There was in Florence in the oldest time a noble family, but grown so poor that their feast days were few and far between. However, they dwelt in their old palace (which was in the street now called La Via Cittadella), which was a fine old building, and so they kept up a brave show before the world, when many a day they hardly had anything to eat.
Round this palace was a large garden, in which stood an ancient marble statue of Diana, like a beautiful woman who seemed to be running with a dog by her side. She held in her hand a bow, and on her forehead was a small moon. And it was said that by night, when all was still, the statue became like life and fled, and did not return till the moon set or the sun rose.
The father of the family had two children, who were good and intelligent. On day they came home with many flowers that had been given to them, and the little girl said to the brother, "The beautiful lady with the bow ought to have some of these!"
Saying this, they laid flowers before the statue and made a wreath, which the boy placed on her head.
Just then the great poet and magician Virgil, who knew everything about the god and fairies, entered the garden and said, smiling, "You have made the offering of flowers to the goddess quite correctly, as they did of old; all that remains is to pronounce the prayer properly, and it is this:"
So he repeated the invocation of Diana:
Lovely Goddess of the bow!
Lovely Goddess of the arrows!
Of all hounds and of all hunting
Thou who wakest in starry heaven
When the sun is sunk in slumber
Thou with moon upon thy forehead,
Who the chase by night preferrest
Unto hunting in the daylight,
With thy nymphs unto the music
Of the horn - thyself the huntress,
And most powerful: I pray thee
Think, although but for an instant,
Upon us who pray unto thee!
Then Virgil taught them also the spell to be uttered when good fortune or aught is specially required -
Fair goddess of the rainbow,
Of the stars and of the moon!
The queen most powerful
Of hunters and the night!
We beg of thee thy aid,
That thou may'st give to us
The best of fortune ever!
If thou heed'st our evocation
And wilt give good fortune to us,
Then in proof give us a token!
And having taught them this, Virgil departed.
Then the children ran to tell their parents all that had happened, and the latter impressed it on them to keep it a secret, nor breathe a word or hint thereof to any one. But what was their amazement when they found early the next morning before the statue a deer freshly killed, which gave them good dinners for many a day; nor did they want thereafter at any time game of all kinds, when the prayer had been devoutly pronounced.
There was a neighbor of this family, a priest, who held in hate all the ways and worship of the gods of the old time, and whatever did not belong to his religion, and he, passing the garden one day, beheld the statue of Diana crowned with roses and other flowers. And being in a rage, and seeing in the street a decayed cabbage, he rolled it in the mud, and threw it all dripping at the face of the goddess, saying, "Behold, thou vile beast of idolatry, this is the worship which thou has from me, and the devil do the rest for thee!"
Then the priest heard a voice in the gloom where the leaves were dense, and it said, "It is well! I give thee warning, since thou hast made thy offering, some of the game to thee I'll bring; thou'lt have thy share in the morning."
All that night the priest suffered from horrible dreams and dread, and when at last, just before three o'clock, he fell asleep, he suddenly awoke from a nightmare in which it seemed as if something heavy rested on his chest. And something indeed fell from him and rolled on the floor. And when he rose and picked it up, and looked at it by the light of the moon, he saw that it was a human head, half decayed.
Another priest, who had heard his cry of terror, entered his room, and having looked at the head, said, "I know that face! It is of a man whom I confessed, and who was beheaded three months ago at Siena."
And three days after, the priest who had insulted the goddess died.
The foregoing tale was not given to me as belonging to the Gospel of Witches, but as one of a very large series of traditions relating to Virgil as a magician. But it has its proper place in this book, because it contains the invocation to and incantation of Diana, these being remarkably beautiful and original. When we remember how these 'hymns' have been handed down or preserved by old women, and doubtless much garbled, changed, and deformed by transmission, it cannot but seem wonderful that so much classic beauty still remains in them, as, for instance, in -
Lovely Goddess of the bow!
Lovely Goddess of the arrows!
Thou who walk'st I starry heaven!
Robert Browning was a great poet, but if we compare all the Italian witch poems of and to Diana with the former's much admired speech of Diana-Artemis, it will certainly be admitted by impartial critics that the spells are fully equal to the following by the bard -
I am a goddess of the ambrosial courts,
And save by Here, Queen of Pride, surpassed
By none whose temples whiten this the world;
Through heaven I roll my lucid moon along,
I shed in Hell o'er my pale people peace,
On Earth, I, caring for the creatures, guard
Each pregnant yellow wolf and fox bitch sleek,
And every feathered mother's callow brood,
And all that love green haunts and loneliness.
This is pretty, but it is only imitation, and neither in form or spirit really equal to the incantations, which are sincere on faith. And it may here be observed in sorrow, yet in very truth, that in a very great number of modern poetical handlings of classic mythic subjects, the writers have, despite all their genius as artists, produced rococo work which will appear to be such to another generation, simply from their having missed the point, or omitted from ignorance something vital which the folk lorist would probably not have lost. Achilles may be admirably drawn, as I have seen him, in a Louis XIV. wig with a Turkish scimitar, but still one could wish that the designer had been a little more familiar with Greek garments and weapons.
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