Frances Wright.

A few days in Athens, being the translation of a Greek manuscript discovered in Herculaneum online

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" joining bliss to virtue, the glad ease

Of Epicurus, seldom understood."



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March 12/A, 1822.


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.-.. r. - ,iii > j=- '.'S

THAT I may not obtain credit for more learning than
I possess, I beg to acknowledge the assistance I have
received in my version of the curious relict of antiquity
now offered to the public from the beautiful Italian MSS.
of the erudite Professor of Greek in the university
of #**##. I hesitate to designate more clearly the
illustrious Hellenist whose labors have brought to light
this curious fragment. Since the establishment of the
saintly domination of the Vandals throughout the territo-
ries of the rebellious and heterodox Italy, and particu-
larly in consequence of the ordinance of his most ortho-
dox, most legitimate, and most Austrian majesty, bear-
ing that his dominions being in want of good subjects,
his colleges are forbidden to send forth good scholars,*
it has become necessary for the gownsmen of the classic
peninsula to banish all profane learning from their lec-
tures and their libraries, and to evince a holy abhorrence

*Je ne veux pas de savans dang mes etats, je veux de bans
sujets, was the dictum of the Austrian Autocrat to an
Italian Professor.


of the sciences and arts which they erst professed. The
list of the class books now employed in the transalpine
schools is exceedingly curious ; I regret that I have mis-
laid the one lately supplied to me by an illustrious Ital-
ian exile. My memory recals to me only that, in the
school of rhetoric, the orations of Cicero are superseded
by those of the Marquis of Londonderry, and the philip-
pics of Demosthenes by those of M. de Peyronnet ; that
the professors of history have banished the decades of
Livy for the Martyrs of Mons. de Chateaubriand ; and
that the students of Greek, in place of the Odes of Pin-
dar, and the retreat of the ten thousand from Cunaxa,
construe the hexameters of the English Laureate, and
the advance of Louis the XVIII. upon Ghent. In this
state of the Italian world of Letters, it is not surprising
that the scholar, to whose perseverance, ingenuity, and
learning, the public are indebted for the following frag-
ment, should object to lay claim to the honor which is
his due.

The original MS. fell into the hands of my erudite cor-
respondent in the autumn of the year 1817. From that
period until the commencement of last winter, all his
leisure hours were devoted to the arduous task of unroll-
ing the leaves, and decyphering the half defaced char-
acters. The imperfect condition of the MS. soon obliged
him to forego his first intention of transcribing the original
Greek ; he had recourse, therefore, to an Italian version,
supplying the chasms, consisting sometimes of a word,
sometimes of a line, and occasionally of a phrase, with a


careful and laborious study of the context. While this
version was printing at Florence, a MS. copy was trans-
mitted to me in Paris, with a request that I would forth-
with see it translated into the English and French lan-
guages. The former version I undertook myself, and
can assure the reader that it possesses the merit of fidel-
ity. The first erudite translator has not conceived it
necessary to encumber the volume with marginal notes;
nor have I found either the inclination or the ability to
supply them. Those who should wish to refer to the
allusions scattered through the old classics to the char-
acters and systems here treated of, will find much assis-
tance from the marginal authorities of the eloquent and
ingenious Bayle.

I have only to add, that the present volume comprises
little more than a third of the original MS. ; it will be
sufficient, however, to enable the public to form an esti-
mate of the probable value of the whole.

Of Vli;;-:t:



"OH! MONSTROUS," cried the young Theon,
as he came from the portico of Zeno. "Ye
Gods ! and will ye suffer your names to be
thus blasphemed ? Why do ye not strike with
thunder the actor and teacher of such enormi-
ties ? What ! will ye suffer our youth, and
the youth of after ages, to be seduced by this
shameless Gargettian ? Shall the Stoic portico
be forsaken for the garden of Epicurus ? Mi-
nerva, shield thy city ! Shut the ears of thy
sons against the voice of this deceiver ! "

Thus did Theon give vent to the indignation
which the words of Timocrates had worked
up within him. Timocrates had been a disci-
ple of the new school; but, quarrelling with
his master, had fled to the followers of Zeno ;
and to make the greater merit of his apostacy,
and better to gain the hearts of his new friends,


poured forth daily execrations on his former
teacher, painting him and his disciples in the
blackest colors of deformity ; revealing, with
a countenance distorted as with horror, and a
voice hurrieql and suppressed ,as from the ag-
onies of dreadful recollections, the secrets of
those midnight orgies, where, in the midst of
his pupils, the philosopher of Gargettium offi-
ciated as master of. the. accursed ceremonies
of riot and impiety.

Full of these nocturnal horrors the young
Theon traversed with hasty steps the streets of
Athens, and, issuing from the city, without per-
ceiving that he did so, took the road to the
Piraeus. The noise of the harbor roused him
to recollection, and feeling it out of tune with
his thoughts, he turned up the more peaceful
banks of Cephisus, and, seating himself on the
stump of a withered olive, his feet almost
washed by the water, he fell back again into
his reverie. How long he had sat he knew not,
when the sound of gently approaching foot-
steps once more recalled him. He turned his
head, and, after a 'start and gaze of astonish-
ment, bent with veneration to the figure before
him. It was of the middle size, and robed in
white, pure as the vestments of the Pythia.
The shape, the attitude, the foldings of the gar-
ment, were such as the chisel of Phidias would


have given to the God of Elocution. The
head acco'rded with the rest of the figure ; it
sat upon the shoulders with a grace that a
painter would have paused to contemplate
elevated, yet somewhat inclining forward, as if
habituated gently to seek and benevolently to
yield attention. The face a poet would have
gazed upon, and thought he beheld in it one of
the images of his fancy embodied. The fea-
tures were not cast for the statuary; they
were noble but not regular. Wisdom beamed
mildly from the eye, and candor was on the
broad forehead : the mouth reposed in a soft,
almost imperceptible smile, that did not curl
the lips or disturb the cheeks, and was seen
only in the serene and holy benignity that
shone over the whole physiognomy : It was a
gleam of sunshine sleeping on a lucid lake.
The first lines of age were traced on the brow
and round the chin, but so gently as to mellow
rather than deepen expression : the hair indeed
seemed prematurely touched by time, for it was
of a pure silver, thrown back from the forehead,
and fringing the throat behind with short
curls. He received benignly the salutation
of the youth, and gently with his hand return-
ing it " Let me not break your meditations;
I would rather share than disturb them." If
the stranger's appearance had enchanted The-


on, his voice did now more so : never had a
sound so sweet, so musical, struck upon his ear.

"Surely I behold and hear a divinity ! " he
cried, stepping backwards, and half stooping
his knee with veneration.

" From the groves of the academy, I see,"
said the sage, advancing arid laying his hand
on the youth's shoulder.

Theon looked up with a modest blush, and
encouraged by the sweet aspect of the sage,
replied, "No; from the Stoic portico."

"Ah! I had not thought Zeno could send
forth such a dreamer. You are in a good
school," he continued, observing the youth
confused by this remark, "a school of real
virtue; and, if I read faces well, as I think I
do, I see a pupil that will not disgrace its doc-

Theon's spirit returned; the stranger had
that look, and voice, and manner, which in-
stantly give security to the timid, and draw
love from the feeling heart. "If you be man,
you exert more than human influence over the
souls of your fellows. 1 have seen you but
one moment, and that moment has laid me
at your feet."

"Not quite so low, I hope," returned the
sage with a smile; "I had always rather be
the companion than the master."


" Either, both," said the eager youth, and
seizing the half-extended hand of the sage,
pressed it respectfully to his lips.

" You are an enthusiast, I see. Beware, my
young friend ! such as you must be the best or
the worst of men."

"Then, had I you for a guide, I should
be the best."

" What ! do you a stoic ask a guide ? "

" I, a stoic ! Oh ! would I were ! I yet stand
but on the threshhold of the temple."

" But standing there you have at least looked
within and seen the glories, and will not that
encourage you to advance 1 Who that hath
seen virtue doth not love her, and pant after
her possession?"

"True, true; I have seen virtue in her
noblest form Alas ! so noble, that my eyes
have been dazzled by the contemplation. I
have looked upon Zeno with admiration and

" Learn rather to look with love. He who
but admires virtue, yields her but half her due.
She asks to be approached, to be embraced
not with fear, but with confidence not with
awe but with rapture."

" Yet who can gaze on Zeno and ever hope
to rival him?"
' " You, my young friend : Why should you


not ? You have innocence ; you have sensibil-
ity; you have enthusiasm; you have ambi-
tion With what better promise could Zeno
begin his career 1 Courage ! courage ! my
son ! " stopping, for they had insensibly
walked towards the city during the dialogue,
and laying his hand on Theon's head, " We
want but the will to be as great as Zeno."

Theon had drawn his breath for a sigh, but
his action and the look that accompanied it,
changed the sigh to a smile. " You would
make me vain."

" No ; but I would make you confident.
Without confidence Homer had never written
his Iliad No ; nor \vould Zeno now be wor-
shipped in his portico."

"Do you then think confidence would make
all men Homers and Zenos ? "

"Not all; but a good many. I believe
thousands to have the seeds of excellence in
them, who never discover the possession. But
we were not speaking of poetry and philosophy,

Gnly of virtue all men certainly cannot be
oets or philosophers, but all men may be

"I believe," returned the youth with a
modest blush, "if I might walk with you
each day on the boarders of Cephisus, I
should sometimes play truant at the portico."


" Ye gods forbid (exclaimed the sage play-
fully) that I should steal a proselyte ! From
Zeno too ? It might cost me dear. What are
you thinking of? " he resumed, after a pause.

" I was thinking," replied Theon, " what a
loss for man that you are not teacher in the
gardens in place of the son of Neocles."

" Do you know the -son of Neocles ? " asked
the sage.

" The gods forbid that I should know him
more than by report ! No, venerable stran-
ger ; wrong me not so much as to think I have
entered the gardens of Epicurus. It is' not
long that I have been in Athens, but I hope, if
I should henceforth live my life here, I should
never be seduced by the advocate of vice."

" From my soul I hope the same. But
you say you have not long been in Athens
-You are come here to study philosophy."

" Yes ; my father was a scholar of Xeno-
crates ; but when he sent me from Corinth, he
bade me attend all the schools, and fix with
that which should give me the highest views
of virtue."

"And you have found it to be that of

" I think I have : but I was one day nearly
gained by a young Pythagorean^ and have


been often in danger of becoming one of the

" You need not say in danger : For though I
think you choose well in standing mainly by
Zeno, I would have you attend all the schools,
and that with a willing ear. There is some
risk in following one particular sect, even the
most perfect, lest the mind become warped and
the heart contracted. Yes, young man ! it is
possible that this should happen even in the
portico. No sect without its prejudices and its

"I believe you say true."

"I know I say true," returned the sage in a
tone of playfulness he had more than once
used; " I know I say true; and had I before
needed evidence to confirm my opinion, this our
present conversation would have afforded it."

"How so?"

" Nay, were I to explain, you would not now
credit me : No man can see his own prejudi-
ces; no, though a philosopher should point
at them. But patience, patience ! Time and
opportunity shall right all things. Why, you
did not think," he resumed after a short
pause, " you did not really think you were
without prejudices'? Eighteen, not more, if
I may judge* by complexion, and without pre-
judices ! Why, I should hardly dare to assert


I was myself without them, and I believe I
have fought harder and somewhat longer
against them than you can have done."

" What would you have me do ? " asked the
youth, timidly.

" Have you do? Why, I would have you
do a very odd thing No other than to take a
turn or two in Epicurus's garden."

" Epicurus's garden ! Oh ! Jupiter ! "

" Very true, by Juno ! "

" What ! To hear the laws of virtue con-
founded and denied? To hear vice excul-
pated, advocated, panegyrized? Impiety and
atheism professed and inculcated ? To wit-
ness the nocturnal orgies of vice and debauch-
ery ? Ye gods, what horrors has Timocrates
revealed ! "

" Horrors, in truth, somewhat appalling, my
young friend ; but I should apprehend Tim-
ocrates to be a little mistaken. That the laws
of virtue were ever confounded and denied, or
vice advocated and panegyrized, by any pro-
fessed teacher, 1 incline to doubt. And were I
really to hear such things, I should simply con-
clude the speaker mad, or otherwise that he
was amusing himself by shifting the meaning of
words, and that by the term virtue he under-
stood vice, and so by the contrary. As to the
inculcating of impiety and atheism, this may


be exaggerated or misunderstood. Many are
called impious, not for having a worse, but a
/ different religion from their neighbors; and
many atheistical, not for the denying of God,
but for thinking somewhat peculiarly concern-
ing him. Upon the nocturnal orgies of vice
and debauchery I can say nothing ; I am too
profoundly ignorant of these matters, either to
exculpate or condemn them. Such things may
be, and I never hear of them. All things are
possible. Yes," turning his benignant face
full upon the youth, " even that Timocrates
should lie."

" This possibility had indeed not occurred to

"No, my young friend; and shall I tell you
why? Because he told you absurdities. Let
an impostor keep to probability, and he will
hardly impose. By dealing in the marvellous,
he tickles the imagination, and carries away
the judgment ; and judgment once gone, what
shall save even a wise man from folly?"

"I should truly rejoice, to find the Garget-
tian's doctrine less monstrous than 1 have
hitherto thought them. I say less monstrous ,
for you would not wish me to think them

"I would wish you to think nothing good,
or bad either, upon my decision. The first and


the last thing I would say to man is, think for
yourself ! It is a bad sentence of the Pytha-
goreans, ' The master said so.' If the young
disciple you mentioned should ever succeed in
your conversion, believe in the metempsycho-
sis for some other reason than that Pytha-
goras ' taught it.' "

"But, if I may ask, do you think well of
Epicurus ? "

" I meant not to make an apology for Epi-
curus, only to give a caution against Timo-
crates but see, we are in the city ; and for-
tunately so, for it is pretty nigh dark. I have
a party of young friends awaiting me, and, but
that you may be apprehensive of nocturnal or-
gies, I would ask you to join us."

" I shall not fear them where I have such a
conductor," replied the youth, laughing.

" I do not think it quite so impossible, how-
ever, as you seem to do," said the sage, laugh-
ing in his turn, with much humor, and entering
a house as he spoke; then throwing open with
one arm a door, and with the other gently
drawing the youth along with him, "I am
Epicurus ! "



Btmfi .' oil* tf '.('> Jy m > '>- - -iii'l

THE astonished, the affrighted Theon start-
ed from the arm of the sage, and, staggering
backwards, was saved, probably, from falling,
by a statue that stood against the wall on one
side of the door : he leaned against it, pale and
almost fainting. He knew not what to do,
scarcely what to feel, and was totally blind
to all the objects around him. His conductor,
who had possibly expected his confusion, did
not turn to observe it, but advanced in such
a manner as to cover him from the view of the
company, and, still to give time for recollection,
stood receiving and returning salutations.

" Well met, my sons ! and I suppose you
say well met, also. Are you starving, or am I
to be starved ? Have you ate up the supper, or
only sat longing for it, cursing my delay? "

" The latter, only the latter," cried a lively
youth, hurrying to meet his master. Another
and another advanced, and in a moment he
was locked in a close circle. /

" Mercy ! mercy ! cried the philosopher,
" drive me a step further and you will over-
turn a couple of statues." Then, looking over
his shoulder, " I have brought you, if he has
not run away, a very pleasant young Corinthi-


an, for whom, until he gain his own tongue,
I shall demand reception." He held out his
hand with a look of bewitching encourage-
ment, and the yet faltering Theon advanced.
The mist had now passed from his eyes, and
the singing from his ears, and both room and
company stood revealed before him. . Perhaps,
had it not been for this motion, and still more
this look of the sage, he had just now made a
retreat instead of an advance. "In the hall of
Epicurus in that hall where Timocrates had
beheld" oh ! horrid imagination ! " And he
a disciple of Zeno, the friend of Clean thes the
son of a follower of Plato had he crossed
the threshhold of vice, the threshhold of the
impious Gargettian ! " Yes ; he had certainly
fled, but for that extended hand, and that be-
witching smile. These however conquered.
He advanced, and with an effort at composure,
met the offered hand. The circle made way,
and Epicurus presented "a friend." "His
name you must learn from himself, I am only
acquainted with his heart, and that, on a
knowledge of two hours, I pronounce myself
in love with."

"Then he shall be my brother," cried the
lively youth who had before spoken, and he
ran to the embrace of Theon.

" When shall we use our own eyes, ears,


and understandings?" said the sage, gently
stroking his scholar's head. "See! our new
friend knows not how to meet your premature

"He waits," returned the youth archly, "to
receive the same commendation of me that I
have of him. Let the master say he is in
love with my heart, and he too will open his
arms to a brother." .

"I hope he is not such a fool," gaily re-
plied the sage. Then with an accent more
serious, but still sweeter, " I hope he will judge
all things, and all people, with his own under-
standing, and not with that of Epicurus, or yet
of a wiser man. When may I hope this of
Sofron," smiling and shaking his head, "can

"No, indeed he cannot," rejoined the
scholar, smiling and shaking his head also,
as in mimicry of his master.

" Go, go, you rogue ! and show us to our
supper : I more than half suspect you have de-
voured it." He turned, and familiarly taking
Theon by the shoulder, walked up the room, or
rather gallery, and entered a spacious rotunda.

A lamp, suspended from the centre of the
ceiling, lighted a table spread beneath it with a
simple but elegant repast. Round the walls,
in niches at equal distances, stood twelve stat-


ues, the work of the best masters ; on either
hand of these burned a lamp on a small tripod.
Beside one of the lamps, a female figure was re-
clining on a couch, reading with earnest study
from a book that lay upon her knee. Her
head was so much bowed forward as to conceal
her face, besides that it was shadowed by her
hand, which, the elbow supported on an arm
of the couch, was spread above her brows as a
relief from the glare of the light. At her feet
was seated a young girl, by whose side lay a
small cithara, silent, and forgotten by its mis-
tress. Crete might have lent those eyes their
sparkling jet, but all the soul of tenderness that
breathed from them was pure Ionian. The full
and ruddy lips, half parted, showed two rows
of pearls which Thetis might have envied.
Still a vulger eye would not have rested on
the countenance: the features wanted the
Doric harmony, and the complexion was
tinged as by an Afric sun. Theon, however,
saw not this, as his eyes fell on those of the
girl, uplifted to the countenance of her studious
companion. Never was a book read more
earnestly than was that face by the fond and
gentle eyes which seemed to worship as they
gazed. The sound of approaching feet caught
the ear of the maiden. She rose, blushed, half
returned the salute of the master, and timidly


drew back some paces. The student was still
intent upon the scroll over which she hung,
when the sage advanced towards her, and lay-
ing a finger on her shoulder, "What read you,
my daughter ? " She dropped her hand, and
looked up in his face. What a countenance
was then revealed ! It was not the beauty of
blooming, blushing youth, courting love and de-
sire. It was the self-possessed dignity of
ripened womanhood, and the noble majesty
of mind, that asked respect and promised de-
light and instruction. The features were not
those of Venus, but Minerva. The eye looked
deep and steady from beneath two even brows,
that sense, not years, had slightly knit in the
centre of the forehead, which else was uniformly
smooth and polished as marble. The nose was
rather Roman than Grecian, yet perfectly reg-
ular, and though not masculine, would have
been severe in expression, but for a mouth
where all that was lovely and graceful habited.
The chin was elegantly rounded, and turned in
the Greek manner. The color of the cheeks
was of the softest and palest rose, so pale, in-
deed, as scarcely to be discernible until deepened
by emotion. It was so at this moment : star-
tled by the address of the sage, a bright flush
passed over her face. She rolled up the book,
dropped it on the couch, and rose. Her stature


- 3ii- F.;

was much above the female standard, but
every limb and every motion was symmetry
and harmony. "A treatise of Theophrastus ;
eloquent, ingenious and chimerical. I have
a fancy to answer, it." Her voice was full
and deep, like the tones of a harp when its
chords are struck, by the hand of a master.

"No one could do it better," replied the
sage. " But I should have guessed the aged
Peripatetic already silenced by the most acute,
elegant, and subtle pen -of Athens," She
bowed to the compliment.

" Is that then the famous Leontium ? " mut-
tered Theon. " Timocrates must be a liar."

" J know not," resumed Leontium, " that I
should this evening have so frequently thought
Theophrastus wrong, if he had not made me

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Online LibraryFrances WrightA few days in Athens, being the translation of a Greek manuscript discovered in Herculaneum → online text (page 1 of 11)