The Metamorphoses of Ovid

by Ovid

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While Perseus is continuing the relation of the adventures of Medusa, Phineus, to whom Andromeda has been previously promised in marriage, rushes into the palace, with his adherents, and attacks his rival. A furious combat is the consequence, in which Perseus gives signal proofs of his valor. At length, perceiving himself likely to be overpowered by the number of his enemies, he shows them the head of the Gorgon; on which Phineus and his followers are turned into statues of stone. After this victory, he takes Andromeda with him to Argos, his native city, where he turns the usurper Prœtus into stone, and re-establishes his grandfather Acrisius on the throne.

And while the hero, the son of Danaë, is relating these things in the midst of the company of the subjects of Cepheus, the royal courts are filled with a raging multitude; nor is the clamor such as celebrates a marriage-feast, but one which portends dreadful warfare. You might compare the banquet, changed into a sudden tumult, to the sea, which, when calm, the boisterous rage of the winds disturbs by raising its waves.

Foremost among these, Phineus,1 the rash projector of the onslaught, shaking an ashen spear with a brazen point, cries, “Behold! now, behold! I am come, the avenger of my wife, ravished from me; neither shall thy wings nor Jupiter turned into fictitious gold, deliver thee from me.” As he is endeavoring to hurl his lance, Cepheus cries out, “What art thou doing? What fancy, my brother, impels thee, in thy madness, to this crime? Is this the due acknowledgment to return 178 V. 14-39 for deserts so great? Dost thou repay the life of her thus preserved, with this reward? ’Twas not Perseus, if thou wouldst know the truth, that took her away from thee; but the incensed 158 V. 16-45 majesty of the Nereids, and horned Ammon, and the monster of the sea, which came to be glutted with my bowels. She was snatched from thee at that moment, at which she was to have perished; unless it is that thou dost, in thy cruelty, insist upon that very thing, that she should perish, and wilt be appeased only by my affliction. It is not enough, forsooth, that in thy presence she was bound and that thou, both her uncle and her betrothed, didst give no assistance; wilt thou be grieving, besides, that she was saved by another, and wilt thou deprive him of his reward? If this appears great to thee, thou shouldst have recovered it from the rock to which it was fastened. Now, let him who has recovered it, through whom my old age is not childless, have what he stipulated for, both by his merits and his words; and know that he was preferred not before thee, but before certain death.”

Phineus said nothing, on the other hand; but viewing both him and Perseus, with alternate looks, he was uncertain whether he should first attack the one or the other; and, having paused a short time, he vainly threw his spear, hurled with all the force that rage afforded. As it stood fixed in the cushion,2 then, at length, Perseus leapt off from the couch, and in his rage would have pierced the breast of his enemy with the weapon, thrown back, had not Phineus gone behind an altar, and thus (how unworthily!) an altar3 protected a miscreant. However, the spear, not thrown in vain, stuck in the forehead of Rhœtus; who, after he fell, and the steel was wrenched from the skull, he 179 V. 40-68 still struggled, and besprinkled the laid tables with his blood. But then does the multitude burst forth into ungovernable rage, and hurl their weapons. Some there are, who say that Cepheus ought to die with his son-in-law; but Cepheus has gone out by the entrance of the house, calling right and good faith to witness, and the Gods of hospitality,4 that this disturbance is 159 V. 45-77 made contrary to his will. The warlike Pallas comes; and with her shield protects her brother Perseus, and gives him courage. There was an Indian, Athis by name,5 whom Limnate, the daughter of the river Ganges, is believed to have brought forth beneath the glassy waters; excelling in beauty, which he improved by his rich dress; in his prime, as yet but twice eight years of age, dressed in a purple tunic, which a golden fringe bordered; a gilded necklace graced his neck, and a curved hair-pin his hair wet with myrrh. He, indeed, had been taught to hit things, although at a distance, with his hurled javelin, but he was more skilled at bending the bow. Perseus struck him even then, as he was bending with his hands the flexible horns of a bow, with a billet, which, placed in the middle of the altar, was smoking, and he crushed his face into his broken skull.

When the Assyrian Lycabas, who was a most attached friend of his, and no concealer of his real affection, saw him rolling his features, the objects of such praises, in his blood; after he had bewailed Athis, breathing forth his life from this cruel wound, he seized the bow which he had bent, and said, “And now let the contest against thee be with me; not long shalt thou exult in the fate of the youth, by which thou acquirest more hatred than praise.” All this he had not yet said, when the piercing weapon darted from the string, and though avoided, still it hung in the folds of his garment. The grandson of Acrisius turned against 180 V. 69-94 him his falchion,6 already proved in the slaughter of Medusa, and thrust it into his breast. But he, now dying, with his eyes swimming in black night, looked around for Athis, and sank upon him, and carried to the shades the consolation of a united death. Lo! Phorbas of Syene,7 the son of Methion, and Amphimedon, the Libyan, eager to engage in the fight, fell down, slipping in the blood with which the earth was warm, soaked on every side; as they 160 V. 77-107 arose the sword met them, being thrust in the ribs of the one, and in the throat of Phorbas. But Perseus does not attack Erithus, the son of Actor, whose weapon is a broad battle-axe, by using his sword, but he takes up, with both hands, a huge bowl,8 standing out with figures deeply embossed, and of vast mass in its weight, and hurls it against the man. The other vomits forth red blood, and, falling on his back, beats the ground with his dying head. Then he slays Polydæmon, sprung from the blood of Semiramis, and the Caucasian Abaris, and Lycetus, the son of Sperchius,9 and Elyces, with unshorn locks, and Phlegias, and Clytus; and he tramples upon the heaps of the dying, which he has piled up.

But Phineus, not daring to engage hand to hand with his enemy, hurls his javelin, which accident carries against Idas, who, in vain, has declined the warfare10 and has followed the arms of neither. He, looking at the cruel Phineus with stern eyes, says, “Since I am thus forced to take a side, take the enemy, Phineus, that thou hast made, and make amends for my wound with this wound.” And now, just about to return the 181 V. 95-123 dart drawn from his body, he falls sinking down upon his limbs void of blood. Here, too, Odytes, the next in rank among the followers of Cepheus, after the king, lies prostrate under the sword of Clymenus; Hypseus kills Protenor, and Lyncides Hypseus. There is, too, among them the aged Emathion, an observer of justice, and a fearer of the Gods; as his years prevent him from fighting, he engages by talking, and he condemns and utters imprecations against their accursed arms. As he clings to the altars11 with trembling hands, Chromis cuts off his head with his sword, which straightway falls upon the altar, and there, with his dying tongue he utters words of execration, and breathes forth his soul in the midst of the fires. Upon this, two brothers, Broteas and 161 V. 107-138 Ammon invincible at boxing, if swords could only be conquered by boxing, fell by the hand of Phineus; Ampycus, too, the priest of Ceres, having his temples wreathed with a white fillet. Thou too, son of Iapetus, not to be employed for these services; but one who tuned the lyre, the work of peace, to thy voice, hadst been ordered to attend the banquet and festival with thy music. As thou art standing afar, and holding the unwarlike plectrum, Pettalus says, laughing, “Go sing the rest to the Stygian ghosts,” and fixes the point of the sword in his left temple. He falls, and with his dying fingers he touches once again the strings of the lyre; and in his fall he plays a mournful dirge.12 The fierce Lycormas does not suffer him to fall unpunished; and tearing away a massive bar from the doorpost on the right, he dashes it against the bones of the middle of the neck of Pettalus; struck, he falls to the ground, just like a slaughtered bullock.

The Cinyphian13 Pelates, too, was trying to tear away the oaken bar of the doorpost on the left; as he was 182 V. 123-151 trying, his right hand was fastened thereto by the spear of Corythus, the son of Marmarus, and it stood riveted to the wood. Thus riveted, Abas pierced his side; he did not fall, however, but dying, hung from the post, which still held fast his hand. Melaneus, too, was slain, who had followed the camp of Perseus, and Dorylas, very rich in Nasamonian land.14 Dorylas, rich in land, than whom no one possessed it of wider extent, or received thence so many heaps of corn. The hurled steel stood fixed obliquely in his groin; the hurt was mortal. When the Bactrian15 Halcyoneus, the author of the wound, beheld him sobbing forth his soul, and rolling his eyes, he said, “Take for thine own this spot of earth which thou dost press, out of so many fields,” and he left his lifeless body. The descendant of Abas, as his avenger, hurls against Halcyoneus the spear torn from his wound yet warm, which, received in the middle of the nostrils, 162 V. 139-167 pierced through his neck, and projected on both sides. And while fortune is aiding his hand, he slays, with different wounds, Clytius and Clanis, born of one mother. For an ashen spear poised with a strong arm is driven through both the thighs of Clytius; with his mouth does Clanis bite the javelin. Celadon, the Mendesian,16 falls, too; Astreus falls, born of a mother of Palestine, but of an uncertain father. Æthion, too, once sagacious at foreseeing things to come, but now deceived17 by a false omen; and Thoactes, the armor-bearer of the king, and Agyrtes, infamous for slaying his father.

More work still remains, than what is already done; for it is the intention of all to overwhelm one. The conspiring troops fight on all sides, for a cause that 183 V. 151-176 attacks both merit and good faith. The one side, the father-in-law, attached in vain, and the new-made wife, together with her mother, encourage; and these fill the halls with their shrieks. But the din of arms, and the groans of those that fall, prevail; and for once, Bellona18 is deluging the household Gods polluted with plenteous blood, and is kindling the combat anew. Phineus, and a thousand that follow Phineus, surround Perseus alone; darts are flying thicker than the hail of winter, on both his sides, past his eyes, and past his ears. On this, he places his shoulders against the stone of a large pillar, and, having his back secure, and facing the adverse throng, he withstands their attack. Chaonian19 Molpeus presses on the left, Nabathæan Ethemon on the right. As a tiger, urged on by hunger, when it hears the lowings of two herds, in different valleys, knows not on which side in preference to rush out, and yet is eager to rush out on both; so Perseus, being in doubt whether to bear onward to the right 163 V. 167-203 or to the left, repulses Molpeus by a wound in the leg, which he runs through, and is contented with his flight. Nor, indeed, does Ethemon give him time, but fiercely attacks him; and, desirous to inflict a wound deep in his neck, he breaks his sword, wielded with incautious force; and against the extremity of a column which he has struck, the blade flies to pieces, and sticks in the throat of its owner; yet that blow has not power sufficient to effect his death. Perseus stabs him with his Cyllenian20 falchion, trembling, and vainly extending his unarmed hands.

But when Perseus saw his valor likely to yield to such 184 V. 177-209 numbers, he said, “Since you yourselves force me to do it, I will seek assistance from an enemy: turn away your faces, if any of my friends are here;” and then he produced the head of the Gorgon. “Go, seek some one else,” said Thescelus, “for thy miracles to affect;” and, as he was preparing to hurl his deadly javelin with his hand, he stood fast in that posture, a statue of marble. Ampyx, being next him, made a pass with his sword at the breast of Lyncidas, full of daring spirit, and, while making it, his right hand became stiff, moving neither to one side nor the other. But Nileus, who had falsely boasted that he was begotten by the seven-mouthed Nile, and who had engraved on his shield its seven channels, partly in silver, partly in gold, said, “Behold, Perseus, the origin of my race; thou shalt carry to the silent shades a great consolation for thy death, that thou wast killed by one so great.” The last part of his address was suppressed in the midst of the utterance; and you would think his half-open mouth was attempting to speak, but it gave no passage for his words. Eryx rebuked them,21 and said, “Ye are benumbed by the cowardice of your minds, not by the locks of the Gorgon; rush on with me, and strike to the ground this youth that wields his magic arms.” He was about to rush on, when the earth arrested his steps, and he remained an immovable stone, and an armed statue. But all these met with the punishment they had deserved: there was one man, however, Aconteus by name, a soldier of Perseus, for whom while he was fighting, on beholding the Gorgon, he grew hard with stone rising upon him. Astyages, 164 V. 203-239 thinking him still alive, struck him with his long sword; the sword resounded with a shrill ringing. While Astyages was in amazement, he took on himself the same nature: and the look of one in surprise remained on his marble features. It is a tedious task to recount the names of the men of the lower rank. Two hundred bodies were yet remaining for the fight: two hundred bodies, on beholding the Gorgon, grew stiff.

185V. 210-240 Now at length Phineus repents of this unjust warfare. But what can he do? He sees statues varying in form, and he recognizes his friends, and demands help of them each, called by name; and not yet persuaded, he touches the bodies next him; they are marble. He turns away his eyes; and thus suppliant, and stretching forth his hands, that confessed his fault, and his arms obliquely extended, he says, “Perseus, thou hast conquered; remove the direful monster, and take away that stone-making face of thy Medusa, whatever she may be; take it away, I pray. It is not hatred, or the desire of a kingdom, that has urged me to war: for a wife I wielded arms. Thy cause was the better in point of merit, mine in point of time. I am not sorry to yield. Grant me nothing, most valiant man, beyond this life; the rest be thine.” Upon his saying such things, and not daring to look upon him, whom he is entreating with his voice, Perseus says, “What am I able to give thee, most cowardly Phineus, and, a great boon to a craven, that will I give; lay aside thy fears; thou shalt be hurt by no weapon. Moreover, I will give thee a monument to last forever, and in the house of my father-in-law thou shalt always be seen, that my wife may comfort herself with the form of her betrothed.” Thus he said, and he turned the daughter of Phorcys to that side, towards which Phineus had turned himself with trembling face. Then, even as he endeavored to turn away his eyes, his neck grew stiff, and the moisture of his eyes hardened in stone. But yet his timid features, and his suppliant countenance, and his hands hanging down, and his guilty attitude, still remained.

The descendant of Abas, together with his wife, enters the walls of his native city; and as the defender and avenger of his innocent mother, he attacks Prœtus.22 For, his brother being expelled by force of arms, Prœtus had taken possession 165 V. 239-243 of the citadel of Acrisius; but neither by the help of arms, nor the citadel which he 186 V. 240-242 had unjustly seized, did he prevail against the stern eyes of the snake-bearing monster.


The scene of this story is supposed by some to have been in Æthiopia, but it is more probably on the coast of Africa. Josephus and Strabo assert that this event happened near the city of Joppa, or Jaffa: indeed, Josephus says that the marks of the chains with which Andromeda was fastened, were remaining on the rock in his time. Pomponius Mela says, that Cepheus, the father of Andromeda, was king of Joppa, and that the memory of that prince and of his brother Phineus was honored there with religious services. He says, too, that the inhabitants used to show the bones of the monster which was to have devoured Andromeda. Pliny tells us the same, and that Scaurus carried these bones with him to Rome. He calls the monster ‘a Goddess,’ ‘Dea Cete.’ Vossius believes that he means the God Dagon, worshipped among the Syrians under the figure of a fish, or sea-monster. Some authors have suggested that the story of the creature which was to have devoured Andromeda, was a confused version of that of the prophet Jonah.

The alleged power of Perseus, to turn his enemies into stone, was probably, a metaphorical mode of describing his heroism, and the terror which everywhere followed the fame of his victory over the Gorgons. This probably caused such consternation, that it was reported that he petrified his enemies by showing them the head of Medusa. Bochart supposes that the rocky nature of the island of Seriphus, where Polydectes reigned, was the ground of the various stories of the alleged metamorphoses into stone, effected by means of the Gorgon’s head.


Polydectes continues his hatred against Perseus, and treats his victories and triumphs over Medusa as mere fictions, on which Perseus turns him into stone. Minerva leaves her brother, and goes to Mount Helicon to visit the Muses, who show the Goddess the beauties of their habitation, and entertain her with their adventure at the court of Pyreneus, and the death of that prince. They also repeat to her the song of the Pierides, who challenged them to sing.

Yet, O Polydectes,23 the ruler of little Seriphus, 187 V. 243-264 neither the 166 V. 243-266 valor of the youth proved by so many toils, nor his sorrows have softened thee; but thou obstinately dost exert an inexorable hatred, nor is there any limit to thy unjust resentment. Thou also detractest from his praises, and dost allege that the death of Medusa is but a fiction. “We will give thee a proof of the truth,” says Perseus; “have a regard for your eyes, all besides;” and he makes the face of the king become stone, without blood, by means of the face of Medusa.

Hitherto Tritonia had presented herself as a companion to her brother,24 begotten in the golden shower. Now, enwrapped in an encircling cloud, she abandons Seriphus, Cythnus and Gyarus25 being left on the right. And where the way seems the shortest over the sea, she makes for Thebes and Helicon, frequented by the virgin Muses; having reached which mountain she stops, and thus addresses the learned sisters: “The fame of the new fountain26 has reached my ears, which the hard hoof of the winged steed sprung from the blood of Medusa has opened. That is the cause of my coming. I wished to see this wondrous prodigy; I saw him spring from the blood of his mother.” Urania27 replies, “Whatever, Goddess, is the cause of thy visiting these abodes, thou art most acceptable to our feelings. However, the report is true, and Pegasus is the originator of this spring;” and then she conducts Pallas to the sacred 188 V. 265-290 streams. She, long admiring the waters produced by the stroke of his foot, looks around upon the groves of the ancient wood, and the caves and the grass 167 V. 266-295 studded with flowers innumerable; and she pronounces the Mnemonian28 maids happy both in their pursuits and in their retreat; when one of the sisters thus addresses her:

“O Tritonia, thou who wouldst have come to make one of our number, had not thy valor inclined thee to greater deeds, thou sayest the truth, and with justice thou dost approve both our pursuits and our retreat; and if we are but safe, happy do we reckon our lot. But (to such a degree is no denial borne by villany) all things affright our virgin minds, and the dreadful Pyreneus is placed before our eyes; and not yet have I wholly recovered my presence of mind. He, in his insolence, had taken the Daulian and Phocean29 land with his Thracian troops, and unjustly held the government. We were making for the temple of Parnassus; he beheld us going, and adoring our Divinities30 in a feigned worship he said (for he had recognized us), ‘O Mnemonian maids, stop, and do not scruple, I pray, under my roof to avoid the bad weather and the showers (for it was raining); oft have the Gods above entered more humble cottages.’ Moved by his invitation and the weather, we assented to the man, and entered the front part of his house. The rain had now ceased, and the South Wind now subdued by the North, the black clouds were flying from the cleared sky. It was our wish to depart. Pyreneus closed his house, and prepared for violence, which we escaped by taking wing. He himself stood aloft on the top of his abode, as though about to follow us, and said ‘Wherever there is a way for you, by the same road there will be one for me.’ 189 V. 292-312 And then, in his insanity, he threw himself from the height of the summit of the tower, and fell upon his face, and with the bones of his skull thus broken, he struck the ground stained with his accursed blood.”

Thus spoke the Muse. Wings resounded through the air, and a voice of some saluting them31 came from the lofty 168 V. 293-321 boughs. The daughter of Jupiter looked up, and asked whence tongues that speak so distinctly made that noise, and thought that a human being had spoken. They were birds; and magpies that imitate everything, lamenting their fate, they stood perched on the boughs, nine in number. As the Goddess wondered, thus did the Goddess Urania commence: “Lately, too, did these being overcome in a dispute, increase the number of the birds. Pierus, rich in the lands of Pella,32 begot them; the Pæonian33 Evippe34 was their mother. Nine times did she invoke the powerful Lucina, being nine times in labor. This set of foolish sisters were proud of their number, and came hither through so many cities of Hæmonia, and through so many of Achaia,35 and engaged in a contest in words such as these: “Cease imposing upon the vulgar with your empty melody. If you have any confidence in your skill, ye Thespian Goddesses, contend with us; we will not be outdone in voice or skill; and we are as many in number. Either, if vanquished, withdraw from the spring formed by the steed of Medusa, and the Hyantean Aganippe,36 or we 190 V. 313-339 will retire from the Emathian plains, as far as the snowy Pæonians. Let the Nymphs decide the contest.” It was, indeed, disgraceful to engage, but to yield seemed even more disgraceful. The Nymphs that are chosen swear by the rivers, and they sit on seats made out of the natural rock. Then, without casting lots, she who had been the first to propose the contest, sings the wars of the Gods above, and gives the Giants honor not their due, and detracts from the actions of the great Divinities; and sings how that Typhœus, sent forth from the lowest realms of 169 V. 321-340 the earth, had struck terror into the inhabitants of Heaven; and how they had all turned their backs in flight, until the land of Egypt had received them in their weariness, and the Nile, divided into its seven mouths. She tells, how that Typhœus had come there, too, and the Gods above had concealed themselves under assumed shapes; and ‘Jupiter,’ she says, ‘becomes the leader of the flock, whence, even at the present day, the Libyan Ammon is figured with horns. Apollo, the Delian God, lies concealed as a crow, the son of Semele as a he-goat, the sister of Phœbus as a cat, Juno, the daughter of Saturn, as a snow-white cow, Venus as a fish,37 Mercury, the Cyllenian God, beneath the wings of an Ibis.’38

“Thus far she had exerted her noisy mouth to the sound of the lyre; we of Aonia39 were then called upon; but perhaps thou hast not the leisure, nor the time to lend an ear to our strains.” Pallas says, “Do not hesitate, and repeat your song to me in its order;” and she takes her seat under the pleasant shade of the grove. The Muse then tells her story. “We assigned the management of the contest to one of our number. Calliope rises, and, having her long hair gathered up with ivy, tunes with her thumb the sounding chords; and then 191 V. 340-350 sings these lines in concert with the strings when struck.”


According to Plutarch, the adventure of the Muses with Pyreneus, and of their asking wings of the Gods to save themselves, is a metaphor, which shows that he, when reigning in Phocis, was no friend to learning. As he had caused all the institutions in which it was taught to be destroyed, it was currently reported, that he had offered violence to the Muses, and that he lost his life in pursuing them. Ovid is the only writer that mentions him by name.

The challenge given by the Pierides to the Muses is not mentioned by any writer before the time of Ovid. By way of explaining it, it is said, that Pierus was a very bad poet, whose works were full of stories injurious to the credit of the Gods. Hence, in time, it became circulated, that his 170 V. 341-358 daughters, otherwise his works, were changed into magpies, thereby meaning that they were full of idle narratives, tiresome and unmeaning. It is not improbable that the story of Typhœus, who forces the Gods to conceal themselves in Egypt, under the forms of various animals, was a poem which Pierus composed on the war of the Gods with the Giants.


One of the Muses repeats to Minerva the song of Calliope, in answer to the Pierides; in which she describes the defeat of the Giant Typhœus, and Pluto viewing the mountains of Sicily, where Venus persuades her son Cupid to pierce his heart with one of his arrows.

“Ceres was the first to turn up the clods with the crooked plough; she first gave corn and wholesome food to the earth; she first gave laws; everything is the gift of Ceres. She is to be sung by me; I only wish that I could utter verses worthy of the Goddess, for doubtless she is a Goddess worthy of my song. The vast island of Trinacria40 is heaped up on the limbs of the Giant, and keeps down Typhœus, that dared to hope for the abodes of Heaven, placed beneath its heavy mass. He, indeed, struggles, and attempts often to rise, but his right hand is placed beneath the Ausonian 192 V. 350-373 Pelorus,41 his left under thee, Pachynus;42 his legs are pressed down by Lilybœum;43 Ætna bears down his head; under it Typhœus, on his back, casts forth sand, and vomits flame from his raging mouth; often does he struggle to throw off the load of earth, and to roll away cities and huge mountains from his body. Then does the earth tremble, and the King of the shades himself is in dread, lest it may open, and the ground be parted with a wide chasm, and, the day being let in, may affright the trembling ghosts.

171V. 359-384

“Fearing this ruin, the Ruler had gone out from his dark abode; and, carried in his chariot by black horses, he cautiously surveyed the foundations of the Sicilian land. After it was sufficiently ascertained that no place was insecure, and fear was laid aside, Erycina,44 sitting down upon her mountain, saw him wandering; and, embracing her winged son, she said, Cupid, my son, my arms, my hands, and my might, take up those darts by which thou conquerest all, and direct the swift arrows against the breast of the God, to whom fell the last lot of the triple kingdom.45 Thou subduest the Gods above, and Jupiter himself; thou subduest the conquered Deities of the deep, and him who rules over the Deities of the deep. Why is Tartarus exempt? Why dost thou not extend the Empire of thy mother and thine own? A third part of the world is now at stake. And yet so great power is despised even in our own heaven, and, together with myself, the influence 193 V. 374-385 of Love becomes but a trifling matter. Dost thou not see how that Pallas, and Diana, who throws the javelin, have renounced me? The daughter of Ceres, too, will be a virgin, if we shall permit it, for she inclines to similar hopes. But do thou join the Goddess to her uncle, if I have any interest with thee in favor of our joint sway.

“Venus thus spoke. He opened his quiver, and, by the direction of his mother, set apart one out of his thousand arrows; but one, than which there is not any more sharp or less unerring, or which is more true to the bow. And he bent the flexible horn, by pressing his knee against it, and struck Pluto in the breast with the barbed arrow.”


The ancients frequently accounted for natural phænomena on fabulous grounds: and whatever they found difficult to explain, from their ignorance of the principles of natural philosophy, they immediately attributed to the agency of a supernatural cause. Ætna was often seen to emit flames, and the earth was subjected to violent shocks from the forces of its internal 172 V. 385-390 fires when struggling for a vent. Instead of looking for the source of these eruptions in the sulphur and bituminous matter in which the mountain abounds, they fabled, that the Gods, having vanquished the Giant Typhœus, or, according to some authors, Enceladus, threw Mount Ætna on his body; and that the attempts he made to free himself from the superincumbent weight were the cause of those fires and earthquakes.


Pluto surprises Proserpina in the fields of Henna, and carries her away by force. The Nymph Cyane endeavors, in vain, to stop him in his passage, and through grief and anguish, dissolves into a fountain. Ceres goes everywhere in search of her daughter, and, in her journey, turns the boy Stellio into a newt.

“Not far from the walls of Henna46 there is a lake 194 V. 386-400 of deep water, Pergus by name; Cayster does not hear more songs of swans, in his running streams, than that. A wood skirts the lake, surrounding it on every side, and with its foliage, as though with an awning, keeps out the rays of the sun. The boughs produce a coolness, the moist ground flowers of Tyrian 173 V. 390-407 hue. There the spring is perpetual. In this grove, while Proserpina is amusing herself, and is plucking either violets or white lilies, and while, with childlike eagerness, she is filling her baskets and her bosom, and is striving to outdo her companions of the same age in gathering, almost at the same instant she is beheld, beloved, and seized by Pluto;47 in such great haste is love. The Goddess, affrighted, with lamenting lips calls both her mother and her companions,48 but more frequently her mother;49 and as she has torn her garment from the upper edge, the collected flowers fall from her loosened robes. So great, too, is the innocence of her 195 V. 400-414 childish years, this loss excites the maiden’s grief as well. The ravisher drives on his chariot, and encourages his horses, called, each by his name, along whose necks and manes he shakes the reins, dyed with swarthy rust. He is borne through deep lakes, and the pools of the Palici,50 smelling strong of sulphur, and boiling fresh from out of the burst earth; and where the Bacchiadæ,51 174 V. 407-432 a race sprung from Corinth, with its two seas,52 built a city53 between unequal harbors.

“There is a stream in the middle, between Cyane and the Pisæan Arethusa, which is confined within itself, being enclosed by mountain ridges at a short distance from each other. Here was Cyane,54 the most celebrated among the Sicilian Nymphs, from whose name the pool also was called, who stood up from out of the midst of the water, as far as the higher part of her stomach, and recognized the God, and said, ‘No further 196 V. 415-444 shall you go. Thou mayst not be the son-in-law of Ceres against her will. The girl should have been asked of her mother, not carried away. But if I may be allowed to compare little matters with great ones, Anapis55 also loved me. Yet I married him, courted, and not frightened into it, like her.’ She thus said, and stretching her arms on different sides, she stood in his way. The son of Saturn no longer restrained his rage; and encouraging his terrible steeds, he threw his royal sceptre, hurled with a strong arm, into the lowest depths of the stream. The earth, thus struck, made a way down to Tartarus, and received the descending chariot in the middle of the yawning space. But Cyane, lamenting both the ravished Goddess, and the slighted privileges of her spring, carries in her silent mind an inconsolable wound, and is entirely dissolved into tears, and melts away into those waters, of which she had been but lately the great guardian Divinity. You might see her limbs soften, her bones become subjected to bending, her nails lay aside their hardness: each, too, of the smaller extremities of the whole of her body melts away; both her azure hair, her fingers, her 175 V. 432-460 legs, and her feet; for easy is the change of those small members into a cold stream. After that, her back, her shoulders, her side, and her breast dissolve, vanishing into thin rivulets. Lastly, pure water, instead of live blood, enters her corrupted veins, and nothing remains which you can grasp in your hand.

“In the mean time, throughout all lands and in every sea, the daughter is sought in vain by her anxious mother. Aurora, coming with her ruddy locks does not behold her taking any rest, neither does Hesperus. She, with her two hands, sets light to some pines at the flaming Ætna, and giving herself no rest, bears them through the frosty darkness. Again, when the genial day has dulled the light of the stars, she 197 V. 444-461 seeks her daughter from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof. Fatigued by the labor, she has now contracted thirst, and no streams have washed her mouth, when by chance she beholds a cottage covered with thatch, and knocks at its humble door, upon which an old woman56 comes out and sees the Goddess, and gives her, asking for water, a sweet drink which she has lately distilled57 from parched pearled barley. While she is drinking it thus presented, a boy58 of impudent countenance and bold, stands before the Goddess, and laughs, and calls her greedy. She is offended; and a part being not yet quaffed, the Goddess sprinkles him, as he is thus talking, with the barley mixed with the liquor.

“His face contracts the stains, and he bears legs where just now he was bearing arms; a tail is added to his changed limbs; and he is contracted into a diminutive form, that no great power of doing injury may exist; his size is less than that of a small lizard. He flies from the old woman, astounded and weeping, and trying to touch the monstrosity; and 176 V. 460-461 he seeks a lurking place, and has a name suited to his color, having his body speckled with various spots.”


The story of the rape of Proserpine has caused much inquiry among writers, both ancient and modern, as to the facts on which it was founded. Some have grounded it on principles of natural philosophy; while others have supposed it to contain some portion of ancient history, defaced and blemished in lapse of time.

The antiquarian Pezeron is of opinion, that in the partition of 198 the world among the Titan kings, Pluto had the west for his share; and that he carried a colony to the further end of Spain, where he caused the gold and silver mines of that region to be worked. The situation of his kingdom, which lay very low, comparatively with Greece, and which the ancients believed to be covered with eternal darkness, gave rise to the fable, that Pluto had got Hell for his share; and this notion was much encouraged by the subterranean nature of the mines which he caused to be worked. He thinks that the river Tartarus, so famed in the realms of Pluto, was no other than the Tartessa, or Guadalquivir of the present day, which runs through the centre of Spain. Lethe, too, he thinks to have been the Guadalaviar, in the same country. Pluto, he suggests, had heard of the beauty of Proserpine, the daughter of Ceres, queen of Sicily, and carried her thence, which gave rise to the tradition that she had been carried to the Infernal Regions.

Le Clerc, on the other hand, thinks that it was not Pluto that carried away Proserpine, but Aidoneus, king of Epirus, or Orcus king of the Molossians. Aidoneus is supposed to have wrought mines in his kingdom, and, as the entrance into it was over a river called Acheron, that prince has often been confounded with Pluto; Epirus too, which was situate very low, may have been figuratively described as the Infernal Regions; for which reason, the journeys of Theseus and Hercules into Epirus may have been spoken of as descents into the Stygian abodes. Le Clerc supposes that Ceres was reigning in Sicily at the time when Aidoneus was king of Epirus, and that she took great care to instruct her subjects in the art of tilling the ground and sowing corn, and established laws for regulating civil government and the preservation of private property; for which reasons she was afterward deemed to be the Goddess of the Earth, and of Corn. Cicero and Diodorus Siculus tell us that Ceres made her residence at Enna, or Henna, in Sicily, which name, according to Bochart, signifies ‘agreeable fountain.’ Cicero and Strabo agree with Ovid in telling us that Proserpine, the only daughter of Ceres, whom other writers name Pherephata, was walking in the adjacent meadows, and gathering flowers with her companions; upon which, certain pirates seized her, and, placing her in a chariot, carried her to the seaside, whence they embarked for Epirus. As Pausanias tells us, it was immediately spread abroad, that Aidoneus, or Pluto, as he was called, had done it, the act having been really committed by others, according to his orders. As those who carried her off concealed themselves in the caverns of Mount Ætna, awaiting their opportunity to escape, it was afterwards fabled that Pluto came out of the Infernal Regions at that 177 place; as that mountain, from its nature, was always deemed one of the outlets of Hell. Upon this, Ceres went to Greece, in search of her daughter; and, resting at Eleusis, in Attica, she heard that the ship in which her daughter was carried away had sailed westward. On this, she complained to Jupiter, one of the Titan kings, but could obtain no further satisfaction than that her daughter should be permitted to visit her occasionally, whereby, at length, her grief was mitigated.

Banier does not agree with these suggestions of Pezeron and Le Clerc, and thinks that Ceres is no other personage than the Isis of the Egyptians, supposing that the story is founded on the following 199 V. 462-463 circumstance:—Greece, he says, was afflicted with famine in the reign of Erectheus, who was obliged to send to Egypt for corn, when those who went for it brought back the worship of the Deity who presided over agriculture. The evils which the Athenians had suffered by the famine, and the dread of again incurring the same calamity, made them willingly embrace the rites of a Goddess whom they believed able to protect them from it. Triptolemus established her worship in Eleusis, and there instituted the mysteries which he had brought over from Egypt. These had been previously introduced into Sicily, which was the reason why it was said that Ceres came from Sicily to Athens. Her daughter was said to have been taken away, because corn and fruit had not been produced in sufficient quantities, for some time, to furnish food for the people. Pluto was said to have carried her to the Infernal regions, because the grain and seeds at that time remained buried, as it were, at the very center of the earth. Jupiter was said to have decided the difference between Ceres and Pluto, because the earth again became covered with crops.

This appears to be an ingenious allegorical explanation of the story; but it is not at all improbable that it may have been founded upon actual facts, and that, having lost her daughter, and going to Attica to seek her, Ceres taught Triptolemus the mysteries of Isis; and that, in process of time, Ceres, having become enrolled among the Divinities of Greece, her worship became confounded with that of Isis.

It is very possible that the story of the transformation of Stellio into a newt may have had no other foundation than the Poet’s fancy.


Ceres proceeds in a fruitless search for her daughter over the whole earth, until the Nymph Arethusa acquaints her with the place of her ravisher’s abode. The Goddess makes her complaint to Jupiter, and obtains his consent for her daughter’s return to the upper world, provided she has not eaten anything since her arrival in Pluto’s dominions. Ascalaphus, however, having informed that she has eaten some seeds of a pomegranate, Ceres is disappointed, and Proserpine, in her wrath, metamorphoses the informer into an owl. The Sirens have wings given them by the Gods, to enable them to be more expeditious in seeking for Proserpine. 178 V. 462-479 Jupiter, to console Ceres for her loss, decides that her daughter shall remain six months each year with her mother upon earth, and the other six with her husband, in the Infernal Regions.

“It were a tedious task59 to relate through what lands and what seas the Goddess wandered; for her search the world was too limited. She returns to 200 V. 464-483 Sicily; and while, in her passage, she views all places, she comes, too, to Cyane; she, had she not been transformed, would have told her everything. But both mouth and tongue were wanting to her, thus desirous to tell, and she had no means whereby to speak. Still, she gave unmistakable tokens, and pointed out, on the top of the water, the girdle60 of Proserpine, well known to her parent, which by chance had fallen off in that place into the sacred stream.

“Soon as she recognized this, as if then, at last, she fully understood that her daughter had been carried away61 the Goddess tore her unadorned hair, and struck her breast again and again with her hands. Not as yet does she know where she is, yet she exclaims against all countries, and calls them ungrateful, and not worthy of the gifts of corn; and Trinacria before all others, in which she has found the proofs of her loss. Wherefore, with vengeful hand, she there broke the ploughs that were turning up the clods, and, in her anger, consigned to a similar death both the husbandmen and the oxen that cultivated the 179 V. 479-508 fields, and ordered the land to deny a return of what had been deposited therein, and rendered the seed corrupted. The fertility of the soil, famed over the wide world, lies in ruin, the corn dies in the early blade, and sometimes excessive heat of the 201 V. 483-508 sun, sometimes excessive showers, spoil it. Both the Constellations and the winds injure it, and the greedy birds pick up the seed as it is sown; darnel, and thistles, and unconquerable weeds, choke the crops of wheat.

“Then the Alpheian Nymph62 raised her head from out of the Elean waters, and drew back her dripping hair from her forehead to her ears, and said, “O thou mother of the virgin sought over the whole world, and of the crops as well, cease at length thy boundless toil, and in thy wrath be not angered with a region that is faithful to thee. This land does not deserve it; and against its will it gave a path for the commission of the outrage. Nor am I now a suppliant for my own country; a stranger I am come hither. Pisa is my native place, and from Elis do I derive my birth. As a stranger do I inhabit Sicily, but this land is more pleasing to me than any other soil. I, Arethusa, now have this for my abode, this for my habitation; which, do thou, most kindly Goddess, preserve. Why I have been removed from my native place, and have been carried to Ortygia, through the waters of seas so spacious, a seasonable time will come for my telling thee, when thou shalt be eased of thy cares, and wilt be of more cheerful aspect. The pervious earth affords me a passage, and, carried beneath its lowest caverns, here I lift my head again, and behold the stars which I have not been used to see. While, then, I was running under the earth, along the Stygian stream, thy Proserpine was there beheld by my eyes.63 She indeed was sad, and not as yet without alarm in her countenance, but still she is a queen, and the most ennobled female in the world of darkness; still, too, is she the powerful spouse of the Infernal King.”

180V. 509-538202V. 509-534

“The mother, on hearing these words, stood amazed, as though she had been made of stone, and for a long time was like one stupefied; and when her intense bewilderment was dispelled by the weight of her grief, she departed in her chariot into the ætherial air, and there, with her countenance all clouded, she stood before Jupiter, much to his discredit, with her hair dishevelled; and she said, “I have come, Jupiter, as a suppliant to thee, both for my own offspring and for thine. If thou hast no respect for the mother, still let the daughter move her father; and I pray thee not to have the less regard for her, because she was brought forth by my travail. Lo! my daughter, so long sought for, has been found by me at last; if you call it finding64 to be more certain of one’s loss; or if you call it finding, to know where she is. I will endure the fact, that she has been carried off, if he will only restore her. For, indeed, a daughter of thine is not deserving of a ravisher for a husband, if now my own daughter is.” Jupiter replied, “Thy daughter is a pledge and charge, in common to me and thee; but, should it please thee only to give right names to things, this deed is not an injury, but it is a mark of affection, nor will he, as a son-in-law, be any disgrace to us, if thou only, Goddess, shouldst give thy consent. Although other recommendations were wanting, how great a thing is it to be the brother of Jupiter! and besides, is it not because other points are not wanting, and because he is not my inferior, except by the accident of his allotment of the Stygian abodes? But if thy eagerness is so great for their separation, let Proserpine return to heaven; still upon this fixed condition, if she has touched no food there with her lips; for thus has it been provided by the law of the Destinies.”

“Thus he spoke; still Ceres is now resolved to fetch away her daughter; but not so do the Fates permit. For the damsel had broke her fast; and, while in her 203 V. 535-551 innocence she was walking about the finely-cultivated garden, she had plucked a pomegranate65 from the bending tree, and had chewed in her 181 V. 538-557 mouth seven grains66 taken from the pale rind. Ascalaphus67 alone, of all persons, had seen this, whom Orphne, by no means the most obscure among the Nymphs of Avernus,68 is said once to have borne to her own Acheron within his dusky caves. He beheld this, and cruelly prevented her return by his discovery. The Queen of Erebus grieved, and changed the informer into an accursed bird, and turned his head, sprinkled with the waters of Phlegethon,69 into a beak, and feathers, and great eyes. He, thus robbed of his own shape, is clothed with tawny wings, his head becomes larger, his long nails bend inwards, and with difficulty can he move the wings that spring through his sluggish arms. He becomes an obscene bird, the foreboder of approaching woe, a lazy owl, a direful omen to mortals.

“But he, by his discovery, and his talkativeness, may seem to have merited punishment. Whence have 204 V. 552-563 you, daughters of Acheloüs,70 feathers and the feet of birds, since you have the faces of maidens? Is it because, when Proserpine was gathering the flowers of spring, you were mingled in the number of her companions? After you had sought her in vain throughout the whole world, immediately, that the waters might be 182 V. 557-563 sensible of your concern, you wished to be able, on the support of your wings, to hover over the waves, and you found the Gods propitious, and saw your limbs grow yellow with feathers suddenly formed. But lest the sweetness of your voice, formed for charming the ear, and so great endowments of speech, should lose the gift of a tongue, your virgin countenance and your human voice still remained.”


Apollodorus says, that the terms of the treaty respecting Proserpine were, that she should stay on earth nine months with Ceres, and three with Pluto, in the Infernal Regions. Other writers divide the time equally; six months to Ceres, and six to Pluto. They also tell us that the story of Ascalaphus is founded on the fact, that he was one of the courtiers of Pluto, who, having advised his master to carry away Proserpine, did all that lay in his power to obstruct the endeavors of Ceres, and hinder the restoration of her daughter, on which Proserpine had him privately destroyed; to screen which deed the Fable was invented; the pernicious counsels which he gave his master being signified by the seeds of the pomegranate. It has also been suggested that the story of his change into an owl was based on the circumstance that he was the overseer of the mines of Pluto, in which he perished, removed from the light of day. Perhaps he was there crushed to death by the fall of a rock, which caused the poets to say that Proserpine had covered him with a large stone, as Apollodorus informs us, who also says that it was Ceres who inflicted the punishment upon him. The name ‘Ascalaphus’ signifies, ‘one that breaks stones,’ and, very probably, that name was only given him to denote his employment. Some writers state that he was changed into a lizard, which the Greeks call ‘Ascalabos,’ and, probably, the resemblance between the names gave rise to this version of the story.

Probably, the story of the Nymph Cyane reproaching Pluto with his treatment of Proserpine, and being thereupon changed by him into a fountain, has no other foundation than the propinquity of the place where Pluto’s emissaries embarked to a stream of that 205 V. 564-580 name near the city of Syracuse; which was, perhaps, overflowing at that time, and may have impeded their passage.

Ovid, probably, feigned that the Sirens begged the Gods to change them into birds, that they might seek for Proserpine, on the ground of some existing tradition, that living on the coast of Italy, near the island of Sicily, and having heard of the misfortune that had befallen her, they ordered a ship with sails to be equipped to go in search of her. Further reference to the Sirens will be made, on treating of the adventures of Ulysses.

183V. 564-588


The Muse continues her song, in which Ceres, being satisfied with the decision of Jupiter relative to her daughter, returns to Arethusa, to learn the history of her adventures. The Nymph entertains the Goddess with the Story of the passion of Alpheus, and his pursuit of her; to avoid which, she implores the assistance of Diana, who changes her into a fountain.

“But Jupiter being the mediator between his brother and his disconsolate sister, divides the rolling year equally between them. For now, the Goddess, a common Divinity of two kingdoms, is so many months with her mother, and just as many with her husband. Immediately the appearance of both her mind and her countenance is changed; for the brow of the Goddess, which, of late, might appear sad, even to Pluto, himself, is full of gladness; as the Sun, which has lately been covered with watery clouds, when he comes forth from the clouds, now dispersed. The genial Ceres, now at ease on the recovery of her daughter, thus asks, ‘What was the cause of thy wanderings? Why art thou, Arethusa, a sacred spring?’ The waters are silent, and, the Goddess raises her head from the deep fountain; and, having dried her green tresses with her hand, she relates the old amours of the stream of Elis.71

“‘I was,’ says she, ‘one of the Nymphs which exist in Achaia, nor did any one more eagerly skim along the glades than myself, nor with more industry set the 206 V. 581-606 nets. But though the reputation for beauty was never sought by me, although, too, I was of robust make, still I had the name of being beautiful. But my appearance, when so much commended, did not please me; and I, like a country lass, blushed at those endowments of person in which other females are wont to take a pride, and I deemed it a crime to please. I remember, I was returning weary from the Stymphalian72 wood; the weather was hot, and my toil had redoubled the intense heat. I found a stream gliding on without any eddies, without any noise, and 184 V. 588-615 clear to the bottom; through which every pebble, at so great a depth, might be counted, and which you could hardly suppose to be in motion. The hoary willows73 and poplars, nourished by the water, furnished a shade, spontaneously produced, along the shelving banks. I approached, and, at first, I dipped the soles of my feet, and then, as far as the knee. Not content with that, I undressed, and I laid my soft garments upon a bending willow; and, naked, I plunged into the waters.

“‘While I was striking them, and drawing them towards me, moving in a thousand ways, and was sending forth my extended arms, I perceived a most unusual murmuring noise beneath the middle of the stream; and, alarmed, I stood on the edge of the nearer bank. ‘Whither dost thou hasten, Arethusa?’ said Alpheus from his waves. ‘Whither dost thou hasten?’ again he said to me, in a hollow tone. Just as I was, I fled without my clothes; for the other side had my garments. So much the more swiftly did he pursue, and become inflamed; and, because I was naked, the more tempting to him did I appear. Thus was I running; thus unrelentingly was he pursuing me; as the doves are wont to fly from the hawk with trembling wings, and as the hawk is wont to pursue the trembling doves, I held out in my course even as far as Orchomenus,74 207 V. 607-634 and Psophis,75 and Cyllene, and the Mænalian valleys, and cold Erymanthus and Elis. Nor was he swifter than I, but unequal to him in strength, I was unable, any longer, to keep up the chase; for he was able to endure prolonged fatigue. However, I ran over fields and over mountains covered with trees, rocks too, and crags, and where there was no path. The sun was upon my back; I saw a long shadow advancing before my feet, unless, perhaps, it was my fear that 185 V. 615-641 saw it. But, at all events, I was alarmed at the sound of his feet, and his increased hardness of breathing was now fanning the fillets of my hair. Wearied with the exertion of my flight, I said, ‘Give aid, Dictynna, to thy armor-bearer, or I am overtaken; I, to whom thou hast so often given thy bow to carry, and thy darts enclosed in a quiver.’ The Goddess was moved, and, taking one of the dense clouds, she threw it over me. The river looked about for me, concealed in the darkness, and, in his ignorance sought about the encircling cloud and twice, unconsciously did he go around the place where the Goddess had concealed me, and twice did he cry, ‘Ho, Arethusa!76 Ho, Arethusa!’ What, then, were my feelings in my wretchedness? Were they not just those of the lamb, as it hears the wolves howling around the high sheep-folds? Or of the hare, which, lurking in the bush, beholds the hostile noses of the dogs, and dares not make a single movement with her body? Yet he does not depart; for no further does he trace any prints of my feet. He watches the cloud and the spot. A cold perspiration takes possession of my limbs thus besieged, and azure colored drops distil from all my body. Wherever I move my foot, there 208 V. 634-641 flows a lake; drops trickle from my hair, and, in less time than I take in acquainting thee with my fate, I was changed into a stream. But still the river recognized the waters, the objects of his love; and, having laid aside the shape of a mortal, which he had assumed, he was changed into his own waters, that he might mingle with me. Thereupon, the Delian Goddess cleaved the ground. Sinking, I was carried through dark caverns to Ortygia,77 which, being dear to me, from the surname of my own Goddess, was the first to introduce me to the upper air.’”


Bochart tells us that the story of the fountain Arethusa and the river Alpheus, her lover, who traversed so many countries in pursuit of her, has no other foundation than an equivocal expression in the language of the first inhabitants of Sicily. The Phœnicians, who went to settle in 186 V. 642-651 that island, finding the fountain surrounded with willows, gave it the name of ‘Alphaga,’ or ‘the fountain of the willows.’ Others, again, gave it the name of ‘Arith,’ signifying ‘a stream.’ The Greeks, arriving there in after ages, not understanding the signification of these words, and remembering their own river Alpheus, in Elis, imagined that since the river and the fountain had nearly the same name, Alpheus had crossed the sea, to arrive in Sicily.

This notion appearing, probably, to the poets not devoid of ingenuity, they accordingly founded on it the romantic story of the passion of the river God Alpheus for the Nymph Arethusa. Some of the ancient historians appear, however, in their credulity, really to have believed, at least, a part of the story, as they seriously tell us, that the river Alpheus passes under the bed of the sea, and rises again in Sicily, near the fountain of Arethusa. Even among the more learned, this fable gained credit; for we find the oracle of Delphi ordering Archias to conduct a colony of Corinthians to Syracuse, and the priestess giving the following directions:—‘Go into that island where the river Alpheus mixes his waters with the fair Arethusa.’

Pausanias avows, that he regards the story of Alpheus and Arethusa as a mere fable; but, not daring to dispute a fact established by the response of an oracle, he does not contradict the fact of the river running through the sea, though he is at a loss to understand how it can happen.

209V. 642-661


Ceres entrusts her chariot to Triptolemus, and orders him to go everywhere, and cultivate the earth. He obeys her, and, at length, arrives in Scythia, where Lyncus, designing to kill him, is changed into a lynx. The Muse then finishes her song, on which the daughters of Pierus are changed into magpies.

“Thus far Arethusa. The fertile Goddess yoked78 two dragons to her chariot, and curbed their mouths with bridles; and was borne through the mid air of heaven and of earth, and guided her light chariot to the Tritonian citadel, to Triptolemus; and she ordered him to scatter the seeds that were entrusted to him partly in the fallow ground, and partly in the ground restored to cultivation after so long a time. Now had the youth been borne on high over Europe and the lands of Asia,79 and he arrived at the coast of Scythia: Lyncus was the king there. He entered the house of the king. Being asked whence he came, 187 V. 651-678 and the occasion of his coming, and his name, and his country, he said, ‘My country is the famous Athens, my name is Triptolemus. I came neither in a ship through the waves, nor on foot by land; the pervious sky made a way for me. I bring the gifts of Ceres, which, scattered over the wide fields, are to yield you the fruitful harvests, and wholesome food.’ The barbarian envies him; and that he himself may be deemed the author of so great a benefit, he receives him with hospitality, and, when overpowered with sleep, he attacks him with the sword. But, while attempting to pierce his breast, Ceres made him a lynx; and again sent the Mopsopian80 youth to drive the sacred drawers of her chariot through the air.

210V. 662-678 “The greatest of us81 had now finished her learned song. But the Nymphs, with unanimous voice, pronounced that the Goddesses who inhabit Helicon had proved the conquerors. Then the others, thus vanquished, began to scatter their abuse: ‘Since,’ said she, ‘it is a trifling matter for you to have merited punishment by this contest, you add abuse, too, to your fault, and endurance is not permitted us: we shall proceed to punishment, and whither our resentment calls, we shall follow.’ The Emathian sisters smiled, and despised our threatening language; and endeavoring to speak, and to menace with their insolent hands amid great clamor, they beheld quills growing out of their nails, and their arms covered with feathers. And they each see the face of the other shooting out into a hard beak, and new birds being added to the woods. And while they strive to beat their breasts elevated by the motion of their arms, they hang poised in the air, as magpies, the scandal of the groves. Even then their original talkativeness remains in them as birds, and their jarring garrulity, and their enormous love of chattering.”


Triptolemus reigned at Eleusis at the time when the mysteries of Ceres were established there. As we are told by Philochorus, he went with a ship, to carry corn into different countries, and introduced there the worship of Ceres, whose priest he was. This is, doubtless, the key for the 188 explanation of the story, that Ceres nursed him on her own milk, and purified him by fire. Some have supposed that the fable refers to the epoch when agriculture was introduced into Greece: but it is much more probable that it relates simply to the introduction there of the mysterious worship of Ceres, which was probably imported from Egypt. It is possible that, at the same period, the Greeks may have learned some improved method of tilling the ground, acquired by their intercourse with Egypt.

Probably, the dangers which Triptolemus experienced in his voyages and travels, gave rise to the story of Lyncus, whose cruelty caused him to be changed into a lynx. Bochart and Le Clerc think that the fable of Triptolemus being drawn by winged dragons, is based upon the equivocal meaning of a Phœnician word, which signified either ‘a winged dragon,’ or ‘a ship fastened 211 with iron nails or bolts.’ Philochorus, however, as cited by Eusebius, says that his ship was called a flying dragon, from its carrying the figure of a dragon on its prow. We learn from a fragment of Stobæus, that Erectheus, when engaged in a war against the Eleusinians, was told by the oracle that he would be victorious, if he sacrificed his daughter Proserpine. This, perhaps, may have given rise, or added somewhat, to the story of the rape of Proserpine by Pluto.

According to a fragment of Homer, cited by Pausanias, the names of the first Greeks, who were initiated into the mysteries of Ceres, were,—Celeus, Triptolemus, Eumolpus, and Diocles. Clement of Alexandria calls them Baubon, Dysaulus, Eubuleüs, Eumolpus, and Triptolemus. Eumolpus being the Hierophant, or explainer of the mysteries of Eleusis, made war against Erectheus, king of Athens. They were both killed in battle, and it was thereupon agreed that the posterity of Erectheus should be kings of Athens, and the descendants of Eumolpus should, in future, retain the office of Hierophant.

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