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Soon as the youth approach'd the fatal place, He saw his servants breathless on the grass; The scaly foe amid their corpse he view'd, Basking at ease, and feasting in their blood. "Such friends," he cries, "deserv'd a longer date; But Cadmus will revenge, or share their fate." Then heav'd a stone, and rising to the throw, He sent it in a whirlwind at the foe: A tower, assaulted by so rude a stroke, With all its lofty battlements had shook; But nothing here th' unwieldy rock avails, Rebounding harmless from the plaited scales, That, firmly join'd, preserv'd him from a wound, With native armour crusted all around. The pointed jav'lin more successful flew, Which at his back the raging warrior threw ; Amid the plaited scales it took its course, And in the spinal marrow spent its force. The monster hiss'd aloud, and rag'd in vain, And writh'd his body to and fro with pain; And bit the spear, and wrench'd the wood away; The point still buried in the marrow lay. And now his rage, increasing with his pain, Reddens his eyes, and beats in every vein ; Churn'd in his teeth the foamy venom rose, Whilst from his mouth a blast of vapours flows, Such as th' infernal Stygian waters cast: The plants around him wither in the blast. Now in a maze of rings he lies enroll'd, Now all unravell'd, and without a fold; Now, like a torrent, with a mighty force Bears down the forest in his boisterous course.
Cadmus gave back, and on the lion's spoil
Sustain'd the shock, then forc'd him to recoil;
The pointed jav'lin warded off his rage:
Mad with his pains, and furious to engage,
The serpent champs the steel, and bites the spear,
Till blood and venom all the point besmear.
But still the hurt he yet receiv'd was slight;
For, whilst the champion with redoubled might
Strikes home the jav'lin, his retiring foe
Shrinks from the wound, and disappoints the blow.
The dauntless hero still pursues his stroke,
And presses forward, 'till a knotty oak
Retards his foe, and stops him in the rear;
Full in his throat he plung'd the fatal spear,
That in th' extended neck a passage found,
And pierc'd the solid timber through the wound,
Fix'd to the reeling trunk, with many a stroke
Of his huge tail, he lash'd the sturdy oak;
Till spent with toil, and labouring hard for breath,
He now lay twisting in the pangs of death.
Cadmus beheld him wallow in a flood
Of swimming poison, intermix'd with blood;
When suddenly a speech was heard from high,
(The speech was heard, nor was the speaker nigh)
Why dost thou thus with secret pleasure see,
Insulting man! what thou thyself shalt be?"
Astonish'd at the voice, he stood amaz'd,
And all around with inward horror gaz'd:
When Pallas swift descending from the skies,
Pallas, the guardian of the bold and wise,
Bids him plow up the field, and scatter round
The dragon's teeth o'er all the furrow'd ground;
Then tells the youth how to his wondering eyes
Embattled armies from the field should rise.
He sows the teeth at Pallas's command,
And flings the future people from his hand.
The clods grow warm, and crumble where he sows;
And now the pointed spears advance in rows;
Now nodding plumes appear, and shining crests,
Now the broad shoulders and the rising breasts;
O'er all the field the breathing harvest swarms,
A growing host, a crop of men and arms.
So through the parting stage a figure rears
Its body up, and limb by limb appears
By just degrees; till all the man arise,
And in his full proportion strikes the eyes.
Cadmus surpris'd, and startled at the sight
Of his new foes, prepar'd himself for fight:
When one cry'd out, "Forbear, fond man, forbear
To mingle in a blind promiscuous war."
This said, he struck his brother to the ground,
Himself expiring by another's wound;
Nor did the third his conquest long survive,
Dying ere scarce he had begun to live.
The dire example ran through all the field,
Till heaps of brothers were by brothers kill'd;
The furrows swam in blood: and only five
Of all the vast increase were left alive.
Echion one, at Pallas's command,
Let fall the guiltless weapon from his hand;
And with the rest a peaceful treaty makes,
Whom Cadmus as his friends and partners takes;
So founds a city on the promis'd earth,
And gives his new Boòtian empire birth.
Here Cadmus reign'd; and now one would have guess'd
The royal founder in his exile blest;
Long did he live within his new abodes,
Ally'd by marriage to the deathless gods;
And, in a fruitful wife's embraces old,
A long increase of children's children told:
But no frail man, however great or high,
Can be concluded blest before he die.
Acteon was the first of all his race,
Who griev'd his grandsire in his borrow'd face;
Condemn'd by stern Diana to bemoan
The branching horns, and visage not his own;
To shun his once-lov'd dogs, to bound away,
And from their huntsman to become their prey.
And yet consider why the change was wrought,
You'll find it his misfortune, not his fault;
Or if a fault, it was the fault of chance :
For how can guilt proceed from ignorance?
THE TRANSFORMATION OF ACTÆON INTO A STAG.
In a fair chase a shady mountain stood,
Well stor❜d with game, and mark'd with trails of blood.
Here did the huntsmen till the heat of day
Pursue the stag, and load themselves with prey;
When thus Acteon calling to the rest :
"My friends," says he, "our sport is at the best.
The sun is high advanc'd, and downward sheds
His burning beams directly on our heads;
Then by consent abstain from further spoils,
Call off the dogs, and gather up the toils;
And ere to-morrow's sun begins his race,
Take the cool morning to renew the chase.'
They all consent, and in a cheerful train
The jolly huntsmen, loaden with the slain,
Return in triumph from the sultry plain.
Down in a vale with pine and cypress clad,
Refresh'd with gentle winds, and brown with shade,
The chaste Diana's private haunt, there stood
Full in the centre of the darksome wood
A spacious grotto, all around o'er-grown
With hoary moss, and arch'd with pumice-stone,
From out its rocky clefts the waters flow,
And trickling swell into a lake below.
Nature had every where so play'd her part,
That every where she seem'd to vie with art.
Here the bright goddess, toil'd and chaf'd with heat,
Was wont to bathe her in the cool retreat.
Here did she now with all her train resort,
Panting with heat, and breathless from the sport;
Her armour-bearer laid her bow aside,
Some loos'd her sandals, some her veil unty'd;
Each busy nymph her proper part undrest;
While Crocale, more handy than the rest,
Gather'd her flowing hair, and in a noose
Bound it together, whilst her own hung loose.
Five of the more ignoble sort by turns
Fetch up the water, and unlade their urns.
Now all undrest the shining goddess stood,
When young Actæon, wilder'd in the wood,
To the cool grot by his hard fate betray'd,
The fountains fill'd with naked nymphs survey'd.