Their tasks perform’d, the serpents quit their prey, And to the tow’r of Pallas make their way: Couch’d at her feet, they lie protected there By her large buckler and protended spear.
Laocoon, Neptune’s priest by lot that year, With solemn pomp then sacrific’d a steer; When, dreadful to behold, from sea we spied Two serpents, rank’d abreast, the seas divide, And smoothly sweep along the swelling tide.
His wand and holy words, the viper’s rage, And venom’d wounds of serpents could assuage.
Scarce had he finish’d, when, with speckled pride, A serpent from the tomb began to glide; His hugy bulk on sev’n high volumes roll’d; Blue was his breadth of back, but streak’d with scaly gold: Thus riding on his curls, he seem’d to pass A rolling fire along, and singe the grass.
Unseen, unfelt, the fiery serpent skims Betwixt her linen and her naked limbs; His baleful breath inspiring, as he glides, Now like a chain around her neck he rides, Now like a fillet to her head repairs, And with his circling volumes folds her hairs.
Proud of his steeds, he smokes along the field; His father’s hydra fills his ample shield: A hundred serpents hiss about the brims; The son of Hercules he justly seems By his broad shoulders and gigantic limbs; Of heav’nly part, and part of earthly blood, A mortal woman mixing with a god.
The lay records the labors, and the praise, And all th’ immortal acts of Hercules: First, how the mighty babe, when swath’d in bands, The serpents strangled with his infant hands; Then, as in years and matchless force he grew, Th’ Oechalian walls, and Trojan, overthrew.
Deep in the dismal regions void of light, Three daughters at a birth were born to Night: These their brown mother, brooding on her care, Indued with windy wings to flit in air, With serpents girt alike, and crown’d with hissing hair.
So stoops the yellow eagle from on high, And bears a speckled serpent thro’ the sky, Fast’ning his crooked talons on the prey: The pris’ner hisses thro’ the liquid way; Resists the royal hawk; and, tho’ oppress’d, She fights in volumes, and erects her crest: Turn’d to her foe, she stiffens ev’ry scale, And shoots her forky tongue, and whisks her threat’ning tail.