THE LIFE OF THE VOLUPTUARIES
MULIEBRAL VOLUPTUARIES. "Let us go upstairs and there you shall find nothing but genuine pleasures, I promise you, " Mr. Searchall remarked. So we went upstairs and entered the first hall; I beheld several rows of suspended and swinging couches piled high with downy feather-beds: the people lolling on them were surrounded by swarms of servants with fly-swatters and fans and other contrivances in their hands, ever ready for all manner of service. Whenever one of them wished to arise, hands from all sides were instantly stretched out to him; dressing, he was offered nothing but the softest silk garments; whenever he wished to go anywhere, he was carried on litters upholstered with cushions. "Behold, here you have the comfort you have been seeking!" exclaimed my interpreter, "what more could you ask? To possess such abundance of every good thing so as to have no need of taking thought for anything, to be spared the touch of all toil, to have everything one's soul desires, to allow no ill wind to blow on you, is not this a blessed state?" "These halls certainly are more cheerful than those torture chambers beneath, " I answered, "but even here I do not find everything to my liking. " "What is amiss again?" he asked. "I dislike these lazy fellows with bulging eyes, bloated faces, swollen bellies, and untouchable limbs which hurt like an inflamed boil," I replied, "if they touch anything or anyone brushes against them, or if they are caught in a draft, they straightway sicken. Stagnant water rots and stinks, I have heard, and here I see examples of it. These men do not enjoy life because they sleep it away and waste it; there is nothing here to attract me." "What a queer philosopher you are!" remarked my interpreter.
2 GAMES AND PLAYS. Then they led me into another hall where my eyes and ears were greeted with new charms: I saw delightful gardens, pools, and game preserves, with game, birds, and fish; the air was filled with charming music; I also saw jolly crowds, frolicking, chasing one another, dancing, pursuing each other, fencing, playing games, and I know not what else. "This is no stagnant water, " remarked my interpreter. "That is true, " I replied; "but permit me to investigate closer." After observing them, I remarked: "I notice that none of these folk eats and drinks his fill of those frolics; but get tired of them and run to seek other amusements. This appears but a trivial delight to me." "If you look for delights in eating and drinking, " he said, "let us step into this hall."
THE GLUTTONS. We then entered a third hall; here I saw men seated at tables and boards loaded with everything in abundance; feasting merrily. I approached and observed how some gorged themselves continually with food and drink so that their bellies could scarcely contain it all and they were obliged to let out their belts; some were so glutted that the food spilled up and down. Others chose only the daintiest bits, and smacking their lips, wished they had crane's necks (in order to enjoy the taste longer). Some boasted that for ten or twenty years they had never seen a sunrise or sunset: for at sunset they were already drunk and at sunrise they were not yet sober. Neither did they sit in gloomy silence, but had to be entertained with music to which each joined his voice, so that the noises one heard were as if made by various beasts and birds; one howled, another roared, or crowed, barked, whistled, chirped, or twittered, accompanying their performance with grotesque gestures.
4 THE PILGRIM'S FEAST AMONG THE GOURMANDS. Thereupon my interpreter asked me how I liked the harmony. "Not a bit," I replied. "Will you ever find anything to your liking?" he retorted, "are you a stump that even this merriment cannot enliven you?" Then several gourmands from behind the tables caught sight of me and one began to drink my health: another winked at me, inviting me to sit down with him; a third began to question me as to who I was and what was my business there, while a fourth demanded rudely why I did not wish them a "God bless you!" I was incensed and cried out: "You dare to ask God's blessing on such swinish gluttony?" Before I had quite uttered those words, however, there rained upon me such a hailstorm of plates, platters, cups, and glasses that I hardly had time to dodge them, and gathering myself, to rush out. But, after all, it was easier for me, a sober man, to flee than for those drunken sots to hit me. "See, did I not tell you long ago to hold your tongue and stop scolding? Try to adjust yourself to others instead of imagining that they must follow the conceits of your shallow pate."
HE WENT BACK AGAIN. Mr. Ubiquitous burst out laughing, and taking me by the hand, said: "Let us go back again." Nevertheless, I refused. He urged me: "There is still much for you to observe, which you could have seen, had you held your tongue. Now let us return; but be careful; it were better to stand at a distance." I allowed myself to be persuaded and entered again. And why should I deny it? I was persuaded to sit down at a table and to permit toasts be drunk in my honor, and drained my own cups to the bottom, desiring to discover at last what enjoyment there was in it. I even joined in the singing, shouting, and frolicking: in short, I behaved like the rest. Nevertheless, I did so somewhat timidly, for it appeared to me quite unbecoming. When others saw my clumsy attempts, they laughed at me, while some stormed at me for not draining my cups fast enough. In the meantime, something began to gnaw under my coat and to thump under my cap, and to force itself out of my throat; my legs began to stagger; my tongue to stammer and my head to swim, and I began to feel angry with myself and with my leaders and openly to declare that this was crass bestiality not worthy of human beings; particularly after I scrutinized the delights of these voluptuaries still more closely.
6 THE WRETCHED WAY OF VOLUPTUARIES. For I heard some complain that they had no appetite for food or drink, nor could they force it down their throats any more; others, pitying them, and in order to help them, ordered merchants to scour and search the world for such foodstuffs as would prove palatable to the gourmands; cooks were bidden to use all their ingenuity in imparting to the delicacies a special fragrance, color, or taste in order to allure them into the stomachs; physicians had to resort to emetics and clysters to induce free movement of the bowels, so that one meal might make room for the other. Hence, it cost enormous amounts of toil and treasure to gather the things which they would cram and pour into their throats; much cleverness and ingenuity to convey them there; and in the end it caused them either excruciating pains and gnawing in their bellies, or it was thrown up. Furthermore, as a rule they suffered with bad tastes in the mouth, hiccoughing, burning of the stomach, and belching; they slept badly and suffered from coughing and sniffing, slobbering and running of the nose; their table and all corners were full of vomit and excrement. Walking or lying down, they suffered with putrid bellies, gouty legs, trembling hands, festering eyes, and so forth. "Are these the supposed delights?" I exclaimed, "oh, let us go away that I may not be tempted to say more and bring upon myself some rough handling again." Then averting my eyes and holding my nose, I went out.
VENERIS REGNUM. We entered another hall of the same suite of rooms where I saw multitudes of people of both sexes walking about hand in hand, embracing and kissing each other; not to mention what else.
LIBIDINIS AESTUS. Of all I saw, however, this only shall I mention as a warning to myself: all these people, locked here by Dame Fortune, were suffering with a burning, scabby skin disease which caused them perpetual itching, so that they had not respite, but wherever they went, scratched and rubbed themselves against whatever they found, until they drew blood; nevertheless, even this scratching could not relieve the itch which only grew more intense; they were indeed ashamed of it, but secretly and of out sight they did nothing but scratch themselves.
MORBUS GALLICUS. Evidently this was a most annoying and incurable disease. Besides, in not a few cases the disease broke out externally, so that they loathed each other, being repugnant and repulsive to one another; for wholesome eyes and mind it was unbearable to look on them or to endure the stench which they emitted.
LIBIDO DESPERATIONIS PRACTIUM. Finally, I observed that this room was the last of the Palace of Delights, from which one could go neither forward nor back, except that in the rear I noticed a hole through which those who had surrendered themselves completely to this lechery fell through alive and found themselves in the outer darkness surrounding the world.
Chapter 26 ||| Labyrinth index page