The Metamorphoses of Ovid

by Ovid

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Arachne, vain-glorious of her ingenuity, challenges Minerva to a contest of skill in her art. The Goddess accepts the challenge, and, being enraged to see herself outdone, strikes her rival with her shuttle; upon which, Arachne, in her distress, hangs herself. Minerva, touched with compassion, transforms her into a spider.

Tritonia had meanwhile lent an ear to such recitals as these, and she approved of the songs of the Aonian maids, and their just resentment. Then thus she says to herself: “To commend is but a trifling matter; let us, too, deserve commendation, and let us not permit our divine majesty to be slighted without due punishment.” And then she turns her mind to the fate of the Mæonian Arachne; who, as she had heard, did not yield to her in the praises of the art of working in wool. She was renowned not for the place of her birth, nor for the origin of her family, but for her skill alone. Idmon, of Colophon,1 her father, used to dye the soaking wool in Phocæan2 purple.3 Her mother was dead; but she, too, was of the lower rank, and of the same condition with her husband. Yet Arachne, by her skill, had acquired a memorable name throughout the cities of Lydia; although, born of a humble family, she used to live in the little town of Hypæpæ.4 Often 213 VI. 14-41 did the Nymphs desert the 190 VI. 15-45 vineyards of their own Tymolus, that they might look at her admirable workmanship; often did the Nymphs of the river Pactolus5 forsake their streams. And not only did it give them pleasure to look at the garments when made, but even, too, while they were being made, so much grace was there in her working. Whether it was that she was rolling the rough wool into its first balls, or whether she was unravelling the work with her fingers, and was softening the fleeces worked over again with long drawings out, equalling the mists in their fineness; or whether she was moving the smooth round spindle with her nimble thumb, or was embroidering with the needle, you might perceive that she had been instructed by Pallas.

This, however, she used to deny; and, being displeased with a mistress so famed, she said, “Let her contend with me. There is nothing which, if conquered, I should refuse to endure.” Pallas personates an old woman; she both places false gray hair on her temples, and supports as well her infirm limbs by a staff. Then thus she begins to speak: “Old age has not everything which we should avoid; experience comes from lengthened years. Do not despise my advice; let the greatest fame for working wool be sought by thee among mortals. But yield to the Goddess, and, rash woman, ask pardon for thy speeches with suppliant voice. She will grant pardon at my entreaty.” The other beholds her with scowling eyes, and leaves the threads she has begun; and scarcely restraining her hand, and discovering her anger by her looks, with such words as these does she reply to the disguised Pallas: “Thou comest here bereft of thy understanding, and worn out with prolonged old age; and it is thy misfortune to have lived too long. If thou hast any daughter-in-law, if thou hast any daughter of thy own, let her listen to these remarks. I have sufficient knowledge for myself in myself, and do not imagine that thou hast availed anything by thy advice; my 214 VI. 42-67 opinion is still the same. Why does not she come herself? why does she decline this contest?”

Then the Goddess says, “Lo! she is come;” and she casts aside the figure of an old woman, and shows herself as Pallas. The Nymphs and the Mygdonian6 matrons venerate the Goddess. 191 VI. 45-73 The virgin alone is not daunted. But still she blushes, and a sudden flush marks her reluctant features, and again it vanishes; just as the sky is wont to become tinted with purple, when Aurora is first stirring, and after a short time to grow white from the influence of the Sun. She persists in her determination, and, from a desire for a foolish victory, she rushes upon her own destruction. Nor, indeed, does the daughter of Jupiter decline it, or advise her any further, nor does she now put off the contest. There is no delay; they both take their stand in different places, and stretch out two webs on the loom with a fine warp. The web is tied around the beam; the sley separates the warp; the woof is inserted in the middle with sharp shuttles, which the fingers hurry along, and being drawn within the warp, the teeth notched in the moving sley strike it. Both hasten on, and girding up their garments to their breasts, they move their skilful arms, their eagerness beguiling their fatigue. There both the purple is being woven, which is subjected to the Tyrian brazen vessel,7 and fine shades of minute difference; just as the rainbow, with its mighty arch, is wont to tint a long tract of the sky by means of the rays reflected by the shower: in which, though a thousand different colors are shining, yet the very transition eludes the eyes that look upon it; to such a degree is that which is adjacent the same; and yet the extremes are different. There, too, the 215 VI. 68-90 pliant gold is mixed with the threads, and ancient subjects are represented on the webs.

Pallas embroiders the rock of Mars8 in Athens, the citadel of Cecrops, and the old dispute about the name of the country. Twice six9 celestial Gods are sitting on lofty seats in august 192 VI. 73-95 state, with Jupiter in the midst. His own proper likeness distinguishes each of the Gods. The form of Jupiter is that of a monarch. She makes the God of the sea to be standing there, and to be striking the rugged rocks with his long trident, and a wild horse to be springing forth10 out of the midst of the opening of the rock; by which pledge of his favor he lays claim to the city. But to herself she gives the shield, she gives the lance with its sharp point; she gives the helmet to her head, and her breast is protected by the Ægis. She there represents, too, the earth struck by her spear, producing a shoot of pale olive with its berries, and the Gods admiring it. Victory is the end of her work. But that the rival of her fame may learn from precedents what reward to expect for an attempt so mad, she adds, in four different parts, four contests bright in their coloring, and distinguished by diminutive figures. One corner contains Thracian Rhodope and Hæmus, now cold mountains, formerly human bodies, who assumed to themselves the names of the supreme Gods. Another part contains the wretched fate of the Pygmæan matron.11 Her, overcome 216 VI. 91-110 in a contest, Juno commanded to be a crane, and to wage war against her own people. She depicts, too, Antigone,12 who once dared to contend with the wife of the great Jupiter; and whom the royal Juno changed into a bird; nor did Ilion protect 193 VI. 95-114 her, or her father Laomedon, from assuming wings, and as a white crane, from commending herself with her chattering beak. The only corner that remains, represents the bereft Cinyras;13 and he, embracing the steps of a temple, once the limbs of his own daughters, and lying upon the stone, appears to be weeping. She surrounds the exterior borders with peaceful olive. That is the close; and with her own tree she puts an end to the work.

The Mæonian Nymph delineates Europa, deceived by the form of the bull; and you would think it a real bull, and real sea. She herself seems to be looking upon the land which she has left, and to be crying out to her companions, and to be in dread of the touch of the dashing waters, and to be drawing up her timid feet. She drew also Asterie,14 seized by the struggling eagle; and made Leda, reclining beneath the wings of the swan. She added, how Jupiter, concealed under the form of a 217 VI. 110-118 Satyr, impregnated Antiope,15 the beauteous daughter of Nycteus, with a twin offspring; how he was Amphitryon, when he beguiled thee, Tirynthian16 dame; how, turned to gold, he deceived Danaë; how, changed into fire, the daughter of Asopus;17 how, as a shepherd, Mnemosyne;18 194 VI. 114-126 and as a speckled serpent, Deois.19 She depicted thee too, Neptune, changed into a fierce bull, with the virgin daughter20 of Æolus. Thou, seeming to be Enipeus,21 didst beget the Aloïdæ; as a ram, thou didst delude Theophane, the daughter of Bisaltis.22 Thee too the most bounteous mother of corn, with her yellow hair, experienced23 as a steed; thee, the mother24 of the winged horse, with her snaky locks, received as a bird; 218 VI. 119-139 Melantho,25 as a dolphin. To all these did she give their own likeness, and the real appearance of the various localities. There was Phœbus, under the form of a rustic; and how, besides, he was wearing the wings of a hawk at one time, at another the skin of a lion; how, too, as a shepherd, he deceived Isse,26 the daughter of Macareus. How Liber deceived Erigone,27 in a fictitious bunch of grapes; and how Saturn28 195 VI. 126-145 begot the two-formed Chiron, in the form of a horse. The extreme part of the web, being enclosed in a fine border, had flowers interwoven with the twining ivy.

Pallas could not blame that work, nor could Envy censure it. The yellow-haired Virgin grieved at her success, and tore the web embroidered with the criminal acts of the Gods of heaven. And as she was holding her shuttle made of boxwood from Mount Cytorus, three or four times did she strike the forehead of Arachne, the daughter of Idmon. The unhappy creature could not endure it; and being of a high spirit, she tied up her throat in a halter. Pallas, taking compassion, bore her up as she hung; and thus she said: “Live on indeed, wicked one,29 but still hang; and let the same decree of punishment be pronounced against thy race, and against thy latest posterity, that thou mayst not be free from care in time to come.” After that, as she departed, she sprinkled her with the juices of an Hecatean herb;30 219 VI. 140-145 and immediately her hair, touched by the noxious drug, fell off, and together with it her nose and ears. The head of herself, now small as well throughout her whole body, becomes very small. Her slender fingers cleave to her sides as legs; her belly takes possession of the rest of her; but out of this she gives forth a thread; and as a spider, she works at her web as formerly.


The story of Arachne is most probably based upon the simple fact, that she was the most skilful artist of her time, at working in silk and wool. Pliny the Elder tells us, that Arachne, the daughter of Idmon, a Lydian by birth, and of low extraction, invented the art of making linen cloths and nets; which invention was also by some attributed to Minerva. This competition, then, for the merit of the invention, is the foundation of the challenge here described by the Poet. As, however, Arachne is said to have hanged herself in despair, she probably fell a prey to some cause of grief or discontent, the particulars of which, in their simple form, have 196 not come down to us. Perhaps the similarity of her name and employment with those of the spider, as known among the Greeks, gave rise to the story of her alleged transformation; unless we should prefer to attribute the story to the fact of the Hebrew word “arag,” signifying to spin, and, in some degree, resembling her name.

In this story, Ovid takes the opportunity of touching upon several fables, the subjects whereof he states to have been represented in the works of Minerva and Arachne. He alludes, among other matters, to the dispute between Neptune and Minerva, about giving a name to the city of Athens. St. Augustine, on the authority of Varro, says, that Cecrops, in building that city, found an olive tree and a fountain, and that the oracle at Delphi, on being consulted, stating that both Minerva and Neptune had a right to name the city, the Senate decided in favor of the Goddess; and this circumstance, he says, gave rise to the story. According to some writers, it was based on the fact, that Cranaüs changed the name of the city from Poseidonius, which it was called after Neptune, to Athenæ, after his own daughter Athena: and as the Areiopagus sanctioned this change, it was fabled that Neptune had been overcome by the judgment of the Gods.

The Jesuit Tournemine suggests the following explanation of the story:—He says, that the aborigines of Attica, being conquered by the Pelasgians, learned from them the art of navigation, which they turned to account by becoming pirates. Cecrops, bringing a 220 colony from Saïs, in Egypt, tried to abolish this barbarous custom, and taught them a more civilized mode of life; and, among other things, he showed them how to till the earth, and to raise the olive, for the cultivation of which he found the soil very favorable. He also introduced the worship of Minerva, or Athena, as she was called, a Goddess highly honored at Saïs, and to whom the olive tree was dedicated. Her the Athenians afterwards regarded as the patroness of their city, which they called after her name. Athens becoming famous for its olives, and, considerable profit arising from their cultivation, the new settlers attempted to wean the natives from piracy, by calling their attention to agricultural pursuits. To succeed in this, they composed a fable, in which Neptune was said to be overcome by Minerva; who, even in the judgment of the twelve greater deities, had found out something of more utility than he. This fable Tournemine supposes to have been composed in the ancient language of the country, which was the Phrygian, mingled with many Phœnician words; and, as in those languages the same word signifies either a ship or a horse, those who afterwards interpreted the fable, took the word in the latter signification, and spoke of a horse instead of a ship, which was really the original emblem employed in the fiction.

Vossius thinks that the fable originated in a dispute between the sailors of Athens, who acknowledged Neptune for their chief, and the people, who followed the Senate, governed by Minerva. The people prevailed, and a life of civilization, marked by attention to the pursuits of agriculture, was substituted for one of piracy; which gave occasion for the saying, that Minerva had overcome Neptune.

With reference to the intrigues and lustful actions attributed to the 197 various Deities by Arachne in the delineations on her embroidery, we may here remark, by way of elucidating the origin of these stories in general, that, in early times, when the earth was sunk in ignorance and superstition, and might formed the only right in the heathen world, where a king or petty chieftain demanded the daughter of a neighbor in marriage, and met with a refusal, he immediately had recourse to arms, to obtain her by force. Their standards and ships, on these expeditions, carrying their ensigns, consisting of birds, beasts, or fabulous monsters, gave occasion to those who described their feats of prowess to say, that the ravisher had changed himself into a bull, an eagle, or a lion, for the purpose of effecting his object. The kings and potentates of those days, being frequently called Jupiter, Apollo, Neptune, etc., and the priests of the Gods so named often obtaining their ends by assuming the names of the Divinities they served, we can account the more easily for the number of intrigues and abominable actions, attended by changes and transformations, which the poets and mythologists attribute to many of the Deities.

Palæphatus suggests a very ingenious method of accounting for these stories; founded, however, it must be owned, on a very low estimate of female virtue in those times. He says, that these fabulous narratives originate in the figures of different animals which were engraved on the coins of those times; and that, when money was given to buy over or to procure the seduction of a female, it was afterward said that the lover had himself taken the 221 VI. 146-148 figure which was represented on the coin, by means of which his object had been effected.

Ovid, in common with many of the ancient historians, geographers, and naturalists, mentions the Pygmies, of which, from the time of Homer downwards, a nation was supposed to exist, in a state of continual warfare with the Cranes. Aristotle, who believed in their existence, placed them in Æthiopia; Pliny, Solinus, and Philostratus in India, near the source of the Ganges; others again, in Scythia, on the banks of the Danube. Some of the moderns have attempted to explain the origin of this prevalent notion. Olaüs Magnus thinks the Samoeids and Laplanders to have been the Pygmies of Homer. Gesner and others fancy that they have found their originals in Thuringia; while Albertus Magnus supposed that the Pygmies were the monkeys, which are so numerous in the interior of Africa, and which were taken for human beings of diminutive stature. Vander Hart, who has written a most ingenious treatise on the subject, suggests that the fable originated in a war between two cities in Greece, Pagæ and Gerania, the similarity of whose names to those of the Pygmies and the Cranes, gave occasion to their neighbors, the Corinthians, to confer on them those nicknames. It is most probable, however, that the story was founded upon the diminutive stature of some of the native tribes of the interior of Africa.

As to the fable of Pygas being changed into a crane, Banier suggests, that the origin of it may be found in the work of Antoninus Liberalis, quoting from the Theogony of Bœus. That poet, whose works are lost, says, that among the Pygmies there was a very beautiful princess, named Œnoë, who greatly oppressed her subjects. Having married Nicodamas, she had by him a son, named Mopsus, whom her subjects seized upon, to 198 VI. 146-166 educate him in their own way. She accordingly raised levies against her own subjects; and that circumstance, together with the name of Gerane, which, according to Ælian, she also bore, gave rise to the fable, which said that she was changed into a crane; the resemblance which it bore to ‘geranos,’ the Greek for ‘a crane,’ suggesting the foundation of the story.


The Theban matrons, forming a solemn procession in honor of Latona, Niobe esteems herself superior to the Goddess, and treats her and her offspring with contempt; on which, Apollo and Diana, to avenge the affront offered to their mother, destroy all the children of Niobe; and she, herself, is changed into a statue.

All Lydia is in an uproar, and the rumor of the fact goes through the town of Phrygia, and fills the wide world with discourse thereon. Before her own marriage Niobe had known her,31 at the time, when still 222 VI. 149-176 single, she was inhabiting Mæonia and Sipylus.32 And yet by the punishment of her countrywoman, Arachne, she was not warned to yield to the inhabitants of Heaven, and to use less boastful words. Many things augmented her pride; but yet, neither the skill of her husband, nor the descent of them both, nor the sovereignty of a mighty kingdom, pleased her so much (although all of them did please her) as her own progeny; and Niobe might have been pronounced the happiest of mothers, if she had not so seemed to herself.

For Manto, the daughter of Tiresias, foreknowing the future, urged by a divine impulse, had proclaimed through the middle of the streets, “Ye women of Ismenus, go all of you,33 and give to Latona, and the two children of Latona, the pious frankincense, together with prayers, and wreathe your hair with laurel; by my mouth does Latona command this.” Obedience is paid; and all the Theban women adorn their temples with leaves of laurel, as commanded, and offer frankincense on the sacred fires, and words of supplication. Lo! Niobe comes, surrounded with a crowd of attendants, conspicuous for the 199 VI. 146-166 gold interwoven in her Phrygian garments, and beautiful, so far as anger will allow; and tossing her hair, hanging down on both shoulders, with her graceful head, she stands still; and as she loftily casts around her haughty eyes, she says, “What madness is this to prefer the inhabitants of Heaven, that you have only heard of, to those who are seen? or why is Latona worshipped at the altars, and my Godhead is still without its due frankincense? Tantalus was my father, who alone was allowed to approach the tables of the Gods above. The sister of the Pleiades34 is my mother; the most mighty Atlas is my grandsire, who bears the æthereal skies upon his neck. Jupiter is my other grandsire; of him, too, I 223 VI. 176-200 boast as my father-in-law.35 The Phrygian nations dread me; the palace of Cadmus is subject to me as its mistress; and the walls that were formed by the strings of my husband’s lyre, together with their people, are governed by me and my husband; to whatever part of the house I turn my eyes, immense wealth is seen. To this is added a face worthy of a Goddess. Add to this my seven daughters,36 and as many sons, and, at a future day, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. Now inquire what ground my pride has for its existence; and presume to prefer Latona the Titaness, the daughter of some obscure Cæus, to whom, when in travail,37 the great earth once refused a little spot, to myself. Neither by heaven, nor by earth, nor by water, was your Goddess received; she was banished the world, till Delos, pitying the wanderer, said, “Thou dost roam a stranger on the land, I in the waves;” and gave her an unstable place of rest. She was made the mother of two children, that is but the seventh part of my issue. I am fortunate, and who shall deny it? and fortunate I shall remain; who, too, can doubt of that? 200 VI. 194-227 Plenty has made me secure; I am too great for Fortune possibly to hurt; and, though she should take away many things from me, even then much more will she leave me: my many blessings have now risen superior to apprehensions. Suppose it possible for some part of this multitude of my children to be taken away from me; still, thus stripped, I shall not be reduced to two, the number of Latona; an amount, by the number of which, how far, I pray, is she removed from one that is childless? Go from the sacrifice; 224 VI. 200-230 hasten away from the sacrifice, and remove the laurel from your hair!”

They remove it, and the sacrifice they leave unperformed; and what they can do, they adore the Divinity in gentle murmurs. The Goddess was indignant; and on the highest top of Mount Cynthus, she spoke to her two children in such words as these: “Behold! I, your mother, proud of having borne you, and who shall yield to no one of the Goddesses, except to Juno alone, am called in question whether I am a Goddess, and, for all future ages, I am driven from the altars devoted to me, unless you give me aid. Nor is this my only grief; the daughter of Tantalus has added abusive language to her shocking deeds, and has dared to postpone you to her own children, and (what I wish may fall upon herself), she has called me childless; and the profane wretch has discovered a tongue like her father’s.”38 To this relation Latona was going to add entreaties, when Phœbus said, “Cease thy complaints, ’tis prolonging the delay of her punishment.” Phœbe said the same; and, by a speedy descent through the air, they arrived, covered with clouds, at the citadel of Cadmus.

There was near the walls a plain, level, and extending far and wide, trampled continually by horses, where multitudes of wheels and hard hoofs had softened the clods placed beneath them. There, part of the seven sons of Amphion are mounting upon their spirited steeds, and press their backs, red with the Tyrian dye, and wield the reins heavy with gold; of these, Ismenus, who had formerly been the first burden of his mother, while he is guiding the steps of the horses in a perfect circle, and is curbing their foaming mouths, cries aloud, “Ah, wretched me!” and, pierced through the middle of his breast, 201 VI. 228-256 bears a dart therein; and the reins dropping from his dying hand, by degrees he falls on his side, over the horse’s shoulder. The next to him, Sipylus, on hearing the sound of a quiver in the air, gives 225 VI. 230-256 rein39 to his horse; as when the pilot, sensible of the storm approaching, flies on seeing a cloud, and unfurls the hanging sails on every side, that the light breeze may by no means escape them. He gives rein, I said; while thus giving it, the unerring dart overtakes him, and an arrow sticks quivering in the top of his neck, and the bare steel protrudes from his throat. He, as he is bending forward, rolls over the neck, now let loose, and over the mane, and stains the ground with his warm blood. The unhappy Phædimus, and Tantalus, the heir to the name of his grandsire, when they had put an end to their wonted exercise of riding, had turned to the youthful exercises of the palæstra, glowing with oil;40 and now had they brought41 breast to breast, struggling in a close grapple, when an arrow, sped onward from the stretched bow, pierced them both, just as they were united together. At the same instant they groaned aloud, and together they laid their limbs on the ground, writhing with pain; together as they lay, for the last time, they rolled their eyeballs, and together they breathed forth their life.

Alphenor sees this, and, beating his torn breast, flies to them, to lift up their cold limbs in his embrace, and falls in this affectionate duty. For the Delian God pierces the inner part of his midriff with the fatal steel. Soon as it is pulled out, a part of his lungs is dragged forth on the barbs, and his blood is poured forth, with his life, into the air; but no single wound reaches the unshaven Damasicthon. He is struck where the leg commences, and where the sinewy ham 202 VI. 256-290 makes the 226 VI. 256-287 space between the joints soft; and while he is trying with his hand to draw out the fatal weapon, another arrow is driven through his neck, up to the feathers. The blood drives this out, and itself starting forth, springs up on high, and, piercing the air, spouts forth afar. The last of them, Ilioneus, had raised his unavailing arms in prayer, and had said, “O, all ye Gods, in common, (not knowing that all were not to be addressed) spare me!” The God, the bearer of the bow, was moved, when now his arrow could not be recalled; yet he died with the slightest wound of all, his heart not being struck deep by the arrow.

The report of this calamity, and the grief of the people, and the tears of her family, made the mother acquainted with a calamity so sudden, wondering that it could have happened, and enraged that the Gods above had dared this, and that they enjoyed a privilege so great. For Amphion the father, thrusting his sword through his breast, dying, had ended his grief together with his life. Alas! how different is this Niobe from that Niobe who had lately driven the people from the altars of Latona, and, with lofty head, had directed her steps through the midst of the city, envied by her own people, but now to be pitied even by an enemy! She falls down upon the cold bodies, and with no distinction she distributes her last kisses among all her sons. Raising her livid arms from these towards heaven, she says, “Glut thyself, cruel Latona, with my sorrow; glut thyself, and satiate thy breast with my mourning; satiate, too, thy relentless heart with seven deaths. I have received my death-blow;42 exult and triumph, my victorious enemy. But why victorious? More remains to me, in my misery, than to thee, in thy happiness. Even after so many deaths, I am the conqueror.” Thus she spoke; when the string twanged from the bent bow, which affrighted all but Niobe alone; she became bold by her misfortunes.

227VI. 288-312 The sisters were standing in black array, with their hair dishevelled, before the biers43 of their brothers. One of these, 203 VI. 290-312 drawing out the weapon sticking in her entrails, about to die, swooned away, with her face placed upon her brother. Another, endeavoring to console her wretched parent, was suddenly silent, and was doubled together with an invisible wound; and did not close her mouth, until after the breath had departed. Another, vainly flying, falls down; another dies upon her sister; another lies hid; another you might see trembling. And now six being put to death, and having received different wounds, the last only remains; her mother covering her with all her body, and with all her garments, cries, “Leave me but one, and that the youngest; the youngest only do I ask out of so many, and that but one.” And while she was entreating, she, for whom she was entreating, was slain. Childless, she sat down among her dead sons and daughters and husband, and became hardened by her woes. The breeze moves no hair of hers; in her features is a color without blood; her eyes stand unmoved in her sad cheeks; in her form there is no appearance of life. Her tongue itself, too, congeals within, together with her hardened palate, and the veins cease to be able to be moved. Her neck can neither be bent, nor can her arms give any motion, nor her feet move. Within her entrails, too, it is stone.

Still did she weep on; and, enveloped in a hurricane of mighty wind, she was borne away to her native land. There, fixed on the top of a mountain,44 she dissolves; and even yet does the marble distil tears.



All the ancient historians agree with Diodorus Siculus and Apollodorus, that Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus, and the sister of Pelops; but she must not be confounded with a second Niobe, who was the daughter of Phoroneus, and the first mortal (Homer tells us) with whom Jupiter fell in love. Homer says that she was the mother of twelve children, six sons and six daughters. Herodotus says, that she had but two sons and three daughters. Diodorus Siculus makes her the mother of fourteen 204 children, seven of each sex. Apollodorus, on the authority of Hesiod, says, that she had ten sons and as many daughters; but gives the names of fourteen only. The story of the destruction of her children is most likely based upon truth, and bears reference to a historical fact. The plague, which ravaged the city of Thebes, destroyed all the children of Niobe; and contagious distempers being attributed to the excessive heat of the sun, it was fabled that Apollo had killed them with his arrows; while women, who died of the plague, were said to owe their death to the anger of Diana. Thus, Homer says, that Laodamia and the mother of Andromache were killed by Diana. Valerius Flaccus relates the sorrow of Clytie, the wife of Cyzicus, on the death of her mother, killed by the same Goddess; so the Scholiast on Pindar (Pythia, ode iii.) says, on the authority of Pherecydes, that Apollo sent Diana to kill Coronis and several other women. Eustathius distinctly asserts, that the poets attributed the deaths of men, who died of the plague, to Apollo; and those of women, dying a similar death, to Diana.

This supposition is based upon rational and just grounds; since many contagious distempers may be clearly traced to the exhalations of the earth, acted on by the intense heat of the sun. Homer, most probably, means this, when he says that the plague came upon the Grecian camp, on the God, in his anger, discharging his arrows against it; or, in other words, when the extreme heat of his rays had caused a corruption of the atmosphere. It may be here observed, that arrows were the symbol of Apollo, when angry, and the harp when he was propitious. Diogenes Laertius tells us, that, during the prevalence of the plague, it was the custom to place branches of laurel on the doors of the houses, in the hope that the God, being reminded of Daphne, would spare the places which thereby claimed his protection.

Ovid says, that the sons of Niobe were killed while managing their horses; but Pausanias tells us that they died on Mount Cithæron, while engaged in hunting, and that her daughters died at Thebes. Homer says, that her children remained nine days without burial, because the Gods changed the Thebans into stones, and that the offended Divinities themselves performed the funeral rites on the tenth day; the meaning probably, is, that, they dying of the plague, no one ventured to bury them, and all seemed insensible to the sorrows of Niobe, as each consulted his own safety. Ismenus, her eldest son, not being able to endure the pain of his malady, is said to have thrown himself into a river of Bœotia, 229 VI. 313-327 which, from that circumstance, received his name. After the death of her husband and children, Niobe is said to have retired to Mount Sipylus, in Lydia, where she died. Here, as Pausanias informs us, was a rock, resembling, at a distance, a woman overwhelmed with grief; though according to the same author, who had visited it, the resemblance could not be traced on approaching it. On this ground, Ovid relates, that she was borne on a whirlwind to the top of a Lydian mountain, where she was changed into a rock.

Pausanias tells us, that Melibœa, or Chloris, and Amycle, two of her daughters, appeased Diana, who preserved their lives; or that, in other words, they recovered from the plague; though he inclines to credit the version of Homer, who says that all of her children died by the hands of 205 VI. 313-341 Apollo and Diana. Melibœa received the surname of Chloris, from the paleness which ensued on her alarm at the sudden death of her sisters.


Latona, fatigued with the burden of her two children, during a long journey, and parched with thirst, goes to drink at a pond, near which some countrymen are at work. These clowns, in a brutal manner, not only hinder her from drinking, but trouble the water to make it muddy; on which, the Goddess, to punish their brutality, transforms them into frogs.

But then, all, both women and men, dread the wrath of the divinity, thus manifested, and with more zeal than ever all venerate with divine worship the great godhead of the Deity who produced the twins; and, as commonly happens, from a recent fact they recur to the narration of former events.

One of them says, “Some countrymen of old, in the fields of fertile Lycia, once insulted the Goddess, but not with impunity. The thing, indeed, is but little known, through the obscure station of the individuals, still it is wonderful. I have seen upon the spot, the pool and the lake noted for the miracle. For my father being now advanced in years, and incapable of travel, ordered me to bring thence some choice oxen, and on my setting out, had given me a guide of that nation: with whom, while I was traversing the pastures, behold! an ancient altar, black with the ashes of sacrifices, was standing in the middle of a lake, surrounded with quivering reeds. My guide stood still, and said in a timid whisper, ‘Be propitious to me;’ and 230 VI. 328-349 with a like whisper, I said, ‘Be propitious.’ However, I asked him whether it was an altar of the Naiads, or of Faunus, or of some native God; when the stranger answered me in such words; A‘Young man, there is no mountain Divinity for this altar. She calls this her own, whom once the royal Juno banished from the world; whom the wandering Delos, at the time when it was swimming as a light island, hardly received at her entreaties. There Latona, leaning against a palm, together with the tree of Pallas, brought forth twins, in spite of their stepmother Juno. Hence, too, the newly delivered Goddess is said to have fled from Juno, and in her bosom to have carried the two divinities, her children. And now the Goddess, wearied with her prolonged toil, being parched with the heat of the season, 206 VI. 341-365 contracted thirst in the country of Lycia, which bred the Chimæra45 when the intense sun was scorching the fields; the craving children, too, had exhausted her suckling breasts. By chance she beheld a lake46 of fine water, in the bottom of a valley; some countrymen were there, gathering bushy osiers, together with bulrushes, and sedge natural to fenny spots. The Titaness approached, and bending her knee, she pressed the ground, that she might take up the cool water to drink; the company of rustics forbade it. The Goddess thus addressed them, as they forbade her: ‘Why do you deny me water? The use of water is common 231 VI. 350-376 to all. Nature has made neither sun, nor air, nor the running stream, the property of any one. To her public bounty have I come, which yet I humbly beg of you to grant me. I was not intending to bathe my limbs here, and my wearied joints, but to relieve my thirst. My mouth, as I speak, lacks moisture, and my jaws are parched, and scarce is there a passage for my voice therein; a draught of water will be nectar to me, and I shall own, that, together with it, I have received my life at your hands. In that water you will be giving me life. Let these, too, move you, who hold out their little arms from my bosom’; and by chance the children were holding out their arms.

“What person might not these kindly words of the Goddess have been able to influence? Still, they persist in hindering the Goddess thus entreating them; and moreover add threats and abusive language, if she does not retire to a distance. Nor is this enough. They likewise muddy the lake itself with their feet and hands; and they raise the soft mud from 207 VI. 365-383 the very bottom of the water, by spitefully jumping to and fro. Resentment removes her thirst. For now no longer does the daughter of Cæus supplicate the unworthy wretches, nor does she any longer endure to utter words below the majesty of a Goddess; and raising her hands to heaven, she says, ‘For ever may you live in that pool.’ The wish of the Goddess comes to pass. They delight to go beneath the water, and sometimes to plunge the whole of their limbs in the deep pool; now to raise their heads, and now to swim on the top of the water; oft to sit on the bank of the pool, and often to leap back again into the cold stream. And even now do they exercise their offensive tongues in strife: and banishing all shame, although they are beneath the water, still beneath the water,47 do they try to keep 232 VI. 376-387 up their abuse. Their voice, too, is now hoarse, and their bloated necks swell out; and their very abuse dilates their extended jaws. Their backs are united to their heads: their necks seem as though cut off; their backbone is green; their belly, the greatest part of their body, is white; and as new-made frogs, they leap about in the muddy stream.”


This story may possibly be based upon some current tradition of Latona having been subjected to such cruel treatment from some country clowns; or, which is more probable, it may have been originally invented as a satire on the rude manners and uncouth conduct of the peasantry of ancient times. The story may also have been framed, to account, in a poetical manner, for the origin of frogs.


The Satyr Marsyas, having challenged Apollo to a trial of skill on the flute, the God overcomes him, and then flays him alive for his presumption. The tears that are shed on the occasion of his death produce the river that bears his name.

When thus one, who, it is uncertain, had related the destruction 208 VI. 383-404 of these men of the Lycian race, another remembers that of the Satyr;48 whom, overcome in playing on the Tritonian reed, the son of Latona visited with punishment. “Why,” said he, “art thou tearing me from myself? Alas! I now repent; alas,” cried he, “the flute is not of so much value!” As he shrieked aloud, his skin was stript49 off from the surface of his 233 VI. 388-411 limbs, nor was he aught but one entire wound. Blood is flowing on every side; the nerves, exposed, appear, and the quivering veins throb without any skin. You might have numbered his palpitating bowels, and the transparent lungs within his breast. The inhabitants of the country, the Fauns, Deities of the woods, and his brothers the Satyrs, and Olympus,50 even then renowned, and the Nymphs lamented him; and whoever besides on those mountains was feeding the wool-bearing flocks, and the horned herds.

The fruitful earth was moistened, and being moistened received the falling tears, and drank them up in her lowest veins, which, when she had turned into a stream, she sent forth into the vacant air. And then, as the clearest river in Phrygia, running towards the rapid sea within steep banks, it bears the name of Marsyas.

From narratives such as these the people return at once to the present events, and mourn Amphion extinct together with all his race. The mother is an object of hatred. Yet her brother Pelops is said alone to have mourned for her as well; and after 209 VI. 405-411 he had drawn his clothes from his shoulderB towards his breast, he discovered the ivory on his left shoulder. This shoulder, at the time of his birth, was of the same color with the right one, and was formed of flesh. They say that the Gods afterwards joined his limbs cut asunder by the hands of his father; and the rest of them being found, that part which is midway between the throat and the top of the arm, was wanting. Ivory was inserted there, in the place of the part that did not appear; and so by that means Pelops was made entire.


Marsyas was the son of Hyagnis, the inventor of a peculiar kind of flute, and of the Phrygian measure. Livy and Quintus Curtius 234 VI. 412-415 tell us, that the story of Apollo and Marsyas is an allegory; and that the river Marsyas gave rise to it. They say that the river, falling from a precipice, in the neighborhood of the town of Celenæ, in Phrygia, made a very stunning and unpleasant noise; but that the smoothness of its course afterwards gave occasion for the saying, that the vengeance of Apollo had rendered it more tractable.

It is, however, not improbable that the story may have been based on historical facts. Having learned from his father, Hyagnis, the art of playing on the flute, and, proud of his skill, at a time when the musical art was yet in its infancy, Marsyas may have been rash enough to challenge either a priest of Apollo, or some prince who bore that name, and, for his presumption, to have received the punishment described by Ovid. Herodotus certainly credited the story; for he says that the skin of the unfortunate musician was to be seen, in his time, in the town of Celenæ. Strabo, Pausanias, and Aulus Gellius also believe its truth. Suidas tells us, that Marsyas, mortified at his defeat, threw himself into the river that runs near Celenæ, which, from that time, bore his name. Strabo says, that Marsyas had stolen the flute from Minerva, which proved so fatal to him, and had thereby drawn upon himself the indignation of that Divinity. Ovid, in the Sixth Book of the Fasti, and Pausanias, quoting from Apollodorus, tell us, that Minerva, having observed, by seeing herself in the river Meander, that, when she played on the flute, her cheeks were swelled out in an unseemly manner, threw aside the flute in her disgust, and Marsyas finding it, learned to play on it so skilfully, that he challenged Apollo to a trial of proficiency. Hyginus, in his 165th Fable, says that Marsyas was the son of Œagrius, and not Hyagnis; perhaps, however, this is a corrupt reading.

210VI. 412-423


Tereus, king of Thrace, having married Progne, the daughter of Pandion, king of Athens, falls in love with her sister Philomela, whom he ravishes, and then, having cut out her tongue, he shuts her up in a strong place in a forest, to prevent a discovery. The unfortunate Philomela finds means to acquaint her sister with her misfortunes; for, weaving her story on a piece of cloth, she sends it to Progne by the hands of one of her keepers.

The neighboring princes met together; and the cities that were near, entreated their kings to go to console Pelops, namely, Argos and Sparta, and the Pelopean Mycenæ, and Calydon,51 not yet odious to the stern 235 VI. 416-432 Diana, and fierce Orchomeneus, and Corinth famous for its brass,52 and fertile Messene, and Patræ, and humble Cleonæ,53 and the Neleian Pylos, and Trœzen not yet named from Pittheus;54 and other cities which are enclosed by the Isthmus between the two seas, and those which, situated beyond, are seen from the Isthmus between the two seas. Who could have believed it? You, Athens, alone omitted it. A war prevented this act of humanity; and barbarous troops55 211 VI. 423-451 brought thither by sea, were alarming the Mopsopian walls. The Thracian Tereus had routed these by his auxiliary forces, and by his conquest had acquired an illustrious name. Him, powerful both in riches and men, and, as it happened, deriving his descent from the mighty Gradivus, Pandion united to himself, by the marriage of his daughter Progne.

Neither Juno, the guardian of marriage rites, nor yet Hymeneus, nor the Graces,56 attended those nuptials. On that occasion, the Furies brandished torches, snatched from the funeral pile. The Furies prepared the nuptial couch, and the ill-boding owl hovered over 236 VI. 432-460 the abode, and sat on the roof of the bridal chamber. With these omens were Progne and Tereus wedded; with these omens were they made parents. Thrace, indeed, congratulated them, and they themselves returned thanks to the Gods, and they commanded the day, upon which the daughter of Pandion was given to the renowned prince, and that upon which Itys was born, to be considered as festivals. So much does our true interest lie concealed from us. Now Titan had drawn the seasons of the repeated year through five autumns, when Progne, in gentle accents, said to her husband, “If I have any influence with thee, either send me to see my sister, or let my sister come hither. Thou shalt promise thy father-in-law that she shall return in a short time. As good as a mighty God wilt thou be to me, if thou shalt allow me to see my sister.”

He thereupon ordered ships to be launched;57 and with sails and oars he entered the Cecropian harbor, and landed upon the shores of the Piræus.58 As soon as ever an opportunity was given of addressing his father-in-law, and right hand was joined to right hand, with evil omen their discourse began. He had commenced to relate the occasion of his coming, and the request of his wife, and to promise a speedy return for Philomela, if sent. When lo! Philomela comes, richly adorned 212 VI. 451-489 in costly apparel; richer by far in her charms; such as we hear of the Naiads and Dryads as they haunt the middle of the forests, if you were only to give them the like ornaments and dress. Tereus was inflamed upon seeing the virgin, no otherwise than if one were to put fire beneath the whitening ears of corn, or were to burn leaves and dry grass laid up in stacks. Her beauty, indeed, is worthy of love; but inbred lust, as well, urges him on, and the people in those regions are naturally much inclined to lustfulness. He burns, both by his own frailty and that of his nation. He has a desire 237 VI. 461-492 to corrupt the care of her attendants, and the fidelity of her nurse, and besides, to tempt herself with large presents, and to spend his whole kingdom in so doing; or else, to seize her, and, when seized, to secure her by a cruel war. And there is nothing which, being seized by an unbridled passion, he may not dare; nor does his breast contain the internal flame. And now he ill bears with delay; and with eager mouth returns to urge the request of Progne, and under it he pleads his own wishes; passion makes him eloquent. As oft as he presses beyond what is becoming, he pretends that Progne has thus desired. He adds tears as well, as though she had enjoined them too. O ye Gods above, how much of dark night do the breasts of mortals contain! Through his very attempt at villany, Tereus is thought to be affectionate, and from his crime does he gather praise.

And how is it, too, that Philomela desires the same thing? and fondly embracing the shoulders of her father with her arms, she begs, even by her own safety (and against it too), that she may visit her sister. Tereus views her, and, while viewing her, is embracing her beforehand in imagination; and, as he beholds her kisses, and her arms around her father’s neck, he receives them all as incentives, and fuel, and the food of his furious passion; and, as often as she embraces her father, he could wish to be that father, and, even then, he would have been not the less impious. The father is overcome by the entreaties of them both. She rejoices, and returns thanks to her parent, and, to her misfortune, deems that the success of both, which will be the cause of sorrow to them both. Now but little of his toil was remaining for Phœbus, and his steeds were beating with their feet the descending track of Olympus; a regal banquet was set on the tables, and 213 VI. 489-521 wine in golden vessels; after this, their bodies were given up to gentle sleep. But the Odrysian king,59 though he was withdrawn, still burned for her; and, recalling her form, her movements, her hands, fancies that which he has not yet seen, to be such as he wishes; and he 238 VI. 493-522 himself feeds his own flames, his anxiety preventing sleep.

It was now day; and Pandion, grasping the right hand of his son-in-law, about to depart, with tears bursting forth, recommended his companion to his care. “I commit her, my dear son-in-law, to thee, because reasons, grounded on affection, have compelled me, and both my daughters have desired it, and thou as well, Tereus, hast wished it; and I entreat thee, begging by thy honor, by thy breast thus allied to us, and by the Gods above, to protect her with the love of a father; and do send back to me, as soon as possible, this sweet comfort of my anxious old age, for all delay will be tedious to me, and do thou, too, Philomela, if thou hast any affection for me, return as soon as possible: ’tis enough that thy sister is so far away.” Thus did he enjoin, and at the same time he gave kisses to his daughter, and his affectionate tears fell amid his instructions. He then demanded the right hands of them both, as a pledge of their fidelity, and joined them together when given, and bade them, with mindful lips, to salute for him his absent daughter and grandson, and with difficulty60 uttered the last farewell, his mouth being filled with sobs; and he shuddered at the presages of his own mind. But as soon as Philomela was put on board of the painted ship, and the sea was urged by the oars, and the land was left behind, he exclaimed, “I have gained my point; the object of my desires is borne along with me.” The barbarian exults, too, and with difficulty defers his joy in his intention, and turns not his eyes anywhere away from her. No otherwise than when the ravenous bird of Jupiter, with crooked talons, has placed a hare in his lofty nest; there is no escape for the captive; the plunderer keeps his eye on his prey. And now the voyage is ended, and now they have gone forth from the wearied ship, upon his own shore; when the king drags the daughter of Pandion into a lofty dwelling, concealed in an ancient wood, 214 VI. 522-559 and there he shuts her up, pale and trembling, and dreading everything, 239 VI. 523-555 and now with tears inquiring where her sister is; and confessing his baseness, he masters by force her a maiden, and but one, while she often vainly calls on her father, often on her sister, and on the great Gods above all. She trembles like a frightened lamb, which, wounded, being snatched from the mouth of a hoary wolf, does not as yet seem to itself in safety; and as a dove, its feathers soaked with its own blood, still trembles, and dreads the ravening talons wherein it has been lately held. But soon, when consciousness returned, tearing her dishevelled hair like one mourning, and beating her arms in lamentation, stretching out her hands, she said, “Oh, barbarous wretch, for thy dreadful deeds; oh, cruel monster! have neither the requests of my father, with his affectionate tears, moved thee, nor a regard for my sister, nor my virgin state, nor the laws of marriage? Thou hast confounded all. I am become the supplanter of my sister; thou, the husband of both of us. This punishment was not my due. Why dost thou not take away this life, that no villany, perfidious wretch, may remain unperpetrated by thee? and would that thou hadst done it before thy criminal embraces! then I might have had a shade void of all crime. Yet, if the Gods above behold these things, if the majesty of the Gods be anything; if, with myself, all things are not come to ruin; one time or other thou shalt give me satisfaction. I myself, having cast shame aside, will declare thy deeds. If opportunity is granted me, I will come among the people; if I shall be kept imprisoned in the woods, I will fill the woods, and will move the conscious rocks. Let Heaven hear these things, and the Gods, if there are any in it.”

After the wrath of the cruel tyrant was aroused by such words, and his fear was not less than it, urged on by either cause, he drew the sword, with which he was girt, from the sheath, and seizing her by the hair, her arms being bent behind her back, he compelled her to submit to chains. Philomela was preparing her throat, and, on seeing the sword, had conceived hopes of her death. He cut away, with his cruel weapon, her tongue seized with pincers, while giving vent to her indignation, 240 VI. 555-585 and constantly calling on the name of her father, and struggling to speak. The extreme root of the tongue still quivers. The tongue itself lies, and faintly murmurs, quivering upon the black earth; and as the tail of a mangled snake is 215 VI. 559-586 wont to writhe about, so does it throb, and, as it dies, seeks the feet of its owner. It is said, too, that often after this crime (I could hardly dare believe it) he satisfied his lust upon her mutilated body.

He has the effrontery, after such deeds, to return to Progne, who, on seeing her husband, inquires for her sister; but he heaves feigned sighs, and tells a fictitious story of her death; and his tears procure him credit. Progne tears from her shoulders her robes, shining with broad gold, and puts on black garments, and erects an honorary sepulchre, and offers expiation to an imaginary shade; and laments the death of a sister not thus to be lamented.

The God Apollo, the year being completed, had run through the twice six signs of the Zodiac. What can Philomela do? A guard prevents her flight; the walls of the house are hard, built of solid stone: her speechless mouth is deprived of the means of discovering the crime. But in grief there is extreme ingenuity, and inventive skill arises in misfortunes. She skilfully suspends the warp in a web of Barbarian design,61 and interweaves purple marks with white, as a mode of discovering the villany of Tereus; and delivers it, when finished, to one of her attendants, and begs her, by signs, to carry it to her mistress. As desired, she carries it to Progne, and does not know what she is delivering in it. The wife of the savage tyrant unfolds the web, and reads the mournful tale62 of her sister, and (wondrous that she can be so!) she is silent. ’Tis grief that stops her utterance, and words sufficiently indignant fail her tongue, in want of them; nor is there room for weeping. But she rushes onward, about 241 VI. 586-596 to confound both right and wrong, and is wholly occupied in the contrivance of revenge.


The gravest authors among the ancients, such as Strabo and Pausanias, speaking of this tragical story, agree that the narrative, divested of its poetical ornaments, is strictly conformable to truth; though, of course, the sequel bears evident marks of embellishment either by the fancy of the Poet, or the superstition of the vulgar.

216VI. 587-604


Progne delivers her sister Philomela from captivity, and brings her to the court of Tereus, where she revolves in her mind her different projects of revenge. Her son Itys, in the meantime, comes into her apartment, and is murdered by his mother and aunt. Progne afterwards serves him up at a feast, which she prepares for her husband; on which, being obliged to fly from the fury of the enraged king, she is changed into a swallow, Philomela into a nightingale, and Tereus himself into a lapwing.

It is now the time63 when the Sithonian64 matrons are wont to celebrate the triennial festival of Bacchus. Night is conscious of their rites; by night Rhodope resounds with the tinklings of the shrill cymbal. By night the queen goes out of her house, and is arrayed according to the rites of the God, and carries the arms of the frantic solemnity. Her head is covered with vine leaves; from her left side hang down the skins of a deer;65 upon her shoulder rests a light spear. Then the terrible Progne rushing through the woods, a multitude of her followers attending her, and agitated by the fury of her resentment, pretends, Bacchus, that it is inspired by thee.

242VI. 596-620

She comes at length to the lonely dwelling, and howls aloud, and cries “Evoë!” and breaks open the gates, and seizes her sister, and puts upon her, so seized, the badges of Bacchus, and conceals her countenance under the foliage of ivy; and dragging her along, full of amazement, leads her within her threshold. When Philomela perceives that she has arrived at that accursed house,66 the wretched woman shudders, and paleness spreads over her whole face. Progne having now got a fitting place for so doing, takes away the symbols of the rites,67 and unveils the blushing face of her wretched sister; 217 VI. 605-641 and holds her in her embraces. But she, on the other hand, cannot endure to lift up her eyes; seeming to herself the supplanter of her sister, and fixing her looks on the ground, her hand is in the place of voice to her, as she desires to swear and to call the Gods to witness that this disgrace has been brought upon her by violence. Progne burns with rage, and contains not her anger; and checking the grief of her sister, she says, “We must not act in this matter with tears, but with the sword, and even with anything, if such thou hast, that can possibly outdo the sword. I have, sister, prepared myself for every crime! Either, when I shall have set fire to the royal palace with torches, I will throw the artful Tereus into the midst of the flames, or with the steel will I cut away his tongue or his eyes, or the members that have deprived thee of thy chastity, or by a thousand wounds will I expel his guilty soul from his body. Something tremendous am I prepared for; what it is, I am still in doubt.”

While Progne was uttering such expressions, Itys came to his mother. By him she was put in mind of what she might do; and looking at him with vengeful eyes, she said, “Ah! how like thou art to thy father!” And saying no more, she prepared for a horrible deed, and burned with silent rage. Yet when her son came 243 VI. 620-652 to her, and saluted his mother and drew her neck towards him with his little arms, and added kisses mingled with childish endearments, the mother, in truth, was moved, and her anger abated, and her eyes, in spite of her, became wet with tears thus forced from her. But soon as she found the mother in her shrinking from excess of affection, from him again did she turn towards the features of her sister; and looking at them both by turns, she said, “Why does the one employ endearments, while the other is silent with her tongue torn from her? Why does she not call her sister, whom he calls mother? Consider to what kind of husband thou art married, daughter of Pandion. Thou dost grow degenerate. Tenderness in the wife of Tereus is criminality.” No more delay is there; she drags Itys along, just as the tigress of the banks of the Ganges does the suckling offspring of the hind, through the shady forests. And when they are come to a remote part of the lofty house, Progne strikes68 him with the sword, 218 VI. 641-669 extending his hands, and as he beholds his fate, crying now “Alas!” and now “My mother!” and clinging to her neck, where his breast joins his side; nor does she turn away her face. Even one wound alone is sufficient for his death; Philomela cuts his throat with the sword; and they mangle his limbs, still quivering and retaining somewhat of life. Part of them boils,69 in the hollow cauldrons; part hisses on spits; the inmost recesses stream with gore. His wife sets Tereus, in his unconsciousness, before this banquet; and falsely pretending rites after the manner of her country, at which it is allowed one man only to be present, she removes his attendants and servants. Tereus himself, sitting aloft on the throne of his forefathers, eats and heaps his own entrails into his own stomach. And so great is the blindness of his mind, that he says, “Send for Itys.” Progne is unable to 244 VI. 653-676 conceal her cruel joy; and now, desirous to be the discoverer of her having murdered him, she says, “Thou hast within thee, that for which thou art asking.” He looks around, and inquires where he is; as he inquires, and calls him again, Philomela springs forth, just as she is, with her hair disordered by the infernal murder, and throws the bloody head of Itys in the face of his father; nor at any time has she more longed to be able to speak, and to testify her joy by words such as are deserved.

The Thracian pushes from him the table with a loud cry, and summons the Viperous sisters70 from the Stygian valley; and at one moment he desires, if he only can, by opening his breast to discharge thence the horrid repast, and the half-digested entrails. And then he weeps, and pronounces himself the wretched sepulchre of his own son; and then he follows the daughters of Pandion with his drawn sword. You would have thought the bodies of the Cecropian71 Nymphs were supported by wings; and they were supported by wings. The one of them makes for the woods, the other takes her 219 VI. 669-676 place beneath the roofs of houses. Nor even as yet have the marks of murder withdrawn from her breast; and her feathers are still stained with blood. He, made swift by his grief, and his desire for revenge, is turned into a bird, upon whose head stands a crested plume; a prolonged bill projects in place of the long spear. The name of the bird is ‘epops’ [lapwing]; its face appears to be armed. This affliction dispatched Pandion to the shades of Tartarus before his day, and the late period of protracted old age.


By the symbolical changes of Philomela, Progne, and Tereus, those who framed this termination of the story intended to depict the different characters of the persons whose actions are there 245 VI. 677 represented. As the lapwing delights in filth and impurity, the ancients thereby portrayed the unscrupulous character of Tereus; and, as the flight of that bird is but slow, it shows that he was not able to overtake his wife and her sister. The nightingale, concealed in the woods and thickets, seems there to be concealing her misfortunes and sorrows; and the swallow, which frequents the abodes of man, shows the restlessness of Progne, who seeks in vain for her son, whom, in her frantic fit, she has so barbarously murdered.

Anacreon and Apollodorus, however, reverse the story, saying that Philomela was changed into a swallow, and Progne into a nightingale. This event is said by some writers to have happened not in Thrace, but at Daulis, a town of Phocis, where Tereus is supposed to have gone to settle. Pausanias tells us, that the tomb of Tereus was to be seen near Athens, so that it is probable that he died at a distance from Thrace, his native country. Homer alludes to the story of Philomela in somewhat different terms; speaking of the grounds of the grief of Penelope, he says, that ‘she made her complaints to be heard like the inconsolable Philomela, the daughter of Pandarus, always hidden among the leaves and branches of trees. When the Spring arrives, she makes her voice echo through the woods, and laments her dear Itylus, whom she killed by an unhappy mistake; varying, in her continued plaints, the mournful melody of her notes.’ By this, Homer seems to have known nothing of Tereus or of Progne, and to have followed a tradition, which was to the following effect:—Pandarus had three daughters, Ædon, Mecrope, and Cleothera. Ædon, the eldest, was married to Zethus, the brother of Amphion, by whom she had one son, who was named Itylus. Envying the more numerous family of Niobe, her sister-in-law, she resolved to despatch the eldest of her nephews; and, as her son was brought up with his cousin, and was his bedfellow, she bade him change his place in the bed, on the night on which she intended to commit the crime. Itylus forgot her commands, and consequently his mother killed him by mistake for her nephew.

220VI. 677-700


Boreas, not obtaining the consent of Erectheus, king of Athens, for the marriage of his daughter, Orithyïa, takes that princess in his arms, and carries her away into Thrace. By her he has two sons, Calaïs and Zethes, who have wings, like their father, and afterwards embark with Jason in search of the Golden Fleece.

Erectheus72 received the sceptre of that country, and 246 VI. 678-707 the government of the state; it is a matter of doubt whether he was more powerful through his justice, or by his mighty arms. He had, indeed, begotten four sons, and as many of the female sex: but the beauty of two of them was equal. Of these, Cephalus,73 the son of Æolus, was blessed with thee, Procris, for his wife; Tereus and the Thracians were an obstacle to Boreas; and long was that God without his much-loved Orithyïa, while he was entreating, and choosing rather to use prayers than force. But when nothing was effected by blandishments, terrible with that rage which is his wont, and but too natural with that wind, he said, “And this is deservedly done; for why did I relinquish my own weapons, my violence, my strength, my anger, and my threatening spirit, and turn to prayers, the employment of which ill becomes me? Violence is suitable for me; by violence do I dispel the lowering clouds, by violence do I arouse the seas, and overthrow the knotted oaks, and harden the snow, and beat the earth with hail. I too, when I have met with my brothers in the open air (for that is peculiarly my field), struggle with efforts so great, that the intermediate sky thunders again with our onset, and fires flash, struck forth from the hollow clouds. I too, when I have descended into the hollow recesses of the earth, and in my rage have placed my back against its lowest depths, disturb the shades below, and the whole globe with earthquakes. By 221 VI. 700-721 these means should I have sought this alliance; and Erectheus ought not to have been entreated to be my father-in-law, but made so by force.”

Boreas, having said these words, or some not less high-sounding than these, shakes his wings, by the motion of which all the earth is fanned, and the wide sea becomes ruffled; and the lover, drawing his dusty mantle over the high tops of mountains, sweeps the ground, and, wrapt in darkness, embraces with his tawny wings Orithyïa, as she trembles with fear. As she flies, his 247 VI. 708-721 flame, being agitated, burns more fiercely. Nor does the ravisher check the reins of his airy course, before he reaches the people and the walls of the Ciconians.74 There, too, is the Actæan damsel made the wife of the cold sovereign, and afterwards a mother, bringing forth twins at a birth, who have the wings of their father, the rest like their mother. Yet they say that these wings were not produced together with their bodies; and while their long beard, with its yellow hair, was away, the boys Calaïs and Zethes were without feathers. But soon after, at once wings began to enclose both their sides, after the manner of birds, and at once their cheeks began to grow yellow with down. When, therefore, the boyish season of youth was passed, they sought,75 with the Minyæ, along the sea before unmoved,76 in the first ship that existed, the fleece that glittered with shining hair of gold.


Plato tells us that the story of the rape of Orithyïa is but an allegory, which signifies that, by accident, she was blown by the wind into the sea, where she was drowned. Apollodorus and Pausanias, however, assert that this story is based on historical facts, and that Boreas, king of Thrace, seized Orithyïa, the daughter of Erectheus, king of Athens, and sister of Procris, as she was passing the river Ilissus, and carried her into his dominions, where she became the mother of twins, Calaïs and Zethes. In the Argonautic expedition, these chiefs delivered Phineus, the king of Bithynia, from the persecution of the Harpies, which were in the habit of snatching away the victuals served up at his table.

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