The Metamorphoses of Ovid

by Ovid

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The daughters of Minyas, instead of celebrating the festival of Bacchus, apply themselves to other pursuits during the ceremonies; and among several narratives which they relate to pass away the time, they divert themselves with the story of the adventures of Pyramus and Thisbe. These lovers having made an appointment to meet without the walls of Babylon, Thisbe arrives first; but at the sight of a lioness, she runs to hide herself in a cave, and in her alarm, drops her veil. Pyramus, arriving soon after, finds the veil of his mistress stained with blood; and believing her to be dead, kills himself with his own sword. Thisbe returns from the cave; and finding Pyramus weltering in his blood, she plunges the same fatal weapon into her own breast.

But Alcithoë, the daughter of Minyas,1 does not think that the rites2 of the God ought to be received; but still, in her rashness, denies that Bacchus is the progeny of Jupiter; and she has her sisters3 as partners in her impiety.

The priest had ordered both mistresses and maids, laying aside their employments, to have their breasts 136 IV. 6-19 covered with skins, and to loosen the fillets of their hair, and to put garlands 119 IV. 7-22 on their locks, and to take the verdant thyrsi in their hands; and had prophesied that severe would be the resentment of the Deity, if affronted. Both matrons and new-married women obey, and lay aside their webs and work-baskets,4 and their tasks unfinished; and offer frankincense, and invoke both Bacchus and Bromius,5 and Lyæus,6 and the son of the Flames, and the Twice-Born, and the only one that had two mothers.7 To these is added the name of Nyseus, and the unshorn Thyoneus,8 and with Lenæus,9 the planter of the genial grape, and Nyctelius,10 and father Eleleus, and Iacchus,11 and Evan,12 and a great many other names, which thou, Liber, hast besides, throughout the nations of Greece. For thine is youth everlasting; thou art a boy to all time, thou art beheld as the most beauteous of all in high heaven; 137 IV. 20-42 thou hast the features of a virgin, when thou standest without thy horns. By thee the East was conquered, as far as where swarthy India is bounded by the remote Ganges. Thou 120 IV. 23-46 God, worthy of our veneration, didst smite Pentheus, and the axe-bearing Lycurgus,13 sacrilegious mortals; thou didst hurl the bodies of the Etrurians into the sea. Thou controllest the neck of the lynxes yoked to thy chariot, graced with the painted reins. The Bacchanals and the Satyrs follow thee; the drunken old man, too, Silenus, who supports his reeling limbs with a staff, and sticks by no means very fast to his bending ass. And wherever thou goest, the shouts of youths, and together the voices of women, and tambourines beaten with the hands, and hollow cymbals resound, and the box-wood pipe, with its long bore. The Ismenian matrons ask thee to show thyself mild and propitious, and celebrate thy sacred rites as prescribed.

The daughters of Minyas alone, within doors, interrupting the festival with unseasonable labor,14 are either carding wool, or twirling the threads with their fingers, or are plying at the web, and keeping the handmaids to their work. One of them, as she is drawing the thread with her smooth thumb, says, “While others are idling, and thronging to these fanciful rites, let us, whom Pallas, a better Deity, occupies, alleviate the useful toil of our hands with varying discourse; and let us relate by turns to our disengaged ears, for the general amusement, something each in our turn, that will not permit the time to seem long.” They approve of what she says, and her sisters bid her to be the first to tell her story.

138IV. 43-58 She considers which of many she shall tell (for she knows many a one), and she is in doubt whether she shall tell of thee, Babylonian Dercetis,15 whom the people of Palestine16 121 IV. 46-66 believe to inhabit the pools, with thy changed form, scales covering thy limbs; or rather how her daughter, taking wings, passed her latter years in whitened turrets; or how a Naiad,17 by charms and too potent herbs, changed the bodies of the young men into silent fishes, until she suffered the same herself. Or how the tree which bore white fruit formerly, now bears it of purple hue, from the contact of blood. This story pleases her; this, because it was no common tale, she began in manner such as this, while the wool followed the thread:—

“Pyramus and Thisbe, the one the most beauteous of youths,18 the other preferred before all the damsels that the East contained, lived in adjoining houses; where Semiramis is said to have surrounded her lofty city19 with walls of brick.20 The nearness caused their 139 IV. 59-88 first acquaintance, and their first advances in love; with time their affection increased. They would have united themselves, too, by the tie of marriage, but their fathers forbade it. A thing which they could not forbid, they were both inflamed, with minds equally captivated. There is no one acquainted with it; by nods and signs, they hold converse. And the more the fire is smothered, the more, when so smothered, does it burn. The party-wall, common to the two houses, was cleft by a small chink, which it had got formerly, when it was 122 IV. 66-99 built. This defect, remarked by no one for so many ages, you lovers (what does not love perceive?) first found one, and you made it a passage for your voices, and the accents of love used to pass through it in safety, with the gentlest murmur. Oftentimes, after they had taken their stations, Thisbe on one side, and Pyramus on the other, and the breath of their mouths had been mutually caught by turns, they used to say, ‘Envious wall, why dost thou stand in the way of lovers? what great matter were it, for thee to suffer us to be joined with our entire bodies? Or if that is too much, that, at least, thou shouldst open, for the exchange of kisses. Nor are we ungrateful; we confess that we are indebted to thee, that a passage has been given for our words to our loving ears.’ Having said this much, in vain, on their respective sides, about night they said, ‘Farewell’; and gave those kisses each on their own side, which did not reach the other side.

”The following morning had removed the fires of the night, and the Sun, with its rays, had dried the grass wet with rime, when they met together at the wonted spot. Then, first complaining much in low murmurs, they determine, in the silent night, to try to deceive their keepers, and to steal out of doors; and when they have left the house, to quit the buildings of the city as well: but that they may not have to wander, roaming in the open fields, to meet at the tomb of Ninus,21 and to 140 IV. 89-117 conceal themselves beneath the shade of a tree. There was there a lofty mulberry tree, very full of snow-white fruit, quite close to a cold spring. The arrangement suits them; and the light, seeming to depart but slowly, is buried in the waters, and from the same waters the night arises. The clever Thisbe, turning the hinge, gets out in the dark, and deceives her attendants, and, having covered her face, arrives at the tomb, and sits down under the tree agreed upon; love made her bold. Lo! a lioness approaches, having her foaming jaws besmeared with the recent slaughter of oxen, about to quench her thirst with the water of the neighboring spring. The Babylonian 123 IV. 99-130 Thisbe sees her at a distance, by the rays of the moon, and with a trembling foot she flies to a dark cave; and, while she flies, her veil falling from her back, she leaves it behind. When the savage lioness has quenched her thirst with plenteous water, as she is returning into the woods, she tears the thin covering, found by chance without Thisbe herself, with her blood-stained mouth.

“Pyramus, going out later than Thisbe, saw the evident footmarks of a wild beast, in the deep dust, and grew pale all over his face. But, as soon as he found her veil, as well, dyed with blood, he said: ‘One night will be the ruin of two lovers, of whom she was the most deserving of a long life. My soul is guilty; ’tis I that have destroyed thee, much to be lamented; who bade thee to come by night to places full of terror, and came not hither first. O, whatever lions are lurking beneath this rock, tear my body in pieces, and devour my accursed entrails with ruthless jaws. But it is the part of a coward to wish for death.’ He takes up the veil of Thisbe, and he takes it with himself to the shade of the tree agreed on, and, after he has bestowed tears on the well-known garment, he gives kisses to the same, 141 IV. 118-141 and he says, ‘Receive, now, a draught of my blood as well!’ and then plunges the sword, with which he is girt, into his bowels; and without delay, as he is dying, he draws it out of the warm wound. As he falls on his back upon the ground, the blood spurts forth on high, not otherwise than as when a pipe is burst on the lead decaying,22 and shoots out afar the liquid water from the hissing flaw, and cleaves the air with its jet. The fruit of the tree, by the sprinkling of the blood, are changed to a dark tint, and the root, soaked with the gore, tints the hanging mulberries with a purple hue. Behold! not yet having banished her fear, Thisbe returns, that she may not disappoint her lover, and seeks for the youth both with her eyes and her affection, and longs to tell him how great dangers 124 IV. 130-160 she has escaped. And when she observes the spot, and the altered appearance of the tree, she doubts if it is the same, so uncertain does the color of the fruit make her. While she is in doubt, she sees palpitating limbs throbbing upon the bloody ground; she draws back her foot, and having her face paler than box-wood,23 she shudders like the sea, which trembles24 when its surface is skimmed by a gentle breeze. But, after pausing a time, she had recognized her own lover, she smote her arms, undeserving of such usage, and tearing her hair, and embracing the much-loved body, she filled the gashes with her tears, and mingled her tokens of sorrow 142 IV. 142-166 with his blood; and imprinting kisses on his cold features, she exclaimed, ‘Pyramus! what disaster has taken thee away from me? Pyramus! answer me; ’tis thy own Thisbe, dearest, that calls thee; hear me, and raise thy prostrate features.’

“At the name of Thisbe, Pyramus raised his eyes, now heavy with death, and, after he had seen her, he closed them again. After she had perceived her own garment, and beheld, too, the ivory sheath25 without its sword, she said, ‘’Tis thy own hand, and love, that has destroyed thee, ill-fated youth! I, too, have a hand bold enough for this one purpose; I have love as well; this shall give me strength for the wound. I will follow thee in thy death, and I shall be called the most unhappy cause and companion of thy fate, and thou who, alas! couldst be torn from me by death alone, shalt not be able, even by death, to be torn from me. And you, O most wretched parents of mine and his, be but prevailed upon, in this one thing, by the entreaties of us both, that you will not deny those whom their constant love and whom their last moments have joined, to be buried in the same tomb. But thou, O tree, which now with thy boughs 125 IV. 160-166 dost overshadow the luckless body of but one, art fated soon to cover those of two. Retain a token of this our fate, and ever bear fruit black and suited for mourning, as a memorial of the blood of us two.’ Thus she said; and having fixed the point under the lower part of her breast, she fell upon the sword, which still was reeking with his blood.

“Her prayers, however, moved the Gods, and moved their parents. For the color of the fruit, when it has fully ripened, is black;26 and what was left of them, from the funeral pile, reposed in the same urn.”



It is pretty clear, as we have already seen, that the establishment of the worship of Bacchus in Greece met with great opposition, and that his priests and devotees published several miracles and prodigies, the more easily to influence the minds of their fellow-men. Thus, the daughters of Minyas are said to have been changed into bats, solely because they neglected to join in the orgies of that God; when, probably, the fact was, that they were either secretly despatched, or were forced to fly for their lives; and their absence was accounted for to the ignorant and credulous, by the invention of this Fable. The story of Dercetis, as related by Diodorus Siculus, Pliny, and Herodotus, is, that having offended Venus, that Goddess caused her to fall in love with a young man, by whom she had a daughter. In despair at her misfortune, she killed her lover, and exposed her child, and afterwards drowned herself. The Syrians, lamenting her fate, built a temple near where she was drowned, and honored her as a Goddess. They stated that she was turned into a fish, and they there represented her under the figure of a woman down to the waist, and of a fish thence downwards. They also abstained from eating fish; though they offered them to her in sacrifice, and suspended gilded ones in her temple. Selden, in his Treatise on the Syrian Gods, suggests that the story of Dercetis, or Atergatis, was founded on the figure and worship of Dagon, the God of the Philistines, who was represented under the figure of a fish; and that the name of Atergatis is a corruption of ‘Adir Dagon,’ ‘a great fish,’ which is not at all improbable. The same author supposes that Dercetis was originally the same Deity with Venus, Astarte, Minerva, Juno, Isis, and the Moon; and that she was worshipped under the name of Mylitta by the Assyrians, and as Alilac by the Arabians. Lucian tells us, that Dercetis was reported to have been the mother of Semiramis.

Ovid and Hyginus are the only authors that make mention of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, and both agree in making Babylon the scene of it. It seems to be rather intended as a moral tale, than to have been built upon any actual circumstance. It affords a lesson to youth not to enter rashly 126 IV. 167-186 into engagements: and to parents not to pursue, too rigorously, the gratification of their own resentment, but rather to consult the inclination of their children, when not likely to be productive of unhappiness at a future period.

The reader cannot fail to call to mind the admirable travesty of this story by Shakspere, in the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’

144IV. 167-186


The Sun discovers to Vulcan the intrigue between Mars and Venus, and then, himself, falls in love with Leucothoë. Venus, in revenge for the discovery, resolves to make his amours unfortunate.

Here she ended; and there was but a short time betwixt, and then Leuconoë began27 to speak. Her sisters held their peace. “Love has captivated even this Sun, who rules all things by his æthereal light. I will relate the loves of the Sun. This God is supposed to have been the first to see the adultery of Venus with Mars; this God is the first to see everything. He was grieved at what was done, and showed to the husband, the son of Juno,28 the wrong done to his bed, and the place of the intrigue. Both his senses, and the work which his skilful right hand was then holding, quitted him on the instant. Immediately, he files out some slender chains of brass, and nets, and meshes, which can escape the eye. The finest threads cannot surpass that work, nor yet the cobweb that hangs from the top of the beam. He makes it so, too, as to yield to a slight touch, and a gentle movement, and skilfully arranges it drawn around the bed. When the wife and the gallant come into the same bed, being both caught through the artifice of the husband, and chains prepared by this new contrivance, they are held fast in the very midst of their embraces.

“The Lemnian God immediately threw open the folding doors29 of ivory, and admitted the Deities. There 145 IV. 186-207 they lay 127 IV. 186-210 disgracefully bound. And yet many a one of the Gods, not the serious ones, could fain wish thus to become disgraced. The Gods of heaven laughed, and for a long time was this the most noted story in all heaven. The Cytherean30 goddess exacts satisfaction of the Sun, in remembrance of this betrayal; and, in her turn, disturbs him with the like passion, who had disturbed her secret amours. What now, son of Hyperion,31 does thy beauty, thy heat, and thy radiant light avail thee? For thou, who dost burn all lands with thy flames, art now burnt with a new flame; and thou, who oughtst to be looking at everything, art gazing on Leucothoë, and on one maiden art fixing those eyes which thou oughtst to be fixing on the universe. At one time thou art rising earlier in the Eastern sky; at another thou art setting late in the waves; and in taking time to gaze on her, thou art lengthening the hours of mid-winter. Sometimes thou art eclipsed, and the trouble of thy mind affects thy light, and, darkened, thou fillest with terror the breasts of mortals. Nor art thou pale, because the form of the moon, nearer to the earth, stands in thy way. It is that passion which occasions this complexion. Thou lovest her alone, neither does Clymene, nor Rhodos,32 nor the most beauteous mother33 of the Ææan Circe engage thee, nor yet Clytie, who, though despised, was longing for thy embraces; at that very time thou wast suffering these grievous 146 IV. 208-232 pangs. Leucothoë occasioned the forgetting of many a damsel; she, whom Eurynome, the most beauteous of the 128 IV. 210-233 perfume-bearing34 nation produced.35 But after her daughter grew up, as much as the mother excelled all other Nymphs, so much did the daughter excel the mother. Her father, Orchamus, ruled over the Achæmenian36 cities, and he is reckoned the seventh in descent from the ancient Belus.37

“The pastures of the horses of the Sun are under the Western sky; instead of grass, they have ambrosia.38 That nourishes their limbs wearied with their daily service, and refits them for labor. And while the coursers are there eating their heavenly food, and night is taking her turn; the God enters the beloved chamber, changed into the shape of her mother Eurynome, and beholds Leucothoë among twice six handmaids, near the threshold, drawing out the smooth threads with twirling spindle. When, therefore, as though her mother, he has given kisses to her dear daughter, he says, “There is a secret matter, which I have to mention; maids, withdraw, and take not from a mother the privilege of speaking in private with her daughter.” They obey; and the God being left in the chamber without any witness, he says, ‘I am he, who measures out the long year, who beholds all things, and through whom the earth sees all things; the eye, in fact, of the universe. Believe me, thou art pleasing to me.’ She is affrighted; and in her alarm, both her distaff and her spindle fall from her relaxed fingers. Her very fear becomes her; and he, no longer delaying, returns to his true shape, and his wonted beauty. But the 147 IV. 233-237 maiden, although startled at the unexpected sight, overcome by the beauty of the God,39 and dismissing all complaints, submits to his embrace.

129IV. 234-244


Plutarch, in his Treatise ‘How to read the Poets,’ suggests a curious explanation of the discovery by the Sun of the intrigue of Mars and Venus. He says that such persons as are born under the conjunction of the planets Mars and Venus, are naturally of an amorous temperament; but that if the Sun does not happen then to be at a distance, their indiscretions will be very soon discovered.

Palæphatus gives a historical solution to the story. He says that Helius, the son of Vulcan, king of Egypt, resolving to cause his father’s laws against adultery to be strictly observed, and having been informed that a lady of the court had an intrigue with one of the courtiers, entered her apartment in the night, and obtaining ocular proof of the courtier’s guilt, caused him to be severely punished. He also tells us that the similarity of the name gave birth to the Fable which Homer was the first to relate, with a small variation, and which is here copied by Ovid. Libanius, deploring the burning of the Temple of Apollo near Antioch, complains of the ingratitude of Vulcan to that God, who had formerly discovered to him the infidelity of his wife; a subject upon which St. Chrysostom seems to think that the rhetorician would have done better to have been silent.


Clytie, in a fit of revenge, discovers the adventure of Leucothoë to her father, who orders her to be buried alive. The Sun, grieved at her misfortune, changed her into the frankincense tree; he also despises the informer, who pines away for love of him, and is at last changed into the sunflower.

Clytie envied her, (for the love of the Sun40 for her had not been moderate), and, urged on by resentment at a rival, she published the intrigue, and, when spread abroad, brought it to the notice of her father. He, fierce and unrelenting, cruelly buried her alive deep in the ground, as she entreated and stretched out her 148 IV. 238-267 hands towards the light of the Sun, and cried, “’Twas he that offered violence to me against my will;” and upon her he placed a heap of heavy sand. The son of Hyperion scattered it with his rays, and gave a passage to thee, by which thou mightst be able to put forth thy buried features.

But thou, Nymph, couldst not now raise thy head smothered with the weight of the earth; and there thou didst lie, a lifeless 130 IV. 244-270 body. The governor of the winged steeds is said to have beheld nothing more afflicting than that, since the lightnings that caused the death of Phaëton. He, indeed, endeavors, if he can, to recall her cold limbs to an enlivening heat, by the strength of his rays. But, since fate opposes attempts so great, he sprinkles both her body and the place with odoriferous nectar, and having first uttered many a complaint he says, “Still shalt thou reach the skies.”41 Immediately, the body, steeped in the heavenly nectar, dissolves, and moistens the earth with its odoriferous juices; and a shoot of frankincense having taken root by degrees through the clods, rises up and bursts the hillock with its top.

But the author of light came no more to Clytie (although love might have excused her grief, and her grief the betrayal); and he put an end to his intercourse with her. From that time she, who had made so mad a use of her passion, pined away, loathing the other Nymphs; and in the open air, night and day, she sat on the bare ground, with her hair dishevelled and unadorned. And for nine days, without water or food, she subsisted in her fast, merely on dew and her own tears; and she did not raise herself from the ground. She only used to look towards the face of the God as he moved along, and to turn her own features towards him. They say that her limbs became rooted fast in the ground; and a livid paleness turned part of her 149 IV. 268-277 color into that of a bloodless plant. There is a redness in some part; and a flower, very like a violet,42 conceals her face. Though she is held fast by a root, she turns towards the Sun, and though changed, she still retains her passion.


No ascertained historical fact can be found as the basis of the story of Leucothoë being buried alive by her father Orchamus, or of her rival 131 IV. 271-284 Clytie being metamorphosed into a sunflower. The story seems to have been most probably simply founded on principles of natural philosophy. Leucothoë, it is not unreasonable to suppose, may have been styled the daughter of Orchamus, king of Persia, for no other reason but because that Prince was the first to introduce the frankincense tree, which was called Leucothoë, into his kingdom; and it was added that she fell in love with Apollo, because the tree produces an aromatic drug much used in physic, of which that God was fabled to have been the inventor. The jealousy of Clytie was, perhaps, founded upon a fact, stated by some naturalists, that the sunflower is a plant which kills the frankincense tree, when growing near it. Pliny, however, who ascribes several properties to the sunflower, does not mention this among them.

Orchamus is nowhere mentioned by the ancient writers, except in the present instance.


Daphnis is turned into a stone. Scython is changed from a man into a woman. Celmus is changed into adamant. Crocus and Smilax are made into flowers. The Curetes are produced from a shower.

Thus she spoke; and the wondrous deed charms their ears. Some deny that it was possible to be done, some say that real Gods can do all things; but Bacchus is not one of them. When her sisters have become silent, Alcithoë is called upon; who running with her shuttle through the warp of the hanging web, says, “I keep silence upon the well-known amours of Daphnis, the 150 IV. 277-284 shepherd of Ida,43 whom the resentment of the Nymph, his paramour, turned into a stone. Such mighty grief inflames those who are in love. Nor do I relate how once Scython, the law of nature being altered, was of both sexes first a man, then a woman. Thee too, I pass by, O Celmus, now adamant, formerly most attached to Jupiter when little; and the Curetes,44 sprung from a plenteous shower of rain; Crocus, too, changed, together with Smilax,45 into little flowers; and I will entertain your minds with a pleasing novelty.”

132IV. 284-295


Most probably, the story of the shepherd Daphnis being turned into a stone, was no other than an allegorical method of expressing the insensibility of an individual. Thalia was the name of the Nymph who was thus affronted by Daphnis.

The story of Scython changing his sex, is perhaps based upon the fact, that the country of Thrace, which took the name of Thracia from a famous sorceress, was before called Scython; and that as it lost a name of the masculine gender for one of the feminine, in after times it became reported that Scython had changed sexes.

Pliny tells us that Celmus was a young man of remarkable wisdom and moderation, and that the passions making no impression on him, he was changed into adamant. Some, however, assert that he was foster-father to Jupiter, by whom he was enclosed in an impenetrable tower, for revealing the immortality of the Gods.

According to one account, Crocus and Smilax were a constant and happy married couple, who for their chaste and innocent life were said to have been changed into flowers; but another story is, that Crocus was a youth beloved by Smilax, and that on his rejecting the Nymph’s advances, they were both turned into flowers.

The story of the Curetes being sprung from rain, is possibly founded on the report that they were descended from Uranus and Tita, the Heaven and the Earth. Some suppose them to have been 151 IV. 285-310 the original inhabitants of the isle of Crete; and they are said to have watched over the infancy of Jupiter, by whom they were afterwards slain, for having concealed Epaphus from his wrath.


The Naiad Salmacis falls in love with the youth Hermaphroditus, who rejects her advances. While he is bathing, she leaps into the water, and seizing the youth in her arms, they become one body, retaining their different sexes.

Learn how Salmacis became infamous, and why it enervates, with its enfeebling waters, and softens the limbs bathed in it. The cause is unknown; but the properties of the fountain are very well known. The Naiads nursed a boy, born to Mercury of the Cytherean Goddess in the caves of Ida; whose face was such that therein both mother and father could be discerned; he likewise took his name from them. As soon as he had completed thrice five years, he forsook his native mountains, and leaving Ida, the place of his nursing, he loved to wander over 133 IV. 295-326 unknown spots, and to see unknown rivers, his curiosity lessening the fatigue. He went, too, to the Lycian46 cities, and the Carians, that border upon Lycia. Here he sees a pool of water, clear to the very ground at the bottom; here there are no fenny reeds, no barren sedge, no rushes with their sharp points. The water is translucent; but the edges of the pool are enclosed with green turf, and with grass ever verdant. A Nymph dwells there; but one neither skilled in hunting, nor accustomed to bend the bow, nor to contend in speed; the only one, too, of all the Naiads not known to the swift Diana. The report is, that her sisters often said to her, “Salmacis, do take either the javelin, or the painted quiver, and unite thy leisure with the toils of the chase.” She takes neither the javelin, nor the painted quiver, nor does she unite her leisure with the toils of the chase. But sometimes she is bathing her beauteous limbs in her own spring; 152 IV. 311-333 and often is she straitening her hair with a comb of Citorian boxwood,47 and consulting the waters, into which she looks, what is befitting her. At other times, covering her body with a transparent garment, she reposes either on the soft leaves or on the soft grass. Ofttimes is she gathering flowers. And then, too, by chance was she gathering them when she beheld the youth, and wished to possess him, thus seen.

But though she hastened to approach the youth, still she did not approach him before she had put herself in order, and before she had surveyed her garments, and put on her best looks, and deserved to be thought beautiful. Then thus did she begin to speak: “O youth, most worthy to be thought to be a God! if thou art a God, thou mayst well be Cupid; but, if thou art a mortal, happy are they who begot thee, and blessed is thy brother, and fortunate indeed thy sister, if thou hast one, and the nurse as well who gave thee the breast. But far, far more fortunate than all these is she; if thou hast any wife, if thou shouldst vouchsafe any one the honor of marriage. 134 IV. 326-349 And if any one is thy wife, then let my pleasure be stolen; but, if thou hast none, let me be thy wife, and let us unite in one tie.” After these things said, the Naiad is silent; a blush tinges the face of the youth: he knows not what love is, but even to blush becomes him. Such is the color of apples, hanging on a tree exposed to the sun, or of painted ivory, or of the moon blushing beneath her brightness when the aiding cymbals48 of brass are resounding in 153 IV. 334-349 vain. Upon the Nymph desiring, without ceasing, such kisses at least as he might give to his sister, and now laying her hands upon his neck, white as ivory, he says, “Wilt thou desist, or am I to fly, and to leave this place, together with thee?”

Salmacis is affrighted, and says, “I freely give up this spot to thee, stranger,” and, with a retiring step, she pretends to go away. But then looking back, and hid in a covert of shrubs, she lies concealed, and puts her bended knees down to the ground. But he, just like a boy, and as though unobserved on the retired sward, goes here and there, and in the sportive waves dips the soles of his feet, and then his feet as far as his ankles. Nor is there any delay; being charmed with the temperature of the pleasant waters, he throws off his soft garments from his tender body. Then, indeed, Salmacis is astonished, and burns with desire for his naked beauty. The eyes, too, of the Nymph are on fire, no otherwise than as when the Sun,49 most brilliant 154 IV. 349-375 with his clear orb, is reflected 135 IV. 349-371 from the opposite image of a mirror. With difficulty does she endure delay; hardly does she now defer her joy. Now she longs to embrace him; and now, distracted, she can hardly contain herself. He, clapping his body with his hollow palms, swiftly leaps into the stream, and throwing out his arms alternately, shines in the limpid water, as if any one were to cover statues of ivory, or white lilies, with clear glass.

“I have gained my point,” says the Naiad; “see, he is mine!” and, all her garments thrown aside, she plunges in the midst of the waters, and seizes him resisting her, and snatches reluctant kisses, and thrusts down her hands, and touches his breast against his will, and clings about the youth, now one way, and now another. Finally, as he is struggling against her, and desiring to escape, she entwines herself about him, like a serpent which the royal bird takes up and is bearing aloft; and as it hangs, it holds fast his head and feet, and enfolds his spreading wings with its tail. Or, as the ivy is wont to wind itself along the tall trunks of trees; and as the polypus50 holds fast its enemy, caught beneath the waves, by letting down his suckers on all sides; so does the descendant of Atlas51 still persist, and deny the Nymph the hoped-for joy. She presses him hard; and clinging to him with every limb, as she holds fast, she says, “Struggle as thou mayst, perverse one, still thou shalt not escape. So ordain it, ye Gods, and let no time 136 IV. 371-390 separate him from me, nor me from him.” Her prayers find propitious Deities, for the mingled bodies of the two are united,52 and one human shape is put upon them; just as if any one should see 155 IV. 376-391 branches beneath a common bark join in growing, and spring up together. So, when their bodies meet together in the firm embrace, they are no more two, and their form is twofold, so that they can neither be styled woman nor boy; they seem to be neither and both.

Therefore, when Hermaphroditus sees that the limpid waters, into which he had descended as a man, have made him but half a male, and that his limbs are softened in them, holding up his hands, he says, but now no longer with the voice of a male, “O, both father and mother, grant this favor to your son, who has the name of you both, that whoever enters these streams a man, may go out thence but half a man, and that he may suddenly become effeminate in the waters when touched.” Both parents, moved, give their assent to the words of their two-shaped son, and taint the fountain with drugs of ambiguous quality.


The only probable solution of this story seems to have been the fact that there was in Caria, near the town of Halicarnassus, as we read in Vitruvius, a fountain which was instrumental in civilizing certain barbarians who had been driven from that neighborhood by the Argive colony established there. These men being obliged to repair to the fountain for water, and meeting the Greek colonists there, their intercourse not only polished them, but in course of time corrupted them, by the introduction of the luxurious manners of Greece. Hence the fountain had the reputation of changing men into women.

Possibly the water of that fountain, by some peculiar chemical quality, made those who drank of it become soft and effeminate, as waters are to be occasionally found with extraordinary qualities. Lylius Gyraldus suggests, that several disgraceful adventures happened near this fountain (which was enclosed by walls), which in time gave it a bad name.


Bacchus, to punish the daughters of Minyas for their contempt of his worship, changes them into bats, and their work into ivy and vine leaves.

There was now an end of their stories; and still do the daughters 137 IV. 390-417 of Minyas go on with their work, and despise the God, and desecrate his festival; when, on a sudden, tambourines unseen resound with their jarring 156 IV. 392-417 noise; the pipe, too, with the crooked horn, and the tinkling brass, re-echo; myrrh and saffron shed their fragrant odors; and, a thing past all belief, their webs begin to grow green, and the cloth hanging in the loom to put forth foliage like ivy. Part changes into vines, and what were threads before, are now turned into vine shoots. Vine branches spring from the warp, and the purple lends its splendor to the tinted grapes.

And now the day was past, and the time came on, which you could neither call darkness nor light, but yet the very commencement of the dubious night along with the light. The house seemed suddenly to shake, and unctuous torches to burn, and the building to shine with glowing fires, and the fictitious phantoms of savage wild beasts to howl. Presently, the sisters are hiding themselves throughout the smoking house, and in different places are avoiding the fires and the light. While they are seeking a hiding-place, a membrane is stretched over their small limbs, and covers their arms with light wings; nor does the darkness suffer them to know by what means they have lost their former shape. No feathers bear them up; yet they support themselves on pellucid wings; and, endeavoring to speak, they utter a voice very diminutive even in proportion to their bodies, and express their low complaints with a squeaking sound. They frequent houses, not woods; and, abhorring the light, they fly abroad by night. And from the late evening do they derive their name.53


Tisiphone, being sent by Juno to the Palace of Athamas, causes him to become mad; on which he dashes his son Learchus to pieces against a wall. He then pursues his wife Ino, who throws herself headlong from the top of a rock into the sea, with her other son Melicerta in her arms: when Neptune, at the intercession of Venus, changes them into Sea Deities. The attendants of Ino, who have followed her in her flight, are changed, some into stone, and others into birds, as they are about to throw themselves into the sea after their mistress.

But then the Divine power of Bacchus is famed 157 IV. 417-441 throughout all 138 IV. 417-444 Thebes; and his aunt is everywhere telling of the great might of the new Divinity; she alone,54 out of so many sisters, is free from sorrow, except that which her sisters have occasioned. Juno beholds her, having her soul elevated with her children, and her alliance with Athamas, and the God her foster-child. She cannot brook this, and says to herself, “Was the child of a concubine able to transform the Mæonian sailors, and to overwhelm them in the sea, and to give the entrails of the son to be torn to pieces by his mother, and to cover the three daughters of Minyas with newly formed wings? Shall Juno be able to do nothing but lament these griefs unrevenged? And is that sufficient for me? Is this my only power? He himself instructs me what to do. It is right to be taught even by an enemy. And what madness can do,A he shows enough, and more than enough, by the slaughter of Pentheus. Why should not Ino, too, be goaded by madness, and submit to an example kindred to those of her sisters?”

There is a shelving path, shaded with dismal yew, which leads through profound silence to the infernal abodes. Here languid Styx exhales vapors; and the new-made ghosts descend this way, and phantoms when they have enjoyed55 funeral rites. Horror and winter possess these dreary regions far and wide, and the ghosts newly arrived know not where the way is that leads to the Stygian city, or where is the dismal palace of the black Pluto. The wide city has a thousand passages, and gates open on every side. And as the sea receives the rivers for the whole earth, so does that spot56 receive 158 IV. 442-459 all the souls; nor is it too little for any amount of people, 139 IV. 444-461 nor does it perceive the crowd to increase. The shades wander about, bloodless, without body and bones; and some throng the place of judgment; some the abode of the infernal prince. Some pursue various callings, in imitation of their former life; their own punishment confines others.

Juno, the daughter of Saturn, leaving her celestial habitation, submits to go thither, so much does she give way to hatred and to anger. Soon as she has entered there, and the threshold groans, pressed by her sacred body, Cerberus raises his threefold mouth, and utters triple barkings at the same moment. She summons the Sisters,57 begotten of Night, terrible and implacable Goddesses. They are sitting before the doors of the prison shut close with adamant, and are combing black vipers from their hair. Soon as they recognize her amid the shades of darkness, these Deities arise. This place is called “the accursed.” Tityus58 is giving his entrails to be mangled, and is stretched over nine acres. By thee, Tantalus,59 no waters are reached, and the tree which overhangs thee, starts away. Sisyphus,60 thou 159 IV. 460-481 art either catching or thou art pushing on the stone destined to fall again. Ixion61 is whirled 140 IV. 461-496 round, and both follows and flies from himself. The granddaughters, too, of Belus, who dared to plot the destruction of their cousins, are everlastingly taking up the water which they lose. After the daughter of Saturn has beheld all these with a stern look, and Ixion before all; again, after him, looking upon Sisyphus, she says,

“Why does he alone, of all the brothers, suffer eternal punishment? and why does a rich palace contain the proud Athamas, who, with his wife, has ever despised me?” And then she explains the cause of her hatred and of her coming, and what it is she desires. What she desires is, that the palace of Cadmus shall not stand, and that the Sister Furies shall involve Athamas in crime. She mingles together promises, commands, and entreaties, and solicits the Goddesses. When Juno has thus spoken, Tisiphone, with her locks dishevelled as they are, shakes them, and throws back from her face the snakes crawling over it; and thus she says: “There is no need of a long preamble; whatever thou commandest, consider it as done: leave these hateful realms, and betake thyself to the air of a better heaven.”

Juno returns, overjoyed; and, preparing to enter heaven, Iris,62 the daughter of Thaumas, purifies her by sprinkling water. Nor is there any delay; the persecuting Tisiphone63 takes a torch reeking with gore, and puts on a cloak red with fluid blood, and is girt 160 IV. 482-511 with twisted snakes, and then goes forth from her abode. Mourning attends her as she goes, and Fright, and Terror, and Madness with quivering features. She now reaches the threshold; the Æolian door-posts are said to have shaken, and paleness tints the maple door; the Sun, too, flies from the place. His wife is terrified at these prodigies; Athamas, too, is alarmed, and they are both preparing to leave the house. The baneful Erinnys stands in the way, and blocks up the passage; and extending her arms twisted round with folds of vipers, she shakes her locks; the snakes thus moved, emit a sound. Some lying about her shoulders, some gliding around her temples, send forth hissings and 141 IV. 496-523 vomit forth corruption, and dart forth their tongues. Then she tears away two snakes from the middle of her hair, which, with pestilential hand, she throws against them. But these creep along the breasts of Ino and Athamas, and inspire them with direful intent. Nor do they inflict any wounds upon their limbs; it is the mind that feels the direful stroke. She had brought, too, with her a monstrous composition of liquid poison, the foam of the mouth of Cerberus, and the venom of Echidna;64 and purposeless aberrations, and the forgetfulness of a darkened understanding, and crime, and tears, and rage, and the love of murder. All these were blended together; and, mingled with fresh blood she had boiled them in a hollow vessel of brass, stirred about with a stalk of green hemlock. And while they are trembling, she throws the maddening poison into the breasts of them both, and moves their inmost vitals. Then repeatedly waving her torch in the same circle, she swiftly follows up the flames thus excited with fresh flames. Thus triumphant, and having executed her commands, she returns to the empty realms of the great Pluto; and she ungirds the snakes which she had put on. 161 IV. 512-533 Immediately the son of Æolus, filled with rage, cries out, in the midst of his palace, “Ho! companions, spread your nets in this wood; for here a lioness was just now beheld by me with two young ones.” And, in his madness, he follows the footsteps of his wife, as though of a wild beast; and he snatches Learchus, smiling and stretching forth his little arms from the bosom of his mother, and three or four times he whirls him round in the air like a sling, and, frenzied, he dashes in pieces65 the bones of the infant against the hard stones. Then, at last, the mother being roused (whether it was grief that caused it, or whether the power of the poison spread over her), yells aloud, and runs away distracted, with dishevelled hair; and carrying thee, Melicerta, a little child, in 142 IV. 523-542 her bare arms, she cries aloud “Evoë, Bacche.” At the name of Bacchus, Juno smiles, and says, “May thy foster-child66 do thee this service.”

There is a rock67 that hangs over the sea; the lowest part is worn hollow by the waves, and defends the waters covered thereby from the rain. The summit is rugged, and stretches out its brow over the open sea. This Ino climbs (madness gives her strength), and, restrained by no fear, she casts herself and her burden68 into the deep; the water, struck by her fall, is white with foam. But Venus, pitying the misfortunes of her guiltless granddaughter,69 in soothing words thus addresses her uncle: “O Neptune, thou God of the waters, 162 IV. 534-556 to whom fell a power next after the empire of heaven, great things indeed do I request; but do thou take compassion on my kindred, whom thou seest being tossed upon the boundless Ionian sea;70 and add them to thy Deities. I have surely some interest with the sea, if, indeed, I once was foam formed in the hollowedB deep, and my Grecian name is derived71 from that.” Neptune yields to her request; and takes away from them all that is mortal, and gives them a venerable majesty; and alters both their name and their shape, and 143 IV. 542-562 calls Palæmon a Divinity,72 together with his mother Leucothoë.

Her Sidonian attendants,73 so far as they could, tracing the prints of their feet, saw the last of them on the edge of the rock; and thinking that there was no doubt of their death, they lamented the house of Cadmus, with their hands tearing their hair and their garments; and they threw the odium on the Goddess, as being unjust and too severe against the concubine. Juno could not endure their reproaches, and said, “I will make you yourselves tremendous memorials of my displeasure.” Confirmation followed her words. For the one who had been especially attached, said, “I will follow the queen into the sea;” and about to give the leap, she could not be moved any way, and adhering to the rock, there she stuck fast. Another, while she was attempting to beat her breast with the accustomed blows, perceived in the attempt that her arms had become stiff. One, as by chance she had extended her 163 IV. 556-562 hands over the waters of the sea, becoming a rock, held out her hands in those same waters. You might see the fingers of another suddenly hardened in her hair, as she was tearing her locks seized on the top of her head. In whatever posture each was found at the beginning of the change, in the same she remained. Some became birds; which, sprung from Ismenus, skim along the surface of the waves in those seas, with the wings which they have assumed.


The story of Ino, Athamas, and Melicerta appears to have been based upon historical facts, as we are informed by Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Pausanias.

Athamas, the son of Æolus, and great-grandson of Deucalion, having, on the death of Themisto, his first wife, married Ino, the daughter of Cadmus, divorced her soon afterwards, to marry Nephele, by whom he had Helle and Phryxus. She having been divorced in her turn, he took Ino back again, and by her had Learchus and Melicerta. Ino, not being able to endure the presence of the children of Nephele, endeavored to destroy them. The city of Thebes being at that time afflicted with famine, 144 IV. 563-571 which was said to have been caused by Ino, who ordered the seed to be parched before it was sown, Athamas ordered the oracle of Delphi to be consulted. The priests, either having been bribed, or the messengers having been corrupted, word was brought, that, to remove this affliction, the children of Nephele must be sacrificed.

Phryxus being warned of the designs of his stepmother, embarked in a ship, with his sister Helle, and sailed for Colchis, where he met with a kind reception from his kinsman Æetes. The young princess, however, either becoming sea-sick, and leaning over the bulwarks of the vessel, fell overboard and was drowned, or died a natural death in the passage of the Hellespont, to which she gave its name from that circumstance. Athamas, having discovered the deceitful conduct of Ino, in his rage killed her son Learchus, and sought her, for the purpose of sacrificing her to his vengeance. To avoid his fury, she fled with her son Melicerta, and, being pursued, threw herself from a rock into the sea. To console her relatives, the story was probably invented, that the Gods had changed Ino and Melicerta into Sea Deities, under the names of Leucothoë and Palæmon. Melicerta was afterwards worshipped in the Isle of Tenedos, where children were offered to him in sacrifice. In his honor, Glaucus established the Isthmian games, which were celebrated for many ages at Corinth; and, being interrupted for a time, were revived by Theseus, in honor of Neptune. Leucothoë was also worshipped at Rome, and the Roman women used to offer up their vows to her for their brothers’ children, not daring to supplicate the Goddess for their own, because she had been unfortunate in hers. This Ovid tells us in the Sixth Book of the Fasti. The Romans gave the name of Matuta to Ino, and Melicerta, or Palæmon, was called Portunus.

164IV. 565-587

The circumstance mentioned by Ovid, that some of Ino’s attendants were changed into birds, and others into rocks, is, perhaps, only a poetical method of saying that some of her attendants escaped, while others perished with her.


The misfortunes of his family oblige Cadmus to leave Thebes, and to retire with his wife Hermione to Illyria, where they are changed into serpents.

The son of Agenor knows not that his daughter and his little grandson are now Deities of the sea. Forced by sorrow, and a succession of calamities, and the prodigies which, many in number, he had beheld, the founder flies from his city, as though the ill-luck of the spot, and not his own, pressed hard upon him, and driven, in a long series of wandering, he reaches the coast of Illyria, with his exiled wife. And now, loaded with woes and with years, while they are reflecting on the first disasters of their house, and in their discourse are recounting their misfortunes, Cadmus says, “Was that dragon a sacred one, that was pierced 145 IV. 572-603 by my spear, at the time when, setting out from Sidon, I sowed the teeth of the dragon in the ground, a seed till then unknown? If the care of the Gods avenges this with resentment so unerring, I pray that I myself, as a serpent, may be lengthened out into an extended belly.” Thus he says; and, as a serpent, he is lengthened out into an extended belly, and perceives scales growing on his hardened skin, and his black body become speckled with azure spots; and he falls flat on his breast, and his legs, joined into one, taper out by degrees into a thin round point. His arms are still remaining; those arms which remain he stretches out; and, as the tears are flowing down his face, still that of a man, he says, “Come hither, wife, come hither, most unhappy one, and, while something of me yet remains, touch me; and take my hand, while it is still a hand, and while I am not a serpent all over.” He, indeed, desires to say more, but, on a sudden, his tongue is divided into two parts. Nor are words in his power when he offers to 165 IV. 588-603 speak; and as often as he attempts to utter any complaints, he makes a hissing: this is the voice that Nature leaves him. His wife, smiting her naked breast with her hand, cries aloud, “Stay, Cadmus! and deliver thyself, unhappy one, from this monstrous form. Cadmus, what means this? Where are thy feet? where are both thy shoulders and thy hands? where is thy color and thy form, and, while I speak, where all else besides? Why do ye not, celestial Gods, turn me as well into a similar serpent?” Thus she spoke; he licked the face of his wife, and crept into her dear bosom, as though he recognized her; and gave her embraces, and reached her well-known neck.

Whoever is by, (some attendants are present), is alarmed; but the crested snakes soothe them with their slippery necks, and suddenly they are two serpents, and in joined folds they creep along, until they enter the covert of an adjacent grove. Now, too, do they neither shun mankind, nor hurt them with wounds, and the gentle serpents keep in mind what once they were.


After Cadmus had reigned at Thebes many years, a conspiracy was formed against him. Being driven from the throne, and his grandson Pentheus assuming the crown, he and his wife Hermione retired into Illyria, where, as Apollodorus says, he commanded the Illyrian army, and at length was chosen king: on his death, the story here related by Ovid was 146 IV. 604-608 invented. It is possible that it may have been based on the following grounds:—

The Phœnicians were anciently called ‘Achivi,’ which name they still retained after their establishment in Greece. ‘Chiva’ being also the Hebrew, and perhaps Phœnician word for ‘a serpent,’ the Greeks, probably in reference to the Phœnician origin of Cadmus, reported after his death, that he and his wife were serpents; and in time, that transformation may have been stated to have happened at the end of his life. According to Aulus Gellius, the ancient inhabitants of Illyria had two eyelids to each eye, and with their looks, when angered, they were able to kill those whom they beheld stedfastly. The Greeks hence called them serpents and basilisks; and, it is not unlikely, that when Cadmus retired among them, they said that he had become one of the Illyrians, otherwise a dragon, or a serpent. All the ancient writers who mention his history agree that Cadmus really did retire into Illyria, where he first assisted the Enchelians in their war against the Illyrians. The latter were defeated, and, to obtain a peace from the Enchelians, they gave the crown to Cadmus; to which, on his death, his son Illyrus succeeded. The historian Christodorus, quoted by Pausanias, 166 IV. 604-617 says that he built the city of Nygnis, in the country of the Enchelians.

Some writers have supposed, upon the authority of Euhemerus as quoted by Eusebius that Cadmus was not the son of Agenor, but was one of his officers, who eloped thence with Hermione, a singing girl. Others suppose that Cadmus is not really a proper name, but that it signifies a ‘leader,’ or ‘conductor;’ and that he received the name from leading a colony into Greece. Bochart says that he was called Cadmus, because he came from the eastern part of Phœnicia, which is called in Scripture ‘Cadmonia,’ or ‘oriental;’ and that Hermione probably received her name from Mount Hermon.


Perseus, the son of Jupiter and Danaë, having killed Medusa, carries her head into Africa, where the blood that runs from it produces serpents. Atlas, king of that country, terrified at the remembrance of an oracle, which had foretold that his golden fruit should be taken by one of the sons of Jupiter, not only orders him to depart, but even resorts to violence to drive him away, on which Perseus shows him the Gorgon’s head, and changes him into a mountain.

But yet their grandson, Bacchus gave them both a great consolation, under this change of form; whom India, subdued by him, worshipped as a God, and whom Achaia honored with erected temples. Acrisius the son of Abas,74 descended 147 IV. 608-644 of the same race,75 alone remained, to drive him from the walls of the Argive city, and to bear arms against the God, and to believe him not to be the offspring of Jove. Neither did he think Perseus to be the offspring of Jupiter, whom Danaë had conceived in a shower of gold; but soon (so great is the power of truth) Acrisius was sorry, both that he had insulted the God, and that he had not acknowledged his grandson. The one was now placed in heaven, while the other, bearing the memorable spoil of the viperous monster, cut the yielding air with hissing wings; and while the conqueror was hovering over the 167 IV. 617-652 Libyan sands, bloody drops, from the Gorgon’s head, fell down, upon receiving which, the ground quickened them into various serpents. For this cause, that region is filled and infested with snakes.

Carried thence, by the fitful winds, through boundless space, he is borne now here, now there, just like a watery cloud, and, from the lofty sky, looks down upon the earth, removed afar; and he flies over the whole world. Three times he saw the cold Bears, thrice did he see the claws of the Crab; ofttimes he was borne to the West, many a time to the East. And now, the day declining, afraid to trust himself to the night, he stopped in the Western part of the world, in the kingdom of Atlas; and there he sought a little rest, until Lucifer should usher forth the fires of Aurora, Aurora, the chariot of the day. Here was Atlas, the son of Iapetus, surpassing all men in the vastness of his body. Under this king was the extremity of the earth, and the sea which holds its waters under the panting horses of the Sun, and receives the wearied chariot. For him, a thousand flocks, and as many herds, wandered over the pastures, and no neighboring places disturbed the land. Leaves of the trees, shining with radiant gold, covered branches of gold, and apples of gold. “My friend,” said Perseus to him, “if the glory of a noble race influences thee, Jupiter is the author of my descent; or if thou art an admirer of exploits, thou wilt admire mine. I beg of thee hospitality, and a resting place.” The other was mindful of an ancient oracle. The Parnassian Themis had given this response: “A time will come, 148 IV. 644-662 Atlas, when thy tree shall be stripped of its gold, and a son of Jove shall have the honor of the prize.” Dreading this, Atlas had enclosed his orchard with solid walls, and had given it to be kept by a huge dragon;76 and expelled all strangers from his territories. To Perseus, too, he says, “Far hence begone, lest the glory of the exploits, to which thou falsely pretendest, and Jupiter as well, be far from protecting thee.” He adds violence as well to his threats, and tries to drive him from his doors, as he hesitates and mingles resolute words with 168 IV. 653-662 persuasive ones. Inferior in strength (for who could be a match for Atlas in strength?), he says “Since my friendship is of so little value to thee, accept this present;” and then, turning his face away, he exposes on the left side the horrible features of Medusa. Atlas, great as he is, becomes a mountain. Now his beard and his hair are changed into woods; his shoulders and his hands become mountain ridges, and what was formerly his head, is the summit on the top of the mountain. His bones become stones; then, enlarged on every side, he grows to an immense height (so you willed it, ye Gods), and the whole heaven, with so many stars, rests upon him.


The story of the seduction of Danaë, the mother of Perseus, by Jupiter, in the form of a shower of gold, has been thus explained by some of the ancient writers. Acrisius, hearing of a prediction that Danaë, his daughter, should bring forth a child that would kill him, caused her to be shut in a tower with brazen gates, or, according to some, in a subterraneous chamber, covered with plates of that metal; which place, according to Pausanias, remained till the time of Perilaus, the king of Argos, by whom it was destroyed. The precautions of Acrisius were, however, made unavailing by his brother Prœtus; who, falling in love with his niece, corrupted the guards with gold, and gained admission into the tower. Danaë, being delivered of Perseus, her father caused them to be exposed in a boat to the mercy of the waves. Being cast on shore near Seriphus, the king, Polydectes, gave them a hospitable reception, and took care of the education of Perseus.

Diodorus Siculus says that the Gorgons were female warriors, who inhabited the neighborhood of Lake Tritonis, in Libya. Pausanias explains the story of Medusa, by saying that she ruled the people in that neighborhood, and laid waste the lands of the nations in her vicinity. Perseus, having fled, with some companions, from Peloponnesus, surprised her by night, and killed her, together with her escort. The next morning, the beauty of her face appeared so remarkable that he cut it off, and afterwards 149 took it with him to Greece, to show it to the people, who could not look on it without being struck with astonishment. On this explanation we may remark, that if it is true, Perseus must have had more skill than the surgeons of our day, in being able to preserve the beauty of the features so long after death.

Again, many of the ancient historians, with Pliny, Athenæus, and Solinus, think that the Gorgons were wild women of a savage nature, living in caves and forests, who, falling on wayfarers, committed dreadful atrocities. Palæphatus and Fulgentius think that the Gorgons really were three young women, possessed of great wealth, which they employed in a very careful manner; Phorcus, 169 their father, having left them three islands, and a golden statue of Minerva, which they placed in their common treasury. They had one minister in common for the management of their affairs, who used to go for that purpose from one island to another, whence arose the story that they had but one eye, and that they lent it to one another alternately. Perseus, a fugitive from Argos, hearing of the golden statue, determined to obtain it; and with that view, seized their minister, or, in the allegorical language of the poets, took their eye away from them. He then sent them word, that if they would give him the statue, he would deliver up his captive, and threatened, in case of refusal, to put him to death. Stheno and Euryale consented to this; but Medusa resisting, she was killed by Perseus. Upon his obtaining the statue, which was called the Gorgon, or Gorgonian, he broke it in pieces, and placed the head on the prow of his ship. As the sight of this, and the fame of the exploits of Perseus, spread terror everywhere, and caused passive submission to him, the fable originated, that with Medusa’s head he turned his enemies into stone. Landing in the Isle of Seriphus, the king fled, with all his subjects; and, on entering the chief city, finding nothing but the bare stones there, he caused the report to be spread, that he had petrified the inhabitants.

Servius, in his Commentary on the Æneid, quotes an opinion of Ammonius Serenus, that the Gorgons were young women of such beauty as to make a great impression on all that saw them; for which reason they were said to turn them into statues. Le Clerc thinks that the story bears reference to a voyage which the Phœnicians had made in ancient times to the coast of Africa, whence they brought a great number of horses; and that the name ‘Perseus’ comes from the Phœnician word ‘pharscha,’ ‘a horseman;’ while the horse Pegasus was so called from the Phœnician ‘pagsous,’ ‘a bridled horse,’ according to the conjecture of Bochart. Alexander of Myndus, a historian quoted by Athenæus, says that Libya had an animal which the natives called ‘gorgon;’ that it resembled a sheep, and with its breath killed all those who approached it; that a tuft of hair fell over its eyes, which was so heavy as to be removed with difficulty, for the purpose of seeing the objects around it; but that when it was removed, by its looks it struck dead any person whom it gazed upon. He says, that in the war with Jugurtha, some of the soldiers of Marius were thus slain by it, and that it was at last killed by means of arrows discharged from a great distance.

The Gorgons are said to have inhabited the Gorgades, islands in the 150 IV. 663-670 Æthiopian Sea, the chief of which was called Cerna, according to Diodorus and Palæphatus. It is not improbable that the Cape Verde Islands were called by this name. The fable of the transformation of Atlas into the mountain of that name may possibly have been based upon the simple fact, that Perseus killed him in the neighborhood of that range, from which circumstance it derived the name which it has borne ever since. The golden apples, which Atlas guarded with so much care, were probably either gold mines, which Atlas had discovered in the mountains of his country, and had secured with armed men and watchful dogs; or sheep, whose fleeces were extremely valuable for their fineness; or else oranges and lemons, and other fruits peculiar to very hot climates, 170 IV. 663-673 for the production of which the poets especially remarked the country of Tingitana (the modern Tangier), as being very celebrated.


Perseus, after his victory over Atlas, and his change into a mountain, arrives in Æthiopia, at the time when Andromeda is exposed to be devoured by a monster. He kills it, and hides the Gorgon’s head under the sand, covered with sea-weed and plants; which are immediately turned into coral. He then renders thanks to the Gods for his victory, and marries Andromeda. At the marriage feast he relates the manner in which he had killed Medusa; and the reason why Minerva had changed her hair into serpents.

The grandson of Hippotas77 had shut up the winds in their eternal prison; and Lucifer, who reminds men of their work, was risen in the lofty sky, in all his splendor. Resuming his wings, Perseus binds his feet with them on either side, and is girt with his crooked weapon, and cleaves the liquid air with his winged ankles. Nations innumerable being left behind, around and below, he beholds the people of the Æthiopians and the lands of Cepheus. There the unjust Ammon78 had ordered the innocent Andromeda to suffer punishment for her mother’s tongue.79

151IV. 671-700

Soon as the descendant of Abas beheld her, with her arms bound to the hard rock, but that the light breeze was moving her hair, and her eyes were running 171 IV. 674-700 with warm80 tears, he would have thought her to be a work of marble. Unconsciously he takes fire, and is astonished; captivated with the appearance of her beauty, thus beheld, he almost forgets to wave his wings in the air. When he has lighted on the ground, he says, “O thou, undeserving of these chains, but rather of those by which anxious lovers are mutually united, disclose to me, inquiring both the name of this land and of thyself, and why thou wearest these chains.” At first she is silent, and, a virgin, she does not dare address81 a man; and with her hands she would have concealed her blushing features, if she had not been bound; her eyes, ’twas all she could do, she filled with gushing tears. Upon his often urging her, lest she should seem unwilling to confess her offence, she told the name both of her country and herself, and how great had been the confidence of her mother in her beauty. All not yet being told, the waves roared, and a monster approaching,82 appeared with its head raised out of the boundless ocean, and covered the wide expanse with its breast. The virgin shrieks aloud; her mournful father, and her distracted mother, are there, both wretched, but the latter more justly so. Nor do they bring her any help with them, but tears suitable to the occasion, and lamentations, and they cling round her body, bound to the rock.

Then thus the stranger says: “Plenty of time will be left for your tears hereafter, the season for giving aid is but short. If I were to demand her in marriage, I, Perseus, the son of Jove, and of her whom, in prison, Jove embraced in the impregnating shower of gold, Perseus, the conqueror of the Gorgon with her serpent 172 IV. 700-726 locks, and who has dared, on waving 152 IV. 700-729 wings, to move through the ætherial air, I should surely be preferred before all as your son-in-law. To so many recommendations I endeavor to add merit (if only the Deities favor me). I only stipulate that she may be mine, if preserved by my valor.” Her parents embrace the condition, (for who could hesitate?) and they entreat his aid, and promise as well, the kingdom as a dowry. Behold! as a ship onward speeding, with the beak fixed in its prow, plows the waters, impelled by the perspiring arms83 of youths; so the monster, moving the waves by the impulse of its breast, was as far distant from the rocks, as that distance in the mid space of air, which a Balearic string can pass with the whirled plummet of lead; when suddenly the youth, spurning the earth with his feet, rose on high into the clouds. As the shadow of the hero was seen on the surface of the sea, the monster vented its fury on the shadow so beheld. And as the bird of Jupiter,84 when he has espied on the silent plain a serpent exposing its livid back to the sun, seizes it behind; and lest it should turn upon him its raging mouth, fixes his greedy talons in its scaly neck; so did the winged hero, in his rapid flight through the yielding air, press the back of the monster, and the descendant of Inachus thrust his sword up to the very hilt in its right shoulder, as it roared aloud.

Tortured by the grievous wound, it sometimes raises itself aloft in the air, sometimes it plunges beneath the waves, sometimes it wheels about, just like a savage boar, which a pack of hounds in full cry around him affrights. With swift wings he avoids the eager bites85 of the monster, and, with his crooked sword, one while wounds its back covered with hollow shells, where it is exposed, at another time the ribs of its sides, and now, 173 IV. 726-756 where its tapering tail terminates in that of a fish. The monster vomits forth from its mouth streams mingled with red blood; its wings, made heavy by it, are wet with the 153 IV. 729-762 spray. Perseus, not daring any longer to trust himself on his dripping pinions,86 beholds a rock, which with its highest top projects from the waters when becalmed, but is now covered by the troubled sea. Resting on that, and clinging to the upper ridge87 of the rock with his left hand, three or four times he thrusts his sword through its entrails aimed at by him. A shout, with applause, fills the shores and the lofty abodes of the Gods. Cassiope and Cepheus, the father, rejoice, and salute him as their son-in-law, and confess that he is the support and the preserver of their house.

Released from her chains, the virgin walks along, both the reward and the cause of his labors. He himself washes his victorious hands in water taken from the sea; and that it may not injure the snake-bearing head with the bare sand, he softens the ground with leaves; and strews some weeds produced beneath the sea, and lays upon them the face of Medusa, the daughter of Phorcys. The fresh weeds, being still alive, imbibed the poison of the monster in their spongy pith, and hardened by its touch; and felt an unwonted stiffness in their branches and their leaves. But the Nymphs of the sea attempt the wondrous feat on many other weeds, and are pleased at the same result; and raise seed again from them scattered on the waves. Even now the same nature remains in the coral, that it receives hardness from contact with the air; and what was a plant in the sea, out of the sea becomes stone.

To three Deities he erects as many altars of turf; the left one to Mercury; the right to thee, warlike Virgin; the altar of Jove is in the middle. A cow is sacrificed to Minerva; a calf to the wing-footed God, and a bull to thee, greatest of the Deities. Forthwith he takes 174 IV. 757-783 Andromeda, and the reward of an achievement so great, without any dowry. Hymenæus and Cupid wave their torches before them; the fires are heaped with abundant perfumes. Garlands, too, are hanging from the houses: flageolets and lyres, and pipes, and songs resound, the happy tokens of a joyous mind. The folding-doors thrown open, 154 IV. 762-787 the entire gilded halls are displayed, and the nobles of king Cepheus sit down at a feast furnished with splendid preparations. After they have done the feast, and have cheered their minds with the gifts of the generous Bacchus, the grandson of Abas inquires the customs and habits of the country. Immediately one of them, Lyncides, tells him, on his inquiring, the manners and habits of the inhabitants. Soon as he had told him these things, he said, “Now, most valiant Perseus, tell us, I beseech thee, with how great valor and by what arts thou didst cut off the head all hairy with serpents.” The descendant of Abas tells them that there is a spot situate beneath cold Atlas, safe in its bulwark of a solid mass; that, in the entrance of this, dwelt the two sisters, the daughters of Phorcys, who shared the use of a single eye; that he stealthily, by sly craft, while it was being handed over,88 obtained possession of this by putting his hand in the way; and that through rocks far remote, and pathless, and bristling with woods on their craggy sides, he had arrived at the abodes of the Gorgons, and saw everywhere, along the fields and the roads, statues of men and wild beasts turned into stone, from their natural form, at the sight of Medusa; yet that he himself, from the reflection on the brass of the shield89 which his left hand bore, beheld 175 IV. 783-803 the visage of the horrible Medusa; and that, while a sound sleep held her and her serpents entranced, he took the head from off the neck; and that Pegasus and his brother,90 fleet with wings, were produced from the blood of her, their mother. He added, too, the dangers of his lengthened 155 IV. 787-803 journey, themselves no fiction;91 what seas, what lands he had seen beneath him from on high, and what stars he had reached with his waving wings.

Yet, before it was expected,92 he was silent; whereupon one of the nobles rejoined, inquiring why she alone, of the sisters, wore snakes mingled alternately with her hair. “Stranger,” said he, “since thou inquirest on a matter worthy to be related, hear the cause of the thing thou inquirest after. She was the most famed for her beauty, and the coveted hope of many wooers; nor, in the whole of her person, was any part more worthy of notice than her hair: I have met with some who said they had seen it. The sovereign of the sea is said to have deflowered her in the Temple of Minerva. The daughter of Jove turned away, and covered her chaste eyes with her shield. And that this might not be unpunished, she changed the hair of the Gorgon into hideous snakes. Now, too, that she may alarm her surprised foes with terror, she bears in front upon her breast, those snakes which she thus produced.”



It is extremely difficult to surmise what may have given rise to many of the fabulous circumstances here narrated. It has been conjectured by some, that Pegasus and his brother Chrysaor, the two horses produced from the blood of Medusa, were really two ships in the harbor of the island where that princess was residing at the time when she was slain by Perseus; and that, on that event, they were seized by him. Perhaps they had the figure of a winged horse on the prow; from which circumstance the fable had its origin. Possibly, the story of the production of coral from the blood of Medusa may have originated in the fact, that on the defeat of the Gorgons, navigation became more safe, and, consequently, the fishing for coral more common that it had been before.

The story of the exposure of Andromeda may be founded on the fact, that she was contracted by her parents against her will to some fierce, piratical prince, who infested the adjacent seas with his depredations; and that the betrothal was made, on condition that he should 156 allow the realms of her father, Cepheus, to be free and undisturbed; Perseus, being informed of this, slew the pirate, and Phineus having been kept in a state of inactivity through dread of the valor of Perseus, it was fabled that he had been changed into a stone. This interpretation of the story is the one suggested by Vossius.

Some writers think, that Phineus, the uncle of Andromeda, was the enemy from which she was rescued by Perseus, and who is here represented under the form of a monster; while others suggest that this monster was the name of the ship in which the pirate before mentioned was to have carried away Andromeda.

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