THE BIRDS OF MEMNONAlthough Aurora had given aid to Troy,
she had no heart nor leisure to be moved
by fall of Troy or fate of Hecuba.
At home she bore a greater grief and care;
her loss of Memnon is afflicting her.
Aurora, his rose-tinted mother, saw
him perish by Achilles' deadly spear,
upon the Phrygian plain. She saw his death,
and the loved rose that lights the dawning hour
turned death-pale, and the sky was veiled in clouds.
The parent could not bear to see his limbs
laid on the final flames. Just as she was,
with loose hair streaming round her, she did not
disdain to crouch down at the knees of Jove,
and said these sad words added to her tears:
“Beneath all those whom golden heaven sustains;
(inferior, for see, through all the world
my temples are so few) I have come now
a goddess, to you; not with any hope
that you may grant me temples, festivals,
and altars, heated with devoted fires:
but if you will consider the good deeds,
which I, a woman, may yet do for you,
when at the dawn I mark the edge of night;
then you may think of some reward for me.
But that is not my care; nor is it now
Aurora's purpose here, that she should plead
for honors, though deserved. I come bereaved,
of my son Memnon, who in vain bore arms
to aid his uncle and in prime of life
(0, thus you willed it!) fell stricken by the sword
of great Achilles. Give my son, I pray,
O highest ruler of the gods, some honor,
some comfort for his death, a little ease
his mother's grief.” Jove nodded his assent.
Immediately the high-wrought funeral-pile
of Memnon fell down with its lofty fire,
and volumes of black smoke obscured the day,
as streams exhaling their dense rising fogs,
exclude the bright sun from the land below.
Black ashes fly and, rolling up a shape,
retain a form and gather heat and life
out of the fire. Their lightness gave them wings,
first like a bird and then in fact a bird.
The wings move whirring. In the neighboring air
uncounted sisters, of one birth and growth
together make one noise. Three times they flew
around the funeral pile; and thrice the sound
accordant of their fluttering wings went swift
upon the soft breeze. When they turned about,
their fourth flight in the skies divided them.
As two fierce races from two hostile camps,
clash in their warfare, these bird-sisters with
their beaks and crooked claws clashed, passionate,
until their tired wings and opposing breasts
could not sustain them. And those kindred-foes
fell down a sacrifice, memorial,
to Memnon's ashes buried in that place.
Brave Memnon, author of their birth, has given
his name to those birds, marvellously formed,—
and from him they are called Memnonides.—
now, always when the Sun has passed the twelve
signs of the Zodiac, they war again,
to perish as a sacrifice for him.
So others grieved, while Dymas' royal daughter
was barking: but Aurora overcome
with lasting sorrows, could not think of her:
and even now, she sheds affectionate tears:
and sprinkles them as dew on all the world.