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VULPINUS Bellerophombombardipolemopoberontarchillides? I have more use for Boreas or Aeolus, thus my shoulderblades, my loins, my whole body complains. As the saying goes, “Mars has nothing to do with Mercury.” So I’ve carefully conducted my hunting expedition elsewhere. But, alas, you dwellers of this earth! How greedily men live everywhere! I have roamed through market places, through highways and byways, begging door to door for a livelihood, and have found nothing to subdue my raging hunger. Among merchants, hawkers, craftsmen, tavern-keepers, and thieves there’s no man so debased that he does not pray that Mercury favor him in his affairs. But nowhere in the world have I found a man who would offer up to Mercury even a crumb of bread. Indeed, the utterance has been given from Phoebus’s tripod that he who has no money often goes to bed without his supper. I have an inkling what devices I must use now. I see I must learn the art of tailoring, weaving, shoemaking, or flute-playing, which will opportunely give me the wherewithal to eat. Come now, Vulpinus, fall to the work before your hands. (Enter Marcus, mincing along.) But quiet, there’s a gleam of hope. Immortal gods! Where am I? Feet, where have you brought me? I suspect I’m by the Egyptian Nile, where the eye sees nothing but monsters.
MARCUS “Letters are unlettered unless they are seasoned with salt.” Oh, that’s a golden mind’s maximum that has pants on! He put it elegantly who said “letters are unlettered unless they are seasoned with salt.” What more clear, what more capacious? What more learned, what more digested?
VULPINUS By heavens, I’ve come across a syllable-hunter. If not with food, at least he’ll stuff me full of words.
MARCUS (Falling to his knees.) Oh mindful me! Hail, Clio! Hail, Calliope! Hail, Thalia, and you likewise, Melpomone! Each and every one of you thrice three dear sisters, fair offspring of Mnemosyne, my darlings, hail!
VULPINUS No doubt he’s the dear brother of those dear sisters.
MARCUS My goodness, I’ve almost wasted my day. I regard as wasted any day I don’t greet the Muses. For I know that in accordance with I know not what destiny, it is bound to happen that on that day I am fated to meet some member of the great unwashed majority who assaults my ears with his babblings, or some man, literate but not eloquent, who sullies me with his impure speech, or at least some tongue-twisted monster striving to besmirch the Muses with his barbarism.
VULPINUS Whew, let somebody supply me with bathed and barbered words, lest this man lose both his day and his night.
MARCUS Do you applaud yourself, Marcus, since nobody in this manifold theater of affairs triumphs more blessedly than yourself. For you laugh at Jove and Plutus (that is, as I interpret it, honors and wealth), and your small fields and the slight spirit which the true destiny of the Greek Muse has granted you are like a kingdom, as is scorning the malign rabble in the manner of Horace, that choir-leader of the lyric poets.
VULPINUS Heavens, better for me to be abducted from here rather than be tortured by such rackings.
MARCUS Either I am deceived, or lately something impinged on my auditory organ. Come hither, inspectors, ascend your mountain. (He takes out his spectacles and puts them on.) What new guest has come to my domicile?
VULPINUS Nearly the greatest part of your desire.
MARCUS As the Muses love me, and I the Muses, what a fine response! Tell me who you are, friend? A Platonic gentleman? An Aristotelian? Or rather an Ovidian? That is, are you a featherless biped? A rational animal? Or a being to whom God has given a face on top of its body and commanded to behold the heaven?
VULPINUS Knotting these riddles, do you think I’m Oedipus?
MARCUS Ha, ha, ha. Your wit is suffering an eclipse. I shall speak in words that are uncommon and that smack of hoariness. Tell me, driveler, do you want to go a-begging by Atticizing, and most quickly understand the inward bowels of literature?
VULPINUS What am I hearing? Jupiter, pray let me go deaf!
MARCUS If you express your disapproval thus or stammer at being led, you are not alone. You are reeling on your feet and very much purblind.
VULPINUS Get away from me with your peddlers’ tricks and deceptions.
MARCUS But if you importune for this, I am at the ready, you will be my student […], who am able to sweep away your lazy folly.
VULPINUS Oh rotten, rusted-out words, excavated from the deepest darkness!
MARCUS Ha, ha. My mind deserts me for joy, he does understand me. Bats take no delight in sunlight, nor does he in elegant locution. I confess these are old words, indeed older than Japeth himself and Saturn, and yet they are most pure and most Latin. And I would venture to affirm that the Muses themselves, while they tarried on earth, used no other speech than this.
VULPINUS Ha, ha. This plague upon the critics is an expert on the language of the Muses!
MARCUS Oh golden antiquity. But, my man, I laud your mediocrity. Do you know who I am?
VULPINUS I recall never having met you before?
MARCUS But I shall you educate you for this reason in particular, that when you have come to know me you will beware against all rancid and inelegant discourse, which distresses me in wondrous wise.
VULPINUS What ghosts or so trouble you so that words distress you so?
MARCUS You are being foolish. These are not ghosts or goblins, but Ciceronian shades which have so cleansed my brain, and have so purified the Latin language’s blood of all thick humors, so that even one slightly tainted word gives me a fever, and any solecism would take away my life completely.
VULPINUS Well then, since you’re so easily gotten through, I’ll hold my tongue.
MARCUS Alas, oh what a barbarism, “easily gotten through.” You should call me permeable or easily penetrated. By heaven, a fever’s coming on.
VULPINUS Oh unhappy me! I’m sorry I said that, in the future I’ll act more carefully.
MARCUS Wonderful. I am the well-known famous Marcus Publius Flaccus Naso, a Cappadocian by nature, Doctor of Humane Letters by education, and schoolmaster by profession.
VULPINUS Heavens, an ancient pedigree!
MARCUS And for your benefit I’ll disclose the substance of the name. By rights I have claimed for myself Marcus from Cicero, Publius from Vergil, Flaccus from Horace, and Naso from Ovid.
VULPINUS By excellent rights.
MARCUS For as much as Cicero was preeminent for his honeyed eloquence, Maro for his sublime Muse, Horace for the music of his odes, and Ovid for that of his elegies, that I possess, stored up in the treasury of my head.
MARCUS Deservedly, therefore Cappadocia gave birth to me (not ineptly called Cappadocia from capturing endowments), where I flourished, gifted with such great endowments of intellects that I came forth a Doctor of every humane literature. And as prize for this honor at length I was elevated to the schoolmaster’s chair.
VULPINUS But the prize strikes me as unequal to the honor.
MARCUS Really? By my Polyhymnia, you err, you wander, you totter. What more royal? What worthier of a noble mind? If you consider the etymology or (to speak more neatly, together with Varro) the truth of the name, “schoolmaster” is like school mas ter, which means the same thing as “school thrice massive.”
VULPINUS Most erudite.
MARCUS For you are mistaken if you take school to signify a place for play or idle rest. But, inasmuch as this word school comes from the parent Greek σχολάζειν, i.e., to be at leisure, it has taken its origin by antiphrasis, since within it there is the least leisure. Therefore school has taken this name since there is the least play within it.
VULPINUS Acutely and subtly spoken.
MARCUS Do you know what kind of games those Olympian and Megalensian ones were, which flourished so many centuries ago?
VULPINUS I’d almost forgotten them.
MARCUS Those are the very ones I now cultivate.
VULPINUS A novel proclamation.
MARCUS Give me ears ready to drink in what I say.
VULPINUS Here are my thirsty ones.
MARCUS Excellent. Well then, the place in which the games were performed was, as Xenophon testifies, a literary cyclopaedia or Circus Maximus. In that literary amphitheater athletes, wrestlers, gladiators, rand runners were none other than philosophers keenly debating the causes of things. The gladiators were logicians, who with their syllogistic fists, as it were, used to fight for hearth and home. And the runners were rhetors coursing over the delightful fields of oratory, who with their perorations VULPINUS for a crown woven out of the flowers of rhetoric.
VULPINUS Wow, they never exercised their physical strength.
MARCUS You understand me well.
VULPINUS Ah, you are a great clown, who will believe you?
MARCUS Good gods, what a great difference between an illiterate and an intelligent man! At some time you’ve heard of Hercules, that athlete most famed for his contests?
VULPINUS I’ve heard of him.
MARCUS Regard me, I myself am him.
VULPINUS You Hercules?
MARCUS Hercules, my very own self.
VULPINUS You are Hercules, born of Jove, the first to be crowned on Olympus?
MARCUS The very one.
VULPINUS Ha, ha, ha. Behold monster-taming Hercules.
MARCUS [ Aside.] Oh the blockhead, who in explaining stories skims nothing but the surface, and will never be devoted to the inner meat and more secret senses But soon I’ll ensnare him.
VULPINUS Where’s your club, Hercules?
MARCUS My dialectic is my club, to whose redoubled blows (i.e. to my twisty little arguments) succumbs all monstrosities of inelegant speakers and incompetently-arguing sophists.
VULPINUS [Aside.] Good, that’s something, I have a foretaste of the man’s tropological intellect. [Aloud.] Where’s your lion-skin?
MARCUS My lion-skin is rhetoric, varied with the varied flowers of the orators and the Muses’ roses. Wrapped, as it were, in this, I advance, protected against the attack of individual inelegances.
VULPINUS Hang me if this Muse-murderer doesn’t smack of cleverness.
MARCUS Ha, ha, ha. He’s singing his palinode. Hey, you trifle, you trash and anything viler than these, “Therefore the prize strikes me as unequal to the honor.” I deny your consequence.
VULPINUS I yield, Apollo mine.
MARCUS Ha, ha, ha.
VULPINUS [Aside.] Now I’ll attack him, to treat him mockingly.
MARCUS Tell me, Pierian Muses, with what honor will I be endowed?
VULPINUS Naso, I worship your Muses. Here you have your most servile servant in perpetuity.
MARCUS Go catch a fever, you sacrilegious fellow.
VULPINUS Your most ready, most zealous, most slavish servant.
MARCUS I like this medicine. Tell me if you are willing to be taken on as my Hypodidascalus.
VULPINUS Among my hopes I have none greater.
MARCUS But only if first you have shown yourself to be a Mercury in your reading of histories, you understanding of philosophy, and niceness of diction.
VULPINUS Try me, I’ll gird my loins as best I can.
MARCUS Answer me. Since, by Tully’s testimony, history is the teacher of life, of all the mixed melange of histories what do you suggest to be most worthy of admiration?
VULPINUS The egregious Dominus Doctor Marcus Publius Flaccus Naso brilliantly asks what history is worthy of admiration, and I reply that the fables of Aesop can MARCUS be sufficiently admired.
VULPINUS What more admirable in nature than that brutes should talk?
MARCUS I accept this. Tell me, how many wise men were there in Greece?
VULPINUS Antiquity only produced seven, but now the present century has produced an eighth.
MARCUS Correct. It has produced me. Congratulations, you have imbibed no vulgar histories. On to philosophy. Answer me. If a vacuum were to be given us, in what part of the world would it be found, under whose government?
VULPINUS I respond that, were it to be given us, it would be found in Utopia, governed by the Rational Being.
MARCUS I’d be lying unless I said he spoke astutely and philosophically. In all the microcosm of our body, what part has nature created that is the noblest?
VULPINUS Nobody is such a night-owl that he doesn’t see that the nose far surpasses the others.
MARCUS Why so?
VULPINUS Because all the external senses thrive in it alone.
MARCUS Enumerate them.
VULPINUS First, among the philosophers it is incontrovertible that the sense of smell rejoices in the nose as in its throne.
MARCUS This I concede.
VULPINUS It has such a cardinal importance in taste that nothing is ingested into the mouth which the nose’s sense of smell has not pre-tasted.
MARCUS Continue to the ears.
VULPINUS Once upon a time the wisest men were reckoned as the snootiest, and nobody acquires wisdom except by his sense of hearing. Therefore the nose has hearing.
MARCUS Very fine. Onward.
VULPINUS It so surpasses the other senses in its sense of touch that, if ever you are wandering around in a dark place, your nose is the first to encounter an obstacle.
MARCUS Excellent. But what about finding vision in the nose?
VULPINUS This is most acute. For if you take away the nose, where will you put your spectacles?
MARCUS By Hercules, he put his finger on it. And so, that I may be able to examine your polymathic knowledge of languages, inasmuch as we hear of Mithridates, king of Bithyna, that he was fluent in twenty-two tongues, I want you to give me the same number of reasons why the nose is preeminent.
VULPINUS Well then, among the wandering Jews the nose is called rosc, among the Greeks rhis, among the Romans nasus —
MARCUSNasus or antependium.
VULPINUS Among the Italians il naso, among the Spaniards la nariz, among the French le nez, among the Turks —
MARCUS That’s enough of languages. [Aside.] Obviously this idiot is moderately learned in lesser literary matters, if I may speak in diminutives. I’ll seize hold of him. [Aloud.] Come, hypodidascalus, you will serve me and the Muses.
VULPINUS Most willingly, my Phoebus.
MARCUS Blessed are you, who have now been made a citizen of Parnassus. I give my Pegasus into your hands that you may care for him.
VULPINUS [Aside.] See, now I’ll tease him. [Aloud.] Pray tell who is this Pegasus?
MARCUS My horse, on which I ascend the Nag’s Mount.
VULPINUS Me serve as a groom and tend to horses?
MARCUS Ha, ha. But he’s a winged horse, on whom you can fly now to Parnassus, now to Aganippe, now to the Hippocrene.
VULPINUS So he has wings?
MARCUS The swiftest.
VULPINUS Either I’m not using my eyes properly, or I see our Pegasus.
MARCUS You are babbling, fool.
VULPINUS Look, he’s here.
MARCUS (While Marcus puts on his spectacles, Mercury fits his wings to his shoulders and appends his cadaceus as a tail.) Come out, my inspectors, and inquire. My darling Pegasus, where are you?
VULPINUS You yourself are Pegasus. Look at your wings. Look at your tail.
MARCUS Me? By Jupiter, you’ve greatly blessed me. Eh, he, he, he. (The actor imitates neighing.)
VULPINUS You your very self, now you’re neighing.
MARCUS I’m neighing? You should believe that Pegasus is singing a song. “I am minded to sing of altered shapes and bodies. Gods, breathe your favor on my undertaking, for you have brought about these transformations.” (He neighs, prancing around.)
VULPINUS Pegasus, why are you prating? It’s no crime not to recite verses.
MARCUS Eh, he, he. “I am he who once sang on a thin reed. A mountain-like horse, by Pallas’ art I shall build.”
VULPINUS Come now, Jupiter-born, you swift little pony of the Muses, henceforth you will eat the oaten reed upon which you have played.
MARCUS So leap aboard, and let us visit the Muses.
VULPINUS Let’s be off. (At the same time he leaps on his back and they exit.)
Go to Act III