Excerpt from Philopseudes (Lover of Lies)
[Eucrates said] ‘When I was a young man, I passed some time in Egypt, my father having sent me to that country for my education. I took it into my head to sail up the Nile to Coptus, and thence pay a visit to the statue of Memnon, and hear the curious sound that proceeds from it at sunrise. In this respect, I was more fortunate than most people, who hear nothing but an indistinct voice: Memnon actually opened his lips, and delivered me an oracle in seven hexameters; it is foreign to my present purpose, or I would quote you the very lines.
‘Well now, one of my fellow passengers on the way up was a scribe of Memphis, an extraordinarily able man, versed in all the lore of the Egyptians. He was said to have passed twenty-three years of his life underground in the tombs, studying occult sciences under the instruction of Isis herself.’
‘You must mean the divine Pancrates, my teacher,’ exclaimed Arignotus; ‘tall, clean-shaven, snub-nosed, protruding lips, rather thin in the legs; dresses entirely in linen, has a thoughtful expression, and speaks Greek with a slight accent?’
‘Yes, it was Pancrates himself. I knew nothing about him at first, but whenever we anchored I used to see him doing the most marvellous things,–for instance, he would actually ride on the crocodiles’ backs, and swim about among the brutes, and they would fawn upon him and wag their tails; and then I realized that he was no common man. I made some advances, and by imperceptible degrees came to be on quite a friendly footing with him, and was admitted to a share in his mysterious arts. The end of it was, that he prevailed on me to leave all my servants behind at Memphis, and accompany him alone; assuring me that we should not want for attendance. This plan we accordingly followed from that time onwards.
‘Whenever we came to an inn, he used to take up the bar of the door, or a broom, or perhaps a pestle, dress it up in clothes, and utter a certain incantation; whereupon the thing would begin to walk about, so that every one took it for a man. It would go off and draw water, buy and cook provisions, and make itself generally useful. When we had no further occasion for its services, there was another incantation, after which the broom was a broom once more, or the pestle a pestle. I could never get him to teach me this incantation, though it was not for want of trying; open as he was about everything else, he guarded this one secret jealously.
‘At last one day I hid in a dark corner, and overheard the magic syllables; they were three in number. The Egyptian gave the pestle its instructions, and then went off to the market. Well, next day he was again busy in the market: so I took the pestle, dressed it, pronounced the three syllables exactly as he had done, and ordered it to become a water-carrier. It brought me the pitcher full; and then I said: Stop: be water-carrier no longer, but pestle as heretofore. But the thing would take no notice of me: it went on drawing water the whole time, until at last the house was full of it.
‘This was awkward: if Pancrates came back, he would be angry, I thought (and so indeed it turned out). I took an axe, and cut the pestle in two. The result was that both halves took pitchers and fetched water; I had two water-carriers instead of one. This was still going on, when Pancrates appeared. He saw how things stood, and turned the water-carriers back into wood; and then he withdrew himself from me, and went away, whither I knew not.’
‘And you can actually make a man out of a pestle to this day?’ asked Dinomachus.
‘Yes, I can do that, but that is only half the process: I cannot turn it back again into its original form; if once it became a water-carrier, its activity would swamp the house.’
Excerpt from Philopseudes (Lover of Lies) by Lucian of Samosata, written circa 150. Said to be the oldest known version of this tale type (Aarne-Thompson-Uther 325*).
Translated by Henry Watson Fowler and George Francis Fowler (as The Liar) in The Works of Lucian of Samosata (1905). Re-paragraphed for legibility.