Theseus requests the God to tell his woes, Whence his maim’d brow, and whence his groans arose Whence thus the Calydonian stream reply’d, With twining reeds his careless tresses ty’d: Ungrateful is the tale; for who can bear, When conquer’d, to rehearse the shameful war? Yet I’ll the melancholy story trace; So great a conqu’ror softens the disgrace: Nor was it still so mean the prize to yield, As great, and glorious to dispute the field.
The Story of Achelous and Hercules
Perhaps you’ve heard of Deianira’s name, For all the country spoke her beauty’s fame. Long was the nymph by num’rous suitors woo’d, Each with address his envy’d hopes pursu’d: I joyn’d the loving band; to gain the fair, Reveal’d my passion to her father’s ear. Their vain pretensions all the rest resign, Alcides only strove to equal mine; He boasts his birth from Jove, recounts his spoils, His step-dame’s hate subdu’d, and finish’d toils.
Can mortals then (said I), with Gods compare? Behold a God; mine is the watry care: Through your wide realms I take my mazy way, Branch into streams, and o’er the region stray: No foreign guest your daughter’s charms adores, But one who rises in your native shores. Let not his punishment your pity move; Is Juno’s hate an argument for love? Though you your life from fair Alcmena drew, Jove’s a feign’d father, or by fraud a true. Chuse then; confess thy mother’s honour lost, Or thy descent from Jove no longer boast.
While thus I spoke, he look’d with stern disdain, Nor could the sallies of his wrath restrain, Which thus break forth. This arm decides our right; Vanquish in words, be mine the prize in fight.
Bold he rush’d on. My honour to maintain, I fling my verdant garments on the plain, My arms stretch forth, my pliant limbs prepare, And with bent hands expect the furious war. O’er my sleek skin now gather’d dust he throws, And yellow sand his mighty muscles strows. Oft he my neck, and nimble legs assails, He seems to grasp me, but as often fails. Each part he now invades with eager hand; Safe in my bulk, immoveable I stand. So when loud storms break high, and foam and roar Against some mole that stretches from the shore; The firm foundation lasting tempests braves, Defies the warring winds, and driving waves.
A-while we breathe, then forward rush amain, Renew the combat, and our ground maintain; Foot strove with foot, I prone extend my breast, Hands war with hands, and forehead forehead prest. Thus have I seen two furious bulls engage, Inflam’d with equal love, and equal rage; Each claims the fairest heifer of the grove, And conquest only can decide their love: The trembling herds survey the fight from far, ’Till victory decides th’ important war. Three times in vain he strove my joints to wrest, To force my hold, and throw me from his breast; The fourth he broke my gripe, that clasp’d him round, Then with new force he stretch’d me on the ground; Close to my back the mighty burthen clung, As if a mountain o’er my limbs were flung. Believe my tale; nor do I, boastful, aim By feign’d narration to extol my fame. No sooner from his grasp I freedom get, Unlock my arms, that flow’d with trickling sweat, But quick he seized me, and renew’d the strife, As my exhausted bosom pants for life: My neck he gripes, my knee to earth he strains; I fall, and bite the sand with shame, and pains.
O’er-match’d in strength, to wiles, and arts I take, And slip his hold, in form of speckled snake; Who, when I wreath’d in spires my body round, Or show’d my forky tongue with hissing sound, Smiles at my threats: Such foes my cradle knew, He cries, dire snakes my infant hand o’erthrew; A dragon’s form might other conquests gain, To war with me you take that shape in vain. Art thou proportion’d to the Hydra’s length, Who by his wounds receiv’d augmented strength? He rais’d a hundred hissing heads in air; When one I lopt, up-sprung a dreadful pair. By his wounds fertile, and with slaughter strong, Singly I quell’d him, and stretch’d dead along. What canst thou do, a form precarious, prone, To rouse my rage with terrors not thy own? He said; and round my neck his hands he cast, And with his straining fingers wrung me fast; My throat he tortur’d, close as pincers clasp, In vain I strove to loose the forceful grasp.
Thus vanquish’d too, a third form still remains, Chang’d to a bull, my lowing fills the plains. Strait on the left his nervous arms were thrown Upon my brindled neck, and tugg’d it down; Then deep he struck my horn into the sand, And fell’d my bulk among the dusty land. Nor yet his fury cool’d; ’twixt rage and scorn, From my maim’d front he tore the stubborn horn: This, heap’d with flow’rs, and fruits, the Naiads bear, Sacred to plenty, and the bounteous year.
He spoke; when lo, a beauteous nymph appears, Girt like Diana’s train, with flowing hairs; The horn she brings in which all Autumn’s stor’d, And ruddy apples for the second board.
Now morn begins to dawn, the sun’s bright fire Gilds the high mountains, and the youths retire; Nor stay’d they, ’till the troubled stream subsides, And in its bounds with peaceful current glides. But Achelous in his oozy bed Deep hides his brow deform’d, and rustick head: No real wound the victor’s triumph show’d, But his lost honours griev’d the watry God; Yet ev’n that loss the willow’s leaves o’erspread, And verdant reeds, in garlands, bind his head.
The Death of Nessus the Centaur
This virgin too, thy love, O Nessus, found, To her alone you owe the fatal wound. As the strong son of Jove his bride conveys, Where his paternal lands their bulwarks raise; Where from her slopy urn, Evenus pours Her rapid current, swell’d by wintry show’rs, He came. The frequent eddies whirl’d the tide, And the deep rolling waves all pass deny’d. As for himself, he stood unmov’d by fears, For now his bridal charge employ’d his cares, The strong-limb’d Nessus thus officious cry’d (For he the shallows of the stream had try’d), Swim thou, Alcides, all thy strength prepare, On yonder bank I’ll lodge thy nuptial care.
Th’ Aonian chief to Nessus trusts his wife, All pale, and trembling for her heroe’s life: Cloath’d as he stood in the fierce lion’s hide, The laden quiver o’er his shoulder ty’d (For cross the stream his bow and club were cast), Swift he plung’d in: These billows shall be past, He said, nor sought where smoother waters glide, But stem’d the rapid dangers of the tide. The bank he reach’d; again the bow he bears; When, hark! his bride’s known voice alarms his ears. Nessus, to thee I call (aloud he cries) Vain is thy trust in flight, be timely wise: Thou monster double-shap’d, my right set free; If thou no rev’rence owe my fame and me, Yet kindred should thy lawless lust deny; Think not, perfidious wretch, from me to fly, Tho’ wing’d with horse’s speed; wounds shall pursue; Swift as his words the fatal arrow flew: The centaur’s back admits the feather’d wood, And thro’ his breast the barbed weapon stood; Which when, in anguish, thro’ the flesh he tore, From both the wounds gush’d forth the spumy gore Mix’d with Lernaean venom; this he took, Nor dire revenge his dying breast forsook. His garment, in the reeking purple dy’d, To rouse love’s passion, he presents the bride.
The Death of Hercules
Now a long interval of time succeeds, When the great son of Jove’s immortal deeds, And step-dame’s hate, had fill’d Earth’s utmost round; He from Oechalia, with new lawrels crown’d, In triumph was return’d. He rites prepares, And to the King of Gods directs his pray’rs; When Fame (who falshood cloaths in truth’s disguise, And swells her little bulk with growing lies) Thy tender ear, o Deianira, mov’d, That Hercules the fair Iole lov’d. Her love believes the tale; the truth she fears Of his new passion, and gives way to tears. The flowing tears diffus’d her wretched grief, Why seek I thus, from streaming eyes, relief? She cries; indulge not thus these fruitless cares, The harlot will but triumph in thy tears: Let something be resolv’d, while yet there’s time; My bed not conscious of a rival’s crime. In silence shall I mourn, or loud complain? Shall I seek Calydon, or here remain? What tho’, ally’d to Meleager’s fame, I boast the honours of a sister’s name? My wrongs, perhaps, now urge me to pursue Some desp’rate deed, by which the world shall view How far revenge, and woman’s rage can rise, When weltring in her blood the harlot dies.
Thus various passions rul’d by turns her breast, She now resolves to send the fatal vest, Dy’d with Lernaean gore, whose pow’r might move His soul anew, and rouse declining love. Nor knew she what her sudden rage bestows, When she to Lychas trusts her future woes; With soft endearments she the boy commands, To bear the garment to her husband’s hands.
Th’ unwitting hero takes the gift in haste, And o’er his shoulders Lerna’s poison cast, As first the fire with frankincense he strows, And utters to the Gods his holy vows; And on the marble altar’s polish’d frame Pours forth the grapy stream; the rising flame Sudden dissolves the subtle pois’nous juice, Which taints his blood, and all his nerves bedews. With wonted fortitude he bore the smart, And not a groan confess’d his burning heart. At length his patience was subdu’d by pain, He rends the sacred altar from the plain; Oete’s wide forests echo with his cries: Now to rip off the deathful robe he tries. Where-e’er he plucks the vest, the skin he tears, The mangled muscles, and huge bones he bares (A ghastful sight!), or raging with his pain, To rend the sticking plague he tugs in vain.
As the red iron hisses in the flood, So boils the venom in his curdling blood. Now with the greedy flame his entrails glow, And livid sweats down all his body flow; The cracking nerves burnt up are burst in twain, The lurking venom melts his swimming brain.
Then, lifting both his hands aloft, he cries, Glut thy revenge, dread Empress of the skies; Sate with my death the rancour of thy heart, Look down with pleasure, and enjoy my smart. Or, if e’er pity mov’d a hostile breast (For here I stand thy enemy profest), Take hence this hateful life, with tortures torn, Inur’d to trouble, and to labours born. Death is the gift most welcome to my woe, And such a gift a stepdame may bestow. Was it for this Busiris was subdu’d, Whose barb’rous temples reek’d with strangers’ blood? Press’d in these arms his fate Antaeus found, Nor gain’d recruited vigour from the ground. Did I not triple-form’d Geryon fell? Or did I fear the triple dog of Hell? Did not these hands the bull’s arm’d forehead hold? Are not our mighty toils in Elis told? Do not Stymphalian lakes proclaim thy fame? And fair Parthenian woods resound thy name? Who seiz’d the golden belt of Thermodon? And who the dragon-guarded apples won? Could the fierce centaur’s strength my force withstand, Or the fell boar that spoil’d th’ Arcadian land? Did not these arms the Hydra’s rage subdue, Who from his wounds to double fury grew? What if the Thracian horses, fat with gore, Who human bodies in their mangers tore, I saw, and with their barb’rous lord o’erthrew? What if these hands Nemaea’s lion slew? Did not this neck the heav’nly globe sustain? The female partner of the Thunderer’s reign Fatigu’d, at length suspends her harsh commands, Yet no fatigue hath slack’d these valiant hands. But now new plagues pursue me, neither force, Nor arms, nor darts can stop their raging course. Devouring flame thro’ my rack’d entrails strays, And on my lungs and shrivel’d muscles preys. Yet still Eurystheus breathes the vital air. What mortal now shall seek the Gods with pray’r?
The Transformation of Lychas into a Rock
The hero said; and with the torture stung, Furious o’er Oete’s lofty hills he sprung. Stuck with the shaft, thus scours the tyger round, And seeks the flying author of his wound. Now might you see him trembling, now he vents His anguish’d soul in groans, and loud laments; He strives to tear the clinging vest in vain, And with up-rooted forests strows the plain; Now kindling into rage, his hands he rears, And to his kindred Gods directs his pray’rs. When Lychas, lo, he spies; who trembling flew, And in a hollow rock conceal’d from view, Had shun’d his wrath. Now grief renew’d his pain, His madness chaf’d, and thus he raves again.
Lychas, to thee alone my fate I owe, Who bore the gift, the cause of all my woe. The youth all pale, with shiv’ring fear was stung, And vain excuses falter’d on his tongue. Alcides snatch’d him, as with suppliant face He strove to clasp his knees, and beg for grace: He toss’d him o’er his head with airy course, And hurl’d with more than with an engine’s force; Far o’er th’ Eubaean main aloof he flies, And hardens by degrees amid the skies. So showry drops, when chilly tempests blow, Thicken at first, then whiten into snow, In balls congeal’d the rolling fleeces bound, In solid hail result upon the ground. Thus, whirl’d with nervous force thro’ distant air, The purple tide forsook his veins, with fear; All moisture left his limbs. Transform’d to stone, In ancient days the craggy flint was known; Still in the Eubaean waves his front he rears, Still the small rock in human form appears, And still the name of hapless Lychas bears.
The Apotheosis of Hercules
But now the hero of immortal birth Fells Oete’s forests on the groaning Earth; A pile he builds; to Philoctetes’ care He leaves his deathful instruments of war; To him commits those arrows, which again Shall see the bulwarks of the Trojan reign. The son of Paean lights the lofty pyre, High round the structure climbs the greedy fire; Plac’d on the top, thy nervous shoulders spread With the Nemaean spoils, thy careless head Rais’d on a knotty club, with look divine, Here thou, dread hero, of celestial line, Wert stretch’d at ease; as when a chearful guest, Wine crown’d thy bowls, and flow’rs thy temples drest.
Now on all sides the potent flames aspire, And crackle round those limbs that mock the fire A sudden terror seiz’d th’ immortal host, Who thought the world’s profess’d defender lost. This when the Thund’rer saw, with smiles he cries, ’Tis from your fears, ye Gods, my pleasures rise; Joy swells my breast, that my all-ruling hand O’er such a grateful people boasts command, That you my suff’ring progeny would aid; Tho’ to his deeds this just respect be paid, Me you’ve oblig’d. Be all your fears forborn, Th’ Oetean fires do thou, great hero, scorn. Who vanquish’d all things, shall subdue the flame. That part alone of gross maternal frame Fire shall devour; while what from me he drew Shall live immortal, and its force subdue; That, when he’s dead, I’ll raise to realms above; May all the Pow’rs the righteous act approve. If any God dissent, and judge too great The sacred honours of the heav’nly seat, Ev’n he shall own his deeds deserve the sky, Ev’n he reluctant, shall at length comply. Th’ assembled Pow’rs assent. No frown ’till now Had mark’d with passion vengeful Juno’s brow, Mean-while whate’er was in the pow’r of flame Was all consum’d; his body’s nervous frame No more was known, of human form bereft, Th’ eternal part of Jove alone was left. As an old serpent casts his scaly vest, Wreathes in the sun, in youthful glory drest; So when Alcides mortal mold resign’d, His better part enlarg’d, and grew refin’d; August his visage shone; almighty Jove In his swift carr his honour’d offspring drove; High o’er the hollow clouds the coursers fly, And lodge the hero in the starry sky.
The Transformation of Galanthis
Atlas perceiv’d the load of Heav’n’s new guest. Revenge still rancour’d in Eurystheus’ breast Against Alcides’ race. Alcmena goes To Iole, to vent maternal woes; Here she pours forth her grief, recounts the spoils Her son had bravely reap’d in glorious toils. This Iole, by Hercules’ commands, Hyllus had lov’d, and joyn’d in nuptial bands. Her swelling womb the teeming birth confess’d, To whom Alcmena thus her speech address’d.
O, may the Gods protect thee, in that hour, When, ’midst thy throws, thou call’st th’ Ilithyan Pow’r! May no delays prolong thy racking pain, As when I su’d for Juno’s aid in vain.
When now Alcides’ mighty birth drew nigh, And the tenth sign roll’d forward on the sky, My womb extends with such a mighty load, As Jove the parent of the burthen show’d. I could no more th’ encreasing smart sustain, My horror kindles to recount the pain; Cold chills my limbs while I the tale pursue, And now methinks I feel my pangs anew. Seven days and nights amidst incessant throws, Fatigu’d with ills I lay, nor knew repose; When lifting high my hands, in shrieks I pray’d, Implor’d the Gods, and call’d Lucina’s aid. She came, but prejudic’d, to give my Fate A sacrifice to vengeful Juno’s hate. She hears the groaning anguish of my fits, And on the altar at my door she sits. O’er her left knee her crossing leg she cast, Then knits her fingers close, and wrings them fast: This stay’d the birth; in mutt’ring verse she pray’d, The mutt’ring verse th’ unfinish’d birth delay’d. Now with fierce struggles, raging with my pain, At Jove’s ingratitude I rave in vain. How did I wish for death! such groans I sent, As might have made the flinty heart relent.
Now the Cadmeian matrons round me press, Offer their vows, and seek to bring redress; Among the Theban dames Galanthis stands, Strong limb’d, red hair’d, and just to my commands: She first perceiv’d that all these racking woes From the persisting hate of Juno rose. As here and there she pass’d, by chance she sees The seated Goddess; on her close-press’d knees Her fast-knit hands she leans; with chearful voice Galanthis cries, Whoe’er thou art, rejoyce, Congratulate the dame, she lies at rest, At length the Gods Alcmena’s womb have blest. Swift from her seat the startled Goddess springs, No more conceal’d, her hands abroad she flings; The charm unloos’d, the birth my pangs reliev’d; Galanthis’ laughter vex’d the Pow’r deceiv’d. Fame says, the Goddess dragg’d the laughing maid Fast by the hair; in vain her force essay’d Her grov’ling body from the ground to rear; Chang’d to fore-feet her shrinking arms appear: Her hairy back her former hue retains, The form alone is lost; her strength remains; Who, since the lye did from her mouth proceed, Shall from her pregnant mouth bring forth her breed; Nor shall she quit her long-frequented home, But haunt those houses where she lov’d to roam.
The Fable of Dryope
She said, and for her lost Galanthis sighs; When the fair consort of her son replies; Since you a servant’s ravish’d form bemoan, And kindly sigh for sorrows not your own, Let me (if tears and grief permit) relate A nearer woe, a sister’s stranger fate.
No nymph of all Oechaloa could compare For beauteous form with Dryope the fair; Her tender mother’s only hope and pride (My self the offspring of a second bride), This nymph, compress’d by him who rules the day, Whom Delphi, and the Delian isle obey, Andraemon lov’d; and blest in all those charms That pleas’d a God, succeeded to her arms.
A lake there was, with shelving banks around, Whose verdant summit fragrant myrtles crown’d. Those shades, unknowing of the fates, she sought; And to the Naiads flow’ry garlands brought; Her smiling babe (a pleasing charge) she prest Between her arms, and nourish’d at her breast. Not distant far a watry lotos grows; The Spring was new, and all the verdant boughs, Acorn’d with blossoms, promis’d fruits that vye In glowing colours with the Tyrian dye. Of these she cropt, to please her infant son, And I my self the same rash act had done, But, lo! I saw (as near her side I stood) The violated blossoms drop with blood; Upon the tree I cast a frightful look, The trembling tree with sudden horror shook. Lotis the nymph (if rural tales be true) As from Priapus’ lawless lust she flew, Forsook her form; and fixing here became A flow’ry plant, which still preserves her name.
This change unknown, astonish’d at the sight, My trembling sister strove to urge her flight; Yet first the pardon of the Nymphs implor’d, And those offended Sylvan pow’rs ador’d: But when she backward would have fled, she found Her stiff’ning feet were rooted to the ground: In vain to free her fasten’d feet she strove, And as she struggles only moves above; She feels th’ incroaching bark around her grow, By slow degrees, and cover all below: Surpriz’d at this, her trembling hand she heaves To rend her hair; her hand is fill’d with leaves; Where late was hair, the shooting leaves are seen To rise, and shade her with a sudden green. The Child Amphisus, to her bosom prest, Perceiv’d a colder and a harder breast, And found the springs, that n’er ’till then deny’d Their milky moisture, on a sudden dry’d. I saw, unhappy, what I now relate, And stood the helpless witness of thy fate; Embrac’d thy boughs, the rising bark delay’d, There wish’d to grow, and mingle shade with shade.
Behold Andraemon, and th’ unhappy sire Appear, and for their Dryope enquire; A springing tree for Dryope they find, And print warm kisses on the panting rind; Prostrate, with tears their kindred plant bedew, And close embrac’d, as to the roots they grew; The face was all that now remain’d of thee; No more a woman, nor yet quite a tree: Thy branches hung with humid pearls appear, From ev’ry leaf distills a trickling tear; And strait a voice, while yet a voice remains, Thus thro’ the trembling boughs in sighs complains.
If to the wretched any faith be giv’n, I swear by all th’ unpitying Pow’rs of Heav’n, No wilful crime this heavy vengeance bred, In mutual innocence our lives we led. If this be false, let these new greens decay, Let sounding axes lop my limbs away, And crackling flames on all my honours prey. Now from my branching arms this infant bear, Let some kind nurse supply a mother’s care; Yet to his mother let him oft be led, Sport in her shades, and in her shades be fed; Teach him, when first his infant voice shall frame Imperfect words, and lisp his mother’s name, To hail this tree, and say with weeping eyes, Within this plant my hapless parent lies; And when in youth he seeks the shady woods, Oh, let him fly the chrystal lakes and floods, Nor touch the fatal flow’rs; but warn’d by me, Believe a Goddess shrin’d in ev’ry tree. My sire, my sister, and my spouse farewel! If in your breasts or love, or pity, dwell, Protect your plant, nor let my branches feel The browzing cattle, or the piercing steel. Farewel! and since I cannot bend to join My lips to yours, advance at least to mine. My son, thy mother’s parting kiss receive, While yet thy mother has a kiss to give. I can no more; the creeping rind invades My closing lips, and hides my head in shades: Remove your hands; the bark shall soon suffice, Without their aid, to seal these dying eyes. She ceas’d at once to speak, and ceas’d to be; And all the nymph was lost within the tree: Yet latent life thro’ her new branches reign’d, And long the plant a human heat retain’d.
Iolaus restor’d to Youth
While Iole the fatal change declares, Alcmena’s pitying hand oft wip’d her tears. Grief too stream’d down her cheeks; soon sorrow flies, And rising joy the trickling moisture dries, Lo Iolaus stands before their eyes. A youth he stood; and the soft down began O’er his smooth chin to spread, and promise man. Hebe submitted to her husband’s pray’rs, Instill’d new vigour, and restor’d his years.
The Prophecy of Themis
Now from her lips a solemn oath had past, That Iolaus this gift alone shou’d taste, Had not just Themis thus maturely said (Which check’d her vow, and aw’d the blooming maid).
Thebes is embroil’d in war. Capaneus stands Invincible, but by the Thund’rer’s hands. Ambition shall the guilty brothers fire, Both rush to mutual wounds, and both expire. The reeling Earth shall ope her gloomy womb, Where the yet breathing bard shall find his tomb. The son shall bath his hands in parents’ blood, And in one act be both unjust, and good. Of home, and sense depriv’d, where-e’er he flies, The Furies, and his mother’s ghost he spies. His wife the fatal bracelet shall implore, And Phegeus stain his sword in kindred gore. Callirhoe shall then with suppliant pray’r Prevail on Jupiter’s relenting ear. Jove shall with youth her infant sons inspire, And bid their bosoms glow with manly fire.
The Debate of the Gods
When Themis thus with prescient voice had spoke, Among the Gods a various murmur broke; Dissention rose in each immortal breast, That one should grant, what was deny’d the rest. Aurora for her aged spouse complains, And Ceres grieves for Jason’s freezing veins; Vulcan would Erichthonius’ years renew, Her future race the care of Venus drew, She would Anchises’ blooming age restore; A diff’rent care employ’d each heav’nly Pow’r: Thus various int’rests did their jars encrease, ’Till Jove arose; he spoke, their tumults cease.
Is any rev’rence to our presence giv’n, Then why this discord ’mong the Pow’rs of Heav’n? Who can the settled will of Fate subdue? ’Twas by the Fates that Iolaus knew A second youth. The Fates’ determin’d doom Shall give Callirhoe’s race a youthful bloom. Arms, nor ambition can this pow’r obtain; Quell your desires; ev’n me the Fates restrain. Could I their will controul, no rolling years Had Aeacus bent down with silver hairs; Then Rhadamanthus still had youth possess’d, And Minos with eternal bloom been bless’d. Jove’s words the synod mov’d; the Pow’rs give o’er, And urge in vain unjust complaint no more. Since Rhadamanthus’ veins now slowly flow’d, And Aeacus, and Minos bore the load; Minos, who in the flow’r of youth, and fame, Made mighty nations tremble at his name, Infirm with age, the proud Miletus fears, Vain of his birth, and in the strength of years, And now regarding all his realms as lost, He durst not force him from his native coast. But you by choice, Miletus, fled his reign, And thy swift vessel plow’d th’ Aegean main; On Asiatick shores a town you frame, Which still is honour’d with the founder’s name. Here you Cyanee knew, the beauteous maid, As on her father’s winding banks she stray’d: Caunus and Byblis hence their lineage trace, The double offspring of your warm embrace.
The Passion of of Byblis
Let the sad fate of wretched Byblis prove A dismal warning to unlawful love; One birth gave being to the hapless pair, But more was Caunus than a sister’s care; Unknown she lov’d, for yet the gentle fire Rose not in flames, nor kindled to desire, ’Twas thought no sin to wonder at his charms, Hang on his neck, and languish in his arms; Thus wing’d with joy, fled the soft hours away, And all the fatal guilt on harmless Nature lay.
But love (too soon from piety declin’d) Insensibly deprav’d her yielding mind. Dress’d she appears, with nicest art adorn’d, And ev’ry youth, but her lov’d brother, scorn’d; For him alone she labour’d to be fair, And curst all charms that might with hers compare. ’Twas she, and only she, must Caunus please, Sick at her heart, yet knew not her disease: She call’d him lord, for brother was a name Too cold, and dull for her aspiring flame; And when he spoke, if sister he reply’d, For Byblis change that frozen word, she cry’d. Yet waking still she watch’d her strugling breast, And love’s approaches were in vain address’d, ’Till gentle sleep an easy conquest made, And in her soft embrace the conqueror was laid. But oh too soon the pleasing vision fled, And left her blushing on the conscious bed: Ah me! (she cry’d) how monstrous do I seem? Why these wild thoughts? and this incestuous dream? Envy herself (’tis true) must own his charms, But what is beauty in a sister’s arms? Oh were I not that despicable she, How bless’d, how pleas’d, how happy shou’d I be! But unregarded now must bear my pain, And but in dreams, my wishes can obtain.
O sea-born Goddess! with thy wanton boy! Was ever such a charming scene of joy? Such perfect bliss! such ravishing delight! Ne’er hid before in the kind shades of night. How pleas’d my heart! in what sweet raptures tost! Ev’n life it self in the soft combat lost, While breathless he on my heav’d bosom lay, And snatch’d the treasures of my soul away.
If the bare fancy so affects my mind, How shou’d I rave if to the substance join’d? Oh, gentle Caunus! quit thy hated line, Or let thy parents be no longer mine! Oh that in common all things were enjoy’d, But those alone who have our hopes destroy’d. Were I a princess, thou an humble swain, The proudest kings shou’d rival thee in vain. It cannot be, alas! the dreadful ill Is fix’d by Fate, and he’s my brother still. Hear me, ye Gods! I must have friends in Heav’n, For Jove himself was to a sister giv’n: But what are their prerogatives above, To the short liberties of human love? Fantastick thoughts! down, down, forbidden fires, Or instant death extinguish my desires. Strict virtue, then, with thy malicious leave, Without a crime I may a kiss receive: But say shou’d I in spight of laws comply, Yet cruel Caunus might himself deny, No pity take of an afflicted maid (For love’s sweet game must be by couples play’d). Yet why shou’d youth, and charms like mine, despair? Such fears ne’er startled the Aeolian pair; No ties of blood could their full hopes destroy, They broke thro’ all, for the prevailing joy; And who can tell but Caunus too may be Rack’d and tormented in his breast for me? Like me, to the extreamest anguish drove, Like me, just waking from a dream of love? But stay! Oh whither wou’d my fury run! What arguments I urge to be undone! Away fond Byblis, quench these guilty flames; Caunus thy love but as brother claims; Yet had he first been touch’d with love of me, The charming youth cou’d I despairing see? Oppress’d with grief, and dying by disdain? Ah no! too sure I shou’d have eas’d his pain! Since then, if Caunus ask’d me, it were done; Asking my self, what dangers can I run? But canst thou ask? and see that right betray’d, From Pyrrha down to thy whole sex convey’d? That self-denying gift we all enjoy, Of wishing to be won, yet seeming to be coy. Well then, for once, let a fond mistress woo; The force of love no custom can subdue; This frantick passion he by words shall know, Soft as the melting heart from whence they flow. The pencil then in her fair hand she held, By fear discourag’d, but by love compell’d She writes, then blots, writes on, and blots again, Likes it as fit, then razes it as vain: Shame, and assurance in her face appear, And a faint hope just yielding to despair; Sister was wrote, and blotted as a word Which she, and Caunus too (she hop’d) abhorr’d; But now resolv’d to be no more controul’d By scrup’lous virtue, thus her grief she told.
Thy lover (gentle Caunus) wishes thee That health, which thou alone canst give to me. O charming youth! the gift I ask bestow, Ere thou the name of the fond writer know; To thee without a name I would be known, Since knowing that, my frailty I must own. Yet why shou’d I my wretched name conceal? When thousand instances my flames reveal: Wan looks, and weeping eyes have spoke my pain, And sighs discharg’d from my heav’d heart in vain; Had I not wish’d my passion might be seen, What cou’d such fondness and embraces mean? Such kisses too! (Oh heedless lovely boy) Without a crime no sister cou’d enjoy: Yet (tho’ extreamest rage has rack’d my soul, And raging fires in my parch’d bosom roul) Be witness, Gods! how piously I strove, To rid my thoughts of this enchanting love. But who cou’d scape so fierce, and sure a dart, Aim’d at a tender, and defenceless heart? Alas! what maid cou’d suffer, I have born, Ere the dire secret from my breast was torn; To thee a helpless vanquish’d wretch I come, ’Tis you alone can save, or give my doom; My life, or death this moment you may chuse. Yet think, oh think, no hated stranger sues, No foe; but one, alas! too near ally’d, And wishing still much nearer to be ty’d. The forms of decency let age debate, And virtue’s rules by their cold morals state; Their ebbing joys give leisure to enquire, And blame those noble flights our youth inspire: Where Nature kindly summons let us go, Our sprightly years no bounds in love shou’d know, Shou’d feel no check of guilt, and fear no ill; Lovers, and Gods act all things at their will: We gain one blessing from our hated kin, Since our paternal freedom hides the sin; Uncensur’d in each other’s arms we lye, Think then how easie to compleat our joy. Oh, pardon and oblige a blushing maid, Whose rage the pride of her vain sex betray’d; Nor let my tomb thus mournfully complain, Here Byblis lies, by her lov’d Caunus slain.
Forc’d here to end, she with a falling tear Temper’d the pliant wax, which did the signet bear: The curious cypher was impress’d by art, But love had stamp’d one deeper in her heart; Her page, a youth of confidence, and skill, (Secret as night) stood waiting on her will; Sighing (she cry’d): Bear this, thou faithful boy, To my sweet partner in eternal joy: Here a long pause her secret guilt confess’d, And when at length she would have spoke the rest, Half the dear name lay bury’d in her breast.
Thus as he listned to her vain command, Down fell the letter from her trembling hand. The omen shock’d her soul. Yet go, she cry’d; Can a request from Byblis be deny’d?
To the Maeandrian youth this message’s born, The half-read lines by his fierce rage were torn; Hence, hence, he cry’d, thou pandar to her lust, Bear hence the triumph of thy impious trust: Thy instant death will but divulge her shame, Or thy life’s blood shou’d quench the guilty flame. Frighted, from threatning Caunus he withdrew, And with the dreadful news to his lost mistress flew. The sad repulse so struck the wounded fair, Her sense was bury’d in her wild despair; Pale was her visage, as the ghastly dead; And her scar’d soul from the sweet mansion fled; Yet with her life renew’d, her love returns, And faintly thus her cruel fate she mourns: ’Tis just, ye Gods! was my false reason blind? To write a secret of this tender kind? With female craft I shou’d at first have strove, By dubious hints to sound his distant love; And try’d those useful, tho’ dissembled, arts, Which women practise on disdainful hearts: I shou’d have watch’d whence the black storm might rise; Ere I had trusted the unfaithful skies. Now on the rouling billows I am tost, And with extended sails, on the blind shelves am lost. Did not indulgent Heav’n my doom foretell, When from my hand the fatal letter fell? What madness seiz’d my soul? and urg’d me on To take the only course to be undone? I cou’d my self have told the moving tale With such alluring grace as must prevail; Then had his eyes beheld my blushing fears, My rising sighs, and my descending tears; Round his dear neck these arms I then had spread, And, if rejected, at his feet been dead: If singly these had not his thoughts inclin’d, Yet all united would have shock’d his mind. Perhaps, my careless page might be in fault, And in a luckless hour the fatal message brought; Business, and worldly thoughts might fill his breast, Sometimes ev’n love itself may be an irksome guest: He cou’d not else have treated me with scorn, For Caunus was not of a tygress born; Nor steel, nor adamant has fenc’d his heart; Like mine, ’tis naked to the burning dart.
Away false fears! he must, he shall be mine; In death alone I will my claim resign; ’Tis vain to wish my written crime unknown, And for my guilt much vainer to atone. Repuls’d and baffled, fiercer still she burns, And Caunus with disdain her impious love returns. He saw no end of her injurious flame, And fled his country to avoid the shame. Forsaken Byblis, who had hopes no more; Burst out in rage, and her loose robes she tore; With her fair hands she smote her tender breast, And to the wond’ring world her love confess’d; O’er hills and dales, o’er rocks and streams she flew, But still in vain did her wild lust pursue: Wearied at length, on the cold earth she fell, And now in tears alone could her sad story tell. Relenting Gods in pity fix’d her there, And to a fountain turn’d the weeping fair.
The Fable of Iphis and Ianthe
The fame of this, perhaps, thro’ Crete had flown: But Crete had newer wonders of her own, In Iphis chang’d; for, near the Gnossian bounds (As loud report the miracle resounds), At Phaestus dwelt a man of honest blood, But meanly born, and not so rich as good; Esteem’d, and lov’d by all the neighbourhood; Who to his wife, before the time assign’d For child-birth came, thus bluntly spoke his mind. If Heav’n, said Lygdus, will vouchsafe to hear, I have but two petitions to prefer; Short pains for thee, for me a son and heir. Girls cost as many throes in bringing forth; Beside, when born, the titts are little worth; Weak puling things, unable to sustain Their share of labour, and their bread to gain. If, therefore, thou a creature shalt produce, Of so great charges, and so little use (Bear witness, Heav’n, with what reluctancy), Her hapless innocence I doom to die. He said, and common tears the common grief display, Of him who bad, and her who must obey.
Yet Telethusa still persists, to find Fit arguments to move a father’s mind; T’ extend his wishes to a larger scope, And in one vessel not confine his hope. Lygdus continues hard: her time drew near, And she her heavy load could scarcely bear; When slumbring, in the latter shades of night, Before th’ approaches of returning light, She saw, or thought she saw, before her bed, A glorious train, and Isis at their head: Her moony horns were on her forehead plac’d, And yellow shelves her shining temples grac’d: A mitre, for a crown, she wore on high; The dog, and dappl’d bull were waiting by; Osyris, sought along the banks of Nile; The silent God: the sacred crocodile; And, last, a long procession moving on, With timbrels, that assist the lab’ring moon. Her slumbers seem’d dispell’d, and, broad awake, She heard a voice, that thus distinctly spake. My votary, thy babe from death defend, Nor fear to save whate’er the Gods will send. Delude with art thy husband’s dire decree: When danger calls, repose thy trust on me: And know thou hast not serv’d a thankless deity. This promise made, with night the Goddess fled; With joy the woman wakes, and leaves her bed; Devoutly lifts her spotless hands on high, And prays the Pow’rs their gift to ratifie.
Now grinding pains proceed to bearing throes, ’Till its own weight the burden did disclose. ’Twas of the beauteous kind, and brought to light With secrecy, to shun the father’s sight. Th’ indulgent mother did her care employ, And past it on her husband for a boy. The nurse was conscious of the fact alone; The father paid his vows as for a son; And call’d him Iphis, by a common name, Which either sex with equal right may claim. Iphis his grandsire was; the wife was pleas’d, Of half the fraud by Fortune’s favour eas’d: The doubtful name was us’d without deceit, And truth was cover’d with a pious cheat. The habit show’d a boy, the beauteous face With manly fierceness mingled female grace.
Now thirteen years of age were swiftly run, When the fond father thought the time drew on Of settling in the world his only son. Ianthe was his choice; so wondrous fair, Her form alone with Iphis cou’d compare; A neighbour’s daughter of his own degree, And not more bless’d with Fortune’s goods than he.
They soon espous’d; for they with ease were join’d, Who were before contracted in the mind. Their age the same, their inclinations too; And bred together, in one school they grew. Thus, fatally dispos’d to mutual fires, They felt, before they knew, the same desires. Equal their flame, unequal was their care; One lov’d with hope, one languish’d in despair. The maid accus’d the lingring day alone: For whom she thought a man, she thought her own. But Iphis bends beneath a greater grief; As fiercely burns, but hopes for no relief. Ev’n her despair adds fuel to her fire; A maid with madness does a maid desire. And, scarce refraining tears, Alas, said she, What issue of my love remains for me! How wild a passion works within my breast, With what prodigious flames am I possest! Could I the care of Providence deserve, Heav’n must destroy me, if it would preserve. And that’s my fate, or sure it would have sent Some usual evil for my punishment: Not this unkindly curse; to rage, and burn, Where Nature shews no prospect of return. Nor cows for cows consume with fruitless fire; Nor mares, when hot, their fellow-mares desire: The father of the fold supplies his ewes; The stag through secret woods his hind pursues; And birds for mates the males of their own species chuse. Her females Nature guards from female flame, And joins two sexes to preserve the game: Wou’d I were nothing, or not what I am! Crete, fam’d for monsters, wanted of her store, ’Till my new love produc’d one monster more. The daughter of the sun a bull desir’d, And yet ev’n then a male a female fir’d: Her passion was extravagantly new, But mine is much the madder of the two. To things impossible she was not bent, But found the means to compass her intent. To cheat his eyes she took a different shape; Yet still she gain’d a lover, and a leap. Shou’d all the wit of all the world conspire, Shou’d Daedalus assist my wild desire, What art can make me able to enjoy, Or what can change Ianthe to a boy? Extinguish then thy passion, hopeless maid, And recollect thy reason for thy aid. Know what thou art, and love as maidens ought, And drive these golden wishes from thy thought. Thou canst not hope thy fond desires to gain; Where hope is wanting, wishes are in vain.
And yet no guards against our joys conspire; No jealous husband hinders our desire; My parents are propitious to my wish, And she herself consenting to the bliss. All things concur to prosper our design; All things to prosper any love but mine. And yet I never can enjoy the fair; ’Tis past the pow’r of Heav’n to grant my pray’r. Heav’n has been kind, as far as Heav’n can be; Our parents with our own desires agree; But Nature, stronger than the Gods above, Refuses her assistance to my love; She sets the bar that causes all my pain; One gift refus’d, makes all their bounty vain. And now the happy day is just at hand, To bind our hearts in Hymen’s holy band: Our hearts, but not our bodies: thus accurs’d, In midst of water I complain of thirst. Why com’st thou, Juno, to these barren rites, To bless a bed defrauded of delights? But why shou’d Hymen lift his torch on high, To see two brides in cold embraces lye?
Thus love-sick Iphis her vain passion mourns; With equal ardour fair Ianthe burns, Invoking Hymen’s name, and Juno’s pow’r, To speed the work, and haste the happy hour.
She hopes, while Telethusa fears the day, And strives to interpose some new delay: Now feigns a sickness, now is in a fright For this bad omen, or that boding sight. But having done whate’er she could devise, And empty’d all her magazine of lies, The time approach’d; the next ensuing day The fatal secret must to light betray. Then Telethusa had recourse to pray’r, She, and her daughter with dishevel’d hair; Trembling with fear, great Isis they ador’d, Embrac’d her altar, and her aid implor’d.
Fair queen, who dost on fruitful Egypt smile, Who sway’st the sceptre of the Pharian isle, And sev’n-fold falls of disemboguing Nile, Relieve, in this our last distress, she said, A suppliant mother, and a mournful maid. Thou, Goddess, thou wert present to my sight; Reveal’d I saw thee by thy own fair light: I saw thee in my dream, as now I see, With all thy marks of awful majesty: The glorious train that compass’d thee around; And heard the hollow timbrels holy sound. Thy words I noted, which I still retain; Let not thy sacred oracles be vain. That Iphis lives, that I myself am free From shame, and punishment, I owe to thee. On thy protection all our hopes depend. Thy counsel sav’d us, let thy pow’r defend.
Her tears pursu’d her words; and while she spoke, The Goddess nodded, and her altar shook: The temple doors, as with a blast of wind, Were heard to clap; the lunar horns that bind The brows of Isis cast a blaze around; The trembling timbrel made a murm’ring sound.
Some hopes these happy omens did impart; Forth went the mother with a beating heart: Not much in fear, nor fully satisfy’d; But Iphis follow’d with a larger stride: The whiteness of her skin forsook her face; Her looks embolden’d with an awful grace; Her features, and her strength together grew, And her long hair to curling locks withdrew. Her sparkling eyes with manly vigour shone, Big was her voice, audacious was her tone. The latent parts, at length reveal’d, began To shoot, and spread, and burnish into man. The maid becomes a youth; no more delay Your vows, but look, and confidently pay. Their gifts the parents to the temple bear: The votive tables this inscription wear; Iphis the man, has to the Goddess paid The vows, that Iphis offer’d when a maid.
Now when the star of day had shewn his face, Venus and Juno with their presence grace The nuptial rites, and Hymen from above Descending to compleat their happy love; The Gods of marriage lend their mutual aid; And the warm youth enjoys the lovely maid.