Excerpts from OVID’S METAMORPHOSES: Perseus, Medusa’s Hair, Cadmus and the Serpent of Mars, Medea and Jason, etc.
PERSEUS AND ATLAS
…Only Acrisius of Argos, who was the son of Abas, and of the same lineage as Bacchus himself, still persisted in shutting the god out of his city and kept him from its walls by armed force, refusing to believe that he was of divine birth: just as he refused to believe that Perseus, the child whom Danae conceived in a shower of golden rain, was the son of Jupiter. But soon, such is the present force of truth, Acrisius repented equally of having wronged a god, and of having failed to acknowledge his own grandson.
Of these two the one, Bacchus, had now been received into heaven: the other, Perseus, was returning home, beating his way through the thin air on whirring wings. he was bringing back the Gorgon’s head, the memorable trophy he had won in his contest with that snaky-haired monster. As the victorious hero hovered over Libya’s desert sands, drops of blood fell from the head. The earth caught them as they fell, and changed them into snakes of different kinds. So it comes about that that land is full of deadly serpents. Thereafter, Perseus was driven by warring winds all over the vast expanse of sky: like a raincloud, he was blown this way and taht. He flew over the whole earth, looking down from the geights of heaven to the land which lay far below. Three times he saw the frozen north, three times, borne southwards, he beheld the claws of the Crab; often he was sept away towards the east, and often towards the west.
Now day was declining. Afraid to trust himself to the darkness, he came to a halt in the regions of the west, the kingdom of Atlas. This Atlas, the son of Iapetus, surpassed all mortal men in size. he was the lord of earth’s furthest shores, and of the sea which spreads its waters to receive the panting horses of the sun, and welcomes his weary wheels. No neighbouring kingdoms encroached upon Atlas’ realm. In his meadows strayed a thousand flocks, all his, and as many herds of cattle; and he had a tree on which shining leaves of glittering gold covered golden boughs and golden fruit. Here Perseus begged for a brief respite, till the morning star shoul summon dawn’s fires, and Aurora yoke the chariot of day. ‘My friend,’ he said to Atlas, ‘if you are impressed by noble birth, Jupiter is my father: or, if you admire heroic deeds, you will surely admire mine. I ask you to give me hospitality, and a chance to rest.’ Atlas, however, remembered the ancient decree of fate, which Themis had uttered once, on Parnassus’ height. ‘The time will come, Atlas, when your tree will be robbed of its gold, and a son of Jupiter will have the glory of gaining such spoil.’ Afraid lest this should come to pass, he had surrounded his orchards with stout walls, put them under the protection of a great serpent, and made a practice of excluding all strangers from his land. So now to Perseus, as to the rest, he said: ‘Be off with you, in case that heroism of which you falsely boast be found wanting here, and Jupiter himself should fail you.’ When Perseus hesitated, Atlas passed from threats to violence, and tried to thrust him forcibly away, while the other made a brave attempt to resist, at the same time endeavouring to soothe the giant by his words. However, when he found himself the weaker – for indeed who could equal the strength of Atlas? – he cried: ‘Very well! Since you think my gratitude of so little importance, here is a gift for you!’ and, turning his own face away, he produced in his left hand the horrid head of Medusa. Atlas was changed into a mountain as huge as the giant he had been. His beard and hair were turned into trees, his hands and shoulders were mountain ridges, and what had been his head was now the mountain top,. His bones became rock. Then, expanding in all directions, he increased to a tremendous size – such was the will of the gods – and the whole sky with its many stars rested upon him.
Now Aeolus had shut up the winds in their everlasting prison; the daystar Lucifer had risen and was shining brightly, high in the heavens, warning mortals to be about their daily tasks. The hero took up his wings again, and bound them on either foot. he fastened on his curved sword, and with the motion of his winged sandals cut his way through the clear air. he flew over countless peoples, whose lands stretched out in all directions below him, till he caugt sight by-and-by of the Ethiopian tribes and the domain of Cepheus. there Jupitor Ammon had unjustly ordered that the innocent Andromeda should pay the penalty for the boastful utterances of her mother the queen.
PERSEUS AND THE SEA MONSTER
When Perseus saw the princess, her arms chained to the hard rock, he would have taken her for a marble statue, had not the light breeze stirred her hair, and warm tears streamed from her eyes. Without realizing it, he fell in love. Amazed at the sight of such rare beauty, he stood still in wonder, and almost forgot to keep his wings moving in the air. As he came to a halt, he called out: ‘You should not be wearing such chains as these – the proper bonds for you are those which bind the hearts of fond lovers! Tell me your name, I pray, and the name of your country, and why you are in chains.’
At first she was silent; for, being a girl, she did not dare to speak to a man. She would have concealed her face modestly behind her hands, had they not been bound fast. What she could do, she did, filling her eyes with starting tears. When Perseus persisted, questioning her again and again, she became afraid lest her unwillingness to speak might seem due to guilt; so she told him the name of her country, and her own name, and she also told him how her mother, a beautiful woman, had been too confident in her beauty.
Before she had finished, the waters roared and from the ocean wastes there came a menacing monster, its breast covering the waves far and wide. The girl screamed. Her sorrowing father was close at hand, and her mother too. They were both in deep distress, though her mother had more cause to be so. No help could they offer, but only tears and lamentations, suited to such a time. They clung to her, as she hung in her chains, till the newcomer, Perseus, addressed these words to them: ‘There will be plenty of time hereafter for tears, but now the time for helping her is short. My name is Perseus, son of Jupiter and of Danae, whom Jupiter made preganant with his fertile gold, and that though she was imprisoned in a tower. I am that same Perseus who conquered the snaky-tressed Gorgon, the man who dared to travel through the airy breezes on beating wings. If I were to ask for this girl’s hand, I ought surely to be preferred to all other suitors as a son-in-law: but I shall try to add a futher service to my present claims, if only the gods are on my side. I make this contract with you, that she shall be mine, if my valour can save her.’ Her parents agreed to his conditions – who, indeed, would have hesitated? they begged his help, promising that, in addition to their daughter, they would give him their kingdom as a wedding gift.
Them, just as a swift ship cleaves the waves with her sharp prow, when she is driven forward by the stout arms of her lusty crew, so the monster came on, parting the waves with the impact of its breast. It was as far from the cliffs as a Balearic sling can send a bullet whirling through the air: when suddenly the hero, springing from the earth, shot up high into the clouds. His shadow was cast on the surface of the sea, and the monster attacked that shadow in a fury. Then Perseus flew downwards. As Jove’s eagle swoops on the serpent he has seen, sunning its mottled coils in some deserted field, as he seizes it from behind, and sinks his greedy talons in the reptile’s scaly neck, in case it should twist its cruel fangs backwards, so swooping swiftly through the sky, Perseus attacked the monster’s back and, to the sound of its bellowing, buried his sword up to its crooked hilt in the beast’s right shoulder. Tormented by this deep wound, the creature now reared itself upright, high in the air, now plunged beneath the waters, now turned itself about like some fierce wild boar, encircled and, terrified by a pack of baying hounds. the hero, on his swift wings, avoided the greedily snapping jaws, and dealt blows with his curved sword, wherever an opportunity offered; at one time striking at its back, which bristled all over with hollow shells, at another piercing its ribs, or again the point where its tail dwindled away into that of a fish. From its mouth the monster spat out waves dyed red with blood, and Perseus’ wings grew wet and heavy with spray. Not daring to trust his drenched feathers any longer, he espied a rock whose summit emerged above the surface when the waters were still, but was covered over by the breaking waves. he braced himself against this and, holding on to the sharp pinnacles of the rock with his left hand, three times, four times, he drove his sword through the beast’s flanks, striking it again and again. The shores of the sea, and homes of the gods in heaven re-echoed with shouting and applause.
Cassipe and Cepheus were filled with joy: they greeted Perseus as their son-in-law, calling him the saviour and preserver of their house. The girl stepped down, freed from her bonds, she who was at once the cause and the reward of his heroic deed. The victor himself washed his hands in water drawn from the sea, and in case Medusa’s head, with its growth of snakes, should be injured by the harsh sand, he made a soft bed of leaves on the ground, covered it with seaweed, and there laid down the head of Phorcys’ daughter. The freshly gathered weed, still living and absorbent, drew into itself the power of the monster; hardening at the touch of the head, it acquired a strange new rigidity in its leaves and branches. The sea nymphs tested this miracle, trying it on several twigs, and were delighted to find the same thing happening again. By scattering seeds from these plants over the waves, they produced more of the substance. Even today coral retains this same nature, hardening at the touch of air; that which was a plant when under water becomes rock when brought above the surface.
Then Perseus set up three turf-built altars in honour of three gods; one on the left to Mercury, one on the right to the warrior maiden, and an altar to Jupiter between them. To Minerva he made offering of a cow, to the wing-footed god he gave a calf, and a bull to Jupiter, the mightiest of the gods. Then, without delay, he claimed Andromeda as his reward for so great an exploit, and took her without a dowry. Cupid and Hymen flourished the tossing marriage torches before them. Incense in abundance fed the flames, garlands hung from the roof, and everywhere was heard the sound of lyres and pipes, and singing that gives happy proof of joyful hearts. The folding doors were thrown open, the whole of the golden palace revealed, and the noble leaders of the Ethiopians went in to the luxurious banquet that had been prepared.
When the feast was over, and they had indulged freely in wines, the gift of generous Bacchus, then Perseus, offspring of Lynceus, asked about the country and its ways, and about the customs and character of its inhabitants. One of the diners told him what he asked, and went on: ‘Now, bravest Perseus, tell us, pray, how you cut off that head which has snakes instead of hair; a deed requiring the maximum of courage and skill.’ The descendant of Agenor’s house then told them of his adventures.
There is a place beneath the chill slopes of Atlas, that is securely shut away behind a mass of solid rock. At the entrance to this spot dwelt two sisters, the daughters of Phorcys, who shared the use of a single eye. Perseus had managed by his skill and cunning to get hold of that eye, by interposing his hand when it was being transferred from one sister to the other. Then, by remote and pathless ways, through rocky country thickly overgrown with rough woods, he reached the Gorgon’s home. Everywhere, all; through the fields and along the roadways he saw statues of men and beasts, whom the sight of the Gorgon had changed from their true selves into stone. But he himself looked at dread Medusa’s form as it was reflected in the bronze of the shield which he carried on his left arm. While she and her snakes were wrapped in deep slumber, he severed her head from her shoulders. The fleet-winged steed Pegasus and his brother were born then, children of the Gorgon’s blood.
He told, too, of the other dangers, all too real, which he had encountered on his long journeyings, spoke of the seas and the lands which he had looked down on, from on high, and the stars to which he had soared on beating wings. Yet, when he stopped, they were still eager to hear more. One of the princes further asked why, of all the sisters, only Medusa had snakes twining themselves amongst her hair. Perseus replied: ‘Since the story you ask for is one worth telling, listen and I shall explain. Medusa was once renowned for her loveliness, and roused jealous hopes in the hearts of many suitors. Of all the beauties she possessed, none was more striking than her lovely hair. I have met someone who claimed to have seen her in those days. But, so they say, the lord of the sea robbed her of her virginity in the temple of Minerva. Jove’s daughter turned her back, hiding her modest face behind her aegis: and to punish the Gorgon for her deed, she changed her hair into revolting snakes. To this day, in order to terrify her enemies and numb them with fear, the goddess wears as a breastplate the snakes that were her own creation.
CADMUS AND THE SERPENT OF MARS
Jupiter was now resting in the fields of Crete. He had laid aside the disguise of a bull, under which he had deceived the princess, and revealed himself for what he was.
Meanwhile King Agenor, her father, did not know what had happened; he told his son Cadmus to search for his lost sister, and threatened him with exile if he did not find her. Thus by the same act the king showed himself at once an affectionate and a villainous father.
Cadmus wandered over the whole world: for who can lay hands on what Jove has stolen away? Driven to avoid his native country and his father’s wrath, he made a pilgrimage to Apollo’s oracle, and begged him to say what land he should dwell in. This was Phoebus’ reply: ‘In solitary pastures you will come upon a heifer, which has never felt the yoke, nor drawn the crooked plough. Go on your way with her to guide you, and when she lies down in the grass, there build your city walls, and call the place Boeotia.’
Cadmus went down from the Castalian grotto: almost at once he saw a heifer walking slowly along with none to guard her. There was no trace of harness upon her neck. He followed her, keeping close behind, and offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving to Phoebus, who had directed his way.
They passed by the shallow pools of Cephisus and through the lands of Panope. When they had gone so far, the heifer stopped, lifted up her head, graced with lofty horns, and raising it towards the sky filled the air with her lowings. She looked back at the friends who were following her; then, sinking to her knees, lay down on her side in the tender grass. Cadmus gave thanks, kissed the foregn soil, anhd greeted fields and mountains to which he was as yet a stranger. Then, intending to offer sacrifice to Jove, he ordered his attendants to go in search of fresh spring water, for a libation.
There was an ancient forest which no axe had ever touched, and in the heart of it a cave, overgrown with branches and osiers, forming a low arch with its rocky walls, rich in bubbling springs. Hidden in this cave dwelt the serpent of Mars, a creature with a wonderful golden crest; fire flashed from its eyes, its body was all puffed up with poison, and from its mouth, set with a triple row of teeth, flickered a three-forked tongue. The Phoenician travellers entered the grove on their ill-omened errand, and dipped their pitchers in the waters. At the sound, the dark gleaming serpent put forth its head from the depths of the cave, hissing horribly. The blood drained from the men’s limbs, the jugs fell from their grasp and they shuddered with sudden dread. As for the snake, it coiled its scaly loops in writhing circles, then with a spring shot up in a huge arc, raising more than half its length into the insubstantial air, till it looked down upon the whole expanse of the forest. It was as huge as the Serpent that twines between the two Bears in the sky, if its full length were seen uncoiled. Without a moment’s pause the monster seized upon the Phoenicians, while some of them were getting their weapons ready, and some were preparing to flee. Others were too terrified to do either. With its fangs, its constricting coils, and tainted poisonous breath, it slew them all.
The noonday sun had reduced the shadows to their shortest. Agenor’s son, wondering what was detaining his friends, went out to look for them. His shield was a lion’s skin, his weapon a lance with shining point. He had a javelin too, and courage that was of more avail than any weapon. When he entered the grove he saw the dead bodies, and their monstrous foe, towering triumphant above them, the blood dripping from its tongue as it licked their cruel wounds. ‘My faithful friends,’ cried Cadmus, ‘I shall avenge your death, or share it!’ As he spoke he lifted a great boulder in his right hand, and hurled this huge missile with tremendous force. Towering walls with lofty battlements would have been shaken by the impact: but the serpent was unharmed. Protected by its scales as by a breastplate, and by the toughness of its black skiin, it repelled the stoutest blows. But that same toughness was not proof against the javelin, which struck home in a coil in the middle of the creature’s sinuous back: the whole iron tip sank deep into its belly. Maddened with pain, the serpent twisted its head round to look at its back, and seeing the wound, bit at the shaft of the spear that was lodged there. By violent efforts it loosened the shaft all round, and just managed to drag it out: but the iron remained fixed in its bones. then indeed, when this fresh irritation increased its normal savagery, the veins of the snake’s throat filled and swelled with poison and white foam flecked its venomous jaws. Its scales rasped along the ground and its breath, rank as that from Stygian caves, spread foulness through the air. Now it coiled itself into huge spirals, now shot up straighter than a tree, or again, like a river swollen by the rains, swept violently along, its breast brushing aside the woods which barred the way. Cadmus drew back a little, received the onslaught on his lion’s shield and, using his spear point as a barrier, blocked the threatening jaws. The serpent, in a frenzy, bit uselessly at the hard iron, and fastened its teeth on the point of the spear. Now the blood began to flow from its poison-laden throat, spattering the green grass. But the wound was a slight one, for the snake retreated from the blow, drawing back its injured neck; by yielding ground, it prevented the weapon from striking home, or entering more deeply. Meanwhile the son of Agenor kept pressing close, driving in the iron he had fixed in its throat; until an oak tree blocked its backward movement, and its neck was pinned to the trunk. The tree bent beneath the serpent’s weight, and groaned as the end of the creature’s tail thrashed against its bark.
While the victorious Cadmus stood, eyeing the huge bulk of his defeated foe, suddenly a voice was heard. It was not easy to tell where it came from, but heard it was. ‘Son of Agenor, why stare at the snake you have slain? You, too, will become a serpent, for men to gaze upon.’ The colour drained from Cadmus’ cheeks, and for a long time he stood panic-stricken, frozen with fear, his hair on end, his senses reeling.
Then Pallas, the hero’s patroness, suddenly appeared, gliding down through the upper air. She told him to plough up the earth, and to sow the serpent’s teeth, as seeds from which his people would spring. He obeyed, and after opening up furrows with his deep cutting plough, scattered the teeth on the ground as he had been bidden, seeds to produce men. what followed was beyond belief: the sods began to stir; then, first of all a crop of spearheads pushed up from the furrows, and after them came helmets with plumes nodding on their painted crests. then shoulders and breasts and arms appeared, weighed down with weapons, and the crop of armoured heroes rose into the air. Even so, when the curtains are pulled up at the end of a show in the theatre, the figures embroidered on them rise into view, drawn smoothly upwards to reveal first their faces, and then the rest of their bodies, bit by bit, till finally they are seen complete, and stand with their feet resting on the bottom hem.
Cadmus was terrified at the sight of this new enemy, and was about to seize his weapons: but one of the warriors whom the earth had produced cried out to him: ‘Don’t take to arms! Keep clear of this family conflict!’ With these words he drove his unyielding sword into one of his earthborn brothers, who was standing close at hand; then fell himself, pierced by a javelin thrown from a distance. the man who had killed him lived no longer than he did himself; he, too, gasped out the breath he had so lately received. The whole host fought madly in the same way, dealing each other wounds in turn. In the struggle which they had themselves begun, these short-lived brothers perished; until, of all the young warriors granted so brief a span of life, only five remained – the rest lay writhing on the bosom of their mother earth, which was all warm with their blood. One of the five survivors, Echion, flung down his arms, at the bidding of Pallas, promising to fight no more, and asking for the same promise from his brothers,. These were the companions with whom the foreigner from Phoenicia undertook the task of founding his city, as instructed by Phoebus’ oracles.
Now the city of Thebes was built, and it might have seemed that exile had been a blessing for Cadmus. He was married to the daughter of Mars and Venus, and his noble wife had borne him a family of many sons and many daughters. He had grandchildren too, dearly loved descendants, who kept close the bonds of family affection. He even saw these grandchildren grown to manhood. But indeed, one must ever wait for the last day of a man’s life, and call no one happy until he is dead and buried…
THE STORY OF MEDEA AND JASON
The Argonauts now stemm’d the foaming tide,
And to Arcadia’s shore their course apply’d;
Where sightless Phineus spent his age in grief,
But Boreas’ sons engage in his relief;
And those unwelcome guests, the odious race
Of Harpyes, from the monarch’s table chase.
With Jason then they greater toils sustain,
And Phasis’ slimy banks at last they gain,
Here boldly they demand the golden prize
Of Scythia’s king, who sternly thus replies:
That mighty labours they must first o’ercome,
Or sail their Argo thence unfreighted home.
Meanwhile Medea, seiz’d with fierce desire,
By reason strives to quench the raging fire;
But strives in vain!- Some God (she said) withstands,
And reason’s baffl’d council countermands.
What unseen Pow’r does this disorder move?
‘Tis love,- at least ’tis like, what men call love.
Else wherefore shou’d the king’s commands appear
To me too hard?- But so indeed they are.
Why shou’d I for a stranger fear, lest he
Shou’d perish, whom I did but lately see?
His death, or safety, what are they to me?
Wretch, from thy virgin-breast this flame expel,
And soon- Oh cou’d I, all wou’d then be well!
But love, resistless love, my soul invades;
Discretion this, affection that perswades.
I see the right, and I approve it too,
Condemn the wrong- and yet the wrong pursue.
Why, royal maid, shou’dst thou desire to wed
A wanderer, and court a foreign bed?
Thy native land, tho’ barb’rous, can present
A bridegroom worth a royal bride’s content:
And whether this advent’rer lives, or dies,
In Fate, and Fortune’s fickle pleasure lies.
Yet may be live! for to the Pow’rs above,
A virgin, led by no impulse of love,
So just a suit may, for the guiltless, move.
Whom wou’d not Jason’s valour, youth and blood
Invite? or cou’d these merits be withstood,
At least his charming person must encline
The hardest heart- I’m sure ’tis so with mine!
Yet, if I help him not, the flaming breath
Of bulls, and earth-born foes, must be his death.
Or, should he through these dangers force his way,
At last he must be made the dragon’s prey.
If no remorse for such distress I feel,
I am a tigress, and my breast is steel.
Why do I scruple then to see him slain,
And with the tragick scene my eyes prophane?
My magick’s art employ, not to asswage
The Salvages, but to enflame their rage?
His earth-born foes to fiercer fury move,
And accessory to his murder prove?
The Gods forbid- But pray’rs are idle breath,
When action only can prevent his death.
Shall I betray my father, and the state,
To intercept a rambling hero’s fate;
Who may sail off next hour, and sav’d from harms
By my assistance, bless another’s arms?
Whilst I, not only of my hopes bereft,
But to unpity’d punishment am left.
If he is false, let the ingrateful bleed!
But no such symptom in his looks I read.
Nature wou’d ne’er have lavish’d so much grace
Upon his person, if his soul were base.
Besides, he first shall plight his faith, and swear
By all the Gods; what therefore can’st thou fear?
Medea haste, from danger set him free,
Jason shall thy eternal debtor be.
And thou, his queen, with sov’raign state enstall’d,
By Graecian dames the Kind Preserver call’d.
Hence idle dreams, by love-sick fancy bred!
Wilt thou, Medea, by vain wishes led,
To sister, brother, father bid adieu?
Forsake thy country’s Gods, and country too?
My father’s harsh, my brother but a child,
My sister rivals me, my country’s wild;
And for its Gods, the greatest of ’em all
Inspires my breast, and I obey his call.
That great endearments I forsake, is true,
But greater far the hopes that I pursue:
The pride of having sav’d the youths of Greece
(Each life more precious than our golden fleece);
A nobler soil by me shall be possest,
I shall see towns with arts and manners blest;
And, what I prize above the world beside,
Enjoy my Jason- and when once his bride,
Be more than mortal, and to Gods ally’d.
They talk of hazards I must first sustain,
Of floating islands justling in the main;
Our tender barque expos’d to dreadful shocks
Of fierce Charybdis’ gulf, and Scylla’s rocks,
Where breaking waves in whirling eddies rowl,
And rav’nous dogs that in deep caverns howl:
Amidst these terrors, while I lye possest
Of him I love, and lean on Jason’s breast,
In tempests unconcern’d I will appear,
Or, only for my husband’s safety fear.
Didst thou say husband?- canst thou so deceive
Thy self, fond maid, and thy own cheat believe?
In vain thou striv’st to varnish o’er thy shame,
And grace thy guilt with wedlock’s sacred name.
Pull off the coz’ning masque, and oh! in time
Discover and avoid the fatal crime.
She ceas’d- the Graces now, with kind surprize,
And virtue’s lovely train, before her eyes
Present themselves, and vanquish’d Cupid flies.
She then retires to Hecate’s shrine, that stood
Far in the covert of a shady wood:
She finds the fury of her flames asswag’d,
But, seeing Jason there, again they rag’d.
Blushes, and paleness did by turns invade
Her tender cheeks, and secret grief betray’d.
As fire, that sleeping under ashes lyes,
Fresh-blown, and rous’d, does up in blazes rise,
So flam’d the virgin’s breast-
New kindled by her lover’s sparkling eyes.
For chance, that day, had with uncommon grace
Adorn’d the lovely youth, and through his face
Display’d an air so pleasing as might charm
A Goddess, and a Vestal’s bosom warm.
Her ravish’d eyes survey him o’er and o’er,
As some gay wonder never seen before;
Transported to the skies she seems to be,
And thinks she gazes on a deity.
But when he spoke, and prest her trembling hand,
And did with tender words her aid demand,
With vows, and oaths to make her soon his bride,
She wept a flood of tears, and thus reply’d:
I see my error, yet to ruin move,
Nor owe my fate to ignorance, but love:
Your life I’ll guard, and only crave of you
To swear once more- and to your oath be true.
He swears by Hecate he would all fulfil,
And by her grandfather’s prophetick skill,
By ev’ry thing that doubting love cou’d press,
His present danger, and desir’d success.
She credits him, and kindly does produce
Enchanted herbs, and teaches him their use:
Their mystick names, and virtues he admires,
And with his booty joyfully retires.
THE DRAGON’S TEETH TRANSFORM’D TO MEN
Impatient for the wonders of the day,
Aurora drives the loyt’ring stars away.
Now Mars’s mount the pressing people fill,
The crowd below, the nobles crown the hill;
The king himself high-thron’d above the rest,
With iv’ry scepter, and in purple drest.
Forthwith the brass-hoof’d bulls are set at large,
Whose furious nostrils sulph’rous flame discharge:
The blasted herbage by their breath expires;
As forges rumble with excessive fires,
And furnaces with fiercer fury glow,
When water on the panting mass ye throw;
With such a noise, from their convulsive breast,
Thro’ bellowing throats, the struggling vapour prest.
Yet Jason marches up without concern,
While on th’ advent’rous youth the monsters turn
Their glaring eyes, and, eager to engage,
Brandish their steel-tipt horns in threatning rage:
With brazen hoofs they beat the ground, and choak
The ambient air with clouds of dust and smoak:
Each gazing Graecian for his champion shakes,
While bold advances he securely makes
Thro’ singing blasts; such wonders magick art
Can work, when love conspires, and plays his part.
The passive savages like statues stand,
While he their dew-laps stroaks with soothing hand;
To unknown yokes their brawny necks they yield,
And, like tame oxen, plow the wond’ring field.
The Colchians stare; the Graecians shout, and raise
Their champion’s courage with inspiring praise.
Embolden’d now, on fresh attempts he goes,
With serpent’s teeth the fertile furrows sows;
The glebe, fermenting with inchanted juice,
Makes the snake’s teeth a human crop produce.
For as an infant, pris’ner to the womb,
Contented sleeps, ’till to perfection come,
Then does the cell’s obscure confinement scorn,
He tosses, throbs, and presses to be born;
So from the lab’ring Earth no single birth,
But a whole troop of lusty youths rush forth;
And, what’s more strange, with martial fury warm’d,
And for encounter all compleatly arm’d;
In rank and file, as they were sow’d, they stand,
Impatient for the signal of command.
No foe but the Aemonian youth appears;
At him they level their steel-pointed spears;
His frighted friends, who triumph’d, just before,
With peals of sighs his desp’rate case deplore:
And where such hardy warriors are afraid,
What must the tender, and enamour’d maid?
Her spirits sink, the blood her cheek forsook;
She fears, who for his safety undertook:
She knew the vertue of the spells she gave,
She knew the force, and knew her lover brave;
But what’s a single champion to an host?
Yet scorning thus to see him tamely lost,
Her strong reserve of secret arts she brings,
And last, her never-failing song she sings.
Wonders ensue; among his gazing foes
The massy fragment of a rock he throws;
This charm in civil war engag’d ’em all;
By mutual wounds those Earth-born brothers fall.
The Greeks, transported with the strange success,
Leap from their seats the conqu’ror to caress;
Commend, and kiss, and clasp him in their arms:
So would the kind contriver of the charms;
But her, who felt the tenderest concern,
Honour condemns in secret flames to burn;
Committed to a double guard of fame,
Aw’d by a virgin’s, and a princess’ name.
thoughts are free, and fancy unconfin’d,
She kisses, courts, and hugs him in her mind;
To fav’ring Pow’rs her silent thanks she gives,
By whose indulgence her lov’d hero lives.
One labour more remains, and, tho’ the last,
In danger far surmounting all the past;
That enterprize by Fates in store was kept,
To make the dragon sleep that never slept,
Whose crest shoots dreadful lustre; from his jaws
A triple tire of forked stings he draws,
With fangs, and wings of a prodigious size:
Such was the guardian of the golden prize.
Yet him, besprinkled with Lethaean dew,
The fair inchantress into slumber threw;
And then, to fix him, thrice she did repeat
The rhyme, that makes the raging winds retreat,
In stormy seas can halcyon seasons make,
Turn rapid streams into a standing lake;
While the soft guest his drowsy eye-lids seals,
Th’ ungarded golden fleece the stranger steals;
Proud to possess the purchase of his toil,
Proud of his royal bride, the richer spoil;
To sea both prize, and patroness he bore,
And lands triumphant on his native shore.
OLD AESON RESTOR’D TO YOUTH
Aemonian matrons, who their absence mourn’d,
Rejoyce to see their prosp’rous sons return’d:
Rich curling fumes of incense feast the skies,
An hecatomb of voted victims dies,
With gilded horns, and garlands on their head,
And all the pomp of death, to th’ altar led.
Congratulating bowls go briskly round,
Triumphant shouts in louder musick drown’d.
Amidst these revels, why that cloud of care
On Jason’s brow? (to whom the largest share
Of mirth was due)- His father was not there.
Aeson was absent, once the young, and brave,
Now crush’d with years, and bending to the grave.
At last withdrawn, and by the crowd unseen,
Pressing her hand (with starting sighs between),
He supplicates his kind, and skilful queen.
O patroness! preserver of my life!
(Dear when my mistress, and much dearer wife)
Your favours to so vast a sum amount,
‘Tis past the pow’r of numbers to recount;
Or cou’d they be to computation brought,
The history would a romance be thought:
And yet, unless you add one favour more,
Greater than all that you conferr’d before,
But not too hard for love and magick skill,
Your past are thrown away, and Jason’s wretched still.
The morning of my life is just begun,
But my declining father’s race is run;
From my large stock retrench the long arrears,
And add ’em to expiring Aeson’s years.
Thus spake the gen’rous youth, and wept the rest.
Mov’d with the piety of his request,
To his ag’d sire such filial duty shown,
So diff’rent from her treatment of her own,
But still endeav’ring her remorse to hide,
She check’d her rising sighs, and thus reply’d.
How cou’d the thought of such inhuman wrong
Escape (said she) from pious Jason’s tongue?
Does the whole world another Jason bear,
Whose life Medea can to yours prefer?
Or cou’d I with so dire a change dispence,
Hecate will never join in that offence:
Unjust is the request you make, and I
In kindness your petition shall deny;
Yet she that grants not what you do implore,
Shall yet essay to give her Jason more;
Find means t’ encrease the stock of Aeson’s years,
Without retrenchment of your life’s arrears;
Provided that the triple Goddess join
A strong confed’rate in my bold design.
Thus was her enterprise resolv’d; but still
Three tedious nights are wanting to fulfil
The circling crescents of th’ encreasing moon;
Then, in the height of her nocturnal noon,
Medea steals from court; her ankles bare,
Her garments closely girt, but loose her hair;
Thus sally’d, like a solitary sprite,
She traverses the terrors of the night.
Men, beasts, and birds in soft repose lay charm’d,
No boistrous wind the mountain-woods alarm’d;
Nor did those walks of love, the myrtle-trees,
Of am’rous Zephir hear the whisp’ring breeze;
All elements chain’d in unactive rest,
No sense but what the twinkling stars exprest;
To them (that only wak’d) she rears her arm,
And thus commences her mysterious charms.
She turn’d her thrice about, as oft she threw
On her pale tresses the nocturnal dew;
Then yelling thrice a most enormous sound,
Her bare knee bended on the flinty ground.
O night (said she) thou confident and guide
Of secrets, such as darkness ought to hide;
Ye stars and moon, that, when the sun retires,
Support his empire with succeeding fires;
And thou, great Hecate, friend to my design;
Songs, mutt’ring spells, your magick forces join;
And thou, O Earth, the magazine that yields
The midnight sorcerer drugs; skies, mountains, fields;
Ye wat’ry Pow’rs of fountain, stream, and lake;
Ye sylvan Gods, and Gods of night, awake,
And gen’rously your parts in my adventure take.
Oft by your aid swift currents I have led
Thro’ wand’ring banks, back to their fountain head;
Transformed the prospect of the briny deep,
Made sleeping billows rave, and raving billows sleep;
Made clouds, or sunshine; tempests rise, or fall;
And stubborn lawless winds obey my call:
With mutter’d words disarm’d the viper’s jaw;
Up by the roots vast oaks, and rocks cou’d draw,
Make forests dance, and trembling mountains come,
Like malefactors, to receive their doom;
Earth groan, and frighted ghosts forsake their tomb.
Thee, Cynthia, my resistless rhymes drew down,
When tinkling cymbals strove my voice to drown;
Nor stronger Titan could their force sustain,
In full career compell’d to stop his wain:
Nor could Aurora’s virgin blush avail,
With pois’nous herbs I turn’d her roses pale;
The fury of the fiery bulls I broke,
Their stubborn necks submitting to my yoke;
And when the sons of Earth with fury burn’d,
Their hostile rage upon themselves I turn’d;
The brothers made with mutual wounds to bleed,
And by their fatal strife my lover freed;
And, while the dragon slept, to distant Greece,
Thro’ cheated guards, convey’d the golden fleece.
But now to bolder action I proceed,
Of such prevailing juices now have need,
That wither’d years back to their bloom can bring,
And in dead winter raise a second spring.
And you’ll perform’t-
You will; for lo! the stars, with sparkling fires,
Presage as bright success to my desires:
And now another happy omen see!
A chariot drawn by dragons waits for me.
With these last words he leaps into the wain,
Stroaks the snakes’ necks, and shakes the golden rein;
That signal giv’n, they mount her to the skies,
And now beneath her fruitful Tempe lies,
Whose stories she ransacks, then to Crete she flies;
There Ossa, Pelion, Othrys, Pindus, all
To the fair ravisher, a booty fall;
The tribute of their verdure she collects,
Nor proud Olympus’ height his plants protects.
Some by the roots she plucks; the tender tops
Of others with her culling sickle crops.
Nor could the plunder of the hills suffice,
Down to the humble vales, and meads she flies;
Apidanus, Amphrysus, the next rape
Sustain, nor could Enipeus’ bank escape;
Thro’ Beebe’s marsh, and thro’ the border rang’d
Whose pasture Glaucus to a Triton chang’d.
Now the ninth day, and ninth successive night,
Had wonder’d at the restless rover’s flight;
Mean-while her dragons, fed with no repast,
But her exhaling simples od’rous blast,
Their tarnish’d scales, and wrinkled skins had cast.
At last return’d before her palace gate,
Quitting her chariot, on the ground she sate;
The sky her only canopy of state.
All conversation with her sex she fled,
Shun’d the caresses of the nuptial bed:
Two altars next of grassy turf she rears,
This Hecate’s name, that Youth’s inscription bears;
With forest-boughs, and vervain these she crown’d;
Then delves a double trench in lower ground,
And sticks a black-fleec’d ram, that ready stood,
And drench’d the ditches with devoted blood:
New wine she pours, and milk from th’ udder warm,
With mystick murmurs to compleat the charm,
And subterranean deities alarm.
To the stern king of ghosts she next apply’d,
That for old Aeson with the laws of Fate
They would dispense, and lengthen his short date;
Thus with repeated pray’rs she long assails
Th’ infernal tyrant and at last prevails;
Then calls to have decrepit Aeson brought,
And stupifies him with a sleeping draught;
On Earth his body, like a corpse, extends,
Then charges Jason and his waiting friends
To quit the place, that no unhallow’d eye
Into her art’s forbidden secrets pry.
This done, th’ inchantress, with her locks unbound,
About her altars trips a frantick round;
Piece-meal the consecrated wood she splits,
And dips the splinters in the bloody pits,
Then hurles ’em on the piles; the sleeping sire
She lustrates thrice, with sulphur, water, fire.
In a large cauldron now the med’cine boils,
Compounded of her late-collected spoils,
Blending into the mesh the various pow’rs
Of wonder-working juices, roots, and flow’rs;
With gems i’ th’ eastern ocean’s cell refin’d,
And such as ebbing tides had left behind;
To them the midnight’s pearly dew she flings,
A scretch-owl’s carcase, and ill boding wings;
Nor could the wizard wolf’s warm entrails scape
(That wolf who counterfeits a human shape).
Then, from the bottom of her conj’ring bag,
Snakes’ skins, and liver of a long-liv’d stag;
Last a crow’s head to such an age arriv’d,
That he had now nine centuries surviv’d;
These, and with these a thousand more that grew
In sundry soils, into her pot she threw;
Then with a wither’d olive-bough she rakes
The bubling broth; the bough fresh verdure takes;
Green leaves at first the perish’d plant surround,
Which the next minute with ripe fruit were crown’d.
The foaming juices now the brink o’er-swell;
The barren heath, where-e’er the liquor fell,
Sprang out with vernal grass, and all the pride
Of blooming May- When this Medea spy’d,
She cuts her patient’s throat; th’ exhausted blood
Recruiting with her new enchanted flood;
While at his mouth, and thro’ his op’ning wound,
A double inlet her infusion found;
His feeble frame resumes a youthful air,
A glossy brown his hoary beard and hair.
The meager paleness from his aspect fled,
And in its room sprang up a florid red;
Thro’ all his limbs a youthful vigour flies,
His empty’d art’ries swell with fresh supplies:
Gazing spectators scarce believe their eyes.
But Aeson is the most surpriz’d to find
A happy change in body and in mind;
In sense and constitution the same man,
As when his fortieth active year began.
Bacchus, who from the clouds this wonder view’d,
Medea’s method instantly pursu’d,
And his indulgent nurse’s youth renew’d.
THE DEATH OF PELIAS
Thus far obliging love employ’d her art,
But now revenge must act a tragick part;
Medea feigns a mortal quarrel bred
Betwixt her, and the partner of her bed;
On this pretence to Pelias’ court she flies,
Who languishing with age and sickness lies:
His guiltless daughters, with inveigling wiles,
And well dissembled friendship, she beguiles:
The strange achievements of her art she tells,
With Aeson’s cure, and long on that she dwells,
‘Till them to firm perswasion she has won,
The same for their old father may be done:
For him they court her to employ her skill,
And put upon the cure what price she will.
At first she’s mute, and with a grave pretence
Of difficulty, holds ’em in suspense;
Then promises, and bids ’em, from the fold
Chuse out a ram, the most infirm and old;
That so by fact their doubts may be remov’d,
And first on him the operation prov’d.
A wreath-horn’d ram is brought, so far o’er-grown
With years, his age was to that age unknown
Of sense too dull the piercing point to feel,
And scarce sufficient blood to stain the steel.
His carcass she into a cauldron threw,
With drugs whose vital qualities she knew;
His limbs grow less, he casts his horns, and years,
And tender bleatings strike their wond’ring ears.
Then instantly leaps forth a frisking lamb,
That seeks (too young to graze) a suckling dam.
The sisters, thus confirm’d with the success,
Her promise with renew’d entreaty press;
To countenance the cheat, three nights and days
Before experiment th’ inchantress stays;
Then into limpid water, from the springs,
Weeds, and ingredients of no force she flings;
With antique ceremonies for pretence
And rambling rhymes without a word of sense.
Mean-while the king with all his guards lay bound
In magick sleep, scarce that of death so sound;
The daughters now are by the sorc’ress led
Into his chamber, and surround his bed.
Your father’s health’s concern’d, and can ye stay?
Unnat’ral nymphs, why this unkind delay?
Unsheath your swords, dismiss his lifeless blood,
And I’ll recruit it with a vital flood:
Your father’s life and health is in your hand,
And can ye thus like idle gazers stand?
Unless you are of common sense bereft,
If yet one spark of piety is left,
Dispatch a father’s cure, and disengage
The monarch from his toilsome load of age:
Come- drench your weapons in his putrid gore;
‘Tis charity to wound, when wounding will restore.
Thus urg’d, the poor deluded maids proceed,
Betray’d by zeal, to an inhumane deed,
And, in compassion, make a father bleed.
Yes, she who had the kindest, tend’rest heart,
Is foremost to perform the bloody part.
Yet, tho’ to act the butchery betray’d,
They could not bear to see the wounds they made;
With looks averted, backward they advance,
Then strike, and stab, and leave the blows to chance.
Waking in consternation, he essays
(Weltring in blood) his feeble arms to raise:
Environ’d with so many swords- From whence
This barb’rous usage? what is my offence?
What fatal fury, what infernal charm,
‘Gainst a kind father does his daughters arm?
Hearing his voice, as thunder-struck they stopt,
Their resolution, and their weapons dropt:
Medea then the mortal blow bestows,
And that perform’d, the tragick scene to close,
His corpse into the boiling cauldron throws.
Then, dreading the revenge that must ensue,
High mounted on her dragon-coach she flew;
And in her stately progress thro’ the skies,
Beneath her shady Pelion first she spies,
With Othrys, that above the clouds did rise;
With skilful Chiron’s cave, and neighb’ring ground,
For old Cerambus’ strange escape renown’d,
By nymphs deliver’d, when the world was drown’d;
Who him with unexpected wings supply’d,
When delug’d hills a safe retreat deny’d.
Aeolian Pitane on her left hand
She saw, and there the statu’d dragon stand;
With Ida’s grove, where Bacchus, to disguise
His son’s bold theft, and to secure the prize,
Made the stoln steer a stag to represent;
Cocytus’ father’s sandy monument;
And fields that held the murder’d sire’s remains,
Where howling Moera frights the startled plains.
Euryphilus’ high town, with tow’rs defac’d
By Hercules, and matrons more disgrac’d
With sprouting horns, in signal punishment,
From Juno, or resenting Venus sent.
Then Rhodes, which Phoebus did so dearly prize,
And Jove no less severely did chastize;
For he the wizard native’s pois’ning sight,
That us’d the farmer’s hopeful crops to blight,
In rage o’erwhelm’d with everlasting night.
Cartheia’s ancient walls come next in view,
Where once the sire almost a statue grew
With wonder, which a strange event did move,
His daughter turn’d into a turtle-dove.
Then Hyrie’s lake, and Tempe’s field o’er-ran,
Fam’d for the boy who there became a swan;
For there enamour’d Phyllius, like a slave,
Perform’d what tasks his paramour would crave.
For presents he had mountain-vultures caught,
And from the desart a tame lion brought;
Then a wild bull commanded to subdue,
The conquer’d savage by the horns he drew;
But, mock’d so oft, the treatment he disdains,
And from the craving boy this prize detains.
Then thus in choler the resenting lad:
Won’t you deliver him?- You’ll wish you had:
Nor sooner said, but, in a peevish mood,
Leapt from the precipice on which he stood:
The standers-by were struck with fresh surprize,
Instead of falling, to behold him rise
A snowy swan, and soaring to the skies.
But dearly the rash prank his mother cost,
Who ignorantly gave her son for lost;
For his misfortune wept, ’till she became
A lake, and still renown’d with Hyrie’s name.
Thence to Latona’s isle, where once were seen,
Transform’d to birds, a monarch, and his queen.
Far off she saw how old Cephisus mourn’d
His son, into a seele by Phoebus turn’d;
And where, astonish’d at a stranger sight,
Eumelus gaz’d on his wing’d daughter’s flight.
Aetolian Pleuron she did next survey,
Where sons a mother’s murder did essay,
But sudden plumes the matron bore away.
On her right hand, Cyllene, a fair soil,
Fair, ’till Menephron there the beauteous hill
Attempted with foul incest to defile.
Her harness’d dragons now direct she drives
For Corinth, and at Corinth she arrives;
Where, if what old tradition tells, be true,
In former ages men from mushrooms grew.
But here Medea finds her bed supply’d,
During her absence, by another bride;
And hopeless to recover her lost game,
She sets both bride and palace in a flame.
Nor could a rival’s death her wrath asswage,
Nor stopt at Creon’s family her rage,
She murders her own infants, in despight
To faithless Jason, and in Jason’s sight;
Yet e’er his sword could reach her, up she springs,
Securely mounted on her dragon’s wings.
THE STORY OF AEGEUS
From hence to Athens she directs her flight,
Where Phineus, so renown’d for doing right;
Where Periphas, and Polyphemon’s neece,
Soaring with sudden plumes amaz’d the towns of Greece.
Here Aegeus so engaging she addrest,
That first he treats her like a royal guest;
Then takes the sorc’ress for his wedded wife;
The only blemish of his prudent life.
Mean-while his son, from actions of renown,
Arrives at court, but to his sire unknown.
Medea, to dispatch a dang’rous heir
(She knew him), did a pois’nous draught prepare;
Drawn from a drug, was long reserv’d in store
For desp’rate uses, from the Scythian shore;
That from the Echydnaean monster’s jaws
Deriv’d its origin, and this the cause.
Thro’ a dark cave a craggy passage lies,
To ours, ascending from the nether skies;
Thro’ which, by strength of hand, Alcides drew
Chain’d Cerberus, who lagg’d, and restive grew,
With his blear’d eyes our brighter day to view.
Thrice he repeated his enormous yell,
With which he scares the ghosts, and startles Hell;
At last outragious (tho’ compell’d to yield)
He sheds his foam in fury on the field,-
Which, with its own, and rankness of the ground,
Produc’d a weed, by sorcerers renown’d,
The strongest constitution to confound;
Call’d Aconite, because it can unlock
All bars, and force its passage thro’ a rock.
The pious father, by her wheedles won,
Presents this deadly potion to his son;
Who, with the same assurance takes the cup,
And to the monarch’s health had drank it up,
But in the very instant he apply’d
The goblet to his lips, old Aegeus spy’d
The iv’ry hilted sword that grac’d his side.
That certain signal of his son he knew,
And snatcht the bowl away; the sword he drew,
Resolv’d, for such a son’s endanger’d life,
To sacrifice the most perfidious wife.
Revenge is swift, but her more active charms
A whirlwind rais’d, that snatch’d her from his arms.
While conjur’d clouds their baffled sense surprize,
She vanishes from their deluded eyes,
And thro’ the hurricane triumphant flies.
The gen’rous king, altho’ o’er-joy’d to find
His son was safe, yet bearing still in mind
The mischief by his treach’rous queen design’d;
The horrour of the deed, and then how near
The danger drew, he stands congeal’d with fear.
But soon that fear into devotion turns,
With grateful incense ev’ry altar burns;
Proud victims, and unconscious of their fate,
Stalk to the temple, there to die in state.
In Athens never had a day been found
For mirth, like that grand festival, renown’d.
Promiscuously the peers, and people dine,
Promiscuously their thankful voices join,
In songs of wit, sublim’d by spritely wine.
To list’ning spheres their joint applause they raise,
And thus resound their matchless Theseus’ praise…
THE FURY ATTACKS INO AND ATHAMUS
…Tisiphone tossed her white head, already all disordered, and flinging back from her face the snakes that covered it, she said: ‘No need for long and involved explanations! Count as done whatever you command. Leave this unpleasant domain, and return to the healthier air of heaven.’ Juno went back home rejoicing. As she was about to enter the sky Iris, daughter of Thaumas, cleansed her, sprinkling her with drops of spray.
Without delay, pitiless Tisiphone took up her torch, all soaked in gore, donned her cloak that streaming blood had dyed crimson, fastened a twining snake around her waist, and went forth from the house. Along with her went Grief and Fear and Terror, and Madness too, with palsied features. She stopped upon the threshold of the house of Aeolus, where Athamas, his son, now lived; the door posts trembled, so men say, the beechwood doors turned pale, and the sun fled from his usual place in the sky. Athamas’ wife was terrified by these portents, and he was no less frightened than she. They tried to escape from their home, but the dire Fury planted herself in the entrance, and blocked their way. Then stretching out her arms, round which the serpents were knotted and coiled, she gave her head a toss. The snakes of her hair hissed as they were disturbed: some lay upon her shoulders, some slipped down around her breast, uttering sibilant sounds, vomiting gore and flickering their tongues. Next, she tore two snakes from amongst her tresses, and hurled them with deadly aim. They slid over Ino’s bosom, and round Athamas’ breast, breathing their poisonous breath into their victims. The limbs of the royal pair received no wound: it was their minds which felt those ominous fangs. Tisiphone had also brought a noisome witch’s brew, compounded of foam from Cerberus’ jaws, and the venom of the Lernaean hydra, mixed with vague hallucinations, blind forgetfulness, tears, crime and madness, and lust for murder. These she had groundf up together, moistened them with fresh blood and cooked the mixture in a bronze cauldron, stirring it with a green hemlock stalk. While the king and queen stood trembling, she poured this maddening poison over their breasts, disturbing the very depths of their souls. Then she made a ring of fire, brandishing her torch round and round, in the same circle, over and over again. When Jumno’s orders had been successfully carried out, the Fury returned to the yawning kingdoms of great Dis, and unloosed the snake which she had used as a girdle.
Athamas, son of Aeolus, was smitten with instant madness. Though he was within the walls of his own palace, he cried out: ‘Ho there, my friends, spread out your nets in these woods! Just now I saw a lioness here, with her two cubs!’ Quite demented, he tracked down his wife, following her footprints as if she were some wild beast. Then, from her arms he snatched the baby Learchus, who lay smiling and stretching out his little hands towards his father. But Athamas whirled him round in the air like a sling, twice, three times, and then let go, madly smashing the child’s head against a hard rock. At this the mother was roused to utter frenzy, either by her grief, or because of the poison which had been sprinkled upon her. Howling like an animal, she fled, completely distraught, tearing her hair. In her bare arms she carried the infant Melicerta, and as she rank, she cried on Bacchus’ name. Juno heard her, and laughed: ‘May the babe you reared ever bring you such blessing!’ she exulted.
There is a cliff which overhangs the sea; its lower part has been eaten away by the waves, and shelters the waters beneath it from the rain. The top is a rocky pinnacle, whose brow stretches far out over the open sea. Ino climbed up here – her madness lent her strength – and undeterred by any fear, flung herself and the child she carried far out into the waters. The waves foamed whitely where she fell. But Venus pitied the distress of her innocent grand-daughter, and coxed her uncle Neptune, saying: ‘Great god of the sea, whose dominion is second only to that of heaven, it is a great boon I ask: but take pity on my dear ones, whom you see being tossed about in the Ionian waves. Add them to your company of seagods. I, too, have some influence with the sea, for I was once fashioned from foam, in its divine depths, and my Greek name still recalls that origin.’ Neptune granted her prayer, stripped Ino and her son of their mortal partsk, clothed them in serene majesty, and gave them new names to go with their new shapes. The new god he called Palaemon, and his mother Leucothoe.
Her Phoenician attendants followed the track of Ino’s footsteps as far as they could, and saw her last prints on the edge of the rock. Never doubting that she was dead, they bewailed the fate of the house of Cadmus. They beat their breasts, tore their hair, and rent their garments, reviling Juno as unjust, and too cruel to her rival. The goddess was indignant at their reproaches: ‘You yourselves,’ she cried, ‘will afford the most striking reminder of my cruelty!’ And at once her threat was made good: for, as Ino’s most devoted attendant was about to fling herself from the cliff, crying, ‘I shall follow my queen into the sea!’ she found that she could not move at all, but was held fast, rooted to the rock. Another, who had been beating her breast in lamentation, felt her arms grow rigid, as she tried to raise them. One, by chance, had stretched out her hand, pointing to the sea waves – turned to stone, she remained, still stretching out her hand towards those same waters. There was another, whose fingers, as she cluthed and tore at her hair, could have been seen suddenly hardening amongst her tresses. Each of them remained fixed in the act in which she had been caught. Others, again, were changed into birds, which even now still fly over that pool, skimming its surface with their wings, birds which were once Theban women…
More excerpts from Ovid’s Metamorphoses