Paris to Helen
PARIS, the son of Priam, sends health to helen; that health, which he can himself no otherwise enjoy, than as it is your gift. Shall I then speak? or is it unnecessary to inform you of a passion that betrays itself? Has not my love already laid itself too open? I could indeed wish it to lie conceaied, till the time comes when we can taste of joys unallayed by any mixture of fear. But it is in vain that I dissemble; for who can smother a flame that always discovers itself by its own brightness? If yet you expect that my tongue should confirm what my actions have so long declared,--I burn.
This message brings
you the true sense of my heart. Forgive this kind confession; and do not peruse what remains with a severe look, but with one that best becomes your heavenly form. Already it gives me pleasure to think that my letter is well received; for this creates a hope that I may also meet with the same kind entertainment. Heaven grant that my hopes may be confirmed, and that the queen of love, who urged me to this voyage, may not have promised in vain. For, that you may not offend through ignorance, know that I came hither by a divine admonition, and that one, not the meanest of the divine powers, favors my design. The prize I seek indeed is great, yet what I may justly claim; for Venus promised you, fair as you are,
to my bed. Guided by her, I abandoned the
Sigean shore, ventured upon a doubtful fate, and did not decline to plough the pathless deep in the Phereclean bark. She commanded a gentle breeze, and stretched the canvass with auspicious gales; for, having sprung from the teeming deep, she still retains her empire over the main. May she still persevere; and, as she calms the sea, so may she calm the tempest that rages in my breast, and bring home all my vows and sighs to their desired port. My flames I brought with me; for I did not first find them here. They were the cause of my undertaking so long a voyage: for no threatening storm or mistaken course drove us hither; my fleet was designed from the first for the coast of Laconia. Nor fancy that I plough the waves in a ship laden with merchandise: the Gods have already blessed me with ample wealth. Nor came I so far to view and admire the cities of Greece; my own kingdom is filled with richer towns. It is you that I seek, whom beautiful Venus promised to my embraces; I wished for the enjoyment of your love, even before I was acquainted with your charms. Long before my eyes beheld you, I had formed an image of you in my mind; for fame was the first messenger of your beauty. Nor is it so great a wonder,
that, pierced by the swift-winged arrow at such a distance, I offer you my heart. So the Fates have ordained; which that you may not strive to resist, attend to a relation that carries in it nothing but truth.
I was yet enclosed in the womb of my mother, now pregnant with a burthen almost struggling for birth. She in a mysterious
dream seemed to herself to be delivered of a burning torch. She was frighted, and related to priam the tremendous visions of the gloomy might: he consulted the sacred seers. The prophet foretold, that the flames of the ruined
Troy were portended by the threatening torch; but surely Fate meant the flames that now rage in my breast. Though exposed among shepherds, yet my form and native greatness
spoke the nobility of my birth.
In the thickest groves of Ida there is a place remarkably retired, and shaded with oaks and pitch-trees. The grass, upon this spot, is not touched by the bleating sheep, the goat delighting in rocks and cliffs, or the laborious ox. As here I stood leaning upon a tree, and beholding from afar the walls, lofty towers, and winding bays of Troy, lo, suddenly, the ground seemed to be shaken with the tread of feet. I speak the truth; yet scarcely will it be able to gain the credit due to truth. The grandson of great Atlas and Pleione, borne through the air on nimble wings, stood before my eyes. As I was permitted to see, so may it be allowed me to relate what I have seen. The God stood, and in his sacred hand was a golden rod: three Goddesses too, Venus, Juno, and Pallas, gently pressed the grass with their tender feet. I stood amazed, and a chilling horror raised my hair in bristles; when the winged messenger thus addressed me: "Banish fear; you are appointed the judge of beauty; settle therefore the contests of the Goddesses, and name one who must claim the prize of beauty from the other two." And, that I might not decline the task, he laid his commands upon me in the name of Jupiter, and then mounted aloft through the aerial way. My mind seemed to gather
strength, and I was conscious of an unusual boldness; nor did I fear to fix my eyes upon each of them with attention. They all seemed worthy of the victory; and I, their judge, was grieved to think, that all could not equally carry off the prize. yet even then there was one that pleased me more: insomuch, that it was easy to discover in her mien and air the Queen of Love. So strong was the contention for superiority, that they began to solicit my favor by bribes. The wife of Jove offered me a kingdom, Pallas prudence and valour, whilst I myself could not resolve to which to give the preference: but Venus, sweetly smiling, said, "Let not gifts like these, Paris, sway you; for both are full of fears and anxieties. I will give you to taste of the pleasures of love; and fair Leda's yet fairer daughter shall receive your fond caresses." Thus attractively
she spoke; and, equally powerful by her gifts and beauty, returned to heaven with victorious pace.
In the mean time, (the Fates beginning to be now more propitious,) I am known by undoubted signs to be the son of royal Priam. The court is over-
joyed to recover a son who had so long been lost; and grateful Troy adds this day also to her festivals. And, as I now languish for you, so did the beauties of Troy for me: you alone reign over my heart, for which many sighed in vain. Nor was I only desired by the daughters of kings and heroes: I was also the darling and care of heaven-born Nymphs. But all these, Tyndaris, met with a return of cold disdain, when the hopes of your embrace had fired my breast. All the day fancy placed you before my eyes; at night too, when my eyes were sealed by gentle sleep, you stood before me in my dreams. What surprise then must your presence give, whose absent image so far occupied my thoughts? I was consumed with the flame, though it scorched at so great a distance. Nor was I able to restrain my ardent hopes from seeking the desired object through the blue ocean. The stately Trojan pines were cut down with a Phrygian axe, and every tree that was fittest to plough the yielding deep. The steep Gargarean summits were despoiled of their lofty woods; and spacious Ida furnished
me with the finest planks. Stiff oaks were bent to form the doubling hold, and the rising sides were knit with jointed ribs. Sails and sail-yards were added to the lofty masts; and the bending stern was adorned with painted Gods. On my own ship stood the Goddess, who promised to make me happy in your embraces; accompanied by her little son Cupid.
The fleet being thus completely prepared, I longed to traverse the wide Ægean sea. My father and mother opposed their entreaties to my desires, and with pious requests withstood my intended voyage. Cassandra too, my sister, with loose and disordered locks, just as the ships were ready to set sail, ex-claimed, Whither do you hurry without thought, to bring back fire and destruction? Alas! you little think what raging flames threaten us from beyond these seas.
True were her predictions: I have felt the threatened fires; tyrannic love rages in my yielding breast. Yet I set sail, and, urged by propitious gales, arrived,
fairest nymph, on your native coasts. There I was kindly entertained by your husband; and this did not happen without the concurrence and contrivance of the Gods. He shewed me every thing that was remarkable or worth notice in Lacedæmon: but in vain these objects solicited the attention of one, who was wholly possessed with the desire of beholding your celebrated beauty. I saw, and stood amazed: stricken to the inmost soul with your charms, I felt my heart well with new cares. Such was Venus, so far as I can remember, when she descended from heaven, to submit to my decision. If you had also come to bear a part in that contest, even Venus could have scarcely pretended to the prize. Fame indeed has so diffused the report of your beauty, that no country is a stranger to your charms. Not even Phrygia can boast of your equal; nor, from the rising to the setting sun, is there one to rival you.
Believe me when I tell you, that your fame comes far short of the truth; for even report has invidiously denied the share of praise due to your charms. I found you greatly to exceed what that had given ground to hope, and that your fame in every thing fell below your merit. Well therefore might Theseus, who knew all, feel the power of so many charms, and think you a prey worthy of so great a hero; when, after the manner of your country, you contended in the wrestling-ring, and disputed with the other sex the prize of manly exercise. I commend the bold theft, but wonder how he ever could restore you: so inestimable a prize ought always to have been retained. Sooner should this head have been severed from the bloody neck, than any one be suffered to tear you from my embraces. Would ever this right-hand have permitted you to be carried off? Could I, while ought of life remained, have tamely seen you ravished from my bosom? If necessity had compelled me, yet I would not have left you before I had received some pledge of your love, some earnest of the strength of our mutual flame. I would have tasted of your virgin charms, or, if that bliss had been denied, have ravished a thousand kisses. Fly then to my arms, and try the firmness and constancy of Paris. The funeral flames alone shall extinguish the flames that rage in my breast. I preferred you to a kingdom, once offered by the sister and the wife of Jove. Even prudence and valor, the
gifts of Pallas, were postponed to the sweet pleasure of throwing my arms round your neck. Nor do I repent, or charge myself with having made a foolish choice: my mind continues firm in its first resolve. You only, to obtain whom no labor can appear great, do not, O do not suffer my hopes to vanish into air. I am not one whose birth will disgrace the noble line of his spouse; not is it beneath your dignity to be wedded to Paris. The Pleiades, and great Jove himself, ennoble my pedigree; not to mention the long race of succeeding kings. My father sways the sceptre of Asia, a kingdom rich and fertile, whose ample bounds stretch as far as the rising sun. There you will behold innumerable cities, houses roofed with gold, and temples becoming the Gods to whom they belong. You will see Ilion and its walls strengthened with lofty towers, all built to the harmony of Apollo's lyre.
Why should I mention the
vast multitudes of people? the country is scarcely able to sustain its inhabitants. The Trojan matrons will meet you in troops; nor will our halls accommodate the concourse of Phrygian dames. How often will you say, What a poor naked country is Greece; and that one Phrygian palace is richer than whole cities there! Nor mean I by this to despise your native land; for the region in which you first drew your breath, must ever be to me a dear and happy country. Yet Sparta is poor, whereas you are worthy of the richest ornaments: that sordid city ill suits a form so lovely. Your face ought to shine with rich attire, and be set off with all the ornaments and luxuriance of dress. When you so much admire the habit of the Trojans who attend me, what, think you, must be that of the Phrygian ladies? Only therefore be kind; nor do you, a fair Spartan, disdain to receive a husband of Phrygia. He was of
Phrygia, springing from our race, who is now advanced to temper the nectar of the Gods. Tithonus too was of Phrygia, whom the Goddess that measures out the night received to her rosy bed. Anchises also was a Phrygian, with whom the mother of winged Loves delighted to associate on the summits of Ida. Nor do I think that Menelaus, whether you compare our persons or age, can have the preference, even in your judgement. You certainly will not have a father-in-law who made the sun withdraw his light, and turn away his frighted steeds from the dire banquet. Nor is Priam the son of one stained with the blood of a father-in-law, or whose crime gives a name to the Myrtoan
waves. No great-grandfather of mine catches at apples in the Stygian flood, or, set up to the chin in water, is tortured with thirst. But what does this avail me, if one so descended possesses Helen, and Jove himself is a father-in-law to this line? Yet he (O ye Gods) a wretch unworthy of so much happiness, passes whole nights with you, and shares, uninterrupted, your fondest caresses. I can scarcely have a short glance of you at table; and even then there are many things that give me pain. May such feasts fall to the lot of my worst enemies, as those I often meet with in your palace! I repent of my entertainment at his court, when I see him throw his rude arms round your snowy neck.
I swell, and am ready to burst with envy (yet why do I thus relate all?) when he folds his flowing robe round your tender limbs. But when you give and take in my presence the melting kisses, I am then forced to take the cup, and hold it before my eyes. As often as you close in strict embraces, I cast my eyes upon the ground; and the loathed food becomes more and more nauseous to my taste. I often sigh to myself, and have observed you repaying my sighs with a scornful smile. Oft have I essayed to conquer my flame with wine; but it continued to increase; and drinking, I found, added fuel to the fire. Sometimes I turned away my eyes, that I might not see too much; but you soon called back my wandering sight. What can I do? I am pierced with grief to witness all; but it is still a greater grief not to gaze upon your charms.
I strive with all my power to hide my flame; but the dissembled passion breaks through all restraints. Nor is it my aim to deceive; my wounds are well, to well known to you: O that they were only known to you! How often have I turned away my face, to hide the falling tears, lest he should enquire the cause of my sadness! How oft, when warmed with wine, have I told some tale of love, applying every word to your dear face; and, under a feigned name, have made
a discovery of my own passion? In these instances, if you knew it not, I was the true lover. Sometimes I have even feigned intoxication, to excuse my greater freedoms in discourse. Once I remember your loose garments revealed your naked breasts, and discovered them freely to my gazing eyes; breasts whiter than milk, or the purest snow; whiter than Jove, when in the shape of a swan he made love to your mother. Whilst surprised at the sight I stood gazing (for by chance the cup was in my hand), the wreathed handle insensibly slipped from my fingers. If you kissed your young Hermione, I instantly snatched from her lips the envied bliss. Sometimes, laid supinely along, I sang love-songs, and by winks and nods gave secret signs of my flame. I even tried, with all the softness of eloquence, to persuade your favorite attendants, Æthra and Clymene, to promote my addresses: but their answers served only to heighten my despair, and they cruelly deserted me in the midst of my entrea-
ties. O that the Gods would make you the reward of some gallant enterprise, and crown the victor with the possession of your charms! As Hippomenes carried off Atalanta, the prize of his dexterity in the chariot-race; as Hippodamia was pressed to the bosom of a Phrygian hero; as brave Alcides broke the horns of the God Achelous, while he fought for the prize of Deianira's charms;
my courage would have nobly dared the rude encounter, and you would have soon found yourself the reward of my bravery. Now nought remains but to address you in suppliant prayers, and, prostrate at your feet, embrace your knees.
O you who are the glory of your family and ornament of the brother stars! O worthy of the bed of Jove, but that you sprang from himself! I will either re-enter the Phrygian ports, carrying you as my wife; or here, an exile, be covered with Laconian earth. My breast is not lightly pierced with the pointed arrow; the wound hath reached even to my bones. My sister truly foretold (for now I recollect), that I should be wounded by a heavenly dart. Beware therefore, Helen, of despising a love ordamed by the Fates; so may you have the Gods still propitious to your desires! Much more I have to add; but, that I may say all to yourself, receive me into your apartment during the silent night. Are you ashamed? Or do you fear to loosen the matrimonial tie, or
violate the just rights of a lawful bed? Is it possible then, Helen, you should be so simple as to fancy, that so lovely a face can be exempt from faults? Either change that face, or you must be less cruel; for chastity and beauty are ever at variance. Even Jupiter, and lovely Venus herself, indulge these stolen delights. It is in consequence of these that you boast of Jupiter for your father. If you retain aught of your parents, can the daughter of Jupiter and Leda be chaste? Yet then may you be chaste, when I with you shall have reached Troy; and let a compliance with me be your only crime. Let us now commit a fault which marriage shall afterwards amend, if Venus has not deluded me be false promises.
Even your husband, if not by words, yet by his actions, persuades you to this; and, that he may not be an obstacle to the stolen joys of his guest, he is absent. Had he no time more opportune for a visit to the isle of Crete? O husband of wonderful sagacity! He went, and in going said, My dear, I recommend it to you, that you take the same care of our Idean guest, as you are wont to do of me. You neglect (I aver it) the commands of your absent husband, nor ever think about the care of your guest. And can you hope, fairest Tyndaris, that one of so little discretion understands the just value of such a treasure of charms? You are deceived; he is far from understanding it; nor, if he thought the jewel valuable, would he trust it in the hands of a stranger. If neither my persuasions, nor the ardor of my passion, avail; yet how can we avoid taking advantage of the inviting opportunity? We should exceed even him in folly, if we should neglect a conjuncture so secure and tempting. He has, in a manner, with his own hands, forced a lover upon you; let us then make the best of the simplicity of this thoughtless man. You lie in a solitary bed during the long winter nights: I also lie single in a desolate bed. Let mutual joys join us strictly together; and that night will outshine the brightest noon. Then will I swear by all the powers above, and bind myself to you for ever in your own words. Then, if my confidence does not deceive me. I will prevail that you fly with me to my kingdom. If shame and fear dissuade you from the appearance of a voluntary flight, I will free you from blame, by taking all the crime upon myself. For I will follow the example of
Theseus and your brothers; nor are there any others that can touch you more nearly; Theseus carried you off, and they bore away
the two daughters of Leucippus; I shall be named the fourth, in this illustrious roll. The Trojan fleet is at hand, well appointed with arms and men: oars and an inviting gale shall forward us with nimble speed. You shall walk a mighty queen through the cities of Phrygia, and the people will adore you as a new deity. Whereever you tread, the finest spices shall smoke, and the falling victims beat the bloody ground. My brothers, my sisters and mother, will load you with gifts; the Ilian matrons and all Troy following the example. Alas! all I have yet said is nothing; you shall there meet with much more than this letter mentions.
Nor fear that this rape will draw after it a cruel war, or that powerful Greece will summon her strength to recover you. Who, of the many that have been thus stolen, was demanded back by arms? These, trust me, are vain and frivolous fears. The Thracians, under the name of Boreas, stole the daughter of Erechtheus; and yet the kingdom of Thrace was not attacked by war. Jason of Thessaly carried off in his flying bark the Colchian maid; yet Thessaly was got invaded or distressed by an army from Colchis. Theseus too, who stole you, stole also the daughter of Minos; yet Minos did not once think of arming the Cretans to recover her. In these cases, the fear always exceeds the danger; and, when that is over, we begin to be ashamed of our fear. But suppose, if you will, that a dreadful war may ensure; I have strength to repel it, and my darts can wound. Nor does the power of Asia yield to that of Greece;----it is a rich land, abounding both in men and horses. Nor does Menelaus exceed Paris in bravery, or deserve the preference for military skill. While I was a mere boy, I recovered the stolen herds after slaying my foes, and thence borrowed a new name. While yet a boy, I carried off the prize in various exercises from the other youths, among whom were even Ilioneus and Deiphobus. Nor think
that I am only to be dreaded in close combat; my arrows always hit the appointed mark. Can you ascribe to him these acts of early youth? Can you honor the son of Atreus with my envied skill? But were you to allow him all these, will you also boast that he has such a brother as Hector? This one hero is equivalent to whole armies. You know not the extent of my power; my strength is in a great measure hidden from you; nor do you imagine what kind of man he is, who solicits to be received for your husband. Either therefore no war will be raised to demand you back; or the Grecian army must be vanquished by my superior force. Nor think that I shall be unwilling to draw the sword for such a wife. A prize so noble, is well worthy of the contest. You too, if all the world should arm for your sake, will acquire a name famous to the remotest ages. Fly hence then, full of hope, while the Gods are propitious, and demand with full assurance that I make good these promises.