PARIS AND OENONE

BY V. C. TURNBULL

"Mournful Œnone, wandering forlorn
Of Paris, once her playmate on the hills."

Tennyson: Œnone.

Queen Hecuba, wife of Priam, King of Troy, dreamed an evil dream. For in her sleep she thought one came to her and said: "Behold, thou shalt bring forth a torch which shall set thy palace afire."

Not many days afterwards, therefore, when the Queen bore a son, Priam, to whom she had told her dream, ordered his slaves to destroy the child. But before his cruel order could be carried out, Hecuba contrived to steal away the babe and place it with certain shepherds—kindly folk, who cared for it as their own child—on Mount Ida, over against the city of Troy. And they called the child Paris.

Now Paris, though reared among rude shepherd folk, soon showed that royal blood ran in his veins, and he won great praise from the shepherds for his skill in tending the sheep upon the mountain, and for the daring with which he pursued and slew the wild beasts who sought to devour them.

So Paris grew to man's estate, and in all the land was none fairer than he, or more gracious withal. No marvel, then, that the mountain maid Œnone, whose home was in the vale of Ida, should be smitten by his beauty; and he loving her with equal warmth, they were wedded and lived together in that pleasant land with the happiness of simple folk.

Together they shared the pleasures of the chase, and Œnone was not less skilled than Paris in cheering on the hounds and in spreading the nets. In quieter moods they would wander together by the river or in the woods, and Paris would carve their names upon the gray boles of the beeches. And on one poplar that grew on the banks of the river Xanthus, he carved these words:

"Back to its source thy stream shall start,
Ere Paris from Œnone part."

But even then the gods were preparing a bitter sorrow for Paris, for Œnone, and for countless generations of mortals otherwhere.

Across the sea, in Thessaly, a great feast was being held to celebrate the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. And because the bride was no maiden born of woman, but an immortal Nereid, all the gods and goddesses were bidden to the banquet. All were bidden save one, Eris by name, the Goddess of Strife, most hateful of the immortals. So she, full of rage at the slight, cast on the board where all the guests were feasting a golden apple bearing the legend To the Fairest.

Then ensued, as Eris had intended, great strife among the goddesses, and, in especial, Juno, Minerva, and Venus claimed each the golden fruit. So the gods, not willing themselves to settle the dispute, bade the three goddesses betake themselves to Mount Ida, there to seek the judgment of Paris and to abide by his decision.

So on a day before the lowly bower of Paris and Œnone stood the three great goddesses. Naked they came, clad in celestial radiance, as with a garment, and at their feet violets and crocuses pushed upward through the grass, and hovering round them were the peacock of Juno, the owl of Minerva, and the doves of Venus.

Then when Paris faltered, not knowing which to choose when all were so fair, Juno, Queen of Heaven, said: "Choose me, and I will give thee the kingdoms of the world."

Then Minerva, the wise Virgin goddess, said: "Choose me, and I will give thee wisdom."

Last of all, Venus, the sea-born Goddess of Love, whispered: "Choose me, and I will give thee to wife the fairest woman in Greece."

Smiling, she stretched forth her hand and the golden apple was hers, and the three goddesses vanished in a cloud, and with them vanished all happiness from the heart of Œnone.

Not long after this, Priam, King of Troy, proposed a contest in arms among his sons and other princes, promising to the winner the finest bull on the pastures of Mount Ida. And Paris, grieving to see the bull driven off by the messengers of Priam, determined that he too would strive with the sons of Priam, whom as yet he knew not for his brothers.

So on the day fixed for the contests, Paris strove with Priam's sons Polites, Helenus, and Deiphobus, and with other princes, and worsted them all. Yea, and he strove also with the strongest of the king's sons, great Hector himself, and for him too was he a match. But Hector, enraged, turned and pursued Paris as he would kill him, so that Paris fled to the temple of Jupiter for refuge. In this temple he was met by Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, to whom Apollo had granted knowledge of things to come. And marking in Paris the very mold and features of her own brothers, she drew from him all he knew of his story. So, adding thereto of her own knowledge, Cassandra knew that this was indeed her brother who was put away while a baby, and taking him by the hand she led him back to the household of Priam and Hecuba, bidding all embrace their brother and son. Then Priam and Hecuba and all their sons very gladly took Paris to their hearts, for they forgot the dismal prophecy of his birth, noting only his modest courtesy, his beauty, and his strength.

Paris, therefore, remained a while in the royal household, and all made him great cheer. Yet was he not wholly happy in the palace of Priam. Not, alas! that his thoughts turned often to Œnone whom he had left on Mount Ida, but evermore there sounded in his ears the low voice of Venus, saying: "The fairest woman in Greece shall be thy wife."

And Paris would muse, saying to himself: "Helen, wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, is the fairest of all the daughters of men. All the princes of Greece sought her hand in marriage, and when those who have seen her try to tell of her beauty, speech fails them, for she is more fair than man can tell or poet can sing."

Then, pursuing his thought, he would ponder: "Am not I, Paris, no more a shepherd on Mount Ida, but now a prince in a royal palace and son of the King of Troy? Surely the word that Venus spake will yet be fulfilled!"

Now Priam's sister, Hesione, had been carried off and wedded against her will, and this thing was a bitterness to Priam. So Paris, perceiving this, set himself and his fellows to build and man a fleet, declaring that he would bring back Hesione, but thinking in his heart not of Hesione, but of Helen. To obtain wood for his ships he returned to Mount Ida to cut down the tallest pines that crowned the craggy ledges where the winds of the sea sighed through the branches, as it were, indeed, the soughing of another sea through the melancholy tree-tops.

Œnone received her lord with gladness on his return; but when she knew that his thought was but to fashion ships for a voyage, the spirit of prophecy came upon her, and she cried to him, as one inspired: "A bitter thing is this that thou doest, O Paris, my husband! For behold, thou farest to Greece to fetch hither the ruin of thy country and thy kindred. Yea, and to me shalt thou come at the last, stricken unto death, beseeching the aid of my leechcraft...." At this place the gift failed her as suddenly as it had come, and she fell to weeping.

But Paris, kissing her, bade her put away her fears and look out over the sea for his return. And when he had fashioned his ships and rigged them with tall masts and calked them with pitch, he set sail across the seas, leaving Œnone to watch for his homeward sails.

Many days did she sit upon a cliff that overlooked the blue waters, watching for the ship's return. One night, as in a vision, she saw, or seemed to see, a white sail on the marge, and it sped before the wind and passed close beneath the cliff where she stood at gaze. And as she looked down, her heart turned sick within her; for on the deck stood a lady. A daughter of the gods she seemed, divinely fair, and her arms were round the neck of Paris, while her head lay upon his breast. And Œnone saw Paris spring to shore bearing this lady in his arms; she saw him lead her to the city of Troy; she saw the gates flung open and all the people come forth to meet the pair; and she knew that this was Helen, the fairest of women, who had fled with Paris from Menelaus, her husband. She knew, too, that she, Œnone, would be left lonely till she died.


Now followed that great siege of Troy of which poets will sing till the end of time. For Menelaus, the husband of Helen, and his brother Agamemnon, the great general, stirred up all the princes of Greece who had been the suitors of Helen and, on her marriage with Menelaus, had bound themselves in a solemn league to protect her from all manner of violence. So all the princes and captains of Greece came with a great host and many ships, and laid siege to Troy; and many battles were fought upon the plains outside the city walls. And to Œnone, wandering widowed upon Mount Ida, the sound of the strife rolled up, and from afar she perceived the confused struggle of chariots and horses and men; but she heard and saw these things as one who marked them not, for it was as if her heart had died, and her life had ended.


Now when the war had lasted for a space of years, Paris, although constantly protected by the goddess Venus, received a wound from the poisoned arrow of one Philoctetes. Then in his anguish he remembered his deserted Œnone, and her great skill at leechcraft, and he said to his attendants: "Carry me out of the city to Mount Ida, that I may look once more on the face of my wife Œnone, and beseech her pardon for the great wrong she has endured at my hands. And haply, when she seeth my grievous state, her pitiful heart will be moved with compassion, and she will heal me with her leechcraft, for naught else may avail."

So they carried Paris in a litter up the slopes of Mount Ida. And Œnone, seeing them approach, went down swiftly to meet them. And Paris, when he saw her coming, stretched out his arms a little and let them fall, for they were very weak; and Œnone, uttering a lamentable cry, like a bird who sees her nestling slain, flew to meet his embrace. But in that moment Paris had breathed his last. The eyes, once so bright, were fixed in a stony stare, and the dews of death were on that marble brow. Then Œnone, forgetting all the wrongs she had suffered, remembering only the morning light of happy marriage and that he had come back to her at the last, fell down upon his breast embracing him and bathing him with her tears. Then, crying aloud with a great and exceeding bitter cry, she plucked a dagger from her girdle and plunged it into her heart, falling dead upon the breast which had pillowed her head in other years. So died Œnone, faithful to the faithless, the most innocent of all who perished for the sin of Paris, the son of Priam.