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Procne et Philomela.


The lords of many cities that were near,
now met together and implored their kings
to mourn with Pelops those unhappy deeds.—

The lords of Argos; Sparta and Mycenae;
and Calydon, before it had incurred
the hatred of Diana, goddess of the chase;
fertile Orchomenus and Corinth, great
in wealth of brass; Patrae and fierce Messena;
Cleone, small; and Pylus and Troezen,
not ruled by Pittheus then,—and also, all
the other cities which are shut off by
the Isthmus there dividing by its two seas,
and all the cities which are seen from there.

What seemed most wonderful, of all those towns
Athens alone was wanting, for a war
had gathered from the distant seas, a host
of savage warriors had alarmed her walls,
and hindered her from mourning for the dead.

Now Tereus, then the mighty king of Thrace,
came to the aid of Athens as defense
from that fierce horde; and there by his great deeds
achieved a glorious fame. Since his descent
was boasted from the mighty Gradivus,
and he was gifted with enormous wealth,
Pandion, king of Athens, gave to him
in sacred wedlock his dear daughter, Procne.

But Juno, guardian of the sacred rites
attended not, nor Hymenaeus, nor
the Graces. But the Furies snatched up brands
from burning funeral pyres, and brandished them
as torches. They prepared the nuptial couch,—
a boding owl flew over the bride's room,
and then sat silently upon the roof.

With such bad omens Tereus married her,
sad Procne, and those omens cast a gloom
on all the household till the fateful birth
of their first born. All Thrace went wild with joy—
and even they, rejoicing, blessed the Gods,
when he, the little Itys, saw the light;
and they ordained each year their wedding day,
and every year the birthday of their child,
should be observed with festival and song:
so the sad veil of fate conceals from us
our future woes.

Now Titan had drawn forth
the changing seasons through five autumns, when,
in gentle accents, Procne spoke these words:
“My dearest husband, if you love me, let
me visit my dear sister, or consent
that she may come to us and promise her
that she may soon return. If you will but
permit me to enjoy her company
my heart will bless you as I bless the Gods.”

At once the monarch ordered his long ships
to launch upon the sea; and driven by sail,
and hastened by the swiftly sweeping oars,
they entered the deep port of Athens, where
he made fair landing on the fortified
Piraeus. There, when time was opportune
to greet his father-in-law and shake his hand,
they both exchanged their wishes for good health,
and Tereus told the reason why he came.

He was relating all his wife's desire.
Promising Philomela's safe return
from a brief visit, when Philomela appeared
rich in her costly raiment, yet more rich
in charm and beauty, just as if a fair
Dryad or Naiad should be so attired,
appearing radiant, from dark solitudes.

As if someone should kindle whitening corn
or the dry leaves, or hay piled in a stack;
so Tereus, when he saw the beautiful
and blushing virgin, was consumed with love.

Her modest beauty was a worthy cause
of worthy love; but by his heritage,
derived from a debasing clime, his love
was base; and fires unholy burned within
from his own lawless nature, just as fierce
as are the habits of his evil race.

In the wild frenzy of his wicked heart,
he thought he would corrupt her trusted maid,
her tried attendants, and corrupt even
her virtue with large presents: he would waste
his kingdom in the effort.—He prepared
to seize her at the risk of cruel war.
And he would do or dare all things to feed
his raging flame.—He could not brook delay.

With most impassioned words he begged for her,
pretending he gave voice to Procne's hopes.—
his own desire made him wax eloquent,
as often as his words exceeded bounds,
he pleaded he was uttering Procne's words.

His hypocritic eyes were filled with tears,
as though they represented her desire—
and, O you Gods above, what devious ways
are harbored in the hearts of mortals! Through
his villainous desire he gathered praise,
and many lauded him for the great love
he bore his wife.

And even Philomela
desires her own undoing; and with fond
embraces nestles to her father, while
she pleads for his consent, that she may go
to visit her dear sister.—Tereus viewed
her pretty pleading, and in his hot heart,
imagined he was then embracing her;
and as he saw her kiss her father's lips,
her arms around his neck, it seemed that each
caress was his; and so his fire increased.
He even wished he were her father; though,
if it were so, his passion would no less
be impious.—Overcome at last by these
entreaties, her kind father gave consent.
Greatly she joyed and thanked him for her own
misfortune. She imagined a success,
instead of all the sorrow that would come.

The day declining, little of his toil
remained for Phoebus. Now his flaming steeds
were beating with their hoofs the downward slope
of high Olympus; and the regal feast
was set before the guests, and flashing wine
was poured in golden vessels, and the feast
went merrily, until the satisfied
assembly sought in gentle sleep their rest.

Not so, the love-hot Tereus, king of Thrace,
who, sleepless, imaged in his doting mind
the form of Philomela, recalled the shape
of her fair hands, and in his memory
reviewed her movements. And his flaming heart
pictured her beauties yet unseen.—He fed
his frenzy on itself, and could not sleep.

Fair broke the day; and now the ancient king,
Pandion, took his son-in-law's right hand
to bid farewell; and, as he wept,
commended his dear daughter, Philomela,
unto his guarding care. “And in your care,
my son-in-law, I trust my daughter's health.
Good reason, grounded on my love, compels
my sad approval. You have begged for her,
and both my daughters have persuaded me.
Wherefore, I do entreat you and implore
your honor, as I call upon the Gods,
that you will ever shield her with the love
of a kind father and return her safe,
as soon as may be—my last comfort given
to bless my doting age. And all delay
will agitate and vex my failing heart.

“And, O my dearest daughter, Philomela,
if you have any love for me, return
without too long delay and comfort me,
lest I may grieve; for it is quite enough
that I should suffer while your sister stays away.”

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