"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Man, the Unicorn, the Pit and Dragon, and the Drop of Honey

THESE men that have foolishly alienated themselves from a good and kind master, to seek the service of such harsh and savage a lord, that are all eager for present joys and are glued thereto, that never take a thought for the future, that always grasp after bodily enjoyments, but suffer their souls to waste with hunger, and to be worn with countless ills, these I consider to be like a man fleeing before the face of a raging unicorn. Unable to endure the sound of the beast's cry and its terrible bellowing, to avoid being devoured, ran away at full speed. But while he ran swiftly off he fell into a great pit; and as he fell, he stretched out his hands and grasped hold of a tree, to which he held tightly. There he established some sort of foot-hold and thought himself from that moment to be safe and secure. But he looked and saw two mice, the one white, the other black, who determinedly gnawed at the root of the tree of which he had hold, and they were all but on the point of severing it. Then he looked down to the bottom of the pit and saw   below him a dragon, breathing fire, fearful for eye to see, exceeding fierce and cruel, with terrible wide jaws, fully opened to swallow him. Again looking closely at the ledge where his feet rested, he saw four heads of asps projecting from the wall where he was perched. Then he lift up his eyes and saw that from the branches of the tree there dropped a little honey. And upon seeing this he ceased to think of the troubles surrounding him; how, outside the unicorn was madly raging to devour him: how below the fierce dragon held mouth open wide to swallow him: how the tree, which he had clutched, was all but severed by the mice; and how his feet rested on slippery, treacherous ground. Yea, he forgot, without care, all those sights of awe and terror, and his whole mind hung on the sweetness of that tiny drop of honey.

This is the likeness of those who attach themselves to the deceitfulness of this present life, ‒ the interpretation whereof I will declare to thee at once. The unicorn is the type of death, ever in eager pursuit to overtake the race of Adam. The pit is the world, full of all manner of ills and deadly snares. The tree to which the man clung, whose foundation was being continually eroded by the two mice, is the course of every man's life, that spends and consumes itself hour by hour, day and night, and gradually draws to its imminent severance. The fourfold asps signify the structure of man's body upon four treacherous and unstable elements which, being disordered and disturbed bring that body to destruction. Furthermore, the fiery cruel dragon signifies the mouth of hell that is hungry to devour those who choose present pleasures rather than future blessings. The dropping of honey denotes the sweetness of the delights of this world, whereby it deceives its own friends, nor suffering them to take timely thought for their salvation." 

(St. John Damascene: Barlaam and Ioasaph, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 187-191, edited)

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