CADMUS AND THE DRAGONTHE HOUSE OF CADMUSNow Jupiter had not revealed himself,
nor laid aside the semblance of a bull,
until they stood upon the plains of Crete.
But not aware of this, her father bade
her brother Cadmus search through all the world,
until he found his sister, and proclaimed
him doomed to exile if he found her not;—
thus was he good and wicked in one deed.
When he had vainly wandered over the earth
(for who can fathom the deceits of Jove?)
Cadmus, the son of King Agenor, shunned
his country and his father's mighty wrath.
But he consulted the famed oracles
of Phoebus, and enquired of them what land
might offer him a refuge and a home.
And Phoebus answered him; “When on the plains
a heifer, that has never known the yoke,
shall cross thy path go thou thy way with her,
and follow where she leads; and when she lies,
to rest herself upon the meadow green,
there shalt thou stop, as it will be a sign
for thee to build upon that plain the walls
of a great city: and its name shall be
the City of Boeotia.”
but hardly had descended from the cave,
Castalian, ere he saw a heifer go
unguarded, gentle-paced, without the scars
of labour on her neck. He followed close
upon her steps (and silently adored
celestial Phoebus, author of his way)
till over the channel that Cephissus wears
he forded to the fields of Panope
and even over to Boeotia.—
there stood the slow-paced heifer, and she raised
her forehead, broad with shapely horns, towards Heaven;
and as she filled the air with lowing, stretched
her side upon the tender grass, and turned
her gaze on him who followed in her path.
Cadmus gave thanks and kissed the foreign soil,
and offered salutation to the fields
and unexplored hills. Then he prepared
to make large sacrifice to Jupiter,
and ordered slaves to seek the living springs
whose waters in libation might be poured.
There was an ancient grove, whose branching trees
had never known the desecrating ax,
where hidden in the undergrowth a cave,
with oziers bending round its low-formed arch,
was hollowed in the jutting rocks—deep-found
in the dark center of that hallowed grove—
beneath its arched roof a beauteous stream
of water welled serene. Its gloom concealed
a dragon, sacred to the war-like Mars;
crested and gorgeous with radescent scales,
and eyes that sparkled as the glow of coals.
A deadly venom had puffed up his bulk,
and from his jaws he darted forth three tongues,
and in a triple row his sharp teeth stood.
Now those who ventured of the Tyrian race,
misfortuned followers of Cadmus, took
the path that led them to this grove; and when
they cast down-splashing in the springs an urn,
the hidden dragon stretched his azure head
out from the cavern's gloom, and vented forth
terrific hissings. Horrified they dropped
their urns. A sudden trembling shook their knees;
and their life-blood was ice within their veins.
The dragon wreathed his scales in rolling knots,
and with a spring, entwisted in great folds,
reared up his bulk beyond the middle rings,
high in the air from whence was given his gaze
the extreme confines of the grove below.
A size prodigious, his enormous bulk,
if seen extended where was naught to hide,
would rival in its length the Serpent's folds,
involved betwixt the planes of the Twin Bears.
The terrified Phoenicians, whether armed
for conflict, or in flight precipitate,
or whether held incapable from fear,
he seized with sudden rage; stung them to death,
or crushed them in the grasp of crushing folds,
or blasted with the poison of his breath.
High in the Heavens the sun small shadow made
when Cadmus, wondering what detained his men,
prepared to follow them. Clothed in a skin
torn from a lion, he was armed, complete,
with lance of glittering steel; and with a dart:
but passing these he had a dauntless soul.
When he explored the grove and there beheld
the lifeless bodies, and above them stretched
the vast victorious dragon licking up
the blood that issued from their ghastly wounds;
his red tongues dripping gore; then Cadmus filled
with rage and grief; “Behold, my faithful ones!
I will avenge your deaths or I will share it!”
He spoke; and lifted up a mill-stone huge,
in his right hand, and having poised it, hurled
with a tremendous effort dealing such
a blow would crush the strongest builded walls;
yet neither did the dragon flinch the shock
nor was he wounded, for his armour-scales,
fixed in his hard and swarthy hide, repelled
the dreadful impact. Not the javelin thus,
so surely by his armoured skin was foiled,
for through the middle segment of his spine
the steel point pierced, and sank beneath the flesh,
deep in his entrails. Writhing in great pain
he turned his head upon his bleeding back,
twisting the shaft, with force prodigious shook
it back and forth, and wrenched it from the wound;
with difficulty wrenched it. But the steel
remained securely fastened in his bones.
Such agony but made increase of rage:
his throat was swollen with great knotted veins;
a white froth gathered on his poisonous jaws;
the earth resounded with his rasping scales;
he breathed upon the grass a pestilence,
steaming mephitic from his Stygian mouth.
His body writhes up in tremendous gyres;
his folds, now straighter than a beam, untwist;
he rushes forward on his vengeful foe,
his great breast crushing the deep-rooted trees.
Small space gave Cadmus to the dragon's rage,
for by the lion's spoil he stood the shock,
and thrusting in his adversary's jaws
the trusted lance gave check his mad career.
Wild in his rage the dragon bit the steel
and fixed his teeth on the keen-biting point:
out from his poisoned palate streams of gore
spouted and stained the green with sanguine spray.
Yet slight the wound for he recoiled in time,
and drew his wounded body from the spear;
by shrinking from the sharp steel saved his throat
a mortal wound. But Cadmus as he pressed
the spear-point deeper in the serpent's throat,
pursued him till an oak-tree barred the way;
to this he fixed the dragon through the neck:
the stout trunk bending with the monster's weight,
groaned at the lashing of his serpent tail.