polyphemus and Acis and Galatea.gif

Long ago in Sicily... Galatea was a sea nymph, a Nereid, who lived by the island inhabited by the Cyclops Polyphemus, son of Poseidon, who was deeply in love with Galatea. However Galatea liked the young shepherd Acis, son of Pan. Galatea and Acis used to mock Polyphemus's songs of love for Galatea. Polyphemus caught them sleeping on a grassy hill, and killed Acis by crushing him under a huge rock. Acis's blood formed a stream beneath the rock. Galatea turned it into a river and named it after him.

The story of Acis and Galatea was told by Ovid in Book III of his Metamorphoses, and it is also the subject of a 1732 opera by Georg Friedrich Händel; here are excerpts from the Libretto, by John Gay:

Acis and Galatea by Jean-Francois de Troy (1679-1752)

Chorus:
Wretched lovers!
Fate has past this sad decree:
No joy shall last. Quit your dream!
Behold the monster Polypheme!
See what ample strides he takes!
The mountain nods, the forest shakes;
The waves run frighten'd to the shores:
Hark, how the thund'ring giant roars!

Acis:
His hideous love provokes my rage:
Weak as I am, I must engage!
Inspir'd with thy victorious charms,
The god of love will lend his arms.

Acis (later):
Help, Galatea! help, ye parent gods!
And take me dying to your deep abodes.

Chorus:
Mourn, all ye muses! weep, all ye swains!
Tune, tune your reeds to doleful strains!
Groans, cries and howlings fill the neighb'ring shore:
Ah, ah, the gentle Acis is no more!

But don't despair. Ovid goes on to tell us:
The stone was cleft, and through the yawning chink
New reeds arose, on the new river's brink.
The rock, from out its hollow womb, disclos'd
A sound like water in its course oppos'd,
When (wond'rous to behold), full in the flood,
Up starts a youth, and navel high he stood.
Horns from his temples rise; and either horn
Thick wreaths of reeds (his native growth) adorn.
Were not his stature taller than before,
His bulk augmented, and his beauty more,
His colour blue; for Acis he might pass:
And Acis chang'd into a stream he was,
But mine no more; he rowls along the plains
With rapid motion, and his name retains.

Acis and Galatea

Scylla was a fair virgin of Sicily, a favorite of the Sea-Nymphs.
She had many suitors, but repelled them all, and would go to the
grotto of Galatea, and tell her how she was persecuted. One day
the goddess, while Scylla dressed her hair, listened to the
story, and then replied, "Yet, maiden, your persecutors are of
the not ungentle race of men, whom if you will you can repel; but
I, the daughter of Nereus, and protected by such a band of
sisters, found no escape from the passion of the Cyclops but in
the depths of the sea;" and tears stopped her utterance, which
when the pitying maiden had wiped away with her delicate finger,
and soothed the goddess, "Tell me, dearest," said she, "the cause
of your grief." Galatea then said, "Acis was the son of Faunus
and a Naiad. His father and mother loved him dearly, but their
love was not equal to mine. For the beautiful youth attached
himself to me alone, and he was just sixteen years old, the down
just beginning to darken his cheeks. As much as I sought his
society, so much did the cyclops seek mine; and if you ask me
whether my love for Acis or my hatred for Polyphemus was the
stronger, I cannot tell you; they were in equal measure. Oh,
Venus, how great is thy power! This fierce giant, the terror of
the woods, whom no hapless stranger escaped unharmed, who defied
even Jove himself, learned to feel what love was, and touched
with a passion for me, forgot his flocks and his well-stored
caverns. Then, for the first time, he began to take some care of
his appearance, and to try to make himself agreeable; he harrowed
those coarse locks of his with a comb, and mowed his beard with a
sickle, looked at his harsh features in the water, and composed
his countenance. His love of slaughter, his fierceness and
thirst of blood prevailed no more, and ships that touched at his
island went away in safety. He paced up and down the sea-shore,
imprinting huge tracks with his heavy tread, and, when weary, lay
tranquilly in his cave.

"There is a cliff which projects into the sea, which washes it on
either side. Thither one day the huge Cyclops ascended, and sat
down while his flocks spread themselves around. Laying down his
staff which would have served for a mast to hold a vessel's sail,
and taking his instrument, compacted of numerous pipes, he made
the hills and the waters echo the music of his song. I lay hid
under a rock, by the side of my beloved Acis, and listened to the
distant strain. It was full of extravagant praises of my beauty,
mingled with passionate reproaches of my coldness and cruelty.

"When he had finished he rose up, and like a raging bull, that
cannot stand still, wandered off into the woods. Acis and I
thought no more of him, till on a sudden he came to a spot which
gave him a view of us as we sat. 'I see you,' he exclaimed, 'and
I will make this the last of your love-meetings.' His voice was
a roar such as an angry Cyclops alone could utter. AEtna
trembled at the sound. I, overcome with terror, plunged into the
water. Acis turned and fled, crying, 'Save me, Galatea, save me,
my parents!" The Cyclops pursued him, and tearing a rock from
the side of the mountain hurled it at him. Though only a corner
of it touched him it overwhelmed him.

"All that fate left in my power I did for Acis. I endowed him
with the honors of his grandfather the river-god. The purple
blood flowed out from under the rock, but by degrees grew paler
and looked like the stream of a river rendered turbid by rains,
and in time it became clear. The rock cleaved open, and the
water, as it gushed from the chasm, uttered a pleasing murmur."

Thus Acis was changed into a river, and the river retains the
name of Acis.
posted by Unknown on Thursday, August 23, 2007 - link to this photo

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