Marcus Aurelius and Lucian

Marcus Aurelius . Lucian! in one thing thou art ill-advised.
Lucian . And in one only? tell me which is that.
Marcus Aurelius . In scoffing, as thou hast done openly,
At all religious: there is truth in all.
Lucian . Ah! could we see it! but the well is deep.
Each mortal calls his God inscrutable;
And this at least is true: why not stop there?
Some subdivide him; others hold him close,
Forcing the subdivisions to unite.
The worshiper of Mithras lifts his eyes
To hail his early rising, for he knows
Who gives the fruits of earth to nourish him;
Olympus and the Alps are hills alike
To him, and goats their best inhabitants.
Did Epictetus take our rotten staves
To walk with uprightly? did Cicero
Kneel down before our urban deities?
He carried in his mouth a Jupiter
Ready for Senates when he would harangue,
Then wiped him clean and laid him down again.
Marcus Aurelius . Religions, true or false, may lend support
To man's right conduct: some deterr from ill
Thro' fear, and others lead by gentleness,
Benevolence in thought, beneficence
In action, and at times to patriotism
And gallant struggles for their native land.
Lucian . So much the worse for these. Did Julius spare
The Druid in his grove? no; he wrencht off
The golden sickle from the misleto,
And burnt the wicker basket ere it held
Aloft on sacred oak the wretch within.
Marcus Aurelius . I doubt it: he knew well the use of priests.
Scoffing was not his fault, ambition was;
Yet clemency could over-rule ambition.
Lucian . This of all vices is the very worst
Where the best men are made the sacrifice.
Marcus Aurelius . I am accused, I hear, of wanting it.
Lucian . Yet thou too, Marcus, art ambitious; thou
Wouldst conquer worlds . . with kindness, wouldst instruct
The unwise, controll the violent, and divert
From battle-field to corn-field.
Marcus Aurelius . This I would,
But never irritate weak intellects
Clinging to a religion learnt by heart
From nurse and mother, thence most justly dear.
Lucian . Founded on falsehood are not all religions,
All copies, more or less, from older ones?
Some by transfusion purified, and some
Weaken'd, and pour'd again upon the dregs,
Until they first ferment and then turn sour.
Marcus Aurelius . Yet, Lucian, there is truth in one religion,
Truth in that one which rises from a heart
With sweet and silent gratitude o'erflowing.
Lucian . Weakest of orders is the composite,
Such is the fabric folks walk under here,
Already we have seen part after part
Crack off, and terrify bare scalps below.
Marcus Aurelius . Leave Rome her quiet Gods.
Lucian . Not Saturn though.
Who would have eaten every God ere teetht,
But his first-born disabled him, and made
The little Venus laugh at granpapa.
Marcus Aurelius . We are not going up so far as him.
Lucian . Fain would I stop at Venus and her son;
It were ungrateful in me to malign
Such gentle Deities; to laugh at them
They now, alas! have left me little power;
Juno has helpt in my discomfiture.
Marcus Aurelius . Into your Lares I will not intrude:
Temples I enter rarely; not a God
Minds me above those atoms of the earth
Whereof we, low and lofty, are composed.
Such is the surest doctrine to uphold,
But to divulge even this may be unsafe.
Have not we known the Sage of Palestine
Derided, persecuted, crucified?
Have we not seen his simple followers
Slaughter'd in this our city, this our Rome,
Some burnt alive, some thrown among wild beasts?
Lucian . Woefully true! and thieves and murderers
Have sprung up from the ground whereon they bled;
No wicker-basket men, men calling Heaven
To help them in their vengeance on a foe
Who puts the left leg where he should the right,
And will not draw it back, but walk strait on.
Marcus Aurelius . Woefully true this also, but unwise,
Because unsafe, to utter.
Lucian . Truth is more
Unsafe than falsehood, and was ever so.
Marcus Aurelius . Well, I would not exasperate by wit's
Sharp point the robb'd and bleeding; stoop thou rather
To heal them.
Lucian . They would kick me in the face
If for such office I bend over them.
Better to strip the sophists of their rings
And trailing trappings, chaunting boys before,
Waving fat incense up against their beards
Ere they parade in them through every street,
And at the end of Via Sacra halt
To choose an Imperator of their own.
Marcus Aurelius . Friend Lucian! thou art more jocose than ever.
Why not imagine they may take my horse
From under me, then round men's shoulders strap
The curule chair and hoist a priest thereon?
Lucian epth of wisdom, Marcus, long I knew,
But never knew thee poet til this hour.
Homer feign'd Polypheme, Calypso, Circe,
Imagination left him on the strand
With these; he never saw, even in a dream,
So strange a rider mount a curule chair.
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