Book VIII: 19-22

Madeline McChesney /
Interea quidam senex de summo colle prospectat , quem circum capellae pascentes opilionem esse profecto clamabant . Eum rogavit unus e nostris haberetne venui lactem vel adhuc liquidum vel in caseum recentem inchoatum . At ille diu capite quassanti ‘Vos autem inquit ‘De cibo vel poculo ) vel omnino ulla refectione nunc cogitatis ? An nulli scitis quo loco comederitis ? Et cum dicto conductis oviculis conversus longe recessit . Quae vox eius et fuga pastoribus nostris non mediocrem pavorem incussit : ac dum perterriti de loci qualitate sciscitari gestiunt nec est qui doceat , senex alius , magnus ille quidem , gravatus annis , totus in baculum pronus et lassum trahens vestigium , ubertim lacrimans per viam proximat , visisque nobis cum fletu maximo singulorum iuvenum genua contingens sic adorabat :
Per fortunas vestrosque genios , sic ad meae senectutis spatia validi laetique veniatis , decepto seni subsistite meumque parvulum ab inferis ereptum canis meis reddite . Nepos namque meus et itineris huius suavis comes dum forte passerem incantantem saepiculae consectatur arripere , delapsus in proxumam foveam , quae fruticibus imis subpatet , in extremo iam vitae consistit periculo , quippe cum de fletu ac voce [ p . 378 ] ipsius avum sibi saepicule clamitantis vivere illum quidem sentiam , sed per corporis , ut videtis , mei defectam valitudinem opitulari nequeam . At vobis aetatis et roboris beneficio facile est suppetiari miserrimo seni puerumque illum novissimum successionis meae atque unicam stirpem sospitem mihi facere .
Sic deprecantis suamque canitiem distrahentis totos quidem miseruit ; sed unus prae ceteris et animo fortior et aetate iuvenior et corpore validior , quique solus praeter alios incolumis proelium superius evaserat , exsurgit alacer et percontatus quonam loci puer , ille decidisset , monstrantem digito non longe frutices horridos senem illum impigre comitatur . Ac dum pabulo nostro suaque cura refecti sarcinulis quisque sumptis suis viam capessunt , clamore primum nominatim cientes illum iuvenem frequenter inclamant ; mox mora diutina commoti mittunt e suis arcessitorem unum , qui requisitum comitem tempestivae viae commonefactum reduceret . At ille modicum commoratus refert sese buxanti pallore trepidus miraque 1super conservo suo renuntiat : conspicatum se quippe supinato illi et iam ex maxima parte consumpto immanem draconem mandentem insistere nec ullum usquam miserrimum senem comparere illum . Qua re cognita et cum pastoris sermone collata , qui saevum prorsus hunc illum nec alium locorum inquilinum praeminabatur , pestilenti deserta regione velociori se fuga proripiunt . nosque pellunt
crebris tundentes fustibus . Celerrime denique longo 1 [ p . 380 ] itinere confecto pagum quendam accedimus , ibique totam perquiescimus noctem ; ubi coeptum facinus oppido memorabile narrare cupio . Servus quidam , cui cunctam familiae tutelam dominus permiserat suus , quique possessionem maximam illam , in quam deverteramus , villicabat , habens ex eodem famulitio conservam coniugam , liberae cuiusdam extrariaeque mulieris flagrabat cupidine . Quo dolore paclicatus uxor eius instricta cunctas mariti rationes et quicquid horreo reconditum continebatur admoto combussit igne . Nec tali damno tori sui contumeliam vindicasse contenta , iam contra sua saeviens viscera laqueum sibi nectit infantulumque , quem de eodem marito iamdudum susceperat , eodem funiculo nectit seque per altissimum puteum , appendicem parvulum trahens praecipitat . Quam mortem dominus eorum aegerrime sustinens arreptum servulum , qui causam tanti sceleris uxori suae praestiterat , nudum ac totum melle perlitum firmiter alligavit arbori ficulneae , cuius in ipso carioso stipite inhabitantium formicarum nidificia borribant et ultro citro commeabant multiiuga scaturigine . Quae simul dulcem ac mellitum corporis nidorem persentiscunt , parvis quidem sed numerosis et continuis morsiunculis penitus inhaerentes , per longi temporis cruciatum ita , carnibus atque ipsis visceribus adesis , homine consumpto membra nudarunt , ut ossa tantum viduata pulpis nitore nimio candentia funestae cohaererent arbori .
Now an old man appeared , gazing down on us from a summit at hand ; a goat-herd he was , as could be seen by the she-goats browsing round him . One of us asked him if he’d any milk or curds for sale . He shook his head several times before replying : ‘How can you dream of food and drink , or anything else right now ? Don’t you know where you are ? Then he gathered his goats , and made off into the distance . His words and his sudden flight filled us all with no little dread . We wondered what was wrong with the place , but there was no one the others could ask , till a second old man approached on the road , tall and bent with the years , hunched over his staff , wearily dragging his feet , and weeping copiously . Meeting with us he clasped the knees of all the young men in turn , wracked by tears .
‘May Fortune and your guardian spirits smile on you , he sobbed , ‘may you be healthy and happy when you reach my years , only help a wretched old man , save my grandson from death , and spare him to my old grey head . My sweet comrade on this journey , he was trying to catch a sparrow singing in the hedge when he fell into a pit that yawned at its feet , and now he’s doomed to death , though I know he’s alive from his calls to me , and his weeping . I’m too weak to save him , as you see , but your youth

and strength could easily aid a poor old man and save the youngest of my line , my only heir .
We were all filled with pity as he begged us to help and tore at his grey hair . One of the younger men , stouter of heart , and stronger of limb than the others , the only one of us uninjured in the recent battle , leapt up readily and asked where the boy was . The old man pointed with his finger to a clump of bushes , and the youth set off in his company . When we animals had grazed , and the humans had tended their wounds and were refreshed , we all rose with our loads and started down the road . At first they shouted and called the young man’s name repeatedly , then anxious at his delay they sent someone off to find their missing comrade , tell him we were off , and bring him back . Soon the messenger returned , trembling and pale as boxwood , with a strange tale to tell of his friend . He had seen his body he said , lying on its back , almost totally eaten by a vast serpent . The snake was coiled above him as it consumed him , but the poor old man was nowhere to be seen . Hearing this , and matching it to the goat-herd’s earlier remarks , who must have been warning them of none another than this same denizen of the place , they fled from that pestilential region , travelling more swiftly than before , driving us along rapidly with repeated blows of their sticks .
After a long day moving at breakneck pace , we came to a village where we stayed the night , a place where a noteworthy crime had been committed which I’ll relate .
A servant , whose master had made him steward of his entire estate , had previously acted as bailiff therefore of the large holding where we had stopped for the night . He was married to a servant in the same household , but burned with love for a freedwoman , who lived outside his master’s estate . Angered by her husband’s disloyalty , the wife set fire to his store- room and all his accounts , destroying both utterly . Not content with this act as revenge for the insult to her marriage , she turned her bitter rage against her own flesh . Tying a rope round her own neck and that of the child she’d just borne her husband , she hurled herself into a deep well , dragging the infant with her . Their master , horrified at their deaths , had the servant , whose infidelity had provoked the dreadful tragedy , arrested , stripped naked and smeared with honey , and tied to a rotting fig-tree inside whose trunk lived a colony of nesting ants that marched in and out in their myriad streams . Detecting the sweet sugary scent on his body , they quickly

fastened their tiny jaws in his skin , wounding him deeply with endlessly repeated bites , until after interminable torment , he died . His flesh and his innards were totally consumed and his body stripped to the bare bones which , gleaming a brilliant white , were left tied to the tree .
While they were thus engaged , each in attending to
his health , an old man spied them from the top of a
hill . The goats that fed about him showed him to be
a herdsman . One of our party asked him if he had
any milk for sale , either fresh or newly pressed into a
cheese . He shook his head repeatedly . Then ' How ' ,
he asked , ' can you think of food or drink or any other
refreshment ? Do none of you realize where you are
sitting ? ' With these words he turned and retired to
a distance , driving his sheep with him . His words
and his hasty departure struck no small terror into the
hearts of our herdsmen . And while in their fear they
strove to discover what was the matter with the place
and found none to tell them , another old man , of great
stature but bowed with years , approached along the
road , leaning heavily upon a staff and weeping floods
of tears , as he dragged his weary feet . When he saw
us he broke into loud lamentation , embraced the knees
of our young masters one after the other , and thus
entreated them :
' By the fates and guardian spirits that watch over
your ways , I implore you , help a feeble old man , save
my little grandson from the jaws of death , and restore
him to be the joy of my gray hairs . So may ye come
to such ripe years as mine , griefless and full of strength .
My grandson , my sweet companion on this journey ,
as he strove to catch a sparrow that was singing in the
hedge , fell into a pit hard by , that gapes beneath the
roots of yonder bushes and is now in extreme peril
of his life . I can hear him weeping even now and
calling his grandsire again and again to come to his
help , so that I know he still lives . But I cannot help
him , as you see , by reason of my body ' s feebleness .
But you are young and strong , and it will be easy for
you to help a poor old man and save the boy , my only
child and the last that is left me of all my heirs . '
Thus he besought them , tearing his gray hairs , and
moved them all to pity . Then one , the boldest and
youngest and sturdiest of them all , the only one more-
over who had come out of our recent conflict without
a wound , rose nimbly and asked where the boy had
fallen . The old man pointed with his finger to some
rough brambles not far off , and the youth followed him
without delay . When at last the whole party was
refreshed , ourselves with grazing and our masters with
tendance of their wounds , every one took up his load
and proceeded on the march . At first they summoned
the youth by repeated calling of his name , but soon ,
disturbed by his long tarrying , they sent one of their
number to fetch their comrade , tell him that it was
time to go , and bring him back to them . After a
short interval the messenger returned with trembling
limbs and face pale as boxwood . It was a strange
tale he had to tell of his fellow- servant . He had seen him lying on the ground while a large dragon
stood over him and gnawed his body , the greater part
of which was already consumed . The wretched old
man was nowhere to be seen . On hearing this tale
and comparing it with the words of the shepherd , they
perceived that it was against this monster and no other
inhabitant of the place that he had uttered his sinister
warning . Wherefore they left this ghastly spot and
hastened forward in flight yet more swiftly than before ,
driving us on with many a blow from their cudgels .
22 After we had covered a large distance at extraordinary
speed , we came to a village where we rested the whole
night . Now I must tell you of a very remarkable
crime that had been committed in this place .
A certain slave to whom his master had given en-
tire charge of his household , and who acted as bailiff
to the enormous estate on which we had put up for
the night , was consumed with passion for a certain
free woman of another house , although he was already
married to a fellow-slave of his own household . His
wife , in a transport of rage at his unfaithfulness , lit and
consumed with fire all her husband ' s account-books ,
together with all the valuables that the house contained .
And even this outrage seemed to her insufficient ven-
geance for so deep a wrong ; she turned her madness
against her own life , fastened a noose about her neck
and , tying the little child , which she had long since
borne this same husband , to the rope , she hung
herself over a deep well and cast herself down , carry-
ing the little one with her . The master was much
enraged at their death and , seizing the wretched slave
whose conduct had caused his wife to commit so foul
a crime , had him stripped and smeared all over with
honey and bound fast to a fig-tree within whose hollow
stem were nests swarming with ants which ran to and
fro in countless rippling multitudes . As soon as they
perceived the sweet and honeyed smell given off by his
body they fastened upon him . Their bites were tiny
but numerous , and after long hours of torment ate
away the man ' s flesh and even his entrails , till they
had stripped his limbs and consumed him utterly ,
leaving only the bones reft of their flesh to gleam with
ghastly whiteness on that fatal tree .

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