The Metamorphoses of Ovid

by Ovid

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Jason, after having met with various adventures, arrives with the Argonauts in Colchis, and demands the Golden Fleece. Medea falls in love with Jason, and by the power of her enchantments preserves him from the dangers he has to encounter in obtaining it. He obtains the prize, and carrying off Medea, returns in triumph to Thessaly.

And now the Minyæ1 were ploughing the sea in the Pagasæan ship;2 and Phineus prolonging a needy old age under perpetual night, had been visited, and the youthful sons of the North wind had driven the birds with the faces of virgins from before the mouth of the distressed old man;3 and having suffered many things under the famous Jason, had reached at length the rapid waters of the muddy Phasis.

And while they go to the king, and ask the fleece that once belonged to Phryxus, and conditions are offered them, dreadful for the number of mighty labors; in the meantime, the daughter of Æetes4 conceives a violent flame; and having long struggled against it, after she is unable to conquer her frenzy by reason, she says: “In vain, Medea, dost thou resist; some God, who, I know not, is opposing thee. It is a wonder too, if it is not this, or at least something like this, which is called ‘love.’ For why do the commands 249 VII. 15-44 of my father appear too rigid for me? and yet too rigid they are. Why 223 VII. 16-48 am I in dread, lest he whom I have seen but so lately, should perish? What is the cause of alarm so great? Banish the flames conceived in thy virgin breast, if thou canst, unhappy creature. If I could, I would be more rational. But a new power draws me on, against my will; and Cupid persuades one thing, reason another. I see which is the more proper course, and I approve of it, while I follow the wrong one. Why, royal maiden, art thou burning for a stranger, and why coveting the nuptial ties of a strange country? This land, too, may give thee something which thou mayst love. Whether he shall live, or whether die, is in the disposal of the Gods. Yet he may survive; and that I may pray for, even without love. For what fault has Jason committed? Whom, but one of hard heart, would not the youthful age of Jason affect? his descent too, and his valor? Whom, though these other points were wanting, would not his beauty move? at least, he has moved my breast. But unless I shall give him aid, he will be breathed upon by the mouths of the bulls; and will engage with his own kindred crops, an enemy sprung from the earth; or he will be given as a cruel prey to the ravenous dragon. If I allow this, then I will confess that I was born of a tigress; then, too, that I carry steel and stone in my heart. Why do I not as well behold him perish? Why not, too, profane my eyes by seeing it? Why do I not stimulate the bulls against him, and the fierce sons of the earth, and the never-sleeping dragon? May the Gods award better things. And yet these things are not to be prayed for, but must be effected by myself. Shall I then betray the kingdom of my father? and by my aid shall some stranger, I know not who, be saved; that being delivered by my means, he may spread his sails to the winds without me, and be the husband of another; and I, Medea, be left for punishment? If he can do this, and if he is capable of preferring another to me, let him perish in his ingratitude. But not such is his countenance, not such that nobleness of soul, that gracefulness of person, that I should fear treachery, and forgetfulness 250 VII. 45-61 of what I deserve. Besides, he shall first pledge his faith, and I will oblige the Gods to be witnesses of our compact. What then dost thou dread, thus secure? Haste then,5 and banish 224 VII. 48-66 all delay. Jason will ever be indebted to thee for his preservation; thee will he unite to himself in the rites of marriage, and throughout the Pelasgian cities6 thou wilt be celebrated by crowds of matrons, as the preserver of their sons. And shall I then, borne away by the winds, leave my sister7 and my brother,8 and my father, and my Gods, and my native soil? My father is cruel, forsooth; my country, too, is barbarous;9 my brother is still but an infant; the wishes of my sister are in my favor. The greatest of the Gods is in possession of me. I shall not be relinquishing anything great; I shall be pursuing what is great; the credit of saving the youth of Greece,10 acquaintance with a better country, and cities, whose fame is flourishing even here, and the politeness and the arts of their inhabitants; and the son of Æson, whom I could be ready to take in exchange for all the things that the whole world contains; with whom for my husband I shall both be 251 VII. 62-84 deemed dear to the Gods, and shall reach the stars with my head. Why say that I know not what mountains11 are reported to arise in the midst of the waves, and that Charybdis, an enemy to ships, one while sucks in the sea, at another discharges it; and how that Scylla, begirt with furious dogs, is said to bark in the Sicilian deep? Yet holding him 225 VII. 66-94 whom I love, and clinging to the bosom of Jason, I shall be borne over the wide seas; embracing him, naught will I dread; or if I fear anything, for my husband alone will I fear. And dost thou, Medea, call this a marriage, and dost thou give a plausible name to thy criminality? Do but consider how great an offence thou art meditating, and, while still thou mayst, fly from guilt.”

Thus she said, and before her eyes stood Virtue, Affection, and Modesty; and now Cupid turned his vanquished back. She was going to the ancient altars of Hecate,12 the daughter of Perses, which a shady grove and the recesses of a wood concealed. And now she was resolved, and her passion being checked, had subsided; when she beheld the son of Æson, and the extinguished flame revived. Her cheeks were covered with blushes, and her whole face was suffused with a glow. As a spark is wont to derive nourishment from the winds, which, but small when it lay concealed beneath the ashes cast over it, is wont to increase, and aroused, to rise again to its original strength, so her love, now declining, which you would suppose was now growing languid, when she beheld the youth, was rekindled with the appearance of him before her eyes. And by chance, on that day, the son of Æson was more 252 VII. 85-110 beauteous than usual. You might forgive her loving him. She gazes; and keeps her eyes fixed upon his countenance, as though but now seen for the first time; and in her frenzy she thinks she does not behold the face of a mortal; nor does she turn away from him. But when the stranger began to speak, and seized her right hand, and begged her assistance with a humble voice, and promised her marriage; she said, with tears running down, “I see what I ought to do; and it will not be ignorance of the truth, but love that beguiles me. By my agency thou shalt be saved; when saved, grant what thou hast promised.”

226VII. 94-120

He swears by the rites of the Goddess of the triple form, and the Deity which is in that grove, and by the sire13 of his future father-in-law, who beholds all things, and by his own adventures, and by dangers so great. Being believed by her, he immediately received some enchanted herbs, and thoroughly learned the use of them, and went away rejoicing to his abode. The next morning had now dispersed the twinkling stars, when the people repaired to the sacred field of Mavors, and ranged themselves on the hills. In the midst of the assembly sat the king himself, arrayed in purple, and distinguished by a sceptre of ivory. Behold! the brazen-footed bulls breathe forth flames14 from their adamantine nostrils; and the grass touched by the vapors is on fire. And as the forges filled with fire are wont to roar, or when flints15 dissolved in an earthen furnace receive intense heat by the sprinkling of flowing water; so do their breasts rolling forth the flames enclosed within, and their scorched throats, resound. 253 VII. 110-139 Yet the son of Æson goes forth to meet them. The fierce bulls turn their terrible features, and their horns pointed with iron, towards his face as he advances, and with cloven hoofs they spurn the dusty ground, and fill the place with lowings, that send forth clouds of smoke. The Minyæ are frozen with horror. He comes up, and feels not the flames breathed forth by them, so great is the power of the incantations. He even strokes their hanging dewlaps with a bold right hand, and, subjected to the yoke, he obliges them to draw the heavy weight of a plough, and to turn up with the share the plain till now unused to it.16

The Colchians are astonished; the Minyæ fill the air with their shouts, and give him fresh courage. Then in a brazen 227 VII. 120-155 helmet he takes the dragon’s teeth,17 and strews them over the ploughed up fields. The ground, impregnated beforehand with a potent drug, softens the seed; and the teeth that were sown grow up, and become new bodies. And as the infant receives the human form in the womb of the mother, and is there formed in all its parts, and comes not forth into the common air until at maturity, so when the figure of man is ripened in the bowels of the pregnant earth, it arises in the fruitful plain; and, what is still more surprising, it brandishes arms produced at the same time. When the Pelasgians saw them preparing to hurl their spears with sharp points at the head of the Hæmonian youth, they lowered their countenances and their courage, quailing with fear. She, too, became alarmed, who had rendered him secure; and when she saw the youth, being but one, attacked by so many enemies, she turned pale, and suddenly chilled with fear, sat down without blood in her cheeks. And, lest the herbs that had been given by her, should avail him but little, she repeats an auxiliary charm, and summons to her aid her secret arts. He, hurling a heavy stone into the midst of his 254 VII. 140-158 enemies, turns the warfare, now averted from himself, upon themselves. The Earth-born brothers perish by mutual wounds, and fall in civil fight. The Greeks congratulate him, and caress the conqueror, and cling to him in hearty embraces. And thou too, barbarian maiden, wouldst fain have embraced him; ’twas modesty that opposed the design; otherwise thou wouldst have embraced him; but regard for thy reputation restrained thee from doing so. What thou mayst do, thou dost do; thou rejoicest with a silent affection, and thou givest thanks to thy charms, and to the Gods, the authors of them.

It still remains to lay asleep with herbs the watchful dragon, who, distinguished by his crest and his three tongues, and terrible with his hooked teeth, is the keeper of the Golden Fleece. After he has sprinkled him with herbs of Lethæan juice,18 and has thrice repeated words that cause placid slumbers, which would even calm the boisterous ocean, and which would stop the rapid rivers, sleep creeps upon the eyes 228 VII. 155-158 that were strangers to it, and the hero, the son of Æson, gains the gold; and proud of the spoil and bearing with him the giver of the prize as a second spoil, he arrives victorious, with his wife, at the port of Iolcos.19


To understand this story, one of the most famous in the early history of Greece, we must go back to the origin of it, and examine the fictions which the poets have mingled with the history of the expedition of the Argonauts, one of the most remarkable events of the fabulous ages.

Athamas, the son of Æolus, grandson of Hellen, and great-grandson of Deucalion, having married Ino, the daughter of Cadmus, was obliged to divorce her, on account of the madness with which she was attacked. He afterwards married Nephele, by whom he had a son and daughter, Phryxus and Helle; but on his taking his first wife again, she brought him two sons, Learchus and Melicerta. Ino, hating the children of Nephele, sought to destroy them. Phryxus being informed thereof, ordered a ship to be privately prepared; and taking his father’s treasures, sailed with 255 his sister Helle, to seek a retreat in the court of Æetes, his kinsman. Helle died on the voyage, but Phryxus arrived in Colchis, where he dedicated the prow of his ship to Neptune, or Jupiter. He there married Chalciope, by whom he had four sons, Argos, Phrontes, Molas, and Cylindus. Some years after, Æetes caused him to be assassinated; and his sons fleeing to the court of their grandfather, Athamas, were shipwrecked on an island, where they remained until found there by Jason, who took them back to their mother. Having mourned them as dead, she was transported with joy on finding them, and used every exertion to aid Jason in promoting his addresses to Medea. Æetes having seized the treasures of Athamas on the death of Phryxus, the Greeks prepared an expedition to recover them, and to avenge his death. Pelias, who had driven his brother Æson from the throne of Iolcos, desiring to procure the absence of his son Jason, took this opportunity of engaging him in an enterprise, which promised both glory, profit, and a large amount of personal exertion. The uneasiness which Pelias felt was caused by the prediction of an oracle, that he should be killed by a prince of the family of Æolus, and which warned him to beware of a person who should have but one shoe. Just at that period, Jason, returning from the school of Chiron, lost one of his shoes in crossing a river. On this, his uncle was desirous to destroy him; but not daring to do so publicly, he induced him to embark with the Argonauts, expecting that he would perish in an undertaking of so perilous a nature. Many young nobles of Greece repaired to the court of Iolcos, and joined in the undertaking, when they chose Jason for their leader, and embarked in a ship, the name of which was Argo, and from which the adventurers received the name of Argonauts.

Diodorus Siculus says, that the ship was so named from its swiftness; 229 while others say, that it was so called from Argus, the name of its builder, or from the Argives, or Greeks, on board of it. Bochart, however, supposes, that the name is derived from the Phœnician word ‘arco,’ which signifies ‘long,’ and suggests, that before that time the Greeks sailed in vessels of a rounder form, Jason being the first who sailed in a ship built in the form of a galley. After many adventures, on arriving at the Isle of Lemnos, they found that the women had killed their husbands in a fit of jealousy, on which the Argonauts took wives from their number, and Jason received for his companion Hypsipyle, the daughter of Thoas. Putting to sea again, they were driven on the coast of Bithynia, where they delivered Phineus, its king, from the persecution of the Harpies, who were in the habit of snatching away the victuals from his table. These monsters, of hideous form, with crooked beaks and talons, huge wings, and the faces of women, the Argonauts, and especially Calais and Zethes, pursued as far as the islands called Strophades, in the Ionian sea, where Iris appearing to them, enjoined them to pursue the Harpies no further, promising that Phineus should no longer be persecuted by them. To explain this story, some suppose that the Harpies were the daughters of Phineus, who by their dissipation and extravagance, had ruined him in his old age, which occasioned the saying, that they snatched the victuals out of his mouth. Le Clerc thinks, that the Harpies were vast swarms of grasshoppers, which ravaged 256 all Paphlagonia, and caused a famine in the dominions of Phineus; the word ‘arbati,’ whence the term ‘Harpy’ is derived, signifying ‘a grasshopper;’ and that the North wind blowing them into the Ionian sea, it gave rise to the saying, that the sons of Boreas pursued them so far. Diodorus Siculus does not mention the Harpies, though he speaks of the arrival of the Argonauts at the court of Phineus.

After some other adventures, the Argonauts arrived at Colchis. Æetes, or Æeta, the king, having been forewarned by an oracle, that a stranger should deprive him of his crown and life, had established a custom of sacrificing all strangers found in his dominions. His daughter Medea, falling in love with Jason, promised him her assistance in preserving them from the dangers to which they were exposed, on the condition of his marrying her. Having engaged to do so, she conducted him by night to the royal palace, and gave him a false key, by means whereof he found the royal treasures, and carrying them off, embarked with Medea and his companions. By way of explaining the miraculous portion of the story, we may, perhaps, not err in supposing, that the account of it was originally written in the Phœnician language; and through not understanding it, the Greeks invented the fiction of the Fleece, the Dragon, and the Fiery Bulls. Bochart and Le Clerc have observed, that the Syriac word ‘gaza,’ signifies either ‘a treasure,’ or ‘a fleece.’ ‘Saur,’ which means ‘a wall,’ also means ‘a bull;’ and in the same language the same word, ‘nachas,’ signifies both ‘brass,’ ‘iron,’ and ‘a dragon.’ Hence, instead of the simple narrative, that Jason, by the aid of Medea, carried away the treasures which Æetes kept within walls, with bolts, or locks of metal, and which Phryxus had carried to Colchis in a ship with the figure of a ram at the prow, it was published, and circulated by the ignorant, that the Gods, to save Phryxus from his stepmother, sent him a sheep with a golden fleece, 230 VII. 159-176 which bore him to Colchis; that its fleece became the object of the ambition of the leading men of Greece; and that whoever wished to bear it away was obliged to contend with bulls and dragons. Some historians, by way of interpreting the story, affirm, that the keeper of the treasures was named ‘Draco,’ or ‘Dragon,’ and that the garrison of the stronghold of Æetes was brought from the ‘Tauric’ Chersonesus. They say also, that the fleece was the skin of the sheep which Phryxus had sacrificed to Neptune, which he had caused to be gilt. It is not, however, very likely, that an object so trifling could have excited the avarice of the Greeks, and caused them to undertake an expedition accompanied with so many dangers. The dragon’s teeth most probably bear reference to some foreign troops which Jason, in the same way as Cadmus had done, found means to alienate from Æetes, and to bring over to his own side. Homer makes but very slight allusion to the adventures of the Argonauts.

257VII. 159-180


Jason, after his return home, requests Medea to restore his father Æson to youth, which she performs; then, going to the court of Pelias, she avenges the injuries which he had done to the family of Jason, by making him the victim of the credulity of his own daughters, who, in compliance with her pretended regard for them, stab him to death. Medea, having executed her design, makes her escape in her chariot.

The Hæmonian mothers and aged fathers bring presents, for receiving their sons safe home; and frankincense dissolves, piled on the flames, and the devoted victim falls, having its horns gilded. But Æson is not among those congratulating, being now near death, and worn out with the years of old age; when thus the son of Æson addresses Medea: “O wife, to whom I confess that I owe my safety, although thou hast granted me everything, and the sum of thy favors exceeds all belief; still, if thy enchantments can effect this (and what can enchantments not effect?), take away from my own years, and, when taken, add them to those of my father.”

And thus saying, he could not check his tears. She was moved with the affection of the petitioner; and her father, Æetes, left behind, recurred to her mind, unlike that of Jason; yet she did not confess any such feelings. “What a piece of wickedness, husband,” said she, “has escaped thy affectionate lips! Can I, then, seem capable of transferring to any one a portion of thy life? May Hecate not allow of this; nor dost thou ask what is reasonable; but, Jason, I will endeavor to grant thee a favor still greater than that which thou art asking. By my arts 231 VII. 176-203 we will endeavor to bring back the long years of my father-in-law, and not by means of thy years; if the Goddess of the triple form20 do but assist, and propitiously aid so vast an undertaking.” Three nights were now wanting that the horns of the Moon might meet entirely, and might form a perfect orb. After the 258 VII. 180-204 Moon shone in her full, and looked down upon the Earth, with her disk complete, Medea went forth from the house, clothed in garments flowing loose, with bare feet,21 and having her unadorned hair hanging over her shoulders, and unattended, directed her wandering steps through the still silence of midnight. Sound sleep has now relaxed the nerves of both men, and birds, and beasts; the hedges and the motionless foliage are still, without any noise, the dewy air is still; the stars alone are twinkling; towards which, holding up her arms, three times she turns herself about, three times she besprinkles her hair with water taken from the stream; with three yells she opens her mouth, and, her knee bending upon the hard ground, she says, “O Night, most faithful to these my mysteries, and ye golden Stars, who, with the Moon, succeed the fires of the day, and thou, three-faced Hecate,22 who comest conscious of my design, and ye charms and arts of the enchanters, and thou, too, Earth, that dost furnish the enchanters with powerful herbs; ye breezes, too, and winds, mountains, rivers, and lakes, and all ye Deities of the groves, and all ye Gods of night, attend here; through whose aid, whenever I will, the rivers run back from their astonished banks to their sources, and by my charms I calm the troubled sea, and rouse it when calm; I disperse the clouds, and I bring clouds upon the Earth; I both allay the winds, and I raise them; and I break the jaws of 232 VII. 203-229 serpents with my words and my spells; I move, too, the solid rocks, and the oaks torn up with their own native earth, and the forests as well. I command 259 VII. 204-229 the mountains, too, to quake, and the Earth to groan, and the ghosts to come forth from their tombs. Thee, too, O Moon, do I draw down, although the Temesæan23 brass relieves thy pangs. By my spells, also, the chariot of my grandsire is rendered pale; Aurora, too, is pale through my enchantments. For me did ye blunt the flames of the bulls, and with the curving plough you pressed the necks that never before bore the yoke. You raised a cruel warfare for those born of the dragon among themselves, and you lulled to sleep the keeper of the golden fleece, that had never known sleep; and thus, deceiving the guardian, you sent the treasure into the Grecian cities. Now there is need of juices, by means of which, old age, being renewed, may return to the bloom of life, and may receive back again its early years; and this ye will give me; for not in vain did the stars just now sparkle; nor yet in vain is the chariot come, drawn by the necks of winged dragons.”

A chariot sent down from heaven was come; which, soon as she had mounted, and had stroked the harnessed necks of the dragons, and had shaken the light reins with her hands, she was borne aloft, and looked down upon Thessalian Tempe below her, and guided her dragons towards the chalky regions;24 and observed the herbs which Ossa, and which the lofty Pelion bore, Othrys, too, and Pindus, and Olympus still greater than Pindus; and part she tore up by the root gently worked, part she cut down with the bend of a brazen sickle.25 Many a herb, too, that grew on the banks of Apidanus26 pleased her; many, too, on the banks of Amphrysus; 260 VII. 229-249 233 VII. 229-249 nor, Enipeus, didst thou escape. The Peneian waters, and the Spercheian as well, contributed something, and the rushy shores of Bœbe.27 She plucks, too, enlivening herbs by the Eubœan Anthedon,28 not yet commonly known by the change of the body of Glaucus.29 And now the ninth day,30 and the ninth night had seen her visiting all the fields in her chariot, and upon the wings of the dragons, when she returned; nor had the dragons been fed, but with the odors of the plants: and yet they cast the skin of old age full of years. On her arrival she stood without the threshold and the gates, and was canopied by the heavens alone, and avoided the contact of her husband, and erected two altars of turf; on the right hand, one to Hecate, but on the left side one to Youth.31 After she had hung them round with vervain and forest boughs, throwing up the earth from two trenches not far off, she performed the rites, and plunged a knife into the throat of a black ram, and besprinkled the wide trenches with blood. Then pouring thereon goblets32 of flowing wine, and pouring brazen goblets of warm milk; she at the same time utters words, and calls upon the Deities of the earth, and entreats the king of the shades33 below, together with his 261 VII. 249-271 ravished 234 VII. 249-273 wife, that they will not hasten to deprive the aged limbs of life. When she had rendered them propitious both by prayers and prolonged mutterings, she commanded the exhausted body of Æson to be brought out to the altars, and stretched it cast into a deep sleep by her charms, and resembling one dead, upon the herbs laid beneath him.

She orders the son of Æson to go far thence, and the attendants, too, to go afar; and warns them to withdraw their profane eyes from her mysteries. At her order, they retire. Medea, with dishevelled hair, goes round the blazing altars like a worshipper of Bacchus, and dips her torches, split into many parts, in the trench, black with blood, and lights them, thus dipt, at the two altars. And thrice does she34 purify the aged man with flames, thrice with water, and thrice with sulphur. In the meantime the potent mixture35 is boiling and heaving in the brazen cauldron, placed on the flames, and whitens with swelling froth. There she boils roots cut up in the Hæmonian valleys, and seeds and flowers and acrid juices. She adds stones fetched from the most distant East, and sand, which the ebbing tide of the ocean has washed. She adds, too, hoar-frost gathered at night by the light of the moon, and the ill-boding wings of a screech owl,36 together with its flesh; and the entrails of an ambiguous wolf, that was wont to change its appearance of a wild beast into that of a man. Nor is there wanting there 262 VII. 272-294 the thin scaly slough of the Cinyphian water-snake,37 and the liver of the long-lived 235 VII. 273-296 stag;38 to which, besides, she adds the bill and head of a crow that had sustained an existence of nine ages. When, with these and a thousand other things without a name, the barbarian princess has completed the medicine prepared for the mortal body, with a branch of the peaceful olive long since dried up, she stirs them all up, and blends the lowest ingredients with the highest. Behold! the old branch, turned about in the heated cauldron, at first becomes green; and after no long time assumes foliage, and is suddenly loaded with heavy olives. Besides, wherever the fire throws the froth from out of the hollow cauldron, and the boiling drops fall upon the earth, the ground becomes green, and flowers and soft grass spring up.

Soon as Medea sees this, she opens the throat39 of the old man with a drawn sword; and allowing the former blood to escape, replenishes his veins with juices. Soon as Æson has drunk them in, either received in his mouth or in his wound, his beard and his hair40 laying aside their hoariness, assume a black hue. His leanness flies, being expelled; his paleness and squalor are gone. His hollow veins are supplied with additional blood, and his limbs become instinct with vigor. Æson is astonished, and calls to recollection that he was such four times ten years before.

Liber had beheld from on high the miraculous operations of so great a prodigy; and taught thereby that 263 VII. 295-315 youthful years can be restored to his nurses,41 he requests this present from the daughter of Æetes.42

236VII. 297-325

And that her arts43 may not cease, the Phasian feigns a counterfeit quarrel with her husband, and flies as a suppliant to the threshold of Pelias44 and (as he himself is oppressed with old age) his daughters receive her; whom, after a short time, the crafty Colchian engages to herself by the appearance of a pretended friendship. And while among the greatest of her merits, she relates that the infirmities of Æson have been removed, and is dwelling upon that part of the story, a hope is suggested to the damsels, the daughters of Pelias, that by the like art their parent may become young again; and this they request of her, and repeatedly entreat her to name her own price. For a short time she is silent, and appears to be hesitating, and keeps their mind in suspense, as they ask, with an affected gravity.

Afterwards, when she has promised them, she says, “That there may be the greater confidence in this my skill, the leader of the flock among your sheep, which is the most advanced in age, shall become a lamb by this preparation.” Immediately, a fleecy ram, enfeebled by innumerable years, is brought, with his horns bending around his hollow temples; whose withered throat, when she has cut with the Hæmonian knife, and stained the steel with its scanty blood, the enchantress plunges the limbs of the sheep, and her potent juices together, into the hollow copper. The limbs of 264 VII. 316-345 his body are lessened, and he puts off his horns, and his years together with his horns; and in the midst of the kettle a low bleating is heard. And without any delay, while they are wondering at the bleating, a lamb springs forth, and gambols in its course, and seeks the suckling dugs. The daughters of Pelias are amazed; and after her promises have obtained her credit, then, indeed, they urge her still more strongly. Phœbus had thrice taken the yoke off his horses sinking in the Iberian sea;45 and upon the fourth night the radiant stars were twinkling, 237 VII. 326-349 when the deceitful daughter of Æetes set pure water upon a blazing fire, and herbs without any virtue. And now sleep like to death, their bodies being relaxed, had seized the king, and the guards together with their king, which her charms and the influence of her enchanting tongue had caused. The daughters of the king, as ordered, had entered the threshold, together with the Colchian, and had surrounded the bed; “Why do you hesitate now, in your indolence? Unsheathe your swords,” says she, “and exhaust the ancient gore, that I may replenish his empty veins with youthful blood. The life and the age of your father is now in your power. If you have any affection and cherish not vain hopes, perform your duty to your father, and drive away old age with your weapons, and, thrusting in the steel, let out his corrupted blood.”

Upon this exhortation, as each of them is affectionate, she becomes especially undutiful, and that she may not be wicked, she commits wickedness. Yet not one is able to look upon her own blow; and they turn away their eyes, and turning away their faces, they deal chance blows with their cruel right hands. He, streaming with gore, yet raises his limbs on his elbows, and, half-mangled, attempts to rise from the couch; and in the midst of so many swords stretching forth his pale arms, he says, “What 265 VII. 346-354 are you doing, my daughters? What arms you against the life of your parent?” Their courage and their hands fail them. As he is about to say more, the Colchian severs his throat, together with his words, and plunges him, thus mangled, in the boiling cauldron.


The authors who have endeavored to explain the true meaning and origin of the story of the restitution of Æson to youth, are much divided in their opinions concerning it. Some think it refers to the mystery of reviving the decrepit and aged by the transfusion of youthful blood. It is, however, not improbable, that Medea obtained the reputation of being a sorceress, only because she had been taught by her mother the virtues of various plants: and that she administered a potion to Æson, which furnished him with new spirits and strength.

The daughters of Pelias being desirous to obtain the same favor of Medea for their father, she, to revenge the evils which he had brought upon her husband and his family, may possibly have mixed some venomous herbs in his drink, which immediately killed him.

238VII. 350-362


Medea, after having killed Pelias, goes through several countries to Corinth, where, finding that Jason, in her absence, has married the daughter of king Creon, she sets fire to the palace, whereby the princess and her father are consumed. She then murders the two children which she had by Jason, before his face, and takes to flight.

And unless she had mounted into the air with winged dragons, she would not have been exempt from punishment; she flies aloft, over both shady Pelion, the lofty habitation46 of the son of Phillyra, and over Othrys, and the places noted for the fate of the ancient Cerambus.47 He, by the aid of Nymphs, being lifted on wings into the air, when the ponderous earth was covered by 266 VII. 355-365 the sea pouring over it, not being overwhelmed, escaped the flood of Deucalion. On the left side, she leaves the Æolian Pitane,48 and the image of the long Dragon49 made out of stone, and the wood of Ida,50 in which Bacchus hid a stolen bullock beneath the appearance of a fictitious stag; the spot too, where the father of Corythus51 lies buried beneath a little sand, and the fields which Mæra52 alarmed by her unusual barking.

239VII. 363-370

The city, too, of Eurypylus,53 in which the Coan matrons54 wore horns, at the time when the herd of Hercules55 departed thence; Phœbean Rhodes56 also, and 267 VII. 365-382 the Ialysian Telchines,57 whose eyes58 corrupting all things by the very looking upon them, Jupiter utterly hating, thrust beneath the waves of his brother. She passed, too, over the Cartheian walls of ancient Cea,59 where her father Alcidamas60 was destined to wonder that a gentle dove could arise from the body of his daughter.

240VII. 371-389

After that, she beholds the lakes of Hyrie,61 and Cycneian Tempe,62 which the swan that had suddenly become such, frequented. For there Phyllius, at the request of the boy, had given him birds, and a fierce lion tamed; being ordered, too, to subdue a bull, he had subdued him; and being angry at his despising his love so often, he denied him, when begging the bull as his last reward. The other, indignant, said, “Thou shalt wish that thou hadst given it;” and then leaped from a high rock. All imagined he had fallen; but, transformed into a swan, he hovered in the air on snow-white wings. But his mother, Hyrie, not knowing that he was saved, dissolved in tears, and formed a lake called after her own name.

Adjacent to these places is Pleuron;63 in which 268 VII. 383-396 Combe,64 the daughter of Ophis, escaped the wounds of her sons with trembling wings. After that, she sees the fields of Calaurea,65 sacred to Latona, conscious of the transformation of their king, together with his wife, into birds. Cyllene is on the right hand, on which Menephron66 was one day to lie with his mother, after the manner of savage beasts. Far hence she beholds Cephisus,67 lamenting the fate of his grandson, changed 241 VII. 389-401 by Apollo into a bloated sea-calf; and the house of Eumelus,68 lamenting his son in the air.

At length, borne on the wings of her dragons, she reached the Pirenian Ephyre.69 Here, those of ancient times promulgated that in the early ages mortal bodies were produced from mushrooms springing from rain. But after the new-made bride was consumed, through the Colchian drugs, and both seas beheld the king’s house on fire, her wicked sword was bathed in the blood of her sons; and the mother, having thus barbarously revenged herself, fled from the arms of Jason. 269 VII. 397-401 Being borne hence by her Titanian dragons,70 she entered the city of Pallas, which saw thee, most righteous Phineus,71 and thee, aged Periphas,72 flying together, and the granddaughter of Polypemon73 resting upon new-formed wings.


Jason being reconciled to the children of Pelias, gave the crown to his son Acastus. Becoming tired of Medea, he married Glauce, or Creüsa, the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. Medea, hastening to that place, left her two sons in the temple of Juno, and set fire to Creon’s palace, where he and 242 his daughter were consumed to ashes, after which she killed her own children. Euripides, in his tragedy of Medea, makes a chorus of Corinthian women say, that the Corinthians themselves committed the murder, and that the Gods sent a plague on the city, as a punishment for the deed. Pausanias also says, that the tomb of Medea’s children, whom the Corinthians stoned to death, was still to be seen in his time; and that the Corinthians offered sacrifices there every year, to appease their ghosts, as the oracle had commanded them.

Apollodorus relates this story in a different manner. He says, that Medea sent her rival a crown, dipped in a sort of gum of a combustible nature; and that when Glauce had put it on her head, it began to burn so furiously, that the young princess perished in the greatest misery. Medea afterwards retired to Thebes, where Hercules engaged to give her assistance against Jason, which promise, however, he failed to perform. Going thence to Athens, she married Ægeus.

The story of her winged dragons may, perhaps, be based on the fact, that her ship was called ‘the Dragon.’ In recounting the particulars of her flight, Ovid makes allusion to several stories by the way, the most of which are entirely unknown to us. With regard 270 VII. 402-408 to these fictions, it may not be out of place to remark here, as affording a key to many of them, that where a person escaped from any imminent danger, it was published that he had been changed into a bird. If, to avoid pursuit, a person hid himself in a cave, he was said to be transformed into a serpent; and if he burst into tears, from excess of grief, he was reported to have changed into a fountain; while, if a damsel lost herself in a wood, she became a Nymph, or a Dryad. The resemblance of names, also, gave rise to several fictions: thus, Alopis was changed into a fox; Cygnus into a swan; Coronis into a crow; and Cerambus into a horned beetle. As some few of the stories here alluded to by Ovid, refer to historical events, it may be remarked, that the account of the women of Cos being changed into cows, is thought by some to have been founded on the cruel act of the companions of Hercules, who sacrificed some of them to the Gods of the country. The inhabitants of the Isle of Rhodes were said to have been changed into rocks, because they perished in an inundation, which laid a part of that island under water, and particularly the town of Ialysus. The fruitfulness of the daughter of Alcidamas occasioned it to be said, that she was changed into a dove. The rage of Mæra is shown by her transformation into a bitch; and Arne was changed into a daw, because, having sold her country, her avarice was well depicted under the symbol of that bird, which, according to the popular opinion, is fond of money. Phillyra, the mother of the Centaur Chiron, was said to be changed into a linden-tree, probably because she happened to bear the name of that tree, which in the Greek language is called φιλύρα.

243VII. 402-423


Hercules chains the dog Cerberus, the guardian of the gates of the Infernal Regions. Theseus, after his exploits at Corinth, arrives at Athens, where Medea prepares a cup of poison for him. The king, however, recognizing his son, just as he is about to drink, snatches away the cup from him, while Medea flies in her chariot. Ægeus then makes a festival, to celebrate the arrival and preservation of Theseus. In the mean time, Minos, the king of Crete, solicits several princes to assist him in a war against Athens, to revenge the death of his son Androgeus, who had been murdered there.

Ægeus, to be blamed for this deed alone, shelters her; and hospitality is not enough, he also joins her to himself by the ties of marriage. And now was Theseus, his son, arrived, unknown to his father, who, by his valor, had established peace in the Isthmus between the two seas. For his destruction Medea mingles the wolfsbane, which she once brought with her from the shores of Scythia. This, they say, sprang from the teeth of 271 VII. 409-428 the Echidnean dog. There is a gloomy cave,74 with a dark entrance, wherein there is a descending path, along which the Tirynthian hero dragged away Cerberus resisting, and turning his eyes sideways from the day and the shining rays of the Sun, in chains formed of adamant; he, filled with furious rage, filled the air with triple barkings at the same moment, and sprinkled the verdant fields with white foam. This, they suppose, grew solid, and, receiving the nourishment of a fruitful and productive soil, acquired the power of being noxious. Because, full of life, it springs up on the hard rock, the rustics call it aconite.75

This, by the contrivance of his wife, the father Ægeus himself presented to his son,76 as though to an enemy. Theseus had received the presented cup with unsuspecting right hand, when his father perceived upon the ivory hilt of his sword the 244 VII. 423-439 tokens of his race,77 and struck the guilty draught from his mouth. She escaped death, having raised clouds by her enchantments.

But the father, although he rejoices at his son’s being safe, astonished that so great a wickedness can be committed with so narrow an escape from death, heats the altars with fires, and loads the Gods with gifts; and the 272 VII. 429-443 axes strike the muscular necks of the oxen having their horns bound with wreaths. No day is said ever to have shone upon the people of Erectheus more famous than that—the senators and the common people keep up the festivity; songs, too, they sing, wine inspiring wit. “Thee, greatest Theseus,” said they, “Marathon78 admired for shedding the blood of the Cretan bull; and that the husbandman ploughs Cromyon79 in safety from the boar, is thy procurement and thy work. By thy means the country of Epidaurus saw the club-bearing son of Vulcan80 fall; and the banks of the river Cephisus81 saw the cruel Procrustes fall by thee. Eleusis, sacred to Ceres, beheld the death of Cercyon.82 245 VII. 439-460 Sinnis83 fell too, who barbarously used his great powers; who was able to bend huge beams, and used to pull pine trees from aloft to the earth, destined to scatter human bodies far and wide. The road to Alcathoë,84 the Lelegeïan 273 VII. 443-463 city, is now open in safety, Scyron85 being laid low in death: and the earth denies a resting-place, the water, too, denies a resting-place to the bones of the robber scattered piecemeal; these, long tossed about, length of time is reported to have hardened into rocks. To these rocks the name of Scyron adheres. If we should reckon up thy glorious deeds, and thy years, thy actions would exceed thy years in number. For thee, bravest hero, we make public vows: in thy honor do we quaff the draughts of wine.” The palace rings with the acclamations of the populace, and the prayers of those applauding; and there is no place sorrowing throughout the whole city.

And yet (so surely is the pleasure of no one unalloyed, and some anxiety is ever interposing amid joyous circumstances), Ægeus does not have his joy undisturbed, on receiving back his son. Minos prepares for war; who, though he is strong in soldiers, strong in shipping, is still strongest of all in the resentment of a parent, and, with retributive arms, avenges the death of his son Androgeus. Yet, before the war, he obtains auxiliary forces, and crosses the sea with a swift fleet, in which 2436 VII. 460-468 he is accounted strong. On the one side, he joins Anaphe86 to himself; and the realms of Astypale; Anaphe by treaty, the realms of Astypale by conquest; on the other side, the low Myconos, and the chalky lands of Cimolus,87 and the flourishing Cythnos, Scyros, 274 VII. 464-468 and the level Seriphos;88 Paros, too, abounding in marble, and the island wherein the treacherous Sithonian89 betrayed the citadel, on receiving the gold, which, in her covetousness, she had demanded. She was changed into a bird, which even now has a passion for gold, the jackdaw namely, black-footed, and covered with black feathers.


If it is the fact, as many antiquarians suppose, that much of the Grecian mythology was derived from that of the Egyptians, there can be but little doubt that their system of the Elysian Fields and the Infernal Regions was derived from the Egyptian notions on the future state of man. The story too, of Cerberus is, perhaps, based upon the custom of the Egyptians, who kept dogs to guard the fields or caverns in which they kept their mummies.

It is, however, very possible that the story of Cerberus may have been founded upon a fact, or what was believed to be such. There was a serpent which haunted the cavern of Tænarus, in Laconia, and ravaged the districts adjacent to that promontory. This cave, being generally considered to be one of the avenues to the kingdom of Pluto, the poets thence derived the notion that this serpent was the guardian of its portals. Pausanias observes, that Homer was the first who said that Cerberus was a dog; though, in reality, he was a serpent, whose name in the Greek language signified ‘one that devours flesh.’ The story that Cerberus, with his foam, poisoned the herbs that grew in Thessaly, and that the aconite and other poisonous plants were ever after common there, is probably based on the simple fact, that those herbs were found in great quantities in that region.

Women, using these herbs in their pretended enchantments, gave ground for the stories of the witches of Thessaly, and of their ability to bring the 247 VII. 469-481 moon down to the earth by their spells and incantations; which latter notion was probably based on the circumstance, that these women used to invoke the Night and the Moon as witnesses of their magical operations.

275VII. 469-481


Minos, having engaged several powers in his interest, and having been refused by others, goes to the island of Ægina, where Æacus reigns, to endeavor to secure an alliance with that prince; but without success. Upon his departure, Cephalus arrives, as ambassador, from Athens, and obtains succors from the king; who gives him an account of the desolation which a pestilence had formerly made in his country, and of the surprising manner in which it had been re-peopled.

But Oliaros,90 and Didyme, and Tenos,91 and Andros,92 and Gyaros,93 and Peparethos, fruitful in the smooth olive,94 do not aid the Gnossian ships. Then Minos makes for Œnopia,95 the kingdom of Æacus, lying to the left. The ancients called it Œnopia, but Æacus himself called it Ægina, from the name of his mother. The multitude rushes forth, and desires greatly to know a man of so great celebrity. Both Telamon,96 and Peleus, younger than Telamon, and Phocus, the king’s third son, go to meet him. Æacus himself, too, though slow through the infirmity of old age, goes forth, and asks him what is the reason of his coming? The ruler of a hundred cities, being 248 VII. 481-512 put in mind of his fatherly sorrow for his son, sighs, and gives him this answer: “I beg 276 VII. 482-509 thee to assist arms taken up on account of my son; and be a party in a war of affection. For his shades do I demand satisfaction.” To him the grandson of Asopus says, “Thou askest in vain, and for a thing not to be done by my city; for, indeed, there is no land more closely allied to the people of Cecropia. Such are the terms of our compact.” Minos goes away in sadness, and says, “This compact of thine will cost thee a dear price;” and he thinks it more expedient to threaten war than to wage it, and to waste his forces there prematurely.

Even yet may the Lyctian97 fleet be beheld from the Œnopian walls, when an Attic ship, speeding onward with full sail, appears, and enters the friendly harbor, which is carrying Cephalus, and together with him the request of his native country. The youthful sons of Æacus recognize Cephalus, although seen but after a long period, and give their right hands, and lead him into the house of their father. The graceful hero, even still retaining some traces of his former beauty, enters; and, holding a branch of his country’s olive, being the elder, he has on his right and left hand the two younger in age, Clytus and Butes, the sons of Pallas.98 After their first meeting has had words suitable thereto, Cephalus relates the request of the people of Cecrops, and begs assistance, and recounts the treaties and alliances of their forefathers; and he adds, that the subjection of the whole of Achaia is aimed at. After the eloquence of Cephalus has thus promoted the cause entrusted to him, Æacus, leaning with his left hand on the handle of his sceptre, says—

“Ask not for assistance, O Athens, but take it, and consider, beyond doubt, the resources which this island possesses, as thy own, and let all the forces of my kingdom go along with thee. Strength is not wanting. I have soldiers enough both for my defence, and for 277 VII. 510-537 opposing the enemy. Thanks to the Gods; this is a prosperous time, and one that can excuse no refusal of mine.” “Yes, and be it so,” says Cephalus:99 249 VII. 512-545 “and I pray that thy power may increase along with thy citizens. Indeed, as I came along just now, I received much pleasure, when a number of youths, so comely and so equal in their ages, came forward to meet me. Yet I miss many from among them, whom I once saw when I was formerly entertained in this city.” Æacus heaves a sigh, and thus he says, with mournful voice: “A better fortune will be following a lamentable beginning; I only wish I could relate this to you. I will now tell it you without any order, that I may not be detaining you by any long preamble.100 They are now lying as bones and ashes, for whom thou art inquiring with tenacious memory. And how great a part were they of my resources that perished! A dreadful pestilence fell upon my people, through the anger of the vengeful Juno, who hated a country named101 from her rival. While the calamity seemed natural, and the baneful cause of so great destruction was unknown, it was opposed by the resources of medicine. But the havoc exceeded all help, which now lay baffled. At first the heaven encompassed the earth with a thick darkness, and enclosed within its clouds a drowsy heat. And while the Moon was four times filling her orb by joining her horns, and, four times decreasing, was diminishing her full orb, the hot South winds were blowing with their deadly blasts. It is known for a fact that the infection came even into fountains and lakes, and that many thousands of serpents were wandering over the uncultivated fields, and were tainting the rivers with their venom. The violence of this sudden distemper was first discovered by the destruction of dogs, and birds, and sheep, and oxen, and among the wild beasts. 278 VII. 538-566 The unfortunate ploughman wonders that strong oxen fall down at their work, and lie stretched in the middle of the furrow. And while the wool-bearing flocks utter weakly bleatings, both their wool falls off spontaneously, and their bodies pine away. The horse, once of high mettle, and of great fame on the course, degenerates for the purposes of victory; and, forgetting his ancient honors, he groans at the manger, doomed to perish by an inglorious distemper. The boar remembers not to 250 VII. 545-576 be angry, nor the hind to trust to her speed, nor the bears to rush upon the powerful herds.

“A faintness seizes all animals; both in the woods, in the fields, and in the roads, loathsome carcases lie strewed. The air is corrupted with the smell of them. I am relating strange events. The dogs, and the ravenous birds, and the hoary wolves, touch them not; falling away, they rot, and, by their exhalations, produce baneful effects, and spread the contagion far and wide. With more dreadful destruction the pestilence reaches the wretched husbandmen, and riots within the walls of the extensive city. At first, the bowels are scorched,102 and a redness, and the breath drawn with difficulty, is a sign of the latent flame. The tongue, grown rough, swells; and the parched mouth gapes, with its throbbing veins; the noxious air, too, is inhaled by the breathing. The infected cannot endure a bed, or any coverings; but they lay their hardened breasts upon the earth, and their bodies are not made cool by the ground, but the ground is made hot by their bodies. There is no physician at hand; the cruel malady breaks out upon even those who administer remedies; and their own arts become an injury to their owners. The nearer at hand any one is, and the more faithfully he attends on the sick, the sooner does he come in for his share of the fatality. And when the hope of recovery is departed, and they see the end of their malady only in death, they indulge their humors, and there is no 279 VII. 567-596 concern as to what is to their advantage; for, indeed, nothing is to their advantage. All sense, too, of shame being banished, they lie promiscuously close to the fountains and rivers, and deep wells; and their thirst is not extinguished by drinking, before their life is. Many, overpowered with the disease, are unable to arise thence, and die amid the very water; and yet another even drinks that water. So great, too, is the irksomeness for the wretched creatures of their hated beds, that they leap out, or, if their strength forbids them standing, they roll their bodies upon the ground, and every man flies from his own dwelling; each one’s house seems fatal to him: and since the cause of the calamity is unknown, the place that is known 251 VII. 576-611 is blamed. You might see persons, half dead, wandering about the roads, as long as they were able to stand; others, weeping and lying about on the ground, and rolling their wearied eyes with the dying movement. They stretch, too, their limbs towards the stars of the overhanging heavens, breathing forth their lives here and there, where death has overtaken them.

“What were my feelings then? Were they not such as they ought to be, to hate life, and to desire to be a sharer with my people? On whichever side my eyes were turned, there was the multitude strewed on the earth, just as when rotten apples fall from the moved branches, and acorns from the shaken holm-oak. Thou seest103 a lofty temple, opposite thee, raised on high with long steps: Jupiter has it as his own. Who did not offer incense at those altars in vain? how often did the husband, while he was uttering words of entreaty for his wife, or the father for his son, end his life at the altars without prevailing? in his hand, too, was part of the frankincense found unconsumed! How often did the bulls, when brought to the temples, while the priest was making his supplications, and pouring the pure wine between their horns, fall without waiting for the wound! While I myself was offering sacrifice to Jupiter, for myself, and my country, and my three sons, 280 VII. 597-613 the victim sent forth dismal lowings, and suddenly falling down without any blow, stained the knives thrust into it, with its scanty blood; the diseased entrails, too, had lost all marks of truth, and the warnings of the Gods. The baneful malady penetrated to the entrails. I have seen the carcases lying, thrown out before the sacred doors; before the very altars, too, that death might become more odious104 to the Gods. Some finish their lives with the halter, and by death dispel the apprehension of death, and voluntarily invite approaching fate. The bodies of the dead are not borne out with any funeral rites, according to the custom; for the city gates cannot receive the multitude of the processions. Either unburied they lie upon the ground, or they are laid on the lofty pyres without the usual honors. And now there is no distinction, and they struggle for the piles; and they are burnt on fires that belong to others. They who should 252 VII. 611-622 weep are wanting; and the souls of sons, and of husbands, of old and of young, wander about unlamented: there is not room sufficient for the tombs, nor trees for the fires.”


Minos (most probably the second prince that bore that name), upon his accession to the throne, after the death of his father, Lycastus, made several conquests in the islands adjoining Crete, where he reigned, and, at last, became master of those seas. The strength of his fleet is particularly remarked by Thucydides, Apollodorus, and Diodorus Siculus.

The Feast of the Panathenæa being celebrated at Athens, Minos sent his son Androgeus to it, who joined as a combatant in the games, and was sufficiently skilful to win all the prizes. The glory which he thereby acquired, combined with his polished manners, obtained him the friendship of the sons of Pallas, the brother of Ægeus. This circumstance caused Ægeus to entertain jealous feelings, the more especially as he knew that his nephews were conspiring against him. Being informed that Androgeus was about to take a journey to Thebes, he caused him to be assassinated near Œnoë, a town on the confines of Attica. Apollodorus, indeed, says that he was killed by the Bull of Marathon, which was then making great ravages in Greece; but it is very possible that the Athenians encouraged this belief, with the view of screening their king from the infamy of an action so inhuman and unjust. 281 VII. 614-632 Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch agree in stating that Ægeus himself caused Androgeus to be murdered.

On hearing the news of his son’s death, Minos resolved on revenge. He ordered a strong fleet to be fitted out, and went in person to several courts, to contract alliances, and engage other powers to assist him; and this, with the history of the plague at Ægina, forms the subject of the present narrative.


Jupiter, at the prayer of his son Æacus, transforms the ants that are in the hollow of an old oak into men; these, from the Greek name of those insects, are called Myrmidons.

“Stupefied by so great an outburst of misery, I said, ‘O Jupiter! if stories do not falsely say that thou didst come into the embraces of Ægina, the daughter of Asopus, and thou art not ashamed, great Father, to be the parent of myself; either restore my people to me, or else bury me, as well, in the sepulchre.’ He gave a signal by lightnings, and by propitious thunders. I accepted the omen, and I said, ‘I pray that these may be happy signs of thy intentions: the omen which thou givest me, I accept as a pledge.’ By chance there was close 253 VII. 622-654 by, an oak sacred to Jupiter, of seed from Dodona,105 but thinly covered with wide-spreading boughs. Here we beheld some ants, the gatherers of corn, in a long train, carrying a heavy burden in their little mouths, and keeping their track in the wrinkled bark. While I was wondering at their numbers, I said, ‘Do thou, most gracious Father, give me citizens as many in number, and replenish my empty walls.’ The lofty oak trembled, and made a noise in its boughs, moving without a breeze. My limbs quivered, with trembling fear, and my hair stood on an end; yet I gave kisses to the earth and to the oak, nor did I confess that I had any 282 VII. 633-660 hopes; and yet I did hope, and I cherished my own wishes in my mind. Night came on, and sleep seized my body wearied with anxiety. Before my eyes the same oak seemed to be present, and to bear as many branches, and as many animals in its branches, and to be trembling with a similar motion, and to be scattering the grain-bearing troop on the fields below. These suddenly grew, and seemed greater and greater, and raised themselves from the ground, and stood with their bodies upright; and laid aside their leanness, and the former number of their feet, and their sable hue, and assumed in their limbs the human shape.

“Sleep departs. When now awake, I censured the vision, and complained that there was no help for me from the Gods above. But within my palace there was a great murmur, and I seemed to be hearing the voices of men, to which I had now become unaccustomed. While I was supposing that these, too, were a part of my dream, lo! Telamon came in haste, and, opening the door, said, ‘Father, thou wilt see things beyond thy hopes or expectations. Do come out.’ I did go out, and I beheld and recognized such men, each in his turn, as I had seemed to behold in the vision of my sleep. They approached, and saluted me as their king. I offered up vows to Jupiter, and divided the city and the lands void of their former tillers, among this new-made people, and I called them Myrmidons,106 and did not 254 VII. 654-671 deprive their name of the marks of their origin. Thou hast beheld their persons. Even still do they retain the manners which they formerly had; and they are a thrifty race, patient of toil, tenacious of what they get, and what they get they lay up. These, alike in years and in courage, will attend thee to the war, as soon as the East wind, which brought thee prosperously hither (for the East wind had brought him), shall have changed to the South.”


This fable, perhaps, has no other foundation than the retreat of 283 VII. 661-674 the subjects of Æacus into woods and caverns, whence they returned, when the contagion had ceased with which their country had been afflicted, and when he had nearly lost all hopes of seeing them again. It is probable that the old men were carried off by the plague, while the young, who had more strength, resisted its power, which circumstance would fully account for the active habits of the remaining subjects of Æacus. Some writers, however, suppose that the Myrmidons were a barbarous, but industrious people of Thessaly, who usually dwelt in caves, and who were brought thence by Æacus to people his island, which had been made desolate by a pestilence. The similarity of their name to the Greek word μύρμηξ, signifying ‘an ant,’ most probably gave occasion to the report that Jupiter had changed ants into men.


Cephalus, having resisted the advances of Aurora, who has become enamoured of him while hunting, returns in disguise to his wife, Procris, to try if her affection for him is sincere. She, discovering his suspicions, flies to the woods, and becomes a huntress, with the determination not to see him again. Afterwards, on becoming reconciled to him, she bestows on him a dog and a dart, which Diana had once given her. The dog is turned into stone, while hunting a wild beast, which Themis has sent to ravage the territories of Thebes, after the interpretation of the riddle of the Sphinx, by Œdipus.

In these and other narratives they passed the day. The last part of the day was spent in feasting, and the night in sleep. The golden Sun had now shed his beams, when the East wind was still blowing, and detained the sails about to return. The sons of Pallas repair to Cephalus, who was stricken in years. Cephalus and the sons of Pallas, together with him, come to the king; but a sound sleep still possessed the monarch. Phocus, the son of Æacus, received them at the threshold; for Telamon and his brother were levying men for the war. Phocus conducted the citizens of Cecrops into an inner room, and a 255 VII. 671-702 handsome apartment. Soon as he had sat down with them, he observed that the grandson of Æolus107 was holding in his hand a javelin made of an unknown wood, the point of which was of gold.

Having first spoken a few words in promiscuous conversation, 284 VII. 675-702 he said, “I am fond of the forests, and of the chase of wild beasts; still, from what wood the shaft of the javelin, which thou art holding, is cut, I have been for some time in doubt; certainly, if it were of wild ash, it would be of brown color; if of cornel-wood, there would be knots in it. Whence it comes I am ignorant, but my eyes have not looked upon a weapon used for a javelin, more beautiful than this.” One of the Athenian brothers replied, and said, “In it, thou wilt admire its utility, even more than its beauty. Whatever it is aimed at, it strikes; chance does not guide it when thrown, and it flies back stained with blood, no one returning it.” Then, indeed, does the Nereian youth108 inquire into all particulars, why it was given, and whence it came? who was the author of a present of so great value? What he asks, Cephalus tells him; but as to what he is ashamed to tell, and on what condition he received it, he is silent; and, being touched with sorrow for the loss of his wife, he thus speaks, with tears bursting forth: “Son of a Goddess, this weapon (who could have believed it?) makes me weep, and long will make me do so, if the Fates shall grant me long to live. ’Twas this that proved the destruction of me and of my dear wife. Would that I had ever been without this present! Procris was (if perchance the fame of Orithyïa109 may have more probably reached thy ears) the sister of Orithyïa, the victim of violence. If you should choose to compare the face and the manners of the two, she was the more worthy to be carried off. Her father Erectheus united her to me; love, too, united her to me. I was pronounced happy, and so I was. Not thus did it seem good to the Gods; or even now, perhaps, I should be so. The second month was now passing, after the marriage rites, when the saffron-colored Aurora, dispelling the darkness in the morn, beheld me, as I was planting nets for the horned deer, from 256 VII. 702-731 the highest summit of the 285 VII. 702-728 ever-blooming Hymettus,110 and carried me off against my will. By the permission of the Goddess, let me relate what is true; though she is comely with her rosy face, and though she possesses the confines of light, and possesses the confines of darkness, though she is nourished with the draughts of nectar, still I loved Procris; Procris was ever in my thoughts, Procris was ever on my lips. I alleged the sacred ties of marriage, our late embraces, and our recent union, and the prior engagements of my forsaken bed. The Goddess was provoked, and said, ‘Cease thy complaints, ungrateful man; keep thy Procris; but, if my mind is gifted with foresight, thou wilt wish that thou hadst not had her;’” and thus, in anger, she sent me back to her.

“While I was returning, and was revolving the sayings of the Goddess within myself, there began to be apprehensions that my wife had not duly observed the laws of wedlock. Both her beauty and her age bade me be apprehensive of her infidelity; yet her virtue forbade me to believe it. But yet, I had been absent; and besides, she, from whom I was just returning, was an example of such criminality: but we that are in love, apprehend all mishaps. I then endeavored to discover that, by reason of which I must feel anguish, and by bribes to make attempts111 upon her chaste constancy. Aurora encouraged this apprehension, and changed my shape, as I seemed then to perceive. I entered Athens, the city of Pallas, unknown to any one, and I went into my own house. The house itself was without fault, and gave indications of chastity, and was in concern for the carrying off of its master.

“Having, with difficulty, made my way to the daughter of Erectheus by means of a thousand artifices, soon as I beheld her, I was amazed, and was nearly abandoning my projected trial of her constancy; with 286 VII. 729-752 difficulty did I restrain myself from telling the truth, with difficulty from giving her the kisses which I ought. She was in sorrow; but yet no one could be more beautiful 257 VII. 732-756 than she, even in her sadness; and she was consuming with regret for her husband, torn from her. Only think, Phocus, how great was the beauty of her, whom even sorrow did so much become. Why should I tell how often her chaste manners repulsed all my attempts? How often she said, ‘I am reserved for but one, wherever he is; for that one do I reserve my joys.’ For whom, in his senses, would not that trial of her fidelity have been sufficiently great? Yet I was not content; and I strove to wound myself, while I was promising to give vast sums for but one night, and forced her at last to waver, by increasing the reward. On this I cried out, ‘Lo! I, the gallant in disguise, to my sorrow, and lavish in promises, to my misery, am thy real husband; thou treacherous woman! thou art caught, and I the witness.’ She said nothing: only, overwhelmed with silent shame, she fled from the house of treachery, together with her wicked husband; and from her resentment against me, abhorring the whole race of men, she used to wander112 on the mountains, employed in the pursuits of Diana. Then, a more violent flame penetrated to my bones, thus deserted. I begged forgiveness, and owned myself in fault; and that I too might have yielded to a similar fault, on presents being made; if presents so large had been offered. Upon my confessing this, having first revenged her offended modesty, she was restored to me, and 287 VII. 779-795 passed the pleasant years in harmony with me. She gave me, besides, as though in herself she had given me but a small present, a dog as a gift, which when her own Cynthia had presented to her, she had said, ‘He will excel all dogs in running.’ She gave her, too, a javelin, which, as thou seest, I am carrying in my hand.

258VII. 757-782

“Dost thou inquire what was the fortune of the other present—hear then. Thou wilt be astonished at the novelty of the wondrous fact. The son of Laius113 had solved the verses not understood by the wit of others before him; and the mysterious propounder lay precipitated, forgetful of her riddle. But the genial Themis,114 forsooth, did not leave such things unrevenged. Immediately another plague was sent forth against Aonian Thebes; and many of the peasants fed the savage monster, both by the destruction of their cattle, and their own as well. We, the neighboring youth, came together, and enclosed the extensive fields with toils. With a light bound it leaped over the nets, and passed over the topmost barriers of the toils that were set. The couples were taken off the dogs, from which, as they followed, it fled, and eluded them, no otherwise than as a winged bird. I myself, too, was requested, with eager demands, for my dog Lælaps [Tempest]; that was the name of my wife’s present. For some time already had he been struggling to get free from the couples, and strained them with his neck, as they detained him. Scarce was he well let loose; and yet we could not now tell where he was; the warm dust had the prints of his feet, but he himself was snatched from our eyes. A spear does not fly swifter than he did, nor pellets whirled from the twisted sling, nor the light arrow from the Gortynian bow.115 The top of a 288 VII. 779-795 hill, standing in the middle, looks down upon the plains below. Thither I mount, and I enjoy the sight of an unusual chase; wherein the wild beast116 one while seemed to be caught, at another to 259 VII. 782-799 elude his very bite; and it does not fly in a direct course, and straight onward, but deceives his mouth, as he pursues it, and returns in circles, that its enemy may not have his full career against it. He keeps close to it, and pursues it, a match for him; and though like as if he has caught it, still he fails to catch it, and vainly snaps at the air. I was now turning to the resources of my javelin; while my right hand was poising it, and while I was attempting to insert my fingers in the thongs of it, I turned away my eyes; and again I had directed them, recalled to the same spot, when, most wondrous, I beheld two marble statues in the middle of the plain; you would think the one was flying, the other barking in pursuit. Some God undoubtedly, if any God really did attend to them, desired them both to remain unconquered in this contest of speed.”


There were two princes of the name of Cephalus; one, the son of Mercury and Herse, the daughter of Cecrops; the other, the son of Deïoneus, king of Phocis, and Diomeda, the daughter of Xuthus. The first was carried off by Aurora, and went to live with her in Syria; the second married Procris, the daughter of Erectheus, king of Athens. Though Apollodorus seems, in the first instance, to follow this genealogy, in his third book he confounds the actions of those two princes. Ovid and other writers have spoken only of the son of Deïoneus, who was carried off by Aurora, and having left her, according to them, returned to Procris.

289VII. 796-818


Procris, jealous of Cephalus, in her turn, goes to the forest, which she supposes to be the scene of his infidelity, to surprise him. Hearing the rustling noise which she makes in the thicket, where she lies concealed, he imagines it is a wild beast, and, hurling the javelin, which she has formerly given to him, he kills her.

Thus far did he speak; and then he was silent. “But,” said Phocus, “what fault is there in that javelin?” whereupon he thus informed him of the demerits of the javelin. “Let my joys, Phocus, be the first portion of my sorrowful story. These will I first relate. O son of Æacus, I delight to remember the happy time, during which, for the first years after my marriage, I was completely blessed in my wife, and she 260 VII. 799-834 was happy in her husband. A mutual kindness and social love possessed us both. Neither would she have preferred the bed of Jupiter before my love; nor was there any woman that could have captivated me, not even if Venus herself had come. Equal flames fired the breasts of us both. The Sun striking the tops of the mountains with his early rays, I was wont generally to go with youthful ardor into the woods, to hunt; but I neither suffered my servants, nor my horses, nor my quick-scented hounds to go with me, nor the knotty nets to attend me; I was safe with my javelin. But when my right hand was satiated with the slaughter of wild beasts, I betook myself to the cool spots and the shade, and the breeze which was breathing forth from the cool valleys. The gentle breeze was sought by me, in the midst of the heat. For the breeze was I awaiting; that was a refreshment after my toils: ‘Come, breeze,’ I was wont to sing, for I remember it full well, ‘and, most grateful, refresh me, and enter my breast; and, as thou art wont, be willing to assuage the heat with which I am parched.’ Perhaps I may have added (for so my destiny prompted me) many words of endearment, and I may have been accustomed to say, ‘Thou art my great delight; thou dost refresh and cherish me; thou makest me to love the woods and lonely haunts, and 290 VII. 819-850 thy breath is ever courted by my face.’ I was not aware that some one was giving an ear, deceived by these ambiguous words; and thinking the name of the breeze, so often called upon by me, to be that of a Nymph, he believed some Nymph was beloved by me.

“The rash informer of an imaginary crime immediately went to Procris, and with his whispering tongue related what he had heard. Love is a credulous thing. When it was told her, she fell down fainting, with sudden grief; and coming to, after a long time, she declared that she was wretched, and born to a cruel destiny; and she complained about my constancy. Excited by a groundless charge,117 she dreads that which, indeed, is nothing; and fears a name without a body; and, in her wretchedness, grieves as though about a real rival. Yet she is often in doubt, and, in her extreme wretchedness, hopes she may be deceived, and denies credit to the information; and unless she beholds it herself, will not pass sentence upon 261 VII. 834-865 the criminality of her husband. The following light of the morning had banished the night, when I sallied forth, and sought the woods; and being victorious in the fields, I said, ‘Come, breeze, and relieve my pain;’ and suddenly I seemed to hear I know not what groans in the midst of my words; yet I said, ‘Come hither, most delightful breeze.’ Again, the falling leaves making a gentle noise, I thought it was a wild beast, and I discharged my flying weapon. It was Procris; and receiving the wound in the middle of her breast, she cried out, ‘Ah, wretched me!’ When the voice of my attached wife was heard, headlong and distracted, I ran towards that voice. I found her dying, and staining her scattered vestments with blood, and drawing her own present (ah, wretched me!) from out of her wound; I lifted up her body, dearer to me than my own, in my guilty arms, and I bound up her cruel wounds with the garments torn from my bosom; and I endeavored to stanch the blood, and besought her that she would not forsake 291 VII. 851-865 me, thus criminal, by her death. She, wanting strength, and now expiring, forced herself to utter these few words:

“‘I suppliantly beseech thee, by the ties of our marriage, and by the Gods above, and my own Gods, and if I have deserved anything well of thee, by that as well, and by the cause of my death, my love even now enduring, while I am perishing, do not allow the Nymph Aura [breeze] to share with thee my marriage ties.’ She thus spoke; and then, at last, I perceived the mistake of the name, and informed her of it. But what avails informing her? She sinks; and her little strength flies, together with her blood. And so long as she can look on anything, she gazes on me, and breathes out upon me, on my face,118 her unhappy life; but she seems to die free from care, and with a more contented look.”

In tears, the hero is relating these things to them, as they weep, and, lo! Æacus enters, with his two sons,119 and his soldiers newly levied; which Cephalus received, furnished with valorous arms.



The love which Cephalus, the son of Deïoneus, bore for the chase, causing him to rise early in the morning for the enjoyment of his sport, was the origin of the story of his love for Aurora. His wife, Procris, as Apollodorus tells us, carried on an amour with Pteleon, and, probably, caused that report to be spread abroad, to divert attention from her own intrigue. Cephalus, suspecting his wife’s infidelity, she fled to the court of the second Minos, king of Crete, who fell in love with her. Having, thereby, incurred the resentment of Pasiphaë, who adopted several methods to destroy her rival, and, among others, spread poison in her bed, she left Crete, and returned to Thoricus, the place of her former residence, where she was reconciled to Cephalus, and gave him the celebrated dog and javelin mentioned by Ovid.

The poets tell us, that this dog was made by Vulcan, and presented by him to Jupiter, who gave him to Europa; and that coming to the hands of her son Minos, he presented it to Procris. The wild beast, which ravaged the country, and was pursued by 292 the dog of Procris, and which some writers tell us was a monstrous fox, was probably a pirate or sea robber; and being, perhaps, pursued by some Cretan officer of Minos, who escorted Procris back to her country, on their vessels being shipwrecked near some rocks, it gave occasion to the story that the dog and the monster had been changed into stone. Indeed, Tzetzes says distinctly, that the dog was called Cyon, and the monster, or fox, Alopis; and he also says that Cyon was the captain who brought Procris back from Crete. It being believed that resentment had some share in causing the death of Procris, the court of the Areiopagus condemned Cephalus to perpetual banishment. The island of Cephalenia, which received its name from him, having been given to him by Amphitryon, he retired to it, where his son Celeus afterwards succeeded him.

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