Phidias to Pericles

So the old crew are at their work again,
Spitting their venom-froth of calumny,
And Menon’s is the voice that now gives cry, —
A poor weak tool for those who lurk behind,
Hid in the dark to prick him to their work;
For who so blind as not to recognize
The hand of Cleon, the coarse demagogue,
Who rails at all to gain a place himself;
And scurrilous Herinippus. and the rest
Of that mean pack we know so well of old?
'T is sorry work, for which high-minded men
Must feel contempt, or pity at the least.
Menon I hoped at first would merely prove
An honest tool, bewrayed to a false charge
But honest in his purpose, though too free
In quick aspersion, taking little heed
To seek for truth, and careless where he struck
And whom he wounded; but since still he clings
To his foul calumny, and stoops to pick
Even from the gutter aught that serves his turn,
I give him up. Let him go with the rest.
Yet those who urge him on I rather scorn;
And for this charge now boldly cried at last
Into the public ear, I give him thanks.
So long as scandal, like a slimy snake,
Crawled on the grass, and hissed, and darted out
Its poisonous fangs in ambush, none could tell
Where it was creeping; now it shows its head,
And we may crush it like a noisome thing.
High as man stands when at his godlike heights
Of valor, honor, justice, and large thought,
The noblest shape the gods have ever made,
He in his lowest vices is more low
Than any wretched reptile on the earth.
We do dumb creatures wrong to liken them
To some mean talking creatures, who spit forth
Their envious venom, and with poisonous tongue
Of foul detraction sting their fellow-man.
Beasts have not these mean vices — only men.
You, Pericles, and I, do what we will,
Are guilty, both of us, of one offense
That envious natures never can forgive —
The great crime of success. If we were low
They would not heed us; but the praise of men
Lavished on us in Athens, right or wrong,
Rouses their anger. They must pull us down.
What can we hope for better than the fate
Of Anaxagoras, Miltiades,
Themistocles, or any, in a word,
Of those who in our Athens here have stood
In lofty places? It was crime enough
For Aristides to be called “ The Just.”
And yet some consolation lies in this:
’T is the tall poppies that men’s sticks strike down ;
’T is at fruit-bearing trees that all throw stones.
There are some natures so perverse, they feed
And batten upon offal; unto them
Nothing is pure or noble, nothing clean,
On which they do not seek to cast a stain.
They, like the beetle, burrowing in the dark,
Gather ’mid mold and rot their noisome food,
And issuing into sunlight roll their ball
Of filth before them, deeming it the world;
Honor and truth, fair dealing, upright aims,
Bare honesty, to them are only shams,
Professions, catch-words, that a man may use
To gull the world with, not realities.
Is there a tree that lifts into the air
Its glad green foliage: there like cankered pests
These vermin crawl and bite. Is there a fruit
That glows and ripens in the summer sun:
There speed these wasps to buzz and sting and stain.
Whence come into their minds these hints and taunts
Of fraudulent and evil practices
They cast at other men with such free hands?
Are they not germs spontaneously bred
Of their own natures — germs of evil thoughts,
Of possibilities, if not of facts,
That in themselves might ripen into deeds?
In the clean nature no such growth is bred;
What is repulsive to our inner sense
We deem impossibilities to all.
Let me not be unjust: this paltry few
Who in our Athens do their dirty work
Are bad exceptions to the better rule
Of honest and high-minded men, who scorn
Such arts to rise, ungoaded by the spur
Of envy, deeming the •world wide enough
For all like brothers heartily to work.
And I would fain believe that even they
Who use these arts and spread these calumnies
Are troubled by remorse in better hours,
And feel the sting of conscience, and abjure
These lies that come like curses home to roost.
Because we will not strike our hands in theirs, Drink with them, haunt with them the market-place, Use their low practices to court the rich, Hint falsehoods, that we dare not frankly say, Flatter and fawn for favors, sneer at all — Even those we publicly profess our friends — We are aristocrats forsooth; we lift Our heads too high, we are too proud; a thing Which is a shame for one in Athens born. We should be hand and glove with every one. Well! let us own we are too proud, at least, To court low company; too proud to rise By any step that treads a brother down; Too proud to stoop to defainating arts; Too proud to sneer, to crawl, to cringe, to lie! And if in Athens we select our friends, Is this forbidden to a freeman here?
So, not content with throwing stones at you,
My noble Pericles, they cast at me
Their evil scandals, ’T was impiety
Because I wrought your figure and mine own
Upon Athena’s shield; then, worse than this,
Our fair Aspasia they aspersed, and slurred
My honor and your own, as well as hers.
Now, since these shafts have struck not to the white,
A grosser scandal, hoping that at last
Some mud will stick if but enough be thrown;
So Menon cries, “ This sculptor whom you praise
Has stolen for his private use the gold
The state confided to him, to encrust
This statue of Athena.” ’Tis a lie!
An evil, wicked lie; as well you know,
My Pericles. I see it in your smile.
Yet, were it not that, with small faith in men
Like those that watch us with an evil eye,
I feared some accusation like to this
(And you yourself forewarned me of the same),
I had perchance been reft of all clear proof
Against this libel. As it is, I smile.
Each dram and Scruple of the gold was weighed.
’T is movable; and in response I say,
Let it be taken off and weighed again.
If in the balance it be changed a hair,
The fault be on my head. It will not change !
Thus far, O Pericles, well though I knew
Such calumnies were whispered secretly,
I would not stoop to answer them, secure
In my own honor, scornful of the crew
That uttered them, and holding it a loss
Of simple dignity to make response.
One does not stride forth in the market-place
To vaunt one’s honesty, or cry aloud
I do not lie and steal, though curs do bark.”
But here ’s a public charge of theft urged home,
With show of false facts and pretended proof,
And so I speak; I ask for trial now,
Lest to the ignorant, who know me not,
Mere silence wear the false mask of consent.
But what avails it? Baffled in their aim,
They will retire a moment, to return
With some new scandal, which will creep and crawl
At first in whispers, dark and vague, and then
Take shape, grow stronger, and at last lift up
Its public hissing head. These cunning lies
Will serve their purpose, save to honest men;
The noble and the just will stand by me;
The envious rabble cherish still the lie.
Yes; for a lie will hurry to the bound
Of twilight, scattering its noisome seed,
Ere tardy Truth can lace its sandals on
To start in chase. Besides, great Truth is proud
And confident, disdaining to pursue
Through its vile drains and slums the eager lie
That loves a whispered word, a foul surmise,
And in reply to Truth’s calm honest voice
Winks, hints, and shrugs its shoulders with a laugh.
Ten thousand ears will hear the audacious lie,
One thousand to the refutation list,
Ten of ten thousand will believe stern Truth.
True, the last ten outweigh, as gold does dross,
The other thousands; but one does not like
One’s clean robes to be smirched by dirt and mud,
Even though the mud brush off. Posterity
Will do us justice? Yes, perhaps, or no.
So long as men are men ’t will be the same,
Or now, or thousands of long years from now.
And it is now we live. Our honest fame,
To be enjoyed, must compass us about
Like ambient air we breathe — pure, without taint.
What matters it, when I am turned to dust,
When all emotions, joys, loves, passions, hopes,
Are vanished like a breeze that dies away,
And all that I am now, — these hands, this heart,
This spirit, — nay, the very friends I own,
And all that lent this life its perfect charm,
Are past and over; ah! what matters it
What in the future men may say or do?
Whether, disputing o’er my grave, at last
They call me good or bad, honest or vile?
What joy can any verdict give me then,
When I myself, and all who love me now,
And all who hate or envy me as well,
Will be but mute insensate dust, whose ear
No word of blame can reach, no word of praise ?
And yet, even then, although it matters not,
Truth, standing by my grave, I trust, will say,
Honest he was, and faithful to the last,
Above low frauds, striving for lofty ends,
Friend of the gods, and also friend of man,
Doing his work with earnest faith and will;
Not vaunting what he did, but knowing well
Perfection is impossible in Art;
Receiving with humility the praise
The world accorded, wishing well to all,
And never envious of his brother’s fame.
There stands Athena, she whom Menon says
I did not make, being helped by better men,
Whose fame. I thus defraud of their just rights
By claiming it as mine. What can one say
To such a paltry charge of petty fraud?
I scorn to answer it; nay, even they
Who make it know ’t is false as ’t is absurd.
Speak! my Athena; answer thou for me!
She will not answer, yet her silence speaks
More eloquent than any words of mine.
Look, Pericles! how calm and all unmoved
She stands and gazes at us; a half-scorn
On those still lips at these poor jealousies,
These foolish bickerings and strifes of men.
What mean you, that you make this wicked noise ”
(She seems to say), “you creatures of an hour?
Why do you wrangle thus your life away
With your sharp lies and envious vanities,
Buzzing and stinging a brief moment’s space
In Time’s thin stretch across the Infinite,
Whose awful silences shall gulf you all? —
Faint fire-balls shooting forth an instant’s flash
Across the untroubled patience of the night,
And the still, far, unalterable stars.
Ye boasters! what is all your vaunted work
That with such pride ye build, save that the gods
Smile on you and assist you? ' T is not yours,
If any good be in it. Bend your hearts
Before the Powers august. Strive not to rob
Your fellow-mortal of the gift the gods
Bestow upon him. Humbly do the work
That is appointed, and in confidence
Await the end, secure of Nemesis.”
W. W. Story.