from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 4

Cadmus et Harmonia.


Unwitting that his daughter and his son
are Ocean deities, Agenor's son,--
depressed by sorrow and unnumbered woes,
calamities, and prodigies untold,--
the founder fled the city he had built,
as though fatalities that gathered round
that city grieved him deeper than the fate
of his own family; and thence, at last
arrived the confines of Illyria;
in exile with his wife.--

Weighted with woe,
bowed down with years, their minds recalled the time
when first disaster fell upon their House:--
relating their misfortunes, Cadmus spoke;
“Was that a sacred dragon that my spear
impaled, when on the way from Sidon's gates
I planted in the earth those dragon-teeth,
unthought-of seed? If haply 'tis the Gods,
(whose rage unerring, gives me to revenge)
I only pray that I may lengthen out,
as any serpent.” Even as he spoke,
he saw and felt himself increase in length.
His body coiled into a serpent's form;
bright scale's enveloped his indurate skin,
and azure macules in speckled pride,
enriched his glowing folds; and as he fell
supinely on his breast, his legs were joined,
and gradually tapered as a serpent's tail.--

Some time his arms remained, which stretching forth
while tears rolled down his human face, not changed
as yet, he said; “Hither, O hapless one!
Come hither my unhappy wife, while aught
is left of manhood; touch me, take my hand,
unchanged as yet--ah, soon this serpent-form
will cover me!”

So did he speak, nor thought
to make an end; but suddenly his tongue
became twin-forked. As often as he tried,
a hissing sound escaped; the only voice
that Nature left him. --

And his wife bewailed,
and smote her breast, “Ah, Cadmus, ah!
Most helpless one, put off that monster-shape!
Your feet, your shoulders and your hands are gone;
your manly form, your very colour gone; all--all
is changed!--Oh, why not, ye celestial Gods,
me likewise, to a serpent-shape transform!”--

So ended her complaint. Cadmus caressed
her gently with his tongue; and slid to her
dear bosom, just as if he knew his wife;
and he embraced her, and he touched her neck.

All their attendants, who had seen the change,
were filled with fear; but when as crested snakes
the twain appeared in brightly glistening mail,
their grief was lightened: and the pair, enwreathed
in twisting coils, departed from that place,
and sought a covert in the nearest grove.--
There, then, these gentle serpents never shun
mankind, nor wound, nor strike with poisoned fangs;
for they are always conscious of the past.

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