Saturday, July 11, 2009

Aeneas vs. Harpies

The Aeneid (Book III, 190-270)

"Winds roll the waters, and the great seas rise.
Dispersed we welter on the gulfs. Damp night
Has snatched with rain the heaven from our eyes,
And storm-mists in a mantle wrapt the light.
Flash after flash, and for a moment bright,
Quick lightnings rend the welkin. Driven astray
We wander, robbed of reckoning, reft of sight.
No difference now between the night and day
E'en Palinurus sees, nor recollects the way.

"Three days, made doubtful by the blinding gloom,
As many nights, when not a star is seen,
We wander on, uncertain of our doom.
At last the fourth glad daybreak clears the scene,
And rising land, and opening uplands green,
And rolling smoke at distance greet the view.
No longer tarrying; to our oars we lean.
Down drop the sails; in order ranged, each crew
Flings up the foam to heaven, and sweeps the sparkling blue.

"Saved from the sea, the Strophades we gain,
So called in Greece, where dwells, with Harpies, dire
Celaeno, in the vast Ionian main,
Since, forced from Phineus' palace to retire,
They fled their former banquet. Heavenly ire
Ne'er sent a pest more loathsome; ne'er were seen
Worse plagues to issue from the Stygian mire--
Birds maiden-faced, but trailing filth obscene,
With taloned hands and looks for ever pale and lean.

"The harbour gained, lo! herds of oxen bright
And goats untended browse the pastures fair.
We, sword in hand, make onset, and invite
The gods and Jove himself the spoil to share,
And piling couches, banquet on the fare.
When straight, down-swooping from the hills meanwhile
The Harpies flap their clanging wings, and tear
The food, and all with filthy touch defile,
And, mixt with screams, uprose a sickening stench and vile.

"Once more, within a cavern screened from view,
Where circling trees a rustling shade supply,
The boards are spread, the altars blaze anew.
Back, from another quarter of the sky,
Dark-ambushed, round the clamorous Harpies fly
With taloned claws, and taste and taint the prey.
To arms I call my comrades, and defy
The loathsome brood to battle. They obey,
And swords and bucklers hide amid the grass away.

"So when their screams descending fill the strand,
Misenus from his outlook sounds the fray.
All to the strange encounter, sword in hand,
Rush forth, these miscreants of the deep to slay.
No wounds they take, no weapon wins its way.
Swiftly they soar, all leaving, ere they go,
Their filthy traces on the half-gorged prey.
One perched, Celaeno, on a rock, and lo,
Thus croaked the dismal seer her prophecy of woe.

"'War, too, Laomedon's twice-perjured race!
War do ye bring, our cattle stol'n and slain?
And unoffending Harpies would ye chase
Forth from their old, hereditary reign?
Mark then my words and in your breasts retain.
What Jove, the Sire omnipotent, of old
Revealed to Phoebus, and to me again
Phoebus Apollo at his hest foretold,
I now to thee and thine, the Furies' Queen, unfold.

"'Ye seek Italia and, with favouring wind,
Shall reach Italia, and her ports attain.
But ne'er the town, by Destiny assigned,
Your walls shall gird, till famine's pangs constrain
To gnaw your boards, in quittance for our slain.'
So spake the Fiend, and backward to the wood
Soared on the wing. Cold horror froze each vein.
Aghast and shuddering my comrades stood;
Down sank at once each heart, and terror chilled the blood.

"No more with arms, for peace with vows and prayer
We sue, and pardon of these powers implore,
Or be they goddesses or birds of air
Obscene and dire; and lifting on the shore
His hands, Anchises doth the gods adore.
'O Heaven!' he cries, 'avert these threats; be kind
And stay the curse, and vex with plagues no more
A pious folk,' then bids the crews unbind
The stern-ropes, loose the sheets and spread them to the wind.

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