Mars and Venus by Unknown

One day, upon that Trojan plain, Where men in hecatombs were slain, Th' immortal gods (no common sight) Thought fit to mingle in the fight, And found convincing proof that those Who will in quarrels interpose Are often doom'd to suffer harm— Venus was wounded in the arm; Whilst Mars himself, the god of war, Receiv'd an ignominious scar, And, fairly beat by Diomed, Fled back to heav'n and kept his bed. That bed (the proof may still be seen) Had long been shared with beauty's queen; For, with th' adventure of the cage, Vulcan had vented all his rage, (a) And, like Italian husbands, he Now wore his horns resignedly. Ye modest critics! spare my song: If gods and goddesses did wrong, And revell'd in illicit love, As poets, sculptors, painters, prove, Is mine the fault? and, if I tell Some tales of scandal that befell In heathen times, why need my lays On ladies' cheeks more blushes raise, When read (if such my envied lot) In secret boudoir, bower, or grot, Than scenes which, in the blaze of light, They throng to witness ev'ry night? Ere you condemn my humble page, Glance for a moment at the stage, Where twirling gods to view expose Their pliant limbs, in tighten'd hose, And goddesses of doubtful fame Are by lord chamberlains allow'd, With practis'd postures, to inflame The passions of a gazing crowd: And if great camels, such as these, Are swallow'd with apparent ease,  Oh! strain not at a gnat like me, Nor deem me lost to decency, When I now venture to declare That Mars and Venus—guilty pair— On the same couch extended lay, And cursed the fortunes of the day. The little Loves, who round them flew, Could only sob to show their feeling, Since they, of course, much better knew The art of wounding than of healing, And Cupid's self essay'd in vain To ease his lovely mother's pain: The chaplet that his locks confin'd He tore indeed her wound to bind; But from her sympathetic fever He had no nostrum to relieve her, And, thinking that she might assuage That fever, as she did her rage, By talking loud,—her usual fashion Whenever she was in a passion,— He stood, with looks resign'd and grave, Prepar'd to hear his mother rave. Who thus began: "Ah! Cupid, why Was I so silly as to try My fortune in the battle-field, (b) Or seek a pond'rous spear to wield, Which only Pallas (hated name!) Of all her sex can wield aright? What need had I of martial fame, Sought 'midst the dangers of the fight, When beauty's prize, a trophy far More precious than the spoils of war, Was mine already, won from those Whom rivalry has made my foes, And who on Trojan plains would sate E'en with my blood that ranc'rous hate Which Ida's neighb'ring heights inflame, And not this wound itself can tame? Ah! why did I not bear in mind That Beauty, like th' inconstant wind, Is always privileg'd to raise The rage of others to a blaze, Then, lull'd to rest, look calmly on, And see the work of havoc done? 'Twas well to urge your father, Mars, To mingle in those hated wars; 'Twas well—" But piteous cries of pain, From him she named, here broke the chain Of her discourse, and seem'd to say, "What want of feeling you display!" So, turning to her wounded lover, She kindly urged him to discover By whom and where the wound was given, That sent him writhing back to heaven. The god, thus question'd, hung his head, A burning blush of shame o'erspread With sudden flush his pallid cheek, As thus he answer'd: "Dost thou seek To hear a tale of dire disgrace, Which all those honours must efface,  That, hitherto, have made my name Pre-eminent in warlike fame? Yet—since 'twas thou who bad'st me go To fight with mortals there below— 'Tis fitting, too, that thou shouldst learn What laurels 'twas my fate to earn. At first, in my resistless car, I seem'd indeed the god of war; The Trojans rallied at my side; Changed in its hue, the Xanthus' tide Its waters to the ocean bore, Empurpled deep in Grecian gore; And o'er the corpse-impeded field The cry was still 'They yield!—they yield!' But soon, the flying ranks to stay, Thy hated rivals joined the fray; They nerved, with some accursed charm, Each Greek's, but most Tydides' arm, And, Venus, thou first felt the smart Of his Minerva-guided dart. I saw thee wounded, saw thee fly,— I saw the chief triumphantly Tow'rds me, his ardent coursers turn, As though from gods alone to earn The highest honours of the fight; I know not why, but, at the sight— Eternal shame upon my head!— A panic seized me, and I fled— I fled, like chaff before the wind, And, ah! my wounds are all—behind!" When thus at length the truth was told, (The shameful truth of his disgrace,) Again, within his mantle's fold, The wounded coward hid his face; (c) Whilst Venus, springing from his side, With looks of scornful anger, cried, "And didst thou fly from mortal foe, Nor stay to strike one vengeful blow For her who fondly has believ'd, By all thy val'rous boasts deceiv'd, That in the god of war she press'd The first of heroes to her breast? Cupid, my swans and car prepare— To Cyprus we will hasten, where Some youth, as yet unknown to fame, May haply raise another flame; For Mars may take his leave of Venus, No coward shall enjoy my love; And nothing more shall pass between us,— I swear it by my fav'rite dove." She spake; and through the realms of air, Before the humbled god could dare Upraise his head to urge her stay, Already she had ta'en her way; And in her Cyprian bow'r that night, (If ancient scandal tell aright,) Forgetful of her recent wound, In place of Mars another found, And to a mortal's close embraces Surrender'd her celestial graces.  'Tis said that Venus, wont to range Both heav'n and earth in search of change, Was not unwilling to discover Some pretext to desert her lover; Nor do I combat the assertion, But from the cause of her desertion, Whilst you, fair readers, justly rail Against her morals, I will dare To draw this moral for my tale,— "None but the brave deserve the fair!"

NOTES.

(a) Ovid thus speaks of the result of Vulcan's exposure of his wife's infidelity:

"Hoc tibi profectum, Vulcane, quod ante tegebant, Liberius faciunt ut pudor omnis abest; Sæpe tamen demens stultè fecisse fateris, Teque ferunt iræ pœnituisse tuæ."

(b) Leonidas, in his beautiful epigram to Venus armed, says,

Αρεος εντεα ταυτα τινος χαριν, ω Κυθιρεια, Ενδιδυσαι, κενεον τουτο φερουσα βαρος, Αυτον Αρη' γυμνη γαρ αφοπλισας, ει δε λιλειπται Και θεος, ανθρωποις οπλα ματην επαγεις.

(c) The ancients were seldom guilty of making the actions of their gods inconsistent with their general character and attributes; but there seems to have been much of the Captain Bobadil in the mighty god of war, and the instance of cowardice here alluded to is not the only one recorded of him by the poets. In the wars with the Titans he showed a decided "white feather," and suffered himself to be made prisoner.