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 .
An old man appeared at the top of the hill with goats feeding around him . One of our people hailed him and asked whether he had any milk or fresh cheese for sale . He shook his head two or three times before answering : ‘How can you think of food or drink or anything else of the sort ? Don’t you know in what sort of a place you arc camping ? ’ He turned his back and went off with his goats . His question and the abrupt way he left us alarmed our people . They all began wondering what was wrong with the place . But there was nobody to enlighten them until another old man appeared , a tall , bent old man , dragging his feet wearily towards us and leaning heavily on a stick . When he reached the glade where we had halted , he fell down on his knees , his eyes streaming with tears , embraced our people one after the other and groaned out : ‘I appeal to you , my lucky gentlemen , as you hope to live strong and hearty until you reach my age , help a poor old man , who has lost his only comfort in life : save my little grandson from the jaws of death ! He is such a dear little boy . We were travelling along the road together when he heard a sparrow twittering on a hedge and tried to catch it . But he fell into a deep ditch hidden by rank undergrowth and there he is stuck . I know by his cries that he is still alive , but as you see I am old and shaky and haven’t the strength to pull him out . You strong young gentlemen could easily help me . Pity a poor unhappy old man ! The child is the last survivor of my family . ’ He tore at his white hair , and naturally we were all touched by his appeal . One of the cattlemen— the youngest , boldest and strongest of the whole company— the only one , too , who had escaped without a scratch from our one-sided battle , sprang up and asked where the boy was . The old man pointed at a clump of bushes a little way off and eagerly led him towards them . When we animals had grazed and our drivers had finished eating and dressing their wounds , it was time to pack up and continue our journey . Loud cries were raised for the young cattleman , who had been away a surprisingly long time , and when he did not reappear a friend was sent to warn him that we were on the move again . The friend returned almost at once , pale and trembling , with an extraordinary story : he had found the body of the young cattleman lying on its back , half-eaten , with a monstrous snake coiled over it . The unhappy old man was nowhere to be seen . So that was evidently what the man with the goats had meant : he had been warning us against the dreadful creature that haunted the glade . Our people hurried as fast as they could from the deadly place , whacking us hard with their sticks . The next stage of the journey was covered in double quick time . We spent that night at a village , where the people told us a dreadful story . I feel impelled to include it in this book because it concerned a gruesome relic still to be seen on the farm where we were quartered . The previous farm-bailiff , who was married to a fellow-slave , had fallen in love with a free woman , not of his master’s household , and made her his mistress . When his wife came to hear of it she was so vexed that she burned his account-books and all the contents of his store-room . Even this did not satisfy her : she tied one end of a rope around her neck and the other around the neck of her little child , but then instead of committing suicide by hanging , plunged into a well and dragged the poor child after her . Her death so shocked the owner of the farm that he seized the bailiff whose infidelity had provoked it and ordered him to be stripped naked , smeared all over with honey and bound fast to a rotten g-tree which was swarming with ants inside and out . As soon as the ants smelt the honey they began running over him and with minute but innumerable and incessant bites gradually ate him up , flesh , guts and all . He survived the torture for some time , but in the end there was nothing left of him but his skeleton , picked clean ; which we saw , all white and dry , still tied to the fig-tree .