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Lucian, Philosophers on the Auction Block

 
27 March 2002

 

In lieu of a scheduled class, we took the opportunity to have a first reading of a very new translation by Prof. Hutchinson of Lucian’s comic sketch.  Thanks to the volunteers in the cast: David Bronstein as Hermes; Ben Gallagher, Aaron Walton, Thomas Narsingh, Jeremy McMillan, Stephen Chabot, Nikola Danaylov, and Andrew Chiang as philosophers being auctioned off; Zoë Nudell, Gwen Bradford, Oksana Werbowy, Jane Sigen, Kathryn Semogas, Natasha Wall, and Paula Viola as customers interested in buying the philosophers.

 

              In a future posting of this web page, I hope to be able to include a selection of photographs of the performance.

 

              The script that everyone was working from is attached below, though it has to be mentioned that a certain amount of improvisation also took place during the first reading.

 

 

Come One, Come All!

 

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!!

 

the world’s finest private collection of philosophical specimens,

assembled over a lifetime of assiduous scholarship

by a Gentleman of true intellectual taste and discernment

 

Philosophers on the Auction Block

 

by Lucian of Samosata

 

translated, with liberties, by D. S. Hutchinson  © 2002 March 24

 

 

Zeus:  You there!  Get the chairs arranged and get this place ready before we open the doors for the sale.  And you there, get the goods lined up in a row.  Make them show off their best sides and get them all pretty so they’ll look good for the customers.  OK, Hermes, open the door and make the announcement.  Invite them to come in; and don’t forget -- you need to read out the terms of sale.

 

Hermes:  Ladies and gentlemen, step this way.  Yes, that’s right, step right in.  <reading a handbill> “On sale today, a miscellaneous lot of philosophers from a variety of schools, to be sold off one by one.  15% buyer’s premium applies.  We take cash and all the major credit cards.”  <reads the handbill again, repeatedly if necessary, until every customer has entered and taken a seat> . . .       Well, Zeus, there’s quite a crowd already.  Let’s get going.

 

Zeus:  Fine; so let’s start the auction.

<2>

Hermes:  All right.  Which one are we going to sell first?

 

Zeus:  Let’s start with this long-haired guy from Ionia.  He looks pretty impressive.

 

Hermes:  Hey Pythagoras!  Come on over here and let the customers look you over.

 

Zeus:  Come on Hermes, make your pitch.  Talk him up.

 

Hermes:  Here for sale, one top quality, Grade A, free-range, free-thinking philosopher, the most impressive one ever offered for sale at this or any other public auction!  Come on, any takers?  Who’ll start the bidding?  Doesn’t any of you people want to be more than human?  Don’t you want to know all about the harmony of the universe?  Don’t you want your soul to make that great voyage of transmigration?

 

1st Buyer:  Yeah, I guess he looks pretty good.  Is he good at anything in particular?

 

Hermes:  Arithmetic, astronomy, magic, geometry, music, sorcery; basically you’re looking at a first-class fortuneteller.

 

1st Buyer:  So can I ask him questions?

 

Hermes:  Go ahead, and good luck to you.

<3>

1st Buyer:  Where do you come from?

 

Pythagoras:  From Samos.

 

1st Buyer:  Where did you study?

 

Pythagoras:  I went to college in Egypt; but for high school I just studied with the local sages.

 

1st Buyer:  Tell me, if I buy you, what will you teach me?

 

Pythagoras:  I won’t teach you anything; I’ll remind you.

 

1st Buyer:  Remind me?  How?

 

Pythagoras:  First I’ll purify your soul by cleaning all the filth out of it.

 

1st Buyer:  All right, let’s assume I’m now purified.  What’s your system for making me remember?

 

Pythagoras:  The first stage is a long period of silent contemplation.  Not one word is to be uttered during the first five years.

 

1st Buyer:  Goodness gracious, no talking?!  Five year?!  Forget it; I don’t want to be a statue.  Well, go on; what comes next after the five years of silence?

 

Pythagoras:  Then you’ve got to become an expert in music and geometry.

 

1st Buyer:  <sarcastically> Well, isn’t that just swell!  If I want to get some of that precious wisdom of yours, I’ve got to learn first how to play me a nice tune on the pee-ano!

<4>

Pythagoras:  Then you’ve got to become an expert at counting.

 

1st Buyer:   But I already know how to count.

 

Pythagoras:  Show me how you count.

 

1st Buyer:   One, two, three, four, ...

 

Pythagoras:  See what I mean?  You think it’s four, but really it’s ten.  See?  it’s the perfect triangle.  We swear by it.

 

1st Buyer:  Well, so help me God, I swear by your Holy Foursomeness that I’ve never seen anything more spiritually enlightening in all my life.

 

Pythagoras:  Then after that you’ve got to learn about the rotations of the earth, and of air and water and fire, and also what shape each one has and how its motion got going.

 

1st Buyer:  You mean that fire and air and water have shapes?

 

Pythagoras:  Of course they do.  If they didn’t have any shape they couldn’t be in any motion.  Then next you’ve got to learn this esoteric truth: God is Number, God is Mind, God is Harmony.

 

1st Buyer:  That’s unbelievable! 

<5>

Pythagoras:  And the next thing after these subjects is that, although you think there’s one of you, there’s really two of you: the real you, and the apparent you.

 

1st Buyer:  What do you mean?  Am I not one and the same as the person who’s standing here talking to you?

 

Pythagoras:   At present, yes.  But in a previous life you appeared under a different name and in a different incarnation.  And in time to come you will undergo a fresh transmigration to a still different one. 

 

1st Buyer:  Do you mean to say that I’m, like, going to one of those divine boutiques, and I get to try on one shapely number after another?  Like, for every new outing in life a new outfit, right?  That’s far out!   <6>  OK, so what are your views on dieting?

 

Pythagoras:  Nothing which once breathed with the breath of life will I eat.  But I eat everything else, except beans.

 

1st Buyer:  Beans?  What’s wrong with beans?  Do you find them fattening?

 

Pythagoras:  It’s not that; it’s because they’re a sacred vegetable, with a magical inner nature.  In the first place, they’re pure procreation: open up any bean and you’ll see it looks just like a cute little vegetable testicle; and if you cook up a bean until it’s soft and squishy and place it outside in the rays of the moon for 28 days, it will start to ooze with blood.  But mostly it’s because you need a real hill o’ beans to get elected as an American politician.

 

1st Buyer:  Well, I’m impressed; you answered all my questions pretty well, I guess as well as any priest ever does.  Now take your clothes off, I need to check you out in your birthday suit.  Oh my word!  He’s got a golden thigh!  He’s not a man; he’s a god!  I’m buying him, for sure.  Hermes, what’s the asking price for this one?

 

Hermes:  One point five million (American of course).

 

1st Buyer:  No problem; I’ll pay it.  Do you take American Express?

 

Zeus:  Yes ma’am, we sure do.  Hermes, get the details from this lady, you know, phone number, address, and so on.

 

Hermes:  Zeus, she seems to be Italian, from Croton or Tarentum or one of those Greek cities down there.  But it’s not one buyer -- something like three hundred of them have chipped in about 5000 bucks each.  I guess they had one of those women’s networking dinners or something.

 

Zeus:  That’s fine; let them have him.  Right, let’s put the next one on the block.

<7>

Hermes:  How about that scruffy fellow over there?  You know, the one that comes from around the Black Sea?

 

Zeus:  Sure, put him up next.

 

Hermes:  Hey you!  You with the rucksack and the coat with the sleeves ripped off !  Come on over and walk around in front of the customers.  Ladies, here you are  --  here’s our next philosopher, a virile specimen, full of gumption, a free spirit, a truly splendid fellow!  What am I bid?

 

2nd buyer:  Free?  What do you mean?  Are you selling a free man?

 

Hermes:  That’s right.

 

2nd buyer:  Aren’t you afraid he might take you to court for kidnapping and unlawful confinement?  He might even take you all the way to the Supreme Court!

 

Hermes:  Oh no, he doesn’t mind being sold; he still feels completely free.

 

2nd buyer:  But what would he be good for?  Look at him; he looks like something the cat dragged in!  He’s filthy!  Maybe he might do for fetching water or digging ditches.

 

Hermes:  You bet, and not only that: you can get him to guard your house and he’ll be much more reliable than any dog.  In fact, ‘Hound-Dog’ is his nickname, since he’s one of the “Doggy-Philosophers”.

 

2nd buyer:  Where does he come from?  What does he claim he can do?

 

Hermes:  You’d better ask him that yourself.

 

2nd buyer:  I’m scared of him.  He looks moody and mean.  He might bark at me if I go near him -- or even bite me.  Look how he’s raising up his hind leg!  Notice the way he scowls!  He’s got a nasty threatening look in his eye.

 

Hermes:  Don’t be scared of him; he’s tame.  He’s even been house-trained.

<8>

2nd buyer:  Well, to start with, where are you from, my good man?

 

Diogenes:  From everywhere.

 

2nd buyer:  What do you mean?

 

Diogenes:  You see before you a citizen of the world, a true cosmopolitan.

 

2nd buyer:  So tell me, Mr. Cosmo cover boy, whisper me a secret: tell me who is it that you most admire.  Who’s your hero?

 

Diogenes:  Heracles.

 

2nd buyer:  Well, you’ve definitely got a manly club like he does!  But why don’t you wear a lion skin?

 

Diogenes:  My coat is enough of a lion skin for me.  But I’m a soldier of fortune, just like Heracles was, only the monsters that I’m fighting are pleasures.  And I’m a volunteer just like him; I haven’t been drafted.  And also I clean out the stables; my job is to scrub people’s lives clean of  all the pleasures that make them dirty.

 

2nd buyer:  Well, that’s quite a splendid job!  But what’s your specialty; what’s your particular technique?

 

Diogenes:  I liberate human beings by focussing on their passions.  In a word, I aim to be an outspoken spokesman for spoken truthfulness and truthful outspokenness.

<9>

2nd buyer:  Very well, Mr. Spokesman;  if I buy you, how will you treat me?

 

Diogenes:  The first thing I’ll do if  I take you in hand is to strip that easy Rosedale lifestyle off your back.  I’ll lock you up, with Poverty for a cell-mate, and give you basic Goodwill clothing to wear.  Then I’ll get you a job but I’ll make you work so hard and so long that you’ll collapse.  You’ll sleep on the streets and drink the leftovers of other people’s water bottles, or drink at a water fountain, if you can slip past the security guard.  You’ll eat at the food banks or else what the supermarkets and restaurants are throwing away.  If you do have any money you’ll take it and throw it off the Bloor Viaduct; and that’s doctor’s orders.  You won’t take any interest in marriage or children or home or native land; all that will be stuff and nonsense to you.  If you do have a home you’ll walk away from it and sleep in a mausoleum or an abandoned silo or storage tank.  Your knapsack will be full of dandelion greens, and books crammed to the endpapers with scrawled bits of writing.  That will be your lifestyle and you’ll say you’re happier than the King of Persia.  Whipping and torture won’t even bother you a bit.

 

2nd buyer:  Torture won’t bother me?!  I won’t feel any pain when I’m whipped?!  What do you think I am, a crab?  A tortoise?

 

Diogenes:  You’ll re-enact that line of Euripides, slightly modified.

 

2nd buyer:  What line?

 

Diogenes:  “Your mind will hurt; but your tongue will feel no pain.”  <10>  Here’s the essential point: sally forth boldly and harass everybody equally, whether king, commoner, or in between.  And don’t be a wimp about it; make them think you’re tough; that’s the key to getting their attention.  Use coarse language and a harsh tone of voice; in fact, you should try to snarl just like a dog.  Scowl with your face, and walk down the street slouching, as if you’re scowling with the rest of your body.  Behave like a savage beast, in fact, all the time.  Have no shame, and don’t bother about propriety and self-control.  Wipe that blush right off your face, for good!  Head to where the crowds are thickest, the Eaton Centre for instance, and when you get there, get lost in your own little world.  Don’t have anything to do with anybody; don’t let anybody approach you, friend or stranger, as that would compromise your sovereign hegemony.  And the things that people are ashamed to do even in private, you should do them right out in the open, where everyone can see you, or the two of you, or the three of you, or whatever.  That’s right: you should ham it up in your sex life, because you’re sure to have an audience.  And finally one day you’ll feel like some nice raw fish, but it won’t feel like being nice for you, and you’ll die.  That’s the sort of  ‘happily ever after’ I can arrange for you.

<11>

2nd buyer:  Yes, well, I don’t think I want it.  Yuck!  What a nasty unnatural way of life!

 

Diogenes:  But look here -- it’s so easy, anybody can do it, it’s just there for the taking!  You don’t need any so-called “higher” education or fancy theories; my way is a short cut to fame.  Even if you’re a total ignoramus, loser, hack, or weirdo, there’s nothing to stop you from getting famous.  All you need is a thick skin and brass balls and a good rigorous training in the fundamentals of effective harassment.

 

2nd buyer:  Yes, well, I don’t want you for that sort of thing, thank you very much.  <turning to Hermes>  He might make a gardener, perhaps, or a scarecrow, but only if you’ll let him go cheap. Two dollars, that’s my final offer.

 

Hermes:  Sold to the highest bidder!  He’s yours; take him away.  We’ll be real glad to get rid of him.  He’s just a general nuisance, hanging around like a bad smell and shouting at everybody and spitting on them with that outspoken tongue of his.

 <12>   

Zeus:  Call another one, the Cyrenaic, the one with the purple cloak and the wreath on his head.

    

Hermes:  Ladies, your attention please!  Lot number three; here’s a big-ticket item that’s going to cost you real money.  This here life is the most pleasant one, this life is what the poets call ‘thrice-blessèd’ happiness.  Who feels like being spoiled?   Who’ll buy this height of luxury?

 

3rd buyer:  You there, come over here and tell me what you actually know.  I think I’ll buy you if there’s anything you’re any use for.

 

Hermes:  Please don’t bother him, ma’am, and please don’t ask him any questions; he’s drunk, you see, and so he can’t talk a straight line.

 

3rd buyer:  Now who in her right mind would buy such a reprobate high-roller of a slave?   Look at him swaying!  He’s stoned!  <she approaches and sniffs>  And he reeks of some kind of perfume -- yuck!  I think it’s patchouli.  Look Hermes, I think you’re going to have to tell me yourself what sorts of traits he has and whether he has any principles. 

 

Hermes:   He’s easy to get along with; he’s fun to party with; he’s the perfect companion, in fact, for rich guys who want to have a real good time living it up in one of those splashy downtown bars where the babes are beautiful and can be yours just for the asking (as long as there’s room on the credit card).  Besides, he’s an excellent chef, with a good grasp of pastry, in short, un veritable Professeur des Sciences des Hautes Cuisines.  Went up to college at Athens.  Studied under Socrates himself.  Served as personal slave to various dictators in Sicily, from whom he has excellent references.  The key tenets of his philosophy: scorn everything; exploit everybody; beg, borrow, or steal pleasure at each and every possible opportunity

 

3rd buyer:  Look Hermes, you’d better try to find a different buyer, maybe one of those people over there who look like they’ve got more dollars than sense.  As for me, I just can’t afford to maintain a habit like that there slave.

 

Hermes:  Zeus, we just can’t seem to sell him.  It looks as if we’re stuck with him.

<13>

Zeus:  Then take him away and bring on the next one.  No, let’s make it those two, the laughing philosopher from Abdera and the weeping philosopher from Ephesus.  I want them sold off as a pair.

 

Hermes:  Fine.  Step over here, you two.  Ladies, pay attention please: for sale today, a pair of excellent specimens, the wisest ones we have in stock.

 

4th buyer:  My god, what a contrast!  This one looks like he can’t stop laughing, and the other one looks like he’s come from a funeral; see, his eyes are red from weeping.  Hey  you there, what’s so funny?

 

Democritus:  Nothing, except that you and everything you’re doing look ridiculous to me.

 

4th buyer:  What’s this I hear?  Are you laughing at us?  You consider our whole situation meaningless?

 

Democritus:  That’s right; it is meaningless.  There’s nothing to be taken seriously.  The whole world consists of nothing but void, atoms in motion, and infinity.

 

4th buyer:  Oh no it isn’t; the void is inside your head!  An infinite void is inside your head!  Hey you, stop laughing!  <14> <turning to Heraclitus>  I say, my dear fellow, what have you been crying about?  I think I’m much better off talking to you than to him.

 

Heraclitus:  As I see it, everything that has to do with the human condition is full of misery and tears, and none of it has any lasting value and it will all pass away.  That’s why I pity the lot of human beings and weep for them.  Perhaps what people are suffering now is not so very bad, but just wait until later, when the final conflagration and destruction of the world takes place, a sort of cosmic Holocaust.  And I’m weeping also about the fact all things are in flux, that everything is all mixed together like a tossed salad, and that all things are one and the same -- joy and sorrow, knowledge and ignorance, large and small -- whirling around, up and down, forever changing, as if we were the playthings of eternity.

 

4th buyer:  Just what is eternity exactly?

 

Heraclitus:  A child at play.  With chess pieces, making combinations, sacrificing pieces.

 

4th buyer:   What are human beings?

 

Heraclitus:  Mortal gods.

 

4th buyer:  What are gods?

 

Heraclitus:  Immortal men.

 

4th buyer:  Hey, is that some sort of riddle, or are you playing jokes on me?  None of what you say means anything to me, just like Apollo at his Delphic oracle.

 

Heraclitus:  Who cares?  You mean nothing to me.

 

4th buyer:  If that’s the case, nobody in her right mind would buy you.

 

Heraclitus:  Hear ye, hear ye!  Young and old, customers and onlookers, ladies and gentlemen:  fuck off and die!

 

4th buyer:   Oh dear me, this fellow’s suffering from some sort of mental illness.  I’m not buying either one of these two.

 

Hermes:  Zeus, I don’t think we can sell them; we’re stuck with them, too.

 

Zeus:  Put up the next one, then.

<15>

Hermes:  How’d you like that one from Athens, the one who never stops talking?

 

Zeus:  Sure, good idea.

 

Hermes:  Hey you, come over here.  For sale today, one good intelligent item.  Who wants to buy the last word in sanctimoniousness?

 

5th buyer:  Tell me, what’s your particular speciality?

 

Socrates:  I’m a pederast, a professor of the liberal arts of love.

 

5th buyer:  Then how could I buy you?  I’m looking for a tutor for that good-looking son of mine.

 

Socrates:  But who could be more educational than me for a good-looking young chap?  Actually, I’m not in love with their bodies, it’s the soul I find attractive.  You know, even when they’ve been lying under the same cloak as me, you won’t find them complaining about what I’ve done to them.

 

5th buyer:  I can’t believe what you’re saying: that, despite being a pederast, you limit your fooling around to their souls.  And that’s how you behave even when there’s nothing to stop you, and you’re both lying under the same cloak?!  Am I supposed to believe that??  I wasn’t born yesterday.

<16>

Socrates:  So help me, Dog, I swear it on the bark of the plane tree.

 

5th buyer:  By Heracles, what weird gods!

 

Socrates:  What do you mean?  Don’t you realize that Dog is a God?  Don’t you realize how much the canine god Anubis is worshipped in Egypt, as well as Sirius the dog star in the heavens, and also Cerberus down below?

<17>

5th buyer:  You’re quite right, I was entirely mistaken on this crucial point.  But tell me, what’s your way of life?

 

Socrates:  I live in a certain fictitious Republic, which has an outlandish political system, in which I pass all the laws.

 

5th buyer:  Really?  I’d like to hear one of your pronouncements.

 

Socrates:  Let me tell you the most important one, my view about women: none of them belongs to any one man, but any who wants to can enjoy the status of husband.

 

5th buyer:  What do you mean?  Have you ab0lished the laws against adultery?

 

Socrates:  I certainly have, plus pretty much all the logical hair-splitting that takes place concerning such matters.

 

5th buyer:  What’s your view on frat boys bulging with the first blush of beauty?

 

Socrates:  They should be awarded as prizes to the champions who have achieved something glorious and terrific.

<18>

5th buyer:  My word, what noble generosity!  What’s the main point of your philosophy?

 

Socrates:  The Forms, I mean the patterns of existing things; in fact, whatever you see, the earth, everything that’s on the earth, the heavens, the sea -- for each and every one of these things there subsists an invisible image outside the universe.

 

5th buyer:  Where do they subsist?

 

Socrates:  Nowhere, for if they were somewhere, they wouldn’t exist.

 

5th buyer:  I don’t see these patterns that you’re speaking of. 

 

Socrates:  Naturally, for the eye of your soul is blind.  But I see images of everything, both an invisible ‘you’ and also an invisible ‘me’, and generally two of everything.

 

5th buyer:  Well, in that case, since you’re a clever and sharp-sighted fellow, I must buy you.  <turning to Hermes> So come on, what sort of a deal can you give me for this one?

 

Hermes:  Give me twenty thousand dollars.

 

5th buyer:  I’ll buy him for the price you name; however, I’ll pay you the money later on.

<19>

Hermes:  What’s your name?

 

5th buyer:  Dion of Syracuse.

 

Hermes:  Take him away, and good luck to you.  Hey, Epicurus, it’s your turn now.  Who will buy this fellow?  He’s a student of the laughing philosopher over there, and he’s also a student of the drunkard, the one we put up for sale a little while ago.  In one respect, however, he knows more than they do, to the extent that he’s more of a heathen on matters of religion.  Furthermore, he’s pleasant and friendly with a meal.

 

6th buyer:  What’s the price?

 

Hermes: Two thousand bucks.

 

6th buyer:  Here you are.  Something just struck me; I wonder what his favourite foods are.

 

Hermes:  He eats sticky pastries and baklava, and especially figs.

 

6th buyer:  No problem, we’ll buy him boxes of Turkish figs.

<20>

Zeus:  Call the next one, the one over there with the shaved head and the frown, the one from the Stoa.

 

Hermes:  You’re right; it looks like he’s the one that all these well-heeled Establishment customers have been waiting around for.  Here for sale, Virtue itself, and the most perfect way of life.  Who wants to be the only one who knows anything?

 

7th buyer:  How can you say that?

 

Hermes:  Because this fellow is the only wise man, the only man who is a just man, courageous man, king, speaker, rich man, lawgiver, and whatever else there is.

 

7th buyer: Then he is the only cook, and by Zeus above, the only leather-tanner and the only builder and so on, right?

 

Hermes:  Yes, that’s how it seems.

<21>

7th buyer:  Come here, my good fellow, and tell me, considering that I’m going to be your owner, what sort of person you are; but first of all tell me, aren’t you chafing at being sold off to the highest bidder and being a slave?

 

Chrysippus:  Not at all; for these things are not up to us.  And the things that aren’t up to us turn out to be matters of indifference.

 

7th buyer:  I don’t understand what you actually mean by that.

 

Chrysippus:  What are you talking about?  Don’t you understand that those sorts of things are sometimes preferred and sometimes dispreferred?

 

7th buyer:  I still don’t understand.

 

Chrysippus:  Naturally, for you’re not familiar with our names for things and you don’t have a comprehensive presentation.  But a good man who has mastered the science of logic knows not only this, but he also knows what sorts of things predicaments and incidental predicaments are, and how much difference there is between them.

 

7th buyer:  In the name of all-encompassing Wisdom, I hope you won’t mind explaining to me what ‘predicaments’ and ‘incidental predicaments’ are.  Because, y’know, I dunno, I kinda like the sound of those words.

 

Chrysippus:  Not at all, I don’t mind in the least.  Assume that a man who has a crippled foot injures it on a rock; suppose he tries to refute Berkeley, but somehow he hurts himself.  We say he is ‘in a predicament’ because of his crippled foot, whereas he is ‘in an incidental predicament’ due to his injury, since it was an unexpected incident.

<22>

7th buyer:  Oh, what a razor-sharp intelligence!  And what else do you claim to specialize in?

 

Chrysippus:  By setting traps made from tough arguments, I catch hold of the legs of the people who stand up and argue against me, and I gag them and silence them and practically muzzle them.  The name of this power of mine is called “the far-famed Syllogism”.

 

7th buyer:  By Heracles, you must be talking about something invincible and mighty!

 

Chrysippus:  Have a look for yourself.  Do you have a child?

 

7th buyer:  So what if  I do?

 

Chrysippus:  Let’s suppose a crocodile found him wandering too near the river, and seized him, and then promised you to give the child back, if you told him truly, in advance, what he was intending to do with it.  What would you say he had decided to do?

 

7th buyer:  Your question is a hard one to answer: I don’t know what to say to get my child back. Come on, you answer it, by Zeus, and save the child for me; don’t let the beast there first and eat it up! 

 

Chrysippus:  Come on, get a grip on yourself!  I’ll teach you some things that are even more wonderful.

 

7th buyer:  Like what sort of thing?

 

Chrysippus:  The “Reaper”, the “Master”, and, best of all, the “Electra” and the “Hooded Man”.

 

7th buyer:  Who’s that hooded man you’re talking about, and who’s Electra?

 

Chrysippus:  The Electra is the famous one, the daughter of Agamemnon, who knew and didn’t know the same thing at the same time.  For when Orestes stood in front of her, before she recognized him, she knew Orestes to be her brother, but didn’t know that this fellow was Orestes.  As for the “Hooded Man’ hold on, you’re about to hear a very wonderful argument.  Answer me this question: do you know your own father?

 

7th buyer:  Yes.

 

Chrysippus:  All right; if I put someone with a hood on in front of you, will you know him?  What do you say?

 

7th buyer:  Obviously that I don’t know him.

<23>

Chrysippus:  And yet that fellow there under the hood is your father; so if you don’t know him, it’s plain that you don’t know your father.

 

7th buyer:  Not at all; I’d take the hood off and find out the truth.   Nevertheless, what’s the end-point of your wisdom?  What will you do when you reach the summit of virtue?

 

Chrysippus:  At that point I will devote myself to the primary natural goods, I mean wealth, health, and that sort of thing.  But before that I need to endure many preliminary labours, sharpening my eyesight on closely written books, collecting and collating crucial commentaries on key passages, puffing myself up like a balloon with solecisms and outlandish terms for things.  And, to top it all off, it’s not a fate granted to mortals to become wise and contented before taking Prozac for three years in a row.

 

7th buyer:  These things are noble and terrifically manly.  But to be a money-lending Shylock -- for I see that’s one of the things you go in for -- what shall we say about that?  That it’s what you expect of someone who has already taken the Prozac treatment, and has reached perfection in virtue?

 

Chrysippus:  Yes, in fact, money-lending is a trade appropriate only to a wise man, since it’s a special trick of his to draw inferences, and since lending money and drawing interest is similar to drawing inferences, this too, like the former, is for the good man alone.  And he draws not only simple interest, like the other money-lenders, but also compound interest, interest on interest.  Perhaps you didn’t realize that some interest is first generation interest, whereas other interest is second generation interest, the latter being the offspring of the former, as it were. And surely you know what they say about the syllogism: “If he gets the first interest, he also gets the second; but he gets the first interest; ergo he’ll get the second, too.”

<24>

7th buyer:  Then are we to say the same about the $5,000 tuition fees that you receive for your wisdom from the young ones?  Surely it’s only the wise man who receives a fee for his virtue.

 

Chrysippus:  Yes, that’s right, you’re beginning to get it!  You see, it’s not for my sake that I charge fees, but for the sake of the students themselves.  Since the world is divided into spenders and savers, I train myself to be a saver, and my students to be spenders.

 

7th buyer:  No, on the contrary, you should have made the young ones savers and got them to set up their first RRSPs, and you, you who are so rich, should have been spending some of it on them.

 

Chrysippus:  Stop joking, buster.  Watch out, or I’ll shoot you with my indemonstrable syllogism!

 

7th buyer:  Sounds terrible; what happens to the victim?

 

Chrysippus:  Perplexity, then aphasia, and then, towards the end, a paralyzed intellect. <25>  But the main thing is that I can turn you into a stone, this instant, if I wish.

 

7th buyer:  How are you going to do that?  You’re not Perseus, I don’t think, my dear fellow.

 

Chrysippus:  Here’s how.  Is a stone a body?

 

7th buyer:  Yes.

 

Chrysippus:  And is an animal a body?

 

7th buyer:  Yes.

 

Chrysippus:  And are you an animal?

 

7th buyer:  So it appears, anyway.

 

Chrysippus:  Then you’re a stone, since you’re a body.

 

7th buyer:  Heavens above!  For God’s sake, reverse the direction of the logical flow and make me a human being like I was in the first place! 

 

Chrysippus:  No problem.  Presto!  You’re going to turn back into a  human being.  Tell me, is every body an animal?

 

7th buyer:  No.

 

Chrysippus:  And now is a stone an animal?

 

7th buyer:  No.

 

Chrysippus:  But are you a body?

 

7th buyer:  Yes.

 

Chrysippus:  And are you a body that is an animal?

 

7th buyer:  Yes.

 

Chrysippus:  Then you’re not a stone, since you’re definitely an animal.

 

7th buyer:  Thanks very much for that; my legs were already starting to get cold and stiff, like Socrates on the slab.  I’m definitely buying you.  How much do I have to shell out for him?

 

Hermes:  Twelve hundred dollars.

 

7th buyer:  Here you are.

 

Hermes:  Are you the sole purchaser?

 

7th buyer:  Dear me, no; there’s also all these people you see around you.

 

Hermes:  Yes, there certainly are lots of them, a tough-knuckled crowd they seem to be, worthy companions of the Grim Reaper.

 

Zeus:  Don’t waste time; call another one, the Peripatetic.

 

Hermes:  Yoo-hoo!  Mr. Rich-and-Handsome!!  Come on now, ladies, step right up and buy this pinnacle of perfect intelligence, the one who knows absolutely everything, “il maestro di coloro che sanno.”

 

8th buyer:  What’s he like?

 

Hermes:  Fair-minded, obeys the golden mean, adaptable in his lifestyle, and the best part is that he’s double.

 

8th buyer:  What do you mean?

 

Hermes:  Viewed from the outside, he seems to be one person, but from the inside he seems to be someone else.  So if you do buy him, be sure to specify whether it’s the ‘esoteric’ Aristotle you’re looking for, or the ‘exoteric’ Aristotle.

 

8th buyer:  What does he know best?

 

Hermes:  That there are three kinds of goods: goods in the soul, goods in the body, and goods outside the self, in other words, external goods.

 

8th buyer:  He’s got a normal commonsense sort of wisdom.  How much is he?

 

Hermes:  Twenty thousand dollars.

 

8th buyer:  That’s a lot you’re asking.

 

Hermes:  No sir, it isn’t really; he himself seems to have some money, so if you ask me you should hurry up and buy him.  And again, he’s actually a bargain, he will tell you at great length, in a magnificent extempore lecture, how long a time gnats have to live, how far down under the surface of the waves the sea is illuminated by the sunlight, and exactly what sort of thing the soul of an oyster is.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 

8th buyer:  By Heracles, what exquisite learning!

 

Hermes:  Ah, but wait until you hear about other things, things that require a much keener eye, such as the secret nature of sperm, and the mysteries of conception, and the moulding of the embryo in the womb, and the fact that a human being is a creature who laughs, whereas a chicken is not a laughing creature, nor a house-building creature, nor a boat-sailing creature.

 

8th buyer:  The teaching you relay to me is of the highest significance and of the utmost utility, so I have resolved to buy him for the twenty thousand dollars you asked.

 

Hermes:  Fine.

 

Zeus:  So who’s left for us to sell?

 

Hermes:  The Sceptic is the only one left over.  Hey you, Mr. Pyrrho, old chap, come on over here and get sold, right away!  Come on, hurry up!  Oh dear, the customers are starting to leave already, and there won’t be many people left to auction off the last philosophers to.  Oh well, anyway, will anyone actually buy this one?

 

9th buyer:  I will.  But first tell me; what do you know?

 

Pyrrho:  Nothing.

 

9th buyer:  What do you mean by that?

 

Pyrrho:  Because generally speaking, the way I see it, nothing exists.

 

9th buyer:  Then aren’t we in existence?

 

Pyrrho:  I don’t even know that.

 

9th buyer:  Not even whether you are something that exists?

 

Pyrrho:  I’m far more uncertain about that.

 

9th buyer:  Oh, what a magnificent doubting Thomas!  Now come on, what would you be wanting with a pair of scales like that?

 

Pyrrho:  I weigh arguments in them, and make them balance each other; and then when I see that they are exactly alike and equal in weight, that’s when I get to relax and put my feet up and be uncertain about which one of them is truer.

 

9th buyer:  Is there something else that you would be able to do to a high standard?

 

Pyrrho:  Everything, except catch runaway slaves.

 

9th buyer:  What prevents you from doing that?

 

Pyrrho:  Because I find myself unable to comprehensively apprehend anything.

 

9th buyer:   Naturally, because you look to me like you’re a bit slow on the uptake.  But tell me, what’s the end-point of your knowledge?

 

Pyrrho:  Ignorance, and neither hearing nor seeing.

 

9th buyer:  Do you mean being blind and deaf together?

 

Pyrrho:  Yes, and also devoid of judgement, and lacking in feeling; and in general being no different from an earthworm.

 

9th buyer:   For that reason alone, I’ve just got to buy him.  How much should I say he’s worth?

 

Hermes:  One thousand dollars.

 

9th buyer:   Here you are.  So what do you say, my man?  I seem to have bought you now, haven’t I?

 

Pyrrho:  That’s not clear.

 

9th buyer:  Not at all, I have indeed bought you.  I paid cash.

 

Pyrrho:  I suspend judgement about that and I’m investigating the question further.

 

9th buyer:  Come on man, come along, right there, just behind me, just  like  my slave should.

 

Pyrrho:  Who knows if what you say is true?

 

9th buyer:  The auctioneer, the money, and the spectators here who witnessed the transaction.

 

Pyrrho:  Is there anybody here?

 

9th buyer:  Come on, I’m going to toss you into my factory and convince you, by making the worse argument the better, that you are indeed my slave.

 

Pyrrho:  You’d better reserve judgement on that one.

 

9th buyer:  Forget it, shrimp!  I’ve already declared my decision!

 

Hermes:  Stop your arguing and just go along with him!  After all, he bought you.  Ladies and gentlemen, please come back on Friday.  We’re auctioning off some more regular people, shopkeepers, labourers, and so on.  I’ve had enough of these philosophers!

 

Pyrrho:  Are you sure?