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To the assembled guests Perseus tells the story of how
he had won the Gorgon's head. In the midst of their
talk comes a sudden interruption of no friendly kind.
Phineus, brother of Cepheus, bursts w^ith an armed
throng into the hall, and demands Andromeda, who
had been promised to him in marriage. A fierce bat-



THE METAMORPHOSES. 65

tie ensues ; and Ovid, in describing it, seems to chal-
lenge comparison with the great masters of epic. The
young hero, true to his princijDles, defends himself with
mortal weapons, and works prodigies of valour. It is
only when he finds his friends crushed by overpowering
numbers that he bares the dreadful Head, and turns
it on the assailants ; — first as they press forward one by
one, then on the crowd, and last on the leader himself.

" He flashed
Full on the cowering wretch the Gorgon-Head.
Vainly he strove to shun it ! Into stone
The writhing neck was stiffened : — white the eyes
Froze in their sockets : — and the statue still,
With hands beseeching spread, and guilty fear
"Writ in its face, for mercy seemed to pray."

Perseus then bore his bride to Argos, where the Head
recovers from the usurping Proetus his grandfather's
kingdom, and turns to stone the incredulous Poly-
dectes, tyrant of Seriphus.

Here we leave Perseus ; and Pallas, who has been
his helper throughout his toils, goes to Helicon, there
to inquire of the Muses about the strange fountain
which she hears has sprung from the hoof-dint of the
winged Pegasus. TJrania, speaking for the sisterhood,
tells her that the tale is true ; and when the goddess
speaks of the beauty and peace of their retreat, nar-
rates the story of how they had escaped from the
tyrant Pyreneus by help of their wings, and how he,
seeking to follow them, had been dashed in pieces.
As she speaks, a

" "Whirr of wings
Came rustling overhead, and from the boughs

A.C.S.S., vol. ii. E



66 viD.

Voices that bade them * Hail ! ' — so hiunan-clear

That upward Pallas turned her wondering gaze

To see who spoke. She saw but Birds : — a row

Thrice three, of Pies, at imitative sounds

Deftest of winged things, that, on a branch

Perched clamorous, seemed as though some woeful fate

They wailed and strove to tell."

Urania explains the marvel. They had been nine
sisters, daughters of Pierus, " Lord of Pella's field,"
and proud of their skill in music and song; and, deem-
ing that there lay some magic in their mystic number,
had challenged the sister Muses to contend. The
challenge had been accepted, and the Nymphs swore
by all their river-gods to judge faii-ly between the
two. One of the daughters of Pierus had sung, and
her song had been treason to the gods, for it told
how, in fear of the Titan onset of the sons of earth,
the lords of heaven had fled, disguised in all strange
shapes. Then the Muses had replied ; but Pallas
thinks TJrania will not care to hear their song, l^ot
so, replies the goddess ; so the tale is told. Calliope
had been their chosen champion, and her theme had
been how Pluto had carried off Proserpina, daughter of
Ceres, to share his gloomy throne in Hades, and how
the mourning mother sought her child in every region
of the earth. A touch of the ludicrous comes in, the
fate of the mocking Stellio : —

*' Weary and travel-worn, — her lips imwet
With water, — at a straw-thatched cottage door
Tlie Wanderer knocked. An ancient crone came forth
And saw her need, and hospitable brought



THE METAMORPHOSES. 67

Her bowl of barley-broth, and bade her drink.

Thankful she raised it : — but a graceless boy

And impudent stood by, and, ere the half

Was drained, ' Ha ! ha ! see how the glutton swills ! '

With insolent jeer he cried. Tlie Goddess' ire

Was roused, and, as he spoke, what liquor yet

The bowl retained full in his face she dashed.

His cheeks broke out in blotches : — what were arms

Turned Jegs, and from the shortened trunk a tail

Tapered behind. Small mischief evermore

lilight that small body work : — the lizard's seK

Was larger now than he. With terror shrieked

The crone, and weeping stooped her altered child

To raise ; — the little monster fled her grasp

And wriggled into hiding. Still his name

His nature tells, and, from the star-like spots

That mark him, loiown as Stellio crawls the Newt."

At last, after a fruitless quest, she wanders back to
>Sicily, the land where the lost one had last been seen.
And then the secret is half revealed. Cyane, chief of
Sicilian nymphs, had tried to bar the passage of Pluto
as he was descending with his captive, and had been
dissolved into water by the wrath of the god. But
she tells what she can, and shows, floating on her
waves, the zone which Proserpina had dropped.
Then the mother knew her loss, and in her wrath
banned with barrenness the ungrateful earth. But
who was the robber ? That she finds another nymph
to tell her. Arethusa had seen her : —

" All the depths
Of earth I traverse :— where her caverns lie
Darkest and nethermost I pass, and here
Uprising, look once more ui)on the Stars.



68 VI D.

And in my course I saw her ! yea, these eyes,
As past the Stygian realm my waters rolled,
Proseri^iua beheld ! Still sad she seemed.
And still her cheek some trace of terror wore,
But all a Queen, and, in that dismal world.
Greatest in place and majesty, — the wife
Of that tremendous God who rules in Hell."

The wretched mother flies to the throne of Jupiter.
She must have back her child. She does not take
account of the great throne which she shares. And
Jove grants the request, but only — for so the Fates
have "willed it — on this condition, that no food should
have passed her lips in the realms below. Alas ! the
condition cannot be fulfilled. She had plucked a
pomegranate in the garden of the Shades, and had
eaten seven of its grains. Ascalaphus, son of the
gloomy deities "NYoe and Darkness, had seen her, and
he told the tale. The mother takes her revenge : —

" With water snatched from Phlegethon
His brow she sprinkled. Instant, beak and plumes
And larger eyes were his, and ta%vny wings
His altered form uplifted, and his head
Swelled disproportioned to his size : his nails
Curved crooked into claws, — and heavily
His pinions beat the air. A bird accursed.
Augur of coming sorrow, still to Man
Ill-ominous and hateful flits the Owl."

But Jove reconciles her to her grim son-in-law.
Proserpina was to spend six months in hell and six
on earth, and the satisfied mother has leisure to seek
Arethusa, and find how she had learned the secret.



THE METAMORPHOSES. 69

She hears in reply how she had fled from the pursuit
of Alpheus from her native home in Achaia, and had
passed through all the depths of earth till she rose
again to the light in SicUy. The story told, Ceres
hastens to Athens, and there teaches the youth Tripto-
lemus the secrets of husbandry, and bids him jom-ney
in her dragon-car over the world to spread the new
knowledge. At the court of the Scythian Lyncus he
is treacherously assailed by his host, but Ceres stays the
murderer's hand, and changes him into a lynx. Here,
after digressions which strongly remind us of the
' Arabian Xights,' we come to the end of Calliope's
song. Then Urania tells how the I^ymphs, with one
voice, accorded victory to the Muses ; and how the
Pierian sisters — whose name, by the way, their suc-
cessful rivals seem to have appropriated — rebelled
against the judgment, and found the penalty in trans-
formation into Pies. The story then passes on to the
revenge which Pallas herself has had on a mortal
rival. The poet — with true tact, — does not make
her tell the tale herself, for she seems to have con-
quered by power, not by skiU. Arachne, a Lydian
maid, brought all the world to look at her wondrous
spinning. They swear that Pallas herself had taught
her, but she disdains such praise ; — her art was all her
own. Let Pallas come to compare her skill. And
Pallas came, but at first in shape of an ancient dame,
who counsels the bold maiden to be content with
victory over mortal competitors, but to avoid dan-
gerous challenge to the gods. The advice is given
in vain. Arachne rushes upon her fate. The goddess



70 VI D.

reveals herself, and the contest is begun. An admir-
able piece of word-painting follows : —

" The looms were set, — the webs
Were hung : beneath their fingers nimbly plied
The subtle fabrics grew, and warp and woof,
Transverse, with shuttle and with slay compact
AVere pressed in order fair. And either girt
Her mantle close, and eager wi'ought ; the toil
Itself was pleasure to the skilful hands
That knew so well their task. With Tyrian hue
Of purple blushed the texture, and all shades
Of colour, blending imperceptibly
Each into each. So, when the wondrous bow —
"What tune some passing shower hath dashed the sun —
Spans with its mighty arch the vault of Heaven,
A thousanel colours deck it, different all.
Yet all so subtly interfused that each
Seems one with that which joins it, and the eye
But by the contrast of the extremes perceives
The intermediate change. — And last, with thread
Of gold embroidery pictured, on the web
Lifelike expressed, some antique fable glowed."

Pallas pictures the Hill of Mars at Athens, where
the gods had sat in judgment in the strife between
herself and !N"eptune as to who should be the patron
deity of that fair city,

" There stood the God
Of Seas, and with his trident seemed to smite
The rugged rock, and from the cleft out-sprang
The Steed that for its author claimed the town.
Herself, with shield and spear of keenest barb
And helm, she painted ; — on her bosom gleamed
The iEgis : — with her lance's point she struck



THE METAMORPHOSES. 71

The earth, and from its breast the Olive bloomed,
Pale, with its berried friiit : — and all the gods
Adniuiug gazed, adjudging in that strife
The victory hers."

Arachne, disloyal, as the daughters of Pierus had
been, to the Lords of Heaven, pictures them in the
base disguises to which love for mortal women had
driven them. But her work is so perfect that —

" Not Pallas, nay, not Envy's self, could fault
In all the work detect."

Tlie furious goddess smites her rival twelve times on
the forehead : —

" The high-souled Maid
Such insult not endured, and round her neck
Indignant twiued the suicidal noose,
And so had died. But, as she hung, some ruth
Stirred in Minerva's breast : — the pendent form
She raised, and ' Live !' she said — ' but hang thou still
For ever, wretch ! and through all future time
Even to thy latest race bequeath thy doom !'
And, as she parted, sprinkled her vnXh. juice
Of aconite. With venom of that drug
Infected dropped her tresses, — nose and ear
Were lost ; — her form to smallest bulk compressed
A head minutest cro^vned ; — to slenderest legs
Jointed on either side her fingers changed :
Her body but a bag, whence still she draws
Her filmy threads, and, with her ancient art.
Weaves the fine meshes of her Spider's web."

Leaving the goddess in the enjoyment of this doubt-
ful victory, the story passes on to the tale of Niobe.



72 VI D.

What has been given occupies in the original a space
about equivalent to a book and a half.

Sometimes Ovid gives us an opportunity of com-
paring him with a great master of his own art. A
notable instance of the kind is the story of how Orpheus
went down to the lower world in search of his lost
Eurydice ; how he won her by the charms of his song
from the unpitying Gods of Death, and lost her again
on the very borders of life.

" So sang he, and, accordant to his plaint,
As wailed the strings, the bloodless Ghosts were moved
To Aveepiag. By the lips of Tantalus
Unheeded slipped the wave ; — Ixion's wheel
Forgot to whirl ; — the Vulture's bloody feast
Was stayed ; — awhile the Belides forbore
Their leaky urns to dip ; — and Sisyphus
Sate listening on his stone. Then first, they say, —
The iron cheeks of the Eumenides
Were wet with pity. Of the nether realm
Nor King nor Queen had heart to say him nay.
Forth from a host of new-descended Shades
Eurydice was called ; and, halting yet
Slow with her recent wound she came — alive,
On one condition to her spouse restored,
That, till Avernus' vale is passed and earth
Regained, he look not backward, or the boon
Is null and forfeit. Thi-ough the silent realm
Upward agamst the steep and fronting lull
Dark with obscurest gloom, the way he led :
And now the upper air was all but won,
"When, fearfid lest the toil o'er-task her strength.
And yearning to behold the form he loved,
An instant back he looked, — and back the Shade
That instant fled ! The arms that wildly strove



THE METAMORPHOSES. 73

To clasp and stay her clasped but yielding air !
No word of plaint even in that second Death
Against her Lord she uttered, — how could Love
Too anxious be upbraided ? — but one last
And sad ' Farewell ! ' scarce audible, she sighed,
And vanished to the Ghosts that late she left."

Here is Virgil, though he has not the advantage
of being presented by so skilful a translator as j\Ir
King :—

" Stirred by his song, from lowest depths of hell
Came the thin spectres of the sightless dead,
Crowding as crowd the bii-ds among the leaves
Wliom darkness or a storm of wintry rain
Drives fi'om the mountains. Mothers came, and sires,
Great-hearted heroes, who had lived their lives,
And boys, and maidens never wed, and men
"Wliom in their j)rime, before their parents' eyes.
The funeral flames had eaten. All around
With border of black mud and hideous reed,
Cocytus, pool unlovely, hems them in,
And Styx imprisons with his nine-fold stream.
Nay, and his song the very home of death
Entranced and nethermost abyss of hell,
And those Dread Three whose tresses are entwined
With livid snakes ; while Cerberus stood agape.
Nor moved the triple horror of his jaw ;
And in charmed air Ixion's wheel was stayed.
And now with step retreating he had shunned
All peril ; and the lost one, given back.
Was nearing the sweet breath of upper air,
Follomng behind — such terms the gods imposed —
TMien some wild frenzy seized the lover's heart
Unheeding, well, were pardon known in hell.
Well to be pardoned. Still he stood, and saw,
Ah me ! forgetful, mastered all by love,



74 viD.

Saw, at the very border of the day,

His own Eurydice. wasted toil !

O broken compact of the ruthless god !

Then throu,i,'h Avernus rolled the crash of doom,

And she — ' What miserable madness this.

Ah ! wretched that I am ! which ruins me

And thee, my Orpheus ? Lo ! the cruel Fates

Call me again ; sleep seals my swimming eyes ;

Farewell ! for boundless darkness wraps me round

And carries me away, still stretching forth

Dark hands to thee, who am no longer thine.' "

No reader will doubt with wMcli poet the general
superiority lies ; yet it must be allowed that Ovid is
strong in what may be called his own peculiar line.
There is a noble tenderness and a genuine pathos in
the parting of the two lovers, which is characteristic oi
the poet's genius.

One of the longest as well as the most striking
episodes in the whole book is the contest between
Ajax and Ulysses for the arms of the dead Achilles ;
and it has the additional interest of recalling the de-
clamatory studies of the poet's youth. It is through-
out a magnificent piece of rhetoric. The blunt energy
of Ajax, and the craft and persuasiveness of Ulysses,
are admirably given. The elder Seneca; in the pas-
sage already quoted, mentions that the poet was in-
debted for some of his materials and language to his
teacher, Porcius Latro, one of whose declamations on
" The Contest for the Arms " Seneca had either heard
or read. One phrase is specified as having been bor-
rowed from this source. It is the fiery challenge
with which Ajax clenches his argument : —



THE METAMORPHOSES. lb

" Enough of idle words ! let hands, not tongues,
Show what we are ! Fling 'mid yon hostile ranks
Our herds armour: — hid us fetch it thence : —
And he it his who first shall bring it back !"

The piece is too long to be given (it fills more than
half of the thirteenth book), and. its effect would be
lost in extracts. A few lines, however, from the be-
ginning may be quoted ; and indeed nothing through-
out is more finely put. It may be as weU to mention
that the ships spoken of had been in imminent danger
of destruction at the hand of Hector, and that Ajax
had at least some claim to be called their preserver : —

" On high the chieftains sat : the common throng
Stood in dense ring around ; then Ajax rose.
Lord of the seven-fold shield ; and backward glanced.
Scowling, for anger mastered all his soul,
Where on Sigseum's shore the fleet was ranged,
And with stretched hand : ' Before the ships we plead
Our cause, great heaven ! and Ulysses dares
Before the ships to match himself with me ! ' " — C.

It may be noticed, as a proof that Ovid went out of liis
way, in introducing this episode, to make use of material
to wliich he attached a special value, that the narrative
is not reaUy connected with any transformation. Ajax,
defeated by the act which gives the arms to his rival,
falls upon his sword ; and the turf, wet with his blood,

" Blossomed with the self-same flower
That erst had birth from Hyacinthus' wound,
And in its graven cup memorial bears
Of either fate, — the characters that shape
Apollo's wailing cry, and Ajax' name."



76 VI D.

What these characters were we learn from the end
of the story here alluded to, of how the beautiful
Hyacinthus was killed by a quoit from the hand of
Apollo, and how

" The blood
That with its dripping crimson dyed the turf
AVas blood no more : and sudden sprang to life
A flower that wore the lily's shape, but not
The lily's sdver livery, pm'ple-hued
And brighter than all tiact of Tyrian shells :
Nor with that boon of beauty satisfied.
Upon the petals of its cup the God
Stamped legible his sorrow's wailing cry,
And * Ai ! Ai ! ' ever seems the flower to say."

Two more specimens must conclude this chapter.
Pygmalion's statue changing into flesh and blood at
the sculptor's passionate prayer is a subject after
Ovid's own heart, and he treats it with consummate
delicacy and skill : —

" The Sculptor sought
His home, and, bending o'er the couch that bore
His Maiden's Ufelike image, to her lips
Fond pressed his own, — and lo ! her lips seemed warm.
And warmer, kissed again : — and now his hand
Her bosom seeks, and dimpling to his touch
The ivory seems to yield, — as in the Sun
The waxen labourof Hymettus' bees.
By plastic fingers wrought, to various shape
And use by use is fashioned. Wonder-spelled,
Scarce daring to believe his bliss, in dread
Lest sense deluded mock him, on the form
He loves again and yet again his hand
Lays trembling touch, and to his touch a pulse



THE METAMORPHOSES. 77

"Within throbs answering palpable : — 'twas flesh !
'Twas very Life ! — Then forth ix\ eloquent flood
His grateful heart its thanks to Venus poiu'ed !
The lips he kissed were li\ing lips that felt
His passionate pressure ; — o'er the virgin cheeks
Stole deepening crimson : — and the unclosing eyes
At once on Heaven and on their Lover looked ! "

The fifteenth or last book of the ' Metamorphoses '
contains an eloquent exposition of the Pythagorean
philosophy. Pythagoras, a Greek by birth, had made
Italy, the southern coasts of which were indeed thickly
studded with the colonies of his nation, the land of his
adoption, and the traditions of his teaching and of his
life had a special interest for the people to which had
descended the greatness of all the races — Oscan, Etrus-
can, Greek — which had inhabited the beautiful penin-
sula. A legend, careless, as such legends commonly are,
of chronology, made him the preceptor of iSTuma, the
wise king to whom Eome owed so much of its worship
and its law. The doctrine most commonly connected
with his name was that of the metempsychosis, or
transmigration of souls from one body to another,
whether of man or of the lower animals, though it
probably did not occupy a very prominent part in his
philosophy. It was an old belief of the Aryan race,
and it had a practical aspect which commended it to
the Roman mind, always more inclined to ethical than
to metaphysical speculations. Virgil, in that vision
of the lower world which occupies the sixth book of
Ms great epic, employs it — partly, indeed, as a poetical
artifice for introducing his magnificent roll of Eoman



78 viD.

worthies, but also in a more serious aspect, as sug-
gesting the method of those purifying influences which
were to educate the human soul for higher destinies,
Ovid sees in it the philosophical explanation of the mar-
vels which he has been relating, and, as it were, their
^'indication from the possible charge of being childish
fables, vacant of any real meaning, and unworthy of
a serious pen. The passage which follows refers
to a practical rule in which we may see a natural
inference from the philosophical dogma. If man is so
closely allied to the lower animals — if their forms are
made, equally with his, the receptacles of the one
divine animating spirit — then there is a certain impiety
in his slaughtering them to satisfy his wants. Strangely
enough, the progress or revolution of human thought
has brought science again to the doctrine of man's
kindred with the animals, though it seems altogether
averse to the merciful conclusion which Pythagoras
drew from it.

" What had ye done, ye flocks, ye peaceful race
Created for Man's blessing, that provide
To slake his thirst your udder's nectarous draught,
That with your fleece Avrap warm his shivering limb?.
And serve him better with your life than death 1 —
What fault was in the Ox, a creature mild
And harmless, docile, born with patient toil
To lighten half the labour of the fields ?—
Ungrateful he, and httle worth to reap
The crop he sowed, that, from the crooked share
Untraced, his ploughman slew, and to the axe
Condemned the neck that, worn beneath his yoke.
For many a spring his furrows traced, and home



THE METAMORPHOSES. 79

With many a harvest dragged his Aiitumn-wain !
Nor this is all : — but Man must of his guilt
Make Heaven itself accomplice, and believe
The Gods ■with slaughter of their creatures pleased !
Lo ! at the altar, fairest of his kind, —
And by that very fairness marked for doom, —
The guiltless victim stands,— bedecked for death
"With WTeath and garland ! — Ignorant he hears
The muttering Priest, — feels ignorant his brows
White Avith the sprinkling of the salted meal
To his own labour owed, — and ignorant
Wonders, perchance, to see the lustral urn
Flash back the glimmer of the lifted knife
Too soon to dim its brightness \\\\h his blood !
And Priests are found to teach, and men to deem
That in the entrails, from the tortured frame
Yet reeking torn, they read the hest of Heaven ! —
O race of mortal men ! what lust, what vice
Of appetite unliallowed, makes ye bold
To gorge your greed on Being like your own ?
Be wiselier warned : — forbear the barbarous feast,
Nor in each bloody morsel that ye chew
The willing labourer of your fields devour !

All changes : — nothing perishes ! — Now here,
Now there, the vagrant spirit roves at will.
The shifting tenant of a thousand homes : —
Now, elevate, ascends from beast to man, —
Now, retrograde, descends from man to beast ; —
But never dies I — UiDon the tablet's page
Erased, and written fresh, the characters
Take various shape, — the wax remains the same : —
So is it with the Soul that, migrating
Through all the forms of breathing life, retains
Unchanged its essence. Oh, be wise, and hear
Heaven's warning from my prophet-lips, nor dare



80 VI D.

"Witli impious slaugliter, for j'our glutton-greed,
The kindly bond of Nature violate,
Nor from its home expel the Soul, perchance
Akin to yours, to nourish blood with blood ! "

It has been handed down to us on good authority
that Virgil, in his last illness, desired his friends to
commit his ' yEneid ' to the flames. It had not re-
ceived his final corrections, and he was unwilling that
it should go down to posterity less perfect than he
could have made it. Evidences of this incomplete-
ness are to he found, especially in the occasional in-
consistencies of the narrative. Critics have busied
themselves in discovering or imagining other faults
w'hich might have been corrected in revision. The
desire, though it doubtless came from a mind en-


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