Aischylos Choephoroi (613—22)
And there is in legend another murderous virgin to be loathed, who ruined a loved one at the bidding of his foes, 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. And Hermes overtook him (Original Greek).
Ovid Metamorphoses (8.6-151)
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.
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.”
While Scylla said this, night that heals our cares
came on, and she grew bolder in the dark.
And now it is the late and silent hour
when slumber takes possession of the breast.
Outwearied with the cares of busy day;
then as her father slept, with stealthy tread
she entered his abode, and there despoiled,
and clipped his fatal lock of purple hair.
Concealing in her bosom the sad prize
of crime degenerate, she at once went forth
a gate unguarded, and with shameless haste
sped through the hostile army to the tent
of Minos, whom, astonished, she addressed:
“Only my love has led me to this deed.
The daughter of King Nisus, I am called
the maiden Scylla. Unto you I come
and offer up a power that will prevail
against my country, and I stipulate
no recompense except yourself. Take then
this purple hair, a token of my love.—
Deem it not lightly as a lock of hair
held idly forth to you; it is in truth
my father’s life.” And as she spoke
she held out in her guilty hand the prize,
and begged him to accept it with her love.
Shocked at the thought of such a heinous crime,
Minos refused, and said, “O execrable thing!
Despised abomination of our time!
May all the Gods forever banish you
from their wide universe, and may the earth
and the deep ocean be denied to you!
So great a monster shall not be allowed
to desecrate the sacred Isle of Crete,
where Jupiter was born.” So Minos spoke.
Nevertheless he conquered Megara,
(so aided by the damsel’s wicked deed)
and as a just and mighty king imposed
his own conditions on the vanquished land.
He ordered his great fleet to tarry not;
the hawsers were let loose, and the long oars
quickly propelled his brazen-pointed ships.—
When Scylla saw them launching forth,
observed them sailing on the mighty deep,
she called with vain entreaties; but at last,
aware the prince ignored her and refused
to recompense her wickedness, enraged,
and raving, she held up her impious hands,
her long hair streaming on the wind, — and said:
“Oh, wherefore have you flown, and left behind
the author of your glory. Oh, wretch! wretch
to whom I offered up my native land,
and sacrificed my father! Where have you
now flown, ungrateful man whose victory
is both my crime and virtue? And the gift
presented to you, and my passion,
have these not moved you? All my love and hope
in you alone!
“Forsaken by my prince,
shall I return to my defeated land?
If never ruined it would shut its walls
against me.—Shall I seek my father’s face
whom I delivered to all-conquering arms?
My fellow-citizens despise my name;
my friends and neighbors hate me; I have shut
the world against me, only in the hope
that Crete would surely welcome me;—and now,
he has forbidden me.
“And is it so
I am requited by this thankless wretch!
Europa could not be your mother! Spawn
of cruel Syrtis! Savage cub of fierce
Armenian tigress;—or Charybdis, tossed
by the wild South-wind begot you! Can you be
the son of Jupiter? Your mother was
not ever tricked by the false semblance
of a bull. All that story of your birth
is false! You are the offspring of a bull
as fierce as you are!
“Let your vengeance fall
upon me, O my father Nisus, let
the ruined city I betrayed rejoice
at my misfortunes—richly merited—
destroy me, you whom I have ruined;—I
should perish for my crimes! But why should you,
who conquered by my crime, abandon me?
The treason to my father and my land
becomes an act of kindness in your cause.
“That woman is a worthy mate for you
who hid in wood deceived the raging bull,
and bore to him the infamy of Crete.
I do not wonder that Pasiphae
preferred the bull to you, more savage than
the wildest beast. Alas, alas for me!
“Do my complaints reach your unwilling ears?
Or do the same winds waft away my words
that blow upon your ships, ungrateful man?—
Ah, wretched that I am, he takes delight
in hastening from me. The deep waves resound
as smitten by the oars, his ship departs;
and I am lost and even my native land
is fading from his sight.
“Oh heart of flint!
you shall not prosper in your cruelty,
and you shall not forget my sacrifice;
in spite of everything I follow you!
I’ll grasp the curving stern of your swift ship,
and I will follow through unending seas.”
And as she spoke, she leaped into the waves,
and followed the receding ships—for strength
from passion came to her. And soon she clung
unwelcome, to the sailing Gnossian ship.
Meanwhile, the Gods had changed her father’s form
and now he hovered over the salt deep,
a hawk with tawny wings. So when he saw
his daughter clinging to the hostile ship
he would have torn her with his rending beak;—
he darted towards her through the yielding air.
In terror she let go, but as she fell
the light air held her from the ocean spray;
her feather-weight supported by the breeze;
she spread her wings, and changed into a bird.
They called her “Ciris” when she cut the wind,
and “Ciris”—cut-the-lock—remains her name (Original Latin).
Propertius Elegies (3.19.21—28)
And thou, Scylla, that didst sell thyself for the beauty
of Minos, thou didst shear away thy father’s realm
when thou shorest his purple lock. Such was the
dower that the maiden pledged to the foe ! Nisus,
’twas love that opened thy gates by guile. But may
ye, unwedded maids, burn your marriage torches
with happier omen: for, see, she hangs to the Cretan
bark and is dragged through the sea. Yet Minos
deserves his place as the judge of Hell: though victor
he showed justice to his conquered foe. (Original Latin).
Pausanius Description of Greece (1.19.4)
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 (Original Greek).
Pausanius Description of Greece (2.34.7)
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 (Original Greek).
Apollodoros Library (3.15.8)
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.
When the war lingered on and he could not take Athens, he prayed to Zeus that he might be avenged on the Athenians. And the city being visited with a famine and a pestilence, the Athenians at first, in obedience to an ancient oracle, slaughtered the daughters of Hyacinth, to wit, Antheis, Aegleis, Lytaea, and Orthaea, on the grave of Geraestus, the Cyclops; now Hyacinth, the father of the damsels, had come from Lacedaemon and dwelt in Athens. But when this was of no avail, they inquired of the oracle how they could be delivered; and the god answered them that they should give Minos whatever satisfaction he might choose. So they sent to Minos and left it to him to claim satisfaction. And Minos ordered them to send seven youths and the same number of damsels without weapons to be fodder for the Minotaur. Now the Minotaur was confined in a labyrinth, in which he who entered could not find his way out; for many a winding turn shut off the secret outward way. The labyrinth was constructed by Daedalus, whose father was Eupalamus, son of Metion, and whose mother was Alcippe; for he was an excellent architect and the first inventor of images. He had fled from Athens, because he had thrown down from the acropolis Talos, the son of his sister Perdix; for Talos was his pupil, and Daedalus feared that with his talents he might surpass himself, seeing that he had sawed a thin stick with a jawbone of a snake which he had found. But the corpse was discovered; Daedalus was tried in the Areopagus, and being condemned fled to Minos. And there Pasiphae having fallen in love with the bull of Poseidon, Daedalus acted as her accomplice by contriving a wooden cow, and he constructed the labyrinth, to which the Athenians every year sent seven youths and as many damsels to be fodder for the Minotaur (Original Greek).
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.
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