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THE METAMORPHOSES

 

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

 

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

 

BOOK SEVEN

 

 [The Argonauts visit king Aeetes in Colchis; Medea’s love for Jason; Medea agrees to help Jason; Jason tames the fire-breathing bulls, sows the dragon’s teeth, defeats the earth-born warriors, puts the dragon to sleep, and takes the Golden Fleece; Jason and Medea return to Thessaly; Medea’s magic restores Aeson’s life; Medea rejuvenates the nymphs who nursed Bacchus; Medea tricks the daughters of Pelias into killing their father; Medea’s flight from Thessaly; the transformation of Cycnus into a swan and of Hyrië into a lake; Medea at Cor-inth; her revenge against Jason; Medea in Athens; Medea’s marriage to king Aegeus; Medea’s attempt to poison Theseus; Athens celebrates the achievements of Theseus; Minos prepares for war; Minos visits Aegina; Aeacus refuses Minos help; Cephalus asks Aeacus for help; Aeacus describes the plague in Aegina; the Myrmidons appear; Cephalus tells Aeacus’ son the story of his wife, Procris, of his abduction by Aurora, of his tests of Procris’ fidelity, of her life as a follower of Diana; of his dog Laelaps and the monstrous fox, and of his wife’s death; Aeacus gives Cephalus soldiers to assist him against Minos.]

 

By now, in their ship built at Pagasae,                                                 JASON AND MEDEA
the Argonauts were carving their passage
across the sea. They had paid a visit
to Phineas, who was dragging out his life
in helpless, permanently blind old age.
The young sons of Boreas had chased off
the Harpies, those birds with young girl’s faces,
from the poor man’s island.(1) After meeting
many challenges with famous Jason
in command, they finally made their way                                               10
to the swift stream of the muddy Phasis.(2)
While they were meeting with king Aeetes,
asking him to return the Golden Fleece
from that ram which had carried Phrixus off,
and while king Aeetes was proposing
his grotesque conditions, which demanded
enormous labours from the Argonauts,
the daughter of the king, Medea, was seized
by fiercely passionate love for Jason.(3)
For a while she tried to fight against it,                                                  20
but when her reason could not overcome                                                             [10]
her feelings, she said:

 

                              “To struggle like this, Medea,
is useless. Some god—I don’t know which one—
is going against you. I suppose that this,
or something like it, is what people call
being in love. For why do those demands
my father makes strike me as very harsh?
And, in fact, they are far too harsh! But why
am I afraid this man might come to grief,
when I’ve only now just seen him? What is it                                   30
that makes me so afraid? Unhappy girl,
if you can do it, you must douse these flames
which you have fanned inside your virgin heart!
If I could, I’d act with greater wisdom,
but some new force is pulling me along.
My desire tells me one thing, and my mind
says something else. I see the better way                                                        [20]
and want to go there, but I take the worse.
Why, you royal virgin, are you on fire
for a stranger? Why these dreams of marriage                                 40
in a foreign land? For this country, too,
can offer you someone to love. The gods
will determine if this man lives or dies.
But let him live! I may make that prayer,
even if I’m not in love. For what crime
is Jason guilty of? Apart from those
with pitiless hearts, who would not be touched
by Jason’s youth, noble birth, and courage?
Or if he lacked all other qualities,
who could resist his beauty? For it’s true—                                     50
he has really moved my heart. And unless
I offer my help, the breath of the bulls
will scorch him, or he will have to battle
against those earth-born enemies sprung up                                                    [30]
from seeds which he himself has sown, or else
he will be offered up as cruel prey
to that ravenous snake. If I stand by
and let this happen, I’ll be confessing
a tigress was my mother and my heart
is made of iron and stone. Why do I                                                60
not watch him die—contaminate my eyes
by looking on? Why do I not incite
the bulls or the ferocious earth-born men,
or the dragon that never sleeps to fight
against him?(4) May the wishes of the gods
bring better things! But I should not just pray
for this to happen. I should do something!
Should I then betray my father’s kingdom
and use my power to save a stranger
I don’t even know, so that with my help                                          70            [40]
he may remain unhurt, then sail away
without me, get married to someone else,
leaving Medea here, abandoning her
to face her punishment? If he could do that,
if he could prefer some other woman
to me, then let the thankless wretch perish!
But with that face, nobility of soul,
and handsome form of his, I need not fear
he will deceive me or forget my help.
Besides, he will promise himself to me                                            80
in advance. I will call upon the gods
to witness what we pledge. Why be afraid,
when you will be quite safe? Prepare yourself,
and do not wait. Jason will forever
be indebted to you. He’ll marry you
in a solemn rite, and throngs of women
in Pelasgian cities will honour you                                                                   [50]
as the one who saved him.(5) So shall I then
be carried off by winds and leave behind
my country, my sister, brother, father,                                             90
and my gods, as well? But then my father
is a savage creature, my native land
a barbarous place, and my young brother
still a child. My sister’s prayers are with me,
and the greatest god is here inside me!
I will not be leaving what is great behind,
no, I will be pursuing what is great—
honour for saving these young men of Greece,
a knowledge of much finer lands and towns
whose fame is celebrated, even here,                                              100
and the arts and culture of those regions.
Then there’s Jason, for whom I’d willingly
trade everything the entire world contains.
Once he is my husband, I will be called                                                          [60]
a happy woman, well loved by the gods,
and my head will touch the stars. Yes, but then
what of those stories people talk about—
rocks clashing in the middle of the sea,
Charybdis, the enemy of sailors,
who sucks down the sea and then spews it back,                            110
and brutal Scylla with her savage dogs
barking in the deep seas of Sicily?(6)
But as I am carried across the sea
on that long voyage, I will be holding
the man I love, embracing Jason’s chest.
In his arms I will have no fears at all,
or, if I do, I will be afraid for him,
only for my husband. But, Medea,
do you really think this is a marriage?
Are you not wrapping crime in lovely names?                                  120           [70]
Instead of doing that, you should consider
just how great a wrong you are proposing
and, while you can, avoid such treachery.”

 

Medea finished. Her eyes were gazing
at those virtues standing right before her—
right, piety, and modesty. Cupid,
now overpowered, turned his back on her.

 

Medea set off for the ancient altars
of Hecate, Perses’ daughter, hidden
in a shadowy grove, deep in the woods.                                               130
At this point she was firm. Her emotions,
now repressed, had ebbed. But then she saw him,
the son of Aeson, and the dampened fires
burst into flame again. Her cheeks turned red,
and her whole face grew hot. Just as a spark
buried in the ashes piled above it                                                                        [80]
is often fed by winds, grows, and, once stirred,
regains the strength it had before, that’s how
her passion (now so dull, you would have thought
by this time it had died) blazed up again,                                              140
when she observed the young man standing there
in front of her. And, as it so happened,
on that particular day Aeson’s son
was looking especially attractive.
Her love would be so easy to forgive!
She gazed at him, her eyes fixed on his face,
as if it was the first time she had seen him,
so disconcerted she did not believe
the man she was looking at was mortal.
She could not turn away. When the stranger                                         150
reached for her right hand and began to speak,                                                   [90]
requesting in a humble voice her help
and promising marriage, Medea burst
into tears and answered:

 

                                        “I understand
what I am doing. I am being seduced
by love, not by ignorance of the truth.
I will do what I can to save you, but then,
once you are safe, give me what you promise!”

 

Jason swore by the sacred rituals
of the three-formed goddess, by the spirit                                             160
in that grove, by the all-discerning Sun,
father of his future father-in-law,
by his own exploits, and by the dangers,
those immense perils, he would face.(7) His oath
convinced Medea. He received from her
immediately some magic herbs and learned
how to apply them. Then, he made his way
back to the palace, overjoyed.

 

                                            The next day,
once Aurora scatters the glittering stars,                                                               [100]
people stream to the sacred field of Mars                                             170
and gather in position on the ridge.                                                       JASON AND THE GOLDEN FLEECE
Aeetes himself sits in the middle,
dressed in purple. His ivory sceptre
makes him conspicuous. Then, lo and behold,
bronze-footed bulls are snorting Vulcan’s fire
from adamantine nostrils! Their hot breath
scorches the grass and sets the ground alight.
Just as fully stoked flaming forges roar
or limestone baked in earthen furnaces,
as it absorbs the heat, makes a loud hiss                                              180
when water drops are sprinkled over it,
that’s how the chests and parched throats of those bulls
resound, as they pant out the roiling flames
they hold inside. But the son of Aeson                                                                 [110]
moves out to meet them. As he comes nearer,
the dreadful beasts turn their ferocious heads
and iron-tipped horns towards him, pawing
the dusty earth with cloven hooves, bellowing,
filling the air with smoke. The Argonauts
are stiff with fear. Jason moves to the bulls.                                          190
He does not feel their fire-laden breath
(such is the power of magic potions!).
His hand boldly strokes their hanging dewlaps
and harnesses the beasts under the yoke.
He forces them to pull the heavy plough
and with its blade carves up the untilled field.
The Colchians are stunned. The Argonauts                                                          [120]
shout even louder, spurring Jason on.
Then from a bronze helmet he takes out
the dragon’s teeth and scatters them, like seed,                                    200
across the field he has just ploughed. These seeds
have earlier been soaked in potent venom
and, once implanted in the soil, grow soft.
The sown teeth sprout and then begin to turn
into new bodies. Just as an infant child
acquires its human shape within the womb
of its own mother, forming parts inside,
and does not come out into the open air
before its body is complete, so these men
do not emerge out of the fertile soil                                                      210
until they are full grown inside the womb
of pregnant Earth. Even more amazing,                                                                [130]
they are brandishing weapons created
at the same time they are. The Pelasgians
watching these warriors about to hurl
their sharp pointed spears at young Jason’s head
are fearful—their faces fall, their spirits
fail them. Even Medea feels afraid,
though she has taken steps to keep him safe.
When she sees the young man all by himself                                         220
with so many enemies assailing him,
the blood drains from her face. She sits down,
suddenly chilled and pale. And just in case
the power of the herbs she has provided
is insufficient, she recites a spell
to help him and invokes her secret arts.
Jason picks up a heavy rock and throws it
right in the middle of his enemies
and turns the fight from an attack on him                                                              [140]
into a battle where those warriors                                                        230
go after their own ranks. So those brothers,
created from the earth, wound one another
and die, falling in an internecine fight.

The Achaeans cheer, clutch the winner’s hand,
and throw their arms eagerly around him.
And you, barbarian princess, you, too,
would like to hold the victor in your arms,
but your fear of being shamed prevents you.
You would embrace him, but are held in check
by concerns about your reputation.                                                      240
You do what is appropriate—rejoice
with silent feeling and then offer thanks
to your spells and to the gods who craft them.
Jason still had to use his magic herbs
to put the dragon to sleep. This creature,
distinguished by its crest and triple tongue                                                            [150]
and with hooked teeth—a terrifying sight!—
was the custodian of the tree which held
the Golden Fleece. Once Jason had sprinkled
the beast with herbal juices which produce                                           250
a Lethean sleep and had muttered three times
the words which bring calm slumbers, using spells
which soothe stormy seas and raging rivers,
sleep settled on that dragon’s sleepless eyes,
and Aeson’s heroic son carried off
the Golden Fleece.(8) Proud of what he had won
and taking with him as another prize
the person who had made that possible,
triumphant Jason reached the port of Iolchos
with his wife, Medea.

 

                                             In Thessaly,                                             260
mothers and aged fathers offered gifts                                                                 [160]
for their sons’ safe return and in the flames
poured heaps of incense. As they had promised,
they led in and killed a sacrificial beast,
whose horns they had wrapped in gold. But Aeson,                             MEDEA AND AESON
Jason’s father, did not participate
in their rejoicing, for, worn down by age,
he was now close to death. With this in mind,
Jason spoke about him to Medea:

 

“Wife, to you, I admit, I owe my life,                                              270
and though you have given me everything
and the sum total of your services
is beyond belief, if your enchantments
can do it (and what can those spells of yours
not bring about?) then take away some years
from my own life and add them to my father’s.”

 

Jason could not check his tears. Medea
was moved by the love Jason had displayed
in making the request. She thought about
her very different feelings for her father,                                                280           [170]
king Aeetes, whom she had left behind.
However, that thought did not affect her,
and she said:

 

                      “Husband, what unholy scheme
has just passed through your lips? Do I look
as if I can transfer part of your life
to someone else? Hecate would not approve,
and what you ask is not appropriate.
But, Jason, I will try to give a gift
greater than the one you have requested.
Using my arts, I will try to lengthen                                                  290
your father’s life without reducing yours,
if Hecate, the goddess of three forms,
will only give her personal consent
to such an immense and daring action
and lend us her support.”

 

                                                  It was three nights
before the moon’s horns were completely joined
into a sphere. But once the full moon shone                                                         [180]
and her whole shape gazed down on earth, Medea
slipped from the palace in loose-fitting robes.
Her feet were bare, and her uncovered hair                                          300
hung down across her shoulders. She moved off,
without attendants, through the still silence
of the night. Deep slumbers had brought calm rest
to men and birds and beasts. There was no sound
in any hedgerow. Still leaves were silent,
and silent, too, the dewy air. Nothing moved,
except the quivering stars. Stretching her arms,
Medea turned herself around three times,
sprinkled water taken from a flowing stream
three times above her head, and then three times                                  310
her mouth let out a piercing howl. Knees bent,                                                    [190]
she knelt down on the solid earth and cried:

 

“O Night, most faithful to these sacred rites,                                    MEDEA’S INCANTATION
and all you stars who, with the golden moon,
follow the fiery light of day, and you,
triple-formed Hecate, who understand
what we intend and come here eagerly
to undertake the task of helping us
with our sorcerer’s chants and rituals,
and you, O Earth, who grows the potent herbs                                320
enchanters use, and you winds and breezes,
hills, streams, and lakes, you gods of every grove,
and all you gods of Night, be present here—
all those who help me, whenever I wish
to reverse a river’s flow, make it run
past its astonished banks back to its source,                                                  [200]
and with my magic soothe tempestuous seas
or stir up tranquil waters, scatter clouds
and bring them on, summon the stormy winds
and have them die away. With spells and chants                              330
I break the serpent’s jaws, rip living oaks
and boulders from their native soil, move trees,
and order hills to shake and earth to groan
and shadows of the dead to leave their tombs!
And you, O Moon, I also draw you down
in an eclipse, although Temesan brass
is there to ease your pain.(9) And my spells make
the chariot of the Sun, my grandfather,
grow pale, and from my poisons Aurora
loses colour! On my behalf, you cooled                                          340            [210]
the fire from those bulls and forced their necks
beneath the yoke to pull the curving plough,
a task they could not bear. You made those men
born from dragon’s teeth fight one another
in savage battle, and you lulled to sleep
the guardian of the fleece, who never slept,
and by deceiving him, sent that treasure
off to towns in Greece. Now I need the juice
by which old age, once renewed, can revert
to the prime of life, get back youthful years.                                     350
And that you will provide—that’s why those stars
are sparkling, why a chariot is on its way
drawn by the necks of dragons on the wing.”

 

A chariot was there, sent down from heaven,
and once Medea had climbed in, patted                                                              [220]
the dragons’ harnessed necks, picked up the reins,
and given them a shake, it snatched her off,
up to the sky. Looking down on Tempe,
in Thessaly lying far below her,
she drove the dragons on to certain places,                                          360
where she inspected herbs they might provide—
to Ossa as well as lofty Pelion
to Othrys, Pindus, and Mount Olympus,
an even higher peak. She took the plants
which pleased her, pulling some out by the roots,
and cutting others with a curved bronze knife.
She gathered many from the river banks
of Apidanus and Amphrysus streams,
and, Enipeus, you were not neglected.
The waters of Peneus and Spercheus                                                   370
gave her their herbs, as did the reed-filled shores                                                [230]
of Boebe’s lake. And beside Anthedon,
in Euboea, she picked a long-lived plant,
not yet famous for the transformation
it later brought about in Glaucus’ body.(10)
Nine days and nights Medea moved around,
drawn in her chariot by those winged dragons,
examining the fields. Then she came back.
The dragons had not eaten any food.
They had only breathed the odour of those herbs,                                380
and yet they had cast off their skins, the mark
of their advancing years. She reached her door,
right at the threshold, but remained outside,
with nothing but the sky above her head.
Shunning the company of men, she built
two altars out of turf—one on the right                                                                [240]
for Hecate, one on the left for Youth.(11)
When she had covered these with sacred boughs
from the forest wilderness, she dug out
two ditches in the earth close by and then                                             390
performed a holy sacrifice, plunging
her knife in a black ram’s throat and soaking
the open ditches with her victim’s blood.
Next, she poured goblets of liquid honey
on the blood and, in a second offering,
cups filled with heated milk. As she poured,
she uttered spells, calling on the spirits
of the earth, imploring the king of shades
and his ravished wife not to take the life
still left in the old man’s limbs too quickly.                                            400           [250]

 

When she has appeased the gods with prayers                                     MEDEA REJUVENATES AESON
and lengthy incantations, she orders
Aeson’s exhausted body to be brought
into the open air. Then with her spells
she puts him in a deep and death-like sleep
and stretches him on a layer of herbs.
She orders Jason and his attendants
to go away, advising them to take
their profane eyes far from her mysteries.
They disperse, as she has asked. Medea,                                             410
with her hair dishevelled, circles around
the flaming altars, like a worshipper
of Bacchus. She dips her branching torches
into the dark ditches, stains them with blood,                                                      [260]
and at the altars lights them in the fire.
Next she purifies old Aeson, three times   
with flame, three times with water, and three times
with sulphur. Meanwhile, a potent mixture
in a bronze cauldron set above the flames
is boiling, seething white with bubbling froth.                                         420
In this vessel Medea cooks some roots
she dug from fields in Thessaly, with seeds,
flowers, and black herbal juices, adding
stones gathered from the most distant regions
of the East and sand washed by ebbing seas.
She puts in hoar frost she scraped up at night
by moonlight, the ominous wings and flesh
of a screech owl, and the cut-up entrails
of the ambiguous werewolf, which can change
its bestial visage to a human face.                                                         430           [270]
And she does not forget the scaly skin
from a thin Cinyphian water snake,
and liver from a long-lived stag. With these,
she includes the eggs and head from a crow
which has lived nine human generations.(12)
When the barbarian princess had used these
and a thousand other items to attain
her more than mortal purpose, she stirred up
the whole mix with the branch of a mild olive,
long since dried out, blending what was on top                                     440
with what was underneath. Lo and behold,
in that hot bronze cauldron the old stick changed!
First it turned green and then, soon after that,                                                      [280]
sprouted leaves and suddenly was loaded
with a heavy weight of fruit. When the flames
made foam boil over from the hollow bronze
and warm drops hit the earth, the ground turned green!
Soft grass and flowers sprung up from the soil!
When she saw this, Medea drew a knife,
slit open Aeson’s throat, let his old blood                                             450
flow out, and replaced it with her juices.
After the old man had absorbed these fluids,
some passing through his mouth, some through his wound,
at once the colour of his hair and beard
changed from white to black, his skeletal frame
in one heart beat had vanished, his pallor                                                             [290]
and debility were gone, compact flesh
smoothed out his hollow wrinkles, and his limbs
grew large and strong. Aeson was astonished,
recalling he had been just like this once,                                               460
some forty years ago.

 

                                      From high above,                                           MEDEA AND THE NYMPHS
Bacchus witnessed the amazing miracle
of this prodigious feat and realized
Medea could restore the youthful years
of Nysean nymphs who had been his nurses.
So he requested and received this gift
from the royal princess of Colchis.(13)

 

                                      And her magic spells                                      MEDEA AND THE DAUGHTERS OF PELIAS
do not stop there. Medea then pretends
she has had a quarrel with her husband
and, under false pretenses, runs away                                                   470
as a suppliant to Pelias, the king.(14)
Because Pelias is himself worn out
and very old, his daughters welcome her.                                                            [300]
By simulating friendship with deceit,
crafty Medea soon makes them her friends,
and when she tells them that of her good deeds
the greatest is the way she has removed
Aeson’s frailty and when she lingers
on that tale, in Pelias’ daughters
she creates the hope that similar spells                                                  480
could restore the youth of their own father.
They ask Medea to do it, telling her
to name her price. She remains quite silent
for a while and appears to hesitate,
keeping those who are urging the request
in doubt, pretending she is still unsure.
Soon, however, she promises to try.
She tells them:

 

                   “To give you more confidence
in this talent of mine, your oldest ram,                                                             [310]
of all your sheep the leader of the flock,                                          490
will, thanks to my medicines, become a lamb.”

 

Immediately they lead in a woolly beast,
a feeble creature thoroughly worn out
with innumerable years. Its ancient horns
curl round its shrunken temples. Medea
cuts its scrawny throat with her Thessalian knife,
staining the blade (even though the creature
has hardly any blood), and then she stuffs
the creature’s body in a hollow cauldron,
which also holds her potent magic juice.                                               500
This shrinks its body’s limbs and melts the horns,
and with those horns its years dissolve away.
From the middle of the cauldron they can hear
a soft bleating noise, and then, right away,
while they are wondering about the sound,                                                          [320]
a lamb jumps out and runs away to play
and find its mother’s udder for some milk.
The daughters of Pelias are amazed.

And now Medea’s promises have shown
she can be trusted, they encourage her                                                 510
even more eagerly to work her magic.

 

Phoebus had led his horses from their yoke
three times, after completing their descent
into the Iberian sea.(15) On the fourth night
brilliant stars were shining as Medea,
Aeetes’ deceitful daughter, set out
on a blazing fire pure water and herbs
(but ones which had no healing potency).
King Pelias and the guards escorting him
by now were fast asleep, bodies stretched out                                      520
and relaxed, like corpses. Medea’s spells                                                           [330]
and magic powers had put them in that state.
The daughters, following her instructions,
accompanied the Colchian sorceress
into the room where Pelias was sleeping
and stood there, grouped around the royal bed.
Medea said:

 

                                                  “Why are you so listless?
Why hold back now? Unsheathe those swords of yours,
let his old fluids out, so I can fill
his empty veins with youthful blood! You hold                                 530
your father’s life and age in your own hands.
If you have any loving feelings for him,
if those hopes which spur you are not empty,
carry out this action for your father.
Use your weapons to chase away old age,
and, with one slash of those swords you hold,
drain his corrupted blood.”

 

                                   Urged on by these words,
both daughters, because they love their father,
for the first time set aside their duty.
In order to avoid irreverence,                                                               540           [340]
they carry out an irreverent act.
Still, neither one can watch the stab she makes.
They avert their eyes, turn their heads away,
and with brutal hands blindly stab their father.
Blood pours from the old man, who lifts himself
up on his elbows, half cut to pieces,
and tries to leave the bed. Stretching pale arms
out into the middle of so many swords,
he cries out:

 

                     “Daughters, what are you doing?
Why take up arms against your father’s life?”                                  550

 

Their courage and their strength abandon them.
Pelias is about to speak more words,
but Medea cuts off all further speech.
She slits his throat. His mutilated corpse
she then dumps in the seething cauldron.

 

Medea would not have escaped punishment,                                                       [350]
if she had not moved up into the air                                                      MEDEA FLIES OVER THE ISLANDS
with her winged dragons, flying way up high
over shady Pelion, Chiron’s home,
over Othrys, and regions made famous                                                560
by what had happened to old Cerambus,
who, when solid earth was inundated
by flooding seas, with the nymphs’ assistance
flew into the air on wings and was not drowned,
and thus escaped Deucalion’s flood.(16) Moving past
Aetolian Pitane on her left,
with its stone replica of a dragon,
and the grove of Ida in which Bacchus,
using the deceptive image of a stag,                                                                     [360]
once concealed a bullock stolen by his son,                                          570
she passed the place where Corythus’ father
lies interred in shallow sand and those fields
where the eerie sound of Maera’s barking
makes men afraid.(17) She travelled on past Cos,
Eurypylus’ city, where the women
acquired horns at the time when Hercules
and his soldiers left the island, past Rhodes,
Apollo’s city, and the Telchines
of Ialysos, whose eyes polluted
everything they saw. Sickened by their deeds,                                      580
Jupiter drowned them in his brother’s waves.
She moved across the walls of Carthaea
in ancient Ceos, where Alcidamas,
a father, was amazed a gentle dove                                                                     [370]
could fly up out of his daughter’s body.(18)

 

From there she looked down on Hyrië’s lake                                       CYCNUS AND HYRIË
and Cycneian Tempe, which gained its fame
overnight, thanks to a swan. In that spot,
Philius had given some birds to Cycnus,
along with a wild lion he had tamed,                                                     590
as the young lad Cycnus had instructed.
Cycnus then asked him to subdue a bull,
and Philius did so, but was upset
his love had been rebuffed so many times
and refused to give the bull to Cycnus
as his final gift, although he begged him.
Cycnus in his anger cried out to him:

 

“You’re going to wish you’d given me that bull.”

 

Then he jumped down from a towering rock.
They all believed he’d fallen to his death,                                              600
but he was changed into a swan and soared
on snow-white wings high up into the air.
His mother, Hyrië, who was unaware                                                                 [380]
he had survived, dissolved in her own tears
and turned into the lake that bears her name.(19)

 

Pleuron lies adjacent to these places.
Here Combe, Ophis’ daughter, had escaped
being hurt by her own sons, by flying away
on trembling wings. After that, Medea
gazed down on Calaurea’s fields, sacred                                              610
to Latona, knowing their king and queen
had once changed into birds.(20) Cyllene lay
off to her right, where Menephron one day
would, like a savage animal, have sex
with his own mother. Far away from there
she saw Cephisus mourning his grandson’s fate,
changed by Apollo to a bloated seal,
and the house where Eumelus was grieving
for his son, now a creature of the air.(21)                                                             [390]

 

Finally, with her winged dragons she reached                                       620
Ephyre, home of the Pirenian spring,
where people in the olden days would claim
that in the earliest ages human bodies
were created out of rain-soaked mushrooms.
Here, after Jason’s new bride was consumed                                       MEDEA’S REVENGE
by Medea’s drugs and both seas had seen
the royal palace burning, Medea
profanely bathed her sword in her sons’ blood.
After this appalling act of vengeance,
she fled, avoiding Jason’s armed response.(22)                                     630
Borne from there on her Titanic dragons                                              MEDEA AND AEGEUS
she came to Athens, city of Pallas,
which had once seen you, most worthy Phene,
and you, too, old Periphas, both flying,                                                               [400]
and the granddaughter of Polypemon
bearing herself aloft on strange new wings.(23)
Aegeus took her in (and should be condemned
for that one act alone), but welcoming her
was not enough. He also joined himself
to her, and she became his wife.

 

                                                And now                                              640
Aegeus’ son, Theseus, whom his father
had never known, reached Athens.(24) His courage
had pacified the Isthmus between both seas.                                        MEDEA AND THESEUS
Medea, in an attempt to kill him,
mixed a strong poison she had brought with her
from Scythian shores. They say this venom
came from the teeth of Echidna’s dog child,
Cerberus.(25) There is a hidden cavern
with a gloomy opening and a trail
leading down to Hades. Along this path                                               650
Hercules, hero from Tiryns, had dragged                                                            [410]
Cerberus off in adamantine chains.(26)
The beast fought back, twisting his eyes sideways,
away from daylight and the sunshine. Roused
to savage fury, its three throats had howled,
all at once, filling the air with barking
and showering green fields with foam-white drool.
This, so men believe, hardened and, nourished
by fertile and productive soil, acquired
a noxious power. Because it is long lived                                              660
and springs up on solid rock, country folk
have named it aconite.(27) Through his wife’s deceit,
Aegeus, the father, gave his own son                                                                  [420]
this poison, as if he were his enemy.
Theseus, suspecting nothing, took the cup
his father offered him in his right hand.
But when Aegeus recognized the signs
of his own family on the ivory hilt
of Theseus’ sword, he knocked the poisoned cup
from his son’s mouth. Medea fled from death                                       670
in a mist produced by her enchantments.

 

Although Aegeus was overjoyed his son                                              ATHENS CELEBRATES THESEUS
had not been injured, he was still amazed
such a wicked crime could be attempted
and come within a hair’s breadth of success.
He lit fires on altars and heaped up gifts
for the gods. His axes struck the brawny necks
of oxen whose horns were bound with ribbon.
People assert that no day ever shone                                                                  [430]
on Erectheus’ city more joyfully                                                           680
than that day. Senior men and common folk
maintain the festival. They sing songs, too,
and wine inspires their happy festive mood:

 

“O mighty Theseus, praised in Marathon
for shedding the blood of that bull from Crete,
for making farmers safe from that wild boar
when they plough their fields in Cromyon.(28)
Your actions killed them both. That was your gift.
And thanks to you, the land of Epidaurus
saw the club-wielding son of Vulcan fall.                                         690
The banks of Cephisus watched you as you killed
the cruel Procrustes, and Eleusis,
sacred to Ceres, saw Cercyon die.
You also did away with Sinis, too,                                                                [440]
whose massive strength committed evil deeds.
He used to bend pine trees and bring their tops
down to the ground when he wished to strew
his victims’ corpses far and wide. And the roads
to where Leleges live in Megara
are now secure, for you disposed of Scyron,                                   700
and earth and sea deny a resting place
for this robber’s scattered bones, which, men say,
have been for such a long time tossed around,
old age has hardened them to solid rocks
which carry Scyron’s name.(29) And if we wished
to count your worthy honours and your years,
your noble deeds would be more numerous.
Bravest of men, for you we offer up
our public prayers. To honour you we drain                                                   [450]
our drinks of wine.”

 

                                      The royal palace echoed                                 710
people’s shouts and their supporting prayers,
and in the city everyone rejoiced.
But Aegeus’ joy at welcoming his son                                                  MINOS PREPARES FOR WAR
is not complete (for, in fact, no pleasure
ever lasts—some worry always interferes
with our delight). Minos is preparing
to wage war. He has a strong force of troops
and ships, but his most powerful weapon
is a father’s anger, for he is seeking,
through this war, a just revenge for the death                                        720
of his son Androgeus.(30) But first of all,
he gathers allied forces for the fight
and crosses the sea with the rapid fleet                                                               [460]
which makes him powerful. Then Anaphe
joins Minos’ force, swearing an alliance,
and the realm of Astypalaea, too,
once he has overpowered it in war,
then after that low-lying Myconos,
the chalky island of Cimolus, Scyros
(where thyme grows everywhere), flat Seriphos,                                   730
and Paros, too, rich in marble, and Siphnos,
which treacherous Arne betrayed to him,
once she was paid in gold to feed her greed.(31)
For that she was transformed into a jackdaw,
a bird with feet and feathers coloured black,
which even now is still obsessed with gold.
But Oliaros, Didyme, Tenos,
Andros, Gyaros, and Peparethos,                                                                       [470]
where shining olives grow abundantly,
did not assist the Cretan fleet.(32) Minos,                                             740
moving north from there, made for Oenopia,
the Aeacidaean realm. Ancient peoples
called it Oenopia, but Aeacus himself
named it Aegina after his own mother.                                                

 

A crowd rushes down, keen to see the man                                          MINOS AND AEACUS
who is so famous. Telamon comes out
to meet him with his brother Peleus
(younger than Telamon) and the third son,
Phocus.(33) Aeacus comes himself, as well,
but slowed down by the weight of his old age,                                      750
and asks Minos the reason for his visit.
The ruler of one hundred cities sighs,                                                                   [480]
remembering his sorrow for his son,
and answers him:

 

                      “I’m asking for your help
in a war for the sake of my own son.
You will be part of a pious action.
I’m asking that he have a burial mound,
something that will give me consolation.”

 

The grandson of Asopus said to Minos:

 

“Your request is futile. What you require                                         760
my city cannot do. There is no land
more closely tied to the Athenians
than this one. We ratified a treaty.”

 

Minos was not pleased. He went away, saying:

 

“That pact of yours will cost you a great deal.”

 

He thought it more practical to threaten war
than to fight and squander his resources
prematurely in that place.

 

                                                       Cretan ships                                  CEPHALUS AND AEACUS
could still be seen from Aegina’s battlements                                                       [490]
when a ship from Athens, all sails flying,                                               770
came rushing into view and moved inside
the harbor of its ally. She carried
Cephalus, as well as a commission
from his native land.(34) Many years had passed
since those sons of Aeacus had seen him,
but they recognized him, clasped his right hand,
and then went with him to their father’s house.
The well-known hero, still showing traces
of his earlier beauty, went inside,
with an olive branch he brought from Athens.                                       780
As an older man, he had beside him,
to his left and right, two more youthful men
Clytos and Butes, both sons of Pallas.(35)                                                           [500]
After some initial conversation,
Cephalus summed up, in brief, the orders
he had received from the Athenians
and asked for help, mentioning the treaty
and the oaths their ancestors had taken
and adding that Minos was intending
to conquer all Achaea. By saying this,                                                  790
his eloquence reinforced the reasons
for the orders he had brought from Athens.
Aeacus, his left hand on the handle
of his shining sceptre, said:

 

                                                         “Athenian,
do not ask for our assistance. Help yourself.
Do not hesitate to take the forces
which this island now possesses as your own.
We do not lack resources (may this state
of my affairs continue!). I command
sufficient soldiers and, thanks to the gods,                                        800          [510]
this is a prosperous moment, no time
to make excuses.”

 

                                                Cephalus replied:

 

“May things remain that way and the number
of your citizens keep growing. Indeed,
just now, as I arrived, I was delighted
to come across so many younger folk,
all so good looking. And yet I did miss
many of those people I saw earlier,
when I was welcomed here into your city.”

 

Aeacus sighed and in a sombre voice                                                   810
replied as follows:

 

                                     “After a bad start                                       THE PLAGUE IN AEGINA
a better fortune follows. How I wish
I could tell you about just one of them
without the other! But now I’ll go through
what happened in the order it occurred
and won’t detain you with long-winded chat.                                                 [520]
Those people you remember in your mind
and asked about are now just bones and ash.
A huge part of my resources perished,
when a dreadful plague fell on the people,                                       820
brought about by Juno’s envious rage.
How she despised a land named for her rival!(36)
As long as it looked like human illness
and the harmful cause of so many deaths
was hidden, we used our medical skills
to fight against it. But the destruction
swamped our efforts, which simply did not work,
once we were overwhelmed. When it started,
sky blanketed the earth in a thick fog
and with its clouds held in a stifling heat,                                          830
and while the moon joined up her horns four times                                         [530]
to complete her orb and then four times waned,
reducing her full sphere, hot southern winds
kept blowing lethal blasts. We can confirm
the sickness even reached our springs and lakes.
Thousands of snakes crept over untilled fields,
poisoning our rivers with their venom.
The power of this unexpected plague
first revealed itself to us by killing off
dogs, birds, sheep, cattle, and wild animals.                                     840
The wretched ploughman was amazed to see
his sturdy oxen fall down as they toiled,
collapsing in the middle of the furrow,
and while flocks of sheep gave out sickly bleats,                                            [540]
their wool fell off, all on its own, as their bodies
were consumed. The lively horse, once famous
on the track, dishonoured its victories,
forgot its previous triumphs, and, now doomed
to a lingering death, groaned in its stall.
Wild boars lost any sense of their own fury,                                    850
deer had no confidence in their own speed,
and bears did not attack strong herds of cattle.
They were all listless. Decaying bodies
lay in the woods, fields, and roads, and the air
was putrid with the stench. And what was strange
was that dogs, ravenous birds, and gray wolves
would not touch the corpses. They died and rotted,                                        [550]
while their noxious vapours spread contagion
far and wide. As it grew more destructive,
the fatal illness reached unlucky farmers                                           860
and in the major cities gained control
inside the walls. First, the inner organs
got very hot. Then these hidden inner flames
produced a reddish skin, and drawing breath
grew difficult. Tongues were rough and swollen,
men’s mouths were parched, their breathing shallow.
They lay there, open mouthed, dry throats gasping
poisonous air. The sick could not endure
staying in bed or having covers on.
They lay down with their chests against hard ground.                       870
But the earth did not cool off their bodies.                                                      [560]
Instead, their bodies heated up the earth.
No one could stop it. Savage destruction
broke out even among physicians, too,
and those who tried to use their healing skills
just harmed themselves. The closer people got
to ailing patients and the more faithfully
they nursed the sick, the sooner they would join
those who had died. And when men lost all hope
for any cure and realized their sickness                                            880
would end in death, they followed their desires
and were not interested in what might help,
since nothing seemed to work. So everywhere
people abandoned any sense of shame.
They clung to springs, wells, and streams. But drinking
did not quench their thirst, not before their lives
were over. Many of them were so ill,                                                             [570]
they could not stand up. They even died there,
right in the water. Then some other patient
would come and drink. The desperately sick                                   890
found the beds they hated so unpleasant,
they would get up and, if they lacked the strength
to stand upright, would roll their bodies out
along the ground. And people all ran off,
leaving their household gods, in the belief
their homes were deadly. They had no idea
what brought on the disease, and so they thought
the place must be at fault. You could see some
roaming the streets, half dead, if they still had
strength enough to stand, and others lying                                        900
on the earth, weeping, rolling their spent eyes
as they lay there dying. They stretched their arms
to the stars in heaven high above them,                                                          [580]
breathing their last here and there, wherever
death had overtaken them.

                                            How did I feel
throughout all this? What one would expect.
I hated life and wished to be a part
of my own people. Wherever my eyes
would turn to look, there were piles of bodies,
like rotten apples which have fallen down                                        910
from moving branches or acorns dropping
from a shaken oak. You see that temple
across from you, on top of those long stairs?
It belongs to Jupiter. Who did not bring
his useless offerings to those altars!
How many times did a husband praying
for his wife or a father for his son                                                                   [590]
perish at the unavailing altars,
with the unused portion of the incense
still in his hand for anyone to find!                                                    920
How often did the sacrificial bulls
brought to the temple suddenly fall down
without a wound, while the priest was praying
and pouring unmixed wine between its horns!
When I was personally conducting
a sacrifice to Jupiter for myself,
my three sons, and my country, the victim
gave a wretched groan and unexpectedly
collapsed without receiving any blow.
Its blood left hardly any stains on knives                                          930
we thrust into its belly. Its entrails,
full of disease, had lost all indications                                                              [600]
of the truth and of warnings from the gods.(37)
The deadly working of that pestilence
moved deep within, right to inner organs.
I saw dead bodies by the sacred doors
and at the very altars, thrown down there,
so the deaths were even more offensive.(38)
Some people used a noose to end their lives
and by dying escaped the fear of death,                                           940
quite willing to bring on their looming fate.
Bodies of the dead were not sent away
with any of the customary rites
(the city gates could not accommodate
the funerals). They lay there on the ground
unburied or were simply thrown away
on lofty burial sites. For by this time
no reverence remained. People quarreled
about the pyres, and dead bodies were burned                                              [610]
in flames prepared for someone else. No one                                  950
was left to weep, and the souls of children
and parents, of the young and old, wandered
unlamented. Places used for burials
had no space or wood for funeral fires.

Overwhelmed by such a huge storm of despair,
I cried out:

 

                        ‘O Jupiter, if those stories
about you are not false when people say
Aegina, daughter of Asopus, held you
in her arms and if, O mighty father,
you are not ashamed to be my parent,                                       960
give me back my people, or else put me
with them in a common burial mound.’

 

He offered me a sign with flashing lightning                                      THE MYRMIDONS
and another with his thunder. I said:

 

‘I take these omens you have given me                                                     [620]
as pledges. I accept them, and I pray
they indicate your favour and signal
what you mean to do.’

 

                              Now, it so happened
that close beside me stood an oak tree
sacred to Jupiter, whose seed had come                                         970
from his holy temple at Dodona.
Its branches were spread out and thinly spaced.(39)
Here I observed some ants collecting grain
in a long column, carrying big loads
in tiny mouths, and following a track
across the wrinkled bark. I was amazed
how numerous they were, and so I said:

 

‘O best of fathers, give me this many
citizens and restock my empty walls.’

 

The tall oak trembled, and its branches moved.                               980
Although there was no wind, they made a sound.
My limbs were quivering, shaking with fear,                                                   [630]
and my hair stood up on end. But I kissed
the earth and the oak, not yet admitting
there was any hope, and yet it gave me hope.
I kept my cherished wishes in my heart.
Then, as night came on, sleep took possession
of my body, worn out with so much care,
and the same oak tree appeared to be there,
before my eyes, with just as many branches,                                   990
just as many creatures in those branches,
all quivering the way they did before,
and shaking that row of ants collecting grain
down to the ground below. Then these creatures
suddenly grew, looking larger and larger,
and raised themselves to stand up on the ground,                                           [640]
bodies now erect. They lost their slender shape,
their numerous feet, and their black colour.
Their limbs then altered into human forms.
Sleep left. Once awake, I dismissed the dream,                               1000
complaining I had got no help at all
from gods above. But inside the palace
there was a noisy sound of people talking.
It seemed to me I could hear men’s voices
(and by this time I was not used to that).
I assumed these sounds were still part of my dream,
as well, but Telamon came running up,
threw open the doors, and shouted:

 

                                                              ‘Father!
Come outside! There are things to see out here
beyond belief, beyond what you could hope!’                            1010

 

I went outside and there I saw some men
like those I’d seen as images in sleep,
arranged in lines in a similar way,                                                                    [650]
and one I recognized. They came to me
and hailed me as their king. I carried out
my oath to Jupiter, dividing up
the city and its fields, now quite empty
of farmers who had worked in them before,
among the people who had just arrived.
I called them Myrmidons, which I derived                                       1020
from myrmex, meaning ant, a name I chose
because it fit those people’s origins.(40)
You have seen their bodies. They still follow
the customs they once had in earlier times
and are a thrifty people, hard working,
striving tenaciously for what they want,
and hanging on to what they get. These men,
whose spirits match their age, will follow you
to war, once that favourable east wind
which brought you here veers to the south.”                                     1030          [660]

 

                                                         And, in fact,
an eastern wind had helped him reach the place.
With these and other stories the two men
filled a lengthy day. The last part of the light
they spent feasting, and when night came they slept.

 

The golden Sun brought forth his light once more,
but East Wind was still blowing, holding back
the ships which meant to sail for home that day.
Pallas’ two sons met up with Cephalus,
a more senior man, and the three of them
went to meet the king. But he was still asleep.                                      1040
Phocus, a son of Aeacus, met them
at the door (Telamon and his brother
were mustering men for war), escorted
the Athenians inside the palace,                                                                           [670]
to a beautiful, secluded spot, and there
they sat together. Then Phocus noticed
that Cephalus held in his hand a spear
with a golden point, made out of a wood
he had not seen before. So as they spoke
their first few words, Phocus interrupted                                              1050
what they were saying to ask about the spear:

 

“I have a good knowledge of the forests
and of hunting animals, but for some time
I’ve been curious about what kind of wood
is in the shaft of that spear you’re holding.
If it were ash, surely it would be brown.
If made of cornel wood, it would have knots.
I have no idea where it might come from,
but my eyes have never seen a weapon                                                          [680]
more beautifully designed for throwing.”                                          1060

 

One of the Athenian brothers answered:

 

“With this spear you will be more astonished
by its effectiveness than by its looks.
No matter where it’s aimed, it strikes its target.
Once it is thrown, no chance affects its path,
and it flies back on its own, stained with blood.
No one needs to run and get it.”

 

                                                        This reply
made Phocus eager to learn more. He asked
all sorts of questions. Why was the spear like this?
Where did it come from? Who had given him                                       1070
such a wondrous gift? Cephalus answered
what he asked, but was still ashamed to state
what he had paid for it. He fell silent.
Moved by a sense of grief for his lost wife,
he felt tears welling up and said these words:

 

“Son of a goddess, this spear makes me weep                                               [690]
(who could believe that!), and if Fates grant me                               CEPHALUS AND PROCRIS
a lengthy life, this same effect you see
will be produced for many years to come.
This weapon finished me and my dear wife.                                     1080
How I wish I’d never had this present!
My wife was Procris, sister of that girl
who was carried away, Orithyïa.
Though Orithyïa is one your ears
are far more likely to have heard about,
if you wanted to compare the two of them
for looks and manners, Procris was the one
more worth abducting.(41) King Erectheus,
her father, joined her to me in marriage,
and love linked us, as well. People called me                                   1090
a happy man, and I was. But to the gods
that is not how things appeared. Otherwise
I would perhaps be happy even now.
The second month after our marriage rites,                                                     [700]
bright Aurora was chasing off the night                                            AURORA AND CEPHALUS
and caught sight of me from the topmost peak
of Mount Hymettus, where flowers always bloom,
while I was putting nets in place to catch
wild deer with horns.(42) She carried me away
against my will. By the goddess’ grace,                                           1100
I may speak the truth. Though she is lovely
with her rosy face, though she looks after
border regions of the light and darkness,
though she feeds herself on liquid nectar,
I loved Procris. Procris was in my heart.
Procris was always on my lips. I kept
talking about our sacred marriage couch,
the recent consummation of our love,
our wedding held just a short time before,                                                       [710]
and the prior rights of our empty bed.                                             1110
The goddess grew annoyed and said to me:

 

‘Stop your complaining, you ungrateful man.
Keep your Procris! But if my mind can see
into the future, you are going to wish
you did not have her!’

 

                                                    Still very angry,
she sent me back to Procris. On my way home,
mulling in my heart what the goddess said,
I began to fear my wife might have betrayed
our marriage vows. Her youth and loveliness
forced me to think of infidelity,                                                        1120
but her virtue told me to place no trust
in thoughts like that. Still, I had been away,
I was returning home from a woman
who exemplified that fault, and lovers
are afraid of everything. So I chose
to explore a thing that might be painful—                                                        [720]
to test her faithful chastity with gifts.
Aurora encouraged my anxieties
and changed the way I looked (it seemed to me
I could feel her doing it). I went back                                              1130
to Athens, city of Pallas—no one
knew who I was—and entered my own home.
In the house itself nothing was amiss.
It showed signs that everyone was faithful
and worried that their master was not there.
It was hard for me to come face to face
with Erectheus’ daughter—I had to use
a thousand ploys. But when I did meet her,
I was astonished and almost gave up
my plans to test her constancy. In fact,                                            1140
I found it difficult to keep myself
from telling her the truth and difficult
not kissing  her the way I should have done.
She was grieving (but no woman could be                                                      [730]
more beautiful than she was in her grief),
suffering with longing for her husband,
who had been snatched away. Phocus, just think
what sort of beauty that woman possessed
who looked so lovely even in her sorrow!
Why should I describe for you how often                                        1150
her chaste manners spurned my invitations,
how often she said:

 

                           ‘I am committed
to one man alone, wherever he is.
The pleasure I can give I keep for him.’

 

What husband in his senses would not find
that test of her fidelity sufficient?
But I was not content. I battled on
to wound myself, until, by promising
to confer a fortune on her for one night
and then increasing the amount, at last                                             1160          [740]
I forced her to relent. By these false means
I won the day and cried:

 

                              ‘You evil woman,
this adultery is merely a pretense!
You traitor, I am your real husband.
You have been caught, and I have witnessed it!’

 

She said nothing. Overwhelmed with silent shame,
she ran away from her deceitful home
and her wretched husband. Resenting me,
hating the whole race of men, she wandered
in the mountains, basing her way of life                                            1170
on the customs of divine Diana.
Now I was alone, and a fiercer flame
burned in my bones. I pleaded for forgiveness,
conceding I was wrong and confessing
I, too, if offered gifts, could have committed
such a fault, if such generous presents                                                            [750]
had been proposed. When I admitted this,
at first she punished me for disrespect,
since I had injured her, and then came back.
We spent sweet years, living in harmony.                                        1180
As if, in giving herself, she had given
a trifling present. She also offered me
the gift of a dog which she had once received
from her own goddess Cynthia, who said:

 

‘He will surpass all other hounds in running.’

 

At the same time she offered me this spear,
which, as you can see, my hand is holding.
Would you like to learn about what happened
to the dog, that other gift? Then listen
to an astounding story. You will be stirred                                      1190
by the amazing details of the tale.

With his own intelligence, Oedipus,
son of Laius, had deciphered those songs
which no one else had understood before,
and that mysterious prophetess, the Sphinx,
had collapsed and lay there, her riddling words                                              [760]
forgotten.(43) But, of course, nurturing Themis
does not let such things go without revenge.
Immediately she sent another scourge                                             LAELAPS
against Aonian Thebes. Many farmers                                             1200
feared the wild beast would destroy their cattle
and kill them, too.(44) We young men of the town
all came and closed off our extensive fields
inside a cordon. But the quick creature,
with an easy leap, overcame our nets
and moved across the tops of traps we set.
We unleashed the dogs. The wild beast ran off
with the hounds in hot pursuit, but its speed,
no slower than a bird in flight, mocked them.                                                  [770]
So then with one loud voice they all begged me                               1210
to untie Laelaps (the name of the dog
my wife had given me). By now this hound
for some time had been pulling at his leash,
straining his neck to shake off all restraints.
As soon as we had sent him on his way,
we could no longer tell where he might be.
He left traces of warm footprints in the dust,
but he himself had vanished from our eyes.
No spear could fly more quickly than that dog,
no pellet hurled from any twisted sling,                                            1220
nor any arrow from a Cretan bow.
A hill stood in the middle of the plain,
the top of which looked down on land below.
I went up there to watch the spectacle                                                           [780]
of this curious race, where at one moment
the wild beast looked as if it had been caught,
and at another seemed to pull away
without a scratch. The crafty animal,
as it raced across the ground, did not keep
to a straight line, but escaped the muzzle                                         1230
of the pursuing dog by circling round,
so its enemy could not launch a charge.
The dog stayed close, kept up a similar pace,
seemed to catch it, but did not have a grip—
his empty snapping fanned the air in vain.
I turned to use my spear. While hefting it
in my right hand, trying to fit my fingers
in the throwing strap, I turned my eyes away.
Then I brought them back to the selfsame spot.
I looked and saw something incredible—                                        1240
two statues in the middle of the plain,                                                             [790]
made of marble! You could well imagine
one was running away, the other one
pursuing. It was clear that if some god
was with those animals, he wanted both
of those contestants to remain unbeaten.”

 

Cephalus ended that part of his tale
and said no more. Phocus asked:

 

                                “And that spear—
what has it done wrong?”

 

                                    Cephalus then told him
about the crimes committed by the spear:                                             1250

 

“Phocus, my sad story begins with joy,                                            CEPHALUS, AURA, AND PROCRIS
and I will talk of that part first. O son
of Aeacus, I get such great delight
remembering the blessed times we had,
when in our early years I had the luck
to live in such content with my dear wife,
and she was happy with her husband, too.
With love we shared all mutual concerns.                                                        [800]
She would not have chosen Jupiter’s bed
before my love, and there was no woman                                        1260
who could capture me, not even Venus,
if she had come in person. Equal fires
burned in both our hearts. Like an eager youth,
it was my custom to go out hunting
just as the sun’s first rays shone on the hills.
I would have no servants following me,
no horses, no keen-nosed hunting dogs,
no knotted nets. My safety was my spear.
But after my right hand had had enough
of slaughtering wild beasts, I would go back                                    1270
into the cool shade where a breeze blew in                                                     [810]
from colder valleys. When it was really hot,
I’d seek that soothing breeze or wait for it
as a way of resting after my hard work.
I remember how I used to sing:

 

                                            ‘Aura,’

 

(that was the name I used to call the breeze)

 

‘come, you most pleasurable one, bring me
your sweet delight, come here into my heart,
and of your own free will relieve this heat
which I find so oppressive!’(45)

 

                                    And perhaps I’d add                                   1280
more coaxing words (as my fate led me on),
and I may have grown accustomed to repeat:

 

‘You are my great delight. You refresh me,
cherish me, and make me love the woodlands
and these solitary places. Your breath
is always trapped inside these lips of mine.’                                               [820]

 

Someone overheard me (I don’t know who),
misunderstood my ambiguous words,
and assumed the name I called so often
belonged to a nymph called Aura. He thought                                 1290
I was in love with her. This rash witness
to an imagined crime at once went off
to Procris and, in whispers, let her know
what he had heard. Love is a credulous thing.
They told me she collapsed in instant pain
and fainted. A long time later she came to,
said she felt sad about her evil fate,
and complained about my lack of loyalty.
Upset by bad acts which did not take place,
her fears were empty. She dreaded a name                                     1300          [830]
which had no body. The poor woman grieved
as though she had a genuine rival.
But often she had doubts and, as she grieved,
she entertained the hope that she was wrong,
saying she did not trust the evidence
and would not denounce her husband for a crime,
unless she had witnessed it in person.
The following day, when Aurora’s light
had pushed away the darkness, I set off,
heading for the woods. Once I had hunted                                      1310
with some success, I lay down on the grass
and called:

 

             ‘Come, Aura—ease my aching limbs.’

 

Suddenly, as I was saying these words,
it seemed to me I heard a certain moaning—
I had no idea what it might be—but still
I called:

 

             ‘Come here, my most delightful one!’

 

Fallen leaves lightly rustled in reply.                                                                [840]
I thought a wild creature must be in there
and let fly with my spear. It was Procris.
With a wound in the middle of her breast,                                        1320
she cried:

 

                    ‘Alas! I’m hurt!’

 

                                             Once I heard
the voice of my loyal wife, I rushed out
and, in a frantic state, charged towards it.
I found her half-alive, her clothes all torn
and stained with blood, and (to my great grief)
she was tugging at the spear stuck in her wound,
the gift she’d given me. In gentle arms
I picked up the body that I cherished
more than my own. I bound the cruel wound
by ripping up the clothing on her chest.                                            1330
I tried to stanch the flow of blood and begged her
not to abandon me and with her death                                                           [850]
make me a criminal. As she lost strength
and was about to die, she forced herself
to utter these few words:

 

                                         ‘I implore you,
as a suppliant, by our marriage bonds,
by my own household gods and those above,
by any good you owe for what I’ve done,
and by what has occasioned my own death,
that love which even now, as I lie dying,                                     1340
still lives, do not marry that nymph Aura!
Do not let her share our marriage bed!’

 

She ended. Then I finally understood
how Aura’s name had led to her mistake.
I told her. But how could informing her
be any help at all? She began to fail.
What little strength she had was leaving her,
as her blood flowed out. While she was able                                                  [860]
to look at anything, she looked at me,
and her unhappy spirit she breathed out                                          1350
on me and on my lips. But she did seem
to be quite free from worry as she died,
with a more tranquil look upon her face.”

 

The hero shed tears as he told this tale,
and his listeners wept, as well. And then,
lo and behold, king Aeacus arrived
with his two other sons, along with soldiers
they had just gathered, all heavily armed.
These Aeacus then gave to Cephalus.

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

(1) Phineas was punished by Jupiter, who blinded him and placed him on an island where his food was stolen by Harpies, flying monsters with female faces. Boreas is the god of the North Wind; his sons are Calaïs and Zethes, mentioned at the end of Book 6. [Back to Text]

(2) The Phasis is a river in Colchis, a region in the western Caucasus (on the eastern shores of the Black Sea). Jason, son of Aeson and a prince of Iolcus (in Thessaly), was seeking to win back his father’s kingship by acquiring the Golden Fleece. He assembled a crew of heroic figures to sail with him: Calaïs, Zethes, Hercules, Philoctetes, Peleus, Telamon, Orpheus, Castor, Pollux, Atalanta (the only woman), and Euphemus. [Back to Text]

(3) Phrixus had been saved from death by a winged ram with a fleece of gold, which had carried him to Colchis. He sacrificed the ram to Neptune, and Aeetes, king of Colchis, kept the fleece in a grove, where it was guarded by a dragon. Jason is asking Aeetes to return the fleece. [Back to Text]

(4) Medea here is listing the tasks her father, king Aeetes, has set Jason, if he wishes to get back the Golden Fleece. [Back to Text]

(5) The term Pelasgian refers to all of Greece. The name is derived from the early inhabitants of the region. At times, however, it denotes a specific area (e.g., Thessaly). [Back to Text]

(6) The clashing rocks are the Symplegades, which threaten ships at the entrance to the Black Sea. Charybdis is a whirlpool and Scylla a six-headed monster. They stand on either side of the straits separating Italy from Sicily. [Back to Text]

(7) The three-formed goddess was Hecate, who was commonly depicted with three faces (often of a horse, dog, and snake). The Sun is the father of Aeetes, Medea’s father. [Back to Text]

(8) Lethe is one of the five rivers of Hades. Its waters have the power of making people forget, of bringing on oblivion, and (in this case) inducing sleep. [Back to Text]

(9) As mentioned in an earlier footnote, people made loud noises with brass instruments to get the moon back during an eclipse. Temese was a city in Italy famous for its copper. [Back to Text]

(10) Apidanus and Amphrysus are rivers in Thessaly, Boebe a lake in Thessaly, and Anthedon a town in Boeotia. Glaucus ate a certain herb and was changed into a sea god. Ovid tells his story in Book 13. [Back to Text]

(11) This goddess, also called Hebe, is a daughter of Juno and the wife of Hercules on Olympus (after Hercules was taken up into the company of gods). [Back to Text]

(12) The stag and the crow were supposed to live much longer than human beings. Cinyps is a river in north Africa. [Back to Text]

(13) Bacchus, as a child, had been nursed by the nymphs of Nysea. [Back to Text]

(14) Pelias was the brother of Aeson (hence, Jason’s uncle). He had deprived Aeson of the kingship of Iochus and had sent Jason on the quest for the Golden Fleece. [Back to Text]

(15) The Iberian Sea is the expanse of water beyond the Mediterranean (i.e., the Atlantic Ocean). [Back to Text]

(16) Chiron was a centaur (half man, half horse) famous for his wisdom. Cerambus was changed into beetle and flew to the top of Mount Parnassus to prevent being drowned during the great flood. For Ovid’s story of Deucalion and the Flood, see Book 1. [Back to Text]

(17) Aetolian Pitane is in Asia Minor. The grove of Ida is near Troy. When Bacchus’ son, Thyoneus, stole an ox, Bacchus changed the animal into a stag in order to protect his son from the farmers pursuing him. Corythus’ father was Paris of Troy. Maera was a dog, perhaps once a human female, now transformed. Some commentators believe the name refers to Hecuba, queen of Troy, who is changed into a dog (for her story see Book 13). [Back to Text]

(18) Eurypylus was a king of Cos, an island in the Aegean sea. The women of Cos were changed into cows when they angered the gods. In one version of the story, the gods were displeased because the women abused Hercules when he drove cattle across the island. The Telchines were the original inhabitants of Rhodes. Ialysos is a town on Rhodes. Jupiter’s brother is Neptune, god of the sea. Carthaea is a city on the island of Ceos in the Aegean. Alcidamas had a daughter who gave birth to a dove. [Back to Text]

(19) This is the second story involving the transformation of someone called Cycnus into a swan (for the first see 2.530 ff.). A third one occurs at 12.228. [Back to Text]

(20) Calaurea is an island close to the Peloponnese. [Back to Text]

(21) Eumelus killed his son, but Apollo changed the boy into a bird. [Back to Text]

(22) Jason married the daughter of the king of Ephyre (an ancient name for Corinth, which stood on the Isthmus and had seas on either side of its territory). Medea, seeking revenge for his infidelity, sent the new bride a poisoned tiara and dress which ate away her flesh, and she died in agony. The king of Corinth died from the poison, as well, and the palace burned down. Then Medea killed both sons she and Jason had had together. [Back to Text]

(23) Phene was the wife of Periphas, a mythological king of Athens who was changed into a bird by Jupiter. The granddaughter of Polypemon, Alcyone, was changed into a kingfisher (for Ovid’s treatment of her story see Book 11). [Back to Text]

(24) Before coming to Athens, Aegeus had left his wife pregnant in another city, telling her that if she had a son to send him when the boy was strong enough to lift a certain stone and take out the shoes and sword hidden under it. Hence, he has not yet seen Theseus.[Back to Text]

(25) Echidna is a famous monster, who gave birth to a number of other monsters, including Cerberus, the triple-headed dog guarding Hades. [Back to Text]

(26) Hercules took the dog from Hades as one of his famous labours. [Back to Text]

(27) Aconite (also called Wolfsbane) is a plant which is poisonous to human beings. [Back to Text]

(28) Marathon is a town near Athens, which was threatened by a bull brought into the region by Hercules. Cromyon is a village near Corinth which had to cope with a destructive wild boar. Theseus killed both beasts. [Back to Text]
 
(29) These are the names of famous robbers whom Theseus killed. Vulcan’s son mentioned here was Periphetes, notorious for his club. Procrustes would stretch people out or cut off their extremities so that they fit his bed. Cercyon used to challenge people to wrestle him. He would kill them if they refused or if he beat them. Sinis used to tie victims to pine trees he bent down to earth so that, when he let go, they would be catapulted a long way. Scyron forced people to wash his feet on rocks by the sea. Then he would kick them into the sea, where a tortoise ate their bodies. [Back to Text]

(30) Minos was king of Crete. His son Androgeus was killed in Athens because he won every prize at a contest sponsored by Aegeus. [Back to Text]

(31) The names here indicate islands close to Crete. [Back to Text]

(32) Oliaros, Tenos, Andros, Gyaros are islands in the Aegean Sea. [Back to Text]

(33) These three brothers are the sons of Aeacus, king of Aegina. [Back to Text]

(34) According to some accounts Cephalus was the son of Mercury and Herse, the daughter of Cecrops, king of Athens. Hence, Cecrops was Cephalus’ grandfather. [Back to Text]
 
(35) The Pallas mentioned here was a member of the royal family in Athens. The reference is not to Pallas Athena. [Back to Text]

(36) Aegina, the island, was named after the nymph who was carried there by Jupiter. She was the mother of Aeacus. Jupiter was his father. [Back to Text]

(37) Inspecting the entrails of sacrificial animals for prophetic omens was an important element in many sacrifices. [Back to Text]

(38) The gods found dead bodies repugnant. Placing corpses by the temples and altars was thus, one assumes, meant to encourage them to intervene and halt the disease. [Back to Text]

(39) Dodona, the site of a major shrine to Zeus, had a famous oak tree which played a major role in the oracle there. [Back to Text]

(40) I have added the phrase about the derivation of the name from the Greek word in order to clarify the reason the name suits their origins. [Back to Text]

(41) For Ovid’s treatment of the abduction of Orithyïa by Boreas see above 6.1100 ff. [Back to Text]

(42) Mount Hymettus was in Attica. [Back to Text]

(43) Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx and thus destroyed the Sphinx and saved Thebes from a deadly plague. [Back to Text]

(44) Ovid does not indicate precisely what the “scourge” or the “wild beast” was. In traditional accounts of the story it was a monstrous female fox (called the Teumessian fox, after a city in Boeotia, or the Cadmean vixen). [Back to Text]

(45) In the Latin text, the point of the story which follows depends upon the word aura, meaning breeze, which, because of its feminine gender and its final vowel, could be confused with a woman’s name as soon as Cephalus personifies the breeze and starts talking to it. For that reason, I have retained the Latin word aura in some places, rather than using the English word breeze. I have added the line in brackets to clarify the point. [Back to Text]

 

[Link to Metamorphoses, Book 8]

 

[Link to Metamorphoses, Table of Contents]