Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Eden Lost

From the moment the apple's flesh touched the lips of Eve, the destiny of Man would never be the same again. Though her corrupter, the fallen angel Satan, suffered even now along his vile brethren in Hell, his evil deed was done. Hope, it seemed, was memory as lost as the Paradise in which it once dwelled...

Adam and Eve in agony
Fresco by Masaccio
As the rift between the Earth and Hell remained open, Sin and Death, the offspring of Satan, seized their chance. Soaring into the as yet still ethereal plains of Earth, Sin spread fear, doubt, envy, anger, sloth, hate, want, pride to ravage the World. Death brings down upon the land the scythe of time, undiscriminating, unbiased and even, bestowing his withering sentence upon all living things. Meanwhile, high above on the highest throne, the Almighty was made aware of this blasphemy. But it was the lot of man, his curse for his breaking the oath of God, to inhabit a lesser World now, until the day cometh when all will be purified. When that day arrives both Sin and Death will be hurled headlong to the dark pit from whence they came. "Then heav'n and earth renewed shall be made pure, to sanctity that shall receive no stain: till then the curse pronounced on both sides precedes". The host gathered sang in jubiliation, wonder at the ways of the Lord, and joyful at the promised time when the blight will be lifted and all will be free. At once the Creator set about making the new world. At his command, the blazing Sun moved, so that the Earth might feel heat and cold, from the south resplendent Summer, from the north Winter scarcely tolerable. To the Moon the Lord set in her place. To the winds he turned next, their way to blast the sea, the air and shore to the symphony of thunder.

Far below in Eden, the first man beheld the coming plight with despair. "O miserable of happy! Is this the end of this new glorious world, and me so late the glory of glory?" The curse of death weighed heavily upon his mind, as his thoughts turned to his descendants. "Who of all ages to succeed, but feeling the evil on him brought by me, will curse my head, I'll fare our ancestor impure, for this we may thank Adam". With anger he railed against the Almighty, anger at his fall for another's sin. Woe that he had been made at all, he declared:

                             " Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
                               To mould me man, did I solicit thee
                               From darkness to promote me, or here place
                               In this delicious Garden? "
                                    - ADAM BEWAILS HIS CREATION

Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden
Engraving by John Baptist Medina
The loss of Paradise was his sentence, but to this grave retribution the Most High added endless woes. Adam considered, wondering at the ways of God. It was then that Eve, matriarch of man and companion to Adam from whose rib she once sprung, came to him. "God made thee of choice his own, and of his own to serve him; thy reward was of his grace; thy punishment then justly is at his will", she spake.  Willingly to her fate does Eve submit, filled with guilt and devouring remorse is she. Both broken hearted and dejected, lament that it is better to end all and return to the Earth from whence they came, for what left now but a life a shade of before? But Eve held one last hope:

   " Yet one doubt pursues me still,
      lest all I cannot die,
      Les that pure breath of life, the spirit of man,
      Which God inspired, cannot together perish,
      With this corporeal clod... "
                                                                       - EVE'S HOPE

How can the Almighty sentence his creation to torment without end? Adam sank deeper still:

                              " Me now your curse! Ah, why should all mankind
                                For one man's fault thus guiltless be condemned,
                                If guiltless? But from me what can proceed,
                                But all corrupt, both mind and will depraved,
                                Not to do only but to will the same
                                With me? "
                                        - THE DESTINY OF MAN?

Both ponder as to why the scythe of Death has not already struck them, but Death comes not yet. Divine justice it was which slowed her pace, as today, ordered to pronounce her foul sentence without haste. To Adam's restless state Eve sent soothing words which calmed his soul. She remembered suddenly the curse of God. The Almighty spake of a time when the progeny of the first Man and Woman will exact justice upon the Serpent, and righteous retribution will be done by their own seed. Her lowly and newfound humble words touched the anger of Adam, and some small measure of peace returned to him, not known since Eden. No longer could he find it in his heart to look upon Eve with furious eyes. He had eaten of the accursed orb so as to remain with Eve. In this some hope remained. "Eve, thy contempt of life and pleasure seems to argue in thee something more sublime and excellent...". Firm in his resolve, his will restored, Adam declares it is their duty to rid the world of the corruption which their sin brought to the fore. Terrible may be the path along the road to redemption, and long may it be, but at the end of the road redemption remained still. Hope remained. Woman had been cursed to suffer terrible pain in childbirth, but is not such agony soon recompensed by the result? With sweat, toil and grit must man now earn his bread."What harm?", Adam thought, "idleness had been worse". With terrible remorse the first man and woman accepted their fate, hoping upon hope that one day, after their sufferings and prayers, the heart of the Almighty might be moved to pity, and Paradise regained.

The Messiah intercedes
Painting by William Blake
Their repentance, and prayers of humility winged their way to Heaven more swiftly than the loudest acclamation, dampened by no gale until the throne of the Almighty they reached. But it was not God himself who was moved so at hearing their pleas, but his Son the Messiah. Turning to the Father, he spoke with heartfelt words of the pity he felt for the first man and woman. So the intercession of the Messiah was begun, and the destiny of the World set in motion. Hearing the words of Adam and Eve, he spake them anew, and with enchanting charisma, and the will of the Lord began to move. Allow me to stand for him and interpret for him, the Son said. It was then that he made his startling revelation which turned many an angelic head in Heaven:

                    " All his works on me,
                      Good or not good ingraft; my merit those
                      Shall perfect, and for these my death shall pay.
                      Accept me, and in me from these receive
                      The smell of peace toward mankind, let him live
                      Before thee reconciled, at least his days
                      Numbered, though sad, till death, his doom
                      To better life shall yield him, where with me
                      All my redeemed may dwell in joy and bliss,
                      Made one with me as I with thee am one "
                               - THE MESSIAH INTERCEDES FOR MAN

Upon deaf ears the Great Redeemer's words fell not. With calm serenity the Father relented, "All thy request for man, accepted Son". However, no longer may man dwell in the place called Eden, a Garden too pure for man corrupted now with Satan's malevolent touch. Hope remains, in the words of the Lord:

                   " I at first with two fair gifts
                     Created him endowed, with happiness,
                     And immortality: that fondly lost,
                     This other served but to eternize woe;
                     Till I provided Death; so death becomes
                     His final remedy, and after life
                     Tried in sharp tribulation, and refined
                     By faith and faithful works, to second life,
                     Waked in the renovation of the just,
                     Resigns him up with heav'n and earth renewed... "
                              - WHY MEN DIE

But now came the time for man to enter his new abode, to leave his lost Paradise, but forever no more. With a deafening blast the heralds of Heaven rallied the angelic host to the throne of the Almighty, there to await the will of the Divine...

United Kingdom

Penguin Classics
Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics)
(The raw poem in original verse with the commentary at the back)

Oxford World's Classics
Paradise Lost (Oxford World's Classics)
(The raw poem with a commentary on the same page)

United States

Penguin Classics
(The raw poem in original verse with the commentary at the back)

Oxford World's Classics
Paradise Lost (Oxford World's Classics)
The raw poem with a commentary on the same page)

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Do not take on that which is not meant for you, and leave no advice or warning unheeded. That is the moral of the story of Phaethon. If your identity was suddenly revealed to you as the offspring of a deity, what would you do? Would you be humble or would you be proud?

Phaethon Proud
Painting by Gustave Moreau
When Clymene, Queen of the Ethiopians, told her son Phaethon one day that he was in truth not the son of her husband, King Merops, but of the sun god himself, the boy was stunned into silence. Though he had always suspected something was not quite right, something he could never place in all the time he had spent with the King, the words which rang in his ears now still sowed the most profound shock mingled with disbelief. He, just a boy like no other, the son of a god? Not just any god, but Helios, one of the Titans, who ruled in the kingdom of the skies far over the mortal Earth, the very incarnation of the Sun. Disbelief flooded young Phaethon first, doubt close on its heels, as his mother's confession grew stronger yet. A tormented sleep did the young Prince endure, turning in the night, racked with angst. In his good friend Cygnus did Phaethon confide this revelation strange, and his bewilderment at what to do. The two boys marvelled at the possibilities if such a thing could be true. There seemed only one thing for it, and that was to travel to the Kingdom of the Sun and seek out the Titan himself to learn the truth.

Bidding farewell to his native land, to his mother and to Cygnus, Phaethon set forth on his fateful quest, his eyes upon the Eastern horizon firmly fixed. After an age it seemed, the realm of men was falling behind, the realm of the divine approaching. There, just ahead, 'the Sun's bright palace, on high columns rais'd, with burnish'd gold and flaming jewels blaz'd'. The gleam of the surface of the gate, reflected a burning light. Far had the young boy come, too far to turn back now. Upon the solar threshold a weary step the Prince did place, and never again the coolness of night touched young Phaethon's face.

Deeper and deeper into the Palace of the Sun he trod, and higher and higher the temperature soared, until at last, a blinding light of purest white heralded the throne of he, Helios the lord of the Sun. High on his blazing throne he sat, exalted and resplendent, the hours bowing at his hands. The Titan saw the proud youth loitering, "My son!" said he, "Come to thy father's arms! For Clymene has told thee true; a parent's name I own, and deem thee worthy to be called my son":

                         " 'As a sure proof, make some request, and I,
                            Whate'er it be, with that request comply;
                            By Styx I swear, whose waves are hid in night,
                            And roul impervious to my piercing sight.'
                            The youth transported, asks, without delay,
                            To guide the Sun's bright chariot for a day... "
                                     - PHAETHON'S WISH

Immediately did regret flood the Titan's mind, for the one thing of which Phaethon asked was the one thing he was not fit to bear. To steer the Chariot of the Sun was a task entrusted to none but Helios himself, for within was bound grave responsibility, and peril. The Titan, torn between his word and his care for his son, implored Phaethon to choose again. "There is not one of all the gods that dares to mount the burning axle but I, not Zeus himself, the ruler of the sky, that hurls the three forked thunder from on high...". But alas in vain, for the greater the god tried to dissuade him, the grander Phaethon's ambition grew, and his will to resist. "If downwards from the Heav'ns my head I bow, and see the Earth and Ocean hang below, ev'n I am seiz'd with horror and afright", the Titan pleaded, but alas in vain. Terrifying is the Chariot's race across the Heavens, a will of steel needed for such an undertaking as the horses tear through the sky. Helios tried and tried again to convince his son to accept a humbler prize, some kingdom or grand fortune far below in the domain of man, but unmoved was the ambitious prince.

It was beyond the point of return now, the River Styx had heard the Titan's oath. One last plea, one last turnéd ear. So with heavy heart Helios lead young Phaethon to the blazing Chariot, glimmering with gold, spoked with silver and seated with gems. With unbridled joy Phaethon surveyed his prize, his pride gorged. Helios looked up. The stars were receding, the time had come. At his command the hours brought forth the steeds, monstrous horses snorting raging fire. One last chance to save his son, the Titan anointed his body with celestial oil, to proof him against the staggering heat. A tear in his eye, he whispers one last phrase; "Take this at least, this last advice my son, keep a firm rein, and move but gently on: the courses of themselves will run too fast, your art must be to moderate their haste. Drive them not directly through the skies, but where the Zodiac' winding circle lies...". Phaethon offered his thanks, which the Titan with remorse received.

Phaethon Falls
Painting by Johann Liss
The mighty stallions neighed with restless wanton, flames roaring from their mouths, stamping upon the clouds. The time had come. Night gave way, and together they hurled forward as one, the beasts thundering forth, Phaethon soaring through clouds and breezing air. With dizzying speed they outstripped all winds. Though a little light for the Chariot, at first the Prince rode well, heeding the Titan's word. Following the course of the Zodiac, the Chariot moved with irresistible, yet steady, force. But as time passed, Phaethon grew proud of his feat, to equal the Sun god himself? The monstrous steeds sensed weakness in the hand of their master, and their unruly nature took hold. As soon as the Prince's gaze was turned, violently did they veer from the Zodiacal path. Pandaemonium reigned in the skies that day. Phaethon was cast against the Chariot's fore, and knew not which way to turn, whether to yank the reins or let them lie. The horses charged above, and the Sun veered to the stars, which retreated before its fiery heat. Far below ice with frozen hand began to throttle the land, snow fell upon the peaks and Oceanus shivered.

Far above, Phaethon looked behind, and saw the vast expanse of the Earth falling away behind him, panic stricken now. Pulling hard upon the reins, he tried to restore control. The horses, incensed, bolted to the side and careered toward the Earth:

                " The clouds disperse in fumes, the wond'ring Moon
                   Beholds her brother's steeds beneath her own;
                   The highlands smoke, cleft by the piercing rays,
                   Or, clad with woods, in their own fuel blaze.
                   Next o'er the plains, where ripen'd harvests grow,
                   The running conflagration spreads below.
                   But these are trivial ills: whole cities burn,
                   And peopled kingdoms into ashes turn... "
                           - THE EARTH SCORCHED

Down and down the Chariot plummets, and the incredible heat takes its fiery toll on the world. The high mountains buckle in the inferno, snow replaced with flames. The Ocean boils, and Poseidon the Earthshaker, god of the sea, brandishes his trident in defiance. Monstrous Typhon, deep below the Earth, grows restless in his infernal prison, and Mount Etna above explodes forth with redoubled fury. Even far off Scythia on the nomadic Steppe sees her frosts melt, and her plains burn. Verdant Africa bore the brunt, and ever after has been a mighty desert. Great Olympus, towering high above, shakes, as the rocks splinter and rend asunder, wreathed in fire. The world burns, and flames lick the Heavens. Mother Earth screams in agony, her ashes floating to the stars. Phaethon beheld the devastation before his eyes and realised the folly of his wish. The furnace heat of the world reached the sky, and the axle of the Chariot began to glow. The Euphrates fleed, the Danube too, the swollen Ganges, the Tiber, nurse to a promised Empire, too. Even the mighty Nile retreated in terror, and the seas plunged. The intense heat cracked the Earth, and fissures began to split it apart. Deep in the Underworld, pallid Hades recoiled from the light his kingdom knew not.

At last Gaia, Mother Earth, could bear no more. Denouncing the Olympians for allowing such a tragedy come to pass, she called upon her grandson to act. So did Zeus the Thunderer, King of gods and men, summon the divine array. Helios came before Zeus and tried to move his heart, but no ally did the Titan find. Taking up his burning throne, Zeus seized a bolt of thunder which glowed brighter even than the Earth. "Then, aiming at the youth, with lifted hand, full at his head he hurl'd the forky brand". The deadly dart of Heaven arced across the sky, striking Phaethon square in the head. At once from the shackles of life and the sun god's chariot was the Prince thrown. The horses charged back to the hands of their true, but weeping, master. The flaming body of Phaethon fell through the skies, gold and wheel falling too. Like a dying star he plummeted to the Earth his folly had ruined, until his ruined body struck the Po in the West.

Never again would someone dare such hubris as to emulate the Sun, and never again would a god make so bold an offer. Far below, few wept for Phaethon, cause of such ruin, except one. By the water's edge Cygnus sat, tears in his eyes for his friend. All their lives they had been partners in crime, mischievous together, now separated by Zeus's hand. The gods heard him weep, and pity moved their hearts. At their command his form was changed. Where once there were hands, now wings, where once mouth, now blunted beak, where once flesh, now pure white feathers. Ever after, the youthful swan has borne Cygnus' name...

United Kingdom

Penguin Classics
Metamorphoses: A New Verse Translation (Penguin Classics)
(A more prosaic and easier to understand version of the Roman poem)

Oxford World's Classics
Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics)
(A high poetical version of the Roman poem)

United States

Penguin Classics
Metamorphoses (Penguin Classics)
(A more prosaic and easier to understand version of the Roman poem)

Oxford World's Classics
Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics)
(A high poetical version of the Roman poem)