Portrayals of Gender in The Metamorphoses

Arachne and Minerva Caeneus Ceres and Proserpina Dryope Diana and Actaeon Hercules and Achelous Echo and Narcissus
Hermaphroditus Jason and Medea Iphis and Ianthe Tereus and Philomela Minos and Scylla Scylla and Circe Daughters of Minyas


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Ceres et Proserpina

First Ceres broke with crooked plow the glebe;
first gave to earth its fruit and wholesome food;
first gave the laws;—all things of Ceres came;
of her I sing; and oh, that I could tell
her worth in verse; in verse her worth is due.

Because he dared to covet heavenly thrones
Typhoeus, giant limbs are weighted down
beneath Sicilia's Isle—vast in extent—
how often thence he strains and strives to rise?
But his right hand Pachynus holds; his legs are pressed
by Lilybaeus, Aetna weights his head.
Beneath that ponderous mass Typhoeus lies,
flat on his back; and spues the sands on high;
and vomits flames from his ferocious mouth.
He often strives to push the earth away,
the cities and the mountains from his limbs—
by which the lands are shaken. Even the king,
that rules the silent shades is made to quake,
for fear the earth may open and the ground,
cleft in wide chasms, letting in the day,
may terrify the trembling ghosts.
rage Afraid
of this disaster, that dark despot left
his gloomy habitation; carried forth
by soot-black horses, in his gloomy car.

He circumspectly viewed Sicilia's vast
foundations.—Having well explored and proved
no part was shattered; having laid aside
his careful fears, he wandered in those parts.

Him, Venus, Erycina, in her mount
thus witnessed, and embraced her winged son,
and said, ‘O Cupid! thou who art my son—
my arms, my hand, my strength; take up those arms,
by which thou art victorious over all,
and aim thy keenest arrow at the heart
of that divinity whom fortune gave
the last award, what time the triple realm,
by lot was portioned out.
sp: venus
invo: cupid

‘The Gods of Heaven
are overcome by thee; and Jupiter,
and all the Deities that swim the deep,
and the great ruler of the Water-Gods:
why, then, should Tartarus escape our sway—
the third part of the universe at stake—
by which thy mother's empire and thy own
may be enlarged according to great need.
sp: venus
invo: cupid

‘How shameful is our present lot in Heaven,
the powers of love and I alike despised;
for, mark how Pallas has renounced my sway,
besides Diana, javelin-hurler—so
will Ceres' daughter choose virginity,
if we permit,—that way her hopes incline.
Do thou this goddess Proserpine
virginal, unite
in marriage to her uncle.
sp: venus
invo: cupid
Venus spoke;—

Cupid then loosed his quiver, and of all
its many arrows, by his mother's aid,
selected one; the keenest of them all;
the least uncertain, surest from the string:
and having fixed his knee against the bow,
bent back the flexile horn.—The flying shaft
struck Pluto in the breast.

There is a lake
of greatest depth, not far from Henna's walls,
long since called Pergus; and the songs of swans,
that wake Cayster, rival not the notes
of swans melodious on its gliding waves:
a fringe of trees, encircling as a wreath
its compassed waters, with a leafy veil
denies the heat of noon; cool breezes blow
beneath the boughs; the humid ground is sprent
with purpling flowers, and spring eternal reigns.

While Proserpine once dallied in that grove,
plucking white lilies and sweet violets,
and while she heaped her basket, while she filled
her bosom, in a pretty zeal to strive
beyond all others
joy; she was seen, beloved,
and carried off by Pluto—such the haste
of sudden love.

The goddess, in great fear,
called on her mother and on all her friends;
and, in her frenzy, as her robe was rent,
down from the upper edge, her gathered flowers
fell from her loosened tunic.—This mishap,
so perfect was her childish innocence,
increased her virgin grief.

The ravisher
urged on his chariot, and inspired his steeds;
called each by name, and on their necks and manes
shook the black-rusted reins. They hastened through
deep lakes, and through the pools of Palici,
which boiling upward from the ruptured earth
smell of strong sulphur. And they bore him thence
to where the sons of Bacchus, who had sailed
from twin-sea Corinth, long ago had built
a city's walls between unequal ports.

Midway between the streams of Cyane
and Arethusa lies a moon-like pool,
of silvered narrow horns. There stood the Nymph,
revered above all others in that land,
whose name was Cyane. From her that pond
was always called. And as she stood, concealed
in middle waves that circled her white thighs,
she recognized the God, and said; ‘O thou
shalt go no further, Pluto, thou shalt not
by force alone become the son-in-law
of Ceres. It is better to beseech
a mother's aid than drag her child away!
And this sustains my word, if I may thus
compare great things with small, Anapis loved
me also; but he wooed and married me
by kind endearments; not by fear, as thou
hast terrified this girl.’
sp: cyane
invo: pluto
So did she speak;
and stretching out her arms on either side
opposed his way.

The son of Saturn blazed
with uncontrolled rage; and urged his steeds,
and hurled his royal scepter in the pool.
Cast with a mighty arm it pierced the deeps.
rage The smitten earth made way to Tartarus;—
it opened a wide basin and received
the plunging chariot in the midst.—But now
the mournful Cyane began to grieve,
because from her against her fountain-rights
the goddess had been torn. The deepening wound
still rankled in her breast, and she dissolved
in many tears, and wasted in those waves
which lately were submissive to her rule.

So you could see her members waste away:
her hones begin to bend; her nails get soft;
her azure hair, her fingers, legs and feet,
and every slender part melt in the pool:
so brief the time in which her tender limbs
were changed to flowing waves; and after them
her back and shoulders, and her sides and breasts
dissolved and vanished into rivulets:
and while she changed, the water slowly filled
her faulty veins instead of living blood—
and nothing that a hand could hold remained.

Now it befell when Proserpine was lost,
her anxious mother sought through every land
and every sea in vain. She rested not.
Aurora, when she came with ruddy locks,
might never know, nor even Hesperus,
if she might deign to rest.—She lit two pines
from Aetna's flames and held one in each hand,
and restless bore them through the frosty glooms:
and when serene the day had dimmed the stars
she sought her daughter by the rising sun;
and when the sun declined she rested not.

Wearied with labour she began to thirst,
for all this while no streams had cooled her lips;
when, as by chance, a cottage thatched with straw
gladdened her sight. Thither the goddess went,
and, after knocking at the humble door,
waited until an ancient woman came;
who, when she saw the goddess and had heard
her plea for water, gave her a sweet drink,
but lately brewed of parched barley-meal;
and while the goddess quaffed this drink a boy,
of bold and hard appearance, stood before
and laughed and called her greedy. While he spoke
the angry goddess sprinkled him with meal,
mixed with the liquid which had not been drunk.

His face grew spotted where the mixture struck,
and legs appeared where he had arms before,
a tail was added to his changing trunk;
and lest his former strength might cause great harm,
all parts contracted till he measured less
than common lizards.
physical While the ancient dame
wondered and wept and strove for one caress,
the reptile fled and sought a lurking place.—
His very name describes him to the eye,
a body starred with many coloured spots.

What lands, what oceans Ceres wandered then,
would weary to relate. The bounded world
was narrow for the search. Again she passed
through Sicily; again observed all signs;
and as she wandered came to Cyane,
who strove to tell where Proserpine had gone,
but since her change, had neither mouth nor tongue,
and so was mute.
matronly And yet the Nymph made plain
by certain signs what she desired to say:
for on the surface of the waves she showed
a well-known girdle Proserpine had lost,
by chance had dropped it in that sacred pool;
which when the goddess recognized, at last,
convinced her daughter had been forced from her,
she tore her streaming locks, and frenzied struck
her bosom with her palms. And in her rage,
although she wist not where her daughter was,
she blamed all countries and cried out against
their base ingratitude; and she declared
the world unworthy of the gift of corn:
but Sicily before all other lands,
for there was found the token of her loss.

For that she broke with savage hand the plows,
which there had turned the soil, and full of wrath
leveled in equal death the peasant and his ox—
both tillers of the soil—and made decree
that land should prove deceptive to the seed,
and rot all planted germs.—That fertile isle,
so noted through the world, becomes a waste;
the corn is blighted in the early blade;
excessive heat, excessive rain destroys;
the winds destroy, the constellations harm;
the greedy birds devour the scattered seeds;
thistles and tares and tough weeds choke the wheat.

“For this the Nymph, Alpheian, raised her head
above Elean waves; and having first
pushed back her dripping tresses from her brows,
back to her ears, she thus began to speak;
virginal ‘O mother of the virgin, sought throughout
the globe! O mother of nutritious fruits!
Let these tremendous labours have an end;
do not increase the violence of thy wrath
against the Earth, devoted to thy sway,
and not deserving blame; for only force
compelled the Earth to open for that wrong.
Think not my supplication is to aid
my native country; hither I am come
an alien: Pisa is my native land,
and Elis gave me birth. Though I sojourn
a stranger in this isle of Sicily
it yet delights me more than all the world.
sp: arethusa
invo: ceres

‘I, Arethusa, claim this isle my home,
and do implore thee keep my throne secure,
O greatest of the Gods! A better hour,
when thou art lightened of thy cares, will come,
and when thy countenance again is kind;
and then may I declare what cause removed
me from my native place—and through the waves
of such a mighty ocean guided me
to find Ortygia.
sp: arethusa
invo: ceres

‘Through the porous earth
by deepest caverns, I uplift my head
and see unwonted stars. Now it befell,
as I was gliding far beneath the world,
where flow dark Stygian streams, I saw
thy Proserpine. Although her countenance
betrayed anxiety and grief, a queen She reigned
supremely great in that opacous world
queen consort mighty to the King of Hell.’
sp: arethusa
invo: ceres

Astonished and amazed, as thunderstruck,
when Proserpina's mother heard these words,
long while she stood till great bewilderment
gave way to heavy grief. Then to the skies,
ethereal, she mounted in her car
and with beclouded face and streaming hair
stood fronting Jove, opprobrious.
rage ‘I have come
O Jupiter, a suppliant to thee,
both for my own offspring as well as thine.
If thy hard heart deny a mother grace,
yet haply as a father thou canst feel
some pity for thy daughter; and I pray
thy care for her may not be valued less
because my groaning travail brought her forth.—
My long-sought daughter has at last been found,
if one can call it, found, when certain loss
more certain has been proved; or so may deem
the knowledge of her state.—But I may bear
his rude ways, if again he bring her back.

‘Thy worthy child should not be forced to wed
a bandit-chief, nor should my daughter's charms
reward his crime.’
sp: ceres
invo: jupiter
She spoke;—and Jupiter
took up the word; ‘This daughter is a care,
a sacred pledge to me as well as thee;
but if it please us to acknowledge truth,
this is a deed of love and injures not.
And if, O goddess, thou wilt not oppose,
such law-son cannot compass our disgrace:
for though all else were wanting, naught can need
Jove's brother, who in fortune yields to none
save me. But if thy fixed desire compel
dissent, let Proserpine return to Heaven;
however, subject to the binding law,
if there her tongue have never tasted food—
a sure condition, by the Fates decreed.’
he spoke; but Ceres was no less resolved
to lead her daughter thence.

“Not so the Fates
permit.—The virgin, thoughtless while she strayedvirginal
among the cultivated Stygian fields,
had broken fast. While there she plucked the fruit
by bending a pomegranate tree, and plucked,
and chewed seven grains, picked from the pallid rind;
and none had seen except Ascalaphus—
him Orphne, famed of all Avernian Nymphs,
had brought to birth in some infernal cave,
days long ago, from Acheron's embrace—
he saw it, and with cruel lips debarred
young Proserpine's return. Heaving a sigh,
the Queen of Erebus, indignant changed
that witness to an evil bird: she turned
his head, with sprinkled Phlegethonian lymph,
virginal into a beak, and feathers, and great eyes;
his head grew larger and his shape, deformed,
was cased in tawny wings; his lengthened nails
bent inward;—and his sluggish arms
as wings can hardly move. So he became
the vilest bird; a messenger of grief;
the lazy owl; sad omen to mankind.

The telltale's punishment was only just;
O Siren Maids but wherefore thus have ye
the feet and plumes of birds, although remain
your virgin features?
virginalIs it from the day
when Proserpina gathered vernal flowers;
because ye mingled with her chosen friends?
And after she was lost, in vain ye sought
through all the world; and wished for wings to waft
you over the great deep, that soon the sea
might feel your great concern.—The Gods were kind:
ye saw your limbs grow yellow, with a growth
of sudden-sprouting feathers
physical; but because
your melodies that gently charm the ear,
besides the glory of your speech, might lose
the blessing, of a tongue, your virgin face
and human voice remained.

“But Jupiter,
the mediator of these rival claims,
urged by his brother and his grieving sister,
divided the long year in equal parts.
Now Proserpina, as a Deitysocial,
of equal merit, in two kingdoms reigns:—
for six months with her mother she abides,
and six months with her husband.—Both her mind
and her appearance quickly were transformed
for she who seemed so sad in Pluto's eyes,
now as a goddess beams in joyful smiles;
so, when the sun obscured by watery mist
conquers the clouds, it shines in splendour forth.