THE GOLDEN ASS, OR METAMORPHOSES
Tried for murder -- all a joke which he does not appreciate -- Photis explains -- watches Pamphile change herself into an owl and tries to follow suit -- is turned into an ass instead -- inhospitable reception in the stable -- frustrated in attempt to break the spell -- carried off by robbers
Rosy-fingered Dawn was just launching her crimson-caparisoned team heavenwards when I started up from my peaceful sleep to find that night had given place to day. My mind was in turmoil as I recollected my exploits of the night before. Squatting on the bed with my feet drawn up and my hands clasped on my knees I dissolved into a flood of tears. I imagined the square, the court, the verdict, the executioner. 'Where shall I find a jury mild and lenient enough to acquit me, covered in gore from a triple murder and stained with the blood of all these citizens? So this was the triumphant journey so confidently predicted by Diophanes the Chaldean!'
I was going over these thoughts again and again and bewailing my wretched luck, when there was a banging on the front door and much shouting outside. Immediately it was opened, and in they rushed, filling the whole house with magistrates and their attendants and a motley crowd of other people. At an order from the magistrates two of their attendants immediately arrested me -- naturally I didn't resist -- and began to take me off. We were hardly outside the door when the whole town turned out to follow us in a dense throng. I was trudging along despondently with my head bowed downwards to the ground -- to hell, rather -- but what I saw out of the corner of my eye totally astonished me. In all that huge crowd of people that surged around me there was nobody who wasn't in fits of laughter. At length, when we had passed through every street and I had been led in procession round every corner of the city, like one of those victims that are paraded from place to place before being sacrificed to expiate some threatening portent, we came to the square, and I found myself at the bar of the court. The magistrates had taken their places up on the bench, and the clerk of the court was proclaiming silence, when suddenly there was a general demand for this important trial to be adjourned to the theatre -- everybody shouting that this huge mob was dangerous and that people would be crushed in it. At once the whole lot of them rushed off and in no time at all had completely filled the auditorium. People were packed into the passageways like sardines and were all over the root; some were clinging to columns or hanging on to statues; some could be half glimpsed peering through windows or the coffering of the ceiling. Nobody was paying the slightest attention to his safety; everybody was madly eager to see. The officers of the court led me like some sort of sacrificial victim out across the stage and placed me in the middle of the orchestra.
Now once more the stentorian voice of the clerk was heard calling on the prosecutor. An elderly man came forward; but first, to time his speech, a jar was filled with water; this had holes like a filter, through which the water ran off drop by drop. He then addressed the people: 'Worshipful citizens, this is a very important case. It concerns the peace of our whole community and will constitute a weighty precedent. It is therefore the solemn duty of each and every one of you to see to it, for the honour of the city, that this wicked killer does not escape punishment for the butchery, the series of bloody murders, that he has committed. I would not have you think that I am actuated by private hostility or personal anger. I am the commander of the night watch, and to this day I believe no one has been able to find fault with my alertness and attention to duty. Let me then put you in possession of the facts and tell you exactly what happened last night. It was past midnight, and I was making my rounds from house to house in the city, paying careful attention to every detail, when I saw this bloodthirsty young fellow with drawn sword, dealing death and destruction all around him. Already three -- yes, three -- victims of his savagery were breathing their last, weltering in gore, at his feet. Overcome, as well he might be, by the guilt of his terrible crime, he at once took to his heels and under the cover of darkness slipped into a house where he hid for the rest of the night. But in the morning, thanks be to divine Providence, which never suffers the wrongdoer to escape justice, before he could evade me by some secret byway I cornered him and have had him brought before this august and solemn tribunal. He stands before you, a criminal polluted by repeated murders, caught red-handed, a foreigner. Be firm therefore and condemn this interloper for a crime which even if committed by a fellow citizen you would punish with severity.'
With these words my stern accuser ended his brutal indictment. The clerk then told me, if I had anything to say in reply, to begin. At first I could only weep, not so much because of the prosecutor's harshness as because of the reproaches of my own conscience. At last, however, some heaven-sent impulse emboldened me to answer: 'I am only too well aware how difficult it is, when the bodies of three citizens are lying there for all to see, for a man accused of their murder, even though he tells the truth and freely admits that he did it, to persuade this great assembly of his innocence. But if in your kindness you will grant me a short hearing, I shall have no trouble in proving that it is not my fault that I stand here in peril of my life, but that it is because of the unforeseen consequences of an outburst of justifiable indignation that I am subjected to this false and odious accusation.
'I was corning back rather late from dinner, a little drunk, I admit -- that charge I will not deny -- when at the front door of my lodging -- I am stopping with your fellow citizen, the worthy Milo -- I saw a number of ferocious brigands trying to effect an entry. They were competing with each other to force the front door by tearing it off its hinges, and as they wrenched violently at the bolts, which were firmly shot, they were already debating among themselves how to dispose of the occupants. One of them, the largest and the most violent, was encouraging the others thus: "Come on, lads, to the attack while they're asleep, with manly courage and lively force. Banish all hesitation, all cowardice from your hearts; let slaughter with drawn sword stalk the house. If anybody's asleep, cut his throat where he lies; if he tries to resist, strike to kill. We'll escape alive only if nobody escapes us." I admit, gentlemen, that, thinking to do my duty as a good citizen and being in great apprehension for my hosts and myself, armed with the sword that I had with me for just such an emergency, I set about routing these desperate villains and putting them to flight. But, savages and brutes that they were, though they saw me sword in hand, so far from making off they boldly stood their ground.
'The battle-lines were drawn up. First their commander and standard-bearer charged me with all his strength, and grabbing me by the hair with both hands and bending me backwards was going to brain me with a stone; but while he was shouting for somebody to give him one, I ran him through with certain aim and left him for dead. Then the second, who was clinging to my legs like a limpet, I accounted for by a nicely judged thrust between the shoulders; and the third, as he ran headlong at me, I transfixed through the chest. So as defender of the peace and protector of my host's house and of the common safety I thought that, so far from being punished, I would be publicly commended. For I have never before had even the most trivial brush with the law; I have always been highly respected in my own city and reckoned an unblemished character the greatest of all blessings. I am at a loss to understand why I am now arraigned like this as a criminal for the just vengeance which I was impelled to take on these abandoned ruffians. Can anybody show that they were personal enemies of mine, or indeed that I had ever set eyes on them before? Or if greed for gain might plausibly have induced me to commit so heinous a crime, where are the profits from it? Produce them -- if you can.'
I ended my plea by again bursting into tears and stretching my hands out in supplication, invoking the people's pity and everything they held most dear, imploring now this group, now that in my wretchedness. Then, when I thought their sympathies had been aroused and their pity stirred by my tears, I called the eyes of the Sun and of Justice to witness, and was just committing myself and my fate to divine Providence, when I happened to look up and found that everybody in sight was helpless with laughter, and that my excellent host and second father Milo was absolutely doubled up. Seeing this I said to myself: 'So much for good faith! So much for conscience! Here am I, having killed to save my host and on trial for my life; and he, so far from taking my part and comforting me, actually mocks me in my extremity.'
At this point a woman ran out from the audience. Weeping, clad in black, she was carrying a small child in her arms; and she was followed by an old woman swathed in dirty rags and like her in tears. Both were waving olive branches. They embraced the bier where the bodies of the dead men lay covered and set up a howl of mourning and lamentation. 'As you are creatures of compassion,' they cried, 'as you are fellow human beings, pity these young men so shamefully done to death, and grant us, widowed and bereaved, the consolation of vengeance. Whatever you do, assist this unfortunate child, left an orphan on life's threshold, and atone for this affront to your laws and public order with this brigand's life.'
There then arose the senior magistrate and addressed the people thus: 'The crime itself; which must be severely punished, even the perpetrator cannot deny. However, one other matter still concerns us: to discover who else was implicated in this monstrous deed. We cannot be expected to believe that a single individual killed those three strong men. So the truth must be extracted from him by torture. The slave who was with him has made off and cannot be found: we have no choice but to put him to the question and force him to identify his accomplices, so that all fear of this dreadful gang can be utterly rooted out.'
Thereupon they began to carry in, Greek-style, fire, the wheel, whips of all kinds. This increased, nay doubled, my misery: I was not even to be allowed to die in one piece. But the old woman whose tears had created so much excitement now spoke up again. 'First, noble citizens,' she said, 'before you crucify this brigand who murdered these unfortunate children of mine, allow the bodies of the slain to be revealed, so that as you contemplate their youth and beauty your just indignation may be further inflamed, and the ferocity of your revenge proportioned to the enormity of the crime.' Her words were greeted with applause, and the magistrate then ordered me to uncover the bodies myself, as they lay on the bier, with my own hand. For a long time I resisted and refused to give a repeat performance of yesterday's deed by this new display of it. However, the officers, on the orders of the magistrates, would take no denial; and in the end they forced my hand from where it hung beside me and made me stretch it out to its own ruination over the bodies. At last, having no choice, I gave in and reluctantly drew back the pall to reveal the corpses. Gods, what a sight! What a miracle! What a sudden alteration in my fortunes! One moment I was already an item of Proserpine's property, one of the household of Orcus, the next the whole aspect of things was reversed and I stood dumb-founded. Words fail me when I try to give an adequate account of what I now saw before me. For those 'bodies' of the slaughtered men were three inflated wineskins gashed open in various places, and, as I recalled my nocturnal battle, the gashes were exactly where I had wounded the robbers.
Hitherto some had been managing to hold in their laughter; now it broke out and took the whole crowd by storm. Some were hooting wildly with glee, others were clasping their stomachs in silent agony. All of them were in an ecstasy of joy, and kept turning to look at me as they made their way out of the theatre. All this time, ever since taking hold of the pall, I had stood like one of the statues or columns in the theatre as if congealed to stone. It was only when Milo came up to me that I returned to life; though I tried to shake him off: bursting into a fresh flood of tears and convulsive sobs, he gently made me take his arm and, choosing unfrequented streets and byways, brought me back to his house. I was still in a state of shock, and though he did his best to comfort me with miscellaneous chit-chat, nothing he could say or do could alleviate my feeling of outrage at the indignity I had suffered, so deeply had it sunk into my heart.
But now the magistrates entered in state and laid themselves out to appease me. 'Master Lucius,' they said, 'we are well aware of both your rank and your ancestry. Your illustrious family is famous throughout Thessaly. These mortifying experiences were not designed as an insult. Banish this sadness from your heart and forget your distress of mind. This diversion, which we ceremoniously stage every year as a public tribute to the kindly god of Laughter, always relies on some fresh stroke of invention for its success. You, as both author and actor of his rites, will from now on wherever you go enjoy his favour and loving companionship; he will never let you suffer grief in your heart but will always make glad your countenance in serenity and grace. For this service the city has unanimously conferred on you its highest honours: it has enrolled you among its patrons and has voted you a statue in bronze.' My reply was brief, 'To this most illustrious of all the cities of Thessaly I return for these great honours appropriate thanks; but as for statues and images, those I ask you to reserve for my elders and betters.'
With these modest words and a smile which I summoned up in an attempt to look cheerful, I took a polite leave of the magistrates. Now a slave entered in a hurry.' A reminder from your aunt Byrrhena,' he said. 'You agreed yesterday to dine with her, and it's almost time.' Dismayed and horrified at the mere thought of her house, I answered: 'Tell her that I wish I could oblige her, but I can't break my word to my host. Milo has made me swear by the god who presides over today's festival to dine with him tonight, and he's with me now and won't let me out of his sight. I promise her it's only a postponement.' I hadn't finished speaking before Milo took me firmly by the arm and, ordering the bathing-gear to follow, led me off to the nearby baths. I avoided people's eyes and shrank from the laughter of the passers-by -- laughter for which I was responsible -- and walked by his side doing my best to escape notice. How I bathed, how I dried myself, how I got home again, shame prevents me from remembering; all those stares and nods and pointing fingers had reduced me to a state of mental collapse.
So, having quickly disposed of Milo's meagre supper, I pleaded a severe headache brought on by continual weeping, and no difficulty was made about letting me go to bed. I threw myself down and was gloomily recalling every detail of what had happened, when at last Photis appeared, having seen her mistress settled for the night. This was a very different Photis, not smiling and saucy but with wrinkled forehead and a downcast expression. At last, slowly and timidly, she spoke: 'It was me, I've got to confess it; I brought all this trouble on you'; and so saying she took out a strap from her dress and gave it to me. 'Take it,' she said, 'take it, and avenge yourself on a traitress; and don't stop at beating me -- no punishment would be too severe. But please, don't think it was my idea to devise this ordeal for you --God forbid that you should suffer the least anxiety because of me! If any misfortune threatens you, I'll shed my life's blood to avert it. It was through sheer bad luck on my part that what I was made to do for quite another reason resulted in your humiliation.'
This revived my habitual curiosity, and eager to get to the bottom of the matter I said: ' As for this most wicked and audacious of straps which you meant me to beat you with, it will perish cut to ribbons at my hands before it touches your soft creamy skin. But tell me truthfully: what was it you did that Fortune perversely turned to my undoing? For I swear by your head that I love so much that nothing and nobody, not even yourself, will persuade me that you ever meant me any harm. And if no harm is intended there can be no blame, whatever accident or mischance may do.' With these words I pressed my lips to my dear Photis' half-closed eyes, and with thirsty kisses drank my fill as they melted and fluttered and brimmed over with yearning desire.
This cheered her up. 'First,' she said, 'let me shut the door firmly, for if I'm overheard indiscreetly revealing these secrets I shall be held guilty of a great crime.' When she had shot the bolts and firmly secured the latch, she came back to me and putting both arms round my neck she began in a low and almost inaudible voice. 'I'm scared,' she said, 'and frankly terrified to disclose what this house conceals and to lay bare my mistress's secrets. But I know I can rely on your character and training: you are a man of noble birth and lofty intellect and have been initiated in several cults, so you well understand when silence is a sacred duty. Whatever secrets therefore I commit to the sanctuary of your pious heart, I beg you to enclose and guard them in that precinct, and repay the frankness of my story by never, never divulging it. In the whole world only I know these things, and it is only because of the love that binds me to you that I reveal them. Now you shall learn what this house really is, now you shall learn my mistress's wonderful secret powers: through them the dead obey her, the stars change course, the gods do her bidding, the elements are her slaves. But she never resorts more eagerly to her art than when some handsome young man has caught her eye -- something that often happens to her.
'Just now she is dying for love of a very good-looking young Boeotian, and she is furiously bringing all the tricks and devices of her art to bear on him. Only last night I heard her with my own two ears threatening the Sun himself with foggy gloom and everlasting darkness because he had been too slow in setting and giving way to night for her to be able to practise her enchantments. She had happened to catch sight of this young man yesterday at the barber's, while she was on her way back from the baths, and she told me to glean some of his hair surreptitiously from where it had fallen on the floor from the scissors. I was collecting it as ordered when the barber caught me in the act. We are already notorious all over the city as witches, so he at once pounced on me, shouting and threatening: "You scum, will you stop stealing the young gentlemen's hair? You know it's a crime, and if you don't lay off, I'll have you up before the magistrates -- I mean it. " And adding action to words, he reached right into my bosom to search me and angrily pulled out the hair I'd hidden there. This upset me terribly; knowing what my mistress is like and how when she hasn't got her way in something like this she's lost her temper and beaten me black and blue, I was thinking of running away; then I remembered you and gave that idea up.
'I was coming away disconsolate at having to go home empty-handed, when I noticed a man shearing three goatskin bags. They were hanging up, tightly tied and inflated, and the hair was lying on the ground. It was fair, just like that of the young Boeotian; so I carried some of it off and gave it to my mistress without telling her where it really came from. Then, at nightfall, before you came back from dinner, Pamphile, who was now quite beside herself, climbed up to her eyrie. This is on a wooden roof at the back of the house, open to the winds and having views in every direction, particularly towards the east. This is her secret hide-out, admirably suited to her magical practices. First she set out all the usual apparatus of her infernal laboratory: every kind of strong-smelling drug, metal plaques inscribed with mysterious characters, the remains of birds of ill omen, and a whole array of different parts of dead and buried bodies -- here noses and fingers, there nails from gibbets with flesh sticking to them, elsewhere a store of blood from men who have died a violent death, and skulls snatched half eaten from the jaws of wild beasts. Next she intoned a spell over some still quivering entrails and made offerings of various fluids; spring water, cow's milk, mountain honey, and finally honey and wine mixed. Then she knotted and plaited the goat-hair together and threw it with many different perfumes on to the live coals to burn. Immediately, through the irresistible force of her magic art and the hidden power of the deities that she controls, the bodies whose hairs were crackling in the flame took on human life: they felt and heard and walked, and came here, drawn by the reek of their burning hair. It was they, instead of the young man from Boeotia, who were attacking the door in their eagerness to get in. And it was at that moment that you came on the scene drunk, and deceived by the blind darkness of night drew your sword and sprang to arms like another Ajax; but he only attacked and massacred a flock of sheep -- you were much braver and slew three blown-up goatskins. You laid low your enemies without shedding a drop of blood, so I now embrace not a homicide but an utricide.'
This pleasantry of Photis' made me laugh, and I took up the joke. 'In that case,' I said, 'I can count this as the first of my own heroic exploits, on the model of the Labours of Hercules -- for laying low three wineskins is surely equivalent to dealing with three-bodied Geryon or three-headed Cerberus. But I'm happy and willing to forgive you for what you did and what I suffered in consequence -- on one condition. Will you do as I earnestly ask you, and show me your mistress when she is actually practising her supernatural arts? I want to see her when she invokes the gods, particularly when she changes shape; for I have a passionate longing to see magic done with my own eyes. You yourself, I'm sure, aren't by any means a novice or amateur in these matters. I know that very well; for though up to now I've always despised the idea of affairs even with women of my own class, you, with those sparkling eyes and cherry lips and shining hair and open-mouthed kisses and sweet-smelling breasts, have absolutely made a slave and chattel of me -- and I love it. Now indeed I don't miss my home or want to go back there; a night with you is worth the lot.'
'I'd love to do as you ask, Lucius,' Photis answered; 'but she's suspicious by nature and she always shuts herself up in absolute solitude when she performs these secret rituals. But to meet your wishes I'll disregard my own safety, and I'll be on the lookout for a suitable opportunity to do just what you want. But, as I said before, this is deadly serious, and you must be religiously discreet about it.' During these whispered exchanges our desire for each other had inflamed our minds and bodies alike. Tearing off our clothes we hurled ourselves stark naked into a Bacchic frenzy of love; and when I was worn out, Photis, by way of encore, generously and unprompted, offered herself to me like a boy. Finally, when our eyes were drooping from lack of sleep, oblivion came upon us and held us fast until it was broad day.
We had passed a few more nights of pleasure in this style, when Photis came to me one day in a great state of excitement to tell me that her mistress, having got nowhere in her love-affair by other means, was going that night to feather herself as a bird and fly off to her beloved in that shape, and to warn me to prepare myself, taking due precautions, to watch this great event. So shortly after nightfall, noiselessly and on tiptoe, she took me to the upper room and told me to watch through a crack in the door. This is what I saw. First Pamphile completely stripped herself; then she opened a chest and took out a number of small boxes. From one of these she removed the lid and scooped out some ointment, which she rubbed between her hands for a long time before smearing herself with it all over from head to foot. Then there was a long muttered address to the lamp during which she shook her arms with a fluttering motion. As they gently flapped up and down there appeared on them a soft fluff, then a growth of strong feathers; her nose hardened into a hooked beak, her feet contracted into talons -- and Pamphile was an owl. Hooting mournfully she took off and landed once or twice to try her wings; then she launched herself in full flight out of the house and away high into the sky.
So Pamphile used her magic arts deliberately to transform herself; whereas I, unenchanted, was so transfixed with amazement simply by this extraordinary scene that I seemed to be anything rather than Lucius. I was completely out of my mind, unhinged with astonishment, not knowing if I was awake or dreaming. For ages I kept rubbing my eyes to see if I was really awake; finally I came to my senses and took Photis by the hand. Putting it to my eyes, 'Please,' I said, 'while we have the opportunity, I implore you, my darling, by those breasts of yours, allow me to enjoy this great and unique proof of your love: give me a little of that ointment. Bind me as your slave for ever by a boon that I can never repay, and make me able to stand beside my Venus as a winged Cupid.' 'Oh, crafty!' she said, 'my lover tells me to make a rod for my own back. Even as you are, I'm hard put to it to keep the local wolf-pack off you; once you're a bird you'll disappear and I'll never see you again.'
'No,' I said, 'heaven preserve me from a crime like that. Though I soared aloft on eagle's wings and roamed through the whole sky as Jove's faithful messenger and proud esquire, I'd leave those exalted honours behind and return without fail to my little nest. I swear by the knot with which you have bound you, hair and my heart that Photis is the only girl for me. And then -- I've just thought of it -- if I'm magicked into that kind of bird, I shall have to give all houses a wide berth. A fine lover for a woman to enjoy an owl would be! Remember that, if such night-birds do get into a house, we see people rush to catch them and nail them to the door to make them expiate by their torments the destruction which their ill-omened flight portends to the family. But I nearly forgot to ask: what shall I have to do or say to shed my wings and return to being Lucius again?' 'So far as that goes, you've nothing to worry about,' she said. 'My mistress has shown me exactly how to restore to human shape anybody who is transformed in this way not because she is especially fond of me, but so that when she returns home I can administer the antidote. But it's a strange thing that the herbs which produce this great effect are so humble and ordinary: you soak a sprig of dill and some laurel leaves in spring-water, which you then bathe in and drink.'
She repeated this recipe several times, then very apprehensively she slipped into the room and took the box out of the chest. I seized it and kissed it, praying that it would grant me good luck on the wing; then I tore off my clothes, and plunging my hands into it scooped out a generous portion of the ointment and rubbed it all over myself; then I flapped my arms up and down in imitation of a bird. But no down or feathers appeared; Instead my hair became coarse and shaggy, my soft skin hardened into hide, my fingers and toes lost their separate identity and coalesced into hooves, and from the end of my spine there protruded a long tail. My face became enormous and my mouth widened; my nostrils dilated and my lips hung down; and my ears became monstrously long and hairy. The only redeeming feature of this catastrophic transformation was that my natural endowment had grown too -- but how could I embrace Photis like this? In this hapless state I looked myself over and saw that I was now no bird, but an ass; and when I wanted to complain about what Photis had done, I couldn't speak or point like a human being. All I could do was to let my mouth hang open and my eyes fill with tears and look at her sideways in silent reproach. Seeing me like this, Photis hit herself frantically in the face, exclaiming: 'Oh God, that's torn it. I was in such a hurry and so confused that I mistook the box. Never mind, there's an easy way to put things right and change you back. All you need to do is to eat some roses and in a moment the ass will vanish and you'll be back as you were -- my Lucius. If only I'd made us some garlands last night as usual, then you needn't have had to put up with this even for as long as one night. But directly it's light I'll rush the remedy to you.'
And so she carried on. I meanwhile, though I was now the complete ass and what had been Lucius was a beast of burden, still felt and thought like a man. I wondered long and hard whether I ought to set about this vile and infamous creature with my hooves and teeth and batter her to death. However, I thought better of this rash plan when I remembered that her death would also spell the death of my prospects of rescue. So, lowering and shaking my head, and swallowing my temporary humiliation, I bowed to my harsh fate and took my place by the side of my own horse, who had carried me so well; and there in the stable I also found another ass belonging to my former host Milo. I imagined that if there were some sort of unspoken natural bond among brute beasts, that horse of mine would have recognized and pitied me and given me the red-carpet treatment as his guest. So much, however, for the gods of hospitality and good faith! That exemplary steed of mine and the ass immediately put their heads together and agreed to do for me. I suppose they were afraid for their own rations, for hardly had they seen me coming towards their manger when down went their ears and they set on me furiously with violent kicks, driving me away from the barley which only last night I had served out with my own hands to this ungrateful servant of mine.
Finding myself received in this way I left them to it and retreated into a corner of the stable. While I was thinking about the behaviour of these colleagues of mine and rehearsing the punishment I would hand out to my faithless horse when the roses had come to my aid and I was Lucius once more, I noticed, halfway up the central pillar which held up the stable roof, an image of Epona sitting in a shrine -- and it had been lovingly adorned with garlands of fresh roses! Perceiving my salvation, all eager and hopeful I reared up with a great effort as far as my front feet would reach, and stretching out my neck and pushing out my lips I strained every muscle to get at them. But luck was not on my side. My slave, who had the job of looking after the horse, suddenly saw what I was doing and jumped up indignantly. 'How long, for God's sake,' he shouted, 'are we going to put up with this miserable brute? First it was the other animals' food, now it's the very images of the gods that he's after. But I'll smash the sacrilegious devil, I'll cripple him.' He started looking round for a weapon and found a bundle of wood that happened to be lying there. Sorting out a leafy branch that was larger than all the others he proceeded to give me a fearful thrashing, only leaving off when there was a sudden uproar outside and a violent banging at the door; and as the whole neighbourhood echoed to a cry of 'Thieves!', he fled in terror.
Suddenly the doors burst open and there rushed in a gang of robbers, filling the house and surrounding every part of it with cordons of armed men, while others deployed themselves to resist the rescuers who came running from all sides. They were equipped with swords and torches, which lighted up the night; steel and flame gleamed like the rising sun. In the middle of the house there was a storeroom, strongly bolted and barred and crammed with all Milo's treasures. This they attacked and broke into with violent blows of their axes. Having made several openings they brought out all the contents, which they quickly tied up in bundles and shared out among themselves, There was more there than they could carry, but they were not checkmated by this superfluity of riches; they hauled us two asses and my horse out of the stable, loaded us to the limit with the heavier bundles, and drove us from the ransacked house with threats and blows. Leaving one of their number behind to report on any investigation of the crime, they beat us on over untrodden mountain passes at a steady trot.
By this time, what with my heavy load and the steep climb up the mountain and the length of the journey, I was practically expiring. At this point, rather late in the day, I had the bright idea of invoking my civil rights and freeing myself from all my troubles by appealing to the sacred name of the Emperor. So when, it being now broad daylight, we were passing through a largeish town with a busy market and a crowd all round us, I tried to call on the august name of Caesar in my native Greek. I did indeed produce a clear and convincing 'O', but the name 'Caesar' itself I couldn't manage. My discordant bray was not appreciated by the robbers, who laid into my wretched hide from all sides until there wasn't enough of it left to make a sieve. But great Jupiter did unexpectedly save me from one fatal mistake. We had passed a number of farms and cottages when I saw a delightful garden where among other attractive plants, there were blooming roses fresh with morning dew. Open-mouthed and joyful, with eager hopes of deliverance, I made up to them; but just as I was reaching out with slavering lips I had second and wiser thoughts. If the ass disappeared to reveal me as Lucius, I should certainly meet my death at the hands of the robbers, either on suspicion of being a wizard or as a possible informer if they were ever brought to justice. So, yielding to necessity, I turned away from the roses and resigning myself to my present situation 1 behaved as an ass should and munched my bit instead.