BLACK CAT POEMS
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(5th century B.C.)
translated by John Swinnerton Phillimore
Blue shadows wreathed the galley's prow that bore
Twice seven Attic youth, a glorious train
For Theseus, captain of the brunt of
Over the Cretan main.
The North wind filled the shining sails above,
Thanks to the bucklered Goddess of the Fight;
But Minos' heart was sore with pains of
Love brow-bound with delight.
Sweet Eriboea! he refrained no more
His hands, he touched her cheek of virgin white:
Son of Pandion, save!
" Her cries implore
The brazen-armoured knight.
Theseus had seen; beneath his frowning brow
Dark rolls the sudden anger of his eyes;
Hard in his heart the stab of grief: "
Son of great Zeus
," he cries,
No more thine unpermitted humour's course
Within thyself thou governest aright;
Hold, Prince, I charge thee, thy presuming force!
Not against Fate we fight:
All that the God's appointment and decree,
All that the scales of Justice shall require,
We will fulfil whene'er the hour may be;
Stay but thy fell desire.
What thought the princess of the lovely name
Bedded to Zeus in Ida gave thee birth,
To be the first of all the world in fame?
Am I as nothing worth?
--I whom the child of treasured Pittheus bare
To one whose reign doth all the seas enfold?
Nymphs of the deep with violet-coloured hair
Gave her a veil of gold
Therefore, great Captain of the Cnosian men,
Forfend the grievous quarrel! Yon dear light
Of day I would not choose to see again,
Should'st thou do rude despite
To one of these:--Oh, better combat's chance--
A challenge!--God shall judge the issue true!
So said the valiant master of the lance:
Fear fell on all the crew,
Fear for the overboldness of the man.
Then in his soul the son-in-law of the Sun
Was angry, and he schemed an evil plan,
And prayed, "
Most Mighty One
Hear, Father Zeus! If thou'rt my sire indeed,
Of the white-wristed Tyrian's child true sire,
Give me a visible sign! Send down with speed
The lightning's tress of fire!
Prince, if Troezenian Aethra mothered thee
Got by Poseidon, Shaker of the Earth,
Cast thyself boldly down into the sea,
His home who gave thee birth!
Fetch me this golden jewel from my hand
Out of the deep! Soon shalt thou be aware
Whether the Lord of Thunder, whose command
Rules all, will hear my prayer.
Zeus to that high request his ear inclined,
And with peculiar praise to magnify
His son, and give a sign to all mankind,
Did lighten in the sky.
Then at the welcome sign the Warrior-King
Spreading his palms to hallowed heaven-wide,
Theseus, the grace of God is in this thing
" he cried.
Go, get thee down into the sounding swell!
Surely the God thy father shall upraise
In all the wooded earth for thee as well
Exceeding glory and praise.
But Theseus at the word, no whit unmanned,
Turnèd not back in spirit: on deck he stood
Poised for a leap, and passed within the bland
Sanctuary of the flood.
The son of Zeus was merry in his mind;
The tight ship to the breeze he bade them lay;
Fast flew the keel, the strong North drove behind:
ruled not the way.
All the Athenians trembled when the first
Knight of their number seaward sprang, the tear
Ran down smooth faces, waiting for the worst
In heavy hopeless fear.
But quick the dolphin-people of the deep
Down to his father's vasty dwelling steered;
He saw the state the Gods of Ocean keep,
And at the sight he feared:
The daughters of the blessed Nereus there
Beamed from their radiant limbs a fiery blaze,
Ribbons of golden web reeled round their hair,
All dancing in a maze
Of fluent feet for pleasure; and he saw
His father's wife the Lady Amphitrite,
Eyed like an ox--a Goddess throned for awe
In chambers of delight.
She flung about him purple raiment brave,
Over his curls a perfect wreath she laid,
The wedding-gift that cozening Venus gave,
Thick roses in a braid.
The thing God wills, the wise man never deems
Beyond belief. Close by the slender stern
The Prince appeared, and O the world of schemes
He slit by that return,
Miraculous from the deep! Bright maids arow
Sang for surprise and joy--Upon his limbs
Shone gifts of Gods!--laud sang the lads also--
The sea was loud with hymns.
* * *
We came from Ceos with a song and dance:
Lord God of Delos be well pleased this day,
Send us the conduct of thy lucky chance
To help us on our way.
poems by Bacchylides