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The Metamorphoses: Apollo and Daphne Essay

As soon as Phoebus saw Daphne, he fell in love with her, and wanted to marry her. His own prophetic powers deceived him and he hoped to achieve his desire. As the light stubble blazes up in the harvested field, or as the hedge is set alight, if traveler chance to kindle fire too close, or leaves one smoldering when he goes off at daybreak, so the god was all on fire, his whole heart was aflame, and he nourished his fruitless love on hope. He eyed her hair as it hung carelessly about her neck, and sighed:

“What if it were properly arranged?”

He looked at her eyes, sparkling bright as the stars, he looked at her lips, and wanted to do more than look at them. He praised her fingers, her hands, her arms, bare almost to the shoulder. Her hidden charms he imagined lovelier still. But Daphne ran off, swifter than the wind’s breath, and did not stop to hear his words, though he called her back:

“I implore you, nymph, daughter of Peneus, do not run away! Though I pursue you, I am no enemy. Stay, sweet nymph! You flee as the lamb flees the wolf, or deer the lion, as doves on fluttering wings from an eagle, as all creatures flee their natural foes! But it is love that drives me to follow you. Alas, how I fear you lest you trip and fall, lest briars scratch your innocent legs, and I be the cause of your hurting yourself. These are rough places through which you are running – go less swiftly, I beg of you, slow your flight and I in turn shall pursue less swiftly!”

“Yet stay to inquire whose heart you have charmed. I am no peasant, living in a mountain hut, nor am I a shepherd or boorish herdsman who tends his flocks and cattle in these regions. Silly girl, you do not know from who you are fleeing: indeed, you do not, or else you would not flee. I am lord of Delphi, Claros, and Tenedos, and of the realms of Patara too.

I am the son of Jupiter. By my skill, the past, the present, and the future are revealed; thanks to me, the lyre strings thrill with music. My arrow is sure, though there is one surer still, which was wounded by my carefree heart. The art of medicine is my invention, and men the world over give me the name of healer. All the properties of herbs are known to me: but alas, there are no herbs to cure love and the skill which helps others cannot help its master.”

He would have said more, but the frightened maiden fled from him, leaving him with his words unfinished; even then, she was graceful to see, as the wind bared her limbs and its gusts stirred her garments, blowing them out behind her. Her hair streamed in the light breeze, and her beauty was enhanced by her flight. But the youthful god could not endure to waste his time on further blandishments and, as love itself prompted, sped swiftly after her.

Even so, when a Gallic hound spies a hare in some open meadow he tries his swiftness to secure his prey, while the hare, by her switness, seeks safety: the dog, seeming just about to fasten on his quarry, hopes at every moment that he has her, and grazes her hind quarters with outstretched muzzle, but the hare, uncertain whether she has not already been caught, snatches herself out of his very jaws, and escapes the teeth which almost touch her.

Thus the god and the nymph sped on, one made swift by hope and one by fear; but he who pursued was swifter, for he was assisted by love’s wings. He gave the fleeing maiden no respite, but followed close on her heels and his breath touch the locks that lay scattered on her neck, till Daphne’s strength was spent, and she grew pale and weary with the effort of her swift flight. Then she saw the waters of the Peneus:

“Of father” she cried, “Help me! If you rivers have divine powers, work some transformation and destroy this beauty which makes me please all too well”

Her prayer was scarcely ended when a deep languor took hold on her limbs, her soft breast was enclosed with thin bark, her hair grew into leaves, her arms into branches, and her feet that were lately so swift were held fast sluggish roots, while her face became the treetop. Nothing on her was left, except her shining loveliness.


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