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Medea to Jason

WELL I remember that, though queen of Colchis, I found leisure to provide for your safety, when you requested the help of my art. Then, if ever, the Sisters, who measure out the thread of human life, ought to have finished the number of my days. Then might Medea have died honorably. Life ever since has been a series of woes. Alas! why did the Thessalian bark, manned by a

troop of resolute youths, sail in quest of the golden fleece? why did Argo come within sight of Colchis, or a Grecian band drink of the water of Phasis? why was I so much pleased with your golden locks, your personal attractions, and the dissembled eloquence of your enchanting tongue? Doubtless, (as a strange ship had arrived on our coast, and landed a set of bold enterprising youths.) ungrateful Jason should have been left to rush, unfortified with spells, upon the glowing nostrils of the fire-breathing bulls, and dare their lofty looks: he should have been left to sow the serpent's teeth, and feel the arms of his numerous foes; that the forward cultivator might thus have fallen by his own harvest.

Perjured wretch! how much perfidy had been prevented by your fall! how many heart-piercing griefs might I have escaped! It is some relief to upbraid the ungrateful with the favors which they have received. This I can still enjoy; and it is indeed the only pleasure you have now left me. Commanded by your uncle to sail to Colchis with the unproved ship, you entered the happy kingdom of my native land. There Medea held the same place which your new bride holds here: my father, in wealth and dominion, came not short of her's. He rules over Corinth placed between two seas: my father commands all that part of snowy Scythia, which runs along the left-side of the Euxine sea. Æetes gave a kind and noble reception to the Pelasgian youths, and placed them on richly embroidered couches. It was then I first saw you, and understood who you were; that was the dreadful day of ruin to my quiet and peace of mind. How did I gaze, how did I imbibe the fatal poison, and burn with fires I had not felt before, like a pine-torch when lighted up at the sacrifices of the

Gods! You were beautiful and charming, and my unhappy destiny pushed me on; my eyes remained continually fixed upon your's. Base man, you too clearly perceived it; for who was ever discrete enough to hide love? A flame that betrays itself by its own light. In the mean time the law of victory is laid down, that you train to the unusual plough the unbroken necks of the fierce bulls. These bulls, sacred to Mars, were not only terrible by their horns: they breathed out streams of flame. Their feet were guarded with brazen hoofs; plates of brass also covered their nostrils, which were rendered black by their glowing breath. You are farther required to scatter over the wide fields, with devoted hand, seed that will suddenly bring forth a harvest of men, who will attack you with their self-born darts; a crop fatal to the laborer. Your last and greatest toil is, artfully to elude the eyes of the watchful dragon; eyes, unacquainted with the power of sleep. Here Æetes ended. You all rise up sad; the table is removed, and stripped of the purple carpets.

Where was then the kingdom you receive as a dowry with Creusa? how little was your father-in-law, or the daughter of mighty Creon then in your thoughts? You left us thoughtful: I followed your departing steps with eyes moistened in tears; and my tongue in a soft accent bade you farewell. When with a heart fatally wounded I had retired to my quiet bed, the whole night was spent in shedding floods of tears. The fierce bulls and threatening crop of armed men stood before my eyes; but most I was haunted by the image of the watchful dragon. On the one side was love, on the other fear: but fear served only to augment my love. It was now morning, when my darling sister entered my chamber, and found me lying upon my face, my hair disheveled, and the bed under me wet with my tears. She entreats me in behalf of the Argonauts: one asks, and another shall reap the fruit: she craves that aid which I freely grant to the young son of Æson. There is a grove where a darksome shade is formed by pitch-trees and leafy oaks; scarcely can the rays of the sun find admittance. Here had long

been, and still was, a temple sacred to Diana, with a golden statue of the goddess, the work of a barbarian artist. Perhaps, as you have forgotten me, so have you also the place. Thither we came; when thus you addressed me with your deluding tongue: "Fortune has given you the disposal and command of my lot; my life and death are in your hands. If you glory in the possession of power, it is enough that you can destroy: but to preserve me in danger will do you greater honor. I implore you by my distresses, which your art alone can succour; by your race, and the majesty of your all-seeing grandfather; by the deity and sacred mysteries of the threefold goddess, and whatever other Gods this nation adores; amiable virgin, take pity on me; take pity on my companions, and bind me eternally to you by your good offices! If you disdain not to give up your heart to a Grecian youth, (but why should I flatter myself that the Gods will be so favorable and indulgent?) sooner may my soul vanish

into air, than any besides Medea be received a partner of my bed. May Juno, who presides over the marriage-bed, bear witness to this oath, and the goddess in whose marble temple we are." These declarations (and how small a part is this of what you promised?) made too great an impression upon the mind of an innocent credulous maid; and your right-hand was joined to mine. I saw, moreover, your tears: are these too capable of deceit? Thus was I easily betrayed by your enchanting words. You yoked the brazen-footed bulls, unhurt by their flaming breath, and cleft the hard earth with the commanded plough. You sowed the land with the teeth of poisonous serpents instead of seed, and a harvest of soldiers sprang up armed with swords and bucklers. Even I, who secured you by my art, sat pale and trembling, when I saw this sudden crop of men grasp their arms. But at length the earth-born brothers (mournful catastrophe!) turned against one another their ready-armed right-hands. And now,

lo the watchful serpent, terrible by his sounding scales, hisses, and sweeps the ground with his winding breast. Where was then your rich dowry? where then your royal spouse, and the Isthmus which divides the circling sea? Even I, Medea, whom you now despise as a barbarian, whom you deem indigent and criminal, forsaken Medea, locked up his fiery orbs in enchanted sleep, and left you the golden fleece a secure and easy prize.

I betrayed my father, abandoned my kingdom and country, and fancied that, with you, even exile was some gratification. My virginity became the prey of a foreign ravisher: I left the best of sisters, and a darling mother. Alas! why did I not leave my brother also? Here conscious guilt arrests my hand, and commands me to draw a veil over my crime. My hand refuses to write what it dared to commit. In this manner ought I to have been torn to pieces; but with you, who also deserved the same fate. Nor did I fear, (for

what after this could make me afraid?) though a weak woman, and now a guilty wretch, to trust myself to the sea. Where was then the majesty of heaven? where were the Gods by whom we had falsely sworn? why did we not undergo the just punishment, you of your falsehood, and I of my credulity? Oh! that the meeting Symplegades had crushed us into one, and my bones had been made to incorporate with yours; or that devouring Scylla had made us the prey of hungry dogs (for thus ought Scylla to use ungrateful men); or that the gulf

which alternately vomits up and drinks in the waves, had overwhelmed us in its circling current! But fate had otherwise decreed; you returned safe and victorious to the Grecian states, and made an offer of the rich fleece to the Gods of your country. Why should I mention the daughters of Pelias, bloody through piety, and the slaughter of a father by the hands of virgins? However others may blame, yet you are bound to commend me, for whose sake I have so often made myself guilty. You had the barbarity, (Oh! words are wanting to equal my grief,) you had the barbarity to forbid me the house of your father Æson. Compelled, I left the house, accompanied only by my two sons, and by that affection for you which never ceases to haunt me. Soon the new nuptial songs reached my ears, and the torches shone with the spreading flame: the flute also struck off the social lines, to me more mournful than the funeral trumpet. I

was frighted to distraction, nor could yet fancy you so completely base: but a coldness spread itself over all my breast. The rabble shouted, and invoked Hymen; they redoubled their cries, and, as they approached, the word seemed more dreadful. The servants wept in corners, and each strove to hide his tears: for who among them would be the messenger of so great a calamity? I was also better pleased to be ignorant of whatever passed: but still my mind, by some secret foresight, foreboded my misfortune. When my younger boy, by my command, and moved by curiosity, stood at the entrance of the double gate, Look, said he, mother, my father Jason heads the procession, and, arrayed in vestments of gold, urges the harnessed horses. I then tore my garments, and beat my breast; nor was my face safe from the impression of my nails. My rage urged me to rush into the midst of the crowd, and tear the garlands from the well-dressed locks. Scarcely could I restrain myself from appearing with my hair torn, taking hold of him, and claiming him as mine. Injured father, forsaken Colchians, now rejoice, and be satisfied with the sacrifice made to the

manes of my murdered brother. I am deserted by my husband, after abandoning my kingdom, country, and home. He was all to me!

Have I then been able to tame the serpents and raging bulls, and yet cannot vanquish a single man? Could I by magic arts repress the fire-breathing bulls, and not conquer the flames of love that rage in my own breast? Have my enchantments, herbs, and skill, abandoned me? Can Diana and the rites of powerful Hecate yield no relief? Day is odious to me; the nights are full of cruel bitterness; no soft slumbers soothe my anxious breast. I, who can do nothing to myself, could yet lull to rest the dragon; my art is useful to every one but myself. A rival embraces those limbs which I preserved; she now enjoys the fruit of my toil. Perhaps too, while you endeavour to recommend yourself to your silly spouse, and say what may be agreeable to her partial ears, you unjustly ridicule my face and manners. She stupidly laughs, and rejoices at my defects. Laugh on,

proud fair, and pride yourself in your purple bed; soon you shall mourn, and burn with flames more fierce than mine. While fire, sword, and poisons, may be had, no enemy of Medea shall escape her resentment. Yet if prayers are able to touch your obdurate heart, hear me now descend to requests below my usual greatness of soul. I address you with the same submission with which you have often applied to me; nor delay to throw myself at your feet. If I am now despicable to you, yet think of your children, those common pledges of our former love. Shall my offspring be exposed to the rage of a cruel step-mother? Alas! they too strongly bear your likeness, and strike me with the resemblance: as often as I look at them, my eyes swim in tears. I implore you by the Gods above, by the splendor of my grand-father's chariot, by the love I always bore you, and your two sons, those dear pledges of what I once was, restore me to that bed, for which I have made so many sacrifices; make good your promises, and give me relief. I ask not your aid against the bulls, and earth-born heroes, or to lull to rest the watchful dragon: I demand you whom I have dearly purchased, who yourself made a surrender of your heart to me; by whom I likewise have been made a mother. If you enquire for my

dowry, remember the field that was to be ploughed up before you could carry off the golden fleece. My dowry is that golden ram, beautiful by his rich wool; which if I should demand back, would you ever consent? I bring for a dowry your own safety, and that of all the Grecian youths. Go now, perjured man, and boast the ill-gotten wealth of Sisyphus. To me you owe your life, that you have a spouse, a powerful father-in-law, or even that you can be ungrateful. But hold: I will quickly be revenged. Yet what avails it to threaten before-hand? Rage drives me upon the deepest destruction. I will yield to all the madness of rage, however I may afterwards repent. I even now repent the aid I granted to a perfidious wretch. The God who rages in my breast can alone penetrate these designs: I only know that my mind conceives something vast and worthy of myself.

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  • Commentary references to this page (3):
    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 68b
    • W. Walter Merry, James Riddell, D. B. Monro, Commentary on the Odyssey (1886), 1.238
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.617
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