The Golden Ass, Book VII

Book VII:1-4 Back at the cave


As darkness vanished with the light of day and the sun’s bright chariot lit the world another of the robber band arrived, as evident from the mutual greetings. He seated himself at the entrance to the cave, panting heavily, and when he’d recovered his breath announced the following to that guild of thieves:

‘As for Milo’s house, the one we robbed in Hypata, you can rest easy, there’s nothing at all to fear. After your brave attack, when you carried off the loot and returned to camp, I mingled with the crowd. Pretending to be indignant and aggrieved, I tried to find what steps they’d take to investigate the crime; whether they’d start a search for the robbers, and how extensive it might be, so as to report on everything, as you ordered. They eventually all agreed, on rational grounds not spurious evidence, to arrest one Lucius as the obvious culprit. Not long ago he’d insinuated himself into Milo’s house, pretending to be a gentleman, with false letters of introduction, was received as a guest and treated like a friend. While staying for a few days, he’d inveigled his way into the maid’s affections, with false declarations of love, taken careful note of the locks and bolts on the doors, and explored that very part of the house where the family wealth was stored. As no slight indicator of guilt, they pointed out that he’d run off that night, at the hour of the crime, and never been seen since. He’d a ready means of escape: he’d arrived on his own white thoroughbred and could easily outpace and frustrate their pursuit then hide himself miles away. They thought his slave, found in the house, would know something, naturally, of his master’s plans and crimes, so by order of the magistrates he was clapped into gaol, tortured in several ways, and almost racked to death, though he still confessed to nothing incriminating. However agents have been sent to this Lucius’ province to seek the accused, so he can pay for his wickedness.’

While he was speaking, I compared the previous good-fortune of a happier Lucius with my present wretchedness as a luckless ass. I groaned from the depths of my heart, and it occurred to me it was not for nothing that wise men of old imagined Fortune as blind, and even proclaimed she was born lacking eyes, since she forever favours the evil and undeserving, and never shows justice in dealing with human beings, but chooses to lodge with precisely those whom she’d flee furthest from if she could see. And worse than that, she bestows on men their diametrically opposite reputation, with the sinful being considered virtuous, while the most innocent is subject to noxious rumours. After all, she’d attacked me most savagely, and reduced me to a beast, to a quadruped of the lowest order. Even the least sympathetic would find my troubles worthy of grief and pity. Now I was being accused of stealing from my own dear friend and host, a charge bordering on parricide, not mere robbery. And I couldn’t defend myself or utter a single word in denial. Now that this criminal charge had been made against me in my own presence, I couldn’t bear anyone thinking I had a bad conscience, or was silently acquiescing.  I wanted to call out, if only to cry: ‘Not guilty!’ And I brayed that first word over and over, unable to articulate the second, noising the first, still, again and again: ‘Nawt….nawt,’ my pendulous vibrating lips sounding as fully as they could. What more can I say in complaint against Fortune’s perversity? She was even shameless enough to make me the stable-mate and companion of my own servant and beast of burden, my horse!

Submerged in these thoughts I suddenly recalled my more serious problem, namely the robber’s firm decree that I’d be sacrificed to become the girls’ tomb, and I kept looking down at my belly imagining it pregnant with that wretched child. But the spy who brought the news of my false accusation, pulled out a thousand in gold, which he’d hidden by sewing it into his clothing, which he said he’d stolen from sundry travellers, and was now his modest contribution to communal funds. Then he asked anxiously after the health of his comrades-in-arms. Learning that some, the bravest in fact, had died in various brave encounters, he suggested they observe a truce and leave the roads unmolested a while, devoting their time instead to a search for reinforcements, and recruit some fresh young men to build up their martial ranks to the troop’s former strength. He said the reluctant respond to fear, and the willing to rewards, and that many would like to change their trade and renounce a vile and servile life to achieve well-nigh sovereign power. For himself, he’d recently met a giant of a man, young, broad of build, and strong of arm. He’d encouraged him, and persuaded him to turn his strength, unemployed in idleness, to a useful task, and gain some profit from his fine physique while he possessed it, and instead of stretching a hand out to beg for pennies, exercise it instead scooping up gold.


Book VII:5-8 The new recruit


The robbers, one and all, agreed to his suggestion, to recruit this young man, who seemed already willing, and track down others to fill their ranks. Their comrade left but soon returned as promised with the brawny beggar, head and shoulders taller than everyone there. Of gigantic stature, he towered over them all, though his cheeks were only just showing a trace of beard. He was only half-covered by a patchwork of rags, ill-fitting and badly sewn, through which a muscular chest and stomach gleamed.

He spoke on entrance: ‘Hail brave followers of Mars, and now my faithful fellow-soldiers, willingly receive a willing recruit, one of heroic vigour, who accepts wounds to his flesh more eagerly even than gold to his hand, one superior to death itself that other men fear. Don’t judge my value from these rags, I’m no destitute or outlaw. I commanded a strong and powerful troop that wasted all Macedonia. I’m Haemus of Thrace, the famous brigand, at whose name every province trembles, and my father was Theron, a famous robber too. I was weaned on human blood, and raised in our bandit ranks, as heir to, and emulator of, my father’s virtues. But in a brief moment of time I lost a whole host of courageous comrades, and all the vast treasure we commanded. To my misfortune I chanced to attack an Imperial Procurator, who’d been driven from his post, and two thousand in gold a year, by a harsh change of fortune. But I’ll tell the tale in sequence, so you understand it all.

‘There was once a man, distinguished and famous for his countless services at Caesar’s court, whom the Emperor himself held in great regard. He was exiled, on account of fierce envy, through false accusation by duplicitous people. And his wife, a certain Plotina, of singular chastity and rare loyalty, who had borne her husband ten children and was the mainstay of the family, spurning contemptuously the ease of urban refinement, joined her husband in exile, his companion in misfortune. She cut her hair short, and changed her looks, to appear as a man, tying her richest jewels and gold coins in a money-belt round her waist. Escorted by military guards with drawn swords, she fearlessly shared his dangers and showed an unsleeping regard for his well-being, bearing endless discomforts with a man’s spirit. After suffering the countless trials and tribulations of the voyage, they were on their way to Zante, which the turn of fate had decreed as their temporary residence.

But when they came ashore near Actium, where we were raiding after our leaving Macedonia, we broke into the little inn, near the harbour, as they were sleeping. We made off with everything in the darkness, but nearly ran into serious trouble before we could flee. When she heard us at the door, his wife ran from their room and roused the whole place with endless cries, summoning the soldiers and servants by name, shouting loud enough to raise the whole neighbourhood. We only got away scot-free because they were all so terrified they stayed hidden.

Then that saintly lady – I can call her nothing less – that wife of peerless loyalty, appealed to Caesar’s divine power and, through her virtuous ways, won his favour, gaining a swift recall for her husband, and full revenge on their attackers. Caesar proscribed the group composed of ‘Haemus and his thieves’ and we instantly disbanded such is the strength of a nod from an emperor. Then, as regiments of soldiers hunted down, cornered, and killed the remnants of my band, I escaped alone, barely managing to elude the jaws of death. This is how I did so:

I dressed in a woman’s flowery robe with loose billowing folds, covered my head with a tightly-woven turban, and wearing a pair of white and flimsy women’s shoes, disguised as a member of the weaker sex, I climbed on the back of a donkey loaded with sheaves of barley, and so rode right through the ranks of hostile soldiers. As yet my beardless cheeks gleamed with youthful smoothness, so they let me pass unscathed. But I did not belie my father’s reputation of my own for bravery, though I felt fear so close to those martial blades. Disguised in strange garb, I raided villages and villas alone, to add to my travelling fund.’ With this, he tore open his rags and poured out two thousand in gold before their eyes, saying: ‘Here, I freely offer this to the guild as my contribution, my dowry if you like, and I offer myself as leader, a position of trust. If you agree, I’ll turn the stones of this cave to gold.’


Book VII:9-12 Escape from the robbers


Without hesitation or delay, the thieves all voted to appoint him their general, and produced an elegant robe for him to wear once he’d doffed his now moneyless coat of rags. So transformed, he embraced them one by one, took his seat at the head of the table, and his inauguration was celebrated with a meal and a drinking bout. As they talked, he learned of the girl’s attempt at flight, my conveying her, and the monstrous punishment proposed for the two of us. He asked where she was, and when he’d seen her, all loaded down with chains, he returned wrinkling his nostrils in disapproval.

‘I’m certainly not rash or foolish enough to wish to disagree with your ruling, but I’d suffer from all the effects of a bad conscience if I hid my considered views. Trust me: I’m concerned for your interests above all. And if you don’t like my suggestion, you can always revert to your plan. I consider that thieves, at least those who think straight, should put nothing ahead of their profit, not even revenge, which often rebounds on the avenger. So, if you kill the girl by sewing her up in the ass’s belly you achieve nothing but satisfying your resentment at zero gain. I say, instead, take her off to some city and sell her there. A girl of her tender age and background should fetch no inconsiderable price. I’ve some old friends who could pimp her, and one of them I’m sure will take her for a pile of gold. She’ll end up in a brothel, there’ll be no escaping and running away again; and then as a slave in a whorehouse she’ll be yielding you your revenge. I lay this advantageous proposal before you in all sincerity; but yours is the decision, she belongs to you.’

So as advocate for increasing the thieves’ treasure, he fought our cause as the illustrious saviour of girl and ass. The others spent a long time deliberating and my heart was in torment, or rather my wretched spirits, over their lengthy meeting, but at last they agreed to their new leader’s proposal, and freed the girl from her chains. The moment she saw the young man and heard the words ‘brothel’ and ‘pimp’ pass his lips she seemed eager, even smiled cheerfully, which led me, naturally, to take a gloomy view of her whole sex. Here was a girl who’d feigned love for her suitor and a wish for true marriage suddenly exhibiting delight at the mention of a vile and sordid whorehouse. Indeed, at that moment, the character and morals of all the women in the world hung on the judgement of an ass.

Now the leader spoke again: ‘Well now, we’re going to sell the girl and since we’re going to recruit new associates, why not make an offering to Mars the Comrade, though we have no animal fit for the sacrifice, and not even enough wine for a proper drinking bout. Grant me ten of you then, and that should be sufficient to raid the nearest village and furnish a Salian banquet for us all.’

Then he departed, while the rest set about building a large fire, and piled up an altar of green turf to the god Mars.

Later the leader and his men returned, driving a flock of sheep and goats, and carrying skins of wine. They picked out a large shaggy old he-goat and sacrificed it to Mars the Companion and Comrade. Instantly the preparations for a luxurious banquet began. ‘You’ll find me at the head of your pleasures not just your expeditions and raids,’ he said, and tackling the tasks with exceptional skill, their host attended with vigour to all their needs. He swept the cave and set the table, cooked and sliced the meat and served it promptly, and filled every cup to the brim, time and again. In between, on the pretext of fetching what was needed, he constantly visited the girl. He would merrily offer her titbits he’d stolen on the sly, and sips from some cup he had tasted, while she would readily accept, and when he wished to kiss her, shared his passion with eager, open lips. All of which quite shocked me.

“What!’ I exclaimed to myself, ‘Have you forgotten your marriage, and he who shares your love, young lady? How can you prefer this blood-stained stranger to your new spouse, whoever he may be, to whom your parents wed you? Doesn’t your conscience prick you? Do you delight in trampling over affections, and playing the harlot amongst swords and spears? What if the rest find out somehow? We’ll be back to you and the ass and my extinction again! You really are toying with someone else’s hide.’

It was while I was rambling on to myself, in extreme indignation, that I made a discovery. It was due to remarks of theirs which, though capable of interpretation, were not unintelligible to a perceptive ass. He’d raised his voice a little, in the course of their conversation, thinking no more of my presence than if I were truly dead, saying: ‘Courage, dearest Charite, your enemies will soon be your prisoners.’ He was not Haemus the robber, it seems, but Tlepolemus her husband! The wine he thrust on the bandits, with growing insistence, was now warmed and unmixed with water. They grew confused and sodden with the drink, while he himself abstained. He even made me suspect, by Hercules, that he was mixing a soporific in those cups. Soon every single one of them was soaked in wine, and the whole lot slumbering as if they were dead. At which point he tied them up, and fettered them with shackles at his leisure. Then he placed the girl on my back, and set us all on our way homewards.


Book VII:13-15 In clover, and the opposite


As soon as we reached the place, the whole town poured out to witness the sight they’d prayed for. Parents, relatives, followers, freedmen, slaves ran out to meet us, their happy faces flushed with delight. We formed a procession of every sex and age and, by Hercules, what a new and memorable spectacle it proved, with a virgin riding in triumph on an ass. As for me I was happy as even a man could be, and desiring to be no stranger to, and in tune with, the proceedings, I pricked my ears, flared my nostrils, and brayed to my heart’s content, or rather trumpeted with a thunderous noise. Her parents took Charite to her room and tended to her every need, but Tlepolemus turned straight around, with me and a mighty host of townsmen and beasts of burden. I went willingly, not merely from my usual sense of curiosity, but with a burning desire to see the bandits’ capture. We found them all incapacitated still, by wine more than their bonds, so all their booty was found, brought out, and they loaded us up with gold and silver and all the rest. As for the robbers, some were rolled still bound to the nearby cliff and there tossed over, while others were beheaded with their own swords and left to rot.

We joyfully returned to town, exulting at our fine vengeance; the loot was handed in to the public treasury, and Tlepolemus reunited with the girl he’d rescued.

From that moment lady Charite who called me her saviour, took the greatest care of me. On the day of her nuptial feast she had my manger filled to the top with barley, with enough hay to stuff a Bactrian camel. But how utterly, with what dreadful curses, I condemned that wretched Photis for turning me into an ass and not a dog, when I saw those creatures gorged and swollen from all the stolen scraps and remains of that magnificent feast.

After their long-delayed wedding night, and her initiation into the ways of Venus, the new bride told her husband and parents how grateful she was to me, not ceasing till they’d promised to grant me the highest honours. So they called a council of their wisest friends to choose the most suitable reward. One suggested I be pastured beside the house, with nothing to do but feed on the finest barley, beans and vetch. But another, who voted for my liberty, won the debate. He advised letting me loose among the herds of horses, to run freely over the fields, and beget a host of noble mules, from the brood-mares, for their owners.

So they summoned the head of their stud-farm, and after fine words of recommendation, I was led away. Assigned to him, about to relinquish burdensome loads forever, I felt joyous and light-hearted as I trotted ahead. I’d won my freedom and surely, when summer came to the grassy meadows, I’d win some roses too. And another thought: if as an ass I’d gained such gratitude and earned such honour, I’d surely be honoured even more, with even more generous favours, once I’d recovered my human form.

But when the herdsman arrived at the farm, far from the city, there were no welcome delights for me, not even liberty. His wife, an avaricious, evil-minded woman, harnessed me in a trice to a mill, to grind corn for herself and her family, and profit from my sweat, and she whipped me time and again with a leafy branch. Not content just to wear me out over her own grain, she hired me out to mill for the neighbours’. And in my wretchedness, she even took the barley owed to me for my labours, and crushed and ground it in the same mill as I circled round and round, then sold it to the farms nearby. As for me, attached all day to that tiresome machine, she waited till dusk then gave me bran, all caked and dirty and full of grit.


Book VII:16-21 Hard times


Utterly broken as I was by such suffering, cruel Fortune designed new torments for me, no doubt so I could, as they say, ‘revel to the very utmost in the glory of brave deeds, won at home and abroad’. This notable herdsman, obeying at last his master’s orders, finally allowed me to share the fields with his herd of horses. Now I was an ass at liberty again, joyful and frolicking as I frisked about with delicate steps, choosing the fittest mares to be my concubines. But even this happy expectation ended in deadly ruin. There were some fearful stallions there, long fed on grass and well fattened for their use at stud, frightening at best and stronger indeed than any ass. They were alarmed at my presence and ready to halt any sinful adultery, so they broke the laws of hospitable Jove, and attacked their rival with furious hatred. One with a huge chest reared to the heavens, head held high, brow aloft, and battered me with his front hooves. Another showed me his hefty rump all meat and muscle, and kicked out with his hind legs. A third menaced me with a wicked neigh, ears laid back, baring teeth bright as axe-blades, and bit my hide all over. It was as I’d read in the tale of Diomedes, King of Thrace, who fed his unfortunate guests to his savage horses to rip apart and devour. Yes, that vicious tyrant was so mean with his barley he assuaged the appetites of his ravening herds with generous helpings of human flesh.

Now I’d suffered similar torment in those stallions’ relentless attacks, I longed to go back to that circling mill-stone of mine. But Fortune not yet satisfied with my torture, invented a different, fresh plague for me. I was sent off to carry timber from the mountain, with a boy in charge who was surely the meanest boy in the world. Not only was I wearied by the steep mountain slopes, my hooves worn away with stumbling on jagged stones, I was so wounded by blows from his stick, even on the path down, that the pain of the beating pierced me to my marrow. Thrashing away at my right side, forever on the one place, he wore a hole in the skin and produced a great gash, as wide as a ditch or a window, and he kept on flailing away at the place, bathed though it was in blood. He loaded a weight of wood on me, enough to defeat an elephant, and every time the weight shifted and the load became unbalanced, instead of transferring timber from the side that collapsed, and reducing the discomfort a little to ease my burden by equalising the pressure, he simply levelled the load by piling stones on the opposite side. Even with all my torments, he was still happy to increase them, leaping up whenever we crossed some stream flowing over the trail, and squatting on my back to save his boots from getting wet, a trifling addition in his mind to my task. And if I happened to stumble under that intolerable burden, where the edge of the bank was slippery with mud, and collapse in the ooze, the inimitable lad who, in my weariness, should have lifted a hand and dragged me out by the halter, or the tail, or dismantled the load so that I could free myself, offered not a jot of help, but instead beginning at my head, or rather the tips of my ears, thrashed me all over with his enormous stick till the blows brought me to my feet, like a dose of strong medicine.

And then he devised another pernicious scheme: he gathered some sharp thorns with poisonous tips, twisted them into a bundle, and tied them to my tail as a dangling instrument of torture that bounced and swayed as I walked, wounding me savagely with their cruel needles. So I laboured under twin evils. If I ran forward at a trot to escape the boy’s merciless assaults, I was lacerated more fiercely by the thorns, while if I slowed down for a while to spare the pain, I was forced to move more swiftly by his blows. That most vile of creatures seemed possessed of one idea, to kill me somehow, and now and then he swore to do just that.

One day his detestable malice goaded him to a more vicious scheme. Losing my patience at his endless insolence, I’d raised my powerful hooves against him, and now he perpetrated the following outrage. We were on the road, and I was loaded with a heavy tightly-bound bundle of flax when, stealing live coals from the first farmhouse we passed, he planted them in the centre of my load. The fire fed by the dry stalks flared up, and a deadly heat gripped me from head to hoof. At first I could see no escape from dire disaster, no means of salvation: instant cremation allowed no time to ponder the path to salvation. But Fortune smiled on me in the depths of my misfortune, to save me for perils to come perhaps, but freeing me at least from present sentence of death. I saw a puddle of water nearby, fresh from yesterday’s rain, and without further thought I got down and rolled right in it. When the fire was utterly quenched, I emerged at last, free of my burden and liberated from death. But the bold and vicious lad threw the blame for his wicked act on me, telling the farmer I’d purposely walked over a neighbour’s outside fire, and deliberately stumbled and slipped, so setting myself alight, adding with a grin: ‘How long do we have to feed this arsonist?’

Not many days went by before he’d thought of something far worse. He sold the load of wood I carried at the first cottage he came to then led me home, my back empty, to announce he could stand my wretched behaviour no longer and was leaving his vile and worthless job as my driver, inventing this tale of complaint:

‘Look at the lazy, slow-footed, all too asinine beast! To add to the rest of his foul behaviour he lands me now in new troubles. Whenever he sees some pretty woman, or fresh young girl, or tender youth on the road ahead, he at once upsets his load, and even throws off his pack-saddle, so he can run at them madly. The mighty lover knocks those travellers to the ground then, breathing hard, slakes his illicit alien lusts on them, in acts of bestial desire foreign even to Venus. He pretends to kiss them too, fondling and biting them with his vile lips. It will lead us into all sorts of quarrels and civil litigation, even criminal charges. Why, just now, seeing an honest young woman, he threw off the wood he was carrying, scattering it all over the road, and attacked her furiously. Our sweet lover-boy here had her down on the filthy ground, and was ready to mount her in front of every passer-by. If some travellers hadn’t heard her shouts and cries, run to help, snatched her from between his hooves and saved her, the poor thing would have been trampled and disembowelled. She’d have suffered a painful end, and bequeathed us a capital charge.’


Book VII:22-24 Exit pursued by a bear


With lies like these, mingled with other remarks guaranteed to weigh heavily against my humble silence, he roused the farmer’s men to murderous anger. ‘Why don’t we make a sacrifice of this blatant adulterer,’ said one, ‘as a fitting punishment for those monstrous acts of his. Slaughter him now, my lad,’ he added, ‘throw his guts to the dogs but keep the rest of the meat for our meal. We can stiffen the hide by rubbing ashes on it, take it back to the master, and say he was killed by a wolf.’

In a moment, my vile accuser, now turned executioner of the farmhand’s sentence, joyful at my trouble and remembering that kick, and a sadly ineffective one it was by Hercules, swiftly whetted his long knife on a stone.

But one of the rustics cried: ‘It’s wrong to kill a fine ass like that, despite his wanton debaucheries, and so lose his labour and service. Geld him instead, so he can’t rise to venery and will free you from fear of prosecution. Besides it will make him fatter and heavier, something I’ve seen happen not just with lazy asses but horses driven savage by such extreme urges they too turned wild and mad. After they’d been castrated they were gentle and tame, fit for carrying packs and suffering every other labour. So, take my advice if you will, give me a little time to go, as I intended, to the nearest market, and I’ll fetch the tools we need to do the job. I’ll return soon, and we’ll pen that fierce intractable lover of yours, spread his legs, emasculate him, and he’ll be gentler than any whether in the flock.’

So his sentence saved me from the jaws of Orcus only to condemn me to a fate worse than death, to the ultimate punishment. I mourned and grieved at the thought of utter ruin, at the loss of those extremities of flesh. I sought for a way to kill myself, starvation perhaps or a suicide leap. If I was going to die anyway I might at least perish in one piece. While I was ruminating over which means to take, that lad, my executioner, took me out at dawn on the usual track up the mountain. Tethering me to the pendulous branch of an enormous oak, he went on along the path some way and started chopping up a load of timber. Suddenly a huge and deadly she-bear raised her head from her den nearby. I was terrified at the sudden sight of that fearful apparition. I reared on my hind legs, stretched out my neck and, raising my whole body high in the air, broke the rope that held me, and beat a swift retreat. Throwing not only my hooves, but all the rest of me into that headlong charge, I raced rapidly downhill, and flung out into the open fields below, running as hard as I could from that monstrous bear and, worse than the bear, that boy.


Book VII:25-28 The eve of execution


Now a passer-by, seeing me alone and wandering loose, quickly seized me and scrambled onto my back. Beating me with his stick, he drove me along an unfamiliar lane. I followed his lead willingly, since I was leaving the scene of an imminent and atrocious theft of my virility. Anyway I was not much moved by his blows, used to being thrashed with sticks as a matter of form.

But Fortune was obstinate in her attentions, and with wondrous speed thwarted any chance of a hiding place, and laid a fresh ambush for me. The herdsmen were looking for a lost heifer, and seeking all over the place, came on us by chance. They knew me at once, snatched at the halter, and started to drag me off, the stranger resisting bravely and fiercely. ‘It’s robbery with violence,’ he swore, ‘why are you attacking me?’ ‘What,’ they shouted, ‘accusing us of treating you unjustly when it’s you who are making off with our ass you stole! Tell us instead what you’ve done with the boy who was driving him. No doubt you’ve murdered him.’ And they pulled him to the ground, thumping him with their fists, and kicking him black and blue. He swore he’d seen no driver, only the ass alone and running loose, and had taken him with intent only to return him to his owner, and so gain a reward. ‘If the ass himself, whom I surely wish I’d never laid eyes on, could only speak, he’d bear witness to my innocence, and you’d certainly regret this unjust treatment.’

His protestations accomplished nothing. The aggrieved men roped him by the neck and dragged him towards the forested slope of the mountain where the lad had gone to fetch timber. He seemed nowhere to be seen, but at last they came upon his remains, dismembered and scattered far and wide. I was certain beyond doubt it had been done by the bear, and if I’d had the power of speech, indeed I’d have told them what I knew. But I had to be content with what I did have; the silent pleasure of my revenge, belated though it was. When they’d gathered the pieces and with difficulty fitted the corpse together, they consigned the whole thing to the earth. My Bellerophon, whom they accused of horse-theft and bloody assassination, they dragged in chains to their hut, until, as they said, they could haul him off to the magistrates next day, and turn him over to them for punishment.

The lad’s parents were mourning him, beating their breasts and weeping copious tears, when the fellow who’d demanded my imminent impairment appeared on the scene, true to his promise. ‘He’s not the cause of our recent loss,’ said the rest, ‘but tomorrow certainly you can remove that worthless ass’s parts, and why not his head. These people here will gladly lend a hand.’

Thus my ruin was postponed to the following day. For my part I was grateful to that fine lad, since by dying he’d granted me a brief day’s delay. But not even that scant time was left me for thanks and rest, since the boy’s mother broke into the stable, bewailing her son’s cruel death; dressed in black, weeping, moaning, tearing her ash-strewn grey hair with both hands, she screamed and shouted endlessly, violently clutching and beating at her breasts.

‘Here he is,’ she cried, ‘idly slumped by his manger, a slave to gluttony, filling that belly of his with food, without a moment’s pity for my pain, without a thought for his late master’s dreadful fate. He scorns my years no doubt, and thinks he can get away with such a thing scot-free. But whatever air of innocence he assumes it’s a feature of the worst crimes that the perpetrator considers him self safe, despite a guilty conscience. By all the gods, you four legged villain, even if you had a voice to plead with, the greatest of fools would never be convinced you’re not to blame for this atrocity.  You could have defended my poor boy with your teeth, and protected him with your hooves. You were ready enough to attack him with all that kicking, why couldn’t you help him with equal eagerness when he was in danger of death? You could have carried him swiftly off on your back, and snatched him away from the blood-stained hands of that wicked thief. It was wrong to abandon and desert your fellow-toiler, guardian, guide, and friend, and flee alone. Don’t you know they punish those who fail to help those at risk of dying, because in and of itself it’s sinful behaviour? But you murderer, you’ll not rejoice in my misfortune for much longer! I’ll teach you to know the strength that’s natural to bitter grief.’

With that she untied the belt under her robe, fastened each of my feet separately, and pulled them together as tightly as she could, clearly to stop me from fighting back. Then she took up the pole, used to bar the stable doors, and beat me ceaselessly, until in fact, exhausted, her strength gave out, and the weapon sank under its own weight, falling from her hands. Then complaining that her arms were too quickly tired, she ran to the hearth and chose a red-hot brand which she shoved between my haunches, forcing me to employ my sole remaining means of defence, a stream of foul liquid excrement that I squirted over her eyes and face. At last I drove the pernicious wretch away, blind and stinking: or my Meleager of an ass would have died of crazy Althaea’s brand.