The Story of Acheloüs and Hercules

Theseus requests the God to tell his Woes,
Whence his maim'd Brow, and whence his Groans arose:
When thus the Calydonian Stream reply'd,
With twining Reeds his careless Tresses ty'd.
Ungrateful is the Tale; for who can bear,
When conquer'd, to rehearse the shameful War?
Yet I'll the melancholy Story trace;
So great a Conqu'ror softens the Disgrace:
Nor was it still so mean the Prize to yield,
As great and glorious to dispute the Field.
Perhaps you've heard of Diianira 's Name,
For all the Country, spoke her Beauty's Fame.
Long was the Nymph by num'rous Suiters woo'd,
Each with Address his envy'd Hopes pursu'd:
I joyn'd the loving Bend; to gain the Fair,
Reveal'd cry Passion to her Father's Ear.
Their vain Pretensions all the rest resign,
Alcides only strove to equal mine;
He boasts his Birth from Jove , recounts his Spoils,
His Step-dame's Hate subdu'd, and finish'd Toils.
Can Mortals then (said I) with Gods compare
Behold a God; mine is the watry Carer.
Through your wide Realms I take my mazy Way,
Branch into Streams, and o'er the Region stray;
No foreign Guest your Daughter's Charms adores,
But one who rises in your native Shores.
Let not his Punishment your Pity move;
Is Juno 's Hate an Argument for Love?
Though you your Life from fair Alcmena drew,
Jove 's a feign'd Father, or by Fraud a true.
Chuse then; confess thy Mother's Honour lost,
Or thy Descent from Jove no longer boast.
While thus I spoke, he look'd with stern Disdain,
Nor could the Sallies of his Wrath restrain,
Which thus break forth. This Arm decides our Right.
Vanquish in Words, be mine the Prize in Fight.
Bold he rush'd on. My Honour to maintain,
I fling my verdant Garments on the Plain,
My Arms stretch forth, my pliant Limbs prepare,
And with bent Hands expect the furious War.
O'er my sleek Skin now gather'd Dust he throws,
And yellow Sand his mighty Muscles strows.
Oft he my Neck and nimble Legs assails,
He seems to grasp me, but as often fails.
Each Part he now invades with eager Hand;
Safe in my Bulk, immoveable I stand.
So when loud Storms break high, and foam and rear
Against some Mole, that stretches from the Shore;
The firm Foundation lasting Tempers braves,
Defies the warring Winds, and driving Waves.
Awhile we breathe, then forward rush amain,
Renew the Combat, and our Ground maintain;
Foot strove with Foot, I prone extend my Breast,
Hands war with Hands', and Forehead Forehead prest.
Thus have I seen two furious Bulls engage,
Inflam'd with equal Love, and equal Rage;
Each claims the fairest Heifer of the Grove;
And Conquest only can decide their Love:
The trembling Herds survey the Fight from far,
Till Victory decides th' important War.
Three times in vain he strove my Joints to wrest,
To force my Hold, and throw me from his Breast;
The fourth he broke my Gripe, that clasp'd him round,
Then with new Force he stretch'd me on the Ground;
Close to my Back the mighty Burthen clung,
As if a Mountain o'er my Limbs were flung.
Believe my Tale; nor do I, boastful, aim
By feign'd Narration to extol my Fame.
No sooner from his Grasp I Freedom get,
Unlock my Arms, that flow'd with trickling Sweat,
But quick he seiz'd me, and renew'd the Strife,
As my exhausted Bosom pants for Life:
My Neck he gripes, my Knee to Earth he strains;
I fall, and bite the Sand with Shame and Pains.
O'er-match'd in Strength, to Wiles and Arts I take,
And slip his Hold; in Form of speckled Snake;
Who, when I wreath'd in Spires my Body round,
Or show'd my forky Tongue with hissing Sound,
Smiles at my Threats; Such Foes my Cradle knew,
He cries, dire Snakes my Infant Hand o'erthrew;
A Dragon's Form might other Conquests gain,
To war with me you take that Shape in vain.
Art thou proportion'd to the Hydra 's Length,
Who by his Wounds receiv'd augmented Strength?
He rais'd a hundred hissing Heads in Air,
When one I lopt, up-sprung a dreadful Pair.
By his Wounds fertile, and with Slaughter strong,
Singly I quell'd him, and stretch'd dead along.
What canst thou do, a Form precarious, prone,
To rouse my Rage with Terrors not thy own?
He said; and round my Neck his Hands he cast,
And with his straining Fingers wrung me fast;
My Throat he tortur'd, close as Pincers clasp,
In vain I strove to loose the forceful Grasp.
Thus vanquish'd too, a third Form still remains,
Chang'd to a Bull, my Lowing fills the Plains.
Strait on the Left his nervous Arms were thrown
Upon my brindled Neck, and tugg'd it down;
Then deep he struck my Horn into the Sand,
And fell'd my Bulk along the dusty Land.
Nor yet his Fury cool'd; 'twixt Rage and Scorn,
From my maim'd Front he tore the stubborn Horn:
This, heap'd with Flow'rs and Fruits, the Naiads bear;
Sacred to Plenty, and the bounteous Year.
He spoke; when lo, a beauteous Nymph appears,
Girt like Diana 's Train, with flowing Hairs;
The Horn she brings in which all Autumn's stor'd,
And ruddy Apples for the second Board.
Now Morn begins to dawn, the Sun's bright Fire
Gilds the high Mountains, and the Youths retire;
Nor stay'd they, till the troubled Stream subsides,
And in its Bounds with peaceful Current glides.
But Acheloüs in his oozy Bed
Deep hides his Brow deform'd, and rustick Head:
No real Wound the Victor's Triumph show'd,
But his lost Honours griev'd the watry God;
Yet ev'n that Loss the Willow's Leaves o'erspread,
And verdant Reeds, in Garlands, bind his Head.
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