Deianira to Hercules
I GIVE you joy that the conquest of Œchalia is now added to your other trophies; but I am sorry that the conqueror is forced to
submit to the conquered. For a report that tends greatly to your dishonor, and which by your actions you must study to discredit, has been suddenly propagated through all the cities
of Greece, that he whom neither the malice of Juno, nor an endless series of toils, could subdue, is now a captive to the charms of Iole. Eurystheus has much longed for this, as has the sister of the Thunderer; and your step-mother triumphs in this stain of your character: but it is far from pleasing him, to whom (if fame can be believed) one night was not sufficient to beget you, great as you are. Venus has injured you more than Juno. The wife of Jove raised, by endeavouring to depress you: the other goddess keeps your neck beneath her footstool. Think how the world lies hushed in peace by your avenging arm, where-ever the blue ocean circles this vast tract of earth. To thee the earth is indebted for peace, and the sea for a safe navigation: thy glory hath filled both houses of the sun. You previously bore up the heavens, that must at length bear you; Atlas, by your aid, supported the stars. Yet all this tends
only to spread abroad your shame, if your former brave
deeds are stained by an infamous miscarriage. Are you not said to have wrung to death two horrid snakes, when, young and in your cradle, you shewed yourself worthy of your father Jupiter? You began with more honor than you are like to
end: the last parts of your life fall short of the first. How preposterous to shew yourself a man in this, in that a child! He whom not a thousand monsters, not the son of Sthenelus, his obstinate enemy, not implacable Juno could vanquish, is yet vanquished by love. But I am thouht honorably wedded, because I am called the wife of Hercules, and boast of him for my father-in-law, who, riding on his fiery steeds, rends the poles with his thunder. As when unequal steers are yoked in the same plough, so does the wife of inferior degree suffer from her mighty husband. A rank that oppresses, is no honor, but a burthen. She who desires to wed well, will do wisely to wed with her equal. My lord is ever absent; and a stranger is better known to him than his wife: he is always in pursuit of monsters and ferocious beasts. Oft I ad-
dress Heaven with chaste vows, and tremble in my solitary home, lest my husband should fall by some savage enemy. My imagination hurries me amidst serpents, boars, furious lions, and three-headed devouring dogs. The entrails of the sacrifices, the vain phantoms of sleep, and secret omens of night, alarm me. I am terrified with every surmise of doubtful fame, and feel the full misery of a breast racked by alternate hope and fear. Your mother is absent, and complains that ever her charms engaged the notice of a powerful God. I have neither the society of your father Amphitryon, nor that of your son Hyllus. I feel only Eurystheus, the minister of Juno's unjust rage, and the unrelenting wrath of that goddess. But it is not difficult to bear this. You add also foreign loves; and any one may be a mother by you. I shall not speak either of
Auge deflowered in the vales of Arcadia, or of your offspring by Astydamia, the daughter of Ormenus. You shall not be reproached with the fifty sisters of the house of Theutrantes, all of whom you debauched in one night. Your late crime I resent, in preferring an adulteress to me; by whom I am made stepmother to Lydian Lamus.
Mæander, which wanders so much in the same plains, whose winding streams flow back by frequent channels, has seen the neck of Hercules adorned with a string of pearls; that neck to which the heavens were an easy load. You have not been ashamed to bind your arms with chains of gold, and deck your solid joints with shining
gems. And yet under these arms did the Nemean lion expire, whose skin new forms a covering for
your left shoulder. You had the weakness to bind your rude locks with a mitre; a garland of poplar would have better adorned the temples of Hercules. Nor did you think it a dishonor to confine your waist with the girdle of Omphale, after the manner of a wanton maid. The image of barbarous Diomedes, who savagely fed his mares with human flesh, was not then, surely, in your mind. Had Busiris beheld you in that unmanly attire, the conquered would have been ashamed of his conqueror. Antæus would have torn the pearls from your nervous neck, ashamed to submit to so effeminate a victor. You are said to hold the basket amidst the other attendants of Omphale, and tremble at the threats of a mistress. Degenerate Alcides, are you not ashamed to employ in
servile offices those nervous hands which have been victorious over a thousand dangers? to apply your manly thumb in fashioning the long thread, and measure out the task given you by your fair mistress? How often, while with rough fingers you draw out the slender thread, have your sinewy hands broken the feeble distaffs? You are said, unhappy man, to tremble at the thongs of the whip, and, falling prostrate at the feet of your mistress, to beg a respite from stripes. You hope to appease her by boasting of your great deeds and pompous triumphs; exploits which, in those circumstances, it would be better to dissemble: by relating
how, when an infant in your cradle, you grasped hideous serpents, not terrified by their extended jaws, or forky tongues: how the Arcadian boar was slain upon cypress-bearing Erymanthus, and burthened the earth with his enormous weight. You tell also of the heads that were fixed upon Thracian gates, and the mares fattened by the blood of men; of Geryon, that three-fold monster, rich in Iberian herds, who had three bodies in one; of Cerberus
, forming three dogs from the same trunk, having his hair wreathed with hissing
snakes; of the astonishing serpent which multiplied by its wounds, and gathered strength from the greatness of its losses; of the enormous burthen which, poised between your left arm and side, you by main strength pressed to death; and the troop of Centaurs, who, vainly trusting to their feet and double-limbed form, were dispersed on the craggy summits of Thessaly. Are you not ashamed to recount these exploits, when you are clad in Tyrian purple; and is not your tongue restrained by a sense of the unseemly dress? The daughter of Iardanus has moreover adorned herself with your armour, and wears the mighty trophies of her captive lover.
Rouse now your courage, and boast of your warlike deeds. She has taken the name of hero, because you were unworthy of it; and is as much above you, as it was a harder task to subdue you, the greatest of conquerors, than those whom you overcame. The glory of your actions redounds to her. Resign your claim of praise: a mistress has become
heir to your trophies. For shame! do you suffer the bristly hide, torn from the ribs of the savage lion, to enfold her feeble limbs? Weak man, to be thus deluded! These are not the spoils of the lion, but yours: you have indeed triumphed over the savage monster; but she triumphs over you. A woman, scarcely able to sustain the distaff loaded with wool, bears the darts dipped in the poison of the Lernæan Hydra; she has armed her right hand with the club which could subdue the most ferocious beasts; and has viewed in a mirror the armour of her spouse. These things, indeed, I only heard, and was willing to disbelieve common report; but now the mournful tale forces itself upon my senses. A foreign harlot is caressed in my sight; and it is no longer in my power to hide what I suffer. I am not even allowed to be absent. The captive, whom I behold with unwilling eyes, is led through the midst of the city, not in the manner of slaves, with her hair disheveled, and hiding her face in token of her disaster; but in triumphal pomp, adorned with shining gold, and clad in the same attire which you wore when in Phrygia. She carries her dead high amidst the captives subdued by Hercules, as if Œchalia still stood, and her father yet existed. Perhaps too, laying aside the name of mistress, she will be received as your spouse, and Deianira of Ætolia be ba-
nished from your bed. An impious marriage may join, in unchaste bands, Iole the daughter of Eurytus, and the infatuated Alcides. My mind sickens with the apprehension; a shivering coldness spreads itself over all my limbs; and my languid hands lie motionless upon my knees. You loved also me among many others; but your love to me was without a crime. Think it no dishonor that twice you fought victorious in my behalf. Achelous gathered his shattered horns upon his oozy banks, and plunged his mutilated temples in the muddy stream. Nessus the Centaur fell near the stream of fatal Evenus, and tinged the waters with his unnatural blood. But why do I now mention these things? Even while I write, Fame brings me the news that my husband perishes by the poison of the shirt that I sent him. Alas! what have I done? Whither has my despairing love driven me? Impious Deianira, do you yet doubt whether you should die? Shall your husband perish miserably on Mount
Œta; and you, the cause of that barbarous crime, survive? If aught yet remains to be done by which I may shew myself the wife of Hercules, death shall be the confirmation of our union. You also, Meleager, shall own in me a true sister. Impious Deianira, do you yet doubt whether you should die? Oh! ill-fated house! Agrios usurps the lofty throne, and a desolate old age oppresses Œneus. My brother Tydeus wanders an exile on unknown coasts: the other perished alive in devouring flames. My mother transfixed her heart with steel. Impious Deianira, do you yet doubt whether you should die? It is my only request, by all the most sacred ties of marriage, that I may not be thought to have betrayed you to your fate. Nessus, when his breast was pierced by the flying arrow, said to me, "This blood of mine contains the powers of love." I sent you a robe stained with the poison of the Centaur. Impious Deianira, do you yet doubt whether you should die? And now, my aged sire, and sister Gorge, adieu. Farewell, my country, and my brother, banished from your native home. Adieu, light of day, the last to my now fading eyes. Farewell, my husband, (Oh that thou could'st fare well!) Hyllus, my dear Hyllus, adieu!