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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Alexander Pope (1688–1744).  Complete Poetical Works.  1903.
 
Early Poems
The First Book of Statius’s Thebais
 
        
Translated in the Year 1703
  
  Though Pope ascribes this translation to 1703, there is evidence that part of it was done as early as 1699. It was finally revised and published in 1712, but Courthope asserts that ‘it is fair to assume that the body of the composition is preserved in its original form.’
  
Argument
  Œdipus, King of Thebes, having, by mistake, slain his father Laius, and married his mother Jocasta, put out his own eyes, and resign’d the realm to his sons Eteocles and Polynices. Being neglected by them, he makes his prayer to the Fury Tisiphone, to sow debate betwixt the brothers. They agree at last to reign singly, each a year by turns, and the first lot is obtain’d by Eteocles. Jupiter, in a council of the gods, declares his resolution of punishing the Thebans, and Argives also, by means of marriage betwixt Polynices and one of the daughters of Adrastus King of Argos. Juno opposes, but to no effect; and Mercury is sent on a message to the shades, to the ghost of Laius, who is to appear to Eteocles, and provoke him to break the agreement. Polynices, in the mean time, departs from Thebes by night, is overtaken by a storm, and arrives at Argos; where he meets with Tideus, who had fled from Calidon, having kill’d his brother. Adrastus entertains them, having receiv’d an oracle from Apollo that his daughters should be married to a boar and a lion, which he understands to be meant of these strangers, by whom the hides of those beasts were worn, and who arrived at the time when he kept an annual feast in honour of that god. The rise of this solemnity. He relates to his guests the loves of Phœbus and Psamathe, and the story of Chorœbus: he inquires, and is made acquainted, with their descent and quality. The sacrifice is renew’d, and the book concludes with a hymn to Apollo.

FRATERNAL rage, the guilty Thebes’ alarms,
Th’ alternate reign destroy’d by impious arms
Demand our song; a sacred fury fires
My ravish’d breast, and all the Muse inspires.
O Goddess! say, shall I deduce my rhymes        5
From the dire nation in its early times,
Europa’s rape, Agenor’s stern decree,
And Cadmus searching round the spacious sea?
How with the serpent’s teeth he sow’d the soil,
And reap’d an iron harvest of his toil;        10
Or how from joining stones the city sprung,
While to his harp divine Amphion sung?
Or shall I Juno’s hate to Thebes resound,
Whose fatal rage th’ unhappy monarch found?
The sire against the son his arrows drew,        15
O’er the wide fields the furious mother flew,
And while her arms a second hope contain,
Sprung from the rocks, and plunged into the main.
  But waive whate’er to Cadmus may belong,
And fix, O Muse! the barrier of thy song        20
At Œdipus—from his disasters trace
The long confusions of his guilty race:
Nor yet attempt to stretch thy bolder wing,
And mighty Cæsar’s conquering eagles sing;
How twice he tamed proud Ister’s rapid flood,        25
While Dacian mountains stream’d with barb’rous blood:
Twice taught the Rhine beneath his laws to roll,
And stretch’d his empire to the frozen pole;
Or, long before, with early valour strove
In youthful arms t’ assert the cause of Jove.        30
And thou, great heir of all thy father’s fame,
Increase of glory to the Latian name,
O! bless thy Rome with an eternal reign,
Nor let desiring worlds entreat in vain!
What tho’ the stars contract their heav’nly space,        35
And crowd their shining ranks to yield thee place;
Tho’ all the skies, ambitious of thy sway,
Conspire to court thee from our world away;
Tho’ Phœbus longs to mix his rays with thine,
And in thy glories more serenely shine;        40
Tho’ Jove himself no less content would be
To part his throne, and share his Heav’n with thee?
Yet stay, great Cæsar! and vouchsafe to reign
O’er the wide earth, and o’er the wat’ry main;
Resign to Jove his empire of the skies,        45
And people Heav’n with Roman deities.
  The time will come when a diviner flame
Shall warm my breast to sing of Cæsar’s fame;
Meanwhile permit that my preluding Muse
In Theban wars an humbler theme may choose.        50
Of furious hate surviving death she sings,
A fatal throne to two contending kings,
And funeral flames that, parting wide in air,
Express the discord of the souls they bear:
Of towns dispeopled, and the wand’ring ghosts        55
Of kings unburied in the wasted coasts;
When Dirce’s fountain blush’d with Grecian blood,
And Thetis, near Ismenos’ swelling flood,
With dread beheld the rolling surges sweep
In heaps his slaughter’d sons into the deep.        60
  What hero, Clio! wilt thou first relate?
The rage of Tydeus, or the prophet’s fate?
Or how, with hills of slain on every side,
Hippomedon repell’d the hostile tide?
Or how the youth, with ev’ry grace adorn’d,        65
Untimely fell, to be forever mourn’d?
Then to fierce Capaneus thy verse extend,
And sing with horror his prodigious end.
  Now wretched Œdipus, deprived of sight,
Led a long death in everlasting night;        70
But while he dwells where not a cheerful ray
Can pierce the darkness, and abhors the day,
The clear reflecting mind presents his sin
In frightful views, and makes it day within;
Returning thoughts in endless circles roll,        75
And thousand furies haunt his guilty soul:
The wretch then lifted to th’ unpitying skies
Those empty orbs from whence he tore his eyes,
Whose wounds, yet fresh, with bloody hands he strook,
While from his breast these dreadful accents broke:—        80
  ‘Ye Gods! that o’er the gloomy regions reign,
Where guilty spirits feel eternal pain;
Thou, sable Styx! whose livid streams are roll’d
Through dreary coasts, which I tho’ blind behold;
Tisiphone! that oft has heard my prayer,        85
Assist, if Œdipus deserve thy care.
If you receiv’d me from Jocasta’s womb,
And nurs’d the hope of mischiefs yet to come;
If, leaving Polybus, I took my way
To Cyrrha’s temple, on that fatal day        90
When by the son the trembling father died,
Where the three roads the Phocian fields divide;
If I the Sphynx’s riddles durst explain,
Taught by thyself to win the promis’d reign;
If wretched I, by baleful furies led,        95
With monstrous mixture stain’d my mother’s bed,
For Hell and thee begot an impious brood,
And with full lust those horrid joys renew’d,
Then, self condemn’d, to shades of endless night,
Forc’d from these orbs the bleeding balls of sight,        100
Oh hear! and aid the vengeance I require,
If worthy thee, and what thou might’st inspire.
My sons their old unhappy sire despise,
Spoil’d of his kingdom, and deprived of eyes;
Guideless I wander, unregarded mourn,        105
Whilst these exalt their sceptres o’er my urn;
These sons, ye Gods! who with flagitious pride
Insult my darkness and my groans deride.
Art thou a father, unregarding Jove!
And sleeps thy thunder in the realms above?        110
Thou Fury! then some lasting curse entail,
Which o’er their children’s children shall prevail;
Place on their heads that crown distain’d with gore,
Which these dire hands from my slain father tore;
Go! and a parent’s heavy curses bear;        115
Break all the bonds of Nature, and prepare
Their kindred souls to mutual hate and war.
Give them to dare, what I might wish to see,
Blind as I am, some glorious villany!
Soon shalt thou find, if thou but arm their hands,        120
Their ready guilt preventing thy commands:
Couldst thou some great proportion’d mischief frame,
They’d prove the father from whose loins they came.’
  The Fury heard, while on Cocytus’ brink
Her snakes, untied, sulphureous waters drink;        125
But at the summons roll’d her eyes around,
And snatch’d the starting serpents from the ground.
Not half so swiftly shoots along in air
The gliding lightning or descending star.
Thro’ crowds of airy shades she wing’d her flight,        130
And dark dominions of the silent night;
Swift as she pass’d the flitting ghosts withdrew,
And the pale spectres trembled at her view:
To th’ iron gates of Tenarus she flies,
There spreads her dusky pinions to the skies.        135
The Day beheld, and, sick’ning at the sight,
Veil’d her fair glories in the shades of night.
Affrighted Atlas on the distant shore
Trembled, and shook the heav’ns and Gods he bore.
Now from beneath Malea’s airy height        140
Aloft she sprung, and steer’d to Thebes her flight;
With eager speed the well known journey took,
Nor here regrets the Hell she late forsook.
A hundred snakes her gloomy visage shade,
A hundred serpents guard her horrid head;        145
In her sunk eyeballs dreadful meteors glow:
Such rays from Phœbe’s bloody circle flow,
When, lab’ring with strong charms, she shoots from high
A fiery gleam, and reddens all the sky.
Blood stain’d her cheeks, and from her mouth there came        150
Blue steaming poisons, and a length of flame.
From every blast of her contagious breath
Famine and Drought proceed, and Plagues and Death.
A robe obscene was o’er her shoulders thrown,
A dress by Fates and Furies worn alone.        155
She toss’d her meagre arms; her better hand
In waving circles whirl’d a funeral brand;
A serpent from her left was seen to rear
His flaming crest, and lash the yielding air.
But when the Fury took her stand on high,        160
Where vast Cithæron’s top salutes the sky,
A hiss from all the snaky tire went round:
The dreadful signal all the rocks rebound,
And thro’ th’ Achaian cities send the sound.
Œte, with high Parnassus, heard the voice;        165
Eurotas’ banks remurmur’d to the noise;
Again Leucothea shook at these alarms,
And press’d Palæmon closer in her arms.
Headlong from thence the glowing Fury springs,
And o’er the Theban palace spreads her wings,        170
Once more invades the guilty dome, and shrouds
Its bright pavilions in a veil of clouds.
Straight with the rage of all their race possest,
Stung to the soul, the brothers start from rest,
And all their furies wake within their breast:        175
Their tortured minds repining Envy tears,
And Hate, engender’d by suspicious Fears;
And sacred thirst of Sway, and all the ties
Of Nature broke, and royal Perjuries;
And impotent desire to reign alone,        180
That scorns the dull reversion of a throne:
Each would the sweets of sov’reign Rule devour,
While Discord waits upon divided power.
  As stubborn steers, by brawny ploughmen broke,
And join’d reluctant to the galling yoke,        185
Alike disdain with servile necks to bear
Th’ unwonted weight, or drag the crooked share,
But rend the reins, and bound a diff’rent way,
And all the furrows in confusion lay:
Such was the discord of the royal pair        190
Whom fury drove precipitate to war.
In vain the chiefs contrived a specious way
To govern Thebes by their alternate sway:
Unjust decree! while this enjoys the state,
That mourns in exile his unequal fate,        195
And the short monarch of a hasty year
Foresees with anguish his returning heir.
Thus did the league their impious arms restrain,
But scarce subsisted to the second reign.
  Yet then no proud aspiring piles were rais’d,        200
No fretted roofs with polish’d metals blazed;
No labour’d columns in long order placed,
No Grecian stone the pompous arches graced;
No nightly bands in glitt’ring armour wait
Before the sleepless tyrant’s guarded gate;        205
No charges then were wrought in burnish’d gold,
Nor silver vases took the forming mould;
Nor gems on bowls emboss’d were seen to shine,
Blaze on the brims, and sparkle in the wine.
Say, wretched rivals! what provokes your rage?        210
Say to what end your impious arms engage?
Not all bright Phœbus views in early morn,
Or when his ev’ning beams the west adorn,
When the South glows with his meridian ray,
And the cold North receives a fainter day—        215
For crimes like these not all those realms suffice,
Were all those realms the guilty victor’s prize!
  But Fortune now (the lots of empire thrown)
Decrees to proud Eteocles the crown.
What joys, O Tyrant! swell’d thy soul that day,        220
When all were slaves thou could’st around survey,
Pleas’d to behold unbounded power thy own,
And singly fill a fear’d and envied throne!
  But the vile vulgar, ever discontent,
Their growing fears in secret murmurs vent;        225
Still prone to change, tho’ still the slaves of state,
And sure the monarch whom they have to hate;
New lords they madly make, then tamely bear,
And softly curse the tyrants whom they fear.
And one of those who groan beneath the sway        230
Of kings imposed, and grudgingly obey,
(Whom Envy to the great, and vulgar Spite,
With Scandal arm’d, th’ ignoble mind’s delight)
Exclaim’d—“O Thebes! for thee what fates remain,
What woes attend this unauspicious reign?        235
Must we, alas! our doubtful necks prepare
Each haughty master’s yoke by turns to bear,
And still to change whom changed we still must fear?
These now control a wretched people’s fate,
These can divide, and these reverse the state:        240
Ev’n Fortune rules no more—O servile land,
Where exiled tyrants still by turns command!
Thou Sire of Gods and men, imperial Jove!
Is this th’ eternal doom decreed above?
On thy own offspring hast thou fix’d this fate        245
From the first birth of our unhappy state,
When banish’d Cadmus, wand’ring o’er the main,
For lost Europa search’d the world in vain,
And fated in Bœotian fields to found
A rising empire on a foreign ground,        250
First rais’d our walls on that ill-omen’d plain
Where earth-born brothers were by brothers slain?
What lofty looks th’ unrivall’d monarch bears!
How all the Tyrant in his face appears!
What sullen fury clouds his scornful brow!        255
Gods! how his eyes with threat’ning ardour glow!
Can this imperious lord forget to reign,
Quit all his state, descend, and serve again?
Yet who before more popularly bow’d?
Who more propitious to the suppliant crowd?        260
Patient of right, familiar in the throne,
What wonder then? he was not then alone.
Oh wretched we! a vile submissive train,
Fortune’s tame fools, and slaves in every reign!
  ‘As when two winds with rival force contend,        265
This way and that the wavering sails they bend,
While freezing Boreas and black Eurus blow,
Now here, now there the reeling vessel throw;
Thus on each side, alas! our tott’ring state
Feels all the fury of resistless Fate,        270
And doubtful still, and still distracted stands,
While that prince threatens, and while this commands.’
  And now th’ almighty Father of the Gods
Convenes a council in the bless’d abodes.
Far in the bright recesses of the skies,        275
High o’er the rolling heav’ns, a mansion lies,
Whence, far below, the Gods at once survey
The realms of rising and declining day,
And all th’ extended space of earth, and air, and sea.
Full in the midst, and on a starry throne,        280
The Majesty of Heav’n superior shone:
Serene he look’d, and gave an awful nod,
And all the trembling spheres confess’d the God.
At Jove’s assent the deities around
In solemn state the consistory crown’d.        285
Next a long order of inferior powers
Ascend from hills, and plains, and shady bowers;
Those from whose urns the rolling rivers flow,
And those that give the wand’ring winds to blow:
Here all their rage and ev’n their murmurs cease,        290
And sacred Silence reigns, and universal Peace.
A shining synod of majestic Gods
Gilds with new lustre the divine abodes:
Heav’n seems improv’d with a superior ray,
And the bright arch reflects a double day.        295
The Monarch then his solemn silence broke,
The still creation listen’d while he spoke;
Each sacred accent bears eternal weight,
And each irrevocable word is Fate.
  ‘How long shall man the wrath of Heav’n defy,        300
And force unwilling vengeance from the sky?
O race confed’rate into crimes, that prove
Triumphant o’er th’ eluded rage of Jove!
This wearied arm can scarce the bolt sustain,
And unregarded thunder rolls in vain:        305
Th’ o’erlabour’d Cyclop from his task retires,
Th’ Æolian forge exhausted of its fires.
For this I suffer’d Phœbus’ steeds to stray,
And the mad ruler to misguide the day,
When the wide earth to heaps of ashes turn’d,        310
And Heav’n itself the wand’ring chariot burn’d;
For this my brother of the wat’ry reign
Releas’d th’ impetuous sluices of the main;
But flames consumed, and billows raged in vain.
Two races now, allied to Jove, offend;        315
To punish these, see Jove himself descend.
The Theban kings their line from Cadmus trace,
From godlike Perseus those of Argive race.
Unhappy Cadmus’ fate who does not know,
And the long series of succeeding woe?        320
How oft the Furies from the deeps of night
Arose, and mix’d with men in mortal fight;
Th’ exulting mother stain’d with filial blood,
The savage hunter and the haunted wood?
The direful banquet why should I proclaim,        325
And crimes that grieve the trembling Gods to name?
Ere I recount the sins of these profane,
The sun would sink into the western main,
And, rising, gild the radiant east again.
Have we not seen (the blood of Laius shed)        330
The murd’ring son ascend his parent’s bed,
Thro’ violated Nature force his way,
And stain the sacred womb where once he lay?
Yet now in darkness and despair he groans,
And for the crimes of guilty Fate atones;        335
His sons with scorn their eyeless father view,
Insult his wounds, and make them bleed anew.
Thy curse, O Œdipus! just Heav’n alarms,
And sets th’ avenging Thunderer in arms.
I from the root thy guilty race will tear,        340
And give the nations to the waste of war.
Adrastus soon, with Gods averse, shall join
In dire alliance with the Theban line;
Hence strife shall rise, and mortal war succeed;
The guilty realms of Tantalus shall bleed:        345
Fix’d is their doom. This all-rememb’ring breast
Yet harbours vengeance for the tyrant’s feast.’
  He said; and thus the Queen of Heav’n return’d
(With sudden grief her lab’ring bosom burn’d):
‘Must I, whose cares Phoroneus’ towers defend,        350
Must I, O Jove! in bloody wars contend?
Thou know’st those regions my protection claim,
Glorious in Arms, in Riches, and in Fame:
Tho’ there the fair Egyptian heifer fed,
And there deluded Argus slept and bled;        355
Tho’ there the brazen tower was storm’d of old,
When Jove descended in almighty gold!
Yet I can pardon those obscurer rapes,
Those bashful crimes disguis’d in borrow’d shapes;
But Thebes, where, shining in celestial charms,        360
Thou camest triumphant to a mortal’s arms,
When all my glories o’er her limbs were spread,
And blazing lightnings danced around her bed;
Curs’d Thebes the vengeance it deserves may prove—
Ah! why should Argos feel the rage of Jove?        365
Yet since thou wilt thy sister-queen control,
Since still the lust of Discord fires thy soul,
Go, raze my Samos, let Mycene fall,
And level with the dust the Spartan wall;
No more let mortals Juno’s power invoke,        370
Her fanes no more with eastern incense smoke,
Nor victims sink beneath the sacred stroke;
But to your Isis all my rights transfer,
Let altars blaze and temples smoke for her!
For her, thro’ Egypt’s fruitful clime renown’d,        375
Let weeping Nilus hear the timbrel sound.
But if thou must reform the stubborn times,
Avenging on the sons the fathers’ crimes,
And from the long records of distant age
Derive incitements to renew thy rage;        380
Say, from what period then has Jove design’d
To date his vengeance? to what bounds confin’d?
Begin from thence, where first Alpheus hides
His wand’ring stream, and thro’ the briny tides
Unmix’d to his Sicilian river glides.        385
Thy own Arcadians there the thunder claim,
Whose impious rites disgrace thy mighty name;
Who raise thy temples where the chariot stood
Of fierce Œnomaüs, defil’d with blood;
Where once his steeds their savage banquet found,        390
And human bones yet whiten all the ground.
Say, can those honours please? and canst thou love
Presumptuous Crete, that boasts the tomb of Jove?
And shall not Tantalus’s kingdoms share
Thy wife and sister’s tutelary care?        395
Reverse, O Jove! thy too severe decree,
Nor doom to war a race derived from thee;
On impious realms and barb’rous kings impose
Thy plagues, and curse them with such sons as those.’
  Thus in reproach and prayer the Queen exprest        400
The rage and grief contending in her breast;
Unmov’d remain’d the Ruler of the Sky,
And from his throne return’d this stern reply:
’T was thus I deem’d thy haughty soul would bear
The dire tho’ just revenge which I prepare        405
Against a nation thy peculiar care:
No less Dione might for Thebes contend,
Nor Bacchus less his native town defend;
Yet these in silence see the Fates fulfil
Their work, and rev’rence our superior will:        410
For by the black infernal Styx I swear
(That dreadful oath which binds the Thunderer)
’T is fix’d, th’ irrevocable doom of Jove;
No Force can bend me, no Persuasion move.
Haste then, Cyllenius, thro’ the liquid air;        415
Go, mount the winds, and to the shades repair;
Bid Hell’s black monarch my commands obey,
And give up Laius to the realms of day,
Whose ghost yet shiv’ring on Cocytus’ sand
Expects its passage to the further strand:        420
Let the pale sire revisit Thebes, and bear
These pleasing orders to the tyrant’s ear;
That from his exiled brother, swell’d with pride
Of foreign forces and his Argive bride,
Almighty Jove commands him to detain        425
The promis’d empire, and alternate reign:
Be this the cause of more than mortal hate;
The rest succeeding times shall ripen into Fate.’
  The God obeys, and to his feet applies
Those golden wings that cut the yielding skies;        430
His ample hat his beamy locks o’erspread,
And veil’d the starry glories of his head.
He seiz’d the wand that causes sleep to fly,
Or in soft slumbers seals the wakeful eye;
That drives the dead to dark Tartarean coasts,        435
Or back to life compels the wand’ring ghosts.
Thus thro’ the parting clouds the son of May
Wings on the whistling winds his rapid way;
Now smoothly steers thro’ air his equal flight,
Now springs aloft, and towers th’ ethereal height;        440
Then wheeling down the steep of heav’n he flies,
And draws a radiant circle o’er the skies.
  Meantime the banish’d Polynices roves
(His Thebes abandon’d) thro’ th’ Aonian groves,
While future realms his wand’ring thoughts delight,        445
His daily vision, and his dream by night.
Forbidden Thebes appears before his eye,
From whence he sees his absent brother fly,
With transport views the airy rule his own,
And swells on an imaginary throne.        450
Fain would he cast a tedious age away,
And live out all in one triumphant day:
He chides the lazy progress of the sun,
And bids the year with swifter motion run:
With anxious hopes his craving mind is tost,        455
And all his joys in length of wishes lost.
  The hero then resolves his course to bend
Where ancient Danaus’ fruitful fields extend,
And famed Mycene’s lofty towers ascend
(Where late the sun did Atreus’ crimes detest,        460
And disappear’d in horror of the feast);
And now by Chance, by Fate, or Furies led,
From Bacchus’ consecrated caves he fled,
Where the shrill cries of frantic matrons sound,
And Pentheus’ blood enrich’d the rising ground;        465
Then sees Cithæron towering o’er the plain,
And thence declining gently to the main;
Next to the bounds of Nisus’ realm repairs,
Where treach’rous Scylla cut the purple hairs;
The hanging cliffs of Scyron’s rock explores,        470
And hears the murmurs of the diff’rent shores;
Passes the strait that parts the foaming seas,
And stately Corinth’s pleasing site surveys.
  ’T was now the time when Phœbus yields to night,
And rising Cynthia sheds her silver light;        475
Wide o’er the world in solemn pomp she drew
Her airy chariot, hung with pearly dew:
All birds and beasts lie hush’d: sleep steals away
The wild desires of men, and toils of day,
And brings, descending thro’ the silent air,        480
A sweet forgetfulness of human care.
Yet no red clouds, with golden borders gay,
Promise the skies the bright return of day;
No faint reflections of the distant light
Streak with long gleams the scatt’ring shades of night;        485
From the damp earth impervious vapours rise,
Increase the darkness, and involve the skies.
At once the rushing winds with roaring sound
Burst from th’ Æolian caves, and rend the ground;
With equal rage their airy quarrel try,        490
And win by turns the kingdom of the sky.
But with a thicker night black Auster shrouds
The heav’ns, and drives on heaps the rolling clouds
From whose dark womb a rattling tempest pours,
Which the cold north congeals to haily showers:        495
From pole to pole the thunder roars aloud,
And broken lightnings flash from every cloud.
Now smokes with showers the misty mountain-ground,
And floated fields lie undistinguish’d round;
Th’ Inachian streams with headlong fury run,        500
And Erasinus rolls a deluge on;
The foaming Lerna swells above its bounds,
And spreads its ancient poisons o’er the grounds;
Where late was dust, now rapid torrents play,
Rush thro’ the mounds, and bear the dams away;        505
Old limbs of trees, from crackling forests torn,
Are whirl’d in air, and on the winds are borne;
The storm the dark Lycæan groves display’d,
And first to light exposed the sacred shade.
Th’ intrepid Theban hears the bursting sky,        510
Sees yawning rocks in massy fragments fly,
And views astonish’d, from the hills afar,
The floods descending, and the wat’ry war,
That, driv’n by storms and pouring o’er the plain,
Swept herds, and hinds, and houses to the main.        515
Thro’ the brown horrors of the night he fled,
Nor knows, amaz’d, what doubtful path to tread;
His brother’s image to his mind appears,
Inflames his heart with rage, and wings his feet with fears.
  So fares the sailor on the stormy main,        520
When clouds conceal Boütes’ golden wain,
When not a star its friendly lustre keeps,
Nor trembling Cynthia glimmers on the deeps;
He dreads the rocks, and shoals, and seas, and skies,
While thunder roars, and lightning round him flies.        525
  Thus strove the chief, on ev’ry side distress’d;
Thus still his courage with his toils increas’d.
With his broad shield opposed, he forced his way
Thro’ thickest woods, and rous’d the beasts of prey,
Till he beheld where from Larissa’s height        530
The shelving walls reflect a glancing light.
Thither with haste the Theban hero flies;
On this side Lerna’s pois’nous water lies,
On that Prosymna’s grove and temple rise.
He pass’d the gates which then unguarded lay,        535
And to the regal palace bent his way;
On the cold marble, spent with toil, he lies,
And waits till pleasing slumbers seal his eyes.
  Adrastus here his happy people sways,
Bless’d with calm peace in his declining days;        540
By both his parents of descent divine,
Great Jove and Phœbus graced his noble line:
Heav’n had not crown’d his wishes with a son,
But two fair daughters heir’d his state and throne.
To him Apollo (wondrous to relate!        545
But who can pierce into the depths of fate?)
Had sung—‘Expect thy sons on Argos’ shore,
A yellow lion and a bristly boar.’
This long revolv’d in his paternal breast,
Sat heavy on his heart, and broke his rest;        550
This, great Amphiaraus! lay hid from thee,
Tho’ skill’d in fate and dark futurity.
The father’s care and prophet’s art were vain,
For thus did the predicting God ordain.
  Lo, hapless Tydeus! whose ill-fated hand        555
Had slain his brother, leaves his native land,
And, seiz’d with horror in the shades of night,
Thro’ the thick deserts headlong urged his flight:
Now by the fury of the tempest driv’n,
He seeks a shelter from th’ inclement heav’n,        560
Till, led by fate, the Theban’s steps he treads,
And to fair Argos’ open courts succeeds.
  When thus the chiefs from diff’rent lands resort
T’ Adrastus’ realms and hospitable court,
The King surveys his guests with curious eyes,        565
And views their arms and habit with surprise.
A lion’s yellow skin the Theban wears,
Horrid his mane, and rough with curling hairs;
Such once employ’d Alcides’ youthful toils,
Ere yet adorn’d with Nemea’s dreadful spoils.        570
A boar’s stiff hide, of Calydonian breed,
Oenides’ manly shoulders overspread;
Oblique his tusks, erect his bristles stood,
Alive the pride and terror of the wood.
  Struck with the sight, and fix’d in deep amaze,        575
The King th’ accomplish’d oracle surveys,
Reveres Apollo’s vocal caves, and owns
The guiding godhead and his future sons.
O’er all his bosom secret transports reign,
And a glad horror shoots thro’ ev’ry vein:        580
To Heav’n he lifts his hands, erects his sight,
And thus invokes the silent Queen of Night:—
  ‘Goddess of shades! beneath whose gloomy reign
Yon spangled arch glows with the starry train;
You who the cares of Heav’n and Earth allay,        585
Till Nature, quicken’d by th’ inspiring ray,
Wakes to new vigour with the rising day;
O thou who freest me from my doubtful state,
Long lost and wilder’d in the maze of Fate,
Be present still, O Goddess! in our aid;        590
Proceed, and ’firm those omens thou hast made.
We to thy name our annual rites will pay,
And on thy altars sacrifices lay;
The sable flock shall fall beneath the stroke,
And fill thy temples with a grateful smoke.        595
Hail, faithful Tripos! hail, ye dark abodes
Of awful Phœbus; I confess the Gods!’
  Thus, seiz’d with sacred fear, the Monarch pray’d;
Then to his inner court the guests convey’d,
Where yet thin fumes from dying sparks arise,        600
And dust yet white upon each altar lies,
The relics of a former sacrifice.
The King once more the solemn rites requires,
And bids renew the feasts and wake the fires.
His train obey; while all the courts around        605
With noisy care and various tumult sound.
Embroider’d purple clothes the golden beds;
This slave the floor, and that the table spreads;
A third dispels the darkness of the night,
And fills depending lamps with beams of light;        610
Here loaves in canisters are piled on high,
And there in flames the slaughter’d victims fly.
Sublime in regal state Adrastus shone,
Stretch’d on rich carpets on his ivory throne;
A lofty couch receives each princely guest;        615
Around, at awful distance, wait the rest.
  And now the King, his royal feast to grace,
Acestis calls, the guardian of his race,
Who first their youth in arts of Virtue train’d,
And their ripe years in modest Grace maintain’d;        620
Then softly whisper’d in her faithful ear,
And bade his daughters at the rites appear.
When from the close apartments of the night
The royal nymphs approach divinely bright,
Such was Diana’s, such Minerva’s face,        625
Nor shine their beauties with superior grace,
But that in these a milder charm endears,
And less of terror in their looks appears.
As on the heroes first they cast their eyes,
O’er their fair cheeks the glowing blushes rise;        630
Their downcast looks a decent shame confest,
Then on their father’s rev’rend features rest.
  The banquet done, the Monarch gives the sign
To fill the goblet high with sparkling wine.
Which Danaus used in sacred rites of old,        635
With sculpture graced, and rough with rising gold.
Here to the clouds victorious Perseus flies,
Medusa seems to move her languid eyes,
And ev’n in gold, turns paler as she dies:
There from the chase Jove’s towering eagle bears,        640
On golden wings, the Phrygian to the stars;
Still as he rises in th’ ethereal height,
His native mountains lessen to his sight,
While all his sad companions upward gaze,
Fix’d on the glorious scene in wild amaze,        645
And the swift hounds, affrighted as he flies,
Run to the shade, and bark against the skies.
  This golden bowl with gen’rous juice was crown’d,
The first libation sprinkled on the ground;
By turns on each celestial Power they call;        650
With Phœbus’ name resounds the vaulted hall.
The courtly train, the strangers, and the rest,
Crown’d with chaste laurel, and with garlands drest,
While with rich gums the fuming altars blaze,
Salute the God in numerous hymns of praise.        655
  Then thus the King: ‘Perhaps, my noble guests,
These honour’d altars, and these annual feasts
To bright Apollo’s awful name design’d,
Unknown, with wonder may perplex your mind.
Great was the cause: our old solemnities        660
From no blind zeal or fond tradition rise;
But saved from death, our Argives yearly pay
These grateful honours to the God of Day.
  ‘When by a thousand darts the Python slain
With orbs unroll’d lay cov’ring all the plain,        665
(Transfix’d as o’er Castalia’s streams he hung,
And suck’d new poisons with his triple tongue)
To Argos’ realms the victor God resorts,
And enters old Crotopus’ humble courts.
This rural prince one only daughter bless’d,        670
That all the charms of blooming youth possess’d;
Fair was her face, and spotless was her mind,
Where filial love with virgin sweetness join’d.
Happy! and happy still she might have prov’d,
Were she less beautiful, or less belov’d!        675
But Phœbus lov’d, and on the flowery side
Of Nemea’s stream the yielding Fair enjoy’d.
Now ere ten moons their orb with light adorn,
Th’ illustrious offspring of the God was born;
The nymph, her father’s anger to evade,        680
Retires from Argos to the sylvan shade;
To woods and wilds the pleasing burden bears,
And trusts her infant to a shepherd’s cares.
  ‘How mean a fate, unhappy child, is thine!
Ah! how unworthy those of race divine!        685
On flow’ry herbs in some green covert laid,
His bed the ground, his canopy the shade,
He mixes with the bleating lambs his cries,
While the rude swain his rural music tries,
To call soft slumbers on his infant eyes.        690
Yet ev’n in those obscure abodes to live
Was more, alas! than cruel Fate would give;
For on the grassy verdure as he lay,
And breathed the freshness of the early day,
Devouring dogs the helpless infant tore,        695
Fed on his trembling limbs, and lapp’d the gore.
Th’ astonish’d mother, when the rumour came,
Forgets her father, and neglects her fame;
With loud complaints she fills the yielding air,
And beats her breast, and rends her flowing hair;        700
Then wild with anguish to her sire she flies,
Demands the sentence, and contented dies.
  ‘But touch’d with sorrow for the dead too late,
The raging God prepares t’ avenge her fate.
He sends a monster horrible and fell,        705
Begot by furies in the depths of Hell.
The pest a virgin’s face and bosom bears;
High on her crown a rising snake appears,
Guards her black front, and hisses in her hairs.
About the realm she walks her dreadful round,        710
When night with sable wings o’erspreads the ground,
Devours young babes before their parents’ eyes,
And feeds and thrives on public miseries.
  ‘But gen’rous rage the bold Chorœbus warms,
Chorœbus! famed for virtue as for arms;        715
Some few like him, inspired with martial flame,
Thought a short life well lost for endless fame.
These, where two ways in equal parts divide,
The direful monster from afar descried,
Two bleeding babes depending at her side;        720
Whose panting vitals, warm with life, she draws,
And in their hearts imbrues her cruel claws.
The youths surround her with extended spears;
But brave Chorœbus in the front appears;
Deep in her breast he plunged his shining sword,        725
And Hell’s dire monster back to Hell restor’d.
Th’ Inachians view the slain with vast surprise,
Her twisting volumes and her rolling eyes,
Her spotted breast and gaping womb imbrued
With livid poison and our children’s blood.        730
The crowd in stupid wonder fix’d appear,
Pale ev’n in joy, nor yet forget to fear.
Some with vast beams the squalid corse engage,
And weary all the wild efforts of rage.
The birds obscene, that nightly flock’d to taste,        735
With hollow screeches fled the dire repast;
And rav’nous dogs, allured by scented blood,
And starving wolves, ran howling to the wood.
  ‘But fired with rage, from cleft Parnassus’ brow
Avenging Phœbus bent his deadly bow,        740
And hissing flew the feather’d fates below.
A night of sultry clouds involv’d around
The towers, the fields, and the devoted ground:
And now a thousand lives together fled,
Death with his scythe cut off the fatal thread,        745
And a whole province in his triumph led.
  ‘But Phœbus, ask’d why noxious fires appear
And raging Sirius blasts the sickly year,
Demands their lives by whom his monster fell,
And dooms a dreadful sacrifice to Hell.        750
  ‘Bless’d be thy dust, and let eternal fame
Attend thy Manes, and preserve thy Name,
Undaunted Hero! who, divinely brave,
In such a cause disdain’d thy life to save,
But view’d the shrine with a superior look,        755
And its upbraided godhead thus bespoke:
“With Piety, the soul’s securest guard,
And conscious Virtue, still its own reward,
Willing I come, unknowing how to fear,
Nor shalt thou, Phœbus, find a suppliant here:        760
Thy monster’s death to me was owed alone,
And ’t is a deed too glorious to disown.
Behold him here, for whom, so many days,
Impervious clouds conceal’d thy sullen rays;
For whom, as man no longer claim’d thy care,        765
Such numbers fell by pestilential air!
But if th’ abandon’d race of human kind
From Gods above no more compassion find;
If such inclemency in Heav’n can dwell,
Yet why must unoffending Argos feel        770
The vengeance due to this unlucky steel?
On me, on me, let all thy fury fall,
Nor err from me, since I deserve it all:
Unless our desert cities please thy sight,
Or funeral flames reflect a grateful light.        775
Discharge thy shafts, this ready bosom rend,
And to the shades a ghost triumphant send:
But for my country let my fate atone;
Be mine the vengeance, as the crime my own.”
  ‘Merit distress’d impartial Heav’n relieves:        780
Unwelcome life relenting Phœbus gives;
For not the vengeful Power, that glow’d with rage,
With such amazing virtue durst engage.
The clouds dispers’d, Apollo’s wrath expired,
And from the wond’ring God th’ unwilling youth retired.        785
Thence we these altars in his temple raise,
And offer annual honours, feasts, and praise;
These solemn feasts propitious Phœbus please;
These honours, still renew’d, his ancient wrath appease.
  ‘But say, illustrious guest! (adjoin’d the King)        790
What name you bear, from what high race you spring?
The noble Tydeus stands confess’d, and known
Our neighbour prince, and heir of Calydon:
Relate your fortunes, while the friendly night
And silent hours to various talk invite.’        795
  The Theban bends on earth his gloomy eyes,
Confused, and sadly thus at length replies:—
‘Before these altars how shall I proclaim,
O gen’rous Prince! my nation or my name,
Or thro’ what veins our ancient blood has roll’d?        800
Let the sad tale for ever rest untold!
Yet if, propitious to a wretch unknown,
You seek to share in sorrows not your own,
Know then from Cadmus I derive my race,
Jocasta’s son, and Thebes my native place.’        805
To whom the King (who felt his gen’rous breast
Touch’d with concern for his unhappy guest)
Replies—‘Ah! why forbears the son to name
His wretched father, known too well by Fame?
Fame, that delights around the world to stray,        810
Scorns not to take our Argos in her way.
Ev’n those who dwell where suns at distance roll,
In northern wilds, and freeze beneath the pole,
And those who tread the burning Libyan lands,
The faithless Syrtes, and the moving sands;        815
Who view the western sea’s extremest bounds,
Or drink of Ganges in their eastern grounds;
All these the woes of Œdipus have known,
Your fates, your furies, and your haunted town.
If on the sons the parents’ crimes descend,        820
What prince from those his lineage can defend?
Be this thy comfort, that ’t is thine t’ efface,
With virtuous acts, thy ancestors’ disgrace,
And be thyself the honour of thy race.
But see! the stars begin to steal away,        825
And shine more faintly at approaching day;
Now pour the wine; and in your tuneful lays
Once more resound the great Apollo’s praise.’
  ‘O father Phœbus! whether Lycia’s coast
And snowy mountains thy bright presence boast;        830
Whether to sweet Castalia thou repair,
And bathe in silver dews thy yellow hair;
Or pleas’d to find fair Delos float no more,
Delight in Cynthus and the shady shore;
Or choose thy seat in Ilion’s proud abodes,        835
The shining structures rais’d by lab’ring Gods:
By thee the bow and mortal shafts are borne;
Eternal charms thy blooming youth adorn;
Skill’d in the laws of secret Fate above,
And the dark counsels of almighty Jove.        840
’T is thine the seeds of future war to know,
The change of sceptres and impending woe,
When direful meteors spread thro’ glowing air
Long trails of light, and shake their blazing hair.
Thy rage the Phrygian felt, who durst aspire        845
T’ excel the music of thy heav’nly lyre;
Thy shafts avenged lewd Tityus’ guilty flame,
Th’ immortal victim of thy mother’s fame;
Thy hand slew Python, and the dame who lost
Her numerous offspring for a fatal boast.        850
In Phlegyas’ doom thy just revenge appears,
Condemn’d to furies and eternal fears;
He views his food, but dreads, with lifted eye,
The mould’ring rock that trembles from on high.
  Propitious hear our prayer, O Power divine!        855
And on thy hospitable Argos shine;
Whether the style of Titan please thee more,
Whose purple rays th’ Achæmenes adore;
Or great Osiris, who first taught the swain
In Pharian fields to sow the golden grain;        860
Or Mitra, to whose beams the Persian bows,
And pays, in hollow rocks, his awful vows;
Mitra! whose head the blaze of light adorns,
Who grasps the struggling heifer’s lunar horns.’
 
 
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