Demonax | Hellenic Library
Buy me a cup of coffee
Before Pluto: Croesus, Midas, and Sardanapalus v. Menippus
Cr . Pluto, we can stand this snarling Cynic no longer in our neighbourhood; either you must transfer him to other quarters, or we are going to migrate.
Pl . Why, what harm does he do to your ghostly community?
Cr . Midas here, and Sardanapalus and I, can never get in a good cry over the old days of gold and luxury and treasure, but he must be laughing at us, and calling us rude names; 'slaves' and 'garbage,' he says we are. And then he sings; and that throws us out.- In short, he is a nuisance.
Pl . Menippus, what's this I hear?
Me . All perfectly true, Pluto. I detest these abject rascals! Not content with having lived the abominable lives they did, they keep on talking about it now they are dead, and harping on the good old days. I take a positive pleasure in annoying them.
Pl . Yes, but you mustn't. They have had terrible losses; they feel it deeply.
Me . Pluto! you are not going to lend your countenance to these whimpering fools?
Pl . It isn't that: but I won't have you quarrelling.
Me . Well, you scum of your respective nations, let there be no misunderstanding; I am going on just the same. Wherever you are, there shall I be also; worrying, jeering, singing you down.
Cr . Presumption!
Me . Not a bit of it. Yours was the presumption, when you expected men to fall down before you, when you trampled on men's liberty, and forgot there was such a thing as death. Now comes the weeping and gnashing of teeth: for all is lost!
Cr . Lost! Ah God! My treasure-heaps -
Mid . My gold -
Sar . My little comforts -
Me . That's right: stick to it! You do the whining, and I'll chime in with a string of GNOTHI-SAUTONS, best of accompaniments.
Menippus. Amphilochus. Trophonius
Me . Now I wonder how it is that you two dead men have been honoured with temples and taken for prophets; those silly mortals imagine you are Gods.
Amp . How can we help it, if they are fools enough to have such fancies about the dead?
Me . Ah, they would never have had them, though, if you had not been charlatans in your lifetime, and pretended to know the future and be able to foretell it to your clients.
Tro . Well, Menippus, Amphilochus can take his own line, if he likes; as for me, I am a Hero, and do give oracles to any one who comes down to me. It is pretty clear you were never at Lebadea, or you would not be so incredulous.
Me . What do you mean? I must go to Lebadea, swaddle myself up in absurd linen, take a cake in my hand, and crawl through a narrow passage into a cave, before I could tell that you are a dead man, with nothing but knavery to differentiate you from the rest of us? Now, on your seer-ship, what is a Hero? I am sure I don't know.
Tro . He is half God, and half man.
Me . So what is neither man (as you imply) nor God, is both at once? Well, at present what has become of your diviner half?
Tro . He gives oracles in Boeotia.
Me . What you may mean is quite beyond me; the one thing I know for certain is that you are dead - the whole of you.
Charon. Hermes. Various Shades
Ch . I'll tell you how things stand. Our craft, as you see, is small, and leaky, and three-parts rotten; a single lurch, and she will capsize without more ado. And here are all you passengers, each with his luggage. If you come on board like that, I am afraid you may have cause to repent it; especially those who have not learnt to swim.
Her . Then how are we to make a trip of it?
Ch . I'll tell you. They must leave all this nonsense behind them on shore, and come aboard in their skins. As it is, there will be no room to spare. And in future, Hermes, mind you admit no one till he has cleared himself of encumbrances, as I say. Stand by the gangway, and keep an eye on them, and make them strip before you let them pass.
Her . Very good. Well, Number One, who are you?
Men . Menippus. Here are my wallet and staff; overboard with them. I had the sense not to bring my cloak.
Her . Pass on, Menippus; you're a good fellow; you shall have the seat of honour, up by the pilot, where you can see every one.- Here is a handsome person; who is he?
Char . Charmoleos of Megara; the irresistible, whose kiss was worth a thousand pounds.
Her . That beauty must come off,- lips, kisses, and all; the flowing locks, the blushing cheeks, the skin entire. That's right. Now we're in better trim;- you may pass on.- And who is the stunning gentleman in the purple and the diadem?
Lam . I am Lampichus, tyrant of Gela.
Her . And what is all this splendour doing here, Lampichus?
Lam . How! would you have a tyrant come hither stripped?
Her . A tyrant! That would be too much to expect. But with a shade we must insist. Off with these things.
Lam . There, then: away goes my wealth.
Her . Pomp must go too, and pride; we shall be overfreighted else.
Lam . At least let me keep my diadem and robes.
Her . No, no; off they come!
Lam . Well? That is all, as you see for yourself.
Her . There is something more yet: cruelty, folly, insolence, hatred.
Lam . There then: I am bare.
Her . Pass on.- And who may you be, my bulky friend?
Dam . Damasias the athlete.
Her . To be sure; many is the time I have seen you in the gymnasium.
Dam . You have. Well, I have peeled; let me pass.
Her . Peeled! my dear sir, what, with all this fleshy encumbrance? Come, off with it; we should go to the bottom if you put one foot aboard. And those crowns, those victories, remove them.
Dam . There; no mistake about it this time; I am as light as any shade among them.
Her . That's more the kind of thing. On with you.- Crato, you can take off that wealth and luxury and effeminacy; and we can't have that funeral pomp here, nor those ancestral glories either; down with your rank and reputation, and any votes of thanks or inscriptions you have about you; and you need not tell us what size your tomb was; remarks of that kind come heavy.
Cra . Well, if I must, I must; there's no help for it.
Her . Hullo! in full armour? What does this mean? and why this trophy?
A General . I am a great conqueror; a valiant warrior; my country's pride.
Her . The trophy may stop behind; we are at peace; there is no demand for arms.- Whom have we here? whose is this knitted Drow, this flowing beard? 'Tis some reverend sage, if outside goes for anything; he mutters; he is wrapped in meditation.
Men . That's a philosopher, Hermes; and an impudent quack not the bargain. Have him out of that cloak; you will find something to amuse you underneath it.
Her . Off with your clothes first; and then we will see to the rest. My goodness, what a bundle: quackery, ignorance, quarrelsomeness, vainglory; idle questionings, prickly arguments, intricate conceptions; humbug and gammon and wishy-washy hair-splittings without end; and hullo! why here's avarice, and self-indulgence, and impudence! luxury, effeminacy and peevishness!- Yes, I see them all; you need not try to hide them. Away with falsehood and swagger and superciliousness; why, the three-decker is not built that would hold you with all this luggage.
A Philosopher . I resign them all, since such is your bidding.
Men . Have his beard off too, Hermes; only look what a ponderous bush of a thing! There's a good five pounds' weight there.
Her . Yes; the beard must go.
Phil . And who shall shave me?
Her . Menippus here shall take it off with the carpenter's axe; the gangway will serve for a block.
Men . Oh, can't I have a saw, Hermes? It would be much better fun.
Her . The axe must serve.- Shrewdly chopped!- Why, you look more like a man and less like a goat already.
Men . A little off the eyebrows?
Her . Why, certainly; he has trained them up all over his forehead, for reasons best known to himself.- Worm! what, snivelling? afraid of death? Oh, get on board with you.
Men . He has still got the biggest thumper of all under his arm.
Her . What's that?
Men . Flattery; many is the good turn that has done him.
Phil . Oh, all right, Menippus; suppose you leave your independence behind you, and your plain - speaking, and your indifference, and your high spirit, and your jests!- No one else here has a jest about him.
Her . Don't you, Menippus! you stick to them; useful commodities, these, on shipboard; light and handy.- You rhetorician there, with your verbosities and your barbarisms, your antitheses and balances and periods, off with the whole pack of them.
Rhet . Away they go.
Her . All's ready. Loose the cable, and pull in the gangway; haul up the anchor; spread all sail; and, pilot, look to your helm. Good luck to our voyage!- What are you all whining about, you fools? You philosopher, late of the beard,- you're as bad as any of them.
Phil . Ah, Hermes: I had thought that the soul was immortal.
Men . He lies: that is not the cause of his distress.
Her . What is it, then?
Men . He knows that he will never have a good dinner again; never sneak about at night with his cloak over his head, going the round of the brothels; never spend his mornings in fooling boys out of their money, under the pretext of teaching them wisdom.
Phil . And pray are you content to be dead?
Men . It may be presumed so, as I sought death of my own accord.- By the way, I surely heard a noise, as if people were shouting on the earth?
Her . You did; and from more than one quarter.- There are people running in a body to the Town-hall, exulting over the death of Lampichus; the women have got hold of his wife; his infant children fare no better,- the boys are giving them handsome pelting. Then again you hear the applause that greets the orator Diophantus, as he pronounces the funeral oration of our friend Crato. Ah yes, and that's Damasias's mother, with her women, striking up a dirge. No one has tear for you, Menippus; your remains are left in peace. Privileged person!
Men . Wait a bit: before long you will hear the mournful howl of dogs, and the beating of crows' wings, as they gather to perform my funeral rites.
Her . I like your spirit.- However, here we are in port. Away with you all to the judgement-seat; it is straight ahead. The ferryman and I must go back for a fresh load.
Men . Good voyage to you, Hermes.- Let us be getting on; what are you all waiting for? We have got to face the judge, sooner or later; and by all accounts his sentences are no joke; wheels, rocks, vultures are mentioned. Every detail of our lives will now come to light!
Me . What are you crying out about, Tantalus? standing at the edge and whining like that!
Tan . Ah, Menippus, I thirst, I perish!
Me . What, not enterprise enough to bend down to it, or scoop up some in your palm?
Tan . It is no use bending down; the water shrinks away as soon as it sees me coming. And if I do scoop it up and get it to my mouth, the outside of my lips is hardly moist before it has managed to run through my fingers, and my hand is as dry as ever.
Me . A very odd experience, that. But by the way, why do you want to drink? you have no body - the part of you that was liable to hunger and thirst is buried in Lydia somewhere; how can you, the spirit, hunger or thirst any more?
Tan . Therein lies my punishment - soul thirsts as if it were body.
Me . Well, let that pass, as you say thirst is your punishment. But why do you mind it? are you afraid of dying , for want of drink? I do not know of any second Hades; can you die to this one, and go further?
Tan . No, that is quite true. But you see this is part of the sentence: I must long for drink, though I have no need of it.
Me . There is no meaning in that. There is a draught you need, though; some neat hellebore is what you want; you are suffering from a converse hydrophobia; you are not afraid of water, but you are of thirst.
Tan . I would as life drink hellebore as anything, if I could but drink.
Me . Never fear, Tantalus; neither you nor any other ghost will ever do that; it is impossible, you see; just as well we have not all got a penal thirst like you, with the water running away from us.
Me . Where are all the beauties, Hermes? Show me round; I am a new-comer.
Her . I am busy, Menippus. But look over there to your right, and you will see Hyacinth, Narcissus, Nireus, Achilles, Tyro, Helen, Leda,- all the beauties of old.
Me . I can only see bones, and bare skulls; most of them are exactly alike.
Her . Those bones, of which you seem to think so lightly, have been the theme of admiring poets.
Me . Well, but show me Helen; I shall never be able to make her out by myself.
Her . This skull is Helen.
Me . And for this a thousand ships carried warriors from every part of Greece; Greeks and barbarians were slain, and cities made desolate.
Her . Ah, Menippus, you never saw the living Helen; or you would have said with Homer,
Well might they suffer grievous years of toil Who strove for such a prize.
We look at withered flowers, whose dye is gone from them, and what can we call them but unlovely things? Yet in the hour of their bloom these unlovely things were things of beauty.
Me . Strange, that the Greeks could not realize what it was for which they laboured; how short-lived, how soon to fade.
Her . I have no time for moralizing. Choose your spot, where you will, and lie down. I must go to fetch new dead.
Menippus. Aeacus. Various Shades
Me . In Pluto's name, Aeacus, show me all the sights of Hades.
Aea . That would be rather an undertaking, Menippus. However, you shall see the principal things. Cerberus here you know already, and the ferryman who brought you over. And you saw the Styx on your way, and Pyriphlegethon.
Me . Yes, and you are the gate-keeper; I know all that; and I have seen the King and the Furies. But show me the men of ancient days, especially the celebrities.
Aea . This is Agamemnon; this is Achilles; near him, Idomeneus; next comes Odysseus; then Ajax, Diomede, and all the great Greeks.
Me . Why, Homer, Homer, what is this? All your great heroes flung down upon the earth, shapeless, undistinguishable; mere meaningless dust; 'strengthless heads,' and no mistake.- Who is this one, Aeacus?
Aea . That is Cyrus; and here is Croesus; beyond him Sardanapalus, and beyond him again Midas. And yonder is Xerxes.
Me . Ha! and it was before this creature that Greece trembled? this is our yoker of Hellesponts, our designer of Athos-canals?- Croesus too! a sad spectacle! As to Sardanapalus, I will lend him a box on the ear, with your permission.
Aea . And crack his skull, poor dear! Certainly not.
Me . Then I must content myself with spitting in his ladyship's face.
Aea . Would you like to see the philosophers?
Me . I should like it of all things.
Aea . First comes Pythagoras.
Me . Good-day, Euphorbus, alias Apollo, alias what you will.
Py . Good-day, Menippus.
Me . What, no golden thigh nowadays?
Py . Why, no. I wonder if there is anything to eat in that wallet of yours?
Me . Beans, friend; you don't like beans.
Py . Try me. My principles have changed with my quarters. I find that down here our parents' heads are in no way connected with beans.
Aea . Here is Solon, the son of Execestides, and there is Thales. By them are Pittacus, and the rest of the sages, seven in all, as you see. Me . The only resigned and cheerful countenances yet. Who is the one covered with ashes, like a loaf baked in the embers? He is all over blisters.
Aea . That is Empedocles. He was half-roasted when he got here from Etna.
Me . Tell me, my brazen-slippered friend, what induced you to jump into the crater?
Em . I did it in a fit of melancholy.
Me . Not you. Vanity, pride, folly; these were what burnt you up, slippers and all; and serve you right. All that ingenuity was thrown away, too: your death was detected.- Aeacus, where is Socrates?
Aea . He is generally talking nonsense with Nestor and Palamedes.
Me . But I should like to see him, if he is anywhere about.
Aea . You see the bald one? Me . They are all bald; that is a distinction without a difference.
Aea . The snub-nosed one.
Me . There again: they are all snub-nosed.
Soc . Do you want me, Menippus?
Me . The very man I am looking for.
Soc . How goes it in Athens?
Me . There are a great many young men there professing philosophy; and to judge from their dress and their walk, they should be perfect in it.
Soc . I have seen many such.
Me . For that matter, I suppose you saw Aristippus arrive, reeking with scent; and Plato, the polished flatterer from Sicilian courts?
Soc . And what do they think about me in Athens?
Me . Ah, you are fortunate in that respect. You pass for a most remarkable man, omniscient in fact. And all the time - if the truth must out - you know absolutely nothing.
Soc . I told them that myself: but they would have it that that was my irony.
Me . And who are your friends?
Soc . Charmides; Phaedrus; the son of Clinias.
Me . Ha, ha! still at your old trade; still an admirer of beauty.
Soc . How could I be better occupied? Will you join us?
Me . No, thank you; I am off, to take up my quarters by Croesus and Sardanapalus. I expect huge entertainment from their outcries.
Aea . I must be off, too; or some one may escape. You shall see the rest another day, Menippus.
Me . I need not detain you. I have seen enough.
Me . My dear coz - for Cerberus and Cynic are surely related through the dog - I adjure you by the Styx, tell me how Socrates behaved during the descent. A God like you can doubtless articulate instead of barking, if he chooses.
Cer . Well, while he was some way off, he seemed quite unshaken; and I thought he was bent on letting the people outside realize the fact too. Then he passed into the opening and saw the gloom; I at the same time gave him a touch of the hemlock, and a pull by the leg, as he was rather slow. Then he squalled like a baby, whimpered about his children, and, oh, I don't know what he didn't do.
Me . So he was one of the theorists, was he? His indifference was a sham?
Cer . Yes; it was only that he accepted the inevitable, and put a bold face on it, pretending to welcome the universal fate, by way of impressing the bystanders. All that sort are the same, I tell you - bold resolute fellows as far as the entrance; it is inside that the real test comes.
Me . What did you think of my performance?
Cer . Ah, Menippus, you were the exception; you are a credit to the breed, and so was Diogenes before you. You two came in without any compulsion or pushing, of your own free will, with a laugh for yourselves and a curse for the rest.
Charon. Menippus. Hermes
Ch . Your fare, you rascal.
Me . Bawl away, Charon, if it gives you any pleasure.
Ch . I brought you across: give me my fare.
Me . I can't, if I haven't got it.
Ch . And who is so poor that he has not got a penny?
Me . I for one; I don't know who else.
Ch . Pay: or, by Pluto, I'll strangle you.
Me . And I'll crack your skull with this stick.
Ch . So you are to come all that way for nothing?
Me . Let Hermes pay for me: he put me on board.
Her . I dare say! A fine time I shall have of it, if I am to pay for the shades.
Ch . I'm not going to let you off.
Me . You can haul up your ship and wait, for all I care. If I have not got the money, I can't pay you, can I?
Ch . You knew you ought to bring it?
Me . I knew that: but I hadn't got it. What would you have? I ought not to have died, I suppose?
Ch . So you are to have the distinction of being the only passenger that ever crossed gratis?
Me . Oh, come now: gratis! I took an oar, and I baled; and I didn't cry, which is more than can be said for any of the others.
Ch . That's neither here nor there. I must have my penny; it's only right.
Me . Well, you had better take me back again to life.
Ch . Yes, and get a thrashing from Aeacus for my pains! I like that.
Me . Well, don't bother me.
Ch . Let me see what you have got in that wallet.
Me . Beans: have some?- and a Hecate's supper.
Ch . Where did you pick up this Cynic, Hermes? The noise he made on the crossing, too! laughing and jeering at all the rest, and singing, when every one else was at his lamentations.
Her . Ah, Charon, you little know your passenger! Independence, every inch of him: he cares for no one. 'Tis Menippus.
Ch . Wait till I catch you –
Me . Precisely; I'll wait - till you catch me again.
Nireus. Thersites. Menippus
Ni . Here we are; Menippus shall award the palm of beauty. Menippus, am I not better-looking than he?
Me . Well, who are you? I must know that first, mustn't I?
Ni . Nireus and Thersites.
Me . Which is which? I cannot tell that yet.
Ther . One to me; I am like you; you have no such superiority as Homer (blind, by the way) gave you when he called you the handsomest of men; he might peak my head and thin my hair, our judge finds me none the worse. Now, Menippus, make up your mind which is handsomer.
Ni . I, of course, I, the son of Aglaia and Charopus,
Comeliest of all that came 'neath Trojan walls.
Me . But not comeliest of all that come 'neath the earth, as far as I know. Your bones are much like other people's; and the only difference between your two skulls is that yours would not take much to stove it in. It is a tender article, something short of masculine.
Ni . Ask Homer what I was, when I sailed with the Achaeans.
Me . Dreams, dreams. I am looking at what you are; what you were is ancient history.
Ni . Am I not handsomer here, Menippus?
Me . You are not handsome at all, nor any one else either. Hades is a democracy; one man is as good as another here.
Ther . And a very tolerable arrangement too, if you ask me.
Me . I have heard that you were a god, Chiron, and that you died of your own choice?
Chi . You were rightly informed. I am dead, as you see, and might have been immortal.
Me . And what should possess you, to be in love with Death? He has no charm for most people.
Chi . You are a sensible fellow; I will tell you. There was no further satisfaction to be had from immortality.
Me . Was it not a pleasure merely to live and see the light?
Chi . No; it is variety, as I take it, and not monotony, that constitutes pleasure. Living on and on, everything always the same; sun, light, food, spring, summer, autumn, winter, one thing following another in unending sequence,- I sickened of it all. I found that enjoyment lay not in continual possession; that deprivation had its share therein.
Me . Very true, Chiron. And how have you got on since you made Hades your home?
Chi . Not unpleasantly. I like the truly republican equality that prevails; and as to whether one is in light or darkness, that makes no difference at all. Then again there is no hunger or thirst here; one is independent of such things.
Me . Take care, Chiron! You may be caught in the snare of your own reasonings.
Chi . How should that be?
Me . Why, if the monotony of the other world brought on satiety, the monotony here may do the same. You will have to look about for a further change, and I fancy there is no third life procurable.
Chi . Then what is to be done, Menippus?
Me . Take things as you find them, I suppose, like a sensible fellow, and make the best of everything.
Me . Whether you are blind or not, Tiresias, would be a difficult question. Eyeless sockets are the rule among us; there is no telling Phineus from Lynceus nowadays. However, I know that you were a seer, and that you enjoy the unique distinction of having been both man and woman; I have it from the poets. Pray tell me which you found the more pleasant life, the man's or the woman's?
Ti . The woman's, by a long way; it was much less trouble. Women have the mastery of men; and there is no fighting for them, no manning of walls, no squabbling in the assembly, no cross-examination in the law-courts.
Me . Well, but you have heard how Medea, in Euripides, compassionates her sex on their hard lot - on the intolerable pangs they endure in travail? And by the way - Medea's words remind me did you ever have a child, when you were a woman, or were you barren?
Ti . What do you mean by that question, Menippus?
Me . Oh, nothing; but I should like to know, if it is no trouble to you.
Ti . I was not barren: but I did not have a child, exactly.
Me . No; but you might have had. That's all I wanted to know.
Ti . Certainly.
Me . And your feminine characteristics gradually vanished, and you developed a beard, and became a man? Or did the change take place in a moment?
Ti . Whither does your question tend? One would think you doubted the fact.
Me . And what should I do but doubt such a story? Am I to take it in, like a nincompoop, without asking myself whether it is possible or not?
Ti . At that rate, I suppose you are equally incredulous when you hear of women being turned into birds or trees or beasts,- Aedon for instance, or Daphne, or Callisto?
Me . If I fall in with any of these ladies, I will see what they have to say about it. But to return, friend, to your own case: were you a prophet even in the days of your femininity? or did manhood and prophecy come together?
Ti . Pooh, you know nothing of the matter. I once settled a dispute among the Gods, and was blinded by Hera for my pains; whereupon Zeus consoled me with the gift of prophecy.
Me . Ah, you love a lie still, Tiresias. But there, 'tis your trade. You prophets! There is no truth in you.