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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Learn how the fountain, Salmacis, became
so infamous; learn how it enervates
and softens the limbs of those who chance to bathe.
Although the fountain's properties are known,
the cause is yet unknown. The Naiads nursed
an infant son of Hermes, surely his
of Aphrodite gotten in the caves
of Ida, for the child resembled both
the god and goddess, and his name was theirs.

The years passed by, and when the boy had reached
the limit of three lustrums, he forsook
his native mountains; for he loved to roam
through unimagined places, by the banks
of undiscovered rivers; and the joy
of finding wonders made his labour light.

Leaving Mount Ida, where his youth was spent,
he reached the land of Lycia, and from thence
the verge of Caria, where a pretty pool
of soft translucent water may be seen,
so clear the glistening bottom glads the eye:
no barren sedge, no fenny reeds annoy,
no rushes with their sharpened arrow-points,
but all around the edges of that pool
to rapid-running Dian. Whensoever
her Naiad sisters pled in winged words,
“Take up the javelin, sister Salmacis,
take up the painted quiver and unite
your leisure with the action of the chase;”
she only scorned the javelin and the quiver,
nor joined her leisure to the active chase.

Rather she bathes her smooth and shapely limbs;
or combs her tresses with a boxwood comb,
Citorian; or looking in the pool
consults the glassed waters of effects
increasing beauty; or she decks herself
in gauzy raiment, and reposing lolls
on cushioned leaves, or grass-enverdured beds;
or gathers posies from the spangled lawns.
Now, haply as she culled the sweetest flowers
she saw the youth, and longing in her heart
made havoc as her greedy eyes beheld.

Although her love could scarcely brook delay,
she waited to enhance her loveliness,
in beauty hoping to allure his love.
All richly dight she scanned herself and robes,
to know that every charm should fair appear,
and she be worthy: wherefore she began:

“O godlike youth! if thou art of the skies,
thou art no other than the god of Love;
if mortal, blest are they who gave thee birth;
happy thy brother; happy, fortunate
thy sister; happy, fortunate and blest
the nurse that gave her bosom; but the joys
surpassing all, dearest and tenderest,
are hers whom thou shalt wed. So, let it be
if thou so young have deigned to marry, let
my joys be stolen; if unmarried, join
with me in wedlock.”So she spoke, and stood
in silence waiting for the youth's reply.

He knows nor cares for love—with loveliness
the mounting blushes tinge his youthful cheeks,
as blush-red tint of apples on the tree,
ripe in the summer sun, or as the hue
of painted ivory, or the round moon
red-blushing in her splendour, when the clash
of brass resounds in vain. And long the Nymph
implored; almost clung on his neck, as smooth
and white as ivory; unceasingly
imploring him to kiss her, though as chaste
as kisses to a sister; but the youth
outwearied, thus:

“I do beseech you make
an end of this; or must I fly the place
and leave you to your tears?” Affrighted then
said Salmacis, “To you I freely give—
good stranger here remain.” Although she made
fair presence to retire, she hid herself,
that from a shrub-grown covert, on her knees
she might observe unseen.

As any boy
that heedless deems his mischief unobserved,
now here now there, he rambled on the green;
now in the bubbly ripples dipped his feet,
now dallied in the clear pool ankle-deep;—
the warm-cool feeling of the liquid then,
so pleased him, that without delay he doffed
his fleecy garments from his tender limbs.

Ah, Salmacis, amazement is thy meed!
Thou art consumed to know his naked grace!
As the hot glitters of the round bright sun
collected, sparkle from the polished plate,
thine eyes are glistened with delirious fires.

Delay she cannot; panting for his joy,
languid for his caressing, crazed, distract,
her passion difficult is held in check.—

He claps his body with his hollow palms
and lightly vaults into the limped wave,
and darting through the water hand over hand
shines in the liquid element, as though
should one enhance a statue's ivorine,
or glaze the lily in a lake of glass.

And thus the Naiad, “I have gained my suit;
his love is mine,—is mine!” Quickly disrobed,
she plunged into the yielding wave—seized him,
caressed him, clung to him a thousand ways,
kissed him, thrust down her hands and touched his breast:
reluctant and resisting he endeavours
to make escape, but even as he struggles
she winds herself about him, as entwines
the serpent which the royal bird on high
holds in his talons; —as it hangs, it coils
in sinuous folds around the eagle's feet;—
twisting its coils around his head and wings:
or as the ivy clings to sturdy oaks;
or as the polypus beneath the waves,
by pulling down, with suckers on all sides,
tenacious holds its prey. And yet the youth,
descendant of great Atlas, not relents
nor gives the Naiad joy. Pressing her suit
she winds her limbs around him and exclaims,
“You shall not scape me, struggle as you will,
perverse and obstinate! Hear me, ye Gods!
Let never time release the youth from me;
time never let me from the youth release!”

Propitious deities accord her prayers:
the mingled bodies of the pair unite
and fashion in a single human form.
So one might see two branches underneath
a single rind uniting grow as one:
so, these two bodies in a firm embrace
no more are twain, but with a two-fold form
nor man nor woman may be called—Though both
in seeming they are neither one of twain.

When that Hermaphroditus felt the change,
so wrought upon him by the languid fount,
considered that he entered it a man,
and now his limbs relaxing in the stream
he is not wholly male, but only halfphysical,—
he lifted up his hands and thus implored,
albeit with no manly voice; “Hear me
O father!sp: hermaphroditus
invo: hermes
hear me mother!sp: hermaphroditus
invo: aphrodite
grant to me
this boon; to me whose name is yours, your son;
whoso shall enter in this fount a man
must leave its
the softest grass engirdles with its green.

A Nymph dwells there, unsuited to the chase,
unskilled to bend the bow, slothful of foot,
the only Naiad in the world unknownwaters only half a man.”
Moved by the words of their bi-natured son
both parents yield assent: they taint the fount
with essences of dual-working powers.
Now though the daughters of King Minyas
have made an end of telling tales, they make
no end of labour; for they so despise
the deity, and desecrate his feast.

While busily engaged, with sudden beat
they hear resounding tambourines; and pipes
and crooked horns and tinkling brass renew,
unseen, the note; saffron and myrrh dissolve
in dulcet odours; and, beyond belief,
the woven webs, dependent on the loom,
take tints of green, put forth new ivy leaves,
or change to grape-vines verdant. There the thread
is twisted into tendrils, there the warp
is fashioned into many-moving leaves—
the purple lends its splendour to the grape.

And now the day is past; it is the hour
when night ambiguous merges into day,
which dubious owns nor light nor dun obscure;
and suddenly the house begins to shake,
and torches oil-dipped seem to flare around,
and fires a-glow to shine in every room,
and phantoms, feigned of savage beasts, to howl.—

Full of affright amid the smoking halls
the sisters vainly hide, and wheresoever
they deem security from flaming fires,
fearfully flit. And while they seek to hide,
a membrane stretches over every limb,
and light wings open from their slender arms.

In the weird darkness they are unaware
what measure wrought to change their wonted shape.
No plumous vans avail to lift their flight,
yet fair they balance on membraneous wing.
Whenever they would speak a tiny voice,
diminutive, apportioned to their size,
in squeaking note complains. Adread the light,
their haunts avoid by day the leafy woods,
for sombre attics, where secure they rest
till forth the dun obscure their wings may stretch
at hour of Vesper;—this accords their name.