The Fables of Phædrus
It is dangerous alike to believe or to disbelieve. Of either fact, I will briefly lay before you an instance.
Hippolytus met his death, because his step-mother was believed: because Cassandra was not believed, Troy fell. Therefore, we ought to examine strictly into the truth of a matter, rather than suffer an erroneous impression to pervert our judgment. But, that I may not weaken this truth by referring to fabulous antiquity, I will relate to you a thing that happened within my own memory.
A certain married Man, who was very fond of his Wife, having now provided the white toga for his Son, was privately taken aside by his Freedman, who hoped that he should be substituted as his next heir, and who, after telling many lies about the youth, and still more about the misconduct of the chaste Wife, added, what he knew would especially grieve one so fond, that a gallant was in the habit of paying her visits, and that the honor of his house was stained with base adultery. Enraged at the supposed guilt of his Wife, the husband pretended a journey to his country-house, and privately stayed behind in town; then at night he suddenly entered at the door, making straight to his Wife’s apartment, in which the mother had ordered her son to sleep, keeping a strict eye over his ripening years. While they are seeking for a light, while the servants are hurrying to and fro, unable to restrain the violence of his raging passion, he approaches the bed, and feels a head in the dark. When he finds the hair cut close, he plunges his sword into the sleeper’s breast, caring for nothing, so he but avenge his injury. A light being brought, at the same instant he beholds his son, and his chaste wife sleeping in her apartment; who, fast locked in her first sleep, had heard nothing: on the spot he inflicted punishment on himself for his guilt, and fell upon the sword which a too easy belief had unsheathed. The accusers indicted the woman, and dragged her to Rome, before the Centumviri. Innocent as she was, dark suspicion weighed heavily against her, because she had become possessor of his property: her patrons stand and boldly plead the cause of the guiltless woman. The judges then besought the Emperor Augustus that he would aid them in the discharge of their oath, as the intricacy of the case had embarrassed them. After he had dispelled the clouds raised by calumny, and had discovered a sure source of truth: “Let the Freedman,” said he, “the cause of the mischief, suffer punishment; but as for her, at the same instant bereft of a son, and deprived of a husband, I deem her to be pitied rather than condemned. If the father of the family had thoroughly enquired into the charge preferred, and had shrewdly sifted the lying accusations, he would not, by a dismal crime, have ruined his house from the very foundation.”
Let the ear despise nothing, nor yet let it accord implicit belief at once: since not only do those err whom you would be far from suspecting, but those who do not err are sometimes falsely and maliciously accused.
This also may be a warning to the simple, not to form a judgment on anything according to the opinion of another; for the different aims of mortals either follow the bias of their goodwill or their prejudice. He alone will be correctly estimated by you, whom you judge of by personal experience.
These points I have enlarged upon, as by too great brevity I have offended some.
The Fables of Phædrus