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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Iason et Medea.

Over the storm-tossed waves, the Argonauts
had sailed in Argo, their long ship to where
King Phineus, needy in his old age, reigned—
deprived of sight and feeble. When the sons
of Boreas had landed on the shore,
and seen the Harpies snatching from the king
his nourishment, befouling it with beaks
obscene, they drove those human-vultures thence.

And having suffered hardships and great toils,
after the day they rescued the sad king
from the vile Harpies, those twin valiant youths,
Zetes and Calais came with their chief,
the mighty Jason,
protector where the Phasis flows.

From the green margin of that river, all
the crew of Argonauts, by Jasonled,
went to the king Aeetes and required
the Golden Fleece, that he received from Phryxus.
protector When they had bargained with him, full of wiles
he offered to restore the Golden Fleece
only to those who might to him return,
victorious from hard labors of great risk.

Medea, the king's daughter, near his throne,
saw Jasonprotector, leader of the Argonauts,
as he was pressing to secure a prize—
and loved at sight with a consuming flame.

Although she struggled to suppress her love,
unable to restrain herself, she said,
“In vain I've striven to subdue my heart:
some god it must be, which I cannot tell,
is working to destroy my hapless life;
or else it is the burning flame of love
that in me rages. If it is not love,
why do the mandates of my father seem
too harsh? They surely are too harsh. Why do
I fear that he may perish whom I have
seen only once? What is the secret cause
that I am agitated by such fears?—
It is no other than the god of Love.

“Thrust from your virgin breast such burning flames
but some deluding power is holding me
helpless against my will. Desire persuades
me one way, but my reason still persuades
another way. I see a better course
and I approve, but follow its defeat. —

“O royal maiden, why are you consumed
with love for this strange man, and why are you
so willing to be carried by the nuptial ties
so far from your own country, where, indeed,
are many brave men worthy of your love?

“Whether for life or death his numbered hours
are in the mercy of the living Gods,
and that he may not suffer risk of death,
too well foreseen, now let my prayers prevail—
righteously uttered of a generous heart
without the stress of love. What wicked thing
has Jason done? His handsome person, youth,
and noble ways, would move a heart of stone.

“Have I a heart of flint, or was I born
a tigress to deny him timely aid?—
Unless I interpose, he will be slain
by the hot breath of brazen-footed bulls,
or will be slaughtered by the warriors, sprung
miraculous from earth, or will be given
to satisfy the ravenous appetite
of a huge dragon.

“Let my gloating eyes
be satiate with his dying agonies!
Let me incite the fury of these bulls!
Stir to their blood-lust mad-born sons of Earth!
Rouse up the never-sleeping dragon's rage!—
“Avert it Gods!
sp: medea
invo: gods

“But why should I cry out
upon the Gods to save him from such wrong,
when, by my actions and my power, myself
may shield him from all evils?

“Such a course
would wreck the kingdom of my father—and by me
the wily stranger would escape from him;
and spreading to the wind his ready sails
he would forget and leave me to my fate.—
Oh, if he should forget my sacrifice,
and so prefer those who neglected him,
let him then perish in his treachery.—

“But these are idle thoughts: his countenance,
reveals innate nobility and grace,
that should dispel all fear of treachery,
and guarantee his ever-faithful heart.
The Gods will witness our united souls,
and he shall pledge his faith. Secure of it
my fear will be removed. Be ready, then—
and make a virtue of necessity:
your Jasonprotected owes himself to you; and he
must join you in true wedlock. Then you shall
be celebrated through the land of Greece,
by throngs of women, for the man you saved.

“Shall I then sail away, and so forsake
my sister, brother, father, Gods, and land
that gave me birth? My father is indeed
a stern man, and my native land is all
too barbarous; my brother is a child,—
my sister's goodwill is good help for me;
and heaven's supreme god is within my breast.

“I shall not so be leaving valued hopes,
but will be going surely to great things.
And I should gain applause from all the world,
as having saved the threatened Argonauts,
most noble of the Greeks; and in their land,
which certainly is better than my own,
become the bride of Jasonprotected, for whose love
I should not hesitate to give the world—
and in whose love the living Gods rejoice
so greatly; for his sake they would bestow
their favors on my head, and make the stars
my habitation.

“Should I hesitate
because the wreck-strewn mountains bar the way,
and clash together in the Euxine waves;
or fear Charybdis, fatal to large ships,
that sucks the deep sea in its whirling gulf
and spouts far upward, with alternate force,
or Scylla, circled with infuriate hounds
howling in rage from deep Sicilian waves?

“Safe in the shielding arms of him I love,
on Jason's bosom leaning,
protector I shall be
borne safely over wide and hostile seas;
and in his dear embrace forget my fears—
or if for anything I suffer dread,
it will be only for the one I love.—

“Alas, Medea, this vain argument
has only furnished plausible excuse
for criminal desires, and desecrates
the marriage rite. It is a wicked thing
to think upon. Before it is too late
forget your passion and deny this guilt.”

And after she had said these words, her eyes
were opened to the prize of modesty,
chaste virtue, and a pure affection:
and Cupid, vanquished, turned away and fled.

Then, to an ancient altar of the goddess named
Hecate, Perse's daughter took her way
in the deep shadows of a forest. She
was strong of purpose now, and all the flames
of vanquished passion had died down; but when
she saw the son of Aeson, dying flames
leaped up again. Her cheeks grew red, then all
her face went pale again; as a small spark
when hid beneath the ashes, if fed by
a breath of wind grows and regains its strength,
as it is fanned to life; so now her love
that had been smoldering, and which you would
have thought was almost dead, when she had see
again his manly youth, blazed up once more.

For on that day his graceful person seemed
as glorious as a God;—and as she gazed,
and fixed her eyes upon his countenance,
her frenzy so prevailed, she was convinced
that he was not a mortal. And her eyes
were fascinated; and she could not turn
away from him. But when he spoke to her,
and promised marriage, grasping her right hand:
she answered, as her eyes suffused with tears;
“I see what I will do, and ignorance
of truth will not be my undoing now,
but love itself. By my assistance you
shall be preserved; but when preserved fulfill
your promise.”
sp: medea
invo: jason

He swore that she could trust in him.
Then by the goddess of the triple form,
Diana, Trivia, or Luna called,
and by her sacred groves and fanes, he vowed,
and by the hallowed Sun that sees all things,
and by his own adventures, and his life,—
on these the youthful Jason took his oath.—
With this she was assured and quickly gave
to him the magic herbs: he learnt their use
and full of joy withdrew into his house.

Now when the dawn had dimmed the glittering stars,
the people hastened to the sacred field
of Mars, and on the hills expectant stood.—
Arrayed in purple, and in majesty
distinguished by his ivory sceptre, sat
the king, surrounded by a multitude.
Below them on the visioned Field of Mars,
huge brazen-footed bulls were breathing forth
from adamantine nostrils living flames,
blasting the verdant herbage in their path!

As forges glowing with hot flames resound,
or as much quick-lime, burnt in earthen kilns,
crackles and hisses as if mad with rage,
sprinkled with water, liberating heat;
so their hot throats and triple-heated sides,
resounding told of pent-up fires within.

The son of Aeson went to meet them. As
he came to meet them the fierce animals
turned on him faces terrible, and sharp
horns tipped with iron, and they pawed
the dusty earth with cloven feet, and filled
the place with fiery bellowings. The Minyans
were stark with fear; he went up to the bulls
not feeling their hot breath at all, so great
the power of his charmed drugs; and while he
was stroking their down-hanging dewlaps with
a fearless hand, he placed the yoke down on
their necks and made them draw the heavy plow,
and cut through fields that never felt the steel
before. The Colchians were amazed and silent;
but the loud shouting of the Minyans
increased their hero's courage. Taking then
the serpent's teeth out of a brazen helmet
he sowed them broadcast in the new-plowed field.

The moist earth softened these seeds that were steeped
in virulent poison and the teeth swelled up
and took new forms. And just as in its mother
an infant gradually assumes the form
of man, and is perfected through all parts
within, and does not come forth to the light
till fully formed; so, when the forms of men
had been completed in the womb of earth
made pregnant, they rose up from it,
and what is yet more wonderful, each one
clashed weapons that had been brought forth with him.

When his companions saw the warriors turn
as if with one accord, to hurl their spears,
sharp-pointed, at the head of Jasonprotected, fear
unnerved the boldest and their courage failed.
So, too, the maid whose sorcery had saved
him from much danger, when she saw the youth
encompassed by those raging enemies,
and he alone against so many—struck
with sudden panic, she turned ashen white,
her bloodless cheeks were blanched; and chilled with fear
she wilted to the ground; and lest the herbs,
so lately given him, might fail his need
she added incantations and invoked
mysterious arts. While she protected him

He seized upon a heavy stone, and hurled
it in the midst of his new enemies—
distracted by this cast, and murderous,
they turned from him, and clashing their new arms,
those earth-born brothers fought among themselves
till all were slaughtered in blood-thirsty strife.

Gladly the Greeks acclaimed him conqueror,
and pressed around him for the first embrace.
Then, too, Medea, barbarous Colchian maidprotector,
although her modesty restrained her heart,
eagerly longed to fold him in her arms,
but careful of her good name, held aloof,—
rejoicing in deep, silent love; and she
acknowledged to the Gods her mighty gift
of incantations.

But the dragon, still
alert,—magnificent and terrible
with gorgeous crest and triple tongue, and fangs
barbed as a javelin, guards the Golden Fleece:
and Jasonprotected can obtain that quest only
if slumber may seal up the monster's eyes.—

Jasonprotected, successful, sprinkled on his crest
Lethean juices of a magic herb,
and then recited thrice the words which bring
deep slumber, potent words which would becalm
the storm-tossed ocean, and would stop the flow
of the most rapid rivers of our earth:
and slowly slumber sealed the dragon's eyes.

While that great monster slept, the hero took
the Golden Fleece; and proudly sailed away
bearing his treasure and the willing maid,
(whose aid had saved him) to his native port
Iolcus—victorious with the Argonauts.