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Month: October, 2020

“The Story of Aglauros, transform’d into a Statue” (lll) – Ovid


          The Envious


                  Gustave Doré





all mythologies have their picture, their

rendition, their evocation of an afterlife,

states of either resignation, in earlier

traditions, perdition or bliss in the later

Christian view, manifest, these latter,

in Dante, his depictions of Hell,

Purgatory, and Heaven in his

Commediaare probably its most

explicit evocations


the Greek and Roman pictures of

their own representative Underworld,

available in Homer, Horace, Virgil,

notably, is less compartmentalized,

less extreme in its divisions, a gloom

pervades, but nowhere fire and

brimstone, nor the diametrically

opposed consolation of archangels

and trumpets, only an unending

sense of desolation, be one worthy

of it or not


limbo comes to mind



but Envy’s realm is actual, not

belated, in the Ancient Greek and

Roman traditions, it is of this world,

present, however horrid, a place

that lurks in the hearts of men, of

people, always, ever, accessible


Dante situates his nexus of Envy in

Purgatory, the afterlife, the nether

world, its Second Circle, of seven,

Wrath, Envy, Pride, Lust, Gluttony,

Greed, Sloth


for Ovid, you can reach Envy’s

dominion, in the nearby mountainous

areas, if only you’ll follow Minerva


the one course is transcendental,

the other, organic, note, physical,



            Directly to the cave her course she steer’d;

            Against the gates her martial lance she rear’d;

            The gates flew open, and the fiend appear’d.


the fiend, Envy herself

            A pois’nous morsel in her teeth she chew’d,

            And gorg’d the flesh of vipers for her food.



             Minerva loathing turn’d away her eye;


as, incontrovertibly, would I

            The hideous monster, rising heavily,

            Came stalking forward with a sullen pace,

            And left her mangled offals on the place.

            Soon as she saw the goddess gay and bright,

            She fetch’d a groan at such a chearful sight.

            Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye

            In foul distorted glances turn’d awry;

            A hoard of gall her inward parts possess’d,

            And spread a greenness o’er her canker’d breast;

            Her teeth were brown with rust, and from her tongue,

            In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.

            She never smiles but when the wretched weep,

            Nor lulls her malice with a moment’s sleep,

            Restless in spite: while watchful to destroy,

            She pines and sickens at another’s joy;

            Foe to her self, distressing and distrest,

            She bears her own tormentor in her breast.


the passage, without explication,

speaks for itself, I cede to its

manifest erudition

            The Goddess gave (for she abhorr’d her sight)


her sight, what she was looking


            A short command: “To Athens speed thy flight;

            On curst Aglauros try thy utmost art,

            And fix thy rankest venoms in her heart.”


Minerva condemns, curs[es], 


            This said, her spear she push’d against the ground,

            And mounting from it with an active bound,

            Flew off to Heav’n:


Minerva reminds me of my own

generation’s Wonder Woman



meanwhile, the hag, Envy, with

eyes askew


            Look’d up, and mutter’d curses as she flew;

            For sore she fretted, and began to grieve

            At the success which she her self must give.


success, the humiliation of


            Then takes her staff, hung round with wreaths ofthorn,

            And sails along, in a black whirlwind born,


the picture of a witch on a

broomstick shouldn’t

here be unanticipated 

            O’er fields and flow’ry meadows: where she steers

            Her baneful course, a mighty blast appears,

            Mildews and blights; the meadows are defac’d,

            The fields, the flow’rs, and the whole years laidwaste:


the whole years, the yearly crops


            On mortals next, and peopled towns she falls,

            And breathes a burning plague among their walls.


the, not unfamiliar to us, season,

now, of the witch



R ! chard

my 10 best films – “Closer”


          The Bolt” (c.1778)


                  Jean-Honoré Fragonard





in the spirit of recording my ten best

ever films, my favourite films of all

time, something that, at my relatively

advanced age, 71, I feel entitled to do,

however might some think me

presumptuous, others, not inaccurate,

I started last night with Closer


Mike Nichols directs, who also helmed

another of my ten favourites, Who’s

Afraid of Virginia Woolfwhich, having

just watched it recently, I won’t again

soon, having been, once more,

devastated, I cry from the first roll of

the credits, bawl when the music

comes on, a theme that’s reverberated

with me through the several ensuing

ages, same as just happened again

to me with this one


The Blower’s Daughter, listen, tells

the story, breathes the essence of,

anguish, the tale itself follows, four

individuals, in a tight, literary, conceit,

live out the agonies of participants in

modern emotional interactions, or, at

least, my modern, 2004, it all takes

place in London, with a brief, though

revelatory, postscript in New York, in

order to tie loose ends together, they

are called upon, the performers,

consummate in every instance, Julia

Roberts, Jude LawNatalie Portman,   

Clive Owen, however reduced might

be their full cast, a mighty, note,

professional challenge, to display the

myriad tragedies inherent in all loving



try to find it, it ought to knock your

socks off


meanwhile, think about your own

best list, if you don’t suppose it’s

at all too early



R ! chard


psst: stick around, incidentally, for the

          final credits, to Mozart’s

          transcendental Soave sia il vento,

          from his Così fan tutteaptly,

          and sublimely, introspective


“The Story of Aglauros, transform’d into a Statue” (ll) – Ovid



        Minerva or Pallas Athena” (1898)


               Gustav Klimt





Hermes / Mercury, messenger god,

has spotted Herse, Greek princess,

from on high, the most beautiful

among a procession of shining

virgins and, fir’d, swoops down to

earth, to th’ apartment of the royal

maid, in order to seduce her


             The roof was all with polish’d iv’ry lin’d,

             That richly mix’d, in clouds of tortoise shin’d.


tortoise, tortoiseshell, either the

colour, or the substance itself,

are referenced here, or maybe

even both

             Three rooms, contiguous, in a range were plac’d,


contiguous, one beside the other

             The midmost by the beauteous Herse grac’d;

             Her virgin sisters lodg’d on either side.


Herse, you might remember, had

two sisters, Pandrosos and

Aglauros, daughters of King

Cecrops, they’d seen the child

Ericthonius, half man, half snake,

son of Minerva, who had been

given to them, into their care, 

cradled in a basket, a chest, of

twining osierswhich they were

categorically not to open, but did,

to their great, to their utter, indeed

mythic, chagrin


             Aglauros first th’ approaching God descry’d,


descry’d, witnessed, beheld


             And, as he cross’d her chamber, ask’d his name,

             And what his business was, and whence he came.

             “I come,” reply’d the God, “from Heav’n, to woo

             Your sister, and to make an aunt of you;


however unabashedly be he



             I am the son and messenger of Jove;

             My name is Mercury, my bus’ness love;

             Do you, kind damsel, take a lover’s part,

             And gain admittance to your sister’s heart.”


take a lover’s part, Mercury entreats,

be of help, he asks Aglauros, in this

amorous adventure, strategize a path,

gain admittance for me, to your sister’s

heart, to her serene acquiescence

             She star’d him in the face with looks amaz’d,
             As when she on Minerva’s secret gaz’d,


Minerva’s secret, her babe,

Ericthonius, half man, half snake,

whom Aglauros had earlier,

however treacherously, beheld


             And asks a mighty treasure for her hire;


sure, says Aglauros, I’ll help, but

what will you give me in return

for my service, my hire


             And, ’till he brings it, makes the God retire.


Aglauros will not assist till she

receives the mighty treasure she

requests for her hire

             Minerva griev’d to see the nymph succeed;


Minerva, is not happy to see Aglauros

get anything at all because of her

earlier indiscretion, disobediently

uncovering Ericthonius, the

goddess’ son


             And now remembring the late impious deed,

             When, disobedient to her strict command,

             She touch’d the chest with an unhallow’d hand;

             In big-swoln sighs her inward rage express’d,

             That heav’d the rising Aegis on her breast;


Aegis, the shield that Minerva wore,

fashioned by the Cyclopes, brothers,

one-eyed giants, in the workplace of

Hephaestus, god of Craftsmen, Fire,

Metallurgy, it bore the Gorgoneion,

the head of Medusa, which would

turn one to stone when looked upon


see above

             Then sought out Envy in her dark abode,

             Defil’d with ropy gore and clots of blood:

             Shut from the winds, and from the wholesome skies,

             In a deep vale the gloomy dungeon lies,

             Dismal and cold, where not a beam of light

             Invades the winter, or disturbs the night.


Envy, its personification, is a goddess

here, though the representative of

Envy is usually considered to be

Phthonus, a male deity



next stop, Envy’s dark abode


stay tuned



R ! chard



“The Story of Aglauros, transform’d into a Statue” – Ovid



      The Dancers” (c.1905)


               Maurice Denis





            This done, the God flew up on high,


This done, Hermes, the God, had just

turned Battus to a Touch stone


                                                          and pass’d

            O’er lofty Athens, by Minerva grac’d,


Minerva, the Latin version of Athena,

was patroness of Athens, grac’d,

indeed, by the very Parthenon, then,

and still now, her temple


            And wide Munichia, whilst his eyes survey

            All the vast region that beneath him lay.


Munichia, the ancient name for a steep

hill, now called Kastella, in Piraeus, the

port of Athens

            ‘Twas now the feast, when each Athenian maid

            Her yearly homage to Minerva paid;


let me point out that during the period

when pantheism prevailed, which is to

say anything earlier than the Emperor

Constantine, 272 – 337 AD, who

established Christianity as the official

religion of the Roman Empire, and going

back to the very beginnings of recorded

history, but at the very least to the epics

of Homer, his Iliad, his Odysseythe 8th

Century BC, which tell of the Trojan War

and its aftermath, from the even more

distant 12th Century BC, homage was

paid, around the Mediterranean, to gods

and goddesses of Olympus, temples

were built, rituals performed in their

honour, much as in the Christian Era,

believers attend church, build cathedrals

to their preferred deity, feasts to Minerva

were as fervent then, in other words, as,

later, were those of devotees to their own

Christmas and Easter, say, celebrations

            In canisters, with garlands cover’d o’er,

            High on their heads, their mystick gifts they bore:

            And now, returning in a solemn train,

            The troop of shining virgins fill’d the plain.


see above


            The God well pleas’d beheld the pompous show,


The God, Hermes still


            And saw the bright procession pass below;

            Then veer’d about, and took a wheeling flight,

            And hover’d o’er them: as the spreading kite,


kitea bird of prey

            That smells the slaughter’d victim from on high,

            Flies at a distance, if the priests are nigh,

            And sails around, and keeps it in her eye:


her eye, the kite is given the feminine

gender here, perhaps following upon

the original Latin word’s grammar


            So kept the God the virgin quire in view,

            And in slow winding circles round them flew.


quire, archaic spelling of choir, a

group of instrumentalists or singers


            As Lucifer excells the meanest star,

            Or, as the full-orb’d Phoebe, Lucifer;


Lucifer, the Morning Star, the planet

Venus, as it appears in the East

before sunrise


Phoebe, pre-Olympian goddess

representative of the moon, thus

in the verse above the very moon

            So much did Herse all the rest outvy,

            And gave a grace to the solemnity.


Herse, a Greek princess


outvy, outvie, to surpass

            Hermes was fir’d, as in the clouds he hung:


fir’d, inflamed, aroused, thus

flung as would be a missile,

the word fir’d here shimmers

with both meanings

            So the cold bullet, that with fury slung

            From Balearick engines mounts on high,

            Glows in the whirl, and burns along the sky.


Balearick engines, slingshots,

the people of the Balearic Islands,

off the coast of Spain, were famous

in ancient times for their use of the

slingshot, or sling, especially as a



            At length he pitch’d upon the ground, and show’d

            The form divine, the features of a God.

            He knew their vertue o’er a female heart,


their vertue, the virtues of both [t]he

form divine and the features of a

God, however be these identical,

allow grammatically for the

possessive adjective their to be

used here

            And yet he strives to better them by art.


Hermes would rather seduce with

art, which is to say with charm 

and artistry, than by his august

credentials merely

            He hangs his mantle loose, and sets to show

            The golden edging on the seam below;

            Adjusts his flowing curls, and in his hand

            Waves, with an air, the sleep-procuring wand;

            The glitt’ring sandals to his feet applies,

            And to each heel the well-trim’d pinion ties.


pinion, the outer part of a bird’s wing,

including the flight feathers, which

Hermes applies to his sandals


            His ornaments with nicest art display’d,

            He seeks th’ apartment of the royal maid.


to be continued



R ! chard

“Love Opened a Mortal Wound” – Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz


       Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695)





in both style and substance, the

following poem reminds me of

Emily Dickinson‘s wonderful stuff


the poet, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz,

1651–1695, was the illegitimate

daughter of a Spanish father and

a Creole mother, who chose to

follow her many intellectual pursuits

and become a nun rather than submit

to the rigours of love and a secular life



R ! chard





Love Opened a Mortal Wound


          Love opened a mortal wound. 
          In agony, I worked the blade 
          to make it deeper. Please, 
          I begged, let death come quick. 

         Wild, distracted, sick,
         I counted, counted 
         all the ways love hurt me. 
         One life, I thought—a thousand deaths. 

         Blow after blow, my heart
         couldn’t survive this beating. 
         Then—how can I explain it? 

          I came to my senses. I said,
         Why do I suffer? What lover 
         ever had so much pleasure?

                             Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

                                     (translated by Joan Larkin

                                                  and Jaime Manrique)



Con el Dolor de la Mortal Herida

          Con el dolor de la mortal herida,
          de un agravio de amor me lamentaba; 
          y por ver si la muerte se llegaba, 
          procuraba que fuese más crecida. 

          Toda en el mal el alma divertida,
          pena por pena su dolor sumaba, 
          y en cada circunstancia ponderaba 
          que sobrarban mil muertes a una vida. 

          Y cuando, al golpe de uno y otro tiro,
          rendido el corazón daba penoso 
          señas de dar el último suspiro, 

          no sé con qué destino prodigioso
          volví en mi acuerdo y dije:—¿Qué me admiro? 
          ¿Quién en amor ha sido más dichoso?

                                      Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

“The Transformation of Battus to a Touch Stone” – Ovid


      Mercury and Battus(1610)


             Adam Elsheimer





            Sore wept the centaur, and to Phoebus pray’d;


Phoebus, the Latin name for Apollo,

the Greek name for the same god of 

the Sun among several other things


Phoebus / Apollo was the centaur

Chiron‘s father


            But how could Phoebus give the centaur aid?
            Degraded of his pow’r by angry Jove,
            In Elis then a herd of beeves he drove;


Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, god of gods

had [d]egraded Phoebus of his

pow’r by overruling him in having

him return, however unwillingly,

to his position as Charioteer of

the Sun after having just killed

his son, Phaeton


Elis, a region still of Greece


beeves, plural of beef, however

presently obsolete, but compare

leaf, leaves, or loaf, loaves, wife,

wives, shelf, shelves for similar


            And wielded in his hand a staff of oak,
            And o’er his shoulders threw the shepherd’s cloak;
            On sev’n compacted reeds he us’d to play,
            And on his rural pipe to waste the day.


Phoebus / Apollo was god, as well,

of Music


            As once attentive to his pipe he play’d,
            The crafty Hermes from the God convey’d
            A drove, that sep’rate from their fellows stray’d.


the grammar is here incorrect, he

in the first verse should agree with

the subject of the principal clause,

[t]he crafty Hermes, of the second,

but it refers, rather, to Phoebus /

Apollo, who’d been attentive to the

same rural pipe he’d been playing,

wast[ing] the day, in the earlier



Hermes, the messenger god, was

leading, convey[ing], away from

its fellows, indeed stealing, some

of the God Phoebus / Apollo‘s

beeves, his cattle


drove, a large group, singular of



            The theft an old insidious peasant view’d
            (They call’d him Battus in the neighbourhood),
            Hir’d by a vealthy Pylian prince to feed
            His fav’rite mares, and watch the gen’rous breed.


Pylian, of Pylos, a town still in



vealthy, wealthy, surely a typo,

however unusual in so respected

an edition


Battus, an old insidious peasant,

had seen, view’d, Hermes, god

as well of Thieves, incidentally,

steal Phoebus / Apollo‘s beeves


            The thievish God suspected him, and took
            The hind aside, and thus in whispers spoke:


suspected, Hermes, [t]he thievish

God, supposed that Battus had

seen him stealing the cattle

            “Discover not the theft, whoe’er thou be,
            And take that milk-white heifer for thy fee.”


Discover not, don’t tell


the milk-white heifer, [t]he hind

            “Go, stranger,” cries the clown, “securely on,
            That stone shall sooner tell,” and show’d a stone.


the clown, Battus, assures Hermes

that [t]hat stone, an inanimate, and

therefore mute, thing, is more likely

to tell about the theft than he, Battus,

would be

            The God withdrew, but strait return’d again,
            In speech and habit like a country swain;


The God this time is Hermes, who

has returned disguised as a country

swain, a bumpkin


            And cries out, “Neighbour, hast thou seen a stray
            Of bullocks and of heifers pass this way?
            In the recov’ry of my cattle join,
            A bullock and a heifer shall be thine.”


help me find my cattle, Hermes asks

of Battusand I’ll reward you with 

[a] bullock and a heifer

            The peasant quick replies, “You’ll find ’em there
            In yon dark vale”; and in the vale they were.


Battus has gone back on his word to

the first stranger who’d accosted him,

and reveals the whereabouts of the

stolen herd to the second

            The double bribe had his false heart beguil’d:


double bribe, the first, the milk-white

heifer, the second, a bullock and

[another] heifer

            The God, successful in the tryal, smil’d;


tryal, trial, it’s interesting to see

here the root of the word trial

            “And dost thou thus betray my self to me?
            Me to my self dost thou betray?” says he:


Battus has in either instance

unwittingly betrayed both Hermes,

the original stranger, then Hermes

again, the country swain

            Then to a Touch stone turns the faithless spy;
            And in his name records his infamy.


Touch stone, or touchstone, a stone

used for testing the purity of precious

metals, a criterion, a basis


in his name, Battusrecords his infamy,

though unclear, this verse suggests to

me that the name Battus will always be

associated with being a faithless spy,

a betrayer



R ! chard


psst: Mercury, or Mercurius, is the

          Latin equivalent of Hermes,

          see above