Chapter XXVII The glory of the famous in the world
“Moreover, those who behave well here,” continued my interpreter,
“or otherwise deserve it, are honored by Dame Fortune in still another fashion, namely, by immortality.” —
“Really?” I exclaimed;
“that is indeed a glorious thing, to be made immortal. Show me how.” Thereupon, Mr. Searchall turned me around and pointed out to me a still higher place or eminence on the western side of the palace, also under the open sky and accessible by means of steps, at the foot of which was a small door, at which sat a man (called a Censor vulgi, Mr. Judgeall), who had, grotesquely enough, eyes and ears all over his body, and everyone desiring entrance to the Hall of Fame was obliged not only to report to him, but likewise to produce and deliver for his verdict all those claims by which he deemed himself worthy of immortality. If his deeds comprised anything remarkable or extraordinary, whether good or bad, he was permitted to go up; if not, he was left below. Most of those who were admitted, as I observed, were members of the governing, military, and the learned classes; while the religious, the artisan, and the domestic classes were represented by a smaller number.
Glory is granted even if unmerited
2 I was much irritated to observe that as many wicked men (such as robbers, tyrants, adulterers, murderers, and incendiaries) were granted admittance as good persons. For I felt that this could but result in the encouragement of the perverse in their vices; thus, for instance, one came requesting immortality, and when asked what deed worthy of immortal memory he had done, he answered that he had purposely destroyed the most famous object in the world he knew, a temple which had been constructed by the toil and treasure of seventeen kingdoms during a period of three hundred years. He had burned it down and had reduced it to ruins in a single day. Even the Censor was astonished at such shameful vandalism and at first refused him admittance, deeming him unworthy. But Dame Fortune came and ordered that he be admitted. This example encouraged others who came and expatiated upon the many horrible crimes which they had committed; one that he had shed so much human blood as he could; another, that he had invented a new blasphemy wherewith to revile God; another, that he had sentenced God to death; another, that he had pulled the sun from the sky and had plunged it into an abyss; another that he had organized a new band of incendiaries and murderers for the purging of the human race, and all these were forthwith admitted to the upper hall; this as I have said displeased me greatly.
Vanity of fame
3 I passed through the door after these people and beheld there another official of Dame Fortune, Fame by name, who received the would-be immortals. She consisted entirely of mouths. As the official below was full of eyes and ears, this one was entirely covered with mouths and tongues from which issued not a little noise and sound, the benefit derived therefrom by the precious candidates for immortality consisted in having their names, by means of Fame’s cries, made known far and wide. But when I investigated the matter closely, I perceived that the clamor made about each new arrival gradually subsided until it died down altogether, and somebody else’s name was taken up.
“What kind of immortality is this,” I remonstrated,
“when each man’s glory persists only momentarily in the eyes, mouths, and minds of humankind, and then ceases altogether?” —
“Nothing seems to be enough for you,” my interpreter replied,
“at least, look at these, then!”
Is it not futile to enter into history?
4 I turned around and perceived that some painters, sitting and looking at a few of these men, were painting their portraits. I inquired why they were doing so. My interpreter explained:
“This is done in order that their memory may not wane and cease as the sound of the voice does; the memory of these men will endure forever.” I looked and behold! All these people who had their portraits painted were thrown out into the abyss just like all the rest; only their portrait remained behind. Thereupon, these pictures were hoisted upon a staff, so that they could be seen by all.
“What sort of immortality is this,” I expostulated again;
“for in truth nothing but the paper and the paint bearing the name of their likeness remains, while they themselves perish as miserably as the rest! This is deceit, by God, nothing but deceit! What do I care whether somebody has daubed my likeness on a piece of paper when in the meantime who knows what has become of me? I care nothing for it!” Hearing this, my interpreter roundly scolded me for being a crack-brained idiot and insisted that a man of such generally contrary notions had no place in the world.
Much falsehood in history
5 Thereupon, I relapsed into silence. Then I espied another falsehood. The portrait of one, whom I had known in life to have been handsome and splendid, was most hideous; while another, who had been ugly, was as beautiful as the painters could make him; of some, they painted two, three, or four portraits, each different; so that I was angered partly at the carelessness and partly at the lack of fidelity of the painters. Moreover, I became aware of the futility of this. For examining these pictures, I found many of them black with age, dusty, decaying or rotting, so that very little or nothing at all could be discerned in them; there were such heaps of them that one could not be seen for another, so that they were scarcely ever examined by anyone; such, then, was glory!
Erected memorials also perish
6 Meanwhile, Dame Fortune would come and order not only old and decayed, but even new portraits to be thrown out; I realized that this precious immortality was not only of no intrinsic worth, but also depended entirely upon the senseless whim of Dame Fortune (who either admitted the portraits to her castle or ordered them thrown out); and beyond that there was nothing of which one could be certain; this made her and her gifts so much the more odious to me. For she treated all her sons, as she walked about the castle, in the same manner, augmenting or diminshing the pleasures of the voluptuaries or the wealth of the rich, but likewise suddenly taking it all away from them and turning them out of doors.
Death at last annihilates all
7 Likewise Death, which I noticed appearing at the castle and removing them one by one, although not all in the same manner, increased my terrors. The rich she brought down either by her ordinary arrows, or, kneeling, she strangled and suffocated them with their chains; the voluptuaries she dispatched by mixing poisons with their dainties; the famous she hurled down from their seats and broke their necks or dispatched them with rapiers, muskets, or daggers, almost every one of them being sent out of the world in some such violent manner.