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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Terence (c. 195/185–159 B.C.)

Parasites and Gnathonites

From “Eunuchus”

Gnatho(soliloquizing).Immortal gods! how far does one man excel another! What a difference there is between a wise person and a fool! This came strongly into my mind from the following circumstance. As I was walking along to-day I met a certain individual of this place, of my own rank and station—no mean fellow—one who, like myself, had guttled away his paternal estate. I saw him, shabby, dirty, sickly, beset with rags and years. “What’s the meaning of this garb?” said I. He answered, “Wretch that I am, I’ve lost what I possessed; see to what I am reduced; all my acquaintances and friends have forsaken me.” On this I felt contempt for him as in comparison with myself. “What!” said I, “you pitiful sluggard, have you so managed matters as to have no hope left? Have you lost your wits together with your estate? Don’t you see me, who have risen from the same condition? What a complexion I have, how spruce and well dressed, what portliness of person? I have everything, yet have nothing; and although I possess nothing, still I am in want of nothing.” “But I,” said he, “unhappily, can no longer find anybody who will feed me in exchange for making me the butt of his jokes.” “What!” said I, “do you suppose it is managed by those means? You are quite mistaken. Once upon a time, in the early ages, there was a calling of that sort; but I will tell you a new mode of coney-catching; I, in fact, have been the first to strike into this path. There is a class of men who strive to be the first in everything, but are not; to these I pay my court. I do not offer myself to them to be laughed at, but I am the first to laugh with them, and at the same time to admire their parts. Whatever they say, I commend; if they contradict that selfsame thing, I commend again. Does any one deny? I deny; does he affirm? I affirm. In fine, I have so trained myself as to humor them in everything. This calling is now by far the most productive.” While we were thus talking, we arrived at the market-place. Overjoyed, all the confectioners ran at once to meet me; fishmongers, butchers, cooks, sausage-makers, fishermen, whom, both when my fortunes were flourishing and when they were ruined, I had served, and often serve still; they complimented me, asked me to dinner, and gave me a hearty welcome. When this poor hungry wretch saw that I was in such great esteem, and that I obtained a living so easily, then the fellow began to entreat me that I would allow him to learn this method of me. So I bade him become my follower—if he could. As the disciples of the philosophers take their names from the philosophers themselves, so, too, the Parasites ought to be called Gnathonites.