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Metamorphoses by Ovid

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RESERVATIONS Metamorphoses by Ovid 
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Book 5

Phineus seeks revenge for the loss of his bride

While the hero, the son of Danae, is recalling this succession of events, amongst the Ethiopians, the royal halls suddenly fill with a riot of complaints. It is not the sound of a wedding feast that rings out, but that which presages the use of arms. The festivities, turned to sudden confusion, could be likened to a calm sea that the fierce raging of the wind churns into rising waves. Phineus, the king's brother, is first mover in this, a rash stirrer-up of strife, shaking his ashen spear tipped with bronze. "See," he shouted "See, I come here as an avenger for the carrying off of my bride. Your wings won't help you escape me, nor even Jupiter, changed to a shower of fool's gold!"

As he prepared to throw the spear, Cepheus cried "What are you doing? Brother, what mad feelings drive you to crime? Are these the thanks you return for such service? Is this the gift with which you pay compensation for a life restored? If you want the truth it was not Perseus who took her from you, but Neptune, the stern god of the Nereids, and horned Jupiter Ammon, and that monster that came from the sea to glut itself on my own flesh and blood. It was then she was taken from you, when she was about to die: but perhaps, hard-hearted one, that is what you want, for her to die, and you to take comfort from my grief. Of course, it is not enough that you saw her fastened there, and brought her no help, you her uncle and her intended. Are you grieved that she was saved by someone else, and would you take away his prize? If it seemed so great a prize to you, you should have sought her among the rocks where she was chained. Now let the man who did seek it, take what he has earned and what was promised, since, thanks to him, I shall not have a childless old age. Realise that it is not Perseus, but the prospect of certain death that has displaced you."

The fight: the death of Athis

Phineus said nothing, but turned his face alternately from Perseus to his brother, not knowing whether to aim at the one or the other. Hesitating for a while he hurled his spear, throwing it with the energy of anger, but uselessly, at Perseus. Only when it had stuck fast in the bench, did Perseus leap up from where he was lying. Returning the weapon, fiercely, he would have pierced his enemy's chest, if Phineus had not dodged behind the altars: and (shamefully) the wretch found safety in that refuge. Nevertheless the javelin was not without effect, and struck Rhoetus full face, who immediately fell, and, when the weapon had been pulled out of the bone, he kicked out and sprayed the laden tables with his blood. Then the crowd of men was truly ablaze with anger, and they hurled their spears, and there were those who said Cepheus deserved to die with his son-in-law. But Cepheus had already crossed the threshold, calling on justice, good faith, and on the gods of friendship, to witness that what was being done was forbidden. Warlike Pallas came and protected her brother, Perseus, with her shield, the aegis, and gave him courage.

There was a youth from India, Athis, whom Limnaee, a nymph of the River Ganges is said to have given birth to, under its glassy waters. He was of outstanding beauty, his sixteen years unimpaired, enhanced by his rich robes, wearing his military cloak of Tyrian purple, fringed with gold. A gold collar ornamented his neck, and a curved coronet his myrrh-drenched hair. He was skilled at piercing anything with the javelins he launched, however distant, but was even more skilled at shooting with the bow. While he was bending the pliant tips in his hands, Perseus struck him, with a log that had been smouldering in the middle of the altar, and shattered his face to splintered bone.

When Lycabas, the Assyrian, closest to him, as a friend, and, most probably, a lover, saw his much praised features masked with blood, he wept bitterly for Athis, breathing out his life through that sad wound. He caught up the bow Athis had strung and said "Now match yourself with me! You will not have long to rejoice over the death of a child, an act which holds more shame than praise." He had not finished speaking when the sharp arrow shot from the bowstring, but Perseus avoided it, and it was left hanging from a fold of his clothes. The grandson of Acrisius turned against him that scimitar, tried and proven in his killing of Medusa, driving it into his chest. But even in death, his eyes failing, he looked round for Athis, in that gloomy night, and fell next to him, taking for his solace, to the shadows, the fact of being joined with him in death.

The fight: The deaths of Idas, Chromis and others

Phorbas of Syene, the son of Metion, and Libyan Amphimedon, eager to commit to the fight, fell, having slipped on the ground, warm and drenched with blood on every side. Rising, they were stopped by the sword, piercing Phorbas's throat, and Amphimedon's ribs. But Perseus did not challenge Eurytus, son of Actor, who had a battle-axe, with his scimitar, instead, lifting a mixing bowl, embossed with decorations and very heavy in weight, high in the air, with both hands, he dashed it down on the man, who vomited bright red blood, and, lying on his back, beat the earth with his head. Then Perseus overthrew Polydegmon, born of the blood of Queen Semiramis, Abaris from Caucasia, Lycetus from the River Spercheos region, Helices with flowing hair, Clytus and Phlegyas, and trod on a mounting pile of the dying.

Phineus did not dare to fight hand to hand with his enemy, but threw his spear, which felled Idas, by mistake, who, though unavailingly, had no part in the fight, and was a follower of neither side. He, looking fiercely at Phineus, and said "Since I have been forced to take part, then, Phineus, acknowledge the enemy you have made, and repay me wound for wound!" He was about to hurl back the javelin he had pulled from his body when he collapsed dying, his limbs drained of blood.

Then Hodites, the greatest of the Ethiopians next to the king, was killed by Clymenus's sword. Hypseus struck Prothoënor, and Lyncides struck Hypseus. One very old man, Emathion, was there who upheld justice, and feared the gods. He stepped forward, and since his age prevented him fighting, he warred in words, cursing their sinful weapons. Chromis decapitated him with his sword, as he clung to the altar with trembling hands, and the head fell straight on to the hearth, and there the half living tongue still uttered imprecations, and its life expired in the midst of the flames.

The fight: Lampetides, Dorylas and others

Then two brothers fell at the hands of Phineus. They were Broteas, and Ammon the famous boxers, who would have been able to overcome anything, if boxing gloves were able to overcome swords, and Ampycus, priest of Ceres, his forehead wreathed with white fillets. And you Lampetides, summoned, but not for this purpose, who played the lute and sang, the work of peace, ordered to help celebrate the feast, and recite the bridal songs. Pedasus, mockingly shouted to him, as he stood to one side holding his unwarlike plectrum, "Go and sing the rest to the Stygian shades!" and pierced his left temple with his blade. He fell, and tried to pluck the lyric strings again, with dying fingers, and, falling, struck a plaintive note.

Lycormas, angered, did not allow him to die without taking revenge. Grasping a heavy bar from the door on his right, he struck Pedasus, in the middle of his neck-bones, and he fell dead to the ground, like a bullock at the sacrifice. Pelates, from the banks of Cinyps, tried to take the bar from the left door, and, while attempting to do so, his right hand was transfixed by the spear of Corythus, from Marmarica, and pinned to the wood. Abas pierced him in the side as he was fastened there, and he did not fall, but hung there, dying, from the post to which his hand was nailed. Melaneus, a follower of Perseus's cause, was also killed, and Dorylas, the wealthiest man in the fields of Nasamonia, Dorylas whose wealth was in fields, than whom no man held a greater tract, nor could pile up as many heaps of spices. A missile thrown from the side stuck in his groin, that fatal place. When Halcyoneus of Bactria, the perpetrator of the wound, saw him gasping for life, his eyes rolling, he said "Of all your lands you shall have only this earth you lie on!" and left his bloodless corpse. But Perseus, the avenger, the descendant of Abas, turned against him the spear, pulled hot from the wound. Catching the nose, it went through the middle of the neck, jutting out front and back.

While Fortune aided his hand, Perseus killed Clytius and Clanis, born of one mother, with different wounds. An ashen spear, from his strong arm, went through both Clytius's thighs, while Clanis's jaw bit on a javelin. Mendesian Celadon was killed, Astreus, of unknown father and Syrian mother, Aethion, once skilled in telling the future, now deceived by lack of foresight, Thoactes, the armour-bearer of the king, and Agyrtes, notorious for murdering his own father.

Perseus uses the Gorgon's head

There is yet more to be done, despite what he has endured: the purpose of all is to overwhelm this one man. The bands of conspirators oppose him on all sides, in a cause opposed to justice, and good faith. His father, with helpless loyalty, and his new bride and her mother, support him to the best of their abilities, filling the palace with their cries. But the clash of weapons and the groans of the fallen, drown them out, and at the same time Bellona, goddess of war, pollutes and drenches the penates, the household gods, with blood, and stirs renewed conflict.

Phineus and a thousand followers of Phineus, surround the one man. Spears to the right of him, spears to the left of him, fly thicker than winter hail, past his eyes and ears. He sets his back and shoulders against a massive stone column, and protected behind, turns towards the opposing crowd of men, and withstands their threat. The Chaonian, Molpeus, presses him on the left, and on the right Ethemon, a Nabatean. Like a tiger, goaded by hunger, that hears the bellowing of two herds of cattle in separate valleys, and does not know which it would rather rush at, fired up to rush at either, so Perseus hesitates whether to strike right or left. He drives Molpeus off, piercing him with a wound to the leg, and is content to let him go: but Ethemon allows him no time, and raging and eager to give him a wound high on the neck, flails at him, incautiously and violently, and fractures his sword, striking it on the extreme edge of the column. The blade is detached, and fixes itself in its owner's throat. The wound it gives him is not serious enough to cause his death, but as he stands there, quivering, and uselessly stretching out his defenceless arms, Perseus stabs him with Cyllenian Mercury's curved sword.

When Perseus saw indeed that, his efforts would succumb to the weight of numbers, he said "Since you plan it like this, I will ask help of the enemy. If there are any friends here, turn your face away!" and he held up the Gorgon's head. "Find others, who might be worried by your marvel" said Thesculus, but as he prepared to throw his deadly javelin, he was frozen, like a marble statue, in the act. Ampyx, next to him, thrust his sword straight at the heart of the courageous descendant of Lynceus, and, in thrusting, his right hand stiffened, without movement this way or that. But Nileus who falsely claimed that he was born of the Nile with its seven mouths, his shield engraved with its seven streams, part gold, part silver, cried "Perseus, see, the sources of my people: it will be a great consolation to you to take with you, in death, to the silent shadows, the knowledge of having fallen to so noble a man'. The last echo of his voice was cut off in mid-flight, and you might believe his mouth still wished to speak, though it was no longer pervious to words.

Eryx rebuked them, saying, "Lack of courage, not the power of the Gorgon, freezes you. Rush in with me and knock this youth and his magic weapon to the ground!" He had started his rush, but the floor held his feet fast, and there he stayed, unmoving stone, a fully-armed statue.

Phineus is turned to stone

They all deserved the punishment they suffered, except one of Perseus's warriors. While he was fighting on his side, Aconteus, saw the Gorgon's head, and took the shape of hardened stone. Astyages struck him with his long sword thinking he was still alive, and the blade gave a high-pitched ringing noise. While Astyages stood there amazed, the same power transformed him, and he remained there with a wondering look on his marble face. It would take a long time to tell the names of the middle ranks of men: two hundred bodies survived the fight, two hundred bodies were turned to stone, at sight of the Gorgon's head.

Now, at last, Phineus regrets the unjust fight, but what can he do? He sees the figures in diverse attitudes, and recognises the men, and calling on each by name, asks his help. Disbelieving, he touches the bodies nearest to him. They are marble. He averts his gaze from Perseus, and in supplication, he stretches out his hands in acknowledgement, his arms still held out towards him. "Perseus', he cries, "you have won! Take away that monstrous thing of yours: remove your head of the Medusa, whoever she may be, that turns men to stone. Take it away, I beg you! It was not hate, or desire for power, that drove me to war. I took up arms to win a bride! Your claim was greater by merit, but mine by precedence. I do not regret ending it. Give me nothing, except my life, most resolute of men, the rest is yours!" So speaking, not daring to look towards him to whom he directed his request, Perseus replied "Have no fear, most cowardly Phineus, I will grant both what I can grant, and what is a great gift to the fearful! You will not suffer the sword. Rather I will cause you to be an enduring monument through the ages, and you will always be seen in my father-in-law's palace, so that my wife may find solace in the statue of her intended." He spoke, and carried the head of Phorcys's daughter to where Phineus had turned his frightened face. As Phineus tried to avert his gaze, his neck hardened, and the tears on his cheeks were turned to stone. Now the frightened face, the suppliant expression, the submissive hands, and the slavish appearance, remained, in marble.

The victorious descendant of Abas, with his bride, enters Argos, his ancestral city, and as the champion and vindicator of his grandfather Acrisius, who little deserves it, he attacks Proetus, who has made his brother a fugitive by force of arms, and seized his stronghold. But neither by force of arms, nor by possession of the stronghold he had taken in his wickedness, could he overcome the fierce gaze of the snake-wreathed monster.

Still, you, O Polydectes, king of tiny Seriphos, softened neither by the young man's virtue, visible in all his efforts, nor by his suffering, nursed a harsh and unrelenting hatred, and there was no limit to your baseless anger. You disparaged the praise given him, and accused his account of the killing of Medusa of being a lie. "I will give you evidence of its truth. Friends, protect your eyes!" cried Perseus, and with the face of Medusa he turned the face of the king to bloodless stone.

Minerva on Helicon

Up to this point Tritonian Minerva had given her time, freely, in friendship, to this brother of hers, conceived in a shower of gold, but now, surrounded by vaulted cloud, she vanished from the island of Seriphos, and leaving Cythnus and Gyarus behind on her right, she headed for Thebes, and Mount Helicon, home of the virgin Muses, crossing the sea by whichever way seemed quickest. Reaching it, she alighted there, and spoke to the sisters, learned in song, saying "Talk of a new fountain has reached my ears, that gushed out from under the hard hoof of winged Pegasus, born of Medusa. That is the reason for my journey. I wanted to see this wonderful creation. He himself I saw born from his mother's blood."

Urania replied "Whatever reason brings you here, to see our home, goddess, you are dear to our hearts. But the tale is true: Pegasus is the source of our fountain', and she led her to the sacred waters. Pallas, having looked in wonder, for a long time, at this stream, made by the blow of the horses hoof, gazed around her at the groves of ancient trees, the caves, and the grass, embroidered with innumerable flowers, and said that the daughters of Mnemosyne were equally happy in their home and their pursuits. At which one of the sisters answered, "O, Tritonia, who would have been one of our choir, if your virtues had not formed you for greater things, what you say is true, and you rightly approve our arts and our haunts. Our life is happy, if only it were safe. But (nothing is sacred to the wicked), all things frighten virgin minds. Dread Pyreneus's destruction is in front of my eyes, and my mind has not yet recovered fully.

That fierce man had captured Daulis and the Phocian fields, with his Thracian warriors, and wrongly held the kingdom. We were heading for the shrine on Parnassus. He saw us going by, and his face showing apparent reverence for our divinity, he said (knowing us), "Mnemonides, wait, don't be afraid, I beg you, to shelter from the rain and the lowering skies' (it was raining): "The gods have often entered humbler homes'. Responding to his words, and the weather, we gave the man our assent, and went into the entrance hall of the palace. The rain stopped, the north wind overcame the south, and the dark clouds fled from the clearing sky. We wished to go. Pyreneus closed the doors, and prepared for violence, and we escaped that only by taking to our wings. He stood on the highest summit, as if he would follow us, saying "Whatever is your way, is also mine", and foolishly threw himself from the roof of the main tower. He fell headlong, breaking his skull, hammering the ground in dying, and staining the earth with his evil blood."

The contest between the Pierides and the Muses

The Muse was speaking: wings sounded in the air, and voices in greeting came out of the high branches. The daughter of Jupiter looked up, and questioned where the sound came from, that was so much like mouths speaking, and thought it human, though it was birdsong. Nine of them, magpies, that imitate everything, had settled in the branches, bemoaning their fate. While she wondered, the other began speaking, goddess to goddess, "Defeated in a contest, they have been added only recently to the flocks of birds. Pierus of Pella, rich in fields, was their father, and Paeonian Euippe was their mother. Nine times, while giving birth, she called, nine times, to powerful Lucina. Swollen with pride in their numbers, this crowd of foolish sisters came here, to us, through the many cities of Achaia and Haemonia, and challenged us to a singing competition, saying "Stop cheating the untutored masses with your empty sweetness. If you have faith in yourselves, contend with us, you goddesses of Thespiae. We cannot be outdone in voice or art, and we are your equals in numbers. If you want, if you are defeated, you can grant us the Heliconian fountains, Hippocrene, of Medusa's offspring, and Boeotian Aganippe. Or we will grant you the Emathian plains as far as snow-covered Paeonia! Let the nymphs decide the outcome."

It was shameful to compete with them, but it seemed more shameful to concede. The nymphs were elected, and swore on their streams to judge fairly, and sat on platforms of natural rock. Then, without drawing lots, the one who had first declared the contest sang, of the war with the gods, granting false honours to the giants, and diminishing the actions of the mighty deities. How Typhoeus, issued forth from his abode in the depths of the earth, filling the heavenly gods with fear, and how they all turned their backs in flight, till Egypt received them, and the Nile with its seven mouths. She told how earth-born Typhoeus came there as well, and the gods concealed themselves in disguised forms. "Jupiter" she said, "turned himself into a ram, the head of the flock, and even now Libyan Ammon is shown with curving horns. Delian Apollo hid as a crow, Bacchus, Semele's child, as a goat, Diana, the sister of Phoebus, a cat, Saturnian Juno a white cow, Venus a fish, and Cyllenian Mercury the winged ibis."

Calliope sings: Cupid makes Dis fall in love

"This much she played on her lute, with singing voice. Then called on us, - but perhaps you are not at leisure, or free to listen to a repetition of our music?" "Do not stop" said Pallas, "but sing your song again as you arranged it!" and she sat amongst the light shadows of the grove. The Muse renewed her tale "We gave our best singer to the contest. Calliope, who rose, with her loose hair bound with ivy, tried out the plaintive strings with her fingers, then accompanied the wandering notes with this song.

"Ceres first turned the soil with curving plough, first ripened the crops and produce of the earth, first gave us laws: all things are Ceres's gift. My song is of her. If only I could create a song in any way worthy of the goddess! This goddess is truly a worthy subject for my song.

Trinacris, the vast isle of Sicily, had been heaped over the giant's limbs, and with its great mass oppressed buried Typhoeus, he who had dared to aspire to a place in heaven. He struggles it's true and often tries to rise, but his right hand is held by the promontory of Ausonian Pelorus, and his left hand by you, Pachynus. Lilybaeum presses on his legs, Etna weighs down his head, supine beneath it, Typhoeus throws ash from his mouth, and spits out flame. Often, a wrestler, he throws back the weight of earth, and tries to roll the high mountains and the cities from his body, and then the ground trembles, and even the lord of the silent kingdom is afraid lest he be exposed, and the soil split open in wide fissures, and the light admitted to scare the anxious dead.

Fearing this disaster, the king of the dark had left his shadowy realm, and, drawn in his chariot by black horses, carefully circled the foundations of the Sicilian land. When he had checked and was satisfied that nothing was collapsing, he relinquished his fears. Then Venus, at Eryx, saw him moving, as she sat on the hillside, and embraced her winged son, Cupid, and said "My child, my hands and weapons, my power, seize those arrows, that overcome all, and devise a path for your swift arrows, to the heart of that god to whom the final share of the triple kingdom fell. You conquer the gods and Jupiter himself, the lords of the sea, and their very king, who controls the lords of the sea. Why is Tartarus excepted? Why not extend your mother's kingdom and your own? We are talking of a third part of the world. And yet, as is evident to me, I am scorned in heaven, and Love's power diminishes with mine.

Don't you see how Pallas, and the huntress Diana, forsake me? And Ceres's daughter too, Proserpine, will be a virgin if we allow it, since she hopes to be like them. But you, if you delight in our shared kingdom, can mate the goddess to her uncle." So Venus spoke: he undid his quiver, and at his mother's bidding took an arrow, one from a thousand, and none was sharper, more certain, or better obeyed the bow. Then he bent the pliant tips against his knee, and with his barbed arrow struck Dis in the heart."

Calliope sings: Dis and the rape of Proserpine

"Not far from the walls of Enna, there is a deep pool. Pergus is its name. Ca’ster does not hear more songs than rise from the swans on its gliding waves. A wood encircles the waters, surrounds them on every side, and its leaves act as a veil, dispelling Phoebus's shafts. The branches give it coolness, and the moist soil, Tyrian purple flowers: there, it is everlasting Spring. While Proserpine was playing in this glade, and gathering violets or radiant lilies, while with girlish fondness she filled the folds of her gown, and her basket, trying to outdo her companions in her picking, Dis, almost in a moment, saw her, prized her, took her: so swift as this, is love. The frightened goddess cries out to her mother, to her friends, most of all to her mother, with piteous mouth. Since she had torn her dress at the opening, the flowers she had collected fell from her loosened tunic, and even their scattering caused her virgin tears. The ravisher whipped up his chariot, and urged on the horses, calling them by name, shaking out the shadowy, dark-dyed, reins, over their necks and manes, through deep pools, they say, and the sulphurous reeking swamps of the Palici, vented from a crevice of the earth, to Syracuse where the Bacchiadae, a people born of Corinth between two seas, laid out their city between unequal harbours.

Between Cyane and Pisaean Arethusa, there is a bay enclosed by narrow arms. Here lived Cyane, best known of the Sicilian nymphs, from whom the name of the spring was also taken. She showed herself from the pool as far as her waist, and recognising the goddess, cried out to Dis, "No', and "Go no further!" "You cannot be Ceres's son against her will: the girl should have been asked, and not abused. If it is right for me to compare small things with great, Anapis prized me and I wedded him, but I was persuaded by talk and not by terror." Speaking, she stretched her arms out at her sides, obstructing him. The son of Saturn could scarcely contain his wrath, and urging on the dread horses, he turned his royal sceptre with powerful arm, and plunged it through the bottom of the pool. The earth, pierced, made a road to Tartarus, and swallowed the headlong chariot, into the midst of the abyss."

Calliope sings: Ceres searches for Proserpine

"Cyane, mourning the rape of the goddess, and the contempt for the sanctities of her fountain, nursed an inconsolable grief in her silent heart, and pined away wholly with sorrow. She melted into those waters whose great goddess she had previously been. You might see her limbs becoming softened, her bones seeming pliant, her nails losing their hardness. First of all the slenderest parts dissolve: her dusky hair, her fingers and toes, her feet and ankles (since it is no great transformation from fragile limbs to cool waters). Next her breast and back, shoulders and flanks slip away, vanishing into tenuous streams. At last the water runs in her ruined veins, and nothing remains that you could touch.

Meanwhile the mother, fearing, searches in vain for the maid, through all the earth and sea. Neither the coming of dewy-haired Aurora, nor Hesperus, finds her resting. Lighting pine torches with both hands at Etna's fires, she wanders, unquiet, through the bitter darkness, and when the kindly light has dimmed the stars, she still seeks her child, from the rising of the sun till the setting of the sun.

She found herself thirsty and weary from her efforts, and had not moistened her lips at any of the springs, when by chance she saw a hut with a roof of straw, and she knocked on its humble door. At that sound, an old woman emerged, and saw the goddess, and, when she asked for water, gave her something sweet made with malted barley. While she drank what she had been given a rash, foul-mouthed boy stood watching, and taunted her, and called her greedy. The goddess was offended, and threw the liquid she had not yet drunk, mixed with the grains of barley, in his face. His skin, absorbing it, became spotted, and where he had once had arms, he now had legs. A tail was added to his altered limbs, and he shrank to a little shape, so that he has no great power to harm. He is like a lesser lizard, a newt, of tiny size. The old woman wondered and wept, and, trying to touch the creature, it ran from her and searched out a place to hide. It has a name fitting for its offence, stellio, its body starred with various spots.

It would take too long to tell through what lands and seas the goddess wandered. Searching the whole earth, she failed to find her daughter: she returned to Sicily, and while crossing it from end to end, she came to Cyane, who if she had not been changed would have told all. But though she wished to, she had neither mouth nor tongue, nor anything with which to speak. Still she revealed clear evidence, known to the mother, and showed Persephone's ribbon, fallen, by chance, into the sacred pool. As soon as she recognised it, the goddess tore her dishevelled hair, and beat her breast again and again with her hands, as if she at last comprehended the rape. She did not know yet where Persephone was, but condemned all the lands, and called them thankless and unworthy of her gift of corn, Sicily, that Trinacria, above all, where she had discovered the traces of her loss.

So, in that place, with cruel hands, she broke the ploughs that turned up the soil, and, in her anger, dealt destruction to farmers, and the cattle in their fields, alike, and ordered the ever-faithful land to fail, and spoiled the sowing. The fertility of that country, acclaimed throughout the world, was spoken of as a fiction: the crops died as young shoots, destroyed by too much sun, and then by too much rain. Wind and weather harmed them, and hungry birds gathered the scattered seed. Thistles and darnel and stubborn grasses ruined the wheat harvest."

Calliope sings: Ceres asks Jupiter's help

"Then Arethusa, once of Elis, whom Alpheus loved, lifted her head from her pool, and brushed the wet hair from her forehead, saying "Great goddess of the crops, mother of that virgin sought through all the earth, end your fruitless efforts, and do not anger yourself so deeply against the faithful land. The land does not deserve it: it opened to the rape against its will. It is not my country, I pray for: I came here as a stranger. Pisa is my country, and Elis is my source. I am a foreigner in Sicily, but its soil is more to me than other lands. Here is my home: here are my household gods. Most gentle one, preserve it. A fitting time will come for me to tell you, how I moved from my country, and came to Ortygia, over such a great expanse of sea, when you are free of care, and of happier countenance. The fissured earth showed me a way, and slipping below the deepest caverns, here, I lifted up my head, and saw the unfamiliar stars.

So, while I glided underground down there, among Stygian streams, with these very eyes, I saw your Proserpine. She was sad indeed, but, though her face was fearful still, she was nevertheless a queen, the greatest one among the world of shadows, the powerful consort, nevertheless, of the king of hell!" The mother was stunned to hear these words, as if petrified, and was, for a long time, like someone thunderstruck, till the blow of deep amazement became deep indignation. She rose, in her chariot, to the realms of heaven. There, her whole face clouded with hate, she appeared before Jove with dishevelled hair.

Jupiter I have come to you in entreaty for my child and for your own" she cried. "If the mother finds no favour with you, let the daughter move you, and do not let your concern for her be less, I beg you, because I gave her birth. See, the daughter I have searched for so long, has been found, if you call it finding to lose her more surely, if you call it finding merely to know where she is. I can bear the fact that she has been raped, if he will only return her! A spoiler is not worthy to be the husband of your daughter, even if she is no longer my daughter." Jupiter replied "Our child is a pledge and a charge, between us, you and I. But if only we are willing to give things their right names, the thing is not an insult in itself: the truth is it is love. He would not be a shameful son-in-law for us, if only you would wish it, goddess. How great a thing it is to be Jupiter's brother, even if all the rest is lacking! Why, what if there is nothing lacking at all, except what he yielded to me by lot? But if you have such a great desire to separate them, Proserpine shall return to heaven, but on only one condition, that no food has touched her lips, since that is the law, decreed by the Fates." "

Calliope sings: Persephone's fate

"He spoke, and Ceres felt sure of regaining her daughter. But the Fates would not allow it, for the girl had broken her fast, and wandering, innocently, in a well-tended garden, she had pulled down a reddish-purple pomegranate fruit, hanging from a tree, and, taking seven seeds from its yellow rind, squeezed them in her mouth. Ascalaphus was the only one to see it, whom, it is said, Orphne bore, to her Acheron, in the dark woods, she not the least known of the nymphs of Avernus. He saw, and by his cruel disclosure, prevented Proserpine's return. Then the queen of Erebus grieved, and changed the informant into a bird of ill omen: she sprinkled his head with water from the Phlegethon, and changed him to a beak, plumage, and a pair of huge eyes. Losing his own form he is covered by his tawny wings, and looks like a head, and long, curving claws. He scarcely stirs the feathers growing on his idle wings. He has become an odious bird, a messenger of future disaster, the screech owl, torpid by day, a fearful omen to mortal creatures.

He indeed can be seen to have deserved his punishment, because of his disclosure and his words. But why have you, Sirens, skilled in song, daughters of Acheloüs, the feathers and claws of birds, while still bearing human faces? Is it because you were numbered among the companions, when Proserpine gathered the flowers of Spring? When you had searched in vain for her on land, you wanted, then, to cross the waves on beating wings, so that the waters would also know of your trouble. The gods were willing, and suddenly you saw your limbs covered with golden plumage. But, so that your song, born, sweetly, in our ears, and your rich vocal gift, might not be lost with your tongues, each virgin face and human voice remained.

Now Jupiter, intervening, between his brother and grieving sister, divides the turning year, equally. And now the goddess, Persephone, shared divinity of the two kingdoms, spends so many months with her mother, so many months with her husband. The aspect of her face and mind alters in a moment. Now the goddess's looks are glad that even Dis could see were sad, a moment ago. Just as the sun, hidden, before, by clouds of rain, wins through and leaves the clouds."

Calliope sings: Arethusa's story

"Ceres, kindly now, happy in the return of her daughter, asks what the cause of your flight was, Arethusa, and why you are now a sacred fountain. The waters fall silent while their goddess lifts her head from the deep pool, and wringing the water from her sea-green tresses, she tells of the former love of that river of Elis.

"I was one of the nymphs, that lived in Achaia," she said "none of them keener to travel the woodland, none of them keener to set out the nets. But, though I never sought fame for my beauty, though I was wiry, my name was, the beautiful. Nor did my looks, praised too often, give me delight. I blushed like a simpleton at the gifts of my body, those things that other girls used to rejoice in. I thought it was sinful to please.

Tired (I remember), I was returning, from the Stymphalian woods. It was hot, and my efforts had doubled the heat. I came to a river, without a ripple, hurrying on without a murmur, clear to its bed, in whose depths you could count every pebble: you would scarce think it moving. Silvery willows and poplars, fed by the waters, gave a natural shade to the sloping banks. Approaching I dipped my toes in, then as far as my knees, and not content with that I undressed, and draped my light clothes on a hanging willow, and plunged, naked, into the stream. While I gathered the water to me and splashed, gliding around in a thousand ways, and stretching out my arms to shake the water from them, I thought I heard a murmur under the surface, and, in fear, I leapt for the nearest bank of the flood.

"What are you rushing for, Arethusa?" Alpheus called from the waves. "Why are you rushing?" He called again to me, in a strident voice. Just as I was, I fled, without my clothes (I had left my clothes on the other bank): so much the more fiercely he pursued and burned, and being naked, I seemed readier for him. So I ran, and so he wildly followed, as doves fly from a hawk on flickering wings, as a hawk is used to chasing frightened doves. Even beyond Orchemenus, I still ran, by Psophis, and Cyllene, and the ridges of Maenalus, by chill Erymanthus, Elis, he no quicker than I. But I could not stay the course, being unequal in strength: he was fitted for unremitting effort. Still, across the plains, over tree-covered mountains, through rocks and crags, and where there was no path, I ran. The sun was at my back. I saw a long shadow stretching before my feet, unless it was my fear that saw it, but certainly I feared the sound of feet, and the deep breaths from his mouth stirred the ribbons in my hair. Weary with the effort to escape him, I cried out "Help me: I will be taken. Diana, help the one who bore your weapons for you, whom you often gave your bow to carry, and your quiver with all its arrows!" The goddess was moved, and raising an impenetrable cloud, threw it over me. The river-god circled the concealing fog, and in ignorance searched about the hollow mist. Twice, without understanding, he rounded the place, where the goddess had concealed me, and twice called out "Arethusa, O Arethusa!" What wretched feelings were mine, then? Perhaps those the lamb has when it hears the wolves, howling round the high fold, or the hare, that, hidden in the briars, sees the dogs hostile muzzles, and does not dare to make a movement of its body? He did not go far: he could see no signs of my tracks further on: he observed the cloud and the place. Cold sweat poured down my imprisoned limbs, and dark drops trickled from my whole body. Wherever I moved my foot, a pool gathered, and moisture dripped from my hair. And indeed the river-god saw his love in the water, and putting off the shape of a man he had assumed, he changed back to his own watery form, and mingled with mine. The Delian goddess split the earth, and plunging down into secret caverns, I was brought here to Ortygia, dear to me, because it has the same name as my goddess, the ancient name, for Delos, where she was born, and this was the first place to receive me, into the clear air." "

Calliope sings: Triptolemus. The Fate of the Pierides

"That was as far as Arethusa went. The goddess of all that is fertile, fastened twin dragons to her chariot, curbing them with the bit, between their teeth, and was carried through the air, between heaven and earth. Reaching Eleusis, by Athens, city of Tritonian Minerva, she gave her swift chariot to Triptolemus, and ordered him to scatter the seeds she gave, partly in untilled soil, partly in fields reclaimed, after lying for a long time fallow.

Now the youth was carried high over Europe and Asia. He turned his face towards Scythia where, Lyncus was king. He stood before the king's household gods. He was asked how he had come there, and the reason for his journey, his name and his country. He said "Athens, the famous city, is my home, Triptolemus, my name. I came not by ship, on the sea, or by foot, over land. The clear air parted for me. I bring you the gifts of Ceres. If you scatter them through the wide fields, they will give you back fruitful harvests, and ripening crops." The barbarian was jealous. So that he might be the author, of so great a gift, he received him like a guest, but attacked Triptolemus, with a sword, while he was in deep sleep. As he tried to pierce the youth's breast, Ceres turned the king into a lynx, then ordered the youth, of Athens, the city of Mopsopus, to drive the sacred team back through the air."

"So ended the singing, from the greatest of our singers, and the nymphs, with one harmonious voice, said that the goddesses of Helicon had taken the honours. When the losers hurled abuse at us, I said "Seeing that you deserve punishment enough for your challenge, and now add profanities to your offence, and since our patience is not unlimited, we will move on to sentence you, and follow where anger prompts us." The Emathides laughed and ridiculed these threatening words, but as they tried to speak, and, attack us with insolent hands, making a great clamour, they saw feathers spring from under their nails, and plumage cover their arms. Each one saw the next one's mouth harden to a solid beak, and a new bird enter the trees. When they wanted to beat their breasts in sorrow, they hung in the air, lifted by the movement of their arms, magpies now, the slanderers of the woods. Even now, as birds, their former eloquence remains, their raucous garrulity, and their monstrous capacity for chatter."

TO TOP


Book 6

Arachne rejects Minerva

Tritonian Minerva had listened to every word, and approved of the Aonian Muses's song, and their justified indignation. Then she said, to herself, "To give praise is not enough, let me be praised as well, and not allow my divine powers to be scorned without inflicting punishment." Her thoughts turned to Arachne, of Maeonia, whom she had heard would not give her due credit, in the art of spinning. The girl was not known for her place of birth, or family, but for her skill. Her father, Idmon of Colophon, dyed the absorbent wool purple, with Phocaean murex. Her mother was dead. She too had been of humble birth, and the father the same. Nevertheless, though she lived in a modest home, in little Hypaepa, Arachne had gained a name for artistry, throughout the cities of Lydia.

Often the nymphs of Mount Tmolus deserted their vine-covered slopes, and the nymphs of the River Pactolus deserted their waves, to examine her wonderful workmanship. It was not only a joy to see the finished cloths, but also to watch them made: so much beauty added to art. Whether at first she was winding the rough yarn into a new ball, or working the stuff with her fingers, teasing out the clouds of wool, repeatedly, drawing them into long equal threads, twirling the slender spindle with practised thumb, or embroidering with her needle, you could see she was taught by Pallas. Yet she denied it, and took offense at the idea of such a teacher. "Contend with me" she said "I will not disagree at all if I am beaten'.

Pallas Minerva challenges Arachne

Pallas Minerva took the shape of an old woman: adding grey hair to her temples, and ageing her limbs, which she supported with a stick. Then she spoke, to the girl, as follows. "Not everything old age has is to be shunned: knowledge comes with advancing years. Do not reject my advice: seek great fame amongst mortals for your skill in weaving, but give way to the goddess, and ask her forgiveness, rash girl, with a humble voice: she will forgive if you will ask." Arachne looked fiercely at her and left the work she was on: scarcely restraining her hands, and with dark anger in her face. Pallas, disguised it is true, received this answer. "Weak-minded and worn out by tedious old age, you come here, and having lived too long destroys you. Let your daughter-in-law if you have one, let your daughter if you have one, listen to your voice. I have wisdom enough of my own. You think your advice is never heeded: that is my feeling too. Why does she not come herself? Why does she shirk this contest?

The goddess said "She is here!" and, relinquishing the old woman's form, revealed Pallas Minerva. The nymphs and the Phrygian women worshipped her godhead: the girl alone remained unafraid, yet she did blush, as the sky is accustomed to redden when Aurora first stirs, and, after a while, to whiten at the sun from the east. She is stubborn in her attempt, and rushes on to her fate, eager for a worthless prize. Now, Jupiter's daughter does not refuse, and does not give warning, or delay the contest a moment. Immediately they both position themselves, in separate places, and stretch out the fine threads, for the warp, over twin frames. The frame is fastened to the cross-beam; the threads of the warp separated with the reed; the thread of the weft is inserted between, in the pointed shuttles that their fingers have readied; and, drawn through the warp, the threads of the weft are beaten into place, struck by the comb's notched teeth. They each work quickly, and, with their clothes gathered in tight, under their breasts, apply skilful arms, their zeal not making it seem like work. There, shades of purple, dyed in Tyrian bronze vessels, are woven into the cloth, and also lighter colours, shading off gradually. The threads that touch seem the same, but the extremes are distant, as when, often, after a rainstorm, the expanse of the sky, struck by the sunlight, is stained by a rainbow in one vast arch, in which a thousand separate colours shine, but the eye itself still cannot see the transitions. There, are inserted lasting threads of gold, and an ancient tale is spun in the web.

Pallas weaves her web

Pallas Athene depicts the hill of Mars, and the court of the Aeropagus, in Cecrops's Athens, and the old dispute between Neptune and herself, as to who had the right to the city and its name. There the twelve gods sit in great majesty, on their high thrones, with Jupiter in the middle. She weaves the gods with their familiar attributes. The image of Jupiter is a royal one. There she portrays the Ocean god, standing and striking the rough stone, with his long trident, and seawater flowing from the centre of the shattered rock, a token of his claim to the city. She gives herself a shield, a sharp pointed spear, and a helmet for her head, while the aegis protects her breast. She shows an olive-tree with pale trunk, thick with fruit, born from the earth at a blow from her spear, the gods marvelling: and Victory crowns the work.

Then she adds four scenes of contest in the four corners, each with miniature figures, in their own clear colours, so that her rival might learn, from the examples quoted, what prize she might expect, for her outrageous daring. One corner shows Thracian Mount Rhodope and Mount Haemus, now icy peaks, once mortal beings who ascribed the names of the highest gods to themselves. A second corner shows the miserable fate of the queen of the Pygmies: how Juno, having overcome her in a contest, ordered her to become a crane and make war on her own people. Also she pictures Antigone, whom Queen Juno turned into a bird for having dared to compete with Jupiter's great consort: neither her father Laomedon, nor her city Ilium were of any use to her, but taking wing as a white stork she applauds herself with clattering beak. The only corner left shows Cinyras, bereaved: and he is seen weeping as he clasps the stone steps of the temple that were once his daughters' limbs. Minerva surrounded the outer edges with the olive wreaths of peace (this was the last part) and so ended her work with emblems of her own tree.

Arachne weaves hers in reply

The Maeonian girl depicts Europa deceived by the form of the bull: you would have thought it a real bull and real waves. She is seen looking back to the shore she has left, and calling to her companions, displaying fear at the touch of the surging water, and drawing up her shrinking feet.

Also Arachne showed Asterie, held by the eagle, struggling, and Leda lying beneath the swan's wings. She added Jupiter who, hidden in the form of a satyr, filled Antiope, daughter of Nycteus with twin offspring; who, as Amphitryon, was charmed by you, Alcmena, of Tiryns; by Danaë, as a golden shower; by Aegina, daughter of Asopus, as a flame; by Mnemosyne, as a shepherd; by Proserpine, Ceres's daughter, as a spotted snake.

She wove you, Neptune, also, changed to a fierce bull for Canace, Aeolus's daughter. In Enipeus's form you begot the Aloidae, and deceived Theophane as a ram. The golden-haired, gentlest, mother of the cornfields, knew you as a horse. The snake-haired mother of the winged horse, knew you as a winged bird. Melantho knew you as a dolphin. She gave all these their own aspects, and the aspects of the place. Here is Phoebus like a countryman, and she shows him now with the wings of a hawk, and now in a lion's skin, and how as a shepherd he tricked Isse, Macareus's daughter. She showed how Bacchus ensnared Erigone with delusive grapes, and how Saturn as the double of a horse begot Chiron. The outer edge of the web, surrounded by a narrow border, had flowers interwoven with entangled ivy.

Arachne is turned into a spider

Neither Pallas nor Envy itself could fault that work. The golden-haired warrior goddess was grieved by its success, and tore the tapestry, embroidered with the gods' crimes, and as she held her shuttle made of boxwood from Mount Cytorus, she struck Idmonian Arachne, three or four times, on the forehead. The unfortunate girl could not bear it, and courageously slipped a noose around her neck: Pallas, in pity, lifted her, as she hung there, and said these words, "Live on then, and yet hang, condemned one, but, lest you are careless in future, this same condition is declared, in punishment, against your descendants, to the last generation!" Departing after saying this, she sprinkled her with the juice of Hecate's herb, and immediately at the touch of this dark poison, Arachne's hair fell out. With it went her nose and ears, her head shrank to the smallest size, and her whole body became tiny. Her slender fingers stuck to her sides as legs, the rest is belly, from which she still spins a thread, and, as a spider, weaves her ancient web.

Niobe rejects the worship of Latona

All of Lydia murmurs: the tale goes through the towns of Phrygia, and fills the whole world with talk. Niobe had known Arachne. As a girl, before her marriage, she had lived in Maeonia, near Mount Sipylus. Nevertheless she was not warned by her countrywoman's fate, to give the gods precedence, and use more modest words. Many things swelled her pride, but neither her husband Amphion's marvellous art in music, nor both of their high lineages, nor the might of their great kingdom of Thebes, pleased her, though they did please her, as much as her children did. And Niobe would have been spoken of as the most fortunate of mothers, if she had not seemed so to herself.

Now Manto, the daughter of Tiresias, prescient of the future, stirred by divine impulse, went through the middle of the streets, declaiming. "Women of Thebes, Ismenides, go, as a crowd, and wreathe your hair with laurel, and bring incense with holy prayer to Latona, and Latona's children, Diana and Apollo. Latona commands it through my mouth."

They obey: all the Theban women, as commanded, dress their temples with sweet-bay, and bring incense and words of prayer to the sacred flames.

Look, Niobe comes, followed by a crowded thong, visible, in her Phrygian robes woven with gold, and as beautiful as anger will let her be. Turning her lovely head with the hair falling loose over both her shoulders, she pauses, and looks around with pride in her eyes, from her full height, saying " What madness, to prefer the gods you are told about to the ones you see? Why is Latona worshipped at the altars, while as yet my godhead is without its incense? Tantalus is my father, who is the only man to eat the food of the gods. My mother is one of the seven sisters, the Pleiades. Great Atlas, who carries the axis of the heavens on his shoulders, is one of my grandfathers. Jupiter is the other, and I glory in having him as my father-in-law as well. The peoples of Phrygia fear me. Cadmus's royal house is under my rule: and the walls, built to my husband's lyre, and Thebes's people, will be ruled by his power and mine. Whichever part of the palace I turn my eyes on, I look at immense wealth. Augment it with my beauty, worthy of a goddess, and add to this my seven daughters, as many sons, and soon my sons- and my daughters-in-law! Now, ask what the reason is for my pride, and then dare to prefer Latona to me, that Titaness, daughter of Coeus, whoever he is. Latona, whom the wide earth once refused even a little piece of ground to give birth on.

Land, sea, and sky were no refuge for your goddess. She was exiled from the world, till Delos, pitying the wanderer, gave her a precarious place, saying "Friend, you wander the earth, I the sea." There she gave birth to twins, only a seventh of my offspring. I am fortunate (indeed, who can deny it?) and I will stay fortunate (and who can doubt that too?). My riches make me safe. I am greater than any whom Fortune can harm, and though she could take much away, she would leave me much more. Surely my comforts banish fear. Imagine that some of this host of children could be taken from me, I would still not, bereaved, be reduced to the two of Latona's family. In that state, how far is she from childlessness? Go home - enough of holy things - and take those laurel wreaths from your hair!" They relinquish them, and leave the rite unfinished, except what is their right, reverencing the goddess in a secret murmur.

The gods' vengeance: Niobe's sons are killed

The goddess was deeply angered, and on the summit of Mount Cynthus she spoke to her twin children. "See, it will be doubted whether I, your mother, proud to have borne you, and giving way to no goddess, except Juno, am a goddess, and worship will be prevented at my altars through all the ages, unless you help me, my children. Nor is this my only grief. This daughter of Tantalus has added insult to injury, and has dared to put her children above you, and has called me childless, may that recoil on her own head, and has shown she has her father's tongue for wickedness." Latona would have added her entreaties to what she had related, but Phoebus cried "Enough! Long complaint delays her punishment! Phoebe said the same, and falling swiftly through the air, concealed by clouds, they reached the house of Cadmus.

There was a broad, open plain near the walls, flattened by the constant passage of horses, where many wheels and hard hooves had levelled the turf beneath them. There, a number of Amphion's seven sons mounted on their strong horses, and sitting firmly on their backs, bright with Tyrian purple, guided them using reins heavy with gold. While Ismenus, one of these, who had been the first of his mother's burdens, was wheeling his horse's path around in an unerring circle, and hauling at the foaming bit, he cried out "Oh, I am wounded!" and revealed an arrow fixed in his chest, and loosing the reins from his dying hands, slipped gradually, sideways, over his mount's right shoulder.

Next Sipylus, hearing the sound of a quiver in the empty air, let out the reins, just as a shipmaster sensing a storm runs for it when he sees the cloud, and claps on all sail, so that not even the slightest breeze is lost. Still giving full rein, he was overtaken, by the arrow none can avoid, and the shaft stuck quivering in his neck, and the naked tip protruded from his throat. Leaning forward, as he was, he rolled down over the mane and the galloping hooves, and stained the ground with warm blood.

Unlucky Phaedimus, and Tantalus, who carried his grandfather's name, at the end of the usual task imposed on them, had joined the exercise of the young men, and were gleaming with oil in the wrestling match. And now they were fully engaged, in a tight hold, chest to chest, when an arrow, loosed from the taut bow, pierced them both, as they were. They groaned as one, and fell as one, their limbs contorted with pain. As they lay there, they cast a last dying look, as one, and, as one, gave up the ghost. Alphenor saw them die, and striking at his breast in anguish, he ran to them to lift their cold bodies in his embrace. In this filial service he also fell, for Delian Apollo tore at his innermost parts with deadly steel. As the shaft was removed, a section of his lung was drawn with it, caught on the barbs, and with his life's blood his spirit rushed out into the air.

But it was not a simple wound that longhaired Damasicthon suffered. He was hit where the shin begins, and where the sinews of the knee leave a soft place between. While he was trying to pull out the fatal shaft with his hand, another arrow was driven into his throat as far as the feathers. The rush of blood expelled it, and gushing out, spurted high in the air, in a long jet. The last son, Ilioneus, stretched out his arms in vain entreaty. "O you company of all the gods, spare me!" he cried, unaware that he need not ask them all. The archer god Apollo was moved, though already the dart could not be recalled: yet only a slight wound killed the boy, the arrow not striking deeply in his heart.

Niobe's daughters are killed: Her fate

The rumour of trouble, the people's sorrow, and the tears of her own family, confirming sudden disaster to the mother, left her astounded that the gods could have done it, and angered that they had such power, and dared to use it. Now, she learned that the father, Amphion, driving the iron blade through his heart, had, in dying, ended pain and life together. Alas, how different this Niobe from that Niobe, the one, who a moment ago chased the people from Latona's altar, and made her way through the city with head held high, enviable to her friends, and now more to be pitied by her enemies. She threw herself on the cold bodies, and without regard for due ceremony, gave all her sons a last kiss. Turning from them she lifted her bruised arms to the sky, and cried out "Feed your heart, cruel one, Latona, on my pain, feed your heart, and be done! Be done, savage spirit! I am buried seven times. Exult and triumph over your enemy! But where is the victory? Even in my misery I have more than you in your happiness. After so many deaths, I still outdo you!"

She spoke, and the twang of a taut bowstring sounded, terrifying all of them, except Niobe. Pain gave her courage. The sisters, with black garments, and loosened hair, were standing by their brothers' bodies. One, grasping at an arrow piercing her side, falling, fainted in death beside her brother's face. A second, attempting to comfort her grieving mother, fell silent, and was bent in agony with a hidden wound. She pressed her lips together, but life had already fled. One fell trying in vain to run, and her sister fell across her. One tried to hide, while another trembled in full view. Now six had been dealt death, suffering their various wounds: the last remained. The mother, with all her robes and with her body, protected her, and cried out "Leave me just one, the youngest! I only ask for one, the youngest of all!" While she prayed, she, for whom she prayed, was dead. Childless, she sat among the bodies of her sons, her daughters, and her husband, frozen in grief.

The breeze stirs not a hair, the colour of her cheeks is bloodless, and her eyes are fixed motionless in her sad face: nothing in that likeness is alive. Inwardly her tongue is frozen to the solid roof of her mouth, and her veins cease their power to throb. Her neck cannot bend, nor her arms recall their movement, nor her feet lead her anywhere. Inside, her body is stone. Yet she weeps, and, enclosed in a powerful whirlwind, she is snatched away to her own country: there, set on a mountain top, she wears away, and even now tears flow from the marble.

The story of Latona and the Lycians

Now all men and women are indeed afraid of the anger manifested by divine being, and all pay more respect to the great power of the goddess, the mother of the twins. As often happens, because of recent events they tell old stories, and one says "In Lycia's fertile fields, in ancient times, also, the farmers spurned the goddess, and not without suffering for it. The thing is not well known, it is true, because the men were unknown, nevertheless, it was wonderful. I myself saw the place, and the lake made notable by the strangeness of it, since my father, getting old, and unable to endure the journey, had ordered me to collect some choice cattle from there, and one of the men of that country had offered himself as a guide. While I crossed the pastureland with him, there was an old altar, black with ashes, standing in the middle of a lake, surrounded by trembling reeds. My guide stopped and, shivering with fear, said in a murmur "Have mercy on me!" and I, similarly, said in a murmur "Have mercy!"

Then I asked him whether it was an altar to the Naiads, Faunus, or a local god, and my friend replied "Young man, it is no mountain spirit in this altar. She calls it hers, whom the queen of heaven once banned from the world, and whom vagrant Delos, a lightly floating island, would barely accept, at her prayer. There, between Pallas's olive tree and a date-palm, Latona bore her twins, against their step-mother Juno's will. Having endured her labour, even then she fled Juno, carrying the divine twins clasped to her breast.

Then, inside the borders of Lycia, home of the Chimaera, as the fierce sun scorched the fields, the goddess, weary from her long struggle, and parched by the radiant heat, felt her thirst: also her hungry children had drunk all her rich milk. By chance she saw a smallish lake in a deep valley. Countrymen were there, gathering bushy osiers, rushes, and the fine marsh sedges. The Titan's daughter approached, and putting her knee to the ground, rested, to enjoy a drink of the cool water. The group of rustics denied it to her. The goddess, denied, spoke. "Why do you forbid me your waters? The use of water is everyone's right. Nature has not made the sun, or the air, or the clear waves, private things. I come for a public gift, and yet I beg you to grant it to me as a suppliant. I was not preparing to bathe my limbs and my weary body here, only to quench my thirst. My mouth lacks moisture from speaking, my throat is dry, and there's scarcely a path here for speech. A drink of water would be nectar to me, and I would bear witness to accepting life from it, as well: you will be giving life from your waves. Let these children move you, also, who stretch their little arms out from my breast."

And it chanced that they did stretch out their arms. Who would not have been moved by the goddess's winning words? Yet, despite her prayers they persisted in denying her, with threats, if she did not take herself off, and added insults besides. Not content with that, they also stirred the pool with their hands and feet, and churned up the soft mud from the depths, by leaping about, maliciously. Anger forgot thirst, for now the daughter of Coeus could not bear to beg from the unworthy, nor speak in words inferior to those of a goddess, and stretching her palms to the heavens, she said "Live in that swamp for ever!" It happened as the goddess wished: It is their delight to be under the water, now to submerge their bodies completely in the deep pool, now to show their heads, now to swim on the surface. Often they squat on the edges of the marsh, often retreat to the cool lake, but now as before they employ their ugly voices in quarrelling, and shamefully, even though they are under the water, from under the water they try out their abuse. Now their voices are also hoarse, their inflated throats are swollen, and their croaking distends their wide mouths. Their shoulders and heads meet, and their necks appear to have vanished. Their backs are green; their bellies, the largest part of their body, are white, and, as newly made frogs, they leap in their muddy pool.

The tale of Marsyas

When whoever it was had finished relating the ruin of the men of Lycia, another storyteller remembered the satyr, Marsyas, whom Apollo, Latona's son, had defeated, playing on the flute, that Tritonian Minerva invented. He had exacted punishment. Marsyas cried "Why do you peel me out of myself? "Aah! I repent', he screamed in agony. "Aah! Music is not worth this pain!" As he screams, the skin is flayed from the surface of his body, no part is untouched. Blood flows everywhere, the exposed sinews are visible, and the trembling veins quiver, without skin to hide them: you can number the internal organs, and the fibres of the lungs, clearly visible in his chest. The woodland gods, and the fauns of the countryside, wept, and his brother satyrs, Olympus his friend and pupil, still dear to him then, and the nymphs, and all who pastured their fleecy sheep and horned cattle on those mountains. The fertile soil was drenched, and the drenched earth caught the falling tears, and absorbed them into its deep veins. It formed a stream then, and sent it into the clear air. From there it ran within sloping banks, quickly, to the sea, the clearest river of Phrygia, taking Marsyas's name.

The marriage of Procne and Tereus

From such tales as these the company turns immediately to the present, and mourns the loss of Amphion and his children. The mother was blamed, though even then one man, her brother Pelops, is said to have wept for her and, after taking off his tunic, to have shown the ivory, of his left shoulder. This was of flesh, and the same colour as his right shoulder, at the time of his birth. Later, when he had been cut in pieces, by his father, it is said that the gods fitted his limbs together again. They found the pieces, but one was lost, between the upper arm and the neck. Ivory was used in place of the missing part, and by means of that Pelops was made whole.

The princes, of countries to the southwest, near neighbours of Thebes, gathered, and the cities related to Thebes urged their kings to go and offer sympathy. Argos and Sparta, and Peloponnesian Mycenae, Calydon not yet cursed for rejecting Diana, fertile Orchomenos, and Corinth famous for bronze; warlike Messene, Patrae, and low-lying Cleonae, Nelean Pylos, and Troezen not yet ruled by Pittheus; and whichever of the other cities were southwest of the Isthmus, lying between its two seas, or seen to the northeast of the Isthmus, lying between its two seas. But who can believe this? Athens, alone, did nothing. War prevented them doing so. A Barbarian army had crossed the sea and brought terror to the walls of the city of Mopsopius.

Tereus of Thrace routed these Barbarians, with his army of auxiliaries, and won a great name by his victory. Since Tereus was a master of men and riches, and happened to trace his descent from mighty Mars himself, Pandion, king of Athens, made them allies, by giving him his daughter Procne in marriage. Neither Juno, who attends on brides, nor Hymen, nor the three Graces, was there. The Eumenides, the Furies, held torches snatched from a funeral. The Eumenides, the Furies, prepared their marriage bed, and the unholy screech owl brooded over their house, and sat on the roof of their chamber. By this bird-omen, Procne and Tereus were joined. By this bird-omen, they were made parents. Thrace of course rejoiced with them, and they themselves gave thanks to the gods, and the day when Pandion's daughter married her illustrious king, and the day on which Itys their son was born, they commanded to be celebrated as festivals: so, always, our real advantages escape us.

Tereus's passion for Procne's sister Philomela

Now, Titan, the sun, had guided the turning year through five autumns when Procne said, coaxingly to her husband, "If any thanks are due me, either send me to see my sister, or let my sister come here. You can promise my father she will return after a brief stay. It would be worth a great deal to me, if you allowed me to see Philomela." Tereus ordered his ship to sea, and with sail and oar reached the harbour of Cecrops, and landed on the shore of Piraeus.

As soon as he gained access to his father-in-law, right hand was joined to right hand, and they began by wishing each other favourable omens. Tereus had started to tell of the reason for his visit, his wife's request, and promise a speedy return if she were sent back with him, when, see, Philomela entered, dressed in rich robes, and richer beauty, walking as we are used to being told the naiads and dryads of the deep woods do, if only one were to give them like her culture and dress. Seeing the girl, Tereus took fire, just as if someone touched a flame to corn stubble, or burned the leaves, or hay stored in a loft. Her beauty was worthy of it, but he was driven by his natural passion, and the inclination of the people of his region is towards lust: he burnt with his own vice and his nation's. His impulse was to erode her attendants care, and her nurse's loyalty, even seduce the girl herself with rich gifts, to the extent of his kingdom, or rape her and defend the rape in savage war. There was nothing he would not dare, possessed by unbridled desire, nor could he contain the flame in his heart.

Now he suffered from impatience, and eagerly returned to Procne's request, pursuing his own wishes as hers. Desire made him eloquent, and whenever he petitioned more strongly than was seemly, he would make out that Procne wished it so. He even embellished his speeches with tears, as though she had commissioned him to do that too. You gods, what secret darknesses human hearts hide! Due to his efforts, Tereus is viewed as faithful, in his deceit, and is praised for his crime. Moreover Philomela wishes his request granted, and resting her forearms on her father's shoulders, coaxing him to let her go to visit her sister, she urges it, in her own interest, and against it. Tereus gazes at her, and imagining her as already his, watching her kisses, and her arms encircling her father's neck, it all spurs him on, food and fuel to his frenzy. Whenever she embraces her father, he wishes he were that father: though of course his intentions would be no less wicked. The father is won over by the twin entreaties. The girl is overjoyed, and thanks her father, and thinks, poor wretch, that what will bring sorrow to both sisters is actually a success for both.

Tereus forces Philomela

Now little was left of Phoebus's daily labour, and his horses were treading the spaces of the western sky. A royal feast was served at Pandion's table, with wine in golden goblets. Then their bodies sated, they gave themselves to quiet sleep. But though the Thracian king retired to bed, he was disturbed by thoughts of her, and remembering her features, her gestures, her hands, he imagined the rest that he had not yet seen, as he would wish, and fuelled his own fires, in sleepless restlessness. Day broke, and Pandion, clasping his son-in-law's right hand, in parting, with tears welling in his eyes, entrusted his daughter to him. "Dear son, since affectionate reasons compel it, and both of them desire it (you too have desired it, Tereus), I give her over to you, and by your honour, by the entreaty of a heart joined to yours, and by the gods above, I beg you, protect her with a father's love, and send back to me, as soon as is possible (it will be all too long a wait for me), this sweet comfort of my old age. You too, as soon as is possible (it is enough that your sister is so far away), if you are at all dutiful, Philomela, return to me!"

So he commanded his daughter and kissed her, and soft tears mingled with his commands. As a token of their promise he took their two right hands and linked them together, and asked them, with a prayer, to remember to greet his absent daughter, and grandson, for him. His mouth sobbing, he could barely say a last farewell, and he feared the forebodings in his mind.

As soon as Philomela was on board the brightly painted ship, and the sea was churned by the oars, and the land left behind them, the barbarian king cried "I have won! I carry with me what I wished for! He exults, and his passion can scarcely wait for its satisfaction. He never turns his eyes away from her, no differently than when Jupiter's eagle deposits a hare, caught by the curved talons, in its high eyrie: there is no escape for the captive, and the raptor gazes at its prize.

Now they had completed their journey, and disembarked from the wave-worn ship, on the shores of his country. The king took her to a high-walled building, hidden in an ancient forest, and there he locked her away, she, pale and trembling, fearing everything, in tears now, begging to know where her sister was. Then, confessing his evil intent, he overcame her by force, she a virgin and alone, as she called out, again and again, in vain, to her father, her sister, and most of all to the great gods. She quivered like a frightened lamb, that fails to realise it is free, wounded and discarded by a grey wolf, or like a dove trembling, its feathers stained with its blood, still fearing the rapacious claws that gripped it. After a brief while, when she had come to her senses, she dragged at her dishevelled hair, and like a mourner, clawed at her arms, beating them against her breasts. Hands outstretched, she shouted "Oh, you savage. Oh, what an evil, cruel, thing you have done. Did you care nothing for my father's trust, sealed with holy tears, my sister's affection, my own virginity, your marriage vows? You have confounded everything. I have been forced to become my sister's rival. You are joined to both. Now Procne will be my enemy! Why not rob me of life as well, you traitor, so that no crime escapes you? If only you had done it before that impious act. Then my shade would have been free of guilt. Yet, if the gods above witness such things, if the powers of heaven mean anything, if all is not lost, as I am, then one day you will pay me for this! I, without shame, will tell what you have done. If I get the chance it will be in front of everyone. If I am kept imprisoned in these woods, I will fill the woods with it, and move the stones, that know of my guilt, to pity. The skies will hear of it, and any god that may be there!"

Philomela is mutilated

The king's anger was stirred by these words, and his fear also. Goaded by both, he freed the sword from its sheath by his side, and seizing her hair gathered it together, to use as a tie, to tether her arms behind her back. Philomela, seeing the sword, and hoping only for death, offered up her throat. But he severed her tongue with his savage blade, holding it with pincers, as she struggled to speak in her indignation, calling out her father's name repeatedly. Her tongue's root was left quivering, while the rest of it lay on the dark soil, vibrating and trembling, and, as though it were the tail of a mutilated snake moving, it writhed, as if, in dying, it was searching for some sign of her. They say (though I scarcely dare credit it) that even after this crime, he still assailed her wounded body, repeatedly, in his lust.

He controlled himself sufficiently to return to Procne, who, seeing him returned, asked where her sister was. He, with false mourning, told of a fictitious funeral, and tears gave it credence. Procne tore her glistening clothes, with their gold hems, from her shoulders, and put on black robes, and built an empty tomb, and mistakenly brought offerings, and lamented the fate of a sister, not yet due to be lamented in that way.

The truth is revealed

The sun-god has circled the twelve signs, and a year is past. What can Philomela do? A guard prevents her escape; the thick walls of the building are made of solid stone; her mute mouth can yield no token of the facts. Great trouble is inventive, and ingenuity arises in difficult times. Cleverly, she fastens her thread to a barbarian's loom, and weaves purple designs on a white background, revealing the crime. She entrusts it, when complete, to a servant, and asks her, by means of gestures, to take it to her mistress. She, as she is asked, takes it to Procne, not knowing what it carries inside. The wife of the savage king unrolls the cloth, and reads her sister's terrible fate, and by a miracle keeps silent. Grief restrains her lips, her tongue seeking to form words adequate to her indignation, fails. She has no time for tears, but rushes off, in a confusion of right and wrong, her mind filled with thoughts of vengeance.

It was the time when the young Thracian women used to celebrate the triennial festival of Bacchus. (Night knew their holy rites: by night, Mount Rhodope rang with the high-pitched clashing of bronze). By night the queen left her palace, prepared herself for the rites of the god, and took up the weapons of that frenzied religion. Tendrils of vine wreathed her head; a deerskin was draped over her left side; a light javelin rested on her shoulder. Hurtling through the woods with a crowd of her companions, terrifying, driven by maddening grief, Procne embodies you, Bacchus. She comes at last to the building in the wilderness, and howls out loud, giving the ecstatic cry of Euhoe, breaks the door down, seizes her sister, disguises her with the tokens of a wild Bacchante, hides her face with ivy leaves, and dragging her along with her, frightened out of her wits, leads her inside the palace walls.

When Philomela realised that she had reached that accursed house, the wretched girl shuddered in horror, and her whole face grew deathly pale. Procne, once there, took off the religious trappings; uncovered the downcast face of her unhappy sister, and clutched her in her arms. But Philomela could not bear to lift her eyes, seeing herself as her sister's betrayer. With her face turned towards the ground, wanting to swear by the gods, and call them to witness, that her shame had been visited on her by force, she made signs with her hands in place of speech. Procne burned, and could not control her anger, reproaching her sister for weeping, saying "Now is not the time for tears, but for the sword, or for what overcomes the sword, if you know of such a thing. I am prepared for any wickedness, sister; to set the palace alight with a torch, and throw Tereus, the author of this, into the midst of the flames; or to cut out his eyes and tongue, and the parts which brought shame to you; or to force out his guilty spirit through a thousand wounds! I am ready for any enormity: but what it should be, I still do not know yet."

The pitiless feast

While Procne was going over these things, Itys came to his mother. His arrival suggested what she might do, and regarding him with a cold gaze, she said "Ah! How like your father you are!" Without speaking further, seething in silent indignation, she began to conceive her tragic plan. Yet, when the boy approached, and greeted his mother, and put his little arms round her neck, and kissed her with childish endearments, she was moved, her anger was checked, and her eyes were wet with the tears that gathered against her will. But, realising that her mind was wavering through excess affection, she turned away from him, and turned to look at her sister's face again, till, gazing at both in turn, she said "Why should the one be able to speak his endearments, while the other is silent, her tongue torn out? Though he calls me mother, why can she not call me sister? Look at the husband you are bride to, Pandion's daughter! This is unworthy of you! Affection is criminal in a wife of Tereus"

Without delay, she dragged Itys off, as a tigress does an unweaned fawn, in the dark forests of the Ganges. As they reached a remote part of the great palace, Procne, with an unchanging expression, struck him with a knife, in the side close to the heart, while he stretched out his hands, knowing his fate at the last, crying out "Mother! Mother!', and reaching out for her neck. That one wound was probably enough to seal his fate, but Philomela opened his throat with the knife. While the limbs were still warm, and retained some life, they tore them to pieces. Part bubble in bronze cauldrons, part hiss on the spit: and the distant rooms drip with grease.

The wife invites the unsuspecting Tereus to the feast, and giving out that it is a sacred rite, practised in her country, where it is only lawful for the husband to be present, she sends away their followers and servants. Tereus eats by himself, seated in his tall ancestral chair, and fills his belly with his own child. And in the darkness of his understanding cries "Fetch Ithys here'.

They are transformed into birds

Procne cannot hide her cruel exultation, and now, eager to be, herself, the messenger of destruction, she cries "You have him there, inside, the one you ask for." He looks around and questions where the boy is. And then while he is calling out and seeking him, Philomela, springs forward, her hair wet with the dew of that frenzied murder, and hurls the bloodstained head of Itys in his father's face. Nor was there a time when she wished more strongly to have the power of speech, and to declare her exultation in fitting words.

The Thracian king pushed back the table with a great cry, calling on the Furies, the snake-haired sisters of the vale of Styx. Now if he could, he would tear open his body, and reveal the dreadful substance of the feast, and his half-consumed child. Then he weeps, and calls himself the sepulchre of his unhappy son, and now pursues, with naked sword, the daughters of Pandion.

You might think the Athenian women have taken wing: they have taken wings. One of them, a nightingale, Procne, makes for the woods. The other, a swallow, Philomela, flies to the eaves of the palace, and even now her throat has not lost the stain of that murder, and the soft down bears witness to the blood. Tereus swift in his grief and desire for revenge, is himself changed to a bird, with a feathered crest on its head. An immoderate, elongated, beak juts out, like a long spear. The name of the bird is the hoopoe, and it looks as though it is armed.

Boreas and Orithyia

This tragedy sent Pandion down to the shadows of Tartarus before his time, before the last years of old age. His rule over the kingdom, and his wealth passed to Erectheus, whose ability for sound government, and superiority in warfare, was never in doubt. He had four sons and the same number of daughters, and two of the daughters were rivals in beauty. Of these two, Procris made you happy in marriage, Cephalus, grandson of Aeolus. But you, Boreas, god of the north wind, were long denied your beloved, Orithyia, harmed by your origins, with Tereus, among the Thracians.

This was so while Boreas wooed her, and preferred prayers to force. But when charm got him nowhere, he bristled with anger, which is his usual mood for too much of the time, and said "I deserve it! Why have I relinquished my own weapons, force and ferocity, and anger and menacing moods, and turned to prayers, that are unbecoming for me to use? Force is fitting for me. By force, I drive forward the mists, by force move the sea. I overturn knotted oaks, harden the snow, and strike earth with hail. And, when I meet my brothers under the open sky (since that is my battleground) I struggle so fiercely with them that the midst of the heavens echoes with our collisions, and lightnings leap, hurled from the vaulted clouds. So, when I penetrate the hollow openings of the earth, and apply my proud back to the deepest cave roofs, I trouble the shades, and the whole world with the tremors. That is how I should have sought a wife, and not become Erectheus's son-in-law by prayer but by action."

With these, or other equally forceful words, Boreas unfurled his wings, by whose beating the whole world is stirred, and made the wide ocean tremble. Trailing his cloak of dust over the mountain summits, he swept the land, and, shrouded in darkness, the lover embraced his Orythia, with his dusky wings, as she shivered with fear. As he flew, his own flames of passion were fanned, and burned fiercer. Nor did the thief halt in his flight through the air, till he reached the walls of the city and people of Thrace, the Cicones.

There the girl from Attica married the chilly tyrant, and became a mother, giving birth to twin brothers, who took after their mother, in everything else but their father's wings. Yet they say the wings were not present, on their bodies, when they were born, but while they still were lacking beards, to match their red hair, Calais, and Zetes, as boys, were wingless. But both alike, soon after, began to sprout the pinions of birds on their shoulders, and both their jaws and cheeks grew tawny. And, when their boyhood was over, the youths sailed, as Argonauts, with the Minyans, in that first ship, through unknown seas, to seek the glittering wool of a golden fleece.

TO TOP


Book 7

Medea agonises over her love for Jason

And now the Argonauts were ploughing through the sea in their ship, built in Thessalian Pagasae. They had visited Phineus, king of Thracian Salmydessus, living out a useless old age in perpetual blindness, and the winged sons of Boreas had driven the birdlike Harpies from the presence of the unhappy, aged man. At last, after enduring many trials, under their famous leader, Jason, they reached the turbulent river-waters of the muddy Phasis, in the land of Colchis. While they were standing before King Aeetes, of Aea, requesting the return of the Golden Fleece, taken from the divine ram that carried Phrixus, and while extreme terms were being imposed, involving daunting tasks, Medea, the daughter of the king, conceived an overwhelming passion for Jason. She fought against it for a time, but when reason could not overcome desire, she debated with herself.

"Medea, you struggle in vain: some god, I do not know which, opposes you. I wonder if this, or something, like this, is what people indeed call love? Or why would the tasks my father demands of Jason seem so hard? They are more than hard! Why am I afraid of his death, when I have scarcely seen him? What is the cause of all this fear? Quench, if you can, unhappy girl, these flames that you feel in your virgin heart! If I could, I would be wiser! But a strange power draws me to him against my will. Love urges one thing: reason another. I see, and I desire the better: I follow the worse. Why do you burn for a stranger, royal virgin, and dream of marriage in an alien land? This earth can also give you what you can love. Whether he lives or dies, is in the hands of the gods. Let him live! I can pray for this even if I may not love him: what is Jason guilty of? Who, but the heartless, would not be touched by Jason's youth, and birth, and courage? Who, though the other qualities were absent, could not be stirred by his beauty?

He has stirred my heart, indeed. And unless I offer my help, he will feel the fiery breath of the bronze-footed bulls; have to meet that enemy, sprung from the soil, born of his own sowing; or be given as captured prey to the dragon's greed. If I allow this, then I am born of the tigress: then I show I have a heart of stone and iron! Why can I not watch him die, and shame my eyes by seeing? Why do I not urge the bulls on, to meet him, and the wild earth-born warriors, and the unsleeping dragon? Let the gods also desire the better! Though it is not for me to pray for, but to bring about.

Shall I betray my father's country? Shall some unknown be saved by my powers, and unhurt because of me, without me, set his sails to the wind, and be husband to another, leaving Medea to be punished? If he could do that, if he could set another woman above me, let him die, the ungrateful man! But his look, his nobility of spirit, and his graceful form, do not make me fear deceit or forgetfulness of my kindness. And he will give me his word beforehand, and I will gather the gods to witness our pledge. Why fear when it is certain? Prepare yourself, and dispel all delay: Jason will be for ever in your debt, take you to himself in sacred marriage, and through the cities of Pelasgian Greece, the crowds of women will glorify you as his saviour.

Carried by the winds, shall I leave my native country, my sister, my brother, my father, and my gods? Well then, my father is barbarous, and my country is savage, and my brother is still a child: my sister's prayers are for me, and the greatest god is within! I will not be leaving greatness behind, but pursuing greatness: honour as a saviour of these Achaean people, familiarity with a better land and with cities whose fame is flourishing even here, the culture and arts of those places, and the man, the son of Aeson, for whom I would barter those things that the wide world owns, joined to whom I will be called fortunate, dear to the gods, and my head will be crowned with the stars.

What of the stories of mountains that clash together in mid-ocean, and Charybdis the bane of sailors, now sucking in, now spewing out the sea, and rapacious dog-headed Scylla, yelping over the Sicilian deeps? Well, holding what I love, clinging to Jason's breast, I shall be carried over the wide seas: in his arms, I will fear nothing, or if I am afraid, I will only be afraid for him.

But do you call that marriage, Medea, and clothe your fault with fair names? Consider instead, how great a sin you are near to, and while you can, shun the crime!" She spoke, and in front of her eyes, were rectitude, piety, modesty: and now, Cupid, defeated, was turning away.

Jason promises to marry Medea

She went to the ancient altars of Hecate, daughter of the Titan Perses, that the shadowy grove conceals, in the remote forest. And now she was strong and her passion, now conquered, had ebbed, when she saw the son of Aeson and the flame, that was dead, relit. Her cheeks flushed, and then her whole face became pallid. Just as a tiny spark that lies buried under the ashes, takes life from a breath of air, and grows and, living, regains its previous strength, so now her calmed passion, that you would have thought had dulled, when she saw the young hero, flared up at his visible presence.

It chanced that Aeson's son was more than usually handsome that day: you could forgive her for loving him. She gazed at him, and fixed her eyes on him as if she had never looked at him before, and in her infatuation, seeing his face, could not believe him mortal, nor could she turn away. So that when, indeed, the stranger grasped her right hand, and began to speak, and in a submissive voice asked for her help, promising marriage, she replied in a flood of tears. "I see what I am doing: it is not ignorance of the truth that ensnares me, but love. Your salvation is in my gift, but being saved, remember your promise!"

He swore by the sacred rites of the Triple Goddess, by the divine presence of the grove, by the all-seeing Sun, who was the father of King Aeetes, his father-in-law to be, and by his own good fortune, and by his great danger. Immediately, as he was now trusted, he accepted the magic herbs from her, and learnt their use, and returned to the palace, joyfully.

Jason wins the Golden Fleece

The next day's dawn dispelled the glittering stars. Then the people gathered on the sacred field of Mars and took up their position on the ridge. The king was seated in the middle, clothed in purple, and distinguished by his ivory sceptre. Behold, the bronze-footed bulls, breathing Vulcan's fire from nostrils of steel. At the touch of their heat the grass shrivels, and as stoked fires roar, or as broken limestone, that has absorbed the heat inside an earthen furnace, hisses explosively, when cool water is scattered over it, so the flames sounded, pent up in their heaving chests and burning throats. Still the son of Aeson went out to meet them.

As he came to them, the fierce creatures, with their iron-tipped horns, turned their terrible gaze towards him, pawed the dusty ground with their cloven feet, and filled the air with the steam of their bellowing. The Minyans were frozen in fear. He went up to the bulls, not feeling their fiery breath (so great is the power of magic drugs!), and stroking their hanging dewlaps, with a bold hand, yoked them together, and forced them to pull the heavy blade, and till the virgin field with the iron plough. The Colchians were stunned, but the Argonauts increased their shouting, and heightened his courage.

Then he took the dragon's teeth from the bronze helmet, and scattered them over the turned earth. The soil softened the seeds that had been steeped in virulent poison, and they sprouted, and the teeth, freshly sown, produced new bodies. As an embryo takes on human form in the mother's womb, and is fully developed there in every aspect, not emerging to the living air till it is complete, so when those shapes of men had been made in the bowels of the pregnant earth, they surged from the teeming soil, and, what is even more wonderful, clashed weapons, created with them. The Pelasgians" faces fell in fear, and their courage failed them, when they saw these warriors preparing to hurl their sharp spears, at the head of the Haemonian hero. She also, who had rendered him safe, was afraid. When she saw the solitary youth attacked by so many enemies, she grew pale, and sat there, suddenly cold and bloodless. And in case the herbs she had given him had not been potent enough, she chanted a spell to support them, and called on her secret arts.

He threw a boulder into the midst of his enemies, and this turned their attack, on him, against themselves. The earth-born brothers died at each other's hands, and fell as in civil war. The Achaeans cheered, and clung to the victor, and hugged him in eager embraces. You also, princess among the Barbarians, longed to hold the victorious man: but modesty prevented it. Still, you might have held him, but concern for your reputation stopped you from doing so. What you might fittingly do you did, rejoicing silently, giving thanks, for your incantations, and the gods who inspired them.

The final task was to put the dragon to sleep with the magic drugs. Known for its crest, its triple tongues and curved fangs, it was the dread guardian of the tree's gold. But when Jason had sprinkled it with the Lethean juice of a certain herb, and three times repeated the words that bring tranquil sleep, that calm the rough seas and turbulent rivers, sleep came to those sleepless eyes, and the heroic son of Aeson gained the Golden Fleece. Proud of his prize, and taking with him a further prize, the one who had helped him gain it, the hero, and his wife Medea, returned to the harbour at Iolchos.

Jason asks Medea to lengthen Aeson's life

The elderly Haemonian mothers and fathers bring offerings to mark their sons' return, and melt incense heaped in the flames. The sacrifice, with gilded horns, that they have dedicated, is led in and killed. But Aeson is absent from the rejoicing, now near death, and weary with the long years. Then Jason, his son, said "O my wife, to whom I confess I owe my life, though you have already given me everything, and the total of all your kindnesses is beyond any promises we made, let your incantations, if they can (what indeed can they not do?) reduce my own years and add them to my father's!" He could not restrain his tears. Medea was moved by the loving request, and the contrast with Aeetes, abandoned by her, came to mind. Yet, not allowing herself to be affected by such thoughts, she answered "Husband, what dreadful words have escaped your lips? Do you think I can transfer any part of your life to another? Hecate would not allow it: nor is yours a just request. But I will try to grant a greater gift than the one you ask for, Jason. If only the Triple Goddess will aid me, and give her assent in person to this great act of daring, I will attempt to renew your father's length of years, without need for yours."

Medea summons the powers and gathers herbs

Three nights were lacking before the moon's horns met, to make their complete orb. When she was shining at her fullest, and gazed on the earth, with perfect form, Medea left the palace, dressed in unclasped robes. Her feet were bare, her unbound hair streamed down, over her shoulders, and she wandered, companionless, through midnight's still silence. Men, beasts, and birds were freed in deep sleep. There were no murmurs in the hedgerows: the still leaves were silent, in silent, dew-filled, air. Only the flickering stars moved. Stretching her arms to them she three times turned herself about, three times sprinkled her head, with water from the running stream, three times let out a wailing cry, then knelt on the hard earth, and prayed:

'Night, most faithful keeper of our secret rites;
Stars, that, with the golden moon, succeed the fires of light;
Triple Hecate, you who know all our undertakings,
and come, to aid the witches' art, and all our incantations:
You, Earth, who yield to witches, herbs of magic force:
You, airs and breezes, pools and hills, and every watercourse;
Be here; all You, Gods of Night, and Gods of Groves, endorse.
Streams, at will, by banks amazed, turn backwards to their source.
I calm rough seas, and stir the calm by my magic spells:
bring clouds, disperse the clouds, raise storms and storms dispel;
and, with my incantations, I break the serpent's teeth;
and root up nature's oaks, and rocks, from their native heath;
and move the forests, and command the mountain tops to shake,
earth to groan, and from their tombs the sleeping dead to wake.
You also, Luna, I draw down, eclipsed, from heaven's stain,
though bronzes of Temese clash, to take away your pains;
and at my chant, the chariot of the Sun-god, my grandsire,
grows pale: Aurora, at my poisons, dims her morning fire.
You quench the bulls' hot flame for me: force their necks to bow,
beneath the heavy yoke, that never pulled the curving plough:
You turn the savage warfare, born of the serpent's teeth,
against itself, and lull the watcher, innocent of sleep;
that guard deceived, bring golden spoil, to the towns of Greece.
Now I need the juice by which old age may be renewed,
that can regain the prime of years, return the flower of youth,
and You will grant it. Not in vain, stars glittered in reply:
not in vain, winged dragons bring my chariot, through the sky."

There, sent from the sky, was her chariot. When she had mounted, stroked the dragons' bridled necks, and shaken the light reins in her hands, she was snatched up on high. She looked down on Thessalian Tempe far below, and sent the dragons to certain places that she knew. She considered those herbs that grow on Mount Ossa, those of Mount Pelion, Othrys and Pindus, and higher Olympus, and of those that pleased her, plucked some by the roots, and cut others, with a curved pruning-knife of bronze. Many she chose, as well, from the banks of the Apidanus. Many she chose, as well, from the Amphrysus. Nor did she omit the Enipeus. Peneus, and Spercheus's waters gave something, and the reedy shores of Boebe. And at Anthedon, by Euboea, she picked a plant of long life, not yet famous for the change it made in Glaucus's body.

Medea rejuvenates Aeson

Then she returned, after nine days and nine nights surveying all the lands she had crossed, from her chariot, drawn by the winged dragons. The dragons had only smelt the herbs, yet they shed their skins of many years. Reaching her door and threshold, she stopped on the outside, and under the open sky, avoiding contact with any man, she set up two altars of turf, one on the right to Hecate, one on the left to Youth. She wreathed them with sacred boughs from the wildwood, then dug two trenches near by in the earth, and performed the sacrifice, plunging her knife into the throat of a black-fleeced sheep, and drenching the wide ditches with blood. She poured over it cups of pure honey, and again she poured over it cups of warm milk, uttering words as she did so, calling on the spirits of the earth, and begging the shadowy king and his stolen bride, not to be too quick to steal life from the old man's limbs.

When she had appeased the gods by prayer and murmured a while, she ordered Aeson's exhausted body to be carried into the air, and freeing him to deep sleep with her spells, she stretched him out like a corpse on a bed of herbs. She ordered Jason, his son, to go far off, and the attendants to go far off, and warned them to keep profane eyes away from the mysteries. They went as she had ordered. Medea, with streaming hair, circled the burning altars, like a Bacchante, and dipping many-branched torches into the black ditches filled with blood, she lit them, once they were darkened, at the twin altars. Three times with fire, three times with water, three times with sulphur, she purified the old man.

Meanwhile a potent mixture is heating in a bronze cauldron set on the flames, bubbling, and seething, white with turbulent froth. She boils there, roots dug from a Thessalian valley, seeds, flowerheads, and dark juices. She throws in precious stones searched for in the distant east, and sands that the ebbing tide of ocean washes. She adds hoar-frost collected by night under the moon, the wings and flesh of a vile screech-owl, and the slavering foam of a sacrificed were-wolf, that can change its savage features to those of a man. She does not forget the scaly skin of a thin Cinyphian water-snake, the liver of a long-lived stag, the eggs and the head of a crow that has lived for nine human life-times.

With these, and a thousand other nameless things, the barbarian witch pursued her greater than mortal purpose. She stirred it all with a long-dry branch of a fruitful olive, mixing the depths with the surface. Look! The ancient staff turned in the hot cauldron, first grew green again, then in a short time sprouted leaves, and was, suddenly, heavily loaded with olives. And whenever the flames caused froth to spatter from the hollow bronze, and warm drops to fall on the earth, the soil blossomed, and flowers and soft grasses grew.

As soon as she saw this, Medea unsheathed a knife, and cut the old man's throat, and letting the old blood out, filled the dry veins with the juice. When Aeson had absorbed it, part through his mouth, and part through the wound, the white of his hair and beard quickly vanished, and a dark colour took its place. At a stroke his leanness went, and his pallor and dullness of mind. The deep hollows were filled with rounded flesh, and his limbs expanded. Aeson marvelled, recalling that this was his self of forty years ago.

Medea's destruction of Pelias

Bacchus saw this wondrous miracle from heaven's heights, and realising from it, that the Nymphs of Mount Nysa, who had nursed him, could have their youth restored, he secured that gift from the witch of Colchis. There was no end to her magic. Phasian Medea, pretending to a sham quarrel with her husband, fled as a suppliant to Pelias's threshold, he who had usurped Aeson's throne. There, the king's daughters received her, since he himself was weighed down by the years. The lying Colchian soon won them over by a skilful show of friendship, and when she told them of one of her greatest gifts, the removal of Aeson's many years, and lingered over it, hope was aroused in Pelias's daughters that similar magic arts might rejuvenate their father.

They begged her, and told her to set a price however great. She was silent for a moment, and appeared to hesitate, keeping the minds of her petitioners in suspense by a show of solemn pretence. When, eventually, she promised to do it, she said "To give you greater confidence in my gift, your oldest ram, the leader of your flocks, will by turned into a young lamb again, by my magic drugs." Straight away the woolly creature, worn out by innumerable years, was dragged forward, his horns curving round his hollow temples. When the witch had cut his wizened throat with her Thessalian knife, hardly staining the blade with blood, she immersed the sheep's carcass in the bronze cauldron, along with her powerful magic herbs. These shrank its limbs, melted away its horns, and, with its horns, the years. A high-pitched bleating came from inside the vessel, and while they were wondering at the bleating, a lamb leapt out, and frisked away, seeking the udder and milk.

Pelias's daughters were stunned, and now the truth of her promise had been displayed, they insisted even more eagerly. Three times Phoebus had unyoked his horses, after their plunge into the western ocean, and on the fourth night the stars were glittering in all their radiance, when the deceitful daughter of Aeetes set clear water, and herbs, but ineffectual ones, over a blazing fire. And now the king and his guards also were deep in death-like sleep, achieved by her incantations and the power of her magic spells. The king's daughters, at her command, crossed the threshold, with the Colchian witch, and stood around his bed. "Why do you hesitate, so timidly?" she said. "Unsheath your blades, and let out the old blood, so that I can fill the empty veins with new! You father's life and youth are in your hands. If you have any filial affection, if those are not vain hopes that stir you, render your father this service, banish old age with your weapons, and drive out his poisoned blood with a stroke of the iron blade!"

Urged on by these words, the more love each had for him, the quicker she was to act without love, and did evil, to avoid greater evil. Nevertheless they could not bear to see their own blows, and turned their eyes away, and with averted faces, wounded him blindly with cruel hands. Streaming blood, the old man still raised himself on his elbow, and, though mutilated, tried to rise from his bed. Stretching his pallid hands out among the many weapons, he cried "Daughters, why are you doing this? What has made you take up weapons against your father's life?" Their strength and courage vanished. But as he was about to utter more words, the Colchian witch cut his throat, and plunged his torn body into the seething water.

Medea flees and reaches Athens

She would not have escaped punishment had she not taken to the air, with her winged dragons. Through the high sky, clockwise, she fled, over the shadowy slopes of Pelion, Chiron's home; over Othrys and the places made famous by the ancient fate of Cerambus, who, aided by the nymphs and changed to a winged scarab beetle, lifted into the air, when the all-powerful sea drowned the solid earth, and so escaped undrowned from Deucalion's flood. She passed Aeolian Pitane on the left, with its huge stone serpent image, and Ida's grove where Liber concealed, in the deceptive shape of a stag, the bullock stolen by his son. She passed the place where the father of Corythus, Paris, lay, buried under a little sand; and where Hecuba, changed to a black bitch of Hecate, Maera, spread terror through the fields with her strange barking.

She flew over Astypalaea, the city of Eurypylus, where the women of the island, of Cos, acquired horns when they abused Hercules, as he and his company departed: over Rhodes, beloved of Phoebus: and the Telchines of the city of Ialysos on Rhodes, whose eyes corrupted everything they looked on, so that Jupiter, disgusted with them, sank them under his brother's ocean waves. She passed the walls of ancient Carthaea, on the island of Ceos, where Alcidamas, as a father, would marvel, one day, that a peace-loving dove could spring from the body of his daughter, Ctesylla.

Then she saw Lake Hyrie, and Cycnean Tempe, made famous suddenly by a swan. There Phylius, at the boy Cycnus's command, brought him birds and a fierce lion he had tamed. Ordered to overcome a wild bull as well, he did overcome him, but angry that his love was rejected so often, he refused to grant this last gift of a bull, when asked. Cycnus, angered, said "You will wish you had" and leapt from a high cliff. All thought he had fallen, but changed to a swan he beat through the air on white wings, though his mother, Hyrie, not knowing he was safe, pined away with weeping, and became the lake that carries her name.

Near there was the city of Pleuron, where Combe the daughter of Ophius, on flickering wings, escaped death at the hands of her sons, the Aetolian Curetes. And then Medea looked down at the fields of Calaurea's isle, sacred to Leto, whose king and queen were also changed to birds. On her right was Cyllene, where Menephron lay with his mother, as though he were a wild beast. Further on she sees the Cephisus, the river-god lamenting his grandson's fate, changed by Apollo into a lumbering seal, and the home of Eumelus, mourning his son Botres, reborn as a bird, the bee-eater, in the air.

At last, the dragon's wings brought her to Corinth, the ancient Ephyre, and its Pirenian spring. Here, tradition says, that in earliest times, human bodies sprang from fungi, swollen by rain. After Jason's new bride Glauce had been consumed by the fires of vengeful Colchian witchcraft and both the Isthmus's gulfs had witnessed flame consuming the king's palace, Medea impiously bathed her sword in the blood of their sons. Then, after performing this evil act, she fled from Jason's wrath. Carried by her dragons that are born of the Titans, she reached Pallas's citadel of Athens. This once knew you Phene, the most righteous, and you old Periphas, both flying in the air, as birds, the eagle and the osprey: and Alcyone, granddaughter of Polypemon, resting on strange new wings. It was Aegeus who gave Medea sanctuary there, damned thereafter by that one action: and not content with taking her in, he even entered into a contract of marriage with her.

Medea attempts Theseus's life, then vanishes

Now Theseus came to Athens, Aegeus's son, but as yet unknown to him. He, by his courage, had brought peace to the Isthmus between the two gulfs. Medea, seeking his destruction, prepared a mixture of poisonous aconite, she had brought with her from the coast of Scythia. This poison is said to have dripped from the teeth of Cerberus, the Echidnean dog. There is a dark cavern with a gaping mouth, and a path into the depths, up which Hercules, hero of Tiryns, dragged the dog, tied with steel chains, resisting and twisting its eyes away from the daylight and the shining rays. Cerberus, provoked to a rabid frenzy, filled all the air with his simultaneous three-headed howling, and spattered the green fields with white flecks of foam. These are supposed to have congealed and found food to multiply, gaining harmful strength from the rich soil. Because they are long-lived, springing from the hard rock, the country people call these shoots, of wolf-bane, "soil-less' aconites. Through his wife's cunning Aegeus, the father, himself offered the poison to his son, as if he were a stranger. Theseus, unwittingly, had taken the cup he was given in his right hand, when his father recognised the emblems of his own house, on the ivory hilt of his son's sword, and knocked the evil drink away from his mouth. But she escaped death, in a dark mist, raised by her incantations.

The praise for Theseus

Though the father was overjoyed that his son was unharmed, he was still horrified that so great a crime could have come so close to success. He lit fires on the altars, and heaped gifts for the gods. His axes struck the mountainous necks of oxen, their horns tied with the sacrificial ribbons. They say that was the happiest day that dawned in the city of Erectheus. The statesmen celebrated among the people, and they sang verses, made even more inspired by the wine.

'Great Theseus, admired in Marathon,
for the blood of the Cretan bull,
your act and gift made Cromyon's fields
safe for the farmers plough.
Epidaurus's land saw you defeat
Vulcan's club-wielding son,
and the banks of the River Cephisus
saw evil Procrustes brought down.
Eleusis, sacred to Ceres the Mother,
witnessed Cercyon's fall:
Sinis, you killed, a man of great strength
twisted to evil art,
who could bend pine-tree trunks to the earth,
and tear men's bodies apart:
and Sciron is done for, and safe paths reach
Megara's Lelegeļan wall:
though the ocean denied his bones a grave,
and the land denied the same,
till, long-time hurled, they hardened to cliffs,
and the cliffs bear Sciron's name.
If we wanted to count your years and your honours,
the deeds would exceed the years:
to you, the bravest, we empty our wine-cups,
and offer our public prayers."

The palace echoed to the people's applause and the prayers of friends, and there was no sad place in the whole city.

Minos threatens war

Nevertheless Aegeus's pleasure in receiving his son was not carefree (indeed, joy is never complete, and some trouble always comes to spoil our delight). Minos, of Crete, was preparing for war. Powerful in men and ships, his anger as a father was more powerful still, and by right of arms he was seeking to avenge the death of Androgeos, his son. But first he acquired allies for his war, crossing the sea in the swift fleet that was his strength. The island of Anaphe joined with him, and that of Astypalaea (Anaphe by promises, Astypalaea by Cretan supremacy in war); low-lying Myconos, and chalky-soiled Cimolos; Syros flowering with thyme, flat Seriphos, marble-cliffed Paros, and Siphnos, betrayed to him by that disloyal princess, Arne, whom, when she had taken the gold her greed demanded, the gods changed into a bird, the black-footed, black-winged jackdaw, that still delights in gold.

But Oliaros gave no aid to the Cretan ships; nor Didyme, Tenos, Andros, Gyaros; nor Peparethos rich in bright olives. Sailing northwest Minos sought Oenopia, the kingdom of the Aeacidae. They called it Oenopia in ancient times, but Aeacus himself named it Aegina after his mother. The crowd rushed down, to meet Minos, wanting to see so famous a man. Telamon went to him, and Peleus, junior to Telamon, and Phocus, the third child, their half-brother. Aeacus himself came, also, slow with the burden of years, and asked the cause of his visit. The ruler of a hundred cities sighed, reminded of his grief for his son, and replied "I beg your aid in a war, waged for my son's sake; to be part of a just fight: I ask the comfort of marking out his tomb. The grandson of Asopus said "You ask in vain what my city cannot give. No city is more closely linked to Athens, city of Cecrops, than this; we and they are bound by treaty."

Minos turned away, sadly, saying "Your treaty will cost you dear', since he thought it more useful to threaten war than to fight, and consume his strength too soon. The Cretan fleet could still be seen from Aegina's walls, when a ship from Athens arrived, under full sail, and entered the allied port, bearing Cephalus, and likewise greetings from his country. Though they had not seen him for a long time, the sons of Aeacus still knew him, and clasped his right hand, and led him to their father's house. The hero went forward, observed on all sides, even now retaining traces of his former beauty, carrying a branch of his country's olive. And to right and left, he, the elder, had two younger men, Clytos and Butes, the sons of Pallas.

Aeacus tells of the plague at Aegina

After meeting and exchanging a few words, Cephalus described his mandate from Athens, asking for help and quoting the treaty sworn to by their ancestors, adding that Minos was out to control all Achaia. When he had invoked the treaty, in this way, to aid his cause, Aeacus, resting his left hand on the handle of his sceptre, replied "Don't ask for our help, assume it. Don't hesitate to reckon the forces of this island your own, and (let this state of my fortunes last!) energy is not lacking. I have men enough, and thank the gods, the moment is auspicious and there will be no excuses." "I wish it may always be so" Cephalus said "and may your city swell its numbers. Indeed, as I came I felt happy: so many equally youthful, handsome people, meeting me on the way. Yet there were many I missed, that I saw before, when I visited the city." Aeacus sighed, and spoke sadly. "From a bad beginning, better fortune follows. I wish I could recall the one for you without the other! I'll take them in order, now, and not stall you with irrelevances. Those your mind, remembering, misses are only bones and ashes, and how great a part of my wealth perished with them!

A terrible plague afflicted the people through the unjust anger of Juno, detesting us because our island had been named after my mother, her rival. While it looked like a human disease, and the cause of the disastrous epidemic was hidden, we fought it with medical skill. But the destruction cancelled out our efforts, which waned as we were conquered. At the outset the sky shrouded the earth in a thick fog, and held the sultry heat under clouds. While Luna filled her horns, four times, to make her disc complete, and, four times, thinned her full disc away, hot southerly winds breathed their deadly air on us. We know the pestilence reached our lakes and streams. Thousands of snakes slithered through the empty fields, and fouled the waters with their slime. The unexpected power of the disease surprised us, at the first, with its destruction of dogs, sheep and cattle, wild animals and birds. The wretched ploughman watches in dismay as sturdy oxen stumble in their task, and sink down onto the furrows. The flocks of sheep give out a sickly bleating, while the wool falls away of itself, and their bodies waste. The spirited horse, once famous on the track, loses his glory, and forgetting past honour, whinnies in his stall, dying a slow death. The wild boar no longer remembers his fury; the deer cannot trust to speed; the bears cannot match the strength of the herds. Lethargy grips them all. Decaying carcasses lie in the roadways, fields and woods, and the air is fouled with the stench. Strangely, dogs, carrion birds, and grey wolves, will not touch them. They rot on the ground, pollute the air with their dying breath, and spread contagion far and wide.

Increasing in virulence the pestilence spreads to the luckless farmers themselves, and takes lordship inside the city walls. Firstly the inner organs grow hot, and a flushed skin and feverish breath are symptoms of hidden warmth. The tongue is rough and swollen with heat: the lips are parted, parched with dry breath, and gasping, suck in the heavy air. The sick cannot tolerate a bed or any kind of covering, but lie face down on the bare ground, though the earth does not cool their bodies, their bodies heat the earth.

No one can control it, and it breaks out fiercely among the doctors themselves, and the practice of their skill condemns the practitioners. The nearer people are to the sick, and the more selflessly they attend them, the more swiftly they meet their fate, and as the hope of recovery deserts them, and they see the end of their illness only in death, they give way to their desires, and ignore what is good for them, since nothing is any good. Everywhere they cling to the fountains and runnels and deep wells, and drinking, thirst is not quenched sooner than life. Many of them are too weak to stand, and even die in the water, yet others still draw it. Others loathe their hateful beds so much they leave them, and if they lack the strength to stand, they roll out onto the ground. They quit their household gods since their house seems fatal to them, and, because the cause is unknown, the building itself is blamed. You see them, half-dead, wandering the streets, while they can still stay on their feet, others lying on the ground weeping, turning their exhausted gaze upwards in their dying efforts, and stretching their arms out to the stars in the overhanging sky, breathing their last, here or there, wherever death has overtaken them.

What were my feelings then? What could they be, but to hate life, and to wish to be with my people? Wherever I looked as I turned my gaze, there were layers of dead, like rotten apples fallen from shaken branches, or acorns from a windblown ilex. See that temple opposite on the hill with a flight of steps up to it? It is Jupiter's. Who among us did not bring useless offerings to those shrines? How often a husband while still praying for his wife, or a father still praying for his son, ended his life in front of those implacable altars, part of the unused incense found in their hands! How often the sacrificial bulls fell down, without waiting for the blow, while the priest was praying and pouring unmixed wine between the horns. Even when I was sacrificing to Jove, for myself my country and my three sons, the victim let out a dreadful moan, and suddenly collapsed without a stroke from my blade, barely staining the knives below with its blood. The diseased entrails showed no marks, from which to read the prophetic truths, and warnings, of the gods. That offensive morbidity penetrated to their vital organs. I have seen corpses thrown down in front of the temple doors, in front of the altars, to make their deaths even more of a reproach. Some cut off their breath with a noose, and banished, by death, their fear of death, summoning their approaching fate from the beyond.

The bodies of the dead were not given the usual rites (the exit gates from the city could not cope with so many funerals). They either lay on the ground unburied, or were given to the heaped pyres without ceremony. And now there was no reverence left: the people struggled to the pyres, and were consumed by others' flames. There was no one left to mourn, and the spirits of parents and children, of young and old were left to wander, unwept. There was no space in the burial mounds, and not enough wood for the fires."

The creation of the Myrmidons

Stunned by such a storm of dark events, I said "O Jupiter, if they do not lie when they say that you were held in Aegina's embrace, she, the daughter of Asopus, and if you are not ashamed, mighty father, to have fathered me, give me back my people or bury me too in their tomb." He gave me a flash of lightning as a sign, and thunder followed. I said "I interpret this to be an omen, and that you give me it as a pledge, and may these accordingly be auspicious tokens of your purpose."

There happened to be an oak-tree nearby, with open spreading branches, seeded from Dodona, and sacred to Jove. I noticed a long train of food-gathering ants, carrying vast loads in their tiny mouths, and forging their own way over its corrugated bark. Admiring their numbers, I said "Best of fathers, give me as many citizens as this and fill the city's empty walls." The tall oak-tree quivered, and its branches filled with sound, without a wind. I shivered, my limbs quaking with fear, and my hair stood on end. Though I kissed the oak-tree and the earth, not acknowledging my hopes, yet I did hope, and cherished my longings in my heart. Night fell, and sleep claimed my care-worn body.

The same oak-tree was there before my eyes, with the same branches, and the same insects on its branches, and it shook with a similar motion, and seemed to scatter its column of grain-bearers onto the ground below. Suddenly they seemed to grow larger and larger, and raise themselves from the soil, and stand erect, they lost their leanness, many feet, and their black coloration, and their limbs took on human form. Sleep vanished. Awake again, I dismissed my dream, bemoaning the lack of help from the gods. But there was a great murmuring in the palace, and I thought I heard human voices, those I was now unaccustomed to. While I suspected that it was an effect of sleep, Telamon came running and throwing open the door, shouted "Father, come out and see, something greater than you could hope or believe. Come now!"

I went, and saw such men as I had seen in sleep's imagining, in ranks such as I recognised and knew. They approached and saluted me as king. I fulfilled my prayer to Jove, and divided the city amongst this new people, along with the lost farmers' empty fields. I called them Myrmidons, a name that did not belie each one's origin as an ant, µ??µ??. You have seen their bodies: they still retain the habits they had before, a thrifty, hard-working people, tenacious of achievement, and keeping what they achieve. These men fresh in years and spirit, will follow you to war, as soon as that favourable east wind that brought you here" (it was indeed an easterly that had brought him) "has swung round to the south."

The infidelities of Cephalus and Procris

They filled a long day with this and other talk: the last of the light was given over to feasting, and night to sleep. The sun shone gold again, but an east wind was still blowing, and kept the sails from the homeward voyage. The sons of Pallas joined Cephalus, their senior, and Cephalus and the princes then went to the king: but the king was still in a deep sleep. Phocus, Aeacus's son, received them at the threshold, since Telamon and his brother were selecting men for the war. Phocus led the Athenians into an inner walk, beautiful and secluded, where they sat down together, and noticed that the grandson of Aeolus carried a spear in his hand, tipped with gold, and made of an unknown wood. In the midst of their first short conversation, he said "I am knowledgeable about woodland, and hunting wild animals, but I have been wondering for a while what tree that shaft was cut from. If it were ash it would be deep yellow, and if it were cornelian cherry it would be knotted. What it is I am ignorant of, but my eyes have never seen one more beautifully formed for throwing." One of the Athenian brothers replied "You will marvel at its usefulness more than at its looks. It hits whatever it is aimed at: there is no chance involved, and then it flies back, bloodied, without needing to be retrieved." Then truly the son of the Nereid wanted to know everything: why this was so, where it came from, and who gave such a wondrous gift. What he wanted to know, Cephalus told him, but was still ashamed to say what a high price it had cost him. He was silent, and touched with sadness for his lost wife, tears welling in his eyes, he uttered these words.

"Son of the goddess, this weapon makes me weep (who would believe that?) and it will for many years if the fates grant me them. This weapon did for my dear wife and me. I wish that I had always been without it! She was Procris, or if Orithyia's name has chanced to fill your ears more loudly, the sister of that Orithyia whom Boreas stole, though if you were to compare the two in looks and manner, Procris was more worth stealing! Her father Erechtheus brought us together in marriage, and love brought us together too. I was called happy, and I was. But the gods' vision of the future was otherwise, or perhaps things would still be so.

The second month after our marriage, I was setting out nets to trap antlered deer, when golden Aurora, chasing away the shadows, saw me from the summit of Mount Hymettus, that is always bright with flowers, and took me away against my will. By the grace of the goddess I can repeat the truth: though her face has the blush of roses, though she keeps the borderland of light and night, though she drinks the dewy nectar, I was in love with Procris. Procris was in my heart: Procris was always on my lips. I kept talking about the sacred marriage bed, and the newness of our union, the recent wedding, and the prior claim of our deserted couch. The goddess was angered and said "Stop complaining, ungrateful man: have your Procris! But if my vision is far-sighted, you will wish you had never had her." In a fury, she sent me back to her.

As I was returning, reconsidering the goddess's words, I began to fear lest my wife had not been faithful to our marriage vows. Her youth and beauty prompted thoughts of adultery, but her character forbade those thoughts. But I had been away a while, and she from whom I was returning was herself an example of the fault, and lovers fear the worst. I decided to try what might grieve me, testing her chaste loyalty with gifts. Aurora supported my fears, and she changed my appearance (I felt it happening).

Unrecognisable, I went back to Athens, city of Pallas, and entered my house. The house itself was irreproachable, gave every sign of innocence, and was only anxious for its vanished master. With difficulty, by a thousand stratagems, I gained access to Erechtheus's daughter. When I saw her I was rooted to the spot, and almost relinquished my thoughts of testing her loyalty. Indeed I could hardly keep from confessing the truth, and hardly keep from kissing her, as I ought. She was sad (but no one could be more lovely than her in her sadness). She grieved with longing for the husband who had been snatched away. Phocus, she was Beauty, whom Grief itself so befits! Why should I tell how many times her chaste nature repelled my advances? All those many times she said "I hold myself, in trust, for one man only: wherever he is, I keep what I can give, in trust, for that one man." For whom, in his senses, was that not a great enough trial of loyalty? But I was not satisfied, and struggled on, wounding myself, till by promising to give a fortune for just one night with her, and then increasing the offer, I forced her to hesitate. Wrongly victorious, I cried out "I am no adulterer, wicked one! I am your true husband! You have me for a witness, you traitress!"

She said not a word. Silent with overwhelming shame, she fled from the treacherous threshold, and her evil husband. Deeply hurt by me, and hating the whole race of men, she wandered the mountains, following the ways of Diana. Then, deserted, a more violent flame burned in my bones. I begged her forgiveness, and confessed I had sinned, and that I too might have succumbed to the same fault, given the offer, if such gifts were offered to me. When I had owned to this, and after she had first taken revenge for her wounded honour, she returned to me, and we lived out sweet years in harmony. Moreover, as though she in yielding herself gave only a small prize, she gave me a hound as a gift, that her own goddess Cynthia had entrusted to her, saying "he will surpass all other dogs for speed." She gave me a spear, likewise, the one, you see, I have in my hands. Do you want to know the fate of the other gift? Listen to something marvellous: you will be stirred by the strangeness of the thing!"

The transformation of Cephalus's dog Laelaps

"Oedipus, son of Laļus, had solved with his genius the riddles whose meaning was previously not understood, and the Sphinx, dark prophetess, had hurtled headlong from the cliff, her enigmatic words forgotten. Immediately Aonian Thebes was plagued again (since righteous Themis does not leave such things unpunished!) and many country people feared that the Teumessian vixen would destroy their flocks and themselves. The young men of the neighbourhood came, and we beat over the wide fields. That swift creature leapt lightly over the nets, and cleared the tops of the traps we had set. Then we slipped our hounds from the tether, but she escaped their pursuit, and, travelling no slower than a bird flies, mocked the pack. With one great shout the hunters called on me to loose Laelaps, "Hurricane" (the name of my wife's gift). He had long been struggling to free himself from his leash, and straining his neck against the restraint. He had scarcely been released properly before we lost sight of him.

The hot dust showed the print of his paws, but he had vanished from sight. No javelin was quicker than him, no lead shot from a whirled sling, no light arrow shot from a Cretan bow. There was an intervening hill whose summit overlooked the surrounding fields. I climbed it, and watched the spectacle of this strange race, where the quarry seemed to be caught, and then to escape its fate. Nor does the cunning animal run in a straight course in the open, but it eludes the pursuing muzzle and swings back in a circle, so its enemy cannot charge. The hound presses hard, and matches its pace, seems to grip it, and does not grip it, and worries at the air with its empty snapping.

I turned to my spear for help. While I was balancing it in my right hand, while I was trying to fit my fingers into the throwing strap, I turned my eyes away. When I turned them back to the same place, I saw (a marvel) two shapes of marble in the middle of the plain. One you would think to be fleeing, the other pursuing. Assuredly, if a god was with them, that god must have willed that both should be unconquered in the race," He got so far in his story, and was silent. "What crime has the spear committed?" said Phocus. And Cephalus recounted its crime.

The death of Procris

"Phocus, my happiness was the beginning of my sorrow, and I will speak of happiness first. Son of Aeacus, what a joy it is to remember that blessed time, when, in those early years, I was delighted, and rightly so, with my wife, and she was delighted with her husband. We two had mutual cares, and a shared love. She would not have preferred Jupiter's bed to my love, and no woman could have captured me, not if Venus herself had come there. An equal flame burnt in our hearts.

Just after dawn, when the first rays struck the hilltops, full of youthfulness, I used to go hunting in the woods. I used to take no servants, or horses, or keen-scented hounds, or knotted snares. I trusted in my spear. But when my right hand was sated with the slaughter of wild creatures, I would return to the cool of the shade, and the breeze, aura, out of the chill valleys. I courted the breeze, gentle to me, in the midst of the heat: I waited for aura: she was rest for my labour. "Aura" (Indeed, I remember) I used to call "Come to me, delight me, enter my breast, most pleasing one, and, as you do, be willing to ease this heat I burn with!" Perhaps I did add more endearments (so my fate led me on). "You are my greatest pleasure" I used to say. "You revive me, and cherish me. You make me love the woods and lonely places. It is always your breath I try to catch with my lips."

Someone, I don't know who, hearing the ambiguous words, represented my speech as a betrayal, and thought the word aura I called so often, was the name of a nymph, a nymph he believed I loved. Immediately the unthinking witness went to Procris with the tale of my imagined disloyalty, and whispered what he had heard. Love is a credulous thing. Overcome with sudden pain, they tell me that she fainted. After a long time she revived, weeping for herself, calling her fate evil. She complained of my faithlessness, and troubled by an imaginary crime, she feared what was nothing, feared a name without substance, and grieved, the unhappy woman, as though aura were a real rival.

Yet she often doubted, and hoped, in her misery, that she was wrong, declaring she would not believe it, and unless she witnessed it herself, would not condemn her husband as guilty of any crime. Next morning, when Dawn's light had dispelled the night I left to seek the woods, and, victorious from the hunt, lying on the grass, I said "Aura, come and relieve my suffering!" and suddenly, amongst my words, I thought I heard someone's moan. "Come, dearest!" I still said, and as the fallen leaves made a rustling sound in reply, I thought it was a wild creature, and threw my spear quickly. It was Procris. Clasping the wound in her breast she cried out "Ah, me!"

Recognising it as the voice of my faithful wife, I ran headlong and frantic towards that voice. I found her half-alive, her clothes sprinkled with drops of blood, and (what misery!) trying to pull this spear, her gift to me, from the wound. I lifted her body, dearer to me than my own, with gentle arms, tore the fabric from her breast, and bound up the cruel wound, trying to stem the blood, begging her not to leave me, guilty of her death. Though her strength was failing, and even though she was dying, she forced herself to speak a little. "By the bed we swore to share, by the gods that I entreat, those that are above, and those that are of my house, by any good I have deserved of you, and by the abiding love, that still, while I die, remains, that is itself the cause of my death, do not allow this Aura to marry you in my place!" She spoke, and then I knew at last the error of the name, and told her. But what was the use of telling? She wavered, and the little strength she had ebbed away with her blood. While she could still gaze at anything, she gazed at me; and to me, and on my lips, breathed out her unfortunate spirit. And her look seemed easier then, untroubled by death."

The hero, weeping, had told this sorrowful tale, when, behold, Aeacus entered with his two sons, and their newly enlisted men, whom Cephalus then accepted, with all their heavy armour.

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