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Metamorphoses, Ovid (8AD)

BOOK I (Lines 163-415)

When, from his throne

supreme, the Son of Saturn viewed their deeds,

he deeply groaned: and calling to his mind

the loathsome feast Lycaon had prepared,

a recent deed not common to report,

his soul conceived great anger —worthy Jove—

and he convened a council. No delay

detained the chosen Gods.

When skies are clear

a path is well defined on high, which men,

because so white, have named the Milky Way.

It makes a passage for the deities

and leads to mansions of the Thunder God,

to Jove’s imperial home. On either side

of its wide way the noble Gods are seen,

inferior Gods in other parts abide,

but there the potent and renowned of Heaven

have fixed their homes.—It is a glorious place,

our most audacious verse might designate

the “Palace of High Heaven.” When the Gods

were seated, therefore, in its marble halls

the King of all above the throng sat high,

and leaning on his ivory scepter, thrice,

and once again he shook his awful locks,

wherewith he moved the earth, and seas and stars,—

and thus indignantly began to speak;

“The time when serpent footed giants strove

to fix their hundred arms on captive Heaven,

not more than this event could cause alarm

for my dominion of the universe.

Although it was a savage enemy,

yet warred we with a single source derived

of one. Now must I utterly destroy

this mortal race wherever Nereus roars

around the world. Yea, by the Infernal Streams

that glide through Stygian groves beneath the world,

I swear it. Every method has been tried.

The knife must cut immedicable wounds,

lest maladies infect untainted parts.

“Beneath my sway are demi gods and fauns,

nymphs, rustic deities, sylvans of the hills,

satyrs;—all these, unworthy Heaven’s abodes,

we should at least permit to dwell on earth

which we to them bequeathed. What think ye, Gods,

is safety theirs when I, your sovereign lord,

the Thunder-bolt Controller, am ensnared

by fierce Lycaon?” Ardent in their wrath,

the astonished Gods demand revenge overtake

this miscreant; he who dared commit such crimes.

‘Twas even thus when raged that impious band

to blot the Roman name in sacred blood

of Caesar, sudden apprehensive fears

of ruin absolute astonished man,

and all the world convulsed. Nor is the love

thy people bear to thee, Augustus, less

than these displayed to Jupiter whose voice

and gesture all the murmuring host restrained:

and as indignant clamour ceased, suppressed

by regnant majesty, Jove once again

broke the deep silence with imperial words;

“Dismiss your cares; he paid the penalty

however all the crime and punishment

now learn from this:—An infamous report

of this unholy age had reached my ears,

and wishing it were false, I sloped my course

from high Olympus, and—although a God—

disguised in human form I viewed the world.

It would delay us to recount the crimes

unnumbered, for reports were less than truth.

“I traversed Maenalus where fearful dens

abound, over Lycaeus, wintry slopes

of pine tree groves, across Cyllene steep;

and as the twilight warned of night’s approach,

I stopped in that Arcadian tyrant’s realms

and entered his inhospitable home:—

and when I showed his people that a God

had come, the lowly prayed and worshiped me,

but this Lycaon mocked their pious vows

and scoffing said; ‘A fair experiment

will prove the truth if this be god or man.’

and he prepared to slay me in the night,—

to end my slumbers in the sleep of death.

So made he merry with his impious proof;

but not content with this he cut the throat

of a Molossian hostage sent to him,

and partly softened his still quivering limbs

in boiling water, partly roasted them

on fires that burned beneath. And when this flesh

was served to me on tables, I destroyed

his dwelling and his worthless Household Gods,

with thunder bolts avenging. Terror struck

he took to flight, and on the silent plains

is howling in his vain attempts to speak;

he raves and rages and his greedy jaws,

desiring their accustomed slaughter, turn

against the sheep—still eager for their blood.

His vesture separates in shaggy hair,

his arms are changed to legs; and as a wolf

he has the same grey locks, the same hard face,

the same bright eyes, the same ferocious look.



“Thus fell one house, but not one house alone

deserved to perish; over all the earth

ferocious deeds prevail,—all men conspire

in evil. Let them therefore feel the weight

of dreadful penalties so justly earned,

for such hath my unchanging will ordained.”

with exclamations some approved the words

of Jove and added fuel to his wrath,

while others gave assent: but all deplored

and questioned the estate of earth deprived

of mortals. Who could offer frankincense

upon the altars? Would he suffer earth

to be despoiled by hungry beasts of prey?

Such idle questions of the state of man

the King of Gods forbade, but granted soon

to people earth with race miraculous,

unlike the first.


Diluvium. Deucalion et Pyrrha.

And now his thunder bolts

would Jove wide scatter, but he feared the flames,

unnumbered, sacred ether might ignite

and burn the axle of the universe:

and he remembered in the scroll of fate,

there is a time appointed when the sea

and earth and Heavens shall melt, and fire destroy

the universe of mighty labour wrought.

Such weapons by the skill of Cyclops forged,

for different punishment he laid aside—

for straightway he preferred to overwhelm

the mortal race beneath deep waves and storms

from every raining sky. And instantly

he shut the Northwind in Aeolian caves,

and every other wind that might dispel

the gathering clouds. He bade the Southwind blow:—

the Southwind flies abroad with dripping wings,

concealing in the gloom his awful face:

the drenching rain descends from his wet beard

and hoary locks; dark clouds are on his brows

and from his wings and garments drip the dews:

his great hands press the overhanging clouds;

loudly the thunders roll; the torrents pour;

Iris, the messenger of Juno, clad

in many coloured raiment, upward draws

the steaming moisture to renew the clouds.

The standing grain is beaten to the ground,

the rustic’s crops are scattered in the mire,

and he bewails the long year’s fruitless toil.

The wrath of Jove was not content with powers

that emanate from Heaven; he brought to aid

his azure brother, lord of flowing waves,

who called upon the Rivers and the Streams:

and when they entered his impearled abode,

Neptune, their ancient ruler, thus began;

“A long appeal is needless; pour ye forth

in rage of power; open up your fountains;

rush over obstacles; let every stream

pour forth in boundless floods.” Thus he commands,

and none dissenting all the River Gods

return, and opening up their fountains roll

tumultuous to the deep unfruitful sea.

And Neptune with his trident smote the Earth,

which trembling with unwonted throes heaved up

the sources of her waters bare; and through

her open plains the rapid rivers rushed

resistless, onward bearing the waving grain,

the budding groves, the houses, sheep and men,—

and holy temples, and their sacred urns.

The mansions that remained, resisting vast

and total ruin, deepening waves concealed

and whelmed their tottering turrets in the flood

and whirling gulf. And now one vast expanse,

the land and sea were mingled in the waste

of endless waves—a sea without a shore.

One desperate man seized on the nearest hill;

another sitting in his curved boat,

plied the long oar where he was wont to plow;

another sailed above his grain, above

his hidden dwelling; and another hooked

a fish that sported in a leafy elm.

Perchance an anchor dropped in verdant fields,

or curving keels were pushed through tangled vines;

and where the gracile goat enjoyed the green,

unsightly seals reposed. Beneath the waves

were wondering Nereids, viewing cities, groves

and houses. Dolphins darting mid the trees,

meshed in the twisted branches, beat against

the shaken oak trees. There the sheep, affrayed,

swim with the frightened wolf, the surging waves

float tigers and lions: availeth naught

his lightning shock the wild boar, nor avails

the stag’s fleet footed speed. The wandering bird,

seeking umbrageous groves and hidden vales,

with wearied pinion droops into the sea.

The waves increasing surge above the hills,

and rising waters dash on mountain tops.

Myriads by the waves are swept away,

and those the waters spare, for lack of food,

starvation slowly overcomes at last.

A fruitful land and fair but now submerged

beneath a wilderness of rising waves,

‘Twixt Oeta and Aonia, Phocis lies,

where through the clouds Parnassus’ summits twain

point upward to the stars, unmeasured height,

save which the rolling billows covered all:

there in a small and fragile boat, arrived,

Deucalion and the consort of his couch,

prepared to worship the Corycian Nymphs,

the mountain deities, and Themis kind,

who in that age revealed in oracles

the voice of fate. As he no other lived

so good and just, as she no other feared

the Gods.

When Jupiter beheld the globe

in ruin covered, swept with wasting waves,

and when he saw one man of myriads left,

one helpless woman left of myriads lone,

both innocent and worshiping the Gods,

he scattered all the clouds; he blew away

the great storms by the cold northwind.


Once more

the earth appeared to heaven and the skies

appeared to earth. The fury of the main

abated, for the Ocean ruler laid

his trident down and pacified the waves,

and called on azure Triton.—Triton arose

above the waving seas, his shoulders mailed

in purple shells.—He bade the Triton blow,

blow in his sounding shell, the wandering streams

and rivers to recall with signal known:

a hollow wreathed trumpet, tapering wide

and slender stemmed, the Triton took amain

and wound the pearly shell at midmost sea.

Betwixt the rising and the setting suns

the wildered notes resounded shore to shore,

and as it touched his lips, wet with the brine

beneath his dripping beard, sounded retreat:

and all the waters of the land and sea

obeyed. Their fountains heard and ceased to flow;

their waves subsided; hidden hills uprose;

emerged the shores of ocean; channels filled

with flowing streams; the soil appeared; the land

increased its surface as the waves decreased:

and after length of days the trees put forth,

with ooze on bending boughs, their naked tops.

And all the wasted globe was now restored,

but as he viewed the vast and silent world

Deucalion wept and thus to Pyrrha spoke;

“O sister! wife! alone of woman left!

My kindred in descent and origin!

Dearest companion of my marriage bed,

doubly endeared by deepening dangers borne,—

of all the dawn and eve behold of earth,

but you and I are left—for the deep sea

has kept the rest! And what prevents the tide

from overwhelming us? Remaining clouds

affright us. How could you endure your fears

if you alone were rescued by this fate,

and who would then console your bitter grief?

Oh be assured, if you were buried in the waves,

that I would follow you and be with you!

Oh would that by my father’s art I might

restore the people, and inspire this clay

to take the form of man. Alas, the Gods

decreed and only we are living!”, Thus

Deucalion’s plaint to Pyrrha;—and they wept.

And after he had spoken, they resolved

to ask the aid of sacred oracles,—

and so they hastened to Cephissian waves

which rolled a turbid flood in channels known.

Thence when their robes and brows were sprinkled well,

they turned their footsteps to the goddess’ fane:

its gables were befouled with reeking moss

and on its altars every fire was cold.

But when the twain had reached the temple steps

they fell upon the earth, inspired with awe,

and kissed the cold stone with their trembling lips,

and said; “If righteous prayers appease the Gods,

and if the wrath of high celestial powers

may thus be turned, declare, O Themis! whence

and what the art may raise humanity?

O gentle goddess help the dying world!”

Moved by their supplications, she replied;

“Depart from me and veil your brows; ungird

your robes, and cast behind you as you go,

the bones of your great mother.” Long they stood

in dumb amazement: Pyrrha, first of voice,

refused the mandate and with trembling lips

implored the goddess to forgive—she feared

to violate her mother’s bones and vex

her sacred spirit. Often pondered they

the words involved in such obscurity,

repeating oft: and thus Deucalion

to Epimetheus’ daughter uttered speech

of soothing import; “ Oracles are just

and urge not evil deeds, or naught avails

the skill of thought. Our mother is the Earth,

and I may judge the stones of earth are bones

that we should cast behind us as we go.”

And although Pyrrha by his words was moved

she hesitated to comply; and both amazed

doubted the purpose of the oracle,

but deemed no harm to come of trial. They,

descending from the temple, veiled their heads

and loosed their robes and threw some stones

behind them. It is much beyond belief,

were not receding ages witness, hard

and rigid stones assumed a softer form,

enlarging as their brittle nature changed

to milder substance,—till the shape of man

appeared, imperfect, faintly outlined first,

as marble statue chiseled in the rough.

The soft moist parts were changed to softer flesh,

the hard and brittle substance into bones,

the veins retained their ancient name. And now

the Gods supreme ordained that every stone

Deucalion threw should take the form of man,

and those by Pyrrha cast should woman’s form

assume: so are we hardy to endure

and prove by toil and deeds from what we sprung.

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