The True History | Verae Historiae
Lucian's True History is, as the author himself acknowledges in its preface, a collection of ingenious lies, calculated to amuse the reader. Lucian uses several allusions in reference to the works of ancient poets, historians, and philosophers, as well as the works of contemporary writers, whose absurdities are obliquely glanced at or genuinely, forthrightly exposed. We cannot but lament that the humor of many of the references has been lost to us (we do not possess these writings). Lucian's True History, therefore, cannot be half as pleasureable as when it were first written, but there are enough remaining allusions which we understand to secure it from being unrelatable. The vein of rich fantasy and wildness of Lucian's luxuriant imagination, which runs throughout the whole, sufficiently identifies Lucian as an author of uncommon genius, wit, and invention. It is easy to see how other writers like Bergerac and Swift have incorporated the True History into their own work and they are much indebted to Lucian.
Athletes and physical trainers do not limit their attention to the questions of perfect condition and exercise; they say there is a time for relaxation also — which indeed they represent as the most important element in training. I hold it equally true for literary men that after severe study they should unbend the intellect, if it is to come perfectly efficient to its next task.
The rest they want will best be found in a course of literature which does not offer entertainment pure and simple, depending on mere wit or felicity, but is also capable of stirring an educated curiosity — in a way which I hope will be exemplified in the following pages. They are intended to have an attraction independent of any originality of subject, any happiness of general design, any verisimilitude in the piling up of fictions. This attraction is in the veiled reference underlying all the details of my narrative; they parody the rooster-and-bull stories of ancient poets, historians, and philosophers; I have only refrained from adding a key because I could rely upon you to recognize as you read.
Ctesias, son of Ctesiochus of Cnidus, in his work on India and its characteristics, gives details for which he had neither the evidence of his eyes nor of hearsay. Iambulus’s Oceanica is full of marvels; the whole thing is a manifest fiction, but at the same time pleasant reading. Many other writers have adopted the same plan, professing to relate their own travels, and describing monstrous beasts, savages, and strange ways of life. The fount and inspiration of their humour is the Homeric Odysseus, entertaining Alcinous’s court with his prisoned winds, his men one-eyed or wild or cannibal, his beasts with many heads, and his metamorphosed comrades; the Phaeacians were simple folk, and he fooled them to the top of their bent.
When I come across a writer of this sort, I do not much mind his lying; the practice is much too well established for that, even with professed philosophers; I am only surprised at his expecting to escape detection. Now I am myself vain enough to cherish the hope of bequeathing something to posterity; I see no reason for resigning my right to that inventive freedom which others enjoy; and, as I have no truth to put on record, having lived a very humdrum life, I fall back on falsehood — but falsehood of a more consistent variety; for I now make the only true statement you are to expect — that I am a liar. This confession is, I consider, a full defence against all imputations. My subject is, then, what I have neither seen, experienced, nor been told, what neither exists nor could conceivably do so. I humbly solicit my readers’ incredulity.
Starting on a certain date from the Pillars of Heracles, I sailed with a fair wind into the Atlantic. The motives of my voyage were a certain intellectual restlessness, a passion for novelty, a curiosity about the limits of the ocean and the peoples who might dwell beyond it. This being my design, I provisioned and watered my ship on a generous scale. My crew amounted to fifty, all men whose interests, as well as their years, corresponded with my own. I had further provided a good supply of arms, secured the best navigator to be had for money, and had the ship — a sloop — specially strengthened for a long and arduous voyage.
For a day and a night we were carried quietly along by the breeze, with land still in sight. But with the next day’s dawn the wind rose to a gale, with a heavy sea and a dark sky; we found ourselves unable to take in sail. We surrendered ourselves to the elements, let her run, and were storm-driven for more than eleven weeks. On the eightieth day the sun came out quite suddenly, and we found ourselves close to a lofty wooded island, round which the waves were murmuring gently, the sea having almost fallen by this time. We brought her to land, disembarked, and after our long tossing lay a considerable time idle on shore; we at last made a start, however, and leaving thirty of our number to guard the ship I took the other twenty on a tour of inspection.
We had advanced half a mile inland through woods, when we came upon a brazen pillar, inscribed in Greek characters — which however were worn and dim —‘Heracles and Dionysus reached this point.’ Not far off were two footprints on rock; one might have been an acre in area, the other being smaller; and I conjecture that the latter was Dionysus’s, and the other Heracles’s; we did obeisance, and proceeded. Before we had gone far, we found ourselves on a river which ran wine; it was very like Chian; the stream full and copious, even navigable in parts. This evidence of Dionysus’s sojourn was enough to convince us that the inscription on the pillar was authentic. Resolving to find the source, I followed the river up, and discovered, instead of a fountain, a number of huge vines covered with grapes; from the root of each there issued a trickle of perfectly clear wine, the joining of which made the river. It was well stocked with great fish, resembling wine both in colour and taste; catching and eating some, we at once found ourselves intoxicated; and indeed when opened the fish were full of wine-lees; presently it occurred to us to mix them with ordinary water fish, thus diluting the strength of our spirituous food.
We now crossed the river by a ford, and came to some vines of a most extraordinary kind. Out of the ground came a thick well-grown stem; but the upper part was a woman, complete from the loins upward. They were like our painters’ representations of Daphne in the act of turning into a tree just as Apollo overtakes her. From the finger-tips sprang vine twigs, all loaded with grapes; the hair of their heads was tendrils, leaves, and grape-clusters. They greeted us and welcomed our approach, talking Lydian, Indian, and Greek, most of them the last. They went so far as to kiss us on the mouth; and whoever was kissed staggered like a drunken man. But they would not permit us to pluck their fruit, meeting the attempt with cries of pain. Some of them made further amorous advances; and two of my comrades who yielded to these solicitations found it impossible to extricate themselves again from their embraces; the man became one plant with the vine, striking root beside it; his fingers turned to vine twigs, the tendrils were all round him, and embryo grape-clusters were already visible on him.
We left them there and hurried back to the ship, where we told our tale, including our friends’ experiment in viticulture. Then after taking some casks ashore and filling them with wine and water we bivouacked near the beach, and next morning set sail before a gentle breeze. But about midday, when we were out of sight of the island, a waterspout suddenly came upon us, which swept the ship round and up to a height of some three hundred and fifty miles above the earth. She did not fall back into the sea, but was suspended aloft, and at the same time carried along by a wind which struck and filled the sails.
For a whole week we pursued our airy course, and on the eighth day descried land; it was an island with air for sea, glistening, spherical, and bathed in light. We reached it, cast anchor, and landed; inspection soon showed that it was inhabited and cultivated. In the daytime nothing could be discerned outside of it; but night revealed many neighbouring islands, some larger and some smaller than ours; there was also another land below us containing cities, rivers, seas, forests, and mountains; and this we concluded to be our Earth.
We were intending to continue our voyage, when we were discovered and detained by the Horse-vultures, as they are called. These are men mounted on huge vultures, which they ride like horses; the great birds have ordinarily three heads. It will give you some idea of their size if I state that each of their quill-feathers is longer and thicker than the mast of a large merchantman. This corps is charged with the duty of patrolling the land, and bringing any strangers it may find to the king; this was what was now done with us. The king surveyed us, and, forming his conclusions from our dress, ‘Strangers,’ said he, ‘you are Greeks, are you not?’ we assented. ‘And how did you traverse this vast space of air?’ In answer we gave a full account of ourselves, to which he at once replied with his own history. It seemed he too was a mortal, named Endymion, who had been conveyed up from our Earth in his sleep, and after his arrival had become king of the country; this was, he told us, what we knew on our Earth as the moon. He bade us be of good cheer and entertain no apprehensions; all our needs should be supplied.
‘And if I am victorious,’ he added, ‘in the campaign which I am now commencing against the inhabitants of the Sun, I promise you an extremely pleasant life at my court.’ We asked about the enemy, and the quarrel. ‘Phaethon,’ he replied, ‘king of the Sun (which is inhabited, like the Moon), has long been at war with us. The occasion was this: I wished at one time to collect the poorest of my subjects and send them as a colony to Lucifer, which is uninhabited. Phaethon took umbrage at this, met the emigrants half way with a troop of Horse-ants, and forbade them to proceed. On that occasion, being in inferior force, we were worsted and had to retreat; but I now intend to take the offensive and send my colony. I shall be glad if you will participate; I will provide your equipment and mount you on vultures from the royal coops; the expedition starts tomorrow.’ I expressed our readiness to do his pleasure.
That day we were entertained by the king; in the morning we took our place in the ranks as soon as we were up, our scouts having announced the approach of the enemy. Our army numbered 100,000 (exclusive of camp-followers, engineers, infantry, and allies), the Horse-vultures amounting to 80,000, and the remaining 20,000 being mounted on Salad-wings. These latter are also enormous birds, fledged with various herbs, and with quill-feathers resembling lettuce leaves. Next these were the Millet-throwers and the Garlic-men. Endymion had also a contingent from the North of 30,000 Flea-archers and 50,000 Wind-coursers. The former have their name from the great fleas, each of the bulk of a dozen elephants, which they ride. The Wind-coursers are infantry, moving through the air without wings; they effect this by so girding their shirts, which reach to the ankle, that they hold the wind like a sail and propel their wearers ship-fashion. These troops are usually employed as skirmishers. 70,000 Ostrich-slingers and 50,000 Horse-cranes were said to be on their way from the stars over Cappadocia. But as they failed to arrive I did not actually see them; and a description from hearsay I am not prepared to give, as the marvels related of them put some strain on belief.
Such was Endymion’s force. They were all armed alike; their helmets were made of beans, which grow there of great size and hardness; the breastplates were of overlapping lupine-husks sewn together, these husks being as tough as horn; as to shields and swords, they were of the Greek type.
When the time came, the array was as follows: on the right were the Horse-vultures, and the King with the elite of his forces, including ourselves. The Salad-wings held the left, and in the centre were the various allies. The infantry were in round numbers 60,000,000; they were enabled to fall in thus: there are in the Moon great numbers of gigantic spiders, considerably larger than an average Aegean island; these were instructed to stretch webs across from the Moon to Lucifer; as soon as the work was done, the King drew up his infantry on this artificial plain, entrusting the command to Nightbat, son of Fairweather, with two lieutenants.
On the enemy’s side, Phaethon occupied the left with his Horse-ants; they are great winged animals resembling our ants except in size; but the largest of them would measure a couple of acres. The fighting was done not only by their riders; they used their horns also; their numbers were stated at 50,000. On their right was about an equal force of Sky-gnats — archers mounted on great gnats; and next them the Sky-pirouetters, light-armed infantry only, but of some military value; they slung monstrous radishes at long range, a wound from which was almost immediately fatal, turning to gangrene at once; they were supposed to anoint their missiles with mallow juice. Next came the Stalk-fungi, 10,000 heavy-armed troops for close quarters; the explanation of their name is that their shields are mushrooms, and their spears asparagus stalks. Their neighbours were the Dog-acorns, Phaethon’s contingent from Sirius. These were 5,000 in number, dog-faced men fighting on winged acorns. It was reported that Phaethon too was disappointed of the slingers whom he had summoned from the Milky Way, and of the Cloud-centaurs. These latter, however, arrived, most unfortunately for us, after the battle was decided; the slingers failed altogether, and are said to have felt the resentment of Phaethon, who wasted their territory with fire. Such was the force brought by the enemy.
As soon as the standards were raised and the asses on both sides (their trumpeters) had brayed, the engagement commenced. The Sunite left at once broke without awaiting the onset of the Horse-vultures, and we pursued, slaying them. On the other hand, their right had the better of our left, the Sky-gnats pressing on right up to our infantry. When these joined in, however, they turned and fled, chiefly owing to the moral effect of our success on the other flank. The rout became decisive, great numbers were taken and slain, and blood flowed in great quantities on to the clouds, staining them as red as we see them at sunset; much of it also dropped earthwards, and suggested to me that it was possibly some ancient event of the same kind which persuaded Homer that Zeus had rained blood at the death of Sarpedon.
Relinquishing the pursuit, we set up two trophies, one for the infantry engagement on the spiders’ webs, and one on the clouds for the air-battle. It was while we were thus engaged that our scouts announced the approach of the Cloud-centaurs, whom Phaethon had expected in time for the battle. They were indeed close upon us, and a strange sight, being compounded of winged horses and men; the human part, from the middle upwards, was as tall as the Colossus of Rhodes, and the equine the size of a large merchantman. Their number I cannot bring myself to write down, for fear of exciting incredulity. They were commanded by Sagittarius. Finding their friends defeated, they sent a messenger after Phaethon to bring him back, and, themselves in perfect order, charged the disarrayed Moonites, who had left their ranks and were scattered in pursuit or pillage; they routed the whole of them, chased the King home, and killed the greater part of his birds; they tore up the trophies, and overran the woven plain; I myself was taken, with two of my comrades. Phaethon now arrived, and trophies were erected on the enemy’s part. We were taken off to the Sun the same day, our hands tied behind with a piece of the cobweb.
They decided not to lay siege to the city; but after their return they constructed a wall across the intervening space, cutting off the Sun’s rays from the Moon. This wall was double, and built of clouds; the consequence was total eclipse of the Moon, which experienced a continuous night. This severity forced Endymion to negotiate. He entreated that the wall might be taken down, and his kingdom released from this life of darkness; he offered to pay tribute, conclude an alliance, abstain from hostilities in future, and give hostages for these engagements. The Sunites held two assemblies on the question, in the first of which they refused all concessions; on the second day, however, they relented, and peace was concluded on the following terms.
Articles of peace between the Sunites and their allies of the one part, and the Moonites and their allies of the other part.
1. The Sunites shall demolish the party-wall, shall make no further incursion into the Moon, and shall hold their captives to ransom at a fixed rate.
2. The Moonites shall restore to the other stars their autonomy, shall not bear arms against the Sunites, and shall conclude with them a mutual defensive alliance.
3. The King of the Moonites shall pay to the King of the Sunites, annually, a tribute of ten thousand jars of dew, and give ten thousand hostages of his subjects.
4. The high contracting parties shall found the colony of Lucifer in common, and shall permit persons of any other nationality to join the same.
5. These articles shall be engraved on a pillar of electrum, which shall be set up on the border in mid-air.
Sworn to on behalf of the Sun by Firebrace, Heaton, and Flashman; and on behalf of the Moon by Nightwell, Monday, and Shimmer.
Peace concluded, the removal of the wall and restoration of captives at once followed. As we reached the Moon, we were met and welcomed by our comrades and King Endymion, all weeping for joy. The King wished us to remain and take part in founding the colony, and, women not existing in the Moon, offered me his son in marriage. I refused, asking that we might be sent down to the sea again; and finding that he could not prevail, he entertained us for a week, and then sent us on our way.
I am now to put on record the novelties and singularities which attracted my notice during our stay in the Moon.
When a man becomes old, he does not die, but dissolves in smoke into the air. There is one universal diet; they light a fire, and in the embers roast frogs, great numbers of which are always flying in the air; they then sit round as at table, snuffing up the fumes which rise and serve them for food; their drink is air compressed in a cup till it gives off a moisture resembling dew. Beauty with them consists in a bald head and hairless body; a good crop of hair is an abomination. On the comets, as I was told by some of their inhabitants who were there on a visit, this is reversed. They have beards, however, just above the knee; no toe-nails, and but one toe on each foot. They are all tailed, the tail being a large cabbage of an evergreen kind, which does not break if they fall upon it.
Their mucus is a pungent honey; and after hard work or exercise they sweat milk all over, which a drop or two of the honey curdles into cheese. The oil which they make from onions is very rich, and as fragrant as balsam. They have an abundance of water-producing vines, the stones of which resemble hailstones; and my own belief is that it is the shaking of these vines by hurricanes, and the consequent bursting of the grapes, that results in our hailstorms. They use the belly as a pouch in which to keep necessaries, being able to open and shut it. It contains no intestines or liver, only a soft hairy lining; their young, indeed, creep into it for protection from cold.
The clothing of the wealthy is soft glass, and of the poor, woven brass; the land is very rich in brass, which they work like wool after steeping it in water. It is with some hesitation that I describe their eyes, the thing being incredible enough to bring doubt upon my veracity. But the fact is that these organs are removable; any one can take out his eyes and do without till he wants them; then he has merely to put them in; I have known many cases of people losing their own and borrowing at need; and some — the rich, naturally — keep a large stock. Their ears are plane-leaves, except with the breed raised from acorns; theirs being of wood.
Another marvel I saw in the palace. There is a large mirror suspended over a well of no great depth; any one going down the well can hear every word spoken on our Earth; and if he looks at the mirror, he sees every city and nation as plainly as though he were standing close above each. The time I was there, I surveyed my own people and the whole of my native country; whether they saw me also, I cannot say for certain. Any one who doubts the truth of this statement has only to go there himself, to be assured of my veracity.
When the time came, we took our leave of King and court, got on board, and weighed anchor. Endymion’s parting gifts to me were two glass shirts, five of brass, and a suit of lupine armour, all of which, however, I afterwards left in the whale’s belly; he also sent, as our escort for the first fifty miles, a thousand of his Horse-vultures.
We passed on our way many countries, and actually landed on Lucifer, now in process of settlement, to water. We then entered the Zodiac and passed the Sun on the left, coasting close by it. My crew were very desirous of landing, but the wind would not allow of this. We had a good view of the country, however, and found it covered with vegetation, rich, well-watered, and full of all good things. The Cloud-centaurs, now in Phaethon’s pay, espied us and pounced upon the ship, but left us alone when they learned that we were parties to the treaty.
By this time our escort had gone home. We now took a downward course, and twenty-four hours’ sailing brought us to Lampton. This lies between the atmospheres of the Pleiads and the Hyads, though in point of altitude it is considerably lower than the Zodiac. When we landed, we found no human beings, but numberless lamps bustling about or spending their time in the market-place and harbour; some were small, and might represent the lower classes, while a few, the great and powerful, were exceedingly bright and conspicuous. They all had their own homes or lodgings, and their individual names, like us; we heard them speak, and they did us no harm, offering us entertainment, on the contrary; but we were under some apprehension, and none of us accepted either food or bed. There is a Government House in the middle of the city, where the Governor sits all night long calling the roll-call; any one not answering to his name is capitally punished as a deserter; that is to say, he is extinguished. We were present and witnessed the proceedings, and heard lamps defending their conduct and advancing reasons for their lateness. I there recognized our own house lamp, accosted him, and asked for news of my friends, in which he satisfied me. We stayed there that night, set sail next morning, and found ourselves sailing, now, nearly as low as the clouds. Here we were surprised to find Cloud-cuckoo-land; we were prevented from landing by the direction of the wind, but learned that the King’s name was Crookbeak, son of Fitz–Ousel. I bethought me of Aristophanes, the learned and veracious poet whose statements had met with unmerited incredulity. Three days more, and we had a distinct view of the Ocean, though there was no land visible except the islands suspended in air; and these had now assumed a brilliant fiery hue. About noon on the fourth day the wind slackened and fell, and we were deposited upon the sea.
The joy and delight with which the touch of water affected us is indescribable; transported at our good fortune, we flung ourselves overboard and swam, the weather being calm and the sea smooth. Alas, how often is a change for the better no more than the beginning of disaster! We had but two days’ delightful sail, and by the rising sun of the third we beheld a crowd of whales and marine monsters, and among them one far larger than the rest — some two hundred miles in length. It came on open-mouthed, agitating the sea far in front, bathed in foam, and exhibiting teeth whose length much surpassed the height of our great phallic images, all pointed like sharp stakes and white as elephants’ tusks. We gave each other a last greeting, took a last embrace, and so awaited our doom. The monster was upon us; it sucked us in; it swallowed ship and crew entire. We escaped being ground by its teeth, the ship gliding in through the interstices.
Inside, all was darkness at first, in which we could distinguish nothing; but when it next opened its mouth, an enormous cavern was revealed, of great extent and height; a city of ten thousand inhabitants might have had room in it. Strewn about were small fish, the disjecta membra of many kinds of animal, ships’ masts and anchors, human bones, and merchandise; in the centre was land with hillocks upon it, the alluvial deposit, I supposed, from what the whale swallowed. This was wooded with trees of all kinds, and vegetables were growing with all the appearance of cultivation. The coast might have measured thirty miles round. Sea-birds, such as gulls and halcyons, nested on the trees.
We spent some time weeping, but at last got our men up and had the ship made fast, while we rubbed wood to get a fire and prepared a meal out of the plentiful materials around us; there were fragments of various fish, and the water we had taken in at Lucifer was unexhausted. Upon getting up next day, we caught glimpses, as often as the whale opened his mouth, of land, of mountains, it might be of the sky alone, or often of islands; we realized that he was dashing at a great rate to every part of the sea. We grew accustomed to our condition in time, and I then took seven of my comrades and entered the wood in search of information. I had scarcely gone half a mile when I came upon a shrine, which its inscription showed to have been raised to Posidon; a little further were a number of graves with pillars upon them, and close by a spring of clear water; we also heard a dog bark, saw some distant smoke, and conjectured that there must be a habitation.
We accordingly pressed on, and found ourselves in presence of an old man and a younger one, who were working hard at a plot of ground and watering it by a channel from the spring. We stood still, divided between fear and delight. They were standing speechless, no doubt with much the same feelings. At length the old man spoke:—‘What are you, strangers; are you spirits of the sea, or unfortunate mortals like ourselves? As for us, we are men, bred on land; but now we have suffered a sea change, and swim about in this containing monster, scarce knowing how to describe our state; reason tells us we are dead, but instinct that we live.’ This loosed my tongue in turn. ‘We too, father,’ I said, ‘are men, just arrived; it is but a day or two since we were swallowed with our ship. And now we have come forth to explore the forest; for we saw that it was vast and dense. Methinks some heavenly guide has brought us to the sight of you, to the knowledge that we are not prisoned all alone in this monster. I pray you, let us know your tale, who you are and how you entered.’ Then he said that, before he asked or answered questions, he must give us such entertainment as he could; so saying, he brought us to his house — a sufficient dwelling furnished with beds and what else he might need —, and set before us green-stuff and nuts and fish, with wine for drink. When we had eaten our fill, he asked for our story. I told him all as it had passed, the storm, the island, the airy voyage, the war, and so to our descent into the whale.
It was very strange, he said, and then gave us his history in return. ‘I am a Cyprian, gentlemen. I left my native land on a trading voyage with my son here and a number of servants. We had a fine ship, with a mixed cargo for Italy; you may have seen the wreckage in the whale’s mouth. We had a fair voyage to Sicily, but on leaving it were caught in a gale, and carried in three days out to the Atlantic, where we fell in with the whale and were swallowed, ship and crew; of the latter we two alone survived. We buried our men, built a temple to Posidon, and now live this life, cultivating our garden, and feeding on fish and nuts. It is a great wood, as you see, and in it are vines in plenty, from which we get delicious wine; our spring you may have noticed; its water is of the purest and coldest. We use leaves for bedding, keep a good fire, snare the birds that fly in, and catch living fish by going out on the monster’s gills; it is there also that we take our bath when we are disposed. There is moreover at no great distance a salt lake two or three miles round, producing all sorts of fish; in this we swim and sail, in a little boat of my building. It is now seven and twenty years since we were swallowed.
‘Our lot might have been endurable enough, but we have bad and troublesome neighbours, unfriendly savages all.’ ‘What,’ said I, ‘are there other inhabitants?’ ‘A great many,’ he replied, ‘inhospitable and abhorrent to the sight. The western part of the wood (so to name the caudal region) is occupied by the Stockfish tribe; they have eels’ eyes and lobster faces, are bold warriors, and eat their meat raw. Of the sides of the cavern, the right belongs to the Tritonomendetes, who from the waist upwards are human, and weazels below; their notions of justice are slightly less rudimentary than the others’. The left is in possession of the Crabhands and the Tunnyheads, two tribes in close alliance. The central part is inhabited by the Crays and the Flounderfoots, the latter warlike and extremely swift. As to this district near the mouth, the East, as it were, it is in great part desert, owing to the frequent inundations. I hold it of the Flounderfoots, paying an annual tribute of five hundred oysters.
‘Such is the land; and now it is for you to consider how we may make head against all these tribes, and what shall be our manner of life.’ ‘What may their numbers be, all told?’ I asked. ‘More than a thousand.’ ‘And how armed?’ ‘They have no arms but fishbones.’ ‘Why then,’ I said, ‘let us fight them by all means; we are armed, and they are not; and, if we win, we shall live secure.’ We agreed on this course, and returned to the ship to make our preparations. The pretext for war was to be non-payment of the tribute, which was on the point of falling due. Messengers, in fact, shortly came to demand it, but the old man sent them about their business with an insolent answer. The Flounderfoots and Crays were enraged, and commenced operations with a tumultuous inroad upon Scintharus — this was our old man’s name.
Expecting this, we were awaiting the attack in full armour. We had put five and twenty men in ambush, with directions to fall on the enemy’s rear as soon as they had passed; they executed their orders, and came on from behind cutting them down, while the rest of us — five and twenty also, including Scintharus and his son — met them face to face with a spirited and resolute attack. It was risky work, but in the end we routed and chased them to their dens. They left one hundred and seventy dead, while we lost only our navigating officer, stabbed in the back with a mullet rib, and one other.
We held the battlefield for the rest of that day and the night following, and erected a trophy consisting of a dolphin’s backbone upright. Next day the news brought the other tribes out, with the Stockfish under a general called Slimer on the right, the Tunnyheads on the left, and the Crabhands in the centre; the Tritonomendetes stayed at home, preferring neutrality. We did not wait to be attacked, but charged them near Posidon’s temple with loud shouts, which echoed as in a subterranean cave. Their want of armour gave us the victory; we pursued them to the wood, and were henceforth masters.
Soon after, they sent heralds to treat for recovery of their dead, and for peace. But we decided to make no terms with them, and marching out next day exterminated the whole, with the exception of the Tritonomendetes. These too, when they saw what was going on, made a rush for the gills, and cast themselves into the sea. We went over the country, now clear of enemies, and occupied it from that time in security. Our usual employments were exercise, hunting, vine-dressing, and fruit-gathering; we were in the position of men in a vast prison from which escape is out of the question, but within which they have luxury and freedom of movement. This manner of life lasted for a year and eight months.
It was on the fifth of the next month, about the second gape (the whale, I should say, gaped regularly once an hour, and we reckoned time that way)— about the second gape, then, a sudden shouting and tumult became audible; it sounded like boatswains giving the time and oars beating. Much excited, we crept right out into our monster’s mouth, stood inside the teeth, and beheld the most extraordinary spectacle I ever looked upon — giants of a hundred yards in height rowing great islands as we do triremes. I am aware that what I am to relate must sound improbable; but I cannot help it. Very long islands they were, but of no great height; the circumference of each would be about eleven miles; and its complement of giants was some hundred and twenty. Of these some sat along each side of the island, rowing with big cypresses, from which the branches and leaves were not stripped; in the stern, so to speak, was a considerable hillock, on which stood the helmsman with his hand on a brazen steering-oar of half a mile in length; and on the deck forward were forty in armour, the combatants; they resembled men except in their hair, which was flaming fire, so that they could dispense with helmets. The work of sails was done by the abundant forest on all the islands, which so caught and held the wind that it drove them where the steersman wished; there was a boatswain timing the stroke, and the islands jumped to it like great galleys.
We had seen only two or three at first; but there appeared afterwards as many as six hundred, which formed in two lines and commenced an action. Many crashed into each other stem to stem, many were rammed and sunk, others grappled, fought an obstinate duel, and could hardly get clear after it. Great courage was shown by the troops on deck, who boarded and dealt destruction, giving no quarter. Instead of grappling-irons, they used huge captive squids, which they swung out on to the hostile island; these grappled the wood and so held the island fast. Their missiles, effective enough, were oysters the size of waggons, and sponges which might cover an acre.
Aeolocentaur and Thalassopot were the names of the rival chiefs; and the question between them was one of plunder; Thalassopot was supposed to have driven off several herds of dolphins, the other’s property; we could hear them vociferating the charge and calling out their Kings’ names. Aeolocentaur’s fleet finally won, sinking one hundred and fifty of the enemy’s islands and capturing three with their crews; the remainder backed away, turned and fled. The victors pursued some way, but, as it was now evening, returned to the disabled ones, secured most of the enemy’s, and recovered their own, of which as many as eighty had been sunk. As a trophy of victory they slung one of the enemy’s islands to a stake which they planted in our whale’s head. They lay moored round him that night, attaching cables to him or anchoring hard by; they had vast glass anchors, very strong. Next morning they sacrificed on the whale’s back, buried their dead there, and sailed off rejoicing, with something corresponding to our paean. So ended the battle of the islands.
I now began to find life in the whale unendurable; I was tired to death of it, and concentrated my thoughts on plans of escape. Our first idea was to excavate a passage through the beast’s right side, and go out through it. We actually began boring, but gave it up when we had penetrated half a mile without getting through. We then determined to set fire to the forest, our object being the death of the whale, which would remove all difficulties. We started burning from the tail end; but for a whole week he made no sign; on the eighth and ninth days it was apparent that he was unwell; his jaws opened only languidly, and each time closed again very soon. On the tenth and eleventh days mortification had set in, evidenced by a horrible stench; on the twelfth, it occurred to us, just in time, that we must take the next occasion of the mouth’s being open to insert props between the upper and lower molars, and so prevent his closing it; else we should be imprisoned and perish in the dead body. We successfully used great beams for the purpose, and then got the ship ready with all the water and provisions we could manage. Scintharus was to navigate her. Next day the whale was dead.
We hauled the vessel up, brought her through one of the gaps, slung her to the teeth, and so let her gently down to the water. We then ascended the back, where we sacrificed to Posidon by the side of the trophy, and, as there was no wind, encamped there for three days. On the fourth day we were able to start. We found and came into contact with many corpses, the relics of the sea-fight, and our wonder was heightened when we measured them. For some days we enjoyed a moderate breeze, after which a violent north wind rose, bringing hard frost; the whole sea was frozen — not merely crusted over, but solidified to four hundred fathoms’ depth; we got out and walked about. The continuance of the wind making life intolerable, we adopted the plan, suggested by Scintharus, of hewing an extensive cavern in the ice, in which we stayed a month, lighting fires and feeding on fish; we had only to dig these out. In the end, however, provisions ran short, and we came out; the ship was frozen in, but we got her free; we then hoisted sail, and were carried along as well as if we had been afloat, gliding smoothly and easily over the ice. After five days more the temperature rose, a thaw set in, and all was water again.
A stretch of five and thirty miles brought us to a small desert isle, where we got water — of which we were now in want —, and shot two wild bulls before we departed. These animals had their horns not on the top of the head, but, as Momus recommended, below the eyes. Not long after this, we entered a sea of milk, in which we observed an island, white in colour, and full of vines. The island was one great cheese, quite firm, as we afterwards ascertained by eating it, and three miles round. The vines were covered with fruit, but the drink we squeezed from it was milk instead of wine. In the centre of the island was a temple to Galatea the Nereid, as the inscription informed us. During our stay there, the ground itself served us for bread and meat, and the vine-milk for drink. We learned that the queen of these regions was Tyro, daughter of Salmoneus, on whom Posidon had conferred this dignity at her decease.
After spending five days there we started again with a gentle breeze and a rippling sea. A few days later, when we had emerged from the milk into blue salt water, we saw numbers of men walking on the sea; they were like ourselves in shape and stature, with the one exception of the feet, which were of cork; whence, no doubt, their name of Corksoles. It struck us as curious that they did not sink in, but travelled quite comfortably clear of the water. Some of them came up and hailed us in Greek, saying that they were making their way to their native land of Cork. They ran alongside for some distance, and then turned off and went their own way, wishing us a pleasant voyage. A little further we saw several islands; close to us on the left was Cork, our friends’ destination, consisting of a city founded on a vast round cork; at a greater distance, and a little to the right, were five others of considerable size and high out of the water, with great flames rising from them.
There was also a broad low one, as much as sixty miles in length, straight in our course. As we drew near it, a marvellous air was wafted to us, exquisitely fragrant, like the scent which Herodotus describes as coming from Arabia Felix. Its sweetness seemed compounded of rose, narcissus, hyacinth, lilies and violets, myrtle and bay and flowering vine. Ravished with the perfume, and hoping for reward of our long toils, we drew slowly near. Then were unfolded to us haven after haven, spacious and sheltered, and crystal rivers flowing placidly to the sea. There were meadows and groves and sweet birds, some singing on the shore, some on the branches; the whole bathed in limpid balmy air. Sweet zephyrs just stirred the woods with their breath, and brought whispering melody, delicious, incessant, from the swaying branches; it was like Pan-pipes heard in a desert place. And with it all there mingled a volume of human sound, a sound not of tumult, but rather of revels where some flute, and some praise the fluting, and some clap their hands commending flute or harp.
Drawn by the spell of it we came to land, moored the ship, and left her, in charge of Scintharus and two others. Taking our way through flowery meadows we came upon the guardians of the peace, who bound us with rose-garlands — their strongest fetters — and brought us to the governor. As we went they told us this was the island called of the Blest, and its governor the Cretan Rhadamanthus. When we reached the court, we found there were three cases to be taken before our turn would come.
The first was that of Ajax, son of Telamon, and the question was whether he was to be admitted to the company of Heroes; it was objected that he had been mad and taken his own life. After long pleadings Rhadamanthus gave his decision: he was to be put under the charge of Hippocrates the physician of Cos for the hellebore treatment, and, when he had recovered his wits, to be made free of the table.
The second was a matrimonial case, the parties Theseus and Menelaus, and the issue possession of Helen. Rhadamanthus gave it in favour of Menelaus, on the ground of the great toils and dangers the match had cost him — added to the fact that Theseus was provided with other wives in the Amazon queen and the daughters of Minos.
The third was a dispute for precedence between Alexander son of Philip and Hannibal the Carthaginian; it was won by the former, who had a seat assigned him next to Cyrus the elder.
It was now our turn. The judge asked by what right we set foot on this holy ground while yet alive. In answer we related our story. He then had us removed while he held a long consultation with his numerous assessors, among whom was the Athenian Aristides the Just. He finally reached a conclusion and gave judgement: on the charges of curiosity and travelling we were remanded till the date of our deaths; for the present we were to stay in the island, with admission to the Heroic society, for a fixed term, after which we must depart. The limit he appointed for our stay was seven months.
Our rose-chains now fell off of their own accord, we were released and taken into the city, and to the Table of the Blest. The whole of this city is built of gold, and the enclosing wall of emerald. It has seven gates, each made of a single cinnamon plank. The foundations of the houses, and all ground inside the wall, are ivory; temples are built of beryl, and each contains an altar of one amethyst block, on which they offer hecatombs. Round the city flows a river of the finest perfume, a hundred royal cubits in breadth, and fifty deep, so that there is good swimming. The baths, supplied with warm dew instead of ordinary water, are in great crystal domes heated with cinnamon wood.
Their raiment is fine cobweb, purple in colour. They have no bodies, but are intangible and unsubstantial — mere form without matter; but, though incorporeal, they stand and move, think and speak; in short, each is a naked soul, but carries about the semblance of body; one who did not touch them would never know that what he looked at was not substantial; they are shadows, but upright, and coloured. A man there does not grow old, but stays at whatever age he brought with him. There is no night, nor yet bright day; the morning twilight, just before sunrise, gives the best idea of the light that prevails. They have also but one season, perpetual spring, and the wind is always in the west.
The country abounds in every kind of flower, in shrubs and garden herbs. There are twelve vintages in the year, the grapes ripening every month; and they told us that pomegranates, apples, and other fruits were gathered thirteen times, the trees producing twice in their month Minous. Instead of grain, the corn develops loaves, shaped like mushrooms, at the top of the stalks. Round the city are 365 springs of water, the same of honey, and 500, less in volume however, of perfume. There are also seven rivers of milk and eight of wine.
The banqueting-place is arranged outside the city in the Elysian Plain. It is a fair lawn closed in with thick-grown trees of every kind, in the shadow of which the guests recline, on cushions of flowers. The waiting and handing is done by the winds, except only the filling of the wine-cup. That is a service not required; for all round stand great trees of pellucid crystal, whose fruit is drinking-cups of every shape and size. A guest arriving plucks a cup or two and sets them at his place, where they at once fill with wine. So for their drink; and instead of garlands, the nightingales and other singing birds pick flowers with their beaks from the meadows round, and fly over snowing the petals down and singing the while. Nor is perfume forgotten; thick clouds draw it up from the springs and river, and hanging overhead are gently squeezed by the winds till they spray it down in fine dew.
During the meal there is music and song. In the latter kind, Homer’s verse is the favourite; he is himself a member of the festal company, reclining next above Odysseus. The choirs are of boys and girls, conducted and led by Eunomus the Locrian, Arion of Lesbos, Anacreon and Stesichorus; this last had made his peace with Helen, and I saw him there. When these have finished, a second choir succeeds, of swans and swallows and nightingales; and when their turn is done, all the trees begin to pipe, conducted by the winds.
I have still to add the most important element in their good cheer: there are two springs hard by, called the Fountain of Laughter, and the Fountain of Delight. They all take a draught of both these before the banquet begins, after which the time goes merrily and sweetly.
I should now like to name the famous persons I saw. To begin with, all the demi-gods, and the besiegers of Troy, with the exception of Ajax the Locrian; he, they said, was undergoing punishment in the place of the wicked. Of barbarians there were the two Cyruses, Anacharsis the Scythian, Zamolxis the Thracian, and the Latin Numa; and then Lycurgus the Spartan, Phocion and Tellus of Athens, and the Wise Men, but without Periander. And I saw Socrates son of Sophroniscus in converse with Nestor and Palamedes; clustered round him were Hyacinth the Spartan, Narcissus of Thespiae, Hylas, and many another comely boy. With Hyacinth I suspected that he was in love; at least he was for ever poking questions at him. I heard that Rhadamanthus was dissatisfied with Socrates, and had several times threatened him with expulsion, if he insisted on talking nonsense, and would not drop his irony and enjoy himself. Plato was the only one I missed, but I was told that he was living in his own Utopia, working the constitution and laws which he had drawn up.
For popularity, Aristippus and Epicurus bore the palm, in virtue of their kindliness, sociability, and good-fellowship. Aesop the Phrygian was there, and held the office of jester. Diogenes of Sinope was much changed; he had married Lais the courtesan, and often in his cups would oblige the company with a dance, or other mad pranks. The Stoics were not represented at all; they were supposed to be still climbing the steep hill of Virtue; and as to Chrysippus himself, we were told that he was not to set foot on the island till he had taken a fourth course of hellebore. The Academics contemplated coming, but were taking time for consideration; they could not yet regard it as a certainty that any such island existed. There was probably the added difficulty that they were not comfortable about the judgement of Rhadamanthus, having themselves disputed the possibility of judgement. It was stated that many of them had started to follow persons travelling to the island, but, their energy failing, had abandoned the journey half-way and gone back.
I have mentioned the most noteworthy of the company, and add that the most highly respected among them are, first Achilles, and second Theseus.
Before many days had passed, I accosted the poet Homer, when we were both disengaged, and asked him, among other things, where he came from; it was still a burning question with us, I explained. He said he was aware that some brought him from Chios, others from Smyrna, and others again from Colophon; the fact was, he was a Babylonian, generally known not as Homer, but as Tigranes; but when later in life he was given as a homer or hostage to the Greeks, that name clung to him. Another of my questions was about the so-called spurious lines; had he written them, or not? He said they were all genuine; so I now knew what to think of the critics Zenodotus and Aristarchus, and all their lucubrations. Having got a categorical answer on that point, I tried him next on his reason for starting the Iliad at the wrath of Achilles; he said he had no exquisite reason; it had just come into his head that way. Another thing I wanted to know was whether he had composed the Odyssey before the Iliad, as generally believed. He said this was not so. As to his reported blindness, I did not need to ask; he had his sight, so there was an end of that. It became a habit of mine, whenever I saw him at leisure, to go up and ask him things, and he answered quite readily — especially after his acquittal; a libel suit had been brought against him by Thersites, on the ground of the ridicule to which he is subjected in the poem; Homer had briefed Odysseus, and been acquitted.
It was during our sojourn that Pythagoras arrived; he had undergone seven transmigrations, lived the lives of that number of animals, and completed his psychic travels. It was the entire right half of him that was gold. He was at once given the franchise, but the question was still pending whether he was to be known as Pythagoras or Euphorbus. Empedocles also came, scorched all over and baked right through; but not all his entreaties could gain him admittance.
The progress of time brought round the Games of the Dead. The umpires were Achilles, holding that office for the fifth, and Theseus for the seventh time. A full report would take too long; but I will summarize the events. The wrestling went to Carus the Heraclid, who won the garland from Odysseus. The boxing resulted in a tie; the pair being the Egyptian Areus, whose grave is in Corinth, and Epeus. For mixed boxing and wrestling they have no prize. Who won the flat race, I have forgotten. In poetry, Homer really did much the best, but the award was for Hesiod. All prizes were plaited wreaths of peacock feathers.
Just after the Games were over, news came that the Damned had broken their fetters, overpowered their guard, and were on the point of invading the island, the ringleaders being Phalaris of Agrigentum, Busiris the Egyptian, Diomedes the Thracian, Sciron, and Pityocamptes. Rhadamanthus at once drew up the Heroes on the beach, giving the command to Theseus, Achilles, and Ajax Telamonius, now in his right senses. The battle was fought, and won by the Heroes, thanks especially to Achilles. Socrates, who was in the right wing, distinguished himself still more than in his lifetime at Delium, standing firm and showing no sign of trepidation as the enemy came on; he was afterwards given as a reward of valour a large and beautiful park in the outskirts, to which he invited his friends for conversation, naming it the Post-mortem Academy.
The defeated party were seized, re-fettered, and sent back for severer torments. Homer added to his poems a description of this battle, and at my departure handed me the MS. to bring back to the living world; but it was unfortunately lost with our other property. It began with the line:
Tell now, my Muse, how fought the mighty Dead.
According to their custom after successful war, they boiled beans, held the feast of victory, and kept high holiday. From this Pythagoras alone held aloof, fasting and sitting far off, in sign of his abhorrence of bean-eating.
We were in the middle of our seventh month, when an incident happened. Scintharus’s son, Cinyras, a fine figure of a man, had fallen in love with Helen some time before, and it was obvious that she was very much taken with the young fellow; there used to be nods and becks and takings of wine between them at table, and they would go off by themselves for strolls in the wood. At last love and despair inspired Cinyras with the idea of an elopement. Helen consented, and they were to fly to one of the neighbouring islands, Cork or Cheese Island. They had taken three of the boldest of my crew into their confidence; Cinyras said not a word to his father, knowing that he would put a stop to it. The plan was carried out; under cover of night, and in my absence — I had fallen asleep at table —, they got Helen away unobserved and rowed off as hard as they could.
About midnight Menelaus woke up, and finding his wife’s place empty raised an alarm, and got his brother to go with him to King Rhadamanthus. Just before dawn the look-outs announced that they could make out the boat, far out at sea. So Rhadamanthus sent fifty of the Heroes on board a boat hollowed out of an asphodel trunk, with orders to give chase. Pulling their best, they overtook the fugitives at noon, as they were entering the milky sea near the Isle of Cheese; so nearly was the escape effected. The boat was towed back with a chain of roses. Helen shed tears, and so felt her situation as to draw a veil over her face. As to Cinyras and his associates, Rhadamanthus interrogated them to find whether they had more accomplices, and, being assured to the contrary, had them whipped with mallow twigs, bound, and dismissed to the place of the wicked.
It was further determined that we should be expelled prematurely from the island; we were allowed only one day’s grace. This drew from me loud laments and tears for the bliss that I was now to exchange for renewed wanderings. They consoled me for their sentence, however, by telling me that it would not be many years before I should return to them, and assigning me my chair and my place at table — a distinguished one — in anticipation. I then went to Rhadamanthus, and was urgent with him to reveal the future to me, and give me directions for our voyage. He told me that I should come to my native land after many wanderings and perils, but as to the time of my return he would give me no certainty. He pointed, however, to the neighbouring islands, of which five were visible, besides one more distant, and informed me that the wicked inhabited these, the near ones, that is, ‘from which you see the great flames rising; the sixth yonder is the City of Dreams; and beyond that again, but not visible at this distance, is Calypso’s isle. When you have passed these, you will come to the great continent which is opposite your own; there you will have many adventures, traverse divers tribes, sojourn among inhospitable men, and at last reach your own continent.’ That was all he would say.
But he pulled up a mallow root and handed it to me, bidding me invoke it at times of greatest danger. When I arrived in this world, he charged me to abstain from stirring fire with a knife, from lupines, and from the society of boys over eighteen; these things if I kept in mind, I might look for return to the island. That day I made ready for our voyage, and when the banquet hour came, I shared it. On the morrow I went to the poet Homer and besought him to write me a couplet for inscription; when he had done it, I carved it on a beryl pillar which I had set up close to the harbour; it ran thus:
This island, ere he took his homeward way, The blissful Gods gave Lucian to survey.
I stayed out that day too, and next morning started, the Heroes attending to see me off. Odysseus took the opportunity to come unobserved by Penelope and give me a letter for Calypso in the isle Ogygia. Rhadamanthus sent on board with me the ferryman Nauplius, who, in case we were driven on to the islands, might secure us from seizure by guaranteeing that our destination was different. As soon as our progress brought us out of the scented air, it was succeeded by a horrible smell as of bitumen, brimstone, and pitch all burning together; mingled with this were the disgusting and intolerable fumes of roasting human flesh; the air was dark and thick, distilling a pitchy dew upon us; we could also hear the crack of whips and the yelling of many voices.
We only touched at one island, on which we also landed. It was completely surrounded by precipitous cliffs, arid, stony, rugged, treeless, unwatered. We contrived to clamber up the rocks, and advanced along a track beset with thorns and snags — a hideous scene. When we reached the prison and the place of punishment, what first drew our wonder was the character of the whole. The very ground stood thick with a crop of knife-blades and pointed stakes; and it was ringed round with rivers, one of slime, a second of blood, and the innermost of flame. This last was very broad and quite impassable; the flame flowed like water, swelled like the sea, and teemed with fish, some resembling firebrands, and others, the small ones, live coals; these were called lamplets.
One narrow way led across all three; its gate was kept by Timon of Athens. Nauplius secured us admission, however, and then we saw the chastisement of many kings, and many common men; some were known to us; indeed there hung Cinyras, swinging in eddies of smoke. Our guides described the life and guilt of each culprit; the severest torments were reserved for those who in life had been liars and written false history; the class was numerous, and included Ctesias of Cnidus, and Herodotus. The fact was an encouragement to me, knowing that I had never told a lie.
I soon found the sight more than I could bear, and returning to the ship bade farewell to Nauplius and resumed the voyage. Very soon we seemed quite close to the Isle of Dreams, though there was a certain dimness and vagueness about its outline; but it had something dreamlike in its very nature; for as we approached it receded, and seemed to get further and further off. At last we reached it and sailed into Slumber, the port, close to the ivory gates where stands the temple of the Rooster. It was evening when we landed, and upon proceeding to the city we saw many strange dreams. But I intend first to describe the city, as it has not been done before; Homer indeed mentions it, but gives no detailed description.
The whole place is embowered in wood, of which the trees are poppy and mandragora, all thronged with bats; this is the only winged thing that exists there. A river, called the Somnambule, flows close by, and there are two springs at the gates, one called Wakenot, and the other Nightlong. The rampart is lofty and of many colours, in the rainbow style. The gates are not two, as Homer says, but four, of which two look on to the plain Stupor; one of them is of iron, the other of pottery, and we were told that these are used by the grim, the murderous, and the cruel. The other pair face the sea and port, and are of horn — it was by this that we had entered — and of ivory. On the right as you enter the city stands the temple of Night, which deity divides with the Rooster their chief allegiance; the temple of the latter is close to the port. On the left is the palace of Sleep. He is the governor, with two lieutenants, Nightmare, son of Whimsy, and Flittergold, son of Fantasy. A well in the middle of the market-place goes by the name of Heavyhead; beside which are the temples of Deceit and Truth. In the market also is the shrine in which oracles are given, the priest and prophet, by special appointment from Sleep, being Antiphon the dream-interpreter.
The dreams themselves differed widely in character and appearance. Some were well-grown, smooth-skinned, shapely, handsome fellows, others rough, short, and ugly; some apparently made of gold, others of common cheap stuff. Among them some were found with wings, and other strange variations; others again were like the mummers in a pageant, tricked out as kings or Gods or what not. Many of them we felt that we had seen in our world, and sure enough these came up and claimed us as old acquaintance; they took us under their charge, found us lodgings, entertained us with lavish kindness, and, not content with the magnificence of this present reception, promised us royalties and provinces. Some of them also took us to see our friends, doing the return trip all in the day.
For thirty days and nights we abode there — a very feast of sleep. Then on a sudden came a mighty clap of thunder: we woke; jumped up; provisioned; put off. In three days we were at the Isle of Ogygia, where we landed. Before delivering the letter, I opened and read it; here are the contents: ODYSSEUS TO CALYPSO, GREETING. Know that in the faraway days when I built my raft and sailed away from you, I suffered shipwreck; I was hard put to it, but Leucothea brought me safe to the land of the Phaeacians; they gave me passage home, and there I found a great company suing for my wife’s hand and living riotously upon our goods. All them I slew, and in after years was slain by Telegonus, the son that Circe bare me. And now I am in the Island of the Blest, ruing the day when I left the life I had with you, and the everlasting life you proffered. I watch for opportunity, and meditate escape and return. Some words were added, commending us to her hospitality.
A little way from the sea I found the cave just as it is in Homer, and herself therein at her spinning. She took and read the letter, wept for a space, and then offered us entertainment; royally she feasted us, putting questions the while about Odysseus and Penelope; what were her looks? and was she as discreet as Odysseus had been used to vaunt her? To which we made such answers as we thought she would like.
Leaving her, we went on board, and spent the night at anchor just off shore; in the morning we started with a stiff breeze, which grew to a gale lasting two days; on the third day we fell in with the Pumpkin-pirates. These are savages of the neighbouring islands who prey upon passing ships. They use large boats made of pumpkins ninety feet long. The pumpkin is dried and hollowed out by removal of the pulp, and the boat is completed by the addition of cane masts and pumpkin-leaf sails. Two boatfuls of them engaged us, and we had many casualties from their pumpkin-seed missiles. The fight was long and well matched; but about noon we saw a squadron of Nut-tars coming up in rear of the enemy. It turned out that the two parties were at war; for as soon as our assailants observed the others, they left us alone and turned to engage them.
Meanwhile we hoisted sail and made the best of our way off, leaving them to fight it out. It was clear that the Nut-tars must win, as they had both superior numbers — there were five sail of them — and stronger vessels. These were made of nutshells, halved and emptied, measuring ninety feet from stem to stern. As soon as they were hull down, we attended to our wounded; and from that time we made a practice of keeping on our armour, to be in instant readiness for an attack — no vain precaution either.
Before sunset, for instance, there assailed us from a bare island some twenty men mounted on large dolphins — pirates again. Their dolphins carried them quite well, curvetting and neighing. When they got near, they divided, and subjected us to a cross fire of dry cuttlefish and crabs’ eyes. But our arrows and javelins were too much for them, and they fled back to the island, few of them unwounded.
At midnight, in calm weather, we found ourselves colliding with an enormous halcyon’s nest; it was full seven miles round. The halcyon was brooding, not much smaller herself than the nest. She got up, and very nearly capsized us with the fanning of her wings; however, she went off with a melancholy cry. When it was getting light, we got on to the nest, and found on examination that it was composed like a vast raft of large trees. There were five hundred eggs, larger in girth than a tun of Chian. We could make out the chicks inside and hear them croaking; we hewed open one egg with hatchets, and dug out an unfledged chick bulkier than twenty vultures.
Sailing on, we had left the nest some five and twenty miles behind, when a miracle happened. The wooden goose of our stern-post suddenly clapped its wings and started cackling; Scintharus, who was bald, recovered his hair; most striking of all, the ship’s mast came to life, putting forth branches sideways, and fruit at the top; this fruit was figs, and a bunch of black grapes, not yet ripe. These sights naturally disturbed us, and we fell to praying the Gods to avert any disaster they might portend.
We had proceeded something less than fifty miles when we saw a great forest, thick with pines and cypresses. This we took for the mainland; but it was in fact deep sea, set with trees; they had no roots, but yet remained in their places, floating upright, as it were. When we came near and realized the state of the case, we could not tell what to do; it was impossible to sail between the trees, which were so close as to touch one another, and we did not like the thought of turning back. I climbed the tallest tree to get a good view, and found that the wood was five or six miles across, and was succeeded by open water. So we determined to hoist the ship on to the top of the foliage, which was very dense, and get her across to the other sea, if possible. It proved to be so. We attached a strong cable, got up on the tree-tops, and hauled her after us with some difficulty; then we laid her on the branches, hoisted sail, and floating thus were propelled by the wind. A line of Antimachus came into my head:
And as they voyaged thus the woodland through —
Well, we made our way over and reached the water, into which we let her down in the same way. We then sailed through clear transparent sea, till we found ourselves on the edge of a great gorge which divided water from water, like the land fissures which are often produced by earthquakes. We got the sails down and brought her to just in time to escape making the plunge. We could bend over and see an awful mysterious gulf perhaps a hundred miles deep, the water standing wall against wall. A glance round showed us not far off to the right a water bridge which spanned the chasm, and gave a moving surface crossing from one sea to the other. We got out the sweeps, pulled her to the bridge, and with great exertions effected that astonishing passage.
There followed a sail through smooth water, and then a small island, easy of approach, and inhabited; its occupants were the Ox-heads, savage men with horns, after the fashion of our poets’ Minotaur. We landed and went in search of water and provisions, of which we were now in want. The water we found easily, but nothing else; we heard, however, not far off, a numerous lowing; supposing it to indicate a herd of cows, we went a little way towards it, and came upon these men. They gave chase as soon as they saw us, and seized three of my comrades, the rest of us getting off to sea. We then armed — for we would not leave our friends unavenged — and in full force fell on the Ox-heads as they were dividing our slaughtered men’s flesh. Our combined shout put them to flight, and in the pursuit we killed about fifty, took two alive, and returned with our captives. We had found nothing to eat; the general opinion was for slaughtering the prisoners; but I refused to accede to this, and kept them in bonds till an embassy came from the Ox-heads to ransom them; so we understood the motions they made, and their tearful supplicatory lowings. The ransom consisted of a quantity of cheese, dried fish, onions, and four deer; these were three-footed, the two forefeet being joined into one. In exchange for all this we restored the prisoners, and after one day’s further stay departed.
By this time we were beginning to observe fish, birds on the wing, and other signs of land not far off; and we shortly saw men, practising a mode of navigation new to us; for they were boat and crew in one. The method was this: they float on their backs, erect a sail, and then, holding the sheets with their hands, catch the wind. These were succeeded by others who sat on corks, to which were harnessed pairs of dolphins, driven with reins. They neither attacked nor avoided us, but drove along in all confidence and peace, admiring the shape of our craft and examining it all round.
That evening we touched at an island of no great size. It was occupied by what we took for women, talking Greek. They came and greeted us with kisses, were attired like courtesans, all young and fair, and with long robes sweeping the ground. Cabbalusa was the name of the island, and Hydramardia the city’s. These women paired off with us and led the way to their separate homes.
I myself tarried a little, under the influence of some presentiment, and looking more closely observed quantities of human bones and skulls lying about. I did not care to raise an alarm, gather my men, and resort to arms; instead, I drew out my mallow, and prayed earnestly to it for escape from our perilous position. Shortly after, as my hostess was serving me, I saw that in place of human feet she had ass’s hoofs; whereupon I drew my sword, seized, bound, and closely questioned her. Reluctantly enough she had to confess; they were sea-women called Ass-shanks, and their food was travellers. ‘When we have made them drunk,’ she said, ‘and gone to rest with them, we overpower them in their sleep.’ After this confession I left her there bound, went up on to the roof, and shouted for my comrades. When they appeared, I repeated it all to them, showed them the bones, and brought them in to see my prisoner; she at once vanished, turning to water; however, I thrust my sword into this experimentally, upon which the water became blood.
Then we marched hurriedly down to our ship and sailed away. With the first glimmering of dawn we made out a mainland, which we took for the continent that faces our own. We reverently saluted it, made prayer, and held counsel upon our best course. Some were for merely landing and turning back at once, others for leaving the ship, and going into the interior to make trial of the inhabitants. But while we were deliberating, a great storm arose, which dashed us, a complete wreck, on the shore. We managed to swim to land, each snatching up his arms and anything else he could.
Such are the adventures that befell me up to our arrival at that other continent: our sea-voyage; our cruise among the islands and in the air; then our experiences in and after the whale; with the Heroes; with the dreams; and finally with the Ox-heads and the Ass-shanks. Our fortunes on the continent will be the subject of the following books.