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The Horn Of Plenty

from Good Stories For Great Holidays - CHRISTMAS DAY





BY OVID (ADAPTED)

Aeneus, King of Aetolia, had a daughter whose name was Deianira. So
beautiful was the maiden that her fame spread throughout the world, and
many princes came to woo her. Among these were two strangers, who drove
all the other suitors from the hall of King Aeneus.

One was Hercules, huge of limb and broad of shoulder. He was clad in
the skins of beasts, and carried in his hand a knotted club. His tangled
hair hung down upon his brawny neck, and his fierce eyes gleamed from
behind his shaggy brows.

The other stranger was Achelous, god of the Calydonian River. Slender
and graceful was he, and clad in flowing green raiment. In his hand
he carried a staff of plaited reeds, and on his head was a crown of
water-lilies. His voice was soft and caressing, like the gentle murmur
of summer brooks.

"O King Aeneus," said Achelous, standing before the throne, "behold I
am the King of Waters. If thou wilt receive me as thy son-in-law I will
make the beautiful Deianira queen of my river kingdom."

"King Aeneus," said the mighty Hercules, stepping forward, "Deianira is
mine, and I will not yield her to this river-god."

"Impertinent stranger!" cried Achelous, turning toward the hero, while
his voice rose till it sounded like the thunder of distant cataracts,
and his green garment changed to the blackness of night,--"impertinent
stranger! how darest thou claim this maiden,--thou who hast mortal blood
in thy veins! Behold me, the god Achelous, the powerful King of the
Waters! I wind with majesty through the rich lands of my wide realms. I
make all fields through which I flow beautiful with grass and flowers.
By my right divine I claim this maiden."

But with scowling eye and rising wrath Hercules made answer. "Thou
wouldst fight with words, like a woman, while I would win by my
strength! My right hand is better than my tongue. If thou wouldst have
the maiden, then must thou first overcome me in combat."

Thereupon Achelous threw off his raiment and began to prepare himself
for the struggle. Hercules took off his garment of beasts' skins, and
cast aside his club. The two then anointed their bodies with oil, and
threw yellow sand upon themselves.

They took their places, they attacked, they retired, they rushed again
to the conflict. They stood firm, and they yielded not. Long they
bravely wrestled and fought; till at length Hercules by his might
overcame Achelous and bore him to the ground. He pressed him down, and,
while the fallen river-god lay panting for breath, the hero seized him
by the neck.

Then did Achelous have recourse to his magic arts. Transforming himself
into a serpent he escaped from the hero. He twisted his body into
winding folds, and darted out his forked tongue with frightful hissings.

But Hercules laughed mockingly, and cried out: "Ah, Achelous! While yet
in my cradle I strangled two serpents! And what art thou compared to the
Hydra whose hundred heads I cut off? Every time I cut of I one head two
others grew in its place. Yet did I conquer that horror, in spite of its
branching serpents that darted from every wound! Thinkest thou, then,
that I fear thee, thou mimic snake?" And even as he spake he gripped, as
with a pair of pincers, the back of the river-god's head.

And Achelous struggled in vain to escape. Then, again having recourse to
his magic, he became a raging bull, and renewed the fight. But Hercules,
that mighty hero, threw his huge arms over the brawny neck of the bull,
and dragged him about. Then seizing hold of his horns, he bent his head
to one side, and bearing down fastened them into the ground. And that
was not enough, but with relentless hand he broke one of the horns, and
tore it from Achelous's forehead.

The river-god returned to his own shape. He roared aloud with rage and
pain, and hiding his mutilated head in his mantle, rushed from the hall
and plunged into the swirling waters of his stream.

Then the goddess of Plenty, and all the Wood-Nymphs and Water-Nymphs
came forward to greet the conqueror with song and dance. They took
the huge horn of Achelous and heaped it high with the rich and glowing
fruits and flowers of autumn. They wreathed it with vines and with
clustering grapes, and bearing it aloft presented it to Hercules and his
beautiful bride Deianira.

And ever since that day has the Horn of Plenty gladdened men's hearts at
Harvest-Time.





Next: After Celia Thaxter

Previous: The Spirit Of The Corn



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