I to Cronus, Greeting.
19I have written to you before telling you of my condition, how poverty was likely to exclude me from the festival you have proclaimed. I remember observing how unreasonable it was that some of us should be in the lap of wealth and luxury, and never give a share of their good things to the poor, while others are dying of hunger with your holy season just upon them. But as you did not answer, I thought I might as well refresh
your memory. Dear good Cronus, you ought really to remove this inequality and pool all the good things before telling us to make merry. The world is peopled with camels and ants now, nothing between the two. Or, to put it another way, kindly imagine an actor, with one foot mounted on the tragic stilt and the other bare; if he walks like that, he must be a giant or a dwarf according to the leg he stands on; our lives are about as equal as his heights. Those who are taken on by manager Fortune and supplied with stilts come the hero over us, while the rest pad it on the ground, though you may take my word for it we could rant and stalk with the best of them if we were given the same chance.
Now the poets inform me that in the old days when you 20 were king it was otherwise with men; earth bestowed her gifts upon them unsown and unploughed, every man's table was spread automatically, rivers ran wine and milk and honey. Most wonderful of all, the men themselves were gold, and poverty never came near them. As for us, we can hardly pass for lead; some yet meaner material must be found. In the sweat of our face the most of us eat bread. Poverty, distress, and helplessness, sighs and lamentations and pinings for what is not, such is the staple of man's life, the poor man's at least. All which, believe me, would be much less painful to us, if there were not the felicity of the rich to emphasize it. They have their chests of gold and silver, their stored wardrobes, their slaves and carriages and house property and farms, and, not content with keeping to themselves their superfluity in all these, they will scarce fling a glance to the generality of us.
Ah, Cronus, there is the sting that rankles beyond endurance 21--that one should loll on cloth of finest purple, overload his stomach with all delicacies, and keep perpetual feast with guests to wish him joy, while I and my like dream over the problematic acquisition of a sixpence to provide us a loaf white or
brown, and send us to bed with a smack of cress or thyme or onion in our mouths. Now, good Cronus, either reform this altogether and feed us alike, or at the least induce the rich not to enjoy their good things alone; from their bushels of gold let them scatter a poor pint among us; the raiment that they would never feel the loss of though the moth were to consume it utterly, seeing that in any case it must perish by mere lapse of time, let them devote to covering our nakedness rather than to propagating mildew in their chests and drawers.
22Further let them entertain us by fours and fives, and not as they now do, but more on principles of equality; let us all share alike. The way now is for one to gorge himself on some dainty, keeping the servant waiting about him till he is pleased to have done; but when it reaches us, as we are in the act of helping ourselves it is whisked off, and we have but that fleeting glimpse of the entrée or fag-end of a sweet. Or in comes a sucking-pig; half of it, including the head, falls to the host; the rest of us share the bones, slightly disguised. And pray charge the butlers not to make us call unto seven times, but bring us our wine when we ask for it first; and let it be a full-sized cup and a bumper, as it is for their masters. And the same wine, please, for every one at table; where is the legal authority for my host's growing mellow on the choicest bouquet while my stomach is turned with mere must?
23These things if you correct and reform, you will have made life life, and your feast a feast. If not we will leave the feasting to them, and just kneel down and pray that as they come from the bath the slave may knock down and spill their wine, the cook smoke their sauce and absent-mindedly pour the pea-soup over the caviare, the dog steal in while the scullions are busy and make away with the whole of the sausage and most of the pastry. Boar and buck and sucking-pigs, may they rival in their roasting Homer's oxen of the Sun! only let them not
confine themselves to crawling 1, but jump up and make off to the mountains with their spits sticking in them! and may the fat fowls, all plucked and trussed, fly far away and rob them of their unsociable delights!
But we can touch them more closely than that. May Indian24 gold-ants 2 come by night, unearth their hoards and convey them to their own state treasury! May their wardrobe-keepers be negligent, and our good friends the mice make sieve-work of their raiment, fit for nothing but tunny-nets! May every pretty curled minion, every Hyacinth and Achilles and Narcissus they keep, turn bald as he hands the cup! let his hair fall off and his chin grow bristly, till he is like the peak-bearded fellows on the comic stage, hairy and prickly on cheek and temple, and on the top smooth and bare! These are specimens of the petitions we will send up, if they will not moderate their selfishness, acknowledge themselves trustees for the public, and let us have our fair share.
120:1 Homer, Od. xii. 395. Odysseus's crew had killed and begun to cook the oxen of the Sun. 'And soon thereafter the Gods chewed forth signs and wonders to my company. The skins were creeping, and the flesh bellowing upon the spits, both the roast and raw, and there was a sound as of the voice of kine.'--Butcher and Lang.
120:2 Herodotus, iii. 102. 'And in this desert and sandy tract' (in North India) 'are produced ants, which are in size smaller than dogs but larger than foxes. . . These ants there make their dwelling under ground and carry up the sand just in the same manner as the ants found in the land of the Hellenes . . . and the sand which is brought up contains gold.'--Macaulay's translation.