Stories from the Greek Comedians - Alfred J. Church

The Shipwreck

[From DIPHILUS. Translated by PLAUTUS.]

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


"That was a terrible storm we had last night, my man," said Dæmones to his slave Sceparnio.

"True, master," replied Sceparnio; "I never knew a worse. It has made more windows in the poor old cottage than the builder ever meant there to be."

"Yes, indeed," Dæmones went on. "And look at the roof! It has as many holes in it as a sieve."

Dæmones was a worthy Athenian who, though he had not a single vice, had contrived to ruin himself as effectually as if he had been the veriest spend-thrift in the city. Nobody was more generous, and nobody more unlucky. At last things came to such a pass that he was obliged to leave Athens, and settle down, with the few pounds that he had been able to save out of the wreck, on a little farm which a kinsman had left him near Cyrene. He was now ruefully contemplating the damage which had been done to the old farmhouse by the wind. Looking round he saw a handsomely dressed young man, who had come up unobserved. His name was Plesidippus, and he lived at Cyrene.

"Good morning, father," said the stranger respectfully.—"Father!" muttered the old man to himself. It was a common mode of address from the young to their elders, but poor Dæmones could never hear it without emotion. It reminded him of what had been a far greater trouble than the loss of his fortune. He had been robbed years before of his only child, a sweet little girl of three years or so. She had wandered out alone one morning, while her maid was busy with some work, and had never been heard of again.

"Good morning, my son," he replied, recovering himself. "What can I do for you?"

Plesidippus.   "Have you seen a slave dealer, an old rascal with curly white hair?"

Dæmones.   "Old rascals I have seen in plenty, or else I should not be here."

Ples.   "He had two girls with him, and he was going to sacrifice in the temple of Aphrodite here. It was to have been to-day, or possibly it was yesterday, though I think not."

Dæm.   "There has been no one here on that errand; I am sure. The fact is, that no one comes to sacrifice without my knowing it. They are always wanting water, or fire, or dishes, or knives, or something. My things belong much more to the goddess than to me. No, my young friend, you may be sure that no one has been here for several days past."

Ples.   "Dear me! This is a bad business."

Dæm.   "He asked you to dine with him after the sacrifice?"

Ples.   "He did."

Dæm.   "And hasn't come?"

Ples.   "Exactly; but there is more than that. He has cheated me most shamefully."

Dæm.   "Stop! I see two men over there, by the sea; possibly your friend may be one of them."

Ples.   "Where? where?"

Dæm.   "There; to the right."

Ples.   "I see; I hope it is the scoundrel."

And the young man set off, running as fast as he could. He had hardly been gone a minute, when Dæmones's slave, Sceparnio, who had been standing by, listening to the conversation, cried out, "Look, master!"

"What is it?" said Dæmones.

Sceparnio.   "The boat! the boat! to the left there."

Dæm.   "It is too far, I can't see anything."

Scep.   "There are two women in it by themselves, poor things. Good heavens! how the sea is knocking them about! Ah! they're on the rock. No; the wave carried them clear—a pilot couldn't have done it more cleverly. But what an awful sea! I have never seen anything so bad in my life. Ah!

there's one of them tossed right out of the boat! She is lost! No, she's not! she's in shallow water, and has got upon her feet. Capital! And now the other has jumped on shore; silly thing, she does not see her friend, and is going the wrong way."

Dæm.   "Well, my man, now that you have seen them safe on shore, perhaps you wouldn't mind going on with your work; you are my servant, not theirs. Come with me."

Scep.   "Very good, master, I am coming."

And the two went off to fetch what was wanted for repairing the house. While they were thus employed, one of the two shipwrecked girls came along. She was in a terrible state of distress, poor creature, for she had lost everything she had in the world except what she stood up in, and she believed that her friend had been drowned.

"Dear! dear!" she cried, wringing her hands. "Why am I so dreadfully unlucky? I am sure that I have always tried to be a good girl. I loved my dear father while I had one, and I used to go regularly to the temples; and yet, if I had been the wickedest girl in the world, I could not have been worse off. No food, no shelter, nothing left but what I have on; and my dear Ampelisca drowned! I could have borne it if she had been with me."

And she sat down and cried as if her heart would break. So overwhelmed was she with distress that she never caught sight of the cottage or the temple, but fancied that she had been thrown ashore at some uninhabited place.

Things, however, were not as bad as she feared. Ampelisca had not been drowned, and, though she had missed her friend on first getting to land, had afterwards wandered along the shore in the same direction, looking for her, and very unhappy because she could not find her.

"I am sure I don't want to live if everything is going to be wretched," she said to herself. "My darling Palæstra is lost, and there is nobody to ask whether they have seen her. I shouldn't have thought that there was such a lonely place in all the world as this seems to be."

She said this out loud, almost without knowing it, and Palæstra, who was not far off, caught the sound. "Is that some one speaking?" she said.

Ampelisca heard her, and cried, "Who's there?"

"It sounds like a woman's voice," said Palæstra.

"It must be a woman," answered the other.

"Is it you, Ampelisca?"

"Is it you, Palæstra?"

There was a sort of thicket between them, and the girls did not find it easy to get through it. At last they managed it, and rushed into each other's arms, and kissed each other.

"Now, Palæstra dear, what are we to do?" said Ampelisca. Palæstra always took the lead.

"Walk along the shore," answered Palæstra; "we must come to some place sooner or later."

Amp.   "What! with these dripping clothes?"

Pal.   "There is no help for it."

Amp.   "Stay! stay! don't you see the temple there?"

Pal.   "Where?"

Amp.   "To the right; and a very pretty temple it seems."

Pal.   "Well, if there is a temple, there must be people about. Let us go there."

So the girls went and fell on their knees in the porch, and prayed: "Dear god or goddess, whoever thou art, hear us, and help two unhappy women."

The priestess, who was sitting inside, heard them and came out.

"Good morning, mother," said the girls.

"Good morning, my children," answered the priestess. "But how is it you come in such a sorry plight? We expect our visitors to be dressed in white, and to bring offerings with them."

"Yes, dear mother; but then we have been ship-wrecked, and had nothing to bring, and nothing to wear but what you see. Do help us, pray, and give us something to eat."

"So I will, poor creatures," said the priestess, making them get up from their knees. "We are very poor here, you must know," she went on; "I serve Aphrodite, but I get nothing for it: I have to keep myself."

"What!" said Ampelisca; "is this a temple of Aphrodite?"

"Just so, and I am the priestess. But come along, and I will do the best I can for you."

Just as the three women disappeared into the temple, Plesidippus's servant, Trachalio, came running along the beach, looking for his master, who had said he should be at the temple at noon. It was now past noon, but he was not there. Some fishermen, slaves of Dæmones, were just getting their nets ready, and Trachalio spoke to them. "Have you seen my master," he asked, "a fine, bold young fellow, with a fresh-coloured face?"

"No," said one of the men, "no one of the kind."

"Well, have you seen an old wretch with a huge stomach and arched eyebrows, for all the world like a satyr, who had two rather pretty girls with him?"

"No," replied the fishermen, "we haven't seen either your good-looking young man, or your ill-looking old one."

"Well," said Trachalio to himself, "I will go and inquire at the temple."

Just at that moment Ampelisca was coming out with a water-can in her hand. She was going to fill it at the cottage.

"Good heavens!" cried Trachalio, "why, it is Ampelisca herself!"

"Why, it is Trachalio, Plesidippus's valet," said the girl, equally surprised.

"How are you getting on, my dear Ampelisca?"

Amp.   "Only poorly. But where's your master?"

Trachalio.   "What a question! Of course he is inside there."

Amp.   "Inside! I have never seen him."

Trach.   "I suppose the dinner is about ready?"

Amp.   "What dinner?"

Trach.   "Why, the sacrifice dinner, to which your master Labrax invited my master."

Amp.   "I see, I see! He has cheated the man, and he has cheated the god. There is no sacrifice, and no dinner. Just like him!"

Trach.   "Explain, explain!"

Amp.   "Listen, then. After he had made the appointment with your master to meet him here, old Labrax took Palæstra and me, and every stick of property he had, and set sail for Sicily. He was going to sell us there."

Trach.   "The scoundrel!"

Amp.   "Well, the ship was wrecked, and everything went to the bottom."

Trach.   "Good Poseidon! But what became of Labrax?"

Amp.   "He died of drinking—salt water."

Trach.   "Aha! very good. Poseidon sconced him to some purpose. But you—how did you escape?"

Amp.   "Why, we jumped into a boat when we saw that the ship was drifting on to the rocks, and after being terribly knocked about, got to land more dead than alive."

Trach.   "Just so, my dear. That's Poseidon's way. He's very particular. Give him a bad piece of goods, and he's sure to throw it up."

Amp.   "You're an impudent rascal!"

Trach.   "And so Labrax tried to carry you off. Well, it is exactly what I knew he would do. After this I'll let my hair grow, and set up for a prophet."

Amp.   "But if you knew it, my friend, why didn't you take care, your master and you, that he did not run off?"

Trach.   "But how?"

Amp.   "Ask how, and he a lover? Why, watch the girl night and day. Fine care he has taken of her, indeed!"

Trach.   "Well, well; this watching is not so easy as you think. You see, the thief knows the honest man, but the honest man doesn't know the thief. But where is Palæstra? I should like to see her."

Amp.   "You will find her in the temple. She is crying, poor thing."

Trach.   "But why?"

Amp.   "Because she has lost the casket that had her tokens in it. I mean the tokens by which her parents were to recognise her. You know she was free-born. She had put the casket into a little trunk, and now it has gone to the bottom."

Trach.   "I dare say some one has dived down and recovered it. Anyhow, I will go in and try to cheer her up."

Amp.   "Very good; and I will go and fetch the water. What a good, kind creature the priestess is! If we had been her own daughters, she could not have treated us better."

While she went on her errand, who should appear on the scene but Labrax himself. The old villain had not been drowned after all. As may be supposed, he was in a towering rage.

"Well," he said, stamping his foot on the ground, "if a man wants to be a beggar, let him venture on the sea. This is the sort of plight that he comes home in! But where is the old fool who let me in for all this? Ah! I see him."

The "old fool's" name was Charmides. He was in Labrax's employment, and it was he who had advised the voyage to Sicily.

"What are you in this deadly hurry about?" cried Charmides, who was an old man, when, with much panting and puffing, he came up with his employer.

Labrax turned upon him sharply.

"Oh, it's you, Charmides, is it? I wish you had been crucified in your dear Sicily before ever I set eyes on you."

Charmides.   "And I wish I had lodged in a jail rather than with you."

Labrax.   "What in the world possessed me to listen to you? It has ended in my losing every farthing I had."

Char.  . "No wonder: ill got, soon gone."

Labr.   "Yes; and you told me that I should make my fortune in a trice in that precious island of yours.

Char.  . "And you thought, I suppose, that you were going to swallow the place whole."

Labr.   "I tell you what, Charmides, some whale has swallowed the trunk in which I had packed all my gold and silver."

Char.  . "The very same, I fancy, Labrax, that has gobbled down my little pouch full of coin."

Labr.   "And the end of it is that I am reduced to this tunic and cloak."

Char.  . "Well, we can go into partnership, for my capital is just the same as yours."

Labr.   "If only the two girls had been saved, I should not have minded. But now—and there's Plesidippus, who paid me a deposit for Palæstra: if he catches sight of me, there will be a pretty piece of business."

The truth was that Plesidippus had caught sight of the girl as she was going back to her master's house from a music lesson, and had fallen in love with her. Somehow he contrived to get a few words with her, and finding that she was free-born, had arranged to buy her and make her his wife. Part of the purchase-money he paid down, but he had to wait till the rest was remitted to him from Athens. Meanwhile, the old villain, Labrax, had taken up the idea of making off from Cyrene and going to Sicily, where he would get a high price for his slaves, and put Plesidippus's deposit into his pocket besides. The very day the purchase was to be completed, he had set sail, having fooled the young man by making an appointment at the temple.

Labrax, of course, had no idea that what he said about the two girls being saved could possibly be true. He was sitting very disconsolately on the ground, when he overheard the slave of Dæmones talking to himself. The man had been so charmed with Ampelisca, who was a very pretty and lively girl, that he had drawn the water which she had come to fetch, and had carried it for her into the temple. What he saw there so astonished him that he could not help talking about it when he came out.

"I never saw such a thing in my life," he said. "Two girls sitting with their arms round the statue of the goddess, as if they were afraid of being dragged away."

Labrax pricked up his ears. "What do you say, young man?" he asked. "Two girls! Where?"

"In the temple, to be sure," said the man.

"Charmides," cried Labrax, "they must be mine. I will go in and see."

Just as he went in, Dæmones came out of his cottage, talking to himself.

"What fools the gods make of us. Even at night they don't let us sleep in peace. Last night I had the strangest dream. I thought I saw an ape trying to climb up to a swallow's nest. The beast could not manage it, so he came and asked me to lend him a ladder. I said 'No; I am an Athenian, and the swallows are my kinsfolk; for the first swallow was an Athenian princess. I can't have you hurt them.' The ape was furious, and threatened me with all sorts of trouble. Thereupon I got angry, caught the beast round the middle, and shut him up in a prison. Now what in the world can be the meaning of such a dream as that? But, hark! What's all this uproar in the temple?"

Almost as he spoke, the slave Trachalio rushed out of the temple door, shouting, "Help, help, everybody! Don't allow such abominable things to be done! They are carrying off some poor creatures who have taken sanctuary. Make an example of the scoundrels! Help, help!"

"What in the world is the matter with you?" said Dæmones.

Trach.   "I beseech you, old man, by your knees, whoever you are—"

Dæm.   "Never mind about my knees. Tell me what you are making all this noise about."

Trach.   "I beseech you, as you hope for a good crop of garlic—"

Dæm.   "Is the fellow mad?"

Trach.   "I beseech you, as you would have your assafœtida—"

Dæm.   "I beseech you, as you would not have a good crop of birch twigs about your legs, to tell why you are making all this uproar."

Trach.   "Well, sir, there are two poor girls in the temple here, who want your help; and the priestess, too, is being shamefully knocked about."

Dæm.   "Knocked about! The priestess! Who could have dared? Who is the man, and who are the girls?"

Trach.   "The man is a slave-dealer; the girls, both of them by rights free, had their arms round the goddess; he tried to drag them away, and when the priestess wanted to stop him he nearly strangled her."

Dæm.   "Strangle the priestess! I'll strangle him. Ho, there!"

Two stout fellows came hurrying out at the call.

"Quick!" said the old man; "quick, into the temple with you! There is a fellow there who has hold of two girls. Drag him out by the heels like a dead pig."

While this was going on the girls had wrenched themselves from the hands of the slave-dealer, and came rushing out of the temple by another door into the court outside. Dæmones had followed his men, and was inside.

"We'll kill ourselves sooner than be carried off," cried both the girls.

"Don't talk nonsense about killing yourselves," said Trachalio. "I'll see that you come to no harm. Go and sit on the altar there."

"The altar!" said Palæstra. "How will the altar help us any more than the image?"

"Never you mind; sit you down. I will take care of you."

The girls did as they were told, and began to sing:—

"Goddess, hark to our cry,

Where thou sittest on high;

From all mischief defend;

At thy altar we bend;

And excuse us, we pray,

This unseemly array;

Nor, though squalid our garb, turn away from our prayer,

'Twas Poseidon, thy uncle, that stripped us so bare."

When they had finished, Dæmones, with his men, came pushing Labrax out of the temple. "Out with you, you scoundrel!" he cried.

"You shall suffer for this," said the slave-dealer, as soon as he could get his breath.

Dæm.   "What! You threaten me?"

Labr.   "Yes, I do. Those two girls are my slaves, and I'm not going to be robbed of them for nothing."

"Slaves!" cried Trachalio, interrupting. "Your slaves! Touch one of them with your little finger and you'll see."

Labr.   "See what?"

Trach.   "Why, see that I'll beat you into a jelly."

"I'm not going to talk to this gallows'-bird of a slave," said Labrax, turning to Dæmones. "I tell you, these girls are my slaves."

"And I tell you," cried Trachalio, "that they are your betters, real Greek girls, none of your colonists. One of them, I know, was born at Athens."

"What do you say?" said Dæmones, more interested than ever, when he heard Athens mentioned.

"I say that this one here," and he pointed to Palæstra, "was born at Athens of free parents."

Dæm.   "What? A countrywoman of mine?"

Trach.   "Why, I thought you were a Cyrenean."

Dæm.   "No, no. I was born and brought up at Athens."

Trach.   "Well, then you are bound to help your countrywoman."

Dæm.   "Yes, yes. How the girl reminds me of my dear little daughter: she was three when I lost her, and site would be just of this girl's age if she were alive."

"This is all nonsense," said the slave-dealer. "I bought these girls with my own money, and I don't care a brass farthing whether they were born at Athens or at Thebes."

A long dispute followed, things being brought to a point by Labrax declaring that if he could not drag the girls from the altar, he should burn them out. This was more than Trachalio could stand. "Look after them," he said to Dæmones, "and I will run and tell my master."

"Run," replied the old man; "they shall not come to any harm."

When the slave was gone the dispute waxed fierce again, Labrax declaring that he would carry off his own property in spite of all the gods of Olympus, and Dæmones bidding him lay a finger on either of them at his peril. It ended by the old man going away, and leaving the two slaves in charge. "Stand here," he said; "if that fellow touches either of the girls, or if he offers to go away himself, then use your sticks to him. Stop till Trachalio and his master, Plesidippus, come back; then you can go home." They had not to stop long. The two came hurrying back, talking as they went. "What!" he cried; "did the scoundrel try to drag my dear Palæstra from the altar? Why did you not kill him at once?"

Trach.   "I did not happen to have a sword handy."

Ples.   "Why not with a club or a stone?"

Trach.   "They would hardly have served."

Labrax recognized his voice. "Good heavens!" he cried, "here is Plesidippus! It's all over with me!"

The next moment the young man rushed into the court.

"Good morning," said Labrax, as coolly as he could.

"Bother your good morning! You have got to have a rope round your neck and go before a magistrate."

Labr.   "But what have I done?"

Ples.   "What have you done? Why, you took a deposit for Palæstra, and then ran off with her."

Labr.   "I didn't run off. I wish I had" (aside).   "Didn't I agree to meet you here? and here I am.

Ples.   "Hold your tongue, you villain! Here you go!"

And in a trice he had a rope round the fellow's neck, and dragged him off, in spite of his protests and appeals, to which, indeed, no one, not even his friend Charmides, would listen for a moment. As soon as he was gone the two girls, and the slaves who had been set to keep guard over them, went into the cottage.

Meanwhile, one of the fishermen to whom Trachalio had spoken, Gripus by name, had drawn up something in his net that promised to be much more valuable than fish—a little travelling trunk, which was so heavy that he felt sure it must have something inside it.

"It must be gold," he said to himself, as he walked along the shore, dragging his new treasure after him by a rope. "Gripus, you have got your chance at last, and you must not lose it. First, I must buy my freedom; I shall have to be careful how I manage that. Of course the old man must know nothing about this, or else he will run up the price. Well, suppose that is done, and I am free. First, I shall buy an estate. Then I shall make a great fortune in trade. When I am rich I shall build a town all for myself. Gripus I shall call it, and be the first king myself. Yes, Gripus, a king—nothing less; but just now I wish that I had something better for breakfast than bread with a dash of salt, and a draught of master's very small beer."

He had got so far in his day-dreaming, when he heard some one calling out, "Ho! stop there!" "Stop!" he cried, "why should I stop?"

The new-corner was Trachalio, who recognized the trunk as that which Palæstra had lost.

Trach.   "I should like to help you with the rope. It's always a pleasure to help a good fellow."

Gripus.   "Do you know you are very tiresome?"

Trach.   "That may be; meanwhile you are not going away."

Grip.   "But why not?"

Trach.   "Because I am going to keep you. Now listen. I saw a man steal something. I know whom he stole it from. I go to him and say: 'Give me half and I'll say nothing about it.' Don't you think that I ought to have it?"

Grip.   "Yes, indeed; and more. If he won't pay, tell his master."

Trach.   "Very good; I quite agree. Now listen. You are the man."

Grip.   "I?"

Trach.   "Yes, you. I know the person to whom that trunk belongs. I know how it was lost."

Grip.   "Well, I know how it was found; I know to whom it belongs now. Don't think for one moment that any one will get it."

Trach.   "What! Not its owner?"

Grip.   "It has got no owner but me, for I caught it."

Trach.   "Caught it?"

Grip.   "Yes; just as I catch the fishes. When I have caught them they are mine. No one claims them. I sell them as my own in the market."

After a long argument, at the end of which they were no nearer agreeing than at the beginning, Trachalio caught hold of the other end of the rope, and there was very nearly a fight. At last the two slaves agreed to refer the matter to the arbitration of Dæmones.

Just as they reached the cottage the old man came out, and they put the case before him. When Gripus had had his say, claiming the trunk because he had fished it out of the sea, Trachalio began:—

"The trunk is not mine. I don't claim it, no; nor any part of it. But it has got in it the girl's casket—her, I mean, who I said was free-born."

"What!" cried Dæmones, "do you mean my countrywoman?"

Trach.   "The very same. She had her old toys in a casket that was in the trunk. They can be of no use to this man, and she can't find her father and mother without them."

Dæm.   "He shall give them up."

"Give them up?" said Gripus, "I shall give up nothing."

Trach.   "I want nothing but the casket and the toys."

"I dare say," Gripus replied; "but what if they are gold and silver?"

Trach.   "You shall have what they are worth by weight: gold for gold, silver for silver."

Grip.   "Let me see the gold, and you shall see the casket."

"Hold your tongue," broke in Dæmones, getting out of all patience. "And you tell me exactly what you want," he went on to Trachalio.

"Well, the case is this," said Trachalio. "These two girls are free by right; the one, Palæstra mean, was stolen when she was a little child at Athens, and the proof of it is in that trunk there."

"I understand," said Dæmones. "Now, Palæstra, tell me, is that your trunk?"

"Yes, it is," said the girl. "And there is a wooden casket in it, and in the casket the toys which I had when I was a child. I can describe them all. If I am wrong, there is nothing more to be said. If I am right, then pray let me have them back."

"So you shall," said Dæmones. "That's simple right."

"I say it's simple wrong," cried Gripus. "Suppose she's a witch, and so knows what to say? Am I to lose what I found because she's a witch?"

"It's all nonsense about witches," said Dæmones. "Open the trunk."

The trunk was opened, and a casket, which Palæstra at once recognized as hers, was found inside. Dæmones told her to turn her back and describe its contents.

"First," said the girl, "there is a little gold sword, with letters on it."

Dæm.   "What are the letters?"

Pal.   "My father's name. Next, there is a little hatchet, also of gold. That has not my father's name on it."

Dæm.   "But stay. Your father's name—what was it?"

Pal.   "Dæmones."

"Dæmones!" cried the old man, astonished. "Still, that is a common name enough. It might not be the same. What was your mother's ?"

Pal.   "Dædalis."

Dæm.   "She must be my daughter. But tell me what else there is in the casket."

Pal.   "A little sickle in silver, and two hands clasped, and a necklace which my father gave me on my birthday."

Dæm.   "Ah! so I did. I remember it, and here it is again, the very thing! It is my own child!

Kiss me, my darling! And now come and see your mother."

Dæmones and his wife had scarcely finished rejoicing over their newly-found child, when young Plesidippus came up, and told his story, and explained who he was.

"So you fell in love with our little girl," said Dæmones, "when you did not know who she was? Very good; you shall have her."

"I owe you something for what you have done," said Plesidippus to his slave, Trachalio. "I shall set you free."

"A thousand thanks, master!" said Trachalio. "But there is something else, if I may make so bold. There is Ampelisca."

"All right," said Dæmones. "I will buy her of her owner, and you shall marry her."

"And what am I to have?" said Gripus. "If I hadn't fished up the trunk, where would you all have been?"

"Of course you will be satisfied with seeing everybody happy," said his master.

Poor Gripus's face fell.

"Cheer up, my man," cried Dæmones, "you shall have your freedom, and something to start in business with."