Acontius to Cydippe
BANISH all fear: you shall not here again swear in favor of your lover; it is enough that you have once solemnly vowed yourself to me. Read: so may that painful illness which spreads over all your joints, and racks my soul with a
thousand fears, leave every affected part. Why does the blush kindle in your check? For I fancy I see your color change, as in the temple of Diana. I demand nothing criminal; I only ask that affinity and allegiance which you promised in the temple of Diana; I love you as a lawful husband, not an infamous adulterer. Ah! only repeat to yourself those binding words, which the unthinking fruit thrown by my hands presented to your chaste eyes. There you will find yourself to be bound by that vow, which I could wish you had rather remembered than the Goddess. But now I tremble even for that, while this hope has already gathered strength, and my flame increases every moment. For that love, which was always violent, is now increased by tedious delays, and by the hope you have cherished in my breast. You gave me hope; my love rested upon this foundation; nor can you deny a thing that was done in the presence of the Goddess. She was present, and overheard your vow; and her statue was seen to give a nod of approbation. I allow you to accuse me of having deceived you by an artful management, if, at the same time, you own it was love that prompted me to the ingenious deceit. What did all my artifice
aim at, but to be joined to you alone? What you complain of, should render me rahter doubly dear to you. My ingenuity came neither from nature, nor from long practice; it is only you, dear girl, that can make me thus inventive. Love, fertile in expedients, turnished the form of words by which I bound you so close to myself; it indeed I really bound you. I inscribed a marriage-contract in words dictated by him; it was by following his suggestions, that I became so expert in the law. Let this stratagem then bear the name of fraud; let me be called cunning and deceitful, if it can be called a fraud to aim at the possession of what we love. See! I write a second time, and send you my prayers and entreaties. This too, no doubt, is a fraud; you have in this also a ground
of complaint. If it is a crime to love, I own it, and must still be guilty without end. I must still pursue you, should even you yourself avoid my cager hopes. Others have carried away by force the virgin whom they loved; and can it be a crime in me to write a few words with artifice? How earnestly do I wish I could bind you by a thousand other ties, that no liberty might remain to plight your faith to another! A thousand stratagems are still left: I struggle hard to mount the difficult steep; nor will my ardent flame leave any expedient unessayed. It is uncertain, perhaps, whether you can be gained; but assuredly you shall. True; the event belongs to Heaven; still you shall be mine. Should you escape some, it will be impossible to elude all my snares; Love has spread more than you are well aware of. If artifice be unsuccessful, recourse must be had to violence, and you shall be borne by force into the arms of your eager admirer. I am none of those who blame the brave attempt of Paris, or of any who have shewn themselves men of steadiness and courage. I also will
---- But I am silent. Were death to be the punishment of the daring rape, yet that is still less than to be deprived of you. Were you moderately fair, you would be pursued with a moderate impatience; but a form so enchanting, makes us rash and resolute. You and your deluding eyes do ail this; those eyes that eclipse the sparkling stars, and have raised the flame that rages in my breast. Why lay you not the blame upon your golden locks and ivory neck, and those fair hands, which, Oh how happy, were they fondly circled round my neck? Why not upon your comely looks, and that enchanting face, where modesty shines without rusticity; your feet, which I can scarcely imagine are equaled by those of Thetis? Where I able to commend the rest also, I should be much happier; nor do I question that the whole frame is uniformly beautiful.
What wonder then, if, overruled by so many powerful charms, I was anxious to have your promise, as a pledge of your love? Let it be so then; provided you are forced to own that you are deceived. I shall grant likewise that you
were deceived by my address. Let me bear the envy; but let not the sufferer go without his reward. Why do I not reap the harvest of so great a crime? Telamon forced away Hesione, and Achilles Briseis: each captive followed her conqueror. Blame me as much as you will; I allow you even to be angry with me, if, though angry, I may be yet permitted to call you mine. I, who have raised this storm, will do all in my power to appease it; let me only have some opportunity of softening and quieting your resentment. Let me stand before you drowned in tears, and second my tears with the language they will naturally dictate; and, as is usual with slaves when they are afraid of the whip, let me clasp my suppliant hands round your knees. You seem not to know the right you have over me; summon me before you: why am I accused in my absence? Command me to appear in the right of one that has been long my mistress. Though full of resentment you tear my hair, and disfigure my face with your nails, I will patiently suffer all. I may indeed perhaps be apprehensive that those fair hands may be hurt in taking revenge. It will be needless to secure me with chains and fetters: love is a bond that will retain me beyond the power of an escape. When your resentment is fully satiated, you will be forced to sax, How patiently he loves!
When you observe me submissively endure all, surely you cannot avoid saying, Who serves so well, let him continue to serve.
Now I am accused in my absence; and my cause, though highly just, is lost for want of an advocate. But if it be allowed that the words I wrote, induced by love, are an injury, you have cause of complaint only against me.
Does Diana also deserve to be deceived? If you will not perform the promise made to me, perform your promise to the Goddess. She was present, and saw your blushes on finding yourself deceived; she treasured up your words with a recollective car. May all the omens vanish in air: yet it is certain that no one takes a severer revenge, when (which Heaven forbid should be your case) she thinks the homage due to her neglected. As an instance of this, the Calydonian boar may be mentioned; for we know that a mother was found more barbarous towards her son, than even the savage beast. Other examples may be found in Actæon, who appeared a savage to those very dogs, with which he had formerly hunted down savages; and in that haughty mother turned into a stone, who now stands disconsolate in the Mygdonian plains. Alas! Cydippe, I am afraid to speak the truth, lest you should think I admonish you falsely for
my own sake. Yet I must speak: it is on this account (believe me) that you are so often seized with sickness, when preparing to wed. Diana herself wishes you guiltless, and strives to hinder you from running into perjury; she desires, that, with faith unstained, you may avoid giving offence. Hence, as often as you are in danger of being perfidious, the Goddess prevents the fatal crime. Cease then to provoke the deadly bow of the implacable Goddess; she may yet be softened, if you will not obstinately persist. Forbear, amiable nymph, to enfecble your tender limbs by preying fevers; preserve that blooming face for the sake of Acontius; preserve those enchanting looks formed to raise a flame in my breast, and the lively bloom that varies your snow-white face. If any enemy interpose to obstruct my happiness, may he feel the same torments under which I languish, when sickness threatens you.
I am equally upon the rack whether I hear of your intended marriage or illness; nor is it easy to determine which apprehension gives most anxiety. Sometimes I am distracted to think that I should be the unhappy cause of your grief, and fear that my innocent artifice may have fatal effects. Grant, Heaven, that Cydippe's perjurics may be upon the head of her lover, and that the punishment may be transferred to me alone. Yet always restless till I know how it is with you, I creep silently to your gate full of anxiety. There whispering privately to some one of the slaves, I enquire whether you have been relieved by gentle slumbers, or refreshing
food. O were I blest, as the physician, to reach out the cordial draughts, press your soft hand or lean gently upon the bed! But how hard, and yet more than wretched is my fate; to be thus banished from your presence, while he whom most I fear sits perhaps close by you. Hated alike by the Gods and me, he is yet allowed gently to squeeze your hand, and lean over your fading cheeks. Fond of every pretence to feed the beating vein, he slides his daring hand along your snowy arm, hides it in your bosom, and snatches the fragrant kisses, a roward too great for his officious care. What right have you to reap the harvest of my bliss? Or how are you empowered to encroach upon another's bounds? I hat bosom is mine; you basely rob na or my kisses. Take off your hand from a body promised to me. Traitor, take off your hands; you touch a bosom that will soon be mine; in doing this hereafter, you will become an intamous adulterer Choose from among others, where no prior right is claimed; for know, that another lore commands that breast: nor trust to my testimony; read the form by which she engaged herself; and, to prevent a possibility of deceit, make even Cydippe repeat the binding vow. Again then I say, Depart from another's bed. What brings you here? He gone; this bed is already possessed: for, even if it be allowed that you also have a promise of the beauteous prize, yet the justice of your claim comes-far short of mine. I
rely upon a promise made by herself you claim the promise of a father. Surely she is to herself in a degree nearer than that of father. Her father barely promised; she hath vowed herself to her lover: he called men to witness, but she bound herself in the presence of a Geddess. He fears a breach of promise, she dreads the guilt of perjury: can you doubt, after this, which has the juster ground of concern? In fine, that you may be the better able to compare the danger on both sides, reflect only upon the events that threaten each; he enjoys perfect health, she lies in hazard of her life. We also enter the lists unequally matched; neither our hopes nor our fears are alike. You unconcernedly solicit the fair; to me a repulse is more insupportable than death. I am at present deeply enamored of what you perhaps may love some time hence. If you have any regard to right and justice, you ought frankly to yield to my superior flame. And now, when he inhumanly contends in an unrighteous cause, be attentive, Cydippe, to the counsel my epistle gives you. It is he that brings on your present iliness, and makes you suspected by Diana; forbid him therefore, it you are wise, any more to appreach your gate. It is your compliance in this case, that subjects you to these painful calamities of life. Why is not he who occasions all these disasters punished in your stead? Banish him only from you, nor show an affection to one disapproved by the Goddess; you will instantly recover your health, and restore me to myself and happiness. Banish therefore
fear, amiable maid; you shall enjoy an established health; only neglect not the temple, conscious to your sacred vow. The heavenly powers are not appeased by slaughtered beasts; truth only, and a faithful regard to our vows, can avert their anger.
Let others to recover health run through fire and sword: let them hope for relief from bitter draughts. You have no need of these: avoid only the guilt of perjury, perform the promised vow, and preserve both yourself and me. The not knowing that you were in fault, will excuse what is past; the form by which you bound yourself may have slipped out of your mind. But now you are fully admonished, both by my words, and those fetters, which, as often as you endeavour to break from them, bind you the faster. But could you get happily clear of even these, still remember that you must invoke her aid in
the pressing hours of child-bed. She will attend; and, calling to mind the promise you made, enquire to what husband the birth belongs. If then you make a vow for your recovery, the Goddess will disregard it, knowing you to be false; if you confirm it by an oath, she still knows you can forget your engagements to the Gods themselves. I am not so much concerned for my own fate: a still greater care burthens my mind, and fills me with fear and anxiety for your life. Why do your trembling parents mourn your doubtful fate, while you keep them in ignorance of your daring crime? And why are they kept in ignorance? It is proper that you disclose all to your mother. There is nothing, Cydippe, of which you need be ashamed. Repeat all to her in order; say that I first saw you as you were engaged in the solemnities of the buskined Goddess. Tell her that, as soon as I saw you, (if perhaps you gave any attention to what I then did,) my eyes were immoveably fixed upon every limb and feature; that, while I was thus lost in admiration, (the sure sign of a growing love,) my cloak insensibly dropped from my shoulders; and that afterwards you perceived an apple, uncertain whence, come rolling towards you, but cunningly marked with ensnaring words; which, as they were read in the sacred presence of Diana, made the Goddess a witness that your faith is tied down to me.
But that she may not be ignorant of what was contained in the writing, repeat to her the words you at that time read in the temple. Marry without hesitation, will she say, the youth to whom the gracious Gods have joined you: let him only be my son-in-law, whom you have solemnly sworn to accept in that character. Whoever he may be, as he has already made himself agreeable to Diana, he is agreeable also to me. Such will be your mother's behaviour, if she really acts the part of a mother to you. Yet you may admonish her to enquire who and what I am; nor will she find the Goddess to have been wholly regardless of your happiness. An isle, by name Ceos, formerly ennobled by the Corycian nymphs, is surrounded by the Ægean sea. This is my native country: and, if you are pleased with illustrious names, my ancestors will not fall below your hopes. I have also riches; my morals are without reproach; and, if no other recommendations existed, love makes you mine by the justest claim. You might even be pleased with such a husband, had no vow passed your lips; such an one might be acceptable, did no prior engagement intervene. These words the illustrious huntress dictated to me in my sleep; these too wakeful love commanded me boldly to write. I am already deeply wounded by Cupid's darts; it is yours, fair nymph, to beware of being pierced by the
arrows of Diana. Our welfare is inseparable; have compassion both on me and yourself. Why do you delay the only cure that remains for both? If I should accomplish this object, I will, when the sacred solemnity begins, and Delos is sprinkledwith votive blood, consecrate a golden image of the happy apple, and upon it inscribe our fates in the following distich:
"Acontius proclaims, by the consecrated image of this apple, that the inscription engraven upon it, was fulfilled to his desire."
But not to fatigue you, already too much exhausted by a long epistle, and to end all in the usual terms of concluding, Farewell.