Lucian : Hippias, or The Bath

Translated by A.M.Harmon (1913), who comments: "Description (ekphrasis) was a favourite rhetorical exercise, though many frowned on it. In the Rhetoric attributed to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (X.17 Usener) it is called 'an empty show and a waste of words.' It is the general opinion that this piece is not by Lucian."   The Greek text can be found in the Perseus collection of texts.

[1] Among wise men, I maintain, the most praiseworthy are they who not only have spoken cleverly on their particular subjects, but have made their assertions good by doing things to match them. Take doctors, for instance: a man of sense, on falling ill, does not send for those who can talk about their profession best, but for those who have trained themselves to accomplish something in it. Likewise a musician who can himself play the lyre and the cithara is better, surely, than one who simply has a good ear for rhythm and harmony. And why need I tell you that the generals who have been rightly judged the best were good not only at marshalling their forces and addressing them, but at heading charges and at doughty deeds? Such, we know, were Agamemnon and Achilles of old, Alexander and Pyrrhus more recently.

[2] Why have I said all this? It was not out of an ill-timed desire to air my knowledge of history that I brought it up, but because the same thing is true of engineers - we ought to admire those who, though famous for knowledge, have yet left to later generations reminders and proofs of their practical skill, for men trained in words alone would better be called wiseacres than wise. Such an engineer we are told, was Archimedes, and also Sostratus of Cnidus. The latter took Memphis for Ptolemy without a siege by turning the river aside and dividing it ; the former burned the ships of the enemy by means of his science. And before their time Thales of Miletus, who had promised Croesus to set his army across the Halys dry-shod, thanks to his ingenuity brought the river round behind the camp in a single night. Yet he was not an engineer: he was wise, however, and very able at devising plans and grasping problems. As for the case of Epeius, it is prehistoric : he is said not only to have made the wooden horse for the Achaeans but to have gone into it along with them.

[3] Among these men Hippias, our own contemporary, deserves mention. Not only is he trained as highly in the art of speech as any of his predecessors, and alike quick of comprehension and clear in exposition, but he is better at action than speech, and fulfils his professional promises, not merely doing so in those matters in which his predecessors succeeded in getting to the fore, but, as the geometricians put it, knowing how to construct a triangle accurately on a given base. Moreover, whereas each of the others marked off some one department of science and sought fame in it, making a name for himself in spite of this delimitation, he, on the contrary, is clearly a leader in harmony and music as well as in engineering and geometry, and yet he shows as great perfection in each of these fields as if he knew nothing else. It would take no little time to sing his praises in the doctrine of rays and reflexions and mirrors, or in astronomy, in which he made his predecessors appear children, [4] but I shall not hesitate to speak of one of his achievements which I recently looked upon with wonder. Though the undertaking is a commonplace, and in our days a very frequent one, the construction of a bath, yet his thoughtfulness and intelligence even in this commonplace matter is marvellous.

The site was not flat, but quite sloping and steep; it was extremely low on one side when he took it in hand, but he made the whole level, not only constructing a firm basis for the entire work and laying foundations to ensure the safety of the superstructure, but strengthening the whole with buttresses, very sheer and, for security's sake, close together. The building suits the magnitude of the site, accords well with the correct proportions of such an establishment, and shows regard for the principles of lighting.

[5] The entrance is high, with a flight of broad steps of which the tread is greater than the pitch, to make them easy to ascend. On entering, one is received into a public hall of good size, with ample accommodations for servants and attendants. On the left are the lounging rooms, also of just the right sort for a bath, attractive, brightly lighted retreats. Then, beside them, a hall, larger than need be for the purposes of a bath, but necessary for the reception of the rich. Next, capacious locker-rooms to undress in, on each side, with a very high and brilliantly lighted hall between them, in which are three swimming-pools of cold water; it is finished in Laconian marble, and has two statues of white marble in the ancient technique, one of Hygieia, the other of Aesculapius.

[6] On leaving this hall, you come into another which is slightly warmed instead of meeting you at once with fierce heat; it is oblong, and has a recess at each side. Next it, on the right, is a very bright hall, nicely fitted up for massage, which has on each side an entrance decorated with Phrygian marble, and receives those who come in from the exercising-floor. Then near this is another hall, the most beautiful in the world, in which one can sit or stand with comfort, linger without danger and stroll about with profit. It also is refulgent with Phrygian marble clear to the roof. Next comes the hot corridor, faced with Numidian marble. The hall beyond it is very beautiful, full of abundant light and aglow with colour like that of purple hangings. It contains three hot tubs.

[7] When you have bathed, you need not go back through the same rooms, but can go directly to the cold room through a slightly warmed apartment. Everywhere there is copious illumination and full indoor daylight. Furthermore, the height of each room is just, and the breadth proportionate to the length; and everywhere great beauty and loveliness prevail, for in the words of noble Pindar { Ol_6'3 }, "Your work should have a glorious countenance." This is probably due in the main to the light, the brightness and the windows. Hippias, being truly wise, built the room for cold baths to north- ward, though it does not lack a southern exposure; whereas he faced south, east, and west the rooms that require abundant heat. [8] Why should I go on and tell you of the exercising-floors and of the cloak-rooms, which have quick and direct communication with the hall containing the basin, so as to be convenient and to do away with all risk ?

Let no one suppose that I have taken an insignificant achievement as my theme, and purpose to en- noble it by my eloquence. It requires more than a little wisdom, in my opinion, to invent new manifestations of beauty in commonplace things, as did our marvellous Hippias in producing this work. It has all the good points of a bath - usefulness, convenience, light, good proportions, fitness to its site, and the fact that it can be used without risk. Moreover, it is beautified with all other marks of thoughtfulness - with two toilets, many exits, and two devices for telling time, a water-clock that bellows like a bull, and a sundial.

For a man who has seen all this not to render the work its due of praise is not only foolish but ungrateful, even malignant, it seems to me. I for my part have done what I could to do justice both to the work and to the man who planned and built it. If Heaven ever grants you the privilege of bathing there, I know that I shall have many who will join me in my words of praise.

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