BARLAAM AND IOASAPH
PARTS I - V
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #20
The country of the Indians, as it is called, is vast and populous, lying far beyond Egypt. On the side of Egypt it is washed by seas and navigable gulphs, but on the mainland it marcheth with the borders of Persia, a land formerly darkened with the gloom of idolatry, barbarous to the last degree, and wholly given up to unlawful practices. But when "the only- begotten Son of God, which is in the bosom of the Father," being grieved to see his own handiwork in bondage unto sin, was moved with compassion for the same, and shewed himself amongst us without sin, and, without leaving his Father's throne, dwelt for a season in the Virgin's womb for our sakes, that we might dwell in heaven, and be re-claimed from the ancient fall, and freed from sin by receiving again the adoption of sons; when he had fulfilled every stage of his life in the flesh for our sake, and endured the death of the Cross, and marvellously united earth and heaven; when he had risen again from the dead, and had been received up into heaven, and was seated at the right hand of the majesty of the Father, whence, according to his promise, he sent down the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, unto his eyewitnesses and disciples, in the shape of fiery tongues, and despatched them unto all nations, for to give light to them that sat in the darkness of ignorance, and to baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, whereby it fell to the lot of some of the Apostles to travel to the far-off East and to some to journey to the West-ward, while others traversed the regions North and South, fulfilling their appointed tasks then it was, I say, that one of the company of Christ's Twelve Apostles, most holy Thomas, was sent out to the land of the Indians, preaching the Gospel of Salvation. "The Lord working with him and confirming the word with signs following," the darkness of superstition was banished; and men were delivered from idolatrous sacrifices and abominations, and added to the true Faith, and being thus transformed by the hands of the Apostle, were made members of Christ's household by Baptism, and, waxing ever with fresh increase, made advancement in the blameless Faith and built churches in all their lands.
Now when monasteries began to be formed in Egypt, and numbers of monks banded themselves together, and when the fame of their virtues and Angelic conversation "was gone out into all the ends of the world" and came to the Indians, it stirred them up also to the like zeal, insomuch that many of them forsook everything and withdrew to the deserts; and, though but men in mortal bodies, adopted the spiritual life of Angels. While matters were thus prospering and many were soaring upward to heaven on wings of gold, as the saying is, there arose in that country a king named Abenner, mighty in riches and power, and in victory over his enemies, brave in warfare, vain of his splendid stature and comeliness of face, and boastful of all worldly honours, that pass so soon away. But his soul was utterly crushed by poverty, and choked with many vices, for he was of the Greek way, and sore distraught by the superstitious error of his idol-worship. But, although he lived in luxury, and in the enjoyment of the sweet and pleasant things of life, and was never baulked of any of his wishes and desires, yet one thing there was that marred his happiness, and pierced his soul with care, the curse of childlessness. For being without issue, he took ceaseless thought how he might be rid of this hobble, and be called the father of children, a name greatly coveted by most people. Such was the king, and such his mind.
Meanwhile the glorious band of Christians and the companies of monks, paying no regard to the king's majesty, and in no wise terrified by his threats, advanced in the grace of Christ, and grew in number beyond measure, making short account of the king's words, but cleaving closely to everything that led to the service of God. For this reason many, who had adopted the monastic rule, abhorred alike all the sweets of this world, and were enamoured of one thing only, namely godliness, thirsting to lay down their lives for Christ his sake, and yearning for the happiness beyond. Wherefore they preached, not with fear and trembling, but rather even with excess of boldness, the saving Name of God, and naught but Christ was on their lips, as they plainly proclaimed to all men the transitory and fading nature of this present time, and the fixedness and incorruptibility of the life to come, and sowed in men the first seeds, as it were, towards their becoming of the household of God, and winning that life which is hid in Christ. Wherefore many, profiting by this most pleasant teaching, turned away from the bitter darkness of error, and approached the sweet light of Truth; insomuch that certain of their noblemen and senators laid aside all the burthens of life, and thenceforth became monks.
But when the king heard thereof, he was filled with wrath, and, boiling over with indignation, passed a decree forthwith, compelling all Christians to renounce their religion. Thereupon he planned and practised new kinds of torture against them, and threatened new forms of death. So throughout all his dominions he sent letters to his rulers and governors ordering penalties against the righteous, and unlawful massacres. But chiefly was his displeasure turned against the ranks of the monastic orders, and against them he waged a truceless and unrelenting warfare. Hence, of a truth, many of the Faithful were shaken in spirit, and others, unable to endure torture, yielded to his ungodly decrees. But of the chiefs and rulers of the monastic order some in rebuking his wickedness ended their lives by suffering martyrdom, and thus attained to everlasting felicity; while others hid themselves in deserts and mountains, not from dread of the threatened tortures, but by a more divine dispensation.
Now while the land of the Indians lay under the shroud of this moonless night, and while the Faithful were harried on every side, and the champions of ungodliness prospered, the very air reeking with the smell of bloody sacrifices, a certain mall of the royal household, chief satrap in rank, in courage, stature, comeliness, and in all those qualities which mark beauty of body and nobility of soul, far above all his Fellows, hearing of this iniquitous decree, bade farewell to all the grovelling pomps and vanities of the world, joined the ranks of the monks, and retired across the border into the desert. There, by fastings and vigils, and by diligent study of the divine oracles, he throughly purged his senses, and illumined a soul, set free from every passion, with the glorious light of a perfect calm.
But when the king, who loved and esteemed him highly, heard thereof, he was grieved in spirit at the loss of his friend, but his anger was the more hotly kindled against the monks. And so he sent everywhere in search of him, leaving "no stone unturned," as the saying is, to find him. After a long while, they that were sent in quest of him, having learnt that he abode in the desert, after diligent search, apprehended him and brought him before the king's judgement seat. When the king saw him in such vile and coarse raiment who before had been clad in rich apparel, -- saw him, who had lived in the lap of luxury, shrunken and wasted by the severe practice of discipline, and bearing about in his body outward and visible signs of his hermit-life, he was filled with mingled grief and fury, and, in speech blended of these two passions, he spake unto him thus:
"O thou dullard and mad man, wherefore hast thou exchanged thine honour for shame, and thy glorious estate for this unseemly show? To what end hath the president of my kingdom, and chief commander of my realm made himself the laughingstock of boys, and not only forgotten utterly our friendship and fellowship, but revolted against nature herself, and had no pity on his own children, and cared naught for riches and all the splendour of the world, and chosen ignominy such as this rather than the glory that men covet? And what shall it profit thee to have chosen above all gods and men him whom they call Jesus, and to have preferred this rough life of sackcloth to the pleasures and delights of a life of bliss."
When the man of God heard these words, he made reply, at once courteous and unruffled: "If it be thy pleasure, O king, to converse with me, remove thine enemies out of mid court; which done, I will answer thee concerning whatsoever thou mayest desire to learn; for while these are here, I cannot speak with thee. But, without speech, torment me, kill me, do as thou wilt, for "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world,' as saith my divine teacher." The king said, "And who are these enemies whom thou biddest me turn out of court?" The saintly man answered and said, "Anger and Desire. For at the beginning these twain were brought into being by the Creator to be fellow-workers with nature; and such they still are to those `who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.' But in you who are altogether carnal, having nothing of the Spirit, they are adversaries, and play the part of enemies and foemen. For Desire, working in you, stirreth up pleasure, but, when made of none effect, Anger. To- day therefore let these be banished from thee, and let Wisdom and Righteousness sit to hear and judge that which we say. For if thou put Anger and Desire out of court, and in their room bring in Wisdom and Righteousness, I will truthfully tell thee all." Then spake the king, "Lo I yield to thy request, and will banish out of the assembly both Desire and Anger, and make Wisdom and Righteousness to sit between us. So now, tell me without fear, how wast thou so greatly taken with this error, to prefer the bird in the bush to the bird already in the hand?"
The hermit answered and said, "O king, if thou askest the cause how I came to despise things temporal, and to devote my whole self to the hope of things eternal, hearken unto me. In former days, when I was still but a stripling, I heard a certain good and wholesome saying, which, by its three took my soul by storm; and the remembrance of it, like some divine seed, being planted in my heart, unmoved, was preserved ever until it took root, blossomed, and bare that fruit which thou seest in me. Now the meaning of that sentence was this: `It seemed good to the foolish to despise the things that are, as though they were not, and to cleave and cling to the things that are not, as though they were. So he, that hath never tasted the sweetness of the things that are, will not be able to understand the nature of the things that are not. And never having understood them, how shall he despise them?' Now that saying meant by `things that are' the things eternal and fixed, but by `things that are not' earthly life, luxury, the prosperity that deceives, whereon, O king, thine heart alas! is fixed amiss. Time was when I also clung thereto myself. But the force of that sentence continually goading my heart, stirred my governing power, my mind, to make the better choice. But `the law of sin, warring against the law of my mind,' and binding me, as with iron chains, held me captive to the love of things present.
"But `after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour' was pleased to deliver me from that harsh captivity, he enabled my mind to overcome the law of sin, and opened mine eyes to discern good from evil. Thereupon I perceived and looked, and behold! all things present are vanity and vexation of spirit, as somewhere in his writings saith Solomon the wise. Then was the veil of sin lifted from mine heart, and the dullness, proceeding from the grossness of my body, which pressed upon my soul, was scattered, and I perceived the end for which I was created, and how that it behoved me to move upward to my Creator by the keeping of his Commandments. Wherefore I left all and followed him, and I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord that he delivered me out of the mire, and from the making of bricks, and from the harsh and deadly ruler of the darkness of this world, and that he showed me the short and easy road whereby I shall be able, in this earthen body, eagerly to embrace the Angelic life. Seeking to attain to it the sooner, I chose to walk the strait and narrow way, renouncing the vanity of things present and the unstable changes and chances thereof, and refusing to call anything good except the true good, from which thou, O king, art miserably sundered and alienated. Wherefore also we ourselves were alienated and separated from thee, because thou wert falling into plain and manifest destruction, and wouldst constrain us also to descend into like peril. But as long as we were tried in the warfare of this world, we failed in no point of duty. Thou thyself will bear me witness that we were never charged with sloth or heedlessness.
"But when thou hast endeavoured to rob us of the chiefest of all blessings, our religion, and to deprive us of God, the worst of deprivations, and, in this intent, dost remind us of past honours and preferments, how should I not rightly tax thee with ignorance of good, seeing that thou dost at all compare these two things, righteousness toward God, and human friendship, and glory, that runneth away like water? And how, in such ease, may we have fellowship with thee, and not the rather deny ourselves friendship and honours and love of children, and if there be any other tie greater than these? When we see thee, O king, the rather forgetting thy reverence toward that God, who giveth thee the power to live and breathe, Christ Jesus, the Lord of all; who, being alike without beginning, and coeternal with the Father, and having created the heavens and the earth by his word, made man with his own hands and endowed him with immortality, and set him king of all on earth and assigned him Paradise, the fairest place of all, as his royal dwelling. But man, beguiled by envy, and (wo is me!) caught by the bait of pleasure, miserably fell from all these blessings. So he that once was enviable became a piteous spectacle, and by his misfortune deserving of tears. Wherefore he, that had made and fashioned us, looked again with eyes of compassion upon the work of his own hands. He, not laying aside his God-head, which he had from the beginning, was made man for our sakes, like ourselves, but without sin, and was content to suffer death upon the Cross. He overthrew the foeman that from the beginning had looked with malice on our race; he rescued us from that bitter captivity; he, of his goodness, restored to us our former freedom, and, of his tender love towards mankind, raised us up again to that place from whence by our disobedience we had fallen, granting us even greater honour than at the first.
"Him therefore, who endured such sufferings for our sakes, and again bestowed such blessings upon us, him dost thou reject and scoff at his Cross? And, thyself wholly riveted to carnal delights and deadly passions, dost thou proclaim the idols of shame and dishonour gods? Not only hast thou alienated thyself from the commonwealth of heavenly felicity but thou hast also severed from the same all others who obey thy commands, to the peril of their souls. Know therefore that I will not obey thee, nor join thee in such ingratitude to God-ward; neither will I deny my benefactor and Saviour, though thou slay me by wild beasts, or give me to the fire and sword, as thou hast the power. For I neither fear death, nor desire the present world, having passed judgement on the frailty and vanity thereof. For what is there profitable, abiding or stable therein? Nay, in very existence, great is the misery, great the pain, great and ceaseless the attendant care. Of its gladness and enjoyment the yoke-fellows are dejection and pain. Its riches is poverty; its loftiness die lowest humiliation; and who shall tell the full tale of its miseries, which Saint John the Divine hath shown me in few words? For he saith, `The whole world lieth in wickedness'; and, `Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. For all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.' Seeking, then, this good will of God, I have forsaken everything, and joined myself to those who possess the same desire, and seek after the same God. Amongst these there is no strife or envy, sorrow or care, but all run the like race that they may obtain those everlasting habitations which the Father of lights hath prepared for them that love him. Them have I gained for my fathers, my brothers, my friends and mine acquaintances. But from my former friends and brethren `I have got me away far off, and lodged in the wilderness' waiting for the God, who saveth me from faintness of spirit, and from the stormy tempest."
When the man of God had made answer thus gently and in good reason, the king was stirred by anger, and was minded cruelly to torment the saint; but again he hesitated and delayed, regarding his venerable and noble mien. So he answered and said:
"Unhappy man, that hast contrived thine own utter ruin, driven thereto, I ween, by fate, surely thou hast made thy tongue as sharp as thy wits. Hence thou hast uttered these vain and ambiguous babblings. Had I not promised, at the beginning of our converse, to banish Anger from mid court, I had now given thy body to be burned. But since thou hast prevented and tied me down fast by my words, I bear with thine effrontery, by reason of my former friendship with thee. Now, arise, and flee for ever from my sight, lest I see thee again and miserably destroy thee."
So the man of God went out and withdrew to the desert, grieved to have lost the crown of martyrdom, but daily a martyr in his conscience, and `wrestling against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness'; as saith Blessed Paul. But after his departure, the king waxed yet more wroth, and devised a yet fiercer persecution of the monastic order, while treating with greater honour the ministers and temple-keepers of his idols.
While the king was under this terrible delusion and error, there was born unto him a son, a right goodly child, whose beauty from his very birth was prophetic of his future fortunes. Nowhere in that land, they said, had there ever been seen so charming and lovely a babe. Full of the keenest joy at the birth of the child, the king called him Ioasaph, and in his folly went in person to the temples of his idols, for to do sacrifice and offer hymns of praise to his still more foolish gods, unaware of the real giver of all good things, to whom he should have offered the spiritual sacrifice. He then, ascribing the cause Of his son's birth to things lifeless and dumb, sent out into all quarters to gather the people together to celebrate his son's birth-day: and thou mightest have seen all the folk running together for fear of the king, and bringing their offerings ready for the sacrifice, according to the store at each man's hand, and his favour toward his lord. But chiefly the king stirred them up to emulation. He brought full many oxen, of goodly size, for sacrifice, and thus, making a feast for all his people, he bestowed largesses on all his counsellors and officers, and on all his soldiers, and all the poor, and men of low degree.
Now on his son's birth-day feast there came unto the king some five and fifty chosen men, schooled in the star-lore of the Chaldaeans. These the king called into his presence, and asked them, severally, to tell him the future of the new-born babe. After long counsel held, they said that he should be mighty in riches and power, and should surpass all that had reigned before him. But one of the astrologers, the most learned of all his fellows, spake thus: "From that which I learn from the courses of the stars, O king, the advancement of the child, now born unto thee, will not be in thy kingdom, but in another, a better and a greater one beyond compare. Methinketh also that he will embrace the Christian religion, which thou persecutest, and I trow that he will not be disappointed of his aim and hope." Thus spake the astrologer, like Balaam of old, not that his star-lore told him true, but because God signifieth the truth by the mouth of his enemies, that all excuse may be taken from the ungodly.
But when the king heard thereof, he received the tidings with a heavy heart, and sorrow cut short his joy. Howsoever he built, in a city set apart, an exceeding beautiful palace, with cunningly devised gorgeous chambers, and there set his son to dwell, after he had ended his first infancy; and he forbade any to approach him, appointing, for instructors and servants, youths right seemly to behold. These he charged to reveal to him none of the annoys of life, neither death, nor old age, nor disease, nor poverty, nor anything else grievous that might break his happiness: but to place before him everything pleasant and enjoyable, that his heart, revelling in these delights, might not gain strength to consider the future, nor ever hear the bare mention of the tale of Christ and his doctrines. For he was heedful of the astrologer's warning, and it was this most that he was minded to conceal from his son. And if any of the attendants chanced to fall sick, he commanded to have him speedily removed, and put another plump and well-favoured servant in his place, that the boy's eyes might never once behold anything to disquiet them. Such then was the intent and doing of the king, for, 'seeing, he did not see, and hearing, he did not understand.'
But, learning that some monks still remained, of whom he fondly imagined that not a trace was left, he became angry above measure, and his fury was hotly kindled against them. And he commanded heralds to scour all the city and all the country, proclaiming that after three days no monk whatsoever should be found therein. But and if any were discovered after the set time, they should be delivered to destruction by fire and sword. "For," said he, "these be they that persuade the people to worship the Crucified as God." Meanwhile a thing befell, that made the king still more angry and bitter against the monks.
There was at court a man pre-eminent among the rulers, of virtuous life and devout in religion. But while working out his own salvation, as best he might, he kept it secret for fear of the king. Wherefore certain men, looking enviously on his free converse with the king, studied how they might slander him; and this was all their thought. On a day, when the king went forth a-hunting with his bodyguard, as was his wont, this good man was of the hunting party. While he was walking alone, by divine providence, as I believe, he found a man in a covert, cast to the ground, his foot grievously crushed by a wild-beast. Seeing him passing by, the wounded man importuned him not to go his way, but to pity his misfortune, and take him to his own home, adding thereto: "I hope that I shall not be found unprofitable, nor altogether useless unto thee." Our nobleman said unto him, "For very charity I will take thee up, and render thee such service as I may. But what is this profit which thou saidest that I should receive of thee?" The poor sick man answered,"I am a physician of words. If ever in speech or converse any wound or damage be found, I will heal it with befitting medicines, that so the evil spread no further." The devout man gave no heed to his word, but on account of the commandment, ordered him to be carried home, and grudged him not that tending which he required. But the aforesaid envious and malignant persons, bringing forth to light that ungodliness with which they had long been in travail, slandered this good man to the king; that not only did he forget his friendship with the king, and neglect the worship of the gods, and incline to Christianity, but more, that he was grievously intriguing against the kingly power, and was turning aside the common people, and stealing all hearts for himself. "But," said they, "if thou wilt prove that our charge is not ungrounded, call him to thee privately; and, to try him, say that thou desirest to leave thy fathers' religion, and the glory of thy kingship, and to become a Christian, and to put on the monkish habit which formerly thou didst persecute, having, thou shalt tell him, found thine old course evil." The authors of this villainous charge against the Christian knew the tenderness of his heart, how that, if he heard such speech from the king, he would advise him, who had made this better choice, not to put off his good determinations, and so they would be found just accusers.
But the king, not forgetful of his friend's great kindness toward him, thought these accusations incredible and false; and because he might not accept them without proof, he resolved to try the fact and the charge. So he called the man apart and said, to prove him, "Friend, thou knowest of all my past dealings with them that are called monks and with all the Christians. But now, I have repented in this matter, and, lightly esteeming the present world, would fain become partaker of those hopes whereof I have heard them speak, of some immortal kingdom in the life to come; for the present is of a surety cut short by death. And in none other way, methinks, can I succeed herein and not miss the mark except I become a Christian, and, bidding farewell to the glory of my kingdom and all the pleasures and joys of life, go seek those hermits and monks, wheresoever they be, whom I have banished, and join myself to their number. Now what sayest thou thereto, and what is thine advice? Say on; I adjure thee in the name of truth; for I know thee to be true and wise above all men."
The worthy man, hearing this, but never guessing the hidden pitfall, was pricked in spirit, and, melting into tears, answered in his simplicity, "O king, live for ever! Good and sound is the determination that thou hast determined; for though the kingdom of heaven be difficult to find, yet must a man seek it with all his might, for it is written, `He that seeketh shall find it.' The enjoyment of the present life, though in seeming it give delight and sweetness, is well thrust from us. At the very moment of its being it ceaseth to be, and for our joy repayeth us with sorrow sevenfold. Its happiness and its sorrow are more frail than a shadow, and, like the traces of a ship passing over the sea, or of a bird flying through the air, quickly disappear. But the hope of the life to come which the Christians preach is certain, and as surety sure; howbeit in this world it hath tribulation, whereas our pleasures now are short-lived, and in the beyond they only win us correction and everlasting punishment without release. For the pleasures of such life are temporary, but its pains eternal; while the Christians' labours are temporary, but their pleasure and gain immortal. Therefore well befall this good determination of the king! for right good it is to exchange the corruptible for the eternal."
The king heard these words and waxed exceeding wroth: nevertheless he restrained his anger, and for the season let no word fall. But the other, being shrewd and quick of wit, perceived that the king took his word ill, and was craftily sounding him. So, on his coming home, he fell into much grief and distress in his perplexity how to conciliate the king and to escape the peril hanging over his own head. But as he lay awake all the night long, there came to his remembrance the man with the crushed foot; so he had him brought before him, and said, "I remember thy saying that thou weft an healer of injured speech." "Yea," quoth he, "and if thou wilt I will give thee proof of my skill." The senator answered and told him of his aforetime friendship with the king, and of the confidence which he had enjoyed, and of the snare laid for him in his late converse with the king; how he had given a good answer, but the king had taken his words amiss, and by his change of countenance betrayed the anger lurking within his heart.
The sick beggar-man considered and said, "Be it known unto thee, most noble sir, that the king harboureth against thee the suspicion, that thou wouldest usurp his kingdom, and he spake, as he spake, to sound thee. Arise therefore, and crop thy hair. Doff these thy fine garments, and don an hair-shirt, and at daybreak present thyself before the king. And when he asketh thee, `What meaneth this apparel?' answer him, `It hath to do with thy communing with me yesterday, O king. Behold, I am ready to follow thee along the road that thou art eager to travel; for though luxury be desirable and passing sweet, God forbid that I embrace it after thou art gone! Though the path of virtue, which thou art about to tread, be difficult and rough, yet in thy company I shall find it easy and pleasant, for as I have shared with thee this thy prosperity so now will I share thy distresses, that in the future, as in the past, I may be thy fellow.'" Our nobleman, approving of the sick man's saying, did as he said. When the king saw and heard him, he was delighted, and beyond measure gratified by his devotion towards him. He saw that the accusations against his senator were false, and promoted him to more honour and to a greater enjoyment of his confidence. But against the monks he again raged above measure, declaring that this was of their teaching, that men should abstain from the pleasures of life, and rock themselves in visionary hopes.
Another day, when he was gone a-hunting, he espied two monks crossing the desert. These he ordered to be apprehended and brought to his chariot. Looking angrily upon them, and breathing fire, as they say, "Ye vagabonds and deceivers," he cried, "have ye not heard the plain proclamation of the heralds, that if any of your execrable religion were found, after three days, in any city or country within my realm, he should be burned with fire?" The monks answered, "Lo! obedient to thine order, we be coming out of thy cities and coasts. But as the journey before us is long, to get us away to our brethren, being in want of victuals, we were making provision for the way, that we perish not with hunger." Said the king, "He that dreadeth menace of death busieth not himself with the purveyante of victuals." "Well spoken, O king," cried the monks. "They that dread death have concern how to escape it. And who are these but such as cling to things temporary and are enamoured of them, who, having no good hopes yonder, find it hard to be wrenched from this present world, and therefore dread death? But we, who have long since hated the world and the things of the world, and are walking along the narrow and strait road, for Christ his sake, neither dread death, nor desire the present world, but only long for the world to come. Therefore, forasmuch the death that thou art bringing upon us proveth but the passage to that everlasting and better life, it is rather to be desired of us than feared."
Hereupon the king, wishing to entrap the monks, as I ween, shrewdly said, "How now? Said ye not but this instant, that ye were withdrawing even as I commanded you? And, if ye fear not death, how came ye to be fleeing? Lo! this is but another of your idle boasts and lies." The monks answered, "Tis not because we dread the death wherewith thou dost threaten us that we flee, but because we pity thee. `Twas in order that we might not bring on thee greater condemnation, that we were eager to escape. Else for ourselves we are never a whit terrified by thy threats." At this the king waxed wroth and bade burn them with fire. So by fire were these servants of God made perfect, and received the Martyr's crown. And the king published a decree that, should any be found leading a monk's life, he should be put to death without trial. Thus was there left in that country none of the monastic order, save those that had hid them in mountains and caverns and holes of the earth. So much then concerning this matter.
But meanwhile, the king's son, of whom our tale began to tell, never departing from the palace prepared for him, attained to the age of manhood. He had pursued all the learning of the Ethiopians and Persians, and was as fair and well favoured in mind as in body, intelligent and prudent, and shining in all excellencies. To his teachers he would propound such questions of natural history that even they marvelled at the boy's quickness and understanding, while the king was astounded at the charm of his countenance and the disposition of his soul. He charged the attendants of the young prince on no account to make known unto him any of the annoys of life, least of all to tell him that death ensueth on the pleasures of this world. But vain was the hope whereon he stayed, and he was like the archer in the tale that would shoot at the sky. For how could death have remained unknown to any human creature? Nor did it to this boy; for his mind was fertile of wit, and he would reason within himself, why his father had condemned him never to go abroad, and had forbidden access to all. He knew, without hearing it, that this was his father's express command. Nevertheless he feared to ask him; it was not to be believed that his father intended aught but his good; and again, if it were so by his father's will, his father would not reveal the true reason, for all his asking. Wherefore he determined to learn the secret from some other source. There was one of his tutors nearer and dearer to him than the rest, whose devotion he won even further by handsome gifts. To him he put the question what his father might mean by thus enclosing him within those walls, adding, "If thou wilt plainly tell me this, of all thou shalt stand first in my favour, and I will make with thee a covenant of everlasting friendship." The tutor, himself a prudent man, knowing how bright and mature was the boy's wit and that he would not betray him, to his peril, discovered to him the whole matter the persecution of the Christians and especially of the anchorets decreed by the king, and how they were driven forth and banished from the country round about; also the prophecies of the astrologers at his birth. "'Twas in order," said he, "that thou mightest never hear of their teaching, and choose it before our religion, that the king hath thus devised that none but a small company should dwell with thee, and hath commanded us to acquaint thee with none of the woes of life." When the young prince heard this he said never a word more, but the word of salvation took hold of his heart, and the grace of the Comforter began to open wide the eyes of his understanding, leading him by the hand to the true God, as our tale in its course shall tell.
Now the king his father came oftentimes to see his boy, for he loved him passing well. On a day his son said unto him, "There is something that I long to learn from thee, my lord the king, by reason of which continual grief and unceasing care consumeth my soul." His father was grieved at heart at the very word, and said, "Tell me, darling child, what is the sadness that constraineth thee, and straightway I will do my diligence to turn it into gladness." The boy said, "What is the reason of mine imprisonment here? Wily hast thou barred me within walls and doors, never going forth and seen of none?" His father replied, "Because I will not, my son, that thou shouldest behold anything to embitter thy heart or mar thy happiness. I intend that thou shalt spend all thy days in luxury unbroken, and in all manner joy and pleasaunce." "But," said the son unto his father, "know well, Sir, that thus I live not in joy and pleasaunce, but rather in affliction and great straits, so that my very meat and drink seem distasteful unto me and bitter. I yearn to see all that lieth without these gates. If then thou wouldest not have me live in anguish of mind, bid me go abroad as I desire, and let me rejoice my soul with sights hitherto unseen by mine eyes."
Grieved was the king to hear these words, but, perceiving that to deny this request would but increase his boy's pain and grief, he answered, "My son, I will grant thee thy heart's desire." And immediately he ordered that choice steeds, and an escort fit for a king, be made ready, and gave him license to go abroad whensoever he would, charging his companions to suffer nothing unpleasant to come in his way, but to show him all that was beautiful and gladsome. He bade them muster in the way troops of folk intuning melodies in every mode, and presenting divers mimic shows, that these might occupy and delight his mind.
So thus it came to pass that the king's son often went abroad. One day, through the negligence of his attendants, he descried two men, the one maimed, and the other blind. In abhorrence of the sight, he cried to his esquires, "Who are these, and what is this distressing spectacle?" They, unable to conceal what he had with his own eyes seen, answered, "These be human sufferings, which spring from corrupt matter, and from a body full of evil humours." The young prince asked, "Are these the fortune of all men?" They answered, "Not of all, but of those in whom the principle of health is turned away by the badness of the humours." Again the youth asked, "If then this is wont to happen not to all, but only to some, can they be known on whom this terrible calamity shall fall? or is it undefined and unforeseeable?" "What man," said they, "can discern the future, and accurately ascertain it? This is beyond human nature, and is reserved for the immortal gods alone." The young prince ceased from his questioning, but his heart was grieved at the sight that he had witnessed, and the form of his visage was changed by the strangeness of the matter.
Not many days after, as he was again taking his walks abroad, he happened with an old man, well stricken in years, shrivelled in countenance, feeble-kneed, bent double, grey-haired, toothless, and with broken utterance. The prince was seized with astonishment, and, calling the old man near, desired to know the meaning of this strange sight. His companions answered, "This man is now well advanced in years, and his gradual decrease of strength, with increase of weakness, hath brought him to the misery that thou seest." "And," said he, "what will be his end?" They answered, "Naught but death will relieve him." "But," said he, "is this the appointed doom of all mankind? Or doth it happen only to some?" They answered, "Unless death come before hand to remove him, no dweller on earth, but, as life advanceth, must make trial of this lot." Then the young prince asked in how many years this overtook a man, and whether the doom of death was without reprieve, and whether there was no way to escape it, and avoid coming to such misery. They answered him, "In eighty or an hundred years men arrive at this old age, and then they die, since there is none other way; for death is a debt due to nature, laid on man from the beginning, and its approach is inexorable."
When our wise and sagacious young prince saw and heard all this, he sighed from the bottom of his heart. "Bitter is this life," cried he, "and fulfilled of all pain and anguish, if this be so. And how can a body be careless in the expectation of an unknown death, whose approach (ye say) is as uncertain as it is inexorable?" So he went away, restlessly turning over all these things in his mind, pondering without end, and ever calling up remembrances of death. Wherefore trouble and despondency were his companions, and his grief knew no ease; for he said to himself, "And is it true that death shall one day overtake me? And who is he that shall make mention of me after death, when time delivereth all things to forgetfulness? When dead, shall I dissolve into nothingness? Or is there life beyond, and another world?" Ever fretting over these and the like considerations, he waxed pale and wasted away, but in the presence of his father, whenever he chanced to come to him, he made as though he were cheerful and without trouble, unwilling that his cares should come to his father's knowledge. But he longed with an unrestrainable yearning, to meet with the man that might accomplish his heart's desire, and fill his ears with the sound of good tidings.
Again he enquired of the tutor of whom we have spoken, whether he knew of anybody able to help him towards his desire, and to establish a mind, dazed and shuddering at its cogitations, and unable to throw off its burden. He, recollecting their former communications, said, "I have told thee already how thy father hath dealt with the wise men and anchorets who spend their lives in such philosophies. Some hath he slain, and others he hath wrathfully persecuted, and I wot not whether any of this sort be in this country side." Thereat the prince was overwhelmed with woe, and grievously wounded in spirit. He was like unto a man that hath lost a great treasure, whose whole heart is occupied in seeking after it. Thenceforth he lived in perpetual conflict and distress of mind, and all the pleasures and delights of this world were in his eyes an abomination and a curse. While the youth was in this way, and his soul was crying out to discover that which is good, the eye that beholdeth all things looked upon him, and he that willeth that `all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth,' passed him not by, but showed this man also the tender love that he hath toward mankind, and made known upon him the path whereon he needs must go. Befel it thus.