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

6 thoughts on “Metamorphoses – Book V

  1. Brawl is the word…it was a drunken bar fight…no dignity and no honor. I am tried of Gods kidnapping women and basically doing whatever they please for no special reason besides Godly superpower. Was there no concept of kind dignified God? No wonder Christianity after a while became the dominant religion…atleast Christ was/is merciful!

  2. I'd always thought Greek and Roman culture were very similar, but I'm beginning to question my supposition. I haven't read tons of Roman literature but from what I have read, I sense a real difference. Perhaps the Romans borrowed from the Greeks but what were they like previously?

    I'm still reserving judgement on Ovid though I can barely contain myself! :-Z

  3. Must admit I didn't particularly enjoy this part of Metamorphoses – the story of Arethusa seemed to be a new low in rape stories. It seemed to disturb me more than the others (so far, at least).

    (A new low up until Book VI that is!)

  4. I know! These poor women don't seem to be able to escape. However, Ovid is not treating the men very well either. I do sense an exaggeration in his tellings, for effect, or if we're more honest, for shock value. I was able to read a little of your translation today and I think it makes it sound not as bad as mine. I think Mandelbaum sticks more to the original and it's often not nice. Ugh!

  5. I'll have to check out your translation at some point, they do seem to have a lot of differences. I might be reading the Ovid-lite here! 😉

    Have you seen this comparison on Goodreads? –

    Also, I'm thinking – I might read some of the Ted Hughes translations again, really just out of interest. I've read his Tales from Ovid a few times and loved them. I might dig it out and when it comes to writing about certain tales Ted Hughes translated I might quote him on my review rather than Raeburn. I think it'd be interesting… 🙂

  6. I did read that link, but I found that they were talking about what "sounds" nice to them without any reference to the original. With my Greek literature, I'm trying to stick close to scholarly translations, such as Richard Lattimore's. He does an amazing job with The Iliad and the Odyssey but with the plays, I find sometimes the translations he endorses sound clunky. This, however, is because they are trying to stay close to the original Greek, which I think would even sound clunky in modern Greek (especially Aeschylus, who I'm reading now). But for me, I'm starting to get an idea what the translations that are close to the ancient Greek sound like in English, if you know what I mean. Then after I read everything from the scholarly translators, I may be able to read a more Anglicized version and say, "oh I see, they changed this here because it sounds better". But I find the tone of the ancient Greek helps me get into their mindset, even though it can sound bombastic or there are certain references I don't quite get. I'm actually thinking seriously of taking a Greek course next year. The more I love reading these works in English, the more I know that I'll love them even more in Greek.

    Now, as for Ovid (Latin), my translation sounds more Greek than yours, if that makes sense. So I'm assuming that it's closer to the original, in spite of it not sounding quite as beautiful. I'm going to stick with it now, because actually the longer I read it the better it sounds. Yes, there are some parts that are just beautiful and some parts where it's like going over a bumpy road but it's developing its own charm. I have Ted Hughes' Ovid, but they always seemed like re-tellings to me. I'll have to dig them out and take a look!

    Oh, and the Raeburn translation does seem to be quite a bit smaller than my Mandelbaum. And Humphries as a translator seems to get a thumbs-up too, although one person said that if you've only read Ovid in English, you haven't read Ovid. Well, that's discouraging. I don't think I can fit a Latin class into my busy schedule. 😉

Thanks for visiting. I'd love to hear from you and have you join in the discussion!