Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, HERACLES AND MELEAGER, by BACCHYLIDES



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HERACLES AND MELEAGER, by            
First Line: He, who could sack a gated town
Last Line: To golden cypris' magic will.'
Alternate Author Name(s): Bakchylides
Subject(s): Hercules; Meleager (100 B.c.); Mythology - Classical


HE, who could sack a gated town,
The Shining Thunderer's son, went down
To halls of tall Persephone.
To bring from Hades' house sought he
The sharp-toothed dog, the spawn of Her
Whom living man may not draw near.
He saw the souls of luckless men
There by Cocytus' flood, as when
There dance on Ida's gleaming rocks
The leaves among the pasturing flocks;
And there, the noblest ghost, stood one --
Brave spearman and Porthaon's son.

Alcmena's first-born, child divine,
Then saw him in his armour shine;
And opening his quiver's lid
Out a bronze-tipped arrow slid,
And fixed the bow's clear-sounding string
Upon the tip. Encountering
His gaze, stood Meleager's shade,
Who knew him well, and spoke, and said:
'Son of great Zeus, stand where thou art
And pacify thy lusty heart,
'Nor shoot thy angry shaft in vain
Against the spirits of the slain.
No need for fear!' His speech was done,
And wonder seized Amphitryon's son,
'What mortal or immortal hand
Reared such a shoot, and in what land?
Who was his slayer? Soon shall he
Be sent by Hera to slay me.
But that's in golden Pallas' keeping.'
Then Meleager answered weeping:
'No living man can turn away
The purpose which the gods display.

'My sire, horse-tamer, OEneus, could
Not turn aside the angry mood
Of holy white-armed Artemis,
Queen crowned with flowers, begging this
With sacrifice of many goats
And cutting red-backed oxen's throats.
Relenting not, the goddess sent
A shameless-battling boar, that rent
With ravening tusk, in strength's full tide,
Broad Calydon's fair countryside;
All flocks he slew and living men
Who thought to face his onslaught then.

'The flower of Greece, without respite
Six days we fought a murderous fight,
And when a god the victory gave
To us AEtolians, a grave
We made for all the boar had slain
In onslaught loud with might and main, --
Anchaeus, and Agelaus
Best of my brothers valorous --
My mother was their mother too
In OEneus' halls which all men knew.

'More yet were slain by cruel Fate.
Wild Artemis stayed not her hate;
With the Curetes, battle's pride,
We fought to win the brindled hide.
Midst many others I slew these,
I phiclus and brave Aphares,
My mother's brothers, swift of speed.
Bold-hearted Ares takes no heed
Of friends in war, but blindly flies
His shaft against all enemies;
Death is the gift he brings to all
Whose fated hour it is to fall.

'Fierce Thestius' daughter reckoned not
-- My mother -- in her evil lot
Of this, but planned a death for me,
A woman deaf to pity's plea.
Weeping, from out a carven chest
She took, swift ending and unblest,
A brand and kindled it, which fate
Decreed should mark my life's full date.
Strong Clymenus I meant to slay
And make his flawless limbs my prey;
Before the walls I tracked him down,
In rout toward the ancient town
'Of Pleuron with its well-built wall --
But then I felt my strength grow small
And life grow short. I breathed my last
And wept that glorious youth was past.'
They say that then and then alone
Tears welled up in Amphitryon's son
In pity for man's destiny,
And thus to him he made reply:

''Tis best for man not to be born,
Never to see the light of morn.
But since by tears is nothing won,
A man must say what my be done.
In warrior OEneus' halls maybe
A maiden daughter, like to thee
In beauty, lives? Her would I take
Gladly, my brilliant bride to make.'
Then spake brave Meleager's shade:
'At home I left a soft-necked maid,
Deianira, stranger still
To golden Cypris' magic will.'





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