Orpheus and Eurydice
Veiled in a saffron mantle, through the air
unmeasured, after the strange wedding, Hymen
departed swiftly for Ciconian land;
regardless and not listening to the voice
of tuneful Orpheus. Truly Hymen there
was present during the festivities
of Orpheus and Eurydice, but gave
no happy omen, neither hallowed words
nor joyful glances; and the torch he held
would only sputter, fill the eyes with smoke,
and cause no blaze while waving. The result
of that sad wedding, proved more terrible
than such foreboding fates.
While through the grass
delighted Naiads wandered with the bride,
a serpent struck its venomed tooth in her
soft ankle -- and she died. -- After the bard
of Rhodope had mourned, and filled the highs
of heaven with the moans of his lament,
determined also the dark underworld
should recognize the misery of death,
he dared descend by the Taenarian gate
down to the gloomy Styx. And there passed through
pale-glimmering phantoms, and the ghosts
escaped from sepulchres, until he found
Persephone and Pluto, master-king
of shadow realms below: and then began
to strike his tuneful lyre, to which he sang: --
"O deities of this dark world beneath
the earth! this shadowy underworld, to which
all mortals must descend! If it can be
called lawful, and if you will suffer speech
of strict truth (all the winding ways
of Falsity forbidden) I come not
down here because of curiosity
to see the glooms of Tartarus and have
no thought to bind or strangle the three necks
of the Medusan Monster, vile with snakes.
But I have come, because my darling wife
stepped on a viper that sent through her veins
death-poison, cutting off her coming years.
"If able, I would bear it, I do not
deny my effort -- but the god of Love
has conquered me -- a god so kindly known
in all the upper world. We are not sure
he can be known so well in this deep world,
but have good reason to conjecture he
is not unknown here, and if old report
almost forgotten, that you stole your wife
is not a fiction, Love united you
the same as others. By this Place of Fear
this huge void and these vast and silent realms,
renew the life-thread of Eurydice.
"All things are due to you, and though on earth
it happens we may tarry a short while,
slowly or swiftly we must go to one
abode; and it will be our final home.
Long and tenaciously you will possess
unquestioned mastery of the human race.
She also shall be yours to rule, when full
of age she shall have lived the days of her
allotted years. So I ask of you
possession of her few days as a boon.
But if the fates deny to me this prayer
for my true wife, my constant mind must hold
me always so that I can not return --
and you may triumph in the death of two!"
While he sang all his heart said to the sound
of his sweet lyre, the bloodless ghosts themselves
were weeping, and the anxious Tantalus
stopped clutching at return-flow of the wave,
Ixion's twisting wheel stood wonder-bound;
and Tityus' liver for a while escaped
the vultures, and the listening Belides
forgot their sieve-like bowls and even you,
O Sisyphus! sat idly on your rock!
Then Fame declared that conquered by the song
of Orpheus, for the first and only time
the hard cheeks of the fierce Eumenides
were wet with tears: nor could the royal queen,
nor he who rules the lower world deny
the prayer of Orpheus; so they called to them
Eurydice, who still was held among
the new-arriving shades, and she obeyed
the call by walking to them with slow steps,
yet halting from her wound. So Orpheus then
received his wife; and Pluto told him he
might now ascend from these Avernian vales
up to the light, with his Eurydice;
but, if he turned his eyes to look at her,
the gift of her delivery would be lost.
They picked their way in silence up a steep
and gloomy path of darkness. There remained
but little more to climb till they would touch
earth's surface, when in fear he might again
lose her, and anxious for another look
at her, he turned his eyes so he could gaze
upon her. Instantly she slipped away.
He stretched out to her his despairing arms,
eager to rescue her, or feel her form,
but could hold nothing save the yielding air.
Dying the second time, she could not say
a word of censure of her husband's fault;
what had she to complain of -- his great love?
Her last word spoken was, "Farewell!" which he
could barely hear, and with no further sound
she fell from him again to Hades. -- Struck
quite senseless by this double death of his
dear wife, he was as fixed from motion as
the frightened one who saw the triple necks
of Cerberus, that dog whose middle neck
was chained. The sight filled him with terror he
had no escape from, until petrified
to stone; or like Olenos, changed to stone,
because he fastened on himself the guilt
of his wife. O unfortunate Lethaea!
Too boastful of your beauty, you and he,
united once in love, are now two stones
upon the mountain Ida, moist with springs.
Orpheus implored in vain the ferryman
to help him cross the River Styx again,
but was denied the very hope of death.
Seven days he sat upon Death's river bank,
in squalid misery and without all food --
nourished by grief, anxiety, and tears --
complaining that the Gods of Erebus
were pitiless, at last he wandered back,
until he came to lofty Rhodope
and Haemus, beaten by the strong north wind.
Three times the Sun completed his full course
to watery Pisces, and in all that time,
shunning all women, Orpheus still believed
his love-pledge was forever. So he kept
away from women, though so many grieved,
because he took no notice of their love.
The only friendship he enjoyed was given
to the young men of Thrace.
to the young men of Thrace. There was a hill
which rose up to a level plateau, high
and beautiful with green grass; and there was
not any shade for comfort on the top
and there on that luxuriant grass the bard,
while heaven-inspired reclined, and struck
such harmonies on his sweet lyre that shade
most grateful to the hill was spread around.
Strong trees came up there -- the Chaonian oak
the Heliads' poplar, and the lofty-branched
deep mast-tree, the soft linden and the beech,
the brittle hazel, and the virgin laurel-tree,
the ash for strong spears, the smooth silver-fir,
the flex bent with acorns and the plane,
the various tinted maple and with those,
the lotus and green willows from their streams,
evergreen box and slender tamarisks,
rich myrtles of two colors and the tine,
bending with green-blue berries: and you, too,
the pliant-footed ivy, came along
with tendril-branching grape-vines, and the elm
all covered with twist-vines, the mountain-ash,
pitch-trees and arbute-trees of blushing fruit,
the bending-palm prized after victories,
the bare-trunk pine of tufted foliage,
bristled upon the top, a pleasant sight
delightful to the Mother of the Gods;
since Attis dear to Cybele, exchanged
his human form which hardened in that tree.
In all the throng the cone-shaped cypress came;
a tree now, it was changed from a dear youth
loved by the god who strings the lyre and bow.
For there was at one time, a mighty stag
held sacred by those nymphs who haunt the fields
Carthaean. His great antlers spread so wide,
they gave an ample shade to his own head.
Those antlers shone with gold: from his smooth throat
a necklace, studded with a wealth of gems,
hung down to his strong shoulders -- beautiful.
A silver boss, fastened with little thongs,
played on his forehead, worn there from his birth;
and pendants from both ears, of gleaming pearls,
adorned his hollow temples. Free of fear,
and now no longer shy, frequenting homes
of men he knew, he offered his soft neck
even to strangers for their petting hands.
But more than by all others, he was loved
by you, O Cyparissus, fairest youth
of all the lads of Cea. It was you
who led the pet stag to fresh pasturage,
and to the waters of the clearest spring.
Sometimes you wove bright garlands for his horns,
and sometimes, like a horseman on his back,
now here now there, you guided his soft mouth
with purple reins. It was upon a summer day,
at high noon when the Crab, of spreading claws,
loving the sea-shore, almost burnt beneath
the sun's hot burning rays; and the pet stag
was then reclining on the grassy earth
and, wearied of all action, found relief
under the cool shade of the forest trees;
that as he lay there Cyparissus pierced
him with a javelin: and although it was
quite accidental, when the shocked youth saw
his loved stag dying from the cruel wound
he could not bear it, and resolved on death.
What did not Phoebus say to comfort him?
He cautioned him to hold his grief in check,
consistent with the cause. But still the lad
lamented, and with groans implored the Gods
that he might mourn forever. His life force
exhausted by long weeping, now his limbs
began to take a green tint, and his hair,
which overhung his snow-white brow, turned up
into a bristling crest; and he became
a stiff tree with a slender top and pointed
up to the starry heavens. And the God,
groaning with sorrow, said; "You shall be mourned
sincerely by me, surely as you mourn
for others, and forever you shall stand
in grief, where others grieve."
in grief, where others grieve." Such was the grove
by Orpheus drawn together; and he sat
surrounded by assembled animals,
and many strange Birds. When he tried the chords
by touching with his thumb, and was convinced
the notes were all in harmony, although
attuned to various melody, he raised
his voice and sang:
his voice and sang: "Oh my loved mother, Muse,
from Jove inspire my song -- for all things yield,
to the unequalled sway of Jove -- oh, I
have sung so often Jupiter's great power
before this day, and in a wilder strain,
I've sung the giants and victorious bolts
hurled on Phlegraean plains. But now I need
the gentler touch; for I would sing of boys,
the favorites of Gods, and even of maids
who had to pay the penalty of wrong."
The king of all the Gods once burned with love
for Ganymede of Phrygia. He found
a shape more pleasing even than his own.
Jove would not take the form of any bird,
except the eagle's, able to sustain
the weight of his own thunderbolts. Without
delay, Jove on fictitious eagle wings,
stole and flew off with that loved Trojan boy:
who even to this day, against the will
of Juno, mingles nectar in the cups
of his protector, mighty Jupiter.
You also, Hyacinthus, would have been
set in the sky! if Phoebus had been given
time which the cruel fates denied for you.
But in a way you are immortal too.
Though you have died. Always when warm spring
drives winter out, and Aries (the Ram)
succeeds to Pisces (watery Fish), you rise
and blossom on the green turf. And the love
my father had for you was deeper than he felt
for others. Delphi center of the world,
had no presiding guardian, while the God
frequented the Eurotas and the land
of Sparta, never fortified with walls.
His zither and his bow no longer fill
his eager mind and now without a thought
of dignity, he carried nets and held
the dogs in leash, and did not hesitate
to go with Hyacinthus on the rough,
steep mountain ridges; and by all of such
associations, his love was increased.
Now Titan was about midway, betwixt
the coming and the banished night, and stood
at equal distance from those two extremes.
Then, when the youth and Phoebus were well stripped,
and gleaming with rich olive oil, they tried
a friendly contest with the discus. First
Phoebus, well-poised, sent it awhirl through air,
and cleft the clouds beyond with its broad weight;
from which at length it fell down to the earth,
a certain evidence of strength and skill.
Heedless of danger Hyacinthus rushed
for eager glory of the game, resolved
to get the discus. But it bounded back
from off the hard earth, and struck full against
your face, O Hyacinthus! Deadly pale
the God's face went -- as pallid as the boy's.
With care he lifted the sad huddled form.
The kind god tries to warm you back to life,
and next endeavors to attend your wound,
and stay your parting soul with healing herbs.
His skill is no advantage, for the wound
is past all art of cure. As if someone,
when in a garden, breaks off violets,
poppies, or lilies hung from golden stems,
then drooping they must hang their withered heads,
and gaze down towards the earth beneath them; so,
the dying boy's face droops, and his bent neck,
a burden to itself, falls back upon
his shoulder: "You are fallen in your prime
defrauded of your youth, O Hyacinthus!"
Moaned Apollo. "I can see in your sad wound
my own guilt, and you are my cause of grief
and self-reproach. My own hand gave you death
unmerited -- I only can be charged
with your destruction. -- What have I done wrong?
Can it be called a fault to play with you?
Should loving you be called a fault? And oh,
that I might now give up my life for you!
Or die with you! But since our destinies
prevent us you shall always be with me,
and you shall dwell upon my care-filled lips.
The lyre struck by my hand, and my true songs
will always celebrate you. A new flower
you shall arise, with markings on your petals,
close imitation of my constant moans:
and there shall come another to be linked
with this new flower, a valiant hero shall
be known by the same marks upon its petals."
And while Phoebus, Apollo, sang these words
with his truth-telling lips, behold the blood
of Hyacinthus, which had poured out on
the ground beside him and there stained the grass,
was changed from blood; and in its place a flower,
more beautiful than Tyrian dye, sprang up.
It almost seemed a lily, were it not
that one was purple and the other white.
But Phoebus was not satisfied with this.
For it was he who worked the miracle
of his sad words inscribed on flower leaves.
These letters AI, AI, are inscribed
on them. And Sparta certainly is proud
to honor Hyacinthus as her son;
and his loved fame endures; and every year
they celebrate his solemn festival.
The Cerastae and Propoetides
If you should ask Amathus, which is rich
in metals, how can she rejoice and take
a pride in deeds of her Propoetides;
she would disclaim it and repudiate
them all, as well as those of transformed men,
whose foreheads were deformed by two rough horns,
from which their name Cerastae. By their gates
an altar unto Jove stood. If by chance
a stranger, not informed of their dark crimes,
had seen the horrid altar smeared with blood,
he would suppose that suckling calves and sheep
of Amathus, were sacrificed thereon --
it was in fact the blood of slaughtered guests!
Kind-hearted Venus, outraged by such deeds
of sacrifice, was ready to desert
her cities and her snake-infested plains;
"But how," said she, "have their delightful lands
together with my well built cities sinned?
What crime have they done? -- Those inhabitants
should pay the penalty of their own crimes
by exile or by death; or it may be
a middle course, between exile and death;
and what can that be, but the punishment
of a changed form?" And while she hesitates,
in various thoughts of what form they should take,
her eyes by chance, observed their horns,
and that decided her; such horns could well
be on them after any change occurred,
and she transformed their big and brutal bodies
to savage bulls.
to savage bulls. But even after that,
the obscene Propoetides dared to deny
divinity of Venus, for which fault,
(and it is common fame) they were the first
to criminate their bodies, through the wrath
of Venus; and so blushing shame was lost,
white blood, in their bad faces grew so fast,
so hard, it was no wonder they were turned
with small change into hard and lifeless stones.
Pygmalion and the statue
Pygmalion saw these women waste their lives
in wretched shame, and critical of faults
which nature had so deeply planted through
their female hearts, he lived in preference,
for many years unmarried. -- But while he
was single, with consummate skill, he carved
a statue out of snow-white ivory,
and gave to it exquisite beauty, which
no woman of the world has ever equalled:
she was so beautiful, he fell in love
with his creation. It appeared in truth
a perfect virgin with the grace of life,
but in the expression of such modesty
all motion was restrained -- and so his art
concealed his art. Pygmalion gazed, inflamed
with love and admiration for the form,
in semblance of a woman, he had carved.
He lifts up both his hands to feel the work,
and wonders if it can be ivory,
because it seems to him more truly flesh. --
his mind refusing to conceive of it
as ivory, he kisses it and feels
his kisses are returned. And speaking love,
caresses it with loving hands that seem
to make an impress, on the parts they touch,
so real that he fears he then may bruise
her by his eager pressing. Softest tones
are used each time he speaks to her. He brings
to her such presents as are surely prized
by sweet girls; such as smooth round pebbles, shells,
and birds, and fragrant flowers of thousand tints,
lilies, and painted balls, and amber tears
of Heliads, which distill from far off trees. --
he drapes her in rich clothing and in gems:
rings on her fingers, a rich necklace round
her neck, pearl pendants on her graceful ears;
and golden ornaments adorn her breast.
All these are beautiful -- and she appears
most lovable, if carefully attired, --
or perfect as a statue, unadorned.
He lays her on a bed luxurious, spread
with coverlets of Tyrian purple dye,
and naming her the consort of his couch,
lays her reclining head on the most soft
and downy pillows, trusting she could feel.
The festal day of Venus, known throughout
all Cyprus, now had come, and throngs were there
to celebrate. Heifers with spreading horns,
all gold-tipped, fell when given the stroke of death
upon their snow-white necks; and frankincense
was smoking on the altars. There, intent,
Pygmalion stood before an altar, when
his offering had been made; and although he
feared the result, he prayed: "If it is true,
O Gods, that you can give all things, I pray
to have as my wife -- " but, he did not dare
to add "my ivory statue-maid," and said,
"One like my ivory -- ." Golden Venus heard,
for she was present at her festival,
and she knew clearly what the prayer had meant.
She gave a sign that her Divinity
favored his plea: three times the flame leaped high
and brightly in the air.
and brightly in the air. When he returned,
he went directly to his image-maid,
bent over her, and kissed her many times,
while she was on her couch; and as he kissed,
she seemed to gather some warmth from his lips.
Again he kissed her; and he felt her breast;
the ivory seemed to soften at the touch,
and its firm texture yielded to his hand,
as honey-wax of Mount Hymettus turns
to many shapes when handled in the sun,
and surely softens from each gentle touch.
He is amazed; but stands rejoicing in his doubt;
while fearful there is some mistake, again
and yet again, gives trial to his hopes
by touching with his hand. It must be flesh!
The veins pulsate beneath the careful test
of his directed finger. Then, indeed,
the astonished hero poured out lavish thanks
to Venus; pressing with his raptured lips
his statue's lips. Now real, true to life --
the maiden felt the kisses given to her,
and blushing, lifted up her timid eyes,
so that she saw the light and sky above,
as well as her rapt lover while he leaned
gazing beside her -- and all this at once --
the goddess graced the marriage she had willed,
and when nine times a crescent moon had changed,
increasing to the full, the statue-bride
gave birth to her dear daughter Paphos. From
which famed event the island takes its name.
Myrrha transformed to a tree
The royal Cinyras was sprung from her;
and if he had been father of no child,
might well have been accounted fortunate --
but I must sing of horrible events --
avoid it daughters! Parents! shun this tale!
But if my verse has charmed your thought,
do not give me such credit in this part;
convince yourself it cannot be true life;
or, if against my wish you hear and must
believe it, then be sure to notice how
such wickedness gets certain punishment.
And yet, if Nature could permit such crimes
as this to happen, I congratulate
Ismarian people and all Thrace as well,
and I congratulate this nation, which
we know is far away from the land where
this vile abomination did occur.
The land we call Panchaia may be rich
in balsam, cinnamon, and costum sweet
for ointment, frankincense distilled from trees,
with many flowers besides. All this large wealth
combined could never compensate the land
for this detestable, one crime: even though
the new Myrrh-Tree advanced on that rich soil.
Cupid declares his weapons never caused
an injury to Myrrha, and denies
his torches ever could have urged her crime. --
one of the three bad sisters kindled this,
with fire brand from the Styx, and poisoned you
with swollen vipers. -- It is criminal
to hate a parent, but love such as hers
is certainly more criminal than hate.
The chosen princes of all lands desire
you now in marriage, and young men throughout
the Orient are vying for your hand.
Choose, Myrrha one from all of these for your
good husband; but exclude from such a thought
your father only. She indeed is quite
aware, and struggles bitterly against
her vile desires, and argues in her heart: --
"What am I tending to? O listening Gods
I pray for aid, I pray to Natural Love!
Ah, may the sacred rights of parents keep
this vile desire from me, defend me from
a crime so great -- If it indeed is crime.
I am not sure it is -- I have not heard
that any god or written law condemns
the union of a parent and his child.
All animals will mate as they desire --
a heifer may endure her sire, and who
condemns it? And the happy stud is not
refused by his mare-daughters: the he-goat
consorts unthought-of with the flock of which
he is the father; and the birds conceive
of those from whom they were themselves begot.
Happy are they who have such privilege!
Malignant men have given spiteful laws;
and what is right to Nature is decreed
unnatural, by jealous laws of men.
"But it is said there are some tribes today,
in which the mother marries her own son;
the daughter takes her father; and by this,
the love kind Nature gives them is increased
into a double bond. -- Ah wretched me!
Why was it not my fortune to be born
in that love-blessed land? I must abide,
depressed by my misfortunes, in this place.
"Why do I dwell on these forbidden hopes?
Let me forget to think of lawless flame.
My father is most worthy of my love,
but only as a father. -- If I were
not born the daughter of great Cinyras,
I might be joined to him; but, as it stands,
because he is mine he is never mine;
because near to me he is far from me.
"It would be better for me, if we were
but strangers to each other; for I then,
could wish to go, and leave my native land,
and so escape temptation to this crime:
but my unhappy passion holds me here,
that I may see Cinyras face to face,
and touch him, talk with him and even kiss him --
the best, if nothing else can be allowed.
"But what more could be asked for, by the most
depraved? Think of the many sacred ties
and loved names, you are dragging to the mire:
the rival of your mother, will you be
the mistress of your father, and be named
the sister of your son, and make yourself
the mother of your brother? And will you
not dread the sisters with black snakes for hair.
Whom guilty creatures, such as you, can see
brandish relentless flames before their eyes
and faces? While your body has not sinned
you must not let sin creep into your heart,
and violate great Nature's law with your
unlawful rovings. If you had the right
to long for his endearment, it could not
be possible. He is a virtuous man
and is regardful of the moral law --
oh how I wish my passion could be his!"
And so she argued and declared her love:
but Cinyras, her father, who was urged
by such a throng of suitors for her hand,
that he could make no choice, at last inquired
of her, so she might make her heart's wish known.
And as he named them over, asked her which
she fixed her gaze upon her father's face,
in doubtful agony what she could say,
while hot tears filled her eyes. Her father, sure
it all was of a virginal alarm,
as he is telling her she need not weep
dries her wet cheeks and kisses her sweet lips.
Too much delighted with his gentle words
and kind endearments, Myrrha, when he asked
again, which one might be her husband, said,
"The one just like yourself.", And he replied
not understanding what her heart would say,
"You answer as a loving-daughter should."
When she heard "loving-daughter" said, the girl
too conscious of her guilt, looked on the ground.
It was now midnight, peaceful sleep dissolved
the world-care of all mortals, but of her
who, sleepless through the night, burnt in the flame
of her misplaced affection. First despair
compels her to abandon every hope,
and then she changes and resolves to try;
and so she wavers from desire to shame,
for she could not adhere to any plan.
As a great tree, cut by the swinging axe
is chopped until the last blow has been struck,
then sways and threatens danger to all sides;
so does her weak mind, cut with many blows,
waver unsteadily -- this way and that --
and turning back and forth it finds no rest
from passion, save the rest that lies in death.
The thought of death gave comfort to her heart.
Resolved to hang herself, she sat upright;
then, as she tied her girdle to a beam,
she said, "Farewell, beloved Cinyras,
and may you know the cause of my sad death."
And while she spoke those words, her fingers fixed
the noosed rope close around her death-pale neck.
They say the murmur of despairing words
was heard by her attentive nurse who watched
outside the room. And, faithful as of old,
she opened the shut door. But, when she saw
the frightful preparations made for death,
the odd nurse screamed and beat and tore her breast,
then seized and snatched the rope from Myrrha's neck;
and after she had torn the noose apart,
at last she had the time to weep and time,
while she embraced the girl, to ask her why
the halter had been fastened round her neck.
The girl in stubborn silence only fixed
her eyes upon the ground -- sad that her first
attempt at death, because too slow, was foiled.
The old nurse-woman urged and urged, and showed
her gray hair and her withered breasts, and begged
her by the memory of her cradle days,
and baby nourishment, to hide no more
from her long-trusted nurse what caused her grief.
The girl turned from her questions with a sigh.
The nurse, still more determined to know all,
promised fidelity and her best aid --
"Tell me," she said, "and let me give you help;
my old age offers means for your relief:
if it be frantic passion, I have charms
and healing herbs; or, if an evil spell
was worked on you by someone, you shall be
cured to your perfect self by magic rites;
or, if your actions have enraged the Gods,
a sacrifice will satisfy their wrath.
What else could be the cause? Your family
and you are prosperous -- your mother dear,
and your loved father are alive and well."
And, when she heard her say the name of father,
a sigh heaved up from her distracted heart.
But even after that the nurse could not
conceive such evil in the girl's sick heart;
and yet she had a feeling it must be
only a love affair could cause the crime:
and with persistent purpose begged the cause.
She pressed the weeping girl against her breast;
and as she held her in her feeble arms,
she said, "Sweet heart, I know you are in love:
in this affair I am entirely yours
for your good service, you must have no fear,
your father cannot learn of it from me.,"
just like a mad girl, Myrrha sprang away,
and with her face deep-buried in a couch,
sobbed out, "Go from me or stop asking me
my cause of grief -- it is a crime of shame --
I cannot tell it!" Horrified the nurse
stretched forth her trembling hands, palsied
with age and fear. She fell down at the feet
of her loved foster-child, and coaxing her
and frightening her, she threatened to disclose
her knowledge of the halter and of what
she knew of her attempted suicide;
and after all was said, she gave her word
to help the girl, when she had given to her
a true confession of her sad heart-love.
The girl just lifted up her face, and laid
it, weeping, on the bosom of her nurse.
She tried so often to confess, and just
as often checked her words, her shamed face hid
deep in her garment: "Oh", at last she groans,
"O mother blessed in your husband -- oh!"
Only that much she said and groaned. The nurse
felt a cold horror stealing through her heart
and frame, for she now understood it all.
And her white hair stood bristling on her head,
while with the utmost care of love and art
she strove to use appropriate words and deeds,
to banish the mad passion of the girl.
Though Myrrha knew that she was truly warned,
she was resolved to die, unless she could
obtain the object of her wicked love.
The nurse gave way at last as in defeat,
and said, "Live and enjoy -- " but did not dare
to say, "your father", did not finish, though,
she promised and confirmed it with an oath.
It was the time when matrons celebrate
the annual festival of Ceres. Then,
all robed in decent garments of snow-white,
they bring garlands of precious wheat, which are
first fruits of worship; and for nine nights they
must count forbidden every act of love,
and shun the touch of man. And in that throng,
Cenchreis, the king's wife, with constant care
attended every secret rite: and so
while the king's bed was lacking his true wife,
one of those nights, -- King Cinyras was drunk
with too much wine, -- the scheming nurse informed
him of a girl most beautiful, whose love
for him was passionate; in a false tale
she pictured a true passion. -- When he asked
the maiden's age, she answered, "Just the same
as Myrrha's." Bidden by the king to go
and fetch her, the officious old nurse, when
she found the girl, cried out; "Rejoice, my dear,
we have contrived it!" The unhappy girl
could not feel genuine joy in her amazed
and startled body. Her dazed mind was filled
with strange forebodings; but she did believe
her heart was joyful. -- Great excitement filled
her wrecked heart with such inconsistencies.
Now was the time when nature is at rest;
between the Bears, Bootes turned his wain
down to the west, and the guilty Myrrha turns
to her enormity. The golden moon
flies from the heaven, and black clouds cover
the hiding stars and Night has lost her fires.
The first to hide were stars of Icarus
and of Erigone, in hallowed love
devoted to her father. Myrrha thrice
was warned by omen of her stumbling foot;
the funeral screech-owl also warned her thrice,
with dismal cry; yet Myrrha onward goes.
It seems to her the black night lessens shame.
She holds fast to her nurse with her left hand,
and with the other hand gropes through the dark.
And now they go until she finds the door.
Now at the threshold of her father's room,
she softly pushes back the door, her nurse
takes her within. The girl's knees trembling sink
beneath her. Her drawn bloodless face has lost
its color, and while she moves to the crime,
bad courage goes from her until afraid
of her bold effort, she would gladly turn
unrecognized. But as she hesitates,
the aged crone still holds her by the hand;
and leading her up to the high bed there
delivering Myrrha, says, "Now Cinyras,
you take her, she is yours;" and leaves the pair
doomed in their crime -- the father to pollute
his own flesh in his own bed; where he tries
first to encourage her from maiden fears,
by gently talking to the timid girl.
He chanced to call her "daughter," as a name
best suited to her age; and she in turn,
endearing, called him "father", so no names
might be omitted to complete their guilt.
She staggered from his chamber with the crime
of her own father hidden in her womb,
and their guilt was repeated many nights;
till Cinyras -- determined he must know
his mistress, after many meetings, brought
a light and knew his crime had harmed his daughter.
Speechless in shame he drew forth his bright sword
out from the scabbard where it hung near by. --
but frightened Myrrha fled, and so escaped
death in the shadows of dark night. Groping
her pathless way at random through the fields,
she left Arabia, famed for spreading palms,
and wandered through Panchaean lands. Until
after nine months of aimless wandering days,
she rested in Sabaea, for she could
not hold the burden she had borne so long.
Not knowing what to pray for, moved alike
by fear of death and weariness of life,
her wishes were expressed in prayer: "O Gods,
if you will listen to my prayer, I do
not shun a dreadful punishment deserved;
but now because my life offends the living,
and dying I offend the dead, drive me
from both conditions; change me, and refuse
my flesh both life and death!"
my flesh both life and death!" Some god did listen
to her unnatural prayer; her last petition
had answering gods. For even as she prayed,
the earth closed over her legs; roots grew out
and, stretching forth obliquely from her nails,
gave strong support to her up-growing trunk;
her bones got harder, and her marrow still
unchanged, kept to the center, as her blood
was changed to sap, as her outstretching arms
became long branches and her fingers twigs;
and as her soft skin hardened into bark:
and the fast-growing tree had closely bound
her womb, still heavy, and had covered her
soft bosom; and was spreading quickly up
to her neck. -- She can not endure the strain,
and sinking down into the rising wood,
her whole face soon was hidden in the bark.
Although all sense of human life was gone,
as quickly as she lost her human form,
her weeping was continued, and warm drops
distilled from her (the tree) cease not to fall.
There is a virtue even in her tears --
the valued myrrh distilling from the trunk,
keeps to her name, by which she still is known,
and cannot be forgot of aging time.
The guilt-begotten child had growth while wood
was growing, and endeavored now to find
a way of safe birth. The tree-trunk was swelling
and tightened against Myrrha, who, unable
to express her torture, could not call upon
Lucina in the usual words of travail.
But then just like a woman in great pain,
the tree bends down and, while it groans, bedews
itself with falling tears. Lucina stood
in pity near the groaning branches, laid
her hands on them, and uttered charms to aid
the hindered birth. The tree cracked open then,
the bark was rent asunder, and it gave forth
its living weight, a wailing baby-boy.
The Naiads laid him on soft leaves, and they
anointed him with his own mother's tears.
Even Envy would not fail to praise the child,
as beautiful as naked cupids seen
in chosen paintings. Only give to him
a polished quiver, or take theirs from them,
and no keen eye could choose him from their midst.
Time gliding by without our knowledge cheats us,
and nothing can be swifter than the years.
That son of sister and grandfather, who
was lately hidden in his parent tree,
just lately born, a lovely baby-boy
is now a youth, now man more beautiful
than during growth. He wins the love of Venus
and so avenges his own mother's passion.
For while the goddess' son with quiver held
on shoulder, once was kissing his loved mother,
it chanced unwittingly he grazed her breast
with a projecting arrow. Instantly
the wounded goddess pushed her son away;
but the scratch had pierced her deeper than she thought
and even Venus was at first deceived.
Delighted with the beauty of the youth,
she does not think of her Cytherian shores
and does not care for Paphos, which is girt
by the deep sea, nor Cnidos, haunts of fish,
nor Amathus far-famed for precious ores.
Venus, neglecting heaven, prefers Adonis
to heaven, and so she holds close to his ways
as his companion, and forgets to rest
at noon-day in the shade, neglecting care
of her sweet beauty. She goes through the woods,
and over mountain ridges and wild fields,
rocky and thorn-set, bare to her white knees
after Diana's manner. And she cheers
the hounds, intent to hunt for harmless prey,
such as the leaping hare, or the wild stag,
high-crowned with branching antlers, or the doe. --
she keeps away from fierce wild boars, away
from ravenous wolves; and she avoids the bears
of frightful claws, and lions glutted with
the blood of slaughtered cattle.
the blood of slaughtered cattle. She warns you,
Adonis, to beware and fear them. If her fears
for you were only heeded! "Oh be brave,"
she says, "against those timid animals
which fly from you; but courage is not safe
against the bold. Dear boy, do not be rash,
do not attack the wild beasts which are armed
by nature, lest your glory may cost me
great sorrow. Neither youth nor beauty nor
the deeds which have moved Venus have effect
on lions, bristling boars, and on the eyes
and tempers of wild beasts. Boars have the force
of lightning in their curved tusks, and the rage
of tawny lions is unlimited.
I fear and hate them all."
I fear and hate them all." When he inquires
the reason, she says: "I will tell it; you
will be surprised to learn the bad result
caused by an ancient crime. -- But I am weary
with unaccustomed toil; and see! a poplar
convenient, offers a delightful shade
and this lawn gives a good couch. Let us rest
ourselves here on the grass." So saying, she
reclined upon the turf and, pillowing
her head against his breast and mingling kisses
with her words, she told him the following tale:
Perhaps you may have heard of a swift maid,
who ran much faster than swift-footed men
contesting in the race. What they have told
is not an idle tale. -- She did excel
them all -- and you could not have said
whether her swift speed or her beauty was
more worthy of your praise. When this maid once
consulted with an oracle, of her
fate after marriage, the god answered her:
"You, Atalanta, never will have need
of husband, who will only be your harm.
For your best good you should avoid the tie;
but surely you will not avoid your harm;
and while yet living you will lose yourself."
She was so frightened by the oracle,
she lived unwedded in far shaded woods;
and with harsh terms repulsed insistent throngs
of suitors. "I will not be won," she said,
"Till I am conquered first in speed. Contest
the race with me. A wife and couch shall both
be given to reward the swift, but death
must recompense the one who lags behind.
This must be the condition of a race."
Indeed she was that pitiless, but such
the power of beauty, a rash multitude
agreed to her harsh terms.
agreed to her harsh terms. Hippomenes
had come, a stranger, to the cruel race,
with condemnation in his heart against
the racing young men for their headstrong love;
and said, "Why seek a wife at such a risk?"
But when he saw her face, and perfect form
disrobed for perfect running, such a form
as mine, Adonis, or as yours -- if you
were woman -- he was so astonished he
raised up his hands and said, "Oh pardon me
brave men whom I was blaming, I could not
then realize the value of the prize
you strove for." And as he is praising her,
his own heart leaping with love's fire, he hopes
no young man may outstrip her in the race;
and, full of envy, fears for the result.
"But why," he cries, "is my chance in the race
untried? Divinity helps those who dare."
But while the hero weighed it in his mind
the virgin flew as if her feet had wings.
Although she seemed to him in flight as swift
as any Scythian arrow, he admired
her beauty more; and her swift speed appeared
in her most beautiful. The breeze bore back
the streamers on her flying ankles, while
her hair was tossed back over her white shoulders;
the bright trimmed ribbons at her knees were fluttering,
and over her white girlish body came
a pink flush, just as when a purple awning
across a marble hall gives it a wealth
of borrowed hues. And while Hippomenes
in wonder gazed at her, the goal was reached;
and Atalanta crowned victorious
with festal wreath. -- But all the vanquished youths
paid the death-penalty with sighs and groans,
according to the stipulated bond.
Not frightened by the fate of those young men,
he stood up boldly in the midst of all;
and fixing his strong eyes upon the maiden, said:
"Where is the glory in an easy victory
over such weaklings? Try your fate with me!
If fortune fail to favor you, how could
it shame you to be conquered by a man?
Megareus of Onchestus is my father,
his grandsire, Neptune, god of all the seas.
I am descendant of the King of Waves:
and add to this, my name for manly worth
has not disgraced the fame of my descent.
If you should prove victorious against
this combination, you will have achieved
a great enduring name -- the only one
who ever bested great Hippomenes."
While he was speaking, Atalanta's gaze
grew softer, in her vacillating hopes
to conquer and be conquered; till at last,
her heart, unbalanced, argued in this way:
"It must be some god envious of youth,
wishing to spoil this one prompts him to seek
wedlock with me and risk his own dear life.
I am not worth the price, if I may judge.
His beauty does not touch me -- but I could
be moved by it -- I must consider he
is but a boy. It is not he himself
who moves me, but his youth. Sufficient cause
for thought are his great courage and his soul
fearless of death. What of his high descent; --
great grandson of the King of all the seas?
What of his love for me that has such great
importance, he would perish if his fate
denied my marriage to him? O strange boy,
go from me while you can; abandon hope
of this alliance stained with blood -- A match
with me is fatal. Other maids will not
refuse to wed you, and a wiser girl
will gladly seek your love. -- But what concern
is it of mine, when I but think of those
who have already perished! Let him look
to it himself; and let him die. Since he
is not warned by his knowledge of the fate
of many other suitors, he declares
quite plainly, he is weary of his life. --
"Shall he then die, because it must be his
one hope to live with me? And suffer death
though undeserved, for me because he loves?
My victory will not ward off the hate,
the odium of the deed! But it is not
a fault of mine. -- Oh fond, fond man, I would
that you had never seen me! But you are
so madly set upon it, I could wish
you may prove much the swifter! Oh how dear
how lovable is his young girlish face! --
ah, doomed Hippomenes, I only wish
mischance had never let you see me! You
are truly worthy of a life on earth.
If I had been more fortunate, and not
denied a happy marriage day; I would
not share my bed with any man but you."
All this the virgin Atalanta said;
and knowing nothing of the power of love,
she is so ignorant of what she does,
she loves and does not know she is in love.
Meanwhile her father and the people, all
loudly demanded the accustomed race.
A suppliant, the young Hippomenes
invoked me with his anxious voice, "I pray
to you, O Venus, Queen of Love, be near
and help my daring -- smile upon the love
you have inspired!" The breeze, not envious,
wafted this prayer to me; and I confess,
it was so tender it did move my heart --
I had but little time to give him aid.
There is a field there which the natives call
the Field Tamasus -- the most prized of all
the fertile lands of Cyprus. This rich field,
in ancient days, was set apart for me,
by chosen elders who decreed it should
enrich my temples yearly. In this field
there grows a tree, with gleaming golden leaves,
and all its branches crackle with bright gold.
Since I was coming from there, by some chance,
I had three golden apples in my hand,
which I had plucked. With them I planned to aid
Hippomenes. While quite invisible
to all but him, I taught him how to use
those golden apples for his benefit.
The trumpet soon gave signal for the race
and both of them crouching flashed quickly forth
and skimmed the surface of the sandy course
with flying feet. You might even think those two
could graze the sea with unwet feet and pass
over the ripened heads of standing grain.
Shouts of applause gave courage to the youth:
the cheering multitude cried out to him: --
"Now is the time to use your strength. Go on!
Hippomenes! Bend to the work! You're sure
to win!" It must be doubted who was most
rejoiced by those brave words, Megareus' son,
or Schoeneus' daughter. Oh, how often, when
she could have passed him, she delayed her speed;
and after gazing long upon his face
reluctantly again would pass him! Now
dry panting breath came from his weary throat --
the goal still far away. -- Then Neptune's scion
threw one of three gold apples. Atalanta
with wonder saw it -- eager to possess
the shining fruit, she turned out of her course,
picked up the rolling gold. Hippomenes
passed by her, while spectators roared applause.
Increasing speed, she overcame delay,
made up for time lost, and again she left
the youth behind. She was delayed again
because he tossed another golden apple.
She followed him, and passed him in the race.
The last part of the course remained. He cried
"Be near me, goddess, while I use your gift."
With youthful might he threw the shining gold,
in an oblique direction to the side,
so that pursuit would mean a slow return.
The virgin seemed to hesitate, in doubt
whether to follow after this third prize.
I forced her to turn for it; take it up;
and, adding weight to the gold fruit, she held,
impeded her with weight and loss of time.
For fear my narrative may stretch beyond
the race itself, -- the maiden was outstripped;
Hippomenes then led his prize away.
Adonis, did I not deserve his thanks
with tribute of sweet incense? But he was
ungrateful, and, forgetful of my help,
he gave me neither frankincense nor thanks.
Such conduct threw me into sudden wrath,
and, fretting at the slight, I felt I must
not be despised at any future time.
I told myself 'twas only right to make
a just example of them. They were near
a temple, hidden in the forest, which
glorious Echion in remembered time
had built to Rhea, Mother of the gods,
in payment of a vow. So, wearied from
the distance traveled, they were glad to have
a needed rest. Hippomenes while there,
was seized with love his heart could not control. --
a passion caused by my divinity.
Quite near the temple was a cave-like place,
covered with pumice. It was hallowed by
religious veneration of the past.
Within the shadows of that place, a priest
had stationed many wooden images
of olden gods. The lovers entered there
and desecrated it. The images
were scandalized, and turned their eyes away.
The tower-crowned Mother, Cybele, at first
prepared to plunge the guilty pair beneath
the waves of Styx, but such a punishment
seemed light. And so their necks, that had been smooth.
Were covered instantly with tawny manes;
their fingers bent to claws; their arms were changed
to fore-legs; and their bosoms held their weight;
and with their tails they swept the sandy ground.
Their casual glance is anger, and instead
of words they utter growls. They haunt the woods,
a bridal-room to their ferocious taste.
And now fierce lions they are terrible
to all of life; except to Cybele;
whose harness has subdued their champing jaws.
My dear Adonis keep away from all
such savage animals; avoid all those
which do not turn their fearful backs in flight
but offer their bold breasts to your attack,
lest courage should be fatal to us both.
Indeed she warned him. -- Harnessing her swans,
she traveled swiftly through the yielding air;
but his rash courage would not heed advice.
By chance his dogs, which followed a sure track,
aroused a wild boar from his hiding place;
and, as he rushed out from his forest lair,
Adonis pierced him with a glancing stroke.
Infuriated, the fierce boar's curved snout
first struck the spear-shaft from his bleeding side;
and, while the trembling youth was seeking where
to find a safe retreat, the savage beast
raced after him, until at last he sank
his deadly tusk deep in Adonis' groin;
and stretched him dying on the yellow sand.
And now sweet Aphrodite, borne through air
in her light chariot, had not yet arrived
at Cyprus, on the wings of her white swans.
Afar she recognized his dying groans,
and turned her white birds towards the sound. And when
down looking from the lofty sky, she saw
him nearly dead, his body bathed in blood,
she leaped down -- tore her garment -- tore her hair --
and beat her bosom with distracted hands.
And blaming Fate said, "But not everything
is at the mercy of your cruel power.
My sorrow for Adonis will remain,
enduring as a lasting monument.
Each passing year the memory of his death
shall cause an imitation of my grief.
"Your blood, Adonis, will become a flower
perennial. Was it not allowed to you
Persephone, to transform Menthe's limbs
into sweet fragrant mint? And can this change
of my loved hero be denied to me?"
Her grief declared, she sprinkled his blood with
sweet-smelling nectar, and his blood as soon
as touched by it began to effervesce,
just as transparent bubbles always rise
in rainy weather. Nor was there a pause
more than an hour, when from Adonis, blood,
exactly of its color, a loved flower
sprang up, such as pomegranates give to us,
small trees which later hide their seeds beneath
a tough rind. But the joy it gives to man
is short-lived, for the winds which give the flower
its name, Anemone, shake it right down,
because its slender hold, always so weak,
lets it fall to the ground from its frail stem.