THE GOLDEN ASS, OR METAMORPHOSES
In quest of witchcraft -- meeting with Byrrhena -- warned against his hostess the witch Pamphile -- makes love to the maid Photis instead -- dinner with Byrrhena -- Thelyphron's story -- promises to contribute to the Festival of Laughter -- encounters and slays three desperate robbers
The moment the sun put the darkness to flight and ushered in a new day, I woke up and arose at once. Being in any case an all too eager student of the remarkable and miraculous, and remembering that I was now in the heart of Thessaly, renowned the whole world over as the cradle of magic arts and spells, and that it was in this very city that my friend Aristomenes' story had begun, I examined attentively everything I saw, on tenterhooks with keen anticipation. There was nothing I looked at in the city that I didn't believe to be other than what it was: I imagined that everything everywhere had been changed by some infernal spell into a different shape -- I thought the very stones I stumbled against must be petrified human beings. I thought the birds I heard singing and the trees growing around the city walls had acquired their feathers and leaves in the same way, and I thought the fountains were liquefied human bodies. I expected statues and pictures to start walking, walls to speak, oxen and other cattle to utter prophecies, and oracles to issue suddenly from the very sky or from the bright sun.
So, spellbound and in a daze of tormented longing I went on prowling, though nowhere did I meet with the slightest trace of what I hoped to find. While wandering from house to house like some reveler out on the town, I found myself unexpectedly in the provision market. There I saw a woman passing by with a train of attendants, and hurried to overtake her. From her gold-mounted jewelry and the gold embroidery on her dress it was clear that she was a person of some consequence. Walking with her was an old man; the moment he saw me, 'My God,' he cried, 'it's Lucius for sure,' and he embraced me and whispered in the woman's ear something I didn't catch. 'Now,' he said to me, 'won't you come and greet your foster-mother?' 'No, really,' I answered, 'I don't know the lady,' and I hung back blushing and shamefaced. But she looked at me and said: 'Yes, he's his sainted mother Salvia all over -- it shows in his breeding and modesty. And hid looks -- it's uncanny, he couldn't be more like her: moderately tall, slim but muscular, nice complexion, a natural blond, simple hairstyle, eyes grey but alert and bright, really like an eagle's, a blooming countenance, a graceful but unaffected walk.' And she went on: 'It was I, Lucius, who brought you up with my own hands -- naturally, being not only related to your mother but having shared a common upbringing. Both of us are descended from Plutarch, and we had the same wet-nurse and grew up together in the bond of sisterhood. The only difference between us is one of rank: she made a brilliant marriage, I a modest one. Yes, I'm Byrrhena: I expect you've often heard my name mentioned as that of one of those who brought you up. So you needn't hesitate to accept the hospitality of my house -- or rather of your own, for yours it now is.' While she was speaking I had had time to recover from my confusion. 'My dear mother,' I said, 'I can't very well throw over my present host Milo, having no cause for complaint, but I'll do my best consistently with my obligation to him. Whenever I can find a reason for coming this way in future, I'll always stay with you.' Chatting like this we came after a short walk to Byrrhena's house.
There was a magnificent entrance-hall, with a column at each of its four corners supporting a statue of Victory. Each of these, wings outspread, appeared to hover without alighting on the unstable foothold of her rolling ball, which her dewy feet just brushed, not standing fixed but seemingly poised in flight. In the exact centre of the hall stood a Diana in Parian marble. It was a brilliant tour de force of sculpture: as one entered the room the goddess with flowing tunic seemed to be coming straight at one in her swift course, inspiring awe by her powerful godhead. To right and left she was flanked by hounds, also of marble. Their look was menacing, their ears pricked, their nostrils flaring, their jaws ravening, and if any barking were heard nearby, you'd think it came from those stony throats. The crowning achievement of this accomplished sculptor's craftsmanship was that, while the hind feet of the dogs were braced firmly against the ground as they sprang forward, their front feet seemed to be running. Behind the goddess there arose a rock in the shape of a grotto, with moss and grass and leaves and branches, vines here and shrubs there, a whole plantation in stone. From inside the grotto the statue was reflected back in all its brilliance by the polished marble. Round the edge of the rock there hung grapes and other fruits so cunningly modeled that art had outdone nature in making them seem real. One would think that when at the time of the vintage the breath of autumn had ripened and coloured them, they could be picked and eaten; and when one stooped to look at the spring which gushed out at the goddess's feet and rippled away in a gentle stream, one would think the hanging clusters were not only real in every other way but were actually moving. From the middle of the foliage there peered out a figure of Actaeon in stone with his prurient gaze fixed on the goddess, the transformation into a stag already begun; one could see both him and his reflection in the spring as he waited for Diana to take her bath.
As I was examining every detail of the group with the utmost enjoyment, 'Everything you see,' said Byrrhena, 'is yours'; and so saying she took the others aside and told them to leave us. When they had gone she turned to me, saying: 'My dearest Lucius, I'm terribly worried about you -- for I look on you as a son and want to see you securely provided for. Do, l implore you by Diana there, do be warned by me: watch out for the wicked wiles and criminal enticements of that woman Pamphile, the one that's married to Milo, him you call your host. Never lower your guard. They say she's a top-class witch, mistress of every kind of graveyard spell. By merely breathing on twigs or pebbles or any kind of small object she can plunge the light of the starry heavens above us into the depths of Tartarus and primeval chaos. The moment she sees a handsome young man, she becomes possessed by his charms and has no eyes or thoughts for anything else. She lavishes endearments on him, moves in on his heart, and binds him in everlasting bonds of insatiable love. And anyone who won't cooperate or gets written off for not fancying her, she instantly turns into a rock or a sheep or some other animal, and some she simply eliminates. That's what I'm afraid of for you, and what I'm telling you to beware of. She's always on heat, and you with your youth and looks would be just what the doctor ordered.'
Byrrhena's words showed how worried she was for me. However, with my usual curiosity, directly I heard the magic word 'magic', so far from resolving to steer clear of Pamphile, I itched to enrol myself as her pupil and to pay handsomely for the privilege -- in a word to take a running leap right into the abyss. So in a delirium of impatience I extracted myself from Byrrhena's embrace as if her hands had been manacles and bidding her a hasty goodbye I hurried off at speed back to Milo's. As I rushed along like a maniac, 'Now, Lucius,' I said to myself, 'watch your step and keep a cool head. Here's the chance you've dreamed of, what you've always wanted. You'll be able to enjoy wonderful stories to your heart's content. Never mind childish fears, get to grips with the thing bravely. Granted, you'd better keep clear of any amorous involvement with your hostess and religiously respect the virtuous Milo's marital couch, but Photis the maid -- you can go all out to make a conquest of her. She's a pretty little thing, likes a joke, and is no fool. Why, when you went to bed last night, how sociably she took you to your room, how sweetly she helped you into bed, how lovingly she tucked you up and kissed your forehead! You could see from her face how reluctant she was to leave you; and she kept stopping to look back at you. It may be risky, but I'll have a go at Photis, and good luck to us!'
While I was arguing the matter out with myself I had arrived at Milo's door, and proceeded, as they say, to vote with my feet. I found neither Milo nor his wife at home, but only my dear Photis. She was getting dinner ready: pork rissoles, a succulent stew, and -- I could smell it from outside -- a splendidly savoury pate. She was wearing a neat linen tunic, with a bright red waistband seductively gathered up high under her breasts. Her pretty hands were engaged in stirring the pot with a brisk circular movement, to which her whole body kept time in a sinuous response, while her hips and supple spine swayed in a delightful undulating rhythm. I stood in amazement, my attention riveted, admiring the sight; and something else stood to attention as well. Finally I said: 'How prettily, darling Photis, you're stirring that pot, and what a jolly rearguard action! That's a delicious stew that you're cooking! It'd be a lucky chap with nothing more to wish for in this world that you allowed to dip his finger in there.' To which the witty little baggage answered: 'You stay away, right away, from my little hearth, or it'll be the worse for you. You've only to be touched by my tiniest spark, and you'll take fire and burn deep down inside you -- and nobody will be able to put out the flames but me. I know all the best recipes, and I'm equally good at keeping things on the move in the kitchen and in bed.'
As she said this, she looked at me and laughed. But I lingered there to drink in every detail of her appearance. As to the rest of her, I've nothing to say: it's only a woman's head and her hair that I'm really interested in. It's what I like to feast my eyes on first in the street, and then enjoy in private indoors. There are good and positive reasons for this preference. The hair is the dominant part of the body: it's placed in the most obvious and conspicuous position and is the first thing we notice. The rest of the body achieves its effect through brightly coloured clothes, the hair through its natural sheen. In fact most women, when they want to show off their personal attractions, discard their clothes altogether and remove all covering, eager to display their beauty naked, and reckoning that rosy skin will please better than gold fabric. If on the other hand -- though it's blasphemy even to mention it, and I devoutly hope that such a thing will never happen to make the point -- if you were to despoil the head of even the most beautiful of women of its hair and rob her face of its natural adornment, though she had come down from heaven, though she had been born from the sea and reared among the waves, I say though she were Venus herself, escorted by her choir of all the Graces and the whole tribe of Cupids, wearing her cestus, fragrant with cinnamon and dripping with perfumes -- if she were bald, not even her Vulcan would love her. Then there is the fascination of its colour and sheen: now vivid enough to outshine the rays of the sun, now gently reflecting them; or varying its charm as its colour varies and contrasts -- sometimes bright gold shading down into pale honey, sometimes raven-black with dark blue highlights like those on the necks of doves; or when, perfumed with Arabian essences and delicately parted, it is gathered behind to give back to the lover's gaze a more flattering reflection; or again when it is so abundant that it is piled high on top of the head, or so long that it flows right down the back. In a nutshell, hair is so important that whatever adornments a woman may appear in -- gold, jewels, fine clothes --unless she's made the most of her hair, you can't call her properly dressed. As for my dear Photis, it wasn't that she had taken great pains with her hairstyle -- it was its casualness that was so fetching. Her luxuriant tresses were carelessly flung back, hanging down her neck and over her shoulders; where they just touched the upper edge of her tunic she had gently looped them up and gathered the ends together into a knot on the top of her head.
I couldn't stand this exquisite agony of pleasure any longer, and leaning over her I planted the most honey-sweet of kisses just where her hair began its climb to the top. She turned her head, and looking at me sideways with fluttering lashes, 'Steady on, youngster,' she said, 'that's a bittersweet morsel you're sampling there. Watch out that too much sweet honey doesn't bring on a chronic case of acidity.' 'I'll risk it, sweetheart,' I said; 'just refresh me with a single kiss, and I'm all ready to be spitted and roasted over that fire of yours,' and so saying I hugged her tight and began to kiss her. By now her passion was beginning to match and rival my own; her mouth opened wide, and her perfumed breath and the ambrosial thrust of her tongue as it met mine revealed her answering desire. 'This is killing me,' I said. 'I'm really done for unless you're going to be kind to me.' Kissing me again, 'Keep calm,' she said, 'I feel just the same, and I'm all yours, body and soul. Our pleasure shan't be put off any longer; I'll come to your room at dusk. Now that's enough; go and prepare yourself, for it's going to be a non-stop battle all night long, with no holds barred.'
After a few more endearments of this kind we parted. Midday arrived, and there came from Byrrhena a welcoming present in the shape of a fat piglet, five pullets, and a flagon of vintage wine. 'Look,' I said, calling Photis, 'here's Bacchus come of his own accord as Venus' supporter and squire. We'll drink every drop of this tonight; it'll put paid to any shyness or backwardness on our part and tune our desires to concert pitch. When one embarks for Cythera the only provisions one needs for a wakeful voyage are plenty of oil in the lamp and wine in the cup.'
The rest of the day was taken up with bath and dinner; for I had been invited to take my place at my friend Milo's elegant table and sample his delicate fare. Remembering Byrrhena's warnings I avoided his wife's gaze as much as I could, dropping my eyes before hers as if in fear of the bottomless pit. However, I kept encouraging myself by glancing over my shoulder at Photis, who was waiting on us. When evening began to fall, Pamphile looked at the lamp and said: 'We'll have a cloudburst tomorrow'; and when her husband asked her how she knew she just said that the lamp had predicted it. Milo laughed at this, saying: 'That's quite a prophetess that we keep here, this lamp which observes everything that happens in the heavens from her stand -- or should I say her observatory?'
At this I struck in. 'That's just the ABC of this method of divination,' I said. 'In fact it's not surprising that this little flame, though it's produced by human agency, has divine foreknowledge of what that greater celestial fire is going to bring about in high heaven and is able to communicate it to us, being, so to speak, its offspring and sharing consciousness with it. Why, at this very moment there is a Chaldean staying in Corinth, where I come from, who's throwing the whole city into turmoil by his wonderful oracles, and publishing the secrets of Fate to all and sundry for cash down. He'll tell you the best day for making a lasting marriage or building a wall that won't fall down, the most suitable for business, the safest for a journey, the most appropriate for a sea voyage. When I asked him how this trip of mine would turn out he told me all sorts of different things, all equally marvelous: that I should win a brilliant reputation and become a legend, an incredible romance in several volumes.'
Milo smiled, 'What does this Chaldean of yours look like?' he asked, 'and what's he called?' 'He's tall,' I said, 'and rather dark- complexioned. His name's Diophanes.' 'That's him,' said Milo, 'the very man. He came here too and uttered a great many prophecies to a great many people. He did quite well, indeed he made a very tidy thing out of it, but then he unfortunately came into collision with Fortune in her most perverse, or rather adverse, mood. He was issuing his predictions one day in the middle of a dense crowd of bystanders when a businessman called Cerdo came up wanting to know the best day for a journey. He got his answer, and had taken out his purse, produced his money and counted out a hundred denarii as the fee for the prophecy, when a fashionable young man came up quietly behind Diophanes and twitched his cloak. When he turned round he found himself embraced and affectionately kissed. He kissed the young man back and asked him to sit down beside him; and being taken completely aback by this sudden arrival forgot the business he was engaged in. "I've been expecting you," he began; "have you been here long?" "Only since yesterday evening," the other answered. "But tell me, my dear fellow, how your land and sea journey went after you had to leave Euboea in such a hurry."
At this our worthy Chaldean Diophanes, still confused and not master of himself, "It was frightful," he answered, "positively Ulyssean. I wouldn't have wished it on my worst enemy. The ship we were on was so battered by storms and winds from every quarter that she lost both her rudders and was driven on to the further shore, which she just made before sinking. We lost all our possessions and had to swim for our lives. Then everything that charitable strangers and kind friends had contributed was taken from us by a gang of robbers; and when my only brother Arignotus tried to resist their violence, he was murdered before my eyes." Before he had finished this lamentable story, Cerdo swept up the money he had intended for the fee and left abruptly. Only then did Diophanes come to his senses and realize what he had lost through his lack of forethought, seeing all us bystanders doubled up with laughter. However, master Lucius, let's hope that our Chaldean told you the truth for once, and the best of luck to you for your journey.'
While Milo continued to hold forth in this vein, I was inwardly groaning, horribly annoyed with myself for having gone out of my way to start this series of irrelevant anecdotes, and so wasting a good part of the evening and its delightful enjoyments. In the end I said to him bluntly: 'Well, Diophanes must take his chance. I only hope that what he plunders from the public he again bestows in equal shares on land and sea. As for me, I'm still dog-tired from yesterday, so if you'll excuse me, I'll go to bed early! So, saying goodnight, I left them and went to my room, where 1 found everything most elegantly arranged for our supper. Beds had been made up on the ground for the slaves some way from the door, to keep them from overhearing the sounds of our lovemaking. By my bed was a table with all the nicest left-overs from dinner, good-sized cups already half full of wine only waiting to be diluted, and the flagon standing by opened and all ready to pour -- just what was needed to prepare lovers for the duels to come.
I had only just got into bed when Photis, having seen her mistress settled for the night, appeared smiling, with a wreath of roses in her hair and a bunch of blooms tucked in her breast. She kissed me lovingly, garlanded me, and scattered blossoms over me; then she took a cup of wine and pouring warm water into it offered it to me. Before I had quite finished it she gently took it from me and drank what was left in a most bewitching manner, sipping in minute installments and gazing at me as she did so. A second and a third cup passed back and forth between us, followed by several others, until at last I was well under the influence. Mind and body alike were throbbing with desire, and finally I couldn't control the impatience that was killing me. Lifting my tunic for a moment I showed Photis that my love could brook no more delay. 'Have pity on me,' I said, 'and come to my rescue -- fast. That war that you declared without any diplomatic overtures will break out any minute now, and you can see I'm standing to arms and fully mobilized for it. Since I got cruel Cupid's first arrow right in the heart, my own bow has been strung so hard that I'm afraid it's overstrung and may break. But if you really want to please me, let your hair down when you come to bed so that it flows in waves all over us.
Without more ado she quickly cleared away the table and whipped off every stitch of clothing; then with her hair loose in delightful disarray she was prettily transformed before my eyes into Venus Anadyomene, shading her smooth femininity with her rosy fingers --more from a desire to provoke than to protect her modesty. 'Now fight,' she said, 'and fight stoutly; I shan't give ground or turn tail. Attack head on, if you call yourself a man; no quarter given; die in the breach. There'll be no discharge in this war.' Then climbing on the bed she let herself down slowly on top of me; and rising and falling at a brisk trot and sinuously rocking her supple body backwards and forwards she regaled me to repletion with the delights of Venus in the saddle, until exhausted and totally drained in body and soul alike we simultaneously collapsed, panting for breath, in each other's arms. In encounters of this kind we passed the whole night until dawn without a wink of sleep, from time to time resorting to the wine cup to reinvigorate ourselves, stimulate our desire and renew our pleasure. That was the pattern for many subsequent nights.
One day Byrrhena insisted that I should have dinner with her, and though I made all sorts of excuses she would not take no for an answer. So I had to go to Photis and as it were take the auspices from her. She was reluctant to let me out of her sight, but kindly granted me a short furlough from our campaign of love. 'But look here,' she said, 'mind you get back early. There's a gang of young idiots of good family disturbing the public peace just now. You can see murdered men lying in the open street, and the provincial police are stationed too far away to save the city from these killings. You're well off and an obvious target, and as you're a stranger they won't be bothered about repercussions.' 'Don't worry, Photis dear,' I said. 'Apart from the fact that I'd have preferred my pleasures at home to dining out, I'll set your fears at rest by coming back early. And I shan't go alone either. My trusty sword will be strapped to my side, so I shall be carrying the wherewithal to protect my life.'
So equipped and forewarned I went out to dinner. I found a large company there and, as you would expect in the house of such a great lady, the pick of local society, The sumptuous tables were of polished citron-wood and ivory, and the generous wine cups were all alike valuable in their different styles of beauty. Some were of glass skillfully decorated in relief: some of flawless crystal, some of shining silver or gleaming gold or amber hollowed out with wonderful art, and there were gems to drink from -- you name it, it was there, possible or not. Great numbers of footmen in splendid liveries were deftly serving one ample course after another, while boy slaves, curly-haired and prettily dressed, kept on offering vintage wine in cups fashioned from whole gemstones. Now the lamps had been brought in, and the convivial talk reached a crescendo, with hearty laughter and witty quips and pleasantries flying back and forth. At this point Byrrhena asked me: Are you enjoying your stay here? My own belief is that when it comes to temples and public baths and buildings of that kind we needn't fear competition from any other city, and as for basic necessities we have all we want and more. The man of leisure can relax here, while the man of affairs will find all the bustle of Rome; and the visitor of limited means can enjoy rural seclusion. In fact, we're the pleasure-resort for the whole province.'
'Very true,' I said; 'and I don't think I've ever felt freer anywhere than I have here. But I really dread the dark and inescapable haunts of the magic arts. They say that even the dead aren't safe in their graves, but that their remains are gathered from tombs and funeral pyres, and pieces are snipped from corpses in order to destroy the living; and that at the very moment of the funeral preparations old hags of sorceresses will swoop down to snatch a body before its own people can bury it.' To this another guest added: 'Round here even the living aren't spared. Somebody we know had a similar experience which left him mutilated and totally disfigured.' At this the whole company burst into helpless laughter, and everybody's eyes turned to a man sitting in the corner. He was put out by this unwelcome attention and muttering indignantly got up to go. 'No, do stay for a bit, my dear Thelyphron,' said Byrrhena, 'and like the good fellow you are tell us your story again, so that my son Lucius here can enjoy your agreeable and amusing tale.' 'You, dear madam,' he answered, 'are always kind and considerate, but some people's rudeness is intolerable.' He was evidently upset, but when Byrrhena persisted and pressed him, unwilling though he was, to tell his story as a personal favour to her, he eventually did as she asked.
So having piled the coverlets into a heap and reclining half upright on one elbow, Thelyphron stretched out his right hand like a man making a formal speech, with the third and fourth fingers bent, the other two extended, and the thumb raised slightly as if in warning, and began. 'I had not yet come of age when I left Miletus to see the Olympic games. Then I wanted to visit this part of your famous province, and so after touring all over Thessaly I came in an evil hour to Larissa. My money was running low, and I was looking round the town in search of some remedy for my poverty, when I saw in the public square a tall old man. He was standing on a stone and loudly announcing that if anybody was willing to watch a corpse, he would negotiate a price. "What's this?" I asked a passer-by. "Are corpses here in the habit of running away?" "No, no," he said. " A mere boy and a stranger like you obviously can't be expected to realize that this is Thessaly you're in, where witches regularly nibble pieces off the faces of the dead to get supplies for their magic art."
'"But tell me, please," I said, "about this business of watching over the dead." "First of all," he said, "you have to stay wide awake for the entire night; you mustn't close your eyes for a second but must keep them firmly fixed on the body. You mustn't let your attention wander or even steal a sidelong glance: these dreadful creatures, who can change themselves into anything, will take on the shape of any animal you like to name and creep up on you in stealth -- it's no trouble to them to outwit the eyes even of the Sun or Justice herself. They can take on the forms of birds or dogs or mice or even flies. Then they lull the watchers to sleep with their infernal enchantments. There's no end to the tricks that these vile women contrive to work their wicked will. But the fee for this deadly job isn't as a rule more than five or six gold pieces. Oh, I nearly forgot: if the body isn't intact when it's handed over in the morning, whatever's been removed or mutilated has to be made good from the watcher's own person."
'Having taken this on board, I summoned up my courage and went up to the crier. "You can stop shouting," I said. "Here's a watcher all prepared. Name the price." "You'll get a thousand sesterces," he said. "But look here, young fellow: this is the son of one of our chief citizens who's died, and you must guard his body faithfully against the evil Harpies." "Nonsense," I said, "don't give me that rubbish. You see before you a man of iron, who never sleeps, sharper-eyed than Lynceus or Argus, eyes all over him." I had hardly finished speaking when he took me straight off. The house to which he brought me had its front door closed, and he ushered me in through a small back door, then into a shuttered room where he showed me in the gloom a weeping woman in deep mourning. Standing by her, "Here's a man," he said, "who has engaged himself to guard your husband and is confident he can do the job." She parted the hair that hung down in front to reveal a face that was beautiful even in grief. Looking at me, she said: "Please, I beg you, do your duty with all possible alertness." "You need not worry," I said, "just so long as the fee is satisfactory."'
Agreement reached, she rose and took me into another room. There was the body draped in snow-white linen, and when seven witnesses had been brought in she uncovered it herself. After weeping over it for some time she invoked the good faith of those present and proceeded to call off meticulously every feature of the body while one of the witnesses carefully wrote down a formal inventory. "Here you are," she said. "Nose all there, eyes intact, ears entire, lips undamaged, chin in good shape. I ask you, fellow citizens, to note and attest this." The tablets with the list were then sealed and she made to leave the room. But I said: "Please, madam, will you give orders for me to be supplied with everything I'll need?" "What might that be?" she asked. " A large lamp," I said, "and enough oil to last until dawn, and warm water with flagons of wine and a cup, and a plate of left-overs from dinner." She shook her head. "You talk like a fool," she said, "asking for suppers and left-overs in a house of mourning where there hasn't even been a fire lit for days and days. Do you think you're here to enjoy yourself? You would do better to remember where you are and look sad and tearful." With these words she turned to a maid. "Myrrhine," she said, "make haste and get a lamp and some oil, and then lock up the room and leave him to his watch."
'Left alone with the corpse for company I rubbed my eyes to arm them for their watch, and began to sing to encourage myself. Dusk came, and darkness fell, and time wore on until it was the dead of night. My fear was at its height when there suddenly glided in a weasel which stood in front of me and fixed me with a piercing stare. I was alarmed at seeing this tiny animal so bold. "Get out," I shouted, "you filthy beast, get back to your rat friends before I give you something to remember me by. Will you get out?" It turned and left the room, at which moment I was abruptly plunged into a bottomless abyss of sleep; the god of prophecy himself couldn't have told which of the two of us lying there was deader, so lifeless was I. Indeed I needed somebody to mount guard over me, since I might just as well have been elsewhere.
'The crowing of the crested company was singing truce to darkness when I at last woke up. With my heart in my mouth I rushed over to the body with the lamp, uncovered its face and checked off all the features: they were all there. Now the poor weeping widow, in great anxiety, came bursting in with yesterday's witnesses and fell on the body, covering it with kisses. Then after examining every detail by the light of the lamp she turned and called her steward Philodespotus. Having ordered him to pay over the fee immediately to their trusty watchman, which was done then and there, she added: "We are most grateful to you, young man; and what's more, for this faithful service we shall from now on count you as a particular friend." Delighted at this unexpected windfall and spellbound by the shining gold, which I was now jingling in my hand, "Madam," I said, "count me rather as one of your servants, and whenever you need my services, don't hesitate to command me." The words were scarcely out of my mouth when the whole household, cursing the evil omen, fell on me with every weapon they could lay their hands on. One punched me on the jaw, another thumped me across the shoulders, and a third jabbed me viciously in the ribs; they kicked me, they pulled out my hair, they tore my clothes. So, bloodied and ripped apart like another Pentheus or Orpheus, I was thrown out of the house.
'While I was getting my breath back in the street outside, I belatedly realized how thoughtless and ill-omened my words had been, and admitted to myself that I had got off more lightly than I deserved. At this point I saw that the final lamentations and last goodbyes had been uttered, and the corpse had now left the house. As was traditional for a member of an aristocratic family, it was being given a public funeral. The procession was passing through the city square when there appeared an old man in black, weeping and tearing his handsome white hair. Seizing the bier with both hands he cried loudly, his voice choked by sobs: "Citizens! I charge you, as you are true men and loyal subjects, to avenge a murdered fellow citizen and punish this wicked woman as she deserves for her horrible crime. She, and no one else, to please her lover and get her hands on the estate, has poisoned this unfortunate young man, my sister's son." These tearful complaints the old man loudly directed now to this individual and now to that. The crowd began to turn ugly, the probability of the thing leading them to believe his accusation. They called for fire, and started picking up stones and egging on the street-urchins to kill her. She burst into tears (which were obviously rehearsed), and by all that she held sacred called on the gods to witness that she denied this awful crime.
'Then the old man said: "Suppose we leave the proof of the truth to divine Providence. We have here in Zatchlas of Egypt a prophet of the first rank. He has already agreed with me for a large fee to bring back the soul of the deceased from the Underworld for a short while and restore his body to life." So saying he led forward a young man dressed in a linen tunic and palm-leaf sandals with his head shaved bare. Repeatedly he kissed the man's hands and touched his knees in supplication. "Have pity, O Priest," he said, "have pity by the stars of heaven, by the infernal powers, by the natural elements, by the silences of night and the sanctuaries of Coptos, and by the risings of Nile and the secrets of Memphis and the sistrums of Pharos. Grant him a brief enjoyment of the sun and let a little light into those eyes which are closed forever. We do not seek to resist Fate or to deny Earth what is rightfully hers; we beg only for a short spell of life so that we may find consolation in vengeance." The prophet, propitiated, laid some sort of herb on the corpse's mouth and another on his breast. Then turning eastwards he silently invoked the majesty of the rising sun, arousing among the witnesses of this impressive performance excited expectations of a great miracle.
'I joined the crowd, and taking up a position on a tall stone just behind the bier I watched the whole scene curiously. The corpse's chest began to fill, its pulse to beat, its breath to come; it sat up and the young man spoke. "Why, why," he said, "have you called me back for these few moments to life and its obligations, when I have already drunk the water of Lethe and embarked on the marshes of the Styx? Leave me, I beg you, leave me to my rest." To these words of the corpse the prophet returned a sharp answer: "Come now, tell the people everything and clear up the mystery of your death. Don't you know that my incantations can call up Furies and that your weary body can still be tortured?" The man on the bier answered and with a deep groan addressed the people: "I died by the wicked arts of my new wife; doomed to drink her poisoned cup I surrendered my marriage bed to an adulterer before it had grown cold." At this the exemplary widow put on a bold front and began to bandy words with her husband in a blasphemous attempt to rebut his accusations. The people were swayed this way and that, some calling for this abominable woman to be buried alive along with her husband's body, others holding that the corpse was lying and should not be believed.
'However, the young man's next words put an end to their doubts. With another deep groan he said: "I will give you the clearest proof that I speak nothing but the truth, and I will tell you something that nobody else could know or predict." Then he pointed at me. "There is the man," he said, "who guarded my body. He performed his duties with the utmost alertness, so that the hags who were waiting to plunder my corpse, though they changed themselves into all sorts of shapes to achieve their purpose, failed to outwit his vigilance. At last they wrapped a cloud of sleep round him, and while he was buried in deep oblivion they kept calling me by name, until my numbed limbs and chilled body made reluctant efforts to obey their magic summons. But at this point he heard his own name, which is the same as mine, and being in fact alive, though sleeping like the dead, got up without knowing what he was doing and like a lifeless ghost walked mechanically over to the door. Though it had been carefully bolted, there was a hole in it, and through that they cut off first his nose and then his ears; so he suffered the mutilation that was meant for me. Then, so as not to give the game away, they made shapes of his missing ears and nose in wax and fitted them exactly in place. And there he stands, poor devil, paid not for his work but for his disfigurement." Horrified at what I had heard, I started to feel my face. I took hold of my nose, and it came off; I tried my ears, and so did they. Everybody was pointing at me, turning round to look at me, and there was a roar of laughter. Bathed in a cold sweat I slunk away through the crowd, and since then I've not been able to face returning home to be mocked, looking like this. So I've grown my hair long to hide my missing ears, and my shameful nose I keep decently covered with this linen pad.'
Directly Thelyphron had finished his story the guests again broke into drunken guffaws. While they were calling for the traditional toast to the god of Laughter, Byrrhena turned to me. 'Tomorrow,' she said, 'we have a festival which is as old as the city and unique to us, when we propitiate the god of Laughter with happy and joyful ritual. That you're here will make it even more agreeable. It would be nice if you could provide some witty diversion in honour of the god that would enhance our celebration of his great power.' 'Right,' I said, 'I'll do as you ask. I'd love to devise some suitably lavish adornment for this great god.' Then, reminded by my servant that night was coming on, and having by now had more than enough to drink, I got up and with a brief good-night to Byrrhena began to make my way unsteadily home.
But no sooner were we in the street than the torch on which we were relying was blown out by a gust of wind, leaving us hardly able to see our way in the sudden darkness and stubbing our toes on the stones in our fatigue as we continued on our homeward course, holding on to each other as we went. We were nearly there when suddenly there appeared three strapping fellows who hurled themselves violently at our front door. Our arrival, so far from deterring them, made them redouble their attacks in competition with each other. Both of us, I in particular, naturally took it that they were robbers of the most savage description, and I at once drew from under my cloak the sword I had brought with me for just such an emergency. Without wasting time I charged into the thick of them, and taking on each in turn as he confronted me I buried it in him to the hilt, until at length, riddled with many gaping wounds, they expired at my feet. When the battle was over, Photis, who had been woken up by the noise, opened the door, and panting and sweating I dragged myself into the house, where, as exhausted as if I had slaughtered Geryon himself rather than three robbers, I fell into bed and passed out.