THE GOLDEN ASS, OR METAMORPHOSES
Vision on the seashore -- appeal to Isis -- the goddess appears and promises rescue -- her festival -- Lucius himself again -- devotes himself to the goddess's service -- initiated -- goes to Rome -- two further initiations - -promised a distinguished future as an advocate and admitted to office in an ancient priestly college by Osiris himself -- happy at last
It was not yet midnight when I awoke with a sudden start to see the full moon just rising from the sea-waves and shining with unusual brilliance. Now, in the silent secrecy of night, was my opportunity. Knowing that this greatest of goddesses was supremely powerful; that all human life was ruled by her Providence; that not only all animals, both tame and wild, but even lifeless things were animated by the divine power of her light and might; that as she waxed and waned, so in sympathy and obedience every creature on earth or in the heavens or in the sea was increased or diminished; and seeing that Fate was now seemingly satiated with my long tale of suffering and was offering me a hope, however late in the day, of rescue: I decided to beg for mercy from the awesome manifestation of the goddess that I now beheld. At once, shaking off my sluggish repose, I jumped up happily and briskly, and eager to purify myself, I plunged into the sea. Seven times I immersed my head, since that is the number which the godlike Pythagoras has told us is most appropriate in religious rituals, and then weeping I uttered my silent prayer to the all-powerful goddess.
'Queen of heaven, whether you are Ceres, nurturing mother and creatrix of crops, who in your joy at finding your daughter again set aside the ancient acorn, fodder for wild beasts, and taught man the use of civilized food, and now fructify the ploughlands of Eleusis; or whether you are Venus Urania, who in the first beginnings of the world by giving birth to Love brought together the opposite sexes and so with never-ending regeneration perpetuated the human race, and now are worshipped in the sanctuary of sea-girt Paphos; or whether you are Phoebus' sister, who by relieving women in labour with your soothing remedies have raised up many peoples, and now are venerated in your shrine at Ephesus; or whether you are Proserpine of the fearful night-howling and triple countenance, you who hold back the attacks of ghosts and control the gates of hell, who pass at will among the sacred groves and are propitiated with many different rites; you who brighten cities everywhere with your female light and nourish the fertile seeds with your moist warmth and dispense according to the motions of the Sun an ever-changing radiance; by whatever name, in whatever manner, in whatever guise it is permitted to call on you: do you now at last help me in this extremity of tribulation, do you rebuild the wreck of my fortunes, do you grant peace and respite from the cruel misfortunes that I have endured: let there be an end of toils, an end of perils. Banish this loathsome animal shape, return me to the sight of my friends and family, restore Lucius to himself; or if I have offended some power that still pursues me with its savagery and will not be appeased, then at last let me die if I may not live.'
Such were the prayers that I poured forth, accompanied with pitiful lamentations; then sleep once more enveloped my fainting senses and overcame me in the same resting-place as before. I had scarcely closed my eyes when out of the sea there emerged the head of the goddess, turning on me that face revered even by the gods; then her radiant likeness seemed by degrees to take shape in its entirety and stand, shaking off the brine, before my eyes. Let me try to convey to you too the wonderful sight that she presented, that is if the poverty of human language will afford me the means of doing so or the goddess herself will furnish me with a superabundance of expressive eloquence.
First her hair: long, abundant, and gently curling, it fell caressingly in spreading waves over her divine neck and shoulders. Her head was crowned with a diadem variegated with many different flowers; in its centre, above her forehead, a disc like a mirror or rather an image of the moon shone with a white radiance. This was flanked on either side by a viper rising sinuously erect; and over all was a wreath of ears of corn. Her dress was of all colours, woven of the finest linen, now brilliant white, now saffron yellow, now a flaming rose-red. But what above all made me stare and stare again was her mantle. This was jet-black and shone with a dark resplendence; it passed right round her, under her right arm and up to her left shoulder, where it was bunched and hung down in a series of many folds to the tasselled fringes of its gracefully waving hem. Along its embroidered border and all over its surface shone a scattered pattern of stars, and in the middle of them the full moon radiated flames of fire. Around the circumference of this splendid garment there ran one continuous garland all made up of flowers and fruits. Quite different were the symbols that she held. In her right hand was a bronze sistrum, a narrow strip of metal curved back on itself like a sword-belt and pierced by a number of thin rods, which when shaken in triple time gave off a rattling sound. From her left hand hung a gold pitcher, the upper part of its handle in the form of a rampant asp with head held aloft and neck puffed out. Her ambrosial feet were shod with sandals woven from palm-leaves, the sign of victory. In this awesome shape the goddess, wafting over me all the blessed perfumes of Arabia, deigned to answer me in her own voice.
'I come, Lucius, moved by your entreaties: I, mother of the universe, mistress of all the elements, first-born of the ages, highest of the gods, queen of the shades, first of those who dwell in heaven, representing in one shape all gods and goddesses. My will controls the shining heights of heaven, the health-giving sea-winds, and the mournful silences of hell; the entire world worships my single godhead in a thousand shapes, with divers rites, and under many a different name. The Phrygians, first-born of mankind, call me the Pessinuntian Mother of the gods; the native Athenians the Cecropian Minerva; the island-dwelling Cypriots Paphian Venus; the archer Cretans Dictynnan Diana; the triple-tongued Sicilians Stygian Proserpine; the ancient Eleusinians Actaean Ceres; some call me Juno, some Bellona, others Hecate, others Rhamnusia; but both races of Ethiopians, those on whom the rising and those on whom the setting sun shines, and the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning, honour me with the worship which is truly mine and call me by my true name: Queen Isis. I am here in pity for your misfortunes, I am here with favour and goodwill. Cease now your weeping, put an end to your lamentation, banish your grief: now by my Providence the day of your release is dawning. Attend therefore with your whole mind to the orders I give you.
'The day which will be born of this night has been consecrated to me by immemorial religious usage. It is the day on which the tempests of winter have abated and the stormy sea-waves have subsided, when the ocean is again navigable and my priests sacrifice a brand-new ship as the first-offering of the season's trade. It is this ceremony that you must await without anxiety and without unholy thoughts. My priest has been warned by me; he will be carrying in his right hand as part of his processional equipment a sistrum wreathed with a garland of roses. You must not hesitate, but make your way briskly through the crowd and join the procession, relying on my goodwill. Approach the priest and, as if kissing his hand, gently take a bite of the roses, and in a moment you will divest yourself of the hide of this vile beast that has always been so hateful to me. Do not fear that anything I tell you to do will be difficult. At the very moment that I am appearing to you, I am also present to my priest while he sleeps, telling him what must be done next. At my orders the serried ranks of the crowd will give you passage, and amid the joyful ceremonies and festive spectacles no one will be repelled by that ugly appearance you wear or put a sinister construction on your sudden change of shape and make spiteful accusations against you.
'But this you must remember well and keep forever stored up in your inmost heart: the remaining course of your life right up until your last breath is now solemnly promised to me. It is only just that you should make over all the rest of your time on earth to her by whose beneficence you will be made human again. And you will live happily, you will live gloriously under my protection; and when you have completed your lifespan and descend to the shades, there also in that subterranean hemisphere I, whom you now behold, shall be there, shining amidst the darkness of Acheron and reigning in the secret depths of Styx, and you shall dwell in the Elysian Fields and constantly worship me and be favoured by me. But if by diligent observance and pious service and steadfast chastity you shall have deserved well of my godhead, know that I alone also have the power to prolong your life beyond the bounds fixed for you by your Fate.'
The awesome prophecy was ended, and the invincible goddess withdrew into herself. I at once awoke from sleep and arose with mixed feelings of fear and joy, followed by a mighty sweat. Greatly wondering at the way in which the powerful goddess had manifested herself to my sight, I bathed in the sea and, attentive to her august commands, began to con over her instructions point by point. As soon as the golden sun arose to dispel the dark clouds of night, all the streets were immediately filled with bustling crowds. There was a feeling of holy exhilaration in the air; quite apart from my private happiness, everything seemed to me so gay and cheerful that I felt that even the various animals, the houses, the day itself, wore an air of serene enjoyment. Yesterday's frost had been swiftly followed by a calm sunny morning: the springlike warmth had brought out all the songbirds, who in tuneful chorus were propitiating the mother of the stars, the parent of the seasons, the mistress of the whole world, with their pretty greetings. Then the trees too, both the fertile with their yield of fruit and the infertile with only shade to offer, were all bright with budding leaves as they opened out in the south wind, which rustled sweetly in their gently waving branches. The huge roaring of the tempests had abated, the swelling turmoil of the waves had subsided, and the sea was quietly lapping the shore. The clouds had scattered and the sky shone out in all its clear bright luminous brilliance.
And now there began to appear the curtain-raiser to the great procession. This consisted of men finely got up, each according to his fancy: one was girt with a sword-belt and represented a soldier; another's short cloak, boots and spear identified him as a hunter; while another, dressed in gilded slippers and a silk gown, wearing expensive ornaments and a wig, swung his hips as he walked in imitation of a woman. Yet another was conspicuous in greaves, shield, helmet and sword, straight out of a gladiatorial school. There was one with a purple robe and fasces playing the magistrate; one who with cloak and stick and sandals and goatlike beard passed himself off as a philosopher; and there were a pair carrying their respective rods, one impersonating a fowler complete with birdlime, the other a fisherman with hook and line. I also saw a tame bear dressed as a lady and being borne along in a litter; a monkey in a cloth cap and saffron-coloured Phrygian dress to look like Ganymede the shepherd-boy and holding a gold cup; and an ass with a pair of wings fastened to him walking along with a lame old man, recognizable as Pegasus and Bellerophon respectively, a comic duo.
While these popular sports and diversions were going on all over the place, the saviour goddess's own procession was getting under way. First came women in shining white attire, proudly displaying the different symbols they bore and garlanded with spring Bowers, who strewed the street along which the sacred procession passed with flowers from the folds of their robes. Others held shining mirrors behind them to render homage to the goddess as she advanced. Others again carried ivory combs and with movements of their arms and fingers imitated the combing and dressing of the royal hair; and others sprinkled the streets with drops of festive balsam and other perfumes. There was also a large group of both sexes with lamps, torches, candles and every kind of man-made light to do honour to her from whom spring the stars of heaven. Next came tuneful bands of music, pipes and recorders sounding sweet melodies. They were followed by a specially chosen choir of handsome young men resplendently dressed in their best snow-white robes who were singing a charming hymn composed and set to music by a skilful poet favoured by the Muses, its text preluding the solemn prayers that were to come. Then came pipers in the service of great Sarapis, playing on their instruments, which extended to their right ears, the strain belonging to the god and his temple; and a number of others whose role was to call on the crowd to give free passage to the procession.
Then came the throng of those initiated in the mysteries, men and women of all ranks and ages in shining robes of pure white linen. The women's hair was perfumed and covered with a transparent veil, the men had their heads clean-shaven and gleaming, and their sistrums of bronze or silver or in some cases gold combined to produce a clear shrill strain. There followed the earthly stars of the great faith, the priests of the cult, those grandees, clad in tightly-fitting white linen from breast to ankle and displaying the symbols of the most mighty gods in all their glory. The first held up a lamp burning with a bright flame, not one like those which light our dinner-tables at night, but a boat-shaped vessel of gold feeding a more ample flame from its central opening. The second was similarly attired, but carried in both hands one of those altars called Altars of Succour, so named from the succouring Providence of the sovereign goddess. A third came bearing aloft a golden palm-branch of delicate workmanship and a copy of Mercury's caduceus. A fourth displayed an image of justice, a model of a left hand with palm outstretched: this hand, as naturally inactive and unendowed with cleverness or contrivance, being thought more apt to symbolize justice than the right. He was also carrying a gold vessel rounded in the shape of a breast from which he poured libations of milk. A fifth carried a golden basket heaped with laurel branches, and a sixth a large jar.
Next appeared the gods who deigned to proceed on human feet. First was the dread messenger between the gods above and the Underworld, his dog's head held high aloft, his face now black, now gold: Anubis, holding a caduceus in his right hand and brandishing a green palm-leaf in his left. Hard on his heels followed a cow standing upright, the fertile image of the All-Mother, proudly borne on the shoulders of one of her blessed priests. Another was carrying a chest containing mystic emblems and securely concealing the secrets of the glorious faith. Another carried in his fortunate embrace the worshipful image of the supreme divinity. It was not in the shape of a domestic animal or a wild beast or even a human being, but one that claimed veneration from the very originality of its ingenious inspiration, an inexpressible symbol of a loftier faith to be shielded in profound silence. This was the form it took: a small urn of bright gold, artfully shaped with a well-rounded body and decorated outside with wonderful Egyptian figures; it had a short neck with a long projecting spout, opposite which was fixed a handle which also projected in a sweeping curve. Its finial was a coiled asp with striped scaly neck puffed up and held high.
And now the promised beneficence of the ever-present goddess drew near, and there appeared the priest who held in his hands my fate and my salvation. Equipped exactly as she had ordained and promised, he carried in his right hand a sistrum for the goddess and for me a garland -- rather a crown, as befitted the victory vouchsafed me by the great goddess's Providence, after enduring so much suffering and surmounting so many dangers, over the malignant onslaughts of Fortune. However, deeply moved though I was with sudden joy, I did not press forward roughly, fearing that the abrupt incursion of an animal would disturb the peace and order of the ceremony. Moving cautiously at an even, almost human, pace, I gradually insinuated myself sideways into the crowd, which made way for me as if (as indeed it was) divinely prompted.
The priest, mindful, as I could tell from his actions, of last night's prophecy and marvelling at how exactly everything agreed with his instructions, at once stopped and of his own accord held the garland to my lips. Nervously, my heart pounding, I greedily took the plaited wreath of lovely roses in my mouth and in my passionate longing for the fulfilment of the promise gulped it down. The goddess was true to her word: in a moment my hideous beastly shape fell away. First there vanished my rough coat, then my thick hide became thin skin, my swelling belly drew itself in, fingers and toes emerged from my hooves, my hands were feet no longer but, as I stood up, extended to perform their proper function, my long neck contracted, my face and head became round, my huge ears reverted to their former size, my boulders of teeth returned to human proportions, and -- what had been my chief cross -- my tail was no longer there. The people were amazed, and the faithful bowed down before this public manifestation of the power of the great goddess, the ease with which the transformation was accomplished and its miraculous conformity with the nocturnal visions; and raising their hands to heaven, loudly and with one voice they bore witness to the goddess's marvellous beneficence.
As for me, 1 stood transfixed in silent stupefaction. My mind could not take in this sudden overwhelming joy, and I did not know what I ought to say first, how I should begin to use my new gift of speech, which would be the most auspicious expression with which to celebrate the rebirth of my tongue, what were the most suitable words in which to utter my thanks to so great a goddess. However, the priest, who had been apprised through the divine revelation of the whole tale of my misfortunes and who was himself greatly affected by this signal miracle, silently indicated that I should be given a linen garment to cover me up; for from the moment that I was stripped of the ass's hateful integument, I had kept my legs tightly closed and my hands clasped carefully in front of me, maintaining decency, so far as I could being stark naked, with this natural covering. At once one of the crowd of worshippers took off his outer tunic and quickly wrapped me in it. That done, the priest, gazing intently at me with a benevolent expression and the air of one inspired, addressed me as follows.
'Many and various are the sufferings you have endured, and fierce the tempests and storm-winds of Fortune by which you have been tossed; but at last, Lucius, you have come to the harbour of Tranquillity and the altar of Pity. Neither your birth, nor yet your rank, nor even your pre-eminent learning were of the slightest help to you, but in the unsteadiness of your green youth you lowered yourself to servile pleasures and reaped a bitter reward for your ill-starred curiosity. But in spite of all, Fortune in her blindness, all the while that she was tormenting and cruelly imperiling you, has by the very exercise of her unforeseeing malignity brought you to this state of holy felicity. Now let her go, let her vent her mad rage elsewhere and find some other subject for her cruelty; against those whose lives our sovereign goddess has claimed for her service mischance cannot prevail.
Brigands, wild beasts, slavery, journeys hither and thither along rugged roads, the daily fear of death -- of what avail were these to her malevolence? You have now been received into the protection of Fortune, but a Fortune that can see, whose shining light illumines even the other gods. Put on now a happier look in keeping with the bright dress you wear, and with exultant step join the procession of the saviour goddess. Let the infidels behold, let them behold and know their error: see, delivered from his former tribulations by the Providence of great Isis, here is Lucius rejoicing and triumphing over his Fortune. But for your greater safety and protection, enrol yourself a soldier in this sacred service to which you were just now called to swear allegiance; dedicate yourself now to the discipline of our faith, and submit yourself as a volunteer to the yoke of our ministry. For once you begin to serve the goddess, then you will really experience the enjoyment of your liberty.'
Having uttered this inspired speech, the worthy priest, exhausted and breathing heavily, fell silent. I then joined the throng of the devotees and escorted their sacred charge, the cynosure of the whole city, as they all pointed me out to one another. Nobody could talk of anything else: 'That's him, the one that the august power of the goddess has just restored to human shape. Happy man indeed, and thrice blessed to have deserved such glorious favour from heaven! It can only be the reward of a blameless and pious life; no sooner is he, as it were, born again than he's pledged to the sacred service.'
During all this, amid a roar of joyful invocations, our gradual progress had brought us to the seashore, to the very spot where as an ass I had been stabled the night before. The images of the gods were first set out as the ritual prescribed. There stood a ship, a triumph of craftsmanship, its sides decorated with marvellous Egyptian paintings: the high priest, after first pronouncing a solemn prayer from his chaste lips, with the utmost ceremony purified it with a flaming torch, an egg, and sulphur, named it, and consecrated it to the great goddess. The resplendent sail of this happy vessel displayed letters embroidered in gold repeating the prayer for the new sailing season and successful navigation. The mast, shaped from a pine-trunk, was already stepped and towered aloft, a splendid sight with its distinctive top. The poop was curved in a goose-neck and was plated with shining gold, and the whole hull was of citrus-wood, highly polished to a glowing finish. All the people, initiates and uninitiated alike, then vied with each other to pile up on board baskets heaped with perfumes and other similar offerings, and also poured libations of milk-porridge into the sea. At length, stowed full with this wealth of gifts and propitious offerings, the ship was cast off from her moorings and put out to sea before a gentle breeze. When she had sailed too far for us to be able to make her out, the bearers of the sacred objects took up again what each had brought and returned happily to the temple in the same orderly procession.
When we arrived there, the chief priest and those who had carried the images of the gods and those initiates who were allowed to enter the holy of holies went into the chamber of the goddess and restored the living images to their proper places. Then one of their number, whom the rest addressed as the Scribe, took up his stand outside the door and summoned the Pastophori -- this is the name of the sacred college -- to a sort of formal assembly. There, on a raised dais, he first read out from a written text auspicious prayers for the Emperor, the Senate, and the knights and all the Roman people, for the seamen and ships under the rule of our worldwide empire; and then with Greek ceremony and in Greek announced the opening of the sailing season. His words were greeted with a shout from the people proclaiming their gladness at the good omen. Transported with joy and bearing green twigs and branches and garlands, they kissed the feet of the silver statue of the goddess on the temple steps and then dispersed to their homes. As for me, I could not bear to think of stirring an inch, but with my eyes fixed on the goddess's image I thought over my past adventures.
Meanwhile swift Rumour had not been slow to take wing and had already spread abroad in my homeland the story of the foreseeing goddess's worshipful beneficence and my remarkable good fortune. Accordingly my friends and household and all my closest relatives at once left off from the grieving occasioned by the false reports of my death, and overjoyed by the unexpected good news came hurrying, all with different gifts, to see for themselves one who had returned from the Underworld to the light of day. Never having expected to set eyes on any of them ever again I was greatly cheered and gratefully accepted their generous contributions, my friends having very considerately thought to provide me with the wherewithal to clothe and maintain myself in comfort.
When therefore I had done my duty by greeting all of them and giving them a summary account of my past tribulations and my present happiness, I returned to what really gave me most pleasure, contemplation of the goddess. I rented a lodging in the temple precincts, where I set up house for the time being, joining privately in the service of the goddess, constantly associating with the priests, and incessantly adoring the great divinity. No night or snatch of sleep passed without her appearing to admonish me. Again and again she laid her sacred commands on me: I had long been singled out for initiation; now, she decreed, I must take the plunge. Though for myself I was eager and willing, I was held back by religious scruples. I had made thorough inquiries and knew that compliance with the requirements of her worship was not easy, that the practice of chastity and abstinence was very hard, and that a life that was subject to so many mischances had to be surrounded with a rampart of careful precaution. As I repeatedly thought all this over, impatient as I was, somehow or other I went on putting things off.
One night I dreamed that the high priest appeared with a pocketful of something which he offered me. When I asked what it was he replied that these were some 'portions' that had been sent me from Thessaly, and that a slave of mine called Candidus had also arrived from there. When I woke up I puzzled for a long time over what this vision might portend, more especially because I was sure I had ever had a slave of that name. However, be the event of this dream-prophecy what it might, I thought the offer of 'portions' could only signify a sure prospect of gain. So in high expectation of a fruitful outcome I waited for the morning opening of the temple. When the white curtains were drawn apart and the venerable image of the goddess was revealed, we all adored her; the priest meanwhile was making the rounds of the various altars, worshipping and offering the customary prayers at each, and pouring from a special vessel a libation of water fetched from the innermost shrine. When all this had been duly performed, the voices of the faithful were raised to salute the dawn and announce the first hour of a new day. Then, at that precise moment, there arrived from Hypata the servants I had left behind after Photis' disastrous mistake had embridled me, they having of course now learned what had happened to me. With them they brought back my horse; he had been sold on from one owner to another, but they had traced him by the brand on his back and reclaimed him. So I was left marvelling at how neatly my dream had worked out, not only the fulfilment of its promise of gain but the recovery of my horse, which was indeed a white one, symbolized by the slave Candidus.
This event caused me to devote myself even more attentively to my religious duties, seeing in these present benefits an earnest of more to come. My desire to be admitted to the mysteries was growing with every day that passed, and I constantly applied to the high priest with urgent prayers that he would finally initiate me into the secrets of the sacred night. He however, a man of great discretion and renowned for his strict religious observance, gently and kindly, as parents restrain the immature impulses of their children, kept putting off my importunities, soothing my anxiety with the consoling hope of better things to come. He pointed out that the day on which any individual might be initiated was declared by the will of the goddess, and the officiating priest was also chosen by her Providence; even the expenses of the ceremony were likewise regulated by her decision. All this he counselled me to bear dutifully and patiently; for I must, he said, do my utmost to guard against excess of zeal on the one hand and obstinacy on the other, both faults to be equally avoided, neither delaying when called nor chafing when not called. None of their company was so abandoned or indeed set on his own destruction as to dare to perform this ceremony unless personally ordered to do so by his mistress; that would be a reckless act of sacrilege and a crime carrying sentence of death. For the keys of hell and the guarantee of salvation were in the hands of the goddess, and the initiation ceremony itself took the form of a kind of voluntary death and salvation through divine grace. Such as might be safely entrusted with the great secrets of our religion, when they had passed through life and stood on the threshold of darkness, these the power of the goddess was wont to select and when they had been as it were reborn return them to a new lifespan. Thus I too should acquiesce in the bidding of heaven, even though long named and marked out by the clear and conspicuous favour of the great goddess for her blessed service. Meanwhile, like her other votaries, I should immediately abstain from unholy forbidden foods so that I might the better attain to the secret mysteries of this purest of religions.
The priest having put it like this, I did not allow my impatience to affect my obedience but, calmly and quietly and maintaining a commendable silence, I devoted myself in earnest to the sacred worship for some days. However, the mighty goddess in her saving beneficence did not disappoint me or torment me by prolonged delay; one dark night she gave the clearest possible orders, warning me plainly that the day I had always longed for, in which she would grant my heartfelt prayer, had arrived. She told me how much it would cost to provide for the ceremony, and she decreed that her own high priest Mithras should conduct it, he being, as she told me, linked to me by a divinely ordained conjunction of our stars. Encouraged by these and other kind admonitions from the sovereign goddess, before it was fully light I aroused myself from sleep and went straight to the high priest's apartments, where I met him and greeted him just as he was leaving his room. I had resolved to put my request for initiation more pressingly than ever, as being now my due; but the moment he saw me he anticipated me. 'Fortunate Lucius!' he exclaimed. 'Happy man, to be so greatly honoured by the august goddess's grace and favour! But come,' he added, 'why do you stand there idle, yourself your own delay? The day is here that you have longed and prayed for so incessantly, the day on which by the divine command of the goddess of many names you are to be inducted by these hands of mine into the most holy mysteries of our faith.' And holding my arm affectionately the old man then and there took me out to the doors of the great temple, and after the solemn ritual of opening them and the performance of the morning sacrifice he brought out from the holy of holies some books written in unknown characters. Some of these represented various animals and were shorthand for formulaic expressions, and some were in the form of knots or rounded like a wheel or twisted at the ends like vine-tendrils, to guard their meaning against the curiosity of the uninitiated. From these he read out to me what I needed to procure for my initiation.
This I at once proceeded to buy as directed and without counting the cost, partly from my own resources and partly with the help of my friends. Then, when the priest said the moment had come, he led me to the nearest baths, escorted by the faithful in a body, and there, after I had bathed in the usual way, having invoked the blessing of the gods he ceremoniously aspersed and purified me. Next I was taken back to the temple, the day being now two-thirds over, where he made me stand at the goddess's feet and privately gave me certain instructions which are too sacred to divulge. Then with everybody present he ordered me to abstain from the pleasures of the table for the next ten days and not to eat the flesh of any animal or drink any wine. This abstinence I observed with reverential restraint as instructed. Then the day came which was fixed for my pledged appearance before the goddess. Towards sunset there came flocking from all sides crowds of people, all bearing different gifts in my honour, according to the ancient practice of the mysteries. Then the uninitiated were all made to leave, I was dressed in a brand-new linen robe, and the priest took me by the hand and conducted me to the very innermost part of the sanctuary.
I dare say, attentive reader, that you are all agog to know what was then said and done. I should tell you if it were lawful to tell it; you should learn if it were lawful to hear it. But then your ears and my tongue would both incur equal guilt, the one for sacrilegious loquacity, the other for importunate curiosity. But since it may be that your anxious yearning is piously motivated, I will not torment you by prolonging your anguish. Listen then, but believe; for what I tell you is the truth. I came to the boundary of death and after treading Proserpine's threshold I returned having traversed all the elements; at midnight I saw the sun shining with brilliant light; I approached the gods below and the gods above face to face and worshipped them in their actual presence. Now I have told you what, though you have heard it, you cannot know. So all that can without sin be revealed to the understanding of the uninitiated, that and no more I shall relate.
Morning came, and, the ceremonies duly performed, I came forth attired in the twelve robes of my consecration, a truly mystical dress, but nothing prevents me from mentioning it since a great many people were there and saw it at the time. For in the very heart of the sacred temple, before the statue of the goddess, a wooden platform had been set up, on which I took my stand as bidden. I was a striking sight, since though my dress was only of fine linen it was colourfully embroidered, and from my shoulders there fell behind me to my ankles a costly cloak. Wherever you looked, I was decorated all over with pictures of multicoloured animals: here Indian serpents, there Hyperborean griffins with bird-like wings, creatures of another world. This is what initiates call an Olympic robe. In my right hand I held a flaming torch and my head was encircled with a beautiful crown of palm, its bright leaves projecting like rays. Equipped thus in the image of the Sun I stood like a statue while the curtains were suddenly pulled back and the people crowded in to gaze at me. Following this I celebrated my rebirth as an initiate with enjoyable feasting and good-humoured conviviality. The third day too was celebrated with similar ceremonies and a sacramental breakfast, marking the formal conclusion of my initiation.
For a few days I remained enjoying the inexpressible pleasure of contemplating the image of the goddess, bound as I was to her by a boon I could never repay. At last, at the bidding of the goddess herself, having paid my debt of gratitude to her, not indeed in full but as fully as my means allowed, I set about preparing my long-delayed return home, though it was hard for me to sever the bonds of my ardent yearning. Finally I prostrated myself before her, and repeatedly kissing her feet and weeping profusely, my words constantly strangled by sobs and my voice choking in my throat, I prayed.
'Hail, holy one, eternal saviour of the human race, ever cherishing mortals with your bounty, you who extend a mother's tender love to the sufferings of the unfortunate. Not a day, not a night, not a fleeting second passes in which your goodness is not at work, safeguarding men on land and sea, quelling life's storms and holding out that rescuing hand which can even unravel the inextricably tangled threads of the Fates, calm the tempests of Fortune, and check the baleful motions of the stars. The gods above worship you, the gods below revere you; you make the earth revolve, you give the sun his light, you rule the universe, you trample hell under your feet. Obedient to you the stars rise and set, the seasons return, the powers rejoice, the elements perform their service. At your bidding the winds blow, the clouds nourish, the seeds germinate, the buds break and grow. Your majesty is held in awe by the birds that fly in the heavens, the beasts that roam in the mountains, the snakes that slide over the earth, the monsters that swim in the deep. As for me, my talents are too meagre to recite your praises and my means too slender to offer you sacrifice; and my eloquence is too poor and barren to express what I feel about your majesty -- for which indeed a thousand mouths and as many tongues and a flow of words that never tired and lasted forever would not suffice. And so I shall faithfully do all that a man can who is a devotee, though a poor one: I shall keep and contemplate your divine countenance and your holy power in the secret recesses of my heart for ever.'
Having thus propitiated the great goddess, I embraced the priest Mithras, now my father, and hanging on his neck and repeatedly kissing him I asked him to forgive me for not being able to recompense him properly for his many kindnesses. Then, after expressing my gratitude at great length, I finally parted from him and made haste to revisit my ancestral home after my long absence. However, after a few days, at the prompting of the mighty goddess, I hurriedly packed and took ship for Rome. After a prosperous voyage with favourable winds I arrived safely at Ostia; from there I took a fast carriage and reached the holy city on the evening of the twelfth of December. My most urgent desire was then to offer my prayers daily to the supreme power of Queen Isis, to her who from the site of her temple is called Isis of the Field and is the subject of special veneration and adoration. I was from then on a constant worshipper, a newcomer it is true to this shrine but no stranger to the faith.
Now the great Sun had traversed the zodiac and a year had passed, when the tranquil course of my life was once more interrupted by the unsleeping concern of the beneficent goddess, warning me of a second initiation and a second set of ceremonies. I could not imagine what she purposed or what she was foretelling, since I quite thought that I had been completely initiated some time ago. These conscientious misgivings I pondered in my own mind and I also took advice from other members of the cult. I was surprised to discover that though I had indeed been initiated, it was only into the mysteries of Isis, and I had yet to attain enlightenment in the mysteries of the great god, supreme father of the gods, the invincible Osiris. Though the nature and cult of the two deities was closely connected, indeed one and the same, yet the process of initiation was quite different. I should therefore understand that the great god too was calling me to his service.
I was not long left in doubt. The very next night I dreamed that there appeared to me one of the faithful dressed in linen and carrying a wand tipped with ivy and other things I may not mention. These he put down in my lodging, and sitting in my seat announced a banquet in honour of our great faith. To furnish me with a sure sign by which I should know him again, he had a slightly deformed left ankle, so that he limped a little in his walk. With so clear an expression of the will of the gods the dark cloud of uncertainty at once lifted and vanished, and after my morning prayer to the goddess I eagerly asked all the others whether any of them had a limp as in my dream. Confirmation was soon forthcoming: I immediately spotted one of the college who not only limped but whose appearance and dress exactly matched that of the previous night's apparition. I later found out that his name was Asinius Marcellus, very apt in view of my transformation. I lost no time in getting hold of him, and found that he already knew what I was going to tell him, he having already been likewise instructed that he was to initiate me. The previous night he had dreamed that while he was garlanding the statue of the great god he had learned from that very mouth which announces every man's destiny that there was sent to him a man from Madaura, quite a poor man, whom he was at once to initiate into his faith. For that man literary renown and for himself a great reward were prepared by the god's Providence.
Though thus pledged to initiation and eager as 1 was, I was held back by the slenderness of my means. My modest patrimony had been used up in paying for my travels, and the cost of living at Rome was much higher than in the provinces where I came from. With my poverty interposing its veto I found myself sorely perplexed, caught, as they say, between the devil and the deep sea. The god continued to press me relentlessly, and his repeated goading, which in the end became a command, was most distressing to me. Eventually by selling my wardrobe, such as it was, I scraped together the small sum that was needed. This in fact I did by his express orders. 'Come,' he said, 'if you were planning some scheme for mere enjoyment, you wouldn't have any scruples about disposing of your clothes; now, when you are about to undergo so important a ceremony, do you hesitate to commit yourself to a poverty you will have no cause to regret?' So therefore, everything being properly prepared, I once more went for ten days without eating animal food and once more had my head shaved. Then, enlightened by the nocturnal mysteries of the supreme god, I began in full confidence my devotions in this twin faith. Doing so consoled me a great deal for having to live in foreign parts and afforded me a more ample living into the bargain: for the favouring breeze of Success brought me a small income from pleading in the courts in Latin.
However, it was not very long before the gods once again intervened with the unexpected and startling order that I must undergo yet a third initiation. I was extremely worried and in great perplexity asked myself anxiously what the gods might mean by this new and unlooked-for demand. I had been initiated twice: what was there left to do? 'Those two priests,' I said to myself, 'must have given me bad advice or overlooked something' -- and I actually, I must admit, began to entertain suspicions of their good faith. While I was in this agitated state, driven almost insane with worry, I was visited one night by an apparition which gently imparted the following revelation: 'You have no cause to fear this sequence of initiations or think the first two defective. Rather you should rejoice in this constant favour of the gods and take an exultant delight in it: what is granted once if at all to others, will be yours three times, and you can be sure that this threefold initiation will render you forever blessed. Moreover, this third initiation of yours is necessarily called for, if you remember that the goddess's holy symbols which you received at Cenchreae are still in the temple there where you left them, so that here in Rome you cannot wear them to worship in on feast days or receive illumination from that happy attire when ordered to do so. So, as the great gods command, you must with a glad heart be initiated once more; and may happiness and prosperity and salvation attend your consecration.'
With these words of majestic eloquence the divine apparition declared what needed to be done. I did not put the matter off or idly procrastinate, but at once told the high priest what I had dreamed. At once I submitted myself to abstinence from animal food, and indeed in my voluntary continence I considerably exceeded the ten days prescribed by the immemorial law; and I provided lavishly for the ceremony on a scale dictated by my pious ardour rather than my limited means. Not that I regretted this expenditure either of labour or money -- had I not through the bountiful Providence of the gods made a very pretty thing of my practice in the courts? So after only a few days the god who is the most mighty of the great gods, highest of the mighty, greatest of the highest, and ruler of the greatest, Osiris, appeared to me in my sleep, not transformed into some other shape but face to face, and deigned to address me in his own august voice. I was, he ordered, to continue confidently my distinguished practice as an advocate and I was not to fear the slanders put about by ill-wishers, provoked by my learning and my application to my profession. Furthermore, not wishing me to serve his cult as one of the crowd, he admitted me to the sacred college of the Pastophori and indeed enrolled me in the order of quinquennial decurions. So, with my head once more completely shaved and not covering or veiling my baldness, I entered joyfully on my duties as a member of this ancient college, founded in the time of Sulla.