Metamorphoses by Ovid
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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 lowings. 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 kills in his deep embraces, others with the corrupting putrefaction of his venomous breath.
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 spiraling 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, till 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.
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, till, raised gently and steadily, they are seen whole, and at last their feet rest on the lower border.
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 till he is dead.
Actaeon, one of your grandsons, was your first reason for grief, in all your happiness, Cadmus. Strange horns appeared on his forehead, and his hunting dogs sated themselves on the blood of their master. But if you look carefully, you will find that it was the fault of chance and not wickedness: what wickedness is there in error? It happened on a mountain, stained with the blood of many creatures, and midday had contracted every shadow and the sun was equidistant from either end of his journey. Then Actaeon, the young Boeotian, with a quiet expression, spoke to his companions in the hunt as they wandered through the solitary wilds "Friends, our spears and nets are drenched with the blood of our victims, and the day has been fortunate enough. When Aurora in her golden chariot brings another day we will resume our purpose. Now Phoebus is also between the limits of his task, and is splitting open the earth with his heat. Finish your present task and carry home the netted meshes' The men obeyed his order and left off their labour.
There was a valley there called Gargaphie, dense with pine trees and sharp cypresses, sacred to Diana of the high-girded tunic, where, in the depths, there is a wooded cave, not fashioned by art. But ingenious nature had imitated art. She had made a natural arch out of native pumice and porous tufa. On the right, a spring of bright clear water murmured into a widening pool, enclosed by grassy banks. Here the woodland goddess, weary from the chase, would bathe her virgin limbs in the crystal liquid.
Having reached the place, she gives her spear, quiver and unstrung bow to one of the nymphs, her weapon-bearer. Another takes her robe over her arm, while two unfasten the sandals on her feet. Then, more skilful than the rest, Theban Crocale gathers the hair strewn around her neck into a knot, while her own is still loose. Nephele, Hyale, Rhanis, Psecas and Phiale draw water, and pour it over their mistress out of the deep jars.
While Titania is bathing there, in her accustomed place, Cadmus's grandson, free of his share of the labour, strays with aimless steps through the strange wood, and enters the sacred grove. So the fates would have it. As soon as he reaches the cave mouth dampened by the fountain, the naked nymphs, seeing a man's face, beat at their breasts and filling the whole wood with their sudden outcry, crowd round Diana to hide her with their bodies. But the goddess stood head and shoulders above all the others. Diana's face, seen there, while she herself was naked, was the colour of clouds stained by the opposing shafts of sun, or Aurora's brightness.
However, though her band of nymphs gathered in confusion around her, she stood turning to one side, and looking back, and wishing she had her arrows to hand. She caught up a handful of the water that she did have, and threw it in the man's face. And as she sprinkled his hair with the vengeful drops she added these words, harbingers of his coming ruin, "Now you may tell, if you can tell that is, of having seen me naked!" Without more threats, she gave the horns of a mature stag to the head she had sprinkled, lengthening his neck, making his ear-tips pointed, changing feet for hands, long legs for arms, and covering his body with a dappled hide. And then she added fear. AutonoŽ's brave son flies off, marvelling at such swift speed, within himself. But when he sees his head and horns reflected for certain in the water, he tries to say "Oh, look at me! but no voice follows. He groans: that is his voice, and tears run down his altered face. Only his mind remains unchanged. What can he do? Shall he return to his home and the royal palace, or lie hidden in the woods? Shame prevents the one, and fear the other.
While he hesitates his dogs catch sight of him. First "Black-foot', Melampus, and keen-scented Ichnobates, "Tracker', signal him with baying, Ichnobates out of Crete, Melampus, Sparta. Then others rush at him swift as the wind, "Greedy', Pamphagus, Dorceus, "Gazelle', Oribasos, "Mountaineer', all out of Arcady: powerful "Deerslayer', Nebrophonos, savage Theron, "Whirlwind', and Laelape, "Hunter'.
Then swift-footed Pterelas, "Wings', and trail-scenting Agre, "Chaser', fierce Hylaeus, "Woody', lately gored by a boar, the wolf-born Nape, "Valley', Poemenis, the trusty "Shepherd', and Harpyia, "Snatcher', with her two pups. There is thin-flanked Sicyonian Ladon, "Catcher', Dromas, "Runner', "Grinder', Canache, Sticte "Spot', Tigris "Tigress', Alce, "Strong', and white-haired Leucon, "Whitey', and black-haired Asbolus, "Soot'.
Lacon, "Spartan', follows them, a dog well known for his strength, and strong-running AŽllo, "Storm'. Then Thoos, "Swift', and speedy Lycisce, "Wolf', with her brother Cyprius "Cyprian'. Next "Grasper', Harpalos, with a distinguishing mark of white, in the centre of his black forehead, "Black', Melaneus, and Lachne, "Shaggy', with hairy pelt, Labros, "Fury', and Argiodus, "White-tooth', born of a Cretan sire and Spartan dam, keen-voiced Hylactor, "Barker', and others there is no need to name. The pack of them, greedy for the prey follow over cliffs and crags, and inaccessible rocks, where the way is hard or there is no way at all. He runs, over the places where he has often chased, flying, alas, from his own hounds. He longs to shout "I am Actaeon! Know your own master!" but words fail him, the air echoes to the baying.
First "Black-hair', Melanchaetes, wounds his back, then "Killer', Theridamas, and Oresitrophos, the "Climber', clings to his shoulder. They had set out late but outflanked the route by a shortcut over the mountains. While they hold their master the whole pack gathers and they sink their teeth in his body till there is no place left to wound him. He groans and makes a noise, not human, but still not one a deer could make, and fills familiar heights with mournful cries. And on his knees, like a suppliant begging, he turns his wordless head from side to side, as if he were stretching arms out towards them.
Now his friends, unknowingly, urge the ravening crowd of dogs on with their usual cries, looking out for Actaeon, and shouting, in emulation, for absent Actaeon (he turning his head at the sound of his name) complaining he is not there, and through his slowness is missing the spectacle offered by their prey. He might wish to be absent it's true, but he is here: he might wish to see and not feel the fierce doings of his own hounds. They surround him on every side, sinking their jaws into his flesh, tearing their master to pieces in the deceptive shape of the deer. They say Diana the Quiver-bearer's anger was not appeased, till his life had ended in innumerable wounds.
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."
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 BeroŽ, 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.
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.
Famous throughout all the Aonian cities, Tiresias gave faultless answers to people who consulted him. Dusky Liriope, the Naiad, was the first to test the truth and the accuracy of his words, whom once the river-god Cephisus clasped in his winding streams, and took by force under the waves. This loveliest of nymphs gave birth at full term to a child whom, even then, one could fall in love with, called Narcissus. Being consulted as to whether the child would live a long life, to a ripe old age, the seer with prophetic vision replied "If he does not discover himself'. For a long time the augur's pronouncement appeared empty words. But in the end it proved true: the outcome, and the cause of his death, and the strangeness of his passion. One year the son of Cephisus had reached sixteen and might seem both boy and youth. Many youths, and many young girls desired him. But there was such intense pride in that delicate form that none of the youths or young girls affected him. One day the nymph Echo saw him, driving frightened deer into his nets, she of the echoing voice, who cannot be silent when others have spoken, nor learn how to speak first herself.
Echo still had a body then and was not merely a voice. But though she was garrulous, she had no other trick of speech than she has now: she can repeat the last words out of many. Juno made her like that, because often when she might have caught the nymphs lying beneath her Jupiter, on the mountain slopes, Echo knowingly held her in long conversations, while the nymphs fled. When Saturnia realised this she said "I shall give you less power over that tongue by which I have been deluded, and the briefest ability to speak" and what she threatened she did. Echo only repeats the last of what is spoken and returns the words she hears.
Now when she saw Narcissus wandering through the remote fields, she was inflamed, following him secretly, and the more she followed the closer she burned with fire, no differently than inflammable sulphur, pasted round the tops of torches, catches fire, when a flame is brought near it. O how often she wants to get close to him with seductive words, and call him with soft entreaties! Her nature denies it, and will not let her begin, but she is ready for what it will allow her to do, to wait for sounds, to which she can return words.
By chance, the boy, separated from his faithful band of followers, had called out "Is anyone here?" and "Here" Echo replied. He is astonished, and glances everywhere, and shouts in a loud voice "Come to me!" She calls as he calls. He looks back, and no one appearing behind, asks "Why do you run from me?" and receives the same words as he speaks. He stands still, and deceived by the likeness to an answering voice, says "Here, let us meet together'. And, never answering to another sound more gladly, Echo replies "Together', and to assist her words comes out of the woods to put her arms around his neck, in longing. He runs from her, and running cries "Away with these encircling hands! May I die before what's mine is yours. She answers, only "What's mine is yours!"
Scorned, she wanders in the woods and hides her face in shame among the leaves, and from that time on lives in lonely caves. But still her love endures, increased by the sadness of rejection. Her sleepless thoughts waste her sad form, and her body's strength vanishes into the air. Only her bones and the sound of her voice are left. Her voice remains, her bones, they say, were changed to shapes of stone. She hides in the woods, no longer to be seen on the hills, but to be heard by everyone. It is sound that lives in her.
As Narcissus had scorned her, so he had scorned the other nymphs of the rivers and mountains, so he had scorned the companies of young men. Then one of those who had been mocked, lifting hands to the skies, said "So may he himself love, and so may he fail to command what he loves!" Rhamnusia, who is the goddess Nemesis, heard this just request.
There was an unclouded fountain, with silver-bright water, which neither shepherds nor goats grazing the hills, nor other flocks, touched, that no animal or bird disturbed not even a branch falling from a tree. Grass was around it, fed by the moisture nearby, and a grove of trees that prevented the sun from warming the place. Here, the boy, tired by the heat and his enthusiasm for the chase, lies down, drawn to it by its look and by the fountain. While he desires to quench his thirst, a different thirst is created. While he drinks he is seized by the vision of his reflected form. He loves a bodiless dream. He thinks that a body, that is only a shadow. He is astonished by himself, and hangs there motionless, with a fixed expression, like a statue carved from Parian marble.
Flat on the ground, he contemplates two stars, his eyes, and his hair, fit for Bacchus, fit for Apollo, his youthful cheeks and ivory neck, the beauty of his face, the rose-flush mingled in the whiteness of snow, admiring everything for which he is himself admired. Unknowingly he desires himself, and the one who praises is himself praised, and, while he courts, is courted, so that, equally, he inflames and burns. How often he gave his lips in vain to the deceptive pool, how often, trying to embrace the neck he could see, he plunged his arms into the water, but could not catch himself within them! What he has seen he does not understand, but what he sees he is on fire for, and the same error both seduces and deceives his eyes.
Fool, why try to catch a fleeting image, in vain? What you search for is nowhere: turning away, what you love is lost! What you perceive is the shadow of reflected form: nothing of you is in it. It comes and stays with you, and leaves with you, if you can leave!
No care for Ceres's gift of bread, or for rest, can draw him away. Stretched on the shadowed grass he gazes at that false image with unsated eyes, and loses himself in his own vision. Raising himself a little way and holding his arms out to the woods, he asks, "Has anyone ever loved more cruelly than I? You must know, since you have been a chance hiding place for many people. Do you remember in your life that lasts so many centuries, in all the long ages past, anyone who pined away like this? I am enchanted and I see, but I cannot reach what I see and what enchants me" - so deep in error is this lover - "and it increases my pain the more, that no wide sea separates us, no road, no mountains, no walls with locked doors.
We are only kept apart by a little water! Whenever I extend my lips to the clear liquid, he tries to raise his lips to me. He desires to be held. You would think he could be touched: it is such a small thing that prevents our love. Whoever you are come out to me! Why do you disappoint me, you extraordinary boy? Where do you vanish when I reach for you? Surely my form and years are not what you flee from, and I am one that the nymphs have loved! You offer me some unknown hope with your friendly look, and when I stretch my arms out to you, you stretch out yours. When I smile, you smile back. And I have often seen your tears when I weep tears. You return the gesture of my head with a nod, and, from the movements of your lovely mouth, I guess that you reply with words that do not reach my ears!
I am he. I sense it and I am not deceived by my own image. I am burning with love for myself. I move and bear the flames. What shall I do? Surely not court and be courted? Why court then? What I want I have. My riches make me poor. O I wish I could leave my own body! Strange prayer for a lover, I desire what I love to be distant from me. Now sadness takes away my strength, not much time is left for me to live, and I am cut off in the prime of youth. Nor is dying painful to me, laying down my sadness in death. I wish that him I love might live on, but now we shall die united, two in one spirit."
He spoke, and returned madly to the same reflection, and his tears stirred the water, and the image became obscured in the rippling pool. As he saw it vanishing, he cried out " Where do you fly to? Stay, cruel one, do not abandon one who loves you! I am allowed to gaze at what I cannot touch, and so provide food for my miserable passion!" While he weeps, he tears at the top of his clothes: then strikes his naked chest with hands of marble. His chest flushes red when they strike it, as apples are often pale in part, part red, or as grapes in their different bunches are stained with purple when they are not yet ripe.
As he sees all this reflected in the dissolving waves, he can bear it no longer, but as yellow wax melts in a light flame, as morning frost thaws in the sun, so he is weakened and melted by love, and worn away little by little by the hidden fire. He no longer retains his colour, the white mingled with red, no longer has life and strength, and that form so pleasing to look at, nor has he that body which Echo loved. Still, when she saw this, though angered and remembering, she pitied him, and as often as the poor boy said "Alas!" she repeated with her echoing voice "Alas!" and when his hands strike at his shoulders, she returns the same sounds of pain. His last words as he looked into the familiar pool were "Alas, in vain, beloved boy!" and the place echoed every word, and when he said "Goodbye!" Echo also said "Goodbye!"
He laid down his weary head in the green grass, death closing those eyes that had marvelled at their lord's beauty. And even when he had been received into the house of shadows, he gazed into the Stygian waters. His sisters the Naiads lamented, and let down their hair for their brother, and the Dryads lamented. Echo returned their laments. And now they were preparing the funeral pyre, the quivering torches and the bier, but there was no body. They came upon a flower, instead of his body, with white petals surrounding a yellow heart.
When all this became known it spread the prophet's fame throughout the cities of Achaia, and his reputation was high. Still, Pentheus, the son of Echion, in scorn of the gods, alone amongst all of them, rejected the seer, laughed at the old man's words of augury, and taunted him with the darkness, and the ruin of his lost sight. He, shaking his white head in warning, said "How happy you would be if these dispossessed orbs were yours, so as not to see the sacred rites of Bacchus! Now the day approaches, and I see it is not far off, when the new god, Liber, son of Semele will come, and unless you think him worthy to be done honour in your sanctuaries, you will be scattered, torn, in a thousand pieces, and stain your mother, and her sisters and the woods themselves with your blood. It will be! You will not think the god worthy of being honoured, and you will lament of me, that in my darkness I have seen too far." Even as he speaks, Echion's son thrusts him away. The truth of his words followed, the oracles of the prophet were performed.
Liber has come, and the festive fields echo with cries. The crowd all run, fathers, mothers, young girls, princes and people, mixed together, swept towards the unknown rites. Pentheus shouts "What madness has stupefied your minds, children of the serpent, people of Mars? Can the clash of brazen cymbals, pipes of curved horn, and magical tricks be so powerful that men, who were not terrified by drawn swords or blaring trumpets or ranks of sharp spears, are overcome by the shrieks of women, men mad with wine, crowds of obscenities, and empty drumming? Should I admire you, elders, who, sailing the deep seas, sited your Tyre here, your exiled Penates, and now let them be taken without a fight? Or you younger men, of fresher age, nearer my own, for whom it was fitting to carry weapons and not the thyrsus, your heads covered with helmets not crowns of leaves? Remember, I beg you, from what roots you were created, and show the spirit of the serpent, who, though one alone, killed many. He died for his spring and pool, but you should conquer for your own glory! He put brave men to death, but you should make craven men run, and maintain the honour of your country! If it is Thebe's fate to stand for only a short time, I wish her walls might be destroyed by men and siege engines, that fire and iron might sound against her! Then we would be miserable but not sinful, we would lament our fate not try to hide it, our tears would be free from shame. But now Thebes will be taken by an unarmed boy, who takes no pleasure in fighting, or weapons, or the use of horses, but in myrrh-drenched hair, soft wreathes of leaves, and embroidered robes woven with gold. But, if you stand aside, I will quickly force him to confess that his pretended parentage and religion are inventions. Should Pentheus and the rest of Thebes be terrified of his arrival, when Acrisius had courage enough to defy a false god, and shut the gates of Argos at his coming? "Go quickly', he ordered his attendants "bind him and drag him here, this conqueror! Don't be slow in carrying out your orders!"
His grandfather, Cadmus, his uncle, Athamas, and the rest of his advisors reprove his words, and try in vain to restrain him. He is only made more eager by their warning, and his rage is maddened and grows with restraint, and he is provoked by their objections. So I have seen a river, where nothing obstructs its passage, flow calmly and with little noise, but rage and foam wherever trees and obstacles of stone held it back, fiercer for the obstruction.
See now, they return, stained with blood, and when their lord queries where Bacchus is, they deny having seen Bacchus, but reply, "We have captured this companion of his, a priest of his sacred rites' and they hand over a man of Tyrrhenian stock, with his hands bound behind his back, a follower of the worship of the god. Pentheus looks at him, with eyes made terrible by anger, and although he can scarcely wait for the moment of punishment, he says "O you who are about to die, and, by your death, teach the others a lesson, tell me your name, your parents' name and your country, and why you follow the customs of this new religion!"
Without fear, he answers "My name is Acoetes, and Maeonia is my country, my parents humble ordinary people. My father did not leave me fields for sturdy oxen to work, no flocks of sheep, nor any cattle. I am poor as he himself was, and he used to catch fish in the streams with a rod and line and a hook to snare them. His skill was his wealth, and when he bequeathed it to me, he said "Take what I have. Apply yourself to the work as my successor and heir." Dying, he left me nothing but water. The only thing I can call my inheritance.
Soon, so that I was not stuck for ever to the same rocks, I learned how to guide boats, steering oar in hand, and to observe Capella and the rainy stars of the Olenian Goat, Taˇgete among the Pleiades, the Hyades, and the Arctic Bears, the houses of the winds, and the havens for ships.
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 what 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!
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.
"We have only listened to this winding tale', said Pentheus, "so that our anger might spend its strength in delay. "You, attendants, remove this man, quickly, and let his body be tortured in greatest anguish, and send him down to Stygian night!" Acoetes, the Tyrrhenian, was dragged out, straightaway, and shut in a deep dungeon. But while the instruments of cruelty, the irons and the fire, were being prepared to kill him as had been ordered, the doors flew open by themselves, the chains loosening without any effort, so tradition holds.
The son of Echion persisted in his purpose, not ordering others to go, but now going himself, to where Mount Cithaeron, chosen for performing the rites, was sounding with the chants and shrill cries of the Bacchantes. As a brave horse snorts and shows his love for the fight, when the trumpeter's brass gives the signal for attack, so the heavens pulsating from the long drawn-out cries stirred Pentheus, and, hearing the clamour, his anger flared again.
Near the middle of the mountainside, was a clearing surrounded with remote woods, free of trees, and visible from all sides. Here as he watched the mysteries, with profane eyes, his mother was the first to see Pentheus, the first roused to run at him madly, the first to wound him, hurling her thyrsus. She shouted "O you two, sisters, come! That huge boar, who is straying in our fields, that boar is my sacrifice." They all rush on him in one maddened crowd: they converge together pursuing the frightened man, frightened now, speaking words free of violence now, cursing himself now, realising his own offence. Stricken, he still shouts "Help me, aunt AutonoŽ! Let Actaeon's shade move your spirit!
She, not remembering Actaeon, tears away the suppliant's right arm. Ino, in frenzy, rips off the other. Now the unhappy man has no limbs to hold out to his mother, but, showing his wounded trunk shorn of its members, he cries "Mother, see!'. Agave howls, and twists her neck about, and thrashes her hair in the air, and tearing off his head, holding it in her bloody hands, shouts "Behold, sisters, this act marks our victory!"
The wind does not strip the leaves clinging there, from the high tree
touched by an autumn frost, more quickly than this man's limbs are torn by
those terrible hands. Warned by such an example, the Theban women throng to the
new religion, burn incense, and worship at the sacred altars.
But AlcithoŽ, daughter of Minyas, will not celebrate the Bacchic rites, in acceptance of the god. She is rash enough to deny that Bacchus is the son of Jupiter, and her sisters share in her impiety.
The priest had ordered the observation of the festival, asking for all female servants to be released from work, they and their mistresses to drape animal skins across their breasts, free their headbands, wreathe their hair, and carry an ivy-twined thyrsus in their hand. And he prophesied that the god's rage would be fierce if he was angered. The young women and mothers obey, leaving their baskets and looms, and their unfinished tasks, and burn incense, calling on Bacchus, on Bromius, "the noisy one', Lyaeus, "deliverer from care', on the child of the lightning, the twice-born, the son of two mothers, and adding to these calls Nyseus, "he of Heliconian Nysa', Thyoneus, "the unshorn" who is Semele's son, Lenaeus, the planter of joy-giving vines, Nyctelius, "the nightcomer', father Eleleus, of the howls, Iacchus, of the shouts, and Euhan, of the cries, and all of the other names you have, Liber, among the peoples of Greece. Unfading youth is yours, you boy eternal, you, the most beautiful sight in the depths of the morning and evening sky, your face like a virgin's when you stand before us without your horns. The Orient calls you its conqueror, as far as darkest India, dipped in the remote Ganges. You, the revered one, punished Pentheus, and Lycurgus, king of Thrace, who carried the double-headed axe, and you sent the Tyrrhenians into the waves. You yoke together two lynxes with bright reins decorating their necks, Bacchantes and Satyrs follow you, and that drunken old man, Silenus, who supports his stumbling body with his staff, and clings precariously to his bent-backed mule. Wherever you go the shouts of youths ring out, and the chorus of female voices, hands beating on tambourines, the clash of cymbals, and the shrill piping of the flute.
The Ismenides pray to Bacchus "Be satisfied with us, be gentle" and they celebrate the rites ordained. Only the daughters of Minyas remain inside, disturbing the festival, with the untimely arts of Minerva, drawing out strands of wool, twisting the threads with their fingers, or staying at their looms, and plying their servants with work. Then one of them, Arsippe, speaks, spinning the thread lightly with her thumb. "While the others are leaving their work, and thronging to this false religion, let us, restrained by Pallas, a truer goddess, lighten the useful work of our hands, and take turns in recalling a story to our idle minds, so that the time will not seem so long! Her sisters are pleased with this, and beg her to begin first. She wondered which of many she should tell (since she knew very many), and hesitated whether to tell about you, Babylonian Dercetis, who, as the Syrians of Palestine believe, with altered shape, your lower limbs covered with scales, swam in the waters, or how your daughter, assuming wings, lived her earliest years out among the white dovecotes. Or how a Naiad, with incantations, and all too powerful herbs, changed the bodies of youths into dumb fishes, till the same thing happened to her. Or how the mulberry tree that bore white berries now bears dark red ones, from the stain of blood. This one pleases her. She begins to spin this tale, which is not yet well known, as she spins her woollen thread.
"Pyramus and Thisbe, he the loveliest youth, and she the most sought after girl, the East held, lived in neighbouring houses, in the towering city of Babylon, that Semiramis is said to have enclosed with walls of brick. Their nearness and their first childhood steps made them acquainted and in time love appeared. They would have agreed to swear the marriage oath as well, but their parents prevented it. They were both on fire, with hearts equally captivated, something no parent can prevent. They had no one to confide all this to: nods and signs were their speech, and the more they kept the fire hidden, the more it burned.
There was a fissure, a thin split, in the shared wall between their houses, which traced back to when it was built. No one had discovered the flaw in all those years - but what can love not detect? - You lovers saw it first, and made it a path for your voices. Your endearments passed that way, in safety, in the gentlest of murmurs. Often, when they were in place, Thisbe here, and Pyramus there, and they had each caught the sound of the other's breath, they said "Unfriendly wall, why do you hinder lovers? How hard would it be for you to let our whole bodies meet, or if that is too much perhaps, to open to the kisses we give each other? Not that we are not grateful. We confess that we owe it to you that words are allowed to pass to loving ears' So they talked, hopelessly, sitting opposite, saying, as night fell, "Farewell', each touching the wall with kisses that could not reach the other side.
One morning when Aurora had quenched the fires of night, and the sun's rays had thawed the frosty grass, they came to their usual places. Then they decided, first with a little murmur of their great sorrows, to try, in the silence of night, to deceive the guards, and vanish outside. Once out of the house they would leave the city as well, and they agreed, in case they went astray crossing the open country, to meet by the grave of Ninus, and hide in the shelter of a tree. There was a tall mulberry tree there, dense with white berries, bordering a cool fountain. They were satisfied with their plan, and the light, slow to lose its strength, was drowned in the waters, and out of the same waters the night emerged."
"Carefully opening the door, Thisbe, slipped out, deceiving her people, and came to the tomb, her face veiled, and seated herself under the tree they had agreed on. Love made her brave. But a lioness fresh from the kill, her jaws foaming, smeared with the blood of cattle, came to slake her thirst at the nearby spring. In the moonlight, Babylonian Thisbe sees her some way off, and flees in fear to a dark cave, and as she flees, she leaves behind her fallen veil. When the fierce lioness has drunk deeply, returning towards the trees, she chances to find the flimsy fabric, without its owner, and rips it in her bloodstained jaws. Leaving the city a little later, Pyramus sees the creature's tracks in the thick dust, and his face is drained of colour. When he also discovers the veil stained with blood, he cries, "Two lovers will be lost in one night. She was the more deserving of a long life. I am the guilty spirit. I have killed you, poor girl, who told you to come by night to this place filled with danger, and did not reach it first. O, all you lions, that live amongst these rocks, tear my body to pieces, and devour my sinful flesh in your fierce jaws! Though it is cowardly to ask for death"
He picks up Thisbe's veil, and carries it with him to the shadow of the tree they had chosen. Kissing the token, and wetting it with tears, he cries, "Now, be soaked in my blood too." Having spoken he drove the sword he had been wearing into his side, and, dying, pulled it, warm, from the wound. As he lay back again on the ground, the blood spurted out, like a pipe fracturing at a weak spot in the lead, and sending long bursts of water hissing through the split, cutting through the air, beat by beat. Sprinkled with blood, the tree's fruit turned a deep blackish-red, and the roots, soaked through, also imbued the same overhanging mulberries with the dark purplish colour."
"Now Thisbe returns, not yet free of fear, lest she disappoint her lover, and she calls for him with her eyes and in her mind, eager to tell him about the great danger she has escaped. Though she recognises the place and the shape of the familiar tree, the colour of the berries puzzles her. She waits there: perhaps this is it. Hesitating, she sees quivering limbs writhing on the bloodstained earth, and starts back, terrified, like the sea, that trembles when the slightest breeze touches its surface, her face showing whiter than boxwood. But when, staying a moment longer, she recognises her lover, she cries out loud with grief, striking at her innocent arms, and tearing at her hair. Cradling the beloved body, she bathes his wounds with tears, mingling their drops with blood. Planting kisses on his cold face, she cries out "Pyramus, what misfortune has robbed me of you? Pyramus, answer me! Your dearest Thisbe calls to you: obey me, lift your fallen head!" At Thisbe's name, Pyramus raised his eyes, darkening with death, and having looked at her, buried them again in darkness."
"When she recognised her veil and saw the ivory scabbard without its sword, she said, "Unhappy boy, your own hand, and your love, have destroyed you! I too have a firm enough hand for once, and I, too, love. It will give me strength in my misfortune. I will follow you to destruction, and they will say I was a most pitiful friend and companion to you. He, who could only be removed from me by death, death cannot remove. Nevertheless I ask this for both of us, in uttering these words, O our poor parents, mine and his, do not deny us the right to be laid in one tomb, we whom certain love, and the strangest hour have joined. And you, the tree, that now covers the one poor body with your branches, and soon will cover two, retain the emblems of our death, and always carry your fruit darkened in mourning, a remembrance of the blood of us both."
Saying this, and placing the point under her heart, she fell forward onto the blade, still warm with his blood. Then her prayer moved the gods, and stirred her parents' feelings, for the colour of the berry is blackish-red, when fully ripened, and what was left from the funeral pyres rests in a single urn."
Arsippe ceased. There was a short pause and then LeuconoŽ began to speak, while her sisters were quiet.
"Love even takes Sol prisoner, who rules all the stars with his light. I will tell you about his amours. He was the first god they say to see the adulteries of Venus and Mars: he sees all things first. He was sorry to witness the act, and he told her husband Vulcan, son of Juno, of this bedroom intrigue, and where the intrigue took place. Vulcan's heart dropped, and he dropped in turn the craftsman's work he held in his hand. Immediately he began to file thin links of bronze, for a net, a snare that would deceive the eye. The finest spun threads, those the spider spins from the rafters, would not better his work. He made it so it would cling to the smallest movement, the lightest touch, and then artfully placed it over the bed. When the wife and the adulterer had come together on the one couch, they were entangled together, surprised in the midst of their embraces, by the husband's craft, and the new method of imprisonment he had prepared for them.
The Lemnian, Vulcan, immediately flung open the ivory doors, and let in the gods. There the two lay shamefully bound together, and one of the gods, undismayed, prayed that he might be shamed like that. And the gods laughed. And for a long time it was the best-known story in all the heavens."
"But Cytherea, remembering the informer, exacted punishment, and took revenge on him. He who harmed her secret affair, was equally harmed by love. Son of Hyperion, what use to you now, are beauty, lustre, and radiant light? Surely, you who make all countries burn with your fires, burn with a new fire. You, who should discern everything, contemplate LeucothoŽ, and your eyes, that ought to be fixed on the whole earth, are fixed on one virgin girl. Sometimes you rise too early in the dawn sky. Sometimes you sink too late into the waves. Thinking of her, you lengthen the winter hours. Sometimes you vanish, your mind's defect affecting your light, and, obscured, terrify men's hearts. It is not because the moon's shadow, closer to the earth, eclipses you, that you fade. It is that love of yours that determines your aspect. You only love her.
You forget Clymene, Phaethon's mother, and the nymph Rhode, and Perse, the most beautiful mother of Aeaean Circe, and Clytie, although despised, seeks union with you, and, even now, suffers its deep wounds. LeucothoŽ makes you forget them all, she whom loveliest Eurynome gave birth to, among the people who produce sweet-smelling incense. But when the daughter grew to womanhood, she outshone her mother, as her mother surpassed all others. Her father Orchamus ruled the Achaemenian Cities of Persia, seventh in line from ancient Belus, the founder."
"Under western skies are the fields of the horses of the Sun: they have ambrosia to crop not grass. It nourishes their weary legs after the day's work, and refreshes them for their labours. While his horses browse on celestial food and while night carries out her role, the god enters his loved one's room, taking on the shape of her mother, Eurynome. There he finds LeucothoŽ in the lamplight, amongst her twelve maids, drawing out fine threads, winding them on her spindle. So he gives her a kiss, just as a mother her dear daughter, and says "This is secret: servants, depart, and don't rob a mother of the power to speak in private." They obey, and when there are no witnesses left in the room, the god speaks.
" Who measures the long year, I am he. I see all things, earth sees all things by me, I, the world's eye. Trust me, you please me." She is afraid, and, in her fear, distaff and spindle fall from her lifeless fingers. Her fear enhances her, and he, waiting no longer, resumes his true form, and his accustomed brightness. And, though the girl is alarmed by this sudden vision, overwhelmed by his brightness, suppressing all complaint, she submits to the assault of the god."
Clytie was jealous (there were no bounds to her love for Sol), and goaded by anger at her rival, she broadcast the adultery, and maligning the girl, betrayed her to her father. He in his pride and savagery, buried her deep in the earth, she praying, stretching her hands out towards Sol's light, crying "He forced me, against my will", and he piled a heavy mound of sand over her. Poor nymph, Hyperion's son dispersed this with shafts of light, and gave you a way to show your buried face, but you could not lift your head, crushed by the weight of earth, and lay there, a pale corpse. They say the god of the winged horses had seen nothing more bitter than this, since Phaethon's fiery death. He tried to see if he could recall life to those frozen limbs, with his powerful rays. But since fate opposed such efforts, he sprinkled the earth, and the body itself, with fragrant nectar, and, after much lamenting, said "You will still touch the air". Immediately the body, soaked through with heavenly nectar, dissolved, steeping the earth in its perfume. Tentatively, putting out roots, the shoot of a tree, resinous with incense, grew through the soil, and pierced the summit of the mound.
The god of light no longer visited Clytie, nor found anything to love in her, even though love might have been an excuse for her pain, and her pain for her betrayal. She wasted away, deranged by her experience of love. Impatient of the nymphs, night and day, under the open sky, she sat dishevelled, bareheaded, on the bare earth. Without food or water, fasting, for nine days, she lived only on dew and tears, and did not stir from the ground. She only gazed at the god's aspect as he passed, and turned her face towards him. They say that her limbs clung to the soil, and that her ghastly pallor changed part of her appearance to that of a bloodless plant: but part was reddened, and a flower like a violet hid her face. She turns, always, towards the sun, though her roots hold her fast, and, altered, loves unaltered." She finished speaking: the wonderful tale had charmed their ears. Part of them denies it could have happened, part says that the true gods can do anything. Though Bacchus is not one of those.
When the sisters are silent, AlcithoŽ is called on next. Standing there, running her shuttle through the threads on her loom, she said "I will say nothing of that well-known story, the love of Daphnis, the Idaean shepherd-boy, whom a nymph, angered by a rival, turned to stone: so great is the pain that inflames lovers. Neither will I tell you how, the laws of nature conspiring to alter, Sithon became of indeterminate sex, now man, now woman: how Celmis, you too, now changed to steel, were a most loyal friend to the infant Jupiter: how the Curetes were born from vast showers of rain: how Crocus and Smilax were turned into tiny flowers. I will reject all those, and charm your imaginations with a sweet, new story.
Now you will hear where the pool of Salmacis got its bad reputation from, how its enervating waters weaken, and soften the limbs they touch. The cause is hidden, but the fountain's effect is widely known. The Naiads nursed a child born of Hermes, and a goddess, Cytherean Aphrodite, in Mount Ida's caves. His features were such that, in them, both mother and father could be seen: and from them he took his name, Hermaphroditus.
When he was fifteen years old, he left his native mountains and Ida, his nursery, delighted to wander in unknown lands, and gaze at unknown rivers, his enthusiasm making light of travel. He even reached the Lycian cities, and the Carians by Lycia. Here he saw a pool of water, clear to its very depths. There were no marsh reeds round it, no sterile sedge, no spikes of rushes: it is crystal liquid. The edges of the pool are bordered by fresh turf, and the grass is always green. A nymph lives there, but she is not skilled for the chase, or used to flexing the bow, or the effort of running, the only Naiad not known by swift-footed Diana.
Often, it's said, her sisters would tell her "Salmacis, take up the hunting-spear or the painted quiver and vary your idleness with some hard work, hunting!" But she takes up neither the hunting spear nor the painted quiver, and will not vary her idleness with the hardship of hunting. She only bathes her shapely limbs in the pool, often combs out her hair, with a comb that is made of boxwood from Cytorus, and looks in the water to see what suits it best. Then draped in a translucent robe, she lies down on the soft leaves, or in the soft grass. Often she gathers flowers. And she was also busy gathering them, then, when she saw the boy, and what she saw she longed to have."
"She did not go near him yet, though she was quick to go to him, waiting till she had calmed herself, checked her appearance, composed her expression, and merited being seen as beautiful. Then she began to say "Youth, O most worthy to be thought a god, if you are a god, you must be Cupid, or, if you are mortal, whoever engendered you is blessed, and any brother of yours is happy, any sister fortunate, if you have sisters, and even the nurse who suckled you at her breast. But far beyond them, and far more blessed is she, if there is a she, promised to you, whom you think worthy of marriage. If there is someone, let mine be a stolen pleasure, if not, I will be the one, and let us enter into marriage together."
After this the naiad was silent. A red flush branded the boy's face. He did not know what love was: though the blush was very becoming. Apples are tinged with this colour, hanging in a sunlit tree, or ivory painted with red, or the moon, eclipsed, blushing in her brightness, while the bronze shields clash, in vain, to rescue her. The nymph begged endlessly, at least a sister's kiss, and, about to throw her arms round his ivory-white neck, he said "Stop this, or shall I go, and leave this place, and you?" Salmacis, afraid, turning away, pretended to go, saying, "I freely surrender this place to you, be my guest." But she still looked back, and hid herself among bushes in the secluded woods, on her bended knees. But he, obviously at leisure, as if unobserved, walks here and there on the grass and playfully, at the end of his walk, dips his feet and ankles in the pool. Then, quickly captured by the coolness of the enticing water, he stripped the soft clothes from his slender body.
Then she was truly pleased. And Salmacis was inflamed with desire for his naked form. The nymph's eyes blazed with passion, as when Phoebus's likeness is reflected from a mirror, that opposes his brightest unclouded orb. She can scarcely wait, scarcely contain her delight, now longing to hold him, now unable to keep her love to herself. He, clapping his open palms to his side, dives into the pool, and leading with one arm and then the other, he gleams through the pure water, as if one sheathed an ivory statue, or bright lilies behind clear glass. "I have won, he is mine", the naiad cries, and flinging aside all her garments, she throws herself into the midst of the water.
She held him to her, struggling, snatching kisses from the fight, putting her hands beneath him, touching his unwilling breast, overwhelming the youth from this side and that. At last, she entwines herself face to face with his beauty, like a snake, lifted by the king of birds and caught up into the air, as Hermaphroditus tries to slip away. Hanging there she twines round his head and feet and entangles his spreading wings in her coils. Or as ivy often interlaces tall tree trunks. Or as the cuttlefish holds the prey, it has surprised, underwater, wrapping its tentacles everywhere.
The descendant of Atlas holds out, denying the nymph's wished-for pleasure: she hugs him, and clings, as though she is joined to his whole body. "It is right to struggle, perverse one," she says, "but you will still not escape. Grant this, you gods, that no day comes to part me from him, or him from me." Her prayer reached the gods. Now the entwined bodies of the two were joined together, and one form covered both. Just as when someone grafts a twig into the bark, they see both grow joined together, and develop as one, so when they were mated together in a close embrace, they were not two, but a two-fold form, so that they could not be called male or female, and seemed neither or either.
When he saw now that the clear waters which he had penetrated as a man, had made him a creature of both sexes, and his limbs had been softened there, Hermaphroditus, stretching out his hands, said, but not in a man's voice, "Father and mother, grant this gift to your son, who bears both your names: whoever comes to these fountains as a man, let him leave them half a man, and weaken suddenly at the touch of these waters!" Both his parents moved by this, granted the prayer of their twin-formed son, and contaminated the pool with a damaging drug."
The story was finished, and the daughters of Minyas still pressed on with their work, spurning the god and profaning his festival, when suddenly harsh sounds sprang up from unseen drums, pipes with curved horns sounded, and cymbals clashed. Saffron and myrrh perfumed the air, and unbelievably their looms began to grow like greenwood, the cloth they were weaving put out leaves of hanging ivy, part altered to vines, and what were once threads changed into tendrils: vine shoots came out of the warp, and clusters of dark-coloured grapes took on the splendour of the purple fabric.
Now the day was past, and the time had come when you could not say that it was light or darkness, but a borderland of light and uncertain night. Suddenly the ceiling shook, the oil lamps seemed to brighten, and the house to shine with glowing fires, and fill with the howling of fierce creatures' deceptive phantoms. Quickly the sisters hide in the smoke-filled house, and, in various places, shun the flames and light. While they seek the shadows, a thin membrane stretches over their slender limbs, and delicate wings enfold their arms. The darkness prevents them knowing how they have lost their former shape. They do not rise on soft plumage, but lift themselves on semi-transparent wings, and trying to speak emit the tiniest squeak, as befits their bodies, and tell their grief in faint shrieks. They frequent rafters, rather than woods, and, hating the light, they fly at night, and derive their name, "vespertiliones', from "vesper', the evening.
Then indeed Bacchus's divinity was spoken of throughout Thebes, and Ino, his mother's sister, told about the new god's great powers, everywhere. Of all her sisters she was the only one free from trouble, except that which her sisters made. Juno considered this woman, and the lofty pride she had in her sons, her marriage to King Athamas, and her foster-child Bacchus, and could not bear it. She said, to herself, "That son of my rival could change the Maeonian sailors, and immerse them in the sea, and give the flesh of a child to be torn in pieces, by his own mother, and enfold the three daughters of Minyas in strange wings. Can Juno do nothing except lament her troubles, unavenged? Is that enough for me? Is that my only power? He teaches me what to do (it is possible to learn from the enemy): he has shown enough, and more than enough, of the power madness has, by the killing of Pentheus. Why should Ino not be tormented, and follow her relatives' example in her madness?"
There is a downward path, gloomy with fatal yew trees: it leads through dumb silence to the infernal regions. The sluggish Styx exhales vapour, and, by that way, the shadows of the newly dead descend, entombed with full rites, and the ghosts of those, at last, given proper burial. The wide, thorny waste is cold and pallid, and the newly arrived shades are ignorant of the road that leads to the Stygian city, where black Dis has his cruel palace. The roomy city has a thousand entrances, and open gates on every side, and as the ocean accepts the rivers of all the world, so this place accepts all the souls, and is never too small for any populace, nor notices the crowds that come. There the bloodless shadows wander without flesh or bone. Some crowd the forum, some the house of the ruler of the depths, others follow their trades, imitating their previous lives, and still others incur punishment.
Leaving her place in heaven, Saturnian Juno endured the journey there, giving in to such a degree to anger and hatred. As soon as she entered and the threshold sighed at the touch of her sacred body, Cerberus lifted his triple head and let out his threefold baying. She called out for the dread, implacable Furies, the Sisters, the children of Night. They sat in front of the prison gates, closed with steel, combing out their hair, of black snakes. The goddesses rose together, recognising her shadow in the darkness. The place is called Accursed. Here Tityos offers up his innards to be torn, stretched out over nine fields. You, Tantalus, cannot catch the drops of water, and the tree you grasp at, eludes you. You, Sisyphus, attack or pursue the stone that always returns. Ixion turns, and follows after himself and flees, and the forty-nine Belides, who dared to plot the destruction of their cousins, their husbands, fetch again, with incessant labour, the water they have lost.
After Saturnia had looked grimly, glancing fiercely, at all these, and at Ixion above all, looking back from him to Sisyphus, she asks the Furies "Why does this son of Aeolus, suffer perpetual torment, while his brother Athamas, who, with his wife, scorns me, lives, in his pride, in a rich palace?" And she expounds the causes of her hatred, her journey, and what it is she wishes. What she wished was that the House of Cadmus should no longer stand, and that the Sisters should drive Athamas mad. She urged the goddesses help, mingling promises, commands and prayers together. When Juno had finished speaking, Tisiphone, grey-haired as she was, shook her locks, flinging back the snakes that concealed her face, and said "It does not need all these words: consider it done, whatever you have ordered. Leave this unlovely kingdom, and go back to heaven with its sweeter air." Juno returned happily, and Iris, her messenger, the daughter of Thaumus, purified her, as she was about to enter heaven, with drops of dew.
Without delay, Tisiphone, the troubler, grasped a torch soaked with blood, put on a dripping red robe, coiled a writhing serpent round her waist, and left the spot. Grief went as her companion, and Panic, and Terror, and Madness with agitated face. She took up her position on the threshold, and they say the pillars of the doorway of Aeolus's palace shook, the doors of maple-wood were tainted with whiteness, and the sun fled the place. Athamas and his wife, Ino, were terrified at these portents of doom, and they tried to escape the palace. The baleful Erinys obstructed them, and blocked the way. Stretching out her arms, wreathed with knots of vipers, she flailed her hair, and the snakes hissed at her movements. Some coiled over her shoulders, some slid over her breast, giving out whistling noises, vomiting blood, and flickering their tongues.
Then she pulls two serpents from the midst of her hair, and hurls what she has snatched with a deadly aim. They slither over Ino and Athamas, and blow their oppressive breath into them. Their limbs are not wounded: it is the mind that feels the dreadful stroke. She had brought foul poisonous liquids too, spume from the jaws of Cerberus, Echidna's venom, those that cause vague delusions, dark oblivions of the mind, wickedness and weeping, rage and love of murder, all seethed together. She had boiled them, mixed with fresh blood, in hollow bronze, stirred with a stalk of green hemlock.
While they stood trembling, she poured this venom of the Furies over the breasts of the two of them, and sent it into the depths of their minds. Then, brandishing her torch, encircled them with fire, by fire's swift movement, whirling it round in repeated orbit. So having conquered them, and carried out her orders, she returned to the wide kingdom of mighty Dis, and unloosed the serpent she had wrapped around her.
Then Athamas, raving through the centre of his palace, cries out " Friends, spread the nets through these woods! I have just seen a lioness here, with her two cubs' and in his madness he followed his wife's steps as if she were a wild beast. Then he snatched his son Learchus, who was laughing and waving his little arms, from his mother's protection, and whirled him round, two or three times, in the air, in the manner of a sling, and dashed the infant's head fiercely against the solid rock. Then the mother, roused at last by the pain this caused, or by reason of the poison sprinkled on her, howled like an animal, and fled, insanely, tearing at her hair. In her naked arms she carried you, Melicertes, and cried out "Euhoe, Bacchus'. Juno laughed aloud at Bacchus's name, saying "Such help as this may your foster-son give you!"
A cliff overhung the water, carved out at its base by the breakers, and it sheltered the waves it hid, from the rain. Its summit reared up and stretched out, in front, over the water, into empty space. Ino climbed up there (madness had lent her strength) and unrestrained by fear threw herself and her burden into the sea: the wave foamed white where she fell. Venus, pitying her granddaughter's undeserved sufferings, coaxed her uncle, saying " O Neptune, god of the waters, whose power only ceases near heaven, it's true that what I ask is great, but take pity on those who are mine, whom you see, fallen into the vast Ionian waters, and add them to your sea-gods. Some kindness is due me from the sea, if once I was made from the spume in the midst of the deep, and from that my Greek name, "foam-born" Aphrodite, remains." Neptune accepted her prayer, and taking from them what was mortal, gave them greatness, giving them at the same time new names and forms, calling the god Palaemon, and his mother, LeucothoŽ, the white goddess.
Ino's Sidonian attendants followed the marks of her feet as best they could, only to see her last leap from the pinnacle of rock. Not doubting that she was dead, they mourned for the House of Cadmus, beating their breasts, tearing at their clothes and hair, saying that the goddess had shown too little justice, and too much cruelty, to the rival who had made her jealous. Juno could not bear their protests, and said "I will make you the best monument to my cruelty'. What she said was done. Now the one who had been most faithful cried "I will follow the queen into the sea', and starting her leap could not move at all, and stuck fast, fixed to the cliff. Another felt her raised arms grow rigid, when she tried to beat her breasts, as she had been doing. Another chanced to stretch her hands out to the waves of the sea, but now hands made of stone were extended over the same waves. One, as she tore at the crown of her head to pull out her hair, you might see, suddenly with stiffened fingers amongst her hair. Whatever gesture they were caught in, there they remained. Others, Theban women, changed to birds, also, now, skim the surface of those depths with their wings.
The son of Agenor, Cadmus, did not know that his daughter and little grandson were now sea-gods. Conquered by the pain of this run of disasters, and daunted by all he had seen, the founder departed his city, as if the misfortunes of the place and not himself were oppressing him. Driven to wandering, at length his journey carried him and his wife to the borders of Illyria. Now, weighed down by age and sadness, they thought of the original destiny of their house, and in talk reviewed their sufferings. Cadmus said "Surely that snake, my spear pierced, must have been sacred, when, fresh from Sidon, I scattered the serpent's teeth, a strange seed, over the earth? If that is what the gods have been avenging with such sure anger, may I myself stretch out as a long-bellied snake." And, so speaking, he did extend into a long-bellied snake, and felt his skin hardening as scales grew there, while dark green patches checkered his black body. He lay prone on his breast, and gradually his legs fused together thinning out towards a smooth point. Still his arms were left to him, and what was left of his arms he stretched out, and, with tears running down his still human cheeks, he said "Come here, wife, come here, most unfortunate one, and while there is still something left of me, touch me, and take my hand, while it is still a hand, while the snake does not yet have all of me."
He wanted to say so much more, but suddenly his tongue was split in two, and though he wished for words none came, and whenever he started on some plaintive sound, he hissed: this was the voice that Nature bequeathed him. Then, striking her naked breast with her hands, his wife cried out "Cadmus, wait, unhappy one, tear away this monstrous thing! Cadmus, what is it? Where are your feet? Where are your hands, shoulders, face, colour, everything - while I speak? Why do you not change me as well, you gods, into this same snake's form? She spoke. His tongue flickered over his wife's face, he slid between her beloved breasts as if known there, and clasped her, and searched about for the neck he knew so well. Everyone who was there (their comrades were present) was horrified, but she stroked the gleaming neck of the crested serpent, and suddenly there were two snakes there, with intertwining coils, till they sought the shelter of the neighbouring woods. Even now they do not avoid human beings or wound them, quiet serpents, remembering what they once were.
Nevertheless even in their altered form, their grandson Bacchus gave them great consolation, whom conquered India worshipped, to whose newly created temples the Achaians thronged. Only Acrisius, son of Abas, born from the same roots (through Belus brother of Agenor), was an exception, who closed Argos within its walls, took up arms against the god, and did not consider him a child of Jupiter. Nor did he consider, as a child of Jupiter, his grandson Perseus, whom DanaŽ conceived of a shower of gold. Though later (such is truth's power) Acrisius repented of outraging the god, and of not acknowledging his grandson. One had taken his place in the heavens, but the other was travelling through the gentle air, on beating wings, bringing back an amazing, monstrous prize, and as the victor hung above the Lybian sands, bloody drops fell from the Gorgon's head. The earth caught them and gave them life, as species of snakes, and so that country is infested with deadly serpents.
He was driven from there by conflicting winds, carried this way and that, through vast spaces, like a raincloud. He flew over the whole world, looking down, through the air, from a great height, at remote countries. Three times he saw the frozen constellations of the Bears, three times the Crab's pincers. Often he was forced below the west, often into the east, and now as the light died, afraid to trust to night, he put down in the western regions of Hesperus, in the kingdom of Atlas. He looked to rest there a while, till Lucifer summoned up Aurora's fires, and Aurora the chariot of dawn. Here was Atlas, son of Iapetus, exceeding all men by the size of his body.
The most remote land was under Atlas's rule, and the ocean, into which Sol's panting horses plunged, and where his straining axle was welcomed. He had a thousand flocks, and as many herds of cattle straying through the grass, and no neighbouring soil was richer than his. The leaves of the trees, bright with radiant gold, covered branches of gold, and fruit of gold. Perseus said to him "Friend, if high birth impresses you, Jupiter is responsible for my birth. Or if you admire great deeds, you will admire mine. I ask for hospitality and rest." Atlas remembered an ancient prophecy. Themis on Parnassus had given that prophecy. "Atlas, the time will come when your tree will be stripped of its gold, and he who steals it will be called the son of Jupiter." Fearful of this, Atlas had enclosed his orchard with solid walls, and set a huge dragon to guard it, and kept all strangers away from his borders. To Perseus, he said "Go far away, lest the glory of the deeds, that you lie about, and Jupiter himself, fail you!" He added weight to his threats, and tried to push him away with his great hands, Perseus delaying resolutely, and combining that with calm words. Inferior in strength (who could equal Atlas in strength?), he said, "Well now, since you show me so little kindness, accept a gift" and turning away himself, he held out Medusa's foul head, on his left hand side. Atlas became a mountain, as huge as he himself had been. Now his hair and beard were changed into trees, his shoulders and hands into ridges. What had been his head before was the crest on the mountain summit. His bones became stones. Then he grew to an immense height in every part (so you gods determined) and the whole sky, with its many stars, rested on him.
Aeolus, son of Hippotas, had confined the winds in their prison under Mount Etna, and Lucifer, who exhorts us to work, shone brightest of all in the depths of the eastern sky. Perseus strapped the winged sandals, he had put to one side, to his feet, armed himself with his curved sword, and cut through the clear air on beating pinions. Leaving innumerable nations behind, below and around him, he came in sight of the Ethiopian peoples, and the fields of Cepheus. There Jupiter Ammon had unjustly ordered the innocent Andromeda to pay the penalty for her mother Cassiopeia's words.
As soon as Perseus, great-grandson of Abas, saw her fastened by her arms to the hard rock, he would have thought she was a marble statue, except that a light breeze stirred her hair, and warm tears ran from her eyes. He took fire without knowing it and was stunned, and seized by the vision of the form he saw, he almost forgot to flicker his wings in the air. As soon as he had touched down, he said "O, you do not deserve these chains, but those that link ardent lovers together. Tell me your name, I wish to know it, and the name of your country, and why you are wearing these fetters. At first she was silent: a virgin, she did not dare to address a man, and she would have hidden her face modestly with her hands, if they had not been fastened behind her. She used her eyes instead, and they filled with welling tears. At his repeated insistence, so as not to seem to be acknowledging a fault of her own, she told him her name and the name of her country, and what faith her mother had had in her own beauty. Before she had finished speaking, all the waves resounded, and a monster menaced them, rising from the deep sea, and covered the wide waters with its breadth. The girl cried out: her grieving father and mother were together nearby, both wretched, but the mother more justifiably so. They bring no help with them, only weeping and lamentations to suit the moment, and cling to her fettered body. Then the stranger speaks "There will be plenty of time left for tears, but only a brief hour is given us to work. If I asked for this girl as Perseus, son of Jupiter and that DanaŽ, imprisoned in the brazen tower, whom Jupiter filled with his rich golden shower; Perseus conqueror of the Gorgon with snakes for hair, he who dared to fly, driven through the air, on soaring wings, then surely I should be preferred to all other suitors as a son-in-law. If the gods favour me, I will try to add further merit to these great gifts. I will make a bargain. Rescued by my courage, she must be mine." Her parents accept the contract (who would hesitate?) and, entreating him, promise a kingdom, as well, for a dowry.
See how the creature comes parting the waves, with surging breast, like a fast ship, with pointed prow, ploughing the water, driven by the sweat-covered muscles of her crew. It was as far from the rock as a Balearic sling can send a lead shot through the air, when suddenly the young hero, pushing his feet hard against the earth, shot high among the clouds. When the shadow of a man appeared on the water" surface, the creature raged against the shadow it had seen. As Jupiter's eagle, when it sees a snake, in an open field, showing its livid body to the sun, takes it from behind, and fixes its eager talons in the scaly neck, lest it twists back its cruel fangs, so the descendant of Inachus hurling himself headlong, in swift flight, through empty space, attacked the creature's back, and, as it roared, buried his sword, to the end of the curved blade, in the right side of its neck. Hurt by the deep wound, now it reared high in the air, now it dived underwater, or turned now, like a fierce wild boar, when the dogs scare him, and the pack is baying around him. Perseus evades the eager jaws on swift wings, and strikes with his curved sword wherever the monster is exposed, now at the back encrusted with barnacles, now at the sides of the body, now where the tail is slenderest, ending fishlike. The beast vomits seawater mixed with purplish blood. The pinions grow heavy, soaked with spray. Not daring to trust his drenched wings any further, he sees a rock whose highest point stands above quiet water, hidden by rough seas. Resting there, and holding on to the topmost pinnacle with his left hand, he drives his sword in three or four times, repeatedly.
The shores, and the high places of the gods, fill with the clamor of applause. Cassiope and Cepheus rejoice, and greet their son-in-law, acknowledging him as the pillar of their house, and their deliverer. Released from her chains, the girl comes forward, the prize and the cause of his efforts. He washes his hands, after the victory, in seawater drawn for him, and, so that Medusa's head, covered with its snakes, is not bruised by the harsh sand, he makes the ground soft with leaves, and spreads out plants from below the waves, and places the head of that daughter of Phorcys on them. The fresh plants, still living inside, and absorbent, respond to the influence of the Gorgon's head, and harden at its touch, acquiring a new rigidity in branches and fronds. And the ocean nymphs try out this wonder on more plants, and are delighted that the same thing happens at its touch, and repeat it by scattering the seeds from the plants through the waves. Even now corals have the same nature, hardening at a touch of air, and what was alive, under the water, above water is turned to stone.
To the three gods, he builds the same number of altars out of turf, to you Mercury on the left, to you Minerva, warlike virgin, on the right, and an altar of Jupiter in the centre. He sacrifices a cow to Minerva, a calf to the wing-footed god, and a bull to you, greatest of the gods. Then he claims Andromeda, without a dowry, valuing her as the worthiest prize. Hymen and Amor wave the marriage torch, the fires are saturated with strong perfumes, garlands hang from the rafters, and everywhere flutes and pipes, and singing, sound out, the happy evidence of joyful hearts. The doors fold back to show the whole of the golden hall, and the noble Ethiopian princes enter to a richly prepared banquet already set out for them.
When they have attacked the feast, and their spirits are cheered by wine, the generous gift of Bacchus, Perseus asks about the country and its culture, its customs and the character of its people. At the same time as he instructed him about these, one of the guests said "Perseus, I beg you to tell us by what prowess and by what arts you carried off that head with snakes for hair." The descendant of Agenor told how there was a cave lying below the frozen slopes of Atlas, safely hidden in its solid mass. At the entrance to this place the sisters lived, the Graeae, daughters of Phorcys, similar in appearance, sharing only one eye between them. He removed it, cleverly, and stealthily, cunningly substituting his own hand while they were passing it from one to another. Far from there, by hidden tracks, and through rocks bristling with shaggy trees, he reached the place where the Gorgons lived. In the fields and along the paths, here and there, he saw the shapes of men and animals changed from their natures to hard stone by Medusa's gaze. Nevertheless he had himself looked at the dread form of Medusa reflected in a circular shield of polished bronze that he carried on his left arm. And while a deep sleep held the snakes and herself, he struck her head from her neck. And the swift winged horse Pegasus and his brother the warrior Chrysaor, were born from their mother's blood.
He told of his long journeys, of dangers that were not imaginary ones, what seas and lands he had seen below from his high flight, and what stars he had brushed against with beating wings. He still finished speaking before they wished. Next one of the many princes asked why Medusa, alone among her sisters, had snakes twining in her hair. The guest replied "Since what you ask is worth the telling, hear the answer to your question. She was once most beautiful, and the jealous aspiration of many suitors. Of all her beauties none was more admired than her hair: I came across a man who recalled having seen her. They say that Neptune, lord of the seas, violated her in the temple of Minerva. Jupiter's daughter turned away, and hid her chaste eyes behind her aegis. So that it might not go unpunished, she changed the Gorgon's hair to foul snakes. And now, to terrify her enemies, numbing them with fear, the goddess wears the snakes, that she created, as a breastplate.
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