Metamorphoses ~ Book XIV

Book XIV

Glaucus, Circe, Scylla / The Cercopes / The Sibyl / Achaemenides / Aeolus, Ulysses, Circe / Picus & Canens / Diomedes / The Apulian Shepherd / Aeneas’ Ships / Ardea / Aeneas / Vertumnus & Pomona / Iphis & Anaxarete / Vertumnus & Pomona / The Fountain of Janus / Romulus / Hersilia

Passing the Cyclop’s fields, Messina, and that dangerous strait that separates Ausonia and Sicily, Glaucus streaks through the Tyrrhenian sea until he reaches Circe‘s palace. He tells of her of his woe and the fleet foot of Scylla who spurs his advances, but the goddess is enraged that he can only love Scylla and not her.  Chanting infernal spells of Hecate, she heads for Rhegium across from Messina, polluting Scylla’s favourite pool with noxious poisons.  As soon as the girl immerses herself, she sees snarling barking dogs in the water.  Leaping up and running, she is astonished that she cannot escape them, finally realizing that they are part of her lower quarters.  Glaucus flees in anguish but Scylla remains, and it is she who snatched up Ulysses’ men for revenge on Circe (see The Odyssey Book XII).  She would have swallowed all the ships that passed if she hadn’t been changed into a rock, but even then, sailors fear her presence.

Tilla Durieux als Circe (1913)
Franz von Stuck
source Wikimedia Commons

When the Trojan ships pass Scylla and Charybdis, the wind pushes them back to the Libyan coast where a woman from Sidon (Dido) welcomes Aeneas.  Unable to bear his departure, when he leaves she falls on her sword, but Aeneas continues on, visiting Acestes at Eryx, passing the rocks called the Sirens, Achelous’ daughters.  Having lost his pilot, Palinurus, he sails along barren Pythecusae (an island off the coast of Naples) where a pack of scoundrels called the Cercopes live.  They were so dishonest that the father of the gods transformed them into monkeys and their words into chatter.

Aeneas sails past Parthenope and turns westward, finding the tomb of the trumpeter Misenus.  Upon entering the Sibyl‘s grotto, he requests to cross Avernus and speak with his father’s shade.  The Sibyl reveals that because of his great virtue, she can assist him and orders him to pluck a golden bough in the forest of Persephone.  He is shown Anchises’ shade and the laws of the underworld.  Grateful, Aeneas thanks the Sibyl and offers to build her a shine but she refuses.  She could have been a goddess but she submitted to Apollo’s love and afterwards, she asked him for long life, forgetting to also ask for youth.  Thus, she will become a shrivelled form and suffer the frailties of old age.  Aeneas then sails to a shore, naming it Caieta after his old nurse.

Aeneas and the Sibyl (c. 1800)
source Wikimedia Commons

Macareus of Neritus, companion of Ulysses, had long been living on this shore and is astounded to see his friend, Achaemenides, still alive and among the Trojans.   He wants to know why his friend, a Greek, is sailing in a Trojan boat.  Achaemenides reveals that he loves Aeneas as a father because it was he who prevented him from becoming food for the Cyclops (see The Odyssey Book IX).  He saw Ulysses and his comrades sail away from the island of the Cyclops, and he would have shouted but was terrified of discovery. Watching the Cyclops cursing the Greeks, he remembered how he’d eaten his friends, and he hid, eating acorns, leaves and grass.  He finally saw a Trojan ship that took him away.  Now he wishes to hear Macareus’ story.

Macareus tells of his voyage with Ulysses and how they received a gift from king Aeolus of a sack of wind (see The Odyssey Book X).  Finally, they reached Ithaca, but greedy and curious, they released the tie and the wind rushed out, blowing them all the way back to where they’d started.  They reached the city of the Laestrygonians surrounded by the walls of Lamus, and Ulysses sent his men to reconnoitre but the inhabitants attacked them and then threw rocks at his ships from above.  Only the ship of Ulysses escaped.  Next, they landed at the isle of Circe (see The Odyssey Book X), against whom Macareus delivers a ominous warning.  They drew lots to see who would call at her door and were met by a number of beasts, but though her appearance was appealing, she slipped a drug into their drinks, transforming the men into pigs. Eurylochus escaped to warn Ulysses and although Circe attempted to charm him, he drew his sword, forcing her to change the “pigs” into men again, even as he agreed to be her husband.

Circe (1889)
Wright Barker
source Wikimedia Commons

For a year they stayed in the land of Circe.  One day her nymph showed him a snow-white marble statue of a man with a woodpecker formed on his head.  The nymph informed him that the effigy was Picus, son of Saturn.  He had been sought by all the nymphs and dryads, but he had love for only one, Canens, and she became his bride.  As beautiful as she was, she could also move the woods with her songs.  Seeing Picus hunting one day, Circe lured him into the woods and confessed her love for him but he spurned her advances.  In anger, she turned him into a woodpecker, and as his men attempted to find him, accusing her of his disappearance, she transformed them into beasts. Canens, in mournful despair, wandered searching for her husband, and finally, worn out, vanished into thin air.  The story finished, Macareus tells his listener that they prepared to leave Circe’s island, but the witch warned them of treacherous dangers, so he decided to remain behind.

Nymph (1929)
Gaston Bussière
source Wikipedia Commons

They leave the ashes of Aeneas’ nurse, Caieta, on a tomb, then set sail, next landing in Latium where ‘the Tiber’s waters pour their yellow silt into the sea’.  He is greeted by Latinus, son of Faunus, and Aeneas takes a bride, Lavinia, the daughter of Latinus. Turnus is enraged because Lavinia had been promised to him!  The battle is furious with Aeneas receiving help from Evander, but Turnus, through his man Venulus, receives a refusal of assistance from Diomedes.  Diomedes had earlier arrived at Iapygia, founded a great city and married Daunus’ daughter.  His refusal stemmed from the weakness of his troops, as they had been greatly reduced.  When Ajax had raped the priestess, Cassandra, at the end of the Trojan War, Minerva in her rage cursed the Greeks and their journeys home were fraught with peril.  Diomedes and his men were shipwrecked and Acmon scorned the goddess, causing her to turn him and almost all the rest of Diomedes’ men into a flock of birds.

Venulus continued on, passing the Peucetians and arriving in Messapians where he saw great caves.  Long ago, it had been the home of Pan, and then nymphs, but an Apulian shepherd had startled them, and as he mocked their choral dance, was changed into an olive tree.

An Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemane (1882)
Vasily Polenov
source Wikiart

When Turnus learns no help from Diomedes will be forthcoming, he attacks Aeneas, reaching his ships and putting torches to them.  But Cybele recalls the timbers of Aeneas’ ships had come from her pine trees, sacred wood, and cursing Turnus, she promises their salvation.  The Mother goddess snaps their hawsers, then tilts them into the sea and they become sea-green Naiads.

There was hope that the Rutulians, seeing such power, would cease fighting but it was not to be.  Both sides, contended still, driven by courage more than the gods, and instead of brides, or dowry, or land, they fought for glory.  However Turnus fell and so did his town of Ardea; it was burned to the ground and from the ashes, a heron flew into the sky.

Ascanius, son of Aeneas, and now named Iulus (hmmm ….. sounds very similar to “Julius”) has grown to manhood and his father reaches his end.  Venus petitions Jove to grant her favourite a divinity.  When even Juno agrees, Venus flies with her harnessed doves to ensure the river-god carries the mortal parts of Aeneas to the sea, where she anoints him with ambrosia and declares him the god, Indiges.

The Purification of Aeneas in the River Numicus (1725)
Pier Leone Ghezzi
source ArtUK

Iulus is now the king of Alba.  Next in line came Silvius, then his son, Latinus, then Alba and Epytus, his son.  Capis and Capetus followed, then Tibernius who had sons Remulus and Acrotas.  Remulus was struck by lightening, so Acrotas passed the title to Aventinus and finally Proca.  The next story about Pomona, took place in the days of this king.

Pomona was a nymph who loved all gardens and orchards, but spurned all men.  The god, Vertumnus, brought her gifts but to no avail, so he craftily disguised himself as an old woman, bestowed forceful flattery upon her and told her the following story.

In Cyprus, young Iphis loved Anaxarete, but while she was from a noble family, his birth was very humble.  Continuously, he wooed her and left her gifts wet with his tears, yet she was harsh and disdainful towards him.  When his torment became long, he took a rope and hung himself from her doorway.  Wailing servants returned his corpse to his widowed mother, who was heartbroken.  As his body passed Anaxarete’s house on the way to its pyre, she leaned out the window, and when her eyes rested on Iphis, she tried to step back but couldn’t.  Her body was held fast by the stone that began in her heart and she metamorphosed into a stone statue.  Vertumnus cautioned Pomona to remember this tale, urging her to wed the one who loves her.

Vertumnus & Pomona (1617-19)
Peter Paul Rubens
source Wikipedia

Pomona was unresponsive to Vertumnus‘ pleas, but when he shed his disguise, revealing himself as a god, and prepared to take her by force, she decided that she liked him more than a little and gave herself to him.

The above story took place during the rule of Procus in Ausonia, then Numitor should have had the crown, but his false brother usurped it, his name, Aumalius.  But Numitor’s grandsons came to his aid, Romulus and Remus, and Rome was founded.  Tatius and the Sabines waged war upon the city, the treacherous Tarpeia showing them the secret route to the citadel.  They reached the gate and dispatched the sleeping sentinels, however Juno had loosed a bar to allow the gate to be opened.  Venus wished to undo her work but one god cannot undo the work of another so instead, she had the Naiads of Ausonia rush the waters of the fountain of Janus downstream, igniting the stream with burning sulfur.  The Sabines could not pass easily and the Romans had time to arm themselves. There was much slaughter before peace was declared and Tatius shared the crown.

Finding of Romulus and Remus (1720-40)
Andrea Lucatelli (credited)
source Wikimedia Commons

When Tatius dies, Romulus has sole rule and treats both the Romans and Sabines equally.  It is time for the death of Romulus and Mars asks for him to be deified. Racing down in his chariot, Mars seizes his son, and as his mortal parts dissolve, he becomes the god, Quirinius.

The wife of Romulus, Hersilia, weeps endlessly for her husband, so Juno orders Iris to fetch the woman.  She follows Iris to the Palantine hills where a star descends, lighting Hersilia’s hair and she ascends with the star, becoming the goddess Hora, who now walks with her husband.

❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇

There are interesting parallels that Ovid provides us:  both Odysseus (Ulysses) and Aeneas have contact with Polyphemus, Scylla, Aeolus, the Sirens and Circe.

The verse gets less fluid towards the end of this book, with lots of changes in time and a very quick catalogue of Latin kings.  I must say I’ve enjoyed the Greek stories more, but it’s been fun to revisit some of Odysseus’ journeys through Aeneas.

Scylla’s lower body  ❥  snarling dogs
Scylla  ❥  rock
Cercopes  ❥  monkeys
Ulysses’ men  ❥  pigs
Picus  ❥  woodpecker
Picus’ men  ❥  beasts
Canens  ❥  thin air
Acmon & Diomedes’ men  ❥ swan-like birds
Apulian shepherd  ❥  olive tree
Trojan ships  ❥  sea-green Naiads
Ardea (town)  ❥  heron
Aeneas  ❥  Indiges (god)
Vertumnus (god)  ❥  Vertumnus (old woman)
Anaxarete  ❥  stone statue
Vertumnus (old woman)  ❥  Vertumnus (god)
Romulus  ❥  Quirinius (god)
Hersilia  ❥  Hora (goddess)

0 thoughts on “Metamorphoses ~ Book XIV

  1. Got to be honest, this section absolutely drained me. I did like some aspects of it (Aeneas), but I found it tougher than the much longer XIII. I would say this was, for me, a low point of Metamorphoses. Glad to have finished this part!

    Oh, and I much preferred Homer's Circe than Ovid's 🙂

  2. I agree that this was much less enjoyable than the rest of the poem. It was a rigorous post and surprisingly the pictures for it were much more sparse as well. I thought that I was going to be very sad to see Metamorphoses end, but if book XV is like this one, I think I'll be glad instead. :-Z

  3. You are almost there….just one more book!
    XV: only have to get through Pythagoras' long speech/rant.
    Bon courage!

  4. Have not read the review because I still need to read this book first! Your and O's take is not making me very enthusiastic, but I will plod on! However lovely images, I know they were difficult to get hold off, therefore even more so!!!

  5. It's only the last couple of books that are a bit of a slog, so keep going! They are interesting as they give the reader some Roman history but the stories seem more categorical and less flowing with description and fun. As Nancy mentioned, the appearance of Pythagoras in the last book and his diatribe is rather puzzling, but it's Ovid and I'm not going to even try to understand him. 😉

  6. You know, looking back, I can't believe that I wrote so much. It just goes to show how much one can accomplish if one doesn't look at the big picture! 😉

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