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Laodamia to Protesilaus

LAODAMIA of Thessaly wishes health to her Thessalian husband, and ardently prays that the Gods may convey this health whither she sends it. It is said that you are detained at Aulis by contrary winds; ah! cruel winds, where were ye when he first parted from me? It was then the seas ought to have opposed themselves to your oars: that was the proper season for the waves to rage. I would nave given him many kisses, many admonitions; for I had an abundance of admonitions to give. You were suddenly hurried

from me; an inviting gale called forth the sails, a gale grateful to the mariners, not to me; a gale that exactly suited their views, but not those of an unhappy lover. I was torn from the embraces of my dear Protesilaus; my faltering tongue gave you its last charge in broken words, and scarcely was I able to utter the mournful adieu. The north-wind sprang up, and stretched the swelling sails. My Protesilaus was soon carried far from me. While my husband remained in sight, I found a pleasure in looking at him, and incessantly pursued your eyes with mine. Even after I could no longer see you, I still could behold your sails: the sails kept my eyes long fixed upon them. But when I could no more perceive either you or the flying sails, and nothing appeared to my aching sight beside the sea, light fled also with you; a darkness hung round me, nor were my tottering knees longer able to support my pale frame. My father-in-law Iphiclus, the good old Acastus, and my sorrowful mother, hardly recovered me by sprinkling my face with cold water. They were taken up in a kind good-natured office, but ungrateful to me, who mourn that I was not suffered to finish a wretched life. With my senses, my grief also returned; and a just love preyed upon my chaste heart. I now neg-

lect the care of my hanging locks, and refuse to adorn myself with cloth of gold. I wander where-ever my madness urges me, like those whom Bacchus is supposed to have touched with his rod. The Thessalian matrons flock round me. Put on, they cry, Laodamia, the royal robes. Shall I shine in robes of Tyrian purple, and my husband be engaged in a bloody war under the walls of Troy? Shall I adorn my hair, while his head is loaded with a helmet? or strut in new apparel, while he bears about a coat of mail? I will at least be said to copy your hardships in the negligence of my dress, and pass the time of this fatal war in sadness. O Paris of the house of Priam, beautiful to the destruction of your country, may you prove as cowardly an enemy, as you were a perfidious guest. How could I wish that you had disliked the countenance of the Lacedæmonian queen, or that she had found less cause to admire yours! And you, Menelaus, who shew too great anxiety about one who so easily consented to be ravished from you, how fatal an avenger will you prove to many! Avert, ye Gods, the dire omen from me; and grant that my husband may consecrate his spoils to Jupiter, the author of his safe return! Yet I am full of fears; and, as often as I think of the horrible war, the tears drop from me like snow melted by the sun. Ilion, and Tenedos, and Simois, and Xanthus, and Ida, are names which, by their very sound, strike me with terror. A stranger would not have ventured to carry her away, had he not known himself able to defend the prize: doubtless, he was well acquainted with his own strength.

He came, as fame reports, adorned with gold and jewels, and made a show in his person of the riches of Phrygia. He was backed with ships and armed men, by which wars are carried on; and yet how small a part of the population of his country followed him! It was by these, I suspect,

daughter of Leda, and sister to the famous twins, that your heart was gained: these, I fear, may prove fatal to the Greeks. I have a strong dread of some one named Hector. Hector, Paris was wont to say, knew how to support a war with bloody rage. Beware of this Hector, whoever he is, if you retain any regard for me; let this name be deeply engraven in your mindful breast. When you shun him, remember also to shun others: fancy that there are many Hectors within those walls; and do not fail to say within yourself, as often as you prepare for battle, Laodamia enjoined me to take care of myself for her sake. If fate has ordained that Troy shall fall by the hand of the Greeks, may it fall without your receiving any injury. Let Menelaus fight, and rush among the thickest ranks of the foe, that he may recover from Paris what Paris unjustly ravished from him: let him force his way through them; and, as he triumphs in a better cause, triumph also by arms, and recover his wife from amidst his enemies. The case is different with you; you must fight that you may live, and return safe to your wife's tender caresses. Spare, O Trojans,

this one out of so many enemies, and spill not my blood by the wounds you give to him. He is not formed to engage cruel foes in close fight, or march up with an undaunted breast to their foremost ranks. He acquits himself better in the combats of love. Let others engage in bloody wars; but let Protesilaus fight under the banners of Cupid. Now I own, that I would gladly have called you back; my heart strongly inclined me to it; but my tongue was silent from the fear of giving a bad omen. When you set out for Troy from your father's gate, your foot gave a presage by striking against the threshold. When I saw it I groaned, and said quietly to myself, May the Gods grant that this may be a presage of my husband's safe return. These circumstances I now relate to you, that you may not be too forward in the field, but by your caution may make all my fears vanish in empty air. Fortune hath also doomed some one to an untimely fate, who shall, first of the Greeks, set his foot upon Trojan ground. Unhappy she, fated first to deplore

her lost lord! Grant, O ye Gods, that Protesilaus' courage may then fail! May thy ship be the last of a thousand, and in the rear of all the fleet plough the foaming deep. I farther admonish you, that you be the last to leave the ship: the shore to which you hasten is not your native soil. But, when you return, urge the bark with sail and oars, nor delay a moment to set foot upon the coast of your own country. Whether Phœbus hides his beams, or high in his chariot overlooks the earth, both by day and by night you fill my mind with grief and anxiety: yet the mournful image haunts me more at night than during the day: night is grateful to those whose necks are environed by clasping arms. I catch at empty dreams in a forlorn bed, and must put up with false joys, because the true have fled. But why does your pale shadow stand before me? Why do I incessantly hear you uttering mournful complaints? I start from my sleep, and adore the nightly powers. The Thessalian altars cease not to smoke with sacrifices for your sake. Incense is offered, and tears are shed over it in abundance; with which the flame burns bright, as if sprinkled with wine.

When shall I again clasp you in my longing arms, and be elate with joy in your embraces? When, happily united with you in the same bed, shall I hear you recount your noble deeds in war? Though I shall be pleased

with the recital, yet will your relation be often interrupted by our mutual kisses. These always occasion an agreeable pause in discourse: the tongue is rendered more prompt by such alluring delays. But when I think of Troy, of the winds, and the sea, flattering hopes give way to anxious fears. I am alarmed that your fleet is detained by adverse winds. How can you think of sailing when the sea forbids? What man returns to his own country when the winds are against him? why then do you spread your sails to leave it, when the sea forbids? Neptune himself stops up the way to his own city. Whither hurry you so rashly? Let each return to his own home. Whither, I say, O ye Greeks, do you hurry so rashly? Attend to the voice of the forbidding winds. This delay is no work of blind chance; it comes from the Gods. What do you intend by this mighty war, but to regain a base adulteress? Return, ye Grecian ships, while it yet may be done with honor. But why do I thus call you back? Forbid, ye Gods, every bad omen; and may an inviting gale bear you through

the quiet waves. How I envy the lot of the Trojan wives; for, if they are doomed to see the mournful funerals of their husbands, the enemy is however not far off. The youthful bride will with her own hand fix the helmet upon the head of her gallant spouse, and buckle on his shining armour. She will buckle on his armour, and, as she performs the task, often snatch a kiss. This sportive office will be grateful to both. She will partly attend him in his march, affectionately enjoin him to return, and advise him to caution, that he may triumph, and dedicate his arms to Jupiter. He, bearing in mind the fresh injunctions of his beloved spouse, will fight with due care of himself, and think of her whom he has left at home. At his return, she will take from him his shield, and unbuckle the ponderous helmet, while he reclines his wearied breast upon her soft bosom. Unhappy, we are racked with uncertainty; an anxious fear makes us apt to fancy you surrounded with a thousand dangers. Yet while you bear armour, and are fighting in remote lands, I take a pleasure in contemplating the wax which exhibits your likeness. As if you were present, I make use of the softest expressions, and address it in words due only to my Protesilaus: I even embrace and caress it. Surely it must be so: this

image is more than what it seems. Add speech to the statue, and it will be my Protesilaus himself. My eyes are incessantly fixed upon it; I press it to my bosom as if it were indeed my husband, and pour out my complaints to it, vainly hoping for an answer. I swear by yourself and your return, so dear to me above all things; by the nuptial torch, and that glowing heart which is only yours; by your beloved head, which, O ye propitious Gods, restore to me unhurt, and give me to see at length venerable with grey hairs; that I am ready to fly whithersoever you call me, and will readily share your fate, whether that should happen which, alas! I too much fear, or the Gods should graciously preserve you. Permit me to conclude my epistle with a small request: If you have yet any love for me, be sure to show it in the care you take of yourself.

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  • Commentary references to this page (3):
    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 4
    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 68b
    • John Conington, Commentary on Vergil's Aeneid, Volume 1, 5.556
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