Stories from Old English Poetry/Campaspe and the Painter

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THE great Alexander of Macedon had come home from Thebes rich in triumphs and laden with spoils. At his chariot wheels groaned hosts of captives taken in battle and in siege; and through the openings of the pavilions, hung close with silken tapestry, and borne aloft on the shoulders of swarthy slaves, one might catch glimpses of women’s faces, their fairness veiled in clouds of sorrow that their native city had been made desolate, and they themselves torn away captive to swell the train of the conqueror.

One pavilion, more carefully guarded than any of the others, was set down at the doors of the palace, and its two lovely inmates, clinging to each other in fear and anticipation too dread for cries and tears, entered the royal halls.

These were the two Greek girls, Timoclea and Campaspe, whose homes had been laid in ashes when the siege was raised in Thebes. Timoclea was the daughter of a noble Theban, and Campaspe a simple Grecian maiden, far more fair in face, though less fair in lineage, than her older companion.

As the two girls held fast to each other in the audience chamber, covering their faces with their mantles, that their beauty might not tempt the gaze of the courtiers in waiting, there was a stir and then a hush among the dark-hued attendants who had been buzzing about the doorways, that boded the coming of the monarch. Close by one of the marble columns which flanked the further entrance, the dignified Aristotle awaited the royal presence, and behind him another figure also stood expectant. Even Campaspe, veiled as she was in her shrouding mantle, could not keep back some furtive glances that rested on this latter figure as he leaned with careless grace against the column. The beauty of his attitude, the full white throat which his silken tunic left half bare, the short curling rings of hair on his well-poised head, the eyes that shone with the light of genius, all made him more resemble the god Apollo, to the eyes of the simple maiden, than any earth-born man with whom she could compare him.

“Timoclea,” she whispered softly, “is yonder man the great Alexander?”

“No, silly child,” answered the older. “In Alexander’s eyes you will see war’s lightnings Yonder man is more like a poet, or perhaps some cutter in marble, who is come to take orders of his royal master.”

At this moment the sound of music broke the whispered silence; the attendants ranged on either side the chamber; the door-curtains were swung apart; and leaning on his friend and favorite, the wise Hephæstion, the royal Alexander entered.

The king’s eyes shone with the pride of conquest, and although his cheek was not yet bronzed with battle-smoke, and his slender supple figure still showed traces of his youthfulness, he bore himself as proudly as if years of triumph and kingly rule had taught him that the globe held no warrior fit to mate with Alexander of Macedon.

He began a whispered talk with Hephæstion, and the attendants fell reverently away, leaving the two standing alone in the centre of the chamber.

“Yonder she stands, Hephæstion,” said the monarch in a subdued voice, “the fairest of all the women mine eyes have ever looked upon.”

“I would that her fairness went no deeper than thine eyes,” returned the favorite. “When a woman’s beauty touches the heart, it waxeth dangerous.”

“And why dangerous, sweet Hephestion? If Alexander is a man, he may love. If he be indeed the son of a god, even then he may not disdain a passion which caused Mars to linger at the feet of Aphrodite.”

“Kings should love nothing but virtue.”

“And is not love a virtue, my Hephæstion? ’

“In my sense it is rather a weakness. Conquerors should entertain no passions which they cannot rule; and love, time out of mind, has led conquerors captive. Theseus won his triumphs worthily, but he gave all up when he laid his heart under the feet of his Amazon princess. So wouldst thou be made slave by thy captive? Let me not see so mad an issue out of so great a triumph as thou hast won m Thebes.”

“But look at her even now as she stands there, Hephæstion, trembling like a coy dove that fears the fowler. Is not thy heart moved by her charms? Look on her, and judge if it be a weakness to yield.”

“I behold her, and I see no such matter as thou dost,” answered Hephæstion.“ It is simply a oraceful figure, a little foot, a tapering hand, a soft alluring eye, some tresses of curling hair; perhaps—as we have heard—a gracious voice and a witty tongue may be added thereto. What is all this to the nations that wait for thy foot to be set upon their necks? But I will not counsel thee. Counsel availeth nothing when a man will be in love, and I pray thou mayst have this new disease as lightly as thou passed through the ills of thy infancy. I will say no more.”

“A good resolution, sweet friend. Now I will approach the maiden, and seek to comfort her for her hard fate in being my captive. Alas! if she be my prisoner of war, I am hers by love. Thou art sure to say my case is the worse of the two.”

As the king approached Campaspe, she trembled more and more. For what fate the monarch designed her, the frightened girl knew nor guessed not. When he asked her graciously to throw aside the mantle which shrouded her head and face, she blamed the shield of glittering metal on the wall beside her, which showed her that in spite of tears and sorrow she was never more radiantly fair.

With courteous interest the monarch asked how she and her companion had fared during their journey; if all her wishes had been obeyed by the slaves whom he had set to attend her; and as she faltered out her answers to his questioning, he gazed on her blushing face with an interest which, she could not disguise from herself, was not less flattering than the mirror of steel which had revealed to her her beauty.

“I have prepared apartments near our own palace for thee, where everything shall be provided for thy comfort, sweet Campaspe,” said the monarch. “It is a fancy of mine to furnish a hall with paintings from the pencil of the gifted Apelles. To this end have I bade him wait here to-day that I may ask that thou wilt grant him the favor to paint thy fair self. He lodges in the palace; and if thou consent that he shall put thy shadow on his canvas, he will be prouder than when Aphrodite appeared to his vision, that he might make a picture worthy to represent the goddess to her worshippers.”

To these words Campaspe listened in amazement, mingled with irresistible pleasure, when Alexander beckoned to the elegant youth who still leaned negligently against the column near the entrance. At the monarch’s gesture, he came forward, and bowed low at the sight of Campaspe’s beauty.

“It is our pleasure that thou shouldst paint the lady we present to thee, Campaspe of Thebes,” said Alexander. “Thinkest thou that thy pencil can represent her worthily?”

“Not worthily, my lord king,” answered the artist. “We cannot paint virtues. Our colors can neither speak nor think. But what I can do, I will. When will it please the maiden to visit my poor work-shop?”

“If I may ask that I have a little time to refresh myself after my journey,” said Campaspe, still clinging to Timoclea, with the pretty air of timidity which so well became her. “I shall be more fit to have my face transferred to thy canvas, and it may then be better worth so great an honor.”


Weeks had grown into months in the palace of Alexander, and yet his wooing of the lovely Grecian progressed but slowly. The king treated Campaspe with the consideration due to a princess, and spared no pains to make her sensible of the favor with which he regarded her. He had resolved not to urge his suit in words, until her picture, which still graced the easel of Apelles, was completed, and ready to decorate the walls of his palace. As for Apelles, although day after day saw him before his easel, and day after day Campaspe sat patiently in whatever light he chose to place her, no picture ever was so long in the making as this promised to be.

It was a soft morning in October, and the balmy air lifted gently the rich curtains which draped the windows of the artist’s studio. Everywhere in unnoted profusion lay scattered rich tokens of the painter’s art. In the midst of all Apelles stood alone before the portrait of Campaspe, ever and anon giving a touch to a face which already seemed beyond the painter’s art to add to or improve. As he worked, he sang to himself a little sonnet, with words and music of his own making. It ran thus:—

Cupid and my Campaspe played
At cards for kisses,—Cupid paid;
He stakes his quiver, bow and arrows,
His mother’s doves, and teams of sparrows,
Loses them too; then down he throws
The coral of his lip, the rose
Growing on’s cheek (but none knows how),
With these the crystal of his brow,
And then the dimple of his chin,—
All these did my Campaspe win.
At last he set her both his eyes,
She won, and Cupid blind did rise.
O Love! has she done this to thee?
What shall, alas! become of me?”

As his song ended, the painter stood with rapt eyes gazing on the picture.

“O Goddess of Beauty, and mother of Love,” he murmured, “on whose shrine hitherto I have laid the best works my hand has wrought, grant me that boon which thou gavest before to Pygmalion. As thou transformed his marble into flesh inspired by soul, so turn my picture into the living and breathing woman. Or if Alexander will have my canvas, let him yield me Campaspe in its stead. For no less a price will I ever part with it. Ah, Campaspe! beautiful Campaspe! would that thou knewest how dear thou hast become to me! So dear that to part with thy picture were worse than death, unless I would have thyself in exchange.”

While Apelles spoke, the entrance curtains moved, and Campaspe entered the apartment. She walked to the low couch, placed on a small dais, made for her to occupy when she would sit for her picture.

Startled by her sudden entrance, Apelles turned to look upon her. The sight of the maiden almost dazzled his sight and took away his breath. The color in her cheeks was deepened into a richer carnation than he had ever seen them wear. Her eyes overflowed with a look at once so tender and appealing, that the glance sunk deep into his heart. Her soul shone so through her face, that for a moment she seemed more like spirit than mortal, and the painter, gazing on her, threw down his brush despairingly and approached her.

“It is in vain, Campaspe,” he said sadly. “These months past have I tried to fix thy shadow on my canvas. It is beyond art. No painter can paint that which is divine.”

“What treason in the painter of goddesses to speak thus!” said the girl playfully. “Didst not the very brush which thou threwest down just now so disdainfully, paint Aphrodite in such perfection that she has forever blessed thee with her favor?”

“Ah yes,” returned Apelles, “I painted the goddess from my imagination, but thou art too dear a reality.”

“Perchance thou art tired of endeavoring my portrait,” said Campaspe, “and would fain give up the task.”

“Campaspe, how much you wrong me in such a thought! To paint Aphrodite was a pleasure, but to paint thee is heaven.”

As the painter said this, he half reclined upon the dais on which her couch was placed, and looked up into her face so ardently, that the color there deepened and deepened under his gaze.

“In truth, Apelles,” she said half reproachfully, “you forget your art. I thought you were to paint with your hand, and not to gloze my poor face with flattering tongue.”

What he would have answered cannot be known, for again the entrance curtains opened, and Alexander entered, with Hephæstion. The monarch’s keen eye took in at a glance the maiden’s blushes, the attitude of Apelles, the brush thrown down, and the neglected portrait. His eye flashed lightnings, and he towered to his full height above the offending pair. Apelles rose to his feet, and met his anger with a steady glance.

“I have been but a foolish wooer, Apelles,” said the monarch, gravely, “and you a false friend. You knew well that I loved this maiden, when I intrusted her to thee to be put on thy canvas.”

“I knew it, King Alexander, and knowing it, I have guarded my lips from any word of love to her,”’ answered the painter.

“You cannot deny that you do love her,” said the monarch fiercely.

“No, I do not wish to deny that. Who could see her daily as I have, and not love her with all his heart? He would either be less than a man, or more than a god.”

“And you, Campaspe,” asked Alexander, turning to where she sat tremblingly watching the interview, “do you love Apelles?”

The maiden turned pale and red by turns. But looking at Apelles, who stood gazing at her as if his soul’s fate hung on her answer, she said in a clear voice, “I love Apelles.”

Alexander’s face grew darker. He raised his arm as if he would strike the two lovers to the earth. His eye met the appealing glance of Campaspe, who waited as if breathlessly expecting her death-blow. A sudden revulsion of feeling overcame him. He took Campaspe’s little cold hand, and placed it in that of Apelles.

“Here, Apelles,’’ he said firmly, “I give her to thee frankly. I see I cannot conquer hearts, though I may subdue nations. She is thine, love her as dearly as thou wilt.”

The two lovers, overcome with joy and gratitude, sank together at the king’s feet.

“Now, Alexander, thou art indeed a king,” exclaimed Hephæstion.

“Thanks, good Hephæstion. It were shameful in me to seek to be a conqueror, if I could not command myself. Now, then, sweet friend, when the world is all mine, find me new planets to subdue; else I will punish thee, by again falling in love.”

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