Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt


The Gift of the Muses

It happened on a warm day in summer that a man and a boy lay down under a tree. There was a cold fountain close by. It ran over a grassy slope among images and statues which showed it to be a fountain sacred to the water-nymphs.

There was a choir of grass-hoppers in the tree and they added their music to the summer-like harmony of the hour.

The man was a famous wise man and he said to the boy, "The grass-hoppers are singing over our heads as is their custom in the heat of the day.

They are talking with each other and appear to be looking down on us. If they should see us falling asleep, as most men do at noontime, they would think us indolent of mind, and they would laugh us to scorn.

They would say, some slaves or other had come to listen to their music and that they had gone to sleep like sheep by the side of the fountain.

But if they see us talking together and sailing by them as if they were sirens who had lost their power of enchantment, the gift which they have from the Muses, to confer upon men, they may perchance bestow upon us."

"What is this gift from the gods?" said the boy. "I have never heard of it."

"It is not proper," replied the man, "that a lover of wisdom should not have heard of these things. Know, then, that it is said that these grass-hoppers were men before the Muses were born.

But when the Muses came they invented song, and some of the men who lived at that time, were so overcome by the pleasure of listening to their singing, that they forgot to eat and drink.

Thus they died thoughtlessly from starvation. From their bones the race of grass-hoppers sprang up, and the Muses gave them this gift, that they could live without food from the time of their birth, and they could sing all the time without food or drink until they died.

And the Muses gave them another gift, that after death they should go to the Muses and live with them, and inform each Muse by whom she was honored on the earth. So now they tell the goddess of the dance who honors her and they make the dancers dear to that goddess. And they tell the goddess of love all about lovers. And so on with all the rest.

But the goddess of wisdom and the goddess of learning they tell of those that pass their lives in speaking wisely. And upon these people most of all, the Muses pour forth their heavenly gifts. Therefore, my boy, let us not sleep lest we lose the gift of the Muses."

"No, indeed," said the boy, "let us talk of wise things and not sleep."

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