How Apuleius supped with Byrrhena, and what a strange tale Bellephoron told at the table
It fortuned on a day, that Byrrhena desired me earnestly to suppe with her; and shee would in no wise take any excusation. Whereupon I went to Fotis, to aske counsell of her as of some Divine, who although she was unwilling that I should depart one foot from her company, yet at length shee gave me license to bee absent for a while, saying, Beware that you tarry not long at supper there, for there is a rabblement of common Barrettors and disturbers of the publique peace, that rove about in the streets and murther all such as they may take, neither can law nor justice redress them in any case. And they will the sooner set upon you, by reason of your comelinesse and audacity, in that you are not afeared at any time to walke in the streets.
Then I answered and sayd, Have no care of me Fotis, for I esteeme the pleasure which I have with thee, above the dainty meats that I eat abroad, and therefore I will returne againe quickly. Neverthelesse I minde not to come without company, for I have here my sword, wherby I hope to defend my selfe.
And so in this sort I went to supper, and behold I found in Byrrhena's house a great company of strangers, and the chiefe and principall of the city: the beds made of Citron and Ivory, were richly adorned and spread with cloath of gold, the Cups were garnished pretiously, and there were divers other things of sundry fashion, but of like estimation and price: here stood a glasse gorgeously wrought, there stood another of Christall finely painted. There stood a cup of glittering silver, and there stood another of shining gold, and here was another of amber artificially carved and made with pretious stones. Finally, there was all things that might be desired: the Servitors waited orderly at the table in rich apparell, the pages arrayed in silke robes, did fill great gemmes and pearles made in the forme of cups, with excellent wine. Then one brought in Candles and Torches, and when we were set down and placed in order, we began to talke, to laugh, and to be merry. And Byrrhena spake unto mee and sayd, I pray you Cousine how like you our countrey? Verily I think there is no other City which hath the like Temples, Baynes, and other commodities which we have here. Further we have abundance of household stuffe, we have pleasure, we have ease, and when the Roman merchants arrive in this City they are gently and quietly entertained, and all that dwell within this province (when they purpose to solace and repose themselves) do come to this city. Whereunto I answered, Verily (quoth I) you tell truth, for I can finde no place in all the world which I like better than this, but I greatly feare the blind inevitable trenches of witches, for they say that the dead bodies are digged out of their graves, and the bones of them that are burnt be stollen away, and the toes and fingers of such as are slaine are cut off, and afflict and torment such as live. And the old Witches as soone as they heare of the death of any person, do forthwith goe and uncover the hearse and spoyle the corpse, to work their inchantments. Then another sitting at the table spake and sayd, In faith you say true, neither yet do they spare or favor the living. For I know one not farre hence that was cruelly handled by them, who being not contented with cutting off his nose, did likewise cut off his eares, whereat all the people laughed heartily, and looked at one that sate at the boords end, who being amased at their gazing, and somewhat angry withall, would have risen from the table, had not Byrrhena spake unto him and sayd, I pray thee friend Bellerophon sit still and according to thy accustomed curtesie declare unto us the losse of thy nose and eares, to the end that my cousin Lucius may be delighted with the pleasantnes of the tale. To whom he answered, Madam in the office of your bounty shall prevaile herein, but the insolencie of some is not to be supported. This hee spake very angerly: But Byrrhena was earnest upon him, and assured him hee should have no wrong at any mans hand. Whereby he was inforced to declare the same, and so lapping up the end of the Table cloath and carpet together, hee leaned with his elbow thereon, and held out three forefingers of his right hand in manner of an orator, and sayd, When I was a young man I went unto a certaine city called Milet, to see the games and triumphs there named Olympia, and being desirous to come into this famous province, after that I had travelled over all Thessaly, I fortuned in an evil hour to come to the City Larissa, where while I went up and down to view the streets to seeke some reliefe for my poore estate (for I had spent all my money) I espied an old man standing on a stone in the middest of the market place, crying with a loud voice and saying, that if any man would watch a dead corps that night hee should be reasonably rewarded for this paines. Which when I heard, I sayd to one who passed by, What is here to doe? Do dead men use to run away in this Countrey? Then answered he, Hold your peace, for you are but a Babe and a stranger here, and not without cause you are ignorant how you are in Thessaly, where the women Witches bite off by morsels the flesh and faces of dead men, and thereby work their sorceries and inchantments. Then quoth I, In good fellowship tell me the order of this custody and how it is. Marry (quoth he) first you must watch all the night, with your eyes bent continually upon the Corps, never looking off, nor moving aside. For these Witches do turn themselves into sundry kindes of beasts, whereby they deceive the eyes of all men, sometimes they are transformed into birds, sometimes into Dogs and Mice, and sometimes into flies. Moreover they will charme the keepers of the corps asleepe, neither can it be declared what meanes and shifts these wicked women do use, to bring their purpose to passe: and the reward for such dangerous watching is no more than foure or sixe shillings. But hearken further (for I had well nigh forgotten) if the keeper of the dead body doe not render on the morning following, the corps whole and sound as he received the same, he shall be punished in this sort: That is, if the corps be diminished or spoyled in any part of his face, hands or toes, the same shall be diminished and spoyled in the keeper. Which when I heard him I tooke a good heart, and went unto the Crier and bid him cease, for I would take the matter in hand, and so I demanded what I should have. Marry (quoth he) a thousand pence, but beware I say you young man, that you do wel defend the dead corps from the wicked witches, for hee was the son of one of the chiefest of the city. Tush (sayd I) you speak you cannot tell what, behold I am a man made all of iron, and have never desire to sleepe, and am more quicke of sight than Lynx or Argus. I had scarse spoken these words, when he tooke me by the hand and brought mee to a certaine house, the gate whereof was closed fast, so that I went through the wicket, then he brought me into a chamber somewhat darke, and shewed me a Matron cloathed in mourning vesture, and weeping in lamentable wise. And he spake unto her and said, Behold here is one that will enterprise to watch the corpes of your husband this night. Which when she heard she turned her blubbered face covered with haire unto me saying, I pray you good man take good heed, and see well to your office. Have no care (quoth I) so you will give mee any thing above that which is due to be given. Wherewith shee was contented, and then she arose and brought me into a chamber whereas the corps lay covered with white sheets, and shee called seven witnesses, before whom she shewed the dead body, and every part and parcell thereof, and with weeping eyes desired them all to testifie the matter. Which done, she sayd these words of course as follow: Behold, his nose is whole, his eyes safe, his eares without scarre, his lips untouched, and his chin sound: all which was written and noted in tables, and subscribed with the hands of witnesses to confirme the same. Which done I sayd unto the matron, Madam I pray you that I may have all things here necessary. What is that? (quoth she). Marry (quoth I) a great lampe with oyle, pots of wine, and water to delay the same, and some other drinke and dainty dish that was left at supper. Then she shaked her head and sayd, Away fool as thou art, thinkest thou to play the glutton here and to looke for dainty meats where so long time hath not been seene any smoke at all? Commest thou hither to eat, where we should weepe and lament? And therewithall she turned backe, and commanded her maiden Myrrhena to deliver me a lampe with oyle, which when shee had done they closed the chamber doore and departed. Now when I was alone, I rubbed myne eyes, and armed my selfe to keep the corpes, and to the intent I would not sleepe, I began to sing, and so I passed the time until it was midnight, when as behold there crept in a Wesel into the chamber, and she came against me and put me in very great feare, insomuch that I marvelled greatly at the audacity of so little a beast. To whom I said, get thou hence thou whore and hie thee to thy fellowes, lest thou feele my fingers. Why wilt thou not goe? Then incontinently she ranne away, and when she was gon, I fell on the ground so fast asleepe, that Apollo himself could not discern which of us two was the dead corps, for I lay prostrat as one without life, and needed a keeper likewise. At length the cockes began to crow, declaring that it was day: wherewithall I awaked, and being greatly afeard ran to the dead body with the lamp in my hand, and I viewed him round about: and immediately came in the matron weeping with her Witnesses, and ran to the corps, and eftsoons kissing him, she turned his body and found no part diminished. Then she willed Philodespotus her steward to pay me my wages forthwith. Which when he had done he sayd, We thanke you gentle young man for your paines and verily for your diligence herein we will account you as one of the family. Whereunto I (being joyous of by unhoped gaine, and ratling my money in my hand) did answer, I pray you madam esteeme me as one of your servants, and if you want my service at any time, I am at your commandement. I had not fully declared these words, when as behold all the servants of the house were assembled with weapons to drive me away, one buffeted me about the face, another about the shoulders, some strook me in the sides, some kicked me, and some tare my garments, and so I was handled amongst them and driven from the house, as the proud young man Adonis who was torn by a Bore. And when I was come into the next street, I mused with my selfe, and remembred myne unwise and unadvised words which I had spoken, whereby I considered that I had deserved much more punishment, and that I was worthily beaten for my folly. And by and by the corps came forth, which because it was the body of one of the chiefe of the city, was carried in funeral pompe round about the market place, according to the right of the countrey there. And forthwith stepped out an old man weeping and lamenting, and ranne unto the Biere and embraced it, and with deepe sighes and sobs cried out in this sort, O masters, I pray you by the faith which you professe, and by the duty which you owe unto the weale publique, take pitty and mercy upon this dead corps, who is miserably murdered, and doe vengeance on this wicked and cursed woman his wife which hath committed this fact: for it is shee and no other which hath poysoned her husband my sisters sonne, to the intent to maintaine her whoredome, and to get his heritage. In this sort the old man complained before the face of all people. Then they (astonied at these sayings, and because the thing seemed to be true) cried out, Burne her, burne her, and they sought for stones to throw at her, and willed the boys in the street to doe the same. But shee weeping in lamentable wise, did swear by all the gods, that shee was not culpable of this crime. No quoth the old man, here is one sent by the providence of God to try out the matter, even Zachlas an Egypptian, who is the most principall Prophecier in all this countrey, and who was hired of me for money to reduce the soule of this man from hell, and to revive his body for the triall hereof. And therewithall he brought forth a certaine young man cloathed in linnen rayment, having on his feet a paire of pantofiles, and his crowne shaven, who kissed his hands and knees, saying, O priest have mercy, have mercy I pray thee by the Celestiall Planets, by the Powers infernall, by the vertue of the naturall elements, by the silences of the night, by the building of Swallows nigh unto the towne Copton, by the increase of the floud Nilus, by the secret mysteries of Memphis, and by the instruments and trumpets of the Isle Pharos, have mercy I say, and call to life this dead body, and make that his eyes which he closed and shut, may be open and see. Howbeit we meane not to strive against the law of death, neither intend we to deprive the earth of his right, but to the end this fact may be knowne, we crave but a small time and space of life. Whereat this Prophet was mooved, and took a certaine herb and layd it three times against the mouth of the dead, and he took another and laid upon his breast in like sort. Thus when hee had done hee turned himself into the East, and made certaine orisons unto the Sunne, which caused all the people to marvell greatly, and to looke for this strange miracle that should happen. Then I pressed in amongst them nigh unto the biere, and got upon a stone to see this mysterie, and behold incontinently the dead body began to receive spirit, his principall veines did moove, his life came again and he held up his head and spake in this sort: Why doe you call mee backe againe to this transitorie life, that have already tasted of the water of Lethe, and likewise been in the deadly den of Styx? Leave off, I pray, leave off, and let me lie in quiet rest. When these words were uttered by the dead corps, the Prophet drew nigh unto the Biere and sayd, I charge thee to tell before the face of all the people here the occasion of thy death: What, dost thou thinke that I cannot by my conjurations call up the dead, and by my puissance torment thy body? Then the corps moved his head again, and made reverence to the people and sayd, Verily I was poisoned by the meanes of my wicked wife, and so thereby yeelded my bed unto an adulterer. Whereat his wife taking present audacity, and reproving his sayings, with a cursed minde did deny it. The people were bent against her sundry wayes, some thought best that shee should be buried alive with her husband: but some said that there ought no credit to be given to the dead body. Which opinion was cleane taken away, by the words which the corps spoke againe and sayd, Behold I will give you some evident token, which never yet any other man knew, whereby you shall perceive that I declare the truth: and by and by he pointed towards me that stood on the stone, and sayd, When this the good Gard of my body watched me diligently in the night, and that the wicked Witches and enchantresses came into the chamber to spoyle mee of my limbes, and to bring such their purpose did transforme themselves into the shape of beasts: and when as they could in no wise deceive or beguile his vigilant eyes, they cast him into so dead and sound a sleepe, that by their witchcraft he seemed without spirit or life. After this they did call me by my name, and never did cease til as the cold members of my body began by little and little and little to revive. Then he being of more lively soule, howbeit buried in sleep, in that he and I were named by one name, and because he knew not that they called me, rose up first, and as one without sence or perseverance passed by the dore fast closed, unto a certain hole, whereas the Witches cut off first his nose, and then his ears, and so that was done to him which was appointed to be done to me. And that such their subtility might not be perceived, they made him a like paire of eares and nose of wax: wherfore you may see that the poore miser for lucre of a little mony sustained losse of his members. Which when he had said I was greatly astonied, and minding to prove whether his words were true or no, put my hand to my nose, and my nose fell off, and put my hand to my ears and my ears fell off. Wherat all the people wondred greatly, and laughed me to scorne: but I beeing strucken in a cold sweat, crept between their legs for shame and escaped away. So I disfigured returned home againe, and covered the losse of myne ears with my long hair, and glewed this clout to my face to hide my shame. As soon as Bellephoron had told his tale, they which sate at the table replenished with wine, laughed heartily. And while they drank one to another, Byrrhena spake to me and said, from the first foundation of this city we have a custome to celebrate the festivall day of the god Risus, and to-morrow is the feast when as I pray you to bee present, to set out the same more honourably, and I would with all my heart that you could find or devise somewhat of your selfe, that might be in honour of so great a god. To whom I answered, verily cousin I will do as you command me, and right glad would I be, if I might invent any laughing or merry matter to please of satisfy Risus withall. Then I rose from the table and took leave of Byrrhena and departed. And when I came into the first street my torch went out, that with great pain I could scarce get home, by reason it was so dark, for ear of stumbling: and when I was well nigh come unto the dore, behold I saw three men of great stature, heaving and lifting at Milos gates to get in: and when they saw me they were nothing afeard, but assaied with more force to break down the dores whereby they gave mee occasion, and not without cause, to thinke that they were strong theeves. Whereupon I by and by drew out my sword which I carried for that purpose under my cloak, and ran in amongst them, and wounded them in such sort that they fell downe dead before my face. Thus when I had slaine them all, I knocked sweating and breathing at the doore til Fotis let me in. And then full weary with the slaughter of those Theeves, like Hercules when he fought against the king Gerion, I went to my chamber and layd me down to sleep.