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Cadmus et Harmonia.


Unwitting that his daughter and his son
are Ocean deities, Agenor's son,—
depressed by sorrow and unnumbered woes,
calamities, and prodigies untold,—
the founder fled the city he had built,
as though fatalities that gathered round
that city grieved him deeper than the fate
of his own family; and thence, at last
arrived the confines of Illyria;
in exile with his wife.—

Weighted with woe,
bowed down with years, their minds recalled the time
when first disaster fell upon their House:—
relating their misfortunes, Cadmus spoke;
“Was that a sacred dragon that my spear
impaled, when on the way from Sidon's gates
I planted in the earth those dragon-teeth,
unthought-of seed? If haply 'tis the Gods,
(whose rage unerring, gives me to revenge)
I only pray that I may lengthen out,
as any serpent.” Even as he spoke,
he saw and felt himself increase in length.
His body coiled into a serpent's form;
bright scale's enveloped his indurate skin,
and azure macules in speckled pride,
enriched his glowing folds; and as he fell
supinely on his breast, his legs were joined,
and gradually tapered as a serpent's tail.—

Some time his arms remained, which stretching forth
while tears rolled down his human face, not changed
as yet, he said; “Hither, O hapless one!
Come hither my unhappy wife, while aught
is left of manhood; touch me, take my hand,
unchanged as yet—ah, soon this serpent-form
will cover me!”

So did he speak, nor thought
to make an end; but suddenly his tongue
became twin-forked. As often as he tried,
a hissing sound escaped; the only voice
that Nature left him. —

And his wife bewailed,
and smote her breast, “Ah, Cadmus, ah!
Most helpless one, put off that monster-shape!
Your feet, your shoulders and your hands are gone;
your manly form, your very colour gone; all—all
is changed!—Oh, why not, ye celestial Gods,
me likewise, to a serpent-shape transform!”—

So ended her complaint. Cadmus caressed
her gently with his tongue; and slid to her
dear bosom, just as if he knew his wife;
and he embraced her, and he touched her neck.

All their attendants, who had seen the change,
were filled with fear; but when as crested snakes
the twain appeared in brightly glistening mail,
their grief was lightened: and the pair, enwreathed
in twisting coils, departed from that place,
and sought a covert in the nearest grove.—
There, then, these gentle serpents never shun
mankind, nor wound, nor strike with poisoned fangs;
for they are always conscious of the past.

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load focus English (Arthur Golding, 1567)
load focus Latin (Hugo Magnus, 1892)
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