Petronius Arbiter


Part V: Eumolpus, Encolpius, and Giton

Aeneas at the Court of Latinus

‘Aeneas at the Court of Latinus’
Ferdinand Bol, c. 1661 - c. 1664
The Rijksmuseum

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved

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85-87: Eumolpus and his host’s son

Eumolpus told me: ‘When I was carried off to Asia Minor by a quaestor, on a salary, I was lodged as a guest in Pergamum, where I resided willingly, not only because of that household’s refinement, but because of my host’s son, a most handsome lad. I contrived a plan, unsuspected by the father. Whenever, at table, the seduction of the young and handsome was mentioned, I waxed so vehement, was so unwilling to have my ears profaned by such obscene talk, that the lad’s mother, in particular, considered me a jewel among philosophers. I soon began escorting the boy to the gymnasium, arranged his studies and tutored him, while warning his parents to let no one in the house who might covet his body.  

It so happened that we were reclining in the dining-room, because a solemn festival constrained our play while prolonged hilarity had made us too idle to retire. About midnight, I noticed the lad was still awake, so in a cautious whisper I made a vow: “Milady Venus, If I might kiss this boy without his knowing, I’ll give him a pair of doves, tomorrow.” Hearing of this reward for indulgence, the boy proceeded to snore. So I approached the little pretender, and gave him several kisses. Content with this beginning, I rose early the next morning and fulfilled the vow, choosing a pair of doves for the eager lad.

Next night, the like being permitted, I altered my vow, saying: “If I can handle him sinfully without his knowledge, I’ll give him two of the fiercest fighting-cocks.” The lad readily accommodated himself to my wishes and began to fear, I think, lest it was I who might fall asleep, so I humoured him in his anxiety, and indulged my whole body short of the ultimate pleasure. And when daylight came, I brought the gift I had promised, to his delight. 

When the third night gave me licence, I stood and whispered in the ear of the restless sleeper: “Immortal gods, If I can but win my way to the complete consummation I wish, in return for such happiness I’ll give the boy the finest Macedonian thoroughbred, on condition he feels nothing.” The lad never slept more soundly. So first I sucked at his juicy nipples, then clung fast in a kiss, then combined all my desires in one. Next morning he was sitting in his room, expecting me to join him. You know how much easier it is to buy doves and cockerels than a fine stallion, and I was somewhat fearful anyway lest so splendid a gift might arouse suspicion concerning my generosity. So I strolled about for a few hours, and on returning to the house gave the lad no more than a kiss. But with his arms about my neck, he gazed about him saying: “Please, master, where’s the horse…?”

This failure to fulfil my promise temporarily denied me the access I’d achieved, but I returned to the assault. For, not many days afterwards, a like feast brought about a similar situation. While the father was snoring, I began begging the boy to be friends once more, that is to allow himself to be rendered happy, and all the other things that swelling passion dictates. But he was plainly angered and would say only: “Go to sleep, or I’ll tell father right away.” But nothing is too hard for the persistent to extort, and I still insinuated myself, and took my scarcely-resisted pleasure, he saying: “I’ll wake father!” all the while. Though not displeased by my dubious attentions, he afterwards complained for some time that he was being deceived, and was mocked at and abused by his fellow-pupils, to whom he had boasted of my wealth: “Yet,” he said, “you’ll see I’ll not behave like you. If you wish, do it again.”

So with all resentment truly laid aside, I returned to favour with the lad, and having enjoyed his kindness, slipped off to sleep. But the boy was not content with a single repetition, being fully mature and his youth eager for submission. So he roused me from slumber and enquired: “Do you want to?” And it was certainly no unpleasant duty. At any rate, with us breathing hard and slippery with sweat, he got what he wanted, and I fell asleep again, pleasantly wearied. Yet in under an hour he was nudging me with his hand, and crying: “Why don’t we do it?” Then I exploded vehemently at being disturbed so often, and threw his own back words back at him: “Go to sleep, or I’ll tell your father, right away!”’…

88: Eumolpus, on the desire for riches  

Encouraged by Eumolpus’ discourse, I proceeded to consult his knowledge regarding the antiquity of the paintings and some of the narrative elements which were unknown to me, and at the same time to discuss the decadence of the present age, in which the fine arts had so deteriorated, painting being one, of which barely a vestige remained.

‘The desire for riches began this decline,’ he said. ‘In former times, when naked excellence pleased, the noble arts flourished, and mankind made great efforts to prevent anything remaining hidden that might benefit posterity. So Democritus extracted the juice from every plant, and spent his life experimenting to reveal the virtues of sticks and stones. Eudoxus grew old on the heights of the tallest of mountains, to comprehend the motion of the stars and the heavens, while Chrysippus would clear his mind with a triple dose of hellebore to improve his powers of invention. If you turn to sculpture, Lysippus died of starvation brooding over the lines of a single statue, and Myron who almost captured the spirits of human beings and wild creatures in bronze, left no heir behind. Yet we, immersed in drinking and whoring, cannot venture to understand even the arts that have been developed, but slander the past, and teach and learn nothing but vice.

Where now is the dialectic? Or astronomy? Where is the civilised path of wisdom? Who visits a temple and vows to achieve eloquence, or attain the fount of philosophy? No one asks even for common sense or decent health, and before they even touch the Capitol’s threshold one is promising an offering if he can only bury some rich kinsman, another if he can uncover buried treasure, another if he can safely come upon thirty millions.

Even the senators, our standard-bearers for the right and good, only vow the Capitol a thousand pounds weight in gold, and adorn Jupiter with gifts, so no one need feel ashamed of lusting after wealth. Thus, it is no wonder the art of painting has declined, when gods and men think a gold ingot finer than anything those crazed Greeks, Apelles and Phidias, ever created.

89-90: Eumolpus versifies on the fall of Troy

But I see your whole attention is drawn to that painting depicting the fall of Troy. I’ll try and explain the work in verse:

It was already the tenth summer of anxious fear,

for those gloomy Phrygians, under siege, while

faith in Calchas the seer hung by a dusky thread,

when, at Delphi’s command, the wooded peaks

of Ida were ravaged, the trees felled, for planks

to shape the menacing figure of the great Horse.

Within it, space was left to create an enormous

cavern to hold an army. Here warriors hid who

resented the ten-year battle; the baleful Greeks,

filling every corner, lay concealed in their gift.

O, my country, we thought the thousand ships

repelled, the land freed from war: yet the words

incised there, were composed by Sinon, a mind

ever powerful for evil, to strengthen his deceit!

Now the crowd, freely, as if released from war,

hastens from the gates to worship, cheeks wet

with weeping; joy brings tears to fearful minds,

which terror had denied. Now Laocoon, priest

of Neptune, his hair unbound, rouses all to cry

aloud. Now, drawing back his spear, he scored

the Horse’s belly, but fate restrained his hand,

the spear rebounded, giving credence to fraud.

Yet again he nerved his feeble hand, sounding

the hollow flanks with an axe. Those warriors,

within, grimaced and, whilst the wooden mass

reverberated it breathed with a fear not its own.

The captive warriors who would capture Troy

waged total war by means of a new stratagem.

Behold fresh portents: where the high ridge of

Tenedos fills the waves, swollen billows rise,

and the broken water echoes, far less tranquilly

than oars sound deep in the silences of night,

when vessels plough the sea, and the marbled

surface stirs and swishes loud under the keels.

Looking back, we see the flood, bearing two

writhing serpents on towards the rocky shore,

their tumid fronts like tall ships hurling foam

from their sides. Their tails lash, their crests

free of the water blaze like their eyes, bright

light kindles the waves, echoing to their hiss.

Our minds were stupefied; the priests stood

wreathed for sacrifice, with Laocoon’s two

sons in Phrygian garb. At once, the gleaming

serpents entwined them. The lads cast their

little hands to their faces yet neither selfishly,

each aiding his brother: in such mutual love,

death took them only fearing for each other.

Behold, the father, powerless to help, added

one more body to those of his sons, for those

snakes, gorging on death, attacked the priest

and dragged him to the ground. So, the seer

lies, a sacrifice, before his altars, thrashing

at the earth. So, doomed Troy first lost her

gods, through profanation of their worship.

Now the moon, at full, raised her white glow

and with flaring torch led on the lesser stars,

while the Greeks unbarred the Horse, pouring

forth on Priam’s sons, drowned in darkness

and in wine. Their generals tried their steel,

as a steed loosed from a Thessalian chariot

tosses his head, and shakes his mane abroad.

Weapons drawn, brandishing shields, so they

commence the fight. One slaughters Trojans

heavy with drink, merging sleep with death;

another lights torches from their altar-fires,

invoking the flames of Troy against herself…’ 

Some people who were walking among the colonnades threw stones at Eumolpus as he recited. But he, who took this as a tribute to his genius, covered his head and fled the temple. I feared lest he called out to me, as if to a poet, and so I, following his flight, reached the shore, where as soon as we were out of range: ‘Tell me,’ I cried, ‘what power does this disease hold over you? You have been loitering with me less than two hours and your speech has been more poetry than human converse. No wonder people pursue you with stones. I’ll load my pockets with stones too, and whenever you start to depart from your senses I’ll let some blood from your skull.’

His expression changed, as he replied: ‘My young friend, it’s not the first time I’ve been so fortunate. Indeed, whenever I go to the theatre to recite something I frequently receive such unearned praise. But I’ve no wish to quarrel with you also, so I’ll abstain from such nourishment for the rest of the day.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘if you can renounce your madness for a day, we’ll dine together…’ So I entrusted a porter with instructions regarding our supper….

91: Reconciliation with Giton

Near the baths, I came upon Giton, with towels and back-scrapers, hugging the wall, sad and embarrassed. You could see he was no willing slave. Enabling me to catch his eye, he turned, his face melting with pleasure, and said: ‘Forgive me, brother. Where there are no weapons, I can speak freely. Take me from that blood-stained bandit, and punish me, your penitent judge, as cruelly as you wish. It would be consolation enough, in my wretchedness, to die at your command.’

I told him to suppress his lamentations, lest someone overhear our conversation, and leaving Eumolpus behind – still reciting a poem in the bath – I extracted Giton via a dark squalid exit, and flew with him to my lodgings. There, shutting the door tight, I embraced him warmly, rubbing my face against his cheek which was wet with tears. Neither could find voice, for a while; for the dear lad’s breast shook with endless sobbing.

‘O, how shameful it is, that I love you though you left me, and that no scar appears on my breast, when the wound was so deep. What excuse have you for granting your love to a stranger? Did I deserve such injury?’ Realising I loved him, he began to raise his head a little. ‘I laid the decision regarding our love before no other judge,’ I said, ‘But I make no complaint, I’ll forget all about it, now, if you add loyalty to penitence.’ While I poured out all this, amidst groans and tears, Giton wiped his face on his cloak, and said: ‘I ask you, Encolpius, I appeal to the faithfulness of your memory: did I leave you, or did you give me up? For, indeed I confess, I declare openly: on seeing two men armed, I sided with the stronger.’ I pressed my lips to that breast filled with wisdom, put my arms round his neck, and hugged him close, to show plainly that he had returned to my good graces, and that our friendship was now renewed in perfect trust.

92-94: Dinner with Eumolpus

It was already quite dark, and the woman had seen to our orders for dinner, when Eumolpus knocked at the door. I asked: ‘How many are you?’ and proceeded, as I spoke, to look cautiously through a crack in the door, lest Ascyltos had arrived, and alone. On seeing that Eumolpus was the sole visitor, I let him in at once.

He threw himself on the couch and seeing Giton before his eyes, waiting at table, he wagged his head, saying: ‘Praised be Ganymede. Tonight should be good.’ I was not impressed with so proprietary an opening, fearful lest I’d welcomed another Ascyltos as our companion. Eumolpus continued in the same vein, saying, when the lad brought him a drink: ‘I’d rather have you than all those bathers,’ and greedily drinking the cup dry, claimed he had never drunk anything sourer. ‘For I was nearly set upon while bathing, merely because I tried to go about the baths reciting verse to those in the water, and after I’d been ejected from the baths, just as I was from the theatre, I proceeded to search round every corner shouting for you, Encolpius, in a loud voice. And from another direction a naked youth who’d lost his clothes was clamouring indignantly and no less noisily for Giton!

The boys mocked me, most impudently, as if I were mad, while round him a large crowd gathered, applauding and admiring him most reverently. For he had such a prick at his groin you’d have thought the man an appendage to his phallus. O youth, designed for work: I believe he could start one day, and not finish till next! Of course he immediately found a friend, some Roman knight or other, a base fellow they said, who dressed the errant in his own clothes and took him home, no doubt to enjoy his great good fortune alone; while I would never even have regained my own clothes from the cunning attendant, if I had not found someone to vouch for me. So much greater the benefit in stirring groins than wits! As Eumolpus was speaking, my expression kept changing, finding the state of that enemy, Ascyltos, hilarious, while frowning at his good fortune. Anyway, I still remained silent, as if ignorant of who he was, and laid out the menu for dinner…    

Eumolpus expounded: ‘What is good for us, we consider worthless, while our minds are intent on what is not, delighting in things that are harmful.

Pheasants sought from Colchis,

so hard to procure, and African

guinea-fowl, tickle the palate,

but white geese and mallards

taste simply plebeian. Parrotfish,

from far, are highly-considered,

as are the sandy Syrtes’ spoils,

if garnered from a shipwreck;

yet mullet now is wearisome.

So the mistress eclipses the wife,

so rose-petals yield to cinnamon;

what we chase after’s most prized.’

I said: ‘Where’s your promise, not to make verse today? At least, on your honour, spare us that; we who have never stoned you. If a single person drinking in this same building with us, even scents the name of poet, they’ll rouse the neighbourhood, and slaughter us for that very reason. Be merciful, reflect on the gallery and the baths.’

Giton, the gentlest of lads, rebuked my speaking thus, insulting my elders by so forgetting my duty as to spoil the dinner, I had given out of kindness, with invective; and Giton offered other advice, most tolerant and modest, and worthy of his lovely self. ‘Happy the mother who gave birth to such a son,’ cried Eumolpus, ‘blessed be virtue. Beauty and wisdom have formed a rare conjunction. And don’t think your words have been wasted, for in me you’ve found a lover. I’ll sing your praises in verse. I’ll be your tutor and guardian, and follow you, even where you don’t wish it. Encolpius will feel no injury, he loves another.’

That wretched soldier who took my sword had even done Eumolpus a good turn; otherwise I’d now have quenched my anger against Ascyltos in Eumolpus’ blood. Giton realised this, and left the room on the pretext of fetching water, cooling my wrath by a tactful departure. As I grew a little less warm, I said: ‘Eumolpus, rather than harbour such hopes I’d even suffer you to speak in verse. I’m easily angered and you’re lustful: understand, such characters don’t suit each other. Consider me a madman then, yield to my insanity; that is, be out the door, and quick!’

Dumbfounded by my attack, without seeking to know why I was angry, Eumolpus left the room in a trice, and banged the door, locking me in, much to my surprise, and running off with the key to find Giton. Shut in there, I had just decided to kill myself by hanging, and had tied my belt to the frame of the bed that stood by the door, and was slipping the noose round my neck, when the door was unlocked again, and Eumolpus and Giton entered, summoning me to life from the very gates of death. Giton indeed, raised from grief to raving madness, shouted aloud, and pushing me with both hands threw me on the bed.

‘Encolpius,’ he cried, ‘you’re wrong if you think you could ever find death before me. I thought of it first; I looked for a sword in Ascyltos’ lodgings. If I’d not found you again, I’d have thrown myself from a cliff. And to show you that death is not far from those that seek him, behold in turn what you wished me to behold.’ Saying this, he snatched a razor from Eumolpus’ hired man, and drawing it twice across his throat fell at our feet. Exclaiming in horror, I rushed to him as he fell, seeking the path to death with the same blade. But Giton was not marked by the least trace of a wound, nor did I feel any pain. The razor was blunt, and provided with a sheath, and deliberately so, to grant Eumolpus’ pupils a barber’s courage. Which is why the hired man had not been alarmed when the blade was snatched, nor had Eumolpus intervened in our death scene. 

95-96: A quarrel with the other lodgers

While this lovers’ tale was being performed, one of the lodgers entered with part of our little dinner, and contemplating us, lying there wallowing in the dirt, asked: ‘Are you drunk, fugitives, or both? Who set that bed up there, what do all these furtive struggles mean? By heavens, you intend to flit by night altogether, rather than pay for your room. But not unpunished. I’ll have you know these apartments are not some widow woman’s, they belong to Marcus Mannicius.’

‘Threats indeed?’ cried Eumolpus, at the same time striking the man in the face with the all the force of his hand. He in turn, with a cry, hurled a little earthenware jar, empty since all the guests had drunk from it, at Eumolpus’ head, breaking the skin of his forehead, and flung himself from the room. Eumolpus, not one to suffer insult, snatched up a wooden candlestick, followed the lodger out, and took revenge for his bruised brow with a hail of blows. All the household appeared with a crowd of drunken lodgers. I seized the chance to punish Eumolpus, by shutting him out and, lacking a quarrelsome rival of course, had both room and night to myself.

Meanwhile Eumolpus, excluded, was thumped by the lodgers and the cooks, and one thrust a spit of sizzling meat at his eyes, another snatched a fork from the meat and took up a fighting stance. A bleary-eyed hag was foremost, wrapped in the dirtiest shawl, tottering on an uneven pair of clogs, dragging a dog of enormous size by a chain, which she set on Eumolpus. But the candlestick defended him from every danger.

We watched it all through a hole in the folding doors, made when the door-handle was broken a short time before, and I longed to see him thrashed. But Giton, exercising his compassion, voted to open the door and help him in his peril. I, hardened as yet by indignation, unable to contain myself, rapped that compassionate head hard with my clenched fist. He collapsed on the bed in tears, while I put each eye to the hole in turn, and was savouring Eumolpus’ injuries as one does a tasty dish, commending their prolongation, when the manager of the apartment-block, Bargates, his dinner having been disturbed, was carried into the midst of the quarrel by two litter-bearers; for he had gouty feet. But as he was uttering a long peroration on the subject of drunkards and fugitives, in furious and vulgar language, he recognised Eumolpus, crying: ‘O most learned of poets, is that you? You, you worthless servants, away with you swiftly, and keep your hands from quarrelling, but, Eumolpus, my mistress disdains me. So, if you love me, curse her in verse, and make her ashamed.’

97-98: Ascyltos arrives in pursuit of Giton

While Eumolpus was speaking privately to Bargates, a public crier accompanied by a municipal servant entered the house with no small crowd of people, shook a torch that yielded more smoke than light, and proclaimed: ‘Lost recently in the public baths, a boy of about sixteen years of age, with curly hair, meek and attractive in appearance, answers to the name of Giton. A reward of ten gold pieces will be paid to anyone willing to return him, or indicate his whereabouts.’

Not far from the crier, stood Ascyltos, dressed in motley colours, holding out the reward on a silver dish to demonstrate his honesty. I ordered Giton to slide under the bed at once, and hook his hands and feet round the straps that held the mattress to the frame and then while stretched out under the bed, as Ulysses once clung to the ram, evade the searchers grasp. Giton obeyed without  hesitation, and in a moment had slipped his hands into the webbing, surpassing even Ulysses at his own tricks. Not wishing to incur suspicion, I stuffed clothes under the bedding, arranging them in the shape of a lone man, about my height.

Meanwhile Ascyltos, as he made the round of all the rooms with the law-officer, came to mine, and his hopes began to rise on finding the door tightly bolted. The municipal servant took an axe to the fitments and loosened the bolts from their catches. I fell at Ascyltos’ feet, and begged him, by the memory of our alliance, and the troubles we had shared, to at least extend his friendship. And to gain further belief in my sham prayer, I said: ‘Ascyltos, I know you’re here to kill me, or why bring an axe? Well slake your anger: see, I offer you my neck, shed my blood, the blood you seek with this pretence of a search.’ 

Ascyltos contained his resentment, and declared that he wanted nothing but his own fugitive slave, that he possessed no wish for any man to die, least of all a suppliant whom he loved most fondly now their deadly quarrel was past. But the municipal servant was more resolute, and taking a cane from the innkeeper swished it about under the bed and poked at everything, even the cracks in the walls. Giton, twisting about to avoid the stick, held his breath fearfully, his face among the very bedbugs.

Though the intruders departed, the shattered bolts left the door open to anyone, and Eumolpus now burst in, much perturbed, crying: ‘The reward is mine! I mean to pursue the crier as he goes on his way, betray you, as you richly merit, and reveal that Giton’s in your hands.’ He persisted, so I fell to my knees, begging him not to slay a dying man: ‘You might do well to be excited if you had indeed found the lost one, as it is the lad has vanished in the crowd, and I’ve no idea where he is. On my honour, Eumolpus, retrieve the lad and you can give him to Ascyltos, if you like.’

I had barely persuaded him to believe me, when Giton, unable to hold his breath longer, suddenly sneezed thrice till the bed shook. At this commotion, Eumolpus, turning, wished the hidden Giton good health. Pulling away the mattress, he saw such a Ulysses as even a hungry Cyclops might have spared. He quickly turned on me: ‘What’s this, you thief? You daren’t tell the truth even though I’d caught you.  If the god who rules human affairs had not wrung evidence from the lad clinging there, I’d still be searching the taverns, a man deceived.’

Giton was far more relaxed than I. He first treated the cut on Eumolpus’ brow, with spiders’ webs soaked in oil. He then exchanged Eumolpus’ torn clothes for a short cloak of his own, embraced him and, seeing his anger softening, relieved his pain with kisses, saying: ‘In your hands, dearest father; we are entirely in your hands. If you love your Giton, you surely wish to save him. O that the cruel fire might swallow me alone, or the wintry sea engulf me! I am the object of all evil, I am the cause. If I perished, you might, though enemies, be reconciled. ‘Ah,’ replied Eumolpus:

‘Always, everywhere, I’ve existed thus,

consuming each passing day as though

the light would never again return….’

99-100: Encolpius and Eumolpus, reconciled, take ship

Weeping profusely, I begged and prayed Eumolpus to be friends with me again, too: for a true lover should never be possessed by insane jealousy. At the same time, I said, I would do nothing further, by way of word or deed, that might offend him. Only he, as a master of true culture, must erase all irritation from his mind, leaving no trace. I recited: ‘In wild, harsh places, the snow lies long, but when the earth gleams tamed by the plough, the light frost melts while we speak. So anger lays siege to savage minds, but passes the man of learning by.’

‘So you can see that what you say is true,’ cried Eumolpus, ‘behold, I banish anger with a kiss. Therefore, good luck be with us, hurry with your packs, and follow me, or lead on, if you’d rather.’ He was still speaking, when there was a knock at the door, and a sailor with a shaggy beard stood on the threshold. ‘Eumolpus,’ he said, ‘you’re lingering here, as if you didn’t know the time of day.’ We all rose, without delay, and Eumolpus ordered his paid servant, who had already been asleep for some time, to exit with the baggage. Giton and I went aboard, and stowed away all we had brought for the voyage, while asking a blessing of the heavens.

Later, I reflected: ‘I’m troubled because the lad pleases a stranger. Why should he not? Are not the finest things Nature creates common to all? The sun lights everything. The moon, with the innumerable stars her companions, leads even wild creatures to dine. What can we pronounce finer than water? Yet it flows for all the world. Is love alone then to be stolen rather than enjoyed? Yet, against that, in truth, I only care to possess what people are jealous of. One rival, and an old man, is no problem; even if he wants to try something, his heavy breathing will give him away.’

Having made these points, without much confidence, and hiding from conflicting thoughts, I proceeded to bury my head in my cloak, feigning sleep. 

101-102: Encolpius and Giton seek to escape Lichas and Tryphaena

Yet, as if fate were out to thwart my intention, a voice on deck suddenly groaned out: ‘So he tricked me?’ in a man’s tones, curiously familiar to my ears, which gave my heart palpitations. And then a woman’s voice, roused by similar indignation, cried even more vehemently: ‘If only the gods would deliver Giton into my hands, what a fine welcome I’d give that fugitive.’

The shock of hearing these unexpected sounds drove all the blood from us. I, in particular, feeling like a man hunted down in some nightmare, was a long time finding my voice, then tugged at Eumolpus’s robe with trembling hand, just as he was falling asleep, and whispered: ‘On your honour, father, do you know who owns this ship and who the passengers are?’ Irritated by being disturbed, he replied: ‘Was this why you chose the quietest corner on deck, to stop us getting any rest? And anyhow, what does it matter to you, if I say that Lichas of Taranto is the master of this ship, which is also carrying Tryphaena who’s bound for Taranto?’

I shuddered, struck by this lightning bolt, and bared my throat, crying: ‘You’ve done for me, Fate, once and for all!’ Indeed, Giton, who was sprawling over me, had already fainted. Then the sweat broke out on us, and recalled us to life. I clasped Eumolpus by the knees, saying: ‘Have mercy on the dying, and by our bond of shared learning, help us; death awaits, and if you don’t prevent it, may well prove welcome.’ 

Overwhelmed by this appeal, Eumolpus swore, by all the gods and goddesses, he had no idea what was happening, and had no malicious intent in sharing this voyage with us, which he had done with perfect honesty and in absolute good faith, a voyage he had planned some time before. ‘Is there some deceit here? he said ‘What treacherous Hannibal then, is sailing with us. Lichas of Taranto is a most decent man, not only owner and master of this vessel, but trades in property and slaves also. He’s carrying a cargo consigned to market. This then is the cruel Cyclops, the arch-pirate, to whom we owe our passage; and, in addition, there’s Tryphaena, the loveliest of women, who sails here and there for the sake of pleasure.’

‘It’s them we’re fleeing,’ cried Giton, and immediately went on to explain the source of their hatred for us, and our imminent danger, till Eumolpus began to tremble. Troubled, and short of advice, Eumolpus commanded us to offer our thoughts. ‘Imagine we’ve entered Cyclops’ cave,’ he said, ‘we must seek an exit, unless we leap overboard and free ourselves from every danger.’ ‘No,’ Giton replied, ‘we must urge the helmsman to sail the boat to some harbour, promising a reward of course, and telling him your friend can’t endure the sea, and is at his last gasp. You can hide your deceit behind a troubled look and a tearful face, so the helmsman’s heart will be moved and he’ll indulge you.’

Eumolpus cried that this was impossible: ‘Large vessels can’t enter landlocked coves, and it lacks credibility that our friend should collapse so quickly. Add to this, that Lichas may well desire to visit the sick man out of kindness. You can see what a fine turn we’d do ourselves, by leading the master to his own fugitives. And suppose the ship could be diverted during a long voyage, and Lichas, after all, shuns the patient’s bed, how could we leave the ship without anyone noticing? Cover our heads, or leave them free? Cover them, and everyone will want to lend the poor devil a hand. Leave them free and it’s nothing less than advertising our ruse.’

‘True,’ I said, ‘and anyway I’d rather take refuge in boldness, slide down the rope into the gig, cut the painter and leave the rest to fortune. I won’t drag Eumolpus into danger. It’s not fair to load an innocent person with another’s troubles. I’m happy to rely on chance.’ That’s not a bad plan,’ cried Eumolpus, ‘if you could set off without anyone noticing your departure, especially the helmsman, who’s on watch all night long, noting the passage of the constellations too. Of course you might cheat his unsleeping eye, if you seek to escape via another part of the ship, but you’d have to let yourselves down from the stern, by the helm itself. Moreover, Encolpius, I’m amazed it hasn’t occurred to you that there’s a sailor posted on the gig, forever on duty, night and day, and you can’t get rid of him except by killing him, or ejecting him by force. Ask of your own boldness whether that can be done.

As for my accompanying you, I don’t shirk any danger that offers hope of survival. But I suppose even you wouldn’t want to imperil your lives, idly, for no reason. Consider then, whether you approve of this. I’ll roll you up in two bales, rope them, and put them among my clothes as luggage, leaving the ends open a little of course,  so you can breathe and eat. Then I’ll raise the cry that my slaves have jumped overboard in the night, for fear of worse punishment. Then, once we’ve arrived in harbour, I’ll carry you out like baggage, without arousing suspicion.

‘What,’ I cried, ‘tie us up as if we were solid lumps, without bowels to trouble us. Like things that never sneeze or snore? Or because Cleopatra’s trick once succeeded? But suppose we could endure a single day tied up like that: what if we had to stay there longer, because of a calm or bad weather? What would we do? Clothes tied up too long get creased as well, and papers bundled up lose their shape. Are young fellows who never worked in their lives to suffer rags and ropes like statues? Still we have to find some path to salvation. Reflect on this idea. Eumolpus, being a literary man, is sure to have some ink. Let’s use this means to change our appearance, dyeing ourselves, hair, nails and all. Then we’ll stand ready to serve you, with pleasure, like Ethiopian slaves, without being unreasonably tormented, and our altered hue will deceive our enemies.’

‘Why not?’ said Giton, ‘Circumcise us too so we resemble Jews, pierce our ears to imitate Arabs, and chalk our faces till Gaul thinks us sons of her own: as if colour alone could change our shapes, as if a multitude of things must not harmonise, in every respect, to establish such a deception! Even supposing the stain on our faces survives for some time; and never a drop of water spots our skins, and no ink clings to our clothes, though it frequently sticks to us like glue; tell me, can we make our lips swell, revoltingly, as well? Or frizz our hair with curling-tongs? Or slash our foreheads, leaving them scarred? Or walk bow-legged? Or fold our ankles towards the ground? Or grow our beards in a foreign fashion? Using false colours stains the body without altering its form. Listen, here’s the madness that occurs to me; let’s tie our heads in our clothes, and drown ourselves in the deep.’

104: Eumolpus devises a ruse

‘The gods and mankind forbid you to end your lives in such vile fashion,’ cried Eumolpus, ‘better to take the advice I now offer. My hired slave, as you know from seeing his razor, is a barber. Let him shave both your heads right now, and not only those but your eyebrows as well. I’ll then mark some expert lettering on your brows, so you look like branded slaves. The markings will divert suspicion amongst the inquisitive, and distort your appearance with those shadows of punishment.’ We were not slow to adopt the ruse, and walked cautiously to the bulwarks where we offered our heads to the barber to be shorn.

Eumolpus now covered both our foreheads with large lettering, smearing the usual signs of a fugitive slave over our whole faces, with a generous hand. By ill-luck, however, one of the passengers , who was heavily seasick, chanced to lean over the side to relieve his nausea, and saw the barber, in the moonlight, about his untimely work. He cursed it for an evil omen, as it looked like the sailors’ last offering to ward off shipwreck, and hurtled back to his cabin. We, pretending not to heed the sick man’s curse, returned gloomily to our places, lay down in silence, and passed the remaining hours of night in restless sleep.    

End of the Satyricon: Part V