WHEN now Agenor had his daughter lost, He sent his son to search on ev’ry coast; And sternly bid him to his arms restore The darling maid, or see his face no more, But live an exile in a foreign clime; Thus was the father pious to a crime.
The Story of of Cadmus
The restless youth search’d all the world around; But how can Jove in his amours be found? When, tir’d at length with unsuccessful toil, To shun his angry sire and native soil, He goes a suppliant to the Delphick dome; There asks the God what new appointed home Should end his wand’rings, and his toils relieve. The Delphick oracles this answer give.
“Behold among the fields a lonely cow, Unworn with yokes, unbroken to the plow; Mark well the place where first she lays her down, There measure out thy walls, and build thy town, And from thy guide Boeotia call the land, In which the destin’d walls and town shall stand.”
No sooner had he left the dark abode, Big with the promise of the Delphick God, When in the fields the fatal cow he view’d, Nor gall’d with yokes, nor worn with servitude: Her gently at a distance he pursu’d; And as he walk’d aloof, in silence pray’d To the great Pow’r whose counsels he obey’d. Her way thro’ flow’ry Panope she took, And now, Cephisus, cross’d thy silver brook; When to the Heav’ns her spacious front she rais’d, And bellow’d thrice, then backward turning gaz’d On those behind, ’till on the destin’d place She stoop’d, and couch’d amid the rising grass.
Cadmus salutes the soil, and gladly hails The new-found mountains, and the nameless vales, And thanks the Gods, and turns about his eye To see his new dominions round him lye; Then sends his servants to a neighb’ring grove For living streams, a sacrifice to Jove. O’er the wide plain there rose a shady wood Of aged trees; in its dark bosom stood A bushy thicket, pathless and unworn, O’er-run with brambles, and perplex’d with thorn: Amidst the brake a hollow den was found, With rocks and shelving arches vaulted round.
Deep in the dreary den, conceal’d from day, Sacred to Mars, a mighty dragon lay, Bloated with poison to a monstrous size; Fire broke in flashes when he glanc’d his eyes: His tow’ring crest was glorious to behold, His shoulders and his sides were scal’d with gold; Three tongues he brandish’d when he charg’d his foes; His teeth stood jaggy in three dreadful rowes. The Tyrians in the den for water sought, And with their urns explor’d the hollow vault: From side to side their empty urns rebound, And rowse the sleeping serpent with the sound. Strait he bestirs him, and is seen to rise; And now with dreadful hissings fills the skies, And darts his forky tongues, and rowles his glaring eyes. The Tyrians drop their vessels in the fright, All pale and trembling at the hideous sight. Spire above spire uprear’d in air he stood, And gazing round him over-look’d the wood: Then floating on the ground in circles rowl’d; Then leap’d upon them in a mighty fold. Of such a bulk, and such a monstrous size The serpent in the polar circle lyes, That stretches over half the northern skies. In vain the Tyrians on their arms rely, In vain attempt to fight, in vain to fly: All their endeavours and their hopes are vain; Some die entangled in the winding train; Some are devour’d, or feel a loathsom death, Swoln up with blasts of pestilential breath.
And now the scorching sun was mounted high, In all its lustre, to the noon-day sky; When, anxious for his friends, and fill’d with cares, To search the woods th’ impatient chief prepares. A lion’s hide around his loins he wore, The well poiz’d javelin to the field he bore, Inur’d to blood; the far-destroying dart; And, the best weapon, an undaunted heart.
Soon as the youth approach’d the fatal place, He saw his servants breathless on the grass; The scaly foe amid their corps he view’d, Basking at ease, and feasting in their blood. “Such friends,” he cries, “deserv’d a longer date; But Cadmus will revenge or share their fate.” Then heav’d a stone, and rising to the throw, He sent it in a whirlwind at the foe: A tow’r, assaulted by so rude a stroke, With all its lofty battlements had shook; But nothing here th’ unwieldy rock avails, Rebounding harmless from the plaited scales, That, firmly join’d, preserv’d him from a wound, With native armour crusted all around. With more success, the dart unerring flew, Which at his back the raging warriour threw; Amid the plaited scales it took its course, And in the spinal marrow spent its force. The monster hiss’d aloud, and rag’d in vain, And writh’d his body to and fro with pain; He bit the dart, and wrench’d the wood away; The point still buried in the marrow lay. And now his rage, increasing with his pain, Reddens his eyes, and beats in ev’ry vein; Churn’d in his teeth the foamy venom rose, Whilst from his mouth a blast of vapours flows, Such as th’ infernal Stygian waters cast. The plants around him wither in the blast. Now in a maze of rings he lies enrowl’d, Now all unravel’d, and without a fold; Now, like a torrent, with a mighty force Bears down the forest in his boist’rous course. Cadmus gave back, and on the lion’s spoil Sustain’d the shock, then forc’d him to recoil; The pointed jav’lin warded off his rage: Mad with his pains, and furious to engage, The serpent champs the steel, and bites the spear, ’Till blood and venom all the point besmear. But still the hurt he yet receiv’d was slight; For, whilst the champion with redoubled might Strikes home the jav’lin, his retiring foe Shrinks from the wound, and disappoints the blow.
The dauntless heroe still pursues his stroke, And presses forward, ’till a knotty oak Retards his foe, and stops him in the rear; Full in his throat he plung’d the fatal spear, That in th’ extended neck a passage found, And pierc’d the solid timber through the wound. Fix’d to the reeling trunk, with many a stroke Of his huge tail he lash’d the sturdy oak; ’Till spent with toil, and lab’ring hard for breath, He now lay twisting in the pangs of death.
Cadmus beheld him wallow in a flood Of swimming poison, intermix’d with blood; When suddenly a speech was heard from high (The speech was heard, nor was the speaker nigh), “Why dost thou thus with secret pleasure see, Insulting man! what thou thy self shalt be?” Astonish’d at the voice, he stood amaz’d, And all around with inward horror gaz’d: When Pallas swift descending from the skies, Pallas, the guardian of the bold and wise, Bids him plow up the field, and scatter round The dragon’s teeth o’er all the furrow’d ground; Then tells the youth how to his wond’ring eyes Embattled armies from the field should rise.
He sows the teeth at Pallas’s command, And flings the future people from his hand. The clods grow warm, and crumble where he sows; And now the pointed spears advance in rows; Now nodding plumes appear, and shining crests, Now the broad shoulders and the rising breasts; O’er all the field the breathing harvest swarms, A growing host, a crop of men and arms.
So through the parting stage a figure rears Its body up, and limb by limb appears By just degrees; ’till all the man arise, And in his full proportion strikes the eyes.
Cadmus surpriz’d, and startled at the sight Of his new foes, prepar’d himself for fight: When one cry’d out, “Forbear, fond man, forbear To mingle in a blind promiscuous war.” This said, he struck his brother to the ground, Himself expiring by another’s wound; Nor did the third his conquest long survive, Dying ere scarce he had begun to live.
The dire example ran through all the field, ’Till heaps of brothers were by brothers kill’d; The furrows swam in blood: and only five Of all the vast increase were left alive. Echion one, at Pallas’s command, Let fall the guiltless weapon from his hand, And with the rest a peaceful treaty makes, Whom Cadmus as his friends and partners takes; So founds a city on the promis’d earth, And gives his new Boeotian empire birth.
Here Cadmus reign’d; and now one would have guess’d The royal founder in his exile blest: Long did he live within his new abodes, Ally’d by marriage to the deathless Gods; And, in a fruitful wife’s embraces old, A long increase of children’s children told: But no frail man, however great or high, Can be concluded blest before he die.
Actaeon was the first of all his race, Who griev’d his grandsire in his borrow’d face; Condemn’d by stern Diana to bemoan The branching horns, and visage not his own; To shun his once lov’d dogs, to bound away, And from their huntsman to become their prey, And yet consider why the change was wrought, You’ll find it his misfortune, not his fault; Or, if a fault, it was the fault of chance: For how can guilt proceed from ignorance?
The Transformation of Actaeon into a Stag
In a fair chace a shady mountain stood, Well stor’d with game, and mark’d with trails of blood; Here did the huntsmen, ’till the heat of day, Pursue the stag, and load themselves with rey: When thus Actaeon calling to the rest: “My friends,” said he, “our sport is at the best, The sun is high advanc’d, and downward sheds His burning beams directly on our heads; Then by consent abstain from further spoils, Call off the dogs, and gather up the toils, And ere to-morrow’s sun begins his race, Take the cool morning to renew the chace.” They all consent, and in a chearful train The jolly huntsmen, loaden with the slain, Return in triumph from the sultry plain.
Down in a vale with pine and cypress clad, Refresh’d with gentle winds, and brown with shade, The chaste Diana’s private haunt, there stood Full in the centre of the darksome wood A spacious grotto, all around o’er-grown With hoary moss, and arch’d with pumice-stone. From out its rocky clefts the waters flow, And trickling swell into a lake below. Nature had ev’ry where so plaid her part, That ev’ry where she seem’d to vie with art. Here the bright Goddess, toil’d and chaf’d with heat, Was wont to bathe her in the cool retreat.
Here did she now with all her train resort, Panting with heat, and breathless from the sport; Her armour-bearer laid her bow aside, Some loos’d her sandals, some her veil unty’d; Each busy nymph her proper part undrest; While Crocale, more handy than the rest, Gather’d her flowing hair, and in a noose Bound it together, whilst her own hung loose. Five of the more ignoble sort by turns Fetch up the water, and unlade the urns.
Now all undrest the shining Goddess stood, When young Actaeon, wilder’d in the wood, To the cool grott by his hard fate betray’d, The fountains fill’d with naked nymphs survey’d. The frighted virgins shriek’d at the surprize (The forest echo’d with their piercing cries). Then in a huddle round their Goddess prest: She, proudly eminent above the rest, With blushes glow’d; such blushes as adorn The ruddy welkin, or the purple morn; And tho’ the crowding nymphs her body hide, Half backward shrunk, and view’d him from a side. Surpriz’d, at first she would have snatch’d her bow, But sees the circling waters round her flow; These in the hollow of her hand she took, And dash’d ’em in his face, while thus she spoke: “Tell, if thou can’st, the wond’rous sight disclos’d, A Goddess naked to thy view expos’d.”
This said, the man begun to disappear By slow degrees, and ended in a deer. A rising horn on either brow he wears, And stretches out his neck, and pricks his ears; Rough is his skin, with sudden hairs o’er-grown, His bosom pants with fears before unknown: Transform’d at length, he flies away in haste, And wonders why he flies away so fast. But as by chance, within a neighb’ring brook, He saw his branching horns and alter’d look. Wretched Actaeon! in a doleful tone He try’d to speak, but only gave a groan; And as he wept, within the watry glass He saw the big round drops, with silent pace, Run trickling down a savage hairy face. What should he do? Or seek his old abodes, Or herd among the deer, and sculk in woods! Here shame dissuades him, there his fear prevails, And each by turns his aking heart assails.
As he thus ponders, he behind him spies His op’ning hounds, and now he hears their cries: A gen’rous pack, or to maintain the chace, Or snuff the vapour from the scented grass.
He bounded off with fear, and swiftly ran O’er craggy mountains, and the flow’ry plain; Through brakes and thickets forc’d his way, and flew Through many a ring, where once he did pursue. In vain he oft endeavour’d to proclaim His new misfortune, and to tell his name; Nor voice nor words the brutal tongue supplies; From shouting men, and horns, and dogs he flies, Deafen’d and stunn’d with their promiscuous cries. When now the fleetest of the pack, that prest Close at his heels, and sprung before the rest, Had fasten’d on him, straight another pair, Hung on his wounded haunch, and held him there, ’Till all the pack came up, and ev’ry hound Tore the sad huntsman grov’ling on the ground, Who now appear’d but one continu’d wound. With dropping tears his bitter fate he moans, And fills the mountain with his dying groans. His servants with a piteous look he spies, And turns about his supplicating eyes. His servants, ignorant of what had chanc’d, With eager haste and joyful shouts advanc’d, And call’d their lord Actaeon to the game. He shook his head in answer to the name; He heard, but wish’d he had indeed been gone, Or only to have stood a looker-on. But to his grief he finds himself too near, And feels his rav’nous dogs with fury tear Their wretched master panting in a deer.
The Birth of Bacchus
Actaeon’s suff’rings, and Diana’s rage, Did all the thoughts of men and Gods engage; Some call’d the evils which Diana wrought, Too great, and disproportion’d to the fault: Others again, esteem’d Actaeon’s woes Fit for a virgin Goddess to impose. The hearers into diff’rent parts divide, And reasons are produc’d on either side.
Juno alone, of all that heard the news, Nor would condemn the Goddess, nor excuse: She heeded not the justice of the deed, But joy’d to see the race of Cadmus bleed; For still she kept Europa in her mind, And, for her sake, detested all her kind. Besides, to aggravate her hate, she heard How Semele, to Jove’s embrace preferr’d, Was now grown big with an immortal load, And carry’d in her womb a future God. Thus terribly incens’d, the Goddess broke To sudden fury, and abruptly spoke.
“Are my reproaches of so small a force? ’Tis time I then pursue another course: It is decreed the guilty wretch shall die, If I’m indeed the mistress of the sky, If rightly styl’d among the Pow’rs above The wife and sister of the thund’ring Jove (And none can sure a sister’s right deny); It is decreed the guilty wretch shall die. She boasts an honour I can hardly claim, Pregnant she rises to a mother’s name; While proud and vain she triumphs in her Jove, And shows the glorious tokens of his love: But if I’m still the mistress of the skies, By her own lover the fond beauty dies.” This said, descending in a yellow cloud, Before the gates of Semele she stood.
Old Beroe’s decrepit shape she wears, Her wrinkled visage, and her hoary hairs; Whilst in her trembling gait she totters on, And learns to tattle in the nurse’s tone. The Goddess, thus disguis’d in age, beguil’d With pleasing stories her false foster-child. Much did she talk of love, and when she came To mention to the nymph her lover’s name, Fetching a sigh, and holding down her head, “’Tis well,” says she, “if all be true that’s said. But trust me, child, I’m much inclin’d to fear Some counterfeit in this your Jupiter: Many an honest well-designing maid Has been by these pretended Gods betray’d, But if he be indeed the thund’ring Jove, Bid him, when next he courts the rites of love, Descend triumphant from th’ etherial sky, In all the pomp of his divinity, Encompass’d round by those celestial charms, With which he fills th’ immortal Juno’s arms.”
Th’ unwary nymph, ensnar’d with what she said, Desir’d of Jove, when next he sought her bed, To grant a certain gift which she would chuse; “Fear not,” reply’d the God, “that I’ll refuse Whate’er you ask: may Styx confirm my voice, Chuse what you will, and you shall have your choice.” “Then,” says the nymph, “when next you seek my arms, May you descend in those celestial charms, With which your Juno’s bosom you enflame, And fill with transport Heav’n’s immortal dame.” The God surpriz’d would fain have stopp’d her voice, But he had sworn, and she had made her choice.
To keep his promise he ascends, and shrowds His awful brow in whirl-winds and in clouds; Whilst all around, in terrible array, His thunders rattle, and his light’nings play. And yet, the dazling lustre to abate, He set not out in all his pomp and state, Clad in the mildest light’ning of the skies, And arm’d with thunder of the smallest size: Not those huge bolts, by which the giants slain Lay overthrown on the Phlegrean plain. ’Twas of a lesser mould, and lighter weight; They call it thunder of a second-rate, For the rough Cyclops, who by Jove’s command Temper’d the bolt, and turn’d it to his hand, Work’d up less flame and fury in its make, And quench’d it sooner in the standing lake. Thus dreadfully adorn’d, with horror bright, Th’ illustrious God, descending from his height, Came rushing on her in a storm of light.
The mortal dame, too feeble to engage The lightning’s flashes, and the thunder’s rage, Consum’d amidst the glories she desir’d, And in the terrible embrace expir’d.
But, to preserve his offspring from the tomb, Jove took him smoaking from the blasted womb: And, if on ancient tales we may rely, Inclos’d th’ abortive infant in his thigh. Here when the babe had all his time fulfill’d, Ino first took him for her foster-child; Then the Niseans, in their dark abode, Nurs’d secretly with milk the thriving God.
The Transformation of Tiresias
’Twas now, while these transactions past on Earth, And Bacchus thus procur’d a second birth, When Jove, dispos’d to lay aside the weight Of publick empire and the cares of state, As to his queen in nectar bowls he quaff’d, “In troth,” says he, and as he spoke he laugh’d, “The sense of pleasure in the male is far More dull and dead, than what you females share.” Juno the truth of what was said deny’d; Tiresias therefore must the cause decide, For he the pleasure of each sex had try’d.
It happen’d once, within a shady wood, Two twisted snakes he in conjunction view’d, When with his staff their slimy folds he broke, And lost his manhood at the fatal stroke. But, after seven revolving years, he view’d The self-same serpents in the self-same wood: “And if,” says he, “such virtue in you lye, That he who dares your slimy folds untie Must change his kind, a second stroke I’ll try.” Again he struck the snakes, and stood again New-sex’d, and strait recover’d into man. Him therefore both the deities create The sov’raign umpire, in their grand debate; And he declar’d for Jove: when Juno fir’d, More than so trivial an affair requir’d, Depriv’d him, in her fury, of his sight, And left him groping round in sudden night. But Jove (for so it is in Heav’n decreed, That no one God repeal another’s deed) Irradiates all his soul with inward light, And with the prophet’s art relieves the want of sight.
The Transformation of Echo
Fam’d far and near for knowing things to come, From him th’ enquiring nations sought their doom; The fair Liriope his answers try’d, And first th’ unerring prophet justify’d. This nymph the God Cephisus had abus’d, With all his winding waters circumfus’d, And on the Nereid got a lovely boy, Whom the soft maids ev’n then beheld with joy.
The tender dame, sollicitous to know Whether her child should reach old age or no, Consults the sage Tiresias, who replies, “If e’er he knows himself he surely dies.” Long liv’d the dubious mother in suspence, ’Till time unriddled all the prophet’s sense.
Narcissus now his sixteenth year began, Just turn’d of boy, and on the verge of man; Many a friend the blooming youth caress’d, Many a love-sick maid her flame confess’d: Such was his pride, in vain the friend caress’d, The love-sick maid in vain her flame confess’d.
Once, in the woods, as he pursu’d the chace, The babbling Echo had descry’d his face; She, who in others’ words her silence breaks, Nor speaks her self but when another speaks. Echo was then a maid, of speech bereft, Of wonted speech; for tho’ her voice was left, Juno a curse did on her tongue impose, To sport with ev’ry sentence in the close. Full often when the Goddess might have caught Jove and her rivals in the very fault, This nymph with subtle stories would delay Her coming, ’till the lovers slip’d away. The Goddess found out the deceit in time, And then she cry’d, “That tongue, for this thy crime, Which could so many subtle tales produce, Shall be hereafter but of little use.” Hence ’tis she prattles in a fainter tone, With mimick sounds, and accents not her own.
This love-sick virgin, over-joy’d to find The boy alone, still follow’d him behind: When glowing warmly at her near approach, As sulphur blazes at the taper’s touch, She long’d her hidden passion to reveal, And tell her pains, but had not words to tell: She can’t begin, but waits for the rebound, To catch his voice, and to return the sound.
The nymph, when nothing could Narcissus move, Still dash’d with blushes for her slighted love, Liv’d in the shady covert of the woods, In solitary caves and dark abodes; Where pining wander’d the rejected fair, ’Till harrass’d out, and worn away with care, The sounding skeleton, of blood bereft, Besides her bones and voice had nothing left. Her bones are petrify’d, her voice is found In vaults, where still it doubles ev’ry sound.
The Story of Narcissus
Thus did the nymphs in vain caress the boy, He still was lovely, but he still was coy; When one fair virgin of the slighted train Thus pray’d the Gods, provok’d by his disdain, “Oh may he love like me, and love like me in vain!” Rhamnusia pity’d the neglected fair, And with just vengeance answer’d to her pray’r.
There stands a fountain in a darksom wood, Nor stain’d with falling leaves nor rising mud; Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests, Unsully’d by the touch of men or beasts; High bow’rs of shady trees above it grow, And rising grass and chearful greens below. Pleas’d with the form and coolness of the place, And over-heated by the morning chace, Narcissus on the grassie verdure lyes: But whilst within the chrystal fount he tries To quench his heat, he feels new heats arise. For as his own bright image he survey’d, He fell in love with the fantastick shade; And o’er the fair resemblance hung unmov’d, Nor knew, fond youth! it was himself he lov’d. The well-turn’d neck and shoulders he descries, The spacious forehead, and the sparkling eyes; The hands that Bacchus might not scorn to show, And hair that round Apollo’s head might flow; With all the purple youthfulness of face, That gently blushes in the wat’ry glass. By his own flames consum’d the lover lyes, And gives himself the wound by which he dies. To the cold water oft he joins his lips, Oft catching at the beauteous shade he dips His arms, as often from himself he slips. Nor knows he who it is his arms pursue With eager clasps, but loves he knows not who.
What could, fond youth, this helpless passion move? What kindled in thee this unpity’d love? Thy own warm blush within the water glows, With thee the colour’d shadow comes and goes, Its empty being on thy self relies; Step thou aside, and the frail charmer dies.
Still o’er the fountain’s wat’ry gleam he stood, Mindless of sleep, and negligent of food; Still view’d his face, and languish’d as he view’d. At length he rais’d his head, and thus began To vent his griefs, and tell the woods his pain. “You trees,” says he, “and thou surrounding grove, Who oft have been the kindly scenes of love, Tell me, if e’er within your shades did lye A youth so tortur’d, so perplex’d as I? I, who before me see the charming fair, Whilst there he stands, and yet he stands not there: In such a maze of love my thoughts are lost: And yet no bulwark’d town, nor distant coast, Preserves the beauteous youth from being seen, No mountains rise, nor oceans flow between. A shallow water hinders my embrace; And yet the lovely mimick wears a face That kindly smiles, and when I bend to join My lips to his, he fondly bends to mine. Hear, gentle youth, and pity my complaint, Come from thy well, thou fair inhabitant. My charms an easy conquest have obtain’d O’er other hearts, by thee alone disdain’d. But why should I despair? I’m sure he burns With equal flames, and languishes by turns. When-e’er I stoop, he offers at a kiss, And when my arms I stretch, he stretches his. His eye with pleasure on my face he keeps, He smiles my smiles, and when I weep he weeps. When e’er I speak, his moving lips appear To utter something, which I cannot hear.
“Ah wretched me! I now begin too late To find out all the long-perplex’d deceit; It is my self I love, my self I see; The gay delusion is a part of me. I kindle up the fires by which I burn, And my own beauties from the well return. Whom should I court? how utter my complaint? Enjoyment but produces my restraint, And too much plenty makes me die for want. How gladly would I from my self remove! And at a distance set the thing I love. My breast is warm’d with such unusual fire, I wish him absent whom I most desire. And now I faint with grief; my fate draws nigh; In all the pride of blooming youth I die. Death will the sorrows of my heart relieve. Oh might the visionary youth survive, I should with joy my latest breath resign! But oh! I see his fate involv’d in mine.”
This said, the weeping youth again return’d To the clear fountain, where again he burn’d; His tears defac’d the surface of the well, With circle after circle, as they fell: And now the lovely face but half appears, O’er-run with wrinkles, and deform’d with tears. “Ah whither,” cries Narcissus, “dost thou fly? Let me still feed the flame by which I die; Let me still see, tho’ I’m no further blest.” Then rends his garment off, and beats his breast: His naked bosom redden’d with the blow, In such a blush as purple clusters show, Ere yet the sun’s autumnal heats refine Their sprightly juice, and mellow it to wine. The glowing beauties of his breast he spies, And with a new redoubled passion dies. As wax dissolves, as ice begins to run, And trickle into drops before the sun; So melts the youth, and languishes away, His beauty withers, and his limbs decay; And none of those attractive charms remain, To which the slighted Echo su’d in vain.
She saw him in his present misery, Whom, spight of all her wrongs, she griev’d to see. She answer’d sadly to the lover’s moan, Sigh’d back his sighs, and groan’d to ev’ry groan: “Ah youth! belov’d in vain,” Narcissus cries; “Ah youth! belov’d in vain,” the nymph replies. “Farewel,” says he; the parting sound scarce fell From his faint lips, but she reply’d, “farewel.” Then on th’ wholsome earth he gasping lyes, ’Till death shuts up those self-admiring eyes. To the cold shades his flitting ghost retires, And in the Stygian waves it self admires.
For him the Naiads and the Dryads mourn, Whom the sad Echo answers in her turn; And now the sister-nymphs prepare his urn: When, looking for his corps, they only found A rising stalk, with yellow blossoms crown’d.
The Story of Pentheus
This sad event gave blind Tiresias fame, Through Greece establish’d in a prophet’s name.
Th’ unhallow’d Pentheus only durst deride The cheated people, and their eyeless guide. To whom the prophet in his fury said, Shaking the hoary honours of his head: “’Twere well, presumptuous man, ’twere well for thee If thou wert eyeless too, and blind, like me: For the time comes, nay, ’tis already here, When the young God’s solemnities appear: Which, if thou dost not with just rites adorn, Thy impious carcass, into pieces torn, Shall strew the woods, and hang on ev’ry thorn. Then, then, remember what I now foretel, And own the blind Tiresias saw too well.”
Still Pentheus scorns him, and derides his skill; But time did all the prophet’s threats fulfil. For now through prostrate Greece young Bacchus rode, Whilst howling matrons celebrate the God: All ranks and sexes to his Orgies ran, To mingle in the pomps, and fill the train. When Pentheus thus his wicked rage express’d: “What madness, Thebans, has your souls possess’d? Can hollow timbrels, can a drunken shout, And the lewd clamours of a beastly rout, Thus quell your courage; can the weak alarm Of women’s yells those stubborn souls disarm, Whom nor the sword nor trumpet e’er could fright, Nor the loud din and horror of a fight? And you, our sires, who left your old abodes, And fix’d in foreign earth your country Gods; Will you without a stroak your city yield, And poorly quit an undisputed field? But you, whose youth and vigour should inspire Heroick warmth, and kindle martial fire, Whom burnish’d arms and crested helmets grace, Not flow’ry garlands and a painted face; Remember him to whom you stand ally’d: The serpent for his well of waters dy’d. He fought the strong; do you his courage show, And gain a conquest o’er a feeble foe. If Thebes must fall, oh might the fates afford A nobler doom from famine, fire, or sword. Then might the Thebans perish with renown: But now a beardless victor sacks the town; Whom nor the prancing steed, nor pond’rous shield, Nor the hack’d helmet, nor the dusty field, But the soft joys of luxury and ease, The purple vests, and flow’ry garlands please. Stand then aside, I’ll make the counterfeit Renounce his god-head, and confess the cheat. Acrisius from the Grecian walls repell’d This boasted pow’r; why then should Pentheus yield? Go quickly drag th’ impostor boy to me; I’ll try the force of his divinity.” Thus did th’ audacious wretch those rites profane; His friends dissuade th’ audacious wretch in vain: In vain his grandsire urg’d him to give o’er His impious threats; the wretch but raves the more.
So have I seen a river gently glide, In a smooth course, and inoffensive tide; But if with dams its current we restrain, It bears down all, and foams along the plain.
But now his servants came besmear’d with blood, Sent by their haughty prince to seize the God; The God they found not in the frantick throng, But dragg’d a zealous votary along.
The Mariners transform’d to Dolphins
Him Pentheus view’d with fury in his look, And scarce with-held his hands, whilst thus he spoke: “Vile slave! whom speedy vengeance shall pursue, And terrify thy base seditious crew: Thy country and thy parentage reveal, And, why thou joinest in these mad Orgies, tell.”
The captive views him with undaunted eyes, And, arm’d with inward innocence, replies,
“From high Meonia’s rocky shores I came, Of poor descent, Acoetes is my name: My sire was meanly born; no oxen plow’d His fruitful fields, nor in his pastures low’d. His whole estate within the waters lay; With lines and hooks he caught the finny prey, His art was all his livelyhood; which he Thus with his dying lips bequeath’d to me: In streams, my boy, and rivers take thy chance; There swims, said he, thy whole inheritance. Long did I live on this poor legacy; ’Till tir’d with rocks, and my old native sky, To arts of navigation I inclin’d; Observ’d the turns and changes of the wind, Learn’d the fit havens, and began to note The stormy Hyades, the rainy Goat, The bright Taygete, and the shining Bears, With all the sailor’s catalogue of stars.
“Once, as by chance for Delos I design’d, My vessel, driv’n by a strong gust of wind, Moor’d in a Chian Creek; a-shore I went, And all the following night in Chios spent. When morning rose, I sent my mates to bring Supplies of water from a neighb’ring spring, Whilst I the motion of the winds explor’d; Then summon’d in my crew, and went aboard. Opheltes heard my summons, and with joy Brought to the shore a soft and lovely boy, With more than female sweetness in his look, Whom straggling in the neighb’ring fields he took. With fumes of wine the little captive glows, And nods with sleep, and staggers as he goes.
“I view’d him nicely, and began to trace Each heav’nly feature, each immortal grace, And saw divinity in all his face, I know not who, said I, this God should be; But that he is a God I plainly see: And thou, who-e’er thou art, excuse the force These men have us’d; and oh befriend our course! Pray not for us, the nimble Dictys cry’d, Dictys, that could the main-top mast bestride, And down the ropes with active vigour slide. To the same purpose old Epopeus spoke, Who over-look’d the oars, and tim’d the stroke; The same the pilot, and the same the rest; Such impious avarice their souls possest. Nay, Heav’n forbid that I should bear away Within my vessel so divine a prey, Said I; and stood to hinder their intent: When Lycabas, a wretch for murder sent From Tuscany, to suffer banishment, With his clench’d fist had struck me over-board, Had not my hands in falling grasp’d a cord.
“His base confederates the fact approve; When Bacchus (for ’twas he) begun to move, Wak’d by the noise and clamours which they rais’d; And shook his drowsie limbs, and round him gaz’d: What means this noise? he cries; am I betray’d? Ah, whither, whither must I be convey’d? Fear not, said Proreus, child, but tell us where You wish to land, and trust our friendly care. To Naxos then direct your course, said he; Naxos a hospitable port shall be To each of you, a joyful home to me. By ev’ry God, that rules the sea or sky, The perjur’d villains promise to comply, And bid me hasten to unmoor the ship. With eager joy I launch into the deep; And, heedless of the fraud, for Naxos stand. They whisper oft, and beckon with the hand, And give me signs, all anxious for their prey, To tack about, and steer another way. Then let some other to my post succeed, Said I, I’m guiltless of so foul a deed. What, says Ethalion, must the ship’s whole crew Follow your humour, and depend on you? And strait himself he seated at the prore, And tack’d about, and sought another shore.
“The beauteous youth now found himself betray’d, And from the deck the rising waves survey’d, And seem’d to weep, and as he wept he said: And do you thus my easy faith beguile? Thus do you bear me to my native isle? Will such a multitude of men employ Their strength against a weak defenceless boy?
“In vain did I the God-like youth deplore, The more I begg’d, they thwarted me the more. And now by all the Gods in Heav’n that hear This solemn oath, by Bacchus’ self, I swear, The mighty miracle that did ensue, Although it seems beyond belief, is true. The vessel, fix’d and rooted in the flood, Unmov’d by all the beating billows stood. In vain the mariners would plow the main With sails unfurl’d, and strike their oars in vain; Around their oars a twining ivy cleaves, And climbs the mast, and hides the cords in leaves: The sails are cover’d with a chearful green, And berries in the fruitful canvass seen. Amidst the waves a sudden forest rears Its verdant head, and a new Spring appears.
“The God we now behold with open’d eyes; A herd of spotted panthers round him lyes In glaring forms; the grapy clusters spread On his fair brows, and dangle on his head. And whilst he frowns, and brandishes his spear, My mates surpriz’d with madness or with fear, Leap’d over board; first perjur’d Madon found Rough scales and fins his stiff’ning sides surround; Ah what, cries one, has thus transform’d thy look? Strait his own mouth grew wider as he spoke; And now himself he views with like surprize. Still at his oar th’ industrious Libys plies; But, as he plies, each busy arm shrinks in, And by degrees is fashion’d to a fin. Another, as he catches at a cord, Misses his arms, and, tumbling over-board, With his broad fins and forky tail he laves The rising surge, and flounces in the waves. Thus all my crew transform’d around the ship, Or dive below, or on the surface leap, And spout the waves, and wanton in the deep. Full nineteen sailors did the ship convey, A shole of nineteen dolphins round her play. I only in my proper shape appear, Speechless with wonder, and half dead with fear, ’Till Bacchus kindly bid me fear no more. With him I landed on the Chian shore, And him shall ever gratefully adore.”
“This forging slave,” says Pentheus, “would prevail O’er our just fury by a far-fetch’d tale: Go, let him feel the whips, the swords, the fire, And in the tortures of the rack expire.” Th’ officious servants hurry him away, And the poor captive in a dungeon lay. But, whilst the whips and tortures are prepar’d, The gates fly open, of themselves unbarr’d; At liberty th’ unfetter’d captive stands, And flings the loosen’d shackles from his hands.
The Death of Pentheus
But Pentheus, grown more furious than before, Resolv’d to send his messengers no more, But went himself to the distracted throng, Where high Cithaeron echo’d with their song. And as the fiery war-horse paws the ground, And snorts and trembles at the trumpet’s sound; Transported thus he heard the frantick rout, And rav’d and madden’d at the distant shout.
A spacious circuit on the hill there stood. Level and wide, and skirted round with wood; Here the rash Pentheus, with unhallow’d eyes, The howling dames and mystick Orgies spies. His mother sternly view’d him where he stood, And kindled into madness as she view’d: Her leafy jav’lin at her son she cast, And cries, “The boar that lays our country waste! The boar, my sisters! Aim the fatal dart, And strike the brindled monster to the heart.”
Pentheus astonish’d heard the dismal sound, And sees the yelling matrons gath’ring round; He sees, and weeps at his approaching fate, And begs for mercy, and repents too late. “Help, help! my aunt Autonoe,” he cry’d; “Remember, how your own Actaeon dy’d.” Deaf to his cries, the frantick matron crops One stretch’d-out arm, the other Ino lops. In vain does Pentheus to his mother sue, And the raw bleeding stumps presents to view: His mother howl’d; and, heedless of his pray’r, Her trembling hand she twisted in his hair, “And this,” she cry’d, “shall be Agave’s share,” When from the neck his struggling head she tore, And in her hands the ghastly visage bore. With pleasure all the hideous trunk survey; Then pull’d and tore the mangled limbs away, As starting in the pangs of death it lay, Soon as the wood its leafy honours casts, Blown off and scatter’d by autumnal blasts, With such a sudden death lay Pentheus slain, And in a thousand pieces strow’d the plain.
By so distinguishing a judgment aw’d, The Thebans tremble, and confess the God.