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Tag: Jove / Jupiter / Zeus / god of gods

“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 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” (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

“The Birth of Bacchus” – Ovid

Juno, c.1662 - c.1665 - Rembrandt

           Juno” (c.1662 – c.1665)






             Actaeon’s suff’rings, and Diana’s rage,

             Did all the thoughts of men and Gods engage;

             Some call’d the evils which Diana wrought,

             Too great, and disproportion’d to the fault:

             Others again, esteem’d Actaeon’s woes

             Fit for a virgin Goddess to impose.

             The hearers into diff’rent parts divide,

             And reasons are produc’d on either side.


Diana / Artemis had transformed

Actaeon into a stag, if you’ll

remembernot all the gods were

on side

              Juno alone, of all that heard the news,

              Nor would condemn the Goddess, nor excuse:


Juno, wife of Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

queen, therefore, of the gods

               She heeded not the justice of the deed,

               But joy’d to see the race of Cadmus bleed;


Cadmus, founder of Thebes, brother

of Europa

               For still she kept Europa in her mind,

               And, for her sake, detested all her kind.


Europa had been whisked away

by Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, Juno’s

husband, and borne him several

children, to the enduring enmity

of the queen of the deities

               Besides, to aggravate her hate, she heard

               How Semele, to Jove’s embrace preferr’d,

               Was now grown big with an immortal load,

               And carry’d in her womb a future God.


Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, incorrigible

philanderer apparently, had now

impregnated Semele, youngest

daughter of Cadmus, to Juno’s

utter disgust and dismay


              Thus terribly incens’d, the Goddess broke

               To sudden fury, and abruptly spoke.


the Goddess, Juno / Hera


let me reiterate here that the original

gods and goddesses of Olympus had

migrated with the Greeks to other

areas of the Mediterranean, but

became known, in the lands that

they’d settled, by other names

according to the languages and

customs that evolved in these new

territories, thus the Greek goddess

Hera was in Rome and its outlying

areas known as Juno, the Greek

Zeus as both Jupiter and Jove,

though their home remained for

all Mount Olympus


              “Are my reproaches of so small a force?

               ‘Tis time I then pursue another course:


though Juno / Hera might’ve

harangued Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

about his inveterate philandering,

her reproaches were not enough

to stop the god from his

determined activities


she therefore ordains

              It is decreed the guilty wretch shall die,

               If I’m indeed the mistress of the sky,

              If rightly styl’d among the Pow’rs above

               The wife and sister of the thund’ring Jove

               (And none can sure a sister’s right deny);

               It is decreed the guilty wretch shall die.


Juno / Hera is not only the wife of

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, but also his

sister, both children of Cronos /

Saturn and Rhea / Ops, who

were themselves children of the

earth goddess Gaia and the sky

god Uranus


              She boasts an honour I can hardly claim,

               Pregnant she rises to a mother’s name;

              While proud and vain she triumphs in her Jove,

               And shows the glorious tokens of his love:


though Juno / Hera did indeed have

children with Jove / Jupiter / Zeus,

she is probably no longer here

bearing him any, I am supposing,

while Semele, proud and vain, is

now show[ing] the glorious tokens

of his love

              But if I’m still the mistress of the skies,

               By her own lover the fond beauty dies.”


it appears that Juno / Hera will

contrive to make Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus the cause of Semele’s


              This said, descending in a yellow cloud,

               Before the gates of Semele she stood.


Semele, priestess of Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus, would’ve been officiating at

the Cadmeia, the equivalent of the
Athenian Acropolis, at Thebes, the

city named after her father, its

founder, Cadmus


sparks will surely fly


stay tuned



R ! chard

“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

“Ocyrrhoe transform’d into a Mare” (II) – Ovid


      Indigo Sky Mares


             Laurel Burch





         Thus entring into destiny, the maid

         The secrets of offended Jove betray’d:


the maid, Ocyrrhoe, daughter of Chiron

and [t]he nymph Charicle


Ocyrrhoe had offended Jove, but

especially Hades, Jove’s brother,

ruler of the Underworld, when she

had prophesied that Apollo‘s child

with Coronis would be an acclaimed

healer, thus defraud[ing] the tomb,

thereby saving people from the 

clutches of Hades, the especially 

aggrieved god

         More had she still to say; but now appears

         Oppress’d with sobs and sighs, and drown’d in tears.


Occhyroe would have had more

to prophesy, but was impeded by

involuntary physical spasms


         “My voice,” says she, “is gone, my language fails;

         Through ev’ry limb my kindred shape prevails:


kindred shape, the bodily

characteristics of her father,

her kin, the centaur Chiron 

         Why did the God this fatal gift impart,

         And with prophetick raptures swell my heart!


prophetick raptures, Occhyroe, who

knew her father’s arts, and could

rehearse The depths of prophecy,

had inherited through her father,

Chiron, who had himself received

it from Apollo, his own father, the 

gift of divination, for better, for 

either, we’ll learn, or for worse


         What new desires are these? I long to pace

         O’er flow’ry meadows, and to feed on grass;

         I hasten to a brute, a maid no more;


what’s happening, What new desires

are these?, Occhyroe cries, or nearly

neighs, rather, at this point, I’m

becoming a brute, she groans, an

animal, a maid, no more, she objects


         But why, alas! am I transform’d all o’er?

         My sire does half a human shape retain,

         And in his upper parts preserve the man.”


why, Occhyroe asks, since my

father, Chiron, is partially a man,

am I transform’d all o’er?, why

is there nothing left of me that

is human

         Her tongue no more distinct complaints affords,


distinct, clear, easy to decipher


affords, allows, permits

         But in shrill accents and mis-shapen words

         Pours forth such hideous wailings, as declare

         The human form confounded in the mare:


Occhyroe has become a horse,

the proof is in her braying

         ‘Till by degrees accomplish’d in the beast,

         She neigh’d outright, and all the steed exprest.


all the steed exprest, was

everywhere the very picture 

of a horse

         Her stooping body on her hands is born,


born, borne, carried

         Her hands are turn’d to hoofs, and shod in horn,

         Her yellow tresses ruffle in a mane,

         And in a flowing tail she frisks her train,

         The mare was finish’d in her voice and look,

         And a new name from the new figure took.


Occhyroe can no longer be called

Occhyroe, she is no longer she,

but a new figure, needing to be

identified as something else



R ! chard

“The Transformation of Cycnus into a Swan” – Ovid


   “Swans among the Reeds at First Light (1832) 


             Caspar David Friedrich





were I to be transformed into anything,

I told myself, after reading about all 

these earlier metamorphoses, then 

coming upon this one, of Cycnus, I 

wouldn’t mind, I decided, becoming 

a swan

                   Cycnus beheld the nymphs transform’d, ally’d 
                   To their dead brother on the mortal side, 
                   In friendship and affection nearer bound; 


Cycnus, son of Sthenelus, King of Liguria,

a region still of Northern Italy, a prince, 

therefore, in his own right, was a good 

friend of Phaeton


the nymphs, the Heliades, daughters

of Helios / Phoebus / Apollo and 

Clymene, though transform’d into trees, 

were nevertheless on the mortal side, 

living things, ally’d  / To their dead 

brother, by the earth, which confined, 

constrained, covered them, if only,

the maidens, partially


nearer bound, ally’d again, like a refrain, 

a literary reverberation, honouring their 

brother, Phaeton, [i]n friendship and



                   He left the cities and the realms he own’d, 
                   Thro’ pathless fields and lonely shores to range, 
                   And woods made thicker by the sisters’ change. 


the sisters’ change, more trees than 

there had been before

                   Whilst here, within the dismal gloom, alone, 
                   The melancholy monarch made his moan, 


monarch, Cycnus, prince of Liguria

                   His voice was lessen’d, as he try’d to speak, 
                   And issu’d through a long-extended neck; 


the transformation of Cycnus occurs, 

much as it did earlier with the Heliades

through the mercy, presumably, of the 

gods, who, usually indifferent, express 

compassion here, however 

uncharacteristically, for the unbearable 

anguish suffered by the grieving sisters 

and friend


Cycnus, incidentally, would also later be 

placed by Apollo among the stars, to 

become the constellation Cygnus

                   His hair transforms to down, his fingers meet 
                   In skinny films, and shape his oary feet; 


oary, hoary, grayish white, grizzled,


                   From both his sides the wings and feathers break; 
                   And from his mouth proceeds a blunted beak: 
                   All Cycnus now into a Swan was turn’d, 
                   Who, still remembring how his kinsman burn’d, 


his kinsman, Phaeton, burn’d, in the

sundered Chariot of the Sun

                   To solitary pools and lakes retires, 
                   And loves the waters as oppos’d to fires. 


swans, it appears, seek out the shade, 

are oppos’d to fires, shun the heat of 

the nefarious, the treacherous, sun


see above

                   Mean-while Apollo in a gloomy shade 
                   (The native lustre of his brows decay’d) 


decay’d, disintegrated, fell away from,

its native lustre

                   Indulging sorrow, sickens at the sight 
                   Of his own sun-shine, and abhors the light; 


Indulging sorrow, allowing himself 

to steep in his own agony

                   The hidden griefs, that in his bosom rise, 
                   Sadden his looks and over-cast his eyes, 
                   As when some dusky orb obstructs his ray, 
                   And sullies in a dim eclipse the day. 


another reverberation erupts here

recalling the darkness, eclipse, just

undergone after the incineration of 

Apollo’s chariot, however paltry

might’ve been, to that god, the 

mere disturbance of a planet 

obstructing the sun, however 

otherwise momentous, compared 

to the death of his son    

                   Now secretly with inward griefs he pin’d, 
                   Now warm resentments to his griefs he joyn’d, 
                   And now renounc’d his office to mankind. 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo, presently

in the throes of griefs and guilt, warm,

impassioned, resentments, chooses 

to no longer drive the Chariot of the 

Sun, renounc[es] his office, his duty,

responsibility, service, to mankind  

                   “Ere since the birth of time,” said he, “I’ve born 
                   A long ungrateful toil, without return; 
                   Let now some other manage, if he dare, 
                   The fiery steeds, and mount the burning carr; 
                   Or, if none else, let Jove his fortune try, 
                   And learn to lay his murd’ring thunder by; 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo challenges 

Jove himself, if no other will take his 

place, to guide the horses, holding 

him responsible for the death of 

his son, Phaeton, by having cast his 

murd’ring thunder at him, though

the Earth herself and the harried

constellations, in Jove’s defence,

had begged the god of gods to do



                   Then will he own, perhaps, but own too late, 
                   My son deserv’d not so severe a fate.” 


but could there have been any other 


                   The Gods stand round him, as he mourns, and pray 
                   He would resume the conduct of the day, 
                   Nor let the world be lost in endless night: 


without the Chariot of the Sun and

someone to guide it, there would be

no day, an apocalyptic cataclysm

                   Jove too himself descending from his height, 
                   Excuses what had happen’d, and intreats, 


intreats, entreats, implores, beseeches

                   Majestically mixing pray’rs and threats. 


Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, from his position

of supreme authority, pulls out all the 

stops, uses all his mechanisms,

pray’rs, threats

                   Prevail’d upon at length, again he took 
                   The harness’d steeds, that still with horror shook, 
                   And plies ’em with the lash, and whips ’em on, 
                   And, as he whips, upbraids ’em with his son. 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo takes out 

his anguish on the horses, which 

must’ve led to a daunting, a hellish 




R ! chard



Story of Phaeton (VIII) – Ovid


  the initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle (14th Century CE)





                  Jove call’d to witness ev’ry Pow’r above, 
                  And ev’n the God, whose son the chariot drove, 
                  That what he acts he is compell’d to do, 
                  Or universal ruin must ensue. 


had Dryden applied commas above,

as I am, you might’ve noted, nearly

compulsively wont to do, commas 

being a significant part of my religion, 

the verses might’ve been more easily 

understood, put a comma after 

witness and the object of the 

witnessing, in this case an entire 

independent clause, That what he 

acts he is compell’d to do, finds its 

natural position, clarity, Jove has to 

do, he says, what Jove has to do


I cannot too much blame Dryden for 

this literary indiscretion, this peccadillo,

to my mind, for punctuation has been 

an evolving thing, there was a time 

when there was no punctuation at all, 

not even spaces between the words, 

see abovethis translation, of 1717, 

stands somewhere within the gamut 

of our ever evolving English grammar


the God, meanwhile, whose son the 

chariot drove, in, above, the second 

pentameter, is Phoebus / Apollo

Phaeton‘s father


                  Strait he ascends the high aetherial throne, 


Jove does

                  From whence 
he us’d to dart his thunder down,  
                From whence his show’rs and storms he us’d to pour, 
                But now cou’d meet with neither storm nor show’r. 


Jove, being rendered impotent by the 

raging fires, the immutable trajectory 

of the very Sun having been 

catastrophically, however improbably, 

distorted, is left, at that time, or Then, 

as the next line starts up, with no 



                  Then, aiming at the youth, with lifted hand, 
                  Full at his head he hurl’d the forky brand, 
                  In dreadful thund’rings. 


forky brand, a forklike piece of burning 

wood, Jove’s trident


                                                  Thus th’ almighty sire   
                  Suppress’d the raging of the fires with fire. 


I’m reminded of the planned explosions 

at the mouth of the oil wells in Kuwait,

wellheads, after the Gulf War, that were 

meant to still for a critical moment the 

fires, that would otherwise burn out 

of control, in order to squelch the

disastrous conflagrations 

                  At once from life and from the chariot driv’n, 
                  Th’ ambitious boy fell thunder-struck from Heav’n. 
                  The horses started with a sudden bound, 
                  And flung the reins and chariot to the ground: 
                  The studded harness from their necks they broke, 
                  Here fell a wheel, and here a silver spoke, 
                  Here were the beam and axle torn away; 
                  And, scatter’d o’er the Earth, the shining fragments lay. 
                  The breathless Phaeton, with flaming hair, 
                  Shot from the chariot, like a falling star, 
                  That in a summer’s ev’ning from the top 
                  Of Heav’n drops down, or seems at least to drop; 
                  ‘Till on the Po his blasted corps was hurl’d, 


corps, body, from the French, or 



the Po, a river in Italy

                   Far from his country, in the western world. 


one wonders, however, what happened

to the Earth, the Chariot of the Sun, 

upon their fiery interaction, perhaps 

the Sun, fallen behind the horizon,

beyond the western oceans, set out 

again, the following morning, with its 

usual master, Phoebus / Apollo, at 

its steady reins, for the world to 

see again another day under that 

lord’s august intervention



R ! chard




The Story of Phaeton (III) – Ovid


   Apollo in His Chariot with the Hours (1922–25) 


               John Singer Sargent





                 The God repented of the oath he took, 


the God, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo,

father of Phaeton, with Clymene,

Phaeton’s mother


the oath, to grant Phaeton his wish

in order to prove his paternity

                 For anguish thrice his radiant head he shook;
                 “My son,” says he, “some other proof require,
                 Rash was my promise, rash is thy desire.
                 I’d fain deny this wish, which thou hast made,
                 Or, what I can’t deny, wou’d fain disswade. 


fain, willingly, gladly


what I can’t deny, his oath


disswade, dissuade

                Too vast and hazardous the task appears,
                 Nor suited to thy strength, nor to thy years.
                 Thy lot is mortal, but thy wishes fly
                 Beyond the province of mortality:


Beyond the province of mortality,

into immortality, for which Phaeton

is not equipped, being human, his

lot is mortal

                There is not one of all the Gods that dares
                 (However skill’d in other great affairs)
                 To mount the burning axle-tree, but I; 


the axle-tree, the bar that joins the 

wheels of the chariot, is burning 

because it transports the sun

                Not Jove himself, the ruler of the sky,
                 That hurles the three-fork’d thunder from above,
                 Dares try his strength: yet who so strong as Jove? 


not even Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, god of 

gods, and of Thunder, will attempt to  

mount the burning axle-tree, despite 

his immense strength, superior to


                The steeds climb up the first ascent with pain,
                 And when the middle firmament they gain, 


the middle firmament, noon, the

middle of the day, where the sun

reaches its zenith

                If downward from the Heav’ns my head I bow,
                 And see the Earth and Ocean hang below, 


hang, suspended in the heavens

                Ev’n I am seiz’d with horror and affright,
                 And my own heart misgives me at the sight. 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo admits 

to fear of vertigo


                A mighty downfal steeps the ev’ning stage,
                 And steddy reins must curb the horses’ rage.
                 Tethys herself has fear’d to see me driv’n
                 Down headlong from the precipice of Heav’n. 


Tethys, a Titaness, of the race of 

Giants, who were defeated during 

the Giants’ War


what I’ve learned in the meantime 

is that the Giants, the Titans, had 

actually ruled the cosmos before 

being defeated by the Olympians

something Ovid had misrepresented

in his retelling, where he suggests 

that they were upstarts, rather, 

mortal, however gigantic, who were 

trying from the Earth, Hills pil’d on

hills, on mountains mountains … /

To make their mad approaches to

the skie, in order to unseat the 

gods of Olympus


the Titans, as it turns out, were 

immortals, who ruled the cosmos 

before being ousted by the

Olympians, Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

and his cohorts, and relegated, 

most of them, to the Underworld

though Tethys herself seems to 

have made it out, and been 

reconciled with, at least, the 

Sun god


should I point out that to try to set 

out in one, however comprehensive,

manuscript, a mythology that had 

endured for going on a thousand 

years was likely to reflect some 

inconsistencies, some inaccuracies,

not to mention the dictates of not 

only cultural, but also political 

considerations, we’ll have to 

forgive Ovid, or not, it appears,

his  transgressions 


                Besides, consider what impetuous force
                 Turns stars and planets in a diff’rent course. 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo continues

to speak, warning his son Phaeton

of the strong, impetuous, and 

unpredictable, currents that [t]urn,

jostle, stars and planets

                I steer against their motions; 


that’s what I have to deal with,

Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

cautions, these motions,

these irascible, interplanetary,

interstellar, streams 


                                                              nor am I
                 Born back by all the current of the sky. 


neither am I born back, which is 

to say borne back, carried back, 

guided back, by any regular,

orderly, current of the sky, by any 

rhythm, of the days, for instance, 

or of the, however intransigent,

hours, that could, potentially,

redirect his path 

                But how cou’d you resist the orbs that roul
                 In adverse whirls, and stem the rapid pole? 


roul, roll, swirl


adverse whirls, of the winds, like 

ocean currents, that stem, are 

created by, are the source of, as 

in the stem of plants, the rapid 

pole, or pull, to rhyme with roul,

a bit, I think, of a poetic stretch


                But you perhaps may hope for pleasing woods,
                 And stately dooms, and cities fill’d with Gods;
                 While through a thousand snares your progress lies,
                 Where forms of starry monsters stock the skies: 


dooms, eventualities, a wonderful 

conjunction here of stately, or 

exalted, expectations, with the 

more dire threat of a thousand

snares, or starry monsters, that

the word doom would usually



                For, shou’d you hit the doubtful way aright, 


even if you stay on the right track,

even if you hit the … way aright

                The bull with stooping horns stands opposite; 


you’ll have to confront [t]he bull, 


                Next him the bright Haemonian bow is strung, 


Haemonian, of Thessaly, a region 

still of Greece  


the Haemonian bow, representative

of Sagittarius


                And next, the lion’s grinning visage hung: 


the lion, Leo

                 The scorpion’s claws, here clasp a wide extent; 


The scorpion, Scorpio

                And here the crab’s in lesser clasps are bent. 


the crab, Cancer


an array of astrological configurations 

obstruct the sky

                Nor wou’d you find it easie to compose
                 The mettled steeds, when from their nostrils flows
                 The scorching fire, that in their entrails glows. 


mettled, spirited 

                Ev’n I their head-strong fury scarce restrain,
                 When they grow warm and restif to the rein. 


Ev’n I, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo, can 

barely, scarce, hold them back, restrain

them, when they grow … restif, restive,

unable to keep still 

                Let not my son a fatal gift require, 


don’t require of me a fatal gift, 

Phaeton’s father pleads, a gift 

that will destroy you 


                But, O! in time, recall your rash desire;
                 You ask a gift that may your parent tell, 


a gift that may your parent tell,

that is meant to determine, to 

prove, your descent

                Let these my fears your parentage reveal;
                 And learn a father from a father’s care:
                 Look on my face; or if my heart lay bare,
                 Cou’d you but look, you’d read the father there. 


were you to just look at my face, 

see my concern, you should be 

able to make out that I’m your 

father, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo


                Chuse out a gift from seas, or Earth, or skies, 


[c]huse, choose

                For open to your wish all Nature lies,
                 Only decline this one unequal task,
                 For ’tis a mischief, not a gift, you ask. 


unequal task, a challenge that 

is too great for Phaeton

                You ask a real mischief, Phaeton:
                 Nay hang not thus about my neck, my son: 


don’t hang about my neck, Helios

/ Phoebus / Apollo tells his son, 

you don’t need to try to cajole me

                I grant your wish, and Styx has heard my voice, 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo has 

sworn an oath on Styx, the 

goddess, the river, an 

unshakable promise, which 

he intends to deliver

                Chuse what you will, but make a wiser choice.” 


now it’s up to you, Phaeton, for 

better or for worse, to decide



R ! chard




“The Story of Phaeton” (II) – Ovid


   “The Sun (1911 – 1916) 


            Edvard Munch





                    The Sun’s bright palace, on high columns rais’d, 


The Sun, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

                    With burnish’d gold and flaming jewels blaz’d;
                    The folding gates diffus’d a silver light,
                    And with a milder gleam refresh’d the sight; 


since the folding gates of the bright

palace shimmered with a silver light 

rather than with the glow of the gold 

and flaming jewels of the palace itself,

their milder gleam was easier on the 

eyes, refresh’d the sight

                    Of polish’d iv’ry was the cov’ring wrought: 


the palace was covered with polish’d

wrought ivory

                    The matter vied not with the sculptor’s thought, 


the execution of the palace was  

everything that its sculptor, its

architect, had had in mind to 


                    For in the portal was display’d on high
                    (The work of Vulcan) a fictitious sky


Vulcan, god of fire, metal, smiths, 



at the entrance to the palace, the

portal, Vulcan had painted the ceiling, 

he’d display’d on high … a fictitious 

sky, I suspect Dryden must’ve had 

Michelangelo and his ceiling of the  

Sistine Chapel in mind during his 

translation of this passage of Ovid


                    A waving sea th’ inferiour Earth embrac’d, 


inferiour, Earth, surging from under the 

greater masses of water dominating it, 

especially after the flood, is, therefore, 

beneath the waving sea, inferiour to it

                    And Gods and Goddesses the waters grac’d. 


remember that Ovid is describing a 

painting here, on the ceiling at the

entrance, the portal, to the palace 

of the god of the Sun

                    Aegeon here a mighty whale bestrode; 


Aegeon, marine god, god of storms,

note the similarity of the name with 

that of the Aegean Sea, but which 

came first, the chicken or the egg, 

the god or the expanse of water, 

remains, as far as I’ve been able 

to determine, undetermined


                    Triton, and Proteus (the deceiving God) 


Triton, another god of the Sea, you’ll 

remember him coming to the aid of 

Neptune, his father, in settling the

waters after the flood at the request 

of Jove / Jupiter / Zeus


Proteus, still another sea god, 

described as deceiving, for his 

ability to effortlessly, and 

spontaneously, change his shape, 

from which, incidentally, we get 

the adjective protean, for easily 

changeable, or versatile 


                    With Doris here were carv’d, and all her train, 


Doris, sea goddess, and all her train,

her following of nymphs, the Nereids,

her fifty daughters, if you’ll remember,

are carv’d, etched, given graphic 



                    Some loosely swimming in the figur’d main, 


figur’d, painted, depicted, drawn


main, the open ocean, but, probably 

also here, the main, or central, part 

of the painting itself

                    While some on rocks their dropping hair divide, 


their hair divide, they loosen strands 

of their wet hair 

                    And some on fishes through the waters glide: 


sea gods and goddesses are often

shown riding sea creatures, dolphins, 

seahorses, even whales, see Aegeon


                    Tho’ various features did the sisters grace,
                    A sister’s likeness was in ev’ry face. 


the sisters, the Nereids, all have different

features, but a family resemblance, sister’s 

likeness, can always be detected in each

individual sibling’s rendering


                    On Earth a diff’rent landskip courts the eyes, 


Earth doesn’t look, court[ ] the eyes,

at all like what’s painted on the 

palace’s ceiling


landskip, landscape

                    Men, towns, and beasts in distant prospects rise, 


distant prospects, from a distance, one 

can see [m]en, towns, and beasts 

appear, rise, arise

                    And nymphs, and streams, and woods, and rural deities. 


nymphs, consigned, it appears, to 

earthly duties, streams, and woods, 

are not a feature of the Sun god’s 


                    O’er all, the Heav’n’s refulgent image shines; 


the Heav’n’s refulgent, brightly shining,

image, expression, is manifest [o]’er all,

everywhere, the rays of the sun cast a

light on everything


                    On either gate were six engraven signs. 


again I’m reminded of a Renaissance

wonder, Lorenzo Ghiberti‘s gilded bronze 

doors for the Florence Baptistery, which 

Michelangelo himself called the Gates of

Paradise, a work nearly as famous, then 

and now, as his own Sistine Chapel ceiling   


Ovid would never have known of these 

masterworks, of course, having lived 

over a millenium earlier, but I suspect 

John Dryden, a cultured man, a couple 

of hundred years later than these 

cultural icons, would no doubt have 

been fully aware of them, much as we, 

however disinterested we might be, 

can’t help but have heard of, say, 

RembrandtChopinCharles Dickens,

for instance, though they be, similarly, 

centuries separated from us 


my point is that, without knowledge of 

the original Latin, Dryden‘s cultural

heritage must’ve slipped, I think, 

consciously or not, into his 

translation, for better, or for worse


it should be remembered, however,

that Dryden was writing for an early 

18th Century audience, much as I 

am presently doing myself with 

Dryden for a 21st, and maybe also

similarly skewing his idiom to better 

adapt it to our own time, for better, 

also, or for worse 


                    Here Phaeton still gaining on th’ ascent, 


gaining on th’ ascent, going faster 

and faster, climbing higher and 



                    To his suspected father’s palace went


suspected father, Phaeton doesn’t

yet know if Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

is indeed his father

                    ‘Till pressing forward through the bright abode,
                    He saw at distance the illustrious God:
                    He saw at distance, or the dazling light
                    Had flash’d too strongly on his aking sight. 


had Phaeton not been as far, at

distance, from what he was seeing,

the illustrious God, the dazling, or 

dazzling, light would’ve hurt his 

eyes, hurt his aking, or aching, 



                     The God sits high, exalted on a throne
                    Of blazing gems, with purple garments on; 


Tyrian, surely, purple, a hue we’ve 

seen here before, indicative of 

stature, of imperial, if not even

divine, as in this instance, 


                     The Hours, in order rang’d on either hand,
                    And Days, and Months, and Years, and Ages stand.
                    Here Spring appears with flow’ry chaplets bound;
                    Here Summer in her wheaten garland crown’d;
                    Here Autumn the rich trodden grapes besmear;
                    And hoary Winter shivers in the reer. 


this is no longer a picture, but the 

real thing, Phoebus / Apollo / Helios

sits high, exalted on a throne /  Of 

blazing gems, with purple garments 

on, while Time and all of the Seasons 

hold court around him

                     Phoebus beheld the youth from off his throne;
                    That eye, which looks on all, was fix’d in one. 


Phoebus, who sees everything, who 

looks on all, beholds, fixes his eye on, 

his son

                     He saw the boy’s confusion in his face,
                    Surpriz’d at all the wonders of the place;
                    And cries aloud, “What wants my son? for know
                    My son thou art, and I must call thee so.” 


Phaeton, according to Phoebus / 

Apollo / Helios‘ forthright admission,

is truly his son

                     “Light of the world,” the trembling youth replies,
                    “Illustrious parent! since you don’t despise
                    The parent’s name, 


despise, refute


                                                some certain token give,
                    That I may Clymene’s proud boast believe,
                    Nor longer under false reproaches grieve.” 


your word is good, Phaeton allows,

but incontrovertibly, now, prove it, 

some certain token give, he 


                     The tender sire was touch’d with what he said,
                    And flung the blaze of glories from his head, 


flung the blaze of glories from his head, 

reduced the intensity of his presence,

the impact of his charisma, took off 

his dazling crown, if only, maybe,

metaphorically, to be father to his son

                    And bid the youth advance: “My son,” said he,
                    “Come to thy father’s arms! for Clymene
                    Has told thee true; a parent’s name I own,
                    And deem thee worthy to be called my son.
                    As a sure proof, make some request, and I,
                    Whate’er it be, with that request comply;
                    By Styx I swear, whose waves are hid in night,
                    And roul impervious to my piercing sight.” 


an oath upon Styx is incontrovertible, 

like swearing on a Bible, as earlier 


                     The youth transported, asks, without delay,
                    To guide the sun’s bright chariot for a day. 


Phaeton wants to drive his father’s 

car, the sun’s bright chariot, how 

contemporary, how immediate, 

how timeless 


stay tuned



R ! chard