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HYPERMNESTRA LYNCEO

Danaus, the son of Belus, had by several wives fifty daughters; Aegyptus his brother, who had the like number of sons, wished to have them for his daughters-in-law, and applied to Danaus for this purpose. But he having been told by an oracle that he should fall by the hands of a son-in-law, and willing, if possible, to avoid the danger, took shipping, and possessed himself of Argos. Aegyptus, enraged to find himself thus slighted, levied a great army; and, putting his sons at the head of it, sent it into Greece, with an express command not to return till they had either slain Danaus, or obliged him to consent to receive them as his sons-in-law. He, finding himself pressed by a close siege, was under the necessity of promising them his daughters: but they having all received swords from their father, by his command killed their husbands on the first night, while warm with wine and joy they lay fast asleep; Hypermnestra only excepted, who spared her husband Lynceus, and, acquainting him with the treachery of Danaus, advised him to fly with all speed to his father Aegyptus. Danaus, finding that his commands had been strictly followed by all his daughters, except Hypermnestra, was so enraged at her disobedience, that he loaded her with chains, and threw her into prison. Upon this she wrote the following epistle to her husband, in which she begs him to come to her assistance, or, if she should be put to death before he can bring her relief, to bestow upon her the rites of burial. Lynceus, after revenging the murder of his brothers by her father's death, restored her to liberty.

Aeschylus treated this story in a connected trilogy. The first play, Suppliant Women, survives but the other two are lost. Pindar begins Nemean 10 with an allusion to the story.

Mittit. Hypermnestra, in her application to Lynceus, artfully begins with such a representation of her case as may most effectually awaken his resentment, and beget in him a desire of revenge. She reminds him that he was the only surviving brother of fifty, all the rest having been cut off by the barbarous contrivance of her father; and that all her sufferings were occasioned by her tenderness for him. Yet far from repenting of it, the reflection always gave her pleasure; nor would all the tortures and miseries in the world be able to make her own the contrary. How could Lynceus deny his aid to one that had treated him so generously, or avoid attempting to rescue her from that bondage into which she was thrown for preserving his life?

[9] Quem non violavimus; 'those flames which I have not dared to violate.' This must be understood of the flames of the nuptial torches, which Hypermnestra says she had not violated, because she had not, like the rest of her sisters, violated the matrimonial contract by the murder of her husband.

[21] Modo facta crepuscula terris. Crepusculum is what we call twilight, either in the dawn before sun-rise, or the dusk of the evening, soon after sun-set.

[22] Ultima pars lucis, primaque noctis erat. Heinsius, upon the authority of some manuscripts, gives a very different reading of this verse; which he thinks ought to be thus: “Ultima pars noctis primaque lucis erat.

Whatever ground that celebrated critic may have for this conjecture, we do not think proper to follow it in this place; for the commonly received reading agrees better with the notion of the marriage ceremonies. Besides, Hypermnestra speaks afterwards of their going to sleep; that during this the massacre was committed, while all Argos was in profound quiet; and that at length morning approached.

[23] Inachides; descended of Inachus; for Inachus begot Io, who by Jupiter had Epaphus; Epaphus was the father of Belus, whose sons, as we have seen already, were Aegyptus and Danaus.

Pelasgi; the son of Jupiter and Niobe, who reigned at Argos, whence the royal palace is here

called domus Pelasgi. From him the people over whom he reigned were called Pelasgi, which name afterwards extended itself to all Greece, as did that of Danai, from this Danaus, one of his successors.

[26] In invitos focos. Foci must be referred to Dii, who are called inviti, because the sacrifices offered at a marriage solemnized with so wicked a design could not be acceptable.

Thura impia; Impious incense, instead of incense offered by impious hands.

[36] Et tamen audibam. The force of the particle tamen, in this verse, deserves particular notice. Hypermnestra would intimate by it, that she was so disturbed by fear, and a consciousness of the baseness of the crime, as to be deprived almost of her senses, and doubtful whether she really heard the groans of people dying round her, or might be deceived by the suggestions of fancy.

[47] Admovi iugulo, sine me tibi vera fateri. Some, instead of this line, read,

At rursus monitis, iussuque coacta parentis. Heinsius thinks that both this and the following verse ought to be rejected, as the interpolations of some ignorant grammarian, who imagined them necessary to fill up and connect the sense: and the same commentator observes, that the coherence is plain beyond exception, if we merely change the sed of the next verse into et. The remark is ingenious, and seems to be well founded.

[49] Sed timor et pietas. The inward struggles between her piety, the fear of disobeying a father's command, and a horror of the guilt, are here very happily described. She knew that by saving her husband she would draw upon herself her father's resentment, to whose revengeful temper she was no stranger. This sense of danger urges her several times to the attempt; but still an inward restraint withholds her hand; till at length her piety prevailing, she resolves to run all hazards, rather than shed innocent blood.

[61] Quo meruere necem. This speech of Hypermnestra, is not without its propriety. The poet artfully puts into her mouth a set of arguments the most proper for one of her sex and condition; such as, that her father's commands were cruel and unjust; that it was not for a woman to handle deadly weapons: besides, her husband could be charged with no crime that deserved so severe a fate; or, even if his guilt should be admitted, hers was an unfit hand to punish him. The whole is mixed with a certain tenderness that pleases the reader, and produces an esteem for Hypermnestra.

[85] Scilicet ex illo. The poet observes the same conduct here, as he has in other epistles; that is, he makes Hypermnestra, after the manner of her sex, trace her disasters from remote events. She considers them as the vengeance of Juno still pursuing her race, because Io had rivaled her in the affections of Jupiter.

[86] Quo bos ex homine est. Io, the daughter of Inachus, captivated Jupiter by her remarkable beauty. Juno having almost surprised them together, the God, to avoid suspicion, changed Io into a cow. His jealous wife, suspecting the device, begged that he would make her a present of the cow. Fearing that a denial would only inflame her suspicions, he complied with her request; and the transformed favourite was given in charge to Argus, who had a hundred eyes. Jupiter, after some time, sent Mercury to restore Io, and destroy Argus. The God, by the power of his music, lulled him asleep, and then slew him. Io was at length restored to her former shape in aegypt, and worshiped by the people of that country as a goddess, under the name of Isis. We have already seen that Danaus and Aegyptus were among her descendants.

[89] Liquidi parentis; she being, as was said above, the daughter of the river Inachus. This description of Io's astonishment and behaviour, after being changed into a cow, is extremely poetical. Ovid had a great command of wit; and critics have not failed to accuse him as too lavish of it. This is perhaps an instance. He may appear to some rather too long and circumstantial in the account; and, toward the end of it, degenerates into a mere play upon words: but, after all, we ought in justice to acknowlege the beauty of the first part of this description. Io's alarm at her new shape, upon first perceiving it in her father's stream, is finely imagined, and one of those happy pictures for which Ovid is so justly admired.

[94] Quid numeras; Because she had now four feet. These interrogations involve the idea of commiseration.

[98] Et ne te feriant quae geris, arma times. The thought is natural and well-judged. As that sex is apt to be frightened at the appearance of danger, we are not to wonder that Io was startled when she observed her horns, and under some dread that she might wound herself with them.

[102] Dat mare, dant amnes. The sense of this verse is the same with that of the preceding, though they differ in words: for dent ciam means no other than you force your way through them.

[105] Eadem sequerisque fugisque; that is, says Helvetius, Cum ipsa vacca sis, fugiendo vaccam, eundem sequeris; nec fugiendo vaccam esse desines. The following verse, “Tu tibi dax comiti, tu comes ipsa duci,

is an instance of that trifling with words, for which, as has been before observed, our poet is often severely censured by the critics.

[107] Nilus; a famons river of aegypt, that runs into the sea through seven mouths, which the poet calls partus, flood-gates. It was in aegypt that Io recovered her former shape, and was advanced to by a goddless.

[109] Ultima quid referam. The celebrated Heinsius imagines that we ought to read refero; which he thinks so necessary to the sense, as to insist strongly for it, contrary to the authority of the majority of manuscripts. It is, however, difficult to discover upon what he can found so strong a conjecture; for this other reading seems rather to embarrass and couture the sense, which is abundantly clear without any such alteration. Hypermnestra intimates to her husband, that she could relate much more concerning Io, by which her hard fate, and the merciless rage of Juno toward all of that race, would appear, did not the present times afford her ample matter of complaint. The sense, in this way of explaining, is plain and pertinent. Perhaps it may be said that she had already related the whole story of Io. But to this is may he answered, that, if she had memioned the chief circumstances of it, she had not displayed it with ail those strong figures and expressions which poetry allows.

Quorum mihi cana senectus auctor; that is, Quae a senibus didici; for it is probable that there were yet no written histories of past transactions, which were handed down only by tradition.

[111] Bella pater patruusque gerunt. She descends now to what had happened within her own time: her father and uncle are at war. This, as we have related above, was occasioned by the refusal of Danaus to match his fifty daughters to the fifty sons of Aegyptus. Fearing his brother's resentment, he fled into Peloponnesus, whither Aegyptus sent an army after him, under the command of his fifty sons. Thus a war commenced between the brothers.

[112] Ultimus orbis. So she calls Peloponnesus, either because she really fancied so, being ignorant of the true extent of the world, as Peloponnesus seemed to her to be at a vast distance from aegypt; or because, being surrounded by the sea, it appeared to be the boundary of that part of the world. It was in this last sense that the ancients called Britain, another world.

[117] Periere sorores. She considered her sisters as lost to her, because they had forfeited that title by their barbarity.

[121] Centesima; for there were fifty daughters of Danaus, and a like number of sons of Aegyptus; and, as they were cousins to each other, they are called, by Hypermnestra, consanguinea turba.

[123] At tu si qua, &c. She begs that he will either come and free her from her present bondage; or, if that could not be done, take care, at least, that she might not go without the rites of sepulture. The issue was, that Lynceus, after making what preparations were necessary, marched against Danaus, slew him, and restored Hypermnestra to liberty.

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