The Metamorphoses of Ovid

by Ovid

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My design leads me to speak of forms changed into new bodies.1 Ye Gods, (for you it was who changed them,) favor my attempts,2 and bring down the lengthened narrative from the very beginning of the world, even to my own times.3


God reduces Chaos into order. He separates the four elements, and disposes the several bodies, of which the universe is formed, into their proper situations.

At first, the sea, the earth, and the heaven, which covers all things, were the only face of nature throughout 10 I. 6-26 the whole universe, 2 I. 6-26 which men have named Chaos; a rude and undigested mass,4 and nothing more than an inert weight, and the discordant atoms of things not harmonizing, heaped together in the same spot. No Sun5 as yet gave light to the world; nor did the Moon,6 by increasing, recover her horns anew. The Earth did not as yet hang in the surrounding air, balanced by its own weight, nor had Amphitrite7 stretched out her arms along the lengthened margin of the coasts. Wherever, too, was the land, there also was the sea and the air; and thus was the earth without firmness, the sea unnavigable, the air void of light; in no one of them did its present form exist. And one was ever obstructing the other; because in the same body the cold was striving with the hot, the moist with the dry, the soft with the hard, things having weight with those devoid of weight.

To this discord God and bounteous Nature8 put an end; for he separated the earth from the heavens, and the waters from the earth, and distinguished the clear 11 I. 26-31 heavens from the gross atmosphere. And after he had unravelled these elements, and released them from that confused heap, he combined them, thus disjoined, in harmonious unison, each in its proper place. The 3 I. 26-31 element of the vaulted heaven,9 fiery and without weight, shone forth, and selected a place for itself in the highest region; next after it, both in lightness and in place, was the air; the Earth was more weighty than these, and drew with it the more ponderous atoms, and was pressed together by its own gravity. The encircling waters sank to the lowermost place,10 and surrounded the solid globe.


The ancient philosophers, unable to comprehend how something could be produced out of nothing, supposed a matter pre-existent to the Earth in its present shape, which afterwards received form and order from some powerful cause. According to them, God was not the Creator, but the Architect of the universe, in ranging and disposing the elements in situations most suitable to their respective qualities. This is the Chaos so often sung of by the poets, and which Hesiod was the first to mention.

It is clear that this system was but a confused and disfigured tradition of the creation of the world, as mentioned by Moses; and thus, beneath these fictions, there lies some faint glimmering of truth. The first two chapters of the book of Genesis will be found to throw considerable light on the foundation of this Mythological system of the world’s formation.

Hesiod, the most ancient of the heathen writers who have enlarged upon this subject, seems to have derived much of his information 12 I. 32-40 from the works of Sanchoniatho, who is supposed to have borrowed his ideas concerning Chaos from that passage in the second verse of the first Chapter of Genesis, which mentions the darkness that was spread over the whole universe—‘and darkness was upon the face of the deep’—for he expresses himself almost in those words. Sanchoniatho lived before the Trojan war, and professed to have received his information respecting the original construction of the world from a priest of ‘Jehovah,’ named Jerombaal. He wrote in the Phœnician language; but we have only a translation of his works, 4 I. 32-43 by Philo Judæus, which is by many supposed to be spurious. It is, however, very probable, that from him the Greeks borrowed their notions regarding Chaos, which they mingled with fables of their own invention.


After the separation of matter, God gives form and regularity to the universe; and all other living creatures being produced, Prometheus moulds earth tempered with water, into a human form, which is animated by Minerva.

When thus he, whoever of the Gods he was,11 had divided the mass so separated, and reduced it, so divided, into distinct members; in the first place, that it might not be unequal on any side, he gathered it up into the form of a vast globe; then he commanded the sea to be poured around it, and to grow boisterous with the raging winds, and to surround the shores of the Earth, encompassed by it; he added also springs, and numerous pools and lakes, and he bounded the rivers as they flowed downwards, with slanting banks. These, different in different places, are some of them swallowed up12 by the Earth itself; some of them reach the ocean, 13 I. 40-49 and, received in the expanse of waters that take a freer range, beat against shores instead of banks.

He commanded the plains,13 too, to be extended, the valleys 5 I. 43-49 to sink down, the woods to be clothed with green leaves, the craggy mountains to arise; and, as on the right-hand side,14 two Zones intersect the heavens, and as many on the left; and as there is a fifth hotter than these, so did the care of the Deity distinguish this enclosed mass of the Earth by the same number, and as many climates are marked out upon the Earth. Of these, that which is the middle one15 is not habitable 14 I. 49-60 on account 6 I. 49-61 of the heat; deep snow covers two16 of them. Between either these he placed as many more,17 and gave them a temperate climate, heat being mingled with cold.

Over these hangs the air, which is heavier than fire, in the same degree that the weight of water is lighter than the weight of the earth. Here he ordered vapors, here too, the clouds to take their station; the thunder, too, to terrify the minds of mortals, and with the lightnings, the winds that bring on cold. The Contriver of the World did not allow these indiscriminately to take possession of the sky. Even now, (although they each of them govern their own blasts in a distinct tract) they are with great difficulty prevented from rending the world asunder, so great is the discord of the brothers.18 15 I. 61-73 Eurus took his way19 towards the rising of Aurora and the realms of Nabath20 and 7 I. 61-76 Persia, and the mountain ridges exposed to the rays of the morning. The Evening star, and the shores which are warm with the setting sun, are bordering upon Zephyrus.21 The terrible Boreas invaded Scythia,22 and the regions of the North. The opposite quarter is wet with continual clouds, and the drizzling South Wind.23 Over these he placed the firmament, clear and devoid of gravity, and not containing anything of the dregs of earth.

Scarcely had he separated all these by fixed limits, when the stars, which had long lain hid, concealed beneath 16 I. 73-88 that mass of Chaos, began to glow through the range of the heavens. And that no region might be destitute of its own peculiar animated beings, the stars and the forms of the Gods24 possess the tract of heaven; the waters fell to be inhabited by the smooth fishes;25 the Earth received the wild beasts, and the yielding air the birds.

But an animated being, more holy than these, more fitted to 8 I. 76-88 receive higher faculties, and which could rule over the rest,26 was still wanting. Then Man was formed. Whether it was that the Artificer of all things, the original of the world in its improved state, framed him from divine elements;27 or whether, the Earth, being newly made, and but lately divided from the lofty æther, still retained some atoms of its kindred heaven, which, tempered with the waters of the stream, the son of Iapetus fashioned after the image of the Gods, who rule over all things. And, whereas other animals bend their looks downwards upon the Earth, to Man he gave a countenance to look on high and to behold the heavens, and to raise his face erect to the stars. Thus, that which had been lately rude earth, and without any 17 I. 89-97 regular shape, being changed, assumed the form of Man, till then unknown.


According to Ovid, as in the book of Genesis, man is the last work of the Creator. The information derived from Holy Writ is here presented to us, in a disfigured form. Prometheus, who tempers the earth, and Minerva, who animates his workmanship, is God, who formed man, and ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.’

Some writers have labored to prove that this Prometheus, of the heathen Mythology, was a Scriptural character. Bochart believes him to have been the same with Magog, mentioned in the book of Genesis. Prometheus was the son of Iapetus, and Magog was the son of Japhet, who, according to that learned writer, was identical with Iapetus. He says, that as Magog went to settle in Scythia, so did Prometheus; as Magog either invented, or improved, the art of founding metals, and forging iron, so, according to the heathen poets, did Prometheus. Diodorus Siculus asserts that Prometheus was the first to teach mankind how to produce fire from the flint and steel.

The fable of Prometheus being devoured by an eagle, according to some, is founded on the name of Magog, which signifies ‘a man devoured by 9 I. 89-105 sorrow.’ Le Clerc, in his notes on Hesiod, says, that Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus, was the same with the Gog of Scripture, the brother of Magog. Some writers, again, have exerted their ingenuity to prove that Prometheus is identical with the patriarch Noah.


The formation of man is followed by a succession of the four ages of the world. The first is the Golden Age, during which Innocence and Justice alone govern the world.

The Golden Age was first founded, which, without any avenger, of its own accord, without laws, practised both faith and rectitude. Punishment, and the fear of it, did not exist, and threatening decrees were not read upon the brazen tables,28 fixed up to view, nor yet did the suppliant multitude dread the countenance of its judge; but all were in safety without any avenger. The pine-tree, cut from its native mountains, had not 18 I. 98-105 yet descended to the flowing waves, that it might visit a foreign region; and mortals were acquainted with no shores beyond their own. Not as yet did deep ditches surround the towns; no trumpets of straightened, or clarions of crooked brass,29 no helmets, no swords then existed. Without occasion for soldiers, the minds of men, free from care, enjoyed an easy tranquillity.

The Earth itself, too, in freedom, untouched by the harrow, and wounded by no ploughshares, of its own accord produced everything; and men, contented with the food created under no compulsion, gathered the fruit of the arbute-tree, and the strawberries of the mountain, and cornels, and blackberries 10 I. 105-124 adhering to the prickly bramble-bushes, and acorns which had fallen from the wide-spreading tree of Jove. Then it was an eternal spring; and the gentle Zephyrs, with their soothing breezes, cherished the flowers produced without any seed. Soon, too, the Earth unploughed yielded crops of grain, and the land, without being renewed, was whitened with the heavy ears of corn. Then, rivers of milk, then, rivers of nectar were flowing, and the yellow honey was distilled from the green holm oak.


The heathen poets had learned, most probably from tradition, that our first parents lived for some time in peaceful innocence; that, without tillage, the garden of Eden furnished them with fruit and food in abundance; and that the animals were submissive to their commands: that after the fall the ground became unfruitful, and yielded nothing without labor; and that nature no longer spontaneously acknowledged man for its master. The more happy days of our first parents they seem to have styled the Golden Age, each writer being desirous to make his own country the scene of those times of innocence. The Latin writers, for instance, have placed in Italy, and under the reign of Saturn and Janus, events, which, as they really happened, the Scriptures relate in the histories of Adam and of Noah.

19I. 105-134


In the Silver Age, men begin not to be so just, nor, consequently, so happy, as in the Golden Age. In the Brazen Age, which succeeds, they become yet less virtuous; but their wickedness does not rise to its highest pitch until the Iron Age, when it makes its appearance in all its deformity.

Afterwards (Saturn being driven into the shady realms of Tartarus), the world was under the sway of Jupiter; then the Silver Age succeeded, inferior to that of gold, but more precious than that of yellow brass. Jupiter shortened the duration of the former spring, and divided the year into four periods by means of winters, and summers, and unsteady autumns, and short springs. Then, for the first time, did the parched air glow with sultry heat, and the ice, bound up by the winds, was pendant. Then, for the first time, did men enter houses; those houses were caverns, and thick shrubs, and twigs fastened together with bark. Then, for the first time, were the seeds of Ceres buried in long furrows, and the oxen groaned, pressed by the yoke of the ploughshare.

11I. 124-148

The Age of Brass succeeded, as the third in order, after these; fiercer in disposition, and more prone to horrible warfare, but yet free from impiety. The last Age was of hard iron. Immediately every species of crime burst forth, in this age of degenerated tendencies;30 modesty, truth, and honor took flight; in their place succeeded fraud, deceit, treachery, violence, and the cursed hankering for acquisition. The sailor now spread his sails to the winds, and with these, as yet, he was but little acquainted; and the trees, which had long stood on the lofty mountains, now, as ships bounded31 through the unknown waves. The ground, 20 I. 134-150 too, hitherto common as the light of the sun and the breezes, the cautious measurer marked out with his lengthened boundary.

And not only was the rich soil required to furnish corn and due sustenance, but men even descended into the entrails of the Earth; and riches were dug up, the incentives to vice, which the Earth had hidden, and had removed to the Stygian shades.32 Then destructive iron came forth, and gold, more destructive than iron; then War came forth, that fights through the means of both,33 and that brandishes in his blood-stained hands the clattering arms. Men live by rapine; the guest is not safe from his entertainer, nor the father-in-law from the son-in-law; good feeling, too, between brothers is a rarity. The husband is eager for the death of the wife, she for that of her husband. Horrible stepmothers then mingle the ghastly wolfsbane; the son prematurely makes inquiry34 12 I. 148-156 into the years of his father. Piety lies vanquished, and the virgin Astræa35 is the last of the heavenly Deities to abandon the Earth, now drenched in slaughter.


The Poet here informs us, that during the Golden Age, a perpetual spring reigned on the earth, and that the division of the year into seasons was not known until the Silver Age. This allusion to Eden is very generally to be found in the works of the 21 I. 150-156 heathen poets. The Silver Age is succeeded by the Brazen, and that is followed by the Iron Age, which still continues. The meaning is, that man gradually degenerated from his primeval innocence, and arrived at that state of wickedness and impiety, of which the history of all ages, ancient and modern, presents us with so many lamentable examples.

The limited nature of their views, and the fact that their exuberant fancy was the source from which they derived many of their alleged events, naturally betrayed the ancient writers into great inconsistencies. For in the Golden Age of Saturn, we find wars waged, and crimes committed. Saturn expelled his father, and seized his throne; Jupiter, his son, treated Saturn as he had done his father Uranus; and Jupiter, in his turn, had to wage war against the Giants, in their attempt to dispossess him of the heavens.


The Giants having attempted to render themselves masters of heaven, Jupiter buries them under the mountains which they have heaped together to facilitate their assault; and the Earth, animating their blood, forms out of it a cruel and fierce generation of men.

And that the lofty realms of æther might not be more safe than the Earth, they say that the Giants aspired to the sovereignty of Heaven, and piled the mountains, heaped together, even to the lofty stars. Then the omnipotent Father, hurling his lightnings, broke through Olympus,36 and struck Ossa away from Pelion, that lay beneath it. While the dreadful 13 I. 156-170 carcasses lay overwhelmed beneath their own structure, they say that the Earth was wet, drenched with the plenteous blood of her sons, and that she gave life to the warm gore; and that, lest no memorial of this ruthless race should be surviving, she shaped them into the form of men. But that generation, too, was a despiser of the Gods above, and most greedy of ruthless slaughter, and full of violence: you might see that they derived their origin from blood.

22I. 156-172


The war of the giants, which is here mentioned, is not to be confounded with that between Jupiter and the Titans, who were inhabitants of heaven. The fall of the angels, as conveyed by tradition, probably gave rise to the story of the Titans; while, perhaps, the building of the tower of Babel may have laid the foundation of that of the attempt by the giants to reach heaven. Perhaps, too, the descendants of Cain, who are probably the persons mentioned in Scripture as the children ‘of men’ and ‘giants,’ were the race depicted under the form of the Giants, and the generation that sprung from their blood. See Genesis, ch. vi. ver. 2, 4.


Jupiter, having seen the crimes of this impious race of men, calls a council of the Gods, and determines to destroy the world.

When the Father of the Gods, the son of Saturn, beheld this from his loftiest height, he groaned aloud; and recalling to memory the polluted banquet on the table of Lycaon, not yet publicly known, from the crime being but lately committed, he conceives in his mind vast wrath, and such as is worthy of Jove, and calls together a council; no delay detains them, thus summoned.

There is a way on high,37 easily seen in a clear sky, and which, remarkable for its very whiteness, receives the name of the Milky Way. Along this is the way for the Gods above to 14 I. 170-193 the abode of the great Thunderer and his royal palace. On the right and on the left side the courts of the ennobled Deities38 are thronged, with 23 I. 172-193 open gates. The Gods of lower rank39 inhabit various places; in front of the Way, the powerful and illustrious inhabitants of Heaven have established their residence. This is the place which, if boldness may be allowed to my expression, I should not hesitate to style the palatial residence of Heaven. When, therefore, the Gods above had taken their seats in the marble hall of assembly; he himself, elevated on his seat, and leaning on his sceptre of ivory, three or four times shook the awful locks40 of his head, with which he makes the Earth, the Seas, and the Stars to tremble. Then, after such manner as this, did he open his indignant lips:—

“Not even at that time was I more concerned for the empire of the universe, when each of the snake-footed monsters was endeavoring to lay his hundred arms on the captured skies. For although that was a dangerous enemy, yet that war was with but one stock, and sprang from a single origin. Now must the race of mortals be cut off by me, wherever Nereus41 roars on all sides of the earth; this I swear by the Rivers of Hell, that glide in the Stygian grove beneath the earth. All methods have been already tried; but a wound that admits of no cure, must be cut away with the knife, that the sound parts may not be corrupted. I have as subjects, Demigods, and I have the rustic Deities, the Nymphs,42 24 I. 193-215 and the Fauns, and the Satyrs, and the Sylvans, the inhabitants of 15 I. 193-215 the mountains; these, though as yet, we have not thought them worthy of the honor of Heaven, let us, at least, permit to inhabit the earth which we have granted them. And do you, ye Gods of Heaven, believe that they will be in proper safety, when Lycaon remarkable for his cruelty, has formed a plot against even me, who own and hold sway over the thunder and yourselves?”

All shouted their assent aloud, and with ardent zeal they called for vengeance on one who dared such crimes. Thus, when an impious band43 madly raged to extinguish the Roman name in the blood of Cæsar, the human race was astonished with sudden terror at ruin so universal, and the whole earth shook with horror. Nor was the affectionate regard, Augustus, of thy subjects less grateful to thee, than that was to Jupiter. Who, after he had, by means of his voice and his hand, suppressed their murmurs, all of them kept silence. Soon as the clamor had ceased, checked by the authority of their ruler, Jupiter again broke silence in these words:

“He, indeed, (dismiss your cares) has suffered dire punishment; but what was the offence and what the retribution, I will inform you. The report of the iniquity of the age had reached my ears; wishing to find this not to be the truth, I descended from the top of Olympus, and, a God in a human shape, I surveyed the earth. ’Twere an endless task to enumerate how great an amount of guilt was everywhere discovered; the report itself was below the truth.”

25I. 216-226


It is to be presumed, that Ovid here follows the prevailing tradition of his time; and it is surprising how closely that tradition adheres to the words 16 I. 216-228 of Scripture, relative to the determination of the Almighty to punish the earth by a deluge, as disclosed in the sixth chapter of Genesis. The Poet tells us, that the King of heaven calls the Gods to a grand council, to deliberate upon the punishment of mankind, in retribution for their wickedness. The words of Scripture are, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man, whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air: for it repenteth me that I have made them.’”—Genesis, ch. vi. ver. 5, 6, 7.

Tradition seems to have faithfully carried down the fact, that, amid this universal corruption, there was still at least one just man, and here it attributes to Deucalion the merit that belonged to Noah.


Lycaon, king of Arcadia, in order to discover if it is Jupiter himself who has come to lodge in his palace, orders the body of an hostage, who had been sent to him, to be dressed and served up at a feast. The God, as a punishment, changes him into a wolf.

I had now passed Mænalus, to be dreaded for its dens of beasts of prey, and the pine-groves of cold Lycæus, together with Cyllene.44 After this, I entered the realms and the inhospitable abode of the Arcadian tyrant, just as the late twilight was bringing on the night. I gave a signal that a God had come, and the people commenced to pay their adorations. In the first place, Lycaon derided their pious supplications. Afterwards, he said, I will make trial, by a plain proof, whether this is a God, or whether he is a mortal; nor shall the truth remain a matter of doubt. He then makes preparations to destroy me, when sunk in sleep, by an unexpected death; this mode of testing the truth pleases him. And not content with that, with the 26 I. 226-243 sword he cuts the throat of an hostage that had been sent from the nation of the Molossians,45 and 17 I. 228-243 then softens part of the quivering limbs, in boiling water, and part he roasts with fire placed beneath. Soon as he had placed these on the table, I, with avenging flames, overthrew the house upon the household Gods,46 worthy of their master. Alarmed, he himself takes to flight, and having reached the solitude of the country, he howls aloud, and in vain attempts to speak; his mouth gathers rage from himself, and through its usual desire for slaughter, it is directed against the sheep, and even still delights in blood. His garments are changed into hair, his arms into legs; he becomes a wolf, and he still retains vestiges of his ancient form. His hoariness is still the same, the same violence appears in his features; his eyes are bright as before; he is still the same image of ferocity.

“Thus fell one house; but one house alone did not deserve to perish; wherever the earth extends, the savage Erinnys47 reigns. You would suppose that men had conspired to be wicked; let all men speedily feel that vengeance which they deserve to endure, for such is my determination.”


If Ovid is not here committing an anachronism, and making Jupiter, before the deluge, relate the story of a historical personage, 27 I. 244-255 who existed long after it, the origin of the story of Lycaon must be sought in the antediluvian narrative. It is just possible that the guilty Cain may have been the original of Lycaon. The names are not very dissimilar: they are each mentioned as the first murderer; and the fact, that Cain murdered Abel at the moment when he was offering sacrifice to the Almighty, may have given rise to the tradition that Lycaon had set human flesh before the king of heaven. The Scripture, too, tells us, that Cain was personally called to account by the Almighty for his deed of blood.

The punishment here inflicted on Lycaon was not very dissimilar to that 18 I. 244-257 with which Cain was visited. Cain was sentenced to be a fugitive and a wanderer on the face of the earth; and such is essentially the character of the wolf, shunned by both men and animals. Of course, there are many points to which it is not possible to extend the parallel. Some of the ancient writers tell us, that there were two Lycaons, the first of whom was the son of Phoroneus, who reigned in Arcadia about the time of the patriarch Jacob; and the second, who succeeded him, polluted the festivals of the Gods by the sacrifice of the human race; for, having erected an altar to Jupiter, at the city of Lycosura, he slew human victims on it, whence arose the story related by the Poet. This solution is given by Pausanias, in his Arcadica. We are also told by that historian, and by Suidas, that Lycaon was, notwithstanding, a virtuous prince, the benefactor of his people, and the promoter of improvement.


Jupiter, not thinking the punishment of Lycaon sufficient to strike terror into the rest of mankind, resolves, on account of the universal corruption, to extirpate them by a universal deluge.

Some, by their words approve the speech of Jupiter, and give spur to him, indignantly exclaiming; others, by silent assent fulfil their parts. Yet the entire destruction of the human race is a cause of grief to them all, and they inquire what is to be the form of the earth in future, when destitute of mankind? who is to place frankincense48 on the altars? and whether it is his design to give up the nations for a prey to the wild beasts? The ruler of the Gods forbids them making these enquiries, to be alarmed (for that the rest should 28 I. 255-271 be his care); and he promises, that from a wondrous source he will raise a generation unlike the preceding race.

And now he was about to scatter his thunder over all lands; but he was afraid lest, perchance, the sacred æther might catch fire, from so many flames, and the extended sky might become inflamed. He remembers, too, that it was in the decrees of Fate, that a time should come,49 at which the sea, the earth, 19 I. 257-283 and the palace of heaven, seized by the flames, should be burned, and the laboriously-wrought fabric of the universe should be in danger of perishing. The weapons forged by the hands of the Cyclops are laid aside; a different mode of punishment pleases him: to destroy mankind beneath the waves, and to let loose the rains from the whole tract of Heaven. At once he shuts the North Wind in the caverns of Æolus, and all those blasts which dispel the clouds drawn over the Earth; and then he sends forth the South Wind. With soaking wings the South Wind flies abroad, having his terrible face covered with pitchy darkness; his beard is loaded with showers, the water streams down from his hoary locks, clouds gather upon his forehead, his wings and the folds of his robe50 drip with wet; and, as with his broad hand he squeezes the hanging clouds, a crash arises, and thence showers are poured in torrents from the sky. Iris,51 the messenger of Juno, clothed in various colors, collects 29 I. 271-301 the waters, and bears a supply upwards to the clouds.

The standing corn is beaten down, and the expectations of the husbandman, now lamented by him, are ruined, and the labors of a long year prematurely perish. Nor is the wrath of Jove satisfied with his own heaven; but Neptune, his azure brother, aids him with his auxiliary waves. He calls together the rivers, which, soon as they had entered the abode of their ruler, he says, “I must not now employ a lengthened exhortation; pour forth all your might, so the occasion requires. Open your abodes, and, each obstacle removed, give full rein to your streams.” Thus he commanded; they return, and open the mouths of their fountains,52 and roll on into the ocean with unobstructed course. He himself struck 20 I. 283-312 the Earth with his trident, on which it shook, and with a tremor laid open the sources of its waters. The rivers, breaking out, rush through the open plains, and bear away, together with the standing corn, the groves, flocks, men, houses, and temples, together with their sacred utensils. If any house remained, and, not thrown down, was able to resist ruin so vast, yet the waves, rising aloft, covered the roof of that house, and the towers tottered, overwhelmed beneath the stream. And now sea and land had no mark of distinction; everything now was ocean; and to that ocean shores were wanting. One man takes possession of a hill, another sits in a curved boat, and plies the oars there where he had lately ploughed; another sails over the standing corn, or the roof of his country-house under water; another catches a fish on the top of an elm-tree. An anchor (if chance so directs) is fastened in a green meadow, or the curving keels come in contact with the vineyards, now below them; and where of late the slender goats had cropped the grass, there unsightly sea-calves are now reposing their bodies.

The Nereids wonder at the groves, the cities, and the 30 I. 301-312 houses under water; dolphins get into the woods, and run against the lofty branches, and beat against the tossed oaks. The wolf swims53 among the sheep; the wave carries along the tawny lions; the wave carries along the tigers. Neither does the powers of his lightning-shock avail the wild boar, nor his swift legs the stag, now borne away. The wandering bird, too, having long sought for land, where it may be allowed to light, its wings failing, falls down into the sea. The boundless range of the sea had overwhelmed the hills, and the stranger waves beat against the heights of the mountains. The greatest part is carried off by the water: those whom the water spares, long fastings overcome, through scantiness of food.


Pausanias makes mention of five deluges. The two most celebrated happened in the time of Ogyges, and in that of Deucalion. Of the last 21 I. 313-321 Ovid here speaks; and though that deluge was generally said to have overflowed Thessaly only, he has evidently adopted in his narrative the tradition of the universal deluge, which all nations seem to have preserved. He says, that the sea joined its waters to those falling from heaven. The words of Scripture are (Genesis, vii. 11), ‘All the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.’ In speaking of the top of Parnassus alone being left uncovered, the tradition here followed by Ovid probably referred to Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark rested. Noah and his family are represented by Deucalion and Pyrrha. Both Noah and Deucalion were saved for their virtuous conduct; when Noah went out of the ark, he offered solemn sacrifices to God; and Pausanias tells us that Deucalion, when saved, raised an altar to Jupiter the Liberator. The Poet tells us, that Deucalion’s deluge was to be the last: God promised the same thing to Noah. Josephus, in his Antiquities, Book i., tells us, that the history of the universal deluge was written by Nicolas of Damascus, Berosus, Mnaseas, and other ancient writers, from whom the Greeks and Romans received it.

31I. 313-328


Neptune appeases the angry waves; and he commands Triton to sound his shell, that the sea may retire within its shores, and the rivers within their banks. Deucalion and Pyrrha are the only persons saved from the deluge.

Phocis separates the Aonian54 from the Actæan region; a fruitful land while it was a land; but at that time it had become a part of the sea, and a wide plain of sudden waters. There a lofty mountain rises towards the stars, with two tops, by name Parnassus,55 and advances beyond the clouds with its summit. When here Deucalion (for the sea had covered all other places), borne in a little ship, with the partner of his couch, first rested; they adored the Corycian Nymphs,56 and the Deities of the mountain, and the prophetic Themis,57 22 I. 321-337 who at that time used to give out oracular responses. No man was there more upright than he, nor a greater lover of justice, nor was any woman more regardful of the Deities than she.

Soon as Jupiter beholds the world overflowed by liquid waters, and sees that but one man remains out of so many thousands of late, and sees that but one woman remains out of so many thousands of late, both guiltless, and both worshippers of the Gods, he disperses the clouds; and the showers being removed by the North 32 I. 329-342 Wind, he both lays open the earth to the heavens, and the heavens to the earth. The rage, too, of the sea does not continue; and his three-forked trident now laid aside, the ruler of the deep assuages the waters, and calls upon the azure Triton standing above the deep, and having his shoulders covered with the native purple shells;58 and he bids him blow59 his resounding trumpet, and, the signal being given, to call back the waves and the streams. The hollow-wreathed trumpet60 is taken up by him, which grows to a great width from its lowest twist; the trumpet, which, soon 23 I. 337-365 as it receives the air in the middle of the sea, fills with its notes the shores lying under either sun. Then, too, as soon as it touched the lips of the God dripping with his wet beard, and being blown, sounded the bidden retreat;61 it was heard by all the waters both of earth and sea, and stopped all those waters by which it was heard. 33 I. 343-366 Now the sea62 again has a shore; their channels receive the full rivers; the rivers subside; the hills are seen to come forth. The ground rises, places increase in extent as the waters decrease; and after a length of time, the woods show their naked tops, and retain the mud left upon their branches.

The world was restored; which when Deucalion beheld to be empty, and how the desolate Earth kept a profound silence, he thus addressed Pyrrha, with tears bursting forth:—“O sister, O wife, O thou, the only woman surviving, whom a common origin,63 and a kindred descent, and afterwards the marriage tie has united to me, and whom now dangers themselves unite to me; we two are the whole people of the earth, whatever both the East and the West behold; of all the rest, the sea has taken possession. And even now there is no certain assurance of our lives; even yet do the clouds terrify my mind. What would now have been thy feelings, if without me thou hadst been rescued from destruction, O thou deserving of compassion? In what manner couldst thou have been able alone to support this terror? With whom for a consoler, to endure these sorrows? For I, believe me, my wife, if the sea had only carried thee off, should have followed thee, and the sea should have carried me off as well. Oh that I could replace the people that are lost by the arts of my father,64 and infuse the soul into the moulded earth! Now 24 I. 365-382 the mortal race exists in us two alone. Thus it has seemed good to the Gods, and we remain as mere samples of mankind.”


Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, were, perhaps, originally three 34 I. 367-382 brothers, kings of three separate kingdoms. Having been deified each retaining his sovereignty, they were depicted as having the world divided between them; the empire of the sea falling to the share of Neptune. Among his occupations, were those of raising and calming the seas; and Ovid here represents him as being so employed.


Deucalion and Pyrrha re-people the earth by casting stones behind them, in the manner prescribed by the Goddess Themis, whose oracle they had consulted.

He thus spoke, and they wept. They resolved to pray to the Deities of Heaven, and to seek relief through the sacred oracles. There is no delay; together they repair to the waters of Cephisus,65 though not yet clear, yet now cutting their wonted channel. Then, when they have sprinkled the waters poured on their clothes66 and their heads, they turn their steps to the temple of the sacred Goddess, the roof of which was defiled with foul moss, and whose altars were standing without fires. Soon as they reached the steps of the temple, each of them fell prostrate on the ground, and, trembling, gave kisses to the cold pavement. And thus they said:

“If the Deities, prevailed upon by just prayers, are to be mollified, if the wrath of the Gods is to be averted; tell us, O Themis, by what art the loss of our race is to be repaired, and give thy assistance, O most gentle Goddess to our ruined fortunes.” The Goddess was moved, and gave this response: “Depart from my temple, and cover your heads,67 and loosen 25 I. 382-411 the garments 35 I. 382-410 girt around you, and throw behind your backs the bones of your great mother.” For a long time they are amazed; and Pyrrha is the first by her words to break the silence, and then refuses to obey the commands of the Goddess; and begs her, with trembling lips, to grant her pardon, and dreads to offend the shades of her mother by casting her bones. In the meantime they reconsider the words of the response given, but involved in dark obscurity, and they ponder them among themselves. Upon that, the son of Prometheus soothes the daughter of Epimetheus with these gentle words, and says, “Either is my discernment fallacious, or the oracles are just, and advise no sacrilege. The earth is the great mother; I suspect that the stones in the body of the earth are the bones meant; these we are ordered to throw behind our backs.” Although she, descended from Titan,68 is moved by this interpretation of her husband, still her hope is involved in doubt; so much do they both distrust the advice of heaven; but what harm will it do to try?

They go down, and they veil their heads, and ungird their garments, and cast stones, as ordered, behind their footsteps. The stones (who could have believed it, but that antiquity is a witness of the thing?) began to lay aside their hardness and their stiffness, and by degrees to become soft; and when softened, to assume a new form. Presently after, when they were grown larger, a milder nature, too, was conferred on them, so that some shape of man might be seen in them, yet though but imperfect; and as if from the marble commenced to be wrought, not sufficiently distinct, and very like to rough statues. Yet that part of them which was humid with any moisture, and earthy, was turned into portions adapted for the use of the body. That which is solid, and cannot be bent, is changed into bones; that which was just now a vein, still 36 I. 410-418 remains under the same name.69 And in a little time, by 26 I. 411-423 the interposition of the Gods above, the stones thrown by the hands of the man, took the shape of a man, and the female race was renewed by the throwing of the woman. Thence are we a hardy generation, and able to endure fatigue, and we give proofs from what original we are sprung.


In the reign of Deucalion, king of Thessaly, the course of the river Peneus was stopped, probably by an earthquake. In the same year so great a quantity of rain fell, that all Thessaly was overflowed. Deucalion and some of his subjects fled to Mount Parnassus; where they remained until the waters abated. The children of those who were preserved are the stones of which the Poet here speaks. The Fable, probably, has for its foundation the double meaning of the word ‘Eben,’ or ‘Aben,’ which signifies either ‘a stone,’ or ‘a child.’ The Scholiast on Pindar tells us, too, that the word λάος, which means people, formerly also signified ‘a stone.’

The brutal and savage nature of the early races of men may also have added strength to the tradition that they derived their original from stones. After the inundation, Deucalion is said to have repaired to Athens, where he built a temple to Jupiter, and instituted sacrifices in his honor. Some suppose that Cranaus reigned at Athens when Deucalion retired thither; though Eusebius informs us it was under the reign of Cecrops. Deucalion was the son of Prometheus, and his wife Pyrrha was the daughter of his uncle, Epimetheus. After his death, he received the honor of a temple, and was worshipped as a Divinity.


The Earth, being warmed by the heat of the sun, produces many monsters: among others, the serpent Python, which Apollo kills with his arrows. To establish a memorial of this event, he institutes the Pythian games, and adopts the surname of Pythius.

The Earth of her own accord brought forth other animals of different forms; after that the former moisture was thoroughly heated by the rays of the sun, and the mud and the wet fens fermented with the heat; 37 I. 418-446 and the fruitful seeds of things nourished by the enlivening soil, as in the womb of a mother, grew, and, in lapse of time, assumed some regular shape. Thus, when the seven-streamed Nile70 has forsaken the oozy 27 I. 423-445 fields, and has returned its waters to their ancient channel, and the fresh mud has been heated with the æthereal sun, the laborers, on turning up the clods, meet with very many animals, and among them, some just begun at the very moment of their formation, and some they see still imperfect, and as yet destitute of some of their limbs; and often, in the same body, is one part animated, the other part is coarse earth. For when moisture and heat have been subjected to a due mixture, they conceive; and all things arise from these two.

And although fire is the antagonist of heat, yet a moist vapor creates all things, and this discordant concord is suited for generation; when, therefore, the Earth, covered with mud by the late deluge, was thoroughly heated by the æthereal sunshine and a penetrating warmth, it produced species of creatures innumerable; and partly restored the former shapes, and partly gave birth to new monsters. She, indeed, might have been unwilling, but then she produced thee as well, thou enormous Python; and thou, unheard-of serpent, wast a source of terror to this new race of men, so vast a part of a mountain didst thou occupy.

The God that bears the bow, and that had never before used such arms, but against the deer and the timorous goats, destroyed him, overwhelmed with a thousand arrows, his quiver being well-nigh exhausted, as the venom oozed forth through the black wounds; and that length of time might not efface the fame of the deed, he instituted sacred games,71 with contests 28 I. 443-454 famed in 38 I. 447-451 story, called “Pythia,” from the name of the serpent so conquered. In these, whosoever of the young men conquered in boxing, in running, or in chariot-racing, received the honor of a crown of beechen leaves.72 As yet the laurel existed not, and Phœbus used to bind his temples, graceful with long hair, with garlands from any tree.


The story of the serpent Python, being explained on philosophical principles, seems to mean, that the heat of the sun, having dissipated the noxious exhalations emitted by the receding waters, the reptiles, which had been produced from the slime left by the flood, immediately disappeared.

If, however, we treat this narrative as based on historical facts, it is probable that the serpent represented some robber who infested the neighborhood of Parnassus, and molested those who passed that way for the purpose of offering sacrifice. A prince, either bearing the name of Apollo, or being a priest of that God, by his destruction liberated that region from this annoyance. This event gave rise to the institution of the Pythian games, which were celebrated near Delphi. Besides the several contests mentioned by Ovid, singing, dancing, and instrumental music, formed part of the exercises of these games. The event which Ovid here places soon after the deluge, must have happened much later, since in the time of Deucalion, the worship of Apollo was not 39 I. 452-474 known at Delphi. The Goddess Themis then delivered oracles there, which, previously to her time, had been delivered by the Earth.


Apollo, falling in love with Daphne, the daughter of the river Peneus, she flies from him. He pursues her; on which, the Nymph, imploring the aid of her father, is changed into a laurel.

Daphne, the daughter of Peneus, was the first love of Phœbus; whom, not blind chance, but the vengeful anger of Cupid assigned to him.

The Delian God,73 proud of having lately subdued the serpent, 29 I. 454-481 had seen him bending the bow and drawing the string, and had said, “What hast thou to do, wanton boy, with gallant arms? Such a burden as that better befits my shoulders; I, who am able to give unerring wounds to the wild beasts, wounds to the enemy, who lately slew with arrows innumerable the swelling Python, that covered so many acres of land with his pestilential belly. Do thou be contented to excite I know not what flames with thy torch; and do not lay claim to praises properly my own.”

To him the son of Venus replies, “Let thy bow shoot all things, Phœbus; my bow shall shoot thee; and as much as all animals fall short of thee, so much is thy glory less than mine.” He thus said; and cleaving the air with his beating wings, with activity he stood upon the shady heights of Parnassus, and drew two weapons out of his arrow-bearing quiver, of different workmanship; the one repels, the other excites desire. That which causes love is of gold, and is brilliant, with a sharp point; that which repels it is blunt, and contains lead beneath the reed. This one the God fixed in the Nymph, the daughter of Peneus, but with the other he wounded the very marrow of Apollo, through his bones pierced by the arrow. Immediately the one is in love; the other flies from the very name of a lover, rejoicing 40 I. 475-488 in the recesses of the woods, and in the spoils of wild beasts taken in hunting, and becomes a rival of the virgin Phœbe. A fillet tied together74 her hair, put up without any order. Many a one courted her; she hated all wooers; not able to endure, and quite unacquainted with man, she traverses the solitary parts of the woods, and she cares not what Hymen,75 what love, or what marriage means. Many a time did her father say, “My daughter, thou owest me a son-in-law;” 30 I. 481-505 many a time did her father say, “My daughter, thou owest me grandchildren.” She, utterly abhorring the nuptial torch,76 as though a crime, has her beauteous face covered with the blush of modesty; and clinging to her father’s neck, with caressing arms, she says, “Allow me, my dearest father, to enjoy perpetual virginity; her father, in times, bygone, granted this to Diana.”

He indeed complied. But that very beauty forbids 41 I. 488-515 thee to be what thou wishest, and the charms of thy person are an impediment to thy desires. Phœbus falls in love, and he covets an alliance with Daphne, now seen by him, and what he covets he hopes for, and his own oracles deceive him; and as the light stubble is burned, when the ears of corn are taken off, and as hedges are set on fire by the torches, which perchance a traveller has either held too near them, or has left there, now about the break of day, thus did the God burst into a flame; thus did he burn throughout his breast, and cherish a fruitless passion with his hopes. He beholds her hair hanging unadorned upon her neck, and he says, “And what would it be if it were arranged?” He sees her eyes, like stars, sparkling with fire; he sees her lips, which it is not enough to have merely seen; he praises both her fingers and her hands, and her arms and her shoulders naked, from beyond the middle; whatever is hidden from view, he thinks to be still more beauteous. Swifter than the light wind she flies, and she stops not at these words of his, as he calls her back:

“O Nymph, daughter of Peneus, stay, I entreat thee! I am not an enemy following thee. In this way the lamb flies from 31 I. 505-524 the wolf; thus the deer flies from the lion; thus the dove flies from the eagle with trembling wing; in this way each creature flies from its enemy: love is the cause of my following thee. Ah! wretched me! shouldst thou fall on thy face, or should the brambles tear thy legs, that deserve not to be injured, and should I prove the cause of pain to thee. The places are rugged, through which thou art thus hastening; run more leisurely, I entreat thee, and restrain thy flight; I myself will follow more leisurely. And yet, inquire whom thou dost please; I am not an inhabitant of the mountains, I am not a shepherd; I am not here, in rude guise,77 watching the herds or the flocks. Thou knowest not, rash girl, thou knowest not from whom thou art flying, and therefore it is that thou dost fly. 42 I. 516-531 The Delphian land, Claros and Tenedos,78A and the Pataræan palace pays service to me. Jupiter is my sire; by me, what shall be, what has been, and what is, is disclosed; through me, songs harmonize with the strings. My own arrow, indeed, is unerring; yet one there is still more unerring than my own, which has made this wound in my heart, before unscathed. The healing art is my discovery, and throughout the world I am honored as the bearer of help, and the properties of simples are79 subjected to me. Ah, wretched me!80 that love is not to be cured by any herbs; and that those arts which afford relief to all, are of no avail for their master.”

32I. 525-537

The daughter of Peneus flies from him, about to say still more, with timid step, and together with him she leaves his unfinished address. Then, too, she appeared lovely; the winds exposed her form to view, and the gusts meeting her fluttered about her garments, as they came in contact, and the light breeze spread behind herB her careless locks; and thus, by her flight, was her beauty increased. But the youthful God81 has not patience any longer to waste his blandishments; and as 43 I. 532-545 love urges him on, he follows her steps with hastening pace. As when the greyhound82 has seen the hare in the open field, and the one by the speed of his legs pursues his prey, the other seeks her safety; the one is like as if just about to fasten on the other, and now, even now, hopes to catch her, and with nose outstretched plies upon the footsteps of the hare. The other is 33 I. 537-562 in doubt whether she is caught already, and is delivered from his very bite, and leaves behind the mouth just touching her. And so is the God, and so is the virgin;83 he swift with hopes, she with fear.

Yet he that follows, aided by the wings of love, is the swifter, and denies her any rest; and is now just at her back as she flies, and is breathing upon her hair scattered upon her neck. Her strength being now spent, she grows pale, and being quite faint, with the fatigue of so swift a flight, looking upon the waters of Peneus, she says, “Give me, my father, thy aid, if you rivers 44 I. 545-566 have divine power. Oh Earth, either yawn to swallow me, or by changing it, destroy that form, by which I have pleased too much, and which causes me to be injured.”

Hardly had she ended her prayer, when a heavy torpor seizes her limbs; and her soft breasts are covered with a thin bark. Her hair grows into green leaves, her arms into branches; her feet, the moment before so swift, adhere by sluggish roots; a leafy canopy overspreads her features; her elegance alone84 remains in her. This, too, Phœbus admires, and placing his right hand upon the stock, he perceives that the breast still throbs beneath the new bark; and then, embracing the branches as though limbs in his arms, he gives kisses to the wood, and yet the wood shrinks from his kisses. To her the God said: “But since thou canst not be my wife, at least thou shalt be my tree; my hair, my lyre,85 my quiver shall always have thee, oh laurel! Thou shalt be presented to the Latian chieftains, when the joyous voice of the soldiers shall sing the song of triumph,86 and the long procession shall resort to the Capitol. Thou, the same, shalt stand as a most 34 I. 563-568 faithful guardian at the gate-posts of Augustus before his doors,87 and shalt protect the oak placed in the centre; and as my head is ever youthful with unshorn locks, do thou, too, always wear the lasting honors of thy foliage.”

Pæan had ended his speech; the laurel nodded assent 45 I. 566-569 with its new-made boughs, and seemed to shake its top just like a head.


To explain this Fable, it must be laid down as a principle that there were originally many Jupiters, and Apollos, and Mercuries, whose intrigues being, in lapse of time, attributed to but one individual, that fact accounts for the great number of children which claimed those respective Gods for their fathers.

Some prince probably, for whom his love of learning had acquired the name of Apollo, falling in love with Daphne, pursued her to the brink of the river Peneus, into which, being accidentally precipitated, she perished in her lover’s sight. Some laurels growing near the spot, perhaps gave rise to the story of her transformation; or possibly the etymology of the word ‘Daphne,’ which in Greek signifies a laurel, was the foundation of the Fable. Pausanias, however, in his Arcadia, gives another version of this story. He says that Leucippus, son of Œnomaus, king of Pisa, falling in love with Daphne, disguised himself in female apparel, and devoted himself to her service. He soon procured her friendship and confidence; but Apollo, who was his rival, having discovered his fraud, one day redoubled the heat of the sun. Daphne and her companions going to bathe, obliged Leucippus to follow their example, on which, having discovered his stratagem, they killed him with the arrows which they carried for the purposes of hunting.

Diodorus Siculus tells us that Daphne was the same with Manto, the daughter of Tiresias, who was banished to Delphi, where she delivered oracles, of the language of which Homer availed himself in the composition of his poems. The inhabitants of Antioch asserted that the adventure here narrated happened in the suburbs of their city, which thence derived its name of Daphne.


Jupiter, pursuing Io, the daughter of Inachus, covers the earth with darkness, and ravishes the Nymph.

There is a grove of Hæmonia,88 which a wood, placed on a 35 I. 568-583 craggy rock, encloses on every side. They call it Tempe;89 through this the river Peneus, flowing from 46 I. 570-587 the bottom of mount Pindus,90 rolls along with its foaming waves, and in its mighty fall, gathers clouds that scatter a vapor like thin smoke,91 and with its spray besprinkles the tops of the woods, and wearies places, far from near to it, with its noise. This is the home, this the abode, these are the retreats of the great river; residing here in a cavern formed by rocks, he gives law to the waters, and to the Nymphs that inhabit those waters. The rivers of that country first repair thither, not knowing whether they should congratulate, or whether console the parent; the poplar-bearing Spercheus,92 and the restless Enipeus,93 the aged Apidanus,94 the gentle Amphrysus,95 and Æas,96 and, soon after, the other rivers, which, as their current leads them, carry down into the sea their waves, wearied by wanderings. Inachus97 alone is absent, and, hidden in his 36 I. 583-600 deepest cavern, increases his waters with his tears, and in extreme wretchedness bewails his daughter Io as lost; he knows not whether she now enjoys life, or whether she is among the shades below; but her, whom he does not find anywhere, he believes to be nowhere, and in his mind he dreads the worst.

47I. 588-600

Jupiter had seen Io as she was returning from her father’s stream, and had said, “O maid, worthy of Jove, and destined to make I know not whom happy in thy marriage, repair to the shades of this lofty grove (and he pointed at the shade of the grove) while it is warm, and while the Sun is at his height, in the midst of his course. But if thou art afraid to enter the lonely abodes of the wild beasts alone, thou shalt enter the recesses of the groves, safe under the protection of a God, and that a God of no common sort; but with me, who hold the sceptre of heaven in my powerful hand; me, who hurl the wandering lightnings—Do not fly from me;” for now she was flying. And now she had left behind the pastures of Lerna,98 and the Lircæan plains planted with trees, when the God covered the earth far and wide with darkness overspreading, and arrested her flight, and forced her modesty.


The Greeks frequently embellished their mythology with narratives of Phœnician or Egyptian origin. The story of Io probably came from Egypt. Isis was one of the chief divinities of that country, and her worship naturally passed, with their colonies, into foreign countries. Greece received it when Inachus went to settle there, and in lapse of time Isis, under the name of Io, was supposed to have been his daughter, and the fable was invented which is here narrated by Ovid.

The Greek authors, Apollodorus, Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Pausanias, say that Io was the daughter of Inachus, the first king of Argos; that Jupiter carried her away to Crete; and that by her he had a son named Epaphus, who went to reign in Egypt, whither his mother accompanied 37 I. 601-619 him. They also tell us that she married Apis, or Osiris, who, after his death, was numbered among the Deities of Egypt by the name of Serapis. From them we also learn that Juno, being actuated by jealousy, on the discovery of the intrigue, put Io under the care of her uncle Argus, a man of great vigilance, but that Jupiter having slain him, placed his mistress on 48 I. 601-619 board of a vessel which had the figure of a cow at its head; from which circumstance arose the story of the transformation of Io. The Greek writers also state, that the Bosphorus, a part of the Ægean sea, derived its name from the passage of Io in the shape of a cow.


Jupiter, having changed Io into a cow, to conceal her from the jealousy of Juno, is obliged to give her to that Goddess, who commits her to the charge of the watchful Argus. Jupiter sends Mercury with an injunction to cast Argus into a deep sleep, and to take away his life.

In the meantime Juno looked down upon the midst of the fields, and wondering that the fleeting clouds had made the appearance of night under bright day, she perceived that they were not the vapors from a river, nor were they raised from the moist earth, and then she looked around to see where her husband was, as being one who by this time was full well acquainted with the intrigues of a husband who had been so often detected.99 After she had found him not in heaven, she said, “I am either deceived, or I am injured;” and having descended from the height of heaven, she alighted upon the earth, and commanded the mists to retire. He had foreseen the approach of his wife, and had changed the features of the daughter of Inachus into a sleek heifer.100 As a cow, too, she is beautiful. The daughter of Saturn, though unwillingly, extols the appearance of the cow; and likewise inquires, whose it is, and whence, or of what herd it is, as though ignorant of the truth. Jupiter falsely asserts that it was produced out of the earth, that the owner may cease to be inquired after. The daughter of Saturn begs her of him as a gift. What can he do? It is a cruel thing to deliver up his own mistress, and not to give her up is a cause of suspicion. It is shame which persuades him on the one hand, love 49 I. 619-647 dissuades him on the other. His shame would have been 38 I. 619-651 subdued by his love; but if so trifling a gift as a cow should be refused to the sharer of his descent and his couch, she might well seem not to be a cow.

The rival now being given up to her, the Goddess did not immediately lay aside all apprehension; and she was still afraid of Jupiter, and was fearful of her being stolen, until she gave her to Argus, the son of Aristor, to be kept by him. Argus had his head encircled with a hundred eyes. Two of them used to take rest in their turns, the rest watched, and used to keep on duty.101 In whatever manner he stood, he looked towards Io; although turned away, he still used to have Io before his eyes. In the daytime he suffers her to feed; but when the sun is below the deep earth, he shuts her up, and ties a cord round her neck undeserving of such treatment. She feeds upon the leaves of the arbute tree, and bitter herbs, and instead of a bed the unfortunate animal lies upon the earth, that does not always have grass on it, and drinks of muddy streams. And when, too, she was desirous, as a suppliant, to stretch out her arms to Argus, she had no arms to stretch out to Argus; and she uttered lowings from her mouth, when endeavoring to complain. And at this sound she was terrified, and was affrighted at her own voice.

She came, too, to the banks, where she was often wont to sport, the banks of her father, Inachus; and soon as she beheld her new horns in the water, she was terrified, and, astonished, she recoiled from herself. The Naiads knew her not, and Inachus himself knew her not, who she was; but she follows her father, and follows her sisters, and suffers herself to be touched, and presents herself to them, as they admire her. The aged Inachus held her some grass he had plucked; she licks his hand, and gives kisses to the palms of her father. Nor does she restrain her tears; and if only words would follow, she would implore his aid, and 50 I. 648-671 would declare her name and misfortunes. Instead of words, letters, which her foot traced in the dust, completed the sad discovery of the transformation of her body. “Ah, wretched me!” exclaims her father Inachus; and clinging to the horns and the neck 39 I. 651-674 of the snow-white cow, as she wept, he repeats, “Ah, wretched me! and art thou my daughter, that hast been sought for by me throughout all lands? While undiscovered, thou wast a lighter grief to me, than now, when thou art found. Thou art silent, and no words dost thou return in answer to mine; thou only heavest sighs from the depth of thy breast, and what alone thou art able to do, thou answerest in lowings to my words. But I, in ignorance of this, was preparing the bridal chamber, and the nuptial torches for thee; and my chief hope was that of a son-in-law, my next was that of grandchildren. But now must thou have a mate from the herd, now, too, an offspring of the herd. Nor is it possible for me to end grief so great by death; but it is a detriment to be a God; and the gate of death being shut against me, extends my grief to eternal ages.”

While thus he lamented, the starry Argus removed her away, and carried the daughter, thus taken from her father, to distant pastures. He himself, at a distance, occupies the lofty top of a mountain, whence, as he sits, he may look about on all sides.

Nor can the ruler of the Gods above, any longer endure so great miseries of the granddaughter of Phoroneus;102 and he calls his son Mercury, whom the bright Pleiad, Maia,103 brought forth, and orders him to put Argus to death. There is but little delay to take wings upon his feet, and his soporiferous wand104 in his hand, 51 I. 672-688 and a cap for his hair.105 After he had put these things in order, the son of Jupiter leaps down from his father’s high abode upon the earth, and there he takes off 40 I. 674-694 his cap, and lays aside his wings; his wand alone was retained. With this, as a shepherd, he drives some she-goats through the pathless country, taken up as he passed along, and plays upon oaten straws joined together.

The keeper appointed by Juno, charmed by the sound of this new contrivance, says, “Whoever thou art, thou mayst be seated with me upon this stone; for, indeed, in no other place is the herbage more abundant for thy flock; and thou seest, too, that the shade is convenient for the shepherds.” The son of Atlas sat down, and with much talking he occupied the passing day with his discourse, and by playing upon his joined reeds he tried to overpower his watchful eyes. Yet the other strives hard to overcome soft sleep; and although sleep was received by a part of his eyes, yet with a part he still keeps watch. He inquires also (for the pipe had been but lately invented) by what method it had been found out.


The story of the Metamorphosis of Io has been already enlarged upon in the Explanation of the preceding Fable. It may, however, not be irrelevant to observe, that myths, or mythological stories or fables, are frequently based upon some true history, corrupted by tradition in lapse of time. The poets, too, giving loose to their fancy in their love of the marvellous, have still further disfigured the original story; so that it is in most instances extremely difficult to trace back the facts to their primitive simplicity, by a satisfactory explanation of each circumstance attending them, either upon a philosophical, or an historical principle of solution.

52I. 689-706


Pan, falling in love with the Nymph Syrinx, she flies from him; on which he pursues her. Syrinx, arrested in her flight by the waves of the river Ladon, invokes the aid of her sisters, the Naiads, who change her into reeds. Pan unites them into an instrument with seven pipes, which bears the name of the Nymph.

Then the God says, “In the cold mountains of Arcadia, among the Hamadryads of Nonacris,106 there was one Naiad very famous; the Nymphs called her Syrinx. And not once alone had she escaped the Satyrs as they pursued, and whatever Gods either the shady grove or the fruitful fields have in them. In her pursuits and her virginity itself she used 41 I. 694-712 to devote herself to the Ortygian Goddess;107 and being clothed after the fashion of Diana, she might have deceived one, and might have been supposed to be the daughter of Latona, if she had not had a bow of cornel wood, the other, a bow of gold; and even then did she sometimes deceive people. Pan spies her as she is returning from the hill of Lycæus, and having his head crowned with sharp pine leaves, he utters such words as these;” it remained for Mercury to repeat the words, and how that the Nymph, slighting his suit, fled through pathless spots, until she came to the gentle stream of sandy Ladon;108 and that here, the waters stopping her course, she prayed to her watery sisters, that they would change her; and how that Pan, when he was thinking that Syrinx was now caught by him, had seized hold of some reeds of the 53 I. 706-721 marsh, instead of the body of the Nymph; and how, while he was sighing there, the winds moving amid the reeds had made a murmuring noise, and like one complaining; and how that, charmed by this new discovery and the sweetness of the sound, he had said, “This mode of converse with thee shall ever remain with me;” and that accordingly, unequal reeds being stuck together among themselves by a cement of wax, had since retained the name of the damsel.


This appears to have been an Egyptian fable, imported into the works of the Grecian poets. Pan was probably a Divinity of the Egyptians, who worshipped nature under that name, as we are told by Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus. As, however, according to Nonnus, there were not less than twelve Pans, it is possible that the adventure here related may have been supposed to have happened to one of them who was a native of Greece. He was most probably the inventor of the Syrinx, or Pandæan pipe, and, perhaps, formed his first instrument from the produce of the banks of the River Ladon, from which circumstance Syrinx may have been styled the daughter of that river.

42I. 712-723


Mercury, having lulled Argus to sleep, cuts off his head, and Juno places his eyes in the peacock’s tail.

The Cyllenian God109 being about to say such things, perceived that all his eyes were sunk in sleep, and that his sight was wrapped110 in slumber. At once he puts an end to his song, and strengthens his slumbers, stroking his languid eyes with his magic wand. There is no delay; he wounds him, as he nods, with his crooked sword, where the head is joined to the neck; and casts him, all blood-stained, from the rock, and stains the craggy cliff with his gore.

Argus, thou liest low, and the light which thou hadst in so many eyes is now extinguished; and one night 54 I. 722-733 takes possession of a whole hundred eyes. The daughter of Saturn takes them, and places them on the feathers of her own bird, and she fills its tail with starry gems.


The ancient writers, Asclepiades and Pherecydes, tell us, that Argus was the son of Arestor. He is supposed by some to have been the fourth king of Argos after Inachus, and to have been a person of great wisdom and penetration, on account of which he was said to have a hundred eyes. Io most probably was committed to his charge, and he watched over her with the greatest care.

It is impossible to divine the reason why his eyes were said to have been set by Juno in the tail of the peacock; though, perhaps, the circumstance has no other foundation than the resemblance of the human eye to the spots in the tail of that bird, which was consecrated to Juno. Besides, if Juno is to be considered the symbol of Air, or Æther, through which light is transmitted to us, it is not surprising that the ancients bestowed so many eyes upon the bird which was consecrated to her.

43I. 723-747


Io, terrified and maddened with dreadful visions, runs over many regions, and stops in Egypt, when Juno, at length, being pacified, restores her to her former shape, and permits her to be worshipped there, under the name of Isis.

Immediately, she was inflamed with rage, and deferred not the time of expressing her wrath; and she presented a dreadful Fury before the eyes and thoughts of the Argive mistress,111 and buried in her bosom invisible stings, and drove her, in her fright, a wanderer through the whole earth. Thou, O Nile, didst remain, as the utmost boundary of her long wanderings. Soon as she arrived there, she fell upon her knees, placed on the edge of the bank, and raising herself up, with her neck thrown back, and casting to Heaven those looks which then alone she could, by her groans, and her tears, and her mournful lowing, she seemed to be complaining of Jupiter, and to be begging an end of her sorrows.

He, embracing the neck of his wife with his arms, 55 I. 734-759 entreats her, at length, to put an end to her punishment; and he says, “Lay aside thy fears for the future; she shall never more be the occasion of any trouble to thee;” and then he bids the Stygian waters to hear this oath. As soon as the Goddess is pacified, Io receives her former shape, and she becomes what she was before; the hairs flee from off of her body, her horns decrease, and the orb of her eye becomes less; the opening of her jaw is contracted; her shoulders and her hands return, and her hoof, vanishing, is disposed of into five nails; nothing of the cow remains to her, but the whiteness of her appearance; and the Nymph, contented with the service of two feet, is raised erect on them; and yet she is afraid to speak, lest she should low like a cow, and timorously tries again the words so long interrupted. Now, as a Goddess, she is worshipped by the linen-wearing throng112 of Egypt.

44I. 748-774

To her, at length, Epaphus113 is believed to have been born from the seed of great Jove, and throughout the cities he possesses temples joined to those of his parent. Phaëton, sprung from the Sun, was equal to him in spirit and in years; whom formerly, as he uttered great boasts, and yielded not at all to him, and proud of his father, Phœbus, the grandson of Inachus could not endure; and said, “Thou, like a madman, believest thy mother in all things, and art puffed up with the conceit of an imaginary father.”

Phaëton blushed, and in shame repressed his resentment; and he reported to his mother, Clymene,114 the reproaches of Epaphus; and said, “Mother, to grieve thee still more, I, the free, the bold youth, was silent; I am ashamed both that these reproaches can be uttered against us, and that they cannot be refuted; but do 56 I. 760-779 thou, if only I am born of a divine race, give me some proof of so great a descent, and claim me for heaven.” Thus he spoke, and threw his arms around the neck of his mother; and besought her, by his own head and by that of Merops,115 and by the nuptial torches of his sisters, that she would give him some token of his real father.

It is a matter of doubt whether Clymene was more moved by the entreaties of Phaëton, or by resentment at the charge made against her; and she raised both her arms to heaven, and, looking up to the light of the Sun, she said, “Son, I swear to thee, by this beam, bright with shining rays, which both hears and sees us, that thou, that thou, I say, wast begotten by this Sun, which thou beholdest; by this Sun, which governs the world. If I utter an untruth, let him deny himself to be seen by me, and let this light prove the last for my eyes. Nor will it be any prolonged trouble for thee to visit thy father’s dwelling; the abode where he arises is contiguous to our regions.116 45 I. 775-779 If only thy inclination disposes thee, go forth, and thou shalt inquire of himself.”

Phaëton immediately springs forth, overjoyed, upon these words of his mother, and reaches the skies in imagination; and he passes by his own Æthiopians, and the Indians situate beneath the rays of the Sun,117 and briskly wends his way to the rising of his sire.


To the elucidation of this narrative, already given, we will only add, that some of the mythologists inform us, that when Mercury had lulled Argus to sleep, a youth named Hierax awoke him; on which Mercury killed Argus with a stone, and turned Hierax into a spar-hawk.

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