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Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 133

Polynices’ wretched carcass lies
Unburied, unlamented, left expos’d
A feast for hungry vultures on the plain.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).
Antigone’s devotion.

Then a proclamation was issued, that, if any dared bury the body of the fallen prince, he would incur the penalty of being buried alive. Heedless of this injunction and Ismene’s prayers to refrain from endangering her own life, Antigone dug a grave for her brother’s remains, and, unaided, fulfilled the various customary funeral rites. Her task was almost completed, when the guards discovered her, and dragged her into the presence of Creon, who, although she was a relative and the promised wife of his son Hæmon, condemned her to death.

“Let her be carried instant to the cave,
And leave her there alone, to live, or die;
Her blood rests not on us: but she no longer
Shall breathe on earth.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).
Antigone and Hæmon.

Hæmon pleaded passionately for her life; but, when he saw his prayers were vain, he ran to the place where Antigone was confined, sprang into her narrow cell, wound his arms closely around her, and refused to leave her. There they were walled in; Antigone’s sufferings were cut mercifully short by asphyxiation; and, when Hæmon saw she was no more, he, in utter despair, thrust his dagger into his side, and perished too.

[289]

Refer to caption

ANTIGONE AND ISMENE.—Teschendorf.

[290] “On himself bent all his wrath,
Full in his side the weapon fix’d, but still,
Whilst life remain’d, on the soft bosom hung
Of the dear maid, and his last spirit breath’d
O’er her pale cheek, discolor’d with his blood.
Thus lay the wretched pair in death united,
And celebrate their nuptials in the tomb.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).

Ismene, the last of Œdipus’ unfortunate race, died of grief, and thus the prophecy was fully accomplished. The Theban war was not, however, entirely ended, for, when both brothers fell, the two armies flew to attack each other; and such was their courage, that many fell, and only one of the seven chiefs returned to Argos. There he patiently waited until the children of these brave captains were old enough to bear arms, and then proposed to them to attack Thebes and avenge their fathers’ death.

The Epigoni (or those who come after), as these youths are collectively designated, received this proposal with rapture; and Thebes, again besieged, fell into their hands, and was duly sacked, burned, and destroyed, as the Delphic oracle had foretold so many years before.

[291]

CHAPTER XXV.

BELLEROPHON.

Bellerophon, a brave young prince, the grandson of Sisyphus, King of Corinth, had the great misfortune to kill his own brother while hunting in the forest. His grief was, of course, intense; and the horror he felt for the place where the catastrophe had occurred, added to his fear lest he should incur judicial punishment for his involuntary crime, made him flee to the court of Argos, where he took refuge with Prœtus, the king, who was also his kinsman.

Anteia’s treachery.

He had not sojourned there very long, before Anteia, the queen, fell in love with him; and although her husband, Prœtus, treated her with the utmost kindness, she made up her mind to desert him, and tried to induce Bellerophon to elope with her. Too honest to betray a man who had treated him as a friend, the young prince refused to listen to the queen’s proposals. His refusal was to cost him dear, however; for, when Anteia saw that the youth would never yield to her wishes, she became very angry indeed, sought her husband, and accused the young stranger of crimes he had never even dreamed of committing.

Prœtus, indignant at what he deemed deep treachery on the part of an honored guest, yet reluctant to punish him with his own hand as he deserved, sent Bellerophon to Iobates, King of Lycia, with a sealed message bidding him put the bearer to death.

Quite unconscious of the purport of this letter, Bellerophon traveled gayly onward, and presented himself before Iobates, who [292] received him very hospitably, and, without inquiring his name or errand, entertained him royally for many days. After some time, Bellerophon suddenly remembered the sealed message intrusted to his care, and hastened to deliver it to Iobates, with many apologies for his forgetfulness.

The Chimæra.

With blanched cheeks and every outward sign of horror, the king read the missive, and then fell into a deep reverie. He did not like to take a stranger’s life, and still could not refuse to comply with Prœtus’ urgent request: so, after much thought, he decided to send Bellerophon to attack the Chimæra, a terrible monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a dragon’s tail.

“Dire Chimæra’s conquest was enjoin’d;
A mingled monster, of no mortal kind;
Behind, a dragon’s fiery tail was spread;
A goat’s rough body bore a lion’s head;
Her pitchy nostrils flaky flames expire;
Her gaping throat emits infernal fire.”
Homer (Pope’s tr.).

His principal motive in choosing this difficult task was, that, although many brave men had set forth to slay the monster, none had ever returned, for one and all had perished in the attempt.

Although very courageous, Bellerophon’s heart beat fast with fear when told what great deed he must accomplish; and he left Iobates’ palace very sorrowfully, for he dearly loved the king’s fair daughter, Philonoe, and was afraid he would never see her again.


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