A Book of Myths
Page: 98Aphrodite sported one day with Eros, the little god of love, by accident she wounded herself with one of his arrows. And straightway there came into her heart a strange longing and an ache such as the mortal victims of the bow of Eros knew well. While still the ache remained, she heard, in a forest of Cyprus, the baying of hounds and the shouts of those who urged them on in the chase. For her the chase possessed no charms, and she stood aside while the quarry burst through the branches and thick undergrowth of the wood, and the hounds followed in hot pursuit. But she drew her breath sharply, and her eyes opened wide in amazed gladness, when she looked on the perfect beauty of the fleet-footed hunter, who was only a little less swift than the shining spear that sped from his hand with the sureness of a bolt from the hand of Zeus. And she knew [Pg 203] that this must be none other than Adonis, son of the king of Paphos, of whose matchless beauty she had heard not only the dwellers on earth, but the Olympians themselves speak in wonder. While gods and men were ready to pay homage to his marvellous loveliness, to Adonis himself it counted for nothing. But in the vigour of his perfect frame he rejoiced; in his fleetness of foot, in the power of that arm that Michael Angelo has modelled, in the quickness and sureness of his aim, for the boy was a mighty hunter with a passion for the chase.
Aphrodite felt that her heart was no longer her own, and knew that the wound that the arrow of Eros had dealt would never heal until she knew that Adonis loved her. No longer was she to be found by the Cytherian shores or in those places once held by her most dear, and the other gods smiled when they beheld her vying with Diana in the chase and following Adonis as he pursued the roe, the wolf, and the wild boar through the dark forest and up the mountain side. The pride of the goddess of love must often have hung its head. For her love was a thing that Adonis could not understand. He held her “Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse,” and wondered at her whim to follow his hounds through brake and marsh and lonely forest. His reckless courage was her pride and her torture. Because he was to her so infinitely dear, his path seemed ever bestrewn with dangers. But when she spoke to him with anxious warning and begged him to beware of the fierce beasts that might one day turn [Pg 204] on him and bring him death, the boy laughed mockingly and with scorn.
There came at last a day when she asked him what he did on the morrow, and Adonis told her with sparkling eyes that had no heed for her beauty, that he had word of a wild boar, larger, older, more fierce than any he had ever slain, and which, before the chariot of Diana next passed over the land of Cyprus, would be lying dead with a spear-wound through it.
With terrible foreboding, Aphrodite tried to dissuade him from his venture.
With javelin’s point a churlish swine to gore,
Whose tushes never sheathed he whetteth still,
Like to a mortal butcher, bent to kill.
To which love’s eyes pay tributary gazes;
Nor thy soft hands, sweet lips, and crystal eyne,
Whose full perfection all the world amazes;
But having thee at vantage—wondrous dread!—
Would root these beauties as he roots the mead.”
To all her warnings, Adonis would but give smiles. Ill would it become him to slink abashed away before the fierceness of an old monster of the woods, and, laughing in the pride of a whole-hearted boy at a woman’s idle fears, he sped homewards with his hounds.
With the gnawing dread of a mortal woman in her soul, Aphrodite spent the next hours. Early she sought the forest that she might again plead with Adonis, and [Pg 205] maybe persuade him, for love of her, to give up the perilous chase because she loved him so.
But even as the rosy gates of the Dawn were opening, Adonis had begun his hunt, and from afar off the goddess could hear the baying of his hounds. Yet surely their clamour was not that of hounds in full cry, nor was it the triumphant noise that they so fiercely make as they pull down their vanquished quarry, but rather was it baying, mournful as that of the hounds of Hecate. Swift as a great bird, Aphrodite reached the spot from whence came the sound that made her tremble.