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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Alcithoe, daughter of King Minyas,
consents not to the orgies of the God;
denies that Bacchus is the son of Jove,
and her two sisters join her in that crime.

'Twas festal-day when matrons and their maids,
keeping it sacred, had forbade all toil.—
And having draped their bosoms with wild skins,
they loosed their long hair for the sacred wreaths,
and took the leafy thyrsus in their hands;—
for so the priest commanded them. Austere
the wrath of Bacchus if his power be scorned.

Mothers and youthful brides obeyed the priest;
and putting by their wickers and their webs,
dropt their unfinished toils to offer up
frankincense to the God; invoking him
with many names:—“O Bacchus! O Twice-born!
O Fire-begot! Thou only child Twice-mothered!
God of all those who plant the luscious grape!
O Liber!” All these names and many more,
for ages known—throughout the lands of Greece.
invo: bacchus

“Thy youth is not consumed by wasting time;
and lo, thou art an ever-youthful boy,
most beautiful of all the Gods of Heaven,
smooth as a virgin virginalwhen thy horns are hid.—
The distant east to tawny India's clime,
where rolls remotest Ganges to the sea,
was conquered by thy might.—O Most-revered!
Thou didst destroy the doubting Pentheus,
and hurled the sailors' bodies in the deep,
and smote Lycurgus, wielder of the ax.
invo: bacchus

“And thou dost guide thy lynxes, double-yoked,
with showy harness.—Satyrs follow thee;
and Bacchanals, and old Silenus, drunk,
unsteady on his staff; jolting so rough
on his small back-bent ass; and all the way
resounds a youthful clamour; and the screams
of women! and the noise of tambourines!
And the hollow cymbals! and the boxwood flutes,—
fitted with measured holes.—Thou art implored
by all Ismenian women to appear
peaceful and mild; and they perform thy rites.”
invo: bacchus

Only the daughters of King Minyas
are carding wool within their fastened doors,
or twisting with their thumbs the fleecy yarn,
or working at the web. So they corrupt
the sacred festival with needless toil,
keeping their hand-maids busy at the work.

And one of them, while drawing out the thread
with nimble thumb, anon began to speak;
“While others loiter and frequent these rites
fantastic, we the wards of Pallas, much
to be preferred, by speaking novel thoughts
may lighten labour. Let us each in turn,
relate to an attentive audience,
a novel tale; and so the hours may glide.”
it pleased her sisters, and they ordered her
to tell the story that she loved the most.

So, as she counted in her well-stored mind
the many tales she knew, first doubted she
whether to tell the tale of Derceto,—
that Babylonian, who, aver the tribes
of Palestine, in limpid ponds yet lives,—
her body changed, and scales upon her limbsphysical;
or how her daughter, having taken wingsphysical,
passed her declining years in whitened towers.
Or should she tell of Nais, who with herbs,
too potent, into fishes had transformed
the bodies of her lovers, till she met
herself the same sad fate; or of that tree
which sometime bore white fruit, but now is changed
and darkened by the blood that stained its roots.—
Pleased with the novelty of this, at once
she tells the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe;—
and swiftly as she told it unto them,
the fleecy wool was twisted into threads.