The Story of Phaeton
THE Sun’s bright palace, on high columns rais’d, With burnish’d gold and flaming jewels blaz’d; The folding gates diffus’d a silver light, And with a milder gleam refresh’d the sight; Of polish’d iv’ry was the cov’ring wrought: The matter vied not with the sculptor’s thought, For in the portal was display’d on high (The work of Vulcan) a fictitious sky; A waving sea th’ inferiour Earth embrac’d, And Gods and Goddesses the waters grac’d. Aegeon here a mighty whale bestrode; Triton, and Proteus (the deceiving God) With Doris here were carv’d, and all her train, Some loosely swimming in the figur’d main, While some on rocks their dropping hair divide, And some on fishes through the waters glide: Tho’ various features did the sisters grace, A sister’s likeness was in ev’ry face. On Earth a diff’rent landskip courts the eyes, Men, towns, and beasts in distant prospects rise, And nymphs, and streams, and woods, and rural deities. O’er all, the Heav’n’s refulgent image shines; On either gate were six engraven signs.
Here Phaeton still gaining on th’ ascent, To his suspected father’s palace went, ’Till pressing forward through the bright abode, He saw at distance the illustrious God: He saw at distance, or the dazling light Had flash’d too strongly on his aking sight.
The God sits high, exalted on a throne Of blazing gems, with purple garments on; The Hours, in order rang’d on either hand, And Days, and Months, and Years, and Ages stand. Here Spring appears with flow’ry chaplets bound; Here Summer in her wheaten garland crown’d; Here Autumn the rich trodden grapes besmear; And hoary Winter shivers in the reer.
Phoebus beheld the youth from off his throne; That eye, which looks on all, was fix’d in one. He saw the boy’s confusion in his face, Surpriz’d at all the wonders of the place; And cries aloud, “What wants my son? for know My son thou art, and I must call thee so.” “Light of the world,” the trembling youth replies, “Illustrious parent! since you don’t despise The parent’s name, some certain token give, That I may Clymene’s proud boast believe, Nor longer under false reproaches grieve.”
The tender sire was touch’d with what he said, And flung the blaze of glories from his head, And bid the youth advance: “My son,” said he, “Come to thy father’s arms! for Clymene Has told thee true; a parent’s name I own, And deem thee worthy to be called my son. As a sure proof, make some request, and I, Whate’er it be, with that request comply; By Styx I swear, whose waves are hid in night, And roul impervious to my piercing sight.” The youth transported, asks, without delay, To guide the sun’s bright chariot for a day.
The God repented of the oath he took, For anguish thrice his radiant head he shook; “My son,” says he, “some other proof require, Rash was my promise, rash is thy desire. I’d fain deny this wish, which thou hast made, Or, what I can’t deny, wou’d fain disswade. Too vast and hazardous the task appears, Nor suited to thy strength, nor to thy years. Thy lot is mortal, but thy wishes fly Beyond the province of mortality: There is not one of all the Gods that dares (However skill’d in other great affairs) To mount the burning axle-tree, but I; Not Jove himself, the ruler of the sky, That hurles the three-fork’d thunder from above, Dares try his strength: yet who so strong as Jove? The steeds climb up the first ascent with pain, And when the middle firmament they gain, If downward from the Heav’ns my head I bow, And see the Earth and Ocean hang below, Ev’n I am seiz’d with horror and affright, And my own heart misgives me at the sight. A mighty downfal steeps the ev’ning stage, And steddy reins must curb the horses’ rage. Tethys herself has fear’d to see me driv’n Down headlong from the precipice of Heav’n. Besides, consider what impetuous force Turns stars and planets in a diff’rent course. I steer against their motions; nor am I Born back by all the current of the sky. But how cou’d you resist the orbs that roul In adverse whirls, and stem the rapid pole? But you perhaps may hope for pleasing woods, And stately dooms, and cities fill’d with Gods; While through a thousand snares your progress lies, Where forms of starry monsters stock the skies: For, shou’d you hit the doubtful way aright, The bull with stooping horns stands opposite; Next him the bright Haemonian bow is strung, And next, the lion’s grinning visage hung: The scorpion’s claws, here clasp a wide extent; And here the crab’s in lesser clasps are bent. Nor wou’d you find it easie to compose The mettled steeds, when from their nostrils flows The scorching fire, that in their entrails glows. Ev’n I their head-strong fury scarce restrain, When they grow warm and restif to the rein. Let not my son a fatal gift require, But, O! in time, recall your rash desire; You ask a gift that may your parent tell, Let these my fears your parentage reveal; And learn a father from a father’s care: Look on my face; or if my heart lay bare, Cou’d you but look, you’d read the father there. Chuse out a gift from seas, or Earth, or skies, For open to your wish all Nature lies, Only decline this one unequal task, For ’tis a mischief, not a gift, you ask. You ask a real mischief, Phaeton: Nay hang not thus about my neck, my son: I grant your wish, and Styx has heard my voice, Chuse what you will, but make a wiser choice.”
Thus did the God th’ unwary youth advise; But he still longs to travel through the skies. When the fond father (for in vain he pleads) At length to the Vulcanian Chariot leads. A golden axle did the work uphold, Gold was the beam, the wheels were orb’d with gold. The spokes in rows of silver pleas’d the sight, The seat with party-colour’d gems was bright; Apollo shin’d amid the glare of light. The youth with secret joy the work surveys, When now the moon disclos’d her purple rays; The stars were fled, for Lucifer had chased The stars away, and fled himself at last. Soon as the father saw the rosy morn, And the moon shining with a blunter horn, He bid the nimble Hours, without delay, Bring forth the steeds; the nimble Hours obey: From their full racks the gen’rous steeds retire, Dropping ambrosial foams, and snorting fire. Still anxious for his son, the God of day, To make him proof against the burning ray, His temples with celestial ointment wet, Of sov’reign virtue to repel the heat; Then fix’d the beamy circle on his head, And fetch’d a deep foreboding sigh, and said, “Take this at least, this last advice, my son, Keep a stiff rein, and move but gently on: The coursers of themselves will run too fast, Your art must be to moderate their haste. Drive ’em not on directly through the skies, But where the Zodiac’s winding circle lies, Along the midmost Zone; but sally forth Nor to the distant south, nor stormy north. The horses’ hoofs a beaten track will show, But neither mount too high, nor sink too low. That no new fires, or Heav’n or Earth infest; Keep the mid way, the middle way is best. Nor, where in radiant folds the serpent twines, Direct your course, nor where the altar shines. Shun both extreams; the rest let Fortune guide, And better for thee than thy self provide! See, while I speak, the shades disperse away, Aurora gives the promise of a day; I’m call’d, nor can I make a longer stay. Snatch up the reins; or still th’ attempt forsake, And not my chariot, but my counsel, take, While yet securely on the Earth you stand; Nor touch the horses with too rash a hand. Let me alone to light the world, while you Enjoy those beams which you may safely view.” He spoke in vain; the youth with active heat And sprightly vigour vaults into the seat; And joys to hold the reins, and fondly gives Those thanks his father with remorse receives.
Mean-while the restless horses neigh’d aloud, Breathing out fire, and pawing where they stood. Tethys, not knowing what had past, gave way, And all the waste of Heav’n before ’em lay. They spring together out, and swiftly bear The flying youth thro’ clouds and yielding air; With wingy speed outstrip the eastern wind, And leave the breezes of the morn behind. The youth was light, nor cou’d he fill the seat, Or poise the chariot with its wonted weight: But as at sea th’ unballass’d vessel rides, Cast to and fro, the sport of winds and tides; So in the bounding chariot toss’d on high, The youth is hurry’d headlong through the sky. Soon as the steeds perceive it, they forsake Their stated course, and leave the beaten track. The youth was in a maze, nor did he know Which way to turn the reins, or where to go; Nor wou’d the horses, had he known, obey. Then the sev’n stars first felt Apollo’s ray, And wish’d to dip in the forbidden sea. The folded serpent next the frozen pole, Stiff and benum’d before, began to rowle, And raged with inward heat, and threaten’d war, And shot a redder light from ev’ry star; Nay, and ’tis said Bootes too, that fain Thou woud’st have fled, tho’ cumber’d with thy wane.
Th’ unhappy youth then, bending down his head, Saw Earth and Ocean far beneath him spread. His colour chang’d, he startled at the sight, And his eyes darken’d by too great a light. Now cou’d he wish the fiery steeds untry’d, His birth obscure, and his request deny’d: Now wou’d he Merops for his father own, And quit his boasted kindred to the sun.
So fares the pilot, when his ship is tost In troubled seas, and all its steerage lost, He gives her to the winds, and in despair Seeks his last refuge in the Gods and pray’r.
What cou’d he do? his eyes, if backward cast, Find a long path he had already past; If forward, still a longer path they find: Both he compares, and measures in his mind; And sometimes casts an eye upon the east, And sometimes looks on the forbidden west, The horses’ names he knew not in the fright, Nor wou’d he loose the reins, nor cou’d he hold ’em right.
Now all the horrors of the Heav’ns he spies, And monstrous shadows of prodigious size, That, deck’d with stars, lye scatter’d o’er the skies. There is a place above, where Scorpio bent In tail and arms surrounds a vast extent; In a wide circuit of the Heav’ns he shines, And fills the space of two celestial signs. Soon as the youth beheld him vex’d with heat Brandish his sting, and in his poison sweat, Half dead with sudden fear he dropt the reins; The horses felt ’em loose upon their mains, And, flying out through all the plains above, Ran uncontroul’d where-e’re their fury drove; Rush’d on the stars, and through a pathless way Of unknown regions hurry’d on the day. And now above, and now below they flew, And near the Earth the burning chariot drew.
The clouds disperse in fumes, the wond’ring Moon Beholds her brother’s steeds beneath her own; The highlands smoak, cleft by the piercing rays, Or, clad with woods, in their own fewel blaze. Next o’er the plains, where ripen’d harvests grow, The running conflagration spreads below. But these are trivial ills: whole cities burn, And peopled kingdoms into ashes turn.
The mountains kindle as the car draws near, Athos and Tmolus red with fires appear; Oeagrian Haemus (then a single name) And virgin Helicon increase the flame; Taurus and Oete glare amid the sky, And Ida, spight of all her fountains, dry. Eryx and Othrys, and Cithaeron, glow, And Rhodope, no longer cloath’d in snow; High Pindus, Mimas, and Parnassus, sweat, And Aetna rages with redoubled heat. Ev’n Scythia, through her hoary regions warm’d, In vain with all her native frost was arm’d. Cover’d with flames the tow’ring Appennine, And Caucasus, and proud Olympus, shine; And, where the long-extended Alpes aspire, Now stands a huge continu’d range of fire.
Th’ astonisht youth, where-e’er his eyes cou’d turn, Beheld the universe around him burn: The world was in a blaze; nor cou’d he bear The sultry vapours and the scorching air, Which from below, as from a furnace, flow’d; And now the axle-tree beneath him glow’d: Lost in the whirling clouds that round him broke, And white with ashes, hov’ring in the smoke. He flew where-e’er the horses drove, nor knew Whither the horses drove, or where he flew.
’Twas then, they say, the swarthy Moor begun To change his hue, and blacken in the sun. Then Libya first, of all her moisture drain’d, Became a barren waste, a wild of sand. The water-nymphs lament their empty urns, Boeotia, robb’s of silve Dirce, mourns, Corinth Pyrene’s wasted spring bewails, And Argos grieves whilst Amymone fails.
The floods are drain’d from ev’ry distant coast, Ev’n Tanais, tho’ fix’d in ice, was lost. Enrag’d Caicus and Lycormas roar, And Xanthus, fated to be burnt once more. The fam’d Maeander, that unweary’d strays Through mazy windings, smoaks in ev’ry maze. From his lov’d Babylon Euphrates flies; The big-swoln Ganges and the Danube rise In thick’ning fumes, and darken half the skies. In flames Ismenos and the Phasis roul’d, And Tagus floating in his melted gold. The swans, that on Cayster often try’d Their tuneful songs, now sung their last and dy’d. The frighted Nile ran off, and under ground Conceal’d his head, nor can it yet be found: His sev’n divided currents all are dry, And where they row’ld, sev’n gaping trenches lye: No more the Rhine or Rhone their course maintain, Nor Tiber, of his promis’d empire vain.
The ground, deep-cleft, admits the dazling ray, And startles Pluto with the flash of day. The seas shrink in, and to the sight disclose Wide naked plains, where once their billows rose; Their rocks are all discover’d, and increase The number of the scatter’d Cyclades. The fish in sholes about the bottom creep, Nor longer dares the crooked dolphin leap Gasping for breath, th’ unshapen Phocae die, And on the boiling wave extended lye. Nereus, and Doris with her virgin train, Seek out the last recesses of the main; Beneath unfathomable depths they faint, And secret in their gloomy caverns pant. Stern Neptune thrice above the waves upheld His face, and thrice was by the flames repell’d.
The Earth at length, on ev’ry side embrac’d With scalding seas that floated round her waste, When now she felt the springs and rivers come, And crowd within the hollow of her womb, Up-lifted to the Heav’ns her blasted head, And clapt her hand upon her brows, and said (But first, impatient of the sultry heat, Sunk deeper down, and sought a cooler seat): “If you, great king of Gods, my death approve, And I deserve it, let me die by Jove; If I must perish by the force of fire, Let me transfix’d with thunder-bolts expire. See, whilst I speak, my breath the vapours choak (For now her face lay wrapt in clouds of smoak), See my singe’d hair, behold my faded eye, And wither’d face, where heaps of cinders lye! And does the plow for this my body tear? This the reward for all the fruits I bear, Tortur’d with rakes, and harrass’d all the year? That herbs for cattle daily I renew, And food for Man, and frankincense for you? But grant me guilty; what has Neptune done? Why are his waters boiling in the sun? The wavy empire, which by lot was giv’n, Why does it waste, and further shrink from Heav’n? If I nor he your pity can provoke, See your own Heav’ns, the Heav’ns begin to smoke! Shou’d once the sparkles catch those bright abodes, Destruction seizes on the Heav’ns and Gods; Atlas becomes unequal to his freight, And almost faints beneath the glowing weight. If Heav’n, and Earth, and sea, together burn, All must again into their chaos turn. Apply some speedy cure, prevent our fate, And succour Nature, ere it be too late.” She cea’sd, for choak’d with vapours round her spread, Down to the deepest shades she sunk her head.
Jove call’d to witness ev’ry Pow’r above, And ev’n the God, whose son the chariot drove, That what he acts he is compell’d to do, Or universal ruin must ensue. Strait he ascends the high aetherial throne, From whence he us’d to dart his thunder down, From whence his show’rs and storms he us’d to pour, But now cou’d meet with neither storm nor show’r. Then, aiming at the youth, with lifted hand, Full at his head he hurl’d the forky brand, In dreadful thund’rings. Thus th’ almighty sire Suppress’d the raging of the fires with fire.
At once from life and from the chariot driv’n, Th’ ambitious boy fell thunder-struck from Heav’n. The horses started with a sudden bound, And flung the reins and chariot to the ground: The studded harness from their necks they broke, Here fell a wheel, and here a silver spoke, Here were the beam and axle torn away; And, scatter’d o’er the Earth, the shining fragments lay. The breathless Phaeton, with flaming hair, Shot from the chariot, like a falling star, That in a summer’s ev’ning from the top Of Heav’n drops down, or seems at least to drop; ’Till on the Po his blasted corps was hurl’d, Far from his country, in the western world.
Phaeton’s Sisters transform’d into Trees
The Latian nymphs came round him, and, amaz’d, On the dead youth, transfix’d with thunder, gaz’d; And, whilst yet smoaking from the bolt he lay, His shatter’d body to a tomb convey, And o’er the tomb an epitaph devise: “Here he, who drove the sun’s bright chariot, lies; His father’s fiery steeds he cou’d not guide, But in the glorious enterprize he dy’d.”
Apollo hid his face, and pin’d for grief, And, if the story may deserve belief, The space of one whole day is said to run, From morn to wonted ev’n, without a sun: The burning ruins, with a fainter ray, Supply the sun, and counterfeit a day, A day, that still did Nature’s face disclose: This comfort from the mighty mischief rose.
But Clymene, enrag’d with grief, laments, And as her grief inspires, her passion vents: Wild for her son, and frantick in her woes, With hair dishevel’d round the world she goes, To seek where-e’er his body might be cast; ’Till, on the borders of the Po, at last The name inscrib’d on the new tomb appears. The dear dear name she bathes in flowing tears, Hangs o’er the tomb, unable to depart, And hugs the marble to her throbbing heart.
Her daughters too lament, and sigh, and mourn (A fruitless tribute to their brother’s urn), And beat their naked bosoms, and complain, And call aloud for Phaeton in vain: All the long night their mournful watch they keep, And all the day stand round the tomb, and weep.
Four times, revolving, the full moon return’d; So long the mother and the daughters mourn’d: When now the eldest, Phaethusa, strove To rest her weary limbs, but could not move; Lampetia wou’d have help’d her, but she found Her self with-held, and rooted to the ground: A third in wild affliction, as she grieves, Wou’d rend her hair, but fills her hands with leaves; One sees her thighs transform’d, another views Her arms shot out, and branching into boughs. And now their legs, and breasts, and bodies stood Crusted with bark, and hard’ning into wood; But still above were female heads display’d, And mouths, that call’d the mother to their aid. What cou’d, alas! the weeping mother do? From this to that with eager haste she flew, And kiss’d her sprouting daughters as they grew. She tears the bark that to each body cleaves, And from their verdant fingers strips the leaves: The blood came trickling, where she tore away The leaves and bark: the maids were heard to say, “Forbear, mistaken parent, oh! forbear; A wounded daughter in each tree you tear; Farewell for ever.” Here the bark encreas’d, Clos’d on their faces, and their words suppress’d.
The new-made trees in tears of amber run, Which, harden’d into value by the sun, Distill for ever on the streams below: The limpid streams their radiant treasure show, Mixt in the sand; whence the rich drops convey’d Shine in the dress of the bright Latian maid.
The Transformation of Cycnus into a Swan
Cycnus beheld the nymphs transform’d, ally’d To their dead brother on the mortal side, In friendship and affection nearer bound; He left the cities and the realms he own’d, Thro’ pathless fields and lonely shores to range, And woods made thicker by the sisters’ change. Whilst here, within the dismal gloom, alone, The melancholy monarch made his moan, His voice was lessen’d, as he try’d to speak, And issu’d through a long-extended neck; His hair transforms to down, his fingers meet In skinny films, and shape his oary feet; From both his sides the wings and feathers break; And from his mouth proceeds a blunted beak: All Cycnus now into a Swan was turn’d, Who, still remembring how his kinsman burn’d, To solitary pools and lakes retires, And loves the waters as oppos’d to fires.
Mean-while Apollo in a gloomy shade (The native lustre of his brows decay’d) Indulging sorrow, sickens at the sight Of his own sun-shine, and abhors the light; The hidden griefs, that in his bosom rise, Sadden his looks and over-cast his eyes, As when some dusky orb obstructs his ray, And sullies in a dim eclipse the day.
Now secretly with inward griefs he pin’d, Now warm resentments to his griefs he joyn’d, And now renounc’d his office to mankind. “Ere since the birth of time,” said he, “I’ve born A long ungrateful toil, without return; Let now some other manage, if he dare, The fiery steeds, and mount the burning carr; Or, if none else, let Jove his fortune try, And learn to lay his murd’ring thunder by; Then will he own, perhaps, but own too late, My son deserv’d not so severe a fate.”
The Story of Calisto
The Gods stand round him, as he mourns, and pray He would resume the conduct of the day, Nor let the world be lost in endless night: Jove too himself descending from his height, Excuses what had happen’d, and intreats, Majestically mixing pray’rs and threats. Prevail’d upon at length, again he took The harness’d steeds, that still with horror shook, And plies ’em with the lash, and whips ’em on, And, as he whips, upbraids ’em with his son. The day was settled in its course; and Jove Walk’d the wide circuit of the Heavens above, To search if any cracks or flaws were made; But all was safe: the Earth he then survey’d, And cast an eye on ev’ry diff’rent coast, And ev’ry land; but on Arcadia most. Her fields he cloath’d, and chear’d her blasted face With running fountains, and with springing grass. No tracks of Heav’n’s destructive fire remain, The fields and woods revive, and Nature smiles again.
But as the God walk’d to and fro the Earth, And rais’d the plants, and gave the spring its birth, By chance a fair Arcadian nymph he view’d, And felt the lovely charmer in his blood. The nymph nor spun, nor dress’d with artful pride, Her vest was gather’d up, her hair was ty’d; Now in her hand a slender spear she bore, Now a light quiver on her shoulders wore; To chaste Diana from her youth inclin’d, The sprightly warriors of the wood she joyn’d. Diana too the gentle huntress lov’d, Nor was there one of all the nymphs that rov’d O’er Maenalus, amid the maiden throng, More favour’d once; but favour lasts not long.
The sun now shone in all its strength, and drove The heated virgin panting to a grove; The grove around a grateful shadow cast: She dropt her arrows, and her bow unbrac’d; She flung her self on the cool grassy bed; And on the painted quiver rais’d her head, Jove saw the charming huntress unprepar’d, Stretch’d on the verdant turf, without a guard. “Here I am safe,” he cries, “from Juno’s eye; Or shou’d my jealous queen the theft descry, Yet wou’d I venture on a theft like this, And stand her rage for such, for such a bliss!” Diana’s shape and habit strait he took, Soften’d his brows, and smooth’d his awful look, And mildly in a female accent spoke. “How fares my girl? How went the morning chase?” To whom the virgin, starting from the grass, “All hail, bright deity, whom I prefer To Jove himself, tho’ Jove himself were here.” The God was nearer than she thought, and heard Well-pleas’d himself before himself preferr’d.
He then salutes her with a warm embrace; And, e’re she half had told the morning chase, With love enflam’d, and eager on his bliss, Smother’d her words, and stop’d her with a kiss; His kisses with unwonted ardour glow’d, Nor cou’d Diana’s shape conceal the God. The virgin did whate’er a virgin cou’d (Sure Juno must have pardon’d, had she view’d); With all her might against his force she strove; But how can mortal maids contend with Jove?
Possest at length of what his heart desir’d, Back to his Heav’ns, th’ exulting God retir’d. The lovely huntress, rising from the grass, With down-cast eyes, and with a blushing face, By shame confounded, and by fear dismay’d, Flew from the covert of the guilty shade, And almost, in the tumult of her mind, Left her forgotten bow and shafts behind.
But now Diana, with a sprightly train Of quiver’d virgins, bounding o’er the plain, Call’d to the nymph; the nymph began to fear A second fraud, a Jove disguis’d in her; But, when she saw the sister nymphs, suppress’d Her rising fears, and mingled with the rest.
How in the look does conscious guilt appear! Slowly she mov’d, and loiter’d in the rear; Nor lightly tripp’d, nor by the Goddess ran, As once she us’d, the foremost of the train. Her looks were flush’d, and sullen was her mien, That sure the virgin Goddess (had she been Aught but a virgin) must the guilt have seen. ’Tis said the nymphs saw all, and guess’d aright: And now the moon had nine times lost her light, When Dian, fainting in the mid-day beams, Found a cool covert, and refreshing streams That in soft murmurs through the forest flow’d, And a smooth bed of shining gravel show’d.
A covert so obscure, and streams so clear, The Goddess prais’d: “And now no spies are near Let’s strip, my gentle maids, and wash,” she cries. Pleas’d with the motion, every maid complies; Only the blushing huntress stood confus’d, And form’d delays, and her delays excus’d; In vain excus’d: her fellows round her press’d, And the reluctant nymph by force undress’d, The naked huntress all her shame reveal’d, In vain her hands the pregnant womb conceal’d; “Begone!” the Goddess cries with stern disdain, “Begone! nor dare the hallow’d stream to stain”: She fled, for ever banish’d from the train.
This Juno heard, who long had watch’d her time To punish the detested rival’s crime; The time was come; for, to enrage her more, A lovely boy the teeming rival bore.
The Goddess cast a furious look, and cry’d, “It is enough! I’m fully satisfy’d! This boy shall stand a living mark, to prove My husband’s baseness and the strumpet’s love: But vengeance shall awake: those guilty charms That drew the Thunderer from Juno’s arms, No longer shall their wonted force retain, Nor please the God, nor make the mortal vain.”
This said, her hand within her hair she wound, Swung her to Earth, and drag’d her on the ground: The prostrate wretch lifts up her arms in pray’r; Her arms grow shaggy, and deform’d with hair, Her nails are sharpen’d into pointed claws, Her hands bear half her weight, and turn to paws; Her lips, that once cou’d tempt a God, begin To grow distorted in an ugly grin. And, lest the supplicating brute might reach The ears of Jove, she was depriv’d of speech: Her surly voice thro’ a hoarse passage came In savage sounds: her mind was still the same, The furry monster fix’d her eyes above, And heav’d her new unwieldy paws to Jove, And beg’d his aid with inward groans; and tho’ She could not call him false, she thought him so.
How did she fear to lodge in woods alone, And haunt the fields and meadows, once her own! How often wou’d the deep-mouth’d dogs pursue, Whilst from her hounds the frighted huntress flew! How did she fear her fellow-brutes, and shun The shaggy bear, tho’ now her self was one! How from the sight of rugged wolves retire, Although the grim Lycaon was her sire!
But now her son had fifteen summers told, Fierce at the chase, and in the forest bold; When, as he beat the woods in quest of prey, He chanc’d to rouze his mother where she lay. She knew her son, and kept him in her sight, And fondly gaz’d: the boy was in a fright, And aim’d a pointed arrow at her breast, And would have slain his mother in the beast; But Jove forbad, and snatch’d ’em through the air In whirlwinds up to Heav’n, and fix’d ’em there! Where the new constellations nightly rise, And add a lustre to the northern skies.
When Juno saw the rival in her height, Spangled with stars, and circled round with light, She sought old Ocean in his deep abodes, And Tethys, both rever’d among the Gods. They ask what brings her there: “Ne’er ask,” says she, “What brings me here, Heav’n is no place for me. You’ll see, when night has cover’d all things o’er, Jove’s starry bastard and triumphant whore Usurp the Heav’ns; you’ll see ’em proudly rowle And who shall now on Juno’s altars wait, When those she hates grow greater by her hate? I on the nymph a brutal form impress’d, Jove to a goddess has transform’d the beast; This, this was all my weak revenge could do: But let the God his chaste amours pursue, And, as he acted after Io’s rape, Restore th’ adultress to her former shape; Then may he cast his Juno off, and lead The great Lycaon’s offspring to his bed. But you, ye venerable Pow’rs, be kind, And, if my wrongs a due resentment find, Receive not in your waves their setting beams, Nor let the glaring strumpet taint your streams.”
The Goddess ended, and her wish was giv’n. Back she return’d in triumph up to Heav’n; Her gawdy peacocks drew her through the skies. Their tails were spotted with a thousand eyes; The eyes of Argus on their tails were rang’d, At the same time the raven’s colour chang’d.
The Story of Coronis, and Birth of Aesculapius
The raven once in snowy plumes was drest, White as the whitest dove’s unsully’d breast, Fair as the guardian of the Capitol, Soft as the swan; a large and lovely fowl; His tongue, his prating tongue had chang’d him quite To sooty blackness, from the purest white.
The story of his change shall here be told; In Thessaly there liv’d a nymph of old, Coronis nam’d; a peerless maid she shin’d, Confest the fairest of the fairer kind. Apollo lov’d her, ’till her guilt he knew, While true she was, or whilst he thought her true. But his own bird the raven chanc’d to find The false one with a secret rival joyn’d. Coronis begg’d him to suppress the tale, But could not with repeated pray’rs prevail. His milk-white pinions to the God he ply’d; The busy daw flew with him, side by side, And by a thousand teizing questions drew Th’ important secret from him as they flew. The daw gave honest counsel, tho’ despis’d, And, tedious in her tattle, thus advis’d: “Stay, silly bird, th’ ill-natur’d task refuse, Nor be the bearer of unwelcome news. Be warn’d by my example: you discern What now I am, and what I was shall learn. My foolish honesty was all my crime; Then hear my story. Once upon a time, The two-shap’d Ericthonius had his birth (Without a mother) from the teeming Earth; Minerva nurs’d him, and the infant laid Within a chest, of twining osiers made. The daughters of king Cecrops undertook To guard the chest, commanded not to look On what was hid within. I stood to see The charge obey’d, perch’d on a neighb’ring tree. The sisters Pandrosos and Herse keep The strict command; Aglauros needs would peep, And saw the monstrous infant, in a fright, And call’d her sisters to the hideous sight: A boy’s soft shape did to the waste prevail, But the boy ended in a dragon’s tail. I told the stern Minerva all that pass’d; But for my pains, discarded and disgrac’d, The frowning Goddess drove me from her sight, And for her fav’rite chose the bird of night. Be then no tell-tale; for I think my wrong Enough to teach a bird to hold her tongue.
But you, perhaps, may think I was remov’d, As never by the heav’nly maid belov’d: But I was lov’d; ask Pallas if I lye; Tho’ Pallas hate me now, she won’t deny: For I, whom in a feather’d shape you view, Was once a maid (by Heav’n the story’s true) A blooming maid, and a king’s daughter too. A crowd of lovers own’d my beauty’s charms; My beauty was the cause of all my harms; Neptune, as on his shores I wont to rove, Observ’d me in my walks, and fell in love. He made his courtship, he confess’d his pain, And offer’d force, when all his arts were vain; Swift he pursu’d: I ran along the strand, ’Till, spent and weary’d on the sinking sand, I shriek’d aloud, with cries I fill’d the air To Gods and men; nor God nor man was there: A virgin Goddess heard a virgin’s pray’r. For, as my arms I lifted to the skies, I saw black feathers from my fingers rise; I strove to fling my garment on the ground; My garment turn’d to plumes, and girt me round: My hands to beat my naked bosom try; Nor naked bosom now nor hands had I: Lightly I tript, nor weary as before Sunk in the sand, but skim’d along the shore; ’Till, rising on my wings, I was preferr’d To be the chaste Minerva’s virgin bird: Preferr’d in vain! I am now in disgrace: Nyctimene the owl enjoys my place.
On her incestuous life I need not dwell (In Lesbos still the horrid tale they tell), And of her dire amours you must have heard, For which she now does penance in a bird, That conscious of her shame, avoids the light, And loves the gloomy cov’ring of the night; The birds, where-e’er she flutters, scare away The hooting wretch, and drive her from the day.”
The raven, urg’d by such impertinence, Grew passionate, it seems, and took offence, And curst the harmless daw; the daw withdrew: The raven to her injur’d patron flew, And found him out, and told the fatal truth Of false Coronis and the favour’d youth.
The God was wroth, the colour left his look, The wreath his head, the harp his hand forsook: His silver bow and feather’d shafts he took, And lodg’d an arrow in the tender breast, That had so often to his own been prest. Down fell the wounded nymph, and sadly groan’d, And pull’d his arrow reeking from the wound; And weltring in her blood, thus faintly cry’d, “Ah cruel God! tho’ I have justly dy’d, What has, alas! my unborn infant done, That he should fall, and two expire in one?” This said, in agonies she fetch’d her breath.
The God dissolves in pity at her death; He hates the bird that made her falshood known, And hates himself for what himself had done; The feather’d shaft, that sent her to the Fates, And his own hand, that sent the shaft, he hates. Fain would he heal the wound, and ease her pain, And tries the compass of his art in vain. Soon as he saw the lovely nymph expire, The pile made ready, and the kindling fire. With sighs and groans her obsequies he kept, And, if a God could weep, the God had wept. Her corps he kiss’d, and heav’nly incense brought, And solemniz’d the death himself had wrought.
But lest his offspring should her fate partake, Spight of th’ immortal mixture in his make, He ript her womb, and set the child at large, And gave him to the centaur Chiron’s charge: Then in his fury black’d the raven o’er, And bid him prate in his white plumes no more.
Ocyrrhoe transform’d into a Mare
Old Chiron took the babe with secret joy, Proud of the charge of the celestial boy. His daughter too, whom on the sandy shore The nymph Charicle to the centaur bore, With hair dishevel’d on her shoulders, came To see the child, Ocyrrhoe was her name; She knew her father’s arts, and could rehearse The depths of prophecy in sounding verse. Once, as the sacred infant she survey’d, The God was kindled in the raving maid, And thus she utter’d her prophetick tale: “Hail, great physician of the world, all-hail; Hail, mighty infant, who in years to come Shalt heal the nations, and defraud the tomb; Swift be thy growth! thy triumphs unconfin’d! Make kingdoms thicker, and increase mankind. Thy daring art shall animate the dead, And draw the thunder on thy guilty head: Then shalt thou dye, but from the dark abode Rise up victorious, and be twice a God. And thou, my sire, not destin’d by thy birth To turn to dust, and mix with common earth, How wilt thou toss, and rave, and long to dye, And quit thy claim to immortality; When thou shalt feel, enrag’d with inward pains, The Hydra’s venom rankling in thy veins? The Gods, in pity, shall contract thy date, And give thee over to the pow’r of Fate.”
Thus entring into destiny, the maid The secrets of offended Jove betray’d: More had she still to say; but now appears Oppress’d with sobs and sighs, and drown’d in tears. “My voice,” says she, “is gone, my language fails; Through ev’ry limb my kindred shape prevails: Why did the God this fatal gift impart, And with prophetick raptures swell my heart! What new desires are these? I long to pace O’er flow’ry meadows, and to feed on grass; I hasten to a brute, a maid no more; But why, alas! am I transform’d all o’er? My sire does half a human shape retain, And in his upper parts preserve the man.”
Her tongue no more distinct complaints affords, But in shrill accents and mis-shapen words Pours forth such hideous wailings, as declare The human form confounded in the mare: ’Till by degrees accomplish’d in the beast, She neigh’d outright, and all the steed exprest. Her stooping body on her hands is born, Her hands are turn’d to hoofs, and shod in horn, Her yellow tresses ruffle in a mane, And in a flowing tail she frisks her train, The mare was finish’d in her voice and look, And a new name from the new figure took.
The Transformation of Battus to a Touch stone
Sore wept the centuar, and to Phoebus pray’d; But how could Phoebus give the centaur aid? Degraded of his pow’r by angry Jove, In Elis then a herd of beeves he drove; And wielded in his hand a staff of oak, And o’er his shoulders threw the shepherd’s cloak; On sev’n compacted reeds he us’d to play, And on his rural pipe to waste the day.
As once attentive to his pipe he play’d, The crafty Hermes from the God convey’d A drove, that sep’rate from their fellows stray’d. The theft an old insidious peasant view’d (They call’d him Battus in the neighbourhood), Hir’d by a vealthy Pylian prince to feed His fav’rite mares, and watch the gen’rous breed. The thievish God suspected him, and took The hind aside, and thus in whispers spoke: “Discover not the theft, whoe’er thou be, And take that milk-white heifer for thy fee.” “Go, stranger,” cries the clown, “securely on, That stone shall sooner tell,” and show’d a stone.
The God withdrew, but strait return’d again, In speech and habit like a country swain; And cries out, “Neighbour, hast thou seen a stray Of bullocks and of heifers pass this way? In the recov’ry of my cattle join, A bullock and a heifer shall be thine.” The peasant quick replies, “You’ll find ’em there In yon dark vale”; and in the vale they were. The double bribe had his false heart beguil’d: The God, successful in the tryal, smil’d; “And dost thou thus betray my self to me? Me to my self dost thou betray?” says he: Then to a Touch stone turns the faithless spy; And in his name records his infamy.
The Story of Aglauros, transform’d into a Statue
This done, the God flew up on high, and pass’d O’er lofty Athens, by Minerva grac’d, And wide Munichia, whilst his eyes survey All the vast region that beneath him lay.
’Twas now the feast, when each Athenian maid Her yearly homage to Minerva paid; In canisters, with garlands cover’d o’er, High on their heads, their mystick gifts they bore: And now, returning in a solemn train, The troop of shining virgins fill’d the plain.
The God well pleas’d beheld the pompous show, And saw the bright procession pass below; Then veer’d about, and took a wheeling flight, And hover’d o’er them: as the spreading kite, That smells the slaughter’d victim from on high, Flies at a distance, if the priests are nigh, And sails around, and keeps it in her eye: So kept the God the virgin quire in view, And in slow winding circles round them flew.
As Lucifer excells the meanest star, Or, as the full-orb’d Phoebe, Lucifer; So much did Herse all the rest outvy, And gave a grace to the solemnity. Hermes was fir’d, as in the clouds he hung: So the cold bullet, that with fury slung From Balearick engines mounts on high, Glows in the whirl, and burns along the sky. At length he pitch’d upon the ground, and show’d The form divine, the features of a God. He knew their vertue o’er a female heart, And yet he strives to better them by art. He hangs his mantle loose, and sets to show The golden edging on the seam below; Adjusts his flowing curls, and in his hand Waves, with an air, the sleep-procuring wand; The glitt’ring sandals to his feet applies, And to each heel the well-trim’d pinion ties.
His ornaments with nicest art display’d, He seeks th’ apartment of the royal maid. The roof was all with polish’d iv’ry lin’d, That richly mix’d, in clouds of tortoise shin’d. Three rooms, contiguous, in a range were plac’d, The midmost by the beauteous Herse grac’d; Her virgin sisters lodg’d on either side. Aglauros first th’ approaching God descry’d, And, as he cross’d her chamber, ask’d his name, And what his business was, and whence he came. “I come,” reply’d the God, “from Heav’n, to woo Your sister, and to make an aunt of you; I am the son and messenger of Jove; My name is Mercury, my bus’ness love; Do you, kind damsel, take a lover’s part, And gain admittance to your sister’s heart.”
She star’d him in the face with looks amaz’d, As when she on Minerva’s secret gaz’d, And asks a mighty treasure for her hire; And, ’till he brings it, makes the God retire. Minerva griev’d to see the nymph succeed; And now remembring the late impious deed, When, disobedient to her strict command, She touch’d the chest with an unhallow’d hand; In big-swoln sighs her inward rage express’d, That heav’d the rising Aegis on her breast; Then sought out Envy in her dark abode, Defil’d with ropy gore and clots of blood: Shut from the winds, and from the wholesome skies, In a deep vale the gloomy dungeon lies, Dismal and cold, where not a beam of light Invades the winter, or disturbs the night.
Directly to the cave her course she steer’d; Against the gates her martial lance she rear’d; The gates flew open, and the fiend appear’d. A pois’nous morsel in her teeth she chew’d, And gorg’d the flesh of vipers for her food. Minerva loathing turn’d away her eye; The hideous monster, rising heavily, Came stalking forward with a sullen pace, And left her mangled offals on the place. Soon as she saw the goddess gay and bright, She fetch’d a groan at such a chearful sight. Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye In foul distorted glances turn’d awry; A hoard of gall her inward parts possess’d, And spread a greenness o’er her canker’d breast; Her teeth were brown with rust, and from her tongue, In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung. She never smiles but when the wretched weep, Nor lulls her malice with a moment’s sleep, Restless in spite: while watchful to destroy, She pines and sickens at another’s joy; Foe to her self, distressing and distrest, She bears her own tormentor in her breast. The Goddess gave (for she abhorr’d her sight) A short command: “To Athens speed thy flight; On curst Aglauros try thy utmost art, And fix thy rankest venoms in her heart.” This said, her spear she push’d against the ground, And mounting from it with an active bound, Flew off to Heav’n: the hag with eyes askew Look’d up, and mutter’d curses as she flew; For sore she fretted, and began to grieve At the success which she her self must give. Then takes her staff, hung round with wreaths of thorn, And sails along, in a black whirlwind born, O’er fields and flow’ry meadows: where she steers Her baneful course, a mighty blast appears, Mildews and blights; the meadows are defac’d, The fields, the flow’rs, and the whole years laid waste: On mortals next, and peopled towns she falls, And breathes a burning plague among their walls.
When Athens she beheld, for arts renown’d, With peace made happy, and with plenty crown’d, Scarce could the hideous fiend from tears forbear, To find out nothing that deserv’d a tear. Th’ apartment now she enter’d, where at rest Aglauros lay, with gentle sleep opprest. To execute Minerva’s dire command, She stroak’d the virgin with her canker’d hand, Then prickly thorns into her breast convey’d, That stung to madness the devoted maid: Her subtle venom still improves the smart, Frets in the blood, and festers in the heart.
To make the work more sure, a scene she drew, And plac’d before the dreaming virgin’s view Her sister’s marriage, and her glorious fate: Th’ imaginary bride appears in state; The bride-groom with unwonted beauty glows: For envy magnifies what-e’er she shows.
Full of the dream, Aglauros pin’d away In tears all night, in darkness all the day; Consum’d like ice, that just begins to run, When feebly smitten by the distant sun; Or like unwholsome weeds, that set on fire Are slowly wasted, and in smoke expire. Giv’n up to envy (for in ev’ry thought The thorns, the venom, and the vision wrought) Oft did she call on death, as oft decreed, Rather than see her sister’s wish succeed, To tell her awfull father what had past: At length before the door her self she cast; And, sitting on the ground with sullen pride, A passage to the love-sick God deny’d. The God caress’d, and for admission pray’d, And sooth’d in softest words th’ envenom’d maid. In vain he sooth’d: “Begone!” the maid replies, “Or here I keep my seat, and never rise.” “Then keep thy seat for ever,” cries the God, And touch’d the door, wide op’ning to his rod. Fain would she rise, and stop him, but she found Her trunk too heavy to forsake the ground; Her joynts are all benum’d, her hands are pale, And marble now appears in ev’ry nail. As when a cancer in the body feeds, And gradual death from limb to limb proceeds; So does the chilness to each vital parte Spread by degrees, and creeps into her heart; ’Till hard’ning ev’ry where, and speechless grown, She sits unmov’d, and freezes to a stone. But still her envious hue and sullen mien Are in the sedentary figure seen.
When now the God his fury had allay’d, And taken vengeance of the stubborn maid, From where the bright Athenian turrets rise He mounts aloft, and re-ascends the skies. Jove saw him enter the sublime abodes, And, as he mix’d among the crowd of Gods, Beckon’d him out, and drew him from the rest, And in soft whispers thus his will exprest.
“My trusty Hermes, by whose ready aid Thy sire’s commands are through the world convey’d. Resume thy wings, exert their utmost force, And to the walls of Sidon speed thy course; There find a herd of heifers wand’ring o’er The neighb’ring hill, and drive ’em to the shore.”
Thus spoke the God, concealing his intent. The trusty Hermes, on his message went, And found the herd of heifers wand’ring o’er A neighb’ring hill, and drove ’em to the shore; Where the king’s daughter, with a lovely train Of fellow-nymphs, was sporting on the plain.
The dignity of empire laid aside, (For love but ill agrees with kingly pride) The ruler of the skies, the thund’ring God, Who shakes the world’s foundations with a nod, Among a herd of lowing heifers ran, Frisk’d in a bull, and bellow’d o’er the plain. Large rowles of fat about his shoulders clung, And from his neck the double dewlap hung. His skin was whiter than the snow that lies Unsully’d by the breath of southern skies; Small shining horns on his curl’d forehead stand, As turn’d and polish’d by the work-man’s hand; His eye-balls rowl’d, not formidably bright, But gaz’d and languish’d with a gentle light. His ev’ry look was peaceful, and exprest The softness of the lover in the beast.
Agenor’s royal daughter, as she plaid Among the fields, the milk-white bull survey’d, And view’d his spotless body with delight, And at a distance kept him in her sight. At length she pluck’d the rising flow’rs, and fed The gentle beast, and fondly stroak’d his head. He stood well-pleas’d to touch the charming fair, But hardly could confine his pleasure there. And now he wantons o’er the neighb’ring strand, Now rowls his body on the yellow sand; And, now perceiving all her fears decay’d, Comes tossing forward to the royal maid; Gives her his breast to stroke, and downward turns His grizly brow, and gently stoops his horns. In flow’ry wreaths the royal virgin drest His bending horns, and kindly clapt his breast. ’Till now grown wanton and devoid of fear, Not knowing that she prest the Thunderer, She plac’d her self upon his back, and rode O’er fields and meadows, seated on the God.
He gently march’d along, and by degrees Left the dry meadow, and approach’d the seas; Where now he dips his hoofs and wets his thighs, Now plunges in, and carries off the prize. The frighted nymph looks backward on the shoar, And hears the tumbling billows round her roar; But still she holds him fast: one hand is born Upon his back; the other grasps a horn: Her train of ruffling garments flies behind, Swells in the air, and hovers in the wind.
Through storms and tempests he the virgin bore, And lands her safe on the Dictean shore; Where now, in his divinest form array’d, In his true shape he captivates the maid; Who gazes on him, and with wond’ring eyes Beholds the new majestick figure rise, His glowing features, and celestial light, And all the God discover’d to her sight.