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Translated by Charles Edwardes

      IN the year 833,265 of the reign of Jove, the College of the Muses caused certain notices to be printed and affixed in the public places of the city and suburbs of Hypernephelus. These notices contained an invitation to all the gods, great and small, and the other inhabitants of the city, who had recently or anciently originated some praiseworthy invention, to make representation thereof, either actually, or by model or description, to certain judges nominated by this College. And, regretting that its well-known poverty prevented it from displaying the liberality it would have Jiked to show, the College promised to reward the one whose invention should be judged the finest or most useful, with a crown of laurel. In addition to the prize itself, the College would give the victor permission to wear the crown, day and night, in public and private life, and both in the city and outside it; he might also be painted, sculptured, or modelled in any manner or material whatever, with the emblem of victory on his brow.

      Not a few of the gods contested the prize, simply to kill time, a thing as necessary for the citizens of Hypernephelus, as for the people of other towns. They had no wish for the crown, which was about as valuable as a cotton night-cap; and as for the glory, if even men despise it as soon as they become philosophers, it may be imagined in what esteem the phantom was held by the gods, who are so much wiser than the wisest of men, if indeed they are not the sole possessors of wisdom, as Pythagoras and Plato affirm. The prize was awarded with an unanimity hitherto unheard of in cases of reward bestowed on the most meritorious. Neither were there any unfair influences exercised, such as favouritism, underhand promises, or artifice. Three competitors were chosen: Bacchus, for the invention of wine; Minerva, for that of oil, with which the gods were daily wont to be anointed after the bath; and Vulcan, for having made a copper pot of an economical design, by which cooking could be expeditiously conducted with but little fire. It was necessary to divide the prize into three parts, so there only remained a little sprig of laurel for each of the victors. But they all three declined the prize, whether in part or the whole. Yulcan said, that since he was obliged to stand the greater part of his time at the forge fire, perspiring and considerably exerting himself, the encumbrance on nis brow would be a great annoyance to him; added to which, the laurel would run risk of being scorched or burnt, if some spark by chance were to fall on its dry leaves and set it on fire. Minerva excused herself on the ground of having to wear a helmet large enough, as Homer says, to cover the united armies of a hundred cities; consequently any increase of this weight would be very inconvenient, and out of the question. Bacchus did not wish to change his mitre and chaplet of vine leaves for the laurel, which, however, he would willingly have accepted, had he been allowed to put it up as a sign outside his tavern; but the Muses declined to grant it for that purpose. Finally, the wreath remained in the common treasury of the College.

      None of the competitors for the prize envied the three successful gods; nor did they express vexation at the award, nor dispute the verdict - with one exception, Prometheus. This god brought to the contest the clay model he had used in the formation of the first man. Attached to the model was some writing which explained the qualities and office of the human race, his invention. The chagrin displayed by Prometheus in this matter caused no little astonishment; since all the other gods, whether victors or vanquished, had regarded the whole affair as a joke. But on further inquiry it transpired that what he especially desired, was not the honour, but rather the privilege accompanying success. Some thought he meant to use the laurel as a protection for his head against storms; as it is said of Tiberius that whenever he heard thunder, he donned his crown, esteeming the laurel proof against thunderbolts. But this suggestion was negatived by the fact that the city of Hypernephelus never experienced either thunder or lightning. Others, more rationally, affirmed that Prometheus, owing to age, had begun to lose his hair, and being greatly troubled at this misadventure, as are many mortals in similar circumstances (and either not having read Synesius' eulogy on baldness, or being unconvinced by ft), wished, like Julius Csesar, to hide the nakedness of his head beneath the leafy diadem.

      But to turn to facts. One day Prometheus, talking with Momus, bitterly complained of the preference given to the wine, oil, and copper-pot, in comparison with the human race, which he said was the finest achievement of the immortals that the universe had ever seen. And not being able sufficiently to convince Momus, who gave various reasons against this assertion, they made a wager on the subject. Prometheus proposed that they should descend together to the earth, and alighting by chance in the first place they should discover inhabited by man in each of the five parts of the world, they might find out whether or not there were in all or most of these parts conclusive evidence that man is the most perfect creature of the universe. Momus accepted the wager; and having settled the amount, they began without delay to descend towards the earth. First of all they directed themselves to the New World, which, from its name, and the fact that as yet none of the immortals had set foot in it, greatly excited their curiosity. They touched ground towards the north of Popuyan, not far from the river Cauca, in a place which showed many signs of human habitation. There were traces of cultivation, level roads broken and impassable in places, trees cut and strewn about, appearances of what might be graves, and here and there human bones were scattered. But the celestials could neither hear the voice, nor see the shadow of a living man, though they listened acutely, and looked all around them. They proceeded, walking and flying, for the distance of many miles, passing mountains and rivers, and finding everywhere the same traces of human habitation, and the same solitude. "How is it these countries are now deserted," said Momus to Prometheus, "though they were evidently once inhabited?" Prometheus mentioned the inundations of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and heavy rains, which he knew were ordinary occurrences in the tropics. Indeed, as if in confirmation of his words, they could distinctly hear in the neighbouring forests the incessant patter of raindrops falling from the branches of trees agitated by the wind. But Momus was unable to understand how that locality could be affected by inundations of the sea, which was so distant as not to be visible on any side. Still less could he comprehend why the earthquakes, storms, and rains should have destroyed the human beings of the country, sparing however, the jaguars, apes, ants, eagles, parrots, and a hundred other kinds of animals and birds which surrounded them. At length, descending into an immense valley, they discovered a little cluster of houses, or wooden cabins, covered with palm leaves, and environed on all sides by a fence like a stockade. Before one of these cabins, many persons, some standing, some sitting, were gathered round an earthen pot suspended over a large fire. The two celestials, having taken human form, drew near, and Prometheus, courteously saluting them all, turned to the one who seemed to be their chief, and asked him what they were doing.

SAVAGE -- Eating, as you see.

PROMETHEUS -- What savoury food have you got?

SAVAGE -- Only a little bit of meat.

PROMETHEUS -- Of a domestic, or wild animal?

SAVAGE -- Domestic, in truth, since it is my own son.

PROMETHEUS -- What! Had you then, like Pasiphae, a calf for your son?

SAVAGE -- Not a calf, but a child like every one else.

PROMETHEUS -- Do you mean what you say? Is it your own flesh and blood that you are eating?

SAVAGE -- My own? No. But certainly that of my son. Why else did I bring him into the world, and nourish him?

PROMETHEUS -- What! To eat him?

SAVAGE -- Why not? and I will also eat his mother when she can have no more children. Momus. As one eats the hen after her eggs.

SAVAGE -- And I will likewise eat my other women, when they can no longer have children. And why also should I keep these slaves of mine alive, if it were not that from time to time they give me children to eat? But when they are old, I will eat them all one after the other, if I live (1).

PROMETHEUS -- Tell me, do these slaves belong to your tribe or to another?

SAVAGE -- Another.

PROMETHEUS -- Far from here?

SAVAGE -- A very long way. A river divides their huts from ours.

      And pointing with his finger to a hillock, he added: They used to live there, but our people have destroyed their dwellings. By this time it seemed to Prometheus that many of the savages were standing looking at him with the sort of appreciative gaze that a cat gives to a mouse. So, to avoid being eaten by his own manufactures, he rose suddenly on the wing, and Momus followed his example. And such was their fright that in setting out they unconsciously behaved as did the Harpies towards the Trojans when at meat. But the cannibals, more hungry, or less dainty, than the companions of ^Eneas, continued their horrid repast. Prometheus, very dissatisfied with the New World, turned immediately towards Asia, the older one. Having traversed almost in an instant the space which lies between the East and West Indies, they both descended near Agra, in a field where they saw a number of people. These were all gathered round a funeral pyre of wood, by which men with torches were standing, ready to set it on fire; and on a platform was a young woman very sumptuously attired, and wearing a variety of barbaric .adornments, who, dancing and shouting, displayed signs of the liveliest joy. Prometheus, seeing her, imagined that a second Lucretia or Virginia, or some imitator of the children of Erectheus, of Iphigenia, Codrus, Menecius, Curtius, or Decius, was about to sacrifice herself voluntarily on behalf of her country, in obedience to the decree of some oracle. Learning however that the woman was about to die because her husband was dead, he supposed that, like Alcestis, she wished at the cost of her own life to reanimate her husband. But, when they informed him that she was only induced to burn herself because it was customary for widows of her caste to do so, and that she had always hated her husband, that she was drunk, and that the dead man, instead of being resuscitated, was to be burnt in the same fire, he abruptly turned his back on the spectacle, and set out for Europe. On their way thither, Prometheus and his companion held the following conversation.

MOMUS -- Did you think, when at so great a hazard you stole fire from heaven to give to men, that some of them would make use of it to cook one another in pots, and others voluntarily to burn themselves?

PROMETHEUS -- No, indeed! But consider, dear Momus, that the men we have hitherto seen are barbarians; and one must not judge of human nature from barbarians, but rather from civilised people, to whom we are now going. I have a strong conviction that among these latter we shall see things, and hear words, which will astonish as much as delight you.

MOMUS -- I for my part do not see, if men are the most perfect race of the universe, why they need be civilised in order not to burn themselves, or eat their own children. Other animals are all uncivilised, and yet none of them deliberately burn themselves, except the phoenix, which is fabulous; rarely they eat their own kind; and much more rarely make food of their own offspring by any chance whatever; neither do they specially give birth to them for that purpose. I also understand that of the five divisions of the world, only the smallest possesses even incompletely the civilisation that you praise. To this may be added minute portions of other parts of the world. And you yourself will not venture to assert that the civilisation of the present day is such that the men of Paris or Philadelphia have reached the highest possible state of perfection. Yet, to enable them to attain to their present imperfect state of civilisation, how much time has had to elapse? Even as many years as the world can number from its origin to the existing age. Again, almost all the inventions which have been of greatest use or importance in the advancement of civilisation have originated rather fortuitously than rationally. Hence, human civilisation is a work of chance rather than nature, and where opportunity has been lacking, the people are still barbarians, though on the same level of age as civilised people. Consequently I make the following deductions: that man in the savage state is many degrees inferior to every other animal; that civilisation as compared with barbarism is only possessed even in the present day by a small portion of the human race; that these privileged people have only reached their existing state of culture after the lapse of many ages, and more by chance than anything else; and finally, that the present state of civilisation is imperfect. Consider, therefore, whether your opinion about the human race would not be better expressed in saying, that it is chief among races, but supreme rather in imperfection than perfection. It does not affect the case that men themselves, in talking and reasoning, continually confuse perfection and imperfection, arguing as they do from certain preconceived notions, which they take for palpable truths. It is certain that the other races of creatures were each from the very beginning in a state of perfection. And, since it is clear that man in a savage state compares unfavourably with other animals, I do not understand how beings, naturally the most imperfect among the races, as it seems men are, come to be esteemed superior to all others. Added to which, human civilisation, so difficult to acquire, and almost impossible to perfect, is not so immutable that it cannot relapse. In fact, we find it has done so several times, among people who once possessed a high degree of culture. In conclusion, I think your brother Epimetheus would have gained the prize before you, had he brought to the judges his model of the first ass, or first frog. I will, however, quite agree with you as to the perfection of man, if you on your part will admit that his excellence is of the kind attributed to the world by Plotinus. This philosopher says the world in itself is supremely perfect, but containing as it does every conceivable evil, it is in reality as bad as can be. From the same point of view, I might perhaps agree with Leibnitz, that the present world is the best of all possible worlds. There can be no doubt that Prometheus had prepared a concise and crushing reply to all this reasoning; but it is very certain he did not give it expression, for just then they found themselves over the city of London. The gods descended, and seeing a great many people rushing to the door of a private house, they mixed with the crowd, and entered the building. Within, they found a dead man, who had been shot in the breast, laid out on a bed. He had a pistol clenched in his right hand, and by his side lay two children, also dead. There were several people of the house in the room, who were being questioned by magistrates, while an official wrote down their replies.

PROMETHEUS -- Who are these unfortunate beings?

SERVANT -- My master and his children.

PROMETHEUS -- Who has killed them?

SERVANT -- My master himself.

PROMETHEUS -- What! Do you mean to say he killed his children and himself?


PROMETHEUS -- Alas! Why did he do that? Surely some great misfortune must have befallen him.

SERVANT -- None that I know of.

PROMETHEUS -- Perhaps he was poor, or despised by every one, unfortunate in love, or in disgrace at court.

SERVANT -- On the contrary, he was very rich, and I believe universally esteemed. He cared nothing about love, and was in high favour at court.

PROMETHEUS -- Then why has he done this thing?

SERVANT -- He was weary of life, - so he says in the writing he has left.

PROMETHEUS -- What are these judges doing?

SERVANT -- Taking evidence as to whether my master was out of his mind or not. Unless he is proved to have been insane, his goods fall to the crown by law; and really there is nothing to prevent their so doing.

PROMETHEUS -- But had he no friend or relative to whom he could entrust his children instead of killing them?

SERVANT -- Yes, he had; and especially one friend, to whom he has commended his dog (2).

      Momus was about to congratulate Prometheus on the good effects of civilisation, and the happiness that seemed to be inseparable from human life. He wished also to remind him that no animal except man voluntarily killed itself, or was impelled by feelings of despair to take the life of its own offspring. But Prometheus anticipated him, and paid the bet at once, without visiting the two remaining parts of the world.


(1) See Robertson's Hist. of America, Book VI.

(2) A fact.

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