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There happening here a short silence, Periander, observing Niloxenus willing but not daring to speak, said: I cannot but commend the civility of those magistrates who give audience first to strangers and afterwards to their own citizens; wherefore I judge it convenient that we inhabitants and neighbors should proceed no farther at present in our discourse, and that now attention be given to those royal propositions sent us from Egypt, which the worthy Niloxenus is commissioned to deliver to Bias, who desires that he and we may scan and examine them together. And Bias said: For where or in what company would a man more joyfully adventure to give his opinion than here in this? And since it is his Majesty's pleasure that I should give my judgment first, in obedience to his commands I will do so, and afterwards they shall come to every one of you in order.

Then Niloxenus delivered the paper to Bias, who broke up the seal and commanded it to be read in all their hearing. The contents were these:—

Amasis the king of Egypt, to Bias, the wisest of the Grecians, greeting. There is a contest between my brother of Ethiopia and myself about wisdom; and being baffled in divers other particulars, he now demands of me a thing absurd and impracticable; for he requires me to drink up [p. 14] the ocean dry. If I be able to read this his riddle, divers cities and towns now in his possession are to be annexed to my kingdom; but if I cannot resolve this hard sentence, and give him the right meaning thereof, he requires of me my right to all the towns bordering upon Elephantina. Consider with speed the premises, and let me receive your thoughts by Niloxenus. Pray lose no time. If in any thing I can be serviceable to your city or friends, you may command me. Farewell.

Bias, having perused and for a little time meditated upon the letter, and whispering Cleobulus in the ear (he sat by him), exclaimed: What a narration is here, O Niloxenus! Will Amasis, who governs so many men and is seized of so many flourishing territories, drink up the ocean for the gain of a few paltry, beggarly villages? Niloxenus replied with a smile: Consider, good sir, what is to be done, if he will obey. Why then, said Bias, let Amasis require the Ethiopian king to stop the streams which from all parts flow and empty themselves in the ocean, until he have drunk out the whole remainder; for I conceive he means the present waters, not those which shall flow into it hereafter. Niloxenus was so overjoyed at this answer, that he could not contain himself. He hugged and kissed the author, and the whole company liked his opinion admirably well; and Chilo laughing desired Niloxenus to get aboard immediately before the sea was consumed, and tell his master he should mind more how to render his government sweet and potable to his people, than how to swallow such a quantity of salt water. For Bias, he told him, understands these things very well, and knows how to oblige your lord with very useful instructions, which if he vouchsafe to attend, he shall no more need a golden basin to wash his feet, to gain respect from his subjects; all will love and honor him for his virtue, though he were ten thousand [p. 15] times more hateful to them than he is. It were well and worthily done, quoth Periander, if all of us did pay him our first-fruits in this kind by the poll (as Homer said). Such a course would bring him an accession of profit greater than the whole profit of the voyage, besides being of no little use to ourselves.

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load focus English (Frank Cole Babbitt, 1928)
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