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Philosophers for Sale

This play was written by Lucian. I felt that all its existing English translations are boring as hell, so I translated the Russian version by Mikhail Gasparov, as presented in his book Занимательная Греция (not translated into English, unfortunately), which itself is quite a liberal translation of the original play.


Zeus is short of money. He takes famous philosophers from the afterlife and puts them up for sale as slaves:
“Great teachers of life are sold!”, Hermes is shouting, “If you want a good life, come forward and choose one for youself!”, the buyers approach the slaves and start to examine them.

Pythagoras is on the platform.
“Here’s a wonderful life, a heavenly life! Who wants to become a superhuman? Who wants to learn the harmony of the creation and come to life after death?”
“Can I question him?”
“Of course.”
“So, Pythagoras, if I buy you, what are you going to teach me?”
“To be silent.”
“Becoming a mute is not to my taste! What’s after this?”
“To count.”
“This I know already!”
“How do you count?”
“One, two, three, four.”
“See, but you don’t know that four is not just four but it’s also the body, the square, the perfection, and our oath.”
“Swear by your oath, I don’t know! What else can you say?”
“I will say that you consider yourself one, but in reality you are different.”
“How so? Is it somebody else and not me talking to you?”
“Well, now it is you, but before you were different and afterwards you’ll be different.”
“So, I don’t ever die? Not bad! Well, how should I feed you?”
“I don’t eat meat, I don’t eat beans.”
“Good enough! Hermes, I’ll take him.”

Diogenis is on the platform.
“Here’s a manly life, here’s a free life! Who will buy him?”
“Free? Will I not be taken to court for buying a free man?”
“Don’t be afraid, he says that he is free even as a slave.”
“Well, what crafts does he know?”
“Ask him!”
“I’m afraid he’ll bite me!”
“Don’t be afraid, he’s tame.”
“So, Diogenis, where are your from?”
“From everywhere!”
“What are you like?”
“I’m like Heracles!”
“Why?”
“I fight the pleasures, cleanse the life from excesses.”
“Well, how does one do that?”
“You throw the money into the sea, sleep on bare earth, eat garbage, cuss everyone, don’t be ashamed of anything, shake your beard, fight with your cane.”
“I already know how to cuss and fight, thank you very much. But you have strong hands, you’ll make a great digger; I’ll give two mites for you.”
“Take him!”

“And here’s two lifes at once, one wiser than the other! Who wants them?”
“What is it with them? One is constanly laughing, the other one is constantly crying. Why are you laughing?”
“I’m laughing at you: you think you’re buying a slave, while actually you’re just buying atoms, void, and infinity.”
“That you’re full of void, I can see that alright. And why are you crying?”
“I’m crying, because everything comes and goes, because there’s grief in every joy, and joy in every grief, because there’s no eternity in the eternity, and the eternity is only a child playing dice.”
“I can’t make sense of anything that you say!”
“I’m not saying it for you to make sense of it.”
“No one’s going to buy you if you keep acting like this.”
“Everyone’s worthy of tears, anyway: buyers and nonbuyers.”
“They’re both mad: I don’t want them!”
“Ah, Zeus, these two will remain unsold!”

“Show the Athenian.”
“A wonderful life, a sensible life, a sacred life–who wants it?”
“How, Plato, are you being sold into slavery again? So, if I buy you, what am I going to get?”
“The whole world.”
“Well, where is it?”
“It’s right before my eyes. Since everything that you see–and earth, and sky, and sea–is, in fact, not at all here.”
“Well, where is it?”
“Nowhere: if it existed anywhere, that wouldn’t be an existence.”
“Then why don’t I see it?”
“Because the eye of your soul is blind. I, on the other hand, not only see you, but also see me, and the true you, and the second me, and everything else I also see twice.”
“Well, buying the whole world in a single slave sound goods to me! I’ll take him, Hermes.”

“A valiant life, an all-perfect life is sold! Who wants to know everything?”
“How is it: everything?”
“He is the only wise man, thus he is the only king, and rich man, and general, and navigator.”
“And he is the only cook, and the only carpenter, and the only cattler?”
“Of course.”
“I’d be crazy not to buy such a slave. So, stoic, are you not offended that you’re a slave?”
“Not at all. This does not depend on me, thus I’m indifferent towards it.”
“What a nice fellow!”
“But be ware: if I wished, I could turn you into a stone.”
“How so? Are you Perseus with Medusa’s head?”
“Tell me: is a stone a body?”
“Yes.”
“And is a man a body?”
“Yes.”
“And are you a man?”
“Yes.”
“Then you are a stone.”
“I’m getting cold! Please turn me back into a man!”
“Easy. Is a stone animate?”
“No.”
“And is a man animate?”
“Yes.”
“And are you man?”
“Yes.”
“Then you are not a stone.”
“Oh, thanks for not killing me–I’ll take you.”

“We’re selling the most clever, the most skillful, the most adroit! Aristotle, come out!”
“And what does he know?”
“He knows how long the mosquito lives, how far the sun shines through the sea, and which kind of soul the oyster has.”
“Wow!”
“And he also knows that a man is a laughing animal, while a donkey is not, and that a donkey does not know how to build houses and vessels.”
“Enough, enough, I’m buying him; take however much you want from me, Hermes.”

“So, who else do whe have left? Skeptic? Come out skeptic, maybe someone’s going to buy you.”
“Tell me, skeptic, what can you do?”
“Nothing.”
“Why?”
“It seems to me that there isn’t anything at all.”
“And there’s no me?”
“I don’t know.”
“And there’s no you?”
“I don’t know, even more so.”
“Then what are you going to teach me?”
“Notknowledge.”
“This is indeed something one won’t learn anywhere else! How much do you want for him, Hermes?”
“For a knowledgeable slave we ask five minas, and for one like him, let’s say, one mina.”
“Here’s your mina. So, my dear, did I buy you?”
“That is not known.”
“How? I just paid for you!”
“Who knows?!”
“Hermes, money, and everybody who is present here.”
“Is there anybody here?”
“Once I send you to roll millstones, you’ll instantly feel who’s a slave here and who’s not!”
“Enough arguing!”, Hermes interrupts them, “You walk with your owner, and those who haven’t bought anything, come here tomorrow. Today we were selling philosophers, while tomorrow we’ll be selling artisans, peasants, and tradesmen. Maybe they’ll make better teachers of life?”


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