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Dialogues between Charon and Menippus and Hermes and Menippus

We should remember that there is a comic view of the realm of Hades, depicted most delightfully by Aristophanes in the Frogs. Here are two witty dialogues by the satirist Lucian, who wrote in Greek during the second century A.D. The character, Menippus, was a famous Cynic philosopher of the third century B.C. The Cynics were poor and extremely frugal; their dirty and ragged dress usually included a staff and wallet or sack; they were unconventional and outspoken in their indignation at the standard and unthinking attitudes of the individual and society. Presumably Menippus stole Hecate’s supper (the meal that he offers to Charon) at a crossroads. Charon refers to Menippus as a dog, which was a nickname for the Cynics; cynic in Greek means doglike.

22. Charon, Menippus, and Hermes

CHARON: Abominable fellow, pay up the fare.

MENIPPUS: Go ahead and shout, Charon, if this gives you some pleasure.

CHARON: Pay up, I say, for ferrying you across.

MENIPPUS: You can’t get it from one who doesn’t have it.

CHARON: Is there anyone who doesn’t have a coin for the fare?

MENIPPUS: I don’t know whether anyone else has or not, but I don’t.

CHARON: By Pluto, you rogue, I'll throttle you if you don’t pay.

MENIPPUS: And I’ll smash your skull open with my stick.

CHARON: Then you will have made this crossing to no avail.

MENIPPUS: Let Hermes pay you for me, since he handed me over to you.

HERMES: By Zeus, I’ll be damned if I am going to pay for the shades, too.

CHARON: I won’t give in to you.

MENIPPUS: Then haul your boat up and stay here; how can you take what I don’t have?

CHARON: Didn’t you know that you had to bring it?

MENIPPUS: I knew but I didn’t have it. What was I to do? Should I have not died on account of it?

CHARON: So you will be the only one to boast that you were ferried across free?

MENIPPUS: Not free, my fine fellow. I bailed water and helped row and I was the only one of the passengers who did not weep and wail.

CHARON: These things have nothing to do with it. You must pay the fare; no exceptions allowed.

MENIPPUS: Then take me back to life.

CHARON: A fine remark, so that I may get a beating from Aeacus if I do.

MENIPPUS: Then don’t be so upset.

CHARON: Show me what you have in your sack.

MENIPPUS: Legumes, if you want, and one of Hecate’s suppers.

CHARON: From where did you bring this dog to us? He kept babbling like this during the crossing, laughing and jeering at the other passengers; he alone was singing while they were moaning.

HERMES: Charon, don’t you know what man you have ferried across? Scrupulously free, he doesn’t care about anyone or anything. This is Menippus.

CHARON: Indeed if I ever get hold of you.

MENIPPUS: If you do, my fine fellow. You won’t get another chance.

18. Menippus and Hermes

MENIPPUS: Where are the handsome men and the beautiful women, Hermes? Show me the sights, since I am a stranger here.

HERMES: I don’t have the time, Menippus. But look over there to the right; there are Hyacinthus, Narcissus, Nireus, Achilles, Tyro, Helen, Leda, and in brief, all the beauties of old.

MENIPPUS: I see only bones and skulls stripped of flesh, many of them alike.

HERMES: These bones that you seem to despise are what all the poets marvel at.

MENIPPUS: But still show me Helen; for I should not recognize her.

HERMES: This is the skull of Helen.

MENIPPUS: Was it for this then that the thousand ships were launched from all of Greece, and so many Greeks and non-Greeks fell and so many cities were destroyed?

HERMES: But Menippus, you did not see the woman when she was alive; you too would have said it worthwhile “to suffer sorrows so much time for such a woman.” [Iliad 3. 157.] For if one looks at flowers when they are dry and have lost their hues, obviously they will seem ugly; but when they are in bloom and have their color they are most beautiful.

MENIPPUS: And so I wonder at this: whether or not the Achaeans realized that they were toiling for a thing so short-lived and so easily destroyed.

HERMES: I do not have the time to philosophize with you. So pick out a spot wherever you wish and be comfortable there; now I shall go to fetch the other shades.

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