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.