Pompeius Magnus and his Soldier

The New Fables—attributed to Phædrus
How difficult it is to understand a man.
A Soldier of Pompeius Magnus, a man of huge bulk, by talking mincingly and walking with an affected gait, had acquired the character of an effeminate wretch, and that most fully established. Lying in wait by night for the beasts of burden of his General, he drives away the mules laden with garments and gold, and a vast weight of silver. A rumour of what has been done gets abroad; the soldier is accused, and carried off to the Prætorium. On this, Magnus says to him: “How say you? Have you dared to rob me, comrade?” The soldier forthwith spits into his left hand, and scatters about the spittle with his fingers. “Even thus, General,” says he, “may my eyes drip out, if I have seen or touched your property.” Then Magnus, a man of easy disposition, orders the false accusers to be sent about their business,NF.9 and will not believe the man guilty of so great audacity.
Not long afterwards a barbarian, confiding in his strength of hand, challenges one of the Romans. Each man fears to accept the challenge, and the leaders of highest rank mutter among themselves. At length, this effeminate wretch in appearance, but Mars in prowess, approached the General, who was seated on his tribunal, and, with a lisping voice, said “May I?” But Magnus, getting angry, as well he might, the matter being so serious, ordered him to be turned out. Upon this, an aged man among the Chieftain’s friends, remarked: “I think it would be better for this person to be exposed to the hazards of Fortune, since in him our loss would be but small, than a valiant man, who, if conquered through some mischance, might entail upon you a charge of rashness.” Magnus acquiesced, and gave the Soldier permission to go out to meet the champion, whose head, to the surprise of the army, he whipped off sooner than you could say it, and returned victorious. Thereupon said Pompeius: “With great pleasure I present you with the soldier’s crown, because you have vindicated the honor of the Roman name; nevertheless,” said he, “may my eyes drip out” (imitating the unseemly act with which the Soldier had accompanied his oath), “if you did not carry off my property from among the baggage.”

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