Ovid. Metamorphoses. Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill
Publishing Co. 1922.
fate, when known throughout the land
and cities of Achaia,
deserved, to blind Tiresias,--mighty
bold despiser of the Gods,
son of Echion,
scoffed at all his praise,
and, sole of man deriding the great seer,
upbraided him his hapless loss of sight.
shaking his white temples, hoar with age.
“Oh glad the day to thee, if, light denied,
thine eyes, most fortunate, should not behold
the Bacchanalian rites! The day will come,
and soon the light will dawn, when Bacchus,
shall make his advent known--
all hail the new god Bacchus!
must build a temple to this Deity,
or shalt be torn asunder; thy remains,
throughout the forest scattered, will pollute
the wood with sanguinary streams; and thy
life-blood bespatter with corrupting blots
thy frenzied mother and her sisters twain.
And all shall come to pass, as I have told,
because thou wilt not honour the New God.
And thou shalt wail and marvel at the sight
of blind Tiresias,
though veiled in night.”
as he spoke, lo, Pentheus
drove the seer:
but all his words, prophetic, were fulfilled,
and confirmation followed in his steps.--
at once appears, and all the fields
resound with shouts of everybody there.--
men, brides and matrons, and a howling rout--
nobles and commons and the most refined--
a motley multitude--resistless borne
to join those rites of Bacchus,
cries; “What madness, O ye brave
descendants of the Dragon! Sons of Mars!
What frenzy has confounded you? Can sounds
of clanging brass prevail; and pipes and horns,
and magical delusions, drunkenness,
and yelling women, and obscene displays,
and hollow drums, overcome you, whom the sword,
nor troops of war, nor trumpet could affright?
“How shall I wonder at these ancient men,
who, crossing boundless seas from distant Tyre,
hither transferred their exiled Household Gods,
and founded a new Tyre;
but now are shorn,
and even as captives would be led away
without appeal to Mars?
And, O young men,
of active prime whose vigor equals mine!
Cast down your ivy scepters; take up arms;
put on your helmets; strip your brows of leaves;
be mindful of the mighty stock you are,
and let your souls be
the spirit of that dauntless dragon, which,
unaided, slew so many, and at last
died to defend his fountain and his lake.--
so ye may conquer in the hope of fame.
“He gave the brave to death, but with your arms
ye shall expel the worthless, and enhance
the glory of your land. If Fate decree
the fall of Thebes,
Oh, let the engines
of war and men pull down its walls, and let
the clash of steel and roaring flames resound.
Thus, blameless in great misery, our woes
would be the theme of lamentations, known
to story; and our tears would shame us not.
“But now an unarmed
boy will conquer Thebes:
a lad whom neither weapons, wars nor steeds
delight; whose ringlets reek with myrrh; adorned
purple and embroidered robes
of interwoven gold. Make way for me!
And I will soon compel him to confess
his father is assumed and all his rites
“If in days gone Acrisius
so held this vain god in deserved contempt,
and shut the Argive gates against his face,
why, therefore, should not Pentheus
close the gates
with equal courage--Hence! Away!
Fetch the vile leader
of these rioters
in chains! Let not my mandate be delayed.”
to restrain his grandsire, Cadmus,
and many of his trusted friends
united in vain efforts to rebuke
his reckless rage; but greater violence
was gained from every admonition.--
his rage increased the more it was restrained,
and injury resulted from his friends.
So have I seen a stream in open course,
run gently on its way with pleasant noise,
but whensoever logs and rocks detained,
it foamed, with violence increased, against
his servants stained with blood, to whom he said,
“What have ye done with Bacchus?”
And to him
they made reply; “Not Bacchus
have we seen,
but we have taken his attendant lad,
the chosen servant of his sacred rites.”
And they delivered to the noble king,
a youth whose hands were lashed behind his back.
terrible in anger, turned
his awful gaze upon the lad, and though
he scarce deferred his doom, addressed him thus;
“Doomed to destruction, thou art soon to give
example to my people by thy death:
tell me thy name; what are thy parents called;
where is thy land; and wherefore art thou found
attendant on these Bacchanalian rites.”
he replied; “They call my name
Acoetes; and Maeonia is the land
from whence I came. My parents were so poor,
my father left me neither fruitful fields,
tilled by the lusty ox, nor fleecy sheep,
nor lowing kine;
for, he himself was poor,
and with his hook and line was wont to catch
the leaping fishes, landed by his rod.
His skill was all his wealth. And when to me
he gave his trade, he said, ‘You are the heir
of my employment, therefore unto you
all that is mine I give,’ and, at his death,
he left me nothing but the running waves. --
they are the sum of my inheritance.
“And, afterwhile, that I might not be bound
forever to my father's rocky shores,
I learned to steer the keel with dextrous hand;
and marked with watchful gaze the guiding stars;
the watery Constellation of the Goat,
and the Bear, the Hyades,
the houses of the winds,
and every harbour
suitable for ships.
“So chanced it, as I made for Delos,
I veered close to the shores of Chios:
steered, by plying on the starboard oar,
and nimbly leaping gained the sea-wet strand.
“Now when the night was past and lovely dawn
appeared, I,rose from slumber, and I bade
my men to fetch fresh water, and I showed
the pathway to the stream. Then did I climb
a promontory's height, to learn from there
the promise of the winds; which having done,
I called the men and sought once more my ship.
first of my companions, cried,
‘Behold we come!’ And, thinking he had caught
a worthy prize in that unfruitful land,
he led a boy, of virgin-beauty formed,
across the shore.
“Heavy with wine and sleep
the lad appeared to stagger on his way,--
with difficulty moving. When I saw
the manner of his dress, his countenance
and grace, I knew it was not mortal man,
and being well assured, I said to them;
‘What Deity abideth in that form
I cannot say; but 'tis a god in truth.--
O whosoever thou art, vouchsafe to us
propitious waters; ease our toils, and grant
to these thy grace.’
“At this, the one of all
who was the quickest hand,
who ever was the nimblest on the yards,
and first to slip the ropes, Dictys
‘Pray not for us!’ and all approved his words.
The golden haired, the guardian of the prow,
Libys and Alcimedon
approved it; and Epopeus
who should urge
the flagging spirits, and with rhythmic chants
give time and measure to the beating oars,
and all the others praised their leader's words,--
so blind is greed of gain.--Then I rejoined,
‘Mine is the greatest share in this good ship,
which I will not permit to be destroyed,
nor injured by this sacred freight:’ and I
opposed them as they came.
the most audacious of that impious crew,
began to rage. He was a criminal,
who, for a dreadful murder, had been sent
in exile from a Tuscan
Whilst I opposed he gripped me by the throat,
and shook me as would cast me in the deep,
had I not firmly held a rope, half stunned:
and all that wicked crew approved the deed.
(be assured it was the God)
as though the noise disturbed his lethargy
from wine, and reason had regained its power,
at last bespake the men, ‘What deeds are these?
What noise assails my ears? What means decoyed
my wandering footsteps? Whither do ye lead?’
‘Fear not,’ the steersman said, ‘but tell us fair
the haven of your hope, and you shall land
whereso your heart desires.’ ‘To Naxos
‘for it is indeed my home,
and there the mariner finds welcome cheer.’
Him to deceive, they pledged themselves, and swore
by Gods of seas and skies to do his will:
and they commanded me to steer that way.
“The Isle of Naxos
was upon our right;
and when they saw the sails were set that way,
they all began to shout at once, ‘What, ho!
Thou madman! what insanity is this,
Acoetes? Make our passage to the left.’
And all the while they made their meaning known
by artful signs or whispers in my ears.
“I was amazed and answered, ‘Take the helm.’
And I refused to execute their will,
atrocious, and at once resigned command.
Then all began to murmur, and the crew
reviled me. Up Aethalion jumped and said,
‘As if our only safety is in you!’
With this he swaggered up and took command;
and leaving Naxos
steered for other shores.
mocking them,--as if but then
he had discovered their deceitful ways,--
looked on the ocean from the rounded stern,
and seemed to sob as he addressed the men;
what alien shores are these?
'Tis not the land you promised nor the port
my heart desires. For what have I deserved
this cruel wrong? What honour can accrue
if strong men mock a boy; a lonely youth
if many should deceive?’ And as he spoke,
I, also, wept to see their wickedness.
“The impious gang made merry at our tears,
and lashed the billows with their quickening oars.
do I swear to you (and naught
celestial is more potent) all the things
I tell you are as true as they surpass
the limit of belief. The ship stood still
as if a dry dock held it in the sea.--
“The wondering sailors laboured at the oars,
and they unfurled the sails, in hopes to gain
some headway, with redoubled energies;
but twisting ivy tangled in the oars,
and interlacing held them by its weight.
in the midst of all stood crowned
of grape-leaves, and shook a lance
covered with twisted fronds
of leafy vines.
Around him crouched the visionary forms
of tigers, lynxes, and the mottled shapes
“Then the mariners
possessed by fear or madness. Medon
began to turn a swarthy hue, and fins
grew outward from his flattened trunk,
and with a curving spine his body bent.--
then Lycabas to him, ‘What prodigy
is this that I behold?’ Even as he spoke,
his jaws were broadened and his nose was bent;
his hardened skin was covered with bright scales.
And Libys, as he tried to pull the oars,
could see his own hands shrivel into fins;
another of the crew began to grasp
the twisted ropes, but even as he strove
to lift his arms they fastened to his sides;--
with bending body and a crooked back
he plunged into the waves, and as he swam
displayed a tail, as crescent as the moon.
“Now here, now there, they flounce about the ship;
they spray her decks with brine; they rise and sink;
they rise again, and dive beneath the waves;
they seem in sportive dance upon the main;
out from their nostrils they spout sprays of brine;
they toss their supple sides. And I alone,
of twenty mariners
that manned that ship,
remained. A cold chill seized my limbs,--
I was so frightened; but the gracious God
now spake me fair, ‘Fear not and steer for Naxos.’
And when we landed there I ministered
on smoking altars Bacchanalian rites.”
answered him: “A parlous tale,
and we have listened to the dreary end,
hoping our anger might consume its rage;--
away with him! hence drag him, hurl him out,
with dreadful torture, into Stygian night.”
Quickly they seized and dragged Acoetes forth,
and cast him in a dungeon triple-strong.
And while they fixed the instruments of death,
kindled the fires, and wrought the cruel irons,
the legend says, though no one aided him,
the chains were loosened and slipped off his arms;
the doors flew open of their own accord.
long-persisting in his rage,
not caring to command his men to go,
himself went forth to Mount Cithaeron,
resound with singing and with shrilly note
the votaries of Bacchus
at their rites.
As when with sounding brass the trumpeter
alarms of war, the mettled charger neighs
and scents the battle; so the clamored skies
resounding with the dreadful outcries fret
the wrath of Pentheus
and his rage enflame.
About the middle of the mount (with groves
around its margin) was a treeless plain,
where nothing might conceal. Here as he stood
to view the sacred rites with impious eyes,
his mother saw him first. She was so wrought
with frenzy that she failed to know her son,
and cast her thyrsus
that it wounded him;
and shouted, “Hi! come hither, Ho!
Come hither my two
sisters! a great boar
hath strayed into our fields; come! see me strike
and wound him!”
As he fled from them in fright
the raging multitude rushed after him;
and, as they gathered round; in cowardice
he cried for mercy and condemned himself,
confessing he had sinned against a God.
And as they wounded him he called his aunt;
have mercy! Let the shade
of sad Actaeon
move thee to relent!”
No pity moved her when she heard that name;
in a wild frenzy she forgot her son.
was imploring her, she tore
his right arm out; her sister Ino wrenched
the other from his trunk. He could not stretch
his arms out to his mother, but he cried,
“Behold me, mother!” When Agave
his bleeding limbs, torn, scattered on the ground,
she howled, and tossed her head, and shook her hair
that streamed upon the breeze; and when his head
was wrenched out from his mangled corpse,
she clutched it with her blood-smeared fingers, while
she shouted, “Ho! companions! victory!
The victory is ours!” So when the wind
strips from a lofty tree its leaves, which touched
by autumn's cold are loosely held, they fall
not quicker than the wretch's bleeding limbs
were torn asunder by their cursed hands.
Now, frightened by this terrible event,
the women of Ismenus
the new Bacchantian rites; and they revere
the sacred altars, heaped with frankincense.
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