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The Athenaid: Volume II: Book the Twelfth

Now in the zodiac had the sun o'erpass'd
The tenth fair sign. The new succeeding month,
Though not by Flora, nor Vertumnus deck'd,
Nor green in hue, though first of winter's train,
Oft with unsully'd skies irradiate cheers
The prone creation, and delights mankind.
The birds yet warble on the leafless sprays,
The placid surface, glaz'd by clearest light,
In crystal rivers, and transparent lakes,
Or ocean's smooth cerulean bosom, shews
The finny tribes in play. The active son
Of Neocles uprises, and descries
A dawn which promis'd purity of air,
Of light and calmness, tempting sloth herself
To action. Thus he rous'd his native fire:

Of this kind season not a moment lose,
Themistocles. Sicinus ever nigh
He call'd: Provide two receptacles sure,
Each to contain twelve talents; bring my arms,
Produce a second suit, resembling mine;
Send Hyacinthus; let my chosen band
Of Attic friends, and Sparta's fifty youths,
My followers, be ready for a march.

Soon Hyacinthus enters; still he shews
The perturbation of a mind oppress'd
By some conceal'd misfortune, while, beneath
The shade of sorrow, on his front appear'd
Excelling graces. Him the chief bespake,
Gay in his look, and sprightly in his tone:

Her eastern hill, behold, the morning mounts
In radiance, scatter'd from the liquid gems
On her loose mantle; but the heart of youth
In ev'ry season should rejoice, in clouds
Not less than sunshine, whether nature's voice
Be hoarse in storms, or tune to whisp'ring gales
Her vernal music. Sharp some inward grief,
When youth is sad; yet fortune oft deceives
The inexperienc'd by imagin'd ills,
Or light, which counsel of the more mature
Can lightly heal. Unlock thy lib'ral mind;
To me, a guardian pregnant of relief
Beyond thy father, countrymen, or friends,
Impart thy cares. The sighing guest replied:

To thy controul my service I devote,
O scourge of tyrants, but retain my grief!
Which thou, O first of mortals, or the king
Of high Olympus, never can redress.

Sicinus interrupts; his lord's commands
Are all accomplish'd. Now, Carystian friend,
Resembling me in stature, size and limbs,
The son of Neocles proceeds, accept
That suit of armour; I have tried it well;
Receive a shield familiar to my arm.

He next instructs Sicinus: Thou receive
Twelve talents; hasten to the neighb'ring walls
Of stately Chalcis, populous and rich,
Queen of Euboean cities, in whose port
The twenty ships of Athens yet remain,
Which Chalcis borrow'd, and equipp'd for war.
Of her bold race four thousand we beheld
Distinguish'd late in Artemisium's fight,
At Salamis yet later. First approach
The new-made archon in a rev'rent style,
Timoxenus most potent in that state,
A dubious, timid magistrate, unlike
Nearchus. Cordial salutation bear
To him, my brave associate; do not turn
Thy back on Chalcis, till thy prudence brings
Intelligence of weight; th' Athenian keels
With grain abundant and materials lade,
That friendly roofs th' Eretrians may obtain,
Before grim winter harrow up these streights
Unnavigable soon. This said, he arms;
Begirt by warriors, to the temple speeds,
And greets the priest: In gladsome thought I see
The goddess Health, white-handed, crimson-cheek'd,
As from a silver car in roseate clouds
Look on thy people; dropping on their lips
Restoring dew, she bids them taste and live.
The convalescent piously employ
In labours, where my naval band shall join,
To free th' encumber'd temple, to repair,
To cover dwellings, lest the winter bring
New hardships. Martial exercise I leave
To Cleon's care, while ten revolving suns
Of absence I must count. Now, father, take
This hand, a hand which fortune and thy god
Have ever favour'd, which shall soon convert
The annual day of mourning in thy fane
To festival solemnity of joy.

Bless'd by Tisander, rapid he departs.
Young Hyacinthus follows, who in arms,
Once by his patron worn, to ev'ry eye
Presents a new Themistocles, but such,
As when th' allurement of his early bloom
He, not unconscious of the charm, display'd
To Attic damsels. Cloudless on their march
Apollo shoots a clear and tepid ray;
A scatter'd village in Carystian bounds
To rural hospitality admits
The wearied warriors. Hyacinthus guides
His great protector to a shelt'ring fane
Of Juno, styl'd connubial; stately round
Old beech extend a venerable shade;
Through ages time had witness'd to their growth,
Whose ruddy texture, disarray'd of green,
Glows in the purple of declining day.

They pass the marble threshold, when the youth
With visage pale, in accents broken spake:

Unequall'd man, behold the only place
For thy reception fit; for mine. . . He paus'd;
A gushing torrent of impetuous grief
O'erwhelm'd his cheeks; now starting, on he rush'd,
Before the sacred image wrung his hands;
Then sinking down, along the pavement roll'd
His body; in distraction would have dash'd
His forehead there. Themistocles prevents,
Uplifts, and binds him in a strong embrace;
When thus in eager agony the youth:

Is not thy purpose, godlike man, to crush
The tyrant Demonax, in torture cut
The murd'rer short, that he may feel the pangs
Of death unnatural? Young man, replies
Th' Athenian grave, to know my hidden thoughts,
Dost thou aspire, retaining still thy own?
Still in my presence thy distemper drinks
The cup of misery conceal'd, and seems,
Rejecting friendship's salutary hand,
To court the draught which poisons. Canst thou hope,
Mysterious youth, my confidence, yet none
Wilt in Themistocles repose? His look,
His tone, in feign'd austerity he wrapp'd,
So Æsculapius bitter juice apply'd
From helpful plants, his wisdom had explor'd,
The vehicles of health. In humble tears,
Which melted more than flow'd, the mourner thus:

Forgive me, too regardless of thy grace;
Of all forgetful, save itself, my grief
Deserves thy frown, yet less than giddy joy,
Which, grown familiar, wantons in the smile
Of condescension. Ah! that grief will change
Reproof to more than pity; will excite
A thirst for vengeance, when thy justice hears
A tale-Unfold it, interpos'd the chief,
To one who knows the various ways of men,
Hath study'd long their passions and their woes,
Nor less the med'cines for a wounded mind.

Then Hyacinthus: Mighty chief, recal
Thy first successes, when Euboea's maids
Saw from her shores Barbarian pendants low'r'd
To thine, and grateful pluck'd the flow'rs of May
To dress in chaplets thy victorious deck.
Then, at thy gen'rous instigation fir'd,
The men of Oreus from their walls expell'd
Curst Demonax, their tyrant. On a day,
Ah! source of short delight, of lasting pain!
I from the labour of a tedious chace,
O'erspent by thirst and heat, a forest gain'd.
A rill, meandring to a green recess,
I track'd; my wonder saw a damsel there
In sumptuous vesture, couch'd on fragrant tufts
Of camomile, amid surrounding flow'rs
Reposing. Tall, erect a figure stern
Was nigh; all sable on his head and brow,
Above his lip, and shadowing his cheeks
The hair was brisled; fierce, but frank his eye
A grim fidelity reveal'd; his belt
Sustain'd a sabre; from a quiver full
On sight of me an arrow keen he drew,
A well-strung bow presented, my approach
Forbidding loudly. She, upstarting, wak'd.
My aspect, surely gentle when I first
Beheld Cleora, more of hope than fear
Inspir'd; she crav'd protection-What, ye fates!
Was my protection-O superior man,
Can thy sublimity of soul endure
My tedious anguish! Interposing mild
Th' Athenian here: Take time, give sorrow vent,
My Hyacinthus, I forbid not tears.

He now pursues: her suppliant hands she rais'd,
To me astonish'd, hearing from her lips,
That Demonax was author of her days.
Amid the tumult his expulsion caus'd,
She, from a rural palace, where he stor'd
Well known to her a treasure, with a slave
In faith approv'd, with gold and gems of price
Escap'd. All night on fleetest steeds they rode,
Nor knew what hospitable roof to seek.

My father's sister, Glaucé, close behind
This fane of Juno dwelt, her priestess pure,
My kindest parent. To her roof I brought-
O Glaucé what-O dearest, most rever'd!
To thee I brought Cleora! Horror pale
Now blanch'd his visage, shook his loos'ning joints,
Congeal'd his tongue, and rais'd his rigid hair.
Th' Athenian calm and silent waits to hear
The reassum'd narration. O ye flow'rs,
How were ye fragrant! forth in transport wild
Bursts Hyacinthus: O embow'ring woods,
How soft your shade's refreshment! Founts and rills
How sweet your cadence, while I won the hand
Of my Cleora to the nuptial tie,
By spotless vows before thy image bound,
O Goddess hymeneal! O what hours
Of happiness untainted, dear espous'd,
Did we possess! kind Glaucé smil'd on both.
The earliest birds of morning to her voice
Of benediction sung; the gracious sound
Our evening heard; content our pillow smooth'd.
Ev'n Oxus, so Cleora's slave was nam'd,
Of Sacian birth, with grim delight and zeal
Anticipates our will. My nuptials known
Brings down my father, whose resentment warm
Th' affinity with Demonax reproves,
A helpless vagabond, a hopeless wretch;
For now thy sword at Salamis prevail'd.
This storm Cleora calm'd; the gen'rous fair
Before my father laid her dazzling gems;
She gave, he took them all; return'd content;
Left us too happy in exhaustless stores
Of love for envious fate to leave unspoil'd.

Meantime no rumour pierc'd our tranquil bow'r,
That Demonax in Oreus was replac'd;
That he two golden talents to the hand,
Which should restore Cleora, had proclaim'd,
To me was all unknown. Two moons complete
Have spent their periods since one evening late
Nicomachus my presence swift requir'd,
A dying mother to embrace. By morn
I gain'd Carystus; by the close of day
A tender parent on my breast expir'd.
An agitation unexpected shook
My father's bosom as I took farewell.
On my return-I can no more-Yes, yes,
Dwell on each hideous circumstance, my tongue;
With horror tear my heartstrings till they burst:
Poor Hyacinthus hath no cure but death.

The sun was broad at noon; my recent loss
Lamenting, yet asswaging by the joy
To see Cleora soon, ne'er left before,
(A tedious interval to me) I reach'd
My home, th' abode of Glaucé. Clos'd, the door
Forbids my passage; to repeated calls
No voice replies; two villagers pass by,
Who at my clamours help to force my way.
I pass one chamber; strangled on the floor,
Two damsel-ministers of Juno lie.
I hurry on; a second, where my wife
Was in my absence to partake the couch
Of Glaucé, shews that righteous woman dead.
The dear impression where Cleora's limbs
Sleep had embrac'd, I saw, the only trace
Of her, the last, these eyes shall e'er behold.
Her name my accents strong in frenzy sound:
Cleora makes no answer. Next I fly
From place to place; on Sacian Oxus call:
He is not there. A lethargy benumbs
My languid members. In a neighb'ring hut,
Lodg'd by the careful peasants, I awake,
Insensible to knowledge of my state.
The direful tidings from Carystus rouse
My friends; Nicanor to my father's home
Transports me. Ling'ring, torpid I consum'd
Sev'n moons successive; when too vig'rous youth
Recall'd my strength and memory to curse
Health, sense, and thought. My rashness would have sought
Cleora ev'n in Oreus, there have fac'd
The homicide her sire; forbid, with-held,
Nicanor I deputed. When I march'd
To bid thee welcome, on the way I met
That friend return'd-Persist, my falt'ring tongue,
Rehearse his tidings; pitying Heav'n may close
Thy narrative in death-The Sacian slave
Produc'd Cleora to her savage sire;
So fame reports, all Oreus so believes.
But this is trivial to the tragic scene
Which all beheld. Her hand the tyrant doom'd
To Mindarus, a Persian lord, the chief
Of his auxiliar guard; but she refus'd,
And own'd our union, which her pregnant fruit
Of love too well confirm'd. The monster, blind
With mad'ning fury, instantly decreed
That deadliest poison through those beauteous lips
Should choak the springs of life. My weeping friend
Saw her pale reliques on the fun'ral pyre.
I am not mad-ev'n that relief the gods
Deny me. All my story I have told,
Been accurate on horror to provoke
The stroke of death, yet live. . . Thou must, exclaims
The chief, humanely artful, thou must live;
Without thy help I never can avenge
On Demonax thy wrongs. Ha! cries the youth,
Art thou resolv'd to lift thy potent arm
Against the murd'rer? Yes, th' Athenian said,
I will do more, thy virtue will uphold,
Whose perseverance through such floods of woe
Could wade to bid me welcome. Gen'rous youth,
Trust to the man whom myriads ne'er withstood,
Who towns from ruin can to greatness raise,
Can humble fortune, force her fickle hand
To render up the victim she hath mark'd
For shame and forrow, force her to entwine
With her own finger a triumphant wreath
To deck his brow. Themistocles, who drives
Despair and desolation from the streets
Of fall'n Eretria, and from eastern bonds
Afflicted Greece at Salamis preserv'd;
He will thy genius to his native pow'rs
Restore; will make thee master of revenge
For thy own wrongs; to glorious action guide
Thy manly steps, redressing, as they tread,
The wrongs of others. Not the gracious voice
Of Juno, speaking comfort from her shrine,
Not from his tripod Jove's prophetic seed,
Imparting counsel through his Pythian maid,
Not Jove himself, from Dodonæan groves,
By oracles of promise could have sooth'd
This young, but most distinguish'd of mankind
Among the wretched, as the well-wrought strain
Of thy heart-searching policy, expert
Themistocles, like some well-practis'd son
Of learn'd Machaon, o'er a patient's wound
Compassionate, but cool, who ne'er permits
His own sensation to control his art.

But, said th' Athenian, soldiers must refresh,
As well as fast, nor keep incessant watch.

They quit the temple. In the dwelling nigh
Deep-musing Hyacinthus lightly tastes
The light repast. On matted tufts they stretch
Their weary'd limbs. Themistocles had arm'd
With elevated thoughts his pupil's mind,
Which foils at intervals despair. His eyes
The transient palm of sleep would often seal,
But oft in dreams his dear espous'd he sees,
A livid spectre; an empoison'd cup
She holds, and weeps-then vanishes. Revenge,
In bloody sandals and a dusky pall,
Succeeds. Her stature growing, as he gaz'd,
Reveals a glory, beaming round her head;
A sword she brandishes, the awful sword
Which Nemesis unsheathes on crimes. He sees
Connubial Juno's image from the base
Descend, and, pointing with its marble hand,
Before him glide. A sudden shout of war,
The yell of death, Carystian banners wav'd,
An apparition of himself in arms,
Stir ev'ry sense. The dreadful tumult ends;
The headless trunk of Demonax in gore
He views in transport. Instantly his couch
Shoots forth in laurels, vaulting o'er his head;
The walls are hung with trophies. Juno comes,
No longer marble, but the queen of heav'n,
Clad in resplendency divine. She leads
Cleora, now to perfect bloom restor'd,
Who, beck'ning, opens to th' enraptur'd eye
Of Hyacinthus, doating on the charm,
Her breast of snow; whence pure ambrosial milk
Allures an infant from an amber cloud,
Who stoops, and round her neck maternal clings.
He to embrace them striving, wak'd and lost
Th' endearing picture of illusive air,
But wak'd compos'd. His mantle he assum'd,
To Juno's statue trod, and thus unlock'd
His pious breast: O goddess! though thy smile,
Which I acknowledge for the hours of bliss
I once possess'd, a brief, exhausted term,
Could not protect me from malignant fate,
Lo! prostrate fall'n before thee, I complain
No more. My soul shall struggle with despair;
Nor shall the furies drag me to the grave.
Thou punishment dost threaten to the crime,
Which hath defac'd my happiness on earth;
Themistocles, my patron, is thy boon,
Who will fulfil thy menace. I believe,
There is a place hereafter to admit
Such purity as hers, whose blissful hand
Thou didst bestow-I lost-I know my days
With all their evils of duration short;
I am not conscious of a black misdeed,
Which should exclude me from the seat of rest,
And therefore wait in pious hope, that soon
Shall Hyacinthus find his wife and child
With them to dwell forever. He concludes,
Regains the chamber, and Aurora shines.

End of the Twelfth Book

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