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“The Story of Pentheus” – Ovid

The Triumphal Procession of Bacchus, c.1536 - Maerten van Heemskerck

         The Triumphal Procession of Bacchus” (c.1536)

 

                   Maerten van Heemskerck

 

                             _______________

 

 

till now the separate stories in Ovid’s

Metamorphoses have been linked,

one being either a consequence of

the other,or its cause, but the story

of Pentheus, grandson of Cadmus,

king and founder of Thebes, who

earlier in this series had his own

tale told, starts, as my German

teacher used to say, from the

scratch

 

This sad event, therefore, in the

first line of the poem, refers to

what will follow, not what came

before

 

            This sad event gave blind Tiresias fame,

            Through Greece establish’d in a prophet’s name.

 

Tiresias, if you’ll remember, had been

blinded by Juno / Hera, goddess of the

gods, for having sided with Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus, her husband, in a wager between

them he’d been called upon to decide,

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, however, gave 

Tiresias, as consolation, having been

barred by a pact among the gods not

to undo each other’s spells, the gift

of insight, prophecy

 

the example that follows, of his divination,

establish[‘d] at that time his reputation

[t]hrough[out] Greece as a prophet


            Th’ unhallow’d Pentheus only durst deride

            The cheated people, and their eyeless guide.

 

unhallow’d, unholy, wicked, sinful

 

Pentheus, king of Thebes following

his grandfather, Cadmus, but that’s

an entirely other story

 

only, of all the people, none but

Pentheus durst, dared, deride,

mock, their eyeless guide, Tiresias

            To whom the prophet in his fury said,

            Shaking the hoary honours of his head:

 

hoary, grizzled, gray, aged


            “‘Twere well, presumptuous man, ’twere well forthee

            If thou wert eyeless too, and blind, like me:

            For the time comes, nay, ’tis already here,

            When the young God’s solemnities appear:

 

the young God[], Bacchus / Dionysus,

son of Semele and Jove / Jupiter / Zeus,

if you’ll remember, god of revelry,

intoxication, wild abandon

 

            Which, if thou dost not with just rites adorn,

            Thy impious carcass, into pieces torn,

            Shall strew the woods, and hang on ev’ry thorn.

 

impious carcass, dishonoured corpse, 

of any thou who wouldn’t’ve honoured

the celebrations

 

            Then, then, remember what I now foretel,

            And own the blind Tiresias saw too well.”

 

own, agree to, admit

            Still Pentheus scorns him, and derides his skill;

            But time did all the prophet’s threats fulfil.

            For now through prostrate Greece young Bacchus rode,

 

prostrate, beholden, reverent, observant

of the solemnities


            Whilst howling matrons celebrate the God:

            All ranks and sexes to his Orgies ran,

            To mingle in the pomps, and fill the train.

 

the rites of Bacchus were bacchanals,

orgies, celebrations of abandon, Mardi

Gras, for instance, in New Orleans,

annual Gay Parades, now everywhere,

or Hallowe’en since time immemorial

 

see above

 

 

            When Pentheus thus his wicked rage express’d:

            “What madness, Thebans, has your souls possess’d?

            Can hollow timbrels, can a drunken shout,

 

timbrels, tambourines


            And the lewd clamours of a beastly rout,

            Thus quell your courage;

 

quell your courage, overcome your

sense of discipline

 

                                            can the weak alarm

            Of women’s yells those stubborn souls disarm,

 

those stubborn souls, the Theban

spirit of pride and honour


            Whom nor the sword nor trumpet e’er could fright,

            Nor the loud din and horror of a fight?

            And you, our sires, who left your old abodes,

 

our sires, the older generation of

Thebans, of his grandfather

Cadmus‘ ilk


            And fix’d in foreign earth your country Gods;

 

foreign earth, very Thebes, from Tyre,

where Cadmus and his followers had

come from, in search of Europa, if

you’ll remember


            Will you without a stroak your city yield,

 

stroak, stroke

 

            And poorly quit an undisputed field?

 

undisputed field, there are no

military obstructions


            But you, whose youth and vigour should inspire

            Heroick warmth, and kindle martial fire,

            Whom burnish’d arms and crested helmets grace,

            Not flow’ry garlands and a painted face;

           

Remember him to whom you stand ally’d:

 

him, Pentheus himself, their king


            The serpent for his well of waters dy’d.

 

The serpenta reference here to the

dragon that Cadmus slew, which had

guarded the cavern where his crew

had been scouting for water, if you’ll

remember

 

            He fought the strong; do you his courage show,

            And gain a conquest o’er a feeble foe.

 

a feeble foe, licentiousness, abandon,

undisciplined revelry

 

            If Thebes must fall, oh might the fates afford

            A nobler doom from famine, fire, or sword.

 

Pentheus appeals to a loftier reason

for defeat, famine, fire, or sword, than

mere, and ignoble, debauchery


            Then might the Thebans perish with renown:

            But now a beardless victor sacks the town;

 

beardless victor, the young Bacchus /

Dionysus


            Whom nor the prancing steed, nor pond’rous shield,

            Nor the hack’d helmet, nor the dusty field,

            But the soft joys of luxury and ease,

            The purple vests, and flow’ry garlands please.

 

Bacchus / Dionysus is not impressed

by armour, military accomplishments,

prowess, but by grace, elegance, and

poetry


            Stand then aside, I’ll make the counterfeit

            Renounce his god-head, and confess the cheat.

 

the counterfeit, Bacchus / Dionysus


            Acrisius from the Grecian walls repell’d

            This boasted pow’r; why then should Pentheus yield?

 

Acrisius, a king of Argos, who must’ve

also repell’d from his city Bacchus /

Dionysus, according to the poem


            Go quickly drag th’ impostor boy to me;

 

th’ impostor boy, the counterfeit,

Bachus / Dionysus


            I’ll try the force of his divinity.”

 

try, test


            Thus did th’ audacious wretch those rites profane;

 

th’ audacious wretch, Pentheus


            His friends dissuade th’ audacious wretch in vain:

            In vain his grandsire urg’d him to give o’er

            His impious threats; the wretch but raves the more.

 

his grandsire, Cadmus

            So have I seen a river gently glide,

            In a smooth course, and inoffensive tide;

            But if with dams its current we restrain,

            It bears down all, and foams along the plain.

 

nature will have its way, so will the

gods, watch out, the narrator says,

who it is that you challenge

            But now his servants came besmear’d with blood,

            Sent by their haughty prince to seize the God;

 

his servants, Pentheus‘ men

 

the God, Bacchus / Dionysus


            The God they found not in the frantick throng,

            But dragg’d a zealous votary along.

 

votary, followers, adherents,

acolytes

 

the servants, Pentheus‘ men,

who did not, apparently, deliver

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” (lll) – Ovid

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937 - Salvador Dali

 

         The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” (1937)

 

                   Salvador Dali

 

                            _____

 

 

              This said, the weeping youth again return’d

              To the clear fountain, 

 

This said, you’ll remember that Narcissus

had pondered suicide, but was afraid that

such an act would also have an impact on

his reflection

 

                                          where again he burn’d;

 

burn’d, from the unusual fire that kindled
his breast
 

 

                His tears defac’d the surface of the well,

                With circle after circle, as they fell:

 

disfiguring reverberations in the water

from the tears

 

               And now the lovely face but half appears,
               O’er-run with wrinkles, and deform’d with tears.
               “Ah whither,” cries Narcissus, “dost thou fly?
               Let me still feed the flame by which I die;

 

the flame by which I die, the fire which

burns in his chest


              Let me still see, tho’ I’m no further blest.”

 

Narcissus will not willingly forego the

sight of his reflection though it will

manifestly not at all still his desire,

nor quell his fate

 

              Then rends his garment off, and beats his breast:
              His naked bosom redden’d with the blow,
              In such a blush as purple clusters show,
              Ere yet the sun’s autumnal heats refine
              Their sprightly juice, and mellow it to wine.

 

bruises the colour of wine blush in

purple clusters on his chest where

Narcissus has struck himself

repeatedly


              The glowing beauties of his breast he spies,
              And with a new redoubled passion dies.

 

The glowing beauties, the throbbing

discolorations left by the redoubled

blows

 

              As wax dissolves, as ice begins to run,
              And trickle into drops before the sun;
              So melts the youth, and languishes away,
              His beauty withers, and his limbs decay;
              And none of those attractive charms remain,
              To which the slighted Echo su’d in vain.

 

slighted, rebuffed

 

Echo, the nymph who’d pursued him,

in vain, if you’ll remember

 

su’d, sued, implored


              She saw him in his present misery,
              Whom, spight of all her wrongs, she griev’d to see.

 

spight, in spite


              She answer’d sadly to the lover’s moan,
              Sigh’d back his sighs, and groan’d to ev’ry groan:
              “Ah youth! belov’d in vain,” Narcissus cries;

 

to his reflection


              “Ah youth! belov’d in vain,” the nymph replies.

 

Echo can only echo


              “Farewel,” says he; the parting sound scarce fell
              From his faint lips, but she reply’d, “farewel.”

 

Narcissus, interestingly, is reproduced

not only visually in the water by his

own reflection, but audibly as well by

Echo‘s reverberating sounds

 

see above

              Then on th’ wholsome earth he gasping lyes,
              ‘Till death shuts up those self-admiring eyes.
              To the cold shades his flitting ghost retires,
              And in the Stygian waves it self admires.

 

Stygian, of the river Styx, which forms

the boundary between Earth and the

Underworld

              For him the Naiads and the Dryads mourn,

 

Naiads, water nymphs

 

Dryadstree nymphs


              Whom the sad Echo answers in her turn;

 

Echo also mourns


              And now the sister-nymphs prepare his urn:
              When, looking for his corps, they only found
              A rising stalk, with yellow blossoms crown’d.

 

corps, corpse, dead body

 

rising stalk, with yellow blossoms

crown’d, the narcissus, the flower

 

 

R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” (ll) – Ovid

Narcissus, 1896 - 1897 - Magnus Enckell

 

            “Narcissus” (1896 – 1897)

 

                     Magnus Enckell

 

                            __________

 

 

           Still o’er the fountain’s wat’ry gleam he stood,

           Mindless of sleep, and negligent of food;

           Still view’d his face, and languish’d as he view’d.

 

Narcissus has been smitten by this

reflection of himself in the fountain’s

wat’ry gleam, can’t sleep, won’t eat

 

note, incidentally, the two meanings

of Still here, the first, without moving,

the second, not having stopped, not

discontinued


           At length he rais’d his head, and thus began

           To vent his griefs, and tell the woods his pain.

          “You trees,” says he, “and thou surrounding grove,

           Who oft have been the kindly scenes of love,

           Tell me, if e’er within your shades did lye

           A youth so tortur’d, so perplex’d as I?

           I, who before me see the charming fair,

 

the charming fair, his reflection

in the fountain’s wat’ry gleam


           Whilst there he stands, and yet he stands not there:

           In such a maze of love my thoughts are lost:

 

Narcissus reflects, bewildered

by the ephemerality of his

vision

 

           And yet no bulwark’d town, nor distant coast

           Preserves the beauteous youth from being seen,

           No mountains rise, nor oceans flow between.

 

there is no material object, he reasons,

to obstruct a clear view of the beauteous

youth before him, no intervening

obstacles between him and his vision

 

bulwark’d, defended with fortifications,

as in Medieval towns

 

the beauteous youth, his own reflection


           A shallow water hinders my embrace;

 

A shallow water, only a sheen is

required to cast a reflection, a

film merely, the water need not

be at all that deep


           And yet the lovely mimick wears a face

 

the lovely mimickthe image in

the water

           

           That kindly smiles, and when I bend to join

           My lips to his, he fondly bends to mine.

 

what of homosexuality here, an

unobjectionable predilection at

the time, apparently, there isn’t

a whiff of iniquity in this attraction,

according to the text, no hint of

guilt or embarrassment

 

           Hear, gentle youth, and pity my complaint,

 

a direct exhortation here, note,

no longer, in this instance, a

literary narration, a tale being

told

 

           Come from thy well, thou fair inhabitant.

           My charms an easy conquest have obtain’d

           O’er other hearts, by thee alone disdain’d.

 

you, Narcissus says, alone, replication,

disdain[ ], repulse, my advances, my

elsewhere, otherwise, easy conquest[s]


           But why should I despair? I’m sure he burns

           With equal flames, and languishes by turns.

           When-e’er I stoop, he offers at a kiss,

 

offers, responds with

 

           And when my arms I stretch, he stretches his.

           His eye with pleasure on my face he keeps,

           He smiles my smiles, and when I weep he weeps.

           When e’er I speak, his moving lips appear

           To utter something, which I cannot hear.

 

all his senses are alive, but for

his hearing, which registers only

silence, when all of the other

aspects of the experience are

precise and vivid as though

real, utterly, however

incompatibly, convincing


           “Ah wretched me! I now begin too late

           To find out all the long-perplex’d deceit;

           It is my self I love, my self I see;

           The gay delusion is a part of me.

           I kindle up the fires by which I burn,

           And my own beauties from the well return.

           Whom should I court? how utter my complaint?

 

court, sue to, argue, put to the

test a dilemma, a complaint, as

though before an arbiter


           Enjoyment but produces my restraint,

           And too much plenty makes me die for want.

           How gladly would I from my self remove!

           And at a distance set the thing I love.

           My breast is warm’d with such unusual fire,

           I wish him absent whom I most desire.

           And now I faint with grief; my fate draws nigh;

           In all the pride of blooming youth I die.

 

the contradictions inherent in passion

are evidenced, in this case those of

love

 

           Death will the sorrows of my heart relieve.

           Oh might the visionary youth survive,

 

visionary, relating to vision, observed,

caught sight of, viewed, in the water

 

relieve, render solace to, there is no

solution to this anguished misery

but dying


           I should with joy my latest breath resign!

           But oh! I see his fate involv’d in mine.”

 

 

you might have noted, or not, that

the tale has become psychological

in the instance of Narcissus, where

earlier an action transpired and

events were recounted in

chronological order, in this myth,

the subject explores his inner

world while sitting quietly

throughout by the still water,

nothing moves, but the

palpitations of his heart, and its

distempers

 

there’s a shift here in not only

the mythological template, more

personal, individual stuff, but also 

in the very evolution of literature,

which takes on a more interior

tone rather than fatalistic,

episodic, given entirely to

unfathomed circumstance

 

this will lead to To be, or not to be

eventually, the anthem that took

over the subsequent centuries

since, Shakespeare‘s homage to

introspection, setting the stage

for the ensuing ages of

individualism, human rights

 

but that’s another story

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

Ovid / Shakespeare

Ophelia, 1851 - 1852 - John Everett Millais

               Ophelia(1851 – 1852)

 

                   John Everett Millais

 

                              _________

 

 

for a while now, I’ve been feeling the

spirit of Ovid in many of the works of

William Shakespeare, a recent, in

some depth, project of mine, the

nearly pagan perspective in many

of his works, a lust for life, for

instance, that is not at all that of his

contemporary Protestantism, not

to mention an obvious Catholic, and

therefore potentially treacherous, at

the time, prominent bent of his

 

but that’s another story

 

many of his plays set scenes in places

right out of Roman mythology, with a

morality to match,and even character

names, Hippolyta, Hero, Polonius,

Titania, Oberon, Greek and Latin

patronyms redolent of Classical

Antiquity

 

here’s Ovid, for instance, from The

Story of Narcissus

 

           There stands a fountain in a darksom wood,

           Nor stain’d with falling leaves nor rising mud;

           Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests,

           Unsully’d by the touch of men or beasts;

           High bow’rs of shady trees above it grow,

           And rising grass and chearful greens below.

 

here’s Shakespeare, from his Hamlet,

Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, gives

the news of Ophelia’s death, in a

particularly Ovidian, I think, manner

 

           There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
           That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
           There with fantastic garlands did she come
           Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
           That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
           But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
           There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
           Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
           When down her weedy trophies and herself
           Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
           And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
           Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
           As one incapable of her own distress,
           Or like a creature native and indued
           Unto that element: but long it could not be
           Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
           Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
           To muddy death.

 

see above

 

 

there is the influence of Dryden to

consider, it must be noted, Ovid‘s

translator into Englishbut the

similarity in the spirit of the text is

so great, the characteristic voice

so evident, regardless of elapsed

time, the intervening fifteen hundred

years, 8 CE for Ovid, to somewhere

around 1600 CE for Shakespeare,

for the congruence to be coincidental,

Shakespeare had to have been reading 

his Ovid, imbibing it, what, do you think

 

then again, as Shakespeare would

have said, There are more things in

heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than

are dreamt of in your philosophy

 

 

R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” – Ovid

 


Narcissus, c.1599 - Caravaggio

          Narcissus” (c.1599)

 

                 Caravaggio

 

                       ______

 

 

               Thus did the nymphs in vain caress the boy,

 

the boy, Narcissus

 

in vain , Narcissus‘ pride, you’ll remember,

was such that love-sick maid[s] uselessly

[their] flame confess’d, Narcissus was

oblivious to their advances


               
He still was lovely, but he still was coy;
               When one fair virgin of the slighted train

 

slighted train, row of followers, love-sick

maid[s] who’d been spurned by Narcissus


               Thus pray’d the Gods, provok’d by his disdain,

 

provok’d by his disdain, angered by his

rejection


               “Oh may he love like me, and love like me in vain!”

 

beseeches the one fair virgin


               Rhamnusia pity’d the neglected fair,

 

Rhamnusia, goddess of Retribution,

also known as Nemesis


               And with just vengeance answer’d to her pray’r.

 

just vengeance, justified retribution

 

               There stands a fountain in a darksom wood,
               Nor stain’d with falling leaves nor rising mud;
               Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests,
               Unsully’d by the touch of men or beasts;
               High bow’rs of shady trees above it grow,
               And rising grass and chearful greens below.

 

bow’rs, enclosures among trees

 

greens, lawns, grasslands


               Pleas’d with the form and coolness of the place,
               And over-heated by the morning chace,
               Narcissus on the grassie verdure lyes:

 

verdure, greenness


               But whilst within the chrystal fount he tries
               To quench his heat, he feels new heats arise.

 

chrystal fount, glistening fountain,

or spring


               For as his own bright image he survey’d,
               He fell in love with the fantastick shade;

 

shade, apparition, illusion


               And o’er the fair resemblance hung unmov’d,

 

see above


               Nor knew, fond youth! it was himself he lov’d.
               The well-turn’d neck and shoulders he descries,

 

descries, espies, catches sight of


               The spacious forehead, and the sparkling eyes;
               The hands that Bacchus might not scorn to show,

 

Bacchus, god of Wine and Revelry, also

known as Dionysus


               
And hair that round Apollo’s head might flow;

 

Apollo, god of the Sun


               With all the purple youthfulness of face,
               That gently blushes in the wat’ry glass.

 

wat’ry glass, the chrystal fount


               By his own flames consum’d the lover lyes,
               And gives himself the wound by which he dies.

 

the wound, the sight of himself

 

dies, succumbs, is undone


               To the cold water oft he joins his lips,
               Oft catching at the beauteous shade he dips

               His arms,

 

shade, see above

 

                     as often from himself he slips.

 

slips, becomes abstracted, bewildered

 
               Nor knows he who it is his arms pursue
               With eager clasps, but loves he knows not who.

 

he cannot give substance to this illusion


               
What could, fond youth, this helpless passion move?

               What kindled in thee this unpity’d love?

 move, excite, indeed kindle[]


               Thy own warm blush within the water glows,

 

the poet, here, note, interjects, speaks

directly to Narcissus


               With thee the colour’d shadow comes and goes,

 

colour’d, because of the water, an exact

replication, even chromatically, but

shimmering, com[ing] and go[ing]

 

shadow, shade, see above, reflection


               Its empty being on thy self relies;

 

empty being, fabrication, imagined

construct

 

on thy self relies, you are yourself

the source of your illusion


               Step thou aside, and the frail charmer dies.

 

frail charmer, shimmering, insubstantial

illusion

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

“The Transformation of Echo” – Ovid

Echo, 1943 - Paul Delvaux

         

        “Echo” (1943)

           Paul Delvaux

 

                _______

 


             
Fam’d far and near for knowing things to come,

             From him th’ enquiring nations sought their doom;

 

him, Tiresias, the prophet, if you’ll

remember

 

their doom, their auguries, their

fates, their destinies


             The fair Liriope his answers try’d,

 

Liriopea water nymph, a naiad


             And first th’ unerring prophet justify’d.

 

justify’d, gave credence to, believed


             This nymph the God Cephisus had abus’d,

 

Cephisusa river god

             

             With all his winding waters circumfus’d,

 

circumfus’d, surrounded, enveloped


             
And on the Nereid got a lovely boy,

 

the Nereid, Liriopedaughter of Nereus,

god of the Sea, in Dryden’s, inaccurate

however, translation of Ovid, Liriope is,

rather, a fresh water nymph, a naiad,

not listed among the fifty, fifty, I say, 

daughters of Nereus, the Nereids,

sea nymphs


             
Whom the soft maids ev’n then beheld with joy.

 

soft maids, sister, the other 49,

presumably, Nereids

 

             The tender dame, sollicitous to know

             Whether her child should reach old age or no,

             Consults the sage Tiresias, who replies,

             “If e’er he knows himself he surely dies.”

 

The tender dame, Liriope

 

“If e’er he knows himself he surely dies.”,

typically cryptically for a prophecy, see,

for instance, your daily horoscope


             Long liv’d the dubious mother in suspence,

             ‘Till time unriddled all the prophet’s sense.

 

in the depth of time, all is revealed

             Narcissus now his sixteenth year began,

 

Narcissus, son, however illicit, of

Liriope and Cephisus


             Just turn’d of boy, and on the verge of man;

             Many a friend the blooming youth caress’d,

             Many a love-sick maid her flame confess’d:

 

I’ve noted that beautiful people are

pursued by men and women, be 

that beautiful person either a man 

or a woman, a situation they have 

to ever undergo, if not even endure


             Such was his pride, in vain the friend caress’d,

             The love-sick maid in vain her flame confess’d.

 

pride, independence, personal

distance

             Once, in the woods, as he pursu’d the chace,

             The babbling Echo had descry’d his face;

 

Echo, a mountain nymph

 

babbling, like water rippling

 

descry’d, espied, caught sight of


             She, who in others’ words her silence breaks,

 

who can only speak when others have

spoken


             Nor speaks her self but when another speaks.

 

Echo‘s curse since time immemorial


             Echo was then a maid, of speech bereft,

 

bereft, deprived

 

             Of wonted speech;

 

wonted, usual, habitual, ordinary

 

                             for tho’ her voice was left,

             Juno a curse did on her tongue impose,

             To sport with ev’ry sentence in the close.

 

To sport with, have fun with

 

in the close, at the end

 

             Full often when the Goddess might have caught

             Jove and her rivals in the very fault,

 

the Goddess, Juno / Hera, wife of

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, God of gods


             This nymph with subtle stories would delay

             Her coming, ’till the lovers slip’d away.

 

it is interesting to note that not only

Echo, but any, in such a culture of

many gods, would’ve had to choose

among them, despite their, however

divine, individual inconsistencies, 

to the sure detriment of any mortal

caught in the middle, personal guilt

wouldn’t’ve been as foundational a

driving element, therefore, in such

a culture as it would be under

monotheistic religions, where the

moral path is categorically ordained,

specifically determined, as in, for

instance, the Ten Commandments,

but Fate, rather, or the will of the

gods, however frivolous, plays a

much larger role there, we are

putty in this alternate theological

universe, in the hands of

essentially disinterested deities

 

             The Goddess found out the deceit in time,

 

The Goddess, Juno / Hera, wife of
Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, God of gods


             And then she cry’d, “That tongue, for this thy crime,

             Which could so many subtle tales produce,

             Shall be hereafter but of little use.”

 

one would think that Jove / Jupiter /

Zeus, the instigator, might’ve had

something to say about that, though

the challenger be his wife, but he

doesn’t


             
Hence ’tis she prattles in a fainter tone,

             With mimick sounds, and accents not her own.

 

a mere shadow of her former self

 

see above


             This love-sick virgin, over-joy’d to find

             The boy alone, still follow’d him behind:

 

the pining of a woman for a man

without moral judgment in a

theological text is radical in our

monotheistic tradition, where

lust, voluptuousness, in either

direction, have been the work

of the Devil, not the natural

inclination, brought on by very

springtime, instinctive, rather

than premeditated or predatory,

that more pantheistic belief

systems present


             
When glowing warmly at her near approach,

             As sulphur blazes at the taper’s touch,

             She long’d her hidden passion to reveal,

 

long’d, desired, hoped, wished for


             And tell her pains, but had not words to tell:

             She can’t begin, but waits for the rebound,

             To catch his voice, and to return the sound.

 

Echo cannot voice, begin, her own

words, sentences, needs an already

vocalized statement, a prompt, in

order to utter whatever, is therefore,

before Narcissus, her intended, her

desired, ever mute

 

             The nymph, when nothing could Narcissus move,

             Still dash’d with blushes for her slighted love,

 

dash’d, undone, thrown asunder

 

             Liv’d in the shady covert of the woods,

             In solitary caves and dark abodes;

             Where pining wander’d the rejected fair,

 

or Where the rejected fair, Echo,

wander’d pining

 

             Till harrass’d out, and worn away with care,

             The sounding skeleton, of blood bereft,

 

sounding skeleton, reverberating

remains, resonating essence

 

see, again, above

 

             Besides her bones and voice had nothing left.

 

Echo, the entity itself, herself,

barren, indeed bereft

 

             Her bones are petrify’d, her voice is found

             In vaults, where still it doubles ev’ry sound.

 

listen, you’ll hear it, despite the

intervening centuries

 

 

R ! chard

“The Transformation of Tiresias” – Ovid

Jupiter and Juno, 1597 - Annibale Carracci

          Jupiter and Juno” (1597)

 

                   Annibale Carracci

 

                             ________

 

                ‘Twas now, while these transactions past on Earth,

                And Bacchus thus procur’d a second birth,

 

second birth, Bacchus / Dionysus

had been granted a second birth

after he’d been plucked from

Semele‘s womb in a first, abortive,

birth, and carried in Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus‘s thigh to term for the

second, if you’ll remember


                When Jove, dispos’d to lay aside the weight

                Of publick empire and the cares of state,

                As to his queen in nectar bowls he quaff’d,

                “In troth,” says he, and as he spoke he laugh’d,

                “The sense of pleasure in the male is far

                More dull and dead, than what you females share.”

 

you might note here that these last

eight verses have been one long

sentence, incorporating here and

there other full sentences, but

within commas, like railroad cars

pulled along by a locomotive, none

independent of the others, it seems

to me I’ve seen that kind of thing

before

 

quaff’d, drank, took a draught

 

to his queen, in her honour

 

in troth, in truth, truly

 

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus has a question

to settle with Juno / Hera, he claims

that men are less attuned to

pleasure than women are


               Juno the truth of what was said deny’d;

 

Juno / Hera doesn’t at all agree

 

                Tiresias therefore must the cause decide,

 

Tiresias will be the arbiter, he will

the cause decide

 

Tiresias, mythical prophet

 

                For he the pleasure of each sex had try’d.

 

hmmm, you don’t hear stuff like

that in the Bible, the monotheistic

counterpart to Ovid’s pantheistic

Metamorphoses

 

a pantheistic religion would have

no categorical set of values, no

Ten Commandments, the gods

themselves would not agree on 

a code of behaviour, morality

would be in the eye of the

beholder, not divinely mandated,

Nietzsche will have a lot to say

about that in the 19th Century

eminently pertinent to ensuing 

generations


                It happen’d once, within a shady wood,

                Two twisted snakes he in conjunction view’d,

 

in conjunction, mating


                When with his staff their slimy folds he broke,

                And lost his manhood at the fatal stroke.

 

you shouldn’t mess around with

snakes, it appears


                But, after seven revolving years, he view’d

                The self-same serpents in the self-same wood:

 

self-same serpents, surely he means

the same species, not the same

snakes


                “And if,” says he, “such virtue in you lye,

                That he who dares your slimy folds untie

                Must change his kind, a second stroke I’ll try.”

 

if it worked once, it might work a

second time, Tiresias supposes


                Again he struck the snakes, and stood again

                New-sex’d, and strait recover’d into man.

 

it worked, Tiresias is reconfigured,

reconstituted, as a man


                Him therefore both the deities create

                The sov’raign umpire, in their grand debate;

 

create, appoint, assign duties to

 

the grand debate, the question,

the calculus, of pleasure

 

sov’raign umpire, chief, ruling,

irreversible by consent, judge


               And he declar’d for Jove:

 

women are more susceptible to

pleasure than men are, Tiresias

definitively decides

 

                                                     when Juno fir’d,

               More than so trivial an affair requir’d,

 

fir’d, not happy, furious, motivated

 

More than so trivial an affair, this

incident shouldn’t’ve been the

cause of, requir’d, the extreme

response to which Juno / Hera

condemns Tiresias

 

                Depriv’d him, in her fury, of his sight,

                And left him groping round in sudden night.

 

Tiresias, the blind prophet, the

apocryphal blind prophet, so

grimly subjected, finds powerful

resonance, incidentally, in Homer,

another, even more famous, and

actual, which is to say historically

authenticated, blind prophet, both,

nevertheless, of immeasurable

cultural consequence


                But Jove (for so it is in Heav’n decreed,

                That no one God repeal another’s deed)

 

an honour code among the gods,

to balance competing, however

august, visions, morality, in other

words, by consensus


                Irradiates all his soul with inward light,

                And with the prophet’s art relieves the want of sight.

 

thus Tiresias becomes the famed

prophet, for better, it’ll turn out,

or for worse, cursed, and blessed,

simultaneously

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

Beethoven – Septet, Opus 20

Cherry Blossoms, 1970 - Toshi Yoshida

              Cherry Blossoms” (1970)

 

                       Toshi Yoshida

 

                           ___________

 

 

though I’ve been focused on Ovid

especially lately, specifically his

Metamorphosesother less

concentrated pursuits have also

taken up my time, Sophocles,

Shakespeare, American Idol, The

Great Canadian Baking Show,

Euclid, Existentialism, the variations

in colour, number, size of the cherry

blossoms growing on the trees along

my street as I ponder each morning

from my window their magical,

miraculous, incarnation, into the

world, their augury of, once again,

wondrously, springtime, March,

Vancouver

 

but recently I picked up a book, a

biography of Beethoven, in

snapshots, through the lens of

nine works of his in particular,

arranged chronologically

 

join me as I, one by one, present

them through the requisite number

of commentaries

 

the first is his forgotten, but apparently

all the rage in his day, Septet, opus 20,

which continued to be admired for its

Classical roots for a long time, a

comfortable, recognizable music,

but with enough modernity to warrant

extended popularity, the irrepressible

pull of Romanticism, the draw of the

encroaching 19th Century

 

Beethoven would become more and

more radical, irascible, demanding

eventually, and I conscientiously

interject here, more manifestly,

however counterintuitively, sublime

 

but there were contrary opinions, 

much as elders have always objected

to the music of their children, portents,

always, of ensuing degeneration

 

you’ll recognize, perhaps, as I did,

in the Septet‘s third movement, the

same air as in Beethoven’s Piano

Sonata no 20, Opus 49, no 2, poets

borrowed from each other then,

still do, have ever, they speak the

same language, they would even,

as here, filch from themselves

 

the insignificant piece, the Sonata,

according to Beethoven, should’ve

been the disregarded work, the

Septet had the greater fame and

longevity, but history has its way,

a septet needs to put together

seven instrumentalists, of a certain

quality, each time, to survive, to

regenerate itself, a sonata, only

one committed interpreter each

generation

 

it is also an integral part of the

complete Beethoven sonatas, a

historical account equal, musically,

to the very Ten Commandments,

that foundational

 

 

R ! chard

“The Birth of Bacchus” (lll) – Ovid

Semele, 1921 - John Duncan

        Semele” (1921)

 

             John Duncan

 

                    ____

 

 

         To keep his promise he ascends,

 

his promise, Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

had sworn by very Styx, if you’ll

remember, to Semele, his current

inamorata, that when next he[‘d]

court[ ] the rites of love, he’d

descend in those celestial charms

with which he enters Juno / Hera‘s

chambers, his goddess / wife, on

similar intimate occasions

 

                                                    and shrowds

         His awful brow in whirl-winds and in clouds;

 

shrowds, shrouds, covers in

darkness, shields

 

awful, inspiring awe, inspiring

consternation


         Whilst all around, in terrible array,

         His thunders rattle, and his light’nings play.

 

not only does Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

shrowd[ ] /His awful brow, which is

to say he actively effects changes,

consciously and manifestly producing

identifiable outcomes, a shrouded brow,

in this instance, but he also inspires the

very elements, thunders rattle 

light’nings play, to rally round his

enterprise


         And yet, the dazling lustre to abate,

         He set not out in all his pomp and state,

 

And yet, except that, Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus chooses, set[s] … out, to rein

in, abate, elements of his pomp and

state, of his magnificence


         Clad in the mildest light’ning of the skies,

         And arm’d with thunder of the smallest size:

         Not those huge bolts, by which the giants slain

         Lay overthrown on the Phlegrean plain.

         ‘Twas of a lesser mould, and lighter weight;

 

Phlegrean plain, Phlegraean, site of the

war that won for the Olympians, Jove /

Jupiter / Zeus, Juno / Hera, and the

pantheon of other gods with whom

we’ve here become acquainted, control 

of the cosmos, against the Titans, who’d

earlier ruled, the children of Uranus,

Sky, and Gaia, Earth, though that’s

an entirely other, earlier story, equally

entrancing

 

         They call it thunder of a second-rate,

         For the rough Cyclops, who by Jove’s command

         Temper’d the bolt, and turn’d it to his hand,

 

Cyclops, any of the three Cyclopes,

Arges, Brontes, and Steropes, or in

English translation, Bright, Thunder,

and Lightning, sons of Uranus and

Gaia, one-eyed giants, who

manufactured Jove / Jupiter /

Zeus‘s thunderbolts

 

Cyclops here is probably Cyclopes,

this translation‘s early 18th-Century

spelling of the now singular “Cyclops”,

all of whom [t]emper’d the bolt, and

turn’d … to his hand Jove / Jupiter /
Zeus‘s commissioned arsenal

 

         Work’d up less flame and fury in its make,

         And quench’d it sooner in the standing lake.

 

this particular thunderbolt therefore

would have been less menacing, in

keeping with Jove / Jupiter / Zeus‘s

wish his dazling lustre to abate

 

         Thus dreadfully adorn’d, with horror bright,

         Th’ illustrious God, descending from his height,

         Came rushing on her in a storm of light.

 

I knew someone who came to me

like that once


         The mortal dame, too feeble to engage         

         The lightning’s flashes, and the thunder’s rage,

         Consum’d amidst the glories she desir’d,

         And in the terrible embrace expir’d.

 

I broke only into a thousand million

pieces, did not expire, but ruefully,

rather, survived, but that’s another

story, perhaps too intimate


         But, to preserve his offspring from the tomb,

 

his offspring, you’ll remember that

Semele was pregnant with Jove /

Jupiter / Zeus‘s child


         Jove took him smoaking from the blasted womb:

 

blasted, destroyed, [c]onsum’d[,]

amidst the glories she desir’d

 

see above

 

         And, if on ancient tales we may rely,

         Inclos’d th’ abortive infant in his thigh.

 

in order to allow it to complete

gestation, Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

incubated th’ abortive infant in

his [own] thigh


         Here when the babe had all his time fulfill’d,

         

Here, in his thigh

 

         Ino first took him for her foster-child;

 

Ino, sister of Semele, with too long

a story here, however fascinating


         Then the Niseans, in their dark abode,

 

Niseans, Nysians, of Nysa, a

mountainous mythical land

beyond Greece, with dark

abode[s], caves, among its

mountains, presumably


         Nurs’d secretly with milk the thriving God.

 

the thriving God, Bacchusthe Roman

Dionysus, god of wine, merriment, and

all kinds of mischievousness, which is

to say bacchanals, Dionysian revelries,

orgies

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

“The Birth of Bacchus” (ll)– Ovid

Jupiter and Semele, 1889 - 1895 - Gustave Moreau

         Jupiter and Semele” (1889 – 1895)

 

                 Gustave Moreau

 

                       _________

 

 

            Old Beroe’s decrepit shape she wears,

            Her wrinkled visage, and her hoary hairs;

 

Old Beroe, faithful servant of Semele

 

she, Juno / Hera, goddess

 

hoary hairs, love it

 

            Whilst in her trembling gait she totters on,

            And learns to tattle in the nurse’s tone.

 

Juno / Hera transforms herself into

Old Beroe, tattl[ing], talking idly, in

the nurse’s tone, impersonating her

in order to seek revenge, if you’ll

remember, on Semele, for bearing

her husband’s progeny

 

            The Goddess, thus disguis’d in age, beguil’d

            With pleasing stories her false foster-child.

 

foster-child, child who is fostered,

nurtured, by someone other than a

parent, Semele, by Old Beroe,

purportedly, in this instance

 

false, Juno / Hera is not Old Beroe,

but the nurse’s duplicitous, false,

in both senses of the word here,

double

 

beguil’d, enchanted, amused


            Much did she talk of love, and when she came

            To mention to the nymph her lover’s name,

            Fetching a sigh, and holding down her head,

            “‘Tis well,” says she, “if all be true that’s said.

 

Juliet’s nurse from Romeo and Juliet,

I thought, meets Sleeping Beauty’s

wicked stepmother, for a more

contemporary coupling

 

            But trust me, child, I’m much inclin’d to fear

            Some counterfeit in this your Jupiter:

 

Some counterfeit, yourJupiter is not

your [actual] Jupiter, Juno / Hera

suggests

 

            Many an honest well-designing maid

            Has been by these pretended Gods betray’d,

 

well-designing, without guile, with

no ulterior motive

 

pretended Gods, men who unjustifiably

beat their chest, tell tall tales, unequal

to their proclaimed accomplishments


            But if he be indeed the thund’ring Jove,

            Bid him, when next he courts the rites of love,

            Descend triumphant from th’ etherial sky,

            In all the pomp of his divinity,

            Encompass’d round by those celestial charms,

            With which he fills th’ immortal Juno’s arms.”

 

Juno / Hera, as Old Beroe, tells Semele

to ask her lover, when next he courts

the rites of love, to prove he is indeed

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, to dress

appropriately

 

Encompass’d round, accoutred,

enveloped, in

 

the pomp, incidentally, the splendour

of his divinity, take on a couple of

extra poetic lines, verses, indicative

of that very splendour

 

note also that Semele seems to have

no qualms about Jove / Jupiter / Zeus‘s

marital status, about bearing the child

of another woman’s man, indeed that

of a very, in this instance, goddess,

the redoubtable Juno / Hera


            Th’ unwary nymph, ensnar’d with what she said, 

 

ensnar’d, ensnarled, caught up in


            Desir’d of Jove, when next he sought her bed,

            To grant a certain gift which she would chuse;

 

Desir’d of, asked of, requested of

 

chuse, choose


            “Fear not,” reply’d the God, “that I’ll refuse

            Whate’er you ask: may Styx confirm my voice,

            Chuse what you will, and you shall have your choice.”

 

Styx, goddess of the river Styx, which

forms the boundary between Earth and

the Underworld, had sided with Jove /

Jupiter / Zeus during the War of the

Titans and been granted by him that

oaths should henceforth all be sworn

upon her, and be punctiliously observed

 

Phoebus / Apollo had similarly granted

his own son Phaeton his wish upon very

Styx, if you’ll remember, with the direst,

for both, of consequences


            “Then,” says the nymph, “when next you seek my arms,

            May you descend in those celestial charms,

            And fill with transport Heav’n’s immortal dame.”

 

show me, Semele asks of her suitor,

what she gets, what Juno / Hera gets,

when next you seek my arms

 

go, girl, I thought, if you’re going

to be irreverent

 

            The God surpriz’d would fain have stopp’d her voice,

            But he had sworn, and she had made her choice.

 

on very Styx, he’d sworn, ever so

perilously

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard