Ovid's Metamorphoses - Book VII
"Drunk in the sea of grief I prayed to Jove:
'O Jupiter ! If rumours do not lie ---
If it is true your arms enfold Aegina,
Daughter of Asopus, and you, great father
Of our house, deny the shame of having us,
Your children, here on earth --- give back, O lord,
My people to my land, or let me follow
The dead I loved into their sepulchre.'
His answer was a bolt of fire and thunder.
'And this is your reply,' I said, 'I take it
That your will toward us is good will, so shall I hold
You to a sacred promise.' As I spoke,
I saw an oak spread branches over me,
The talking oak of Jove-Dodona's kind.
And there we noted that a trail of ants,
Each with a grain of wheat between his lips,
Marched in a single file through wrinkled bark.
Dazed at the sight of creatures beyond number,
I said 'Great Father, fill my empty cities,
Give me as many people as this army.'
As though a storm had burst in windless air,
The great oak shuddered and my body shook
With fears that made my flesh and hair rise up;
Falling, I kissed the oak down to its roots,
Nor dared to hope aloud, but kept thought hidden
In some dark channel of my mind. Night came
And with it sleep possessed our anxious bodies.
In that deep senselessness I had a vision:
There was the oak, as many-leaved as ever,
As many ants among its many branches ---
The great tree shaken by a sudden tremor
While ants dropped to the grassess at its feet,
Then seemed to grow, to stand upright, to lose
There shadow thinness and their black complexion
In human forms: I saw stout legs and arms.
When I awoke the vision seemed unreal;
I wept at lack of mercy from the gods,
And yet I heard strange noises in the palace,
Voices of men that had grown unfamiliar;
I thought they were another trick of sleep.
Then Telamon came running to my door
And cried out, 'Father, more than any hope
Or dream now walks before us. Threshold waits
For you to step outside.' And as I followed,
There was the multitude I saw in sleep
Who welcomed me and hailed me as their king.
Then I praised Jove and gave to my new people
Parts of my kingdom that had been deserted,
And called that army 'Human Myrmidons,'
Nor was I wrong, for you have seen their strength.
They keep to habits of their early being:
They are hardworking, thrifty, honest creatures,
Who harvest each grain of wheat they sow;
And they shall serve you in the wars to match
Their youthful energy with youthful courage.
They wait at your command and you shall have them
As soon as the East Wind that brought you here
Gives your ships over to his Southwest brother."
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