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I'll tell you why.
I'll tell you what for. Persians, Paphlagons,
Why, simply, if they were
Credo herile te esse ab illo, ita nugas blatis. The identification of the servant by his master's livery of lies is one of those Shakspearian touches that makes Plautus so delightful. Overcome by this twofold evidence, the letter and the lies, the trapezite surrenders. When the Simon Pure appears to demand his money, the coolness of the banker in the face of the storming soldier shows a conscience void of all responsibility. His vouchers are all right — the seal and the stories. And for aught we can see, the comic poet keeps much more closely to the ancient law than the ingenious Mr. Charles Reade to the modern. In such a case the trapezite was doubtless clear. But when the party to whose credit money was deposited was personally unknown to the trapezite, it was customary to enter a memorandum indicating the persons who were to assure the bank of the identity of the claimant when he should present himself. But the banking business had its drawbacks then as now.
Runs on banks seem to have been even more frequent, and Athens was not a stranger to the urgent borrowing of Wall street.
However, it is high time to get to our title. Our representative banker is Pasion. This Pasion was the Torlonia, the Baring, the Rothschild of Athens. The student of the orators soon becomes familiar with his name. In his time he played many parts. In his younger days he figures as a rascal; as he grows older he becomes more and more respectable, until at last no name stood higher on the Attic 'Change than that of Pasion; and when he died he bequeathed sundry fat lawsuits to the advocates of Athens. For the early part of his career we must consult Isocrates.
Nestor and Isocrates are a couple of associated bores associated by age and eloquence. I don't like honey, and hence by reason of Homer's compliment to Nestor's more than honeyed tongue, if I am ever tempted to skip in Homer, I am tempted to skip Nestor's speeches. I don't like Isocrates overmuch, and partly because of
Milton's compliment to him. In a weak moment the republican poet called the republican orator that "old man eloquent," and gave all English scribblers an immortal phrase. Would that our "old men eloquent” could, like him, be killed “ with report.” But if the reports of their speeches cannot kill our “old men eloquent,” no report ever
Of course there is no withholding from Isocrates the highest praise for clearness, smoothness, elegance of diction, elevation of style, correctness of sentiment, dignity of deportment, and all the other charms which commended him to the editorial mercies of the late Prof. Felton. But he is a bore for all that.
Fortunately our present line of studies does not take us through his sermons to Demonicus and Nicocles, for the genuineness of which I am ready to vouch, on the principles of internal evidence as just laid down by Sir Maccus Plautus. "I know they are by him, they are such awful bores.". His deliverances on political subjects must have been amusing to that crafty old sinner, Philip of Macedon, but we can hardly fancy his taking the time to peruse the superelegant lucubrations of a gentleman who dreaded the sound of his own feeble voice. But all these concern us not, and our interest concentrates on one of the minor speeches -- the Trapeziticus. Isocrates does not tell a story as well as Lysias, who indeed is unequalled in rapid dramatic narrative; but he is clear, and here and there vivid. We will tell the tale after him in our own way — somehow the dramatis persona of Hamlet have entangled themselves with the characters of the Trapeziticus, and if the result is a little discordant it simply cannot be helped.
The Hon. Polonius Sopaeus, High Functionary at the court of Bugaboo Satyrus, King of Bosphorus, the Denmark of those days, had a son, whom we will call Laertes, for want of any other name. Him the old fox sent on his travels with two ships, combining, in the canny Greek fashion, merchandise and sight-seeing. The young man took
up his abode in the great university town of Athens, the Wittenberg of the period; and for aught we know to the contrary, attended the lectures of Prof. Socrates Sophroniski, whom we judge by his name to have been a learned Pole, undoubtedly the most popular itinerant lecturer of the day. S. Sophroniski himself had been a curbstone broker, unless he be sadly belied, and might claim a notice on that score ; but many years separated the “lame duck" of the Attic 'Change from the philosophic swan of the Phaedo, and even if Laertes knew Professor Socrates, it must have been in a social way. Even if he knew him? Why, he must have known him. No ancient Callirrhoë, no modern town-pump better known or more effusive than Socrates the son of Sophroniscus and Phaenarete. Our speech must be referred to the last stadium of the Peloponnesian war; and what dweller, nay, what sojourner at Athens did not know Socrates then? And what is more, Menexenus, after whom Socrates called his baby, was the particular friend of this Bosphorescent blood.
At Athens Laertes was introduced to the banker Pasion, then a rising man, and kept his account with him. After a time Polonius Sopaeus sell into disgrace with his master. It was rumored that he was aspiring to the throne, and that Laertes, his son, was too intimate with the exiles from Bosphorus. The father was arrested, the son
was ordered to give up his money and return home ; if he refused, the extradition of him was to be demanded of the Athenians. In these straits he unbosomed himself to Pasion ; for as the modern gentleman has no secrets from his doctor, so the ancient gentleman seems to have had no secrets from his banker, and the great general Timotheus was not above borrowing bedding and plate from this same Pasion for unexpected company. So Laertes stated the case with charming frankness. “If I give up everything, and anything should happen to the old man, I run the risk of losing all that I have on both sides of the water; if I don't turn it over, I get both my father and myself into ill odor with Satyrus.” So the two concocted the fol. lowing precious plan: Laertes was to give up everything except what he had in Pasion's hands; and to cover up his tracks more effectually, he was to assert that so far from having money in Pasion's bank he owed a considerable sum to Pasion and other bankers, due of course to unlucky speculations in Eirene stock. The commissioners from Satyrus, nothing doubting, accepted the statement, and Laertes could now venture to go to Byzantium and feel his way homeward. . But to this end he wanted his money. Unfortunately the opportunity was too tempting for Pasion's honesty; "the deposit was worth the shamelessness," or as we should say, " the gold was cheap at the brass," and the banker had his young Bosphorescence on the hip. If he attempted to stay in Athens, the Athenians would give him up; if he went home, his father and himself would both be extinguished by the puissant and iracund Satyrus; if he went anywhere else, the banker cared not a fico for his talk. Of course all due con ventionalities were kept up, and to Laertes the banker pretended that he was hard pressed and could not pay conveniently; but to Laertes's friends, whom the unfortunate young man sent to find out how the land lay, he used great plainness of speech, and said that he did not have a copper of Laertes's money. The only course for Laertes to pursue was to pursue none.
Meantime good news came. Satyrus had repented him of his suspicions, Polonius Sopaeus had been restored to favor, and Laertes's sister, whose name was doubtless Ophelia, a very pretty Greek name, was to marry Leucon, better known as Hamlet.
When Pasion found this out, afraid of exposure, he spirited away his servant, who seems to have acted as teller, for fear he might act as teller again ; and then invented the plausible story that Laertes and his friend Menexenus had bribed the servant into letting them have six talents of his master's money, had smuggled him off, brought this counter-charge and demanded the testimony of the very man whom they themselves had got out of the way. The dodge was completely successful, and Laertes was forced to furnish security for the six talents with which Pasion had charged him.
There was no hope for Laertes except in producing the missing slave. The Greeks attached an unreasonable importance to the testimony of slaves under torture, and rated it above the evidence of freemen. The withholding of slaves from torture was tantamount to confession, and no trick more common than eliminating an inconvenient witness of the sort. So Laertes and his friends, in the absence of a detective police, went to look for the slave themselves. While Laertes was ransacking the Peloponnesus, the servant turned up at Athens, and Menexenus demanded that he should be put to the actual question. Pasion declared that his servant was no slave but a freeman, and could not be tortured, and so got him out of the judge's hands.
But it seems that the scandal was damaging to Pasion's business, as it well might be, and he offered to give up the servant to the inquisitors. The parties met at the Hephaesteum - let us call it the engine-house — and Laertes ordered the inquisitors to flog the boy, and rack him until they thought they had got at the truth. But the inquisitors had not counted on acting as torturers, refused to apply the actual question, and tried to decide the dispute by turning over the servant to the tender mercies of Laertes himself. This proposition Pasion declined, and offered to pay the money if the inquisitors decided him to be in the wrong. Of course the inquisitors had no right to decide the matter, and so the wrangling found no end.
However, Pasion became seriously alarmed for the credit of his bank, and sent to Laertes requesting a private interview. The temple of antiquity was church, bank, club-room in one, and a favorite rendezvous. So they met at one of the temples on the Acropolis. In ancient times the shawl served the purpose of the modern apron in crying-bouts, and men cried as freely as women. Friend Pasion covered his head with his shawl — mistranslated a cloak — and began to weep. Like all embezzlers — ancient and modern — he had been driven to this course by stress of circumstances, and would try to make it all right in a short time. Like almost all men who have been swindled, Laertes was willing to hush the matter up, if he only could get back his money. Lying and compounding a felony were small matters in that classic land. Pasion agreed to go with Laertes to Pontus, and there pay the money, so that distance might enhance the secrecy of the transaction. Satyrus himself was to be the umpire in the whole business, and the forfeit was to be fifty per cent. of the amount due. A merchant who traded to the Bosphorus kept the written agreement, with the understanding that if the parties came to terms the document was to be burned ; if not, it was to be delivered to Satyrus. But Laertes's friend Menexenus was determined not to let Pasion off so easily, and brought suit against the perfidious banker on his own account. Thus pressed, Pasion adds one more fraud to the others, bribes the servants of the merchant who had the keeping of the contract, and substitutes for that damning document a full retraction of ail the charges brought against him, Pasion. And now Laertes brings the law to bear on him, and gets the speech-writer Isocrates to write his speech, which we dismiss with the sweet assurance that there was a great scoundrel on the one side or on the other.
After this suit Pasion became more circumspect, and, let us hope, more honest. At all events, when we next meet with him, all parties agree to extol his memory. Among the speeches of Demosthenes - sufficiently authentic for our purpose - there are several composed in the interest of Pasion's son, Apollodorus, and it is but fair that we should present the other side of the table and show the honest trapezite a victim to his confiding disposition, his unsuspecting good nature. For instance there was Timotheus, the great general of that name, who undertook to swindle the estate of Pasion out of a large amount - 4438) drachmae, if I have figured it up correctly. It is not an overwhelming sum in dollars and cents, but the purchasing power of a drachma in those days was not to be despised. One of the items in the bill against Timotheus is two silver phialae — certainly dog cheap at 100 drachmae. Timotheus's debt to Pasion was a debt of honor; there was no pledge, there were no witnesses. . Perhaps we may see a little poetic justice in this. Pasion trusted Timotheus as the young Bosphorite had trusted him years and years before; and as Pasion had played fast and loose with the testimony of the slave, so Timotheus tried the same trick on Pasion. The circumstances of the case must not detain us, but one point in the speech deserves mention. Apollodorus, the plaintiff, thinks it necessary to give his intelligent audience an explanation of the marvellous accuracy of his statements. He actually tells them that bankers are in the habit of keeping books and entering their payments and their deposits, so that they may know the state of their accounts. Imagine the ironical applause with which such a piece of useful information would be received in a country like ours, where “ day-book" and "ledger" are household words, and "posted” and “indorsed " current phrases. Can it be that the Athenians were so ignorant as such a statement implies ? Not necessarily ; but the Attic orator seems to regard a noonday clearness as an essential part of his work. He may suppress in the interest of his client, but what he states there is no possibility of mistaking.
In his preface to his translation of the Antigone of Sophocles, Boeckh says that he has designedly given his rendering only that degree of intelligibility that the original had for the countrymen and contemporaries of the poet, and thus not obscurely intimates that the common run of Athenians could not have followed the greatest artists in every turn of their thoughts. With certain limitations this may be true, especially of the lyric and choral poetry of the ancients. We moderns sing with great delight and admirable expression songs that fall below all human comprehension. Why may not the ancients have gone as far in the opposite direction ? But, as I said in the opening words of this paper, transparency and directness are necessities for the Greek orator. What he says, be it narrative, be it argument, be it a column of figures, must stand out before the mind of his audience. What the Greek juryman cannot compass he does not believe. A budget of millions, a complicated financial report, he would utterly reject. To him only those figures do not lie that he can carry in his head, and that a head not over-familiar with mental arithmetic. Demosthenes knew his Athenian; and when in his speech against Laptines he had occasion to divide 400,000 by 300, he deliberately does the sum before the people. One-thirtieth of 300,000 is 10,000, and one-thirtieth of 100,000 is 3000 or thereabouts — hang the fractions — say, 13,000. If he had said 13,333} they would not have believed him.
As our studies will bring us in contact with sinners chiefly, and we