THE Argonauts now stemm’d the foaming tide, And to Arcadia’s shore their course apply’d; Where sightless Phineus spent his age in grief, But Boreas’ sons engage in his relief; And those unwelcome guests, the odious race Of Harpyes, from the monarch’s table chase. With Jason then they greater toils sustain, And Phasis’ slimy banks at last they gain, Here boldly they demand the golden prize Of Scythia’s king, who sternly thus replies: That mighty labours they must first o’ercome, Or sail their Argo thence unfreighted home.
The Story of Medea and Jason
Meanwhile Medea, seiz’d with fierce desire, By reason strives to quench the raging fire; But strives in vain! — Some God (she said) withstands, And reason’s baffl’d council countermands. What unseen Pow’r does this disorder move? ’Tis love — at least ’tis like, what men call love. Else wherefore shou’d the king’s commands appear To me too hard? — But so indeed they are. Why shou’d I for a stranger fear, lest he Shou’d perish, whom I did but lately see? His death, or safety, what are they to me? Wretch, from thy virgin-breast this flame expel, And soon — Oh cou’d I, all wou’d then be well! But love, resistless love, my soul invades; Discretion this, affection that perswades. I see the right, and I approve it too, Condemn the wrong — and yet the wrong pursue. Why, royal maid, shou’dst thou desire to wed A wanderer, and court a foreign bed? Thy native land, tho’ barb’rous, can present A bridegroom worth a royal bride’s content: And whether this advent’rer lives, or dies, In Fate, and Fortune’s fickle pleasure lies. Yet may be live! for to the Pow’rs above, A virgin, led by no impulse of love, So just a suit may, for the guiltless, move. Whom wou’d not Jason’s valour, youth and blood Invite? or cou’d these merits be withstood, At least his charming person must encline The hardest heart — I’m sure ’tis so with mine! Yet, if I help him not, the flaming breath Of bulls, and earth-born foes, must be his death. Or, should he through these dangers force his way, At last he must be made the dragon’s prey. If no remorse for such distress I feel, I am a tigress, and my breast is steel. Why do I scruple then to see him slain, And with the tragick scene my eyes prophane? My magick’s art employ, not to asswage The Salvages, but to enflame their rage? His earth-born foes to fiercer fury move, And accessary to his murder prove? The Gods forbid — But pray’rs are idle breath, When action only can prevent his death. Shall I betray my father, and the state, To intercept a rambling hero’s fate; Who may sail off next hour, and sav’d from harms By my assistance, bless another’s arms? Whilst I, not only of my hopes bereft, But to unpity’d punishment am left. If he is false, let the ingrateful bleed! But no such symptom in his looks I read. Nature wou’d ne’er have lavish’d so much grace Upon his person, if his soul were base. Besides, he first shall plight his faith, and swear By all the Gods; what therefore can’st thou fear? Medea haste, from danger set him free, Jason shall thy eternal debtor be. And thou, his queen, with sov’raign state enstall’d, By Graecian dames the Kind Preserver call’d. Hence idle dreams, by love-sick fancy bred! Wilt thou, Medea, by vain wishes led, To sister, brother, father bid adieu? Forsake thy country’s Gods, and country too? My father’s harsh, my brother but a child, My sister rivals me, my country’s wild; And for its Gods, the greatest of ’em all Inspires my breast, and I obey his call. That great endearments I forsake, is true, But greater far the hopes that I pursue: The pride of having sav’d the youths of Greece (Each life more precious than our golden fleece); A nobler soil by me shall be possest, I shall see towns with arts and manners blest; And, what I prize above the world beside, Enjoy my Jason — and when once his bride, Be more than mortal, and to Gods ally’d. They talk of hazards I must first sustain, Of floating islands justling in the main; Our tender barque expos’d to dreadful shocks Of fierce Charybdis’ gulf, and Scylla’s rocks, Where breaking waves in whirling eddies rowl, And rav’nous dogs that in deep caverns howl: Amidst these terrors, while I lye possest Of him I love, and lean on Jason’s breast, In tempests unconcern’d I will appear, Or, only for my husband’s safety fear. Didst thou say husband? — canst thou so deceive Thy self, fond maid, and thy own cheat believe? In vain thou striv’st to varnish o’er thy shame, And grace thy guilt with wedlock’s sacred name. Pull off the coz’ning masque, and oh! in time Discover and avoid the fatal crime. She ceas’d — the Graces now, with kind surprize, And virtue’s lovely train, before her eyes Present themselves, and vanquish’d Cupid flies.
The Dragon’s Teeth transform’d to Men
She then retires to Hecate’s shrine, that stood Far in the covert of a shady wood: She finds the fury of her flames asswag’d, But, seeing Jason there, again they rag’d. Blushes, and paleness did by turns invade Her tender cheeks, and secret grief betray’d. As fire, that sleeping under ashes lyes, Fresh-blown, and rous’d, does up in blazes rise, So flam’d the virgin’s breast — New kindled by her lover’s sparkling eyes. For chance, that day, had with uncommon grace Adorn’d the lovely youth, and through his face Display’d an air so pleasing as might charm A Goddess, and a Vestal’s bosom warm. Her ravish’d eyes survey him o’er and o’er, As some gay wonder never seen before; Transported to the skies she seems to be, And thinks she gazes on a deity. But when he spoke, and prest her trembling hand, And did with tender words her aid demand, With vows, and oaths to make her soon his bride, She wept a flood of tears, and thus reply’d: I see my error, yet to ruin move, Nor owe my fate to ignorance, but love: Your life I’ll guard, and only crave of you To swear once more — and to your oath be true. He swears by Hecate he would all fulfil, And by her grandfather’s prophetick skill, By ev’ry thing that doubting love cou’d press, His present danger, and desir’d success. She credits him, and kindly does produce Enchanted herbs, and teaches him their use: Their mystick names, and virtues he admires, And with his booty joyfully retires. Impatient for the wonders of the day, Aurora drives the loyt’ring stars away. Now Mars’s mount the pressing people fill, The crowd below, the nobles crown the hill; The king himself high-thron’d above the rest, With iv’ry scepter, and in purple drest.
Forthwith the brass-hoof’d bulls are set at large, Whose furious nostrils sulph’rous flame discharge: The blasted herbage by their breath expires; As forges rumble with excessive fires, And furnaces with fiercer fury glow, When water on the panting mass ye throw; With such a noise, from their convulsive breast, Thro’ bellowing throats, the struggling vapour prest.
Yet Jason marches up without concern, While on th’ advent’rous youth the monsters turn Their glaring eyes, and, eager to engage, Brandish their steel-tipt horns in threatning rage: With brazen hoofs they beat the ground, and choak The ambient air with clouds of dust and smoak: Each gazing Graecian for his champion shakes, While bold advances he securely makes Thro’ sindging blasts; such wonders magick art Can work, when love conspires, and plays his part. The passive savages like statues stand, While he their dew-laps stroaks with soothing hand; To unknown yokes their brawny necks they yield, And, like tame oxen, plow the wond’ring field. The Colchians stare; the Graecians shout, and raise Their champion’s courage with inspiring praise.
Embolden’d now, on fresh attempts he goes, With serpent’s teeth the fertile furrows sows; The glebe, fermenting with inchanted juice, Makes the snake’s teeth a human crop produce. For as an infant, pris’ner to the womb, Contented sleeps, ’till to perfection come, Then does the cell’s obscure confinement scorn, He tosses, throbs, and presses to be born; So from the lab’ring Earth no single birth, But a whole troop of lusty youths rush forth; And, what’s more strange, with martial fury warm’d, And for encounter all compleatly arm’d; In rank and file, as they were sow’d, they stand, Impatient for the signal of command. No foe but the Aemonian youth appears; At him they level their steel-pointed spears; His frighted friends, who triumph’d, just before, With peals of sighs his desp’rate case deplore: And where such hardy warriors are afraid, What must the tender, and enamour’d maid? Her spirits sink, the blood her cheek forsook; She fears, who for his safety undertook: She knew the vertue of the spells she gave, She knew the force, and knew her lover brave; But what’s a single champion to an host? Yet scorning thus to see him tamely lost, Her strong reserve of secret arts she brings, And last, her never-failing song she sings. Wonders ensue; among his gazing foes The massy fragment of a rock he throws; This charm in civil war engag’d ’em all; By mutual wounds those Earth-born brothers fall.
The Greeks, transported with the strange success, Leap from their seats the conqu’ror to caress; Commend, and kiss, and clasp him in their arms: So would the kind contriver of the charms; But her, who felt the tenderest concern, Honour condemns in secret flames to burn; Committed to a double guard of fame, Aw’d by a virgin’s, and a princess’ name. But thoughts are free, and fancy unconfin’d, She kisses, courts, and hugs him in her mind; To fav’ring Pow’rs her silent thanks she gives, By whose indulgence her lov’d hero lives.
One labour more remains, and, tho’ the last, In danger far surmounting all the past; That enterprize by Fates in store was kept, To make the dragon sleep that never slept, Whose crest shoots dreadful lustre; from his jaws A tripple tire of forked stings he draws, With fangs, and wings of a prodigious size: Such was the guardian of the golden prize. Yet him, besprinkled with Lethaean dew, The fair inchantress into slumber threw; And then, to fix him, thrice she did repeat The rhyme, that makes the raging winds retreat, In stormy seas can halcyon seasons make, Turn rapid streams into a standing lake; While the soft guest his drowzy eye-lids seals, Th’ ungarded golden fleece the stranger steals; Proud to possess the purchase of his toil, Proud of his royal bride, the richer spoil; To sea both prize, and patroness he bore, And lands triumphant on his native shore.
Old Aeson restor’d to Youth
Aemonian matrons, who their absence mourn’d, Rejoyce to see their prosp’rous sons return’d: Rich curling fumes of incense feast the skies, An hecatomb of voted victims dies, With gilded horns, and garlands on their head, And all the pomp of death, to th’ altar led. Congratulating bowls go briskly round, Triumphant shouts in louder musick drown’d. Amidst these revels, why that cloud of care On Jason’s brow? (to whom the largest share Of mirth was due)— His father was not there. Aeson was absent, once the young, and brave, Now crush’d with years, and bending to the grave. At last withdrawn, and by the crowd unseen, Pressing her hand (with starting sighs between), He supplicates his kind, and skilful queen.
O patroness! preserver of my life! (Dear when my mistress, and much dearer wife) Your favours to so vast a sum amount, ’Tis past the pow’r of numbers to recount; Or cou’d they be to computation brought, The history would a romance be thought: And yet, unless you add one favour more, Greater than all that you conferr’d before, But not too hard for love and magick skill, Your past are thrown away, and Jason’s wretched still. The morning of my life is just begun, But my declining father’s race is run; From my large stock retrench the long arrears, And add ’em to expiring Aeson’s years.
Thus spake the gen’rous youth, and wept the rest. Mov’d with the piety of his request, To his ag’d sire such filial duty shown, So diff’rent from her treatment of her own, But still endeav’ring her remorse to hide, She check’d her rising sighs, and thus reply’d.
How cou’d the thought of such inhuman wrong Escape (said she) from pious Jason’s tongue? Does the whole world another Jason bear, Whose life Medea can to yours prefer? Or cou’d I with so dire a change dispence, Hecate will never join in that offence: Unjust is the request you make, and I In kindness your petition shall deny; Yet she that grants not what you do implore, Shall yet essay to give her Jason more; Find means t’ encrease the stock of Aeson’s years, Without retrenchment of your life’s arrears; Provided that the triple Goddess join A strong confed’rate in my bold design.
Thus was her enterprize resolv’d; but still Three tedious nights are wanting to fulfil The circling crescents of th’ encreasing moon; Then, in the height of her nocturnal noon, Medea steals from court; her ankles bare, Her garments closely girt, but loose her hair; Thus sally’d, like a solitary sprite, She traverses the terrors of the night.
Men, beasts, and birds in soft repose lay charm’d, No boistrous wind the mountain-woods alarm’d; Nor did those walks of love, the myrtle-trees, Of am’rous Zephir hear the whisp’ring breeze; All elements chain’d in unactive rest, No sense but what the twinkling stars exprest; To them (that only wak’d) she rears her arm, And thus commences her mysterious charms.
She turn’d her thrice about, as oft she threw On her pale tresses the nocturnal dew; Then yelling thrice a most enormous sound, Her bare knee bended on the flinty ground. O night (said she) thou confident and guide Of secrets, such as darkness ought to hide; Ye stars and moon, that, when the sun retires, Support his empire with succeeding fires; And thou, great Hecate, friend to my design; Songs, mutt’ring spells, your magick forces join; And thou, O Earth, the magazine that yields The midnight sorcerer drugs; skies, mountains, fields; Ye wat’ry Pow’rs of fountain, stream, and lake; Ye sylvan Gods, and Gods of night, awake, And gen’rously your parts in my adventure take.
Oft by your aid swift currents I have led Thro’ wand’ring banks, back to their fountain head; Transformed the prospect of the briny deep, Made sleeping billows rave, and raving billows sleep; Made clouds, or sunshine; tempests rise, or fall; And stubborn lawless winds obey my call: With mutter’d words disarm’d the viper’s jaw; Up by the roots vast oaks, and rocks cou’d draw, Make forests dance, and trembling mountains come, Like malefactors, to receive their doom; Earth groan, and frighted ghosts forsake their tomb. Thee, Cynthia, my resistless rhymes drew down, When tinkling cymbals strove my voice to drown; Nor stronger Titan could their force sustain, In full career compell’d to stop his wain: Nor could Aurora’s virgin blush avail, With pois’nous herbs I turn’d her roses pale; The fury of the fiery bulls I broke, Their stubborn necks submitting to my yoke; And when the sons of Earth with fury burn’d, Their hostile rage upon themselves I turn’d; The brothers made with mutual wounds to bleed, And by their fatal strife my lover freed; And, while the dragon slept, to distant Greece, Thro’ cheated guards, convey’d the golden fleece. But now to bolder action I proceed, Of such prevailing juices now have need, That wither’d years back to their bloom can bring, And in dead winter raise a second spring. And you’ll perform’t — You will; for lo! the stars, with sparkling fires, Presage as bright success to my desires: And now another happy omen see! A chariot drawn by dragons waits for me.
With these last words he leaps into the wain, Stroaks the snakes’ necks, and shakes the golden rein; That signal giv’n, they mount her to the skies, And now beneath her fruitful Tempe lies, Whose stories she ransacks, then to Crete she flies; There Ossa, Pelion, Othrys, Pindus, all To the fair ravisher, a booty fall; The tribute of their verdure she collects, Nor proud Olympus’ height his plants protects. Some by the roots she plucks; the tender tops Of others with her culling sickle crops. Nor could the plunder of the hills suffice, Down to the humble vales, and meads she flies; Apidanus, Amphrysus, the next rape Sustain, nor could Enipeus’ bank escape; Thro’ Beebe’s marsh, and thro’ the border rang’d Whose pasture Glaucus to a Triton chang’d.
Now the ninth day, and ninth successive night, Had wonder’d at the restless rover’s flight; Mean-while her dragons, fed with no repast, But her exhaling simples od’rous blast, Their tarnish’d scales, and wrinkled skins had cast. At last return’d before her palace gate, Quitting her chariot, on the ground she sate; The sky her only canopy of state. All conversation with her sex she fled, Shun’d the caresses of the nuptial bed: Two altars next of grassy turf she rears, This Hecate’s name, that Youth’s inscription bears; With forest-boughs, and vervain these she crown’d; Then delves a double trench in lower ground, And sticks a black-fleec’d ram, that ready stood, And drench’d the ditches with devoted blood: New wine she pours, and milk from th’ udder warm, With mystick murmurs to compleat the charm, And subterranean deities alarm. To the stern king of ghosts she next apply’d, And gentle Proserpine, his ravish’d bride, That for old Aeson with the laws of Fate They would dispense, and lengthen his short date; Thus with repeated pray’rs she long assails Th’ infernal tyrant and at last prevails; Then calls to have decrepit Aeson brought, And stupifies him with a sleeping draught; On Earth his body, like a corpse, extends, Then charges Jason and his waiting friends To quit the place, that no unhallow’d eye Into her art’s forbidden secrets pry. This done, th’ inchantress, with her locks unbound, About her altars trips a frantick round; Piece-meal the consecrated wood she splits, And dips the splinters in the bloody pits, Then hurles ’em on the piles; the sleeping sire She lustrates thrice, with sulphur, water, fire.
In a large cauldron now the med’cine boils, Compounded of her late-collected spoils, Blending into the mesh the various pow’rs Of wonder-working juices, roots, and flow’rs; With gems i’ th’ eastern ocean’s cell refin’d, And such as ebbing tides had left behind; To them the midnight’s pearly dew she flings, A scretch-owl’s carcase, and ill boding wings; Nor could the wizard wolf’s warm entrails scape (That wolf who counterfeits a human shape). Then, from the bottom of her conj’ring bag, Snakes’ skins, and liver of a long-liv’d stag; Last a crow’s head to such an age arriv’d, That he had now nine centuries surviv’d; These, and with these a thousand more that grew In sundry soils, into her pot she threw; Then with a wither’d olive-bough she rakes The bubling broth; the bough fresh verdure takes; Green leaves at first the perish’d plant surround, Which the next minute with ripe fruit were crown’d. The foaming juices now the brink o’er-swell; The barren heath, where-e’er the liquor fell, Sprang out with vernal grass, and all the pride Of blooming May — When this Medea spy’d, She cuts her patient’s throat; th’ exhausted blood Recruiting with her new enchanted flood; While at his mouth, and thro’ his op’ning wound, A double inlet her infusion found; His feeble frame resumes a youthful air, A glossy brown his hoary beard and hair. The meager paleness from his aspect fled, And in its room sprang up a florid red; Thro’ all his limbs a youthful vigour flies, His empty’d art’ries swell with fresh supplies: Gazing spectators scarce believe their eyes. But Aeson is the most surpriz’d to find A happy change in body and in mind; In sense and constitution the same man, As when his fortieth active year began.
Bacchus, who from the clouds this wonder view’d, Medea’s method instantly pursu’d, And his indulgent nurse’s youth renew’d.
The Death of Pelias
Thus far obliging love employ’d her art, But now revenge must act a tragick part;
Medea feigns a mortal quarrel bred Betwixt her, and the partner of her bed; On this pretence to Pelias’ court she flies, Who languishing with age and sickness lies: His guiltless daughters, with inveigling wiles, And well dissembled friendship, she beguiles: The strange achievements of her art she tells, With Aeson’s cure, and long on that she dwells, ’Till them to firm perswasion she has won, The same for their old father may be done: For him they court her to employ her skill, And put upon the cure what price she will. At first she’s mute, and with a grave pretence Of difficulty, holds ’em in suspense; Then promises, and bids ’em, from the fold Chuse out a ram, the most infirm and old; That so by fact their doubts may be remov’d, And first on him the operation prov’d.
A wreath-horn’d ram is brought, so far o’er-grown With years, his age was to that age unknown Of sense too dull the piercing point to feel, And scarce sufficient blood to stain the steel. His carcass she into a cauldron threw, With drugs whose vital qualities she knew; His limbs grow less, he casts his horns, and years, And tender bleatings strike their wond’ring ears. Then instantly leaps forth a frisking lamb, That seeks (too young to graze) a suckling dam. The sisters, thus confirm’d with the success, Her promise with renew’d entreaty press; To countenance the cheat, three nights and days Before experiment th’ inchantress stays; Then into limpid water, from the springs, Weeds, and ingredients of no force she flings; With antique ceremonies for pretence And rambling rhymes without a word of sense.
Mean-while the king with all his guards lay bound In magick sleep, scarce that of death so sound; The daughters now are by the sorc’ress led Into his chamber, and surround his bed. Your father’s health’s concern’d, and can ye stay? Unnat’ral nymphs, why this unkind delay? Unsheath your swords, dismiss his lifeless blood, And I’ll recruit it with a vital flood: Your father’s life and health is in your hand, And can ye thus like idle gazers stand? Unless you are of common sense bereft, If yet one spark of piety is left, Dispatch a father’s cure, and disengage The monarch from his toilsome load of age: Come — drench your weapons in his putrid gore; ’Tis charity to wound, when wounding will restore.
Thus urg’d, the poor deluded maids proceed, Betray’d by zeal, to an inhumane deed, And, in compassion, make a father bleed. Yes, she who had the kindest, tend’rest heart, Is foremost to perform the bloody part.
Yet, tho’ to act the butchery betray’d, They could not bear to see the wounds they made; With looks averted, backward they advance, Then strike, and stab, and leave the blows to chance.
Waking in consternation, he essays (Weltring in blood) his feeble arms to raise: Environ’d with so many swords — From whence This barb’rous usage? what is my offence? What fatal fury, what infernal charm, ’Gainst a kind father does his daughters arm?
Hearing his voice, as thunder-struck they stopt, Their resolution, and their weapons dropt: Medea then the mortal blow bestows, And that perform’d, the tragick scene to close, His corpse into the boiling cauldron throws.
Then, dreading the revenge that must ensue, High mounted on her dragon-coach she flew; And in her stately progress thro’ the skies, Beneath her shady Pelion first she spies, With Othrys, that above the clouds did rise; With skilful Chiron’s cave, and neighb’ring ground, For old Cerambus’ strange escape renown’d, By nymphs deliver’d, when the world was drown’d; Who him with unexpected wings supply’d, When delug’d hills a safe retreat deny’d. Aeolian Pitane on her left hand She saw, and there the statu’d dragon stand; With Ida’s grove, where Bacchus, to disguise His son’s bold theft, and to secure the prize, Made the stoln steer a stag to represent; Cocytus’ father’s sandy monument; And fields that held the murder’d sire’s remains, Where howling Moera frights the startled plains. Euryphilus’ high town, with tow’rs defac’d By Hercules, and matrons more disgrac’d With sprouting horns, in signal punishment, From Juno, or resenting Venus sent. Then Rhodes, which Phoebus did so dearly prize, And Jove no less severely did chastize; For he the wizard native’s pois’ning sight, That us’d the farmer’s hopeful crops to blight, In rage o’erwhelm’d with everlasting night. Cartheia’s ancient walls come next in view, Where once the sire almost a statue grew With wonder, which a strange event did move, His daughter turn’d into a turtle-dove. Then Hyrie’s lake, and Tempe’s field o’er-ran, Fam’d for the boy who there became a swan; For there enamour’d Phyllius, like a slave, Perform’d what tasks his paramour would crave. For presents he had mountain-vultures caught, And from the desart a tame lion brought; Then a wild bull commanded to subdue, The conquer’d savage by the horns he drew; But, mock’d so oft, the treatment he disdains, And from the craving boy this prize detains. Then thus in choler the resenting lad: Won’t you deliver him? — You’ll wish you had: Nor sooner said, but, in a peevish mood, Leapt from the precipice on which he stood: The standers-by were struck with fresh surprize, Instead of falling, to behold him rise A snowy swan, and soaring to the skies.
But dearly the rash prank his mother cost, Who ignorantly gave her son for lost; For his misfortune wept, ’till she became A lake, and still renown’d with Hyrie’s name.
Thence to Latona’s isle, where once were seen, Transform’d to birds, a monarch, and his queen. Far off she saw how old Cephisus mourn’d His son, into a seele by Phoebus turn’d; And where, astonish’d at a stranger sight, Eumelus gaz’d on his wing’d daughter’s flight.
Aetolian Pleuron she did next survey, Where sons a mother’s murder did essay, But sudden plumes the matron bore away. On her right hand, Cyllene, a fair soil, Fair, ’till Menephron there the beauteous hill Attempted with foul incest to defile.
Her harness’d dragons now direct she drives For Corinth, and at Corinth she arrives; Where, if what old tradition tells, be true, In former ages men from mushrooms grew.
But here Medea finds her bed supply’d, During her absence, by another bride; And hopeless to recover her lost game, She sets both bride and palace in a flame. Nor could a rival’s death her wrath asswage, Nor stopt at Creon’s family her rage, She murders her own infants, in despight To faithless Jason, and in Jason’s sight; Yet e’er his sword could reach her, up she springs, Securely mounted on her dragon’s wings.
The Story of Aegeus
From hence to Athens she directs her flight, Where Phineus, so renown’d for doing right; Where Periphas, and Polyphemon’s neece, Soaring with sudden plumes amaz’d the towns of Greece.
Here Aegeus so engaging she addrest, That first he treats her like a royal guest; Then takes the sorc’ress for his wedded wife; The only blemish of his prudent life.
Mean-while his son, from actions of renown, Arrives at court, but to his sire unknown. Medea, to dispatch a dang’rous heir (She knew him), did a pois’nous draught prepare; Drawn from a drug, was long reserv’d in store For desp’rate uses, from the Scythian shore; That from the Echydnaean monster’s jaws Deriv’d its origin, and this the cause.
Thro’ a dark cave a craggy passage lies, To ours, ascending from the nether skies; Thro’ which, by strength of hand, Alcides drew Chain’d Cerberus, who lagg’d, and restive grew, With his blear’d eyes our brighter day to view. Thrice he repeated his enormous yell, With which he scares the ghosts, and startles Hell; At last outragious (tho’ compell’d to yield) He sheds his foam in fury on the field — Which, with its own, and rankness of the ground, Produc’d a weed, by sorcerers renown’d, The strongest constitution to confound; Call’d Aconite, because it can unlock All bars, and force its passage thro’ a rock.
The pious father, by her wheedles won, Presents this deadly potion to his son; Who, with the same assurance takes the cup, And to the monarch’s health had drank it up, But in the very instant he apply’d The goblet to his lips, old Aegeus spy’d The iv’ry hilted sword that grac’d his side. That certain signal of his son he knew, And snatcht the bowl away; the sword he drew, Resolv’d, for such a son’s endanger’d life, To sacrifice the most perfidious wife. Revenge is swift, but her more active charms A whirlwind rais’d, that snatch’d her from his arms. While conjur’d clouds their baffled sense surprize, She vanishes from their deluded eyes, And thro’ the hurricane triumphant flies.
The gen’rous king, altho’ o’er-joy’d to find His son was safe, yet bearing still in mind The mischief by his treach’rous queen design’d; The horrour of the deed, and then how near The danger drew, he stands congeal’d with fear. But soon that fear into devotion turns, With grateful incense ev’ry altar burns; Proud victims, and unconscious of their fate, Stalk to the temple, there to die in state. In Athens never had a day been found For mirth, like that grand festival, renown’d. Promiscuously the peers, and people dine, Promiscuously their thankful voices join, In songs of wit, sublim’d by spritely wine. To list’ning spheres their joint applause they raise, And thus resound their matchless Theseus’ praise.
Great Theseus! Thee the Marathonian plain Admires, and wears with pride the noble stain Of the dire monster’s blood, by valiant Theseus slain. That now Cromyon’s swains in safety sow, And reap their fertile field, to thee they owe. By thee th’ infested Epidaurian coast Was clear’d, and now can a free commerce boast. The traveller his journey can pursue, With pleasure the late dreadful valley view, And cry, Here Theseus the grand robber slew. Cephysus’ cries to his rescu’d shore, The merciless Procrustes is no more. In peace, Eleusis, Ceres’ rites renew, Since Theseus’ sword the fierce Cercyon slew. By him the tort’rer Sinis was destroy’d, Of strength (but strength to barb’rous use employ’d) That tops of tallest pines to Earth could bend, And thus in pieces wretched captives rend. Inhuman Scyron now has breath’d his last, And now Alcatho’s roads securely past; By Theseus slain, and thrown into the deep: But Earth nor Sea his scatter’d bones wou’d keep, Which, after floating long, a rock became, Still infamous with Scyron’s hated name. When Fame to count thy acts and years proceeds, Thy years appear but cyphers to thy deeds. For thee, brave youth, as for our common-wealth, We pray; and drink, in yours, the publick health. Your praise the senate, and plebeians sing, With your lov’d name the court, and cottage ring. You make our shepherds and our sailors glad, And not a house in this vast city’s sad.
But mortal bliss will never come sincere, Pleasure may lead, but grief brings up the rear; While for his sons’ arrival, rev’ling joy Aegeus, and all his subjects does employ; While they for only costly feasts prepare, His neighb’ring monarch, Minos, threatens war: Weak in land-forces, nor by sea more strong, But pow’rful in a deep resented wrong For a son’s murder, arm’d with pious rage; Yet prudently before he would engage, To raise auxiliaries resolv’d to sail, And with the pow’rful princes to prevail.
First Anaphe, then proud Astypalaea gains, By presents that, and this by threats obtains: Low Mycone, Cymolus, chalky soil, Tall Cythnos, Scyros, flat Seriphos’ isle; Paros, with marble cliffs afar display’d; Impregnable Sithonia; yet betray’d To a weak foe by a gold-admiring maid, Who, chang’d into a daw of sable hue, Still hoards up gold, and hides it from the view.
But as these islands chearfully combine, Others refuse t’ embark in his design. Now leftward with an easy sail he bore, And prosp’rous passage to Oenopia’s shore; Oenopia once, but now Aegina call’d, And with his royal mother’s name install’d By Aeacus, under whose reign did spring The Myrmidons, and now their reigning king.
Down to the port, amidst the rabble, run The princes of the blood; with Telamon, Peleus the next, and Phocus the third son: Then Aeacus, altho’ opprest with years, To ask the cause of their approach appears.
That question does the Gnossian’s grief renew, And sighs from his afflicted bosom drew; Yet after a short solemn respite made, The ruler of the hundred cities said:
Assist our arms, rais’d for a murder’d son, In this religious war no risque you’ll run: Revenge the dead — for who refuse to give Rest to their urns, unworthy are to live.
What you request, thus Aeacus replies, Not I, but truth and common faith denies; Athens and we have long been sworn allies: Our leagues are fix’d, confed’rate are our pow’rs, And who declare themselves their foes, are ours.
Minos rejoins, Your league shall dearly cost (Yet, mindful how much safer ’twas to boast, Than there to waste his forces, and his fame, Before in field with his grand foe he came), Parts without blows — nor long had left the shore, E’re into port another navy bore, With Cephalus, and all his jolly crew; Th’ Aeacides their old acquaintance knew: The princes bid him welcome, and in state Conduct the heroe to their palace gate; Who entr’ring, seem’d the charming mein to wear, As when in youth he paid his visit there. In his right hand an olive-branch he holds, And, salutation past, the chief unfolds His embassy from the Athenian state, Their mutual friendship, leagues of ancient date; Their common danger, ev’ry thing cou’d wake Concern, and his address successful make: Strength’ning his plea with all the charms of sense, And those, with all the charms of eloquence.
Then thus the king: Like suitors do you stand For that assistance which you may command? Athenians, all our listed forces use (They’re such as no bold service will refuse); And when y’ ave drawn them off, the Gods be prais’d, Fresh legions can within our isle be rais’d: So stock’d with people, that we can prepare Both for domestick, and for distant war, Ours, or our friends’ insulters to chastize.
Long may ye flourish thus, the prince replies. Strange transport seiz’d me as I pass’d along, To meet so many troops, and all so young, As if your army did of twins consist; Yet amongst them my late acquaintance miss’d: Ev’n all that to your palace did resort, When first you entertain’d me at your court; And cannot guess the cause from whence cou’d spring So vast a change — Then thus the sighing king:
Illustrious guest, to my strange tale attend, Of sad beginning, but a joyful end: The whole to a vast history wou’d swell, I shall but half, and that confus’dly, tell. That race whom so deserv’dly you admir’d, Are all into their silent tombs retir’d: They fell; and falling, how they shook my state, Thought may conceive, but words can ne’er relate.
The Story of Ants chang’d to Men
A dreadful plague from angry Juno came, To scourge the land, that bore her rival’s name; Before her fatal anger was reveal’d, And teeming malice lay as yet conceal’d, All remedies we try, all med’cines use, Which Nature cou’d supply, or art produce; Th’ unconquer’d foe derides the vain design, And art, and Nature foil’d, declare the cause divine.
At first we only felt th’ oppressive weight Of gloomy clouds, then teeming with our fate, And lab’ring to discarge unactive heat: But ere four moons alternate changes knew, With deadly blasts the fatal South-wind blew, Infected all the air, and poison’d as it flew. Our fountains too a dire infection yield, For crowds of vipers creep along the field, And with polluted gore, and baneful steams, Taint all the lakes, and venom all the streams.
The young disease with milder force began, And rag’d on birds, and beasts, excusing Man. The lab’ring oxen fall before the plow, Th’ unhappy plow-men stare, and wonder how: The tabid sheep, with sickly bleatings, pines; Its wool decreasing, as its strength declines: The warlike steed, by inward foes compell’d, Neglects his honours, and deserts the field; Unnerv’d, and languid, seeks a base retreat, And at the manger groans, but wish’d a nobler fate: The stags forget their speed, the boars their rage, Nor can the bears the stronger herds engage: A gen’ral faintness does invade ’em all, And in the woods, and fields, promiscuously they fall. The air receives the stench, and (strange to say) The rav’nous birds and beasts avoid the prey: Th’ offensive bodies rot upon the ground, And spread the dire contagion all around.
But now the plague, grown to a larger size, Riots on Man, and scorns a meaner prize. Intestine heats begin the civil war, And flushings first the latent flame declare, And breath inspir’d, which seem’d like fiery air. Their black dry tongues are swell’d, and scarce can move, And short thick sighs from panting lung are drove. They gape for air, with flatt’ring hopes t’ abate Their raging flames, but that augments their heat. No bed, no cov’ring can the wretches bear, But on the ground, expos’d to open air, They lye, and hope to find a pleasing coolness there. The suff’ring Earth with that oppression curst, Returns the heat which they imparted first.
In vain physicians would bestow their aid, Vain all their art, and useless all their trade; And they, ev’n they, who fleeting life recall, Feel the same Pow’rs, and undistinguish’d fall. If any proves so daring to attend His sick companion, or his darling friend, Th’ officious wretch sucks in contagious breath, And with his friend does sympathize in death.
And now the care and hopes of life are past, They please their fancies, and indulge their taste; At brooks and streams, regardless of their shame, Each sex, promiscuous, strives to quench their flame; Nor do they strive in vain to quench it there, For thirst, and life at once extinguish’d are. Thus in the brooks the dying bodies sink, But heedless still the rash survivors drink.
So much uneasy down the wretches hate, They fly their beds, to struggle with their fate; But if decaying strength forbids to rise, The victim crawls and rouls, ’till on the ground he lies. Each shuns his bed, as each wou’d shun his tomb, And thinks th’ infection only lodg’d at home.
Here one, with fainting steps, does slowly creep O’er heaps of dead, and strait augments the heap; Another, while his strength and tongue prevail’d, Bewails his friend, and falls himself bewail’d: This with imploring looks surveys the skies, The last dear office of his closing eyes, But finds the Heav’ns implacable, and dies.
What now, ah! what employ’d my troubled mind? But only hopes my subjects’ fate to find. What place soe’er my weeping eyes survey, There in lamented heaps the vulgar lay; As acorns scatter when the winds prevail, Or mellow fruit from shaken branches fall.
You see that dome which rears its front so high: ’Tis sacred to the monarch of the sky: How many there, with unregarded tears, And fruitless vows, sent up successless pray’rs? There fathers for expiring sons implor’d, And there the wife bewail’d her gasping lord; With pious off’rings they’d appease the skies, But they, ere yet th’ attoning vapours rise, Before the altars fall, themselves a sacrifice: They fall, while yet their hands the gums contain, The gums surviving, but their off’rers slain.
The destin’d ox, with holy garlands crown’d, Prevents the blow, and feels th’ expected wound: When I my self invok’d the Pow’rs divine, To drive the fatal pest from me and mine; When now the priest with hands uplifted stood, Prepar’d to strike, and shed the sacred blood, The Gods themselves the mortal stroke bestow, The victim falls, but they impart the blow: Scarce was the knife with the pale purple stain’d, And no presages cou’d be then obtain’d, From putrid entrails, where th’ infection reign’d.
Death stalk’d around with such resistless sway, The temples of the Gods his force obey, And suppliants feel his stroke, while yet they pray. Go now, said he, your deities implore For fruitless aid, for I defie their pow’r. Then with a curst malicious joy survey’d The very altars, stain’d with trophies of the dead.
The rest grown mad, and frantick with despair, Urge their own fate, and so prevent the fear. Strange madness that, when Death pursu’d so fast, T’ anticipate the blow with impious haste.
No decent honours to their urns are paid, Nor cou’d the graves receive the num’rous dead; For, or they lay unbury’d on the ground, Or unadorn’d a needy fun’ral found: All rev’rence past, the fainting wretches fight For fun’ral piles which were another’s right.
Unmourn’d they fall: for, who surviv’d to mourn? And sires, and mothers unlamented burn: Parents, and sons sustain an equal fate, And wand’ring ghosts their kindred shadows meet. The dead a larger space of ground require, Nor are the trees sufficient for the fire.
Despairing under grief’s oppressive weight, And sunk by these tempestuous blasts of Fate, O Jove, said I, if common fame says true, If e’er Aegina gave those joys to you, If e’er you lay enclos’d in her embrace, Fond of her charms, and eager to possess; O father, if you do not yet disclaim Paternal care, nor yet disown the name; Grant my petitions, and with speed restore My subjects num’rous as they were before, Or make me partner of the fate they bore. I spoke, and glorious lightning shone around, And ratling thunder gave a prosp’rous sound; So let it be, and may these omens prove A pledge, said I, of your returning love.
By chance a rev’rend oak was near the place, Sacred to Jove, and of Dodona’s race, Where frugal ants laid up their winter meat, Whose little bodies bear a mighty weight: We saw them march along, and hide their store, And much admir’d their number, and their pow’r; Admir’d at first, but after envy’d more. Full of amazement, thus to Jove I pray’d, O grant, since thus my subjects are decay’d, As many subjects to supply the dead. I pray’d, and strange convulsions mov’d the oak, Which murmur’d, tho’ by ambient winds unshook: My trembling hands, and stiff-erected hair, Exprest all tokens of uncommon fear; Yet both the earth and sacred oak I kist, And scarce cou’d hope, yet still I hop’d the best; For wretches, whatsoe’er the Fates divine, Expound all omens to their own design.
But now ’twas night, when ev’n distraction wears A pleasing look, and dreams beguile our cares, Lo! the same oak appears before my eyes, Nor alter’d in his shape, nor former size; As many ants the num’rous branches bear, The same their labour, and their frugal care; The branches too a like commotion sound, And shook th’ industrious creatures on the ground, Who, by degrees (what’s scarce to be believ’d) A nobler form, and larger bulk receiv’d, And on the earth walk’d an unusual pace, With manly strides, and an erected face — Their num’rous legs, and former colour lost, The insects cou’d a human figure boast.
I wake, and waking find my cares again, And to the unperforming Gods complain, And call their promise, and pretences, vain. Yet in my court I heard the murm’ring voice Of strangers, and a mixt uncommon noise: But I suspected all was still a dream, ’Till Telamon to my apartment came, Op’ning the door with an impetuous haste, O come, said he, and see your faith and hopes surpast: I follow, and, confus’d with wonder, view Those shapes which my presaging slumbers drew: I saw, and own’d, and call’d them subjects; they Confest my pow’r, submissive to my sway. To Jove, restorer of my race decay’d, My vows were first with due oblations paid, I then divide with an impartial hand My empty city, and my ruin’d land, To give the new-born youth an equal share, And call them Myrmidons, from what they were. You saw their persons, and they still retain The thrift of ants, tho’ now transform’d to men. A frugal people, and inur’d to sweat, Lab’ring to gain, and keeping what they get. These, equal both in strength and years, shall join Their willing aid, and follow your design, With the first southern gale that shall present To fill your sails, and favour your intent.
With such discourse they entertain the day; The ev’ning past in banquets, sport, and play: Then, having crown’d the night with sweet repose, Aurora (with the wind at east) arose. Now Pallas’ sons to Cephalus resort, And Cephalus with Pallas’ sons to court, To the king’s levee; him sleep’s silken chain, And pleasing dreams, beyond his hour detain; But then the princes of the blood, in state, Expect, and meet ’em at the palace gate.
The Story of Cephalus and Procris
To th’ inmost courts the Grecian youths were led, And plac’d by Phocus on a Tyrian bed; Who, soon observing Cephalus to hold A dart of unknown wood, but arm’d with gold: None better loves (said he) the huntsman’s sport, Or does more often to the woods resort; Yet I that jav’lin’s stem with wonder view, Too brown for box, too smooth a grain for yew. I cannot guess the tree; but never art Did form, or eyes behold so fair a dart! The guest then interrupts him —’Twou’d produce Still greater wonder, if you knew its use. It never fails to strike the game, and then Comes bloody back into your hand again. Then Phocus each particular desires, And th’ author of the wond’rous gift enquires. To which the owner thus, with weeping eyes, And sorrow for his wife’s sad fate, replies, This weapon here (o prince!) can you believe This dart the cause for which so much I grieve; And shall continue to grieve on, ’till Fate Afford such wretched life no longer date. Would I this fatal gift had ne’er enjoy’d, This fatal gift my tender wife destroy’d: Procris her name, ally’d in charms and blood To fair Orythia courted by a God. Her father seal’d my hopes with rites divine, But firmer love before had made her mine. Men call’d me blest, and blest I was indeed. The second month our nuptials did succeed; When (as upon Hymettus’ dewy head, For mountain stags my net betimes I spread) Aurora spy’d, and ravish’d me away, With rev’rence to the Goddess, I must say, Against my will, for Procris had my heart, Nor wou’d her image from my thoughts depart. At last, in rage she cry’d, Ingrateful boy Go to your Procris, take your fatal joy; And so dismiss’d me: musing, as I went, What those expressions of the Goddess meant, A thousand jealous fears possess me now, Lest Procris had prophan’d her nuptial vow: Her youth and charms did to my fancy paint A lewd adultress, but her life a saint. Yet I was absent long, the Goddess too Taught me how far a woman cou’d be true. Aurora’s treatment much suspicion bred; Besides, who truly love, ev’n shadows dread. I strait impatient for the tryal grew, What courtship back’d with richest gifts cou’d do. Aurora’s envy aided my design, And lent me features far unlike to mine. In this disguise to my own house I came, But all was chaste, no conscious sign of blame: With thousand arts I scarce admittance found, And then beheld her weeping on the ground For her lost husband; hardly I retain’d My purpose, scarce the wish’d embrace refrain’d. How charming was her grief! Then, Phocus, guess What killing beauties waited on her dress. Her constant answer, when my suit I prest, Forbear, my lord’s dear image guards this breast; Where-e’er he is, whatever cause detains, Who-e’er has his, my heart unmov’d remains. What greater proofs of truth than these cou’d be? Yet I persist, and urge my destiny. At length, she found, when my own form return’d, Her jealous lover there, whose loss she mourn’d. Enrag’d with my suspicion, swift as wind, She fled at once from me and all mankind; And so became, her purpose to retain, A nymph, and huntress in Diana’s train: Forsaken thus, I found my flames encrease, I own’d my folly, and I su’d for peace. It was a fault, but not of guilt, to move Such punishment, a fault of too much love. Thus I retriev’d her to my longing arms, And many happy days possess’d her charms. But with herself she kindly did confer, What gifts the Goddess had bestow’d on her; The fleetest grey-hound, with this lovely dart, And I of both have wonders to impart. Near Thebes a savage beast, of race unknown, Laid waste the field, and bore the vineyards down; The swains fled from him, and with one consent Our Grecian youth to chase the monster went; More swift than light’ning he the toils surpast, And in his course spears, men, and trees o’er-cast. We slipt our dogs, and last my Lelaps too, When none of all the mortal race wou’d do: He long before was struggling from my hands, And, e’re we cou’d unloose him, broke his bands. That minute where he was, we cou’d not find, And only saw the dust he left behind. I climb’d a neighb’ring hill to view the chase, While in the plain they held an equal race; The savage now seems caught, and now by force To quit himself, nor holds the same strait course; But running counter, from the foe withdraws, And with short turning cheats his gaping jaws: Which he retrieves, and still so closely prest, You’d fear at ev’ry stretch he were possess’d; Yet for the gripe his fangs in vain prepare; The game shoots from him, and he chops the air. To cast my jav’lin then I took my stand; But as the thongs were fitting to my hand, While to the valley I o’er-look’d the wood, Before my eyes two marble statues stood; That, as pursu’d appearing at full stretch, This barking after, and at point to catch: Some God their course did with this wonder grace, That neither might be conquer’d in the chase. A sudden silence here his tongue supprest, He here stops short, and fain wou’d wave the rest.
The eager prince then urg’d him to impart, The Fortune that attended on the dart. First then (said he) past joys let me relate, For bliss was the foundation of my fate. No language can those happy hours express, Did from our nuptials me, and Procris bless: The kindest pair! What more cou’d Heav’n confer? For she was all to me, and I to her. Had Jove made love, great Jove had been despis’d; And I my Procris more than Venus priz’d: Thus while no other joy we did aspire, We grew at last one soul, and one desire. Forth to the woods I went at break of day (The constant practice of my youth) for prey: Nor yet for servant, horse, or dog did call, I found this single dart to serve for all. With slaughter tir’d, I sought the cooler shade, And winds that from the mountains pierc’d the glade: Come, gentle air (so was I wont to say) Come, gentle air, sweet Aura come away. This always was the burden of my song, Come ’swage my flames, sweet Aura come along. Thou always art most welcome to my breast; I faint; approach, thou dearest, kindest guest! These blandishments, and more than these, I said (By Fate to unsuspected ruin led), Thou art my joy, for thy dear sake I love Each desart hill, and solitary grove; When (faint with labour) I refreshment need, For cordials on thy fragrant breath I feed. At last a wand’ring swain in hearing came, And cheated with the sound of Aura’s name, He thought I some assignation made; And to my Procris’ ear the news convey’d. Great love is soonest with suspicion fir’d: She swoon’d, and with the tale almost expir’d. Ah! wretched heart! (she cry’d) ah! faithless man. And then to curse th’ imagin’d nymph began: Yet oft she doubts, oft hopes she is deceiv’d, And chides herself, that ever she believ’d Her lord to such injustice cou’d proceed, ’Till she her self were witness of the deed. Next morn I to the woods again repair, And, weary with the chase, invoke the air: Approach, dear Aura, and my bosom chear: At which a mournful sound did strike my ear; Yet I proceeded, ’till the thicket by, With rustling noise and motion, drew my eye: I thought some beast of prey was shelter’d there, And to the covert threw my certain spear; From whence a tender sigh my soul did wound, Ah me! it cry’d, and did like Procris sound. Procris was there, too well the voice I knew, And to the place with headlong horror flew; Where I beheld her gasping on the ground, In vain attempting from the deadly wound To draw the dart, her love’s dear fatal gift! My guilty arms had scarce the strength to lift The beauteous load; my silks, and hair I tore (If possible) to stanch the pressing gore; For pity beg’d her keep her flitting breath, And not to leave me guilty of her death. While I intreat she fainted fast away, And these few words had only strength to say: By all the sacred bonds of plighted love, By all your rev’rence to the Pow’rs above, By all the truth for which you held me dear, And last by love, the cause through which I bleed, Let Aura never to my bed succeed. I then perceiv’d the error of our fate, And told it her, but found and told too late! I felt her lower to my bosom fall, And while her eyes had any sight at all, On mine she fix’d them; in her pangs still prest My hand, and sigh’d her soul into my breast; Yet, being undeceiv’d, resign’d her breath Methought more chearfully, and smil’d in death.
With such concern the weeping heroe told This tale, that none who heard him cou’d with-hold From melting into sympathizing tears, ’Till Aeacus with his two sons appears; Whom he commits, with their new-levy’d bands, To Fortune’s, and so brave a gen’ral’s hands.