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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 EIGHT

 

 [Cephalus returns to Athens; Minos attacks Megara; Scylla falls in love with Minos; Scylla cuts her father’s lock of hair and takes it to Minos; Minos rejects her, conquers the city, and leaves; Scylla is changed into a bird; Minos has Daedalus build the labyrinth for the Minotaur; Theseus kills the Minotaur with Ariadne’s help and abandons her on Dia; Bacchus changes Ariadne’s crown into a constellation; Daedalus makes wings for himself and Icarus; Icarus falls to his death; Daedalus and Perdix; Perdix is changed into a bird; Diana sends a destructive wild boar against Calydon; Meleager assembles a group of hunters; Atalanta’s arrow hits the boar; Meleager kills the boar and awards a prize to Atalanta; Plexippus and Toxeus are killed by Meleager; Althaea avenges the death of her brothers by burning the log that determines Meleager’s life; Calydon mourns Meleager; Meleager’s sisters are changed to birds; Theseus is entertained by Acheloüs, who tells him the story of the Echinades islands and Perimele; Lelex tells the story of Philemon and Baucis, who welcomed Jupiter and Mercury and were changed to trees; Acheloüs tells the story of Erysichthon, who chopped down Ceres’ sacred tree; Ceres’ gets Hunger to infect Erysichthon; Erysichthon sells his daughter Maestra, but Neptune transforms her; Erysichthon eats himself.]

 

Now, after Lucifer dismissed the night,                                               
unveiling a brilliant day, East Wind died down,
moist clouds blew in, and a welcome South Wind
gave Cephalus and Aeacus’ sons
their way of getting back.(1) Thanks to that wind,
which kept them on a favourable course,
they reached the harbour they were heading for
sooner than expected. In the meantime,
Minos was laying waste Lelegian lands
along the coast. Before attempting that,                                                10
he tried to test his army’s fighting strength
in an attack on Megara, where Nisus ruled.
Now, on top of his illustrious head,                                                                       NISUS
amid the white hairs there, Nisus possessed
a lock distinguished by its purple colour.
The security of his great kingdom                                                                        [10]
depended on that lock of purple hair.

 

The horns of the waxing moon had risen                                              SCYLLA AND MINOS
six times, and still the outcome of the war
was hanging in the balance. For a long time                                          20
Victory hovered between both armies
on uncertain wings. A regal tower
had been built within the musical walls,
where people claimed Apollo, Latona’s son,
had placed his golden lyre and where its sound
was present in the stone.(2) Nisus’ daughter,
Scylla, would often go up to that spot
during peacetime and with a small pebble
attempt to get some music from the stones.
During the war she would also go there,                                               30
and from the tower look out on the struggles                                                       [20]
of unyielding battle. Because that war
kept going on and on, by now she knew
the names of the leading men, their weapons,
horses, styles of dress, and Cretan quivers.
Before all others, she could recognize
their leader’s face—Europa’s son, Minos—
whom she knew more about than was required
to know just who he was. For if Minos
wore on his head a helmet with a plume,                                               40
she thought the helmet made him so attractive;
if he carried his brilliant shield of bronze,
he looked so handsome carrying the shield;
if his taut muscles hurled a heavy spear,
the young girl praised his power and his skill;
and when he placed an arrow on his bow                                                           [30]
and bent the wide arc back, she used to swear
that was just how Phoebus Apollo stood,
with arrows he had chosen for himself.
Whenever Minos took his helmet off                                                    50
to expose his face and, dressed in purple,
sat on the back of his white horse, equipped
with an ornate saddle, directing it
by its foaming bit, Nisus’ virgin child
could hardly keep herself under control,
hardly stop her mind from going insane.
She’d call the spear he touched a happy spear,
and happy, too, the reins gripped in his hands.
She had an urge (if only she could do it!)
to lead her virgin steps through hostile ranks                                         60
and felt like hurling her body down there,
from the very top part of the tower,                                                                    [40]
onto the Cretan camp, or opening
the brass gates to the enemy forces,
or anything else Minos might desire.
As she sat gazing down on the white tents
of the Cretan king, she said:

 

                                  “I don’t know
if I should be miserable or happy
that this appalling war is going on.
I’m sad that Minos is an enemy                                                       70
of the one who loves him. But if this war
had never broken out, I would not know him!
Still, if he were to take me hostage, he could
end this war. With me as his companion,
he could hold me as a guarantee of peace.
O most beautiful of kings, if the woman
who gave birth to you had a face like yours,
no wonder Jupiter burned with love for her.(3)                                               [50]
O, I would be happy three times over,
if I could travel through the air with wings,                                       80
touch down in the camp of the Cretan king,
reveal myself, and show my flaming love!
I would ask him what dowry he would want
to be won over, with this provision—
he would not demand my father’s city.
I would sooner my hopes for marriage die
than that I should be able to betray him!
But still, if a peace-loving conqueror
is merciful, he often benefits
many of those he has just overwhelmed.                                          90
The war he’s fighting for his slaughtered son
is clearly just.(4) His cause and the weapons
which defend that cause are very powerful.
And so it seems to me we will be crushed.
If that is to be our city’s destiny,                                                                    [60]
why should these walls of ours be opened up
by his armed force and not by my own love?
It would be better if he could prevail
without killing or delay or shedding
his own blood. At least then I would not fear                                   100
someone might wound your heart by accident,
Minos, for who would be so pitiless,
he’d dare to aim his cruel spear at you,
unless he did not know you? This notion
pleases me, and I’ll stand by my resolve
to give myself to you, with my country
as a dowry, and put an end to war.
But wanting to do this is not enough!
A guard stands watching at the entrance way.
My father has the keys for all the gates.                                           110           [70]
In my sorry state, he is the only one
I’m scared of, the only one delaying
what I desire. O how I wish the gods
could arrange things so I had no father!
But everyone is really his own god,
and Fortune is the foe of idle prayers.
By this time, another woman aflame
with such great passion would be rejoicing
in the ruin of whatever blocked her love.
Why should any woman have more courage                                    120
than I do? I would dare to go through fire
and through swords. But this time there is no need
for fires or swords. All I need is that lock
from my father’s head. To me that purple lock
is more valuable than gold. With that hair                                                       [80]
I will be happy and get what I desire.”

 

As Scylla was saying these words, night came,                                     SCYLLA AND NISUS’ HAIR
great healer of our cares. With the shadows
her boldness grows. The early hours of rest
have now arrived, when sleep takes possession                                    130
of hearts exhausted by their daytime cares.
She creeps softly into her father’s room,
and (alas for such a criminal act!)
the daughter steals that fatal lock of hair
from her own father. Once she has taken
her abominable prize she goes out
through the middle of the enemy camp
(she has such confidence in the service
she is performing) and reaches Minos,
who is astonished when she speaks to him,                                          140
and says:

 

              “Love urged me to commit this crime.                                               [90]
I am Scylla, royal child of Nisus,
and I am giving you my household gods
and my native land. I seek no reward,
other than yourself. Take this purple hair
as a pledge of love. And trust me in this—
I am not offering just a lock of hair,
but my father’s head, as well!”

 

                                    She holds out the gift                                        MINOS AND SCYLLA
in her treasonous right hand, but Minos
backs away from what she is giving him.                                              150
Shocked by the thought of her unnatural act,
he answers:

 

                           “O you disgrace to this age
in which we live, may the gods banish you
from their world, and may all lands and waters
be denied you! I, at least, will not let
someone so monstrous come into my world,                                                  [100]
into Crete, land where Jupiter was born.”

 

Minos spoke. Then this most just of rulers,
once he had imposed laws on the people
he had conquered, gave orders to his troops                                        160
to loosen the ships’ cables, man the oars,
and row the bronze-beaked vessels out to sea.
When Scylla saw the fleet was setting off,
already underway across the waves,
she realized their leader would not give her
anything to reward her treachery.
Since she had no more prayers to offer,
her emotions turned to virulent rage.
Hair dishevelled, she held out both her hands
and, in a frenzy, screamed:

 

                                            “Where are you running—                   170
discarding the one who brought you your success?
O you, whom I chose before my country,
before my father, where are you fleeing,
you heartless man? I deserve the credit                                                          [110]
for your conquest, which is my crime, as well.
Are you not moved by the gift I gave you,
or by my love for you, or by the fact
that all my hopes now rest on you alone?
If you abandon me, where shall I go?
To my country? It has been overpowered                                       180
and lies conquered. But even if my land
were still intact, it would be closed against me,
thanks to my treachery! To my father,
whom I betrayed to you? The citizens,
for their own good reasons, all despise me,
and neighbours fear me as a bad example.
I have shut myself off from all the world,
so Crete alone would be open to me.
So if you, too, keep me away from you
and leave me here, you man without a heart,                                   190
Europa could not have been your mother,
but rather that inhospitable Syrtis,                                                                  [120]
or some Armenian tigress, or Charybdis,
whipped up by southern winds. And you are not
a son of Jupiter, nor was your mother
led astray by the image of some bull.(5)
That story of your birth is all made up!
Yes, your father was a bull—a wild beast
never tamed by love for any heifer!
O Nisus, my father, come punish me!                                              200
And you walls which I betrayed, take pleasure
from my pain! For I deserve your hatred—
I admit that. And I deserve to die.
But let one of those whom my impiety
has harmed destroy me. Why punish my crime,
Minos, when it produced your victory?
My criminal act against my father                                                                   [130]
and my country was a kindness to you.
You are certainly a worthy husband
for that woman who, with a wooden frame,                                     210
tricked that bull into adulterous sex
and in her womb bore a misshapen child.(6)
Is anything I say reaching your ears,
you ungrateful man, or do the same winds
carrying your fleet away also steal
these useless words of mine? And now, yes, now
I’m not surprised Pasiphaë preferred
that bull to you—you’re a more savage brute!
How wretched I am! He’s ordering them
to scurry off, and now waves are hissing                                          220
to the rhythm of their oars, while my land
and I both fade from view. But that won’t work!
Your efforts to forget my services                                                                  [140]
will not succeed. I’ll be following you,
against your will, clutching the curved sternpost
on your ship, dragged far across the ocean.”

 

Her speech is hardly over when she jumps                                           SCYLLA IS TRANSFORMED
into the waves and swims after the ships.
Her passion gives her strength to hang on there,
to the Cretan vessel, a companion                                                        230
who is not welcome. Her father sees her
(he has just been changed to a sea eagle
hovering in the air on tawny wings).
He swoops down to tear her into pieces
with his hooked beak, as she is clinging there.
Scylla, in terror, lets go of the stern,
but as she falls, the gentle breezes seem
to hold her so she does not touch the water.
Feathers are growing up out of her arms,                                                            [150]
and she is changed into the bird we call                                                240
Ciris, or the shearer, a name she gets
for cutting off her father’s lock of hair.(7)

 

As soon as Minos reached the land of Crete,                                       MINOS AND THE MINOTAUR
he disembarked. To fulfill a promise
he had made to Jupiter, he sacrificed
one hundred oxen and hung his trophies
in the palace as a decoration.
But he faced a growing family scandal.
The shameful adultery of the queen
was obvious from the bizarre nature                                                     250
of her hybrid monster child.(8) Minos
chose to move this disgrace out of his home
and to keep it in a complex structure,
a labyrinth built with blind passages.
Daedalus, a man highly celebrated                                                       DAEDALUS AND THE LABYRINTH
for his skill in architecture, drew up                                                                     [160]
the plans. With confusing direction marks
he led the eye into a wandering maze
of various twisting pathways. Just as
the playful waters of the Maeander                                                      260
keep changing course, as they flow here and there
across the fields in Phrygia and can see
the waves upstream moving down towards them,
while their uncertain currents sometimes flow
to their sources, sometimes to the open sea,
that’s how Daedalus designed the pathways,
countless wandering passages in the maze.
The structure was so hard to navigate,
that even Daedalus found it difficult
to find his way back to the entry point.(9)                                             270
In that labyrinth Minos imprisoned
the monstrous double shape of bull and man.
Twice he fed it blood from young Athenians                                                        [170]
chosen by lot at nine-year intervals.

 

But the third time he collected tribute,
the monster was overcome, for Theseus,                                             THESEUS AND ARIADNE
son of Aegeus, with the assistance
of young Ariadne, Minos’ daughter,
by following a thread made his way back
on the tricky pathway to the entrance,                                                  280
a trip no one had ever made before.
He immediately set sail for Dia,
taking Ariadne with him, but then
cruelly abandoned his companion
on the shore.(10) The girl, in her isolation,
wept bitter tears, but Bacchus embraced her
and provided help. Taking off the crown
around her head, he set it in the sky,
to make her famous as an eternal star.
Up through the lighter air it soared aloft                                                290
and, as it moved, its jewels were transformed                                                     [180]
to brilliant fires. They settled into place,
retaining still the outline of a crown,
halfway between the kneeling Hercules
and the serpent held by Ophiuchus.(11)

 

Meanwhile, Daedalus had grown frustrated                                          DAEDALUS AND ICARUS
with Crete and his long exile there. He yearned
for his own land, but was held back by the sea.(12)
He said:

 

         “Minos may block off land and sea,
but surely the sky is open to us—                                                   300
and that’s the route we’ll take. He may control
all things, but he does not control the air.”

 

He spoke and then set his mind to thinking
of inventions as yet unknown, and thus
he changed the course of nature. For he arranged
rows of feathers, taking the smallest first                                                              [190]
and then longer ones laid out in sequence,
so it looked as if they’d grown out on a slope,
like those ancient pipes shepherds used to play,
with different reeds which lengthened gradually.                                    310
Those in the centre he then joined with thread,
those at the ends with wax. Once the feathers
were assembled in this way, he shaped them
into a gentle curve, so they looked like
wings of real birds. His son Icarus
stood beside him, unaware that the things
he touched would put his life in danger.
Sometimes he laughed as he caught the feathers
shifting around in the wandering breeze
or with his thumb softened the yellow wax                                            320
and with his playful games kept interrupting
his father’s miraculous construction.
When Daedalus had put the final touches                                                            [200]
on what he had begun, he raised himself
into the moving air, balancing his body
between a pair of wings. He also gave
the following instructions to his son:

 

“I warn you, Icarus—limit your flight
to the region between heaven and earth.
If you go too low, then water vapour                                              330
will weigh down your wings. If you go too high,
fire will burn them. So fly between the two.
And listen. Do not look at Boötes,
Helice, or the drawn sword of Orion.
I will guide you. Follow the path I take!”(13)

 

While Daedalus was telling him the rules
of flying, he adjusted the new wings
on Icarus’ shoulders. While he worked
and issued his advice, the old man’s cheeks                                                        [210]
were wet, and the father’s hands were trembling.                                 340
He kissed his son (he would not kiss him again),
moved upward on his wings, and flew ahead,
concerned for his companion. Just as a bird
leads her tender chicks out of their high nest
into the air, Daedalus keeps encouraging
his son to follow, as he demonstrates
his skill in the dangerous art of flight.
While moving his own wings, he glances back
at the wings of Icarus behind him.
Those who catch sight of them—a man angling                                     350
for fish with a trembling rod, a shepherd
leaning on his staff, or a farmer resting
on his plough—are astonished and assume
that people who can travel through the sky
must be divine.

 

                           By now the island Samos,                                                         [220]
sacred to goddess Juno, was on their left,
while Delos and Paros lay behind them,
with Lebinthus on their right, along with
Calymne, rich in honey.(14) At this point,
Icarus started to enjoy the flight,                                                          360
for all its perils, so he left his guide
and, filled with a desire to reach heaven,
pursued a higher path. His close approach
to the fierce Sun softened the fragrant wax
which held his wings in place. The wax melted.
He flapped his naked arms, but since he had
no oar-like wings, he failed to catch the air.
While his mouth was screaming his father’s name,
his cries were drowned out by the sky-blue sea                                                   [230]
which takes its name from him.(15) His sad father,                                370
now no more a father, shouted:

 

                                                              “Icarus!
Where are you, Icarus? Where should I look
to find out where you are?”

 

                                               He kept on calling

 

“Icarus!”

 

                                      Then he noticed feathers
in the waves and cursed his own inventive skills.
He buried his son’s body in a tomb
in a place whose name became Icaria,
after the young lad who was buried there.

 

As Daedalus was placing the body                                                      DAEDALUS AND PERDIX
of his unlucky son inside that tomb,                                                      380
a chattering partridge peering at him
from a muddy ditch, flapped its wings and sang
to indicate its great delight. Back then,
it was the single member of its kind,
a bird no one had seen in previous years.
It had been created not long before,                                                                   [240]
as an enduring symbol of your shame,
Daedalus. For your sister, not knowing
what Fate had in store, sent her son to you,
so you could teach him. He was twelve years old                                 390
and had a mind eager for instruction.
He was the one who looked at a fish spine
and, with that as his model, cut iron
to make a solid row of sharpened teeth
and came up with the invention of a saw.
He was the first to join two metal arms
at one central point, so when they were kept
a constant distance from each other, one arm
stayed in place while the other one traced out                                       PERDIX IS TRANSFORMED
a circle. Daedalus, in a jealous fit,                                                        400  
threw the boy headlong from the citadel                                                              [250]
sacred to Minerva and falsely claimed
the boy had fallen off. But Minerva,
who likes creative minds, gathered him up
and changed him to a bird, covering him
with feathers in the middle of the air.
The inventive energy he once had
was transferred to his rapid wings and feet,
and he retained the name he had before.(16)
But this bird does not raise its body up                                                 410
high in the air or make its nest in branches
or in treetops, but flies close to the ground
and lays its eggs in hedges, for it recalls
that earlier drop and fears high places.

 

Daedalus, now tired out, is living                                                                         [260]
in the land of Aetna, and Cocalus,
responding to his petition for help,
has taken up arms and thus earned himself
a noble reputation for his kindness.(17)

 

By now, thanks to what Theseus has done,                                          420
Athens no longer pays that mournful tribute,                                         THESEUS AND ATHENS
flowers adorn the temples, and people
worship warrior Minerva, Jupiter,
and other gods, honouring them with gifts,
sacrificial blood, and chests of incense.(18)
Roaming Fame has spread the name of Theseus
to every city in Argos, and all those
who live in rich Achaea seek his help
when great dangers threaten.

 

                                                Of these cities,                                      THE CALYDONIAN BOAR
one is Calydon, which comes to Theseus,                                             430           [270]
as a suppliant, begging him for aid
with urgent prayers, even though the place
has Meleager on its side.(19) Their appeal
is caused by a wild boar sent by Diana,
her servant and avenger. She is angry,
because king Oeneus, so people say,
after fine harvests in a bumper year,
offered the first fruits of his crops to Ceres,
of wine to Bacchus, and of flowing oil
from olives to golden-haired Minerva.                                                  440
He has paid these ostentatious honours
first of all to the rural deities,
and then to all the gods in heaven above.
The story goes that he forgot the altars
of Latona’s daughter, the only ones
he ignored and left without their incense.
Rage has its effect, even on the gods.
Diana cried:

 

                                       “I will not endure this
without reprisal. I have not been honoured!                                                   [280]
They will not say I did not get revenge.”                                          450

 

To punish the slur, Diana lets loose
a wild boar on Oeneus’ estates,
a beast so immense that lush Epirus
does not have any bulls that match its size,
larger than boars in fields of Sicily.
Blood and fire burn in its eyes, and its neck
is rough and stiff, with bristles sticking out
like rigid spears, [just like a palisade
of thrust-out pikes].(20) Its grunts are harsh and loud,
and hot foam flows down its massive shoulders.                                   460
Its tusks are huge, like on an elephant.
Lightning shoots from its mouth, and its breathing
scorches leaves. Sometimes this beast would trample                                          [290]
tender shoots of growing plants, and sometimes
ravage a farmer’s full-grown harvest crops,
mowing down ears of grain, turning his hopes
into despair, while threshing floors and barns
would wait in vain for the promised harvests.
It scatters heavy clusters on the vine,
their budding stems, as well, along with fruit                                         470
and boughs of always leafy olive trees.
It even savages the cattle herds,
which nothing can protect, not herdsmen, dogs,
or even vicious bulls. Men run away,
thinking they are not safe unless they hide
inside the city walls.

 

                                                 Then Meleager
and a handpicked group of warriors assemble,                                                    [300]
eager to win fame: twins sons of Tyndarus                                           THE BOAR HUNT
(Pollux, celebrated for his boxing,
and Castor, famous for his horsemanship),                                           480
Jason (first man to build a ship), Theseus
and Pirithoüs (best of friends), two sons
of Thestius, Lynceus and swift Idas
(both sons of Aphareus), Caeneus
(now no longer female), fierce Leucippus,
Acastus (famous for his skill with spears),
Hippothoüs, Phoenix (Amyntor’s son),
Dryas, two sons of Actor, and Phyleus
(who comes from Elis). Telamon was there,
and Peleus (father of great Achilles),                                                    490
Admetus (Pheres’ son), Iolaüs                                                                            [310]
(a Boeotian), vigorous Eurytion,
Echion (unsurpassed in running), Lelex
from Locris, Panopeus, Hyleus,
fierce Hippasus, Nestor (still in his prime),
as well as those sent by Hippocoön
from ancient Amyclae, with Laërtes
(Penelope’s father-in-law), Ancaeus
from Parrhasia, along with Mopsus
(Ampyx’s clever son), Amphiaraüs                                                      500
(son of Oecleus, as yet unharmed
by his wife’s treachery), and Atalanta,
from Tegeae, a girl who was the pride
of the Lycaean woods.(21) A polished brooch
is fastened on her garment at the top.
Her hair is plainly styled and gathered up
into a single knot. From her left shoulder
an ivory quiver hangs suspended.                                                                        [320]
The arrows in it rattle. Her left hand
also holds a bow. From her style of dress                                            510
and from her face someone could truly say
the boy looked like a virgin girl, or else
the girl looked like a boy. Meleager,
the Calydonian hero, glanced at her
and, in that instant, felt a great desire.
Although the gods would not permit his love,
he swallowed down the hidden flames and said:

 

“O, whoever she thinks worthy of her
will be a happy man!”

 

                                   Time and decency
did not allow him to say any more.                                                       520
The more essential task of the great hunt
was urging him to act.

 

                                               Above the plain
rose a forest dense with trees which no one
in ages past had ever cut. It looked down                                                           [330]
on the sloping fields. Once the warrior group
came to these woods, some spread out hunting nets,
some unleashed the hounds, while others followed
the deep tracks left by the wild creature’s feet,
keen to confront their dangerous quarry.
There was a hollow valley where water                                                530
would often flow from rivulets of rain.
In its lower part were bending willows,
smooth sedges, marshy rushes, osiers,
and long bullrushes growing with small reeds.
Driven from this place, the rampaging boar
charges the middle of its enemies.
Like lightning bursting from colliding clouds,
its momentum flattens trees, and the wood,
as it breaks apart, makes a cracking sound.                                                        [340]
The hunters raise a shout and keep the spears                                      540
in their strong hands stretched out in front of them,
moving the large iron points here and there.
The boar rushes on, scattering the dogs
trying to intercept its furious charge,
and routs the barking pack with glancing blows.
The first spear thrown comes from Echion’s arm.
It misses its mark and leaves a slender scratch
in the trunk of a maple tree. The next one,
hurled by Pagasonian Jason, is aimed
at the animal’s back and looks as if                                                      550
it may well stick there. But he throws too hard.
His power makes him overshoot the boar.
Then Mopsus, son of Ampyx, cries:

 

                                                    “Phoebus,                                                   [350]
if I have worshipped you and worship still,
grant what I ask and make this spear of mine
fly straight and hit its target.”

 

                                                       Apollo
agrees to what he asks and does his best.
The spear does hit the boar but leaves no wound,
for as it travels through the air, Diana
steals away the iron point, so the shaft                                                  560
hits home without the tip. The impact sparks
the wild boar’s fiery rage, now blazing out
with all the fury of a lightning bolt.
Its eyes are burning, and its chest breathes fire.
Just as a rock from a taut catapult
will hurtle off and seek out walls and towers
packed with soldiers, so this ferocious beast
attacks the group with an unerring charge.
It knocks down Pelagon and Hippalmus                                                             [360]
protecting the right flank. Their companions                                          570
help carry them away from where they lie.
But Hippocoön’s son Enaesimus
receives a fatal wound. Trembling with fear,
he begins to turn around, but the boar
slices through his sinews behind both knees.
His legs collapse. And Nestor from Pylos
might have died, years before the Trojan War,
but he plants his spear in the ground and vaults,
with the shaft supporting him, up in a tree
which stands nearby. From that safe vantage point                               580
he peers down on the beast he just escaped.
The destructive monster sharpens its tusks
on the trunk of an oak tree and stands there,
grim and menacing. Fully confident,
now its weapons are sharp again, the boar                                                          [370]
stabs with its curving tusk and rips the thigh
of Hippasus. But Castor and Pollux,
the celebrated twins, not yet transformed
to heavenly stars, ride up together
on horses white as snow, and both                                                       590
hurl javelins through the air—the spear points
shiver as they fly.(22) They would have wounded
the bristly beast if it had not backed off
and moved to a place in the murky woods
where spears and horses could not force their way.
Telamon goes after it but rushes in
too eagerly and, in his carelessness,
is tripped up by a tree root. He falls down,
flat on his face. While Peleus is helping
Telamon get up, the girl from Tegea                                                     600           [380]
sets a swift arrow on her string, bends her bow,
and lets the arrow fly. It grazes the beast
along its upper back, then lodges itself
below the ear, and a thin stream of blood
dyes the bristles red. She is delighted
with the shot, and Meleager is, as well,
even more so. They claim he was the first
to see the blood and, once he noticed that,
the first to point it out to his companions,
saying to the girl:

 

                            “That courage of yours                                        610
will bring you the fine tributes you deserve.”

 

The men, red with shame, urge each other on,
shouting encouragement and hurling spears,
but with no sense of order. The confusion
makes throwing difficult and hinders them                                                           [390]
from hitting the target they are aiming at.
Then, Ancaeus of Arcadia, armed
with a twin-edged axe, in a mad fury,
charges in to meet his fate, shouting:

 

                                                “You warriors,
learn how much better a man’s weapons are                                   620
than those a woman uses. Let me in there
to do the job! Though Latona’s daughter
with her own arms may be protecting it,
my hand will still annihilate this beast,
despite Diana.”

 

                             He is so stuffed with pride
he says these boastful words, raises his axe
in both his fists and, standing on his toes,
prepares to deliver a downward blow.
As he is making this rash move, the boar
attacks. Both tusks spear him high in the groin,                                     630           [400]
the quickest way to die. Ancaeus falls.
His inner organs slide out in a heap,
with a great flow of blood, and soak the earth
with gore. Pirithoüs, Ixion’s son,
moves in against the boar, brandishing a spear
in his powerful right fist. Theseus,
son of Aegeus, shouts out to him:

 

“You whom I care about more than myself,
who are part of my soul, keep your distance!
You can be brave without going in too close.                                   640
It was rash courage that destroyed Ancaeus!”

 

Theseus called and hurled a heavy spear
of cornel wood tipped with a point of bronze.
He threw it well and would have hit the boar,
but an oak tree’s leafy branch got in the way.                                                      [410]
Jason, Aeson’s son, hurled his spear, as well,
but it swerved by accident, missed the beast,
and killed a harmless dog, hitting its legs
and pinning the animal to the ground.
But the hand of Meleager produced                                                     650
a different result. He threw two spears.
The first one struck the earth, but the other
stuck in the middle of the monster’s back.
Meleager did not pause. While the boar
was raging on, wheeling his body round,
hissing and slobbering fresh blood and foam,
the warrior who gave the wound moved in,
rousing his enemy to savage fury,
and then buried his shining hunting spear
in the front part of its shoulder. His comrades                                       660
gave a happy shout to express their joy                                                               [420]
and crowded round to shake the victor’s hand.
They gazed in amazement at the huge beast
lying there and covering so much ground.
They still believed it was unsafe to touch,
but they all dipped spears in the wild boar’s blood.
Meleager set his foot on the creature’s head
and spoke as follows:

 

                              “Nymph from Nonacris,
accept this trophy, which is mine by right.
Let some of my glory be shared with you.”                                      670

 

Meleager spoke these words and offered her,
as her special prize, the wild boar’s bristly hide
and its amazing head with those huge tusks.
Atalanta was delighted with the gift                                                                     [430]
and with the one who offered it to her.

 

But other men were jealous—all of them                                             MELEAGER, PLEXIPPUS, AND TOXEUS
muttered amongst themselves. Then Pelexippus
and Toxeus, sons of Thestius, cried out:(23)

 

“Come on, woman, set aside those trophies.
Do not make off with honours due to us                                          680
or place too much faith in your own beauty,
in case that friend of yours, smitten with love,
is not there to help you.”

 

                            They grabbed the gifts
away from her and told Meleager
he had no right to give them. But Mars’ son
could not endure this—bursting with anger,
he clenched his teeth and cried:(24)

 

                                  “You warriors
who rob other people of their glory,
learn now how actions matter more than threats!”

 

He drove his lethal sword into the heart                                                690           [440]
of Plexippus, who was not expecting
that sort of violence. Toxeus paused,
uncertain what to do. He was eager
to avenge his brother’s death and also
feared to meet his fate. But Meleager
gave him little time to think it over.
While his sword was still hot with blood
from one brother, he warmed it up again
with the other brother’s blood.

 

                                           As Althaea,                                               ALTHAEA AND MELEAGER
Meleager’s mother, was taking gifts                                                     700
to the sacred temples to offer thanks
for her son’s triumph, she saw the bodies
of her dead brothers being carried back.
She screamed. The sound of her howls of sorrow
filled the city. She beat her breasts and changed
her golden robes to black. But when she learned
who had killed them both, all her grieving stopped.
Her passion changed from mourning to revenge.                                                  [450]
Back when Althaea, daughter of Thestius,
was lying in labour, struggling to give birth                                            710
to Meleager, the three sister Fates
had placed a wooden log inside the fire
and, as they were spinning their fatal thread,
using their thumbs to hold it down, had said:

 

“To you, O new-born child, we will allot
the same length of life as this piece of wood.”(25)

 

Once the goddesses had made this prophecy,
they left. Althaea pulled the burning log
out of the fire and poured water on it.
For a long time, she had kept it hidden,                                                720
deep in the house, and, by preserving it,
had protected young Meleager’s life.
Now his mother brought it out and ordered                                                         [460]
pine wood and kindling to be set in place.
Once these were piled, she lit the hostile fire.
Then she made four attempts to throw the log
into the flames and four times stopped herself.
The mother and the sister were at war.
The two names pulled her heart in different ways.
Often her cheek paled, as she considered                                             730
the crime she was about to carry out.
Often her fierce rage made her eyes turn red.
There were times her face resembled someone
making vicious threats, and at other times
you could well think she looked compassionate.
And when the fierce emotions in her soul
had dried up her tears, tears still kept coming.                                                     [470]
Just as a ship seized by both wind and tide,
when these two push in opposite directions,
feels the twin force and moves uncertainly,                                            740
as it obeys them both, so Althaea
kept being swayed by different feelings.
Sometimes she would set aside her anger,
but, once she was calm, would let it blaze again.
But then the sister started to prevail
against the mother, and so, to appease
the shades of her blood relatives with blood,
she proved her piety with an impious act.
For once the destructive fire grew in strength,
she cried:

 

            “Let this funeral pyre consume                                              750
the product of my womb.”

 

                                             As her cruel hands
gripped the fatal wood, the wretched woman                                                      [480]
stood praying by the funeral altars:

 

“O you Eumenides, three goddesses
of retribution, turn your faces here,
to these savage rites! (26) To exact revenge
I must commit a crime. Death must pay for death.
Wrong must be piled on wrong, one funeral
on other funerals. Let this cursed house
perish from its accumulated sins!                                                     760
Shall joyful Oeneus take great delight
in his victorious son, and Thestius
be childless? Better both of them lament.
And you, my brothers’ shadows, you spirits
newly made, take note I do my duty.
Accept the offering I have prepared
at such great cost, the perfidious child                                                            [490]
produced from my own womb! Alas for me!
Where am I rushing to? O my brothers,
forgive a mother! My hand cannot complete                                    770
what it began. Yes, he deserves to die—
that I will concede—but I cannot bear
that I should be the author of his death.
So shall he go unpunished and live on
in triumph, swollen with his own success,
and take royal power in Calydon,
while you lie there as tiny heaps of ash
and icy shadows? That I cannot bear.
Let the killer die and drag down with him
his father’s hopes, his kingdom—the ruin                                         780
of his native land! Where are those feelings
of a mother for her child, the sacred ties
of parents? Where are the troubles I went through
for ten long months? I wish I’d let you burn                                                    [500]
in that first fire when you were still a child!
That you have lived—that was my gift to you—
and now you die a death you well deserve!
Take the reward for what you yourself have done,
and give me back the life I gave you twice,
once at birth and once when I took the log,                                     790
or put me with my brothers in their tomb!
I long to do it, and yet I cannot.
What do I do? Sometimes before my eyes
I see my brothers’ wounds and the image
of that brutal slaughter. At other times,
affection and my role as mother break
my resolution. I feel so wretched!
It will be an evil matter, brothers,
if you prevail. But still, you will prevail,
provided I myself may follow you                                                    800           [510]
and the consolation you receive from me.”

 

Althaea spoke, then turned herself away
and, with trembling hands, threw the fatal log
into the middle of the fire. The wood itself
gave out a groan (or seemed to), as it was seized
by the reluctant flames and then consumed.
Some distance off and quite oblivious
to what is going on, Meleager
is burning from those flames. He feels his gut
being scorched with hidden fires. His courage                                       810
copes with the enormous pain, but still,
he is sad his blood is not being shed
and his death will have no glory. He calls
the wounds Ancaeus got a stroke of luck.(27)
With a groan he summons his old father,
his brothers, loving sisters, the partner                                                                 [520]
of his bed, and perhaps his mother, too.(28)
The fire and his pain intensify and then
die down again. Both of them disappear
together, and his spirit slips away,                                                        820
little by little, out into the air,
while, little by little, the bright embers
are buried in white ash.

 

                                                           High Calydon
lies prostrate with grief. Young and old men weep,
nobility and common folk lament,
and Calydonian women tear their hair
beside Euenus stream and beat their breasts.(29)
Meleager’s father, prone on the ground,
stains his white hair and his old face with dirt,
blaming himself for having lived so long.                                                830           [530]
His mother, aware she has committed
a horrific act, has punished herself,
plunging a sword deep inside her body
with her own hand.

 

                                                     If god had given me                         THE SISTERS OF MELEAGER
a hundred mouths and tongues to speak the words,
great genius, and all of Helicon,
I still could not describe the wretched state
of his poor sisters, who, losing all sense
of modesty, beat their breasts black and blue,
and while their brother’s body is still there,                                           840
fondle it and embrace it once again,
kissing the corpse and bier on which it lies.
Once he is burned, they heap up the ashes,
press them against their hearts, and hurl themselves
beside his burial site, clutching the stone                                                              [540]
that bears his name and bathing it with tears.
At length, Diana, Latona’s daughter,                                                    THE SISTERS ARE TRANSFORMED
has had enough of slaughter in the house
of Parthaon and lifts those sisters up
(except for Gorge and Deïanira,                                                           850
daughter-in-law of noble Alcmene),
on feathers which spring up on their bodies,
stretching extensive wings along their arms
and altering their mouths to horny beaks,
then sends them, once transformed, into the air.(30)

 

Meanwhile, Theseus, having taken part                                                THESEUS AND ACHELOÜS
in the group enterprise to kill the boar,
was going back to Tritonia’s city,
the town that Erectheus once had ruled.(31)
But Acheloüs’ stream, swollen with rain,                                              860
stood in his way and delayed his journey.
The river said:

 

                                          “Famous Athenian,                                               [550]
come beneath my roof. Do not trust yourself
to my rapacious waves. They have a habit,
as they roar along, of carrying off
huge trunks of trees and of turning boulders
over on their sides. I have seen stables,
large ones near the river bank, swept away,
their animals, as well. The cattle’s strength
did not help them, nor did the horses’ speed.                                  870
And the whirling eddies of this torrent
have swallowed many bodies of young men,
when melting snows pour down the mountainside.
It’s safer to stay here until my stream
runs down in its customary channel
with a gentle flow of water in its bed.”

 

Aegeus’ son agreed and answered:

 

                                                      “Acheloüs,                                               [560]
I will follow your advice and use your home.”

 

And he did both, entering a cave carved
in soft porous stone and rough travertine.                                             880
The floor was soft damp moss, and the ceiling
alternating rows of conch and murex shells.
By now Hyperion had measured out
two-thirds of the daylight path he travels.
Theseus and his comrades sat on couches.
Pirithoüs, Ixion’s son, was there,
on one side of Theseus. On the other side
sat Lelex, a warrior from Troezen,
with sparse white hair already covering
his temples, together with some others,                                                 890
men whom the Arcarnanian river god,
overjoyed to have such a noble guest,                                                                 [570]
thought worthy of a similar honour.
Barefooted nymphs quickly set up tables,
loaded them with food, and then afterwards,
when the food had been removed, poured out wine
in jeweled cups. At that point, Theseus,
most powerful of heroes, looking down
on the sea stretching out before his eyes,
pointed a finger and asked:

 

                                “What place is that?                                         900
Tell me the name people give that island,                                         THE ECHINADES
although there does not seem to be just one.”

 

 The river god replied:

 

                             “What you are looking at
is not one island. There are five of them,
all distinct. But the distance hides that fact.
What happened there will leave you less amazed
at what Diana did when she was scorned.
Those islands once were nymphs who sacrificed
ten bullocks, summoned all the rural gods                                                       [580]
to sacred celebrations, and led out                                                  910
dancing choruses for their festival.
But they neglected me. I swelled with rage
and grew as forceful as I always get
when my full cresting waters reach their peak.
My heart and waves were pitiless. I ripped
trees from trees, fields from fields, and swept those nymphs
and the ground they stood on down into the sea.
At last they thought of me, but far too late.
My waters and the sea divided up
that unbroken piece of ground, carving it                                         920
into the many pieces you can see,
those five islands called the Echinades,
out there in the middle of the ocean.
But as you look, even from a distance,                                                           [590]
there is one island lying by itself,                                                     ACHELOÜS AND PERIMELE
far from the rest, an island dear to me.
Sailors call it Perimele. She was a girl
I fell in love with, and because of me
she no longer could be called a virgin.
Her father, Hippodamas, was so angry,                                          930
he went to kill her, hurling the body
of his daughter from a cliff into the sea.
I caught her there and, as she swam around,
I held her up and prayed:

 

                                          ‘O great Neptune,
Trident-bearer, whose power ranks second
to the might of heaven, picked by lot to rule
the restless waves, [where we sacred rivers end
and to which we run—approach, O Neptune,
and listen graciously to what I pray.
This girl I am supporting I have harmed.                                     940           [600]
If her father Hippodamas had been just
and merciful or else less impious,
he would have pitied her and forgiven me.](32)
Give us your help. I beg you grant a place
to someone drowned by a father’s savagery,
or allow her to become that place herself.
[I will still keep holding her.’

 

                                               The ocean king                                PERIMELE IS TRANSFORMED
moved his head, making all the waters shake,
to indicate his own consent. The nymph
was terrified, but she kept on swimming.                                         950
As she swam, I could feel her breast throbbing
with a pulsing motion, but while I felt that,
I sensed her entire body growing hard
and her chest being covered up with earth
heaped all around it.] While I was speaking,                                                  [610]
fresh land enclosed her body as she swam
and a substantial island grew up there
around her transformed limbs.”

 

                             After these words,
the river god was silent. The event
was so astonishing, it stirred them all.                                                   960
But Pirithoüs, son of Ixion,
ridiculed them for their credulity.
His arrogant spirit despised the gods,
so he remarked:

 

                     “You tell made-up stories,
Acheloüs, and grant too much power
to the gods, if you believe they can give
and take away the forms of things.”

 

The others were upset by these remarks,
for they did not approve of such ideas.
Before anyone else could speak, Lelex,                                               970
a man mature in years and understanding,
answered:

 

           “The power of those in heaven                                              PHILEMON AND BAUCIS
cannot be measured—it has no limit.
Whatever gods above desire takes place.
To ease your doubts about it, just listen.                                                         [620]
In the hills of Phrygia, a lime tree
and an oak tree stand beside each other,
with a low wall around them. I myself
have seen the place, for Pittheus sent me
to that country, where his father, Pelops,                                         980
had ruled in earlier days. Not far away
there is a swamp, once habitable ground,
whose waters now are home to diving birds
and coots who love the marshes. Jupiter,
disguised in human form, came to this place.
Mercury, Atlas’ grandson, who carries
the caduceus, set aside his wings
and travelled with his father.(33) The two gods
went up to a thousand houses, seeking
a place to rest, but all those thousand homes                                   990
were locked and barred against them. Then one house
took them inside. The place was really small.                                                  [630]
Its roof was made of marshy reeds and thatch.
Pious Baucis and her husband, Philemon,
the same age as her, had been married there
in younger days and had grown old together
in that very home. By acknowledging
their poverty, they made it easier
and bore it without any discontent.
If you asked for servants there or masters,                                      1000
it made no difference, for the two of them
made up the entire household. The same two
gave out the orders and did what they were told.
So when those gods who live in heaven reached
this tiny home and, stooping down, went in
the humble doorway, the old man set out
a bench, inviting them to rest their limbs.
Baucis took care to spread out a rough blanket                                              [640]
on the bench and stirred the still warm embers
in the hearth, bringing back to life the fire                                         1010
from the day before by nourishing it
with dry bark and leaves and blowing on it
with her old lungs till she produced a flame.
She pulled down from the roof some branching twigs
and dried out sticks, broke them up in pieces,
and set them under a small pot. She stripped leaves
off vegetables her husband had brought in
from their well-watered garden. Philemon
used a fork with double prongs to lift down
an ancient slab of bacon that was hanging                                        1020
from the blackened beam, sliced off a portion
of the meat they had been saving for so long,
and cooked the piece he cut in boiling water.                                                  [650]
Meanwhile, they kept up a conversation
to pass the intervening time, [so their guests
would have no sense of a delay. They had
a wooden tub, suspended from a hook
by a rough-hewn handle. This they filled
with heated water. Their two visitors
used it to clean up and refresh their limbs.                                        1030
There was a couch with willow frame and legs
on which was placed a central cushion stuffed
with soft sedge grasses.](34) They shook the cushion
and covered it with cloths, which generally
they did not use at all, except at times
of sacred festivals, but even these
were old and worn, just like the willow couch.
The gods sat down. Baucis tucked in her dress                                               [660]
and, with her shaky hands, set up a table.
It had three legs, one shorter than the others.                                   1040
She took a broken tile and made it equal,
shoving it in to even out the slope,
then wiped the level table with fresh mint
and put out some doubly coloured olives
of virtuous Minerva, cornel berries
gathered in autumn and preserved in brine,
endives, radishes, a large piece of cheese,
and eggs gently cooked on cooling embers,
all in dishes made of clay. After this,
she brought a mixing bowl with carved designs,                               1050
as lavish as her other tableware,
and goblets made from hollow beech, varnished                                             [670]
with yellow wax. There was a short delay,
before the hearth provided them hot food,
and then the wine, which was not all that old,
was passed around again and set aside
a while, to make way for a second course
of nuts, a mix of figs and wrinkled dates,
plums, fragrant apples in open baskets,
and grapes collected from the purple vines.                                     1060
In the centre sat a shining honey comb.
And, above all, there were friendly faces,
with no indifferent or hostile feelings.
Meanwhile, the old couple kept noticing
the mixing bowl, whenever it was empty,
would fill itself again all on its own.                                                                 [680]
The wine was being replaced spontaneously.
Amazed at this incredible event,
they grew afraid, and so the two of them
timidly held out their hands in prayer,                                              1070
begging the gods to forgive the dinner
and their lack of proper preparation.
They had a goose, which was the guardian
of their small dwelling and, as its owners,
were prepared to sacrifice the creature
in honour of the gods who were their guests.
But the goose, with its swift wings, eluded them
for quite some time and wore them out. At last,
it seemed to fly off to the gods themselves
for refuge. Those heavenly beings said                                            1080
they should not kill it and added:

 

                                             ‘We are gods.
This evil neighbourhood will now receive
the punishment it deserves. But you two                                                    [690]
will be allowed to escape the ruin.
Just leave your home, and come along with us—
that steep mountain we will climb together.’

 

They both obey. With staffs supporting them,
they struggle on, keeping their feet moving
up the lengthy slope. When they are near the top,
about a bowshot’s distance from the summit,                                   1090
as they look behind, they see all the land
is drowning in a swamp, except their home,
which is still there. While they look on amazed
and lament their neighbours’ fate, their cottage,
a modest home even for two people,
is being transformed into a temple.
Wooden poles are turning into pillars,                                                            [700]
the thatch is growing yellow, and the roof
seems to be made of gold, the doors engraved
with carvings, and the ground completely paved                               1100
with marble. Jupiter, son of Saturn,
in a calm voice speaks to them, as follows:

 

‘You excellent old man and you, his wife,
who deserves a husband of such quality,
tell us what you would like.’

 

                                              Philemon
takes a moment to confer with Baucis
then tells the gods what both of them desire:

 

‘We want to serve as priests, as custodians
of your shrine, and, since we have spent our years
in mutual harmony, we two both wish                                         1110
to be snatched away in the same instant,
so I will never have to see her tomb,                                                         [710]
and she will never have to bury me.’

 

What they wanted was fulfilled. They remained                                         BAUCIS AND PHILEMON ARE TRANSFORMED
guardians of the temple all their lives,
and then, worn out by time and their old age,
as they were standing on the sacred steps
and, as it so chanced, talking of their deaths,
Baucis saw Philemon starting to sprout leaves,
and the old man noticed leaves on Baucis, too.                                1120
By now the tops of trees began to grow
across their faces. They kept on talking,
as long as they still could, both crying out:

 

‘Farewell, my spouse.’

 

                       The branches grew around them,
both at the same time, sealing up their mouths.

Those dwelling in Tyana still point out
these trees beside each other, which sprang up                                               [720]
out of their two bodies.(35) I heard this tale
from older men who did not make things up
(there was no reason they would want to lie).                                   1130
As for me, I noticed hanging garlands
on the boughs, so I put some fresh ones there
and said:

 

                       ‘Let those who cared about the gods,
be gods themselves, and those who worship gods
be worshipped, too.’”

 

                     Lelex finished speaking.
All of them reacted to the story
and the man who told it, above all Theseus,
who was keen to hear the wondrous actions
of the gods. So Acheloüs, river god
of Calydon, spoke to him, as follows:                                                    1140

 

“Bravest of men, there are some people who,
once their form is changed, keep their altered shape,
and there are some who possess the power                                                    [730]
to pass through many forms—like Proteus,
whose home is in the earth-encircling sea.(36)
O Proteus, at times you have been seen
as a youthful man, sometimes a lion.
One moment you have been a savage boar
and then a serpent that men feared to touch.
And there were times your horns made you a bull.                           1150
Often you have seemed to look like stone,
even a tree, and sometimes you assumed
the form of a flowing stream or river,
sometimes the very opposite of water,
when you turned to flame.

 

                                                 Autolycus’ wife,
Erysichthon’s daughter, had the same power. (37)
Her father was a man who spurned the gods                                                   [740]
and did not offer incense on their altars.                                           ERYSICHTHON AND CERES
People claim he even desecrated
a grove of Ceres with an axe, abusing                                             1160
ancient woods with steel. In among these trees
there stood a massive oak, old and sturdy,
a forest on its own, with wreaths, garlands,
and memorial tablets close beside it,
testaments to prayers which had been granted.
Dryads often held their festive dances
underneath this tree, and often they joined hands,
formed a line, and circled around its trunk,
whose huge circumference was forty feet.(38)
That oak stood taller than the other trees                                         1170
as much as they were higher than the grass.                                                     [750]
But such things did not stop Erysichthon
taking axes to the tree. He told his slaves
to cut down the sacred oak. When he saw
them hesitate to carry out his orders,
the villain grabbed an axe from one of them
and said these words:

 

                                 ‘If this were not a tree
the goddess loves but the goddess herself,
its crown of leaves would touch the earth.’

 

                                                  As he spoke
and raised the axe to strike a slashing blow,                                     1180
Ceres’ oak tree quivered and gave a groan.
At the same moment, its leaves and acorns
started to turn white, and its long branches                                                      [760]
lost their colour. And when his wicked hand
struck the trunk and wounded it, blood flowed
from the split bark, in the same way it spurts
from the severed neck of a big strong bull
when it collapses before the altars
in a sacrifice. They were all amazed.
Out of all those there, one man attempted                                        1190
to stop the evil deed and block the axe.
Erysichthon looked at him and shouted:

 

‘Take this as your reward for pious thoughts!’

 

Turning his axe from the tree to the man,
he sliced his head off and went at the oak
with blow after blow. Then a sound emerged
from the core of the tree, a voice which said:                                                   [770]

 

‘I am a nymph who lives beneath this wood,
the one Ceres most loves. And as I die,
I prophesy to you that punishment                                              1200
for what you’ve carried out is close at hand,
and that consoles me as I pass away.’

 

The wicked scoundrel kept up his attack,
and finally, weakened by countless blows
and tugged with ropes, the sacred tree fell over,
crushing large sections of the forest there.
All her dryad sisters, who were appalled
at what they and the forest grove had lost,
dressed in mourning black and went to Ceres,
begging her to punish Erysichthon.                                                   1210
The loveliest of goddesses agreed.                                                                  [780]
With a nod of her head she shook the fields                                     CERES PUNISHES ERYSICHTHON
loaded down with bountiful harvest crops,
as she devised a kind of punishment
which men would pity, if his savage deeds
had not placed him beyond their sympathy.
She planned to torture him with deadly Hunger.
But she could not see Hunger on her own
(for the Fates do not permit a meeting
between Hunger and the goddess Ceres),                                        1220
so she commandeered one of the spirits,
a rustic mountain oread, saying:

 

‘There is in far-off frozen Scythia
a place with barren soil, a sterile land
with no crops or trees. Here live numbing Cold,
Pallor, Trembling, and ravening Hunger.                                                     [790]
Go and tell Hunger she must bury herself
in that man’s evil, sacrilegious heart.
And Hunger is not to be beaten back
by rich supplies of food. In any fight                                           1230
against my forces, she is to prevail.
If the enormous distance of the journey
makes you anxious, you must take my chariot.
Yes, take my winged dragons, and with these reins
guide them on high!’

 

                    Ceres handed her the reins.                                          HUNGER
The oread climbed in and flew away,
up through the air, and came to Scythia.(39)
She landed on a steep mountain summit
(men call it Caucasus). Once she removed
the harness from the dragons’ necks, she went                                 1240
to look for Hunger, whom she discovered
in a field of stones, using her nails and teeth
to scratch up grasses scattered here and there.                                                [800]
She had coarse hair and hollow eyes. Her face
was pale, her lips were gray with dirt, her throat
was lined with scabby sores. She had rough skin,
through which one could make out her inner organs.
Dry bones protruded from her hollow groin.
She had no stomach, just a place for one.
Her sagging breasts seemed to be hanging down,                             1250
with nothing to support them but her spine.
She was so thin her joints appeared enlarged,
with puffed up knee caps and huge ankle bones,
swollen beyond the normal size. The nymph
did not approach too close (she did not dare
come near). She informed her of the orders                                                     [810]
she had brought from Ceres. Though the oread
did not stay long, remained some distance off,
and had arrived just a short time before,
she still seemed to feel an urgent hunger.                                          1260
And so she turned her team of dragons back
and drove them through the air to Thessaly.

 

Hunger carries out what Ceres ordered                                           HUNGER AND ERISICHTHON
(although the way she always operates
works in opposition to what Ceres does).
Raised by the wind she travels through the air
to the appointed house. She does not pause,
but goes to the room where the wicked wretch
is lying fast asleep (for night has come)
and embraces Erysichthon with both arms.                                      1270
She breathes herself into the man,
blowing inside his throat, his chest, his lips,
and spreading hunger through his empty veins.                                                [820]
Once she has done what Ceres asked, she leaves
the world of fertile lands and journeys back
to her famished home, her customary caves.
Erysichthon, still soothed by the soft wings
of tender sleep, in his imagination
dreams he desires a feast. He moves his jaws
to no effect and grinds his teeth together.                                         1280
His throat deceives itself by gulping down
meals that are not there. Instead of banquets,
he wastes his time by swallowing thin air.
But when his rest is done, he is possessed
by a frantic urge to eat—the craving
rules his famished jaws and burning belly.
He wastes no time in calling out for food,                                                        [830]
whatever sea and land and air afford.
With fully laden tables set before him,
he complains of hunger, and, while eating,                                        1290
asks for things to eat. What could satisfy
whole cities or a nation does not suffice
for just one man. The more he stuffs himself,
the more he craves. Just as the sea receives
the rivers from the entire earth and yet
is never full of water, as it drinks up
all streams from distant lands, or as a fire,
in its greed, never turns down any fuel,
but incinerates innumerable trees—
the larger the supply of forest fuel,                                                   1300
the more the fire craves, for food itself
makes it want even more—in the same way
Erysichthon’s blasphemous mouth devours                                                     [840]
all his meals and, even as it does so,
keeps demanding more. Every kind of food
becomes for him a reason for more food,
and every time he eats a meal he makes
a gaping void.

 

                             By now his appetite
and the pit of his voracious stomach
have diminished his paternal riches,                                                 1310
but his fierce hunger still remains the same.
His burning need for food has not declined
and is still strong. At length, when he has sent
his whole fortune down into his belly,
his daughter is the only thing still left,                                                ERYSICHTHON AND MAESTRA
a girl whose father is not worthy of her.
Since he is desperate, he sells her, too.
But the noble girl declines a master.
Stretching her hands out to the near-by sea,
she cries:

 

‘O you who now possess the prize                                             1320
of my virginity, snatch me away                                                                 [850]
from a life of slavery.’

 

                                      The one who took
that prize is Neptune. He does not spurn
her plea. Although the man who bought the girl
has seen her only a moment before
and is coming for her, Neptune transforms
her shape and makes her look just like a male,
with clothing that would suit a fisherman.
Her owner looks at her and says:

 

                                           ‘You there—
you using that fishing rod and hiding                                            1330
dangling bronze hooks in tiny bits of bait,
I hope you have calm seas. And may the fish
be easily duped and fail to sense the hook,
until you snag them. Tell me where she is,
the girl with shabby clothes and messy hair
who was on the beach a moment ago
(for I saw her here, standing on the shore).                                                 [860]
Her footsteps go no further.’

 

                                              The girl sensed
the gift the god had given her was working.
Pleased that he was asking her about herself,                                   1340
she answered him:

 

                                         ‘Whoever you are,
forgive me. My eyes have not left this pool
to look around in any other place.
I’ve been completely busy fishing here.
To ease your doubts—and may the god of the sea
assist me as I ply my skills—no man,
other than myself, has stood here on the shore
for some time now, and no woman has been here.’

 

The man who owned her trusted what she said.
He turned and walked away across the sand,                                   1350
cheated of his slave. Then the girl’s real shape                                                 [870]
was given back to her. Once Erysichthon
realized that she could change her body,
he sold his daughter Maestra many times
to other masters, and the girl escaped,
sometimes as a horse or bird, and sometimes
as a cow or stag, and with this deceit
she gave her famished father nourishment.
But when the violence of his disease
had used up all provisions, the sickness                                            1360
needed still more food, so Erysichthon
began to tear and gnaw on his own limbs.
The miserable creature fed his body
by eating it away.”

 

                                   Then Acheloüs
continued:

 

“But why do I spend time on tales
of other people. Young man, I, too,                                                                [880]
can often change my shape, although the forms
I can take on are limited. Sometimes
I seem to be as I am now, sometimes
I curl up as a snake, at other times,                                                   1370  
I am the lead bull of a cattle herd,
with power in my horns. Yes, I said horns,
for once I did have two. Now, as you see,
one side of my forehead lacks its weapon.”(40)

 

He finished speaking and heaved a sigh.

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

(1) Cephalus is returning to his city, Athens. The sons of Aeacus, residents of Aegina, are accompanying him, to help deal with the threat from Minos (see the end of Book 7). [Back to Text]

(2) When king Alcathoüs repaired the walls of Megara, Apollo helped him, and the god’s lyre imparted to the stones some of its musical qualities. [Back to Text]

(3) Minos was the son of Jupiter and Europa. [Back to Text]

(4) Minos was avenging his son who had been killed in Athens. [Back to Text]

(5) Syrtis was a quicksand near the coast of Africa. The tigers of Armenia were famous for their ferocity. Charybdis was a vicious whirlpool in the sea off Sicily. Jupiter assumed the form of a bull in order to abduct Europa. For Ovid’s treatment of the story see 2.1236 above. [Back to Text]

(6) Pasiphaë, wife of Minos, overwhelmed with lust for a bull sent by Poseidon, had a wooden frame built in the shape of a cow, so she could conceal herself inside and have sex with the animal. The offspring of the union was the Minotaur, a destructive monster, part human, part bull. For Minos’ response see 8.248 below. [Back to Text]

(7) It is not clear what bird Ovid is referring to. The name Ciris allegedly comes from the Greek work meaning to cut. [Back to Text]

(8) The hybrid monster, as mentioned above, is the Minotaur—half bull, half human. [Back to Text]

(9) The Maeander river (in Asia Minor) was famous for its many ox-bow curves, in which one section of the river looped around and came very close to an earlier portion of the stream. Thus, the downstream waters could, as it were, observe the water further upstream which would soon occupy their present position. The very curved shape of the river meant that sometimes it looked as if the currents in two adjacent sections were flowing in different directions. [Back to Text]

(10) After Minos defeated Athens, he demanded several young people from the city be shipped to Crete periodically. These he put into the labyrinth, where they were destroyed by the Minotaur. Theseus was part of the third delegation of victims. Ariadne gave him the idea of unwinding a thread as he moved through the labyrinth, so that he could find his way back again. Theseus went in, killed the Minotaur, and followed the thread back to the entrance. Dia is another name for the island of Naxos, where Theseus abandoned Ariadne.[Back to Text]

(11) Like some other translators, I have supplied the names Hercules and Ophiunchus (“Serpent Bearer”) in order to clarify the astrological reference to the position of the new constellation (Corona Borealis). It is not clear from Ovid’s account where Ariadne’s crown came from. [Back to Text]

(12) Daedalus (who in many legends was an Athenian) had been exiled for murder, and Minos would not let him leave Crete. In some accounts Minos was angry with Daedalus for building the wooden cow which the queen, Pasiphaë, had used to have sex with a bull. [Back to Text]

(13) Helice was an alternative name for the constellation of the Great Bear. Boötes was the constellation of the Herdsman. [Back to Text]

(14) Samos was an island off the coast of Asia Minor. Lebinthus was in the group of islands called the Cyclades, and Calymne was an island near Rhodes. [Back to Text]

(15) That is, the Icarian Sea, the southern part of the Aegean between the Cyclades islands and Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

(16) In his version of this story Ovid does not give names to the sister or to her son. The latter would, one assumes, be called Perdix, after the Latin for partridge (the bird he is transformed into). In some versions of the story the sister’s name is Perdix and the son’s name is Talus. [Back to Text]

(17) Cocalus, king of Sicily, protected Daedalus from Minos, after the former’s escape from Crete. [Back to Text]

(18) The “mournful tribute,” mentioned previously, was paid to Minos in the form of several young Athenians periodically sent to Crete to be killed by the Minotaur (see line 8.273 above). [Back to Text]

(19) Meleager was the son of Oeneus, king of Calydon, in Aetolia (in western Greece). [Back to Text]

(20) Line 286 of the Latin is commonly omitted, since it is considered an interpolation. I have placed the English translation between square brackets. [Back to Text]

(21) This list includes a number of legendary figures. I have provided some names which Ovid does not mention directly (e.g., Castor, Pollux, Peleus). The sons of Thestius were Toxeus and Plexippus, uncles of Meleager. Caeneus was originally a woman. Ovid tells her story in Book 12 below. The two sons of Actor were Eurytus and Cteatus. Telamon was the father of the greater Ajax. Hippocoön, from Amyclae in Thrace, sent three sons: Alcon, Enaesimus, and Leucippus. Laërtes was the father of Ulysses. Amphiaraüs was betrayed by his wife, Eriphyle, for a gold necklace. [Back to Text]

(22) After they died Castor and Pollux became the constellation Gemini. [Back to Text]

(23) Plexippus and Toxeus are uncles of Meleager, his mother’s brothers. [Back to Text]

(24) The phrase “Mars’ son” may simply mean “warlike” or it may imply that Meleager was really the son of Mars, who had had sex with his mother Althaea. [Back to Text]

(25) The Fates were three sisters who determined the life span of human beings. At birth, one spun the thread indicating the years, another measured, and the third one cut. [Back to Text]

(26) The three sisters are the Furies, goddesses of blood revenge, especially within the family. They were often called the Eumenides (“The Kindly Ones”), a euphemism designed to make them less fearful. [Back to Text]

(27) Ancaeus had been killed by the wild boar (see 8.616 above). [Back to Text]

(28) Meleager’s wife was Cleopatra (who, according to Homer, was also called Alcyone). [Back to Text]

(29) Euenus is a river in Aetolia in western Greece. [Back to Text]

(30) According to legend, two of Meleager’s sisters were transformed into guinea hens. Ovid does not indicate the species of bird. Deïanira was wife of Hercules. [Back to Text]

(31) The city referred to here was Athens. Tritonia was another name for Minerva, and Erectheus was a legendary king of the city. [Back to Text]

(32) The lines in square brackets (lines 597-601 and 604-609 in the Latin) are commonly omitted as spurious insertions. [Back to Text]

(33) The caduceus is a staff with twin snakes curled around it and (usually) a pair of wings at the top. Mercury also wore wings on his sandals. [Back to Text]

(34) Lines 658-9 in the Latin are almost exactly the same as lines 656-7. I have omitted most of line 658 and line 659, to avoid the awkward repetition the same words. [Back to Text]

(35) Tyana was a city in Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

(36) Proteus, sometimes called the Old Man of the Sea, was an ancient sea god. [Back to Text]

(37) The daughter’s name, which is not mentioned by Ovid here, was Maestra. Autolycus was the father of Anticleia, the mother of Ulysses. [Back to Text]

(38) The measurement is “three times five ulnas.” The ulna (as a unit of measurement) is usually translated as ell, an old European unit roughly equivalent to the length of a man’s arm (i.e., approximately 30 inches, but the precise length varied from one region to another). Dryads were tree nymphs. [Back to Text]

(39) Ceres was the goddess of crops and food generally and, therefore, incompatible with Hunger. The oreads were nymphs of the mountains (as dryads were nymphs of the trees). [Back to Text]

 

(40) Acheloüs in the form of a bull once fought Hercules over the nymph Deïaneira. Hercules tore off one of his horns. Ovid tells the story at the beginning of Book 9. [Back to Text]

 

[Link to Metamorphoses, Book 9]

 

[Link to Metamorphoses, Table of Contents]