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Phyllis to Demophoon

O DEMOPHOÖN, Phyllis, your Thracian hostess, complains of your absence beyond the promised time. You engaged to drop anchor on our coast, when the moon should have completed her orb. Already she hath four times waned, four times renewed her full orb; and your Athenian ships do not yet stem the Thracian tide. If you reckon time in the minute manner we lovers do, this complaint will not appear to have come before its day. Hope forsook me slowly too: we are unwilling to believe what may be injurious; but now I feel it, and, in spite even of love and myself, must believe. Often have I lied to myself for your sake; often flattered myself that the raging south winds would drive hither your swelling sails. In my resentment I have cursed Theseus, imagining that he would not suffer you to depart; yet he perhaps was no cause of your stay. Sometimes I dreaded that, in making towards the shallows of Hebrus, your ship might have been swallowed up by the foaming deep. Oft before the altars with offerings of incense have I, in a suppliant manner, implored the gods for your safety, O perfidious man! Oft seeing the winds favorable, the heaven serene, and the sea calm; “Surely,” said I to myself, “if alive, he will come.” In fine, my indulgent love represented to me all the obstacles that might prevent a speedy return; and I became ingenious at finding out excuses for you. But still you linger: the gods whom you invoked have not restored you to me; nor, moved by a sense of my love, do you return. O Demophoön, you have given both your words and sails to the winds. Your sails, alas! have failed to bring you back, and your words were insincere. What have I done, unless perhaps I have loved you to excess? But surely this crime might have rather endeared me to you. My only fault is, to have loved and entertained you, faithless man: yet this fault with you ought to be a merit. Where is now your honor? where are your oaths, and plighted troth? where are the many gods who dwelt on your perjured tongue? Where is now your matrimonial vow of constancy, which was to me the pledge and security of my phasing conjugal hopes? You swore by the tempest-beaten main, which before you had often crossed, and on which you were again to hazard yourself; you swore too by your grandsire (if he also is not falsely called so) who soothes the boisterous waves; by Venus doubly armed with her torch and bow, too successful, alas! with both against me; by Juno, who presides over the marriage-bed, and the sacred mysteries of the torch-bearing goddess. If each of these wronged powers should be disposed to take vengeance for the dishonor of invoking them falsely, you alone would be insufficient for the deserved punishment.

Fool that I was! I even repaired your leaky ships, that you might have a trusty fleet wherein to desert me; I supplied you also with rowers to help forward your flight. Wretched beyond expression, to be thus wounded by my own darts! Alas! I foolishly gave credit to your deluding words, of which you have such command. I confided in your race and kindred gods; I trusted to your tears: are these too taught to dissemble? Yes; even they have their artifices, and often conspire to delude. In fine, I believed your false protestations. Why did you commit so many perjuries to gain credit with me, when unhappily I was too willing to trust you? Nor do I repent that I received you into my harbour and kingdom: this ought to have been the utmost bound of my indulgence. I am only ashamed of having crowned my hospiality with the present of my bed, and yielded myself up to your embraces. Oh! had the night preceding that fatal one been my last, Phyllis had died chaste and honest. I hoped the best, because I was conscious I deserved well of you. Hope, founded upon desert, is just and unblameable. Surely it is no mighty glory to deceive a credulous maid; my innocent simplicity merited a kind return.

You have by your flattering words deluded a woman, and one that loved you. May the gods grant that this may be your greatest boast! May you stand in the midst of the city among the posterity of Ægeus! May the statue of your father graced with inscriptions and trophies stand first! When the stories of Scyron and stern Procrustes shall be read, Sinis, and the Minotaur; Thebes brought under subjection, the Centaurs dispersed, and the dark palace of the infernal god alarmed, may thy hated image bear this inscription: “This is he, who betrayed his innocent believing hostess.” Of all the mighty acts of your father, Ariadne deserted seems to please you most. You admire only in him what alone seems to want an excuse, and are the perfidious heir of your father's treachery. She (nor do I envy her) enjoys a better match, and rides in state, drawn by harnessed tigers. But the Thracian youths whom I scorned before, now shun my embraces, because I preferred a stranger to my own subjects. Some in derision say, “Let her now repair to learned Athens; we will find another to rule over warlike Thrace: the end proves all things.” May heaven deny him success in every thing, who presumes to judge of actions by the event: for, were your vessels to plough the Thracian waves, I should still be said to have studied my own and my people is good. But alas! I have consulted neither. You think no more of my palace, nor will you ever again bathe your wearied limbs in the Thracian lake. Our parting scene still presents itself to my fancy: your fleet being in readiness to sail, you embraced me, and, falling upon my neck, oft repeated the long-breathed kisses: you mixed your tears with mine, and complained that the wind was favorable; then parting, cried, “Be sure, Phyllis, to expect your Demophoön.” Can I expect one who left me never to return? Can I expect ships never designed to visit these coasts? And yet I still expect you; return, though late, that your only crime may be too long a stay.

Unhappy Phyllis, what do you pray for? He perhaps is detained by another mistress, and a love that banishes all remembrance of thee. Alas! I fear that, since you left me, you have never once thought of Phyllis. Cruel fate! should you be at a loss to know who I Phyllis am, and whence; I: who admitted you, after a long course of wandering, into our Thracian harbours, and entertained you in so hospitable a manner; who increased your wealth from my own stock, supplied your wants by many gifts, and intended to have enriched you still more; who subjected to your rule the spacious kingdom of Lycurgus, too warlike and fierce to be awed by a female name; even from Rhodope covered with eternal snow, to shady Hæmus, and where gentle Hebrus rolls his sacred stream; on whom in an unlucky hour I bestowed my virgin love, and whom I suffered with treacherous hands to untie my chaste girdle. Doubtless Tisiphone howled over us in that fatal night, and the wandering owl complained in mournful notes. Alecto too was present, her hair wreathed with curling snakes; and lighted the tapers with infernal flame. Disconsolate, I tread the rocks and shore overgrown with shrubs, where-ever the wide sea lies open to my eyes. Whether by day, when earth relenting feels the genial heat, or by night when the stars shine, and cold damps fall, I am anxious in observing the course of the winds. If by chance I can espy and distant sail, forthwith I divine it to be my Demophoön. I run towards the shore whither the inconstant billows flow, and can scarcely be restrained even by the waves. The nearer they approach, the more my fears increase, till at last fainting away I am carried home by my train. Near my present abode is a bay, bent in the manner of a bow, whose sides running out into the sea form a precipice of rocks. Hence my despair has often urged me to throw myself headlong into the raging flood; and I am still resolved upon it, because you continue to deceive me. The friendly waves may perhaps waft me over to the Athenian shore, and my unburied remains may there meet your unexpecting eyes. Though more hard-hearted than iron or adamant, year even than yourself, you will in pity say; Alas! Phyllis, you ought not to have followed me thus. Oft I thirst after poisons; oft resolve to pierce my heart, and perish by a bloody death. Sometimes I think of tying a silken knot upon that neck, round which you have so often twined your treacherous arms. It is fixed; I must repair my ruined honor by a speedy death: when the mind is once determined, it is easy to choose the mode of dying. You shall be marked upon my tomb as the cruel cause of my death, and handed down to posterity in these or similar lines: “Phyilis died by the cruelty of Demophoön; a faithful mistress by a perfidious guest. He was the barbarous cause; she herself gave the fatal blow.”

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    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.253
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