Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Parthenias Return to Argalus
By Sir Philip Sidney (15541586)
From The Countess of Pembrokes Arcadia, Book III
BUT the headpiece was no sooner off but that there fell about the shoulders of the overcome knight the treasure of fair golden hair, which, with the face, soon known by the badge of excellency, witnessed that it was Parthenia, the unfortunately virtuous wife of Argalus; her beauty then, even in despite of the passed sorrow, or coming death, assuring all beholders that it was nothing short of perfection. For her exceeding fair eyes having with continual weeping gotten a little redness about them; her round, sweetly-swelling lips a little trembling, as though they kissed their neighbour death; in her cheeks, the whiteness striving by little and little to get upon the rosiness of them; her necka neck indeed of alabasterdisplaying the wound which with most dainty blood laboured to drown his own beauties; so as here was a river of purest red, there an island of perfectest white, each giving lustre to the other, with the sweet countenance, God knows, full of unaffected languishing: though these things, to a grossly conceiving sense, might seem disgraces, yet indeed were they but apparelling beauty in a new fashion, which all looking upon through the spectacles of pity, did even increase the lines of her natural fairness, so as Amphialus was astonished with grief, compassion, and shame, detesting his fortune that made him unfortunate in victory.
Therefore, putting off his headpiece and gauntlet, kneeling down unto her, and with tears testifying his sorrow, he offered his, by himself accursed, hands to help her, protesting his life and power to be ready to do her honour. But Parthenia, who had inward messengers of the desired deaths approach, looking upon him, and straight turning away her feeble sight, as from a delightless object, drawing out her words, which her breath, loth to depart from so sweet a body, did faintly deliver, Sir, said she, I pray you, if prayers have place in enemies, to let my maids take my body untouched by you: the only honour I now desire by your means is, that I have no honour of you. Argalus made no such bargain with you: that the hands which killed him should help me. I have of themand I do not only pardon you, but thank you for itthe service which I desired. There rests nothing now but that I go and live with him since whose death I have done nothing but die. Then pausing, and a little fainting, and again coming to herself, O, sweet life, welcome, said she; now feel I the bands untied of the cruel death which so long hath held me. And, O life, O death, answer for me, that my thoughts have, not so much as in a dream, tasted any comfort since they were deprived of Argalus. I come, my Argalus, I come! And, O God, hide my faults in thy mercies, and grant, as I feel Thou dost grant, that in Thy eternal love we may love each other eternally. And this, O Lord but there Atropos cut off her sentence; for with that, casting up both eyes and hands to the skies, the noble soul departed, one might well assure himself, to heaven, which left the body in so heavenly a demeanour.
But Amphialus, with a heart oppressed with grief, because of her request, withdrew himself; but the judges, as full of pity, had been all this while disarming her, and her gentlewomen with lamentable cries labouring to stanch the remediless wounds; and a while she was dead before they perceived it, death being able to divide the soul, but not the beauty, from the body. But when the infallible tokens of death assured them of their loss, one of the women would have killed herself, but that the squire of Amphialus, perceiving, by force held her. Others that had as strong passion, though weaker resolution, fell to cast dust upon their heads, to tear their garments, all falling upon the earth and crying upon their sweet mistress, as if their cries could persuade the soul to leave the celestial happiness, to come again into the elements of sorrow; one time calling to remembrance her virtue, chasteness, sweetness, goodness to them; another time accursing themselves, that they had obeyed her, being deceived by her words, who assured them that it was revealed unto her that she should have her hearts desire in the battle against Amphialus, which they wrongly understood. Then kissing her cold hands and feet, weary of the world since she was gone who was their world, the very heavens seemed with a cloudy countenance to lower at the loss, and fame itself, though by nature glad to tell such rare accidents, yet could not choose but deliver it in lamentable accents, and in such sort went it quickly all over the camp; and, as if the air had been infected with sorrow, no heart was so hard but was subject to that contagion; the rareness of the accident matching together the rarely matched togetherpity with admiration. Basilius himself came forth, and brought the fair Gynecia with him, who was come into the camp under colour of visiting her husband and hearing of her daughters; but indeed Zelmane was the saint to which her pilgrimage was intended; cursing, envying, blessing, and, in her heart, kissing the walls which imprisoned her. But both they, with Philanax and the rest of the principal nobility, went out to make honour triumph over death, conveying that excellent body, whereto Basilius himself would needs lend his shoulder, to a church a mile from the camp, where the valiant Argalus lay entombed, recommending to that sepulchre the blessed relics of a faithful and virtuous love, giving order for the making of two marble images to represent them, and each way enriching the tomb; upon which Basilius himself caused this epitaph to be written: