Vertumnus and Pomona
December 29, 2011
Among the Wood-nymphs was Pomona, and no one excelled her in love of the garden and the culture of fruit. Her right hand bore a pruning knife. Armed with this, she worked at one time, to repress the too luxuriant growths, and curtail the branches that straggled out of place; at another, to split the twig and insert therein a graft, making the branch adopt a nursling not its own. She took care, too, that her favorites should not suffer from drought, and led streams of water by them that the thirsty roots might drink.
She was not without fear of the country people, and kept her orchard locked, and allowed not men to enter. The Fauns and Satyrs would have given all they possessed to win her. But Vertumnus loved her and often, in the disguise of a reaper, he brought her corn in a basket, and looked the very image of a reaper. With a hay-band tied round him, one would think he had just come from turning over the grass. Now he bore a pruning-hook, and personated a vine-dresser; and with a ladder on his shoulder, he seemed as if he was going to gather apples.
One day he came in the guise of an old woman, her gray hair surmounted with a cap, and a staff in her hand. She entered the garden and admired the fruit. "It does you credit, my dear," she said, and kissed Pomona, not exactly with an old woman's kiss. She sat down on a bank, and looked up at the branches laden with fruit which hung over her. Opposite was an elm entwined with a vine loaded with swelling grapes. She praised the tree and its associated vine, equally. "But," said Vertumnus, "if the tree stood alone, and had no vine clinging to it, it would lie prostrate on the ground. Why will you not take a lesson from the tree and the vine, and consent to unite yourself with some one?
But if you are prudent and want to make a good alliance, and will let an old woman advise you, who loves you better than you have any idea of, dismiss all the rest and accept Vertumnus, on my recommendation. I know him as well as he knows himself. He is not a wandering deity, but belongs to these mountains. Nor is he like too many of the lovers nowadays, who love any one they happen to see; he loves you, and you only. Moreover, he loves the same things that you do. Take pity on him, and fancy him speaking now with my mouth. Remember that the gods punish cruelty, and that Venus hates a hard heart, and will visit such offenses sooner or later. Then using a narrative warning of the dangers of rejecting a suitor, the tale of Iphis and Anaxarete, he seduced her.
When Vertumnus had spoken thus, he dropped the disguise of an old woman, and stood before her in his proper person, as a comely youth. It appeared to her like the sun bursting through a cloud. He would have renewed his entreaties, but there was no need; his arguments and the sight of his true form prevailed, and the Nymph no longer resisted, but owned a mutual flame.