THE DAUGHTERS OF KING MINYAS TRANSFORMED TO BATSAlcithoe, daughter of King Minyas,
consents not to the orgies of the God;
denies that Bacchus is the son of Jove,
and her two sisters join her in that crime.
'Twas festal-day when matrons and their maids,
keeping it sacred, had forbade all toil.—
And having draped their bosoms with wild skins,
they loosed their long hair for the sacred wreaths,
and took the leafy thyrsus in their hands;—
for so the priest commanded them. Austere
the wrath of Bacchus if his power be scorned.
Mothers and youthful brides obeyed the priest;
and putting by their wickers and their webs,
dropt their unfinished toils to offer up
frankincense to the God; invoking him
with many names:—“O Bacchus! O Twice-born!
O Fire-begot! Thou only child Twice-mothered!
God of all those who plant the luscious grape!
O Liber!” All these names and many more,
for ages known—throughout the lands of Greece.
“Thy youth is not consumed by wasting time;
and lo, thou art an ever-youthful boy,
most beautiful of all the Gods of Heaven,
smooth as a virgin when thy horns are hid.—
The distant east to tawny India's clime,
where rolls remotest Ganges to the sea,
was conquered by thy might.—O Most-revered!
Thou didst destroy the doubting Pentheus,
and hurled the sailors' bodies in the deep,
and smote Lycurgus, wielder of the ax.
“And thou dost guide thy lynxes, double-yoked,
with showy harness.—Satyrs follow thee;
and Bacchanals, and old Silenus, drunk,
unsteady on his staff; jolting so rough
on his small back-bent ass; and all the way
resounds a youthful clamour; and the screams
of women! and the noise of tambourines!
And the hollow cymbals! and the boxwood flutes,—
fitted with measured holes.—Thou art implored
by all Ismenian women to appear
peaceful and mild; and they perform thy rites.”
Only the daughters of King Minyas
are carding wool within their fastened doors,
or twisting with their thumbs the fleecy yarn,
or working at the web. So they corrupt
the sacred festival with needless toil,
keeping their hand-maids busy at the work.
And one of them, while drawing out the thread
with nimble thumb, anon began to speak;
“While others loiter and frequent these rites
fantastic, we the wards of Pallas, much
to be preferred, by speaking novel thoughts
may lighten labour. Let us each in turn,
relate to an attentive audience,
a novel tale; and so the hours may glide.”
it pleased her sisters, and they ordered her
to tell the story that she loved the most.
So, as she counted in her well-stored mind
the many tales she knew, first doubted she
whether to tell the tale of Derceto,—
that Babylonian, who, aver the tribes
of Palestine, in limpid ponds yet lives,—
her body changed, and scales upon her limbs;
or how her daughter, having taken wings,
passed her declining years in whitened towers.
Or should she tell of Nais, who with herbs,
too potent, into fishes had transformed
the bodies of her lovers, till she met
herself the same sad fate; or of that tree
which sometime bore white fruit, but now is changed
and darkened by the blood that stained its roots.—
Pleased with the novelty of this, at once
she tells the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe;—
and swiftly as she told it unto them,
the fleecy wool was twisted into threads.
Pyramus et Thisbe.
PYRAMUS AND THISBEWhen Pyramus and Thisbe, who were known
the one most handsome of all youthful men,
the other loveliest of all eastern girls,—
lived in adjoining houses, near the walls
that Queen Semiramis had built of brick
around her famous city, they grew fond,
and loved each other—meeting often there—
and as the days went by their love increased.
They wished to join in marriage, but that joy
their fathers had forbidden them to hope;
and yet the passion that with equal strength
inflamed their minds no parents could forbid.
No relatives had guessed their secret love,
for all their converse was by nods and signs;
and as a smoldering fire may gather heat,
the more 'tis smothered, so their love increased.
Now, it so happened, a partition built
between their houses, many years ago,
was made defective with a little chink;
a small defect observed by none, although
for ages there; but what is hid from love?
Our lovers found the secret opening,
and used its passage to convey the sounds
of gentle, murmured words, whose tuneful note
passed oft in safety through that hidden way.
There, many a time, they stood on either side,
thisbe on one and Pyramus the other,
and when their warm breath touched from lip to lip,
their sighs were such as this: “Thou envious wall
why art thou standing in the way of those
who die for love? What harm could happen thee
shouldst thou permit us to enjoy our love?
But if we ask too much, let us persuade
that thou wilt open while we kiss but once:
for, we are not ungrateful; unto thee
we own our debt; here thou hast left a way
that breathed words may enter loving ears.,”
so vainly whispered they, and when the night
began to darken they exchanged farewells;
made presence that they kissed a fond farewell
vain kisses that to love might none avail.
When dawn removed the glimmering lamps of night,
and the bright sun had dried the dewy grass
again they met where they had told their love;
and now complaining of their hapless fate,
in murmurs gentle, they at last resolved,
away to slip upon the quiet night,
elude their parents, and, as soon as free,
quit the great builded city and their homes.
Fearful to wander in the pathless fields,
they chose a trysting place, the tomb of Ninus,
where safely they might hide unseen, beneath
the shadow of a tall mulberry tree,
covered with snow-white fruit, close by a spring.
All is arranged according to their hopes:
and now the daylight, seeming slowly moved,
sinks in the deep waves, and the tardy night
arises from the spot where day declines.
Quickly, the clever Thisbe having first
deceived her parents, opened the closed door.
She flitted in the silent night away;
and, having veiled her face, reached the great tomb,
and sat beneath the tree; love made her bold.
There, as she waited, a great lioness
approached the nearby spring to quench her thirst:
her frothing jaws incarnadined with blood
of slaughtered oxen. As the moon was bright,
Thisbe could see her, and affrighted fled
with trembling footstep to a gloomy cave;
and as she ran she slipped and dropped her veil,
which fluttered to the ground. She did not dare
to save it. Wherefore, when the savage beast
had taken a great draft and slaked her thirst,
and thence had turned to seek her forest lair,
she found it on her way, and full of rage,
tore it and stained it with her bloody jaws:
but Thisbe, fortunate, escaped unseen.
Now Pyramus had not gone out so soon
as Thisbe to the tryst; and, when he saw
the certain traces of that savage beast,
imprinted in the yielding dust, his face
went white with fear; but when he found the veil
covered with blood, he cried; “Alas, one night
has caused the ruin of two lovers! Thou
wert most deserving of completed days,
but as for me, my heart is guilty! I
destroyed thee! O my love! I bade thee come
out in the dark night to a lonely haunt,
and failed to go before. Oh! whatever lurks
beneath this rock, though ravenous lion, tear
my guilty flesh, and with most cruel jaws
devour my cursed entrails! What? Not so;
it is a craven's part to wish for death!”
So he stopped briefly; and took up the veil;
went straightway to the shadow of the tree;
and as his tears bedewed the well-known veil,
he kissed it oft and sighing said, “Kisses
and tears are thine, receive my blood as well.”
And he imbrued the steel, girt at his side,
deep in his bowels; and plucked it from the wound,
a-faint with death. As he fell back to earth,
his spurting blood shot upward in the air;
so, when decay has rift a leaden pipe
a hissing jet of water spurts on high.—
By that dark tide the berries on the tree
assumed a deeper tint, for as the roots
soaked up the blood the pendent mulberries
were dyed a purple tint.
though trembling still with fright, for now she thought
her lover must await her at the tree,
and she should haste before he feared for her.
Longing to tell him of her great escape
she sadly looked for him with faithful eyes;
but when she saw the spot and the changed tree,
she doubted could they be the same, for so
the colour of the hanging fruit deceived.
While doubt dismayed her, on the ground she saw
the wounded body covered with its blood;—
she started backward, and her face grew pale
and ashen; and she shuddered like the sea,
which trembles when its face is lightly skimmed
by the chill breezes;—and she paused a space;—
but when she knew it was the one she loved,
she struck her tender breast and tore her hair.
Then wreathing in her arms his loved form,
she bathed the wound with tears, mingling her grief
in his unquenched blood; and as she kissed
his death-cold features wailed; “Ah Pyramus,
what cruel fate has taken thy life away?
Pyramus! Pyramus! awake! awake!
It is thy dearest Thisbe calls thee! Lift
thy drooping head! Alas,”—At Thisbe's name
he raised his eyes, though languorous in death,
and darkness gathered round him as he gazed.
And then she saw her veil; and near it lay
his ivory sheath—but not the trusty sword
and once again she wailed; “Thy own right hand,
and thy great passion have destroyed thee!—
And I? my hand shall be as bold as thine—
my love shall nerve me to the fatal deed—
thee, I will follow to eternity—
though I be censured for the wretched cause,
so surely I shall share thy wretched fate:—
alas, whom death could me alone bereave,
thou shalt not from my love be reft by death!
And, O ye wretched parents, mine and his,
let our misfortunes and our pleadings melt
your hearts, that ye no more deny to those
whom constant love and lasting death unite—
entomb us in a single sepulchre.
“And, O thou tree of many-branching boughs,
spreading dark shadows on the corpse of one,
destined to cover twain, take thou our fate
upon thy head; mourn our untimely deaths;
let thy fruit darken for a memory,
an emblem of our blood.” No more she said;
and having fixed the point below her breast,
she fell on the keen sword, still warm with his red blood.
But though her death was out of Nature's law
her prayer was answered, for it moved the Gods
and moved their parents. Now the Gods have changed
the ripened fruit which darkens on the branch:
and from the funeral pile their parents sealed
their gathered ashes in a single urn.
Venus et Mars. Leucothoe. Clytie.
MARS AND VENUSSo ended she; at once Leuconoe
took the narrator's thread; and as she spoke
her sisters all were silent.
“Even the Sun
that rules the world was captive made of Love.
My theme shall be a love-song of the Sun.
'Tis said the Lord of Day, whose wakeful eye
beholds at once whatever may transpire,
witnessed the loves of Mars and Venus. Grieved
to know the wrong, he called the son of Juno,
Vulcan, and gave full knowledge of the deed,
showing how Mars and Venus shamed his love,
as they defiled his bed. Vulcan amazed,—
the nimble-thoughted Vulcan lost his wits,
so that he dropped the work his right hand held.
But turning from all else at once he set
to file out chains of brass, delicate, fine,
from which to fashion nets invisible,
filmy of mesh and airy as the thread
of insect-web, that from the rafter swings.—
Implicit woven that they yielded soft
the slightest movement or the gentlest touch,
with cunning skill he drew them round the bed
where they were sure to dally. Presently
appeared the faithless wife, and on the couch
lay down to languish with her paramour.—
Meshed in the chains they could not thence arise,
nor could they else but lie in strict embrace,—
cunningly thus entrapped by Vulcan's wit.—
At once the Lemnian cuckold opened wide
the folding ivory doors and called the Gods,—
to witness. There they lay disgraced and bound.
I wot were many of the lighter Gods
who wished themselves in like disgraceful bonds.—
The Gods were moved to laughter: and the tale
was long most noted in the courts of Heaven.
The Cytherean Venus brooded on
the Sun's betrayal of her stolen joys,
and thought to torture him in passion's pains,
and wreak requital for the pain he caused.
LEUCOTHEA AND CLYTIESon of Hyperion! what avails thy light?
What is the profit of thy glowing heat?
Lo, thou whose flames have parched innumerous lands,
thyself art burning with another flame!
And thou whose orb should joy the universe
art gazing only on Leucothea's charms.
Thy glorious eye on one fair maid is fixed,
forgetting all besides. Too early thou
art rising from thy bed of orient skies,
too late thy setting in the western waves;
so taking time to gaze upon thy love,
thy frenzy lengthens out the wintry hour!
And often thou art darkened in eclipse,
dark shadows of this trouble in thy mind,
unwonted aspect, casting man perplexed
in abject terror. Pale thou art, though not
betwixt thee and the earth the shadowous moon
bedims thy devious way. Thy passion gives
to grief thy countenance—for her thy heart
alone is grieving—Clymene and Rhodos,
and Persa, mother of deluding Circe,
are all forgotten for thy doting hope;
even Clytie, who is yearning for thy love,
no more can charm thee; thou art so foredone.
Leucothea is the cause of many tears,
Leucothea, daughter of Eurynome,
most beauteous matron of Arabia's strand,
where spicey odours blow. Eurynome
in youthful prime excelled her mother's grace,
and, save her daughter, all excelled besides.
Leucothea's father, Orchamas was king
where Achaemenes whilom held the sway;
and Orchamas from ancient Belus' death
might count his reign the seventh in descent.
The dark-night pastures of Apollo's steeds
are hid below the western skies; when there,
and spent with toil, in lieu of nibbling herbs
they take ambrosial food: it gives their limbs
restoring strength and nourishes anew.
Now while these coursers eat celestial food
and Night resumes his reign, the god appears
disguised, unguessed, as old Eurynome
to fair Leucothea as she draws the threads,
all smoothly twisted from her spindle. There
she sits with twice six hand-maids ranged around,
and as the god beholds her at the door
he kisses her, as if a child beloved
and he her mother. And he spoke to her:
“Let thy twelve hand-maids leave us undisturbed,
for I have things of close import to tell,
and seemly, from a mother to her child.”,
so when they all withdrew the god began,
“Lo, I am he who measures the long year;
I see all things, and through me the wide world
may see all things; I am the glowing eye
of the broad universe! Thou art to me
the glory of the earth!” Filled with alarm,
from her relaxed fingers she let fall
the distaff and the spindle, but, her fear
so lovely in her beauty seemed, the God
no longer brooked delay: he changed his form
back to his wonted beauty and resumed
his bright celestial. Startled at the sight
the maid recoiled a space; but presently
the glory of the god inspired her love;
and all her timid doubts dissolved away;
without complaint she melted in his arms.
So ardently the bright Apollo loved,
that Clytie, envious of Leucothea's joy,
where evil none was known, a scandal made;
and having published wide their secret love,
leucothea's father also heard the tale.
Relentlessly and fierce, his cruel hand
buried his living daughter in the ground,
who, while her arms implored the glowing Sun,
complained. “For love of thee my life is lost.”
And as she wailed her father sowed her there.
Hyperion's Son began with piercing heat
to scatter the loose sand, a way to open,
that she might look with beauteous features forth
too late! for smothered by the compact earth,
thou canst not lift thy drooping head; alas!
A lifeless corse remains.
No sadder sight
since Phaethon was blasted by the bolt,
down-hurled by Jove, had ever grieved the God
who daily drives his winged steeds. In vain
he strives with all the magic of his rays
to warm her limbs anew. — The deed is done—
what vantage gives his might if fate deny?
He sprinkles fragrant nectar on her grave,
and lifeless corse, and as he wails exclaims,
“But naught shall hinder you to reach the skies.”
At once the maiden's body, steeped in dews
of nectar, sweet and odourate, dissolves
and adds its fragrant juices to the earth:
slowly from this a sprout of Frankincense
takes root in riched soil, and bursting through
the sandy hillock shows its top.
to Clytie comes the author of sweet light,
for though her love might make excuse of grief,
and grief may plead to pardon jealous words,
his heart disdains the schemist of his woe;
and she who turned to sour the sweet of love,
from that unhallowed moment pined away.
Envious and hating all her sister Nymphs,
day after day,—and through the lonely nights,
all unprotected from the chilly breeze,
her hair dishevelled, tangled, unadorned,
she sat unmoved upon the bare hard ground.
Nine days the Nymph was nourished by the dews,
or haply by her own tears' bitter brine;—
all other nourishment was naught to her.—
She never raised herself from the bare ground,
though on the god her gaze was ever fixed;—
she turned her features towards him as he moved:
they say that afterwhile her limbs took root
and fastened to the around.
A pearly white
overspread her countenance, that turned as pale
and bloodless as the dead; but here and there
a blushing tinge resolved in violet tint;
and something like the blossom of that name
a flower concealed her face. Although a root
now holds her fast to earth, the Heliotrope
turns ever to the Sun, as if to prove
that all may change and love through all remain.
Salmacis.Thus was the story ended. All were charmed
to hear recounted such mysterious deeds.
While some were doubting whether such were true
others affirmed that to the living Gods
is nothing to restrain their wondrous works,
though surely of the Gods, immortal, none
accorded Bacchus even thought or place.
When all had made an end of argument,
they bade Alcithoe take up the word:
she, busily working on the pendent web,
still shot the shuttle through the warp and said;
“The amours of the shepherd Daphnis, known
to many of you, I shall not relate;
the shepherd Daphnis of Mount Ida, who
was turned to stone obdurate, for the Nymph
whose love he slighted—so the rivalry
of love neglected rouses to revenge:
neither shall I relate the story told
of Scython, double-sexed, who first was man,
then altered to a woman: so I pass
the tale of Celmus turned to adamant,
who reared almighty Jove from tender youth:
so, likewise the Curetes whom the rain
brought forth to life: Smilax and Crocus, too,
transpeciated into little flowers:
all these I pass to tell a novel tale,
which haply may resolve in pleasant thoughts.
HERMAPHRODITUSLearn how the fountain, Salmacis, became
so infamous; learn how it enervates
and softens the limbs of those who chance to bathe.
Although the fountain's properties are known,
the cause is yet unknown. The Naiads nursed
an infant son of Hermes, surely his
of Aphrodite gotten in the caves
of Ida, for the child resembled both
the god and goddess, and his name was theirs.
The years passed by, and when the boy had reached
the limit of three lustrums, he forsook
his native mountains; for he loved to roam
through unimagined places, by the banks
of undiscovered rivers; and the joy
of finding wonders made his labour light.
Leaving Mount Ida, where his youth was spent,
he reached the land of Lycia, and from thence
the verge of Caria, where a pretty pool
of soft translucent water may be seen,
so clear the glistening bottom glads the eye:
no barren sedge, no fenny reeds annoy,
no rushes with their sharpened arrow-points,
but all around the edges of that pool
the softest grass engirdles with its green.
A Nymph dwells there, unsuited to the chase,
unskilled to bend the bow, slothful of foot,
the only Naiad in the world unknown
to rapid-running Dian. Whensoever
her Naiad sisters pled in winged words,
“Take up the javelin, sister Salmacis,
take up the painted quiver and unite
your leisure with the action of the chase;”
she only scorned the javelin and the quiver,
nor joined her leisure to the active chase.
Rather she bathes her smooth and shapely limbs;
or combs her tresses with a boxwood comb,
Citorian; or looking in the pool
consults the glassed waters of effects
increasing beauty; or she decks herself
in gauzy raiment, and reposing lolls
on cushioned leaves, or grass-enverdured beds;
or gathers posies from the spangled lawns.
Now, haply as she culled the sweetest flowers
she saw the youth, and longing in her heart
made havoc as her greedy eyes beheld.
Although her love could scarcely brook delay,
she waited to enhance her loveliness,
in beauty hoping to allure his love.
All richly dight she scanned herself and robes,
to know that every charm should fair appear,
and she be worthy: wherefore she began:
“O godlike youth! if thou art of the skies,
thou art no other than the god of Love;
if mortal, blest are they who gave thee birth;
happy thy brother; happy, fortunate
thy sister; happy, fortunate and blest
the nurse that gave her bosom; but the joys
surpassing all, dearest and tenderest,
are hers whom thou shalt wed. So, let it be
if thou so young have deigned to marry, let
my joys be stolen; if unmarried, join
with me in wedlock.” So she spoke, and stood
in silence waiting for the youth's reply.
He knows nor cares for love—with loveliness
the mounting blushes tinge his youthful cheeks,
as blush-red tint of apples on the tree,
ripe in the summer sun, or as the hue
of painted ivory, or the round moon
red-blushing in her splendour, when the clash
of brass resounds in vain. And long the Nymph
implored; almost clung on his neck, as smooth
and white as ivory; unceasingly
imploring him to kiss her, though as chaste
as kisses to a sister; but the youth
“I do beseech you make
an end of this; or must I fly the place
and leave you to your tears?” Affrighted then
said Salmacis, “To you I freely give—
good stranger here remain.” Although she made
fair presence to retire, she hid herself,
that from a shrub-grown covert, on her knees
she might observe unseen.
As any boy
that heedless deems his mischief unobserved,
now here now there, he rambled on the green;
now in the bubbly ripples dipped his feet,
now dallied in the clear pool ankle-deep;—
the warm-cool feeling of the liquid then,
so pleased him, that without delay he doffed
his fleecy garments from his tender limbs.
Ah, Salmacis, amazement is thy meed!
Thou art consumed to know his naked grace!
As the hot glitters of the round bright sun
collected, sparkle from the polished plate,
thine eyes are glistened with delirious fires.
Delay she cannot; panting for his joy,
languid for his caressing, crazed, distract,
her passion difficult is held in check.—
He claps his body with his hollow palms
and lightly vaults into the limped wave,
and darting through the water hand over hand
shines in the liquid element, as though
should one enhance a statue's ivorine,
or glaze the lily in a lake of glass.
And thus the Naiad, “I have gained my suit;
his love is mine,—is mine!” Quickly disrobed,
she plunged into the yielding wave—seized him,
caressed him, clung to him a thousand ways,
kissed him, thrust down her hands and touched his breast:
reluctant and resisting he endeavours
to make escape, but even as he struggles
she winds herself about him, as entwines
the serpent which the royal bird on high
holds in his talons; —as it hangs, it coils
in sinuous folds around the eagle's feet;—
twisting its coils around his head and wings:
or as the ivy clings to sturdy oaks;
or as the polypus beneath the waves,
by pulling down, with suckers on all sides,
tenacious holds its prey. And yet the youth,
descendant of great Atlas, not relents
nor gives the Naiad joy. Pressing her suit
she winds her limbs around him and exclaims,
“You shall not scape me, struggle as you will,
perverse and obstinate! Hear me, ye Gods!
Let never time release the youth from me;
time never let me from the youth release!”
Propitious deities accord her prayers:
the mingled bodies of the pair unite
and fashion in a single human form.
So one might see two branches underneath
a single rind uniting grow as one:
so, these two bodies in a firm embrace
no more are twain, but with a two-fold form
nor man nor woman may be called—Though both
in seeming they are neither one of twain.
When that Hermaphroditus felt the change,
so wrought upon him by the languid fount,
considered that he entered it a man,
and now his limbs relaxing in the stream
he is not wholly male, but only half,—
he lifted up his hands and thus implored,
albeit with no manly voice; “Hear me
O father! hear me mother! grant to me
this boon; to me whose name is yours, your son;
whoso shall enter in this fount a man
must leave its waters only half a man.”
Moved by the words of their bi-natured son
both parents yield assent: they taint the fount
with essences of dual-working powers.
Now though the daughters of King Minyas
have made an end of telling tales, they make
no end of labour; for they so despise
the deity, and desecrate his feast.
While busily engaged, with sudden beat
they hear resounding tambourines; and pipes
and crooked horns and tinkling brass renew,
unseen, the note; saffron and myrrh dissolve
in dulcet odours; and, beyond belief,
the woven webs, dependent on the loom,
take tints of green, put forth new ivy leaves,
or change to grape-vines verdant. There the thread
is twisted into tendrils, there the warp
is fashioned into many-moving leaves—
the purple lends its splendour to the grape.
And now the day is past; it is the hour
when night ambiguous merges into day,
which dubious owns nor light nor dun obscure;
and suddenly the house begins to shake,
and torches oil-dipped seem to flare around,
and fires a-glow to shine in every room,
and phantoms, feigned of savage beasts, to howl.—
Full of affright amid the smoking halls
the sisters vainly hide, and wheresoever
they deem security from flaming fires,
fearfully flit. And while they seek to hide,
a membrane stretches over every limb,
and light wings open from their slender arms.
In the weird darkness they are unaware
what measure wrought to change their wonted shape.
No plumous vans avail to lift their flight,
yet fair they balance on membraneous wing.
Whenever they would speak a tiny voice,
diminutive, apportioned to their size,
in squeaking note complains. Adread the light,
their haunts avoid by day the leafy woods,
for sombre attics, where secure they rest
till forth the dun obscure their wings may stretch
at hour of Vesper;—this accords their name.
Athamas et Ino.
ATHAMAS AND INOThroughout the land of Thebes miraculous
the power of Bacchus waxed; and far and wide
Ino, his aunt, reported the great deeds
by this divinity performed. Of all
her sisters only she escaped unharmed,
when Fate destroyed them, and she knew not grief—
only for sorrow of her sisters' woes.—
While Ino vaunted of her mother-joys,
and of her kingly husband, Athamas,
and of the mighty God, her foster-child;
Juno, disdaining her in secret, said;
“How shall the offspring of a concubine
transform Maeonian mariners, overwhelm
them in the ocean, sacrifice a son
to his deluded mother, who insane,
tears out his entrails; how shall he invent
wings for three daughters of King Minyas,
while Juno unavenged, bewails despite?—
Is it the end? the utmost of my power?
His deeds instruct the way; true wisdom heeds
an enemy's device; by the strange death
of Pentheus, all that madness could perform
was well revealed to all; what then denies
a frenzy may unravel Ino's course
to such a fate as wrought her sisters' woe?”
A shelving path in shadows of sad yew
through utter silence to the deep descends,
infernal, where the languid Styx exhales
vapours; and there the shadows of the dead,
descend, after they leave their sacred urns,
and ghostly forms invade: and far and wide,
those dreary regions Horror and bleak Cold
The ghosts, arrived, not know the way,—
which leadeth to the Stygian city-gates,—
not know the melancholy palace where
the swarthy Pluto stays, though streets and ways
a thousand to that city lead, and gates
out-swing from every side: and as the sea
with never-seen increase engulfs the streams
unnumbered of the world, that realm enfolds
the souls of men, nor ever is it filled.
Around the shadowy spirits go; bloodless
boneless and bodiless; they throng the place
of judgment, or they haunt the mansion where
abides the Utmost Tyrant, or they tend
to various callings, as their whilom way; —
appropriate punishment confines to pain
the multitude condemned.
To this abode,
impelled by rage and hate, from habitation
celestial, Juno, of Saturn born, descends,
submissive to its dreadful element.
No sooner had she entered the sad gates,
than groans were uttered by the threshold, pressed
by her immortal form, and Cerberus
upraising his three-visaged mouths gave vent
to triple-barking howls.—She called to her
the sisters, Night-begot, implacable,
terrific Furies. They did sit before
the prison portals, adamant confined,
combing black vipers from their horrid hair.
When her amid the night-surrounding shades
they recognized, those Deities uprose.
O dread confines! dark seat of wretched vice!
Where stretched athwart nine acres, Tityus,
must thou endure thine entrails to be torn!
O Tantalus, thou canst not touch the wave,
and from thy clutch the hanging branches rise!
O Sisyphus, thou canst not stay the stone,
catching or pushing, it must fall again!
O thou Ixion! whirled around, around,
thyself must follow to escape thyself!
And, O Belides, (plotter of sad death
upon thy cousins) thou art always doomed
to dip forever ever-spilling waves!
When that the daughter of Saturnus fixed
a stern look on those wretches, first her glance
arrested on Ixion; but the next
on Sisyphus; and thus the goddess spoke;—
“For why should he alone of all his kin
suffer eternal doom, while Athamas,
luxurious in a sumptuous palace reigns;
and, haughty with his wife, despises me.”
So grieved she, and expressed the rage of hate
that such descent inspired, beseeching thus,
no longer should the House of Cadmus stand,
so that the sister Furies plunge in crime
overweening Athamas.—Entreating them,
she mingled promises with her commands.—
When Juno ended speech, Tisiphone,
whose locks entangled are not ever smooth,
tossed them around, that backward from her face
such crawling snakes were thrown;—then answered she:
“Since what thy will decrees may well be done,
why need we to consult with many words?
Leave thou this hateful region and convey
thyself, contented, to a better realm.”
Rejoicing Juno hastens to the clouds—
before she enters her celestial home,
Iris, the child of Thaumas, purifies
her limbs in sprinkled water.
Tisiphone, revengeful, takes a torch;—
besmeared with blood, and vested in a robe,
dripping with crimson gore, and twisting-snakes
engirdled, she departs her dire abode—
with twitching Madness, Terror, Fear and Woe:
and when she had arrived the destined house,
the door-posts shrank from her, the maple doors
turned ashen grey: the Sun amazed fled.
Affrighted, Athamas and Ino viewed
and fled these prodigies; but suddenly
that baneful Fury stood across the way,
blocking the passage— There she stands with arms
extended, and alive with twisting vipers.—
She shakes her hair; the moving serpents hiss;
they cling upon her shoulders, and they glide
around her temples, dart their fangs, and vomit
corruption.—Plucking from the midst two snakes,
she hurls them with her pestilential hand
upon her victims, Athamas and Ino, whom,
although the vipers strike upon their breasts,
no injury attacks their mortal parts;—
only their minds are stricken with wild rage,
inciting to mad violence and crime.
And with a monstrous composite of foam—
once gathered from the mouth of Cerberus,
the venom of Echidna, purposeless
aberrances, crimes, tears, hatred—the lust
of homicide, and the dark vapourings
of foolish brains; a liquid poison, mixed,
and mingled with fresh blood, in hollow brass,
and boiled, and stirred up with a slip of hemlock—
she took of it, and as they trembled, threw
that mad-mixed poison on them; and it scorched
their inmost vitals—and she waved her torch
repeatedly, within a circle's rim—
and added flame to flame.—
of having executed her commands,
the Fury hastened to the void expanse
where Pluto reigns, and swiftly put aside
the serpents that were wreathed around her robes.
At once, the son of Aeolus, enraged,
shouts loudly in his palace; “Ho, my lads!
Spread out your nets! a savage lioness
and her twin whelps are lurking in the wood;—
behold them!” In his madness he believes
his wife a savage beast. He follows her,
and quickly from her bosom snatches up
her smiling babe, Learchus, holding forth
his tiny arms, and whirls him in the air,
times twice and thrice, as whirls the whizzing sling,
and dashes him in pieces on the rocks; —
cracking his infant bones.
The mother, roused
to frenzy (who can tell if grief the cause,
or fires of scattered poison?) yells aloud,
and with her torn hair tangled, running mad,
she carries swiftly in her clutching arms,
her little Melicerta! and begins
to shout, “Evoe, Bacche!”—Juno hears
the shouted name of Bacchus, and she laughs,
and taunts her;—“Let thy foster-child award!”
There is a crag, out-jutting on the deep,
worn hollow at the base by many waves,
where not the rain may ripple on that pool;—
high up the rugged summit overhangs
its ragged brows above the open sea:
there, Ino climbs with frenzy-given strength,
and fearless, with her burden in her arms,
leaps in the waves where whitening foams arise.
Venus takes pity on her guiltless child,
unfortunate grand-daughter, and begins
to soothe her uncle Neptune with these words;—
“O Neptune, ruler of the deep, to whom,
next to the Power in Heaven, was given sway,
consider my request! Open thy heart
to my descendants, which thine eyes behold,
tossed on the wild Ionian Sea! I do implore thee,
remember they are thy true Deities—
are thine as well as mine—for it is known
my birth was from the white foam of thy sea;—
a truth made certain by my Grecian name.”
Neptune regards her prayer: he takes from them
their mortal dross: he clothes in majesty,
and hallows their appearance. Even their names
and forms are altered; Melicerta, changed,
is now Palaemon called, and Ino, changed,
Leucothoe called, are known as Deities.
When her Sidonian attendants traced
fresh footprints to the last verge of the rock,
and found no further vestige, they declared
her dead, nor had they any doubt of it.
They tore their garments and their hair—and wailed
the House of Cadmus— and they cursed at Juno,
for the sad fate of the wretched concubine.
That goddess could no longer brook their words,
and thus made answer, “I will make of you
eternal monuments of my revenge!”
Her words were instantly confirmed—The one
whose love for Ino was the greatest, cried;
“Into the deep; look—look—I seek my queen.”
But even as she tried to leap, she stood
fast-rooted to the ever-living rock;
another, as she tried to beat her breast
with blows repeated, noticed that her arms
grew stiff and hard; another, as by chance,
was petrified with hands stretched over the waves:
another could be seen, as suddenly
her fingers hardened, clutching at her hair
to tear it from the roots.—And each remained
forever in the posture first assumed.—
But others of those women, sprung from Cadmus,
were changed to birds, that always with wide wings
skim lightly the dark surface of that sea.
Cadmus et Harmonia.
CADMUS AND HARMONIAUnwitting that his daughter and his son
are Ocean deities, Agenor's son,—
depressed by sorrow and unnumbered woes,
calamities, and prodigies untold,—
the founder fled the city he had built,
as though fatalities that gathered round
that city grieved him deeper than the fate
of his own family; and thence, at last
arrived the confines of Illyria;
in exile with his wife.—
Weighted with woe,
bowed down with years, their minds recalled the time
when first disaster fell upon their House:—
relating their misfortunes, Cadmus spoke;
“Was that a sacred dragon that my spear
impaled, when on the way from Sidon's gates
I planted in the earth those dragon-teeth,
unthought-of seed? If haply 'tis the Gods,
(whose rage unerring, gives me to revenge)
I only pray that I may lengthen out,
as any serpent.” Even as he spoke,
he saw and felt himself increase in length.
His body coiled into a serpent's form;
bright scale's enveloped his indurate skin,
and azure macules in speckled pride,
enriched his glowing folds; and as he fell
supinely on his breast, his legs were joined,
and gradually tapered as a serpent's tail.—
Some time his arms remained, which stretching forth
while tears rolled down his human face, not changed
as yet, he said; “Hither, O hapless one!
Come hither my unhappy wife, while aught
is left of manhood; touch me, take my hand,
unchanged as yet—ah, soon this serpent-form
will cover me!”
So did he speak, nor thought
to make an end; but suddenly his tongue
became twin-forked. As often as he tried,
a hissing sound escaped; the only voice
that Nature left him. —
And his wife bewailed,
and smote her breast, “Ah, Cadmus, ah!
Most helpless one, put off that monster-shape!
Your feet, your shoulders and your hands are gone;
your manly form, your very colour gone; all—all
is changed!—Oh, why not, ye celestial Gods,
me likewise, to a serpent-shape transform!”—
So ended her complaint. Cadmus caressed
her gently with his tongue; and slid to her
dear bosom, just as if he knew his wife;
and he embraced her, and he touched her neck.
All their attendants, who had seen the change,
were filled with fear; but when as crested snakes
the twain appeared in brightly glistening mail,
their grief was lightened: and the pair, enwreathed
in twisting coils, departed from that place,
and sought a covert in the nearest grove.—
There, then, these gentle serpents never shun
mankind, nor wound, nor strike with poisoned fangs;
for they are always conscious of the past.
Perseus. Atlas. Andromeda.
PERSEUS AND ATLASThe fortune of their grandson, Bacchus, gave
great comfort to them—as a god adored
in conquered India; by Achaia praised
in stately temples. — But Acrisius
the son of Abas, of the Cadmean race,
remained to banish Bacchus from the walls
of Argos, and to lift up hostile arms
against that deity, who he denied
was born to Jove. He would not even grant
that Perseus from the loins of Jupiter
was got of Danae in the showering gold.
So mighty is the hidden power of truth,
Acrisius soon lamented that affront
to Bacchus, and that ever he refused
to own his grandson; for the one achieved
high heaven, and the other, (as he bore
the viperous monster-head) on sounding wings
hovered a conqueror in the fluent air,
over sands, Libyan, where the Gorgon-head
dropped clots of gore, that, quickening on the ground,
became unnumbered serpents; fitting cause
to curse with vipers that infested land.
Thence wafted by the never-constant winds
through boundless latitudes, now here now there,
as flits a vapour-cloud in dizzy flight,
down-looking from the lofty skies on earth,
removed far, so compassed he the world.
Three times did he behold the frozen Bears,
times thrice his gaze was on the Crab's bent arms.
Now shifting to the west, now to the east,
how often changed his course? Time came, when day
declining, he began to fear the night,
by which he stopped his flight far in the west—
the realm of Atlas—where he sought repose
till Lucifer might call Aurora's fires;
Aurora chariot of the Day.
huge Atlas, vaster than the race of man:
son of Iapetus, his lordly sway
extended over those extreme domains,
and over oceans that command their waves
to take the panting coursers of the Sun,
and bathe the wearied Chariot of the Day.
For him a thousand flocks, a thousand herds
overwandered pasture fields; and neighbour tribes
might none disturb that land. Aglint with gold
bright leaves adorn the trees,—boughs golden-wrought
bear apples of pure gold. And Perseus spoke
to Atlas, “O my friend, if thou art moved
to hear the story of a noble race,
the author of my life is Jupiter;
if valiant deeds perhaps are thy delight
mine may deserve thy praise.—Behold of thee
kind treatment I implore—a place of rest.”
But Atlas, mindful of an oracle
since by Themis, the Parnassian, told,
recalled these words, “O Atlas! mark the day
a son of Jupiter shall come to spoil;
for when thy trees been stripped of golden fruit,
the glory shall be his.”
Fearful of this,
Atlas had built solid walls around
his orchard, and secured a dragon, huge,
that kept perpetual guard, and thence expelled
all strangers from his land. Wherefore he said,
“Begone! The glory of your deeds is all
pretense; even Jupiter, will fail your need.”
With that he added force and strove to drive
the hesitating Alien from his doors;
who pled reprieve or threatened with bold words.
Although he dared not rival Atlas' might,
Perseus made this reply; “For that my love
you hold in light esteem, let this be yours.”
He said no more, but turning his own face,
he showed upon his left Medusa's head,
abhorrent features.—Atlas, huge and vast,
becomes a mountain—His great beard and hair
are forests, and his shoulders and his hands
mountainous ridges, and his head the top
of a high peak;—his bones are changed to rocks.
Augmented on all sides, enormous height
attains his growth; for so ordained it, ye,
O mighty Gods! who now the heavens' expanse
unnumbered stars, on him command to rest.
PERSEUS AND ANDROMEDAIn their eternal prison, Aeous,
grandson of Hippotas, had shut the winds;
and Lucifer, reminder of our toil,
in splendour rose upon the lofty sky:
and Perseus bound his wings upon his feet,
on each foot bound he them; his sword he girt
and sped wing-footed through the liquid air.
Innumerous kingdoms far behind were left,
till peoples Ethiopic and the lands
of Cepheus were beneath his lofty view.
There Ammon, the Unjust, had made decree
Andromeda, the Innocent, should grieve
her mother's tongue. They bound her fettered arms
fast to the rock. When Perseus her beheld
as marble he would deem her, but the breeze
moved in her hair, and from her streaming eyes
the warm tears fell. Her beauty so amazed
his heart, unconscious captive of her charms,
that almost his swift wings forgot to wave.—
Alighted on the ground, he thus began;
“O fairest! whom these chains become not so,
but worthy are for links that lovers bind,
make known to me your country's name and your's
and wherefore bound in chains.” A moment then,
as overcome with shame, she made no sound:
were not she fettered she would surely hide
her blushing head; but what she could perform
that did she do—she filled her eyes with tears.
So pleaded he that lest refusal seem
implied confession of a crime, she told
her name, her country's name, and how her charms
had been her mother's pride. But as she spoke
the mighty ocean roared. Over the waves
a monster fast approached, its head held high,
abreast the wide expanse.—The virgin shrieked;—
no aid her wretched father gave, nor aid
her still more wretched mother; but they wept
and mingled lamentations with their tears—
clinging distracted to her fettered form.
And thus the stranger spoke to them, “Time waits
for tears, but flies the moment of our need:
were I, who am the son of Regal Jove
and her whom he embraced in showers of gold,
leaving her pregnant in her brazen cell, —
I, Perseus, who destroyed the Gorgon, wreathed
with snake-hair, I, who dared on waving wings
to cleave etherial air—were I to ask
the maid in marriage, I should be preferred
above all others as your son-in-law.
Not satisfied with deeds achieved, I strive
to add such merit as the Gods permit;
now, therefore, should my velour save her life,
be it conditioned that I win her love.”
To this her parents gave a glad assent,
for who could hesitate? And they entreat,
and promise him the kingdom as a dower.
As a great ship with steady prow speeds on;
forced forwards by the sweating arms of youth
it plows the deep; so, breasting the great waves,
the monster moved, until to reach the rock
no further space remained than might the whirl
of Balearic string encompass, through
the middle skies, with plummet-mold of lead.
That instant, spurning with his feet the ground,
the youth rose upwards to a cloudy height;
and when the shadow of the hero marked
the surface of the sea, the monster sought
vainly to vent his fury on the shade.
As the swift bird of Jove, when he beholds
a basking serpent in an open field,
exposing to the sun its mottled back,
and seizes on its tail; lest it shall turn
to strike with venomed fang, he fixes fast
his grasping talons in the scaly neck;
so did the winged youth, in rapid flight
through yielding elements, press down
on the great monster's back, and thrust his sword,
sheer to the hilt, in its right shoulder—loud
its frightful torture sounded over the waves.—
So fought the hero-son of Inachus.
Wild with the grievous wound, the monster rears
high in the air, or plunges in the waves;—
or wheels around as turns the frightened boar
shunning the hounds around him in full cry.
The hero on his active wings avoids
the monster's jaws, and with his crooked sword
tortures its back wherever he may pierce
its mail of hollow shell, or strikes betwixt
the ribs each side, or wounds its lashing tail,
long, tapered as a fish.
The monster spouts
forth streams—incarnadined with blood—
that spray upon the hero's wings; who drenched,
and heavy with the spume, no longer dares
to trust existence to his dripping wings;
but he discerns a rock, which rises clear
above the water when the sea is calm,
but now is covered by the lashing waves.
On this he rests; and as his left hand holds
firm on the upmost ledge, he thrusts his sword,
times more than three, unswerving in his aim,
sheer through the monster's entrails.—Shouts of praise
resound along the shores, and even the Gods
may hear his glory in their high abodes.
Her parents, Cepheus and Cassiope,
most joyfully salute their son-in-law;
declaring him the saviour of their house.
And now, her chains struck off, the lovely cause
and guerdon of his toil, walks on the shore.
The hero washes his victorious hands
in water newly taken from the sea:
but lest the sand upon the shore might harm
the viper-covered head, he first prepared
a bed of springy leaves, on which he threw
weeds of the sea, produced beneath the waves.
On them he laid Medusa's awful face,
daughter of Phorcys;—and the living weeds,
fresh taken from the boundless deep, imbibed
the monster's poison in their spongy pith:
they hardened at the touch, and felt in branch
and leaf unwonted stiffness. Sea-Nymphs, too,
attempted to perform that prodigy
on numerous other weeds, with like result:
so pleased at their success, they raised new seeds,
from plants wide-scattered on the salt expanse.
Even from that day the coral has retained
such wondrous nature, that exposed to air
it hardens.—Thus, a plant beneath the waves
becomes a stone when taken from the sea.
Three altars to three Gods he made of turf.
To thee, victorious Virgin, did he build
an altar on the right, to Mercury
an altar on the left, and unto Jove
an altar in the midst. He sacrificed
a heifer to Minerva, and a calf
to Mercury, the Wingfoot, and a bull
to thee, O greatest of the Deities.
Without a dower he takes Andromeda,
the guerdon of his glorious victory,
nor hesitates.—Now pacing in the van,
both Love and Hymen wave the flaring torch,
abundant perfumes lavished in the flames.
The houses are bedecked with wreathed flowers;
and lyres and flageolets resound, and songs—
felicit notes that happy hearts declare.
The portals opened, sumptuous halls display
their golden splendours, and the noble lords
of Cepheus' court take places at the feast,
After the feast,
when every heart was warming to the joys of genial Bacchus,
then, Lyncidian Perseus asked about the land and its ways
about the customs and the character of its heroes.
Straightway one of the dinner-companions made reply,
and asked in turn, “ Now, valiant Perseus, pray
tell the story of the deed, that all may know,
and what the arts and power prevailed, when you
struck off the serpent-covered head.”
continued Perseus of the house of Agenor,
“There is a spot beneath cold Atlas, where
in bulwarks of enormous strength, to guard
its rocky entrance, dwelt two sisters, born
of Phorcys. These were wont to share in turn
a single eye between them: this by craft
I got possession of, when one essayed
to hand it to the other.—I put forth
my hand and took it as it passed between:
then, far, remote, through rocky pathless crags,
over wild hills that bristled with great woods,
I thence arrived to where the Gorgon dwelt.
“Along the way, in fields and by the roads,
I saw on all sides men and animals—
like statues—turned to flinty stone at sight
of dread Medusa's visage. Nevertheless
reflected on the brazen shield, I bore
upon my left, I saw her horrid face.
“When she was helpless in the power of sleep
and even her serpent-hair was slumber-bound,
I struck, and took her head sheer from the neck.—
To winged Pegasus the blood gave birth,
his brother also, twins of rapid wing.”
So did he speak, and truly told besides
the perils of his journey, arduous
and long—He told of seas and lands that far
beneath him he had seen, and of the stars
that he had touched while on his waving wings.
And yet, before they were aware, the tale
was ended; he was silent. Then rejoined
a noble with enquiry why alone
of those three sisters, snakes were interspersed
in dread Medusa's locks. And he replied:—
“Because, O Stranger, it is your desire
to learn what worthy is for me to tell,
hear ye the cause: Beyond all others she
was famed for beauty, and the envious hope
of many suitors. Words would fail to tell
the glory of her hair, most wonderful
of all her charms—A friend declared to me
he saw its lovely splendour. Fame declares
the Sovereign of the Sea attained her love
in chaste Minerva's temple. While enraged
she turned her head away and held her shield
before her eyes. To punish that great crime
minerva changed the Gorgon's splendid hair
to serpents horrible. And now to strike
her foes with fear, she wears upon her breast
those awful vipers—creatures of her rage.