Poetry Month Tag

The Poetry Month celebration has begun at The Edge of the Precipice, and Hamlette has posted a tag with a few questions to answer.  Poetry and I aren’t close friends yet, but we’ll see how I do …..  Fortunately the first questions is easy!

What are some poems you like?
The Lady of Shallot by Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats
What are some poems you dislike?
Since I’m a rank amateur when it comes to poetry, I’m trying to concentrate on poems which I think I’ll enjoy. I haven’t come across any I particularly dislike as of yet.  As for poets whom I’m hesitant to read because I think that I might not like their works, I can guess perhaps Lord Byron and William Blake.  But I could read them and love them for all I know!  
Are there any poets whose work you especially enjoy?  If so, who are they?
I’m very excited to read more Keats.  His ability with words and images is magnificent!  Then I’d also like to read more of Tennyson, Hilaire Belloc, and Oscar Wilde.  Curious list, isn’t it? 🙂
Do you write poetry?
I used to write a little long ago when I was in high school.  I remember that I wrote a haiku that my teacher loved, so I’m going to try to find it and post it.
Have you ever memorized a poem?
Yes!  A few:  Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll,  My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson, Celery by Ogden Nash,  and Ooey Gooey by Unknown.
Do you prefer poetry that rhymes and had a strict meter, or free verse?  Or do you like both?
I don’t enjoy rhyming for the sake of rhyming, but with poems such as The Canterbury Tales, the rhyming forms part of the tone of the stories and it’s wonderful!  Free verse has been less enjoyable for me, but again, I haven’t had much experience with it and my opinion could certainly change.
Do you have any particular poetry movements you’re fond of?  (Beat poets, Romanticism, Fireside poets, etc?)(If you haven’t got any idea what I’m talking about, that’s fine!  You can check out this listfor more info, if you want to.)

I have no idea what Hamlette is talking about!  Just kidding. 😉   I actually enjoy epic poems best, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, etc.  As for eras, I think I’d like the Romantics, but again, I’m not sure. 

For my first poem of the month, I’m going to read Narnian Suite by C.S. Lewis because I’d never heard of it before and surprisingly it seems very Tolkien-ish.  Since they were part of the Inklings, a group that met together and read their writings to each other, it’s perhaps expected that certain styles and tones of writing, might have rubbed off on each other.

Metamorphoses ~ Book XIII

Book XIII

Ajax and Achilles’ Armor / Ulysses and Achilles’ Armor / Ajax / The Fall of Troy / Polymestor and Polydorus / Polyxena / Polyxena & Hecuba / Hecuba, Polydorus, Polymestor / Aurora & Memnon / The Voyage of Aeneas / The Daughters of Anius / The Daughters of Orion / The Voyage of Aeneas / Galatea & Acis / Glaucus & Scylla

Ajax and Ulysses contend for the armour of the fallen hero, Achilles.  In spite of proclaiming himself a man of action and not one for florid speech, Ajax commences a rhetorical banquet, listing all his ancestors and spewing vitriol against Ulysses.  Ajax’s father is Telamon, who was friend to Hercules as he destroyed Troy’s walls, sailed in the ship with Jason and was born of Aecus.  In fact, he is a descendant of Jove, a honour he shares with Achilles, etc., etc.  Ulysses is nothing but a smooth talking, lily-livered, cowardly, sneaky, dishonest fraud.  Oh, and all his feats are minor.  In fact, he, Ajax, should be the winner of the armour because his own shield is so damaged with fighting, yet Ulysses’ shield is so little used.  He suggests that the armour be thrown among the Trojans and whoever reclaims it, be it him or Ulysses, will be the victor.

The Quarrel Between Ajax and Odysseus (1625-30)
Leonaert Bramer
[Public Domain] source

With his renowned eloquence and gracious speech, Ulysses counters the argument of Ajax, contending that lineage should not be the judge of greatness, but instead a man’s own deeds.  He disputes Ajax’s deprecation of his lineage, saying that he has an equal ancestry to him, and furthermore, none of his ancestors are criminals.  As for deeds, what has Ajax really done?  However, he, on the other hand, has worked wonders, such as finding Achilles for the War, and therefore, all Achilles’ feats are due to him.  He also brought about Agamemnon’s change of heart with regard to the sacrifice of his daughter, and he was responsible for asking for the return of Helen.  For nine years the Trojans stayed within their walls, so open war was impossible, but while Ajax did nothing, he was busy planning objectives.  It was he who turned the troops back to war after they were going to disperse prompted by Agamemnon’s dream.  His further rhetorical examples, reverse Ajax’s argument with stunning guile and perception.  The Greek chieftains are so moved by Ulysses’ reasoning that they award Achilles’ armour to him.

Thetis Bringing Armor to Achilles (1806)
Benjamin West
source Wikimedia Commons

This decision is too much for the undefeated hero’s pride and he encounters the first enemy that will be his destruction:  his own unmitigated anger.  Grabbing his blade, Ajax cries that he is the only one who can claim victory over himself, driving the shaft into his own chest.  As his blood seeps into the rich soil, up springs a purple flower, the same flower from Hyacinth’s wound, with the letters, “AI-AI”, echoing both of Ajax (often spelt Aias, therefore the “AI”) and the lament of Hyacinth. (See Book X)

Ulysses retrieves his arrows from Lemnos, the arrows Hercules gave to Philoctetes, and brought back they haunt the skies of Troy.  The fall of Troy was swift, and with Ilium ablaze, the Trojan women embrace their gods for the last time.  They kiss the soil as they are born away, captive, and Hecuba is found at the graves of her sons.  Ulysses carries her off, clutching ashes of Hector to her bosom.

Dead Hector (1892)
Briton Riviere
source Wikiart

In Thrace lies Polymestor‘s magnificent palace and there he is covertly keeping Polydorus, son of Priam.  But there was gold given in payment and when the fall of Troy begins, the king slits the throat of the boy and tosses him from a cliff into the sea, to hide the body.

Agamemnon’s fleet is moored along the Thracian coast when the ghost of Achilles bursts up, awesome and threatening, incensed that the Greeks would leave without honouring him.  He requests the daughter of Priam and Hecuba, Polyxena, as a sacrifice.  She dies with dignity, asking only that no rough hands touch her and that her body will be given to her suffering mother.  Every one weeps at her sacrifice.

The Sacrifice of Polyxena (1733-34)
Giovanni Battista Pittoni
source Getty Open Content

The Trojan women mourn.  Ulysses has won Hecuba but does not really want her, only accepting her because she gave birth to the great Hector.  Hecuba thought that after Achilles death he could threaten them no more, but he has proved her wrong.  Her speech is a dirge:

“…. I gave birth to a funeral offering
to our destroyer.  I must have a heart 
of iron if I still resist, still live.
What am I waiting for?  Endless old age —
what can it hold in store?  O cruel gods
why do you let me live — unless it be
that you have savd saved still other griefs for me? ….”

Priam should be glad he’s gone, unable to witness the atrocity.  She cannot even give her daughter a respectable burial; the only honour Polyxena receives is her mother’s tears on foreign soil.  At least, Polydorus, Hecuba’s son, is sheltered by the Thracian king.  This fact is her only consolation.

Hecuba and Polyxena (c. 1814)
Merry-Joseph Blondel
source Wikimedia Commons

Hecuba moves towards the shore but suddenly sees the corpse of her son, Polydorus. The Trojan women wail in lament but Hecuba is arrested in her grief, the tragedy almost too much to bear.  As she views his fate, anger inflames her, burning to revenge.  She meets with Polymestor and promises gold for her son which he agrees to give him. False, lying Polymestor!!  Hecuba grips him and calls her Trojan women, and as she does, she digs her nails into his eyeballs and plucks his flesh.  The Thracians attack the women with stones and lances, but Hecuba attempts to catch the stones, her voice transforming into barks and howls and even the gods admit that Hecuba did not deserve such sorrow.

Hecuba (c. 18th century)
Guiseppe Crespi
source Wikimedia Commons

Aurora did not lament the Trojans’ demise as expected because she was devastated by the death of her son Memnon at the hands of Achilles.  She pleads with Jove for a gift for the honour of her son and from his pyre, flames and ashes soar high then from it a bird ascends, then many.  After circling the pyre three times, they split into two flocks and begin to battle, falling into the ashes of Memnon as an offering.  They do this every time the sun rises but even to this day, Aurora mourns her son with her tears.

Aurora (1614)
Guido Reni
source Wikiart

Even though Troy was destroyed, part of it survived in the figure of Aeneas, hence the voyage of Aeneas begins.  Fleeing his city with his old father, Anchises, his son, Ascanius, and sacred images, he sails first to Thrace, then to Delos.  The kind, Anius, welcomes Aeneas, and it was here that the two tree-trunks opened and Latona gave birth to her twins.  (See Book VI)

Aeneas and his Father Fleeing Troy (c. 1635)
Simon Vouet
source Wikimedia Commons

Aeneas asks if he saw a son and four daughters of Anius when he last visited his city and Anius tells a tale of woe.  His son, Andros, is king of an island that bears his name, but Bacchus gave to his daughters the power to turn anything they touched into wheat, wine, or oil.  Realizing their value, Agamemnon dragged off the girls, to use them to feed the Grecian fleet.  Two daughters escaped to Euboea, and two to Andros, but their brother, fearing war, relinquished them to their fate.  About to be chained, the two girls lifted their arms in plea to Bacchus and were turned into snow-white doves.

At daybreak, the Trojans visit the oracle which tells them to seek out their “ancient mother” — their land of origin.  Anius sees them off with gifts, and an engraved cup he brings tells its own story.  The seven gated city of Thebes was in a disasterous state with fires and pyres and wailing women, bare trees, stony fields and a mighty funeral pyre where Orion’s daughters sacrificed themselves to save the people from the plague.  Out of their virgin ashes rose the Coroni, two youths, the final scene on the cup to commemorate their origin —- their mothers.  The Trojans give fine gifts in return.

The voyage of Aeneas begins.  Seeking the land of Crete, where their ancestor, Teucer came from, an early king of Troy, upon landing they find the land too harsh and sail for Italy.  Sailing on and on, they reach Sicily and land on the sands of Messina.

The Wanderings of Aeneas
source Googlemap

In the straits of Messina, Scylla is watching the east and Charybdis never sleeps in the west.  The latter preys on ships by sucking them into her depths but Scylla’s waist is populated by snapping dogs.  She once was a young girl but disdained her suitors and when the sea nymph, Galatea, heard Scylla’s tale, she related her own story of her interactions with the Cyclops.  She loved Acis, son of a woodland Faun, but Polyphemus the Cyclops wished to possess her, although she hated him with a passion. He composed odes to her beauty, then disparaged her, spewing barely cloaked threats. With a menacing tirade directed towards Acis, he discovered the lovers. Pursuing Acis, he hurled a massive rock and even though it only grazed Acis, its size pressed him into the ground.  But then the rock split and from it came a green reed, then a river rushing and from the waters sprung a river-god …. Acis.  (I hope this is a different Galatea than Pygmalion’s Galatea in Book X)

Galatea (1896)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Scylla continued on, stopping to rest in a pool to refresh herself.  Glaucus, its inhabitant, desired the girl and pursued her though she fled.  Reaching a mountain peak that rose from the sea, she turned to see that he was part man and part fish, not sure whether to marvel or be terrified.  He was a god as important as Triton or Proteus, but  he used to be a man who worked always near the sea.  One day as he saw fish leave his net and walk back into the sea, he suspected the grass they had laid upon to be the source of their powers.  Chewing it, he felt himself metamorphosing, a desire welling up within him for the ocean.  He would have said more but Scylla had fled and he set out for the isle of Circe.  (See also Scylla in Book VIII)

Glaucus and Scylla (1580-82)
Bartholomäus Spranger
source Wikimedia Commons

With the sparring between Ajax and Ulysses, we seem to get more questions than answers.  The reader, as well as the chieftains, are trying to discover who has the most kleos (glory) to be worthy of the armour of Achilles.  Instead, we get two sides of action —- the physical (Ajax) and the mental (Ulysses), and which one is most important?  An answer doesn’t seem to be possible, and in the end, it is Ulysses’ smooth tongue and not kleos that secures the prize.

Ovid does not seem to care for Thracians.  Not much good seems to come from them or be said about them.

Metamorphoses
Ajax’s blood  ❥  purple flower
Hecuba’s speech  ❥  barks/howls
Memnon  ❥  birds {Memnonides}
Daughter’s of Anius’ touch  ❥  wheat, wine, oil
Anius’ daughters  ❥  snow-white doves
Orion’s daughters’ ashes  ❥  Coroni
Acis  ❥  river-god
Glaucus’ lower body  ❥  fish

The Morning of Life by Victor Hugo

My ninth choice for my Deal Me In Challenge comes from “diamonds,” my poetry section.  I have completely avoided my short story section so far, not out of design, but out of fate.  I just haven’t chosen a club yet.  In any case, for this choice we move to France and the poetry of Victor Hugo.

Le Voile du Matin
by Victor Hugo
Le voile du matin sur les monts se déploie.
Vois, un rayon naissant blanchit la vieille tour ;
Et déjàdans les cieux s’unit avec amour,
Ainsi que la gloire àla joie,
Le premier chant des bois aux premiers feux du jour.
Oui, souris à l’éclat dont le ciel se décore ! –
Tu verras, si demain le cercueil me dévore,
Un soleil aussi beau luire à ton désespoir,
Et les mêmes oiseaux chanter la même aurore,
Sur mon tombeau muet et noir !
Mais dans l’autre horizon l’âme alors est ravie.
L’avenir sans fin s’ouvre à l’être illimité.
Au matin de l’éternité
On se réveille de la vie,
Comme d’une nuit sombre ou d’un rêve agité.
Skylark
source Wikipedia
The Morning Of Life (an ode)
by Victor Hugo
The mist of the morning is torn by the peaks,
Old towers gleam white in the ray,
And already the glory so joyously seeks
The lark that’s saluting the day.
Then smile away, man, at the heavens so fair,
Though, were you swept hence in the night,
From your dark, lonely tomb the owlets would stare
At the sun rising newly as bright.
But out of earth’s trammels your soul would have flown
Where glitters Eternity’s stream,
And you shall have waked ‘midst pure glories unknown,
As sunshine disperses a dream.

This is a beautiful poem, but this was the only English translation that I was able to find, and the poem really suffers in the translation.  From the French (keeping in mind, my French is adequate, but I’m certainly not fluent),  the reader is assailed wtih images of newness and light and birth and song, but there is also a reference to an old tower.  Yet in the second stanza the poet mentions that though he may be found in a coffin (I suspect that he is the “old tower” from the first stanza), the sun will continue to shine and that same bird will sing on his tomb.  And should the reader be saddened by his death?  The third stanza indicates not, as the poet will have an endless horizon as he awakens in the light of eternity.  The first life now appears as a dark night or restless dream in comparison to this new everlasting life.

Ai-ya!  I was able to pull very little of that explanation from the English translation.  The French says “mon tombeau” (my tomb), not your tomb, and with the English second person pronouns in the third stanza, it is very confusing as to who is speaking.  Anyone with more adequate French skills than I have, is welcome to comment.

For those of you who didn’t know that Hugo was also a recreational artist, producing more than 4000 drawings, I’ll leave you with one of them:

The Wave of My Destiny (1857)
Victor Hugo
source Wikiart

Deal Me In Challenge #9

Metamorphoses ~ Book XII

Book XII

Iphegenia / Rumor / Achilles & Cycnus / Caenis/Caenus / Lapiths & Centaurs / Cyllarus / Caenus / Hercules & Periclymenus / The Death of Achilles

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (1770)
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
source Wikimedia Commons
While Priam doesn’t realize that his son has been changed to a bird, and mourns his death with Hector, Paris is missing from the funeral rites, as he has gone to Greece, stolen a wife and returned with a war behind him.  But the Greeks chasing Paris, become bound by storms at Aulis, so they kindle fires for Jove in hopes of smooth sailing.  However, a blue-green serpent climbs a sycamore tree, seizing eight fledglings and their mother, and swallowing them in his greedy jaws.  Calchus, the augur, son of Thestor, claims it is a sign that the Greeks will be victorious but only after a long war.  Nereus’ rage though is unrelenting and Calchus claims Diana is aggrieved that Agamemnon slew her sacred stag.  He requires payment in virgin’s blood, and so Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigenia is sacrificed.  The girl does not die, however, as Diana covers the altar with a dark cloud, exchanging Iphigenia for a hind.  Her wrath appeased, the thousand ships are able to sail for Phrygian shores (Troy).  (For a somewhat different story of Iphigenia’s sacrifice, see Agamemnon).
Where the earth, heavens and sea meet, Rumorlives high upon a peak in a palace with no doors, and everything that is spoken in the wide world is taken in ….  Credulity, Error, Joy, Consternations, Fears, Seditions and unknown whispers.  Rumor knows all.  This is why, as the Greeks reach the shores of Troy, the Trojans are not unaware of their coming.  Under Hector’s deadly spear, Protestilaus is the first to lose his life.  The Danaans pay in death, but the Trojans lose men too and each learn the prowess of the other.
source
Achilles races in his chariot, searching for Cycnusor for Hector. He finds the former and attempts to kill him but Cycnus is the son of Neptune and no weapon can pierce his skin.  Spear after spear glances off him and Achilles is enraged, eventually questioning his own might. Leaping from his chariot, he attempts to stab him without success, finally grabbing Cycnus and choking him until the hero dies.  Or so he thinks, for as he tries to strip his armour, he finds no body.  Neptune has already changed his son into a swan.  This seems a perpetual feat, as Cycnus has already been changed into a swan under different circumstances in Book II and is mentioned again in Book VII.
Achilles is so wonderful that everyone can only speak of courage and bravery around him.  His victory over Cycnus is astonishing, although Nestor relates of another warrior whose body could not be touched by weapons.  His name was Caenus although he was born as a woman.  Shocked, the Greeks beg for the rest of the tale and we hear how Caenis was born fair and famous for her beauty.  Raped by Neptune, he promises to give her what she desires, and vowing never to suffer such outrage again, she wishes to become a man.  She transforms into Caenus, and no weaponry could ever kill her.
Battle Between Lapiths & Centaurs (1735-40)
Francesco Solimena
source Wikiart 
In Thessaly, Pirithous, king of Lapith and son of Ixion, is to be wed to Hippodame (who was supposed to be wed to Pelops in the backstory to Agamemnon, but perhaps this is a different Hippodame) and Caenus attends.   At the feast, the centaurs (bred by Ixion and “Cloud” — it’s a horrendous story if you want to look it up) go mad on lust and wine.  Eurytus snatches the bride, and his brothers begin to snatch women without qualm.  Brave Theseus stands to oppose their evil intentions, throwing a vat into the face of Eurytus, upon which the centaur gushes blood and brains and vomits wine, falling dead to the floor.  War ensues with a descriptive tapestry reminiscent of The Iliad.  Some of the centaurs flee (including Nessus, who met Hercules’ bow in Book IX), yet the war continues with even more elaborate description.
Flawlessly handsome, with a black coat yet a white tail and legs, the centaur, Cyllarus, is loved by a woman, Hylonome. However, he is unable to escape his fate and when a spear pierces his body, his wife runs to him, holding him, and then throwing herself on the spear so they die together.

Lapiths and the Centaurs
Jacob Jordaens
source Wikiart
Nestor continues with his stories, telling of how Phaeocomes threw a log which smashed the skull of Tectaphos, the son of Olenus, his brain matter oozing from his eyes, ears and nostrils. Nestor struck him down, along with other centaurs, his strength in those days equal to Hector’s.  Caenus was killing centaurs as well, and the rest of the bipeds were in a frenzy of irritation because none of their weapons were able to pierce his skin.  Finally, Monycus came up with a plan: if they weren’t able to skewer him, they would smother him.  The centaurs ripped trees from the ground, piling them onto Caenus until he was buried.  A golden-winged bird escaped from the rubble; some say it was Caenus but others claimed that he was pushed right down to the Underworld.

As Nestor’s tale ends, Tlepolemus is disturbed that no mention of his father Hercules’ feats were acknowledged.  Nestor reveals his hatred for the hero, as Hercules was responsible for razing Pylos, Nestor’s homeland, without provocation.  Hercules killed all eleven of his brothers, including his brother, Periclymenus, who was able to change shape, yet as an eagle, Hercules shot him with an arrow.  Yet in spite of his rage against Hercules, Nestor gracefully says that he hold no enmity towards Tlepolemus.

Neptune, still in grief over Cycnus, detests Achilles with a raging passion. He enlists Apollo to covertly bring about the death of Achilles.  Apollo enters the Trojan battle and, as Paris shoots an arrow, the god guides it towards Achilles, felling the hero.  The death is a shameful one, as Achilles is killed by a coward and a debaucher of women.  At his funeral, Achilles’ physical ashes barely fill a small urn, yet his reknown is as large as the whole world.  Ajax the greater and Ulysses prepare to contend over the hero’s armour. 

The Death of Achilles (1630-32)
Peter Paul Rubens
source Wikimedia Commons


Ovid continues to astonish with his vivid description and puzzle with choice of stories and pacing.  The Trojan War itself is nearly skipped through, as we go from an event at the beginning of it, to an event at the end.  Instead of the battles of Troy, the warriors themselves appear more important.  

There is also the parallel theme of the ignorance of fathers: Priam does not realize that his son was changed into a bird, and neither does Agamemnon know that Iphigenia was saved by Minerva.  

Nestor’s treatment of Hercules is very startling.  Fame and glory (kleos) for a Greek warrior is their ultimate purpose in life.  By not mentioning the feats of Hercules against the centaurs, Nestor is suppressing Hercules fame and glory.

“The vengeance that I seek for my dear brothers stops at this:  my speech, in telling of the Lapiths’ victory omitted the great deeds of Hercules….”

Nestor is effectively erasing Hercules, as Hercules obliterated Nestor’s cherished homeland.

And as much as I’m enjoying Ovid’s poetry and stories, he can’t hold a candle to Homer.  Ovid’s poetry can have some beautiful passages but often the underlying tone seems more ghastly and outrageous, whereas Homer’s tone sounds more majestic, with a resonating grandeur.  But, of course, I’m reading poetry in translation, which is always problematic when making judgements.  However, I think the Greeks, at least, would agree with me. 🙂

Metamorphoses
Snake  ❥  stone
Cycnus  ❥  swan
Caenis/woman  ❥  Caenus/man
Caenus  ❥  golden-winged bird
Periclymenus  ❥  many shapes  ❥ eagle

The Faerie Queene in Poetry Month ~ Two Events!

As you’re probably aware from both my On Reading the Faerie Queene and Spenser’s Images of Life posts, I’m gearing up to read The Faerie Queene in late April.  But instead of sliding quietly into the read-along, I thought it might be nice to give it an official announcement!

O at Behold the Stars was the instigator of this event and Jean, Cirtnecce, RuthConsoled Reader and I quickly followed her lead.  We will be attempting to stick to this schedule:

April 25 – May 1st ~  Book I
May 2 – May 8th ~  Book II
May 9 – May 15th ~  Book III
May 16 – May 22nd ~  Book IV
May 23 – May 29th ~  Book V
May 30 – June 5th ~  Book VI
June 6 – June 12th ~  Mutability

Thanks to O for the prod, and to Jean’s husband for creating a rather awesome button! Anyone else who would like to join us is very welcome!  Reading this tome among friends will make it much less intimidating!

And, coincidentally corresponding with the above read, in April Hamlette from The Edge of the Precipice is going to be hosting a Poetry Month Celebration in honour of National Poetry Month.

We’ll be starting The Faerie Queene read-along near the end of the month, but I hope to be able to read a few more poems, at least one per week, for this event.  It’s a good chance to focus on that category for my Deal Me In Challenge.

So if either of these events interest you, I hope you’ll join us for a very busy April, and ring in the spring with poetry!

Metamorphoses ~ Book XI

Book XI

Orpheus / The Bacchantes / Midas / Troy / Peleus & Thetis / Ceyx / Daedalion The Wolf / Ceyx & Alcyone / Aesacus

Orpheus charms the beasts and trees with his songs, and even the stones pause to listen.  But the Thracian women, the Bacchantes, are enraged, accusing Orpheus of scorning them.  They hurl staffs and rocks at him, intent on murder but when a stone is flung,

“….it cleaved the air, it yielded to the spell
of his enchanting voice and lyre: it fell
at Orpheus’ feet as if compelled to seek 
forgiveness for its mad audacity …… “
Circling him, the women attack, and all of their weapons would have been tamed by his sweet music, if their “shrieks and caterwauls” had not drowned it out, and they murder and dismember him.  Mournful sounds fill the air as his body is carried by the Hebrus river to the coast.  There, a snake attempts to attack the head, but before it can, Phoebus turns it into stone.  As the Shade of Orpheus descends to the Underworld, he meets Eurydice.  Side by side, they walk and they can now gaze at each other without fear.

Nymphs finding the head of Orpheus (1900)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart
Bacchus intends to punish the criminals for their profane act, and the Bacchantes find themselves bound to the ground.  Roots spread from their feet, bark begins to cover their bodies, as they are transformed into oak trees.
König Midas (1670)
Andrea Vaccaro
source Wikimedia Commons
Bacchus leaves Thrace for his Lydian land and own vineyards in Tmolus.  His satyrs and bacchantes crowd around him, but Silenus (his tutor) is missing, yet he finds him with King Midas who has him in his care.  Bacchus rewards Midas with one wish, and the king requests that everything he touches will turn to gold.  Delighted, Midas begins to touch everything, but soon realizes the curse of his request, repents, and Bacchus instructs him to go to a river near Sardis to wash his sin away.  Midas complies and even today, as Ovid tells us, the Pactolus’ shores can be streaked with gold.  Midas, however, now hates riches and roams the hillside, but his wits were never clever and he continue to seek stupid things which will bring harm.  While watching a musical contest between Pan and Phoebus, upon Tmolus judging Phoebus Apollo the winner, Midas disagrees and for his ill-judgement, Phoebus turns Midas’ ears into those of an ass.  He wraps those ears to his head with a purple turban and when his slave discovers his secret, the slave whispers it into a hole in the ground.  But when the reeds there grow tall, they whisper the secret to the winds, betraying the servant.
Apollo departs for Troy where Laomedon had accepted the offered of Phoebus and Neptune to build the walls of Troy for payment in gold and then reneged on his debt. The sea god caused a flood to bury the fields of Troy.  In payment, they demanded the daughter of the king, Hesione, who was chained to a reef for the prey of monsters, but Hercules saved her.  For his payment, he was promised horses, but again Troy was faithless and Hercules razed its walls.
Apollo and Poseidon Punishing Troy (c. 1590)
Paolo Fiammingo
source Wikimedia Commons
Hercules gives Hesione to Telamon as a royal bride but he is busy fighting with his brother, Peleus.  Peleus is famous for his goddess wife, and we learn of his “courtship”. Zeus had an ardent desire fot Thetis, the goddess of the waves,” but it was prophesied by Proteus that her son would be greater than his father, so Zeus blessed his grandson, Peleus, to pursue her.  Peleus attempted to rape her in her grotto but Thetis transformed into a bird, a tree and then a spotted tigress, so Peleus wisely abandoned his plans.   He prayed to the gods for success and was counselled by Proteus, who rose from the sea, to tie her up, which he did and made her pregnant with Achilles.
The Feast of Peleus (1872-81)
Edward Burne-Jones
source Wikimedia Commons
Peleus accidentally kills his half-brother, Phocus, and for this treachery he is exiled to the land of Trachin, recounting a lie as to his crime.  Ceyx, the king of Trachin, welcomes him, then weeps, whereupon Peleus and his men ask the cause of his sadness.

Ceyx tells of his brother, Daedalion, who had a lovely fourteen-year-old daughter, Chione.  She was raped by both Phoebus and Mercury, bearing twin sons but one from each god: Autolycus, “a connoisseur of wiles and guiles”, and Phillamon, Apollo’s son, “famed for lyre and song.”  Chione, because of this glory bestowed on her, now considered herself surpassing Diana’s beauty, and, for her insult, she was killed by an arrow of the goddess.  At her funeral (burning), Daedalion overcome with grief, ran senselessly around, finally leaping from Parnassus’ peak, where Apollo changed him into a hawk, and “aggrieved, he makes all others mourn.”

As Ceyx relates this story, Peleus’ Phocian cowherd rushes in to announce that a wolf is ravaging the herds of oxen and terrifying the people.  Peleus silently believes this event to be his penance for his crime.  As they prepare to leave to deal with the wolf, Alcyone, the wife of Ceyx, begs him not to go, foreseeing his death.  Thetis intervenes to pardon Peleus and helps him, changing the wolf into a marble statue.  But the fates cause Peleus to travel to the land of Magnesia and King Acastus, where he is cleansed of his guilt.

Meanwhile Ceyx is still puzzled by his brother’s fate and these strange happenings, so he decides to consult an oracle on the isle of Clarus.  Alcyone begs him not to go, but, while trying to calm her fears, he departs and his boat encounters a momentous storm. Before he drowns, he prays that his body will return to his wife for burial, and she finally spots it floating in the water, confirmation of her husband’s death that she had received in a dream conducted by Morpheus.  As she tries to reach the body, she is changed into a bird (a kingfisher), and when she tries to cover her husband with her wings, he too changes:

“…… Their love remained; they shared one fate.
Once wed, they still were wed: they kept their bond.
They mate; they rear their young; when winter comes,
for seven peaceful days Alcyone — 
upon a cliff that overlooks the sea —
broods on her nest.  The surge is quiet then,
for Aeolus won’t let his winds run free;
he keeps them under guard, so that the sea
maintain the peace his fledgling grandsons need.”

Halcyone seeking her husband Ceyx (1914)
Herbert James Draper
source Wikimedia Commons

An old man, as he watches the pair of birds, is reminded of another bird, a swift merganser.  The bird is of the line of Ilus and Assaracus, then Ganymede, then Laomedeon, and finally Priam, who was the last king of Troy.  Aesacus, half-brother of Hector (son of Priam) pursued the nymph, Hesperie, who was bitten by a serpent as she fled.  Distraught, Aesacus offered his life for hers.  As he leapt into the sea, Thetis pitied him and clothed him in feathers, but Aesacus so diligently sought death, he continually attempts to plunge in the sea, only to rise again.  He is the diving bird, the merganser.

source

❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀  ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ 

In this book, I noticed varying motifs on music, sound and hearing.  Orpheus communicates by music, yet is drowned out by the Bacchantes’ shrieks; Apollo and Pan have a musical contest; Mt Tmolus must brush away the forest to hear; Midas for hearing ‘incorrectly’ has his ears changed to those of an ass; Proteus’ words are stopped/finished as he sinks into the sea; on Ceyx’s ship, the captain’s voice in drowned out by the “blustering winds”; Ceyx’s words are impeded by the waves; and the Cimmerian cave is a place of complete silence yet for the Lethe.

While the stories often seem random, we can experience a non-linear telling of some of the history of Troy and its heroes.  The scattering make up a puzzle, if we can only pick up the pieces and fit them into the whole.

Metamorphoses

Snake  ❥  stone
Thracian women  ❥  oak trees
Midas’ touch  ❥  gold
Midas’ ears  ❥  ears of an ass
Thetis  ❥  bird/tree/spotted tigress
Thetis  ❥  various shapes  ❥ Thetis
Daedalion  ❥  hawk
Wolf  ❥  marble statue
Ceyx & Alcyone  ❥  birds (kingfishers)
Aesacus  ❥  merganser (“diving bird”)

Metamorphoses ~ Book X

Book X

Orpheus and Eurydice / Cyparissus / Orpheus’ Prologue / Ganymede / Hyacinthus / The Cerastes / The Propoetides Pygmalion / Myrrha & Cinyras / The Birth of Adonis / Venus and Adonis / Atalanta & Hippomenes / The Fate of Adonis


Orpheus & Eurydice (1864)
Frederic Leighton
source Wikiart

Hymen did not bless the wedding of Orpheus, and what a mess! (I’m losing my narrative tone, aren’t I?) His bride, Eurydice, while crossing the meadow with her Naiad friends, stepped on a viper and died.  After his weeping ceased, he travelled to the Underworld to seek his cherished wife.  Playing sweetly on his lyre, he begged the gods to restore her to life, and so beautiful his song that even the bloodless shades shed tears and the Furies wept. By his skill and love, Orpheus won his wife back, but was warned as he was leading her out, to only look straight ahead or she would be reclaimed by the dead.  Nearly in the upper world, Orpheus could not resist looking at her, and as his eyes fell upon her, he watched her sink back into the abyss.  Frantic, he ranged the banks of the Styx like a shade, then finally left the Underworld.

Three years went by and Orpheus, in his grief, shunned the love of women.  He spent days playing his lyre, and playing it so sweetly that even the trees came to listen.  We learn of a youth, Cyparissus, who had a stag he treated almost like a pet.  Tragically, one day his javelin accidently pierced the stag, killing it, and Cyparissus was so distraught that he begged the gods to let him grieve forever.  In response, they transformed him into a cypress tree.

Cyparissus (c1670-77)
Jacopo Vignali
source Wikimedia Commons

Opheus now goes into a prologue, plucking his lyre and announcing that he will sing of “boys the gods have loved, and girls incited by unlawful lust and passions, who paid the penalty for their transgressions.”

Ganymede (1531-32)
Correggio
source Wikiart

Singing, Orpheus tells how the lusts of Jove raged for the Phrygian, Ganymede, so he transformed himself into a bird, “one with force enough to carry Jove’s thunderbolts,” and snatched up the Trojan boy.  Even now, Ganymede is a page for Jove, preparing nectar for him and filling his cups.

Phoebus Apollo loved Hyacinthus, a Spartan boy, and was his close comrade.  In competition, as Phoebus threw a discus, Hyacinthus recklessly rushed to pick it up, only to have it rebound with great force back into his face, killing him.  Phoebus, blaming himself, wished to die as well, but death was denied him so he claimed the boy would be a new flower on which his lament was inscribed: “Ajax” would be stamped on his petals.  With his own hand, he wrote “AI” and Sparta honours Hyacinthus each year with the Hyacinthus festival.

The Cerastes polluted the altar of Jove with the blood of guests, appalling Venus who made ready to leave Cyprus.  But thinking awhile of the dear sites and towns, she instead transformed them into savage bulls.

The Propoetides declared that Venus was not a goddess, and for their audacity, the girls, who were the first prostitutes, were transformed into hard stones.

Pygmalion & Galatea (c. 1890)
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

Repulsed by the shameful acts of women, Pygmalion is determined not to take a wife, instead, carving a beautiful woman from a block of ivory.  Enchanted with his creation, he desires a wife like her, and Venus, understanding his prayers, answers.  This time when Pygmalion kisses the statue, as usual, he feels warm lips and flesh. After the wedding, his wife gives birth to Paphos and since, Cypress is called the Paphian isle.

The son of Paphos, Cinyras, would have found happiness where it not for his misfortune of having daughters.  Myrrha, loves her father in an unnatural way.  To subdue this perfidy, she attempts to hang herself but her nurse interrupts the deed and pledges her assistance.  During the feast honouring Ceres, they trick the king into sleeping with her, until he finally recognizes her, and drawing his sword attempts to kill her but, Myrrha flees.  Pregnant, she escapes “palm-rich Arabia and Panchaea’s lands” coming at last to the Sabaeans’ land where she prays to be denied both life and death.  At this prayer, she is metamorphised into a Myrrh tree.

Even though Myrrha is now a tree, her child is still ready to be born and Lucina, goddess of chidbirth, speak a spell and Adonis is born.  Set in a meadow by the Naiads, he is anointed with myrrh, his mother’s tears, and his beauty is unsurpassed.

The Awakening of Adonis (1899)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart


Adonis grows into manhood and as he grows, so does his beauty.  Venus, the goddess herself, is in love with him.  She is scratched by Cupid’s arrow and cannot suppress her desire for this mortal, and neglects all her duties, sinking into a pining admiration for him. She warns him against being reckless and about wild animals, then cuddling him on the grass, she tells him a story.

Atalanta (1908)
John William Godward
source Wikiart

Atalanta is a girl faster than the fastest of men.  The oracle instructs her to shun marriage and if she does not, she will remain alive but lose herself.  Terrified, she lives in the shadowy forest but suitors still seek her out so she devises a plan, telling all that she would marry the one who could best her in a footrace, but those who lost would surely die.  Hippomenes, at first scoffs at the contenders, but when he sees Atalanta’s splendid “form”, he too desires her for a wife.  Atalanta bests all the suitors, but Hippomenes challenges her to a one-on-one race.  Atalanta enjoys his attention and agrees, yet while they prepare for the race, Hippomenes prays to Venus who gives him three golden apples. During the race, he drops an apple at a time and Atalanta, drawn by their beauty, swerves to pick them up.  With the first two apples, she is able to catch up but with the last apple’s distraction, Hippomenes is able to win the race and his bride.  Stupidly, the hero forgets to thank his benefactress, Venus, who causes him to have an overwhelming desire for his wife near a shrine and they defile it with their lovemaking, causing the goddess Cybele to change them into two lions.  The story is a warning to Adonis to avoid wild beasts, and Venus sails away in her chariot.

Adonis youthful ignorance supersedes all warnings and he hunts the wild boar, wounding the animal but not killing it.  The boar turns on him, impaling him in the groin (ouch!) and his life ebbs away.  Venus, hearing his groans, rushes to him but he is dead. She transforms the blood of the young man into the Anenome flower, a flower that is brilliantly beautiful but quickly fades to death.

Venus Weeping Over Adonis (c. 1625)
Nicolas Poussin
source Wikiart
Metamorphoses
Man frightened by Cerebus  ❥  stone
Olenus & Lethaea  ❥  two rocks on Ida
Attis  ❥  pine tree
Cyparissus  ❥  cypress tree
Jove  ❥  bird
Hyacinth’s blood  ❥  flower
The Cerastes  ❥  savage bulls
The Propoetides  ❥  hard stones
Ivory woman  ❥  real woman
Myrrha  ❥  myrrh tree
Hippomenes & Atalanta  ❥  lions
Adonis’ blood  ❥  Anemone flower

Metamorphoses ~ Book IX

Book IX

Achelous & Hercules / Hercules, Deianira, Nessus / Hercules & Deianira / Alcmena / Dryope / Iolaus / Byblis & Caunus Iphis & Ianthe

Hercules and Achelous
Cornelius van Haarlem
source Wikimedia Commons

Achelous relates how he lost his horn in a fight with Hercules when they both contended for the hand of Deianira.  First he had attempted to persuade the girl’s father by disparaging Hercules, but Hercules discounted words, instead wanting to fight.  Finally overpowered, Achelous first attempted to transform himself into a snake and then a bull, but his enemy tore off his horn, which the Naiads took and filled with fruit and flowers, now called a sacred Cornucopia.  Sophocles’ play, The Women on Trachis, recalls this battle between Achelous and Hercules.


While Hercules was journeying back to Tiryns with his bride, Deianira, a rushing river stopped their path.  Nessus, a centaur, offered to take the lovely bride safely to the other shore, while Hercules swam over.  Once on the other side, Hercules hears cries and sees that the centaur is attempting to kidnap the girl.  Yelling threats, he threaded his bow and shot the arrow which hit the centaur in the spine coming out on the other side.  Knowing that Hercules had dipped the arrow in the venom of the Hydra, as life ebbed from him, Nessus gave his envenomed, blood-soaked tunic to Deianira, promising that it would kindle the love of Hercules.  

Nessus kidnaps Deianeira (c. 1600)
Hans Rottenhammer
source Wikimedia Commons

Juno hated Hercules for his mighty deeds and while he was away, she had Rumor go to his loving wife, whispering lies of his love of Iole.  Deianira, being a sister of Meleager (I thought they were all turned into guinea hens – see Book VIII), devises a plan of revenge: to cut the throat of her rival, but meanwhile, she will send Hercules the tunic of Nessus to rekindle his love.  As he wears it, the venom courses through Hercules’ body, bringing searing pain, but when he tries to take it off, he tears his flesh with it.  Before he perishes in agony, he hurls his attendant, Lichas, into the sea, blaming him for bringing the gift and the man becomes a stone in the Euboean Sea.  The gods are dismayed at what will happen to the earth’s defender and Jove decides to deify him,  riding down in his chariot to cloak him in a cloud and then place him in the sky.

Birth of Heracles
Jean Jacques François de Barbier
source Wikipedia

Because of his father’s wishes, Hyllus, the son of Hercules, wed Iole who is now pregnant. Hercules’ mother, Alcmena gives the girl advice and tells her of her own birth pangs.  Cruel Juno, angry at Jove’s impregnating Alcmena, sits outside, crosses her legs and her fingers to block the birth.  But Galanthis, the servant girl, cleverly recognizes the goddess and announces that Alcmena has given birth.  Juno is astounded, leap up and with the unlinking of her knees and fingers, the knot was undone and Alcmena finally gave birth.  Yet Galanthis makes the mistake of jeering at Juno who turns her into a weasel.

Iole tells of her half-sister, Dryope, who was raped by Delphi’s deity (Phoebus), nevertheless Andraemon happily married her.  One day, as she was walking with her infant son and Iole, she picked the purple blossoms of a lotus, which dripped blood with her plucking.  The lotus was a nymph who had transformed herself after being chased by Priapus, but from Dryope’s innocent carnage, the lotus begins to transform her as well.  Sister, husband and father, all rush to the scene just in time to hear Dryope’s final plea for her son to visit and know her, then she gives the boy a final kiss before her lips are sealed forever.

Iolaus appears in the doorway, this nephew of Hercules having his youth restored by his uncle’s request to Hebe, the wife he married when he was placed in the sky.  Hebe wishes never to perform the task again, but her vow is stopped by Themis, the prophetess, telling of many times this similar event would take place in different ways. Even the gods wish for such favours for their favourites but through examples of Minos, Rhadamanthus and Aeacus, Jove demonstrates all are not so blessed and the deities settle down.

Old Minos is concerned about an overthrow by young Miletus, but Miletus sails away and starts his own city at the mouth of the Meander.  He finds a Cyanee, is lured by her body and she gives birth to twins, Byblis and Caunus.  Byblis develops an unsisterly love for Caunus, pining for him with a startling intensity.  Finally, she sends him a letter confessing her love, which he receives with a burgeoning rage.  He escapes, leaving the land and her obscene love, but she follows him in a frenzy of passionate despair, travelling all over until completely insane, she collapses, her tears transforming her into a fountain.

Byblis turning into a spring (1866)
Jean-Jacques Henner
source Wikimedia Commons

In Phaestus, Crete, there lived a freeborn man called Ligdus with a pregnant wife, Telethusa.  He wishes only two things for his “dear” wife (please, sense the beginning of sarcasm here):  that she suffers little pain in childbirth and that the child may be a boy, because if it turns out to be a girl, he will put her to death.  Both distraught over his decision, as Telethusa is about to give birth she sees the (Egyptian) gods, Anubis, Bubastis, Apis, Osiris’ son, Isis, Osiris, and the Egyptian snake who tell her to let the child live.  So Telethusa is able to fool everyone into thinking that the child is a boy, and thirteen years later the boy, Iphis (really a girl), is betrothed to the lovely Ianthe.  Now Iphis actually longs for Ianthe, but is distraught over her sex, thinking that nothing can come of the union.  The girl prays to Isis, and behold!  On the day of the marriage Iphis is transformed into a young man and gets his/her desire.

❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈

I must say that in spite of the distastefulness of some of these tales, Ovid has outdone himself.  His metamorphoses are not just simply humans changing to bulls, birds and whatnot, but a broader transformation of gender, alliances, and even unnatural love.

Metamorphoses
Lichas ❥  hard stone
Hercules  ❥  a god
Galanthis  ❥  weasel
Nymph  ❥  lotus
Dryope  ❥  lotus tree
Iolaus  ❥  youth
Boys  ❥  men
Byblis  ❥  fountain
Iphis  ❥  young man


The Metamorphosis of the Lovers (1938)
Andre Masson
source Wikiart





Metamorphoses – Book VIII

Book VIII
Scylla, Nisus, Minos / Daedalus, the Minotaur, Theseus & Ariadne / Daedalus & Icarus / Daedalus & Perdix / The Calydonian Hunt / Althaea & Meleager / Theseus & Achelous The Echinades & Perimele / Baucis & Philemon / Erysichthon’s Sin / Erysichthon & FamineErysichthon’s DaughterAchelous
  
Minos & Scylla
17th century etching
source Wikimedia Commons
Minos, the son of Europa and king of Crete, besieges Alcathous and the coast of Megara, and its king, Nisus, amid his grey hairs, has a gleaming purple tuft which holds the security of his kingdom.  Now, his daughter, Scylla, climbs to the top of the tower of the king to watch the siege and falls madly in love with Minos.  She convinces herself that if she is taken hostage, the war will end. With such thoughts, she sneaks into her father’s bedroom, tears off his tuft, and hurries out to find Minos.  King Minos, however is appalled at her present, and claiming her a disgrace, calls for her banishment.  Imposing just wars on the Megarians, Minos set sail for home, leaving lovelorn Scylla spewing poison and lamenting her fate.  Finally, she decided to follow Minos, diving into the waves and holding fast to his ship.  Yet, her father now is a tawny osprey, and he dives at her, dislodging her from the stern.  Scylla transforms into a bird, called the Ciris, meaning to cut, for she had shorn her father’s tuft.
The Minotaur (1884)
George Frederick Watts
source Wikimedia Commons
Minos arrives home and sacrifices to Jove, but there is a shame lurking in Crete.  The adulterous liaison of Mino’s mother and a bull, has produced an hideous offspring which must be concealed.  Minos gets the famed builder, Daedelus, to construct a labyrinth that is so intricate, the monster will never get out.  In this maze, the Minotaur is imprisoned, but Theseus kills it three years later, with the help of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, who gives him a thread to find his way out.  While Theseus took Ariadne with him, he left her on Naxos, but in her desolation and tears, Bacchus gave her a place in the constellations as the Northern Corona, her crown a diadem of stars.
Daedalus, weary of his sojourn in Crete, decides to escape, and “at once he starts to work on unknown arts to alter nature”.  Constructing wings make of reeds, twine, feathers and wax, he cautions his son, Icarus, that he must follow him and not fly too high nor too low to avoid being wetted by the ocean or scorched by the sun.  At first, the boy flies right behind his father but then, delight and audacity come upon him and he soars up into the open sky.  The wax on the wings melt and he plunges to the sea and to his death.  Daedalus finally discovers his son’s plight and builds a tomb for him on an island now called Icaria.

Lament for Icarus (1897)
Herbert James Draper
source Wikimedia Commons

As Daedalus builds the tomb, an irate partridge comes out of a muddy ditch to scold him.  This bird is Perdix, his nephew, who at twelve years old was trusted to his care and teaching.  But the boy proved too clever and bright, and in his envy of the child, Daedalus threw him from Minerva’s sacred citadel, lying and saying that he’d fallen.  Minerva, however, scooped the child up in mid-air and transformed him into a partridge.  Now Daedalus, spent and ragged, arrives as a suppliant near Aetna (Sicily) where King Cocalus gives him refuge but wisely prepares his troops for an invasion by Minos.
The Calydonian Boar Hunt (1611-12)
Peter Paul Reubens
source Wikimedia Commons
Because of Theseus’ bravery and success, Athens is relieved of paying tribute to Crete and all lands praise him and ask for his assistance in peril.  Oenus, king of Calydon requires his assistance when a massive boar is sent by the goddess Diana, who is incensed because all the gods had been given a gift of the harvest, yet her alter lay bare.  A legion of men gather, some of whom are familiar, including Achilles’ father (Peleus), Jason, Telamon, and wise Nestor in his youth (from The Iliad), and the Calydonian hunt begins.  The men charge the boar who becomes enraged and nothing seems to be able to slow his frenzy. Finally, Atlanta, the only woman in the hunt, manages to draw blood, and Meleager praises her bravery.  The rest of the men, however, are angered at being bested by a woman, and rather forcefully, yet thoughtlessly, attempt to kill the animal.  Finally Meleager kills the massive beast, and all applaud him, but when he gives part of the his glory to Atlanta, dissent rumbles through the hunters.  His uncles emerge to reclaim his gift, angering Meleager who kills them both.
Althaea, Meleager’s mother, is in the process of giving gifts to the gods for his victory, when she sees the bodies of her brothers being borne into the city. Agonized over their deaths, she recalls a prophecy where the Fates assigned the same life to a log as to Meleager.  His mother had secreted the log away, but with this murder she resurrects it.  Her agony as to whether or not to burn it is riveting:
” ……Within Althaea, mother wars with sister;
those two names tear apart her single heart.
First she grows pale with fear of what she plans,
a crime so foul; but then her seething wrath
inflames her eyes with its own color, red.
Now she appears to be most menacing —
a horrid thing —- and now you’d swear that she
was merciful.  When savage frenzy dries
her tears again.  Althaea cries.  She’s like
a ship that, driven by the wind and by
a current running counter, is the prey
of both and — in uncertainty — obeys
two forces ……”
After a Gollum-like conversation with herself, finally she calls on the Furies to witness her deed, hurling the log into the fire.  As the log burns, so does Meleager until he is only ash.  His sisters are distraught, his father is agonized, his mother commits suicide and Diana is content.  She turns his sisters into guinea hens.
Theseus, sailing away from Calydon and the carnage, is warned by the river-god Achelous, to take refuge in his house.  Heavy rains have swelled the Achelous river and he is in danger if he attempts to cross.  Aegus’ son accepts the hospitality and he is given a feast.  
Theseus asks Achelous about an island that he sees far off and the river god informs him that it is not one, but five islands.  They used to be five Naiads, but when they sacrificed ten bulls for a festival dance and forgot to invite Achelous, he swelled with rage, sweeping the nymphs away and tearing away a piece of land to form five parts, now called the Echinades.  There is yet another island, Perimele, named for his love, who he, by force, took her virginity.  Her father threw her from a cliff into the sea, however Achelous bore her up, calling on Neptune, who changed her into an island.
Mercury & Jupiter in the House of Philemon & Baucis (c. 17th century)
Jacob an Oost
source Wikimedia Commons
Pirithous, the son of Ixion, scoffed at the river god’s tale, feeling that the gods were given too much power, but Lelex countermands his profession with a story to tell.  In the Phrygian hills, there once was a devolted old couple named Baucis and Philemon.  One day, the gods Jupiter and Mercury came seeking shelter in the guise of men.  The poor doddering couple gave them lodging and the best of the food they had to offer.  When they saw that their wine bowl was magically being replenished they were frightened that their food was not good enough and went to kill their only goose who guarded their land.  But the poor goose gave them a chase and they gave up exhausted, when finally the gods revealed themselves.  They took the couple on a long walk and when they looked back, their house was turned into a temple.  When asked for their desire, they asked to become priests of the temple and die together when their time came.  All came to fruition, but as their lives faded, one was transformed into an oak tree and the other, a linden.
Theseus is quite stirred by these tales and wishes to hear another.  Achelous tells of the transformations of Proteus, then relates a story of Erysichthon, who scorned the gods, chopping down a sacred grove of Ceres, including a sacred oak, causing the tree to bleed as the nymph inside is killed.  She utters a prophesy of punishment for Erysichthon’s sin, but still Erysichthon is heedless.

In punish for Erysichthon’s heartless deed, Ceres sends her nymph to Famine (as she cannot go herself for their purposes are opposed), and Famine pays the sinner a visit, breathing on him until he dreams of gnawing, burning hunger, but he can only eat air.  

Erysichthon Sells His Daughter (1650-60)
Jan Havicksz Steen
source Wikimedia Commons
Erysichthon’s hunger becomes so unbearable that he sells his daughter, but she escapes her master by changing herself into the shape of a man.  When father sees daughter again, he sells her to master after master, all of whom she eludes by changing form.  Finally, the ravenousness of Erysichthon causes him to eat all he has and, in desperation, he “began to rend his flesh, to bite his limbs, to feed on his own body.”

Achelous wonders why he tells of the metamorphoses of others when he, too, has undergone many changes.  In fact, he removes his head-wreath showing not two, but one horn upon his head.  Then he groans.



Metamorphoses
King Nisus  ❥  osprey
Scylla  ❥  bird
Ariadne  ❥  Northern Corona constellation
Perdix  ❥  partridge
Meleager’s sisters  ❥  guinea hen
Five Naiads  ❥  the Echinades islands
Perimele  ❥  island
Baucis & Philemon  ❥  oak and linden trees
Proteus  ❥  boar, serpent, bull, stone, plant, stream, fire
Erysichthon’s daughter  ❥  man, mare, bird, deer, etc.
Achelous  ❥  river, snake, bull

Metamorphoses Book VII

Book VII

Medea and Jason / Medea and Aeson / Medea and Pelias / The Flight of Medea / Theseus and Aegus / Minos / Cephalus / The Plague / The Myrmidons / Cephalus, Procris & Aurora

Jason and Medea (1907)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

The twin sons of Boreas assist King Phineus, who aids them in their journey to Colchis, where Jason meets with King Aeëtes to claim the Golden Fleece. The king agrees to relinquish his prize upon Jason completing three horrendous tasks. Yet Medea, daughter of the king, has fallen madly in love with Jason.  In spite of Jason’s foreign origin and the loyalty she owes to her father, she agrees to help Jason succeed in his trials in exchange for his promise of marriage.  First, he tames the dangerous bulls with herbs of Hecate given to him by Medea, yoking them to plow a field that has never before been plowed.  As he drops snake’s teeth into the ground from a bronze helmet, each takes the shape of an armoured warrior who attacks Jason.  But the young man hurls a stone into their ranks and they turn on each other, perishing in a civil war.  In his last test, Jason puts to sleep a dragon with juices from a hypnagogic herb, gains the Fleece and sails home with his new wife.

Medea Rejuvenating Aeson (1760)
Corrado Giaquinto
source Wikimedia Commons

Upon his arrival home, Jason learns that his old father, Aeson, is ailing and pleads with his wife to take years from his life and add them to his father’s.  Instead, Medea promises to lengthen Aeson’s life. Nine days and nights she searches through the land in a chariot pulled by dragons, discovers magic herbs and returns.  Purifying Aeson with fire, water and sulphur, she brews the herbs with plants, stones, ocean sands, filthy screech-owl wings, the guts of a werewolf, the liver of an old stag, the skin of Libyan snakes and the head and beak of a crow. Cutting the old man’s throat, there she pours her potion and he is renewed to youth.

Pretending that she has quarrelled with her husband, Medea arrives as a suppliant at the palace of Pelias, the old man weighed down with age. Hearing of Medea’s success with Aeson, the daughters of Pelias beg her to perform her magic on their father.  Medea mixes a concoction, using herbs that have no power, and convinces the daughters to slit their father’s throat, yet while each want to be pious, none can bear the sight of their deed, and they cut blindly into the old man.  Sitting up, he accuses them of murder, but Medea cuts short his accusations, throwing his flesh into the boiling vat.

The Murder of Pelias by his Daughters (1878)
George Moreau de Tours
source Wikimedia Commons

Escaping, the horrible witch flies across the lands in her dragon-pulled chariot, and we hear of many transformations.  The flight of Medea takes her to Corinth where she kills Jason’s new wife by burning her with poison, sets fire to his halls, kills her own children and just in time escapes Jason’s vengeance. As Medea takes refuge in Athens, King Aegus, not only shelters the witch, but also marries her.

Medea

Theseus, the son of Aegus, arrives in Athens, and Medea attempts to poison him but, at the last moment, Aegus dashes the cup from his hands.  Medea escapes and the people praise Theseus.

Intent on waging war with Athens for the killing of his son, King Minos sets out to gather allies by force or promise.  With a number of states on his side, Minos speaks with King Aeacus of Oenopia, or Aegina, and his sons Telamon, Peleus and Phocus, but his grandson Aesopus regrets they cannot join him, as they have a treaty with Athens.  Minos utters dire threats for their decision.

Cephalus arrives to enlist the aid of the Aeginians in their battle against Minos, stating that he is a threat to all Greece.  Cephalus is pleased at their loyalty, but notes that there are many missing faces from his last visit to Aegina.

The Plague (1898)
Arnold Böcklin
source Wikiart

Aeacus relates of a plague sent by a raging Juno, that fell upon their fair island.  It affected man and beast alike, causing an horrendous thirst so intense that people died in pools and rotted there.  The king attempted to make a sacrifice of a bull, but the animal dropped dead where it stood, and everywhere people were dehumanized in their suffering.

In his despair, Aeacus called out to Jove, who heard his plea.  In a dream, Aeacus saw an oak tree sway, dropping ants to the ground that began to take human shape. When he awoke, Telamon summoned him to a rank of humans whom Aeacus recognized, the Myrmidons, giving them that name because of their origin [ myrmex = ant ].  They are patient and zealous in their work, fine replacements for the plague-ridden island. But now all men gather to wait and marshal their troops.

Cephalus & Procris (1580)
Paolo Veronese
source Wikiart

As Cephalus and Phocus sit together, Phocus admires the lance of Cephalus, who bursts into tears at his words.  He tells that the shaft destroyed his precious wife and begins to elaborate with a story.  His wife, Procris, the sister of Orithyia (see the last story in Book VI) was gracious and beautiful, and Cephalus treasured her love.  But two months after their marriage the goddess, Aurora, kidnaped him, and Cephalus, repelling her advances, angered the goddess who allowed him to leave, but promised revenge.  On his way home, a distrust of his wife’s fidelity came upon him and he arrived in disguise, attempting to seduce her with favours.  Day after day, she resisted until he offered her untold wealth, gifts and pressed her until she was ready to acquiesce, whereupon he revealed himself and berated her.  Abused and aggrieved, Procris left to roam the mountains and pursued the pursuits of Diana, yet Cephalus begged her to return, which she did, bringing him a lance and a hound.  All division seemed mended, but Cephalus innocently wandered around calling for his beloved “aura”, meaning the wind which he wished to cool him, but his mutterings were taken to Procris who believed that he was being unfaithful.  She covertly followed him, but when Cephalus heard a rustling in the bushes, he believed it to be a predator, and let fly the lance, which pierced the breast of Procris. When he realized his perfidy, he attempted to save his wife, who begged him not to marry “Aura”.  When he explained her mistake, she appeared to die in peace.

❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈

Ovid’s pacing in these stories is often wonky.  We have Medea getting Jason to promise marriage and running off with him, and then, whamo!, he’s married to someone else and she’s seeking sanctuary (or for someone else’s life to ruin, we’re not sure), burning halls, killing children, etc.  There is no transition ….. nothing.  I’m assuming it’s because the people of Ovid’s time would have been familiar with the stories and could mentally fill in the gaps themselves, but when you’re a modern reader it can often leave you confused and searching frantically for information.  It’s a little bit jarring too, but I’m now accustomed to not being surprised at anything from Ovid.

Cephalus & Aurora (1627-30)
Nicholas Poussin
source Wikipedia

Metamorphoses
Winged-dragons  ❥  younger
Old Aeson  ❥  Young Aeson
Old ram  ❥  lamb
Cycnus  ❥  swan
Hyrie  ❥  lake
Combe  ❥  bird
King & Queen of Calaurea  ❥  birds
Cephisus’ grandson  ❥  sea-calf
Son of Eumelus  ❥  bird
Rain with mushrooms  ❥  mortal bodies
Phene, old Periphas & Polypemon’s daughter  ❥  birds
Sciron’s bones  ❥  Scironian rocks
Ants  ❥  Myrmidons (men)