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ber old Diogenes, the philosopher of yesterday, who lived in a tub and occupied his time by contemplating the wickedness of mankind. As Diogenes sat upon the ground, Alexander, the conqueror of the world, standing beside the tub, asked whether he could do anything for him. “Yes,” said the cynic, “stand from between me and the sun.” That was yesterday. Today another demands a place in the sun. The demand is the same. I wonder if the motives are different.
Do not insist that the men of today are different from the men of yesterday, or remark that it is extraordinary how the sweep of civilization has changed the nature of man. Why, even the animals of today act just as did the animals of yesterday. Today we hear handed down in song and story the virtues of the Missouri mule. His bray resounds through continents and we are led to believe that no such intelligent and hard-working animal ever lived in the days of yesterday. Alas, even this most estimable descendant of a jackass must droop his ears and depress his tail, for Plutarch relates (Life of Marcus Cato Bohns, pocket edition, p. 103, 1. c., paragraph 5):
“When the Athenian people built the Parthenon they set free the mules which had done the hardest work in drawing the stones up to the Acropolis and let them graze where they pleased unmolested. It is said that one of them came of its own accord to where the works were going on and used to walk up to the Acropolis with the beasts who were drawing up their loads as if to encourage them and show them the way. This mule was by a decree of the people of Athens maintained at the public expense for the rest of its life."
Strange, is it not, that the mules of yesterday were not so different from the mules of today and yet that the men of today are so much the same as the men of yesterday?
“What's that,” you say, “we are different, we build better machines, we do things more quickly, we move with more neatness and dispatch, we are more efficient." Granted; but I wonder whether to be more efficient in material things is to be more advanced. Does it lead us any nearer to that happy time of which the poet spoke:
"When the war drums throb no longer
And the battle flags are furled
Federation of the world.”
We have praised efficiency and today we see efficiency rolling down the broad highway drunk and bloodied, with her boon companions, death and destruction, upon either arm. What is it all about? What are we doing it for today? Can any one tell us? Today we don't know. Yesterday they knew. Remember that story of King Pyrrhus, a King of the older yesterday? Pyrrhus was ruler of the Kingdom of Epirus in Greece. He had a full treasury and a good army. Using his money and his army he conquered the most of Greece and then began to enlarge his army and enrich his treasury, evidently preparing for another expedition. It happened that he had an old counsellor, a wise man, for even in those days there were some wise men. One day as Pyrrhus was walking down the main street of his capital he met the counsellor who said to him: “Why, hullo, King. I understand you have licked the most of Greece.” “Yes, sir; I have,” replied Pyrrhus. “Now, ain't that fine," said the counsellor, “and what are we going to do next?” “Well,” said Pyrrhus, “I thought I would just step over and clean up Rome and Italy." “That's great,” cried the counsellor, “and then?”, “Why, then," returned Pyrrhus, “I will take Asia Minor and Egypt. That will give me the whole of the known world and then I can come back to this little Kingdom of Epirus and sit down and take my ease and comfort.” “Say! Listen, King,” replied the counsellor, “can't you do that now? What are you going through all these motions for?''2
I am sure some of the same motives move the men of today that did the men of yesterday. It is hard to make people believe that yesterday men lived and fought and loved and died on the shores of the Mediterranean much as they
2 Plutarch Lives. Title Pyrrhus.
are doing today. In our inordinate conceit we are sure that today we do the good things in a much more Godly manner than the men of yesterday. We are certain that when we are bad today we are ever so much more bad than the sinners of yesterday. We hear loud complaints that graft is rampant in all our governments and instances are pointed out as corruption never before heard of in the world. I wonder if we are as bad as the men of yesterday! There was old man Phocion. He lived in Athens when that city was the center of civilization and wealth, away back in the days of yesterday. Now Phocion was the town knocker. He went through the streets of Athens crying aloud that all the officials were corrupt. He said that the people at the City Hall were stealing the taxes. He claimed that the admirals in charge of the navy were embezzling the ropes and the sails; and finally, in his third edition, he went so far as to state that the priests at the temple of Delphi were getting away with part of the gold sent in as pious offerings to the god. This last outburst made the Alhenians very peevish with old man Phocion, and so they indicted him for high treason, alleging that he was trying to subvert the government. He was tried before a court much like one that some people of today think would give complete justice. It was called the Dikastery and consisted, as I remember, of several hundred judges. Complete justice being done by this efficient court, Phocion was speedily condemned to death. Yesterday, as we know, a man was executed by being compelled to drink the hemlock. At the City Hall in Athens they had a very neat execution chamber, fitted up with couches, rugs and palms. I don't think they had an orchestra or any girls in to dance the tango, but of this I am not certain, for an execution yesterday was quite a merry function. It was the custom for the condemned man and his friends to meet at the execution chamber and after they had talked for a while, the executioner would bring the hemlock which the criminal drank and passed quietly away. On the appointed day Phocion and
his friends met and sat talking about how perfectly rotten things were in Athens and how after Phocion was gone no one would be left to protect the city from the cloud of grafting harpies that were devouring it. Presently in came the executioner with the bowl of hemlock in his hands. As he crossed the threshold he stumbled and dropped the bowl, spilling the hemlock on the floor. “Now, look at that pinheaded mutt," cried Phocion's friends, “here we have been waiting for a half an hour and this poor boob comes in and spills the hemlock so that we will have to wait another half hour while he goes out and brews another bowl.” The executioner drew himself up with great dignity and said, “Gentlemen, you will have to excuse me. I am paid for the price of one execution. I do not furnish two executions for the price of one.” “Well, for God's sake,” exclaimed Phocion, “isn't this a hell of a state of affairs in Athens when a man can't die without being grafted for his own execution? Give this man two obols and let's have the thing over." I think it may now be granted that the motives of the men of yesterday were much the same as they are today. .
Let us consider whether those motives led them to make the same laws yesterday that we make today, and we may at the same time determine whether those laws operated or failed to operate in the same manner that they do today.
In that blessed state of perfection which the laws have today attained, some wise legislator, with much trouble and toil, induced the passage of a statute providing that, when a criminal is convicted, the judge may, in his own discretion, parole the prisoner. Thus today is justice tempered with mercy and we hail the accomplishment of this end as one of the most choice fruits of our advancement.
Yesterday there was brought before the propraetor Dollabella, a woman accused of poisoning her husband, a crime not rare yesterday, but in the splendid perfection of our civilization utterly unheard of today. The accused confessed but alleged certain brutalities that did not amount to a justification in law.
"Hem!” said Dollabella, "you confess to what the law says is a crime. These brutalities you mention are not included in the criminal code as excuses for your murderous instincts. Still this is a very complicated and interesting case and I will refer it to the higher authorities.”
The higher authorities considered long and doubtfully but finally ordered that a summons should be issued for the accused commanding her to appear and answer the charge one hundred years from that day.
Yesterday this action worked out the same beneficent end that the law of today accomplishes. Today the unfortunate drops quietly back into the current of society and the waters of oblivion close over him, while the law balked of her prey, drops back into her den. Yesterday, when the hour for answering the summons struck, Dolla bella was seated with the gods and the crime forgotten. Don't you think that the law worked out yesterday as it does today?
After much tribulation we have today passed a law fixing the price of a man's injury when he is destroyed or damaged by the carelessness or viciousness of another. Having done this we sit back complacently and call upon high heaven to witness with admiration the fruition of this most perfect flower of all the ages, crying aloud, “Look, the dawn of the millennium breaks.” That is today. Yesterday (Aulus Gellius Attic Nights, Vol. III, p. 410) the law provided that any one who injured a citizen should at once pay him twenty-five pence as damages. In the forenoon of yesterday there lived in Rome a gay roisterer named Lucius Neratius. His father, a great merchant, had by continuous industry accumulated many millions of sersterces and, when death with outstretched finger beckoned to him, he passed away, happy in the confidence that he had accomplished something remarkable, and dying, left his fortune
3 Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, Vol. 2, p. 347.