At this pass, then, it is said that one of the patricians, a man of noblest birth, and of the most reputable character, a trusted and intimate friend also of Romulus himself, and one of the colonists from Alba, Julius Proculus by name,1
went into the forum and solemnly swore by the most sacred emblems before all the people that, as he was travelling on the road, he had seen Romulus coming to meet him, fair and stately to the eye as never before, and arrayed in bright and shining armour.
He himself, then, affrighted at the sight, had said:
‘O King, what possessed thee, or what purpose hadst thou, that thou hast left us patricians a prey to unjust and wicked accusations, and the whole city sorrowing without end at the loss of its father?’ Whereupon Romulus had replied:
‘It was the pleasure of the gods, 0 Proculus, from whom I came, that I should be with mankind only a short time, and that after founding a city destined to be the greatest on earth for empire and glory, I should dwell again in heaven. So farewell, and tell the Romans that if they practise self-restraint, and add to it valour, they will reach the utmost heights of human power. And I will be your propitious deity, Quirinus.’
These things seemed to the Romans worthy of belief, from the character of the man who related them, and from the oath which he had taken; moreover, some influence from heaven also, akin to inspiration, laid hold upon their emotions, for no man contradicted Proculus, but all put aside suspicion and calumny and prayed to Quirinus, and honoured him as a god.
Now this is like the fables which the Greeks tell about Aristeas of Proconnesus2
and Cleomedes of Astypaleia.3
For they say that Aristeas died in a fuller's shop, and that when his friends came to fetch away his body, it had vanished out of sight; and presently certain travellers returning from abroad said they had met Aristeas journeying towards Croton. Cleomedes also, who was of gigantic strength and stature, of uncontrolled temper, and like a mad man, is said to have done many deeds of violence, and finally, in a school for boys, he smote with his fist the pillar which supported the roof, broke it in two, and brought down the house.
The boys were killed, and Cleomedes, being pursued, took refuge in a great chest, closed the lid down, and held it so fast that many men with their united strength could not pull it up; but when they broke the chest to pieces, the man was not to be found, alive or dead. In their dismay, then, they sent messengers to consult the oracle at Delphi, and the Pythian priestess gave them this answer:—
Last of the heroes he, Cleomedes, Astypalaean
It is said also that the body of Alcmene disappeared, as they were carrying her forth for burial, and a stone was seen lying on the bier instead. In short, many such fables are told by writers who improbably ascribe divinity to the mortal features in human nature, as well as to the divine.
At any rate, to reject entirely the divinity of human virtue, were impious and base; but to mix heaven with earth is foolish. Let us therefore take the safe course and grant, with Pindar,4
Our bodies all must follow death's supreme behest,
But something living still survives, an image of life, for this alone
Comes from the gods.
Yes, it comes from them, and to them it returns, not with its body, but only when it is most completely separated and set free from the body, and becomes altogether pure, fleshless, and undefiled. For
‘a dry soul is best,’ according to Heracleitus,5
and it flies from the body as lightning flashes from a cloud. But the soul which is contaminated with body, and surfeited with body, like a damp and heavy exhalation, is slow to release itself and slow to rise towards its source.
We must not, therefore, violate nature by sending the bodies of good men with their souls to heaven, but implicitly believe that their virtues and their souls, in accordance with nature and divine justice, ascend from men to heroes, from heroes to demi-gods, and from demi-gods, after they have been made pure and holy, as in the final rites of initiation, and have freed themselves from mortality and sense, to gods, not by civic law, but in very truth and according to right reason, thus achieving the fairest and most blessed consummation.