YET still Alcithoe perverse remains, And Bacchus still, and all his rites, disdains. Too rash, and madly bold, she bids him prove Himself a God, nor owns the son of Jove. Her sisters too unanimous agree, Faithful associates in impiety.
The Story of Alcithoe and her Sisters
Be this a solemn feast, the priest had said; Be, with each mistress, unemploy’d each maid. With skins of beasts your tender limbs enclose, And with an ivy-crown adorn your brows, The leafy Thyrsus high in triumph bear, And give your locks to wanton in the air.
These rites profan’d, the holy seer foreshow’d A mourning people, and a vengeful God.
Matrons and pious wives obedience show, Distaffs, and wooll, half spun, away they throw: Then incense burn, and, Bacchus, thee adore, Or lov’st thou Nyseus, or Lyaeus more? O! doubly got, O! doubly born, they sung, Thou mighty Bromius, hail, from light’ning sprung! Hail, Thyon, Eleleus! each name is thine: Or, listen parent of the genial vine! Iachus! Evan! loudly they repeat, And not one Grecian attribute forget, Which to thy praise, great Deity, belong, Stil’d justly Liber in the Roman song. Eternity of youth is thine! enjoy Years roul’d on years, yet still a blooming boy. In Heav’n thou shin’st with a superior grace; Conceal thy horns, and ’tis a virgin’s face. Thou taught’st the tawny Indian to obey, And Ganges, smoothly flowing, own’d thy sway. Lycurgus, Pentheus, equally profane, By thy just vengeance equally were slain. By thee the Tuscans, who conspir’d to keep Thee captive, plung’d, and cut with finns the deep. With painted reins, all-glitt’ring from afar, The spotted lynxes proudly draw thy car. Around, the Bacchae, and the satyrs throng; Behind, Silenus, drunk, lags slow along: On his dull ass he nods from side to side, Forbears to fall, yet half forgets to ride. Still at thy near approach, applauses loud Are heard, with yellings of the female crowd. Timbrels, and boxen pipes, with mingled cries, Swell up in sounds confus’d, and rend the skies. Come, Bacchus, come propitious, all implore, And act thy sacred orgies o’er and o’er.
But Mineus’ daughters, while these rites were pay’d, At home, impertinently busie, stay’d. Their wicked tasks they ply with various art, And thro’ the loom the sliding shuttle dart; Or at the fire to comb the wooll they stand, Or twirl the spindle with a dext’rous hand. Guilty themselves, they force the guiltless in; Their maids, who share the labour, share the sin. At last one sister cries, who nimbly knew To draw nice threads, and winde the finest clue, While others idly rove, and Gods revere, Their fancy’d Gods! they know not who, or where; Let us, whom Pallas taught her better arts, Still working, cheer with mirthful chat our hearts, And to deceive the time, let me prevail With each by turns to tell some antique tale. She said: her sisters lik’d the humour well, And smiling, bad her the first story tell. But she a-while profoundly seem’d to muse, Perplex’d amid variety to chuse: And knew not, whether she should first relate The poor Dircetis, and her wond’rous fate. The Palestines believe it to a man, And show the lake, in which her scales began. Or if she rather should the daughter sing, Who in the hoary verge of life took wing; Who soar’d from Earth, and dwelt in tow’rs on high, And now a dove she flits along the sky. Or how lewd Nais, when her lust was cloy’d, To fishes turn’d the youths, she had enjoy’d, By pow’rful verse, and herbs; effect most strange! At last the changer shar’d herself the change. Or how the tree, which once white berries bore, Still crimson bears, since stain’d with crimson gore. The tree was new; she likes it, and begins To tell the tale, and as she tells, she spins.
The Story of Pyramus and Thisbe
In Babylon, where first her queen, for state Rais’d walls of brick magnificently great, Liv’d Pyramus, and Thisbe, lovely pair! He found no eastern youth his equal there, And she beyond the fairest nymph was fair. A closer neighbourhood was never known, Tho’ two the houses, yet the roof was one. Acquaintance grew, th’ acquaintance they improve To friendship, friendship ripen’d into love: Love had been crown’d, but impotently mad, What parents could not hinder, they forbad. For with fierce flames young Pyramus still burn’d, And grateful Thisbe flames as fierce return’d. Aloud in words their thoughts they dare not break, But silent stand; and silent looks can speak. The fire of love the more it is supprest, The more it glows, and rages in the breast.
When the division-wall was built, a chink Was left, the cement unobserv’d to shrink. So slight the cranny, that it still had been For centuries unclos’d, because unseen. But oh! what thing so small, so secret lies, Which scapes, if form’d for love, a lover’s eyes? Ev’n in this narrow chink they quickly found A friendly passage for a trackless sound. Safely they told their sorrows, and their joys, In whisper’d murmurs, and a dying noise, By turns to catch each other’s breath they strove, And suck’d in all the balmy breeze of love. Oft as on diff’rent sides they stood, they cry’d, Malicious wall, thus lovers to divide! Suppose, thou should’st a-while to us give place To lock, and fasten in a close embrace: But if too much to grant so sweet a bliss, Indulge at least the pleasure of a kiss. We scorn ingratitude: to thee, we know, This safe conveyance of our minds we owe.
Thus they their vain petition did renew ’Till night, and then they softly sigh’d adieu. But first they strove to kiss, and that was all; Their kisses dy’d untasted on the wall. Soon as the morn had o’er the stars prevail’d, And warm’d by Phoebus, flow’rs their dews exhal’d, The lovers to their well-known place return, Alike they suffer, and alike they mourn. At last their parents they resolve to cheat (If to deceive in love be call’d deceit), To steal by night from home, and thence unknown To seek the fields, and quit th’ unfaithful town. But, to prevent their wand’ring in the dark, They both agree to fix upon a mark; A mark, that could not their designs expose: The tomb of Ninus was the mark they chose. There they might rest secure beneath the shade, Which boughs, with snowy fruit encumber’d, made: A wide-spread mulberry its rise had took Just on the margin of a gurgling brook. Impatient for the friendly dusk they stay; And chide the slowness of departing day; In western seas down sunk at last the light, From western seas up-rose the shades of night. The loving Thisbe ev’n prevents the hour, With cautious silence she unlocks the door, And veils her face, and marching thro’ the gloom Swiftly arrives at th’ assignation-tomb. For still the fearful sex can fearless prove; Boldly they act, if spirited by love. When lo! a lioness rush’d o’er the plain, Grimly besmear’d with blood of oxen slain: And what to the dire sight new horrors brought, To slake her thirst the neighb’ring spring she sought. Which, by the moon, when trembling Thisbe spies, Wing’d with her fear, swift, as the wind, she flies; And in a cave recovers from her fright, But drop’d her veil, confounded in her flight. When sated with repeated draughts, again The queen of beasts scour’d back along the plain, She found the veil, and mouthing it all o’er, With bloody jaws the lifeless prey she tore.
The youth, who could not cheat his guards so soon, Late came, and noted by the glimm’ring moon Some savage feet, new printed on the ground, His cheeks turn’d pale, his limbs no vigour found; But when, advancing on, the veil he spied Distain’d with blood, and ghastly torn, he cried, One night shall death to two young lovers give, But she deserv’d unnumber’d years to live! ’Tis I am guilty, I have thee betray’d, Who came not early, as my charming maid. Whatever slew thee, I the cause remain, I nam’d, and fix’d the place where thou wast slain. Ye lions from your neighb’ring dens repair, Pity the wretch, this impious body tear! But cowards thus for death can idly cry; The brave still have it in their pow’r to die. Then to th’ appointed tree he hastes away, The veil first gather’d, tho’ all rent it lay: The veil all rent yet still it self endears, He kist, and kissing, wash’d it with his tears. Tho’ rich (he cry’d) with many a precious stain, Still from my blood a deeper tincture gain. Then in his breast his shining sword he drown’d, And fell supine, extended on the ground. As out again the blade lie dying drew, Out spun the blood, and streaming upwards flew. So if a conduit-pipe e’er burst you saw, Swift spring the gushing waters thro’ the flaw: Then spouting in a bow, they rise on high, And a new fountain plays amid the sky. The berries, stain’d with blood, began to show A dark complexion, and forgot their snow; While fatten’d with the flowing gore, the root Was doom’d for ever to a purple fruit.
Mean-time poor Thisbe fear’d, so long she stay’d, Her lover might suspect a perjur’d maid. Her fright scarce o’er, she strove the youth to find With ardent eyes, which spoke an ardent mind. Already in his arms, she hears him sigh At her destruction, which was once so nigh. The tomb, the tree, but not the fruit she knew, The fruit she doubted for its alter’d hue. Still as she doubts, her eyes a body found Quiv’ring in death, and gasping on the ground. She started back, the red her cheeks forsook, And ev’ry nerve with thrilling horrors shook. So trembles the smooth surface of the seas, If brush’d o’er gently with a rising breeze. But when her view her bleeding love confest, She shriek’d, she tore her hair, she beat her breast. She rais’d the body, and embrac’d it round, And bath’d with tears unfeign’d the gaping wound. Then her warm lips to the cold face apply’d, And is it thus, ah! thus we meet, she cry’d! My Pyramus! whence sprung thy cruel fate? My Pyramus! — ah! speak, ere ’tis too late. I, thy own Thisbe, but one word implore, One word thy Thisbe never ask’d before. At Thisbe’s name, awak’d, he open’d wide His dying eyes; with dying eyes he try’d On her to dwell, but clos’d them slow, and dy’d.
The fatal cause was now at last explor’d, Her veil she knew, and saw his sheathless sword: From thy own hand thy ruin thou hast found, She said, but love first taught that hand to wound, Ev’n I for thee as bold a hand can show, And love, which shall as true direct the blow. I will against the woman’s weakness strive, And never thee, lamented youth, survive. The world may say, I caus’d, alas! thy death, But saw thee breathless, and resign’d my breath. Fate, tho’ it conquers, shall no triumph gain, Fate, that divides us, still divides in vain.
Now, both our cruel parents, hear my pray’r; My pray’r to offer for us both I dare; Oh! see our ashes in one urn confin’d, Whom love at first, and fate at last has join’d. The bliss, you envy’d, is not our request; Lovers, when dead, may sure together rest. Thou, tree, where now one lifeless lump is laid, Ere-long o’er two shalt cast a friendly shade. Still let our loves from thee be understood, Still witness in thy purple fruit our blood. She spoke, and in her bosom plung’d the sword, All warm and reeking from its slaughter’d lord. The pray’r, which dying Thisbe had preferr’d, Both Gods, and parents, with compassion heard. The whiteness of the mulberry soon fled, And rip’ning, sadden’d in a dusky red: While both their parents their lost children mourn, And mix their ashes in one golden urn.
Thus did the melancholy tale conclude, And a short, silent interval ensu’d. The next in birth unloos’d her artful tongue, And drew attentive all the sister-throng.
The Story of Leucothoe and the Sun
The Sun, the source of light, by beauty’s pow’r Once am’rous grew; then hear the Sun’s amour. Venus, and Mars, with his far-piercing eyes This God first spy’d; this God first all things spies. Stung at the sight, and swift on mischief bent, To haughty Juno’s shapeless son he went: The Goddess, and her God gallant betray’d, And told the cuckold, where their pranks were play’d. Poor Vulcan soon desir’d to hear no more, He drop’d his hammer, and he shook all o’er: Then courage takes, and full of vengeful ire He heaves the bellows, and blows fierce the fire: From liquid brass, tho’ sure, yet subtile snares He forms, and next a wond’rous net prepares, Drawn with such curious art, so nicely sly, Unseen the mashes cheat the searching eye. Not half so thin their webs the spiders weave, Which the most wary, buzzing prey deceive. These chains, obedient to the touch, he spread In secret foldings o’er the conscious bed: The conscious bed again was quickly prest By the fond pair, in lawless raptures blest. Mars wonder’d at his Cytherea’s charms, More fast than ever lock’d within her arms. While Vulcan th’ iv’ry doors unbarr’d with care, Then call’d the Gods to view the sportive pair: The Gods throng’d in, and saw in open day, Where Mars, and beauty’s queen, all naked, lay. O! shameful sight, if shameful that we name, Which Gods with envy view’d, and could not blame; But, for the pleasure, wish’d to bear the shame. Each Deity, with laughter tir’d, departs, Yet all still laugh’d at Vulcan in their hearts.
Thro’ Heav’n the news of this surprizal run, But Venus did not thus forget the Sun. He, who stol’n transports idly had betray’d, By a betrayer was in kind repay’d. What now avails, great God, thy piercing blaze, That youth, and beauty, and those golden rays? Thou, who can’st warm this universe alone, Feel’st now a warmth more pow’rful than thy own: And those bright eyes, which all things should survey, Know not from fair Leucothoe to stray. The lamp of light, for human good design’d, Is to one virgin niggardly confin’d. Sometimes too early rise thy eastern beams, Sometimes too late they set in western streams: ’Tis then her beauty thy swift course delays, And gives to winter skies long summer days. Now in thy face thy love-sick mind appears, And spreads thro’ impious nations empty fears: For when thy beamless head is wrapt in night, Poor mortals tremble in despair of light. ’Tis not the moon, that o’er thee casts a veil ’Tis love alone, which makes thy looks so pale. Leucothoe is grown thy only care, Not Phaeton’s fair mother now is fair. The youthful Rhodos moves no tender thought, And beauteous Porsa is at last forgot. Fond Clytie, scorn’d, yet lov’d, and sought thy bed, Ev’n then thy heart for other virgins bled. Leucothoe has all thy soul possest, And chas’d each rival passion from thy breast. To this bright nymph Eurynome gave birth In the blest confines of the spicy Earth. Excelling others, she herself beheld By her own blooming daughter far excell’d. The sire was Orchamus, whose vast command, The sev’nth from Belus, rul’d the Persian Land.
Deep in cool vales, beneath th’ Hesperian sky, For the Sun’s fiery steeds the pastures lye. Ambrosia there they eat, and thence they gain New vigour, and their daily toils sustain. While thus on heav’nly food the coursers fed, And night, around, her gloomy empire spread, The God assum’d the mother’s shape and air, And pass’d, unheeded, to his darling fair. Close by a lamp, with maids encompass’d round, The royal spinster, full employ’d, he found: Then cry’d, A-while from work, my daughter, rest; And, like a mother, scarce her lips he prest. Servants retire! — nor secrets dare to hear, Intrusted only to a daughter’s ear. They swift obey’d: not one, suspicious, thought The secret, which their mistress would be taught. Then he: since now no witnesses are near, Behold! the God, who guides the various year! The world’s vast eye, of light the source serene, Who all things sees, by whom are all things seen. Believe me, nymph! (for I the truth have show’d) Thy charms have pow’r to charm so great a God. Confus’d, she heard him his soft passion tell, And on the floor, untwirl’d, the spindle fell: Still from the sweet confusion some new grace Blush’d out by stealth, and languish’d in her face. The lover, now inflam’d, himself put on, And out at once the God, all-radiant, shone. The virgin startled at his alter’d form, Too weak to bear a God’s impetuous storm: No more against the dazling youth she strove, But silent yielded, and indulg’d his love.
This Clytie knew, and knew she was undone, Whose soul was fix’d, and doated on the Sun. She rag’d to think on her neglected charms, And Phoebus, panting in another’s arms. With envious madness fir’d, she flies in haste, And tells the king, his daughter was unchaste. The king, incens’d to hear his honour stain’d, No more the father nor the man retain’d. In vain she stretch’d her arms, and turn’d her eyes To her lov’d God, th’ enlightner of the skies. In vain she own’d it was a crime, yet still It was a crime not acted by her will. The brutal sire stood deaf to ev’ry pray’r, And deep in Earth entomb’d alive the fair. What Phoebus could do, was by Phoebus done: Full on her grave with pointed beams he shone: To pointed beams the gaping Earth gave way; Had the nymph eyes, her eyes had seen the day, But lifeless now, yet lovely still, she lay. Not more the God wept, when the world was fir’d, And in the wreck his blooming boy expir’d. The vital flame he strives to light again, And warm the frozen blood in ev’ry vein: But since resistless Fates deny’d that pow’r, On the cold nymph he rain’d a nectar show’r. Ah! undeserving thus (he said) to die, Yet still in odours thou shalt reach the sky. The body soon dissolv’d, and all around Perfum’d with heav’nly fragrancies the ground, A sacrifice for Gods up-rose from thence, A sweet, delightful tree of frankincense.
The Transformation of Clytie
Tho’ guilty Clytie thus the sun betray’d, By too much passion she was guilty made. Excess of love begot excess of grief, Grief fondly bad her hence to hope relief. But angry Phoebus hears, unmov’d, her sighs, And scornful from her loath’d embraces flies. All day, all night, in trackless wilds, alone She pin’d, and taught the list’ning rocks her moan. On the bare earth she lies, her bosom bare, Loose her attire, dishevel’d is her hair. Nine times the morn unbarr’d the gates of light, As oft were spread th’ alternate shades of night, So long no sustenance the mourner knew, Unless she drunk her tears, or suck’d the dew. She turn’d about, but rose not from the ground, Turn’d to the Sun, still as he roul’d his round: On his bright face hung her desiring eyes, ’Till fix’d to Earth, she strove in vain to rise. Her looks their paleness in a flow’r retain’d, But here, and there, some purple streaks they gain’d. Still the lov’d object the fond leafs pursue, Still move their root, the moving Sun to view, And in the Heliotrope the nymph is true.
The sisters heard these wonders with surprise, But part receiv’d them as romantick lies; And pertly rally’d, that they could not see In Pow’rs divine so vast an energy. Part own’d, true Gods such miracles might do, But own’d not Bacchus, one among the true. At last a common, just request they make, And beg Alcithoe her turn to take. I will (she said) and please you, if I can. Then shot her shuttle swift, and thus began.
The fate of Daphnis is a fate too known, Whom an enamour’d nymph transform’d to stone, Because she fear’d another nymph might see The lovely youth, and love as much as she: So strange the madness is of jealousie! Nor shall I tell, what changes Scython made, And how he walk’d a man, or tripp’d a maid. You too would peevish frown, and patience want To hear, how Celmis grew an adamant. He once was dear to Jove, and saw of old Jove, when a child; but what he saw, he told. Crocus, and Smilax may be turn’d to flow’rs, And the Curetes spring from bounteous show’rs; I pass a hundred legends stale, as these, And with sweet novelty your taste will please.
The Story of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus
How Salmacis, with weak enfeebling streams Softens the body, and unnerves the limbs, And what the secret cause, shall here be shown; The cause is secret, but th’ effect is known.
The Naids nurst an infant heretofore, That Cytherea once to Hermes bore: From both th’ illustrious authors of his race The child was nam’d, nor was it hard to trace Both the bright parents thro’ the infant’s face. When fifteen years in Ida’s cool retreat The boy had told, he left his native seat, And sought fresh fountains in a foreign soil: The pleasure lessen’d the attending toil, With eager steps the Lycian fields he crost, A river here he view’d so lovely bright, It shew’d the bottom in a fairer light, Nor kept a sand conceal’d from human sight. The stream produc’d nor slimy ooze, nor weeds, Nor miry rushes, nor the spiky reeds; But dealt enriching moisture all around, The fruitful banks with chearful verdure crown’d, And kept the spring eternal on the ground. A nymph presides, not practis’d in the chace, Nor skilful at the bow, nor at the race; Of all the blue-ey’d daughters of the main, The only stranger to Diana’s train: Her sisters often, as ’tis said, wou’d cry, “Fie Salmacis: what, always idle! fie. Or take thy quiver, or thy arrows seize, And mix the toils of hunting with thy ease.” Nor quiver she nor arrows e’er wou’d seize, Nor mix the toils of hunting with her ease. But oft would bathe her in the chrystal tide, Oft with a comb her dewy locks divide; Now in the limpid streams she views her face, And drest her image in the floating glass: On beds of leaves she now repos’d her limbs, Now gather’d flow’rs that grew about her streams, And then by chance was gathering, as he stood To view the boy, and long’d for what she view’d.
Fain wou’d she meet the youth with hasty feet, She fain wou’d meet him, but refus’d to meet Before her looks were set with nicest care, And well deserv’d to be reputed fair. “Bright youth,” she cries, “whom all thy features prove A God, and, if a God, the God of love; But if a mortal, blest thy nurse’s breast, Blest are thy parents, and thy sisters blest: But oh how blest! how more than blest thy bride, Ally’d in bliss, if any yet ally’d. If so, let mine the stoln enjoyments be; If not, behold a willing bride in me.”
The boy knew nought of love, and toucht with shame, He strove, and blusht, but still the blush became: In rising blushes still fresh beauties rose; The sunny side of fruit such blushes shows, And such the moon, when all her silver white Turns in eclipses to a ruddy light. The nymph still begs, if not a nobler bliss, A cold salute at least, a sister’s kiss: And now prepares to take the lovely boy Between her arms. He, innocently coy, Replies, “Or leave me to my self alone, You rude uncivil nymph, or I’ll be gone.” “Fair stranger then,” says she, “it shall be so”; And, for she fear’d his threats, she feign’d to go: But hid within a covert’s neighbouring green, She kept him still in sight, herself unseen. The boy now fancies all the danger o’er, And innocently sports about the shore, Playful and wanton to the stream he trips, And dips his foot, and shivers as he dips. The coolness pleas’d him, and with eager haste His airy garments on the banks he cast; His godlike features, and his heav’nly hue, And all his beauties were expos’d to view. His naked limbs the nymph with rapture spies, While hotter passions in her bosom rise, Flush in her cheeks, and sparkle in her eyes. She longs, she burns to clasp him in her arms, And looks, and sighs, and kindles at his charms.
Now all undrest upon the banks he stood, And clapt his sides, and leapt into the flood: His lovely limbs the silver waves divide, His limbs appear more lovely through the tide; As lillies shut within a chrystal case, Receive a glossy lustre from the glass. He’s mine, he’s all my own, the Naid cries, And flings off all, and after him she flies. And now she fastens on him as he swims, And holds him close, and wraps about his limbs. The more the boy resisted, and was coy, The more she clipt, and kist the strugling boy. So when the wrigling snake is snatcht on high In Eagle’s claws, and hisses in the sky, Around the foe his twirling tail he flings, And twists her legs, and wriths about her wings.
The restless boy still obstinately strove To free himself, and still refus’d her love. Amidst his limbs she kept her limbs intwin’d, “And why, coy youth,” she cries, “why thus unkind! Oh may the Gods thus keep us ever join’d! Oh may we never, never part again!”
So pray’d the nymph, nor did she pray in vain: For now she finds him, as his limbs she prest, Grow nearer still, and nearer to her breast; ’Till, piercing each the other’s flesh, they run Together, and incorporate in one: Last in one face are both their faces join’d, As when the stock and grafted twig combin’d Shoot up the same, and wear a common rind: Both bodies in a single body mix, A single body with a double sex.
The boy, thus lost in woman, now survey’d The river’s guilty stream, and thus he pray’d. (He pray’d, but wonder’d at his softer tone, Surpriz’d to hear a voice but half his own.) You parent-Gods, whose heav’nly names I bear, Hear your Hermaphrodite, and grant my pray’r; Oh grant, that whomsoe’er these streams contain, If man he enter’d, he may rise again Supple, unsinew’d, and but half a man!
The heav’nly parents answer’d from on high, Their two-shap’d son, the double votary Then gave a secret virtue to the flood, And ting’d its source to make his wishes good.
Alcithoe and her Sisters transform’d to Bats
But Mineus’ daughters still their tasks pursue, To wickedness most obstinately true: At Bacchus still they laugh, when all around, Unseen, the timbrels hoarse were heard to sound. Saffron and myrrh their fragrant odours shed, And now the present deity they dread. Strange to relate! Here ivy first was seen, Along the distaff crept the wond’rous green. Then sudden-springing vines began to bloom, And the soft tendrils curl’d around the loom: While purple clusters, dangling from on high, Ting’d the wrought purple with a second die.
Now from the skies was shot a doubtful light, The day declining to the bounds of night. The fabrick’s firm foundations shake all o’er, False tigers rage, and figur’d lions roar. Torches, aloft, seem blazing in the air, And angry flashes of red light’nings glare. To dark recesses, the dire sight to shun, Swift the pale sisters in confusion run. Their arms were lost in pinions, as they fled, And subtle films each slender limb o’er-spread. Their alter’d forms their senses soon reveal’d; Their forms, how alter’d, darkness still conceal’d. Close to the roof each, wond’ring, upwards springs, Born on unknown, transparent, plumeless wings. They strove for words; their little bodies found No words, but murmur’d in a fainting sound. In towns, not woods, the sooty bats delight, And, never, ’till the dusk, begin their flight; ’Till Vesper rises with his ev’ning flame; From whom the Romans have deriv’d their name.
The Transformation of Ino and Melicerta to Sea-Gods
The pow’r of Bacchus now o’er Thebes had flown: With awful rev’rence soon the God they own. Proud Ino, all around the wonder tells, And on her nephew deity still dwells. Of num’rous sisters, she alone yet knew No grief, but grief, which she from sisters drew.
Imperial Juno saw her with disdain, Vain in her offspring, in her consort vain, Who rul’d the trembling Thebans with a nod, But saw her vainest in her foster-God. Could then (she cry’d) a bastard-boy have pow’r To make a mother her own son devour? Could he the Tuscan crew to fishes change, And now three sisters damn to forms so strange? Yet shall the wife of Jove find no relief? Shall she, still unreveng’d, disclose her grief? Have I the mighty freedom to complain? Is that my pow’r? is that to ease my pain? A foe has taught me vengeance; and who ought To scorn that vengeance, which a foe has taught? What sure destruction frantick rage can throw, The gaping wounds of slaughter’d Pentheus show. Why should not Ino, fir’d with madness, stray, Like her mad sisters her own kindred slay? Why, she not follow, where they lead the way?
Down a steep, yawning cave, where yews display’d In arches meet, and lend a baleful shade, Thro’ silent labyrinths a passage lies To mournful regions, and infernal skies. Here Styx exhales its noisome clouds, and here, The fun’ral rites once paid, all souls appear. Stiff cold, and horror with a ghastly face And staring eyes, infest the dreary place. Ghosts, new-arriv’d, and strangers to these plains, Know not the palace, where grim Pluto reigns. They journey doubtful, nor the road can tell, Which leads to the metropolis of Hell. A thousand avenues those tow’rs command, A thousand gates for ever open stand. As all the rivers, disembogu’d, find room For all their waters in old Ocean’s womb: So this vast city worlds of shades receives, And space for millions still of worlds she leaves. Th’ unbody’d spectres freely rove, and show Whate’er they lov’d on Earth, they love below. The lawyers still, or right, or wrong, support, The courtiers smoothly glide to Pluto’s court. Still airy heroes thoughts of glory fire, Still the dead poet strings his deathless lyre, And lovers still with fancy’d darts expire.
The Queen of Heaven, to gratify her hate, And sooth immortal wrath, forgets her state. Down from the realms of day, to realms of night, The Goddess swift precipitates her flight. At Hell arriv’d, the noise Hell’s porter heard, Th’ enormous dog his triple head up-rear’d: Thrice from three grizly throats he howl’d profound, Then suppliant couch’d, and stretch’d along the ground. The trembling threshold, which Saturnia prest, The weight of such divinity confest.
Before a lofty, adamantine gate, Which clos’d a tow’r of brass, the Furies sate: Mis-shapen forms, tremendous to the sight, Th’ implacable foul daughters of the night. A sounding whip each bloody sister shakes, Or from her tresses combs the curling snakes. But now great Juno’s majesty was known; Thro’ the thick gloom, all heav’nly bright, she shone: The hideous monsters their obedience show’d, And rising from their seats, submissive bow’d.
This is the place of woe, here groan the dead; Huge Tityus o’er nine acres here is spread. Fruitful for pain th’ immortal liver breeds, Still grows, and still th’ insatiate vulture feeds. Poor Tantalus to taste the water tries, But from his lips the faithless water flies: Then thinks the bending tree he can command, The tree starts backwards, and eludes his hand. The labour too of Sisyphus is vain, Up the steep mount he heaves the stone with pain, Down from the summet rouls the stone again. The Belides their leaky vessels still Are ever filling, and yet never fill: Doom’d to this punishment for blood they shed, For bridegrooms slaughter’d in the bridal bed. Stretch’d on the rolling wheel Ixion lies; Himself he follows, and himself he flies. Ixion, tortur’d, Juno sternly ey’d, Then turn’d, and toiling Sisyphus espy’d: And why (she said) so wretched is the fate Of him, whose brother proudly reigns in state? Yet still my altars unador’d have been By Athamas, and his presumptuous queen.
What caus’d her hate, the Goddess thus confest, What caus’d her journey now was more than guest. That hate, relentless, its revenge did want, And that revenge the Furies soon could grant: They could the glory of proud Thebes efface, And hide in ruin the Cadmean race. For this she largely promises, entreats, And to intreaties adds imperial threats.
Then fell Tisiphone with rage was stung, And from her mouth th’ untwisted serpents flung. To gain this trifling boon, there is no need (She cry’d) in formal speeches to proceed. Whatever thou command’st to do, is done; Believe it finish’d, tho’ not yet begun. But from these melancholly seats repair To happier mansions, and to purer air. She spoke: the Goddess, darting upwards, flies, And joyous re-ascends her native skies: Nor enter’d there, till ’round her Iris threw Ambrosial sweets, and pour’d celestial dew.
The faithful Fury, guiltless of delays, With cruel haste the dire command obeys. Girt in a bloody gown, a torch she shakes, And round her neck twines speckled wreaths of snakes. Fear, and dismay, and agonizing pain, With frantick rage, compleat her loveless train. To Thebes her flight she sped, and Hell forsook; At her approach the Theban turrets shook: The sun shrunk back, thick clouds the day o’er-cast, And springing greens were wither’d as she past.
Now, dismal yellings heard, strange spectres seen, Confound as much the monarch as the queen. In vain to quit the palace they prepar’d, Tisiphone was there, and kept the ward. She wide extended her unfriendly arms, And all the Fury lavish’d all her harms. Part of her tresses loudly hiss, and part Spread poyson, as their forky tongues they dart. Then from her middle locks two snakes she drew, Whose merit from superior mischief grew: Th’ envenom’d ruin, thrown with spiteful care, Clung to the bosoms of the hapless pair. The hapless pair soon with wild thoughts were fir’d, And madness, by a thousand ways inspir’d. ’Tis true, th’ unwounded body still was sound, But ’twas the soul which felt the deadly wound. Nor did th’ unsated monster here give o’er, But dealt of plagues a fresh, unnumber’d store. Each baneful juice too well she understood, Foam, churn’d by Cerberus, and Hydra’s blood. Hot hemlock, and cold aconite she chose, Delighted in variety of woes. Whatever can untune th’ harmonious soul, And its mild, reas’ning faculties controul, Give false ideas, raise desires profane, And whirl in eddies the tumultuous brain, Mix’d with curs’d art, she direfully around Thro’ all their nerves diffus’d the sad compound. Then toss’d her torch in circles still the same, Improv’d their rage, and added flame to flame. The grinning Fury her own conquest spy’d, And to her rueful shades return’d with pride, And threw th’ exhausted, useless snakes aside.
Now Athamas cries out, his reason fled, Here, fellow-hunters, let the toils be spread. I saw a lioness, in quest of food, With her two young, run roaring in this wood. Again the fancy’d savages were seen, As thro’ his palace still he chac’d his queen; Then tore Learchus from her breast: the child Stretch’d little arms, and on its father smil’d: A father now no more, who now begun Around his head to whirl his giddy son, And, quite insensible to Nature’s call, The helpless infant flung against the wall. The same mad poyson in the mother wrought, Young Melicerta in her arms she caught, And with disorder’d tresses, howling, flies, O! Bacchus, Evoe, Bacchus! loud she cries. The name of Bacchus Juno laugh’d to hear, And said, Thy foster-God has cost thee dear.
A rock there stood, whose side the beating waves Had long consum’d, and hollow’d into caves. The head shot forwards in a bending steep, And cast a dreadful covert o’er the deep. The wretched Ino, on destruction bent, Climb’d up the cliff; such strength her fury lent: Thence with her guiltless boy, who wept in vain, At one bold spring she plung’d into the main.
Her neice’s fate touch’d Cytherea’s breast, And in soft sounds she Neptune thus addrest: Great God of waters, whose extended sway Is next to his, whom Heav’n and Earth obey: Let not the suit of Venus thee displease, Pity the floaters on th’ Ionian seas. Encrease thy Subject-Gods, nor yet disdain To add my kindred to that glorious train. If from the sea I may such honours claim, If ’tis desert, that from the sea I came, As Grecian poets artfully have sung, And in the name confest, from whence I sprung.
Pleas’d Neptune nodded his assent, and free Both soon became from frail mortality. He gave them form, and majesty divine, And bad them glide along the foamy brine. For Melicerta is Palaemon known, And Ino once, Leucothoe is grown.
The Transformation of the Theban Matrons
The Theban matrons their lov’d queen pursu’d, And tracing to the rock, her footsteps view’d. Too certain of her fate, they rend the skies With piteous shrieks, and lamentable cries. All beat their breasts, and Juno all upbraid, Who still remember’d a deluded maid: Who, still revengeful for one stol’n embrace, Thus wreak’d her hate on the Cadmean race. This Juno heard: And shall such elfs, she cry’d, Dispute my justice, or my pow’r deride? You too shall feel my wrath not idly spent; A Goddess never for insults was meant.
She, who lov’d most, and who most lov’d had been, Said, Not the waves shall part me from my queen. She strove to plunge into the roaring flood; Fix’d to the stone, a stone her self she stood. This, on her breast would fain her blows repeat, Her stiffen’d hands refus’d her breast to beat. That, stretch’d her arms unto the seas; in vain Her arms she labour’d to unstretch again. To tear her comely locks another try’d, Both comely locks, and fingers petryfi’d. Part thus; but Juno with a softer mind Part doom’d to mix among the feather’d kind. Transform’d, the name of Theban birds they keep, And skim the surface of that fatal deep.
Cadmus and his Queen transform’d to Serpents
Mean-time, the wretched Cadmus mourns, nor knows, That they who mortal fell, immortal rose. With a long series of new ills opprest, He droops, and all the man forsakes his breast. Strange prodigies confound his frighted eyes; From the fair city, which he rais’d, he flies: As if misfortune not pursu’d his race, But only hung o’er that devoted place. Resolv’d by sea to seek some distant land, At last he safely gain’d th’ Illyrian strand. Chearless himself, his consort still he chears, Hoary, and loaden’d both with woes and years. Then to recount past sorrows they begin, And trace them to the gloomy origin. That serpent sure was hallow’d, Cadmus cry’d, Which once my spear transfix’d with foolish pride; When the big teeth, a seed before unknown, By me along the wond’ring glebe were sown, And sprouting armies by themselves o’erthrown. If thence the wrath of Heav’n on me is bent, May Heav’n conclude it with one sad event; To an extended serpent change the man: And while he spoke, the wish’d-for change began. His skin with sea-green spots was vary’d ’round, And on his belly prone he prest the ground. He glitter’d soon with many a golden scale, And his shrunk legs clos’d in a spiry tail. Arms yet remain’d, remaining arms he spread To his lov’d wife, and human tears yet shed. Come, my Harmonia, come, thy face recline Down to my face; still touch, what still is mine. O! let these hands, while hands, be gently prest, While yet the serpent has not all possest. More he had spoke, but strove to speak in vain, The forky tongue refus’d to tell his pain, And learn’d in hissings only to complain.
Then shriek’d Harmonia, Stay, my Cadmus, stay, Glide not in such a monstrous shape away! Destruction, like impetuous waves, rouls on. Where are thy feet, thy legs, thy shoulders gone? Chang’d is thy visage, chang’d is all thy frame; Cadmus is only Cadmus now in name. Ye Gods, my Cadmus to himself restore, Or me like him transform; I ask no more.
The husband-serpent show’d he still had thought, With wonted fondness an embrace he sought; Play’d ’round her neck in many a harmless twist, And lick’d that bosom, which, a man, he kist. The lookers-on (for lookers-on there were) Shock’d at the sight, half-dy’d away with fear. The transformation was again renew’d, And, like the husband, chang’d the wife they view’d. Both, serpents now, with fold involv’d in fold, To the next covert amicably roul’d. There curl’d they lie, or wave along the green, Fearless see men, by men are fearless seen, Still mild, and conscious what they once have been.
The Story of Perseus
Yet tho’ this harsh, inglorious fate they found, Each in the deathless grandson liv’d renown’d. Thro’ conquer’d India Bacchus nobly rode, And Greece with temples hail’d the conqu’ring God. In Argos only proud Acrisius reign’d, Who all the consecrated rites profan’d. Audacious wretch! thus Bacchus to deny, And the great Thunderer’s great son defie! Nor him alone: thy daughter vainly strove, Brave Perseus of celestial stem to prove, And her self pregnant by a golden Jove. Yet this was true, and truth in time prevails; Acrisius now his unbelief bewails. His former thought, an impious thought he found, And both the heroe, and the God were own’d. He saw, already one in Heav’n was plac’d, And one with more than mortal triumphs grac’d, The victor Perseus with the Gorgon-head, O’er Libyan sands his airy journey sped. The gory drops distill’d, as swift he flew, And from each drop envenom’d serpents grew, The mischiefs brooded on the barren plains, And still th’ unhappy fruitfulness remains.
Atlas transform’d to a Mountain
Thence Perseus, like a cloud, by storms was driv’n, Thro’ all th’ expanse beneath the cope of Heaven. The jarring winds unable to controul, He saw the southern, and the northern pole: And eastward thrice, and westward thrice was whirl’d, And from the skies survey’d the nether world. But when grey ev’ning show’d the verge of night, He fear’d in darkness to pursue his flight. He pois’d his pinions, and forgot to soar, And sinking, clos’d them on th’ Hesperian shore: Then beg’d to rest, ’till Lucifer begun To wake the morn, the morn to wake the sun.
Here Atlas reign’d, of more than human size, And in his kingdom the world’s limit lies. Here Titan bids his weary’d coursers sleep, And cools the burning axle in the deep. The mighty monarch, uncontrol’d, alone, His sceptre sways: no neighb’ring states are known. A thousand flocks on shady mountains fed, A thousand herds o’er grassy plains were spread. Here wond’rous trees their shining stores unfold, Their shining stores too wond’rous to be told, Their leafs, their branches, and their apples, gold. Then Perseus the gigantick prince addrest, Humbly implor’d a hospitable rest. If bold exploits thy admiration fire, He said, I fancy, mine thou wilt admire. Or if the glory of a race can move, Not mean my glory, for I spring from Jove. At this confession Atlas ghastly star’d, Mindful of what an oracle declar’d, That the dark womb of Time conceal’d a day, Which should, disclos’d, the bloomy gold betray: All should at once be ravish’d from his eyes, And Jove’s own progeny enjoy the prize. For this, the fruit he loftily immur’d, And a fierce dragon the strait pass secur’d. For this, all strangers he forbad to land, And drove them from th’ inhospitable strand. To Perseus then: Fly quickly, fly this coast, Nor falsly dare thy acts and race to boast. In vain the heroe for one night entreats, Threat’ning he storms, and next adds force to threats. By strength not Perseus could himself defend, For who in strength with Atlas could contend? But since short rest to me thou wilt not give, A gift of endless rest from me receive, He said, and backward turn’d, no more conceal’d The present, and Medusa’s head reveal’d. Soon the high Atlas a high mountain stood, His locks, and beard became a leafy wood. His hands, and shoulders, into ridges went, The summit-head still crown’d the steep ascent. His bones a solid, rocky hardness gain’d: He, thus immensely grown (as fate ordain’d), The stars, the Heav’ns, and all the Gods sustain’d.
Andromeda rescu’d from the Sea Monster
Now Aeolus had with strong chains confin’d, And deep imprison’d e’vry blust’ring wind, The rising Phospher with a purple light Did sluggish mortals to new toils invite. His feet again the valiant Perseus plumes, And his keen sabre in his hand resumes: Then nobly spurns the ground, and upwards springs, And cuts the liquid air with sounding wings. O’er various seas, and various lands he past, ’Till Aethiopia’s shore appear’d at last. Andromeda was there, doom’d to attone By her own ruin follies not her own: And if injustice in a God can be, Such was the Libyan God’s unjust decree. Chain’d to a rock she stood; young Perseus stay’d His rapid flight, to view the beauteous maid. So sweet her frame, so exquisitely fine, She seem’d a statue by a hand divine, Had not the wind her waving tresses show’d, And down her cheeks the melting sorrows flow’d. Her faultless form the heroe’s bosom fires; The more he looks, the more he still admires. Th’ admirer almost had forgot to fly, And swift descended, flutt’ring from on high. O! Virgin, worthy no such chains to prove, But pleasing chains in the soft folds of love; Thy country, and thy name (he said) disclose, And give a true rehearsal of thy woes.
A quick reply her bashfulness refus’d, To the free converse of a man unus’d. Her rising blushes had concealment found From her spread hands, but that her hands were bound. She acted to her full extent of pow’r, And bath’d her face with a fresh, silent show’r. But by degrees in innocence grown bold, Her name, her country, and her birth she told: And how she suffer’d for her mother’s pride, Who with the Nereids once in beauty vy’d. Part yet untold, the seas began to roar, And mounting billows tumbled to the shore. Above the waves a monster rais’d his head, His body o’er the deep was widely spread: Onward he flounc’d; aloud the virgin cries; Each parent to her shrieks in shrieks replies: But she had deepest cause to rend the skies. Weeping, to her they cling; no sign appears Of help, they only lend their helpless tears. Too long you vent your sorrows, Perseus said, Short is the hour, and swift the time of aid, In me the son of thund’ring Jove behold, Got in a kindly show’r of fruitful gold. Medusa’s snaky head is now my prey, And thro’ the clouds I boldly wing my way. If such desert be worthy of esteem, And, if your daughter I from death redeem, Shall she be mine? Shall it not then be thought, A bride, so lovely, was too cheaply bought? For her my arms I willingly employ, If I may beauties, which I save, enjoy. The parents eagerly the terms embrace: For who would slight such terms in such a case? Nor her alone they promise, but beside, The dowry of a kingdom with the bride.
As well-rigg’d gallies, which slaves, sweating, row, With their sharp beaks the whiten’d ocean plough; So when the monster mov’d, still at his back The furrow’d waters left a foamy track. Now to the rock he was advanc’d so nigh, Whirl’d from a sling a stone the space would fly. Then bounding, upwards the brave Perseus sprung, And in mid air on hov’ring pinions hung. His shadow quickly floated on the main; The monster could not his wild rage restrain, But at the floating shadow leap’d in vain. As when Jove’s bird, a speckl’d serpent spies, Which in the shine of Phoebus basking lies, Unseen, he souses down, and bears away, Truss’d from behind, the vainly-hissing prey. To writh his neck the labour nought avails, Too deep th’ imperial talons pierce his scales. Thus the wing’d heroe now descends, now soars, And at his pleasure the vast monster gores. Full in his back, swift stooping from above, The crooked sabre to its hilt he drove. The monster rag’d, impatient of the pain, First bounded high, and then sunk low again. Now, like a savage boar, when chaf’d with wounds, And bay’d with opening mouths of hungry hounds, He on the foe turns with collected might, Who still eludes him with an airy flight; And wheeling round, the scaly armour tries Of his thick sides; his thinner tall now plies: ’Till from repeated strokes out gush’d a flood, And the waves redden’d with the streaming blood. At last the dropping wings, befoam’d all o’er, With flaggy heaviness their master bore: A rock he spy’d, whose humble head was low, Bare at an ebb, but cover’d at a flow. A ridgy hold, he, thither flying, gain’d, And with one hand his bending weight sustain’d; With th’ other, vig’rous blows he dealt around, And the home-thrusts the expiring monster own’d. In deaf’ning shouts the glad applauses rise, And peal on peal runs ratling thro’ the skies. The saviour-youth the royal pair confess, And with heav’d hands their daughter’s bridegroom bless. The beauteous bride moves on, now loos’d from chains, The cause, and sweet reward of all the heroe’s pains,
Mean-time, on shore triumphant Perseus stood, And purg’d his hands, smear’d with the monster’s blood: Then in the windings of a sandy bed Compos’d Medusa’s execrable head. But to prevent the roughness, leafs he threw, And young, green twigs, which soft in waters grew, There soft, and full of sap; but here, when lay’d, Touch’d by the head, that softness soon decay’d. The wonted flexibility quite gone, The tender scyons harden’d into stone. Fresh, juicy twigs, surpriz’d, the Nereids brought, Fresh, juicy twigs the same contagion caught. The nymphs the petrifying seeds still keep, And propagate the wonder thro’ the deep. The pliant sprays of coral yet declare Their stiff’ning Nature, when expos’d to air. Those sprays, which did, like bending osiers, move, Snatch’d from their element, obdurate prove, And shrubs beneath the waves, grow stones above.
The great immortals grateful Perseus prais’d, And to three Pow’rs three turfy altars rais’d. To Hermes this; and that he did assign To Pallas: the mid honours, Jove, were thine, He hastes for Pallas a white cow to cull, A calf for Hermes, but for Jove a bull. Then seiz’d the prize of his victorious fight, Andromeda, and claim’d the nuptial rite. Andromeda alone he greatly sought, The dowry kingdom was not worth his thought.
Pleas’d Hymen now his golden torch displays; With rich oblations fragrant altars blaze, Sweet wreaths of choicest flow’rs are hung on high, And cloudless pleasure smiles in ev’ry eye. The melting musick melting thoughts inspires, And warbling songsters aid the warbling lyres. The palace opens wide in pompous state, And by his peers surrounded, Cepheus sate. A feast was serv’d, fit for a king to give, And fit for God-like heroes to receive. The banquet ended, the gay, chearful bowl Mov’d round, and brighten’d, and enlarg’d each soul. Then Perseus ask’d, what customs there obtain’d, And by what laws the people were restrain’d. Which told; the teller a like freedom takes, And to the warrior his petition makes, To know, what arts had won Medusa’s snakes.
The Story of Medusa’s Head
The heroe with his just request complies, Shows, how a vale beneath cold Atlas lies, Where, with aspiring mountains fenc’d around, He the two daughters of old Phorcus found. Fate had one common eye to both assign’d, Each saw by turns, and each by turns was blind. But while one strove to lend her sister sight, He stretch’d his hand, and stole their mutual light, And left both eyeless, both involv’d in night. Thro’ devious wilds, and trackless woods he past, And at the Gorgon-seats arriv’d at last: But as he journey’d, pensive he survey’d, What wasteful havock dire Medusa made. Here, stood still breathing statues, men before; There, rampant lions seem’d in stone to roar. Nor did he, yet affrighted, quit the field, But in the mirror of his polish’d shield Reflected saw Medusa slumbers take, And not one serpent by good chance awake. Then backward an unerring blow he sped, And from her body lop’d at once her head. The gore prolifick prov’d; with sudden force Sprung Pegasus, and wing’d his airy course.
The Heav’n-born warrior faithfully went on, And told the num’rous dangers which he run. What subject seas, what lands he had in view, And nigh what stars th’ advent’rous heroe flew. At last he silent sate; the list’ning throng Sigh’d at the pause of his delightful tongue. Some beg’d to know, why this alone should wear, Of all the sisters, such destructive hair.
Great Perseus then: With me you shall prevail, Worth the relation, to relate a tale. Medusa once had charms; to gain her love A rival crowd of envious lovers strove. They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace More moving features in a sweeter face. Yet above all, her length of hair, they own, In golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone. Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir’d, Resolv’d to compass, what his soul desir’d. In chaste Minerva’s fane, he, lustful, stay’d, And seiz’d, and rifled the young, blushing maid. The bashful Goddess turn’d her eyes away, Nor durst such bold impurity survey; But on the ravish’d virgin vengeance takes, Her shining hair is chang’d to hissing snakes. These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear, The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare, Than they did lovers once, when shining hair.