The Dream
(From The Golden Ass)

But I could in no wise sleep for the great fear which was in my heart, until it was about midnight, and then I began to slumber. But, alas! behold suddenly the chamber doors broke open, and locks, bolts, and posts fell down, that you would verily have thought that some thieves had presently come to have spoiled and robbed us. And my bed whereon I lay, being a truckle-bed, fashioned in the form of a cradle, and one of the feet broken and rotten, by violence was turned upside down, and I likewise was overwhelmed and covered lying in the same. And while I lay on the ground covered in this sort, I peeped under the bed to see what would happen. And behold there entered in two old women, the one bearing a burning torch, and the other a sponge and a naked sword; and so in this habit they stood about, Socrates being fast asleep.

Then she which bare the sword said unto the other, “Behold, sister Panthia, this is my dear and sweetheart, this is he who little regarding my love, doth not only defame me with reproachful words, but also intendeth to run away.” Which said, she pointed toward me that lay under the bed, and showed me to Panthia. “This is he,” quoth she, “which is his counselor, and persuadeth him to forsake me, and now being at the point of death, he lieth prostrate on the ground covered with his bed, and hath seen all our doings, and hopeth to escape scot-free from my hands; but I will cause that he shall repent himself too late, nay rather forthwith, of his former intemperate language, and his present curiosity.” Which words when I heard, I fell into a cold sweat, and my heart trembled with fear, insomuch that the bed over me did likewise rattle and shake. Then spake Panthia unto Meroe and said, “Sister, let us by and by tear him in pieces.” Then Meroe answered, “Nay, rather let him live, and bury the corpse of this poor wretch in some hold of the earth”; and therewithal she turned up the head of Socrates on the other side, and thrust her sword up to the hilt into the left part of his neck, and received the blood that gushed out, into a pot, that no drop thereof fell beside: which things I saw with mine own eyes; and as I think to the intent that she might alter nothing that pertained to sacrifice, which she accustomed to make, she thrust her hand down into the internals of his body, and searching about at length brought forth the heart of my miserable companion, Socrates, who having his throat cut in such sort, yield out a dreadful cry and gave up the ghost. Then Panthia stopped the wide wound of his throat with the sponge, and said, “O sponge, sprung and made of the sea, beware that thou pass not by running river.”

When this was ended, they went their ways, and the doors closed fast, the posts stood in their old places, and the locks and bolts were shut again. But I that lay upon the ground like one without soul, naked and cold, like to one that were more than half dead, yet reviving myself, and appointed as I thought for the gallows, began to say, “Alas! what shall become of me to-morrow, when my companion shall be found murdered here in the chamber? To whom shall I seem to tell any similitude of truth, whenas I shall tell the truth indeed? They will say, ‘If thou wert unable to resist the violence of the women, yet shouldst thou have cried for help: wouldst thou suffer the man to be slain before thy face and say nothing? Or why did they not slay thee likewise? Why did they spare thee that stood by and saw them commit that horrible fact? Wherefore although thou hast escaped their hands, yet thou shalt not escape ours.”’ While I pondered these things with myself, the night passed on, and so I resolved to take my horse before day, and go forward on my journey.

Howbeit the ways were unknown to me: and thereupon I took up my packet, unlocked and unbarred the doors, but those good and faithful doors, which in the night did open of their own accord, could then scantly be opened with their keys. And when I was out I cried, “O sirrah hostler, where art thou? Open the stable-door, for I will ride away by and by.” They hostler lying behind the stable-door upon a pallet and half asleep, “What (quoth he), do you not know that the ways be very dangerous? what mean you to rise at this time of night? If you, perhaps guilty of some heinous crime, be weary of your life, yet think you not that we are such sots that we will die for you.” Then said I, “It is wellnigh day, and moreover, what can thieves take from him that hath nothing? Dost thou not know, fool as thou art, if thou be naked, if ten giants should assail thee, they could not spoil or rob thee?” Whereunto the drowsy hostler, half asleep and turning on the other side, answered, “What know I whether you have murdered your companion whom you brought in yesternight or no, and now seek the means to escape away?” O Lord, at that time, I remember, the earth seemed to open, and methought I saw at hellgate the dog Cerberus ready to devour me; and then I verily believed that Meroe did not spare my throat moved with pity, but rather cruelly pardoned me to bring me to the gallows.

Wherefore I returned to my chamber, and there devised with myself in what sort I should finish my life. And therewithal I pulled out a piece of rope wherewith the bed was corded, and tied one end thereof about a rafter by the window, and with the other end I made a sliding knot, and stood upon my bed, and so put my neck into it, and when I leaped from the bed thinking verily to strangle myself and so die, behold the rope, being old and rotten, burst in the middle, and I fell down tumbling upon Socrates that lay under: and even at that same very time the hostler came in crying with a loud voice and said, “Where are you that made such haste at midnight, and now lies wallowing abed?” Whereupon (I know not whether it was by my fall, or by the great cry of the hostler) Socrates as waking out of a sleep, did rise up first and said, “It is not without cause that strangers do speak evil of all such hostlers, for this caitiff in his coming in, and with his crying out, I think under a color to steal away something, has waked me out of a sound sleep.” Then I rose up, joyful with a merry countenance, saying, “Behold, good hostler, my friend, my companion and my brother whom thou didst falsely affirm to be slain by me this night.” And therewithal I embraced my friend Socrates and kissed him, and took him by the hand and said, “Why tarry we? Why lose we the pleasure of this fair morning? let us go,” and so I took up my packet, and paid the charges of the house and departed.

And we had not gone a mile out of the town but it was broad day, and then I diligently looked upon Socrates’ throat to see if I could espy the place where Meroe thrust in her sword; but when I could not perceive any such thing, I thought with myself, What a madman am I, that being overcome with wine yesternight have dreamed such terrible things! behold, I see Socrates is sound, safe and in health. Where is his wound? where is the sponge? where is his great and new cut? And then I spake to him and said, “Verily it is not without occasion that physicians of experience do affirm, that such as fill their gorges abundantly with meat and drink shall dream of dire and horrible sights: for I myself, not tempering my appetite yesternight from pots of wine, did seem to see this night strange and cruel visions, that even yet I think myself sprinkled and wet with human blood.” Whereunto Socrates laughing made answer, “Nay, verily, I myself dreamed this night that my throat was cut, and that I felt the pain of the wound, and that my heart was pulled out of my belly, and the remembrance thereof makes me now to fear, for my knees do so tremble that I can scarce go any further; and therefore I would fain eat somewhat to strengthen and revive my spirits.” Then said I, “Behold here thy breakfast”; and therewithal I opened my scrip that hanged upon my shoulder, and gave him bread and cheese, and we sat down under a great plane tree, and I ate part with him. And while I beheld him eating greedily, I perceived that he waxed meager and pale, and that his lively color faded away, insomuch that being in great fear, and remembering those terrible furies of whom I lately dreamed, the first morsel of bread that I put in my mouth (which was but very small) did so stick in my jaws, that I could neither swallow it down, nor yet yield it up, and moreover the small time of our being together increased my fear: and what is he that seeing his companion die in the highway before his face, would not greatly lament and be sorry? But when that Socrates had eaten sufficiently, he waxed very thirsty, for indeed he had well-nigh devoured all a whole cheese: and behold evil fortune! There was behind the plane tree a pleasant running water as clear as crystal, and I said unto him, “Come hither, Socrates, to this water and drink thy full.” And then he rose and came to the river, and kneeled down upon the side of the bank to drink; but he had scarce touched the water with his lips, whenas behold the wound of his throat opened wide, and the sponge suddenly fell into the water, and after issued out a little remnant of blood, and his body being then without life, had fallen into the river, had I not caught him by the leg and so pulled him up. And after that I had lamented a good space the death of my wretched companion, I buried him in the sands there by the river.