Metamorphoses

Ovid

Perseus:bib:oclc,24965574, Ovid. Metamorphoses. Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922.

  1. Now Lucifer unveiled the glorious day,
  2. and as the session of the night dissolved,
  3. the cool east wind declined, and vapors wreathed
  4. the moistened valleys. Veering to the south
  5. the welcome wind gave passage to the sons
  6. of Aeacus, and wafted Cephalus
  7. on his returning way, propitious; where
  8. before the wonted hour, they entered port.
  9. King Minos, while the fair wind moved their ship,
  10. was laying waste the land of Megara.
  11. He gathered a great army round the walls
  12. built by Alcathous, where reigned in splendor
  13. King Nisus—mighty and renowned in war—
  14. upon the center of whose hoary head
  15. a lock of purple hair was growing.—Its
  16. proved virtue gave protection to his throne.
  17. Six times the horns of rising Phoebe grew,
  18. and still the changing fortune of the war
  19. was in suspense; so, Victory day by day
  20. between them hovered on uncertain wings.
  21. Within that city was a regal tower
  22. on tuneful walls; where once Apollo laid
  23. his golden harp; and in the throbbing stone
  24. the sounds remained. And there, in times of peace
  25. the daughter of king Nisus loved to mount
  26. the walls and strike the sounding stone with pebbles:
  27. so, when the war began, she often viewed
  28. the dreadful contest from that height;
  29. until, so long the hostile camp remained,
  30. she had become acquainted with the names,
  31. and knew the habits, horses and the arms
  32. of many a chief, and could discern the signs
  33. of their Cydonean quivers.
  34. More than all,
  35. the features of King Minos were engraved
  36. upon the tablets of her mind. And when
  37. he wore his helmet, crested with gay plumes,
  38. she deemed it glorious; when he held his shield
  39. shining with gold, no other seemed so grand;
  40. and when he poised to hurl the tough spear home,
  41. she praised his skill and strength; and when he bent
  42. his curving bow with arrow on the cord,
  43. she pictured him as Phoebus taking aim,—
  44. but when, arrayed in purple, and upon
  45. the back of his white war horse, proudly decked
  46. with richly broidered housings, he reined in
  47. the nervous steed, and took his helmet off,
  48. showing his fearless features, then the maid,
  49. daughter of Nisus, could control herself
  50. no longer; and a frenzy seized her mind.
  51. She called the javelin happy which he touched,
  52. and blessed were the reins within his hand.
  53. She had an impulse to direct her steps,
  54. a tender virgin, through the hostile ranks,
  55. or cast her body from the topmost towers
  56. into the Gnossian camp. She had a wild
  57. desire to open to the enemy
  58. the heavy brass-bound gates, or anything
  59. that Minos could desire.
  60. And as she sat
  61. beholding the white tents, she cried, “Alas!
  62. Should I rejoice or grieve to see this war?
  63. I grieve that Minos is the enemy
  64. of her who loves him; but unless the war
  65. had brought him, how could he be known to me?
  66. But should he take me for a hostage? That
  67. might end the war—a pledge of peace, he might
  68. keep me for his companion.
  69. “O, supreme
  70. of mankind! she who bore you must have been
  71. as beautiful as you are; ample cause
  72. for Jove to lose his heart.
  73. “O, happy hour!
  74. If moving upon wings through yielding air,
  75. I could alight within the hostile camp
  76. in front of Minos, and declare to him
  77. my name and passion!
  78. “Then would I implore
  79. what dowry he could wish, and would provide
  80. whatever he might ask, except alone
  81. the city of my father. Perish all
  82. my secret hopes before one act of mine
  83. should offer treason to accomplish it.
  84. And yet, the kindness of a conqueror
  85. has often proved a blessing, manifest
  86. to those who were defeated. Certainly
  87. the war he carries on is justified
  88. by his slain son.
  89. “He is a mighty king,
  90. thrice strengthened in his cause. Undoubtedly
  91. we shall be conquered, and, if such a fate
  92. awaits our city, why should he by force
  93. instead of my consuming love, prevail
  94. to open the strong gates? Without delay
  95. and dreadful slaughter, it is best for him
  96. to conquer and decide this savage war.
  97. “Ah, Minos, how I fear the bitter fate
  98. should any warrior hurl his cruel spear
  99. and pierce you by mischance, for surely none
  100. can be so hardened to transfix your breast
  101. with purpose known.”
  102. Oh, let her love prevail
  103. to open for his army the great gates.
  104. Only the thought of it, has filled her soul;
  105. she is determined to deliver up
  106. her country as a dowry with herself,
  107. and so decide the war! But what avails
  108. this idle talk.
  109. “A guard surrounds the gates,
  110. my father keeps the keys, and he alone
  111. is my obstruction, and the innocent
  112. account of my despair. Would to the Gods
  113. I had no father! Is not man the God
  114. of his own fortune, though his idle prayers
  115. avail not to compel his destiny?
  116. “Another woman crazed with passionate desires,
  117. which now inflame me, would not hesitate,
  118. but with a fierce abandon would destroy
  119. whatever checked her passion. Who is there
  120. with love to equal mine? I dare to go
  121. through flames and swords; but swords and flames
  122. are not now needed, for I only need
  123. my royal father's lock of purple hair.
  124. More precious than fine gold, it has a power
  125. to give my heart all that it may desire.”
  1. While Scylla said this, night that heals our cares
  2. came on, and she grew bolder in the dark.
  3. And now it is the late and silent hour
  4. when slumber takes possession of the breast.
  5. Outwearied with the cares of busy day;
  6. then as her father slept, with stealthy tread
  7. she entered his abode, and there despoiled,
  8. and clipped his fatal lock of purple hair.
  9. Concealing in her bosom the sad prize
  10. of crime degenerate, she at once went forth
  11. a gate unguarded, and with shameless haste
  12. sped through the hostile army to the tent
  13. of Minos, whom, astonished, she addressed:
  14. “Only my love has led me to this deed.
  15. The daughter of King Nisus, I am called
  16. the maiden Scylla. Unto you I come
  17. and offer up a power that will prevail
  18. against my country, and I stipulate
  19. no recompense except yourself. Take then
  20. this purple hair, a token of my love.—
  21. Deem it not lightly as a lock of hair
  22. held idly forth to you; it is in truth
  23. my father's life.” And as she spoke
  24. she held out in her guilty hand the prize,
  25. and begged him to accept it with her love.
  26. Shocked at the thought of such a heinous crime,
  27. Minos refused, and said, “O execrable thing!
  28. Despised abomination of our time!
  29. May all the Gods forever banish you
  30. from their wide universe, and may the earth
  31. and the deep ocean be denied to you!
  32. So great a monster shall not be allowed
  33. to desecrate the sacred Isle of Crete,
  34. where Jupiter was born.” So Minos spoke.
  35. Nevertheless he conquered Megara,
  36. (so aided by the damsel's wicked deed)
  37. and as a just and mighty king imposed
  38. his own conditions on the vanquished land.
  39. He ordered his great fleet to tarry not;
  40. the hawsers were let loose, and the long oars
  41. quickly propelled his brazen-pointed ships.—
  42. When Scylla saw them launching forth,
  43. observed them sailing on the mighty deep,
  44. she called with vain entreaties; but at last,
  45. aware the prince ignored her and refused
  46. to recompense her wickedness, enraged,
  47. and raving, she held up her impious hands,
  48. her long hair streaming on the wind, — and said:
  49. “Oh, wherefore have you flown, and left behind
  50. the author of your glory. Oh, wretch! wretch
  51. to whom I offered up my native land,
  52. and sacrificed my father! Where have you
  53. now flown, ungrateful man whose victory
  54. is both my crime and virtue? And the gift
  55. presented to you, and my passion,
  56. have these not moved you? All my love and hope
  57. in you alone!
  58. “Forsaken by my prince,
  59. shall I return to my defeated land?
  60. If never ruined it would shut its walls
  61. against me.—Shall I seek my father's face
  62. whom I delivered to all-conquering arms?
  63. My fellow-citizens despise my name;
  64. my friends and neighbors hate me; I have shut
  65. the world against me, only in the hope
  66. that Crete would surely welcome me;—and now,
  67. he has forbidden me.
  68. “And is it so
  69. I am requited by this thankless wretch!
  70. Europa could not be your mother! Spawn
  71. of cruel Syrtis! Savage cub of fierce
  72. Armenian tigress;—or Charybdis, tossed
  73. by the wild South-wind begot you! Can you be
  74. the son of Jupiter? Your mother was
  75. not ever tricked by the false semblance
  76. of a bull. All that story of your birth
  77. is false! You are the offspring of a bull
  78. as fierce as you are!
  79. “Let your vengeance fall
  80. upon me, O my father Nisus, let
  81. the ruined city I betrayed rejoice
  82. at my misfortunes—richly merited—
  83. destroy me, you whom I have ruined;—I
  84. should perish for my crimes! But why should you,
  85. who conquered by my crime, abandon me?
  86. The treason to my father and my land
  87. becomes an act of kindness in your cause.
  88. “That woman is a worthy mate for you
  89. who hid in wood deceived the raging bull,
  90. and bore to him the infamy of Crete.
  91. I do not wonder that Pasiphae
  92. preferred the bull to you, more savage than
  93. the wildest beast. Alas, alas for me!
  94. “Do my complaints reach your unwilling ears?
  95. Or do the same winds waft away my words
  96. that blow upon your ships, ungrateful man?—
  97. Ah, wretched that I am, he takes delight
  98. in hastening from me. The deep waves resound
  99. as smitten by the oars, his ship departs;
  100. and I am lost and even my native land
  101. is fading from his sight.
  102. “Oh heart of flint!
  103. you shall not prosper in your cruelty,
  104. and you shall not forget my sacrifice;
  105. in spite of everything I follow you!
  106. I'll grasp the curving stern of your swift ship,
  107. and I will follow through unending seas.”
  108. And as she spoke, she leaped into the waves,
  109. and followed the receding ships—for strength
  110. from passion came to her. And soon she clung
  111. unwelcome, to the sailing Gnossian ship.
  112. Meanwhile, the Gods had changed her father's form
  113. and now he hovered over the salt deep,
  114. a hawk with tawny wings. So when he saw
  115. his daughter clinging to the hostile ship
  116. he would have torn her with his rending beak;—
  117. he darted towards her through the yielding air.
  118. In terror she let go, but as she fell
  119. the light air held her from the ocean spray;
  120. her feather-weight supported by the breeze;
  121. she spread her wings, and changed into a bird.
  122. They called her “Ciris” when she cut the wind,
  123. and “Ciris”—cut-the-lock—remains her name.
  1. King Minos, when he reached the land of Crete
  2. and left his ships, remembered he had made
  3. a vow to Jupiter, and offered up
  4. a hundred bulls.—The splendid spoils of war
  5. adorned his palace.—
  6. Now the infamous
  7. reproach of Crete had grown, till it exposed
  8. the double-natured shame. So, Minos, moved
  9. to cover his disgrace, resolved to hide
  10. the monster in a prison, and he built
  11. with intricate design, by Daedalus
  12. contrived, an architect of wonderful
  13. ability, and famous. This he planned
  14. of mazey wanderings that deceived the eyes,
  15. and labyrinthic passages involved.
  16. so sports the clear Maeander, in the fields
  17. of Phrygia winding doubtful; back and forth
  18. it meets itself, until the wandering stream
  19. fatigued, impedes its wearied waters' flow;
  20. from source to sea, from sea to source involved.
  21. So Daedalus contrived innumerous paths,
  22. and windings vague, so intricate that he,
  23. the architect, hardly could retrace his steps.
  24. In this the Minotaur was long concealed,
  25. and there devoured Athenian victims sent
  26. three seasons, nine years each, till Theseus, son
  27. of Aegeus, slew him and retraced his way,
  28. finding the path by Ariadne's thread.
  29. Without delay the victor fled from Crete,
  30. together with the loving maid, and sailed
  31. for Dia Isle of Naxos, where he left
  32. the maid forlorn, abandoned. Her, in time,
  33. lamenting and deserted, Bacchus found
  34. and for his love immortalized her name.
  35. He set in the dark heavens the bright crown
  36. that rested on her brows. Through the soft air
  37. it whirled, while all the sparkling jewels changed
  38. to flashing fires, assuming in the sky
  39. between the Serpent-holder and the Kneeler
  40. the well-known shape of Ariadne's Crown.
  1. But Daedalus abhorred the Isle of Crete—
  2. and his long exile on that sea-girt shore,
  3. increased the love of his own native place.
  4. “Though Minos blocks escape by sea and land.”
  5. He said, “The unconfined skies remain
  6. though Minos may be lord of all the world
  7. his sceptre is not regnant of the air,
  8. and by that untried way is our escape.”
  9. This said, he turned his mind to arts unknown
  10. and nature unrevealed. He fashioned quills
  11. and feathers in due order — deftly formed
  12. from small to large, as any rustic pipe
  13. prom straws unequal slants. He bound with thread
  14. the middle feathers, and the lower fixed
  15. with pliant wax; till so, in gentle curves
  16. arranged, he bent them to the shape of birds.
  17. While he was working, his son Icarus,
  18. with smiling countenance and unaware
  19. of danger to himself, perchance would chase
  20. the feathers, ruffled by the shifting breeze,
  21. or soften with his thumb the yellow wax,
  22. and by his playfulness retard the work
  23. his anxious father planned.
  24. But when at last
  25. the father finished it, he poised himself,
  26. and lightly floating in the winnowed air
  27. waved his great feathered wings with bird-like ease.
  28. And, likewise he had fashioned for his son
  29. such wings; before they ventured in the air
  30. he said, “My son, I caution you to keep
  31. the middle way, for if your pinions dip
  32. too low the waters may impede your flight;
  33. and if they soar too high the sun may scorch them.
  34. Fly midway. Gaze not at the boundless sky,
  35. far Ursa Major and Bootes next.
  36. Nor on Orion with his flashing brand,
  37. but follow my safe guidance.”
  38. As he spoke
  39. he fitted on his son the plumed wings
  40. with trembling hands, while down his withered cheeks
  41. the tears were falling. Then he gave his son
  42. a last kiss, and upon his gliding wings
  43. assumed a careful lead solicitous.
  44. As when the bird leads forth her tender young,
  45. from high-swung nest to try the yielding air;
  46. so he prevailed on willing Icarus;
  47. encouraged and instructed him in a]l
  48. the fatal art; and as he waved his wings
  49. looked backward on his son.
  50. Beneath their flight,
  51. the fisherman while casting his long rod,
  52. or the tired shepherd leaning on his crook,
  53. or the rough plowman as he raised his eyes,
  54. astonished might observe them on the wing,
  55. and worship them as Gods.
  56. Upon the left
  57. they passed by Samos, Juno's sacred isle;
  58. Delos and Paros too, were left behind;
  59. and on the right Lebinthus and Calymne,
  60. fruitful in honey. Proud of his success,
  61. the foolish Icarus forsook his guide,
  62. and, bold in vanity, began to soar,
  63. rising upon his wings to touch the skies;
  64. but as he neared the scorching sun, its heat
  65. softened the fragrant wax that held his plumes;
  66. and heat increasing melted the soft wax—
  67. he waved his naked arms instead of wings,
  68. with no more feathers to sustain his flight.
  69. And as he called upon his father's name
  70. his voice was smothered in the dark blue sea,
  71. now called Icarian from the dead boy's name.
  72. The unlucky father, not a father, called,
  73. “Where are you, Icarus?” and “Where are you?
  74. In what place shall I seek you, Icarus?”
  75. He called again; and then he saw the wings
  76. of his dear Icarus, floating on the waves;
  77. and he began to rail and curse his art.
  78. He found the body on an island shore,
  79. now called Icaria, and at once prepared
  80. to bury the unfortunate remains;
  81. but while he labored a pert partridge near,
  82. observed him from the covert of an oak,
  83. and whistled his unnatural delight.
  84. Know you the cause? 'Twas then a single bird,
  85. the first one of its kind. 'Twas never seen
  86. before the sister of Daedalus had brought
  87. him Perdix, her dear son, to be his pupil.
  88. And as the years went by the gifted youth
  89. began to rival his instructor's art.
  90. He took the jagged backbone of a fish,
  91. and with it as a model made a saw,
  92. with sharp teeth fashioned from a strip of iron.
  93. And he was first to make two arms of iron,
  94. smooth hinged upon the center, so that one
  95. would make a pivot while the other, turned,
  96. described a circle. Wherefore Daedalus
  97. enraged and envious, sought to slay the youth
  98. and cast him headlong from Minerva's fane,—
  99. then spread the rumor of an accident.
  100. But Pallas, goddess of ingenious men,
  101. saving the pupil changed him to a bird,
  102. and in the middle of the air he flew
  103. on feathered wings; and so his active mind—
  104. and vigor of his genius were absorbed
  105. into his wings and feet; although the name
  106. of Perdix was retained.
  107. The Partridge hides
  108. in shaded places by the leafy trees
  109. its nested eggs among the bush's twigs;
  110. nor does it seek to rise in lofty flight,
  111. for it is mindful of its former fall.
  1. Wearied with travel Daedalus arrived
  2. at Sicily,—where Cocalus was king;
  3. and when the wandering Daedalus implored
  4. the monarch's kind protection from his foe,
  5. he gathered a great army for his guest,
  6. and gained renown from an applauding world.
  7. Now after Theseus had destroyed in Crete
  8. the dreadful monster, Athens then had ceased
  9. to pay her mournful tribute; and with wreaths
  10. her people decked the temples of the Gods;
  11. and they invoked Minerva, Jupiter,
  12. and many other Gods whom they adored,
  13. with sacrifice and precious offerings,
  14. and jars of Frankincense.
  15. Quick-flying Fame
  16. had spread reports of Theseus through the land;
  17. and all the peoples of Achaia, from that day,
  18. when danger threatened would entreat his aid.
  19. So it befell, the land of Calydon,
  20. through Meleager and her native hero,
  21. implored the valiant Theseus to destroy
  22. a raging boar, the ravage of her realm.
  23. Diana in her wrath had sent the boar
  24. to wreak her vengeance; and they say the cause
  25. was this:—The nation had a fruitful year,
  26. for which the good king Oeneus had decreed
  27. that all should offer the first fruits of corn
  28. to Ceres—and to Bacchus wine of grapes—
  29. and oil of olives to the golden haired
  30. Minerva. Thus, the Gods were all adored,
  31. beginning with the lowest to the highest,
  32. except alone Diana, and of all the Gods
  33. her altars only were neglected. No
  34. frankincense unto her was given! Neglect
  35. enrages even Deities.
  36. “Am I
  37. to suffer this indignity?” she cried,
  38. “Though I am thus dishonored, I will not
  39. be unrevenged!” And so the boar was sent
  40. to ravage the fair land of Calydon.
  41. And this avenging boar was quite as large
  42. as bulls now feeding on the green Epirus,
  43. and larger than the bulls of Sicily.
  44. A dreadful boar.—His burning, bloodshot eyes
  45. seemed coals of living fire, and his rough neck
  46. was knotted with stiff muscles, and thick-set
  47. with bristles like sharp spikes. A seething froth
  48. dripped on his shoulders, and his tusks
  49. were like the spoils of Ind. Discordant roars
  50. reverberated from his hideous jaws;
  51. and lightning—belched forth from his horrid throat—
  52. scorched the green fields. He trampled the green corn
  53. and doomed the farmer to lament his crops,
  54. in vain the threshing-floor has been prepared,
  55. in vain the barns await the promised yield.
  56. Long branches of the vine and heavy grapes
  57. are scattered in confusion, and the fruits
  58. and branches of the olive tree, whose leaves
  59. should never wither, are cast on the ground.
  60. His spleen was vented on the simple flocks,
  61. which neither dogs nor shepherd could protect;
  62. and the brave bulls could not defend their herds.
  63. The people fled in all directions from the fields,
  64. for safety to the cities. Terror reigned.
  65. There seemed no remedy to save the land,
  66. till Meleager chose a band of youths,
  67. united for the glory of great deeds.
  68. What heroes shall immortal song proclaim?
  69. Castor and Pollux, twins of Tyndarus;
  70. one famous for his skill in horsemanship,
  71. the other for his boxing. Jason, too, was there,
  72. the glorious builder of the world's first ship,
  73. and Theseus with his friend Perithous,
  74. and Toxeus and Plexippus, fated sons
  75. of Thestius, and the son of Aphareus,
  76. Lynkeus with his fleet-foot brother Idas
  77. and Caeneus, first a woman then a man
  78. the brave Leucippus and the argonaut
  79. Acastus, swift of dart; and warlike Dryas,
  80. Hippothous and Phoenix, not then blind,
  81. the son of King Amyntor, and the twain
  82. who sprung from Actor, Phyleus thither brought
  83. from Elis; Telamon was one of them
  84. and even Peleus, father of the great
  85. Achilles; and the son of Pheres joined,
  86. and Iolas, the swift Eurytion,
  87. Echion fleet of foot, Narycian Lelex—
  88. and Panopeus, and Hyleus and Hippasus,
  89. and Nestor (youthful then), and the four sons
  90. Hippocoon from eld Amyclae sent,
  91. the father-in-law of queen Penelope,
  92. Ancaeus of Arcadia, and the wise
  93. soothsayer Mopsus, and the prophet, son
  94. of Oeclus, victim of a traitor-wife.—
  95. And Atalanta, virgin of the groves,
  96. of Mount Lycaeus, glory of her sex;
  97. a polished buckle fastened her attire;
  98. her lustrous hair was fashioned in a knot;
  99. her weapons rattled in an ivory case,
  100. swung from her white left shoulder, and she held
  101. a bow in her left hand. Her face appeared
  102. as maidenly for boy, or boyish for girl.
  103. When Meleager saw her, he at once
  104. longed for her beauty, though some god forbade.
  105. The fires of love flamed in him; and he said,
  106. “Happy the husband who shall win this girl!”
  107. Neither the time nor his own modesty
  108. permitted him to say another word.
  109. But now the dreadful contest with the boar
  110. engaged this hero's energy and thought.
  111. A wood, umbrageous, not impaired with age,
  112. slopes from a plain and shadows the wide fields,
  113. and there this band of valiant heroes went—
  114. eager to slay the dreaded enemy,
  115. some spread the nets and some let loose the dogs,
  116. some traced the wide spoor of the monster's hoofs.
  117. There is a deep gorge where the rivulets
  118. that gather from the rain, discharge themselves;
  119. and there the bending willow, the smooth sedge,
  120. the marsh-rush, ozier and tall tangled reed
  121. in wild profusion cover up the marsh.
  122. Aroused from this retreat the startled boar,
  123. as quick as lightning from the clashing clouds
  124. crashed all the trees that cumbered his mad way.—
  125. The young men raised a shout, leveled their spears,
  126. and brandished their keen weapons; but the boar
  127. rushed onward through the yelping dogs,
  128. and scattered them with deadly sidelong stroke.
  129. Echion was the first to hurl his spear,
  130. but slanting in its course it only glanced
  131. a nearby maple tree, and next the spear
  132. of long-remembered Jason cut the air;
  133. so swiftly hurled it seemed it might transfix
  134. the boar's back, but with over-force it sped
  135. beyond the monster. Poising first his dart,
  136. the son of Ampyx, as he cast it, he
  137. implored Apollo, “Grant my prayer if I
  138. have truly worshiped you, harken to me
  139. as always I adore you! Let my spear
  140. unerring strike its aim.” Apollo heard,
  141. and guided the swift spear, but as it sped
  142. Diana struck the iron head from the shaft,
  143. and the blunt wood fell harmless from his hide.
  144. Then was the monster's savage anger roused;
  145. as the bright lightning's flash his red eyes flamed;
  146. his breath was hot as fire. As when a stone
  147. is aimed at walls or strong towers, which protect
  148. encompassed armies,—launched by the taut rope
  149. it strikes with dreaded impact; so the boar
  150. with fatal onset rushed among this band
  151. of noble lads, and stretched upon the ground
  152. Eupalamon and Pelagon whose guard
  153. was on the right; and their companions bore
  154. their bodies from the field.
  155. Another youth,
  156. the brave son of Hippocoon received
  157. a deadly wound—while turning to escape,
  158. the sinew of his thigh was cut and failed
  159. to bear his tottering steps.—
  1. And Nestor might
  2. have perished then, so long before he fought
  3. the heroes of old Troy, but ever wise,
  4. he vaulted on his long lance from the ground
  5. into the branches of a sheltering tree;
  6. where in a safe position, he could look
  7. down on his baffled foe. The raging boar
  8. whetted his gleaming tushes on an oak.
  9. Then with his sharpened tusks he gored the thigh
  10. of mighty Hippasus. Observed of all,
  11. and mounted on their horses—whiter than
  12. the northern snow—the twins (long afterward
  13. transformed to constellations) sallied forth,
  14. and brandishing their lances, poised in air,
  15. determined to destroy the bristling boar.
  16. It thwarted their design by hiding in
  17. a thicket intricate; where neither steed
  18. nor lance could penetrate. But Telamon
  19. pursued undaunted, and in haste tripped up
  20. by tangled roots, fell headlong.—Peleus stooped
  21. to rescue him.
  22. While he regained his feet,
  23. the virgin, Atalanta, took her bow
  24. and fitting a sharp arrow to the notch,
  25. twanged the tight cord. The feathered shaft
  26. quivered beneath the monster's ear, the red blood
  27. stained his hard bristles.
  28. Flushed with her success
  29. rejoiced the maid, but not more gladly than
  30. the hero Meleager. He it was
  31. who first observed the blood, and pointed out
  32. the stain to his companions as he cried,
  33. “Give honor to the courage of a maid!”
  34. Unwilling to be worsted by a maid,
  35. the rushing heroes raised a mighty cry
  36. and as they shouted in excitement, hurled
  37. their weapons in confusion; and so great
  38. the multitude their actions interfered.
  39. Behold! Ancaeus wielding his war-axe,
  40. and rushing madly to his fate, exclaimed,
  41. “Witness it! See the weapons of a man
  42. excel a woman's! Ho, make way for my
  43. achievement! Let Diana shield the brute!
  44. Despite her utmost effort my right hand
  45. shall slaughter him!” So mighty in his boast
  46. he puffed himself; and, lifting with both hands
  47. his double-edged axe, he stood erect,
  48. on tiptoe fiercely bold. The savage boar
  49. caught him, and ripped his tushes through his groin,
  50. a spot where death is sure.—Ancaeus fell;
  51. and his torn entrails and his crimson blood
  52. stained the fair verdure of the spot with death.
  53. Ixion's doughty son was running straight
  54. against the monster, shaking his long lance
  55. with nervous vigor in his strong right hand;
  56. but Theseus, standing at a distance called:
  57. “Beware! beware, O, dearest of my friends;
  58. be valiant at a distance, or the fate
  59. of rashly-bold Ancaeus may be yours!”
  60. Even as he spoke he balanced in his hand
  61. his brazen-pointed lance of corner wood;
  62. with aim so true it seemed the great boar's death
  63. was certain, but an evergreen oak branch
  64. shielded the beast.—Then Jason hurled his dart,
  65. which turned by chance, transfixed a luckless dog
  66. and pinned him yelping, to the sanguine earth.—
  67. So fared those heroes. Better fortune gave
  68. success to Meleager; first he threw
  69. a spear that missed and quivered in the ground;
  70. but next he hurled a spear with certain aim.
  71. It pierced the middle of the monster's back;
  72. and rushing in upon the dreaded beast,
  73. while raging it was whirling round and round,
  74. the fearless prince provoked to greater rage
  75. the wounded adversary. Bloody froth
  76. dripped down his champing jaws—his purple blood
  77. poured from a rankling wound. Without delay
  78. the mighty Meleager plunged a spear
  79. deep in the monster's shoulder. All his friends
  80. raised a glad shout, and gathering round him, tried
  81. to grasp his hand.—With wonder they beheld
  82. the monster's bulk stretched out upon the plain;
  83. and fearful still to touch him, they began
  84. to stain their weapons in his spouting blood.
  85. At length the hero Meleager pressed
  86. his conquering foot upon the monster's head
  87. and said, “O Atalanta, glorious maid,
  88. of Nonacris, to you is yielded spoil,
  89. my lawful right, and I rejoice to share
  90. the merit of this glorious victory.”
  91. And while he spoke, he gave to her the pelt,
  92. covered with horrid bristles, and the head
  93. frightful with gory tusks: and she rejoiced
  94. in Meleager and his royal gift.
  95. But all the others, envious, began
  96. to murmur; and the sons of Thestius
  97. levelled their pointed spears, and shouted out;
  98. “Give up the prize! Let not the confidence
  99. of your great beauty be a snare to you!
  100. A woman should not interfering filch
  101. the manly honors of a mighty hunt!
  102. Aside! and let your witless lover yield!”
  103. So threatened they and took from her the prize;
  104. and forcibly despoiled him of his rights.
  105. The warlike prince, indignant and enraged,—
  106. rowed with resentment, shouted out. “What! Ho!
  107. You spoilers of this honor that is ours,
  108. brave deeds are different far from craven threats!”
  109. And with his cruel sword he pierced the breast
  110. of rash Plexippus, taken unawares,
  111. and while his brother, Toxeus, struck with fear,
  112. stood hesitating whether to avenge
  113. or run to safety, Meleager plunged
  114. the hot sword, smoking with a brother's blood,
  115. in his breast also. And so perished they.
  116. Ere this, Althaea, mother of the prince,
  117. and sister of the slaughtered twain,—because
  118. her son had killed the boar, made haste to bear
  119. rich offerings to the temples of the Gods;
  120. but when she saw her slaughtered brothers borne
  121. in sad procession, she began to shriek,
  122. and filled the city with her wild lament.
  123. Unwilling to abide her festal robes
  124. she dressed in sable.—When she was informed
  125. her own son Meleager was the cause,
  126. she banished grief and lamentations,—
  127. thirsting for vengeance.
  1. She remembered well,
  2. how, when she lay in childbirth round her stood
  3. the three attendant sisters of his fate.
  4. There was a billet in the room, and this
  5. they took and cast upon the wasting flames,
  6. and as they spun and drew the fatal threads
  7. they softly chanted, “Unto you we give,
  8. O child new-born! only the life of this;
  9. the period of this billet is your life.”
  10. And having spoken so, they vanished in the smoke.
  11. Althaea snatched the billet from the fire,
  12. and having quenched it with drawn water, hid
  13. it long and secretly in her own room,
  14. where, thus preserved, it acted as a charm
  15. to save the life of Meleager. This
  16. the mother now brought forth, and fetched a pile
  17. of seasoned tinder ready for the torch.
  18. She lit the torches and the ready pile,
  19. and as the flames leaped up, four times prepared
  20. to cast the fatal billet in the midst;
  21. and four times hesitated to commit
  22. the dreadful deed,—so long the contest veered
  23. between the feelings of a mother's breast
  24. and the fierce vengeance of a sister's rage.
  25. Now is the mother's visage pale with fear,
  26. and now the sister's sanguinary rage
  27. glows in her eyes. Her countenance contorts
  28. with cruel threats and in bewildered ways
  29. dissolves compassionate: And even when
  30. the heat of anger had dried up her eyes
  31. the conflict of her passion brought new tears.
  32. As when the wind has seized upon a ship
  33. and blows against a tide of equal force,
  34. the vexed vessel feels repellent powers,
  35. and with unsteady motion sways to both;
  36. so did Althaea hesitate between
  37. the conflict of her passions: when her rage
  38. had cooled, her fury was as fast renewed:
  39. but always the unsatisfied desire
  40. of blood, to ease the disembodied shades
  41. of her slain brothers, seemed to overcome
  42. the mother-instinct; and intensity
  43. of conduct proved the utmost test of love.
  44. She took the billet in her arms and stood
  45. before the leaping flames, and said, “Alas,
  46. be this the funeral pyre of my own flesh!”
  47. And as she held in her relentless hand
  48. the destiny of him she loved, and stood
  49. before the flames, in all her wretchedness
  50. she moaned, “You sad Eumenides attend!
  51. Relentless Gods of punishment,—turn, turn
  52. your dreadful vision on these baneful rites!
  53. I am avenging and committing crime!
  54. With death must death be justified and crime
  55. be added unto crime! Let funerals
  56. upon succeeding funerals attend!
  57. “Let these accumulating woes destroy
  58. a wicked race. Shall happy Oeneus bask
  59. in the great fame of his victorious son,
  60. and Thestius mourn without slaughtered ones?
  61. 'Tis better they should both lament the deed!
  62. Witness the act of my affection, shades
  63. of my departed brothers! and accept
  64. my funeral offering, given at a cost
  65. beyond my strength to bear. Ah wretched me!
  66. Distracted is my reason! Pity me,
  67. the yearnings of a stricken mother's heart
  68. withholding me from duty! Aye, although
  69. his punishment be just, my hands refuse
  70. the office of such vengeance. What, shall he
  71. alive, victorious, flushed with his success,
  72. inherit the broad realms of Calydon,
  73. and you, my slaughtered brothers, unavenged,
  74. dissolved in ashes, float upon the air,
  75. unpalpitating phantoms? How can I
  76. endure the thought of it? Oh let the wretch
  77. forever perish, and with him be lost
  78. the hopes of his sad father, in the wreck
  79. of his distracted kingdom. Where are now
  80. the love and feelings of a mother; how
  81. can I forget the bitter pangs endured
  82. while twice times five the slow moon waxed and waned?
  83. “O had you perished in your infancy
  84. by those first fires, and I had suffered it!
  85. Your life was in my power! and now your death
  86. is the result of wrongs which you have done—
  87. take now a just reward for what you did:
  88. return to me the life I gave and saved.
  89. When from the flames I snatched the fatal brand.
  90. Return that gift or take my wretched life,
  91. that I may hasten to my brothers' tomb.
  92. “What dreadful deed can satisfy the law,
  93. when I for love against my love am forced?
  94. For even as my brothers' wounds appear
  95. in visions dreadful to denounce my son,
  96. the love so nurtured in a mother's breast
  97. breaks down the resolution! Wretched me!
  98. Such vengeance for my brothers overcomes
  99. first at your birth I gave it, and again
  100. the yearning of a mother for her son!
  101. Let not my love denounce my vengeance!
  102. My soul may follow with its love the shade
  103. of him I sacrifice, and following him
  104. my shade and his and yours unite below.”
  105. She spoke and as she turned her face away,
  106. she threw the fatal billet on the fire,
  107. and as the flames devoured it, a strange groan
  108. was heard to issue from the burning wood
  109. but Meleager at a distance knows
  110. of naught to wreck his hour of victory,
  111. until he feels the flame of burning wood
  112. scorching with secret fire his forfeit life.
  113. Yet with a mighty will, disdaining pain
  114. he grieves his bloodless and ignoble death.
  115. He calls Ancaeus happy for the wounds
  116. that caused his death. With sighs and groans he called
  117. his aged father's name, and then the names
  118. of brothers, sisters, and his wife—and last,
  119. they say he called upon his mother's name.
  120. His torment always with the fire increased,
  121. until, as little of the wood remained,—
  122. his pain diminished with the heat's decrease;
  123. and as the flames extinguished, so his life
  124. slowly ascended in the rising air.
  125. And all the mighty realm of Calydon
  126. was filled with lamentations —young and old
  127. the common people and the nobles mourned;
  128. and all the wailing women tore their hair
  129. his father threw his body on the ground,
  130. and as he covered his white hair and face
  131. with ashy dust, bewailed his aged days.
  132. Althaea, maddened in her mother's grief,
  133. has punished herself with a ruthless hand;
  134. she pierced her heart with iron. —Oh! if some God
  135. had given a resounding harp, a voice
  136. an hundred-fold more mighty, and a soul
  137. enlarged with genius, I could never tell
  138. the grief of his unhappy sisters.—They,
  139. regardless of all shame, beat on their breasts;
  140. before the body was consumed with fire,
  141. embraced it, and again embracing it,
  142. rained kisses on their loved one and the bier.
  143. And when the flames had burnt his shrinking form
  144. they strained his gathered ashes to their breasts,
  145. and prostrate on the tomb kissed his dear name,
  146. cut only in the stone,—and bathed it with their tears
  147. Latona's daughter, glutted with the woes
  148. inflicted on Parthaon's house, now gave
  149. two of the weeping sisters wide-spread wings,
  150. but Gorge and the spouse of Hercules
  151. not so were changed. Latona stretched long wings
  152. upon their arms, transformed their mouths to beaks,
  153. and sent them winging through the lucent air.
  1. And Theseus, meantime, having done great deeds,
  2. was wending towards Tritonian Athen's towers,
  3. but Achelous, swollen with great rains,
  4. opposed his journey and delayed his steps.
  5. “O famous son of Athens, come to me,
  6. beneath my roof, and leave my rapid floods;
  7. for they are wont to bear enormous beams,
  8. and hurl up heavy stones to bar the way,—
  9. mighty with roaring, down the steep ravines.
  10. And I have seen the sheep-folds on my banks
  11. swept down the flood, together with the sheep;
  12. and in the current neither strength availed
  13. the ox for safety, nor swift speed the horse.
  14. When rushed the melting snows from mountain peaks
  15. how many bodies of unwary men
  16. this flood has overwhelmed in whirling waves!
  17. Rest safely then, until my river runs
  18. within its usual bounds—till it contains
  19. its flowing waters in its proper banks.”
  20. and gladly answered Theseus, “I will make
  21. good use of both your dwelling and advice.”
  22. And waiting not he entered a rude hut,
  23. of porous pumice and of rough stone built.
  24. The floor was damp and soft with springy moss,
  25. and rows of shells and murex arched the roof.
  26. And now Hyperion having measured quite
  27. two thirds of daylight, Theseus and his friends
  28. reclined upon the couches.—On his right
  29. Ixion's son was placed, and on his left
  30. the gray-haired hero Lelex; and others
  31. deemed worthy by the Acarnanian-god
  32. who was so joyful in his noble guests.
  33. Without delay the barefoot nimble Nymphs
  34. attending to the banquet, rich food brought;
  35. and after all were satisfied with meat
  36. and dainties delicate, the careful Nymphs
  37. removed all traces of the feast, and served
  38. delicious wine in bowls embossed with gems.
  39. And after they had eaten, Theseus arose,
  40. and as he pointed with his finger, said,
  41. “Declare to me what name that island bears,
  42. or is it one or more than one I see?”
  43. To which the ready River-God replied:
  44. “It is not one we see but five are there,
  45. deceptive in the distance. And that you
  46. may wonder less at what Diana did,
  47. those islands were five Naiads.—Long ago,
  48. ten bullocks for a sacrifice they slew;
  49. and when the joyous festival was given,
  50. ignoring me they bade all other Gods.
  51. Indignant at the slight, I swelled with rage
  52. as great as ever when my banks are full,—
  53. and so redoubled both in rage and flood,
  54. I ravished woods from woods, and fields from fields,
  55. and hurled into the sea the very soil,
  56. together with the Nymphs, who then at last
  57. remembered their neglect. And soon my waves,
  58. united with the ocean streams, cut through
  59. the solid soil, and fashioned from the one,
  60. five islands you may see amid the waves,
  61. which men since then, have called Echinades.
  62. “But yet beyond you can observe how one
  63. most beautiful of all is far withdrawn;
  64. and this which most delights me, mariners
  65. have Perimela named. She was so fair
  66. that I deprived her of a precious wealth.
  67. And when Hippodamas, her father, knew,
  68. enraged he pushed her, heavy then with child,
  69. forth from a rock into the cruel sea,
  70. where she must perish,—but I rescued her;
  71. and as I bore her on my swimming tide,
  72. I called on Neptune, ruler of the deep,
  73. ‘O Trident-wielder, you who are preferred
  74. next to the god most mighty! who by lot
  75. obtained the empire of the flowing deep,
  76. to which all sacred rivers flow and end;
  77. come here, O Neptune, and with gracious will
  78. grant my desire;—I injured her I save;—
  79. but if Hippodamas, her father, when
  80. he knew my love, had been both kind and just,
  81. if he had not been so unnatural,
  82. he would have pitied and forgiven her.
  83. Ah, Neptune, I beseech you, grant your power
  84. may find a place of safety for this Nymph,
  85. abandoned to the deep waves by her sire.
  86. Or if that cannot be, let her whom I
  87. embrace to show my love, let her become
  88. a place of safety.’ Instantly to me
  89. the King of Ocean moved his mighty head,
  90. and all the deep waves quivered in response.
  91. “The Nymph, afraid, still struggled in the deep,
  92. and as she swam I touched her throbbing breast;
  93. and as I felt her bosom, trembling still,
  94. I thought her soft flesh was becoming hard;
  95. for even then, new earth enclosed her form;
  96. and as I prayed to Neptune, earth encased
  97. her floating limbs;—and on her changing form
  98. the heavy soil of that fair island grew.”
  1. And at this point, the River said no more.
  2. This wonderful event astonished all;
  3. but one was there, Ixion's haughty son—
  4. a known despiser of the living Gods—
  5. who, laughing, scorned it as an idle tale.
  6. He made a jest of those who heard, and said,
  7. “A foolish fiction! Achelous, how
  8. can such a tale be true? Do you believe
  9. a god there is, in heaven so powerful,
  10. a god to give and take away a form—
  11. transform created shapes?
  12. Such impious words
  13. found no response in those who heard him speak.
  14. Amazed he could so doubt known truth, before
  15. them all, uprose to vindicate the Gods
  16. the hero Lelex, wise in length of days.
  17. “The glory of the living Gods,” he said,
  18. “Is not diminished, nor their power confined,
  19. and whatsoever they decree is done.
  20. “And I have this to tell, for all must know
  21. the evil of such words:—Upon the hills
  22. of Phrygia I have seen two sacred trees,
  23. a lime-tree and an oak, so closely grown
  24. their branches interlace. A low stone wall
  25. is built around to guard them from all harm.
  26. And that you may not doubt it, I declare
  27. again, I saw the spot, for Pittheus there
  28. had sent me to attend his father's court.
  29. “Near by those trees are stagnant pools and fens,
  30. where coots and cormorants delight to haunt;
  31. but it was not so always. Long ago
  32. 'Twas visited by mighty Jupiter,
  33. together with his nimble-witted son,
  34. who first had laid aside his rod and Wings.
  35. “As weary travelers over all the land
  36. they wandered, begging for their food and bed;
  37. and of a thousand houses, all the doors
  38. were bolted and no word of kindness given—
  39. so wicked were the people of that land.
  40. At last, by chance, they stopped at a small house,
  41. whose humble roof was thatched with reeds and straw;—
  42. and here a kind old couple greeted them.
  43. “The good dame, Baucis, seemed about the age
  44. of old Philemon, her devoted man;
  45. they had been married in their early youth,
  46. in that same cottage and had lived in it,
  47. and grown together to a good old age;
  48. contented with their lot because they knew
  49. their poverty, and felt no shame of it;
  50. they had no need of servants; the good pair
  51. were masters of their home and served themselves;
  52. their own commands they easily obeyed.
  53. “Now when the two Gods, Jove and Mercury,
  54. had reached this cottage, and with bending necks
  55. had entered the low door, the old man bade
  56. them rest their wearied limbs, and set a bench,
  57. on which his good wife, Baucis, threw a cloth;
  58. and then with kindly bustle she stirred up
  59. the glowing embers on the hearth, and then
  60. laid tinder, leaves and bark; and bending down
  61. breathed on them with her ancient breath until
  62. they kindled into flame. Then from the house
  63. she brought a store of faggots and small twigs,
  64. and broken branches, and above them swung
  65. a kettle, not too large for simple folk.
  66. And all this done, she stripped some cabbage leaves,
  67. which her good husband gathered for the meal.
  68. “Then with a two-pronged fork the man let down
  69. a rusty side of bacon from aloft,
  70. and cut a little portion from the chine;
  71. which had been cherished long. He softened it
  72. in boiling water. All the while they tried
  73. with cheerful conversation to beguile,
  74. so none might notice a brief loss of time.
  75. “Swung on a peg they had a beechwood trough,
  76. which quickly with warm water filled, was used
  77. for comfortable washing. And they fixed,
  78. upon a willow couch, a cushion soft
  79. of springy sedge, on which they neatly spread
  80. a well worn cloth preserved so many years;
  81. 'Twas only used on rare and festive days;
  82. and even it was coarse and very old,
  83. though not unfit to match a willow couch!
  84. “Now as the Gods reclined, the good old dame,
  85. whose skirts were tucked up, moving carefully,
  86. for so she tottered with her many years,
  87. fetched a clean table for the ready meal—
  88. but one leg of the table was too short,
  89. and so she wedged it with a potsherd—so
  90. made firm, she cleanly scoured it with fresh mint.
  91. “And here is set the double-tinted fruit
  92. of chaste Minerva, and the tasty dish
  93. of corner, autumn-picked and pickled; these
  94. were served for relish; and the endive-green,
  95. and radishes surrounding a large pot
  96. of curdled milk; and eggs not overdone
  97. but gently turned in glowing embers—all
  98. served up in earthen dishes. Then sweet wine
  99. served up in clay, so costly! all embossed,
  100. and cups of beechwood smoothed with yellow wax.
  101. “So now they had short respite, till the fire
  102. might yield the heated course.
  103. “Again they served
  104. new wine, but mellow; and a second course:
  105. sweet nuts, dried figs and wrinkled dates and plums,
  106. and apples fragrant, in wide baskets heaped;
  107. and, in a wreath of grapes from purple vines,
  108. concealed almost, a glistening honey-comb;
  109. and all these orchard dainties were enhanced
  110. by willing service and congenial smiles.
  111. “But while they served, the wine-bowl often drained,
  112. as often was replenished, though unfilled,
  113. and Baucis and Philemon, full of fear,
  114. as they observed the wine spontaneous well,
  115. increasing when it should diminish, raised
  116. their hands in supplication, and implored
  117. indulgence for their simple home and fare.
  118. And now, persuaded by this strange event
  119. such visitors were deities unknown,
  120. this aged couple, anxious to bestow
  121. their most esteemed possession, hastily
  122. began to chase the only goose they had—
  123. the faithful guardian of their little home —
  124. which they would kill and offer to the Gods.
  125. But swift of wing, at last it wearied them,
  126. and fled for refuge to the smiling Gods.
  127. At once the deities forbade their zeal,
  128. and said, ‘A righteous punishment shall fall
  129. severe upon this wicked neighborhood;
  130. but by the might of our divinity,
  131. no evil shall befall this humble home;
  132. but you must come, and follow as we climb
  133. the summit of this mountain!’
  134. “Both obeyed,
  135. and leaning on their staves toiled up the steep.
  136. Not farther from the summit than the flight
  137. of one swift arrow from a hunter's how,
  138. they paused to view their little home once more;
  139. and as they turned their eyes, they saw the fields
  140. around their own engulfed in a morass,
  141. although their own remained,—and while they wept
  142. bewailing the sad fate of many friends,
  143. and wondered at the change, they saw their home,
  144. so old and little for their simple need—
  145. put on new splendor, and as it increased
  146. it changed into a temple of the gods.
  147. Where first the frame was fashioned of rude stakes
  148. columns of marble glistened, and the thatch
  149. gleamed golden in the sun, and legends carved,
  150. adorned the doors. And al] the ground shone white
  151. with marble rich, and after this was done,
  152. the Son of Saturn said with gentle voice,
  153. ‘Now tell us, good old man and you his wife,
  154. worthy and faithful, what is your desire?’
  155. “Philemon counselled with old Baucis first;
  156. and then discovered to the listening Gods
  157. their hearts' desire, ‘We pray you let us have
  158. the care of your new temple; and since we
  159. have passed so many years in harmony,
  160. let us depart this life together— Let
  161. the same hour take us both—I would not see
  162. the tomb of my dear wife; and let me not
  163. be destined to be buried by her hands!’
  164. “At once their wishes were fulfilled. So long
  165. as life was granted they were known to be
  166. the temple's trusted keepers, and when age
  167. had enervated them with many years,
  168. as they were standing, by some chance, before
  169. the sacred steps, and were relating all
  170. these things as they had happened, Baucis saw
  171. Philemon, her old husband, and he, too,
  172. saw Baucis, as their bodies put forth leaves;
  173. and while the tops of trees grew over them,
  174. above their faces, — they spoke each to each;
  175. as long as they could speak they said, ‘Farewell,
  176. farewell, my own’—and while they said farewell;
  177. new leaves and branches covered both at once.
  178. “The people of Tyana still point out
  179. two trees which grew there from a double trunk,
  180. two forms made into one. Old truthful men,
  181. who have no reason to deceive me, told
  182. me truly all that I have told to you,
  183. and I have seen the votive wreaths hung from
  184. the branches of the hallowed double-tree.
  185. And one time, as I hung fresh garlands there,
  186. I said, ‘Those whom the Gods care for are Gods!
  187. And those who worshiped are now worshiped here.’”
  1. He ceased, and this miraculous event,
  2. and he who told it, had astonished them.
  3. But Theseus above all. The hero asked
  4. to hear of other wonders wrought by Gods.
  5. The Calydonian River-God replied,
  6. and leaning on one elbow, said to him:
  7. “There are, O valiant hero, other things
  8. whose forms once-changed as these, have so remained,
  9. but there are some who take on many shapes,
  10. as you have, Proteus, dweller of the deep—
  11. the deep whose arms embrace the earth. For some
  12. have seen you as a youth, then as a lion,
  13. a furious boar one time, a serpent next,
  14. so dreadful to the touch—and sometimes horns
  15. have made you seem a bull—or now a stone,
  16. or now a tree, or now a slipping stream,
  17. or even—the foe of water—next a fire.”
  18. Now Erysichthon's daughter, Mestra, had
  19. that power of Proteus—she was called the wife
  20. of deft Autolycus.—Her father spurned
  21. the majesty of all the Gods, and gave
  22. no honor to their altars. It is said
  23. he violated with an impious axe
  24. the sacred grove of Ceres, and he cut
  25. her trees with iron. Long-standing in her grove
  26. there grew an ancient oak tree, spread so wide,
  27. alone it seemed a standing forest; and
  28. its trunk and branches held memorials,
  29. as, fillets, tablets, garlands, witnessing
  30. how many prayers the goddess Ceres granted.
  31. And underneath it laughing Dryads loved
  32. to whirl in festal dances, hand in hand,
  33. encircling its enormous trunk, that thrice
  34. five ells might measure; and to such a height
  35. it towered over all the trees around,
  36. as they were higher than the grass beneath.
  37. But Erysichthon, heedless of all things,
  38. ordered his slaves to fell the sacred oak,
  39. and as they hesitated, in a rage
  40. the wretch snatched from the hand of one an axe,
  41. and said, “If this should be the only oak
  42. loved by the goddess of this very grove,
  43. or even were the goddess in this tree,
  44. I'll level to the ground its leafy head.”
  45. So boasted he, and while he swung on high
  46. his axe to strike a slanting blow, the oak
  47. beloved of Ceres, uttered a deep groan
  48. and shuddered. Instantly its dark green leaves
  49. turned pale, and all its acorns lost their green,
  50. and even its long branches drooped their arms.
  51. But when his impious hand had struck the trunk,
  52. and cut its bark, red blood poured from the wound,—
  53. as when a weighty sacrificial bull
  54. has fallen at the altar, streaming blood
  55. spouts from his stricken neck. All were amazed.
  56. And one of his attendants boldly tried
  57. to stay his cruel axe, and hindered him;
  58. but Erysichthon, fixing his stern eyes
  59. upon him, said, “Let this, then, be the price
  60. of all your pious worship!” So he turned
  61. the poised axe from the tree, and clove his head
  62. sheer from his body, and again began
  63. to chop the hard oak. From the heart of it
  64. these words were uttered; “Covered by the bark
  65. of this oak tree I long have dwelt a Nymph,
  66. beloved of Ceres, and before my death
  67. it has been granted me to prophesy,
  68. that I may die contented. Punishment
  69. for this vile deed stands waiting at your side.”
  70. No warning could avert his wicked arm.
  71. Much weakened by his countless blows, the tree,
  72. pulled down by straining ropes, gave way at last
  73. and leveled with its weight uncounted trees
  74. that grew around it. Terrified and shocked,
  75. the sister-dryads, grieving for the grove
  76. and what they lost, put on their sable robes
  77. and hastened unto Ceres, whom they prayed,
  78. might rightly punish Erysichthon's crime;—
  79. the lovely goddess granted their request,
  80. and by the gracious movement of her head
  81. she shook the fruitful, cultivated fields,
  82. then heavy with the harvest; and she planned
  83. an unexampled punishment deserved,
  84. and not beyond his miserable crimes—
  85. the grisly bane of famine; but because
  86. it is not in the scope of Destiny,
  87. that two such deities should ever meet
  88. as Ceres and gaunt Famine,—calling forth
  89. from mountain-wilds a rustic Oread,
  90. the goddess Ceres, said to her, “There is
  91. an ice-bound wilderness of barren soil
  92. in utmost Scythia, desolate and bare
  93. of trees and corn, where Torpid-Frost, White-Death
  94. and Palsy and Gaunt-Famine, hold their haunts;
  95. go there now, and command that Famine flit
  96. from there; and let her gnawing-essence pierce
  97. the entrails of this sacrilegious wretch,
  98. and there be hidden—Let her vanquish me
  99. and overcome the utmost power of food.
  100. Heed not misgivings of the journey's length,
  101. for you will guide my dragon-bridled car
  102. through lofty ether.”
  1. And she gave to her
  2. the reins; and so the swiftly carried Nymph
  3. arrived in Scythia. There, upon the told
  4. of steepy Caucasus, when she had slipped
  5. their tight yoke from the dragons' harnessed necks,
  6. she searched for Famine in that granite land,
  7. and there she found her clutching at scant herbs,
  8. with nails and teeth. Beneath her shaggy hair
  9. her hollow eyes glared in her ghastly face,
  10. her lips were filthy and her throat was rough
  11. and blotched, and all her entrails could be seen,
  12. enclosed in nothing but her shriveled skin;
  13. her crooked loins were dry uncovered bones,
  14. and where her belly should be was a void;
  15. her flabby breast was flat against her spine;
  16. her lean, emaciated body made
  17. her joints appear so large, her knobbled knees
  18. seemed large knots, and her swollen ankle-bones
  19. protruded.
  20. When the Nymph, with keen sight, saw
  21. the Famine-monster, fearing to draw near
  22. she cried aloud the mandate she had brought
  23. from fruitful Ceres, and although the time
  24. had been but brief, and Famine far away,
  25. such hunger seized the Nymph, she had to turn
  26. her dragon-steeds, and flee through yielding air
  27. and the high clouds;—at Thessaly she stopped.
  28. Grim Famine hastened to obey the will
  29. of Ceres, though their deeds are opposite,
  30. and rapidly through ether heights was borne
  31. to Erysichthon's home. When she arrived
  32. at midnight, slumber was upon the wretch,
  33. and as she folded him in her two wings,
  34. she breathed her pestilential poison through
  35. his mouth and throat and breast, and spread the curse
  36. of utmost hunger in his aching veins.
  37. When all was done as Ceres had decreed,
  38. she left the fertile world for bleak abodes,
  39. and her accustomed caves. While this was done
  40. sweet Sleep with charming pinion soothed the mind
  41. of Erysichthon. In a dreamful feast
  42. he worked his jaws in vain, and ground his teeth,
  43. and swallowed air as his imagined food;
  44. till wearied with the effort he awoke
  45. to hunger scorching as a fire, which burned
  46. his entrails and compelled his raging jaws,
  47. so he, demanding all the foods of sea
  48. and earth and air, raged of his hunger, while
  49. the tables groaned with heaps before him spread;
  50. he, banqueting, sought banquets for more food,
  51. and as he gorged he always wanted more.
  52. The food of cities and a nation failed
  53. to satisfy the cravings of one man.
  54. The more his stomach gets, the more it needs —
  55. even as the ocean takes the streams of earth,
  56. although it swallows up great rivers drawn
  57. from lands remote, it never can be filled
  58. nor satisfied. And as devouring fire
  59. its fuel refuses never, but consumes
  60. unnumbered beams of wood, and burns for more
  61. the more 'tis fed, and from abundance gains
  62. increasing famine, so the raving jaws
  63. of wretched Erysichthon, ever craved
  64. all food in him, was on]y cause of food,
  65. and what he ate made only room for more.
  66. And after Famine through his gluttony
  67. at last had wasted his ancestral wealth
  68. his raging hunger suffered no decline,
  69. and his insatiate gluttony increased.
  70. When all his wealth at last was eaten up,
  71. his daughter, worthy of a fate more kind,
  72. alone was left to him and her he sold.
  73. Descendant of a noble race, the girl
  74. refusing to be purchased as a slave,
  75. then hastened to the near shore of the sea,
  76. and as she stretched her arms above the waves,
  77. implored kind Neptune with her tears, “Oh, you
  78. who have deprived me of virginity,
  79. deliver me from such a master's power!”
  80. Although the master, seeking her, had seen
  81. her only at that moment, Neptune changed
  82. her quickly from a woman to a man,
  83. by giving her the features of a man
  84. and garments proper to a fisher-man:
  85. and there she stood. He even looked at her
  86. and cried out, “Hey, there! Expert of the rod!
  87. While you are casting forth the bit of brass,
  88. concealed so deftly in its tiny bait,—
  89. gods-willing! let the sea be smooth for you,
  90. and let the foolish fishes swimming up,
  91. never know danger till they snap the hook!
  92. Now tell me where is she, who only now,
  93. in tattered garment and wind-twisted hair,
  94. was standing on this shore—for I am sure
  95. I saw her standing on this shore, although
  96. no footstep shows her flight.”
  97. By this assured
  98. the favor of the god protected her;
  99. delighted to be questioned of herself,
  100. she said, “No matter who you are, excuse me.
  101. So busy have I been at catching fish,
  102. I have not had the time to move my eyes
  103. from this pool; and that you may be assured
  104. I only tell the truth, may Neptune, God
  105. of ocean witness it, I have not seen a man
  106. where I am standing on this shore—myself
  107. excepted—not a woman has stood here.”
  108. Her master could not doubt it, and deceived
  109. retraced his footsteps from the sandy shore.
  110. As soon as he had disappeared, her form
  111. unchanged, was given back to her. But when
  112. her father knew his daughter could transform
  113. her body and escape, he often sold
  114. her first to one and then another—all
  115. of whom she cheated— as a mare, bird,
  116. a cow, or as a stag she got away; and so
  117. brought food, dishonestly, to ease his greed.
  118. And so he lived until the growing strength
  119. of famine, gnawing at his vitals, had
  120. consumed all he could get by selling her:
  121. his anguish burned him with increasing heat.
  122. He gnawed his own flesh, and he tore his limbs
  123. and fed his body all he took from it.
  124. ah, why should I dwell on the wondrous deeds
  125. of others—Even I, O gathered youths,
  126. have such a power I can often change
  127. my body till my limit has been reached.
  128. A while appearing in my real form,
  129. another moment coiled up as a snake,
  130. then as a monarch of the herd my strength
  131. increases in my horns—my strength increased
  132. in my two horns when I had two—but now
  133. my forehead, as you see, has lost one horn.
  134. And having ended with such words,—he groaned.