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Peleus et Thetis.

PELEUS AND THETIS. BIRTH OF ACHILLES.

To Thetis, aged Proteus once had said,
“Oh goddess of the waves, you shall conceive,
and you shall be the mother of a youth
who by heroic actions will surpass
the deeds of his own father, and your son
shall be superior to his father's power.”
So Jupiter, although the flame of love
for Thetis burned his breast, would not embrace
the lovely daughter of the sea, and urged
his grandson Peleus, son of Aeacus,
to wed the green haired maid without delay.

There is a curved bay of Haemonia,
where like an arch, two bending arms
project out in the waves, as if to form
a harbor; but the water is not deep—
although enough to hide a shoal of sand.
It has a firm shore which will not retain
a foot's impression, nor delay the step—
no seaweeds grow in that vicinity.

There is a grove of myrtle near that place
thick-hung with berries, blended of twin shades.
A cave within the middle of that grove
is found, and whether it was formed by art
or nature is not known, although it seems
a work of art. There Thetis often went,
quite naked, seated on her dolphin, which
was harnessed. Peleus seized her there when she
was fast asleep: and after he had tried
to win her by entreaties, while she long
continued to resist him, he resolved
to conquer her by violence, and seized
her neck with both arms. She resorted then
to all her usual art, and often changed:
her shape as it was known, so that he failed
in his attempt. At first she was a bird,
but while she seemed a bird he held her fast;
and then she changed herself to a large tree,
and Peleus clung with ardor to the tree;
her third disguise was as a spotted tigress,
which frightened him so that he lost his hold.

Then, as he poured wine on the heaving sea,
he prayed unto the sea green gods and gave
them sacrifice of sheep entrails, and smoke
of frankincense. He ceased not, till at last
the prophet of Carpathia, as he rose
up from a deep wave, said, “Hark unto me,
O son of Aeacus! and you shall have
the bride your heart desires: when she at rest
lies sleeping in the cool wave, you must bind
her while she is unwary, with strong cords
and complicated bonds, And never let
her arts deceive you when she imitates
a hundred varied forms, but hold her fast,
whatever she may seem, until she shall
at length assume the shape she had at first.”
So Proteus cautioned him, and hid his face
beneath the waves as his last words were said.

Now Titan was descending and the pole
of his bright chariot as it downward bent
illuminated the Hesperian main;
and at that time the lovely Nereid,
Thetis, departing from her ocean wave,
entered the cavern for desired repose.

Peleus was waiting there. Immediately,
just as he seized upon the virgin's limbs,
she changed her shape and perservered
until convinced she could not overcome
his hold—for her two arms were forced apart—
she groaned and said, “You could not overcome
me in this way, but some divinity
has given you the power.” Then she appeared
as Thetis: and, when Peleus saw her now
deprived of all deceptions, he embraced
her and was father of the great Achilles.

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