Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Lycian Peasants

Leto in the Wilderness
Artist Unknown
Mother to two of the greatest of the deities of Olympus, the Titaness Leto was a force to be reckoned with. Niobe had felt her dread wrath, and that of her brood. The daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, much of her origins were shrouded in the mysteries of Asia. Though when at last a maiden of Heaven she became, and the eyes of Zeus the Thunderer met her gaze, revealed at last was she. Hera, Queen of the gods, ever paranoid of the wandering affections of her consort, hounded Leto across the face of the Earth. Heavy with the seed of Zeus, Leto grew weary of the chase. Enraged, Hera ordered the Fates to forbid Leto to give birth on terra firma under the Sun. When at last the pains of labour struck, with nowhere else to turn, turned away by the vile words of Hera, the Titaness came to the island of Delos. Finding a measure of peace at last under the weeping boughs of a forgotten glade, the goddess fought that ungodly pain. First came forth Artemis, the lady of the moon and hunt. Nine days and nights the Titaness laboured still, until with the help of her daughter, a twin was brought into the world -  Apollo, god of light, healing and truth. Sympathetic nymphs, naiads and dryads had shielded Leto from the servants of Hera, but when the screams of the newborn deities pierced the skies, the lady of Olympus was made aware of them, and seethed with rage once more. Vowing never to give Leto rest, She sent forth all manner of dark creatures to hound her and her brood. Far and wide she fled, desperate for respite.

Leto Fountain, Palace of Versailles
Photograph taken by Daniel Gaudry
"At last, outwearied with the toil, and parched with thirst", the exhausted matriarch came to the arid and harsh land of Lycia, where once the fearsome Chimaera had once tread. A blasted land, with little verdance in its hills, the eyes of Leto spied a rare pool of crystal water. Parched with thirst, it played on her mind as the mirage does on the desert traveller. Shimmering in the light, the parched Titaness could resist no longer, and sped with all haste to its banks. Some of the rustic folk of Lycia were there at the lake's shores, reaping the bending osiers, the dank bulrushes and fragrant weeds. The Lycian folk, a people not known for their warmth of hospitality with strangers, eyed the stranger with deepest suspicion. A threatening buzz arose from within their wretched ranks, as Leto came in her approach. Wearied and near broken with toil, she eyed the peasants with more than a dash of humility. They angrily called out to her to stay away, and come not near the crystal waters, so wickedly opposing her primal need. Leto called out to them:

                   " Water I only ask, and sure 'tis hard
                      From Nature's common rights to be debarr'd,
                      This, as the genial sun, and vital air,
                      Should flow alike to ev'ry creature's share.
                      Yet still I ask, and as a favour crave,
                      That which, a public bounty, Nature gave... "
                             - LETO'S PLEA

Leto desperately invoked the pity of her newborn twins, yet still the fiendish folk would not desist, nor with vulgar words restrain. Young Apollo stretched out his arm in supplication, a mere baby, yet no more than his mother's word to the hearts of the Lycian peasants could it reach.

Feeling the pains of dehydration now, Leto moved to cup the crystalled water in her hands, but the dastardly folk spoiled her relief. Foul, abusive words they hurled, and worse still "with spiteful feet the villains trod, over the soft bottom of the marshy flood, and blacken'd all the lake with clouds of rising mud". A once crystal lake was now a murky depth, its purity defiled by the evil whims of a hostile crowd.

The Transfiguration of the Peasants
Painting by Johann Georg Platzer
Now the desperation of a Titaness turned to rage, as "her thirst by indignation was suppress'd". Vengeance coursed through her godly veins, all worries of hydration cast aside as the serpent sheds his skin. The frustrations of long chase, the pains of twin labour and the pangs of thirst mingled as Leto cast her gaze to the Heavens. "May you live, she passionately cry'd, doom'd in that pool for ever to abide". No sooner had her words of wrath left her parched lips, than the wretched folk dived into the pool, void of all shame. To the murky depths they plunged, and as swiftly as they fell, their last vestiges of humanity were gone. When next they pierced the crystal surface, no shouts of insults would come forth, but instead a hoarse croak. Wrenched wide by their bawling, their mouths grew cavernous; a mottled green, their backs. Seldom to see the light, their bellies grew a pale white, their eyes wide and alert. Men and women no more were they, but frogs, condemned forever to dwell within the mud...

United Kingdom

Penguin Classics
Metamorphoses: A New Verse Translation (Penguin Classics)
(A version which favours ease of understanding than high poetry)

Oxford World's Classics
Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics)
(A version which favours ease of understanding than high poetry)

United States

Penguin Classics
Metamorphoses (Penguin Classics)
(A version which favours ease of understanding than high poetry)

Oxford World's Classics
Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics)
(A version which favours ease of understanding than high poetry)

No comments:

Post a Comment