Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 146

One of the most celebrated groups of statuary in existence is that of Laocoon and his children in the embrace of the serpents. "There is a cast of it in the Boston Athenaeum; the original is in the Vatican at Rome. The following lines are from the Childe Harold of Byron:

  "Now turning to the Vatican go see
  Laocoon's torture dignifying pain;
  A father's love and mortal's agony
  With as immortal's patience blending; vain
  The struggle! Vain against the coiling strain
  And gripe and deepening of the dragon's grasp
  The old man's clinch; the long envenomed chain
  Rivets the living links; the enormous asp
  Enforces pang on pang and stifles gasp on gasp."

The comic poets will also occasionally borrow a classical allusion. The following is from Swift's description of a City Shower:

  "Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits,
  While spouts run clattering o'er the roof by fits,
  And over and anon with frightful din
  The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
  So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed
  Pregnant with Greeks, impatient to be freed,
  (Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
  Instead of paying chairmen, run them through;)
  Laocoon struck the outside with a spear,
  And each imprisoned champion quaked with fear."

King Priam lived to see the downfall of his kingdom, and was slain at last on the fatal night when the Greeks took the city. He had armed himself and was about to mingle with the combatants, but was prevailed on by Hecuba, his aged queen, to take refuge with herself and his daughters as a suppliant at the altar of Jupiter. While there, his youngest son Polites, pursued by Pyrrhus (Pyrrhus's exclamation, "Not such aid nor such defenders does the time require," has become proverbial.), the son of Achilles, rushed in wounded, and expired at the feet of his father; whereupon Priam, overcome with indignation, hurled his spear with feeble hand against Pyrrhus, and was forthwith slain by him.

Queen Hecuba and her daughter Cassandra were carried captives to Greece. Cassandra had been loved by Apollo, and he gave her the gift of prophecy; but afterwards offended with her, he rendered the gift unavailing by ordaining that her predictions should never be believed. Polyxena, another daughter, who had been loved by Achilles, was demanded by the ghost of this warrior, and was sacrificed by the Greeks upon his tomb.

From Schiller's poem "Cassandra":

  "And men my prophet wail deride!
  The solemn sorrow dies in scorn;
  And lonely in the waste, I hide
  The tortured heart that would forewarn.
  Amid the happy, unregarded,
  Mock'd by their fearful joy, I trod;
  Oh, dark to me the lot awarded,
  Thou evil Pythian God!

  "Thine oracle, in vain to be,
  Oh, wherefore am I thus consigned,
  With eyes that every truth must see,
  Lone in the city of the blind?
  Cursed with the anguish of a power
  To view the fates I may not thrall,
  The hovering tempest still must lower,
  The horror must befall!