GHDI logo

From Alpine Goatherd to Teacher of Greek – Thomas Platter (1499-1582)

page 3 of 11    print version    return to list previous document      next document

During the time I served this master I did my best, so that thereafter, when I went with my wife to Valais, towards Visp, this same peasant said to my wife that he had never had a better little servant, though I was so small and young. Among other sisters of my father was one who was not married, and my father had especially commended me to her care because I was the youngest child; she was called Frances. When, again and again, people came to her and told her what dangerous employment I was in, and that I would certainly fall to my death one day, she came to my master, and declared to him that she would not have me there any longer. He was dissatisfied with this. Nevertheless, she took me back to Grenchen, where I was born, put me out to a rich old peasant, called Hans “im Boden.” I had to herd the goats for him too. It happened one day that I and his young daughter, who also herded the goats of her father, had forgotten ourselves in play by a water conduit, wherein the water was led along to the farms. There we had made little meadows and watered them, as children do. Meanwhile the goats had gone up the mountain, we knew not where. Thereupon I left my little coat lying there, and went up to the very top of the mountain. The little girl went home without the goats; but I, as a poor servant boy, dared not come home until I had the goats. Very high up I found a kid that was just like one of my goats. I followed it from afar, until the sun went down. When I looked back towards the village, it was almost night at the houses; I began to go downward, but it was soon dark. Then I climbed down the ridge from one tree to another by the roots (the trees were larches, from which turpentine flows), for many of the roots were loosened because the earth had been washed there from on the steep slope. When, however, it was quite dark, and I noticed that it was very precipitous, I determined not to venture farther, but held myself by a root with one hand, and with the other scratched the earth away from under the tree and the roots, while I listened as the dirt rattled below. I pressed myself partially under the roots. I had nothing on except the little shirt, neither shoes nor hat: for I had left the little coat lying by the water-pipes, in my anxiety at having lost the goats. As I lay under the tree, the ravens became aware of me, and croaked in the tree. Then I became very anxious, for I feared that a bear was near. I crossed myself and fell asleep, and I remained asleep until the morning, when the sun shone over all the mountains. But when I awoke and saw where I was, I know not whether in all my life I have been more terrified. For had I moved even two fathoms farther to the right, I would have fallen down a fearfully steep precipice that was many thousand fathoms high. Then I was in the greatest anxiety, as to how I could get down from there. Yet I drew myself farther upward from one root to another, until I came again to a place from where I could run down the mountains towards the houses. Just as I was out of the woods, near the farms, the little girl met me with the goats, which she was driving out again; for they had run home themselves the night before. On that account, the people whom I served were very much terrified that I did not come home with the goats, thinking that I had fallen and killed myself. They inquired of my aunt and the people who lived in the house where I was born, for it was near the house where I served, whether they knew anything of me, since I had not come home with the goats. Then my aunt and my master’s very old wife remained on their knees the whole night, praying to God that he would guard me, if I was still alive. The aunt was my cousin’s mother, of whom Johann Stumpf, who was the preceptor of the second class at Strassburg, wrote. Thereafter, because they had been so terribly frightened, they would not let me herd the goats anymore.

While I was with this master, and herded the goats, I once fell into a kettle full of hot milk, which was over a fire, and scalded myself so badly that the scars have been seen by you and others my whole life long. I was also, while with him, twice more in peril. Once two of us little shepherds were in the forest, talking of many childish things; among other things, we wished that we could fly; then we would fly over the mountains, through the land to Germany – for so was the [Swiss] Confederacy called in Valais. Thereupon came a frightfully large bird, darting, whizzing down upon us, so that we thought that it would carry one or both of us away. Then we both began to shriek, to defend ourselves with our shepherd’s crooks, and to cross ourselves, until the bird flew away. Then we said to each other: “We have done wrong, in wishing we could fly”; God has not created us for flying, but for walking.

Another time I was in the cleft of a very deep fissure in the rocks, looking for crystals, many of which were found there. All at once I saw a stone, as large as a stove, falling down from above; and, because I could not get out of the way, I stooped down on my face. Then the stone fell several fathoms down to a spot above me, and then bounded over me; for stones often spring up many spear-lengths high into the air. I had plenty of such joys and happiness with the goats on the mountains (of which I remember little). This I know well, that I seldom had whole toes, but have often cut off great pieces, and had great cuts and severe falls. I was without shoes for the most part in summer, or else had wooden shoes, and often had great thirst. My food in the morning, before day, was rye broth (made from rye meal); cheese and rye bread was given me in a little basket to carry with me on my back; but at night cooked cheese-milk; of all these, however, there was a fair allowance. In summer, sleeping on hay; in winter on a straw sack full of bugs and other vermin. The poor little shepherds who serve the peasants in those desolate places usually sleep thus.

first page < previous   |   next > last page