Before their door an altar used to rise,
Sacred to Jove, as god of guesthood ties.
Some traveler might have seen it running red,
And thought that Cyprian sheep or calves had bled.
'Twas stained with blood of guests! And she who called
The isle her own, whom those black rites appalled
(Life-giving Venus) made her plans to fly;
But ere to town and field she said good-by,
She thought again and said: 'My cities dear,
What crime is theirs? My fields, what fault is here?
Let those who sin, with death or exile pay,
Or what 'twixt death and exile stands midway/
She thus foreshadowed what could only be
A change of shape, but change to what, thought she.
Then, seeing their horns and thinking these might stay,
She took the hint, and changed to bulls were they.
Next the Propaetides, who dared deny
Great Venus* godhead, rued their blasphemy.
By them, the victims of her wrath, 'tis said,
Body and beauty first were strumpeted.
Then, lost to shame and hard of feature grown,
With little further change, they turned to stone.
"And thanks to them Pygmalion, who beheld
Their life of sin, by female faults repelled
(Nature's too numerous gifts to woman's mind),
Lived without wife, to single state resigned,
And carved with wondrous skill and fashioned sure
A female form in ivory, snowy pure.
He gave his work such grace as never lit
On mortal maid, and fell in love with it.
She seemed a thing of flesh and blood to be
And held entranced by mere timidity.
Thus art veiled art, and by the illusion swayed,
Pygmalion loved the semblance of a maid.
If flesh it was or ivory he would try
By sense of touch, and still the truth deny.
He spoke to her and kissed her oft and thought
Each kiss returned; so strangely fancy wrought;
And when he held her in his arms, believed
The yielding flesh his fingers' dint received,
And feared to bruise it. Now with words he woos,
And now with gifts no maiden can refuse:
Bright beads, and birds, and flowers of varied hues,
Tears of the sun-god's daughters from their tree,
Lilies, and shells, and pebbles from the sea.
And then in garments gay her limbs he dressed,
With rings for fingers, sashes for her breast,
Necklace and earrings: all she well could wear;
Yet seemed without her finery no less fair.
Then fabrics fine of richest hue he spread,
Dyed with the shells of Tyre, to make her bed;
^And called her bride; and as of sense possessed,
On softest down her head was made to rest.
"And now the day was come, when Cypriotes all,
In praise of Venus, held high festival.
The incense smoked; and calves with necks of snow,
And horns new-gilt, had felt the slaughtered blow.
Within the shrine, his offering duly paid,
Pygmalion thus with timid utterance prayed:
'O gods, if gods have power unlimited,
This only is my prayer, that I may wed' Ñ
To say: 'my ivory maid,' he did not dare;
But turned it thus: 'my maiden ivory-fair.'
Venus, who, present there in golden pride,
Graced her own feast, knew what this prayer implied;
And soon in sign of heavenly grace, there came,
Thrice kindled in the air, a darting flame.
Pygmalion hastened home, and, bending o'er
To kiss his beauty, found her cold no more.
He kissed her once again, and touched her breast:
The ivory lost its hardness as he pressed,
And gave beneath his fingers, as the wax
Of mount Hymettus in the sun grows lax,
And kneaded oft, from shape to shape will go,
And pliant to the hand by handling grow.
Amazed, in doubt and joy, he feared some cheat,
And clasped his idol with a lover's heat. Ñ
Twas flesh and blood, and, as he felt again,
Beneath his fingers leaped the pulsing vein.
Ah, now the Paphian youth, with formal phrase
Full-charged with gratitude, to Venus prays;
And now at last the lover's lip can greet,
With pressure fond, a lip not counterfeit.
The maiden too was conscious of the kiss,
And blushed, and raised her timid eyes to his;
And on her sight, as sense of vision woke,
At once the daylight and her lover broke.
When dawned the wedding-day, to join the pair,
Venus, whose work it was, was present there.
When nine moons waxed and waned, their daughter came,
Paphos, from whom the island has its name.