PALLAS, attending to the Muse’s song, Approv’d the just resentment of their wrong; And thus reflects: While tamely I commend Those who their injur’d deities defend, My own divinity affronted stands, And calls aloud for justice at my hands; Then takes the hint, asham’d to lag behind, And on Arachne’ bends her vengeful mind; One at the loom so excellently skill’d, That to the Goddess she refus’d to yield.
The Transformation of Arachne into a Spider
Low was her birth, and small her native town, She from her art alone obtain’d renown. Idmon, her father, made it his employ, To give the spungy fleece a purple dye: Of vulgar strain her mother, lately dead, With her own rank had been content to wed; Yet she their daughter, tho’ her time was spent In a small hamlet, and of mean descent, Thro’ the great towns of Lydia gain’d a name, And fill’d the neighb’ring countries with her fame.
Oft, to admire the niceness of her skill, The Nymphs would quit their fountain, shade, or hill: Thither, from green Tymolus, they repair, And leave the vineyards, their peculiar care; Thither, from fam’d Pactolus’ golden stream, Drawn by her art, the curious Naiads came. Nor would the work, when finish’d, please so much, As, while she wrought, to view each graceful touch; Whether the shapeless wool in balls she wound, Or with quick motion turn’d the spindle round, Or with her pencil drew the neat design, Pallas her mistress shone in every line. This the proud maid with scornful air denies, And ev’n the Goddess at her work defies; Disowns her heav’nly mistress ev’ry hour, Nor asks her aid, nor deprecates her pow’r. Let us, she cries, but to a tryal come, And, if she conquers, let her fix my doom.
The Goddess then a beldame’s form put on, With silver hairs her hoary temples shone; Prop’d by a staff, she hobbles in her walk, And tott’ring thus begins her old wives’ talk.
Young maid attend, nor stubbornly despise The admonitions of the old, and wise; For age, tho’ scorn’d, a ripe experience bears, That golden fruit, unknown to blooming years: Still may remotest fame your labours crown, And mortals your superior genius own; But to the Goddess yield, and humbly meek A pardon for your bold presumption seek; The Goddess will forgive. At this the maid, With passion fir’d, her gliding shuttle stay’d; And, darting vengeance with an angry look, To Pallas in disguise thus fiercely spoke.
Thou doating thing, whose idle babling tongue But too well shews the plague of living long; Hence, and reprove, with this your sage advice, Your giddy daughter, or your aukward neice; Know, I despise your counsel, and am still A woman, ever wedded to my will; And, if your skilful Goddess better knows, Let her accept the tryal I propose.
She does, impatient Pallas strait replies, And, cloath’d with heavenly light, sprung from her odd disguise. The Nymphs, and virgins of the plain adore The awful Goddess, and confess her pow’r; The maid alone stood unappall’d; yet show’d A transient blush, that for a moment glow’d, Then disappear’d; as purple streaks adorn The opening beauties of the rosy morn; Till Phoebus rising prevalently bright, Allays the tincture with his silver light. Yet she persists, and obstinately great, In hopes of conquest hurries on her fate. The Goddess now the challenge waves no more, Nor, kindly good, advises as before. Strait to their posts appointed both repair, And fix their threaded looms with equal care: Around the solid beam the web is ty’d, While hollow canes the parting warp divide; Thro’ which with nimble flight the shuttles play, And for the woof prepare a ready way; The woof and warp unite, press’d by the toothy slay.
Thus both, their mantles button’d to their breast, Their skilful fingers ply with willing haste, And work with pleasure; while they chear the eye With glowing purple of the Tyrian dye: Or, justly intermixing shades with light, Their colourings insensibly unite. As when a show’r transpierc’d with sunny rays, Its mighty arch along the heav’n displays; From whence a thousand diff’rent colours rise, Whose fine transition cheats the clearest eyes; So like the intermingled shading seems, And only differs in the last extreams. Then threads of gold both artfully dispose, And, as each part in just proportion rose, Some antique fable in their work disclose.
Pallas in figures wrought the heav’nly Pow’rs, And Mars’s hill among th’ Athenian tow’rs. On lofty thrones twice six celestials sate, Jove in the midst, and held their warm debate; The subject weighty, and well-known to fame, From whom the city shou’d receive its name. Each God by proper features was exprest, Jove with majestick mein excell’d the rest. His three-fork’d mace the dewy sea-God shook, And, looking sternly, smote the ragged rock; When from the stone leapt forth a spritely steed, And Neptune claims the city for the deed.
Herself she blazons, with a glitt’ring spear, And crested helm that veil’d her braided hair, With shield, and scaly breast-plate, implements of war. Struck with her pointed launce, the teeming Earth Seem’d to produce a new surprizing birth; When, from the glebe, the pledge of conquest sprung, A tree pale-green with fairest olives hung.
And then, to let her giddy rival learn What just rewards such boldness was to earn, Four tryals at each corner had their part, Design’d in miniature, and touch’d with art. Haemus in one, and Rodope of Thrace Transform’d to mountains, fill’d the foremost place; Who claim’d the titles of the Gods above, And vainly us’d the epithets of Jove. Another shew’d, where the Pigmaean dame, Profaning Juno’s venerable name, Turn’d to an airy crane, descends from far, And with her Pigmy subjects wages war. In a third part, the rage of Heav’n’s great queen, Display’d on proud Antigone, was seen: Who with presumptuous boldness dar’d to vye, For beauty with the empress of the sky. Ah! what avails her ancient princely race, Her sire a king, and Troy her native place: Now, to a noisy stork transform’d, she flies, And with her whiten’d pinions cleaves the skies. And in the last remaining part was drawn Poor Cinyras that seem’d to weep in stone; Clasping the temple steps, he sadly mourn’d His lovely daughters, now to marble turn’d. With her own tree the finish’d piece is crown’d, And wreaths of peaceful olive all the work surround.
Arachne drew the fam’d intrigues of Jove, Chang’d to a bull to gratify his love; How thro’ the briny tide all foaming hoar, Lovely Europa on his back he bore. The sea seem’d waving, and the trembling maid Shrunk up her tender feet, as if afraid; And, looking back on the forsaken strand, To her companions wafts her distant hand. Next she design’d Asteria’s fabled rape, When Jove assum’d a soaring eagle’s shape: And shew’d how Leda lay supinely press’d, Whilst the soft snowy swan sate hov’ring o’er her breast, How in a satyr’s form the God beguil’d, When fair Antiope with twins he fill’d. Then, like Amphytrion, but a real Jove, In fair Alcmena’s arms he cool’d his love. In fluid gold to Danae’s heart he came, Aegina felt him in a lambent flame. He took Mnemosyne in shepherd’s make, And for Deois was a speckled snake.
She made thee, Neptune, like a wanton steer, Pacing the meads for love of Arne dear; Next like a stream, thy burning flame to slake, And like a ram, for fair Bisaltis’ sake. Then Ceres in a steed your vigour try’d, Nor cou’d the mare the yellow Goddess hide. Next, to a fowl transform’d, you won by force The snake-hair’d mother of the winged horse; And, in a dolphin’s fishy form, subdu’d Melantho sweet beneath the oozy flood.
All these the maid with lively features drew, And open’d proper landskips to the view. There Phoebus, roving like a country swain, Attunes his jolly pipe along the plain; For lovely Isse’s sake in shepherd’s weeds, O’er pastures green his bleating flock he feeds, There Bacchus, imag’d like the clust’ring grape, Melting bedrops Erigone’s fair lap; And there old Saturn, stung with youthful heat, Form’d like a stallion, rushes to the feat. Fresh flow’rs, which twists of ivy intertwine, Mingling a running foliage, close the neat design.
This the bright Goddess passionately mov’d, With envy saw, yet inwardly approv’d. The scene of heav’nly guilt with haste she tore, Nor longer the affront with patience bore; A boxen shuttle in her hand she took, And more than once Arachne’s forehead struck. Th’ unhappy maid, impatient of the wrong, Down from a beam her injur’d person hung; When Pallas, pitying her wretched state, At once prevented, and pronounc’d her fate: Live; but depend, vile wretch, the Goddess cry’d, Doom’d in suspence for ever to be ty’d; That all your race, to utmost date of time, May feel the vengeance, and detest the crime.
Then, going off, she sprinkled her with juice, Which leaves of baneful aconite produce. Touch’d with the pois’nous drug, her flowing hair Fell to the ground, and left her temples bare; Her usual features vanish’d from their place, Her body lessen’d all, but most her face. Her slender fingers, hanging on each side With many joynts, the use of legs supply’d: A spider’s bag the rest, from which she gives A thread, and still by constant weaving lives.
The Story of Niobe
Swift thro’ the Phrygian towns the rumour flies, And the strange news each female tongue employs: Niobe, who before she married knew The famous nymph, now found the story true; Yet, unreclaim’d by poor Arachne’s fate, Vainly above the Gods assum’d a state. Her husband’s fame, their family’s descent, Their pow’r, and rich dominion’s wide extent, Might well have justify’d a decent pride; But not on these alone the dame rely’d. Her lovely progeny, that far excell’d, The mother’s heart with vain ambition swell’d: The happiest mother not unjustly styl’d, Had no conceited thoughts her tow’ring fancy fill’d.
For once a prophetess with zeal inspir’d, Their slow neglect to warm devotion fir’d; Thro’ ev’ry street of Thebes who ran possess’d, And thus in accents wild her charge express’d: Haste, haste, ye Theban matrons, and adore, With hallow’d rites, Latona’s mighty pow’r; And, to the heav’nly twins that from her spring, With laurel crown’d, your smoaking incense bring. Strait the great summons ev’ry dame obey’d, And due submission to the Goddess paid: Graceful, with laurel chaplets dress’d, they came, And offer’d incense in the sacred flame.
Mean-while, surrounded with a courtly guard, The royal Niobe in state appear’d; Attir’d in robes embroider’d o’er with gold, And mad with rage, yet lovely to behold: Her comely tresses, trembling as she stood, Down her fine neck with easy motion flow’d; Then, darting round a proud disdainful look, In haughty tone her hasty passion broke, And thus began: What madness this, to court A Goddess, founded meerly on report? Dare ye a poor pretended Pow’r invoke, While yet no altars to my godhead smoke? Mine, whose immediate lineage stands confess’d From Tantalus, the only mortal guest That e’er the Gods admitted to their feast. A sister of the Pleiads gave me birth; And Atlas, mightiest mountain upon Earth, Who bears the globe of all the stars above, My grandsire was, and Atlas sprung from Jove. The Theban towns my majesty adore, And neighb’ring Phrygia trembles at my pow’r: Rais’d by my husband’s lute, with turrets crown’d, Our lofty city stands secur’d around. Within my court, where-e’er I turn my eyes, Unbounded treasures to my prospect rise: With these my face I modestly may name, As not unworthy of so high a claim; Seven are my daughters, of a form divine, With seven fair sons, an indefective line. Go, fools! consider this; and ask the cause From which my pride its strong presumption draws; Consider this; and then prefer to me Caeus the Titan’s vagrant progeny; To whom, in travel, the whole spacious Earth No room afforded for her spurious birth. Not the least part in Earth, in Heav’n, or seas, Would grant your out-law’d Goddess any ease: ’Till pitying hers, from his own wand’ring case, Delos, the floating island, gave a place. There she a mother was, of two at most; Only the seventh part of what I boast. My joys all are beyond suspicion fix’d; With no pollutions of misfortune mix’d; Safe on the Basis of my pow’r I stand, Above the reach of Fortune’s fickle hand. Lessen she may my inexhausted store, And much destroy, yet still must leave me more. Suppose it possible that some may dye Of this my num’rous lovely progeny; Still with Latona I might safely vye. Who, by her scanty breed, scarce fit to name, But just escapes the childless woman’s shame. Go then, with speed your laurel’d heads uncrown, And leave the silly farce you have begun.
The tim’rous throng their sacred rites forbore, And from their heads the verdant laurel tore; Their haughty queen they with regret obey’d, And still in gentle murmurs softly pray’d.
High, on the top of Cynthus’ shady mount, With grief the Goddess saw the base affront; And, the abuse revolving in her breast, The mother her twin-offspring thus addrest.
Lo I, my children, who with comfort knew Your God-like birth, and thence my glory drew; And thence have claim’d precedency of place From all but Juno of the heav’nly race, Must now despair, and languish in disgrace. My godhead question’d, and all rites divine, Unless you succour, banish’d from my shrine. Nay more, the imp of Tantalus has flung Reflections with her vile paternal tongue; Has dar’d prefer her mortal breed to mine, And call’d me childless; which, just fate, may she repine!
When to urge more the Goddess was prepar’d, Phoebus in haste replies, Too much we’ve heard, And ev’ry moment’s lost, while vengeance is defer’d. Diana spoke the same. Then both enshroud Their heav’nly bodies in a sable cloud; And to the Theban tow’rs descending light, Thro’ the soft yielding air direct their flight.
Without the wall there lies a champian ground With even surface, far extending round, Beaten and level’d, while it daily feels The trampling horse, and chariot’s grinding wheels. Part of proud Niobe’s young rival breed, Practising there to ride the manag’d steed, Their bridles boss’d with gold, were mounted high On stately furniture of Tyrian dye. Of these, Ismenos, who by birth had been The first fair issue of the fruitful queen, Just as he drew the rein to guide his horse, Around the compass of the circling course, Sigh’d deeply, and the pangs of smart express’d, While the shaft stuck, engor’d within his breast: And, the reins dropping from his dying hand, He sunk quite down, and tumbled on the sand. Sipylus next the rattling quiver heard, And with full speed for his escape prepar’d; As when the pilot from the black’ning skies A gath’ring storm of wintry rain descries, His sails unfurl’d, and crowded all with wind, He strives to leave the threat’ning cloud behind: So fled the youth; but an unerring dart O’ertook him, quick discharg’d, and sped with art; Fix’d in his neck behind, it trembling stood, And at his throat display’d the point besmear’d with blood Prone, as his posture was, he tumbled o’er, And bath’d his courser’s mane with steaming gore. Next at young Phaedimus they took their aim, And Tantalus who bore his grandsire’s name: These, when their other exercise was done, To try the wrestler’s oily sport begun; And, straining ev’ry nerve, their skill express’d In closest grapple, joining breast to breast: When from the bending bow an arrow sent, Joyn’d as they were, thro’ both their bodies went: Both groan’d, and writhing both their limbs with pain, They fell together bleeding on the plain; Then both their languid eye-balls faintly roul, And thus together breathe away their soul. With grief Alphenor saw their doleful plight, And smote his breast, and sicken’d at the sight; Then to their succour ran with eager haste, And, fondly griev’d, their stiff’ning limbs embrac’d; But in the action falls: a thrilling dart, By Phoebus guided, pierc’d him to the heart. This, as they drew it forth, his midriff tore, Its barbed point the fleshy fragments bore, And let the soul gush out in streams of purple gore. But Damasichthon, by a double wound, Beardless, and young, lay gasping on the ground. Fix’d in his sinewy ham, the steely point Stuck thro’ his knee, and pierc’d the nervous joint: And, as he stoop’d to tug the painful dart, Another struck him in a vital part; Shot thro’ his wezon, by the wing it hung. The life-blood forc’d it out, and darting upward sprung, Ilioneus, the last, with terror stands, Lifting in pray’r his unavailing hands; And, ignorant from whom his griefs arise, Spare me, o all ye heav’nly Pow’rs, he cries: Phoebus was touch’d too late, the sounding bow Had sent the shaft, and struck the fatal blow; Which yet but gently gor’d his tender side, So by a slight and easy wound he dy’d.
Swift to the mother’s ears the rumour came, And doleful sighs the heavy news proclaim; With anger and surprize inflam’d by turns, In furious rage her haughty stomach burns: First she disputes th’ effects of heav’nly pow’r, Then at their daring boldness wonders more; For poor Amphion with sore grief distrest, Hoping to sooth his cares by endless rest, Had sheath’d a dagger in his wretched breast. And she, who toss’d her high disdainful head, When thro’ the streets in solemn pomp she led The throng that from Latona’s altar fled, Assuming state beyond the proudest queen; Was now the miserablest object seen. Prostrate among the clay-cold dead she fell, And kiss’d an undistinguish’d last farewel. Then her pale arms advancing to the skies, Cruel Latona! triumph now, she cries. My grieving soul in bitter anguish drench, And with my woes your thirsty passion quench; Feast your black malice at a price thus dear, While the sore pangs of sev’n such deaths I bear. Triumph, too cruel rival, and display Your conqu’ring standard; for you’ve won the day. Yet I’ll excel; for yet, tho’ sev’n are slain, Superior still in number I remain. Scarce had she spoke; the bow-string’s twanging sound Was heard, and dealt fresh terrors all around; Which all, but Niobe alone, confound. Stunn’d, and obdurate by her load of grief, Insensible she sits, nor hopes relief.
Before the fun’ral biers, all weeping sad, Her daughters stood, in vests of sable clad, When one, surpriz’d, and stung with sudden smart, In vain attempts to draw the sticking dart: But to grim death her blooming youth resigns, And o’er her brother’s corpse her dying head reclines. This, to asswage her mother’s anguish tries, And, silenc’d in the pious action, dies; Shot by a secret arrow, wing’d with death, Her fault’ring lips but only gasp’d for breath. One, on her dying sister, breathes her last; Vainly in flight another’s hopes are plac’d: This hiding, from her fate a shelter seeks; That trembling stands, and fills the air with shrieks. And all in vain; for now all six had found Their way to death, each by a diff’rent wound. The last, with eager care the mother veil’d, Behind her spreading mantle close conceal’d, And with her body guarded, as a shield. Only for this, this youngest, I implore, Grant me this one request, I ask no more; O grant me this! she passionately cries: But while she speaks, the destin’d virgin dies.
The Transformation of Niobe
Widow’d, and childless, lamentable state! A doleful sight, among the dead she sate; Harden’d with woes, a statue of despair, To ev’ry breath of wind unmov’d her hair; Her cheek still red’ning, but its colour dead, Faded her eyes, and set within her head. No more her pliant tongue its motion keeps, But stands congeal’d within her frozen lips. Stagnate, and dull, within her purple veins, Its current stop’d, the lifeless blood remains. Her feet their usual offices refuse, Her arms, and neck their graceful gestures lose: Action, and life from ev’ry part are gone, And ev’n her entrails turn to solid stone; Yet still she weeps, and whirl’d by stormy winds, Born thro’ the air, her native country finds; There fix’d, she stands upon a bleaky hill, There yet her marble cheeks eternal tears distil.
The Peasants of Lycia transform’d to Frogs
Then all, reclaim’d by this example, show’d A due regard for each peculiar God: Both men, and women their devoirs express’d, And great Latona’s awful pow’r confess’d. Then, tracing instances of older time, To suit the nature of the present crime, Thus one begins his tale. — Where Lycia yields A golden harvest from its fertile fields, Some churlish peasants, in the days of yore, Provok’d the Goddess to exert her pow’r. The thing indeed the meanness of the place Has made obscure, surprizing as it was; But I my self once happen’d to behold This famous lake of which the story’s told. My father then, worn out by length of days, Nor able to sustain the tedious ways, Me with a guide had sent the plains to roam, And drive his well-fed stragling heifers home. Here, as we saunter’d thro’ the verdant meads, We spy’d a lake o’er-grown with trembling reeds, Whose wavy tops an op’ning scene disclose, From which an antique smoaky altar rose. I, as my susperstitious guide had done, Stop’d short, and bless’d my self, and then went on; Yet I enquir’d to whom the altar stood, Faunus, the Naids, or some native God? No silvan deity, my friend replies, Enshrin’d within this hallow’d altar lies. For this, o youth, to that fam’d Goddess stands, Whom, at th’ imperial Juno’s rough commands, Of ev’ry quarter of the Earth bereav’d, Delos, the floating isle, at length receiv’d. Who there, in spite of enemies, brought forth, Beneath an olive’s shade, her great twin-birth.
Hence too she fled the furious stepdame’s pow’r, And in her arms a double godhead bore; And now the borders of fair Lycia gain’d, Just when the summer solstice parch’d the land. With thirst the Goddess languishing, no more Her empty’d breast would yield its milky store; When, from below, the smiling valley show’d A silver lake that in its bottom flow’d: A sort of clowns were reaping, near the bank, The bending osier, and the bullrush dank; The cresse, and water-lilly, fragrant weed, Whose juicy stalk the liquid fountains feed. The Goddess came, and kneeling on the brink, Stoop’d at the fresh repast, prepar’d to drink. Then thus, being hinder’d by the rabble race, In accents mild expostulates the case. Water I only ask, and sure ’tis hard From Nature’s common rights to be debar’d: This, as the genial sun, and vital air, Should flow alike to ev’ry creature’s share. Yet still I ask, and as a favour crave, That which, a publick bounty, Nature gave. Nor do I seek my weary limbs to drench; Only, with one cool draught, my thirst I’d quench. Now from my throat the usual moisture dries, And ev’n my voice in broken accents dies: One draught as dear as life I should esteem, And water, now I thirst, would nectar seem. Oh! let my little babes your pity move, And melt your hearts to charitable love; They (as by chance they did) extend to you Their little hands, and my request pursue.
Whom would these soft perswasions not subdue, Tho’ the most rustick, and unmanner’d crew? Yet they the Goddess’s request refuse, And with rude words reproachfully abuse: Nay more, with spiteful feet the villains trod O’er the soft bottom of the marshy flood, And blacken’d all the lake with clouds of rising mud.
Her thirst by indignation was suppress’d; Bent on revenge, the Goddess stood confess’d. Her suppliant hands uplifting to the skies, For a redress, to Heav’n she now applies. And, May you live, she passionately cry’d, Doom’d in that pool for ever to abide.
The Goddess has her wish; for now they chuse To plunge, and dive among the watry ooze; Sometimes they shew their head above the brim, And on the glassy surface spread to swim; Often upon the bank their station take, Then spring, and leap into the cooly lake. Still, void of shame, they lead a clam’rous life, And, croaking, still scold on in endless strife; Compell’d to live beneath the liquid stream, Where still they quarrel, and attempt to skream. Now, from their bloated throat, their voice puts on Imperfect murmurs in a hoarser tone; Their noisy jaws, with bawling now grown wide, An ugly sight! extend on either side: Their motly back, streak’d with a list of green, Joyn’d to their head, without a neck is seen; And, with a belly broad and white, they look Meer frogs, and still frequent the muddy brook.
The Fate of Marsyas
Scarce had the man this famous story told, Of vengeance on the Lycians shown of old, When strait another pictures to their view The Satyr’s fate, whom angry Phoebus slew; Who, rais’d with high conceit, and puff’d with pride, At his own pipe the skilful God defy’d. Why do you tear me from my self, he cries? Ah cruel! must my skin be made the prize? This for a silly pipe? he roaring said, Mean-while the skin from off his limbs was flay’d. All bare, and raw, one large continu’d wound, With streams of blood his body bath’d the ground. The blueish veins their trembling pulse disclos’d, The stringy nerves lay naked, and expos’d; His guts appear’d, distinctly each express’d, With ev’ry shining fibre of his breast.
The Fauns, and Silvans, with the Nymphs that rove Among the Satyrs in the shady grove; Olympus, known of old, and ev’ry swain That fed, or flock, or herd upon the plain, Bewail’d the loss; and with their tears that flow’d, A kindly moisture on the earth bestow’d; That soon, conjoyn’d, and in a body rang’d, Sprung from the ground, to limpid water chang’d; Which, down thro’ Phrygia’s rocks, a mighty stream, Comes tumbling to the sea, and Marsya is its name.
The Story of Pelops
From these relations strait the people turn To present truths, and lost Amphion mourn: The mother most was blam’d, yet some relate That Pelops pity’d, and bewail’d her fate, And stript his cloaths, and laid his shoulder bare, And made the iv’ry miracle appear. This shoulder, from the first, was form’d of flesh, As lively as the other, and as fresh; But, when the youth was by his father slain, The Gods restor’d his mangled limbs again; Only that place which joins the neck and arm, The rest untouch’d, was found to suffer harm: The loss of which an iv’ry piece sustain’d; And thus the youth his limbs, and life regain’d.
The Story of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela
To Thebes the neighb’ring princes all repair, And with condolance the misfortune share. Each bord’ring state in solemn form address’d, And each betimes a friendly grief express’d. Argos, with Sparta’s, and Mycenae’s towns, And Calydon, yet free from fierce Diana’s frowns. Corinth for finest brass well fam’d of old, Orthomenos for men of courage bold: Cleonae lying in the lowly dale, And rich Messene with its fertile vale: Pylos, for Nestor’s City after fam’d, And Troezen, not as yet from Pittheus nam’d. And those fair cities, which are hem’d around By double seas within the Isthmian ground; And those, which farther from the sea-coast stand, Lodg’d in the bosom of the spacious land.
Who can believe it? Athens was the last: Tho’ for politeness fam’d for ages past. For a strait siege, which then their walls enclos’d, Such acts of kind humanity oppos’d: And thick with ships, from foreign nations bound, Sea-ward their city lay invested round.
These, with auxiliar forces led from far, Tereus of Thrace, brave, and inur’d to war, Had quite defeated, and obtain’d a name, The warrior’s due, among the sons of Fame. This, with his wealth, and pow’r, and ancient line, From Mars deriv’d, Pandions’s thoughts incline His daughter Procne with the prince to joyn.
Nor Hymen, nor the Graces here preside, Nor Juno to befriend the blooming bride; But Fiends with fun’ral brands the process led, And Furies waited at the Genial bed: And all night long the scrieching owl aloof, With baleful notes, sate brooding o’er the roof. With such ill Omens was the match begun, That made them parents of a hopeful son. Now Thrace congratulates their seeming joy, And they, in thankful rites, their minds employ. If the fair queen’s espousals pleas’d before, Itys, the new-born prince, now pleases more; And each bright day, the birth, and bridal feast, Were kept with hallow’d pomp above the rest. So far true happiness may lye conceal’d, When, by false lights, we fancy ’tis reveal’d!
Now, since their nuptials, had the golden sun Five courses round his ample zodiac run; When gentle Procne thus her lord address’d, And spoke the secret wishes of her breast: If I, she said, have ever favour found, Let my petition with success be crown’d: Let me at Athens my dear sister see, Or let her come to Thrace, and visit me. And, lest my father should her absence mourn, Promise that she shall make a quick return. With thanks I’d own the obligation due Only, o Tereus, to the Gods, and you.
Now, ply’d with oar, and sail at his command, The nimble gallies reach’d th’ Athenian land, And anchor’d in the fam’d Piraean bay, While Tereus to the palace takes his way; The king salutes, and ceremonies past, Begins the fatal embassy at last; The occasion of his voyage he declares, And, with his own, his wife’s request prefers: Asks leave that, only for a little space, Their lovely sister might embark for Thrace.
Thus while he spoke, appear’d the royal maid, Bright Philomela, splendidly array’d; But most attractive in her charming face, And comely person, turn’d with ev’ry grace: Like those fair Nymphs, that are describ’d to rove Across the glades, and op’nings of the grove; Only that these are dress’d for silvan sports, And less become the finery of courts.
Tereus beheld the virgin, and admir’d, And with the coals of burning lust was fir’d: Like crackling stubble, or the summer hay, When forked lightnings o’er the meadows play. Such charms in any breast might kindle love, But him the heats of inbred lewdness move; To which, tho’ Thrace is naturally prone, Yet his is still superior, and his own. Strait her attendants he designs to buy, And with large bribes her governess would try: Herself with ample gifts resolves to bend, And his whole kingdom in th’ attempt expend: Or, snatch’d away by force of arms, to bear, And justify the rape with open war. The boundless passion boils within his breast, And his projecting soul admits no rest.
And now, impatient of the least delay, By pleading Procne’s cause, he speeds his way: The eloquence of love his tongue inspires, And, in his wife’s, he speaks his own desires; Hence all his importunities arise, And tears unmanly trickle from his eyes.
Ye Gods! what thick involving darkness blinds The stupid faculties of mortal minds! Tereus the credit of good-nature gains From these his crimes; so well the villain feigns. And, unsuspecting of his base designs, In the request fair Philomela joyns; Her snowy arms her aged sire embrace, And clasp his neck with an endearing grace: Only to see her sister she entreats, A seeming blessing, which a curse compleats. Tereus surveys her with a luscious eye, And in his mind forestalls the blissful joy: Her circling arms a scene of lust inspire, And ev’ry kiss foments the raging fire. Fondly he wishes for the father’s place, To feel, and to return the warm embrace; Since not the nearest ties of filial blood Would damp his flame, and force him to be good.
At length, for both their sakes, the king agrees; And Philomela, on her bended knees, Thanks him for what her fancy calls success, When cruel fate intends her nothing less.
Now Phoebus, hastning to ambrosial rest, His fiery steeds drove sloping down the west: The sculptur’d gold with sparkling wines was fill’d, And, with rich meats, each chearful table smil’d. Plenty, and mirth the royal banquet close, Then all retire to sleep, and sweet repose. But the lewd monarch, tho’ withdrawn apart, Still feels love’s poison rankling in his heart: Her face divine is stamp’d within his breast, Fancy imagines, and improves the rest: And thus, kept waking by intense desire, He nourishes his own prevailing fire.
Next day the good old king for Tereus sends, And to his charge the virgin recommends; His hand with tears th’ indulgent father press’d, Then spoke, and thus with tenderness address’d.
Since the kind instances of pious love, Do all pretence of obstacle remove; Since Procne’s, and her own, with your request, O’er-rule the fears of a paternal breast; With you, dear son, my daughter I entrust, And by the Gods adjure you to be just; By truth, and ev’ry consanguineal tye, To watch, and guard her with a father’s eye. And, since the least delay will tedious prove, In keeping from my sight the child I love, With speed return her, kindly to asswage The tedious troubles of my lingring age. And you, my Philomel, let it suffice, To know your sister’s banish’d from my eyes; If any sense of duty sways your mind, Let me from you the shortest absence find. He wept; then kiss’d his child; and while he speaks, The tears fall gently down his aged cheeks. Next, as a pledge of fealty, he demands, And, with a solemn charge, conjoyns their hands; Then to his daughter, and his grandson sends, And by their mouth a blessing recommends; While, in a voice with dire forebodings broke, Sobbing, and faint, the last farewel was spoke.
Now Philomela, scarce receiv’d on board, And in the royal gilded bark secur’d, Beheld the dashes of the bending oar, The ruffled sea, and the receding shore; When strait (his joy impatient of disguise) We’ve gain’d our point, the rough Barbarian cries; Now I possess the dear, the blissful hour, And ev’ry wish subjected to my pow’r. Transports of lust his vicious thoughts employ, And he forbears, with pain, th’ expected joy. His gloting eyes incessantly survey’d The virgin beauties of the lovely maid: As when the bold rapacious bird of Jove, With crooked talons stooping from above, Has snatcht, and carry’d to his lofty nest A captive hare, with cruel gripes opprest; Secure, with fix’d, and unrelenting eyes, He sits, and views the helpless, trembling prize.
Their vessels now had made th’ intended land, And all with joy descend upon the strand; When the false tyrant seiz’d the princely maid, And to a lodge in distant woods convey’d; Pale, sinking, and distress’d with jealous fears, And asking for her sister all in tears. The letcher, for enjoyment fully bent, No longer now conceal’d his base intent; But with rude haste the bloomy girl deflow’r’d, Tender, defenceless, and with ease o’erpower’d. Her piercing accents to her sire complain, And to her absent sister, but in vain: In vain she importunes, with doleful cries, Each unattentive godhead of the skies. She pants and trembles, like the bleating prey, From some close-hunted wolf just snatch’d away; That still, with fearful horror, looks around, And on its flank regards the bleeding wound. Or, as the tim’rous dove, the danger o’er, Beholds her shining plumes besmear’d with gore, And, tho’ deliver’d from the faulcon’s claw, Yet shivers, and retains a secret awe.
But when her mind a calm reflection shar’d, And all her scatter’d spirits were repair’d: Torn, and disorder’d while her tresses hung, Her livid hands, like one that mourn’d, she wrung; Then thus, with grief o’erwhelm’d her languid eyes, Savage, inhumane, cruel wretch! she cries; Whom not a parent’s strict commands could move, Tho’ charg’d, and utter’d with the tears of love; Nor virgin innocence, nor all that’s due To the strong contract of the nuptial vow: Virtue, by this, in wild confusion’s laid, And I compell’d to wrong my sister’s bed; Whilst you, regardless of your marriage oath, With stains of incest have defil’d us both. Tho’ I deserv’d some punishment to find, This was, ye Gods! too cruel, and unkind. Yet, villain, to compleat your horrid guilt, Stab here, and let my tainted blood be spilt. Oh happy! had it come, before I knew The curs’d embrace of vile perfidious you; Then my pale ghost, pure from incestuous love, Had wander’d spotless thro’ th’ Elysian grove. But, if the Gods above have pow’r to know, And judge those actions that are done below; Unless the dreaded thunders of the sky, Like me, subdu’d, and violated lye; Still my revenge shall take its proper time, And suit the baseness of your hellish crime. My self, abandon’d, and devoid of shame, Thro’ the wide world your actions will proclaim; Or tho’ I’m prison’d in this lonely den, Obscur’d, and bury’d from the sight of men, My mournful voice the pitying rocks shall move, And my complainings eccho thro’ the grove. Hear me, o Heav’n! and, if a God be there, Let him regard me, and accept my pray’r.
Struck with these words, the tyrant’s guilty breast With fear, and anger, was, by turns, possest; Now, with remorse his conscience deeply stung, He drew the faulchion that beside her hung, And first her tender arms behind her bound, Then drag’d her by the hair along the ground. The princess willingly her throat reclin’d, And view’d the steel with a contented mind; But soon her tongue the girding pinchers strain, With anguish, soon she feels the piercing pain: Oh father! father! would fain have spoke, But the sharp torture her intention broke; In vain she tries, for now the blade has cut Her tongue sheer off, close to the trembling root. The mangled part still quiver’d on the ground, Murmuring with a faint imperfect sound: And, as a serpent writhes his wounded train, Uneasy, panting, and possess’d with pain; The piece, while life remain’d, still trembled fast, And to its mistress pointed to the last.
Yet, after this so damn’d, and black a deed, Fame (which I scarce can credit) has agreed, That on her rifled charms, still void of shame, He frequently indulg’d his lustful flame, At last he ventures to his Procne’s sight, Loaded with guilt, and cloy’d with long delight; There, with feign’d grief, and false, dissembled sighs, Begins a formal narrative of lies; Her sister’s death he artfully declares, Then weeps, and raises credit from his tears. Her vest, with flow’rs of gold embroider’d o’er, With grief distress’d, the mournful matron tore, And a beseeming suit of gloomy sable wore. With cost, an honorary tomb she rais’d, And thus th’ imaginary ghost appeas’d. Deluded queen! the fate of her you love, Nor grief, nor pity, but revenge should move.
Thro’ the twelve signs had pass’d the circling sun, And round the compass of the Zodiac run; What must unhappy Philomela do, For ever subject to her keeper’s view? Huge walls of massy stone the lodge surround, From her own mouth no way of speaking’s found. But all our wants by wit may be supply’d, And art makes up, what fortune has deny’d: With skill exact a Phrygian web she strung, Fix’d to a loom that in her chamber hung, Where in-wrought letters, upon white display’d, In purple notes, her wretched case betray’d: The piece, when finish’d, secretly she gave Into the charge of one poor menial slave; And then, with gestures, made him understand, It must be safe convey’d to Procne’s hand. The slave, with speed, the queen’s apartment sought, And render’d up his charge, unknowing what he brought. But when the cyphers, figur’d in each fold, Her sister’s melancholy story told (Strange that she could!) with silence, she survey’d The tragick piece, and without weeping read: In such tumultuous haste her passions sprung, They choak’d her voice, and quite disarm’d her tongue. No room for female tears; the Furies rise, Darting vindictive glances from her eyes; And, stung with rage, she bounds from place to place, While stern revenge sits low’ring in her face.
Now the triennial celebration came, Observ’d to Bacchus by each Thracian dame; When, in the privacies of night retir’d, They act his rites, with sacred rapture fir’d: By night, the tinkling cymbals ring around, While the shrill notes from Rhodope resound; By night, the queen, disguis’d, forsakes the court, To mingle in the festival resort. Leaves of the curling vine her temples shade, And, with a circling wreath, adorn her head: Adown her back the stag’s rough spoils appear, Light on her shoulder leans a cornel spear.
Thus, in the fury of the God conceal’d, Procne her own mad headstrong passion veil’d; Now, with her gang, to the thick wood she flies, And with religious yellings fills the skies; The fatal lodge, as ’twere by chance, she seeks, And, thro’ the bolted doors, an entrance breaks; From thence, her sister snatching by the hand, Mask’d like the ranting Bacchanalian band, Within the limits of the court she drew, Shading, with ivy green, her outward hue. But Philomela, conscious of the place, Felt new reviving pangs of her disgrace; A shiv’ring cold prevail’d in ev’ry part, And the chill’d blood ran trembling to her heart.
Soon as the queen a fit retirement found, Stript of the garlands that her temples crown’d, She strait unveil’d her blushing sister’s face, And fondly clasp’d her with a close embrace: But, in confusion lost, th’ unhappy maid, With shame dejected, hung her drooping head, As guilty of a crime that stain’d her sister’s bed. That speech, that should her injur’d virtue clear, And make her spotless innocence appear, Is now no more; only her hands, and eyes Appeal, in signals, to the conscious skies. In Procne’s breast the rising passions boil, And burst in anger with a mad recoil; Her sister’s ill-tim’d grief, with scorn, she blames, Then, in these furious words her rage proclaims.
Tears, unavailing, but defer our time, The stabbing sword must expiate the crime; Or worse, if wit, on bloody vengeance bent, A weapon more tormenting can invent. O sister! I’ve prepar’d my stubborn heart, To act some hellish, and unheard-of part; Either the palace to surround with fire, And see the villain in the flames expire; Or, with a knife, dig out his cursed eyes, Or, his false tongue with racking engines seize; Or, cut away the part that injur’d you, And, thro’ a thousand wounds, his guilty soul pursue. Tortures enough my passion has design’d, But the variety distracts my mind.
A-while, thus wav’ring, stood the furious dame, When Itys fondling to his mother came; From him the cruel fatal hint she took, She view’d him with a stern remorseless look: Ah! but too like thy wicked sire, she said, Forming the direful purpose in her head. At this a sullen grief her voice supprest, While silent passions struggle in her breast.
Now, at her lap arriv’d, the flatt’ring boy Salutes his parent with a smiling joy: About her neck his little arms are thrown, And he accosts her in a pratling tone. Then her tempestuous anger was allay’d, And in its full career her vengeance stay’d; While tender thoughts, in spite of passion, rise, And melting tears disarm her threat’ning eyes. But when she found the mother’s easy heart, Too fondly swerving from th’ intended part; Her injur’d sister’s face again she view’d: And, as by turns surveying both she stood, While this fond boy (she said) can thus express The moving accents of his fond address; Why stands my sister of her tongue bereft, Forlorn, and sad, in speechless silence left? O Procne, see the fortune of your house! Such is your fate, when match’d to such a spouse! Conjugal duty, if observ’d to him, Would change from virtue, and become a crime; For all respect to Tereus must debase The noble blood of great Pandion’s race.
Strait at these words, with big resentment fill’d, Furious her look, she flew, and seiz’d her child; Like a fell tigress of the savage kind, That drags the tender suckling of the hind Thro’ India’s gloomy groves, where Ganges laves The shady scene, and rouls his streamy waves.
Now to a close apartment they were come, Far off retir’d within the spacious dome; When Procne, on revengeful mischief bent, Home to his heart a piercing ponyard sent. Itys, with rueful cries, but all too late, Holds out his hands, and deprecates his fate; Still at his mother’s neck he fondly aims, And strives to melt her with endearing names; Yet still the cruel mother perseveres, Nor with concern his bitter anguish hears. This might suffice; but Philomela too Across his throat a shining curtlass drew. Then both, with knives, dissect each quiv’ring part, And carve the butcher’d limbs with cruel art; Which, whelm’d in boiling cauldrons o’er the fire, Or turn’d on spits, in steamy smoak aspire: While the long entries, with their slipp’ry floor, Run down in purple streams of clotted gore.
Ask’d by his wife to this inhuman feast, Tereus unknowingly is made a guest: Whilst she her plot the better to disguise, Styles it some unknown mystick sacrifice; And such the nature of the hallow’d rite, The wife her husband only could invite, The slaves must all withdraw, and be debarr’d the sight. Tereus, upon a throne of antique state, Loftily rais’d, before the banquet sate; And glutton like, luxuriously pleas’d, With his own flesh his hungry maw appeas’d. Nay, such a blindness o’er his senses falls, That he for Itys to the table calls. When Procne, now impatient to disclose The joy that from her full revenge arose, Cries out, in transports of a cruel mind, Within your self your Itys you may find. Still, at this puzzling answer, with surprise, Around the room he sends his curious eyes; And, as he still inquir’d, and call’d aloud, Fierce Philomela, all besmear’d with blood, Her hands with murder stain’d, her spreading hair Hanging dishevel’d with a ghastly air, Stept forth, and flung full in the tyrant’s face The head of Itys, goary as it was: Nor ever so much to use her tongue, And with a just reproach to vindicate her wrong.
The Thracian monarch from the table flings, While with his cries the vaulted parlour rings; His imprecations eccho down to Hell, And rouze the snaky Furies from their Stygian cell. One while he labours to disgorge his breast, And free his stomach from the cursed feast; Then, weeping o’er his lamentable doom, He styles himself his son’s sepulchral tomb. Now, with drawn sabre, and impetuous speed, In close pursuit he drives Pandion’s breed; Whose nimble feet spring with so swift a force Across the fields, they seem to wing their course. And now, on real wings themselves they raise, And steer their airy flight by diff’rent ways; One to the woodland’s shady covert hies, Around the smoaky roof the other flies; Whose feathers yet the marks of murder stain, Where stampt upon her breast, the crimson spots remain. Tereus, through grief, and haste to be reveng’d, Shares the like fate, and to a bird is chang’d: Fix’d on his head, the crested plumes appear, Long is his beak, and sharpen’d like a spear; Thus arm’d, his looks his inward mind display, And, to a lapwing turn’d, he fans his way. Exceeding trouble, for his children’s fate, Shorten’d Pandion’s days, and chang’d his date; Down to the shades below, with sorrow spent, An earlier, unexpected ghost he went.
Boreas in Love
Erechtheus next th’ Athenian sceptre sway’d, Whose rule the state with joynt consent obey’d; So mix’d his justice with his valour flow’d, His reign one scene of princely goodness shew’d. Four hopeful youths, as many females bright, Sprung from his loyns, and sooth’d him with delight.
Two of these sisters, of a lovelier air, Excell’d the rest, tho’ all the rest were fair. Procris, to Cephalus in wedlock ty’d, Bless’d the young silvan with a blooming bride: For Orithyia Boreas suffer’d pain, For the coy maid sued long, but sued in vain; Tereus his neighbour, and his Thracian blood, Against the match a main objection stood; Which made his vows, and all his suppliant love, Empty as air and ineffectual prove.
But when he found his soothing flatt’ries fail, Nor saw his soft addresses cou’d avail; Blust’ring with ire, he quickly has recourse To rougher arts, and his own native force. ’Tis well, he said; such usage is my due, When thus disguis’d by foreign ways I sue; When my stern airs, and fierceness I disclaim, And sigh for love, ridiculously tame; When soft addresses foolishly I try, Nor my own stronger remedies apply. By force and violence I chiefly live, By them the lowring stormy tempests drive; In foaming billows raise the hoary deep, Writhe knotted oaks, and sandy desarts sweep; Congeal the falling flakes of fleecy snow, And bruise, with ratling hall, the plains below. I, and my brother-winds, when joyn’d above, Thro’ the waste champian of the skies we rove, With such a boist’rous full career engage, That Heav’n’s whole concave thunders at our rage. While, struck from nitrous clouds, fierce lightnings play, Dart thro’ the storm, and gild the gloomy day. Or when, in subterraneous caverns pent, My breath, against the hollow Earth, is bent, The quaking world above, and ghosts below, My mighty pow’r, by dear experience, know, Tremble with fear, and dread the fatal blow. This is the only cure to be apply’d, Thus to Erechtheus I should be ally’d; And thus the scornful virgin should be woo’d, Not by intreaty, but by force subdu’d.
Boreas, in passion, spoke these huffing things, And, as he spoke, he shook his dreadful wings; At which, afar the shiv’ring sea was fan’d, And the wide surface of the distant land: His dusty mantle o’er the hills he drew, And swept the lowly vallies, as he flew; Then, with his yellow wings, embrac’d the maid, And, wrapt in dusky clouds, far off convey’d. The sparkling blaze of Love’s prevailing fire Shone brighter as he flew, and flam’d the higher. And now the God, possess’d of his delight, To northern Thrace pursu’d his airy flight, Where the young ravish’d nymph became his bride, And soon the luscious sweets of wedlock try’d.
Two lovely twins, th’ effect of this embrace, Crown their soft labours, and their nuptials grace; Who, like their mother, beautiful, and fair, Their father’s strength, and feather’d pinions share: Yet these, at first, were wanting, as ’tis said, And after, as they grew, their shoulders spread. Zethes and Calais, the pretty twins, Remain’d unfledg’d, while smooth their beardless chins; But when, in time, the budding silver down Shaded their face, and on their cheeks was grown, Two sprouting wings upon their shoulders sprung, Like those in birds, that veil the callow young. Then as their age advanc’d, and they began From greener youth to ripen into man, With Jason’s Argonauts they cross’d the seas, Embark’d in quest of the fam’d golden fleece; There, with the rest, the first frail vessel try’d, And boldly ventur’d on the swelling tide.