Lysimachus, being under the violent constraint of a parching thirst, surrendered up his person and his dominions to the Getae for a little drink; but after he had quenched his draught and found himself a captive, Shame of this wickedness of mine, cried he, that for so small a pleasure have lost so great a kingdom. But it is a difficult thing for a man to resist the natural necessity of mortal passions. Yet when a man, either out of avarice, or ambition of civil honor and power, or to gratify his venereal desires, commits any enormous and heinous crime, after which, the thirst and rage of his passion being allayed, he comes to set before his eyes the ignominious and horrible passions tending to injustice still remaining, but sees nothing useful, nothing necessary, nothing conducible to make his life happy; may it not be probably conjectured that such a person is frequently solicited by these reflections to consider how rashly, either prompted by vain-glory, or for the sake of a lawless and barren pleasure, he has overthrown the noblest and greatest maxims of justice among men, and overflowed his life with shame and trouble? As Simonides jesting was wont to say, that the chest which he kept for money he found always full, but that which he kept for gratitude he found always empty; thus wicked men, contemplating their own wickedness, find it always void altogether and destitute of hope (since pleasure gives but a short and empty delight), but ever weighed down with fears and sorrows, ungrateful remembrances, suspicions of futurity, and distrusts of present accidents. Thus we hear Ino complaining upon the theatre, after her repentance of what she had done:
Thus is it not reason to believe, that the soul of every wicked man revolves and reasons within itself, how by burying in oblivion former transgressions, and casting from itself the consciousness and the guilt of hitherto committed crimes, to fit frail mortality under her conduct for a new course of life? For there is nothing for a man to confide in, nothing but what vanishes like smoke, nothing durable or constant in whatever impiety proposes to itself, — unless, by Jove, we will allow the unjust and vicious to be sage philosophers, — but wherever eager avarice and voluptuousness, inexorable hatred, enmity, and improbity associate together, there you shall also be sure to find superstition nestling and herding with effeminacy and terror of death, a swift change of the most violent passions, and an arrogant ambition after undeserved honor. Such men as these stand in continual dread of their contemners and backbiters, they fear their applauders, believing themselves injured by their flatteries; and more especially, they are at enmity with bad men, because they are so free to extol those that seem good. However, that which hardens men to mischief soon cankers, grows brittle, and shivers in pieces like bad iron. So that in process of time, coming to understand themselves better and to be more sensible of their miscarriages, they disdain, abhor, and utterly disclaim their former course of life. And when we see how a wicked man who restores a trust or becomes security for his friend, or ambitious of honor contributes more largely to the benefits of his country, is immediately in a condition of repentance and sorry for what he has just done, by reason of the natural inclination of his mind to ramble and change; and how some men, being clapped and hummed upon the theatre, presently fall a weeping, their desire of glory relapsing into covetousness; we surely cannot believe that those which sacrificed the lives of men to the success of their tyrannies and conspiracies, as Apollodorus, or plundered their friends of their treasure and deprived them of their estates, as Glaucus the son of Epicydes, did not repent and abhor themselves, or that they were not sorry for the perpetration of such foul enormities. For my part, if it may be lawful for me to deliver my opinion, I believe there is no occasion either for the Gods or men to inflict their punishment upon the most wicked and sacrilegious offenders; seeing that the course of their own lives is sufficient to chastise their crimes, while they remain under the consternations and torments attending their impiety.
12. And now consider whether my discourse have not enlarged itself too far. To which Timon: Perhaps (said he) it may seem to have been too long, if we consider what remains behind, and the length of time required for the discussion of our other doubts. For now I am going about to put forward the last question, like a new champion, since we have contended already long enough upon the former. Now, as to what we have further to say, we find that Euripides delivers his mind freely, and censures the Gods for imputing the transgressions of forefathers unto their offspring. And I am apt to believe that even they who are most silent among us do the like. For if the offenders themselves have already received their reward, then there is no reason why the innocent should be punished, since it is not equal to punish even criminals twice for the same fact. But if remiss and careless, the Gods, omitting opportunely to inflict their penalties upon the wicked, send down their tardy rigor on the blameless, they do not well to repair their defective slowness by injustice. As it is reported of Aesop, that he came upon a time to Delphi, having brought along with him a great quantity of gold which Croesus had bestowed upon him, on purpose to offer a most magnificent oblation to the Gods, and with a design moreover to distribute among the priests and the people of Delphi four minas apiece. But there happening some disgust and difference between him and the Delphians, he performed his solemnity, but sent back his money to Sardis, not deeming those ungrateful people worthy of his bounty. Upon which the Delphians, laying their heads together, accused him of sacrilege, and then threw him down headlong from a steep and prodigious precipice, which is there, called Hyampia. Upon which it is reported that the Deity, being highly incensed against them for so horrid a murder, brought a famine upon the land, and infested the people with noisome diseases of all sorts; insomuch that they were constrained to make it their business to travel to all the general assemblies and places of public concourse in Greece, making public proclamation wherever they came, that, whoever they were that would demand justice for the death of Aesop, they were prepared to give him satisfaction and to undergo whatever penalty he should require. Three generations afterwards came one Idmon, a Samian, no way of kin or otherwise related to Aesop, but only descended from those who had purchased Aesop in Samos; to whom the Delphians paid those forfeitures which he demanded, and were delivered from all their pressing calamities. And from hence (by report) it was, that the punishment of sacrilegious persons was transferred from the rock Hyampia to that other cliff which bears the name of Nauplia.
Neither is Alexander applauded by those who have the greatest esteem for his memory (of which number are we ourselves), who utterly laid waste the city of Branchidae, putting men, women, and children to the sword, for that their ancestors had long before delivered up the temple of Miletus. In like manner Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse, when the Corcyraeans requested to know the reason of him, why he depopulated their island, deriding and scoffing at their demand, replied: For no other reason, by Jove, but because your forefathers entertained Ulysses. And when the islanders of Ithaca expostulated with him, asking why his soldiers carried away their sheep; because, said he, when your king came to our island, he put out the eyes of the shepherd himself. And therefore do you not think Apollo more extravagant than all these, for punishing so severely the Pheneatae by stopping up that profound and spacious receptacle of all those floods that now cover their country, upon a bare report that Hercules a thousand years ago took away the prophetic tripod and carried it to Pheneus? — or when he foretold to the Sybarites, that all their calamities should cease, upon condition they appeased the wrath of Leucadian Juno by enduring three ruinous calamities upon their country? Nor is it so long since, that the Locrians surceased to send their virgins to Troy;
and all this to punish the lasciviousness of Ajax.
Now where is the reason or justice of all this? Nor is the custom of the Thracians to be approved, who to this day abuse their wives in revenge of their cruelty to Orpheus. And with as little reason are the Barbarians about the river Po to be extolled, who once a year put themselves into mourning for the misfortune of Phaethon. And still more ridiculous than all this it would certainly be, when all those people that lived at the time took no notice of Phaethon’s mischance, that they, who happened to be born five or ten generations after, should be so idle as to take up the custom of going into black and bewailing his downfall. However, in all these things there is nothing to be observed but mere folly; nothing pernicious, nor any thing dangerous. But as for the anger of the Gods, what reason can be given why their wrath should stop and conceal itself upon a sudden, like some certain rivers, and when all things seem to be forgot, should break forth upon others with so much fury, as not to be atoned but with some remarkable calamities?
13. Upon that, so soon as he had done speaking, not a little afraid lest, if he should begin again, he would run himself into many more and greater absurdities, I asked: Do you believe, sir, all that you have said to be true? Then he: Though all that I have alleged may not be true, yet if only some part may be allowed for truth, do not you think there is the same difficulty still remaining in the question? It may be so, said I. And thus it is with those who labor under a vehement burning fever; for, whether covered with one blanket or many, the heat is still the same or very little different; yet for refreshment’s sake it may be convenient sometimes to lighten the weight of the clothes; and if the patient refuse your courtesy, to let him alone. Yet I must tell you, the greatest part of these examples look like fables and fiction. Call to mind therefore the feast called Theoxenia lately celebrated, and that most noble portion which the public criers proclaim to be received as their due by the offspring of Pindar; and recollect with yourself, how majestic and grateful a mark of grandeur you look upon that to be. Truly, said he, I judge there is no man living who would not be sensible of the curiosity and elegancy of such an honor, displaying antiquity void of tincture and false glitter, after the Greek manner, unless he were such a brute that I may use the words of Pindar himself:
Therefore I forbear, said I, to mention that proclamation not much unlike to this, usually made in Sparta, — “After the Lesbian singer,” — in honor and memory of the ancient Terpander. But you, on the other side, deem yourself worthy to be preferred above all the rest of the Boeotians, as being of the noble race of the Opheltiadae; and among the Phocians you claim undoubted pre-eminence, for the sake of your ancestor Daiphantus. And, for my part, I must acknowledge that you were one of the first who assisted me, as my second, against the Lycormaeans and Satilaeans, claiming the privilege of wearing crowns and the honor due by the laws of Greece to the descendants from Hercules; at what time I affirmed, that those honors and guerdons ought more especially to be preserved inviolable to the immediate progeny of Hercules, in regard that, though he were so great a benefactor to the Greeks, yet in his lifetime he was not thought worthy of any reward or return of gratitude. You recall to my remembrance, said he, a most noble contest, and worthy the debate of philosophy itself. Dismiss therefore, said I, that vehement humor of yours that excites you to accuse the Gods, nor take it ill, if many times celestial punishment discharges itself upon the offspring of the wicked and vicious; or else be not too much overjoyed or too forward to applaud those honors which are due to nobility of birth. For it becomes us, if we believe that the reward of virtue ought to be extended to posterity, by the same reason to take it for granted that punishment for impieties committed ought not to be stayed and cease any sooner, but that it should run forward at equal pace with the reward, which will in turn requite every man with what is his due. And therefore they that with pleasure behold the race of Cimon highly honored in Athens, but on the other side, fret and fume at the exilement of the posterity of Lachares or Ariston, are too remiss and oscitant, or rather too morose and over quarrelsome with the Deity itself, one while accusing the Divinity if the posterity of an unjust and wicked person seem to prosper in the world, another time no less moody and finding fault if it fall out that the race of the wicked come to be utterly destroyed and extirpated from the earth. And thus, whether the children of the wicked or the children of the just fall under affliction, the case is all one to them; the Gods must suffer alike in their bad opinions.
14. These, said I, are the preliminaries, which I would have you make use of against those choleric accusers and testy snarlers of whom I have given you warning. But now to take in hand once more, as it were, the first end of the bottom of thread, in this same dark discourse of the Gods, wherein there are so many windings and turnings and gloomy labyrinths, let us by degrees and with caution direct our steps to what is most likely and probable. For, even in those things which fall under our daily practice and management, we are many times at a loss to determine the undoubted and unquestioned truth. For example, what certain reason can be given for that custom amongst us, of ordering the children of parents that die of a consumption or a dropsy to sit with both their feet soaking in the water till the dead body be burnt? For people believe, that thereby the disease is prevented from becoming hereditary, and also that it is a charm to secure those children from it as long as they live. Again, what should be the reason, that if a goat take a piece of sea-holly in her mouth, the whole herd will stand still till the goat-herd come and take it out? Other hidden properties there are, which, by virtue of certain touches and transitions, pass from some bodies into others with incredible swiftness and often to incredible distances. But we are more apt to wonder at distances of time than those of space. And yet there is more reason to wonder, that Athens should be infected with an epidemic contagion taking its rise in Ethiopia, that Pericles should die and Thucydides be smitten with the infection, than that, upon the impiety of the Delphians and Sybarites, delayed vengeance should at length overtake their posterity. For these hidden powers and properties have their sacred connections and correspondences between their utmost endings and their first beginnings; of which although the causes be concealed from us, yet silently they bring to pass their proper effects.
15. Not but that there is a reason ready at hand for the public punishments showered down from heaven upon particular cities. For a city is a kind of entire thing and continued body, a certain sort of creature, never subject to the changes and alterations of age, nor varying through process of time from one thing to another, but always sympathizing and in unity with itself, and receiving the punishment or reward of whatever it does or has ever acted in common, so long as the community, which makes it a body and binds it together with the mutual bands of human benefit, preserves its unity. For he that goes about of one city to make many, and perhaps an infinite number, by distinguishing the intervals of time, seems to be like a person who would make several of one single man, because he is now grown elderly who before was a young man, and before that a mere stripling. Or rather, it resembles the method of disputing amongst the Epicharmians, the first authors of that manner of arguing called the increaser. For example: he that formerly ran in debt, although he never paid it, owes nothing now, as being become another man; and he that was invited yesterday to supper comes the next night an unbidden guest, for that he is quite another person. And indeed the distinctions of ages cause greater alterations in every one of us than commonly they do in cities. For he that has seen Athens may know it again thirty years after; the present manners, motions, pastimes, serious studies, their familiarities and marks of their displeasure, little or nothing differing from what formerly they were. But after a long absence there is many a man who, meeting his own familiar friend, hardly knows him again, by reason of the great alteration of his countenance and the change of his manners, which are so easily subject to the alterations of language, labor, and employment, all manner of accidents, and mutation of laws, that even they who are most usually conversant with him admire to see the strangeness and novelty of the change; and yet the man is reputed still to be the same from his birth to his decease. In the same manner does a city still remain the same; and for that reason we think it but justice, that a city should as well be obnoxious to the blame and reproach of its ancient inhabitants, as participate the glory of their former puissance and renown; else we shall throw every thing before we know it into the river of Heraclitus, into which (he says) no one can step twice,* since Nature by her changes is ever altering and transforming all things.
16. Now then, if a city be one entire and continued body, the same opinion is to be conceived of a race of men, depending upon one and the same beginning, and carrying along with it a certain power and communion of qualities; in regard that what is begotten cannot be thought to be severed from that which begets it, like a piece of workmanship from the artificer; the one being begotten of the person, the other framed by him. So that what is engendered is a part of the original from whence it sprung, whether meriting honor or deserving punishment. So that, were it not that I might be thought to be too sportive in a serious discourse, I would affirm, that the Athenians were more unjust to the statue of Cassander when they caused it to be melted down and defaced, and that the Syracusans were more rigorous to the dead carcass of Dionysius when they cast it forth of their own confines, than if they had punished their posterity; for that the statue did no way partake of the substance of Cassander, and the soul of Dionysius was absolutely departed from the body deceased. Whereas Nisaeus, Apollocrates, Antipater, Philip, and several others descended from wicked parents, still retained the most principal part of those who begot them, not lazily and sluggishly dormant, but that very part by which they live, are nourished, act and move, and become rational and sensible creatures. Neither is there any thing of absurdity, if, being the offspring of such parents, they should retain many of their bad qualities. In short, therefore, I affirm that, as it is in the practice of physic, that whatever is wholesome and profitable is likewise just, and as he would be accounted ridiculous that should aver it to be an act of injustice to cauterize the thumb for the cure of the sciatica, or when the liver is imposthumated, to scarify the belly, or when the hoofs of laboring oxen are over tender, to anoint the tips of their horns; in the same manner is he to be laughed at who seeks for any other justice in the punishment of vice than the cure and reformation of the offender, and who is angry when medicine is applied to some parts for the cure of others, as when a chirurgeon opens a vein to give his patient ease upon an inflammation of the eyes. For such a one seems to look no farther than what he reaches by his senses, forgetting that a schoolmaster, by chastising one, admonishes all the rest of his scholars, and that a general, condemning only one in ten, reduces all the rest to obedience. And thus there is not only a cure and amendment of one part of the body by another; but many times the very soul itself is inclined to vice or reformation, by the lewdness or virtue of another, and indeed much more readily than one body is affected by another. For, in the case of the body, as it seems natural, the same affections and the same changes must always occur; while the soul, being agitated by fancy and imagination, becomes better or worse, as it is either daring and confident or timorous and mistrustful.
17. While I was yet speaking, Olympicus interrupting me said: You seem by this discourse of yours to infer as if the soul were immortal, which is a supposition of great consequence. It is very true, said I, nor is it any more than what yourselves have granted already; in regard the whole dispute has tended from the beginning to this, that the supreme Deity overlooks us, and deals to every one of us according to our deserts. To which the other: Do you then believe (said he) it follows of necessity that, because the Deity observes our actions and distributes to every one of us according to our merits, therefore our souls should exist and be altogether incorruptible, or else for a certain time survive the body after death? Not so fast, good sir, said I. But can we think that God so little considers his own actions, or is such a waster of his time in trifles, that, if we had nothing of divine within us, nothing that in the least resembled his perfection, nothing permanent and stable, but were only poor creatures, that (according to Homer’s expression) faded and dropped like withered leaves, and in a short time too, yet he should make so great account of us — like women that bestow their pains in making little gardens, no less delightful to them than the gardens of Adonis, in earthen pans and pots — as to create us souls to blossom and flourish only for a day, in a soft and tender body of flesh, without any firm and solid root of life, and then to be blasted and extinguished in a moment upon every slight occasion? And therefore, if you please, not concerning ourselves with other Deities, let us go no farther than the God Apollo, whom here we call our own; see whether it is likely that he, knowing that the souls of the deceased vanish away like clouds and smoke, exhaling from our bodies like a vapor, requires that so many propitiations and such great honors be paid to the dead, and such veneration be given to the deceased, merely to delude and cozen his believers. And therefore, for my part, I will never deny the immortality of the soul, till somebody or other, as they say Hercules did of old, shall be so daring as to come and take away the prophetical tripod, and so quite ruin and destroy the oracle. For as long as many oracles are uttered even in these our days by the Delphic soothsayer, the same in substance which was formerly given to Corax the Naxian, it is impious to declare that the human soul can die.
Then Patrocleas: What oracle was this? Who was that same Corax? For both the answer itself and the person whom you mention are strangers to my remembrance. Certainly, said I, that cannot be; only it was my error which occasioned your ignorance, in making use of the addition to the name instead of the name itself. For it was Calondas, who slew Archilochus in fight, and who was surnamed Corax. He was thereupon ejected by the Pythian priestess, as one who had slain a person devoted to the Muses; but afterwards, humbling himself in prayers and supplications, intermixed with undeniable excuses of the fact, was enjoined by the oracle to repair to the habitation of Tettix, there to expiate his crime by appeasing the ghost of Archilochus. That place was called Taenarus; for there it was, as the report goes, that Tettix the Cretan, coming with a navy, landed, built a city not far from the Psychopompaeum (or place where ghosts are conjured up), and stored it with inhabitants. In like manner, when the Spartans were commanded by the oracle to atone the ghost of Pausanias, they sent for several exorcisers and conjurers out of Italy, who by virtue of their sacrifices chased the apparition out of the temple.
18. Therefore, said I, there is one and the same reason to confirm the providence of God and the immortality of the soul; neither is it possible to admit the one, if you deny the other. Now then, the soul surviving after the decease of the body, the inference is the stronger that it partakes of punishment and reward. For during this mortal life the soul is in continual combat like a wrestler; but after all those conflicts are at an end, she then receives according to her merits. But what the punishments and what the rewards of past transgressions or just and laudable actions are to be while the soul is thus alone by itself, is nothing at all to us that are alive; for either they are altogether concealed from our knowledge, or else we give but little credit to them. But those punishments that reach succeeding posterity, being conspicuous to all that are living at the same time, restrain and curb the inclinations of many wicked persons. Now I have a story that I lately heard, which I might relate to show that there is no punishment more grievous or that touches more to the quick, than for a man to behold his children born of his body suffering for his crimes; and that, if the soul of a wicked and lawless criminal were to look back to earth and behold, not his statues overturned and his dignities reversed, but his own children, his friends, or his nearest kindred ruined and overwhelmed with calamity, such a person, were he to return to life again, would rather choose the refusal of all Jupiter’s honors than abandon himself a second time to his wonted injustice and extravagant desires. This story, I say, I could relate, but that I fear lest you should censure it for a fable. And therefore I deem it much the better way to keep close to what is probable and consentaneous to reason. By no means, replied Olympicus; but proceed, and gratify us with your story also, since it was so kindly offered. Thereupon, when the rest of the company likewise made me the same request, Permit me, said I, in the first place, to pursue the rational part of my discourse, and then, according as it shall seem proper and convenient, if it be a fable, you shall have it as cheap as I heard it.
19. Bion was of opinion that God, in punishing the children of the wicked for the sins of their fathers, seems more irregular than a physician that should administer physic to a son or a grandchild, to cure the distemper of a father or a grandfather. But this comparison does not run cleverly; since the amplification of the similitude agrees only in some things, but in others is altogether defective. For if one man be cured of a disease by physic, the same medicine will not cure another; nor was it ever known that any person troubled with sore eyes or laboring under a fever was ever restored to perfect health by seeing another in the same condition anointed or plastered. But the punishments or executions of malefactors are done publicly in the face of the world, to the end that, justice appearing to be the effect of prudence and reason, some may be restrained by the correction inflicted upon others. So that Bion never rightly apprehended where the comparison answered to our question. For oftentimes it happens, that a man comes to be haunted with a troublesome though not incurable disease, and through sloth and in temperance increases his distemper, and weakens his body to that degree that he occasions his own death. After this, it is true, the son does not fall sick; only he has received from his father’s seed such a habit of body as makes him liable to the same disease; which a good physician or a tender friend or a skilful apothecary or a careful master observing confines him to a strict and spare diet, restrains him from all manner of superfluity, keeps him from all the temptations of delicious fare, wine, and women, and making use of wholesome and proper physic, together with convenient exercise, dissipates and extirpates the original cause of a distemper at the beginning, before it grows to a head and gets a masterless dominion over the body. And is it not our usual practice thus to admonish those that are born of diseased parents, to take timely care of themselves, and not to neglect the malady, but to expel the original nourishment of the inbred evil, as being then easily movable and apt for expulsion? It is very true, cried they. Therefore, said I, we cannot be said to do an absurd thing, but what is absolutely necessary, — nor that which is ridiculous, but what is altogether useful, — while we prescribe to the children of the epileptic, the hypochondriacal, and those that are subject to the gout, such exercises, diet, and remedies as are proper, not so much because they are at that time troubled with the distemper, as to prevent the malady. For a man begotten by an unsound body does not therefore deserve punishment, but rather the preservation of proper physic and good regimen; which if any one call the punishment of fear or effeminacy, because the person is debarred his pleasures and put to some sort of pain by cupping and blistering, we mind not what he says. If then it be of such importance to preserve, by physic and other proper means, the vitiated offspring of another body, foul and corrupted; ought we to suffer the hereditary resemblances of a wicked nature to sprout up and bud in the youthful character, and to wait till they are diffused into all the affections of the mind, and bring forth and ripen the malignant fruit of a mischievous disposition? For such is the expression of Pindar.
20. Or can you believe but that in this particular God is wiser than Hesiod, admonishing and exhorting us in this manner:*
intimating thereby, that a man was never to attempt the work of generation but in the height of a jocund and merry humor, and when he found himself as it were dissolved into jollity; as if from procreation proceeded the impressions not only of vice or virtue, but of sorrow and joy, and of all other qualities and affections whatever. However, it is not the work of human wisdom (as Hesiod supposes) but of divine providence, to foresee the sympathies and differences of men’s natures, before the malignant infection of their unruly passions come to exert itself, by hurrying their unadvised youth into a thousand villanous miscarriages. For though the cubs of bears and whelps of wolves and apes immediately discover their several inbred qualities and natural conditions without any disguise or artificial concealment, man is nevertheless a creature more refined, who, many times curbed by the shame of transgressing common customs, universal opinion, or the law, conceals the evil that is within him, and imitates only what is laudable and honest. So that he may be thought to have altogether cleansed and rinsed away the stains and imperfections of his vicious disposition, and so cunningly for a long time to have kept his natural corruption wrapped up under the covering of craft and dissimulation, that we are scarce sensible of the fallacy till we feel the stripes or sting of his injustice; believing men to be only then unjust, when they offer wrong to ourselves; lascivious, when we see them abandoning themselves to their lusts; and cowards, when we see them turning their backs upon the enemy; just as if any man should be so idle as to believe a scorpion had no sting until he felt it, or that a viper had no venom until it bit him, — which is a silly conceit. For there is no man that only then becomes wicked when he appears to be so; but, having the seeds and principles of iniquity within him long before, the thief steals when he meets with a fit opportunity, and the tyrant violates the law when he finds himself surrounded with sufficient power. But neither is the nature and disposition of any man concealed from God, as taking upon him with more exactness to scrutinize the soul than the body; nor does he tarry till actual violence or lewdness be committed, to punish the hands of the wrong-doer, the tongue of the profane, or the transgressing members of the lascivious and obscene. For he does not exercise his vengeance on the unjust for any wrong that he has received by his injustice, nor is he angry with the highway robber for any violence done to himself, nor does he abominate the adulterer for defiling his bed; but many times, by way of cure and reformation, he chastises the adulterer, the covetous miser, and the wronger of his neighbors, as physicians endeavor to subdue an epilepsy by preventing the coming of the fits.
21. What shall I say? But even a little before we were offended at the Gods protracting and delaying the punishments of the wicked, and now we are as much displeased that they do not curb and chastise the depravities of an evil disposition before the fact committed; not considering that many times a mischief contrived for future execution may prove more dreadful than a fact already committed, and that dormant villany may be more dangerous than open and apparent iniquity; not being able to apprehend the reason wherefore it is better to bear with the unjust actions of some men, and to prevent the meditating and contrivance of mischief in others. As, in truth, we do not rightly comprehend why some remedies and physical drugs are no way convenient for those that labor under a real disease, yet wholesome and profitable for those that are seemingly in health, but yet perhaps in a worse condition than they who are sick. Whence it comes to pass, that the Gods do not always turn the transgressions of parents upon their children; but if a virtuous son happen to be the offspring of a wicked father, — as often it falls out that a sane child is born of one that is unsound and crazy, — such a one is exempted from the punishment which threatens the whole descent, as having been adopted into a virtuous family. But for a young man that treads in the footsteps of a criminal race, it is but just that he should succeed to the punishment of his ancestor’s iniquity, as one of the debts attached to his inheritance. For neither was Antigonus punished for the crimes of Demetrius; nor (among the ancient heroes) Phyleus for the transgressions of Augeas, nor Nestor for the impiety of Neleus; in regard that, though their parents were wicked, yet they were virtuous themselves. But as for those whose nature has embraced and espoused the vices of their parentage, them holy vengeance prosecutes, pursuing the likeness and resemblance of sin. For as the warts and moles and freckles of parents, not seen upon the children of their own begetting, many times afterwards appear again upon the children of their sons and daughters; and as the Grecian woman that brought forth a blackamore infant, for which she was accused of adultery, proved herself, upon diligent inquiry, to be the offspring of an Ethiopian after four generations; and as among the children of Pytho the Nisibian, — said to be descended from the Sparti, that were the progeny of those men that sprung from the teeth of Cadmus’s dragon, — the youngest of his sons, who lately died, was born with the print of a spear upon his body, the usual mark of that ancient line, which, not having been seen for many revolutions of years before, started up again, as it were, out of the deep, and showed itself the renewed testimonial of the infant’s race; so many times it happens that the first descents and eldest races hide and drown the passions and affections of the mind peculiar to the family, which afterward bud forth again, and display the natural propensity of the succeeding progeny to vice or virtue.
22. Having thus concluded, I held my peace; when Olympicus smiling said: We forbear as yet to give you our approbation, that we may not seem to have forgot the fable; not but that we believe your discourse to have been sufficiently made out by demonstration, only we reserve our opinion till we shall have heard the relation of that likewise. Upon which, I began again after this manner: There was one Thespesius of Soli, the friend and familiar acquaintance of that Protogenes who for some time conversed among us. This gentleman, in his youth leading a debauched and intemperate life, in a short time spent his patrimony, and then for some years became very wicked; but afterwards repenting of his former follies and extravagancies, and pursuing the recovery of his lost estate by all manner of tricks and shifts, did as is usual with dissolute and lascivious youth, who when they have wives of their own never mind them at all, but when they have dismissed them, and find them married to others that watch them with a more vigilant affection, endeavor to corrupt and vitiate them by all the unjust and wicked provocations imaginable. In this humor, abstaining from nothing that was lewd and illegal, so it tended to his gain and profit, he got no great matter of wealth, but procured to himself a world of infamy by his unjust and knavish dealing with all sorts of people. Yet nothing made him more the talk of the country, than the answer which was brought him back from the oracle of Amphilochus. For thither it seems he sent, to inquire of the Deity whether he should live any better the remaining part of his life. To which the oracle returned, that it would be better with him after he was dead. And indeed, not long after, in some measure it so fell out; for he happened to fall from a certain precipice upon his neck, and though he received no wound nor broke any limb, yet the force of the fall beat the breath out of his body. Three days after, being carried forth to be buried, as they were just ready to let him down into the grave, of a sudden he came to himself, and recovering his strength, so altered the whole course of his life, that it was almost incredible to all that knew him. For by the report of the Cilicians, there never was in that age a juster person in common dealings between man and man, more devout and religious as to divine worship, more an enemy to the wicked, nor more constant and faithful to his friends; which was the reason that they who were more conversant with him were desirous to hear from himself the cause of so great an alteration, not believing that so great a reformation could proceed from bare chance; though it was true that it did so, as he himself related to Protogenes and others of his choicest friends.
For when his sense first left his body, it seemed to him as if he had been some pilot flung from the helm by the force of a storm into the midst of the sea. Afterwards, rising up again above water by degrees, so soon as he thought he had fully recovered his breath, he looked about him every way, as if one eye of his soul had been open. But he beheld nothing of those things which he was wont formerly to see, only he saw stars of a vast magnitude, at an immense distance one from the other, and sending forth a light most wonderful for the brightness of its color, which shot itself out in length with an incredible force; on which the soul riding, as it were in a chariot, was most swiftly, yet as gently and smoothly, dandled from one place to another. But omitting the greatest part of the sights which he beheld, he saw, as he said, the souls of such as were newly departed, as they mounted from below, resembling little fiery bubbles, to which the air gave way. Which bubbles afterwards breaking insensibly and by degrees, the soul came forth in the shapes of men and women, light and nimble, as being discharged of all their earthly substance. However, they differed in their motion; for some of them leaped forth with a wonderful swiftness, and mounted up in a direct line; others like so many spindles of spinning-wheels turned round and round, sometimes whisking upwards, sometimes darting downwards, with a confused and mixed agitation, that could hardly be stopped in a very long time.
Of these souls he knew not who the most part were; only perceiving two or three of his acquaintance, he endeavored to approach and discourse them. But they neither heard him speak, neither indeed did they seem to be in their right mind, fluttering and out of their senses, avoiding either to be seen or felt; they frisked up and down at first, alone and apart by themselves, till meeting at length with others in the same condition, they clung together; but still their motions were with the same giddiness and uncertainty as before, without steerage or purpose; and they sent forth inarticulate sounds, like the cries of soldiers in combat, intermixed with the doleful yells of fear and lamentation. Others there were that towered aloft in the upper region of the air, and these looked gay and pleasant, and frequently accosted each other with kindness and respect; but they shunned those troubled souls, and seemed to show discontent by crowding together, and joy and pleasure by expanding and separating from each other. One of these, said he, being the soul of a certain kinsman, — which, because the person died when he was but very young, he did not very well know, — drew near him, and saluted him by the name of Thespesius; at which being in a kind of amazement, and saying his name was not Thespesius but Aridaeus, the spirit replied, ’twas true that formerly he was so called, but that from thenceforth he must be Thespesius, that is to say “divine.” For thou art not in the number of the dead as yet, it said, but by a certain destiny and permission of the Gods, thou art come hither only with thy intellectual faculty, having left the rest of thy soul, like an anchor, in thy body. And that thou mayst be assured of this, observe it for a certain rule, both now and hereafter, that the souls of the deceased neither cast any shadow, neither do they open and shut their eyelids. Thespesius having heard this discourse, was so much the more encouraged to make use of his own reason; and therefore looking round about to prove the truth of what had been told him, he could perceive that there followed him a kind of obscure and shadowlike line, whereas those other souls shone like a round body of perfect light, and were transparent within. And yet there was a very great difference between them too; for that some yielded a smooth, even, and contiguous lustre, all of one color, like the full-moon in her brightest splendor; others were marked with long scales or slender streaks; others were all over spotted and very ugly to look upon, as being covered with black speckles like the skins of vipers; and others were marked by faint scratches.
Moreover, this kinsman of Thespesius (for nothing hinders but that we may call the souls by the names of the persons which they enlivened), proceeding to give a relation of several other things, informed his friend how that Adrastea, the daughter of Jupiter and Necessity, was seated in the highest place of all, to punish all manner of crimes and enormities; and that in the whole number of the wicked and ungodly, there never was any one, whether great or little, high or low, rich or poor, that ever could by force or cunning escape the severe lashes of her rigor. But as there are three sorts of punishments, so there are three several Furies, or female ministers of justice; and to every one of these belongs a peculiar office and degree of punishment. The first of these was called Speedy Punishment, who takes in charge those that are presently to receive bodily punishment in this life, which she manages after a more gentle manner, omitting the correction of many offences which need expiation. But if the cure of impiety require a greater labor, the Deity delivers them after death to Justice. But when Justice has given them over as altogether incurable, then the third and most severe of all Adrastea’s ministers, Erinnys (the Fury), takes them in hand; and after she has chased and coursed them from one place to another, flying, yet not knowing where to fly, for shelter or relief, plagued and tormented with a thousand miseries, she plunges them headlong into an invisible abyss, the hideousness of which no tongue car express.
Now, of all these three sorts, that which is inflicted by punishment in this life resembles the practice among the barbarians. For, as among the Persians, they take off the garments and turbans of those that are to be punished, and tear and whip them before the offender’s faces, while the criminals, with tears and lamentations, beseech the executioners to give over; so corporal punishments, and penalties by mulcts and fines, have no sharpness or severity, nor do they take hold upon the vice itself, but are inflicted for the most part only with regard to appearance and to the outward sense. But if any one comes hither that has escaped punishment while he lived upon earth and before he was well purged from his crimes, Justice takes him to task, naked as he is, with his soul displayed, as having nothing to conceal or veil his impiety; but on all sides and to all men’s eyes and every way exposed, she shows him first to his honest parents, if he had any such, to let them see how degenerate he was and unworthy of his progenitors. But if they were wicked likewise, then are their sufferings rendered yet more terrible by the mutual sight of each other’s miseries, and those for a long time inflicted, till each individual crime has been quite effaced with pains and torments as far surmounting in sharpness and severity all punishments and tortures of the flesh, as what is real and evident surpasses an idle dream. But the weals and stripes that remain after punishment appear more signal in some, in others are less evident.
View there, said he, those various colors of souls. That same black and sordid hue is the tincture of avarice and fraud. That bloody and flame-like dye betokens cruelty, and an imbittered desire of revenge. Where you perceive a bluish color, it is a sign that soul will hardly be cleansed from the impurities of lascivious pleasure and voluptuousness. Lastly, that same dark, violet, and venomous color, resembling the sordid ink which the cuttle fish spews up, proceeds from envy. For as during life the wickedness of the soul, being governed by human passions and itself governing the body, occasions this variety of colors; so here it is the end of expiation and punishment, when these are cleansed away, and the soul recovers her native lustre and becomes clear and spotless. But so long as these remain, there will be some certain returns of the passions, accompanied with little pantings and beatings, as it were of the pulse, in some remiss and languid and quickly extinguished, in others more quick and vehement. Some of these souls, being again and again chastised, recover a due habit and disposition; while others, by the force of ignorance and the enticing show of pleasure, are carried into the bodies of brute beasts. For while some, through the feebleness of their ratiocinating, while their slothfulness will not permit them to contemplate, are impelled by their active principle to seek a new generation; others again, wanting the instrument of intemperance, yet desirous to gratify their desires with the full swing of enjoyment, endeavor to promote their designs by means of the body. But alas! here is nothing but an imperfect shadow and dream of pleasure, that never attains to ability of performance.
Having thus said, the spirit quickly carried Thespesius to a certain place, as it appeared to him, prodigiously spacious; yet so gently and without the least deviation, that he seemed to be borne upon the rays of the light as upon wings. Thus at length he came to a certain gaping chasm, that was fathomless downward, where he found himself deserted by that extraordinary force which brought him thither, and perceived other souls also to be there in the same condition. For hovering upon the wing in flocks together like birds, they kept flying round and round the yawning rift, but durst not enter into it. Now this same cleft withinside resembled the dens of Bacchus, fringed about with the pleasing verdure of various herbs and plants, that yielded a more delightful prospect still of all sorts of flowers, enamelling the green so with a wonderful diversity of colors, and breathing forth at the same time a soft and gentle breeze, which perfumed all the ambient air with odors most surprising, as grateful to the smell as the sweet flavor of wine to those that love it. Insomuch that the souls banqueting upon these fragrancies were almost all dissolved in raptures of mirth and caresses one among another, there being nothing to be heard for some fair distance round about the place, but jollity and laughter, and all the cheerful sounds of joy and harmony, which are usual among people that pass their time in sport and merriment.
The spirit said, moreover, that Bacchus ascended through this overture to heaven, and afterwards returning fetched up Semele the same way; and that it was called the place of oblivion. Wherefore his kinsman would not suffer Thespesius to tarry there any longer, though very unwilling to depart, but took him away by force; informing and instructing him withal, how strangely and how suddenly the mind was subject to be softened and melted by pleasure; that the irrational and corporeal part, being watered and incarnated thereby, revives the memory of the body, and that from this remembrance proceed concupiscence and desire, exciting an appetite for a new generation and entrance into a body — which is named γένεσις as being an inclination towards the earth (ἐπὶ γῆν νεῦσις) — when the soul is weighed down with overmuch moisture.
At length, after he had been carried as far another way as when he was transported to the yawning overture, he thought he beheld a prodigious standing goblet, into which several rivers discharged themselves; among which there was one whiter than snow or the foam of the sea, another resembled the purple color of the rainbow. The tinctures of the rest were various; besides that, they had their several lustres at a distance. But when he drew nearer, the ambient air became more subtile and rarefied, and the colors vanished, so the goblet retained no more of its flourishing beauty except the white. At the same time he saw three Daemons sitting together in a triangular aspect, and blending and mixing the rivers together with certain measures. Thus far, said the guide of Thespesius’s soul, did Orpheus come, when he sought after the soul of his wife; and not well remembering what he had seen, upon his return he raised a false report in the world, that the oracle at Delphi was in common to Night and Apollo, whereas Apollo never had any thing in common with Night. But, said the spirit, this oracle is in common to Night and to the Moon, no way included within earthly bounds, nor having any fixed or certain seat, but always wandering among men in dreams and visions. For from hence it is that all dreams are dispersed, compounded as they are of truth jumbled with falsehood, and sincerity with the various mixtures of craft and delusion. But as for the oracle of Apollo, said the spirit, you neither do see it, neither can you behold it; for the earthly part of the soul is not capable to release or let itself loose, nor is it permitted to reach sublimity, but it swags downward, as being fastened to the body.
And with that, leading Thespesius nearer, the spirit endeavored to show him the light of the Tripod, which, as he said, shooting through the bosom of Themis, fell upon Parnassus; which Thespesius was desirous to see, but could not, in regard the extraordinary brightness of the light dazzled his eyes; only passing by, he heard the shrill voice of a woman speaking in verse and measure, and among other things, as he thought, foretelling the time of his death. This the genius told him was the voice of a Sibyl who, being orbicularly whirled about in the face of the moon, continually sang of future events. Thereupon being desirous to hear more, he was tossed the quite contrary way by the violent motion of the moon, as by the force of rolling waves; so that he could hear but very little, and that very concisely too. Among other things, he heard what was prophesied concerning the mountain Vesuvius, and the future destruction of Dicaearchia by fire; together with a piece of a verse concerning a certain emperor* or great famous chieftain of that age,
After this, they passed on to behold the torments of those that were punished. And indeed at first they met with none but lamentable and dismal sights. For Thespesius, when he least suspected any such thing, and before he was aware, was got among his kindred, his acquaintance, and companions, who, groaning under the horrid pains of their cruel and ignominious punishments, with mournful cries and lamentations called him by his name. At length he saw his father ascending out of a certain abyss, all full of stripes, gashes, and scars; who stretching forth his hands — not permitted to keep silence, but constrained to confess by his tormentors — acknowledged that he had most impiously poisoned several of his guests for the sake of their gold; of which not being detected while he lived upon earth, but being convicted after his decease, he had endured part of his torments already, and now they were haling him where he should suffer more. However, he durst not either entreat or intercede for his father, such was his fear and consternation; and therefore being desirous to retire and be gone, he looked about for his kind and courteous guide; but he had quite left him, so that he saw him no more.
Nevertheless, being pushed forward by other deformed and grim-looked goblins, as if there had been some necessity for him to pass forward, he saw how that the shadows of such as had been notorious malefactors, and had been punished in this world, were not tormented so grievously nor alike to the others, in regard that only the imperfect and irrational part of the soul, which was consequently most subject to passions, was that which made them so industrious in vice. Whereas those who had shrouded a vicious and impious life under the outward profession and a gained opinion of virtue, their tormentors constrained to turn their insides outward with great difficulty and dreadful pain, and to writhe and screw themselves contrary to the course of nature, like the sea scolopenders, which, having swallowed the hook, throw forth their bowels and lick it out again. Others they flayed and scarified, to display their occult hypocrisies and latent impieties, which had possessed and corrupted the principal part of their souls. Other souls, as he said, he also saw, which being twisted two and two, three and three, or more together gnawed and devoured each other, either upon the score of old grudges and former malice they had borne one another, or else in revenge of the injuries and losses they had sustained upon earth.
Moreover, he said, there were certain lakes that lay parallel and equidistant one from the other, the one of boiling gold, another of lead, exceeding cold, and the third of iron, which was very scaly and rugged. By the sides of these lakes stood certain Daemons, that with their instruments, like smiths or founders, put in or drew out the souls of such as had transgressed either through avarice or an eager desire of other men’s goods. For the flame of the golden furnace having rendered these souls of a fiery and transparent color, they plunged them into that of lead; where after they were congealed and hardened into a substance like hail, they were then thrown into the lake of iron, where they became black and deformed, and being broken and crumbled by the roughness of the iron, changed their form; and being thus transformed, they were again thrown into the lake of gold; in all these transmutations enduring most dreadful and horrid torments. But they that suffered the most dire and dismal torture of all were those who, thinking that divine vengeance had no more to say to them, were again seized and dragged to repeated execution; and these were those for whose transgression their children or posterity had suffered. For when any of the souls of those children come hither and meet with any of their parents or ancestors, they fall into a passion, exclaim against them, and show them the marks of what they have endured. On the other side, the souls of the parents endeavor to sneak out of sight and hide themselves; but the others follow them so close at the heels, and load them in such a manner with bitter taunts and reproaches, that not being able to escape, their tormentors presently lay hold of them, and hale them to new tortures, howling and yelling at the very thought of what they have suffered already. And some of these souls of suffering posterity, he said, there were, that swarmed and clung together like bees or bats, and in that posture murmured forth their angry complaints of the miseries and calamities which they had endured for their sakes.
The last things that he saw were the souls of such as were designed for a second life. These were bowed, bent, and transformed into all sorts of creatures by the force of tools and anvils and the strength of workmen appointed for that purpose, that laid on without mercy, bruising the whole limbs of some, breaking others, disjointing others, and pounding some to powder and annihilation, on purpose to render them fit for other lives and manners. Among the rest, he saw the soul of Nero many ways most grievously tortured, but more especially transfixed with iron nails. This soul the workmen took in hand; but when they had forged it into the form of one of Pindar’s vipers, which eats its way to life through the bowels of the female, of a sudden a conspicuous light shone out, and a voice was heard out of the light, which gave order for the transfiguring it again into the shape of some more mild and gentle creature; and so they made it to resemble one of those creatures that usually sing and croak about the sides of ponds and marshes. For indeed he had in some measure been punished for the crimes he had committed; besides, there was some compassion due to him from the Gods, for that he had restored the Grecians to their liberty, a nation the most noble and best beloved of the Gods among all his subjects. And now being about to return, such a terrible dread surprised Thespesius as had almost frighted him out of his wits. For a certain woman, admirable for her form and stature, laying hold of his arm, said to him: Come hither, that thou mayst the better be enabled to retain the remembrance of what thou hast seen. With that she was about to strike him with a small fiery wand, not much unlike to those that painters use; but another woman prevented her. After this, as he thought himself, he was whirled or hurried away with a strong and violent wind, forced as it were through a pipe; and so lighting again into his own body, he awoke and found himself on the brink of his own grave.
[* ]The scene of the dialogue is laid in the temple of Delphi. (G.)
[* ]Eurip. Orestes, 420.
[† ]See the speech of Cleon, Thuc. III. 38.
[* ]I follow Wyttenbach’s emendation μάλιστ’ ἄν for μόλις ἄν. (G.)
[† ]Referring to the verse, Ὀψὲ θεῶν ἀλέουσι μύλοι, ἀλέουσι δὲ λεπτά, the mills of the Gods grind late, but they grind fine. (G.)
[* ]From Pindar.
[* ]That is, in the Sacred or Phocian war, 357-346 (G.)
[* ]Il. XV. 641.
[* ]Hesiod, Works and Days, 265.
[* ]From the Ino of Euripides, Frag. 403.
[* ]Referring to the doctrine of Heraclitus, that all Nature is moving onward, and nothing is the same two successive moments. “You cannot step twice into the same river,” he says. See Plat. Cratyl. p. 402 A. (G.)
[* ]Hesiod, Works and Days, 735.
[* ]The Emperor Vespasian.