|Age Of Fable Or Beauties Of
Author: Bulfinch, Thomas
Chapter VIII: Pygmalion, Dryope, Venus And Adonis, Apollo And Hyacinthus.
Pygmalion saw so much to blame in women that he came at last to abhor the
sex, and resolved to live unmarried. He was a sculptor, and had made with
wonderful skill a statue of ivory, so beautiful that no living woman came any
where near it. It was indeed the perfect semblance of a maiden that seemed to
be alive, and only prevented from moving by modesty. His art was so perfect
that it concealed itself and its product looked like the workmanship of
nature. Pygmalion admired his own work, and at last fell in love with the
counterfeit creation. Oftentimes he laid his hand upon it as if to assure
himself whether it were living or not, and could not even then believe that it
was only ivory. He caressed it, and gave it presents such as young girls
love, - bright shells and polished stones, little birds and flowers of various
hues beads and amber. He put raiment on its limbs, and jewels on its fingers,
and a necklace about its neck. To the ears he hung ear-rings, and strings of
pearls upon the breast. Her dress became her, and she looked not less
charming than when unattired. He laid her on a couch spread with cloths of
Tyrian dye, and called her his wife, and put her head upon a pillow of the
softest feathers, as if she could enjoy their softness.
The festival of Venus was at hand, - a festival celebrated with great
pomp at Cyprus. Victims were offered, the altars smoked, and the odor of
incense filled the air When Pygmalion had performed his part in the
solemnities, he stood before the altar and timidly said, "Ye gods, who can do
all things, give me, I pray you, for my wife" - he dared not say "my ivory
virgin," but said instead - "one like my ivory virgin." Venus, who was present
at the festival, heard him and knew the thought he would have uttered; and as
an omen of her favor, caused the flame on the altar to shoot up thrice in a
fiery point into the air. When he returned home, he went to see his statue,
and leaning over the couch, gave a kiss to the mouth. It seemed to be warm.
He pressed its lips again, he laid his hand upon the limbs; the ivory felt
soft to his touch. and yielded to his fingers like the wax of Hymettus. While
he stands astonished and glad, though doubting, and fears he may be mistaken,
again and again with a lover's ardor, he touches the object of his hopes. It
was indeed alive! The veins when pressed yielded to the finger and again
resumed their roundness. Then at last the votary of Venus found words to
thank the goddess, and pressed his lips upon lips as real as his own. The
virgin felt the kisses and blushed, and opening her timid eyes to the light,
fixed them at the same moment on her lover. Venus blessed the nuptials she had
formed, and from this union Paphos was born, from whom the city, sacred to
Venus, received its name.
Schiller, in his poem the Ideals, applies this tale of Pygmalion to the
love of nature in a youthful heart. The following translation is furnished by
a friend: -
"As once with prayers in passion flowing,
Pygmalion embraced the stone,
Till from the frozen marble glowing,
The light of feeling o'er him shone,
So did I clasp with young devotion
Bright nature to a poet's heart;
Till breath and warmth and vital motion
Seemed through the statue form to dart.
"And then, in all my ardor sharing,
The silent form expression found;
Returned my kiss of youthful daring,
And understood my heart's quick sound.
Then lived for me the bright creation,
The silver rill with song was rife;
The trees, the roses shared sensation,
An echo of my boundless life."
S. G. B.
Dryope and Iole were sisters. The former was the wife of Andraemon,
beloved by her husband, and happy in the birth of her first child. One day
the sisters strolled to the bank of a stream that sloped gradually down to the
water's edge, while the upland was overgrown with myrtles. They were
intending to gather flowers for forming garlands for the altars of the nymphs,
and Dryope carried her child at her bosom, a precious burden, and nursed him
as she walked. Near the water grew a lotus plant, full of purple flowers.
Dryope gathered some and offered them to the baby, and Iole was about to do
the same, when she perceived blood dropping from the places where her sister
had broken them off the stem. The plant was no other than the Nymph Lotis,
who, running from a base pursuer, had been changed into this form. This they
learned from the country people when it was too late.
Dryope, horror-struck when she perceived what she had done, would gladly
have hastened from the spot, but found her feet rooted to the ground. She
tried to pull them away, but moved nothing but her upper limbs. The woodiness
crept upward, and by degrees invested her body. In anguish she attempted to
tear her hair, but found her hands filled with leaves. The infant felt his
mother's bosom begin to harden, and the milk cease to flow. Iole looked on at
the sad fate of her sister, and could render no assistance. She embraced the
growing trunk, as if she would hold back the advancing wood, and would gladly
have been enveloped in the same bark. At this moment, Andraemon, the husband
of Dryope, with her father, approached; and when they asked for Dryope, Iole
pointed them to the new-formed lotus. They embraced the trunk of the yet warm
tree, and showered their kisses on its leaves.
Now there was nothing left of Dryope but her face. Her tears still
flowed and fell on her leaves, and while she could she spoke. "I am not
guilty. I deserve not this fate. I have injured no one. If I speak falsely,
may my foliage perish with drought and my trunk be cut down and burned. Take
this infant and give it to a nurse. Let it often be brought and nursed under
my branches, and play in my shade; and when he is old enough to talk, let him
be taught to call me mother, and to say with sadness, 'My mother lies hid
under this bark.' But bid him be careful of river banks, and beware how he
plucks flowers, remembering that every bush he sees may be a goddess in
disguise. Farewell, dear husband, and sister, and father. If you retain any
love for me, let not the axe wound me, nor the flocks bite and tear my
branches. Since I cannot stoop to you, climb up hither and kiss me and while
my lips continue to feel, lift up my child that I may kiss him. I can speak
no more, for already the bark advances up my neck, and will soon shoot over
me. You need not close my eyes, the bark will close them without your aid."
Then the lips ceased to move, and life was extinct; but the branches retained
for some time longer the vital heat.
Keats, in Endymion, alludes to Dryope, thus: -
"She took a lute from which there pulsing came
A lively prelude, fashioning the way
In which her voice should wander. 'Twas a lay
More subtle-cadenced, more forest-wild
Than Dryope's lone lulling of her child;" &c.
Venus And Adonis.
Venus, playing one day with her boy Cupid, wounded her bosom with one of
his arrows. She pushed him away, but the wound was deeper than she thought.
Before it healed she beheld Adonis, and was captivated with him. She no
longer took any interest in her favorite resorts, - Paphos, and Cnidos, and
Amathos, rich in metals. She absented herself even from heaven, for Adonis
was dearer to her than heaven. Him she followed and bore him company. She
who used to love to recline in the shade, with no care but to cultivate her
charms, now rambles through the woods and over the hills, dressed like the
huntress Diana; and calls her dogs, and chases hares and stags, or other game
that it is safe to hunt, but keeps clear of the wolves and bears, reeking with
the slaughter of the herd. She charged Adonis, too, to beware of such
dangerous animals. "Be brave towards the timid," said she; "courage against
the courageous is not safe. Beware how you expose yourself to danger, and put
my happiness to risk. Attack not the beasts that Nature has armed with
weapons. I do not value your glory so high as to consent to purchase it by
such exposure. Your youth, and the beauty that charms Venus, will not touch
the hearts of lions and bristly boars. Think of their terrible claws and
prodigious strength! I hate the whole race of them. Do you ask me why?" Then
she told him the story of Atalanta and Hippomenes, who were changed into lions
for their ingratitude to her.
Having given him this warning, she mounted her chariot drawn by swans,
and drove away through the air. But Adonis was too noble to heed such
counsels. The dogs had roused a wild boar from his lair, and the youth threw
his spear and wounded the animal with a sidelong stroke. The beast drew out
the weapon with his jaws, and rushed after Adonis, who turned and ran; but the
boar overtook him, and buried his tusks in his side, and stretched him dying
upon the plain.
Venus, in her swan-drawn chariot, had not yet reached Cyprus, when she
heard coming up through mid air the groans of her beloved, and turned her
white-winged coursers back to earth. As she drew near and saw from on high
his lifeless body bathed in blood, she alighted, and bending over it beat her
breast and tore her hair. Reproaching the Fates, she said, "Yet theirs shall
be but a partial triumph; memorials of my grief shall endure, and the
spectacle of your death, my Adonis, and of my lamentation shall be annually
renewed. Your blood shall be changed into a flower; that consolation none can
envy me." Thus speaking, she sprinkled nectar on the blood; and as they
mingled, bubbles rose as in a pool, on which raindrops fall, and in an hour's
time there sprang up a flower of bloody hue like that of the pomegranate. But
it is short-lived. It is said the wind blows the blossoms open, and
afterwards blows the petals away; so it is called Anemone, or Wind Flower,
from the cause which assists equally in its production and its decay.
Milton alludes to the story of Venus and Adonis in his Comus. -
"Beds of hyacinth and roses
Where young Adonis oft reposes,
Waxing well of his deep wound
In slumber soft, and on the ground
Sadly sits th' Assyrian queen;" &c.
Apollo And Hyacinthus.
Apollo was passionately fond of a youth named Hyacinthus. He accompanied
him in his sports, carried the nets when he went fishing, led the dogs when he
went to hunt, followed him in his excursions in the mountains, and neglected
for him his lyre and his arrows. One day they played a game of quoits
together, and Apollo, heaving aloft the discuss, with strength mingled with
skill, sent it high and far. Hyacinthus watched it as it flew, and excited
with the sport ran forward to seize it, eager to make his throw, when the
quoit bounded from the earth and struck him in the forehead. He fainted and
fell. The god, as pale as himself, raised him and tried all his art to stanch
the wound and retain the flitting life, but all in vain; the hurt was past the
power of medicine. As when one has broken the stem of a lily in the garden it
hangs its head and turns its flowers to the earth, so the head of the dying
boy, as if too heavy for his neck, fell over on his shoulder. "Thou diest,
Hyacinth," so spoke Phoebus, "robbed of thy youth by me. Thine is the
suffering, mine the crime. Would that I could die for thee! But since that
may not be, thou shalt live with me in memory and in song. My lyre shall
celebrate thee, my song shall tell thy fate, and thou shalt become 2 a flower
inscribed with my regrets." While Apollo spoke, behold the blood which had
flowed on the ground and stained the herbage, ceased to be blood; but a flower
of hue more beautiful than the Tyrian sprang up, resembling the lily, if it
were not that this is purple and that silvery white. ^* And this was not
enough for Phoebus; but to confer still greater honor, he marked the petals
with his sorrow, and inscribed "Ah! ah!" upon them, as we see to this day.
The flower bears the name of Hyacinthus, and with every returning spring
revives the memory of his fate.
[Footnote *: It is evidently not our modern hyacinth that is here described.
It is perhaps some species of iris, or perhaps of larkspur, or of pansy.]
It was said that Zephyrus, (the West-wind,) who was also fond of
Hyacinthus and jealous of his preference of Apollo, blew the quoit out of its
course to make it strike Hyacinthus. Keats alludes to this in his Endymion,
where he describes the lookers-on at the game of quoits: -
"Or they might watch the quoit-pitchers, intent
On either side, pitying the sad death
Of Hyacinthus, when the cruel breath
Of Zephyr slew him; Zephyr penitent,
Who now ere Phoebus mounts the firmament,
Fondles the flower amid the sobbing rain."
An allusion to Hyacinthus will also be recognized in Milton's Lycidas: -
"Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe."