Nisos and Skylla (page 257)

Chapter 7: The Royal House of Athens

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Cho 613—22 – Aischylos, Choephoroi

Chorus
And there is in legend another murderous virgin to be loathed, who ruined a loved one at the bidding of his foes, [615] when, lured by Minos’ gift, the Cretan necklace forged of gold, she with her dog’s heart despoiled Nisus of his immortal lock as he drew breath in unsuspecting sleep. [620] And Hermes overtook him.  Greek Text

♠ Vergil, Ciris

Tossed though I am, this way and that, by love of renown, and knowing full well that the fickle throng’s rewards are vain; though the Atticgarden, breathing forth sweet fragrance, enwraps me in fine-flowering Wisdom’s verdant shade, so that my mind is fain to go in quest of a song worthy thereof, prepared though she is for far different tasks and far different toils — she has looked aloft to the stars of the mighty firmament, and has dared to climb the hill that has found favour with few — yet I will not cease to fulfil the task I have begun, wherein I pray that my Muses may find their due repose, and lightly lay aside that seductive love.
But if, O Messalla, thou a task so wondrous in kind — wondrous indeed, if only thy fancy favour it — if Wisdom, exalted partner of those four heirs of olden days, now planted me on her topmost citadel, whence, o’er the world far and wide, I could look down upon the errors of men, and despise their lowly cares, thee I should not be honouring, great as thou art, with gift so slight — no verily, albeit at times we may be pleased to trifle, and to round a slender verse with smooth-running feet; but I should weave a story into an ample robe, if thus to speak be lawful, such as is borne in Erechthean Athens, what time due vows are paid to chaste Minerva, and the fifth-year feast slowly returns at the lustre’s close, when the gentle West-wind waxes strong against his rival of the East, and bears onward the car, heavy with its o’erhanging weight. Happy that day is called, happy that year, and happy are they who have looked upon such a year and such a day! Thus in due order are inwoven the battles of Pallas: the great robes are adorned with the trophies of Giants, and grim combats are depicted in blood-red scarlet. There is added he, who was hurled down by the golden spear — Typhon, who aforetime, when mounting into heaven on the rocks of Ossa, essayed to double the height of Olympus by piling thereon the Emathian mount.  Continue Reading  Latin Text  Latin Text and English Translation

Met 8.6-151 – Ovid, Metamorphoses

Now Lucifer unveiled the glorious day,
and as the session of the night dissolved,
the cool east wind declined, and vapors wreathed
the moistened valleys. Veering to the south
the welcome wind gave passage to the sons
of Aeacus, and wafted Cephalus
on his returning way, propitious; where
before the wonted hour, they entered port.

King Minos, while the fair wind moved their ship,
was laying waste the land of Megara.
He gathered a great army round the walls
built by Alcathous, where reigned in splendor
King Nisus—mighty and renowned in war—
upon the center of whose hoary head
a lock of purple hair was growing.—Its
proved virtue gave protection to his throne.

Six times the horns of rising Phoebe grew,
and still the changing fortune of the war
was in suspense; so, Victory day by day
between them hovered on uncertain wings.

Within that city was a regal tower
on tuneful walls; where once Apollo laid
his golden harp; and in the throbbing stone
the sounds remained. And there, in times of peace
the daughter of king Nisus loved to mount
the walls and strike the sounding stone with pebbles:
so, when the war began, she often viewed
the dreadful contest from that height;
until, so long the hostile camp remained,
she had become acquainted with the names,
and knew the habits, horses and the arms
of many a chief, and could discern the signs
of their Cydonean quivers.

More than all,
the features of King Minos were engraved
upon the tablets of her mind. And when
he wore his helmet, crested with gay plumes,
she deemed it glorious; when he held his shield
shining with gold, no other seemed so grand;
and when he poised to hurl the tough spear home,
she praised his skill and strength; and when he bent
his curving bow with arrow on the cord,
she pictured him as Phoebus taking aim,—
but when, arrayed in purple, and upon
the back of his white war horse, proudly decked
with richly broidered housings, he reined in
the nervous steed, and took his helmet off,
showing his fearless features, then the maid,
daughter of Nisus, could control herself
no longer; and a frenzy seized her mind.

She called the javelin happy which he touched,
and blessed were the reins within his hand.

She had an impulse to direct her steps,
a tender virgin, through the hostile ranks,
or cast her body from the topmost towers
into the Gnossian camp. She had a wild
desire to open to the enemy
the heavy brass-bound gates, or anything
that Minos could desire.

And as she sat
beholding the white tents, she cried, “Alas!
Should I rejoice or grieve to see this war?
I grieve that Minos is the enemy
of her who loves him; but unless the war
had brought him, how could he be known to me?
But should he take me for a hostage? That
might end the war—a pledge of peace, he might
keep me for his companion.

“O, supreme
of mankind! she who bore you must have been
as beautiful as you are; ample cause
for Jove to lose his heart.

“O, happy hour!
If moving upon wings through yielding air,
I could alight within the hostile camp
in front of Minos, and declare to him
my name and passion!

“Then would I implore
what dowry he could wish, and would provide
whatever he might ask, except alone
the city of my father. Perish all
my secret hopes before one act of mine
should offer treason to accomplish it.
And yet, the kindness of a conqueror
has often proved a blessing, manifest
to those who were defeated. Certainly
the war he carries on is justified
by his slain son.

“He is a mighty king,
thrice strengthened in his cause. Undoubtedly
we shall be conquered, and, if such a fate
awaits our city, why should he by force
instead of my consuming love, prevail
to open the strong gates? Without delay
and dreadful slaughter, it is best for him
to conquer and decide this savage war.

“Ah, Minos, how I fear the bitter fate
should any warrior hurl his cruel spear
and pierce you by mischance, for surely none
can be so hardened to transfix your breast
with purpose known.”

Oh, let her love prevail
to open for his army the great gates.
Only the thought of it, has filled her soul;
she is determined to deliver up
her country as a dowry with herself,
and so decide the war! But what avails
this idle talk.

“A guard surrounds the gates,
my father keeps the keys, and he alone
is my obstruction, and the innocent
account of my despair. Would to the Gods
I had no father! Is not man the God
of his own fortune, though his idle prayers
avail not to compel his destiny?

“Another woman crazed with passionate desires,
which now inflame me, would not hesitate,
but with a fierce abandon would destroy
whatever checked her passion. Who is there
with love to equal mine? I dare to go
through flames and swords; but swords and flames
are not now needed, for I only need
my royal father’s lock of purple hair.
More precious than fine gold, it has a power
to give my heart all that it may desire.”  Continue Reading  Latin Text

Prop 3.19.21—28 – Propertius, Elegies

And you Scylla, oh, sold on Minos’ beauty, shore off your father’s kingdom with his purple lock of hair. That was the dowry the virgin pledged his foe! Nisus, treacherous love opened your city gates. And you, unmarried ones, burn torches of happier omen: the girl clutched the Cretan ship and was dragged away.

Still Minos does not sit as a judge in Hell without reason: though he conquered, he was merciful to his foe.  Latin Text

Paus 1.19.4 – Pausanias, Description of Greece

Behind the Lyceum is a monument of Nisus, who was killed while king of Megara by Minos, and the Athenians carried him here and buried him. About this Nisus there is a legend. His hair, they say, was red, and it was fated that he should die on its being cut off. When the Cretans attacked the country, they captured the other cities of the Megarid by assault, but Nisaea, in which Nisus had taken refuge, they beleaguered. The story says how the daughter of Nisus, falling in love here with Minos, cut off her father’s hair.  Greek Text

Paus 2.34.7 – Pausanias, Description of Greece

Just about eighty stades away is a headland Scyllaeum, which is named alter the daughter of Nisus. For when, owing to her treachery, Minos had taken Nisaea and Megara, he said that now he would not have her to wife, and ordered his Cretans to throw her from the ship. She was drowned, and the waves cast up her body on this headland. They do not show a grave of her, but say that the sea birds were allowed to tear the corpse to pieces.  Greek Text

ApB 3.15.8 – Apollodoros, Bibliotheke (Library)

But not long afterwards, being master of the sea, he attacked Athens with a fleet and captured Megara, then ruled by king Nisus, son of Pandion, and he slew Megareus, son of Hippomenes, who had come from Onchestus to the help of Nisus. Now Nisus perished through his daughter’s treachery. For he had a purple hair on the middle of his head, and an oracle ran that when it was pulled out he should die; and his daughter Scylla fell in love with Minos and pulled out the hair. But when Minos had made himself master of Megara, he tied the damsel by the feet to the stern of the ship and drowned her.  Greek Text

Σ Hipp 1200 – Scholia to Euripides, Hippolytos – Scholia in Euripidem, ed. E. Schwartz 2, pp. 126-27. Berlin 1887. 

Greek Text

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Edited by Patrick Dix, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Department of Classics, University of Georgia, November 2017. Dan Mills, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Department of Classics, University of Georgia, February 2018. Updated by Elena Bianchelli, Retired Senior Lecturer of Classical Languages and Culture, Univ. of Georgia, March 2023.

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