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Metamorphoses
Ovid

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Bk VIII:451-514 Althaea and the burning brand.

There was a piece of wood that the Three Sisters placed in the fire, when Althaea, the daughter of Thestius, was in the throes of childbirth. As they spun the threads of fate firmly under their thumbs, they said: "We assign an equal span of time to you, O new born child, and to this brand." When the goddesses vanished, after speaking the prophecy, the mother snatched the burning branch from the fire, and doused it with water. It had long been hidden away in the depths of the inner rooms, and preserved, had preserved your years, youth. Your mother now brought it out, and called for pinewood and kindling: and, once that was in position, she lit the hostile flames. Then she tried, four times, to throw the brand in the fire, and four times, held back. The mother fought the sister in her, and the two tugged at the one heart. Often her cheeks grew pale at imminent wickedness. Often fierce anger filled her eyes with blood. One moment she seemed like someone threatening some cruelty: the next you would think her full of compassion. When her heart's fierce passion dried up her tears, the tears welled up again. As a ship, that the wind, and the tide opposing the wind, both seize, feels the twin forces and obeys the two, uncertainly, so the daughter of Thestius, was swayed by her emotions, and her anger alternately calmed, and then flared again.
        
However, the sister in her begins to outweigh the mother, and to appease the shades of her own blood, with blood, she escapes guilt by incurring it. Now, as the baleful fire strengthens, she cries, "Let this be the funeral pyre that cremates my child." As she held the fatal brand in her deadly hand, and stood, wretched woman, in front of the funeral altars, she said, "Eumenides, Triple Goddesses of Retribution, turn your faces towards these fearful rites! I take revenge, and I do a wicked thing: death must be atoned for by death: crime must be heaped on crime, ruin on ruin. Let this impious house end in a flood of mourning! Shall, Oeneus, fortunate, rejoice in his victorious child, while Thestius is bereaved of his sons? Better for both to grieve. Only, my brother's spirits, new-made ghosts, recognise my sense of duty to you, and accept the sacrifice I prepare, so great its cost to me, the evil child of my womb! Ah me! What conclusion do I rush towards? My brothers, forgive a mother! The hand is unequal to what it began: I acknowledge he deserves to die, but I do not desire to be the cause of his death. Shall he go unpunished? Shall he live, victorious, proud of his success, and be king in Calydon, while you lie there, the scant ashes of chill shadows? For my part I cannot suffer that to be: let the wicked die, and pull down his father's hopes, his kingship, and the ruins of his country! Where are my maternal feelings? Where are the sacred allegiances of a parent? Where are the anxieties I suffered over those ten months? O, I wish, when you were an infant burning in those first flames, I had allowed it to be! By my gift, you lived: now for your own fault, you die! Suffer the consequences of what you have done, and give me back the life I twice gave you, once at your birth, once when I snatched at the brand, or let me join my brothers in the tomb!

I yearn to do it, and I cannot do it. What shall I do? Now my brothers' wounds are before my eyes and the image of all that blood: and now heart's love, and the word 'mother' move me. Woe to me! Evil is in your victory, my brothers: but victory you shall have: only let me follow you, and the comfort I bring you!' She spoke, and turning her face away, with trembling hands, threw the fatal brand, into the midst of the fire. The piece of wood itself gave, or seemed to give, a sigh, as it was attacked, and burned, by the reluctant flames.
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