BY V. C. TURNBULL
Danaüs and Ægyptus, two brothers, ruled together
over Egypt. And to Danaüs fifty daughters were
born, while Ægyptus begot fifty sons. Yet was not
Danaüs happy; nay, he went all day in fear. For the
mysterious voice of the Theban oracle had sounded terribly
in his ears:
WHEN THY DAUGHTER MARRIETH,
DANAÜS, THOU ART DOOMED TO DEATH!
Never could Danaüs put these words from his mind.
Walking alone in the gardens of his palace, he started,
thinking one whispered them in his ear; at the banquet
they sounded like thunder above the singing of the minstrels;
and at night he lay trembling on his bed, hearing
the doom of the oracle spoken in low tones out of the
darkness. So the life of Danaüs became dark and bitter,
and his heart grew hard and cruel with fear.
Now the sons of Ægyptus were grown into comely
youths, and to their father it seemed but fitting that they
should marry their cousins, the daughters of Danaüs,
beautiful maidens all. But when he spoke thereon to his
brother, a great terror fell on Danaüs. For casting his
eyes on the young men as they strove together in their
sports, he thought with bitterness: "Yea, and shall one
of these be my murderer?" Then, in fear and rage,
he turned to his brother, and, snarling like a wolf, cried,
"Child of mine weds not child of thine!" Whereat
Ægyptus raged mightily, swearing to fulfil his purpose,
so that Danaüs, ever cunning rather than valiant, made
amends for his hasty words and promised to tell his
daughters of their uncle's pleasure.
Howbeit, that night Danaüs gathering together his
daughters, his slaves, and his goods, secretly left the palace,
and flying northward to the coast of the Great Sea,
there took ship and came at length to Argos in Greece.
Gelanor, King of Argos, received Danaüs and his daughters
with kindness and feasted them with royal cheer.
But the heart of Danaüs knew not gratitude, and having
left the throne of Egypt, he sought how to take that of
Argos. Nor was this difficult, for Gelanor was at strife
with his people, who were but too ready to seek a new
ruler. Therefore, when Danaüs spoke to them fair
words, promising them many things, they gave glad heed,
and ere many days had passed Gelanor was driven forth
and Danaüs ruled over Argos in his stead.
But not long was he left in peace. For his brother
Ægyptus, enraged to find Danaüs forsworn, and hearing
of his fortune in Argos, called his sons together and
cried to them, saying: "Sons, will ye suffer yourselves
to be fooled? Shall this man snatch from you your
brides and rule in peace on the throne which he hath
stolen? Nay, if ye be sons of mine, go, gather to yourselves
a mighty army and take from him his daughters
and his land, and the gods prosper you and protect your
Then the young men, kindling at their father's words,
gathered quickly a great host, and sailing in a fleet to
Argos, they harried the country before Danaüs knew of
their landing. And when one ran to tell him of their
coming, a great fear struck upon his heart, for louder
than ever in Egypt sounded in his ear:
WHEN THY DAUGHTER MARRIETH,
DANAÜS, THOU ART DOOMED TO DEATH!
So with fear and hatred in his breast, but with smooth
words upon his lips, he went forth to meet the young
men and their followers, who were even now at the
palace gates. All that they demanded he promised.
"Take my daughters to wife," he cried; "reign over
Argos in my stead, for I am old, and weary of ruling a
So the young men were admitted into the palace, and
the maidens their cousins received them with mirth and
feasting, and the day of their nuptials was appointed.
But before the day came, the crafty Danaüs called his
daughters to him and commanded them on peril of their
lives to slay their husbands so soon as they should be
wedded. And to each he gave a sharp dagger to conceal
under her wedding robe. These, therefore, the
daughters of Danaüs took, purposing to obey their father.
For many of them were cruel even as he, while
others, caring nothing for their affianced husbands, feared
greatly to disobey Danaüs. So it was that as they took
counsel together in the women's chamber after leaving
their father's presence, there was but one voice among
the maidens as to the wisdom of obeying his word.
But the youngest, Hypermnestra, was silent. For her
heart was tender and pitiful, and Lynceus, her betrothed,
youngest of the sons of Ægyptus and the fairest, had
moved her heart to love and tenderness. Like her sisters,
she feared her father, and never before had she disobeyed
his orders; but love conquered fear, and pity
was stronger than filial duty.
Now came the day of the weddings, and at night a
great feast was spread. Golden lamps shed their radiance
throughout the palace, and clouds of incense rolled
up from the altar of Hymen, the god of happy nuptials.
But Hypermnestra, heart-sick at the mockery, loathed
the rich viands and the fumes of incense seemed to
The feast was over, and the young bridegrooms,
crowned with chaplets of fresh flowers and dressed in
wedding robes, had drunk deeply of drugged wine, and
were half asleep before they reached their bridal chambers—led
like lambs to the slaughter!
Hypermnestra sat up on her couch, listening with
straining ears. Surely it was groaning she heard, on
this side and on that. Her sisters were obeying their
father's command, and dared she alone be disobedient?
By her side lay young Lynceus, flushed with wine and
sleep, his head thrown back, his breast bare. Nearer and
louder sounded the groans, and she knew that Danaüs
would speedily be coming to count the dead. In her
terror she raised her weapon, and would have stricken
first her lover and then herself.
"On earth," she cried, "there is no escape. I will die
with my love, and we will go together to the realms
of Tartarus, I the bride and he the bridegroom of
But as she bent over the sleeping Lynceus her hot tears
awoke him, and he stretched out his arms to embrace
her. She started aside like a guilty thing and hid her
dagger, and cried to Lynceus: "Arise, fly hence! else
will to-night be to thee an everlasting night!"
"What sayest thou?" he murmured, only half awake.
"Art mocking me? Is that a dagger in thy left hand?"
"Rise and fly, while there is yet time!" she cried
again. "Thy brothers are already dead, treacherously
slain by their brides. The dawn is near; soon it will be
too late. Leave me; fly! I cannot bear to see thee
Then Lynceus sprang up and fled, and scarcely had he
gone when Danaüs, gloating over his victims, entered to
see if Hypermnestra had been obedient as her sisters.
But Hypermnestra, fearful no longer, rose and faced
him, holding out the bloodless dagger.
"Take back thy weapon, cruel father," she cried.
"Nay, and if thou wilt, smite me therewith, slaying me
with the death I would not bring upon my husband. But
not in death itself shalt thou hear me say, 'I repent.'"
Strong and beautiful she stood there in the dawn, her
eyes shining with triumph. But her father, enraged at
the escape of one victim, struck her to the ground and
ordered slaves to drag her by the hair to the palace
dungeon. And not many days after, seated in the city
hall of justice, he caused her to be brought before him
to be sentenced for her disobedience. So slaves dragged
in Hypermnestra, and she stood there before a great
multitude, chains on her hands and feet, her white robe
besmirched by the dungeon, but with the light of triumph
still shining in her eyes. And all the people, seeing her,
cried with one voice: "Spare her, O king!" and as his
wrath burned yet fiercer as a fire that meets the blast,
the prayer became a threat: "Spare her, thou cruel
king!" But Danaüs, remembering the oracle, gnashed
upon them with his teeth and rose as if to smite
Hypermnestra with his own hand. But even as he rose
a voice like thunder smote upon his ear: "Hold, thou
cursed king!" and the crowd made way for a young
warrior to pass. Like a young god, Lynceus rushed upon
Danaüs and slew him at a stroke, and all the people hailed
him as King over Argos, and his wife Hypermnestra as
But the guilty sisters of Hypermnestra, seeing what
had chanced, fled from Argos, whither none knew or
cared. And poets tell that after death their shades in
Tartarus were condemned evermore to draw water in
bottomless urns, a warning to all false wives and traitors;
but Hypermnestra has won for herself a name that will
live for all time as a maiden tender and true, who loved
greatly and dared greatly.