Stories from the Greek Comedians - Alfred J. Church

The Brothers

[From  MENANDER. Translated by  TERENCE]

[Illustration] from Stories from Greek Comedians by Alfred J. Church


The two brothers Demea and Micio were men of very different tempers. Micio was an easy-going person, self-indulgent and good-natured, living an idle life in the city; Demea was hard-working, frugal, and severe, allowing himself little pleasure, and not expecting others to take it. Demea was married, and had two sons, Ctesipho and Æschinus. Ctesipho lived at home, and was supposed to emulate the virtues of his father; Æschinus had been adopted by his uncle Micio, who treated him with the utmost indulgence. The old man's only thought was to make his nephew love and trust him. "Other young men," he would say to himself, "keep secrets from their fathers; I am sure that Æschinus will never do so, for the simple reason that I never find fault with him. My brother," he went on, "doesn't approve of this method, and accuses me of spoiling the young man. He pursues a quite different plan with Ctesipho, and, in my judgment, is far too severe. I am convinced that the obedience that is rendered for fear is worthless. Take away the restraint and the young man will show himself in his true colors."

It was not long before this theory of education was put to a severe test. Demea arrived in a high state of indignation: "You have heard this about Æschinus?" he said.

Micio.   "What has he done?"

Demea.   "What has he done? He seems to have neither shame nor fear. As for law, he supposes himself to be above it. I am not talking of any old story now, but of what he has just done."

Mi.   "What is that?"

De.   "He broke down a man's door, rushed into his house, beat the owner and his household almost to death, and carried off a woman he was in love with. Everybody is talking of it. I don't know how many mentioned it to me as I came along. How different from his brother! There is a sober, hard-working fellow. You never find him doing anything of this kind! And what I say of Æschinus, Micio, I say of you; it is you who are ruining him by your foolish indulgence."

Mi.   "I don't agree with you. There is no real harm in a young man's wildness. If you and I never indulged in such things it was because we were too poor. If you had any human feeling about you, you would let your Ctesipho have his fling now while he is young. If he puts it off till he is old, when he has buried you, it will be ten times worse."

De.   "Well, if you are not enough to drive a man mad! It is no crime forsooth for a young man to do such things!"

Mi.   "Listen to me. Don't go on hammering in the same thing over and over again. You allowed me to adopt your son. He is now my own. If he goes wrong, it is my lookout. If he is extravagant, I find the money—so long as I choose. He has broken in a door; it shall be repaired. He has torn a man's coat; it shall be mended. Thank heaven! I have the wherewithal; and at present I am content to supply it. Really, when you talk in this way, you seem to be repenting of having made him over to me."

De.   "Well, well; let him be as extravagant as he pleases; it does not matter to me. But if I ever say another word—"

Micio, to tell the truth, was somewhat uneasy at this fresh outbreak on the part of his adopted son. The young man had promised to reform, and had even expressed his intention of looking out for a wife and settling down, and this violent proceeding of his was a great disappointment. Nor, indeed, was it long before the severe Demea also began to feel uncomfortable. A rumour reached him that the model young man Ctesipho had taken part with Æschinus in his scandalous proceedings. He was thinking where he was likely to find his son when he spied Micio's favourite slave, Syrus. "Ah!" he said, "I'll find out from him. He is one of that rascally crew indeed, and if he fancies that I am looking for my son, the scoundrel will never tell me. I won't let him know what I want." Syrus was busy with some cooking, and was talking to a fellow-slave, and pretended not to see the new-comer. He was telling, with much apparent satisfaction, how Micio had taken the news of Æschinus's recent exploit. "We told the old man the whole story of what had happened. I never saw any one more delighted."

De. (aside).   "Good heavens! what a fool the man must be!"

Syrus.   "He praised his son. He thanked me for having suggested the scheme. He counted out the money on the spot,—you know we paid the dealer what the girl had cost him,—and he gave me two pounds for myself. I shall know how to spend that."

De. (aside).   "Well, that's a nice fellow to trust anything to!"

Sy.   "Oh! Demea, I did not see you. How are things going on?"

De.   "I can't sufficiently admire your way of proceeding."

Sy.   "Well, it is foolish and unreasonable, to speak the truth. Dromo, you may clean the other fish, but let the big conger play in the water a little time; when I come home I will bone him; but don't do it before."

De.   "That there should be such wickedness!"

Sy.   "I don't like it at all. Stephanio, see that this salt fish is properly soaked."

De.   "Does he really think that it will be to his credit if he ruins his son? I see a day coming when the poor wretch will be a beggar and will have to enlist."

Sy.   "O Demea, this is true wisdom in you, that you see not only what is before your eyes, but also what is coming."

De.   "Tell me; is the singing-girl in the house?"

Sy.   "Certainly."

De.   "And is going to stop there?"

Sy.   "Of course; he has married her; the more fool he!"

De.   "To think that such a thing should be possible!"

Sy.   "Well, his father is foolishly easy with him."

De.   "Oh! as for my brother, I am thoroughly ashamed and disgusted with him."

Sy.   "Ah! Demea, there is far too much difference between you. You are nothing but wisdom from top to toe; he is the most frivolous creature. You would not allow your son to do such things!"

De.   "Allow him indeed! If he had had a notion of any such thing, I should have smelt it out six months ago."

Sy.   "Oh! I know that you keep your eyes open."

De.   "There is no fear of him going wrong."

Sy.   "Yes, yes; a son always is what his father would like him to be."

De.   "What about him? Have you seen him to-day?"

Sy.   "Your son, you mean?" (Aside)  "I'll send the old fellow off into the country." (Aloud)  "I think that he had some business in the country."

De.   "You are sure?"

Sy.   "Oh, yes; I saw him go myself."

De.   "Very good; I was afraid he might be hanging about here."

Sy.   "And a pretty rage he was in!"

De.   "Why so?"

Sy.   "He had a regular quarrel with his brother, in the market-place, about the singing-girl."

De.   "You don't say so!"

Sy.   "Ah! but he had, and didn't spare him. He came in unexpectedly, just as the money was being counted out. 'O Æschinus,' he cried, 'to think that you should do such shameful things, so unworthy of our family!' "

De.   "Did he speak like that? I could cry for joy."

Sy.   "He went on: 'It is not your own money, it is your own self you are losing.' "

De.   "Bless him! He is like those who have gone before him."

Sy.   "Hem!"

De.   "Syrus, he is stocked with maxims of that kind."

Sy.   "Ah, yes; he has a teacher at home."

De.   "I do my best; I lose no chance. I accustom him to this kind of thing. I tell him to look into his neighbours' lives, as he might into a looking-glass, and to learn by others. 'Do this,' I say."

Sy.   "Excellent!"

De.   "'Avoid that.' 'This is to a man's credit; that is set down against him.' "

Sy.   "Good, good!"

De.   "Then I go on—"

Sy.   "Excuse me, but I haven't time to listen. I have got just the fish I wanted, and I must take care they are not spoilt. It is as much a crime among us to do this, as to do the things you talk of among you; and as far as I can, I instruct my fellow-slaves in this fashion: 'This is too salt,' I say; 'that is burnt; this is not quite clean; that is very good.' I advise in this way to the very best of my capacity. In a word, Demea, I tell them to look into the dishes as they would into a looking-glass, and tell them what they ought to do. These are but trifles, Demea, that we busy ourselves about; but what would you have? Can I do anything for you?"

De.   "I wish you a better mind; that's all. However, I shall go straight to the farm, as my son, on whose account I came, is there. He is my own, at all events. Let my brother look to the other."

But Demea had not yet heard all Æschinus's misdemeanours. This young man had actually broken off his engagement to a girl, poor, indeed, but of good family, in order, as it appeared, to marry this singing-woman. A friend and kinsman of her father, Hegio by name, had taken up her cause, and appealed to Demea to help him. Demea, now doubly indignant, at once set about finding his brother. This, much to his annoyance, he was unable to do. He searched for him all over the town, but to no purpose; and while he was so engaged, he happened to come across a man from the farm, and heard from him that his son had not been there. His wanderings brought him back to the point from which he had started,—his brother's house; and he had no choice but to ask the help of "that scoundrel Syrus," as he called him. "My good fellow," said he, "is my brother at home?"

Sy.   "Good fellow indeed! I am pretty nearly killed."

De.   "What is the matter?"

Sy.   "That Ctesipho of yours nearly beat me to death."

De.   "What do you say?"

Sy.   "See there, how he cut my lip!"

De.   "Why did he do it?"

Sy.   "Because I was the cause, he said, of the singing-girl having been bought."

De.   "But didn't you say that he had gone out to the farm?"

Sy.   "So he did; but he came back in a fury. He wasn't ashamed to beat an old man who handled him when he was only so big."

De.   "Excellent! excellent! Ctesipho, you take after your father."

Sy.   "Excellent, you call it! Well, he had better keep his hands off me in future."

De.   "I say that he couldn't have done better. He felt, as I do, that you were the prime mover in the whole affair. But is my brother at home?"

Sy.   "No."

De.   "I want to find out where he is."

Sy.   "I know, but I don't mean to tell you."

De.   "What is that you say?"

Sy.   "That I sha'n't tell you."

De.   "I'll break your head, if you don't."

Sy.   "Well, I don't know the man's name where he is, but I know the place."

De.   "Tell me the place, then."

Sy.   "Do you know the arcade, and the market down below?"

De.   "Of course I know it."

Sy.   "Go straight up that street. After that, there is a slope right in front of you. Go down that. On the left hand there is a chapel, and an alley close by."

De.   "In which direction?"

Sy.   "Where there is a large wild fig-tree. Do you know it?"

De.   "Yes, I know it."

Sy.   "Well, go up the alley."

De.   "But it isn't a thoroughfare."

Sy.   "True; well, we all make mistakes. Go back to the colonnade. There is a much nearer way. Do you know the house of the rich Cratinus?"

De.   "Yes."

Sy.   "When you reach that, go up the street to the left. When you come to Diana's temple, turn to the right. Before you come to the gate, there is a mill by the pond, and a workshop exactly opposite. He is there."

De.   "What is he doing?"

Sy.   "He is having some couches made."

De.   "For you to lie on and drink, I suppose."

Sy. (when Demea is out of hearing).   "Go, you old skeleton! I'll give you a nice little walk. And now, I think, I may take a little something to drink."

Syrus did take the little "something," and the consequence was that when Demea came back, fuming after his fruitless walk, for of course he did not find his brother, and even the shop was imaginary, he was not able to cope with the situation. "What annoys you?" he asked, when he saw the old man.

De.   "Oh, you scoundrel!"

Sy.   "Ah, old wisdom overflowing again!"

De.   "Oh, if you belonged to me!"

Sy.   "You would be a rich man. I should have set your affairs on a sound footing."

De.   "I would make an example of you."

Sy.   "Why, what have I done?"

De.   "Why, not to mention anything else—in all this confusion you have been drinking as if everything was all right."

At this moment one of Syrus's fellow-slaves called out to him from within, "Syrus, Ctesipho wants you!"

De. (catching the name).   "Who is talking of Ctesipho?"

Sy.   "It is nothing."

De.   "You scoundrel! is Ctesipho here?"

Sy.   "Certainly not."

De.   "Then why did I hear his name?"

Sy.   "Oh, that was quite another person, one of Micio's hangers-on. You must know him."

De.   "Well, I'll find out."

Sy. (catching hold of the old man).   "What are you about? Where are you going?"

De.   "Let me go."

Sy.   "I won't."

De.   "I'll break your head, if you don't."

So saying, he broke loose from the slave's grasp. "Ah!" said Syrus, "he will not be a welcome addition to their little party."

The fact was, that it was for Ctesipho that Æschinus had carried off the singing-girl; it was the steady Ctesipho, as his father thought him, that had made this not very reputable marriage; and now, after being put off more than once, the old man had found it out. Things, being at their darkest, now began to lighten. Æschinus was, it turned out, perfectly ready to fulfil the engagement which he was thought to have broken off; and Micio was willing to start his other nephew in life with a handsome present of money. Demea, finding that amiability and complaisance were the order of the day, determined to fashion his own behaviour accordingly, though he slyly contrived to make his good-natured brother bear the burden of the general benevolence. Syrus was to receive his liberty as an encouragement to honest servants; Hegio, who had taken up the cause of Æschinus's neglected bride, was to have his poverty relieved by the present of a little farm. Finally, the young lady's mother was to be provided for, and in view of this object, what could be a more convenient fact than that Micio was a bachelor? "Brother," said Demea, "there is your daughter-in-law's mother, a very reputable lady."

Mi.   "So I am told."

De.   "A little advanced in years, and a lone woman."

Mi. (aside).   "What is the man after?"

De.   "Don't you think that you ought to marry her?

Mi.   "I marry when I am sixty-five years old, and marry an old woman! Is that what you want?"

Æsehinus.   "Oh, do, father! In fact, I have promised you would."

Mi.   "You have promised I would! Keep your breath to cool your own porridge, my son."

De.   "Now, do it."

Æsch.   "Don't make any trouble about it."

Mi.   "Well, it is absurd; it is quite contrary to all that I have ever done and said. Still, if you are so anxious for it, I will."

Then Demea explained himself. "I wanted to show you, Micio," he said, "that all your easiness and good-nature did not come from true kindness, but from a lazy habit of giving way to others. If you, Æschinus, persist in disliking me because I do not choose to approve of everything that you do, be it good or bad, let it be so; go your way, you and your brother, waste and spoil as much as you please. But if you think that after all it would be well that, where you, in your youth and inexperience, fail to see clearly, and are ready to buy your pleasures too dearly, I should step in, advising and criticising, while not failing to give way on proper occasions, I am at your service."

"You are right," said Æschinus; "you know far better than we do what ought to be done. And how about my brother?"

"I forgive him," replied Demea. "Now that he is married, he will, I hope, behave himself respectably."