“The Birth of Bacchus” (lll) – Ovid

by richibi

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