previous
Having thus concluded, I held my peace; when Olympicus smiling said: We forbear as yet to give you our approbation, that we may not seem to have forgot the fable; not but that we believe your discourse to have been sufficiently made out by demonstration, only we reserve our opinion till we shall have heard the relation of that likewise. Upon which, I began again after this manner: [p. 177] There was one Thespesius of Soli, the friend and familiar acquaintance of that Protogenes who for some time conversed among us. This gentleman, in his youth leading a debauched and intemperate life, in a short time spent his patrimony, and then for some years became very wicked; but afterwards repenting of his former follies and extravagancies, and pursuing the recovery of his lost estate by all manner of tricks and shifts, did as is usual with dissolute and lascivious youth, who when they have wives of their own never mind them at all, but when they have dismissed them, and find them married to others that watch them with a more vigilant affection, endeavor to corrupt and vitiate them by all the unjust and wicked provocations imaginable. In this humor, abstaining from nothing that was lewd and illegal, so it tended to his gain and profit, he got no great matter of wealth, but procured to himself a world of infamy by his unjust and knavish dealing with all sorts of people. Yet nothing made him more the talk of the country, than the answer which was brought him back from the oracle of Amphilochus. For thither it seems he sent, to inquire of the Deity whether he should live any better the remaining part of his life. To which the oracle returned, that it would be better with him after he was dead. And indeed, not long after, in some measure it so fell out; for he happened to fall from a certain precipice upon his neck, and though he received no wound nor broke any limb, yet the force of the fall beat the breath out of his body. Three days after, being carried forth to be buried, as they were just ready to let him down into the grave, of a sudden he came to himself, and recovering his strength, so altered the whole course of his life, that it was almost incredible to all that knew him. For by the report of the Cilicians, there never was in that age a juster person in common dealings between man and man, more devout and religious as to divine worship, more an enemy [p. 178] to the wicked, nor more constant and faithful to his friends; which was the reason that they who were more conversant with him were desirous to hear from himself the cause of so great an alteration, not believing that so great a reformation could proceed from bare chance; though it was true that it did so, as he himself related to Protogenes and others of his choicest friends.

For when his sense first left his body, it seemed to him as if he had been some pilot flung from the helm by the force of a storm into the midst of the sea. Afterwards, rising up again above water by degrees, so soon as he thought he had fully recovered his breath, he looked about him every way, as if one eye of his soul had been open. But he beheld nothing of those things which he was wont formerly to see, only he saw stars of a vast magnitude, at an immense distance one from the other, and sending forth a light most wonderful for the brightness of its color, which shot itself out in length with an incredible force; on which the soul riding, as it were in a chariot, was most swiftly, yet as gently and smoothly, dandled from one place to another. But omitting the greatest part of the sights which he beheld, he saw, as he said, the souls of such as were newly departed, as they mounted from below, resembling little fiery bubbles, to which the air gave way. Which bubbles afterwards breaking insensibly and by degrees, the soul came forth in the shapes of men and women, light and nimble, as being discharged of all their earthly substance. However, they differed in their motion; for some of them leaped forth with a wonderful swiftness, and mounted up in a direct line; others like so many spindles of spinning-wheels turned round and round, sometimes whisking upwards, sometimes darting downwards, with a confused and mixed agitation, that could hardly be stopped in a very long time.

Of these souls he knew not who the most part were; [p. 179] only perceiving two or three of his acquaintance, he endeavored to approach and discourse them. But they neither heard him speak, neither indeed did they seem to be in their right mind, fluttering and out of their senses, avoiding either to be seen or felt; they frisked up and down at first, alone and apart by themselves, till meeting at length with others in the same condition, they clung together; but still their motions were with the same giddiness and uncertainty as before, without steerage or purpose; and they sent forth inarticulate sounds, like the cries of soldiers in combat, intermixed with the doleful yells of fear and lamentation. Others there were that towered aloft in the upper region of the air, and these looked gay and pleasant, and frequently accosted each other with kindness and respect; but they shunned those troubled souls, and seemed to show discontent by crowding together, and joy and pleasure by expanding and separating from each other. One of these, said he, being the soul of a certain kinsman,—which, because the person died when he was but very young, he did not very well know,—drew near him, and saluted him by the name of Thespesius; at which being in a kind of amazement, and saying his name was not Thespesius but Aridaeus, the spirit replied, 'twas true that formerly he was so called, but that from thenceforth he must be Thespesius, that is to say ‘divine.’ For thou art not in the number of the dead as yet, it said, but by a certain destiny and permission of the Gods, thou art come hither only with thy intellectual faculty, having left the rest of thy soul, like an anchor, in thy body. And that thou mayst be assured of this, observe it for a certain rule, both now and hereafter, that the souls of the deceased neither cast any shadow, neither do they open and shut their eyelids. Thespesius having heard this discourse, was so much the more encouraged to make use of his own reason; and therefore looking round about to prove the truth [p. 180] of what had been told him, he could perceive that there followed him a kind of obscure and shadowlike line, whereas those other souls shone like a round body of perfect light, and were transparent within. And yet there was a very great difference between them too; for that some yielded a smooth, even, and contiguous lustre, all of one color, like the full-moon in her brightest splendor; others were marked with long scales or slender streaks; others were all over spotted and very ugly to look upon, as being covered with black speckles like the skins of vipers; and others were marked by faint scratches.

Moreover, this kinsman of Thespesius (for nothing hinders but that we may call the souls by the names of the persons which they enlivened), proceeding to give a relation of several other things, informed his friend how that Adrastea, the daughter of Jupiter and Necessity, was seated in the highest place of all, to punish all manner of crimes and enormities; and that in the whole number of the wicked and ungodly, there never was any one, whether great or little, high or low, rich or poor, that ever could by force or cunning escape the severe lashes of her rigor. But as there are three sorts of punishments, so there are three several Furies, or female ministers of justice; and to every one of these belongs a peculiar office and degree of punishment. The first of these was called Speedy Punishment, who takes in charge those that are presently to receive bodily punishment in this life, which she manages after a more gentle manner, omitting the correction of many offences which need expiation. But if the cure of impiety require a greater labor, the Deity delivers them after death to Justice. But when Justice has given them over as altogether incurable, then the third and most severe of all Adrastea's ministers, Erinnys (the Fury), takes them in hand; and after she has chased and coursed them from one place to another, flying, yet not knowing where to [p. 181] fly, for shelter or relief, plagued and tormented with a thousand miseries, she plunges them headlong into an invisible abyss, the hideousness of which no tongue car express.

Now, of all these three sorts, that which is inflicted by punishment in this life resembles the practice among the barbarians. For, as among the Persians, they take off the garments and turbans of those that are to be punished, and tear and whip them before the offender's faces, while the criminals, with tears and lamentations, beseech the executioners to give over; so corporal punishments, and penalties by mulcts and fines, have no sharpness or severity, nor do they take hold upon the vice itself, but are inflicted for the most part only with regard to appearance and to the outward sense. But if any one comes hither that has escaped punishment while he lived upon earth and before he was well purged from his crimes, Justice takes him to task, naked as he is, with his soul displayed, as having nothing to conceal or veil his impiety; but on all sides and to all men's eyes and every way exposed, she shows him first to his honest parents, if he had any such, to let them see how degenerate he was and unworthy of his progenitors. But if they were wicked likewise, then are their sufferings rendered yet more terrible by the mutual sight of each other's miseries, and those for a long time inflicted, till each individual crime has been quite effaced with pains and torments as far surmounting in sharpness and severity all punishments and tortures of the flesh, as what is real and evident surpasses an idle dream. But the weals and stripes that remain after punishment appear more signal in some, in others are less evident.

View there, said he, those various colors of souls. That same black and sordid hue is the tincture of avarice and fraud. That bloody and flame-like dye betokens cruelty, and an imbittered desire of revenge. Where you perceive [p. 182] a bluish color, it is a sign that soul will hardly be cleansed from the impurities of lascivious pleasure and voluptuousness. Lastly, that same dark, violet, and venomous color, resembling the sordid ink which the cuttle fish spews up, proceeds from envy. For as during life the wickedness of the soul, being governed by human passions and itself governing the body, occasions this variety of colors; so here it is the end of expiation and punishment, when these are cleansed away, and the soul recovers her native lustre and becomes clear and spotless. But so long as these remain, there will be some certain returns of the passions, accompanied with little pantings and beatings, as it were of the pulse, in some remiss and languid and quickly extinguished, in others more quick and vehement. Some of these souls, being again and again chastised, recover a due habit and disposition; while others, by the force of ignorance and the enticing show of pleasure, are carried into the bodies of brute beasts. For while some, through the feebleness of their ratiocinating, while their slothfulness will not permit them to contemplate, are impelled by their active principle to seek a new generation; others again, wanting the instrument of intemperance, yet desirous to gratify their desires with the full swing of enjoyment, endeavor to promote their designs by means of the body. But alas! here is nothing but an imperfect shadow and dream of pleasure, that never attains to ability of performance.

Having thus said, the spirit quickly carried Thespesius to a certain place, as it appeared to him, prodigiously spacious; yet so gently and without the least deviation, that he seemed to be borne upon the rays of the light as upon wings. Thus at length he came to a certain gaping chasm, that was fathomless downward, where he found himself deserted by that extraordinary force which brought him thither, and perceived other souls also to be there in [p. 183] the same condition. For hovering upon the wing in flocks together like birds, they kept flying round and round the yawning rift, but durst not enter into it. Now this same cleft withinside resembled the dens of Bacchus, fringed about with the pleasing verdure of various herbs and plants, that yielded a more delightful prospect still of all sorts of flowers, enamelling the green so with a wonderful diversity of colors, and breathing forth at the same time a soft and gentle breeze, which perfumed all the ambient air with odors most surprising, as grateful to the smell as the sweet flavor of wine to those that love it. Insomuch that the souls banqueting upon these fragrancies were almost all dissolved in raptures of mirth and caresses one among another, there being nothing to be heard for some fair distance round about the place, but jollity and laughter, and all the cheerful sounds of joy and harmony, which are usual among people that pass their time in sport and merriment.

The spirit said, moreover, that Bacchus ascended through this overture to heaven, and afterwards returning fetched up Semele the same way; and that it was called the place of oblivion. Wherefore his kinsman would not suffer Thespesius to tarry there any longer, though very unwilling to depart, but took him away by force; informing and instructing him withal, how strangely and how suddenly the mind was subject to be softened and melted by pleasure; that the irrational and corporeal part, being watered and incarnated thereby, revives the memory of the body, and that from this remembrance proceed concupiscence and desire, exciting an appetite for a new generation and entrance into a body—which is named γένεσις as being an inclination towards the earth (ἐπὶ γῆν νεῦσις)—when the soul is weighed down with overmuch moisture.

At length, after he had been carried as far another way as when he was transported to the yawning overture, he [p. 184] thought he beheld a prodigious standing goblet, into which several rivers discharged themselves; among which there was one whiter than snow or the foam of the sea, another resembled the purple color of the rainbow. The tinctures of the rest were various; besides that, they had their several lustres at a distance. But when he drew nearer, the ambient air became more subtile and rarefied, and the colors vanished, so the goblet retained no more of its flourishing beauty except the white. At the same time he saw three Daemons sitting together in a triangular aspect, and blending and mixing the rivers together with certain measures. Thus far, said the guide of Thespesius's soul, did Orpheus come, when he sought after the soul of his wife; and not well remembering what he had seen, upon his return he raised a false report in the world, that the oracle at Delphi was in common to Night and Apollo, whereas Apollo never had any thing in common with Night. But, said the spirit, this oracle is in common to Night and to the Moon, no way included within earthly bounds, nor having any fixed or certain seat, but always wandering among men in dreams and visions. For from hence it is that all dreams are dispersed, compounded as they are of truth jumbled with falsehood, and sincerity with the various mixtures of craft and delusion. But as for the oracle of Apollo, said the spirit, you neither do see it, neither can you behold it; for the earthly part of the soul is not capable to release or let itself loose, nor is it permitted to reach sublimity, but it swags downward, as being fastened to the body.

And with that, leading Thespesius nearer, the spirit endeavored to show him the light of the Tripod, which, as he said, shooting through the bosom of Themis, fell upon Parnassus; which Thespesius was desirous to see, but could not, in regard the extraordinary brightness of the light dazzled his eyes; only passing by, he heard the shrill voice of a woman speaking in verse and measure, and [p. 185] among other things, as he thought, foretelling the time of his death. This the genius told him was the voice of a Sibyl who, being orbicularly whirled about in the face of the moon, continually sang of future events. Thereupon being desirous to hear more, he was tossed the quite contrary way by the violent motion of the moon, as by the force of rolling waves; so that he could hear but very little, and that very concisely too. Among other things, he heard what was prophesied concerning the mountain Vesuvius, and the future destruction of Dicaearchia by fire; together with a piece of a verse concerning a certain emperor1 or great famous chieftain of that age,

Who, though so just that no man could accuse,
Howe'er his empire should by sickness lose.

After this, they passed on to behold the torments of those that were punished. And indeed at first they met with none but lamentable and dismal sights. For Thespesius, when he least suspected any such thing, and before he was aware, was got among his kindred, his acquaintance, and companions, who, groaning under the horrid pains of their cruel and ignominious punishments, with mournful cries and lamentations called him by his name. At length he saw his father ascending out of a certain abyss, all full of stripes, gashes, and scars; who stretching forth his hands—not permitted to keep silence, but constrained to confess by his tormentors—acknowledged that he had most impiously poisoned several of his guests for the sake of their gold; of which not being detected while he lived upon earth, but being convicted after his decease, he had endured part of his torments already, and now they were haling him where he should suffer more. However, he durst not either entreat or intercede for his father, such was his fear and consternation; and therefore being desirous to retire and be gone, he looked about for his kind and courteous [p. 186] guide; but he had quite left him, so that he saw him no more.

Nevertheless, being pushed forward by other deformed and grim-looked goblins, as if there had been some necessity for him to pass forward, he saw how that the shadows of such as had been notorious malefactors, and had been punished in this world, were not tormented so grievously nor alike to the others, in regard that only the imperfect and irrational part of the soul, which was consequently most subject to passions, was that which made them so industrious in vice. Whereas those who had shrouded a vicious and impious life under the outward profession and a gained opinion of virtue, their tormentors constrained to turn their insides outward with great difficulty and dreadful pain, and to writhe and screw themselves contrary to the course of nature, like the sea scolopenders, which, having swallowed the hook, throw forth their bowels and lick it out again. Others they flayed and scarified, to display their occult hypocrisies and latent impieties, which had possessed and corrupted the principal part of their souls. Other souls, as he said, he also saw, which being twisted two and two, three and three, or more together gnawed and devoured each other, either upon the score of old grudges and former malice they had borne one another, or else in revenge of the injuries and losses they had sustained upon earth.

Moreover, he said, there were certain lakes that lay parallel and equidistant one from the other, the one of boiling gold, another of lead, exceeding cold, and the third of iron, which was very scaly and rugged. By the sides of these lakes stood certain Daemons, that with their instruments, like smiths or founders, put in or drew out the souls of such as had transgressed either through avarice or an eager desire of other men's goods. For the flame of the golden furnace having rendered these souls of a fiery [p. 187] and transparent color, they plunged them into that of lead; where after they were congealed and hardened into a substance like hail, they were then thrown into the lake of iron, where they became black and deformed, and being broken and crumbled by the roughness of the iron, changed their form; and being thus transformed, they were again thrown into the lake of gold; in all these transmutations enduring most dreadful and horrid torments. But they that suffered the most dire and dismal torture of all were those who, thinking that divine vengeance had no more to say to them, were again seized and dragged to repeated execution; and these were those for whose transgression their children or posterity had suffered. For when any of the souls of those children come hither and meet with any of their parents or ancestors, they fall into a passion, exclaim against them, and show them the marks of what they have endured. On the other side, the souls of the parents endeavor to sneak out of sight and hide themselves; but the others follow them so close at the heels, and load them in such a manner with bitter taunts and reproaches, that not being able to escape, their tormentors presently lay hold of them, and hale them to new tortures, howling and yelling at the very thought of what they have suffered already. And some of these souls of suffering posterity, he said, there were, that swarmed and clung together like bees or bats, and in that posture murmured forth their angry complaints of the miseries and calamities which they had endured for their sakes.

The last things that he saw were the souls of such as were designed for a second life. These were bowed, bent, and transformed into all sorts of creatures by the force of tools and anvils and the strength of workmen appointed for that purpose, that laid on without mercy, bruising the whole limbs of some, breaking others, disjointing others, and pounding some to powder and annihilation, on purpose [p. 188] to render them fit for other lives and manners. Among the rest, he saw the soul of Nero many ways most grievously tortured, but more especially transfixed with iron nails. This soul the workmen took in hand; but when they had forged it into the form of one of Pindar's vipers, which eats its way to life through the bowels of the female, of a sudden a conspicuous light shone out, and a voice was heard out of the light, which gave order for the transfiguring it again into the shape of some more mild and gentle creature; and so they made it to resemble one of those creatures that usually sing and croak about the sides of ponds and marshes. For indeed he had in some measure been punished for the crimes he had committed; besides, there was some compassion due to him from the Gods, for that he had restored the Grecians to their liberty, a nation the most noble and best beloved of the Gods among all his subjects. And now being about to return, such a terrible dread surprised Thespesius as had almost frighted him out of his wits. For a certain woman, admirable for her form and stature, laying hold of his arm, said to him: Come hither, that thou mayst the better be enabled to retain the remembrance of what thou hast seen. With that she was about to strike him with a small fiery wand, not much unlike to those that painters use; but another woman prevented her. After this, as he thought himself, he was whirled or hurried away with a strong and violent wind, forced as it were through a pipe; and so lighting again into his own body, he awoke and found himself on the brink of his own grave.

1 The Emperor Vespasian.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (Gregorius N. Bernardakis, 1891)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: