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Following this a silence ensued, and again the guides began to deliver their harangues. A certain oracle in verse was recited (I think it concerned the kingdom of Aegon the Argive1, whereupon Diogenianus said that he had often wondered at the barrenness and cheapness of the hexameter lines in which the oracles are pronounced. ‘Yet the god is Leader of the Muses, and it is right and fair that he should take no less interest in what is called elegance of diction than in the sweetness of sound that is concerned with tunes and songs, and that his utterances should surpass Hesiod and Homer in the excellence of their versification. Yet we observe that most of the oracles are full of metrical and verbal errors and barren diction.’

Sarapion, the poet who was present from Athens, said, ‘Then do we believe these verses to be the [p. 271] god's, and yet dare to say that in beauty they fall short of the verses of Homer and Hesiod ? Shall we not treat them as if they were the best and fairest of poetic compositions, and correct our own judgement, prepossessed as it is as the result of unfortunate habituation ?’

At this point Boëthus2 the mathematician entered into the conversation. (You know that the man is already changing his allegiance in the direction of Epicureanism.) Said he, ‘Do you happen to have heard the story of Pauson the painter ?’ 3

‘No,’ said Sarapion, ‘I have not.’

‘Well, it is really worth hearing. It seems that he had received a commission to paint a horse rolling, and painted it galloping. His patron was indignant, whereupon Pauson laughed and turned the canvas upside down, and, when the lower part became the upper, the horse now appeared to be not galloping, but rolling. Bion says that this happens to some arguments when they are inverted. So some people will say of the oracles also, not that they are excellently made because they are the god's, but that they are not the god's because they are poorly made ! The first of these is in the realm of the unknown ; but that the verses conveying the oracles are carelessly wrought is, of course, perfectly clear to you, my dear Sarapion, for you are competent to judge. You write poems in a philosophic and restrained style, but in force and grace and diction they bear more resemblance to the poems of Homer and [p. 273] Hesiod than to the verses put forth by the prophetic priestess.’

1 Plutarch recounts the story of this oracle in Moralia, 340 c.

2 Called the Epicurean in Moralia, 673 c.

3 Cf. Aelian, Varia Historia, xiv. 15. According to the scholium on Aristophanes, Plutus, 602, the Pauson mentioned there is probably the same man.

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