The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1901)/Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

THE PILGRIM BEHOLDS THE MARKET-PLACE OF THE WORLD

(He sees the Diversity of Men.)

And my guide says to me: "As thou hast to see everything, let us first go to the market-place." And he leads me forth. And behold I see countless multitudes as a mist. For there were there people from the whole world, of every language and nation, of every age, growth, sex, estate, class, and profession. When first gazing at them, I see how strangely they sway to and fro, like the swarming of bees, and, indeed, far more wondrous.

(The Various Characters and Gestures of Men.)

2. For some walked, some ran, some rode, some stood, some sat, some rose up, some again reclined, some turned in various directions; some were alone, others in larger or smaller troops. Their dress and appearance varied much; some were stark naked, and had wondrous gestures. When some met one another there was various juggling with hands, mouth, knees, and otherwise; saluting and bowing, and other foolish ways. And my guide says to me: "Here hast thou that noble human race, that delightful creation, which has been granted sense and immortality. How it bears on it the image of the infinite God, and the likeness to Him, that wilt thou recognise by the variety of His creations. As in a looking-glass wilt thou see the worth of this thy human race."

(Hypocrisy in All.)

3. I then look at them more carefully, and see directly that everyone in the crowd, when walking among the others, wore a mask on his face; but on going away, when he was alone, or among his equals, he pulled it off, and when he had to go among the throng, he again fastened it on. And I ask what this means. The guide answered: "That, my dear son, is worldly prudence, so that each man may not show to all what he is. Alone in his home a man may be as he is, but before others it is beseeming that he appear affable, and that he assume a mien." Then the desire befell me more carefully to watch how these people might be without this dissembling covering.

(Their Wondrous Deformities.)

4. And looking attentively at this, I see that both in their face and in their bodies all are in various ways deformed. Almost all were pimpled, mangy, or leprous; and besides, this one had a pig's lip, another teeth as a dog, another the horns of an ox, another donkey's ears, another eyes of a basilisk, another the brush of a fox, another the claws of a wolf. Some did I see with a peacock's neck stretched out on high; others with the bristling crest of a lapwing; others with horses' hoofs, and so forth; mostly, however, they had the similitude of apes.[1] And I am frightened, and say: "Nay, here, meseems, I see monsters!" "What, froward one" (the guide said), "thou speakest of monsters," and he threatened me with his fist. "Look but well through thy spectacles, and thou wilt see that they are men." But some of those who were passing heard that I had called them monsters, stood still and growled at me, and even threatened me, as if they would attack me. Then having understood that to reason here was vain, I became silent, and thought within myself: "If they will be human beings, let them be so; but as for me, what I see, I see." I then feared that my guide would press down my spectacles more firmly and mislead me; therefore did I decide to be silent, and rather quietly to behold these fine things of which I had seen the beginning. I then gaze again, and I see how artfully some handled these masks, quickly removing them and then again putting them on, so that they were able to give themselves a different mien, whenever they saw that this was to their advantage. And then I already began somewhat to understand the course of the world, but I was silent.

(General Misunderstanding among all Men.)

5. I also observe and hear that they talked among themselves in various languages, so that they mostly did not understand or answer each other, or they answered on something different from what had been said, each one differently. Wherever a large crowd gathered, almost all spoke, each one listening to himself and none to the others, although they plucked at one another to attract attention. But it happened not thus; rather was there brawling and scuffling. And I exclaim: "In the name of God, are we then in Babel? Here each one sings his own song.[2] Could there be greater confusion?"

(They occupy Themselves with Useless Matters.)

6. Hardly anyone there was idle; all were employed in some kind of work; but these works—and this I never should have believed—were nothing but childish games, and at least were useless exertion. Some, indeed, collected sweepings and divided them amongst themselves; some hurried here and there with timber and stones, or dragged them up with a windlass, and then again dropped them; some dug up earth, and conveyed or carried it from place to place; the others occupied themselves with little bells, looking-glasses, alembics, rattles, and other playthings; others also played with their own shadow, measuring, and pursuing it, and catching at it; and all this so vigorously that many groaned and sweated, and some, indeed, also injured themselves. And almost everywhere there were certain officers who ordered and measured out these labours with great heartiness, and with no less heartiness the others obeyed them. Wondering, I said, "Alas! Oh, wherefore does man exist, if he employs the sharpness of his heavenly talents for such vain and evil endeavours?" "Why vain?" said the interpreter. "Cannot one then see here, as in a looking-glass, how men accomplish everything by means of their talents? One does this, another that." "But all," I said, "work at such useless things, which are not adequate to their glorious eminence." "Do not cavil too much," he again said. "They are not yet in heaven, and in the world they must employ themselves with worldly matters. Thou wilt see in how orderly a fashion everything is done among them."

(Fearful Disorder.)

7. Then looking again, I see that nothing more disorderly could have been imagined; for when one laboured at a thing, and exerted himself, another, approaching him, meddled with the matter; thence quarrels, scuffles, fights. Then they reconciled themselves, and after a while fought again. Sometimes several laid hold of one thing; then again they all left it, and ran off in different directions. Those, indeed, who were under the power of the officers and inspectors more or less kept to that which was appointed to them, for they were forced to do so. Yet here also I saw much confusion. Some broke away from their appointed places, and ran away; others contradicted the overseers, being unwilling to do what was ordered them; others attacked them with cudgels and robbed; indeed, everything, was disorderly. But as all this had to be called order, I dared not say anything.

(Everything full of Scandal and Evil Example.)

8. I also perceived other disorder, blindness, and folly. The whole of this market-place was—as were also the streets afterwards—full of holes, pits, and ravines, also of timber and stones, that lay about in every direction, and of other things. No one, however, put anything away, repaired it, or put it in proper order. On the contrary, they walked on unawares, so that first one, then another, knocked against something, fell, and either was killed or knocked down, and my heart quivered, beholding this. But among them, none took notice of this; indeed, when anyone fell they laughed at him. Then seeing a stalk, or the trunk of a tree, or a hole over which some blindly blundered, I began to caution them, but nobody heeded. Some laughed at me, others reviled me, others wanted to beat me. Some fell and did not rise again; others rose again, and then again fell head over heels on the top of one another. Of weals and bruises everyone had enough, but they nowise heeded them, so that I could not but wonder at this their dulness, which counted their own falls and wounds for so little; while when one offended another, that one immediately rose in arms and warred with him.

(The Fickleness and Unsteadiness of Mankind in all Matters.)

9. I also perceived among men great delight in novelties and changes with regard to clothing, building, speech, gait, and other matters. Some, I saw, who did nothing but change their attire, wearing sometimes this, sometimes that manner of clothing; others imagined a new fashion of building, and after a while destroyed it again. While working they seized now this thing, now that, and then again abandoned it, seemingly through inconstancy. For if one died because of the burden under which he laboured or if he abandoned it, then immediately others were found who disputed it, squabbled and fought about it in a wondrous fashion. Among them all there was none who spoke, or did something, or erected an edifice, without the others laughing at it, misrepresenting it, destroying it. One fashioned a thing with vast labour and expense, finding in it great pleasure, then another, approaching him, overturned, destroyed, and injured it, so that I saw that never in the world a man made a thing without another injuring it. Some, indeed, did not wait for others; they themselves destroyed their own works, so that I wondered at their fickleness and their vain endeavours.

(Their Pride and Presumption.)

10. I also saw that many walked on high pattens; others made themselves stilts (so that, raised above all, they could view everything from above), and thus did they strut about. But the higher one was the more easily was he upset, or others (from jealousy, I presume), tripped up his feet; this happened to many, and they drew the laughter of all on them. Of such instances saw I many.

(Death, which miserably destroyeth All.)

11. At last I saw Death stalking about everywhere among them, and she was provided with a sharp scythe, and with a bow and arrows, and with a loud voice she exhorted all to remember that they were mortal; but none listened to her call. Each one was none the less intent on his folly and his misdeeds. Then seizing these arrows, she threw them at the people in every direction, and struck down this or that one from among them, young or old, poor or rich, learned or unlearned, without distinction, so that they fell down. He who was struck down screamed, shrieked, and roared; those who were walking near ran a little farther off, and soon again took no notice. Some coming near gazed at the wounded man, who was rattling in the throat, and when he contracted his feet and ceased breathing, they called each other together, sang round him, ate, drank, and shouted,[3] and some somewhat mocked at this. Then they seized the dead man and threw him over the boundaries into that gloomy pit which surrounds the world, and returning thence they again revelled; but none escaped Death, though they diligently endeavoured not to heed her, even when she closely brushed against them.

(Various Diseases.)

12. I then saw that not all whom she (Death) struck fell dead to the ground; some she merely wounded, lamed, blinded, deafened, or stunned. Some after their wound swelled out like a blister, others dried up as a splinter, others trembled like an aspen-leaf, and so forth. Thus did a larger number of men walk to and fro wounded, and with rotting and soured limbs, than there were healthy people.

(Help against this is vainly sought.)

13. And I saw many running to and fro who sold plasters, ointments, waters, as remedies for these wounds. And all bought these things from them, exulting thereon and defying Death. But she heeded not, and indeed struck down and overthrew even these venders themselves. And it was a mournful spectacle for me to behold how pitiably, how suddenly, and by what manifold deaths a creature destined to immortality perisheth. I also found, in particular, that when one was most ready for life, gathered his friends together, made plans for his future life, built houses, scraped money together, and otherwise strove for his own welfare, then the arrow of Death struck him and made an end to everything, and he who had prepared for himself a dwelling in the world was very often torn away from it and his goods became useless; then another succeeded him, and the same fate befell him, and so equally the third, the tenth, the hundredth. But when I saw that none would understand the uncertainty of life, and take it to heart—indeed, that though standing close to the abyss of death they behaved as if they were certain of immortality (and it is marvellous that my heart did not burst from grief)—then I desired to raise my voice to exhort and beg them to open their eyes, and to behold Death preparing her arrows, and in some fashion to strive to escape them. But I understood that as Death herself could, by her constant cries and her incessant appearance before them in her terrible shape, achieve nothing, my feeble speech would indeed be fruitless. I then said in a low voice: "It is for ever pitiful before God that we miserable mortals should for our misfortune be so blind." The interpreter answered me: "My good man, would it then be wisdom to torment ourselves by thinking of death? Just because everyone knows he cannot escape her, it is better not to heed her, but to look at one's own goods, and to be of a cheerful mind. If she comes, she comes. In some hours everything will be at an end, and perhaps even in an instant. Why, therefore, should, because some die, the others cease to be merry? For in the place of each one how many again are born." To this I said: "If wisdom consists in this, then I understand it amiss," and then I was silent.

(Men are themselves the Causes of their Diseases and Death.)

14. But I will not conceal this, that when I beheld the countless number of Death's arrows, it came into my mind: "Whence, then, does Death take that mass of arrows, that she never exhausts them?" And I look, and behold quite clearly that she had no arrows at all, but only a bow; the arrows she took from the people, each one from that person whom she intended to strike. And I observed that these people themselves trimmed and prepared these arrows, some even pertly and audaciously carried them to her, so that it was sufficient for her to take the arrows from them and to shoot them in the heart. And I cried: "Now I see that it is true: 'Et mortis faber est quilibet ipse suæ.'" I already see that no one dies who had not by his greediness, intemperance, frowardness, lastly by his indiscretion, brought on himself abscesses, boils, outer or inner wounds (for these are the arrows of Death). But while I thus carefully gaze on Death, and the way she seized the people, Falsehood pulls me away and says: "Wherefore, foolish one, dost thou look rather at the dead than at the living? When one dies, then it is over with him; but strive thou to live!"

  1. Compare with this: "At bottom they are all respectable, pompous horse-faces, and self-opinionated donkey-muzzles, and lop-eared, low-browed dog-sculls, and fatted swine-snouts, and sometimes dull, brutal bull-fronts as well."—Ibsen, "When we Dead awaken."
  2. A proverbial expression in Bohemian.
  3. It is perhaps scarcely necessary to mention that Komensky here alludes sarcastically to the feasting at funerals that was particularly prevalent in his time.