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Plate VIII: "Fog and Shadows"



ACT VIII: The Cave (The Emperor)



- In which misguided souls debate the nature of existence


The boy traveled along a thin hallway for some distance. The aged oak walls gradually yielded to even more ancient stone. The passage took on the aspect of a natural cavern tunnel. Eventually, this passage issued out into a broad cave brightened by a dimly flickering fire. In the distance, the boy spied rows and rows of benches on which men sat staring at the far cave wall. On this wall shadows danced, produced from the play of forms in front of the fire. The men turned not from the shadow dance to espy the puppeteer who produced the shadows. Instead, they remained frozen forward, whispering about the mysterious images that played before them. Approaching a group of these men, he inquired as to what they were watching:


"Kind sirs, why is it that you are so faithfully devoted to these mere shadows?" he queried.


"Ahhh!," said a thin, bespectacled scholar, "On the walls I see all the beauty and misfortune of the human condition. Revealed to me are the ways life grows and dies with each breath. It is a panoply of moral conflict. Each movement is a sublime metaphor for the deeper truths of existence. "


"Nonsense," another called out, "here are the simple scripts of all our days. It is plain to see that these are but the movements of people's actions as the foundation for all living. The movements are simple transactions, giving and taking in the exchange of life." This man was a portly gent, dressed in the fine silks of a trader.


"But you too are wrong," called a third, dressed in the garbs of a monk, "here our creator allows us to fulfill our Godly destiny. The meaning of this dance reveals that good and evil are expressions of a divine hand. No, these magical shadows are the proof of a higher being looking down on us simple creatures and guiding our paths ."


"No, no, wrong again," yet another interrupted, "for this is only what I create. You are all figments of my broad designs. I create the shadows and find meaning in them. All is unreal and I forge the way ahead. My hand chooses and defines these visions." This man was dressed in rich robes, a man of office.


Others spoke up, adding their interpretations of the shadows. However, not one of the many would turn their head to gaze upon the fire or the puppets. Instead they provided theories, guessed truths, insisted desperate assertions, and sketched mad dreams. The boy was vexed, could not they seek the source of the shadows instead of their surface manifestations? The men bickered on heedlessly, so the boy moved on.


The boy approached the cloaked shadow master and asked about the meaning of these shadows. In a dry, aged voice, the figure responded:


"Heed well, boy: the danger is to transform these puppet shadows into real monsters of flesh with the force of misguided assuredness. Seeking the meaning of shadows are the pursuit of fools, for they are only ghosts. And those inflicted by shadowy ghosts dance to the songs of falseness. Better to take ghosts for what they are, possibilities, fancies, and aspects of larger forms. Seek onwards instead. Go onwards, seek the lights behind shadows."