Chapter XI The pilgrim came among the philosophers
Then my interpreter addressed me:
“Now I shall lead you among the philosophers whose task it is to discover the means of correcting all human deficiencies and to show the essence of true wisdom.” —
“God grant that I shall at last learn something certain,” said I.
“Of course you will,” he replied;
“for these are men who know the truth of everything, without whose knowledge neither heaven manifests itself nor does the abyss hide anything; they guide human life nobly to virtue, enlighten communities and countries, and have God for their friend; for their wisdom penetrates His secrets.” —
“Let us hurry, please,” I urged;
“let us go among them as quickly as possible.” But when he brought me among these men, and I saw a crowd of these oldsters with their strange antics, I stood as if petrified. For there Bion sat still, Anacharsis strolled about, Thales flew, Hesiod plowed, Plato chased ideas in the air, Homer sand, Aristotle disputed, Pythagoras kept still, Epimenides slept, Archimedes tried to push the earth away, Solon was composing laws and Galen prescriptions, Euclid was measuring the hall, Cleobulus was peering into the future, Periander was defining duties, Pittacus was waging war, Bias was begging, Epictetus was serving, Seneca, sitting among tons of gold, was extolling poverty, Socrates was confiding to everybody that he knew nothing, Xenophon, on the contrary, was promising to teach everything to everybody, Diogenes, peering out of his barrel, was deriding all passersby, Timon was cursing all, Democritus was laughig at it all, Heraclitus, on the contrary, was weeping, Zeno was fasting, Epicurus was feasting, while Anaxarchus was holding forth that all these things were only apparent, not real. Moreover, there was a flock of smaller philosophical fry, each of whom was doing something extraordinary; but I neither remember nor care to recount it +29all. Observing it all, I said:
“Are these, then, the wise men, the light of the world? Alas! Alas! I had hoped for better things! For these act like peasants in a tavern: they all howl, and each to a different tune.” —
“You are a dunce,” my interpreter retorted,
“you dod not understand such mysteries.” Hearing that there were mysteries, I began to scrutinize the crowd meticulously, while my interpreter began to explain them to me. Straightway a man (called Paul of Tarsus) in a philosopher’s garb, approached me and whispered into my ear:
“If any man among you thinks he is wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise. For the wisdom of the world is but foolishness with God. For it is written: The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise that they are +30futile.” Perceiving that what my eyes have seen and my ears have heard agreed with this speech, I willingly acquiesced and said:
“Let us go elsewhere.” My interpreter scolded me for being such a fool, saying that when I might learn something among the wise, I ran away from them. But I pressed on in silence.
He came among the grammarians
2 We then entered a lecture room full of young and old, who, with pointers in their hands, were engaged in drawing letters, dashes, and +31dots; whenever any of them wrote or pronounced his formula differently from the rest, they either ridiculed or scolded him. Moreover, they hung some words on the wall and disputed as to what belonged to which; then they composed, separated, or transposed them variously. I looked at this for a while, but seeing nothing in it, I said:
“These are but childish trivialities. Let us go elsewhere.”
Among the rhetoricians
3 Thereupon we entered another hall where many were gathered with brushes in their hands, discussing how words, either written or escaping from the mouth into the air, could be painted green, red, black, white, or any other color +32desired. I inquired what the purpose of this procedure.
“This is done in order that the hearers' brain may be colored in different ways,” my interpreter replied.
“Are these disguises intended to bring out truth or falsehood?” I continued.
“Either one,” he answered.
“Then there is as much fraud and falsehood as truth and benefit in it,” I remarked, and went out.
Among the poets
4 We then entered another place; and behold! a crowd of spry-looking adolescents weighing syllables in scales and arranging them in [metrical] feet, meanwhile rejoicing over their work and skipping +33about. I was amazed and inquired what it all meant.
“Of all literary arts,” my interpreter explained,
“this one is the most skillful and gay.” —
“But what is it?” I inquired.
“Whatever cannot be managed by simple coloring of the words,” he answered,
“is accomplished by this folding process.” Noticing that those who were learning this art of word-folding consulted certain books, I also glanced into them and read their titles: De Culice, De Passere, De Lesbia, De Priapo, De arte amandi, Metamorphoses, Encomia, Satirae, or in a word, farces, poems, comedies, and all kinds of other +34frivolities. This made me somehow loathe the whole +35thing. Especially when I perceived that whenever anyone flattered those syllable-mongers, they expended all their art on his adulation; but whenever anyone displeased them, they showered him with sarcasms. Thus the art was used for nothing but flattery or defamation. Discerning what passionate folk they were, I gladly hurried away from them.
Among the dialecticians
5 Entering another building, we found that lenses for glasses were ground and sold +36there. I inquired what they were. Notiones secundae, they told me. Whoever possessed them could see not only the exterior of things, but to their very core; especially could one look into another’s brain, and scrutinize his mind. Many people came to buy these glasses, and the masters taught them how to put them on and, if need be, to readjust them. There were special master glass-grinders who had their workshops in obscure nooks; but they did not make the glasses identical. One made them lage, another small; one round, another polygonal. Each praised his own wares and tried to attract buyers, while among themselves they quarreled perpetually and heckled each other. Some buyers purchased glasses from each of the makers, and put them all on; others selected and used only one pair. Thereupon some complained that even so they could not penetrate as deeply as they had been told, while others claimed that they could, and pointed to each other beyond the mind and all reason. But I noticed that not a few of these latter, venturing to step out, stumbled over boulders and stumps and fell into ditches, of which, as I had remarked before, the place was full.
“How does it happen,” I asked,
“that although everything may be seen through the glasses, these people do not avoid the obstacles?” I was told that it was not the fault of the glasses, but of the people who did not know who to use them. The masters added, moreover, that it was not sufficient to possess the glasses of dialectic, but that the eyes must be cleared with the bright eye-salve of physics and mathematics. Therefore, they advised the buyers to repair to the other halls and to have their eyesight improved. Accordingly, they went, one here, another there. Thereupon, I said to my guides:
“Let us follow as well.” We did not go, however, until at the prompting of Mr. Searchall I had procured and put on several pairs of these glasses. It is true that I seemed able to discern somewhat more than before, and that a particular thing could be seen from several points of view. But still I insisted that we proceed to the place where I could try the eye-salve of which they had spoken.
Among the natural scientists
6 So we went, and they led me to a certain square in the center of which I saw a large, wide-spreading tree bearing diversely-shaped leaves and various fruit (all in hard shells); they called it Nature. A large number of philosophers had gathered around, examining it and explaining to each other what the name of each branch, leaf, or fruit was.
“These, I hear, are learning the names of these things,” I said,
“but I do not perceive that they apprehend their real being.” —
“Not every one is able to do that,” my interpreter anwered;
“nevertheless, watch these men here.” I saw some of them break off the branches and open the leaves and the shell, and finding the nut, cracking it with such a force that they well-nigh broke their teeth: but they claimed to have broken the shells; then picking over the crushed mass, they boasted to have discovered the kernel, and surreptitiously showed it to a select few among the company. But when I diligently scrutinized the procedure, I perceived plainly that although they had indeed broken the outer husk and the integuement, the inner hard shell, containing the kernel, remained whole. Being thus aware of their immodest boasts and futile toil (for some of them had lost their sight and broken their teeth) I suggested that we go elsewhere.
Among the metaphysicians
7 Thereupon, we entered another hall; and lo! it was full of philosophical gentlemen who were examining cows, asses, wolves, serpents, and various other beasts, birds, reptiles, as well as wood, stone, water, fire, clouds, stars, planets, and indeed even the angels; thereupon, they held disputations among themselves as to how each creature could be deprived of its distinctive characteristics so that all might become +37alike. They first divested them of their form, then of their substance, and finally of all their
“accidents”, until nothing but the
“being” remained. Then they quarreled whether all these things were one and the same; or whether they were all good; or whether they really were what they appeared to be; and about many other similar questions. Some of those observing them expressed their amazement at the surpassing keenness of the human wit that was able to fathom the essence of all things and to divest all corporeal beings of their corporeality; indeed, I myself began to be fascinated by these subtleties. Just then, however, a man stepped out, crying that all these studies were but fantasies, and exhorted all to abandon +38them. Thereupon, some were indeed drawn after him. But others rose up and condemned them as heretics, accusing them of wishing to deprive philosophy of its highest art and, as it were, of decapitating knowledge. Having listened sufficiently to these wranglings, I went away.