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If, leaving Polybus, I took my way,
To Cyrrha's temple on that fåtal day,
When by the son the trembling father died,
Where the three roads the Phocian fields divide :
If I the Sphynx's riddles durst explain,
Taught by thyself to win the promised reign :
If wretched I, by baleful furies led,
With monstrous mixture stain'd my mother's bed,
For hell and thee begot an impious brood,
And with full lust those horrid joys renewd;
Then, self-condemn’d to shades of endless night,
Forced from these orbs the bleeding balls of sight;
Oh hear! and aid the vengeance I require,
If worthy thee, and what thou might'st inspire.
My sons their old, unhappy sire despise,
Spoil'd of his kingdom, and deprived of eyes;
Guideless I wander, unregarded mourn,
While these exalt their sceptres o'er my urn;
These sons, ye gods! who with flagitious pride
Insult my darkness, and my groans deride.
Art thou a father, unregarding Jove!
And sleeps thy thunder in the realms above ?
Thou fury, then, some lasting curse entail,
Which o'er their children's children shall prevail :
Place on their heads that crown distain'd with gore,
Which these dire hands from my slain father tore;
Go! and a parent's heavy curses bear;
Break all the bonds of nature, and prepare
Their kindred souls to mutual hate and war.
Give them to dare, what I might wish to see,
Blind as I am, some glorious villany!
Soon shalt thou find, if thou but arm their hands,
Their ready guilt preventing thy commands:
Could'st thou some great, proportion'd mischief frame,
They'd prove the father from whose loins they came.
The fury heard, while on Cocytus' brink,
Her snakes untied, sulphureous waters drink;
But at the summons roll'd her eyes around,
And snatch'd the starting serpents from the ground.
Not half so swiftly shoots along the air
The gliding lightning, or descending star.
Through crowds of airy shades she wing'd her flight,
And dark dominions of the silent night;
Swift as she pass'd the flitting ghosts withdrew,
And the pale spectres trembled at her view:
To the iron gates of Tænarus she flies,
There spreads her dusky pinions to the skies.
The day beheld, and sickening at the sight,
Veil'd her fair glories in the shades of night.
Affrighted Atlas, on the distant shore,
Trembled, and shook the heavens and gods he bore.
Now from beneath Malea's airy height
Aloft she sprung, and steer'd to Thebes her flight;
With eager speed the well-known journey took,
Nor here regrets the hell she late forsook.
A hundred snakes her gloomy visage shade,
A hundred serpents guard her horrid head,
In her sunk eyeballs dreadful meteors glow :
Such rays from Phoebe’s bloody circle flow, [high
When, labouring with strong charms, she shoots from
A fiery gleam, and reddens all the sky. [came
Blood stain'd her cheeks, and from her mouth there
Blue steaming poisons, and a length of flame;
From every blast of her contagious breath
Famine and drought proceed, and plagues, and death.
A robe obscene was o'er her shoulders thrown,
A dress by fates and furies worn alone.
She toss'd her meagre arms; her better hand
In waving circles whirl'd a funeral brand :
A serpent from her left was seen to rear
His flaming crest, and lash the yielding air.
But when the fury took her stand on high,
Where vast Cithæron's top salutes the sky,
A hiss from all the snaky tire went round:
The dreadful signal all the rocks rebound,
And through the Achaian cities send the sound.
(Eta, with high Parnassus, heard the voice;
Eurotas' banks remurmur'd to the noise ;
Again Leucothoë shook at these alarms,
And press'd Palæmon closer in her arms.
Headlong from thence the glowing fury springs,
And o'er the Theban palace spreads her wings,
Once more invades the guilty dome, and shrouds
Its bright pavilions in a veil of clouds.
Straight with the rage of all their race possessid,
Stung to the soul, the brothers start from rest,
And all their furies wake within their breast.
Their tortured minds repining envy tears,
And hate, engender'd by suspicious fears;
And sacred thirst of sway, and all the ties
Of nature broke, and royal perjuries :
And impotent desire to reign alone,
That scorns the dull reversion of a throne :
Each would the sweets of sovereign rule devour,
While discord waits upon divided power.
As stubborn steers by brawny ploughmen broke,
And join'd reluctant to the galling yoke,
Alike disdain with servile necks to bear
The unwonted weight, or drag the crooked share,
But rend the reins, and bound a different way,
And all the furrows in confusion lay;
Such was the discord of the royal pair,
Whom fury drove precipitate to war.
In vain the chiefs contrived a specious way
To govern Thebes by their alternate sway:
Unjust decree! while this enjoys the state,
That mourns in exile his unequal fate,
And the short monarch of a hasty year
Foresees with anguish his returning heir.
Thus did the league their impious arms restrain,
But scarce subsisted to the second reign.
Yet then, no proud aspiring piles were raised, No fretted roofs with polish'd metals blazed ; No labour'd columns in long order placed, No Grecian stone the pompous arches graced ; No nightly bands in glittering armour wait Before the sleepless tyrant's guarded gate; No chargers then were wrought in burnish'd gold, Nor silver vases took the forming mould ; Nor gems on bowls emboss'd were seen to shine, Blaze on the brims, and sparkle in the wineSay, wretched rivals! what provokes your rage ? Say, to what end your impious arms engage ? Not all bright Phoebus views in early morn, Or when his evening beams the west adorn, When the south glows with his meridian ray, And the cold north receives a fainter day; For crimes like these, not all those realms suffice, Were all those realms the guilty victor's prize!
But fortune now (the lots of empire thrown) Decrees to proud Eteocles the crown:
What joys, oh tyrant! swell'd thy soul that day,
When all were slaves thou couldst around survey,
Pleased to behold unbounded power thy own,
And singly fill a fear'd and envied throne !
But the vile vulgar, ever discontent,
Their growing fears in secret murmurs vent;
Still prone to change, though still the slaves of state,
And sure the monarch whom they have, to hate
New lords they madly make, then tamely bear,
And softly curse the tyrants whom they fear.
And one of those who groan beneath the sway
Of kings imposed, and grudgingly obey,
(Whom envy to the great, and vulgar spite
With scandal arm'd, the ignoble mind's delight)
Exclaim'd- Thebes ! for thee what fates remain,
What woes attend this inauspicious reign ?
Must we, alas ! our doubtful necks prepare,
Each haughty master's yoke by turns to bear,
And still to change whom changed we still must fear ?
These now control a wretched people's fate,
These can divide, and these reverse the state :
E'en Fortune rules no more !-O servile land,
Where exiled tyrants still by turns command'!
Thou sire of gods and men, imperial Jove !
Is this the eternal doom decreed above ?
On thy own offspring hast thou fix'd this fate,
From the first birth of our unhappy state ;
When banish'd Cadmus, wandering o'er the main,
For lost Europa search'd the world in vain,
And fated in Baotian fields to found
A rising empire on a foreign ground,
our walls on that ill-omen'd plain, Where earth-born brothers were by brothers slain ? What lofty looks the unrivall’d monarch bears ! How all the tyrant in his face appears ! What sullen fury clouds his scornful brow! Gods! how his eyes with threatening ardour glow! Can this imperious lord forget to reign, Quit all his state, descend, and serve again? Yet who, before, more popularly bow'd ? Who more propitious to the suppliant crowd? Patient of right, familiar in the throne ? What wonder then ? he was not then alone.
O wretched we, a vile, submissive train,
Fortune's tame fools, and slaves in every reign!
As when two winds with rival force contend,
This way and that, the wavering sails they bend,
While freezing Boreas and black Eurus blow,
Now here, now there, the reeling vessel throw:
Thus on each side, alas ! our tottering state
Feels all the fury of resistless fate,
And doubtful still, and still distracted stands,
While that prince threatens, and while this commands.
And now the almighty father of the gods
Convenes a council in the blest abodes:
Far in the bright recesses of the skies,
High o'er the rolling heavens, a mansion lies,
Whence, far below, the gods at once survey
The realms of rising and declining day,
And all the extended space of earth, and air, and sea.
Full in the midst, and on a starry throne,
The majesty of heaven superior shone;
Serene he look'd, and gave an awful nod,
And all the trembling spheres confess'd the god.
At Jove's assent the deities around
In solemn state the consistory crown'd.
Next a long order of inferior powers
Ascend from hills, and plains, and shady bowers;
Those from whose urns the rolling rivers flow;
And those that give the wandering winds to blow:
Here all their rage, and even their murmurs cease,
And sacred silence reigns, and universal peace.
A shining synod of majestic gods
Gilds with new lustre the divine abodes;
Heaven seems improved with a superior ray,
And the bright arch reflects a double day.
The monarch then his solemn silence broke,
The still creation listen'd while he spoke,
Each sacred accent bears eternal weight,
And each irrevocable word is fate.
How long shall man the wrath of heaven defy,
And force unwilling vengeance from the sky !
O race confederate into crimes, that prove
Triumphant o'er the eluded rage of Jove !
This wearied arm can scarce the bolt sustain,
And unregarded thunder rolls in vain: