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"Ariane Et Dionyse": A Painting By Paul Bergeron, 1740
by [?]

PAUVRETTE! no wonder she is startled. All came on her so suddenly. A moment since, she was alone on this island. Theseus had left her. Her lover had crept from her couch as she lay sleeping, and had sailed away with his comrades, noiselessly, before the sun rose and woke her. >From the top of yonder hillock she had seen the last sail of his argosy fading over the sea-line. Vainly she had waved her arms, and vainly her cries had echoed through all the island. She had run distraught through the valleys, the goats scampering before her to their own rocks. She had strayed, wildly weeping, along the shore, and the very sky had seemed to mock her. At length, spent with sorrow and wan with her tears, she had lain upon the sand. Above her the cliff sloped gently down to the shore, and all around her was the hot noontide, and no sound save the rustling of the sea over the sand. Theseus had left her. The sea had taken him from her. Let the sea take her in its tide…. Suddenly–what was that?–she leapt up and listened. Voices, voices, the loud clash of cymbals! She looked round for some place to hide in. Too late! Some man (goat or man) came bounding towards her down the cliff. Another came after him. Then others, a whole company, and with them many naked, abominable women, laughing and shrieking and waving leafy wands, as they rushed down towards her. And in their midst, in a brazen chariot drawn by panthers, sped one whose yellow hair streamed far behind him in the wind. And from his chariot he sprang and stood before her.

But she shrinks from his smile. She shrinks from the riot and ribaldry that encompass her. She is but a young bride whom the bridegroom has betrayed, and she would fain be alone in the bitterness of her anguish and her humiliation. Why have they come, these creatures who are stamping and reeling round her, these flushed women who clap the cymbals, and these wild men with the hoofs and the horns of goats? How should they comfort her? She is not of their race; no! nor even of their time. She stands among them, just as Bergeron saw her, a delicate, timid figurine du dix-huitie`me sie`cle. With her powdered hair and her hooped skirt and her stiff bodice of rose silk, she seems more fit for the consolations of some old Monsignore than for the homage of these frenzied Pagans and the amorous regard of their master. At him, pressing her shut fan to her lips, she is gazing across her shoulder. With one hand she seems to ward him from her. Her whole body is bent to flight, but she is `affear’d of her own feet.’ She is well enough educated to know that he who smiles at her is no mortal, but Bacchus himself, the very lord of Naxos. He stands before her, the divine debauchee racemiferis frontem circumdatus uvis; and all around her, a waif on his territory, are the symbols of his majesty and his power. It is in his honour that the ivy trails down the cliff, and are not the yews and the firs and the fig-trees that overshadow the cliff’s edge all sacred to him? and the vines beyond, are they not all his? His four panthers are clawing the sand, and four tipsy Satyrs hold them, the impatient beasts, by their bridles. Another Satyr drags to execution a goat that he has caught cropping the vine; and in his slanted eyes one can see thirst for the blood of his poor cousin. The Maenads are dancing in one another’s arms, and their tresses are coiled and crowned with tiny serpents. One of them kneels apart, sucking a great wine-skin. And yonder, that old cupster, Silenus, that horrible old favourite, wobbles along on a donkey, and would tumble off, you may be sure, were he not upheld by two fairly sober Satyrs. But the eyes of Ariadne are fixed only on the smooth- faced god. See how he smiles back at her with that lascivious condescension which is all that a god’s love can be for a mortal girl! In his hand he holds a long thyrsus. Behind him is borne aloft a chaplet of seven gold stars.

Ariadne is but a little waif in the god’s power. Not Theseus himself could protect her. One tap of the god’s wand, and, lo! she, too, would be filled with the frenzy of worship, and, with a wild cry, would join the dancers, his for ever. But the god is not unscrupulous. He would fain win her by gentle and fair means, even by wedlock. That chaplet of seven stars is his bridal offering. Why should not she accept it? Why should she be coy of his desire? It is true that he drinks. But in time, may be, a wife might be able to wean him from the wine-skin, and from the low company he affects. That will be for time to show. And, meanwhile, how brilliant a match! Not even Pasiphae”, her mother, ever contemplated for her such splendour. In her great love, Ariadne risked her whole future by eloping with Theseus. For her–the daughter of a far mightier king than Aegeus, and, on the distaff side, the granddaughter of Apollo–even marriage with Theseus would have been a me’salliance. And now, here is a chance, a chance most marvellous, of covering her silly escapade. She will be sensible, I think, though she is still a little frightened. She will accept this god’s suit, if only to pique Theseus–Theseus, who, for all his long, tedious anecdotes of how he slew Procrustes and the bull of Marathon and the sow of Cromyon, would even now lie slain or starving in her father’s labyrinth, had she not taken pity on him. Yes, it was pity she felt for him. She never loved him. And then, to think that he, a mere mortal, dared to cast her off–oh, it is too absurd, it is too monstrous!