SCYLLA, THE DAUGHTER OF NISUS
BY MRS. GUY E. LLOYD
In Crete, the greatest and most powerful of the isles
of Greece and the cradle of Jupiter, there once stood
a splendid palace where lived the wealthy King Minos.
To this palace came as guests one day Nisus, King of
Megara, and his fair daughter Scylla; and there they
abode many days, with every day fresh delights sought
out by King Minos to give them pleasure. And Scylla,
like a fond and foolish maiden, was dazzled by the pomp
and by the flattery of King Minos, and he seemed to her
the greatest and wisest of living men, and she would fain
have tarried there forever, hearkening to his words and
admiring all his riches.
But King Nisus would not longer stay, and they departed,
bearing with them rich gifts from the generous
king, and returned to their own castle at Megara. Very
small and mean did her home seem to Scylla now, and
often would she climb to the top of a turret that looked
over the sea, and thence she would gaze and gaze towards
the south, and her thoughts would fly back to the fair
island of Crete with its cities and its palaces, and its
strong and noble king, till she envied the birds that
skimmed past her turret on swift, light wings. They
could fly to Crete whenever they would, and settle on
the palace eaves; but the princess must sit still in her
high turret, and hide even her longing away within her
The days passed by, and Nisus went no more to Crete,
but Androgeos, son of King Minos, came to Megara and
abode there some little space, and the king and the
princess welcomed him kindly for his father's sake.
After his visit Androgeos would not sail back straight
to his father's halls; he was minded first to see the great
city of Athens, the eye of Greece. King Nisus warned
him that the road across the mountains was difficult and
dangerous, and that many robbers hid among those hills;
but the prince would not be warned. He went his way,
and the next news of him that came was that he had
been set upon by bandits and murdered.
"He should have hearkened to the counsel of older
and wiser men," said King Nisus. "I grieve for the
youth, but he brought it on himself."
But when Minos the king heard that his son Androgeos
was dead, he was stricken with a great grief, and he sent
to King Nisus demanding blood-money, since the prince
was slain in the lands of the Megarians. But Nisus refused
"It was no fault of mine," he said; "and I shall make
no reparation for the death of one whose blood is on
his own head."
Then was King Minos wroth, and threatened to make
good in person his rightful claim.
So it chanced on a day when the Princess Scylla looked
forth from her turret over the sea, as her custom was,
she saw great ships, with bellying white sails, drawing
near from the south; and as they rose upon the heaving
billows, the sunbeams glinted back from many a shield
and spear, for they carried the mailed warriors of King
Minos coming to wrest from King Nisus blood-money
for the death of Androgeos, son to King Minos, who
had been slain by robbers on the lands of King
Then stepped forth from one of the ships the herald
of King Minos, and he came into the palace of Megara
and proclaimed his master's will to all that stood there.
But Nisus the king frowned upon the herald. "I will
pay no blood-money," he said. "Go your ways to your
master and tell him so. Better were it for him to be
satisfied with this answer of mine and to turn and hie
him home. Little use is it for mortal men to strive
against those who are protected by the undying gods. I
care not for the wrath of King Minos, and the spears of
his warriors have no more power to hurt my people than
the bulrushes that children gather in the fields and break
in mimic warfare with each other."
"Thou speakest in riddles, King Nisus," replied the
herald; "but my master is of kin to the immortals, and
it cannot be that they will let him quail before a petty
king like thee."
So the herald turned and went back to his ships; and
when King Minos heard that King Nisus refused to pay
the blood-money, he made him ready for battle.
Then the men of Crete fought stoutly against the men
of Megara, and day after day the tide of battle surged
around the walls of the town. But strive as they might
the men of Crete won no inch of ground, but the men
of Megara drove their foes before them like sheep.
At length the warriors of King Minos began to murmur
among themselves and to repeat the words that King
Nisus had spoken to the herald.
"If the city of Megara is indeed defended by the
deathless gods," said they, "what avails it to fight and
And Minos knew that his men murmured, and his
heart was sore within him.
The Princess Scylla looked forth one day upon the host
that was besieging the city of her home, and she chanced
to see King Minos pass quite close to her casement. So
near was he that she could see his face quite plainly.
Pale and sorrowful he looked with grief at the death
of his son and disappointment at the failure of his attack.
He stood for a moment looking despairingly at
the strong walls of his enemy's city, seeking and seeking
as often before, and ever in vain, to find some way for
his warriors to win passage into the town. At length
he passed on his way, sad and dejected, for he saw no
way at all of gaining the mastery in the strife.
But the heart of the princess beat fast with love and
sorrow. "Alas!" she thought to herself, "King Minos
is fighting a hopeless battle, for none may gain any advantage
over my father, so long as he keeps safe the purple
lock of hair that the gods have placed upon his head
as a spell against every evil. Vain is the strength of
the warriors of Crete, vain the wisdom of their king.
The bright lock of King Nisus will hold him and his
people safe through every attack."
The princess covered her face with her hands, and
sat for a little space silent and miserable. Then on a
sudden she raised her head and a new light was in her
eyes. She was the only child of King Nisus, and when
he died the city and the palace would be hers. The only
man whom she had ever wished to wed was the stately
King Minos. If he would but wed her all would be
well; he should reign, as her husband, over the city
against which he was leading his warriors in vain. And
surely King Minos would willingly wed her as a reward
if she put within his power the victory he had striven
in vain to wrest for himself from the men of Megara.
There was feasting that night in the hall of King Nisus,
and the princess herself poured out her father's wine,
and he was well pleased that she should wait upon him,
for of late she had moped in her chamber and refused
to share his feasts. But when the banquet was over a
strange drowsiness weighed down the eyelids of King
Nisus, for Scylla had mingled the juice of poppy and
mandragora with the wine. Then the king sought his
bed and lay there as one in a swoon, and his guards,
who had drunk of the poppied wine, slept also as they
kept watch before the door of Nisus. And when all was
dark and still the princess Scylla stole softly to her father's
chamber, holding a pair of shears in her hand.
She drew back the heavy purple curtain that the moonlight
might stream into the room, and then, kneeling
beside the couch, she sought the bright lock on which
depended the fortune of Megara, and with her shears she
shore it off. Then, drawing the curtain close again that
the moonlight might not awake the king, she hid the
lock safely in the corner of her veil, and glided silently
from the room.
The moon was making a glittering path across the
sea that murmured softly on the rocks, and all was still
and dark within the city, when the watchman of the
Cretan host saw a woman drawing near. Her bent head
was shrouded in a dark veil, so that he could see naught
of her face as she came, but she called to him in his own
tongue, praying to be led forthwith to King Minos.
"Nay, maiden, whosoever thou may'st be," replied the
man. "The king is asleep in his tent at this hour, and
none may have speech with him."
"I will hold thee blameless, friend," said the princess;
and the man was awed by her imperial speech and manner,
and turning he led her to the tent of King Minos,
passed within the curtains, roused the king, and brought
him forth into the moonlight.
"Who art thou who would'st speak with me?" asked
the king, glancing keenly at the veiled woman.
"I must speak with thee alone," she whispered, for
she was now overcome with shame, and her tongue clave
to the roof of her mouth.
But the king recognized at once the voice, and bidding
the sentinel go back to his post, he asked in amazement:
"What would'st thou with me, Princess Scylla?"
Then the maiden flung back the veil from her head, and
taking heart of courage, looked straight into the eyes of
King Minos. "In the days that are gone," she made
answer, "kind words were spoken between thee and
me, O King. Remember now thy past affection, and
look upon me gently, for through great peril come I to
win happiness for both our peoples, and for thee and me,
if thou wilt have it so."
And King Minos read her love in the eyes of the maiden,
but in his own heart was naught but bitterness for the
unatoned death of his son and for his many days of
fruitless warfare. Nevertheless he spoke gentle words,
for he hoped that the love of Scylla might bring him
Then the princess took from her bosom her father's
magic lock, and held it out to the king. "Behold the
fortune of my father and of his people," she said. "This
bright lock was placed on my father's head by the undying
gods, and as long as it was safe no evil could befall
him or his people; but I have shorn it off and brought
it to thee, for peace is better than war, love is stronger
than hate; and surely thou wilt look kindly upon her who
plucks victory from defeat, and holds it forth for thee
and thy warriors to take."
Then King Minos took the lock, and he smiled upon
Scylla as he made answer: "I take thy gift, fair maiden;
when the battle shall be ended we will speak of the
So, wrapping her veil once more around her head,
Scylla passed forth from the tent of King Minos, and
took her way, not back to the towers of her home, but
down to the sea-shore. Here she found a hidden nook
among the rocks where she flung herself down, fordone
and distracted by her own fierce hopes and
She had thought to be very happy when she looked
once more upon the face of King Minos and heard him
speak kindly to her; but there was no joy in her palpitating
heart: only a vague dread as she remembered the
smile of the king and a vague hope as she repeated to
herself his words of promise.
Lulled by the sound of the lapping waves and murmuring
over and over to herself, "When the battle shall
be ended we will speak of the requital," the wearied
princess sank at length to sleep.
The sky above her head flushed crimson with the rising
of the sun; the warriors of King Minos came forth from
their tents and set themselves in battle array. All
through that day the princess slept on, while the men of
Megara rushed to defend their crumbling walls, and King
Nisus, roused from his heavy sleep, discovered his loss
and flung himself into the front of the battle, knowing
that now he fought in vain, since the magic lock
was gone that had brought victory to him and his
Sore amazed were the men of Megara to find that
their foes were driving them backwards. At first they
fought desperately, hoping that the Cretans were gaining
the advantage only for a time, but presently it began
to be whispered through the ranks that the favor of the
immortals had deserted Megara, and men flung down
their arms and fled headlong.
The sky was reddened again by the sunset when Scylla
was roused from her long slumber of exhaustion by the
tramp of armed men close to her hiding-place. Lifting
herself up, she peered cautiously between the rocks, and
saw the Cretan warriors, bearing the spoils of the plundered
city, returning to their ships. For King Minos was
in haste to journey on and make Athens share in the
punishment of Megara, since it was on a journey from
Megara to Athens that his son Androgeos had been slain,
and both the cities shared in the guilt of the slayer.
Scylla watched the hurrying ranks, at first not understanding
what they did. Then, on a sudden, she saw approaching
the stately form of King Minos, and she came
forth from among the rocks, and waited, hoping he might
look upon her. But seeing that he made as though he
would pass by, the princess stood in his path.
Then said King Minos coldly: "What wilt thou with
And a great fear caught at the heart of Scylla, and
she clasped her hands to her bosom as though she were
at her last gasp. Yet with a supreme effort she made
her last appeal: "My home is desolate, my father slain.
'Tis I, his daughter, who gave the battle to thy hands.
I come, King Minos, to claim my promised guerdon."
And King Minos made answer: "There is no gift in
the world precious enough to make requital to a maiden
who by her own deed has slain her father and laid her
home in ruins and the pride of her people in the dust.
I will not mock thee, princess, by striving to equal thy
And King Minos passed on his way to his ship; and
as they followed him his warriors gazed with horror upon
the maiden who had given the life of her father into
the hand of his enemy; for all men knew by now that
the safety of Nisus and his city had depended upon the
magic lock, and that his daughter had shorn it from
him and given it to King Minos.
But Scylla stood on the rocky pathway where she had
hearkened to the mocking words of King Minos, and the
blue heavens seemed black above her head, and the silver
sea black beneath her feet, and nowhere in the world was
there for her any help or comfort.
The troops of warriors passed her by and embarked in
the ships that waited for them there below the cliff. The
sunlight faded and the moon came out, and still the
stricken maiden leant against the rock where Minos had
dashed all her hopes to ruin.
At length the song of the mariners came up from the
sea, telling that the men were on board and the ships
ready to sail, and with a cry of bitter anguish Scylla
crept to the top of the rock that overlooked the sea. She
saw the ship of King Minos moving slowly from the
shore, and clasping her hands above her head, she leapt
from the tall cliff.
And men say that the gods had pity on her, and
changed her into a sea-lark. But her father was wrath
with her even in death, and he craved of the infernal
powers the boon of vengeance. Therefore he was turned
into a sea-eagle, and still the father, with hooked hands
and ravenous beak, watches from his mountain walls to
swoop upon his feathered daughter, who flits along the
shore and cowers in the crannies of the rocks.