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and only sky and sea were round our way,
full in the zenith hung a purple cloud,
storm-laden, dark as night, and every wave
grew black and angry, while perpetual gales
came rolling o'er the main, and mountain-high
the wreckful surges rose; our ships were hurled
wide o'er the whirling waters; thunder-clouds
and misty murk of night made end of all
the light of heaven, save where the rifted storm
flashed with the oft-reiterate shaft of Jove.
Then went we drifting, beaten from our course,
upon a trackless sea. Not even the eyes
of Palinurus could tell night from noon
or ken our way. Three days of blinding dark,
three nights without a star, we roved the seas;
The fourth, land seemed to rise. Far distant hills
and rolling smoke we saw. Down came our sails,
out flew the oars, and with prompt stroke the crews
swept the dark waves and tossed the crested foam.
From such sea-peril safe, I made the shores
of Strophades,—a name the Grecians gave
to islands in the broad Ionic main, —
the Strophades, where dread Celaeno bides,
with other Harpies, who had quit the halls
of stricken Phineus, and for very fear
fled from the routed feast; no prodigy
more vile than these, nor plague more pitiless
ere rose by wrath divine from Stygian wave;
birds seem they, but with face like woman-kind;
foul-flowing bellies, hands with crooked claws,
and ghastly lips they have, with hunger pale.
Scarce had we made the haven, when, behold!
Fair herds of cattle roaming a wide plain,
and horned goats, untended, feeding free
in pastures green, surprised our happy eyes.
with eager blades we ran to take and slay,
asking of every god, and chicfly Jove,
to share the welcome prize: we ranged a feast,
with turf-built couches and a banquet-board
along the curving strand. But in a trice,
down from the high hills swooping horribly,
the Harpies loudly shrieking, flapped their wings,
snatched at our meats, and with infectious touch
polluted all; infernal was their cry,
the stench most vile. Once more in covert far
beneath a caverned rock, and close concealed
with trees and branching shade, we raised aloft
our tables, altars, and rekindled fires.
Once more from haunts unknown the clamorous flock
from every quarter flew, and seized its prey
with taloned feet and carrion lip most foul.
I called my mates to arms and opened war
on that accursed brood. My band obeyed;
and, hiding in deep grass their swords and shields,
in ambush lay. But presently the foe
swept o'er the winding shore with loud alarm :
then from a sentry-crag, Misenus blew
a signal on his hollow horn. My men
flew to the combat strange, and fain would wound
with martial steel those foul birds of the sea;
but on their sides no wounding blade could fall,
nor any plume be marred. In swiftest flight
to starry skies they soared, and left on earth
their half-gnawed, stolen feast, and footprints foul.
Celaeno only on a beetling crag
took lofty perch, and, prophetess of ill,
shrieked malediction from her vulture breast:
“Because of slaughtered kine and ravished herd,
sons of Laomedon, have ye made war?
And will ye from their rightful kingdom drive
the guiltless Harpies? Hear, O, hear my word
(Long in your bosoms may it rankle sore!)
which Jove omnipotent to Phoebus gave,
Phoebus to me: a word of doom, which I,
the Furies' elder sister, here unfold:
‘To Italy ye fare. The willing winds
your call have heard; and ye shall have your prayer
in some Italian haven safely moored.
But never shall ye rear the circling walls
of your own city, till for this our blood
by you unjustly spilt, your famished jaws
bite at your tables, aye,—and half devour.’”
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