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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 FOUR

 

 [The daughters of Minyas scorn Bacchus; the first daughter tells the story of Pyramus and Thisbe; the second tells the story of Venus and Mars being trapped by Vulcan while having sex, and then the story of Helios and Leucothoë: how Leucothoë is transformed into a plant and Clytië into a heliotrope; the third sister, Alcithoë, tells the story of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus; the daughters of Minyas turn into bats; Juno’s hatred of Ino; Juno visits the Underworld, sees Tityos, Tantalus, Sisyphus, Ixion, and the Danaïds being punished; she enlists help of Tisiphone; Tisiphone poisons Athamas and Ino, who go mad and kill their children; Ino and her child become sea gods; Juno changes Ino’s companions to stone; Cadmus and Harmonia go into exile and become snakes; Perseus visits Atlas; Medusa’s head turns Atlas to stone; Perseus rescues Andromeda; Medusa’s head hardens seaweed to stone; Perseus and the daughters of Phorcys; Perseus describes the birth of Pegasus and the origin of Medusa’s snake-filled hair.]

 


But Alcithoë, daughter of Minyas                                                        THE DAUGHTERS OF MINYAS
does not believe those divine rituals
should be accepted.
(1) Even now the girl
is rash enough to deny that Bacchus
is a child of Jupiter, and she has
sisters who share in her impiety.
The priest had ordered a celebration
of the festival. He told mistresses
and maids who had been excused from duties
to cover their breasts with animal skins,                                              
10
undo the ribbons in their hair, and grip
a leafy thyrsus in their hands. The god,
he prophesied, would be cruelly angry,
if they offended him. Older women
and young wives obeyed him, setting aside                                                         
[10]
looms and baskets and tasks not yet complete.
They offered incense and called on Bacchus,
Bromius, Lyaeus, the Fire-Born One,
the Twice Born, the only being who possessed
two mothers.
(2) They added God of Nysa,                                          20
unshorn Thyoneus, with Lenaeus
planter of the joyous grape, Nyctelius,
father Eleleus, Iacchus, Evan,
and the many others names they call you,
Bacchus, throughout all Greece. For your youth
never ends—you are an eternal boy,
looked upon as the most beautiful one
in lofty heaven. When you are standing
without your horns, you have a virgin’s look.
The conquered orient belongs to you,                                                
30              [20]
as far as where dark India is washed
by the distant river Ganges. And you,
venerated god, struck down Pentheus
and Lycurgus armed with his two-edged axe,
both blasphemous men, and hurled the bodies
of those Tyrrhenians into the sea.
(3)
You harness the proud necks of two lynxes
with coloured reins. Bacchantes and satyrs
all follow you, as does that drunk old man,
Silenus, who holds up his shaking limbs                                              
40
with a staff and hangs on unsteadily
to his sway-backed mule.
(4) Wherever you go,
shouts of young men rise, with women’s voices,
drums struck by hand, brass cymbals, and long pipes.                                       
 [30]

 

Ismenian women call upon the god,

 

“Be present here—peaceful and kind to us.”(5)

 

And they celebrate the stipulated rites.
But Minyas’ daughters stay indoors,
the only ones to disturb the festival
with inappropriate activities,                                                               
50
Minerva’s work—spinning wool, twisting strands
by hand, remaining seated at their looms
and keeping servants busy at  their work.
One of those sisters, as her slender thumb
is drawing thread, speaks up:

 

                                           “While other girls
refuse to keep on working and celebrate
these so-called sacred rituals, those of us
who serve Pallas, a finer deity,
should make these useful tasks much easier
by talking of different things, taking turns                                         60
to tell a story to entertain us all
and fill our idle ears, so that the time                                                               [40]
will pass more quickly.”

 

                                       Her sisters agree
with the suggestion and tell her to start
with the first story. She wonders which tale
she should select out of so rich a store
(for she does know an enormous number)
and is not sure whether she should tell them
how you, Babylonian Dercetis,
can live (so those in Palestine believe)                                                
70
in an altered form in water, with scales
covering your limbs, or how your daughter
acquired wings and in her early years lived
in dove-cotes painted white, or how a naiad
through her song and herbs with too much power
changed young men’s bodies into silent fish,                                                       
[50]
until she suffered the same thing, or else
how the tree which used to bear white berries,
once it was soaked with blood, now bears dark fruit.
(6)
This last one pleases her, since the story                                             
80
is not well known. So as she spins her wool
to thread, she begins the tale, as follows:

 

“In the place where they say Semiramis                                          PYRAMUS AND THISBE
surrounded her high city with brick walls,
Pyramus and Thisbe lived in houses
side by side—the finest looking young lad
and the choicest girl in the entire East.
(7)
As neighbours, they got to know each other
and took their first few steps together. In time,
love grew, and they would have been united,                                 
90             [60]
swearing the marriage oath, but their parents
would not permit it. Still, the two of them
burned with love, minds equally committed,
a fiery blaze their parents could not quench.
No one knows about it. They speak with nods
and signs. The more they try to hide the fire,
the hotter it burns. Their two houses shared
a wall in common, which had been fractured,
leaving a narrow crack. This had happened
earlier when it was built, and no one,                                             
100
in all the many years, had seen the fault.
But what does love not notice? You lovers
were the first to find it, and you made it
a pathway for your voices. Through that crack
the slightest murmurs of your tender words                                                   
[70]
would safely pass. When they stood beside it,
Thisbe on one side, Pyramus the other,
and each one of them, in turn, had seized on
breath from the other’s mouth, they often said:

 

‘Envious wall, why be an obstacle                                             110
to lovers? Would it be so difficult
to let us completely join our bodies?
Or if that is too much, you might at least
open up so we can kiss each other.
We are not ungrateful, for we admit
it is thanks to you we have a passage
for words to reach our loving ears.’

 

                                                   They spoke
like this in vain, from both sides of the wall.
Night came. They said farewell, and each one gave
his own side kisses, which did not pass through                              120            [80]
and reach the other side.

 

                                          One morning later,
when Dawn had sent away the stars of night
and sunlight had dried out the frosty grass,
they met at their accustomed place. First of all,
they complained about their many troubles,
talking there in quiet murmurs. But then,
they decided they would try outwitting
their guardians in the silence of the night,
go outside, and, once they had left the house,
they would also leave the built-up city.                                           130
So they would not lose their way wandering
across open fields, they agreed to meet
at the tomb of Ninus and hide themselves
in the shadows of a tree. In that place
stood a lofty mulberry loaded down
with white fruit, beside an ice-cold fountain.                                                   [90]
They thought the plan a good one. When daylight,
which seems to leave so slowly, is cast down
in the waters and from those same waters
night emerges, Thisbe opens the door                                            140
and steals out through the darkness, deceiving
her own family. Her face veiled, she reaches
the tomb and sits down by the very tree
they talked about. Love makes her bold. But then,
lo and behold, a lioness comes there,
with foaming jaws smeared from a recent kill
of oxen, intending to slake her thirst
in the waters of the near-by fountain.
Babylonian Thisbe sees the creature
from a distance in the moonlight and runs,                                       150
with trembling steps, into a murky cave.                                                         [100]
In her rush, the veil falls off behind her
and remains there. Once the fierce lioness
has drunk her fill, quenched her thirst, and moved
towards the trees, by chance she finds the veil
(without the girl) and rips the silky fabric
in her bloodstained jaws. Pyramus goes out
somewhat later and in the deep dust sees
clear footprints of the savage animal.
His whole face turns pale. When he also sees                                 160
the garment stained with blood, he cries:

 

                                           ‘One night
will see two lovers perish. Of the two
she was the one who most deserved to live
a lengthy life. My soul has done great harm.
I have been your death, you unhappy girl,                                                 [110]
the one who told you to come out at night
to places full of danger and was not
the first to get here. O you fierce lions,
wherever you may live beneath this rock,
tear apart my body, and with sharp teeth                                   170
devour my wicked heart. But that’s the way
a coward acts—to hope that death will come.’

 

He picks up Thisbe’s veil, takes it with him
to the shade of that tree they talked about.
When he has shed his tears into the veil
he knows so well and kissed it, he cries out:

 

‘Now soak yourself in my blood, too.’

 

Then, without a pause, he plunges the sword
he carries on his belt into his belly
and, as he is dying, pulls the blade out                                            180            [120]
from the seething wound. He is on the ground,
lying on his back, blood spraying way up high,
just as a pipe made of defective lead
will split and, through the hissing crack, water
shoots in thin streams far away, as its spurts
pulse through the air. On the mulberry tree
the fruits change colour from the sprinkling blood.
They now look black, and as blood soaks the roots,
it stains the hanging mulberries dark purple.

 

Lo, Thisbe, not yet free from fear, returns,                                      190
so she will not disappoint her lover.
Her eyes and heart search for the youth. She yearns
to tell him the great danger she escaped.                                                        [130]
She knows the place and outline of the tree,
which she has seen before, but the colour
of the fruit makes her unsure. She wonders
if this is the tree. While still uncertain,
she catches sight of quivering limbs beating
on the bloodstained soil. She draws her foot back,
her face as pale as boxwood, and shudders                                       200
like the sea which ripples when slight breezes
brush across its surface. She hesitates,
then sees her love, and, with a cry of grief,
she strikes her innocent arms, tears her hair,
embraces the body of the man she loves,
and fills his wounds with tears, mixing their drops                                           [140]
with her lover’s blood. She kisses his cold face
and cries:

 

                      ‘O Pyramus, what accident
has taken you from me? O Pyramus,
answer! Your dearest Thisbe calls to you.                                 210
Please hear me, and raise your sagging head!’

 

At Thisbe’s name, Pyramus raised his eyes,
already heavy with death, looked at her,
and closed them once again. She saw the veil,
recognized it was her own, then noticed
the ivory scabbard had no sword. She cried:

 

‘Your own hand and your love have finished you,
unhappy man. I, too, have a strong hand—
enough for this one thing. And I have love,
which will give me strength to endure the wounds.                     220             [150]
I shall follow you in death, and people
will call me the most unfortunate cause
and companion of your fate. You, alas,
who could be torn from me by death alone,
will not be torn away in death. And yet,
you poor parents, mine and his, I ask you
with words from both of us, in your great grief,
do not forbid those whom true love has joined
in their last hour to be laid together
in a common tomb. And you, O tree,                                        230
whose branches now cover the sad body
of one of us and will soon cover two,
keep the symbols of our deaths, and always
yield dark fruit appropriate for mourning,                                                  [160]
a symbol of the blood we two have shed.’

 

Thisbe finished. Then setting the sword point
beneath her breast, she fell upon the blade,
still steaming from the blood of Pyramus.

 

But her entreaty did affect the gods
and moved her parents. So when fully ripe,                                     240
the fruit is dark, and what remains of them
after the funeral pyre sits in one urn.”

 

Her story ended. There was a brief pause.
Then Leuconoë started speaking,
while the other sisters all stayed silent.

 

“Love has even made the Sun his captive,                                      VENUS AND MARS
the one who with his starry light controls
all things. I’ll speak about his love affairs.                                                       [170]
First, this god, so people think, once observed
adulterous acts of Mars and Venus                                                250
(for this god is the first to catch a glimpse
of anything). He was annoyed and told
her husband, Vulcan, a son of Juno,
about the blemish on his marriage bed
and mentioned where the sex taken place.
Vulcan’s heart fell, and his skillful right hand
dropped what he was working on. Instantly
he filed slender chains of brass, nets, and snares
which would deceive the eye. The finest thread
could not surpass his handiwork, not even                                      260
spider webs hanging from the topmost beams.
He made them sensitive to tiny movements,                                                   [180]
the slightest touch, and set them cunningly
in place around the bed. When his wife came
with the adulterer to that same bed,
thanks to her husband’s skill and to the chains
forged in this new fashion, they were both stuck,
caught right in the middle of embracing.
Vulcan, god of Lemnos, swiftly opened up
the ivory doors and let in the gods.                                                 270
The two embarrassed lovers were ashamed.
One of the gods, not the least upset, said:

 

‘Now, that’s the way I’d like to be disgraced!’

 

The gods above all laughed, and for some time
this was the most famous tale in heaven.

Cytherea remembers who informed                                                               [190]
against her and inflicts a punishment,                                                               HELIOS AND LEUCOTHOË
and, in her turn, wounds with similar love
the one who harmed her secret love with Mars.(8)
And so, son of Hyperion, what use                                                280
to you now are your beauty, your colour,
and your radiant light?(9) You who burn all lands
with your own fires are surely now being burned
with a new fire, and you, who should observe
all things, just gaze at Leucothoë,
fixing on one young girl those eyes of yours
which should be looking at the entire world.
Sometimes you rise in eastern skies too soon,
and sometimes fall into the ocean late.
Whenever you slow down to look at her,                                       290
you drag out the winter hours. And sometimes
you go out. Your mind’s anxiety affects                                                          [200]
your light, and Earth, now hidden in darkness,
terrifies men’s hearts. And you do not fade
because the image of the moon, closer
to our Earth, has blocked you. No. It is love
that takes your colour. You love only her.
You spend no time with Clymene, Rhodos,
or with Aeaen Circe’s lovely mother,
or Clytië, who yearns for your embrace,                                        300
though you despise her, and at this moment
nurses a deep wound.(10) Leucothoë
makes you forget so many, the young girl
born to Eurynome, the loveliest
of that perfume-making race, but later,
when the girl grew up, she was even finer                                                      [210]
than her mother, as much as Eurynome
was more beautiful than all the others.
Her father, Orchamus, governed cities
in Achaemenia, and is reckoned                                                     310
seventh after ancient Belus, founder
of the royal line.(11)

                                       The horses of the sun
pasture under western skies. In those fields
they have ambrosia instead of grass,
which, after their daily task, nourishes
their limbs and energizes them once more.
And while these animals are browsing there
on heavenly feed and it is Night’s turn
to do her work, the god of the sun goes
in his loved one’s room, after he has changed                                 320
to look just like her mother, Eurynome,
and in the lamplight sees Leucothoë                                                               [220]
with twelve servant women, drawing smooth threads
on twirling spindles. The god embraces her,
the way a mother would her well-loved daughter,
and says:

 

                                  ‘I need to share a secret.
Servants must leave. Do not deprive a mother
of her right to say some things in private.’

 

They obey, and there are no witnesses
inside the room. The god says:

 

                                                         ‘I am the one                    330
who measures the long year, who views all things,
and thanks to whom the earth sees anything.
I am the eye of the world. Believe this—
I find you pleasing.’

 

                                           The terrified girl
trembles. The distaff and the spindle slip
from her unmoving fingers. But her fear
makes her more lovely, and the god can wait                                                  [230]
no longer. He returns to his true shape
and customary splendor, and though the girl
is frightened by the unexpected sight,                                              340
she is overwhelmed by his magnificence
and, setting her objections to the side,
lets herself be ravished by the god.

 

Clytië was jealous (for there is nothing
gentle about the way she loves the Sun)
and, driven by anger at her rival,
she spread the story of the sexual act,
saying bad things about Leucothoë
and telling Orchamus, her father,
a wild, ferocious man. He buried his child                                       350
deep in the earth. As she stretched out her hands
towards the sunlight, entreating him, she cried:

 

‘He took me forcefully against my will!’

 

But her father still kept piling over her                                                            [240]
a mound of heavy sand. Hyperion’s son
dispersed this with his rays and offered her
a passageway to show her buried face.
But Leucothoë could not raise her head,
crushed by the weight of earth. She just lay there,
a bloodless corpse. And people say the god                                  360
who drives those flying horses had never seen,
not since the fires which took Phaëton’s life,
anything more pitiful than that sight.
In fact, he tried to see if his own rays
might bring back living heat to her cold limbs.
But since Fate is against such bold attempts,
he spread sweet-smelling nectar on her corpse                                               [250]
and on the place and, after grieving, said:

 

‘In spite of this you will reach heaven still.’

 

Her body, drenched in heavenly nectar,                                          370
immediately dissolved. Its sweet fragrance
soaked the ground, and a stem of frankincense
slowly pushed out its root into the soil,
rose up, and with its tip broke through the mound.

 

Although love could excuse sad Clytië’s pain,                                 CLYTIË IS TRANSFORMED
and her pain excuse the way she gossiped,
the giver of light no longer saw her—
his love for her was finished. From that time,
having abused her love so foolishly,
she pined away. With no time for other nymphs,                             380
she sat down on bare earth by night and day                                                  [260]
under the sky, bareheaded, dishevelled,
tasting no food or water for nine days,
breaking her fasting only with her tears
and with the dew, not moving from the ground.
She gazed only on the features of the Sun,
turning to face him as he moved around.
They say her limbs grew roots into the earth
and a lurid pallor changed her colour
to a bloodless plant. But one part is red,                                        390
and a flower very like a violet
conceals her face. She is held down by roots,
but always turns her face towards her Sun.
Although transformed, she still maintains her love.”                                         [270]

 

Leuconoë ends her tale. Their ears
are captivated by the strange events.
Part of them denies they could have happened,
and part declares that with authentic gods
all things are possible, but Bacchus, of course,
is not among them.

 

                                     After the sisters                                              400
quiet down, they call on Alcithoë,
who, while running thread through her upright loom
with her weaving shuttle, says:

 

                                              “I will not speak                               SALMACIS AND HERMAPHRODITUS
of the well-known love affairs of Daphnis,
that shepherd boy from Ida, whom some nymph,
angry at a rival, turned into stone
(the grief that burns up lovers is so strong!),
nor will I tell how laws of nature changed
and Sithon’s sex became ambiguous,                                                             [280]
both male and female.(12) And I will overlook                                410
you, too, Celmis, once a most loyal friend
to infant Jupiter and now a lump
of adamantine rock. Nor will I tell
how Curetes were born from storms of rain,
or how Crocus changed, along with Smilax,
to tiny flowers. I’ll set these tales aside
and charm your mind with something sweet and new.(13)
You will learn why the spring of Salmacis
is so notorious, why its waters
have such a strong, malevolent effect,                                             420
weakening and softening every limb
they touch. This power of theirs is famous,
but the cause is hidden.

 

                                     Below the caves
of Ida, naiad nymphs brought up a boy
born to Hermes and goddess Aphrodite.
In his face one could make out his father                                                        [290]
and his mother, and from them he derived
his name: he was called Hermaphroditus.(14)
When he is fifteen years of age, he leaves
his paternal hills, deserting Ida,                                                       430
where he was raised, and then takes great delight
wandering around in unknown regions
and seeking unfamiliar rivers. His joy
makes travelling easy. He even goes
to Lycian cities and nearby towns
in the neighbouring lands of Caria.(15)
Here he comes across a pool of water
so clear his eyes can see the bottom. It has
no marshy reeds, barren sedge, or rushes
with spiked tops. The water is transparent,                                     440
but the edges of the pool have borders                                                          [300]
of fresh turf, and the grass is always green.
A nymph lives there—not one skilled in hunting
or used to bending bows or to competing
in a race—the only naiad unknown
to swift Diana. Men say her sisters
would often tell her:

 

                                  ‘Salmacis, pick up
a javelin or painted quiver, and spend
your idle hours in a vigorous hunt.’

 

But she will not take up a javelin                                                     450
or painted quiver or use her leisure time
for active hunting. All she does is bathe                                                          [310]
her beautiful body in her own pool.
Often with a Cytorian boxwood comb
she fixes her hair and then gazes down
into the water to see what suits her.
Wrapping herself in a transparent robe,
she lies on piles of leaves or tender grass.
She often gathers flowers, and, by chance,
that’s what she was doing when she first glimpsed                          460
Hermaphroditus. And once she saw him,
she wanted to possess him. Though eager
to go up to him, she still did not approach,
until she had composed herself, looked at
her dress, arranged her face, and taken care
so he would think her very beautiful.
Only then did she begin to speak:

 

                                       ‘Young man,                                                      [320]
most worthy of being thought a deity,
if you are a god, you could be Cupid,
or if a mortal being, then your parents                                       470
are blest, your brother happy, your sister,
if you have one, fortunate—happy, too,
the nurse who fed you at her breast. But still,
far, far more powerfully blest than these
is the girl betrothed to you, if you have
a bride already, if there is some girl
you plan to dignify with marriage. If so,
if you do have someone, let’s keep my love
a secret. But if no such girl exists,
then let me be your bride. Let’s climb together                          480
into one common marriage bed.’

 

                                                        After this,
the nymph was silent. A blush raced across
the young man’s face, for he was ignorant
of what she meant by love, but blushing made him                                          [330]
even more attractive—with a colour
like apples hanging in a sunlit tree,
or painted ivory, or like the moon
during an eclipse, with a reddish tinge
beneath her brightness, while bronze instruments
crash out in vain.(16) The nymph kept asking him                            490
to kiss her (she would not stop)—just one kiss,
the way he’d kiss a sister—and by now
had slipped her arms around his ivory neck.
He cried:

 

                           ‘Stop that! Or shall I go away,
desert this place and you?’

 

                                              Salmacis
was alarmed and answered:

 

                                            ‘I freely leave
this pool to you, stranger.’

 

                                     She turns aside
and pretends that she is going away.
But then, glancing back, she conceals herself,
kneeling down behind a clump of bushes                                        500
and staying near the ground. So the young lad,                                               [340]
thinking he is unobserved, wanders round
here and there on the lonely grass and dips
his toes and then his feet up to the ankles
in the playful pool, and, captivated
by the tempting coolness of the water,
without delay he strips the soft clothes
from his youthful body. Well, Salmacis
is truly thrilled—inflamed now with desire
for his naked flesh. The nymph’s eyes burn                                    510
like the bright orb of the most brilliant Sun
when its mirror image is reflected back.
She has trouble remaining where she is,
trouble suppressing her delight. She wants                                                     [350]
to embrace him now. She is already
in a frenzy and finds it difficult
to keep herself in check. Hermaphroditus
claps his hollow palms against his body
and nimbly dives down deep into the pool.
As he moves one arm and then the other,                                       520
he gleams in the clear water, just as if
someone had enclosed an ivory figure
or beautiful white lily in clear glass.
The nymph cries out:

 

‘I have won! He is mine!’

 

Then flinging all her clothing to one side,
she jumps into the middle of the pool
and grabs him. He resists. In the struggle,
she steals kisses, and her hands caress him
down below and touch his unwilling breast.
She entwines her body around the youth                                         530            [360]
first one way, then another. Finally,
while he fights back against her, still hoping
to escape, she enfolds him like a snake
which the royal bird has snatched and carried
high into the air—as it hangs down, it twists
around the eagle’s head and feet, its tail
coiling round the spreading wings, or like ivy
winding itself around tall trunks of trees
or like a squid which grasps the enemy
it catches in the sea by sending out                                                 540
its tentacles and gripping every part.
The descendant of Atlas does not yield
and denies the nymph the joys she longs for.(17)
She persists, pressing her entire body
to his, as if they were glued together.
She cries:

 

                  ‘You may fight, you obstinate youth,                                        [370]
but still you won’t escape. And so, you gods,
please grant that no day ever comes to take
this youth away from me or me from him.’

 

Gods hear her prayers. The entwined bodies                                  550
of the two of them are joined together
and grow into a single form, just like
when someone looks at branches where the bark
has been cut back to graft them into one,
so they join, grow, and mature together.
In the same way, when their limbs intertwine
in a firm embrace, there are not two of them,
but one single dual form. One could say
they are not male or female. They appear
neither one nor the other—or else both.                                          560

 

When he sees that the clear pool he entered                                                   [380]
as a man has made him only half a man
and that in it his limbs have lost their strength,
Hermaphroditus stretches out his arms
and shouts, but in a voice no longer male:

 

‘Father and mother, grant your son this gift—
he carries both your names. Whoever comes
to this pool as a man, let him leave here
half a man, and, once these waters touch him,
let him become effeminate.’

 

                                                           Both parents,                       570
moved by this speech from their bi-gendered son,
granted his request and poisoned the pool
with a pernicious drug.”

 

                                                     Alcithoë
had brought her story to an end. But still,
the daughters of Minyas continued
with their work, rejecting the god Bacchus,                                                         [390]
discrediting his festival. And then,
suddenly, harsh sounds from drums they could not see
broke out, pipes with curving horns resounded,
cymbals clashed, smells of myrrh and saffron spread                           580
all through the air, and (something beyond belief!)
their looms started to turn green, the fabric
hanging there grew leaves and looked like ivy.
Some of it came out as vines, and those parts
which were threads before changed into tendrils.
Vine shoots sprouted from the warp, and purple grapes
in clusters took on the splendid colours
of the weaving. By now the day was past.
The hour had come at which one could not say                                                   [400]
whether it was dark or light—there was light,                                      590
but surrounded by uncertain darkness.
All at once, the rooftops shake, the oil lamps
seem to blaze, houses burn with reddish fire,
and phantom images of wild beasts howl.


By now the three sisters have been hiding                                                           THE DAUGHTERS ARE TRANSFORMED
for a while in smoky rooms, avoiding
the fire and light in several places.
While they are seeking shadowy corners,
membranes are stretched across their slender limbs,
covering their arms with tenuous wings.                                               600
The darkness does not let them realize
how they have lost the form they used to share.
They have no feathers to raise them upward,                                                       [410]
but lift themselves on their translucent wings,
and when they attempt to speak, they send out
a very tiny noise, to match their shape,
voicing their grievances in minute squeaks.
They live in houses, not the woods. Hating
the light, they fly at night, and take their name,
vespertilio, or bat, from vesper,                                                         610
the late hours of evening.(18)

 

                                             After this,
the divine magnificence of Bacchus
was indeed talked about in all of Thebes,                                            JUNO AND INO
and his mother’s sister, Ino, spoke out
everywhere about the mighty power
of this new god. She was the only one
out of all those sisters who had no cause
for sorrow, other than the grief brought on
by what her sisters had endured.(19) Juno
looks at this woman, who is filled with pride                                        620
that she has sons, is wife to Athamas,                                                                 [420]
and has a foster child who is a god.(20)
Unable to endure it, Juno mutters
to herself:

 

                               “Could that offspring of a slut
change those Maeonian sailors and throw them
in the sea, give the carcass of a son
to his own mother to be torn apart,
and cover those three daughters of Minyas
with new wings, and Juno be unable
to do a thing, except mourn her sorrows                                         630
without taking revenge?(21) Is this enough
for me? Is this all the power I have?
Bacchus himself has taught me what to do
(one is allowed to learn from enemies).
With the death of Pentheus, he has shown,
more than enough, the power of madness.
Why should Ino not be tormented, too,                                                          [430]
and pass through the stages of that frenzy
shown by her sisters?”

 

                                          There is a pathway                                    THE UNDERWORLD
going downhill, shaded by gloomy yews,                                             640
which leads through silent, solitary spots
to the world below, where the sluggish Styx
breathes mists. Fresh ghosts of the dead pass this way,
the forms of those who have had full burial rites.
In all directions the place is dreary,
pale, and freezing. New spirits of the dead
are ignorant of the road which takes them
to that city by the Styx, where black Dis
has his grim palace.(22) This roomy city
has a thousand gateways and entrances                                               650
open on all sides, and just as the sea
absorbs rivers from all around the earth,                                                             [440]
in the same way this place receives all souls.
There is no group for which it is too small,
nor does it notice large crowds when they come.
Bloodless shadows with no bones or bodies
wander around. Some throng the market place,
some the palace of the infernal king,
and some keep busy working various trades,
in imitation of their earlier life,                                                              660
while others suffer punishments to suit
the wicked acts they have committed.(23)

 

                                                         Juno,
Saturn’s daughter, left her celestial home                                             JUNO IN THE UNDERWORLD
and forced herself to travel to this city
(that’s how much her rage and fury drove her).
As she went in the place, the threshold groaned,
and Cerberus raised up his triple heads,                                                              [450]
then gave out three simultaneous howls.(24)
Juno called to those dreaded deities,
the implacable sisters born from Night.                                                670
They were sitting down in front of prison doors
sealed up by steel, combing their black snake hair.(25)
As soon as they recognized the goddess
in the murky shadows, the Furies stood.
The place is called the Home of the Accursed.
Here Tityos stretches on nine acres,
offering his entrails to be ripped apart.
You, Tantalus, cannot scoop water up,
and the tree which arches high above your head
eludes you. You, Sisyphus, are always                                                680            [460]
seeking out or pushing up that boulder,
which will roll down again. Ixion spins,
both following and fleeing from himself,
and the granddaughters of Belus, who dared
to plot death of their own cousins, constantly
fetch water once again, which they will lose.(26)

 

With a grim scowl Juno gazes at them all,                                            JUNO AND TISIPHONE
especially at Ixion. She looks
from him once more to stare at Sisyphus
and asks:

 

        “Why is this man being punished                                              690
for eternity, whereas his brother,
proud Athamas, has a wealthy palace
and with his wife is always scorning me?”(27)

 

She explains why she detests that family
and why she has come there. What she desires
is that the house of Cadmus will collapse                                                             [470]
and sister Furies will drag Athamas
into some crime. She asks those goddesses
for help, mixing her commands with promises
and prayers. Once Juno has stated her request,                                   700
Tisiphone shakes her snow-white hair (which is,
as usual, dishevelled), flinging back
the snakes which block her mouth, and says these words:

 

“No need for long and complex explanations.
Those things you ordered—consider them done.
Leave this dreary kingdom, and take yourself
back to the more pleasant air of heaven.”

 

Juno was delighted and returned back home.
As she was moving into heaven, Iris,
Thaumas’ daughter, purified the goddess                                             710            [480]
by sprinkling her with water.

 

                                                   Dread Tisiphone                               TISIPHONE AND INO
did not delay. She took a blood-soaked torch,
put on a cloak dyed red with dripping gore,
fastened a coiling snake around her waist,
and left the house. She was accompanied
by Grief and Fear and Terror and Madness
(who has an anguished face). She went and stood
right at the gates of Aeolus’ home.
Men say the entrance shook, the maple doors
turned pale, and the sun fled from the palace.                                      720
These ominous signs made Ino fearful,
and her husband, Athamas, was terrified.
They tried to leave the house, but Tisiphone,
the menacing Fury, stood in the way                                                                   [490]
and blocked the door. She stretched out both her arms
wrapped in knots of vipers, and shook her hair.
The snakes hissed with the motion, some coiling
across her shoulders, some around her breast,
making whistling noises, vomiting gore,
and flickering their tongues. Then the Fury                                           730
pulled two snakes from the middle of her hair.
Her pestilential hand hurled what it seized,
and the two snakes slithered across the chests
of Athamas and Ino, breathing poison
on them. No wounds appeared on any limb.
It was their minds that felt the dreadful blow.
Tisiphone carried with her a vile potion                                                               [500]
of venomous fluids—foam from the mouth
of Cerberus, poison from Ecidna,
wandering delusions, the oblivion                                                        740
of a clouded mind, wickedness, weeping,
mad rage, and a love of slaughter, all these
in a compound mix.(28) She had blended them
in fresh blood boiled in hollow bronze and stirred
with a green hemlock stalk. While Athamas
and Ino stood there shaking, Tisiphone
poured this maddening poison on their chests,
infecting the deep centres of the hearts
in both of them. Repeatedly she whirled
a torch in a constant circle and soon                                                    750
enveloped them with fire roused by her flame.
So, having overpowered them and done                                                             [510]
what Juno ordered, she made her way back
to the dead realm of mighty Dis and there
took off the snake she’d placed around her waist.

 

Athamas instantly goes mad, screaming
in the middle of the hall:

 

                                                 “Come, my friends,
spread nets across these woods. I have just seen
a lioness with twin cubs.”

 

                                            Quite insane,
he tracks the footsteps of his wife, as if                                                760
she were a savage beast, and he snatches
his own child Learchus from his mother’s grasp—
the boy is smiling, waving his small arms—
whirls him around in the air, like a sling,
two or three times, and brutally smashes
his infant skull against a solid rock.
Then the mother, finally roused to act
(whether that is caused by grief or poison                                                           [520]
spread all through her), and runs, tearing her hair
and howling madly. In her naked arms                                                 770
she holds a little boy (that child is you,
Melicertes) and keeps on crying out:

“Evoe! Bacchus!”(29)

 

                                    At the name Bacchus
Juno laughs and says:

 

                                   “May your foster child
bring you benefits like these.”

 

                                            Above the sea
there is an overhanging rock, whose base
has been hollowed out by breaking surf.
It shields the waves it shelters from the rain.
The prominent summit extends its brow
out to the open sea. Ino clambers                                                        780
up this pinnacle (madness gives her strength,
and no fear holds her back), then throws herself
and the child she carries down into the sea,
and where she lands the waves turn white with foam.                                           [530]

 

But Venus, pitying the afflictions                                                          VENUS AND INO
of her grandchild, who did not deserve them,
pleaded with her uncle, trying to charm him:(30)

 

‘O Neptune, god of the sea, whose power
ranks next to the might of heaven, it’s true
I’m asking something great, but take pity                                        790
on the ones I love. You can see them now
being tossed out in the huge Icarian Sea.
Add them to your company of ocean gods.
I, too, enjoy some favour with the sea,
since I was once created from the foam
in the middle of the deep and still have
my Greek name, Aphrodite or ‘foam born,’
from the place where I arose.”

 

                                 She begged, and Neptune
nodded his consent. He removed from them
their mortal parts, and in their place he set                                           800
a sacred majesty. He also changed                                                                     [540]
their bodies and their names, calling Ino
Leucothoë and the child Palaemon.

 

Ino’s Sidonian companions followed,                                                  INO’S COMPANIONS
as best they could, the imprints of her feet
and saw their final traces at the front edge
of the rock. They believed there was no doubt
the two had died, so they started wailing
for the House of Cadmus, their hands tearing
at their hair and clothing. They blamed the goddess.                            810
She had not acted justly and had been
too harsh towards her rival. But Juno
would not put up with their complaints and said:

 

“I will make you the greatest monuments
to my ferocity.”

 

                                       She made the threat                                                     [550]
then acted. For one of those companions
who had been very fond of Ino said:

 

“I will go with the queen into the sea.”

 

She was about to leap out from the cliff,                                              INO’S COMPANIONS ARE TRANSFORMED
but she could not move at all. She was stuck,                                      820
fixed to the rock. A second companion,
when she tried to beat her breasts in mourning
in the usual way, felt her arms grow stiff,
as she was trying to lift them. And one,
who by chance happened to extend her hand
out above the waves, was turned to stone,
her hands still pointing to those very waves.
You could see the fingers on another,
as they clutched her head and tugged her hair,
suddenly harden in among the strands.                                                 830
In whatever stance each of them was caught,                                                      [560]
there she stayed. Some of those Theban women
were transformed to birds, whose wings, even now,
skim across the surface waters of that gulf.

 

Cadmus, Agenor’s son, is not aware                                                   CADMUS AND HARMONIA
that his daughter and his infant grandson
are now gods of the sea. Overwhelmed with grief,
by the succession of catastrophes,
and by astonishing events (of which
he’s witnessed an enormous number), he leaves                                  840
Thebes, the city he has founded, as if
the troubles overwhelming him come from
the place and not from him. Forced to wander
far and wide with his wife, also exiled,
Cadmus reaches the borders of Illyria.
By now worn down by anguish and old age,
they look back on the first fateful events
their house went through, and, in conversations,                                                  [570]
review what they have suffered. Cadmus says:

 

“Was that serpent which I butchered with my spear                        850
a sacred creature, back when I set out
from Sidon and sowed a new kind of seed,
those dragon’s teeth, into the earth? If so,
if the firm anger of the gods is working
to avenge that beast, I pray I myself
may stretch into an elongated snake.”(31)

 

As he speaks, he changes to a serpent
with an extended belly. He senses
scales growing across his hardening skin.
His body is now black, blue-green spots appear                                  860
in various places, he falls down prostrate
on his chest, his legs, little by little,
join together into one and thin out                                                                       [580]
into a tapering point. His arms remain.
What he has left of them he stretches out,
with tears flowing down his still human face,
and says:

 

                      “O wife, my most unhappy wife,
come here while something of me still remains.
Touch me. Take my hand while it is a hand,
before the snake has taken all of me.”                                            870

 

He really wishes to say more, but his tongue
is suddenly divided in two parts.
He desires to speak, but no words come out.
Whenever he tries to utter a complaint,
he makes a hissing sound. This is the voice
Nature has assigned him.

 

                                             His wife, Harmonia,
her hand striking her naked breast, cries out:                                                       [590]

 

“Stay here, Cadmus, you unfortunate man!
Get rid of this atrocious form! Cadmus,
what’s going on? Where is your foot, your hands,                          880
shoulders, colour, face? All of you has gone,
while I’ve been speaking! You heavenly gods,
why not me, too? Why not change me as well
into the same form of snake?”

 

                                                        She said this,
and her husband licked her face, then slithered
to his wife’s dear breasts, as if he knew them.
He squeezed her, seeking her familiar neck.
Those present (their companions were all there)
were fearful, but she stroked the slippery neck
of the crested snake. And then suddenly                                             890
there were two of them gliding along, coiled                                                        [600]
together, until they both disappeared
into the shadows of a near-by wood.
Now they do not flee from human beings
or wound and harm them. They are peaceful snakes,
recalling what they were in earlier days.

 

But even in this changed form, their grandson,                                     BACCHUS
Bacchus, offered them great consolation.
He conquered India and was worshipped there.
In Achaea throngs of people gather                                                     900
in temples built for him. Acrisius,
son of Abas, who shares his lineage,
is the only one still left who keeps on
forbidding Bacchus entry through the walls
of his Argive city and takes up arms
against the god, thinking he does not stem
from Jupiter.(32) And he does not believe                                                             [610]
that Perseus, whom Danaë conceived
in a shower of gold, is Jupiter’s son.(33)
But soon (so great is the power of truth)                                             910
Acrisius regrets he harmed the god
and refused to recognize his grandson.

 

Bacchus had taken his place in heaven,                                               PERSEUS AND ATLAS
but Perseus was rushing through thin air
on whirring wings, bearing the famous prize
of a snake-haired monster he’d overcome,
soaring over Libyan sands, with blood
dripping down to earth from the Gorgon’s head.
The ground soaked up the drops and gave them life
as various snakes (that is the reason                                                    920            [620]
so many snakes infest this land).(34) Later,
Perseus was carried off here and there,
pushed by warring winds, like a cloud of rain.
From high up in the heavens he gazed down
on distant lands. He flew around the globe.
Three times he saw the freezing Bears, three times
the pincers of the Crab, often driven
to the west, and often towards the east.
Now, as light failed, afraid to trust himself
to the dark night, he halted in the west,                                                930
intending to rest awhile in the realm
of Atlas, until Lucifer announced
Aurora’s fire, and Aurora summoned
the chariot of day.                                                                                              [630]

 

                                Now, this Atlas,
son of Iapetus, surpassed all men
in physical size and was the ruler
of the remotest regions of the world
and of the oceans whose waters receive
the panting horses of the Sun and take in
his weary chariot. He has a thousand flocks                                        940
and as many herds, who roam the meadows.
There are no neighbours to disturb his land.
Leaves on his trees glitter with shining gold,
covering golden boughs and golden fruit.
Perseus said:

 

                                  “My friend, if the glory
of high birth has some influence with you,
the founder of my clan is Jupiter.                                                                    [640]
If you are someone who applauds great deeds,
you will approve of mine. I’m asking you
for hospitality and rest.”

 

                                                    Atlas                                                  950
recalled an ancient prophecy given
by Themis at Parnassus:

 

                                                “The time will come,
Atlas, when your trees will be stripped of gold.
A son of Jupiter will be honoured
for acquiring the spoil.”

 

                                                  Afraid of this,                                   
Atlas built strong walls around his orchard
and placed in there an enormous dragon
to protect the place. He kept all strangers
off his lands. So he said to Perseus:

 

“Leave here, in case the glory of those deeds                                 960
you lie about and Jupiter, as well,
are not there to help.”                                                                                   [650]

 

                            To these threatening words
Atlas added violence, attempting
with his great hands to push Perseus away.
Perseus holds his ground, combining force
with reassuring words. But Perseus
is not as powerful (for who can match
the strength of Atlas?). So Perseus says:

 

“Very well, then, since for you my friendship
has no value, take this gift!”

 

                                                 He turns away                                    970
and with his left hand holds out the foul head                                       ATLAS IS TRANSFORMED
of Medusa, and Atlas is transformed
into a mountain as huge as he was.
His beard and hair turn into forest trees,
his hands and shoulders change to mountain crests.
What was his head before is now the peak.
His bones are turned to rock. All his features
start to grow much larger, and he becomes                                                         [660]
something colossal (so you gods ordained),
and all the heavens with their countless stars                                        980
now rest on him.(35)

 

                                    Aeolus had confined                                        PERSEUS AND ANDROMEDA
the winds to their prison caves on Aetna,
and Lucifer, the brightest of all stars,
who rouses men for work, had risen up
high in the heavens.(36) Perseus put on
his wings again, tying them to his feet.
Then he took his weapon, a curving sword,
and with the movement of his sandals’ wings
carved out a passage through the flowing air.
Passing countless nations in lands below                                              990
on every side, he came to Ethiopia,
observed the people there, and saw the fields
of Cepheus, where Jupiter Ammon                                                                    [670]
had unjustly ordered that Andromeda,
though innocent, should suffer punishment
for things her mother said.(37) When Perseus,
grandson of Abas, saw the girl, whose arms
were chained to solid rock, he would have thought
she was a marble statue, but her hair
moved in the gentle breezes and warm tears                                        1000
flowed from her eyes. Before he realized it,
Perseus caught fire. Amazed and smitten
by the image of the girl he saw there,
he almost forgot to keep those wings of his
beating the air. He came down, stopped, and said:

 

“These are not the chains you should be wearing,
but rather those which link up those in love.
Tell me your name and what your land is called—                                          [680]
I’d like to know—and why you are in chains.”

 

At first the girl said nothing, not daring,                                                1010
as a virgin, to talk to a strange man.
Her hands would have concealed her modest face,
as well, if she had not been bound. She did
what she could do and let her eyes fill up
with flowing tears. He kept on asking her
repeatedly, and she, so as not to seem
to be confessing that she was at fault
by her unwillingness to say a word,
told him her name, her country, and how much
her mother had believed in her own beauty.                                         1020

 

Before she has finished all the details,
the waves roar, and out of the boundless deep
a threatening monster bursts up, covering                                                            [690]
a wide surface of the sea. The virgin screams.
Her father and her mother stand close by,
feeling wretched (the mother more justly so).
They bring no help with them, but cries of grief
to suit the moment. They both beat their breasts,
clinging to the body of the chained-up girl.
Then the stranger says:

 

                         “You can shed your tears                                      1030
for a long time after this, but right now
there is not much time to help. My name
is Perseus, Jupiter’s son with Danaë.
Although she was imprisoned, Jupiter
made her pregnant with streams of fertile gold.
Yes, I am Perseus, who overcame
the snake-haired Gorgon and dared to travel
through gusting breezes on these beating wings.                                              [700]
So if I seek this young girl as my wife,
surely as a son-in-law I will rank                                                    1040
ahead of all the rest. And if the gods
will only show me favour, I will try
to add a further service to those things
I have accomplished. Here’s my proposal—
if my courage saves her, then she is mine.”

 

Her parents agree to his conditions
(for who would hesitate?). They plead with him
and promise even more. They offer him
their kingdom as a dowry.

 

                                                Then, just as
the sharp prow of a swift ship driven on                                              1050
by the sweating arms of its youthful crew
cuts through the waves, so the powerful chest
of that sea monster shoves the waves aside.
When its distance from the rock is as far
as a Balearic sling can send its shot                                                                     [710]
whirling through the air, Perseus suddenly
sets his feet against the earth, then rises up
high into the clouds. As his shadow falls
across the surface of the sea, the beast
sees it and, enraged, attacks the shadow.                                            1060
Just as Jupiter’s eagle, when it spies
a snake in an open field exposing
its dark back to Phoebus and seizes it
as it turns away, sinking sharp talons
in its scaly neck, in case it twists back
its savage fangs, so Perseus, descendant
of Inachus, swooping down rapidly
through the empty sky, suddenly makes for
the monster’s back and, as it roars, buries                                                          [720]
his sword in its right shoulder, all the way                                            1070
to the curving hilt. The sea beast, now hurt
with a serious wound, sometimes lifts itself
high in the air or sinks beneath the waves,
and sometimes turns at bay, like a fierce boar
surrounded and driven mad by a pack
of yelping hounds. Using his speeding wings,
Perseus eludes the ravenous jaws
and, every time he sees an opening,
strikes with his curved blade—now along its back,
crusted with hollow shells, now at its ribs                                             1080
along the flanks, now at the thinnest part
of the creature’s tail, which tapers like a fish.
The monster’s mouth spews out sea water mixed
with purple blood, drenching his sandal wings
and weighing them down. Perseus does not dare                                                 [730]
to trust his soaking wings. He spies a rock
whose topmost point extends above the sea
when it is still but which is covered up
when the waters surge. Standing on that rock,
his left hand braced against the upper edge,                                         1090
he strikes the monster’s side repeatedly,
three or four times, plunging in his sword.

 

The shores and the high palaces of gods
resound with noisy shouting and applause.
Cassiope and Cepheus, her father,
are delighted. They greet their son-in-law,
acknowledging him as the one who helped
and saved their house. The girl, freed from her chains,
approaches, the cause of all his efforts
as well as the reward. Perseus cleans                                                    1100
his victorious hands in water drawn up                                                                [740]
from the sea. Then he makes a bed of leaves                                        MEDUSA'S HEAD TRANSFORMS SEAWEED
to soften the ground, so as not to harm
the snake head on the solid sand, spreads out
plants born beneath the sea, and sets down there
the head of Medusa, Phorcys’ daughter.
The absorbent centres of that seaweed,
still living, soak up the Gorgon’s power,
at, at its touch, grow hard. The stems and leaves
take on a new rigidity. Sea nymphs                                                      1110
try out this miracle on several plants,
and when they all grow hard in the same way,
the nymphs rejoice. They repeat the process
by scattering seeds from those rock-hard growths
into the sea. And corals, even now,                                                                     [750]
retain this property. They petrify
in contact with the air, and what lives on
below the water turns to stone above.

 

Perseus raises three earth-built altars
to three deities—the one on the left                                                     1120
to Mercury, the right hand one to you,
virgin warrior Minerva, and one
between the two to Jupiter. He offers
a cow in sacrifice to Minerva,
a calf to Mercury, wing-footed god,
and a bull to Jupiter, who rules the gods.
Perseus quickly claims Andromeda
as his reward for such a great exploit,
without a dowry. In front of both of them
Hymen and Love hold up the marriage torch,                                      1130
fires are filled with huge amounts of incense,
garlands hang from rooftops, and everywhere                                                     [760]
the melodies resound from lyres, pipes and song,
delightful symbols of a happy heart.
All the golden halls lie open, their doors
thrown back, and the Ethiopian leaders
move to a banquet beautifully prepared
and set before them.

 

                                      When the banquet ends
and they have filled their hearts with wine, a gift
from munificent Bacchus, Perseus,                                                      1140
descendant of Lynceus, asks about
the culture and the people of the place,
their character and habits.(38) One of those
present at the feast answers his questions
and then says:

 

           “And now, most brave Perseus,
I beg you to describe the bravery                                                                        [770]
and skill you used to carry off that head
with snakes for hair.”

 

                                     Agenor’s descendant                                      DAUGHTERS OF PHORCYS
then tells them how there is a cave below
the icy slopes of Atlas, safely tucked                                                   1150
inside its solid mass. In the entrance
dwelt two sisters, daughters of Phorcys,
who had just one eye to share between them.
He had stolen that eye with a deft trick,
by putting out his hand while the sisters
were exchanging it.(39) And then he describes
how he went through distant, hidden places,
hard to reach, and rocks bristling with dense woods,
and reached the Gorgons’ homes, how he had seen
everywhere in fields and roadways the forms                                       1160
of wild beasts and men who, after looking                                                           [780]
at Medusa, had changed from what they were
to stone, how he himself had nonetheless
gazed at dread Medusa’s shape reflected
in the shining shield he held on his left arm,
how, while she and her snakes were sound asleep,
he had sliced through her neck and seized her head,
how Pegasus, the winged, swift-flying horse,
was born from Medusa’s blood—his brother, too.(40)

 

He tells them of the dangers he went through                                        1170
in his long trip (and these were not made up),
the seas and lands he had seen under him
while he was flying up high, and stars he touched
when he spread out his wings. Then he fell silent,
while they were still expecting to hear more.                                                        [790]
One of the leaders there spoke out, asking
why Medusa was the only sister
who had snakes tangled in her locks of hair.
Their guest responded:

 

                                  “Since your question
involves a story well worth telling, listen—                                      1180
here is the answer to what you just asked.
Medusa was once extremely beautiful,                                            MEDUSA’S HAIR
the envious hope of many suitors.
Of all her features, none was lovelier
than her hair. I found a man who told me
he had seen it. People say that Neptune,
who rules the sea, attacked her sexually
in Minerva’s temple, and the daughter
of Jupiter turned away, concealing
her pure face behind her aegis. And then,                                        1190
to make sure the act was not unpunished,                                                       [800]
she changed the Gorgon’s hair to filthy snakes.
And now, to terrify her enemies,
to stun them all with fear, on her breastplate,
in the front, she wears those snakes she made.”(41)

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

(1) Minyas was a ruler of the Boeotians. The rituals in question are those of Bacchus. [Back to Text]

(2) These names and titles are alternatives for the name Bacchus. He is called “fire born” because his mother was destroyed by a lightning bolt from Jupiter, who then removed the infant from her womb. Bacchus is twice born because he was delivered prematurely from his mother, Semele, and came to term sewn up in Jupiter’s thigh. For the same reason he has “two mothers.” See Ovid’s version of the story in Book 3 above. [Back to Text]

(3) Lycurgus was a king of Thrace who opposed the worship of Bacchus. Pentheus did the same in Thebes. For the stories of Pentheus and of the Tyrrhenians, see Book 3 above. [Back to Text]

(4) Bacchantes were the followers of Bacchus. Satyrs in Greek mythology were male companions of Dionysus (Bacchus), associated with wine, pipes, and sexual pleasure in the woods. Silenus was one of the main companions of Bacchus and his tutor. His name is not given in the Latin text, but the description seems clearly to indicate who is being referred to. [Back to Text]

(5) The word Ismenian, from the name of a river, is another name for Theban.  [Back to Text]

(6) Dercetis was a near Eastern goddess, supposedly half fish. Her daughter Semiramis, a legendary Eastern queen, very early in her life lived among doves. The name of the first sister to tell a story is Arsippe. Ovid does not mention her name here. [Back to Text]

(7) The city in the story is Babylon. [Back to Text]

(8) Cytherea is another name for Venus, derived from an island off the Peloponnese, where she first came ashore when she rose from the sea. [Back to Text]

(9) Here Ovid is identifying the sun with the Greek god, the Titan Helios, son of Hyperion, rather than, as earlier (in Book 2, for example), with Apollo. [Back to Text]

(10) Rhodos was a daughter of Neptune. Circe’s mother was Persa, daughter of Oceanus. Aeaea is a region in Colchis. Clymene, as we see in Book 1, is the mother of Phaëton. [Back to Text]

(11) Eurynome was the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. The perfume-making races are those living in regions of Arabia. Achaemenia is another name for Persia, derived from the name of one of its kings. Belus was, according to legend, the original king. [Back to Text]

(12) The details of this person are unknown. [Back to Text]

(13) Celmis was an infant friend of Jupiter’s. Juno changed him into stone. The Curetes were attendants on Rhea, Jupiter’s mother. Crocus and Smilax were mortal lovers changed into flowers. [Back to Text]

(14) The Greek names for the parents are necessary here in order to understand the derivation of the boy’s name. Ovid calls the father Mercury and the mother the Cytherean (which does not clarify the origin of the name). At this stage Ovid does not provide the boy’s name, but it appears later in the story. Ida was a mountain near Troy. [Back to Text]

(15) Lycia and Caria are regions in Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

(16) Riley observes that during an eclipse of the moon, people often made noises with various instruments to counter the spells of witches and magicians who were, it was supposed, removing the moon from her proper sphere. These efforts are “in vain” because in a full eclipse the moon does momentarily disappear. I have added the phrase “during an eclipse” to make the reference somewhat clearer. [Back to Text]

(17) Hermaphroditus’ father was Hermes (Mercury), whose mother, Maia, was a daughter of the Titan Atlas. [Back to Text]

(18) In Latin the word for bat is vespertilio. I have added the word here and the English word bat, to clarify the etymological connection in the English text. [Back to Text]
 
(19) Ino, daughter of Cadmus, had three sisters: Semele was destroyed by a lightning bolt from Jupiter, Agave helped rip her son, Pentheus, to pieces in a Bacchic frenzy, and Autonoe’s son, Actaeon, was turned into a stag and torn apart by his own hunting dogs. In Ovid’s treatment of these stories, the divine cause of them is Juno’s anger at the family of Cadmus (for Jupiter's adultery with Europa and later with Semele). [Back to Text]

(20) Ino helped raise the infant Bacchus. [Back to Text]

(21) The “slut” in question is Semele, the mother of Bacchus, who had an affair with Jupiter (and hence does not rank very high with Juno). [Back to Text]

(22) Dis is another name for the god of the dead, who is usually called Pluto or Hades, and for his city in the Underworld. [Back to Text]

(23) The lines about punishment (line 446 in the Latin) are sometimes omitted. [Back to Text]

(24) Cerberus, the dog guarding Hades, had three heads. [Back to Text]

(25) These three sisters, children of Night, are the Furies, the ancient goddess of blood revenge, especially within the family. [Back to Text]

(26) This is a short catalogue of the best-known names of those punished in Hades. Tityos, a son of Jupiter and a creature of enormous size, attempted to rape Latona and was killed by Apollo. In Hades his liver was constantly devoured by a vulture and kept growing back. Tantalus, another son of Jupiter, offended the gods (different accounts give different reasons) and was punished by being unable to drink the water from the pool in which he was standing or eat the fruit in a tree overhead. Sisyphus was punished for various crimes. He had to push a large rock uphill, but just as he was about to reach the top, the rock rolled down again. Ixion attempted to seduce Juno and was tied to a wheel which kept him revolving. The granddaughters of Belus (a king of Egypt) are the daughters of Danaus (the Danaïds), who killed their husbands (who were also their cousins) on their wedding night. They were condemned to spending all their time filling jars from which the water quickly leaked out. [Back to Text]

(27) Sisyphus and Athamas (Ino’s husband) were both sons of Aeolus, god of the winds. [Back to Text]

(28) Echidna was the wife of the monster Typhoëus and the mother of a number of important mythological monsters (the Chimaera, Sphinx, Lernaean Hydra, Cerberus, and others). [Back to Text]

(29) “Evoe!” is a cry uttered by those celebrating a Bacchic ritual. [Back to Text]

(30) Venus is the mother of Harmonia, Ino’s mother. [Back to Text]

(31) For Ovid’s account of Cadmus and the serpent see 3.40 ff. [Back to Text]

(32) Acrisius was the son of Abas, king of Argos. [Back to Text]

(33) Danaë was the daughter of Acrisus. Jupiter, in the form of a shower of gold, had sex with her and Perseus was the result of their union (as Perseus reveals in a speech later in this book). [Back to Text]

(34) The Gorgons were three monstrous sisters whose gaze could turn people to stone. In some accounts two of them were immortal; the third, Medusa, was not. Perseus is carrying Medusa’s head. [Back to Text]

(35) Atlas kept the heavens and earth apart by bearing the weight of heaven on his shoulders. [Back to Text]

(36) Aeolus is god of the winds. Aetna is an active volcano in Sicily. Lucifer “rouses men for work” because he is the morning star who announces the coming of Dawn. [Back to Text]

(37) Jupiter was worshipped in Libya (under the name Jupiter Ammon), where there was a famous temple and oracle dedicated to him. Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus, the ruler of the region. Her mother, Cassiope, had boasted about her own beauty, comparing it to the Nereïds (nymphs of the sea, daughters of Nereus). The Nereïds had asked Neptune for a sea monster to attack the Ethiopians, and the oracle had declared that, to avert disaster, Andromeda had to be sacrificed to the monster. So she was tied to a rock washed by the sea (where the monster could attack her). [Back to Text]

(38) Lynceus was the great-grandfather of Danaë, Perseus’ mother. [Back to Text]
 
(39) During the exchange the sisters could not see, so that the one passing the eye mistook Perseus’ hand for her sister’s. [Back to Text]

(40) The brother of Pegasus was Chrysaor, sometimes depicted as a young man, sometimes as a flying beast or monster. [Back to Text]

 

(41) When Minerva goes into battle, the Gorgon’s head is painted on her armour or shield. [Back to Text]

 

 

[Link to Metamorphoses, Book 5]

 

[Link to Metamorphoses, Table of Contents]