Cydippe to Acontius

I READ over your letter in silent fear, nor suffered so much as a murmur to escape me, lest my tongue might rashly swear by some of the gods. I even think you would have ensnared me again, but that, as you own yourself, you knew it was enough I was once promised to you. Nor would I have read it over, but from a fear that my obstinacy might have encreased the anger of the too cruel goddess. Although I forget nothing to appease her, and adore her with the smoke of pious incense, yet the partial Goddess still remains your friend; and, according to your own wish, leaves no room to doubt, that the injury with which you are threatened is the cause of her resentment. Scarcely was she so favorable to her own Hippolytus.

It is surely more proper for a virgin, not to shorten a virgin's years: I am afraid she has only allotted a few to fulfil my fate. For the wasting illness remains; the cause lies hidden; and I languish without hope of relief from the physician. You can scarcely conceive how thin and feeble I am, when I write you this, or with what difficulty I support my wasted limbs in the bed. I am also full of apprehensions, that some beside my faithful nurse may know of our thus conversing with each other. She always sits by the door, and, that I may write to you with the greater security, tells every one who enquires after me, that I am asleep. But when sleep, the best pretence in the world for long privacy, ceases to be a plausible excuse for the tedious retirement, and when she observes persons coming, to whom she can hardly with a good countenance deny admittance, she coughs, and warns me of the danger by some known sign.

Intent as I am, I leave the half-written words, and slip the well-dissembled epistle into my beating bosom. I take it out thence when alone; and it again fatigues my moving fingers. Judge only yourself what pain and anxiety it costs me. And yet (to be honest) let me die if you deserve it; but I am kind beyond what is due, or even what you could in reason expect. Have I then, on your account, so often hazarded my life? Have I suffered, and do I still suffer the punishment of your too successful artifice? Is this the fruit I reap from a beauty that made you an admirer? And must I pay so dearly for appearing agreeable to you? Had it been my good fortune to seam ugly, how happily might I have escaped this train of disasters! Now, because I am admired, I groan in anguish; now I am undone by your rival contentious, and perish by the wounds I receive from my own beauty. For while you refuse to yield, and he imagines himself in no respect your inferior, each stands an invincible obstacle to the other's desires. I, in the mean time, am tossed like an uncertain ship, driven by a strong North-wind to the open sea, but forcibly kept back by the tide and waves. When now the nuptial day, so earnestly wished by my dear parents, is at hand, a burning fever spreads over all my joints; and, at the very time

appointed for the threatening solemnity, stern Proserpine knocks hideous at the palace gate. I blush; and, though conscious of no crime, dread that I may be thought to have in some respect merited the wrath of Heaven.

Some imagine that my illness is merely from chance; others pretend that the present nuptials are not favored by the Gods. Nor think that you have wholly escaped censure on this occasion; for many believe it brought on by your dark contrivances. The cause is unknown: my sufferings appear to all. You, banishing peace, are engaged in restless opposition: I bear the punishment of all. It is now indeed my desire that you continue to deceive me in the manner usual to you: for what will you do in your hatred, if, where you love, you create so much mischief? If you thus bring misery upon every thing you love, it will be wise in you to love your enemy. Pray make it your wish that I may be

undone; for this only, I find, can save me. Either you have lost all regard for the girl you so much loved and coveted, in thus cruelly suffering her to perish by an undeserved fate: or, if you in vain supplicate the unrelenting Goddess in my behalf, why do you boast of her concern for you? It is evident that you have no farther power with her. Choose which you will. If you are not inclined to mitigate the Goddess, this is being forgetful of me; if you cannot, she has then abandoned you. Oh! I could wish that Delos, surrounded by the Ægean sea, had remained ever unknown to me, or at least had not been visited by me at that time. The ship that carried me, sailed through an inauspicious sea; and in an unhappy hour I entered upon the intended voyage. With what foot did I first set out? With what step did I leave the gate of my father's house, or touch the painted texture of the nimble bark? Twice our sails drove

us back, swelled by adverse winds. Adverse did I say? far from it: that indeed was the favorable gale. That, I say, was the favorable gale, which retarded my unhappy steps, and struggled to prevent an ill fated voyage. How I wish that it had continued obstinately to oppose the spreading sails! But it is ridiculous to complain of the inconstancy of the wind. Attracted by the fame of the place, I was eager to come within sight of Delos, and seemed to traverse the deep with languid pace. How often did I chide the oars, as slow in bearing us along? How often complain that our sails were not stretched by the stinted blasts? And now I had passed Mycone, Tenos, and Andros, and bright Delos was within view; which I no sooner saw, that I cried out, Why does the island seem to fly me? Do you, as in time past, fluctuate in the vast ocean? Nor reached I land till towards the close of day, when Phœbus was preparing to unharness his purple horses. When these had been recalled to their accustomed way, my mother gave orders to dress my flowing locks. She

adorned my fingers with gems, and my tresses with braids of gold, and threw over my shoulders the embroidered robe. We then walked towards the temple, and offered frankincense and wine to the guardian deities of the island. While my mother was engaged in sprinkling the altars with votive blood, and throwing the sacred entrails upon the smoking fuel, my officious nurse led me through the several courts of the temple, and we traversed the sacred place with wandering steps. Sometimes I walked under magnificent porticoes, sometimes admired the rich gifts of kings, and the finished statues that adorned every part. I admired too the famous altar made of innumerable horns wonderfully derfully joined together, and the tree that supported the pregnant Goddess; with whatever other curiosities (for I cannot now recollect them, nor am I inclined to mention all I then saw) Delos boasts.

While I was thus busy in viewing every thing, you, Acontius, by chance espied me; and my simplicity made me seem fit to be ensnared. I returned to the temple of Diana, placed high on rising steps. What place should yield a surer defence from harm than this?

The apple, with the insidious lines, is thrown at my feet. Ah me! I had almost sworn to you a second time. My nurse first took it up; and wondering what it might be, desired me to read it. I read, too successful poet, your ensnaring words. At the name of wedlock, overwhelmed with shame, I felt a blush spread over all my face: my eyes remained fixed upon my bosom, those eyes which had been so subservient to your deceitful aims. Traitor, why do you triumph? What glory will this add to your name? Or where can be the praise, to have deluded an unsuspecting maid? I did not stand fenced with a buckler, and armed with an Amazonian axe, like Penthesilea when she traversed the Ilian plains. No girdle adorned with studs of gold, as that gained from Hippolyte, remains the prize of your victory. What cause of boasting that I was deceived by your well-framed words, or that an unthinking imprudent girl should fall into the cunning snare? Cydippe was deceived by an apple; it was an apple that deceived also Atalanta. You are now be-

come a second Hippomenes. Doubtless it had been better (if urged by the little boy, who, you say, wounds with I know not what dangerous arrows), according to the rule inviolable with men of honor, not to debase your hope by fraud. I ought to have been openly solicited, not artfully circumvented. Why did you not think of asking me in marriage, and urging those considerations that might have made you appear worthy of being solicited by me? Why did you prefer deceit to persuasion, if the knowlege of your rank was sufficient to have gained me? What advantage can you expect from the form of the oath you tendered, or my tongue's invoking the present Goddess? It is the mind that swears; but no oath binds me there. It is that only can give authority to what we say. Design, and a soul conscious of its own views, can alone give validity to an oath; nor can any chains bind us, but those of the judgment. If my consent accompanied the promise I made to be joined to you in wedlock, you are at liberty to insist upon the rights of a nuptial bed: but if all amounted only to a few sounds, without will or meaning, it is in vain to depend upon words destitute of validity. I took no oath, I barely read a form; nor was that a

decent way of choosing a husband. Endeavour by the same artifice to deceive others; let the apple be followed by an epistle; if a promise thus made binds, make over to yourself the large possessions of the rich. Make kings swear that they will resign to you their dominions, and artfully secure whatever on earth is to your liking. Believe me, this would make you more considerable than even Diana herself, if every letter you write commands the care of so powerful a Goddess.

And yet, after all I have said, after this peremptory refusal to be yours, and fully weighing the case of my extorted promise, I must own that I still dread the wrath of avenging Diana, and suspect that the present calamity comes from her hand. For why, as oft as the nuptial rites are to be solemnised, do the languid joints of the bride sink under a load of sickness? Thrice glad Hymen approaching the sacred altars fled: thrice he turned away frighted from my chamber-door. The lamps too, thrice filled up by the wearied hand, are with difficulty lighted; scarcely are they to be lighted up by the flaming torch. Ointments often distil upon his hair crowned with garlands; and his mantle, of bright saffron dye, sweeps the ground. But no sooner did he reach our gates, than nought was to be seen but tears, a dread of my approaching fate, and every thing the reverse of his joyful rites. Instantly he tears the crown from

his mournful forehead, and wipes the rich essence from his flowing tresses. He is ashamed to appear joyful in so disconsolate a crowd; and the red that was in his mantle, mounts into his face. But my limbs are wasted by the raging heat of a fever, and the coverings seem to press upon me with double weight. I see my parents weeping over me with earnest looks; and, instead of the nuptial, am threatened with the funeral torch. Compassionate my sufferings, O Goddess that delightest in the painted bow; and grant me relief by the healthrestoring aid of your brother. It is a reproach upon you, that he should ward off the causes of death, while you bear the blame of my untimely fate. Did I ever, as you bathed in a shady fountain, impertinently gaze at you in your retirement? Did I neglect to offer sacrifice to you alone of all the heavenly powers? Or did my mother ever treat Latona with contempt? I have offended in nothing but reading what led me into an unwilling perjury, and understanding too well the force of those ensnaring lines. But do you also, Acontius, if

the love you pretend is not mere dissimulation, offer incense for me; and let the hands that have done me so much hurt, be now employed for my relief. Why does the Goddess, so much incensed that the maid promised to your embrace brace has not yet fulfilled her vow, herself obstruct the execution of that promise? Every thing is to be hoped from the living. Why does the cruel Goddess threaten to take away my life, and blast all your promising hopes? Nor would I have you imagine that he to whom I am destined for a wife, is suffered to cherish my sickly limbs with his gentle hand. He sits indeed at my bed-side, for that is allowed him; but he at the same time remembers that mine is the bed of a virgin. Besides, he seems to be sensible of my coldness; for tears often fall from him, without any apparent cause. He caresses me with less boldness, and seldom snatches kisses: when he calls me his dear, it is with a faltering tongue.

Nor do I wonder that he perceives my repugnance to his addresses, when I myself have betrayed it by manifest sings. If he approaches the bed, I turn upon my other side. I refuse to speak, and close my eyes, as if inclined to sleep; or, if he offers to touch me with his hand, reject it with some warmth. He groans and sighs within himself; and, though far from deserving such usage, observes me cold and averse to him. Ah me, how you rejoice! what pleasure this confession gives you! How silly to own thus frankly my

thoughts of him! If I were to speak like myself, you, who contrived these snares for me, were far more deserving of my disdain. You write for leave to visit me in my present illness. You are far from me; and yet, distant as you are, you wound deeply. I wondered with myself how you came to be named Acontius; but find now that you can dart wounds from far. It is certain that I have not yet recovered from this wound, pierced from far by your letter, as by a javelin. But to what end should you come here? To see my feeble body, the double trophy of your ingenuity? I am wasted to a skeleton, my color is become pale, such as I remember to have observed in the apple you threw at me. My fair cheeks are no more adorned with a becoming red, but have rather the appearance of newly-polished marble; or silver at a feast, when deadened by the chillness of water. Were you to see me now, you would deny me to be the same with her you first saw, nor think me worthy to be sought by so

many artifices. You would gladly release me from the promise I made of being joined to you for ever, and wish that the Goddess herself might also cease to exact the performance. Perhaps too you might endeavour to make me swear the contrary of my former oath, and throw at me another form of words, to be in like manner read over. Yet I could wish that according to your request you might see me, and learn the feeble condition of one whom you wish for your bride. Had you a heart, Acontius, more hard than steel, yet you could not forbear addressing the Gods in my behalf. But not to keep you ignorant of the only means left to restore me to my health, recourse has been had to the God who predicts futurity at Delphi. He also, as fame reports, complains of broken vows. This a God, this a poet, this even my own lines proclaim. But nothing of that kind is wanting to give force to your wishes. Whence all this favor to you? unless perhaps you have found the secret to bind the Gods themselves by a new form of words. If you thus find the Gods propitious, it is fit that I submit to their will, and, as they have made you their choice, make you also mine. I have already acquainted my mother with the vow into which you artfully betrayed me; keeping my eyes, full of shame, fixed all the time upon the ground. The rest must be left to your care: it is even more than becomes a virgin, that I have thus ventured to make known my sentiments to you by a letter. My feeble fingers are now sufficiently tired by the pen, and my sickly hand is unable to bear longer fatigue. What remains for me to write, but that it is now my wish to be for ever thine? Farewell.

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  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.630
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.631
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    • T. Maccius Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, or The Braggart Captain, Pl. Mil. 4.6
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