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2006-08-28 22:36

    A Hall in the house of ALCIBIADES.

    ALCIBIADES, SPEUSIPPUS, CALLICLES, HIPPOMACHUS, CHARICLEA, and others, seated round a table feasting.

    ALCIBIADES. Bring larger cups. This shall be our gayest revel. It is probably the last——for some of us at least.

    SPEUSIPPUS. At all events, it will be long before you taste such wine again, Alcibiades.

    CALLICLES. Nay, there is excellent wine in Sicily. When I was there with Eurymedon's squadron, I had many a long carouse. You never saw finer grapes than those of Aetna.

    HIPPOMACHUS. The Greeks do not understand the art of making wine. Your Persian is the man. So rich, so fragrant, so sparkling! I will tell you what the Satrap of Caria said to me about that when I supped with him.

    ALCIBIADES. Nay, sweet Hippomachus; not a word to-night about satraps, or the great king, or the walls of Babylon, or the Pyramids, or the mummies. Chariclea, why do you look so sad?

    CHARICLEA. Can I be cheerful when you are going to leave me, Alcibiades?

    ALCIBIADES. My life, my sweet soul, it is but for a short time. In a year we conquer Sicily. In another, we humble Carthage. (See Thucydides, vi. .) I will bring back such robes, such necklaces, elephants' teeth by thousands, ay, and the elephants themselves, if you wish to see them. Nay, smile, my Chariclea, or I shall talk nonsense to no purpose.

    HIPPOMACHUS. The largest elephant that I ever saw was in the grounds of Teribazus, near Susa. I wish that I had measured him.

    ALCIBIADES. I wish that he had trod upon you. Come, come, Chariclea, we shall soon return, and then-

    CHARICLEA. Yes; then indeed.

    ALCIBIADES. Yes, then—— Then for revels; then for dances, Tender whispers, melting glances. Peasants, pluck your richest fruits: Minstrels, sound your sweetest flutes: Come in laughing crowds to greet us, Dark eyed daughters of Miletus; Bring the myrtles, bring the dice, Floods of

    Chian, hills of spice.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Whose lines are those, Alcibiades?

    ALCIBIADES. My own. Think you, because I do not shut myself up to meditate, and drink water, and eat herbs, that I cannot write verses? By Apollo, if I did not spend my days in politics, and my nights in revelry, I should have made Sophocles tremble. But now I never go beyond a little song like this, and never invoke any Muse but Chariclea. But come, Speusippus, sing. You are a professed poet. Let us have some of your verses.

    SPEUSIPPUS. My verses! How can you talk so? I a professed poet!

    ALCIBIADES. Oh, content you, sweet Speusippus. We all know your designs upon the tragic honours. Come, sing. A chorus of your new play.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Nay, nay-

    HIPPOMACHUS. When a guest who is asked to sing at a Persian banquet refuses-

    SPEUSIPPUS. In the name of Bacchus-

    ALCIBIADES. I am absolute. Sing.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Well, then, I will sing you a chorus, which, I think, is a tolerable imitation of Euripides.

    CHARICLEA. Of Euripides?——Not a word.

    ALCIBIADES. Why so, sweet Chariclea?

    CHARICLEA. Would you have me betray my sex? Would you have me forget his Phaedras and Sthenoboeas? No if I ever suffer any lines of that woman-hater, or his imitators, to be sung in my presence, may I sell herbs (The mother of Euripides was a herb-woman. This was a favourite topic of Aristophanes.) like his mother, and wear rags like his Telephus. (The hero of one of the lost plays of Euripides, who appears to have been brought upon the stage in the garb of a beggar. See Aristophanes; Acharn. ; and in other places.)

    ALCIBIADES. Then, sweet Chariclea, since you have silenced Speusippus, you shall sing yourself. CHARICLEA. What shall I sing?

    ALCIBIADES. Nay, choose for yourself.

    CHARICLEA. Then I will sing an old Ionian hymn, which is chanted every spring at the feast of Venus, near Miletus. I used to sing it in my own country when I was a child; and——ah, Alcibiades!

    ALCIBIADES. Dear Chariclea, you shall sing something else. This distresses you.

    CHARICLEA. No hand me the lyre:——no matter. You will hear the song to disadvantage. But if it were sung as I have heard it sung:——if this were a beautiful morning in spring, and if we were standing on a woody promontory, with the sea, and the white sails, and the blue Cyclades beneath us,——and the portico of a temple peeping through the trees on a huge peak above our heads,——and thousands of people, with myrtles in their hands, thronging up the winding path, their gay dresses and garlands disappearing and emerging by turns as they passed round the angles of the rock,——then perhaps-

    ALCIBIADES. Now, by Venus herself, sweet lady, where you are we shall lack neither sun, nor flowers, nor spring, nor temple, nor goddess.

    CHARICLEA. (Sings.) Let this sunny hour be given, Venus, unto love and mirth: Smiles like thine are in the heaven; Bloom like thine is on the earth; And the tinkling of the fountains, And the murmurs of the sea, And the echoes from the mountains, Speak of youth, and hope, and thee.

    By whate'er of soft expression Thou hast taught to lovers' eyes, Faint denial, slow confession, Glowing cheeks and stifled sighs; By the pleasure and the pain, By the follies and the wiles, Pouting fondness, sweet disdain, Happy tears and mournful smiles;

    Come with music floating o'er thee; Come with violets springing round: Let the Graces dance before thee, All their golden zones unbound; Now in sport their faces hiding, Now, with slender fingers fair, From their laughing eyes dividing The long curls of rose-crowned hair.

    ALCIBIADES. Sweetly sung; but mournfully, Chariclea; for which I would chide you, but that I am sad myself. More wine there. I wish to all the gods that I had fairly sailed from Athens.

    CHARICLEA. And from me, Alcibiades?

    ALCIBIADES. Yes, from you, dear lady. The days which immediately precede separation are the most melancholy of our lives.

    CHARICLEA. Except those which immediately follow it.

    ALCIBIADES. No; when I cease to see you, other objects may compel my attention; but can I be near you without thinking how lovely you are, and how soon I must leave you?

    HIPPOMACHUS. Ay; travelling soon puts such thoughts out of men's heads.

    CALLICLES. A battle is the best remedy for them.

    CHARICLEA. A battle, I should think, might supply their place with others as unpleasant.

    CALLICLES. No. The preparations are rather disagreeable to a novice. But as soon as the fighting begins, by Jupiter, it is a noble time;-men trampling,——shields clashing,——spears breaking,——and the poean roaring louder than all.

    CHARICLEA. But what if you are killed?

    CALLICLES. What indeed? You must ask Speusippus that question. He is a philosopher.

    ALCIBIADES. Yes, and the greatest of philosophers, if he can answer it.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Pythagoras is of opinion-

    HIPPOMACHUS. Pythagoras stole that and all his other opinions from Asia and Egypt. The transmigration of the soul and the vegetable diet are derived from India. I met a Brachman in Sogdiana-

    CALLICLES. All nonsense!

    CHARICLEA. What think you, Alcibiades?

    ALCIBIADES. I think that, if the doctrine be true, your spirit will be transfused into one of the doves who carry (Homer's Odyssey, xii. .) ambrosia to the gods or verses to the mistresses of poets. Do you remember Anacreon's lines? How should you like such an office?

    CHARICLEA. If I were to be your dove, Alcibiades, and you would treat me as Anacreon treated his, and let me nestle in your breast and drink from your cup, I would submit even to carry your love-letters to other ladies. CALLICLES. What, in the name of Jupiter, is the use of all these speculations about death? Socrates once (See the close of Plato's Gorgias.) lectured me upon it the best part of a day. I have hated the sight of him ever since. Such things may suit an old sophist when he is fasting; but in the midst of wine and music-

    HIPPOMACHUS. I differ from you. The enlightened Egyptians bring skeletons into their banquets, in order to remind their guests to make the most of their life while they have it.

    CALLICLES. I want neither skeleton nor sophist to teach me that lesson. More wine, I pray you, and less wisdom. If you must believe something which you never can know, why not be contented with the long stories about the other world which are told us when we are initiated at the Eleusinian mysteries? (The scene which follows is founded upon history. Thucydides tells us, in his sixth book, that about this time Alcibiades was suspected of having assisted at a mock celebration of these famous mysteries. It was the opinion of the vulgar among the Athenians that extraordinary privileges were granted in the other world to alt who had been initiated.)

    CHARICLEA. And what are those stories?

    ALCIBIADES. Are not you initiated, Chariclea?

    CHARICLEA. No; my mother was a Lydian, a barbarian; and therefore-

    ALCIBIADES. I understand. Now the curse of Venus on the fools who made so hateful a law! Speusippus, does not your friend Euripides (The right of Euripides to this line is somewhat disputable. See Aristophanes; Plutus, .) say

    "The land where thou art prosperous is thy country?"

    Surely we ought to say to every lady

    "The land where thou art pretty is thy country."

    Besides, to exclude foreign beauties from the chorus of the initiated in the Elysian fields is less cruel to them than to ourselves. Chariclea, you shall be initiated.

    CHARICLEA. When?



    CHARICLEA. Delightful!

    SPEUSIPPUS. But there must be an interval of a year between the purification and the initiation.

    ALCIBIADES. We will suppose all that.

    SPEUSIPPUS. And nine days of rigid mortification of the senses.

    ALCIBIADES. We will suppose that too. I am sure it was supposed, with as little reason, when I was initiated.

    SPEUSIPPUS. But you are sworn to secrecy.

    ALCIBIADES. You a sophist, and talk of oaths! You a pupil of Euripides, and forget his maxims!

    "My lips have sworn it; but my mind is free." (See Euripides: Hippolytus, . For the jesuitical morality of this line Euripides is bitterly attacked by the comic poet.)

    SPEUSIPPUS. But Alcibiades-

    ALCIBIADES. What! Are you afraid of Ceres and Proserpine?

    SPEUSIPPUS. No——but——but——I——that is I——but it is best to be safe——I mean—— Suppose there should be something in it.

    ALCIBIADES. Now, by Mercury, I shall die with laughing. O Speusippus. Speusippus! Go back to your old father. Dig vineyards, and judge causes, and be a respectable citizen. But never, while you live; again dream of being a philosopher.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Nay, I was only-

    ALCIBIADES. A pupil of Gorgias and Melesigenes afraid of Tartarus! In what region of the infernal world do you expect your domicile to be fixed? Shall you roll a stone like Sisyphus? Hard exercise, Speusippus!

    SPEUSIPPUS. In the name of all the gods-

    ALCIBIADES. Or shall you sit starved and thirsty in the midst of fruit and wine like Tantalus? Poor fellow? I think I see your face as you are springing up to the branches and missing your aim. Oh Bacchus! Oh Mercury!

    SPEUSIPPUS. Alcibiades!

    ALCIBIADES. Or perhaps you will be food for a vulture, like the huge fellow who was rude to Latona.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Alcibiades!

    ALCIBIADES. Never fear. Minos will not be so cruel. Your eloquence will triumph over all accusations. The Furies will skulk away like disappointed sycophants. Only address the judges of hell in the speech which you were prevented from speaking last assembly. "When I consider"——is not that the beginning of it? Come, man, do not be angry. Why do you pace up and down with such long steps? You are not in Tartarus yet. You seem to think that you are already stalking like poor Achilles,

    "With stride Majestic through the plain of Asphodel." (See Homer's Odyssey, xi. .)

    SPEUSIPPUS. How can you talk so, when you know that I believe all that foolery as little as you do?

    ALCIBIADES. Then march. You shall be the crier. Callicles, you shall carry the torch. Why do you stare? (The crier and torchbearer were important functionaries at the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries.)

    CALLICLES. I do not much like the frolic.

    ALCIBIADES. Nay, surely you are not taken with a fit of piety. If all be true that is told of you, you have as little reason to think the gods vindictive as any man breathing. If you be not belied, a certain golden goblet which I have seen at your house was once in the temple of Juno at Corcyra. And men say that there was a priestess at Tarentum-

    CALLICLES. A fig for the gods! I was thinking about the Archons. You will have an accusation laid against you to-morrow. It is not very pleasant to be tried before the king. (The name of king was given in the Athenian democracy to the magistrate who exercised those spiritual functions which in the monarchical times had belonged to the sovereign. His court took cognisance of offences against the religion of the state.)

    ALCIBIADES. Never fear: there is not a sycophant in Attica who would dare to breathe a word against me, for the golden plane-tree of the great king. (See Herodotus, viii. .)

    HIPPOMACHUS. That plane-tree- ALCIBIADES. Never mind the plane-tree. Come, Callicles, you were not so timid when you plundered the merchantman off Cape Malea. Take up the torch and move. Hippomachus, tell one of the slaves to bring a sow. (A sow was sacrificed to Ceres at the admission to the greater mysteries.)

    CALLICLES. And what part are you to play?

    ALCIBIADES. I shall be hierophant. Herald, to your office. Torchbearer, advance with the lights. Come forward, fair novice. We will celebrate the rite within.

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