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dipus king of Thebes having, by mistake, slain his father Laius, and married bis mother Jocasta, put out his own eyes, and resigned his realm to his sons Eteocles and Polynices. Being neglected by them, he makes his prayer to the fury Tisiphone to sow debate betwixt the brothers. They agree at last to reign singly, each a year by turns, and the first lot is obtained by Eteocles. Jupiter, in a council of the gods, declares his resolution of punishing the Thebans, and Argives also, by means of a marriage betwixt Polynices and one of the daughters of Adrastus king of Argos. Juno opposes, but to no effect; and Mercury is sent on a message to the shades, to the ghost of Laius, who is to appear to Eteocles, and provoke him to break the agreement. Poly nices, in the mean time, departs from Thebes by night, is overtaken by a storm, and arrives at Argos; where he meets with Tydeus, who had filed from Calydon, having killed his brother. Adrastus entertains them, having received an oracle from Apollo that his daughters should be married to a boar and a lion, which he understands to be meant of these strangers, by whom the hides of those beasts were worn, and who arrived at the time when he kept an annual feast in honour of that god. The rise of this solemnity. He relates to his guests the loves of Phoebus and Psamathe, and the story of Choroebus: he inquires, and is made acquainted with their descent and quality. The sacrifice is renewed, and the book concludes with a hymn to Apollo.
FRATERNAL rage the guilty Thebes alarms,
The' alternate reign destroy'd by impious arms Demand our song; a sacred fury fires
My ravish'd breast, and all the Muse inspires.
O goddess! say, shall I deduce my rhymes
From the dire nation in its early times,
Europa's rape, Agenor's stern decree,
And Cadmus searching round the spacious sea? How with the serpent's teeth he sow'd the soil, And reap'd an iron harvest of his toil? Or how from joining stones the city sprung, While to his harp divine Amphion sung? Or shall I Juno's hate to Thebes resound, Whose fatal rage the' unhappy monarch found? The sire against the son his arrows drew; O'er the wide fields the furious mother flew, And while her arms a second hope contain, Sprung from the rocks, and plung'd into the main. But wave whate'er to Cadmus may belong, And fix, O Muse! the barrier of thy song At Edipus-from his disasters trace The long confusions of his guilty race: Nor yet attempt to stretch thy bolder wing, And mighty Cæsar's conquering eagles sing; How twice he tam'd proud Ister's rapid flood, While Dacian mountains stream'd with barbarous blood; Twice taught the Rhine beneath his laws to roll, And stretch'd his empire to the frozen pole; Or, long before, with early valour strove In youthful arms to assert the cause of Jove. And thou, great heir of all thy father's' fame, Increase of glory to the Latian name! O! bless thy Rome with an eternal reign, Nor let desiring worlds entreat in vain.
What tho' the stars contract their heavenly space,
And crowd their shining ranks to yield thee place;
Though all the skies, ambitious of thy sway,
Conspire to court thee from our world away;
Though Phoebus longs to mix his rays with thine,
And in thy glories more serenely shine;
Though Jove himself no less content would be
To part his throne, and share his heav'n with thee?
Yet stay, great Cæsar! and vouchsafe to reign
O'er the wide earth, and o'er the watery main;
Resign to Jove his empire of the skies,
And people heav'n with Roman deities.
The time will come when a diviner flame
Shall warm my breast to sing of Cæsar's fame ;
Mean-while permit that my preluding Muse
In Theban wars an humbler theme may chuse:
Of furious hate surviving death she sings,
A fatal throne to two contending kings,
And funeral flames that, parting wide in air,
Express the discord of the souls they, bear:
Of towns dispeopled, and the wandering ghosts
Of kings unbury'd in the wasted coasts;
When Dirce's fountain blush'd with Grecian blood,
And Thetis, near Ismenos' swelling flood,
With dread beheld the rolling surges sweep
In heaps his slaughter'd sons into the deep.
What hero, Clio! wilt thou first relate?
The rage of Tydeus, or the prophet's fate?
Or how, with hills of slain on every side,
Hippomedon repell'd the hostile tide ?
Or how the youth, with every grace adorn'd,
Untimely fell, to be for ever mourn'd?
Then to fierce Capaneus thy verse extend,
And sing with horror his prodigious end.
Now wretched Edipus, depriv'd of sight,
Led a long death in everlasting night;
But while he dwells where not a cheerful ray
Can pierce the darkness, and abhors the day,
The clear reflecting mind presents his sin
In frightful views, and makes it day within ;
Returning thoughts in endless circles roll,
And thousand furies haunt his guilty soul:
The wretch then lifted to the' unpitying skies
Those empty orbs from whence he tore his eyes,
Whosewounds, yet fresh, with bloody handshestrook,
While from his breast these dreadful accents broke:-
"Ye gods! that o'er the gloomy regions reign,
Where guilty spirits feel eternal pain;
Thou, sable Styx whose livid streams are roll'd
Thro' dreary coasts, which I though blind behold;
Tisiphone! that oft hast heard my pray❜r,
Assist, if Edipus deserve thy care.
If you receiv'd me from Jocasta's womb,
And nurs'd the hope of mischiefs yet to come;
If, leaving Polybus, I took my way
To Cyrrha's temple, on that fatal day
When by the son the trembling father died,
Where the three roads the Phocian fields divide;
If I the Sphynx's riddles durst explain,
Taught by thyself to win the promis'd reign;
If wretched I, by baleful furies led,
With monstrous mixture stain'd my mother's bed,
For hell and thee begot an impious brood,
And with full lust those horrid joys renew'd ;
Then, self-condemn'd, to shades of endless night,
Forc'd from these orbs the bleeding balls of sight;
Oh, hear! and aid the vengeance I require,
If worthy thee, and what thou might'st inspire.
My sons their old unhappy sire despise,
Spoil'd of his kingdom, and depriv'd of eyes
Guideless I wander, unregarded mourn,
While these exalt their sceptres o'er my urn:
These sons, ye gods! who with flagitious pride
Insult my darkness and my groans deride.
Art thou a father, unregarding Jove!
And sleeps thy thunder in the realms above?
Thou fury! then some lasting curse entail,
Which o'er their children's children shall prevail;
Place on their heads that crown distain'd with gore,
Which these dire hands from my slain father tore;
Go! and a parent's heavy curses bear;
Break all the bonds of nature, and prepare
Their kindred souls to mutual hate and war.
Give them to dare, what I might wish to see,
Blind as I am, some glorious villany!
Soon shalt thou find, if thou but arm their hands,
Their ready guilt preventing thy commands:
Couldst thou some great proportion'd mischief frame,
They'd prove the father from whose loins they came."
The fury heard, while on Cocytus' brink
Her snakes, untied, sulphureous waters drink;
But at the summons roll'd her eyes around,
And snatch'd the starting serpents from the ground.
Not half so swiftly shoots along in air
The gliding lightning or descending star.
Thro' crowds of airy shades she wing'd her flight,
And dark dominions of the silent night;
Swift as she pass'd the flitting ghosts withdrew,
And the pale spectres trembled at her view:
To the' iron gates of Tenarus she flies,
There spreads her dusky pinions to the skies.
The day beheld, and, sickening at the sight,
Veil'd her fair glories in the shades of night.
Affrighted Atlas on the distant shore
Trembled, and shook the heav'ns and gods he bore.
Now from beneath Malea's airy height
Aloft she sprung, and steer'd to Thebes her flight;
With eager speed the well-known journey took,
Nor here regrets the hell she late forsook.
A hundred snakes her gloomy visage shade,
A hundred serpents guard her horrid head;
In her sunk eyeballs dreadful meteors glow:
Such rays from Phoebe's bloody circle flow,
When labouring with strong charms she shoots from high
A fiery gleam, and reddens all the sky.
Blood stain'd her cheeks, and from her mouth there
Blue steaming poisons, and a length of flame.
From every blast of her contagious breath
Famine anddrought proceed,and plagues and death.
A robe obscene was o'er her shoulders thrown,
A dress by fates and furies worn alone.
She toss'd her meagre arms; her better hand
In waving circles whirl'd a funeral brand:
A serpent from her left was seen to rear
His flaming crest, and lash the yielding air.
But when the fury took her stand on high,
Where vast Citharon's top salutes the sky,
A hiss from all the snaky tire went round:
The dreadful signal all the rocks rebound,
And through the' Achaian cities send the sound..