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But fearless he replied; “They call my name
Acoetes; and Maeonia is the land
from whence I came. My parents were so poor,
my father left me neither fruitful fields,
tilled by the lusty ox, nor fleecy sheep,
nor lowing kine; for, he himself was poor,
and with his hook and line was wont to catch
the leaping fishes, landed by his rod.
His skill was all his wealth. And when to me
he gave his trade, he said, ‘You are the heir
of my employment, therefore unto you
all that is mine I give,’ and, at his death,
he left me nothing but the running waves. —
they are the sum of my inheritance.
“And, afterwhile, that I might not be bound
forever to my father's rocky shores,
I learned to steer the keel with dextrous hand;
and marked with watchful gaze the guiding stars;
the watery Constellation of the Goat,
Olenian, and the Bear, the Hyades,
the Pleiades, the houses of the winds,
and every harbour suitable for ships.
“So chanced it, as I made for Delos, first
I veered close to the shores of Chios: there
I steered, by plying on the starboard oar,
and nimbly leaping gained the sea-wet strand.
“Now when the night was past and lovely dawn
appeared, I,rose from slumber, and I bade
my men to fetch fresh water, and I showed
the pathway to the stream. Then did I climb
a promontory's height, to learn from there
the promise of the winds; which having done,
I called the men and sought once more my ship.
Opheltes, first of my companions, cried,
‘Behold we come!’ And, thinking he had caught
a worthy prize in that unfruitful land,
he led a boy, of virgin-beauty formed,
across the shore.
“Heavy with wine and sleep
the lad appeared to stagger on his way,—
with difficulty moving. When I saw
the manner of his dress, his countenance
and grace, I knew it was not mortal man,
and being well assured, I said to them;
‘What Deity abideth in that form
I cannot say; but 'tis a god in truth.—
O whosoever thou art, vouchsafe to us
propitious waters; ease our toils, and grant
to these thy grace.’
“At this, the one of all
my mariners who was the quickest hand,
who ever was the nimblest on the yards,
and first to slip the ropes, Dictys exclaimed;
‘Pray not for us!’ and all approved his words.
The golden haired, the guardian of the prow,
Melanthus, Libys and Alcimedon
approved it; and Epopeus who should urge
the flagging spirits, and with rhythmic chants
give time and measure to the beating oars,
and all the others praised their leader's words,—
so blind is greed of gain.—Then I rejoined,
‘Mine is the greatest share in this good ship,
which I will not permit to be destroyed,
nor injured by this sacred freight:’ and I
opposed them as they came.
“Then Lycabas,
the most audacious of that impious crew,
began to rage. He was a criminal,
who, for a dreadful murder, had been sent
in exile from a Tuscan city's gates.
Whilst I opposed he gripped me by the throat,
and shook me as would cast me in the deep,
had I not firmly held a rope, half stunned:
and all that wicked crew approved the deed.
“Then Bacchus (be assured it was the God)
as though the noise disturbed his lethargy
from wine, and reason had regained its power,
at last bespake the men, ‘What deeds are these?
What noise assails my ears? What means decoyed
my wandering footsteps? Whither do ye lead?’
‘Fear not,’ the steersman said, ‘but tell us fair
the haven of your hope, and you shall land
whereso your heart desires.’ ‘To Naxos steer,’
Quoth Bacchus, ‘for it is indeed my home,
and there the mariner finds welcome cheer.’
Him to deceive, they pledged themselves, and swore
by Gods of seas and skies to do his will:
and they commanded me to steer that way.
“The Isle of Naxos was upon our right;
and when they saw the sails were set that way,
they all began to shout at once, ‘What, ho!
Thou madman! what insanity is this,
Acoetes? Make our passage to the left.’
And all the while they made their meaning known
by artful signs or whispers in my ears.
“I was amazed and answered, ‘Take the helm.’
And I refused to execute their will,
atrocious, and at once resigned command.
Then all began to murmur, and the crew
reviled me. Up Aethalion jumped and said,
‘As if our only safety is in you!’
With this he swaggered up and took command;
and leaving Naxos steered for other shores.
“Then Bacchus, mocking them,—as if but then
he had discovered their deceitful ways,—
looked on the ocean from the rounded stern,
and seemed to sob as he addressed the men;
‘Ah mariners, what alien shores are these?
'Tis not the land you promised nor the port
my heart desires. For what have I deserved
this cruel wrong? What honour can accrue
if strong men mock a boy; a lonely youth
if many should deceive?’ And as he spoke,
I, also, wept to see their wickedness.
“The impious gang made merry at our tears,
and lashed the billows with their quickening oars.
By Bacchus do I swear to you (and naught
celestial is more potent) all the things
I tell you are as true as they surpass
the limit of belief. The ship stood still
as if a dry dock held it in the sea.—
“The wondering sailors laboured at the oars,
and they unfurled the sails, in hopes to gain
some headway, with redoubled energies;
but twisting ivy tangled in the oars,
and interlacing held them by its weight.
And Bacchus in the midst of all stood crowned
with chaplets of grape-leaves, and shook a lance
covered with twisted fronds of leafy vines.
Around him crouched the visionary forms
of tigers, lynxes, and the mottled shapes
of panthers.
“Then the mariners leaped out,
possessed by fear or madness. Medon first
began to turn a swarthy hue, and fins
grew outward from his flattened trunk,
and with a curving spine his body bent.—
then Lycabas to him, ‘What prodigy
is this that I behold?’ Even as he spoke,
his jaws were broadened and his nose was bent;
his hardened skin was covered with bright scales.
And Libys, as he tried to pull the oars,
could see his own hands shrivel into fins;
another of the crew began to grasp
the twisted ropes, but even as he strove
to lift his arms they fastened to his sides;—
with bending body and a crooked back
he plunged into the waves, and as he swam
displayed a tail, as crescent as the moon.
“Now here, now there, they flounce about the ship;
they spray her decks with brine; they rise and sink;
they rise again, and dive beneath the waves;
they seem in sportive dance upon the main;
out from their nostrils they spout sprays of brine;
they toss their supple sides. And I alone,
of twenty mariners that manned that ship,
remained. A cold chill seized my limbs,—
I was so frightened; but the gracious God
now spake me fair, ‘Fear not and steer for Naxos.’
And when we landed there I ministered
on smoking altars Bacchanalian rites.”

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