OVID: METAMORPHOSES BOOK III

Introduction:

For an introduction to Ovid and the work as a whole, the reader is invited to look at the introduction to Sabidius' translation of "Metamorphoses" Book I, published on this blog on 1st February 2018.

Book III, translated below, focuses on the mythology of Thebes, and contains the following contents: i) Cadmus and the foundation of Thebes; ii) Diana and Actaeon; iii) Semele and the birth of Bacchus; iv) Tiresias; v) Narcissus and Echo; vi) Pentheus and Bacchus. This book also sees the beginning of the second of four sections of the "Metamorphoses", the section featuring "The Revenge of the Gods".

Ll. 1-49.  Cadmus searches for his sister Europa.
 
And now the god (i.e. Jupiter), setting aside the image of the pretended bull, confessed (who) he (was), and made for the Dictaean country (i.e. Crete, the epithet being taken from Mount Dicte, on which Jupiter was reared), when her father, unaware (of this), orders Cadmus to search for the stolen (girl), and adds that exile (will be) his punishment if he does not find (her), (showing himself) pious and impious by the same action. 
 
As he roams the world - for who can detect the thefts of Jupiter? - , the fugitive son of Agenor (i.e. Cadmus) shuns his native-land and his father's wrath, and consults Phoebus' oracle (as) a suppliant, and asks in which land he might settle. Phoebus replies: "A heifer that has never suffered the yoke and is free from the curved plough will come up to you in the deserted fields. Take the path (down which) she leads (you), and, on the grassy (plain) where she finds rest, build walls and (there) may you found (your city), and call that (land) Boeotia." 
 
Well, Cadmus had scarcely come down from the Castalian cave (i.e. where Apollo's oracle on Mount Parnassus was placed), (when) he sees an unguarded heifer moving slowly and showing no mark of the yoke upon her neck. He follows (her) closely and chooses his steps along the footprints of her course, and silently gives thanks to Phoebus (as) the guide of his journey. 
 
Now he had passed the fords of Cephisus and the fields of Panope: the heifer stopped, and, lifting her beautiful head with its noble horns to the sky, she stirred the air with her lowing, and then, looking back at her companion (who was) following, she sank her hindquarters and lowered her flanks on to the tender grass. Cadmus gives thanks and presses his lips on to the foreign soil, and salutes the unknown hills and fields. He had intended to offer sacrifices to Jupiter. He bids his attendants go in search of water from a running fountain for a libation. 
 
An ancient wood was there, not violated by any axe, and (there was) a hollow in its midst, thick with twigs and willow bushes, making a low arch of stones as a framework, (and) rich with copious springs, where a snake, sacred to Mars, and distinguished by its golden crest, was concealed in a cave; its eyes flash with fire, its whole body swells with venom, its three-forked tongue flickers, (and) its teeth are set in a triple row. After (those) of the Tyrian race, who had set out, had reached that grove by an unlucky step and had lowered their pitchers into the waters, the dark-green serpent gave out a sound, (and) thrust its head out of that deep cavern and emitted dreadful hisses. The pitchers fell from their hands, and the blood left their bodies, and a sudden tremor takes possession of their terrified limbs. That (snake) winds its scaly coils in restless writhings, and, with a jump, bends itself into a huge arc, and, raised into thin air beyond its middle rings, it looks down over the whole grove, and its body is as great as (the dragon) which separates the twin (constellations of) the Bears, if you see (it) in its entirety. Without delay, it seizes the Phoenicians, whether they are ready to fight, or for flight, or whether fear, itself, was holding (them) back; some it kills with its bite, others with its deep enfoldings, (and) others still with the deadly putrefaction of its venomous breath.   
 
Ll. 50-94.  Cadmus kills the dragon. 
 
Now, the sun at its highest (point) had made the shadows small; the son of Agenor (i.e. Cadmus) wonders what has caused his comrades' delay, and searches for the men. His covering was a skin stripped from a lion; (as) a weapon (he has) a lance and a javelin, (tipped) with glittering steel, and a mind surpassing every weapon. 
 
When he entered the grove, and saw the dead bodies, (and) over (them) their victorious enemy with its vast body licking their sad wounds with its bloody tongue, he cries out: "(O) most faithful bodies, I shall either be your avenger or your companion in death." He spoke, and lifted up a massive rock in his right (hand) and hurled (it) with a great effort. Steep walls with their lofty turrets would have been shattered by its impact: (but) the serpent remained without a wound, protected by its scales like a breastplate, and the hardness of its swarthy hide repelled the powerful blow on its skin. But that same hardness could not also overcome his javelin: this came to rest, fixed in the midst of a bend in its pliant back, and the whole of its steel (point) sank into its entrails. Maddened with pain, it twisted its head behind its back and saw the wound and bit at the shaft (which was) lodged (there), and, when, through its great exertions, it had loosened its (hold) on all areas, it ripped (it) from its back with difficulty; (but) the steel (point) was still stuck in its bones.  
 
Then, indeed, when a fresh reason was added to its usual wrath, its veins fill (and) its throat swells, and a white froth bedecks its pestilential jaws, and the earth resounds with the scraping of its scales, and the black breath which issues from its Stygian (i.e. deadly, the Styx being the principal river of the Underworld) mouth infects the corrupted air. At one moment, it is girt by coils making a vast circle, at another it rears up straighter than a tall tree, now it rushes with enormous force, like a river impelled by rain, and knocks down the trees in its way with its breast. The son of Agenor gives way a little, and checks its attacks by means of his lion's skin, and holds back its threatening jaws by thrusting forward the point of his sword. The snake is maddened and gives the hard steel useless bites and fastens its teeth on the sword-point. And now the blood began to drip from its venomous throat and soak the green grass with its spatter: but the wound was slight, because it withdrew itself from the thrust and pulled its wounded neck backwards, and, by accepting the wound, it prevented (the steel) sticking fast, nor did it let (it) sink deeper, until the son of Agenor, pursuing (it) all the time, pressed the embedded steel into its throat, while an oak-tree prevented (it) from going backwards, and its neck and the oak were pinned together. The tree bent under the serpent's weight, and groaned at its trunk being lashed by the end of its tail.

Ll. 95-114.  Cadmus sows the Dragon's teeth. 

While the victor examines the body of his vanquished enemy, a voice is suddenly heard; it was not easy to know from whence (it came), but heard it was: "Why, son of Agenor, do you gaze upon the serpent (you have) killed? You, too, will be gazed upon (as) a serpent."

For a long time, (he stands there) trembling, (and) he lost the colour in his face, and his hair stood on end in cold terror. (Then,) behold, Pallas (i.e. Minerva), the hero's patroness, is here, having come down through the upper air, and she orders (him) to till the earth and sow the dragon's teeth, (as) the springboard of future people. He obeys, and, when, by applying the plough, he has opened up a furrow, he strews the required teeth in the ground as human seed.

Then - (it was) beyond belief - the sods of earth began to be set in motion, and, first, the point of a spear appeared among the furrows, then head coverings (i.e. helmets), nodding their painted cones, then shoulders and chests spring up, and arms weighed down with spears, and the corn-field grows thick with the shields of warriors. Just as at festivals in the theatres, when the curtains are raised (at the end), designs are accustomed to rise, at first revealing faces, (and then) gradually the rest, until, being raised by a steady motion, (the performers) are totally exposed, and put their feet on the bottom of the border arms.

Ll. 115-137Cadmus founds Thebes. 

Alarmed by this new enemy, Cadmus prepared to take up his arms: "Do not take up (your arms)!" exclaims one of the people that the earth had produced, "and do not involve yourself in our civil wars!" And, (saying) this, he strikes one of his earth-born brothers, (who is) close-by, with his sturdy sword; (then) he himself falls to a javelin (sent) from afar. (He) who killed him lives no longer than him even, and he breathes out just the air which he had breathed in; the whole crowd is equally stirred by this example, and, in their warfare, these brothers of a moment fall by mutual wounds. And now these youths, (who had been) allotted such a short span of life, were beating their blood-stained mother (i.e. the earth) with their warm breasts, (and there were) five survivors, one of whom was Echion. He, at Tritonia's (i.e. Minerva's) warning, threw his weapons on the ground, and sought an assurance of peace from his brothers and gave (one in return).

The Sidonian stranger (i.e. Cadmus) had these (men as) companions in his work, when he built the city required by Phoebus' oracle.

Now Thebes was standing: now, Cadmus, you could be seen as happy in your exile. (Now) Mars and Venus are your parents-in-law: add to this the children of so noble a wife (i.e. Harmonia), so many sons and daughters  and beloved young grandsons, some (of whom are) also now young men. But, of course, we should wait for a man's last day, and no man should be called blessed before his death and last funeral rites.

Ll. 138-164.  Actaeon returns from the hunt.

A grandson (i.e. Actaeon) was your first reason for grief, Cadmus, amid so many circumstances (which were) favourable to you, and strange horns were added to his forehead, and you, his hounds, (were) satiated with your master's blood. But, if you look closely, you will find that the fault in that (grief) arises from chance not wickedness: for what wickedness did error possess? There was a mountain stained with the blood of many different creatures; and now midday had shortened the shadows of things, and the sun was equally distant from both of his turning-points (i.e. he was in the middle of the sky), when the young Hyantian (i.e. Boeotian), with a calm expression, addresses his partners in the hunt as they were wandering through the solitary wilds: "Our nets and our spears are drenched with the blood of wild beasts, and the day has been fortunate enough. When Aurora (i.e. Dawn), conveyed in her golden chariot, brings another day, we shall resume the work (we have) planned; now Phoebus (i.e. the Sun) is similarly distant from the earth in both (directions), and splits the fields with his heat. Cease your present work and carry (home) the knotted nets." The men carry out his instructions and interrupt their labour.

There was a valley, Garganie by name, dense with pine-trees and sharp cypresses, sacred to Diana of the (high) girded (tunic). In its depths there is a cave with a wooded recess, not fashioned in any way by art: (but) nature through its ingenuity had imitated art; for she had constructed a natural arch out of live pumice-stone and light tufa. On its right, a spring babbles, shining with clear water, and enclosed a wide aperture with a grassy rim.

Here, the goddess of the woods (i.e. Diana), weary from the chase, used to bathe her virginal limbs in the flowing water.

Ll. 165-205.  Actaeon sees Diana naked, and is turned into a stag.

When she reached there, she gave her javelin, her quiver and her unstrung bow to one of her nymphs, her weapon-bearer; after her robe has been taken off, another (nymph) puts (it) under her arm, and two (more) take off (the sandals which are) fastened to her feet; then, more skilful than these, Ismenian (i.e. Theban) Crocale gathers the hair strewn around her neck into a knot, although her own was (still) loose. Nephale, Hyale, Rhanis, Psecas and Phiale drew water and pour (it) over (their mistress) out of deep jars.

While Titania (i.e. Diana, the granddaughter of the Titan Coeus, through her mother Latona, his daughter) is bathing there in her accustomed pool, behold, Cadmus' grandson (i.e. Actaeon), having been freed from his share of the labour, (and,) wandering with uncertain steps through the wood (which is) unknown (to him), comes to the (sacred) grove: thus destiny required of him. As soon as he entered the cave dampened by the spring, having seen the man, as indeed they had, the naked nymphs beat their breasts and filled the whole wood with their sudden shrieks, and they crowd around Diana to hide (her) with their bodies; but the goddess, herself, is taller than them, and stands head and shoulders above all (the others). The colour, which is commonly in clouds stained by shafts of the opposing sun or by (those) of radiant Aurora, was that of the face of Diana, (when) seen without her clothing.

Although the throng of her companions was packed (around her), she, however, stood on the far side and turned back her face, and, as she wished she had her arrows to hand, so she took up some water, which she did have, and threw (it) in the man's face, and, sprinkling his hair with the avenging drops, she added these words, the harbingers of his coming ruin: "Now you may tell, if (indeed) you can tell, that you have seen me with my clothing set aside." Without any more threats, she gives the horns of a mature stag to the head (she has) sprinkled, she lengthens his neck and makes the tips of his ears pointed and she changes his hands into feet and his arms into long legs, and covers his body with a mottled hide. And (then) fear is added. Autonoë's heroic son (i.e. Actaeon) flees away, and marvels that he (is) so swift in his running. But, when he sees his face and his horns in the water, he was about to say, "Poor me!" but no voice followed. He groaned: that was his voice, and tears flowed across a face (that is) no longer his: only his mind remained unchanged. What can he do? Should he return to his home and the royal palace? Shame prevents the former, (and) fear the latter.

Ll. 206-231.  Actaeon is pursued by his hounds. 

While he hesitates, his hounds catch sight of him. First, Melampus and (then) the keen-scented Ichnobates gave the signal by their barking, Gnossian (i.e. Cretan) Ichnobates (and) Melampus of the Spartan breed. Then the others rush (at him), swifter than the rapid wind, Pamphagus, and Dorceus and Oribasos, all from Arcadia, and powerful Nebrophonos, and savage Theron and Laelape, and (swift-)footed Agre, good with her nostrils, and fierce Hylaeus, recently gored by a boar, and Nape, born of a wolf, and Poemenis, who follows the flocks, and Harpyia, accompanied by her two puppies, and Sicyonian (i.e. Peloponnesian) Ladon, bearing a constricted groin (i.e. very thin). (Then there was) Dromus and Canache, and Sticte, and Tigris, and Alce, and white-haired Leucon, and Asbolus with his tufts of black hair, and the very strong Lacon, and Aello, resolute at running, and Thous, and speedy Lycisce with her brother Cyprius, and Harpalos, distinguished by a white (spot) in the middle of his black forehead. (Next came) Melaneus, and Lachne with her shaggy body, and Labros and Argiodus, born of a Dictaean (i.e. Cretan) sire and a Laconian (i.e. Spartan) dam, and Hylactor with his piercing bark, and others whom it is unnecessary to name. This pack, greedy for their prey, pursue (him) over cliffs and crags, and inaccessible rocks, where the way is hard, and where there is no (path) at all.

He runs over places where he has often chased; alas, he flees from his own attendants. He longed to shout, "I am Actaeon, know your own master!" Words fail his courage: the air resounds with barking.

Ll. 232-252.
  Actaeon is killed by his dogs.

First, Melanchaetes made a wound in his back, then Therodamas (and) Oresitrophus clung to his shoulder: they had set out rather late, but (the length of) their journey was reduced by a shortcut over the mountain. While they hold their master, the rest of the pack gathers and sink their teeth into his body. He groans and makes a noise, though not a human (sound), but still (one) which a stag could not make, and he fills the heights with plaintive cries. And, with his knees on the ground, and begging like a suppliant, he casts his countenance around (from side to side) like (he was stretching forth) his arms.

Now, his companions unknowingly urge on the ravening team (of hounds) with their usual exhortations, and look for Actaeon with their eyes, and they shout for the absent Actaeon as if (they are) in competition - he turns his head at (the sound of) his name - , and they complain that he is absent, and that, (because he is) slow, he cannot catch sight of the spectacle being offered by their prey. Indeed, he might wish to be absent, but (in fact) he is (very much) present; he might wish to see, and not also to feel, the savage deeds of his hounds. They surround (him) on every side, and, sinking their jaws into his flesh, they tear their master to pieces in the shape of the pretended stag.

It is said that quiver-bearing Diana's anger was not appeased until his life (was) ended through a multitude of wounds.

Ll. 253-272.  Juno sets out to punish Semele.

The story is in doubt: to some (the punishment) for seeing the goddess is more violent than just, others approve (it) and call (it) fitting on account of her strict virginity; both sides can find reasons (for their view). Only Jupiter's wife does not say anything at all, either of blame or approval, and she rejoices that the house of Agenor has met with disaster, and transfers the hatred (she has) acquired from the Tyrian concubine (i.e. Europa) to the associates of her family. Behold, a fresh cause (of anger) is added to the former (one), and she grieves that Semele was pregnant with the seed of mighty Jupiter. While she has loosened her tongue for quarrels, she said: "What, in truth, have I gained from such frequent reproaches? If I am rightly called the most powerful Juno, (and) if it is right for me to hold the bejewelled sceptre in my right (hand), I must attack her, (and) if I am called queen, and sister, and wife of Jupiter, sister at least, (then) I must destroy her. But, I think, she is content with her secret, and the injury to our marriage will be brief: (but) she is pregnant; that is damaging! and makes manifest the crime in her swollen belly, and she wishes, (something) which has scarcely happened to me, to be made the mother (of a son) by Jupiter alone: so great is her faith in her beauty. I shall cause her to fall; I am not Saturn's daughter, if she does not plunge into the waters of the Styx, drowned by her Jupiter.

Ll. 273-315.  Semele is consumed by Jupiter's fire. 

At this, she rises from her throne, and, hidden by a dark cloud, she comes to Semele's threshold. She did not remove the cloud, before she had impersonated an old woman and turned her (hair) white to (fit) her age, and ploughed her skin with wrinkles, and moved her legs with a tottering step; she also made her voice (sound) like an old woman's, and she, herself, was Beroë, Semele's Epidaurian nurse (i.e. she came from Epidaurus, a city in the Argolid). So, when, while they were pursuing a conversation and had been talking for some time, they came to Jupiter's name, she sighs, and says: "I hope that it (really) is Jupiter; but I am afraid of all these (things): many (men) have entered the bed-chambers of chaste (women) in the name of the gods. But it is not (good) enough to be Jupiter: he must give a token of his love, if he is being really truthful. Beg (him to be) as great and as glorious as (when) he is being entertained by the noble Juno, and (beg) him to assume his insignia before he gives you his embraces."

In such words Juno shaped (the thinking of) the unsuspecting daughter of Cadmus (i.e. Semele). She asks Jupiter for an unspecified gift. "Choose (it)," the god says to her. "You will suffer no refusal. And so that you may believe (it) more (firmly), let the divine power of the Stygian flood be aware of it: that is the fear and the ruler of the gods." Pleased by her (sense of) mischief, and all too confident, and about to perish through her lover's indulgence, Semele said: "In whatever way Saturn's daughter is accustomed to you embracing her, when you enter into the compact of Venus (i.e. love-making), in this way do you give yourself to me." The god wanted to stop her lips as she spoke, (but) her voice had already gone out hurriedly into the air. He groaned; for she cannot un-wish (it), nor (can) he un-swear (it). So, with the greatest sorrow, he climbed to the heights of the sky, and gathered the following clouds by a look, and he added rain-storms and flashes of lightning, intermixed with winds, and cracks of thunder and the inescapable lightning-bolt. Still, he tries to reduce his strength as far as he can, and does not now arm himself with that lightning by which he had overthrown the hundred-handed Typhoeus: there is too much savagery in it. There is another lighter lightning-dart, to which the Cyclopes' hands have added a less savage flame and less wrath; the gods call (these) his follow-up weapons. He takes these and enters Agenor's house. (But) her mortal body could not endure the ethereal storm, and she is consumed by the fire of her nuptial gift. The infant (i.e. Bacchus), still unformed, is torn from his mother's womb, and weak (as he is) - if (the story) is worthy of belief - , he is sewn into his father's (i.e. Jupiter's) thigh, and completes a mother's full term.

His maternal aunt, Ino, rears him secretly in his infancy: then, after he had been given (to them), the Nysaean nymphs (i.e. the nymphs of Mount Nysa or Helicon, the mountain in Boeotia sacred to Apollo and the Muses) hid (him) in their cave, and gave (him) nourishment through their milk.

Ll. 316-338.  The judgment of Tiresias.

While these (things) are being done on earth because of that fatal oath, and the cradle of twice-born Bacchus remains safe, they say that Jupiter, gladdened by nectar, happened to set aside his onerous duties, and employed his leisure-time in exchanging pleasantries with Juno, and said, "You (females') pleasure (in love-making) is certainly greater than (that) which befalls males." She denies(it). They agreed to ask the learned Tiresias what his opinion was: love-making was known to him from both (points of view). For (once) he had disturbed, with a blow of his stick, the bodies of two serpents (as they were) mating in the green forest; then - marvellous (to relate) - from (being) a man, he was made (into) a woman and had lived (as such) for seven years. In the eighth (year) he saw the same (serpents) again, and said, "If there is such power in you being struck that it changes the sex of the giver (of the blow) to the opposite (one), I shall strike you again now." Having struck the same snakes (again), he regained his former shape, and the form he was born with returned.

So, having been appointed (as) the arbiter of this light-hearted dispute, he supports Jupiter's words. Saturnia (i.e. Juno), it is said, was more deeply upset than (was) just, nor (was it just) in relation to the subject-matter, and she condemned the sight of its judge to everlasting night. But the almighty father (i.e. Jupiter) - for it is not permissible for any god to make null and void the actions of (another) god - gave (him) knowledge of the future in return for his lost sight, and (so) lightened the punishment with honour.


Ll. 339-358.  Echo sees Narcissus.

Most honoured by reputation throughout the cities of Aonia (i.e. the part of Boeotia containing Mount Helicon and Thebes), he (i.e. Tiresias) gave blameless answers to the people asking (him questions). The sea-green (i.e. she was a Naiad or sea-nymph) Liriope was the first to put to the test his considered words. Cephisus (i.e. the god of a river in Phocis) once enfolded her in his winding stream, and took (her) by force (while she was) imprisoned in his waters. This most beautiful (girl) gave birth to a child from a full womb, and called (him) Narcissus, who could be loved by nymphs even then. Being consulted about him, as to whether he would (live) to see a long life to a ripe old age, the prophetic seer replies, "(Only) if he does not discover himself." For a long time the augur's pronouncement seemed empty (words): (in the end) the outcome, and the circumstances and the manner of his death, and the novelty of his passion prove it (to be true). For indeed the son of Cephisus (i.e. Narcissus) had added one year to his thrice five (i.e. he was sixteen), and could appear both boy and young man: many youths (and) many girls desired him. But the pride in his delicate form was so firmly felt (that) no youth (and) no girl touched him. (One day) a babbling nymph catches sight of him driving frightened deer into his nets; (she is) the answering Echo, who has not learned to keep quiet (when someone else is) talking, nor (how) to speak first herself.


Ll. 359-401.  How Juno altered Echo's speech.

Still Echo was a body, not (merely) a voice; and yet the chatterbox had no other use of her mouth than she now has, namely that she could repeat (only) the last words out of the many (words spoken). Juno had made (her) like this, because often when she could have caught nymphs lying with her Jupiter on the mountain (side), she, knowingly, detained the goddess in long conversations, while the nymphs fled. When Saturnia realised (this), she says, "Less power over that tongue, by which I have been deluded, and the briefest usage of speech, will be given to you." And in the event she confirms her threats. She only repeats the sounds at the end of what is spoken and returns the words (she has) heard. 
 
So, when she saw Narcissus wandering through the remote countryside, she grew hot (with love for him), (and) secretly follows his footsteps, and, the more she follows, the more closely she burns with fire, just as when inflammable sulphur, smeared around the tops of torches, catches (fire from) the flames (which have been) brought close to (it). O how often she yearned to come near (to him) with coaxing words and to employ soft entreaties: her nature prevents (it) and does not allow (her to) begin (speaking). But she is ready (to do) what it does allow, (that is) to wait for sounds to which she can return her own words. The boy, separated by chance from his trusty band of companions, had called out, "Is anyone here?" and Echo had replied, "Here." He is astounded, and as he casts his eyes around in all directions, he cries out, "Come (here)!" in a loud voice.  She calls (like the one who) calls (her). He looks around, and, (seeing) no one coming, says again, "Why are you avoiding me?" and he received (in reply) the same words as he had spoken. He persists, and, deceived by the illusion of an answering voice, says, "Let us meet together here!": and Echo, who would never make a more willing reply to any sound, replies, "Let us meet together," and she is as good as her word, and, coming out of the wood, she went to throw her arms around that neck that she so longed for. He runs (from her), and (while) running, cries, "Take your hands away from these embraces! May I die before you can have your enjoyment of me." She said nothing in reply but: "You can have your enjoyment of me." Spurned, she hides herself in the woods, and, in her shame, she covers her face with leaves, and from that (time onward) lives in lonely caves. But still her love endures, and grows with the pain of rejection. The cares that keep one awake diminish (the size of) her pitiable body, and thinness shrivels her skin, and all her bodily sap dissolves into the air. Only her voice and her bones are left: her voice remains; her bones, they say, took on the appearance of stone. From then onward, she hides in the woods and is no longer seen on the mountain (side); (but) she is heard by everyone: it is sound that lives in her.

Ll. 402-436.  Narcissus falls in love with himself. 

As he had scorned her, so (had) he (scorned) the other nymphs sprung from the rivers and mountains, (and) so (had he scorned) the companies of youths. Then, one of those (who had been) scorned, lifting up his hands to the sky, had said, "So may he love himself, (and) so may he be unable to control what he loves!" Rhamnusia (i.e. an epithet of Nemesis, the Goddess of Retribution, taken from the temple at Rhamnum in Attica, where there was a temple to Nemesis) heard this just entreaty.

There was a crystal fountain with shining silvery water, which neither shepherds nor goats grazing on the hillside, or any other flock had touched, (and) which no bird or wild animal and not even a branch falling from a tree had disturbed. There was grass around (it), which the nearby moisture nourished, and a wood, which prevented the place from being warmed by any sunlight. Here, the boy, tired by his zeal for hunting and the heat, lay down, and (is) attracted by the appearance of the place and the fountain; and, while he desires to quench his thirst, a different thirst was created. While he drinks, (he is) captivated by the image of beauty (which he has) seen, he loves a dream without substance, he thinks (something) which is a reflection to be a body. He is astonished by himself, and he clings to the unchanged countenance, motionless as a statue shaped out of Parian marble; lying on the ground, he looks at his twin stars, his own eyes, and his hair, worthy of Bacchus and worthy of Apollo, and his youthful cheeks and his ivory-coloured neck, and the beauty of his face and its redness mixed with snowy whiteness, and he admires everything by which he is (so) admired himself: unknowingly, he desires himself, and (he) who fancies (himself) is himself fancied, and, while he seeks, he is sought, and he burns and is burnt at the same time. How often he gave futile kisses to the deceiving fountain! How often he plunged his arms into the middle of the water, trying to catch hold of the apparent neck, but he does not catch himself in that (water)! He does not know what he sees: but he burns for that which he sees, and the same illusion which deceives his eyes arouses (them). (You) fool, why are you vainly trying to catch a fleeting image? What you are looking for is nowhere; turn away, (and) you will lose what you love! That which you perceive is the shadow of reflected form. It has nothing of itself; it comes and stays with you; it will leave with you, if you can leave!

Ll. 437-473.  Narcissus laments the pain of unrequited love.

No thought of Ceres (i.e. food) or rest can draw him away from that place, but, stretched on the shady grass, he gazes at that false image with unsatisfied eyes, and by his own eyes he was undone; raising himself up a little and holding out his arms to the surrounding woods, he says, "O (you) woods, has anyone (ever) loved more cruelly (than I)? You must know, as you have been the ideal hiding-place for many (lovers). Since your life has lasted for so many centuries, do you remember anyone in (all) the long ages past who has pined away like this? I am enchanted and I see (my beloved); but yet I cannot reach what I see and what is enchanting (me): so great an illusion takes hold of this lover. And I grieve all the more that no wide sea separates us, nor any road, or any mountain, or any walls with locked gates. We are (only) kept away by a little water. He, himself, desires to be embraced: for as often as I offer my kisses to the clear waters, he presses his mouth upwards towards me. You would think he could be touched: it is such a very small (thing) that prevents our love-making. Whoever you are, come out here! Why do you elude me, (you) extraordinary boy? Where do you go to, when I seek you? Surely it is not my form or my age that you are fleeing from, and the nymphs have also loved me. With your friendly look you offer me some unknown hope, and when I have stretched out my arms to you, you stretch out (yours) in turn: when I have smiled, you smile; I have often noticed your tears too, when I was weeping. You also answer my gestures with a nod, and, as far as I can tell from the movement of your lovely lips, you reply in words that do not reach my ears. I am he: I know (it), and my own reflection does not deceive me. I am burning with love for myself, and I kindle and endure the flames. What shall I do? Shall I be courted or court? Why, then, should I court? What I want is (already) with me: my abundance has made me poor. O would that I could withdraw from my own body! Strange prayer for a lover: I want what I love to be distant (from me)!  - And now my grief deprives (me) of my strength, nor is a long time left for my life, and I am cut off in the prime of my youth. Nor is dying painful to me, who will be setting aside my sadness in death. He, who is loved, I do wish (him) to be longer lasting. (But) now we shall die united, two in one spirit."

Ll. 474-510.  Narcissus is changed into a flower. 

He spoke, and returned, in a mad state of mind, to the same reflection, and he disturbed the water with his tears and the image became dim in the rippling pool. When he saw it disappearing, he cried out, "Where are you fleeing to? Stay, (you) cruel (creature), and do not desert me, who loves (you)! I can gaze at what I cannot touch, and so provide food for my wretched passion." And, while he laments, he tore away his tunic from its upper parts, and (then) struck his naked chest with hands of marble. (When) struck, his chest took on a clear redness, just as apples, which (are) partly pale (and) partly red are accustomed to do, or as grapes in their different clusters often take on a purple colour, when (they are) not yet ripe. And, as soon as he sees (all) this (reflected) once more in the clear water, he cannot bear (it) any longer, but, as yellow wax is wont to melt in a light flame, and (as) frost (is wont to thaw) in the warm sunlight, so, weakened by love, he wastes away, and is gradually consumed by a hidden fire; and he no longer retains his colour, that whiteness mingled with red, nor his energy and strength, and (the things) which, (when) seen recently, were (so) pleasing, nor does that body remain, which Echo had once loved.

Still, when she saw this, though angry and remembering, she felt sorry (for him), and, whenever the poor boy said, "Alas!" she repeated, "Alas!" with her echoing voice; and, when he struck his shoulders with his hands, she also repeated the same sounds of pain. His last words, as (he) looked into the familiar pool, were these: "Alas, boy beloved in vain!" and the place echoes the same number of words, and, when he said, "Farewell," Echo says, "Farewell," too.

He (i.e. Narcissus) laid down his weary head in the green grass, (and) death closed those eyes that had marvelled at their owner's beauty.

Then, even when he had been received into the abode of the Underworld, he gazed at himself in the waters of the Styx. His sisters, the Naiads (i.e. the water-nymphs) wailed and offered their shorn hair to their brother, (and) the Dryads (i.e. the wood-nymphs) wailed (too): Echo returned their lamentations. And now they were preparing the funeral pyre, the quivering torches and the bier. (But) nowhere was there a body; instead of a body they find a yellow flower with white petals surrounding its heart.

Ll. 511-527.  Tiresias prophesies Pentheus' fate.

When it had become known, this event spread the prophet's deserved fame throughout the cities of Achaea (i.e. a name for the Greek mainland derived from that of a region in the northern Peloponnese),and the augur's reputation was high. Yet, Pentheus, (i.e. the King of Thebes), the son of Echion (i.e. one of the five surviving heroes sprung from the dragon's teeth, sown by Cadmus), in scorn of the gods, alone out of all (of them) rejects him, and scoffs at the old man's prophetic words, and taunts (him) with the darkness and disaster arising from his lost teeth. He (i.e. Tiresias), shaking his white temples in anger, says, "How happy you would be, if you also became deprived of this eyesight of yours, so that you could not see the sacred (rites) of Bacchus (i.e. the God of Wine)! For the day, which I predict is not far off, approaches, when the new (god) Liber (i.e. Bacchus), the offspring of Semele, will come hither, and, unless you consider him worthy of honour in your sanctuaries (i.e. you build temples in which to worship him), you will be torn (to pieces) and scattered in a hundred places, and you will stain the woods and your mother (i.e. Agave) and your mother's sisters (i.e. Autonoë and Ino) with your blood. (These things) will come about; for you will not think the god worthy of honour, and you will complain that I, in this darkness of mine, have seen too much." (Even) as he (i.e. Tiresias) speaks these (words), the son of Echion (i.e. Pentheus) pushes (him) away; the truth follows his words, and the oracles of the prophet are enacted.

Ll. 528-571.  Pentheus rejects the worship of Bacchus. 

Liber is here, and the fields resound with festive whoopings; the crowd runs, mothers and brides intermingled with men, commoners and nobles, they (all) rush towards the unknown rites.

Pentheus cries out: "What madness, (you) children of the serpent (i.e. the descendants of the offspring of the dragon's teeth, sown in the ground by Cadmus), (you) race of Mavors (i.e. Mars, the God of War, to whom the serpent was sacred) has stupefied your minds? Can the clash of bronze on bronze, those pipes of curved horn, and those magical tricks be so powerful that feminine shrieks, and the madness induced by wine, and filthy crowds and meaningless drumming can overcome (those) whom no sword of war no (military) trumpet, no ranks of spears drawn closely together can terrify? Should I wonder at you, old men, who, when you sailed across the wide seas, placed Tyre and your household gods here on this site, and now you let them be taken without a fight? Or (at) you, O young men, of keener age and closer to my own, for whom it was fitting to carry arms, not (Bacchic) wands, and (for your heads) to be covered with helmets, not leaves? Be mindful, I beg (you), from what stock you were created, and assume the spirit of that serpent, who, (though) one, killed many! He died for his spring and his pool: but you should conquer for your own reputation! He (i.e. Bacchus) put brave (men) to death: (but) you should drive craven (men) away and maintain your country's honour! If fate forbids Thebes to stand for a long time, I wish that siege-engines and warriors might demolish her walls, and that iron and fire might sound (against her). (Then,) we would be wretched (but) without sin, and we should lament our fate, not try to hide (it), and our tears would be free from shame. But now Thebes will be taken by an unarmed boy, whom neither war, nor weapons, nor the use of horses pleases, but (whom) hair drenched in myrrh, and soft wreaths (of leaves) and the purple and gold interwoven on embroidered robes (do please). But (if) you would only stand aside, I will compel him to confess that his father (has been) adopted, and that his sacred (rites are) invented. (When) Acrisius had courage enough to defy a false god (i.e. Bacchus), and shut the gates of Argos at his coming, should his arrival terrify Pentheus and the whole of Thebes? Go quickly" - thus he orders his attendants - , "go and drag this (great) leader here in chains! Let there be no sluggish delay in (carrying out) my orders."

His grandfather (i.e. Cadmus), and Athamas (i.e. his uncle) and the rest of the troop of his followers reproved him with words, and tried in vain to restrain (him). He is made more determined by their warning, and his fury grows, and their very delaying tactics provoke (him). So I have seen a river flowing calmly and with little noise, where nothing obstructs its passage: but wherever trees and stone obstacles held (it) back, it ran foaming and boiling and more fiercely on account of the obstruction.

Ll. 572-596.  Acoetes is captured and interrogated.

Behold, they return stained with blood, and, when their lord asks where Bacchus is, they deny having seen Bacchus; but they did say, "We have taken this companion of his and an attendant of his sacred (rites);" and they hand over (a man) of Tyrrhenian stock, (and) a one-time follower of the god's sacred (rites), with his hands tied behind his back.

Pentheus stares at him with eyes which anger has made terrible, and, although he can scarcely defer the moment of punishment, he says: "O (you) who are about to die, and, by your death, teach the others a lesson, tell (me) your name, and the name of your parents, and (what is) your country, and why you are following the rites of this new way of living."


He replied without fear, "My name (is) Acoetes, my country is Maeonia (i.e. Lydia in Asia Minor), and my parents (come) from humble stock. My father did not leave me any fields which sturdy oxen could till, or any flocks or any herds (of cattle). He, himself, was poor too, and used to catch fish with a net, and hooks, and a rod to snare them as they leapt. His skill was his wealth. When he had handed over this skill (to me), he said, 'Take what possessions I have, (as) the successor and heir to my work.' When he died, he left me nothing except water. This (is) the only (thing) I can call my inheritance.

"Then, so that I should not stick for ever to the same rocks, I learned (how) to direct the steering of boats with a guiding hand, and I observed with my eyes, the rainy constellation of the Olenian Goat, and Taygete (i.e. one of the Pleiads), and the Hyades, and the Bear, and the houses of the winds and the harbours fit for boats.

Ll. 597-637.  Acoetes' story- the beautiful boy. 

"(While) making for Delos, I come, by chance, close to the shore of the island of Chios, and I am brought ashore, by skilful (use of the) oars, and I give a gentle jump and land on the wet sand. When night is passed - as soon as the dawn began to redden - I arise, and suggest the collection of fresh water, and show the path which leads to the spring. I, myself, watch from a high hill for what the wind is promising me, and call my companions, and go back to the boat. 'See, we are here!' says Opheltes, the foremost of my friends, and he leads a boy with the beauty of a virgin along the shore, a prize, or so he thinks, (that he has) found in a deserted field. He (i.e. the boy), heavy with wine and sleep, seems to stumble and to follow with difficulty. I examine his clothing, his appearance and his stature: I saw nothing which could be considered mortal. And I felt (this) and said to my comrades: 'I  am uncertain which god is in that body, but there is a god in that body. Whoever you are, O favour and assist our efforts. Also, may you grant your pardon to these (men).' 'Stop praying for us,' says Dictys; (there was) no one quicker than him at climbing to the top of the yard-arms and sliding back down again by grasping the rigging. Libys approves this, and (so does) yellow-haired Melanthus, the look-out on the prow, and Alcimedon, and Epopeus, the inciter of their spirits, who would give by his voice both rhythm and method to the oars, and (so do) all the others. So blind is their greed for gain. 'Still, I shall not allow this ship to be profaned by a criminal occurrence,' said I: 'Here I (have) the greatest share of authority;' I resist (them) in their (attempts) to board. Lycabas, the most audacious of the whole pack (of them), rages (at me), (he) who had been expelled from his Etruscan city and was paying the penalty of exile for a terrible murder. While I stand firm, he strikes me in the throat with his young fist, and would have thrown (me) into the sea unconscious, if I had not clung on, though dazed, being held back in the rigging. That impious crew approves the deed. Then, at last, Bacchus - for Bacchus it (certainly) was - as if his sleep is disturbed by the noise, and his senses return to his mind from (the influence) of drink, says, 'What are you doing? What is this noise? Tell (me), (you) seamen, by what means I came here? (And) where are you preparing to take me?' 'Set aside your fear,' said Proreus, 'and tell (us) which port you wish to come to: you will be set down in the country you are seeking.' 'Naxos,' says Liber. 'Set your course in (that direction). That is my home; (and) for you it will be a hospitable land.'

Ll. 638-691.  Acoetes' ship and crew are transformed.

"Those treacherous (men) swear by the sea and by all the gods that it would be so, and they tell me to get the painted vessel under sail. Naxos was to starboard. (But) as I trim the sails to a starboard (tack), Opheltes says,'What (on earth) are you doing? O (you) madman? What frenzy (has got) into you?' Someone (says) on their behalf, 'Hold on! Make towards port!' The majority of them indicate to me what they want with a nod, the others by a whisper in my ear. I was horrified, and said, 'Someone else can take the helm,' and distanced myself from this act of wickedness and deception. I am rebuked by everyone, and the whole crew murmur against me. (One) of them, Aethalion, cries, 'Obviously, all of our safety depends on you,' and he himself takes my place and discharges my work, and, abandoning Naxos, seeks the opposite (course). Then the god, playfully, as if he had only just realised their deceit, looks at the sea from the curved stern, and, as though (he were) in tears, says, 'Sailors, these (are) not the shores (which) you promised me. This (is) not the land (which) I asked for. Through what deed have I deserved this punishment? What glory is there for you, if young men (cheat) boys (and) many (men) cheat a single (person)?' I was already weeping: (but) that impious crew scoffs at my tears, and lashes the surface (of the sea) with their quickening oars.

"Now, I swear to you, by the (the god) himself - for there is no god more present than he (is) - that the (things) I am saying to you (are) as true as they surpass belief in the truth: the ship stood still in the water, just as if it were occupying a dry dock. Amazed, they persist in the lashing of their oars, and they unfurl the sails and try to run with double power. (But) ivy impedes the oars and creeps (over them) with a binding grip, and adorns the sails with its heavy clusters. (The god,) himself, his forehead wreathed with clusters of grapes, shakes a lance covered with the leaves of vine-shoots. Around him lie tigers, and the insubstantial phantoms of lynxes, and the savage bodies of spotted panthers. The men leapt overboard, whether madness or fear caused this, and Medon (is) the first to begin to become black all over his body and for his spine to be bent into a distinct curve. Lycabas begins (to speak) to him: 'What (sort of) a monster are you turning into?' he said, and, as he spoke, his jaws became wide and his nose hooked, and his hardened skin developed a scale. Then, Labys, hampered when he wishes to turn the oars, saw his hands shrink into a small size, and that he no longer had any hands (but) they could already be called fins. Another, eagerly grasping the twisted ropes, no longer had any arms, and, bending backwards, jumped into the sea with his limbless body: his newest (feature) is a sickle-shaped tail, (which) bends like the horns of a half-moon. They make jumps in all directions and drench (everything) with much spray, and they emerge once more, and return to the depths again, and they play (together) in the form of a chorus (i.e. like dolphins), and they hurl their bodies (around), and blow out the sea (water) received through their broad nostrils.

"Of a group of twenty - for that (was) how many the ship was carrying - I alone was left. My body shaking with fear and cold, the god rouses me with difficulty, saying, 'Cast out the fear from your heart, and steer for Dia (i.e. Naxos).' Having settled on that (island), I have adopted its religious (practices) and celebrate the sacred (rites) of Bacchus."

Ll. 692-733.  Pentheus is killed by the Maenads.

"We have (only) lent our ears to these long circumlocutions," says Pentheus, "so that our anger could consume its strength in delay. (You) attendants, remove this (man) quickly, and send his body, tortured by harsh torments, down to Stygian night." At once, the Tyrrhenian Acoetes (is) dragged away and shut up in a strong dungeon; but, while the instruments of cruelty, the iron and fires, were bring prepared, the doors flew open of their own accord, and the chains slipped from his arms unaided, without anyone loosening (them).

The son of Echion (i.e. Pentheus) persists (in his purpose). He did not order (anyone else) to go, but now went himself to where (Mount) Cithaeron (i.e. a mountain in Boeotia, near Thebes), chosen for performing the rites, was resounding with the chants and shrill cries of the Bacchantes. As a brave horse snorts and shows his love for the fight, when the military trumpeter with his brazen sound has given the signal (to attack), so the bruised sky resounds with long (drawn-out) howls of woe, and anger turns Pentheus' (countenance) white again when he hears the noise.

Near the middle of the mountainside there is a patch of ground with woods surrounding its edges, (but) free of trees and visible all round. Here, as he watched the mysteries with profane eyes, his mother (i.e. Agave) (is) the first (to) see Pentheus, (is) the first (to) have been roused into a mad run, (and is) the first (to) have wounded him by hurling her thyrsus (i.e. her Bacchic wand). Oh, (you) two sisters (i.e. Autonoë and Ino) , come here!" she shouted. "That boar which is wandering in our fields, that boar is mine to sacrifice." The whole maddened crowd rushes at him; they all come together and pursue the frightened (man), now terrified, now speaking words free of violence, now cursing himself, now confessing that he has sinned. Stricken, he still cried out, "Bring (me) your help, aunt Autonoë! Let Actaeon's shade (n.b. Actaeon was her son) move your spirit." She did not remember who Actaeon (was), and tore off the suppliant's right (arm): the other (arm) is ripped off by Ino with a wrench. (Now) the unhappy (man) has no arms which he can hold out to his mother, but, showing his mutilated trunk, shorn of its limbs, he cries, "Mother, look (what you've done)!" Seeing (these things), Agave howled, tossed her neck and shook her hair in the air, and, tearing off his head (and) clasping (it) in her blood-stained fingers, she shouts, "Ho! my companions, this work is our victory!" The wind does not strip the leaves from a lofty tree, which, touched by autumn's frost (are) already scarcely attached (to it), more quickly than this man's limbs are torn by those impious hands.

Warned by such examples, the women of the Ismenus (i.e. a river near Thebes) celebrate the new rites, burn incense, and worship at the holy altars.
 
Last modified onSaturday, 07 April 2018 15:31
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