CEPHALUS AND PROCRIS
BY H. P. MASKELL
It was the banqueting-hall of the palace at Ægina.
The young prince Phocus had invited his comrades to
join him in a hunting party, and now, after dinner, they
were gathered round the fire amusing themselves with
stories of the chase. Meanwhile Cephalus, gray-headed
and stricken in years, more weary than the others, sat
silent and apart.
The prince, noticing his moody look, rose and made
room for him to join the circle. "May I ask," he inquired,
"from what tree the javelin thou art holding
was cut? I have been a hunter all my life, yet its texture
puzzles me. A wild oak would have been brown
in color, a cornel-wood shaft would show the knots.
Never yet have I seen so taper and shapely a javelin."
One of the youths interposed: "Ah! but as a weapon
it is even more wonderful than for its beauty. Whatever
it is aimed at it strikes. Chance does not guide
its course when thrown; and it flies back of its own accord,
stained with the blood of the quarry."
Then Phocus became more curious still to know its
history. Who was the giver of so precious a present?
Cephalus at length consented to tell the story, tears
starting to his eyes at the sorrow revived in his heart
by the memories it recalled. "Long as I live," he exclaimed
with a sigh, "this weapon will cause me to weep,
for it proved the ruin of myself and my dear wife
Procris. Fairer and sweeter was she than even her sister
Orithyia, whom Boreas carried off. Her father Erechtheus
bestowed her upon me, and for love she chose me
for her own. I was considered a lucky man in possessing
her, and so I was. In all Greece you could not have
found a happier pair of lovers, and the gods themselves
were jealous of our bliss—too great for mortals. Before
the second month was ended after our marriage feast,
Aurora, the goddess of the Dawn, beheld me in the early
morn as I was planting nets to trap the deer from the
heights of Hymettus, and I followed her against my will.
She cast her spell on me, and held me by the witchery of
her great eyes and rosy fingers. Fair she is, with a beauty
not of earth, but she seemed to me less fair than Procris.
Procris was ever in my thoughts, and in my dreams I
breathed the name of Procris. Then the goddess cried
angrily, 'You may keep your Procris. The day will
come when you will wish you had never possessed her!'
"Diana had bestowed on Procris, who loved the hunt,
Lælaps, the hound whom no wild beast can outrun, and
this javelin which nothing can escape, as a token of our
reconciliation. These she gave to me.
"Would you like to know the fate of this other present—the
dog? When Œdipus had solved that riddle
which none other could guess, and the Sphinx who invented
it lay a mangled corpse, Themis left her not unavenged.
Another plague was sent against Thebes, and
a savage monster devoured both the peasants and their
cattle. We, the youth of the district, came together and
inclosed the fields with nets, but the monster with a light
bound leaped over them and escaped. The dogs were
loosed, and they followed, but it escaped them as easily
as a winged bird. My dog Lælaps—a tempest for speed—was
straining at the leash. Eagerly the bystanders
begged me to unloose him. Scarcely had I done so when
he was lost to our sight. A spear flies not more swiftly,
nor pellets from a sling, nor arrows from a Cretan bow.
I watched from the hill-top this marvelous chase. At
one time the wild beast seemed caught, at another to
have clean escaped as it dodged and doubled, so that
its enemy could not run full tilt at it. I was now thinking
to use my javelin; and while fitting my fingers to the
thongs, turned my eyes one moment from the quarry.
When I looked again, I beheld a still more wonderful
sight. There were two marble statues in the middle of
the plain; you would fancy one was flying and the other
barking in pursuit. No doubt some god desired that
both should remain unconquered in this test of speed."
"But why should you complain of the javelin?" interrupted
Phocus. "What fault is there in it?"
"O Son of Æacus," replied Cephalus, "my sorrows
have yet to be told. For years I was blest in my wife,
and she was happy in her husband. None, not even
Jupiter himself, could have come between us, nor could
Venus have drawn me from my love.
"When the sun was just gilding the hill-tops I was
wont to go into the woods to hunt. I wanted no servants,
nor horses, nor even keen-scented hounds with me;
my sure javelin was enough for me. When I was sated
with the slaughter of wild beasts I would betake myself
to some cool shady spot, and enjoy the breeze coming
gently over the cool valleys, and so refreshing in the
noontide heat. While I awaited the rising of the breeze,
I would sing a sort of refrain: 'Come, gentle Aura,
kindly Aura; come to my breast; with thy cool sweetness
refresh me, parched by the heat!' Perhaps, as
cruel fate might have prompted me, I added other words,
such as 'Sweet Aura, thou art my delight! Thou dost
love and refresh me; thou makest me to seek woods and
lonely haunts, and thy breath is pleasant on my face.'
Some busybody must have heard me; and, imagining that
I was in love with some nymph named Aura, carried the
story to my wife.
"Love is only too ready to believe the worst. When
Procris heard the tale she fell down fainting with sudden
grief. Then coming to, she bemoaned her wretched fate,
and wept for my faithlessness. She believed that this
Aura was a maiden and a rival. Yet, hoping she might
be deceived, she would not pass sentence unless she beheld
my treachery with her own eyes.
"Next morning, at sunrise, I went out as usual to
the woods, and being successful in the chase, lay down
to rest myself, murmuring, 'Come to me, sweetest Aura.'
Methought I heard a faint far-distant moan, but I heeded
not and said again, 'Come, Aura, come!' A rustling
of leaves startled me, and, thinking it was a wild beast,
I let fly my javelin.
"Alas! it was Procris. Crying, 'Ah, wretched me!'
she received the dart in her breast. I ran to the sound
of her voice. To my distraction I found her dying, her
garments stained with blood, and drawing her own gift,
that too-sure javelin, out of her wound. I lifted up her
body, dearer to me than my own, in my guilty arms, and
bound up the cruel wounds with strips torn from my
garments; and I tried vainly to stanch the blood, begging
her not to die and leave me desolate.
"With gasping breath and broken utterance she whispered
in my ear: 'I beseech thee, by the gods above, and
by our marriage vows, and by my love even now enduring
though I die, not to let that light-of-love, Aura, possess
the heart that once was mine!' Then, at last, I
saw the mistake of the name, and that her fears were
about a shadow. I reassured her. But what availed
it? She was sinking, and her little strength faded away
with her life-blood. So long as she could look at anything,
she gazed on me, and breathed out with a smile
her unhappy life. But I like to fancy she died free from
care, and with a look of content.
"I still cherish her memory. No mortal maid has since
possessed my heart. So have I grown old in the service
of Diana, looking to the day which cannot now be
long distant when we can meet and renew our love in
the Elysian fields."