Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt

Rocks, Waves, and Sunshine

There is a gleam on the water on a sunny day and a long bright path when the moon comes up at night. The sea-weed shines when it is cast up wet on the shore as if it carried part of this radiance with it. We have heard of a rock out in the sea, a great bare rock over which the gleaming waves continually break.

They rush toward it and encircle it with their shining arms, and they wash the green sea-weed upon it until one might, in imagination, paint the picture of a great sea-god with a green beard and gleaming eyes endeavoring to clasp some lone water-nymph to his heart.

There was a youth who wandered on the shore near this rock. Sometimes he would drag the net up and down the shore and sweep up many fish into its meshes, or else he would spring to the rock and catch fish with a line.

There was a verdant meadow close to the shore, one part of which was surrounded with water, and the other with a kind of grass which the horned cattle would not eat nor would the sheep or goats touch it. The bees did not collect honey from it, and the mowers had never cut it. One day when the youth had caught many fish he sat down on the grass, and, after putting his net to dry, laid the fish in rows that he might count them. Some of the fish he had taken with the hook and they were hurt, others he had driven into his net and they were choked in their struggles. As soon as the fish touched the grass they seemed endued with life once more. They began to move about and shift from side to side, and after a little they skipped about on the land and then they danced off into the sea and left their new master alone on the green meadow.

The young man was astonished, and wondered what could be the cause of this,—whether some divinity had done it or whether the fish had eaten some enchanted herb. "What herb," said the youth to himself, "could have such magical power?" With that he plucked some of the grass and ate it, but he had hardly swallowed it before he felt himself possessed of the nature of a different creature. He began to dance about and soon he seemed to be obliged to leap into the sea. As he leaped forth he cried out, "Farewell, oh beautiful land! I shall never visit thee again!" and he plunged under the waters.

The gods of the sea received him with honors, and they entreated Old Ocean to wash away from him all signs of mortality. So the Ocean purified him and the gods repeated a charm over him nine times, to take away all his earthly sins, and they commanded him to dive below a hundred streams. This he did, and whole seas came pouring over his head, and he fell asleep. When he awoke he found himself in a new body entirely different from his former body, and he was not the same in mind. He had a long green beard and flowing hair which swept over his huge shoulders and floated on the waves like sea-weeds. His arms were the color of the sky above, and his body was like that of a fish. He had become a sea-god and they called him Glaucus, the Gleaming-Eyed.

As he swam about in the calm sea he looked like the path of light which you see across the lake on a bright summer morning. And when it stormed he let his white sea-horses rove over the billows, for he was the master of the steeds of the sea.

It happened as Glaucus was swimming about in the waters one day that a lovely sea-nymph wandered along the shore, and when Glaucus saw her he rushed toward her like a gleaming wave hurrying toward the shore.

His green beard and his long flowing locks floated loosely on the waves; one might have thought that the waters had gathered up all the sea-weeds and sea-grasses for miles around.

When the nymph, whose name was Scylla, saw him coming toward her she was frightened and ran along the shore as fast as she could, hoping to escape him. And Glaucus called out to her, "Oh, beauteous maiden, I am not a monster but a sea-king. I pray thee look upon me with kindness, and if thou wilt be my bride I will give thee a red-gold throne down in the ocean palace which is my home."

But Scylla was as badly scared as ever when she heard his loud voice, so she sped along until she reached the top of a mountain, close to the shore.

In front of the sea, there is a huge ridge which ends in one bare pointed rock. This rock bends for a long distance over the sea and it has no trees upon it. Here she stood secure and looked at the god, admiring his color and his flowing hair with great wonder. Then he told her his story, but she still feared him, and she hid away from him in the dark cave in the rock.

And Glaucus flung himself up onto the rocks and tried to climb over their watery stones that he might find Scylla, but he could not hold on, the rocks were so slippery. He swam about here and there among the crags, but he could not even glance for one moment into the cave where the nymph was hiding.

Then Glaucus thought of a sunny-faced goddess who lived on an island covered with grassy hills. She was the daughter of Sun and Ocean, and her name was Circe. By the sunshine which radiated from her own face she could light up the darkest cave and see into all of its secret corners. She lived in a palace of snow-white marble, as grand as the marble-white towers which the clouds seem to form in the sky after a rain.

Her halls were filled with wild beasts. They loved to lie at her feet and let her caress them with her warm hand, just as the lion loves to lie down and rest in the sunshine. She knew all sorts of charms and could cause clouds to rise from the sea, and flowers to spring from the ground. She could wave her magic wand over the ripening grape and instil a charm into its juices, by which she could turn men into wild beasts.

So Glaucus stabled in the sea caves the wild white steeds which had been committed to his care, and he left the field of the Cyclops and the mountain which rests on a giant's jaws and went swimming away to find the island of Circe. His green beard and long hair floated all about on the water, and his huge hands were spread out to pull himself over the gleaming path which the sun threw before him.

When Glaucus arrived at the island of Circe and beheld the goddess he said to her, "Oh lovely goddess, daughter of the Sun, I pray thee pity me in my trouble. I beseech thee to come to the rock and light up the cave wherein the beautiful Scylla has hidden herself. And wilt thou teach her to be friendly to the sea-waves strewn with grasses and thy servant Glaucus who must ever be lonely if she frowns upon him, for hatred is cold and hard to bear."

Then Circe, daughter of the golden Sun, cast the radiance of her face upon him and answered, "If Scylla be cold and hard like the rock and frown upon thee, do thou remain here in my kingdom. The radiance of the Sun shall be thine, and kindly smiles and warm friendship."

But Glaucus made this scornful reply, "Sooner shall foliage grow in the ocean, sooner shall sea-weed grow on the tops of mountains, than I shall cease to love Scylla. The cruel rock wherein she hides is better than thy warm halls."

The goddess was angry when she heard these words, and she put on her azure vestments, and taking the juices of poisonous plants with her, she stepped out into the boiling waters. She walked with bare feet along on the waves as firmly as if she were walking on dry land; wherever her feet touched the sea rain clouds rose into the sky.

Now there was a little bay curving in the shape of a bow among the secret places of the rocks where Scylla went to bathe when the sun was highest in the heavens. Circe found this little bay and threw the poisoned juices into it, saying to herself, "Since Glaucus scorns the warmth and sunlight of the halls of Circe, he shall be scorned by the nymph whom he loves."

Circe said some strange words of magic over the waters and then she departed. Hardly had she gone when Scylla, not knowing that the waters had been charmed, stepped into the bay to take a bath. No sooner had she plunged beneath the waters than she found herself changing into a horrible rock full of ugly caves, a rock as cold and hard as that which frowned down upon the sea.

And she found herself surrounded by frightful dogs, barking and biting, and when she put her hand down to drive them away she could not; they had taken up their abode in the caves and had become a part of herself. Their mouths were open and their jaws ready to devour all who came in their way, and they barked continually. And there Scylla stands now, just as she stood ages and ages ago, and the dogs are barking at Glaucus day and night.

The poisoned waters keep on working their charms, and the waters in the little bay rise and give Scylla a bath at noontide.

And now you may tell me whether there is any better way of telling about sea-weeds and sea-waves and tides, paths of light on the water, the beating of rocks by the waters to form sea-waves, and the action of the sun and his golden rays.

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