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.]




[Phineus interrupts Perseus’ wedding feast; an armed conflict ensues; Perseus holds up Me-dusa’s head and turns his enemies to stone, including Phineus; Perseus overcomes Proetus and Polydectes in the same way; Minerva visits the Muses on Mount Helicon; Urania talks of Pyreneus’ madness and tells Minerva about the singing contest with the daughters of Pierus: how those daughters sang about the war of the Giants and the cowardice of the Olympians; Urania tells Minerva of Calliope’s song about the Rape of Proserpine: how Venus instructed Cupid to shoot an arrow at Pluto, how Pluto abducted Proserpine, how Cyane tried to stop Pluto and was transformed; how Ceres searched for her daughter and, during her travels, changed a boy into a small lizard, how Cyane showed Ceres Proserpine’s belt, how Ceres took revenge against all Sicily, how Arethusa appealed to Ceres and told her where Proserpine was, how Ceres complained to Jupiter, how Jupiter mediated the dispute, how Proserpine ate the seeds which kept her part of the year in the Underworld, how the Sirens became birds, how Arethusa became a sacred pool, how Ceres sent Triptolemus to Asia with harvest seed, how Lyncus was changed into a lynx; the Muses are declared winners of the contest; Pierus’ daughters are changed to magpies.]


While the heroic son of Danaë                                                             PERSEUS AND PHINEUS
was talking about these things in the midst
of feasting with the Ethiopians,
a noisy crowd filled the royal palace.
The sound they made was not the merriment
of a wedding feast but one announcing
armed confrontation. The celebration
instantly became a heated quarrel.
You could compare it to a tranquil sea
when the harsh fury of the winds whips up                                           10
its moving waters. In this raucous group,
first and foremost was Phineus, the man
who had recklessly begun the conflict.
Brandishing an ash spear with a bronze point,
he cried:


“Look here! Over here! I have come                                                             [10]
to avenge my stolen bride! Those wings of yours
won’t help you get away from me—nor will
Jupiter, even if he is transformed
into showers of false gold.”(1)


                                          As Phineus
was about to hurl his spear, Cepheus                                                  20
shouted at him:


                        “Brother, what are you doing?
What foolishness has made you so enraged
and driven you to this illegal act?
Is this the gratitude a person shows
for such great service? Is this your reward
for the one who saved her life? If you want
to know the truth, it was not Perseus
who took her from you, no, but the stern god
of the nereïds, with that horned Ammon,
Jupiter, and the monster from the sea,                                            30
who came to glut itself on my own child.
That was the moment she was snatched from you,
when she was going to die—unless that
is just the thing you want, you cruel man,                                                        [20]
that she should die, so you can ease your heart
to see me grieving. It’s not sufficient,
I suppose, that when she was bound in chains
you just looked on and were no help at all,
and yet you were her uncle and the one
she was to marry! And, besides all this,                                          40
are you upset because she was set free
by someone else? Will you now take away
his prize? If that reward appears to you
so valuable, you should have sought her out
among those rocks where she was held in chains.
Let the man who did step up to save her,
who spared me an old age without a child,
take what he was promised for his efforts.
Understand this: we did not value him
more than you, but we thought him preferable                                50
to certain death.”


                                     Phineus said nothing
in reply, but kept looking back and forth                                                             [30]
at Cepheus and Perseus, unsure
which of the two he should aim his spear at.
After pausing for a moment, he hurled it,
with all the power his anger gave him,
at Perseus. But the throw was wasted.
The spear stuck in a cushion. Perseus
then jumped up from where he was reclining
and, in a fury, threw the spear right back                                             60
and would have skewered his enemy’s chest,
if Phineus had not ducked for refuge
behind the altars which (to his great shame)
offered the miserable wretch a shelter.
But the spear point did not miss, for it struck
Rhoetus in the forehead. The man collapsed.
As the iron was pulled out from the bone,
he kept on kicking and spraying his blood                                                           [40]
on fully laden tables.


                                                At that point,
the crowd could not control its blazing rage.                                        70
They threw their weapons. There were people there                            THE BATTLE IN THE HALL
who said Cepheus and his son-in-law
deserved to die. But Cepheus by now
had left, moving past the palace doorway,
calling on Trust and Justice and the gods
of hospitality as witnesses
that he had given orders to prevent
what was going on. Warlike Pallas came
to protect her brother with her aegis
and give him courage.(2)


                       There was a young man                                                80
from India called Athis. People claim
Limnace, child of the Ganges river,
gave birth to him in its glassy waters.
At just sixteen years of age, his beauty
was outstanding, and he added to it                                                                    [50]
with expensive clothing. He wore a cloak
of Tyrian purple edged with gold, chains
of gold around his neck, and a curved band
in his perfumed hair. He was an expert
with a javelin, who could throw and hit                                                90
his target, no matter how far distant,
but his ability to shoot a bow
was even greater still. At that moment,
his hands were flexing the supple horn tips
on his bow, but then Perseus struck him
with a log smouldering on the altar,
crushing his face into his fractured skull.


When the Assyrian Lycabas, who was
Athis’ dearest friend and who did not hide                                                          [60]
his genuine love, saw him with his face,                                                100
which people praised so much, rolling in blood,
while he breathed out his life through that harsh wound,
he wept for his companion as he snatched up
the bow Athis had prepared and shouted:


“Now your quarrel is with me! You will not
rejoice for long over a young boy’s death,
an act which brings you more disgrace than praise.”


Before he had finished saying these words,
he launched a pointed arrow from his bowstring.
Perseus dodged, and the arrow hung up                                              110
in a fold in Perseus’ clothing.
Acrisius’ grandson turned against him
that curved sword already tried and tested
when he killed Medusa and buried it                                                                   [70]
deep inside his chest. Now in his death throes,
Lycabas, eyes swimming in dark night,
looked round at Athis, fell down beside him,
and carried to the shadows of the dead
the solace that they had died together.


Then Phorbas from Syene, Metion’s son,                                            120
and Libyan Amphimedon, eager
to join in the fighting, slipped on the blood
warming up the well-drenched earth around them.(3)
They fell down. As they struggled to get up,
Perseus’ sword stopped them, striking Phorbas
in the neck, and Amphimedon in the ribs.
Perseus did not use his sword to fight
Erytus, son of Actor, whose weapon                                                                   [80]
was a double axe. Instead, in both hands
he hoisted up an enormous mixing bowl                                              130
with many carved designs in high relief
and very heavy and brought it crashing down
on the man’s head. Erytus vomited
red blood and, lying on his back, his head
kept hammering the ground, as he lay dying.
Perseus slaughtered Polydaemon, born
from blood of Semiramis, Abaris
from Caucasus, Lycetus, who came from
lands beside the Spercheus, Helices
with flowing hair, Clytus and Phlegyas.                                                140
Perseus trampled on the heaped-up piles
of dying men.(4)


                             Phineus, not daring
to challenge his enemy hand to hand,
threw a spear which by mistake hit Idas,                                                             [90]
who was trying to stay out of the fight
and not help either side, without success.
Glaring angrily at frenzied Phineus
he said:


        “Since you compel me to choose sides,
Phineus, you should acknowledge the enemy
you made, and compensate me for this wound                                150
with an injury of your own.”


                                                        On the point
of throwing back the spear he had now pulled
out of his body, he collapsed and died.
His limbs were drained of blood.


                                            Then Hodites,
the most important noble in the country
after king Cepheus, died on the sword
of Clymenus, Hypseus killed Prothoënor,
and Perseus then cut down Hypseus.


With them was an older man, Emathion,                                                              [100]
who believed in justice and feared the gods.                                        160
Since his great age kept him out of combat,
he battled on with words, moving forward
and denouncing these criminal attacks.
As his trembling hands clung to the altar,
Chromius swung his sword and sliced his head off.
It fell straight down, right on the altar,
where the tongue, still half alive, kept speaking
words of condemnation. Then its spirit,
in the middle of the fire, breathed its last.(5)


The two brothers Broteas and Ammon,                                               170
who were invincible in boxing, fell
at the hand of Phineus (if only
their boxing gloves could have defeated swords!),
along with Ampycus, priest of Ceres,
who wore white ribbons around his forehead,                                                     [110]
and you, too, Lampetides, who should not
have been invited to participate
in such a battle, for you were a man
who did peaceful work, chanting melodies
and playing the lyre. You had been ordered                                         180
to attend, bringing music to the feast
and celebration. Pedasus mocked you,
standing there with your unwarlike plectrum.
He cried out:


                          “Go sing all your other songs
to Stygian shades!”


                      Then he drove his sword
in your left temple. You, Lampetides,
collapsed and, with your dying fingers, tried
to pluck your lyre strings once more and played,
as you sank down, a mournful tune. That death
ferocious Lycormas would not permit                                                  190
to go unpunished. From the right doorpost                                                          [120]
he seized a heavy bar and brought it down
on Pedasus, shattering the middle
of his bony neck. He dropped to the ground,
like a bull at some ritual sacrifice.
Pelates, who lived by the river Cinyps,
went to pull a bar out of the doorpost
on his left, but as he tried to do this,
a spear from Marmarican Corythus
pierced his right hand and pinned it to the wood.(6)                              200
While he was impaled there, Abas struck him
in the side. Pelates did not fall down,
but, as he died, was held up by his hand,
and hung there on the post. And Melaneus,
one of those who supported Perseus,
was also butchered, as was Dorylas,
owner of the wealthiest properties
in Nasamonia—so rich in land,                                                                            [130]
no other man had such extensive fields
or harvested so many heaped-up spices.(7)                                          210
A spear thrown from the side stuck in his groin,
a fatal wound. When Halcyoneus
from Bactria, the one who’d thrown the spear,
saw Dorylas rolling his eyes, panting
his last breath, he shouted:


                                               “Of all your lands
keep this small patch of earth on which you lie!”(8)


He left the bloodless corpse. But Perseus,
avenging heir of Abas, pulled the spear
from the hot wound and threw it back again
at Halcyoneus. It hit his face                                                                220
in the middle of his nose, kept moving,
drove through his neck, and stuck out on both sides.


Fortune kept his hand strong, and Perseus
slaughtered in different ways two men born                                                         [140]
from the same mother—Clytius and Clanis.
For an ash spear hurled with his strong arm drove
through both thighs of Clytius, and Clanis
bit down on a spear head driven in his mouth.
Mendesian Celadon was also killed,
and Astreus fell (his mother came from                                                230
Palestine, his father was uncertain).(9)
Once skilled in prophesying the future,
Aethion was on this occasion tricked
by a false omen. Thoactes perished,
amour bearer to the king, and so did
Agyrtes, who was disgraced for killing
his own father.


                              Perseus was weary,
but he had more enemies to deal with,
every one determined to cut him down.                                                               [150]
Around him armed groups of conspirators                                           240
were fighting on, in a cause attacking
his own merit and good faith. On his side,
his father-in-law gave loyal support,
but that had no effect, and his new wife
and mother filled the hall with their laments.
But the clash of weapons and dying groans
of fallen men drowned out their cries of grief.
The war goddess Bellona, all the while,
drenched the polluted household gods with blood
and stirred up further conflict.(10)


                                                         Phineus                                       250
and the thousand men still fighting at his side
encircle Perseus, all by himself.
Thicker than winter hail, the spears fly by
on either side of him, past eyes and ears.
He sets his shoulders hard against a pillar,                                                           [160]
a large one made of stone, and with his back
protected turns against the hostile throng
and holds them off. On his left, Molpeus,
a Chaonian, moved up to attack,
and on his right Ethemon from Nabataea.(11)                                       260
Just as a tiger driven by hunger
hears lowing noises from two cattle herds
in different valleys and has no idea
which way it would prefer to charge ahead
(it even wants to rush both herds at once),
so Perseus pauses. Should he take on
the person to his right or to his left?
He drives off Molpeus, striking a blow
that penetrates his leg and is content
to see him go, for Ethemon gives him                                                   270
no time to pause, but charges in a rage,
eager to wound him high up on his neck,                                                             [170]
slashes at him with reckless violence,
hits the pillar along its outer edge,
and breaks apart his sword. The blade flies off
and sticks in its owner’s throat. But the blow
is not severe enough to bring on death.
Ethemon trembles and holds out his hands
which hold no weapon, but in vain. Perseus
stabs him with his curved Cyllenian sword.(12)                                     280


But when Perseus saw the sheer numbers                                            PERSEUS AND MEDUSA’S HEAD
would overwhelm his courage, he shouted:


“Since you yourselves are forcing me to it,
I’ll seek help from my enemy. So if
anyone here is still a friend of mine,
turn away your face.”


                                  He said this and pulled out                                                 [180]
the Gorgon’s head. Thesculus shouted back:


“Find other men on whom your miracles
might have some effect!”


                              With that, Thesculus
bent his arm to hurl his deadly javelin.                                                 290
But he was frozen in the very act,
like a marble statue. And then Ampyx,
who was standing right next to Thesculus,
thrust out his sword at Perseus’ heart,
so filled with his indomitable courage,
but as he did so, his right hand stiffened.
It would not move at all, back or forward.
Then Nileus, who used to falsely claim
he was descended from the river Nile,
with its seven mouths, and who also had                                             300
its seven branches etched into his shield,
some parts in silver, some in gold, cried out:


“Look, Perseus! Gaze on the origin                                                               [190]
of my race. You will take to silent shades
this consolation for your death—the fact
that you were killed by such a noble man.”


In the last part of his speech, his voice stopped,
choking on its words. You could well believe
his open mouth wanted to keep speaking,
but the words lacked any way of getting out.                                       310
Eryx criticized the men and shouted:


“Your own cowardice has paralyzed you,
not the Gorgon’s force. Join me and attack!
Knock this young man waving magic weapons
down to the ground!”


                                              He was about to charge,
but the ground stopped him in his tracks. He stood,
immobile, and remained there, an armed man,
but now an image made of stone.


                                                        These men
received the punishment they well deserved,                                                       [200]
but there was a man named Aconteus,                                                320
a warrior supporting Perseus,
who, while battling there on his behalf, glimpsed
the Gorgon’s face, froze, and was turned to stone.
Thinking he was still alive, Astyages
swung his sword and slashed him. The steel rang out
with a noisy clang. While Astyages stood
dumfounded, his nature was transformed as well,
in the same way. The amazed expression
still sat there on his marble face.


                                                             To list
the names of the common folk who perished                                       330
would take too long: two hundred men survived
the fight, two hundred bodies turned to stone,
once they saw the Gorgon’s head. Phineus
finally regrets the unjust quarrel.                                                                          [210]
But what is he to do? He sees the statues
in various attitudes, recognizes
his own friends, calls them by name, asks their help,
and in disbelief touches the bodies
next to him—all marble. He turns aside
and, confessing what he’s done, lifts his hands                                     340
like a suppliant, holds out both his arms,
and says:


                                 “You win, Perseus! Put away
your monster, that face of yours which changes
men to stone. Get rid of that Medusa,
whoever she may be. I’m begging you—
get rid of her! I was not pushed to fight
out of hatred or a desire to rule.
I reached for weapons to get back my wife.
Your suit had greater merit, but my claim                                                       [220]
had precedence. So I am not ashamed                                           350
to yield. Bravest of men, give me nothing
except my life. Let all the rest be yours.”


As Phineus said this, he did not dare                                                    PHINEUS IS TRANSFORMED
look at the man to whom he was directing
his appeal. Perseus replied:


you most cowardly of men, I will give
what I can, a great reward for someone
who is so timid. Do not be afraid.
I will not hurt you with my sword. What’s more,
I’ll even give you a memorial                                                          360
to last forever, and in the palace
of my father-in-law you will be seen
all the time, so my wife can find relief
in the image of the man she was to wed.”


Perseus spoke and then shifted the head                                                             [230]
of Phorcys’ daughter over to the spot
where Phineus had turned his frightened face.
He tried to avert his gaze, but his neck
grew rigid, and the liquid in his eyes
hardened into stone. But in that marble                                                370
his timid look and supplicating face
remained, as well as his submissive hands
and abject stance.


                           Victorious Perseus
enters Argos, his ancestral city,
with his wife. To protect his grandfather,                                              PROETUS AND POLYDECTES
Acrisius, and avenge him (even though
he does not deserve his help) he attacks
Proetus, who has launched an armed assault
against Acrisius, who is his brother,
put him to flight, and taken possession                                                 380
of his citadel. But neither his weapons                                                                 [240]
nor the fortress he unjustly captured
help him prevail against the glaring eyes
of the snake-haired monster.


                                  But Polydectes,
king of tiny Seriphos, you remain
obdurate, for all the young man’s courage,
which his numerous exploits have confirmed,
and his suffering. You nurse your hatred,
harsh and unrelenting, and do not check
your unjust anger. You even ridicule                                                    390
the praises he receives when you insist
his claim he killed Medusa is quite false.
Perseus says:


                                 “I will provide you proof
of what is true. All others, hide your eyes!”


And with Medusa’s head, he then transforms
king Polydectes’ face to bloodless stone.


Up to now, Tritonian Minerva                                                                             [250]
had accompanied her brother conceived                                             MINERVA AND THE MUSES
in a shower of gold. But now, enclosed
in a hollow cloud, she left Seriphos,                                                     400
and moving past Cythnus and Gyarus
on her right, took what seemed the shortest route
across the sea, making her way to Thebes
and to Mount Helicon, the Muses’ home.(13)
Once she reached the mountain, she halted there
and addressed the learned sisters, saying:


“The fame of a new spring has reached our ears.
It gushed out when struck by the solid hoof
of that winged Pegasus, Medusa’s child.
That is the reason for my journey here.                                           410
I wish to see this amazing fountain.
I myself saw Pegasus when he sprang
from his mother’s blood.”


                                        Urania answered: (14)


“Goddess, whatever reason you may have                                                     [260]
for visiting our home, we are most grateful.
Yes, that report is true. Pegasus is
the origin of that fountain.”


                                                                 She led
the goddess to the sacred stream. For some time
Minerva stood marvelling at the spring
produced by a blow from the horse’s hoof.                                         420
She gazed around at stands of ancient trees,
caves, and grass adorned with countless flowers.
She commended Mnemosyne’s daughters
for their good fortune having such a place
and, equally, for the fine work they did.
One of the sisters answered with these words:


“Tritonian Pallas, if your own courage
had not carried you to greater actions,
you would have been one of our company.                                                    [270]
What you say is true. You are right to praise                                   430
our arts and home. We have a happy lot,
if only it were safe. But there’s no end
to what wicked men may do, and all things
bring fear to virgin minds. Before my eyes                                       PYRENEUS AND THE MUSES
spins dreadful Pyreneus, and my mind,
even now, has not been totally restored.
That ferocious man had captured Daulis
and Phocian lands with his men from Thrace
and imposed his unjust rule on places
he now held. We were going to the shrine                                       440
at Mount Parnassus. As we were passing
in the rain, he saw us there, and knowing
who we were, his face put on a false look
of reverence for our sacred presences,
and he said:


                  ‘Daughters of Mnemosyne,                                                     [280]
stop here. Do not hesitate, I beg you,
to shelter from the storm and heavy rain
under my roof. Gods above have often
gone in more humble dwellings.’


by his words and by the rain, we agreed                                         450
and went in the front part of his palace.
The storm ended, and the clouds were flying
from the sky, once North Wind overpowered
winds from the south and darkness moved away.
We wished to leave, but then Pyreneus
locked up his home and was getting ready
to turn violent. We escaped the place
by taking to our wings. He stood high up,
on the top part of his fortress, as if
he was about to follow us, and cried:                                              460


‘Whatever road you take, the selfsame road                                             [290]
will be the one I use.’


                               Then, in his madness,
he threw himself from the very summit
of the tower and fell down on his face,
fracturing his skull. As he lay dying,
he beat the ground stained with his profane blood.”


While the Muse said this, in the air they heard                                      PIERUS’ DAUGHTERS
the sound of wings, and voices greeted them
from branches high up in a tree. Minerva
looked up to discover where those voices                                           470
were coming from. The talk was so distinct,
she thought a man was speaking. They were birds,
nine magpies, who can copy any sound.
Perched in the foliage, they were moaning
about their fate. Minerva was surprised,
so Urania explained:


                             “These creatures                                                               [300]
recently were beaten in a contest
and were included in the flocks of birds.
Pierus was their father, a wealthy man
with great estates in Pella. Their mother,                                         480
from Paeonia, was called Evippe.
She cried out to powerful Lucina
nine times, for she was nine times in labour. (15)
This group of foolish sisters took great pride
in their number and, when they reached this place,
after journeying through many cities
in Haemonia and Achaea, they launched
a war of words and made the following boast:


‘You Thespian goddesses have to stop
deceiving the stupid common masses                                         490
with your sweet, vain songs, and, if you have faith
in your own skill, you should compete with us. (16)
We will not be outmatched in voice or art,                                                [310]
and our numbers equal yours. If you lose,
you will hand over that spring created
by Medusa’s child and Aganippe
in Boeotia. If you win, we will leave
the Emathian plains and move away
as far as snowy Macedon. Let nymphs
be judges in our competition.’ (17)


                                                  It’s true                                        500
that entering a contest with those sisters
was demeaning, but it seemed even worse
to refuse the challenge. Nymphs were chosen.
They swore by their rivers they would be fair
and then sat down on seats of natural rock.
We did not draw lots. The one who had first
proposed the contest sang about the wars
fought by gods above. She gave false honours
to the Giants and debased the actions                                                            [320]
of the mighty gods. (18) She went on to sing                                   510
how Typhoëus came out of his den
deep down inside the earth and terrorized                                      TYPHOËUS AND THE GODS
those who lived in heaven, how all the gods
turned tail and fled and tired themselves out,
until the land of Egypt and the Nile
with its seven separate mouths took them in.
She sang how Typhoëus had then come
to that land as well and how the gods above
took on deceiving shapes to hide from him,
claiming that Jupiter became a ram,                                                 520
the leader of the flock (that’s why, she said,
Ammon, even today, is depicted
with curved horns). Apollo disguised himself
as a crow, Semele’s son as a goat,
Phoebus’ sister, Diana, as a cat,                                                                     [330]
Saturn’s daughter, Juno, as a white cow,
Venus as a fish, and the Cyllenian god,
Mercury, as an ibis bearing wings. She sang
as far as this, playing her cithara.
Then we were called upon for our response.                                   530
But perhaps you have no time at present
and are not free to listen to our songs.”


Pallas said:


                            “Do not stop. Repeat for me
your songs in the order you performed them.”


With that, Minerva sat down in the shade
of a pleasant grove. The Muse continued:


“We gave the task of representing us                                              CALLIOPE’S STORY
in that challenge match to Calliope. (19)
She got up, with an ivy wreath around
her flowing hair. With her thumb she tested                                     540
the plaintive strings. Then she sang this story,                                                 [340]
striking chords to accompany her song:


‘Ceres was the first to break up fertile ground
with a curved plough, the first to give earth crops
and wholesome food, the first to give us laws.
All things are gifts from Ceres, and Ceres
is the subject of my story. If only
I could sing something worthy of the goddess,
for she is surely worthy of a song.
The huge island of Sicily is piled                                                550
above a Giant’s limbs. Its immense mass                                   SICILY
keeps Typhoëus buried underground,
the one who was so bold he set his sights
upon the realm of heaven. True, he tries
to struggle and often fights to rise again,
but his right arm is pinned down underneath                                              [350]
Ausonian Pelorus, and you, Pachynus,
hold down his left. Lilybaeum pushes
on his legs, and Aetna presses down his head. (20)
Below it Typhoëus, flat on his back,                                          560
hurls ash from his fierce mouth and vomits fire.
He shifts around, trying to cast aside
that weight of earth, to roll the mighty hills
and cities off his body. Then Earth shakes.
Then even the king of the silent world
is afraid the ground might open up, split
in a wide crack, and daylight might come in
to scare the trembling shadows of the dead.
Fearing such a great disaster, Pluto                                           PLUTO, VENUS, AND CUPID
had left his shadowy dwelling place and,                                    570
riding in a chariot with black horses,                                                         [360]
was carefully circling the foundations
of Sicilian lands. After checking these
and satisfying himself that no regions
were unstable, he set aside his fears.
As he moved around, Venus of Eryx
sitting on her mountain, noticed Pluto.(21)
Embracing her winged son, she said:


my son, my weapon, my hands, my power—
take those arrows you use to overwhelm                              580
all beings, and shoot your swift-flying dart
into the heart of Pluto, whose lot won
the last of the three kingdoms.(22) Your great might
conquers gods above, even Jupiter,
and makes them your subjects, gods of the sea,
as well, and the one who rules them all.                                                [370]
Why leave out Tartarus? Why should you not
expand your mother’s kingdom and your own?
The stakes are high—a third part of the world!
I patiently endure the way we’re scorned,                             590
especially in heaven. Love’s power
is on the wane, together with my own.
Do you not see how huntress Diana
has abandoned me, along with Pallas, too?
And if we allow it, that child of Ceres
will stay a virgin, too. She wants to live
like those two others. But if the kingdom
we both share in common gives you pleasure,
then make that goddess and her uncle one.’(23)


Venus spoke. Cupid opened his quiver,                                     600           [380]
as his mother had instructed, and picked
a single arrow from the thousand there.
None of the other arrows was as sharp
and accurate, or truer to the bow.
He bent the supple tips against his knee,
and his barbed arrow struck Dis in the heart.


Not far from Henna’s walls lies a deep lake                               PLUTO AND PROSERPINE
named Pergus. Music from its swans matches
songs Caÿster hears on his gliding stream. (24)
A wood surrounds the lake, enclosing it                                    610
on every side. Its leaves act as a shield
and ward off rays from Phoebus, the branches
cool the place, and the moist earth produces                                             [390]
purple flowers. By that pool the season
is an eternal spring. While Proserpine
was playing in this wood, picking violets
and shining lilies, and, like a young girl,
was keen to fill her baskets and her lap,
trying to gather more than anyone
of her own age, Pluto caught sight of her                                   620
and, in almost the same instant, loved her
and carried her away—that’s how rapid
love can be. The frightened goddess shouted
cries of grief to her mother and her friends,
mostly to her mother. She tore her robe
along its upper edge, and the flowers
she had gathered fell from her loosened clothes.
Prosperine was so innocent and young,                                                     [400]
that this loss also brought out virgin tears.
Her abductor drove the chariot ahead,                                      630
urging on his horses, calling each of them
by name, shaking his dark, rust-coloured reins
over their manes and necks, and charging on
through deep lakes and stinking sulphurous pools
of the Palici, which come boiling up
from a fissure in the earth, past the place
where the Bacchiadae, those people born
in Corinth, beside two seas, had laid out
their city with two very different harbours. (25)


Halfway between Pisaean Arethusa                                           640
and Cyane there is an enclosed bay                                                          [410]
shut in by narrow headlands. Here there lived
the most famous nymph in all of Sicily,                                       CYANE AND PLUTO
Cyane. From her that stretch of water
took its name. In the middle of the pool
she rose and showed herself down to the waist,
and, recognizing who the goddess was,
called out to Dis:


                         ‘You will go no further!
You cannot be son-in-law to Ceres
against her will. You should have asked the girl,                   650
not carried her away. If I may compare
small things with great, I, too, had a lover,
Anapis, and married him. But he won me
with his entreaties. I was not frightened
into marriage, like this girl.’


                                              Cyane spoke.
Then she held out her arms on either side
to block his way. Pluto could scarcely hold
his rage. He drove his dreaded horses on,                                                 [420]
and his strong arm hurled his royal sceptre,
which sank down to the bottom of the pool.                              660
Stuck by the blow, Earth opened up a path
to Tartarus. The chariot hurtled down
right through the middle of the gaping hole.


But Cyane, mourning the abduction
of the goddess and the disrespect shown
for the rights of her own waters, carries
in her silent heart a wound and cannot
be consoled. She pines away completely
and melts into those streams where earlier
she has been a potent holy presence.                                        670
You can see her arms and legs get softer,
bones grow flexible, nails lose their strength.                                             [430]
First, from her whole body the slenderest parts
dissolve—her dark hair, fingers, legs, and feet
(for it is no great change to turn thin limbs
to chilly waters). Then her shoulders, back,
sides, and chest all vanish, flowing away
in light amorphous streams. And finally,
in her collapsing veins pure water moves
instead of living blood. Nothing remains                                    680
which you can grasp.


                        Meanwhile, the girl’s mother,                             CERES’ SEARCH
Ceres, fearing for her daughter, searches
every land and every sea. When the dawn,
Aurora, with her dew-drenched hair, arises                                               [440]
or Hesperus, the Evening Star, appears,
they do not find her resting. Her two hands
hold flaming torches she has lit from fires
on Aetna. In her frantic state of mind,
she bears these through the darkness of the night,
and when kind daylight once more dims the stars,                      690
from the time Sun rises till the hour he sets,
she continues searching for her daughter.
Her constant effort made her tired and thirsty,
for she had not wet her lips at any spring.
Then, she caught sight, by chance, of a small hut
with a roof of straw. She knocked at its low door.
An older woman answered. When she saw
the goddess and Ceres had requested
a drink of water, the woman gave her
something sweet. She had made it earlier                                   700            [450]
from roasted barley grain. While Ceres sipped
what she’d been offered, a rude, bold-faced boy
walked up and, in a mocking voice, called her
a greedy woman. Ceres was annoyed,
and, as the boy was talking, threw the drink
made from barley, what was still left of it,
right in his face. His skin soaked up the drink
and then grew spotted. Where his arms had been,
just a moment before, he now had legs.
A tail was added to his altered limbs,                                         710
and his form shrunk down to something tiny,
the size of a small lizard, even less,
without the strength to injure anyone.
The old woman, astonished and in tears,
tried to touch the monster, but it ran off,
seeking a place to hide. Now it carries                                                      [460]
a name—the speckled lizard—which well suits
its debased character and shrunken body
covered with various spots.


                                                  To list those lands
and waters where goddess Ceres wandered                              720
would take too long. She searched the entire world
in vain and then returned to Sicily.
She crossed that island, looking everywhere,                             CERES AND CYANE
and reached Cyane, who would have told her
the whole story, if she had not been changed.
She wanted to, but lacked a mouth and tongue.
She had no organs she could use for speech.
But still, she did provide clear evidence
the mother recognized, by displaying
on the surface of her waters the belt                                          730
Proserpine had worn. It had fallen off,
by accident, into the sacred pool.                                                              [470]
As soon as Ceres saw the belt, she tore
her unkempt hair, her hands beat on her chest,
again and again, as if at last she knew
her daughter had been carried off. As yet,
she did not know where Proserpine might be,
but she condemned all lands, accusing them
of being ungrateful and unworthy
to receive her gift of grain—above all,                                       740
Sicily, where she had found the traces                                        CERES AND SICILY
of her loss. And therefore on that island
her cruel hands break ploughs that turn the soil,
and, in her rage, Ceres condemns to death
farmers and cattle working in the fields,
a similar fate for both. She orders
fields to make the harvest crop a failure.                                                   [480]
She spoils the seed. That land’s fertility,
so famous far and wide throughout the world,
is finished, merely a made-up story.                                           750
Crops are laid waste once their first shoots emerge.
Sometimes excessive sunlight ruins them,
sometimes too much rain. Weather and windstorms
harm them, and hungry birds collect the seeds
scattered here and there. Thorns, thistles, and grass
which no one can control, choke off the grain.


Then from her pool, Arethusa of Elis,                                        CERES AND ARETHUSA
the nymph Alpheus loved, raised up her head,
brushed back the hair dripping on her forehead,
and said to Ceres:(26)


                                ‘Mother of our food                             760
and of that virgin girl you’re searching for
throughout the entire world, you should give up                                    [490]
this endless effort and, though you’re angry,
suspend that rage against your faithful land.
Earth has done nothing to deserve your rage.
She opened to that rape against her will.
I am not praying for my own country.
I came here a stranger. My native land
is Pisa, and I was born in Elis.(27)
I am a foreigner in Sicily.                                                     770
But this soil is pleasing to me, more so
than any other place. This is my home.
This is where I live. Most gentle goddess,
preserve it. Why I abandoned Elis,
then moved through such a huge expanse of sea
and reached Ortygia—I will find a time
more suitable to recount my story,
when you are free of worries and your face                                          [500]
has a more cheerful look.(28) But I came here
when cracked Earth opened up a way for me.                      780
I was borne far below its deepest caves,
and it was here where I first raised my head
and glimpsed the unfamiliar stars.(29) Down there,
while I was gliding on the Stygian stream
below the earth, with my own eyes I saw
Proserpine, your daughter. She was grieving,
that is true, and her face showed signs of fear,
but nonetheless, in that world of shadows,
she was queen, the most important woman,
the powerful consort of that tyrant                                        790
who rules the Underworld!’


                                     When she heard this,
Ceres was stunned, as if turned into stone,
and for a long time seemed to be in shock,                                                [510]
until her intense anguish pushed aside
the weight of her bewilderment. She rushed
in her chariot up to heaven, and there,
face clouded in sorrow, hair dishevelled,
she stood in front of Jupiter and spoke                                      CERES AND JUPITER
in a bitter voice:


                                ‘I have come to you,
Jupiter, to plead for my own offspring                                  800
and for yours, as well. If the child’s mother
finds no favour with you, let the daughter
influence her father and, I beg you,
do not let your care for her be any less
because she was born from me. Lo, my child
has been found, the one I have been seeking
for so long, if you can call it finding
when one is still more certain she’s been lost,
if you call it finding when all one knows
is where she is. I can accept the fact                                     810           [520]
that she has been abducted, provided
he returns her. A man who steals and rapes,
is no fit husband for a child of yours,
even if the girl were not my daughter.’


Jupiter replied:


                             ‘That child is our pledge,
our shared responsibility, yours and mine.
But if you wish to give accurate names
to things, this is not a criminal act.
The truth is that this is love. And Pluto
would not be a son-in-law who shames us,                           820
if you, goddess, would give him your consent.
If Pluto lacked all other qualities,
he would still be great—he is Jove’s brother!(30)
What if he did not lack my qualities
and were not inferior to me at all,
except for the lot he drew?(31) However,
if your desire that those two separate
is so strong, Prosperine may come back here                                       [530]
to heaven, but on one fixed condition—
that her lips have not touched any food down there,              830
for this has been established by the Fates
in their decrees.’


                                     Jupiter had spoken.
Ceres was resolved to save her daughter.
But Fate would not allow it, for the girl
had broken her fast. In her innocence,
while she was in the cultivated garden,
wandering round, she had picked purple fruit
from a bent-over pomegranate tree,
taken seven seeds from its yellow rind
and pressed them in her mouth.(32) Of all those there,                840
only one observed her, Ascalaphus,                                          ASCALAPHUS
who, so people say, was born to Orphne,
not the least-known of the Avernian nymphs,                                            [540]
and her own Acheron, in the dark woods.(33)
He saw her, revealed that she had eaten,
and cruelly prevented her return.
The queen of Erebus, in her dismay,
transformed the one who had informed on her
to an ill-omened bird. Sprinkling his head
with Phlegethon’s waters, she changes it                                    850
into a beak, feathers, and enormous eyes.(34)
With his own shape removed, he is wrapped up
in tawny wings, and his head grows larger.
He finds his nails bent into long talons
and can hardly move the feathers growing
on his sluggish arms. He has now become
a lazy screech owl, that hated bird, which brings
news of approaching grief for mortal men,                                                 [550]
a fateful omen.


                                              Now Ascalaphus
would seem to have deserved his punishment                            860
by telling what he saw, but as for you,                                       THE SIRENS
daughters of Acheloüs, why do you
have feet and feathers of a bird, while still
possessing faces of young virgin girls?
The reason is that you sweet-singing Sirens
were there with Proserpine’s companions
when she was collecting her spring flowers.(35)
After you had searched the whole world for her
and had no success, you began to wish
that you had beating wings to make your way                            870
above the ocean waves, so they could learn
of your anxiety. You found out the gods
agreed, and suddenly you saw your limbs                                                  [560]
were growing yellow feathers. However,
to make sure your songs, born to charm the ear,
and your great vocal gifts would not be lost
if your tongues disappeared, your virgin faces
and human voice remained.


                                              But Jupiter,
to mediate between his grieving sister
and his brother, divides revolving years                                      880
in equal portions. So now the goddess,
Persephone, is common to both realms.(36)
The months she spends with Ceres up above
match those she spends with Pluto down below.
Her face and nature change immediately.
For now the way she looks, which seemed so sad
a moment ago, that even Dis himself
would notice it, is joyful, like the sun,                                                         [570]
which, hidden earlier by clouds of rain,
conquers those clouds and breaks away from them.                   890


Nourishing Ceres, happy that her child
had come back safely, asked Arethusa
why she ran away and why she was now
a sacred spring. The waters grew silent,                                     ARETHUSA AND ALPHEUS
as Arethusa lifted her head up
from the deep pool and her hands wrung water
out of her green hair. Then she spoke of love,
an old tale of the Elean river.


‘I was a nymph, one of a company
inhabiting Achaea. None of them                                          900
was more eager to roam the forest glades,
none was keener to set our hunting nets.
Though I was spirited and never tried                                                  [580]
to become admired for my appearance,
I was called beautiful. But my good looks,
so often praised, were no great joy to me.
Those physical gifts which other young girls
usually delight in made me turn red,
like a country simpleton, and I thought
it wicked to win praises just for that.                                    910
I remember I was on my way back
from the Stymphalian woods and very tired.(37)
It was hot, and hard work had made the heat
just that much worse. But then I reached a stream
flowing without a ripple or a sound.
You could see right to the bottom and count
each small stone in the depths. You would have thought
it hardly moved at all. Silver willows
and poplar trees, nourished by its waters,                                            [590]
provided, all on their own, natural shadows                          920
on its sloping banks. I approached the stream
and, to start with, put my feet in, and then
my legs up to the knees. Not content with that,
I undressed, took my soft clothes and hung them
in a curving willow, and, quite naked,
jumped in the stream. While I struck the water
and drew it to me, gliding around there
in a thousand ways, pushing out my arms
and stretching them, I heard a kind of noise,
a murmur in the middle of the stream                                    930
underneath the surface. I was afraid
and leapt out on the nearest river bank.


‘Where are you running to, Arethusa?’


It was Alpheus calling from his stream.
He spoke to me again in a harsh voice:                                                [600]


‘Why move off so quickly?’


                                              I ran away
just as I was, not wearing any clothes.
I’d left them on the other riverbank.
He was all the keener to chase me down.
He was on fire, and, since I was naked,                               940
I seemed to him much easier to win.
So I fled, and he pursued me wildly,
as doves with trembling wings fly from a hawk,
and as a hawk will chase a trembling dove.
All the way past Orchomenus, Psophis,
and Mount Cyllene I kept on running,
past the ridges of Maenalus, then past
cold Erymanthus and Elis.(38) Alpheus
could not outrun me, but my endurance
did not match his. I could not keep moving                           950            [610]
at that pace for long, but he was able
to continue a long and tiring chase.
Still, I raced on through fields, over mountains
covered in trees, over rocks, too, and crags,
and through places where there was no pathway.
The sun was at my back. I saw long shadows
stretched out before my feet, unless my fear
imagined them, but I was truly scared
of the sound made by his feet. The deep breaths
coming from his panting mouth stirred ribbons                      960
in my hair. Exhausted by the effort
of trying to run away, I cried:


                                                 ‘Help me!
I will be captured! Diana, please help
your armour bearer, whom you often gave
your bow to carry and your quiver, too,                                          [620]
with all its arrows!’


                                The goddess was moved.
She took a thick cloud and threw it round me.
I was shielded by the dark. Alpheus,
the river god, moved around me, searching,
in his confusion, through the hollow fog.                                970
Without being aware of it, he walked twice
right past where the goddess had concealed me,
and twice he called out:


                              ‘O Arethusa!


                                What was I feeling then,
in such desperate straits? What a lamb feels,
perhaps, when it listens to howling wolves
around the high sheep fold, or when a hare
hidden in a thicket sees the muzzles
of the ravenous dogs and does not dare
make a single movement with its body.                                 980
But he did not leave, for he could not see                                             [630]
any further traces of my footprints.
He kept watching the place, eyeing the cloud.
Cold sweat covered my trapped limbs, and dark drops
fell from my whole body. When my foot moved,
a pool collected there, moisture dripped down
from my hair, and faster than I can now
tell you the tale, I changed into a stream.
But then the river god could recognize
the water that he loved. Casting aside                                   990
the human shape he had assumed, he switched
to his own liquid form so he might mix
himself with me. But the Delian goddess,
Diana, split the ground apart. I plunged
through hidden caverns and reached Ortygia.                                       [640]
This place delights me, for it bears the name
of my own goddess.(39) Here I first emerged
into the upper air.’


finished her story here. And so Ceres,
goddess of the fertile fields, then harnessed                                1000
two dragons to her chariot, curbed their mouths
with bits, and moved off through the middle air,
between the earth and heaven. When she reached
Tritonia’s city, Athens, she handed
her light chariot over to Triptolemus.(40)                                    TRIPTOLEMUS AND LYNCUS
She gave him seed and then instructed him
to scatter it, some on untilled soil, some
on lands which, after a long period
of lying fallow, were being restored.
The youth was carried high above the lands                               1010
of Europe and of Asia, and then turned
towards the realm of Scythia, a place
where Lyncus ruled. There Triptolemus
went into the royal palace and stood                                                         [650]
before the king’s own household gods. When asked
where he had come from, why he had come there,
what his name and country were, he answered:


‘My native country is famous Athens,
my name Triptolemus. I did not come
by ship across the seas or overland                                      1020
on foot. For me the unobstructed sky
opened a road. I bring gifts from Ceres.
If you will scatter these on your wide fields,
they will give back bountiful harvest crops
of nourishing food.’


                                                The barbarian king,                    LYNCUS IS TRANSFORMED
Lyncus, was jealous. Wishing to make himself
bringer of such a noble gift, he welcomed
Triptolemus as a guest, but then at night,
when he was sleeping soundly, attacked him
with a sword. As he tried to stab his chest,                                1030
Ceres changed Lyncus to a lynx and told                                                  [660]
the Athenian youth to keep on moving
in her sacred chariot through the air.’


Here Calliope, our finest singer,
ended her song, and the nymphs, with one voice,
declared the goddesses who inhabited
Mount Helicon the winners.(41) Those sisters,
who had lost the contest, yelled out abuse,
so I remarked:


                  ‘Since you all well deserve
a punishment for your challenge to us                                        1040
and now to that offense you add these insults,
and since our patience is not limitless,
we will move to sentence you, following
where our anger leads.’


                                       The Emathian sisters                                EMATHIAN SISTERS ARE TRANSFORMED
laughed and ridiculed our threatening words.
But as they tried to speak and menace us                                                       [670]
by screaming and by brandishing their fists,
they saw feathers growing from their nails
and plumage covering their arms. They looked
at one another and saw their faces                                                  1050
harden into rigid beaks and new birds
being added to the woods. And when they tried
to beat their breasts in grief, their moving arms
lifted them up. They hovered in the air,
as magpies, the gossipers in the trees.
Even now, as birds, that love of talking
they had before remains, their harsh chatter
and their inordinate desire to speak.”





(1) Phineus is the brother of Cepheus, king of the Ethiopians and now Perseus’ father-in-law. The mention of “false gold” is a reference to Jupiter’s seduction of Danaë, the mother of Perseus, in which Jupiter transformed himself into a shower of gold. [Back to Text]

(2) Minerva and Perseus are both children of Jupiter. [Back to Text]

(3) Syene is a city on the edge of Ethiopia. [Back to Text]

(4) Spercheus is a river in Thessaly in northern Greece. [Back to Text]

(5) The altar would have a fire burning on it. [Back to Text]

(6) Cinyps is the name of a river in northern Africa. Marmarica is a reference to Africa. [Back to Text]

(7) Nasamonia is region of Libya, in northern Africa. [Back to Text]

(8) Bactria is a country bordering India on the west. [Back to Text]

(9) Mendes is a city in Egypt, near the mouth of the Nile. [Back to Text]

(10) Bellona is a sister of Mars, god of war. [Back to Text]

(11) Chaonia is region in north-west Greece. Nabataea is a region in Arabia. [Back to Text]

(12) Perseus’ sword was a gift from the god Mercury, who was born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. The sword is curved, like a scimitar. [Back to Text]

(13) The Muses, the divine patronesses of the arts and sciences, are the daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne. There are nine of them. Cynthus is a mountain on Delos, Seriphos and Gyarus islands in the Cyclades group. [Back to Text]

(14) Urania, one of the nine Muses, is the patron of astronomy. [Back to Text]

(15) Lucina was the goddess of childbirth. [Back to Text]

(16) Thespis was traditionally the first actor. The term Thespian generally refers to performing artists, actors in particular. [Back to Text]

(17) Aganippe is a fountain in Boeotia. Medusa’s child was Pegasus, whose hoof created the spring on Mount Helicon. Emathia is the name of a region Thessaly. [Back to Text]

(18) The Giants were attempting to capture heaven. For Ovid’s account of the war see 1.208 ff. [Back to Text]

(19) Calliope is the Muse responsible for heroic poetry. [Back to Text]

(20) Pelorus, Pachynus, and Lilybaeum are the three capes defining the triangular shape of Sicily. Aetna (or Etna) is the famous (and still active) volcano in Sicily. [Back to Text]

(21) Eryx is a mountain in Sicily associated with Venus. [Back to Text]

(22) The “lot” is a reference to the time when Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto drew lots to divide up the three realms of the sky, the sea, and the Underworld. [Back to Text]

(23) Ceres is a daughter of Saturn and a sister of Jupiter and Pluto (who is thus uncle to Ceres’ daughter). The child of Ceres is Proserpine (also called Persephone) whose father is Jupiter. Proserpine is usually pronounced with three syllables (i.e., no final –e). [Back to Text]

(24) Henna is a city in the middle of Sicily. Caÿstros is a river in Lydia, famous for its swans. [Back to Text]

(25) The Palici, two brothers born to Jupiter, were hidden in the earth (to escape Juno). They emerged in Sicily and were worshipped as gods associated with two sulphurous lakes there. The Bacchiadae, a family exiled from Corinth, founded Syracuse in Sicily. The city had two harbours of different sizes. Corinth is on the narrow isthmus linking the Peloponnese and mainland Greece, between the Gulf of Cornith (part of the Ionian Sea) to the west and the Saronic Gulf (part of the Aegean Sea) to the east (hence “beside two seas”). [Back to Text]

(26) Alpheus is a major river in the Peloponnese. [Back to Text]

(27) Pisa is a town in Elis, in the western Peloponnese. [Back to Text]

(28) Ortygia is part of Sicily, an island off Syracuse. [Back to Text]

(29) According to legend, the nymph Arethusa was chased along an underground route by the river Alpheus from Elis to Sicily. Her story is told later in this book (5.891 ff). [Back to Text]

(30) Jove is another name for Jupiter. [Back to Text]

(31) This is a reference to the previously mentioned lottery which assigned Jupiter the sky, Neptune the sea, and Pluto the Underworld. Jupiter’s point is that he is superior to Pluto only because he was lucky and chance favoured him. [Back to Text]

(32) Ovid’s text does not state specifically that the fruit is from a pomegranate tree, but long-standing traditions and rituals associated with Ceres for centuries identified the “purple fruit” as a pomegranate. The number of seeds varies from one account to another. [Back to Text]

(33) Avernus is a poisonous lake in Italy, where, people claimed, birds never flew. It was believed to be near the Underworld. Acheron is one of the main rivers and river gods of the underworld. [Back to Text]

(34) Erebus is the deepest pit of the underworld. The queen of Erebus is now Proserpine, consort of Pluto. Phlegethon is one of the rivers of the underworld. [Back to Text]

(35) The Sirens are the daughter of the river Acheloüs and one of the Muses. [Back to Text]

(36) Persephone is the Greek name for Proserpine. As queen of the Underworld, she is usually called Persephone. [Back to Text]

(37) Stymphalus is a city and a region in Arcadia. [Back to Text]

(38) The place names refer to locations in Arcadia. [Back to Text]

(39) Ortygia, as well as being the name of an island off Syracuse, is also another name for the island of Delos, where Diana was born (hence, she is sometimes called “the Delian goddess”). [Back to Text]

(40) Triptolemus is a son of Celeus, king of Eleusis. [Back to Text]

(41) Here Calliope’s story, which begins at 5.543 ends. The speaker is still Urania, who begins her story describing the contest between the Muses and the daughters of Pierus at 5.537. [Back to Text]


[Link to Metamorphoses, Book 6]


[Link to Metamorphoses, Table of Contents]