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The Argonautica

Page: 87

(ll. 885-921) Now when dawn the light-bringer was touching the edge of heaven, then at the coming of the swift west wind they went to their thwarts from the land; and gladly did they draw up the anchors from the deep and made the tackling ready in due order; and above spread the sail, stretching it taut with the sheets from the yard-arm. And a fresh breeze wafted the ship on. And soon they saw a fair island, Anthemoessa, where the clear-voiced Sirens, daughters of Achelous, used to beguile with their sweet songs whoever cast anchor there, and then destroy him. Them lovely Terpsichore, one of the Muses, bare, united with Achelous; and once they tended Demeter's noble daughter still unwed, and sang to her in chorus; and at that time they were fashioned in part like birds and in part like maidens to behold. And ever on the watch from their place of prospect with its fair haven, often from many had they taken away their sweet return, consuming them with wasting desire; and suddenly to the heroes, too, they sent forth from their lips a lily-like voice. And they were already about to cast from the ship the hawsers to the shore, had not Thracian Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, stringing in his hands his Bistonian lyre, rung forth the hasty snatch of a rippling melody so that their ears might be filled with the sound of his twanging; and the lyre overcame the maidens' voice. And the west wind and the sounding wave rushing astern bore the ship on; and the Sirens kept uttering their ceaseless song. But even so the goodly son of Teleon alone of the comrades leapt before them all from the polished bench into the sea, even Butes, his soul melted by the clear ringing voice of the Sirens; and he swam through the dark surge to mount the beach, poor wretch. Quickly would they have robbed him of his return then and there, but the goddess that rules Eryx, Cypris, in pity snatched him away, while yet in the eddies, and graciously meeting him saved him to dwell on the Lilybean height. And the heroes, seized by anguish, left the Sirens, but other perils still worse, destructive to ships, awaited them in the meeting-place of the seas.

(ll. 922-981) For on one side appeared the smooth rock of Scylla; on the other Charybdis ceaselessly spouted and roared; in another part the Wandering rocks were booming beneath the mighty surge, where before the burning flame spurted forth from the top of the crags, above the rock glowing with fire, and the air was misty with smoke, nor could you have seen the sun's light. Then, though Hephaestus had ceased from his toils, the sea was still sending up a warm vapour. Hereupon on this side and on that the daughters of Nereus met them; and behind, lady Thetis set her hand to the rudder-blade, to guide them amid the Wandering rocks. And as when in fair weather herds of dolphins come up from the depths and sport in circles round a ship as it speeds along, now seen in front, now behind, now again at the side and delight comes to the sailors; so the Nereids darted upward and circled in their ranks round the ship Argo, while Thetis guided its course. And when they were about to touch the Wandering rocks, straightway they raised the edge of their garments over their snow-white knees, and aloft, on the very rocks and where the waves broke, they hurried along on this side and on that apart from one another. And the ship was raised aloft as the current smote her, and all around the furious wave mounting up broke over the rocks, which at one time touched the sky like towering crags, at another, down in the depths, were fixed fast at the bottom of the sea and the fierce waves poured over them in floods. And the Nereids, even as maidens near some sandy beach roll their garments up to their waists out of their way and sport with a shapely-rounded ball; then they catch it one from another and send it high into the air; and it never touches the ground; so they in turn one from another sent the ship through the air over the waves, as it sped on ever away from the rocks; and round them the water spouted and foamed. And lord Hephaestus himself standing on the summit of a smooth rock and resting his massy shoulder on the handle of his hammer, beheld them, and the spouse of Zeus beheld them as she stood above the gleaming heaven; and she threw her arms round Athena, such fear seized her as she gazed. And as long as the space of a day is lengthened out in springtime, so long a time did they toil, heaving the ship between the loud-echoing rocks; then again the heroes caught the wind and sped onward; and swiftly they passed the mead of Thrinacia, where the kine of Helios fed. There the nymphs, like sea-mews, plunged beneath the depths, when they had fulfilled the behests of the spouse of Zeus. And at the same time the bleating of sheep came to the heroes through the mist and the lowing of kine, near at hand, smote their ears. And over the dewy leas Phaethusa, the youngest of the daughters of Helios, tended the sheep, bearing in her hand a silver crook; while Lampetia, herding the kine, wielded a staff of glowing orichalcum 1408 as she followed. These kine the heroes saw feeding by the river's stream, over the plain and the water-meadow; not one of them was dark in hue but all were white as milk and glorying in their horns of gold. So they passed them by in the day-time, and when night came on they were cleaving a great sea-gulf, rejoicing, until again early rising dawn threw light upon their course.


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