The Original Fables of La Fontaine/Jupiter and the Thunderbolts

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(Book VIII.—No. 20)

One day, as Jupiter seated on high looked down upon the world, he was incensed at the faults committed by mankind, "Let us" he said, "have some other occupants in the regions of the universe in place of these present inhabitants who importune and weary me. Go you to Hades, Mercury, and bring hither the cruellest of the furies. This time, O race that I have too tenderly nurtured, you shall perish."

After this outburst the temper of the god began to cool.

O ye sovereigns of this world, to whom it has been given to be the arbiters of our destinies, let a night intervene between your wrath and the storm which may follow!

Mercury, light of wing and sweet of tongue, descended to the abode of the dread sisters Tisiphone, Megæra, and Alecto, and his choice fell upon the latter, the pitiless one. She, feeling proud of the preference, grew so arrogant as to swear by Pluto that the whole of the human brood should soon people his domains. But Jupiter did not approve of the vow this member of the Eumenides had sworn, and he sent her back to Hades. At the same time he launched a thunderbolt upon one particularly perfidious race of men. This, however, being hurled by a father's arm, mercifully fell in a desert, causing less ruin than alarm. What followed from this was simply that the wicked brood took heart at such indulgence and did not trouble to mend their ways. Then all the gods in Olympus complained, until he who controls the clouds swore by the Styx that further storms should be sent and that they should not fail as the other had.

The Olympians only smiled at this. They told Jupiter that as he was the father it would be better if he left in other hands the making of thunderbolts. Vulcan undertook the task. Soon his furnaces glowed with bolts of two kinds; one that hits its mark with a deadly unerring—and that is the sort which any of the Olympian gods will hurl; whilst the other sort was that which becomes scattered on its course and does damage only to the mountain tops, or perchance is even lost on the way. It is this kind of thunderbolt that Jupiter sends. His fatherly heart permits him to use no other.