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THE FIRST BOOK OF
THE ARGUMENT. Edipus king of Thebes, having by mistake slain his tather Laïus, and married his mother Jocasta, put out his own eyes, and resigned 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 obtained by Eteocles. "Jupiter, in a council of the gods, declares his resolution of punishing the Thebans, and Argives also, by means of a marriage between 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 Laïus, 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 Tydeus, who had fled from Calydon, having killed his brother. Adrastus entertains them, having received 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 Phæbus and Psamathe, and the story of Chorobus. He inquires, and is made acquainted with their descent and quality. The sacrifice is renewed, and the book concludes with a hymn to Apollo.
The translator hopes he need not apologize for his choice of this piece, which was made almost in his childhood; but, finding the version better than he expected, he gave it some correction a few years afterward. 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 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? 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, O'er the wide fields the furious mother flew,
And while her arms a second hope contain,
But waive whate'er to Cadmus may belong,
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 a humbler theme may choose : 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 wandering ghosts Of kings unburied on the wasted coasts; When Dirce's fountain blush'd with Grecian blood, And Thetis, near Ismenos' swelling food,
With dread beheld the rolling surges sweep,
What hero, Clio! wilt thou first relate ?
Now wetched Edipus, deprived of sight,
• 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, though blind, behold: Tisiphone, that oft hast heard my prayer, Assist, if Edipus deserve thy care! If you received me from Jocasta's womb, And nursed the hope of mischiefs yet to come : If, leaving Polybus, I took my way To Cyrrha's temple, on that fatal day, When by the son the trembling father died, Where the three roads the Phocian fields divide : If I the Sphinx's riddles durst explain, Taught by thyself to win the promised reign : If wretched I, by baleful Furies led, With monstrous mixture stain'd my mother's bed, For hell and thee begot an impious brood, And with full last those horrid joys renew'd; Then, self-condemn'd to shades of endless night, Forced from these orbs the bleeding balls of sight:
O hear, and aid the vengeance I require,
The Fury heard, while on Cocytus' brink Her snakes, untied, sulphureous waters drink; 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. Through crowds of airy shades she wing'd her flight, 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 Tænarus she flies, There spreads her dusky pinions to the skies. The day beheld, and, sickening at the sight, Veild her fair glories in the shades of night.. Affrighted Atlas, on the distant shore, Trembled, and shook the heavens and gods he bore. Now from beneath Malea's airy height Aloft she sprung, and steer'd to Thebes her filigtat;
With eager speed the well-known journey took,
But when the Fury took her stand on high,