The Bath of Pallas

By Callimachus

(written ~ 3rd century BC)


All ye that are companions of the Bath of Pallas, come forth, come forth! I heard but now the snorting of the sacred steeds, and the goddess is ready to go. Haste ye now, O fair-haired daughters of Pelasgus, haste! Never did Athena wash her mighty arms before she drave the dust from the flanks of her horses—not even when, her armour all defiled with filth, she returned from the battle of the lawless Giants; but far first she loosed from the car her horses’ necks, and in the springs of Oceanus washed the flecks of sweat and from their mouths that champed the bit cleansed the clotted foam.


O come, daughters of Achaea, and bring not perfume nor alabasters (I hear the voice of the axle-naves!); bring not, ye companions of the Bath, for Pallas perfume nor alabasters (for Athena loves not mixed unguents), neither bring ye a mirror. Always her face is fair, and, even when the Phrygian judged the strife on Ida, the great goddess looked not into orichale nor into the transparent eddy of Simois, nor did Hera. But Cypris [Aphrodite] took the shining bronze and often altered and again altered the same lock. But Pallas, after running twice sixty double courses, even as beside the Eurotas the Lacedaemonian Stars, took and skilfully anointed her with simple unguents, the birth of her own tree. And, O maidens, the red blush arose on her, as the colour of the morning rose or seed of pomegranate. Wherefore now also bring ye only the manly olive oil, wherewith Castor and wherewith Heracles anoint themselves. And bring her a comb all of gold, that she may comb her hair, when she hath anointed her glossy tresses.


Come forth, Athena! A company pleasing to thy heart awaits thee, the maiden daughters of Acestor’s mighty sons. And therewithal, O Athena, is borne the shield of Diomedes, since this is the Argive custom which in olden days Eumedes taught them: a priest who found favour with thee: who on a time, when he knew that the people were plotting and planning death for him, fled with thy holy image and dwelt on the Creion hill—dwelt on the hill of Creion and established thee, O goddess, on the rugged rocks, whose name is now the Pallatid rocks.

Come forth, Athena, Sacker of Cities, golden-helmeted, who rejoicest in the din of horse and shield. Today, ye water-carriers, dip not your pitchers—today, O Argos, drink ye from the fountains and not from the river; today, ye handmaidens, carry your pitchers to Physadeia, or Amymone, daughter of Danaus. For, mingling his waters with gold and with flowers, Inachus will come from his pastoral hills, bringing fair water for the Bath of Athena. But beware, O Pelasgian, lest even unwittingly thou behold the Queen. Whoso shall behold Pallas, Keeper of Cities, naked, shall look on Argos for this the last time. Lady Athena, do thou come forth, and meanwhile I shall say somewhat unto these. The story is not mine but told by others.

Maidens, one nymph of old in Thebes did Athena love much, yea beyond all her companions, even the mother of Teiresias, and was never apart from her. But when she drave her steeds towards ancient Thespiae or towards Coroneia or to Haliartus, passing through the tilled fields of the Boeotians—or toward Coroneia where her fragrant grove and altars are set by the river Curalius—often did the goddess set the nymph upon her car and there was no dalliance of nymphs nor sweet ordering of dance, where Chariclo did not lead.

Yet even her did many tears await in the after day, albeit she was a comrade pleasing to the heart of Athena. One day those twain undid the buckles of the robes beside the fair-flowing Fountain of the Horse on Helicon and bathed; and noontide quiet held all the hill. Those two were bathing and it was the noontide hour and a great quiet held that hill. Only Teiresias, on whose cheek the down was just darkening, still ranged with his hounds the holy place. And, athirst beyond telling, he came unto the flowing fountain, wretched man! And unwillingly saw that which is not lawful to be seen: “What god, O son of Everes, led thee on this grievous way? hence shalt thou never more take back thine eyes!”

She spake and night seized the eyes of the youth. And he stood speechless; for pain glued his knees and helplessness stayed his voice. But the nymph cried; “What has thou done to my boy, lady? Is such the friendship of you goddesses? Thou hast taken away the eyes of my son. Foolish child! thou hast seen the breast and body of Athena, but the sun thou shalt not see again. O me unhappy! O hill, O Helicon, where I may no more come, surely a great price for little hast thou exacted. Losing a few gazelles and deer, thou hast taken the eyes of my child.”

Therewith the mother clasped her beloved child in both her arms and, wailing the heavy plaint of the mournful nightingale, led him away. And the goddess Athena pitied her comrade and spake to her and said: “Noble lady, take back all the words that thou hast spoken in anger. It is not I that made they child blind. For no sweet thing is it for Athena to snatch away the eyes of children. But the laws of Cronus order thus: Whosoever shall behold any of the immortals, when the god himself chooses not, at a heavy price shall he behold. Noble lady, the thing that is done can no more be taken back; since thus the thread of the Fates span when thou didst bear him at the first; but now, O son of Everes, take thou the issue which is due to thee. How many burnt offerings shall the daughter of Cadmus burn in the days to come? How many Aristaeus:--Actaeon, blind. And yet he shall be companion of the chase to great Artemis. But him neither the chase nor comradeship in archery on the hills shall save in that hour, when, albeit unwillingly, he shall behold the beauteous bath of the goddess. Nay, his own dogs shall then devour their former lord. And his mother shall gather the bones of her son, ranging over all the thickets. Happiest of women shall she call thee and of happy fate, for that thou didst receive they son home from the hills—blind. Therefore,  O comrade, lament not; for to this they son—for they sake—shall remain many other honours from hereafter, yea, more excellent far that any other. He shall know the birds—which is of good omen among all the countless birds that fly and what birds are of ill-omened flight. Many oracles shall he utter to the Boeotians and many unto Cadmus, and to the mighty sons of Labdacus in later days. Also will I give him a great staff which shall guide his feet as he hath need, and I will give him a long term of life. And he only, when he dies, shall walk among the dead having understanding, honoured of the great leaders of the Peoples.”

So she spake and bowed her head; and that word is fulfilled over which Pallas bows; since to Athena only among his daughters hath Zeus granted that she should win all things that belong to her sire, O companions of the Bath, and no mother bare that goddess, but the head of Zeus. The head of Zeus bows not in falsehood, and in falsehood his daughter hath no part.

Now comes Athena in very deed. O maidens, whose task it is, receive ye the goddess with pious greeting and with prayer, and with the voice of thanksgiving. Hail, goddess, and have thou Inachian Argos in they keeping! Hail when thou drivest forth they steeds, and home again mayst thou drive them with joy, and do thou preserve all the estate of the Danaans.