[CXXXIII (Latin) ] My declamation ended, I called Giton to me and asked him, "Tell me, darling, tell me on your honor; that night Ascyltos stole you from me, did he resort to active violence upon you, or was he content with a night of self-restraint and continence?" The lad touched his eyes, and swore in the most solemn terms that Ascyltos had done him no harm.
I queried him no further for the truth is, I was so crushed by my misfortunes I was not master of myself, and did not rightly know what I was saying. Let bygones be bygones, I murmured to myself, especially when nothing but pain can come from recalling them. Eventually I directed all my attention to the task of recovering my lost vigor.
I was determined even to consecrate myself to the gods; accordingly I started out implore the help of Priapus. To make the best of things, I feigned a cheerful countenance, and dropping on my knees at the Temple threshold besought the deity's intervention in the following lines:
"Delight of Bacchus, Guardian of the Groves,
The kind Restorer of decaying Loves,
Lesbos and verdant Thasos thee implore,
Whose maids thy power in wanton rites adore;
Joy of the Dryads, with propitious care
Attend my wishes, and indulge my prayer.
My guiltless hands with blood I never stained,
Or sacrilegiously the gods profaned;
Thus low I bow; restoring blessings send,
I did not thee with my whole self offend,
Who sins through weakness is less guilty thought;
Indulge my crime, and spare a venial fault.
When kindly Fate shall genial gifts allow,
I'll, not ungrateful, to thy godhead bow.
A sucking pig I'll offer at thy shrine.
And sacred bowls brimful of generous wine;
A destined goat shall on thy altars lie,
And the horned parent of my flock shall die.
Then thrice thy frantic votaries shall round
Thy temple dance, with smiling garlands crowned,
And most devoutly drunk, thy Orgies sound."
Whilst I was thus engaged, anxiously intent on the part affected, the old woman entered the shrine with disheveled hair and wearing black garments all in a state of disorder, and laying her hand on my shoulder led me outside the vestibule.
[CXXXIV (Latin) ] "What foul witches have devoured your manhood?" she exclaimed; "what refuse or what garbage have you trod on in the streets at night? You could not so much as do your duty by the boy; but flabby, faint and weary, like a cart-horse at a hill, you wasted your labor and your sweat in vain! And now, not content with your own delinquencies, you have set the gods against me as well--and I mean to make you smart for it."
So she led me unresisting back again into the Temple and to the Priestess's chamber, where she pushed me down on the bed, and snatching up a cane that hung behind the door, she gave me yet another thrashing. Still I said not a word, and if the cane had not split at the first stroke, and so lessened the force of her blows, she would likely have broken my arms or my head. I groaned dismally, particularly at the way she worked my member, and bursting into a torrent of weeping, hid my face in my hand and cowered down on the pillow. The old woman was also melted to tears, and sitting down on the other side of the bed, began to complain in quavering tones of the tediousness of having lived too long.
Presently the Priestess came in, "Why! what has brought you to my chamber," she cried, "and with these long faces, as if you were come to a funeral? and on a holiday too, when the most sorrow-laden laugh for once."
"Oh, it's this young man here, Oenothea," the old woman answered; "for sure, he was born under an evil star; he cannot sell his goods to boy or girl. You never saw so unfortunate a fellow; soaked leather, that's what his tool is! What think you of a man, I ask you that, who left Circe's bed without having tasted pleasure?" On hearing this, Oenothea sat down between us, and after shaking her head awhile, "I am the only woman," she said, "knows how to cure this complaint. And that you may not think I'm doing at random, I require the young fellow to sleep one night with me, and see if I don't make it stiff as horn!
"All Nature's works my magic power obey,
The blooming Earth shall wither and decay,
And when I please, be verdant, fresh and gay.
Here flowery vales shall vernal beauties know,
There frozen plains shall hide themselves in snow;
By magic charms I'll make a whirlwind cease,
Contract its breath, and murmur into peace;
Tigers and pards, submissive to my will,
Obey my orders and neglect to kill;
At my commands substantial darkness soon
O'erspreads the skies and hides the silver moon;
Sol's fiery car stops in th' Ethereal plain,
And Thetis long expects her Lord in vain.
The Pontic bulls emitting fire and smoke
The witch Medea to her service broke
And made their swelling chest sustain her yoke.
Refulgent Circe, daughter of the Sun,
Could into swine Ulysses' soldiers turn;
In woods Silenus, Proteus in the seas,
Conceal the God, and take what form they please.
My skill's as great, my power no less extends,
The servile World to my enchantment bends."
[CXXXV (Latin) ] I shuddered with terror to hear her promise such miracles, and began to scrutinize the old woman more carefully.
"Now," ejaculated Oenothea, "now do as I tell you." And after washing her hands with scrupulous care, she bent over the couch and kissed me again and again.
She then placed an old table on the middle of the altar, and filling it with live coals, proceeded to patch up an ancient bowl, so time-worn it was falling to pieces, with melted pitch. Next she put back in the smoke-begrimed wall a peg which had come down along with the wooden bowl, when she unhitched the latter. Presently after donning a square cloak, she set a huge cooking-pot on the fire, at the same time with a fork reaching down a cloth from the meat-rack, in which was stored a supply of beans and some exceedingly stale pieces of pig's cheek, slashed with a thousand cuts. She undid the string, shook out some of the contents on to the table, and bade me strip them smartly. Obeying her orders, I proceed carefully to separate the beans from the filthy pods that contained them. But Oenothea, chiding my slowness, incontinently snatches them from me, and instantly stripping off the husks with her teeth, spits them out on the ground, where they looked like dead flies. I could not help admiring the ingenuity of poverty, and the knack there is in every single thing. Indeed, this virtue of poverty found so ardent a follower in the Priestess, it was conspicuous in every trifle about her. Her cottage especially was a very shrine of misery.
No Indian ivories here are set in gold,
No marble covers the deluded mold;
Void of expensive art, the reverent Shrine
With natural modest ornaments doth shine.
Round Ceres' bower the bending osier grows;
Earthen is all the plate the Priestess knows;
The jug is earth which holds the holy wine,
Osier the dish, sacred to Powers divine;
No brazen gauds are here, no purple pride,
Mud and dirt mixed the pious relics hide;
Rushes and reeds the humble roof adorn,
And straw deprived of its Autumnal corn.
On an old shelf a savory ham is found,
And service-berries into garlands bound.
Such a low cottage Hecate confined,
Low was her dwelling, but sublime her mind.
Her bounteous heart a grateful praise shall crown,
And Muses make immortal her renown.
[CXXXVI (Latin) ] Then, having shelled the beans and eaten a scrap of the meat, she took a fork and went to replace the pig's cheek, which was as great an antiquity as herself; but the rotten stool, on which she had mounted so as to reach up to the rack, broke down under the old woman's weight and threw her on the fire. The lip of the cooking-pot was smashed, and put out the fire, that was just burning up; the woman's elbow was burnt by a red-hot ember, and her whole face begrimed with the flying ashes. I sprang up in dismay, and not without some inward laughter set the old thing on her legs again; this accomplished, she ran instantly to a neighbor's to replenish the fire, that nothing might delay the sacrifice.
I was making my way to the door of the cottage, when lo and behold! three sacred geese, which I suppose the old woman was in habit of feeding at midday, rushed at me and set me all in a twitter, pressing round me with their disconcerting and almost rabid cackle. One of them tore my tunic, another undid my shoestrings and dragged at them, the third, leader and director of the savage assault, actually worried my leg with its serrated beak. So, thinking it no time for nonsense, I dragged off a leg of the table, and armed with this weapon started belaboring the warlike creature. Nor was I satisfied with trifling blows, but avenged my hurt by killing the bird outright:
Such were the birds Heruclean art subdued,
And with loud tumults to the skies pursued;
And such the Harpies the winged brothers chased
From trembling Phineus' illusive feast.
The heavens were startled at their clamorous flight,
And backward seemed to roll in wild affright.
I left the creature sprawling, while its companions, after picking up the beans that were scattered all about the floor, and finding themselves I suppose bereft of their leader, retreated into the Temple again. Then, proud of my booty and the vengeance I had exacted, I tossed the dead bird behind the bed, and washed the trifling wound in my leg with vinegar. Presently, fearing a scolding, I determined to be off, and gathering my belongings together started to leave the cottage. I had not yet crossed the threshold however when I saw Oenothea coming along with an earthen pot full of fire. I drew back again therefore, and throwing aside my robe, as if I had been waiting for her return, took my stand at the entrance. She packed her fire on some reeds broken up small, and piling up the top with a number of logs, began to excuse her delay, saying her friend had refused to let her go till she had drained the three cups custom required. Then, "What have you been doing," she asked, "in my absence? and where are the beans?"
I really thought I had done something very praiseworthy and described the whole battle to her in detail, finally, to end her melancholy, presenting her with the dead goose in compensation for her loss. Directly the old woman set eyes on the bird, she set up such a terrible outcry you might have thought the geese had invaded the place again. Confused at this and astounded at the strange nature of my offense, I repeatedly begged her to tell me why she was so angry, and why all her pity was for the goose and none at all for me.
[CXXXVII (Latin) ] But beating her palms together, "How dare you speak," she screamed, "abandoned wretch! You must know what an atrocity you have committed; you have killed the delight of Priapus, the goose that was the darling of all the matrons. You think it's a trifle you've done!--if the Magistrates get wind of it, you'll be crucified. You have polluted my home with blood, that was never profaned before; and put it in the power of any ill-wisher I may have to turn me out of my office."
"Don't shout so, I beseech you," I interposed; "I tell you, I'll give you an ostrich for your goose." She was still sitting on the pallet and bewailing the goose's untimely death, with me standing in amazement, when Proselenos arrived with the materials for the sacrifice. Directly she saw the dead bird, she asked excitedly how the calamity had occurred, and she too began to weep violently, and make as much ado over me as if I had killed my own father instead of a public goose. Feeling utterly sick of the tiresome business, "Now tell me," I expostulated, "could not I purchase expiation for money, if it was you I had assaulted, even though I'd done murder. Look you, I offer two gold pieces, enough to buy both gods and geese with." As soon as Oenothea saw the coins, "Forgive me, young man," she exclaimed; "'tis for your sake I am so anxious, and that shows affection surely, not malice. (And we'll take care that no one shall know anything about it.) Only do you pray to the gods to pardon the sacrilege you have done."
Whoe'er has magic gold, secure may sail
Where'er he please, he's lord of Fortune's gale;
May in a Danae's arms make soft abode,--
There's no Acrisius will dispute the God!
He may turn Poet, Orator, what not?
When he harangues, old Cato is forgot!
Or if the noisy bar delights him more,
Behold what mighty Labeo was before!
In short--when of the money you're possessed,
You need but wish,--you've Jove within your chest.
Meantime the Priestess, bustling about, placed a bowl of wine under my hands, and making me spread out my fingers evenly, purified them with leeks and parsley. Then with a muttered charm she dipped filberts in the wine, and according as they rose to the surface again, or sank, she drew her prognostications. But I did not fail to observe that the blind nuts, with nothing but air inside of kernels, naturally floated on the top, while the heavy ones, that were full and sound within, settled to the bottom. Next turning her attentions to the goose, she opened its breast and drew out a fine fat liver, and proceeded to predict my future prospects from the indications it afforded. Nay! that not a trace of my crime might be left, she broke up the whole bird, and sticking the pieces on spits, prepared a very appetizing dinner for me, whom she so short a time before condemned to death with her own lips. Meantime bumpers of unmixed wine were circulating freely, and the old woman merrily gobbled up the goose they had been mourning over so sadly just before. When it was all gone, the Priestess, now half drunk, turned to me and said, "We must complete the mysteries, to recover you of your impotency."
[CXXXVIII (Latin) ] So saying, Oenothea brought out a leathern godemiche, which she smeared with oil and ground pepper and pounded nettle seed, and then proceeded to insert it little by little up my back. Next the cruel old dame anoints my two thighs with the same concoction. Then mixing nasturtium juice with southern-wood, she bathes my genitals with the stuff, and grasping a bundle of stinging nettles, begins slowly and methodically to lash my belly with them all over below the navel. The nettles burn sharply, and I suddenly take to my heels, the old woman after me in hot haste. Though disordered with wine and lust, they take the right road, and follow me up through several streets, screaming, "Stop thief!" However, I escaped eventually, after making all my toes bleed in the course of my headlong gallop.