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Good Stories for Great Holidays by  Frances Jenkins Olcott


 

 

DAPHNE

BY OVID (ADAPTED)

[383] IN ancient times, when Apollo, the god of the shining sun, roamed the earth, he met Cupid, who with bended bow and drawn string was seeking human beings to wound with the arrows of love.

"Silly boy," said Apollo, "what dost thou with the warlike bow? Such burden best befits my shoulders, for did I not slay the fierce serpent, the Python, whose baleful breath destroyed all that came nigh him? Warlike arms are for the mighty, not for boys like thee! Do thou carry a torch with which to kindle love in human hearts, but no longer lay claim to my weapon, the bow!"

But Cupid replied in anger: "Let thy bow shoot what it will, Apollo, but my bow shall shoot thee!"  And the god of love rose up, and beating the air with his wings, he drew two magic arrows from his quiver. One was of shining gold and with its barbed point could Cupid inflict wounds of love; the other arrow was of dull silver and its wound had the power to engender hate.

The silver arrow Cupid fixed in the breast of Daphne, the daughter of the river-god Peneus; and forthwith she fled away from the homes of men, and hunted beasts in the forest.

With the golden arrow Cupid grievously [384] wounded Apollo, who fleeing to the woods saw there the Nymph Daphne pursuing the deer; and straightway the sun-god fell in love with her beauty. Her golden locks hung down upon her neck, her eyes were like stars, her form was slender and graceful and clothed in clinging white. Swifter than the light wind she flew, and Apollo followed after.

"O Nymph! daughter of Peneus," he cried, "stay, I entreat thee! Why dost thou fly as a lamb from the wolf, as a deer from the lion, or as a dove with trembling wings flees from the eagle! I am no common man! I am no shepherd! Thou knowest not, rash maid, from whom thou art flying! The priests of Delphi and Tenedos pay their service to me. Jupiter is my sire. Mine own arrow is unerring, but Cupid's aim is truer, for he has made this wound in my heart! Alas! wretched me! though I am that great one who discovered the art of healing, yet this love may not be healed by my herbs nor my skill!"

But Daphne stopped not at these words, she flew from him with timid step. The winds fluttered her garments, the light breezes spread her flowing locks behind her. Swiftly Apollo drew near even as the keen greyhound draws near to the frightened hare he is pursuing. With trembling limbs Daphne sought the river, the home of her father, Peneus. Close behind her was Apollo, [385] the sun-god. She felt his breath on her hair and his hand on her shoulder. Her strength was spent, she grew pale, and in faint accents she implored the river:—

"O save me, my father, save me from Apollo, the sun-god!"

Scarcely had she thus spoken before a heaviness seized her limbs. Her breast was covered with bark, her hair grew into green leaves, and her arms into branches. Her feet, a moment before so swift, became rooted to the ground. And Daphne was no longer a Nymph, but a green laurel tree.

When Apollo beheld this change he cried out and embraced the tree, and kissed its leaves. "Beautiful Daphne," he said, "since thou cannot be my bride, yet shalt thou be my tree. Henceforth my hair, my lyre, and my quiver shall be adorned with laurel. Thy wreaths shall be given to conquering chiefs, to winners of fame and joy; and as my head has never been shorn of its locks, so shalt thou wear thy green leaves, winter and summer—forever!"

Apollo ceased speaking and the laurel bent its new-made boughs in assent, and its stem seemed to shake and its leaves gently to murmur.


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