It seemed as if the unknown gods of eternal night had heard his impious prayer. Ctesippus looked about, without being able to recognise the place where he was. The lights of the city had long been extinguished by the darkness. The roaring of the sea had died away in the distance; his anxious soul had even lost the recollection of having heard it. No single sound—no mournful cry of nocturnal bird, nor whirr of wings, nor rustling of trees, nor murmur of a merry stream—broke the deep silence. Only the blind will-o’-the-wisps flickered here and there over rocks, and sheet-lightning, unaccompanied by any sound, flared up and died down against crag-peaks. This brief illumination merely emphasised the darkness; and the dead light disclosed the outlines of dead deserts crossed by gorges like crawling serpents, and rising into rocky heights in a wild chaos.
All the joyous gods that haunt green groves, purling brooks, and mountain valleys seemed to have fled forever from these deserts. Pan alone, the great and mysterious Pan, was hiding somewhere nearby in the chaos of nature, and with mocking glance seemed to be pursuing the tiny ant that a short time before had blasphemously asked to know the secret of the world and of death. Dark, senseless horror overwhelmed the soul of Ctesippus. It is thus that the sea in stormy floodtide overwhelms a rock on the shore.
Was it a dream, was it reality, or was it the revelation of the unknown divinity? Ctesippus felt that in an instant he would step across the threshold of life, and that his soul would melt into an ocean of unending, inconceivable horror like a drop of rain in the waves of the grey sea on a dark and stormy night. But at this moment he suddenly heard voices that seemed familiar to him, and in the glare of the sheet-lightning his eyes recognised human figures.
On a rocky slope sat a man in deep despair. He had thrown a cloak over his head and was bowed to the ground. Another figure approached him softly, cautiously climbing upward and carefully feeling every step. The first man uncovered his face and exclaimed:
“Is that you I just now saw, my good Socrates? Is that you passing by me in this cheerless place? I have already spent many hours here without knowing when day will relieve the night. I have been waiting in vain for the dawn.”
“Yes, I am Socrates, my friend, and you, are you not Elpidias who died three days before me?”
“Yes, I am Elpidias, formerly the richest tanner in Athens, now the most miserable of slaves. For the first time I understand the words of the poet: ’Better to be a slave in this world than a ruler in gloomy Hades.’”
“My friend, if it is disagreeable for you where you are, why don’t you move to another spot?”
“O Socrates, I marvel at you—how dare you wander about in this cheerless gloom? I—I sit here overcome with grief and bemoan the joys of a fleeting life.”