Hercules and Achelous
To him the hero, who proclaimed himself
a favored son of Neptune, answered now;
"Declare the reason of your heavy sighs,
and how your horn was broken?" And at once
the Calydonian River-God replied,
binding with reeds his unadorned rough locks:
"It is a mournful task you have required,
for who can wish to tell his own disgrace?
But truly I shall speak without disguise,
for my defeat, if rightly understood,
should be my glory. -- Even to have fought
in battle with a hero of such might,
affords me consolation.
affords me consolation. "Deianira
(you may have heard some tales of her) was once
the envied hope of many. She was then
a lovely virgin. -- I, among the rest
who loved this maiden, entered the fair home
of her great father Oeneus, and I said;
" 'Consider all my claims, Parthaon's son,
for I am come to plead your daughter's cause
and mine -- So you may make me son-in-law., -- '
no sooner was it said, than Hercules
in such words also claimed the virgin's hand:
all others quickly yielded to our claims.
"He boasted his descent from Jupiter;
the glory of his labors and great deeds
performed at his unjust stepmother's wish.
"But as he was not then a God, it seemed
disgraceful if my state should yield my right;
so I contended with these haughty words,
'Why should this alien of a foreign land,
contending for your daughter, match himself
to me! king of the waters in this realm!
For as I wind around, across your lands,
I must be of your people, and a part
of your great state. Oh, let it not be said,
because the jealous Juno had no thought
to punish me by labors, my descent
is not so regal! This tremendous boast,
that you, Alcmena's son, are sprung from Jove,
falls at the touch of truth; -- or it reveals
the shame of a weak mother, who so gained
your doubtful glory of descent from Heaven!
Prove your descent from Jupiter is false,
or else confess you are the son of shame!'
"But Hercules, unable to control
the flame of his great wrath, scowled as I spoke.
He briefly answered me, 'My hand excels
my tongue; let me now overcome in fight,
and I may suffer your offence of words.'
"Full of unvented rage he rushed on me,
but firm I stood, ashamed to yield a foot --
I had so largely boasted, no retreat was left,
and so I doffed my green robe -- Striking guard,
with clenched hands doubled at my breast,
I stood my ground. He scooped up in his hand
fine, yellow dust; and tossed it on the air
so that the tawny powder sprinkled us;
quick-shifting then he sought to strike my neck,
or feint at my quick-moving legs, and turn
swift moving to attack me at all points.
But as a huge cliff in the sea remains
unmoved, unshaken by the sounding waves,
so my great size, against his vain attacks,
defended me securely -- Back we went;
retiring for a space; then rushed again
together, furious, and with foot to foot,
determined not to yield, defiant stood,
till, forward-bending from my waist and hips,
I pressed my forehead against his and locked
his fingers into mine: so, have I seen
two strong bulls rush in combat for the good
of some smooth heifer in the pasture -- while
the herd a-tremble and uncertain, wait;
ready to give allegiance to the one
most worthy of dominion.
most worthy of dominion. "Thrice in vain
Hercules strove to push my breast from his,
but I pressed ever closer -- till, the fourth
attempt succeeding, he unloosed my grip,
and breaking from my circling arms drew back,
and struck me such a buffet with his hand,
it twisted me about, and instantly
he clung with all his weight upon my back --
"Believe me I have not suppressed the truth.
Nor shall I try to gain applause not due:
I seemed to bear a mountain on my back. --
straining and dripping sweat, I broke his hold, --
with great exertion I unlocked his grip.
He pressed upon me, as I strained for breath,
preventing a renewal of my strength,
and seized upon my neck. Then at the last,
my bent knee went down on the gritty earth,
I bit the sand. So, worsted in my strength,
I sought diversion by an artifice,
and changed me to a serpent. -- I then slipped
from his tight clutches my great length, and coiled
my body now transformed to snaky folds --
hissing I darted my divided tongue.
"But Hercules, Alcides, only laughed
and in derision of my scheming, said,
'It was the pastime of my cradle days
to strangle better snakes than you -- and though
your great length may excel all of your kind,
how small a part of that Lernaean snake
would you -- one serpent be? It grew from wounds
I gave (at first it had one hundred heads)
and every time I severed one head from
its neck two grew there in the place of one,
by which its strength increased. This creature then
outbranching with strong serpents, sprung from death
and thriving on destruction, I destroyed. --
What do you think will then become of you,
disguised so in deceitful serpent-form,
wielding a borrowed weapon not your own
"And after he had ridiculed me thus,
he gouged his fingers underneath my jaws,
so that my throat was tortured, as if squeezed
with forceps, while I struggled in his grip.
"Twice was I vanquished, there remained to me
a third form -- so again I changed to seem
a savage bull, and with my limbs renewed
in that form fought once more. He threw his arms
about the left side of my ponderous neck,
and dragging on me followed as I ran.
He seized on my hard horns, and, tugging turned
and twisted me, until he fastened them
firm in the surface of the earth; and pushed
me, helpless, to the shifting sand beneath.
Not yet content he laid his fierce right hand
on my tough horn, and broke and tore it from
my mutilated head. -- This horn, now heaped
with fruits delicious and sweet-smelling flowers,
the Naiads have held sacred from that hour,
devoted to the bounteous goddess Plenty.'
All this the River-god said; then a nymph,
a lovely nymph like fair Diana dressed,
whose locks were flowing down on either side,
came graceful to the board, and brought to them
of Autumn's plenty in an ample horn,
and gave to them selected apples for
a second course.
a second course. And now, as early dawn
appeared, and as the rising sunlight flashed
on golden summits of surrounding hills,
the young men waited not until the stream
subsiding, had resumed its peaceful way,
but all arose, reluctant, and went forth.
Then Achelous, in his moving waves,
hid his fine rustic features and his head,
scarred by the wound which gave the Horn of Plenty.
Nessus and the death of Hercules
Loss of his horn had greatly humbled him,
it was so cherished though his only loss, --
but he could hide the sad disgrace with reeds
and willow boughs entwined about his head.
O, Nessus! your fierce passion for the same
maid utterly destroyed even you, pierced through
the body by a flying arrow-point.
Returning to the city of his birth
great Hercules, the son of Jupiter,
with his new bride, arrived upon the bank
of swift Evenus -- after winter rains
had swollen it so far beyond its wont,
that, full of eddies, it was found to be
impassable. The hero stood there, brave
but anxious for his bride. Nessus, the centaur,
strong-limbed and well-acquainted with those fords,
came up to him and said, "Plunge in the flood
and swim with unimpeded strength -- for with
my help she will land safely over there."
And so the hero, with no thought of doubt,
trusted the damsel to the centaur's care,
though she was pale and trembling with her fear
of the swift river and the centaur's aid.
This done, the hero, burdened as he was
with quiver and the lion skin (for he
had tossed his club and curving bow across
the river to the other bank), declared,
"Since I have undertaken it, at once
this rushing water must be overcome."
And instantly, he plunged in without thought
of where he might cross with most ease, for so
he scorned to take advantage of smooth water.
And after he had gained the other bank,
while picking up his bow which there was thrown,
he heard his wife's voice, anxious for his help.
He called to Nessus who was in the act
then to betray his trust: "Vain confidence!
You are not swift enough, vile ravisher!
You two-formed monster Nessus, I warn you!
Hear me, and never dare to come between
me and my love. If fear has no restraint,
your father's dreadful fate on whirling wheel,
should frighten you from this outrageous act:
for you cannot escape, although you trust
the fleet-foot effort of a rapid horse.
I cannot overtake you with my feet
but I can shoot and halt you with a wound."
his deed sustained the final warning word.
He shot an arrow through the centaur's back,
so that the keen barb was exposed beyond
his bleeding breast. He tore it from both wounds,
and life-blood spurted instantly, mixed with
the deadly poison of Lernaean hydra.
This Nessus caught, and muttering, "I shall not
die unavenged", he gave his tunic, soaked
with blood to Deianira as a gift;
and said, "Keep this to strengthen waning love."
Now many years passed by, and all the deeds,
and labors of the mighty Hercules,
gave to the wide world his unequalled fame;
and finally appeased the hatred of
his fierce stepmother.
his fierce stepmother. All victorious
returning from Oechalia, he prepared
to offer sacrifice, when at Cenaeum,
upon an altar he had built to Jupiter,
but tattling Rumor, swollen out of truth
from small beginning to a wicked lie,
declared brave Hercules, Amphitryon's son,
was burning for the love of Iole.
And Deianira -- his fond wife -- convinced
herself, the wicked rumor must be true.
Alarmed at the report of his new love,
at first, poor wife, she was dissolved in tears,
and then she sank in grievous misery.
But soon in angry mood, she rose and said:
"Why should I give up to my sorrow while
I drown my wretched spirit in weak tears?
Let me consider an effectual check --
while it is possible -- even before
she comes, invader of my lawful bed:
shall I be silent or complain of it?
Must I go back to Calydon or stay?
Shall I depart unbidden, from my house?
Or, if no other method can prevail,
shall I oppose my rival's first approach?
O shade of Meleager, let me prove
I am yet worthy to be called your sister;
and in the desperate slaughter of this rival,
the world, astonished, may be taught to fear
the vengeance of an injured woman's rage."
So, torn by many moods, at last her mind
fixed on one thought: -- she might still keep his love,
could certainly restore it, if she sent
to him the tunic soaked in Nessus' blood.
Unknowingly, she gave the fatal cause
of her own woe to trusting Lichas, whom
she urged in gentle words to take the gift,
from her to her loved husband Hercules.
He, unsuspecting, put the tunic on,
all covered with Lernaean hydra's poison.
The hero then was casting frankincense
into the sacred flames, and pouring wine
on marble altars, as his holy prayers
were floating to the Gods. The hallowed heat
striking upon his poisoned vesture, caused
Echidna-bane to melt into his flesh.
As long as he was able he withstood
the torture. His great fortitude was strong.
But when at last his anguish overcame
even his endurance, he filled all the wild
of Oeta with his cries: he overturned
those hallowed altars, then in frenzied haste
he strove to pull the tunic from his back.
The poisoned garment, cleaving to him, ripped
his skin, heat-shriveled, from his burning flesh.
Or, tightening on him, as his great strength pulled,
stripped with it the great muscles from his limbs,
leaving his huge bones bare.
leaving his huge bones bare. Even his blood
audibly hissed, as red-hot blades when they
are plunged in water, so the burning bane
boiled in his veins. Great perspiration streamed
from his dissolving body, as the heat
consumed his entrails; and his sinews cracked,
brittle when burnt. The marrow in his bones
dissolved, as it absorbed the venom-heat.
There was no limit to his misery;
raising both hands up towards the stars of heaven,
he cried, "Come Juno, feast upon my death;
feast on me, cruel one, look down from your
exalted seat; behold my dreadful end
and glut your savage heart! Oh, if I may
deserve some pity from my enemy,
from you I mean, this hateful life of mine
take from me -- sick with cruel suffering
and only born for toil. The loss of life
will be a boon to me, and surely is
a fitting boon, such as stepmothers give!
"Was it for this I slew Busiris, who
defiled his temples with the strangers' blood?
For this I took his mother's strength from fierce
antaeus -- that I did not show a fear
before the Spanish shepherd's triple form?
Nor did I fear the monstrous triple form
of Cerberus. -- And is it possible
my hands once seized and broke the strong bull's horns?
And Elis knows their labor, and the waves
of Stymphalus, and the Parthenian woods.
For this the prowess of these hands secured
the Amazonian girdle wrought of gold;
and did my strong arms, gather all in vain
the fruit when guarded by the dragon's eyes.
The centaurs could not foil me, nor the boar
that ravaged in Arcadian fruitful fields.
Was it for this the hydra could not gain
double the strength from strength as it was lost?
And when I saw the steeds of Thrace, so fat
with human blood, and their vile mangers heaped
with mangled bodies, in a righteous rage
I threw them to the ground, and slaughtered them,
together with their master! In a cave
I crushed the Nemean monster with these arms;
and my strong neck upheld the wide-spread sky!
And even the cruel Juno, wife of Jove --
is weary of imposing heavy toils,
but I am not subdued performing them.
"A new calamity now crushes me,
which not my strength, nor valor, nor the use
of weapons can resist. Devouring flames
have preyed upon my limbs, and blasting heat
now shrivels the burnt tissue of my frame.
But still Eurystheus is alive and well!
And there are those who yet believe in Gods!"
Just as a wild bull, in whose body spears
are rankling, while the frightened hunter flies
away for safety, so the hero ranged
over sky-piercing Oeta; his huge groans,
his awful shrieks resounding in those cliffs.
At times he struggles with the poisoned robe.
Goaded to fury, he has razed great trees,
and scattered the vast mountain rocks around!
And stretched his arms towards his ancestral skies!
So, in his frenzy, as he wandered there,
he chanced upon the trembling Lichas, crouched
in the close covert of a hollow rock.
Then in a savage fury he cried out,
"Was it you, Lichas, brought this fatal gift?
Shall you be called the author of my death?"
Lichas, in terror, groveled at his feet,
and begged for mercy -- "Only let me live!"
But seizing on him, the crazed Hero whirled
him thrice and once again about his head,
and hurled him, shot as by a catapult,
into the waves of the Euboic Sea.
While he was hanging in the air, his form
was hardened; as, we know, rain drops may first
be frozen by the cold air, and then change
to snow, and as it falls through whirling winds
may press, so twisted, into round hailstones:
even so has ancient lore declared that when
strong arms hurled Lichas through the mountain air
through fear, his blood was curdled in his veins.
No moisture left in him, he was transformed
into a flint-rock. Even to this day,
a low crag rising from the waves is seen
out of the deep Euboean Sea, and holds
the certain outline of a human form,
so sure]y traced, the wary sailors fear
to tread upon it, thinking it has life,
and they have called it Lichas ever since.
But, O illustrious son of Jupiter!
How many of the overspreading trees,
thick-growing on the lofty mountain-peak
of Oeta, did you level to the ground,
and heap into a pyre! And then you bade
obedient Philoctetes light a torch
beneath it, and then take in recompense
your bow with its capacious quiver full
of arrows, arms that now again would see
the realm of Troy. And as the pyre began
to kindle with the greedy flames, you spread
the Nemean lion skin upon the top,
and, club for pillow, you lay down to sleep,
as placid as if, with abounding cups
of generous wine and crowned with garlands, you
were safe, reclining on a banquet-couch.
And now on every side the spreading flames
were crackling fiercely, as they leaped from earth
upon the careless limbs of Hercules.
He scorned their power. The Gods felt fear
for earth's defender and their sympathy
gave pleasure to Saturnian Jove -- he knew
their thought -- and joyfully he said to them:
"Your sudden fear is surely my delight,
O heavenly Gods! my heart is lifted up
and joy prevails upon me, in the thought
that I am called the Father and the King
of all this grateful race of Gods. I know
my own beloved offspring is secure
in your declared protection: your concern
may justly evidence his worth, whose deeds
great benefits bestowed. Let not vain thoughts
alarm you, nor the rising flames of Oeta;
for Hercules who conquered everything,
shall conquer equally the spreading fires
which now you see: and all that part of him,
celestial -- inherited of me --
immortal, cannot feel the power of death.
It is not subject to the poison-heat.
And therefore, since his earth-life is now lost,
him I'll translate, unshackled from all dross,
and purified, to our celestial shore.
I trust this action seems agreeable
to all the Deities surrounding me.
If any jealous god of heaven should grieve
at the divinity of Hercules,
he may begrudge the prize but he will know
at least 'twas given him deservedly,
and with this thought he must approve the deed."
The Gods confirmed it: and though Juno seemed
to be contented and to acquiesce,
her deep vexation was not wholly hid,
when Jupiter with his concluding words
so plainly hinted at her jealous mind.
Now, while the Gods conversed, the mortal part
of Hercules was burnt by Mulciber;
but yet an outline of a spirit-form
remained. Unlike the well-known mortal shape
derived by nature of his mother, he
kept traces only of his father, Jove.
And as a serpent, when it is revived
from its old age, casts off the faded skin,
and fresh with vigor glitters in new scales,
so, when the hero had put off all dross,
his own celestial, wonderful appeared,
majestic and of godlike dignity.
And him, the glorious father of the Gods
in the great chariot drawn by four swift steeds,
took up above the wide-encircling clouds,
and set him there amid the glittering stars.
Even Atlas felt the weight of Heaven increase,
but King Eurystheus, still implacable,
vented his baffled hatred on the sons
of the great hero. Then the Argive mother,
Alcmena, spent and anxious with long cares,
the burden of her old age and her fears,
could pass the weary hours with Iole
in garrulous narrations of his worth,
his mighty labors and her own sad days.
Iole, by command of Hercules,
had been betrothed to Hyllus, and by him
was gravid, burdened with a noble child.
And so to Iole, Alcmena told
this story of the birth of Hercules: --
"Ah, may the Gods be merciful to you
and give you swift deliverance in that hour
when needful of all help you must call out
for Ilithyia, the known goddess of
all frightened mothers in their travail, she
whom Juno's hatred overcame and made
so dreadful against me. For, when my hour
of bearing Hercules was very near,
and when the tenth sign of the zodiac
was traversed by the sun, my burden then
became so heavy, and the one I bore
so large, you certainly could tell that Jove
must be the father of the unborn child.
"At last, no longer able to endure --
ah me, a cold sweat seizes on me now;
only to think of it renews my pains!
Seven days in agony, as many nights,
exhausted in my dreadful misery,
I stretched my arms to heaven and invoked
Lucina and three Nixian deities
the guardians of birth. Lucina came;
but before then she had been pledged to give
my life to cruel Juno. While Lucina
sat on the altar near the door and listened,
with her right knee crossed over her left knee,
with fingers interlocked, she stopped the birth:
and in low muttered tones she chanted Charms
which there prevented my deliverance.
"I fiercely struggled, and insane with pain
shrieked vain revilings against Jupiter;
I longed for death, and my delirious words
then should have moved the most unfeeling rocks.
The Theban matrons, eager to help me,
stood near me while they asked the aid of Heaven.
"And there was present of the common class,
my maid Galanthis -- with her red-gold hair --
efficient and most willing to obey
her worthy character deserved my love.
She felt assured, Juno unjustly worked
some spell of strong effect against my life.
And when this maid beheld Lucina perched
so strangely on the altar, with her fingers
inwoven on her knees and tightly pressed
together, in a gripping finger-comb,
she guessed that jealous Juno was the cause.
Quick-witted, in a ringing voice this maid
cried out, 'Congratulations! All is well!
Alcmena is delivered -- a fine child
so safely brought forth -- her true prayers approved!'
"Lucina, who presides at birth, surprised
leaped up, unclenched her hands, as one amazed.
Just as her hands unfastened, and her knees
were parted from their stricture, I could feel
the bonds of stricture loosen; and without
more labor was delivered of my child.
"'Tis said, Galanthis laughed and ridiculed
the cheated deity; and as she laughed
the vixen goddess caught her by the hair
and dragging her upon the ground, while she
was struggling to arise, held her, and there
transformed both of her arms to animal
forelegs. Her old activity remained;
her hair was not changed, but she did not keep
her maiden form: and ever since that day,
because she aided with deceitful lips,
her offspring are brought forth through the same mouth.
Changed to a weasel she dwells now with me."
When she had ended the sad tale, she heaved
a deep sigh, in remembrance of her tried,
beloved servant; and her daughter-in-law
Iole kindly answered in these words:
"O my dear mother, if you weep because
of her who was your servant, now transformed
into a weasel, how can you support
the true narration of my sister's fate;
which I must tell to you, although my tears
and sorrows hinder and forbid my speech?
"Most beautiful of all Oechalian maids,
was Dryope, her mother's only child,
for you must know I am the daughter of
my father's second wife. She is not now
a maid; because, through violence of him
who rules at Delphi and at Delos, she
was taken by Andraemon, who since then
has been accounted happy in his wife.
"There is a lake surrounded by sweet lawns,
encircling beauties, where the upper slope
is crowned with myrtles in fair sunny groves.
Without a thought of danger Dryope
in worship one day went to gather flowers,
(who hears, has greater cause to be indignant)
delightful garlands, for the water-nymphs,
and, in her bosom, carried her dear son,
not yet a year old, whom she fed for love.
Not far from that dream-lake, in moisture grew
a lotus, beautiful in purple bloom,
the blossoms promising its fruit was near.
"At play with her sweet infant, Dryope
plucked them as toys for him. I, too, was there,
eagerly, also, I put forth my hand,
and was just ready to secure a spray,
when I was startled by some drops of blood
down-falling from the blossoms which were plucked;
and even the trembling branches shook in dread.
"Who wills, the truth of this may learn from all
quaint people of that land, who still relate
the Story of Nymph Lotis. She, they say,
while flying from the lust of Priapus,
was transformed quickly from her human shape,
into this tree, though she has kept her name.
"But ignorant of all this, Dryope,
alarmed, decided she must now return;
so, having first adored the hallowed nymphs,
upright she stood, and would have moved away,
but both her feet were tangled in a root.
There, as she struggled in its tightening hold,
she could move nothing save her upper parts;
and growing from that root, live bark began
to gather slowly upward from the ground,
spreading around her, till it touched her loins:
in terror when she saw the clinging growth,
she would have torn her hair out by the roots,
but, when she clutched at it, her hands were filled
with lotus leaves grown up from her changed head.
"Alas, her little son, Amphissos, felt
his mother's bosom harden to his touch,
and no life-stream refreshed his eager lips.
And while I saw your cruel destiny,
O my dear sister! and could give no help,
I clung to your loved body and around
the growing trunk and branches, hoping so
to stop their evil growth; and I confess,
endeavored there to hide beneath the bark.
"And, oh! Andraemon and her father, then
appeared to me while they were sadly seeking
for Dryope: so there I had to show
the lotus as it covered her, and they
gave kisses to the warm wood, and prostrate fell
upon the ground, and clung to growing roots
of their new darling tree, transformed from her. --
Dear sister, there was nothing of yourself
remaining but your face; and I could see
your tears drop slowly on the trembling leaves
which had so marvellously grown on you;
and while your lips remained uncovered, all
the air surrounding, echoed your complaint: --
"If oaths of wretched women can have force,
I swear I have not merited this fate!
Though innocent, to suffer punishment!
And if one word of my complaint is false,
I pray I may soon wither, and my leaves
fall from me as in blight, and let the axe
devote me, wretched to the flames. But take
this infant from my branches to a nurse;
and let him often play beneath his tree, --
his mother always. Let him drink his milk
beneath my shade. When he has learned to talk
let him salute me, and in sorrow say
"In this tree-trunk my mother is concealed."
O, let him dread the fate that lurks in ponds,
and let him often play beneath his tree, --
and let him be persuaded every shrub
contains the body of a goddess. -- Ah!
Farewell my husband, -- sister, -- and farewell
my father! If my love remain in you
remember to protect my life from harm,
so that the pruning-knife may never clip
my branches, and protect my foliage from
the browsing sheep.
the browsing sheep. "I cannot stoop to you;
0h, if you love me, lift your lips to mine,
and let me kiss you, if but once again,
before this growing lotus covers me.
Lift up my darling infant to my lips.
How can I hope to say much more to you?
The new bark now is creeping up my neck,
and creeping downward from my covered brow!
Ah, do not close my live eyes with your hands;
there is no need of it, for growing bark
will spread and darken them before I die!'
Such were the last words her poor smothered lips
could utter; for she was so quickly changed;
and long thereafter the new branches kept
the warmth of her lost body, so transformed."
And all the while that Iole told this,
tearful in sorrow for her sister's fate,
Alcmena weeping, tried to comfort her.
But as they wept together, suddenly
a wonderful event astonished them;
for, standing in the doorway, they beheld
the old man Iolaus, known to them,
but now transformed from age to youth, he seemed
almost a boy, with light down on his cheeks:
for Juno's daughter Hebe, had renewed
his years to please her husband, Hercules.
Just at the time when ready to make oath,
she would not grant such gifts to other men --
Themis had happily prevented her.
"For even now," she said, "a civil strife
is almost ready to break forth in Thebes,
and Capaneus shall be invincible
to all save the strong hand of Jove himself;
and there two hostile brothers shall engage
in bloody conflict; and Amphiaraus
shall see his own ghost, deep in yawning earth.
"His own son, dutiful to him, shall be
both just and unjust in a single deed;
for he, in vengeance for his father's death,
shall slay his mother, and confounded lose
both home and reason, -- persecuted both
by the grim Furies and the awful ghost
of his own murdered mother; this until
his wife, deluded, shall request of him
the fatal golden necklace, and until
the sword of Phegeus drains his kinsman's blood.
"And then at last his wife Callirhoe
shall supplicate the mighty Jupiter
to grant her infant sons the added years
of youthful manhood. Then shall Jupiter
let Hebe, guardian of ungathered days,
grant from the future to Callirhoe's sons,
the strength of manhood in their infancy.
Do not let their victorious father's death
be unavenged a long while. Jove prevailed
upon, will claim beforehand all the gifts
of Hebe, who is his known daughter-in-law,
and his step-daughter, and with one act change
Callirhoe's beardless boys to men of size."
When Themis, prophesying future days,
had said these words, the Gods of Heaven complained
because they also could not grant the gift
of youth to many others in this way.
Aurora wept because her husband had
white hair; and Ceres then bewailed the age
of her Iasion, grey and stricken old;
and Mulciber demanded with new life
his Erichthonius might again appear;
and Venus, thinking upon future days,
said old Anchises' years must be restored.
And every god preferred some favorite,
until vexed with the clamor, Jupiter
implored, "If you can have regard for me,
consider the strange blessings you desire:
does any one of you believe he can
prevail against the settled will of Fate?
As Iolaus has returned by fate,
to those years spent by him; so by the Fates
Callirhoe's sons from infancy must grow
to manhood with no struggle on their part,
or force of their ambition. And you should
endure your fortune with contented minds:
I, also, must give all control to Fate.
"If I had power to change the course of Fate
I would not let advancing age break down
my own son Aeacus, nor bend his back
with weight of year; and Rhadamanthus should
retain an everlasting flower of youth,
together with my own son Minos, who
is now despised because of his great age,
so that his scepter has lost dignity."
Such words of Jupiter controlled the Gods,
and none continued to complain, when they
saw Aeacus and Rhadamanthus old,
and Minos also, weary of his age.
And they remembered Minos in his prime,
had warred against great nations, till his name
if mentioned was a certain cause of fear.
But now, enfeebled by great age, he feared
Miletus, Deione's son, because
of his exultant youth and strength derived
from his great father Phoebus. And although
he well perceived Miletus' eye was fixed
upon his throne, he did not dare to drive
him from his kingdom.
him from his kingdom. But although not forced,
Miletus of his own accord did fly,
by swift ship, over to the Asian shore,
across the Aegean water, where he built
the city of his name.
Byblis and Caunus
the city of his name. Cyane, who
was known to be the daughter of the stream
Maeander, which with many a twist and turn
flows wandering there -- Cyane said to be
indeed most beautiful, when known by him,
gave birth to two; a girl called Byblis, who
was lovely, and the brother Caunus -- twins.
Byblis is an example that the love
of every maiden must be within law.
Seized with a passion for her brother, she
loved him, descendant of Apollo, not
as sister loves a brother; not in such
a manner as the law of man permits.
At first she thought it surely was not wrong
to kiss him passionately, while her arms
were thrown around her brother's neck, and so
deceived herself. And, as the habit grew,
her sister-love degenerated, till
richly attired, she came to see her brother,
with all endeavors to attract his eye;
and anxious to be seen most beautiful,
she envied every woman who appeared
of rival beauty. But she did not know
or understand the flame, hot in her heart,
though she was agitated when she saw
the object of her swiftly growing love.
Now she began to call him lord, and now
she hated to say brother, and she said,
"Do call me Byblis -- never call me sister!"
And yet while feeling love so, when awake
she does not dwell upon impure desire;
but when dissolved in the soft arms of sleep,
she sees the very object of her love,
and blushing, dreams she is embraced by him,
till slumber has departed. For a time
she lies there silent, as her mind recalls
the loved appearance of her lovely dream,
until her wavering heart, in grief exclaims: --
"What is this vision of the silent night?
Ah wretched me! I cannot count it true.
And, if he were not my own brother, he
why is my fond heart tortured with this dream?
He is so handsome even to envious eyes,
it is not strange he has filled my fond heart;
so surely would be worthy of my love.
But it is my misfortune I am his
own sister. Let me therefore strive, awake,
to stand with honor, but let sleep return
the same dream often to me. -- There can be
no fear of any witness to a shade
which phantoms my delight. -- O Cupid, swift
of love-wing with your mother, and O my
beloved Venus! wonderful the joys
of my experience in the transport. All
as if reality sustaining, lifted me
up to elysian pleasure, while in truth
I lay dissolving to my very marrow:
the pleasure was so brief, and Night, headlong
sped from me, envious of my coming joys.
"If I could change my name, and join to you,
how good a daughter I would prove to your
dear father, and how good a son would you
be to my father. If the Gods agreed,
then everything would be possessed by us
in common, but this must exclude ancestors.
For I should pray, compared with mine yours might
be quite superior. But, oh my love,
some other woman by your love will be
a mother; but because, unfortunate,
my parents are the same as yours, you must
be nothing but a brother. Sorrows, then,
shall be to us in common from this hour.
What have my night-born vision signified?
What weight have dreams? Do dreams have any weight?
The Gods forbid! The Gods have sisters! Truth
declares even Saturn married Ops, his own
blood-kin, Oceanus his Tethys, Jove,
Olympian his Juno. But the Gods
are so superior in their laws, I should
not measure human custom by the rights
established in the actions of divinities.
This passion must be banished from my heart,
or, if it cannot be so, I must pray
that I may perish, and be laid out dead
upon my couch so my dear brother there
may kiss my lips. But then he must consent,
and my delight would seem to him a crime.
"Tis known the sons of Aeolus embraced
their sisters -- But why should I think of these?
Why should I take example from such lives?
Must I do as they did? Far from it! let
such lawless flames be quenched, until I feel
no evil love for him, although the pure
affection of a sister may be mine,
and cherished. If it should have happened first
that my dear brother had loved me -- ah then,
I might have yielded love to his desire.
Why not now? I myself must woo him, since
I could not have rejected him, if he
had first wooed me. But is it possible
for me to speak of it, with proper words
describing such a strange confession? Love
will certainly compel and give me speech.
But, if shame seal my lips, then secret flame
in a sealed letter may be safely told."
And after all this wavering, her mind
at last was satisfied; and as she leaned
on her left elbow, partly raised from her
half-dream position, she said, "Let him see:
let me at once confess my frantic passion
without repression! O my wretched heart!
What hot flame burns me!" But while speaking so,
she took an iron pen in her right hand,
and trembling wrote the heart-words as she could,
all on a clean wax tablet which she held
in her limp left hand. She begins and stops,
and hesitates -- she loves and hates her hot
confession -- writes, erases, changes here
and there, condemns, approves, disheartened throws
her tablets down and takes them up again:
her mind refuses everything she does,
and moves against each action as begun:
shame, fear and bold assurance mingled showed
upon her face, as she began to write,
"Your sister" but at once decided she
could not say sister, and commenced instead,
with other words on her amended wax.
"A health to you, which she who loves you fails
to have, unless you grant the same to her.
It shames me, oh I am ashamed to tell
my name to you, and so without my name,
I would I might plead well until the hopes
of my desires were realized, and then
you might know safely, Byblis is my name.
"You might have knowledge of my wounded heart,
because my pale, drawn face and down-cast eyes
so often tearful, and my sighs without
apparent cause have shown it -- and my warm
embraces, and my frequent kisses, much
too tender for a sister. All of this
has happened, while with agitated heart
and in hot passion, I have tried all ways,
(I call upon the Gods to witness it!)
that I might force myself to sanity.
And I have struggled, wretched nights and days,
to overcome the cruelties of love,
too dreadful for a frail girl to endure,
for they most surely are all Cupid's art.
"I have been overborne and must confess
my passion, while with timid prayers I plead;
for only you can save me. You alone
may now destroy the one who loves you best:
so you must choose what will be the result.
The one who prays is not your enemy;
but one most closely joined to you, yet asks
to knit the tie more firmly. Let old men
be governed by propriety, and talk
of what is right and wrong, and hold to all
the nice distinctions of strict laws. But Love,
has no fixed law for those whose age is ours,
is heedless and compliant. And we have
not yet discovered what is right or wrong,
and all we should do is to imitate
the known example of the Gods. We have
no father's harsh rule, and we have no care
for reputation, and no fear that keeps
us from each other. But there may be cause
for fear, and we may hide our stolen love,
because a sister is at liberty
to talk with her dear brother -- quite apart:
we may embrace and kiss each other, though
in public. What is wanting? Pity her
whose utmost love compels her to confess;
and let it not be written on her tomb,
her death was for your sake and love denied."
Here when she dropped the tablet from her hand,
it was so full of fond words, which were doomed
to disappointment, that the last line traced
the edge: and without thinking of delay,
she stamped the shameful letter with her seal,
and moistened it with tears (her tongue failed her
for moisture). Then, hot-blushing, she called one
of her attendants, and with timid voice
said, coaxing, "My most trusted servant, take
these tablets to my --" after long delay
she said, "my brother." While she gave the tablets
they suddenly slipped from her hands and fell.
Although disturbed by this bad omen, she
still sent the letter, which the servant found
an opportunity to carry off.
He gave the secret love-confession. This
her brother, grandson of Maeander, read
but partly, and with sudden passion threw
the tablets from him. He could barely hold
himself from clutching on the throat of her
fear-trembling servant; as, enraged, he cried,
"Accursed pander to forbidden lust,
be gone! -- before the knowledge of your death
is added to this unforeseen disgrace!"
The servant fled in terror, and told all
her brother's actions and his fierce reply
to Byblis: and when she had heard her love
had been repulsed, her startled face went pale,
and her whole body trembled in the grip
of ice-chills. Quickly as her mind regained
its usual strength, her maddening love returned,
came back with equal force, and while she choked
with her emotion, gasping she said this:
"I suffer only from my folly! why did I
so rashly tell him of my wounded heart?
And why did I so hastily commit
to tablets all I should have kept concealed?
I should have edged my way by feeling first,
obscurely hinting till I knew his mind
and disposition towards me. And so that
my first voyage might get favorable wind,
I should have tested with a close-reefed sail,
and, knowing what the wind was, safely fared.
But now with sails full spread I have been tossed
by unexpected winds. And so my ship
is on the rocks; and, overwhelmed with all
the power of Ocean, I have not the strength
to turn back and recover what is lost.
"Surely clear omens warned me not to tell
my love so soon, because the tablets fell
just when I would have put them in the hand
of my picked servant -- certainly a sign
my hasty hopes were destined to fall down.
Is it not clear I should have changed the day;
and even my intention? Rather say
should not the day have been postponed at once?
The god himself gave me unerring signs,
if I had not been so deranged with love.
I should have spoken to him, face to face;
and with my own lips have confessed it all;
and then my passion had been seen by him,
and, as my face was bathed in tears, I could
have told him so much more than words engraved
on tablets; and, while I was telling him
I could have thrown my arms around his neck,
and if rejected could have seemed almost
at point of death; as I embraced his feet,
while prostrate, even might have begged for life.
I could have tried so many plans, and they
together would have won his stubborn heart.
"Perhaps my stupid servant, in mistake,
did not approach him at a proper time,
and even sought an hour his mind was full
of other things.
of other things. "All this has harmed my case;
there is no other reason; he was not
born of a tigress, and his heart is not
of flint or solid iron, or of adamant;
and no she-lion suckled him. He shall
be won to my affection; and I must
attempt again, again, nor ever cease
so long as I have breath. If it were not
too late already to undo what has
been done, 'twere wiser not begun at all.
But since I have begun, it now is best
to end it with success. How can he help
remembering what I dared, although I should
abandon my design! In such a case,
because I gave up, I must be to him
weak, fickle-minded; or perhaps he may
believe I tried to tempt him with a snare.
But come what may, he will not think of me
as overcome by some god who inflames
and rules the heart. He surely will believe
I was so actuated by my lust.
"If I do nothing more, my innocence
is gone forever. I have written him
and wooed him also, in a way so rash
and unmistakable, that if I should
do nothing more than this, I should be held
completely guilty in my brother's sight --
but I have hope, and nothing worse to fear."
Then back and forth she argues; and so great
is her uncertainty, she blames herself
for what she did, and is determined just
as surely to succeed.
as surely to succeed. She tries all arts,
but is repeatedly repulsed by him,
until unable to control her ways,
her brother in despair, fled from the shame
of her designs: and in another land
he founded a new city.
he founded a new city. Then, they say,
the wretched daughter of Miletus lost
control of reason. She wrenched from her breast
her garments, and quite frantic, beat her arms,
and publicly proclaims unhallowed love.
Grown desperate, she left her hated home,
her native land, and followed the loved steps
of her departed brother. Just as those
crazed by your thyrsus, son of Semele!
The Bacchanals of Ismarus, aroused,
howl at your orgies, so her shrieks were heard
by the shocked women of Bubassus, where
the frenzied Byblis howled across the fields,
and so through Caria and through Lycia,
over the mountain Cragus and beyond
the town, Lymira, and the flowing stream
called Xanthus, and the ridge where dwelt
Chimaera, serpent-tailed and monstrous beast,
fire breathing from its lion head and neck.
She hurried through the forest of that ridge --
and there at last worn out with your pursuit,
O Byblis, you fell prostrate, with your hair
spread over the hard ground, and your wan face
buried in fallen leaves. Although the young,
still tender-hearted nymphs of Leleges,
advised her fondly how to cure her love,
and offered comfort to her heedless heart,
and even lifted her in their soft arms;
without an answer Byblis fell from them,
and clutched the green herbs with her fingers, while
her tears continued to fall on the grass.
They say the weeping Naiads gave to her
a vein of tears which always flows there from
her sorrows -- nothing better could be done.
Immediately, as drops of pitch drip forth
from the gashed pine, or sticky bitumen
distils out from the rich and heavy earth,
or as the frozen water at the approach
of a soft-breathing wind melts in the sun;
so Byblis, sad descendant of the Sun,
dissolving in her own tears, was there changed
into a fountain; which to this late day,
in all those valleys has no name but hers,
and issues underneath a dark oak-tree.
Iphis and Ianthe
The tale of this unholy passion would
perhaps, have filled Crete's hundred cities then,
if Crete had not a wonder of its own
to talk of, in the change of Iphis. Once,
there lived at Phaestus, not far from the town
of Gnossus, a man Ligdus, not well known;
in fact obscure, of humble parentage,
whose income was no greater than his birth;
but he was held trustworthy and his life
had been quite blameless. When the time drew near
his wife should give birth to a child, he warned
her and instructed her, with words we quote: --
"There are two things which I would ask of Heaven:
that you may be delivered with small pain,
and that your child may surely be a boy.
Girls are such trouble, fair strength is denied
to them. -- Therefore (may Heaven refuse the thought)
if chance should cause your child to be a girl,
(gods pardon me for having said the word!)
we must agree to have her put to death."
And all the time he spoke such dreaded words,
their faces were completely bathed in tears;
not only hers but also his while he
forced on her that unnatural command.
Ah, Telethusa ceaselessly implored
her husband to give way to fortune's cast;
but Ligdus held his resolution fixed.
And now the expected time of birth was near,
when in the middle of the night she seemed
to see the goddess Isis, standing by
her bed, in company of serious spirit forms;
Isis had crescent horns upon her forehead,
and a bright garland made of golden grain
encircled her fair brow. It was a crown
of regal beauty: and beside her stood
the dog Anubis, and Bubastis, there
the sacred, dappled Apis, and the God
of silence with pressed finger on his lips;
the sacred rattles were there, and Osiris, known
the constant object of his worshippers' desire,
and there the Egyptian serpent whose quick sting
gives long-enduring sleep. She seemed to see
them all, and even to hear the goddess say
to her, "O Telethusa, one of my
remembered worshippers, forget your grief;
your husband's orders need not be obeyed;
and when Lucina has delivered you,
save and bring up your child, if either boy
or girl. I am the goddess who brings help
to all who call upon me; and you shall
never complain of me -- that you adored
a thankless deity." So she advised
by vision the sad mother, and left her.
The Cretan woman joyfully arose
from her sad bed, and supplicating, raised
ecstatic hands up towards the listening stars,
and prayed to them her vision might come true.
Soon, when her pains gave birth, the mother knew
her infant was a girl (the father had
no knowledge of it, as he was not there).
Intending to deceive, the mother said,
"Feed the dear boy." All things had favored her
deceit -- no one except the trusted nurse,
knew of it. And the father paid his vows,
and named the child after its grandfather, whose
name was honored Iphis. Hearing it so called,
the mother could not but rejoice, because
her child was given a name of common gender,
and she could use it with no more deceit.
She took good care to dress it as a boy,
and either as a boy or girl, its face
must always be accounted lovable.
And so she grew, -- ten years and three had gone,
and then your father found a bride for you
O Iphis -- promised you should take to wife
the golden-haired Ianthe, praised by all
the women of Phaestus for the dower
of her unequalled beauty, and well known,
the daughter of a Cretan named Telestes.
Of equal age and equal loveliness,
they had received from the same teachers, all
instruction in their childish rudiments.
So unsuspected love had filled their hearts
with equal longing -- but how different!
Ianthe waits in confidence and hope
the ceremonial as agreed upon,
and is quite certain she will wed a man.
But Iphis is in love without one hope
of passion's ecstasy, the thought of which
only increased her flame; and she a girl
is burnt with passion for another girl!
She hardly can hold back her tears, and says:
"O what will be the awful dreaded end,
with such a monstrous love compelling me?
If the Gods should wish to save me, certainly
they should have saved me; but, if their desire
was for my ruin, still they should have given
some natural suffering of humanity.
The passion for a cow does not inflame a cow,
no mare has ever sought another mare.
The ram inflames the ewe, and every doe
follows a chosen stag; so also birds
are mated, and in all the animal world
no female ever feels love passion for
another female -- why is it in me?
"Monstrosities are natural to Crete,
the daughter of the Sun there loved a bull --
it was a female's mad love for the male --
but my desire is far more mad than hers,
in strict regard of truth, for she had hope
of love's fulfillment. She secured the bull
by changing herself to a heifer's form;
and in that subtlety it was the male
deceived at last. Though all the subtleties
of all the world should be collected here; --
if Daedalus himself should fly back here
upon his waxen wings, what could he do?
What skillful art of his could change my sex,
a girl into a boy -- or could he change
Ianthe? What a useless thought! Be bold
take courage Iphis, and be strong of soul.
This hopeless passion stultifies your heart;
so shake it off, and hold your memory
down to the clear fact of your birth: unless
your will provides deception for yourself:
do only what is lawful, and confine
strictly, your love within a woman's right.
"Hope of fulfillment can beget true love,
and hope keeps it alive. You are deprived
of this hope by the nature of your birth.
No guardian keeps you from her dear embrace,
no watchful jealous husband, and she has
no cruel father: she does not deny
herself to you. With all that liberty,
you can not have her for your happy wife,
though Gods and men should labor for your wish.
None of my prayers has ever been denied;
the willing Deities have granted me
whatever should be, and my father helps
me to accomplish everything I plan:
she and her father also, always help.
But Nature is more powerful than all,
and only Nature works for my distress.
"The wedding-day already is at hand;
the longed-for time is come; Ianthe soon
will be mine only -- and yet, not my own:
with water all around me I shall thirst!
O why must Juno, goddess of sweet brides,
and why should Hymen also, favor us
when man with woman cannot join in wedlock,
but both are brides?" And so she closed her lips.
The other maiden flamed with equal love,
and often prayed for Hymen to appear.
But Telethusa, fearing that event,
the marriage which Ianthe keenly sought,
procrastinated, causing first delay
by some pretended illness; and then gave
pretence of omens and of visions seen,
sufficient for delay, until she had
exhausted every avenue of excuse,
and only one more day remained before
the fateful time, it was so near at hand.
Despairing then of finding other cause
which might prevent the fated wedding-day,
the mother took the circled fillets from
her own head, and her daughter's head, and prayed,
as she embraced the altar -- her long hair
spread out upon the flowing breeze -- and said:
"O Isis, goddess of Paraetonium,
the Mareotic fields, Pharos, and Nile
of seven horns divided -- oh give help!
Goddess of nations! heal us of our fears!
I saw you, goddess, and your symbols once,
and I adored them all, the clashing sounds
of sistra and the torches of your train,
and I took careful note of your commands,
for which my daughter lives to see the sun,
and also I have so escaped from harm; --
all this is of your counsel and your gift;
oh, pity both of us -- and give us aid!"
Tears emphasized her prayer; the goddess seemed
to move -- in truth it was the altar moved;
the firm doors of the temple even shook --
and her horns, crescent, flashed with gleams of light,
and her loud sistrum rattled noisily.
Although not quite free of all fear, yet pleased
by that good omen, gladly the mother left
the temple with her daughter Iphis, who
beside her walked, but with a lengthened stride.
Her face seemed of a darker hue, her strength
seemed greater, and her features were more stern.
Her hair once long, was unadorned and short.
There is more vigor in her than she showed
in her girl ways. For in the name of truth,
Iphis, who was a girl, is now a man!
Make offerings at the temple and rejoice
without a fear! -- They offer at the shrines,
and add a votive tablet, on which this
inscription is engraved:
inscription is engraved: these gifts are paid
by Iphis as a man which as a maid
he vowed to give.
he vowed to give. The morrow's dawn
revealed the wide world; on the day agreed,
Venus, Juno and Hymen, all have met
our happy lovers at the marriage fires;
and Iphis, a new man, gained his Ianthe.