Helen to Paris
WHEN your epistle violated my chaste eyes, it seemed no small glory to write back my resentment. Dare you, a stranger, in defiance of the most sacred rights of hospitality, presume thus to invade the just allegiance of a lawful wife? Was it for this that our Laconian harbours sheltered you from stormy winds and seas? Were our palace gates frankly opened to you, though from a foreign court, that you might return this injury, as the reward of so much good usage?
Was it a stranger or an enemy whom we received with so much kindness and friendship? These just complaints, I doubt not, will to your partial judgment appear rustic. Of what consequence is the imputation of rusticity, while my chastity is unstained, and the whole tenor of my life above reproach? Though I have not a countenance severe with dissembled looks, nor form my eye-brows into an artful frown, my fame is yet unspotted; my easy frankness never rose to a crime; nor can any vain seducer boast the spoils of my virtue. I therefore may reasonably be astonished at the bold scheme, and wonder whence your hopes came to share of my favors. Was it because the hero of Neptune's race forced me away? Did you conclude that, being once compelled, I was fit to
be made a second prey? Mine would have been the crime, had I been enticed to a compliance; but, as I was carried off by violence, what could I do more than show reluctance? Nor did he ultimately obtain the desired reward of his boldness; I returned unhurt by any thing but fear. The forward youth snatched by rude force a few reluctant kisses; but that was all he ever had of me. You, wicked as you are, would not have been thus satisfied: but the Gods were more favorable; he was of a temper very different from you. He restored me untouched, and by a modest usage atoned for his crime: it is evident that the young man repented the bold insult. Did Theseus repent, that Paris might succeed, and my name never cease to be the object of busy tongues? Nor am I yet displeased, (for who was ever offended with love?) if the affection you profess is sincere and undissembled. But that I doubt; not that I suspect your honor, or distrust the power of my own charms; but, because I know that a too easy faith often proves fatal to our sex, and dissembling man ruins us by feigned professions. What if others yield, or matrons are seldom chaste; may not my name occur among the rare instances of virtue? My mother's story seems, at the first view, a fit example to soften me to a compliance: but my mother was
deceived by a borrowed shape, and harmless feathers covered the unsuspected ravisher. If I offend, what have I to plead? by what error can I excuse the darling sin? Her frailty was happily redeemed by the dignity of the ravisher; but what Jupiter will take from the infamy of my crime?
You boast your descent from a race of kings and heroes. What then? Our line too is sufficiently ennobled by illustrious names. Not to mention my father-in-law Atreus, the great-grandson of Jupiter, or the honorable pedigree of Tyndareus, and Pelops the son of Tantalus; Leda, deceived by a borrowed shape, who fondly cherished in her bosom the unsuspected bird, gives me Jupiter for my father. Go then, and boast your Phrygian descent, and the honorable race of Priam, which I am far from undervaluing: but Jupiter, who ennobles your line,
is the fifth from you, from me the first. The sceptre of Troy I am apt to believe powerful; but still I fancy that our own is not less so. If you exceed us in riches and number of people, yet yours is only a country of barbarians. Your letter is filled with ample promises, such as might move even Goddesses to yield; but if ever I violate the laws of chastity, yourself shall be the more powerful cause of my crime. For either I will always retain my honor without a stain, or follow you, rather than the high hopes you give: not that I despise or slight them; for those gifts are always most acceptable, which derive a value from the giver. But it is still more that you love me, that you run such hazards for my sake, and follow hope through all the dangers of the main. Nor do I
overlook the signs you make at our table, though I artfully dissemble all notice. I observe your ardent wistful looks, and those meaning eyes that almost dazzle mine. Sometimes you sigh, and, snatching the cup, fix your lips where mine had been before. Ah! how oft have I marked the hidden signs wafted from your fingers, and the lively language expressed in your eye-brow! I often dreaded that my husband might observe it, and blushed at the too open signs you made. Oft I said murmuring to myself, “This man will stick at nothing”; nor was my conjecture erroneous. I have also upon the edge of a table read, marked with wine under my own name, “I love”. I, with a frowning eye, seemed not to believe; but now, alas! I have learned to speak the same language. Were I capable of being won, it must have been by those soft allurements: these only could have made an impression upon my heart. You have (it must be owned) an enchanting face, and charms that may make any one gladly fly to your embraces. A more fortunate maid may possess you with innocence; but my engagements
forbid a foreign love. Learn by my example to live without the desired beauty; it is the highest degree of virtue, to abstain from unlawful pleasures. How many youths wish for the same happiness as you, who make no advances? Or do you fancy that Paris only has eyes? It is not that you see better, but that you rashly venture more; your passion is not greater, but your confidence.
Oh that you had then visited our coasts in a nimble bark, when a thousand rivals solicited my virgin love! Had you appeared, you would have triumphed over the thousand; nor could my husband have justly blamed my choice. Now, alas! you come too late, to joys that are the right of another; and your slow hope invades a plighted love. But although it would have been
more to my wish, to live with you, yet does not Menelaus possess me against my will. Cease then, for heaven's sake, to urge a too sensible heart; nor strive to injure one whom you profess to love. Suffer me to live contented with the lot which fortune has given me, nor aim at the ruin of my unspotted fame. But Venus, you say, promised this reward; and three goddesses offered themselves naked to your judgment in the vales of towering Ida. One offered you a kingdom, another the glory of successful war; and the third promised to make you husband to a daughter of Tyndareus: but I can scarcely believe that heavenly Nymphs would have submitted to your decision in the case of beauty. And were this even true, yet the other part is undoubtedly feigned, where you pretend that I was offered to bribe your judgment. I am not yet so vain of my own charms, as to fancy myself the greatest reward, even in the opinion of the Goddess. I am fully contented with my share of human praise; the applause of Venus can only produce envy. But I deny nothing; these flatteries are also grateful; for why should I reject what I so fondly wish? Nor be you too much displeased, that I am rather incredulous; for things of moment are not credited with ease. My chief joy is to have the applause of Venus; and my next, that I was esteemed the greatest reward by you; that neither the honors offered by Pallas, nor those of Juno, were preferred to the famed beauty of Helen. You therefore chose me in place of valor, in place of a noble kingdom; it would be inhuman, not to receive a heart so wholly mine. But trust me, I am far from
being inhuman; and only struggle against loving a man, whom I scarcely can hope ever to possess.
Why do I vainly strive to tear up the thirsty sand with a bending plough, and cherish a hope which every thing conspires to deteat? I am a stranger to the artifices of love; witness beaven, that I never yet by any decent abused my faithful husband. And now that I privately commit my thoughts to writing, my hand engages in a new and unusual task. Happy are they whom practice hath rendered expert; I, un-killed in intrigue, imagine the way to vice hedged round with thorns. This fear perpetually haunts me; even now I am covered with blushes, and imagine the eyes of all fixed upon me. Nor is this apprehension wholly groundless; for already the rumor spreads among the crowd: and Æthra accidentally overheard some whispers. It is fit you dissemble
all, unless you think it better to desist; but why desist? you who can to well dissemble. Love still, but secretly: the absence of Menelaus gives more freedom, but does not allow of all. He is gone upon a long journey, called by urgent affairs; a great and weighty concern occasioned his sudden departure: at least so it appeared to me. I, seeing him unresolved what to do, said, Go and return with all possible dispatch.
He, pleased with the omen, fondly kissed me: To your care,
says he, I recommend my palace, my kingdom, and the Trojan guest.
Scarcely could I refrain from laughter; and, while I strove to stifle it, I would only answer, It shall be so.
He, it is true, spread his sails for Crete with a favorable wind; yet do not, from this, fancy yourself wholly secure. My husband, though absent, has still watchful eyes over me. Are you unacquainted with the proverb, that princes have long hands?
My fame too is a great obstacle; for the more lavish you are in my praise, the more reasonable ground has he for suspicion. That glory, once so grateful, is now my bane; far better it had been to be less known to fame. Nor wonder at his absence, or that I am here left with you: he trusted to my virtue and unspotted life. My beauty and shape implied danger; but my probity and fame made him secure. You desire me not to lose so fair a season, or neglect the opportunity given by the simple good-natured man. I am willing, but afraid; my resolution is still unfixed, and my breast glows with all the anguish of
suspense. My husband is absent; you pine in a solitary bed, and we are each blest with a form that mutually pleases. The nights are long; we often converse; one house contains us; and you are kind and pressing. Let me die, if all things do not conspire to crown our loves; and yet I do not know what fear still holds me back. It would be better to employ force, than court with words; my bashfulness might have been overcome by a gentle violence. Wrongs are sometimes grateful even to those who suffer them; it is thus I would be made happy by a seeming force: but let us strive rather to suppress in its birth the growing flame; a little water easily extinguishes the kindling spark. Strangers are incapable of a lasting love; their passion wanders like themselves; and while we fondly believe it to be sure and unchanged, all is over. Hypsipyle and the Minoian maid are examples of this, who both were left to
mourn their deserted beds. You too, faithless man, are said to have abandoned Œnone, who had been dear to you for so many years. You must not attempt to deny it; for know, that it has been my care to search narrowly into all. Add, that, were you inclined to a constant faithful love, it is not in your power; already the impatient Trojans prepare your sails. While you are yet in discourse with me, while the wished-for night is assigned, a propitious gale calls you away to your own country. You must abandon the unfinished pursuit, and break asunder our new-felt joys; the relentless winds will bear away my love. Shall I then follow, as you advise, and visit the famed towers of Troy? Shall I become a wife to the grandson of mighty Laomedon? I am not yet so indifferent to the reports of spreading fame, as to suffer it thus to fill the earth with the sound of my reproach. What may Sparta say of me, and all Greece? What the nations of Asia, and even your own Troy? What will Priam, Hecuba, and your brothers think? and what will all the modest Phrygian matrons? And even you, what confidence can you have in my fidelity, or how avoid an anxiety from my compliance in your own case?
Every stranger who may arrive upon the Phrygian coast will be a fresh cause of fear on my account. In your rage you will not fail to upbraid me with my crime, forgetting the part you bear in it yourself. You, who are the author of my guilt, will be the first to reproach me. O may the earth rather overwhelm me for ever! But I shall shine in Troj in riches, and all the ornaments of a happy dress. You tell me, that I shall meet with a reception far beyond even your promises; that purple and embroidered garments shall be given me; and that I shall be enriched by a mass of gold. But forgive the trank confession; these gifts have no charms for me: the ties that bind me to my own country, are far more powerful. Who among the Phrygians will resent the injuries which may be offered? What aid from brothers or a father could I there implore? Deceitful Jason won Medea by his unbounded promises; but was he less ready to banish her from the house of his father Æson? She had then no
Aeetes to whom she could fly for relief, no mother Ipsea, or sister Chalciope to hear her complaints. I indeed fear none of this; but neither did Medea fear: love often contributes to its own deceit. What ship now tossed by stormy waves did not sail first from the port with a favorable wind? I am terrified too by the flaming torch, which, in your mother's dream, seemed to spring from her womb before your birth. Add to this the prophecies which fortell that Ilium shall be consumed with Grecian fire. It is true that Venus favors us, because she carried off the prize, and by your judgement triumphed over two. But then I fear again the resentment of the two, who in this contest, so much to your honor, lost their cause by your sentence. Nor can it be doubetd, if I follow you, that troops will be raised to recover me. Our love (alas!) must make
its way through sword and slaughter. Did Hippodamia of Atrace instigate the Thessalian heroes to that cruel slaughter of the Centaurs? And can you fancy that Menclaus will be slow to revenge in so just a cause, or that my brothers and father will not contribute their aid? You boast highly of your valor, and recount your noble acts: but your face gains no great credit to your words. Those limbs are better formed for the delights of Venus, than the rude encounters of Mars: let heroes distinguish themselves in war; Paris will shine in the softer pursuits of love. Hector, whom you so much commend, may bravely defend you against the foe: a different warfare suits those graceful motions. Were I bold and daring as many of my sex, I would throw myself into your soft embraces; but time and you may at last bring me to yield, when, laying aside this foolish shame, I will gladly extend my consenting hand. You demand a private meeting, that you may acquaint me fully with all: I know your meaning, and what you aim at by this conference. But you are too forward; now is your harvest yet come to ripeness. This short delay may perhaps
promote the object of your hopes. Thus far my epistle bears the secret message of my heart; but the betraying pen has tired my tender hand. The rest you will learn of Æthra and Clymene, my faithful companions and counsellors.