High on Olympus’ top they strove to raise
Gigantic Ossa; and on Ossa’s heights
To place the leafy Pelion, that heaven
Might thus become accessible.
But Olympus and Ossa and Pelion are the names of mountains. (5) But instead of these mountains the lawgiver represents a tower as having been built by these men, who, out of ignorance and wicked ambition, were desirous to reach the heaven. Every alienation of mind, then, is grievous; for even if every portion of the whole earth could be built over, a slight foundation is being first laid, and then if a superstructure could be raised in the fashion of a single pillar, it would still be an enormous distance removed from the heavenly sphere, and above all would it be so according to the tenets of those curious philosophers who have affirmed that the earth is the centre of the universe.
III. (6) And there is also another story akin to this, related by the deviser of fables, concerning the sameness of language existing among animals: for they say that formerly, all the animals in the world, whether land animals, or aquatic ones, or winged ones, had but one language, and that, just as among men Greeks speak the same language as Greeks, and the present race of barbarians speaks the same language as barbarians, exactly in the same manner every animal was able to converse with every other animal with which it might meet, and with which it did anything, or from which it suffered anything, so that they sympathised with one another at their mutual misfortunes, and rejoiced whenever any of them met with any good fortune; (7) for they could impart their pleasures and their annoyances to one another by their sameness of language, so that they felt pleasure together and pain together; and this similarity of manners and union of feelings lasted, until being sated with the great abundance of good things which they enjoyed, as often happens, they were at last drawn on to a desire of what was unattainable, and even sent an embassy to treat for immortality, requesting to be released from old age, and to be always endowed with the vigour of youth, saying, that already one animal of their body, and that a reptile, the serpent, had received this gift; for he, having put off old age, was allowed again to grow young; and that it was absurd for the more important animals to be left behind by an inferior one, or for their whole body to be distanced by one. (8) However, they suffered the punishment suitable to their audacity, for they immediately were separated in their language, so that, from that time forth, they have not been able to understand one another, by reason of the difference in the dialects into which the one common language of them all had been divided.
IV. (9) But he who brings his account nearer the truth, has distinguished between the rational and irrational animals, so that he testifies that identity of language belong to men alone: and this also, as they say, is a fabulous story. And indeed they affirm, that the separation of language into an infinite variety of dialects, which Moses calls the confusion of tongues, was effected as a remedy for sins, in order that men might not be able to cooperate in common for deeds of wickedness through understanding one another; and that they might not, when they were in a manner deprived of all means of communication with one another, be able with united energies to apply themselves to the same actions. (10) But this precaution does not appear to have turned out of any use; for since that time, though men have been separated into different nations, and have no longer used one language, nevertheless, land and sea have been repeatedly filled with unspeakable evils. For it was not the languages which were the causes of men’s uniting for evil objects, but the emulation and rivalry of their souls in wrong-doing. (11) For even those who have had their tongues cut out can intimate what they wish by nods and looks, and other positions and motions of the body, not less than by a distinct utterance of words. And besides this consideration, there is the fact that, very often, one nation by itself, having not merely one language, but one code of laws, and one system of manners, has arrived at such a pitch of iniquity that, as to a superfluity of wickedness, it may counterbalance the sins of all the men in the world put together. (12) And again, through ignorance of foreign languages, many persons, having no foreknowledge of the future, have been anticipated and overwhelmed by those who were plotting against them; as, on the other hand, by knowledge of foreign languages, men have been able to repel fears and dangers with which they have been threatened; so that a community of language is an advantageous thing rather than an injurious one: since, even at the present day, nothing contributes so greatly to the safety and protection of the people of each country, and particularly of the natives, as their being of one language. (13) For if a man has learnt many dialects, he immediately is looked upon with consideration and respect by those who are also acquainted with them, as being already a friendly person, and contributing no small introduction and means of friendship by reason of his familiarity with words which they too understand; which familiarity very commonly imparts a feeling of security, that one is not likely to suffer any great evil at the hands of such a man. Why, then, did God remove sameness of language from among men as a cause of evils, when it seems it should rather have been established as a most useful thing?