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Ch. 9: Minerva and Arachne, Niobe, Perseus

Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, was the daughter of Jupiter.
She, they say, sprang forth from his brain full grown and clad in
complete armor. She presided over the useful and ornamental
arts, both those of men, such as agriculture and navigation,
and those of women, spinning, weaving, and needle-work. She
was also a warlike divinity; but a lover of defensive war only.
She had no sympathy with Mars's savage love of violence and
bloodshed. Athens was her chosen seat, her own city, awarded to
her as the prize of a contest with Neptune, who also aspired to
it. The tale ran that in the reign of Cecrops, the first king of
Athens, the two deities contended for the possession of the city.
The gods decreed that it should be awarded to that one who
produced the gift most useful to mortals. Neptune gave the
horse; Minerva produced the olive. The gods gave judgment that
the olive was the more useful of the two, and awarded the city to
the goddess; and it was named after her, Athens, her name in
Greek being Athene.

In another contest, a mortal dared to come in competition with
Minerva. That mortal was Arachne, a maiden who had attained such
skill in the arts of weaving and embroidery that the nymphs
themselves would leave their groves and fountains to come and
gaze upon her work. It was not only beautiful when it was done,
but beautiful also in the doing. To watch her, as she took the
wool in its rude state and formed it into rolls, or separated it
with her fingers and carded it till it looked as light and soft
as a cloud, or twirled the spindle with skilful touch, or wove
the web, or, when woven, adorned it with her needle, one would
have said that Minerva herself had taught her. But this she
denied, and could not bear to be thought a pupil even of a
goddess. "Let Minerva try her skill with mine," said she; "if
beaten, I will pay the penalty." Minerva heard this and was
displeased. Assuming the form of an old woman, she went and gave
Arachne some friendly advice. "I have had much experience,: said
she, "and I hope you will not despise my counsel. Challenge your
fellow-mortals as you will, but do not compete with a goddess.
On the contrary, I advise you to ask her forgiveness for what you
have said, and, as she is merciful, perhaps she will pardon you."
Arachne stopped her spinning, and looked at the old dame with
anger in her countenance. "Keep your counsel," said she, "for
your daughters or handmaids; for my part, I know what I say, and
I stand to it. I am not afraid of the goddess; let her try her
skill, if she dare venture." "She comes," said Minerva; and
dropping her disguise, stood confessed. The nymphs bent low in
homage, and all the bystanders paid reverence. Arachne alone was
unterrified. She blushed, indeed; a sudden color dyed her cheek,
and then she grew pale. But she stood to her resolve, and with a
foolish conceit of her own skill rushed on her fate. Minerva
forbore no longer, nor interposed any further advice. They
proceed to the contest. Each takes her station and attaches the
web to the beam. Then the slender shuttle is passed in and out
among the threads. The reed with its fine teeth strikes up the
woof into its place and compacts the web. Both work with speed;
their skilful hands move rapidly, and the excitement of the
contest makes the labor light. Wool of Tyrian dye is contrasted
with that of other colors, shaded off into one another so
adroitly that the joining deceives the eye. Like the bow, whose
long arch tinges the heavens, formed by sunbeams reflected from
the shower (this description of the rainbow is literally
translated rom Ovid), in which, where the colors meet they seem
as one, but at a little distance from the point of contact are
wholly different.

Minerva wrought on her web the scene of her contest with Neptune.
Twelve of the heavenly powers are represented, Jupiter, with
August gravity, sitting in the midst. Neptune, the ruler of the
sea, holds his trident, and appears to have just smitten the
earth, from which a horse has leaped forth. Minerva depicted
herself with helmed head, her AEgis covering her breast. Such
was the central circle; and in the four corners were represented
incidents illustrating the displeasure of the gods at such
presumptuous mortals as had dared to contend with them. These
were meant as warnings to her rival to give up the contest before
it was too late.

Arachne filled her web with subjects designedly chosen to exhibit
the failings and errors of the gods. One scene represented Leda
caressing the swan, under which form Jupiter had disguised
himself; and another, Danae, in the brazen tower in which her
father had imprisoned her, but where the god effected his
entrance in the form of a shower of gold. Still another depicted
Europa deceived by Jupiter under the disguise of a bull.
Encouraged by the tameness of the animal, Europa ventured to
mount his back, whereupon Jupiter advanced into the sea, and swam
with her to Crete. You would have thought it was a real bull so
naturally was it wrought, and so natural was the water in which
it swam. She seemed to look with longing eyes back upon the
shore she was leaving, and to call to her companions for help.
She appeared to shudder with terror at the sight of the heaving
waves, and to draw back her feet from the water.

Arachne filled her canvas with these and like subjects,
wonderfully well done, but strongly marking her presumption and
impiety. Minerva could not forbear to admire, yet felt indignant
at the insult. She struck the web with her shuttle, and rent it
in pieces; she then touched the forehead of Arachne, and made her
feel her guilt and shame. She could not endure it, and went and
hanged herself. Minerva pitied her as she saw her hanging by a
rope. "Live, guilty woman," said she; " and that you may
preserve the memory of this lesson, continue to hang, you and
your descendants, to all future times." She sprinkled her with
the juices of aconite, and immediately her hair came off, and her
nose and ears likewise. Her form shrank up, and her head grew
smaller yet; her fingers grew to her side, and served for legs.
All the rest of her is body, out of which she spins her thread,
often hanging suspended by it, in the same attitude as when
Minerva touched her and transformed her into a spider.

Spenser tells the story of Arachne in his Muiopotmos, adhering
very closely to his master Ovid, but improving upon him in the
conclusion of the story. The two stanzas which follow tell what
was done after the goddess had depicted her creation of the olive
tree:

"Amongst these leaves she made a Butterfly,
With excellent device and wondrous slight,
Fluttering among the olives wantonly,
That seemed to live, so like it was in sight;
The velvet nap which on his wings doth lie,
The silken down with which his back is dight,
His broad outstretched horns, his hairy thighs,
His glorious colors, and his glistening eyes."

"Which when Arachne saw, as overlaid
And mastered with workmanship so rare.
She stood astonished long, ne aught gainsaid;
And with fast-fixed eyes on her did stare,
And by her silence, sign of one dismayed,
The victory did yield her as her share;
Yet did she inly fret and felly burn,
And all her blood to poisonous rancor turn."

And so the metamorphosis is caused by Arachne's own mortification
and vexation, and not by any direct act of the goddess.

The following specimen of old-fashioned gallantry is by Garrick:


UPON A LADY'S EMBROIDERY

"Arachne once, as poets tell,
A goddess at her art defied,
And soon the daring mortal fell
The hapless victim of her pride.

"Oh, then, beware Arachne's fate;
Be prudent, Chloe, and submit,
For you'll most surely meet her hate,
Who rival both her art and wit."

Tennyson, in his Palace of Art, describing the works of art with
which the palace was adorned, thus alludes to Europa:

"------ sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasped
From off her shoulder, backward borne,
From one hand drooped a crocus, one hand grasped
The mild bull's golden horn."

In his Princess there is this allusion to Danae:

"Now lies the earth all Danae to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me."


NIOBE

The fate of Arachne was noised abroad through all the country,
and served as a warning to all presumptuous mortals not to
compare themselves with the divinities. But one, and she a
matron too, failed to learn the lesson of humility. It was
Niobe, the queen of Thebes. She had indeed much to be proud of;
but it was not her husband's fame, nor her own beauty, nor their
great descent, nor the power of their kingdom that elated her.
It was her children; and truly the happiest of mothers would
Niobe have been, if only she had not claimed to be so. It was on
occasion of the annual celebration in honor of Latona and her
offspring, Apollo and Diana, when the people of Thebes were
assembled, their brows crowned with laurel, bearing frankincense
to the altars and paying their vows, that Niobe appeared among
the crowd. Her attire was splendid with gold and gems, and her
face as beautiful as the face of an angry woman can be. She
stood and surveyed the people with haughty looks. "What folly,"
said she, "is this! to prefer beings whom you never saw to
those who stand before your eyes! Why should Latona be honored
with worship rather than I? My father was Tantalus, who was
received as a guest at the table of the gods; my mother was a
goddess. My husband built and rules this city, Thebes; and
Phrygia is my paternal inheritance. Wherever I turn my eyes I
survey the elements of my power; nor is my form and presence
unworthy of a goddess. To all this let me add, I have seven sons
and seven daughters, and look for sons-in-law and daughters-in-
law of pretensions worthy of my alliance. Have I not cause for
pride? Will you prefer to me this Latona, the Titan's daughter,
with her two children? I have seven times as many. Fortunate
indeed am I, and fortunate I shall remain! Will any one deny
this? My abundance is my security. I feel myself too strong for
Fortune to subdue. She may take from me much; I shall still have
much left. Were I to lose some of my children, I should hardly
be left as poor as Latona with her two only. Away with you from
these solemnities, put off the laurel from your brows, have
done with this worship!" The people obeyed, and left the sacred
services uncompleted.

The goddess was indignant. On top of Mount Cynthus where she
dwelt, she thus addressed her son and daughter: "My children, I
who have been so proud of you both, and have been used to hold
myself second to none of the goddesses except Juno alone, begin
now to doubt whether I am indeed a goddess. I shall be deprived
of my worship altogether unless you protect me." She was
proceeding in this strain, but Apollo interrupted her. "Say no
more," said he; "speech only delays punishment." So said Diana
also. Darting through the air, veiled in clouds, they alighted
on the towers of the city. Spread out before the gates was a
broad plain, where the youth of the city pursued their warlike
sports. The sons of Niobe were there among the rest, some
mounted on spirited horses richly caparisoned, some driving gay
chariots. Ismenos, the first-born, as he guided his foaming
steeds, struck with an arrow from above, cried out, "Ah, me!"
dropped the reins and fell lifeless. Another, hearing the sound
of the bow, like a boatman who sees the storm gathering and
makes all sail for the port, gave the rein to his horses and
attempted to escape. The inevitable arrow overtook him as he
fled. Two others, younger boys, just from their tasks, had gone
to the playground to have a game of wrestling. As they stood
breast to breast, one arrow pierced them both. They uttered a
cry together, together cast a parting look around them, and
together breathed their last. Alphenor, an elder brother, seeing
them fall, hastened to the spot to render them assistance, and
fell stricken in the act of brotherly duty. One only was left,
Ilioneus. He raised his arms to heaven to try whether prayer
might not avail. "Spare me, ye gods!" he cried, addressing all,
in his ignorance that all needed not his intercession; and Apollo
would have spared him, but the arrow had already left the string,
and it was too late.

The terror of the people and grief of the attendants soon made
Niobe acquainted with what had taken place. She could hardly
think it possible; she was indignant that the gods had dared and
amazed that they had been able to do it. Her husband, Amphion,
overwhelmed with the blow, destroyed himself. Alas! How
different was this Niobe from her who had so lately driven away
the people from the sacred rites, and held her stately course
through the city, the envy of her friends, now the pity even of
her foes! She knelt over the lifeless bodies, and kissed, now
one, now another of her dead sons. Raising her pallid arms to
heaven, "Cruel Latona," said she, "feed full your rage with my
anguish! Satiate your hard heart, while I follow to the grave my
seven sons. Yet where is your triumph? Bereaved as I am, I am
still richer than you, my conqueror. Scarce had she spoken when
the bow sounded and struck terror into all hearts except Niobe's
alone. She was brave from excess of grief. The sisters stood in
garments of mourning over the biers of their dead brothers. One
fell, struck by an arrow, and died on the corpse she was
bewailing. Another, attempting to console her mother, suddenly
ceased to speak, and sank lifeless to the earth. A third tried
to escape by flight, a fourth by concealment, another stood
trembling, uncertain what course to take. Six were now dead, and
only one remained, whom the mother held clasped in her arms, and
covered as it were with her whole body.

"Spare me one, and that the youngest! Oh, spare me one of so
many?!" she cried; and while she spoke, that one fell dead.
Desolate she sat, among sons, daughters, husband, all dead, and
seemed torpid with grief. The breeze moved not her hair, nor
color was on her cheek, her eyes glared fixed and immovable,
there was no sign of life about her. Her very tongue clave to
the roof of her mouth, and her veins ceased to convey the tide of
life. Her neck bent not, her arms made no gesture, her foot no
step. She was changed to stone, within and without. Yet tears
continued to flow; and, borne on a whirlwind to her native
mountain, she still remains, a mass of rock, from which a
trickling stream flows, the tribute of her never-ending grief.

The story of Niobe has furnished Byron with a fine illustration
of the fallen condition of modern Rome:

"The Niobe of nations! There she stands,
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe;
An empty urn within her withered hands,
Whose holy dust was scattered long ago;
The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now;
The very sepulchres lie tenantless
Of their heroic dwellers; dost thou flow,
Old Tiber! Through a marble wilderness?
Rise with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress."
Childe Harold, IV.79

The slaughter of the children of Niobe by Apollo, alludes to the
Greek belief that pestilence and illness were sent by Apollo, and
one dying by sickness was said to be struck by Apollo's arrow.
It is to this that Morris alludes in the Earthly Paradise:

"While from the freshness of his blue abode,
Glad his death-bearing arrows to forget,
The broad sun blazed, nor scattered plagues as yet."

Our illustration of this story is a copy of a celebrated statue
in the imperial gallery of Florence. It is the principal figure
of a group supposed to have been originally arranged in the
pediment of a temple. The figure of the mother clasped by the
arm of her terrified child, is one of the most admired of the
ancient statues. It ranks with the Laocoon and the Apollo among
the masterpieces of art. The following is a translation of a
Greek epigram supposed to relate to this statue:

"To stone the gods have changed her, but in vain;
The sculptor's art has made her breathe again."

Tragic as is the story of Niobe we cannot forbear to smile at the
use Moore has made of it in Rhymes on the Road:

"'Twas in his carriage the sublime
Sir Richard Blackmore used to rhyme,
And, if the wits don't do him wrong,
'Twixt death and epics passed his time,
Scribbling and killing all day long;
Like Phoebus in his car at ease,
Now warbling forth a lofty song,
Now murdering the young Niobes."

Sir Richard Blackmore was a physician, and at the same time a
very prolific and very tasteless poet, whose works are now
forgotten, unless when recalled to mind by some wit like Moore
for the sake of a joke.


THE GRAEAE AND GORGONS

The Graeae were three sisters who were gray-haired from their
birth, whence their name. The Gorgons were monstrous females
with huge teeth like those of swine, brazen claws, and snaky
hair. They also were three in number, two of them immortal, but
the other, Medusa, mortal. None of these beings make much figure
in mythology except Medusa, the Gorgon, whose story we shall next
advert to. We mention them chiefly to introduce an ingenious
theory of some modern writers, namely, that the Gorgons and
Graeae were only personifications of the terrors of the sea, the
former denoting the STRONG billows of the wide open main, and the
latter the WHITE-crested waves that dash against the rocks of the
coast. Their names in Greek signify the above epithets.


PERSEUS AND MEDUSA

Acrisius was the king who ruled in Argos. To him had an oracle
declared that he should be slain by the child of his daughter
Danae. Therefore the cruel king, thinking it better that Danae
should have no children than that he should be slain, ordered a
tower of brass to be made, and in this tower he confined his
daughter away from all men.

But who can withstand Jupiter? He saw Danae, loved her, and
changing his form to a shower of gold, he shone into the
apartment of the captive girl.

Perseus was the child of Jupiter and Danae. Acrisius, finding
that his precautions had come to nought, and yet hardly daring to
kill his own daughter and her young child, placed them both in a
chest and sent the chest floating on the sea. It floated away
and was finally entangled in the net of Dicte, a fisherman in the
island of Seriphus. He brought them to his house and treated
them kindly, and in the house of Dicte, Perseus grew up. When
Perseus was grown up, Polydectes, king of that country, wishing
to send Perseus to his death, bade him go in quest of the head of
Medusa. Medusa had once been a beautiful maiden, whose hair was
her chief glory, but as she dared to vie in beauty with Minerva,
the goddess deprived her of her charms and changed her beautiful
ringlets into hissing serpents. She became a cruel monster of so
frightful an aspect that no living thing could behold her without
being turned into stone. All around the cavern where she dwelt
might be seen the stony figures of men and beasts which had
chanced to catch a glimpse of her and had been petrified with the
sight. Minerva and Mercury aided Perseus. From Minerva, Perseus
borrowed her shield, and from Mercury the winged shoes and the
harpe or crooked sword. After having flown all over the earth
Perseus espied in the bright shield the image of Medusa and her
two immortal sisters. Flying down carefully he cut at her with
his harpe and severed her head. Putting the trophy in his pouch
he flew away just as the two immortal sisters were awakened by
the hissings of their snaky locks.


PERSEUS AND ATLAS

After the slaughter of Medusa, Perseus, bearing with him the head
of the Gorgon, flew far and wide, over land and sea. As night
came on, he reached the western limit of the earth, where the sun
goes down. Here he would gladly have rested till morning. It
was the realm of King Atlas, whose bulk surpassed that of all
other men. He was rich in flocks and herds and had no neighbor
or rival to dispute his state. But his chief pride was in his
gardens, whose fruit was of gold, hanging from golden branches,
half hid with golden leaves. Perseus said to him, "I come as a
guest. If you honor illustrious descent, I claim Jupiter for my
father; if mighty deeds, I plead the conquest of the Gorgon. I
seek rest and food." But Atlas remembered that an ancient
prophecy had warned him that a son of Jove should one day rob him
of his golden apples. So he answered, "Begone! Or neither your
false claims of glory nor of parentage shall protect you;" and he
attempted to thrust him out. Perseus, finding the giant too
strong for him, said, "Since you value my friendship so little,
deign to accept a present;" and turning his face away, he held up
the Gorgon's head. Atlas, with all his bulk, was changed into
stone. His beard and hair became forests, his arms and shoulders
cliffs, his head a summit, and his bones rocks. Each part
increased in bulk till he became a mountain, and (such was the
pleasure of the gods) heaven with all its stars rests upon his
shoulders.

And all in vain was Atlas turned to a mountain, for the oracle
did not mean Perseus, but the hero Hercules, who should come long
afterwards to get the golden apples for his cousin Eurystheus.

Perseus, continuing his flight, arrived at the country of the
AEthiopians, of which Cepheus was king. Cassiopeia, his queen,
proud of her beauty, had dared to compare herself to the Sea-
Nymphs, which roused their indignation to such a degree that they
sent a prodigious sea-monster to ravage the coast. To appease
the deities, Cepheus was directed hy the oracle to expose his
daughter Andromeda to be devoured by the monster. As Perseus
looked down from his aerial height he beheld the virgin chained
to a rock, and waiting the approach of the serpent. She was so
pale and motionless that if it had not been for her flowing tears
and her hair that moved in the breeze, he would have taken her
for a marble statue. He was so startled at the sight that he
almost forgot to wave his wings. As he hovered over her he said,
"O virgin, undeserving of those chains, but rather of such as
bind fond lovers together, tell me, I beseech you, your name and
the name of your country, and why you are thus bound." At first
she was silent from modesty, and, if she could, would have hid
her face with her hands; but when he repeated his questions, for
fear she might be thought guilty of some fault which she dared
not tell, she disclosed her name and that of her country, and her
mother's pride of beauty. Before she had done speaking, a sound
was heard off upon the water, and the sea-monster appeared, with
his head raised above the surface, cleaving the waves with his
broad breast. The virgin shrieked, the father and mother who had
now arrived at the scene, wretched both, but the mother more
justly so, stood by, not able to afford protection, but only to
pour forth lamentations and to embrace the victim. Then spoke
Perseus: "There will be time enough for tears; this hour is all
we have for rescue. My rank as the son of Jove and my renown as
the slayer of the Gorgon might make me acceptable as a suitor;
but I will try to win her by services rendered, if the gods will
only be propitious. If she be rescued by my valor, I demand that
she be my reward." The parents consent (how could they
hesitate?) And promise a royal dowry with her.

And now the monster was within the range of a stone thrown by a
skilful slinger, when with a sudden bound the youth soared into
the air. As an eagle, when from his lofty flight he sees a
serpent basking in the sun, pounces upon him and seizes him by
the neck to prevent him from turning his head round and using his
fangs, so the youth darted down upon the back of the monster and
plunged his sword into its shoulder. Irritated by the wound the
monster raised himself into the air, then plunged into the depth;
then, like a wild boar surrounded by a pack of barking dogs,
turned swiftly from side to side, while the youth eluded its
attacks by means of his wings. Wherever he can find a passage
for his sword between the scales he makes a wound, piercing now
the side, now the flank, as it slopes towards the tail. The
brute spouts from his nostrils water mixed with blood. The wings
of the hero are wet with it, and he dares no longer trust to
them. Alighting on a rock which rose above the waves, and
holding on by a projecting fragment, as the monster floated near
he gave him a death-stroke. The people who had gathered on the
shore shouted so that the hills re-echoed to the sound. The
parents, transported with joy, embraced their future son-in-law,
calling him their deliverer and the savior of their house, and
the virgin, both cause and reward of the contest, descended from
the rock.

Cassiopeia was an Aethiopian, and consequently, in spite of her
boasted beauty, black; at least so Milton seems to have thought,
who alludes to this story in his Penseroso, where he addresses
Melancholy as the

"------- goddess, sage and holy,
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight,
And, therefore, to our weaker view
O'erlaid with black, staid Wisdom's hue.
Black, but such as in esteem
Prince Memnon's sister might beseem,
Or that starred Aethiop queen that strove
To set her beauty's praise above
The Sea-nymphs, and their powers offended."

Cassiopeia is called "the starred Aethiop queen," because after
her death she was placed among the stars, forming the
constellation of that name. Though she attained this honor, yet
the Sea-Nymphs, her old enemies, prevailed so far as to cause her
to be placed in that part of the heaven near the pole, where
every night she is half the time held with her head downward, to
give her a lesson of humility.

"Prince Memnon" was the son of Aurora and Tithonus, of whom we
shall hear later.


THE WEDDING FEAST

The joyful parents, with Perseus and Andromeda, repaired to the
palace, where a banquet was spread for them, and all was joy and
festivity. But suddenly a noise was heard of war-like clamor,
and Phineus, the betrothed of the virgin, with a party of his
adherents, burst in, demanding the maiden as his own. It was in
vain that Cepheus remonstrated, "You should have claimed her
when she lay bound to the rock, the monster's victim. The
sentence of the gods dooming her to such a fate dissolved all
engagements, as death itself would have done.:" Phineus made no
reply, but hurled his javelin at Perseus, but it missed its mark
and fell harmless. Perseus would have thrown his in turn, but
the cowardly assailant ran and took shelter behind the altar.
But his act was a signal for an onset by his band upon the guests
of Cepheus. They defended themselves and a general conflict
ensued, the old king retreating from the scene after fruitless
expostulations, calling the gods to witness that he was guiltless
of this outrage on the rights of hospitality.

Perseus and his friends maintained for some time the unequal
contest; but the numbers of the assailants were too great for
them, and destruction seemed inevitable, when a sudden thought
struck Perseus: "I will make my enemy defend me." Then, with a
loud voice he exclaimed, :If I have any friend here let him turn
away his eyes!" and held aloft the Gorgon's head. "Seek not to
frighten us with your jugglery," said Thescelus, and raised his
javelin in act to throw, and became stone in the very attitude.
Ampyx was about to plunge his sword into the body of a prostrate
foe, but his arm stiffened and he could neither thrust forward
nor withdraw it. Another, in the midst of a vociferous
challenge, stopped, his mouth open, but no sound issuing. One of
Perseus's friends, Aconteus, caught sight of the Gorgon and
stiffened like the rest. Astyages struck him with his sword, but
instead of wounding, it recoiled with a ringing noise.

Phineus beheld this dreadful result of his unjust aggression, and
felt confounded. He called aloud to his friends, but got no
answer; he touched them and found them stone. Falling on his
knees and stretching out his hands to Perseus, but turning his
head away, he begged for mercy. "Take all," said he, "give me
but my life." "Base coward," said Perseus, "thus much I will
grant you; no weapon shall touch you; moreover you shall be
preserved in my house as a memorial of these events." So saying,
he held the Gorgon's head to the side where Phineus was looking,
and in the very form in which he knelt, with his hands
outstretched and face averted, he became fixed immovably, a mass
of stone!

The following allusion to Perseus is from Milman's Samor:

"As 'mid the fabled Libyan bridal stood
Perseus in stern tranquillity of wrath,
Half stood, half floated on his ankle-plumes
Out-swelling, while the bright face on his shield
Looked into stone the raging fray; so rose,
But with no magic arms, wearing alone
Th' appalling and control of his firm look,
The Briton Samor; at his rising awe
Went abroad, and the riotous hall was mute."

Then Perseus returned to Seriphus to King Polydectes and to his
mother Danae and the fisherman Dicte. He marched up the tyrant's
hall, where Polydectes and his guests were feasting. "Have you
the head of Medusa?" exclaimed Polydectes. "Here it is,"
answered Perseus, and showed it to the king and to his guests.

The ancient prophecy which Acrisius had so much feared at last
came to pass. For, as Perseus was passing through the country of
Larissa, he entered into competition with the youths of the
country at the game of hurling the discus. King Acrisius was
among the spectators. The youths of Larissa threw first, and
then Perseus. His discus went far beyond the others, and, seized
by a breeze from the sea, fell upon the foot of Acrisius. The
old king swooned with pain, and was carried away from the place
only to die. Perseus, who had heard the story of his birth and
parentage from Danae, when he learned who Acrisius was, filled
with remorse and sorrow, went to the oracle at Delphi, and there
was purified from the guilt of homicide.

Perseus gave the head of Medusa to Minerva, who had aided him so
well to obtain it. Minerva took the head of her once beautiful
rival and placed it in the middle of her Aegis.

Milton, in his Comus, thus alludes to the Aegis:

"What was that snaky-headed Gorgon-shield
That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin,
Wherewith she freezed her foes to congealed stone,
But rigid looks of chaste austerity,
And noble grace that dashed brute violence
With sudden adoration and blank awe!"

Armstrong, the poet of the Art of Preserving Health, thus
describes the effect of frost upon the waters:

"Now blows the surly North and chills throughout
the stiffening regions, while by stronger charms
Than Circe e'er or fell Medea brewed,
Each brook that wont to prattle to its banks
Lies all bestilled and wedged betwixt its banks,
Nor moves the withered reeds. . . .
The surges baited by the fierce Northeast,
Tossing with fretful spleen their angry heads,
E'en in the foam of all their madness struck
To monumental ice.

-

Such execution,
So stern, so sudden, wrought the grisly aspect
Of terrible Medusa,
When wandering through the woods she turned to stone
Their savage tenants; just as the foaming lion
Sprang furious on his prey, her speedier power
Outran his haste,
And fixed in that fierce attitude he stands
Like Rage in marble!"
Imitations of Shakespeare

Of Atlas there is another story, which I like better than the one
told. He was one of the Titans who warred against Jupiter like
Typhoeus, Briareus, and others. After their defeat by the king
of gods and men, Atlas was condemned to stand in the far western
part of the earth, by the Pillars of Hercules, and to hold on his
shoulders the weight of heaven and the stars.

The story runs that Perseus, flying by, asked and obtained rest
and food. The next morning he asked what he could do to reward
Atlas for his kindness. The best that giant could think of was
that Perseus should show him the snaky head of Medusa, that he
might be turned to stone and be at rest from his heavy load.
-

Thomas Bulfinch

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