Thebais - Book One - part IV
For by the black infernal Styx I swear,
(That dreadful oath which binds the thunderer)
‘Tis fixed; th’ irrevocable doom of Jove;
No force can bend me, no persuasion move.
haste then, Cyllenius, through the liquid air;
Go, mount the winds, and to the shades repair;
Bid hell’s black monarch my commands obey,
And give up Laius to the realms of day,
Whose ghost yet shiv’ring on Cocytus’ sand,
Expects its passage to thc further strand:
Let the pale sire revisit Thebes, and bear
These pleasing orders to the tyrant’s ear;
That from his exiled brother, swelled with pride
Of foreign forces, and his Argive bride,
Almighty Jove commands him to detain
The promised empire, and alternate reign:
Be this the cause of more than mortal hate:
The rest, succeeding times shall ripen into fate.”
The god obeys, and to his feet applies
Those golden wings that cut the yielding skies.
His ample hat his beamy locks o’erspread,
And veiled the starry glories of his head.
He seized the wand that causes sleep to fly,
Or in soft slumbers seals the wakeful eye;
That drives the dead to dark Tartarcan coasts,
Or back to life compels the wand’ring ghosts.
Thus, through the parting clouds, the son of May
Wings on the whistling winds his rapid way;
Now smoothly steers through air his equal flight,
Now springs aloft, and tow’rs th’ ethereal height;
Then wheeling down the steep of heav’n he flies,
And draws a radiant circle o’er the skies.
Meantime the banished Polynices roves
(his Thebes abandoned through th’ Aonian groves,
While future realms his wand’ring thoughts delight,
His daily vision and his dream by night;
Forbidden Thebes appears before his eye,
From whence he sees his absent brother fly,
With transport views the airy rule his own,
And swells on an imaginary throne.
Fain would he cast a tedious age away,
And live out all in one triumphant day.
He chides the lazy progress of the sun,
And bids the year with swifter motion run.
With anxious hopes his craving mind is tost,
And all his joys in length of wishes lost.
The hero then resolves his course to bend
Where ancient Danaus’ fruitful fields extend,
And famed Mycene’s lofty towers ascend,
(Where late the sun did Atreus’ crimes detest,
And disappeared in horror of the feast.)
And now by chance, by fate, or furies led,
From Bacehus’ consecrated caves he fled,
Where the shrill cries of frantic matrons sound,
And Pentheus’ blood enriched the rising ground.
Then sees Cithaeron tow’ring o’er the plain,
And thence declining gently to the main.
Next to the bounds of Nisus’ realm repairs,
Where treach’rous Scylla cut the purple hairs :
The hanging cliffs of Sciron’s rock explores,
And hears the murmurs of the diff’rent shores:
Passes the strait that parts the foaming seas,
And stately Corinth’s pleasing site surveys.
‘Twas now the time when Phœbus yields to night,
And rising Cynthia sheds her silver light,
Wide o’er the world in solemn pomp she drew
Her airy chariot hung with pearly dew;
All birds and beasts lie hushed; sleep steals away
The wild desires of men, and toils of day,
And brings, descending through the silent air,
A sweet forgetfulness of human care.
Yet no red clouds, with golden borders gay,
Promise the skies the bright return of day;
No faint reflections of the distant light
Streak with long gleams the scatt’ring shades of night:
From the damp earth impervious vapours rise,
Encrease the darkness, and involve the skies.
At once the rushing winds with roaring sound
Burst from th’ Æolian caves, and rend the ground,
With equal rage their airy quarrel try,
And win by turns the kingdom of the sky:
But with a thicker night black Auster shrouds
The heav’ns, and drives on heaps the rolling clouds,
From whose dark womb a rattling tempest pours,
Which the cold north congeals to haily show’rs.
From pole to pole the thunder roars aloud,
And broken lightnings flash from ev’ry cloud.
Now smoaks with show’rs the misty mountain-ground,
And floated fields lie undistinguished round.
Th’ Inachian streams with headlong fury run,
And Erasmus rolls a deluge on:
The foaming Lerna swells above its bounds,
And spreads its ancient poisons o’er the grounds:
Where late was dust, now rapid torrents play,
Rush through the mounds, and bear the dams away:
Old limbs of trees from crackling forests torn,
Are whirled in air, and on the winds are borne:
The storm the dark Lycæan groves displayed,
And first to light exposed the sacred shade.
Th’ intrepid Theban hears the bursting sky,
Sees yawning rocks in massy fragments fly,
And views astonished, from the hills afar,
The floods descending, and the wat’ry war,’
That, driv’n by storms, and pouring o’er the plain,
Swept herds, and hinds, and houses to the main.
Through the brown horrors of the night he fled,
Nor knows, amazed, what doubtful path to tread;
His brother’s image to his mind appears,
Inflames his heart with rage, and wings his feet with fears.
So fares a sailor on the stormy main,
When clouds conceal Boötes’ golden warn,
When not a star its friendly lustre keeps,
Nor trembling Cynthia glimmers on the deeps;
He dreads the rocks, and shoals, and seas, and skies,
While thunder roars, and lightning round him flies.
Thus strove the chief, on every side distressed,
Thus still his courage, with his toils increased;
With his broad shield opposed, he forced his way
Through thickest woods, and roused the beasts of prey,
Till he beheld, where from Larissa’s height
The shelving walls reflect a glancing light:
Thither with haste the Theban hero flies;
On this side Lerna’s pois’nous water lies,
On that Prosymna’s grove and temple rise :
lie passed the gates, which then unguarded lay,
And to the regal palace bent his way;
On the cold marble, spent with toil, he lies,
And waits till pleasing slumbers seal his eyes.
Adrastus here his happy people sways,
Blest with calm peace in his declining days;
By both his parents of descent divine,
Great Jove and Phœbus graced his noble line:
Heaven had not crowned his wishes with a son,
But two fair daughters heired his state and throne.
To him Apollo (wondrous to relate !
But who can pierce into the depths of fate?)
Had sung-“Expect thy sons on Argos’ shore,
“A yellow lion and a bristly boar.”
This long revolved in his paternal breast,
Sate heavy on his heart, and broke his rest;
This, great Amphiaraus, lay hid from thee,
Though skilled in fate, and dark futurity.
The father’s care and prophet’s art were vain,
For thus did the predicting god ordain.
Lo hapless Tydeus, whose ill-fated hand
Had slain his brother, leaves his native land,
And seized with horror in the shades of night,
Through the thick deserts headlong urged his flight:
Now by the fury of the tempest driv’n,
He seeks a shelter from th’ inclement heav’n,
Till, led by fate, the Theban’s steps he treads,
And to fair Argos’ open court succeeds.
When thus the chiefs from diff’rent lands resort
T’ Adrastus’ realms, and hospitable court;
The king surveys his guests with curious eyes,
And views their arms and habit with surprise.
A lion’s yellow skin the Theban wears,
horrid his mane, and rough with curling hairs;
Such once employed Alcides’ youthful toils,
Ere yet adorned with Nemea’s dreadful spoils.
A boar’s stiff hide, of Calydonian breed,
OEnides’ manly shoulders overspread.
Oblique his tusks, erect his bristles stood,
Alive, the pride and terror of the wood.
Struck with the sight, and fixed in deep amaze,
The King th’ accomplished oracle surveys,
Reveres Apollo’s vocal caves, and owns
The guiding godhead, and his future sons.
O’er all his bosom secret transports reign,
And a glad horror shoots through ev’ry vein.
To heav’n he lifts his hands, erects his sight,
And thus invokes the silent queen of night.
“Goddess of shades, beneath whose gloomy reign
You spangled arch glows with the starry train:
You who the cares of heav’n and earth allay,
Till nature quickened by th’ inspiring ray
Wakes to new vigour with the rising day:
Oh thou who freest me from my doubtful state,
Long lost aid wildered in the maze of fate !
Be present still, oh goddess ! in our aid;
Proceed, and firms those omens thou hast made.
We to thy name our annual rites will pay,
And on thy altars sacrifices lay;
The sable flock shall fall beneath the stroke,
And fill thy temples with a grateful smoke.
Hail, faithful Tripos ! hail, ye dark abodes
Of awful Phœbus: I confess the gods!”
Thus, seized with sacred fear, the monarch prayed;
Then to his inner court the guests conveyed;
Where yet thin fumes from dying sparks arise,
And dust yet white upon each altar lies,
The relics of a former sacrifice.
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