AGLAUROS AND MERCURYHigh in the dome of Heaven, behold the bright
Caduceus-Bearer soared on balanced wings;
and far below him through a fruitful grove,
devoted to Minerva's hallowed reign,
some virgins bearing on their lovely heads,
in wicker baskets wreathed and decked with flowers,
their sacred offerings to the citadel
of that chaste goddess. And the winged God,
while circling in the clear unbounded skies,
beheld that train of virgins, beautiful,
as they were thence returning on their way.
Not forward on a level line he flew,
but wheeled in circles round. Lo, the swift kite
swoops round the smoking entrails, while the priests
enclose in guarded ranks their sacrifice:
wary with fear, that swiftest of all birds,
dares not to venture from his vantage height,
but greedily hovers on his waving wings
around his keen desire. So, the bright God
circled those towers, Actaean, round and round,
in mazey circles, greedy as the bird.
As much as Lucifer outshines the stars
that emulate the glory of his rays,
as greatly as bright Phoebe pales thy light,
O lustrous Lucifer! so far surpassed
in beauty the fair maiden Herse, all
those lovely virgins of that sacred train,
departing joyous from Minerva's grove.
The Son of Jove, astonished, while he wheeled
on balanced pinions through the yielding air,
burned hot; as oft from Balearic sling
the leaden missile, hurled with sudden force,
burns in a glowing heat beneath the clouds.
Then sloped the god his course from airy height,
and turned a different way; another way
he went without disguise, in confidence
of his celestial grace. But though he knew
his face was beautiful, he combed his hair,
and fixed his flowing raiment, that the fringe
of radiant gold appeared. And in his hand
he waved his long smooth wand, with which he gives
the wakeful sleep or waketh ridded eyes.
He proudly glanced upon his twinkling feet
that sparkled with their scintillating wings.
In a secluded part of that great fane,
devoted to Minerva's hallowed rites,
three chambers were adorned with tortoise shell
and ivory and precious woods inlaid;
and there, devoted to Minerva's praise,
three well known sisters dwelt. Upon the right
dwelt Pandrosos and over on the left
Aglauros dwelt, and Herse occupied
the room between those two.
drew near to them, Aglauros first espied
the God, and ventured to enquire his name,
and wherefore he was come. Then gracious spoke
to her in answer the bright son of Jove;
“Behold the god who carries through the air
the mandates of almighty Jupiter!
But I come hither not to waste my time
in idle words, but rather to beseech
thy kindness and good aid, that I may win
the love of thy devoted sister Herse.”
Aglauros, on the son of Jupiter,
gazed with those eyes that only lately viewed
the guarded secret of the yellow-haired
Minerva, and demanded as her price
gold of great weight; before he paid denied
admittance of the house.
with orbs of stern displeasure, towards the maid
Aglauros; and her bosom heaved with sighs
so deeply laboured that her Aegis-shield
was shaken on her valiant breast. For she
remembered when Aglauros gave to view
her charge, with impious hand, that monster form
without a mother, maugre Nature's law,
what time the god who dwells on Lemnos loved.—
now to requite the god and sister; her
to punish whose demand of gold was great;
Minerva to the Cave of Envy sped.
Dark, hideous with black gore, her dread abode
is hidden in the deepest hollowed cave,
in utmost limits where the genial sun
may never shine, and where the breathing winds
may never venture; dismal, bitter cold,
untempered by the warmth of welcome fires,
involved forever in abounding gloom.
When the fair champion came to this abode
she stood before its entrance, for she deemed
it not a lawful thing to enter there:
and she whose arm is mortal to her foes,
struck the black door-posts with her pointed spear,
and shook them to the center. Straight the doors
flew open, and, behold, within was Envy
ravening the flesh of vipers, self-begot,
the nutriment of her depraved desires.—
when the great goddess met her evil gaze
she turned her eyes away. But Envy slow,
in sluggish languor from the ground uprose,
and left the scattered serpents half-devoured;
then moving with a sullen pace approached.—
and when she saw the gracious goddess, girt
with beauty and resplendent in her arms,
she groaned aloud and fetched up heavy sighs.
Her face is pale, her body long and lean,
her shifting eyes glance to the left and right,
her snaggle teeth are covered with black rust,
her hanging paps overflow with bitter gall,
her slavered tongue drips venom to the ground;
busy in schemes and watchful in dark snares
sweet sleep is banished from her blood-shot eyes;
her smiles are only seen when others weep;
with sorrow she observes the fortunate,
and pines away as she beholds their joy;
her own existence is her punishment,
and while tormenting she torments herself.
Although Minerva held her in deep scorn
she thus commanded her with winged words;
“Instil thy poison in Aglauros, child
of Cecrops; I command thee; do my will.”
She spake; and spurning with her spear the ground
departed; and the sad and furtive-eyed
envy observed her in her glorious flight:
she murmured at the goddess, great in arms:
but waiting not she took in hand her staff,
which bands of thorns encircled as a wreath,
and veiled in midnight clouds departed thence.
She blasted on her way the ripening fields;
scorched the green meadows, starred with flowers,
and breathed a pestilence throughout the land
and the great cities. When her eyes beheld
the glorious citadel of Athens, great
in art and wealth, abode of joyful peace,
she hardly could refrain from shedding tears,
that nothing might be witnessed worthy tears.
She sought the chamber where Aglauros slept,
and hastened to obey the God's behest.
She touched the maiden's bosom with her hands,
foul with corrupting stains, and pierced her heart
with jagged thorns, and breathed upon her face
a noxious venom; and distilled through all
the marrow of her bones, and in her lungs,
a poison blacker than the ooze of pitch.
And lest the canker of her poisoned soul
might spread unchecked throughout increasing space,
she caused a vision of her sister's form
to rise before her, happy with the God
who shone in his celestial beauty. All
appeared more beautiful than real life.—
when the most wretched daughter of Cecrops
had seen the vision secret torment seized
on all her vitals; and she groaned aloud,
tormented by her frenzy day and night.
A slow consumption wasted her away,
as ice is melted by the slant sunbeam,
when the cool clouds are flitting in the sky.
If she but thought of Herse's happiness
she burned, as thorny bushes are consumed
with smoldering embers under steaming stems.
She could not bear to see her sister's joy,
and longed for death, an end of misery;
or schemed to end the torture of her mind
by telling all she knew in shameful words,
whispered to her austere and upright sire.
But after many agonizing hours,
she sat before the threshold of their home
to intercept the God, who as he neared
spoke softly in smooth blandishment.
“Enough,” she said, “I will not move from here
until thou hast departed from my sight.”
“Let us adhere to that which was agreed.”
Rejoined the graceful-formed Cyllenian God,
who as he spoke thrust open with a touch
of his compelling wand the carved door.
But when she made an effort to arise,
her thighs felt heavy, rigid and benumbed;
and as she struggled to arise her knees
were stiffened? and her nails turned pale and cold;
her veins grew pallid as the blood congealed.
And even as the dreaded cancer spreads
through all the body, adding to its taint
the flesh uninjured; so, a deadly chill
entered by slow degrees her breast, and stopped
her breathing, and the passages of life.
She did not try to speak, but had she made
an effort to complain there was not left
a passage for her voice. Her neck was changed
to rigid stone, her countenance felt hard;
she sat a bloodless statue, but of stone
not marble-white—her mind had stained it black.