DEATH OF ORPHEUSWhile with his songs, Orpheus, the bard of Thrace,
allured the trees, the savage animals,
and even the insensate rocks, to follow him;
Ciconian matrons, with their raving breasts
concealed in skins of forest animals,
from the summit of a hill observed him there,
attuning love songs to a sounding harp.
One of those women, as her tangled hair
was tossed upon the light breeze shouted, “See!
Here is the poet who has scorned our love!”
Then hurled her spear at the melodious mouth
of great Apollo's bard: but the spear's point,
trailing in flight a garland of fresh leaves,
made but a harmless bruise and wounded not.
The weapon of another was a stone,
which in the very air was overpowered
by the true harmony of his voice and lyre,
and so disabled lay before his feet,
as asking pardon for that vain attempt.
The madness of such warfare then increased.
All moderation is entirely lost,
and a wild Fury overcomes the right.—
although their weapons would have lost all force,
subjected to the power of Orpheus' harp,
the clamorous discord of their boxwood pipes,
the blaring of their horns, their tambourines
and clapping hands and Bacchanalian yells,
with hideous discords drowned his voice and harp.—
at last the stones that heard his song no more
fell crimson with the Thracian poet's blood.
Before his life was taken, the maenads turned
their threatening hands upon the many birds,
which still were charmed by Orpheus as he sang,
the serpents, and the company of beasts—
fabulous audience of that worshipped bard.
And then they turned on him their blood-stained hands:
and flocked together swiftly, as wild birds,
which, by some chance, may see the bird of night
beneath the sun. And as the savage dogs
rush on the doomed stag, loosed some bright fore-noon,
on blood-sand of the amphitheatre;
they rushed against the bard, with swift
hurled thyrsi which, adorned with emerald leaves
had not till then been used for cruelty.
And some threw clods, and others branches torn
from trees; and others threw flint stones at him,
and, that no lack of weapons might restrain
their savage fury then, not far from there
by chance they found some oxen which turned up
the soil with ploughshares, and in fields nearby
were strong-armed peasants, who with eager sweat
worked for the harvest as they dug hard fields;
and all those peasants, when they saw the troop
of frantic women, ran away and left
their implements of labor strown upon
deserted fields—harrows and heavy rakes
and their long spades
after the savage mob
had seized upon those implements, and torn
to pieces oxen armed with threatening horns,
they hastened to destroy the harmless bard,
devoted Orpheus; and with impious hate,
murdered him, while his out-stretched hands implored
their mercy—the first and only time his voice
had no persuasion. O great Jupiter!
Through those same lips which had controlled the rocks
and which had overcome ferocious beasts,
his life breathed forth, departed in the air.
The mournful birds, the stricken animals,
the hard stones and the weeping woods, all these
that often had followed your inspiring voice,
bewailed your death; while trees dropped their green leaves,
mourning for you, as if they tore their hair.
They say sad rivers swelled with their own tears—
naiads and dryads with dishevelled hair
wore garments of dark color.
His torn limbs
were scattered in strange places. Hebrus then
received his head and harp—and, wonderful!
While his loved harp was floating down the stream,
it mourned for him beyond my power to tell.
His tongue though lifeless, uttered a mournful sound
and mournfully the river's banks replied:
onward borne by the river to the sea
they left their native stream and reached the shore
of Lesbos at Methymna. Instantly,
a furious serpent rose to attack the head
of Orpheus, cast up on that foreign sand—
the hair still wet with spray. Phoebus at last
appeared and saved the head from that attack:
before the serpent could inflict a sting,
he drove it off, and hardened its wide jaws
to rigid stone.
Meanwhile the fleeting shade
of Orpheus had descended under earth:
remembering now those regions that he saw
when there before, he sought Eurydice
through fields frequented by the blest; and when
he found her, folded her in eager arms.
Then lovingly they wandered side by side,
or he would follow when she chose to lead,
or at another time he walked in front,
looking back, safely,—at Eurydice.
Bacchus would not permit the wickedness
of those who slaughtered Orpheus to remain
unpunished. Grieving for the loss of his
loved bard of sacred rites, at once he bound
with twisted roots the feet of everyone
of those Edonian women who had caused
the crime of Orpheus' death.
Their toes grew long.
He thrust the sharp points in the solid earth.
As when a bird entangled in a snare,
hid by the cunning fowler, knows too late
that it is held, then vainly beats its wings,
and fluttering only makes more tight the noose
with every struggle; so each woman-fiend
whose feet were sinking in the soil, when she
attempted flight, was held by deepening roots.
And while she looks down where her toes and nails
and feet should be, she sees wood growing up
from them and covering all her graceful legs.
Full of delirious grief, endeavoring
to smite with right hand on her changing thigh,
she strikes on solid oak. Her tender breast
and shoulders are transformed to rigid oak.
You would declare that her extended arms
are real branches of a forest tree,
and such a thought would be the very truth.