THE GOLDEN ASS, OR METAMORPHOSES
A lucky escape -- the story of the lover and the jar -- the priests arrested for theft -- Lucius sold to a miller -- in the mill again -- the miller's evil wife -- more stories of adultery -- death of the miller -- sold to a market-gardener -- the story of a house destroyed -- commandeered by the military
While my infamous executioner was thus arming his ungodly hands against me, I did not waste time in protracted thought: the danger was too acute and immediate to allow of indecision, and I resolved to escape from the butchery that threatened me by flight. Without more ado I wrenched myself free of my tether and took off at full gallop, covering my retreat by a vigorous rearguard action with my hind hooves, and passing at speed through the connecting colonnade I catapulted myself into the dining-room where the master of the house was holding a sacrificial feast with the priests. My headlong entry sent everything flying, plates, dishes, tables, torches, the lot. Our host was greatly put out by this unsightly havoc and my inopportune intrusion, and handed me over to an attendant with strict orders to shut me up safely somewhere where I wouldn't disturb their peaceful gathering with any more such skittishness. Protected by this clever plan of mine and wrested from the butcher's clutches, 1 was quite happy to be locked up in prison safe and sound.
But it's a dead certainty that nothing can go right for any human being if Fortune sets her face against him, and no decision, however prudent, no countermeasures, however cunning, can upset or change what divine Providence has decreed and ordained. In my case the very scheme which I thought had saved my bacon for the time being now gave rise to a new and alarming peril, sheer destruction indeed, from another quarter. For as the guests were quietly conversing there now suddenly burst into the dining-room a slave, his face convulsed with terror, who reported to his master that a rabid bitch had just rushed violently in at the back door and had in a frenzy attacked the pack of hounds; then she had invaded the stable next door and similarly savaged many of the animals there, and finally the staff themselves had not escaped. Myrtilus the muleteer and Hephaestio the cook and Hypnophilus the groom of the chambers and Apollonius the doctor and a number of others had all been bitten in different places while trying to drive her away. It was, he said, clear that many of the animals had been infected by her poisonous bites and must likewise be rabid.
This news greatly alarmed everybody, and believing that I too had taken the infection and was mad they grabbed whatever weapons came to hand, and exhorting each other to combine against the common peril -- though they were the ones who were really mad -- they came after me. They would certainly have hacked me limb from limb with their lances and spears and even hatchets which the servants hurried to supply, had I not grasped the danger of this whirlwind assault and at once rushed into the room where the priests were lodged. They immediately shut and bolted the door after me and mounted guard outside, preserving themselves from contact with me and leaving me to succumb to the devouring and inexorable madness of the fatal infection. Thus, free at last, I embraced the solitude granted me by Fortune, and lying down on a proper bed I slept the first human sleep I had enjoyed for many a long day.
It was broad daylight when I got up; I was in excellent form, my weariness dispelled by the softness of my bed. I could hear the people who had been on watch outside all night wondering how I was. 'Do you think the poor beast is still raging mad?' 'No, it's more likely that the poison has increased in violence and that he's dead.' They decided to settle the difference of opinion by having a look, and peeping through a crack they found me standing there quietly, sane and composed. Then they ventured to open the door wider to see if I were now quite docile. However, one of them, whom I must regard as a saviour sent to me from heaven, explained to the others how to prove whether I was sane or not. It was to offer me a bucketful of fresh water to drink: if I drank it eagerly and without any sign of fear as usual, they could be sure I was sane and wholly free of the infection. If on the other hand I backed away and panicked at the sight or touch of water it would be clear that the madness persisted. This was the standard test, recorded in the ancient authorities.
They agreed, and quickly fetched a large pail of sparkling water from the nearest fountain, which they offered me, though still with some hesitation. I, however, far from hanging back, came forward to meet them, stretched out my neck thirstily, plunged my head right into that literally life-saving water, and drank up every drop of it. Then I quietly let them pat me and fondle my ears and lead me by the bridle and test me in any other way they liked, until I had proved to everybody's satisfaction that, contrary to their insane assumption, I was completely docile. And that was how I escaped from my double danger. The next day I was loaded up again with the goddess and her attributes and led out to the sound of the castanets and cymbals on my beggar's progress. After visiting a number of cottages and hamlets we came to a village built in the ruins of what the inhabitants told us had once been a flourishing city. There we put up at the first inn we came to, where we heard an amusing story of how a poor man was cuckolded, which I should like you to hear too.
This man was extremely poor; he made his living by hiring himself out as a day-labourer at very low wages. He had a wife, as poor as himself; but notorious for her outrageously inmmoral behaviour. One day, directly he had left early for the job he had in hand, there quietly slipped into the house her dashing blade of a lover. While they were busily engaged with each other, no holds barred, and not expecting visitors, the husband, quite unaware of the situation, and not suspecting anything of the kind, unexpectedly came back. Finding the door closed and locked he commended his wife's virtue, and knocked, whistling to identify himself. The cunning baggage, who was past mistress in goings-on of this kind, disentangled her lover from her tight embraces and quietly ensconced him in an empty storage-jar which stood half hidden in a corner. Then she opened the door, and before her husband was well inside she greeted him acidly. 'So,' said she, 'I'm to watch you strolling about idly, doing nothing and with your hands in your pockets instead of going to work as usual and seeing about getting us something to live on and buy food with? Here am I wearing my fingers to the bone night and day with spinning wool, just to keep a light burning in our hovel! Don't I wish I was Daphne next door, rolling about in bed with her lovers and already tight by breakfast-time!'
Her husband was put out. 'What's all that for?' he asked. 'The boss has got to be in court, so he's given us the day off; but I have done something about today's dinner. You know that jar that never has anything in it and takes up space uselessly -- doing nothing in fact but get in our way? I've just sold it to a man for six denarii, and he's coming to pay up and collect his property. So how about some action and lending me a hand for a minute to rout it out and hand it over?' The crafty minx was quite equal to this and shrieked with laughter. 'Some husband I've got! Some bargainer! He's disposed of it for six, and I, a mere woman, I've already sold it for seven without even leaving the house!' Her husband was delighted by the increased price. 'Where is this chap who's made such a good offer?' he asked. 'He's inside it, stupid,' she answered, 'giving it a good going-over to see if it's sound.'
Her lover did not miss his cue. Emerging at once, 'If you want me to be frank, ma' am, ' he said, 'this jar of yours is pretty antique, and there are yawning cracks all over it'; and turning to the husband as if he had no idea who he was, 'Come on, chum, whoever you are, get cracking and fetch me a light, so I can scrape away all the inside dirt and see if the thing's fit to use -- money doesn't grow on trees, you know.' Her admirable husband, sharp fellow, suspected nothing, and at once lighted a lamp. 'Come out, old man,' he said. 'Sit down and make yourself comfortable, and let me get it cleaned out properly for you.' So saying, he stripped and taking the lamp in with him started to scrape the encrusted deposits off the rotten old jar. Meanwhile her smart young gallant made the man's wife lean face downwards across the jar, and without turning a hair gave her too a good going-over. She lowered her head into the jar and enjoyed herself at her husband's expense like the clever whore she was, pointing at this place or that or yet another one that needed scouring, until both jobs were finished. Then the unfortunate artisan took his seven denarii and was made to carry the jar himself to the adulterer's house.
Having stayed in this place for a few days, fattened by public charity and stuffed with the ample proceeds of their prophesying, these most chaste of priests devised a new way of making money. They composed one all-purpose oracle and used it to bamboozle the crowds of people who came to consult them about all sorts of things. This was how it went:
The yoked oxen drive the furrow now,
Then if somebody consulted them, say, about getting married, they would answer that it was obvious: the couple should yoke themselves in wedlock and raise a crop of children. If somebody asked about buying an estate, there it was in so many words, oxen and yokes and flourishing crops. If somebody was worried about undertaking a journey and sought divine guidance, the answer was that the tamest beasts in the world were harnessed and ready to start and that the luxuriant crops meant profit. If somebody was going on military service or on an expedition against bandits and wanted to know whether their enterprise would succeed, they declared that victory was absolutely guaranteed by the oracle: the necks of the enemy would bow beneath the yoke and there would be a rich and fruitful yield in the shape of plunder.
By this crafty method of divination they raked in a good deal of money. However, under the ceaseless flow of questions they began to run short of answers, and set off on their travels again. This road was much worse than any we had journeyed over yet, potholed and rutted, sometimes leading through standing pools, sometimes slimy and slippery with mud. I lost count of the number of times I stumbled and fell; I knocked myself about so much that when we finally reached level ground I was almost too tired to go on. At that moment we were suddenly overtaken by a troop of armed horsemen; reining in their horses with difficulty from their wild gallop, they fell on Philebus and his colleagues and seized them by the scruff of the neck, accusing them of sacrilege and worse and pummelling them with their fists as they spoke. Then they fettered them all and began to harangue them insistently, pressing them to 'produce the gold cup. Come on,' they said, 'produce it, produce the proceeds of your crime. You filched it from the innermost sanctum of the Mother of the Gods while you pretended to perform your secret ceremonies --and then as if you could escape the punishment of so heinous a crime by a moonlight flit, you left the town before daybreak.' And suiting the action to the word one of them laid hold of me, and rummaging in the very bosom of the goddess whom I carried found the gold cup and displayed it to everybody. However, it would have taken more than this revelation of their iniquity to abash or dismay such lost souls as these. They simply laughed and affected to make a joke of it. 'See how wrong and unjust you can get!' they said. 'As usual, it's the innocent who are accused and put at risk! All because of one little goblet which the Mother of the Gods presented to her Syrian sister-goddess as a memento of her stay, respectable priests are to be treated like criminals on a capital charge!'
All this nonsense and a lot more like it got them nowhere; the villagers took them back and confined them in chains in the local Clink. The cup and the image which I was carrying they consecrated and deposited in the temple treasury.The next day they brought me out and put me up for sale once again, and I was knocked down to a miller from a neighbouring village for seven sesterces more than Philebus had paid for me. He immediately loaded me heavily with some corn that he had just bought and led me by a steep path, strewn with stones and stumps of all kinds, to his mill.
In this place a large number of animals were employed in turning round and round mills of various sizes. It was not only by day but all night long that they kept the machinery in perpetual motion and burned, so to speak, the midnight oil to produce their nightly quota of flour. I, however, was treated as a distinguished guest by my new master, I suppose because he thought that if I were immediately initiated into this slavery I should cut up rough. So he gave me my first day off, and my manger was abundantly supplied with food. This life of leisure and happy repletion lasted for just that one day. Early next morning I was harnessed to what seemed to be the largest of the mills, blindfolded, and immediately forced round the circular track, restricted by the revolving motion, and so walking back and forth and always retracing my footsteps, wandering but never deviating in my wanderings. However, acute and sensible as ever, I declined to submit tamely to this apprenticeshjp. Though, when I was a man among men, I had often seen this sort of machinery in operation, I now pretended to have no experience or knowledge of such work and stood stock still in feigned bewilderment. I thought, you see, that I would be considered unsuited to this kind of employment and absolutely useless at it, and beset to some lighter work or even be left to feed in idleness. My cleverness got me nowhere -- far from it, for several of them at once armed themselves with sticks and standing in a circle -- being blindfolded I had no idea what was happening at a given signal they all shouted and laid into me. I was so startled by the commotion that I totally jettisoned all my plans, and scientifically throwing my weight into the collar I broke into a brisk trot. This abrupt change of policy occasioned general merriment.
The day was nearly over and I was pretty well worn out when they undid my harness, released me from my attachment to the mill, and tethered me to my manger. But, fatigued as I was and desperately needing to restore my strength -- I was indeed nearly dying of hunger -- yet my natural curiosity possessed me, and neglecting my plentiful supply of food I became totally absorbed in studying, with a kind of pleasure, the routine of this unpleasant establishment. As to the human contingent -- what a crew! -- their whole bodies picked out with livid weals, their whip-scarred backs shaded rather than covered by their tattered rags, some with only a scanty loin-cloth by way of covering, and all of them showing through the rents in what clothes they had. There were branded foreheads, half-shaven heads, and fettered ankles; their faces were sallow, their eyes so bleared by the smoky heat of the furnaces that they were halfblind; and like boxers, who sprinkle themselves with dust before fighting, they were dirty white all over with a floury powder.
When I turn to my fellow inmates in the stable, words almost fail me. What an array of old mules and clapped-out nags of horses! Their heads down in the trough, they were gobbling up great quantities of chaff; there they stood, with suppurating sores on their sagging necks, their nostrils dilated with perpetual coughing, their chests galled by the continual rubbing of their harness, their ribs laid bare by countless beatings, their hooves monstrously enlarged by their endless circlings, and their coats dirty and rough and mangy from starvation.
Seeing this lamentable household I feared a similar fate for myself and remembering Lucius as he was in happier days and with the end now finally staring me in the face, I let my head hang down and abandoned myself to grief. The only comfort I had in this wretched existence was the entertainment furnished by my inborn curiosity, since everybody behaved and spoke with complete freedom in front of me, paying no attention to my presence. Very rightly did the divine originator of ancient Greek poetry, when he wished to define a consummately wise man, sing of one who attained supreme virtue by visiting many cities and acquainting himself with many peoples. Speaking for myself, I am devoutly grateful to the ass that I once was, for it was he, when I was concealed under his hide and was buffeted by so many tribulations, who rendered me, no wiser, I must admit, but very widely informed.
Now, let me present to you an exceptionally good story, a prettily polished production. The miller who had bought me was himself an honest and thoroughly decent man, but the wife who had fallen to his lot was a dreadful woman, the worst of her sex, and made his bed and board such a misery to him that even I silently groaned at what he had to put up with. Not a single vice was wanting in this abominable woman's make-up; her heart was like a slimy cesspit in which every kind of moral turpitude had collected. She was hard-hearted, perverse, man-mad, drunken, and stubborn to the last degree. Tight-fisted in the squalid pursuit of gain, lavish in spending on debauchery, she had no use for loyalty and was a sworn enemy to chastity. Worse still, she had rejected and spurned the heavenly gods, and in place of true religion she had falsely and blasphemously set up a deity of her own whom she proclaimed as the One and Only God; and having bamboozled the world in general and her husband in particular by meaningless rituals of her own invention, she was able to give herself over to a day-long course of drinking and prostitution.
That then was his wife, and she persecuted me with extraordinary venom. Before dawn, while she was still in bed, she would call for the new ass to be harnessed to the mill; and as soon as she was up and about she would come and stand there and order them to thrash me as hard as they could while she watched. When it was time for dinner and the other animals were released, she would not let me be taken to the manger until much later. This cruel treatment whetted my natural curiosity about her behaviour. I was aware that there was a young man who regularly visited her bedroom, and I very much wanted to see his face, if my eyes ever got a moment's freedom from their blindfold -- for my resourcefulness would have been entirely adequate to uncover, somehow or other, this detestable woman's delinquencies. There was an old crone, her accomplice in her debauchery and the go-between in her affairs, who was in her company all day and every day. The two of them would breakfast together, and then over their neat wine they would conspire to plan their next campaign, devising tortuous schemes and treacherous plots for the undoing of her unfortunate husband. Though I was still very angry with Photis for her mistake in making me an ass instead of a bird, I had this one consolation in my woeful deformity, that the long ears with which I was equipped enabled me to follow everything that was happening even at a considerable distance.
One day then this old woman's voice came hesitantly to my ears. 'Madam,' she said, 'of course it's your affair entirely; it was you who acquired, without consulting me, this slug, this poltroon of a lover, who supinely dreads the frown of that tiresome and obnoxious husband of yours and, his passion enfeebled and slackened by fear, hurts you by his failure to respond to your willing embraces. What a contrast to Philesitherus! He's young, handsome, generous and vigorous, a stalwart match for any husband's useless precautions. He deserves, if any man does, to enjoy the favours of every wife, he deserves a crown of gold if only for the masterly scheme he recently devised against a jealous husband. Let me tell you about it, and you'll see how different lovers can be. You know Barbarus, one of our town councillors -- the people call him the Scorpion because he's so sharp in his ways. He had a wife of good family and great beauty whom he kept locked up at home under extraordinarily strict guard.' Here the miller's wife struck in: 'Of course, I know her well; Arete was at school with me.' 'Then,' said the old woman, 'I suppose you know the whole story of her and Philesitherus?' 'Not at all,' she answered, 'but I'm dying to hear it. Please, mother, tell me everything just as it happened.' At once the garrulous old gossip began: 'Barbarus, having to be away from home and wishing to protect his beloved wife's chastity with the utmost care, gave secret instructions to a slave called Myrmex whom he knew to be completely trustworthy, and assigned to him the entire responsibility for looking after his mistress. He threatened him with perpetual imprisonment and a slow death by starvation if he allowed anybody whatever to so much as touch her in passing; and he confirmed his threat with an oath by all the gods. And so, leaving the terrified Myrmex in close attendance on his wife, Barbarus departed with his mind quite at ease.
'Worried sick, Myrmex absolutely refused to let his mistress leave the house, declining to be parted from her even when she was busy with her woolwork. When in the evening she had to go out to the baths, he attached himself firmly to her, holding on to the hem of her robe; and in this way with admirable keenness he faithfully fulfilled the assignment with which he was entrusted. But the noble dame's beauty did not escape the watchful eye of the susceptible Philesitherus. The fame of her virtue and the excessive strictness with which she was guarded were enough in themselves to provoke and inflame his desire: ready to do or die in the attempt he mustered all his forces to take the citadel by storm. Knowing full well that men's loyalty is a frail thing, that no obstacle is proof against money, and that gold will force open even gates of steel, he contrived to get Myrmex on his own, revealed his love, and begged and prayed him to relieve his torments. His mind, he said, was firmly made up: if he did not achieve his desire soon, he would kill himself without more ado. Not, he added, that Myrmex had anything to be afraid of: the thing was easy -- he could slip into the house alone at evening safely concealed and protected by the darkness, and leave again in a matter of moments. To these and similar persuasions he added finally a powerful lever, calculated to uproot and overturn the slave's rock-like determination: holding out his hand he showed him thirty bright new gold pieces, twenty for the girl and ten, in the goodness of his heart, for Myrmex himself.
'Myrmex was horrified at this outrageous proposal and rushed away stopping his ears. But he was haunted by the fiery vision of that gleaming gold, and though he made haste to remove himself from the scene and made off home at speed, he still kept on seeing the beautiful sheen of the coins, and could think of nothing else but that rich booty. For many hours the unfortunate man, tormented and distracted, was vacillating, his purpose driven this way and that like a wave-tossed boat: loyalty on the one hand, gain on the other, torture on that side, pleasure on this. Finally gold overcame his fear of death; and so far from his lust for that lovely money abating with the passing of time, the plague took over and preoccupied his nights: though his master's threats kept him at home, the gold was beckoning him outside. In the end he swallowed his scruples, and without more ado took the message to his mistress. She, fickle like all women, acted in character and agreed to sell her honour for the accursed metal. Myrmex, overjoyed, flew off to accomplish the downfall of his loyalty, lusting not merely to possess but actually to hold the money that he had seen and that was to be his undoing. Happy and excited, he announced to Philesitherus that, thanks entirely to his Herculean efforts, what he so much longed for was accomplished, and in the same breath demanded the agreed reward. Then Myrmex' hand grasped gold coins -- a hand hitherto unconversant even with copper.
'So at dead of night he brought the adventurous lover, alone and with his head well muffled, to the house and ushered him into his mistress's bedroom. The two of them lost no time in making an offering of their embraces to Love the Raw Recruit, and, stripped for action, were just beginning their first campaign under Venus' banner, when quite unexpectedly, having stolen a march under cover of night, her husband suddenly presented himself at the door of the house. He knocked, he shouted, he banged on the door with a stone, and as every moment's delay heightened his suspicions he began to threaten Myrmex with dire punishment. He, totally confused by this unforeseen calamity and not knowing what to do in his distraught state, made the only excuse he could think of, that the door-key had been so carefully hidden that he could not find it in the dark. Meanwhile Philesitherus, hearing the noise, quickly huddled on his tunic, but in his hurry to leave the room ran out barefoot. Then Myrmex finally unlocked and opened the door and let his master in, still invoking the gods; and while he made straight for the bedroom, Philesitherus was quietly and quickly let out. With him clear of the threshold, Myrmex locked up the house and went back to bed with nothing (so he thought) to worry about.
'But when day came and Barbarus got up, he saw under the bed a pair of sandals that he did not recognize, the ones that Philesitherus had worn on his visit, and immediately guessed what had been going on. However, he said nothing of his anguished suspicions either to his wife or to any of the household, but quietly picked up the sandals and hid them in his clothes. Then, merely ordering his fellow slaves to tie Myrmex up and bring him to the public square, he rapidly made his own way there, stifling his repeated groans, certain that the evidence of the sandals would enable him to uncover the adulterer's tracks without any difficulty. But as the angry Barbarus was coming down the street, all scowls and frowns, with Myrmex behind him loaded with chains -- though he had not been caught red-handed, he was demoralized by his guilty conscience and was trying ineffectually to arouse pity by frantic weeping and wailing -- at that moment Philesitherus met them on his way to an appointment elsewhere about quite a different matter. Though startled by this unexpected sight he was not dismayed. He immediately realized the mistake he had made in his hurried departure and acutely guessed what must have happened; summoning up his habitual assurance, he pushed aside the escorting slaves and fell on Myrmex shouting at the top of his voice and pretending to pummel his face unmercifully. "Thief! Perjurer!" he bawled. "May your master here, may all the gods in heaven, that you had the nerve to call as witnesses to your oath, damn you to hell! It was you who stole my slippers yesterday in the baths! By God, you deserve to keep those chains on you until you've worn them out -- you really ought to be in the dark behind bars." The enterprising lover's timely ruse took Barbarus in and indeed left him quite happy and credulous as before. On his return home he called Myrmex, gave him the slippers, and without more ado forgave him completely, urging him to restore them to their owner that he had stolen them from.'
At this point in the old woman's chatter the wife interrupted: 'Lucky her, free to enjoy so steadfast a friend! What a contrast to me, landed with a lover who trembles at the sound of the mill or the sight of that mangy ass there.' The old woman answered: 'Leave it to me: I'll talk him over and put heart into him, and I'll go bail for his appearance --you'll find him a really sprightly lover.' With that she left the room, promising to return that evening. Meanwhile this chaste wife set to and prepared a regular Salian banquet, decanting rare wines and garnishing freshly cooked ragouts with preserved delicacies. Having set the table thus lavishly she awaited the arrival of her paramour as of some god. (Luckily it happened that her husband was dining out that evening with one of his neighbours, a fuller.) It was now nightfall, and I had at last been unharnessed and left to relax and refresh myself. However, I was congratulating myself less on being freed from my labours than on the fact that, my eyes being now uncovered, I had an uninterrupted view of all this woman's carryings-on. Now the sun had sunk beneath the waves of Ocean and was lighting the subterranean regions of the world, when the evil old crone reappeared with the dashing adulterer in tow. He was no more than a lad, fresh-complexioned and smooth-chinned, himself still an adulterer's delight. The wife welcomed him with a shower of kisses and invited him to sit down to dinner.
However, the young man had scarcely sipped his first cup of wine and nibbled the hors-d'oeuvre when the husband arrived back long before he was expected. The virtuous wife, consigning him to perdition and wishing he would break both legs, hastily hid her lover, panic-stricken and white with fear, under a wooden trough used for husking grain, which happened to be near at hand. Then, passing off her infamous behaviour with the cunning of her sex and feigning nonchalance, she asked her husband why he had left his good friend's dinner and come back so early. He answered despondently and with many a sigh: 'It was because I couldn't stand the shocking misconduct of that abandoned woman that I came away. Ye gods, how could a virtuous and well-conducted wife like that besmirch and disgrace herself so foully? I swear by holy Ceres over there that with women like that around I don't trust my eyes any more.' Her interest excited by her husband's words, his audacious wife was eager to hear all about it and kept on and on at him to tell the whole story from beginning to end. She persisted until he gave in and, unaware of what was going on under his own roof; proceeded to recount the misfortunes of another man's house.
'My friend the fuller's wife,' he said, 'was a woman, so it seemed, of unimpeachable chastity and shining reputation, presiding virtuously over her husband's house. She had, however, secretly fallen for a lover, and lost no opportunity of clandestine meetings with him. At the very moment that we arrived for dinner after our bath, she and the young man were making love. Alarmed by our unexpected appearance, she had a bright idea, and hid him under a wickerwork frame, a sort of wigwam on which cloth is draped to be bleached with sulphur fumes. Having ensconced him there, safely as she thought, she joined us at table without a care in the world. Meanwhile, however, the young man, choked and stifled by the pungent fumes of the sulphur, began to suffocate and -- the usual effect of this potent chemical -- began to emit a series of loud sneezes. At first, when he heard these sneezes coming from his wife's direction, her husband thought they were hers and said the usual "bless you", but when this had happened several times he began to think that it was rather too much of a good thing, and finally guessed the true state of affairs. Pushing the table abruptly aside he whipped off the frame and revealed her lover, who was now almost at his last gasp. Burning with rage at this affront he called for a sword and was hell-bent on accelerating the man's end by cutting his throat. However, I managed with some difficulty to restrain his fury, reckoning that we should all be in danger as accessories, and pointing out that his enemy would soon die in any case from the violent effects of the sulphur without any help from us. He calmed down, not so much because of anything I said as because of the hard facts of the situation, the man being already half dead, and dragged him out and left him in the neighbouring alley. Meanwhile I gave his wife some discreet advice, and finally got her to leave the shop for a while and get herself taken in by one of her women friends, to give her husband's anger time to cool down. He was so red-hot and mad with rage that he was clearly thinking of doing both himself and her some fatal mischief. That was my friend's dinner-party, and that's why I've left it and come back home in disgust.'
All the while the miller was telling his story, his brazen-faced wife was heaping abuse on the fuller's wife, calling her faithless, shameless, a disgrace to her sex, who had held her virtue cheap, who had trampled on the bond of the marriage-bed, who had dishonoured her husband's house by turning it into a brothel, and had thrown away the dignity of a wife by exchanging it for the name of whore. Women like that, she added, deserved to be burned alive. She was, however, uneasily aware of her own secret amour and her guilty conscience, and wanting to release her lover from his uncomfortable refuge as soon as possible, she repeatedly suggested to her husband that it was high time for bed. But he had had his dinner cut short and had come away practically starving, so he politely said he would like something to eat. She at once produced supper, though with a bad grace, having intended it for somebody else. As for me, I was deeply upset to contemplate this abominable woman's misdeeds and the way in which she was now brazening the thing out; and I thought carefully how I might assist my master by uncovering and disclosing her deceit, and how by knocking over the trough under which he lay tortoise-like, I might display her lover to the eyes of the world.
While the thought of the indignity inflicted on my master was tormenting me, Providence for once smiled on me. There was a lame old man who was in charge of the stable, and as it was now time for us to be watered he came to lead us all out together to the nearby pond. This gave me the perfect opportunity for the revenge on which I was set. As I was going by I saw the man's fingers sticking out from under the edge of the trough, which was rather too narrow for him; and treading sideways on them as hard as I could I ground them to pulp. Unable to bear the pain he yelled aloud and threw off the trough, and being thus restored to public view he uncovered this vile woman's charade. The miller, however, did not seem unduly put out by this affront to his honour. Regarding the pale and trembling boy with an expression of calm benevolence he spoke soothingly to him. 'Don't be afraid, my boy,' he said, 'I'm not going to be harsh with you. I'm no barbarian or brutish peasant; and I'm not going to follow the fuller's cruel example and suffocate you with the deadly fumes of sulphur. I certainly shan't invoke the severity of the law on adultery and demand the death sentence for such a pretty little lad as you. All I'm going to do is share you equally with my wife. I shan't sue for the division of family property but for its common enjoyment, so that without controversy or dispute the three of us agree together in one bed. I've always lived so harmoniously with my wife that, as the wise recommend; our views on everything have always coincided. However, equity forbids the wife to have more authority than the husband.'
With mocking blandishments of this sort he led the boy, who did not want to come but had no choice but to follow, to bed. His chaste wife he locked in another room; and then alone in bed with the boy he enjoyed a most gratifying revenge for the ruin of his marriage. As soon as it was light he called for two of his strongest slaves and had the boy hoisted aloft and tied up. Then he took a cane and thrashed him, saying; 'What business has a delicate little creature like you, a mere child, to be cheating your lovers of the enjoyment of your youthful beauty and to be chasing women -- free women at that -- and breaking up legal marriages and usurping the name of adulterer before you're of age?' After a lot more to the same effect, all to the accompaniment of a thorough beating, he threw the boy out of the house. So our valiant seducer made off very sorry for himself, having unexpectedly escaped with his life, but with that white bottom of his a good deal the worse for wear after the experiences of both the night and the morning. The miller then followed suit with his wife, serving notice of divorce and throwing her too out of the house.
She, however, on top of her natural malevolence was infuriated by this insult, richly though she deserved it, and took to her old ways again, resorting in her anger to the familiar arts of her sex. She took great pains to discover a certain old woman, past mistress of her profession, who it was believed could bring about anything by her curses and spells, and loading her with gifts she begged her earnestly to do one of two things: either to pacify her husband and reconcile him to her, or if that proved impossible, to send in a ghost or some evil spirit to put a violent end to his life. The witch, who could control the gods themselves, in her first offensive deployed only the light arms of her nefarious art, trying to soften the husband's grievously wounded feelings and revive his love. When that did not succeed as she had expected, she took umbrage at the infernal powers, and incited as much by their lack of cooperation as by the reward she had been promised, she mounted an attack on the unfortunate man's life, and raised the ghost of a woman who had died a violent death to destroy him.
But perhaps at this point the attentive reader will start to pick holes in my story and take me up on it. 'How is it, you clever ass you,' they will say, 'that while you were confined in the mill you were able, as you say, to know what these women were doing in secret?' All right: let me tell you how a man of an inquiring turn of mind in the guise of a beast of burden found out the whole story of this plot against the miller's life. Round about midday a woman suddenly appeared at the mill got up as if she were on trial for her life, strangely disfigured and woebegone, barely covered in pitiful rags, barefoot, deathly pale and drawn, her grizzled hair dishevelled, dirty and sprinkled with ash, hanging down in front and hiding most of her face. This apparition gently laid hold of the miller and, as if wishing to talk to him in private, drew him into his room and shut the door. Nothing was then heard for a long time. Meanwhile the instalment of grain which the mill-hands had been grinding was finished, and they needed to ask for more. The slaves stood by the door and called their master, asking for a fresh supply. When they got no response from him to their loud and repeated shouts, they began to knock hard on the door; finding it tightly barred they feared an accident or foul play, and by breaking and dislodging the hinges with a violent heave they finally gained an entry. They saw no sign of the woman anywhere, but there was their master hanging from a beam, strangled and lifeless. They released him from the noose and took him down, and with much weeping and lamentation washed the body and performed the last rites, then carried him to the grave followed by a long train of mourners.
The next day the miller's daughter, who was married and lived in a nearby village, arrived in mourning, tearing her disordered hair and beating her breast. She already knew the whole story, but not from any messenger; her father's ghost had appeared to her in a dream in pitiable guise, with the noose still around his neck, and had told her all about her stepmother's crimes, her adultery and witchcraft, and how the evil spirit had possessed him and carried him down to hell. For a long time she tortured herself with weeping, but finally, restrained by the friends who rallied round her, she allowed her grief to subside. When after the canonical nine days the ceremonies at the tomb had been duly performed, as heiress to the estate she put everything, slaves, plant and animals, up for auction. So Fortune, irresponsible as ever, through the unpredictable operation of a sale scattered the whole establishment to the four winds. As for me, I was bought by a poor market-gardener for fifty sesterces -- an awful lot of money, as he said, but he hoped that with the two of us on the job he could eke out a living for himself.
At this point the subject demands that I expound the routine of my new service. Each morning my master would load me up with produce and take me to the nearest town, and having consigned his wares to the retailers he would ride home on my back. Then, while he slaved away at digging and watering and all his other chores, I meanwhile had nothing to do and could recuperate in peace and tranquility. But the stars had now performed their ordained revolutions and the year had again come full circle; leaving behind autumn and the pleasures of the vintage, it had now entered Capricorn with its winter frosts. What with the continual rain and the heavy dews at night, I was suffering agonies of cold, confined as I was to a stall that was open to the elements. My master was so poor that he could not afford bedding of any kind or even the scantiest of coverings for himself, let alone for me; he had to be content with what shelter his small thatched hut offered. On top of this, morning would find me standing barefoot in freezing mud and splinters of ice and dying of cold; and I couldn't even fill my belly with my usual food. Dinner was exactly the same for both my master and me, and meagre enough it was: nasty old lettuces that had bolted and gone bad; they had run to seed and looked like large brooms, and their juice was bitter and foul.
One night a proprietor from a nearby village who had lost his way in the dark, there being no moon, and had got soaked in a downpour, finding himself benighted and his horse tired out, stopped at our place. He received a friendly reception, the best our circumstances allowed, and though his entertainment was far from luxurious he at least got the rest he needed. Wishing to requite his host's kindness, he promised to give him some corn and olive oil and two jars of wine as well from his estate. The very next day my master, armed with a sack and two empty wineskins, mounted me bareback, and we set off on our journey, a matter of some seven miles. We arrived and found the farm as directed, where his amiable host at once sat my master down to an excellent dinner. While they were chatting over their wine there occurred a truly remarkable portent. One of the flock of fowls was running about the barnyard loudly clucking as a hen usually does before laying an egg. Seeing her, 'Faithful and fruitful servant!' said the master. 'You've never failed to supply us with our eggs every day, and I can see that you're proposing to give us a treat now. Here, boy,' he called, 'put the laying-basket in the usual corner.' The slave did as he was told, but the hen ignored her usual nesting-apartment and gave birth right at her master's feet -- a premature birth, and a very worrying one: for it was no egg as we know it, but a perfectly formed pullet complete with wings, feet, eyes and voice which immediately began to follow its mother around.
On top of this there followed a much more sinister happening, which caused general consternation, as well it might. Right there, under the table, which still had the remains of dinner on it, a yawning gap appeared in the floor which spurted a veritable fountain of blood, the spray from which drenched the table in gore. Then, while everybody was rooted in astonishment and terror at this warning from heaven, a servant ran in from the cellar to announce that all the wine which had some time ago been racked off had become scalding hot and boiled over out of every cask as if it had a blazing fire underneath it. Meanwhile outside the house there had been seen a weasel dragging a dead snake along in its mouth; a small green frog had jumped out of the mouth of one of the sheepdogs; and the same dog had been attacked by a ram that was standing nearby and throttled with a single bite. The master and the entire household were petrified with fear and thrown into the depths of despair by all these events, at a loss to know what to do first and what next, what to do and what not to do, which and what sort of victims should be sacrificed in expiation to avert these threats from heaven.
While everyone was still numbed by apprehension and dread, a slave arrived bringing his master news of complete and utter disaster. He had three grown-up sons, well educated and irreproachably behaved, who were his pride and joy. They had for some time been friendly with a poor man who owned a small cottage. Bordering on this cottage was a large and prosperous estate owned by a powerful neighbour. This was a rich young man of noble family, who by trading on his proud ancestry had become an influential figure in city politics and got his own way in everything. This man declared war on his humble neighbour and harried his poor little domain, killing his animals, driving off his cattle, and trampling down his young crops. Having despoiled him of all his modest fortune, he determined to evict him from his land, and by cooking up a spurious lawsuit about boundaries he laid claim to his entire property. Unassertive as he was, the farmer, stripped of everything by this rich man's greed, still wanted to keep at least his ancestral plot to be buried in, and in great fear and trembling had enlisted the aid of a number of friends to testify formally as to the boundaries. These included the three brothers, who had come to give what help they could to their friend in his misfortune.
So far from being deterred or put out of countenance in the slightest by such a crowd of citizens, this madman was no less violent in his language than in his acts of brigandage. When they tried to reason with him gently and pacify his hot temper with conciliatory words, he burst out with a solemn oath by his own life and the life of all those dear to him that he did not give a damn for all these mediators, and that as for this neighbour of his, his slaves were going to take him by the ears and send him packing then and there. This statement caused outrage in the minds of all who heard it. One of the brothers immediately and now without mincing his words answered that it was no use his relying on his wealth to carry off his threats and his tyrannical arrogance: under the free protection of the laws even poor men were secured against the insolence of the rich. Like oil on flames, like sulphur on a blaze, like a whip laid on a Fury, so these words fed the man's savagery. Enraged to outright madness, he shouted that all of them and the laws as well could go to hell; and ordered his dogs to be loosed and sicked on to attack and kill them. These were herdsmen's dogs from his estate, huge fierce brutes that were used to feeding on corpses left lying about the countryside and had been trained to savage passing wayfarers indiscriminately. At once, their fury kindled by the herdsmen's usual signal, they rushed at the people in a mad frenzy and fell on them with dreadful discordant baying, wounding, tearing, and lacerating them all over.
In the midst of this carnage and the jostling of the panic-stricken crowd the youngest brother caught his foot on a stone and fell headlong to the ground, so providing the savage pack with an atrocious repast; finding him lying there a helpless prey, in a moment they were rending him limb from limb. His brothers heard his cries of agony, and ran in anguish to his assistance; wrapping their cloaks round their left hands they tried to defend him and drive off the dogs with a volley of stones. They were, however, powerless to frighten or beat off the savage beasts, and the unfortunate young man was torn in pieces and died adjuring them with his last breath to take vengeance for their younger brother's death on that rich villain. They, not so much in desperation as not caring whether they lived or died, rushed blazing with anger at the rich man and attacked him with a furious salvo of stones. But the bloodstained assassin, schooled in many an earlier outrage of the same kind, hurled his spear and transfixed one of them through the chest. But though killed outright, the young man did not fall to the ground, for the spear had been hurled so violently that it passed right through him and, sticking out behind for most of its length, lodged firmly in the ground, leaving his body balanced in mid-air. Then one of the slaves, a large hefty fellow, came to the aid of his cutthroat master and at long range aimed a stone at the third brother's right arm. The stone, however, unexpectedly missed and fell harmlessly after merely grazing his fingertips.
This happy accident offered the astute young man a faint hope of revenge. Pretending that his hand was disabled he addressed his cruel enemy: 'Very well: exult in the destruction of our whole house, glut your insatiable cruelty with the blood of three brothers, triumph gloriously over your humiliated fellow citizens but remember this, that though you can strip poor men of their possessions and push your boundaries wider still and wider, you will always have a neighbour. As for this hand of mine, which should have cut off your head, through the injustice of fate it is bruised and useless.' Angry as he was already, these words maddened the ruffian; and sword in hand he rushed furiously at the hapless youth to dispatch him. But the man he had challenged was no less tough than he, and he met with a resistance that he had by no means expected. With a grip of iron the young man seized his right hand, and wielding his sword with all his strength with blow upon blow he expelled the rich villain's polluted soul from his body. Then, to escape the crowd of retainers who were coming at him, he cut his own throat on the spot with the blade that still dripped with his enemy's blood.
These were the events that the portents had foretold; this was what the unfortunate master had been warned of. With these calamities thick upon him, the old man could not utter a single word or even shed a silent tear. Seizing the knife with which he had just been helping his guests to cheese and other eatables, he followed the example of his unhappy son and plunged it repeatedly into his throat; then collapsing forwards on to the table he washed away the bloodstains from the portent in a fresh torrent of blood.
The gardener was left pitying the plight of this house, thus brought low in a matter of hours, but also sadly lamenting his own misfortune -- tears as the price of his dinner and empty hands which he could only wring over and over again. There was nothing to do but mount me and go back the way we had come, but even that was not accomplished safely. A burly individual, apparently from his dress and behaviour a legionary soldier, accosted us and asked in overbearing and arrogant language where he was going with that unloaded ass? My master, still grieving and bemused, and in any case not understanding Latin, was passing on without answering. At this the soldier's natural insolence flared up, and angry at his silence, which he took as an insult, he knocked him off my back with a blow of the vine-staff which he carried. The gardener humbly answered that he didn't know the language and couldn't understand what he was saying. So in Greek the soldier asked; 'Where are you taking that ass?' The gardener said he was going to the next town. 'But I need his services,' said the soldier. 'He's wanted to carry my commander's gear from the fort over there with the rest of the baggage-animals': and with that he laid hold of my bridle and began to lead me away. The gardener, wiping off the blood that was flowing from the blow he had received to the head, begged him, calling him 'mate', to behave more civilly and kindly, reinforcing his pleas by invoking all his hopes of professional success. 'And in any case,' he added, 'it's a useless beast with a vicious disposition, and it's on its last legs with some horrible disease; it has just about enough life and breath in its body to carry the odd bundle of vegetables from my garden here without collapsing -- it's certainly not fit to bear anything heavier.'
However, seeing that the soldier, so far from being mollified by any entreaties, was becoming exasperated and looked like doing him a mischief, seeing him indeed preparing to reverse his cudgel and brain him with the knob, the gardener resorted to desperate measures. Pretending that he was going to touch his knees to stir him to pity, he crouched down low, then suddenly laying hold of both his feet he lifted him high in the air and threw him heavily to the ground; then at once he attacked him with his fists, his elbows, his teeth, and even with a stone snatched from the road, battering him all over, face, hands, and body. The soldier, once stretched on the ground, was powerless to fight back or defend himself but kept on threatening that if he once got up he would cut him in little bits with his sword. That gave the gardener an idea: he drew the sword himself and threw it well away, then resumed his attack, beating him even more savagely. The soldier, prostrated and handicapped by his injuries, resorted to his only remaining hope of survival and shammed dead. Then the gardener took the sword, got on my back, and posted straight to town, where, without troubling even to call in at his garden, he went to a friend's house. He told him the whole story and begged for help in his peril, asking him to hide the two of us for a little while; two or three days' concealment would allow him to escape prosecution on a capital charge. The man was mindful of their old friendship and at once took him in. I had my feet tied together and was hoisted up a ladder into the loft; the gardener stayed downstairs in the shop, where he took refuge in a chest with the lid fastened down over him.
The soldier, however, as I learned later, did in the end recover consciousness, with all the symptoms of a severe hangover, and in great pain from his wounds and supporting himself with difficulty on his stick, made his way with uncertain steps to the town. He was too much ashamed of his violent behaviour and the poor show he had put up to say anything about the affair to the townspeople, but swallowed his resentment until he came across some fellow soldier, to whom he confided the story of his disaster. It was decided that he should secrete himself in his quarters for a while -- for quite apart from his personal humiliation he feared that the loss of his sword was a sacrilegious breach of his military oath -- while his comrades, who had taken careful note of our particulars, should spare no pains to track us down and exact vengeance. They soon found a treacherous neighbour, who told them exactly where we were hidden. The soldiers summoned the magistrates with a yarn that they concocted about a valuable silver cup belonging to their commander that they had lost on the road and how a certain gardener had found it and refused to give it up, and was now hiding in a friend's house. On hearing of the loss and the commander's name the magistrates appeared before the door of the house where we were and loudly called on our host to hand us over --'we know they're in there', they shouted -- if he wanted to save his own skin. He was not in the least frightened but was concerned only to safeguard the friend he had sworn to protect: he denied all knowledge of us and said he had not set eyes on the gardener for days. The soldiers maintained that he was hiding there in that very place, and swore it by the Emperor's genius. At last, as the man persisted in his stubborn denial, the magistrates decided to get at the truth by a search. The constables and other public officers were accordingly sent in with orders to investigate carefully every corner of the house, and they reported that not a soul, and certainly no ass, was to be found inside.
Then the dispute waxed hotter on both sides, the soldiers asserting that they knew perfectly well that we were in there and repeatedly invoking the name of Caesar, while our host persisted in denying it, calling for his part the divine powers to witness. Hearing this noisy argument, curious as usual and, like an ass, brash and impatient, I angled my neck out of a little window, eager to see what the hubbub was all about. It happened that one of the soldiers at that moment caught a glimpse of my shadow and called his comrades to look. There was a great to-do, and some of them immediately climbed the ladder, grabbed me, and hauled me down like a prisoner. There was now no hesitation: every nook and cranny was minutely scrutinized, the chest was uncovered, and the wretched gardener was pulled out and arraigned before the magistrates. He was carried off to the town prison, it was assumed to certain execution; while there was much merriment and endless jokes on the subject of my peeping out. This was the origin of the common proverb about 'The peeping ass and his shadow'.