Page images
PDF
EPUB

that if struck against a flint it would give sparks of fire), upon being distilled, was found to yield an eighth part of its weight in water,” we begin to think that, in this, as in so many other instances, the ancient philosophers anticipated the discoveries of the moderns, and that experiment only establishes the profundity of their guesses. It is probable that Akenside has something to this purpose in his hymn to the Naiads; but, as we have not the poem by us, and have as cold a recollection of it as of a morning in November, or one of old Panope’s washing days, we return to our sunnier haunt. According to the ancients, the Oreads invented honey; the nymph Melissa, who discovered it, giving her name to the bee. And they are said to have been the first suggestors of the impropriety of eating flesh, making use of this new and sweet argument of honey, to turn mankind from those evil courses of the table.

The prettiest story told of the Naiads is their pulling Hylas into the water; and Theocritus has related it in the most beautiful manner. The Argonauts, he tells us, had landed on the shores of the Propontis to sup. They busied themselves with their preparations; and Hylas was despatched to fetch water for Alcides and Telamon, who were table-companions. The blooming boy, accordingly, took his

way with his jug. See the passage in the thirteenth Idyl, v. 39, beginning

Tαχα δε χραναν ενοησαν.

The English reader must be content with a version :

And straight he was aware
Of water in a hollow place, low down,
Where the thick sward shone with blue celandine,
And bright green maiden-hair, still dry in dew,
And parsley rich. And at that hour it chanced

The nymphs unseen were dancing in the fount,
The sleepless nymphs, reverenced of housing men ; -
Winning Eunica ; Malis, apple-cheek’d;
And, like a night-bedewed rose, Nychèa.

Down stepp'd the boy, in haste to give his urn
Its fill, and push'd it in the fount; when lo !
Fair hands were on him — fair, and very fast;
For all the gentle souls that haunted there
Were wrapt in love's sweet gathering tow'rds the boy ;
And so he dropp'd within the darksome well, –
Dropp'd like a star, that, on a summer eve,

Slides in ethereal beauty to the sea. These nymphs, however, are rather the Ephydriads than the Naiads; that is to say, nymphs of the fountain or wellspring, and not of the river. Shakespeare has painted the faces of the Naiads in a very pleasing manner:

“You nymphs call’d Naiads of the wandering brooks,

With your sedge crowns, and ever harmless looks: "

but these were English Naiads, always gliding calmly through the meadows.

The Greek and Italian Naiads were equally benignant at heart, but, having torrents and dry summers to think of, their look was now and then a little more troubled. Virgil's epithet, “ the white Naiad,” eminently belongs to this order of nymphs, the silver body of whose stream is seen glistening in the landscape ; and he has made a pretty contrast of color in the flowers he has given her to pluck.

"Tibi candida Nais
Pallentes violas et summa papavera carpens."

The white Naiad

Pale violets plucks for thee, and tops of poppies. The Nymph Arethusa was originally an Oread, whom Diana changed into a stream to help her to fly from the river-god Alpheus. Alpheus, nothing hindered, turned the course of his river to pursue her. The nymph prayed again, and was conveyed under ground, but the god was still after her. She was hurried even under the sea, but he still pursued'; when she rose again in the island of Sicily for breath, there he was beside her. We are left to suppose that his pertinacity prevailed ; for whatever present was bestowed upon his waters in Arcady is said to have made its appearance in the Sicilian fountain. Among all the names to be found in poetry, perhaps there is not a more beautiful one than this of Arethusa ; and it turns well into English. Hear Milton, who speaking of Alpheus

says that he

“Stole under seas to meet his Arethuse."

The modern Sicilian name is Retusa, which, pronounced in the soft manner of the Italians, and with something of z in the s (as we read the other), is not destitute of the beauty of the original.*

We were admiring, at this part of our article, that the ancients, among the less philosophical companions of their mythology, had not chosen sometimes to mingle the two species of Naiads and Dryads, considering that trees have so much to do with moisture, and with the origin of streams. Our attention was drawn at the same moment to a passage in Ovid ; where he speaks of the Nymph Syrinx, a Naiad, as being “among the Hamadryads of Arcady.” Perhaps he only meant to say, that she lived among them, as a Naiad, for the reason just mentioned, Ovid says,

* In Italy, among its strange union of things, ancient and modern, we saw one day upon a mantel-piece a card of a Marquis de Retuse. This was the designation, Frenchified, of the district in Sicily including the ancient fountain. Here was the Marquis of Arethusa !

:

might be supposed to do; but the turn of the words and custom of the language both seem in favor of the other supposition. Sandys, however, clearly takes the passage in the former sense.

“On the cold mountains of Arcady, and among the Arcadian Hamadryads, there was a Naiad,” and according to his translator, she only lived amongst them. “Then thus the god ” (Mercury who is singing and telling stories to Argus to get him to sleep)

“Then thus the god his charmed ears inclines
Amongst the Hamadryad Nonacrines,
On cold Arcadian hills, for beauty famed,

A Nais dwelt." * The Dryads and Hamadryads are often confounded with one another; nor is the difference een them, when is made, always justly discerned. Menage tells of somebody, who, on being asked by a lady what the difference was between a Dryad and a Hamadryad, said, the same as between an archbishop and a bishop. If every solitary tree had its Hamadryad, the woodman could not have approached it without impiety. The truth is, that as old trees of this kind became sanctified, either by the mere desire of keeping them alive, or by some votive circumstances attached to them as objects of religion, they were gifted with the care of a nymph. She was, in consequence, to die when they did ; and the sacrilegious peasant, while he was heaving his axe at the old trunk, would have to strike at the fair limbs which it enclosed.

A story has come down to us in Apollonius of the vengeance that overtook criminals of this sort, and of

* “Tam deus, Arcadia gelidis in montinis,” inquit, “Inter Hamadryades celeberrima Nonacrinas

Nais una fuit."

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

dreadful denouncements against their posterity ; which, however, were not inexpiable by a little worship and sacrifice. But the gratitude of the nymph, when her tree was preserved from destruction, and the preserver turned out otherwise not insensible, was boundless. Charon of Lampsacus, an old commentator upon the writer just mentioned, tells us that, when Arcas the son of Calisto was hunting, he met a nymph in the woods, who requested his aid for an old oak-tree on the banks of a river, which the river was undermining. He rescued it from its threatened fate, and out of gratitude the nymph bore him two children. In another story, related by the same author, the hero was not so lucky. This person, whose name was Rhæcus, was applied to on a similar account; and having evinced a like humanity, showed a due taste in the first instance, when requested to ask his reward. The nymph promised to meet him ; adding, that she would send a bee to let him know the time. The bee came accordingly, but Rhæcus, who was occupied with a game of dice, was impatient at being interrupted, and hurt the wings of the little messenger in brushing him away. The nymph, offended at this proof of the superficial nature of his feelings, not only would have nothing to say to him, but deprived him of the use of his limbs.*

It remains only to speak of the Bacchantes, the Hesperides, and certain solitary nymphs who lived apart, and

Fith

tis

ody, vas betree apold

mere

cum

were

ence, while ve to

of the

od of

* We are obliged, as the historian of these our fictitious truths, to relate them in all their circumstances; otherwise the lady might have stopped short of giving Rhæcus a palsy. It is a remarkable instance of the natural dulness of Natalis Comes (for which Scaliger gives him a knock), that in relating this story of Rhæcus and the Nymph, he leaves off with her sending him the bee. [The story of the Hamadryad is told very minutely and beautifully in the “ Indicator,” and is the subject of one of Landor's “Hellenics." — Ed.]

« PreviousContinue »