And Epicrates the comic poet writes—
A. What now is Plato doing'?[p. 99]
The grave Speusippus too and Menedemus?
In what are they now spending all their time?
What care is theirs, and what their conversation?
What is their subject of deliberation?
Tell me, I beg of you, by the mighty Terra,
In learned language, if at least you know.
B. Indeed, I can inform you most exactly.
For at the great Panathenaic feast,
I saw a company of youths assembled
Within the schools of the old Academy,
And heard some strange and marvellous assertions.
For they were nature's mysteries discussing,
Drawing distinctions subtle 'tween the life
Of animated things, both men and beasts,
And that of trees and all the race of herbs.
And then, while occupied in these discussions
They turned to gourds their deep investigations,
Asking their species and their character.
A. And to what sage conclusion did they come?
What was their definition, of what genus
Did they decide this plant to be, my friend?
I pray you tell 'em, if you know at least.
B. At first they all stood silent for a while,
And gazed upon the ground and knit their brows
In profound solemn meditation:
Then on a sudden, while the assembled youths
Were stooping still considering the matter,
One said a gourd was a round vegetable;
But others said it was a kind of grass;
While others class'd it as a sort of tree.
On hearing this, a certain old physician
Coming from Sicily interrupted them
As but a pack of triflers. They were furious,
Greatly enraged, and all most loudly cried
With one accord, that he insulted them;
For that such sudden interruptions
To philosophical discussion
Were ill-bred and extremely unbecoming.
And then the youths thought no more of the gourd.
But Plato, who was present, mildly said,
Not being at all excited by what pass'd,
That the best thing that they could do would be
The question to resume of the gourd's nature.
They would not hear him, and adjourn'd the meeting.