Excerpt From Apocolocyntosis In Plain and Simple English
I want to tell you about what happened in heaven on last October 13, during the New Year which marked the beginning of this lucky time. I shall do it without any bias. This is the truth. You can ask me how I know it. To start with, I can say that I have no duty to answer you. Who can force me? I know that on the same day I became free; it was the last day of life for the man who proved the old proverb: you must either be born of Pharaoh or fool. If I decide to answer you, I shall say whatever comes to mind. When has an historian ever been forced to produce witnesses to show he was telling the truth? But if you insist on proof, go and ask the man who saw Drusilla lifted up to heaven. The same man will tell you that he saw Claudius on the road, there's your proof. Whatever happens, he sees everything that goes on in heaven. He is the keeper of the Appian Way; you know that that's the road by which Tiberius and Augustus both climbed to heaven. Go and ask him, he will tell you the story if you are alone; if there are other people around he says nothing. You see, he swore to the Senate that he saw Drusilla climbing towards heaven, and all they did in return for this good news was call him a liar. Since then he has sworn an oath that he will never tell anybody again what he has seen, not even if he sees a man murdered in plain view in the market. I'm going to tell you exactly what he told me, and I wish him all the best.
Now the sun, keeping shorter hours, had taken away his light,
And the nights grew correspondingly longer:
Cynthia, victorious, now controlled a larger space,
Horrid winter drove out the riches of autumn, and took his place;
The order had gone out that Bacchus would have to grow old,
And the last few grapes were being harvested before the cold weather:
You will understand me better if I say that it was October, the 13th day of that month. I certainly don't know what the time was; you're more likely to get two philosophers to say the same thing than you are two clocks; however, it was somewhere between midday and one PM. “You lummox!" you will say. “Sunrise and sunset aren't enough for the poets to describe, now they have to go messing around with midday as well. Aren't you going to say anything about it?"
Now the sun had passed the middle of his journey;
Almost wearily he trotted onwards, closer to night than today,
Sliding down the long slope ahead of him.
Claudius began to die, but couldn't get it over with. Then Mercury, who had always been very pleased with his wit, spoke to one of the three Fates, saying, “Cruel old witch, why do you let the poor chap be tortured like this? After everything he suffered, can't he be given a rest? It is sixty-four years now since he was born, breathless. Why do you hate him and the whole empire so much? Please let the astrologers be right this one time; ever since he became emperor, not a year has passed, not even a month, without them saying he is going to die. But it's no surprise that they always got it wrong, and that nobody knows when he will die. Nobody has ever really believed he was alive. Do what has to be done: finish him off, and let a better man take his place."
Clotho replied: “I must say, I wanted to let him live for another hour or two, until he had given Roman citizenship to the half a dozen who are still left (you know that he had decided that everyone in the world should be Roman citizens, Greeks, Gauls, Spaniards, Britons and all the rest). But since you want to leave a few foreigners out to breed, and since you order me, let it be so." She opened her box and took out three spindles. One was for Augrinus, one for Baba, and one for Claudius. She said, “I will make each one of these die within a year of each other, quite close to each other; I won't let him go alone. Remember how he was used to seeing thousands of men following him, thousands in front of them, thousands crowding all round him; it wouldn't be right to suddenly leave him completely on his own. These friends will be enough for him for now."
Having said this, she twisted her thread once around his ugly spindle,
Snapping off the last piece of life of that idiotic emperor.
But Lachesis, with her hair dressed, neatly tied up,
With wreathes of laurel intertwined, and her forehead crowned with flowers,
Pulled new threads, white as snow, out of the snowy wool for me,
They changed colour under the influence of her happy touch,
They were not ordinary wool, but gold wire; the sisters gazed, amazed,
As this pretty thread of life ran down through the ages.
They spin away eternally, pulling at the happy fleeces;
What delight it gives them to handle that wonderful wool!
The work does itself: the spinners have to make no effort:
The soft silky thread drops down as the spindles go round;
Neither Tithon nor Nestor lived this long.
Phoebus is there, happy to sing a jolly song;
Sometimes he helps with the work, sometimes he sings songs of hope on his harp;
The sisters listen to the song that brightens their working day.
They praise the music of their brother, and still the spindles turn,
Until their busy hands have spun more than the life of a man.
Then Phoebus says, “Oh Fates, my sisters! I don't want you to shorten any life,
But let this one live longer than usual.
He will be like me in looks and grace, in his voice and song,
He will enforce the laws which have been neglected for so long,
He will give the tired world years of prosperity and happiness.
He'll be like the daystar which outshines all others,
Like when the stars come back, and clear Hesper shines out,
Or when the red Dawn drives away the darkness, bringing the daylight,
And the bright sun looks on the world, and begins his journey
From the gates of the morning: this is how this Caesar comes,
This is how Nero shows himself to the people of Rome,
His bright and shining face lights up the atmosphere,
Whilst his hair ripples in waves down his lovely neck."
This is what Apollo said. But Lachesis, who was always ready to
Look favourably at a handsome man, spun out great handfuls of life,
Giving Nero many years from
Her own pocket. As the Claudius, they told everybody
To give him a good sendoff,
With solemn ceremony and great joy.
At once he gave up the ghost, and that was the end of that worthless life. When he died he was listening to a band of comedians, so you can see that I have a reason to be afraid of those people. These were the last words he spoke,: he let out a great fart and cried out, “Oh dear, oh dear! I think I've soiled myself." Whether he had or not, I can't say, but it's certainly true that he always made a mess of everything.
It would be a waste of time to tell you the next thing that happened on earth, for you know it all perfectly well, and there's no chance that you will ever forget the sight of all that public rejoicing. Nobody forgets something that made him happy. I shall tell you what happened in heaven: if you want proof then please ask the person who told me. Jupiter got word that a stranger had arrived, and well built man, pretty grey; he seemed to be making some sort of threat, because he shook his head continuously; he limped with his right foot. They asked him what country he came from; his answer came in an unclear mumble: they couldn't understand a word. He wasn't Greek nor Roman, he did not come from any race they knew. On hearing this Jupiter told Hercules to go and find out what country he was from, because Hercules had travelled all over the world and so ought to have known every nation. But as soon as Hercules saw this new arrival, he was extremely shocked, even though there wasn't a monster in the world which could frighten him; when he saw this new sort of creature, with its extraordinary way of walking and a voice which didn't belong to any animal on earth–it was something you might hear coming from the monsters of the sea, hoarse and confused–he thought he had been given his thirteenth mighty task. When he looked closer, he saw that the things seem to be some sort of man. So he went up to it, and said the words which the Greeks find easiest to say:
“Who are you, and what Ray Steve come from? Who are your parents, where was your home?"
Claudius was delighted to find that there were literary men up there, and began to that they might find some space for his own works of history. So he replied to him with a similar Homeric verse, explaining that he had been Emperor:
“The winds blew me from Troy to thrace."
But the next verse was more accurate, and also Homeric:
“Once I arrived, I destroyed the city, and killed all the people."
He would have fooled poor simple Hercules, but the goddess of Malaria was with him, having left her temple and come with him: he had left all the other gods at Rome. She said, “What this fellow says is just lies. I have stayed with him all these years, and I'm telling you that he was born at Lyons. You are looking at a townsman of Marcus. As I say, he was born sixteen miles from Vienne, he was a native of France. So of course he captured Rome, as a good Frenchman ought to. I give you my word that he was born in Lyons, where Licinus was king for so long. But you must have walked more roads than any carter, you must have come across people from Lyons and know that their country is a long way from Greece." At this point Claudius flew into a rage, and spoke his anger with a growl as loud as he could manage. Nobody understood what he said; in fact, he was ordering that the lady of Fever should be taken away, and with his trembling hand (which was always steady enough to make this sign, if it can do anything else) he was signalling for her head to be chopped off. However, the others could have been his own freedmen, for all the attention they paid to him.
The Hercules said, “Just you listen to me, and stop playing the fool. You have come to a place where there is strength you don't understand. Tell the truth, quickly, or I'll beat all your little jokes out of you." Then to seem even more frightening, he struck a pose and began to speak in his most tragic style:
“Quickly tell me what place you think your birth entitles you to.
If you don't this club will smash you to the ground!
It has often killed arrogant kings!
Why do you mumble incoherent things?
What country, what people does that shaking head come from?
Tell me! When I travelled
Far away to the kingdom of the triple King,
And brought his fine cattle down to Greece
From the Hesperian Sea,
I saw a mountain looking down
Over two rivers: they were directly
Opposite the point at which the sun rose each day.
That's where the mighty torrents of the Rhône
Swept along, and the Arar meandered
Along the shallow banks.
Is that the country in which you were raised?"