Let me tell you a story of what happened once at Delphi. A native of Tarentum, Evangelus by name, a person of some note in his own city, conceived the ambition of winning a prize in the Pythian Games. Well, he saw at once that the athletic contests were quite out of the question; he had neither the strength nor the agility required. A musical victory, on the other hand, would be an easy matter; so at least he was persuaded by his vile parasites, who used to burst into a roar of applause the moment he touched the strings of his lyre. He
arrived at Delphi in great style: among other things, he had provided himself with gold-bespangled garments, and a beautiful golden laurel-wreath, with full-size emerald berries. As for his lyre, that was a most gorgeous and costly affair–solid gold throughout, and ornamented with all kinds of gems, and with figures of Apollo and Orpheus and the Muses, a wonder to all beholders. The eventful day at length arrived. There were9 three competitors, of whom Evangelus was to come second. Thespis the Theban performed first, and acquitted himself creditably; and then Evangelus appeared, resplendent in gold and emeralds, beryls and jacinths, the effect being heightened by his purple robe, which made a background to the gold; the house was all excitement and wondering anticipation. As singing and playing were an essential part of the competition, Evangelus now struck up with a few meaningless, disconnected notes, assaulting his lyre with such needless violence that he broke three strings at the start; and when he began to sing with his discordant pipe of a voice the whole audience was convulsed with laughter, and the stewards, enraged at his presumption, scourged him out of the theatre. Our golden Evangelus now presented a very queer spectacle, as the floggers drove him across the stage, weeping and bloody-limbed, and stooping to pick up the gems that had fallen from the lyre; for that instrument had come in for its share of the castigation. His10place was presently taken by one Eumelus of Elis: his lyre was an old one, with wooden pegs, and his clothes and crown would scarcely have fetched ten shillings between them. But for all that his well-managed voice and admirable execution caused him to be proclaimed the victor; and he was very merry over the unavailing splendours of his rival’s gem-studded instrument. ‘Evangelus,’ he is reported to have said to him, ‘yours is the golden laurel–you can afford it: I am a pauper, and must put up with the Delphian wreath. No one will be
sorry for your defeat; your arrogance and incompetence have made you an object of detestation; that is all your equipment has done for you.’ Here again the application is obvious; Evangelus differing from you only in his sensibility to public ridicule.
I have often wondered, though I have never been able to satisfy myself, what it is that makes you such an ardent buyer of
books. The idea of your making any profitable use of them is one that nobody who has the slightest acquaintance with you would entertain for a moment: does the bald man buy a comb, the blind a mirror, the deaf a flute-player? the eunuch a concubine, the landsman an oar, the pilot a plough? Are you merely seizing an opportunity of displaying your wealth? Is it just your way of showing the public that you can afford to spend money even on things that are of no use to you? Why, even a Syrian like myself knows that if you had not got your name foisted into that old man’s will, you would have been starving by this time, and all your books must have been put up to sale.
Hermes. Step up, Pythagoreanism, and show yourself.
Zeus. Go ahead.
Hermes. Now here is a creed of the first water. Who bids for this handsome article? What gentleman says Superhumanity? Harmony of the Universe! Transmigration of souls! Who bids?
First Dealer. He looks all right. And what can he do?
Hermes. Magic, music, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, jugglery. Prophecy in all its branches.
First Dealer. Can I ask him some questions?
Hermes. Ask away, and welcome.
First Dealer. Where do you come from?
First Dealer. Where did you get your schooling?
Pythagoras. From the sophists in Egypt.
First Dealer. If I buy you, what will you teach me?
Pythagoras. Nothing. I will remind you.
First Dealer. Remind me?
Pythagoras. But first I shall have to cleanse your soul of its filth.
First Dealer. Well, suppose the cleansing process complete. How is the reminding done?
Pythagoras. We shall begin with a long course of silent contemplation. Not a word to be spoken for five years.
First Dealer. You would have been just the creed for Croesus’s son! But I have a tongue in my head; I have no ambition to be a statue. And after the five years’ silence?
Pythagoras. You will study music and geometry.
First Dealer. A charming recipe! The way to be wise: learn the guitar.
Pythagoras. Next you will learn to count.
First Dealer. I can do that already.
Pythagoras. Let me hear you.
First Dealer. One, two, three, four,—
Pythagoras. There you are, you see. Four (as you call it) is ten. Four the perfect triangle. Four the oath of our school.
First Dealer. Now by Four, most potent Four!—higher and holier mysteries than these I never heard.
Pythagoras. Then you will learn of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water; their action, their movement, their shapes.
First Dealer. Have Fire and Air and Water shapes?
Pythagoras. Clearly. That cannot move which lacks shape and form You will also find that God is a number; an intelligence; a harmony.
First Dealer. You surprise me.
Pythagoras. More than this, you have to learn that you yourself are not the person you appear to be.
First Dealer. What, I am some one else, not the I who am speaking to you?
Lets not even get started on the Faustian Pact. ( oh go on then!)