At this time there lived in Rome a famous sculptor. From clay, marble, and bronze he created bodies of gods and men, and such was their divine beauty that people called it immortal. But he himself was not satisfied and insisted that there was something truly beautiful which he could not yet set into marble or bronze. “I still have not gathered moon’s luster,” he would say, “I still have not drank my fill of sun’s light, and there is no soul in my marble, no life in my beautiful bronze.” And when he slowly walked along a road during moonlit nights, his white tunic flickering under the moon as he crossed the black shadows of cypress trees, passersby would laugh amicably and say:
“Off to gather the moonlight Aurelius? Why didn’t you bring some baskets with you?”
And, laughing, he would point at his eyes:
“Here are my baskets with which I gather the light of the moon and the radiance of the sun.”
And that was true: the moon glowed in his eyes, and the sun gleamed in them. But he could not translate them into marble, and this was the happy struggle of his life.
He came from a long line of patricians, had a kind wife and children, and could not tolerate imperfection.
When the dark rumors of Lazarus reached him, he consulted with his wife and friends and undertook a faraway journey to Judaea in order to look upon the one miraculously resurrected. He was somewhat bored of late, and he hoped that the road would sharpen his wearied attention. That which people told him about the resurrected did not frighten him: he had long contemplated death, he did not like it, but he also did not like those who mixed it with life. On this side—wonderful life, on that side—mysterious death, thus he reasoned, and man cannot conceive anything better than to rejoice in life and the beauty of the living while he is alive. And he even had a vain wish: to convince Lazarus in the truth of his view and return his soul to life, as was returned his body. Moreover, this seemed easy, for the rumors about the resurrected, fearful and strange, did not give the whole truth about him but only vaguely cautioned against something terrible.
As Lazarus was getting up from a rock to go into the desert after the setting sun, the wealthy Roman approached him and cried out loudly after him:
And Lazarus saw the noble, proud face, awash in glory, and he saw bright garments, and precious gemstones sparkling under the sun. Its reddish rays gave the head and face the appearance of dimly glimmering bronze—and this too Lazarus saw. Obediently he sat back down and wearily lowered his eyes.
“Yeah, you are not a pretty sight, my poor Lazarus,” said the Roman calmly as he played with his golden chain, “you are even frightening, my poor friend; and death was not lazy on the day when you so carelessly fell into its grasp. But you’re fat, like a barrel, and fat people are never evil, so said the great Caesar, and I don’t understand why people are afraid of you so much. Will you let me spend the night at your house? It’s already late, and I have nowhere to stay.”
Nobody has yet asked Lazarus to spend the night at his house.
“I don’t have a bed,” he said.
“I’m a little bit of a soldier so I can sleep sitting down,” replied the Roman. “We’ll light a fire…”
“I don’t have a fire.”
“Then in darkness, like two friends, we’ll lead a conversation. I think we might find a little wine…”
“I don’t have wine.”
The Roman laughed.
“Now I understand why you’re so gloomy and don’t like your second life. No wine! Well then, we’ll stay like this: for, after all, there are speeches that can make your head spin no worse than a Falernian.”
With a motion of his hand he let his slave go and they were left alone. And once again the sculptor began to talk, but it was as if life had left his words with the setting sun, and they were becoming pale and empty, as if they were shaking on unsteady legs, as if they were slipping and falling, drunk with the wine of anguish and despair. And now rifts have appeared between them—like distant hints at the great emptiness and the great gloom.
“Now I am your guest, and you won’t upset me Lazarus!” he spoke. “Hospitality is a duty even for those who were dead for three days. Three days, they told me, you spent in the grave. It must be cold there… and from there you brought back this nasty habit of living without fire and wine. But I like fire, it grows dark here so quickly… Your brows and forehead have very interesting lines: like ash covered ruins of some palace after an earthquake. But why are you in such strange and ugly dress? I have seen bridegrooms in your country, and they wear this same dress—such a funny dress—such a frightening dress… But are you really a bridegroom?”
The sun had already disappeared, a giant black shadow rushed from the east—it was as if huge feet swished across the sand, and the gust from the hasty sprint sent a cold breeze over his back.
“In the darkness you appear even larger Lazarus, you’ve really grown fatter during these minutes. Are you, perhaps, feeding off the darkness?… But I would love a fire—even a tiny flame, a tiny flame. And I am a little cold, you have such barbarously cold nights… If it wasn’t so dark I’d say that you are looking at me Lazarus. Yes, it seems you are looking… You are looking at me, aren’t you, I can feel it—and now you are smiling.”
The night has arrived and a heavy darkness filled the air.
“How nice it will be tomorrow, when the sun rises again… You know, I am a famous sculptor—so my friends call me. I create, yes, it’s called creation… but for that you need the day. I give life to cold marble, and melt ringing bronze above a flame, above a bright, hot flame… Why did you touch me?!”
“Come,” said Lazarus. “You are my guest.”
And they went into the house. And a long night fell upon the earth. By the time the sun was already up, the slave could no longer wait for his master and went after him. And this is what he saw: right under the sun’s scorching rays there sat Lazarus and his master, gazing upwards in silence. The slave began to weep and loudly cried:
“Master, what’s with you? Master!”
That day he went back to Rome. Throughout the journey Aurelius remained silent and lost in thought, attentively gazing at everything—at the people, at the ship, and at the sea, as if he was trying to commit it to memory. At sea they were caught in a strong storm, and all this time Aurelius remained on deck and peered greedily at the oncoming and falling waves. At home everyone was frightened by the terrible change that had occurred in the sculptor, but he put the household at rest by declaring:
“I found it.”
And, in those same dirty clothes, which he did not change throughout his journey, he began to work, and the marble rang out obediently under the booming strikes of his hammer. He worked greedily for a long time, without letting anyone in, when finally one morning he said that the creation was complete, and he told them to fetch their friends, harsh critics, and connoisseurs of art. And, awaiting them, he dressed in lavish, bright, ceremonial garments, gleaming with yellow gold on crimson linen.
“Here is what I created,” he said thoughtfully.
His friends took a look, and a shadow of deep sorrow covered their faces. It was something monstrous, it did not possess a single form familiar to the eye, though it did retain a hint of some new, unknown design. On a thin, crooked twig, or on some such ugly likeness, there lay, in a strange and skewed manner, a blindly formed, grotesque, mangled mass of something turned outside in, something turned inside out, some hideous scraps, helplessly trying to get away from themselves. And by chance, under one of the hideous, screaming projections, they saw a wonderfully carved butterfly, with little, translucent wings, almost trembling from a helpless desire to fly.
“Why the wonderful butterfly, Aurelius?” someone asked reluctantly.
“I don’t know,” answered the sculptor.
But they had to tell him the truth, and one of his friends, the one who loved Aurelius most, said firmly:
“This is grotesque, my poor friend. It must be destroyed. Give me the hammer.”
And with two strikes he shattered the monstrous mass, leaving only the wonderfully sculpted butterfly.
From that time onwards Aurelius created nothing more. With a deep indifference he looked upon marble and bronze and his former divine creations, which embodied immortal beauty. Wishing to inspire within him his former passion for work and to awaken his lifeless soul, they took him to see the marvelous creations of other artists—but he remained just as indifferent, and there was no smile to warm his sealed lips. And only when they spoke to him about beauty at great length would he object, wearily and feebly:
“But it’s all a lie.”
And during the day, when the sun was shining, he would come out into his rich, skillfully designed garden and, finding a place without shade, he would yield his uncovered head and dull eyes to light and heat. Red and white butterflies flittered; water flowed and splashed into a marble basin from the mouth of a blissfully-drunk satyr, but he sat motionless—like a shadow of the one who, in a faraway place, before the very gates of the rocky desert, sat just as motionless under the fiery sun.