“And when a hospitable host would greet the tired traveller and offer him the peace and blessing of his hearth, the youth would fall at his feet and say with emotion: ’I thank you, my father! Do you not recognise your son?’
“And many were prepared to take him as their son, for at that time children were frequently kidnapped. But after the first glow of enthusiasm, the youth would detect traces of imperfection, sometimes even of wickedness. Then he would begin to investigate and to test his host with questions concerning justice and injustice. And soon he would be driven forth again upon the cold wearisome way. More than once he said to himself: ’I will remain at this last hearth, I will preserve my last belief. It shall be the home of my father.’”
“Do you know, Socrates, perhaps that would have been the most sensible thing to do.”
“So he thought sometimes. But the habit of investigating, the confused dream of a father, gave him no peace. Again and again he shook the dust from his feet; again and again he grasped his staff. Not a few stormy nights found him shelterless. Doesn’t it seem to you that the fate of this youth resembles the fate of mankind?”
“Does not the race of man make trial of its childish belief and doubt it while seeking the unknown? Doesn’t it fashion the form of its father in wood, stone, custom, and tradition? And then man finds the form imperfect, destroys it, and again goes on his wanderings in the desert of doubt. Always for the purpose of seeking something better—”
“Oh, you cunning sage, now I understand the purpose of your allegory! And I will tell you to your face that if only a ray of light were to penetrate this gloom, I would not put the Lord on trial with unnecessary questions—”
“Friend, the light is already shining,” answered Socrates.
It seemed as if the words of the philosopher had taken effect. High up in the distance a beam of light penetrated a vapoury envelop and disappeared in the mountains. It was followed by a second and a third. There beyond the darkness luminous genii seemed to be hovering, and a great mystery seemed about to be revealed, as if the breath of life were blowing, as if some great ceremony were in process. But it was still very remote. The shades descended thicker and thicker; foggy clouds rolled into masses, separated, and chased one another endlessly, ceaselessly.
A blue light from a distant peak fell upon a deep ravine; the clouds rose and covered the heavens to the zenith.
The rays disappeared and withdrew to a greater and greater distance, as if fleeing from this vale of shades and horrors. Socrates stood and looked after them sadly. Elpidias peered up at the peak full of dread.
“Look, Socrates! What do you see there on the mountain?”