Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 122

The nymph led her son to the prophet's cave, and concealed him among the recesses of the rocks, while she herself took her place behind the clouds. Then noon came and the hour when men and herds retreat from the glaring sun to indulge in quiet slumber, Proteus issued from the water, followed hy his herd of sea- calves, which spread themselves along the shore. He sat on the rock and counted his herd; then stretched himself on the floor of the cave and went to sleep. Aristaeus hardly allowed him to get fairly asleep before he fixed the fetters on him and shouted aloud. Proteus, waking and finding himself captured, immediately resorted to his arts, becoming first a fire, then a flood, then a horrible wild beast, in rapid succession. But trying all in vain, he at last resumed his own form and addressed the youth in angry accents: "Who are you, bold youth, who thus invade my abode, and what do you want with me?" Aristaeus replied, "Proteus, you know already, for it is needless for any one to attempt to deceive you. And do you also cease your efforts to elude me. I am led hither by divine assistance, to know from you the cause of my misfortune and how to remedy it." At these words the prophet, fixing on him his gray eyes with a piercing look, thus spoke: "You received the merited reward of your deeds, by which Eurydice met her death, for in flying from you she trod upon a serpent, of whose bite she died. To avenge her death the nymphs, her companions, have sent this destruction bo your bees. You have to appease their anger, and thus it must be done: Select four bulls of perfect form and size, and four cows of equal beauty, build four altars to the nymphs, and sacrifice the animals, leaving their carcasses in the leafy grove. To Orpheus and Eurydice you shall pay such funeral honors as may allay their resentment. Returning after nine days you will examine the bodies of the cattle slain and see what will befall." Aristaeus faithfully obeyed these directions. He sacrificed the cattle, he left their bodies in the grove, he offered funeral honors to the shades of Orpheus and Eurydice; then returning on the ninth day he examined the bodies of the animals, and, wonderful to relate! A swarm of bees had taken possession of one of the carcasses, and were pursuing their labors there as in a hive.

In the Task, Cowper alludes to the story of Aristaeus, when speaking of the ice-palace built by the Empress Anne of Russia. He has been describing the fantastic forms which ice assumes in connection with waterfalls, etc."

  "Less worthy of applause though more admired,
  Because a novelty, the work of man,
  Imperial mistress of the fur-clad Russ,
  Thy most magnificent and mighty freak,
  The wonder of the north. No forest fell
  When thou wouldst build, no quarry sent its stores
  T'enrich thy walls; but thou didst hew the floods
  And make thy marble of the glassy wave.
  In such a palace Aristaeus found
  Cyrene, when he bore the plaintive tale
  Of his lost bees to her maternal ear."