A BOOK OF MYTHS
BY JEAN LANG
(MRS. JOHN LANG)
WITH SIXTEEN ORIGINAL DRAWINGS IN COLOUR BY HELEN STRATTON
THOMAS NELSON & SONS NEW YORK
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Just as a little child holds out its hands to catch the sunbeams, to feel and to grasp what, so its eyes tell it, is actually there, so, down through the ages, men have stretched out their hands in eager endeavour to know their God. And because only through the human was the divine knowable, the old peoples of the earth made gods of their heroes and not unfrequently endowed these gods with as many of the vices as of the virtues of their worshippers. As we read the myths of the East and the West we find ever the same story. That portion of the ancient Aryan race which poured from the central plain of Asia, through the rocky defiles of what we now call "The Frontier," to populate the fertile lowlands of India, had gods who must once have been wholly heroic, but who came in time to be more degraded than the most vicious of lustful criminals. And the Greeks, Latins, Teutons, Celts, and Slavonians, who came of the same mighty Aryan stock, did even as those with whom they owned a common ancestry. Originally they gave to their gods of their best. All that was noblest in them, all that was strongest and most selfless, all the higher instincts of their natures were their endowment. And although their worship in time became corrupt and lost its beauty, there yet remains for us, in the old tales of the gods, a wonderful humanity that strikes a vibrant chord in the hearts of those who are the descendants of their worshippers. For though creeds and forms may change, human nature never changes. We are less simple than our fathers: that is all. And, as Professor York Powell most truly says: "It is not in a man's creed, but in his deeds; not in his knowledge, but in his sympathy, that there lies the essence of what is good and of what will last in human life."
The most usual habits of mind in our own day are the theoretical and analytical habits. Dissection, vivisection, analysis—those are the processes to which all things not conclusively historical and all things spiritual are bound to pass. Thus we find the old myths classified into Sun Myths and Dawn Myths, Earth Myths and Moon Myths, Fire Myths and Wind Myths, until, as one of the most sane and vigorous thinkers of the present day has justly observed: "If you take the rhyme of Mary and her little lamb, and call Mary the sun and the lamb the moon, you will achieve astonishing results, both in religion and astronomy, when you find that the lamb followed Mary to school one day."
In this little collection of Myths, the stories are not presented to the student of folklore as a fresh contribution to his knowledge. Rather is the book intended for those who, in the course of their reading, frequently come across names which possess for them no meaning, and who care to read some old stories, through which runs the same humanity that their own hearts know. For although the old worship has passed away, it is almost impossible for us to open a book that does not contain some mention of the gods of long ago. In our childhood we are given copies of Kingsley's Heroes and of Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales. Later on, we find in Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Keats, Shelley, Longfellow, Tennyson, Mrs. Browning, and a host of other writers, constant allusion to the stories of the gods. Scarcely a poet has ever written but makes mention of them in one or other of his poems. It would seem as if there were no get-away from them. We might expect in this twentieth century that the old gods of Greece and of Rome, the gods of our Northern forefathers, the gods of Egypt, the gods of the British race, might be forgotten. But even when we read in a newspaper of aeroplanes, someone is more than likely to quote the story of Bellerophon and his winged steed, or of Icarus, the flyer, and in our daily speech the names of gods and goddesses continually crop up. We drive—or, at least, till lately we drove—in Phaetons. Not only schoolboys swear by Jove or by Jupiter. The silvery substance in our thermometers and barometers is named Mercury. Blacksmiths are accustomed to being referred to as "sons of Vulcan," and beautiful youths to being called "young Adonises." We accept the names of newspapers and debating societies as being the "Argus," without perhaps quite realising who was Argus, the many-eyed. We talk of "a panic," and forget that the great god Pan is father of the word. Even in our religious services we go back to heathenism. Not only are the crockets on our cathedral spires and church pews remnants of fire-worship, but one of our own most beautiful Christian blessings is probably of Assyrian origin. "The Lord bless thee and keep thee.... The Lord make His face to shine upon thee.... The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon thee...." So did the priests of the sun-gods invoke blessings upon those who worshipped.
We make many discoveries as we study the myths of the North and of the South. In the story of Baldur we find that the goddess Hel ultimately gave her name to the place of punishment precious to the Calvinistic mind. And because the Norseman very much disliked the bitter, cruel cold of the long winter, his heaven was a warm, well-fired abode, and his place of punishment one of terrible frigidity. Somewhere on the other side of the Tweed and Cheviots was the spot selected by the Celt of southern Britain. On the other hand, the eastern mind, which knew the terrors of a sun-smitten land and of a heat that was torture, had for a hell a fiery place of constantly burning flames.
In the space permitted, it has not been possible to deal with more than a small number of myths, and the well-known stories of Herakles, of Theseus, and of the Argonauts have been purposely omitted. These have been so perfectly told by great writers that to retell them would seem absurd. The same applies to the Odyssey and the Iliad, the translations of which probably take rank amongst the finest translations in any language.
The writer will feel that her object has been gained should any readers of these stories feel that for a little while they have left the toilful utilitarianism of the present day behind them, and, with it, its hampering restrictions of sordid actualities that are so murderous to imagination and to all romance.
"Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn."
We have come, in those last long months, to date our happenings as they have never until now been dated by those of our own generation.
We speak of things that took place "Before the War"; and between that time and this stands a barrier immeasurable.
This book, with its Preface, was completed in 1914—"Before the War."
Since August 1914 the finest humanity of our race has been enduring Promethean agonies. But even as Prometheus unflinchingly bore the cruelties of pain, of heat and of cold, of hunger and of thirst, and the tortures inflicted by an obscene bird of prey, so have endured the men of our nation and of those nations with whom we are proud to be allied. Much more remote than they seemed one little year ago, now seem the old stories of sunny Greece. But if we have studied the strange transmogrification of the ancient gods, we can look with interest, if with horror, at the Teuton representation of the GOD in whom we believe as a GOD of perfect purity, of honour, and of love. According to their interpretation of Him, the God of the Huns would seem to be as much a confederate of the vicious as the most degraded god of ancient worship. And if we turn with shame from the Divinity so often and so glibly referred to by blasphemous lips, and look on a picture that tears our hearts, and yet makes our hearts big with pride, we can understand how it was that those heroes who fought and died in the Valley of the Scamander came in time to be regarded not as men, but as gods.
There is no tale in all the world's mythology finer than the tale that began in August 1914. How future generations will tell the tale, who can say?
But we, for whom Life can never be the same again, can say with all earnestness: "It is the memory that the soldier leaves behind him, like the long train of light that follows the sunken sun—that is all which is worth caring for, which distinguishes the death of the brave or the ignoble."
And, surely, to all those who are fighting, and suffering, and dying for a noble cause, the GOD of gods, the GOD of battles, who is also the GOD of peace, and the GOD of Love, has become an ever near and eternally living entity.
"Our little systems have their day; They have their day and cease to be, They are but broken lights of Thee, And Thou, oh Lord, art more than they."
 Teutonic Heathendom.
 John Kelman, D.D., Among Famous Books.
PROMETHEUS AND PANDORA 1
APOLLO AND DAPHNE 42
THE CALYDONIAN HUNT 69
IDAS AND MARPESSA 90
PERSEUS THE HERO 105
KING MIDAS OF THE GOLDEN TOUCH 134
CEYX AND HALCYONE 144
ARISTAEUS THE BEE-KEEPER 154
LATONA AND THE RUSTICS 169
ECHO AND NARCISSUS 174
THE CRANES OF IBYCUS 192
THE DEATH OF ADONIS 202
FREYA, QUEEN OF THE NORTHERN GODS 227
THE DEATH OF BALDUR 234
ROLAND THE PALADIN 266
THE CHILDREN OF LIR 289
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"What was he doing, the great god Pan, Down in the reeds by the river?" Frontispiece
Then Pygmalion covered his eyes 12
She checked her hounds, and stood beside Endymion 28
Swiftly he turned, and found his wife behind him 38
Thus did Psyche lose her fear, and enter the golden doors 52
She stopped, and picked up the treasure 80
Marpessa sat alone by the fountain 92
They whimpered and begged of him 112
Darkness fell on the eyes of Hyacinthus 132
A grey cold morning found her on the seashore 152
She haunted him like his shadow 176
Freya sat spinning the clouds 228
"Baldur the Beautiful is dead!" 240
A stroke shivered the sword 262
Roland seized once more his horn 282
One touch for each with a magical wand of the Druids 294
A BOOK OF MYTHS
PROMETHEUS AND PANDORA
Those who are interested in watching the mental development of a child must have noted that when the baby has learned to speak even a little, it begins to show its growing intelligence by asking questions. "What is this?" it would seem at first to ask with regard to simple things that to it are still mysteries. Soon it arrives at the more far-reaching inquiries—"Why is this so?" "How did this happen?" And as the child's mental growth continues, the painstaking and conscientious parent or guardian is many times faced by questions which lack of knowledge, or a sensitive honesty, prevents him from answering either with assurance or with ingenuity.
As with the child, so it has ever been with the human race. Man has always come into the world asking "How?" "Why?" "What?" and so the Hebrew, the Greek, the Maori, the Australian blackfellow, the Norseman—in a word, each race of mankind—has formed for itself an explanation of existence, an answer to the questions of the groping child-mind—"Who made the world?" "What is God?" "What made a God think of fire and air and water?" "Why am I, I?"
Into the explanation of creation and existence given by the Greeks come the stories of Prometheus and of Pandora. The world, as first it was, to the Greeks was such a world as the one of which we read in the Book of Genesis—"without form, and void." It was a sunless world in which land, air, and sea were mixed up together, and over which reigned a deity called Chaos. With him ruled the goddess of Night and their son was Erebus, god of Darkness. When the two beautiful children of Erebus, Light and Day, had flooded formless space with their radiance, Eros, the god of Love, was born, and Light and Day and Love, working together, turned discord into harmony and made the earth, the sea, and the sky into one perfect whole. A giant race, a race of Titans, in time populated this newly-made earth, and of these one of the mightiest was Prometheus. To him, and to his brother Epimethus, was entrusted by Eros the distribution of the gifts of faculties and of instincts to all the living creatures in the world, and the task of making a creature lower than the gods, something less great than the Titans, yet in knowledge and in understanding infinitely higher than the beasts and birds and fishes. At the hands of the Titan brothers, birds, beasts, and fishes had fared handsomely. They were Titanic in their generosity, and so prodigal had they been in their gifts that when they would fain have carried out the commands of Eros they found that nothing was left for the equipment of this being, to be called Man. Yet, nothing daunted, Prometheus took some clay from the ground at his feet, moistened it with water, and fashioned it into an image, in form like the gods. Into its nostrils Eros breathed the spirit of life, Pallas Athene endowed it with a soul, and the first man looked wonderingly round on the earth that was to be his heritage. Prometheus, proud of the beautiful thing of his own creation, would fain have given Man a worthy gift, but no gift remained for him. He was naked, unprotected, more helpless than any of the beasts of the field, more to be pitied than any of them in that he had a soul to suffer.
Surely Zeus, the All Powerful, ruler of Olympus, would have compassion on Man? But Prometheus looked to Zeus in vain; compassion he had none. Then, in infinite pity, Prometheus bethought himself of a power belonging to the gods alone and unshared by any living creature on the earth.
"We shall give Fire to the Man whom we have made," he said to Epimethus. To Epimethus this seemed an impossibility, but to Prometheus nothing was impossible. He bided his time and, unseen by the gods, he made his way into Olympus, lighted a hollow torch with a spark from the chariot of the Sun and hastened back to earth with this royal gift to Man. Assuredly no other gift could have brought him more completely the empire that has since been his. No longer did he tremble and cower in the darkness of caves when Zeus hurled his lightnings across the sky. No more did he dread the animals that hunted him and drove him in terror before them.
Armed with fire, the beasts became his vassals. With fire he forged weapons, defied the frost and cold, coined money, made implements for tillage, introduced the arts, and was able to destroy as well as to create.
From his throne on Olympus, Zeus looked down on the earth and saw, with wonder, airy columns of blue-grey smoke that curled upwards to the sky. He watched more closely, and realised with terrible wrath that the moving flowers of red and gold that he saw in that land that the Titans shared with men, came from fire, that had hitherto been the gods' own sacred power. Speedily he assembled a council of the gods to mete out to Prometheus a punishment fit for the blasphemous daring of his crime. This council decided at length to create a thing that should for evermore charm the souls and hearts of men, and yet, for evermore, be man's undoing.
To Vulcan, god of fire, whose province Prometheus had insulted, was given the work of fashioning out of clay and water the creature by which the honour of the gods was to be avenged. "The lame Vulcan," says Hesiod, poet of Greek mythology, "formed out of the earth an image resembling a chaste virgin. Pallas Athene, of the blue eyes, hastened to ornament her and to robe her in a white tunic. She dressed on the crown of her head a long veil, skilfully fashioned and admirable to see; she crowned her forehead with graceful garlands of newly-opened flowers and a golden diadem that the lame Vulcan, the illustrious god, had made with his own hands to please the puissant Jove. On this crown Vulcan had chiselled the innumerable animals that the continents and the sea nourish in their bosoms, all endowed with a marvellous grace and apparently alive. When he had finally completed, instead of some useful work, this illustrious masterpiece, he brought into the assembly this virgin, proud of the ornaments with which she had been decked by the blue-eyed goddess, daughter of a powerful sire." To this beautiful creature, destined by the gods to be man's destroyer, each of them gave a gift. From Aphrodite she got beauty, from Apollo music, from Hermes the gift of a winning tongue. And when all that great company in Olympus had bestowed their gifts, they named the woman Pandora—"Gifted by all the Gods." Thus equipped for victory, Pandora was led by Hermes to the world that was thenceforward to be her home. As a gift from the gods she was presented to Prometheus.
But Prometheus, gazing in wonder at the violet blue eyes bestowed by Aphrodite, that looked wonderingly back into his own as if they were indeed as innocent as two violets wet with the morning dew, hardened his great heart, and would have none of her. As a hero—a worthy descendant of Titans—said in later years, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes,"—"I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts." And Prometheus, the greatly-daring, knowing that he merited the anger of the gods, saw treachery in a gift outwardly so perfect. Not only would he not accept this exquisite creature for his own, but he hastened to caution his brother also to refuse her.
But well were they named Prometheus (Forethought) and Epimethus (Afterthought). For Epimethus it was enough to look at this peerless woman, sent from the gods, for him to love her and to believe in her utterly. She was the fairest thing on earth, worthy indeed of the deathless gods who had created her. Perfect, too, was the happiness that she brought with her to Epimethus. Before her coming, as he well knew now, the fair world had been incomplete. Since she came the fragrant flowers had grown more sweet for him, the song of the birds more full of melody. He found new life in Pandora and marvelled how his brother could ever have fancied that she could bring to the world aught but peace and joyousness.
Now when the gods had entrusted to the Titan brothers the endowment of all living things upon the earth, they had been careful to withhold everything that might bring into the world pain, sickness, anxiety, bitterness of heart, remorse, or soul-crushing sorrow. All these hurtful things were imprisoned in a coffer which was given into the care of the trusty Epimethus.
To Pandora the world into which she came was all fresh, all new, quite full of unexpected joys and delightful surprises. It was a world of mystery, but mystery of which her great, adoring, simple Titan held the golden key. When she saw the coffer which never was opened, what then more natural than that she should ask Epimethus what it contained? But the contents were known only to the gods. Epimethus was unable to answer. Day by day, the curiosity of Pandora increased. To her the gods had never given anything but good. Surely there must be here gifts more precious still. What if the Olympians had destined her to be the one to open the casket, and had sent her to earth in order that she might bestow on this dear world, on the men who lived on it, and on her own magnificent Titan, happiness and blessings which only the minds of gods could have conceived? Thus did there come a day when Pandora, unconscious instrument in the hands of a vengeful Olympian, in all faith, and with the courage that is born of faith and of love, opened the lid of the prison-house of evil. And as from coffers in the old Egyptian tombs, the live plague can still rush forth and slay, the long-imprisoned evils rushed forth upon the fair earth and on the human beings who lived on it—malignant, ruthless, fierce, treacherous, and cruel—poisoning, slaying, devouring. Plague and pestilence and murder, envy and malice and revenge and all viciousness—an ugly wolf-pack indeed was that one let loose by Pandora. Terror, doubt, misery, had all rushed straightway to attack her heart, while the evils of which she had never dreamed stung mind and soul into dismay and horror, when, by hastily shutting the lid of the coffer, she tried to undo the evil she had done.
And lo, she found that the gods had imprisoned one good gift only in this Inferno of horrors and of ugliness. In the world there had never been any need of Hope. What work was there for Hope to do where all was perfect, and where each creature possessed the desire of body and of heart? Therefore Hope was thrust into the chest that held the evils, a star in a black night, a lily growing on a dung-heap. And as Pandora, white-lipped and trembling, looked into the otherwise empty box, courage came back to her heart, and Epimethus let fall to his side the arm that would have slain the woman of his love because there came to him, like a draught of wine to a warrior spent in battle, an imperial vision of the sons of men through all the aeons to come, combatting all evils of body and of soul, going on conquering and to conquer. Thus, saved by Hope, the Titan and the woman faced the future, and for them the vengeance of the gods was stayed.
"Yet I argue not Against Heav'n's hand or will, nor bate a jot Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer Right onward."
So spoke Milton, the blind Titan of the seventeenth century; and Shakespeare says:
"True hope is swift, and flies with swallow's wings; Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings."
Upon the earth, and on the children of men who were as gods in their knowledge and mastery of the force of fire, Jupiter had had his revenge. For Prometheus he reserved another punishment. He, the greatly-daring, once the dear friend and companion of Zeus himself, was chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus by the vindictive deity. There, on a dizzy height, his body thrust against the sun-baked rock, Prometheus had to endure the torment of having a foul-beaked vulture tear out his liver, as though he were a piece of carrion lying on the mountain side. All day, while the sun mercilessly smote him and the blue sky turned from red to black before his pain-racked eyes, the torture went on. Each night, when the filthy bird of prey that worked the will of the gods spread its dark wings and flew back to its eyrie, the Titan endured the cruel mercy of having his body grow whole once more. But with daybreak there came again the silent shadow, the smell of the unclean thing, and again with fierce beak and talons the vulture greedily began its work.
Thirty thousand years was the time of his sentence, and yet Prometheus knew that at any moment he could have brought his torment to an end. A secret was his—a mighty secret, the revelation of which would have brought him the mercy of Zeus and have reinstated him in the favour of the all-powerful god. Yet did he prefer to endure his agonies rather than to free himself by bowing to the desires of a tyrant who had caused Man to be made, yet denied to Man those gifts that made him nobler than the beasts and raised him almost to the heights of the Olympians. Thus for him the weary centuries dragged by—in suffering that knew no respite—in endurance that the gods might have ended. Prometheus had brought an imperial gift to the men that he had made, and imperially he paid the penalty.
"Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours, And moments aye divided by keen pangs Till they seemed years, torture and solitude, Scorn and despair,—these are mine empire. More glorious far than that which thou surveyest From thine unenvied throne, O, Mighty God! Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain, Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb, Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life. Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!"
"Titan! to whose immortal eyes The sufferings of mortality Seen in their sad reality, Were not as things that gods despise; What was thy pity's recompense? A silent suffering, and intense; The rock, the vulture, and the chain, All that the proud can feel of pain, The agony they do not show, The suffocating sense of woe, Which speaks but in its loneliness, And then is jealous lest the sky Should have a listener, nor will sigh Until its voice is echoless."
"Yet, I am still Prometheus, wiser grown By years of solitude,—that holds apart The past and future, giving the soul room To search into itself,—and long commune With this eternal silence;—more a god, In my long-suffering and strength to meet With equal front the direst shafts of fate, Than thou in thy faint-hearted despotism ... Therefore, great heart, bear up! thou art but type Of what all lofty spirits endure that fain Would win men back to strength and peace through love: Each hath his lonely peak, and on each heart Envy, or scorn or hatred tears lifelong With vulture beak; yet the high soul is left; And faith, which is but hope grown wise, and love And patience, which at last shall overcome."
In days when the world was young and when the gods walked on the earth, there reigned over the island of Cyprus a sculptor-king, and king of sculptors, named Pygmalion. In the language of our own day, we should call him "wedded to his art." In woman he only saw the bane of man. Women, he believed, lured men from the paths to which their destiny called them. While man walked alone, he walked free—he had given no "hostages to fortune." Alone, man could live for his art, could combat every danger that beset him, could escape, unhampered, from every pitfall in life. But woman was the ivy that clings to the oak, and throttles the oak in the end. No woman, vowed Pygmalion, should ever hamper him. And so at length he came to hate women, and, free of heart and mind, his genius wrought such great things that he became a very perfect sculptor. He had one passion, a passion for his art, and that sufficed him. Out of great rough blocks of marble he would hew the most perfect semblance of men and of women, and of everything that seemed to him most beautiful and the most worth preserving.
When we look now at the Venus of Milo, at the Diana of Versailles, and at the Apollo Belvidere in the Vatican, we can imagine what were the greater things that the sculptor of Cyprus freed from the dead blocks of marble. One day as he chipped and chiselled there came to him, like the rough sketch of a great picture, the semblance of a woman. How it came he knew not. Only he knew that in that great mass of pure white stone there seemed to be imprisoned the exquisite image of a woman, a woman that he must set free. Slowly, gradually, the woman came. Soon he knew that she was the most beautiful thing that his art had ever wrought. All that he had ever thought that a woman should be, this woman was. Her form and features were all most perfect, and so perfect were they, that he felt very sure that, had she been a woman indeed, most perfect would have been the soul within. For her he worked as he had never worked before. There came, at last, a day when he felt that another touch would be insult to the exquisite thing he had created. He laid his chisel aside and sat down to gaze at the Perfect Woman. She seemed to gaze back at him. Her parted lips were ready to speak—to smile. Her hands were held out to hold his hands. Then Pygmalion covered his eyes. He, the hater of women, loved a woman—a woman of chilly marble. The women he had scorned were avenged.
Day by day his passion for the woman of his own creation grew and grew. His hands no longer wielded the chisel. They grew idle. He would stand under the great pines and gaze across the sapphire-blue sea, and dream strange dreams of a marble woman who walked across the waves with arms outstretched, with smiling lips, and who became a woman of warm flesh and blood when her bare feet touched the yellow sand, and the bright sun of Cyprus touched her marble hair and turned it into hair of living gold. Then he would hasten back to his studio to find the miracle still unaccomplished, and would passionately kiss the little cold hands, and lay beside the little cold feet the presents he knew that young girls loved—bright shells and exquisite precious stones, gorgeous-hued birds and fragrant flowers, shining amber, and beads that sparkled and flashed with all the most lovely combinations of colour that the mind of artist could devise. Yet more he did, for he spent vast sums on priceless pearls and hung them in her ears and upon her cold white breast; and the merchants wondered who could be the one upon whom Pygmalion lavished the money from his treasury.
To his divinity he gave a name—"Galatea"; and always on still nights the myriad silver stars would seem to breathe to him "Galatea" ... and on those days when the tempests blew across the sandy wastes of Arabia and churned up the fierce white surf on the rocks of Cyprus, the very spirit of the storm seemed to moan through the crash of waves in longing, hopeless and unutterable—"Galatea!... Galatea!..." For her he decked a couch with Tyrian purple, and on the softest of pillows he laid the beautiful head of the marble woman that he loved.
So the time wore on until the festival of Aphrodite drew near. Smoke from many altars curled out to sea, the odour of incense mingled with the fragrance of the great pine trees, and garlanded victims lowed and bleated as they were led to the sacrifice. As the leader of his people, Pygmalion faithfully and perfectly performed all his part in the solemnities and at last he was left beside the altar to pray alone. Never before had his words faltered as he laid his petitions before the gods, but on this day he spoke not as a sculptor-king, but as a child who was half afraid of what he asked.
"O Aphrodite!" he said, "who can do all things, give me, I pray you, one like my Galatea for my wife!"
"Give me my Galatea," he dared not say; but Aphrodite knew well the words he would fain have uttered, and smiled to think how Pygmalion at last was on his knees. In token that his prayer was answered, three times she made the flames on the altar shoot up in a fiery point, and Pygmalion went home, scarcely daring to hope, not allowing his gladness to conquer his fear.
The shadows of evening were falling as he went into the room that he had made sacred to Galatea. On the purple-covered couch she lay, and as he entered it seemed as though she met his eyes with her own; almost it seemed that she smiled at him in welcome. He quickly went up to her and, kneeling by her side, he pressed his lips on those lips of chilly marble. So many times he had done it before, and always it was as though the icy lips that could never live sent their chill right through his heart, but now it surely seemed to him that the lips were cold no longer. He felt one of the little hands, and no more did it remain heavy and cold and stiff in his touch, but lay in his own hand, soft and living and warm. He softly laid his fingers on the marble hair, and lo, it was the soft and wavy burnished golden hair of his desire. Again, reverently as he had laid his offerings that day on the altar of Venus, Pygmalion kissed her lips. And then did Galatea, with warm and rosy cheeks, widely open her eyes, like pools in a dark mountain stream on which the sun is shining, and gaze with timid gladness into his own.
There are no after tales of Pygmalion and Galatea. We only know that their lives were happy and that to them was born a son, Paphos, from whom the city sacred to Aphrodite received its name. Perhaps Aphrodite may have smiled sometimes to watch Pygmalion, once the scorner of women, the adoring servant of the woman that his own hands had first designed.
"The road, to drive on which unskilled were Phaeton's hands."
To Apollo, the sun-god, and Clymene, a beautiful ocean-nymph, there was born in the pleasant land of Greece a child to whom was given the name of Phaeton, the Bright and Shining One. The rays of the sun seemed to live in the curls of the fearless little lad, and when at noon other children would seek the cool shade of the cypress groves, Phaeton would hold his head aloft and gaze fearlessly up at the brazen sky from whence fierce heat beat down upon his golden head.
"Behold, my father drives his chariot across the heavens!" he proudly proclaimed. "In a little while I, also, will drive the four snow-white steeds."
His elders heard the childish boast with a smile, but when Epaphos, half-brother to Apollo, had listened to it many times and beheld the child, Phaeton, grow into an arrogant lad who held himself as though he were indeed one of the Immortals, anger grew in his heart. One day he turned upon Phaeton and spoke in fierce scorn:
"Dost say thou art son of a god? A shameless boaster and a liar art thou! Hast ever spoken to thy divine sire? Give us some proof of thy sonship! No more child of the glorious Apollo art thou than are the vermin his children, that the sun breeds in the dust at my feet."
For a moment, before the cruel taunt, the lad was stricken into silence, and then, his pride aflame, his young voice shaking with rage and with bitter shame, he cried aloud: "Thou, Epaphos, art the liar. I have but to ask my father, and thou shalt see me drive his golden chariot across the sky."
To his mother he hastened, to get balm for his hurt pride, as many a time he had got it for the little bodily wounds of childhood, and with bursting heart he poured forth his story.
"True it is," he said, "that my father has never deigned to speak to me. Yet I know, because thou hast told me so, that he is my sire. And now my word is pledged. Apollo must let me drive his steeds, else I am for evermore branded braggart and liar, and shamed amongst men."
Clymene listened with grief to his complaint. He was so young, so gallant, so foolish.
"Truly thou art the son of Apollo," she said, "and oh, son of my heart, thy beauty is his, and thy pride the pride of a son of the gods. Yet only partly a god art thou, and though thy proud courage would dare all things, it were mad folly to think of doing what a god alone can do."
But at last she said to him, "Naught that I can say is of any avail. Go, seek thy father, and ask him what thou wilt." Then she told him how he might find the place in the east where Apollo rested ere the labours of the day began, and with eager gladness Phaeton set out upon his journey. A long way he travelled, with never a stop, yet when the glittering dome and jewelled turrets and minarets of the Palace of the Sun came into view, he forgot his weariness and hastened up the steep ascent to the home of his father.
Phoebus Apollo, clad in purple that glowed like the radiance of a cloud in the sunset sky, sat upon his golden throne. The Day, the Month, and the Year stood by him, and beside them were the Hours. Spring was there, her head wreathed with flowers; Summer, crowned with ripened grain; Autumn, with his feet empurpled by the juice of the grapes; and Winter, with hair all white and stiff with hoar-frost. And when Phaeton walked up the golden steps that led to his father's throne, it seemed as though incarnate Youth had come to join the court of the god of the Sun, and that Youth was so beautiful a thing that it must surely live forever. Proudly did Apollo know him for his son, and when the boy looked in his eyes with the arrogant fearlessness of boyhood, the god greeted him kindly and asked him to tell him why he came, and what was his petition.
As to Clymene, so also to Apollo, Phaeton told his tale, and his father listened, half in pride and amusement, half in puzzled vexation. When the boy stopped, and then breathlessly, with shining eyes and flushed cheeks, ended up his story with: "And, O light of the boundless world, if I am indeed thy son, let it be as I have said, and for one day only let me drive thy chariot across the heavens!" Apollo shook his head and answered very gravely:
"In truth thou art my dear son," he said, "and by the dreadful Styx, the river of the dead, I swear that I will give thee any gift that thou dost name and that will give proof that thy father is the immortal Apollo. But never to thee nor to any other, be he mortal or immortal, shall I grant the boon of driving my chariot."
But the boy pled on:
"I am shamed for ever, my father," he said. "Surely thou wouldst not have son of thine proved liar and braggart?"
"Not even the gods themselves can do this thing," answered Apollo. "Nay, not even the almighty Zeus. None but I, Phoebus Apollo, may drive the flaming chariot of the sun, for the way is beset with dangers and none know it but I."
"Only tell me the way, my father!" cried Phaeton. "So soon I could learn."
Half in sadness, Apollo smiled.
"The first part of the way is uphill," he said. "So steep it is that only very slowly can my horses climb it. High in the heavens is the middle, so high that even I grow dizzy when I look down upon the earth and the sea. And the last piece of the way is a precipice that rushes so steeply downward that my hands can scarce check the mad rush of my galloping horses. And all the while, the heaven is spinning round, and the stars with it. By the horns of the Bull I have to drive, past the Archer whose bow is taut and ready to slay, close to where the Scorpion stretches out its arms and the great Crab's claws grope for a prey...."
"I fear none of these things, oh my father!" cried Phaeton. "Grant that for one day only I drive thy white-maned steeds!"
Very pitifully Apollo looked at him, and for a little space he was silent.
"The little human hands," he said at length, "the little human frame!—and with them the soul of a god. The pity of it, my son. Dost not know that the boon that thou dost crave from me is Death?"
"Rather Death than Dishonour," said Phaeton, and proudly he added, "For once would I drive like the god, my father. I have no fear."
So was Apollo vanquished, and Phaeton gained his heart's desire.
From the courtyard of the Palace the four white horses were led, and they pawed the air and neighed aloud in the glory of their strength. They drew the chariot whose axle and pole and wheels were of gold, with spokes of silver, while inside were rows of diamonds and of chrysolites that gave dazzling reflection of the sun. Then Apollo anointed the face of Phaeton with a powerful essence that might keep him from being smitten by the flames, and upon his head he placed the rays of the sun. And then the stars went away, even to the Daystar that went last of all, and, at Apollo's signal, Aurora, the rosy-fingered, threw open the purple gates of the east, and Phaeton saw a path of pale rose-colour open before him.
With a cry of exultation, the boy leapt into the chariot and laid hold of the golden reins. Barely did he hear Apollo's parting words: "Hold fast the reins, and spare the whip. All thy strength will be wanted to hold the horses in. Go not too high nor too low. The middle course is safest and best. Follow, if thou canst, in the old tracks of my chariot wheels!" His glad voice of thanks for the godlike boon rang back to where Apollo stood and watched him vanishing into the dawn that still was soft in hue as the feathers on the breast of a dove.
Uphill at first the white steeds made their way, and the fire from their nostrils tinged with flame-colour the dark clouds that hung over the land and the sea. With rapture, Phaeton felt that truly he was the son of a god, and that at length he was enjoying his heritage. The day for which, through all his short life, he had longed, had come at last. He was driving the chariot whose progress even now was awaking the sleeping earth. The radiance from its wheels and from the rays he wore round his head was painting the clouds, and he laughed aloud in rapture as he saw, far down below, the sea and the rivers he had bathed in as a human boy, mirroring the green and rose and purple, and gold and silver, and fierce crimson, that he, Phaeton, was placing in the sky. The grey mist rolled from the mountain tops at his desire. The white fog rolled up from the valleys. All living things awoke; the flowers opened their petals; the grain grew golden; the fruit grew ripe. Could but Epaphos see him now! Surely he must see him, and realise that not Apollo but Phaeton was guiding the horses of his father, driving the chariot of the Sun.
Quicker and yet more quick grew the pace of the white-maned steeds. Soon they left the morning breezes behind, and very soon they knew that these were not the hands of the god, their master, that held the golden reins. Like an air-ship without its accustomed ballast, the chariot rolled unsteadily, and not only the boy's light weight but his light hold on their bridles made them grow mad with a lust for speed. The white foam flew from their mouths like the spume from the giant waves of a furious sea, and their pace was swift as that of a bolt that is cast by the arm of Zeus.
Yet Phaeton had no fear, and when they heard him shout in rapture, "Quicker still, brave ones! more swiftly still!" it made them speed onwards, madly, blindly, with the headlong rush of a storm. There was no hope for them to keep on the beaten track, and soon Phaeton had his rapture checked by the terrible realisation that they had strayed far out of the course and that his hands were not strong enough to guide them. Close to the Great Bear and the Little Bear they passed, and these were scorched with heat. The Serpent which, torpid, chilly and harmless, lies coiled round the North Pole, felt a warmth that made it grow fierce and harmful again. Downward, ever downward galloped the maddened horses, and soon Phaeton saw the sea as a shield of molten brass, and the earth so near that all things on it were visible. When they passed the Scorpion and only just missed destruction from its menacing fangs, fear entered into the boy's heart. His mother had spoken truth. He was only partly a god, and he was very, very young. In impotent horror he tugged at the reins to try to check the horses' descent, then, forgetful of Apollo's warning, he smote them angrily. But anger met anger, and the fury of the immortal steeds had scorn for the wrath of a mortal boy. With a great toss of their mighty heads they had torn the guiding reins from his grasp, and as he stood, giddily swaying from side to side, Phaeton knew that the boon he had craved from his father must in truth be death for him.
And, lo, it was a hideous death, for with eyes that were like flames that burned his brain, the boy beheld the terrible havoc that his pride had wrought. That blazing chariot of the Sun made the clouds smoke, and dried up all the rivers and water-springs. Fire burst from the mountain tops, great cities were destroyed. The beauty of the earth was ravished, woods and meadows and all green and pleasant places were laid waste. The harvests perished, the flocks and they who had herded them lay dead. Over Libya the horses took him, and the desert of Libya remains a barren wilderness to this day, while those sturdy Ethiopians who survived are black even now as a consequence of that cruel heat. The Nile changed its course in order to escape, and nymphs and nereids in terror sought for the sanctuary of some watery place that had escaped destruction. The face of the burned and blackened earth, where the bodies of thousands of human beings lay charred to ashes, cracked and sent dismay to Pluto by the lurid light that penetrated even to his throne.
All this Phaeton saw, saw in impotent agony of soul. His boyish folly and pride had been great, but the excruciating anguish that made him shed tears of blood, was indeed a punishment even too heavy for an erring god.
From the havoc around her, the Earth at last looked up, and with blackened face and blinded eyes, and in a voice that was harsh and very, very weary, she called to Zeus to look down from Olympus and behold the ruin that had been wrought by the chariot of the Sun. And Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, looked down and beheld. And at the sight of that piteous devastation his brow grew dark, and terrible was his wrath against him who had held the reins of the chariot. Calling upon Apollo and all the other gods to witness him, he seized a lightning bolt, and for a moment the deathless Zeus and all the dwellers in Olympus looked on the fiery chariot in which stood the swaying, slight, lithe figure of a young lad, blinded with horror, shaken with agony. Then, from his hand, Zeus cast the bolt, and the chariot was dashed into fragments, and Phaeton, his golden hair ablaze, fell, like a bright shooting star, from the heavens above, into the river Eridanus. The steeds returned to their master, Apollo, and in rage and grief Apollo lashed them. Angrily, too, and very rebelliously did he speak of the punishment meted to his son by the ruler of the Immortals. Yet in truth the punishment was a merciful one. Phaeton was only half a god, and no human life were fit to live after the day of dire anguish that had been his.
Bitter was the mourning of Clymene over her beautiful only son, and so ceaselessly did his three sisters, the Heliades, weep for their brother, that the gods turned them into poplar trees that grew by the bank of the river, and, when still they wept, their tears turned into precious amber as they fell. Yet another mourned for Phaeton—Phaeton "dead ere his prime." Cycnus, King of Liguria, had dearly loved the gallant boy, and again and yet again he dived deep in the river and brought forth the charred fragments of what had once been the beautiful son of a god, and gave to them honourable burial. Yet he could not rest satisfied that he had won all that remained of his friend from the river's bed, and so he continued to haunt the stream, ever diving, ever searching, until the gods grew weary of his restless sorrow and changed him into a swan.
And still we see the swan sailing mournfully along, like a white-sailed barque that is bearing the body of a king to its rest, and ever and anon plunging deep into the water as though the search for the boy who would fain have been a god were never to come to an end.
To Phaeton the Italian Naiades reared a tomb, and inscribed on the stone these words:
"Driver of Phoebus' chariot, Phaeton, Struck by Jove's thunder, rests beneath this stone, He could not rule his father's car of fire, Yet was it much, so nobly to aspire."
To the modern popular mind perhaps none of the goddesses of Greece—not even Venus herself—has more appeal than has the huntress goddess, Diana. Those who know but little of ancient statuary can still brighten to intelligent recognition of the huntress with her quiver and her little stag when they meet with them in picture gallery or in suburban garden. That unlettered sportsman in weather-worn pink, slowly riding over the fragrant dead leaves by the muddy roadside on this chill, grey morning, may never have heard of Artemis, but he is quite ready to make intelligent reference to Diana to the handsome young sportswoman whom he finds by the covert side; and Sir Walter's Diana Vernon has helped the little-read public to realise that the original Diana was a goddess worthy of being sponsor to one of the finest heroines of fiction.
But not to the sportsman alone, but also to the youth or maid who loves the moon—they know not why—to those whom the shadows of the trees on a woodland path at night mean a grip of the heart, while "pale Dian" scuds over the dark clouds that are soaring far beyond the tree-tops and is peeping, chaste and pale, through the branches of the firs and giant pines, there is something arresting, enthralling, in the thought of the goddess Diana who now has for hunting-ground the blue firmament of heaven where the pale Pleiades
"Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid."
"She gleans her silvan trophies; down the wold She hears the sobbing of the stags that flee Mixed with the music of the hunting roll'd, But her delight is all in archery, And naught of ruth and pity wotteth she More than her hounds that follow on the flight; The goddess draws a golden bow of might And thick she rains the gentle shafts that slay. She tosses loose her locks upon the night, And through the dim wood Dian threads her way."
Again and again in mythological history we come on stories of the goddess, sometimes under her best known name of Diana, sometimes under her older Greek name of Artemis, and now and again as Selene, the moon-goddess, the Luna of the Romans. Her twin brother was Apollo, god of the sun, and with him she shared the power of unerringly wielding a bow and of sending grave plagues and pestilences, while both were patrons of music and of poetry.
When the sun-god's golden chariot had driven down into the west, then would his sister's noiseless-footed silver steeds be driven across the sky, while the huntress shot from her bow at will silent arrows that would slay without warning a joyous young mother with her newly-born babe, or would wantonly pierce, with a lifelong pain, the heart of some luckless mortal.
Now one night as she passed Mount Latmos, there chanced to be a shepherd lad lying asleep beside his sleeping flock. Many times had Endymion watched the goddess from afar, half afraid of one so beautiful and yet so ruthless, but never before had Diana realised the youth's wonderful beauty. She checked her hounds when they would have swept on in their chase through the night, and stood beside Endymion. She judged him to be as perfect as her own brother, Apollo—yet more perfect, perhaps, for on his upturned sleeping face was the silver glamour of her own dear moon. Fierce and burning passion could come with the sun's burning rays, but love that came in the moon's pale light was passion mixed with gramarye. She gazed for long, and when, in his sleep, Endymion smiled, she knelt beside him and, stooping, gently kissed his lips. The touch of a moonbeam on a sleeping rose was no more gentle than was Diana's touch, yet it was sufficient to wake Endymion. And as, while one's body sleeps on, one's half-waking mind, now and again in a lifetime seems to realise an ecstasy of happiness so perfect that one dares not wake lest, by waking, the wings of one's realised ideal should slip between grasping fingers and so escape forever, so did Endymion realise the kiss of the goddess. But before his sleepy eyes could be his senses' witnesses, Diana had hastened away. Endymion, springing to his feet, saw only his sleeping flock, nor did his dogs awake when he heard what seemed to him to be the baying of hounds in full cry in a forest far up the mountain. Only to his own heart did he dare to whisper what was this wonderful thing that he believed had befallen him, and although he laid himself down, hoping that once again this miracle might be granted to him, no miracle came; nor could he sleep, so great was his longing.
All the next day, through the sultry hours while Apollo drove his chariot of burnished gold through the land, Endymion, as he watched his flocks, tried to dream his dream once more, and longed for the day to end and the cool, dark night to return. When night came he tried to lie awake and see what might befall, but when kind sleep had closed his tired eyes,
"There came a lovely vision of a maid, Who seemed to step as from a golden car Out of the low-hung moon."
Always she kissed him, yet when her kiss awoke him he never could see anything more tangible than a shaft of silver moonlight on the moving bushes of the mountain side, never hear anything more real than the far-away echo of the baying of pursuing hounds, and if, with eager, greatly-daring eyes, he looked skywards, a dark cloud, so it seemed to him, would always hasten to hide the moon from his longing gaze.
In this manner time passed on. The days of Endymion were filled by longing day-dreams. His sleeping hours ever brought him ecstasy. Ever, too, to the goddess, the human being that she loved seemed to her to grow more precious. For her all the joy of day and of night was concentrated in the moments she spent by the side of the sleeping Endymion. The flocks of the shepherd flourished like those of no other herd. No wild beast dared come near them; no storm nor disease assailed them. Yet for Endymion the things of earth no longer held any value. He lived only for his dear dream's sake. Had he been permitted to grow old and worn and tired, and still a dreamer, who knows how his story might have ended? But to Diana there came the fear that with age his beauty might wane, and from her father, Zeus, she obtained for the one she loved the gifts of unending youth and of eternal sleep.
There came a night when the dreams of Endymion had no end. That was a night when the moon made for herself broad silver paths across the sea, from far horizon to the shore where the little waves lapped and curled in a radiant, ever-moving silver fringe. Silver also were the leaves of the forest trees, and between the branches of the solemn cypresses and of the stately dark pines, Diana shot her silver arrows. No baying of hounds came then to make Endymion's flocks move uneasily in their sleep, but the silver stars seemed to sing in unison together. While still those gentle lips touched his, hands as gentle lifted up the sleeping Endymion and bore him to a secret cave in Mount Latmos. And there, for evermore, she came to kiss the mouth of her sleeping lover. There, forever, slept Endymion, happy in the perfect bliss of dreams that have no ugly awaking, of an ideal love that knows no ending.
"Orpheus with his lute made trees, And the mountain tops that freeze, Bow themselves when he did sing; To his music plants and flowers Ever sprung, as sun and showers There had made a lasting spring. Everything that heard him play, Even the billows of the sea, Hung their heads, and then lay by, In sweet music is such art, Killing care and grief of heart Fall asleep, or hearing die."
"Are we not all lovers as Orpheus was, loving what is gone from us forever, and seeking it vainly in the solitudes and wilderness of the mind, and crying to Eurydice to come again? And are we not all foolish as Orpheus was, hoping by the agony of love and the ecstasy of will to win back Eurydice; and do we not all fail, as Orpheus failed, because we forsake the way of the other world for the way of this world?"
It is the custom nowadays for scientists and for other scholarly people to take hold of the old myths, to take them to pieces, and to find some deep, hidden meaning in each part of the story. So you will find that some will tell you that Orpheus is the personification of the winds which "tear up trees as they course along, chanting their wild music," and that Eurydice is the morning "with its short-lived beauty." Others say that Orpheus is "the mythological expression of the delight which music gives to the primitive races," while yet others accept without hesitation the idea that Orpheus is the sun that, when day is done, plunges into the black abyss of night, in the vain hope of overtaking his lost bride, Eurydice, the rosy dawn. And, whether they be right or wrong, it would seem that the sadness that comes to us sometimes as the day dies and the last of the sun's rays vanish to leave the hills and valleys dark and cold, the sorrowful feeling that we cannot understand when, in country places, we hear music coming from far away, or listen to the plaintive song of the bird, are things that very specially belong to the story of Orpheus.
In the country of Thrace, surrounded by all the best gifts of the gods, Orpheus was born. His father was Apollo, the god of music and of song, his mother the muse Calliope. Apollo gave his little son a lyre, and himself taught him how to play it. It was not long before all the wild things in the woods of Thrace crept out from the green trees and thick undergrowth, and from the holes and caves in the rocks, to listen to the music that the child's fingers made. The coo of the dove to his mate, the flute-clear trill of the blackbird, the song of the lark, the liquid carol of the nightingale—all ceased when the boy made music. The winds that whispered their secrets to the trees owned him for their lord, and the proudest trees of the forest bowed their heads that they might not miss one exquisite sigh that his fingers drew from the magical strings. Nor man nor beast lived in his day that he could not sway by the power of his melody. He played a lullaby, and all things slept. He played a love-lilt, and the flowers sprang up in full bloom from the cold earth, and the dreaming red rosebud opened wide her velvet petals, and all the land seemed full of the loving echoes of the lilt he played. He played a war-march, and, afar off, the sleeping tyrants of the forest sprang up, wide awake, and bared their angry teeth, and the untried youths of Thrace ran to beg their fathers to let them taste battle, while the scarred warriors felt on their thumbs the sharpness of their sword blades, and smiled, well content. While he played it would seem as though the very stones and rocks gained hearts. Nay, the whole heart of the universe became one great, palpitating, beautiful thing, an instrument from whose trembling strings was drawn out the music of Orpheus.
He rose to great power, and became a mighty prince of Thrace. Not his lute alone, but he himself played on the heart of the fair Eurydice and held it captive. It seemed as though, when they became man and wife, all happiness must be theirs. But although Hymen, the god of marriage, himself came to bless them on the day they wed, the omens on that day were against them. The torch that Hymen carried had no golden flame, but sent out pungent black smoke that made their eyes water. They feared they knew not what; but when, soon afterwards, as Eurydice wandered with the nymphs, her companions, through the blue-shadowed woods of Thrace, the reason was discovered. A bold shepherd, who did not know her for a princess, saw Eurydice, and no sooner saw her than he loved her. He ran after her to proclaim to her his love, and she, afraid of his wild uncouthness, fled before him. She ran, in her terror, too swiftly to watch whither she went, and a poisonous snake that lurked amongst the fern bit the fair white foot that flitted, like a butterfly, across it. In agonised suffering Eurydice died. Her spirit went to the land of the Shades, and Orpheus was left broken-hearted.
The sad winds that blow at night across the sea, the sobbing gales that tell of wreck and death, the birds that wail in the darkness for their mates, the sad, soft whisper of the aspen leaves and the leaves of the heavy clad blue-black cypresses, all now were hushed, for greater than all, more full of bitter sorrow than any, arose the music of Orpheus, a long-drawn sob from a broken heart in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Grief came alike to gods and to men as they listened, but no comfort came to him from the expression of his sorrow. At length, when to bear his grief longer was impossible for him, Orpheus wandered to Olympus, and there besought Zeus to give him permission to seek his wife in the gloomy land of the Shades. Zeus, moved by his anguish, granted the permission he sought, but solemnly warned him of the terrible perils of his undertaking.
But the love of Orpheus was too perfect to know any fear; thankfully he hastened to the dark cave on the side of the promontory of Taenarus, and soon arrived at the entrance of Hades. Stark and grim was the three-headed watchdog, Cerberus, which guarded the door, and with the growls and the furious roaring of a wild beast athirst for its prey it greeted Orpheus. But Orpheus touched his lute, and the brute, amazed, sank into silence. And still he played, and the dog would gently have licked the player's feet, and looked up in his face with its savage eyes full of the light that we see in the eyes of the dogs of this earth as they gaze with love at their masters. On, then, strode Orpheus, playing still, and the melody he drew from his lute passed before him into the realms of Pluto.
Surely never were heard such strains. They told of perfect, tender love, of unending longing, of pain too great to end with death. Of all the beauties of the earth they sang—of the sorrow of the world—of all the world's desire—of things past—of things to come. And ever, through the song that the lute sang, there came, like a thread of silver that is woven in a black velvet pall, a limpid melody. It was as though a bird sang in the mirk night, and it spoke of peace and of hope, and of joy that knows no ending.
Into the blackest depths of Hades the sounds sped on their way, and the hands of Time stood still. From his bitter task of trying to quaff the stream that ever receded from the parched and burning lips, Tantalus ceased for a moment. The ceaseless course of Ixion's wheel was stayed, the vulture's relentless beak no longer tore at the Titan's liver; Sisyphus gave up his weary task of rolling the stone and sat on the rock to listen, the Danaides rested from their labour of drawing water in a sieve. For the first time, the cheeks of the Furies were wet with tears, and the restless shades that came and went in the darkness, like dead autumn leaves driven by a winter gale, stood still to gaze and listen. Before the throne where Pluto and his queen Proserpine were seated, sable-clad and stern, the relentless Fates at their feet, Orpheus still played on. And to Proserpine then came the living remembrance of all the joys of her girlhood by the blue AEgean Sea in the fair island of Sicily. Again she knew the fragrance and the beauty of the flowers of spring. Even into Hades the scent of the violets seemed to come, and fresh in her heart was the sorrow that had been hers on the day on which the ruthless King of Darkness tore her from her mother and from all that she held most dear. Silent she sat beside her frowning, stern-faced lord, but her eyes grew dim.
When, with a quivering sigh, the music stopped, Orpheus fearlessly pled his cause. To let him have Eurydice, to give him back his more than life, to grant that he might lead her with him up to "the light of Heaven"—that was his prayer.
The eyes of Pluto and Proserpine did not dare to meet, yet with one accord was their answer given. Eurydice should be given back to him, but only on one condition. Not until he had reached the light of earth again was he to turn round and look upon the face for a sight of which his eyes were tired with longing. Eagerly Orpheus complied, and with a heart almost breaking with gladness he heard the call for Eurydice and turned to retrace his way, with the light footfall of the little feet that he adored making music behind him. Too good a thing it seemed—too unbelievable a joy. She was there—quite close to him. Their days of happiness were not ended. His love had won her back, even from the land of darkness. All that he had not told her of that love while yet she was on earth he would tell her now. All that he had failed in before, he would make perfect now. The little limping foot—how it made his soul overflow with adoring tenderness. So near she was, he might even touch her were he to stretch back his hand....
And then there came to him a hideous doubt. What if Pluto had played him false? What if there followed him not Eurydice, but a mocking shade? As he climbed the steep ascent that led upwards to the light, his fear grew more cruelly real. Almost he could imagine that her footsteps had stopped, that when he reached the light he would find himself left once more to his cruel loneliness. Too overwhelming for him was the doubt. So nearly there they were that the darkness was no longer that of night, but as that of evening when the long shadows fall upon the land, and there seemed no reason for Orpheus to wait.
Swiftly he turned, and found his wife behind him, but only for a moment she stayed. Her arms were thrown open and Orpheus would fain have grasped her in his own, but before they could touch each other Eurydice was borne from him, back into the darkness.
"Farewell!" she said—"Farewell!" and her voice was a sigh of hopeless grief. In mad desperation Orpheus sought to follow her, but his attempt was vain. At the brink of the dark, fierce-flooded Acheron the boat with its boatman, old Charon, lay ready to ferry across to the further shore those whose future lay in the land of Shades. To him ran Orpheus, in clamorous anxiety to undo the evil he had wrought. But Charon angrily repulsed him. There was no place for such as Orpheus in his ferry-boat. Those only who went, never to return, could find a passage there. For seven long days and seven longer nights Orpheus waited beside the river, hoping that Charon would relent, but at last hope died, and he sought the depths of the forests of Thrace, where trees and rocks and beasts and birds were all his friends.
He took his lyre again then and played:
"Such strains as would have won the ear Of Pluto, to have quite set free His half-regained Eurydice."
Day and night he stayed in the shadow of the woodlands, all the sorrow of his heart expressing itself in the song of his lute. The fiercest beasts of the forest crawled to his feet and looked up at him with eyes full of pity. The song of the birds ceased, and when the wind moaned through the trees they echoed his cry, "Eurydice! Eurydice!"
In the dawning hours it would seem to him that he saw her again, flitting, a thing of mist and rising sun, across the dimness of the woods. And when evening came and all things rested, and the night called out the mystery of the forest, again he would see her. In the long blue shadows of the trees she would stand—up the woodland paths she walked, where her little feet fluttered the dry leaves as she passed. Her face was white as a lily in the moonlight, and ever she held out her arms to Orpheus:
"At that elm-vista's end I trace, Dimly thy sad leave-taking face, Eurydice! Eurydice! The tremulous leaves repeat to me Eurydice! Eurydice!"
For Orpheus it was a good day when Jason, chief of the Argonauts, sought him out to bid him come with the other heroes and aid in the quest of the Golden Fleece.
"Have I not had enough of toil and of weary wandering far and wide," sighed Orpheus. "In vain is the skill of the voice which my goddess mother gave me; in vain have I sung and laboured; in vain I went down to the dead, and charmed all the kings of Hades, to win back Eurydice, my bride. For I won her, my beloved, and lost her again the same day, and wandered away in my madness even to Egypt and the Libyan sands, and the isles of all the seas.... While I charmed in vain the hearts of men, and the savage forest beasts, and the trees, and the lifeless stones, with my magic harp and song, giving rest, but finding none."
But in the good ship Argo, Orpheus took his place with the others and sailed the watery ways, and the songs that Orpheus sang to his shipmates and that tell of all their great adventures are called the Songs of Orpheus, or the Orphics, to this day.
Many were the mishaps and disasters that his music warded off. With it he lulled monsters to sleep; more powerful to work magic on the hearts of men were his melodies than were the songs of the sirens when they tried to capture the Argonauts by their wiles, and in their downward, destroying rush his music checked mountains.
When the quest of the Argonauts was ended, Orpheus returned to his own land of Thrace. As a hero he had fought and endured hardship, but his wounded soul remained unhealed. Again the trees listened to the songs of longing. Again they echoed, "Eurydice! Eurydice!"
As he sat one day near a river in the stillness of the forest, there came from afar an ugly clamour of sound. It struck against the music of Orpheus' lute and slew it, as the coarse cries of the screaming gulls that fight for carrion slay the song of a soaring lark. It was the day of the feast of Bacchus, and through the woods poured Bacchus and his Bacchantes, a shameless rout, satyrs capering around them, centaurs neighing aloud. Long had the Bacchantes hated the loyal poet-lover of one fair woman whose dwelling was with the Shades. His ears were ever deaf to their passionate voices, his eyes blind to their passionate loveliness as they danced through the green trees, a riot of colour, of fierce beauty, of laughter and of mad song. Mad they were indeed this day, and in their madness the very existence of Orpheus was a thing not to be borne. At first they stoned him, but his music made the stones fall harmless at his feet. Then in a frenzy of cruelty, with the maniac lust to cause blood to flow, to know the joy of taking life, they threw themselves upon Orpheus and did him to death. From limb to limb they tore him, casting at last his head and his blood-stained lyre into the river. And still, as the water bore them on, the lyre murmured its last music and the white lips of Orpheus still breathed of her whom at last he had gone to join in the shadowy land, "Eurydice! Eurydice!"
"Combien d'autres sont morts de meme! C'est la lutte eternelle de la force brutale contre l'intelligence douce et sublime inspiree du ciel, dont le royaume n'est pas de ce monde."
In the heavens, as a bright constellation called Lyra, or Orpheus, the gods placed his lute, and to the place of his martyrdom came the Muses, and with loving care carried the fragments of the massacred body to Libetlera, at the foot of Mount Olympus, and there buried them. And there, unto this day, more sweetly than at any other spot in any other land, the nightingale sings. For it sings of a love that knows no ending, of life after death, of a love so strong that it can conquer even Death, the all-powerful.
APOLLO AND DAPHNE
Conqueror of all conquerable earth, yet not always victorious over the heart of a maid was the golden-locked Apollo.
As mischievous Eros played one day with his bow and arrows, Apollo beheld him and spoke to him mockingly.
"What hast thou to do with the weapons of war, saucy lad?" he said. "Leave them for hands such as mine, that know full well how to wield them. Content thyself with thy torch, and kindle flames, if indeed thou canst, but such bolts as thy white young arms can drive will surely not bring scathe to god nor to man."
Then did the son of Aphrodite answer, and as he made answer he laughed aloud in his glee. "With thine arrows thou mayst strike all things else, great Apollo, a shaft of mine shall surely strike thy heart!"
Carefully, then, did Eros choose two arrows from his quiver. One, sharp-pointed and of gold, he fitted carefully to his bow, drew back the string until it was taut, and then let fly the arrow, that did not miss its mark, but flew straight to the heart of the sun-god. With the other arrow, blunt, and tipped with lead, he smote the beautiful Daphne, daughter of Peneus, the river-god. And then, full joyously did the boy-god laugh, for his roguish heart knew well that to him who was struck by the golden shaft must come the last pangs that have proved many a man's and many a god's undoing, while that leaden-tipped arrow meant to whomsoever it struck, a hatred of Love and an immunity from all the heart weakness that Love can bring. Those were the days when Apollo was young. Never before had he loved.
But as the first fierce storm that assails it bends the young, supple tree with its green budding leaves before its furious blast, so did the first love of Apollo bend low his adoring heart. All day as he held the golden reins of his chariot, until evening when its fiery wheels were cooled in the waters of the western seas, he thought of Daphne. All night he dreamed of her. But never did there come to Daphne a time when she loved Love for Love's sake. Never did she look with gentle eye on the golden-haired god whose face was as the face of all the exquisite things that the sunlight shows, remembered in a dream. Her only passion was a passion for the chase. One of Diana's nymphs was she, cold and pure and white in soul as the virgin goddess herself.
There came a day when Apollo could no longer put curbing hands on his fierce longing. The flames from his chariot still lingered in reflected glories on sea and hill and sky. The very leaves of the budding trees of spring were outlined in gold. And through the dim wood walked Daphne, erect and lithe and living as a sapling in the early spring.
With beseeching hands, Apollo followed her. A god was he, yet to him had come the vast humility of passionate intercession for the gift of love to a little nymph. She heard his steps behind her and turned round, proud and angry that one should follow her when she had not willed it.
"Stay!" he said, "daughter of Peneus. No foe am I, but thine own humble lover. To thee alone do I bow my head. To all others on earth am I conqueror and king."
But Daphne, hating his words of passionate love, sped on. And when his passion lent wings to his feet and she heard him gaining on her as she fled, not as a lover did Daphne look on deathless Apollo, but as a hateful foe. More swiftly than she had ever run beside her mistress Diana, leaving the flying winds behind her as she sped, ran Daphne now. But ever did Apollo gain upon her, and almost had he grasped her when she reached the green banks of the river of which her father, Peneus, was god.
"Help me, Peneus!" she cried. "Save me, oh my father, from him whose love I fear!"
As she spoke the arms of Apollo seized her, yet, even as his arms met around her waist, lissome and slight as a young willow, Daphne the nymph was Daphne the nymph no longer. Her fragrant hair, her soft white arms, her tender body all changed as the sun-god touched them. Her feet took root in the soft, damp earth by the river. Her arms sprouted into woody branches and green leaves. Her face vanished, and the bark of a big tree enclosed her snow-white body. Yet Apollo did not take away his embrace from her who had been his dear first love. He knew that her cry to Peneus her father had been answered, yet he said, "Since thou canst not be my bride, at least thou shalt be my tree; my hair, my lyre, my quiver shall have thee always, oh laurel tree of the Immortals!"
So do we still speak of laurels won, and worn by those of deathless fame, and still does the first love of Apollo crown the heads of those whose gifts have fitted them to dwell with the dwellers on Olympus.
"I espouse thee for my tree: Be thou the prize of honour and renown; The deathless poet, and the poem, crown; Thou shalt the Roman festivals adorn, And, after poets, be by victors worn."
Ovid (Dryden's translation).
Those who read for the first time the story of Psyche must at once be struck by its kinship to the fairy tales of childhood. Here we have the three sisters, the two elder jealous and spiteful, the youngest beautiful and gentle and quite unable to defend herself against her sisters' wicked arts. Here, too, is the mysterious bridegroom who is never seen and who is lost to his bride because of her lack of faith. Truly it is an old, old tale—older than all fairy tales—the story of love that is not strong enough to believe and to wait, and so to "win through" in the end—the story of seeds of suspicion sown by one full of malice in an innocent heart, and which bring to the hapless reaper a cruel harvest.
Once upon a time, so goes the tale, a king and queen had three beautiful daughters. The first and the second were fair indeed, but the beauty of the youngest was such that all the people of the land worshipped it as a thing sent straight from Olympus. They awaited her outside the royal palace, and when she came, they threw chaplets of roses and violets for her little feet to tread upon, and sang hymns of praise as though she were no mortal maiden but a daughter of the deathless gods.
There were many who said that the beauty of Aphrodite herself was less perfect than the beauty of Psyche, and when the goddess found that men were forsaking her altars in order to worship a mortal maiden, great was her wrath against them and against the princess who, all unwittingly, had wrought her this shameful harm.
In her garden, sitting amongst the flowers and idly watching his mother's fair white doves as they preened their snowy feathers in the sun, Aphrodite found her son Eros, and angrily poured forth to him the story of her shame.
"Thine must be the task of avenging thy mother's honour," she said. "Thou who hast the power of making the loves of men, stab with one of thine arrows the heart of this presumptuous maiden, and shame her before all other mortals by making her love a monster from which all others shrink and which all despise." With wicked glee Eros heard his mother's commands. His beautiful face, still the face of a mischievous boy, lit up with merriment. This was, in truth, a game after his own heart. In the garden of Aphrodite is a fountain of sweet, another of bitter water, and Eros filled two amber vases, one from each fountain, hung them from his quiver, and
"Straight he rose from earth and down the wind Went glittering 'twixt the blue sky and the sea."
In her chamber Psyche lay fast asleep, and swiftly, almost without a glance at her, Eros sprinkled some of the bitter drops upon her lips, and then, with one of his sharpest arrows, pricked her snowy breast. Like a child who half awakes in fear, and looks up with puzzled, wondering eyes, Psyche, with a little moan, opened eyes that were bluer than the violets in spring and gazed at Eros. He knew that he was invisible, and yet her gaze made him tremble.
"They spoke truth!" said the lad to himself. "Not even my mother is as fair as this princess."
For a moment her eyelids quivered, and then dropped. Her long dark lashes fell on her cheeks that were pink as the hearts of the fragile shells that the waves toss up on western beaches, her red mouth, curved like the bow of Eros, smiled happily, and Psyche slept again. With heart that beat as it had never beaten before, Eros gazed upon her perfect loveliness. With gentle, pitying finger he wiped away the red drop where his arrow had wounded her, and then stooped and touched her lips with his own, so lightly that Psyche in her dreams thought that they had been brushed by a butterfly's wings. Yet in her sleep she moved, and Eros, starting back, pricked himself with one of his arrows. And with that prick, for Eros there passed away all the careless ease of the heart of a boy, and he knew that he loved Psyche with the unquenchable love of a deathless god. Now, with bitter regret, all his desire was to undo the wrong he had done to the one that he loved. Speedily he sprinkled her with the sweet water that brings joy, and when Psyche rose from her couch she was radiant with the beauty that comes from a new, undreamed-of happiness.
"From place to place Love followed her that day And ever fairer to his eyes she grew, So that at last when from her bower he flew, And underneath his feet the moonlit sea Went shepherding his waves disorderly, He swore that of all gods and men, no one Should hold her in his arms but he alone; That she should dwell with him in glorious wise Like to a goddess in some paradise; Yea, he would get from Father Jove this grace That she should never die, but her sweet face And wonderful fair body should endure Till the foundations of the mountains sure Were molten in the sea; so utterly Did he forget his mother's cruelty."
Meantime it came to be known all over that land, and in other lands to which the fame of the fair Psyche had spread, that the mighty goddess Aphrodite had declared herself the enemy of the princess. Therefore none dared seek her in marriage, and although many a noble youth sighed away his heart for love of her, she remained in her father's palace like an exquisite rose whose thorns make those who fain would have it for their own, fear to pluck it from the parent stem. Her sisters married, and her father marvelled why so strange a thing should come about and why the most beautiful by far of his three daughters should remain unwed.
At length, laden with royal gifts, an embassy was sent by the king to the oracle of Apollo to inquire what might be the will of the dwellers on Olympus concerning his fairest daughter. In a horror of anxiety the king and his queen and Psyche awaited the return of the ambassadors. And when they returned, before ever a word was spoken, they knew that the oracle had spoken Psyche's doom.
"No mortal lover shall fair Psyche know," said the oracle. "For bridegroom she shall have a monster that neither man nor god can resist. On the mountain top he awaits her coming. Woe unutterable shall come to the king and to all the dwellers in his land if he dares to resist the unalterable dictum of the deathless gods!"
"... Of dead corpses shalt thou be the king, And stumbling through the dark land shalt thou go, Howling for second death to end thy woe."
Only for a little while did the wretched king strive to resist the decrees of fate. And in her own chamber, where so short a time before the little princess had known the joy of something inexpressible—something most exquisite—intangible—unknown—she sat, like a flower broken by the ruthless storm, sobbing pitifully, dry-eyed, with sobs that strained her soul, for the shameful, hideous fate that the gods had dealt her.
All night, until her worn-out body could no longer feel, her worn-out mind think, and kind sleep came to bring her oblivion, Psyche faced the horror for the sake of her father and of his people, that she knew she could not avoid. When morning came, her handmaids, white-faced and red-eyed, came to deck her in all the bridal magnificence that befitted the most beautiful daughter of a king, and when she was dressed right royally, and as became a bride, there started up the mountain a procession at sight of which the gods themselves must have wept. With bowed heads the king and queen walked before the litter upon which lay their daughter in her marriage veil of saffron colour, with rose wreath on her golden hair. White, white were the faces of the maidens who bore the torches, and yet rose red were they by the side of Psyche. Minstrels played wedding hymns as they marched onwards, and it seemed as though the souls of unhappy shades sobbed through the reeds and moaned through the strings as they played.
At length they reached the rocky place where they knew they must leave the victim bride, and her father dared not meet her eyes as he turned his head to go. Yet Psyche watched the procession wending its way downhill. No more tears had she to shed, and it seemed to her that what she saw was not a wedding throng, but an assembly of broken-hearted people who went back to their homes with heavy feet after burying one that they loved. She saw no sign of the monster who was to be her bridegroom, yet at every little sound her heart grew sick with horror, and when the night wind swept through the craggy peaks and its moans were echoed in loneliness, she fell on her face in deadly fear and lay on the cold rock in a swoon.
Yet, had Psyche known it, the wind was her friend. For Eros had used Zephyrus as his trusty messenger and sent him to the mountain top to find the bride of him "whom neither man nor god could resist." Tenderly—very tenderly—he was told, must he lift her in his arms, and bear her to the golden palace in that green and pleasant land where Eros had his home. So, with all the gentleness of a loving nurse to a tired little child Zephyrus lifted Psyche, and sped with her in his strong arms to the flowery meadows behind which towered the golden palace of Eros, like the sun behind a sky of green and amber and blue and rose. Deeply, in the weariness of her grief, Psyche slept, and when she awoke it was to start up with the chill hands of the realisation of terrible actualities on her heart. But when her eyes looked round to find the barren rocks, the utter forsakenness, the coming of an unnameable horror, before her she saw only fair groves with trees bedecked with fruit and blossom, fragrant meadows, flowers whose beauty made her eyes grow glad. And from the trees sang birds with song more sweet than any that Psyche had ever known, and with brilliant plumage which they preened caressingly when they had dipped their wings in crystal-sparkling fountains. There, too, stood a noble palace, golden fronted, and with arcades of stainless marble that shone like snow in the sun. At first all seemed like part of a dream from which she dreaded to awake, but soon there came to her the joy of knowing that all the exquisite things that made appeal to her senses were indeed realities. Almost holding her breath, she walked forward to the open golden doors. "It is a trap," she thought. "By this means does the monster subtly mean to lure me into his golden cage." Yet, even as she thought, there seemed to be hovering round her winged words, like little golden birds with souls. And in her ears they whispered, "Fear not. Doubt not. Recall the half-formed dreams that so short a time ago brought to thy heart such unutterable joy. No evil shall come to thee—only the bliss of loving and of being loved."
Thus did Psyche lose her fear, and enter the golden doors. And inside the palace she found that all the beautiful things of which she had ever dreamed, all the perfect things for which she had ever longed, were there to greet her. From one to another she flitted, like a humming-bird that sucks honey from one and then from another gorgeous flower. And then, when she was tired with so much wearing out of her thankful mind, she found a banquet ready spread for her, with all the dainties that her dainty soul liked best; and, as she ate, music so perfect rejoiced her ears that all her soul was soothed and joyous and at peace. When she had refreshed herself, a soft couch stood before her, ready for her there to repose, and when that strange day had come to an end, Psyche knew that, monster or not, she was beloved by one who had thought for her every thought, and who desired only her desire.
Night came at last, and when all was dark and still, and Psyche, wide awake, was full of forebodings and fears lest her happy dreams might only be misleading fancies, and Horror incarnate might come to crown her peaceful day, Eros softly entered the palace that was his own. Even as he had gone to the palace of her father he went now, and found Psyche lying with violet eyes that stared into the velvety darkness, seeking something that she hoped for, trembling before something that brought her dread.
His voice was as the voice of spring when it breathes on the sleeping earth; he knew each note in Love's music, every word in the great thing that is Love's vocabulary. Love loved, and Psyche listened, and soon she knew that her lover was Love himself.
Thus, for Psyche, did a time of perfect happiness begin. All through the day she roamed in her Love's dominion, and saw on every side the signs of his passion and of his tenderness. All through the night he stayed by her, and satisfied all the longing of her heart. Yet always, ere daybreak, Eros left her, and when she begged him to stay he only made answer:
"I am with thee only while I keep My visage hidden; and if thou once shouldst see My face, I must forsake thee; the high gods Link Love with Faith, and he withdraws himself From the full gaze of knowledge."
So did time glide past for Psyche, and ever she grew more in love with Love; always did her happiness become more complete. Yet, ever and again, there returned to her the remembrance of those sorrowful days when her father and mother had broken their hearts over her martyrdom, and her sisters had looked askance at her as at one whose punishment must assuredly have come from her own misdoing. Thus at length she asked Eros to grant her, for love's sake, a boon—to permit her to have her sisters come to see for themselves the happiness that was hers. Most unwillingly was her request granted, for the heart of Eros told him that from their visit no good could come. Yet he was unable to deny anything to Psyche, and on the following day Zephyrus was sent to bring the two sisters to the pleasant valley where Psyche had her home. Eagerly, as she awaited them, Psyche thought she might make the princely palace wherein she dwelt yet fairer than it was. And almost ere she could think, her thoughts became realities. When the two sisters came, they were bewildered with the beauty and the magnificence of it all. Beside this, their own possessions were paltry trifles indeed. Quickly, in their little hearts, black envy grew. They had always been jealous of their younger sister, and now that they found her, whom all the world believed to have been slain by a horrible monster, more beautiful than ever, decked with rare jewels, radiant in her happiness, and queen of a palace fit for the gods, their envy soon turned to hatred, and they sought how best to wreak their malice upon the joyous creature who loaded them with priceless gifts. They began to ply Psyche with questions. He who was her lord, to whom she owed all her happiness, where was he? Why did he stay away when her sisters came to be presented to him? What manner of man was he? Was he fair or dark? Young or old? And as they questioned her, Psyche grew like a bewildered child and answered in frightened words that contradicted one another. And well the wicked sisters, who brooded evil in their hearts, knew that this husband whom Psyche had never seen must indeed be one of the deathless gods. Wily words they spoke to her then.
"Alas! unhappy one," they said, "dost think to escape the evil fate the gods meted out for thee? Thy husband is none other than the monster of which the oracle spake! Oh, foolish Psyche! canst not understand that the monster fears the light? Too great horror would it mean for thee to see the loathsome thing that comes in the blackness of night and speaks to thee words of love."
White-lipped and trembling, Psyche listened. Drop by drop the poisonous words passed into her soul. She had thought him king of all living things—worthy to rule over gods as well as men. She was so sure that his body was worthy sheath for the heart she knew so well.... She had pictured him beautiful as Eros, son of Aphrodite—young and fair, with crisp, golden locks—a husband to glory in—a lover to adore. And now she knew, with shame and dread, that he who had won her love between the twilight and the dawn was a thing to shame her, a monster to be shunned of men.
"What, then, shall I do?" piteously she asked of her sisters. And the women, pitilessly, and well content, answered:
"Provide thyself with a lamp and a knife sharp enough to slay the man or monster. And when this creature to whom, to thy undying shame, thou belongest, sleeps sound, slip from thy couch and in the rays of the lamp have courage to look upon him in all his horror. Then, when thou hast seen for thyself that what we say is truth, with thy knife swiftly slay him. Thus shalt thou free thyself from the pitiless doom meted out by the gods."
Shaking with sobs, Psyche made answer:
"I love him so!... I love him so!"
And her sisters turned upon her with furious scorn and well-simulated wrath.
"Shameless one!" they cried; "and does our father's daughter confess to a thing so unutterable! Only by slaying the monster canst thou hope to regain thy place amongst the daughters of men."
They left her when evening fell, carrying with them their royal gifts. And while she awaited the coming of her lord, Psyche, provided with knife and lamp, crouched with her head in her hands, a lily broken by a cruel storm. So glad was Eros to come back to her, to find her safely there—for greatly had he feared the coming of that treacherous pair—that he did not note her silence. Nor did the dark night show him that her eyes in her sad face looked like violets in a snow wreath. He wanted only to hold her safely in his arms, and there she lay, passive and still, until sleep came to lay upon him an omnipotent hand. Then, very gently, she withdrew herself from his embrace, and stole to the place where her lamp was hidden. Her limbs shook under her as she brought it to the couch where he lay asleep; her arm trembled as she held it aloft.
As a martyr walks to death, so did she walk. And when the yellow light fell upon the form of him who lay there, still she gazed steadily.
And, lo, before her she saw the form of him who had ever been the ideal of her dreams. Love himself, incarnate Love, perfect in beauty and in all else was he whom her sisters had told her was a monster—he, of whom the oracle had said that neither gods nor men could resist him. For a moment of perfect happiness she gazed upon his beauty. Then he turned in his sleep, and smiled, and stretched out his arms to find the one of his love. And Psyche started, and, starting, shook the lamp; and from it fell a drop of burning oil on the white shoulder of Eros. At once he awoke, and with piteous, pitying eyes looked in those of Psyche. And when he spoke, his words were like daggers that pierced deep into her soul. He told her all that had been, all that might have been. Had she only had faith and patience to wait, an immortal life should have been hers.
"Farewell! though I, a god, can never know How thou canst lose thy pain, yet time will go Over thine head, and thou mayst mingle yet The bitter and the sweet, nor quite forget, Nor quite remember, till these things shall seem The wavering memory of a lovely dream."
He left her alone then, with her despair, and as the slow hours dragged by, Psyche, as she awaited the dawn, felt that in her heart no sun could ever rise again. When day came at last, she felt she could no longer endure to stay in the palace where everything spoke to her of the infinite tenderness of a lost love. Through the night a storm had raged, and even with the day there came no calm. And Psyche, weary and chill, wandered away from the place of her happiness, onward and ever on, until she stood on the bank of a swift-flowing river. For a little she stayed her steps and listened to the sound of its wash against the rocks and tree roots as it hurried past, and to her as she waited came the thought that here had she found a means by which to end her woe.
"I have lost my Love," she moaned. "What is Life to me any longer! Come to me then, O Death!"
So then she sprang into the wan water, hoping that very swiftly it might bear her grief-worn soul down to the shades. But the river bore her up and carried her to its shallows in a fair meadow where Pan himself sat on the bank and merrily dabbled his feet in the flowing water. And when Psyche, shamed and wet, looked at him with sad eyes, the god spoke to her gently and chid her for her folly. She was too young and much too fair to try to end her life so rudely, he said. The river gods would never be so unkind as to drive so beautiful a maiden in rough haste down to the Cocytus valley.
"Thou must dree thy weird like all other daughters of men, fair Psyche," he said. "He or she who fain would lose their lives, are ever held longest in life. Only when the gods will it shall thy days on earth be done."
And Psyche, knowing that in truth the gods had spared her to endure more sorrow, looked in his face with a very piteous gaze, and wandered on. As she wandered, she found that her feet had led her near the place where her two sisters dwelt.
"I shall tell them of the evil they have wrought," she thought. "Surely they must sorrow when they know that by their cruel words they stole my faith from me and robbed me of my Love and of my happiness."
Gladly the two women saw the stricken form of Psyche and looked at her face, all marred by grief. Well, indeed, had their plot succeeded; their malice had drunk deep, yet deeper still they drank, for with scornful laughter they drove her from their palace doors. Very quickly, when she had gone, the elder sought the place where she had stood when Zephyrus bore her in safety to that palace of pleasure where Psyche dwelt with her Love. Now that Psyche was no longer there, surely the god by whom she had been beloved would gladly have as her successor the beautiful woman who was now much more fair than the white-faced girl with eyes all red with weeping. And such certainty did the vengeful gods put in her heart that she held out her arms, and calling aloud:
"Bear me to him in thine arms, Zephyrus! Behold I come, my lord!" she sprang from the high cliff on which she stood, into space. And the ravens that night feasted on her shattered body. So also did it befall the younger sister, deluded by the Olympians to her own destruction, so that her sin might be avenged.
For many a weary day and night Psyche wandered, ever seeking to find her Love, ever longing to do something by which to atone for the deed that had been her undoing. From temple to temple she went, but nowhere did she come near him, until at length in Cyprus she came to the place where Aphrodite herself had her dwelling. And inasmuch as her love had made her very bold, and because she no longer feared death, nor could think of pangs more cruel than those that she already knew, Psyche sought the presence of the goddess who was her enemy, and humbly begged her to take her life away.
With flaming scorn and anger Aphrodite received her.
"O thou fool," she said, "I will not let thee die! But thou shalt reap the harvest thou hast sown, And many a day that wretched lot bemoan; Thou art my slave, and not a day shall be But I will find some fitting task for thee."
There began then for Psyche a time of torturing misery of which only those could speak who have knowledge of the merciless stripes with which the goddess can scourge the hearts of her slaves. With cruel ingenuity, Aphrodite invented labours for her.