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The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.
This seems to be a kind of proemium or preface to some declamation which Lucian, as a rhetorician had been appointed to deliver, on what subject we know not. Heracles, of whom there are many stories, was esteemed among the Gaulish peoples as a patron of science and god of eloquence. Heracles was indeed a title given to the chief deity of the gentiles, who has been multiplied into almost as many personages as there are countries where he was worshipped.
- Based on Francklin
Our Heracles is known among the Gauls under the local name of Ogmius; and the appearance he presents in their pictures is truly grotesque. They make him out as old as old can be: the few hairs he has left (he is quite bald in front) are dead white, and his skin is wrinkled and tanned as black as any old salt’s. You would take him for some infernal deity, for Charon or Iapetus,— any one rather than Heracles. Such as he is, however, he has all the proper attributes of that God: the lion’s-skin hangs over his shoulders, his right hand grasps the club, his left the strung bow, and a quiver is slung at his side; nothing is wanting to the Heraclean equipment.
Now I thought at first that this was just a cut at the Greek Gods; that in taking these liberties with the personal appearance of Heracles, the Gauls were merely exacting pictorial vengeance for his invasion of their territory; for in his search after the herds of Geryon he had overrun and plundered most of the peoples of the West.
For a long time I stood staring at this in amazement: I knew not what to make of it, and was beginning to feel somewhat nettled, when I was addressed in admirable Greek by a Gaul who stood at my side, and who besides possessing a scholarly acquaintance with the Gallic mythology, proved to be not unfamiliar with our own. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I see this picture puzzles you: let me solve the riddle. We Gauls connect eloquence not with Hermes, as you do, but with the mightier Heracles. Nor need it surprise you to see him represented as an old man. It is the prerogative of eloquence, that it reaches perfection in old age; at least if we may believe your poets, who tell us that
Youth is the sport of every random gust,
whereas old age
Hath that to say that passes youthful wit.
Thus we find that from Nestor’s lips honey is distilled; and that the words of the Trojan counsellors are compared to the lily, which, if I have not forgotten my Greek, is the name of a flower.
There is a hole in every glib tongue’s tip.
Indeed, we refer the achievements of the original Heracles, from first to last, to his wisdom and persuasive eloquence. His shafts, as I take it, are no other than his words; swift, keen-pointed, true-aimed to do deadly execution on the soul.’ And in conclusion he reminded me of our own phrase, ‘winged words.’
Now while I was debating within myself the advisability of appearing before you, and of submitting myself for a second time to the verdict of this enormous jury, old as I am, and long unused to lecturing, the thought of this Heracles portrait came to my relief. I had been afraid that some of you would consider it a piece of youthful audacity inexcusable in one of my years. ‘Thy force,’ some Homeric youth might remark with crushing effect, ‘is spent; dull age hath borne thee down’; and he might add, in playful allusion to my gouty toes,
Slow are thy steeds, and weakness waits upon thee.
But the thought of having that venerable hero to keep me in countenance emboldens me to risk everything: I am no older than he.
Never did I stand in more need of a generous breeze, to fill my sails and speed me on my way: may the Gods dispose you to contribute thereto; so shall I not be found wanting, and of me, as of Odysseus, it shall be said
How stout a thigh lurked ‘neath the old man’s rags!