|Age Of Fable Or Beauties Of
Author: Bulfinch, Thomas
Chapter III: Apollo, Daphne, Pyramus, Thisbecephalus, Procris.
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.
The famous statue of Apollo called the Belvedere represents the god after
this 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
my 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 weapons."
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 no thought
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 it."
Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives oracles to
all 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, naked 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. 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 foot stuck fast in
the ground, as a root; 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 I will decorate with you 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.
That Apollo should be the god both of music and poetry will not appear
strange, but that medicine should also be assigned to his province, may. The
poet Armstrong, himself a physician, thus accounts for it: -
"Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels diseases, 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 not love
discovered! 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.
Next 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. "O, 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 spirited from the wound, and tinged the white mulberries of
the tree all red; and sinking into the earth re ched 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. "O, 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 ratified 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 lovers' 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 the Midsummer Night's Dream, where it is most
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
marri d to a charming wife whom he devotedly loved. 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 hillaand 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 his 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.
Moore, in his Legendary Ballads, has one on Cephalus and Procris,
beginning thus: -
"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"