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Nisus et Scylla.

KING MINOS AND SCYLLA

Now Lucifer unveiled the glorious day,
and as the session of the night dissolved,
the cool east wind declined, and vapors wreathed
the moistened valleys. Veering to the south
the welcome wind gave passage to the sons
of Aeacus, and wafted Cephalus
on his returning way, propitious; where
before the wonted hour, they entered port.

King Minos, while the fair wind moved their ship,
was laying waste the land of Megara.
He gathered a great army round the walls
built by Alcathous, where reigned in splendor
King Nisus—mighty and renowned in war—
upon the center of whose hoary head
a lock of purple hair was growing.—Its
proved virtue gave protection to his throne.

Six times the horns of rising Phoebe grew,
and still the changing fortune of the war
was in suspense; so, Victory day by day
between them hovered on uncertain wings.

Within that city was a regal tower
on tuneful walls; where once Apollo laid
his golden harp; and in the throbbing stone
the sounds remained. And there, in times of peace
the daughter of king Nisus loved to mount
the walls and strike the sounding stone with pebbles:
so, when the war began, she often viewed
the dreadful contest from that height;
until, so long the hostile camp remained,
she had become acquainted with the names,
and knew the habits, horses and the arms
of many a chief, and could discern the signs
of their Cydonean quivers.

More than all,
the features of King Minos were engraved
upon the tablets of her mind. And when
he wore his helmet, crested with gay plumes,
she deemed it glorious; when he held his shield
shining with gold, no other seemed so grand;
and when he poised to hurl the tough spear home,
she praised his skill and strength; and when he bent
his curving bow with arrow on the cord,
she pictured him as Phoebus taking aim,—
but when, arrayed in purple, and upon
the back of his white war horse, proudly decked
with richly broidered housings, he reined in
the nervous steed, and took his helmet off,
showing his fearless features, then the maid,
daughter of Nisus, could control herself
no longer; and a frenzy seized her mind.

She called the javelin happy which he touched,
and blessed were the reins within his hand.

She had an impulse to direct her steps,
a tender virgin, through the hostile ranks,
or cast her body from the topmost towers
into the Gnossian camp. She had a wild
desire to open to the enemy
the heavy brass-bound gates, or anything
that Minos could desire.

And as she sat
beholding the white tents, she cried, “Alas!
Should I rejoice or grieve to see this war?
I grieve that Minos is the enemy
of her who loves him; but unless the war
had brought him, how could he be known to me?
But should he take me for a hostage? That
might end the war—a pledge of peace, he might
keep me for his companion.

“O, supreme
of mankind! she who bore you must have been
as beautiful as you are; ample cause
for Jove to lose his heart.

“O, happy hour!
If moving upon wings through yielding air,
I could alight within the hostile camp
in front of Minos, and declare to him
my name and passion!

“Then would I implore
what dowry he could wish, and would provide
whatever he might ask, except alone
the city of my father. Perish all
my secret hopes before one act of mine
should offer treason to accomplish it.
And yet, the kindness of a conqueror
has often proved a blessing, manifest
to those who were defeated. Certainly
the war he carries on is justified
by his slain son.

“He is a mighty king,
thrice strengthened in his cause. Undoubtedly
we shall be conquered, and, if such a fate
awaits our city, why should he by force
instead of my consuming love, prevail
to open the strong gates? Without delay
and dreadful slaughter, it is best for him
to conquer and decide this savage war.

“Ah, Minos, how I fear the bitter fate
should any warrior hurl his cruel spear
and pierce you by mischance, for surely none
can be so hardened to transfix your breast
with purpose known.”

Oh, let her love prevail
to open for his army the great gates.
Only the thought of it, has filled her soul;
she is determined to deliver up
her country as a dowry with herself,
and so decide the war! But what avails
this idle talk.

“A guard surrounds the gates,
my father keeps the keys, and he alone
is my obstruction, and the innocent
account of my despair. Would to the Gods
I had no father! Is not man the God
of his own fortune, though his idle prayers
avail not to compel his destiny?

“Another woman crazed with passionate desires,
which now inflame me, would not hesitate,
but with a fierce abandon would destroy
whatever checked her passion. Who is there
with love to equal mine? I dare to go
through flames and swords; but swords and flames
are not now needed, for I only need
my royal father's lock of purple hair.
More precious than fine gold, it has a power
to give my heart all that it may desire.”

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