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Canace to Macareus

IF any of these lines should appear stained and obscured by blots, know that they will be occasioned by the death of the writer. My right hand holds the pen, my left a drawn sword; and the paper lies unfolded in my lap. This is the true picture of Canace writing to her brother: it is only in this manner, it seems, that I can satisfy a hard-hearted father. I could wish him to be a spectator of my untimely death, that the blow might be given in the presence of a

stern father who commanded it. Fierce, and far more cruel than his eastern ministers of storms, he would view without a tear the mortal wound. For it is infectious to live with savage winds; and therefore he contracts the temper of his people. He commands the South, the Zephyr, and the northern blasts of Thrace; and, surly East, he checks thy rigid wing. He controls indeed the winds; but, alas! he has no power over his own unmeasurable wrath, and governs a kingdom less intractable than his own vices. What avails it that I am allied to the Gods above, that Jupiter is in the number of my kindred? does it snatch from my trembling hind the destructive steel, that fatal gift and weapon, alas, unfit for me! O Macareus, I wish that the hour which joined us had

come later than that of my death! Why, brother, did you ever love me otherwise than as a brother? And why did I regard you more than became a sister? For I also felt the powerful flame, and perceived I know not what God taking possession of my glowing heart; but such as I had often heard described. The color had forsaken my cheeks; a leanness had spread itself over all my joints; and my mouth took with reluctance even the smallest food. No gentle slumbers refreshed me; the nights seemed tedious and lingering; and I often sighed to myself, though no apparent grief oppressed me. I could not give any reason why I was thus disconsolate; nor, though in love myself, did I know what it was to love. My aged nurse first divined the growing mischief; and, wise through years, first told me that it was love. I blushed; and, full of shame, fixed my eyes upon my bosom; signs which, accompanied with silence, too clearly testified my confession. And now my womb swelled with the guilty load, and the growing weight pressed my sickly limbs. What herbs, what me-

dicines and not my nurse procure, and with her impious hands apply, that the increasing load (this alone we hid from thee) might be entirely discharged? But, alas! the tenacious infant too well withstood our best artifices, securely screened from all hostile attacks. And now the splendid sister of Phœbus had nine times completed her course, and the tenth moon was guiding forward her light-revolving steeds; when some unknown cause afflicted me with sudden pangs. I was a stranger to the movements of child-bearing, and a mere novice in this kind of discipline. I suppressed not my cries, "What!" said my nurse, "do you thus openly proclaim your guilt?" And, knowing the cause of my complaint, she stopped my mouth with her hand. What could I do in that unhappy case? Pain urged my groans; but shame, fear, and my nurse, pressed me to silence.

I nevertheless strove to repress my groans, and struggled with my cries; and was forced to drink the tears that trickled from my eyes. Death seemed to hover round me; Lucina refused her aid; and even death was a grievous crime, had I then expired: when entering with thy hair and garments torn, my bosom cherishing close pressed to thine, thou saidst, Live, my sister, O live, my dearest sister; nor rashly destroy two lives in one. Strengthen yourself by hope; for you shall soon be wedded to your brother, and become the wife of him by whom you have been made a mother. Though taint, and almost dead, yet (believe it) your words revived me; and the guilty load sprang forward from my womb.

Why do you rejoice at this danger over? In the mid-hall sits Æolus; and from a parent's eyes our crimes must be concealed. The cunning old nurse shrouds

the babe with leaves, white olive boughs, and holy fillets; and while she feigns sacred rites, and mutters prayers, the people, and even my father, make way for the solemnity. And now she had almost reached the threshold, when the infant's cry invades my father's ears; by its own evidence, alas! betrayed. Instantly he seizes the child, and unveils the feigned solemnity: the palace resounds with his raging voice. As the sea quivers when brushed by the curling breeze, or a tall ash when shaken by the stormy south-wind; so you might see my pale limbs shiver with fear, and the bed shake under my trembling body. Æolus rushes in with violence, and publishes my shame by his clamors: hardly could he restrain his hands from my face. I, overwhelmed with conscious guilt, answered only by my tears; fear had bound up my frozen tongue. And now he commanded his little grandchild to be thrown out a prey to dogs and hungry birds, and left in some solitary place. The helpless babe cried out, as if he understood his doom, and conjured his grandfather with what voice he could. Imagine, dear brother, what anguish of soul I must then feel, (for you

may easily guess the state of my mind by your own,) to hear my bowels doomed in my presence a prey to mountain-wolves, and the savage beasts of the woods. My father left me: then was I at liberty to beat my breast, and wound my checks with my nails. Meantime a messenger came from my father, his countenance sad, and his words full of cruelty. Æolus sends thee this sword (he then gave the sword into my hand), and says, that the sense of thy own demerits will teach thee what it means. I know what it means; and will boldly urge the piercing steel: my father's gift shall be treasured in my breast. Are these the gifts with which a father graces my nuptials? Is this the dower with which you enrich your daughter? Deluded Hymenæus, remove far hence the nuptial torch, and fly with hurry and trepidation from this detested place. Let the hideous Furies bring hither their internal brands, that, kindled up by them, my funeral pile may blaze. Do you, my sisters, wed, blessed with more propitious fate; but, warned, be ever mindful of my crime. What has my infant son, so

lately born, committed? What could one scarcely brought forth do to offend his grandfather? If it were possible for him to have deserved so hard a fate, let him be thought to have deserved it. Alas, unhappy balse, you suffer for the guilt to your mother! O my darling son, to be your mother's grief, and the prey of wild beasts! alas! doomed to be destroyed on the very day of your birth; ill-fated babe, the mournful pledge of our unhappy loves; this was your first day of life, this also must be your last! I was not allowed to shed over you a mother's tears, or offer upon your sepulchre my shora hair. I did not hang over thy lifeless frame, or snatch from thy mouth the cold kisses. My bowels, alas! are made a prey to savage beasts. But I will soon follow by this wound thy infant shade: not long a mother, nor long shall I be called childless. But thou, in vain, alas! thy wretched sister's hope, fail not to gather up the scattered members of thy son; bear them to his fond mother's grave, and unite them with her in the social tomb: let the same urn, though small, contain us

both. Live ever mindful of your Canace, and shed some tears over my wound: nor fear to touch the breathless body of one whom you loved. Fulfil these last commands of thy hapless sister; and I will execute the cruel mandates of my unrelenting sire.

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  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.490
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.653
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