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pg 199Editor’s NoteBOOK IX

achelous and hercules

  • Link Why the god groaned and how his brow was maimed
  • Theseus enquired, and Calydon's great river,
  • His tangled tresses bound with reeds, began:
  • 'Sad is the task you set. For who would wish
  • To chronicle the battles that he lost?
  • Yet the whole tale* I'll tell. It was less shame
  • To lose than glory to have fought the fight:
  • Much comfort comes from such a conqueror.
  • You may perhaps have heard* of Deianira,
  • Once a most lovely girl, the envied hope
  • Of many a suitor. I was one of them
  • And entered the king's palace hopefully
  • And "Sire", I said, "I crave your daughter's hand."
  • So, too, said Hercules. The others all
  • Gave way to us, us two. He told his tale,
  • How Jove would be her father-in-law,* the fame
  • Of his great labours, the accomplishment
  • Of Juno's orders. I, opposing, said,
  • "Disgrace it is if gods give way to men."
  • (He was not yet a god.) "In me you see
  • The master of the waters that descend
  • In winding courses through your royal realm;
  • No stranger son-in-law from foreign shores,
  • But one of your own folk, your own affairs.
  • Let it not damage me that royal Juno
  • Does not detest me, that no toils imposed
  • Have ever punished me! You, Hercules,
  • Alcmena's son, who claim your father's Jove—
  • That tale's untrue, or true to your disgrace:
  • A father through your mother's sin. So choose
  • Which you prefer, either that fatherhood
  • Is false or you were born in infamy."
  • While I was speaking, all the time, he scowled,
  • And, failing to control his flaring rage,
  • Gave me his curt reply: "This hand of mine

pg 200Editor’s Noteix. 30–65

  • Is better than my tongue. Win, if you may,
  • With words, provided I prevail in deeds!"
  • And on he rushed in fury. My fine words
  • Made me ashamed to flinch. I threw aside
  • My green cloak, raised my arms and poised my hands
  • Half-curled before my chest and stood to fight.
  • He scooped up dust and threw it over me,*
  • And he was yellowed too with my gold sand.
  • Now at my neck, now at my twinkling legs
  • He lunged (or feinted), pressing his attack
  • At every point. My weight protected me;
  • I stood unscathed, like a huge rock that waves
  • Beat with a roaring crash, and there it stands
  • Fast in the safety of its mighty mass.
  • We drew apart a little, then again
  • Joined battle, standing rooted, both resolved
  • Never to yield an inch. Foot locked with foot,
  • Fingers with fingers, brow to brow, I pressed
  • Him down half-prone; as I've seen battling bulls
  • Collide in contest for the sleekest cow
  • Of all the countryside; the herd looks on
  • In fear and awe not knowing which of them
  • The victory and the sovereignty await.
  • Three times with no success did Hercules
  • Struggle and strain to break my lock; the fourth
  • Shook off my hold and loosed my clinching arms,
  • And, striking with his fist (I mean to tell
  • The truth) he whirled me round and clung with all
  • His weight upon my back. If you'd believe
  • (I seek no fame from fiction), crushing me
  • I seemed to have a mountain. Even so
  • I managed to insert my sweating arms,
  • I managed to dislodge his iron grip.
  • He charged as I stood breathless, gave me no
  • Chance to recover, and got me round my neck.
  • At last, forced to my knees, I bit the sand.
  •   Outmatched, out'man'ned, I used that art of mine:
  • Changed to a long smooth snake I slid from him.*
  • In circling sinuous coils I wound myself
  • And flickering my forked tongue hissed horribly.

pg 201Editor’s Noteix. 66–98

  • He laughed and mocked my magic. "Mastering snakes
  • Is child's play,* Achelous! Yes, if you
  • Were champion serpent, how could you compare
  • With Lerna's Hydra, you a single snake?
  • It throve on wounds: of all its hundred heads
  • I cut off none but from its neck two more
  • Sprang to succeed it, stronger than before!
  • Yes, though it branched with serpents sprung from death,
  • And multiplied on doom, I mastered it,
  • And, mastered, I dispatched it. What's in store
  • For you, d'you think, no proper snake at all,
  • No weapons of your own, just skulking in
  • A shape you've begged and borrowed?" As he spoke,
  • He locked his fingers round my neck; I felt
  • My windpipe in a vice; in agony
  • I fought to free my gullet from his thumbs.
  • Vanquished again, my third shape still remained,
  • A savage bull.* A bull! And I fought back!
  • On my left side he threw his arms around
  • My bulging neck and, as I raced along,
  • Kept pace and dragged me down and forced my horns
  • Right into the hard ground and laid me low
  • In the deep sand. Even that was not enough:
  • He grasped my strong stiff horn in his fierce hand,
  • Broke it, and wrenched it off—my brow was maimed!
  • My Naiads filled it full of fragrant flowers
  • And fruits, and hallowed it. From my horn now
  • Good Plenty* finds her wealth and riches flow.'
  •   His tale was done. One of the serving nymphs,
  • Dressed in Diana's simple style, her hair
  • Flowing on either side, came bearing in
  • The horn with all its wealth, all autumn there,
  • Fruits in perfection for our second course.
  • Dawn came, and, when the sun's first rising beams
  • Struck on the peaks, the young men went their way,
  • Not waiting till the river had regained
  • Its peace and placid flow and all the flood
  • Had fallen. Achelous hid his face,
  • His rustic face, and head with missing horn
  • Beneath his waters. Humbled though he was

pg 202Editor’s Noteix. 99–127

  • To lose that elegance, all else was sound,
  • And he concealed his loss with willow leaves
  • Or reeds and rushes worn upon his head.

hercules, nessus, and deianira

  • But savage Nessus lost his life for love
  • Of that same lady, when an arrow flew
  • To pierce his side. When Jove's son, Hercules,
  • Was making for his native city's* walls
  • With his new bride, he reached the rushing waters
  • Of broad Euenus, high beyond its wont.
  • The river, swollen by the winter's rains
  • And full of whirlpools, poured impassable.
  • And as he stood there, fearless for himself
  • But anxious for his wife, Nessus approached,
  • Mighty in muscle and knowing the fords well.
  • 'With my help she'll stand safe on the far side',
  • He volunteered: 'You, use your strength and swim!'
  • To Nessus then the Theban hero gave
  • His bride of Calydon, pale and afraid,
  • Dreading the river, dreading the centaur too.
  • And then, just as he was, with all the weight
  • Of lion-skin and quiver (club and bow
  • He'd thrown across), 'Since I've begun', he cried,
  • 'I'll beat one river more!' and never paused
  • To take his time or pick the kindest water,
  • And scorned to use the current's services.
  • And now on the far bank and stooping for
  • The bow he'd thrown, he heard a voice, his wife's,
  • Calling and sure that Nessus had in mind
  • A breach of trust, 'You raping ravisher!'
  • He cried, 'Where are you going? So confident
  • In your four feet! Nessus, you centaur, listen!
  • Hold off from me and mine. Maybe you feel
  • No dread of me—at least your father's* wheel
  • Should hold you back from lust and lechery.
  • Trust horse-strength if you will, you'll not escape.
  • With wounds not feet I'll follow!' His last words
  • Were proved at once: an arrow flew and pierced

pg 203Editor’s Noteix. 128–58

  • The fleeing centaur's back: out from his breast
  • The barbed point stuck. He wrenched the shaft away,
  • And blood from both wounds spurted, blood that bore
  • The Hydra's poison.* Nessus caught it up.
  • 'I'll not die unavenged', he thought and gave
  • His shirt soaked in warm gore to Deianira,
  • A talisman, he said, to kindle love.
  •   Long years had passed, and Hercules' great deeds
  • Had filled the world and sated Juno's hate.
  • Fresh from his triumph in Oechalia
  • He had made plans to pay his vows to Jove
  • At Cenaeum, when rumour* rode ahead—
  • Rumour who talks and loves to tangle true
  • With false, and from near nothing flourishes
  • On her own lies—and swiftly reached the ears
  • Of Deianira, rumour that her lord
  • Was held in thrall by love of Iole.*
  • Her doting heart believed. This latest love
  • Filled her with fear. First she gave way to weeping,
  • Flooding her pain away, poor soul, in tears.
  • Then soon 'Why do I weep?' she said, 'Those tears
  • Will gladden that girl's heart. Since she must come,
  • I must make haste, devise some stratagem
  • While time allows, before that paramour
  • Is settled in my bed. Shall I protest?
  • Shall I be dumb? Go back to Calydon?
  • Or wait here? Leave the house? Or stand at bay,
  • If nothing better? Why, remembering
  • I'm Meleager's sister, why not plan
  • Some deed of doom, and strangle her and prove
  • The power of pain, the power of slighted love?'
  • Swaying from plan to plan, at last she chose
  • To send the shirt imbued with Nessus' blood
  • To fortify her husband's failing love.
  • Not knowing what she gave, she entrusted her
  • Sorrow to Lichas (ignorant no less)
  • And charged him with soft words (poor piteous soul!)
  • To take it to her lord. And Hercules
  • Received the gift and on his shoulders wore,
  • In ignorance, the Hydra-poisoned gore.

pg 204ix. 159–88Editor’s Notethe death and apotheosis of hercules

  • The flame was lit; he offered words of prayer
  • And incense, pouring on the marble altar
  • Wine from the bowl. That deadly force grew warm.
  • Freed by the flame, it seeped and stole along,
  • Spreading through all the limbs of Hercules.
  • While he still could, that hero's heart of his
  • Stifled his groans, but when the agony
  • Triumphed beyond endurance, he threw down
  • The altar, and his cries of anguish filled
  • The glades of Oeta.* Desperately he tried
  • To tear the fatal shirt away; each tear
  • Tore his skin too, and, loathsome to relate,
  • Either it stuck, defeating his attempts
  • To free it from his flesh, or else laid bare
  • His lacerated muscles and huge bones.
  • Why, as the poison burned, his very blood
  • Bubbled and hissed as when a white-hot blade
  • Is quenched in icy water. Never an end!
  • The flames licked inwards, greedy for his guts;
  • Dark perspiration streamed from every pore;
  • His scorching sinews crackled; the blind rot
  • Melted his marrow. Hands raised to the stars,
  • 'Feast', he cried, 'Juno! Feast upon my doom!
  • Gaze down from heaven in your cruelty
  • Upon my torment. Glut your savage heart!
  • If even from my foes, if even from you,
  • Some pity I deserve, take, take away
  • My hateful life, tortured so terribly,
  • Life born to labour. Death a boon will be,
  • A boon a stepmother gives fittingly!
  •   Was it for this,* that I subdued Busiris,*
  • Whose temples he defiled with strangers' blood?
  • That I uprooted fierce Antaeus* from
  • His mother's nourishment? Faced unafraid
  • Cerberus' triple heads, the triple heads
  • Of Geryon?* That you, my hands, forced down
  • The great bull's* horns, you gave deliverance
  • To Elis,* to Parthenius'* high glades,

pg 205Editor’s Noteix. 189–223

  • To Stymphalus'* broad waters, and your valour
  • Secured the gold-chased belt of Thermodon*
  • And the apples* guarded by the unsleeping snake?
  • The centaurs* quailed before me, and the boar*
  • That wasted Arcady; the Hydra's gain
  • From loss, with doubled strength, was all in vain.
  • Yes, when I saw the Thracian's horses* fat
  • On human blood and mangers full of flesh,
  • Torn flesh, did I not smash them down and slay
  • Master and steeds together? By these arms
  • Nemea's giant lion lay destroyed;
  • This neck sustained the sky.* Jove's savage wife
  • Is tired of setting tasks: I'm still untired.
  • But now this latest torture! That no courage,
  • No weapons can withstand! Deep in my lungs
  • Roams the devouring fire, through all my frame
  • It feeds. Yet King Eurystheus flourishes
  • Alive and well! And men can still believe
  • In gods!'* In wounded agony he roamed
  • The heights of Oeta, like a bull that bears
  • Deep in its side a hunting-spear, when he
  • Who dealt the wound has fled. Time after time
  • You could have seen him trying to tear away
  • The fatal shirt, roaring great cries of pain,
  • Cursing the mountain, crashing down the pines,
  • Or raising hands to heaven, his father's home.
  •   Then Lichas* caught his eye, look, cowering
  • In panic in a cave. 'Lichas!' he cried,
  • Pain mounting up to madness, 'It was you
  • Gave me this gift of doom! Yes, you'll be my
  • Murderer!' Lichas paled and shuddering
  • In terror tried to stammer his excuse,
  • And made to clasp his master's knees. But he
  • Snatched him away and whirled him round and round,
  • And flung him like a sling-shot out to sea,
  • The Euboean sea. Along that airy path
  • He hardened, as in icy winds,* it's said,
  • Raindrops congeal and turn to snow, and snow,
  • Soft swirling flakes of snow, combine to form
  • Round stones of hail; so Lichas, hurled away

pg 206Editor’s Noteix. 224–56

  • By those gigantic shoulders through the void,
  • Blood-drained by fear, all living moisture lost,
  • The old tale tells, was turned to flinty rock.
  • Now from Euboea's waves a short rock-shelf
  • Projects with traces still of human shape,
  • 'Lichas'* to mariners who, in belief
  • It feels them, fear to tread upon that reef.
  •   Then Jove's illustrious son cut down the trees
  • That clothed steep Oeta's side and built a pyre,
  • And ordered Poeas' son,* whose service set
  • The flame beneath, to take his mighty bow,
  • His quiver and his arrows that should see
  • Troy's realm a second time.* And, as the flames
  • Licked the great timber pile, he spread the skin
  • Of the Nemean lion high on top,
  • And, pillowed on his club, lay there at ease,
  • As at a feast* with friends he might recline,
  • Flower-garlanded amid the flowing wine.
  •   Now strong and spreading on all sides the flames
  • Were crackling, licking at those carefree limbs,
  • That heart that scorned them. Gods in heaven feared
  • For earth's defender. Conscious of their thoughts,
  • Jove, well content, addressed them:* 'These your fears
  • Are my delight. Gladly do I rejoice
  • With my whole heart that you, my grateful people,
  • Call me your lord and father, that my issue
  • Finds the protection of your favour too.
  • For though you pay this tribute to his own
  • Achievements, I myself am in your debt.
  • Indeed let not your faithful hearts be filled
  • With needless terror. Spurn those flames on Oeta!
  • He who has conquered all will conquer too
  • The fires you see. He'll not feel Vulcan's power
  • Save in his mother's part. What he derived
  • From me is everlasting, stands beyond
  • The sting of death, unscathed by any flame.
  • That part, now done with earth, I shall receive
  • On heaven's shores, and I am confident
  • My action will give joy to every god.
  • Link If anyone, however—anyone—

pg 207Editor’s Noteix. 257–80

  • Is going to be distressed that Hercules
  • Is made a god and grudges that award,
  • The gift was well deserved and that he'll know,
  • And, though it hurts, consent to have it so.'
  •   The gods agreed. His royal consort too
  • Seemed not to mind his words, until the last,
  • Aimed at herself, received an angry frown.
  • Meanwhile whatever parts the flames could ravage
  • Mulciber had removed; of Hercules
  • No shape remained that might be recognized,
  • Nothing his mother gave him, traces now
  • Only of Jove. And as a snake will slough
  • Age with its skin and revel in fresh life,
  • Shining resplendent in its sleek new scales,
  • So Hercules, his mortal frame removed,
  • Through all his finer parts* gained force and vigour,
  • In stature magnified, transformed into
  • A presence clothed in majesty and awe.*
  • The Almighty Father carried him away,
  • Swept in his four-horsed chariot through the clouds,
  • And stationed him among the shining stars.
  • Atlas could feel his weight.
  •            But even now
  • Eurystheus' rage did not relax. His hate,
  • From father turned to children, cruel hate,
  • Was still at work. Anxiety had long
  • Distressed Alcmena, but in Iole
  • She found a confidante whom she could trust
  • With an old lady's troubles, and relate
  • Her son's world-famous labours and her own
  • Story. Obeying Hercules' commands,
  • Hyllus had welcomed Iole in love
  • And wedlock; in her swelling womb she bore
  • His noble child. Alcmena spoke to her:

the birth of hercules

  • 'May the gods favour you when your time comes,
  • With no long painful waiting when you call
  • On Ilithyia,* who attends the pangs

pg 208Editor’s Noteix. 281–315

  • And fears of labour. To myself she was
  • By Juno's influence most difficult.
  • For when the natal day of Hercules,
  • My greatly-toiling son, drew close and now
  • The sun had reached the tenth of heaven's signs,
  • My burden strained my womb, and what I bore
  • Was huge: you could be sure that hidden weight
  • Was Jove's begetting. Then my pains grew worse,
  • More than I could endure. Why, even now
  • I feel cold shudders as I speak, and pain
  • Recalled is pain renewed. For seven nights,
  • For seven days in torture, overwhelmed
  • In agony, I stretched my arms to heaven
  • And called Lucina and the Gods of Birth.
  • I called and called. She came, indeed, but bribed
  • Beforehand, ready to donate my life
  • To spiteful Juno. On that altar there,
  • Before the door, she sat and heard my groans.
  • Legs crossed, right over left, and fingers locked,
  • She barred the birth,* and chanted silent spells,
  • Spells that held back the birth as it began.
  • I strained and struggled; mad with pain I screamed
  • Abuse in vain at Jove's ingratitude.
  • I longed to die; my protests would have moved
  • A block of granite. Theban matrons came
  • To add their prayers and comfort my distress.
  • One of my maids was there, a low-born girl,
  • My golden-haired Galanthis, always active
  • To do my bidding and a favourite
  • For her good services. She realized
  • That spiteful Juno had some plot in hand,
  • And on her frequent errands in and out
  • She saw the goddess sitting by the altar,
  • Arms round her knees and fingers linked, and said
  • "Whoever you may be, congratulate
  • Our mistress; Lady Alcmena is delivered,
  • Her prayers are answered and her babe is born."
  • Up sprang the great Birth-goddess in dismay,
  • And loosed her linking hands, and as the bonds
  • Were loosed I was delivered of my child.

pg 209Editor’s Noteix. 316–45

  • Galanthis laughed at the goddess she'd deceived
  • (So is the story told) and, as she laughed,
  • The cruel goddess seized her by the hair
  • And dragged her to the ground and when she tried
  • To rise prevented her and changed her arms
  • To forelegs. Though her shape is different,
  • She's active now as ever, and her back
  • Still keeps her golden colour, and because
  • Out of her mouth came lies that aided birth,
  • Out of her mouth* her young are born. My door
  • She's in and out* of as she was before.'


  • She sighed, remembering her former maid,
  • And as she sorrowed Iole began:
  • 'Yet, mother, she whose ravished shape you mourn
  • Was not of our blood. What if I should tell you
  • My sister's fate, so strange; though tears and pain
  • Impede my tongue and check my tale. My sister!
  • The loveliest girl of all Oechalia,
  • Dear Dryope, her mother's only child
  • (Mine was a different mother). He who rules
  • Delphi and Delos* had assaulted her;
  • Andraemon welcomed her, a maid no more,
  • And he was counted lucky in his wife.
  • There is a lake* whose shelving sides had shaped
  • A sloping shore, and myrtles crowned the ridge.
  • There Dryope had come, not dreaming of
  • The Fates' design, and, what must make you more
  • Indignant, bringing garlands for the nymphs.
  • She carried at her breast her little boy,
  • A darling burden not a twelvemonth old,
  • And fed him with her milk. Near the lakeside
  • A water-lotus flowered, its crimson blooms
  • Like Tyrian dye, fair hope of fruit to come.
  • Dear Dryope had picked a posy of
  • These flowers to please her boy. I meant to do
  • The same (for I was there), when I saw drops
  • Of blood drip from the blossoms and the boughs

pg 210Editor’s Noteix. 346–77

  • Shiver in horror. For this shrub, you see
  • (Too late the peasants told us), was the nymph
  • Lotis* who fled Priapus' lechery
  • And found changed features there but kept her name.
  •   Nothing of this my sister knew. She'd said
  • Prayers to the nymphs and now in terror tried
  • To turn away and leave, but found her feet
  • Rooted. She fought to free herself, but failed
  • To move below her bosom. Gradually
  • Up from the soil right round her legs and loins
  • Bark climbed and clung; and, seeing it, she tried
  • To tear her hair, but found leaves filled her hand,
  • Leaves covered her whole head. Her little boy,
  • Amphissos (Eurytus, his grandfather,
  • Had named him so) could feel his mother's breasts
  • Grow hard; the milky flow failed as he sucked.
  • And I stood there, a helpless onlooker,
  • Watching her cruel fate. As best I could,
  • I clasped my sister in my arms and stayed
  • The growing trunk and boughs, and longed to see—
  • Yes, longed—the selfsame bark envelop me.
  •   And then in sore distress her husband came,
  • Andraemon, and her father too to look
  • For Dryope; for Dryope I showed
  • The lotus* there. Upon the still-warm wood
  • They printed kisses; prostrate on the ground,
  • They hugged their dear tree's roots, that darling tree.
  • Of my sweet sister naught that was not tree
  • Remained except her face. Her tears, poor soul,
  • Bedewed the leaves she'd grown; and, while she might,
  • While lips would let words pass, her protests poured:
  • "If misery can win belief, I swear
  • By heaven I've not deserved this wickedness.
  • Guiltless I'm punished; all my life has been
  • Innocent. If I lie, let all my leaves
  • Be parched and lost, let axes cut me down,
  • Let me be burnt. But take this baby from
  • His mother's boughs and give him to a nurse.
  • And see that often underneath my tree
  • He takes his milk and underneath my tree

pg 211Editor’s Noteix. 378–408

  • He often plays, and, when he's learnt to talk,
  • See that he greets his mother, knows to say
  • Sadly 'My mother's hidden in this trunk.'
  • Let him beware of pools and never pick
  • Blossoms from trees, but fancy every bush
  • A goddess in disguise. And now farewell
  • Dear husband, farewell sister, farewell father.
  • Yet, if you love me, keep my foliage
  • Secure from wounding blades and browsing flocks.
  • And, since I'm not allowed to bend to you,
  • Reach up to me and let me kiss you still
  • While you can touch my lips, and lift my son,
  • My little son, to me. And now no more!
  • Over my snow-white throat the smooth rind creeps;
  • Up to the crown I'm swathed. Let no hands touch
  • My lids: without your service let the bark
  • Envelop in its shroud my dying eyes!"
  • Her words, her life, together ceased to flow;
  • Her changeling boughs long held her body's glow.'

iolaus and the sons of callirhoe

  • When Iole had told her wondrous tale,
  • Alcmena dried her tears (in tears herself),
  • Then all their sorrows were arrested by
  • A strange surprise. In the high doorway stood
  • A youth, almost a boy, his cheeks it seemed
  • Still downy, Iolaus,* now restored
  • In form and features to his early prime.
  • This guerdon was the gift of Juno's daughter,
  • Hebe, to gratify her husband's* wish.
  • She meant to swear not to bestow such gifts
  • On any man thereafter, but was stopped
  • By Themis.* 'Civil war', she said, 'embroils
  • Thebes now and save by Jove's might Capaneus*
  • Shall not be conquered: brothers* shall be paired
  • In wounds; the prophet* yet alive shall see
  • His ghost as earth gapes open; and his son*
  • Parent on parent shall avenge, a deed
  • Of loving duty and a deed of crime.

pg 212Editor’s Noteix. 409–38

  • Distraught with troubles, driven from his mind
  • And home, the Furies and his mother's ghost
  • Shall hound him till his consort shall demand
  • The fatal golden necklace, and the sword
  • Of Phegeus* drain the blood of kith and kin.
  • And then at last Callirhoe, the child
  • Of Achelous, for her infant sons
  • Shall beg those years* from Jove on bended knee,
  • To speed their vengeance for the victor's death.
  • And, at her suit, Jove shall foreclaim that gift
  • Of his stepdaughter,* and her sons shall be
  • Transformed to manhood from their infancy.'
  •   As Themis, who foreknew the future, spoke
  • These prophecies, a rumbling argument
  • Arose in heaven, the gods all grumbling why
  • Others should not be allowed to grant such gifts.
  • Aurora grumbled at her husband's age,
  • And gentle Ceres that Iasion
  • Was going grey; and Mulciber required
  • New life for Erichthonius.* Venus too,
  • Worried about the future,* staked a claim
  • To have Anchises' years made young again.
  • Each of them had some favourite. A storm
  • Of rivalry and discord swelled, till Jove
  • Unlocked his lips. 'If you at all', he said,
  • 'Hold me in honour, what possesses you?
  • Does anyone suppose he has the power
  • To conquer fate?* It was the will of fate
  • That Iolaus gained his years again;
  • To fate the children of Callirhoe
  • Will owe their manhood, not to canvassing
  • Or conflict. You yourselves, yes, me myself
  • (If that may give you comfort) fate controls.
  • If I could alter it, my Aeacus
  • Would not be stooping in his last late years,
  • And Rhadamanthus would enjoy the flower
  • Of youth for ever and my Minos too,
  • Whom now the bitter burden of old age
  • Has brought to scorn, who'll never know again
  • The majesty in which he once held reign.'

pg 213Editor’s Noteix. 439–67

  •   Jove's words were moving. No god could complain
  • When he saw Aeacus and Rhadamanthus
  • And Minos worn with years. Why, in his prime
  • The very name of Minos had struck fear
  • In mighty nations, but by then his strength
  • Was failing and he feared Apollo's son,
  • Miletus, proud in all the power of youth
  • And parentage, and thought he planned to rise
  • Against his throne, yet feared to force him from
  • His fatherland. But of his own accord
  • Miletus fled and in his speeding ship
  • Crossed the Aegean Sea and on the shores
  • Of Asia built the battlements that keep
  • Their founder's name; where, as she strolled beside
  • Maeander's winding banks, her father's stream,
  • That turns so often back upon its course,
  • He joined in love a nymph of beauty rare,
  • Cyanee, who one day bore him there
  • Byblis and Caunus, twins, a tragic pair.


  • The tale of Byblis shows* that girls should love
  • As law allows, Byblis who lost her heart
  • To great Apollo's grandson, her twin brother.
  • Hers was no sister's love; her love was wrong.
  • At first she failed to understand at all
  • What her heart felt and never thought it sin
  • To kiss him often or to throw her arms
  • Around her brother's neck, and long mistook
  • The lying semblance of a sister's love.
  • Then gradually her passion warped. She dressed
  • With care to meet her brother, keen, too keen,
  • To look her loveliest, and envious
  • If ever some girl there was lovelier.
  • She still had no clear picture of herself,
  • Her heart still formed no prayer, though inwardly
  • Passion burned high. She addressed him as 'My lord'*
  • And, hating words of kinship, wanted him
  • Always to call her Byblis, never sister.

pg 214ix. 468–500

  • Link Even so she dared not let her waking thoughts
  • Admit her wanton hopes. But when she sank
  • Relaxed in quiet rest, she often saw
  • The object of her love, and fancied too
  • She lay with him and blushed even in her sleep.
  • She woke and long lay still, as she recalled
  • The vision of her slumber. Troubled thoughts
  • Perplexed her. 'Wretched me! What can it mean
  • This dream the still night sends? It must not be!
  • Why do I have such dreams? True, his good looks
  • Even jealous eyes admit; I like him well,
  • And I could love him were he not my brother;
  • He's worth my love—but kinship ruins me.
  • So long as I, awake, try no such thing,
  • May sleep return with many such a dream!
  • Sleep has no spy, imagined joy no sin.
  • O Venus, O winged God of Love, what joy,
  • What bliss was mine! How real my ecstasy!
  • Oh, how I lay dissolved in my delight!
  • What rapture to remember! Though the thrill
  • Of pleasure was so fleeting and the night
  • Sped rushing on and grudged what we began.
  • Oh, could I change my name and join my heart
  • With yours, how good a daughter I could be,
  • Dear Caunus, to your father, you, how good
  • A son to mine! We would share everything,
  • If heaven allowed, except our ancestry—
  • I'd want you to be better born than me!
  • Some other girl, my fairest love, will be—
  • I know not who—the mother of your sons,
  • But I, whose ill luck made your parents mine,
  • In you have but a brother. That alone
  • Is ours to share, that thing that severs us.
  •   What do my dreams portend? What weight have dreams?
  • Do dreams have weight at all? The gods forbid!
  • Yet gods have loved their sisters; yes, indeed!
  • Why, Saturn married Ops, his kin by blood,
  • And Ocean Tethys, and Olympus' lord,
  • Jove, married Juno. But the gods above
  • Are laws unto themselves. Why try to fit

pg 215Editor’s Noteix. 501–32

  • The different rules of heaven to modes of men?
  • This flame I'll force, forbidden, from my breast,
  • Or, if I fail, oh, let me perish first,
  • And as I'm laid dead on my bier, then let
  • My brother kiss me. Yet for what I want
  • Two minds must meet: suppose it brings delight
  • To me, it must be sinful in his sight.
  • But then no scruples held the fabled sons
  • Of Aeolus* from their six sisters' beds!
  • How do I know these stories? Why so pat
  • These precedents?* What will become of me?
  • Away, perverted passion! Let me love
  • My brother with a proper sister's love!
  • Yet if his love had first been fired by me,
  • Maybe his madness would have found me willing.
  • Well then, if I were willing had he wooed,
  • I'll woo myself. Can I speak out? Can I
  • Confess? Love will compel me! Yes, I can.
  • Or if shame locks my lips, then I'll reveal
  • By private letter love my lips conceal.'
  •   The plan seemed sound and won her wavering mind.
  • Raising herself, she leant on her left arm.
  • Let him be judge, she thought; now I'll confess
  • My love so mad. Ay me! How I do fall!
  • What fire my heart has caught! With trembling hand
  • She starts the sentences her thoughts have framed.
  • Her right hand holds the pen, her left the wax.
  • She starts, she pauses, writes and thinks it wrong,
  • Restarts, erases, alters, likes, dislikes,
  • Puts down the tablet, picks it up again,
  • Not knowing what she wants, and finding fault
  • With everything as soon as settled. Shame
  • Mingles with resolution in her face.
  • 'Your sister' she had written, but decided
  • 'Sister' were best erased, and on the wax,
  • Its surface smoothed, incised these sentences:
  •   'Good health to you from one who'll have no health,
  • Unless you grant it, one who loves you well!
  • Shame, shame withholds her name, and should you ask
  • What I so long for, nameless I would wish

pg 216Editor’s Noteix. 533–66

  • To plead my cause and not be recognized
  • As Byblis till my hope was safe and sure.
  • Proof of my wounded soul you must have seen:
  • My face so pale and haggard, my sad eyes
  • So full of tears, my senseless-seeming sighs,
  • My fond caresses and—had you but felt—
  • My kisses that no sister's lips should press.
  • Yet, though my wound was grievous, though the flame
  • Of passion flared within me, everything
  • I tried (the gods bear witness) to regain
  • My sanity at last, and struggled long
  • To foil Cupid's assault. Alas! I've borne
  • More than you'd think a girl could bear. Defeat
  • I'm forced to own, your aid with trembling prayers
  • I'm forced to supplicate. A loving heart
  • Now you alone can save, alone destroy.
  • Choose which you will. Your suppliant's no foe,
  • No foe, but one who, though she's nearest you,
  • Longs to be nearer, to be bound to you
  • By closer bonds. Let old men know the law,*
  • Examine what's allowed, what's right and wrong,
  • Study the statutes. Love that heeds no rules
  • Suits our young years. As yet we have not learnt
  • What is allowed, think everything's allowed,
  • And follow the examples of the gods.
  • No father's rules, no fears for our fair name,
  • No qualms shall thwart us. Were there cause for qualms,
  • Brother and sister, sweet companionship,
  • The world will note, veiling our secret joy.
  • I am at liberty to speak with you
  • In private; we embrace, kiss openly;
  • The rest—how much is that? Pity a girl
  • Who speaks her love, and would not, did its fire,
  • Its sovereign fire, not force her. On my tomb,
  • Oh, do not earn the title that to you,
  • When men shall carve the cause, my death was due!'
  •   The words she traced—and traced in vain—had filled
  • The tablets and the final sentence clung
  • Close to the margin. With her signet-gem
  • Straightway she sealed the tale of guilt—her tears

pg 217ix. 567–99

  • Had served to moisten it; her tongue was dry—
  • Then, shamefaced, called a slave and nervously,
  • With honeyed words, 'Take these, good faithful friend',
  • She said, 'and give them to'—a long and anxious pause—
  • 'My brother.' As she handed them, they slipped
  • And fell. The omen troubled her, but still
  • She sent them all the same. The serving-man
  • Delivered, when he found a fitting time,
  • The message that confessed her love. Aghast,
  • In sudden rushing rage, young Caunus threw
  • The tablets down, half read, and hardly kept
  • His fingers from the trembling servant's throat.
  • 'Be off, you rogue! Off, while you may!' he cried,
  • 'You pimp of lawless lust! But that your fate
  • Involved my shame, your death had paid for this!'
  • The servant fled in fear and told his mistress
  • Her brother's fierce reply. When Byblis heard
  • Her love repulsed, she shivered and turned pale,
  • Seized by an icy chill. But when anon
  • Her faculties came back, back came as well
  • Her wild desire. In whispers hardly heard
  • She breathed, 'Yes! I deserved it! Why, oh why
  • Did I reveal my wound so rashly? Why
  • So quickly put in writing—in such haste—
  • What should have been concealed? I should have first
  • Tested his feelings, using words that might
  • Mean nothing. To make sure the wind blew fair,
  • I should have set small sail and kept good watch,
  • And so fared safely on the sea, but now
  • I've spread full sail to winds untried, unknown.
  • So on the rocks I'm cast and overturned;
  • Shipwrecked and sunk beneath the boundless main,
  • My sails will never bring me home again.
  •   Why! By the clearest omens I was warned
  • Not to indulge my love, when, as I bade
  • The man deliver them, the tablets fell
  • And so made sure that all my hopes should fall.
  • Indeed that day—or else my whole intent—
  • But better, yes! that day—should have been changed.
  • The god himself was warning me with signs,

pg 218Editor’s Noteix. 600–31

  • Had I not lost my senses, crystal clear.
  • Of course I should have spoken, not have risked
  • Myself in writing,* should in person have
  • Revealed my passion. Then he would have seen
  • The tears I shed, have seen my looks of love;
  • Words could have told him more than wax could hold.
  • Against his will I could have thrown my arms
  • Around his neck and, were I thrust away,
  • I could have seemed near death and clasped his feet,
  • And on my bended knees begged for my life.
  • I could have done so many many things,
  • Which one by one might fail, but all together
  • Could not have failed to turn his stubborn heart.
  •   Perhaps the man I sent made some mistake,
  • Approached him clumsily, chose, I dare say,
  • An awkward moment, did not wait until
  • The hour was free, his thoughts unoccupied.
  • These things have harmed me. He's no tigress' son,*
  • No heart of flint or iron or adamant
  • Beats in his breast, no lioness's milk
  • Has given him suck. He shall be overcome.
  • He must be wooed again. I shall not shrink
  • From what I've started, while my breath remains.
  • Best were—could I undo what I have done—
  • Not to have started; now my second best
  • Is to fight on and what I've started win.
  • For he, though I give up my hopes, can never
  • Fail to remember what my hopes have dared,
  • And I shall seem, because I give them up,
  • Fickle and frivolous, even to have tried
  • To tempt and trap him, or for sure he'll think
  • Lust overcame me, not the God of Love,
  • Whose sovereign fiery flame my passion drove.
  • In short I've sinned and can't unsin my sin;
  • I wrote, I wooed, I wanted wickedness.
  • Though no more's done, I'll not seem innocent.
  • What lies ahead may little add of sin,
  • But much, oh much, of happiness to win.'
  •   Her thoughts were so uncertain, so confused,
  • That what she wished she'd never tried, she meant

pg 219Editor’s Noteix. 632–64

  • To try again. Poor girl, she passed all bounds,
  • Kept offering herself to his rebuffs,
  • And soon, no end in sight, her brother fled,
  • Fled from his country and the scene of shame
  • To found a city* in a foreign land.
  •   Then Byblis was beside herself with grief.
  • She beat herself in frenzy and tore down
  • The tunic from her breast. Now openly
  • She raved with no attempt to hide her hope
  • Of lawless love, and in despair forsook
  • The home she hated and her fatherland
  • To trace her brother, find that fugitive.
  • Like Thracian women maddened each three years
  • By Bacchus' wand in holy ecstasy,
  • Byblis ran howling through the countryside,
  • Watched by the wives of Bubasis,* then on
  • Through Caria and Lycia she roamed,
  • Among the warrior Leleges, and now
  • Cragus* was far behind her and the streams
  • Of Limyre* and Xanthos* and the scarp
  • Where the Chimaera prowled with lungs of fire
  • And lion's breast and head and dragon's tail.
  • The forest failed; on the hard ground she fell,
  • Exhausted by her quest, and lay face down,
  • With tumbled hair, among the fallen leaves.
  • Often the wood-nymphs tried to cradle her
  • In their soft arms and often sought to salve
  • The fever of her love, and comforted
  • With soothing words her heart that heard no more.
  • She lay in silence, clutching the small sedge,
  • And watering the greensward with her tears.
  • And these, men say, the Naiads made a rill,
  • For ever flowing—what could they give more?
  • At once, as resin drips from damaged bark,
  • Or asphalt oozes from the earth's dark womb,
  • Or, when the west wind breathes its balm, the sun
  • Unlocks the water that the frost has bound,
  • So, wasting by her weeping all away,
  • Byblis became a spring.* Still in that dale
  • It keeps its mistress' name, still mournfully

pg 220Editor’s Noteix. 665–93

  • Trickles below the tall dark ilex tree.
  •   The tale of this strange miracle might well
  • Have been the talk* of all the hundred towns
  • Of Crete, had not that island lately known
  • In Iphis' change a marvel nearer home.

iphis and ianthe

  • Now once upon a time in Phaestos town,
  • Not far from royal Knossos, lived a man,
  • Ligdus by name, of humble family,
  • Freeborn but hardly known, nor did his purse
  • Surpass his pedigree, though none could blame
  • His life or probity. His wife was soon
  • To bear a child and when her time was near
  • He spoke a word of warning: 'In my prayers
  • I ask two things, that your delivery
  • Be swift and easy and the child you bear
  • May be a boy. Girls are more burdensome,
  • And fate denies our means. If—heaven forbid!—
  • The babe should chance to be a girl, she must—
  • It breaks my heart to say it—Oh, may love
  • Of kith and kin forgive me!—she must die!'*
  • Their cheeks were wet with streaming tears, both his
  • Who gave the dire decree and hers who heard.
  • Yet Telethusa begged him, begged again
  • And prayed her husband not to halve her hopes—
  • In vain; Ligdus' resolve was steadfast. Now
  • The time was ripe, the weight within her womb
  • She scarce could carry, when, as midnight came,
  • She saw before her bed, or seemed to see
  • As in a dream, great Isis with her train*
  • Of holy deities. Upon her brow
  • There stood the crescent moon-horns, garlanded
  • With glittering heads of golden grain, and grace
  • Of royal dignity; and at her side
  • The baying dog Anubis,* dappled Apis,*
  • Sacred Bubastis* and the god who holds
  • His finger to his lips for silence' sake;
  • Osiris* too for whom the endless search

pg 221Editor’s Noteix. 694–723

  • Is never satisfied, and holy timbrels
  • And foreign snakes whose venom soothes to sleep.
  • Now she seemed wide awake and what she saw
  • As clear as day, and then the goddess spoke:
  • 'My Telethusa, whom I count among
  • My faithful, lay your carking cares aside;
  • Play false your husband's order; when the toils
  • Of birth are done, be sure you rear the babe,
  • Whatever it shall be. I answer prayers;
  • I am the goddess of good hope; I help
  • In time of need; you never shall complain
  • You worshipped an ungrateful deity.'
  • Her guidance given, she vanished from the room.
  • With happy heart the Cretan girl rose up
  • And held her hands towards the stars and prayed
  • The promise of her vision might prove true.
  • Her pains increased; her burden forced itself
  • To birth; a girl was born (unknown to Ligdus),
  • And Telethusa bade them tend the boy.
  • Trust hid the truth, and no one knew the trick
  • Except the nurse. The father paid his vows
  • And named the child after its grandfather,*
  • Iphis, a name that gave its mother joy:
  • It meant no fraud—it could be a girl or boy.
  •   So the long lie that love began lay hid.
  • She dressed her as a boy, and, whether judged
  • As boy or girl, the child was beautiful.
  • Time rolled apace and thirteen years passed by,
  • And then her father found Iphis a bride,
  • Telestes' charming daughter, golden-haired
  • Ianthe, highest praised of all the girls
  • Of Phaestos for her dower of loveliness.
  • Equal in age they were, equal in looks,
  • And both from the same masters had received
  • The first instruction of their early years;
  • And so it was that both their simple hearts
  • Love visited alike and both alike
  • Were smitten—but their hopes how different!
  • Ianthe longed to fix the wedding day,
  • To be a wife and take to be her man

pg 222Editor’s Noteix. 724–57

  • Her Iphis, whom she took to be a man.
  • Poor Iphis loved a girl, girl loving girl,
  • And knew her love was doomed and loved the more.
  • Almost in tears, 'What will become of me?'
  • She said, 'possessed by love unheard of, love
  • So monstrous, so unique? If the gods mean
  • To spare me, they should spare me. If they mean
  • To ruin me, at least they should have sent
  • Some natural ill, some normal malady.
  • Cows never yearn for cows, nor mares for mares;
  • The ewe follows the ram, the hind her hart;
  • So the birds mate, so every animal;
  • A female never fires a female's love.
  • Would I were not a girl!* That Crete should lack
  • No monstrous birth, the daughter* of the Sun
  • Once loved a bull—a female with a male.
  • The madness of my love, if truth be told,
  • Is more than hers. At least her love had hope;
  • At least her bull, tricked by that bogus cow,
  • Served her—she had a male to lead astray.
  • Though all the skill and wisdom of the world
  • Were gathered here, though Daedalus himself
  • Flew back on wax-bound wings, what could he do?
  • Could all the arts he learnt change me from girl
  • To boy? Ianthe, could he alter you?
  •   Steady your heart, Iphis, compose your thoughts,
  • Smother, you must, that foolish futile flame.
  • See what you were from birth, unless you dupe
  • Even yourself; seek what the law allows
  • And love as every woman ought to love.
  • It's hope that fires and hope that fosters love,
  • But hope the facts refuse. No watch and ward,
  • No husband's cautious care, no father's force
  • Keeps you from her dear arms, nor she herself
  • Refuses you; but yours she cannot be.
  • Nor, though all things befall, though gods and men
  • Toil for your sake, can you gain happiness.
  • Even now none of my prayers is vain; the gods
  • Have gladly given what was theirs to give,
  • And what I wish is her wish and the wish

pg 223Editor’s Noteix. 758–89

  • Of both our fathers. Only nature stands
  • Unwilling, nature mightier than them all—
  • To work my woe. See now the longed-for time
  • Is come, the day to link our love dawns bright;
  • Ianthe shall be mine.… It cannot be!
  • No, in the midst of water I shall thirst.
  • Ay me! why should the Wedding-god preside
  • Without a groom, with both of us a bride!'
  • She said no more. The other girl, in love
  • As eager, prayed the Wedding-god to haste.
  •   What she so longed for, Telethusa feared.
  • First she postponed the date, then gained delay
  • Pleading some malady, and often made
  • A dream or omen her excuse. At last,
  • All stratagems exhausted, hard at hand
  • The ceremony stood, so long deferred.
  • One day was left. Then, letting down her hair,
  • And taking from her head (her daughter's too)
  • The bands of braid and clinging to the altar,
  • 'O Isis,* gracious lady of the lands
  • Of Mareotis and the isle of Pharos
  • And Paraetonium and the seven streams
  • Of holy Nile', she prayed, 'bring me thy help,
  • And heal, oh heal, my fear. Thee, thee I saw
  • And these thy symbols once, so long ago,
  • And recognized them all, thy holy train,
  • The timbrels' sound, the torches; and my heart
  • Retained thine orders. That my daughter sees
  • The light of day, that I am not chastised,
  • Is thine, thy gift and guidance. Show us both
  • Thy pity! Save us with thy power!' The tears
  • Streamed as she prayed. The goddess seemed to move
  • Her altar; yes, it moved! The temple doors
  • Trembled, the sound of timbrels filled the shrine,
  • The moon-shaped horns shone bright. Then, anxious still,
  • But heartened by the omens' signs of hope,
  • The mother left the temple. At her side
  • Walked Iphis, as she went, with longer strides
  • Than usual, her cheeks of darker hue,
  • Her features firmer, limbs more powerful,

pg 224Editor’s Noteix. 790–7

  • Her hanging tresses shorter and her strength*
  • Greater than woman's wont. She who had been
  • A girl a moment past was now a boy.
  • Rejoice, rejoice, with fearless faith! Go, bring
  • Your offerings to the holy shrine! They brought
  • Their offerings and beside them placed a plaque,
  • And on the plaque a couplet was inscribed:
  •   'These offerings, vowed by Iphis as a maid,
  •   By Iphis, now a man, are gladly paid.'
  •   The morning's radiance revealed the world;
  • Venus, Juno and Hymen joined to bless
  • The wedding rite; their love was sanctified,
  • And Iphis gained Ianthe, groom and bride.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1–100 achelous (cont.) and hercules. Achelous provides continuity by telling the first of a new cycle of tales concerning Hercules. Hercules (Heracles) was the most celebrated of all Greek and (by adoption) Roman heroes. He was particularly dear to the Stoics, disparaged therefore by Lucretius (De Rerum Natura v. 22 ff.), and honoured by Virgil and Horace as a type of virtue rewarded by apotheosis. The tone of Ovid's treatment, as often in the poem, is not altogether easy to define.
Editor’s Note
5 the whole tale: Achelous' account of his defeat by Hercules is endearingly ludicrous; for a country squire (agrestis, 1. 96), he is remarkably articulate.
Editor’s Note
8 You may perhaps have heard: she was not named at viii. 543–4 (see note).
Editor’s Note
14 her father-in-law: cf. below, ll. 285 ff.
Editor’s Note
35 threw it over me: this was common practice, to give a grip.
Editor’s Note
62–3 out'man'ned … I slid from him: inferior uirtute … elabor … uiro; Achelous has so far fought in the shape of a man, but his manhood (uirtus) was not good enough, so he tries another shape. Escaping from manliness the god becomes a beast.
Editor’s Note
67 child's play: as a baby Hercules had strangled the two snakes sent by angry Juno.
Editor’s Note
80–1 A savage bull: just as unfortunate a choice (ix. 186).
Editor’s Note
88 Good Plenty: the horn of plenty, cornu copiae, a favourite motif in art through the ages. There is a totally different and more familiar version of the aition at Fasti v. 111 ff.
Editor’s Note
101–58 hercules, nessus, and deianira. Ovid had previously used this subject in the Heroides (ix. Deianira to Hercules); his principal source, not slavishly followed, was Sophocles' Trachiniae.
Editor’s Note
103 his native city: Tiryns.
Editor’s Note
124 your father: Ixion (iv. 457 ff. n., xii. 211 n.).
Editor’s Note
130 The Hydra's poison: with which Hercules had envenomed his arrows.
Editor’s Note
137 rumour: the natural inference from this is that the report was false, whereas in Sophocles Hercules' intention to marry Iole is brutally plain. Ovid appears to be concerned not to detract from the glory of the apotheosis, but the death of Lichas (ll. 211 ff.) was too integral a part of the story to be glossed over.
Editor’s Note
140 Iole: daughter of Eurytus. king of Oechalia.
Editor’s Note
159–280 the death and apotheosis of hercules.
Editor’s Note
165 Oeta: Cenaeum is at the north-western tip of Euboea, Oeta on the mainland near Trachis; Ovid passes over as irrelevant to his purpose the return of Hercules to Trachis and the suicide of Deianira.
Editor’s Note
182–97 Was it for this …: he passes his chief exploits in review. Along with the canonical list of the Twelve Labours imposed on him by Eurystheus (203) at Juno's orders are included a selection of subsidiary feats: Busiris, Antaeus, the centaurs, and Atlas.
Editor’s Note
183 Busiris: a king of Egypt who sacrificed and ate strangers.
Editor’s Note
184 Antaeus: a giant who was invincible so long as he was in contact with his mother Earth.
Geryon: a monstrous three-headed herdsman of the far west of Spain.
Editor’s Note
186 The great bull: of Crete; cf. vii. 434 n.
Editor’s Note
187–8 Elis: where King Augeas had his stables; Hercules cleansed them by diverting the rivers Alpheus and Peneus through them.
Parthenius: in Arcadia, where he captured Artemis' (Diana's) deer with golden horns.
Stymphalus: also in Arcadia, infested by birds which he scared away and shot.
Editor’s Note
189 Thermodon: a river on the Black Sea. He defeated Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, and took her golden belt.
Editor’s Note
190 the apples: of the Hesperides, guarded by Atlas (iv. 646–8).
Editor’s Note
191 The centaurs: an incidental embroilment. Cf. xv. 283.
Editor’s Note
192 the boar: of Erymanthus.
Editor’s Note
194 the Thracian's horses: the man-eating mares of Diomedes, king of Thrace.
Editor’s Note
198 sustained the sky: for Atlas, while he fetched the golden apples.
Editor’s Note
203–4 And men can still believe/In gods!: Hercules believes himself abandoned at last by his divine father. This and other parallels with Christ have often been noted by students of myth.
Editor’s Note
211 Lichas: Hercules' herald, who brought the fatal robe from Deianira.
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220 as in icy winds …: a simile which recalls Lucretius; contrast ii. 729 n.
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229 'Lichas': other sources speak of a group of islands, the Lichades. Ovid is the first to treat Lichas' death as a metamorphosis rather than an aition.
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232–3 Poeas' son: Philoctetes; see xiii. 45 n.
a second time: Hercules had already conquered Troy, as we shall later be reminded (xi. 215), angered by Laomedon's perfidy. See also xiii. 45 n.
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237 As at a feast …: this is modelled on the conclusion to Horace's 'Regulus' Ode (iii. 5), where Regulus moves off to voluntary death by torture 'for all the world as if he were leaving the tedious business of some clients, the suit at last adjudged, for a journey to the fields of Venafrum or to Spartan-built Tarentum'.
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243 addressed them: it is hardly possible to take this speech seriously. The reference to Jupiter's universal fatherhood, after some of the adventures related earlier in the poem, strikes an unmistakably ironical note, as does the by-play with Juno.
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269 his finer parts: parte sui meliore, the same turn of phrase used by Ovid of his own apotheosis through his poetry (xv. 875).
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270 majesty and awe: augusta … grauitate, with an unmistakable reference to the identification of the Princeps with Hercules, recurrent in the Augustan poets.
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280–323 the birth of hercules. Hercules' death is followed immediately by his birth, and his metamorphosis into a god by that of Galanthis into a weasel. The hero's parting role in the poem is thus to provide an anticlimactic transition to the short episodes which preface the story of Byblis. In Nicander's version the story was told to explain the joint cult of Heracles and Galinthias as the result of his gratitude for her intervention.
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283 Ilithyia: the Greek equivalent of Lucina (1. 294).
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300 She barred the birth: a common superstition: 'To sit in the presence of pregnant women … with the fingers interlaced comb-wise, is to be guilty of sorcery' (Pliny, Natural History xxviii. 59).
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322–3 Out of her mouth: this was a very ancient belief; the aition is first found here.
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323 in and out: weasels, polecats, or martens seem to have occupied the role of the domestic cat in classical Greece.
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324–93 dryope. Ovid's version of this charming story, a typical blend of comedy and pathos, is radically different from that of Nicander, and there is some uncertainty about the intended denouement (see below, ix. 365 n.).
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332 He who rules/Delphi and Delos: Apollo.
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334 There is a lake: see iii. 407 n.
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347 Lotis: a 'doublet' of Daphne (i. 452 ff.) and Syrinx (i. 689 ff.). The story as told by Ovid at Fasti i. 415 ff. has no metamorphosis.
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365 The lotus: this is the text of the manuscripts, but the story lacks point unless the word loton has ousted the name of some other tree. In Nicander's (very different) version Dryope was turned into a poplar.
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394–453 iolaus and the sons of callirhoe. A transitional passage into which Ovid packs much miscellaneous mythological learning in typically allusive fashion.
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399 Iolaus: cf. viii. 310. He had been Hercules' squire-charioteer.
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401 her husband: Hercules; hebe is Greek for 'youth'.
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403 Themis: as befits an oracular goddess, she is cryptic (cf. her reply to Deucalion and Pyrrha (i. 381 ff.)). She refers to the events of the famous expedition of the Seven against Thebes, familiar from Aeschylus' tragedy of that name and from the lost Thebaid of Antimachus.
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404 Capaneus: he was struck by lightning.
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405 brothers: Eteocles and Polynices, sons of Oedipus, who were disputing the kingdom.
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407 the prophet: Amphiaraus; he was precipitated alive down to Hades, hence 'saw his own ghost' (suos manes).
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408 his son: Alcmaeon. His mother Eriphyle was bribed by Polynices with a gold necklace to persuade Amphiaraus to take part in expedition, though he was fated to die at Thebes. In vengeance Alcmaeon killed her.
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412 Phegeus: father of his first wife, from whom he got the necklace by a trick to give to his second wife, Callirhoe.
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413–14 those years: the years taken from Iolaus are to added to the ages of Callirhoe's small sons.
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416 his stepdaughter: Hebe; Ovid follows the less usual tradition in which she was not Jupiter's daughter.
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424 Erichthonius: son of Vulcan and the odd man out; the others are mortal lovers of goddesses.
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424–5 Worried about the future: of Rome, to be founded by the descendants of Aeneas, her son by Anchises.
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430 To conquer fate: this recalls the scene in the Iliad in which Zeus debates whether to save Sarpedon from death at the hands of Patroclus and is rebuked by Hera, who remarks that if Sarpedon is spared all the other gods will claim exemption for their own favourites (Iliad xvi. 440 ff.).
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454–668 byblis. This is another story of a woman steeling herself to commit a crime, with more of those passionate soliloquies in which Ovid excelled and for which his declamatory training had equipped him. The theme of unnatural love continues with Orpheus into the next book. The incestuous love of a sister for her brother had been the subject of Heroides xi (Canace to Macareus). The story of Byblis was predictably a favourite with Alexandrian poets, including Nicander.
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454 The tale of Byblis shows: it is rare for Ovid thus overtly to declare the moral of his stories; here his tongue is firmly in his cheek.
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466 My lord: dominus, a term of endearment in Latin.
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507 the fabled sons/Of Aeolus: Homer makes Odysseus record his impressions of this happy ménage (Odyssey x. 1 ff.).
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508 Why so pat/These precedents: a reminder of the poet's learning; in fact Ovid's treatment in the Heroides of the loves of Canace and Macareus, who were the children of Aeolus, followed a different tradition from Homer's.
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551 Let old men know the law: a theme which Ovid had handled as a boy in one of his practice declamations (Seneca, Controversiae ii. 2. 10); cf. also Catullus 5.
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601 not have risked/Myself in writing: ironical; she had followed Ovid's own advice to the lover to plead his cause first by a letter (Ars Amatoria i. 437 ff.).
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613 ff. He's no tigress' son …: see vii. 32–3 n.
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634 a city: Caunus, in south-western Caria.
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645–6 Bubasis, a town; Cragus, a mountain; Limyre and Xanthos, rivers; all in Lycia.
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664 became a spring: the usual version was that she hanged herself (so Ovid, Ars Amatoria i. 283–4).
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666–7 might well/Have been the talk: one of Ovid's more ostentatiously casual transitions.
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669–797 iphis and ianthe. To contrast with the tragic and melodramatic tale of Byblis' guilty passion, Ovid ends the book with a story whose themes—baffled innocence and resolution through wish-fulfilment—look forward to Pygmalion in Book X. Ovid apparently found the story in Nicander; if so, the real interest, Iphis' hopeless love for Ianthe, was added by him (cf. ix. 687 ff. n.).
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679 she must die: exposure of unwanted children was commoner among the Greeks than the Romans.
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687 ff. Isis with her train …: in Nicander the rescuing deity is Leto, and the story was connected with a (doubtless obscene) premarital custom. The cult of Isis flourished at Rome in Ovid's day, and he had addressed a prayer to her on behalf of Corinna (Amores ii. 13. 7 ff.) which is echoed verbatim at ll. 773–4, implying that women were under her special protection. A good idea of the veneration in which she was held and of the multiplicity of her names, attributes, and functions emerges from the great invocation and epiphany of the goddess in Book XI of Apuleius' Golden Ass (Metamorphoses). The names and attributes of her attendant gods add exotic colour. Anubis was represented as a human being with the head of a dog; Apis was worshipped as a bull; Bubastis (daughter of Isis and Osiris) was represented as a cat or a woman with a cat's head. The various sacred animals of Egypt always fascinated the Greeks and Romans; cf. v. 326 n. Harpocrates, son of Isis, was represented as a child with his finger to his lips. Osiris, husband of Isis, was killed by his brother Seth, torn into pieces, and scattered throughout Egypt. Isis searched desperately, found the pieces, and revived him. The words 'the endless search' refer to the annual festival of the god's resurrection.
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708 after its grandfather: a common, though not universal, Greek custom.
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735 Would I were not a girl: uellem nulla forem, meaning also 'would I did not exist'.
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736 the daughter of the Sun: Pasiphae; see viii. 131 n.
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773–4 O Isis …: see ix. 687 ff. n. The names are chosen for their Egyptian flavour rather than for any specific associations with Isis.
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790 her strength: Iphis is derived from Greek is 'power'.
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