25. But woe unto thee, thou stream of human custom! Who shall
stay thy course? How long shall it be before thou art dried up? How
long wilt thou carry down the sons of Eve into that huge and formidable
ocean, which even they who are embarked on the cross (lignum) can
scarce pass over? Do I not read in thee of Jove the thunderer and
adulterer? And the two verily he could not be; but it was that,
while the fictitious thunder served as a cloak, he might have warrant
to imitate real adultery. Yet which of our gowned masters can lend a
temperate ear to a man of his school who cries out and says: "These
were Homer's fictions; he transfers things human to the gods. I
could have wished him to transfer divine things to us." But it would
have been more true had he said: "These are, indeed, his fictions,
but he attributed divine attributes to sinful men, that crimes might
not be accounted crimes, and that whosoever committed any might appear
to imitate the celestial gods and not abandoned men."
26. And yet, thou stream of hell, into thee are cast the sons of
men, with rewards for learning these things; and much is made of it
when this is going on in the forum in the sight of laws which grant a
salary over and above the rewards. And thou beatest against thy rocks
and roarest, saying, "Hence words are learnt hence eloquence is to
be attained, most necessary to persuade people to your way of
thinking, and to unfold your opinions." So, in truth, we should
never have understood these words, "golden shower, " "bosom,"
"intrigue," "highest heavens," and other words written in the same
place, unless Terence had introduced a good-for-nothing youth upon
the stage, setting up Jove as his example of lewdness: "Viewing a
picture, where the tale was drawn, Of Jove's descending in a golden
shower To Danae's bosom . . . with a woman to intrigue."
And see how he excites himself to lust, as if by celestial authority,
when he says:
"Great Jove, Who shakes the highest heavens with his thunder, And
I, poor mortal man not do the same! I did it, and with a I my
heart I did it." Not one whir more easily are the words learnt for
this vileness, but by their means is the vileness perpetrated with more
confidence. I do not blame the words, they being, as it were,
choice and precious vessels, but the wine of error which was drunk in
them to us by inebriated teachers; and unless we drank, we were!
beaten, without liberty of appeal to any sober judge. And yet, O my
God, in whose presence I can now with security recall this,
did I, unhappy one, learn these things willingly, and with
delight, and for this was I called a boy of good promise?