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The Shades, A Phantasy

by Vladimir G. Korolenko

Overview I II III IV V


During those sad days Xenophon, the general, a pupil of Socrates, was
marching with his Ten Thousand in a distant land, amid dangers,
seeking a way of return to his beloved fatherland.

Æschines, Crito, Critobulus, Phædo, and Apollodorus were now occupied
with the preparations for the modest funeral.

Plato was burning his lamp and bending over a parchment; the best
disciple of the philosopher was busy inscribing the deeds, words, and
teachings that marked the end of the sage's life. A thought is never
lost, and the truth discovered by a great intellect illumines the way
for future generations like a torch in the dark.

There was one other disciple of Socrates. Not long before, the
impetuous Ctesippus had been one of the most frivolous and
pleasure-seeking of the Athenian youths. He had set up beauty as his
sole god, and had bowed before Clinias as its highest exemplar. But
since he had become acquainted with Socrates, all desire for pleasure
and all light-mindedness had gone from him. He looked on indifferently
while others took his place with Clinias. The grace of thought and the
harmony of spirit that he found in Socrates seemed a hundred times
more attractive than the graceful form and the harmonious features of
Clinias. With all the intensity of his stormy temperament he hung on
the man who had disturbed the serenity of his virginal soul, which for
the first time opened to doubts as the bud of a young oak opens to the
fresh winds of spring.

Now that the master was dead, he could find peace neither at his own
hearth nor in the oppressive stillness of the streets nor among his
friends and fellow-disciples. The gods of hearth and home and the gods
of the people inspired him with repugnance.

"I know not," he said, "whether ye are the best of all the gods to
whom numerous generations have burned incense and brought offerings;
all I know is that for your sake the blind mob extinguished the clear
torch of truth, and for your sake sacrificed the greatest and best of

It almost seemed to Ctesippus as though the streets and market-places
still echoed with the shrieking of that unjust sentence. And he
remembered how it was here that the people clamoured for the execution
of the generals who had led them to victory against the Argunisæ, and
how Socrates alone had opposed the savage sentence of the judges and
the blind rage of the mob. But when Socrates himself needed a
champion, no one had been found to defend him with equal strength.
Ctesippus blamed himself and his friends, and for that reason he
wanted to avoid everybody—even himself, if possible.

That evening he went to the sea. But his grief grew only the more
violent. It seemed to him that the mourning daughters of Nereus were
tossing hither and thither on the shore bewailing the death of the
best of the Athenians and the folly of the frenzied city. The waves
broke on the rocky coast with a growl of lament. Their booming sounded
like a funeral dirge.

He turned away, left, the shore, and went on further without looking
before him. He forgot time and space and his own ego, filled only with
the afflicting thought of Socrates!

"Yesterday he still was, yesterday his mild words still could be
heard. How is it possible that to-day he no longer is? O night, O
giant mountain shrouded in mist, O heaving sea moved by your own life,
O restless winds that carry the breath of an immeasurable world on
your wings, O starry vault flecked with flying clouds—take me to you,
disclose to me the mystery of this death, if it is revealed to you!
And if ye know not, then grant my ignorant soul your own lofty
indifference. Remove from me these torturing questions. I no longer
have strength to carry them in my bosom without an answer, without
even the hope of an answer. For who shall answer them, now that the
lips of Socrates are sealed in eternal silence, and eternal darkness
is laid upon his lids?"

Thus Ctesippus cried out to the sea and the mountains, and to the dark
night, which followed its invariable course, ceaselessly, invisibly,
over the slumbering world. Many hours passed before Ctesippus glanced
up and saw whither his steps had unconsciously led him. A dark horror
seized his soul as he looked about him.