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Ariadne to Theseus

BEASTS of the most savage nature have proved more mild and gentle to me, than you; nor could I have been intrusted to more faithless hands. The epistle which you now read, Theseus, is sent to you from that shore, whence your ship, leaving me behind, was borne by the spreading sails; where soft sleep, and you also, who barbarously watched the opportunity of my slumbers, fatally betrayed me. It was the season when the earth begins to be covered with shining frost, and the birds, lurking among the leaves, complain of the decaying year; when, half awake, and still in slumber languidly reclining, I stretched my arms to grasp my Theseus. No Theseus was there: I suddenly pulled back my hands, and then tried once more to find him. I wandered with my arms over all the bed: still no Theseus was there. Fear instantly shook off sleep: I started up in a consternation, and headlong threw my limbs fiom the deserted bed. Forthwith my breast resounded with the repeated strokes of my hands; and I tore my hair, as yet disheveled from sleep. The moon shone: I looked round if I could discern any thing besides the shore. My eager eyes found nought to look at but the shore. I ran sometimes here, sometimes there, and with wild disorder on either side: the deep yielding sands impeted my tender feet. Mean-while the hollow rocks over all the shore resounded the name of Theseus to my incessant cries. As often as I named you, the place re-echoed the sound: the very place seemed willing to alleviate my wretched lot. Near the spot was a mountain, whose top was thinly covered with tufted shrubs; and where a steep rock, undermined by the beating waves, impended. I mounted the ascent: my passion gave me strength; and thence with wide prospect I surveyed the mighty deep. Hence (for the winds also were cruelly unkind) I could observe your sails full-stretched by stiff southern gales. I either saw, or, when I thought I saw, remained cold as ice, and half-dead with concern. Nor did grief long permit this indolent respite: I was roused by that sensation; I was roused, and in a loud complaining strain called upon Theseus: "Whither do you fly? Return, perjured wretch, change your course; the ship has not her complement." Thus I complained: I made up in shrieks what was wanting in articulate sounds, and mingled my words with repeated blows upon my breast. My hands, waved high in the air, made signs, that, if you could not hear, you might at least perceive me. I also held out a white robe upon a long pole, to admonish you of her whom you had left behind. But, alas! I soon lost sight of you; it was then I began to weep; my tender cheeks had hitherto been stiffened with grief. What could my eyes do better, after ceasing to behold your sails, than help me to bemoan my forlorn state? Sometimes I wandered solitary, with my hair disheveled, like the raving priestesses inspired by the Theban God. Sometimes, fixing my eyes upon the sea, I silently seated myself upon some pointed rock, cold and senseless as the stone whereon I sat. Often I repair to the bed which once sheltered us both: Alas! it will never more exhibit the once happy lovers. I kiss the print left by your dear body, and love to repose myself upon the spot which your dear joints have warmed.

I throw myself down; and watering the couch with profuse tears, Here, (I cry,) we pressed thee together: bring us together again. Hither we both came; why not both also depart? Perfidious bed, what is become of my dearer half? What shall I do? Whither, thus desolate and forsaken, shall I fly? The island lies uncultivated, and affords no prints either of men or cattle. The sea encompasses me. No mariner appears, no ship to bear me through the ambiguous tract. And suppose a ship, companions, and winds were in my power, what could I do? my native country denies access. Even if in a prosperous ship I should traverse the quiet seas, Æolus restraining the murmuring winds, still I should

remain an exile. I shall never more behold you, O Crete, planned out into a hundred cities, ------ the isle where infant Jupiter was nursed. I have basely betrayed my father, and his kingdom ruled by just laws, ---- names that must be ever dear to me. For you have I betrayed them, when, anxious lest the victor should be bewildered in the labyrinth, I gave you a clue to guide your uncertain steps: when you deceived me by false protestations, and swore by the dangers from which you had escaped, that, while life remained, we should be inseparably one. We live; and yet, Theseus, I am no longer thine; if indeed an unhappy woman, oppressed by the treachery of a perjured man, can be said to live. If you, barbarous man, had murdered me with the club with which you slew my brother, my death would have absolved you from your vow. Now I not only figure to myself those ills which I shall suffer, but every mishap that can befall one in my forlorn condition. A thousand shapes of death wander before my eyes. Death itself appears less terrible, than the lin-

gering life that threatens me. Sometimes I fancy that ravenous wolves may rush upon me unseen, and tear my bowels with their bloody teeth. Who knows but the island may nourish savage lions? perhaps too it is infested with fierce tigers: the shores are said to be fertile in sea-calves. How am I screened from the stroke of a piercing sword? But most I dread to be led a captive in cruel chains, and to prosecute the toilsome task with servile hands; ------ I, who boast of Minos for my father, who was born of the daughter of Phœbus; and, (what is still more to me) who was solemnly engaged to you. If I turn my eyes toward the sea, the earth, or the winding shore, both earth and waves threaten me with a thousand dangers. Heaven only remains, and yet even here I fear the forms of the Gods. I am left a prey, and food for savage beasts. If men inhabit or cultivate these fields, I am apt to mistrust even them. already a sufferer, I have learned to be slow in giving credit to strangers. Oh that Androgeos had still lived, nor the land of Cecrops been condemned to expiate that wicked deed by its funerals! Oh that thy strong arm, Theseus, had never killed my monstrous brother, half ox, half man, with a knotted club, and that I had never given you the thread to guide your returning steps, the thread often grasped by your alternate bands!

No wonder that victory declared for you, and the prostrate monster tinged with its blood the Cretan ground. A heart so steeled could not be pierced by the sharpest horn. Had you encountered him with your breast uncovered, you were yet safe from harm. There you were armed with flint and adamant; there you bore Theseus, yet harder than adamant. Cruel sleep, why did you bind me over to a fatal sloth? It had been better for me to have sunk in eternal night. You also, barbarous winds, too readily conspired against me. Ye officious gales have been to me the cause of many tears.

O inhuman right-hand, the bane of both me and my brother; and faith, an empty name, plighted at my request! Sleep, the winds, and strongest vows, combined against me, and concurred in deceiving a harmless unsuspecting maid. Alas! must I then here breathe my last, nor see the tears of a pitying mother? shall none attend to close my dying eyes? Must I breathe out my mournful soul in foreign air, and no friendly hand anoint my motionless limbs? Shall my unburied frame be left a prey to devouring vultures? Are these the proper returns for all my affectionate services? When you enter the port of Cecrops, and, welcomed by your country, mount the lofty citadel that overlooks the town; when there you relate your victory over the doubtful monster, and your escape from the intricate prison, branched out into a thousand windings; tell also how I was abandoned in a desert land: I ought not to be forgotten in the train of your exploits. Surely Ægeus was not your father; Æthra never gave birth to you: you sprang from pointed locks, or the raging sea. Oh if

you could have viewed me from the stern of your ship, the mournful figure had surely moved compassion. As you cannot now observe me with your eyes, only imagine me to yourself, hanging over a frightful rock, undermined by the waves that dash against it below. Consider me with my hair disheveled, and carelessly spread over my disconsolate face; behold my clothes heavy with tears, as from a shower. My body trembles like corn shaken by the north winds; and the letters proceed unequal from my faltering hand. I do not urge you now by my merit, since my favors were so ill bestowed, nor expect any retribution, as due to my kind offices: but then, what pretence have you for ill usage? Had I not contributed in the smallest degree to your safety, even this is no reason why you should be the cause of my death. To thee wretched Ariadne stretches over the wide sea her hands, faint with often beating her sorrowful breast. Disconsolate as I am, I remind you of the few mangled tresses that yet remain. I conjure you, by the tears shed for your cruel departure, turn your ship, dear Theseus, and bear back your inverted sails. If I die ere you arrive, you may yet collect my scattered bones.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 64
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