Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Meleager and Atalanta,
Out of the Eighth Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Connexion to the Former Story
  Ovid, 1 having told how Theseus had freed Athens from the Tribute of Children, (which was impos’d on them by Minos, King of Creta) by killing the Minotaur, here makes a Digression to the Story of Meleager and Atalanta, which is one of the most inartificial Connexions in all the Metamorphoses: For he only says, that Theseus obtain’d such Honour from that Combate, that all Greece had recourse to him in their Necessities; and, amongst others, Calydon, though the Heroe of that Country, Prince Meleager, was then living.

FROM him, the Caledonians sought Relief;
Tho’ valiant Meleagrus was their Chief.
The Cause, a Boar, who ravag’d far and near:
Of Cynthia’s Wrath th’ avenging Minister.
For Oeneus with Autumnal Plenty bless’d,        5
By Gifts to Heav’n his Gratitude express’d:
Cull’d Sheafs, to Ceres; to Lyæus, Wine;
To Pan, and Pales, offer’d Sheep and Kine;
And Fat of Olives, to Minerva’s shrine.
Beginning from the Rural Gods, his Hand        10
Was lib’ral to the Pow’rs of high Command:
Each Deity in ev’ry kind was bless’d,
Till at Diana’s Fane th’ invidious Honour ceas’d.
  Wrath touches ev’n the Gods; the Queen of Night
Fir’d with Disdain, and jealous of her Right,        15
Unhonour’d though I am, at least, said she,
Not unreveng’d that impious Act shall be.
Swift as the Word, she sped the Boar away,
With Charge on those devoted Fields to prey.
No larger Bulls th’ Ægyptian Pastures feed,        20
And none so large Sicilian Meadows breed:
His Eye-balls glare with Fire, suffus’d with Blood;
His Neck shoots up a thick-set thorny Wood;
His bristled Back a Trench impal’d appears,
And stands erected, like a Field of Spears.        25
Froth fills his Chaps, he sends a grunting Sound,
And part he churns, and part befoams the Ground.
For Tusks with Indian Elephants he strove,
And love’s own Thunder from his Mouth he drove.
He burns the Leaves; the scorching Blast invades        30
The tender Corn, and shrivels up the Blades:
Or suff’ring not their yellow Beards to rear,
He tramples down the Spikes, and intercepts the Year.
In vain the Barns expect their promis’d Load,
Nor Barns at home, nor Reeks are heap’d abroad:        35
In vain the Hinds the Threshing-Floor prepare,
And exercise their Flails in empty Air.
With Olives ever-green the Ground is strow’d,
And Grapes ungather’d shed their gen’rous Blood.
Amid the Fold he rages, nor the Sheep        40
Their Shepherds, nor the Grooms their Bulls can keep.
  From Fields to Walls the frighted Rabble run,
Nor think themselves secure within the Town:
Till Meleagros, and his chosen Crew,
Contemn the Danger, and the Praise pursue.        45
Fair Leda’s Twins (in time to Stars decreed)
One fought on Foot, one curb’d the fiery Steed;
Then issued forth fam’d Jason after These,
Who mann’d the foremost Ship that sail’d the Seas;
Then Theseus, join’d with bold Perithous, came,        50
A single Concord in a double Name:
The Thestian Sons, Idas who swiftly ran,
And Ceneus, once a Woman, now a Man.
Lynceus, with Eagles Eyes, and Lions Heart
Leucippus, with his never-erring Dart;        55
Acastus, Phileus, Phœnix, Telamon,
Echion, Lelex, and Eurytion,
Achilles Father, and great Phocus Son;
Dryas the Fierce, and Hippasus the Strong;
With twice old Iolas, and Nestor then but young,        60
Laertes active, and Ancæus bold;
Mopsus the Sage, who future Things foretold;
And t’other Seer, yet by his Wife 2 unsold.
A thousand others of immortal Fame;
Among the rest, fair Atalanta came,        65
Grace of the Woods: A Diamond Buckle bound
Her Vest behind, that else had flow’d upon the Ground,
And shew’d her buskin’d Legs; her Head was bare,
But for her Native Ornament of Hair;
Which in a simple Knot was ty’d above,        70
Sweet Negligence! unheeded Bait of Love!
Her sounding Quiver on her shoulder ty’d,
One Hand a Dart, and one a Bow supply’d.
Such was her Face, as in a Nymph display’d
A fair fierce Boy, or in a Boy betray’d        75
The blushing Beauties of a modest Maid.
The Caledonian Chief at once the Dame
Beheld, at once his Heart receiv’d the Flame,
With Heav’ns averse. O happy Youth, he cry’d;
For whom thy Fates reserve so fair a Bride!        80
He sigh’d, and had no leisure more to say
His Honour call’d his Eyes another way,
And forced him to pursue the now neglected Prey.
  There stood a Forest on a Mountains Brow,
Which over-look’d the shaded Plains below.        85
No sounding Ax presum’d those Trees to bite;
Coeval with the World, a venerable Sight.
The Heroes there arriv’d, some spread around
The Toils; some search the Footsteps on the Ground;
Some from the Chains the faithful Dogs unbound.        90
Of Action eager, and intent in 3 Thought,
The Chiefs their honourable Danger sought:
A Valley stood below; the common Drain
Of Waters from above, and falling Rain:
The Bottom was a moist and marshy Ground,        95
Whose Edges were with bending Oziers crown’d;
The knotty Bulrush next in Order stood,
And all within of Reeds a trembling Wood.
  From hence the Boar was rows’d, and sprung amain
Like Lightning sudden, on the Warriour-Train;        100
Beats down the Trees before him, shakes the Ground,
The Forest echoes to the crackling Sound;
Shout the fierce Youth, and Clamours ring around.
All stood with their protended Spears prepar’d,
With broad Steel Heads the brandish’d Weapons glar’d.        105
The Beast impetuous with his Tusks aside
Deals glancing Wounds; the fearful Dogs divide:
All spend their Mouth aloof, 4 but none abide.
Echion threw the first, but miss’d his Mark,
And stuck his Boar-spear on a Maples Bark.        110
Then Jason: and his Javelin seem’d to take,
But fail’d with over-force, and whiz’d above his Back.
Mopsus was next; but, e’er he threw, address’d
To Phœbus, thus: O Patron, help thy Priest:
If I adore, and ever have ador’d        115
Thy Pow’r Divine, thy present Aid afford;
That I may reach the Beast. The God allow’d
His Pray’r, and smiling, gave him what he cou’d:
He reach’d the Savage, but no Blood he drew,
Dian unarm’d the Javelin as it flew.        120
  This chaf’d the Boar, his Nostrils Flames expire,
And his red Eye-balls roll with living Fire.
Whirl’d from a Sling, or from an Engine thrown,
Amidst the Foes, so flies a mighty Stone,
As flew the Beast: The Left Wing put to flight,        125
The Chiefs o’erborn, he rushes on the Right.
Eupalamos and Pelagon he laid
In Dust, and next to Death, but for their Fellows Aid.
Enesimus 5 far’d worse, prepar’d to fly,
The fatal Fang drove deep within his Thigh,        130
And cut the Nerves: The Nerves no more sustain
The Bulk; the Bulk unprop’d, falls head-long on the Plain.
Nestor had fail’d the Fall of Troy to see,
But leaning on his Lance, he vaulted on a Tree;
Then gath’ring up his Feet, look’d down with Fear,        135
And thought his monstrous Foe was still too near.
Against a Stump his Tusk the Monster grinds,
And in the sharpen’d Edge new Vigour finds;
Then, trusting to his Arms, young Othrys found,
And ranch’d his Hips with one continu’d Wound.        140
Now Leda’s Twins, the future Stars, appear;
White were their Habits, white their Horses were,
Conspicuous both, and both in act to throw,
Their trembling Lances brandish’d at the Foe:
Nor had they miss’d; but he to Thickets fled,        145
Conceal’d from aiming Spears, not pervious to the Steed.
But Telamon rush’d in, and happ’d to meet
A rising Root, that held his fastned Feet;
So down he fell; whom, sprawling on the Ground,
His Brother from the Wooden Gyves unbound.        150
Mean time the Virgin-Huntress was not slow
T’ expel the Shaft from her contracted Bow:
Beneath his Ear the fastned Arrow stood,
And from the Wound appear’d the trickling Blood.
She blush’d for Joy: But Meleagros rais’d        155
His voice with loud Applause, and the fair Archer prais’d.
He was the first to see, and first to show
His Friends the Marks of the successful Blow.
Nor shall thy Valour want the Praises due,
He said; a vertuous Envy seiz’d the Crew.        160
They shout; the Shouting animates their Hearts,
And all at once employ their thronging Darts:
But out of Order thrown, in Air they joyn;
And Multitude makes frustrate the Design.
With both his Hands the proud Anceus takes,        165
And flourishes his double-biting Ax:
Then forward to his Fate, he took a Stride
Before the rest, and to his Fellows cry’d,
Give place, and mark the diff’rence, if you can,
Between a Woman-Warriour, and a Man;        170
The Boar is doom’d; not though Diana lend
Her Aid, Diana can her Beast defend.
Thus boasted he; then stretch’d, on Tiptoe stood,
Secure to make his empty Promise good.
But the more wary Beast prevents the Blow,        175
And upward rips the Groin of his audacious Foe.
Ancæus falls; his Bowels from the Wound
Rush out, and clotter’d 6 Blood distains the Ground.
  Perithous, no small Portion of the War,
Press’d on, and shook his Lance; To whom from far        180
Thus Theseus cry’d: O stay, my better Part,
My more than Mistress; of my Heart, the Heart.
The Strong may fight aloof: Anceus try’d
His Force too near, and by presuming dy’d:
He said, and while he spake his Javelin threw,        185
Hissing in Air th’ unerring Weapon flew;
But on an Arm of Oak, that stood betwixt
The Marks-man and the Mark, his Lance he fixt.
  Once more bold Jason threw, but fail’d to wound
The Boar, and slew an undeserving Hound;        190
And through the Dog the Dart was nail’d to Ground.
  Two Spears from Meleager’s Hand were sent,
With equal Force, but various in th’ Event:
The first was fix’d in Earth, the second stood
On the Boars bristled Back, and deeply drank his Blood.        195
Now while the tortur’d Salvage turns around,
And flings about his Foam, impatient of the Wound,
The Wounds great Author close at Hand provokes
His Rage, and plyes him with redoubled Strokes;
Wheels as he wheels; and with his pointed Dart        200
Explores the nearest Passage to his Heart.
Quick, and more quick he spins in giddy Gires,
Then falls, and in much Foam his Soul expires.
This Act with Shouts Heav’n high the friendly Band
Applaud, and strain in theirs the Victour 7 Hand.        205
Then all approach the Slain with vast Surprize,
Admire on what a Breadth of Earth he lies;
And scarce secure, reach out their Spears afar,
And blood their Points, to prove their Partnership of War.
  But he, the conqu’ring Chief, his Foot impress’d        210
On the strong Neck of that destructive Beast;
And gazing on the Nymph with ardent Eyes,
Accept, said he, fair Nonacrine, my Prize,
And, though inferiour, suffer me to join
My Labours, and my Part of Praise, with thine:        215
At this presents her with the Tusky Head
And Chine, with rising Bristles roughly spread.
Glad, she receiv’d the Gift: and seem’d to take
With double Pleasure, for the Giver’s sake.
The rest were seiz’d with sullen Discontent,        220
And a deaf Murmur through the Squadron went:
All envy’d; but the Thestyan Brethren show’d
The least Respect, and thus they vent their Spleen aloud:
Lay down those honour’d Spoils, nor think to share,
Weak Woman as thou art, the Prize of War:        225
Ours is the Title, thine a foreign Claim,
Since Meleagros from our Lineage came.
Trust not thy Beauty; but restore the Prize,
Which he, besotted on that Face and Eyes,
Would rend from us: At this, inflam’d with Spite,        230
From her they snatch the Gift, from him the Givers Right.
  But soon th’ impatient Prince his Fauchion drew,
And cry’d Ye Robbers of another’s Due,
Now learn the Diff’rence, at your proper Cost,
Betwixt true Valour, and an empty Boast.        235
At this advanc’d, and, sudden as the Word
In proud Plexippus 8 Bosom plung’d the Sword:
Toxeus amaz’d, and with Amazement slow,
Or to revenge, or ward the coming Blow,
Stood doubting; and, while doubting thus he stood,        240
Receiv’d the Steel bath’d in his Brother’s Blood.
  Pleas’d with the first, unknown the second News,
Althea, to the Temples, pays their Dues
For her Son’s Conquest; when at length appear
Her griesly Brethren stretch’d upon the Bier:        245
Pale at the sudden Sight, she chang’d her Cheer,
And with her Cheer her Robes; but hearing tell
The Cause, the Manner, and by whom they fell,
’T was Grief no more, or Grief and Rage were One
Within her Soul; at last ’twas Rage alone;        250
Which burning upwards in succession dries
The Tears that stood consid’ring in her Eyes.
  There lay a Log unlighted on the Hearth: 9
When she was lab’ring in the Throws of Birth
For th’ unborn Chief, the Fatal Sisters came,        255
And rais’d it up, and toss’d it on the Flame:
Then on the Rock a scanty Measure place
Of Vital Flax, and turn’d the Wheel apace;
And turning sung, To this red Brand and thee,
O new-born Babe, we give an equal Destiny:        260
So vanish’d out of View. The frighted Dame
Sprung hasty from her Bed, and quench’d the Flame:
The Log in secret lock’d, she kept with Care,
And that, while thus preserv’d, preserv’d her Heir.
This Brand she now produc’d; and first she strows        265
The Hearth with Heaps of Chips, and after blows,
Thrice heav’d her Hand, and heav’d, she thrice repress’d:
The Sister and the Mother long contest
Two doubtful Titles in one tender Breast;
And now her Eyes and Cheeks with Fury glow,        270
Now pale her Cheeks, her Eyes with Pity flow;
Now lowring Looks presage approaching Storms,
And now prevailing Love her Face reforms:
Resolv’d, she doubts again; the Tears she dry’d
With burning 10 Rage, are by new Tears supply’d;        275
And as a Ship, which Winds and Waves assail,
Now with the Current drives, now with the Gale,
Both opposite, and neither long prevail:
She feels a double Force, by Turns obeys
Th’ imperious Tempest, and th’ impetuous Seas:        280
So fares Althæa’s Mind; she first 11 relents
With Pity, of that Pity then repents:
Sister and Mother long the Scales divide,
But the Beam nodded on the Sisters side.
Sometimes she softly sigh’d, then roar’d aloud;        285
But Sighs were stifled in the Cries of Blood.
  The pious, impious Wretch at length decreed,
To please her Brother’s Ghost, her Son shou’d bleed;
And when the Fun’ral Flames began to rise,
Receive, she said, a Sisters Sacrifice:        290
A Mothers Bowels burn: High in her Hand
Thus while she spoke, she held the fatal Brand;
Then thrice before the kindled Pyle she bow’d,
And the three Furies thrice invok’d aloud:
Come, come, revenging Sisters, come and view        295
A Sister paying her dead Brothers due:
A Crime I punish, and a Crime commit;
But Blood for Blood, and Death for Death is fit:
Great Crimes must be with greater Crimes repaid,
And second Funerals on the former laid.        300
Let the whole Houshold in one Ruine fall,
And may Diana’s Curse o’ertake us all.
Shall Fate to happy Oeneus still allow
One Son, while Thestius stands depriv’d of two?
Better three lost, than one unpunish’d go.        305
Take then, dear Ghosts, (while yet admitted new
In Hell you wait my Duty) take your Due:
A costly Off’ring on your Tomb is laid,
When with my Blood the Price of yours is paid.
  Ah! Whither am I hurried? Ah! forgive,        310
Ye Shades, and let your Sisters Issue live:
A Mother cannot give him Death; though he
Deserves it, he deserves it not from me.
  Then shall th’ unpunish’d Wretch insult the Slain,
Triumphant live, nor only live, but reign?        315
While you, thin Shades, the Sport of Winds, are toss’d
O’er dreery Plains, or tread 12 the burning Coast.
I cannot, cannot bear; ’tis past, ’tis done;
Perish this impious, this detested Son:
Perish his Sire, and perish I withal;        320
And let the Houses Heir, and the hop’d Kingdom fall.
  Where is the Mother fled, her pious Love,
And where the Pains with which ten Months I strove!
Ah! hadst thou dy’d, my Son, in Infant-years,
Thy little Herse had been bedew’d with Tears.        325
  Thou liv’st by me; to me thy Breath resign;
Mine is the Merit, the Demerit thine.
Thy Life by double Title I require;
Once giv’n at Birth, and once preserv’d from Fire:
One Murder pay, or add one Murder more,        330
And me to them who fell by thee restore.
  I wou’d, but cannot: My Son’s Image stands
Before my Sight; and now their angry Hands
My Brothers hold, and Vengeance these exact,
This pleads Compassion, and repents the Fact.        335
  He pleads in vain, and I pronounce his Doom:
My Brothers, though unjustly, shall o’er-come.
But having paid their injur’d Ghosts their Due,
My Son requires my Death, and mine shall his pursue.
  At this, for the last time she lifts her Hand,        340
Averts her Eyes, and, half unwilling, drops the Brand.
The Brand, amid the flaming Fewel thrown,
Or drew, or seem’d to draw, a dying Groan:
The Fires themselves but faintly lick’d their Prey,
Then loath’d their impious Food, and wou’d have shrunk away.        345
  Just then the Heroe cast a doleful Cry,
And in those absent Flames began to fry.
The blind Contagion rag’d within his Veins;
But he with manly Patience bore his Pains:
He fear’d not Fate, but only griev’d to die        350
Without an honest Wound, and by a Death so dry.
Happy Ancæus, thrice aloud he cry’d,
With what becoming Fate in Arms he dy’d!
Then call’d his Brothers, Sisters, Sire, around,
And her to whom his Nuptial Vows were bound;        355
Perhaps his Mother; a long Sigh he drew,
And his Voice failing, took his last Adieu:
For as the Flames augment, and as they stay
At their full Height, then languish to decay,
They rise, and sink by Fits; at last they soar        360
In one bright Blaze, and then descend no more:
Just so his inward Heats at height, impair,
Till the last burning Breath shoots out the Soul in Air.
  Now lofty Calidon in Ruines lies;
All Ages, all Degrees unsluice their Eyes;        365
And Heaven & Earth resound with Murmurs, Groans, & Cries.
Matrons and Maidens beat their Breasts, and tear
Their Habits, and root up their scatter’d Hair.
The wretched Father, Father now no more,
With Sorrow sunk, lies prostrate on the Floor,        370
Deforms his hoary Locks with Dust obscene,
And curses Age, and loaths a Life prolong’d with Pain.
By Steel her stubborn Soul his Mother freed,
And punish’d on her self her impious Deed.
Had I a hundred Tongues, a Wit so large        375
As cou’d their hundred Offices discharge;
Had Phœbus all his Helicon bestow’d,
In all the Streams inspiring all the God;
Those Tongues, that Wit, those Streams, that God, in vain
Wou’d offer to describe his Sisters pain:        380
They beat their Breasts with many a bruizing Blow,
Till they turn’d 13 livid, and corrupt the Snow.
The Corps they cherish, while the Corps remains,
And exercise and rub with fruitless Pains;
And when to Fun’ral Flames ’tis born away,        385
They kiss the Bed on which the Body lay:
And when those Fun’ral Flames no longer burn,
(The Dust compos’d within a pious Urn)
Ev’n in that Urn their Brother they confess,
And hug it in their Arms, and to their Bosoms press.        390
  His Tomb is rais’d; then, stretch’d along the Ground,
Those living Monuments his Tomb surround:
Ev’n to his Name, inscrib’d, their Tears they pay,
Till Tears and Kisses wear his Name away.
But Cynthia now had all her Fury spent,        395
Not with less Ruine than a Race, content:
Excepting Gorge, perish’d all the Seed,
And Her 14 whom Heav’n for Hercules decreed.
Satiate at last, no longer she pursu’d
The weeping Sisters; but with Wings endu’d,        400
And Horny Beaks, and sent to flit in Air;
Who yearly round the Tomb in Feather’d Flocks repair.
Note 1. The text from the original edition of 1700 except for the variants noted. There are several mistakes in the editions. The form ‘clottered’ is undoubtedly Dryden’s. In 288 it would seem that the original text is wrongly printed. Warton gives ‘Brother’s Ghosts,’ which is absurd. [back]
Note 2. Amphiaraus. [back]
Note 3. in] The editors wrongly give on. [back]
Note 4. aloof] The editors, disregarding the sense, wrongly give aloft. [back]
Note 5. Enesimus] Onesimus 1700. Perhaps a misprint. [back]
Note 6. clotter’d] The editors wrongly give clotted. [back]
Note 7. Victour] The editors wrongly give victor’s. [back]
Note 8. Plexippus] Ploxippus 1700. Probably a misprint. [back]
Note 9. Hearth] The English editors thoughtlessly and wrongly give earth. [back]
Note 10. burning] The English editors wantonly give blushing. [back]
Note 11. she first] Most editors wrongly give first she. [back]
Note 12. tread] Some editors absurdly give dread. [back]
Note 13. turn’d] Some editors give turn. [back]
Note 14. Dejanira. [back]

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