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How wilt thou toss, and rave, and long to die,
And quit thy claim to immortality;
When thou shalt feel, enraged with inward pains,
The Hydra's venom rankling in thy veins ?
The gods, in pity, shall contract thy date,
And give thee over to the power of Fate."
Thus, entering into destiny, the maid
The secrets of offended Jove betrayed:
More had she still to say; but now appears
Oppressed with sobs and sighs, and drowned in tears.
"My voice," says she, "is gone, my language fails;
Through every limb my kindred shape prevails :
Why did the god this fatal gift impart,
And with prophetic raptures swell my heart!
What new desires are these? I long to pace
O'er flowery meadows, and to feed on grass:
I hasten to a brute, a maid no more;
But why, alas! am I transformed all o'er ?
My sire does half a human shape retain,
And in his upper parts preserves the man."
Her tongue no more distinct complaints affords,
But in shrill accents and mishapen words
Pours forth such hideous wailings, as declare
The human form confounded in the mare:
Till by degrees accomplished in the beast,
She neighed outright, and all the steed exprest.
Her stooping body on her hands is borne,
Her hands are turned to hoofs, and shod in horn;
Her yellow tresses ruffle in a mane,
And in a flowing tail she frisks her train.
The mare was finished in her voice and look,
And a new name from the new figure took.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF BATTUS TO A TOUCHSTONE.
Sore wept the centaur, and to Phœbus prayed;
But how could Phoebus give the centaur aid?
Degraded of his power by angry Jove,
In Elis then a herd of beeves he drove;
And wielded in his hand a staff of oak,
And o'er his shoulders threw the shepherd's cloak;
On seven compacted reeds he used to play,
And on his rural pipe to waste the day.
As once, attentive to his pipe, he played,
The crafty Hermes from the god conveyed
A drove, that separate from their fellows strayed.
The theft an old insidious peasant viewed,
(They called him Battus in the neighbourhood,)
Hired by a wealthy Pylian prince to feed
His favourite mares, and watch the generous breed.
The thievish god suspected him, and took
The hind aside, and thus in whispers spoke:
"Discover not the theft, whoe'er thou be,
And take that milk-white heifer for thy fee."
'Go, stranger," cries the clown, "securely on, That stone shall sooner tell;" and showed a stone.
The god withdrew, but straight returned again,
In speech and habit like a country swain;
And cries out, "Neighbour, hast thou seen a stray
Of bullocks and of heifers pass this way?
In the recovery of my cattle join,
A bullock and a heifer shall be thine."
The peasant quick replies, "You'll find 'em there,
In yon dark vale:" and in the vale they were.
The double bribe had his false heart beguiled:
The god, successful in the trial, smiled;
"And dost thou thus betray myself to me?
Me to myself dost thou betray?" says he:
Then to a touch-stone turns the faithless spy,
And in his name records his infamy.
THE STORY OF AGLAUROS, TRANSFORMED INTO A STATUE
This done, the god flew up on high, and passed
O'er lofty Athens, by Minerva graced,
And wide Munichia, whilst his eyes survey
All the vast region that beneath him lay.
'Twas now the feast, when each Athenian maid
Her yearly homage to Minerva paid;
In canisters, with garlands covered o'er,
High on their heads their mystic gifts they bore;
And now, returning in a solemn train,
The troop of shining virgins filled the plain,
The god well-pleased beheld the pompous show,
And saw the bright procession pass below;
Then veered about, and took a wheeling flight,
And hovered o'er them: as the spreading kite,
That smells the slaughtered victim from on high,
Flies at a distance, if the priests are nigh,
And sails around, and keeps it in her eye;
So kept the god the virgin choir in view,
And in slow winding circles round them flew.
As Lucifer excels the meanest star,
Or as the full-orbed Phoebe, Lucifer,
So much did Hersè all the rest outvie,
And gave a grace to the solemnity.
Hermes was fired, as in the clouds he hung:
So the cold bullet, that with fury slung
From Balearic engines mounts on high,
Glows in the whirl, and burns along the sky.
At length he pitched upon the ground, and showed
The form divine, the features of a god.
He knew their virtue o'er a female heart,
And yet he strives to better them by art.
He hangs his mantle loose, and sets to show
The golden edging on the seam below;
Adjusts his flowing curls, and in his hand
Waves with an air the sleep-procuring wand;
The glittering sandals to his feet applies,
And to each heel the well-trimmed pinion ties.
His ornaments with nicest art displayed,
He seeks th' apartment of the royal maid.
The roof was all with polished ivory lined,
That, richly mixed, in clouds of tortoise shined.
Three rooms, contiguous, in a range were placed,
The midmost by the beauteous Hersè graced;
Her virgin sisters lodged on either side.
Aglauros first the approaching god descried,
And as he crossed her chamber, asked his name,
And what his business was, and whence he came.
"I come," replied the god," from heaven, to woo
Your sister, and to make an aunt of you;
I am the son and messenger of Jove,
My name is Mercury, my business, love;
Do you, kind damsel, take a lover's part,
And gain admittance to your sister's heart."
She stared him in the face with looks amazed, As when she on Minerva's secret gazed, And asks a mighty treasure for her hire, And, till he brings it, makes the god retire. Minerva grieved to see the nymph succeed; And now remembering the late impious deed, When, disobedient to her strict command, She touched the chest with an unhallowed hand; In big-swoln sighs her inward rage expressed, That heaved the rising Ægis on her breast; Then sought out Envy in her dark abode, Defiled with ropy gore and clots of blood: Shut from the winds, and from the wholesome skies, In a deep vale the gloomy dungeon lies, Dismal and cold, where not a beam of light Invades the winter, or disturbs the night.
Directly to the cave her course she steered; Against the gates her martial lance she reared; The gates flew open, and the fiend appeared. A poisonous morsel in her teeth she chewed, And gorged the flesh of vipers for her food. Minerva loathing turned away her eye; The hideous monster, rising heavily, Came stalking forward with a sullen pace, And left her mangled offals on the place. Soon as she saw the goddess gay and bright, She fetched a groan at such a cheerful sight. Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye In foul, distorted glances turned awry; A hoard of gall her inward parts possessed, And spread a greenness o'er her cankered breast; Her teeth were brown with rust; and from her tongue,
In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.
She never smiles but when the wretched weep,
Nor lulls her malice with a moment's sleep,
Restless in spite: while watchful to destroy,
She pines and sickens at another's joy;
Foe to herself, distressing and distrest,
She bears her own tormentor in her breast.
The goddess gave (for she abhorred her sight)
A short command: "To Athens speed thy flight;
On curst Aglauros try thy utmost art.
And fix thy rankest venoms in her heart."
This said, her spear she pushed against the ground,
And mounting from it with an active bound,
Flew off to heaven: the hag with eyes askew
Looked up, and muttered curses as she flew ;
For sore she fretted, and began to grieve
At the success which she herself must give.
Then takes her staff, hung round with wreaths of thorn,
And sails along, in a black whirlwind borne,
O'er fields and flowery meadows: where she steers
Her baneful course, a mighty blast appears,
Mildews and blights; the meadows are defaced,
The fields, the flowers, and the whole year laid waste :
On mortals next and peopled towns she falls,
And breathes a burning plague among their walls.
When Athens she beheld, for arts renowned,
With peace made happy, and with plenty crowned,
Scarce could the hideous fiend from tears forbear,
To find out nothing that deserved a tear.
The apartment now she entered, where at rest
Aglauros lay, with gentle sleep opprest.
To execute Minerva's dire command,
She stroked the virgin with her cankered hand,
Then prickly thorns into her breast conveyed,
That stung to madness the devoted maid:
Her subtle venom still improves the smart,
Frets in the blood, and festers in the heart.
To make the work more sure, a scene she drew,
And placed before the dreaming virgin's view
Her sister's marriage, and her glorious fate:
The imaginary bride appears in state;
The bridegroom with unwonted beauty glows,
For Envy magnifies whate'er she shows.
Full of the dream, Aglauros pined away
In tears all night, in darkness all the day;
Consumed like ice, that just begins to run,
When feebly smitten by the distant sun;
Or like unwholesome weeds, that, set on fire,
Are slowly wasted, and in smoke expire.
Given up to Envy, (for in every thought,
The thorns, the venom, and the vision wrought).