The Story of Nisus and Scylla
Now shone the morning star in bright array,
To vanquish night, and usher in the day:
The wind veers southward, and moist clouds arise,
That blot with shades the blue meridian skies.
Cephalus feels with joy the kindly gales,
His new allies unfurl the swelling sails;
Steady their course, they cleave the yielding main,
And, with a wish, th’ intended harbour gain.
Mean-while King Minos, on the Attick strand,
Displays his martial skill, and wastes the land.
His army lies encampt upon the plains,
Before Alcathoe’s walls, where Nisus reigns;
On whose grey head a lock of purple hue,
The strength, and fortune of his kingdom, grew.
Six moons were gone, and past, when still from far
Victoria hover’d o’er the doubtful war.
So long, to both inclin’d, th’ impartial maid
Between ‘em both her equal wings display’d.
High on the walls, by Phoebus vocal made,
A turret of the palace rais’d its head;
And where the God his tuneful harp resign’d.
The sound within the stones still lay enshrin’d:
Hither the daughter of the purple king
Ascended oft, to hear its musick ring;
And, striking with a pebble, wou’d release
Th’ enchanted notes, in times of happy peace.
But now, from thence, the curious maid beheld
Rough feats of arms, and combats of the field:
And, since the siege was long, had learnt the name
Of ev’ry chief, his character, and fame;
Their arms, their horse, and quiver she descry’d,
Nor cou’d the dress of war the warriour hide.
Europa’s son she knew above the rest,
And more, than well became a virgin breast:
In vain the crested morion veils his face,
She thinks it adds a more peculiar grace:
His ample shield, embost with burnish’d gold,
Still makes the bearer lovelier to behold:
When the tough jav’lin, with a whirl, he sends,
His strength and skill the sighing maid commends;
Or, when he strains to draw the circling bow,
And his fine limbs a manly posture show,
Compar’d with Phoebus, he performs so well,
Let her be judge, and Minos shall excell.
But when the helm put off, display’d to sight,
And set his features in an open light;
When, vaulting to his seat, his steed he prest,
Caparison’d in gold, and richly drest;
Himself in scarlet sumptuously array’d,
New passions rise, and fire the frantick maid.
O happy spear! she cries, that feels his touch;
Nay, ev’n the reins he holds are blest too much.
Oh! were it lawful, she cou’d wing her way
Thro’ the stern hostile troops without dismay;
Or throw her body to the distant ground,
And in the Cretans happy camp be found.
Wou’d Minos but desire it! she’d expose
Her native country to her country’s foes;
Unbar the gates, the town with flames infest,
Or any thing that Minos shou’d request.
And as she sate, and pleas’d her longing sight,
Viewing the king’s pavilion veil’d with white,
Shou’d joy, or grief, she said, possess my breast,
To see my country by a war opprest?
I’m in suspense! For, tho’ ’tis grief to know
I love a man that is declar’d my foe;
Yet, in my own despite, I must approve
That lucky war, which brought the man I love.
Yet, were I tender’d as a pledge of peace,
The cruelties of war might quickly cease.
Oh! with what joy I’d wear the chains he gave!
A patient hostage, and a willing slave.
Thou lovely object! if the nymph that bare
Thy charming person, were but half so fair;
Well might a God her virgin bloom desire,
And with a rape indulge his amorous fire.
Oh! had I wings to glide along the air,
To his dear tent I’d fly, and settle there:
There tell my quality, confess my flame,
And grant him any dowry that he’d name.
All, all I’d give; only my native land,
My dearest country, shou’d excepted stand,
For, perish love, and all expected joys,
E’re, with so base a thought, my soul complies.
Yet, oft the vanquish’d some advantage find,
When conquer’d by a noble, gen’rous mind.
Brave Minos justly has the war begun,
Fir’d with resentment for his murder’d son:
The righteous Gods a righteous cause regard,
And will, with victory, his arms reward:
We must be conquer’d; and the captive’s fate
Will surely seize us, tho’ it seize us late.
Why then shou’d love be idle, and neglect
What Mars, by arms and perils, will effect?
Oh! Prince, I dye, with anxious fear opprest,
Lest some rash hand shou’d wound my charmer’s breast:
For, if they saw, no barb’rous mind cou’d dare
Against that lovely form to raise a spear.
But I’m resolv’d, and fix’d in this decree,
My father’s country shall my dowry be.
Thus I prevent the loss of life and blood,
And, in effect, the action must be good.
Vain resolution! for, at ev’ry gate
The trusty centinels, successive, wait:
The keys my father keeps; ah! there’s my grief;
‘Tis he obstructs all hopes of my relief.
Gods! that this hated light I’d never seen!
Or, all my life, without a father been!
But Gods we all may be; for those that dare,
Are Gods, and Fortune’s chiefest favours share.
The ruling Pow’rs a lazy pray’r detest,
The bold adventurer succeeds the best.
What other maid, inspir’d with such a flame,
But wou’d take courage, and abandon shame?
But wou’d, tho’ ruin shou’d ensue, remove
Whate’er oppos’d, and clear the way to love?
This, shall another’s feeble passion dare?
While I sit tame, and languish in despair:
No; for tho’ fire and sword before me lay,
Impatient love thro’ both shou’d force its way.
Yet I have no such enemies to fear,
My sole obstruction is my father’s hair;
His purple lock my sanguine hope destroys,
And clouds the prospect of my rising joys.
Whilst thus she spoke, amid the thick’ning air
Night supervenes, the greatest nurse of care:
And, as the Goddess spreads her sable wings,
The virgin’s fears decay, and courage springs.
The hour was come, when Man’s o’er-labour’d breast
Surceas’d its care, by downy sleep possest:
All things now hush’d, Scylla with silent tread
Urg’d her approach to Nisus’ royal bed:
There, of the fatal lock (accursed theft!)
She her unwitting father’s head bereft.
In safe possession of her impious prey,
Out at a postern gate she takes her way.
Embolden’d, by the merit of the deed
She traverses the adverse camp with speed,
‘Till Minos’ tent she reach’d: the righteous king
She thus bespoke, who shiver’d at the thing.
Behold th’ effect of love’s resistless sway!
I, Nisus’ royal seed, to thee betray
My country, and my Gods. For this strange task,
Minos, no other boon but thee I ask.
This purple lock, a pledge of love, receive;
No worthless present, since in it I give
My father’s head.- Mov’d at a crime so new,
And with abhorrence fill’d, back Minos drew,
Nor touch’d th’ unhallow’d gift; but thus exclaim’d
(With mein indignant, and with eyes inflam’d),
Perdition seize thee, thou, thy kind’s disgrace!
May thy devoted carcass find no place
In earth, or air, or sea, by all out-cast!
Shall Minos, with so foul a monster, blast
His Cretan world, where cradled Jove was nurst?
Forbid it Heav’n!- away, thou most accurst!
And now Alcathoe, its lord exchang’d,
Was under Minos’ domination rang’d.
While the most equal king his care applies
To curb the conquer’d, and new laws devise,
The fleet, by his command, with hoisted sails,
And ready oars, invites the murm’ring gales.
At length the Cretan hero anchor weigh’d,
Repaying, with neglect, th’ abandon’d maid.
Deaf to her cries, he furrows up the main:
In vain she prays, sollicits him in vain.
And now she furious grows in wild despair,
She wrings her hands, and throws aloft her hair.
Where run’st thou? (thus she vents her deep distress)
Why shun’st thou her that crown’d thee with success?
Her, whose fond love to thee cou’d sacrifice
Her country, and her parent, sacred ties!
Can nor my love, nor proffer’d presents find
A passage to thy heart, and make thee kind?
Can nothing move thy pity? O ingrate,
Can’st thou behold my lost, forlorn estate,
And not be soften’d? Can’st thou throw off one
Who has no refuge left but thee alone?
Where shall I seek for comfort? whither fly?
My native country does in ashes lye:
Or were’t not so, my treason bars me there,
And bids me wander. Shall I next repair
To a wrong’d father, by my guilt undone?-
Me all Mankind deservedly will shun.
I, out of all the world, my self have thrown,
To purchase an access to Crete alone;
Which, since refus’d, ungen’rous man, give o’er
To boast thy race; Europa never bore
A thing so savage. Thee some tygress bred,
On the bleak Syrt’s inhospitable bed;
Or where Charybdis pours its rapid tide
Tempestuous. Thou art not to Jove ally’d;
Nor did the king of Gods thy mother meet
Beneath a bull’s forg’d shape, and bear to Crete.
That fable of thy glorious birth is feign’d;
Some wild outrageous bull thy dam sustain’d.
O father Nisus, now my death behold;
Exult, o city, by my baseness sold:
Minos, obdurate, has aveng’d ye all;
But ’twere more just by those I wrong’d to fall:
For why shou’dst thou, who only didst subdue
By my offending, my offence pursue?
Well art thou matcht to one whose am’rous flame
Too fiercely rag’d, for human-kind to tame;
One who, within a wooden heifer thrust,
Courted a low’ring bull’s mistaken lust;
And, from whose monster-teeming womb, the Earth
Receiv’d, what much it mourn’d, a bi-form birth.
But what avails my plaints? the whistling wind,
Which bears him far away, leaves them behind.
Well weigh’d Pasiphae, when she prefer’d
A bull to thee, more brutish than the herd.
But ah! Time presses, and the labour’d oars
To distance drive the fleet, and lose the less’ning shores.
Think not, ungrateful man, the liquid way
And threat’ning billows shall inforce my stay.
I’ll follow thee in spite: My arms I’ll throw
Around thy oars, or grasp thy crooked prow,
And drag thro’ drenching seas. Her eager tongue
Had hardly clos’d the speech, when forth she sprung
And prov’d the deep. Cupid with added force
Recruits each nerve, and aids her wat’ry course.
Soon she the ship attains, unwelcome guest;
And, as with close embrace its sides she prest,
A hawk from upper air came pouring down
(‘Twas Nisus cleft the sky with wings new grown).
At Scylla’s head his horny bill he aims;
She, fearful of the blow, the ship disclaims,
Quitting her hold: and yet she fell not far,
But wond’ring, finds her self sustain’d in air.
Chang’d to a lark, she mottled pinions shook,
And, from the ravish’d lock, the name of Ciris took.
Now Minos, landed on the Cretan shore,
Performs his vows to Jove’s protecting pow’r;
A hundred bullocks of the largest breed,
With flowrets crown’d, before his altar bleed:
While trophies of the vanquish’d, brought from far
Adorn the palace with the spoils of war.
Mean-while the monster of a human-beast,
His family’s reproach, and stain, increas’d.
His double kind the rumour swiftly spread,
And evidenc’d the mother’s beastly deed.
When Minos, willing to conceal the shame
That sprung from the reports of tatling Fame,
Resolves a dark inclosure to provide,
And, far from sight, the two-form’d creature hide.
Great Daedalus of Athens was the man
That made the draught, and form’d the wondrous plan;
Where rooms within themselves encircled lye,
With various windings, to deceive the eye.
As soft Maeander’s wanton current plays,
When thro’ the Phrygian fields it loosely strays;
Backward and forward rouls the dimpl’d tide,
Seeming, at once, two different ways to glide:
While circling streams their former banks survey,
And waters past succeeding waters see:
Now floating to the sea with downward course,
Now pointing upward to its ancient source,
Such was the work, so intricate the place,
That scarce the workman all its turns cou’d trace;
And Daedalus was puzzled how to find
The secret ways of what himself design’d.
These private walls the Minotaur include,
Who twice was glutted with Athenian blood:
But the third tribute more successful prov’d,
Slew the foul monster, and the plague remov’d.
When Theseus, aided by the virgin’s art,
Had trac’d the guiding thread thro’ ev’ry part,
He took the gentle maid, that set him free,
And, bound for Dias, cut the briny sea.
There, quickly cloy’d, ungrateful, and unkind,
Left his fair consort in the isle behind,
Whom Bacchus saw, and straining in his arms
Her rifled bloom, and violated charms,
Resolves, for this, the dear engaging dame
Shou’d shine for ever in the rolls of Fame;
And bids her crown among the stars be plac’d,
With an eternal constellation grac’d.
The golden circlet mounts; and, as it flies,
Its diamonds twinkle in the distant skies;
There, in their pristin form, the gemmy rays
Between Alcides, and the dragon blaze.
The Story of Daedalus and Icarus
In tedious exile now too long detain’d,
Daedalus languish’d for his native land:
The sea foreclos’d his flight; yet thus he said:
Tho’ Earth and water in subjection laid,
O cruel Minos, thy dominion be,
We’ll go thro’ air; for sure the air is free.
Then to new arts his cunning thought applies,
And to improve the work of Nature tries.
A row of quils in gradual order plac’d,
Rise by degrees in length from first to last;
As on a cliff th’ ascending thicket grows,
Or, different reeds the rural pipe compose.
Along the middle runs a twine of flax,
The bottom stems are joyn’d by pliant wax.
Thus, well compact, a hollow bending brings
The fine composure into real wings.
His boy, young Icarus, that near him stood,
Unthinking of his fate, with smiles pursu’d
The floating feathers, which the moving air
Bore loosely from the ground, and wasted here and there.
Or with the wax impertinently play’d,
And with his childish tricks the great design delay’d.
The final master-stroke at last impos’d,
And now, the neat machine compleatly clos’d;
Fitting his pinions on, a flight he tries,
And hung self-ballanc’d in the beaten skies.
Then thus instructs his child: My boy, take care
To wing your course along the middle air;
If low, the surges wet your flagging plumes;
If high, the sun the melting wax consumes:
Steer between both: nor to the northern skies,
Nor south Orion turn your giddy eyes;
But follow me: let me before you lay
Rules for the flight, and mark the pathless way.
Then teaching, with a fond concern, his son,
He took the untry’d wings, and fix’d ‘em on;
But fix’d with trembling hands; and as he speaks,
The tears roul gently down his aged cheeks.
Then kiss’d, and in his arms embrac’d him fast,
But knew not this embrace must be the last.
And mounting upward, as he wings his flight,
Back on his charge he turns his aking sight;
As parent birds, when first their callow care
Leave the high nest to tempt the liquid air.
Then chears him on, and oft, with fatal art,
Reminds the stripling to perform his part.
These, as the angler at the silent brook,
Or mountain-shepherd leaning on his crook,
Or gaping plowman, from the vale descries,
They stare, and view ‘em with religious eyes,
And strait conclude ‘em Gods; since none, but they,
Thro’ their own azure skies cou’d find a way.
Now Delos, Paros on the left are seen,
And Samos, favour’d by Jove’s haughty queen;
Upon the right, the isle Lebynthos nam’d,
And fair Calymne for its honey fam’d.
When now the boy, whose childish thoughts aspire
To loftier aims, and make him ramble high’r,
Grown wild, and wanton, more embolden’d flies
Far from his guide, and soars among the skies.
The soft’ning wax, that felt a nearer sun,
Dissolv’d apace, and soon began to run.
The youth in vain his melting pinions shakes,
His feathers gone, no longer air he takes:
Oh! Father, father, as he strove to cry,
Down to the sea he tumbled from on high,
And found his Fate; yet still subsists by fame,
Among those waters that retain his name.
The father, now no more a father, cries,
Ho Icarus! where are you? as he flies;
Where shall I seek my boy? he cries again,
And saw his feathers scatter’d on the main.
Then curs’d his art; and fun’ral rites confer’d,
Naming the country from the youth interr’d.
A partridge, from a neighb’ring stump, beheld
The sire his monumental marble build;
Who, with peculiar call, and flutt’ring wing,
Chirpt joyful, and malicious seem’d to sing:
The only bird of all its kind, and late
Transform’d in pity to a feather’d state:
From whence, O Daedalus, thy guilt we date.
His sister’s son, when now twelve years were past,
Was, with his uncle, as a scholar plac’d;
The unsuspecting mother saw his parts,
And genius fitted for the finest arts.
This soon appear’d; for when the spiny bone
In fishes’ backs was by the stripling known,
A rare invention thence he learnt to draw,
Fil’d teeth in ir’n, and made the grating saw.
He was the first, that from a knob of brass
Made two strait arms with widening stretch to pass;
That, while one stood upon the center’s place,
The other round it drew a circling space.
Daedalus envy’d this, and from the top
Of fair Minerva’s temple let him drop;
Feigning, that, as he lean’d upon the tow’r,
Careless he stoop’d too much, and tumbled o’er.
The Goddess, who th’ ingenious still befriends,
On this occasion her asssistance lends;
His arms with feathers, as he fell, she veils,
And in the air a new made bird he sails.
The quickness of his genius, once so fleet,
Still in his wings remains, and in his feet:
Still, tho’ transform’d, his ancient name he keeps,
And with low flight the new-shorn stubble sweeps,
Declines the lofty trees, and thinks it best
To brood in hedge-rows o’er its humble nest;
And, in remembrance of the former ill,
Avoids the heights, and precipices still.
At length, fatigu’d with long laborious flights,
On fair Sicilia’s plains the artist lights;
Where Cocalus the king, that gave him aid,
Was, for his kindness, with esteem repaid.
Athens no more her doleful tribute sent,
That hardship gallant Theseus did prevent;
Their temples hung with garlands, they adore
Each friendly God, but most Minerva’s pow’r:
To her, to Jove, to all, their altars smoak,
They each with victims, and perfumes invoke.
Now talking Fame, thro’ every Grecian town,
Had spread, immortal Theseus, thy renown.
From him the neighb’ring nations in distress,
In suppliant terms implore a kind redress.
The Story of Meleager and Atalanta
From him the Caledonians sought relief;
Though valiant Meleagros was their chief.
The cause, a boar, who ravag’d far and near:
Of Cynthia’s wrath, th’ avenging minister.
For Oeneus with autumnal plenty bless’d,
By gifts to Heav’n his gratitude express’d:
Cull’d sheafs, to Ceres; to Lyaeus, wine;
To Pan, and Pales, offer’d sheep and kine;
And fat of olives, to Minerva’s shrine.
Beginning from the rural Gods, his hand
Was lib’ral to the Pow’rs of high command:
Each deity in ev’ry kind was bless’d,
‘Till at Diana’s fane th’ invidious honour ceas’d.
Wrath touches ev’n the Gods; the Queen of Night,
Fir’d with disdain, and jealous of her right,
Unhonour’d though I am, at least, said she,
Not unreveng’d that impious act shall be.
Swift as the word, she sped the boar away,
With charge on those devoted fields to prey.
No larger bulls th’ Aegyptian pastures feed,
And none so large Sicilian meadows breed:
His eye-balls glare with fire suffus’d with blood;
His neck shoots up a thick-set thorny wood;
His bristled back a trench impal’d appears,
And stands erected, like a field of spears;
Froth fills his chaps, he sends a grunting sound,
And part he churns, and part befoams the ground,
For tusks with Indian elephants he strove,
And Jove’s own thunder from his mouth he drove.
He burns the leaves; the scorching blast invades
The tender corn, and shrivels up the blades:
Or suff’ring not their yellow beards to rear,
He tramples down the spikes, and intercepts the year:
In vain the barns expect their promis’d load,
Nor barns at home, nor recks are heap’d abroad:
In vain the hinds the threshing-floor prepare,
And exercise their flail in empty air.
With olives ever-green the ground is strow’d,
And grapes ungather’d shed their gen’rous blood.
Amid the fold he rages, nor the sheep
Their shepherds, nor the grooms their bulls can keep.
From fields to walls the frighted rabble run,
Nor think themselves secure within the town:
‘Till Meleagros, and his chosen crew,
Contemn the danger, and the praise pursue.
Fair Leda’s twins (in time to stars decreed)
One fought on foot, one curb’d the fiery steed;
Then issu’d forth fam’d Jason after these,
Who mann’d the foremost ship that sail’d the seas;
Then Theseus join’d with bold Perithous came;
A single concord in a double name:
The Thestian sons, Idas who swiftly ran,
And Ceneus, once a woman, now a man.
Lynceus, with eagle’s eyes, and lion’s heart;
Leucippus, with his never-erring dart;
Acastus, Phileus, Phoenix, Telamon,
Echion, Lelix, and Eurytion,
Achilles’ father, and great Phocus’ son;
Dryas the fierce, and Hippasus the strong;
With twice old Iolas, and Nestor then but young.
Laertes active, and Ancaeus bold;
Mopsus the sage, who future things foretold;
And t’ other seer, yet by his wife unsold.
A thousand others of immortal fame;
Among the rest, fair Atalanta came,
Grace of the woods: a diamond buckle bound
Her vest behind, that else had flow’d upon the ground,
And shew’d her buskin’d legs; her head was bare,
But for her native ornament of hair;
Which in a simple knot was ty’d above,
Sweet negligence! unheeded bait of love!
Her sounding quiver, on her shoulder ty’d,
One hand a dart, and one a bow supply’d.
Such was her face, as in a nymph display’d
A fair fierce boy, or in a boy betray’d
The blushing beauties of a modest maid.
The Caledonian chief at once the dame
Beheld, at once his heart receiv’d the flame,
With Heav’ns averse. O happy youth, he cry’d;
For whom thy fates reserve so fair a bride!
He sigh’d, and had no leisure more to say;
His honour call’d his eyes another way,
And forc’d him to pursue the now-neglected prey.
There stood a forest on a mountain’s brow,
Which over-look’d the shaded plains below.
No sounding ax presum’d those trees to bite;
Coeval with the world, a venerable sight.
The heroes there arriv’d, some spread around
The toils; some search the footsteps on the ground:
Some from the chains the faithful dogs unbound.
Of action eager, and intent in thought,
The chiefs their honourable danger sought:
A valley stood below; the common drain
Of waters from above, and falling rain:
The bottom was a moist, and marshy ground,
Whose edges were with bending oziers crown’d:
The knotty bulrush next in order stood,
And all within of reeds a trembling wood.
From hence the boar was rous’d, and sprung amain,
Like lightning sudden, on the warrior train;
Beats down the trees before him, shakes the ground.
The forest echoes to the crackling sound;
Shout the fierce youth, and clamours ring around.
All stood with their protended spears prepar’d,
With broad steel heads the brandish’d weapons glar’d.
The beast impetuous with his tusks aside
Deals glancing wounds; the fearful dogs divide:
All spend their mouths aloof, but none abide.
Echion threw the first, but miss’d his mark,
And stuck his boar-spear on a maple’s bark.
Then Jason; and his javelin seem’d to take,
But fail’d with over-force, and whiz’d above his back.
Mopsus was next; but e’er he threw, address’d
To Phoebus, thus: O patron, help thy priest:
If I adore, and ever have ador’d
Thy pow’r divine, thy present aid afford;
That I may reach the beast. The God allow’d
His pray’r, and smiling, gave him what he cou’d:
He reach’d the savage, but no blood he drew:
Dian unarm’d the javelin, as it flew.
This chaf’d the boar, his nostrils flames expire,
And his red eye-balls roul with living fire.
Whirl’d from a sling, or from an engine thrown,
Amid the foes, so flies a mighty stone,
As flew the beast: the left wing put to flight,
The chiefs o’er-born, he rushes on the right.
Eupalamos and Pelagon he laid
In dust, and next to death, but for their fellows’ aid.
Onesimus far’d worse, prepar’d to fly,
The fatal fang drove deep within his thigh,
And cut the nerves: the nerves no more sustain
The bulk; the bulk unprop’d, falls headlong on the plain.
Nestor had fail’d the fall of Troy to see,
But leaning on his lance, he vaulted on a tree;
Then gath’ring up his feet, look’d down with fear,
And thought his monstrous foe was still too near.
Against a stump his tusk the monster grinds,
And in the sharpen’d edge new vigour finds;
Then, trusting to his arms, young Othrys found,
And ranch’d his hips with one continu’d wound.
Now Leda’s twins, the future stars, appear;
White were their habits, white their horses were:
Conspicuous both, and both in act to throw,
Their trembling lances brandish’d at the foe:
Nor had they miss’d; but he to thickets fled,
Conceal’d from aiming spears, not pervious to the steed.
But Telamon rush’d in, and happ’d to meet
A rising root, that held his fastned feet;
So down he fell, whom, sprawling on the ground,
His brother from the wooden gyves unbound.
Mean-time the virgin-huntress was not slow
T’ expel the shaft from her contracted bow:
Beneath his ear the fastned arrow stood,
And from the wound appear’d the trickling blood.
She blush’d for joy: but Meleagros rais’d
His voice with loud applause, and the fair archer prais’d.
He was the first to see, and first to show
His friends the marks of the successful blow.
Nor shall thy valour want the praises due,
He said; a virtuous envy seiz’d the crew.
They shout; the shouting animates their hearts,
And all at once employ their thronging darts:
But out of order thrown, in air they joyn,
And multitude makes frustrate the design.
With both his hands the proud Ancaeus takes,
And flourishes his double-biting ax:
Then, forward to his fate, he took a stride
Before the rest, and to his fellows cry’d,
Give place, and mark the diff’rence, if you can,
Between a woman warrior, and a man,
The boar is doom’d; nor though Diana lend
Her aid, Diana can her beast defend.
Thus boasted he; then stretch’d, on tiptoe stood,
Secure to make his empty promise good.
But the more wary beast prevents the blow,
And upward rips the groin of his audacious foe.
Ancaeus falls; his bowels from the wound
Rush out, and clotted blood distains the ground.
Perithous, no small portion of the war,
Press’d on, and shook his lance: to whom from far
Thus Theseus cry’d; O stay, my better part,
My more than mistress; of my heart, the heart.
The strong may fight aloof; Ancaeus try’d
His force too near, and by presuming dy’d:
He said, and while he spake his javelin threw,
Hissing in air th’ unerring weapon flew;
But on an arm of oak, that stood betwixt
The marks-man and the mark, his lance he fixt.
Once more bold Jason threw, but fail’d to wound
The boar, and slew an undeserving hound,
And thro’ the dog the dart was nail’d to ground.
Two spears from Meleager’s hand were sent,
With equal force, but various in th’ event:
The first was fix’d in earth, the second stood
On the boar’s bristled back, and deeply drank his blood.
Now while the tortur’d savage turns around,
And flings about his foam, impatient of the wound,
The wound’s great author close at hand provokes
His rage, and plies him with redoubled strokes;
Wheels, as he wheels; and with his pointed dart
Explores the nearest passage to his heart.
Quick, and more quick he spins in giddy gires,
Then falls, and in much foam his soul expires.
This act with shouts heav’n-high the friendly band
Applaud, and strain in theirs the victor’s hand.
Then all approach the slain with vast surprize,
Admire on what a breadth of earth he lies,
And scarce secure, reach out their spears afar,
And blood their points, to prove their partnership of war.
But he, the conqu’ring chief, his foot impress’d
On the strong neck of that destructive beast;
And gazing on the nymph with ardent eyes,
Accept, said he, fair Nonacrine, my prize,
And, though inferior, suffer me to join
My labours, and my part of praise, with thine:
At this presents her with the tusky head
And chine, with rising bristles roughly spread.
Glad she receiv’d the gift; and seem’d to take
With double pleasure, for the giver’s sake.
The rest were seiz’d with sullen discontent,
And a deaf murmur through the squadron went:
All envy’d; but the Thestyan brethren show’d
The least respect, and thus they vent their spleen aloud:
Lay down those honour’d spoils, nor think to share,
Weak woman as thou art, the prize of war:
Ours is the title, thine a foreign claim,
Since Meleagrus from our lineage came.
Trust not thy beauty; but restore the prize,
Which he, besotted on that face, and eyes,
Would rend from us: at this, enflam’d with spite,
From her they snatch the gift, from him the giver’s right.
But soon th’ impatient prince his fauchion drew,
And cry’d, Ye robbers of another’s due,
Now learn the diff’rence, at your proper cost,
Betwixt true valour, and an empty boast.
At this advanc’d, and sudden as the word,
In proud Plexippus’ bosom plung’d the sword:
Toxeus amaz’d, and with amazement slow,
Or to revenge, or ward the coming blow,
Stood doubting; and while doubting thus he stood,
Receiv’d the steel bath’d in his brother’s blood.
Pleas’d with the first, unknown the second news;
Althaea to the temples pays their dues
For her son’s conquest; when at length appear
Her grisly brethren stretch’d upon the bier:
Pale at the sudden sight, she chang’d her cheer,
And with her cheer her robes; but hearing tell
The cause, the manner, and by whom they fell,
‘Twas grief no more, or grief and rage were one
Within her soul; at last ’twas rage alone;
Which burning upwards in succession, dries
The tears, that stood consid’ring in her eyes.
There lay a log unlighted on the hearth,
When she was lab’ring in the throws of birth
For th’ unborn chief; the fatal sisters came,
And rais’d it up, and toss’d it on the flame:
Then on the rock a scanty measure place
Of vital flax, and turn’d the wheel apace;
And turning sung, To this red brand and thee,
O new born babe, we give an equal destiny;
So vanish’d out of view. The frighted dame
Sprung hasty from her bed, and quench’d the flame:
The log, in secret lock’d, she kept with care,
And that, while thus preserv’d, preserv’d her heir.
This brand she now produc’d; and first she strows
The hearth with heaps of chips, and after blows;
Thrice heav’d her hand, and heav’d, she thrice repress’d:
The sister and the mother long contest,
Two doubtful titles, in one tender breast:
And now her eyes, and cheeks with fury glow,
Now pale her cheeks, her eyes with pity flow:
Now low’ring looks presage approaching storms,
And now prevailing love her face reforms:
Resolv’d, she doubts again; the tears she dry’d
With burning rage, are by new tears supply’d;
And as a ship, which winds and waves assail
Now with the current drives, now with the gale,
Both opposite, and neither long prevail:
She feels a double force, by turns obeys
Th’ imperious tempest, and th’ impetuous seas:
So fares Althaea’s mind, she first relents
With pity, of that pity then repents:
Sister, and mother long the scales divide,
But the beam nodded on the sister’s side.
Sometimes she softly sigh’d, then roar’d aloud;
But sighs were stifled in the cries of blood.
The pious, impious wretch at length decreed,
To please her brothers’ ghost, her son should bleed:
And when the fun’ral flames began to rise,
Receive, she said, a sister’s sacrifice;
A mother’s bowels burn: high in her hand,
Thus while she spoke, she held the fatal brand;
Then thrice before the kindled pile she bow’d,
And the three Furies thrice invok’d aloud:
Come, come, revenging sisters, come, and view
A sister paying her dead brothers due:
A crime I punish, and a crime commit;
But blood for blood, and death for death is fit:
Great crimes must be with greater crimes repaid,
And second fun’rals on the former laid.
Let the whole houshold in one ruin fall,
And may Diana’s curse o’ertake us all.
Shall Fate to happy Oenus still allow
One son, while Thestius stands depriv’d of two?
Better three lost, than one unpunish’d go.
Take then, dear ghosts (while yet admitted new
In Hell you wait my duty), take your due:
A costly off’ring on your tomb is laid,
When with my blood the price of yours is paid.
Ah! whither am I hurry’d? Ah! forgive,
Ye shades, and let your sister’s issue live;
A mother cannot give him death; tho’ he
Deserves it, he deserves it not from me.
Then shall th’ unpunish’d wretch insult the slain,
Triumphant live, nor only live, but reign?
While you, thin shades, the sport of winds, are tost
O’er dreary plains, or tread the burning coast.
I cannot, cannot bear; ’tis past, ’tis done;
Perish this impious, this detested son:
Perish his sire, and perish I withal;
And let the house’s heir, and the hop’d kingdom fall.
Where is the mother fled, her pious love,
And where the pains with which ten months I strove!
Ah! had’st thou dy’d, my son, in infant years,
Thy little herse had been bedew’d with tears.
Thou liv’st by me; to me thy breath resign;
Mine is the merit, the demerit thine.
Thy life by double title I require;
Once giv’n at birth, and once preserv’d from fire:
One murder pay, or add one murder more,
And me to them who fell by thee restore.
I would, but cannot: my son’s image stands
Before my sight; and now their angry hands
My brothers hold, and vengeance these exact;
This pleads compassion, and repents the fact.
He pleads in vain, and I pronounce his doom:
My brothers, though unjustly, shall o’ercome.
But having paid their injur’d ghosts their due,
My son requires my death, and mine shall his pursue.
At this, for the last time, she lifts her hand,
Averts her eyes, and, half unwilling, drops the brand.
The brand, amid the flaming fewel thrown,
Or drew, or seem’d to draw, a dying groan;
The fires themselves but faintly lick’d their prey,
Then loath’d their impious food, and would have shrunk away.
Just then the heroe cast a doleful cry,
And in those absent flames began to fry:
The blind contagion rag’d within his veins;
But he with manly patience bore his pains:
He fear’d not Fate, but only griev’d to die
Without an honest wound, and by a death so dry.
Happy Ancaeus, thrice aloud he cry’d,
With what becoming fate in arms he dy’d!
Then call’d his brothers, sisters, sire around,
And, her to whom his nuptial vows were bound,
Perhaps his mother; a long sigh she drew,
And his voice failing, took his last adieu.
For as the flames augment, and as they stay
At their full height, then languish to decay,
They rise and sink by fits; at last they soar
In one bright blaze, and then descend no more:
Just so his inward heats, at height, impair,
‘Till the last burning breath shoots out the soul in air.
Now lofty Calidon in ruins lies;
All ages, all degrees unsluice their eyes,
And Heav’n, and Earth resound with murmurs, groans, and cries.
Matrons and maidens beat their breasts, and tear
Their habits, and root up their scatter’d hair:
The wretched father, father now no more,
With sorrow sunk, lies prostrate on the floor,
Deforms his hoary locks with dust obscene,
And curses age, and loaths a life prolong’d with pain.
By steel her stubborn soul his mother freed,
And punish’d on her self her impious deed.
Had I a hundred tongues, a wit so large
As could their hundred offices discharge;
Had Phoebus all his Helicon bestow’d
In all the streams, inspiring all the God;
Those tongues, that wit, those streams, that God in vain
Would offer to describe his sisters’ pain:
They beat their breasts with many a bruizing blow,
‘Till they turn livid, and corrupt the snow.
The corps they cherish, while the corps remains,
And exercise, and rub with fruitless pains;
And when to fun’ral flames ’tis born away,
They kiss the bed on which the body lay:
And when those fun’ral flames no longer burn
(The dust compos’d within a pious urn),
Ev’n in that urn their brother they confess,
And hug it in their arms, and to their bosoms press.
His tomb is rais’d; then, stretch’d along the ground,
Those living monuments his tomb surround:
Ev’n to his name, inscrib’d, their tears they pay,
‘Till tears, and kisses wear his name away.
But Cynthia now had all her fury spent,
Not with less ruin than a race content:
Excepting Gorge, perish’d all the seed,
And her whom Heav’n for Hercules decreed.
Satiate at last, no longer she pursu’d
The weeping sisters; but With Wings endu’d,
And horny beaks, and sent to flit in air;
Who yearly round the tomb in feather’d flocks repair.
The Transformation of the Naiads
Theseus mean-while acquitting well his share
In the bold chace confed’rate like a war,
To Athens’ lofty tow’rs his march ordain’d,
By Pallas lov’d, and where Erectheus reign’d.
But Achelous stop’d him on the way,
By rains a deluge, and constrain’d his stay.
O fam’d for glorious deeds, and great by blood,
Rest here, says he, nor trust the rapid flood;
It solid oaks has from its margin tore,
And rocky fragments down its current bore,
The murmur hoarse, and terrible the roar.
Oft have I seen herds with their shelt’ring fold
Forc’d from the banks, and in the torrent roul’d;
Nor strength the bulky steer from ruin freed,
Nor matchless swiftness sav’d the racing steed.
In cataracts when the dissolving snow
Falls from the hills, and floods the plains below;
Toss’d by the eddies with a giddy round,
Strong youths are in the sucking whirlpools drown’d.
‘Tis best with me in safety to abide,
‘Till usual bounds restrain the ebbing tide,
And the low waters in their channel glide.
Theseus perswaded, in compliance bow’d:
So kind an offer, and advice so good,
O Achelous, cannot be refus’d;
I’ll use them both, said he; and both he us’d.
The grot he enter’d, pumice built the hall,
And tophi made the rustick of the wall;
The floor, soft moss, an humid carpet spread,
And various shells the chequer’d roof inlaid.
‘Twas now the hour when the declining sun
Two thirds had of his daily journey run;
At the spread table Theseus took his place,
Next his companions in the daring chace;
Perithous here, there elder Lelex lay,
His locks betraying age with sprinkled grey.
Acharnia’s river-God dispos’d the rest,
Grac’d with the equal honour of the feast,
Elate with joy, and proud of such a guest.
The nymphs were waiters, and with naked feet
In order serv’d the courses of the meat.
The banquet done, delicious wine they brought,
Of one transparent gem the cup was wrought.
Then the great heroe of this gallant train,
Surveying far the prospect of the main:
What is that land, says he, the waves embrace?
(And with his finger pointed at the place);
Is it one parted isle which stands alone?
How nam’d? and yet methinks it seems not one.
To whom the watry God made this reply;
‘Tis not one isle, but five; distinct they lye;
‘Tis distance which deceives the cheated eye.
But that Diana’s act may seem less strange,
These once proud Naiads were, before their change.
‘Twas on a day more solemn than the rest,
Ten bullocks slain, a sacrificial feast:
The rural Gods of all the region near
They bid to dance, and taste the hallow’d cheer.
Me they forgot: affronted with the slight,
My rage, and stream swell’d to the greatest height;
And with the torrent of my flooding store,
Large woods from woods, and fields from fields I tore.
The guilty nymphs, oh! then, remembring me,
I, with their country, wash’d into the sea;
And joining waters with the social main,
Rent the gross land, and split the firm champagne.
Since, the Echinades, remote from shore
Are view’d as many isles, as nymphs before.
Perimele turn’d into an Island
But yonder far, lo, yonder does appear
An isle, a part to me for ever dear.
From that (it sailors Perimele name)
I doating, forc’d by rape a virgin’s fame.
Hippodamas’s passion grew so strong,
Gall’d with th’ abuse, and fretted at the wrong,
He cast his pregnant daughter from a rock;
I spread my waves beneath, and broke the shock;
And as her swimming weight my stream convey’d,
I su’d for help divine, and thus I pray’d:
O pow’rful thou, whose trident does command
The realm of waters, which surround the land;
We sacred rivers, wheresoe’er begun,
End in thy lot, and to thy empire run.
With favour hear, and help with present aid;
Her whom I bear ’twas guilty I betray’d.
Yet if her father had been just, or mild,
He would have been less impious to his child;
In her, have pity’d force in the abuse;
In me, admitted love for my excuse.
O let relief for her hard case be found,
Her, whom paternal rage expell’d from ground,
Her, whom paternal rage relentless drown’d.
Grant her some place, or change her to a place,
Which I may ever clasp with my embrace.
His nodding head the sea’s great ruler bent,
And all his waters shook with his assent.
The nymph still swam, tho’ with the fright distrest,
I felt her heart leap trembling in her breast;
But hardning soon, whilst I her pulse explore,
A crusting Earth cas’d her stiff body o’er;
And as accretions of new-cleaving soil
Inlarg’d the mass, the nymph became an isle.
The Story of Baucis and Philemon
Thus Achelous ends: his audience hear
With admiration, and admiring, fear
The Pow’rs of Heav’n; except Ixion’s Son,
Who laugh’d at all the Gods, believ’d in none:
He shook his impious head, and thus replies.
These legends are no more than pious lies:
You attribute too much to heav’nly sway,
To think they give us forms, and take away.
The rest of better minds, their sense declar’d
Against this doctrine, and with horror heard.
Then Lelex rose, an old experienc’d man,
And thus with sober gravity began;
Heav’n’s pow’r is infinite: Earth, Air, and Sea,
The manufacture mass, the making Pow’r obey:
By proof to clear your doubt; in Phrygian ground
Two neighb’ring trees, with walls encompass’d round,
Stand on a mod’rate rise, with wonder shown,
One a hard oak, a softer linden one:
I saw the place, and them, by Pittheus sent
To Phrygian realms, my grandsire’s government.
Not far from thence is seen a lake, the haunt
Of coots, and of the fishing cormorant:
Here Jove with Hermes came; but in disguise
Of mortal men conceal’d their deities;
One laid aside his thunder, one his rod;
And many toilsome steps together trod:
For harbour at a thousand doors they knock’d,
Not one of all the thousand but was lock’d.
At last an hospitable house they found,
A homely shed; the roof, not far from ground,
Was thatch’d with reeds, and straw, together bound.
There Baucis and Philemon liv’d, and there
Had liv’d long marry’d, and a happy pair:
Now old in love, though little was their store,
Inur’d to want, their poverty they bore,
Nor aim’d at wealth, professing to be poor.
For master, or for servant here to call,
Was all alike, where only two were all.
Command was none, where equal love was paid,
Or rather both commanded, both obey’d.
From lofty roofs the Gods repuls’d before,
Now stooping, enter’d through the little door:
The man (their hearty welcome first express’d)
A common settle drew for either guest,
Inviting each his weary limbs to rest.
But ere they sate, officious Baucis lays
Two cushions stuff’d with straw, the seat to raise;
Coarse, but the best she had; then rakes the load
Of ashes from the hearth, and spreads abroad
The living coals; and, lest they should expire,
With leaves, and bark she feeds her infant fire:
It smoaks; and then with trembling breath she blows,
‘Till in a chearful blaze the flames arose.
With brush-wood, and with chips she strengthens these,
And adds at last the boughs of rotten trees.
The fire thus form’d, she sets the kettle on
(Like burnish’d gold the little seether shone),
Next took the coleworts which her husband got
From his own ground (a small well-water’d spot);
She stripp’d the stalks of all their leaves; the best
She cull’d, and them with handy care she drest.
High o’er the hearth a chine of bacon hung;
Good old Philemon seiz’d it with a prong,
And from the sooty rafter drew it down,
Then cut a slice, but scarce enough for one;
Yet a large portion of a little store,
Which for their sakes alone he wish’d were more.
This in the pot he plung’d without delay,
To tame the flesh, and drain the salt away.
The time beween, before the fire they sat,
And shorten’d the delay by pleasing chat.
A beam there was, on which a beechen pail
Hung by the handle, on a driven nail:
This fill’d with water, gently warm’d, they set
Before their guests; in this they bath’d their feet,
And after with clean towels dry’d their sweat.
This done, the host produc’d the genial bed,
Sallow the feet, the borders, and the sted,
Which with no costly coverlet they spread,
But coarse old garments; yet such robes as these
They laid alone, at feasts, on holidays.
The good old housewife, tucking up her gown,
The table sets; th’ invited Gods lie down.
The trivet-table of a foot was lame,
A blot which prudent Baucis overcame,
Who thrusts beneath the limping leg a sherd,
So was the mended board exactly rear’d:
Then rubb’d it o’er with newly gather’d mint,
A wholsom herb, that breath’d a grateful scent.
Pallas began the feast, where first was seen
The party-colour’d olive, black, and green:
Autumnal cornels next in order serv’d,
In lees of wine well pickled, and preserv’d.
A garden-sallad was the third supply,
Of endive, radishes, and succory:
Then curds, and cream, the flow’r of country fare,
And new-laid eggs, which Baucis’ busie care
Turn’d by a gentle fire, and roasted rare.
All these in earthen ware were serv’d to board;
And next in place, an earthen pitcher stor’d,
With liquor of the best the cottage could afford.
This was the table’s ornament and pride,
With figures wrought: like pages at his side
Stood beechen bowls; and these were shining clean,
Varnish’d with wax without, and lin’d within.
By this the boiling kettle had prepar’d,
And to the table sent the smoaking lard;
On which with eager appetite they dine,
A sav’ry bit, that serv’d to relish wine:
The wine itself was suiting to the rest,
Still working in the must, and lately press’d.
The second course succeeds like that before,
Plums, apples, nuts, and of their wintry store
Dry figs, and grapes, and wrinkled dates were set
In canisters, t’ enlarge the little treat:
All these a milk-white honey-comb surround,
Which in the midst the country-banquet crown’d:
But the kind hosts their entertainment grace
With hearty welcome, and an open face:
In all they did, you might discern with ease,
A willing mind, and a desire to please.
Mean-time the beechen bowls went round, and still,
Though often empty’d, were observ’d to fill;
Fill’d without hands, and of their own accord
Ran without feet, and danc’d about the board.
Devotion seiz’d the pair, to see the feast
With wine, and of no common grape, increas’d;
And up they held their hands, and fell to pray’r,
Excusing, as they could, their country fare.
One goose they had (’twas all they could allow),
A wakeful centry, and on duty now,
Whom to the Gods for sacrifice they vow:
Her with malicious zeal the couple view’d;
She ran for life, and limping they pursu’d:
Full well the fowl perceiv’d their bad intent,
And would not make her master’s compliment;
But persecuted, to the Pow’rs she flies,
And close between the legs of Jove she lies:
He with a gracious ear the suppliant heard,
And sav’d her life; then what he has declar’d,
And own’d the God. The neighbourhood, said he,
Shall justly perish for impiety:
You stand alone exempted; but obey
With speed, and follow where we lead the way:
Leave these accurs’d; and to the mountain’s height
Ascend; nor once look backward in your flight.
They haste, and what their tardy feet deny’d,
The trusty staff (their better leg) supply’d.
An arrow’s flight they wanted to the top,
And there secure, but spent with travel, stop;
Then turn their now no more forbidden eyes;
Lost in a lake the floated level lies:
A watry desart covers all the plains,
Their cot alone, as in an isle, remains.
Wondring, with weeping eyes, while they deplore
Their neighbours’ fate, and country now no more,
Their little shed, scarce large enough for two,
Seems, from the ground increas’d, in height and bulk to grow.
A stately temple shoots within the skies,
The crotches of their cot in columns rise:
The pavement polish’d marble they behold,
The gates with sculpture grac’d, the spires and tiles of gold.
Then thus the sire of Gods, with looks serene,
Speak thy desire, thou only just of men;
And thou, o woman, only worthy found
To be with such a man in marriage bound.
A-while they whisper; then, to Jove address’d,
Philemon thus prefers their joint request:
We crave to serve before your sacred shrine,
And offer at your altars rites divine:
And since not any action of our life
Has been polluted with domestick strife;
We beg one hour of death, that neither she
With widow’s tears may live to bury me,
Nor weeping I, with wither’d arms may bear
My breathless Baucis to the sepulcher.
The Godheads sign their suit. They run their race
In the same tenour all th’ appointed space:
Then, when their hour was come, while they relate
These past adventures at the temple gate,
Old Baucis is by old Philemon seen
Sprouting with sudden leaves of spritely green:
Old Baucis look’d where old Philemon stood,
And saw his lengthen’d arms a sprouting wood:
New roots their fasten’d feet begin to bind,
Their bodies stiffen in a rising rind:
Then, ere the bark above their shoulders grew,
They give, and take at once their last adieu.
At once, Farewell, o faithful spouse, they said;
At once th’ incroaching rinds their closing lips invade.
Ev’n yet, an ancient Tyanaean shows
A spreading oak, that near a linden grows;
The neighbourhood confirm the prodigy,
Grave men, not vain of tongue, or like to lie.
I saw my self the garlands on their boughs,
And tablets hung for gifts of granted vows;
And off’ring fresher up, with pious pray’r,
The good, said I, are God’s peculiar care,
And such as honour Heav’n, shall heav’nly honour share.
The Changes of Proteus
He ceas’d in his relation to proceed,
Whilst all admir’d the author, and the deed;
But Theseus most, inquisitive to know
From Gods what wondrous alterations grow.
Whom thus the Calydonian stream address’d,
Rais’d high to speak, the couch his elbow press’d.
Some, when transform’d, fix in the lasting change;
Some with more right, thro’ various figures range.
Proteus, thus large thy privilege was found,
Thou inmate of the seas, which Earth surround.
Sometimes a bloming youth you grac’d the shore;
Oft a fierce lion, or a furious boar:
With glist’ning spires now seem’d an hissing snake,
The bold would tremble in his hands to take:
With horns assum’d a bull; sometimes you prov’d
A tree by roots, a stone by weight unmov’d:
Sometimes two wav’ring contraries became,
Flow’d down in water, or aspir’d in flame.
The Story of Erisichthon
In various shapes thus to deceive the eyes,
Without a settled stint of her disguise,
Rash Erisichthon’s daughter had the pow’r,
And brought it to Autolicus in dow’r.
Her atheist sire the slighted Gods defy’d,
And ritual honours to their shrines deny’d.
As fame reports, his hand an ax sustain’d,
Which Ceres’ consecrated grove prophan’d;
Which durst the venerable gloom invade,
And violate with light the awful shade.
An ancient oak in the dark center stood,
The covert’s glory, and itself a wood:
Garlands embrac’d its shaft, and from the boughs
Hung tablets, monuments of prosp’rous vows.
In the cool dusk its unpierc’d verdure spread,
The Dryads oft their hallow’d dances led;
And oft, when round their gaging arms they cast,
Full fifteen ells it measu’rd in the waste:
Its height all under standards did surpass,
As they aspir’d above the humbler grass.
These motives, which would gentler minds restrain,
Could not make Triope’s bold son abstain;
He sternly charg’d his slaves with strict decree,
To fell with gashing steel the sacred tree.
But whilst they, lingring, his commands delay’d,
He snatch’d an Ax, and thus blaspheming said:
Was this no oak, nor Ceres’ favourite care,
But Ceres’ self, this arm, unaw’d, shou’d dare
Its leafy honours in the dust to spread,
And level with the earth its airy head.
He spoke, and as he poiz’d a slanting stroak,
Sighs heav’d, and tremblings shook the frighted oak;
Its leaves look’d sickly, pale its acorns grew,
And its long branches sweat a chilly dew.
But when his impious hand a wound bestow’d,
Blood from the mangled bark in currents flow’d.
When a devoted bull of mighty size,
A sinning nation’s grand atonement, dies;
With such a plenty from the spouting veins,
A crimson stream the turfy altars stains.
The wonder all amaz’d; yet one more bold,
The fact dissuading, strove his ax to hold.
But the Thessalian, obstinately bent,
Too proud to change, too harden’d to repent,
On his kind monitor, his eyes, which burn’d
With rage, and with his eyes his weapon turn’d;
Take the reward, says he, of pious dread:
Then with a blow lopp’d off his parted head.
No longer check’d, the wretch his crime pursu’d,
Doubled his strokes, and sacrilege renew’d;
When from the groaning trunk a voice was heard,
A Dryad I, by Ceres’ love preferr’d,
Within the circle of this clasping rind
Coeval grew, and now in ruin join’d;
But instant vengeance shall thy sin pursue,
And death is chear’d with this prophetick view.
At last the oak with cords enforc’d to bow,
Strain’d from the top, and sap’d with wounds below,
The humbler wood, partaker of its fate,
Crush’d with its fall, and shiver’d with its weight.
The grove destroy’d, the sister Dryads moan,
Griev’d at its loss, and frighted at their own.
Strait, suppliants for revenge to Ceres go,
In sable weeds, expressive of their woe.
The beauteous Goddess with a graceful air
Bow’d in consent, and nodded to their pray’r.
The awful motion shook the fruitful ground,
And wav’d the fields with golden harvests crown’d.
Soon she contriv’d in her projecting mind
A plague severe, and piteous in its kind
(If plagues for crimes of such presumptuous height
Could pity in the softest breast create).
With pinching want, and hunger’s keenest smart,
To tear his vitals, and corrode his heart.
But since her near approach by Fate’s deny’d
To famine, and broad climes their pow’rs divide,
A nymph, the mountain’s ranger, she address’d,
And thus resolv’d, her high commands express’d.
The Description of Famine
Where frozen Scythia’s utmost bound is plac’d,
A desart lies, a melancholy waste:
In yellow crops there Nature never smil’d,
No fruitful tree to shade the barren wild.
There sluggish cold its icy station makes,
There paleness, frights, and aguish trembling shakes,
Of pining famine this the fated seat,
To whom my orders in these words repeat:
Bid her this miscreant with her sharpest pains
Chastise, and sheath herself into his veins;
Be unsubdu’d by plenty’s baffled store,
Reject my empire, and defeat my pow’r.
And lest the distance, and the tedious way,
Should with the toil, and long fatigue dismay,
Ascend my chariot, and convey’d on high,
Guide the rein’d dragons thro’ the parting sky.
The nymph, accepting of the granted carr,
Sprung to the seat, and posted thro’ the air;
Nor stop’d ’till she to a bleak mountain came
Of wondrous height, and Caucasus its name.
There in a stony field the fiend she found,
Herbs gnawing, and roots scratching from the ground.
Her elfelock hair in matted tresses grew,
Sunk were her eyes, and pale her ghastly hue,
Wan were her lips, and foul with clammy glew.
Her throat was furr’d, her guts appear’d within
With snaky crawlings thro’ her parchment skin.
Her jutting hips seem’d starting from their place,
And for a belly was a belly’s space,
Her dugs hung dangling from her craggy spine,
Loose to her breast, and fasten’d to her chine.
Her joints protuberant by leanness grown,
Consumption sunk the flesh, and rais’d the bone.
Her knees large orbits bunch’d to monstrous size,
And ancles to undue proportion rise.
This plague the nymph, not daring to draw near,
At distance hail’d, and greeted from afar.
And tho’ she told her charge without delay,
Tho’ her arrival late, and short her stay,
She felt keen famine, or she seem’d to feel,
Invade her blood, and on her vitals steal.
She turn’d, from the infection to remove,
And back to Thessaly the serpents drove.
The fiend obey’d the Goddess’ command
(Tho’ their effects in opposition stand),
She cut her way, supported by the wind,
And reach’d the mansion by the nymph assign’d.
‘Twas night, when entring Erisichthon’s room,
Dissolv’d in sleep, and thoughtless of his doom,
She clasp’d his limbs, by impious labour tir’d,
With battish wings, but her whole self inspir’d;
Breath’d on his throat and chest a tainting blast,
And in his veins infus’d an endless fast.
The task dispatch’d, away the Fury flies
From plenteous regions, and from rip’ning skies;
To her old barren north she wings her speed,
And cottages distress’d with pinching need.
Still slumbers Erisichthon’s senses drown,
And sooth his fancy with their softest down.
He dreams of viands delicate to eat,
And revels on imaginary meat,
Chaws with his working mouth, but chaws in vain,
And tires his grinding teeth with fruitless pain;
Deludes his throat with visionary fare,
Feasts on the wind, and banquets on the air.
The morning came, the night, and slumbers past,
But still the furious pangs of hunger last;
The cank’rous rage still gnaws with griping pains,
Stings in his throat, and in his bowels reigns.
Strait he requires, impatient in demand,
Provisions from the air, the seas, the land.
But tho’ the land, air, seas, provisions grant,
Starves at full tables, and complains of want.
What to a people might in dole be paid,
Or victual cities for a long blockade,
Could not one wolfish appetite asswage;
For glutting nourishment increas’d its rage.
As rivers pour’d from ev’ry distant shore,
The sea insatiate drinks, and thirsts for more;
Or as the fire, which all materials burns,
And wasted forests into ashes turns,
Grows more voracious, as the more it preys,
Recruits dilate the flame, and spread the blaze:
So impious Erisichthon’s hunger raves,
Receives refreshments, and refreshments craves.
Food raises a desire for food, and meat
Is but a new provocative to eat.
He grows more empty, as the more supply’d,
And endless cramming but extends the void.
The Transformations of Erisichthon’s Daughter
Now riches hoarded by paternal care
Were sunk, the glutton swallowing up the heir.
Yet the devouring flame no stores abate,
Nor less his hunger grew with his estate.
One daughter left, as left his keen desire,
A daughter worthy of a better sire:
Her too he sold, spent Nature to sustain;
She scorn’d a lord with generous disdain,
And flying, spread her hand upon the main.
Then pray’d: Grant, thou, I bondage may escape,
And with my liberty reward thy rape;
Repay my virgin treasure with thy aid
(‘Twas Neptune who deflower’d the beauteous maid).
The God was mov’d, at what the fair had su’d,
When she so lately by her master view’d
In her known figure, on a sudden took
A fisher’s habit, and a manly look.
To whom her owner hasted to enquire;
O thou, said he, whose baits hide treach’rous wire;
Whose art can manage, and experienc’d skill
The taper angle, and the bobbing quill,
So may the sea be ruffled with no storm,
But smooth with calms, as you the truth inform;
So your deceit may no shy fishes feel,
‘Till struck, and fasten’d on the bearded steel.
Did not you standing view upon the strand,
A wand’ring maid? I’m sure I saw her stand;
Her hair disorder’d, and her homely dress
Betray’d her want, and witness’d her distress.
Me heedless, she reply’d, whoe’er you are,
Excuse, attentive to another care.
I settled on the deep my steady eye;
Fix’d on my float, and bent on my employ.
And that you may not doubt what I impart,
So may the ocean’s God assist my art,
If on the beach since I my sport pursu’d,
Or man, or woman but my self I view’d.
Back o’er the sands, deluded, he withdrew,
Whilst she for her old form put off her new.
Her sire her shifting pow’r to change perceiv’d;
And various chapmen by her sale deceiv’d.
A fowl with spangled plumes, a brinded steer,
Sometimes a crested mare, or antler’d deer:
Sold for a price, she parted, to maintain
Her starving parent with dishonest gain.
At last all means, as all provisions, fail’d;
For the disease by remedies prevail’d;
His muscles with a furious bite he tore,
Gorg’d his own tatter’d flesh, and gulph’d his gore.
Wounds were his feast, his life to life a prey,
Supporting Nature by its own decay.
But foreign stories why shou’d I relate?
I too my self can to new forms translate,
Tho’ the variety’s not unconfin’d,
But fix’d, in number, and restrain’d in kind:
For often I this present shape retain,
Oft curl a snake the volumes of my train.
Sometimes my strength into my horns transfer’d,
A bull I march, the captain of the herd.
But whilst I once those goring weapons wore,
Vast wresting force one from my forehead tore.
Lo, my maim’d brows the injury still own;
He ceas’d; his words concluding with a groan.