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THE METAMORPHOSES

 

Translated by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

 

[For publication and copyright details, please use the following link: Table of Contents. Note that the numbers without brackets refer to the English text; those in square brackets refer to the Latin text.]

 

BOOK TEN


[The marriage of Orpheus and Eurydice; Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies; Orpheus descends to the Underworld and asks Pluto and Persephone if he can have Eurydice back; they send her back on condition Orpheus does not turn around until he reaches the upper world; Orpheus looks behind him, and Eurydice returns to the Underworld; Orpheus in his grief, refuses to have sex with women; the trees gather to hear Orpheus sing; the story of Cyparissus, Apollo, and the giant stag; Cyparissus is transformed into a cypress tree; Orpheus sings of Jupiter and Ganymede and of Apollo and Hyacinthus; Hyacinthus is mortally wounded and transformed into a flower; Orpheus sings of how Venus turns the Cerastes in-to bulls, how the daughters of Propoetus become flint, how Pygmalion falls in love with a statue he carved, and how Venus brings the statue to life; Orpheus continues with the story of Cinyras and Myrrha: how Myrrha lusts for her father, how her nurse helps her trick Cinyras into having sex, how Myrrha runs away and is transformed to a tree, and how the tree gives birth to Adonis; Orpheus sings of the love of Venus and Adonis and of Venus’ story of Atalanta and Hippomenes: how Hippomenes, with Venus’ help, beats Atalanta in a race using golden apples; how Venus punishes Hippomenes for ingratitude; Orpheus tells how Adonis is killed by a boar and how Venus changes his body into a flower.]

 

From Crete, Hymen, dressed in yellow garments,                                  ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
flew through vast expanses of the air
and moved to regions of the Cicones,
summoned there by the voice of Orpheus.(1)
His trip was futile. Although he did attend
Orpheus’ wedding, he did not speak
his usual words, or have a joyful face,
or bring good luck. Even the torch he held
spluttered with smoke, making his eyes water,
and waving it around produced no flames.                                            10

 

What happened afterwards was even worse
than any omen, for Eurydice,
Orpheus’ new bride, while wandering
through a meadow with a crowd of naiads,
was bitten on the ankle by a snake.                                                                      [10]
She collapsed and died. The Thracian poet,
after he had had enough of mourning                                                    ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD
in the upper world, dared to travel down
the Taenarian gate to the river Styx,
to see if he could win the sympathy                                                       20
of dead shades below.(2) He moved through crowds
of insubstantial spirits, the phantoms
of those who had received full burial rites,
and came to Persephone and the god
of all the shadows of the dead, who rules
that dismal kingdom. Plucking lyre strings
to accompany his words, Orpheus sang:

 

“O you gods who live underneath the earth,
where all we created mortal beings
finally descend, if you’ll permit me                                                   30
to set aside the uncertain stories
of a deceptive tongue and speak the truth,
then, with your permission, I will tell you
I am not here to see dark Tartarus                                                                  [20]
or tie up Medusa’s monstrous offspring
with its triple throat and snaky hair.(3) No.
The reason I came down here is my wife.
She stepped on a snake, which spread its poison
through her and robbed her of her youthful life.
I wanted to be able to bear her loss,                                                40
and I can tell you I did try to do that.
But Love prevailed. In the upper regions
he is a well-known god. I’m not aware
if in this place the same is also true,
but I imagine he is known here, too.
If the story of that rape in times gone by
took place, then you were joined by Love, as well.(4)
I beg you by these terrifying spaces,
by this vast Chaos, and by the silence                                                              [30]
of this huge realm, weave once again the thread                               50
which determined Eurydice’s swift fate.
All things, including us, belong to you,
and after we delay a little while,
sooner or later we all hurry down
to this one place. All men come to this spot.
It is our final home, and you possess
the longest rule over the human race.
My wife will also come under your sway,
when, as a mature woman, she has lived
her full span of years. I am asking this                                              60
as a favour to me, and if the Fates
deny my wife this gift, my mind is set—
I have no wish to journey back. You gods
can then rejoice that both of us are dead.”

 

As Orpheus sang this, striking his strings                                                              [40]
to match his words, the bloodless spirits wept.
Tantalus did not reach for the water
when it flowed out, Ixion’s wheel stood still,
as if amazed, and vultures did not gnaw
on Tityus’ liver. The Belides,                                                                70
daughters of Danaüs, put down their jars,
and Sisyphus, you, too, sat on your rock.(5)
And people say that then, for the first time,
the cheeks of the Furies were wet with tears,
overpowered by his singing. The queen
of the lower regions and her husband,
who rules the Underworld, could not refuse
what he had asked. They called Eurydice,
standing there among the spirits of those
who had just arrived. She walked up slowly,                                         80
still affected by her wound. Orpheus,
the poet from Thrace, took her back again                                                           [50]
and, as he did so, accepted this condition—
he would not turn round and look behind him
until he had moved up from the valleys
of Avernus, and if he did, his gift
would be withdrawn.(6)

 

                      The two of them then climbed
the ascending path through the still silence,
a steep, dark way, enveloped in thick fog.
As they drew near the surface of the earth,                                           90
Orpheus feared his wife Eurydice
could not keep up and longed to look at her.
Because he loved her, he glanced behind him.
She instantly fell back. Poor Orpheus
stretched out both his arms, trying to hold her
and be held. He caught nothing but thin air.
Now dying a second time, Eurydice                                                                     [60]
made no complaint at all about her husband
(what could she object to except the fact
that she was loved?). She said her last farewell,                                    100
which scarcely reached his ears, and then turned back
to the region she had come from.

 

                                                               Orpheus,                               ORPHEUS ALONE
numbed by the fact his wife had now died twice,
was like that coward who saw Cerberus,
the triple-headed dog, when he had chains
around his middle neck, the one whose fear
did not leave him until his nature did,
when his body turned to stone, or Olenos
and you, sad Lethaea, so confident
of your own loveliness. You two once had                                            110
such closely wedded hearts, but Olenos                                                               [70]
desired to take your guilt upon himself
and to be seen to take the blame. And now,
you sit on moist Mount Ida, changed to rock.(7)
Orpheus longed to cross the Styx again,
but prayers were useless—the ferryman
pushed him away. He sat down by the shore
for seven days, neglecting his appearance.
He refused all nourishment and fed himself
on his own tears and mental pain. Complaining                                      120
that the gods of Erebus were heartless,
he moved away to high Mount Rhodope
and windswept Haemus.(8)

 

                                  The Titan sun god
had three times come to watery Pisces,
finishing off the year, and in that time
Orpheus had refused to love a woman,
either because his love had ended badly                                                               [80]
or because he’d made a promise not to.(9)
But many women, passionate for him,
wished to wed the poet and were upset                                                130
when he declined. But Orpheus transferred
his love to tender boys and was the first
among the Thracian people to enjoy
their brief spring years and early flowering,
before they were young men.

 

                                           There was a hill                                          ORPHEUS SINGS TO THE TREES
whose summit was an open level plain
with fresh green turf, a place which had no shade.
But when that poet, born of gods, sat down
and struck his lyre strings, the trees moved there.
Chaonian oak and groves of poplar                                                      140            [90]
(Phaëton’s sisters), oak trees thick with leaves,
tender lime, beech, and virgin laurel trees
came to the place, with brittle hazels, too,
and ash trees (used for spears), clear firs, holm oaks
weighed down with acorns, delightful plane trees,
maples in all their various colours,
with willows, which grow by banks of rivers,
watery lotus trees, as well as boxwood,
which is always green, slender tamarisks,
twin-coloured myrtle trees, and viburnum                                              150
with its dark blue berries.(10) You ivy trees
with twisting shoots came, too, and leafy vines,
ivy-covered elm trees and mountain ash,                                                               [100]
spruce, wild strawberry loaded with red fruit,
and bending palms, the prize of victory.
You pines were there, your needles gathered up
into a bushy crest—a pleasing sight
to the mother of gods, for Cybele’s Attis
exchanged his human form for such a tree
and hardened in its trunk.(11) Among that throng                                   160
a cypress was there, too, shaped like a cone
which on a race course marks the turning point.
Though now a tree, it was a young boy once,
loved by the god who strings the bow and lyre.

 

There was a huge stag, sacred to the nymphs                                        CYPARISSUS
who live in Carthaea’s fields. This creature
had antlers branching out so far, they cast                                                             [110]
deep shade across its head. Its horns glittered
with gold, and a collar of precious stones
on its glossy neck hung down its shoulders.                                           170
On its forehead swung a tiny ball of silver,
attached by little straps, and pearls of bronze,
both the same size, shone out from its two ears,
beside its hollow temples. Now, this stag
had no fear at all and would set aside
its natural shyness, visit people’s homes,
and, even with strangers, stretch out its neck
for their hands to stroke. Above all others,
it was most dear to you, Cyparissus,
the most beautiful young lad on Cea.(12)                                               180            [120]
You used to take it to fresh grazing lands
or clear springs with flowing water. Sometimes
you draped different flowers on its horns.
At other times, like a horseman, you rode
on the creature’s back and enjoyed yourself
guiding its tender mouth this way and that
with purple reins.

 

                                      One summer day at noon,
when the curved claws of the shore-loving Crab
were blazing in Sun’s heat, the weary stag
was resting its limbs on the grassy turf,                                                  190
pleased with the coolness of the shady trees.(13)
The young lad Cyparissus by accident                                                                  [130]
threw his sharp javelin and hit the beast.
As he saw it dying from a cruel wound,
the boy resolved to kill himself as well.
Phoebus spoke to Cyparissus, trying
in any way he could to ease his pain.
He counselled him to moderate his grief
in proportion to the cause. The young boy                                            CYPARISSUS IS TRANSFORMED
still continued grieving and asked the gods,                                           200
as a last gift, to let him mourn forever.
By now, as his blood was being consumed
in constant tears, his limbs began to change,
turning a shade of green, and then his hair,
which a moment ago was hanging down
his snow-white forehead, grew bushy and stiff,
pointing upward in a graceful spiky crest                                                              [140]
to the starry sky. The god Apollo
groaned and sighed with grief:

 

                                         “I will mourn for you.
And you, in your turn, will mourn for others                                     210
and become a part of people’s grieving.”(14)

 

These were the types of trees which Orpheus
attracted to him, and he sat down there,
with crowds of wild beasts and birds around him.
When his thumb had tested his strings enough
and he sensed the various notes they made,
although quite different, were all in tune,
he raised his voice in the following song:

 

“My parent Muse, begin my song with Jove,                                    ORPHEUS’ SONG
for all things yield to Jupiter’s power,                                               220
and I have often offered songs before
about the might of Jupiter and sung
more solemn melodies of the Giants                                                                 [150]
and Jove’s victorious bolts of lightning
hurled down upon the plains of Phlegraea.(15)
But now’s the time for a less solemn song.
I sing of boys the gods have loved and girls
in the grip of forbidden flames who earned
just punishment for carnal love affairs.

 

The king of the gods once burned with love                                     230
for Phrygian Ganymede.(16) So he changed                                     JUPITER AND GANYMEDE
to a bird, feeling that form would better fit
what he had in mind than his normal shape.
He thought most birds beneath his dignity,
so he chose the one with power enough
to bear his lightning bolt.(17) Once in this form,
he did not hold back, but beating the air
with his spurious wings, he flew to Troy
and snatched away the boy, who even now
still brings the mixing cups to Jupiter,                                                240           [160]
and, flouting Juno’s wishes, pours his nectar.

 

You too, Hyacinthus from Amyclae—                                             APOLLO AND HYACINTHUS
Phoebus would have settled you in heaven,
if grim fate had given him sufficient time.
Still, as much as things like that are possible,
you are immortal, for every time the spring
drives off the winter and the Ram appears
right after watery Pisces, you rise
and blossom in the fresh green turf once more.
You are the one my father doted on                                                 250
above all others. His shrine at Delphi,
placed in the centre of the world, lacked
its presiding deity, while the god
remained in Eurotas and unwalled Sparta,
totally neglecting lyre and bow.                                                                       [170]
Ignoring who he was, he volunteered
to carry hunting nets or hold the dogs,
as he travelled across harsh mountain ridges,
always with his companion Hyacinthus.
In this way, by staying with him, he nursed                                       260
his fiery love.

 

                                   When the Titan Sun
was almost in the middle of his course
between the previous and the coming night,
an equal distance from each one of them,
Hyacinthus and Apollo stripped down,
covered their bodies with rich olive oil
until they gleamed and started to compete
in a discus toss. First Apollo threw,
balancing the discus and hurling it
into the airy breeze. Its weight broke up                                           270
the clouds along its path. After some time,
the disc fell back and struck the solid ground,                                                  [180]
proof of Apollo’s strength and skill combined.
Eager to have his turn, the Spartan lad,
not thinking clearly, quickly ran ahead
to pick the discus up, but the hard earth
made it bounce, and it hit him in the face.
The boy grew pale. So did Apollo, too.
He held your failing limbs, Hyacinthus,
and strove at times to bring your spirit back.                                    280
He also tried to stanch the grievous wound
and with his herbs to keep your soul inside,
as it was leaving. But all his expertise
had no effect. The wound could not be cured.
When someone in a garden breaks the stems                                                   [190]
of lilies with bushy yellow stamens,
or of violets or poppies, the blooms
no longer stand erect, but quickly droop,
bowing their weakened heads, and their top parts
now gaze upon the ground. In just that way                                     290
the dying face of Hyacinthus sagged.
His weakened neck could not support his head,
which sank onto his shoulder. Phoebus said:

 

‘Son of Oebalus, you are now leaving me,
robbed of your early youth. I see your wound
and stand condemned. Because of you, I feel
both shame and sorrow. This right hand of mine
must be considered guilty of your death.
I am the one who took your life. But still,
how was I to blame, unless playing games                                   300            [200]
can be called a fault, unless my love for you
can be called a huge mistake? How I wish
that I could die with you or give you back
your life for mine! But I am bound by Fate.
Still, you will remain with me forever,
clinging to my lips as they remember.
The lyre my hand strikes and songs I sing
will ring out for you. And you will become
a brand new form of flower whose markings
imitate my cries of grief. The time will come                                310
when the bravest hero will link himself
to this same flower and on its petals
men will read his name.’(18)

 

                                           While Apollo’s lips,                              HYACINTHUS IS TRANSFORMED
which do not lie, were uttering these words,
lo and behold, blood which was pouring out
across the ground, discolouring the grass,                                                        [210]
was no longer blood. A flower sprang up
with a more brilliant tint than Tyrian dye
and a shape like lilies, but where a lily
is silvery white, this bloom was purple.                                            320
Apollo was the one responsible
for honouring Hyacinthus in this way,
but for the god that was not sufficient.
So he inscribed his own groans on the plant
and put the words ai ai on the flower,
and there these mournful letters are inscribed.
Sparta is not ashamed that it gave birth
to Hyacinthus. They still honour him
today, and every year they celebrate
a festival in Hyacinthus’ name,                                                         330
based on set rituals from earlier times.

But if, by chance, you were to ask Amathus,                                                   [220]
that mine-rich city, if it was happy                                                    THE CERASTES
to be home to Propoetus’ daughters,
it would renounce them, as it would reject
those people whose rough foreheads bore two horns,
from which they got their name, the Cerastes.(19)
Before the gates of these men’s houses stood
Jove’s altar, god of hospitality,
stained with blood. If any stranger saw it                                          340
and did not know their crimes, he would assume
they used that place for offering sacrifice
of suckling calves or Amathusian sheep.
But those men killed their guests! Gentle Venus,
offended by their sacrilegious rites,
was getting ready to reject her cities
and Cretan lands. But then she asked herself:

 

‘In what way have my cities or this place,                                                   [230]
which is so dear to me, done any wrong?
What are their crimes? I should punish instead                            350
this wicked race with exile, or with death,
or with some penalty between the two.
What could that be except a change in shape?
And so for punishment I will transform them.’

 

While she is debating how to change these men,                               THE CERASTES ARE TRANSFORMED
her eyes turn to their horns, which prompts the thought
that she could leave the horns on those men’s heads,
and thus she turns their bodies into bulls.

 

But those obscene daughters of Propoetus                                       PROPOETUS’ DAUGHTERS ARE TRANSFORMED
dared to deny that Venus was divine.                                               360
Because of this and because the goddess
was enraged, those women, so people say,
were the first to sell their reputations                                                               [240]
and their bodies as public prostitutes.
But then, once they lost all sense of shame,
blood hardened in their cheeks, and a slight change
was enough to turn them into stony flint.

 

Pygmalion saw these women’s filthy lives                                         PYGMALION
and was disgusted by the many vices
Nature had placed within the female mind.                                       370
So he lived a long time as a single man,
without a wife or partner for his bed.
Meanwhile, with astonishing skill he carved
a statue out of snow-white ivory,
a work of genius. He gave the form
beauty no mortal woman could possess
and fell in love with what he had produced.
She has a face just like a real young girl,
and you might well believe she is alive                                                              [250]
and wishes to move, if her modesty                                                 380
did not prevent her. So much artistry
lies hidden in his art. He is amazed,
and passion for this image of a body
eats at Pygmalion’s heart. Often his hands
stroke the work, testing whether it is flesh
or ivory. He still does not concede
that it is stone. He kisses the statue
and imagines those kisses are returned.
He speaks to it, embraces it, and thinks,
when he holds onto a limb, his fingers                                              390
make an impression there and is afraid
he may bruise her flesh by pressing on it.
Sometimes he talks to her with flattery
and sometimes brings her presents girls might like—
sea shells and polished pebbles, little birds,                                                      [260]
flowers with a thousand colours, painted beads,
and amber tears from Helios’ daughters,
which drip from trees.(20) He also clothes her limbs,
puts gemstones on her fingers, and places
long necklaces around her throat. Smooth pearls                              400
hang from her ears and pendants on her chest.
All things suit her, but when she has no clothes,
she seems no less attractive. This statue
Pygmalion places on a couch covered
with fabric dyed in Tyrian purple.
He calls her the companion of his bed
and cushions her reclining neck on pillows,
as if she were alive.

 

                                           The day arrived                                               [270]
when throughout all Cyprus they celebrate
the most splendid festival of Venus.                                             410
Young heifers with gold on their growing horns
collapsed as axes struck their snow-white necks,
and burning incense smoked. Pygmalion,
having made his offering at the altar,
stood there and timidly spoke out:

 

                                      ‘If you gods
are able to grant anything, I wish
my wife could be . . .’

 

                         He did not dare to say

 

‘. . . my ivory girl,’

 

                                   so he finished with:

 

‘. . . just like my girl carved out of ivory.’

 

Golden Venus, who was there in person                                          420
at her festival, understood his prayer
and what he meant. She gave him a signal
the gods were well disposed—the altar fire
flared up three times, sending a spiky flame
into the air. Pygmalion went home                                                                   [280]
and hurried to the statue of his girl.
Leaning down over the couch, he kissed her.
She seemed warm, so he kissed her once again
and also felt her breast. Under his touch
the ivory lost its hardness, grew soft,                                                430
moved underneath his fingers, and gave way,
just as Hymettus wax softens in the sun
and, once men’s fingers work it, can be formed
in many shapes, thus becoming useful
by being used. Pygmalion is amazed,
full of joy but also doubtful, afraid
he may be wrong. The lover’s hands caress
the object of his love repeatedly.
It is a living body! When his thumb
presses on a vein, it throbs! Then indeed,                                         440
Pygmalion of Paphos in his mind                                                                      [290]
uttered the most fulsome thanks to Venus,
with his mouth still firmly pressed against those lips
that were no longer stone. The living girl
felt his kisses and blushed. Lifting her eyes
timidly up to the sunlight, she saw
her lover and the heavens both at once.
The goddess was present at the marriage
she had brought about, and when the moon’s horns
had nine times formed a perfect circle,                                             450
Pygmalion’s wife bore a son called Paphos,
from whom the island now derives its name.(21)

 

This Paphos had a son named Cinyras,
who could have been considered fortunate
if he had had no children.

 

                                   I will now sing                                               CINYRAS AND MYRRHA
of horrifying events. You daughters,
keep far away from here and parents, too.                                                      [300]
Or if my song does captivate your heart,
do not accept my story, and assume
it is not true. Or, if you do believe it,                                                460
believe also how the act was punished.
But if nature apparently allows
such things to happen, [I congratulate
the people of Ismarus and my part
of the world]—I am happy that this land
lies at such a distance from those regions
where such appalling wickedness was born.(22)
Let Panchaean land be rich in balsam
and have its cinnamon and costmary,
its incense oozing from the trees and blooms                                    470
of different kinds—none of that is worth it,
if it still produces myrrh, for the cost                                                                [310]
of that new tree was much too great. (23)

 

                                                        Myrrha,
Cupid himself denies that you were struck
by an arrow from his bow and says his flames
played no part in your crime. It was a Fury,
one of those three sisters with bloated snakes
and firebrands from the Styx, who breathed on you.
To hate one’s father is a wicked thing,
but love like yours is a more heinous crime.                                      480
Distinguished princes of every country
desire your hand, and from all eastern lands
young men have come competing for your bed.
Pick out a man from all of these, Myrrha,
to be your husband, and make sure one man,
your father, is not included with them.
Myrrha, in fact, senses this and fights back,
trying to conquer her repugnant love.
She tells herself:

 

                 ‘Where is my mind taking me?                                                   [320]
What am I trying to do? O you gods,                                          490
I pray to you and to the natural ties
and sacred laws of parents, you must stop
this wickedness and keep me from my crime.
If it truly is a crime. One could say
natural affections do not rule out
a love like this, for other animals,
when they have sex, do not discriminate.
When a heifer has her father mount her,
there is no disgrace, and a horse will take
his daughter for a wife, goats will couple                                     500
with goats who are their offspring, and birds
with other birds whose seed created them.
How happy they are, that they can do this!
But human worry has imposed harsh laws,
and jealous regulations now forbid                                                             [330]
what nature tolerates. Still, people say
races exist where mothers wed their sons
and daughters are married to their fathers,
where natural affection is increased
by double bonds of love. I feel so sad                                         510
I was not born there and have to suffer,
because, with my bad luck, I live elsewhere!
But why do I keep going over this?
I must get rid of these forbidden feelings!
He deserves my love, but as a father.
If I were not great Cinyras’ daughter,
then I could go to bed with him. But now,
I cannot have him, because he is mine
already—his very closeness to me
is my downfall. If I were a stranger,                                            520            [340]
I could do more. I would happily leave
and travel a long distance from this place,
if I could just escape this guilty love.
But a malicious passion holds me back.
By staying here I can see Cinyras,
touch him, talk to him, kiss him, even if
those are the only things I am allowed.
You wicked girl, what more can you expect?
Do you have any idea how much
you’re mixing up established bonds and names?                          530
Do you wish to be your mother’s rival
and your father’s whore? Will people call you
your child’s sister and your brother’s mother?
Are you not terrified of the Furies,
those sisters with black serpents in their hair?
People with wicked hearts see them attack
their eyes and face with savage torches.                                                      [350]
But while your body still remains unstained,
do not corrupt your mind or violate
great Nature’s laws with such forbidden sex!                              540
Yes, you want to, but your circumstances
rule that out. He is an honorable man
and follows what is right. But how I wish
he felt inside a passion like my own.’

 

She says this to herself. Meanwhile, Cinyras,
faced with a large crowd of noble suitors,
is not sure what to do. He lists their names
and asks her which one she wants to marry.
Myrrha at first says nothing and just gazes
at her father’s face. In her confusion,                                                550
her eyes fill with warm tears. So Cinyras,                                                         [360]
thinking this a sign of virgin shyness,
tells her to stop crying, dries off her cheeks,
and kisses her. Myrrha is delighted
with his kiss, too much so, and when he asks
what sort of husband she would like to have,
she says:

 

                    ‘One just like you.’

 

                                                But her father,
not realizing what she means, praises her
and says:

 

                    ‘Always be this loving to me.’

 

As he utters that word ‘loving,’ Myrrha,                                          560
aware of her own guilt, stares at the ground.
It was now midnight, and sleep had released
men’s bodies from their cares. But the young girl,
Cinyras’ daughter, was wide awake,
consumed by passion she could not suppress.
She thought again about her wild desires,                                                        [370]
sometimes in despair and sometimes ready
to sound her father out. She was ashamed,
yet keen to try, unable to decide
what she should do. Just as a massive tree                                       570
struck by an axe, with one last blow to come,
leaves men in doubt where it will fall and causes
fear on every side, so her shifting mind,
struck by contradictory feelings, wavered,
swayed here and there, blown in two directions.
She could see no final end to how she felt,
no rest from her desires, other than death.
She made up her mind to die. So she got up,
resolved to tie a noose and hang herself.
She fixed some clothing above the doorway                                     580
and said:

 

                  ‘Farewell, beloved Cinyras.                                                      [380]
Understand the reason for my death!’

 

                                                These words
muttered to herself, so people say, reach
the ears of her faithful nurse, keeping watch
at the threshold of the girl she cares for.
The old woman gets up, opens the door,
sees what Myrrha has done to harm herself,
and screams. Then, all in the same instant,
she strikes her breast, tears her robe, removes
the clothes from Myrrha’s neck, and rips them up.                           590
Only after that does she have time to weep,
embrace the girl, and ask about the noose.
Myrrha stands there without saying a word,
eyes gazing at the ground. She is upset
she was so slow in trying to kill herself                                                             [390]
and has been discovered. The old woman
starts questioning her. Baring her white hair
and withered breasts, she keeps begging Myrrha,
by her cradle and her first nourishment,
to tell her what is causing her such grief.                                           600
Myrrha turns away and groans. But the nurse,
determined to find out, then promises
she will do more than not betray her trust.
She says:

 

               ‘Tell me, and let me be of help.
I may be old, but I am not useless.
If it is some fit, I have herbs and charms
with healing force. If a man has harmed you,
I can cleanse you with a magic ritual.
If gods are angry, they can be appeased
with sacred offerings. I can’t imagine                                           610
what else it could be. Your house’s fortunes                                               [400]
are certainly secure and will remain so,
with your mother and your father still alive.’

 

When Myrrha heard that word ‘father,’ she sighed
from the bottom of her heart. Even then,
the old nurse had no notion of the act
she had in mind. But still, she did assume
the young girl’s anguish had to do with love.
She kept entreating Myrrha, begging her
to let her know, no matter what it was.                                             620
Clutching the weeping girl against her breast,
her trembling arms embraced her, and she said:

 

‘I know what the matter is—you are in love!
And in this my readiness to help you
will be of service. You need have no fear.
Your father will never know a thing.’

 

Myrrha was frantic. She pushed herself away                                                  [410]
from the nurse’s arms and, pressing her face
into the bed, she cried:

 

                                                   ‘Get out of here.
I’m begging you. Spare me the wretched shame.’                       630

 

When the nurse insisted, Myrrha shouted:

 

‘Either go away or stop asking me
why I feel such pain. What you want to know
is an immoral crime.’

 

                                                          The old woman
felt a twinge of dread. She stretched out her hands,
shaking with age and fear, and fell down
at Myrrha’s feet, just like a suppliant.
She tried coaxing and then frightening her
with what might happen if she did not tell,
threatening to speak out about the noose                                         640
and her attempt to kill herself. She swore
to help, if she would tell her of her love.
Myrrha raised her head. From her weeping eyes
the tears dripped down onto the nurse’s breast.
She tried repeatedly to confess her love,                                                         [420]
but then would stop herself and hide her face
inside her clothing, too ashamed to speak.
All she said was:

 

                              ‘Mother is so fortunate
to have the husband she is married to.’

 

And then she groaned. A cold tremor ran through                            650
the nurse’s limbs and bones, for now she knew
what Myrrha meant. Across her entire head
the old white hair bristled and stood on end.
She talked at length to Myrrha, telling her
she should get rid of such a fatal love,
if she could do it. The young girl understood
the advice was sound, but was still resolved
to die if she could not have the one she loved.
So the old nurse told her:

 

                                 ‘Go on living,
and enjoy your . . .’

 

                               Not daring to say ‘father,’                                 660
she fell silent. But then she swore an oath                                                        [430]
to the gods to validate her promise.

 

Pious married women were now holding
the annual festival of Ceres,
where they dress their bodies in white robes
and offer as first fruits of harvest time
garlands made from ears of grain. For nine nights
they consider sex and all contact with men
forbidden. Cinyras’ wife, Cenchreis,
was a member of that group, participating                                        670
in the sacred rites, and thus the king’s bed
lacked its rightful occupant. When the nurse
noticed Cinyras drunk from too much wine,
she informed him, with misplaced eagerness,
there was a girl truly passionate for him.
She gave her a false name and praised her beauty.
When the king asked how old the girl might be,                                               [440]
the nurse replied:

 

                             ‘The same age as Myrrha.’

 

Cinyras told her to bring the girl to him.
The nurse returned back home and said to Myrrha:                          680

 

‘Rejoice, my dear child. We have won the day!’

 

The girl was not completely overjoyed.
Her prophetic heart sensed future sorrow.
But still, there was such conflict in her mind
she did feel thrilled, as well.

 

                                  The time has come
when everything is quiet—the Boötes
has turned his wagon with its slanting pole
between the Bears.(24) Myrrha is preparing
to commit her dreadful act. The golden moon
flees from the heavens, and dark clouds conceal                               690
the hidden stars. Night lacks its fires. And you,                                                [450]
Icarus, are the first to avert your face,
as does Erigone, your daughter, too,
set in the heavens for the pious love
she showed her father.(25) Three time a signal
makes Myrrha falter, when her foot stumbles,
and three times the funereal screech owl
gives out an ominous shriek of warning.
She still keeps moving. Black night and shadows
lessen her shame. In her left hand she grips                                      700
the nurse, while with her right she gropes her way
through total darkness. And now she is there,
on the threshold, and opening the door.
Now she is being led into the room.
Her knees threaten to give way beneath her,
her blood and colour disappear, her spirit
fails as she moves on. The closer she gets
to her great crime, the more she feels afraid.                                                    [460]
She regrets what she is doing and wishes
she could go back without being recognized.                                   710
As she pauses, the old nurse takes her arm,
leads her to the high bed, hands her over,
thus joining two doomed bodies, and then says:

 

‘Take this young girl, Cinyras. She is yours.’

 

The father welcomes his own flesh and blood
into his incestuous bed, soothing
her virgin fears and encouraging her
when she is frightened. And it may well be
he even calls her ‘daughter’ to suit her age,
while Myrrha addresses him as ‘father,’                                           720
two names appropriate to their foul crime.

 

After having sex with her own father,
Myrrha left the room. In her corrupt womb                                                     [470]
full of incestuous seed, she carried
a burden she had criminally conceived.
The next night they once again committed
the guilty act, and they did not stop there.
But after having sex so many times,
Cinyras at length was eager to find out
who his lover was. So he brought in a light,                                      730
recognized his daughter and his own guilt,
and, in such pain he could not say a word,
pulled a gleaming sword out of the scabbard
in which it hung. Myrrha fled, saved from death
by the gift of night and pitch-black shadows.

 

Wandering through wide fields, she moved beyond
the Arabian palm trees and Panchaea
for nine full cycles of the crescent moon
until, at last worn out, she stopped to rest                                                        [480]
in Sabaean land.(26) By now, the burden                                         740  
in her womb was getting difficult to bear.                                         MYRRHA IS TRANSFORMED
Weary with life and yet afraid of death,
not knowing what to wish for, she uttered
the following prayer:

 

                            ‘O, if any of you gods
listens to those who are truly penitent,
I am not seeking to excuse myself,
for I deserve this cruel punishment.
But in case, by staying alive, I pollute
the living or, by dying, harm the dead,
drive me from both realms by altering me                                    750
and robbing me of both my life and death.’

 

Some deity attends to those who pray,
for some god clearly hears her final plea.
While she is speaking, earth covers her legs,
roots shoot out sideways through her breaking nails,                                        [490]
growing a solid base for a tall trunk,
her bones grow stronger and, in the centre,
the blood still in her marrow turns to sap.
Her arms become large branches, her fingers
small ones, and her skin hardens into bark.                                      760
A tree has grown around her heavy womb,
and covered her breasts, and is preparing
to spread across her neck. She cannot wait
and, leaning down to meet the rising wood,
buries her face in bark. Though she has lost
her body and the senses she once had,
she keeps on weeping still, and the warm drops                                               [500]
drip down the tree. But with these tears of hers
she wins great fame, for the myrrh that trickles
down the bark still bears its mistress’ name,                                     770
which men will hear in every future age.

 

But underneath the bark, that infant child                                         THE BIRTH OF ADONIS
her incest had conceived has grown to term
and now is searching for a passageway
where he might crawl out and leave his mother.
Inside the tree, the pregnant womb swells up.
The burden strains the mother, but her pains
have no words of their own. She lacks a voice
to call Lucina in her labour pangs.
But the tree is like a person struggling                                              780
to be delivered—it groans frequently,
bends over, and is wet with falling tears.
Kind Lucina stands beside the branches,                                                         [510]
as they cry in pain, rubs them with her hands,
and murmurs phrases to bring on the birth.
The tree cracks open and through the splitting bark
gives up its living burden, a crying child.
The naiads set him down on the soft grass
and then anoint him with his mother’s tears.
Even Envy would have praised his beauty.                                       790
He looked like one of those naked bodies
of painted Cupids, except to make them
both alike you would have to take away
their quivers or else give him a small one.

 

Winged time glides past before we notice                                        VENUS AND ADONIS
and tricks us, for nothing moves more quickly
than the passing years. That young infant child,                                                [520]
son of his own sister and her father,
not long ago encased inside a tree,
that most beautiful boy born yesterday,                                            800
is now a youthful lad, and now a man,
even finer looking than he was before,
so much so he wins the love of Venus
and repays her for his mother’s passion.(27)
Young Cupid, while carrying his quiver,
gave his mother a kiss, and, by accident,
one of his arrows which was sticking out
scratched her breast. Venus pushed her son away,
but the wound she had received was deeper
than it looked, more than she first recognized.                                  810
Now captivated by a human form,
she does not care about Cytherian shores,
or visit Paphos, her sea-girt island,                                                                  [530]
or Cnidos, rich in fish, or Amathus,
with its wealthy ores.(28) She even avoids
the heavens, for she prefers Adonis
to the sky. She holds him, remains with him
as his companion, and though her custom
is constantly to linger in the shade
and, by cultivating her own beauty,                                                  820
to enhance it, now she travels with him
over mountain ridges and through forests,
across shrub-covered rocks, with knees exposed
and her clothes hitched up, just like Diana.
She urges on the hounds and even hunts
wild beasts considered safe to chase as prey—
swift-running hares, stags with huge horns, or deer.
But she avoids ferocious boars and shuns
rapacious wolves, bears with claws, and lions,                                                 [540]
who gorge themselves on cattle herds they kill.                                 830
She warns you to fear these beasts, Adonis,
as if her warnings would have some effect:

 

‘Be brave against the ones that run away,
for boldness which confronts a bold wild beast
is just not safe. Do not be rash, my boy.
Spare me the danger. Do not chase the brutes
whom nature has fitted out with weapons,
in case your glory comes at my expense.
Your youth and beauty and those other things
which Venus finds delightful will not charm                                  840
bristling boars and lions or eyes and minds
of savage beasts. In those curved tusks of theirs                                         [550]
wild boars have lightning, and tawny lions
display a boundless fury when they charge.
How I hate that tribe.’

 

                                         When Adonis asked
the reason why she felt that way, she said:

 

‘I will tell you, and you will be amazed
at the strange result of a wrongful act
committed long ago. But I am tired.
I am not used to all this exercise.                                                 850
Look, that poplar tree is beckoning us
with welcoming shade, and the green turf there
will serve us as a bed. I wish to rest
on the ground right here, with you beside me.’

 

She stretched out, pressing against the grass and him,
her neck reclining on the young man’s chest,
and, as she spoke, she mixed her words with kisses:

 

‘You may perhaps have heard about a girl                                                  [560]
who in a race could beat the fastest men.                                    ATALANTA AND HIPPOMENES
That story was not just a foolish tale—                                       850
in any contest she outran them all.
But it was hard to tell if her fast pace
deserved more praise than her great beauty.
Once she asked a god about a husband,
and the god replied:

 

                     ‘You do not need a man,
Atalanta. For you, getting married
is something to avoid. But nonetheless,
you will not escape it and, while still alive,
will lose yourself.’

 

                         What the god prophesied
scared Atalanta, so she lived her life                                            860
in shady forests and did not get married.
She escaped the crowds of eager suitors
by demanding very harsh conditions:

 

‘No one will wed me, until a suitor
beats me in a race. So run against me.                                                   [570]
To the swift will go a wife and wedding.
For the slow the prize is death. On those terms,
let the contests start!’

 

                             Yes, she was cruel,
but the power of beauty is so great,
many men agreed to the rule she set                                            870
and courted her. At one unequal race
Hippomenes looked on from where he sat
and asked himself:

 

                                   ‘Why would anyone
seek out a wife at such enormous risk?’

 

He found the young men’s passion foolish
and excessive. But when he saw her face
and her unclothed body—one like my own,
Adonis, or yours, if you were female—
he was amazed. Raising his hands, he said:

 

‘Those of you I criticized just now,                                        880            [580]
forgive me. When I spoke, I did not know
you were competing for a prize like this.’

 

By praising her, he lights a fire of love,
and when his jealousy has made him tense,
he prays that none of those young challengers
will beat Atalanta. And then he says:

 

‘But in this contest why not try my luck?
A daring man will get help from the gods.’

 

While he is reflecting on this question,
Atalanta races past on feet like wings.                                         890
To the young Boeotian, she seems to fly
with all the speed of a Scythian arrow,
but her beauty astounds him even more.
On her swift feet the facing breeze blows back                                           [590]
her ankle straps, her hair is thrown across
her ivory shoulders, embroidered ribbons
flutter below her knees, and a blush spreads
across the girlish whiteness of her flesh,
just as a purple awning spread across
white hallways colours them a different shade.(29)                       900
While the stranger is noticing all this,
the final lap is over. The winner,
Atalanta, receives a festive crown.
The losers groan and pay the penalty,
as they have promised. But Hippomenes,
undeterred by the fate of these young men,                                                  [600]
steps forward and, looking right at the girl,
calls out:

 

                  ‘Why seek to win an easy crown
defeating sluggards? Why not race with me?
If fortune gives me strength enough to win,                             910
you will not be ashamed to be defeated
by such a worthy man, for my father
was Megareus, son of Onchestius,
whose grandfather was Neptune. So I am
great-grandson of the ruler of the seas.
My courage is as noble as my race.
And if I lose, you will have overcome
Hippomenes and thus have won yourself
a great and famous name.’

 

                           As he spoke these words,
the daughter of Schoeneus looked at him                                    920
with a sympathetic face, uncertain
whether she would prefer to win or lose.                                                    [610]
She murmured:

 

                      ‘What god so despises beauty,
he wishes to destroy this man and tells him
to seek marriage and risk his precious life?
In my own view, I am not worth that much.
It is not his handsome form which moves me
(though I could be influenced by that, as well),
but the fact that the youth is still so young.
It is his age which makes me sensitive,                                   930
not the man himself. What of his courage
and his heart, which is not afraid of death?
By his descent is he not fourth in line
from the god who rules the seas? And besides,
does he not love me and think our marriage
so important he would die, if harsh fate
denied me to him? While you can, stranger,
go away! Leave these bloody courtship rites!                                         [620]
A match with me is cruel. No woman
would be reluctant to become your wife.                                940
A girl with sense would welcome such a chance.
But why should I concern myself with you,
when many others have already perished?
Let him look to himself! And let him die,
if he will not be deterred by the deaths
of all those suitors and is pushed to it
by weariness with life. Will he die, then,
because he wished to share his life with me,
and suffer death, which he does not deserve,
as a reward for love? If I prevail,                                           950
people will hate me for my victory.
But that is not my fault! I wish you’d stop,
or, if you are mad to do this, I wish                                                        [630]
you might run faster. Look at that young face,
those boyish features, like a virgin girl!
Alas, poor Hippomenes, how I wish
you had not seen me! You deserved to live!
If I had had more luck, if grievous fate
did not hold me back from marriage, then you
would be the one I’d want to share my bed.’                         960

 

She finished. Like an inexperienced girl
feeling her first twinge of sexual desire
and unaware what she is doing, she loves,
but does not realize she is in love.

 

Now, as her father and the people cried
to have the usual race, Hippomenes,
Neptune’s descendant, prayed to me,
begging for my help:

 

                                          ‘O Cytherea,                                               [640]
I entreat you to look on me with favour
in this risky contest. Nourish those flames                               970
which you yourself have lit.’

 

                                 A gentle breeze
carried his flattering request to me.
I admit it moved me. So without delay
I offered him my help. There is a field,
the finest piece of land in all of Cyprus.
The natives call it Tamasus. Long ago,
their elders consecrated it to me
and gave instructions it should be a gift
added to my temples. A tree grows there,
right in the middle of the field. Its leaves                                      980
are gleaming yellow, and its branches rustle
with golden yellow fruit. As it so chanced,                                  THE GOLDEN APPLES
I had just left that tree and in my hand
I held three golden apples I had picked.
And so I went up to Hippomenes,
hiding myself from everyone but him,                                                          [650]
and told him how he should use the apples.
The trumpets gave the signal. Both runners
leaned out and raced off from the starting line.
Their flying feet skimmed the surface of the sand.                        990
You could imagine them speeding over
ocean waves without moistening their feet
or racing over ears of standing grain.
The young man’s spirits were stirred up by shouts
and the crowd’s support, as they all cried:

 

‘Now, now, Hippomenes! This is the time
to push ahead! Right now with all your strength!
Don’t hold back! You’ll win the race!’

 

                                                 It was not clear
which one was happier to hear these words,                                               [660]
Hippomenes or Atalanta. How often,                                          1000
when she could have passed him, did she slow down,
gaze at his face a while, and move on by
against her will! He was gasping for air,
his throat parched, with the end still far away.
At that moment, Hippomenes tossed out
ahead of her one of the three apples
taken from the tree. She was astonished.
Keen to have the shining apple, she swerved,
ran off course, and picked up the rolling gold.
Hippomenes sped past her. Those looking on                              1010
applauded wildly. But she raced ahead,
making up for her delay, and once more                                                      [670]
left the youth behind. Then she was held up
by a second apple. But she ran on
and passed him yet again. There still remained
the last part of the race. The young man prayed:

 

‘O goddess, you who offered me this gift,
stand by me now!’

 

                         With all his youthful strength,
he tossed the shining gold off to the side,
far into the field, so Atalanta                                                       1020
would require more time to run and get it.
She was not sure if she should chase the fruit,
but I forced her to pick it up and then,
once she had it, I made it heavier.
So I slowed her down with the apple’s weight
and by the time she wasted getting it.
Well, to stop my story lasting longer
than the race itself, Atalanta lost,
and the man who triumphed led away his prize.                                          [680]

 

Surely I deserved his thanks, Adonis,                                         1030
and a tribute offering of incense?
But he forgot. I got no thanks from him
or any incense. I felt a sudden rage—
his contempt annoyed me. So to make sure
I would not be slighted in the future,
I took care to make them an example
and stirred myself to move against the pair.

 

The two of them were going past a shrine
hidden in a forest grove, a temple
which famous Echion built long ago                                            1040
for the mother of the gods, to fulfill
a promise he had made.(30) Their lengthy trip
convinced them they should stop there for a rest.
My godlike power roused Hippomenes                                                     [690]
so he was keen to make love with his wife,
although the time was not appropriate.
Near that temple was shady hollow,
like a cave, with a natural stone roof,
a place sacred to the old religion,
in which the priest had gathered images,                                      1050
many wooden figures of ancient gods.
Hippomenes went in this holy place
and polluted it with forbidden sex.
The sacred figures turned their eyes away,
and Cybele, great mother of the gods,
in her turreted crown, was wondering
whether she should plunge the guilty couple
deep in the waters of the river Styx.(31)
But that punishment seemed insufficient.                                      HIPPOMENES AND ATALANTA ARE TRANSFORMED
And so a tawny mane covered their necks,                                 1060
which had been so smooth before, their fingers
bent into claws, their arms turned into legs.
Their entire weight is centered in their chests,                                             [700]
and their tails sweep the surface of the sand.
They have angry faces. Instead of words
they utter roars, and they roam the forest,
rather than the rooms of their own home.
As lions, they are terrifying to others,
but, once subdued by Cybele, their jaws
bite down quite tamely on her chariot bit.                                    1070

So Adonis, my love, avoid those beasts
and along with them all savage creatures
which do not flee but stick out their chests
and stand prepared to fight. If you do not,
your courage will be fatal to us both.’

 

Venus gave this warning to Adonis,
harnessed her swans, and flew off through the air.
But his courage disagreed with her advice.

 

Now, it happened that his dogs were tracking                                                 [710]
the clear trail of a boar and roused the beast,                                   1080
which left its den and was getting ready
to charge out from the trees, when Adonis
struck it from the side. Instantly the beast
dislodged the hunting spear stained with its blood
and chased Adonis, who was terrified
and looked for somewhere safe. But the wild beast
sank its sharp tusks deep in the young man’s groin
and threw him down onto the yellow sand,
where he lay dying.

 

                    As she moved through the air
in her light chariot drawn by flying swans,                                         1090
Cythera, still on her way to Cyprus,
heard his dying groans from a long way off,
and turned the white birds back towards him.                                  ADONIS IS TRANSFORMED
When, from high up in the sky, she saw him                                                     [720]   
lying dead, body soaked in his own blood,
she jumped down, tore her clothing and her hair,
and with frantic hands pounded on her breast,
as she protested to the Fates, saying:

 

‘But not everything is in your power!
Adonis, memorials of my sorrow                                                1100
will remain forever, and every year
the image of your death will be performed
and give a re-enactment of my grief.
I will change your blood into a flower.
For if Persephone was once allowed
to change a woman into fragrant mint,                                                         [730]
will I be begrudged the transformation
of a courageous son of Cinyras?’(32)

 

After saying this, she sprinkled the blood
with sweet-scented nectar, which, on contact,                                  1110
made the blood froth up, the way clear bubbles
rise in yellow mud. Before an hour passed,
a flower grew there, the colour of blood,
a bloom like pomegranates bear, that fruit
which hides its seed beneath a hardened skin.
But one cannot enjoy this flower long,
for its petals are attached so lightly,
in gusts of wind they quickly fly away,
and from those winds the flower gets its name,
for people call it the anemone.(33)

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

(1) Hymen was the god of marriage, who had just presided over the wedding of Iphis and Iänthe (at the end of Book 9). The region of the Cicones was in Thrace. Orpheus was the son of Apollo and Calliope, one of the nine Muses. [Back to Text]

(2) The Taenarian gate in the south Peloponnese was an entrance to the underworld. [Back to Text]

(3) Medusa’s offspring was Cerberus, the dog at the entrance to Hades. Hercules in one of his labours had bound the dog and dragged him away. [Back to Text]

(4) Orpheus is here alluding to the abduction of Proserpine (Persephone) by Pluto (for Ovid’s version of the story see 5.607 ff above). [Back to Text]

(5) For details of these figures in the underworld see 4.775 ff (and the footnotes), where Ovid describes what Juno sees on her visit there. [Back to Text]

(6) Avernus was the name of a crater and a lake in Italy, thought to be near an entrance to the Underworld. [Back to Text]

(7) Hercules descended to Hades and dragged Cerberus away from the underworld with a chain around one of his three neck. A traditional story said that a man observed this going on and was so terrified he turned to stone. Olenus’ wife, Lethaea compared her own beauty to that of a goddess. Olenus volunteered to be punished instead of her. They were both turned to rock. [Back to Text]

(8) Rhodope and Haemus were mountains in Thrace. [Back to Text]

(9) Pisces is the last sign of the Zodiac. When the sun reaches it, the year is over. [Back to Text]

(10) Phaëton’s sisters, daughters of the sun, were changed into poplars. For Ovid’s version of the story see above 2.497 ff. [Back to Text]

(11) Attis was the lover of the goddess Cybele (the mother of the gods). In a fit of madness he castrated himself and his blood and spirit entered a pine tree. [Back to Text]

(12) Cea is one of the islands in the Cyclades. [Back to Text]

(13) The Crab is a reference to the sign of the zodiac. [Back to Text]

(14) Among the Romans, cypress branches were commonly used as a symbol of mourning. [Back to Text]

(15) For details of Ovid’s treatment of Jupiter’s war against the Giants, see above 1.208 ff. Orpheus’ parent muse was Calliope. [Back to Text]

(16) Ganymede was a beautiful young prince of Troy. [Back to Text]

(17) Ovid does not specify an eagle, but that is clearly understood, because the eagle is closely associated with Jupiter’s divine status and majesty. [Back to Text]

(18) The hyacinth allegedly had the letters ai depicted on its petals—and this Greek word was commonly used to express a cry of extreme grief. Aiai is often translated as “Alas!” The greatest of heroes is Ajax of Salamis, whose name in Greek, Aias, was often associated with this cry of grief, especially given his tragic story (which Ovid presents in Book 13). [Back to Text]

(19) Amathus was a city in Crete. The name Cerastes comes from the Greek word meaning “with horns.” [Back to Text]

(20) For Ovid’s treatment of how the daughters of the sun god (the Greek god Helios) were turned into trees and weep amber see above 2.497 ff. In Ovid’s account the sun god is Apollo. [Back to Text]

(21) Ovid does not provide a name for Pygmalion’s love. In other versions of the story she is called Galatea. [Back to Text]

(22) Line 305 in the Latin is often rejected as spurious. The English text is in square brackets. [Back to Text]

(23) Panchaea was a region in Arabia famous for its spices. [Back to Text]

(24) The Boötes was a constellation in the northern night sky (the Wagoner). [Back to Text]

(25) Icarus (or, more commonly, Icarius) was a follower of Bacchus. He helped to introduce the production of wine to human beings. He was killed by a group of drunken peasants. His daughter, Erigone, found the body and, overwhelmed with grief, hanged herself. Bacchus then placed them both in the heavens as constellations (Arcturus and Virgo) and instituted a festival in their honour. [Back to Text]

(26) The phrase Sabaean land refers to a part of Arabia. [Back to Text]

(27) In some versions of the story of Myrrha, her passion is brought about by Venus (hence, the suggestion of revenge in these lines). But Ovid has said earlier that that a Fury must have caused Myrrha’s incestuous desires, since Cupid has denied that the love associated with him and his mother was involved (see above 10.473 ff). [Back to Text]

(28) Cnidos was a city in Asia Minor. Amathus was a city in Crete. The phrase “Cytherian shores” refers to the island of Crete. [Back to Text]

(29) The Latin of line 591 is hard to figure out exactly. I have used the phrase “ankle straps” as a translation of talaria, a word which usually means either wings attached to the sandals or a long robe reaching the ankles. The first sense is usually reserved for Mercury or other gods who wear winged sandals and seems a bit odd in this context. The image of a long robe seems inappropriate, too, when we have been told that Atalanta races naked or with most of her garments removed and are informed in the next lines that her body is covered with a blush. [Back to Text]

(30) The Mother of the Gods is the near eastern goddess Cybele, who is often confused with Ops, the mother of Jupiter. Echion was one of the earth-born warriors who grew up when Cadmus sowed the dragon’s teeth (see above 3.152 ff.). [Back to Text]

(31) Cybele was customarily depicted as crowned with turrets and seated in a chariot drawn by lions. [Back to Text]

(32) Persephone changed a nymph called Mentha into a plant. [Back to Text]

(33) The Greek word for wind is anemos. I have added the last line to include the name of the flower, which is not included in Ovid’s text. [Back to Text]

 

 

[Link to Metamorphoses, Book 11]

 

[Link to Metamorphoses, Table of Contents]