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The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.
The title of this tract in the original is Bion Prasis, which translates to, Vitarum Auctio (in Latin), or the Auction of Lives. However, this is a mistranslation, for it makes more sense when one supposes that the ancients were acquianted with the method of selling goods in the dialogue. Therefore, the translator has named it Sale of Creeds. The absurd tenets, motifs, modes, and principles of every ancient philosophical school are here exposed with infinite humor.
- Based on Francklin
The distinction between the personified creeds or philosophies here offered for sale, and their various founders or principal exponents, is but loosely kept up. Not only do most of the creeds bear the names of their founders, but some are even credited with their physical peculiarities and their personal experiences.
Zeus. Hermes. Several Dealers. Creeds.
Zeus. Now get those benches straight there, and make the place fit to be seen. Bring up the lots, one of you, and put them in line. Give them a rub up first, though; we must have them looking their best, to attract bidders. Hermes, you can declare the sale-room open, and a welcome to all comers.— For Sale! A varied assortment of Live Creeds. Tenets of every description.— Cash on delivery; or credit allowed on suitable security.
Hermes. Here they come, swarming in. No time to lose; we must not keep them waiting.
Zeus. Well, let us begin.
Her. What are we to put up first?
Zeus. The Ionic fellow, with the long hair. He seems a showy piece of goods.
Her. Step up, Pythagoreanism, and show yourself.
Zeus. Go ahead.
Her. Now here is a creed of the first water. Who bids for this handsome article? What gentleman says Superhumanity? Harmony of the Universe! Transmigration of souls! Who bids?
First Dealer. He looks all right. And what can he do?
Her. Magic, music, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, jugglery. Prophecy in all its branches.
First D. Can I ask him some questions?
Her. Ask away, and welcome.
First D. Where do you come from?
First D. Where did you get your schooling?
Py. From the sophists in Egypt.
First D. If I buy you, what will you teach me?
Py. Nothing. I will remind you.
First D. Remind me?
Py. But first I shall have to cleanse your soul of its filth.
First D. Well, suppose the cleansing process complete. How is the reminding done?
Py. We shall begin with a long course of silent contemplation. Not a word to be spoken for five years.
First D. You would have been just the creed for Croesus’s son! But I have a tongue in my head; I have no ambition to be a statue. And after the five years’ silence?
Py. You will study music and geometry.
First D. A charming recipe! The way to be wise: learn the guitar.
Py. Next you will learn to count.
First D. I can do that already.
Py. Let me hear you.
First D. One, two, three, four,—
Py. There you are, you see. Four (as you call it) is ten. Four the perfect triangle. Four the oath of our school.
First D. Now by Four, most potent Four!— higher and holier mysteries than these I never heard.
Py. Then you will learn of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water; their action, their movement, their shapes.
First D. Have Fire and Air and Water shapes?
Py. Clearly. That cannot move which lacks shape and form You will also find that God is a number; an intelligence; a harmony.
First D. You surprise me.
Py. More than this, you have to learn that you yourself are not the person you appear to be.
First D. What, I am some one else, not the I who am speaking to you?
Py. You are that you now: but you have formerly inhabited another body, and borne another name. And in course of time you will change once more.
First D. Why then I shall be immortal, and take one shape after another? But enough of this. And now what is your diet?
Py. Of living things I eat none. All else I eat, except beans.
First D. And why no beans? Do you dislike them?
Py. No. But they are sacred things. Their nature is a mystery. Consider them first in their generative aspect; take a green one and peel it, and you will see what I mean. Again, boil one and expose it to moonlight for a proper number of nights, and you have — blood. What is more, the Athenians use beans to vote with.
First D. Admirable! A very feast of reason. Now just strip, and let me see what you are like. Bless me, here is a creed with a golden thigh! He is no mortal, he is a God. I must have him at any price. What do you start him at?
Her. Forty pounds.
First D. He is mine for forty pounds.
Zeus. Take the gentleman’s name and address.
Her. He must come from Italy, I should think; Croton or Tarentum, or one of the Greek towns in those parts. But he is not the only buyer. Some three hundred of them have clubbed together.
Zeus. They are welcome to him. Now up with the next.
Her. What about yonder grubby Pontian?
Zeus. Yes, he will do.
Her. You there with the wallet and cloak; come along, walk round the room. Lot No. 2. A most sturdy and valiant creed, free-born. What offers?
Second D. Hullo, Mr. Auctioneer, are you going to sell a free man?
Her. That was the idea.
Second D. Take care, he may have you up for kidnapping. This might be matter for the Areopagus.
Her. Oh, he would as soon be sold as not. He feels just as free as ever.
Second D. But what is one to do with such a dirty fellow? He is a pitiable sight. One might put him to dig perhaps, or to carry water.
Her. That he can do and more. Set him to guard your house, and you will find him better than any watch-dog.— They call him Dog for short.
Second D. Where does he come from? and what is his method?
Her. He can best tell you that himself.
Second D. I don’t like his looks. He will probably snarl if I go near him, or take a snap at me, for all I know. See how he lifts his stick, and scowls; an awkward-looking customer!
Her. Don’t be afraid. He is quite tame.
Second D. Tell me, good fellow, where do you come from?
Dio. Everywhere. Second D. What does that mean?
Dio. It means that I am a citizen of the world.
Second D. And your model?
Second D. Then why no lion’s-skin? You have the orthodox club.
Dio. My cloak is my lion’s-skin. Like Heracles, I live in a state of warfare, and my enemy is Pleasure; but unlike him I am a volunteer. My purpose is to purify humanity.
Second D. A noble purpose. Now what do I understand to be your strong subject? What is your profession?
Dio. The liberation of humanity, and the treatment of the passions. In short, I am the prophet of Truth and Candour.
Second D. Well, prophet; and if I buy you, how shall you handle my case?
Dio. I shall commence operations by stripping off yours superfluities, putting you into fustian, and leaving you closeted with Necessity. Then I shall give you a course of hard labour. You will sleep on the ground, drink water, and fill your belly as best you can. Have you money? Take my advice and throw it into the sea. With wife and children and country you will not concern yourself; there will be no more of that nonsense. You will exchange your present home for a sepulchre, a ruin, or a tub. What with lupines and close-written tomes, your knapsack will never be empty; and you will vote yourself happier than any king. Nor will you esteem it any inconvenience, if a flogging or a turn of the rack should fall to your lot.
Second D. How! Am I a tortoise, a lobster, that I should be flogged and feel it not?
Dio. You will take your cue from Hippolytus; mutates mutandis.
Second D. How so?
Dio. ‘The heart may burn, the tongue knows nought thereof’. Above all, be bold, be impudent; distribute your abuse impartially to king and commoner. They will admire your spirit. You will talk the Cynic jargon with the true Cynic snarl, scowling as you walk, and walking as one should who scowls; an epitome of brutality. Away with modesty, good-nature, and forbearance. Wipe the blush from your cheek for ever. Your hunting-ground will be the crowded city. You will live alone in its midst, holding communion with none, admitting neither friend nor guest; for such would undermine your power. Scruple not to perform the deeds of darkness in broad daylight: select your love-adventures with a view to the public entertainment: and finally, when the fancy takes you, swallow a raw cuttle-fish, and die. Such are the delights of Cynicism.
Second D. Oh, vile creed! Monstrous creed! Avaunt!
Dio. But look you, it is all so easy; it is within every man’s reach. No education is necessary, no nonsensical argumentation. I offer you a short cut to Glory. You may be the merest clown — cobbler, fishmonger, carpenter, money-changer; yet there is nothing to prevent your becoming famous. Given brass and boldness, you have only to learn to wag your tongue with dexterity.
Second D. All this is of no use to me. But I might make a sailor or a gardener of you at a pinch; that is, if you are to be had cheap. Three-pence is the most I can give.
Her. He is yours, to have and to hold. And good riddance to the brawling foul-mouthed bully. He is a slanderer by wholesale.
Zeus. Now for the Cyrenaic, the crowned and purple-robed.
Her. Attend please, gentlemen all. A most valuable article, this, and calls for a long purse. Look at him. A sweet thing in creeds. A creed for a king. Has any gentleman a use for the Lap of Luxury? Who bids?
Third D. Come and tell me what you know. If you are a practical creed, I will have you.
Her. Please not to worry him with questions, sir. He is drunk, and cannot answer; his tongue plays him tricks, as you see.
Third D. And who in his senses would buy such an abandoned reprobate? How he smells of scent! And how he slips and staggers about! Well, you must speak for him, Hermes. What can he do? What is his line?
Her. Well, for any gentleman who is not strait-laced, who loves a pretty girl, a bottle, and a jolly companion, he is the very thing. He is also a past master in gastronomy, and a connoisseur in voluptuousness generally. He was educated at Athens, and has served royalty in Sicily, where he had a very good character. Here are his principles in a nutshell: Think the worst of things: make the most of things: get all possible pleasure out of things.
Third D. You must look for wealthier purchasers. My purse is not equal to such a festive creed.
Her. Zeus, this lot seems likely to remain on our hands.
Zeus. Put it aside, and up with another. Stay, take the pair from Abdera and Ephesus; the creeds of Smiles and Tears. They shall make one lot.
Her. Come forward, you two. Lot No. 4. A superlative pair. The smartest brace of creeds on our catalogue.
Fourth D. Zeus! What a difference is here! One of them does nothing but laugh, and the other might be at a funeral; he is all tears.— You there! what is the joke?
Democr. You ask? You and your affairs are all one vast joke.
Fourth D. So! You laugh at us? Our business is a toy?
Democr. It is. There is no taking it seriously. All is vanity. Mere interchange of atoms in an infinite void.
Fourth D. Your vanity is infinite, if you like. Stop that laughing, you rascal.— And you, my poor fellow, what are you crying for? I must see what I can make of you.
Heracl. I am thinking, friend, upon human affairs; and well may I weep and lament, for the doom of all is sealed. Hence my compassion and my sorrow. For the present, I think not of it; but the future!— the future is all bitterness. Conflagration and destruction of the world. I weep to think that nothing abides. All things are whirled together in confusion. Pleasure and pain, knowledge and ignorance, great and small; up and down they go, the playthings of Time.
Fourth D. And what is Time?
Heracl. A child; and plays at draughts and blindman’s-bluff.
Fourth D. And men?
Heracl. Are mortal Gods.
Fourth D. And Gods?
Heracl. Immortal men.
Fourth D. So! Conundrums, fellow? Nuts to crack? You are a very oracle for obscurity.
Heracl. Your affairs do not interest me.
Fourth D. No one will be fool enough to bid for you at that rate.
Heracl. Young and old, him that bids and him that bids not, a murrain seize you all!
Fourth D. A sad case. He will be melancholy mad before long. Neither of these is the creed for my money.
Her. No one bids.
Zeus. Next lot.
Her. The Athenian there? Old Chatterbox?
Zeus. By all means.
Her. Come forward!— A good sensible creed this. Who buys Holiness?
Fifth D. Let me see. What are you good for?
Soc. I teach the art of love.
Fifth D. A likely bargain for me! I want a tutor for my young Adonis.
Soc. And could he have a better? The love I teach is of, the spirit, not of the flesh. Under my roof, be sure, a boy will come to no harm.
Fifth D. Very unconvincing that. A teacher of the art of love, and never meddle with anything but the spirit? Never use the opportunities your office gives you?
Soc. Now by Dog and Plane-tree, it is as I say!
Fifth D. Heracles! What strange Gods are these?
Soc. Why, the Dog is a God, I suppose? Is not Anubis made much of in Egypt? Is there not a Dog-star in Heaven, and a Cerberus in the lower world?
Fifth D. Quite so. My mistake. Now what is your manner of life?
Soc. I live in a city of my own building; I make my own laws, and have a novel constitution of my own.
Fifth D. I should like to hear some of your statutes.
Soc. You shall hear the greatest of them all. No woman shall be restricted to one husband. Every man who likes is her husband.
Fifth D. What! Then the laws of adultery are clean swept away?
Soc. I should think they were! and a world of hair-splitting with them.
Fifth D. And what do you do with the handsome boys?
Soc. Their kisses are the reward of merit, of noble and spirited actions.
Fifth D. Unparalleled generosity!— And now, what are the main features of your philosophy?
Soc. Ideas and types of things. All things that you see, the earth and all that is upon it, the sea, the sky,— each has its counterpart in the invisible world.
Fifth D. And where are they?
Soc. Nowhere. Were they anywhere, they were not what they are.
Fifth D. I see no signs of these ‘types’ of yours.
Soc. Of course not; because you are spiritually blind. I see the counterparts of all things; an invisible you, an invisible me; everything is in duplicate.
Fifth D. Come, such a shrewd and lynx-eyed creed is worth a bid. Let me see. What do you want for him?
Her. Five hundred.
Fifth D. Done with you. Only I must settle the bill another day.
Her. What name?
Fifth D. Dion; of Syracuse.
Her. Take him, and much good may he do you. Now I want Epicureanism. Who offers for Epicureanism? He is a disciple of the laughing creed and the drunken creed, whom we were offering just now. But he has one extra accomplishment — impiety. For the rest, a dainty, lickerish creed.
Sixth D. What price?
Her. Eight pounds.
Sixth D. Here you are. By the way, you might let me know what he likes to eat.
Her. Anything sweet. Anything with honey in it. Dried figs are his favourite dish.
Sixth D. That is all right. We will get in a supply of Carian fig-cakes.
Zeus. Call the next lot. Stoicism; the creed of the sorrowful countenance, the close-cropped creed.
Her. Ah yes, several customers, I fancy, are on the look-out for him. Virtue incarnate! The very quintessence of creeds! Who is for universal monopoly?
Seventh D. How are we to understand that?
Her. Why, here is monopoly of wisdom, monopoly of beauty, monopoly of courage, monopoly of justice. Sole king, sole orator, sole legislator, sole millionaire.
Seventh D. And I suppose sole cook, sole tanner, sole carpenter, and all that?
Seventh D. Regard me as your purchaser, good fellow, and tell me all about yourself. I dare say you think it rather hard to be sold for a slave?
Chrys. Not at all. These things are beyond our control. And what is beyond our control is indifferent.
Seventh D. I don’t see how you make that out.
Chrys. What! Have you yet to learn that of indifferentia some are praeposita and others rejecta?
Seventh D. Still I don’t quite see.
Chrys. No; how should you? You are not familiar with our terms. You lack the comprehensio visi. The earnest student of logic knows this and more than this. He understands the nature of subject, predicate, and contingent, and the distinctions between them.
Seventh D. Now in Wisdom’s name, tell me, pray, what is a predicate? what is a contingent? There is a ring about those words that takes my fancy.
Chrys. With all my heart. A man lame in one foot knocks that foot accidentally against a stone, and gets a cut. Now the man is subject to lameness; which is the predicate. And the cut is a contingency.
Seventh D. Oh, subtle! What else can you tell me?
Chrys. I have verbal involutions, for the better hampering, crippling, and muzzling of my antagonists. This is performed by the use of the far-famed syllogism.
Seventh D. Syllogism! I warrant him a tough customer.
Chrys. Take a case. You have a child?
Seventh D. Well, and what if I have?
Chrys. A crocodile catches him as he wanders along the bank of a river, and promises to restore him to you, if you will first guess correctly whether he means to restore him or not. Which are you going to say?
Seventh D. A difficult question. I don’t know which way I should get him back soonest. In Heaven’s name, answer for me, and save the child before he is eaten up.
Chrys. Ha, ha. I will teach you far other things than that.
Seventh D. For instance?
Chrys. There is the ‘Reaper.’ There is the ‘Rightful Owner.’ Better still, there is the ‘Electra’ and the ‘Man in the Hood.’
Seventh D. Who was he? and who was Electra?
Chrys. She was the Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon, to whom the same thing was known and unknown at the same time. She knew that Orestes was her brother: yet when he stood before her she did not know (until he revealed himself) that her brother was Orestes. As to the Man in the Hood, he will surprise you considerably. Answer me now: do you know your own father?
Seventh D. Yes.
Chrys. Well now, if I present to you a man in a hood, shall you know him? eh?
Seventh D. Of course not.
Chrys. Well, but the Man in the Hood is your father. You don’t know the Man in the Hood. Therefore you don’t know your own father.
Seventh D. Why, no. But if I take his hood off, I shall get at the facts. Now tell me, what is the end of your philosophy? What happens when you reach the goal of virtue?
Chrys. In regard to things external, health, wealth, and the like, I am then all that Nature intended me to be. But there is much previous toil to be undergone. You will first sharpen your eyes on minute manuscripts, amass commentaries, and get your bellyful of outlandish terms. Last but not least, it is forbidden to be wise without repeated doses of hellebore.
Seventh D. All this is exalted and magnanimous to a degree. But what am I to think when I find that you are also the creed of cent-per-cent, the creed of the usurer? Has he swallowed his hellebore? is he made perfect in virtue?
Chrys. Assuredly. On none but the wise man does usury sit well. Consider. His is the art of putting two and two together, and usury is the art of putting interest together. The two are evidently connected, and one as much as the other is the prerogative of the true believer; who, not content, like common men, with simple interest, will also take interest upon interest. For interest, as you are probably aware, is of two kinds. There is simple interest, and there is its offspring, compound interest. Hear Syllogism on the subject. ‘If I take simple interest, I shall also take compound. But I shall take simple interest: therefore I shall take compound.’
Seventh D. And the same applies to the fees you take from your youthful pupils? None but the true believer sells virtue for a fee?
Chrys. Quite right. I take the fee in my pupil’s interest, not because I want it. The world is made up of diffusion and accumulation. I accordingly practise my pupil in the former, and myself in the latter.
Seventh D. But it ought to be the other way. The pupil ought to accumulate, and you, ‘sole millionaire,’ ought to diffuse.
Chrys. Ha! you jest with me? Beware of the shaft of insoluble syllogism.
Seventh D. What harm can that do?
Chrys. It cripples; it ties the tongue, and turns the brain. Nay, I have but to will it, and you are stone this instant.
Seventh D. Stone! You are no Perseus, friend?
Chrys. See here. A stone is a body?
Seventh D. Yes.
Chrys. Well, and an animal is a body?
Seventh D. Yes.
Chrys. And you are an animal?
Seventh D. I suppose I am.
Chrys. Therefore you are a body. Therefore a stone.
Seventh D. Mercy, in Heaven’s name! Unstone me, and let me be flesh as heretofore.
Chrys. That is soon done. Back with you into flesh! Thus: Is every body animate?
Seventh D. No.
Chrys. Is a stone animate?
Seventh D. No.
Chrys. Now, you are a body?
Seventh D. Yes.
Chrys. And an animate body?
Seventh D. Yes.
Chrys. Then being animate, you cannot be a stone.
Seventh D. Ah! thank you, thank you. I was beginning to feel my limbs growing numb and solidifying like Niobe’s. Oh, I must have you. What’s to pay?
Her. Fifty pounds.
Seventh D. Here it is.
Her. Are you sole purchaser?
Seventh D. Not I. All these gentlemen here are going shares.
Her. A fine strapping lot of fellows, and will do the ‘Reaper’ credit.
Zeus. Don’t waste time. Next lot,— the Peripatetic!
Her. Now, my beauty, now, Affluence! Gentlemen, if you want Wisdom for your money, here is a creed that comprises all knowledge.
Eighth D. What is he like?
Her. He is temperate, good-natured, easy to get on with; and his strong point is, that he is twins.
Eighth D. How can that be?
Her. Why, he is one creed outside, and another inside. So remember, if you buy him, one of him is called Esoteric, and the other Exoteric.
Eighth D. And what has he to say for himself?
Her. He has to say that there are three kinds of good: spiritual, corporeal, circumstantial.
Eighth D. There’s something a man can understand. How much is he?
Her. Eighty pounds.
Eighth D. Eighty pounds is a long price.
Her. Not at all, my dear sir, not at all. You see, there is some money with him, to all appearance. Snap him up before it is too late. Why, from him you will find out in no time how long a gnat lives, to how many fathoms’ depth the sunlight penetrates the sea, and what an oyster’s soul is like.
Eighth D. Heracles! Nothing escapes him.
Her. Ah, these are trifles. You should hear some of his more abstruse speculations, concerning generation and birth and the development of the embryo; and his distinction between man, the laughing creature, and the ass, which is neither a laughing nor a carpentering nor a shipping creature.
Eighth D. Such knowledge is as useful as it is ornamental. Eighty pounds be it, then.
Her. He is yours.
Zeus. What have we left?
Her. There is Scepticism. Come along, Pyrrhias, and be put up. Quick’s the word. The attendance is dwindling; there will be small competition. Well, who buys Lot 9?
Ninth D. I. Tell me first, though, what do you know?
Ninth D. But how’s that?
Sc. There does not appear to me to be anything.
Ninth D. Are not we something?
Sc. How do I know that?
Ninth D. And you yourself?
Sc. Of that I am still more doubtful.
Ninth D. Well, you are in a fix! And what have you got those scales for?
Sc. I use them to weigh arguments in, and get them evenly balanced, They must be absolutely equal — not a feather-weight to choose between them; then, and not till then, can I make uncertain which is right. Ninth D. What else can you turn your hand to?
Sc. Anything; except catching a runaway.
Ninth D. And why not that?
Sc. Because, friend, everything eludes my grasp.
Ninth D. I believe you. A slow, lumpish fellow you seem to be. And what is the end of your knowledge?
Sc. Ignorance. Deafness. Blindness.
Ninth D. What! sight and hearing both gone?
Sc. And with them judgement and perception, and all, in short, that distinguishes man from a worm.
Ninth D. You are worth money!— What shall we say for him?
Her. Four pounds.
Ninth D. Here it is. Well, fellow; so you are mine?
Sc. I doubt it.
Ninth D. Nay, doubt it not! You are bought and paid for.
Sc. It is a difficult case.... I reserve my decision.
Ninth D. Now, come along with me, like a good slave.
Sc. But how am I to know whether what you say is true?
Ninth D. Ask the auctioneer. Ask my money. Ask the spectators.
Sc. Spectators? But can we be sure there are any?
Ninth D. Oh, I’ll send you to the treadmill. That will convince you with a vengeance that I am your master.
Sc. Reserve your decision.
Ninth D. Too late. It is given.
Her. Stop that wrangling and go with your purchaser. Gentlemen, we hope to see you here again tomorrow, when we shall be offering some lots suitable for plain men, artisans, and shopkeepers.