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Tag: Ovid

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 of Cadmus” (V) – Ovid

Minerva or Pallas Athena, 1898 - Gustav Klimt

         Minerva or Pallas Athena” (1898)


                Gustav Klimt





an interesting thing has happened with

the story of Cadmus, he is not only a

mythical figure, but also a legendary

one, which is to say that Cadmus has

roots in actual history, he’s not just an

imaginary construct like those that

until now have peopled Ovid’s text


Cadmus appears to have actually

founded Thebes, whose origins,

however, are lost in antiquity, going

back to, it appears, the late Bronze

Age, around 2000 BC, goodness


stories evidently grew around

Cadmus, that transformed him into

our first documented hero, indeed



counterparts exist in other traditions,

consider David, for instance, who

slew his own dragon, Goliath, before

becoming king of the Israelites, 10th

Century BCE, at Jerusalem, where

he consorted, incidentally, later, with

Bathsheba, however illicitly, but

that’s another story


King Arthur, late 5th to early 6th

Centuries CE, stems from British

lore, though his historical actuality

has been contested, is also a hero

with preternatural capabilities based

on some historical accountability


in our day, there’s James Bond,

based on real, living and breathing,



or, dare I say, even Jesus


the point here is that actual people

are being included in the, however

culturally specific, mythologies,

which, in each, had earlier consisted

of metaphorical constructs merely,

the concept of History, in other words,

was being born, memorable events

were to be remembered, recorded,

documented, if only, originally, orally,

around, say, campfires, however

aggrandized might have been their

recollected heroes


Cadmus, meanwhile, in our story, is

about to establish his own historical,

and archeologically confirmed, note,



            The dire example ran through all the field,
            ‘Till heaps of brothers were by brothers kill’d;


The dire example, the dragon’s teeth,

grown into men, had begun, if you’ll

remember, to slaughter one another


example, display

            The furrows swam in blood: and only five
            Of all the vast increase were left alive.
            Echion one, at Pallas’s command,
            Let fall the guiltless weapon from his hand,


Echion, one of the five surviving



Pallas, Pallas Athena, goddess of

Wisdom, also of War


see above


            And with the rest a peaceful treaty makes,
            Whom Cadmus as his friends and partners takes;


the rest, the four other survivors


            So founds a city on the promis’d earth,
            And gives his new Boeotian empire birth.


promis’d earth, the premonition of

the oracles whose counsel Cadmus

had sought at Delphi, if you’ll



            Here Cadmus reign’d; and now one would have guess’d
            The royal founder in his exile blest:


his exile, from Tyre, Cadmus’ original

home, from which his father, Agenor,

had sent him, not to return, he’d

warnedwithout his sister, Europa

            Long did he live within his new abodes,
            Ally’d by marriage to the deathless Gods;


Ally’d by marriage, at the end of a

period of penance for having killed

the dragon, which had been sacred

to Ares, god of War, the gods gave

Cadmus Harmonia, goddess of

Concord, to be his wife


Ares would eventually exact mighty

vengeance, but that’s another story


            And, in a fruitful wife’s embraces old,
            A long increase of children’s children told:
            But no frail man, however great or high,
            Can be concluded blest before he die.


even Cadmus, though he might

enjoy a long life, and many, a long

increase of, children, is not immune

to any of the vicissitudes of life either

until his own time has come, the poet

advises, however ominously


and here Ovid also introduces the

subject of his next metamorphosis,

Actaeon, however early, luring us

thereby, deftly, literarily, towards

his next instalment, Actaeon’s

story, eponymously, there, given

its title


            Actaeon was the first of all his race,

            Who griev’d his grandsire in his borrow’d face;

            Condemn’d by stern Diana to bemoan
            The branching horns, and visage not his own;


his grandsire, his grandfather,

Cadmus was the father of Autonoë,

who was the mother of Actaeon


borrow’d face, Actaeon was

transformed into a stag by the

goddess Diana / Artemis, of the

Hunt, of the Moon, of Chastity,

for having seen her naked as

she was bathing


he now has the face, the visage, of

someone, something, he hadn’t

been before, borrow’d

            To shun his once lov’d dogs, to bound away,
            And from their huntsman to become their prey,


having been transformed into a

stag, or metamorphized, Actaeon

would end up hunted, and worse,

by his own, once lov’d, dogs

            And yet consider why the change was wrought,
            You’ll find it his misfortune, not his fault;
            Or, if a fault, it was the fault of chance:
            For how can guilt proceed from ignorance?


to have been at the wrong place

at the wrong time, yet to suffer,

however unfairly, the consequences,

that, Ovid asks, is the question, the



stay tuned



R ! chard

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


          The Envious


                  Gustave Doré





all mythologies have their picture, their

rendition, their evocation of an afterlife,

states of either resignation, in earlier

traditions, perdition or bliss in the later

Christian view, manifest, these latter,

in Dante, his depictions of Hell,

Purgatory, and Heaven in his

Commediaare probably its most

explicit evocations


the Greek and Roman pictures of

their own representative Underworld,

available in Homer, Horace, Virgil,

notably, is less compartmentalized,

less extreme in its divisions, a gloom

pervades, but nowhere fire and

brimstone, nor the diametrically

opposed consolation of archangels

and trumpets, only an unending

sense of desolation, be one worthy

of it or not


limbo comes to mind



but Envy’s realm is actual, not

belated, in the Ancient Greek and

Roman traditions, it is of this world,

present, however horrid, a place

that lurks in the hearts of men, of

people, always, ever, accessible


Dante situates his nexus of Envy in

Purgatory, the afterlife, the nether

world, its Second Circle, of seven,

Wrath, Envy, Pride, Lust, Gluttony,

Greed, Sloth


for Ovid, you can reach Envy’s

dominion, in the nearby mountainous

areas, if only you’ll follow Minerva


the one course is transcendental,

the other, organic, note, physical,



            Directly to the cave her course she steer’d;

            Against the gates her martial lance she rear’d;

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


the fiend, Envy herself

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

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



             Minerva loathing turn’d away her eye;


as, incontrovertibly, would I

            The hideous monster, rising heavily,

            Came stalking forward with a sullen pace,

            And left her mangled offals on the place.

            Soon as she saw the goddess gay and bright,

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

            Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye

            In foul distorted glances turn’d awry;

            A hoard of gall her inward parts possess’d,

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

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

            In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.

            She never smiles but when the wretched weep,

            Nor lulls her malice with a moment’s sleep,

            Restless in spite: while watchful to destroy,

            She pines and sickens at another’s joy;

            Foe to her self, distressing and distrest,

            She bears her own tormentor in her breast.


the passage, without explication,

speaks for itself, I cede to its

manifest erudition

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


her sight, what she was looking


            A short command: “To Athens speed thy flight;

            On curst Aglauros try thy utmost art,

            And fix thy rankest venoms in her heart.”


Minerva condemns, curs[es], 


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

            And mounting from it with an active bound,

            Flew off to Heav’n:


Minerva reminds me of my own

generation’s Wonder Woman



meanwhile, the hag, Envy, with

eyes askew


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

            For sore she fretted, and began to grieve

            At the success which she her self must give.


success, the humiliation of


            Then takes her staff, hung round with wreaths ofthorn,

            And sails along, in a black whirlwind born,


the picture of a witch on a

broomstick shouldn’t

here be unanticipated 

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

            Her baneful course, a mighty blast appears,

            Mildews and blights; the meadows are defac’d,

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


the whole years, the yearly crops


            On mortals next, and peopled towns she falls,

            And breathes a burning plague among their walls.


the, not unfamiliar to us, season,

now, of the witch



R ! chard

“The Story of Coronis, and Birth of Aesculapius” (III) – Ovid


   “Minerva, or Pallas Athena (1898) 


             Gustav Klimt





             But you, perhaps, may think I was remov’d, 

             As never by the heav’nly maid belov’d:


says the daw to the still snowy plume[d], 

[w]hite as the whitest dove’s unsully’d 

breast raven


remov’d, rejected, discarded and



the heav’nly maid, Minerva

             But I was lov’d; ask Pallas if I lye; 


Pallas, another name for Minerva

             Tho’ Pallas hate me now, she won’t deny: 


hate, note, is in the subjunctive here, 

the mood of conjecture, where the s 

is removed from the ending of the 

third person singular, that she, he, or 

one, for instance, read, no s on read, 

Ovid, would be a part of any Latin 


             For I, whom in a feather’d shape you view, 
             Was once a maid (by Heav’n the story’s true) 
             A blooming maid, and a king’s daughter too. 
             A crowd of lovers own’d my beauty’s charms; 


own’d, admitted to, acknowledged

             My beauty was the cause of all my harms; 


to a vain friend once who complained 

to me of the rigours of being beautiful, 

I said, your beauty, girl, to upend the, 

otherwise tiresome, conversation, is 

your curse, get over it, which he did, 

it did, in at least that instance

             Neptune, as on his shores I wont to rove, 


Neptune, god of the Sea


wont, to be used to, predisposed to

             Observ’d me in my walks, and fell in love. 
             He made his courtship, he confess’d his pain, 
             And offer’d force, when all his arts were vain; 


all of the gods, it appears, are engines, 

ever, of irrepressible lust, perhaps 

allegorically alluding to the unquenchable 

generative powers of very Nature 

             Swift he pursu’d: I ran along the strand, 
             ‘Till, spent and weary’d on the sinking sand, 
             I shriek’d aloud, with cries I fill’d the air 
             To Gods and men; nor God nor man was there: 


who hasn’t been there, forlorn, 

abandoned, desolate, forsaken

             A virgin Goddess heard a virgin’s pray’r. 


virgin Goddess, Minerva / Pallas 



note that Minerva / Pallas / Athena,

the virgin Goddess, remains, however 

unconventionally, however irregularly,

the mother of Erichthonius 


             For, as my arms I lifted to the skies, 
             I saw black feathers from my fingers rise; 
             I strove to fling my garment on the ground; 
             My garment turn’d to plumes, and girt me round: 
             My hands to beat my naked bosom try; 
             Nor naked bosom now nor hands had I: 


the king’s daughter, still unnamed, note, 

attesting to the interchangeability of 

virgin’s in Greek and Roman mythology, 

is in the process of becoming a daw, a

black bird

             Lightly I tript, nor weary as before 
             Sunk in the sand, but skim’d along the shore; 


it appears there are advantages 

to becoming a bird

             ‘Till, rising on my wings, I was preferr’d 
             To be the chaste Minerva’s virgin bird: 


go, girl

             Preferr’d in vain! I am now in disgrace: 
             Nyctimene the owl enjoys my place. 


Nyctimene, Minerva’s owl


friendship, it appears, can turn 

on a dime, or an inadvertent,

but decisive, irritation



R ! chard



“The Story of Coronis, and Birth of Aesculapius” – Ovid


   “A Saint, from ‘The Jackdaw of Rheims’ (1868) 


           Briton Rivière





             The raven once in snowy plumes was drest, 
             White as the whitest dove’s unsully’d breast, 
             Fair as the guardian of the Capitol, 
             Soft as the swan; a large and lovely fowl; 
             His tongue, his prating tongue had chang’d him quite 
             To sooty blackness, from the purest white. 


the Capitol, the Temple of Jupiter, only 

portions of which remain, on exhibit in

the Capitoline Museums, on the 

Capitoline Hill, one of the Seven Hills 

of Rome


the guardian of the Capitol, the Vestalis

Maxima, or the greatest of the Vestals,

who were charged with ensuring the 

security of the city


the raven was white once, Ovid says, 

[f]air as the guardian of the Capitol, 

[s]oft as the swan, but it seems his 

prating tongue got him in trouble


prating, chattering, tattling


here’s what happened


            In Thessaly there liv’d a nymph of old, 
             Coronis nam’d; a peerless maid she shin’d, 
             Confest the fairest of the fairer kind. 
             Apollo lov’d her, ’till her guilt he knew, 
             While true she was, or whilst he thought her true. 


Thessaly, a region of Greece


contrary to what’s taken place in

these myths till now, Coronis, a 

nymph, in name only, it appears,

was found out to be untrue to 

Apollowho lov’d her


                   his own bird the raven chanc’d to find 
             The false one with a secret rival joyn’d. 
             Coronis begg’d him to suppress the tale, 
             But could not with repeated pray’rs prevail. 


the raven, Apollo‘s own bird, was not 

going to not tell his master about his 

mistress’ indiscretion, despite [t]he 

false one’s pray’rs not to


              His milk-white pinions to the God he ply’d;


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

including the flight feathers


             [A] busy daw flew with him, side by side, 


daw, jackdaw, a black bird related to 

the crow



             And by a thousand teizing questions drew
             Th’ important secret from him as they 


teizing, teasing

             The daw gave honest counsel, 
tho’ despis’d, 


tho’ despis’d, though the honest

counsel would be unpleasant to 



              And, tedious in her tattle, thus advis’d: 


listen, said the daw, cautioning

the raven 


              “Stay, silly bird, th’ ill-natur’d task refuse, 


silly bird, the raven 


              Nor be the bearer of unwelcome news. 
             Be warn’d by my example: 


pay attention, the daw insists, be 

wary, [b]e warn’d


                                                         you discern 
             What now I am, and what I was shall learn. 
             My foolish honesty was all my crime; 
             Then hear my story.


here’s what happened to me,

says the pitch black bird


                                             Once upon a time, 



to follow



R ! chard


psst: The Jackdaw of Reims, by

            Richard Harris Barham




Phaeton’s Sisters Transform’d into Trees – Ovid


   “Heliades (1920s) 


           Rupert Bunny





                     The Latian nymphs came round him, 


Latian, of Latium, a region still of Italy,

which comprised, and still comprises,

Rome, the Latians, or Latins, were its

original inhabitants, whose language,

Latin, is the root of many of our 

European languages today, it is, 

notably, the language of Ovid


                                                                                                 and, amaz’d, 
                     On the dead youth, transfix’d with thunder, gaz’d; 


the dead youth, Phaeton

                     And, whilst yet smoaking from the bolt he lay, 
                     His shatter’d body to a tomb convey, 
                     And o’er the tomb an epitaph devise: 
                     “Here he, who drove the sun’s bright chariot, lies; 
                     His father’s fiery steeds he cou’d not guide, 
                     But in the glorious enterprize he dy’d.” 


though Ovid’s text, as translated by

John Dryden, among others, has

its difficulties, a good portion of it 

is easy to understand, the secret,

mostly, is in paying attention to the

punctuation, which on occasion can

be tricky

                     Apollo hid his face, and pin’d for grief, 


Apollo, Phaeton’s father

                     And, if the story may deserve belief, 
                     The space of one whole day is said to run, 
                     From morn to wonted ev’n, without a sun: 


ev’n, evening

                     The burning ruins, with a fainter ray, 
                     Supply the sun, and counterfeit a day, 

                     A day, that still did Nature’s face disclose: 
                     This comfort from the mighty mischief rose. 


though the sun did not shine that

fateful day, the glow from the 

burning debris shed a light that 

allowed one to nevertheless 

make out, disclose, Nature’s face, 

a wry comfort midst the carnage,

midst the mighty mischief

                     But Clymene, enrag’d with grief, laments, 


Clymene, Phaeton’s mother

                     And as her grief inspires, her passion vents: 
                     Wild for her son, and frantick in her woes, 
                     With hair dishevel’d round the world she goes, 
                     To seek where-e’er his body might be cast; 
                     ‘Till, on the borders of the Po, at last 
                     The name inscrib’d on the new tomb appears. 


the Po, a river in Italy


the new tomb, where the Latian 

nymphs lay to rest Phaeton’s 



                     The dear dear name she bathes in flowing tears, 
                     Hangs o’er the tomb, unable to depart, 
                     And hugs the marble to her throbbing heart. 

                     Her daughters too lament, and sigh, and mourn 
                     (A fruitless tribute to their brother’s urn), 
                     And beat their naked bosoms, and complain, 
                     And call aloud for Phaeton in vain: 
                     All the long night their mournful watch they keep, 
                     And all the day stand round the tomb, and weep. 


Her daughters, the Heliades, along

with Phaeton, were the children of

Clymene and Helios / Phoebus / 

Apollo, god of the Sun


                     Four times, revolving, the full moon return’d; 
                     So long the mother and the daughters mourn’d: 


the equivalent of, more or less, 

four months

                     When now the eldest, Phaethusa, strove 
                     To rest her weary limbs, but could not move; 
                     Lampetia wou’d have help’d her, but she found 
                     Her self with-held, and rooted to the ground: 


Phaethusa and Lampetia, both daughters 

of Helios / Phoebus / Apollo, but with 

Neaera, and not, as Ovid indeed writes 

in his Latin text, with Clymene, were 

therefore not strictly speaking Heliades

but stepsisters only of Phaeton


furthermore, Ovid has them find their

purported brother in the Eridanos, a

river only later identified as the Po

so that Dryden cannot be faulted for

this not inaccurate anachronism


in either case, I suspect either’s metre

might’ve played a poetically pertinent 

part in these divergences


                     A third in wild affliction, as she grieves, 
                     Wou’d rend her hair, but fills her hands with leaves; 
                     One sees her thighs transform’d, another views 
                     Her arms shot out, and branching into boughs. 


in one version, Helios / Phoebus / 

Apollo and Clymene had three 

daughters, Aegiale, Aegle, and 

Aetheria, in another they had five, 

Helia, Merope, Phoebe, Aetheria 

and Dioxippe, you’ll note that 

Phaethusa and Lampetia are not 

among then

                     And now their legs, and breasts, and bodies stood  
                     Crusted with bark, and hard’ning into wood; 
                     But still above were female heads display’d, 

                     And mouths, that call’d the mother to their aid. 


there’s a pattern here, a friend said 

when I spoke to her about what 

was coming up


you mean these nymphs turning 

into trees, I asked


yes, she replied


look at it the other way around, I said, 

not that the girls are turning into trees, 

but that the trees are becoming human, 

becoming our kin, we are acknowledging 

their humanity, anthropomorphically, which 

is why some of us actually hug them, the 

world in Ovid’s earlier myths is still being 

created, not just the generic tree, but 

poplars, maples, laurel, out of the share 

of the common soul we impart to them, 

not only metaphorically, as in these myths, 

but even organically, we are, after all,  

all, fundamentally, stardust


                     What cou’d, alas! the weeping mother do? 
                     From this to that with eager haste she flew, 
                     And kiss’d her sprouting daughters as they grew. 
                     She tears the bark that to each body cleaves, 
                     And from their verdant fingers strips the leaves: 
                     The blood came trickling, where she tore away 
                     The leaves and bark: 


the process is not unlike watching, 

helplessly, a daughter leave home, 

age, take on life’s tribulations


                                                 the maids were heard to say, 
                     “Forbear, mistaken parent, oh! forbear; 
                     A wounded daughter in each tree you tear; 
                     Farewell for ever.” Here the bark encreas’d, 
                     Clos’d on their faces, and their words suppress’d. 


let go, let go, the daughters cry,

holding on to us only hurts 

                     The new-made trees in tears of amber run, 
                     Which, harden’d into value by the sun, 
                     Distill for ever on the streams below: 


the river Eridanos was supposed to be a

river rich in amber, the resin, apparently,  

of poplar trees there having drifted to the 

nearby stream, hardened


I’m reminded of the sap of our own

indigenous maple trees becoming

a prized delicacy

                     The limpid streams their radiant treasure show, 
                     Mixt in the sand; whence the rich drops convey’d 
                     Shine in the dress of the bright Latian maid. 


Latian, or Latin, maids have been 

weaving amber into their apparel

ever since



R ! chard



The Story of Phaeton (VII) – Ovid


   Landscape of Ruins and Fires (1914)


               Félix Vallotton






                ‘Twas then, they say, the swarthy Moor begun
                To change his hue, and blacken in the sun. 


Moor, a flagrant anachronism here, 

as Moors, Muslim inhabitants of

North Africa, didn’t exist before the 

advent of Islam, which began in the 

Seventh Century CE, Ovid, in Latin,

uses Ethiopian, which would entirely 

throw off, note, Dryden‘s poetic 

metre, thus Moor

                Then Libya first, of all her moisture drain’d,
                Became a barren waste, a wild of sand. 


Libya, Ancient Libya, a much larger 

country of North Africa than the 

Libya we know of today

                The water-nymphs lament their empty urns,
                Boeotia, robb’s of silve Dirce, mourns, 


empty urns, the water has evaporated


Boeotia, a region still of Greece


Dirce, upon her gruesome death, which 

I won’t get into here, was transformed 

by Dionysus, god of revelry and fertility,  

into a fountain, which became revered


silve, sylvan, of the forest, the 



robb’s, I’ll guess robbers, because 

Boeotia is where Dirce, abducted,

became a fountain 

                Corinth Pyrene’s wasted spring bewails,
                And Argos grieves whilst Amymone fails. 


Corinth, a city still in Greece


Pyrene, a princess, who was, another 

distressing story, transformed into the 

Pyreneesby Heracles, her seducer,

as well as being a god renowned for 

his extraordinary exploits


Argos, a city still in Greece


Amymone, another unfortunate maiden,

who was granted by Poseidon, god of 

Water, for, throughout her tribulations, 

her probity, springs, sources of water, 

for her community, which, in the 

instance, all fail[ ] 

                The floods are drain’d from ev’ry distant coast,
                Ev’n Tanais, tho’ fix’d in ice, was lost. 


Tanais, the river today known as the 

Don in Russia, thus fix’d in ice

                Enrag’d Caicus and Lycormas roar, 


Caicus, a river in Asia Minor, now

given a different name in a different

script, Bakırçay, which I’ll let you 

try to pronounce 


Lycormas, a river in Ancient Greece, 

now called Evinos

                And Xanthus, fated to be burnt once more. 


Xanthus, or Xanthos, a river in Ancient

Asia Minor, which was yellowish already

due to its surrounding tainted soil, thus 

burnt once more    


                The fam’d Maeander, that unweary’d strays 


Maeander, a river in Ancient Asia


                Through mazy windings, smoaks in ev’ry maze. 


smoaks, smokes


mazy, maze, cute

                From his lov’d Babylon Euphrates flies;
                The big-swoln Ganges and the Danube rise
                In thick’ning fumes, and darken half the skies. 


the Euphrates, the Ganges, and the

Danube, rivers which still go by their

ancient names


                In flames Ismenos and the Phasis roul’d, 


Ismenos, or Ismenus, a river in 

Boeotia, Greece


Phasis, ancient name for the 

Rioni River in Georgia, Eurasia


roul’d, rolled

                And Tagus floating in his melted gold. 


Tagus, a river in the Iberian 


                The swans, that on Cayster often try’d
                Their tuneful songs, now sung their last and dy’d. 


Cayster, a river in Turkey

                The frighted Nile ran off, and under ground
                Conceal’d his head, nor can it yet be found:
                His sev’n divided currents all are dry,
                And where they row’ld, sev’n gaping trenches lye: 


it is being suggested that the Nile

had at one point seven tributaries,

some of which dried up, never



rowl’d, rolled


                No more the Rhine or Rhone their course maintain,
                Nor Tiber, of his promis’d empire vain. 


the Rhine, the Rhone, and the Tiber

are all European rivers


vain, deprived

                The ground, deep-cleft, admits the dazling ray,
                And startles Pluto with the flash of day. 


dazling, dazzling


Pluto, god of the Underworld, who 

would be understandably startle[d] 

by a flash of day

                The seas shrink in, and to the sight disclose
                Wide naked plains, where once their billows rose; 


billows, of [t]he seas

                Their rocks are all discover’d, and increase
                The number of the scatter’d Cyclades.

 discover’d, uncovered


Cyclades, a group of islands in the 

Aegean Sea, between present-day

Greece and Turkey

                The fish in sholes about the bottom creep, 


sholes, shoals

                Nor longer dares the crooked dolphin leap
                Gasping for breath, th’ unshapen Phocae die, 


Phocae, plural of Phoca, is the 

generic name, and therefore, 

interestingly, capitalized, for 

seals, walruses, sea lions

                And on the boiling wave extended lye. 


lye, lie

                Nereus, and Doris with her virgin train,
                Seek out the last recesses of the main; 


Nereus, and Doris, Sea god and 

goddess, parents, notably, of the 

Nereids, sea nymphs, the virgin 



the main, the ocean


                Beneath unfathomable depths they faint,
                And secret in their gloomy caverns pant. 


secret, unseen, alone, untended


                Stern Neptune thrice above the waves upheld
                His face, and thrice was by the flames repell’d. 


Neptune, principal god of the Sea


it is interesting to note that where 

earlier the earth had been 

submerged in water, during the 

Giants’ War, now the earth is

engulfed in flames, a primordial

global warming, as it were, the 

result, consider, of a human, 

Phaeton, trying to take on the 

duties of a god, a warning the 

Ancients were already delivering,

so many years, so many centuries, 

so many millennia, ago


I suspect, worldwide, indigenous 

people would be telling a similar 

tale were we able to access their 

own, unfortunately unwritten, 

though undoubtedly comparable, 

ancestral wisdom, going back,

perhaps, even as far 



R ! chard




The Story of Phaeton (IV) – Ovid


    “Dawn (1873) 


           Fyodor Vasilyev






                Thus did the God th’ unwary youth advise; 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo tells his

son Phaeton, th’ unwary youth, 

that he shouldn’t try to ride the 

Chariot of the Sun himself

                But he still longs to travel through the skies. 


Phaeton, however, is inclined to

disregard his father’s advice

                When the fond father (for in vain he pleads)
                At length to the Vulcanian Chariot leads. 


Vulcanian, of Vulcan, god of fire,

metal, metalworkers


Vulcan, according to Ovid here, 

built the Chariot of the Sun 

                A golden axle did the work uphold, 


the axle is the principal part, the 

beam between the wheels, that 

holds the chariot together, that 

did the work, which is to say

the chariot, uphold

                Gold was the beam, the wheels were orb’d with gold.
                The spokes in rows of silver pleas’d the sight,
                The seat with party-colour’d gems was bright; 


the chariot was made of precious 

metals and gems, was therefore 

bright, resplendent


                Apollo shin’d amid the glare of light. 


Apollo, Sun god, would surely, as 

well as the chariot, be radiant, 



note that the Sun god is called 

Apollo here, where earlier he’d

been called Phoebus, the Latin 

name replacing the Greek, but

upon further investigation I found

that it was Dryden who’d made 

the switch, Ovid had called the 

Sun god Phoebus in the original

Latin text

                The youth with secret joy the work surveys, 


Phaeton is beside himself, eager 

with anticipation

                When now the moon disclos’d her purple rays; 


purple rays, tinged with the colours 

of dawn


see above

                The stars were fled, for Lucifer had chased
                The stars away, and fled himself at last. 


Lucifer, the Morning Star, the

planet Venus, as it appears in 

the East before sunrise


having suspected Dryden of having

replaced with Lucifer another name 

from the original Latin text, I was 

surprised to discover that Lucifer

had been indeed translated faithfully 

from Ovid’s poem, which means that 

the Christian name we’re familiar 

with as another name for Satan has 

to have been adopted from the 

Ancients and modified to fit the new 

Christian mythology, the biblical



Lucifer, a god in his own right in

Antiquity, had been the son of 

Aurora, goddess of the Dawn


do you love it


                Soon as the father saw the rosy morn,
                And the moon shining with a blunter horn, 


blunter, less incandescent, dulled

by the advancing light


horn, a lesser phase of the moon, 

when it is either waxing or waning, 

thus resembling a horn

                He bid the nimble Hours, without delay,
                Bring forth the steeds; the nimble Hours obey: 


the Hours, or Horae, goddesses 

of the Seasons, horae is the 

Greek word for seasons

                From their full racks the gen’rous steeds retire, 


retire, come away, from their stalls

in the stables

                Dropping ambrosial foams, and snorting fire. 


ambrosial, especially fragrant, or


                Still anxious for his son, the God of day,
                To make him proof against the burning ray,
                His temples with celestial ointment wet,
                Of sov’reign virtue to repel the heat; 


celestial ointment, ambrosia,

elixir of the gods


sov’reign virtue, exceedingly effective


                Then fix’d the beamy circle on his head, 


beamy circle, radiant halo of

solar rays

                And fetch’d a deep foreboding sigh, and said,
                “Take this at least, this last advice, my son,
                Keep a stiff rein, and move but gently on:
                The coursers of themselves will run too fast,
                Your art must be to moderate their haste.
                Drive ’em not on directly through the skies,
                But where the Zodiac’s winding circle lies,
                Along the midmost Zone; but sally forth
                Nor to the distant south, nor stormy north.
                The horses’ hoofs a beaten track will show,
                But neither mount too high, nor sink too low.
                That no new fires, or Heav’n or Earth infest;
                Keep the mid way, the middle way is best.
                Nor, where in radiant folds the serpent twines,
                Direct your course, nor where the altar shines. 


serpent twines, serpentine, tortuous



altar, probably alter, or other, light 

sources, the moon, for instance,

the Morning Star, do not be 

distracted by bright lights, 

Phoebus / Apollo advises

                Shun both extreams; the rest let Fortune guide, 
                And better for thee than thy self provide! 


Fortune, or Fortuna, goddess of Fate,

will be of greater help to you, Phoebus 

/ Apollo tells his son, than you, thy self,

can provide for yourself 


compare this last fatherly advice,

incidentally, to that of Polonius to

Laertes, his own son, act I, scene 

3, lines 55 to 81 in Shakespeare’s 

Hamlet, proof that Shakespeare 

was not only well acquainted 

with Ovid, but also much 

admired him


                See, while I speak, the shades disperse away,
                Aurora gives the promise of a day; 


Aurora, goddess of the Dawn

                I’m call’d, nor can I make a longer stay. 


I’m call’d, the time has come to 

mount the Chariot of the Sun, 

the morning breaks, I must, or

you must, in my stead, go

                Snatch up the reins; or still th’ attempt forsake,
                And not my chariot, but my counsel, take,
                While yet securely on the Earth you stand;
                Nor touch the horses with too rash a hand.
                Let me alone to light the world, while you
                Enjoy those beams which you may safely view.” 


should you choose to my counsel, take, 

from the Earth you may safely view my 

beams while I alone … light the world, 

Phoebus / Apollo implores his son

                He spoke in vain; the youth with active heat
                And sprightly vigour vaults into the seat;
                And joys to hold the reins, and fondly gives
                Those thanks his father with remorse receives.


for better, or for worse


stay tuned



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




“The Story of Phaeton” – Ovid


   Landscape with a Palace (1916) 


             Eugeniusz Zak





               Her son was Epaphus, at length believ’d
               The son of Jove, and as a God receiv’d; 


without proof, it could not have been 

absolutely determined, during this 

ancient mythological era, that  

Epaphus, son of Io become Isis, was 

indeed the son of Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

though that’s what at length, eventually, 

came to be believed


and as such Epaphus was

               With sacrifice ador’d, and publick pray’rs,
               He common temples with his mother shares. 


both Isis and Epaphus are worshipped

in common, in the same places, and 

with a similar degree of devotion

               Equal in years, and rival in renown
               With Epaphus, the youthful Phaeton
               Like honour claims; 


Phaeton, another youth, [e]qual in 

years to Epaphus, and in renown,

as famous, [l]ike honour claims, 

puts forward, his own illustrious 



                                      and boasts his sire the sun. 


the sun, Phoebus / Apollo, god,

among a number of other things,

of that very orb

               His haughty looks, and his assuming air,
               The son of Isis could no longer bear:
               Thou tak’st thy mother’s word too far, said he,
               And hast usurp’d thy boasted pedigree. 


Epaphus, son of Isis, challenges 

Phaeton, says that his mother’s 

claim that her consort was the 

god of the Sun is false, and that 

he, Epaphus, is only promoting 

the fabricated story of his high, 

his boasted, pedigree, ancestry 

               Go, base pretender to a borrow’d name. 


Epaphus delivers a double whammy, 

base pretender, borrow’d name, ouch

               Thus tax’d, he blush’d with anger, and with shame;
               But shame repress’d his rage: 


tax’d, confronted


repress’d his rage, Phaeton didn’t 

slug Epaphus


                                                            the daunted youth
               Soon seeks his mother, and enquires the truth: 


is he truly the son of the god of the 

Sun, Phaeton asks his mother, nearly 

intolerable drama must surely follow, 

turning on this burning question 

               Mother, said he, this infamy was thrown
               By Epaphus on you, and me your son.
               He spoke in publick, told it to my face;
               Nor durst I vindicate the dire disgrace:
               Even I, the bold, the sensible of wrong, 


Even I, Phaeton asserts, the sensible 

of wrong, as he describes himself, the 

impatient of improprieties, however 

bold, quick to respond, impetuous, 

might he be, durst not, dared not, 

vindicate, validate, the dire disgrace, 

Epaphus‘ profoundly distressing insult    

               Restrain’d by shame, was forc’d to hold my tongue. 


I was unable, Phaeton says, too 

[r]estrain’d by shame, humiliated, 

to even answer

               To hear an open slander, is a curse:
               But not to find an answer, is a worse. 


a worse, we would say just worse, 

but note that worse, here, is not a

noun, but the adjective for curse,

which has been elided, left out, 

worse curse, which, included, 

would’ve altered, however, the 

metre, the pentameter, and thus, 

the poetry, style having trumped, 

for better or for worse, in this

instance, the substance 


a, incidentally, is the first beat of the 

iamb, which is to say, the weak beat,

while worse, is the second, the one 

with the accent, the determining 

thump, worse, da, dum, an iamb 


Dryden didn’t have, in other words, 

much choice, were he wanting to 

be a poet, but to deftly press his, 

surely masterful, grammar, to fit 

his meaning to his, however

constricting, verse

               If I am Heav’n-begot, assert your son
               By some sure sign; 


assert your son, acknowledge him,

[b]y some sure sign, Phaeton 

demands of his mother 


                                      and make my father known, 


at the same time, make … known, 

identify, Phaeton continues, point

him out, my father 


              To right my honour, and redeem your own.
               He said, 


it is the honour[able] thing to do,

the required thing to do, [h]e said, 

to restore, [t]o right, our reputations


                                   and saying cast his arms about
               Her neck, and beg’d her to resolve the doubt. 


a son imploring his mother, can 

anything be more poignant


               ‘Tis hard to judge if Clymene were mov’d
               More by his pray’r, whom she so dearly lov’d, 


Clymene, wife of Helios, or Phoebus / 

Apollo, sun god, mother of Phaeton 

               Or more with fury fir’d, to find her name
               Traduc’d, and made the sport of common fame. 


Traduc’d, translated, transmitted


common fame, the casual, everyday

sport, entertainment, however 

inappropriate, however malicious,
of many

               She stretch’d her arms to Heav’n, and fix’d her eyes
               On that fair planet that adorns the skies; 


that fair planet that adorns the skies, 

the sun, though Dryden must’ve 

known the sun wasn’t a planet, nor 

Ovid, for that matter, literary licence

having given style, here again, sway 

over substance, for better, it’ll be up 

to you to say, or for worse


literary licence, where style 

overtakes substance

               Now by those beams, said she, whose holy fires
               Consume my breast, and kindle my desires; 


girlfriend, I have to here interject, your 

temperature is, ahem, showing, you’re 

sounding, however uncharacteristically, 

awfully intemperate, aroused, [c]onsume 

my breast indeed, kindle, you audaciously 

request, my desires

               By him, who sees us both, and clears our sight,
               By him, the publick minister of light,
               I swear that Sun begot thee; 


Clymene swears an oath upon the 

very sun, her sire, the publick minister 

of light, the very priest of illumination, 

of clarity, for everyone, the sun’s 

manifest incarnation


                                                                if I lye,
               Let him his chearful influence deny: 


don’t shine on me, Helios / Phoebus /

Apollo, him, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

himself, Clymene cries, if I lye, lie, if I

tell an untruth

               Let him no more this perjur’d creature see; 


Let him, let yourself, Helios / Phoebus /

Apollo, be unable any longer to see me,

perjur’d creature that I, Clymene, am 

               And shine on all the world but only me. 


obliterate me, she defies, from your

purview, let the world receive your 

rays, but not myself

               If still you doubt your mother’s innocence,
               His eastern mansion is not far from hence;
               With little pains you to his Leve go,
               And from himself your parentage may know. 


Leve, where Helios / Phoebus / 

Apollo lives

               With joy th’ ambitious youth his mother heard,
               And eager, for the journey soon prepar’d. 


Phaeton is off on his mission


               He longs the world beneath him to survey; 


he wants to see the world from the 

perspective of the sun, an astronaut,

a dreamer, pulsing with ambition

               To guide the chariot; and to give the day: 


to drive his father’s car, chariot, how 

contemporary, how immediate

               From Meroe’s burning sands he bends his course, 


Meroe, a city on the Nile, you’ll 

remember that we’re still in Egypt, 

where Io / Isis prevails, with Epaphus

her son, the one who started all this  

               Nor less in India feels his father’s force: 


the sun, his father’s force, is no less 

vigorous in India than it is, he, Helios

/ Phoebus / Apollo, is, in Egypt

               His travel urging, till he came in sight; 


His travel urging, impatient to speed 

up his pace, hastening his metaphorical



               And saw the palace by the purple light. 


purple light, evening, though purple 

is also, since antiquity, the colour of 

royaltyPhaeton is perhaps seeing 

both, the palace, at evening  


see above




R ! chard