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.]




[Acheloüs tells Theseus how he and Hercules fought over Deïanira, how he lost one horn, and how that became the Horn of Plenty; Nessus offers to help Hercules and Deïanira, but then tries to abduct her; Hercules kills Nessus; Nessus gives Deïanira a shirt soaked in his blood; Rumour tells Deïanira that Hercules is in love with Iole; Deïanira gets Lichas to take the shirt Nessus gave her to Hercules; Hercules puts on the shirt and the poison eats away his body; Hercules recounts his achievements; Hercules kills Lichas, who turns into a rocky island; Hercules builds his funeral pyre and is cremated; Jupiter makes Hercules a god; Alcmene tells Iole how the birth of Hercules was delayed by Juno, until Galanthis tricked goddess Lucina, who changed Galanthis into a weasel; Iole tells Alcmene the story of her sister Dryope; a rejuvenated Iolaüs appears; Themis prophesies civil war in Thebes, the death of Alcmaeon, and the sudden maturing of his infant sons; the gods complain about not being able to rejuvenate their favourite mortals; Jupiter answers their complaints; Miletus and Cyane produce two children, Byblis and Caunus; Byblis falls in love with Caunus; Caunus rejects her; Byblis goes mad and is transformed; Ligdus tells Telethusa he will have to kill their child if it is a girl; Iphis is born and raised as a boy; Iphis is betrothed to Iänthe; Telethusa prays to Isis for help; Isis transforms Iphis; Isis and Iänthe are married.]


Then warrior Theseus, Neptune’s grandson,                                        ACHELOÜS AND THESEUS
asked Acheloüs why he had heaved a sigh
and how his forehead had become so marred.(1)
The Calydonian river god, with reeds
around his tangled hair, replied:


                                       “Your question
is a painful one to me. For who wishes
to remember battles where he was beaten?
But I will tell you how that came about,
since the honour of having fought outweighs
the shame of being defeated. Besides,                                             10
I get solace knowing that the winner
was such a famous man.


                                      Perhaps your ears                                     ACHELOÜS AND HERCULES
have heard of Deïanira, who was once
a very lovely girl, the jealous hope
of many suitors. I was one of them.(2)                                                            [10]
When we suitors went to her father’s house
(the man I wanted as a father-in-law)
I said:


          ‘Oeneus, son of Parthaon,
take me as a son-in-law.’


from Alceus’ line, spoke up as I did,                                               20
and then the other suitors backed away,
leaving just the two of us. Hercules
said he could offer his bride Jupiter
as a father-in-law and spoke about
his celebrated Labours, the orders
he had succeeded in carrying out
for his step-mother Juno.(3) In reply,
I spoke against him:


                       ‘It is disgraceful
if a god yields to a mortal.’


                                                 (Back then
Hercules had not yet been made divine).(4)                                      30


‘In me you see the ruler of those rivers
whose winding waters flow throughout your realm.
I will not be a son-in-law sent here
a stranger from a foreign land, but part
of your own kingdom, one of your people.                                                [20]
Do not let it harm my case that Juno,
queen of heaven, feels no hatred for me
and that all the punishments she ordered
in those labours were not imposed on me.(5)
As for you, Hercules, Alcmene’s son,                                        40
you boast that Jupiter is your father.
If so, then either that is just not true,
or he is truly guilty of a crime.
Your claim he is your father must involve
adultery by your own mother. So choose
which story you prefer—that Jupiter
is your fictitious father or your birth
springs from a shameful act.’


                     While I spoke these words,
his scowling eyes kept glowering at me.
He could not act like a courageous man                                          50
and keep his burning rage in check. The words
he spoke in his reply were few:


                                                       ‘My hand
is stronger than my tongue. You may win out
in argument, so long as I beat you                                                             [30]
in fighting.’


                           And then that violent man
attacked me. I was too ashamed to yield,
after the grand speech I’d just delivered.
So I threw the green clothes from my body,
held up my arms to fend him off, my hands
curved in against my chest, prepared to fight,                                  60
and braced my legs to counter his assault.
Scooping some dust up in his hollow palm,
he threw it at me, and he turned yellow
from contact with the golden sand. And then
he grabbed me by the neck, then by the legs,
then by the crotch, or rather seemed to grab me,
attacking me from every side. But my weight
was my defence, and his assault on me
had no effect, just as a mass of rock                                                              [40]
attacked by the full force of roaring floods                                       70
remains in place, made safe by its own weight.
We pulled back briefly, then rejoined the fight.
We held our ground, determined not to yield.
Our feet were closely intertwined, so I
leaned forward, pushing at him with my chest,
my fingers locked with his, my forehead pressed
against his forehead. I have seen strong bulls
go at each other in this way, striving
to win a mate, the prize they’re fighting for,
the loveliest cow in all the meadow.                                                 80
The cattle herd looks on, trembling, unsure
which one will claim the triumph and become
lord in his great kingdom. Our gleaming chests
were fused together. Then Hercules tried
three times without success to push me off.                                                    [50]
But with his fourth attempt, he broke my grip,
loosening the arms I held around him,
and hit me with his fist—I am resolved,
at all events, to tell the truth—and then
he quickly spun me round and draped himself                                  90
across my back. He was a monstrous weight.
Believe me—I am not trying to win
more credit with a made-up story—I felt
I was being flattened by a mountain
dumped on top of me. Though it was difficult,
I pushed out my arms, all dripping with sweat,
and, with a great push, loosened his firm hold
around my chest. I was gasping for breath,
but he pressed forward and prevented me
from getting back my strength, then clutched me                              100
by the neck. Finally my knee was forced                                                        [60]
to touch the ground, and my mouth bit the sand.
My strength was not a match for his. So I tried
my magic skills, slipping away from him
by altering my shape to a long snake.
But then, when I twisted my body up
in supple coils and flicked out my forked tongue
with fearful hissing, that man from Tirnys
laughed and ridiculed my magic, saying:(6)


‘In my cradle I used to throttle snakes,                                      110
and, Acheloüs, though you have more strength
than other serpents, you are only one.
And how much of the Lernaean Hydra
would you be?(7) If wounded, it reproduced,                                            [70]
and cutting off one of its hundred heads
was dangerous, because it grew two more
to replace what it had lost, thus making
its neck more vicious than before. But still,
though serpents grew like branches from its wounds
and harming it just made the monster larger,                               120
I beat that Hydra and, once it was down,
I slaughtered it. What do you imagine
lies in store for you, now you’ve changed yourself
into the mere image of a snake, using
weapons which are unfamiliar to you
and hiding in a borrowed shape?’


                                                          He spoke.
Then his fingers seized the top part of my neck.
I gagged, as if my throat was being throttled
in a vise, and struggled to pry his thumbs
up from my windpipe. He was beating me                                       130
in my serpent shape as well, but I still had                                                      [80]
my third form, that of a ferocious bull.
Changing my body to that shape, I fought on.
Attacking from the left, he wrapped his arms
around my brawny neck. As I moved off,
he followed, twisting and pulling at my horns,
until he drove them down into the ground
and forced me to fall over in deep sand.
He did not stop there. Seizing my tough horn
in his merciless fist, he snapped it off                                                140
and ripped it from my mutilated head.
But the naiads filled up this horn with fruit                                        THE HORN OF PLENTY
and sweet flowers and consecrated it,
so now the noble Goddess of Abundance
is rich indeed, thanks to that horn of mine.”


Acheloüs spoke. One of his attendants,
a nymph dressed like Diana, with her hair                                                            [90]
streaming across both shoulders, then came in,
carrying all of Autumn’s harvest crops
in the overflowing horn, with tasty fruit                                                 150
to offer as a second course.


                                            Daylight comes.
As the first rays of sunlight strike the hills,
the young men depart. They will not wait there
until the stream is serene and peaceful
and all the flooding waters have calmed down.
Deep down in the middle of his waters,
Acheloüs hides his rustic features
and his damaged head with one horn missing.
Losing that single horn, taken from him
by Hercules, is his only reason                                                             160
for feeling sad. In all other matters
he is unhurt, and he conceals that loss
with reeds and willow leaves around his head.                                                     [100]


But you, fierce Nessus, were fatally hurt                                              HERCULES AND NESSUS
by passion for that same young virgin girl—
a flying arrow struck you in the back.(8)
For Hercules, a son of Jupiter,
while returning to his native city
with Deïanira, his new wife, reached
the swift stream of the river Euenus.                                                     170
Swollen by winter rains, the water flow
was now above its customary height,
with many whirlpools, and could not be crossed.
Though Hercules had no fear for himself,
he did have some concern about his bride.
Nessus rode up. His limbs were powerful,
and he was well acquainted with the ford.
He said to Hercules:


                              “Child of Alceus,
with my help she will be deposited
on that bank over there. You use your strength                                180           [110]
for swimming!”(9)


                       The hero from Boeotia
hands the Calydonian girl to Nessus.
She is pale with fear of both the river
and the centaur. Hercules throws his club
and his curved bow across to the far bank.
Then, just as he is, weighed down by quiver
and the lion’s skin, he says:


                                    “Since I have started,
I must cross this river.”


                                       He does not pause
or search out the calmest stretch of water,
for he refuses to be borne across                                                         190
because the stream has given its consent.
As he climbs the further bank and grabs the bow
he hurled across, he hears his wife cry out.
Sensing that Nessus is now intending                                                    NESSUS ABDUCTS DEIANIRA
to violate his trust, he shouts at him:


“Where are you carrying her, you brute beast,                                               [120]
vainly relying on your rapid hooves?
I’m talking to you, Nessus, you monster
with a double form. So listen to me!
Do not run off with what is rightly mine.                                           200
If respect for me does not restrain you,
that wheel your father rides might well prevent
forbidden sexual acts.(10) You won’t escape!
Though you may trust your powers as a horse,
I’ll catch you with an arrow, not my feet.”


And then he carried out what he had said.                                            THE DEATH OF NESSUS
He shot an arrow at the fleeing back.
The iron barb struck Nessus through the chest.
When he removed the arrow, blood poured out,
mixed with lethal poison of the Hydra,                                                  210           [130]
from both his wounds, one where the arrow hit
and one where it was sticking out.(11) Nessus
sopped up his blood and muttered to himself:


“I will not die without getting revenge.”


And so he soaked his shirt in his warm blood
and gave it to the girl he was abducting,
telling Deïanira it was a gift
which had the power to arouse new love.


Many years go by, and the entire world
is full of the deeds of mighty Hercules                                                  220
and his step-mother’s hatred towards him.
Hercules has captured Oechalia
and is preparing to make sacrifice
to Jupiter at Cenaeum.(12) But then,                                                     DEÏANIRA AND HERCULES
chattering Rumour, who takes great delight
in mixing false things with the truth and grows,
thanks to her lies, from the minutest things,
flies on ahead of him and strikes your ears,
Deïanira, claiming Amphitryon’s son,                                                                  [140]
your husband, is in love with Iole.(13)                                                   230
Deïanira, who loves Hercules,
believes the story of this new affair
and is alarmed. First, she turns to weeping,
and, feeling miserable, vents her sorrow
with laments. But soon she says:


                                   “Why am I crying?
My rival will be happy with these tears.
Since she is coming here, I must prepare
some brand new scheme, while it’s still possible,
before that other woman takes control
inside my marriage bed. Should I complain                                      240
or hold my tongue? Go back to Calydon
or remain right here? Should I leave this house,
or, if I can do nothing more, should I
at least make things more difficult for them?
O Meleager, what if I remember
I am your sister and with a brave heart
prepare to carry out a crime and show,                                                          [150]
by slitting Iole’s throat, how much harm
a woman’s grief is able to inflict.”


Her mind reviewed the different options,                                              250
and of them all she chose to send the shirt
soaked in Nessus’ blood, to restore the strength
of her husband’s fading love. Unaware
that the shirt would make her miserable,
she gave it to the unsuspecting Lichas.(14)
Using words designed to win him over,
the desperate, unhappy woman told him
to give it to her husband.


knowing nothing about the shirt, takes it
and drapes across his shoulders the poison                                          260
from the Lernaean Hydra. At the time,
he is setting incense, offering prayers
by the initial flames, and pouring wine
from a dish onto the marble altars.                                                                      [160]
The destructive power in that poison
heated by the flames, softens and dissolves
and spreads itself through Hercules’ body.
While he still can, he silences his groans
with his habitual courage. But later,
once his agony has overpowered                                                         270
his resistance, he throws the altars down
and fills the woods of Oeta with his cries.
He wastes no time in trying to rid himself
of the fatal shirt. But where he tears it,
it rips away the skin or—the details
are appalling to describe—sticks to his flesh,
so all attempts to get it off are futile,
or else it shows his mutilated limbs
and massive bones. His very blood sizzles,
boiling from the searing venom, just like                                                280
red-hot metal plunged in freezing water.                                                              [170]
His pain goes on and on. Voracious flames
suck in his stomach, from his whole body
black sweat keeps oozing out, scorched sinews crack,
and hidden poison liquefies his bones.
Raising his hands, he shouts up to the stars:


“Daughter of Saturn, feed on my collapse.
Eat your fill, you cruel goddess! Look down
from lofty heaven on this destruction,
and glut your savage heart! Or if my state                                        290
earns pity even from an enemy—
even from you—then carry off my soul,
my wretched spirit, wracked with searing pain                                                [180]
and born for toil. To me death is a gift,
a fitting present from my step-mother.
Was it for this I threw down Busiris,
who desecrated shrines with strangers’ blood?
Was it for this I raised Antaeus up,
above his mother Earth, who gave him strength,
or stood my ground before the triple shape                                      300
of that Iberian herdsman Geryon,
or faced you, Cerberus, and your three heads?
Was it for this these hands of mine hauled down
the horns of that strong Cretan bull, and worked
at Elis, at the Stymphalian lake,
and in Parthenian woods? Thanks to their strength
did I not fetch that belt engraved with gold
back from the Amazons and those apples
guarded by the dragon that never sleeps?                                                       [190]
And were the centaurs able to stand up                                           310
to me, or that boar which wrecked such havoc
in Arcadia? And was the Hydra helped
by growing larger from its loss, gaining
redoubled strength? And what about the time
I saw Thracian horses fed human blood,
their stables crammed with mangled bodies,
and, once I’d seen that, overpowered them,
and killed those horses and their master, too?
The huge Nemean lion now lies dead,
killed by these arms of mine, and with this neck                               320
I have held up heaven. Jupiter’s cruel wife
may have grown tired of issuing orders—
I am still not tired of carrying them out.
But now I am facing some new disease
which courage, weapons, and power in war                                                   [200]
cannot resist. An all-consuming fire
roams deep inside my lungs and feeds itself
on every limb, and yet Eurystheus
is thriving. Are there men who still believe
the gods exist?”(15)


                     When Hercules had spoken,                                            330
he wandered across the heights of Oeta,
still ravaged by the poison, like a bull
with a hunting spear stuck in its body
after the man who threw it goes away.
You could have seen him there, often groaning
and grinding his teeth, often attempting,
again and again, to rip off his back
the remnants the shirt, flattening trees,
howling at the mountains, or raising his arms                                                        [210]
up to his father’s sky.


                              Then, lo and behold,                                               340
he caught sight of Lichas hidden away
in a cavernous rock and terrified.                                                         HERCULES AND LICHAS
In his pain, Hercules brought all his rage
to bear on Lichas and yelled at him:


Weren’t you the man who brought that fatal gift
and gave it to me? Are you not the one
responsible for my death?”


                                                     Lichas trembled,
grew pale, and panicked. Timidly he mentioned
his excuses. But while he was pleading
and trying to reach for Hercules’ knee,                                                 350
Alcides grabbed him and spun him around
three or four times, then threw him with more force
than a catapult out over the depths
of Euboea’s sea. As he soared upward                                                LICHAS IS TRANSFORMED
into the airy breeze, Lichas hardened.
Just as rain, so people say, is frozen                                                                    [220]
by the icy winds—that’s how snow is formed—
and in whirling snow, soft bodies are packed down
and rounded into dense clouds of hailstones,
in the same way, so former ages claim,                                                360
once those powerful arms threw Lichas up
into the air, fear drained the man of blood,
and, lacking any moisture in his body,
he was transformed to solid rock. And now,
in the waters off Euboea, there stands
a little reef which juts up from the deep
and keeps the traces of a human form.
Sailors are afraid to walk along that rock,
as if the stone might sense their presence there.
They call it Lichas.


                                        Then, famous son                                         370
of Jupiter, you cut down trees that grew                                                              [230]
on rugged Oeta, built up a funeral pyre,                                                THE DEATH OF HERCULES
and told Philoctetes, son of Poeas,
to take charge of your bow, your bulky quiver,
and your arrows—destined to see once more
the realm of Troy.(16) And with that same man’s help
you lit a flame deep in the pyre. While the pile
was catching fire in the ravenous flames,
you spread the hide of that Nemean lion
on the top part of the wood and lay down,                                           380
neck resting on your club, looking just like
a guest with garlands on his head, reclining
in the middle of full cups of wine.


                                                                   By now
the growing flames were crackling and had spread
in all directions. They attacked his limbs,
but his body was serene and scorned them.                                                         [240]
The gods grew anxious for this protector                                             JUPITER AND HERCULES
of the earth, so Jupiter, Saturn’s son,
sensing their mood, spoke reassuring words:(17)


“You gods above, your fear gives me great joy,                              390
and I can freely and whole heartedly
congratulate myself for being called
ruler and father of a grateful people
and also for the way your high regard
protects my offspring. For though your concern
pays tribute to what this great man has done,
I also am obliged you honour him.
But do not let an empty fear affect
your hearts. Think nothing of those fires
on Oeta! He who has overcome all things                                       400
will overcome those flames you now perceive                                                [250]
and will have no sense of Vulcan’s power,
other than in parts his mother gave him.(18)
What he gets from me is everlasting,
beyond death’s reach. It will not be destroyed
or consumed in any fire. Once that part
is done with earth, then I will welcome it
to heavenly regions, and I have faith
that all you gods will find this act of mine
a reason to rejoice. But if perhaps                                                   410
some god—and I mean any god at all—
will grieve when Hercules becomes divine
and is not happy to bestow this gift,
that god should realize we’re giving it
because his merit makes him worthy of it,
and should approve, although unwillingly.”


The gods agreed, even royal Juno,
Jupiter wife, who, if she looked upset                                                                  [260]
with his last words, appearing to resent
that he was making reference to her,                                                    420
seemed to accept the rest of what he said.
Meanwhile, whatever the fire could burn up
Vulcan had consumed, and what now remained
no one would recognize as Hercules,
for he bore no traces of those features
he had inherited from his mother
and preserved only those he had received
from Jupiter. And just as a serpent
throws off old age when it casts off its skin
and takes great delight in being renewed                                              430
with glistening fresh scales, in the same way,
when that Tirynthian hero had lost
his mortal limbs, his better part grew strong,
and he began to look much greater than before—
awe-inspiring, with solemn dignity.                                                                      [270]
The omnipotent father carried him
through hollow clouds in his four-horse chariot
and placed him up among the glittering stars.
Atlas felt his weight.(19)


                                     Even after this,
Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus,                                                         440
maintained the hate he felt for Hercules.
His rage against the father turned itself
against the child. Now, Argive Alcmene                                              ALCMENE AND IOLE
had led a long life filled with anxious cares,
but she had Iole to confide in
and could talk with her about the worries
of old age. She described for Iole
how hard her life had been and how her son
had carried out his labours, now famous
through the entire world. Her grandson, Hyllus,                                    450
as ordered by his father, Hercules,
had brought Iole to his marriage bed.
He held her in his heart and had planted
the seed of a noble child inside her womb.(20)                                                     [280]
To her Alcmene said:


                             “May gods at least                                             ALCMENE IN LABOUR
be kind to you, removing all delays
when you come to bear your child and cry out
for goddess Ilithyia, who cares for
anxious women when they are giving birth.
Thanks to Juno, she made things hard for me.(21)                            460
For when the sun had come to the tenth sign
and it was time for Hercules’ birth,
his weight had stretched my womb. What I carried
was so huge, you could tell that Jupiter
was the father of my hidden burden.(22)
By this time I could bear the labour pains
no longer. Even now, as I describe it,
I get freezing tremors in my body.                                                                  [290]
Part of my sorrow is that memory.
I was in torment seven days and nights,                                           470
worn down by pain. I kept stretching my arms
to heaven and screaming, calling out for
Lucina and her divine assistants,
the Nixi.(23) And she did indeed arrive,
but before she reached me, she had been bribed
and was intending to donate my life
to spiteful Juno. When she heard my groans,
she sat down on the altar by the door,
and with her right knee placed across her left
and fingers interlocked, delayed the birth.                                        480
She also muttered spells in a low voice,                                                          [300]
incantations which slowed the final stage
once it had begun. I kept struggling on
and in my frantic state shouted complaints
against ungrateful Jove—all quite useless.
I wanted to die. My cries of protest
would have moved hard flint. Those caring for me,
women from Thebes, offered up their prayers
and in my suffering provided comfort.

I had a servant there called Galanthis,                                              490
a girl of humble birth with yellow hair,                                              GALANTHIS AND LUCINA
but prompt in carrying out my orders.
I loved her for her services to me.
She sensed that Juno was up to something
and being unjust. On her frequent trips
in and out the door, she saw the goddess                                                       [310]
crouching on the altar, with fingers locked
and arms supported by her knees, and said:


‘Whoever you are, wish my mistress well.
Alcmene from Argolis has given birth.                                        500
Her wish to have a child has been fulfilled.’


The goddess who looks after pregnancy
leapt up in alarm, loosening her hands,
which had been interlocked. By doing that,
she relaxed the bonds of childbirth and so
I was delivered of my son. They say                                               GALANTHIS IS TRANSFORMED
Galanthis, when she deceived the goddess,
laughed, but in the middle of her laughter,
the savage goddess grabbed her by the hair
and dragged her to the ground. Galanthis tried                                 510
to lift her body up, but the goddess
forced her down and changed her arms to forelegs.
She is still as vigorous as before,                                                                    [320]
and her hair retains its previous colour,
but the shape she used to have has altered.
And because, to help me out in childbirth,
her mouth told lies, now her new-born offspring
issue from her mouth. As in former days,
she is a frequent presence in my home.”(24)


 Once Alcmene had finished speaking, she sighed,                                 520
moved by the thought of her old servant girl.
As she grieved, Iole, her daughter-in-law,
spoke up:


                            “Mother, you are still affected
by some young woman not of our own blood,
whose human form was taken away from her.
What if I were to tell you the weird fate                                           DRYOPE
of my own sister, though my pain and grief
hold me back and make speaking difficult?
Dryope was her mother’s only child—
my father had me by another wife—                                                530
and of all the girls in Oechalia                                                                         [330]
she was the loveliest. The god Apollo,
who governs in Delphi and in Delos,
took Dryope’s virginity by force.
Later, though she was no virgin, Andraemon
married her and was considered lucky
to have her as his wife.


                                                       There is a lake
whose borders slope back, just like the seashore.
Its upper ground is crowned with myrtle groves.
Dryope came here. She had no inkling                                            540
of what Fates had in store, and to make things
even more difficult to understand,
she was intending to offer garlands
to the nymphs. She carried a sweet burden
on her breast, her son, not yet one year old,
and was nourishing the child with her warm milk.
Close by the lake a water lotus bloomed                                                        [340]
whose colours, resembling Tyrian purple,
promised it would soon bear fruit. In this spot,
Dryope picked some blossoms, to give them                                   550
to her child as playthings. I was there, as well,
about to do the same. But I saw blood
dripping from the blooms, and the branches moved,
as if they were afraid. Apparently,
as people there eventually informed us,
but much too late, the nymph Lotis, running
from lecherous Priapus, had been changed
into this plant. Her features were transformed,
but she still retained her name.(25) My sister,                                   DRYOPE IS TRANSFORMED
who knew none of this, grew very fearful.                                       560
She wanted to go back, to leave that place,
once she had finished worshipping the nymphs,                                              [350]
but her feet were stuck underneath a root.
She tried hard to free them, but nothing moved
except her upper body. Then tough bark
grew upward from her feet and, by degrees,
enveloped everything up to her groin.
As she saw this, she tried to tear her hair,
but her hands were full of leaves, and leaves covered
her whole head. Her infant son Amphissos                                      570
(his grandfather Eurytus gave him that name)
could feel his mother’s breasts becoming hard
and when he sucked, no milky fluid came.
I was there, sister, watching your harsh fate,
and there was nothing I could do to help.                                                       [360]
As best I could, I tried slowing down
the growing trunk and branches, holding them
in my embrace, and, I must confess, I wished
I might be buried under that same bark.
Lo and behold, her husband, Andraemon,                                       580
and her most unhappy father come there,
looking for Dryope. When they ask me
I show them the lotus. They kiss the wood,
which is still warm, and, falling on the ground,
keep clinging to the roots of their own tree.
And by now, dear sister, other than your face,
you were entirely a tree. Your tears
fell down on leaves sprouting from your body.
While you still could—as long as your mouth
left a passage for your voice—you poured out                                590            [370]
laments like these into the air:


                                              ‘If you can trust
those who are in pain, I swear by the gods
I have not deserved this unjust treatment.
I did no wrong but am being punished.
My life was innocent. If I am lying,
let me wither and lose the leaves I have
or be chopped down and burned. Take this infant
from his mother’s branches, hand him over
to his nurse, and let him often drink milk
and play underneath my tree. And later,                                     600
when he can speak, make him greet his mother
and, in all sadness, say:


                                       ‘Inside this tree,
my mother is concealed.’


                                                 Let him fear lakes,
pick no flowers from trees, and think all shrubs                                         [380]
have goddesses inside. And now, farewell,
my dearest husband, and you, my sister,
and you, my father! If you care for me,
protect me from the wounds of a sharp axe,
and guard my leaves from browsing cattle herds.
And since I may not now bend down to you,                             610
stretch your arms up here, and receive a kiss.
While I still possess a sense of touch, lift up
my little boy. I can’t speak any more,
for the soft bark is climbing my white neck.
Its highest sections are enclosing me.
Take your hands from my eyes and let the bark                                         [390]
grow over me and shroud my dying sight,
without you adding any funeral rites.’


After she said this, her mouth stopped speaking,
and in that instant, she also ceased to be.                                         620
But long after her body had been changed,
those new-formed branches still retained her heat.”


While Eurytus’ daughter Iole
was recounting this marvellous event
and Alcmene was gently wiping off
the tears from Iole’s face, even though
Alcmene was herself in tears as well,
something amazing ended all their grief.
In the lofty doorway stood Iolaüs,                                                        IOLAÜS
changed back again to almost a young boy,                                          630
now looking as he did in earlier years,
a slight trace of hair growing on his cheeks.
This favour he had received from Hebe,
Juno’s daughter, who had been persuaded                                                          [400]
by the prayers of Hercules, her husband.(26)
When Hebe was about to swear an oath                                              THEMIS’ PROPHECY
that after this she would never offer
such a gift to anyone, goddess Themis
would not allow it. She prophesied:


“Thebes is now moving towards civil war.                                       640
Capaneus will not be overthrown
by anyone except for Jupiter,
the brothers will slaughter one another,
and the prophet king, Amphiaraüs,
as the earth opens up to swallow him,
will glimpse his own dead shade while still alive.
His son Alcmaeon will carry out revenge
and kill his mother for his father’s sake,
a pious act but also criminal.
Overwhelmed with troubles and forced away                                  650
from home, he will lose his mind and be chased
by Furies’ faces and his mother’s ghost,                                                         [410]
until his wife Callirhoë demands
the fatal golden necklace. When he goes
to his first father-in-law, Phegeus,
to get that necklace, Alcmaeon will be killed—
the sword of Phegeus, plunged in his side,
will drain a kinsman’s blood.(27) And then, at last,
Acheloüs’ daughter Callirhoë
will ask great Jupiter, as a suppliant,                                                660
to add years to the age of her young sons,
so the death of avenging Alcmaeon
will not go unavenged. Then Jupiter,
moved by her plea, will offer in advance
that special gift which you, his step-daughter
and daughter-in-law, confer—he will change
those boys, while still young infants, into men.”(28)


When Themis, who knows what the future holds,                                 JUPITER AND THE GODS
had uttered these prophetic words, the gods
muttered various complaints, wondering                                               670
why the selfsame gift could not be given
to other mortals, too. Goddess Aurora,                                                               [420]
daughter of the Titan Pallas, grumbled
about her husband, who was getting old,
gentle Ceres complained that Iasion
now had white hair, Mulciber demanded
a renewal of life for Erichthonius,
and Venus, too, affected by concerns
for what would happen in the future,
wished to bargain over Anchises’ life                                                    680
and make him young again.(29) Every deity
had someone whose case he was advancing,
and the quarrel about their favourites
was growing to a heated argument,
until Jupiter opened his mouth and said:


“If you gods have any respect for me,
tell me where this talk of yours is going.
Do any of you think you are so strong
you can overpower Fate? Thanks to Fate,                                                      [430]
the years which Iolaüs had used up                                                 690
were given back to him. And thanks to Fate,
Callirhoë’s sons will be young men
before their time, not through their ambition
or feats of arms. Fate also rules you gods.
To put you in a better frame of mind
about that fact, Fate governs me, as well.
If I had the power to alter Fate,
Aeacus, my son, would not be bowed down
by his extreme old age, Rhadamanthus
would always possess a flowering youth,                                         700
and so would my son Minos, too, now scorned
because he bears a bitter weight of years.
His rule is not as diligent as before.”(30)


Jupiter’s words convinced the gods. No one
continued to complain when they saw Minos,                                                      [440]
Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus worn down
by their advancing age. For when Minos
was in his prime, his very name alone
would terrify great nations. Now weakened,
he was truly fearful of Miletus,                                                              710
Deione’s child, a man who took great pride
in his youthful strength and in his father,
Phoebus.(31) Minos thought Miletus might rebel
against his rule, but still he did not dare
expel him from his native land. But you,
Miletus, you departed on your own,
carving the waters of the Aegean sea
with your swift ship, and in lands of Asia
built a city which bears its founder’s name.(32)
Here you met Cyane, Maeander’s child,                                               720
while she was following the twisting course                                                          [450]
of her father’s river banks, which often
turn back upon themselves.(33) The girl’s body
was extremely beautiful and bore you
two twins, Byblis and her brother, Caunus.


Byblis was seized by passionate desire                                                BYBLIS AND CAUNUS
for her own brother, from Apollo’s line,
and now serves as a warning to young girls
to love only where they are permitted.
She loved him, but not the way a sister                                                 730
loves a brother and not the way she should.
At first, of course, she did not understand
the fires inside her and did not believe
that she was doing wrong by kissing him
so many times or by throwing her arms
around her brother’s neck. For a long time,
she fooled herself by thinking what she did                                                          [460]
stemmed from a form of natural affection.
Gradually, her love grew more perverse,
and when she went searching for her brother,                                       740
she would dress herself in her finest garments,
too concerned about appearing lovely,
and was jealous of any woman there
if she looked more attractive than herself.
But to this point she has no firm idea
of the feelings welling up inside her,
no explicit sense lurking underneath
the flames of passion. But still, deep inside,
she is on fire. Now she calls him her lord,
hates the name that makes them blood relations,                                   750
and prefers it when he calls her Byblis,
rather than his sister. Still, while awake
she does not dare to let her mind admit
her illegitimate hope. But at rest,
when she is lying peacefully in bed,
she often dreams about the one she loves
and even sees herself in the embrace                                                                   [470]
of her own brother. Though she is asleep,
her body even blushes. When she wakes,
for a long time she stays silent, recalling                                                760
the image of her dream, and then, confused,
talks about her inner doubts as follows:


“I am so unhappy! What do they mean,
these dreams I get during the silent night?
How much I wish they were not true! But then,
why do I see these pictures in my sleep?
He’s a handsome man, it’s true, even to those
who envy him, and I find him pleasing.
I could love him, were he not my brother,
and he would be a worthy man for me.                                            770
What frustrates me is that I’m his sister.
But as long as I am never tempted
to do such things when I am wide awake,
I hope that sleep will often come to me                                                           [480]
with dreams like these! There are no witnesses
to what we dream, and I can get in dreams
delight from what I am imagining.
O, by winged Cupid and by his mother,
tender Venus, how much joyful pleasure
I have had! How mightily that passion                                             780
clearly seized me, as I lay melting
to the marrow of every bone. What bliss
that memory gives me, though my delight
did not last long, as night rushed on its way,
resenting what was happening to me.
If only they would let me change my name,
Caunus, and marry you. Then I could be
a fine daughter-in-law to your father.
And you, Caunus, what a fine son-in-law
you would make my father! I wish the gods                                     790
would let us share everything in common,                                                       [490]
except our ancestors! And I would wish
you were by birth more noble than myself!
So now, most beautiful of men, you’ll make
some other woman a mother. For me,
who has the evil luck to share your parents,
a brother is the only thing you’ll be.
What we have in common stands in our way.
So how am I to comprehend my dreams?
Are they significant? Can dreams, in fact,                                        800
mean anything at all? The gods forbid!
But still, gods have surely loved their sisters.
Though she was linked to him by blood, Saturn
married Ops, Oceanus married Tethys,
and Jupiter took Juno as his wife.(34)
The gods have their own laws! Why even try
to sort out what humans do by thinking                                                          [500]
of the different customs up in heaven.
I will banish this forbidden passion
from my heart or else, if that is something                                        810
I just cannot do, then I pray I perish
before I yield to it! Let my brother
kiss me when I am lying there, stretched out
on my death bed. Besides, the thing I want
would require the consent of both of us.
Suppose it pleases me. To my brother
it may well seem a crime. And yet the sons
of Aeolus had no fear of marriage
with their sisters!(35) But where did I learn that?
Why do I have these examples ready?                                            820
Where am I being carried? Go away,
far away from here, you disgusting fires.
Let me have no love for my own brother,                                                       [510]
except the love a sister ought to have!
Still, if he himself were to be seized first
and fall in love with me, I could perhaps
indulge in these insane desires. And so,
if I would not reject him if he asked,
should I not seek to court him for myself?
But can you speak out? Can you admit it?                                       830
Love will drive me on, and I can do it!
Or if my modesty keeps my lips sealed,
my hidden passion I will acknowledge
in a secret letter.”


                                         Pleased with this idea,
which overcomes the doubts within her mind,
Byblis raises herself up onto her side,
leans on her left elbow, and tells herself:


“He will see it. Let me confess to him
these crazy feelings! Alas, where am I drifting?
What fires are now being kindled in my heart?”                               840           [520]


Then, with a trembling grip, she writes the words
she has been thinking of. In her right hand
she holds an iron stylus, in her left
a clean wax tablet. She starts, then hesitates,
writes on the tablet, then rejects the words.
She sets down something and then deletes it,
changes phrases, approves and disapproves,
puts down the tablet, picks it up again,
not knowing what she wants, dissatisfied
with whatever she seems about to write.                                               850
The expression on her face shows boldness
mixed with shame. She has written ‘Your Sister,’
but chooses to remove those words, smoothes the wax,
and writes the following:


                                         “One who loves you
sends you this wish for health and happiness,                                                  [530]
which she cannot enjoy unless you grant it.
She is ashamed, too ashamed to tell you
what she is called. If you asked what I want,
then I would wish that I could plead my cause
without stating my name or being known                                         860
as Byblis, until the hopes I pray for
are fully realized.

                                    True, you may have seen
signs of my wounded heart in my pale cheeks,
my loss of weight, my expression, my eyes
so often wet with tears, the way I sigh
for no clear reason, all those embraces
and kisses which, as you perhaps have sensed,
might seem as if they were not from a sister.
And yet, though I have been severely wounded                                             [540]
in my heart and have a savage fire inside,                                        870
the gods are witnesses that I have done
all I can to make myself more healthy.
In my wretched state, I have been fighting
to escape from Cupid’s cruel weapons
for a long time now, and you might well think
the misery I’ve endured too heavy
for a girl to bear. But in that battle
I have been beaten—that I must concede
and, with these timid words, beg you for help,
the only man who can destroy or save                                            880
the one who loves you. Choose what you will do.
The girl who asks this is no enemy.
She has the closest links to you and seeks
to make them closer, with even tighter ties                                                      [550]
attaching her to you.

                                            Let the old men
know what is right and ask what is allowed,
what acts are legal, and which ones are crimes,
preserving points of law. What suits our youth
is love which has no fear of consequence.
We do not yet understand what is allowed                                      890
and think all things permitted. We follow
the examples of the powerful gods.
No unforgiving father, no respect
for reputation, no fear will stop us.
And if we have good cause to be afraid,
we will conceal our sweet stolen pleasures
beneath the name of brother and sister.
I am free to talk with you in private,
and we embrace and kiss in front of others.                                                    [560]
And how much does what is missing matter?                                   900
Pity the one who here admits her love,
who would not speak, if her extreme desire
did not compel her. Do not win the right
to have your name carved into my tombstone
as the reason for my death.”


                                       Her hand wrote out
these ineffectual words and filled the wax,
with the last line just inside the margin.
She quickly sealed her criminal confession
with a jeweled signet, moistening it
with tears (for her tongue was dry). Filled with shame                           910
she summoned one of her servants and said,
in an anxious, coaxing tone:


                                                   “You are one
in whom I have great trust. Take these to my . . .”


For a long while she paused, then added:


                                                 “. . . brother.”                                                [570]


As she was passing the tablets to him,
they slipped out of her grasp and struck the floor.
That ominous sign upset her, but still
she sent the message.


                        When the servant found
a suitable time, he went to Caunus
and delivered her secret words to him.                                                 920
Maeander’s youthful grandson took the tablets,
read part of what they said and, horrified,
hurled them away. Finding it difficult
to control his hands and stop them grabbing
the trembling servant by the throat, he cried:


“Get yourself out of here, while you still can,
you wretched agent of forbidden lust.
I would punish you with death, if your fate
did not bring with it a loss of honour.”


The servant fled in terror, and brought back                                         930
those fierce words of Caunus to his mistress.                                                       [580]
When Byblis heard he had rejected her,
she turned pale. Her body started trembling,
gripped by an icy chill. But when her mind
recovered, her mad passion came back, too,
and though she found it difficult to speak,
she whispered:


                            “I deserve it! Why was I
so foolhardy as to confess this wound?
Why did I rush so quickly to write down
on those tablets what should have been concealed?                         940
I should have used ambiguous language
and first of all discovered how he felt.
With one part of my sail I should have seen                                                    [590]
which way the wind was blowing, just in case
he would not follow the same course as me.
I could have safely moved across the water.
Now winds I did not test fill up my sail,
and so I am being driven on the rocks,
smashed up, and overwhelmed by the whole sea,
with no escape route where my sails can turn.                                 950
Besides, did not those signs of prophecy
instruct me not to follow my desires,
when I was giving orders for that servant
to take the tablets and I let them fall,
thus showing that my hopes would fall, as well.
Should I not have changed the day I acted
or my whole intention—and of the two
preferably the day? A god did warn me
and personally gave me certain signs.                                                             [600]
If only I had not been so disturbed!                                                 960
I should have spoken to him directly
and told him of my passion face to face,
instead of writing how I feel on wax.
He would have seen my tears and seen the face
of one who loves him. And I could have said
more than those tablets hold. I could have thrown
these arms of mine on his reluctant neck,
and, if he pushed me off, I could have looked
as if I were about to die, clutched his feet,
and, lying there, I could have begged for life.                                   970
All this I might have done, and if one thing
would not change his willful mind, all of them
combined together might have convinced him.
Perhaps some blame rests with the man I sent.                                                [610]
He did not approach him in the proper way,
I think, and choose an appropriate time,
or find a moment when his mind was free.
All these things have hurt me, for my brother
was not born from a tigress, and his heart
is not rigid flint, or solid iron,                                                           980
or adamant, and he was not suckled
on lion’s milk. He can be won over!
I must try him again. While here inside
I still have breath, I will not grow weary
in my attempts. If I could summon back
what I have done, the finest thing would be
not to have begun, but now I’ve started,
the next best is to fight on till I win.
If I walk away from my desires now,                                                              [620]
it’s obvious he never could forget                                                    990
what I dared to try, and if I give up,
it will look as if my love is shallow,
or else that I was merely testing him,
trying to catch him with deceptive tricks,
or he is bound to think I was not ruled
by the god who, more than any other,
drives and fires up our hearts, but by mere lust.
The point is I cannot now be innocent
of doing wrong—I wrote to him and asked.
I have revealed the way I feel for him,                                             1000
and even if I added nothing more,
no one could say that I was not at fault.
As for what comes now, I have much to gain
by winning what I want, and little to lose
by being considered a criminal.”


She finished. Her mind is so unsettled
and at war, she regrets all her attempts                                                                [630]
and yet enjoys them. She goes well beyond
all moderation and, dissatisfied,
keeps trying and is constantly rebuffed.                                                1010
Finally, when she will not stop, Caunus
flees the country and her crime and founds
a brand new city in a foreign land.(36)


But then, so people say, Miletus’ daughter                                           BYBLIS’ MADNESS
was so grief-stricken she became insane.
In a frantic state she tore the clothing
off her breasts and beat her arms. Her madness
was obvious to all, and she exposed
her hopes for an incestuous union,
by running away from her own country                                                 1020
and the home she hated and following                                                                 [640]
the track taken by her fleeing brother.
The women of Bubasus saw Byblis
moving across their spacious fields, howling
like those bacchantes in Ismarus who,
roused by your thyrsus, son of Semele,
celebrate your triennial festivals.(37)
Leaving them behind, Byblis wandered on
through Caria, the warlike Leleges,
and Lycia, travelling past Cragus,                                                         1030
past Lymira, on past Xanthus waters,
and past the ridge which held the Chimaera,
a monster with a lion’s chest and face,
a serpent’s tail, and fiery breath inside.(38)
Then, Byblis, you move beyond the forest
and, exhausted from your pursuit, fall down,
with your hair spread out on the hard ground                                                       [650]
and your face pressed against the fallen leaves.
The Lelegian nymphs try many times
to lift her in their soft arms and often                                                     1040
urge her to curb her passionate desire,
comforting a heart that will not listen.
Byblis lies there saying nothing, clutching
the green turf with her nails and soaking it
in a river of her tears. And, so they say,                                               BYBLIS IS TRANSFORMED
for those tears the naiads made a channel
underneath her which never could run dry.
What greater present could they offer her?
Then, just as resin oozes from slashed pines,
or thick bitumen seeps from heavy soil,                                                 1050         [660]
or water which the cold has turned to ice
melts in the sun once West Wind’s gentle breath
comes back again, in just that way Byblis,
Apollo’s grandchild, dissolved in her own tears
and was transformed into a fountain spring,
which even now flows out from a dark oak
and in those valleys bears its mistress’ name.(39)


The fame of this new marvellous event                                                  LIGDUS AND TELETHUSA
might perhaps have filled Crete’s hundred cities,
if Crete had not just recently been through                                            1060
a local miracle, the change in Iphis.
For in the territory of Phaestus,
next to the royal estates of Cnossos,
there once lived a humble man called Ligdus,                                                      [670]
one of the common folk, but freely born.
His wealth was no greater than his station,
but his way of life and sense of honour
were beyond reproach. His wife was pregnant,
and when the time of birth was near at hand,
he addressed these words of warning to her:                                         1070


“I’m praying for two things—may you give birth
with little pain and may you have a son.
A girl is a more grievous burden, and fortune
has not given me strength to bring one up.
So—and I hate to say this—if by chance,
when you give birth, a female child is born,
I will, with great reluctance, give orders—
may my lack of natural affection
be forgiven!—that it be put to death.”


He finished, and they both started weeping,                                          1080          [680]
with floods of tears streaming down their faces.
Ligdus, who had issued his instructions,
was weeping just as much as Telethusa,
who had been given the orders. But still,
she begged her husband not to limit her hopes
the way he had. Her prayers were useless,
for Ligdus’ resolution did not change.


Then, when Telethusa could hardly bear                                              IO AND TELETHUSA
the full-grown burden weighing down her womb,
Io, daughter of Inachus, came to her                                                    1090
as a dream in the middle of the night,
while she was sleeping, and stood beside her bed,
or seemed to stand there, with a company
of sacred followers. She was adorned
in majestic splendour. On her forehead
she wore the crescent horns of the moon, wreathed
with yellow ears of corn in shining gold.
Standing with her were barking Anubis,
sacred Bubastis, and dappled Apis,                                                                    [690]
together with the god who does not speak                                           1100
but with his raised finger calls for silence.(40)
The holy rattles—the sistra—were there,
and Osiris, too, the god whom Isis
is always seeking, and that foreign snake
full of sleep-inducing poisons.(41) And then,
just as if Telethusa were wide awake
and could see things clearly, the goddess spoke,
as follows:


                  “You who are my devotee,
Telethusa, set your grievous worries
to one side, and disregard those orders                                                1110
your husband gave you. Do not hesitate,
once Lucina has eased the pangs of birth,
to raise the child, whatever sex it is.(42)
I am a goddess who brings assistance
and, when people call for me, I help them.
You will not complain the god you worship                                                         [700]
is ungrateful.”


                       Io gave her this advice
and left the room. Cretan Telethusa,
filled with joy, rose from her bed and, raising
her pure hands up to the stars, humbly prayed                                      1120
her vision might come true.


                                                    Her labour pains
grew more intense and, when her burden forced
its way into the air, a girl was born.                                                      IPHIS
Ligdus did not know the child was female,
and so Telethusa, to deceive him,
ordered the child to be raised up a boy.
What she said was accepted as the truth,
and no one knew about the lie she told
except the nurse. The father kept his word
and named the child after its grandfather,                                              1130
whose name was Iphis. The mother was pleased,
for that name was common to boys and girls
and would not be misleading anyone.                                                                  [710]
And from that time on, the fraud, which started
with an affectionate lie, remained concealed.
The child was dressed as a boy, and its face
whether attributed to boy or girl,
people would have considered beautiful.


Thirteen years went by. At that time, Iphis,
your father arranged a marriage for you                                                1140
with golden-haired Iänthe, the daughter                                                IPHIS AND IÄNTHE
of Telestes from Crete, a virgin girl
so beautiful that she received most praise
among the women of Phaestus. Iphis
was the same age as her, the two of them
were equally attractive, and they both
had received their earliest education
in elements appropriate to their age
from the same instructors. Given all this,
love touched the naïve hearts in both of them                                        1150          [720]
and wounded each of them in the same way.
But how different their expectations are!
Iänthe is looking forward to the wedding
and to the marriage which has been arranged,
for she assumes that Iphis is a man
and believes that she will be her husband.
Iphis loves Iänthe, but has no hope
she can enjoy her, and this despair itself
makes her passion grow—a young virgin girl
burning with love for another virgin.                                                      1160
Scarcely holding back her tears, she cries out:


“What will be the end of this love of mine,
a passion no one ever knew before,
a new and unnatural snare of love,
which has me in its grip? For if the gods
desired to spare me, they should have spared me.
If not, if they wanted to destroy me,
they might at least have inflicted on me                                                           [730]
a natural evil, something people know.
Cows do not burn with love for other cows,                                    1170
or mares for other mares. It is the ram
which rouses passion in the ewe, and hinds
run after their own stags. Birds mate that way.
Among all animals, no passion grips
one female for another. How I wish
I were not like this! But then, to make sure
Crete gave birth to every kind of monster,
the daughter of the Sun, Pasiphaë,
had sex with that bull! Still, she was female,
and the beast was male. If the truth be told,                                     1180
the love I feel is more extreme than hers.
She, at least, followed a passionate desire
where she had some hope of satisfaction,
and with her tricks and the cow-like structure
she got the bull to mount her.(43) Her lover
was someone capable of being deceived.                                                       [740]
But even if all the world’s inventiveness
were concentrated here and if Daedalus
were to fly back again on waxen wings,
what could he do? With his artistic skills                                          1190
could he transform me from a virgin girl
into a boy? Or alter you, Iänthe?
Come on, Iphis, pull yourself together.
Strengthen your resolve, shake off this passion,
these useless, foolish feelings! Consider
what you are by birth, unless you yourself
have been deceived as well. Choose what is right,
and love the way a woman ought to love!
Hope creates love and nourishes desire,
but in your case there is no room for hope.                                      1200          [750]
No guardian keeps you from her dear embrace,
no watchful husband’s care, no stern father,
nor does she herself deny your wishes.
But you cannot possess her or ever know
that great delight, whatever comes about,
not even if gods and men do what they can.
Even now, none of the things I pray for
has been denied. In their kindness to me,
the gods have given whatever they could.
My father, my future father-in-law,                                                  1210
and she herself want just what I want, too.
But Nature, more powerful than all of these,
does not wish that. She alone stands in the way.
See, the moment I long for has arrived,
the wedding day is here, and Iänthe                                                               [760]
will now be mine. Yet I cannot have her!
With water all around, I will be thirsty.
Why, Juno, guardian of marriage rites,
and you, too, Hymen, why do you appear
at rituals where there is no bridegroom                                            1220
and where the married couple are both brides?”


Having said these words, Iphis falls silent.
The other virgin is no less on fire
and prays that you, Hymen, will come quickly.
Telethusa, afraid of what Iänthe
so desires, at one point postpones the date,
then causes a delay by feigning illness,
and often talks of omens or her dreams
as an excuse. But now she has used up
all the pretexts she can plausibly invent,                                                1230
and the time for the marriage she put off
has come—only a single day remains.                                                                 [770]
She tears the sacred ribbons from her head
and from her daughter’s. With dishevelled hair
she grabs the altar and cries out:


                                              “O Isis,
goddess who lives in Paraetonium,
in fields of Mareotis, in Pharos,
and by the Nile with seven branching streams,
I pray to you—bring help and ease our fears.(44)
I saw you once and recognized your signs,                                      1240
your sacred symbols, and the echoing bronze
of sacred rattles in your company.
I heard your orders and kept them in mind.
Thanks to what you said and gifts you gave us,
this girl now lives and I have not been punished.
Have pity on us both. Give us your help.”                                                       [780]


When her speech ended, Telethusa wept.
The goddess seemed to make her altars move.
In fact, they trembled, the temple doorways
shuddered, her horns shone out, just like the moon,                              1250
and sounds came from her echoing sistrums.
The mother, not yet free from her concern,
but happy about the hopeful omens,
left the temple, and as she walked away,
her companion, Iphis, followed, moving
with a longer stride than normal. Her face
had lost its pale complexion, and her strength
had grown. Her features were more sharply drawn,
her hair unstyled and shorter, and she showed
more energy than women do. Iphis,                                                      1260          [790]
you who were a girl a moment ago
are now a boy! Rejoice! Be confident,
and have no fear!


                             They take gifts to the shrine
and add a short inscription carved in stone:


What Iphis, as a girl, vowed she would do,
now Iphis, as a boy, is carrying through.


The beams of the next day’s sun shine out
across the spacious world, as Venus, Juno,
and Hymen gather by the wedding fires,
and the boy Iphis gains his own Iänthe.                                                  1270





(1) Theseus’ father, Aegeus, was a son of Neptune. For details of the dramatic setting see the final story in Book 8. Theseus is still being entertained by the river god in Calydon. [Back to Text]

(2) Deïanira was a daughter of Oeneus and a sister of Meleager. [Back to Text]

(3) The Labours of Hercules were a series of twelve very difficult tasks Hercules had to carry out for king Eurystheus, to atone for killing his children in a mad fit brought on by Juno. Juno instructed Eurystheus on what he should get Hercules to do. [Back to Text]

(4) Hercules was a mortal son of Zeus. After his death he become a god on Olympus, (as Ovid reveals later in this narrative). [Back to Text]

(5) Juno had an ongoing hatred for Hercules, since he was a bastard son of Jupiter. She was the source of the events which led to the Labours of Hercules. [Back to Text]
(6) Tirnys in the Peloponnese was the city where Hercules went after the mad fit in which he killed his wife and children, in order to serve king Eurystheus and carry out the twelve labours. [Back to Text]

(7) The infant Hercules had strangled two snakes in his cradle, put there by Juno to kill him. The Hydra was a monster with many snake-like heads. If one was cut off, two new ones replaced it. Hercules destroyed the creature by burning the neck where he had cut off a head, thus preventing the growth of replacements. This event was one of his twelve labours. [Back to Text]

(8) Nessus was a centaur (part man, part horse), born from Ixion. [Back to Text]

(9) Hercules was originally called Alciades (“son of Alceus”) after his ancestor Alceus. [Back to Text]

(10) Ixion, father of Nessus, attempted to rape Juno and was punished by being eternally tied to a wheel deep in Hades. [Back to Text]

(11) Hercules put the poisonous blood from the Hydra on the tips of his arrows. [Back to Text]

(12) Cenaeum was on the coast of Euboea. Hercules attacked and captured Oechalia because Eurytus, the king, had earlier reneged on a promise. [Back to Text]

(13) Amphitryon was the husband of Hercules’ mother, Alcmene, who was impregnated by Zeus before Amphitryon married her. After the marriage, she gave birth to twins, Hercules (a son of Zeus) and Iphicles (a son of Amphitryon). Iole was the daughter of Eurytus. [Back to Text]

(14) Lichas was one of Hercules’ attendants. [Back to Text]

(15) Hercules in this speech reviews some of his most famous exploits, most of them from his celebrated twelve labours. Busiris was a king of Egypt who sacrificed foreigners. Hercules, passing through Egypt, was arrested by Busiris but broke free and killed him. Antaeus was a Libyan giant who drew his strength from the earth. He challenged people to wrestle and then killed them. Hercules held Antaeus off the earth, from which he drew his strength, until Antaeus weakened and then Hercules killed him. Geryon was a herdsman with three bodies. Hercules, in his tenth labour, killed him with an arrow and took away his herds. Cerberus was a three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades. Hercules in his twelfth labour went down to Hades and dragged him up to earth. In the seventh labour, Hercules brought back to Eurystheus the Cretan bull, which was ravaging Crete. At Elis Hercules completed his fifth labour, cleansing the Augean stables. His sixth labour was to drive birds away from the Stymphalian lake. Parthenium was a mountain in Arcadia where Hercules carried out his third labour, capturing the deer with golden antlers. For his ninth labour Hercules brought back the belt of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. In his eleventh labour, Hercules brought back apples from the Hesperides. Capturing the Erymanthian Boar was Hercules’ fourth labour, and killing the Lyrnaean Hydra was his second labour. The Thracian horses were the mares of Diomedes, which Hercules captured and brought to Eurystheus in his eighth labour (Ovid’s text says he killed them). Hercules’ first labour was to bring back the skin of an allegedly invincible lion rampaging around Nemea. Hercules visited Atlas, who supported the heavens on his shoulders, and temporarily relieved him of the burden. Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, was Hercules’ great enemy, who, on Juno’s instructions, assigned Hercules the different labours. [Back to Text]

(16) Troy, according to the decrees of Fate, could be captured only with the bow and arrows of Hercules, who had been to Troy before when he attacked king Laomedon for his failure to keep a promise. Years later, Philoctetes, now the possessor of the bow, went to Troy to help end the Trojan war. [Back to Text]

(17) Hercules is a “protector of the earth” because he has helped get rid of so many monsters. [Back to Text]

(18) Vulcan, as noted before, was god of fire. [Back to Text]

(19) As well as becoming a god on Olympus, Hercules also became a constellation. Since Hercules was now part of the sky, his weight was added to the burden Atlas had to hold up in order to keep heaven and earth apart. [Back to Text]

(20) Alcmene was Hercules’ mother. Hyllus was Hercules’ son by Deïanira, who had killed herself after Hercules was poisoned by the shirt she sent to him. Iole, as mentioned before, was the daughter of king Eurytus of Oechalia, captured and killed by Hercules (see above 9.223). [Back to Text]

(21) As part of her hostility to Hercules, Juno persuaded Ilithyia (the Greek name for the goddess of childbirth) to delay his birth, so that the child she favoured, Eurystheus, could be born first and become king in Argos. [Back to Text]

(22) The tenth sign in the constellations of the zodiac is Capricorn. [Back to Text]

(23) Lucina was the Roman goddess of childbirth, and the Nixi were her attendant goddesses. [Back to Text]

(24) Ovid does not mention the species of animal Galanthis becomes, but, as other commentators have noted, this curious habit of giving birth to the young through the mouth was attributed to weasels, perhaps because that animal (like many others) carries its young around in its mouth. Weasels were also common house pets. [Back to Text]

(25) Priapus was a rustic fertility god, best known for his large and permanently erect penis. [Back to Text]

(26) Iolaüs was the son of Iphicles, Hercules’ brother, and thus Hercules’ nephew. Hercules took Hebe as his wife when he was made a god. [Back to Text]

(27) Themis is prophesying the future civil war carried on by Eteocles and Polyneices, two sons of Oedipus. They had agreed to alternate as kings of Thebes, after Oedipus ceased to be king, but Eteocles refused to give Polyneices his turn, so Polyneices raised an army and attacked Thebes. Capaneus, a great warrior supporting Polyneices, defied Zeus during the attack and was struck down by a lightning bolt. The two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, killed each other. Amphiaraüs was persuaded by his wife, Eriphyle, to join Polyneices’ forces (Eriphyle had accepted a bribe of a golden necklace to get him to agree to go). Amphiaraüs was a prophet who foresaw his death. While he was being pursued during the battle for Thebes, the earth opened up and swallowed him and his chariot. His son Alcmaeon avenged him by killing Eriphyle, his mother. Alcmaeon then went to the court of Phegeus to expiate the killing. There he married Phegeus’ daughter. Later he abandoned the daughter to marry Callirhoë, who asked for the golden necklace. When Alcmaeon went back to Phegeus’ court to get the necklace, Phegeus sons’ (i.e., Alcmaeon’s kinsmen) killed him. I have added a few extra words (in lines 654-6) to clarify Ovid’s very compressed style here. [Back to Text]

(28) In Ovid’s account, Hebe, goddess of youth, was Juno’s daughter, and she had no father (i.e., she was Jupiter’s step-daughter). Since she was married to Hercules in heaven, she was also Jupiter’s daughter-in-law. The two sons, Amphiterus and Acarnanus, avenged their father Alcmaeon while still very young. [Back to Text]

(29) The Titan Pallas is different from Pallas Athena or Minerva. Aurora’s husband, Tithonus, had been a mortal. She promised him eternal life, but not that he would stay forever young, so he kept getting more and more ancient and decrepit. Iasion was the son of Jupiter and Electra. Mulciber was another name for Vulcan, and Erichthonius was his son. Anchises was a mortal lover of Venus. He was destined to escape from Troy, and his son with Venus, Aeneas, would found the Roman race in Italy (the future events Venus is worried about). [Back to Text]

(30) Aeacus, son of Jupiter and Aegina, was king of Aegina. Rhadamanthus and Minos were sons of Jupiter and Europa. Minos, as we have seen, was king of Crete. [Back to Text]

(31) Deione was a divine child of Oceanus and Tethys and (in some accounts) mother of Venus. [Back to Text]

(32) Miletus was an important Greek city on the coast of Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

(33) The Maeander, as mentioned before, was a river in Asia Minor with a great many large ox-bow curves, so that the river repeatedly doubled back on itself. [Back to Text]

(34) Ops, daughter of Uranus, the first god, was also called Cybele, Rhea, and the Great Mother. She was the wife of her brother Saturn. Oceanus and Tethys were brother and sister. Jupiter and Juno were both children of Saturn and Rhea. [Back to Text]

(35) Aeolus, god of the winds, had six sons who were married to their sisters. [Back to Text]

(36) The city was Caunus in Caria (in Asia Minor). [Back to Text]

(37) Bubasus was a region in Caria, Ismarus a city in Thrace. The son of Semele was Bacchus, and the bacchantes were his ecstatic worshippers. [Back to Text]

(38) The Leleges were residents of Caria in Asia Minor. Cragus was a mountain in Lycia, Lymira a city in Lycia, in Asia Minor, and Xanthus a river in Asia Minor. The chimaera was a famous fire-breathing monster made of up three different animals—lion, goat, and serpent (Ovid mentions only two). [Back to Text]

(39) As mentioned at the start of this story, Apollo was the father of Mytilene, who was the father of Byblis and Caunus (see 9.712 above). [Back to Text]

(40) The gods’ names here are those of Egypt. The description of Io would fit the goddess Isis. Anubis had the body of a man and the head of a dog. Bubastis, daughter of Osiris and Isis, was a female attendant on Isis. Apis was a bull god, often identified by Greeks and Romans as Osiris after he had been burned on a funeral pyre. The god who does not speak and advises silence was Harpocrates. [Back to Text]

(41) The sistrum was a musical instrument made of metal which, when shaken, made a rattling, metallic sound (something like a tambourine). The god Osiris was killed by his brother Set. Isis (his sister and wife) looked for him for a long time. She found his limbs and put them in a tomb. The gods then resurrected Osiris as god of the underworld. The foreign serpent is the asp (foreign because it is not native to Greece or Italy). [Back to Text]

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

(43) Pasiphaë, as noted earlier, concealed herself inside an artificial cow in order to have sex with the bull. Some traditions claim that Daedalus was the artist who made the cow. [Back to Text]

(44) Paraetonium was a city in Libya, Mareotis a lake near Alexandria, and Pharos an island across from Alexandria. [Back to Text]



[Link to Metamorphoses, Book 10]


[Link to Metamorphoses, Table of Contents]