He did not even understand the meaning of forgiveness. He never had had occasion to forgive himself.... Then how was he to forgive others?
Before the bar of his own conscience, before the face of his own God, he, that marvel, that monster of virtue, rolled up his eyes, and in a firm, clear voice uttered: “Yes; I am a worthy, a moral man!”
He repeated these words on his death-bed, and nothing quivered even then in his stony heart,—in that heart devoid of a fleck or a crack.
O monstrosity of self-satisfied, inflexible, cheaply-acquired virtue—thou art almost more repulsive than the undisguised monstrosity of vice!
One day the Supreme Being took it into his head to give a great feast in his azure palace.
He invited all the virtues as guests. Only the virtues ... he invited no men ... only ladies.
Very many of them assembled, great and small. The petty virtues were more agreeable and courteous than the great ones; but all seemed well pleased, and chatted politely among themselves, as befits near relatives and friends.
But lo! the Supreme Being noticed two very beautiful ladies who, apparently, were entirely unacquainted with each other.
The host took one of these ladies by the hand and led her to the other.
“Beneficence!” said he, pointing to the first.
“Gratitude!” he added, pointing to the second.
The two virtues were unspeakably astonished; ever since the world has existed—and it has existed a long time—they had never met before.
Yellowish-grey, friable at the top, firm below, creaking sand ... sand without end, no matter in which direction one gazes!
And above this sand, above this sea of dead dust, the huge head of the Egyptian Sphinx rears itself aloft.
What is it that those vast, protruding lips, those impassively-dilated, up-turned nostrils, and those eyes, those long, half-sleepy, half-watchful eyes, beneath the double arch of the lofty brows, are trying to say?
For they are trying to say something! They even speak—but only [Oe]dipus can solve the riddle and understand their mute speech.
Bah! Yes, I recognise those features ... there is nothing Egyptian about the low white forehead, the prominent cheek-bones, the short, straight nose, the fine mouth with its white teeth, the soft moustache and curling beard,—and those small eyes set far apart ... and on the head the cap of hair furrowed with a parting.... Why, it is thou, Karp, Sidor, Semyon, thou petty peasant of Yaroslavl, or of Ryazan, my fellow-countryman, the kernel of Russia! Is it long since thou didst become the Sphinx?
Or dost thou also wish to say something? Yes; and thou also art a Sphinx.