Published 8 C.E.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a collection of many Greek and Roman myths, is written by a master poet of the ancient world. From the creation of the world to the apotheosis of Julius Caesar, Ovid traces the course of mythological history, putting together a narrative based on previous written and oral sources. In the Aeneid of Virgil, Ovid’s older contemporary epic poet, the gods were portrayed as guiding history toward an end goal (the creation of Rome) with foresight and planning. In the Metamorphoses, Ovid demonstrates how the traditional stories reveal that there is very little planning in the actions of the gods, who often are motivated by lust or pride. His irreverent view of the world, combined with his previous (sometimes risqué) love poetry, probably led to his exile by Emperor Augustus in the same year that his Metamorphoses was published. In the Middle Ages, Ovid’s Metamorphoses was widely translated, although often with “moralized” notes alongside the text that imposed allegorical interpretations on the stories. For most subsequent authors, the Metamorphoses became the source book on Greek and Roman mythology.
Written by Laura J. Getty
Ovid, Translated by Brookes More
My soul is wrought to sing of forms transformed to bodies new and strange! Immortal Gods inspire my heart, for ye have changed yourselves and all things you have changed! Oh lead my song in smooth and measured strains, from olden days when earth began to this completed time!
The Creation. Mundi origo.
Before the ocean and the earth appeared before the skies had overspread them all the face of Nature in a vast expanse was naught but Chaos uniformly waste. It was a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight; and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap.
As yet the sun afforded earth no light, nor did the moon renew her crescent horns; the earth was not suspended in the air exactly balanced by her heavy weight. Not far along the margin of the shores had Amphitrite stretched her lengthened arms, for all the land was mixed with sea and air. The land was soft, the sea unfit to sail, the atmosphere opaque, to naught was given a proper form, in everything was strife, and all was mingled in a seething mass with hot the cold parts strove, and wet with dry and soft with hard, and weight with empty void.
But God, or kindly Nature, ended strife he cut the land from skies, the sea from land, the heavens ethereal from material air; and when were all evolved from that dark mass he bound the fractious parts in tranquil peace. The fiery element of convex heaven leaped from the mass devoid of dragging weight, and chose the summit arch to which the air as next in quality was next in place. The earth more dense attracted grosser parts and moved by gravity sank underneath; and last of all the wide surrounding waves in deeper channels rolled around the globe.
And when this God which one is yet unknown had carved asunder that discordant mass, had thus reduced it to its elements, that every part should equally combine, when time began He rounded out the earth and moulded it to form a mighty globe. Then poured He forth the deeps and gave command that they should billow in the rapid winds, that they should compass every shore of earth. he also added fountains, pools and lakes, and bound with shelving banks the slanting streams, which partly are absorbed and partly join the boundless ocean. Thus received amid the wide expanse of uncontrolled waves, they beat the shores instead of crooked banks.
At His command the boundless plains extend, the valleys are depressed, the woods are clothed in green, the stony mountains rise. And as the heavens are intersected on the right by two broad zones, by two that cut the left, and by a fifth consumed with ardent heat, with such a number did the careful God mark off the compassed weight, and thus the earth received as many climes. Such heat consumes the middle zone that none may dwell therein; and two extremes are covered with deep snow; and two are placed betwixt the hot and cold, which mixed together give a temperate clime; and over all the atmosphere suspends with weight proportioned to the fiery sky, exactly as the weight of earth compares with weight of water.
And He ordered mist to gather in the air and spread the clouds. He fixed the thunders that disturb our souls, and brought the lightning on destructive winds that also waft the cold. Nor did the great Artificer permit these mighty winds to blow unbounded in the pathless skies, but each discordant brother fixed in space, although His power can scarce restrain their rage to rend the universe. At His command to far Aurora, Eurus took his way, to Nabath, Persia, and that mountain range first gilded by the dawn; and Zephyr’s flight was towards the evening star and peaceful shores, warm with the setting sun; and Boreas invaded Scythia and the northern snows; and Auster wafted to the distant south where clouds and rain encompass his abode. and over these He fixed the liquid sky, devoid of weight and free from earthly dross.
And scarcely had He separated these and fixed their certain bounds, when all the stars, which long were pressed and hidden in the mass, began to gleam out from the plains of heaven, and traversed, with the Gods, bright ether fields: and lest some part might be bereft of life the gleaming waves were filled with twinkling fish; the earth was covered with wild animals; the agitated air was filled with birds.
But one more perfect and more sanctified, a being capable of lofty thought, intelligent to rule, was wanting still man was created! Did the Unknown God designing then a better world make man of seed divine? or did Prometheus take the new soil of earth (that still contained some godly element of Heaven’s Life) and use it to create the race of man; first mingling it with water of new streams; so that his new creation, upright man, was made in image of commanding Gods? On earth the brute creation bends its gaze, but man was given a lofty countenance and was commanded to behold the skies; and with an upright face may view the stars: and so it was that shapeless clay put on the form of man till then unknown to earth.
Quattuor aetates. Gigantes. The Four Ages
First was the Golden Age. Then rectitude spontaneous in the heart prevailed, and faith. Avengers were not seen, for laws unframed were all unknown and needless. Punishment and fear of penalties existed not. No harsh decrees were fixed on brazen plates. No suppliant multitude the countenance of Justice feared, averting, for they dwelt without a judge in peace. Descended not the steeps, shorn from its height, the lofty pine, cleaving the trackless waves of alien shores, nor distant realms were known to wandering men. The towns were not entrenched for time of war; they had no brazen trumpets, straight, nor horns of curving brass, nor helmets, shields nor swords. There was no thought of martial pomp secure a happy multitude enjoyed repose.
Then of her own accord the earth produced a store of every fruit. The harrow touched her not, nor did the plowshare wound her fields. And man content with given food, and none compelling, gathered arbute fruits and wild strawberries on the mountain sides, and ripe blackberries clinging to the bush, and corners and sweet acorns on the ground, down fallen from the spreading tree of Jove. Eternal Spring! Soft breathing zephyrs soothed and warmly cherished buds and blooms, produced without a seed. The valleys though unplowed gave many fruits; the fields though not renewed white glistened with the heavy bearded wheat: rivers flowed milk and nectar, and the trees, the very oak trees, then gave honey of themselves.
When Saturn had been banished into night and all the world was ruled by Jove supreme, the Silver Age, though not so good as gold but still surpassing yellow brass, prevailed.
Jove first reduced to years the Primal Spring, by him divided into periods four, unequal, summer, autumn, winter, spring. then glowed with tawny heat the parched air, or pendent icicles in winter froze and man stopped crouching in crude caverns, while he built his homes of tree rods, bark entwined. Then were the cereals planted in long rows, and bullocks groaned beneath the heavy yoke.
The third Age followed, called The Age of Bronze, when cruel people were inclined to arms but not to impious crimes. And last of all the ruthless and hard Age of Iron prevailed, from which malignant vein great evil sprung; and modesty and faith and truth took flight, and in their stead deceits and snares and frauds and violence and wicked love of gain, succeeded. Then the sailor spread his sails to winds unknown, and keels that long had stood on lofty mountains pierced uncharted waves. Surveyors anxious marked with metes and bounds the lands, created free as light and air: nor need the rich ground furnish only crops, and give due nourishment by right required, they penetrated to the bowels of earth and dug up wealth, bad cause of all our ills, rich ores which long ago the earth had hid and deep removed to gloomy Stygian caves: and soon destructive iron and harmful gold were brought to light; and War, which uses both, came forth and shook with sanguinary grip his clashing arms. Rapacity broke forth the guest was not protected from his host, the father in law from his own son in law; even brothers seldom could abide in peace. The husband threatened to destroy his wife, and she her husband: horrid step dames mixed the deadly henbane: eager sons inquired their fathers, ages. Piety was slain: and last of all the virgin deity, Astraea vanished from the blood-stained earth.
And lest ethereal heights should long remain less troubled than the earth, the throne of Heaven was threatened by the Giants; and they piled mountain on mountain to the lofty stars. But Jove, omnipotent, shot thunderbolts through Mount Olympus, and he overturned from Ossa huge, enormous Pelion. And while these dreadful bodies lay overwhelmed in their tremendous bulk, (so fame reports) the Earth was reeking with the copious blood of her gigantic sons; and thus replete with moisture she infused the steaming gore with life renewed. So that a monument of such ferocious stock should be retained, she made that offspring in the shape of man; but this new race alike despised the Gods, and by the greed of savage slaughter proved a sanguinary birth.
Lycaon. Lycaon Changed to a Wolf
When, from his throne supreme, the Son of Saturn viewed their deeds, he deeply groaned: and calling to his mind the loathsome feast Lycaon had prepared, a recent deed not common to report, his soul conceived great anger worthy Jove and he convened a council. No delay detained the chosen Gods.
When skies are clear a path is well defined on high, which men, because so white, have named the Milky Way.
It makes a passage for the deities and leads to mansions of the Thunder God, to Jove’s imperial home. On either side of its wide way the noble Gods are seen, inferior Gods in other parts abide, but there the potent and renowned of Heaven have fixed their homes. It is a glorious place, our most audacious verse might designate the “Palace of High Heaven.” When the Gods were seated, therefore, in its marble halls the King of all above the throng sat high, and leaning on his ivory scepter, thrice, and once again he shook his awful locks, wherewith he moved the earth, and seas and stars, and thus indignantly began to speak; “The time when serpent footed giants strove to fix their hundred arms on captive Heaven, not more than this event could cause alarm for my dominion of the universe. Although it was a savage enemy, yet warred we with a single source derived of one. Now must I utterly destroy this mortal race wherever Nereus roars around the world. Yea, by the Infernal Streams that glide through Stygian groves beneath the world, I swear it. Every method has been tried. The knife must cut immedicable wounds, lest maladies infect untainted parts. “Beneath my sway
are demi gods and fauns, nymphs, rustic deities, sylvans of the hills, satyrs; all these, unworthy Heaven’s abodes, we should at least permit to dwell on earth which we to them bequeathed. What think ye, Gods, is safety theirs when I, your sovereign lord, the Thunder-bolt Controller, am ensnared by fierce Lycaon?” Ardent in their wrath, the astonished Gods demand revenge overtake this miscreant; he who dared commit such crimes. ‘Twas even thus when raged that impious band to blot the Roman name in sacred blood of Caesar, sudden apprehensive fears of ruin absolute astonished man, and all the world convulsed. Nor is the love thy people bear to thee, Augustus, less than these displayed to Jupiter whose voice and gesture all the murmuring host restrained: and as indignant clamour ceased, suppressed by regnant majesty, Jove once again broke the deep silence with imperial words; “Dismiss your cares; he paid the penalty however all the crime and punishment now learn from this: An infamous report of this unholy age had reached my ears, and wishing it were false, I sloped my course from high Olympus, and although a God disguised in human form I viewed the world. It would delay us to recount the crimes unnumbered, for reports were less than truth. “I traversed Maenalus where fearful dens abound, over Lycaeus, wintry slopes of pine tree groves, across Cyllene steep; and as the twilight warned of night’s approach, I stopped in that Arcadian tyrant’s realms and entered his inhospitable home: and when I showed his people that a God had come, the lowly prayed and worshiped me, but this Lycaon mocked their pious vows and scoffing said; ‘A fair experiment will prove the truth if this be god or man.’ and he prepared to slay me in the night, to end my slumbers in the sleep of death. So made he merry with his impious proof; but not content with this he cut the throat of a Molossian hostage sent to him, and partly softened his still quivering limbs in boiling water, partly roasted them on fires that burned beneath. And when this flesh was served to me on tables, I destroyed his dwelling and his worthless Household Gods, with thunder bolts avenging. Terror struck he took to flight, and on the silent plains is howling in his vain attempts to speak; he raves and rages and his greedy jaws, desiring their accustomed slaughter, turn against the sheep still eager for their blood. His vesture separates in shaggy hair, his arms are changed to legs; and as a wolf he has the same grey locks, the same hard face, the same bright eyes, the same ferocious look.
“Thus fell one house, but not one house alone deserved to perish; over all the earth ferocious deeds prevail, all men conspire in evil. Let them therefore feel the weight of dreadful penalties so justly earned, for such hath my unchanging will ordained.”
with exclamations some approved the words of Jove and added fuel to his wrath, while others gave assent: but all deplored and questioned the estate of earth deprived of mortals. Who could offer frankincense upon the altars? Would he suffer earth to be despoiled by hungry beasts of prey? Such idle questions of the state of man the King of Gods forbade, but granted soon to people earth with race miraculous, unlike the first.
Diluvium. Deucalion et Pyrrha.
And now his thunder bolts would Jove wide scatter, but he feared the flames, unnumbered, sacred ether might ignite and burn the axle of the universe: and he remembered in the scroll of fate, there is a time appointed when the sea and earth and Heavens shall melt, and fire destroy the universe of mighty labour wrought. Such weapons by the skill of Cyclops forged, for different punishment he laid aside for straightway he preferred to overwhelm the mortal race beneath deep waves and storms from every raining sky. And instantly he shut the Northwind in Aeolian caves, and every other wind that might dispel the gathering clouds. He bade the Southwind blow: the Southwind flies abroad with dripping wings, concealing in the gloom his awful face: the drenching rain descends from his wet beard and hoary locks; dark clouds are on his brows and from his wings and garments drip the dews: his great hands press the overhanging clouds; loudly the thunders roll; the torrents pour; Iris, the messenger of Juno, clad in many coloured raiment, upward draws the steaming moisture to renew the clouds.
The standing grain is beaten to the ground, the rustic’s crops are scattered in the mire, and he bewails the long year’s fruitless toil.
The wrath of Jove was not content with powers that emanate from Heaven; he brought to aid his azure brother, lord of flowing waves, who called upon the Rivers and the Streams: and when they entered his impearled abode, Neptune, their ancient ruler, thus began; “A long appeal is needless; pour ye forth in rage of power; open up your fountains; rush over obstacles; let every stream pour forth in boundless floods.” Thus he commands, and none dissenting all the River Gods return, and opening up their fountains roll tumultuous to the deep unfruitful sea.
And Neptune with his trident smote the Earth, which trembling with unwonted throes heaved up the sources of her waters bare; and through her open plains the rapid rivers rushed resistless, onward bearing the waving grain, the budding groves, the houses, sheep and men, and holy temples, and their sacred urns. The mansions that remained, resisting vast and total ruin, deepening waves concealed and whelmed their tottering turrets in the flood and whirling gulf. And now one vast expanse, the land and sea were mingled in the waste of endless waves a sea without a shore.
One desperate man seized on the nearest hill; another sitting in his curved boat, plied the long oar where he was wont to plow; another sailed above his grain, above his hidden dwelling; and another hooked a fish that sported in a leafy elm. Perchance an anchor dropped in verdant fields, or curving keels were pushed through tangled vines; and where the gracile goat enjoyed the green, unsightly seals reposed. Beneath the waves were wondering Nereids, viewing cities, groves and houses. Dolphins darting mid the trees, meshed in the twisted branches, beat against the shaken oak trees. There the sheep, affrayed, swim with the frightened wolf, the surging waves float tigers and lions: availeth naught his lightning shock the wild boar, nor avails the stag’s fleet footed speed. The wandering bird, seeking umbrageous groves and hidden vales, with wearied pinion droops into the sea. The waves increasing surge above the hills, and rising waters dash on mountain tops. Myriads by the waves are swept away, and those the waters spare, for lack of food, starvation slowly overcomes at last.
A fruitful land and fair but now submerged beneath a wilderness of rising waves, ‘Twixt Oeta and Aonia, Phocis lies, where through the clouds Parnassus’ summits twain point upward to the stars, unmeasured height, save which the rolling billows covered all: there in a small and fragile boat, arrived, Deucalion and the consort of his couch, prepared to worship the Corycian Nymphs, the mountain deities, and Themis kind, who in that age revealed in oracles the voice of fate. As he no other lived so good and just, as she no other feared the Gods.
When Jupiter beheld the globe in ruin covered, swept with wasting waves, and when he saw one man of myriads left, one helpless woman left of myriads lone, both innocent and worshiping the Gods, he scattered all the clouds; he blew away the great storms by the cold northwind.
Once more the earth appeared to heaven and the skies appeared to earth. The fury of the main abated, for the Ocean ruler laid his trident down and pacified the waves, and called on azure Triton. Triton arose above the waving seas, his shoulders mailed in purple shells. He bade the Triton blow, blow in his sounding shell, the wandering streams and rivers to recall with signal known: a hollow wreathed trumpet, tapering wide and slender stemmed, the Triton took amain and wound the pearly shell at midmost sea. Betwixt the rising and the setting suns the wildered notes resounded shore to shore, and as it touched his lips, wet with the brine beneath his dripping beard, sounded retreat: and all the waters of the land and sea obeyed. Their fountains heard and ceased to flow; their waves subsided; hidden hills uprose; emerged the shores of ocean; channels filled with flowing streams; the soil appeared; the land increased its surface as the waves decreased: and after length of days the trees put forth, with ooze on bending boughs, their naked tops.
And all the wasted globe was now restored, but as he viewed the vast and silent world Deucalion wept and thus to Pyrrha spoke; “O sister! wife! alone of woman left! My kindred in descent and origin! Dearest companion of my marriage bed, doubly endeared by deepening dangers borne, of all the dawn and eve behold of earth, but you and I are left for the deep sea has kept the rest! And what prevents the tide from overwhelming us? Remaining clouds affright us. How could you endure your fears if you alone were rescued by this fate, and who would then console your bitter grief? Oh be assured, if you were buried in the waves, that I would follow you and be with you! Oh would that by my father’s art I might restore the people, and inspire this clay to take the form of man. Alas, the Gods decreed and only we are living!”, Thus Deucalion’s plaint to Pyrrha; and they wept.
And after he had spoken, they resolved to ask the aid of sacred oracles, and so they hastened to Cephissian waves which rolled a turbid flood in channels known. Thence when their robes and brows were sprinkled well, they turned their footsteps to the goddess’ fane: its gables were befouled with reeking moss and on its altars every fire was cold. But when the twain had reached the temple steps they fell upon the earth, inspired with awe, and kissed the cold stone with their trembling lips, and said; “If righteous prayers appease the Gods, and if the wrath of high celestial powers may thus be turned, declare, O Themis! whence and what the art may raise humanity? O gentle goddess help the dying world!”
Moved by their supplications, she replied; “Depart from me and veil your brows; ungird your robes, and cast behind you as you go, the bones of your great mother.” Long they stood in dumb amazement: Pyrrha, first of voice, refused the mandate and with trembling lips implored the goddess to forgive she feared to violate her mother’s bones and vex her sacred spirit. Often pondered they the words involved in such obscurity, repeating oft: and thus Deucalion to Epimetheus’ daughter uttered speech of soothing import; “ Oracles are just and urge not evil deeds, or naught avails the skill of thought. Our mother is the Earth, and I may judge the stones of earth are bones that we should cast behind us as we go.”
And although Pyrrha by his words was moved she hesitated to comply; and both amazed doubted the purpose of the oracle, but deemed no harm to come of trial. They, descending from the temple, veiled their heads and loosed their robes and threw some stones behind them. It is much beyond belief, were not receding ages witness, hard and rigid stones assumed a softer form, enlarging as their brittle nature changed to milder substance, till the shape
of man appeared, imperfect, faintly outlined first, as marble statue chiseled in the rough. The soft moist parts were changed to softer flesh, the hard and brittle substance into bones, the veins retained their ancient name. And now the Gods supreme ordained that every stone Deucalion threw should take the form of man, and those by Pyrrha cast should woman’s form assume: so are we hardy to endure and prove by toil and deeds from what we sprung.
Python. The Pythian Games
And after this the Earth spontaneous produced the world of animals, when all remaining moistures of the mirey fens fermented in the sun, and fruitful seeds in soils nutritious grew to shapes ordained. So when the seven streamed Nile from oozy fields returneth duly to her ancient bed, the sun’s ethereal rays impregn the slime, that haply as the peasants turn the soil they find strange animals unknown before: some in the moment of their birth, and some deprived of limbs, imperfect; often part alive and part of slime inanimate are fashioned in one body. Heat combined with moisture so conceives and life results from these two things. For though the flames may be the foes of water, everything that lives begins in humid vapour, and it seems discordant concord is the means of life.
When Earth, spread over with diluvian ooze, felt heat ethereal from the glowing sun, unnumbered species to the light she gave, and gave to being many an ancient form, or monster new created. Unwilling she created thus enormous Python. Thou unheard of serpent spread so far athwart the side of a vast mountain, didst fill with fear the race of new created man. The God that bears the bow (a weapon used till then only to hunt the deer and agile goat) destroyed the monster with a myriad darts, and almost emptied all his quiver, till envenomed gore oozed forth from livid wounds.
Lest in a dark oblivion time should hide the fame of this achievement, sacred sports he instituted, from the Python called “The Pythian Games.” In these the happy youth who proved victorious in the chariot race, running and boxing, with an honoured crown of oak leaves was enwreathed. The laurel then was not created, wherefore Phoebus, bright and godlike, beauteous with his flowing hair, was wont to wreathe his brows with various leaves.
Daphne. Daphne and Phoebus
Daphne, the daughter of a River God was first beloved by Phoebus, the great God of glorious light. ‘Twas not a cause of chance but out of Cupid’s vengeful spite that she was fated to torment the lord of light. For Phoebus, proud of Python’s death, beheld that impish god of Love upon a time when he was bending his diminished bow, and voicing his contempt in anger said; “What, wanton boy, are mighty arms to thee, great weapons suited to the needs of war? The bow is only for the use of those large deities of heaven whose strength may deal wounds, mortal, to the savage beasts of prey; and who courageous overcome their foes. it is a proper weapon to the use of such as slew with arrows Python, huge, whose pestilential carcase vast extent covered. Content thee with the flames thy torch enkindles (fires too subtle for my thought) and leave to me the glory that is mine.”
To him, undaunted, Venus, son replied; “O Phoebus, thou canst conquer all the world with thy strong bow and arrows, but with this small arrow I shall pierce thy vaunting breast! And by the measure that thy might exceeds the broken powers of thy defeated foes, so is thy glory less than mine.” No more he said, but with his wings expanded thence flew lightly to Parnassus, lofty peak. There, from his quiver he plucked arrows twain, most curiously wrought of different art; one love exciting, one repelling love. The dart of love was glittering, gold and sharp, the other had a blunted tip of lead; and with that dull lead dart he shot the Nymph, but with the keen point of the golden dart he pierced the bone and marrow of the God.
Immediately the one with love was filled, the other, scouting at the thought of love, rejoiced in the deep shadow of the woods, and as the virgin Phoebe (who denies the joys of love and loves the joys of chase) a maiden’s fillet bound her flowing hair, and her pure mind denied the love of man. Beloved and wooed she wandered silent paths, for never could her modesty endure the glance of man or listen to his love.
Her grieving father spoke to her, “Alas, my daughter, I have wished a son in law, and now you owe a grandchild to the joy of my old age.” But Daphne only hung her head to hide her shame. The nuptial torch seemed criminal to her. She even clung, caressing, with her arms around his neck, and pled, “My dearest father let me live a virgin always, for remember Jove did grant it to Diana at her birth.”
But though her father promised her desire, her loveliness prevailed against their will; for, Phoebus when he saw her waxed distraught, and filled with wonder his sick fancy raised delusive hopes, and his own oracles deceived him. As the stubble in the field flares up, or as the stacked wheat is consumed by flames, enkindled from a spark or torch the chance pedestrian may neglect at dawn; so was the bosom of the god consumed, and so desire flamed in his stricken heart.
He saw her bright hair waving on her neck; “How beautiful if properly arranged! ” He saw her eyes like stars of sparkling fire, her lips for kissing sweetest, and her hands and fingers and her arms; her shoulders white as ivory; and whatever was not seen more beautiful must be.
Swift as the wind from his pursuing feet the virgin fled, and neither stopped nor heeded as he called; “O Nymph! O Daphne! I entreat thee stay, it is no enemy that follows thee why, so the lamb leaps from the raging wolf, and from the lion runs the timid faun, and from the eagle flies the trembling dove, all hasten from their natural enemy but I alone pursue for my dear love. Alas, if thou shouldst fall and mar thy face, or tear upon the bramble thy soft thighs, or should I prove unwilling cause of pain! “The wilderness is rough and dangerous, and I beseech thee be more careful I will follow slowly. Ask of whom thou wilt, and thou shalt learn that I am not a churl I am no mountain dweller of rude caves, nor clown compelled to watch the sheep and goats; and neither canst thou know from whom thy feet fly fearful, or thou wouldst not leave me thus. “The Delphic Land, the Pataraean Realm, Claros and Tenedos revere my name, and my immortal sire is Jupiter. The present, past and future are through me in sacred oracles revealed to man, and from my harp the harmonies of sound are borrowed by their bards to praise the Gods. My bow is certain, but a flaming shaft surpassing mine has pierced my heart untouched before. The art of medicine is my invention, and the power of herbs; but though the world declare my useful works there is no herb to medicate my wound, and all the arts that save have failed their lord.,”
But even as he made his plaint, the Nymph with timid footsteps fled from his approach, and left him to his murmurs and his pain.
Lovely the virgin seemed as the soft wind exposed her limbs, and as the zephyrs fond fluttered amid her garments, and the breeze fanned lightly in her flowing hair. She seemed most lovely to his fancy in her flight; and mad with love he followed in her steps, and silent hastened his increasing speed.
As when the greyhound sees the frightened hare flit over the plain: With eager nose outstretched, impetuous, he rushes on his prey, and gains upon her till he treads her feet, and almost fastens in her side his fangs;
but she, whilst dreading that her end is near, is suddenly delivered from her fright; so was it with the god and virgin: one with hope pursued, the other fled in fear; and he who followed, borne on wings of love, permitted her no rest and gained on her, until his warm breath mingled in her hair.
Her strength spent, pale and faint, with pleading eyes she gazed upon her father’s waves and prayed, “Help me my father, if thy flowing streams have virtue! Cover me, O mother Earth! Destroy the beauty that has injured me, or change the body that destroys my life.”
Before her prayer was ended, torpor seized on all her body, and a thin bark closed around her gentle bosom, and her hair became as moving leaves; her arms were changed to waving branches, and her active feet as clinging roots were fastened to the ground her face was hidden with encircling leaves.
Phoebus admired and loved the graceful tree, (For still, though changed, her slender form remained) and with his right hand lingering on the trunk he felt her bosom throbbing in the bark. He clung to trunk and branch as though to twine. His form with hers, and fondly kissed the wood that shrank from every kiss.
And thus the God; “Although thou canst not be my bride, thou shalt be called my chosen tree, and thy green leaves, O Laurel! shall forever crown my brows, be wreathed around my quiver and my lyre; the Roman heroes shall be crowned with thee, as long processions climb the Capitol and chanting throngs proclaim their victories; and as
a faithful warden thou shalt guard the civic crown of oak leaves fixed between thy branches, and before Augustan gates. And as my youthful head is never shorn, so, also, shalt thou ever bear thy leaves unchanging to thy glory.,”
Here the God, Phoebus Apollo, ended his lament, and unto him the Laurel bent her boughs, so lately fashioned; and it seemed to him her graceful nod gave answer to his love.
Io. Argus. Syrinx. Io and Jupiter
There is a grove in Thessaly, enclosed on every side with crags, precipitous, on which a forest grows and this is called the Vale of Tempe through this valley flows the River Peneus, white with foaming waves, that issue from the foot of Pindus, whence with sudden fall up gather steamy clouds that sprinkle mist upon the circling trees, and far away with mighty roar resound. It is the abode, the solitary home, that mighty River loves, where deep in gloom of rocky cavern, he resides and rules the flowing waters and the water nymphs abiding there. All rivers of that land now hasten thither, doubtful to console or flatter Daphne’s parent: poplar crowned Sperchios, swift Enipeus and the wild Amphrysos, old Apidanus and Aeas, with all their kindred streams that wandering maze and wearied seek the ocean. Inachus alone is absent, hidden in his cave obscure, deepening his waters with his tears most wretchedly bewailing, for he deems his daughter Io lost. If she may live or roam a spirit in the nether shades he dares not even guess but dreads for Jove not long before had seen her while returning from her father’s stream, and said; “O virgin, worthy of immortal Jove, although some happy mortal’s chosen bride, behold these shades of overhanging trees, and seek their cool recesses while the sun is glowing in the height of middle skies ” and as he spoke he pointed out the groves “But should the dens of wild beasts frighten you, with safety you may enter the deep woods, conducted by a God not with a God of small repute, but in the care of him who holds the heavenly scepter in his hand and fulminates the trackless thunder bolts. forsake me not! ” For while he spoke she fled, and swiftly left behind the pasture fields of Lerna, and Lyrcea’s arbours, where the trees are planted thickly. But the God called forth a heavy shadow which involved the wide extended earth, and stopped her flight and ravished in that cloud her chastity.
Meanwhile, the goddess Juno gazing down on earth’s expanse, with wonder saw the clouds as dark as night enfold those middle fields while day was bright above. She was convinced the clouds were none composed of river mist nor raised from marshy fens. Suspicious now, from oft detected amours of her spouse, she glanced around to find her absent lord, and quite convinced that he was far from heaven, she thus exclaimed; “This cloud deceives my mind, or Jove has wronged me.” From the dome of heaven she glided down and stood upon the earth, and bade the clouds recede. But Jove had known the coming of his queen. He had transformed the lovely Io, so that she appeared a milk white heifer formed so beautiful and fair that envious Juno gazed on her. She queried: “Whose? what herd? what pasture fields?” As if she guessed no knowledge of the truth. And Jupiter, false hearted, said the cow was earth begotten, for he feared his queen might make inquiry of the owner’s name. Juno implored the heifer as a gift. what then was left the Father of the Gods? ‘Twould be a cruel thing to sacrifice his own beloved to a rival’s wrath. Although refusal must imply his guilt the shame and love of her almost prevailed; but if a present of such little worth were now denied the sharer of his couch, the partner of his birth, ‘twould prove indeed the earth born heifer other than she seemed and so he gave his mistress up to her.
Juno regardful of Jove’s cunning art, lest he might change her to her human form, gave the unhappy heifer to the charge of Argus, Aristorides, whose head was circled with a hundred glowing eyes; of which but two did slumber in their turn whilst all the others kept on watch and guard.
Whichever way he stood his gaze was fixed on Io even if he turned away his watchful eyes on Io still remained. He let her feed by day; but when the sun was under the deep world he shut her up, and tied a rope around her tender neck.
She fed upon green leaves and bitter herbs and on the cold ground slept too often bare, she could not rest upon a cushioned couch. She drank the troubled waters. Hoping aid she tried to stretch imploring arms to Argus, but all in vain for now no arms remained; the sound of bellowing was all she heard, and she was frightened with her proper voice.
Where former days she loved to roam and sport, she wandered by the banks of Inachus: there imaged in the stream she saw her horns and, startled, turned and fled. And Inachus and all her sister Naiads knew her not, although she followed them, they knew her not, although she suffered them to touch her sides and praise her.
When the ancient Inachus gathered sweet herbs and offered them to her, she licked his hands, kissing her father’s palms, nor could she more restrain her falling tears. If only words as well as tears would flow, she might implore his aid and tell her name and all her sad misfortune; but, instead, she traced in dust the letters of her name with cloven hoof; and thus her sad estate was known. “Ah wretched me! ” her father cried; and as he clung around her horns and neck repeated while she groaned, “Ah wretched me! Art thou my daughter sought in every clime? When lost I could not grieve for thee as now that thou art found; thy sighs instead of words heave up from thy deep breast, thy longings give me answer. I prepared the nuptial torch and bridal chamber, in my ignorance, since my first hope was for a son in law; and then I dreamed of children from the match: but now the herd may furnish thee a mate, and all thy issue of the herd must be. Oh that a righteous death would end my grief! it is a dreadful thing to be a God! Behold the lethal gate of death is shut against me, and my growing grief must last throughout eternity.”
While thus he moaned came starry Argus there, and Io bore from her lamenting father. Thence he led his charge to other pastures; and removed from her, upon a lofty mountain sat, whence he could always watch her, undisturbed.
The sovereign god no longer could endure to witness Io’s woes. He called his son, whom Maia brightest of the Pleiades brought forth, and bade him slay the star eyed guard, argus. He seized his sleep compelling wand and fastened waving wings on his swift feet, and deftly fixed his brimmed hat on his head: lo, Mercury, the favoured son of Jove, descending to the earth from heaven’s plains, put off his cap and wings, though still retained his wand with which he drove through pathless wilds some stray she goats, and as a shepherd fared, piping on oaten reeds melodious tunes.
Argus, delighted with the charming sound of this new art began; “Whoever thou art, sit with me on this stone beneath the trees in cooling shade, whilst browse the tended flock abundant herbs; for thou canst see the shade is fit for shepherds.” Wherefore, Mercury sat down beside the keeper and conversed of various things passing the laggard hours. then soothly piped he on the joined reeds to lull those ever watchful eyes asleep; but Argus strove his languor to subdue, and though some drowsy eyes might slumber, still were some that vigil kept. Again he spoke, (for the pipes were yet a recent art) “I pray thee tell what chance discovered these.”
To him the God, “ A famous Naiad dwelt among the Hamadryads, on the cold Arcadian summit Nonacris, whose name was Syrinx. Often she escaped the Gods, that wandered in the groves of sylvan shades, and often fled from Satyrs that pursued. Vowing virginity, in all pursuits she strove to emulate Diana’s ways: and as that graceful goddess wears her robe, so Syrinx girded hers that one might well believe Diana there. Even though her bow were made of horn, Diana’s wrought of gold, vet might she well deceive. “Now chanced it Pan. Whose head was girt with prickly pines, espied the Nymph returning from the Lycian Hill, and these words uttered he: ” But Mercury refrained from further speech, and Pan’s appeal remains untold. If he had told it all, the tale of Syrinx would have followed thus: but she despised the prayers of Pan, and fled through pathless wilds until she had arrived the placid Ladon’s sandy stream, whose waves prevented her escape. There she implored her sister Nymphs to change her form: and Pan, believing he had caught her, held instead some marsh reeds for the body of the Nymph; and while he sighed the moving winds began to utter plaintive music in the reeds, so sweet and voice like that poor Pan exclaimed; “Forever this discovery shall remain a sweet communion binding thee to me.” and this explains why reeds of different length, when joined together by cementing wax, derive the name of Syrinx from the maid.
Such words the bright god Mercury would say; but now perceiving Argus’ eyes were dimmed in languorous doze, he hushed his voice and touched the drooping eyelids with his magic wand, compelling slumber. Then without delay he struck the sleeper with his crescent sword, where neck and head unite, and hurled his head, blood dripping, down the rocks and rugged cliff.
Low lies Argus: dark is the light of all his hundred eyes, his many orbed lights extinguished in the universal gloom that night surrounds; but Saturn’s daughter spread their glister on the feathers of her bird, emblazoning its tail with starry gems.
Juno made haste, inflamed with towering rage, to vent her wrath on Io; and she raised in thought and vision of the Grecian girl a dreadful Fury. Stings invisible, and pitiless, she planted in her breast, and drove her wandering throughout the globe.
The utmost limit of her laboured way, O Nile, thou didst remain. Which, having reached, and placed her tired knees on that river’s edge, she laid her there, and as she raised her neck looked upward to the stars, and groaned and wept and mournfully bellowed: trying thus to plead, by all the means she had, that Jupiter might end her miseries. Repentant Jove embraced his consort, and entreated her to end the punishment: “Fear not,” he said, “For she shall trouble thee no more.” He spoke, and called on bitter Styx to hear his oath.
And now imperial Juno, pacified, permitted Io to resume her form, at once the hair fell from her snowy sides; the horns absorbed, her dilate orbs decreased; the opening of her jaws contracted; hands appeared and shoulders; and each transformed hoof became five nails. And every mark or form that gave the semblance of a heifer changed, except her fair white skin; and the glad Nymph was raised erect and stood upon her feet. But long the very thought of speech, that she might bellow as a heifer, filled her mind with terror, till the words so long forgot for some sufficient cause were tried once more.
And since that time, the linen wearing throng of Egypt have adored her as a God; for they believe the seed of Jove prevailed; and when her time was due she bore to him a son called Epaphus; who also dwells in temples with his mother in that land.
Now Phaethon, whose father was the Sun, was equal to his rival, Epaphus, in mind and years; and he was glad to boast of wonders, nor would yield to Epaphus for pride of Phoebus, his reputed sire. Unable to endure it, Io’s son thus mocked him; “Poor, demented fellow, what will you not credit if your mother speaks, you are so puffed up with the fond conceit of your imagined sire, the Lord of Day.”
shame crimsoned in his cheeks, but Phaethon withholding rage, reported all the taunts of Epaphus to Clymene his mother: “‘Twill grieve you, mother, I, the bold and free, was silent; and it shames me to report this dark reproach remains unchallenged. Oh, if I am born of race divine, give proof of that illustrious descent and claim my right to Heaven.” Around his mother’s neck he drew his arms, and by the head of Merops, and by his own, and by the nuptial torch of his beloved sisters, he implored for some true token of his origin.
Or moved by Phaethon’s importuned words, or by the grievous charge, who might declare? She raised her arms to Heaven, and gazing full upon the broad sun said; “I swear to you by yonder orb, so radiant and bright, which both beholds and hears us while we speak, that you are his begotten son. You are the child of that great light which sways the world: and if I have not spoken what is true, let not mine eyes behold his countenance, and let this fatal moment be the last that I shall look upon the light of day! Nor will it weary you, my son, to reach your father’s dwelling; for the very place where he appears at dawn is near our land. Go, if it please you, and the very truth learn from your father.” Instantly sprang forth exultant Phaethon. Overjoyed with words so welcome, he imagined he could leap and touch the skies. And so he passed his land of Ethiopia, and the Indies, hot beneath the tawny sun, and there he turned his footsteps to his father’s Land of Dawn.
Section 7. Europa.
So from the land of Pallas went the God, his great revenge accomplished on the head of impious Aglauros; and he soared on waving wings into the opened skies: and there his father called him to his side, and said, with words to hide his passion; Son, thou faithful minister of my commands. let naught delay thee swiftly take the way, accustomed, to the land of Sidon (which adores thy mother’s star upon the left) when there, drive over to the sounding shore that royal herd, which far away is fed on mountain grass. He spoke, and instantly the herd was driven from the mountain side; then headed for the shore, as Jove desired, to where the great king’s daughter often went in play, attended by the maids of Tyre. Can love abide the majesty of kings? Love cannot always dwell upon a throne.
Europa and Jupiter: The House of Cadmus
Jove laid aside his glorious dignity, for he assumed the semblance of a bull and mingled with the bullocks in the groves, his colour white as virgin snow, untrod, unmelted by the watery Southern Wind.
His neck was thick with muscles, dewlaps hung between his shoulders; and his polished horns, so small and beautifully set, appeared the artifice of man; fashioned as fair and more transparent than a lucent gem. His forehead was not lowered for attack, nor was there fury in his open eyes; the love of peace was in his countenance.
When she beheld his beauty and mild eyes, the daughter of Agenor was amazed; but, daring not to touch him, stood apart until her virgin fears were quieted; then, near him, fragrant flowers in her hand she offered, tempting, to his gentle mouth: and then the loving god in his great joy kissed her sweet hands, and could not wait her will.
Jove then began to frisk upon the grass, or laid his snow-white side on the smooth sand, yellow and golden. As her courage grew he gave his breast one moment for caress, or bent his head for garlands newly made, wreathed for his polished horns.
The royal maid, unwitting what she did, at length sat down upon the bull’s broad back. Then by degrees the god moved from the land and from the shore, and placed his feet, that seemed but shining hoofs, in shallow water by the sandy merge; and not a moment resting bore her thence, across the surface of the Middle Sea, while she affrighted gazed upon the shore so fast receding. And she held his horn with her right hand, and, steadied by the left, held on his ample back and in the breeze her waving garments fluttered as they went.
Pyramus et Thisbe. Pyramus and Thisbe
When Pyramus and Thisbe, who were known the one most handsome of all youthful men, the other loveliest of all eastern girls, lived in adjoining houses, near the walls that Queen Semiramis had built of brick around her famous city, they grew fond, and loved each other meeting often there and as the days went by their love increased.
They wished to join in marriage, but that joy their fathers had forbidden them to hope; and yet the passion that with equal strength inflamed their minds no parents could forbid. No relatives had guessed their secret love, for all their converse was by nods and signs; and as a smoldering fire may gather heat, the more ‘tis smothered, so their love increased.
Now, it so happened, a partition built between their houses, many years ago, was made defective with a little chink; a small defect observed by none, although for ages there; but what is hid from love? Our lovers found the secret opening, and used its passage to convey the sounds of gentle, murmured words, whose tuneful note passed oft in safety through that hidden way.
There, many a time, they stood on either side, thisbe on one and Pyramus the other, and when their warm breath touched from lip to lip, their sighs were such as this: “Thou envious wall why art thou standing in the way of those who die for love? What harm could happen thee shouldst thou permit us to enjoy our love? But if we ask too much, let us persuade that thou wilt open while we kiss but once: for, we are not ungrateful; unto thee we own our debt; here thou hast left a way that breathed words may enter loving ears.,” so vainly whispered they, and when the night began to darken they exchanged farewells; made presence that they kissed a fond farewell vain kisses that to love might none avail.
When dawn removed the glimmering lamps of night, and the bright sun had dried the dewy grass again they met where they had told their love; and now complaining of their hapless fate, in murmurs gentle, they at last resolved, away to slip upon the quiet night, elude their parents, and, as soon as free, quit the great builded city and their homes.
Fearful to wander in the pathless fields, they chose a trysting place, the tomb of Ninus, where safely they might hide unseen, beneath the shadow of a tall mulberry tree, covered with snow-white fruit, close by a spring.
All is arranged according to their hopes: and now the daylight, seeming slowly moved, sinks in the deep waves, and the tardy night arises from the spot where day declines.
Quickly, the clever Thisbe having first deceived her parents, opened the closed door. She flitted in the silent night away; and, having veiled her face, reached the great tomb, and sat beneath the tree; love made her bold. There, as she waited, a great lioness approached the nearby spring to quench her thirst: her frothing jaws incarnadined with blood of slaughtered oxen. As the moon was bright, Thisbe could see her, and affrighted fled with trembling footstep to a gloomy cave; and as she ran she slipped and dropped her veil, which fluttered to the ground. She did not dare to save it. Wherefore, when the savage beast had taken a great draft and slaked her thirst, and thence had turned to seek her forest lair, she found it on her way, and full of rage, tore it and stained it with her bloody jaws: but Thisbe, fortunate, escaped unseen.
Now Pyramus had not gone out so soon as Thisbe to the tryst; and, when he saw the certain traces of that savage beast, imprinted in the yielding dust, his face went white with fear; but when he found the veil covered with blood, he cried; “Alas, one night has caused the ruin of two lovers! Thou wert most deserving of completed days, but as for me, my heart is guilty! I destroyed thee! O my love! I bade thee come out in the dark night to a lonely haunt, and failed to go before. Oh! whatever lurks beneath this rock, though ravenous lion, tear my guilty flesh, and with most cruel jaws devour my cursed entrails! What? Not so; it is a craven’s part to wish for death!”
So he stopped briefly; and took up the veil; went straightway to the shadow of the tree; and as his tears bedewed the well-known veil, he kissed it oft and sighing said, “Kisses and tears are thine, receive my blood as well.”
And he imbrued the steel, girt at his side, deep in his bowels; and plucked it from the wound, a-faint with death. As he fell back to earth, his spurting blood shot upward in the air; so, when decay has rift a leaden pipe a hissing jet of water spurts on high.
By that dark tide the berries on the tree assumed a deeper tint, for as the roots soaked up the blood the pendent mulberries were dyed a purple tint.
Thisbe returned, though trembling still with fright, for now she thought her lover must await her at the tree, and she should haste before he feared for her. Longing to tell him of her great escape she sadly looked for him with faithful eyes; but when she saw the spot and the changed tree, she doubted could they be the same, for so the colour of the hanging fruit deceived.
While doubt dismayed her, on the ground she saw the wounded body covered with its blood; she started backward, and her face grew pale and ashen; and she shuddered like the sea, which trembles when its face is lightly skimmed by the chill breezes; and she paused a space; but when she knew it was the one she loved, she struck her tender breast and tore her hair. Then wreathing in her arms his loved form, she bathed the wound with tears, mingling her grief in his unquenched blood; and as she kissed his death-cold features wailed; “Ah Pyramus, what cruel fate has taken thy life away? Pyramus! Pyramus! awake! awake! It is thy dearest Thisbe calls thee! Lift thy drooping head! Alas,” At Thisbe’s name he raised his eyes, though languorous in death, and darkness gathered round him as he gazed.
And then she saw her veil; and near it lay his ivory sheath but not the trusty sword and once again she wailed; “Thy own right hand, and thy great passion have destroyed thee! And I? my hand shall be as bold as thine my love shall nerve me to the fatal deed thee, I will follow to eternity though I be censured for the wretched cause, so surely I shall share thy wretched fate: alas, whom death could me alone bereave, thou shalt not from my love be reft by death! And, O ye wretched parents, mine and his, let our misfortunes and our pleadings melt your hearts, that ye no more deny to those whom constant love and lasting death unite entomb us in a single sepulchre.
“And, O thou tree of many-branching boughs, spreading dark shadows on the corpse of one, destined to cover twain, take thou our fate upon thy head; mourn our untimely deaths; let thy fruit darken for a memory, an emblem of our blood.” No more she said; and having fixed the point below her breast, she fell on the keen sword, still warm with his red blood.
But though her death was out of Nature’s law her prayer was answered, for it moved the Gods and moved their parents. Now the Gods have changed the ripened fruit which darkens on the branch: and from the funeral pile their parents sealed their gathered ashes in a single urn.
Section 1. Iason et Medea. Jason and Medea
Over the storm-tossed waves, the Argonauts had sailed in Argo, their long ship to where King Phineus, needy in his old age, reigned deprived of sight and feeble. When the sons of Boreas had landed on the shore, and seen the Harpies snatching from the king his nourishment, befouling it with beaks obscene, they drove those human-vultures thence.
And having suffered hardships and great toils, after the day they rescued the sad king from the vile Harpies, those twin valiant youths, Zetes and Calais came with their chief, the mighty Jason, where the Phasis flows.
From the green margin of that river, all the crew of Argonauts, by Jason led, went to the king Aeetes and required the Golden Fleece, that he received from Phryxus. When they had bargained with him, full of wiles he offered to restore the Golden Fleece only to those who might to him return, victorious from hard labors of great risk.
Medea, the king’s daughter, near his throne, saw Jason, leader of the Argonauts, as he was pressing to secure a prize and loved at sight with a consuming flame.
Although she struggled to suppress her love, unable to restrain herself, she said, “In vain I’ve striven to subdue my heart: some god it must be, which I cannot tell, is working to destroy my hapless life; or else it is the burning flame of love that in me rages. If it is not love, why do the mandates of my father seem too harsh? They surely are too harsh. Why do I fear that he may perish whom I have seen only once? What is the secret cause that I am agitated by such fears? It is no other than the god of Love.
“Thrust from your virgin breast such burning flames and overcome their hot unhappiness if I could do so, I should be myself: but some deluding power is holding me helpless against my will. Desire persuades me one way, but my reason still persuades another way. I see a better course and I approve, but follow its defeat.
“O royal maiden, why are you consumed with love for this strange man, and why are you so willing to be carried by the nuptial ties so far from your own country, where, indeed, are many brave men worthy of your love?
“Whether for life or death his numbered hours are in the mercy of the living Gods, and that he may not suffer risk of death, too well foreseen, now let my prayers prevail righteously uttered of a generous heart without the stress of love. What wicked thing has Jason done? His handsome person, youth, and noble ways, would move a heart of stone.
“Have I a heart of flint, or was I born a tigress to deny him timely aid? Unless I interpose, he will be slain by the hot breath of brazen-footed bulls, or will be slaughtered by the warriors, sprung miraculous from earth, or will be given to satisfy the ravenous appetite of a huge dragon.
“Let my gloating eyes be satiate with his dying agonies! Let me incite the fury of these bulls! Stir to their bloodlust mad-born sons of Earth! Rouse up the never-sleeping dragon’s rage! “Avert it Gods!
“But why should I cry out upon the Gods to save him from such wrong, when, by my actions and my power, myself may shield him from all evils?
“Such a course would wreck the kingdom of my father and by me the wily stranger would escape from him; and spreading to the wind his ready sails he would forget and leave me to my fate. Oh, if he should forget my sacrifice, and so prefer those who neglected him, let him then perish in his treachery.
“But these are idle thoughts: his countenance, reveals innate nobility and grace, that should dispel all fear of treachery, and guarantee his ever-faithful heart. The Gods will witness our united souls, and he shall pledge his faith. Secure of it my fear will be removed. Be ready, then and make a virtue of necessity: your Jason owes himself to you; and he must join you in true wedlock. Then you shall be celebrated through the land of Greece, by throngs of women, for the man you saved.
“Shall I then sail away, and so forsake my sister, brother, father, Gods, and land that gave me birth? My father is indeed a stern man, and my native land is all too barbarous; my brother is a child, my sister’s goodwill is good help for me; and heaven’s supreme god is within my breast.
“I shall not so be leaving valued hopes, but will be going surely to great things. And I should gain applause from all the world, as having saved the threatened Argonauts, most noble of the Greeks; and in their land, which certainly is better than my own, become the bride of Jason, for whose love I should not hesitate to give the world and in whose love the living Gods rejoice so greatly; for his sake they would bestow their favors on my head, and make the stars my habitation.
“Should I hesitate because the wreck-strewn mountains bar the way, and clash together in the Euxine waves; or fear Charybdis, fatal to large ships, that sucks the deep sea in its whirling gulf and spouts far upward, with alternate force, or Scylla, circled with infuriate hounds howling in rage from deep Sicilian waves?
“Safe in the shielding arms of him I love, on Jason’s bosom leaning, I shall be borne safely over wide and hostile seas; and in his dear embrace forget my fears or if for anything I suffer dread, it will be only for the one I love.
“Alas, Medea, this vain argument has only furnished plausible excuse for criminal desires, and desecrates the marriage rite. It is a wicked thing to think upon. Before it is too late forget your passion and deny this guilt.”
And after she had said these words, her eyes were opened to the prize of modesty, chaste virtue, and a pure affection: and Cupid, vanquished, turned away and fled.
Then, to an ancient altar of the goddess named Hecate, Perse’s daughter took her way in the deep shadows of a forest. She was strong of purpose now, and all the flames of vanquished passion had died down; but when she saw the son of Aeson, dying flames leaped up again. Her cheeks grew red, then all her face went pale again; as a small spark when hid beneath the ashes, if fed by a breath of wind grows and regains its strength, as it is fanned to life; so now her love that had been smoldering, and which you would have thought was almost dead, when she had see again his manly youth, blazed up once more.
For on that day his graceful person seemed as glorious as a God; and as she gazed, and fixed her eyes upon his countenance, her frenzy so prevailed, she was convinced that he was not a mortal. And her eyes were fascinated; and she could not turn away from him. But when he spoke to her, and promised marriage, grasping her right hand: she answered, as her eyes suffused with tears; “I see what I will do, and ignorance of truth will not be my undoing now, but love itself. By my assistance you shall be preserved; but when preserved fulfill your promise.”
He swore that she could trust in him. Then by the goddess of the triple form, Diana, Trivia, or Luna called, and by her sacred groves and fanes, he vowed, and by the hallowed Sun that sees all things, and by his own adventures, and his life, on these the youthful Jason took his oath. With this she was assured and quickly gave to him the magic herbs: he learnt their use and full of joy withdrew into his house.
Now when the dawn had dimmed the glittering stars, the people hastened to the sacred field of Mars, and on the hills expectant stood. Arrayed in purple, and in majesty distinguished by his ivory sceptre, sat the king, surrounded by a multitude. Below them on the visioned Field of Mars, huge brazen-footed bulls were breathing forth from adamantine nostrils living flames, blasting the verdant herbage in their path!
As forges glowing with hot flames resound, or as much quick-lime, burnt in earthen kilns, crackles and hisses as if mad with rage, sprinkled with water, liberating heat; so their hot throats and triple-heated sides, resounding told of pent-up fires within.
The son of Aeson went to meet them. As he came to meet them the fierce animals turned on him faces terrible, and sharp horns tipped with iron, and they pawed the dusty earth with cloven feet, and filled the place with fiery bellowings. The Minyans were stark with fear; he went up to the bulls not feeling their hot breath at all, so great the power of his charmed drugs; and while he was stroking their down-hanging dewlaps with a fearless hand, he placed the yoke down on their necks and made them draw the heavy plow, and cut through fields that never felt the steel before. The Colchians were amazed and silent; but the loud shouting of the Minyans increased their hero’s courage. Taking then the serpent’s teeth out of a brazen helmet he sowed them broadcast in the new-plowed field.
The moist earth softened these seeds that were steeped in virulent poison and the teeth swelled up and took new forms. And just as in its mother an infant gradually assumes the form of man, and is perfected through all parts within, and does not come forth to the light till fully formed; so, when the forms of men had been completed in the womb of earth made pregnant, they rose up from it, and what is yet more wonderful, each one clashed weapons that had been brought forth with him.
When his companions saw the warriors turn as if with one accord, to hurl their spears, sharp-pointed, at the head of Jason, fear unnerved the boldest and their courage failed. So, too, the maid whose sorcery had saved him from much danger, when she saw the youth encompassed by those raging enemies, and he alone against so many struck with sudden panic, she turned ashen white, her bloodless cheeks were blanched; and chilled with fear she wilted to the ground; and lest the herbs, so lately given him, might fail his need she added incantations and invoked mysterious arts. While she protected him
He seized upon a heavy stone, and hurled it in the midst of his new enemies distracted by this cast, and murderous, they turned from him, and clashing their new arms, those earth-born brothers fought among themselves till all were slaughtered in blood-thirsty strife.
Gladly the Greeks acclaimed him conqueror, and pressed around him for the first embrace. Then, too, Medea, barbarous Colchian maid, although her modesty restrained her heart, eagerly longed to fold him in her arms, but careful of her good name, held aloof, rejoicing in deep, silent love; and she acknowledged to the Gods her mighty gift of incantations.
But the dragon, still alert, magnificent and terrible with gorgeous crest and triple tongue, and fangs barbed as a javelin, guards the Golden Fleece: and Jason can obtain that quest only if slumber may seal up the monster’s eyes.
Jason, successful, sprinkled on his crest Lethean juices of a magic herb, and then recited thrice the words which bring deep slumber, potent words which would becalm the storm-tossed ocean, and would stop the flow of the most rapid rivers of our earth: and slowly slumber sealed the dragon’s eyes.
While that great monster slept, the hero took the Golden Fleece; and proudly sailed away bearing his treasure and the willing maid, (whose aid had saved him) to his native port Iolcus victorious with the Argonauts.
Section 2. Aeson. Rejuvenation of Aeson
Now when the valiant Argonauts returned to Thessaly, their happy relatives, fathers and mothers, praised the living Gods; and with their hallowed gifts enhanced the flames with precious incense; and they offered Jove a sacred bullock, rich with gilded horns.
But Jason’s father, Aeson, came not down rejoicing to behold his son, for now worn out with many years, he waited death. And Jason to Medea grieving said:
“Dearest, to whom my life and love are due, although your kindness has been great to me, and you have granted more than I should ask, yet one thing more I beg of you; if your enchantments can accomplish my desire, take from my life some years that I should live and add them to my father’s ending days.” And as he spoke he could not check his tears.
Medea, moved by his affection, thought how much less she had grieved for her loved sire: and she replied: “A wicked thing you ask! Can I be capable of using you in such a manner as to take your life and give it to another? Ask not me a thing so dreadful! May the Gods forbid! I will endeavor to perform for you a task much greater. By the powers of Night I will most certainly return to him the lost years of your father, but must not deprive you of your own. Oh grant the power, great goddess of the triple form, that I may fail not to accomplish this great deed!”
Three nights were wanting for the moon to join her circling horns and form a perfect orb. When these were passed, the rounded light shone full and bright upon the earth. Through the still night alone, Medea stole forth from the house with feet bare, and in flowing garment clothed her long hair unadorned and not confined. Deep slumber has relaxed the world, and all that’s living, animals and birds and men, and even the hedges and the breathing leaves are still and motionless the laden air.
Only the stars are twinkling, and to them she looks and beckons with imploring hands. Now thrice around she paces, and three times besprinkles her long hair with water dipt from crystal streams, which having done she kneels a moment on the cold, bare ground, and screaming three times calls upon the Night,
“O faithful Night, regard my mysteries! O golden-lighted Stars! O softly-moving Moon genial, your fire succeeds the heated day! O Hecate! grave three-faced queen of these charms of enchanters and enchanters, arts! O fruitful Earth, giver of potent herbs! O gentle Breezes and destructive Winds! You Mountains, Rivers, Lakes and sacred Groves, and every dreaded god of silent Night! Attend upon me!
“When my power commands, the rivers turn from their accustomed ways and roll far backward to their secret springs! I speak and the wild, troubled sea is calm, and I command the waters to arise! The clouds I scatter and I bring the clouds; I smooth the winds and ruffle up their rage; I weave my spells and I recite my charms; I pluck the fangs of serpents, and I move the living rocks and twist the rooted oaks; I blast the forests. Mountains at my word tremble and quake; and from her granite tombs the liberated ghosts arise as Earth astonished groans! From your appointed ways, O wonder-working Moon, I draw you down against the magic-making sound of gongs and brazen vessels of Temesa’s ore; I cast my spells and veil the jeweled rays of Phoebus’ wain, and quench Aurora’s fires.
“At my command you tamed the flaming bulls which long disdained to bend beneath the yoke, until they pressed their necks against the plows; and, subject to my will, you raised up war till the strong company of dragon-birth were slaughtered as they fought amongst themselves; and, last, you lulled asleep the warden’s eyes guards of the Golden Fleece till then awake and sleeping never so, deceiving him, you sent the treasure to the Grecian cities!
“Witness my need of super-natured herbs, elixirs potent to renew the years of age, giving the bloom of youth. You shall not fail to grant me this; for not in vain the stars are flashing confirmation; not in vain the flying dragons, harnessed by their necks, from skies descending bring my chariot down.”
A chariot, sent from heaven, came to her and soon as she had stroked the dragons’ necks, and shaken in her hands the guiding reins as soon as she had mounted, she was borne quickly above, through unresisting air. And, sailing over Thessaly, she saw the vale of Tempe, where the level soil is widely covered with a crumbling chalk she turned her dragons towards new regions there: and she observed the herbs by Ossa born, the weeds on lofty Pelion, Othrys, Pindus and vast Olympus and from here she plucked the needed roots, or there, the blossoms clipped all with a moon-curved sickle made of brass many the wild weeds by Apidanus, as well as blue Amphrysus’ banks, she chose, and not escaped Enipeus from her search; Peneian stretches and Spercheian banks all yielded what she chose: and Boebe’s shore where sway the rushes; and she plucked up grass, a secret grass, from fair Euboean fields life-giving virtues in their waving blades, as yet unknown for transformation wrought on Glaucus.
All those fields she visited, with ceaseless diligence in quest of charms, nine days and nine nights sought strong herbs, and the swift dragons with their active wings, failed not to guide the chariot where she willed until they reached her home. The dragons then had not been even touched by anything, except the odor of surrounding herbs, and yet they sloughed their skins, the growth of years.
She would not cross the threshold of her home nor pass its gates; but, standing in the field, alone beneath the canopy of Heaven, she shunned all contact with her husband, while she built up from the ever-living turf two altars, one of which upon the right to Hecate was given, but the one upon the left was sacred then to you, O Hebe, goddess of eternal youth!
Festooning woodland boughs and sweet vervain adorned these altars, near by which she dug as many trenches. Then, when all was done, she slaughtered a black ram, and sprinkled with blood the thirsty trenches; after which she poured from rich carchesian goblets generous wine and warm milk, grateful to propitious Gods the Deities of earth on whom she called entreating, as she did so, Pluto, lord of ghostly shades, and ravished Proserpine, that they should not, in undue haste, deprive her patient’s aged limbs of life.
When certain she compelled the God’s regard, assured her incantations and long prayers were both approved and heard, she bade her people bring out the body of her father-in-law old Aeson’s worn out body and when she had buried him in a deep slumber by her spells, as if he were a dead man, she then stretched him out upon a bed of herbs.
She ordered Jason and his servants thence, and warned them not to spy upon her rites, with eyes profane. As soon as they retired, Medea, with disheveled hair and wild abandon, as a Bacchanalian, paced times three around the blazing altars, while she dipped her torches, splintered at the top, into the trenches, dark: with blood, and lit the dipt ends in the sacred altar flames. Times three she purified the ancient man with flames, and thrice with water, and three times with sulphur, as the boiling mixture seethed and bubbled in the brazen cauldron near.
And into this, acerbic juices, roots, and flowers and seeds from vales Hemonian and mixed elixirs, into which she cast stones of strange virtue from the Orient, and sifted sands of ebbing ocean’s tide; white hoar-frost, gathered when the moon was full, the nauseating flesh and luckless wings of the uncanny screech-owl, and the entrails from a mysterious animal that changed from wolf to man, from man to wolf again; the scaly sloughing of a water-snake, the medic liver of a long-lived stag, and the hard beak and head of an old crow which was alive nine centuries before; these, and a thousand nameless things the foreign sorceress prepared and mixed, and blended all together with a branch of peaceful olive, old and dry with years. And while she stirred the withered olive branch in the hot mixture, it began to change from brown to green; and presently put forth new leaves, and soon was heavy with a wealth of luscious olives. As the ever-rising fire threw bubbling froth beyond the cauldron’s rim, the ground was covered with fresh verdure flowers and all luxuriant grasses, and green plants.
Medea, when she saw this wonder took her unsheathed knife and cut the old man’s throat; then, letting all his old blood out of him she filled his ancient veins with rich elixir. As he received it through his lips or wound, his beard and hair no longer white with age, turned quickly to their natural vigor, dark and lustrous; and his wasted form renewed, appeared in all the vigor of bright youth, no longer lean and sallow, for new blood coursed in his well-filled veins. Astonished, when released from his deep sleep, and strong in youth, his memory assured him, such he was years four times ten before that day!
Bacchus, from his celestial vantage saw this marvel, and convinced his nurses might then all regain their former vigor, he pled with Medea to restore their youth. The Colchian woman granted his request.
Section 3. Pelias. Medea and Pelias
But so her malice might be satisfied Medea feigned she had a quarrel with her husband, and for safety she had fled to Pelias. There, since the king himself was heavy with old age, his daughters gave her generous reception. And these girls the shrewd Medea in a short time won, by her false show of friendliness; and while among the most remarkable of her achievements she was telling how she had rejuvenated Aeson, and she dwelt particularly, on that strange event, these daughters were induced to hope that by some skill like this their father might regain his lost youth also. And they begged of her this boon, persuading her to name the price; no matter if it was large. She did not reply at once and seemed to hesitate, and so she held their fond minds in a deep suspense by her feigned meditation. When she had at length declared she would restore his youth, she said to them: “That you may have strong confidence in this my promised boon, the oldest leader of your flock of sheep shall be changed to a lamb again by my prized drugs.”
Straightway a wooly ram, worn out with length of untold years was brought, his great horns curved around his hollow temples. After she had cut his scrawny throat with her sharp knife Thessalian, barely staining it with his thin blood, Medea plunged his carcass in a bronze-made kettle, throwing in it at the same time juices of great potency. These made his body shrink and burnt away his two horns, and with horns his years. And now thin bleating was heard from within the pot; and even while they wondered at the sound, a lamb jumped out and frisking, ran away to find some udder with its needed milk.
Amazed the daughters looked on and, now that these promises had been performed, they urged more eagerly their first request. Three times Phoebus unyoked his steeds after their plunge in Ebro’s stream, and on the fourth night stars shown brilliant on the dark foil of the sky, and then the treacherous daughter of Aeetes set some clear water over a hot fire and put in it herbs of no potency. And now a death-like sleep held the king down, his body all relaxed, and with the king his guards, a sleep which incantations with the potency of magic words had given.
The sad king’s daughters, as they had been bid, were in his room, and with Medea stood around his bed. “Why do you hesitate,” Medea said. “You laggards, come and draw your swords; let out his old blood that I may refill his empty veins again with young blood. In your hands your father’s life and youth are resting. You, his daughters, must have love for him, and if the hopes you have are not all vain, come, do your duty by your father; drive out old age at the point of your good weapons; and let out his blood enfeebled cure him with the stroke of iron.”
Spurred on by these words, as each one of them was filial she became the leader in the most unfilial act, and that she might not be most wicked did the wicked deed. Not one could bear to see her own blows, so they turned their eyes away; and every face averted so, they blindly struck him with their cruel hands. The old man streaming with his blood, still raised himself on elbow, and half mangled tried to get up from his bed; with all those swords around him, he stretched out his pale arms and he cried: “What will you do, my daughters? What has armed you to the death of your loved father?” Their wrong courage left them, and their hands fell. When he would have said still more, Medea cut his throat and plunged his mangled body into boiling water.
Section 4. Medeae fuga.
Only because her winged dragons sailed swiftly with her up to the lofty sky, escaped Medea punishment for this unheard of crime.
Her chariot sailed above embowered Pelion long the lofty home of Chiron over Othrys, and the vale made famous where Cerambus met his fate. Cerambus, by the aid of nymphs, from there was wafted through the air on wings, when earth was covered by the overwhelming sea and so escaped Deucalion’s flood, uncrowned.
She passed by Pittane upon the left, with its huge serpent-image of hard stone, and also passed the grove called Ida’s, where the stolen bull was changed by Bacchus’ power into a hunted stag in that same vale Paris lies buried in the sand; and over fields where Mera warning harked, Medea flew; over the city of Eurypylus upon the Isle of Cos, whose women wore the horns of cattle when from there had gone the herd of Hercules; and over Rhodes beloved
of Phoebus, where Telchinian tribes dwelt, whose bad eyes corrupting power shot forth; Jove, utterly despising, thrust them deep beneath his brother’s waves; over the walls of old Carthaea, where Alcidamas had seen with wonder a tame dove arise from his own daughter’s body.
And she saw the lakes of Hyrie in Teumesia’s Vale, by swans frequented There to satisfy his love for Cycnus, Phyllius gave two living vultures: shell for him subdued a lion, and delivered it to him; and mastered a great bull, at his command; but when the wearied Phyllius refused to render to his friend the valued bull. Indignant, the youth said, “You shall regret your hasty words;” which having said, he leaped from a high precipice, as if to death; but gliding through the air, on snow-white wings, was changed into a swan Dissolved in tears, his mother Hyrie knew not he was saved; and weeping, formed the lake that bears her name.
And over Pleuron, where on trembling wings escaped the mother Combe from her sons, Medea flew; and over the far isle Calauria, sacred to Latona. She beheld the conscious fields whose lawful king, together with his queen were changed to birds.
Upon her right Cyllene could be seen; there Menephon, degraded as a beast, outraged his mother. In the distance, she beheld Cephisius, who lamented long his hapless grandson, by Apollo changed into a bloated sea-calf. And she saw the house where king Eumelus mourned the death of his aspiring son. Borne on the wings of her enchanted dragons, she arrived at Corinth, whose inhabitants, ‘tis said, from many mushrooms, watered by the rain sprang into being.
There she spent some years. But after the new wife had been burnt by the Colchian witchcraft and two seas had seen the king’s own palace all aflame, then, savagely she drew her sword, and bathed it in the blood of her own infant sons; by which atrocious act she was revenged; and she, a wife and mother, fled the sword of her own husband, Jason.
Medea amd Aegeus
On the wings of her enchanted Titan Dragons borne, she made escape, securely, nor delayed until she entered the defended walls of great Minerva’s city, at the hour when aged Periphas transformed by Jove, together with his queen, on eagle wings flew over its encircling walls: with whom the guilty Halcyone, skimming seas safely escaped, upon her balanced wings.
And after these events, Medea went to Aegeus, king of Athens, where she found protection from her enemies for all this evil done. With added wickedness Aegeus, after that, united her to him in marriage.
Section 2. Labyrinthus. Ariadnes corona. Minos and the Minotaur
King Minos, when he reached the land of Crete and left his ships, remembered he had made a vow to Jupiter, and offered up a hundred bulls. The splendid spoils of war adorned his palace. Now the infamous reproach of Crete had grown, till it exposed the double-natured shame. So, Minos, moved to cover his disgrace, resolved to hide the monster in a prison, and he built with intricate design, by Daedalus contrived, an architect of wonderful ability, and famous. This he planned of mazey wanderings that deceived the eyes, and labyrinthic passages involved. So sports the clear Maeander, in the fields of Phrygia winding doubtful; back and forth it meets itself, until the wandering stream fatigued, impedes its wearied waters’ flow; from source to sea, from sea to source involved. So Daedalus contrived innumerous paths, and windings vague, so intricate that he, the architect, hardly could retrace his steps. In this the Minotaur was long concealed, and there devoured Athenian victims sent three seasons, nine years each, till Theseus, son of Aegeus, slew him and retraced his way, finding the path by Ariadne’s thread. Without delay the victor fled from Crete, together with the loving maid, and sailed for Dia Isle of Naxos, where he left the maid forlorn, abandoned. Her, in time, lamenting and deserted, Bacchus found and for his love immortalized her name. He set in the dark heavens the bright crown that rested on her brows. Through the soft air it whirled, while all the sparkling jewels changed to flashing fires, assuming in the sky between the Serpent-holder and the Kneeler the well-known shape of Ariadne’s Crown.