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Category: literature to ponder

“The Mariners transform’d to Dolphins” (ll) – Ovid

Bacchus - Sergey Solomko



             Sergey Solomko





          “His base confederates the fact approve;


His base confederates, the shipmates who

would not protect the soft and lovely boy,

the little captive, that Acoetes believes to

be a god, if you’ll remember

          When Bacchus (for ’twas he) begun to move,

          Wak’d by the noise and clamours which they rais’d;

          And shook his drowsie limbs, and round him gaz’d:

          What means this noise? he cries; am I betray’d?

          Ah, whither, whither must I be convey’d?


whither, whither, where, where, to

what place, to what place

          Fear not, said Proreus, child, but tell us where
          You wish to land, and trust our friendly care.


Proreusanother of the several sailors

serving on Acoetes‘ ship

          To Naxos then direct your course, said he;

          Naxos a hospitable port shall be

          To each of you, a joyful home to me.


Naxosa Greek island, whither Bacchus /

Dionysus presently direct[s] his, however

questionable, hosts to repair

          By ev’ry God, that rules the sea or sky,

          The perjur’d villains promise to comply,

          And bid me hasten to unmoor the ship.


me, Acoetes

          With eager joy I launch into the deep;

          And, heedless of the fraud, for Naxos stand.


heedless, unaware


the fraud, [t]he perjur’d villains promise to comply


stand, proceed


          They whisper oft, and beckon with the hand,

          And give me signs, all anxious for their prey,

          To tack about, and steer another way.


They, the rebellious crew


anxious, wary,  suspicious


to tack, to change course

          Then let some other to my post succeed,

          Said I, I’m guiltless of so foul a deed.


succeed, take the place of, replace


guiltless, Acoetes will not accept

responsibility for the treachery of

his crew

          What, says Ethalion, must the ship’s whole crew

           Follow your humour, and depend on you?


Ethalion, again a shipmate

          And strait himself he seated at the prore,

          And tack’d about, and sought another shore.


prore, the prow, the fore part of a ship

          “The beauteous youth now found himself betray’d,


The beauteous youth, Bacchus / Dionysus

          And from the deck the rising waves survey’d,

          And seem’d to weep, and as he wept he said:

          And do you thus my easy faith beguile?

          Thus do you bear me to my native isle?


thus, in such a manner


beguile, deceive

          Will such a multitude of men employ

          Their strength against a weak defenceless boy?


this weak defenceless[ness] is his only

defence, apparently, to his captors, who

cannot, with the exception of Acoetes,

perceive the god’s divinity


          “In vain did I the God-like youth deplore,


deplore, express strong disapproval

of what the seamen were doing to

the god

          The more I begg’d, they thwarted me the more.

          And now by all the Gods in Heav’n that hear

          This solemn oath, by Bacchus’ self, I swear,

          The mighty miracle that did ensue,

          Although it seems beyond belief, is true.


make way,  says Acoetes, for the

metamorphosis, what you are

about to hear

          The vessel, fix’d and rooted in the flood,


fix’d, became affixed

          Unmov’d by all the beating billows stood.

          In vain the mariners would plow the main

          With sails unfurl’d, and strike their oars in vain;


plow the main, move forward on

the high seas

          Around their oars a twining ivy cleaves,

          And climbs the mast, and hides the cords in leaves:

          The sails are cover’d with a chearful green,

          And berries in the fruitful canvass seen.

          Amidst the waves a sudden forest rears

          Its verdant head, and a new Spring appears.


the ship is transformed into a

floating grove


stay tuned



R ! chard

“The Mariners transform’d to Dolphins” – Ovid

Bacchus, 1497 - Michelangelo

        Bacchus” (1497)





             Him Pentheus view’d with fury in his look,


Pentheus, king of Thebes, if you’ll

remember, after Cadmus, his

grandfather, founder of Thebes


viewed, scanned, surveyed

             And scarce with-held his hands, whilst thus he spoke:


with-held, withheld

             “Vile slave! whom speedy vengeance shall pursue,
             And terrify thy base seditious crew:


Vile slave, the zealous votary from

the last instalment, follower, acolyte

of Bacchus / Dionysus, who’d been

captured by Pentheus’ men instead

of the god himself


by exacting a speedy vengeance on

this [v]ile slave, Pentheus expects

to terrify the remaining elements of

the offending crew, the seditious

party of Bacchus / Dionysus


             Thy country and thy parentage reveal,
             And, why thou joinest in these mad Orgies, tell.”


where are you from, what are you

doing here, Pentheus asks

             The captive views him with undaunted eyes,
             And, arm’d with inward innocence, replies,

             “From high Meonia’s rocky shores I came,
             Of poor descent, Acoetes is my name:
             My sire was meanly born; no oxen plow’d
             His fruitful fields, nor in his pastures low’d.

meanly, poor, without adequate



plow’d, low’d, an interesting

rhyme, they’re called forced

or oblique rhymes

             His whole estate within the waters lay;


estate, livelihood, Acoetes‘ father,

his sire, was a fisherman

             With lines and hooks he caught the finny prey,


finny, having fins

             His art was all his livelyhood; which he
             Thus with his dying lips bequeath’d to me:


His art, the quality of his work

             In streams, my boy, and rivers take thy chance;
             There swims, said he, thy whole inheritance.


Acoetes will inherit at best his

father’s skill

             Long did I live on this poor legacy;
             ‘Till tir’d with rocks, and my old native sky,


that of Meonia, see above


             To arts of navigation I inclin’d;


arts of navigation, knowledge of

the open sea, the wider oceans

             Observ’d the turns and changes of the wind,
             Learn’d the fit havens, and began to note
             The stormy Hyades, the rainy Goat,
             The bright Taygete, and the shining Bears,
             With all the sailor’s catalogue of stars.


Hyadesa cluster of stars, with their

own mythic origin story, grieving

nymphs cast upon the heavens,

augurs of rain,hence stormy


the rainy Goat, Capricornus, the



Taygete, a satellite of the planet


the shining Bears, Ursa Major

and Ursa Minor, or the Great

and the Little Bear, whose

origins you might remember

from The Story of Calisto

             “Once, as by chance for Delos I design’d,


Delos, a Greek island


design’d, planned as a destination


             My vessel, driv’n by a strong gust of wind,
             Moor’d in a Chian Creek; a-shore I went,


Chian, of Chios, a Greek island

             And all the following night in Chios spent.
             When morning rose, I sent my mates to bring
             Supplies of water from a neighb’ring spring,
             Whilst I the motion of the winds explor’d;
             Then summon’d in my crew, and went aboard.
             Opheltes heard my summons,


Opheltes, a confederate apparently


                                                                and with joy
             Brought to the shore a soft and lovely boy,
             With more than female sweetness in his look,



             Whom straggling in the neighb’ring fields he took.


he took, he apprehended

             With fumes of wine the little captive glows,
             And nods with sleep, and staggers as he goes.

             “I view’d him nicely, and began to trace
             Each heav’nly feature, each immortal grace,
             And saw divinity in all his face,
             I know not who, said I, this God should be;
             But that he is a God I plainly see:
             And thou, who-e’er thou art, excuse the force
             These men have us’d; and oh befriend our course!

befriend, accord it your sympathy

             Pray not for us, the nimble Dictys cry’d, 

Dictys, one of Acoetes‘ shipmates


             Dictys, that could the main-top mast bestride,
             And down the ropes with active vigour slide.
             To the same purpose old Epopeus spoke,


Epopeus, another sailor

             Who over-look’d the oars, and tim’d the stroke;
             The same the pilot, and the same the rest;
             Such impious avarice their souls possest.


all countermanding Acoetes‘, however

discerning, assessment

             Nay, Heav’n forbid that I should bear away
             Within my vessel so divine a prey,
             Said I; and stood to hinder their intent:


Acoetes had no intention of confining

this so divine a prey to his ship


             When Lycabas, a wretch for murder sent
             From Tuscany, to suffer banishment,
             With his clench’d fist had struck me over-board,
             Had not my hands in falling grasp’d a cord.


Lycabas, a third shipmate


Tuscany, a region of what is now

central Italy


it appears, however, that Acoetes

lived to tell the tale


stay tuned



R ! chard

“The Story of Pentheus” – Ovid

The Triumphal Procession of Bacchus, c.1536 - Maerten van Heemskerck

         The Triumphal Procession of Bacchus” (c.1536)


                   Maerten van Heemskerck





till now the separate stories in Ovid’s

Metamorphoses have been linked,

one being either a consequence of

the other,or its cause, but the story

of Pentheus, grandson of Cadmus,

king and founder of Thebes, who

earlier in this series had his own

tale told, starts, as my German

teacher used to say, from the



This sad event, therefore, in the

first line of the poem, refers to

what will follow, not what came



            This sad event gave blind Tiresias fame,

            Through Greece establish’d in a prophet’s name.


Tiresias, if you’ll remember, had been

blinded by Juno / Hera, goddess of the

gods, for having sided with Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus, her husband, in a wager between

them he’d been called upon to decide,

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, however, gave 

Tiresias, as consolation, having been

barred by a pact among the gods not

to undo each other’s spells, the gift

of insight, prophecy


the example that follows, of his divination,

establish[‘d] at that time his reputation

[t]hrough[out] Greece as a prophet

            Th’ unhallow’d Pentheus only durst deride

            The cheated people, and their eyeless guide.


unhallow’d, unholy, wicked, sinful


Pentheus, king of Thebes following

his grandfather, Cadmus, but that’s

an entirely other story


only, of all the people, none but

Pentheus durst, dared, deride,

mock, their eyeless guide, Tiresias

            To whom the prophet in his fury said,

            Shaking the hoary honours of his head:


hoary, grizzled, gray, aged

            “‘Twere well, presumptuous man, ’twere well forthee

            If thou wert eyeless too, and blind, like me:

            For the time comes, nay, ’tis already here,

            When the young God’s solemnities appear:


the young God[], Bacchus / Dionysus,

son of Semele and Jove / Jupiter / Zeus,

if you’ll remember, god of revelry,

intoxication, wild abandon


            Which, if thou dost not with just rites adorn,

            Thy impious carcass, into pieces torn,

            Shall strew the woods, and hang on ev’ry thorn.


impious carcass, dishonoured corpse, 

of any thou who wouldn’t’ve honoured

the celebrations


            Then, then, remember what I now foretel,

            And own the blind Tiresias saw too well.”


own, agree to, admit

            Still Pentheus scorns him, and derides his skill;

            But time did all the prophet’s threats fulfil.

            For now through prostrate Greece young Bacchus rode,


prostrate, beholden, reverent, observant

of the solemnities

            Whilst howling matrons celebrate the God:

            All ranks and sexes to his Orgies ran,

            To mingle in the pomps, and fill the train.


the rites of Bacchus were bacchanals,

orgies, celebrations of abandon, Mardi

Gras, for instance, in New Orleans,

annual Gay Parades, now everywhere,

or Hallowe’en since time immemorial


see above



            When Pentheus thus his wicked rage express’d:

            “What madness, Thebans, has your souls possess’d?

            Can hollow timbrels, can a drunken shout,


timbrels, tambourines

            And the lewd clamours of a beastly rout,

            Thus quell your courage;


quell your courage, overcome your

sense of discipline


                                            can the weak alarm

            Of women’s yells those stubborn souls disarm,


those stubborn souls, the Theban

spirit of pride and honour

            Whom nor the sword nor trumpet e’er could fright,

            Nor the loud din and horror of a fight?

            And you, our sires, who left your old abodes,


our sires, the older generation of

Thebans, of his grandfather

Cadmus‘ ilk

            And fix’d in foreign earth your country Gods;


foreign earth, very Thebes, from Tyre,

where Cadmus and his followers had

come from, in search of Europa, if

you’ll remember

            Will you without a stroak your city yield,


stroak, stroke


            And poorly quit an undisputed field?


undisputed field, there are no

military obstructions

            But you, whose youth and vigour should inspire

            Heroick warmth, and kindle martial fire,

            Whom burnish’d arms and crested helmets grace,

            Not flow’ry garlands and a painted face;


Remember him to whom you stand ally’d:


him, Pentheus himself, their king

            The serpent for his well of waters dy’d.


The serpenta reference here to the

dragon that Cadmus slew, which had

guarded the cavern where his crew

had been scouting for water, if you’ll



            He fought the strong; do you his courage show,

            And gain a conquest o’er a feeble foe.


a feeble foe, licentiousness, abandon,

undisciplined revelry


            If Thebes must fall, oh might the fates afford

            A nobler doom from famine, fire, or sword.


Pentheus appeals to a loftier reason

for defeat, famine, fire, or sword, than

mere, and ignoble, debauchery

            Then might the Thebans perish with renown:

            But now a beardless victor sacks the town;


beardless victor, the young Bacchus /


            Whom nor the prancing steed, nor pond’rous shield,

            Nor the hack’d helmet, nor the dusty field,

            But the soft joys of luxury and ease,

            The purple vests, and flow’ry garlands please.


Bacchus / Dionysus is not impressed

by armour, military accomplishments,

prowess, but by grace, elegance, and


            Stand then aside, I’ll make the counterfeit

            Renounce his god-head, and confess the cheat.


the counterfeit, Bacchus / Dionysus

            Acrisius from the Grecian walls repell’d

            This boasted pow’r; why then should Pentheus yield?


Acrisius, a king of Argos, who must’ve

also repell’d from his city Bacchus /

Dionysus, according to the poem

            Go quickly drag th’ impostor boy to me;


th’ impostor boy, the counterfeit,

Bachus / Dionysus

            I’ll try the force of his divinity.”


try, test

            Thus did th’ audacious wretch those rites profane;


th’ audacious wretch, Pentheus

            His friends dissuade th’ audacious wretch in vain:

            In vain his grandsire urg’d him to give o’er

            His impious threats; the wretch but raves the more.


his grandsire, Cadmus

            So have I seen a river gently glide,

            In a smooth course, and inoffensive tide;

            But if with dams its current we restrain,

            It bears down all, and foams along the plain.


nature will have its way, so will the

gods, watch out, the narrator says,

who it is that you challenge

            But now his servants came besmear’d with blood,

            Sent by their haughty prince to seize the God;


his servants, Pentheus‘ men


the God, Bacchus / Dionysus

            The God they found not in the frantick throng,

            But dragg’d a zealous votary along.


votary, follower, adherent,



the servants, Pentheus‘ men,

who did not, apparently, deliver


stay tuned



R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” (lll) – Ovid

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937 - Salvador Dali


         The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” (1937)


                   Salvador Dali





              This said, the weeping youth again return’d

              To the clear fountain, 


This said, you’ll remember that Narcissus

had pondered suicide, but was afraid that

such an act would also have an impact on

his reflection


                                          where again he burn’d;


burn’d, from the unusual fire that kindled
his breast


                His tears defac’d the surface of the well,

                With circle after circle, as they fell:


disfiguring reverberations in the water

from the tears


               And now the lovely face but half appears,
               O’er-run with wrinkles, and deform’d with tears.
               “Ah whither,” cries Narcissus, “dost thou fly?
               Let me still feed the flame by which I die;


the flame by which I die, the fire which

burns in his chest

              Let me still see, tho’ I’m no further blest.”


Narcissus will not willingly forego the

sight of his reflection though it will

manifestly not at all still his desire,

nor quell his fate


              Then rends his garment off, and beats his breast:
              His naked bosom redden’d with the blow,
              In such a blush as purple clusters show,
              Ere yet the sun’s autumnal heats refine
              Their sprightly juice, and mellow it to wine.


bruises the colour of wine blush in

purple clusters on his chest where

Narcissus has struck himself


              The glowing beauties of his breast he spies,
              And with a new redoubled passion dies.


The glowing beauties, the throbbing

discolorations left by the redoubled



              As wax dissolves, as ice begins to run,
              And trickle into drops before the sun;
              So melts the youth, and languishes away,
              His beauty withers, and his limbs decay;
              And none of those attractive charms remain,
              To which the slighted Echo su’d in vain.


slighted, rebuffed


Echo, the nymph who’d pursued him,

in vain, if you’ll remember


su’d, sued, implored

              She saw him in his present misery,
              Whom, spight of all her wrongs, she griev’d to see.


spight, in spite

              She answer’d sadly to the lover’s moan,
              Sigh’d back his sighs, and groan’d to ev’ry groan:
              “Ah youth! belov’d in vain,” Narcissus cries;


to his reflection

              “Ah youth! belov’d in vain,” the nymph replies.


Echo can only echo

              “Farewel,” says he; the parting sound scarce fell
              From his faint lips, but she reply’d, “farewel.”


Narcissus, interestingly, is reproduced

not only visually in the water by his

own reflection, but audibly as well by

Echo‘s reverberating sounds


see above

              Then on th’ wholsome earth he gasping lyes,
              ‘Till death shuts up those self-admiring eyes.
              To the cold shades his flitting ghost retires,
              And in the Stygian waves it self admires.


Stygian, of the river Styx, which forms

the boundary between Earth and the


              For him the Naiads and the Dryads mourn,


Naiads, water nymphs


Dryadstree nymphs

              Whom the sad Echo answers in her turn;


Echo also mourns

              And now the sister-nymphs prepare his urn:
              When, looking for his corps, they only found
              A rising stalk, with yellow blossoms crown’d.


corps, corpse, dead body


rising stalk, with yellow blossoms

crown’d, the narcissus, the flower



R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” (ll) – Ovid

Narcissus, 1896 - 1897 - Magnus Enckell


            “Narcissus” (1896 – 1897)


                     Magnus Enckell





           Still o’er the fountain’s wat’ry gleam he stood,

           Mindless of sleep, and negligent of food;

           Still view’d his face, and languish’d as he view’d.


Narcissus has been smitten by this

reflection of himself in the fountain’s

wat’ry gleam, can’t sleep, won’t eat


note, incidentally, the two meanings

of Still here, the first, without moving,

the second, not having stopped, not


           At length he rais’d his head, and thus began

           To vent his griefs, and tell the woods his pain.

          “You trees,” says he, “and thou surrounding grove,

           Who oft have been the kindly scenes of love,

           Tell me, if e’er within your shades did lye

           A youth so tortur’d, so perplex’d as I?

           I, who before me see the charming fair,


the charming fair, his reflection

in the fountain’s wat’ry gleam

           Whilst there he stands, and yet he stands not there:

           In such a maze of love my thoughts are lost:


Narcissus reflects, bewildered

by the ephemerality of his



           And yet no bulwark’d town, nor distant coast

           Preserves the beauteous youth from being seen,

           No mountains rise, nor oceans flow between.


there is no material object, he reasons,

to obstruct a clear view of the beauteous

youth before him, no intervening

obstacles between him and his vision


bulwark’d, defended with fortifications,

as in Medieval towns


the beauteous youth, his own reflection

           A shallow water hinders my embrace;


A shallow water, only a sheen is

required to cast a reflection, a

film merely, the water need not

be at all that deep

           And yet the lovely mimick wears a face


the lovely mimickthe image in

the water


           That kindly smiles, and when I bend to join

           My lips to his, he fondly bends to mine.


what of homosexuality here, an

unobjectionable predilection at

the time, apparently, there isn’t

a whiff of iniquity in this attraction,

according to the text, no hint of

guilt or embarrassment


           Hear, gentle youth, and pity my complaint,


a direct exhortation here, note,

no longer, in this instance, a

literary narration, a tale being



           Come from thy well, thou fair inhabitant.

           My charms an easy conquest have obtain’d

           O’er other hearts, by thee alone disdain’d.


you, Narcissus says, alone, replication,

disdain[ ], repulse, my advances, my

elsewhere, otherwise, easy conquest[s]

           But why should I despair? I’m sure he burns

           With equal flames, and languishes by turns.

           When-e’er I stoop, he offers at a kiss,


offers, responds with


           And when my arms I stretch, he stretches his.

           His eye with pleasure on my face he keeps,

           He smiles my smiles, and when I weep he weeps.

           When e’er I speak, his moving lips appear

           To utter something, which I cannot hear.


all his senses are alive, but for

his hearing, which registers only

silence, when all of the other

aspects of the experience are

precise and vivid as though

real, utterly, however

incompatibly, convincing

           “Ah wretched me! I now begin too late

           To find out all the long-perplex’d deceit;

           It is my self I love, my self I see;

           The gay delusion is a part of me.

           I kindle up the fires by which I burn,

           And my own beauties from the well return.

           Whom should I court? how utter my complaint?


court, sue to, argue, put to the

test a dilemma, a complaint, as

though before an arbiter

           Enjoyment but produces my restraint,

           And too much plenty makes me die for want.

           How gladly would I from my self remove!

           And at a distance set the thing I love.

           My breast is warm’d with such unusual fire,

           I wish him absent whom I most desire.

           And now I faint with grief; my fate draws nigh;

           In all the pride of blooming youth I die.


the contradictions inherent in passion

are evidenced, in this case those of



           Death will the sorrows of my heart relieve.

           Oh might the visionary youth survive,


visionary, relating to vision, observed,

caught sight of, viewed, in the water


relieve, render solace to, there is no

solution to this anguished misery

but dying

           I should with joy my latest breath resign!

           But oh! I see his fate involv’d in mine.”



you might have noted, or not, that

the tale has become psychological

in the instance of Narcissus, where

earlier an action transpired and

events were recounted in

chronological order, in this myth,

the subject explores his inner

world while sitting quietly

throughout by the still water,

nothing moves, but the

palpitations of his heart, and its



there’s a shift here in not only

the mythological template, more

personal, individual stuff, but also 

in the very evolution of literature,

which takes on a more interior

tone rather than fatalistic,

episodic, given entirely to

unfathomed circumstance


this will lead to To be, or not to be

eventually, the anthem that took

over the subsequent centuries

since, Shakespeare‘s homage to

introspection, setting the stage

for the ensuing ages of

individualism, human rights


but that’s another story

stay tuned



R ! chard

Ovid / Shakespeare

Ophelia, 1851 - 1852 - John Everett Millais

               Ophelia(1851 – 1852)


                   John Everett Millais





for a while now, I’ve been feeling the

spirit of Ovid in many of the works of

William Shakespeare, a recent, in

some depth, project of mine, the

nearly pagan perspective in many

of his works, a lust for life, for

instance, that is not at all that of his

contemporary Protestantism, not

to mention an obvious Catholic, and

therefore potentially treacherous, at

the time, prominent bent of his


but that’s another story


many of his plays set scenes in places

right out of Roman mythology, with a

morality to match,and even character

names, Hippolyta, Hero, Polonius,

Titania, Oberon, Greek and Latin

patronyms redolent of Classical



here’s Ovid, for instance, from The

Story of Narcissus


           There stands a fountain in a darksom wood,

           Nor stain’d with falling leaves nor rising mud;

           Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests,

           Unsully’d by the touch of men or beasts;

           High bow’rs of shady trees above it grow,

           And rising grass and chearful greens below.


here’s Shakespeare, from his Hamlet,

Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, gives

the news of Ophelia’s death, in a

particularly Ovidian, I think, manner


           There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
           That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
           There with fantastic garlands did she come
           Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
           That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
           But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
           There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
           Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
           When down her weedy trophies and herself
           Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
           And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
           Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
           As one incapable of her own distress,
           Or like a creature native and indued
           Unto that element: but long it could not be
           Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
           Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
           To muddy death.


see above



there is the influence of Dryden to

consider, it must be noted, Ovid‘s

translator into Englishbut the

similarity in the spirit of the text is

so great, the characteristic voice

so evident, regardless of elapsed

time, the intervening fifteen hundred

years, 8 CE for Ovid, to somewhere

around 1600 CE for Shakespeare,

for the congruence to be coincidental,

Shakespeare had to have been reading 

his Ovid, imbibing it, what, do you think


then again, as Shakespeare would

have said, There are more things in

heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than

are dreamt of in your philosophy



R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” – Ovid


Narcissus, c.1599 - Caravaggio

          Narcissus” (c.1599)







               Thus did the nymphs in vain caress the boy,


the boy, Narcissus


in vain , Narcissus‘ pride, you’ll remember,

was such that love-sick maid[s] uselessly

[their] flame confess’d, Narcissus was

oblivious to their advances

He still was lovely, but he still was coy;
               When one fair virgin of the slighted train


slighted train, row of followers, love-sick

maid[s] who’d been spurned by Narcissus

               Thus pray’d the Gods, provok’d by his disdain,


provok’d by his disdain, angered by his


               “Oh may he love like me, and love like me in vain!”


beseeches the one fair virgin

               Rhamnusia pity’d the neglected fair,


Rhamnusia, goddess of Retribution,

also known as Nemesis

               And with just vengeance answer’d to her pray’r.


just vengeance, justified retribution


               There stands a fountain in a darksom wood,
               Nor stain’d with falling leaves nor rising mud;
               Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests,
               Unsully’d by the touch of men or beasts;
               High bow’rs of shady trees above it grow,
               And rising grass and chearful greens below.


bow’rs, enclosures among trees


greens, lawns, grasslands

               Pleas’d with the form and coolness of the place,
               And over-heated by the morning chace,
               Narcissus on the grassie verdure lyes:


verdure, greenness

               But whilst within the chrystal fount he tries
               To quench his heat, he feels new heats arise.


chrystal fount, glistening fountain,

or spring

               For as his own bright image he survey’d,
               He fell in love with the fantastick shade;


shade, apparition, illusion

               And o’er the fair resemblance hung unmov’d,


see above

               Nor knew, fond youth! it was himself he lov’d.
               The well-turn’d neck and shoulders he descries,


descries, espies, catches sight of

               The spacious forehead, and the sparkling eyes;
               The hands that Bacchus might not scorn to show,


Bacchus, god of Wine and Revelry, also

known as Dionysus

And hair that round Apollo’s head might flow;


Apollo, god of the Sun

               With all the purple youthfulness of face,
               That gently blushes in the wat’ry glass.


wat’ry glass, the chrystal fount

               By his own flames consum’d the lover lyes,
               And gives himself the wound by which he dies.


the wound, the sight of himself


dies, succumbs, is undone

               To the cold water oft he joins his lips,
               Oft catching at the beauteous shade he dips

               His arms,


shade, see above


                     as often from himself he slips.


slips, becomes abstracted, bewildered

               Nor knows he who it is his arms pursue
               With eager clasps, but loves he knows not who.


he cannot give substance to this illusion

What could, fond youth, this helpless passion move?

               What kindled in thee this unpity’d love?

 move, excite, indeed kindle[]

               Thy own warm blush within the water glows,


the poet, here, note, interjects, speaks

directly to Narcissus

               With thee the colour’d shadow comes and goes,


colour’d, because of the water, an exact

replication, even chromatically, but

shimmering, com[ing] and go[ing]


shadow, shade, see above, reflection

               Its empty being on thy self relies;


empty being, fabrication, imagined



on thy self relies, you are yourself

the source of your illusion

               Step thou aside, and the frail charmer dies.


frail charmer, shimmering, insubstantial



stay tuned



R ! chard

“The Transformation of Echo” – Ovid

Echo, 1943 - Paul Delvaux


        “Echo” (1943)

           Paul Delvaux




Fam’d far and near for knowing things to come,

             From him th’ enquiring nations sought their doom;


him, Tiresias, the prophet, if you’ll



their doom, their auguries, their

fates, their destinies

             The fair Liriope his answers try’d,


Liriopea water nymph, a naiad

             And first th’ unerring prophet justify’d.


justify’d, gave credence to, believed

             This nymph the God Cephisus had abus’d,


Cephisusa river god


             With all his winding waters circumfus’d,


circumfus’d, surrounded, enveloped

And on the Nereid got a lovely boy,


the Nereid, Liriopedaughter of Nereus,

god of the Sea, in Dryden’s, inaccurate

however, translation of Ovid, Liriope is,

rather, a fresh water nymph, a naiad,

not listed among the fifty, fifty, I say, 

daughters of Nereus, the Nereids,

sea nymphs

Whom the soft maids ev’n then beheld with joy.


soft maids, sister, the other 49,

presumably, Nereids


             The tender dame, sollicitous to know

             Whether her child should reach old age or no,

             Consults the sage Tiresias, who replies,

             “If e’er he knows himself he surely dies.”


The tender dame, Liriope


“If e’er he knows himself he surely dies.”,

typically cryptically for a prophecy, see,

for instance, your daily horoscope

             Long liv’d the dubious mother in suspence,

             ‘Till time unriddled all the prophet’s sense.


in the depth of time, all is revealed

             Narcissus now his sixteenth year began,


Narcissus, son, however illicit, of

Liriope and Cephisus

             Just turn’d of boy, and on the verge of man;

             Many a friend the blooming youth caress’d,

             Many a love-sick maid her flame confess’d:


I’ve noted that beautiful people are

pursued by men and women, be 

that beautiful person either a man 

or a woman, a situation they have 

to ever undergo, if not even endure

             Such was his pride, in vain the friend caress’d,

             The love-sick maid in vain her flame confess’d.


pride, independence, personal


             Once, in the woods, as he pursu’d the chace,

             The babbling Echo had descry’d his face;


Echo, a mountain nymph


babbling, like water rippling


descry’d, espied, caught sight of

             She, who in others’ words her silence breaks,


who can only speak when others have


             Nor speaks her self but when another speaks.


Echo‘s curse since time immemorial

             Echo was then a maid, of speech bereft,


bereft, deprived


             Of wonted speech;


wonted, usual, habitual, ordinary


                             for tho’ her voice was left,

             Juno a curse did on her tongue impose,

             To sport with ev’ry sentence in the close.


To sport with, have fun with


in the close, at the end


             Full often when the Goddess might have caught

             Jove and her rivals in the very fault,


the Goddess, Juno / Hera, wife of

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, God of gods

             This nymph with subtle stories would delay

             Her coming, ’till the lovers slip’d away.


it is interesting to note that not only

Echo, but any, in such a culture of

many gods, would’ve had to choose

among them, despite their, however

divine, individual inconsistencies, 

to the sure detriment of any mortal

caught in the middle, personal guilt

wouldn’t’ve been as foundational a

driving element, therefore, in such

a culture as it would be under

monotheistic religions, where the

moral path is categorically ordained,

specifically determined, as in, for

instance, the Ten Commandments,

but Fate, rather, or the will of the

gods, however frivolous, plays a

much larger role there, we are

putty in this alternate theological

universe, in the hands of

essentially disinterested deities


             The Goddess found out the deceit in time,


The Goddess, Juno / Hera, wife of
Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, God of gods

             And then she cry’d, “That tongue, for this thy crime,

             Which could so many subtle tales produce,

             Shall be hereafter but of little use.”


one would think that Jove / Jupiter /

Zeus, the instigator, might’ve had

something to say about that, though

the challenger be his wife, but he


Hence ’tis she prattles in a fainter tone,

             With mimick sounds, and accents not her own.


a mere shadow of her former self


see above

             This love-sick virgin, over-joy’d to find

             The boy alone, still follow’d him behind:


the pining of a woman for a man

without moral judgment in a

theological text is radical in our

monotheistic tradition, where

lust, voluptuousness, in either

direction, have been the work

of the Devil, not the natural

inclination, brought on by very

springtime, instinctive, rather

than premeditated or predatory,

that more pantheistic belief

systems present

When glowing warmly at her near approach,

             As sulphur blazes at the taper’s touch,

             She long’d her hidden passion to reveal,


long’d, desired, hoped, wished for

             And tell her pains, but had not words to tell:

             She can’t begin, but waits for the rebound,

             To catch his voice, and to return the sound.


Echo cannot voice, begin, her own

words, sentences, needs an already

vocalized statement, a prompt, in

order to utter whatever, is therefore,

before Narcissus, her intended, her

desired, ever mute


             The nymph, when nothing could Narcissus move,

             Still dash’d with blushes for her slighted love,


dash’d, undone, thrown asunder


             Liv’d in the shady covert of the woods,

             In solitary caves and dark abodes;

             Where pining wander’d the rejected fair,


or Where the rejected fair, Echo,

wander’d pining


             Till harrass’d out, and worn away with care,

             The sounding skeleton, of blood bereft,


sounding skeleton, reverberating

remains, resonating essence


see, again, above


             Besides her bones and voice had nothing left.


Echo, the entity itself, herself,

barren, indeed bereft


             Her bones are petrify’d, her voice is found

             In vaults, where still it doubles ev’ry sound.


listen, you’ll hear it, despite the

intervening centuries



R ! chard

“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

“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