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Lucian, On Pantomime

Lycinus. Crato

Ly. Here are heavy charges, Crato; I suppose you have been getting up this subject for some time. You are not content with attacking the whole pantomimic art, practical and theoretic; we too, the pleased spectators thereof, come in for our share: we have been lavishing our admiration, it seems, on effeminate triflers. And now let me show you how completely you have been mistaken; you will find that the art you have been maligning is the greatest boon of our existence. There is some excuse for your strictures: how should you know any better, confirmed ascetic that you are, believing that virtue consists in being uncomfortable?

Cr. Now, my dear sir, can any one who calls himself a man, and an educated man, and in some sort a student of philosophy,— can such a one leave those higher pursuits, leave communing with the sages of old, to sit still and listen to the sound of a flute, and watch the antics of an effeminate creature got up in soft raiment to sing lascivious songs and mimic the passions of prehistoric strumpets, of Rhodopes and Phaedras and Parthenopes, to the accompaniment of twanging string and shrilling pipe and clattering heel? It is too absurd: these are not amusements for a gentleman; not amusements for Lycinus. When I first heard of your spending your time in this way, I was divided betwixt shame and indignation, to think that you could so far forget Plato and Chrysippus and Aristotle, as to sit thus having your ears tickled with a feather. If you want amusements, are there not a thousand things worth seeing and hearing? Can you not hear classical music performed at the great festivals? Are there not lofty tragedy and brilliant comedy,— things that have been deemed worthy of state recognition? My friend, you have a long reckoning to settle with men of learning, if you would not be repudiated altogether, and expelled from the congregation of the wise. I think your best course will be a point-blank denial: declare flatly that you never did anything of the kind. Anyhow, you must watch your conduct for the future: we do not want to find that our Lycinus has changed his sex, and become a Bacchante or a Lydian damsel. That would be as much to our discredit as to yours: for ours should be Odysseus’s part,— to tear you from the lotus, and bring you back to your accustomed pursuits; to save you from the clutches of these stage Sirens before it is too late. The Sirens, after all, did but plot against men’s ears; it needed but a little wax, and a man might sail past them uninjured: but yours is a captivity of ear and eye, of body and soul.

Ly. Goodness gracious! All the Cynic in you is loose, and snarls at me. At the same time, I think your Lotus-and-Siren simile is rather off the point: you see, the people who ate the Lotus and listened to the Sirens paid for the gratification of ear and palate with their lives: whereas I not only have a great deal more enjoyment than they had, but am all the better for it. I have experienced no oblivion of my domestic affairs, nor blindness to my own interests; in fact — if I may venture to say so — you will find my penetration and practical wisdom considerably increased by my theatrical experiences. Homer has it exactly: the spectator

Returns a gladder and a wiser man.

Cr. Dear, dear! Yours is a sad case, Lycinus. You are not even ashamed; you seem quite pleased with yourself. That is the worst of it: there seems no hope of your recovery, while you can actually commend the mire in which you wallow.

Ly. Now, Crato,— you talk of pantomimes and theatres,— have you seen these performances yourself, that you are so hard on them? or do you decide that they are ‘foul mire’ without personal experience? If you have seen them, you are just as bad as I am; and if not, are you justified in censuring them? does it not savour of over-confidence, to condemn what you know nothing about?

Cr. Truly that would be the climax: that I should show my long beard and white hairs amid that throng of women and lunatics; and clap and yell in unseemly rapture over the vile contortions of an abandoned buffoon.

Ly. I can make allowance for you. But wait till I have prevailed on you to give it a fair trial, to accept the judgement of your own eyes: after that you will never be happy till you have secured the best seat in the theatre, where you may hear every syllable, mark every gesture.

Cr. While this beard is yet unplucked, these limbs unshaven, God forbid that I should ever find happiness in such things. As it is, my poor friend, I see that you are wholly possessed.

Ly. Now suppose you were to abstain from further abuse, and hear what I have to say of the merits of Pantomime; of the manner in which it combines profit with amusement; instructing, informing, perfecting the intelligence of the beholder; training his eyes to lovely sights, filling his ears with noble sounds, revealing a beauty in which body and soul alike have their share. For that music and dancing are employed to produce these results is no disparagement of the art; it is rather a recommendation.

Cr. I have not much time for listening to a madman’s discourse in praise of his own madness. However — if you must deluge me with nonsense — I am prepared to do you that friendly office. My ears are at your service: they need no wax to render them deaf to foolishness. Henceforth I will be silent: speak on;— no one is listening.

cynics/crato.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/14 23:20 (external edit)