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Category: literature to ponder

“The Transformation of Daphne into a Lawrel” (III) – Ovid

laurel-1901.jpg!Large

       Laurel”  (1901) 

 

             Alphonse Mucha

 

                         _______

 

 

however ardently might’ve Phoebus 

been pleading his case before 

Daphne, his, however recalcitrant,  

intended, flashing his divine pedigree, 

vowing to put all that aside to serve 

only her


               She heard not half; so furiously she flies;
               And on her ear th’ imperfect accent dies, 

 

th’ imperfect accent might be the 

unnatural tone of a divinity Daphne 

might be hearing, the unusual timbre 

of a deity’s voice, I can’t imagine Ovid 

would be suggesting that Daphne and 

Phoebus spoke different Greek dialects

 

perhaps th’ imperfect accent is the

unsettling manner of his entreaties,

his indecorous urgency

 

poets can be confounding


               Fear gave her wings; and as she fled, the wind
               Increasing, spread her flowing hair behind;
               And left her legs and thighs expos’d to view:
               Which made the God more eager to
pursue. 

 

the pagan gods were notoriously 

mischievous, spirited, impulsive,

quite human, never sublime and

irreproachable as is the Abrahamic 

Supreme Deity

 

the pagan gods lived in the fields

and streams, the hills and vales,

the seas and mountains, that 

surrounded Greek and Roman 

communities, Olympus was their 

steepest height, never the 

supernatural elevations, beyond 

even our visible heaven, that our 

present pervasive monotheism 

proclaims

 

               The God was young, and was too hotly bent
               To lose his time in empty compliment:
               But led by love, and fir’d with such a sight,
               Impetuously pursu’d his near delight. 

 

often, the gods of antiquity were

perverse, not at all blameless,

not innocent, not irreproachable, 

like the one and only god that, 

today, in its several interpretations, 

even murderously conflicting, rules,

oversees, mostly, our present, at 

least Western, faith communities

 

 

               As when th’ impatient greyhound slipt from far,

               Bounds o’er the glebe to course the fearful hare,

 

glebe, fields


               She in her speed does all her safety lay; 
               And he with double speed pursues the prey; 
               O’er-runs her at the sitting turn, and licks 
               His chaps in vain, and blows upon the flix: 

 

flix, fur, the greyhound’s pelt 

 

perhaps greyhounds do this, blow

upon their flix, you’ll have to ask 

Ovid, or maybe Dryden, his 

translator

 

               She scapes, and for the neighb’ring covert strives, 

 

 a covert, a bush in which to hide


               And gaining shelter, doubts if yet she lives: 

 

doubts if yet she lives, she can’t 

believe she made it 

 

               If little things with great we may compare,
               Such was the God, and such the flying fair, 

 

the flying fair, Daphne, the God,

Phoebus


               She urg’d by fear, her feet did swiftly move,
               But he more swiftly, who was urg’d by love. 

 

love, as Ovid, or is it, once again,  

Drydenwho defines it, urg’d, 

compelled by hormones, not at all 

our romantic conception of it

 

               He gathers ground upon her in the chace:
               Now breathes upon her hair, with nearer pace;
               And just is fast’ning on the wish’d embrace. 

 

Red Riding Hood and the Big

Bad Wolf


               The nymph grew pale, and in a mortal fright,
               Spent with the labour of so long a flight; 

 

Spent, defeated


               And now despairing, cast a mournful look
               Upon the streams of her paternal brook; 

 

her father, Peneus, was a river god, 

if you’ll remember, paternal brook, 

the rill, the rivulet, of her father


               Oh help, she cry’d, in this extreamest need!
               If water Gods are deities indeed: 

 

if there is a god, be with me, she 

cry’d, you, yourself, I’m sure, have 

been there, though Daphne‘s faith 

was grounded in help, in this case, 

from her father, god of, appropriately

in this instance, streams


               Gape Earth, and this unhappy wretch intomb; 

 

I’d rather die, Daphne pleads, I’d

rather the earth swallowed me up, 

I’d rather be intomb[ed]


               Or change my form, whence all my sorrows come. 

 

transform me, rid me of what makes 

me appealing, Daphne pleads


               Scarce had she finish’d, when her feet she found
               Benumb’d with cold, and fasten’d to the ground:
               A filmy rind about her body grows; 

 

a condition I’ve found not unlike the 

ravages I call, ironically, bark, crusty 

imperfections that afflict my own 

ageing body

 

               Her hair to leaves, her arms extend to boughs:
               The nymph is all into a lawrel gone; 

 

Daphne is turning into a tree,

a lawrel 


               The smoothness of her skin remains alone. 

 

of Daphne, only her smoothness 

remains


               Yet Phoebus loves her still, and casting round
               Her bole, his arms, some little warmth he found. 

 

bole, the stem of a tree


               The tree still panted in th’ unfinish’d part: 

 

where Daphne had not yet become

a tree, she still panted, pulsed


               Not wholly vegetive, and heav’d her heart. 

 

heav’d her heart, passionately

reacted


               He fixt his lips upon the trembling rind; 

 

rind, bark


               It swerv’d aside, and his embrace declin’d. 

 

kisses not at all sweeter than wine,

said the lawrel 


               To whom the God, Because thou canst not be
               My mistress, I espouse thee for my tree: 

 

Phoebus begins to speak directly 

here, Because thou canst not be, /

My mistress, he says, I espouse 

thee for my tree: 

 

espouse, marry


               Be thou the prize of honour, and renown; 

 

you will be, he continues, the 

prize that will represent heroes


               The deathless poet, and the poem, crown. 

 

honour, first of all, worthy, deathless, 

poets, Phoebus commands, let the 

laurel wreath crown deserving 

wordsmiths

 

Ovid had reason to champion poets,

he’d been exiled from Rome by the

Emperor, Augustus, his catering to

the Roman ruler becomes 

intermittently evident throughout 

this masterpiece

 

               Thou shalt the Roman festivals adorn,
               And, after poets, be by victors worn. 

 

victors, Olympic champions, notably


               Thou shalt returning Caesar’s triumph grace; 

 

Ovid curries imperial favour here with 

Augustus, by simply immortalizing in

poetry the name of Caesar, the new

Emperor’s great-uncle, and adoptive

father, making his own personal 

nemesis shine, for what it might be 

worth, by association


               When pomps shall in a long procession pass. 

 

the parades will be long ones


               Wreath’d on the posts before his palace wait; 

 

the laurel leaves will garland the 

posts, stations, before, in front of, 

the imperial palace

 

               And be the sacred guardian of the gate.
               Secure from thunder, and unharm’d by Jove, 

 

even Jove / Jupiter, god of gods,

will stand by, honour, the symbol 

of the laurel

 

               Unfading as th’ immortal Pow’rs above: 

 

Unfading, into very eternity

 

it’s interesting to note that the 

laurel has not lost its significance

despite the intervening centuries, 

epochs, we find reference to it even 

in the honorific title of laureate, as 

in Nobel laureate, or even in the

accolade of baccalaureate, the

bachelor’s degree, the prestigious

academic accomplishment 

 

Unfading indeed


               And as the locks of Phoebus are unshorn, 

 

Phoebus always sports perfect 

hair


               So shall perpetual green thy boughs adorn.

 

it would seem that, according to 

this, laurel leaves, perpetual 

green, don’t ever lose their 

colour, but I can’t attest to this,

being a poet rather than an

arborist, a gardener, though

bay leaves, laurel, even dry,

don’t turn brown, I’ve since

noticed

 

               The grateful tree was pleas’d with what he said;
               And shook the shady honours of her head. 

 

and they all lived happily ever 

after

 

or didn’t

 

 

myths are the enduring fairy tales 

that adults continue to believe in, 

according to their culture, about 

men and women rather than 

boys and girls, they help us, like

fairy tales, make up our moral 

order

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

“Apollo e Dafne” – George Frideric Handel

800px-George_Frideric_Handel_by_Balthasar_Denner

     “George Frideric Handel(1726 – 1728) 

 

              Balthasar Denner

 

                   __________

 

 

supposing that there would probably 

be a musical interpretation of the 

myth of Apollo and Daphne, I wasn’t 

surprised to discover that Handel 

had written one, in 1709 – 10, cantatas

on mythic subjects was the type of 

thing he did, don’t forget the 

Renaissance, the renewed, and 

probing fascination, starting more 

or less in the 14th Century, with 

Classical Greece and Rome, affecting 

everything, even as late, 1685 to 1759,

as the 18th Century for this composer

 

I must admit that I’m not particularly

partial to Handel, his rhythms are

way too elementary for my taste, 

plus he never achieves the depth 

of emotion Bach, his contemporary, 

does, 1685 – 1750, so that I’ve put 

him aside pretty well completely 

 

but here’s an Apollo e Dafne that

I found compelling from beginning 

to end

 

Apollo e Dafne is not an opera, but

a cantata, which means a piece 

for voice and orchestra, but with 

several movements, like tunes in

a Broadway show

 

this production, however, has 

incorporated a scenario with 

singers in costume acting 

out a plot

 

it has no subtitles though, but 

you can read the translation 

here, should you need to

 

Handel’s libretto, note, is a 

reworking of Ovid’s texttherefore 

not an exact reproduction of the 

version I’ve been highlighting, 

Dryden’s translation of 1717, 

written a few years, you’ll want to 

consider, after Handel’s own 

composition, but the essential 

story is there, she eventually 

turns into a tree, no surprise, 

you knew that already from Ovid’s

very title, The Transformation of

Daphne into a Lawrelas 

inscribed, however archaically 

now, by Dryden 

 

I’ll just point out that Cupid’s in 

red, doesn’t sing, just delivers 

atmospheric context, and you 

might find some later scenes 

quite, even shockingly, I did, 

explicit, be advised

 

otherwise, enjoy, be delighted

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

“The Transformation of Daphne into a Lawrel” (II) – Ovid

daphne-1892(1).jpg!Large

           “Daphne” (1879 – 1892) 

 

            George Frederick Watts

 

                    __________

 

 

                  The God of light, aspiring to her bed, 

 

The God of light, Phoebus, whose

name, incidentally, finds its roots 

in the Greek word for shining, 

which I won’t inscribe here for its 

being not only in another language,

but also of a different alphabet

 

Phoebus, also known as Apollo

was not only god of Light, but 

too, god of the Sun, as well as of

several other things that brought

clarity, his shrine at Delphi, for

instance, was famed for providing 

oracles, intelligibility in the face of 

confusion, however cryptic the 

actual words of the presiding 

sybil commonly were 

 

               Hopes what he seeks, with flattering fancies fed; 

 

Phoebus [h]opes, indeed trusts, 

that feeding Daphne flattering 

fancies will do the trick

 

               And is, by his own oracles, mis-led. 

 

even his oracles, his sybils, his

priestesses, in this circumstance, 

fail him


               And as in empty fields the stubble burns, 

 

stubble, what’s left of the shaft once 

the grain has been removed, 

harvested 


               Or nightly travellers, when day returns,
               Their useless torches on dry hedges throw,
               That catch the flames, and kindle all the row; 

 

now that day has arrived, the nightly

travellers‘ otherwise useless torches

can serve to kindle, ignite, and burn

off, the rows of slowly smouldering 

stubble  

 

               So burns the God, consuming in desire, 

 

Phoebus is similarly, [s]o, kindled,

burns with a desire [s]o, as, 

consuming


               And feeding in his breast a fruitless fire: 

 

the fire, the desire, however, remains 

in his breast … fruitless, unabated, 

unquenched


               Her well-turn’d neck he view’d (her neck was bare)
               And on her shoulders her dishevel’d hair; 

 

Daphne‘s hair would’ve been 

dishevel’d, undone, during her 

flight, by the wind


               Oh were it comb’d, said he, with what a grace
               Wou’d every waving curl become her face! 

 

Phoebus begins to idealize her


               He view’d her eyes, like heav’nly lamps that shone,
               He view’d her lips, too sweet to view alone,
               Her 
taper fingers, and her panting breast; 

 

see above

  

               He praises all he sees, 

 

his flattering fancies at work 

 

                                              and for the rest
               Believes the beauties yet unseen are best: 

 

Phoebus has no intention of enjoying 

merely what Daphne cannot but allow, 

her beauties yet unseen, he believes, 

are best, are preferable

 

ahem


               Swift as the wind, the damsel fled away,
               Nor did for these alluring speeches stay: 

 

alluring speeches, flattering fancies


               Stay Nymph, he cry’d, I follow, not a foe. 

 

a nymph, a nature spirit in the form 

of a maiden, imagined frolicking by 

rivers, or woods

 

Phoebus calls her by this metonym,

Nymph, probably because he doesn’t 

yet know her proper name

 

a metonym is the word for a part

which signifies the whole, the pen, 

for instance, is mightier than the 

sword, where the pen stands for

all that is written, and the sword 

represents the much larger 

concept of war

 

Nymph, therefore, to metonymize,

to stand in for, any nymph

 

Stay Nymph, Phoebus cries, I follow,

I don’t lead, I am not coercing you, 

you are in charge, I am not a foe, 

not an enemy


               Thus from the lyon trips the trembling doe;
               Thus from the wolf the frighten’d lamb removes,
               And, from pursuing faulcons, fearful doves; 

 

prey flee predators [t]hus, Phoebus

explains, which is to say in the 

manner that you’re behaving


               Thou shunn’st a God, and shunn’st a God, that loves. 

 

but I am not a predator, I am a God,

a God who loves you, who is in love,

he concedes


               Ah, lest some thorn shou’d pierce thy tender foot,
               Or thou shou’dst fall in flying my pursuit!
               To sharp uneven ways thy steps decline;
               Abate thy speed,

 

slow down, he says, Abate thy speed,

you might hurt yourself, you might

pierce thy tender foot, fall, your path 

decline[s], is becoming treacherous, 

less secure, sharp uneven ways lie 

ahead

 

                                           and I will bate of mine. 

 

bate, opposite of abate, don’t you 

love it

 

               Yet think from whom thou dost so rashly fly;
               Nor basely born, nor shepherd’s swain am I. 

 

I carry a big stick, Phoebus says, think

about it 


               Perhaps thou know’st not my superior state;
               And from that ignorance proceeds thy hate. 

 

maybe you haven’t recognized me

 

               Me Claros, Delphi, Tenedos obey; 

 

Claros, an ancient Greek sanctuary,

site of another oracle of Phoebus /

Apollo, along with Delphi, the 

principal shrine 

 

Tenedos, an island off the coast of 

modern Turkey, but under the 

dominion then also of the deity


               These hands the Patareian scepter sway. 

 

scepter, a staff symbolic of sovereignty

 

but I’ve found no source at all for the

indecipherable Patareian, forgive me

 

               The King of Gods begot me: 

 

I am the son, Phoebus proclaims, of 

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, depending on 

the local vocabulary

 

                                                    what shall be,
               Or is, or ever was, in Fate, I see. 

 

Phoebus, like all the gods, sees

everything, past, present, and 

future


               Mine is th’ invention of the charming lyre; 

 

the lyre, an ancient musical instrument 

often associated with Phoebus /Apollo


               Sweet notes, and heav’nly numbers, I inspire. 

 

Phoebus / Apollo was also god,

among many other things, of 

Music


               Sure is my bow, unerring is my dart;
               But ah! more deadly his, who pierc’d my heart. 

 

Phoebus has ceded to Cupid, and

acknowledges the superiority of

the stripling‘s, the youth’s, sting


               Med’cine is mine; what herbs and simples grow
               In fields, and forrests, all their pow’rs I know; 

 

Phoebus / Apollo is also god of 

Healing


               And am the great physician call’d, below. 

 

that Phoebus / Apollo is god of 

Healing is acknowledged below,

which is to say among earthlings

 

               Alas that fields and forrests can afford.
               No remedies to heal their love-sick lord! 

 

there is no cure, however, for love, 

he moans, the sickness, Alas, No

remedies, among the fields and 

forrests for it


               To cure the pains of love, no plant avails:
               And his own physick, the physician falls. 

 

the physician, Phoebus / Apollo

falls, which must surely be fails

here, to rhyme with avails, an

unfortunate typo, cannot derive

from the ground, from the wealth

of his own domain, the physick,

the ingredients to make up a

medication

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

“The Transformation of Daphne into a Lawrel” (I) – Ovid

800px-Apollo_and_Daphne_(Bernini)_(cropped)

     “Apollo and Daphne(1622 – 1625) 

 

            Gian Lorenzo Bernini

 

                  ___________

 

 

Phoebus has just killed Python, and 

now his thoughts are turned to other 

things 


               The first and fairest of his loves, was she
               Whom not blind fortune, but the dire decree
               Of angry Cupid forc’d him to desire: 

 

that Phoebus should fall in love, indeed

for the first time, was not the work of 

blind fortune, but the decree, the will, 

rather, of Cupid, son of Mars, god of 

War, and Venus, goddess of Love, 

himself, Cupid, god of Desire, who’d 

been, we’ll see, unacceptably 

disrespected


               Daphne her name, and Peneus was her sire. 

 

her sire, her father, Peneus


               Swell’d with the pride, that new success attends,
               He sees the stripling, while his bow he bends,
               And thus insults him: 

 

Phoebus, fresh from his triumphant

bout with Python, thus [s]well’d with … 

pride at his new success, sees Cupid

the stripling, the youth, handling his 

own celebrated bow, and derisively

insults him

 

                                                    Thou lascivious boy,
               Are arms like these for children to employ? 

 

arms, weapons


               Know, such atchievements are my proper claim; 

 

arrows, Phoebus says, are my domain,

my proper claim, my undisputed

territory


               Due to my vigour, and unerring aim:
               Resistless are my shafts, and Python late
               In such a feather’d death, has found his fate. 

 

the death of Python is proof of my 

unparalleled ability, Phoebus 

proclaims

 

feather’d death, from the feathers that

are attached to the arrows to direct 

and speed their aim


               Take up the torch (and lay my weapons by), 

 

my weapons, weapons which should

be mine alone 


               With that the feeble souls of lovers fry. 

 

Take up the torch, take responsibility,

Phoebus says, lay down your 

weapons, your arrows, the ones that 

fry, he accuses Cupid, that frazzle, 

the feeble, incapacitated, souls of 

lovers

 

               To whom the son of Venus thus reply’d, 

 

the son of Venus here is Cupid 


               Phoebus, thy shafts are sure on all beside,
               But mine of Phoebus, mine the fame shall be
               Of all thy conquests, when I conquer thee. 

 

thy shafts, Cupid says, will always

prevail, surpass others, but my own

arrows will be the ones to best you, 

and yours, at which point the glory 

will be, notoriously, mine, over 

yours, forever


               He said, and soaring, swiftly wing’d his flight: 

 

Cupid is one of the very few ancient

deities to have wings, incidentally,

there’s also Mercury, the Roman 

Hermesmessenger god, god of

travel, communication


               Nor stopt but on Parnassus’ airy height. 

 

Parnassus, a mountain in Greece,

site of the Oracle of Delphi, site 

indeed where Python has just 

been killed


               Two diff’rent shafts he from his quiver draws;
               One to repel desire, and one to cause.
               One shaft is pointed with refulgent gold:
               To bribe the love, and make the lover bold:
               One blunt, and tipt with lead, whose base allay 

 

allay, alloy, combination of metals


               Provokes disdain, and drives desire away.
               The blunted bolt against the nymph he drest:
               But with the sharp transfixt Apollo’s breast.

 

gotcha


               Th’ enamour’d deity pursues the chace; 

 

Th’ enamour’d deity, Phoebus, is

now under the spell of Cupid‘s

pointed arrow


               The scornful damsel shuns his loath’d embrace:
               In hunting beasts of prey, her youth employs;
               And Phoebe rivals in her rural joys. 

 

The scornful damsel, Daphne, in the 

spirit of Phoebe, goddess of the Hunt, 

preferred rural joys, indeed rivalled 

Phoebe‘s own enjoyment of rustic 

sports

 

to explain the similarity in their names,

it should be noted that Phoebe and 

Phoebus were twins, both children 

of Zeus, god of gods, the equivalent 

of the Roman Jove, also known as 

Jupiter, she, Phoebe, goddess of

the Moon, as well as of the Hunt, he, 

Phoebus, god of the Sun, as well as 

of several other things

 

it should be noted that the gods and

goddesses of Ancient Greece, firmly 

installed during its period of glory, the

4th and 5th Centuries BCE, travelled 

throughout Europe and Asia, 

migrating, but were adapted to the 

local customs, consequently becoming 

known by different names according to 

the language and culture, you can see 

a parallel in the spread of Latin, for

instance, during the Roman conquests 

of, specifically, Europe, evolving into 

the several derivative languages, 

starting with, historically, Italian itself, 

little by little, achieved through the

effects of time rather than of distance, 

then French, Portuguese, Spanish in

the outlying, eventually impermeated,

areas, see the infiltration of English,

for instance, in the modern world


               With naked neck she goes, and shoulders bare;
               And with a fillet binds her flowing hair. 

 

fillet, a ribbon


               By many suitors sought, she mocks their pains,
               And still her vow’d virginity maintains.
               Impatient of a yoke, the name of bride
               She shuns, and hates the joys, she never try’d.
               On wilds, and woods, she fixes her desire:
               Nor knows what youth, and kindly love, inspire. 

 

she’s not the marrying kind


               Her father chides her oft: Thou ow’st, says he, 

 

Thou ow’st, you owe


               A husband to thy self, a son to me. 

 

that’s his position


               She, like a crime, abhors the nuptial bed: 

 

she’d, categorically, rather hunt


               She glows with blushes, and she hangs her head.
               Then casting round his neck her tender arms,
               Sooths him with blandishments, and filial charms: 

 

filial, can apply to both son or

daughter

 

blandishments, sweet nothings


               Give me, my Lord, she said, to live, and die,
               A spotless maid, without the marriage tye. 

 

allow me to live[ ] and die[ ] a spotless 

maid, a virgin, she asks, best, that

line, read without commas 

 

girls would’ve been at the mercy 

of their fathers’ wishes at the time, 

would’ve needed permission not to 

marry

 

               ‘Tis but a small request; I beg no more
               Than what Diana’s father gave before. 

 

Diana is the Roman equivalent 

of Phoebe, a virgin goddess, by

the grace of her father, Zeus, the 

Greek counterpart of the Roman 

Jupiter, or Jove, see above


               The good old sire was soften’d to consent;
               But said her wish wou’d prove her punishment:
               For so much youth, and so much beauty join’d,
               Oppos’d the state, which her desires design’d. 

 

good luck with that, Zeus prophesies, 

men will find you, so much youth, and 

so much beauty, very hard to resist,

you’ll surely suffer consequences

 

 

to be continued

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

 

 

“Metamorphoses” (The Giants’ War, XIV) – Ovid

landscape-with-cows-and-a-camel.jpg!Large

    Landscape with Cows and a Camel (1914) 

 

               August Macke

 

                   ________

 

 

once Deucalion and Pyrrha had found

the way to bring humans back to life, 

it was time to turn to the creation, or

recreation, of other species

 

              The rest of animals, from teeming Earth
              Produc’d, in various forms receiv’d their birth. 

 

the rest of animals suggests that 

people were also considered to

be animals, of an however more

elevated, presumably, order

 

              The native moisture, in its close retreat,
              Digested by the sun’s aetherial heat,
              As in a kindly womb, began to breed: ,
              Then swell’d, and quicken’d by the vital seed. 

 

by means of the moisture naturally

created by the retreating flood waters, 

the native moisture, the heat of the sun, 

however aetherial, or etherial, which is 

to say of ether, which is to say invisible, 

swell[s], and quicken[s] … the vital seed

the seed which is pregnant with life, or

vital, and nurtures it, swell[s] and 

quicken[s] it, as though within a womb


              And some in less, and some in longer space, 

 

less, or longer space, of time

 

              Were ripen’d into form, and took a sev’ral face. 

 

different kinds of animals, animals with

sev’ral face[s], see, for instance, above

ripen’d, or evolved during longer or 

shorter periods of time, a notion that 

was decisively revisited some nearly 

two thousand years later, incidentally, 

by Charles Darwin 

 

              Thus when the Nile from Pharian fields is fled, 

 

Pharian fields, Egypt, from Pharos,

an island off the coast of Alexandria

notable for its lighthouse, itself called 

Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of 

the Ancient World

 

              And seeks, with ebbing tides, his ancient bed, 

 

his ancient bed, the area of earth 

that the Nile had covered during 

the flood, its now exposed river 

banks

 

the Nile is, note, masculine here, 

his ancient bed


              The fat manure with heav’nly fire is warm’d; 

 

there’s the heat again

 

             And crusted creatures, as in wombs, are form’d; 

 

crusted, it is interesting to note that

apart from the animal feature of the 

womb, all of the terms to describe 

the process of coming to life refer

to plants, see also ripen’d above,

for instance, not to mention the 

vital seed


              These, when they turn the glebe, the peasants find; 

 

glebe, cultivated land, when the 

peasants plough their fields, they 

find [t]hese, the crusted creatures


              Some rude, and yet unfinish’d in their kind:
              Short of their limbs, a lame imperfect birth:
              One half alive; and one of lifeless earth. 

 

not all births are successful

              For heat, and moisture, when in bodies join’d,
              The temper that results from either kind
              Conception makes; 
 

life is the product of heat, and moisture

sparking, quicken[ing], matter, bodies, 

a succinct postulation, a metaphysical 

observation, presaging the 17th Century’s 

turn toward the natural sciences, Galileo

Isaac Newton, for instance, coming 

already, and not inaccurately, from the 

age of, at least, Julius Caesar 

 

it often appals me what was lost of

significant information during the

Middle, the Dark, the Annihilating,

Ages

 

                                             and fighting ’till they mix,
              Their mingled atoms in each other fix.
              Thus Nature’s hand the genial bed prepares
              With friendly discord, and with fruitful wars. 

 

generation is a struggle between 

chaos and order, at the most 

fundamental level, according to

Ovid 


              From hence the surface of the ground, with mud
              And slime besmear’d (the faeces of the flood), 

 

get down

 

              Receiv’d the rays of Heav’n: and sucking in
              The seeds of heat, 

 

you can hear the squelch here,

the slim[y] suction

    

                                             new creatures did begin:
              Some were of sev’ral sorts produc’d before,
              But of new monsters, Earth created more. 

 

among the new creatures, many 

had existed earlier, been already 

produc’d, but new monsters as 

well sprouted, apparently 

inescapably


              Unwillingly, but yet she brought to light
              Thee, Python too, the wondring world to fright, 

 

she, the Earth

 

Python, a mythological serpent, which

guarded Delphi, brought back to light,

or life, the wondring world to fright

 

              And the new nations, with so dire a sight:
              So monstrous was his bulk, so large a space
              Did his vast body, and long train embrace.
              Whom Phoebus basking on a bank espy’d; 

 

Phoebus, another name for Apollo

patron deity at Delphi


              E’re now the God his arrows had not try’d
              But on the trembling deer, or mountain goat; 

 

Phoebus had never needed to try[ ]

his arrow[ ] at anything other than 

game, trembling deer, … mountain 

goat

 

              At this new quarry he prepares to shoot.
              Though ev’ry shaft took place, he spent the store
              Of his full quiver; and ’twas long before
              Th’ expiring serpent wallow’d in his gore. 

 

it wasn’t easy


              Then, to preserve the fame of such a deed,
              For Python slain, he Pythian games decred. 

 

Pythian games, games installed, decreed,  

decred, to honour the slaying of the serpent


              Where noble youths for mastership shou’d strive,
              To quoit, to run, and steeds, and chariots drive. 

 

to quoit, to throw a ring in a game in

order to encircle at a distance a peg


              The prize was fame: in witness of renown
              An oaken garland did the victor crown. 

 

nothing other than a crown of oak 

leaves, an oaken garland, was the 

prize at the Pythian Games, but 

enough to assure the fame, the 

glory, of the exalted champion


              The laurel was not yet for triumphs born; 

 

a crown of laurel leaves, rather than 

of oak, eventually became the symbol 

of triumphs

 

              But every green alike by Phoebus worn,
              Did, with promiscuous grace, his flowing locks adorn. 

 

but until the laurel crown prevailed,

an honour associated later, notably, 

with the Ancient Greek Olympics

winners still sported with 

promiscuous grace, the green, the 

colour of Phoebus‘ chosen leaves,

in that god’s honour

 

 

later episodes of Metamorphoses

will describe the transformation of

particular people into other 

entities, trees, animals, stars, very

constellations, but for now the 

Creation is complete, the Giants’

War concluded, and the Earth 

replenished, given new life

 

I suspect that from now on I’ll only

intermittently comment on some 

of the stories in this extraordinary

collection, for this poem is ever as 

long as the very Bible, the only 

other Creation myth, incidentally,  

in the West, a task I expect I’ll 

follow mostly on my own, given

my admittedly idiosyncratic, often

maybe too forbidding, inclinations,

inspirations, interests

 

but thank you so much for having

listened in, partaken, during this, 

to my mind, fascinating exploration,

this conversation with, I think, 

enlightening, and indeed

ennobling, art

 

 

all the very best

 

R ! chard 

 

 

“Metamorphoses” (The Giants’ War, XIII) – Ovid

800px-Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Deucalion_and_Pyrrha,_1636

      Deucalion and Pyrrha (1636) 

 

             Peter Paul Rubens

 

                 ___________

 

 

                                          for my mom and dad, my own

                                                   Deucalion and Pyrrha

 

 

at Cephysus‘ shrine, Deucalion and 

Pyrrha pray to the goddess of

Divine Justice

 

              O righteous Themis, if the Pow’rs above
              By pray’rs are bent to pity, and to love;
              If humane miseries can move their mind; 

 

humane, human


              If yet they can forgive, and yet be kind;
              Tell how we may restore, by second birth,
              Mankind, and people desolated Earth. 

 

the Pow’rs above are the deciding 

factors, can Jove, Neptune, the others, 

Deucalion asks, be moved by human[ ] 

miseries, can they forgive, can they 

restore…Mankind, people, people is

a verb here, the world again, the 

desolated, or desolate, the dismal, 

the forsaken, Earth

 

              Then thus the gracious Goddess, nodding, said;
              Depart, and with your vestments veil your head:
              And stooping lowly down, with losen’d zones,
              Throw each behind your backs, your mighty mother’s bones. 

 

losen’d zones, across wide areas

 

cover, veil, your heads, the goddess 

advises, stoop low, and throw your 

mother’s bones across wide areas, 

she instructs, however scandalously


              Amaz’d the pair, and mute with wonder stand,
              ‘Till Pyrrha first refus’d the dire command. 

 

Pyrrha is a counterpart for the Christian 

Eve here, contrary, defiant of Heaven, 

however eventually, Pyrrha, blameless, 

but which of the progenitresses came

first, which the chicken, which the egg, 

Eve or Pyrrha, is a question up for 

contemplation

 

              Forbid it Heav’n, said she, that I shou’d tear
              Those holy reliques from the sepulcher. 

 

surely, Pyrrha proclaims, Heav’n would 

never allow, Forbid it Heav’n, not to 

mention condone, that I should remove, 

tear, my mother’s bones, [t[hose holy 

reliques, relics, from their sepulcher, 

their grave, this would be profoundly 

unholy 

 

              They ponder’d the mysterious words again,
              For some new sense; and long they sought in vain:
              At length Deucalion clear’d his cloudy brow,
              And said, the dark Aenigma  

 

Aenigma, Sphinx, the oracle

 

                                                                will allow
              A meaning, which, if well I understand,
              From sacrilege will free the God’s command: 

 

if I can properly understand, decipher,

the meaning of the God’s command, 

Aenigma’s oracular words, however 

cryptic, in such a way, Deucalion 

declares, that our actions be not 

sacrilegious, nor offensive in any 

way to the gods, we may proceed,

he reasons

 

              This Earth our mighty mother is, the stones
              In her capacious body, are her bones: 

 

This Earth is our mighty mother, the

stones in her capacious body [ ] are 

her bones, no comma after body

 

the word order in each clause, note, has 

been reversed, instead of subject, verb,

object, we have object, verb, subject

 

but then, ever so felicitously, stones 

can rhyme with bones, and equally,

and as liltingly, we’re still in iambic 

pentameter

 

              These we must cast behind. With hope, and fear,
              The woman did the new solution hear:
              The man diffides in his own augury, 

 

diffide, distrust, augury, prediction,

Deucalion doubts, in other words,

his own calculations


              And doubts the Gods; yet both resolve to try. 

 

when my mom is up against a 

dilemma, she calls on my dad,

gone some over thirty years now,

come on, Daddy, let’s go, she 

says, and confronts the issue 

with transcendental, by very 

definition, conviction

 

see above

 

              Descending from the mount, they first unbind
              Their vests, and veil’d, they cast the stones behind:
              The stones (a miracle to mortal view,
              But long tradition makes it pass for true) 

 

what follows will seem miraculous

to mortals, Ovid says, but the story 

has been around for such a while,

which is to say by long tradition, 

that we let it pass for true

 

              Did first the rigour of their kind expel, 

 

the stones begin to lose, expel, their 

firmness, the rigour of their kind


              And suppled into softness, as they fell; 

 

suppled, became supple


              Then swell’d, and swelling, by degrees grew warm;
              And took the rudiments of human form. 

 

stones are being transformed, 

metamorphosized, into humans 

 

the Bible, if you’ll remember, would 

have it be clay


              Imperfect shapes: in marble such are seen,
              When the rude chizzel does the man begin; 

 

chizzel, chisel


              While yet the roughness of the stone remains,
              Without the rising muscles, and the veins. 

 

as the sculpture is being fashioned, 

certain parts of the human anatomy, 

the muscles, for instance, the veins, 

are not yet revealed, uncovered, 

discovered, extracted, by the 

chizzel, from under the roughness 

of the stone

 

think of Michelangelo, or Rodin,

sculpting

 

              The sappy parts, and next resembling juice, 

 

sappy, from sap, which, emanating 

from stones, would be next to, but 

not as limpid as, juice, or the liquid

required to create humans


              Were turn’d to moisture, for the body’s use:
              Supplying humours, blood, and nourishment; 

 

the circulatory, and notably viscous, 

system


              The rest, too solid to receive a bent,
              Converts to bones; and what was once a vein,
              Its former name and Nature did retain. 

 

veins, which hadn’t received enough 

sappy parts to become part of the

circulatory system, retained their 

name of vein, but as understood in

relation to rocks, geological veins

presumably replicated, in this story 

of the Creation, in human bones


              By help of pow’r divine, in little space, 

 

in little space, in no time at all


              What the man threw, assum’d a manly face;
              And what the wife, renew’d the female race. 

 

the stones that the man, Deucalion

threw became men, those that 

Pyrrha tossed became women 

 

              Hence we derive our nature; born to bear
              Laborious life; and harden’d into care.

 

we’ve inherited, through the labours 

of Deucalion and Pyrrha, our driven

nature, harden’d into, or conditioned, 

condemned, to care 

 

for better, I infer, or for worse 

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

“Metamorphoses” (The Giants’ War, XII) – Ovid

after-the-storm-1872.jpg!Large

      “After the Storm (1872)

 

            Gustave Courbet

 

                __________

 

 

                  A thin circumference of land appears;
                  And Earth, but not at once, her visage rears,
                  And peeps upon the seas from upper grounds; 

 

as the land begins to peep[ ] through 

the water, a circumference of land 

appears, a circle of Earth within the 

earlier universal water

 

to rear, to raise upright, boldly, the better,

here, for Earth‘s visage, Earth‘s face, to 

peep[ ] upon the seas from newly gained 

upper grounds

 

                  The streams, but just contain’d within their bounds,
                  By slow degrees into their channels crawl; 

 

streams, just recently redefining their  

boundaries, or bounds[b]y slow 

degrees settle, become waterways, 

channels, rivers, rivulets, rills

 

I love crawl here, incidentally, the slow, 

insidious, infiltration of a territory, silent 

and immutable, as [t]he streams, at the 

dispassionate pace of nature, find their 

individual course

 

                  And Earth increases, as the waters fall. 

 

the waters fall, the waters recede


                  In longer time the tops of trees appear, 

 

[i]n longer time, after a while

                                                         

                  Which mud on their dishonour’d branches bear. 

 

for which the only solution here, would

be, I thought, however ironically, a

shower, rain

 

but I digress

                 
                  At length the world was all restor’d to view;

                  But desolate, and of a sickly hue:  

see, for instance, above


                  Nature beheld her self, and stood aghast,
                  A dismal desart, and a silent waste. 

 

desart, is desert, even my spellcheck 

insisted

 

meanwhile, back on Mount Parnassus

our two survivors, look around

 

                  Which when Deucalion, with a piteous look
                  Beheld, he wept, and thus to Pyrrha spoke: 

 

let me point out that what follows, 

which is to say when Deucalion 

… thus to Pyrrha spoke, we have 

an extended monologue, rather 

than a narration, the poet, Ovid

has given a voice to Deucalion

his character, his creation

 

I was reminded of Shakespeare‘s 

monologues, especially since the 

metre is iambic pentameter,

Shakespeare‘s signature poetic

rhythm 

 

it should be noted that this translation

of Metamorphoses is from 1717, a

century and a very year after 

Shakespeare‘s demise, in 1616, time 

for poets to have imbibed his already 

profound influence

 

nor could they not have been marked

by the spirit of their own time, and the 

many transformative epochs since 

Metamorphoses had been written, in 

the year 1, that would’ve affected the 

translation 

 

the original Latin text, for instance,

was in dactylic hexameter, not 

iambic pentameter

 

                  Oh wife, oh sister, oh of all thy kind
                  The best, and only creature left behind,
                  By kindred, love, and now by dangers joyn’d;
                  Of multitudes, who breath’d the common air,
                  We two remain; a species in a pair:
                  The rest the seas have swallow’d; nor have we
                  Ev’n of this wretched life a certainty.
                  The clouds are still above; and, while I speak,
                  A second deluge o’er our heads may break.
                  Shou’d I be snatcht from hence, and thou remain,
                  Without relief, or partner of thy pain,
                  How cou’dst thou such a wretched life sustain?
                  Shou’d I be left, and thou be lost, the sea
                  That bury’d her I lov’d, shou’d bury me.
                  Oh cou’d our father his old arts inspire,
                  And make me heir of his informing fire,
                  That so I might abolisht Man retrieve,
                  And perisht people in new souls might live.
                  But Heav’n is pleas’d, nor ought we to complain,
                  That we, th’ examples of mankind, remain. 

 

cou’d our father, JoveDeucalion asks,

breathe into me his inspiration, his old 

arts, his informing fire, so that I could 

reconstitute Man, retrieve him, and 

supply the perisht people with new, and

presumably more honourable, souls

 

                  He said; the careful couple joyn their tears: 

 

He said, or this he spoke, and the

couple joyn their tears


                  And then invoke the Gods, with pious prayers.
                  Thus, in devotion having eas’d their grief,
                  From sacred oracles they seek relief;
                  And to Cephysus’ brook their way pursue: 

 

Cephysus, or Cephissus, was a river god,

associated with the river Cephissus, which 

runs through Central Greece

 

                  The stream was troubled, but the ford they knew; 

 

the ford, the way across the stream


                  With living waters, in the fountain bred, 

 

living waters would gush from a 

spring, around which a fountain 

would’ve been built

 

                  They sprinkle first their garments, and their head,
                  Then took the way, which to the temple led.
                  The roofs were all defil’d with moss, and mire,
                  The desart altars void of solemn fire.
                  Before the gradual, prostrate they ador’d;
                  The pavement kiss’d; and thus the saint implor’d.

 

the gradual is a hymn sung within

the context of a full religious service

 

desart here is again desert, but in

this instance signifying deserted

 

the saint, an anachronism here, 

for saints were not at all even a

concept at the time of Ovid

would’ve been Themis, goddess,

at Delphi, on Mount Parnassus

of Divine Justice

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

“Metamorphoses” (The Giants’ War, XI) – Ovid

david-1624(4).jpg!Large

    “Neptune and Triton (1620 – 1622) 

 

          Gian Lorenzo Bernini

 

                ____________

 


              When Jupiter, surveying Earth from high,
              Beheld it in a lake of water lie,
              That where so many millions lately liv’d,
              But two, the best of either sex, surviv’d;
              He loos’d the northern wind; 

 

the new world begins

 

                                                       fierce Boreas flies
              To puff away the clouds, and purge the skies:
              Serenely, while he blows, the vapours driv’n,
              Discover Heav’n to Earth, and Earth to Heav’n. 

 

Boreas, ruler of the northern wind, as in 

aurora borealis, at the instigation of the

officiating Jupiter, disperses the clouds, 

drives away the vapours, allowing Heav’n 

to see Earth, and Earth  to see Heav’n, 

nothing between the earth and the 

clear blue sky


              The billows fall, while Neptune lays his mace
              On the rough sea, and smooths its furrow’d face. 

 

while billows fall, gusts of boreal wind, 

Neptune, god of the Sea, as well and 

simultaneously in the service of Jupiter

smooths the surface of the water by 

laying his mace, a club with spikes, 

upon it, to still the unruly waves


              Already Triton, at his call, appears
              Above the waves; 

 

Triton, son of Neptune, also a sea deity

 

                                           a Tyrian robe he wears; 

 

Tyrian, of Tyre, a city in what is now

Lebanon, but was then Phoenicia, it 

was famous at the time for its cloth 

of a particular colour, Tyrian purple

 

Tyre is one of the oldest continuously

inhabited cities in the world

 

              And in his hand a crooked trumpet bears. 

 

Triton is characteristically depicted 

with a conch shella crooked trumpet 

 

see above

 

              The soveraign bids him peaceful sounds inspire,
              And give the waves the signal to retire. 

 

[t]he soveraign, or sovereign, is none

other than Neptune, his father 


              His writhen shell he takes; whose narrow vent
              Grows by degrees into a large extent, 

 

writhen, twisted, contorted, as is typical 

of a conch shell, which grows from 

where one blows into it, by degrees,  

towards the much larger opening from 

which the sound emanates

 

              Then gives it breath; the blast with doubling sound,
              Runs the wide circuit of the world around: 

 

Triton blows into the conch, gives it 

breath, the blast [ ] doubling [the]

sound, resounding, reverberating, 

the world around, the world over


              The sun first heard it, in his early east,
              And met the rattling ecchos in the west.
              The waters, listning to the trumpet’s roar,
              Obey the summons, and forsake the shore.


the waters begin to recede

 

 

R ! chard

 

“Metamorphoses” (The Giants’ War, X) – Ovid

deucalion-and-pyrrha-praying-before-the-statue-of-the-goddess-themis.jpg!Large

  “Deucalion and Pyrrha Praying before the Statue of the Goddess Themis (c.1542) 

 

          Tintoretto


             _____


 

              A mountain of stupendous height there stands
              Betwixt th’ Athenian and Boeotian lands, 

 

Boetia was, and still is, a region of 

Central Greece, its largest city is,

and was, Thebes, a major rival in

ancient times of Athens


              The bound of fruitful fields, while fields they were, 

 

bound, boundary, the fruitful fields

within a certain limited area, between 

Athens, here, and Boetia


              But then a field of waters did appear: 


              Parnassus is its name; whose forky rise
              Mounts thro’ the clouds, and mates the lofty skies. 

 

Parnassus is a mountain in Central 

Greece, however forky, however 

forked, craggy, uneven, sacred 

especially to Apollo, god of too 

many things to list here, and the 

site, at Delphi, on its south-western 

slope, of his Oracle, famous for 

being consulted on a variety of 

matters, from personal to affairs 

of state, its high priestess was 

believed to incarnate the very 

voice of Apollo

 

Parnassus was also the home, 

incidentally, of the Muses, goddesses 

in their own right, of the several arts, 

who ministered to Apollo


              High on the summit of this dubious cliff,
              Deucalion wafting, moor’d his little skiff. 

 

Deucalion is the Abrahamic Noah‘s

counterpart, sole survivor, with his 

wife Pyrrha, of the flood 

 

the cliff is dubious because the

mountain is still deep in water,

its summit precarious yet 

 

              He with his wife were only left behind
              Of perish’d Man; they two were human kind. 

 

they two alone were left of humankind,

of perish’d Man

 

              The mountain nymphs, and Themis they adore, 

 

Themis, goddess of Divine Justice

 

              And from her oracles relief implore. 

 

Deucalion and Pyrrha pray to Themis

at Delphi, its first high priestess, hungry

for, and heedful of, her oracles, counsel

 

see above

 

              The most upright of mortal men was he;
              The most sincere, and holy woman, she. 

 

a chance at a new world

 


R ! chard

“Metamorphoses” (The Giants’ War, IX) – Ovid

the-nereids-1886.jpg!Large

     “The Nereids (1886) 

 

            Joaquín Sorolla

 

                     _______

 


once the water begins to everywhere

oferflow, humans are left to somehow

find shelter, or perish

 

               One climbs a cliff; one in his boat is born: 

 

born here should be our 21st Century

borne, as in carried away, past participle 

of the verb to bear, to transport, a 

combination, incidentally, of verb forms, 

and divergent spellings, we’ve seen

here before

 

               And ploughs above, where late he sow’d his corn. 

 

ploughs, in the line above, deftly plays 

with a double meaning, to plough as in 

to struggle through, and to plough as 

in to work a field, the struggle is through 

water this time, however, not through

grassland


               Others o’er chimney-tops and turrets row,
               And drop their anchors on the meads below: 

 

meads, meadows


               Or downward driv’n, they bruise the tender vine,
               Or tost aloft, are knock’d against a pine. 

 

tossed, or tost, upon the waves, people 

are thrown about indiscriminately, some

against things that they break, bruise,

the tender vine, for instance, others 

against things that break them, the 

pine[s], all order, in the chaos, having 

been subverted

 

               And where of late the kids had cropt the grass, 

 

kids, baby goats


              The monsters of the deep now take their place. 

 

monsters of the deep, creepy things 

that lurk beneath the waves, now 

graze where earlier there’d been 

pasture, baby goats

 

               Insulting Nereids on the cities ride, 

 

Nereids, sea nymphs, daughters of Nereus

and Doris, god and goddess themselves, 

of water, fifty of them, one brother, Nerites

all often accompanying Poseidonsupreme 

ruler of the Sea, Neptune‘s Greek 

counterpart

 

the Nereids were especially known, in later, 

less turbulent times, to come to the aid of 

sailors 

 

               And wond’ring dolphins o’er the palace glide. 

 

wond’ring, would be wandering, as 

in to roam aimlessly, but one can 

hear rustling, in the background of

that unconventional spelling, the 

idea of dolphins wide-eyed, 

marvelling, filled with wonder, at 

this new, palatial, environment 

 

               On leaves, and masts of mighty oaks they brouze; 

 

brouze, browse, or the more familiar, 

graze, said of animals who eat grass, 

whereas those who browse, or brouze, 

eat leaves, shrubbery, greens which 

grow higher up


               And their broad fins entangle in the boughs. 

 

the fins of dolphins become entangled 

in the branches, boughs, of trees

 

               The frighted wolf now swims amongst the sheep; 

 

wolf and sheep, cast asunder, much 

like, above, man at the mercy of the 

pine, or the tender vine, all equals 

in their overriding fight for survival 


               The yellow lion wanders in the deep: 

 

the deep, the water

 

               His rapid force no longer helps the boar: 

 

earlier inherent skills have been

rendered irrelevant

 

               The stag swims faster, than he ran before.
               The fowls, long beating on their wings in vain,
               Despair of land, and drop into the main. 

 

the main, the ocean


               Now hills, and vales no more distinction know; 

 

the water has flattened all horizons


               And levell’d Nature lies oppress’d below. 

 

Nature, distinct from water here, 

now lies below the water’s surface

 

               The most of mortals perish in the flood:
               The small remainder dies for want of food. 

 

if Ovid remains to tell the tale, one

must suppose that this story must,

however relatively, have a happy 

ending

 

stay tuned

 


R ! chard