“Metamorphoses” (The Giants’ War, XIV) – Ovid

by richibi


    Landscape with Cows and a Camel (1914) 


               August Macke





once Deucalion and Pyrrha had found

the way to bring humans back to life, 

it was time to turn to the creation, or

recreation, of other species


              The rest of animals, from teeming Earth
              Produc’d, in various forms receiv’d their birth. 


the rest of animals suggests that 

people were also considered to

be animals, of an however more

elevated, presumably, order


              The native moisture, in its close retreat,
              Digested by the sun’s aetherial heat,
              As in a kindly womb, began to breed: ,
              Then swell’d, and quicken’d by the vital seed. 


by means of the moisture naturally

created by the retreating flood waters, 

the native moisture, the heat of the sun, 

however aetherial, or etherial, which is 

to say of ether, which is to say invisible, 

swell[s], and quicken[s] … the vital seed

the seed which is pregnant with life, or

vital, and nurtures it, swell[s] and 

quicken[s] it, as though within a womb

              And some in less, and some in longer space, 


less, or longer space, of time


              Were ripen’d into form, and took a sev’ral face. 


different kinds of animals, animals with

sev’ral face[s], see, for instance, above

ripen’d, or evolved during longer or 

shorter periods of time, a notion that 

was decisively revisited some nearly 

two thousand years later, incidentally, 

by Charles Darwin 


              Thus when the Nile from Pharian fields is fled, 


Pharian fields, Egypt, from Pharos,

an island off the coast of Alexandria

notable for its lighthouse, itself called 

Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of 

the Ancient World


              And seeks, with ebbing tides, his ancient bed, 


his ancient bed, the area of earth 

that the Nile had covered during 

the flood, its now exposed river 



the Nile is, note, masculine here, 

his ancient bed

              The fat manure with heav’nly fire is warm’d; 


there’s the heat again


             And crusted creatures, as in wombs, are form’d; 


crusted, it is interesting to note that

apart from the animal feature of the 

womb, all of the terms to describe 

the process of coming to life refer

to plants, see also ripen’d above,

for instance, not to mention the 

vital seed

              These, when they turn the glebe, the peasants find; 


glebe, cultivated land, when the 

peasants plough their fields, they 

find [t]hese, the crusted creatures

              Some rude, and yet unfinish’d in their kind:
              Short of their limbs, a lame imperfect birth:
              One half alive; and one of lifeless earth. 


not all births are successful

              For heat, and moisture, when in bodies join’d,
              The temper that results from either kind
              Conception makes; 

life is the product of heat, and moisture

sparking, quicken[ing], matter, bodies, 

a succinct postulation, a metaphysical 

observation, presaging the 17th Century’s 

turn toward the natural sciences, Galileo

Isaac Newton, for instance, coming 

already, and not inaccurately, from the 

age of, at least, Julius Caesar 


it often appals me what was lost of

significant information during the

Middle, the Dark, the Annihilating,



                                             and fighting ’till they mix,
              Their mingled atoms in each other fix.
              Thus Nature’s hand the genial bed prepares
              With friendly discord, and with fruitful wars. 


generation is a struggle between 

chaos and order, at the most 

fundamental level, according to


              From hence the surface of the ground, with mud
              And slime besmear’d (the faeces of the flood), 


get down


              Receiv’d the rays of Heav’n: and sucking in
              The seeds of heat, 


you can hear the squelch here,

the slim[y] suction


                                             new creatures did begin:
              Some were of sev’ral sorts produc’d before,
              But of new monsters, Earth created more. 


among the new creatures, many 

had existed earlier, been already 

produc’d, but new monsters as 

well sprouted, apparently 


              Unwillingly, but yet she brought to light
              Thee, Python too, the wondring world to fright, 


she, the Earth


Python, a mythological serpent, which

guarded Delphi, brought back to light,

or life, the wondring world to fright


              And the new nations, with so dire a sight:
              So monstrous was his bulk, so large a space
              Did his vast body, and long train embrace.
              Whom Phoebus basking on a bank espy’d; 


Phoebus, another name for Apollo

patron deity at Delphi

              E’re now the God his arrows had not try’d
              But on the trembling deer, or mountain goat; 


Phoebus had never needed to try[ ]

his arrow[ ] at anything other than 

game, trembling deer, … mountain 



              At this new quarry he prepares to shoot.
              Though ev’ry shaft took place, he spent the store
              Of his full quiver; and ’twas long before
              Th’ expiring serpent wallow’d in his gore. 


it wasn’t easy

              Then, to preserve the fame of such a deed,
              For Python slain, he Pythian games decred. 


Pythian games, games installed, decreed,  

decred, to honour the slaying of the serpent

              Where noble youths for mastership shou’d strive,
              To quoit, to run, and steeds, and chariots drive. 


to quoit, to throw a ring in a game in

order to encircle at a distance a peg

              The prize was fame: in witness of renown
              An oaken garland did the victor crown. 


nothing other than a crown of oak 

leaves, an oaken garland, was the 

prize at the Pythian Games, but 

enough to assure the fame, the 

glory, of the exalted champion

              The laurel was not yet for triumphs born; 


a crown of laurel leaves, rather than 

of oak, eventually became the symbol 

of triumphs


              But every green alike by Phoebus worn,
              Did, with promiscuous grace, his flowing locks adorn. 


but until the laurel crown prevailed,

an honour associated later, notably, 

with the Ancient Greek Olympics

winners still sported with 

promiscuous grace, the green, the 

colour of Phoebus‘ chosen leaves,

in that god’s honour



later episodes of Metamorphoses

will describe the transformation of

particular people into other 

entities, trees, animals, stars, very

constellations, but for now the 

Creation is complete, the Giants’

War concluded, and the Earth 

replenished, given new life


I suspect that from now on I’ll only

intermittently comment on some 

of the stories in this extraordinary

collection, for this poem is ever as 

long as the very Bible, the only 

other Creation myth, incidentally,  

in the West, a task I expect I’ll 

follow mostly on my own, given

my admittedly idiosyncratic, often

maybe too forbidding, inclinations,

inspirations, interests


but thank you so much for having

listened in, partaken, during this, 

to my mind, fascinating exploration,

this conversation with, I think, 

enlightening, and indeed

ennobling, art



all the very best


R ! chard