Simplicius was one of the last philosophers who taught in Athens, one of the seven who were driven forth when Justinian, in his zeal for Christianity, closed the schools. Guided by a rumour that supreme wisdom was to be found in Persia, the sages journeyed to that kingdom, where disappointment awaited them. After long wanderings and many hardships, Simplicius came to Rome, and now had sojourned here for a year or two, teaching such few as in these days gave any thought to philosophy. Poor, and perhaps unduly proud, he preferred his own very humble lodging to the hospitality which more than one friend had offered him; and his open disregard for religious practices, together with singularities of life and demeanour, sufficiently explained the trouble that had come upon him. Charges of sorcery were not uncommon in Rome at this time. Some few years ago a commission of senators had sat in judgment upon two nobles accused of magic, a leading article of proof against one of them being that he had a horse which, when stroked, gave off sparks of fire. On this account Decius was much troubled by the philosopher’s story. When the wound had been attended to, he besought Simplicius not to go forth again to-day, and with some difficulty prevailed.
‘Why should it perturb you, O most excellent Decius,’ said the sage, ’that a lover of wisdom is an offence to the untaught and the foolish? Was it not ever thus? If philosophy may no longer find peace at Athens, is it likely that she will be suffered to dwell at ease in Rome?’
‘Alas, no!’ admitted Decius. ’But why, dear master, should you invite the attacks of the ignorant?’
’I do no such thing. I live and act as seems good to me, that is all. Should no one have the courage to do that, what hope would there be, O Decius, for that most glorious liberty, the liberty of the mind?’
The listener bent his head abashed. Then Simplicius began to read from the manuscript, and Decius, who knew Greek fairly well—he had lately completed certain translations from Plato, left unfinished by Boethius—gave reverent attention. At a certain point the philosopher paused to comment, for the subject was difficult—nothing less than the nature of God. In God, according to the system here expounded, there are three principles or hypostases, united but unequal—the One, the Intelligence, the Soul; which correspond, respectively, to the God of Plato, the God of Aristotle, the God of Zeno. Usually curt and rather dry in his utterances, Simplicius rose to a fervid eloquence as he expounded this mysticism of Alexandria. Not that he accepted it as the final truth, it was merely a step, though an important one, towards that entire and absolute knowledge of which he believed that a glimpse had been vouchsafed to him, even to him, in his more sublime hours. As for Decius, the utmost effort never enabled him to attain familiarity with these profound speculations: he was soon lost, and found his brain whirling with words that had little or no significance. At home in literature, in philosophy he did but strive and falter and lose himself. When at length there came a silence, he sighed deeply, his hand propping his forehead.