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Alcmene et Galanthis.


Even Atlas felt the weight of Heaven increase,
but King Eurystheus, still implacable,
vented his baffled hatred on the sons
of the great hero. Then the Argive mother,
Alcmena, spent and anxious with long cares,
the burden of her old age and her fears,
could pass the weary hours with Iole
in garrulous narrations of his worth,
his mighty labors and her own sad days.
Iole, by command of Hercules,
had been betrothed to Hyllus, and by him
was gravid, burdened with a noble child.
And so to Iole, Alcmena told
this story of the birth of Hercules:—

“Ah, may the Gods be merciful to you
and give you swift deliverance in that hour
when needful of all help you must call out
for Ilithyia, the known goddess of
all frightened mothers in their travail, she
whom Juno's hatred overcame and made
so dreadful against me. For, when my hour
of bearing Hercules was very near,
and when the tenth sign of the zodiac
was traversed by the sun, my burden then
became so heavy, and the one I bore
so large, you certainly could tell that Jove
must be the father of the unborn child.

“At last, no longer able to endure—
ah me, a cold sweat seizes on me now;
only to think of it renews my pains!
Seven days in agony, as many nights,
exhausted in my dreadful misery,
I stretched my arms to heaven and invoked
Lucina and three Nixian deities
the guardians of birth. Lucina came;
but before then she had been pledged to give
my life to cruel Juno. While Lucina
sat on the altar near the door and listened,
with her right knee crossed over her left knee,
with fingers interlocked, she stopped the birth:
and in low muttered tones she chanted Charms
which there prevented my deliverance.

“I fiercely struggled, and insane with pain
shrieked vain revilings against Jupiter;
I longed for death, and my delirious words
then should have moved the most unfeeling rocks.
The Theban matrons, eager to help me,
stood near me while they asked the aid of Heaven.

“And there was present of the common class,
my maid Galanthis—with her red-gold hair—
efficient and most willing to obey
her worthy character deserved my love.
She felt assured, Juno unjustly worked
some spell of strong effect against my life.
And when this maid beheld Lucina perched
so strangely on the altar, with her fingers
inwoven on her knees and tightly pressed
together, in a gripping finger-comb,
she guessed that jealous Juno was the cause.
Quick-witted, in a ringing voice this maid
cried out, ‘Congratulations! All is well!
Alcmena is delivered—a fine child
so safely brought forth—her true prayers approved!’

“Lucina, who presides at birth, surprised
leaped up, unclenched her hands, as one amazed.
Just as her hands unfastened, and her knees
were parted from their stricture, I could feel
the bonds of stricture loosen; and without
more labor was delivered of my child.

“'Tis said, Galanthis laughed and ridiculed
the cheated deity; and as she laughed
the vixen goddess caught her by the hair
and dragging her upon the ground, while she
was struggling to arise, held her, and there
transformed both of her arms to animal
forelegs. Her old activity remained;
her hair was not changed, but she did not keep
her maiden form: and ever since that day,
because she aided with deceitful lips,
her offspring are brought forth through the same mouth.
Changed to a weasel she dwells now with me.”

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