At ego tibi sermone isto Milesio varias fabulas conseram auresque tuas benivolas lepido susurro permulceam , modo si papyrum Aegyptiam argutia Nilotici calami inscriptam non spreveris inspicere , figuras fortunasque hominum in alias imagines conversas et in se rursum mutuo nexu refectas , ut mireris . Exordior . Quis ille ? Paucis accipe . Hymettos Attica et Isthmos Ephyraea et Taenaros Spartiaca , glebae felices aeternum libris felicioribus conditae , mea vetus prosapia est : ibi linguam Attidem primis pueritiae stipendiis merui . Mox in urbe Latia advena studiorum , Quiritium indigenam sermonem aerumnabili labore , nullo magistro praeeunte , aggressus excolui . En ecce praefamur veniam , si quid exotici ac forensis sermonis rudis
locutor offendero . Iam haec equidem ipsa vocis immutatio desultoriae scientiae stilo quem accessimus respondet . Fabulam Graecanicam incipimus : lector intende ; laetaberis .
Thessaliam , nam et illic originis maternae nostrae fundamenta a Plutarcho illo inclito ac mox Sexto philosopho nepote eius prodita gloriam nobis faciunt , eam Thessaliam ex negotio petebam . Postquam ardua montium et lubrica vallium et roscida caespitum et glebosa camporum emensi , me equo indigena peralbo vehens eo quoque admodum fesso , ut ipse etiam fatigationem sedentariam incessus vegetatione discuterem , in pedes desilio , equi sudorem a fronte curiose exfrico , aures remulceo , frenos detraho , in gradum lenem sensim proveho , quoad lassitudinis incommodum alui solitum ac naturale praesidium eliquaret . Ac dum is , ientaculum ambulatorium , prata quae praeterit ore in latus detorto pronus affectat , duobus comitum , qui forte paululum processerant , tertium me facio . Ac dum ausculto quid sermonis agitarent , alter exerto cachinno Parce inquit In verba ista haec tam absurda tamque immania mentiendo . Isto accepto sititor alioquin novitatis Immo vero inquam Impertite sermonis non quidem curiosum , sed qui velim scire vel cuncta
vel certe plurima : simul iugi quod insurgimus aspritudinem fabularum lepida incunditas levigabit .
At ille qui coeperat , Ne inquit Istud mendacium tam verum est , quam si quis velit dicere magico susurramine amnes agiles reverti , mare pigrum colligari , ventos inanimes exspirare ; solem inhiberi , lunam despumari , stellas evelli , diem tolli , noctem teneri . Tunc ego in verba fidentior heus tu inquam Qui sermonem ieceras priorem , ne pigeat te vel taedeat reliqua pertexere , et ad alium Tu vero crassis auribus et obstinato corde respuis quae forsitan vere perhibeantur . Minus Hercule calles pravissimis opinionibus ea putari mendacia , quae vel auditu nova vel visu rudia vel certe supra captum cogitationis ardua videantur ; quae si paulo accuratius exploraris , non modo compertu evidentia , verum etiam factu facilia senties .
Now ! I’d like to string together various tales in the Milesian style , and charm your kindly ear with seductive murmurs , so long as you’re ready to be amazed at human forms and fortunes changed radically and then restored in turn in mutual exchange , and don’t object to reading Egyptian papyri , inscribed by a sly reed from the Nile .
I’ll begin . Who am I ? I’ll tell you briefly . Hymettus near Athens ; the Isthmus of Corinth ; and Spartan Mount Taenarus , happy soil more happily buried forever in other books , that’s my lineage . There as a lad I served in my first campaigns with the Greek tongue . Later , in Rome , freshly come to Latin studies I assumed and cultivated the native language , without a teacher , and with a heap of pains . So there ! I beg your indulgence in advance if as a crude performer in the exotic speech of the Forum I offend . And in truth the very fact of a change of voice will answer like a circus rider’s skill when needed . We’re about to embark on a Greek tale . Reader , attend : and find delight .
Thessaly – where the roots of my mother’s family add to my glory , in the famous form of Plutarch , and later his nephew , Sextus the philosopher – Thessaly is where I was off to on business . Emerging from perilous mountain tracks , and slithery valley ones , and damp meadows and muddy fields , riding a pure-white local nag , he being fairly tired and to chase away my own fatigue from endless sitting with the labour of walking , I dismounted . I rubbed the sweat from his forehead , carefully , stroked his ears , loosed his bridle , and led him slowly along at a gentle pace , till the usual and natural remedy of grazing eliminated the inconvenience of his lassitude . While he was at his mobile breakfast , the grass he passed , contorting his head from side to side , I made a third to two travellers who chanced to be a little way ahead . As I tried to hear what they were saying , one of them burst out laughing : " Stop telling such absurd and monstrous lies ! "
Hearing this , and my thirst for anything new being what it is , I said : " Oh do let me share your conversation . I’m not inquisitive but I love to
know everything , or at least most things . Besides , the charm of a pleasant tale will lighten the pain of this hill we’re climbing . "
But the one who’d laughed merely went on : " Now that story was about as true as if you’d said magic spells can make rivers flow backwards , chain the sea , paralyze the wind , halt the sun , squeeze dew from the moon , disperse the stars , banish day , and lengthen night ! "
Here I spoke out more boldly : " Don’t be annoyed , you who began the tale ; don’t weary of spinning out the rest . " And to the other " You with your stubborn mind and cloth ears might be rejecting something true . By Hercules , it’s not too clever if wrong opinion makes you judge as false what seems new to the ear , or strange to the eye , or too hard for the intellect to grasp , but which on closer investigation proves not only true , but even obvious . I last night , competing with friends at dinner , took too large a mouthful of cheese polenta . That soft and glutinous food stuck in my throat , blocked my windpipe , and I almost died . Yet at Athens , not long ago , in front of the Painted Porch , I saw a juggler swallow a sharp-edged cavalry sword with its lethal blade , and later I saw the same fellow , after a little donation , ingest a spear , death-dealing end downwards , right to the depth of his guts : and all of a sudden a beautiful boy swarmed up the wooden bit of the upside-down weapon , where it rose from throat to brow , and danced a dance , all twists and turns , as if he’d no muscle or spine , astounding everyone there . You’d have said he was that noble snake that clings with its slippery knots to Asclepius’ staff , the knotty one he carries with the half sawn-off branches . But do go on now , you who started the tale , tell it again . I’ll believe you , not like him , and invite to you to dinner with me at the first tavern we come to after reaching town : there’s your guaranteed reward . "
" What you promise , " he said , " is fair and just , and I’ll repeat what I left unfinished . But first I swear to you , by the all-seeing god of the Sun , I’m speaking things I know to be true ; and you’ll have no doubt when you arrive at the next Thessalian town and find the story on everyone’s lips of a happening in plain daylight . But first so you know who I am , I’m from Aegium . And here’s how I make my living : I deal in cheese and honey , all that sort of innkeeper’s stuff , travelling here and there through Boeotia , Aetolia , Thessaly . So when I learned that at Hypata , Thessaly’s most important town , some fresh cheese with a fine flavour was being sold at a very good price , I rushed there , in a hurry to buy the lot . But as usual I
went left foot first , and my hopes of a profit were dashed . A wholesale dealer called Lupus had snapped it up the day before . So , exhausted after my useless chase , I started to walk to the baths as Venus began to shine . "
I’m thinking I’ll tell these stories to you in that Milesian style—you know , those
romping , boisterous tales in which I can plant so many things . I’ll please your kind ears with a charming whisper . . . but soft ! if only you would not scorn to acknowledge the Egyptian papyrus , inscribed with the silver-tongued wit that springs up by the reeds of the Nile ! I’ll show you the figures and fates of men transformed into other shapes , only to be later turned back into themselves . These chains of events will leave you bound to the page , astounded .
And so I begin .
But who am I ? Allow me to briefly introduce myself . My ancestors are from Athens and Sparta and everywhere in between—Hymettus , Epherea , and Taenaros , as the natives say— living on fruitful lumps of land long since buried in books , which far surpass the land in prosperity . It was there that I marched off to school , soldiering through lesson after lesson , and in my service I became fluent in Greek .
And lo ! Before the lapsing of too many years , I went to the Latin city , a stranger of all things Quirinal , and , without a teacher no less , cultivated my skills in that tongue , as you can see . I mention this and beg your pardon , for I may wind up speaking in my foreign idioms or lapse into the rough language of the street . My ability to leap from language to language like a vaulter flies from horse to horse at the circus calls me to this story . So let us begin our Greekified fable .
Pay attention , dear reader . You’ll enjoy the show .
I was going to Thessaly—my mother is from Thessaly , by the way , and she’s descended
from Plutarch , you know , the famous biographer , and not to mention his grandson , the philosopher Sextus of Chaeronea , and they made our family famous—anyways , I was on my way to Thessaly for a business trip . I surpassed the heights of the mountains , the crumbling paths of the valleys , the dewy parts of the pastures , and the clumpy furrows of the fields , riding on my native , pure-white horse . We were both exhausted , my horse and I , he from the journey and me from sitting ; so , now that we had passed through the thick vegetation , I jumped down to shake off my weariness . I carefully wiped my horse’s sweaty forehead , stroked his ears , took off his bridle , and slowly led him at a gentle pace , until nature could restore his weary troubles and his empty belly , as it usually did . Meanwhile , he found his breakfast while we walked , leaning toward the fields we passed with his mouth turned to the side .
By chance , we found ourselves walking a little ways near two companions , and I joined their little group . I listened to the conversation they were having , and one of the men , erupting with a deep guffaw , said , " That’s enough already , what you’re telling me is absurd , nothing but enormous lies . "
Since I’m always thirsting for such a tale—or really , for any peculiarity—I said , " Oh , come now , tell me your story . It’s not that I’m prying , but I’m just the kind of guy who wants to know everything , or at least as much as I can . Not to mention , a delightful anecdote will ease our difficult climb up this big hill we’re coming to . "
But the man who spoke first said , " If you told me that a whispered spell could make the 1 . 3 swiftest rivers flow backwards , turn the sea into something too lazy to swell , force the winds to breathe out their last breath , stop the sun right in its tracks , wipe the shine off of the moon ,
pluck out the stars from the sky , kidnap the day , and stretch out the night—if you told me all
that , I’d believe it exactly as much as I believe those lies of yours . "
More confident than before , I spoke up again . " Hey , you , " I said , pointing to the one who had already begun his story . " Don’t get fed up or bored , finish it for me . " To the doubter , I said , " As for you , your ears are filled with mud . It’s with a stubborn heart that you reject what very well could be true . By Hercules , you’re not that bright to have these depraved opinions , thinking everything is a lie , even if the things sound strange to your ears , look like a heap of codswallop , or seem too lofty to grasp . If you would just look a little more carefully , you would see for yourself that not only are such things easy to find , they are even easy to do . "