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Cephalus et Procris.


This narrative and many other tales
had occupied the day. As twilight fell,
festivities were blended in the night—
the night, in turn, afforded sweet repose.
Soon as the golden Sun had shown his light,
the east wind blowing still, the ships were stayed
from sailing home. The sons of Pallas came
to Cephalus, who was the elder called;
and Cephalus together with the sons
of Pallas, went to see the king. Deep sleep
still held the king; and Phocus who was son
of Aeacus, received them at the gate,
instead of Telamon and Peleus who
were marshalling the men for war. Into
the inner court and beautiful apartments
Phocus conducted the Athenians,
and they sat down together. Phocus then
observed that Cephalus held in his hand
a curious javelin with golden head,
and shaft of some rare wood. And as they talked,
he said; “It is my pleasure to explore
the forest in the chase of startled game,
and so I've learned the nature of rare woods,
but never have I seen the match of this
from which was fashioned this good javelin;
it lacks the yellow tint of forest ash,
it is not knotted like all corner-wood;
although I cannot name the kind of wood,
my eyes have never seen a javelin-shaft
so beautiful as this.”

To him replied
a friend of Cephalus; “But you will find
its beauty is not equal to its worth,
for whatsoever it is aimed against,
its flight is always certain to the mark,
nor is it subject to the shift of chance;
and after it has struck, although no hand
may cast it back, it certainly returns,
bloodstained with every victim.”

Then indeed,
was Phocus anxious to be told, whence came
and who had given such a precious gift.
And Cephalus appeared to tell him all;
but craftily was silent on one strange
condition of the fatal gift. As he
recalled the mournful fate of his dear wife,
his eyes filled up with tears. “Ah, pity me,”
he said, “If Fate should grant me many years,
I must weep every time that I regard
this weapon which has been my cause of tears;
the unforgiven death of my dear wife—
ah, would that I had never handled it!

“My sweet wife, Procris!—if you could compare
her beauty with her sister's—Orithyia's,
(ravished by the blustering Boreas)
you would declare my wife more beautiful.

“'Tis she her sire Erectheus joined to me,
'Tis she the god Love also joined to me.
They called me happy, and in truth I was,
and all pronounced us so until the Gods
decreed it otherwise. Two joyful months
of our united love were almost passed,
when, as the grey light of the dawn dispelled,
upon the summit of Hymettus green,
Aurora, glorious in her golden robes,
observed me busy with encircling nets,
trapping the antlered deer.

“Against my will
incited by desire, she carried me
away with her. Oh, let me not increase
her anger, for I tell you what is true,
I found no comfort in her lovely face!
And, though she is the very queen of light,
and reigns upon the edge of shadowy space
where she is nourished on rich nectar-wine,
adding delight to beauty, I could give
no heed to her entreaties, for the thought
of my beloved Procris intervened;
and only her sweet name was on my lips.

“I told Aurora of our wedding joys
and all refreshing joys of love — and my
first union of my couch deserted now:

“Enraged against me, then the goddess said:
‘Keep to your Procris, I but trouble you,
ungrateful clown! but, if you can be warned,
you will no longer wish for her!’ And so,
in anger, she returned me to my wife.

“Alas, as I retraced the weary way,
long-brooding over all Aurora said,
suspicion made me doubtful of my wife,
so faithful and so fair.—But many things
reminding me of steadfast virtue, I
suppressed all doubts; until the dreadful thought
of my long absence filled my jealous mind:
from which I argued to the criminal
advances of Aurora; for if she,
so lovely in appearance, did conceal
such passion in the garb of innocence
until the moment of temptation, how
could I be certain of the purity
of even the strongest when the best are frail?

“So brooding—every effort I devised
to cause my own undoing. By the means
of bribing presents, favored by disguise,
I sought to win her guarded chastity.
Aurora had disguised me, and her guile
determined me to work in subtle snares.

“Unknown to all my friends, I paced the streets
of sacred Athens till I reached my home.
I hoped to search out evidence of guilt:
but everything seemed waiting my return;
and all the household breathed an air of grief.

“With difficulty I, disguised, obtained
an entrance to her presence by the use
of artifices many: and when I
there saw her, silent in her grief,—amazed,
my heart no longer prompted me to test
such constant love. An infinite desire
took hold upon me. I could scarce restrain
an impulse to caress and kiss her. Pale
with grief that I was gone, her lovely face
in sorrow was more beautiful—the world
has not another so divinely fair.

“Ah, Phocus, it is wonderful to think
of beauty so surpassing fair it seems
more lovable in sorrow! Why relate
to you how often she repulsed my feigned
attempts upon her virtue? To each plea
she said: ‘I serve one man: no matter where
he may be I will keep my love for one.’

“Who but a man insane with jealousy,
would doubt the virtue of a loving wife,
when tempted by the most insidious wiles,
whose hallowed honor was her husband's love?
But I, not satisfied with proof complete,
would not abandon my depraved desire
to poison the pure fountain I should guard;—
increasing my temptations, I caused her
to hesitate, and covet a rich gift.

“Then, angered at my own success I said,
discarding all disguise, ‘Behold the man
whose lavish promise has established proof,
the witness of your shameful treachery;
your absent husband has returned to this!’

“Unable to endure a ruined home,
where desecration held her sin to view,
despairing and in silent shame she fled;
and I, the author of that wickedness
ran after: but enraged at my deceit
and hating all mankind, she wandered far
in wildest mountains; hunting the wild game.

“I grieved at her desertion; and the fires
of my neglected love consumed my health;
with greater violence my love increased,
until unable to endure such pain,
I begged forgiveness and acknowledged fault:
nor hesitated to declare that I
might yield, the same way tempted, if such great
gifts had been offered to me. When I had made
abject confession and she had avenged
her outraged feelings, she came back to me
and we spent golden years in harmony.

“She gave to me the hound she fondly loved,
the very one Diana gave to her
when lovingly the goddess had declared,
‘This hound all others shall excel in speed.’
Nor was that gift the only one was given
by kind Diana when my wife was hers,
as you may guess—this javelin I hold forth,
no other but a goddess could bestow.

“Would you be told the story of both gifts
attend my words and you shall be amazed,
for never such another sad event
has added sorrow to the grieving world.

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    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.675
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