The Homeric Hymns A New Prose translation and Essays, Literary and Mythological

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But when they had dismissed the desire of meat and drink they set forth on their way, and the Prince Apollo guided them, harp in hand, and sweetly he harped, faring with high and goodly strides. Dancing in his train the Cretans followed to Pytho, and the Pæan they were chanting, the pæans of the Cretans in whose breasts the Muse hath put honey-sweet song. All unwearied they strode to the hill, and swiftly were got to p. 132Parnassus and a winsome land, where they were to dwell, honoured of many among men.

Apollo guided them, and showed his holy shrine and rich temple, and the spirit was moved in their breasts, and the captain of the Cretans spake, and asked the God, saying:

“Prince, since thou hast led us far from friends and our own country, for so it pleases thee, how now shall we live, we pray thee tell us. This fair land bears not vines, nor is rich in meadows, wherefrom we might live well, and minister to men.”

Then, smiling, Apollo, the son of Zeus, spoke to them:

“Foolish ones, enduring hearts, who desire cares, and sore toil, and all straits! A light word will I speak to you, do ye consider it. Let each one of you, knife in right hand, be ever slaughtering sheep that in abundance shall ever be yours, all the flocks that the renowned tribes of men bring hither to me. Yours it is to guard my temple, and receive p. 133the tribes of men that gather hither, doing, above all, as my will enjoins. But if any vain word be spoken, or vain deed wrought, or violence after the manner of mortal men, then shall others be your masters, and hold you in thraldom for ever. Hermes making the lyre.  Bronze relief in the British Museum (Fourth Century B.C.)

So spake he, and raising in both hands the tortoise, went back within the dwelling, bearing the glad treasure. Then he choked the creature, and with a gouge of grey iron he scooped out the marrow of the hill tortoise. And as a swift thought wings through the breast of one that crowding cares are haunting, or as bright glances fleet from the eyes, so swiftly devised renowned Hermes both deed and word. He cut to measure stalks of reed, and fixed them in through holes bored in the stony shell of the tortoise, and cunningly stretched round it the hide of an ox, and put in the horns of the lyre, and to both he fitted the bridge, and stretched seven harmonious chords of sheep-gut. {136} p. 137

Then took he his treasure, when he had fashioned it, and touched the strings in turn with the plectrum, and wondrously it sounded under his hand, and fair sang the God to the notes, improvising his chant as he played, like lads exchanging taunts at festivals. Of Zeus Cronides and fair-sandalled Maia he sang how they had lived in loving dalliance, and he told out the tale of his begetting, and sang the handmaids and the goodly halls of the Nymph, and the tripods in the house, and the store of cauldrons. So then he sang, but dreamed of other deeds; then bore he the hollow lyre and laid it in the sacred cradle, then, in longing for flesh of kine he sped from the fragrant hall to a place of outlook, with such a design in his heart p. 138as reiving men pursue in the dark of night.

The sun had sunk down beneath earth into ocean, with horses and chariot, when Hermes came running to the shadowy hills of Pieria, where the deathless kine of the blessed Gods had ever their haunt; there fed they on the fair unshorn meadows. From their number did the keen-sighted Argeiphontes, son of Maia, cut off fifty loud-lowing kine, and drove them hither and thither over the sandy land, reversing their tracks, and, mindful of his cunning, confused the hoof-marks, the front behind, the hind in front, and himself fared down again. Straightway he wove sandals on the sea-sand (things undreamed he wrought, works wonderful, unspeakable) mingling myrtle twigs and tamarisk, then binding together a bundle of the fresh young wood, he shrewdly fastened it for light sandals beneath his feet, leaves and all, {138}—brushwood that the p. 139renowned slayer of Argos had plucked on his way from Pieria [being, as he was, in haste, down the long way].