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.

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

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.

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.


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

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)

A Man’s A Man For A’ That by Robert Burns

A Man’s a Man For A’ That
By Robert Burns
Is there, for honest poverty,
         That hings his head, an’ a’ that?
The coward slave, we pass him by,
         We dare be poor for a’ that!
                For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
                        Our toils obscure, an’ a’ that;
                The rank is but the guinea’s stamp;
                        The man’s the gowd for a’ that,
What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,
         Wear hoddin-gray, an’ a’ that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
         A man’s a man for a’ that.
                For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
                        Their tinsel show an’ a’ that;
                The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
                        Is king o’ men for a’ that.
Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord
         Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
         He’s but a coof for a’ that:
                For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
                        His riband, star, an’ a’ that,
                The man o’ independent mind,
                        He looks and laughs at a’ that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
         A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
         Guid faith he mauna fa’ that!
                For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
                        Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
                The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
                        Are higher rank than a’ that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
         As come it will for a’ that,
That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,
         May bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
                For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
                        It’s coming yet, for a’ that,
                That man to man, the warld o’er,
                         Shall brothers be for a’ that.

The more I read of Robert Burns, the more I like his poetry. There must be something about my Scottish heritage that feels an affinity with it.  In any case, in spite of its popularity, this was my first introduction to A Man’s A Man For A’ That, and I wasn’t disappointed.  

Burns challenges the popular premise that a man’s worth lies in his birth or employment or station, instead emphasizing that the measure of a man lies in his character.  From the beginning of the poem, the poor man is first presented in a lowly, yet honest manner, but as the poem progresses, Burns gradually elevates him until he has pride of worth and is looking down on the respected gentleman.  In fact, Burns actually inverts the class structure and hierarchies of rank, calling the poor honest man a “king”, and the rich “fools” and “knaves”. The qualities of honesty and unrewarded toils of the poor man make him inherently a man of greater character and therefore, worth, compared to the entitlements and indiscretions of the gentry.  Burns egalitarian principles shine through with his claim, “that man to man, the warld o’er, / Shall brithers be for a’ that” echoing his radical politics and his sympathy for the French Revolution that was still in progress during the time of his song’s publication in the Glasgow Magazine in 1795.   In fact, Burns must have been wary as to how this song would be perceived by his detractors, as he originally chose not to have his name attached to it.  

Here’s a wonderful reading by David Rintoul (of Doctor Finlay fame) of A Man’s A Man For A’ That:

Deal Me In Challenge #6 

Metamorphoses – Book VI

Book VI

Arachne / Niobe / Latona and the Lycian Peasants / Marsyas / Pelops / Tereus, Prochne, Philomela / Boreas and Orithyia

The Fable of Arachne or The Spinner (1656)
Diego Velazquez
source Wikiart

Minerva is quite pleased by the Muses’ story, but, wanting to punish someone herself, she finds Arachne, a girl of lowly birth raised up by the renown of her artistic weaving. Minerva, in the guise of an old woman, attempts to warn her of her pride, but Arachne shows complete contempt for the goddess, who reveals herself and accepts the girl’s spinning challenge. As a warning, Minvera weaves in the four corners of her cloth:  Thracians, Rhodope and Haemus, who took names from the gods and were turned into mountains; the Pygmaean queen who defeated Juno and was transformed into a crane; Antigone, daughter of the Trojan king, for being Jove’s consort was changed into a stork; and because of the boasting of their beauty, King Cinyras’ daughters were tranformed into the marble steps of Juno’s temple.  In what appears to be a forceful indictment against the gods, Arachne weaves into her cloth various scenes of the gods, representing deceptions, manipulations and transformations of humans.  Furious, Minerva strikes her; Arachne takes a nooses and hangs herself but in pity, Minerva allows her to live but in the form of a spider.

The Destruction of Niobe’s Children (1760)
Richard Wilson
source Wikiart

Theban Queen Niobe is a noblewoman and another who takes pride in her husband and children (see the story of Ino and Athamas in Book IV), scorning the deity Latona.  In retaliation, Latona sends her own children, Diana and Apollo, to kill Niobe’s sons through accidents, but still Niobe taunts the goddess.  On their brothers grave, the daughters of Niobe drop dead one by one, and even though she tries to shield the final daughter, she too succumbs. Infused with unbearable grief, Niobe turns to stone.

The people now fear and respect Latona more, and one person recalls how she was exiled by Juno, giving birth to her babies on Delos, then fleeing. Wandering through hot and scorched Lycia, Latona came to a pool and tried to drink but some Lycian peasants denied her pleas, even going so far as to muddy the water with their feet.  Wrathfully, Latona lifted her arms to heaven, turning the peasants into frogs that would live in the pool forever.

Marsyas Flawed by Apollo (1625)
Jacob Jordaens
source Wikiart

Another person remembers a Satyr, Marsyas, who contended with Latona’s son, Apollo, on the flute and lost.  In punishment, Apollo flayed all the skin from the Satyr’s body and, as he died, his friend’s tears mixed together to form a river called by the Satyr’s name, the clearest stream in Phrygia.

The Thebans turn back to mourning, blaming Niobe, but her brother, Pelops, weeps for her. He bares his ivory shoulder; when his father had cut him up in pieces, the gods gathered him together but, not finding the piece between his throat and where the arm began, they filled it with ivory.

Philomena and Procne
Elizabeth Jane Gardner
source Wikimedia Commons

Many regions were urged to send Thebes their comfort and compassion.  All comply, except for Athens who is fighting her own battle with barbarians.  Tereus from Thrace and his troops save Athens and king Pandion gives his daughter, Procne, to Tereus as his bride.  But neither Hymen nor the Graces grace the wedding and instead only the Furies are in attendance.  Tereus and Procne have a son named, Itys, and five years pass when one day, Procne begs her husband to bring her sister to visit.  Tereus sets sail for Athens but immediately upon seeing Philomena, is prey to a flaming desire for her.  Returning to Thrace, he takes her to a hut, rapes her and then cuts out her tongue so she cannot reveal his crime.  He then tells his wife that her sister is dead.  A prisoner for a year, finally Philomena weaves her terrible story into a cloth and sends it with a servingwoman to her sister.  Rage greater than lightening fills Procne, and during a Bacchanalian festival she rescues Philomena and they return to the castle.  When little Itys sees his mother and with joy calls out to her, the two women grab him, kill him and then dismember the child, feeding him to an unsuspecting Tereus.  When Philomena finally enters the room clutching her nephews head, Tereus is horrified.  Unsheathing his sword, he chases his wife and his sister-in-law, but Procne transforms into a swallow, Philomena, a nightingale, and Tereus himself into a hoopoe.

The daughter of king Erectheus (who succeeded Pandion), Orithyia, was desired by Boreas of Thrace but was rejected because of the crime of Tereus. In a snit, Boreas spreads his wings and sails to Athens, captures Orithyia and marries her.  In time, she gives birth to twin sons, Calais and Zetes, who will become part of the Argonauts.

Boreas (1903)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

Okay, gross!  Just gross!  Ovid has outdone himself in his description of the dismembering of a six-year-old terrified child.  And for some reason I still get the feeling as if he’s just fooling around.

Twelve Olympians (1517-18)
source Wikipedia

Thracians Rhodope & Haemus  ❥  mountains
Pygmaean queen  ❥  crane
Antigone  ❥  stork
King Cinyras’ daughters  ❥  temple’s marble steps
Arachne  ❥  spider
Niobe  ❥  stone
Lycian peasants  ❥  frogs
Tears  ❥  Marsyas river
Procne  ❥  swallow
Philomena  ❥  nightingale
Tereus  ❥  hoopoe

Metamorphoses – Book V

Book V

Perseus and Phineus / Proetus / Polydectes / Minerva, the Muses, Pegasus / Pyreneus / The Pierides / Typhoeus / Ceres & Prosperina / Arethusa & Alpheus / Triptolemus & Lycnus / The Pierides — Again

Perseus turns Phineus and his followers to stone (early 1680s)
 Luca Giordano
source Wikipedia

In the middle of the wedding feast, uproar rises and it is Phineus, the brother of King Cepheus, coming to revenge himself on Perseus for stealing his bride. Curiously King Cepheus chastises his brother for not saving his bride himself and says that he has given her to Perseus for his deeds.  Not certain whether to aim his shaft at the king or Perseus, Phineus chooses the latter, but Perseus hurls it back, killing Rhoetus, and the wedding feast turns into a brawl.  Perseus battles nearly everyone at the feast until he is backed against a pillar and his strength is beginning to ebb.  He holds up his old, trusty weapon, the head of Medusa, which turns his enemies to marble statues and his one friend, Aconteus, into stone.  Phineus repents, but too late, as he too is transformed into marble.

Perseus returns to Argos with his bride, Andromeda, but discovers that Proetus has driven out Perseus’ grandfather from the citadel, whereupon he relies on Medusa once more for victory.
Polydectes belittles Perseus’ worth and implies that his slaying of Medusa is merely a tale.  Of course, Perseus employs Medusa’s head, turning the dissident into petrified stone.

Minerva with the Muses (1640-45)
Jacques Stella
source Wikiart

Now Minerva departs from her brother, Perseus, and journeys to the Virgin Muses’ home, the land of Thebes and Helicon, where a wondrous spring had formed when Pegasus had hit the ground with his hoof. She proclaims these daughters of Mnemosyne blessed.

The Muses tell Minerva of a savage, cruel king, Pyreneus, who lured them into his home, then tried to rape them, however they escaped on wings of flight.  Enraged, he ran to the top of his tower and, claiming he could follow them, jumped to his death.

Barely had their words dissolved into the air, when nine magpies alight on branches nearby.  The Muses reveal that these had once been the daughters of Pierus, a rich lord of Pella, and they had lost a singing contest to the Muses. The Pierides sang a rather impious song of the gods changing into animals, and the Muse, Calliope, was chosen as their storyteller; they relate her song to Minerva.

Proserpine (1874)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
source Wikiart

In the land of Sicily, Typhoeus lies underneath it.  Once a man, he was transformed into a volcano for daring to hope to receive heaven as his kingdom. Meanwhile,Venus decides that the daughter of Ceres, Prosperina (Persephone), is so intent on chastity, that it would weaken her rule over her, therefore she enlists Cupid to shoot Pluto with an arrow of love, and he becomes inflamed for the girl.  He kidnaps her whilst she picks white lilies and violets in the woods, escaping in his chariot like white light.  Cyane, a nymph in her pool, attempts to prevent the rape and, as Pluto strikes with his royal scepter, a crack opens in the earth, into which he disappears with his hostage-prize. Disconsolate, Cyane literally weeps herself into a pool of tears.

Ceres searches everywhere for her daughter, turning a rude boy into a newt during her travels, until eventually she reaches the pool of Cyane.  Seeing the girdle of her daughter floating there, she curses the earth, withdrawing its bountiful harvest, and famine infects the land.  Arethusa, a sacred spring, rises from the pool, pleading with Ceres to remove the curse, so Ceres petitions Zeus and it is agreed that Prosperina may return as long as she has not taken food.  But Ascalaphus has seen the maiden eat and for denouncing her, he is transformed into a screech owl. Aschelous’ daughters, who had been with Proserpina when she had been gathering flowers, after searching all lands for her are changed by the gods into golden birds with a girl’s features and voice. Zeus, trying to heal the breach between brother and sister decrees that Proserpine may spend six months with her husband and six with her mother.

Return of Persephone
Frederic Leighton
source Wikiart

Now Arethusa is asked by Ceres how she became a sacred spring:  one day while bathing in a pool, Alpheus, a river-god, calls to her and she flees. Taking on the form of a man, Alpheus pursues her and Arethusa, calling on Diana for help, is hidden in a cloud.  However, her fear is too great as Alpheus stalks around her and she sweats herself into a pool, whereupon Alpheus recognizes his prey and transforms back into his river form to join her.

Ceres departs in her chariot, landing in Athens and giving to Triptolemus both her chariot and seeds to scatter over many lands.  He makes a journey across Europe, landing in the Scythian kingdom where Lyncus is king.  The king, jealous of the boy’s means of travel, attempts to stab him, but Ceres transforms the king into a lynx, and Triptolemus escapes in the chariot.

And so with Calliope’s wonderful tales, the Nymphs wins the contest, and when insulted and jeered at by the Pierides, turn the nine sisters into insolent magpies.

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

The battle scene at the beginning of this book was so far from what I’d expect from a Greek battle that I still don’t know what to make of it.  The battles in the Iliad, while bloody and fierce, still held a type of dignity and honour; this brawl of Ovid’s is a free-for-all.  Perseus and his Medusa-head are almost becoming comical. Without it, he’d be quite a weak god.

More power-struggles and jealousy and competition and abductions.  Ovid’s “song” is certainly repetitive.

Ceres (Summer) – 1712
Antoine Watteau
Source Wikiart

Wedding feast  ❥  brawl
Enemies  ❥  marble and stone statues
Phineus  ❥  stone
Proteus & Polydectes  ❥  petrified stone
Typhoeus  ❥  volcano
Cyane  ❥  tears (water)
Rude boy  ❥  newt
Ascalaphus  ❥  screech owl
Achelous’ daughters  ❥  golden birds w/girl’s features & voice
Arethusa  ❥  sacred spring
Alpheus (man)  ❥ river ❥ man ❥ river
Lyncus, the Scythian king  ❥  lynx
Nine daughters of Pierus  ❥  magpies

Metamorphoses – Book IV

Book IV

The Daughters of Minyas / Pyramus & Thisbe / Mars, Venus, Vulcan, the Sun / Leucothoe & Clytie / Salmacis & Hermaphroditus / The Daughters of Minyas / Athamas & Ino / Cadmus & Harmonia / Acrisius / Perseus & Atlas Perseus & Andromeda / Perseus & Medusa

Minyas’ daughter Alcithoe and her sisters disdain Bacchus’ revelries and deride the god. The daughters of Minyas sit at home during the festivities, and as they weave their cloth, they also weave stories as they work, carefully choosing their tales.

Thisbe (1909)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikipedia

Handsome Pyramus lives next door to Thisbe, a girl as charming as she is lovely. Forbidden to marry by their parents, they can only converse through a crack in the wall between their two abodes.  One day, they devise a plan to meet outside the city beside Ninus’ tomb, beneath the mulberry tree.  Thisbe reaches the rendezvous first, but is startled by a prowling lioness who has just finished feeding.  Terrified, she flees but drops her shawl, and the lioness, finding it, worries it in her jaws.  When Pyramus arrives and finds the bloodstained garment, he is engulfed in despair.  Wishing to join his love, he thrusts his dagger into his abdomen, and the blood seeping from him is drawn by the roots of the mulberry tree, turning its white berries a dark red.  When Thisbe returns to find Pyramus fading into death, she too stabs herself, claiming that the berries of the mulberry will be a sign of this tragic conclusion.  The gods grant her wish.

Clytie (1687)
Charles de la Fosse
source Wikimedia Commons

Sister Leuconoe begins another story in which the Sun is a witness to the adulterous liaison between Venus and Mars.  When the husband of Venus, Vulcan is informed, he fashions chains of very thin bronze into a net, and snares the lovers during their next meeting.  Yet now Venus is hungry for revenge on the Sun and causes him to fall in love with Leucothoe.  Disguising himself as Eurynome, he gains entrance to her room and she submits, but her sister, Clytie, is jealous and informs their father.  Incensed and deaf to Leucothoe’s pleas of rape, he has her buried alive, but the Sun in his grief, leaves a sweet nectar around her body, turning it into a shrub of sweet incense.  Clytie is shunned by the sun and as she sits day by day in the same spot without food or drink, she transforms into a pale, yet also reddish plant (heliotrope).

Alcithoe takes over the storytelling, revealing that in the caves of Ida, a boy was raised called Hermaphroditus.  One day, he is passing by a pool and the nymph Salmacis, a lazy nymph who never joined Diana’s active company, spots him and decides that she must have him.  Engaging him in conversation, her words become more suggestive, and Hermaphroditus warns her to cease or he’ll leave.  Instead, she relinquishes the spot, disappearing into the bushes, but watches him as he decides to bath in the pool’s clear waters.  At last she has him, plunging into the pool and wrapping around him like a serpent, in spite of his struggles to spurn her.  Finally they become one, emerging as both and neither a man or woman.  Distraught, Hermaphroditus prays that the pool will have the same effect on anyone who enters it.  I’m not certain why, as the experience seemed most unpleasant!

Suddenly a roar is heard and Bacchus and his merrymakers arrive.  Suddenly their weaving mutates into twining grapevines, and while the daughters of Minyas rush to seek refuge, they shrink and transform into squeaking, shrieking bats, often called Vesperites.

Athamas taken by the Furies (1801)
Arcangelo Migliarini
source Wikimedia Commons

The reputation of Bacchus grows, and his aunt Ino sings his praises.  She is very proud of her husband, Athamas, and of her lovely children, but envy is brewing in the breast of Juno who travels to Hades as part of her plotting. Curiously, we find the daughters of Danaus here, who had apparently married their fifty “Egyptus” cousins, then murdered them and, in Hades, are endlessly filling cracked jars for their crime.  (In Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Maidens, they had evaded their cousins and were under the protection of King Pelasgus of Argos).  In any case, Juno summons the Furies, Ixion, Sisyphus and Tisiphone, to do her bidding.  Tisiphone arrives in Thebes with Sorrow, Terror, Dread and Madness at her side, terrifying Athamas and Ino with her serpent locks and, infusing them with a venomous potion, leaves them to go insane. Athamas, seeing his wife as a lioness, attacks her and the children.  Grabbing his son, Learchus, he whirls him around, dashing his head against the rocks. Ino is distraught and, clutching her son, Melicerta, she climbs a promontory near the sea, calling on Bacchus for help.  In her madness, she leaps from the top with her son, and Venus in her pity, begs Neptune to transform them into sea deities, Leucothoe and Palaemon.  He grants her wish.  The Theban women, friends of Ino, mourn her fate and Juno transfigures them into rocks and birds.

Unbeknownst to Cadmus that his daughter and grandson are now sea deities, he and Harmonia leave Thebes in sadness and suffering until they reach the region of Illyria.  He requests that if the snake whose teeth he had scattered on the ground had been sacred, that he too assume such a shape.  As he begins to change, Harmonia cries out, asking to join her husband and both of them become serpents, but ones who remember who they were.  Ironically Cadmus becomes what he used to start his kingdom.

Acrisius, from the line of Belus instead of Agenor, defies Bacchus and also, in his stubborn resolve, denies that Perseus was born of Jove in a shower of gold.  But soon the king reverses these claims.  Perseus, at this time, is flying over the deserts of Libya, carrying the Gorgon’s head, which is dripping rivulets of blood, and as each drop hits the sand it metamorphoses into a snake.  This is why Libya is infested with snakes.

Atlas and the Hesperides (1925)
John Singer Sargent
source Wikimedia Commons

From Libya, Perseus comes to Hesperia, the land of Altas, who raises sheep and cultivates a golden orchard.  Perseus, asking if he might rest from his travels, is blatantly refused hospitality by Atlas.  A prophecy has reached his ears, of a despoiling of his golden orchard by a son of Jove.  Perseus is annoyed with the refusal and struggles with the giant, but knowing that eventually his strength with be of no match, holds up the head of Medusa. Immediately Atlas is changed into an enormous, rugged mountain.

Perseus & Andromeda (1867-69)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Perseus continues his journey, intending to pass over Ethiopia until he spies a woman, Andromeda, tied to a rock.  Descending, he inquires of the maiden’s plight, discovering her punishment is for her mother’s boast of her own loveliness. Suddenly, a sea monster, Ammon, rises from the ocean, and her parents, Cepheus and Cassiope, plead for assistance, which Perseus promises in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage.  High up in the sky, Perseus rushes, then downward, plunging his sword into the monster again and again.  Victorious, he places the head of Medusa onto a bed of seaweed, which soaks up the power of the Gorgon, and transforms to coral.

The wedding celebrations now begin, yet one of Cepheus’ lords requests Perseus to recount the story of the Gorgon’s head.  Perseus describes how he travelled beneath Atlas, took the one eye of the Graeae sisters, and advanced until he found Medusa and her sister, Gorgons.  Using the Graeae eye in one hand for sight, he turned his own gaze away and lopped off Medusa’s head.  When asked why, of the two sisters, only Medusa had snakes for hair, he relates that she once had been a beauty renowned for her gorgeous hair, yet the Ruler of the Sea raped her in Minerva’s sanctuary, and the goddess made Medusa pay for her crime by turning her lovely hair into serpents.

Perseus and the Graiae
Edward Burne-Jones
source Wikiart

The Geneaology of the Argives

Boys  ❥  mute fishes
Naiad  ❥  fish
Mulberry = white berries  ❥  dark berries
Leucothoe  ❥  shrub of sweet incense
Clytie  ❥ part pale, part reddish plant (Heliotrope)
Hermanphroditus + Salmacis  ❥  hermaphrodite
Weaving  ❥  grapevines
Sisters  ❥  bats
Ino & son  ❥  Palaemon & Leucothoe (sea dieties)
Theban women  ❥  rocks & birds
Cadmus & Harmonia  ❥  serpents
Drops of blood  ❥  snakes
Altas  ❥  mountain
Seaweed  ❥  coral
Men & animals  ❥  stone
Medusa’s hair  ❥  snakes

Links to my other posts:

Metamorphoses:  Book I / Book II / Book III

On Reading ‘The Faerie Queene’ by C.S. Lewis

“Beyond all doubt it is best to have made one’s first acquaintance with Spenser in a very large — and, preferably, illustrated — edition of The Faerie Queene, on a wet day, between the ages of twelve and sixteen; and if, even at that age, certain of the names aroused unidentified memories of some still earlier, some almost prehistoric, commerce with a selection of ‘Stories from Spenser’, heard before we could read, so much the better.”

A number of us are going to be reading The Fairie Queene beginning sometime in April and, considering the difficulty of the poem, I decided to do some pre-reading investigation.

Although C.S. Lewis is known for his books on theology, his actual expertise was in Medieval and Renaissance literature.  He has a number of essays relating to The Fairie Queene, and when I stumbled on this one, I thought it a perfect beginning.

Lewis writes that the optimal experience with The Faire Queene is created if one reads it between the ages of 10 and 16, with a large illustrated edition and then grow with the work, starting with mere wonder at the story and advancing to a critical appreciation of it, cultivating a relationship with the work that will remain and flourish throughout life.  But while advocating this process, Lewis realizes many may come to The Faerie Queene later in life, and he is writing to give guidance to the mature reader with his first experience of this great work.

Una and the Lion (c. 1860)
William Bell Scott
source Wikimedia Commons

Lewis instructions begin very simply; as the child does, one must begin with The Faerie Queene.  Next, even if one does not have a large illustrated edition, one should imagine the book they do have to be a heavy volume that should be read at a table, “a massy, antique story with a blackletter flavour about it — a book for devout, prolonged, and leisurely perusal.”  The illustrations would be not only fantastic and beautiful, but also wicked and ugly.  While the book is new, it is also old, ancient yet original.

“All this new growth sprouts out of an old, gnarled wood, and, as in very early spring, mists it over in places without concealing it ………….  And it is best to begin with a taste for homespun, accepting the cloth of gold when it comes, but by no means depending on it for your pleasure, or you will be disappointed ….”

Lewis reveals that Spenser’s friends wanted him to conform to the Puritan perspective of the time, being only a “servile classicist”, yet his poetry appeared to naturally break out of this mould.  After being cautioned by a his friend on touching too closely on papist and medieval themes by his references to “Ladies of the Lake” and “friendly fairies” in his poetry, Spenser remained true to the natural appreciation he harboured for the Middle Ages, and taking “all his renaissance accomplishments with him”, produced The Faerie Queene.  In blending the two ages, Spenser in effect “became something between the last of the medieval poets and the first of the romantic medievalists.”

As a child one may have a uncomfortable feeling that one has met many of The Faerie Queene’s characters before, but as a mature reader one has the apprehension to discover the moral allegory within the work.  While critics aren’t in agreement as to how much emphasis should be placed on it, it is not necessary to analyze the poet’s exact meaning.  Instead we should simply have an impression of regions within the poem that are not always what they seem.

Lewis ends with William Butler Yeat’s quote on Spenser’s House of Busirane, saying that Spenser’s characters are “so visionary, so full of ghostly midnight animation, that one is persuaded tht they had some strange purpose and did truly appear in just that way.”

And so I can now step into Spenser’s world with a little more imagination and expectation.  I’ve already been exposed to the world of King Arthur and so I’m looking forward to some more fantastical adventures.  And honestly, a few fairies would be very welcome.

A Lover’s Complaint by William Shakespeare

From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded
A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
My spirits t’attend this double voice accorded,
And down laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,
Storming her world with sorrow’s wind and rain


This “fickle maid” relates her story, a story of love unrequited, but as she describes her inner conflict, we receive a vision of the maid, no longer young:


“Whereupon the thought might think sometime it saw
The carcass of a beauty spent and done;
Time had not scythed all that youth begun,
Nor youth all quit; but, spite of heaven’s fell rage,
Some beauty peept through lattice of sear’d age.”


Crying despondently and wiping her eyes with a handkerchief, the maid tells a respectable man, who is grazing his cattle nearby, of her troubles.


“Not age, but sorrow, over me hath power;
I might as yet have been a spreading flower, 
Fresh to myself, if I had self-applied
Love to myself, and to no love beside.”


She fell in love with a young man with a silken tongue and enchanting brown curls, who stole her heart in spite of other more questionable qualities.


“His qualities were beauteous as his form,
For maiden-tongued he was, and thereof free;
Yet, if men moved him, was he such a storm
As oft twixt May and April to see,
When winds breathe sweet, unruly though they be.
His rudeness so with his authorized youth
Did livery falseness in a pride of truth.”


She “gave him all my flower,” without being demanding of him like others.  She claimed that “mine honour shielded” but she became an “amorous spoil.” Even though she knew of his other women, of his “foul beguiling” and of his illegitimate children, still she is taken in by his false charm.  Yet, in spite of this sorrow that is a burden to her heart, she claims that she would be captivated by him all over again.


O, that infected moisture of his eyes,
O, that false fire which in his cheek so glow’d,
O, that forced thunder from his heart did fly,
O, that sad breath his spongy  lungs bestow’d,
O, all that borrow’d motion seeming ow’d,
Would yet again betray the fore-betray’d,
And new pervert a reconciled maid.


Young Woman in a Straw Hat (1901)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
source Wikiart

Popular in medieval and renaissance times, this “complaint poem” is written in rhyme royal (ababbcc), with seven lines per stanza in iambic pentameter, which I just encountered while recently reading The Brubury Tales (in The Feet’s Prologue), a take on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.  Because this style was unusual for Shakespeare, some critics question his authorship, yet there are parts of the poem that certainly echo of Shakespeare, and coincidentially the first stanza is very close to the first stanza of The Rape of Lucrece.

As for figures of speech, the following are included in the poem:  alliteration, anaphora, hyperbole, metaphor, paradox, personification and simile.  Could I identify them all on the first read?  No, but that means that I’ll have to read The Lover’s Complaint again!

Deal Me In Challenge #4 




Metamorphoses – Book III

Book III

Cadmus / Actaeon / Semele / Tiresias / Narcissus & Echo / Pentheus

Cadmus and Minerva (17th century)
Jacob Jordaens
source Wikimedia Commons

Agenor commands Cadmus to find his sister, Europa, yet while he wanders near and far, success eludes him, until the oracle of Apollo tells him to find a heifer who has never worn a yoke and there in Boeotia, he is to build his city, Thebes.  Cadmus kills a serpent and under Minerva’s orders, plants its teeth from which spring men, but warriors that, in their battle frenzy, kill each other until there are only five left: Echion and four others.  Together they build the walls of Thebes.

Cadmus’ first sorrow lay in his grandson, Actaeon, who when out hunting with his friends, came across Diana bathing in a pool, and for having viewed the sacred virgin, Actaeon is transformed into a stag by the goddess.  Yet the goddess is not satisfied with such a benign punishment, he is hunted by his own hunting dogs until,

“Upon all side, his hounds have hemmed him in;
they sink their muzzles into every limb —
the flesh of their own master in false guise
as stag.  Diana was not satisfied
until, so mangled, young Actaeon died …”

Thus, Juno’s rage against Europa, and all her blood, stemming from the house of Agenor, is assuaged.

Jove and Semele (1695)
Sebastiano Ricci
source Wikipedia

Juno learns that Cadmus’ daughter, Semele, is pregnant by Jove and, seeking revenge, she disguises herself as the girl’s nurse and counsels her to ask Jove to see him in all his powers. Unsuspecting, Semele makes this request of her lover and, unable to refuse her, she is killed by his bolts of light and turned to ash.  However, her unborn son, Bacchus, is rescued, sewen into the thigh of Jove and then given to Nysan nymphs upon his birth.

To settle an argument over whether men or women get more pleasure in love, Jove and Juno defer to Tiresias, who knew love as both genders (having been transformed by mating serpents to a woman and back again).  Furious at Tiresias siding with Jove, Juno steals away his sight, and Jove gives him the gift of prophecy for recompense.

Narcissus (1594-96)
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Asked by the river nymph, Liriope, if her son, Narcissus, would live to see a long life, Tiresias’ answer “Yes, if he never knows himself,” was a cryptic puzzle.  Yet the boy, loved by youths and girls alike, has a disdain for them all, including a nymph, named Echo, whom he spurns, and she wastes away until only her voice remains.  Finally, a youth prays to the gods that Narcissus receive the same treatment as they, and one day, as he sees his reflection in a pool, he immediately falls in love.

” … he is the seeker and 
the sought, the longed-for and the one who longs;
he is the arsonist — and is the scorched.”

He pines away, as had Echo, and eventually dies, but instead of a body, only a white-petalled flower with a yellow centre remains.

Bacchus (1596-97)
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Tiresias’ reputation grows but, Pentheus, Echion’s son, mocks Tiresias and his blindness, as he also scorns all the gods, especially refusing the rites of Bacchus.  The old man prophesies that Bacchus will soon come and if Pentheus does not accept him, he will be torn to pieces.

” ……………………. and then
you will complain that, in my blindness, I
saw far too well.”

Bacchus arrives and Pentheus is in a fury not even his grandfather, Cadmon, can assuage.  He captures a priest of Bacchus, Acoetes, who tells of his encounter with a young Bacchus on a ship, and of his god-like appearance.  When all the crew but Acoetes refused to take Bacchus to his destination, they were all turned into sea-monsters.  Enraged by the story, Pentheus finds the revellers on Mount Cithaeron, but tragically his mother is the first to see him.  Claiming that he is a boar, she incites her sisters to tear him to pieces, ripping off his head with her own hands.

Note:  Tiresias also dispenses his prophecies in Sophocles, Antigone, Oedipus the King, and in The Odyssey Book XI.

I’m noticing quite a bit of irony in this book: Cadmus’ warrior’s instead of killing an enemy, kill each other; Actaeon, the hunter, becomes the hunted; Semele is killed by the power/love of her lover, and in fact, unknowingly requests her own death; Narcissus rejects all, yet in the end also rejects himself; Tiresias’ knowledge causes his blindness; Pentheus, through rejecting sacred rites, becomes a sacrifice himself, and Pentheus’ mother kills her own son.  Ovid’s world is very bleak, and he ensures that we experience it to the fullest.

The Boy Bacchus (1615)
Guido Reni
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Viper’s Teeth ❥  New men
Actaeon  ❥  Stag
Semele  ❥  Ash
Echo = nymph w/voice ❥ nymph w/echo  ❥  echo
Narcissus alive  ❥  Narcissus dead  ❥ flower
Ship’s crew  ❥  Sea monsters