God and Nature at last interposed and put an end to this discord,
separating earth from sea, and heaven from both. The fiery part,
being the lightest, sprang up, and formed the skies; the air was
next in weight and place. The earth, being heavier, sank below,
and the water took the lowest place and buoyed up the earth.
Here some god, no man knows who, arranged and divided the land.
He placed the rivers and bays, raised mountains and dug out
valleys and distributed woods, fountains, fertile fields and
stony plains. Now that the air was clear the stars shone out,
the fishes swam the sea and birds flew in the air, while the
four-footed beasts roamed around the earth. But a nobler animal
was needed, and man was made in the image of the gods with an
upright stature [The two Greek words for man have the root an,
"up], so that while all other animals turn their faces downward
and look to the earth, he raises his face to heaven and gazes on
the stars [Every reader will be interested in comparing this
narrative with that in the beginning of Genesis. It seems clear
that so many Jews were in Rome in Ovid's days, many of whom were
people of consideration among those with whom he lived, that he
may have heard the account in the Hebrew Scriptures translated.
Compare JUDAISM by Prof. Frederic Huidekoper.]
To Prometheus the Titan and to his brother Epimetheus was
committed the task of making man and all other animals, and of
endowing them with all needful faculties. This Epimetheus did,
and his brother overlooked the work. Epimetheus then gave to the
different animals their several gifts of courage, strength,
swiftness and sagacity. He gave wings to one, claws to another,
a shelly covering to the third. Man, superior to all other
animals, came last. But for man Epimetheus had nothing,-- he had
bestowed all his gifts elsewhere. He came to his brother for
help, and Prometheus, with the aid of Minerva, went up to heaven,
lighted his torch at the chariot of the sun, and brought down
fire to man. With this, man was more than equal to all other
animals. Fire enabled him to make weapons to subdue wild beasts,
tools with which to till the earth. With fire he warmed his
dwelling and bid defiance to the cold.
Woman was not yet made. The story is, that Jupiter made her, and
sent her to Prometheus and his brother, to punish them for their
presumption in stealing fire from heaven; and man, for accepting
the gift. The first woman was named Pandora. She was made in
heaven, every god contributing something to perfect her. Venus
gave her beauty, Mercury persuasion, Apollo music. Thus
equipped, she was conveyed to earth, and presented to Epimetheus,
who gladly accepted her, though cautioned by his brother to
beware of Jupiter and his gifts. Epimetheus had in his house a
jar, in which were kept certain noxious articles, for which, in
fitting man for his new abode, he had had no occasion. Pandora
was seized with an eager curiosity to know what this jar
contained; and one day she slipped off the cover and looked in.
Forthwith there escaped a multitude of plagues for hapless man,--
such as gout, rheumatism, and colic for his body, and envy,
spite, and revenge for his mind,-- and scattered themselves far
and wide. Pandora hastened to replace the lid; but, alas! The
whole contents of the jar had escaped, one thing only excepted,
which lay at the bottom, and that was HOPE. So we see at this
day, whatever evils are abroad, hope never entirely leaves us;
and while we have THAT, no amount of other ills can make us
Another story is, that Pandora was sent in good faith, by
Jupiter, to bless man; that she was furnished with a box,
containing her marriage presents, into which every god had put
some blessing. She opened the box incautiously, and the
blessings all escaped, HOPE only excepted. This story seems more
consistent than the former; for how could HOPE, so precious a
jewel as it is, have been kept in a jar full of all manner of
The world being thus furnished with inhabitants, the first age
was an age of innocence and happiness, called the GOLDEN AGE.
Truth and right prevailed, though not enforced by law, nor was
there any magistrate to threaten or punish. The forest had not
yet been robbed of its trees to furnish timbers for vessels, nor
had men built fortifications round their towns. There were no
such things as swords, spears, or helmets. The earth brought
forth all things necessary for man, without his labor in
ploughing or sowing. Perpetual spring reigned, flowers sprang up
without seed, the rivers flowed with milk and wine, and yellow
honey distilled from the oaks.
"But when good Saturn, banished from above,
Was driven to hell, the world was under Jove.
Succeeding times a Silver Age behold,
Excelling brass, but more excelled by gold.
Then summer, autumn, winter did appear,
And spring was but a season of the year.
The sun his annual course obliquely made,
Good days contracted and enlarged the bad,
Then air, with sultry heats, began to glow;
The wings of winds were clogged with ice and sno
And shivering mortals into houses driven,
Sought shelter from the inclemency of heaven.
Those houses then were caves, or homely sheds;
With twining osiers fenced; and moss their beds.
Then ploughs, for seed, the fruitful furrows broke,
And oxen labored first beneath the yoke.
To this came next in course the Brazen Age:
A warlike offspring, prompt to bloody rage,
Not impious yet! . .
. . . Hard Steel succeeded then;
And stubborn as the metal were the men."
Ovid's Metam, Book I. Dryden's Translation.
Crime burst in like a flood; modesty, truth, and honor fled. In
their places came fraud and cunning, violence, and the wicked
love of gain. Then seamen spread sails to the wind, and the
trees were torn from the mountains to serve for keels to ships,
and vex the face of ocean. The earth, which till now had been
cultivated in common, began to be divided off into possessions.
Men were not satisfied with what the surface produced, but must
dig into its bowels, and draw forth from thence the ores of
metals. Mischievous IRON, and more mischievous GOLD, were
produced. War sprang up, using both as weapons; the guest was
not safe in his friend's house; and sons-in-law and fathers-in-
law, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, could not trust
one another. Sons wished their fathers dead, that they might
come to the inheritance; family love lay prostrate. The earth
was wet with slaughter, and the gods abandoned it, one by one,
till Astraea [the goddess of innocence and purity. After leaving
earth, she was placed among the stars, where she became the
constellation Virgo The Virgin. Themis (Justice) was the mother
of Astraea. She is represented as holding aloft a pair of
scales, in which she weighs the claims of opposing parties. It
was a favorite idea of the old poets, that these goddesses would
one day return, and bring back the Golden Age. Even in a
Christian Hymn, the Messiah of Pope, this idea occurs.
"All crimes shall cease, and ancient fraud shall fail,
Returning Justice lift aloft her scale,
Peace o'er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from heaven descend." See, also,
Milton's Hymn on the nativity, stanzas xiv, and xv] alone was
left, and finally she also took her departure.
Jupiter, seeing this state of things, burned with anger. He
summoned the gods to council. They obeyed the call, and took
The road to the palace of heaven. The road, which any one may
see in a clear night, stretches across the face of the sky, and
is called the Milky Way. Along the road stand the palaces of the
illustrious gods; the common people of the skies live apart, on
either side. Jupiter addressed the assembly. He set forth the
frightful condition of things on the earth, and closed by
announcing his intention to destroy the whole of its inhabitants,
and provide a new race, unlike the first, who would be more
worthy of life, and much better worshippers of the gods. So
saying he took a thunderbolt, and was about to launch it at the
world, and destroy it by burning it; but recollecting the danger
that such a conflagration might set heaven itself on fire, he
changed his plan, and resolved to drown the world. Aquilo, the
north wind, which scatters the clouds, was chained up; Notus, the
south, was sent out, and soon covered all the face of heaven with
a cloak of pitchy darkness. The clouds, driven together, resound
with a crash; torrents of rain fall; the crops are laid low; the
year's labor of the husbandman perishes in an hour. Jupiter, not
satisfied with his own waters, calls on his brother Neptune to
aid him with his. He lets loose the rivers, and pours them over
the land. At the same time, he heaves the land with an
earthquake, and brings in the reflux of the ocean over the
shores. Flocks, herds, men, and houses are swept away, and
temples, with their sacred enclosures, profaned. If any edifice
remained standing, it was overwhelmed, and its turrets lay hid
beneath the waves. Now all was sea; sea without shore. Here and
there some one remained on a projecting hill-top, and a few, in
boats, pulled the oar where they had lately driven the plough.
The fishes swim among the tree-tops; the anchor is let down into
a garden. Where the graceful lambs played but now, unwieldy sea-
calves gambol. The wolf swims among the sheep; the yellow lions
and tigers struggle in the water. The strength of the wild boar
serves him not, nor his swiftness the stag. The birds fall with
weary wing into the water, having found no land for a resting
place. Those living beings whom the water spared fell a prey to
Parnassus alone, of all the mountains, overtopped the waves; and
there Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, of the race of Prometheus,
found refuge he a just man, and she a faithful worshipper of
the gods. Jupiter, when he saw none left alive but this pair,
and remembered their harmless lives and pious demeanor, ordered
the north winds to drive away the clouds, and disclose the skies
to earth, and earth to the skies. Neptune also directed Triton
to blow on his shell, and sound a retreat to the waters. The
waters obeyed, and the sea returned to its shores, and the rivers
to their channels. Then Deucalion thus addressed Pyrrha: "O
wife, only surviving woman, joined to me first by the ties of
kindred and marriage, and now by a common danger, would that we
possessed the power of our ancestor Prometheus, and could renew
the race as he at first made it! But as we cannot, let us seek
yonder temple, and inquire of the gods what remains for us to
do." They entered the temple, deformed as it was with slime, and
approached the altar, where no fire burned. There they fell
prostrate on the earth, and prayed the goddess to inform them how
they might retrieve their miserable affairs. The oracle
answered, "Depart from the temple with head veiled and garments
unbound, and cast behind you the bones of your mother." They
heard the words with astonishment. Pyrrha first broke silence:
"We cannot obey; we dare not profane the remains of our parents."
They sought the thickest shades of the wood, and revolved the
oracle in their minds. At length Deucalion spoke: "Either my
sagacity deceives me, or the command is one we may obey without
impiety. The earth is the great parent of all; the stones are
her bones; these we may cast behind us; and I think this is what
the oracle means. At least, it will do no harm to try." They
veiled their faces, unbound their garments, and picked up stones,
and cast them behind them. The stones (wonderful to relate)
began to grow soft, and assume shape. By degrees, they put on a
rude resemblance to the human form, like a block half finished in
the hands of the sculptor. The moisture and slime that were
about them became flesh; the stony part became bones; the veins
remained veins, retaining their name, only changing their use.
Those thrown by the hand of the man became men, and those by the
woman became women. It was a hard race, and well adapted to
labor, as we find ourselves to be at this day, giving plain
indications of our origin.
The comparison of Eve to Pandora is too obvious to have escaped
Milton, who introduces it in Book IV, of Paradise Lost:--
"More lovely than Pandora, whom the gods
Endowed with all their gifts; and O, too like
In sad event, when to the unwiser son
Of Jupiter, brought by Hermes, she ensnared
Mankind with her fair looks, to be avenged
On him who had stole Jove's authentic fire."
Prometheus and Epimetheus were sons of Iapetus, which Milton
changes to Japhet.
Prometheus, the Titan son of Iapetus and Themis, is a favorite
subject with the poets. AEschylus wrote three tragedies on the
subjects of his confinement, his release, and his worship at
Athens. Of these only the first is preserved, the Prometheus
Bound. Prometheus was the only one in the council of the gods
who favored man. He alone was kind to the human race, and taught
and protected them.
"I formed his mind,
And through the cloud of barbarous ignorance
Diffused the beams of knowledge . . . .
They saw indeed, they heard, but what availed
Or sight or hearing, all things round them rolling,
Like the unreal imagery of dreams
In wild confusion mixed! The lightsome wall
Of finer masonry, the raftered roof
They knew not; but like ants still buried, delved
Deep in the earth and scooped their sunless caves.
Unmarked the seasons ranged, the biting winter,
The flower-perfumed spring, the ripening summer
Fertile of fruits. At random all their works
Till I instructed them to mark the stars,
Their rising, and, a harder science yet,
Their setting. The rich train of marshalled numbers
I taught them, and the meet array of letters.
To impress these precepts on their hearts I sent
Memory, the active mother of all reason.
I taught the patient steer to bear the yoke,
In all his toils joint-laborer of man.
By me the harnessed steed was trained to whirl
The rapid car, and grace the pride of wealth.
The tall bark, lightly bounding o'er the waves,
I taught its course, and winged its flying sail.
To man I gave these arts."
Potter's Translation from the Prometheus Bound
Jupiter, angry at the insolence and presumption of Prometheus in
taking upon himself to give all these blessings to man, condemned
the Titan to perpetual imprisonment, bound on a rock on Mount
Caucasus while a vulture should forever prey upon his liver.
This state of torment might at any time have been brought to an
end by Prometheus if he had been willing to submit to his
oppressor. For Prometheus knew of a fatal marriage which Jove
must make and by which he must come to ruin. Had Prometheus
revealed this secret he would at once have been taken into favor.
But this he disdained to do. He has therefore become the symbol
of magnanimous endurance of unmerited suffering and strength of
will resisting oppression.
Byron and Shelley have both treated this theme. The following
are Byron's lines:--
"Titan! To whose immortal eyes
The sufferings of mortality,
Seen in their sad reality,
Were not as things that gods despise,
What was thy pity's recompense?
A silent suffering, and intense;
The rock, the vulture, and the chain;
All that the proud can feel of pain;
The agony they do not show;
The suffocating sense of woe.
"Thy godlike crime was to be kind;
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen man with his own mind.
And, baffled as thou wert from high,
Still, in thy patient energy,
In the endurance and repulse,
Of thine impenetrable spirit,
Which earth and heaven could not convulse,
A mighty lesson we inherit."
The slime with which the earth was covered by the waters of the
flood, produced an excessive fertility, which called forth every
variety of production, both bad and good. Among the rest,
Python, an enormous serpent, crept forth, the terror of the
people, and lurked in the caves of Mount Parnassus. Apollo slew
him with his arrows weapons which he had not before used
against any but feeble animals, hares, wild goats, and such game.
In commemoration of this illustrious conquest he instituted the
Pythian games, in which the victor in feats of strength,
swiftness of foot, or in the chariot race, was crowned with a
wreath of beech leaves; for the laurel was not yet adopted by
Apollo as his own tree. And here Apollo founded his oracle at
Delphi, the only oracle "that was not exclusively national, for
it was consulted by many outside nations, and, in fact, was held
in the highest repute all over the world. In obedience to its
decrees, the laws of Lycurgus were introduced, and the earliest
Greek colonies founded. No cities were built without first
consulting the Delphic oracle, for it was believed that Apollo
took special delight in the founding of cities, the first stone
of which he laid in person; nor was any enterprise ever
undertaken without inquiry at this sacred fane as to its probable
success" [From Beren's Myths and Legends of Greece and Rome.]
The famous statue of Apollo called the Belvedere [From the
Belvedere of the Vatican palace where it stands] represents the
god after his victory over the serpent Python. To this Byron
alludes in his Childe Harold, iv. 161:--
"The lord of the unerring bow,
The god of life, and poetry, and light,
The Sun, in human limbs arrayed, and brow
All radiant from his triumph in the fight.
The shaft has just been shot; the arrow bright
With an immortal's vengeance; in his eye
And nostril, beautiful disdain, and might,
And majesty flash their full lightnings by,
Developing in that one glance the Deity."
APOLLO AND DAPHNE
Daphne was Apollo's first love. It was not brought about by
accident, but by the malice of Cupid. Apollo saw the boy playing
with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent
victory over Python, he said to him, "What have you to do with
warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them.
Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast
serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain!
Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as
you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my
Venus's boy heard these words, and rejoined, ":Your arrows may
strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you.:" So
saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from
his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite
love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and sharp-
pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the leaden
shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god
Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart.
Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she
abhorred the thought of loving. Her delight was in woodland
sports and in the spoils of the chase. Many lovers sought her,
but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking thought
neither of Cupid nor of Hymen. Her father often said to her,
"Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law; you owe me grandchildren."
She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her
beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, threw her arms
around her father's neck, and said, "Dearest father, grant me
this favor, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana." He
consented, but at the same time said, "Your own face will forbid
Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives
oracles to all in the world was not wise enough to look into his
own fortunes. He saw her hair flung loose over her shoulders,
and said, "If so charming in disorder, what would it be if
arranged?" He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her lips, and
was not satisfied with only seeing them. He admired her hands
and arms bared to the shoulder, and whatever was hidden from view
he imagined more beautiful still. He followed her; she fled,
swifter than the wind, and delayed not a moment at his
entreaties. "Stay," said he, "daughter of Peneus; I am not a
foe. Do not fly me as a lamb flies the wolf, or a dove the hawk.
It is for love I pursue you. You make me miserable, for fear you
should fall and hurt yourself on these stones, and I should be
the cause. Pray run slower, and I will follow slower. I am no
clown, no rude peasant. Jupiter is my father, and I am lord of
Delphos and Tenedos, and know all things, present and future. I
am the god of song and the lyre. My arrows fly true to the mark;
but alas! An arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart! I
am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing
plants. Alas! I suffer a malady that no balm can cure!"
The nymph continued her flight, and left his plea half uttered.
And even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her
garments, and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The
god grew impatient to find his wooings thrown away, and, sped by
Cupid, gained upon her in the race. It was like a hound pursuing
a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal
darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and
the virgin he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear.
The pursuer is the more rapid, however, and gains upon her, and
his panting breath blows upon her hair. Now her strength begins
to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river
god: "Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change
my form, which has brought me into this danger!"
Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs;
her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became
leaves; her arms became branches; her feet stuck fast in the
ground, as roots; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing
of its former self but its beauty. Apollo stood amazed. He
touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark.
He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The
branches shrank from his lips. "Since you cannot be my wife,"
said he, "you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my
crown. With you I will decorate my harp and my quiver; and when
the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the
Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And,
as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and
your leaf know no decay." The nymph, now changed into a laurel
tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.
Apollo was god of music and of poetry and also of medicine. For,
as the poet Armstrong says, himself a physician:--
"Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels disease, softens every pain;
And hence the wise of ancient days adored
One power of physic, melody, and song."
The story of Apollo and Daphne is often alluded to by the poets.
Waller applies it to the case of one whose amatory verses, though
they did not soften the heart of his mistress, yet won for the
poet wide-spread fame.
"Yet what he sung in his immortal strain,
Though unsuccessful, was not sung in vain.
All but the nymph that should redress his wrong,
Attend his passion and approve his song.
Like Phoebus thus, acquiring unsought praise,
He caught at love and filled his arms with bays."
The following stanza from Shelley's Adonais alludes to Byron's
early quarrel with the reviewers:--
"The herded wolves, bold only to pursue;
The obscene ravens, clamorous o'er the dead;
The vultures, to the conqueror's banner true,
Who feed where Desolation first has fed.
And whose wings rain contagion; how they fled,
When like Apollo, from his golden bow,
The Pythian of the age one arrow sped
And smiled! The spoilers tempt no second blow;
They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them as they go."
PYRAMUS AND THISBE
Pyramus was the handsomest youth, and Thisbe the fairest maiden,
in all Babylonia, where Semiramis reigned. Their parents
occupied adjoining houses; and neighborhood brought the young
people together, and acquaintance ripened into love. They would
gladly have married, but their parents forbade. One thing,
however, they could not forbid that love should glow with equal
ardor in the bosoms of both. They conversed by signs and
glances, and the fire burned more intensely for being covered up.
In the wall that parted the two houses there was a crack, caused
by some fault in the structure. No one had remarked it before,
but the lovers discovered it. 'What will love not discover? It
afforded a passage to the voice; and tender messages used to pass
backward and forward through the gap. As they stood, Pyramus on
this side, Thisbe on that, their breaths would mingle. "Cruel
wall," they said, "why do you keep two lovers apart? But we will
not be ungrateful. We owe you, we confess, the privilege of
transmitting loving words to willing ears." Such words they
uttered on different sides of the wall; and when night came and
they must say farewell, they pressed their lips upon the wall,
she on her side, he on his, as they could come no nearer.
One morning, when Aurora had put out the stars, and the sun had
melted the frost from the grass, they met at the accustomed spot.
Then, after lamenting their hard fate, they agreed that next
night, when all was still, they would slip away from watchful
eyes, leave their dwellings and walk out into the fields; and to
insure a meeting, repair to a well-known edifice, standing
without the city's bounds, called the tomb of Ninus, and that the
one who came first should await the other at the foot of a
certain tree. It was a white mulberry tree and stood near a cool
spring. All was agreed on, and they waited impatiently for the
sun to go down beneath the waters and night to rise up from them.
Then cautiously Thisbe stole forth, unobserved by the family, her
head covered with a veil, made her way to the monument and sat
down under the tree. As she sat alone in the dim light of the
evening she descried a lioness, her jaws reeking with recent
slaughter, approaching the fountain to slake her thirst. Thisbe
fled at the sight, and sought refuge in the hollow of a rock. As
she fled she dropped her veil. The lioness, after drinking at
the spring, turned to retreat to the woods, and seeing the veil
on the ground, tossed and rent it with her bloody mouth.
Pyramus, having been delayed, now approached the place of
meeting. He saw in the sand the footsteps of the lion, and the
color fled from his cheeks at the sight. Presently he found the
veil all rent and bloody. "Oh, hapless girl," said he, "I have
been the cause of thy death! Thou, more worthy of life than I,
hast fallen the first victim. I will follow. I am the guilty
cause, in tempting thee forth to a place of such peril, and not
being myself on the spot to guard thee. Come forth, ye lions,
from the rocks, and tear this guilty body with your teeth" He
took up the veil, carried it with him to the appointed tree, and
covered it with kisses and with tears. "My blood also shall
stain your texture," said he, and drawing his sword plunged it
into his heart. The blood spurted from the wound, and tinged the
white mulberries of the tree all red; and sinking into the earth
reached the roots, so that the red color mounted through the
trunk to the fruit.
By this time, Thisbe, still trembling with fear, yet wishing not
to disappoint her lover, stepped cautiously forth, looking
anxiously for the youth, eager to tell him the danger she had
escaped. When she came to the spot and saw the changed color of
the mulberries she doubted whether it was the same place. While
she hesitated she saw the form of one struggling in the agonies
of death. She started back, a shudder ran through her frame as a
ripple on the face of the still water when a sudden breeze sweeps
over it. But as soon as she recognized her lover, she screamed
and beat her breast; embracing the lifeless body, pouring tears
into its wounds, and imprinting kisses on the cold lips. "Oh,
Pyramus," she cried, "what has done this? Answer me, Pyramus; it
is your own Thisbe that speaks. Hear me, dearest, and lift that
drooping head!" At the name of Thisbe, Pyramus opened his eyes,
then closed them again. She saw her veil stained with blood and
the scabbard empty of its sword. "Thy own hand has slain thee,
and for my sake," she said. "I too can be brave for once, and my
love is as strong as thine. I will follow thee in death, for I
have been the cause; and death, which alone could part us, shall
not prevent my joining thee. And ye, unhappy parents of us both,
deny us not our united request. As love and death have joined
us, let one tomb contain us. And thou, tree, retain the marks of
slaughter. Let thy berries still serve for memorials of our
blood." So saying, she plunged the sword into her breast. Her
parents acceded to her wish; the gods also ratified it. The two
bodies were buried in one sepulchre, and the tree ever after
brought forth purple berries, as it does to this day.
Moore, in the Sylph's Ball, speaking of Davy's Safety Lamp, is
reminded of the wall that separated Thisbe and her lover:--
"O for that lamp's metallic gauze,
That curtain of protecting wire,
Which Davy delicately draws
Around illicit, dangerous fire!
"The wall he sets 'twixt Flame and Air,
(Like that which barred young Thisbe's bliss),
Through whose small holes this dangerous pair
May see each other, but not kiss."
In Mickle's translation of the Lusiad occurs the following
allusion to the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, and the
metamorphosis of the mulberries. The poet is describing the
Island of Love.
" here each gift Pomona's hand bestows
In cultured garden, free uncultured flows,
The flavor sweeter and the hue more fair
Than e'er was fostered by the hand of care.
The cherry here in shining crimson glows,
And stained with lover's blood, in pendent rows,
The mulberries o'erload the bending boughs."
If any of our young readers can be so hard-hearted as to enjoy a
laugh at the expense of poor Pyramus and Thisbe, they may find an
opportunity by turning to Shakespeare's play of Midsummer Night's
Dream, where it is most amusingly burlesqued.
Here is the description of the play and the characters by the
"Gentles, perchance you wonder at this show;
But wonder on, till truth makes all things plain.
This man is Pyramus, if you would know;
This lovely lady Thisby is certain.
This man with lime and roughcast, doth present
Wall, that vile Wall, which did these lovers sunder;
And through Wall's chink, poor souls, they are content
To whisper. At the which let no man wonder.
This man, with lanthorn, dog and bush of thorn,
Presenteth Moonshine; for, if you will know,
By Moonshine did these lovers think no scorn
To meet at Ninus' tomb, there, there to woo.
This grisly beast, which by name Lion hight.
The trusty Thisby, coming first by night,
Did scare away, or rather did affright;
And, as she fled, her mantle she did fall,
Which Lion vile with bloody mouth did stain.
Anon comes Pyramus, sweet youth and tall,
And finds his trusty Thisby's mantle slain;
Whereat with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
He bravely broached his boiling bloody breast;
And, Thisby, tarrying in mulberry shade,
His dagger drew and died."
Midsummer Night's Dream, v.1,128, et seq.
CEPHALUS AND PROCRIS
Cephalus was a beautiful youth and fond of manly sports. He
would rise before the dawn to pursue the chase. Aurora saw him
when she first looked forth, fell in love with him, and stole him
away. But Cephalus was just married to a charming wife whom he
loved devotedly. Her name was Procris. She was a favorite of
Diana, the goddess of hunting, who had given her a dog which
could outrun every rival, and a javelin which would never fail of
its mark; and Procris gave these presents to her husband.
Cephalus was so happy in his wife that he resisted all the
entreaties of Aurora, and she finally dismissed him in
displeasure, saying, "Go, ungrateful mortal, keep your wife,
whom, if I am not much mistaken, you will one day be very sorry
you ever saw again."
Cephalus returned, and was as happy as ever in his wife and his
woodland sports. Now it happened some angry deity had sent a
ravenous fox to annoy the country; and the hunters turned out in
great strength to capture it. Their efforts were all in vain; no
dog could run it down; and at last they came to Cephalus to
borrow his famous dog, whose name was Lelaps. No sooner was the
dog let loose than he darted off, quicker than their eye could
follow him. If they had not seen his footprints in the sand they
would have thought he flew. Cephalus and others stood on a hill
and saw the race. The fox tried every art; he ran in a circle
and turned on his track, the dog close upon him, with open jaws,
snapping at his heels, but biting only the air. Cephalus was
about to use his javelin, when suddenly he saw both dog and game
stop instantly. The heavenly powers who had given both, were not
willing that either should conquer. In the very attitude of life
and action they were turned into stone. So lifelike and natural
did they look, you would have thought, as you looked at them,
that one was going to bark, the other to leap forward.
Cephalus, though he had lost his dog, still continued to take
delight in the chase. He would go out at early morning, ranging
the woods and hills unaccompanied by any one, needing no help,
for his javelin was a sure weapon in all cases. Fatigued with
hunting, when the sun got high he would seek a shady nook where a
cool stream flowed, and, stretched on the grass with his garments
thrown aside, would enjoy the breeze. Sometimes he would say
aloud, "Come, sweet breeze, come and fan my breast, come and
allay the heat that burns me." Some one passing by one day heard
him talking in this way to the air, and, foolishly believing that
he was talking to some maiden, went and told the secret to
Procris, Cephalus's wife. Love is credulous. Procris, at the
sudden shock, fainted away. Presently recovering, she said, "It
cannot be true; I will not believe it unless I myself am a
witness to it." So she waited, with anxious heart, till the next
morning, when Cephalus went to hunt as usual. Then she stole out
after him, and concealed herself in the place where the informer
directed her. Cephalus came as he was wont when tired with
sport, and stretched himself on the green bank, saying, "Come,
sweet breeze, come and fan me; you know how I love you! You make
the groves and my solitary rambles delightful." He was running
on in this way when he heard, or thought he heard, a sound as of
a sob in the bushes. Supposing it some wild animal, he threw hie
javelin at the spot. A cry from his beloved Procris told him
that the weapon had too surely met its mark. He rushed to the
place, and found her bleeding and with sinking strength
endeavoring to draw forth from the wound the javelin, her own
gift. Cephalus raised her from the earth, strove to stanch the
blood, and called her to revive and not to leave him miserable,
to reproach himself with her death. She opened her feeble eyes,
and forced herself to utter these few words: "I implore you, if
you have ever loved me, if I have ever deserved kindness at your
hands, my husband, grant me this last request; do not marry that
odious Breeze!" This disclosed the whole mystery; but alas!
What advantage to disclose it now? She died; but her face wore a
calm expression, and she looked pityingly and forgivingly on her
husband when he made her understand the truth.
In Shakespeare's play just quoted, there is an allusion to
Cephalus and Procris, although rather badly spelt.
Pyramus says, "Not Shafalus to Procrus was so true."
Thisbe. "As Shafalus to Procrus, I to you."
Moore, in his Legendary Ballads, has one on Cephalus and Procris,
"A hunter once in a grove reclined,
To shun the noon's bright eye,
And oft he wooed the wandering wind
To cool his brow with its sigh.
While mute lay even the wild bee's hum,
Nor breath could stir the aspen's hair,
His song was still, 'Sweet Air, O come!'
While Echo answered, 'Come, sweet Air!'"
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