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Minerva's Descent to Ithaca.
The Poem opens within forty-eight days of the arrival of Ulysses in his dominions. He had now remained seven years in the island of Calypso, when the gods assembled in council proposed the method of his departure from thence, and his return to his native country. For this purpose it is concluded to send Mercury to Calypso, and Pallas immediately descends to Ithaca. She holds a conference with Telemachus, in the shape of Mentes, king of the Taphians; in which she advises him to take a journey in quest of his father Ulysses, to Pylos and Sparta, where Nestor and Menelaus yet reigned; then, after having visibly displayed her divinity, disappears. The suitors of Penelope make great entertainments, and riot in her palace till night. Phemius sings to them the return of the Grecians, till Penelope puts a stop to the song. Some words arise between the suitors and Telemachus, who summons the council to meet the day following.
THE man, for wisdom's various arts renown'd,
Long exercis'd in woes, oh Muse! resound;
Who, when his arms had wrought the destin'd fall
Of sacred Troy, and raz'd her heaven-built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray'd,
Their manners noted, and their states survey'd.
On stormy seas unnumber'd toils he bore,
Safe with his friends to gain his natal shore :
Vain toils! their impious folly dar'd to prey
On herds devoted to the god of day;
The god vindictive doom'd them never more
(Ah, men unbless'd!) to touch that natal shore.
Oh, snatch some portion of these acts from fate,
Celestial Muse! and to our world relate.
Now at their native realms the Greeks arriv'd;
All who the wars of ten long years surviv'd,
And 'scap'd the perils of the gulfy main.
Ulysses, sole of all the victor train,
An exile from his dear paternal coast,
Deplor'd his absent queen and empire lost.
Calypso in her caves constrain'd his stay,
With sweet, reluctant, amorous delay:
In vain for now the circling years disclose
The day predestin'd to reward his woes.
At length his Ithaca is given by fate,
Where yet new labours his arrival wait;
At length their rage the hostile powers restrain,
All but the ruthless monarch of the main.
But now the god, remote, a heavenly guest,
In Ethiopia grac'd the genial feast
(A race divided, whom with sloping rays
The rising and descending sun surveys);
There on the world's extremest verge rever'd
With hecatombs and prayer in pomp preferr'd,
Distant he lay while in the bright abodes
Of high Olympus, Jove conven'd the gods:
Th' assembly thus the sire supreme addrest,
Ægysthus' fate revolving in his breast,
Whom young Orestes to the dreary coast
Of Pluto sent, a blood-polluted ghost.
Perverse mankind! whose wills, created free, Charge all their woes on absolute decree; All to the dooming gods their guilt translate, And follies are miscall'd the crimes of fate. When to his lust Ægysthus gave the rein, Did fate, or we, th' adulterous act constrain ? Did fate, or we, when great Atrides died, Urge the bold traitor to the regicide? Hermes I sent, while yet his soul remain'd Sincere from royal blood, and faith profan'd; To warn the wretch, that young Orestes, grown To manly years, should re-assert the throne. Yet, impotent of mind, and uncontroll❜d, He plung'd into the gulf which Heaven foretold. Here paus'd the god; and pensive thus replies Minerva, graceful with her azure eyes. O thou! from whom the whole creation springs, The source of power on earth deriv'd to kings!
His death was equal to the direful deed;
So may the man of blood be doom'd to bleed!
But grief and rage alternate wound my breast
For brave Ulysses, still by fate opprest.
Amidst an isle, around whose rocky shore
The forests murmur, and the surges roar,
The blameless hero from his wish'd-for home
A goddess guards in her enchanted dome :
(Atlas her sire, to whose far-piercing eye
The wonders of the deep expanded lie;
Th' eternal columns which on earth he rears
End in the starry vault, and prop the spheres).
By his fair daughter is the chief confin'd,
Who soothes to dear delight his anxious mind:
Successless all her soft caresses prove,
To banish from his breast his country's love;
To see the smoke from his lov'd palace rise,
While the dear isle in distant prospect lies,
With what contentment could he close his eyes!
And will Omnipotence neglect to save
The suffering virtue of the wise and brave?
Must he, whose altars on the Phrygian shore
With frequent rites, and pure, avow'd thy power,
Be doom'd the worst of human ills to prove,
Unbless'd, abandon'd to the wrath of Jove?
Daughter! what words have pass'd thy lips un-
(Replied the Thunderer to the martial maid :)
Deem not unjustly by my doom opprest,
Of human race the wisest and the best.
Neptune, by prayer repentant rarely won,
Afflicts the chief, t' avenge his giant son,
Whose visual orb Ulysses robb'd of light;
Great Polypheme, of more than mortal might!
Him young Thoösa bore (the bright increase
Of Phorcys, dreaded in the sounds and seas):