A Book of Myths

Page: 79

“Puny one!” he said, “and puny are thy wishes! Because thou didst by thy foolish wooing send the beautiful Eurydice swiftly down to the Shades and break the heart of Orpheus, whose music is the music of the Immortals, the bees that thou hast treasured have left their hives empty and silent. So little are the bees! so great, O Aristæus, the bliss or woe of Orpheus and Eurydice! Yet, because by guile thou hast won the power to gain from me the knowledge that thou dost seek, hearken to me now, Aristæus! Four bulls must thou find—four cows of equal beauty. Then must thou build in a leafy grove four altars, and to Orpheus and Eurydice pay such funeral honours as may allay their resentment. At the end of nine days, when thou hast fulfilled thy pious task, return and see what the gods have sent thee.”

“This will I do most faithfully, O Proteus,” said Aristæus, and gravely loosened the chains and returned to where his mother awaited him, and thence travelled to his own sunny land of Greece.

Most faithfully, as he had said, did Aristæus perform his vow. And when, on the ninth day, he returned to the grove of sacrifice, a sound greeted him which made his heart stop and then go on beating and throbbing as [Pg 160] the heart of a man who has striven valiantly in a great fight and to whom the battle is assured.

For, from the carcase of one of the animals offered for sacrifice, and whose clean white bones now gleamed in the rays of the sun that forced its way through the thick shade of the grove of grey olives, there came the “murmuring of innumerable bees.”

“Out of the eater came forth meat, out of the strong came forth sweetness.”

And Aristæus, a Samson of the old Greek days, rejoiced exceedingly, knowing that his thoughtless sin was pardoned, and that for evermore to him belonged the pride of giving to all men the power of taming bees, the glory of mastering the little brown creatures that pillage from the fragrant, bright-hued flowers their most precious treasure.

[Pg 161]


“Sacred Goddess, Mother Earth,
Thou from whose immortal bosom,
Gods, and men, and beasts have birth,
Leaf and blade, and bud and blossom,
Breathe thine influence most divine
On thine own child, Proserpine.
If with mists of evening dew
Thou dost nourish those young flowers
Till they grow, in scent and hue,
Fairest children of the hours,
Breathe thine influence most divine
On thine own child, Proserpine.”


The story of Persephone—of Proserpine—is a story of spring. When the sun is warming the bare brown earth, and the pale primroses look up through the snowy blackthorns at a kind, blue sky, almost can we hear the soft wind murmur a name as it gently sways the daffodils and breathes through the honey sweetness of the gold-powdered catkins on the grey willows by the river—“Persephone! Persephone!”