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Month: March, 2021

“The Transformation of Tiresias” – Ovid

Jupiter and Juno, 1597 - Annibale Carracci

          Jupiter and Juno” (1597)


                   Annibale Carracci




                ‘Twas now, while these transactions past on Earth,

                And Bacchus thus procur’d a second birth,


second birth, Bacchus / Dionysus

had been granted a second birth

after he’d been plucked from

Semele‘s womb in a first, abortive,

birth, and carried in Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus‘s thigh to term for the

second, if you’ll remember

                When Jove, dispos’d to lay aside the weight

                Of publick empire and the cares of state,

                As to his queen in nectar bowls he quaff’d,

                “In troth,” says he, and as he spoke he laugh’d,

                “The sense of pleasure in the male is far

                More dull and dead, than what you females share.”


you might note here that these last

eight verses have been one long

sentence, incorporating here and

there other full sentences, but

within commas, like railroad cars

pulled along by a locomotive, none

independent of the others, it seems

to me I’ve seen that kind of thing



quaff’d, drank, took a draught


to his queen, in her honour


in troth, in truth, truly


Jove / Jupiter / Zeus has a question

to settle with Juno / Hera, he claims

that men are less attuned to

pleasure than women are

               Juno the truth of what was said deny’d;


Juno / Hera doesn’t at all agree


                Tiresias therefore must the cause decide,


Tiresias will be the arbiter, he will

the cause decide


Tiresias, mythical prophet


                For he the pleasure of each sex had try’d.


hmmm, you don’t hear stuff like

that in the Bible, the monotheistic

counterpart to Ovid’s pantheistic



a pantheistic religion would have

no categorical set of values, no

Ten Commandments, the gods

themselves would not agree on 

a code of behaviour, morality

would be in the eye of the

beholder, not divinely mandated,

Nietzsche will have a lot to say

about that in the 19th Century

eminently pertinent to ensuing 


                It happen’d once, within a shady wood,

                Two twisted snakes he in conjunction view’d,


in conjunction, mating

                When with his staff their slimy folds he broke,

                And lost his manhood at the fatal stroke.


you shouldn’t mess around with

snakes, it appears

                But, after seven revolving years, he view’d

                The self-same serpents in the self-same wood:


self-same serpents, surely he means

the same species, not the same


                “And if,” says he, “such virtue in you lye,

                That he who dares your slimy folds untie

                Must change his kind, a second stroke I’ll try.”


if it worked once, it might work a

second time, Tiresias supposes

                Again he struck the snakes, and stood again

                New-sex’d, and strait recover’d into man.


it worked, Tiresias is reconfigured,

reconstituted, as a man

                Him therefore both the deities create

                The sov’raign umpire, in their grand debate;


create, appoint, assign duties to


the grand debate, the question,

the calculus, of pleasure


sov’raign umpire, chief, ruling,

irreversible by consent, judge

               And he declar’d for Jove:


women are more susceptible to

pleasure than men are, Tiresias

definitively decides


                                                     when Juno fir’d,

               More than so trivial an affair requir’d,


fir’d, not happy, furious, motivated


More than so trivial an affair, this

incident shouldn’t’ve been the

cause of, requir’d, the extreme

response to which Juno / Hera

condemns Tiresias


                Depriv’d him, in her fury, of his sight,

                And left him groping round in sudden night.


Tiresias, the blind prophet, the

apocryphal blind prophet, so

grimly subjected, finds powerful

resonance, incidentally, in Homer,

another, even more famous, and

actual, which is to say historically

authenticated, blind prophet, both,

nevertheless, of immeasurable

cultural consequence

                But Jove (for so it is in Heav’n decreed,

                That no one God repeal another’s deed)


an honour code among the gods,

to balance competing, however

august, visions, morality, in other

words, by consensus

                Irradiates all his soul with inward light,

                And with the prophet’s art relieves the want of sight.


thus Tiresias becomes the famed

prophet, for better, it’ll turn out,

or for worse, cursed, and blessed,



stay tuned



R ! chard

Beethoven – Septet, Opus 20

Cherry Blossoms, 1970 - Toshi Yoshida

              Cherry Blossoms” (1970)


                       Toshi Yoshida





though I’ve been focused on Ovid

especially lately, specifically his

Metamorphosesother less

concentrated pursuits have also

taken up my time, Sophocles,

Shakespeare, American Idol, The

Great Canadian Baking Show,

Euclid, Existentialism, the variations

in colour, number, size of the cherry

blossoms growing on the trees along

my street as I ponder each morning

from my window their magical,

miraculous, incarnation, into the

world, their augury of, once again,

wondrously, springtime, March,



but recently I picked up a book, a

biography of Beethoven, in

snapshots, through the lens of

nine works of his in particular,

arranged chronologically


join me as I, one by one, present

them through the requisite number

of commentaries


the first is his forgotten, but apparently

all the rage in his day, Septet, opus 20,

which continued to be admired for its

Classical roots for a long time, a

comfortable, recognizable music,

but with enough modernity to warrant

extended popularity, the irrepressible

pull of Romanticism, the draw of the

encroaching 19th Century


Beethoven would become more and

more radical, irascible, demanding

eventually, and I conscientiously

interject here, more manifestly,

however counterintuitively, sublime


but there were contrary opinions, 

much as elders have always objected

to the music of their children, portents,

always, of ensuing degeneration


you’ll recognize, perhaps, as I did,

in the Septet‘s third movement, the

same air as in Beethoven’s Piano

Sonata no 20, Opus 49, no 2, poets

borrowed from each other then,

still do, have ever, they speak the

same language, they would even,

as here, filch from themselves


the insignificant piece, the Sonata,

according to Beethoven, should’ve

been the disregarded work, the

Septet had the greater fame and

longevity, but history has its way,

a septet needs to put together

seven instrumentalists, of a certain

quality, each time, to survive, to

regenerate itself, a sonata, only

one committed interpreter each



it is also an integral part of the

complete Beethoven sonatas, a

historical account equal, musically,

to the very Ten Commandments,

that foundational



R ! chard

“The Birth of Bacchus” (lll) – Ovid

Semele, 1921 - John Duncan

        Semele” (1921)


             John Duncan





         To keep his promise he ascends,


his promise, Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

had sworn by very Styx, if you’ll

remember, to Semele, his current

inamorata, that when next he[‘d]

court[ ] the rites of love, he’d

descend in those celestial charms

with which he enters Juno / Hera‘s

chambers, his goddess / wife, on

similar intimate occasions


                                                    and shrowds

         His awful brow in whirl-winds and in clouds;


shrowds, shrouds, covers in

darkness, shields


awful, inspiring awe, inspiring


         Whilst all around, in terrible array,

         His thunders rattle, and his light’nings play.


not only does Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

shrowd[ ] /His awful brow, which is

to say he actively effects changes,

consciously and manifestly producing

identifiable outcomes, a shrouded brow,

in this instance, but he also inspires the

very elements, thunders rattle 

light’nings play, to rally round his


         And yet, the dazling lustre to abate,

         He set not out in all his pomp and state,


And yet, except that, Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus chooses, set[s] … out, to rein

in, abate, elements of his pomp and

state, of his magnificence

         Clad in the mildest light’ning of the skies,

         And arm’d with thunder of the smallest size:

         Not those huge bolts, by which the giants slain

         Lay overthrown on the Phlegrean plain.

         ‘Twas of a lesser mould, and lighter weight;


Phlegrean plain, Phlegraean, site of the

war that won for the Olympians, Jove /

Jupiter / Zeus, Juno / Hera, and the

pantheon of other gods with whom

we’ve here become acquainted, control 

of the cosmos, against the Titans, who’d

earlier ruled, the children of Uranus,

Sky, and Gaia, Earth, though that’s

an entirely other, earlier story, equally



         They call it thunder of a second-rate,

         For the rough Cyclops, who by Jove’s command

         Temper’d the bolt, and turn’d it to his hand,


Cyclops, any of the three Cyclopes,

Arges, Brontes, and Steropes, or in

English translation, Bright, Thunder,

and Lightning, sons of Uranus and

Gaia, one-eyed giants, who

manufactured Jove / Jupiter /

Zeus‘s thunderbolts


Cyclops here is probably Cyclopes,

this translation‘s early 18th-Century

spelling of the now singular “Cyclops”,

all of whom [t]emper’d the bolt, and

turn’d … to his hand Jove / Jupiter /
Zeus‘s commissioned arsenal


         Work’d up less flame and fury in its make,

         And quench’d it sooner in the standing lake.


this particular thunderbolt therefore

would have been less menacing, in

keeping with Jove / Jupiter / Zeus‘s

wish his dazling lustre to abate


         Thus dreadfully adorn’d, with horror bright,

         Th’ illustrious God, descending from his height,

         Came rushing on her in a storm of light.


I knew someone who came to me

like that once

         The mortal dame, too feeble to engage         

         The lightning’s flashes, and the thunder’s rage,

         Consum’d amidst the glories she desir’d,

         And in the terrible embrace expir’d.


I broke only into a thousand million

pieces, did not expire, but ruefully,

rather, survived, but that’s another

story, perhaps too intimate

         But, to preserve his offspring from the tomb,


his offspring, you’ll remember that

Semele was pregnant with Jove /

Jupiter / Zeus‘s child

         Jove took him smoaking from the blasted womb:


blasted, destroyed, [c]onsum’d[,]

amidst the glories she desir’d


see above


         And, if on ancient tales we may rely,

         Inclos’d th’ abortive infant in his thigh.


in order to allow it to complete

gestation, Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

incubated th’ abortive infant in

his [own] thigh

         Here when the babe had all his time fulfill’d,


Here, in his thigh


         Ino first took him for her foster-child;


Ino, sister of Semele, with too long

a story here, however fascinating

         Then the Niseans, in their dark abode,


Niseans, Nysians, of Nysa, a

mountainous mythical land

beyond Greece, with dark

abode[s], caves, among its

mountains, presumably

         Nurs’d secretly with milk the thriving God.


the thriving God, Bacchusthe Roman

Dionysus, god of wine, merriment, and

all kinds of mischievousness, which is

to say bacchanals, Dionysian revelries,



stay tuned



R ! chard

“The Birth of Bacchus” (ll)– Ovid

Jupiter and Semele, 1889 - 1895 - Gustave Moreau

         Jupiter and Semele” (1889 – 1895)


                 Gustave Moreau





            Old Beroe’s decrepit shape she wears,

            Her wrinkled visage, and her hoary hairs;


Old Beroe, faithful servant of Semele


she, Juno / Hera, goddess


hoary hairs, love it


            Whilst in her trembling gait she totters on,

            And learns to tattle in the nurse’s tone.


Juno / Hera transforms herself into

Old Beroe, tattl[ing], talking idly, in

the nurse’s tone, impersonating her

in order to seek revenge, if you’ll

remember, on Semele, for bearing

her husband’s progeny


            The Goddess, thus disguis’d in age, beguil’d

            With pleasing stories her false foster-child.


foster-child, child who is fostered,

nurtured, by someone other than a

parent, Semele, by Old Beroe,

purportedly, in this instance


false, Juno / Hera is not Old Beroe,

but the nurse’s duplicitous, false,

in both senses of the word here,



beguil’d, enchanted, amused

            Much did she talk of love, and when she came

            To mention to the nymph her lover’s name,

            Fetching a sigh, and holding down her head,

            “‘Tis well,” says she, “if all be true that’s said.


Juliet’s nurse from Romeo and Juliet,

I thought, meets Sleeping Beauty’s

wicked stepmother, for a more

contemporary coupling


            But trust me, child, I’m much inclin’d to fear

            Some counterfeit in this your Jupiter:


Some counterfeit, yourJupiter is not

your [actual] Jupiter, Juno / Hera



            Many an honest well-designing maid

            Has been by these pretended Gods betray’d,


well-designing, without guile, with

no ulterior motive


pretended Gods, men who unjustifiably

beat their chest, tell tall tales, unequal

to their proclaimed accomplishments

            But if he be indeed the thund’ring Jove,

            Bid him, when next he courts the rites of love,

            Descend triumphant from th’ etherial sky,

            In all the pomp of his divinity,

            Encompass’d round by those celestial charms,

            With which he fills th’ immortal Juno’s arms.”


Juno / Hera, as Old Beroe, tells Semele

to ask her lover, when next he courts

the rites of love, to prove he is indeed

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, to dress



Encompass’d round, accoutred,

enveloped, in


the pomp, incidentally, the splendour

of his divinity, take on a couple of

extra poetic lines, verses, indicative

of that very splendour


note also that Semele seems to have

no qualms about Jove / Jupiter / Zeus‘s

marital status, about bearing the child

of another woman’s man, indeed that

of a very, in this instance, goddess,

the redoubtable Juno / Hera

            Th’ unwary nymph, ensnar’d with what she said, 


ensnar’d, ensnarled, caught up in

            Desir’d of Jove, when next he sought her bed,

            To grant a certain gift which she would chuse;


Desir’d of, asked of, requested of


chuse, choose

            “Fear not,” reply’d the God, “that I’ll refuse

            Whate’er you ask: may Styx confirm my voice,

            Chuse what you will, and you shall have your choice.”


Styx, goddess of the river Styx, which

forms the boundary between Earth and

the Underworld, had sided with Jove /

Jupiter / Zeus during the War of the

Titans and been granted by him that

oaths should henceforth all be sworn

upon her, and be punctiliously observed


Phoebus / Apollo had similarly granted

his own son Phaeton his wish upon very

Styx, if you’ll remember, with the direst,

for both, of consequences

            “Then,” says the nymph, “when next you seek my arms,

            May you descend in those celestial charms,

            And fill with transport Heav’n’s immortal dame.”


show me, Semele asks of her suitor,

what she gets, what Juno / Hera gets,

when next you seek my arms


go, girl, I thought, if you’re going

to be irreverent


            The God surpriz’d would fain have stopp’d her voice,

            But he had sworn, and she had made her choice.


on very Styx, he’d sworn, ever so



stay tuned



R ! chard