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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Asia Minor: Rhodes, the Island

Protogenes and Apelles

By Matthew Prior (1664–1721)

WHEN poets wrote and painters drew,

As nature pointed out the view;

Ere Gothic forms were known in Greece,

To spoil the well-proportioned piece;

And in our verse ere monkish rhymes

Had jangled their fantastic chimes;

Ere on the flowery lands of Rhodes,

Those knights had fixed their dull abodes,

Who knew not much to paint or write,

Nor cared to pray, nor dared to fight,—

Protogenes, historians note,

Lived there, a burgess, scot and lot;

And, as old Pliny’s writings show,

Apelles did the same at Co.

Agreed these points of time and place,

Proceed we in the present case.

Piqued by Protogenes’s fame,

From Co to Rhodes Apelles came,

To see a rival and a friend,

Prepared to censure or commend;

Here to absolve and there object,

As art with candor might direct.

He sails, he lands, he comes, he rings,

His servants follow with the things:

Appears the governante of the house,

For such in Greece were much in use;

If young or handsome, yea or no,

Concerns not me or thee to know.

“Does Squire Protogenes live here?”

“Yes, sir,” says she, with gracious air

And courtesy low, “but just called out

By lords peculiarly devout,

Who came on purpose, sir, to borrow

Our Venus for the feast to-morrow,

To grace the church; ’t is Venus’ day:

I hope, sir, you intend to stay

To see our Venus? ’t is the piece

The most renowned throughout all Greece;

So like the original, they say:

But I have no great skill that way.

But, sir, at six (’t is now past three)

Dromo must make my master’s tea:

At six, sir, if you please to come,

You ’ll find my master, sir, at home.”

Tea, says a critic big with laughter,

Was found some twenty ages after;

Authors, before they write, should read.

’T is very true; but we ’ll proceed.

“And, sir, at present would you please

To leave your name.” “Fair maiden, yes.

Reach me that board.” No sooner spoke

But done. With one judicious stroke

On the plain ground Apelles drew

A circle regularly true:

“And will you please, sweetheart,” said he,

“To show your master this from me?

By it he presently will know

How painters write their names at Co.”

He gave the panel to the maid.

Smiling and courtesying, “Sir,” she said,

“I shall not fail to tell my master;

And, sir, for fear of all disaster,

I ’ll keep it my own self: safe bind,

Says the old proverb, and safe find.

So, sir, as sure as key or lock,—

Your servant, sir,—at six o’clock.”

Again at six Apelles came,

Found the same prating civil dame.

“Sir, that my master has been here,

Will by the board itself appear.

If from the perfect line be found

He has presumed to swell the round,

Or colors on the draught to lay,

’T is thus (he ordered me to say),

Thus write the painters of this isle;

Let those of Co remark the style.”

She said, and to his hand restored

The rival pledge, the missive board.

Upon the happy line were laid

Such obvious light and easy shade,

The Paris’ apple stood confessed,

Or Leda’s egg, or Chloe’s breast.

Apelles viewed the finished piece;

“And live,” said he, “the arts of Greece!

Howe’er Protogenes and I

May in our rival talents vie:

Howe’er our works may have expressed

Who truest drew, or colored best,

When he beheld my flowing line,

He found at least I could design:

And from his artful round, I grant,

That he with perfect skill can paint.”