Hermes

How Hermes the herald hearkens with haste;
How before Zeus he is humble and chaste,
He is his messenger, at his command,
To serve and to sit at heaven’s king’s hand.
But who are his foes, take heed and beware!
From rapine, from theft, of such he won’t spare.
For even Apollo, he tricked and deceived;
Apollo was wroth, and his soul was grieved:
His oxen were missing, and some were dead,
And Hermes the thief had speedily fled;
He found him and railed, threatening to destroy
The newborn Hermes, who was Maia’s boy:
But Hermes with words, both skillful and smooth,
And with a gift, the same Phoebus did soothe;
The lute he had fashioned, he gave to the sun,
After his tale, like a spider, he’d spun.
He fathered a son named Autolycus;
From him was descended Odysseus:
From Hermes he got his cunning and wit,
And so many bold tricks did he commit;
He never spoke truth to his enemies,
And only himself did he seek to please.
Also, like Hermes, he was changeable
(In this he was truly commendable);
When Ajax had slain the flocks and the herds,
Bewailing his state with lamentable words,
Odysseus marked him as his enemy:
But after Ajax had set himself free
From all of life’s toils by a sword in his breast,
Then Odysseus put hatred to rest;
Persuaded he Agamemnon to let
The body be buried – without regret,
He turned and was merciful, that some day
When he was dead, he’d be interred the same way.
And this polarity, Hermes possesses;
For change, to the god, never distresses;
He travels with ease, with fleetness of foot,
From heaven’s height to the underworld’s root;
For Hermes conducts the dead to the same
(All mortals go thence, no matter their fame);
He came from the deep; he was born in a cave:
No wonder that he conducts man to the grave.
One finds him in commerce, the province of thieves,
Which often, unchecked, devours and bereaves.
Who can understand all of Hermes’ ways?
The same shall, in wisdom, prolong his days.

Hades

The king of Tartarus, lord of the dead,
Who over the shades and Typhon is head;
And also, the Titans holds he in chains,
Delighting at Kronos, gripped in his pains,
Is Hades, brother to Zeus; for he got
The realm of the dead to rule for his lot.
Content he was not, but wanted a wife,
To bring him beauty and joy in his life;
He took Persephone by force below,
And then, a gift on his bride did bestow,
The seeds of a pomegranate, and her fate
Was sealed the moment that she took and ate:
As fruit, by its seed, winters below ground,
Then shoots forth in spring, when flowers abound,
He holds her safe in the season of frost,
But during summer, to him she is lost.
As man in labour needs comfort of friends,
Like this on Cerberus, Hades depends;
The mirrors of gods are men in their deeds;
The deities teach what every man needs.
Cerberus watches, as guard at the gates,
On prison-breakers, his hunger he sates.
Three-headed, black, a serpent for a tail,
Whose courage when faced with this wouldn’t fail?
But Heracles faced him, courage perfected,
And rose from Tartarus, man resurrected.
So Hades keeps the monsters and the shades
Imprisoned; Typhon cannot make his raids
On Earth: this duty that Hades performs
Keeps everyone safe from trouble and storms.
For what if the dead rose up and rebelled,
And all the living from Earth were expelled?
Should Typhon rise up, and spew forth his fire?
Should men in the grip of Python expire?
Should Kronos devour whatever he lists,
Till nothing remains, till nothing exists?
But these are restrained, and Earth is at peace:
The monsters and Titans held fast in decease.
Such are the gifts of the Underworld’s king,
And the gifts of his wife that come in spring.

On the Value of Struggle

The laws of men are given by the wise,
Or sometimes by magicians steeped in lies;
The former found just states, where good and truth
Abound, and raise in health and strength their youth:
The latter make of all a marketplace,
Devoid of charm, of beauty, wit, or grace;
Unchecked, desires, are suffered to expand
Until they glut the city, state, and land;
Then weakness grows, until, like fatted sows,
Ten sit and eat for every one that plows.
But nature, when the laws of men have failed,
When beauty, truth, and good like shades have paled,
This nature has its own laws it upholds;
The strong it raises, but the weak it scolds:
But these, unheeding, it will later crush;
The former, though, is verdant, full and lush:
So, those who check themselves before the law,
A better lot from nature do they draw;
When crushed beneath blind Fortune’s heavy trials,
They grow in strength, in health, in wit and wiles.
In this did Hera, on Heracles impose
So many troubles, many frightful blows;
She sent the serpents, soon as he was born:
But he strangled them, in his infant scorn;
She sent him Madness, so he did destroy
His wife and children, all his mortal joy;
She caused him, then, to serve the coward king
(a coward lord is such a bitter thing).
Twelve labours gave Eurystheus to kill:
But all of them did Heracles fulfill.
Then, when he died, he went to heaven where
He wedded Hebe, youthful goddess, fair,
Who was the daughter of Hera and Zeus:
Perfected, had he then, with Hera a truce;
Though all his life, his troubles vexed him sore,
Yet each one raised and strengthened him the more.
In his name we see this very mystery,
That Hera found in him felicity:
His name meant pride of Hera, for he rose
Above all troubles, trials, and all blows
Until he was the greatest man alive:
For this his name on earth does still survive.
So, they that struggle against all the odds,
They too find favour from the good, the gods;
Though Fate should hammer them with fearsome blows,
Against the tides of troubles and of woes
They beat their oars or swim until the waves,
Submerge them, sending them unto their graves.
But every height they scale, every battle won,
Every undertaken expedition,
Brings them closer to Olympus’ storied height,
Home of all the gods of beauty, truth, and light.

The Boat of Ra

In golden ages long gone by,
When Ra was still alive,
No priest or wizard sat on high
To trick or to connive;
Men saw the sun and worshipped it;
They knew it gave them life;
No violent act did they commit,
They lived as free from strife,
Until up from the east came death
With soul as black as night,
And tongue that lied with every breath
And teeth that gnashed in spite.
It crossed the river to invade,
Like serpents on a wave,
With stench of all that was decayed,
To make all Egypt slave.
It came and swarmed o’er all the land,
As one and many too,
Till flames all over Egypt fanned
And men in terror flew.
To challenge Ra, Apophis came,
To drown the sun with night,
To snuff the great, eternal flame,
And put an end to light.
But Ra arose, and sailed into,
The very serpent’s coils;
The snake into a spiral drew,
and thought to end his toils:
But Ra, with brilliant shining, stood,
And pierced the serpent’s scale:
Apophis bled black drops of blood,
and hissed, a frightening wail.
He thrashed about, but Ra stood fast,
Until the snake had drowned,
Then Ra beat on with sail to mast,
And sailed the earth around.
The serpent that would swallow whole
The earth had been destroyed
By Ra, the sun’s own mighty soul,
And Egypt peace enjoyed.

The Sons of Boreas and the Harpies

The prophet Phineas heard the drumming
Of Argonauts treading in their coming;
Their ship had landed on the isle that he
Was settled on; he waited near the sea.
They marched to him; he was much delighted;
How long had he been tortured, cursed, and blighted;
A Fury blinded him, and with old age
Great Zeus had cursed him to appease his rage;
For though Apollo gave him sight to see
All hidden things, to know all prophecy,
Yet Phineus had not rendered to Zeus
Honor, and so Zeus heaped on him abuse.
But what was worse than this pursued him too;
When he would eat, down from on high there flew
The Harpies, hounds! They snatched from him his food,
And left a stench foul, horrid, noisome, crude.
From nests of spite, they swooped to raid each day;
Such was their sport, their joy, their awful play.
What crumbs they left did he devour, but still
They sapped his strength, his health, his heart, his will.
The Argonauts, they found this wretched soul,
And asked what thing had taken such a toll:
He knew the men, and called each one by name;
Already Jason was a man of fame;
And he besought them, “Save me from the beasts
Who make of all my food their vulgar feasts;
Zeus’ harpies hound me, leaving me no peace.
I suffer, so I beg you help me please!”
He told them of their many robberies,
And they could smell the stench of their disease;
He told them also that a prophecy
Said Boreas’ sons would from them make him free.
The hearts of both the Boreads arose,
And hearing, both were keen to seek the foes,
But feared the gods, not trusting prophecy;
They wished instead an oath for surety.
So, first by Leto’s son did Phineus swear;
Then those who dwell in the chthonic lair
Invoked he, promising their anger would
Fall not on Boreas’ sons for what was good.
This done, the sons of Boreas desired
To chase the Harpies, and with hope were fired;
So, they prepared the Harpies’ final meal,
Then set it out for feathered hounds to steal.
They stood by Phineus ready to fly
The moment that a Harpy dared swoop by.
They waited not: the Harpies came with speed,
Devouring all, in their insatiate greed.
The feast was gone; the Harpies took to flight,
And left a stench, the savour of their blight.
But Zeus sped Zetes, and Calaïs too;
They rose and swiftly in pursuit they flew.
The Harpies sailed far faster than the gales,
And yet the Boreads nearly grasped their tails;
They harried them until they reached the place
Of Ever-Floating Isles, and then the grace
Of Iris’ voice is heard, and it resounds
To stop the chase and save Zeus’ feathered hounds:
She says that Justice won’t abide the sword
To slay the playthings of Olympus’ lord.
“But yet the Harpies shall not anymore
Rob poor, blind Phineus, nor vex him sore:
The Harpies shall go back into their pen,
And eat no more the fruits of labouring men.”
And Iris swore an oath upon the Styx,
That river by which Earth and Tartarus mix.
This done the Boreads gave up the chase,
And each towards Thynia turned his face;
The Turning Isles then became the name
Of that place where the Boreads did the same;
And to Olympus Iris flew again
To join the king of Heaven’s faithful train;
The Harpies, leashed, could no more vex and rage,
But back in Crete they went into their cage.
Their stench was washed from off Phineus hide;
With overflowing joy, he laughed and cried.
The Argonauts prepared a feast and dined;
Phineus then their future path divined.
The morning after, the people came again,
And as in times of old, Phineus made plain
Their prophecies, receiving gifts of food,
To everyone who came, both high and rude.
But still his blindness could not be removed;
In that, by Zeus, he was as yet reproved.

Bucephalus

Bucephalus, who feared the shadows cast,
Whose breaths came from his nostrils as a blast;
He snorted, reared, rejected every hand,
And every rider he bucked back to land;
They called him wild, wholly untameable,
And only barely was he restrainable.
Now, Philip, king of Macedon, refused
To buy this horse, by whom he was abused:
But Alexander wagered that he’d tame
The beast, and Philip consented to the game.
Towards the sun, Alexander turned the horse;
He had no need to use, then, brutal force:
He lightly mounted, shadows thrown behind;
His horse was then to all fear truly blind:
Like Phoebus did he ride towards the sun,
And when he turned, the bet he’d made he won.
His father, Philip, gave a hearty roar,
And praises on his young son did he pour.
And Alexander gave the horse a name,
Bucephalus, and marked him with the same;
On his haunches was placed an ox-head brand,
Submitted he to none but his master’s hand.
Bucephalus in many battles fought,
And many victories Alexander wrought.