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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
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Boethius, His mourning moved the depths of hell

From The Consolation of Philosophy, tr. by W. V. Cooper

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'Happy the man who could reach the crystal fount of good: happy he who could shake off the chains of matter and of earth. The singer of Thrace in olden time lamented his dead wife: by his tearful strains he made the trees to follow him, and bound the flowing streams to stay: for him the hind would fearlessly go side by side with fiercest lions, and the hare would look upon the hound, nor be afraid, for he was gentle under the song's sway. But when the hotter flame burnt up his inmost soul, even the strains, which had subdued all other things, could not soothe their own lord's mind. Complaining of the hard hearts of the gods above, he dared approach the realms below. There he tuned his songs to soothing tones, and sang the lays he had drawn from his mother's fount of excellence. His unrestrained grief did give him power, his love redoubled his grief's power: his mourning moved the depths of hell. With gentlest prayers he prayed to the lords of the shades for grace. The three-headed porter was taken captive with amazement at his fresh songs. The avenging goddesses, who haunt with fear the guilty, poured out sad tears. Ixion's wheel no longer swiftly turned. Tantalus, so long abandoned unto thirst, could then despise the flowing stream. The vulture, satisfied by his strains, tore not awhile at Tityos's heart. At last the lord of the shades in pity cried: "We are conquered; take your bride with you, bought by your song; but one condition binds our gift: till she has left these dark abodes, turn not your eyes upon her." Who shall set a law to lovers? Love is a greater law unto itself. Alack! at the very bounds of darkness Orpheus looked upon his Eurydice; looked, and lost her, and was lost himself.

'To you too this tale refers; you, who seek to lead your thoughts to the light above. For whosoever is overcome of desire, and turns his gaze upon the darkness 'neath the earth, he, while he looks on hell, loses the prize he carried off.'

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   Cf. Virgil, To return and view the cheerful skies Goethe, Who yearns for the impossible I love Rilke, Ein Wehn im Gott.

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