No. 2.—Imbecilis of Gaul.
IMBECILIS WAS BORN on a farm near the small provincial city of Conundrum in southwestern Gaul, and it was his agricultural background that gave his philosophy its distinctive character. He founded a school in his native city, and he confidently predicted that Conundrum would soon rival Alexandria and Athens as a center of learning. Although his prediction proved unjustifiably optimistic, Imbecilis did attract a few ambitious students from the surrounding suburbs, and one of them (by the name of Aviatrix of Conundrum) has left us an Epitome of the Teachings of the Illustrious Imbecilis, to which is prefixed a life of the philosopher.
Imbecilis accepted the four elements of traditional Greek philosophy, but added a fifth, which he said was the generative principle that gave the universe growth and motion. This fifth element he termed “manure.” Three of these elements—earth, water, and manure—he called “primary,” and the other two “secondary.” The primary elements generated the secondary elements in this way: earth and water combined to form what Imbecilis called “mud,” and by means of manure the mud gave birth to life. From the respiration of life came the element of air, and from the combination of the four elements came the life of the gods. The respiration of the gods was fire, thus completing the five elements.
The philosophy of Imbecilis was thus remarkable for making the life of the gods depend on mortal life, rather than the other way around; and ultimately, as Imbecilis emphasized to his students, even the life of the gods was nothing more than manure and mud.
Imbecilis also entertained some cosmological opinions that were similarly unorthodox. The commonly held belief that the earth was a sphere he denied with the utmost vigor. Instead, he taught that the earth was a mass of irregular shape and texture, resembling the manure as it proceeds fresh from the cow. The mountainous landscape of the countryside around Conundrum was his favorite proof of this assertion: for who, he demanded with a confident sneer, could gaze upon such irregularity and still claim that the earth was a regular solid?
The ethical doctrines of Imbecilis proceeded from his physical doctrines. As the gods proceeded from manure and mud, it was not necessary to worship them, except that it was good and proper to burn manure on their altars every once in a while, as an offering to acknowledge the part manure plays in their lives. For the same reason it was proper to burn manure in front of the doors of prominent men, but one should take care to do it anonymously and run from the scene before being recognized, lest one be praised for one’s piety and become puffed up with pride.
After teaching for several years, Imbecilis died in an agricultural accident too distasteful to narrate here. Aviatrix ran the school for a while as his successor, but he did not have the easy charm of his master: the students drifted away, and the school was condemned by the health department and torn down to make way for a public convenience.