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In his 21st idyll, written in the third century B.C., Theocritus thus related the first of the countless fish stories in history:
Two fishers, on a time, two old men, together lay and slept—they had strown the dry sea-moss for a bed in their wattled cabin, and there they lay against the leafy wall. Beside them were strown the instruments of their toilsome hands, the fishing creels, the rods of reed, the hooks, the sails, bedraggled with sea-spoil, the lines, the weels, the lobster pots woven of rushes, the seines, two oars, and an old coble upon props. Beneath their heads was a scanty matting, their clothes, their sailor's caps. Here was all their toil, here all their wealth. The threshold had never a door, nor a watch-dog; all things, all, to them seemed superfluity, for Poverty was their sentinel. They had no neighbor by them, but ever against their narrow cabin floated up the sea.
The chariot of the moon had not yet reached the mid-point of her course, but their familiar toil awakened the fishermen; from their eyes they cast out slumber, and roused their souls with speech.
ASPHALION. They lie all, my friend, who say that the nights wane short in summer when Zeus brings the long days. Already have I seen 10,000 dreams and the dawn is not yet. Am I wrong, what ails them, the nights are surely long?
THE FRIEND. Asphalion, thou blamest the beautiful summer. It is not that the season hath wilfully passed his natural course, but care, breaking thy sleep, makes night seem long to thee.
ASPHALION. Didst ever learn to interpret dreams? for good dreams have I beheld. I would not leave thee to go without thy share in my vision; even as we go shares in the fish we catch, so share all my dreams. Sure, thou art not to be surpassed in wisdom, and he is the best interpreter of dreams that hath wisdom for his teacher. Moreover, we have time to idle in, for what could a man find to do lying on a leafy bed beside the waves and slumbering not? Nay the ass is among the thorns, the lantern in the town hall, for, they say, it is always sleepless.
THE FRIEND. Tell me then, the vision of the night; nay tell all to thy friend.
ASPHALION. As I was sleeping late, amid the labours of the salt sea (and truly not too well-fed, for we supped early if thou dost remember, and did not overtax our bellies), I saw myself busy on a rock, and there I sat and watched the fishes, and kept spinning the bait with the rods. And one of the fish nibbled, a fat one, for in sleep dogs dream of bread, and of fish dream I. Well he was tightly hooked, and the blood was running, and the rod I grasped was bent with the struggle. So with both hands I strained and had a sore tussle for the monster. How was I ever to land so big a fish with hooks all too slim? Then just to remind him he was hooked, I gently pricked him, pricked, and slackened, and as he did not run, I took in line. My toil was ended with the sight of my prize; I drew up a monstrous fish, lo you a fish all plated thick with gold! Then fear took hold of me lest he might be some fish beloved of Poseidon, or perchance some jewel of the sea-grey Amphitrite. Gently I unhooked him, lest ever the hooks should retain some of the gold of his mouth. Then I dragged him on shore with the ropes, and swore that never again would I set foot on sea, but abide on land, and lord it over the gold.
This was what wakened me, but for the rest, set thy mind to it, my friend, for I am in dismay about the oath I swore.
THE FRIEND. Nay, never fear, thou art no more sworn than thou hast found the golden fish of thy vision; dreams are but lies. But if thou wilt search these waters, wide awake, and not asleep, there is some hope in thy slumbers; seek the fish of flesh, lest thou die of famine with all thy dreams of gold!