Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Books III and IV of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The Metamorphoses read-along continues with Books III and IV...

Book III

Cadmus | Acteaon | Semele | Teirésias | Narcíssus and Echo | Pentheus and Bacchus [I]
Acoletes and the Lydian Sailors | Pentheus and Bacchus [II]


Cadmus Slays the Dragon by Hendrick Goltzius (1588).
Dragons tooth → Spartoi ("sown men"), the founders of Thebes

We left Book II with Jupiter, disguised as a bull, carrying off Europa into the sea. It falls to Europa's brother Cadmus to find her or face being exiled by their father. When he is unsuccessful he turns to the Oracle of Apollo to ask for assistance, and is told,
If you make for the wilds, you will soon be met
by a cow that has never been yoked or harnessed to draw a ploughshare.
She is to guide your path, and where she settles for grazing,
found a city with walls and name the region Boeótia.
He finds the cow and follows her and when they reach the spot he makes a sacrifice to Jupiter but he and his men encounter a dragon. Only Cadmus survives and, guided by Minerva, he slays the dragon and buries the dragon's tooth. From that a race of warriors are born and they fight each other until only six remain: Cadmus, Echíon, and four others not mentioned by name (Udaeus, Chthonius, Hyperenor and Pelorus). Together they found Thebes.


Diana Turns Actaeon into a Stag by Hendrick van Balen (1605).
Actaeon → Stag

Ovid continues, telling us of what happened next for Cadmus:
Thebes had her walls, and Cadmus' exile might have thought
to have brought him nothing but luck. He had married Harmónia, daughter
of Mars and Venus, a most prestigious match which had yielded
a brood of numerous sons and daughters and much-loved grandsons,
grown into fine young men. But never forget the ancient
saying: 'Wait for the final day. Call no man happy
until he is dead and his body is laid to rest in the grave.'
He goes on to tell the story of Cadmus' grandson Actaeon: one day he and his men are out walking when Actaeon accidentally Diana and her maids bathing. She splashes him with water, saying,
'Now you may tell the story of seeing Diana naked -
If story-telling is in your power!'
And there she turns him into a stag. He flees, but his own hunting dogs kill him.


Jupiter and Semele by Gustave Moreau (1894-95).
Juno → Beroë 

When Juno, Jupiter's wife, hears of Actaeon's fate she "quietly gloated", reminding us that Actaeon's grandfather was Cadmus, the brother of Europa who Jupiter had kidnapped. However when she learns that Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and a favourite of Jupiter's, is pregnant with Jupiter's child she flies into a fury and is determined to destroy her. She disguises herself as Semele's nurse Beroë and advises, "If his godhead is genuine, make him give you a pledge of his love.
'... Ask him to take you in all the majestic splendour he showswhen he comes to the arms of Juno, dressed in his full regalia!'
When next she sees Jupiter Semele asks him to grant whatever she wishes, and he swears on the River Styx he will. She asks,
Come to my bed as you come to your wife, when Juno
embraces your body divine in the pact of Venus!
Unable to refuse he does so:
And so, with a heavy sigh and a heavier heart, he ascended
the heights of the sky.
As his face grew dark, the mists closed around him;he gathered his threatening clouds, the gales with the flashing lightening,the rumbling thunder and fearful bolts that none can escape.
But he did whatever he could to lessen his violent impact.
The flaming bolt with which he had hurtled the hundred-headed
Typhon to earth was left on the shelf, too deadly to use.
Instead he seized a less heavy weapon ('his everyday missile',they call it in heaven) forged by the Cýclopes, giant smiths, to be less fiery and fierce, less charged with the power of his anger.
Semele is killed but her baby is saved: the baby who will come to be known as Bacchus ("twice-born":rescued once from his mother's womb, then stitched into Jupiter's thigh to be born again).


Teirésias (man) → Teirésias (woman) → Teirésias (man)

In this Jupiter, drunk, observes to Juno that he believes women enjoy sex more than men. Juno disagrees so they decide to ask Teirésias who, as Ovid tells, has been both a man and a woman: as a man he encountered two snakes mating and he hits them with his staff and by doing so he is turned into a woman for seven years, after which he sees the two snakes again, hits them again, and is turned back into a man. He confirms Jupiter's suspicions that women enjoy sex more, so Juno blinds him. Jupiter tries to comensate and gives him the gift of clairvoyance (he is depicted as a clairvoyant in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles).

Narcíssus and Echo

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903).
Echo  an echo
Narcissus  a daffodil (Latin name: Narcissus)

One of the first to consult Teirésias is Líriope, who had once been raped by Cephisus the river-god and given birth to Narcíssus. She asks him if her son will live to old age, and he replies "Yes... so long as he never knows himself". Ovid goes on to tell of how Narcíssus "died of a curious passion". Here we meet Echo, a talkative young nymph who once distracted Juno from catching Jupiter once again being unfaithful. To punish her, "Echo could only repeat the words she heard at the end of a sentence and never reply for herself". One day Echo encounters Narcíssus and falls in love with him, however he is uninterested as she cannot speak for herself. As she wastes away in her heartache to nothing but her voice Narcíssus sees his reflection and falls in love. He too pines away, and he dies:
The body, however, was not to be found -
only a flower with a trumpet of gold and pale white petals.
Pentheus and Bacchus [I]

The birth of the Sun and the Triumph of Bacchus by Corrado Giaquinto (1761).
The fate of Narcíssus boosts Teirésias' repuation, however Péntheus, son of Echicon (one of the founders of Thebes) treats the gods with contempt and calls him a blind old fool. Teirésias responds by telling him he will be punished by Bacchus for this. When Bacchus arrives in Thebes the wild festivities begin. Péntheus attempts to capture Bacchus however his men return with Acoetes, a new convert. Péntheus asks him,
Where is your home, and why do you practise this new religion?
Aloetes and the Lydian Sailors

Sailors → Dolphins

Aloetes proceeds to tell his story: when he was a fisherman he and his friends took a young boy captive. This boy, it was later revealed, was Bacchus. Aloetes realises and tries to convince the other sailors but they don't believe it, and Bacchus eventually turns them all (except Aloetes) into dolphins.

Pentheus and Bacchus [II]

Pentheus, Being Chased by the Maenads by Marc Charles Gabriel Gleyre.
Pentheus is unconvinced and he goes to the festival, however in the chaos and frenzy he is mistaken by his mother to be a wild boar. The women descend upon him and tear him apart, killing him.

Book IV

The Daughters of Minyas [I] | Pyramus and Thisbe | Mars and Venus
Leucothoë and Clytië | Salmacis and Hermaphroditus
The Daughters of Minyas [II] | Ino and Athamas | Cadmus and Harmonia | Perseus [I]

The Daughters of Minyas [I]

Since Pentheus was torn apart at the Bacchus festival very few people now question Bacchus' status as a god. However Alcíthoë and her sisters - the daughters of Minyas - still refuse to believe and concentrate their devotions to Minerva. As the festival goes on the sisters stay at home at their looms and decide to tell each other stories.

Pyramus and Thisbe

Thisbe by John William Waterhouse (1909).
White-berried mulberry bush → Red-berried mulberry bush

The story one of the sisters tells is that of Pyramus and Thisbe: the two fall in love but their fathers oppose the marriage and the only way they can communicate is through a crack in the wall that divides them. They decide to run away and meet each other at the tomb of Ninus under a mulberry tree - "a tree which was tall and heavily laden with snow-white berries". Thisbe arrives first however she is almost attacked by a lion who smears her cloak with the blood of a cow recently slaughtered. Pyramus later arrives and finds the cloak, and, assuming it is the blood of Thisbe, he stabs himself with his sword. Thisbe returns from her hiding place and finds him. She too kills herself with the sword, and their blood turns the mulberry bush red.

Mars and Venus

Venus and Mars by Frans Floris.
In this short tale Leuconoë tells of how the affair between Mars and Venus is revealed by the Sun, Hyperion.

Leucothoë and Clytië

Clytie by Evelyn de Morgan (1887).
Clytië → Sunflower

In this Venus takes her revenge: she makes the Sun fall in love with Leucothoë. He is love-sick for her - rising too early to see her and setting too late in the day. When his love-sickness is too much he doesn't rise for days leaving the earth in darkness. They have an affair but Clytië, who herself is in love with him, tells Leucothoë's father who buries her alive. Hyperion cannot restore her despite his efforts. Clytië's plan to win the Sun of course fail, and -
She never stirred from the spot. She only gazed on the face
of the god in the sky and followed his course with her turning head.
They say that her limbs caught fast in the ground, and a bloodless pallor
changed her complexion in part to leaves of a yellowish green;
but the red in her cheeks remained and a flower like violet covered
her face - the heliotrope, which is firmly rooted but turns
on its stem to its lover the Sun, still keeping faith in its new form.
Salmacis and Hermaphroditus

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus by Scarsellino (1585).
Salmacis and Hermaphroditus → One person (inter-sex)

Alcíthoë is the next of the daughters of Minyas to tell a story. She tells of Hermaphroditus, the son of Aphrodite and Mercury with whom a nymph, Salmacis, takes a fancy to. He rejects her however she grasps him and prays to the gods to make them one. The gods answer her prayer and they become one.

The Daughters of Minyas [II]

The Daughters of Minyas by Jean Le Pautre (1676).
Daughters of Minyas → Bats

At the end of these stories told by the sisters worshippers of Bacchus arrive and they turn the sisters into bats.
... When they tried to speak, their minuscule bodies would only
allow them to sigh for their lot in the thinnest and shrillest of squeaks.
Their haunts are covered spaces, not trees; as they loathe the daylight,
they fly in the night and take their Latin name from the evening [vespertilio meaning 'bat', from vesper, meaning 'evening']
Ino and Athamas

The Fury of Athamas by John Flaxman (1790-94).
Ino → Lucothoë
Her son → Palaémon
Her friends → Rocks and gulls

Bacchus' success and status as a god is confirmed, much to the anger of Juno. She visits the House of the Dead and plans to drive Athamas and his wife of Ino (daughter of Cadmus) mad. With the help of the Furies she succeeds and Athmas, believing his wife and children to be a lioness and cubs, kills one of the children. Ino escapes by leaping into the sea with her other child and Neptune turns them into sea deities: Ino becomes Lucothoë and her son Palaémon. Ino's friends mourn and attempt to jump into the sea with her, so Juno turns them into rocks and seagulls.

Cadmus and Harmonia

Cadmus and Harmonia by Evelyn de Morgan (1877).
Cadmus and Harmonia → Snakes

The happiness of Cadmus, as promised, is indeed only transitory. Deeply unhappy at his family's fate Cadmus he leaves Thebes and wishes to the gods that he would turn into a snake. His wish is granted, and Harmonia wanting to stay with her husband wishes the same. The two become snakes and slither off together.

Perseus [I]

Atlas → Mountain
Plants → Rocks → Coral
Medusa's blood → Chrysaor and Pegasus
Medusa's hair → Snakes

The final tale of Book IV is that of Perseus, son of Danae who was impregnated by Jupiter with a shower of gold. He travels the earth with his winged sandals, and one day comes across the garden of Atlas and sees the Apples of the Hesperides (golden apples). Atlas refuses to let him in, having foretold that a son of Jupiter would steal the apples, so Perseus leans over to steal one and there he finds the head of Medusa, who he had previously slain. Atlas sees the head and is promptly turned into a mountain which now supports the heavens. Perseus leaves and soon encounters chained to a rock the Ethiopian princess Andromeda with whom he falls in love. He can only marry her if he battles the monster who is about to kill her. He does so, they are married, and at the wedding feast he places Medusa's head facing down on a platter softened with plants. These plants turn to stone, and Perseus throws them into the sea where they turn to coral. He then tells the story of how he came to kill Medusa: he stole the eye of the Graeae (witches) and was able to look at Medusa through his shield, thus only seeing her reflection. He decapitated her, and from her blood Chrysaor and Pegasus are born. He then tells of how she came to have snakes for hair: Jupiter raped her in the temple of Minerva, and Medusa by turning her hair into snakes.

The Perseus Series by Edward Burne Jones

The Call of Perseus
Perseus and the Sea Nymphs
Perseus and the Graiae
The Finding of Medusa
The Death of Medusa
The Rock of Doom
The Doom Fulfilled
The Baleful Head
Books I & II


  1. Beautiful! I have very much enjoyed your posting and the sumptuous illustrations. You have sent me back to Ovid in order to help me better deal with Shakespeare. They go together like tea and scones! Thanks!

  2. Oh my! Our versions can be quite different with the descriptions of creatures and plants, and probably in other areas too. I get the feeling that Mandelbaum is keeping closer to the original text and Rayburn is adding what is possible, yet not known, but sounds really good. For Clytie, my text just says a part pale flower and part reddish, which is suspected as Heliotrope. And for the sailors, my transformation is sea monsters. Once again, your translation sounds more interesting. Sigh! Translation is so difficult. Do you make it accurate or interesting or a little of both? I need to learn Latin.

    Don't you love all the little cupids populating the paintings? You can hardly get away from them. I LOVE the Edward Burne-Jones series! Just excellent!

    1. I think a little of both is the best, but I think with the Greeks and Romans, which can be quite tough, a good dose of interesting is to be preferred :) I'd find it pretty difficult otherwise - I do think the Raeburn translation brings so much life to it!

      And I love the paintings I'm finding! ADORE the Moreau, and as ever I do love Waterhouse :D


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