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.]




 [Minerva hears about Arachne and responds to her challenge; Minerva’s weaves scenes of herself and Neptune competing for Athens; Arachne’s weaves scenes of divine sexual as-saults; Minerva turns Arachne into a spider; Niobe boasts she is better than Latona; Niobe’s sons are killed; Niobe’s husband commits suicide; Niobe’s daughters are killed; Niobe is turned to stone; the story of Latona and the Lycian peasants; Apollo flays Marsyas; Pelops’ ivory shoulder; Procne and Tereus; Tereus and Philomela; Tereus rapes and mutilates Phil-omela; Philomela informs Procne; Procne rescues Philomela; Procne and Philomela kill Itys and serve him as food to his father; Procne, Philomela, and Tereus are changed into birds; Boreas and Orithyïa; Calaïs and Zethes.]


When Minerva had listened to these tales                                             MINERVA AND ARACHNE
from the Aonian Muses, she commended
their singing and their justified resentment.
Then she told herself:


                              “To praise someone else
is not enough. Let me be praised, as well,
and not allow my presence to be scorned
without some punishment.”


                          She turned her mind
to the fortunes of a Maeonian girl,
Arachne, who, she heard, was being praised
as much as she was for her artistry                                                      10
in spinning wool.(1) It was not lofty rank
or family origins which had made
Arachne so well known. It was her skill.
Her father Idmon, who came from Colophon,
coloured absorbent wool with purple dye
from Phocaean shell fish.(2) Her mother was dead,
but she, too, was produced from common stock,                                     [10]
and her husband was the same. Nonetheless,
although Arachne’s home was very small
and she lived in a tiny town, Hypaepae,                                              20
she had acquired a splendid reputation
throughout the Lydian cities.(3) Often
nymphs would abandon their vine-covered slopes
on Tmolus mountain or leave their waters
on the Pactolus river, to inspect
Arachne’s astonishing workmanship.
They loved to see, not just the finished clothes,
but also the way they were created.
She added so much beauty to her skill,
whether she began by winding rough yarn                                         30
into new balls of wool or was working
the fibres with her fingers, softening                                                        [20]
fleecy clouds of wool over and over,
drawing them out in one long equal thread,
or was using her dexterous thumb to turn
her slender spindle, or embroidering
with her needle. You could easily see
she had been taught by Pallas. But she claimed
that was not the case. She was offended
with the notion she had had a teacher,                                               40
even such a great one, and she remarked:


“Let Pallas compete with me. If I lose,
I don’t care what she does.”


                                 So Pallas changed
into an old woman, adding white hair
to her temples, giving herself weak limbs,
and holding up her body with a stick.
Then she began speaking to Arachne,
with these words:


                             “We ought not to run away
from all the things which accompany old age.
Advancing years bring us experience.                                             50
Do not spurn what I advise. Seek your fame                                         [30]
as the greatest woman working with wool
among all mortal beings, but give first place
to the goddess, and, you rash girl, ask her
in a humble voice to grant forgiveness
for the things you said. She will pardon you,
if you ask her.”


                    With a scowl, Arachne glared
at the old woman. She left the weaving
she had started. Her face was very angry,
and she could hardly keep her hands in check.                                   60
She said the following words to Pallas
(who was still disguised):


                                 “You have come in here
worn out by extreme old age, with a mind
which is now feeble. You have lived too long—
that’s your trouble. Let your daughter-in-law
or daughter, if you have one, pay attention
to what you have to say. What I believe
is good enough for me. So don’t assume                                               [40]
that your advice has any influence.
My views remain the same. As for the goddess,                              70
why can’t she show up in person? Why shirk
my challenge?”


                   Then, throwing off her disguise
as the old woman, Minerva cries out:


“She has come!”


                       And Pallas reveals herself.
The nymphs and women of Mygdonia
treat her divinity with reverent awe.
Arachne is the only one who stands there
unafraid.(4) However, she does turn red.
Against her will a sudden blush appears
across her face and goes away again,                                                   80
just as the sky usually grows crimson
when Aurora begins to move, and then,
a short time later, once the sun moves up,
turns white. She insists on going ahead                                                    [50]
with what she started, and, eager to win
a foolish prize, she rushes to her fate.


For Jupiter’s daughter does not back down,
or warn her any further, or postpone
the contest. They waste no time, but set up
their positions in two different places,                                                90
stretch slender threads along the looms, attach
the frame and crossbeam, then with a heddle
separate the woolen fibres in the warp,
interweave the cross-threads in the middle
with pointed shuttles their fingers have prepared,
and, after they have pulled thread through the warp,
press it in place with blows from a notched comb,
marked with rows of teeth.(5) They both work quickly,
tucking their garments underneath their breasts,
so their skilled arms can move with greater speed.                             100
They are so keen to work, they feel as if                                                    [60]
it is not work at all. Sometimes, they weave
with purple threads dyed in Tyrian vats,
subtly different shades, hard to tell apart,
just as, after a shower, a rainbow,
when its enormous arc is struck by sunlight,
will often tint a large expanse of sky,
and a thousand different colours shine there,
yet when one looks at it, one cannot see
transitions from one shade to another,                                                110
so much so that bands which are adjacent
all look the same, but yet the outer bands
are very different. In other places
they also weave in pliant threads of gold.


 Each tapestry depicts an ancient story.                                              MINERVA’S WEAVING
Minerva’s scene portrays the rock of Mars                                                [70]
on the citadel of Cecrops’ city
and the old argument about what name
the country should be called.(6) Twelve gods sit there,
on lofty thrones in solemn majesty,                                                     120
with Jupiter in the middle. She shows
each god with his own particular face.
Jupiter’s image has royal presence,
and she pictures Neptune, god of the sea,
standing there, as well, striking a rough stone
with his long trident, and from that boulder
the sea is pouring through an open crack,
the token by which he claims the city.
For herself she provides a shield and spear
with a pointed tip. On top of her head                                                130
she puts a helmet. The aegis guards her chest.
She also shows the earth struck by her spear                                            [80]
growing a pale olive shoot with berries,
while gods look on amazed. Her final touch
completes the work, the form of Victory.


But then, so that her rival for great praise
may from her illustrations understand
what sort of prize she can look forward to
for her extremely rash audacity,
Minerva includes four scenes of contests,                                           140
one in each of the four corners, showing
figures in brightly coloured miniature.
One corner depicts Rhodope from Thrace
and Haemus, who once had mortal bodies,
but are cold mountains now. They gave themselves
names of the most important gods above.(7)
Another corner shows the wretched fate                                                  [90]
of the Pygmy queen, whom Juno conquered
in a contest, then turned into a crane
and ordered to wage war on her own race.(8)                                     150
And she pictures Antigone, who once
dared challenge the wife of mighty Jupiter.
Queen Juno had her changed into a bird,
and neither her father, Laomedon,
nor her city, Ilion, were any help.
She turned into a stork, growing white wings,
and with a chattering beak gives herself
incessant praise.(9) The only corner left
shows Cinyras when he lost his children.
He is seen shedding tears, lying on stone,                                           160  [100]
embracing temple steps that used to be
his daughters’ limbs.(10) Around the outer edge,
Minerva then puts olives, signs of peace.
Her work is now complete. With her own tree
she finishes off and ends her weaving.


Arachne weaves an image of Europa,                                                  ARACHNE’S WEAVING
when Jupiter, transformed into a bull,
abducted her.(11) You could well imagine
the bull was real, the sea waves genuine.
Europa is depicted looking back                                                          170
at the land now left behind, calling out
to her companions, afraid of contact
with the surging waters, and pulling up
her timid feet. She shows Asterïe
in the struggling eagle’s grip, and pictures
Leda lying prone underneath the swan.
She then adds scenes of Jupiter disguised—
first as a satyr, when he filled the womb                                                   [110]
of beautiful Antiope with twins,
then as Amphitryon, when he took you,                                             180
Alcmene, a girl from Tiryns, and then
when he tricked Danaë as a shower
of gold, Aegina, child of Asopus,
as a flame, Mnemosyne as a shepherd,
and Deöis as a speckled serpent.(12)
She also pictures you, Neptune, transformed
to a young bull, when you desired to mate
with Aeolus’ virgin daughter Canace.
Looking like the river Enipeus,
you fathered twin sons, the Aloïdae,                                                    190
while, as a ram, you tricked Theophane,
daughter of Bisaltus, and as a horse,
you had sex with the gentlest of them all,
golden-haired Ceres, mother of our crops.
The snake-haired mother of the flying horse
knew you as a bird, and for Melantho                                                       [120]
you assumed a dolphin’s form. Arachne
pictures all of these, giving each image
appropriate faces and locations.
Phoebus is there, in a scene showing him                                           200
in rustic clothing. She weaves how he wore,
on one occasion, a hawk’s wings, but then,
on another, a lion’s skin, and how
in his shepherd’s clothes he misled Issa,
Macareus’ daughter. She includes
how Bacchus tricked Erigone, using
a false bunch of grapes, and then how Saturn
turned himself into a horse and fathered
Chiron, who was half horse, half mortal man.(13)
The outer part of the design, surrounded                                            210
by a narrow border, has woven flowers
intertwined with clustering strands of ivy.


Neither Envy nor Minerva could fault                                                 ARACHNE IS TRANSFORMED
Arachne’s work. Enraged by her success,
the goddess with the yellow hair ripped up                                              [130]
the woven scenes of those criminal acts
committed by the gods, held up her shuttle
(it was made of boxwood from Cytorus),
and battered Arachne, Idmon’s daughter,
three or four times across her head.(14) The girl,                                 220
now desperate, could not endure the blows,
and, in a burst of courage, fixed a noose
around her neck. As she was dangling there,
Pallas took pity, lifted her up, and said:


“You may go on living, insolent girl,
but you must hang suspended. To make sure
you do not grow negligent in future,
let the same decree which punishes you
be pronounced as well against your family,
the entire line of your posterity.”                                                     230


After that, as she was leaving, Pallas
sprinkled Arachne with a potion made
from Hecate’s herbs.(15) Touched by this harsh drug,                              [140]
her hair fell out at once, her nose and ears
were also gone, her head grew very small,
her whole form shrivelled to a tiny shape,
her slender fingers stuck to her sides as legs,
and the rest of her was belly. And yet,
she sent out a fibre from that belly
and, as a spider, continued weaving,                                                   240
the way she used to do in earlier days.


All Lydia was upset by these events.                                                   NIOBE AND LATONA
News of what had happened travelled around
through towns in Phrygia, and the wide world
was full of people spreading the report.
Niobe, before her marriage, had known
Arachne. She had been a young girl then,
living in Maeonia and Sipylus,
but though she came from the same native land,
she did not take Arachne’s punishment                                              250  [150]
as a warning she should give precedence
to gods above and speak more modestly.(16)
Many factors made her proud, but it was not
her husband’s skill, or the fine ancestry
they both shared, or their powerful kingdom
which gave her a sense of satisfaction
(although she was delighted  with them all)
so much as her own children.(17) And people
would have called Niobe the happiest
of mothers, if she had not also held                                                     260
that view herself.


                         Now, Teiresias’ daughter,
Manto, who could see into the future,
moved by an impulse from the gods, wandered
through the middle of the city crying out
in prophecy:


               “You women of Thebes, crown
your hair with laurel, and go, all of you
in one large gathering, and offer incense
and holy prayers honouring Latona
and her children, Apollo and Diana.
Through these lips of mine, Latona is now                                     270  [160]
proclaiming her commands.”


                                                        All Theban women
do what the goddess has announced. They wreathe
their heads with laurel, as she has ordered,
and offer incense and words of prayer
to the sacred flames. Then, lo and behold,
Niobe arrives—and with her a crowd,
an enormous throng, of her attendants.
She is a splendid sight in Phrygian clothing
interwoven with gold, as beautiful
as her anger will allow. She stands there,                                            280
tossing her lovely head, shaking the hair
along both shoulders. With a haughty gaze,
her proud eyes sweep around her, and she says:


“What madness it is to prefer the gods                                                 [170]
in heaven, whom you only hear about,
over those that you can see. Why worship
Latona at these altars built for her,
when my divinity still lacks incense?
Tantalus was my father, the only man
allowed to touch the tables of the gods.                                          290
My mother is sister to the Pleiades,
and her father is the mighty Atlas,
on whose shoulders rests the weight of heaven.(18)
My other grandfather is Jupiter,
and I can also boast about the fact
he is my father-in-law.(19) In Phrygia
people fear me. I rule the royal house
of Cadmus. My husband’s power and mine
govern the people and the walls of Thebes,
built by the music of my husband’s lyre.(20)                                    300
Wherever I turn my eyes inside my home                                             [180]
I see enormous wealth. Then add to that
my beauty, which is worthy of a goddess.
Include with this my children—seven sons
and just as many daughters, and soon
sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, as well!
Now ask if I have reason to be proud,
and then have the presumption to prefer
Latona over me. Why, she was born
to Titan Coeus (whoever he is),                                                        310
and the great Earth once refused to give her
a tiny scrap of ground where she could lie
and give birth to her children. Your goddess
was not welcome in heaven or on earth
or in the sea. She was exiled from the world,
until Delos felt some pity for her,
as she wandered here and there, and gave her
an unstable resting place. He told her:


‘You roam the earth a stranger, the same way                                  [190]
I move around the sea.’


                                    There she became                                          320
the mother of two children.(21) But I have
seven times that number, all born from me.
I am fortunate (who can deny it?),
and my good fortune will remain with me.
Can anyone doubt that? Prosperity
has made me safe. Fortune cannot harm me—
I am too great. Though she could take away
many things from me, she would still leave us
a great deal more. The fine things I possess
outweigh whatever I may have to fear.                                            330
Suppose some of my numerous children
could be removed from me. I would be sad,
but I would not be left with just those two
Latona has. With a family that size,
how far is she from having none at all?                                                 [200]
Go home! Enough of holy sacrifice!
And get those laurel wreaths out of your hair.”


The women remove the laurel wreaths and leave,
without finishing the ritual sacrifice,
except by worshipping the deity                                                          340
with silent murmuring, as is their right.
Latona was outraged. On the summit
of Mount Cynthus she spoke to her two twins,
Diana and Apollo, with these words:(22)


“Look, children, I am your mother and proud
to have produced you. There is no goddess,
except for Juno, whom I defer to.
But unless you help me, people will doubt
I am divine and will drive me away
from those altars consecrated to me                                                350
for all ages yet to come. This is not
my only grief. Tantalus’ daughter
has added insults to her profane acts,                                                   [210]
by daring to proclaim her family
outranks you both and to assert that I
am childless. May that claim of hers rebound
on her own head! It is quite clear her tongue
is every bit as nasty as her father’s.”(23)


To what she had already said, Latona
was going to add her own entreaties,                                                  360
but Apollo cried:


                 “Stop! A long complaint
merely delays her punishment!”


said the same. So the two of them, hidden
by the clouds, swooped down through the air and reached
the royal citadel of Thebes.


                                           Near the walls
there is a wide expanse of level ground
always used for horses. These animals
have trampled down the earth, and many wheels
and solid hooves have softened up the turf.                                              [220]
Some of Amphion’s seven sons are there,                                            370
mounted on spirited horses, sitting
firmly on their backs, all dressed in garments
of Tyrian purple and holding reins
weighted down with gold. Among those riders,
Ismenus, first of all the children born
from Niobe’s womb, while guiding his horse
through a perfect circle and pulling back
on the foaming bit, screams out:


                                         “I’ve been hit!”


In the centre of his chest an arrow
is sticking out. His dying hands let go                                                 380
the reins, and he gradually falls sideways,
over the right shoulder of his horse. Next,
Sipylus, who is right beside him, hears
sounds from a quiver through the empty air.                                            [230]
He gives his horse free rein, just as a helmsman,
sensing an impending storm, scurries off,
once he sees the clouds, and hoists up all his sails,
so as not to lose the slightest breath of air.
Though Sipylus has let the reins go slack,
he is caught by an unerring arrow,                                                      390
and the quivering shaft sticks in his neck,
at the top, while from his throat protrudes
the naked iron tip. Leaning forward
where he is, he falls on his horse’s mane,
rolls through the racing hooves, and stains the ground
with his warm blood. Unlucky Phaedimus
and Tantalus (who has inherited
his grandfather’s name), once they are finished                                        [240]
their usual training, move to wrestling,
a young man’s sport, and, glistening with oil,                                     400
are now entangled in a hold, grappling
chest against chest. Then an arrow, speeding
from a taut bowstring, pierces both of them,
as they are locked together. They both groan
and fall together, both at once, their limbs
convulsed with pain. The two of them lie there,
gaze at the sunlight for the final time,
and in one breath both brothers breathe their last.
Alphenor sees them there. Beating his breast
and tearing at his skin, he rushes up,                                                  410
to lift their icy limbs up in his arms.
While he is doing this pious duty,
he, too, is killed, for the Delian god                                                           [250]
strikes him with a deadly iron arrow
deep in his diaphragm, and once the shaft
is pulled out from his flesh, part of his lung
is drawn out with the barbs. His blood and life
escape into the open air together.
But long-haired Damasicthon is not struck
by just one wound. He is hit in the leg,                                               420
where the shin begins and sinews of the knee
have a soft spot in between. While he tries
to pull the lethal arrow out by hand,
another drives itself into his throat,
up to the feathers. Flowing blood forces
the arrow out and gushes up in spurts,
piercing the air, shooting in a high arc                                                      [260]
a long, long way. Then Ilioneus,
the only son remaining, lifts his arms
in a vain gesture of supplication,                                                         430
and cries:


                       “O, all you company of gods,
spare me!”


                   He said this, for he did not know
there was no need to ask them all. Apollo,
the archer god, was moved, but at that point
the weapon could not be recalled. However,
the young lad died from the tiniest of wounds,
for the arrow was not driven all that far
inside his heart.


                                  News of this disaster,
popular grief, and her own family’s tears
confirmed for Niobe what had gone on                                               440
in this sudden catastrophe. Amazed
they could have done it, she became enraged
that the gods above had so much power                                                   [270]
and had dared to use it. For Amphion,
the father, had driven an iron sword
into his chest, and, by dying, ended
in one blow both his sorrow and his life.
Alas! How different this Niobe is
from the Niobe who only recently
forced her people from Latona’s altars                                                450
and strolled through the middle of the city,
proud head held high, envied by everyone.
Now she is a woman to be pitied
even by enemies! She collapses
on the frigid bodies and randomly
gives each one of her sons a final kiss.
She turns from them and, raising her bruised arms
up to the sky, cries:


                                      “Eat your fill, Latona,                                        [280]
of my sorrow. Cram your chest to bursting
with my pain, and may these seven murders                                   460
bring satisfaction to your savage heart!
It’s over for me. Enjoy the triumph
of the victor over her enemy!
But how are you the winner? I may be
wretched, but I still have more children left
than you do, in spite of your good fortune.
Even after so many sons have died,
I still outnumber you!”


                                                    As Niobe spoke,
a twang from a taut bowstring made a sound
which filled all the people there with terror,                                       470
except for Niobe—her wretchedness
had made her rash.


                               The sisters, dressed in black
hair loose across their shoulders, are standing
by their brother’s corpses. Then an arrow
strikes one in the stomach. She pulls it out                                              [290]
and, as she is about to die, faints away
and falls face down her brother’s body.
Another sister trying to console
her grieving mother suddenly goes limp
and doubles over from some unseen wound.                                      480
She clamps her mouth shut, but her living soul
has left already. One tries to run away,
but without success. She falls. Another
crumples on her sister. One hides herself,
and you can see one standing there, shaking.
Six sisters are now dead from various wounds.
One last one remains. With her whole body
and her clothes, Niobe protects the girl,


         “At least leave me one! The youngest!
Just one out of so many! I beg you!                                                  490 [300]
My youngest!”


                             But while she is crying this,                                    NIOBE IS TRANSFORMED
the child she is pleading for is slaughtered.
Now she has no children. She sits down there,
among her dead husband, sons, and daughters,
rigid with grief. The breezes do not move
her hair, the colour in her cheeks lacks blood,
in her sad face the eyes stand motionless.
There is no sign of life in her at all.
Inwardly, as well, her tongue is frozen
to her hardened palate. Her veins have lost                                        500
their power to throb. She cannot bend her neck,
or shift her arms, or move her feet around.
Her inner organs, too, have turned to stone.
And yet she weeps. Then a mighty whirlwind                                          [310]
encircles her and carries her from there
to her own land. Set on a mountain top,
she wastes away, and, even now, the tears
flow down her marble face.


                           All men and women
truly fear the anger of that goddess,
now it stands revealed. Every one of them                                          510
pays more respect in ritual worship
to the power of her divinity,
the mother of the twins. As usual,
given recent facts, people once again
recount old stories. One of them begins:


“Long ago in Lycia’s fertile fields                                                     LATONA AND THE LYCIAN PEASANTS
the peasants there also spurned the goddess
and paid for it. Now, it’s true the story
is not well known, because the men involved
were common folk. Still, it is still amazing.                                     520
Once I went past the place and saw the lake                                        [320]
those miraculous events made famous.
Since my father, who was getting older,
could not make the trip, he instructed me
to bring back from there some special cattle.
As I was setting out, he offered me
a guide, someone native to the region.
Well, while this man and I were travelling
across the fields, we saw an ancient altar,
black with sacrificial ashes, standing                                               530
in the middle of a lake, surrounded
by quivering reeds. My guide stopped and said
in a timid whisper:


                              ‘Be kind to me.’


So I did the same and muttered:


                                                  ‘Be kind.’


But when I asked him if the altar stood there
in honour of the naiads, or Faunus,
or some native god, the stranger gave me                                             [330]
the following reply:(24)


                          ‘No, my lad, there is
no mountain spirit in this altar here.
The goddess who can call this place her own                             540
is the one the queen of heaven banished
from the world and who was later rescued
by roaming Delos, still a light island
floating in the sea. With great reluctance
he welcomed her, in answer to her prayers.
And on that island, Latona then gave birth
to her twins, leaning up against a palm
and an olive tree from Pallas, thwarting
their stepmother’s wishes.(25) But people say
that, even after she had given birth,                                            550
she left this place, as well, fleeing Juno,
and holding her two children, both divine,
against her breast. Then she crossed the border
into Lycia, the Chimaera’s home,
where the burning sun had scorched the pastures.(26)
Weary from her lengthy struggles and parched                                [340]
by summer heat, Latona needed water
(her famished children also had devoured
all her breast milk). Then, she happened to see
a smallish lake in a valley bottom,                                                560
where country folk were gathering rushes,
as well as bushy osiers and the sedge
which flourished in those marshes. The goddess
went up, bent her knees, knelt down on the ground,
and tried to drink some of that cool water.
But the crowd of peasants would not let her.
They pulled her back. And so the goddess said:


‘Why deny me water? It is put there
for common use. Nature has not made sun,
air, or running water the property                                           570  [350]
of individuals. I have come here
to a place which benefits all people.
And yet I ask you as a suppliant
to let me use it. I am not going
to bathe my body or my weary limbs
here in the lake, but merely quench my thirst.
Even as I speak, my mouth lacks moisture,
and my jaws are dry. I can hardly find
a channel for my voice to pass through them.
A drink of water will be nectar to me,                                      580
and, at the same time, it will save my life.
That I will acknowledge—with the water
you will offer me my life. Take pity
on these children, too, here at my bosom,
stretching out their tiny arms towards you.’


And, as it so happened, the infant twins
are holding out their arms. Who can resist                                       [360]
Latona’s moving plea? But those peasants,
no matter what she says, keep her away
and threaten her about what they will do                                   590
if she does not move further off, adding
insults, too. That is not enough for them.
With their hands and feet they stir up the lake,
purely for spite, and jump around the pool,
to churn up soft mud at the very bottom.
The daughter of Coeus, in her fierce rage,                                   THE LYCIAN PEASANTS ARE TRANSFORMED
forgets her thirst and now no longer tries
to plead with such undeserving wretches.
She can no longer bear to utter words
demeaning to a goddess. With hands raised                               600
up to the sky, she cries:


                                     ‘Live forever
in that pond of yours.’


                                The goddess’ wish
has its effect. Those Lycian peasants
are seized by an urge to leap in water.                                               [370]
Sometimes they immerse their entire bodies
in the deep parts of the lake and sometimes
raise their heads or swim across the surface.
Often they squat on banks beside the pool,
and often hop back in the cooling water.
But even now they use their filthy tongues                                 610
to quarrel and without a sense of shame
keep trying to shout out their abuse,
even when they are swimming underwater.
Their voices now are rough, their swollen necks
inflated, and the insults they croak out
make their wide mouths even wider. Their heads
rest on their backs—it looks as if their necks
have been removed. Their backs are coloured green,
and their bodies’ largest part, the belly,                                            [380]
is coloured white. And now, as new-made frogs,                        620
they hop around there in their muddy pool.’”


When the storyteller, whoever he was,
had finished his account of the downfall                                            APOLLO AND MARSYAS
of those men from Lycia, someone else
remembered the story of that satyr,
Marsyas, whom Latona’s son, Apollo,
had defeated in a competition
with a reed pipe, the instrument invented
by Minerva, and on whom he later
inflicted punishment.(27) Marsyas cried:                                             630


“Why are you tearing parts of me away!”


And he kept screaming:


                                         “Aiii! I’m sorry!
The flute is not worth this much agony!”


As his screams ring out, his skin is sliced off
the surface of his limbs, and he becomes
one huge wound, with blood flowing everywhere.
His bare sinews lie exposed, and his veins
quiver and throb with no skin over them.
You can count his pulsing inner organs,                                                   [390]
and fibres of his lungs are clearly visible                                             640
inside his chest. The woodland deities
and the fauns living in the countryside
weep for him, as do his brother satyrs
(among them is Olympus, even then
a dear friend of his), the nymphs, and all those
who graze flocks of sheep or herds of cattle
in those mountains.(28) The fertile earth is drenched.
The saturated soil takes in those tears,
absorbing them into its deepest veins,
and transforms them to a stream of water,                                         650
which it sends out into the open air.
From there it quickly flows down to the sea
between steep riverbanks, the clearest stream                                         [400]
in Phrygia, named after Marsyas.


Having heard these sorts of stories, people
quickly turned back to present things and mourned
the death of Amphion and his children.
They blamed the mother, although even then
one man, they say, shed tears for her, as well,
her brother Pelops. Tearing his tunic                                                  660
from his chest, he exposed the ivory
in his left shoulder. When Pelops was born,                                       PELOPS IS REASSEMBLED
this shoulder was made of flesh and coloured
just like his shoulder on the right. But then,
soon after birth, he was sliced up in pieces
at his father’s hands, and, so people say,
the gods, once they collected all the parts,
put Pelops back together. But one piece
between his upper arm and neck was missing.
So they used some ivory to replace                                                      670  [410]
the part they could not find, and in this way
they reconstructed all of Pelops’ body.(29)


The leading men of regions close to Thebes
assembled there, and the near-by cities
urged their rulers to go and offer Thebes
their sympathies—Argos and Mycenae,
the home of Pelops’ family, Sparta,
Calydon (before it became despised
by harsh Diana), lush Orchomenus,
Corinth (well known for bronze), fierce Messene,                               680
Patrae, low-lying Cleonae, Pylos
(the city of Neleus), and Troezen
(before king Pittheus was in control),
and all the other cities which are closed off
by the Isthmus with seas on either side,
as well as cities which are seen to lie                                                         [420]
beyond the confines of those narrow coasts.(30)
How could anyone believe that Athens
was the only place which did not respond?
War hindered her from doing her duty,                                                690
for barbarian hordes had come by sea
and were terrorizing the city’s walls.
Then Tereus from Thrace with his army
of auxiliaries beat those barbarians
and gained a great name for his victory.


Now, Tereus was an important man,                                                   PHILOMENA, PROCNE, AND TEREUS
with wealth and power, who traced his descent
from mighty Mars himself, so Pandion,
king of Athens, gave his daughter Procne
to him in marriage. But neither the Graces                                          700
nor Hymen was present at the wedding,
nor was Juno, who blesses married brides.
The Furies held up the wedding torches,
which they had taken from a funeral,                                                        [430]
and they prepared the marriage bed, as well,
while the ominous screech owl hovered high
above the house and settled on the roof
above their chamber.(31) Such were the omens
when Procne and Tereus were married,
such the omens, too, when they had a child.                                         710
It’s true that Thrace congratulated them,
and they themselves gave thanks to all the gods.
They commanded that the day when Procne,
Pandion’s daughter, and Thrace’s famous king
were married, as well as the day on which
their son, Itys, was born, should be declared
a public holiday. That shows how much
what really matters lies concealed from us.


Now the Titan Sun had drawn the seasons
of the revolving year through five autumns,                                           720
when Procne, trying to coax her husband,
said to him:


                   “If you feel anything for me,                                                [440]
either let me go to see my sister,
or let my sister come to visit us.
You can promise my father she’ll be back
before too long. If you could arrange things
so I can see my sister Philomela,
you’d be giving me a truly lovely gift.”


Tereus told his men to launch a ship,
and, using sails and oars, he made the trip                                          730
to the port of Cecrops’ city, landing
at Piraeus.(32) There, as soon as he met
his father-in-law, they linked right hands,
and Tereus offered his best wishes.
He had started to explain the reason
for his arrival and his wife’s request,
promising that if her sister visited,                                                                 [450]
she would come back soon, when, lo and behold,
Philomela arrived, looking gorgeous
in her rich garments, but even richer                                                     740
in her own loveliness. She looked just like
what we so often hear about in stories
of the naiads and the dryads who roam
around the middle of the woods, if only
they possessed her dress and her refinement.
Tereus saw the girl and was on fire,
just as if someone were to place a flame
under dry ears of grain or set a torch
to piles of leaves or hay stacked in a barn.
Her beauty, it’s true, deserved such feelings,                                        750
but he was driven on by natural lust,
and people from his country tend to have
strong sexual passions.(33) So he caught fire                                                        [460]
thanks to his country’s vices and his own.


His desire wishes to corrupt the care
of her attendants and her nurse’s trust,
to tempt the girl herself with immense gifts,
whatever his whole kingdom can afford,
or carry her off and defend the rape
with savage warfare. He is so consumed                                              760
with unbridled passion, there is nothing
he will not dare, for he has no power
to repress the fires blazing in his chest.
And now he cannot cope with a delay.
His eager mouth returns to the request
from Procne, and beneath her very words
he states what he himself desires. His feelings
make him eloquent. When he keeps asking
beyond what is polite, he makes it clear                                                              [470]
that this is what Procne has requested.                                                 770
He even adds his tears, as well, as though
she has instructed him to use those, too.
By gods above, how much hidden darkness
the human heart contains! The very things
Tereus does to promote his evil scheme
make them believe he is compassionate.
The people praise him for his evil deeds.
Philomela desires the same thing, too.
With her arms around her father’s shoulders,
she coaxes him to let her travel there,                                                 780
to visit her sister. She urges him
for her own well being, though what she seeks
will work against her. Tereus looks on,
and, as he gazes at her, imagines
he is holding her already. He sees
her kiss her father, putting both her arms
around his neck, and he absorbs it all
as an incitement, adding food and fuel                                                     [480]
to his frenetic lust. And every time
she holds her father to her, he desires                                                 790
to be that father—although if he were,
his feelings would be no less abhorrent.
Pandion gives way to the entreaties
from both of them. Philomela rejoices,
thanks her father, and thinks, unlucky girl,
she and her sister have now won the day,
when that success will bring on both of them
enormous grief.


                             The work of sun god Phoebus
by now was almost done. His horses’ hooves
were drumming on the slopes of western skies.                                  800
A royal feast had been set out on tables
with wine in golden cups. They ate their fill
and then retired to have a peaceful sleep.
But although Tereus, the Thracian king,                                                   [490]
went to bed, he burned for Philomela,
recalling her face, her hands, her movements,
imagining those parts he had not seen
to be just as he would want them. He fed
the fires within him and grew so restless
he could not sleep. Dawn came. As Tereus                                         810
was leaving, Pandion clasped the right hand
of his son-in-law and, with tears running
down his cheeks, implored him to look after
his daughter Philomela:


                                       “My dear son,
because affection compels me to it,
and both my daughters wish it, and you, too,
Tereus, have said this is what you want,
I entrust her to your care. I beg you,
by your honour, by our united hearts,
and by gods above, to take care of her                                             820
with a father’s love and to send her back
as soon as possible, this sweet comfort                                                 [500]
in my worrisome old age. Any delay
will be too long for me. And Philomela,
if you have any affection for me,
come back to me as quickly as you can.
It’s enough your sister is so far away.”


He gave these instructions to his daughter
and kissed her. As he issued his orders,
he wept quiet tears. Then he asked them both,                                  830
as a pledge of faith, for their two right hands.
These he took and joined, and then he told them
to remember to greet on his behalf
his absent child and grandson. His voice choked.
Convulsed with sobs, he could hardly manage
a last farewell. His mind was so afraid,                                                      [510]
filled with an ominous sense of trouble.


As soon as Philomela was on board
and the painted ship had moved away from land,
as oar blades churned the sea, Tereus cries:                                        840


“I have triumphed! I am taking with me
just what I desire!”


                                   The barbarian king
is overjoyed. He has trouble putting off
the pleasures his mind conjures up. His eyes
never turn away from her, just as an eagle,
Jupiter’s swift bird of prey, sets a hare,
gripped in its hooked claws, inside its lofty nest,
and the prisoner has no place to flee,
while the predator keeps gazing at its prey.


And now the trip is over. Once they reach                                          850
Tereus’ land, they leave the sea-worn ship,
and the king hauls Pandion’s daughter off                                                [520]
to a high-walled building, hidden away
in an ancient forest, and locks her in.
Philomela, pale, trembling, and in tears,
afraid of everything about the place,
keeps asking where her sister is. The king
reveals his criminal desire, and then
his force overpowers the lonely girl,
who often screams in vain to her father,                                             860
often to her sister, and above all,
to the mighty gods. She trembles with fear,
like a terrified lamb wounded by the jaws
of a grey wolf and later cast aside,
which does not realize it is now safe,
or like a dove with its feathers soaking
in its own blood, panic stricken, afraid
of the ravenous claws which snatched it up.                                            [530]
Soon, when she regains her senses, she tears
her dishevelled hair, like someone mourning,                                     870
scratches her arms, beats them against her breast,
stretches out her hands, and screams:


                                                     “You barbarian!
Think of what you have done, you savage beast!
Are you quite unmoved by what my father
asked of you with such affectionate tears,
or by any feelings for my sister,
or my innocence, or your marriage vow?
You have confounded everything! I am
now forced to be my sister’s substitute
and you the partner of the two of us!                                              880
Procne will have to be my enemy.
Why did you not rip out this life of mine,
you traitor? Then your crime would be complete!
I wish you’d killed me before committing                                             [540]
this abominable rape. Then my shade
would have been free of shame. But if the gods
observe these things, if celestial powers
have any influence, if everything
is not destroyed along with me, then you
will pay me for this someday. I myself                                             890
will throw away all sense of shame and shout
what you have done. And if I get the chance,
I’ll move among your people with the story.
If I’m kept a prisoner in the woods,
I’ll fill the forest with my voice and move
the rocks, which know how you have ruined me!
Let heaven hear these things—and gods, as well,
if any gods live there!”


                                          Philomela’s words
enraged the king and also roused his fear.
Spurred by both emotions, he pulled the sword                                 900 [550]
he carried out of its scabbard, grabbed her
by the hair, forced her arms behind her back,
and tied her up. Once she saw his sword,
Philomela fully believed and hoped
she would be killed and offered him her throat.
But as she struggled to speak and pour forth
her anger, calling out her father’s name
repeatedly, Tereus seized her tongue
with pincers, and using his savage blade
he sliced it out. The bottom of her tongue                                         910
still quivered in place, but the tongue itself
lay trembling on the dark earth, muttering.
It wriggled about (the same way a tail
from a snake will commonly keep moving
when it has been cut off), as if, in dying,
it was seeking some trace of its mistress.                                                  [560]
They say (though this I hardly dare believe)
that even after this abhorrent crime
Tereus, in his lust, violated
her mutilated body many times.                                                          920


After committing these atrocities,
Tereus calms down and returns to Procne,
who, as soon as she sees her husband, asks
about her sister. He pretends to sigh
and tells a made-up story of her death.
The tears he sheds make her believe his lies.
From her shoulders Procne tears her splendid robes
richly woven with gold and clothes herself
in black. She builds an empty burial vault,
where she makes sacrifices for a ghost                                                930
who does not exist and laments the fate
of a sister for whom death chants like that                                               [570]
are not appropriate.


                                            The sun god circles
through twelve constellations. A year goes by.
What can Philomela do? There is a guard
to keep her from escaping, and the walls
of the place where she is held are thick,
made out of solid rock. Her speechless lips
can provide no details of what happened.
But pain promotes great ingenuity,                                                     940
and when times are bad one grows resourceful.
With great skill she pulls thread into a warp
on a barbarian loom, and, by weaving
patterns of purple on a white background,
she depicts the crime. Once she is finished,
she entrusts the weaving to a servant,
asking her with gestures to present it
to the queen, her mistress, and the servant,
as requested, carries it to Procne,
not knowing what the woven work contains.                                      950 [580]
The wife of the savage tyrant unfolds
the tapestry and, looking at it, reads
her sister’s dreadful fate. She says nothing.
It is amazing she can keep so quiet,
but grief prevents her speech. Her tongue seeks out
words which might be adequate to express
her murderous rage, but cannot find them.
With no time to weep, she rushes ahead,
so totally intent on her revenge,
she no longer separates right from wrong.                                          960


It was now time for young Thracian women
to celebrate the Bacchic festival
which, following their traditions, is held
at three-year intervals. These rites take place
at night, when Mount Rhodope re-echoes
to sounds of clashing brass.(34) In the darkness,
the queen leaves home, dressed to participate                                         [590]
in sacred rituals and holding weapons
for the ecstatic ceremonial rites,
vine leaves wrapped around her head and deerskin                            970
hanging down one side, with a slender spear
across her shoulder. Procne runs ahead
with throngs of her companions through the woods,
instilling terror. She keeps pretending
that you, Bacchus, have inspired her frenzy,
but she is driven on by frantic grief.
At length, rushing through the trackless forest,
she arrives at Philomela’s building.
Procne, screaming and howling Bacchic cries,
shatters the doors and seizes her sister.                                              980
She dresses her in ritual garments
as one of the god’s enraptured worshippers,
concealing her face with leaves of ivy,
drags the terrified girl away from there,                                                    [600]
and leads her back inside the palace walls.
When Philomela saw that she had come
to that dreadful home, the bewildered girl
trembled with horror, and her face grew pale.
But Procne, once in the house, took away
the symbols of the Bacchic ritual,                                                        990
uncovering her wretched sister’s face,
and tried to hug her. But Philomela,
filled with shame, could not bear to raise her eyes.
She thinks she is a whore who has been false
to her own sister. So she kept her gaze
fixed on the ground. She wished to take an oath,
with the gods as witnesses, that her shame
was forced upon her, and she tried to use
her hands to show it, for she had no voice.
But Procne was ablaze—she could not check                                     1000 [610]
her rage—and stopped her sister’s tears, saying:


“No weeping now. This is a time for swords,
or something else more powerful than steel,
if you have such a thing available.
Sister, I am prepared for any crime.
I could set the royal palace on fire
with torches, hurl that treacherous Tereus
in the middle of the flames, or with a sword
slice out his tongue, eyes, or the sexual parts
he used to shame you, or I could expel                                           1010
his guilty soul out through a thousand wounds!
I am prepared for a tremendous act—
but what that act will be, I’m still not sure.”


As Procne said this, her young son Itys                                               PROCNE AND ITYS
came to his mother, and she sensed from him                                         [620]
what she could do. While watching him, her eyes
grew cold, and she muttered:


                                     “How much you look
just like your father!”


                                     That was all she said.
Then, seething with silent rage, she began
to hatch her ghastly plan. But when the boy                                       1020
ran to greet his mother, placed his small arms
around her neck, kissed her, and then added
some childish words of love, his mother
was truly shaken, her anger wavered.
Against her will her eyes filled up with tears.
But as soon as she felt too much emotion
eroding her resolve, she glanced away
and looked back at her sister’s face. Gazing                                              [630]
at each of them in turn, she asked:


                                                   “Why is it
that one of them speaks of his affection                                          1030
and the other has had her tongue removed
and does not talk? He can call me mother.
Why can she not call me sister? Just look,
daughter of Pandion, at your husband,
the man you married. You are not worthy
of your race. In someone married to Tereus
showing affection is a filthy crime!”


She did not pause, but dragged Itys away
to a distant room in the lofty home,
just like a tigress on the Ganges’ banks                                                1040
hauling a baby fawn through shady trees
Already sensing what his fate might be,
the child stretched out his hands and cried,




                   He tried to reach around her neck,                                        [640]
but Procne plunged her sword into his side,
close to his heart. She did not look away.
That one blow was enough to kill him,
but Philomela then took up the sword
and cut his throat, and while the limbs were warm,
still showing signs of life, they sliced him up                                       1050
and set some pieces boiling in bronze pots,
as others hissed while roasting there on spits.
The inner chamber dripped with blood and gore.


Procne then invites Tereus, her husband,                                           TEREUS AND ITYS
who has no idea of what they’re doing,
to a feast. She falsely states that the meal
is a sacred ritual of her homeland.
Claiming the only one the law permits
to be there is the husband, she dismisses
his followers and attendants. And thus,                                              1060
Tereus sits in his high ancestral seat,                                                       [650]
feasting by himself, filling his stomach
with his own flesh and blood, so out of touch
with what is going on, he calls to her:


“Bring Itys here!”


                                   Procne cannot conceal
her savage exultation. Eager now
to proclaim the news about the slaughter
she has carried out, she shouts:


                                                  “You have him
in there with you—the one you’re calling for!”


Tereus looks and asks where Itys is.                                                    1070
While he is searching, calling out again,
Philomela jumps at him, just as she is,
hair soaking from the appalling murder,
and thrusts the head of Itys, dripping blood,
right in his father’s face. At that moment,
more so than any other, she wishes
she could speak and proclaim her great delight                                       [660]
in words which match her mood.


                                       The Thracian king
gives a tremendous roar and pushes back
the table, screaming out to the Furies,                                                1080
those snake-haired sisters from the deep valley
of the Styx. Now, if it were possible,
he would tear his chest apart and disgorge
the dreadful meal of half-digested flesh.
He weeps and calls himself the wretched tomb
of his own son. And then with his sword drawn
he chases after Pandion’s daughters.
But you would think those Athenian women                                      PROCNE, PHILOMELA, AND TEREUS ARE TRANSFORMED
have bodies now held up on feathered wings,
for they are taking flight. One of them flies                                         1090
into the woods. The other nestles down
up in the eaves, still carrying traces
of that murder on her breast, her feathers                                                [670]
stained with blood. Tereus, swift in his grief
and cravings for revenge, is also turned
into a bird, with a crested head plume
and, instead of his long sword, a huge beak
jutting out in front. This bird, which looks armed,
has a name and is called the hoopoe bird.(35)


The pain of these events sent Pandion                                               11 00
to shades of Tartarus before his time,                                                 BOREAS AND ORITHYÏA
before the final days of his old age.
So then the royal sceptre of Athens
and management of its affairs were passed
to Erectheus, a man whose justice
and power in war no one could dispute.
He had four sons and as many daughters.
Two of the girls were well matched in beauty.                                         [680]
One of them, Procris, had a happy marriage
to Cephalus, grandson of Aeolus,                                                        1110
and the other daughter, Orithyïa,
was loved by the god of the northern wind,
Boreas, but for a long time his love
could not attain her—he was hurt by links
to the Thracians and Tereus.(36) He pleaded,
choosing to use persuasion and not force.
But when his pleasant words had no effect,
he bristled with rage—his usual mood
and natural state for most of the time—
and cried out:


                           “I’m entitled to my rage!                                       1120
Why did I abandon my own weapons?
My power and anger, my violence,
my threatening spirit? Why have I turned
to what does not suit me—playing beggar?
My way relies on force. With force I drive off                                       [690]
the menacing storm clouds, whip up the sea,
overturn knotted oaks, harden the snow,
and batter the ground with hail. And then,
when I meet my brothers in the open air
(for that’s my battlefield) I fight with them                                   1130
so fiercely that the middle sky resounds
with our collisions, and fires flash out,
discharged from hollow clouds. And then again,
when I move down to those empty caverns
deep in the earth and fiercely push my back
against the lowest depths, my tremors shake
the entire world, even shadows of the dead.(37)
That is how I should have sought this marriage,                                  [700]
not by begging Erechtheus to become
my father-in-law, but by forcing him.”                                           1140


With these or other equally potent words
Boreas shook out his wings, whose motions
blow winds all through the earth and agitate
broad surface waters of the sea. Trailing
his gloomy cloak across the mountain peaks,
the lover rushed along the ground, concealed
in darkness, and swept Orithyïa,
trembling with fear, up in his tawny wings.
As he flew, the ravisher’s fires were stirred
and burned with greater heat. He did not stop                                 1150
that flight through the air until he reached
the city walls where the Cicones dwell.(38)                                               [710]
There the girl from Athens became the wife
of the icy tyrant—a mother, too,
producing twins, two brothers, both of whom
were like their mother in every feature,
but for their father’s wings. Yet people say
their bodies had no wings when they were born,
and as long as they lacked a beard to match
their golden hair, the boys Calaïs and Zethes,                                     1160
had no wings at all. But then, once yellow hair                                   CALAÏS AND ZETHES
began to grow on their two cheeks, feathers
started to appear above both shoulders,
just as in birds. So when their childish years
were finished, they both joined the Argonauts                                         [720]
and sailed over unknown seas in that first ship
to seek out the glistening Golden Fleece.(39)





(1) Maeonia is a region in Lydia, in Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

(2) Colophon is a city in Lydia, Phocaea a coastal city in Asia Minor, famous for its dye. [Back to Text]

(3) Hypaepae is a small town in Lydia. [Back to Text]

(4) Mygdonia is a region in Asia Minor near Lydia. [Back to Text]

(5) In weaving, the warp is the series of parallel threads (in most traditional looms these are vertical) held apart under tension by a device called the heddle. The shuttle contains the wool which the weaver moves between the threads of the warp. When a line of thread from the shuttle has been passed through all the individual threads of the warp, it is pushed down against the already woven material with a comb, to make the finished product thick. [Back to Text]

(6) Cecrops was a traditional king of Athens. Minerva and Neptune each laid claim to the new city. To resolve their quarrel they were each invited to give one gift to the city, and Cecrops would choose a winner. Neptune provided water, but it was salty sea water, and Minerva provided the olive tree. Cecrops chose Minerva as winner. [Back to Text]

(7) Rhodope, daughter of the river god Strymon, married Haemus, son of the North Wind. They dedicated a cult to themselves and called themselves Zeus and Hera. [Back to Text]

(8) The queen of the Pygmies scorned the traditional gods and, as a result, was changed into a bird, the crane. People claimed cranes regularly attacked the Pygmies, who were small people living to the east or north of Greece. [Back to Text]

(9) Antigone, daughter of Laomedon of Troy, claimed she was more beautiful than Juno. [Back to Text]

(10) Cinyras was a king of Assyria. His daughters were changed into temple steps because they claimed they were lovelier than Juno. Cinyras himself was transformed to stone as he lay at the temple grieving their loss. [Back to Text]  
(11) For Ovid’s story about Europa and Jupiter see 2.1236 ff above. [Back to Text]

(12) Asterië was a sister of Latona. Jupiter’s deceptions and forcible abductions for sex produced a number of famous children (for example, Leda, whom Jupiter assaulted in the form of a swan, was the mother of Helen of Troy, Alcmene the mother of Hercules, Mnemosyne of the nine Muses, and Danaë of Perseus). Deoïs is another name for Proserpine, daughter of Ceres and Jupiter (i.e., the assault is also father-daughter incest). [Back to Text]

(13) In the form of the river Enipeus, Neptune forced sex on Iphimedeia, who had two sons, the Giants Otus and Ephialtes. As a ram, Neptune had sex with Theophane (changed into a sheep), who gave birth to the ram with the Golden Fleece. The mother of the winged horse was Medusa, but Pegasus was born from her blood, not from Neptune’s seed. Melantho was (in some accounts) the daughter of Deucalion. Erigone was the daughter of Icarius, a follower of Bacchus. Bacchus deceived Erigone by disguising himself as a cluster of grapes. Chiron’s mother was Phillyra. [Back to Text]

(14) Cytorus is a mountain on the southern shores of the Black Sea, famous for its boxwood. [Back to Text]  

(15) Hecate is the divine daughter of the original gods Gaia and Ouranos. She is associated with magic, witchcraft, and childbearing. [Back to Text]

(16) Sipylus is a city and a mountain in Lydia. [Back to Text]

(17) Niobe’s husband is Amphion, a wonderfully skilled musician. They were king and queen of Thebes. [Back to Text]

(18) Tantalus, a son of Zeus, was a king in Lydia. He stole from the gods and offered up his son Pelops for them to eat. As a result, he was condemned to the underworld (for Ovid’s mention of him there see 4.578). Niobe’s mother, in some accounts, was Taygete, one of the Pleiades (daughters of Atlas, who were set in the sky as stars in a constellation). [Back to Text]  

(19) Jupiter is the father of Niobe’s husband, Amphion. [Back to Text]  

(20) Amphion and his twin brother Zethos, son of Lycos, built the walls of Thebes. Zethos had to work manually, but Amphion’s musical skill was so great that when he played the rocks moved on their own and set themselves in place. [Back to Text]

(21) Because of the anger of Juno, pregnant Latona could find no place to give birth, until Delos, a wandering island, offered her space. There Latona gave birth to Apollo and Diana. As a result, the island became fixed in place. Apollo and Diana are often called the Delian gods. [Back to Text]

(22) Mount Cynthus is on the island of Delos. [Back to Text]  

(23) Tantalus was a notorious deceiver and liar, even to the gods. [Back to Text]

(24) Faunus is the Roman god of the forest, equivalent to the Greek god Pan. [Back to Text]  

(25) The stepmother of the newly born twins is Juno, the wife of their father, Jupiter. [Back to Text]

(26) The Chimaera is a fabulous monster made up of three different animals (a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a snake’s tail). [Back to Text]

(27) Minerva invented the reed pipe, but threw it away when she found out that playing the instrument made her cheeks bulge. Marsyas picked it up and became an expert on the flute. He challenged Apollo to a musical contest: his flute playing against Apollo’s skill with the lyre. The winner could do whatever he wanted to the loser. The Muses were the judges. When they declared Apollo the winner, he flayed Marsyas alive. [Back to Text]

(28) Olympus was a satyr, a brother of Marsyas and his pupil. [Back to Text]

(29) In Greek mythology, Pelops’ father, Tantalus, chopped him up to make a dinner offering to the gods. The gods, however, sensed the plot and restored the boy. However, Demeter had already eaten a missing part. Hence, it had to be replaced with a piece of ivory fashioned by Hephaestus. [Back to Text]

(30) They were offering sympathy for the destruction of Amphion, Niobe, and their family (the royal house of Thebes). The Isthmus (of Corinth) is the narrow stretch of land joining the Peloponnese to mainland Greece. The two seas are the Aegean and the Ionian seas, on either side. The first group of cities named are south of the Isthmus (i.e., in the Peloponnese). Those beyond the Isthmus would be in mainland Greece (i.e., north and east of the Isthmus). Calydon became despised by Diana because king Oeneus neglected to dedicate the first fruits of his orchard to the goddess (for Ovid’s treatment of the story see 8.429 ff.). Pittheus is a son of Pelops and king of Troezen. [Back to Text]

(31) The Furies, as goddesses of blood revenge, especially within the family, are hardly the appropriate deities to preside over a wedding. [Back to Text]


(32) Cecrops’ city is Athens, and Pireus the port adjacent to it. [Back to Text]

(33) Tereus is from Thrace in northern Greece and is therefore considered far less civilized than the Athenians or the Greeks generally. [Back to Text]

(34) Rhodope is a mountain in Thrace. [Back to Text]

(35) Ovid does not here indicate the species of the other two birds, but in the traditional myth Procne becomes a nightingale and Philomela a swallow. [Back to Text]

(36) Boreas is from the north, that is, from the regions of Thrace, where Tereus came from (i.e, not a place Athenians would think well of after the recent events). [Back to Text]

(37) Some ancient thinkers believed that winds played a major role in causing a wide range of natural phenomena, including lightning and earthquakes. [Back to Text]

(38) The Cicones lived in Thrace, to the north of Greece. [Back to Text]

(39) Ovid does not here use the adjective “golden,” although the fleece he is referring to commonly has that epithet. Nor does Ovid use the term “Argonauts”; he calls the adventurers “Minyans,” a name which usually refers to inhabitants of Boeotia. The men who sailed off after the fleece were commonly called the Argonauts (after their ship, the Argo). [Back to Text]



[Link to Metamorphoses, Book 7]


[Link to Metamorphoses, Table of Contents]