Callimachus

(310/305 BC / Cyrene, Ancient Libya)

Hymn to Ceres - Poem by Callimachus

The basket swift-descending from the skies,
Thus, thus, ye matrons, let your voices rise:
'Hail! Ceres, hail! by thee, from fertile ground
Swift springs the corn, and plenty flows around.'
Ye crowds, yet uninstructed, stand aloof,
Nor view the pageant from the lofty roof,
But on the ground below; nor matrons fair,
Nor youth, nor virgins, with dishevell'd hair,
Dares her approach: nor let the moisture flow
From fasting mouths to stain the mystic show.
But radiant Hesper, from the starry skies,
Beholds the sacred basket as it flies:
Bright Hesper only could persuade the pow'r
To quench her thirst, in that unhappy hour,
When full of grief, she roam'd from place to place,
Her ravish'd daughter's latent steps to trace.
How could thy tender feet, O Goddess, bear
The painful journey to the western sphere?
How couldst thou tread black Æthiops burning climes;
Or that fair foil, in these distressful times,
Where, on the tree, the golden apple beams,
Nor eat, nor drink, nor bathe in cooling streams?

Thrice Achelous flood her steps divide,
And ev'ry stream that rolls a ceaseless tide.
Three times she press'd the center of that isle,
Where Enna's flow'ry fields with beauty smile.
Three times, by dark Challichorus, the fate,
And call'd the yawning gulph to mourn her fate:
There, faint with hunger, laid her weary'd limbs,
Nor eat, nor drank, nor bath'd in cooling streams.

But cease, my Muse, in these unhallow'd strains,
To sing of Ceres' woes, and Ceres' pains;
Far nobler to resound her sacred laws,
That bless'd mankind, and gain'd their loud applause.
Far nobler to declare how first she bound
The sacred sheaves, and cut the corn around,
How first the grain beneath the steer she laid,
And taught Triptolemus the rural trade.
Far nobler theme (that all his crime may shun)
To paint the woes of Triopas' proud son;
How meagre famine o'er his visage spread,
When her fierce vengeance on his vitals fed.

Not yet to Cnidia the Pelasgi came,
But rais'd at Dotium to bright Ceres' name
A sacred wood, whose branches interwove
So thick, an arrow scarce could pierce the grove.
Here pines and elms luxuriant summits rear;
Here shone bright apples, there the verdant pear:
A crystal fountain pour'd his streams around,
And fed the trees, and water'd all the ground.
With wonder Ceres saw the rising wood,
The spreading branches, and the silver flood,
Which, more than green Triopium, gain'd her love,
Than fair Eleusis, or bright Enna's grove.
But when, incens'd, his better genius fled
From Erysichton, rash designs invade
His impious breast: he rush'd along the plain
With twenty strong attendants in his train,
Of more than mortal size, and such their pow'r,
As could with ease o'erturn the strongest tow'r.
Wish saws and axes arm'd they madly stood,
And forc'd a passage thro' the sacred flood.
A mighty poplar rais'd his head on high
Far o'er the rest, and seem'd to touch the sky
(The nymphs at mid-day sported in the shade)
Here first they struck: on earth the tree was laid,
And told the rest her fate in doleful moans;
Indignant Ceres heard the poplar's groans,
And thus with anger spoke. What impious hand
Has cut my trees, and my bright grove profan'd?
She said, and instant, like Nicippa rose,
Her well-known priestess, whom the city chose;
Her holy hands the crowns and poppy bore;
And from her shoulder hung the key before.
She came where Erysichton's rage began,
And mildly thus address'd the wretched man.

My son, whoe'er thou art that wounds the trees,
My son, desist, nor break high heav'ns decrees:
By thy dear Parent's love, recall thy train,
Retire, my Son, nor let me plead in vain:
Lest Ceres' wrath come bursting from above,
In vengeance for her violated grove.

She said: but scornful Erysichton burn'd
With fiercer rage, and fiercer frowns return'd,
Than the gaunt Lioness (whose eyes they say
Flash keener flames than all the beasts of prey)
Casts on some hunter, when, with anguish torn,
On Tmarus' hills her savage young are born.
Hence, hence, he cried, left thy weak body feel
The fatal force of my resistless steel:
Above my dome the lofty trees shall shine,
Where my companions the full banquet join,
And sport and revel o'er the sparkling wine.

He said. Fell Nemesis the speech records,
And vengeful Ceres heard th' insulting words;
Her anger burn'd: her pow'r she straight assum'd,
And all the Goddess in full beauty bloom'd.
While to the skies her sacred head arose,
She trod the ground, and rush'd amidst her foes.
The Giant-woodmen, struck with deadly fear,
That instant law, that instant disappear,
And left their axes in the groaning trees:
But unconcern'd their headlong flight she sees;
For these t' obey their Lord the fences broke,
To whom with dreadful voice the Goddess spoke.

Hence, hence, thou dog, and hasten to thy home;
There shape the trees, and roof the lofty dome:
There thou shalt soon unceasing banquets join,
And glut thy soul with feasts and sparkling wine.
Her fatal words inflam'd his impious breast;
He rag'd with hunger like a mountain-beast:
Voracious famine his shrunk entrails tore,
Devouring still, and still desiring more.
Unhappy wretch! full twenty slaves of thine
Must serve the feast, and twelve prepare the wine;
Bright Ceres' vengeance, and stern Bacchus' rage
Consum'd the man who durst their pow'r engage:
For these combine against insulting foes,
And fill their hearts with anguish and with woes.
His pious parents still excuses sound
To keep their son from banquets giv'n around.
And when th' Ormenides his presence call
To Pallas' games, by sacred Iton's wall,
Th' impatient mother still their suit deny'd.
The last revolving day the swift reply'd,
To Cranon's town he went, and there receives
An annual tribute of a hundred beaves.
Polyxo comes, the son and sire invites,
To grace her young Actorion's nuptial rites:
But soon the mournful mother thus replies,
With tears of sorrow streaming from her eyes:

The royal Triopas will join thy feast;
But Erysichton lies with wounds opprest;
Nine days are past, since with relentless tooth,
A boar on Pindus gor'd the unhappy youth.

What fond excuses mark'd her tender care?
Did one the banquet, or the feast prepare?
My son is gone from home the mother cries:
Was he invited to the nuptial ties?
A Discus struck him, from his steed he fell,
Or numbers his white flocks in Othrys' dale.
Meanwhile the wretch, confin'd within the rooms,
In never-ending feasts his time consumes,
Which his insatiate maw devour'd as fast,
As down his throat the nourishment he cast;
But unrecruited still with strength or blood,
As if in ocean's gulphs, had sunk the food.

As snows from Mima's hills dissolving run,
Or waxen puppets melt before the sun,
So fast his flesh consum'd, his vigour gone,
And nervous fibres only cloath'd the bone.
His mother mourn'd; his sisters groans resum'd;
His nurse and twenty handmaids wept around:
The frantic father rent his hoary hairs,
And vainly thus to Neptune pour'd his pray'rs:

O Pow'r divine, believ'd my sire in vain;
Since thou reliev'st not thy descendant's pain:
If I from beauteous Canace may claim
My sacred birth, or Neptune's greater name;
Behold a dire disease my son destroy:
Oh! look with pity on the wretched boy.
Far happier fate! had Phoebus' vengeful dart
Struck, with resistless force, his youthful heart;
For then my hands had fun'ral honours paid,
And sacred rights to his departed shade.
But haggard famine, with pale aspect now,
Stares in his eyes, and fits upon his brow.
Avert, O gracious pow'r, the dire disease,
Or feed my wretched son in yonder seas.
No more my hospitable feasts prevail,
My folds are empty, and my cattle fail.
My menial train will scarce the food provide;
The mules no more my rushing chariot guide.
A steer his mother fed within the stall,
At Vesta's sacred altar doom'd to fall;
This he devour'd, and next my warlike horse,
So oft victorious in the dusty course.
Ev'n puss escap'd not, when his fury rose,
Herself so dreadful to domestic foes.

Long as his father's house supply'd the feast
Th' attendants only knew the dreadful waste.
But when pale famine fill'd th' imperial dome,
Th' insatiate glutton was expell'd from home,
And, tho' from kings descended, rueful fate
In public streets, and begg'd at ev'ry gate:
Still, at the feast, his suppliant hands were spread,
And still the wretch on sordid refuse fed.

Immortal Ceres! for thine impious foe
Ne'er let my breast with sacred friendship glow.
Beneath my roof the wretch shall never prove
A neighbour's kindness, or a neighbour's love.
Ye maids and matrons, thus with sacred song,
Salute the pageant as it comes along.
'Hail! Ceres, hail! by thee from fertile ground
Swift springs the corn, and plenty flows around.'
As four white coursers to thy hallow'd shrine
The sacred basket bear; so, Pow'r divine,
Let Spring and Summer, rob'd in white appear;
Let fruits in Autumn crown the golden year,
That we may still the sprightly juice consume,
To sooth our cares in Winter's cheerless gloom.
As we, with feet unshod, with hair unbound,
In long procession tread the hallow'd ground;
May thus our lives in safety still be led,
O show'r thy blessings on each favour'd head!
As matrons bear the baskets fill'd with gold,
Let boundless wealth in every house be told.
Far as the Prytaneum the pow'r invites
The women uninstructed in the rites;
Then dames of sixty years (a sacred throng)
Shall to the temple lead the pomp along.
Let those who for Lucina's aid extend
Imploring arms, and those in pain attend
Far as their strength permits; to them shall come
Abundant bliss, as if they reach'd the dome.

Hail, sacred Pow'r! preserve this happy town
In peace and safety, concord and renown:
Let rich increase o'erspread the yellow plain;
Feed flocks and herds, and fill the rip'ning grain:
Let wreaths of olive still our brows adorn,
And those who plough'd the field shall reap the corn.

Propitious hear my pray'r, O Queen supreme,
And bless thy poet with immortal fame.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, January 14, 2016



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