Battle of the wedding feast -- Perseus and Andromeda
While Perseus, the brave son of Jupiter,
surrounded at the feast by Cepheus' lords,
narrated this, a raging multitude
with sudden outcry filled the royal courts --
not with the clamours of a wedding feast
but boisterous rage, portentous of dread war.
As when the fury of a great wind strikes
a tranquil sea, tempestuous billows roll
across the peaceful bosom of the deep;
so were the pleasures at the banquet changed
to sudden tumult.
to sudden tumult. Foremost of that throng,
the rash ring-leader, Phineus, shook his spear,
brass-tipped of ash, and shouted, "Ha, 'tis I!
I come avenger of my ravished bride!
Let now your flittering wings deliver you,
or even Jupiter, dissolved in showers
of imitation gold." So boasted he,
aiming his spear at Perseus.
aiming his spear at Perseus. Thus to him
cried Cepheus: "Hold your hand, and strike him not!
What strange delusions, O my brother, have
compelled you to this crime? Is it the just
requital of heroic worth? A fair
reguerdon for the life of her you loved?
"If truth were known, not Perseus ravished her
from you; but, either 'twas the awful God
that rules the Nereides; or Ammon, crowned
with crescent horns; or that monstrosity
of Ocean's vast abyss, which came to glut
his famine on the issue of my loins.
Nor was your suit abandoned till the time
when she must perish and be lost to you.
So cruel are you, seeking my daughter's death,
rejoicing lightly in our deep despair. --
"And was it not enough for you to stand
supinely by, while she was bound in chains,
and offer no assistance, though you were
her lover and betrothed? And will you grieve
that she was rescued from a dreadful fate,
and spoil her champion of his just rewards?
Rewards that now may seem magnificent,
but not denied to you if you had won
and saved, when she was fettered to the rock.
"Let him, whose strength to my declining years
restored my child, receive the merit due
his words and deeds; and know his suit was not
preferred to yours, but granted to prevent
her certain death."
her certain death." Not deigning to reply,
against them Phineus stood; and glancing back
from him to Perseus, with alternate looks,
as doubtful which should feel his first attack,
made brief delay. Then vain at Perseus hurled
his spear, with all the force that rage inspired,
but, missing him it quivered in a couch.
Provoked beyond endurance Perseus leaped
forth from the cushioned seats, and fiercely sent
that outwrenched weapon back. It would have pierced
his hostile breast had not the miscreant crouched
behind the altars. Oh perverted good,
that thus an altar should abet the wrong!
But, though the craven Phineus escaped,
not vainly flew the whizzing point, but struck
in Rhoetus' forehead. As the barb was torn
out of the bone, the victim's heels began
to kick upon the floor, and spouting blood
defiled the festal board. Then truly flame
in uncontrolled rage the vulgar crowd,
and hurl their harmful darts.
and hurl their harmful darts. And there are some
who hold that Cepheus and his son-in-law
deserved to die; but Cepheus had passed forth
the threshold of his palace: having called
on all the Gods of Hospitality
and Truth and Justice to attest, he gave
no comfort to the enemies of Peace.
Unconquered Pallas is at hand and holds
her Aegis to protect her brother's life;
she lends him dauntless courage. At the feast
was one from India's distant shores, whose name
was Athis. It was said that Limnate,
the daughter of the River Ganges, him
in vitreous caverns bright had brought to birth;
and now at sixteen summers in his prime,
the handsome youth was clad in costly robes.
A purple mantle with a golden fringe
covered his shoulders, and a necklace, carved
of gold, enhanced the beauty of his throat.
His hair encompassed with a coronal,
delighted with sweet myrrh. Well taught was he
to hurl the javelin at a distant mark,
and none with better skill could stretch the bow.
No sooner had he bent the pliant horns
than Perseus, with a smoking billet, seized
from the mid-altar, struck him on the face,
and smashed his features in his broken skull.
And when Assyrian Lycabas had seen
his dear companion, whom he truly loved,
beating his handsome countenance in blood.
And when he had bewailed his lost life,
that ebbed away from that unpiteous wound,
he snatched the bow that Athis used, and said;
"Let us in single combat seek revenge;
not long will you rejoice the stripling's fate;
a deed most worthy shame." So speaking, forth
the piercing arrow bounded from the cord,
which, though avoided, struck the hero's cloak
and fastened in its folds. --
and fastened in its folds. -- Then Perseus turned
upon him, with the trusted curving sword,
cause of Medusa's death, and drove the blade
deep in his breast. The dying victim's eyes,
now swimming in a shadowous night, looked 'round
for Athis, whom, beholding, he reclined
upon, and ushered to the other world, --
sad consolation of united death.
And Phorbas the descendant of Methion.
Who hailed from far Syene, with his friend
Amphimedon of Libya, in their haste
to join the battle, slipped up in the blood
and fell together: just as they arose
that glittering sword was driven through the throat
of Phorbas into the ribs of his companion.
But Erithus, the son of Actor, swung
a battle-ax, so weighty, Perseus chose
not combat with his curving blade. He seized
in his two hands a huge bowl, wrought around
with large design, outstanding from its mass.
This, lifting up, he dashes on his foe,
who vomits crimson blood, and falling back
beats on the hard floor with his dying head.
And next he slew Caucasian Abaris,
and Polydaemon -- from Semiramis
nobly descended -- and Sperchius, son,
Lycetus, long-haired Elyces, unshorn,
Clytus and Phlegias, the hero slew; --
and trampled on the dying heaped around.
Not daring to engage his enemy
in open contest, Phineus held aloof,
and hurled his javelin. Badly aimed -- by some
mischance or turned -- it wounded Idas, who
had followed neither side; vain-hoping thus
to shun the conflict.
to shun the conflict. Idas, filled with rage,
on Phineus gazed with futile hate, and said,
"Since I am forced unwilling to such deeds,
behold, whom you have made your enemy,
O savage Phineus! Let your recompense
be stroke for stroke." So speaking, from the wound
he drew the steel, but, faint from loss of blood,
before his arm could hurl the weapon back,
he sank upon his knees.
he sank upon his knees. Here, also, lies
Odytes, -- noblest of the Cephenes,
save Cepheus only, -- slaughtered by the sword
of Clymenus. And Prothoenor lies
the victim of Hypseus; by his side
Hypseus slaughtered by Lyncidas falls.
And in the midst of this destruction stood
Emathion, now an aged man, revered,
who feared the Gods, and stood for upright deeds.
And, since his years denied him strength for war,
he battled with his tongue, and railed, and cursed
their impious weapons. As that aged man
clings to the altar with his trembling hands,
Chromis with ruthless sword cuts off his head,
which straightway falls upon the altar, whence
his dying tongue denounces them in words
of execration: and his soul expires
amid the altar flames.
amid the altar flames. Then Broteas
and Ammon, his twin brother, who not knew
their equals at the cestus, by the hand
of Phineus fell; for what avails in deed
the cestus as a weapon matched with swords.
Ampycus by the same hand fell, -- the priest
of Ceres, with his temples wreathed in white.
And O, Iapetides not for this
did you attend the feast! Your voice attuned
melodious to the harp, was in request
to celebrate the wedding-day with song, --
a work of peace; as you did stand aside,
holding the peaceful plectrum in your hand,
the mocking Pettalus in ridicule said,
"Go sing your ditties to the Stygian shades."
And, mocking thus, he drove his pointed sword
in your right temple. As your limbs gave way,
your dying fingers swept the tuneful strings:
and falling you did chant a mournful dirge. --
You to avenge enraged Lycormas tore
a huge bar from the door-post, on the right,
and dashing it against the mocker crushed
his neck-bones: as a slaughtered bullock falls --
he tumbled to the ground.
he tumbled to the ground. Then on the left.
Cinyphian Pelates began to wrench
an oak plank from the door-post, but the spear
of Corythus, the son of Marmarus,
pinioned his right hand to the wooden post;
and while he struggled Abas pierced his side. --
He fell not to the floor, but dying hung
suspended from the door-post by his hand.
And of the friends of Perseus, Melaneus
was slain, and Dorylas whose wealth was large
in Nasamonian land. No other lord,
as Dorylas, such vast estates possessed;
no other owned so many heaps of corn.
The missile steel stood fastened in his groin,
obliquely fixed, -- a fatal spot -- and when
the author of his wound, Halcyoneus
the Bactrian, beheld his victim thus,
rolling his eyes and sobbing forth his soul,
he railed; "Keep for yourself of all your lands
as much as you can cover." And he left
the bleeding corpse.
the bleeding corpse. But Perseus in revenge
hurled after him a spear, which, in his need,
he ripped out from the wound, yet warm, and struck
the boaster on the middle of his nose.
The piercing steel, passed through his nose and neck, --
remained projecting from the front and back.
And while good fortune helped his hand, he slew
Clanis and Clytius, of one mother born,
but with a different wound he slaughtered each:
for, leveled by a mighty arm, his ashen spear
drove through the thighs of Clytius, right and left,
and Clanis bit the javelin with his teeth.
And by his might, Mendesian Celadon
and Atreus fell, his mother of the tribes
of Palestine, his father was unknown.
Aethion, also, who could well foresee
the things to come, but was at last deceived
by some false omen. And Thoactes fell,
the armour-bearer of the king; and, next,
the infamous Agyrtes who had slain
his father. These he slew; and though his strength
was nearly spent, so many more remained:
for now the multitude with one accord
conspired to slaughter him. From every side
the raging troops assailed the better cause.
In vain the pious father and the bride,
together with her mother, fill the halls
with lamentations; for the clash of arms,
the groans of fallen heroes drown their cries. --
Bellona in a sea of blood has drenched
their Household Gods, polluted by these deeds,
and she endeavours to renew the strife.
Perseus, alone against that raging throng,
is now surrounded by a myriad men,
led on by Phineus; and their flying darts,
as thick as wintry tail, are showered around
on every side, grazing his eyes and ears. --
Quickly he fixed his shoulder firm against
the rock of a great pillar, which secured
his back from danger, and he faced his foes,
and baffled their attack.
and baffled their attack. Upon his left
Chaonian Molpeus pressed, and on his right
a Nabathean called Ethemon pressed. --
As when a tiger from a valley hears
the lowing of two herds, in separate fields,
though hunger urges he not knows on which
to spring, but rages equally for each;
so, Perseus doubtful which may first attack
his left or right, knows not on which to turn,
but stands attentive witness to the flight
of Molpeus, whom he wounded in the leg.
Nor could he choose -- Ethemon, full of rage,
pressed on him to inflict a fatal wound,
deep in his neck; but with incautious force
struck the stone pillar with his ringing sword
and shattered the metal blade, close to the hilt;
the flying fragment pierced its owner's neck,
but not with mortal wound. In vain he pled
for mercy, stretching forth his helpless arms:
Perseus transfixed him with his glittering blade,
Cyllenian. But when he saw his strength
was yielding to the multitude, he said,
"Since you have forced disaster on yourselves,
why should I hesitate to save myself? --
O friends, avert your faces if ye stand
before me!" And he raised Medusa's head.
Thescelus answered him; "Seek other dupes
to chase with wonders!" Just as he prepared
to hurl the deadly javelin from his hand,
he stood, unmoving in that attitude,
a marble statue.
a marble statue. Ampyx, close to him,
exulting in a mighty spirit, made
a lunge to pierce Lyncides in the breast;
but, as his sword was flashing in the air,
his right arm grew so rigid, there he stood
unable to draw back or thrust it forth.
But Nileus, who had feigned himself begot
by seven-fold Nile, and carved his shield with gold
and silver streams, alternate seven, shouted;
"Look, look! O Perseus, him from whom I sprung!
And you shall carry to the silent shades
a mighty consolation in your death,
that you were slain by such a one as I."
But in the midst of boasting, the last words
were silenced; and his open mouth, although
incapable of motion, seemed intent
to utter speech.
to utter speech. Then Eryx, chiding says;
"Your craven spirits have benumbed you, not
Medusa's poison. -- Come with me and strike
this youthful mover of magician charms
down to the ground." -- He started with a rush;
the earth detained his steps; it held him fast;
he could not speak; he stood, complete with arms,
a statue. Such a penalty was theirs,
and justly earned; but near by there was one,
aconteus, who defending Perseus, saw
medusa as he fought; and at the sight
the soldier hardened to an upright stone. --
Assured he was alive, Astyages
now struck him with his long sword, but the blade
resounded with a ringing note; and there,
astonished at the sound, Astyages,
himself, assumed that nature; and remained
with wonder pictured on his marble face.
And not to weary with the names of men,
sprung from the middle classes, there remained
two hundred warriors eager for the fight --
as soon as they could see Medusa's face,
two hundred warriors stiffened into stone.
At last, repentant, Phineus dreads the war,
unjust, for in a helpless fright he sees
the statues standing in strange attitudes;
and, recognizing his adherents, calls
on each by name to rescue from that death.
Still unbelieving he begins to touch
the bodies, nearest to himself, and all
are hard stone.
are hard stone. Having turned his eyes away,
he stretched his hands and arms obliquely back
to Perseus, and confessed his wicked deeds;
and thus imploring spoke;
and thus imploring spoke; "Remove, I pray,
O Perseus, thou invincible, remove
from me that dreadful Gorgon: take away
the stone-creating countenance of thy
unspeakable Medusa! For we warred
not out of hatred, nor to gain a throne,
but clashed our weapons for a woman's sake. --
"Thy merit proved thy valid claim, and time
gave argument for mine. It grieves me not
to yield, O bravest, only give me life,
and all the rest be thine." Such words implored
the craven, never daring to address
his eyes to whom he spoke.
his eyes to whom he spoke. And thus returned
the valiant Perseus; "I will grant to you,
O timid-hearted Phineus! as behoves
your conduct; and it should appear a gift,
magnanimous, to one who fears to move. --
Take courage, for no steel shall violate
your carcase; and, moreover, you shall be
a monument, that ages may record
your unforgotten name. You shall be seen
thus always, in the palace where resides
my father-in-law, that my surrendered spouse
may soften her great grief when she but sees
the darling image of her first betrothed."
He spoke, and moved Medusa to that side
where Phineus had turned his trembling face:
and as he struggled to avert his gaze
his neck grew stiff; the moisture of his eyes
was hardened into stone. -- And since that day
his timid face and coward eyes and hands,
forever shall be guilty as in life.
After such deeds, victorious Perseus turned,
and sought the confines of his native land;
together with his bride; which, having reached,
he punished Proetus -- who by force of arms
had routed his own brother from the throne
of Argos. By his aid Acrisius,
although his undeserving parent, gained
his citadels once more: for Proetus failed,
with all his arms and towers unjustly held,
to quell the grim-eyed monster, snake-begin.
Yet not the valour of the youth, upheld
by many labours, nor his grievous wrongs
have softened you, O Polydectes! king
of Little Seriphus; but bitter hate
ungoverned, rankles in your hardened heart --
there is no limit to your unjust rage.
Even his praises are defamed by you
and all your arguments are given to prove
Medusa's death a fraud. -- Perseus rejoined;
"By this we give our true pledge of the truth,
avert your eyes!" And by Medusa's face
he made the features of that impious king
a bloodless stone.
The Nine Muses and Minerva
Through all these mighty deeds
Pallas, Minerva, had availed to guide
her gold-begotten brother. Now she sped,
surrounded in a cloud, from Seriphus,
while Cynthus on the right, and Gyarus
far faded from her view. And where a path,
high over the deep sea, leads the near way,
she winged the air for Thebes, and Helicon
haunt of the Virgin Nine.
haunt of the Virgin Nine. High on that mount
she stayed her flight, and with these words bespoke
those well-taught sisters; "Fame has given to me
the knowledge of a new-made fountain -- gift
of Pegasus, that fleet steed, from the blood
of dread Medusa sprung -- it opened when
his hard hoof struck the ground. -- It is the cause
that brought me. -- For my longing to have seen
this fount, miraculous and wonderful,
grows not the less in that myself did see
the swift steed, nascent from maternal blood."
To which Urania thus; "Whatever the cause
that brings thee to our habitation, thou,
O goddess, art to us the greatest joy.
And now, to answer thee, reports are true;
this fountain is the work of Pegasus,"
And having said these words, she gladly thence
conducted Pallas to the sacred streams.
And Pallas, after she had long admired
that fountain, flowing where the hoof had struck,
turned round to view the groves of ancient trees;
the grottoes and the grass bespangled, rich
with flowers unnumbered -- all so beautiful
she deemed the charm of that locality
a fair surrounding for the studious days
of those Mnemonian Maids.
The Nine Muses and Pyrenaeus
of those Mnemonian Maids. But one of them
addressed her thus; "O thou whose valour gave
thy mind to greater deeds! if thou hadst stooped
to us, Minerva, we had welcomed thee
most worthy of our choir! Thy words are true;
and well hast thou approved the joys of art,
and this retreat. Most happy would we be
if only we were safe; but wickedness
admits of no restraint, and everything
affrights our virgin minds; and everywhere
the dreadful Pyrenaeus haunts our sight; --
scarcely have we recovered from the shock.
"That savage, with his troops of Thrace. had seized
the lands of Daulis and of Phocis, where
he ruled in tyranny; and when we sought
the Temples of Parnassus, he observed
us on our way; -- and knowing our estate,
pretending to revere our sacred lives,
he said; 'O Muses, I beseech you pause!
Choose now the shelter of my roof and shun
the heavy stars that teem with pouring rain;
nor hesitate, for often the glorious Gods
have entered humbler homes.'
have entered humbler homes.' "Moved by his words,
and by the growing storm, we gave assent,
and entered his first house. But presently
the storm abated, and the southern wind
was conquered by the north; the black clouds fled,
and soon the skies were clear.
and soon the skies were clear. "At once we sought
to quit the house, but Pyrenaeus closed
all means of exit, -- and prepared to force
our virtue. Instantly we spread our wings,
and so escaped; but on a lofty tower
he stood, as if to follow, and exclaimed;
'A path for you marks out a way for me,'
and quite insane, he leaped down from the top
of that high tower. -- Falling on his face,
the bones were crushed, and as his life ebbed out
the ground was crimsoned with his wicked blood."
The Nine Muses and the nine magpies
So spoke the Muse. And now was heard the sound
of pennons in the air, and voices, too,
gave salutations from the lofty trees.
Minerva, thinking they were human tongues,
looked up in question whence the perfect words;
but on the boughs, nine ugly magpies perched,
those mockers of all sounds, which now complained
their hapless fate. And as she wondering stood,
Urania, goddess of the Muse, rejoined; --
"Look, those but lately worsted in dispute
augment the number of unnumbered birds. --
Pierus was their father, very rich
in lands of Pella; and their mother (called
Evippe of Paeonia) when she brought
them forth, nine times evoked, in labours nine,
Lucina's aid. -- Unduly puffed with pride,
because it chanced their number equalled ours,
these stupid sisters, hither to engage
in wordy contest, fared through many towns; --
through all Haemonia and Achaia came
to us, and said; --
to us, and said; -- 'Oh, cease your empty songs,
attuned to dulcet numbers, that deceive
the vulgar, untaught throng. If aught is yours
of confidence, O Thespian Deities
contend with us: our number equals yours.
We will not be defeated by your arts;
nor shall your songs prevail. -- Then, conquered, give
Hyantean Aganippe; yield to us
the Medusean Fount; -- and should we fail,
we grant Emathia's plains, to where uprise
Paeonia's peaks of snow. -- Let chosen Nymphs
award the prize -- .' 'Twas shameful to contend;
it seemed more shameful to submit. At once,
the chosen Nymphs swore justice by their streams,
and sat in judgment on their thrones of rock.
"At once, although the lot had not been cast,
the leading sister hastened to begin. --
She chanted of celestial wars; she gave
the Giants false renown; she gave the Gods
small credit for great deeds. -- She droned out, 'Forth,
those deepest realms of earth, Typhoeus came,
and filled the Gods with fear. They turned their backs
in flight to Egypt; and the wearied rout,
where Great Nile spreads his seven-channeled mouth,
were there received. -- Thither the earth-begot
Typhoeus hastened: but the Gods of Heaven
deceptive shapes assumed. -- Lo, Jupiter,
(As Libyan Ammon's crooked horns attest)
was hidden in the leader of a flock;
Apollo in a crow; Bacchus in a goat;
Diana in a cat; Venus in a fish;
Saturnian Juno in a snow-white cow;
Cyllenian Hermes in an Ibis' wings.' --
Such stuff she droned out from her noisy mouth:
and then they summoned us; but, haply, time
permits thee not, nor leisure thee permits,
that thou shouldst hearken to our melodies."
"Nay doubt it not," quoth Pallas, "but relate
your melodies in order." And she sat
beneath the pleasant shadows of the grove.
And thus again Urania; "On our side
we trusted all to one." Which having said,
Calliope arose. Her glorious hair
was bound with ivy. She attuned the chords,
and chanted as she struck the sounding strings: --
"Midway between the streams of Cyane
and Arethusa lies a moon-like pool,
of silvered narrow horns. There stood the Nymph,
revered above all others in that land,
whose name was Cyane. From her that pond
was always called. And as she stood, concealed
in middle waves that circled her white thighs,
she recognized the God, and said; 'O thou
shalt go no further, Pluto, thou shalt not
by force alone become the son-in-law
of Ceres. It is better to beseech
a mother's aid than drag her child away!
And this sustains my word, if I may thus
compare great things with small, Anapis loved
me also; but he wooed and married me
by kind endearments; not by fear, as thou
hast terrified this girl.' So did she speak;
and stretching out her arms on either side
opposed his way.
opposed his way. "The son of Saturn blazed
with uncontrolled rage; and urged his steeds,
and hurled his royal scepter in the pool.
Cast with a mighty arm it pierced the deeps.
The smitten earth made way to Tartarus; --
it opened a wide basin and received
the plunging chariot in the midst. -- But now
the mournful Cyane began to grieve,
because from her against her fountain-rights
the goddess had been torn. The deepening wound
still rankled in her breast, and she dissolved
in many tears, and wasted in those waves
which lately were submissive to her rule.
"So you could see her members waste away:
her bones begin to bend; her nails get soft;
her azure hair, her fingers, legs and feet,
and every slender part melt in the pool:
so brief the time in which her tender limbs
were changed to flowing waves; and after them
her back and shoulders, and her sides and breasts
dissolved and vanished into rivulets:
and while she changed, the water slowly filled
her faulty veins instead of living blood --
and nothing that a hand could hold remained.
"Now it befell when Proserpine was lost,
her anxious mother sought through every land
and every sea in vain. She rested not.
Aurora, when she came with ruddy locks,
might never know, nor even Hesperus,
if she might deign to rest. -- She lit two pines
from Aetna's flames and held one in each hand,
and restless bore them through the frosty glooms:
and when serene the day had dimmed the stars
she sought her daughter by the rising sun;
and when the sun declined she rested not.
"Wearied with labour she began to thirst,
for all this while no streams had cooled her lips;
when, as by chance, a cottage thatched with straw
gladdened her sight. Thither the goddess went,
and, after knocking at the humble door,
waited until an ancient woman came;
who, when she saw the goddess and had heard
her plea for water, gave her a sweet drink,
but lately brewed of parched barley-meal;
and while the goddess quaffed this drink a boy,
of bold and hard appearance, stood before
and laughed and called her greedy. While he spoke
the angry goddess sprinkled him with meal,
mixed with the liquid which had not been drunk.
"His face grew spotted where the mixture struck,
and legs appeared where he had arms before,
a tail was added to his changing trunk;
and lest his former strength might cause great harm,
all parts contracted till he measured less
than common lizards. While the ancient dame
wondered and wept and strove for one caress,
the reptile fled and sought a lurking place. --
His very name describes him to the eye,
a body starred with many coloured spots.
"What lands, what oceans Ceres wandered then,
would weary to relate. The bounded world
was narrow for the search. Again she passed
through Sicily; again observed all signs;
and as she wandered came to Cyane,
who strove to tell where Proserpine had gone,
but since her change, had neither mouth nor tongue,
and so was mute. And yet the Nymph made plain
by certain signs what she desired to say:
for on the surface of the waves she showed
a well-known girdle Proserpine had lost,
by chance had dropped it in that sacred pool;
which when the goddess recognized, at last,
convinced her daughter had been forced from her,
she tore her streaming locks, and frenzied struck
her bosom with her palms. And in her rage,
although she wist not where her daughter was,
she blamed all countries and cried out against
their base ingratitude; and she declared
the world unworthy of the gift of corn:
but Sicily before all other lands,
for there was found the token of her loss.
"For that she broke with savage hand the plows,
which there had turned the soil, and full of wrath
leveled in equal death the peasant and his ox --
both tillers of the soil -- and made decree
that land should prove deceptive to the seed,
and rot all planted germs. -- That fertile isle,
so noted through the world, becomes a waste;
the corn is blighted in the early blade;
excessive heat, excessive rain destroys;
the winds destroy, the constellations harm;
the greedy birds devour the scattered seeds;
thistles and tares and tough weeds choke the wheat.
"For this the Nymph, Alpheian, raised her head
above Elean waves; and having first
pushed back her dripping tresses from her brows,
back to her ears, she thus began to speak;
'O mother of the virgin, sought throughout
the globe! O mother of nutritious fruits!
Let these tremendous labours have an end;
do not increase the violence of thy wrath
against the Earth, devoted to thy sway,
and not deserving blame; for only force
compelled the Earth to open for that wrong.
Think not my supplication is to aid
my native country; hither I am come
an alien: Pisa is my native land,
and Elis gave me birth. Though I sojourn
a stranger in this isle of Sicily
it yet delights me more than all the world.
'I, Arethusa, claim this isle my home,
and do implore thee keep my throne secure,
O greatest of the Gods! A better hour,
when thou art lightened of thy cares, will come,
and when thy countenance again is kind;
and then may I declare what cause removed
me from my native place -- and through the waves
of such a mighty ocean guided me
to find Ortygia.
to find Ortygia. 'Through the porous earth
by deepest caverns, I uplift my head
and see unwonted stars. Now it befell,
as I was gliding far beneath the world,
where flow dark Stygian streams, I saw
thy Proserpine. Although her countenance
betrayed anxiety and grief, a queen She reigned
supremely great in that opacous world
queen consort mighty to the King of Hell.'
"Astonished and amazed, as thunderstruck,
when Proserpina's mother heard these words,
long while she stood till great bewilderment
gave way to heavy grief. Then to the skies,
ethereal, she mounted in her car
and with beclouded face and streaming hair
stood fronting Jove, opprobrious. 'I have come
O Jupiter, a suppliant to thee,
both for my own offspring as well as thine.
If thy hard heart deny a mother grace,
yet haply as a father thou canst feel
some pity for thy daughter; and I pray
thy care for her may not be valued less
because my groaning travail brought her forth. --
My long-sought daughter has at last been found,
if one can call it, found, when certain loss
more certain has been proved; or so may deem
the knowledge of her state. -- But I may bear
his rude ways, if again he bring her back.
'Thy worthy child should not be forced to wed
a bandit-chief, nor should my daughter's charms
reward his crime.' She spoke; -- and Jupiter
took up the word; 'This daughter is a care,
a sacred pledge to me as well as thee;
but if it please us to acknowledge truth,
this is a deed of love and injures not.
And if, O goddess, thou wilt not oppose,
such law-son cannot compass our disgrace:
for though all else were wanting, naught can need
Jove's brother, who in fortune yields to none
save me. But if thy fixed desire compel
dissent, let Proserpine return to Heaven;
however, subject to the binding law,
if there her tongue have never tasted food --
a sure condition, by the Fates decreed.'
he spoke; but Ceres was no less resolved
to lead her daughter thence.
to lead her daughter thence. "Not so the Fates
permit. -- The virgin, thoughtless while she strayed
among the cultivated Stygian fields,
had broken fast. While there she plucked the fruit
by bending a pomegranate tree, and plucked,
and chewed seven grains, picked from the pallid rind;
and none had seen except Ascalaphus --
him Orphne, famed of all Avernian Nymphs,
had brought to birth in some infernal cave,
days long ago, from Acheron's embrace --
he saw it, and with cruel lips debarred
young Proserpine's return. Heaving a sigh,
the Queen of Erebus, indignant changed
that witness to an evil bird: she turned
his head, with sprinkled Phlegethonian lymph,
into a beak, and feathers, and great eyes;
his head grew larger and his shape, deformed,
was cased in tawny wings; his lengthened nails
bent inward; -- and his sluggish arms
as wings can hardly move. So he became
the vilest bird; a messenger of grief;
the lazy owl; sad omen to mankind.
"The telltale's punishment was only just;
O Siren Maids, but wherefore thus have ye
the feet and plumes of birds, although remain
your virgin features? Is it from the day
when Proserpina gathered vernal flowers;
because ye mingled with her chosen friends?
And after she was lost, in vain ye sought
through all the world; and wished for wings to waft
you over the great deep, that soon the sea
might feel your great concern. -- The Gods were kind:
ye saw your limbs grow yellow, with a growth
of sudden-sprouting feathers; but because
your melodies that gently charm the ear,
besides the glory of your speech, might lose
the blessing, of a tongue, your virgin face
and human voice remained.
and human voice remained. "But Jupiter,
the mediator of these rival claims,
urged by his brother and his grieving sister,
divided the long year in equal parts.
Now Proserpina, as a Deity,
of equal merit, in two kingdoms reigns: --
for six months with her mother she abides,
and six months with her husband. -- Both her mind
and her appearance quickly were transformed;
for she who seemed so sad in Pluto's eyes,
now as a goddess beams in joyful smiles;
so, when the sun obscured by watery mist
conquers the clouds, it shines in splendour forth.
Calliope sings of Arethusa and Alpheus
"And genial Ceres, full of joy, that now
her daughter was regained, began to speak;
'Declare the reason of thy wanderings,
O Arethusa! tell me wherefore thou
wert made a sacred stream.' The waters gave
no sound; but soon that goddess raised her head
from the deep springs; and after sue had dried
her green hair with her hand, with fair address
she told the ancient amours of that stream
which flows through Elis. -- 'I was one among
the Nymphs of old Achaia,' -- so she said --
'And none of them more eager sped than I,
along the tangled pathways; and I fixed
the hunting-nets with zealous care. -- Although
I strove not for the praise that beauty gives,
and though my form was something stout for grace,
it had the name of being beautiful.
'So worthless seemed the praise, I took no joy
in my appearance -- as a country lass
I blushed at those endowments which would give
delight to others -- even the power to please
seemed criminal. -- And I remember when
returning weary from Stymphal fan woods,
and hot with toil, that made the glowing sun
seem twice as hot, I chanced upon a stream,
that flowed without a ripple or a sound
so smoothly on, I hardly thought it moved.
'The water was so clear that one could see
and count the pebbles in the deepest parts,
and silver willows and tall poplar trees,
nourished by flowing waters, spread their shade
over the shelving banks. So I approached,
and shrinkingly touched the cool stream with my feet;
and then I ventured deeper to my knees;
and not contented doffed my fleecy robes,
and laid them on a bending willow tree.
Then, naked, I plunged deeply in the stream,
and while I smote the water with my hands,
and drew it towards me, striking boldly forth,
moving my body in a thousand ways,
I thought I heard a most unusual sound,
a murmuring noise beneath the middle stream.
'Alarmed, I hastened to the nearest bank,
and as I stood upon its edge, these words
hoarsely Alpheus uttered from his waves;
'Oh, whither dost thou hasten?' and again,
'Oh, whither dost thou hasten?' said the voice.
'Just as I was, I fled without my clothes,
for I had left them on the other bank;
which, when he saw, so much the more inflamed,
more swiftly he pursued: my nakedness
was tempting to his gaze. And thus I ran;
and thus relentlessly he pressed my steps:
so from the hawk the dove with trembling wings;
and so, the hawk pursues the frightened dove.
'Swiftly and long I fled, with winding course,
to Orchamenus, Psophis and Cyllene,
and Maenalus and Erymanthus cold,
and Elis. Neither could he gain by speed,
although his greater strength must soon prevail,
for I not longer could endure the strain.
'Still I sped onward through the fields and woods,
by tangled wilds and over rocks and crags;
and as I hastened from the setting sun,
I thought I saw a growing shadow move
beyond my feet; it may have been my fear
imagined it, but surely now I heard
the sound of footsteps: I could even feel
his breathing on the loose ends of my hair;
and I was terrified. At last, worn out
by all my efforts to escape, I cried;
'Oh, help me -- thou whose bow and quivered darts
I oft have borne -- thy armour-bearer calls --
O chaste Diana help, -- or I am lost.'
'It moved the goddess, and she gathered up
a dense cloud, and encompassed me about. --
The baffled River circled round and round,
seeking to find me, hidden in that cloud --
twice went the River round, and twice cried out,
'Ho, Arethusa! Arethusa, Ho!'
'What were my wretched feelings then? Could I
be braver than the Iamb that hears the wolves,
howling around the high-protecting fold?
Or than the hare, which lurking in the bush
knows of the snarling hounds and dares not move?
And yet, Alpheus thence would not depart,
for he could find no footprints of my flight.
'He watched the cloud and spot, and thus besieged,
a cold sweat gathered on my trembling limbs.
The clear-blue drops, distilled from every pore,
made pools of water where I moved my feet,
and dripping moisture trickled from my hair. --
Much quicker than my story could be told,
my body was dissolved to flowing streams. --
But still the River recognized the waves,
and for the love of me transformed his shape
from human features to his proper streams,
that so his waters might encompass mine.
'Diana, therefore, opened up the ground,
in which I plunged, and thence through gloomy caves
was carried to Ortygia -- blessed isle!
To which my chosen goddess gave her name!
Where first I rose amid the upper air!'
Calliope sings of Triptolemus and Lyncus
"Thus Arethusa made an end of speech:
and presently the fertile goddess yoked
two dragons to her chariot: she curbed
their mouths with bits: they bore her through the air,
in her light car betwixt the earth and skies,
to the Tritonian citadel, and to
Triptolemus, to whom she furnished seed,
that he might scatter it in wasted lands,
and in the fallow fields; which, after long
neglect, again were given to the plow.
"After he had traveled through uncharted skies,
over wide Europe and vast Asian lands,
he lit upon the coast of Scythia, where
a king called Lyncus reigned. And there, at once
he sought the palace of that king, who said;
'Whence come you, stranger, wherefore in this land?
Come, tell to me your nation and your name.'
"And after he was questioned thus, he said,
'I came from far-famed Athens and they call
my name Triptolemus. I neither came
by ship through waves, nor over the dry land;
for me the yielding atmosphere makes way. --
I bear the gifts of Ceres to your land,
which scattered over your wide realm may yield
an ample harvest of nutritious food.'
"The envious Lyncus, wishing to appear
the gracious author of all benefits,
received the unsuspecting youth with smiles;
but when he fell into a heavy sleep
that savage king attacked him with a sword --
but while attempting to transfix his guest,
the goddess Ceres changed him to a lynx: --
and once again she sent her favoured youth
to drive her sacred dragons through the clouds.
The nine opponents of the Nine Muses changed to magpies
"The greatest of our number ended thus
her learned songs; and with concordant voice
the chosen Nymphs adjudged the Deities,
on Helicon who dwell, should be proclaimed
the victors. "But the vanquished nine began
to scatter their abuse; to whom rejoined
the goddess; 'Since it seems a trifling thing
that you should suffer a deserved defeat,
and you must add unmerited abuse
to heighten your offence, and since by this
appears the end of our endurance, we
shall certainly proceed to punish you
according to the limit of our wrath.'
"But these Emathian sisters laughed to scorn
our threatening words; and as they tried to speak,
and made great clamour, and with shameless hands
made threatening gestures, suddenly stiff quills
sprouted from out their finger-nails, and plumes
spread over their stretched arms; and they could see
the mouth of each companion growing out
into a rigid beak. -- And thus new birds
were added to the forest. -- While they made
complaint, these Magpies that defile our groves,
moving their stretched-out arms, began to float,
suspended in the air. And since that time
their ancient eloquence, their screaming notes,
their tiresome zeal of speech have all remained."