Picus et Canens.“Picus, offspring of Saturn, was the king
of the Ausonian land, one very fond
of horses raised for war. The young man's form
was just what you now see, and had you known
him as he lived, you would not change a line.
His nature was as noble as his shape.
He could not yet have seen the steeds contend
four times in races held with each fifth year
at Grecian Elis. But his good looks had charmed
the dryads born on Latin hills, Naiads
would pine for him—both goddesses of spring
and goddesses of fountains, pined for him,
and nymphs that live in streaming Albula,
Numicus, Anio's course, brief flowing Almo,
and rapid Nar and Farfarus, so cool
in its delightful shades; all these and those
which haunt the forest lake of Scythian
Diana and the other nearby lakes.
“ ‘But, heedless of all these, he loved a nymph
whom on the hill, called Palatine, 'tis said,
Venilia bore to Janus double faced.
When she had reached the age of marriage, she
was given to Picus Laurentine, preferred
by her above all others—wonderful
indeed her beauty, but more wonderful
her skill in singing, from which art they called
her Canens. The fascination of her voice
would move the woods and rocks and tame wild beasts,
and stay long rivers, and it even detained
the wandering bird. Once, while she sang a lay
with high, clear voice, Picus on his keen horse
rode in Laurentian fields to hunt the boar,
two spears in his left hand, his purple cloak
fastened with gold. The daughter of the Sun
wandered in woods near by to find new herbs
growing on fertile hills, for she had left
Circaean fields called so from her own name.
“ ‘From a concealing thicket she observed
the youth with wonder. All the gathered herbs
dropped from her hands, forgotten, to the ground
and a hot fever-flame seemed to pervade
her marrow. When she could collect her thought
she wanted to confess her great desire,
but the swift horse and his surrounding guards
prevented her approach. “Still you shall not
escape me,” she declared, “although you may
be borne on winds, if I but know myself,
and if some potency in herbs remains,
and if my art of charms does not deceive.”
“ ‘Such were her;thoughts, and then she formed
an image of a bodiless wild swine
and let it cross the trail before the king
and rush into a woodland dense with trees,
which fallen trunks made pathless for his horse.
Picus at once, unconscious of all harm,
followed the phantom-prey and, hastily
quitting the reeking back of his good steed,
he wandered in pursuit of a vain hope,
on foot through that deep wood. She seized the chance
and by her incantation called strange gods
with a strange charm, which had the power to hide
the white moon's features and draw thirsty clouds
about her father's head. The changing sky
then lowered more black at each repeated tone
of incantation, and the ground exhaled
its vapours, while his people wandered there
along the darkened paths until no guard
was near to aid the imperiled king.
“ ‘Having now gained an opportunity
and place, she said, “ O, youth most beautiful!
By those fine eyes, which captivated mine,
and by that graceful person, which brings me,
even me, a goddess, suppliant to you,
have pity on my passion; let the Sun,
who looks on all things, be your father-in-law;
do not despise Circe, the Titaness.”
“But fiercely he repelled her and her prayer,
“Whoever you may be, you are not mine,”
he said. “Another lady has my heart.
I pray that for a lengthening space of time
she may so hold me. I will not pollute
conjugal ties with the unhallowed loves
of any stranger, while the Fates preserve
to me the child of Janus, my dear Canens.”
“‘Titan's daughter, when many pleas had failed,
said angrily, “You shall not leave me with
impunity, and you shall not return
to Canens; and by your experience
you shall now learn what can be done by her
so slighted—what a woman deep in love
can do— and Circe is that slighted love.”
“ ‘Then twice she turned herself to face the west
and twice to face the East; and three times then
she touched the young man with her wand,
and sang three incantations. Picus fled,
but, marvelling at his unaccustomed speed,
he saw new wings, that spread on either side
and bore him onward. Angry at the thought
of transformation—all so suddenly
added a strange bird to the Latian woods,
he struck the wild oaks with his hard new beak,
and in his rage inflicted many wounds
on the long waving branches his wings took
the purple of his robe. The piece of gold
which he had used so nicely in his robe
was changed to golden feathers, and his neck
was rich as yellow gold. Nothing remained
of Picus as he was except the name.
“ ‘While all this happened his attendants called
on Picus often but in vain throughout
surrounding fields, and finding not a trace
of their young king, at length by chance they met
with Circe, who had cleared the darkened air
and let the clouds disperse before the wind
and clear rays of the sun. Then with good cause
they blamed her, they demanded the return
of their lost king, and with their hunting spears
they threatened her. She, sprinkling baleful drugs
and poison juices over them, invoked
the aid of Night and all the gods of Night
from Erebus and Chaos, and desired
the aid of Hecat with long, wailing cries.
“ ‘Most wonderful to tell, the forests leaped
from fixed localities and the torn soil
uttered deep groans, the trees surrounding changed
from life-green to sick pallor, and the grass
was moistened with besprinkling drops of blood;
the stones sent forth harsh longings, unknown dogs
barked loudly, and the ground became a mass
of filthy snakes, and unsubstantial hosts
of the departed flitted without sound.
The men all quaked appalled. With magic rod
she touched their faces, pale and all amazed,
and at her touch the youths took on strange forms
of wild animals. None kept his proper shape.
“ ‘The setting sun is resting low upon
the far Tartessian shores, and now in vain
her husband is expected by the eyes
of longing Canens. Her slaves and people run
about through all the forest, holding lights
to meet him. Nor is it enough for that
dear nymph to weep and frenzied tear her hair
and beat her breast—she did all that and more.
Distracted she rushed forth and wandered through
the Latin fields. Six nights, six brightening dawns
found her quite unrefreshed with food or sleep
wandering at random over hill and dale.
The Tiber saw her last, with grief and toil
wearied and lying on his widespread bank.
In tears she poured out words with a faint voice,
lamenting her sad woe, as when the swan
about to die sings a funereal dirge.
Melting with grief at last she pined away;
her flesh, her bones, her marrow liquified
and vanished by degrees as formless air
and yet the story lingers near that place,
fitly named Canens by old-time Camenae!.’
“Such things I heard and saw through a long year.
Sluggish, inactive through our idleness,
we were all ordered to embark again
out on the deep, again to set our sails.
The Titaness explained the doubtful paths,
the great extent and peril, of wild seas.
I was alarmed, I will confess to you;
so, having reached these shores, I have remained.”