Excerpts from the famous Metamorphoses of Ovid…Perseus, Medusa, Orpheus, Hercules, The Birth of Bacchus, etc. Part I of II
Book III – Cadmus and the Serpent of Mars
And now the god, dispensing with the deceptive image of the bull, confessed who he was, and made for the fields of Crete. Meanwhile Europa’s father, in ignorance of this, orders his son Cadmus to search for the stolen girl, and adds that exile is his punishment if he fails to find her, showing himself, by the same action, both pious and impious. Roaming the world (for who can discover whatever Jupiter has taken?) Agenor’s son, the fugitive, shuns his native land and his parent’s anger and as a suppliant consults Apollo’s oracle and asks in what land he might settle. Phoebus replies ‘A heifer will find you in the fields, that has never submitted to the yoke and is unaccustomed to the curved plough. Go where she leads, and where she finds rest on the grass build the walls of Thebes, your city, and call the land Boeotia.’
Cadmus had scarcely left the Castalian cave when he saw an unguarded heifer, moving slowly, and showing no mark of the yoke on her neck. He follows close behind and chooses his steps by the traces of her course, and silently thanks Phoebus, his guide to the way. Now he had passed the fords of Cephisus and the fields of Panope: the heifer stopped, and lifting her beautiful head with its noble horns to the sky stirred the air with her lowing. Then looking back, to see her companion following, she sank her hindquarters on the ground and lowered her body onto the tender grass. Cadmus gave thanks, pressing his lips to the foreign soil and welcoming the unknown hills and fields.
Intending to offer a sacrifice to Jupiter, he ordered his attendants to go in search of water from a running stream for a libation. There was an ancient wood there, free from desecration, and, in the centre of it, a chasm thick with bushes and willow branches, framed in effect by stones making a low arch, and rich with copious springs. There was a snake sacred to Mars concealed in this cave, with a prominent golden crest. Fire flickered in its eyes, its whole body was swollen with venom, its three-forked tongue flickered, and its teeth were set in a triple row.
After the people of Tyre, setting out, a fatal step, reached the grove, and let their pitchers down into the water, it gave out a reverberation. The dark green snake thrust his head out of the deep cavern, hissing awesomely. The pitchers fell from their hands, the blood left their bodies, and, terrified, a sudden tremor took possession of their limbs. The snake winds his scaly coils in restless writhings, and, shooting upwards, curves into a huge arc. With half its length raised into thin air, it peers down over the whole wood, its body as great, seen in its entirety, as that Dragon that separates the twin constellations of the Bear. Without pause he takes the Phoenicians, whether they prepare to fight, run, or are held by fear itself. Some he slays with his bite, some he kills in his deep embraces, others with the corrupting putrefaction of his venomous breath.
Bk III:50-94 Cadmus kills the Dragon
The sun had reached the heights of the sky, and driven away the shadows. And now the son of Agenor, wondering what has delayed his friends, searches for the men. He is covered with the pelt stripped from a lion. His sword is tipped with glittering iron. He has a spear, and better still a spirit superior to all. When he enters the wood and sees the dead bodies, and over them the victorious enemy, with its vast body, licking at their sad wounds with a bloody tongue, he cries out ‘Faithful hearts, I shall either be the avenger of your deaths, or become your companion’.
So saying he lifted a massive rock with his right hand and with great effort hurled the huge weight. Steep walls with their high turrets, would have been shattered by the force of the blow, but the snake remained unwounded, protected by its scales like a breastplate, and its dark, hard skin repelled the powerful stroke.
But that same hardness cannot keep out the spear that defeats it, that is fixed in a curve of its pliant back, and sinks its whole iron blade into its entrails. The creature maddened with pain twists its head over its back, sees the wound, and bites at the shaft lodged there. Even when the snake had loosened its hold all round by its powerful efforts, it could scarcely rip it from its flesh and the iron stayed fixed in its spine. Then indeed new purpose was added to its usual wrath: its throat swells, the veins fill, and white spume flecks its baleful jaws. The earth resounds to its scaly scraping and a black breath like that from the mouth of the Styx fouls the corrupted air. At one instant it coils in vast spiralling circles, at another rears up straighter than a high tree. Again it rushes on like a rain-filled river and knocks down all the trees obstructing it in front. The son of Agenor gives way a little withstanding its attacks by means of the lion’s skin and keeps back the ravening jaws by thrusting forward the point of his sword. The snake is maddened and bites uselessly at the hard iron and only drives the sharp point between its teeth.
Now the blood begins to drip from its venomous throat and soak the green grass with its spattering. But the wound is slight, because the serpent draws back from the thrust, pulling its wounded neck away, and, conceding its wound, keeps back the sword, and does not let it sink deeper. But the son of Agenor following it all the time presses the embedded iron into its throat, until an oak-tree blocks its backward course and neck and tree are pinned together. The tree bends under the serpent’s weight and the trunk of the oak groans with the lashing of its tail.
Bk III:95-114 Cadmus sows the Dragon’s teeth
While the conqueror stares at the vast bulk of his conquered enemy, suddenly a voice is heard. It is not easy to imagine where it comes from, but it is heard. ‘Why gaze, son of Agenor, at the serpent you have killed? You too shall be a serpent to be gazed on.’ For a long time he stands there quaking, and at the same time loses colour in his face, and his hair stands on end in cold terror. Then, behold, Pallas, the hero’s guardian approaches, sinking down through the upper air, and orders him to turn the earth and sow the dragon’s teeth, destined to generate a people. He obeys, and opening the furrows with a slice of his plough, sows the teeth in the ground, as human seed. Then, almost beyond belief, the cultivated earth begins to move, and first spear points appear among the furrows, next helmets nodding their painted crests, then chests and shoulders spring up, and arms weighed down with spears, and the field is thick with the round shields of warriors. Just as at festivals in the theatre, when the curtain is lifted at the end, designs rise in the air, first revealing faces and then gradually the rest, until, raised gently and steadily, they are seen whole, and at last their feet rest on the lower border.
Bk III:115-137 Cadmus founds Thebes
Alarmed by this new enemy Cadmus was about to take up his weapons: ‘Keep away’ one of the army, that the earth had produced, cried at him ‘and take no part in our internal wars!’ So saying he raised his sharp sword against one of his earth-born brothers nearby, then, himself, fell to a spear thrown from far off. But the one who killed him lived no longer than he did and breathed out the air he had just breathed in. This example stirred them all equally, as if at a storm-wind, and, in their warring, these brothers of a moment were felled by mutual wounds. And now these youths, who were allowed such brief lives, were drumming on their mother’s breast hot with their blood. Five were still standing, one of whom was Echion. He, at a warning from Pallas, threw his weapons on the ground and sought assurances of peace from his brothers, and gave them in return. The Sidonian wanderer had these men as companions in his task when he founded the city commanded by Apollo’s oracle.
Now Thebes stands, and now you might be seen as happy, in your exile, Cadmus. You have Mars and Venus as your bride’s parents, and added to this the children of so noble a wife, so many sons and daughters, and dearly loved descendants, your grandchildren, who now are young men. But in truth we should always wait for a man’s last day, for that time when he has paid his last debt, and we should call no man’s life happy until he is dead.
Bk III:253-272 Juno sets out to punish Semele
The debate is undecided: to some the punishment is more violent than just, merely for seeing the face of a goddess, others approve it and call it fitting because of her strict vow of virginity, and both can make a case. Only Jupiter’s wife was saying nothing, neither of praise or blame. She was glad of the disaster that had come down on the house of Agenor, and had transferred her hatred from Europa, to those who were allied to the Tyrian girl by birth. Then there was a fresh wrong added to the first. She was grieved by the fact that Semele was pregnant, with the seed of mighty Jove. Swallowing words of reproach, she said ‘What, in truth, have I gained from frequent reproaches? I must attack her. If I am rightly to be called most powerful Juno, if it is right for me to hold the jewelled sceptre in my hand, if I am queen, and sister and wife of Jove, sister at least, then it is her I must destroy. Yet I think she is content with her secret, and the injury to my marriage will be brief. But she has conceived – and that damages me – and makes her crime visible in her swollen belly, and wants, what I have barely achieved, to be confirmed as the mother of Jupiter’s child, so great is her faith in her beauty. I will render that faith hollow. I am not Saturnia if she does not plunge into the Stygian waters, overwhelmed by Jove himself.’
Bk III:273-315 Semele is consumed by Jupiter’s fire. (Also: The Birth of Bacchus)
At this she rose from her seat and cloaked in a dark cloud she came to Semele’s threshold. But before she removed the cloud she disguised herself as an old woman, ageing her hair, ploughing her skin with wrinkles, and walking with bowed legs and tottering steps. She made her voice sound old and was herself Beroë, Semele’s Epidaurian nurse. So, when they came to Jupiter’s name, in the midst of their lengthy gossiping, she sighed, and said ‘I hope, for your sake, that it really is Jupiter, but I am suspicious of all that sort of thing. Many men have entered the bedrooms of chaste women in the name of the gods. It’s not good enough for him merely to be Jove: he must give a proof of his love if it truly is him. Beg him to assume all his powers before he embraces you, and be just as glorious as when Juno welcomes him on high.’
With such words Juno gulled the unsuspecting daughter of Cadmus. Semele asked Jupiter for an unspecified gift. ‘Choose!’ said the god, ‘Nothing will be refused, and, so that you may believe it more firmly, I swear it by the Stygian torrent, that is the divine conscience, the fear, and god, of all the gods.’ Pleased by her misfortune, too successful, and doomed to be undone by her lover’s indulgence, Semele said ‘As Saturnia is used to your embrace, when you enter into the pact of Venus, give yourself to me!’ The god would have stopped her lips as she spoke: but her voice had already rushed into the air.
He groans, since she cannot un-wish it or he un-swear it. So, most sorrowfully, he climbs the heights of heaven, and, with a look, gathered the trailing clouds, then added their vapours to lightning mixed with storm-winds, and thunder and fateful lightning bolts. Still, he tries to reduce his power in whatever way he can, and does not arm himself with that lightning with which he deposed hundred-handed Typhoeus: it is too savage in his grasp. There is a lighter dart to which the Cyclops’s hands gave a less violent fire, a lesser anger. The gods call these his secondary weapons. Taking these he enters Agenor’s house. But still Semele’s mortal body could not endure the storm, and she was consumed, by the fire of her nuptial gift.
The infant Bacchus, still unfinished, is torn from the mother’s womb, and (if it can be believed) is sewn into his father’s thigh to complete his full term. Ino, his mother’s sister reared him secretly, in infancy, and then he was given to the nymphs of Mount Nysa who hid him in their cave and fed him on milk.
Bk III:316-338 The judgement of Tiresias
While these things were brought about on earth because of that fatal oath, and while twice-born Bacchus’s cradle remained safe, they say that Jupiter, expansive with wine, set aside his onerous duties, and relaxing, exchanging pleasantries, with Juno, said ‘ You gain more than we do from the pleasures of love.’ She denied it. They agreed to ask learned Tiresias for his opinion. He had known Venus in both ways.
Once, with a blow of his stick, he had disturbed two large snakes mating in the green forest, and, marvellous to tell, he was changed from a man to a woman, and lived as such for seven years. In the eighth year he saw the same snakes again and said ‘Since there is such power in plaguing you that it changes the giver of a blow to the opposite sex, I will strike you again, now.’ He struck the snakes and regained his former shape, and returned to the sex he was born with.
As the arbiter of the light-hearted dispute he confirmed Jupiter’s words. Saturnia, it is said, was more deeply upset than was justified and than the dispute warranted, and damned the one who had made the judgement to eternal night. But, since no god has the right to void what another god has done, the all-powerful father of the gods gave Tiresias knowledge of the future, in exchange for his lost sight, and lightened the punishment with honour.
Bk III:597-637 Acoetes’s story – the beautiful boy
Heading for Delos, and being driven by chance onto the coast of the island of Chios, making shore by skilful use of the oars, giving a gentle leap, and landing on the wet sand, there we passed the night. As soon as the dawn began to redden, I ordered the getting in of fresh water, and showed the path that lead to a spring. I myself commanded the view from a high hill to find what wind promised, called my comrades and went back to the boat. ‘See, we are here’ said Opheltes, the foremost of my friends, and led a boy, with the beauty of a virgin girl, along the shore, a prize, or so he thought, that he had found in a deserted field. The boy seemed to stumble, heavy with wine and sleep, and could scarcely follow. I examined his clothing, appearance and rank, and I saw nothing that made me think him mortal. And I felt this and said it to my companions ‘I do not know which god is in that body, but there is a god within! Whoever you are, O favour and assist our efforts, and forgive these men!’ ‘Don’t pray for us’ said Dictys, who was the quickest at climbing to the highest yard and sliding down grasping the rigging. So said Libys, and yellow-haired Melanthus, the forward look-out, and Alcimedon agreed, and Epopeus, who with his voice gave the measure and the pauses for the oarsmen to urge on their purpose. All the others said the same, so blind was their greed for gain.
‘I still will not allow this ship to be cursed by a sacred victim to whom violence has been done’ I said. ‘Here I have the greatest authority’. And I prevented them boarding. Then Lycabas the most audacious of them all began to rage at me, he who had been thrown out of Tuscany, and was suffering the punishment of exile from his city for a terrible murder. While I held him off, he punched me in the throat with his strong young fists, and would have thrown me semi-conscious into the sea, if I had not clung on, almost stunned, held back by the rigging. The impious crew cheered on the doer of it. Then, at last, Bacchus (for it was indeed Bacchus) was freed from sleep, as if by the clamour, and the sense returned to his drunken mind. ‘What are you doing? Why this shouting?’ he said. ‘Tell me, you seamen, how I came here? Where do you intend to take me?’ ‘Have no fear’, said Proreus, ‘and, whatever port you wish to touch at, you will be set down in the country you demand!’ ‘Naxos’ said Liber, ‘set your course for there! That is my home: it will be a friendly land to you!’
Bk III:638-691 Acoetes’s ship and crew are transformed
The treacherous men swore, by the sea and all the gods, it would be so, and told me to get the painted vessel under sail. Naxos was to starboard, but as I trimmed the sails on a starboard tack, they, each one, asked me ‘What are you doing, O madman? Acoetes, what craziness has got into you? Take the port tack!’ most of them letting me know what they intended with a nod of the head, the others in a whisper. I was horrified. ‘Someone else can steer’ I said, and distanced myself from the wickedness and deception. There were cries against me from all sides, the whole crew murmured against me. And one of them, Aethalion, cried ‘You seem to think that all our lives depend on you alone!’ Then he took my place himself, discharged my office, and abandoning Naxos took the opposite course.
Then the god, playfully, as though he had just realised their deceit, looked at the sea over the curve of the stern, and as though he were weeping said ‘Sailors, these are not the shores you promised me, and this is not the land I chose for myself? What have I done to merit punishment? Where’s the glory in men cheating a boy, or many cheating just one?’ I was already weeping, but the impious crew laughed at my tears, and drove the ship quickly through the water.
Now I swear by the god himself (since there is no god more certainly present than he is) that what I say to you is the truth, though that truth beggars belief. The ship stands still in the waves, just as if it were held in dry dock. Amazed, the crew keep flogging away at the oars, and unfurling the sails, try to run on with double power. But ivy impedes the oars, creeping upwards, with binding tendrils, and drapes the sails with heavy clusters. The god himself waves a rod twined with vine leaves, his forehead wreathed with bunches of grapes. Around him lie insubstantial phantom lynxes, tigers, and the savage bodies of spotted panthers. The men leap overboard, driven to it either by madness or by fear. And Medon is the first to darken all over his body, and his spine to be bent into an arched curve.
Lycabas cries out to him ‘What monster are you turning into?’ And in speaking his jaws widen, his nose becomes hooked, and his skin becomes hard and scaly. But Libys hampered when he wishes to turn the oars sees his hands shrink suddenly in size, and now they are not hands, but can only be called fins. Another, eager to grasp at the tangled ropes, no longer has arms, and goes arching backwards limbless into the sea. His newest feature is a scythe-shaped tail, like the curved horns of a fragmentary moon. The dolphins leap everywhere drenched with spray. They emerge once more, only to return again to the depths, playing together as if they were in a troupe, throwing their bodies around wantonly, and blowing out the seawater drawn in through their broad nostrils.
Of a group of twenty (that was how many the ship carried) I alone was left. The god roused me with difficulty, my body shaking with cold and terror, and barely myself, saying ‘Free your heart from fear, and hold off for Naxos!’ And consigned to that island, I have adopted its religion, and celebrate the Bacchic rites.
PERSEUS AND ATLAS
The fortune of their grandson, Bacchus, gave great comfort to them—as a god adored in conquered India; by Achaia praised in stately temples.—But Acrisius the son of Abas, of the Cadmean race, remained to banish Bacchus from the walls of Argos, and to lift up hostile arms against that deity, who he denied was born to Jove. He would not even grant that Perseus from the loins of Jupiter was got of Danae in the showering gold. So mighty is the hidden power of truth, Acrisius soon lamented that affront to Bacchus, and that ever he refused to own his grandson; for the one achieved high heaven, and the other, (as he bore the viperous monster-head) on sounding wings hovered a conqueror in the fluent air, over sands, Libyan, where the Gorgon-head dropped clots of gore, that, quickening on the ground, became unnumbered serpents; fitting cause to curse with vipers that infested land.
Thence wafted by the never-constant winds through boundless latitudes, now here now there, as flits a vapour-cloud in dizzy flight, down-looking from the lofty skies on earth, removed far, so compassed he the world. Three times did he behold the frozen Bears, times thrice his gaze was on the Crab’s bent arms. Now shifting to the west, now to the east, how often changed his course? Time came, when day declining, he began to fear the night, by which he stopped his flight far in the west—the realm of Atlas—where he sought repose till Lucifer might call Aurora’s fires; Aurora chariot of the Day. There dwelt huge Atlas, vaster than the race of man: son of Iapetus, his lordly sway extended over those extreme domains, and over oceans that command their waves to take the panting coursers of the Sun, and bathe the wearied Chariot of the Day. For him a thousand flocks, a thousand herds overwandered pasture fields; and neighbour tribes might none disturb that land. Aglint with gold bright leaves adorn the trees,—boughs golden-wrought bear apples of pure gold.
And Perseus spoke to Atlas, “O my friend, if thou art moved to hear the story of a noble race, the author of my life is Jupiter; if valiant deeds perhaps are thy delight mine may deserve thy praise.—Behold of thee kind treatment I implore—a place of rest.” But Atlas, mindful of an oracle since by Themis, the Parnassian, told, recalled these words, “O Atlas! mark the day a son of Jupiter shall come to spoil; for when thy trees been stripped of golden fruit, the glory shall be his.” Fearful of this, Atlas had built solid walls around his orchard, and secured a dragon, huge, that kept perpetual guard, and thence expelled all strangers from his land. Wherefore he said, “Begone! The glory of your deeds is all pretense; even Jupiter, will fail your need.”
With that he added force and strove to drive the hesitating Alien from his doors; who pled reprieve or threatened with bold words. Although he dared not rival Atlas’ might, Perseus made this reply; “For that my love you hold in light esteem, let this be yours.” He said no more, but turning his own face, he showed upon his left Medusa’s head, abhorrent features.—Atlas, huge and vast, becomes a mountain—His great beard and hair are forests, and his shoulders and his hands mountainous ridges, and his head the top of a high peak;—his bones are changed to rocks. Augmented on all sides, enormous height attains his growth; for so ordained it, ye, O mighty Gods! who now the heavens’ expanse unnumbered stars, on him command to rest.
PERSEUS AND ANDROMEDA
In their eternal prison, Aeous, grandson of Hippotas, had shut the winds; and Lucifer, reminder of our toil, in splendour rose upon the lofty sky: and Perseus bound his wings upon his feet, on each foot bound he them; his sword he girt and sped wing-footed through the liquid air. Innumerous kingdoms far behind were left, till peoples Ethiopic and the lands of Cepheus were beneath his lofty view. There Ammon, the Unjust, had made decree Andromeda, the Innocent, should grieve her mother’s tongue. They bound her fettered arms fast to the rock. When Perseus her beheld as marble he would deem her, but the breeze moved in her hair, and from her streaming eyes the warm tears fell. Her beauty so amazed his heart, unconscious captive of her charms, that almost his swift wings forgot to wave.—Alighted on the ground, he thus began; “O fairest! whom these chains become not so, but worthy are for links that lovers bind, make known to me your country’s name and your’s and wherefore bound in chains.” A moment then, as overcome with shame, she made no sound: were not she fettered she would surely hide her blushing head; but what she could perform that did she do—she filled her eyes with tears.
So pleaded he that lest refusal seem implied confession of a crime, she told her name, her country’s name, and how her charms had been her mother’s pride. But as she spoke the mighty ocean roared. Over the waves a monster fast approached, its head held high, abreast the wide expanse.—The virgin shrieked;—no aid her wretched father gave, nor aid her still more wretched mother; but they wept and mingled lamentations with their tears—clinging distracted to her fettered form. And thus the stranger spoke to them, “Time waits for tears, but flies the moment of our need: were I, who am the son of Regal Jove and her whom he embraced in showers of gold, leaving her pregnant in her brazen cell,—I, Perseus, who destroyed the Gorgon, wreathed with snake-hair, I, who dared on waving wings to cleave etherial air—were I to ask the maid in marriage, I should be preferred above all others as your son-in-law. Not satisfied with deeds achieved, I strive to add such merit as the Gods permit; now, therefore, should my velour save her life, be it conditioned that I win her love.” To this her parents gave a glad assent, for who could hesitate? And they entreat, and promise him the kingdom as a dower.
As a great ship with steady prow speeds on; forced forwards by the sweating arms of youth it plows the deep; so, breasting the great waves, the monster moved, until to reach the rock no further space remained than might the whirl of Balearic string encompass, through the middle skies, with plummet-mold of lead. That instant, spurning with his feet the ground, the youth rose upwards to a cloudy height; and when the shadow of the hero marked the surface of the sea, the monster sought vainly to vent his fury on the shade. As the swift bird of Jove, when he beholds a basking serpent in an open field, exposing to the sun its mottled back, and seizes on its tail; lest it shall turn to strike with venomed fang, he fixes fast his grasping talons in the scaly neck; so did the winged youth, in rapid flight through yielding elements, press down on the great monster’s back, and thrust his sword, sheer to the hilt, in its right shoulder – loud its frightful torture sounded over the waves.—So fought the hero-son of Inachus.
Wild with the grievous wound, the monster rears high in the air, or plunges in the waves;—or wheels around as turns the frightened boar shunning the hounds around him in full cry. The hero on his active wings avoids the monster’s jaws, and with his crooked sword tortures its back wherever he may pierce its mail of hollow shell, or strikes betwixt the ribs each side, or wounds its lashing tail, long, tapered as a fish. The monster spouts forth streams—incarnadined with blood—that spray upon the hero’s wings; who drenched, and heavy with the spume, no longer dares to trust existence to his dripping wings; but he discerns a rock, which rises clear above the water when the sea is calm, but now is covered by the lashing waves. On this he rests; and as his left hand holds firm on the upmost ledge, he thrusts his sword, times more than three, unswerving in his aim, sheer through the monster’s entrails.—Shouts of praise resound along the shores, and even the Gods may hear his glory in their high abodes. Her parents, Cepheus and Cassiope, most joyfully salute their son-in-law; declaring him the saviour of their house. And now, her chains struck off, the lovely cause and guerdon of his toil, walks on the shore.
The hero washes his victorious hands in water newly taken from the sea: but lest the sand upon the shore might harm the viper-covered head, he first prepared a bed of springy leaves, on which he threw weeds of the sea, produced beneath the waves. On them he laid Medusa’s awful face, daughter of Phorcys;—and the living weeds, fresh taken from the boundless deep, imbibed the monster’s poison in their spongy pith: they hardened at the touch, and felt in branch and leaf unwonted stiffness. Sea-Nymphs, too, attempted to perform that prodigy on numerous other weeds, with like result: so pleased at their success, they raised new seeds, from plants wide-scattered on the salt expanse. Even from that day the coral has retained such wondrous nature, that exposed to air it hardens.—Thus, a plant beneath the waves becomes a stone when taken from the sea.
Three altars to three Gods he made of turf. To thee, victorious Virgin, did he build an altar on the right, to Mercury an altar on the left, and unto Jove an altar in the midst. He sacrificed a heifer to Minerva, and a calf to Mercury, the Wingfoot, and a bull to thee, O greatest of the Deities. Without a dower he takes Andromeda, the guerdon of his glorious victory, nor hesitates.—Now pacing in the van, both Love and Hymen wave the flaring torch, abundant perfumes lavished in the flames. The houses are bedecked with wreathed flowers; and lyres and flageolets resound, and songs—felicit notes that happy hearts declare. The portals opened, sumptuous halls display their golden splendours, and the noble lords of Cepheus’ court take places at the feast, magnificently served.
After the feast, when every heart was warming to the joys of genial Bacchus, then, Lyncidian Perseus asked about the land and its ways about the customs and the character of its heroes. Straightway one of the dinner-companions made reply, and asked in turn, “ Now, valiant Perseus, pray tell the story of the deed, that all may know, and what the arts and power prevailed, when you struck off the serpent-covered head.” “There is,” continued Perseus of the house of Agenor, “There is a spot beneath cold Atlas, where in bulwarks of enormous strength, to guard its rocky entrance, dwelt two sisters, born of Phorcys. These were wont to share in turn a single eye between them: this by craft I got possession of, when one essayed to hand it to the other.—I put forth my hand and took it as it passed between: then, far, remote, through rocky pathless crags, over wild hills that bristled with great woods, I thence arrived to where the Gorgon dwelt. Along the way, in fields and by the roads, I saw on all sides men and animals—like statues—turned to flinty stone at sight of dread Medusa’s visage. Nevertheless reflected on the brazen shield, I bore upon my left, I saw her horrid face. When she was helpless in the power of sleep and even her serpent-hair was slumber-bound, I struck, and took her head sheer from the neck.—To winged Pegasus the blood gave birth, his brother also, twins of rapid wing.”
So did he speak, and truly told besides the perils of his journey, arduous and long—He told of seas and lands that far beneath him he had seen, and of the stars that he had touched while on his waving wings. And yet, before they were aware, the tale was ended; he was silent. Then rejoined a noble with enquiry why alone of those three sisters, snakes were interspersed in dread Medusa’s locks. And he replied:—“Because, O Stranger, it is your desire to learn what worthy is for me to tell, hear ye the cause: Beyond all others she was famed for beauty, and the envious hope of many suitors. Words would fail to tell the glory of her hair, most wonderful of all her charms—A friend declared to me he saw its lovely splendour. Fame declares the Sovereign of the Sea attained her love in chaste Minerva’s temple. While enraged she turned her head away and held her shield before her eyes. To punish that great crime minerva changed the Gorgon’s splendid hair to serpents horrible. And now to strike her foes with fear, she wears upon her breast those awful vipers—creatures of her rage.
BATTLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST OF PERSEUS AND ANDROMEDA
While Perseus, the brave son of Jupiter, surrounded at the feast by Cepheus’ lords, narrated this, a raging multitude with sudden outcry filled the royal courts—not with the clamours of a wedding feast but boisterous rage, portentous of dread war. As when the fury of a great wind strikes a tranquil sea, tempestuous billows roll across the peaceful bosom of the deep; so were the pleasures at the banquet changed to sudden tumult. Foremost of that throng, the rash ring-leader, Phineus, shook his spear, brass-tipped of ash, and shouted, “Ha, ’tis I! I come avenger of my ravished bride! Let now your flittering wings deliver you, or even Jupiter, dissolved in showers of imitation gold.” So boasted he, aiming his spear at Perseus. Thus to him cried Cepheus: “Hold your hand, and strike him not! What strange delusions, O my brother, have compelled you to this crime? Is it the just requital of heroic worth? A fair reguerdon for the life of her you loved? If truth were known, not Perseus ravished her from you; but, either ’twas the awful God that rules the Nereides; or Ammon, crowned with crescent horns; or that monstrosity of Ocean’s vast abyss, which came to glut his famine on the issue of my loins. Nor was your suit abandoned till the time when she must perish and be lost to you. So cruel are you, seeking my daughter’s death, rejoicing lightly in our deep despair.—And was it not enough for you to stand supinely by, while she was bound in chains, and offer no assistance, though you were her lover and betrothed? And will you grieve that she was rescued from a dreadful fate, and spoil her champion of his just rewards? Rewards that now may seem magnificent, but not denied to you if you had won and saved, when she was fettered to the rock. Let him, whose strength to my declining years restored my child, receive the merit due his words and deeds; and know his suit was not preferred to yours, but granted to prevent her certain death.”
Not deigning to reply, against them Phineus stood; and glancing back from him to Perseus, with alternate looks, as doubtful which should feel his first attack, made brief delay. Then vain at Perseus hurled his spear, with all the force that rage inspired, but, missing him it quivered in a couch. Provoked beyond endurance Perseus leaped forth from the cushioned seats, and fiercely sent that outwrenched weapon back. It would have pierced his hostile breast had not the miscreant crouched behind the altars. Oh perverted good, that thus an altar should abet the wrong! But, though the craven Phineus escaped, not vainly flew the whizzing point, but struck in Rhoetus’ forehead. As the barb was torn out of the bone, the victim’s heels began to kick upon the floor, and spouting blood defiled the festal board. Then truly flame in uncontrolled rage the vulgar crowd, and hurl their harmful darts. And there are some who hold that Cepheus and his son-in-law deserved to die; but Cepheus had passed forth the threshold of his palace: having called on all the Gods of Hospitality and Truth and Justice to attest, he gave no comfort to the enemies of Peace. Unconquered Pallas is at hand and holds her Aegis to protect her brother’s life; she lends him dauntless courage.
At the feast was one from India’s distant shores, whose name was Athis. It was said that Limnate, the daughter of the River Ganges, him in vitreous caverns bright had brought to birth; and now at sixteen summers in his prime, the handsome youth was clad in costly robes. A purple mantle with a golden fringe covered his shoulders, and a necklace, carved of gold, enhanced the beauty of his throat. His hair encompassed with a coronal, delighted with sweet myrrh. Well taught was he to hurl the javelin at a distant mark, and none with better skill could stretch the bow. No sooner had he bent the pliant horns than Perseus, with a smoking billet, seized from the mid-altar, struck him on the face, and smashed his features in his broken skull.
And when Assyrian Lycabas had seen his dear companion, whom he truly loved, beating his handsome countenance in blood. And when he had bewailed his lost life, that ebbed away from that unpiteous wound, he snatched the bow that Athis used, and said; “Let us in single combat seek revenge; not long will you rejoice the stripling’s fate; a deed most worthy shame.” So speaking, forth the piercing arrow bounded from the cord, which, though avoided, struck the hero’s cloak and fastened in its folds.—Then Perseus turned upon him, with the trusted curving sword, cause of Medusa’s death, and drove the blade deep in his breast. The dying victim’s eyes, now swimming in a shadowous night, looked ’round for Athis, whom, beholding, he reclined upon, and ushered to the other world,—sad consolation of united death.
And Phorbas the descendant of Methion. Who hailed from far Syene, with his friend Amphimedon of Libya, in their haste to join the battle, slipped up in the blood and fell together: just as they arose that glittering sword was driven through the throat of Phorbas into the ribs of his companion.
But Erithus, the son of Actor, swung a battle-ax, so weighty, Perseus chose not combat with his curving blade. He seized in his two hands a huge bowl, wrought around with large design, outstanding from its mass. This, lifting up, he dashes on his foe, who vomits crimson blood, and falling back beats on the hard floor with his dying head. And next he slew Caucasian Abaris, and Polydaemon—from Semiramis nobly descended—and Sperchius, son, Lycetus, long-haired Elyces, unshorn, Clytus and Phlegias, the hero slew;—and trampled on the dying heaped around.
Not daring to engage his enemy in open contest, Phineus held aloof, and hurled his javelin. Badly aimed—by some mischance or turned—it wounded Idas, who had followed neither side; vain-hoping thus to shun the conflict. Idas, filled with rage, on Phineus gazed with futile hate, and said, “Since I am forced unwilling to such deeds, behold, whom you have made your enemy, O savage Phineus! Let your recompense be stroke for stroke.” So speaking, from the wound he drew the steel, but, faint from loss of blood, before his arm could hurl the weapon back, he sank upon his knees.
Here, also, lies Odytes (Hodites),—noblest of the Cephenes, save Cepheus only,—slaughtered by the sword of Clymenus. And Prothoenor lies the victim of Hypseus; by his side Hypseus slaughtered by Lyncidas falls. And in the midst of this destruction stood Emathion, now an aged man, revered, who feared the Gods, and stood for upright deeds. And, since his years denied him strength for war, he battled with his tongue, and railed, and cursed their impious weapons. As that aged man clings to the altar with his trembling hands, Chromis with ruthless sword cuts off his head, which straightway falls upon the altar, whence his dying tongue denounces them in words of execration: and his soul expires amid the altar flames.
Then Broteas and Ammon, his twin brother, who not knew their equals at the cestus, by the hand of Phineus fell; for what avails in deed the cestus as a weapon matched with swords. Ampycus by the same hand fell,—the priest of Ceres, with his temples wreathed in white. And O, Iapetides not for this did you attend the feast! Your voice attuned melodious to the harp, was in request to celebrate the wedding-day with song,—a work of peace; as you did stand aside, holding the peaceful plectrum in your hand, the mocking Pettalus in ridicule said, “Go sing your ditties to the Stygian shades.” And, mocking thus, he drove his pointed sword in your right temple. As your limbs gave way, your dying fingers swept the tuneful strings: and falling you did chant a mournful dirge.—You to avenge enraged Lycormas tore a huge bar from the door-post, on the right, and dashing it against the mocker crushed his neck-bones: as a slaughtered bullock falls—he tumbled to the ground. Then on the left. Cinyphian Pelates began to wrench an oak plank from the door-post, but the spear of Corythus, the son of Marmarus, pinioned his right hand to the wooden post; and while he struggled Abas pierced his side.—He fell not to the floor, but dying hung suspended from the door-post by his hand.
And of the friends of Perseus, Melaneus was slain, and Dorylas whose wealth was large in Nasamonian land. No other lord, as Dorylas, such vast estates possessed; no other owned so many heaps of corn. The missile steel stood fastened in his groin, obliquely fixed,—a fatal spot—and when the author of his wound, Halcyoneus the Bactrian, beheld his victim thus, rolling his eyes and sobbing forth his soul, he railed; “Keep for yourself of all your lands as much as you can cover.” And he left the bleeding corpse. But Perseus in revenge hurled after him a spear, which, in his need, he ripped out from the wound, yet warm, and struck the boaster on the middle of his nose. The piercing steel, passed through his nose and neck,—remained projecting from the front and back. And while good fortune helped his hand, he slew Clanis and Clytius, of one mother born, but with a different wound he slaughtered each: for, leveled by a mighty arm, his ashen spear drove through the thighs of Clytius, right and left, and Clanis bit the javelin with his teeth. And by his might, Mendesian Celadon and Atreus fell, his mother of the tribes of Palestine, his father was unknown. Aethion, also, who could well foresee the things to come, but was at last deceived by some false omen. And Thoactes fell, the armour-bearer of the king; and, next, the infamous Agyrtes who had slain his father.
These he slew; and though his strength was nearly spent, so many more remained: for now the multitude with one accord conspired to slaughter him. From every side the raging troops assailed the better cause. In vain the pious father and the bride, together with her mother, fill the halls with lamentations; for the clash of arms, the groans of fallen heroes drown their cries.—Bellona in a sea of blood has drenched their Household Gods, polluted by these deeds, and she endeavours to renew the strife.
Perseus, alone against that raging throng, is now surrounded by a myriad men, led on by Phineus; and their flying darts, as thick as wintry tail, are showered around on every side, grazing his eyes and ears.—Quickly he fixed his shoulder firm against the rock of a great pillar, which secured his back from danger, and he faced his foes, and baffled their attack. Upon his left Chaonian Molpeus pressed, and on his right a Nabathe an called Ethemon pressed.—As when a tiger from a valley hears the lowing of two herds, in separate fields, though hunger urges he not knows on which to spring, but rages equally for each; so, Perseus doubtful which may first attack his left or right, knows not on which to turn, but stands attentive witness to the flight of Molpeus, whom he wounded in the leg. Nor could he choose—Ethemon, full of rage, pressed on him to inflict a fatal wound, deep in his neck; but with incautious force struck the stone pillar with his ringing sword and shattered the metal blade, close to the hilt; the flying fragment pierced its owner’s neck, but not with mortal wound. In vain he pled for mercy, stretching forth his helpless arms: Perseus transfixed him with his glittering blade, Cyllenian.
But when he saw his strength was yielding to the multitude, he said, “Since you have forced disaster on yourselves, why should I hesitate to save myself?—O friends, avert your faces if ye stand before me!” And he raised Medusa,s head. Thescelus answered him; “Seek other dupes to chase with wonders!” Just as he prepared to hurl the deadly javelin from his hand, he stood, unmoving in that attitude, a marble statue. Ampyx, close to him, exulting in a mighty spirit, made a lunge to pierce Lyncides in the breast; but, as his sword was flashing in the air, his right arm grew so rigid, there he stood unable to draw back or thrust it forth. But Nileus, who had feigned himself begot by seven-fold Nile, and carved his shield with gold and silver streams, alternate seven, shouted; “Look, look! O Perseus, him from whom I sprung! And you shall carry to the silent shades a mighty consolation in your death, that you were slain by such a one as I.” But in the midst of boasting, the last words were silenced; and his open mouth, although incapable of motion, seemed intent to utter speech. Then Eryx, chiding says; “Your craven spirits have benumbed you, not Medusa’s poison.—Come with me and strike this youthful mover of magician charms down to the ground.”—He started with a rush; the earth detained his steps; it held him fast; he could not speak; he stood, complete with arms, a statue.
Such a penalty was theirs, and justly earned; but near by there was one, aconteus, who defending Perseus, saw medusa as he fought; and at the sight the soldier hardened to an upright stone.—Assured he was alive, Astyages now struck him with his long sword, but the blade resounded with a ringing note; and there, astonished at the sound, Astyages, himself, assumed that nature; and remained with wonder pictured on his marble face. And not to weary with the names of men, sprung from the middle classes, there remained two hundred warriors eager for the fight—as soon as they could see Medusa’s face, two hundred warriors stiffened into stone.
At last, repentant, Phineus dreads the war, unjust, for in a helpless fright he sees the statues standing in strange attitudes; and, recognizing his adherents, calls on each by name to rescue from that death. Still unbelieving he begins to touch the bodies, nearest to himself, and all are hard stone. Having turned his eyes away, he stretched his hands and arms obliquely back to Perseus, and confessed his wicked deeds; and thus imploring spoke; “Remove, I pray, O Perseus, thou invincible, remove from me that dreadful Gorgon: take away the stone-creating countenance of thy unspeakable Medusa! For we warred not out of hatred, nor to gain a throne, but clashed our weapons for a woman’s sake.—Thy merit proved thy valid claim, and time gave argument for mine. It grieves me not to yield, O bravest, only give me life, and all the rest be thine.” Such words implored the craven, never daring to address his eyes to whom he spoke. And thus returned the valiant Perseus; “I will grant to you, O timid-hearted Phineus! as behoves your conduct; and it should appear a gift, magnanimous, to one who fears to move.—Take courage, for no steel shall violate your carcase; and, moreover, you shall be a monument, that ages may record your unforgotten name. You shall be seen thus always, in the palace where resides my father-in-law, that my surrendered spouse may soften her great grief when she but sees the darling image of her first betrothed.” He spoke, and moved Medusa to that side where Phineus had turned his trembling face: and as he struggled to avert his gaze his neck grew stiff; the moisture of his eyes was hardened into stone.—And since that day his timid face and coward eyes and hands, forever shall be guilty as in life.
After such deeds, victorious Perseus turned, and sought the confines of his native land; together with his bride; which, having reached, he punished Proetus—who by force of arms had routed his own brother from the throne of Argos. By his aid Acrisius, although his undeserving parent, gained his citadels once more: for Proetus failed, with all his arms and towers unjustly held, to quell the grim-eyed monster, snake-begin. Yet not the valour of the youth, upheld by many labours, nor his grievous wrongs have softened you, O Polydectes! king of Little Seriphus; but bitter hate ungoverned, rankles in your hardened heart—there is no limit to your unjust rage. Even his praises are defamed by you and all your arguments are given to prove Medusa’s death a fraud.—Perseus rejoined; “By this we give our true pledge of the truth, avert your eyes!” And by Medusa’s face he made the features of that impious king a bloodless stone.
THE NINE MUSES AND MINERVA
Through all these mighty deeds Pallas, Minerva, had availed to guide her gold-begotten brother. Now she sped, surrounded in a cloud, from Seriphus, while Cynthus on the right, and Gyarus far faded from her view. And where a path, high over the deep sea, leads the near way, she winged the air for Thebes, and Helicon haunt of the Virgin Nine. High on that mount she stayed her flight, and with these words bespoke those well-taught sisters; “Fame has given to me the knowledge of a new-made fountain—gift of Pegasus, that fleet steed, from the blood of dread Medusa sprung—it opened when his hard hoof struck the ground.—It is the cause that brought me.—For my longing to have seen this fount, miraculous and wonderful, grows not the less in that myself did see the swift steed, nascent from maternal blood.” To which Urania thus; “Whatever the cause that brings thee to our habitation, thou, O goddess, art to us the greatest joy. And now, to answer thee, reports are true; this fountain is the work of Pegasus,” And having said these words, she gladly thence conducted Pallas to the sacred streams. And Pallas, after she had long admired that fountain, flowing where the hoof had struck, turned round to view the groves of ancient trees; the grottoes and the grass bespangled, rich with flowers unnumbered—all so beautiful she deemed the charm of that locality a fair surrounding for the studious days of those Mnemonian Maids.
THE NINE MUSES AND PYRENAEUS
But one of them addressed her thus; “O thou whose valour gave thy mind to greater deeds! if thou hadst stooped to us, Minerva, we had welcomed thee most worthy of our choir! Thy words are true; and well hast thou approved the joys of art, and this retreat. Most happy would we be if only we were safe; but wickedness admits of no restraint, and everything affrights our virgin minds; and everywhere the dreadful Pyrenaeus haunts our sight;—scarcely have we recovered from the shock. That savage, with his troops of Thrace, had seized the lands of Daulis and of Phocis, where he ruled in tyranny; and when we sought the Temples of Parnassus, he observed us on our way;—and knowing our estate, pretending to revere our sacred lives, he said; `O Muses, I beseech you pause! Choose now the shelter of my roof and shun the heavy stars that teem with pouring rain; nor hesitate, for often the glorious Gods have entered humbler homes.’ Moved by his words, and by the growing storm, we gave assent, and entered his first house. But presently the storm abated, and the southern wind was conquered by the north; the black clouds fled, and soon the skies were clear. At once we sought to quit the house, but Pyrenaeus closed all means of exit,—and prepared to force our virtue. Instantly we spread our wings, and so escaped; but on a lofty tower he stood, as if to follow, and exclaimed; `A path for you marks out a way for me,’ and quite insane, he leaped down from the top of that high tower.—Falling on his face, the bones were crushed, and as his life ebbed out the ground was crimsoned with his wicked blood.”
THE NINE MUSES AND THE NINE MAGPIES
So spoke the Muse. And now was heard the sound of pennons in the air, and voices, too, gave salutations from the lofty trees. Minerva, thinking they were human tongues, looked up in question whence the perfect words; but on the boughs, nine ugly magpies perched, those mockers of all sounds, which now complained their hapless fate. And as she wondering stood, Urania, goddess of the Muse, rejoined;—“Look, those but lately worsted in dispute augment the number of unnumbered birds.—Pierus was their father, very rich in lands of Pella; and their mother (called Evippe of Paeonia) when she brought them forth, nine times evoked, in labours nine, Lucina’s aid.—Unduly puffed with pride, because it chanced their number equalled ours these stupid sisters, hither to engage in wordy contest, fared through many towns;—through all Haemonia and Achaia came to us, and said;—`Oh, cease your empty songs, attuned to dulcet numbers, that deceive the vulgar, untaught throng. If aught is yours of confidence, O Thespian Deities contend with us: our number equals yours. We will not be defeated by your arts; nor shall your songs prevail.—Then, conquered, give Hyantean Aganippe; yield to us the Medusean Fount;—and should we fail, we grant Emathia’s plains, to where uprise Paeonia’s peaks of snow.—Let chosen Nymphs award the prize—.’
“‘Twas shameful to contend; it seemed more shameful to submit. At once, the chosen Nymphs swore justice by their streams, and sat in judgment on their thrones of rock. At once, although the lot had not been cast, the leading sister hastened to begin.—She chanted of celestial wars; she gave the Giants false renown; she gave the Gods small credit for great deeds.—She droned out, `Forth, those deepest realms of earth, Typhoeus came, and filled the Gods with fear. They turned their backs in flight to Egypt; and the wearied rout, where Great Nile spreads his seven-channeled mouth, were there received. – Thither the earth-begot Typhoeus hastened: but the Gods of Heaven deceptive shapes assumed.—Lo, Jupiter, (As Libyan Ammon’s crooked horns attest) was hidden in the leader of a flock; Apollo in a crow; Bacchus in a goat; Diana in a cat; Venus in a fish; Saturnian Juno in a snow-white cow; Cyllenian Hermes in an Ibis’ wings.’—
“Such stuff she droned out from her noisy mouth: and then they summoned us; but, haply, time permits thee not, nor leisure thee permits, that thou shouldst hearken to our melodies.” “Nay doubt it not,” quoth Pallas, “but relate your melodies in order.” And she sat beneath the pleasant shadows of the grove. And thus again Urania; “On our side we trusted all to one.” Which having said, Calliope arose. Her glorious hair was bound with ivy. She attuned the chords, and chanted as she struck the sounding strings:—
DAEDALUS AND ICARUS
But Daedalus abhorred the Isle of Crete—and his long exile on that sea-girt shore, increased the love of his own native place. “Though Minos blocks escape by sea and land.” He said, “The unconfined skies remain though Minos may be lord of all the world his sceptre is not regnant of the air, and by that untried way is our escape.” This said, he turned his mind to arts unknown and nature unrevealed. He fashioned quills and feathers in due order—deftly formed from small to large, as any rustic pipe prom straws unequal slants. He bound with thread the middle feathers, and the lower fixed with pliant wax; till so, in gentle curves arranged, he bent them to the shape of birds. While he was working, his son Icarus, with smiling countenance and unaware of danger to himself, perchance would chase the feathers, ruffled by the shifting breeze, or soften with his thumb the yellow wax, and by his playfulness retard the work his anxious father planned.
But when at last the father finished it, he poised himself, and lightly floating in the winnowed air waved his great feathered wings with bird-like ease. And, likewise he had fashioned for his son such wings; before they ventured in the air he said, “My son, I caution you to keep the middle way, for if your pinions dip too low the waters may impede your flight; and if they soar too high the sun may scorch them. Fly midway. Gaze not at the boundless sky, far Ursa Major and Bootes next. Nor on Orion with his flashing brand, but follow my safe guidance.” As he spoke he fitted on his son the plumed wings with trembling hands, while down his withered cheeks the tears were falling. Then he gave his son a last kiss, and upon his gliding wings assumed a careful lead solicitous. As when the bird leads forth her tender young, from high-swung nest to try the yielding air; so he prevailed on willing Icarus; encouraged and instructed him in all the fatal art; and as he waved his wings looked backward on his son. Beneath their flight, the fisherman while casting his long rod, or the tired shepherd leaning on his crook, or the rough plowman as he raised his eyes, astonished might observe them on the wing, and worship them as Gods.
Upon the left they passed by Samos, Juno’s sacred isle; Delos and Paros too, were left behind; and on the right Lebinthus and Calymne, fruitful in honey. Proud of his success, the foolish Icarus forsook his guide, and, bold in vanity, began to soar, rising upon his wings to touch the skies; but as he neared the scorching sun, its heat softened the fragrant wax that held his plumes; and heat increasing melted the soft wax—he waved his naked arms instead of wings, with no more feathers to sustain his flight. And as he called upon his father’s name his voice was smothered in the dark blue sea, now called Icarian from the dead boy’s name. The unlucky father, not a father, called, “Where are you, Icarus?” and “Where are you? In what place shall I seek you, Icarus?” He called again; and then he saw the wings of his dear Icarus, floating on the waves; and he began to rail and curse his art. He found the body on an island shore, now called Icaria, and at once prepared to bury the unfortunate remains.
But while he labored a pert partridge near, observed him from the covert of an oak, and whistled his unnatural delight. Know you the cause? ‘Twas then a single bird, the first one of its kind. ‘Twas never seen before the sister of Daedalus had brought him Perdix, her dear son, to be his pupil. And as the years went by the gifted youth began to rival his instructor’s art. He took the jagged backbone of a fish, and with it as a model made a saw, with sharp teeth fashioned from a strip of iron. And he was first to make two arms of iron, smooth hinged upon the center, so that one would make a pivot while the other, turned, described a circle. Wherefore Daedalus enraged and envious, sought to slay the youth and cast him headlong from Minerva’s fane,—then spread the rumor of an accident. But Pallas, goddess of ingenious men, saving the pupil changed him to a bird, and in the middle of the air he flew on feathered wings; and so his active mind—and vigor of his genius were absorbed into his wings and feet; although the name of Perdix was retained. The Partridge hides in shaded places by the leafy trees its nested eggs among the bush’s twigs; nor does it seek to rise in lofty flight, for it is mindful of its former fall.
Wearied with travel Daedalus arrived at Sicily,—where Cocalus was king; and when the wandering Daedalus implored the monarch’s kind protection from his foe, he gathered a great army for his guest, and gained renown from an applauding world.
HERCULES AND ACHELOUS
To him the hero, who proclaimed himself a favored son of Neptune, answered now; “Declare the reason of your heavy sighs, and how your horn was broken?” And at once the Calydonian River-God replied, binding with reeds his unadorned rough locks: “It is a mournful task you have required, for who can wish to tell his own disgrace? But truly I shall speak without disguise, for my defeat, if rightly understood, should be my glory.—Even to have fought in battle with a hero of such might, affords me consolation.
“Deianira (you may have heard some tales of her) was once the envied hope of many. She was then a lovely virgin.—I, among the rest who loved this maiden, entered the fair home of her great father Oeneus, and I said; ` ‘Consider all my claims, Parthaon’s son, for I am come to plead your daughter’s cause and mine—So you may make me son-in-law.—’ no sooner was it said, than Hercules in such words also claimed the virgin’s hand: all others quickly yielded to our claims. He boasted his descent from Jupiter; the glory of his labors and great deeds performed at his unjust stepmother’s wish. But as he was not then a God, it seemed disgraceful if my state should yield my right; so I contended with these haughty words, `Why should this alien of a foreign land, contending for your daughter, match himself to me! king of the waters in this realm! For as I wind around, across your lands, I must be of your people, and a part of your great state. Oh, let it not be said, because the jealous Juno had no thought to punish me by labors, my descent is not so regal! This tremendous boast, that you, Alcmena’s son, are sprung from Jove, falls at the touch of truth;—or it reveals the shame of a weak mother, who so gained your doubtful glory of descent from Heaven! Prove your descent from Jupiter is false, or else confess you are the son of shame!’
“But Hercules, unable to control the flame of his great wrath, scowled as I spoke. He briefly answered me, `My hand excels my tongue; let me now overcome in fight, and I may suffer your offence of words.’ Full of unvented rage he rushed on me, but firm I stood, ashamed to yield a foot—I had so largely boasted, no retreat was left, and so I doffed my green robe—Striking guard, with clenched hands doubled at my breast, I stood my ground. He scooped up in his hand fine, yellow dust; and tossed it on the air so that the tawny powder sprinkled us; quick-shifting then he sought to strike my neck, or feint at my quick-moving legs, and turn swift moving to attack me at all points. But as a huge cliff in the sea remains unmoved, unshaken by the sounding waves, so my great size, against his vain attacks, defended me securely—Back we went; retiring for a space; then rushed again together, furious, and with foot to foot, determined not to yield, defiant stood, till, forward-bending from my waist and hips, I pressed my forehead against his and locked his fingers into mine: so, have I seen two strong bulls rush in combat for the good of some smooth heifer in the pasture—while the herd a-tremble and uncertain, wait; ready to give allegiance to the one most worthy of dominion. Thrice in vain Hercules strove to push my breast from his, but I pressed ever closer—till, the fourth attempt succeeding, he unloosed my grip, and breaking from my circling arms drew back, and struck me such a buffet with his hand, it twisted me about, and instantly he clung with all his weight upon my back—Believe me I have not suppressed the truth. Nor shall I try to gain applause not due: I seemed to bear a mountain on my back.—straining and dripping sweat, I broke his hold,—with great exertion I unlocked his grip. He pressed upon me, as I strained for breath, preventing a renewal of my strength, and seized upon my neck. Then at the last, my bent knee went down on the gritty earth, I bit the sand.
“So, worsted in my strength, I sought diversion by an artifice, and changed me to a serpent.—I then slipped from his tight clutches my great length, and coiled my body now transformed to snaky folds—hissing I darted my divided tongue. But Hercules, Alcides, only laughed and in derision of my scheming, said, `It was the pastime of my cradle days to strangle better snakes than you—and though your great length may excel all of your kind, how small a part of that Lernaean snake would you—one serpent be? It grew from wounds I gave (at first it had one hundred heads) and every time I severed one head from its neck two grew there in the place of one, by which its strength increased. This creature then outbranching with strong serpents, sprung from death and thriving on destruction, I destroyed.—What do you think will then become of you, disguised so in deceitful serpent-form, wielding a borrowed weapon not your own.’ And after he had ridiculed me thus, he gouged his fingers underneath my jaws, so that my throat was tortured, as if squeezed with forceps, while I struggled in his grip. Twice was I vanquished, there remained to me a third form so again I changed to seem a savage bull, and with my limbs renewed in that form fought once more. He threw his arms about the left side of my ponderous neck, and dragging on me followed as I ran. He seized on my hard horns, and, tugging turned and twisted me, until he fastened them firm in the surface of the earth; and pushed me, helpless, to the shifting sand beneath. Not yet content he laid his fierce right hand on my tough horn, and broke and tore it from my mutilated head.—This horn, now heaped with fruits delicious and sweet-smelling flowers, the Naiads have held sacred from that hour, devoted to the bounteous goddess Plenty.”
All this the River-god said; then a nymph, a lovely nymph like fair Diana dressed, whose locks were flowing down on either side, came graceful to the board, and brought to them of Autumn’s plenty in an ample horn, and gave to them selected apples for a second course. And now, as early dawn appeared, and as the rising sunlight flashed on golden summits of surrounding hills, the young men waited not until the stream subsiding, had resumed its peaceful way, but all arose, reluctant, and went forth. Then Achelous, in his moving waves, hid his fine rustic features and his head, scarred by the wound which gave the Horn of Plenty.
NESSUS AND THE DEATH OF HERCULES
Loss of his horn had greatly humbled him, it was so cherished though his only loss,—but he could hide the sad disgrace with reeds and willow boughs entwined about his head. O, Nessus! your fierce passion for the same maid utterly destroyed even you, pierced through the body by a flying arrow-point.
Returning to the city of his birth great Hercules, the son of Jupiter, with his new bride, arrived upon the bank of swift Evenus—after winter rains had swollen it so far beyond its wont, that, full of eddies, it was found to be impassable. The hero stood there, brave but anxious for his bride. Nessus, the centaur, strong-limbed and well-acquainted with those fords, came up to him and said, “Plunge in the flood and swim with unimpeded strength—for with my help she will land safely over there.” And so the hero, with no thought of doubt, trusted the damsel to the centaur’s care, though she was pale and trembling with her fear of the swift river and the centaur’s aid. This done, the hero, burdened as he was with quiver and the lion skin (for he had tossed his club and curving bow across the river to the other bank), declared, “Since I have undertaken it, at once this rushing water must be overcome.” And instantly, he plunged in without thought of where he might cross with most ease, for so he scorned to take advantage of smooth water.
And after he had gained the other bank, while picking up his bow which there was thrown, he heard his wife’s voice, anxious for his help. He called to Nessus who was in the act then to betray his trust: “Vain confidence! You are not swift enough, vile ravisher! You two-formed monster Nessus, I warn you! Hear me, and never dare to come between me and my love. If fear has no restraint, your father’s dreadful fate on whirling wheel, should frighten you from this outrageous act: for you cannot escape, although you trust the fleet-foot effort of a rapid horse. I cannot overtake you with my feet but I can shoot and halt you with a wound.” His deed sustained the final warning word. He shot an arrow through the centaur’s back, so that the keen barb was exposed beyond his bleeding breast. He tore it from both wounds, and life-blood spurted instantly, mixed with the deadly poison of Lernaean hydra. This Nessus caught, and muttering, “I shall not die unavenged”, he gave his tunic, soaked with blood to Deianira as a gift; and said, “Keep this to strengthen waning love.”
Now many years passed by, and all the deeds, and labors of the mighty Hercules, gave to the wide world his unequalled fame; and finally appeased the hatred of his fierce stepmother. All victorious returning from Oechalia, he prepared to offer sacrifice, when at Cenaeum, upon an altar he had built to Jupiter, but tattling Rumor, swollen out of truth from small beginning to a wicked lie, declared brave Hercules, Amphitryon’s son, was burning for the love of Iole. And Deianira—his fond wife—convinced herself, the wicked rumor must be true.
Alarmed at the report of his new love, at first, poor wife, she was dissolved in tears, and then she sank in grievous misery. But soon in angry mood, she rose and said: “Why should I give up to my sorrow while I drown my wretched spirit in weak tears? Let me consider an effectual check—while it is possible—even before she comes, invader of my lawful bed: shall I be silent or complain of it? Must I go back to Calydon or stay? Shall I depart unbidden, from my house? Or, if no other method can prevail, shall I oppose my rival’s first approach? O shade of Meleager, let me prove I am yet worthy to be called your sister; and in the desperate slaughter of this rival, the world, astonished, may be taught to fear the vengeance of an injured woman’s rage.” So, torn by many moods, at last her mind fixed on one thought:—she might still keep his love, could certainly restore it, if she sent to him the tunic soaked in Nessus’ blood. Unknowingly, she gave the fatal cause of her own woe to trusting Lichas, whom she urged in gentle words to take the gift, from her to her loved husband Hercules. He, unsuspecting, put the tunic on, all covered with Lernaean hydra’s poison.
The hero then was casting frankincense into the sacred flames, and pouring wine on marble altars, as his holy prayers were floating to the Gods. The hallowed heat striking upon his poisoned vesture, caused Echidna-bane to melt into his flesh. As long as he was able he withstood the torture. His great fortitude was strong. But when at last his anguish overcame even his endurance, he filled all the wild of Oeta with his cries: he overturned those hallowed altars, then in frenzied haste he strove to pull the tunic from his back. The poisoned garment, cleaving to him, ripped his skin, heat-shriveled, from his burning flesh. Or, tightening on him, as his great strength pulled, stripped with it the great muscles from his limbs, leaving his huge bones bare. Even his blood audibly hissed, as red-hot blades when they are plunged in water, so the burning bane boiled in his veins. Great perspiration streamed from his dissolving body, as the heat consumed his entrails; and his sinews cracked, brittle when burnt. The marrow in his bones dissolved, as it absorbed the venom-heat.
There was no limit to his misery; raising both hands up towards the stars of heaven, he cried, “Come Juno, feast upon my death; feast on me, cruel one, look down from your exalted seat; behold my dreadful end and glut your savage heart! Oh, if I may deserve some pity from my enemy, from you I mean, this hateful life of mine take from me—sick with cruel suffering and only born for toil. The loss of life will be a boon to me, and surely is a fitting boon, such as stepmothers give! Was it for this I slew Busiris, who defiled his temples with the strangers’ blood? For this I took his mother’s strength from fierce antaeus—that I did not show a fear before the Spanish shepherd’s triple form? Nor did I fear the monstrous triple form of Cerberus.—And is it possible my hands once seized and broke the strong bull’s horns? And Elis knows their labor, and the waves of Stymphalus, and the Parthenian woods. For this the prowess of these hands secured the Amazonian girdle wrought of gold; and did my strong arms, gather all in vain the fruit when guarded by the dragon’s eyes. The centaurs could not foil me, nor the boar that ravaged in Arcadian fruitful fields. Was it for this the hydra could not gain double the strength from strength as it was lost? And when I saw the steeds of Thrace, so fat with human blood, and their vile mangers heaped with mangled bodies, in a righteous rage I threw them to the ground, and slaughtered them, together with their master! In a cave I crushed the Nemean monster with these arms; and my strong neck upheld the wide-spread sky! And even the cruel Juno, wife of Jove—is weary of imposing heavy toils, but I am not subdued performing them. A new calamity now crushes me, which not my strength, nor valor, nor the use of weapons can resist. Devouring flames have preyed upon my limbs, and blasting heat now shrivels the burnt tissue of my frame. But still Eurystheus is alive and well! And there are those who yet believe in Gods!”
Just as a wild bull, in whose body spears are rankling, while the frightened hunter flies away for safety, so the hero ranged over sky-piercing Oeta; his huge groans, his awful shrieks resounding in those cliffs. At times he struggles with the poisoned robe. Goaded to fury, he has razed great trees, and scattered the vast mountain rocks around! And stretched his arms towards his ancestral skies!
So, in his frenzy, as he wandered there, he chanced upon the trembling Lichas, crouched in the close covert of a hollow rock. Then in a savage fury he cried out, “Was it you, Lichas, brought this fatal gift? Shall you be called the author of my death?” Lichas, in terror, groveled at his feet, and begged for mercy—“Only let me live!” But seizing on him, the crazed Hero whirled him thrice and once again about his head, and hurled him, shot as by a catapult, into the waves of the Euboic Sea. While he was hanging in the air, his form was hardened; as, we know, rain drops may first be frozen by the cold air, and then change to snow, and as it falls through whirling winds may press, so twisted, into round hailstones: even so has ancient lore declared that when strong arms hurled Lichas through the mountain air through fear, his blood was curdled in his veins. No moisture left in him, he was transformed into a flint-rock. Even to this day, a low crag rising from the waves is seen out of the deep Euboean Sea, and holds the certain outline of a human form, so sure]y traced, the wary sailors fear to tread upon it, thinking it has life, and they have called it Lichas ever since.
But, O illustrious son of Jupiter! How many of the overspreading trees, thick-growing on the lofty mountain-peak of Oeta, did you level to the ground, and heap into a pyre! And then you bade obedient Philoctetes light a torch beneath it, and then take in recompense your bow with its capacious quiver full of arrows, arms that now again would see the realm of Troy. And as the pyre began to kindle with the greedy flames, you spread the Nemean lion skin upon the top, and, club for pillow, you lay down to sleep, as placid as if, with abounding cups of generous wine and crowned with garlands, you were safe, reclining on a banquet-couch.
And now on every side the spreading flames were crackling fiercely, as they leaped from earth upon the careless limbs of Hercules. He scorned their power. The Gods felt fear for earth’s defender and their sympathy gave pleasure to Saturnian Jove—he knew their thought—and joyfully he said to them: “Your sudden fear is surely my delight, O heavenly Gods! my heart is lifted up and joy prevails upon me, in the thought that I am called the Father and the King of all this grateful race of Gods. I know my own beloved offspring is secure in your declared protection: your concern may justly evidence his worth, whose deeds great benefits bestowed. Let not vain thoughts alarm you, nor the rising flames of Oeta; for Hercules who conquered everything, shall conquer equally the spreading fires which now you see: and all that part of him, celestial—inherited of me—immortal, cannot feel the power of death. It is not subject to the poison-heat. And therefore, since his earth-life is now lost, him I’ll translate, unshackled from all dross, and purified, to our celestial shore. I trust this action seems agreeable to all the Deities surrounding me. If any jealous god of heaven should grieve at the divinity of Hercules, he may begrudge the prize but he will know at least ’twas given him deservedly, and with this thought he must approve the deed.” The Gods confirmed it: and though Juno seemed to be contented and to acquiesce, her deep vexation was not wholly hid, when Jupiter with his concluding words so plainly hinted at her jealous mind.
Now, while the Gods conversed, the mortal part of Hercules was burnt by Mulciber; but yet an outline of a spirit-form remained. Unlike the well-known mortal shape derived by nature of his mother, he kept traces only of his father, Jove. And as a serpent, when it is revived from its old age, casts off the faded skin, and fresh with vigor glitters in new scales, so, when the hero had put off all dross, his own celestial, wonderful appeared, majestic and of godlike dignity. And him, the glorious father of the Gods in the great chariot drawn by four swift steeds, took up above the wide-encircling clouds, and set him there amid the glittering stars.
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
Veiled in a saffron mantle, through the air unmeasured, after the strange wedding, Hymen departed swiftly for Ciconian land; regardless and not listening to the voice of tuneful Orpheus. Truly Hymen there was present during the festivities of Orpheus and Eurydice, but gave no happy omen, neither hallowed words nor joyful glances; and the torch he held would only sputter, fill the eyes with smoke, and cause no blaze while waving. The result of that sad wedding, proved more terrible than such foreboding fates. While through the grass delighted Naiads wandered with the bride, a serpent struck its venomed tooth in her soft ankle—and she died.—
After the bard of Rhodope had mourned, and filled the highs of heaven with the moans of his lament, determined also the dark underworld should recognize the misery of death, he dared descend by the Taenarian gate down to the gloomy Styx. And there passed through pale-glimmering phantoms, and the ghosts escaped from sepulchres, until he found Persephone and Pluto, master-king of shadow realms below: and then began to strike his tuneful lyre, to which he sang:—”O deities of this dark world beneath the earth! this shadowy underworld, to which all mortals must descend! If it can be called lawful, and if you will suffer speech of strict truth (all the winding ways of Falsity forbidden) I come not down here because of curiosity to see the glooms of Tartarus and have no thought to bind or strangle the three necks of the Medusan Monster, vile with snakes. But I have come, because my darling wife stepped on a viper that sent through her veins death-poison, cutting off her coming years. If able, I would bear it, I do not deny my effort—but the god of Love has conquered me—a god so kindly known in all the upper world. We are not sure he can be known so well in this deep world, but have good reason to conjecture he is not unknown here, and if old report almost forgotten, that you stole your wife is not a fiction, Love united you the same as others. By this Place of Fear this huge void and these vast and silent realms, renew the life-thread of Eurydice. All things are due to you, and though on earth it happens we may tarry a short while, slowly or swiftly we must go to one abode; and it will be our final home. Long and tenaciously you will possess unquestioned mastery of the human race. She also shall be yours to rule, when full of age she shall have lived the days of her allotted years. So I ask of you possession of her few days as a boon. But if the fates deny to me this prayer for my true wife, my constant mind must hold me always so that I can not return — and you may triumph in the death of two!”
While he sang all his heart said to the sound of his sweet lyre, the bloodless ghosts themselves were weeping, and the anxious Tantalus stopped clutching at return-flow of the wave, Ixion’s twisting wheel stood wonder-bound; and Tityus’ liver for a while escaped the vultures, and the listening Belides forgot their sieve-like bowls and even you, O Sisyphus! sat idly on your rock! Then Fame declared that conquered by the song of Orpheus, for the first and only time the hard cheeks of the fierce Eumenides were wet with tears: nor could the royal queen, nor he who rules the lower world deny the prayer of Orpheus; so they called to them Eurydice, who still was held among the new-arriving shades, and she obeyed the call by walking to them with slow steps, yet halting from her wound. So Orpheus then received his wife; and Pluto told him he might now ascend from these Avernian vales up to the light, with his Eurydice; but, if he turned his eyes to look at her, the gift of her delivery would be lost. They picked their way in silence up a steep and gloomy path of darkness. There remained but little more to climb till they would touch earth’s surface, when in fear he might again lose her, and anxious for another look at her, he turned his eyes so he could gaze upon her. Instantly she slipped away. He stretched out to her his despairing arms, eager to rescue her, or feel her form, but could hold nothing save the yielding air. Dying the second time, she could not say a word of censure of her husband’s fault; what had she to complain of—his great love? Her last word spoken was, “Farewell!” which he could barely hear, and with no further sound she fell from him again to Hades.—
Struck quite senseless by this double death of his dear wife, he was as fixed from motion as the frightened one who saw the triple necks of Cerberus, that dog whose middle neck was chained. The sight filled him with terror he had no escape from, until petrified to stone; or like Olenos, changed to stone, because he fastened on himself the guilt of his wife. O unfortunate Lethaea! Too boastful of your beauty, you and he, united once in love, are now two stones upon the mountain Ida, moist with springs. Orpheus implored in vain the ferryman to help him cross the River Styx again, but was denied the very hope of death. Seven days he sat upon Death’s river bank, in squalid misery and without all food—nourished by grief, anxiety, and tears—complaining that the Gods of Erebus were pitiless, at last he wandered back, until he came to lofty Rhodope and Haemus, beaten by the strong north wind.
Three times the Sun completed his full course to watery Pisces, and in all that time, shunning all women, Orpheus still believed his love-pledge was forever. So he kept away from women, though so many grieved, because he took no notice of their love. The only friendship he enjoyed was given to the young men of Thrace.
DEATH OF ORPHEUS
While with his songs, Orpheus, the bard of Thrace, allured the trees, the savage animals, and even the insensate rocks, to follow him; Ciconian matrons, with their raving breasts concealed in skins of forest animals, from the summit of a hill observed him there, attuning love songs to a sounding harp. One of those women, as her tangled hair was tossed upon the light breeze shouted, “See! Here is the poet who has scorned our love!” Then hurled her spear at the melodious mouth of great Apollo’s bard: but the spear’s point, trailing in flight a garland of fresh leaves, made but a harmless bruise and wounded not. The weapon of another was a stone, which in the very air was overpowered by the true harmony of his voice and lyre, and so disabled lay before his feet, as asking pardon for that vain attempt. The madness of such warfare then increased. All moderation is entirely lost, and a wild Fury overcomes the right.—although their weapons would have lost all force, subjected to the power of Orpheus’ harp, the clamorous discord of their boxwood pipes, the blaring of their horns, their tambourines and clapping hands and Bacchanalian yells, with hideous discords drowned his voice and harp.—at last the stones that heard his song no more fell crimson with the Thracian poet’s blood. Before his life was taken, the maenads turned their threatening hands upon the many birds, which still were charmed by Orpheus as he sang, the serpents, and the company of beasts—fabulous audience of that worshipped bard. And then they turned on him their blood-stained hands: and flocked together swiftly, as wild birds, which, by some chance, may see the bird of night beneath the sun. And as the savage dogs rush on the doomed stag, loosed some bright fore-noon, on blood-sand of the amphitheatre; they rushed against the bard, with swift hurled thyrsi which, adorned with emerald leaves had not till then been used for cruelty.
And some threw clods, and others branches torn from trees; and others threw flint stones at him, and, that no lack of weapons might restrain their savage fury then, not far from there by chance they found some oxen which turned up the soil with ploughshares, and in fields nearby were strong-armed peasants, who with eager sweat worked for the harvest as they dug hard fields; and all those peasants, when they saw the troop of frantic women, ran away and left their implements of labor strown upon deserted fields—harrows and heavy rakes and their long spades after the savage mob had seized upon those implements, and torn to pieces oxen armed with threatening horns, they hastened to destroy the harmless bard, devoted Orpheus; and with impious hate, murdered him, while his out-stretched hands implored their mercy—the first and only time his voice had no persuasion. O great Jupiter! Through those same lips which had controlled the rocks and which had overcome ferocious beasts, his life breathed forth, departed in the air.
The mournful birds, the stricken animals, the hard stones and the weeping woods, all these that often had followed your inspiring voice, bewailed your death; while trees dropped their green leaves, mourning for you, as if they tore their hair. They say sad rivers swelled with their own tears—naiads and dryads with dishevelled hair wore garments of dark color. His torn limbs were scattered in strange places. Hebrus then received his head and harp—and, wonderful! While his loved harp was floating down the stream, it mourned for him beyond my power to tell. His tongue though lifeless, uttered a mournful sound and mournfully the river’s banks replied: onward borne by the river to the sea they left their native stream and reached the shore of Lesbos at Methymna. Instantly, a furious serpent rose to attack the head of Orpheus, cast up on that foreign sand—the hair still wet with spray. Phoebus at last appeared and saved the head from that attack: before the serpent could inflict a sting, he drove it off, and hardened its wide jaws to rigid stone.
Meanwhile the fleeting shade of Orpheus had descended under earth: remembering now those regions that he saw when there before, he sought Eurydice through fields frequented by the blest; and when he found her, folded her in eager arms. Then lovingly they wandered side by side, or he would follow when she chose to lead, or at another time he walked in front, looking back, safely,—at Eurydice.
Bacchus (Lyaeus) would not permit the wickedness of those who slaughtered Orpheus to remain unpunished. Grieving for the loss of his loved bard of sacred rites, at once he bound with twisted roots the feet of everyone of those Edonian women who had caused the crime of Orpheus’ death. Their toes grew long. He thrust the sharp points in the solid earth. As when a bird entangled in a snare, hid by the cunning fowler, knows too late that it is held, then vainly beats its wings, and fluttering only makes more tight the noose with every struggle; so each woman-fiend whose feet were sinking in the soil, when she attempted flight, was held by deepening roots. And while she looks down where her toes and nails and feet should be, she sees wood growing up from them and covering all her graceful legs. Full of delirious grief, endeavoring to smite with right hand on her changing thigh, she strikes on solid oak. Her tender breast and shoulders are transformed to rigid oak. You would declare that her extended arms are real branches of a forest tree, and such a thought would be the very truth.
BACCHUS AND MIDAS
And not content with this, Bacchus resolved to leave that land, and with a worthier train went to the vineyards of his own Tmolus and to Pactolus, though the river was not golden, nor admired for precious sands. His usual throng of Satyrs and of Bacchanals surrounded him; but not Silenus, who was then detained from him. The Phrygian folk had captured him, as he was staggering, faint with palsied age and wine. And after they bound him in garlands, they led him to their king Midas, to whom with the Cecropian Eumolpus, Thracian Orpheus had shown all the Bacchic rites. When Midas recognized his old time friend Silenus, who had been so often his companion in the rites of Bacchus, he kept joyful festival, with his old comrade, twice five days and nights. Upon the eleventh day, when Lucifer had dimmed the lofty multitude of stars, King Midas and Silenus went from there joyful together to the Lydian lands. There Midas put Silenus carefully under the care of his loved foster-child, young Bacchus. He with great delight, because he had his foster-father once again, allowed the king to choose his own reward—a welcome offer, but it led to harm. And Midas made this ill-advised reply: “Cause whatsoever I shall touch to change at once to yellow gold.”
Bacchus agreed to his unfortunate request, with grief that Midas chose for harm and not for good. The Berecynthian hero, king of Phrygia, with joy at his misfortune went away, and instantly began to test the worth of Bacchus’ word by touching everything. Doubtful himself of his new power, he pulled a twig down from a holm-oak, growing on a low hung branch. The twig was turned to gold. He lifted up a dark stone from the ground and it turned pale with gold. He touched a clod and by his potent touch the clod became a mass of shining gold. He plucked some ripe, dry spears of grain, and all that wheat he touched was golden. Then he held an apple which he gathered from a tree, and you would think that the Hesperides had given it. If he but touched a lofty door, at once each door-post seemed to glisten. When he washed his hands in liquid streams, the lustrous drops upon his hands might have been those which once astonished Danae. He could not now conceive his large hopes in his grasping mind, as he imagined everything of gold. And, while he was rejoicing in great wealth, his servants set a table for his meal, with many dainties and with needful bread: but when he touched the gift of Ceres with his right hand, instantly the gift of Ceres stiffened to gold; or if he tried to bite with hungry teeth a tender bit of meat, the dainty, as his teeth but touched it, shone at once with yellow shreds and flakes of gold. And wine, another gift of Bacchus, when he mixed it in pure water, can be seen in his astonished mouth as liquid gold.
Confounded by his strange misfortune—rich and wretched—he was anxious to escape from his unhappy wealth. He hated all he had so lately longed for. Plenty could not lessen hunger and no remedy relieved his dry, parched throat. The hated gold tormented him no more than he deserved. Lifting his hands and shining arms to heaven, he moaned. “Oh pardon me, father Lenaeus! I have done wrong, but pity me, I pray, and save me from this curse that looked so fair.” How patient are the gods! Bacchus forthwith, because King Midas had confessed his fault, restored him and annulled the promise given, annulled the favor granted, and he said: “That you may not be always cased in gold, which you unhappily desired, depart to the stream that flows by that great town of Sardis and upward trace its waters, as they glide past Lydian heights, until you find their source. Then, where the spring leaps out from mountain rock, plunge head and body in the snowy foam. At once the flood will take away your curse.” King Midas did as he was told and plunged beneath the water at the river’s source. And the gold virtue granted by the god, as it departed from his body, tinged the stream with gold. And even to this hour adjoining fields, touched by this ancient vein of gold, are hardened where the river flows and colored with the gold that Midas left.
THE MUSICAL CONTEST OF PAN AND APOLLO
Abhorring riches he inhabited the woods and fields, and followed Pan who dwells always in mountain-caves: but still obtuse remained, from which his foolish mind again, by an absurd decision, harmed his life. He followed Pan up to the lofty mount Tmolus, which from its great height looks far across the sea. Steep and erect it stands between great Sardis and the small Hypaepa. While Pan was boasting there to mountain nymphs of his great skill in music, and while he was warbling a gay tune upon the reeds, cemented with soft wax, in his conceit he dared to boast to them how he despised Apollo’s music when compared with his—. At last to prove it, he agreed to stand against Apollo in a contest which it was agreed should be decided by Tmolus as their umpire. This old god sat down on his own mountain, and first eased his ears of many mountain growing trees, oak leaves were wreathed upon his azure hair and acorns from his hollow temples hung. First to the Shepherd-god Tmolus spoke: “My judgment shall be yours with no delay.” Pan made some rustic sounds on his rough reeds, delighting Midas with his uncouth notes; for Midas chanced to be there when he played. When Pan had ceased, divine Tmolus turned to Phoebus, and the forest likewise turned just as he moved. Apollo’s golden locks were richly wreathed with fresh Parnassian laurel; his robe of Tyrian purple swept the ground; his left hand held his lyre, adorned with gems and Indian ivory. His right hand held the plectrum—as an artist he stood there before Tmolus, while his skilful thumb touching the strings made charming melody. Delighted with Apollo’s artful touch, Tmolus ordered Pan to hold his reeds excelled by beauty of Apollo’s lyre.
That judgment of the sacred mountain god pleased all those present, all but Midas, who blaming Tmolus called the award unjust. The Delian god forbids his stupid ears to hold their native human shape; and, drawing them out to a hideous length, he fills them with gray hairs, and makes them both unsteady, wagging at the lower part: still human, only this one part condemned, Midas had ears of a slow-moving ass. Midas, careful to hide his long ears, wore a purple turban over both, which hid his foul disgrace from laughter. But one day a servant, who was chosen to cut his hair with steel, when it was long, saw his disgrace. He did not dare reveal what he had seen, but eager, to disclose the secret, dug a shallow hole, and in a low voice told what kind of ears were on his master’s head. All this he whispered in the hollow earth he dug, and then he buried all he said by throwing back the loose earth in the hole so everything was silent when he left. A grove thick set with quivering reeds began to grow there, and when it matured, about twelve months after that servant left, the grove betrayed its planter. For, moved by a gentle South Wind, it repeated all the words which he had whispered, and disclosed from earth the secret of his master’s ears.
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