“The Transformation of Daphne into a Lawrel” (II) – Ovid

by richibi


           “Daphne” (1879 – 1892) 


            George Frederick Watts





                  The God of light, aspiring to her bed, 


The God of light, Phoebus, whose

name, incidentally, finds its roots 

in the Greek word for shining, 

which I won’t inscribe here for its 

being not only in another language,

but also of a different alphabet


Phoebus, also known as Apollo

was not only god of Light, but 

too, god of the Sun, as well as of

several other things that brought

clarity, his shrine at Delphi, for

instance, was famed for providing 

oracles, intelligibility in the face of 

confusion, however cryptic the 

actual words of the presiding 

sybil commonly were 


               Hopes what he seeks, with flattering fancies fed; 


Phoebus [h]opes, indeed trusts, 

that feeding Daphne flattering 

fancies will do the trick


               And is, by his own oracles, mis-led. 


even his oracles, his sybils, his

priestesses, in this circumstance, 

fail him

               And as in empty fields the stubble burns, 


stubble, what’s left of the shaft once 

the grain has been removed, 


               Or nightly travellers, when day returns,
               Their useless torches on dry hedges throw,
               That catch the flames, and kindle all the row; 


now that day has arrived, the nightly

travellers‘ otherwise useless torches

can serve to kindle, ignite, and burn

off, the rows of slowly smouldering 



               So burns the God, consuming in desire, 


Phoebus is similarly, [s]o, kindled,

burns with a desire [s]o, as, 


               And feeding in his breast a fruitless fire: 


the fire, the desire, however, remains 

in his breast … fruitless, unabated, 


               Her well-turn’d neck he view’d (her neck was bare)
               And on her shoulders her dishevel’d hair; 


Daphne‘s hair would’ve been 

dishevel’d, undone, during her 

flight, by the wind

               Oh were it comb’d, said he, with what a grace
               Wou’d every waving curl become her face! 


Phoebus begins to idealize her

               He view’d her eyes, like heav’nly lamps that shone,
               He view’d her lips, too sweet to view alone,
taper fingers, and her panting breast; 


see above


               He praises all he sees, 


his flattering fancies at work 


                                              and for the rest
               Believes the beauties yet unseen are best: 


Phoebus has no intention of enjoying 

merely what Daphne cannot but allow, 

her beauties yet unseen, he believes, 

are best, are preferable



               Swift as the wind, the damsel fled away,
               Nor did for these alluring speeches stay: 


alluring speeches, flattering fancies

               Stay Nymph, he cry’d, I follow, not a foe. 


a nymph, a nature spirit in the form 

of a maiden, imagined frolicking by 

rivers, or woods


Phoebus calls her by this metonym,

Nymph, probably because he doesn’t 

yet know her proper name


a metonym is the word for a part

which signifies the whole, the pen, 

for instance, is mightier than the 

sword, where the pen stands for

all that is written, and the sword 

represents the much larger 

concept of war


Nymph, therefore, to metonymize,

to stand in for, any nymph


Stay Nymph, Phoebus cries, I follow,

I don’t lead, I am not coercing you, 

you are in charge, I am not a foe, 

not an enemy

               Thus from the lyon trips the trembling doe;
               Thus from the wolf the frighten’d lamb removes,
               And, from pursuing faulcons, fearful doves; 


prey flee predators [t]hus, Phoebus

explains, which is to say in the 

manner that you’re behaving

               Thou shunn’st a God, and shunn’st a God, that loves. 


but I am not a predator, I am a God,

a God who loves you, who is in love,

he concedes

               Ah, lest some thorn shou’d pierce thy tender foot,
               Or thou shou’dst fall in flying my pursuit!
               To sharp uneven ways thy steps decline;
               Abate thy speed,


slow down, he says, Abate thy speed,

you might hurt yourself, you might

pierce thy tender foot, fall, your path 

decline[s], is becoming treacherous, 

less secure, sharp uneven ways lie 



                                           and I will bate of mine. 


bate, opposite of abate, don’t you 

love it


               Yet think from whom thou dost so rashly fly;
               Nor basely born, nor shepherd’s swain am I. 


I carry a big stick, Phoebus says, think

about it 

               Perhaps thou know’st not my superior state;
               And from that ignorance proceeds thy hate. 


maybe you haven’t recognized me


               Me Claros, Delphi, Tenedos obey; 


Claros, an ancient Greek sanctuary,

site of another oracle of Phoebus /

Apollo, along with Delphi, the 

principal shrine 


Tenedos, an island off the coast of 

modern Turkey, but under the 

dominion then also of the deity

               These hands the Patareian scepter sway. 


scepter, a staff symbolic of sovereignty


but I’ve found no source at all for the

indecipherable Patareian, forgive me


               The King of Gods begot me: 


I am the son, Phoebus proclaims, of 

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, depending on 

the local vocabulary


                                                    what shall be,
               Or is, or ever was, in Fate, I see. 


Phoebus, like all the gods, sees

everything, past, present, and 


               Mine is th’ invention of the charming lyre; 


the lyre, an ancient musical instrument 

often associated with Phoebus /Apollo

               Sweet notes, and heav’nly numbers, I inspire. 


Phoebus / Apollo was also god,

among many other things, of 


               Sure is my bow, unerring is my dart;
               But ah! more deadly his, who pierc’d my heart. 


Phoebus has ceded to Cupid, and

acknowledges the superiority of

the stripling‘s, the youth’s, sting

               Med’cine is mine; what herbs and simples grow
               In fields, and forrests, all their pow’rs I know; 


Phoebus / Apollo is also god of 


               And am the great physician call’d, below. 


that Phoebus / Apollo is god of 

Healing is acknowledged below,

which is to say among earthlings


               Alas that fields and forrests can afford.
               No remedies to heal their love-sick lord! 


there is no cure, however, for love, 

he moans, the sickness, Alas, No

remedies, among the fields and 

forrests for it

               To cure the pains of love, no plant avails:
               And his own physick, the physician falls. 


the physician, Phoebus / Apollo

falls, which must surely be fails

here, to rhyme with avails, an

unfortunate typo, cannot derive

from the ground, from the wealth

of his own domain, the physick,

the ingredients to make up a



stay tuned



R ! chard