TSAT's thirtieth (and final) Classic tale may well be the best-known and most significant example of transformational literature of all time: Metamorphoses, by Publius Ovidius Naso (20 Mar 43 BC - 17 AD). Born to an old, respectable, and well-to-do family, Ovid was sent to Rome to be educated. There he studied rhetoric and could have been a good orator, except that he blew off his rhetoric classes to focus on poetry instead. As well as Rome, Ovid spent time in Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily.

Metamorphoses was nearly complete in 8 AD -- the year its author was exiled to a barbaric Black Sea town called Tomis. The reasons for Ovid's exile are not entirely clear, but the most likely scenario is that he annoyed emperor Augustus Caesar. Ovid's 2 BC poem Ars amatoria ("The Art of Love"), a virtual textbook on how to seduce married women, contained a number of references to Augustus' personal prestige; in addition, it appeared a year after Augustus' grand-daughter, Julia, was banished for immorality, and at the same time as the emperor's daughter, also named Julia, recieved the same punishment for the same crime. Since Ovid retained both his property and his Roman citizenship, he probably didn't play a major part in the offense that got him exiled.

Go here for more information on Ovid.

[tsat home] [#48] [stories]
book 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Book 3
by Ovidius Naso
from the Brooks More edition, Cornhill Publishing Co., 1922

Cadmus and the dragon -- the House of Cadmus

Now Jupiter had not revealed himself,
nor laid aside the semblance of a bull,
until they stood upon the plains of Crete.

But not aware of this, her father bade
her brother Cadmus search through all the world,
until he found his sister, and proclaimed
him doomed to exile if he found her not; --
thus was he good and wicked in one deed.
When he had vainly wandered over the earth
(for who can fathom the deceits of Jove?)
Cadmus, the son of King Agenor, shunned
his country and his father's mighty wrath.

But he consulted the famed oracles
of Phoebus, and enquired of them what land
might offer him a refuge and a home.
And Phoebus answered him; "When on the plains
a heifer, that has never known the yoke,
shall cross thy path go thou thy way with her,
and follow where she leads; and when she lies,
to rest herself upon the meadow green,
there shalt thou stop, as it will be a sign
for thee to build upon that plain the walls
of a great city: and its name shall be
the City of Boeotia."

the City of Boeotia." Cadmus turned;
but hardly had descended from the cave,
Castalian, ere he saw a heifer go
unguarded, gentle-paced, without the scars
of labour on her neck. He followed close
upon her steps (and silently adored
celestial Phoebus, author of his way)
till over the channel that Cephissus wears
he forded to the fields of Panope
and even over to Boeotia. --
there stood the slow-paced heifer, and she raised
her forehead, broad with shapely horns, towards Heaven;
and as she filled the air with lowing, stretched
her side upon the tender grass, and turned
her gaze on him who followed in her path.

Cadmus gave thanks and kissed the foreign soil,
and offered salutation to the fields
and unexplored hills. Then he prepared
to make large sacrifice to Jupiter,
and ordered slaves to seek the living springs
whose waters in libation might be poured.

There was an ancient grove, whose branching trees
had never known the desecrating ax,
where hidden in the undergrowth a cave,
with oziers bending round its low-formed arch,
was hollowed in the jutting rocks -- deep-found
in the dark center of that hallowed grove --
beneath its arched roof a beauteous stream
of water welled serene. Its gloom concealed
a dragon, sacred to the war-like Mars;
crested and gorgeous with radescent scales,
and eyes that sparkled as the glow of coals.
A deadly venom had puffed up his bulk,
and from his jaws he darted forth three tongues,
and in a triple row his sharp teeth stood.

Now those who ventured of the Tyrian race,
misfortuned followers of Cadmus, took
the path that led them to this grove; and when
they cast down-splashing in the springs an urn,
the hidden dragon stretched his azure head
out from the cavern's gloom, and vented forth
terrific hissings. Horrified they dropped
their urns. A sudden trembling shook their knees;
and their life-blood was ice within their veins.

The dragon wreathed his scales in rolling knots,
and with a spring, entwisted in great folds,
reared up his bulk beyond the middle rings,
high in the air from whence was given his gaze
the extreme confines of the grove below.
A size prodigious, his enormous bulk,
if seen extended where was naught to hide,
would rival in its length the Serpent's folds,
involved betwixt the planes of the Twin Bears.
The terrified Phoenicians, whether armed
for conflict, or in flight precipitate,
or whether held incapable from fear,
he seized with sudden rage; stung them to death,
or crushed them in the grasp of crushing folds,
or blasted with the poison of his breath.

High in the Heavens the sun small shadow made
when Cadmus, wondering what detained his men,
prepared to follow them. Clothed in a skin
torn from a lion, he was armed, complete,
with lance of glittering steel; and with a dart:
but passing these he had a dauntless soul.

When he explored the grove and there beheld
the lifeless bodies, and above them stretched
the vast victorious dragon licking up
the blood that issued from their ghastly wounds;
his red tongues dripping gore; then Cadmus filled
with rage and grief; "Behold, my faithful ones!
I will avenge your deaths or I will share it!"

He spoke; and lifted up a mill-stone huge,
in his right hand, and having poised it, hurled
with a tremendous effort dealing such
a blow would crush the strongest builded walls;
yet neither did the dragon flinch the shock
nor was he wounded, for his armour-scales,
fixed in his hard and swarthy hide, repelled
the dreadful impact. Not the javelin thus,
so surely by his armoured skin was foiled,
for through the middle segment of his spine
the steel point pierced, and sank beneath the flesh,
deep in his entrails. Writhing in great pain
he turned his head upon his bleeding back,
twisting the shaft, with force prodigious shook
it back and forth, and wrenched it from the wound;
with difficulty wrenched it. But the steel
remained securely fastened in his bones.
Such agony but made increase of rage:
his throat was swollen with great knotted veins;
a white froth gathered on his poisonous jaws;
the earth resounded with his rasping scales;
he breathed upon the grass a pestilence,
steaming mephitic from his Stygian mouth.

His body writhes up in tremendous gyres;
his folds, now straighter than a beam, untwist;
he rushes forward on his vengeful foe,
his great breast crushing the deep-rooted trees.

Small space gave Cadmus to the dragon's rage,
for by the lion's spoil he stood the shock,
and thrusting in his adversary's jaws
the trusted lance gave check his mad career.
Wild in his rage the dragon bit the steel
and fixed his teeth on the keen-biting point:
out from his poisoned palate streams of gore
spouted and stained the green with sanguine spray.
Yet slight the wound for he recoiled in time,
and drew his wounded body from the spear;
by shrinking from the sharp steel saved his throat
a mortal wound. But Cadmus as he pressed
the spear-point deeper in the serpent's throat,
pursued him till an oak-tree barred the way;
to this he fixed the dragon through the neck:
the stout trunk bending with the monster's weight,
groaned at the lashing of his serpent tail.

While the brave victor gazed upon the bulk
enormous of his vanquished foe, a voice
was heard -- from whence was difficult to know,
but surely heard -- "Son of Agenor, why
art thou here standing by this carcase-worm,
for others shall behold thy body changed
into a serpent?" Terrified, amazed,
he lost his colour and his self-control;
his hair stood upright from the dreadful fright.

But lo, the hero's watchful Deity,
Minerva, from the upper realms of air
appeared before him. She commanded him
to sow the dragon's teeth in mellowed soil,
from which might spring another race of men.
And he obeyed: and as he plowed the land,
took care to scatter in the furrowed soil
the dragon's teeth; a seed to raise up man.

'Tis marvelous but true, when this was done
the clods began to move. A spear-point first
appeared above the furrows, followed next
by helmet-covered heads, nodding their cones;
their shoulders, breasts and arms weighted with spears;
and largely grew the shielded crop of men. --
so is it in the joyful theaters
when the gay curtains, rolling from the floor,
are upward drawn until the scene is shown, --
it seems as if the figures rise to view:
first we behold their faces, then we see
their bodies, and their forms by slow degrees
appear before us on the painted cloth.

Cadmus, affrighted by this host, prepared
to arm for his defence; but one of those
from earth created cried; "Arm not! Away
from civil wars!" And with his trenchant sword
he smote an earth-born brother, hand to hand;
even as the vanquished so the victor fell,
pierced by a dart some distant brother hurled;
and likewise he who cast that dart was slain:
both breathing forth their lives upon the air
so briefly theirs, expired together. All
as if demented leaped in sudden rage,
each on the other, dealing mutual wounds.

So, having lived the space allotted them,
the youthful warriors perished as they smote
the earth (their blood-stained mother) with their breasts:
and only five of all the troop remained;
of whom Echion, by Minerva warned,
called on his brothers to give up the fight,
and cast his arms away in pledge of faith. --
when Cadmus, exiled from Sidonia's gates,
builded the city by Apollo named,
these five were trusted comrades in his toil.

Actaeon -- the House of Cadmus

Now Thebes is founded, who can deem thy days
unhappy in shine exile, Cadmus? Thou,
the son-in-law of Mars and Venus; thou,
whose glorious wife has borne to shine embrace
daughters and sons? And thy grandchildren join
around thee, almost grown to man's estate. --
nor should we say, "He leads a happy life,"
Till after death the funeral rites are paid.

Thy grandson, Cadmus, was the first to cast
thy dear felicity in sorrow's gloom.
Oh, it was pitiful to witness him,
his horns outbranching from his forehead, chased
by dogs that panted for their master's blood!
If thou shouldst well inquire it will be shown
his sorrow was the crime of Fortune -- not
his guilt -- for who maintains mistakes are crimes?

Upon a mountain stained with slaughtered game,
the young Hyantian stood. Already day,
increasing to meridian, made decrease
the flitting shadows, and the hot sun shone
betwixt extremes in equal distance. Such
the hour, when speaking to his fellow friends,
the while they wandered by those lonely haunts,
actaeon of Hyantis kindly thus;
"Our nets and steel are stained with slaughtered game,
the day has filled its complement of sport;
now, when Aurora in her saffron car
brings back the light of day, we may again
repair to haunts of sport. Now Phoebus hangs
in middle sky, cleaving the fields with heat. --
enough of toil; take down the knotted nets." --
all did as he commanded; and they sought
their needed rest.

their needed rest. There is a valley called
Gargaphia; sacred to Diana, dense
with pine trees and the pointed cypress, where,
deep in the woods that fringed the valley's edge,
was hollowed in frail sandstone and the soft
white pumice of the hills an arch, so true
it seemed the art of man; for Nature's touch
ingenious had so fairly wrought the stone,
making the entrance of a grotto cool.
Upon the right a limpid fountain ran,
and babbled, as its lucid channel spread
into a clear pool edged with tender grass.
Here, when a-wearied with exciting sport,
the Sylvan goddess loved to come and bathe
her virgin beauty in the crystal pool.

After Diana entered with her nymphs,
she gave her javelin, quiver and her bow
to one accustomed to the care of arms;
she gave her mantle to another nymph
who stood near by her as she took it off;
two others loosed the sandals from her feet;
but Crocale, the daughter of Ismenus,
more skillful than her sisters, gathered up
the goddess' scattered tresses in a knot; --
her own were loosely wantoned on the breeze.

Then in their ample urns dipt up the wave
and poured it forth, the cloud-nymph Nephele,
the nymph of crystal pools called Hyale,
the rain-drop Rhanis, Psecas of the dews,
and Phyale the guardian of their urns.
And while they bathed Diana in their streams,
Actaeon, wandering through the unknown woods,
entered the precincts of that sacred grove;
with steps uncertain wandered he as fate
directed, for his sport must wait till morn. --
soon as he entered where the clear springs welled
or trickled from the grotto's walls, the nymphs,
now ready for the bath, beheld the man,
smote on their breasts, and made the woods resound,
suddenly shrieking. Quickly gathered they
to shield Diana with their naked forms, but she
stood head and shoulders taller than her guards. --
as clouds bright-tinted by the slanting sun,
or purple-dyed Aurora, so appeared
Diana's countenance when she was seen.

Oh, how she wished her arrows were at hand!
But only having water, this she took
and dashed it on his manly countenance,
and sprinkled with the avenging stream his hair,
and said these words, presage of future woe;
"Go tell it, if your tongue can tell the tale,
your bold eyes saw me stripped of all my robes."
No more she threatened, but she fixed the horns
of a great stag firm on his sprinkled brows;
she lengthened out his neck; she made his ears
sharp at the top; she changed his hands and feet;
made long legs of his arms, and covered him
with dappled hair -- his courage turned to fear.
The brave son of Autonoe took to flight,
and marveled that he sped so swiftly on. --

he saw his horns reflected in a stream
and would have said, "Ah, wretched me!" but now
he had no voice, and he could only groan:
large tears ran trickling down his face, transformed
in every feature. -- Yet, as clear remained
his understanding, and he wondered what
he should attempt to do: should he return
to his ancestral palace, or plunge deep
in vast vacuities of forest wilds?
Fear made him hesitate to trust the woods,
and shame deterred him from his homeward way.

While doubting thus his dogs espied him there:
first Blackfoot and the sharp nosed Tracer raised
the signal: Tracer of the Gnossian breed,
and Blackfoot of the Spartan: swift as wind
the others followed. Glutton, Quicksight, Surefoot,
three dogs of Arcady; then valiant Killbuck,
Tempest, fierce Hunter, and the rapid Wingfoot;
sharp-scented Chaser, and Woodranger wounded
so lately by a wild boar; savage Wildwood,
the wolf-begot with Shepherdess the cow-dog;
and ravenous Harpy followed by her twin whelps;
and thin-girt Ladon chosen from Sicyonia;
racer and Barker, brindled Spot and Tiger;
sturdy old Stout and white haired Blanche and black Smut
lusty big Lacon, trusty Storm and Quickfoot;
active young Wolfet and her Cyprian brother
black headed Snap, blazed with a patch of white hair
from forehead to his muzzle; swarthy Blackcoat
and shaggy Bristle, Towser and Wildtooth,
his sire of Dicte and his dam of Lacon;
and yelping Babbler: these and others, more
than patience leads us to recount or name.

All eager for their prey the pack surmount
rocks, cliffs and crags, precipitous -- where paths
are steep, where roads are none. He flies by routes
so oft pursued but now, alas, his flight
is from his own! -- He would have cried, "Behold
your master! -- It is I -- Actaeon!" Words
refused his will. The yelping pack pressed on.
First Blackmane seized and tore his master's back,
Savage the next, then Rover's teeth were clinched
deep in his shoulder. -- These, though tardy out,
cut through a by-path and arriving first
clung to their master till the pack came up.

The whole pack fastened on their master's flesh
till place was none for others. Groaning he
made frightful sounds that not the human voice
could utter nor the stag; and filled the hills
with dismal moans; and as a suppliant fell
down to the ground upon his trembling knees;
and turned his stricken eyes on his own dogs,
entreating them to spare him from their fangs.

But his companions, witless of his plight,
urged on the swift pack with their hunting cries.
They sought Actaeon and they vainly called,
"Actaeon! Hi! Actaeon!" just as though
he was away from them. Each time they called
he turned his head. And when they chided him,
whose indolence denied the joys of sport,
how much he wished an indolent desire
had haply held him from his ravenous pack.
Oh, how much;better 'tis to see the hunt,
and the fierce dogs, than feel their savage deeds!
They gathered round him, and they fixed their snouts
deep in his flesh: tore him to pieces, he
whose features only as a stag appeared. --
'Tis said Diana's fury raged with none
abatement till the torn flesh ceased to live.

Semele and Jupiter -- the House of Cadmus

Hapless Actaeon's end in various ways
was now regarded; some deplored his doom,
but others praised Diana's chastity;
and all gave many reasons. But the spouse
of Jove, alone remaining silent, gave
nor praise nor blame. Whenever calamity
befell the race of Cadmus she rejoiced,
in secret, for she visited her rage
on all Europa's kindred.

on all Europa's kindred. Now a fresh
occasion has been added to her grief,
and wild with jealousy of Semele,
her tongue as ever ready to her rage,
lets loose a torrent of abuse;
lets loose a torrent of abuse; "Away!
Away with words! Why should I speak of it?
Let me attack her! Let me spoil that jade!
Am I not Juno the supreme of Heaven?
Queen of the flashing scepter? Am I not
sister and wife of Jove omnipotent?
She even wishes to be known by him
a mother of a Deity, a joy
almost denied to me! Great confidence
has she in her great beauty -- nevertheless,
I shall so weave the web the bolt of Jove
would fail to save her. -- Let the Gods deny
that I am Saturn's daughter, if her shade
descend not stricken to the Stygian wave."

She rose up quickly from her shining throne,
and hidden in a cloud of fiery hue
descended to the home of Semele;
and while encompassed by the cloud, transformed
her whole appearance as to counterfeit
old Beroe, an Epidaurian nurse,
who tended Semele.

who tended Semele. Her tresses changed
to grey, her smooth skin wrinkled and her step
grown feeble as she moved with trembling limbs; --
her voice was quavering as an ancient dame's,
as Juno, thus disguised, began to talk
to Semele. When presently the name
of Jove was mentioned -- artful Juno thus;
(doubtful that Jupiter could be her love) --
"When Jove appears to pledge his love to you,
implore him to assume his majesty
and all his glory, even as he does
in presence of his stately Juno -- Yea,
implore him to caress you as a God."

With artful words as these the goddess worked
upon the trusting mind of Semele,
daughter of Cadmus, till she begged of Jove
a boon, that only hastened her sad death;
for Jove not knowing her design replied,
"Whatever thy wish, it shall not be denied,
and that thy heart shall suffer no distrust,
I pledge me by that Deity, the Waves
of the deep Stygian Lake, -- oath of the Gods."
All overjoyed at her misfortune, proud
that she prevailed, and pleased that she secured
of him a promise, that could only cause
her own disaster, Semele addressed
almighty Jove; "Come unto me in all
the splendour of thy glory, as thy might
is shown to Juno, goddess of the skies."
Fain would he stifle her disastrous tongue;
before he knew her quest the words were said;
and, knowing that his greatest oath was pledged,
he sadly mounted to the lofty skies,
and by his potent nod assembled there
the deep clouds: and the rain began to pour,
and thunder-bolts resounded.

and thunder-bolts resounded. But he strove
to mitigate his power, and armed him not
with flames overwhelming as had put to flight
his hundred-handed foe Typhoeus -- flames
too dreadful. Other thunder-bolts he took,
forged by the Cyclops of a milder heat,
with which insignia of his majesty,
sad and reluctant, he appeared to her. --
her mortal form could not endure the shock
and she was burned to ashes in his sight.

An unformed babe was rescued from her side,
and, nurtured in the thigh of Jupiter,
completed Nature's time until his birth.
Ino, his aunt, in secret nursed the boy
and cradled him. And him Nyseian nymphs
concealed in caves and fed with needful milk.

Tiresias -- blind -- prophecies

While these events according to the laws
of destiny occurred, and while the child,
the twice-born Bacchus, in his cradle lay,
'Tis told that Jupiter, a careless hour,
indulged too freely in the nectar cup;
and having laid aside all weighty cares,
jested with Juno as she idled by.

Freely the god began; "Who doubts the truth?
The female's pleasure is a great delight,
much greater than the pleasure of a male."
Juno denied it; wherefore 'twas agreed
to ask Tiresias to declare the truth,
than whom none knew both male and female joys:
for wandering in a green wood he had seen
two serpents coupling; and he took his staff
and sharply struck them, till they broke and fled.
'Tis marvelous, that instant he became
a woman from a man, and so remained
while seven autumns passed. When eight were told,
again he saw them in their former plight,
and thus he spoke; "Since such a power was wrought,
by one stroke of a staff my sex was changed --
again I strike!" And even as he struck
the same two snakes, his former sex returned;
his manhood was restored. --

his manhood was restored. -- as both agreed
to choose him umpire of the sportive strife,
he gave decision in support of Jove;
from this the disappointment Juno felt
surpassed all reason, and enraged, decreed
eternal night should seal Tiresias' eyes. --
immortal Deities may never turn
decrees and deeds of other Gods to naught,
but Jove, to recompense his loss of sight,
endowed him with the gift of prophecy.

Narcissus and Echo -- the House of Cadmus

Tiresias' fame of prophecy was spread
through all the cities of Aonia,
for his unerring answers unto all
who listened to his words. And first of those
that harkened to his fateful prophecies,
a lovely Nymph, named Liriope, came
with her dear son, who then fifteen, might seem
a man or boy -- he who was born to her
upon the green merge of Cephissus' stream --
that mighty River-God whom she declared
the father of her boy. --

the father of her boy. -- she questioned him.
Imploring him to tell her if her son,
unequalled for his beauty, whom she called
Narcissus, might attain a ripe old age.
To which the blind seer answered in these words,
"If he but fail to recognize himself,
a long life he may have, beneath the sun," --
so, frivolous the prophet's words appeared;
and yet the event, the manner of his death,
the strange delusion of his frenzied love, confirmed it.

Three times five years so were passed.
Another five-years, and the lad might seem
a young man or a boy. And many a youth,
and many a damsel sought to gain his love;
but such his mood and spirit and his pride,
none gained his favour.

none gained his favour. Once a noisy Nymph,
(who never held her tongue when others spoke,
who never spoke till others had begun)
mocking Echo, spied him as he drove,
in his delusive nets, some timid stags. --

for Echo was a Nymph, in olden time, --
and, more than vapid sound, -- possessed a form:
and she was then deprived the use of speech,
except to babble and repeat the words,
once spoken, over and over.

once spoken, over and over. Juno confused
her silly tongue, because she often held
that glorious goddess with her endless tales,
till many a hapless Nymph, from Jove's embrace,
had made escape adown a mountain. But
for this, the goddess might have caught them. Thus
the glorious Juno, when she knew her guile;
"Your tongue, so freely wagged at my expense,
shall be of little use; your endless voice,
much shorter than your tongue." At once the Nymph
was stricken as the goddess had decreed; --
and, ever since, she only mocks the sounds
of others' voices, or, perchance, returns
their final words.

their final words. One day, when she observed
Narcissus wandering in the pathless woods,
she loved him and she followed him, with soft
and stealthy tread. -- The more she followed him
the hotter did she burn, as when the flame
flares upward from the sulphur on the torch.

Oh, how she longed to make her passion known!
To plead in soft entreaty! to implore his love!
But now, till others have begun, a mute
of Nature she must be. She cannot choose
but wait the moment when his voice may give
to her an answer.

to her an answer. Presently the youth,
by chance divided from his trusted friends,
cries loudly, "Who is here?" and Echo, "Here!"
Replies. Amazed, he casts his eyes around,
and calls with louder voice, "Come here!" "Come here!"
She calls the youth who calls. -- He turns to see
who calls him and, beholding naught exclaims,
"Avoid me not!" "Avoid me not!" returns.

He tries again, again, and is deceived
by this alternate voice, and calls aloud;
"Oh let us come together!" Echo cries,
"Oh let us come together!" Never sound
seemed sweeter to the Nymph, and from the woods
she hastens in accordance with her words,
and strives to wind her arms around his neck.
He flies from her and as he leaves her says,
"Take off your hands! you shall not fold your arms
around me. Better death than such a one
should ever caress me!" Naught she answers save,
"Caress me!"

"Caress me!" Thus rejected she lies hid
in the deep woods, hiding her blushing face
with the green leaves; and ever after lives
concealed in lonely caverns in the hills.

But her great love increases with neglect;
her miserable body wastes away,
wakeful with sorrows; leanness shrivels up
her skin, and all her lovely features melt,
as if dissolved upon the wafting winds --
nothing remains except her bones and voice --
her voice continues, in the wilderness;
her bones have turned to stone. She lies concealed
in the wild woods, nor is she ever seen
on lonely mountain range; for, though we hear
her calling in the hills, 'tis but a voice,
a voice that lives, that lives among the hills.

Thus he deceived the Nymph and many more,
sprung from the mountains or the sparkling waves;
and thus he slighted many an amorous youth. --
and therefore, some one whom he once despised,
lifting his hands to Heaven, implored the Gods,
"If he should love deny him what he loves!"
and as the prayer was uttered it was heard
by Nemesis, who granted her assent.


There was a fountain silver-clear and bright,
which neither shepherds nor the wild she-goats,
that range the hills, nor any cattle's mouth
had touched -- its waters were unsullied -- birds
disturbed it not; nor animals, nor boughs
that fall so often from the trees. Around
sweet grasses nourished by the stream grew; trees
that shaded from the sun let balmy airs
temper its waters. Here Narcissus, tired
of hunting and the heated noon, lay down,
attracted by the peaceful solitudes
and by the glassy spring. There as he stooped
to quench his thirst another thirst increased.

While he is drinking he beholds himself
reflected in the mirrored pool -- and loves;
loves an imagined body which contains
no substance, for he deems the mirrored shade
a thing of life to love. He cannot move,
for so he marvels at himself, and lies
with countenance unchanged, as if indeed
a statue carved of Parian marble. Long,
supine upon the bank, his gaze is fixed
on his own eyes, twin stars; his fingers shaped
as Bacchus might desire, his flowing hair
as glorious as Apollo's, and his cheeks
youthful and smooth; his ivory neck, his mouth
dreaming in sweetness, his complexion fair
and blushing as the rose in snow-drift white.
All that is lovely in himself he loves,
and in his witless way he wants himself: --
he who approves is equally approved;
he seeks, is sought, he burns and he is burnt.

And how he kisses the deceitful fount;
and how he thrusts his arms to catch the neck
that's pictured in the middle of the stream!
Yet never may he wreathe his arms around
that image of himself. He knows not what
he there beholds, but what he sees inflames
his longing, and the error that deceives
allures his eyes. But why, O foolish boy,
so vainly catching at this flitting form?
The cheat that you are seeking has no place.
Avert your gaze and you will lose your love,
for this that holds your eyes is nothing save
the image of yourself reflected back to you.
It comes and waits with you; it has no life;
it will depart if you will only go.

Nor food nor rest can draw him thence -- outstretched
upon the overshadowed green, his eyes
fixed on the mirrored image never may know
their longings satisfied, and by their sight
he is himself undone. Raising himself
a moment, he extends his arms around,
and, beckoning to the murmuring forest; "Oh,
ye aisled wood was ever man in love
more fatally than I? Your silent paths
have sheltered many a one whose love was told,
and ye have heard their voices. Ages vast
have rolled away since your forgotten birth,
but who is he through all those weary years
that ever pined away as I? Alas,
this fatal image wins my love, as I
behold it. But I cannot press my arms
around the form I see, the form that gives
me joy. What strange mistake has intervened
betwixt us and our love? It grieves me more
that neither lands nor seas nor mountains, no,
nor walls with closed gates deny our loves,
but only a little water keeps us far
asunder. Surely he desires my love
and my embraces, for as oft I strive
to kiss him, bending to the limpid stream
my lips, so often does he hold his face
fondly to me, and vainly struggles up.
It seems that I could touch him. 'Tis a strange
delusion that is keeping us apart.
"Whoever thou art, Come up! Deceive me not!
Oh, whither when I fain pursue art thou?
Ah, surely I am young and fair, the Nymphs
have loved me; and when I behold thy smiles
I cannot tell thee what sweet hopes arise.
When I extend my loving arms to thee
thine also are extended me -- thy smiles
return my own. When I was weeping, I
have seen thy tears, and every sign I make
thou cost return; and often thy sweet lips
have seemed to move, that, peradventure words,
which I have never heard, thou hast returned.
"No more my shade deceives me, I perceive
'Tis I in thee -- I love myself -- the flame
arises in my breast and burns my heart --
what shall I do? Shall I at once implore?
Or should I linger till my love is sought?
What is it I implore? The thing that I
desire is mine -- abundance makes me poor.
Oh, I am tortured by a strange desire
unknown to me before, for I would fain
put off this mortal form; which only means
I wish the object of my love away.
Grief saps my strength, the sands of life are run,
and in my early youth am I cut off;
but death is not my bane -- it ends my woe. --
I would not death for this that is my love,
as two united in a single soul
would die as one."

would die as one." He spoke; and crazed with love,
returned to view the same face in the pool;
and as he grieved his tears disturbed the stream,
and ripples on the surface, glassy clear,
defaced his mirrored form. And thus the youth,
when he beheld that lovely shadow go;
"Ah whither cost thou fly? Oh, I entreat
thee leave me not. Alas, thou cruel boy
thus to forsake thy lover. Stay with me
that I may see thy lovely form, for though
I may not touch thee I shall feed my eyes
and soothe my wretched pains." And while he spoke
he rent his garment from the upper edge,
and beating on his naked breast, all white
as marble, every stroke produced a tint
as lovely as the apple streaked with red,
or as the glowing grape when purple bloom
touches the ripening clusters.

touches the ripening clusters. When as glass
again the rippling waters smoothed, and when
such beauty in the stream the youth observed,
no more could he endure. As in the flame
the yellow wax, or as the hoar-frost melts
in early morning 'neath the genial sun;
so did he pine away, by love consumed,
and slowly wasted by a hidden flame.
No vermeil bloom now mingled in the white
of his complexion fair; no strength has he,
no vigor, nor the comeliness that wrought
for love so long: alas, that handsome form
by Echo fondly loved may please no more.

But when she saw him in his hapless plight,
though angry at his scorn, she only grieved.
As often as the love-lore boy complained,
"Alas!" "Alas!" her echoing voice returned;
and as he struck his hands against his arms,
she ever answered with her echoing sounds.
And as he gazed upon the mirrored pool
he said at last, "Ah, youth beloved in vain!"
"In vain, in vain!" the spot returned his words;
and when he breathed a sad "farewell!" "Farewell!"
sighed Echo too. He laid his wearied head,
and rested on the verdant grass; and those
bright eyes, which had so loved to gaze, entranced,
on their own master's beauty, sad Night closed.
And now although among the nether shades
his sad sprite roams, he ever loves to gaze
on his reflection in the Stygian wave.

His Naiad sisters mourned, and having clipped
their shining tresses laid them on his corpse:
and all the Dryads mourned: and Echo made
lament anew. And these would have upraised
his funeral pyre, and waved the flaming torch,
and made his bier; but as they turned their eyes
where he had been, alas he was not there!
And in his body's place a sweet flower grew,
golden and white, the white around the gold.

Pentheus and Bacchus

Narcissus' fate, when known throughout the land
and cities of Achaia, added fame
deserved, to blind Tiresias, -- mighty seer.
Yet Pentheus, bold despiser of the Gods,
son of Echion, scoffed at all his praise,
and, sole of man deriding the great seer,
upbraided him his hapless loss of sight.

And shaking his white temples, hoar with age.
Tiresias of Pentheus prophesied,
"Oh glad the day to thee, if, light denied,
thine eyes, most fortunate, should not behold
the Bacchanalian rites! The day will come,
and soon the light will dawn, when Bacchus, born
of Semele, shall make his advent known --
all hail the new god Bacchus! Either thou
must build a temple to this Deity,
or shalt be torn asunder; thy remains,
throughout the forest scattered, will pollute
the wood with sanguinary streams; and thy
life-blood bespatter with corrupting blots
thy frenzied mother and her sisters twain.
And all shall come to pass, as I have told,
because thou wilt not honour the New God.
And thou shalt wail and marvel at the sight
of blind Tiresias, though veiled in night."

And as he spoke, lo, Pentheus drove the seer:
but all his words, prophetic, were fulfilled,
and confirmation followed in his steps. --

Bacchus at once appears, and all the fields
resound with shouts of everybody there. --
men, brides and matrons, and a howling rout --
nobles and commons and the most refined --
a motley multitude -- resistless borne
to join those rites of Bacchus, there begun.

Then Pentheus cries; "What madness, O ye brave
descendants of the Dragon! Sons of Mars!
What frenzy has confounded you? Can sounds
of clanging brass prevail; and pipes and horns,
and magical delusions, drunkenness,
and yelling women, and obscene displays,
and hollow drums, overcome you, whom the sword,
nor troops of war, nor trumpet could affright?
"How shall I wonder at these ancient men,
who, crossing boundless seas from distant Tyre,
hither transferred their exiled Household Gods,
and founded a new Tyre; but now are shorn,
and even as captives would be led away
without appeal to Mars? And, O young men,
of active prime whose vigor equals mine!
Cast down your ivy scepters; take up arms;
put on your helmets; strip your brows of leaves;
be mindful of the mighty stock you are,
and let your souls be animated with
the spirit of that dauntless dragon, which,
unaided, slew so many, and at last
died to defend his fountain and his lake. --
so ye may conquer in the hope of fame.
"He gave the brave to death, but with your arms
ye shall expel the worthless, and enhance
the glory of your land. If Fate decree
the fall of Thebes, Oh, let the engines
of war and men pull down its walls, and let
the clash of steel and roaring flames resound.
Thus, blameless in great misery, our woes
would be the theme of lamentations, known
to story; and our tears would shame us not.
"But now an unarmed boy will conquer Thebes:
a lad whom neither weapons, wars nor steeds
delight; whose ringlets reek with myrrh; adorned
with chaplets, purple and embroidered robes
of interwoven gold. Make way for me!
And I will soon compel him to confess
his father is assumed and all his rites
are frauds.
are frauds. "If in days gone Acrisius
so held this vain god in deserved contempt,
and shut the Argive gates against his face,
why, therefore, should not Pentheus close the gates
of Thebes, with equal courage -- Hence! Away!
Fetch the vile leader of these rioters
in chains! Let not my mandate be delayed."

Him to restrain his grandsire, Cadmus, strove;
and Athamas, and many of his trusted friends
united in vain efforts to rebuke
his reckless rage; but greater violence
was gained from every admonition. --
his rage increased the more it was restrained,
and injury resulted from his friends.
So have I seen a stream in open course,
run gently on its way with pleasant noise,
but whensoever logs and rocks detained,
it foamed, with violence increased, against

obstruction. Presently returning came
his servants stained with blood, to whom he said,
"What have ye done with Bacchus?" And to him
they made reply; "Not Bacchus have we seen,
but we have taken his attendant lad,
the chosen servant of his sacred rites."
And they delivered to the noble king,
a youth whose hands were lashed behind his back.

Then Pentheus, terrible in anger, turned
his awful gaze upon the lad, and though
he scarce deferred his doom, addressed him thus;
"Doomed to destruction, thou art soon to give
example to my people by thy death:
tell me thy name; what are thy parents called;
where is thy land; and wherefore art thou found
attendant on these Bacchanalian rites."

But fearless he replied; "They call my name
Acoetes; and Maeonia is the land
from whence I came. My parents were so poor,
my father left me neither fruitful fields,
tilled by the lusty ox, nor fleecy sheep,
nor lowing kine; for, he himself was poor,
and with his hook and line was wont to catch
the leaping fishes, landed by his rod.
His skill was all his wealth. And when to me
he gave his trade, he said, 'You are the heir
of my employment, therefore unto you
all that is mine I give,' and, at his death,
he left me nothing but the running waves. --
they are the sum of my inheritance.
"And, afterwhile, that I might not be bound
forever to my father's rocky shores,
I learned to steer the keel with dextrous hand;
and marked with watchful gaze the guiding stars;
the watery Constellation of the Goat,
Olenian, and the Bear, the Hyades,
the Pleiades, the houses of the winds,
and every harbour suitable for ships.
"So chanced it, as I made for Delos, first
I veered close to the shores of Chios: there
I steered, by plying on the starboard oar,
and nimbly leaping gained the sea-wet strand.
"Now when the night was past and lovely dawn
appeared, I,rose from slumber, and I bade
my men to fetch fresh water, and I showed
the pathway to the stream. Then did I climb
a promontory's height, to learn from there
the promise of the winds; which having done,
I called the men and sought once more my ship.
Opheltes, first of my companions, cried,
'Behold we come!' And, thinking he had caught
a worthy prize in that unfruitful land,
he led a boy, of virgin-beauty formed,
across the shore.
across the shore. "Heavy with wine and sleep
the lad appeared to stagger on his way, --
with difficulty moving. When I saw
the manner of his dress, his countenance
and grace, I knew it was not mortal man,
and being well assured, I said to them;
'What Deity abideth in that form
I cannot say; but 'tis a god in truth. --
O whosoever thou art, vouchsafe to us
propitious waters; ease our toils, and grant
to these thy grace.'
to these thy grace.' "At this, the one of all
my mariners who was the quickest hand,
who ever was the nimblest on the yards,
and first to slip the ropes, Dictys exclaimed;
'Pray not for us!' and all approved his words.
The golden haired, the guardian of the prow,
Melanthus, Libys and Alcimedon
approved it; and Epopeus who should urge
the flagging spirits, and with rhythmic chants
give time and measure to the beating oars,
and all the others praised their leader's words, --
so blind is greed of gain. -- Then I rejoined,
'Mine is the greatest share in this good ship,
which I will not permit to be destroyed,
nor injured by this sacred freight:' and I
opposed them as they came.
opposed them as they came. "Then Lycabas,
the most audacious of that impious crew,
began to rage. He was a criminal,
who, for a dreadful murder, had been sent
in exile from a Tuscan city's gates.
Whilst I opposed he gripped me by the throat,
and shook me as would cast me in the deep,
had I not firmly held a rope, half stunned:
and all that wicked crew approved the deed.
"Then Bacchus (be assured it was the God)
as though the noise disturbed his lethargy
from wine, and reason had regained its power,
at last bespake the men, 'What deeds are these?
What noise assails my ears? What means decoyed
my wandering footsteps? Whither do ye lead?'
'Fear not,' the steersman said, 'but tell us fair
the haven of your hope, and you shall land
whereso your heart desires.' 'To Naxos steer,'
Quoth Bacchus, 'for it is indeed my home,
and there the mariner finds welcome cheer.'
Him to deceive, they pledged themselves, and swore
by Gods of seas and skies to do his will:
and they commanded me to steer that way.
"The Isle of Naxos was upon our right;
and when they saw the sails were set that way,
they all began to shout at once, 'What, ho!
Thou madman! what insanity is this,
Acoetes? Make our passage to the left.'
And all the while they made their meaning known
by artful signs or whispers in my ears.
"I was amazed and answered, 'Take the helm.'
And I refused to execute their will,
atrocious, and at once resigned command.
Then all began to murmur, and the crew
reviled me. Up Aethalion jumped and said,
'As if our only safety is in you!'
With this he swaggered up and took command;
and leaving Naxos steered for other shores.
"Then Bacchus, mocking them, -- as if but then
he had discovered their deceitful ways, --
looked on the ocean from the rounded stern,
and seemed to sob as he addressed the men;
'Ah mariners, what alien shores are these?
'Tis not the land you promised nor the port
my heart desires. For what have I deserved
this cruel wrong? What honour can accrue
if strong men mock a boy; a lonely youth
if many should deceive?' And as he spoke,
I, also, wept to see their wickedness.
"The impious gang made merry at our tears,
and lashed the billows with their quickening oars.
By Bacchus do I swear to you (and naught
celestial is more potent) all the things
I tell you are as true as they surpass
the limit of belief. The ship stood still
as if a dry dock held it in the sea. --
"The wondering sailors laboured at the oars,
and they unfurled the sails, in hopes to gain
some headway, with redoubled energies;
but twisting ivy tangled in the oars,
and interlacing held them by its weight.
And Bacchus in the midst of all stood crowned
with chaplets of grape-leaves, and shook a lance
covered with twisted fronds of leafy vines.
Around him crouched the visionary forms
of tigers, lynxes, and the mottled shapes
of panthers.
of panthers. "Then the mariners leaped out,
possessed by fear or madness. Medon first
began to turn a swarthy hue, and fins
grew outward from his flattened trunk,
and with a curving spine his body bent. --
then Lycabas to him, 'What prodigy
is this that I behold?' Even as he spoke,
his jaws were broadened and his nose was bent;
his hardened skin was covered with bright scales.
And Libys, as he tried to pull the oars,
could see his own hands shrivel into fins;
another of the crew began to grasp
the twisted ropes, but even as he strove
to lift his arms they fastened to his sides; --
with bending body and a crooked back
he plunged into the waves, and as he swam
displayed a tail, as crescent as the moon.
"Now here, now there, they flounce about the ship;
they spray her decks with brine; they rise and sink;
they rise again, and dive beneath the waves;
they seem in sportive dance upon the main;
out from their nostrils they spout sprays of brine;
they toss their supple sides. And I alone,
of twenty mariners that manned that ship,
remained. A cold chill seized my limbs, --
I was so frightened; but the gracious God
now spake me fair, 'Fear not and steer for Naxos.'
And when we landed there I ministered
on smoking altars Bacchanalian rites."

But Pentheus answered him: "A parlous tale,
and we have listened to the dreary end,
hoping our anger might consume its rage; --
away with him! hence drag him, hurl him out,
with dreadful torture, into Stygian night."

Quickly they seized and dragged Acoetes forth,
and cast him in a dungeon triple-strong.
And while they fixed the instruments of death,
kindled the fires, and wrought the cruel irons,
the legend says, though no one aided him,
the chains were loosened and slipped off his arms;
the doors flew open of their own accord.

But Pentheus, long-persisting in his rage,
not caring to command his men to go,
himself went forth to Mount Cithaeron, where
resound with singing and with shrilly note
the votaries of Bacchus at their rites.
As when with sounding brass the trumpeter
alarms of war, the mettled charger neighs
and scents the battle; so the clamored skies
resounding with the dreadful outcries fret
the wrath of Pentheus and his rage enflame.

About the middle of the mount (with groves
around its margin) was a treeless plain,
where nothing might conceal. Here as he stood
to view the sacred rites with impious eyes,
his mother saw him first. She was so wrought
with frenzy that she failed to know her son,
and cast her thyrsus that it wounded him;
and shouted, "Hi! come hither, Ho!
Come hither my two sisters! a great boar
hath strayed into our fields; come! see me strike
and wound him!"

and wound him!" As he fled from them in fright
the raging multitude rushed after him;
and, as they gathered round; in cowardice
he cried for mercy and condemned himself,
confessing he had sinned against a God.
And as they wounded him he called his aunt;
"Autonoe have mercy! Let the shade
of sad Actaeon move thee to relent!"
No pity moved her when she heard that name;
in a wild frenzy she forgot her son.
While Pentheus was imploring her, she tore
his right arm out; her sister Ino wrenched
the other from his trunk. He could not stretch
his arms out to his mother, but he cried,
"Behold me, mother!" When Agave saw,
his bleeding limbs, torn, scattered on the ground,
she howled, and tossed her head, and shook her hair
that streamed upon the breeze; and when his head
was wrenched out from his mangled corpse,
she clutched it with her blood-smeared fingers, while
she shouted, "Ho! companions! victory!
The victory is ours!" So when the wind
strips from a lofty tree its leaves, which touched
by autumn's cold are loosely held, they fall
not quicker than the wretch's bleeding limbs
were torn asunder by their cursed hands.

Now, frightened by this terrible event,
the women of Ismenus celebrate
the new Bacchantian rites; and they revere
the sacred altars, heaped with frankincense.

book 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
[tsat home] [#48] [stories]