AN ADVENTURE IN INDIA
All the world knows that Pythagoras, while
he resided in India, attended the school of
the Gymnosophists, and learned the language
of beasts and plants. One day, while he was
walking in a meadow near the sea-shore, he
heard these words:
"How unfortunate that I was born an herb!
I scarcely attain two inches in height,
when a voracious monster, an horrid animal,
tramples me under his large feet; his jaws
are armed with rows of sharp scythes, by
which he cuts, then grinds, and then swallows
me. Men call this monster a sheep. I do not
suppose there is in the whole creation a
more detestable creature."
Pythagoras proceeded a little way and found
an oyster yawning on a small rock. He had
not yet adopted that admirable law, by which
we are enjoined not to eat those animals
which have a resemblance to us. He had
scarcely taken up the oyster to swallow it,
when it spoke these affecting words:
"O, Nature, how happy is the herb, which
is, as I am, thy work! though it be cut
down, it is regenerated and immortal; and
we, poor oysters, in vain are defended by
a double cuirass: villains eat us by the
dozens at their breakfast, and all is over
with us forever. What an horrible fate is
that of an oyster, and how barbarous are
Pythagoras shuddered; he felt the enormity
of the crime he had nearly committed; he
begged pardon of the oyster with tears in
his eyes, and replaced it very carefully
on the rock.
As he was returning to the city, profoundly
meditating on this adventure, he saw spiders
devouring flies; swallows eating spiders,
and sparrow-hawks eating swallows. "None
of these," said he, "are philosophers."
On his entrance, Pythagoras was stunned,
bruised, and thrown down by a lot of
tatterdemalions, who were running and
crying: "Well done, he fully deserved it."
"Who? What?" said Pythagoras, as he was
getting up. The people continued running
and crying: "O how delightful it will be to
see them boiled!"
Pythagoras supposed they meant lentiles, or
some other vegetables: but he was in an
error; they meant two poor Indians. "Oh!"
said Pythagoras, "these Indians, without
doubt, are two great philosophers weary
of their lives, they are desirous of
regenerating under other forms; it affords
pleasure to a man to change his place of
residence, though he may be but indifferently
lodged: there is no disputing on taste."
He proceeded with the mob to the public
square, where he perceived a lighted pile
of wood, and a bench opposite to it, which
was called a tribunal. On this bench judges
were seated, each of whom had a cow's tail
in his hand, and a cap on his head, with
ears resembling those of the animal which
bore Silenus when he came into that country
with Bacchus, after having crossed the
Erytrean sea without wetting a foot, and
stopping the sun and moon; as it is recorded
with great fidelity in the Orphicks.
Among these judges there was an honest man
with whom Pythagoras was acquainted. The
Indian sage explained to the sage of Samos
the nature of that festival to be given to
the people of India.
"These two Indians," said he, "have not the
least desire to be committed to the flames.
My grave brethren have adjudged them to be
burnt; one for saying, that the substance
of Xaca is not that of Brahma; and the other
for supposing, that the approbation of the
Supreme Being was to be obtained at the
point of death without holding a cow by
the tail; 'Because,' said he, 'we may be
virtuous at all times, and we cannot always
have a cow to lay hold of just when we may
have occasion.' The good women of the city
were greatly terrified at two such heretical
opinions; they would not allow the judges
a moment's peace until they had ordered the
execution of those unfortunate men."
Pythagoras was convinced that from the herb
up to man, there were many causes of chagrin.
However, he obliged the judges and even the
devotees to listen to reason, which happened
only at that time.
He went afterwards and preached toleration
at Crotona; but a bigot set fire to his house,
and he was burnt -- the man who had delivered
the two Hindoos from the flames? Let those
save themselves who can!