Metamorphoses Book 9

ACHELOUS AND HERCULES

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Achelous recounts to Theseus and his posse the tale of how he lost his horn in a battle with Hercules. Both Hercules and Achelous were competing for Deianira, a local maiden “sought by many suitors.” Hercules claims that if he is chosen, Deianira will be Jove’s daughter-in-law, and that his mighty labors have earned him great renown. Achelous claims that he is one of her own countrymen and not a stranger, and that he has not earned the wrath of Juno, as Hercules has. Achelous really skewers Hercules when he claims that Hercules must be lying about his divine heritage, or that if his high birth is true, then his mother is a whore. Hercules responds in a manner typical of a strongman “My brawn is better than my tongue. You win in speech, but I can beat you with my blows.”

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The two enter an epic scuffle, and after being pinned, Achelous transforms himself into a snake to escape Hercules’ clutches. Hercules laughs at this attempt: “But that was cradle work for me: a babe, I conquered snakes.” If he could beat many snakes in the form of the Hydra, what is one measly snake? Achelous is pinned once more, and transforms himself into his final form, a bull. Achelous charges Hercules, and Hercules pins him one last time, wrenching the horn off Achelous’ head. That horn becomes sacred to the Naiads, who fill it with fruits and flowers, becoming the first cornucopia.

 

HERCULES, DEIANIRA, NESSUS

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Transitioning from Achelous’ stories to Theseus, we return to more tales of Hercules, this time detailing his battle with Nessus. Hercules is returning to Tiryns with Deianira, but the river Evenus is too strong for him to swim across safely while carrying Deianira. Nessus happens to trot by, and offers his assistance. Hercules hurls his belongings across the river and starts to swim. Nessus tries to sneak away with Deanira while Hercules is indisposed. Once across the river, Hercules manages to hit Nessus in the spine with an arrow right before Nessus can escape. The arrow is poisoned with the venom of the Hydra, and the venom does its work on Nessus. As Nessus dies, he hatches a plan for revenge. He gives his cloak to Deianira as a gift, soaked with his poisoned blood, to give to Hercules should his love for her ever wane.

 

HERCULES AND DEIANIRA

Deianira hears rumors of Hercules’ love for Iole, which are false (as far as we know) and she conspires to punish Hercules for his infidelity. She gives the poisoned cloak of Nessus to Lichas the servant to deliver to hercules as a gift. Hercules quickly succumbs to the venom of the Hydra, and even though he rips the tunic off, it sticks in pieces to his skin, and he cannot be rid of the toxin. He shouts at Juno, describing his misfortune and giving a brief account of his great labors. Hercules thrashes about like a wounded bull, destroying trees and boulders in his pain and agony. Lichas is terrified by this, and Hercules grabs the man who brought this poison upon his flesh and flings him into the sky above the Euboean. Lichas becomes petrified as he flies, and this man of stone becomes a shoal of rock in the sea avoided by sailors.

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Hercules, still suffering the effects of the poison (a very slow death it seems) manages to chop down some trees and make a pyre for himself. The gods fear what will happen to “Earth’s Defender” as the fire approaches his body. Jove convinces the other gods that Hercules should become one of them in death, and that his great deeds have earned him such an honor. Even Juno yields to her husband’s decree. The mortal half of Hercules is burned away at the pyre, and all that remains is the divine portion from Jove. He grows more majestic with only his divinity remaining, and Jove takes his son up to Olympus. “Heaven was now heavier on Atlas’ shoulders.”

ALCMENA

Alcmena is Hercules’ mother, and in light of her son’s death, she recounts the story of his birth to her now pregnant daughter-in-law (Iole is married to Hyllus, son of Hercules). Juno and Lucina blocked Alcmena’s birth of her son Hercules. They forced her labor to continue for seven days and nights, for Juno wanted Alcmena to suffer for being a lover of Jove (even though it was likely against her will). Juno is sitting at an altar with her fingers locked together around her knees (likely symbolizing her hold on Alcmena’s womb), and Galanthis happens to see her sitting there. To assist her mistress, Galanthis distracts Juno by claiming that Alcmena has already given birth. This causes the goddess to release her clasped hands, and Alcmena does finally birth Hercules.

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There’s Juno dragging Galanthis away…

Galanthis laughs at Juno for the ease at which she decived the goddess. Bad move. Juno grabs Galathis and drags her by the hair off to be punished. Juno transforms Galanthis into a weasel, which apparently “gives birth to younglings through her mouth.”

 

DRYOPE

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Iole recounts her own tale of a transformation in response to her mother-in-law. Iole’s sister Dryope was out gathering garlands as offerings to the local Nymphs, and she was carrying her infant son along the way. She grabs some purple berries from a lotus plant, but does not see blood drip from the plant. It turns out the plant was the nymph Lotis, who had been transformed to escape the pursuit of Priapus. Dryope begins to transform after picking the berries, and slowly bark replaces skin, and boughs sprout from her head. Dryope’s husband and father come to see her in the last stages of the transformation, and in her last words she implores those she is leaving behind to teach her son not to make the same mistake.

 

BYBLIS AND CAUNUS

Miletus leaves his homeland of Crete, and makes Cyanee his wife. Their children and Byblis and Caunus. Byblis loves her brother ardently, and not in a platonic or family way. She is torn by these emotions, and monologues, presenting her logic and the emotion that twists it. This is similar to Scylla, Medea, and Althaea. She resolves to send her brother a letter confessing this love, and let him decide whether to act on it or not.

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Caunus is disgusted by the tablets, and Byblis wishes she had not written out her desires but instead dropped hints and worked her way into her brother’s good graces to plant the romance more firmly in his mind. Byblis tries again and again to love her brother, until he flees from the land. Byblis wanders the land in sorrow, lamenting her loss. She eventually lies down in a sacred wood, and her tears (as well as her body) are transformed into a spring.

 

IPHIS AND IANTHE

Ligdis and Telethusa are a modest, pious couple living in Phaestus. Ligdus tells her newly pregnant wife that they do not have the means to support a girl, and if a girl is born he will have to kill her (because you know, economics). Shortly before the birth, Telethusa has a dream wherein she is visited by Isis, and a few other super-friends of the Egyptian pantheon. Isis instructs Telethusa not to kill her child under any circumstances, and that her prayers have been answered. The gods will take care of everything. The child is born a girl, and Telethusa instructs the nurse to feed the child and clothe it as a boy to hide the gender. After 13 years the child Iphis Ianthe have become regular chums, but are being set-up for marriage. Ianthe is a girl, but so is Iphis, the village just doesn’t know yet. Iphis engages in a bout of teenage angst, for she loves Ianthe but know that their love is forbidden and can never be under any circumstances.

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Ianthe is desperate to be wed to the “man” she loves, but the wedding is constantly put on hold by Telethusa for as long as she can muster, buying time until the gods can act and save her daughter Iphis. Soon the wedding day comes, and Telethusa prays one last time to the gods for the miracle they promised. The temple doors tremble slightly, and as the mother and daughter walk to the wedding, Iphis slowly transforms into a man, becoming “more vigorous.” The marriage goes off without a hitch, and Juno, Venus, and Hymen bless the wedding as is customary in all blessed marriages. “These gifts, which Iphis pledged as a girl, are paid by him as a man.”

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Metamorphoses Book 8

SCYLLA, NISUS, MINOS

Scylla cutting Nisus' lock of power with the birds foreshadowing her later transformation. Samson anyone?

Scylla cutting Nisus’ lock of power with the birds from foreshadowing her later transformation. Samson anyone?

Minos has begun his war on Alcathous, where Nisus is king. Apparently he has a large tuft of purple hair, of which it is said “on this alone, there hung the safety of his realm, his throne.” Nisus’ daughter Scylla has been watching the warfare from the safety of a tower within the city, and she has become enamored King Minos, as he engages in combat that makes him irresistible to her. Scylla monologues her internal vacillating loyalties, between her father and the kingdom and her desires for Minos. At nightfall, she cuts the tuft of purple hair which give Nisus his power. She brings this treacherous gift to Minos, and his reaction is not what Scylla has hoped for. Minos gladly takes over the realm, but spurns her amorous advances, and states “may neither land nor sea have place for you.” Minos imposes his new laws on the land, and departs.

Scylla laments her position, having betrayed her father, and her country, with nothing to show for it. She insults Minos excessively, and dives into the waves after his ship, clinging to the side “a hateful comrade.” Her father Nisus is transformed into an Osprey, and watches as his daughter loses her grip on the ship. Before hitting the water, Scylla is transformed into a bird as well, called Ciris, after the greek verb to cut.

 

DAEDALUS, THE MINOTAUR, ARIADNE

The minotaur is born of Minos’ wife and a bull, half man and half beast. To hide this abomination, Minos enlists the skills of Daedalus, a great builder and engineer. Daedalus creates the Labyrinth to hold the beast. The labyrinth is described as convoluted and twisting, and one who enters cannot discover where they came from or where they are going. Even the creator of such a maze cannot find his way through, as the paths double back and twist such that no mortal soul can find the beginning or end.

Well, this look impossible. It's like a full body Rubik's cube.

Well, this look impossible. It’s like a full body Rubik’s cube.

Twice a year, Athenians are chosen to enter the labyrinth and become minotaur kibble. Many perish, until Theseus kills the beast with the help of Ariadne, Minos’ daughter. Ariadne gave Theseus a thread so he could find his way back through the maze, following the thread he left behind him. Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus, but Bacchus takes pity on her and transforms her into a constellation in the sky.

A CG render of the Minotaur. Definitely more human than I would have thought, but still a scary creature.

A CG render of the Minotaur. Definitely more human than I would have thought, but still a scary creature.

 

DAEDALUS AND ICARUS

Daedalus has been a prisoner of Minos’ for many years, and while he cannot escape by land or sea, he resolves to invent a way to fly to safety. Daedalus works to “alter nature” with his makeshift wings, made of feathers and wax molded together in harmony. Daedalus’ son Icarus keeps messing with his father’s work. Daedalus instructs his son on proper usage of the wings, but somewhere deep down he knows he may never see his son again if the flight fails. The pair depart Crete, and are near their destination, when Icarus becomes overconfident in his ability, and flies too high in the sky. The wax holding the feathers together beings to melt, and Icarus falls to his death.

In Deus Ex Human Revolution, the progression of technology has escalated quickly, and the game uses the Icarus story as a metaphor for the often reckless nature of human progress.

In Deus Ex Human Revolution, the progression of technology has escalated quickly, and the game uses the Icarus story as a metaphor for the often reckless nature of human progress.

 

DAEDALUS AND PERDIX

Daedalus has a checkered past, as shown in this story. Daedalus was entrusted by his sister to care for her son Perdix, a gifted boy, so that he might learn from Daedalus. The boy invents a saw from fish spines, and a compass so that a perfect circle might be inscribed. Daedalus is jealous of the boy’s talent at 12 years old, and he throws the boy from Minerva’s citadel. Daedalus lies to his sister about the boy’s fate. Minerva transforms Perdix into a partridge, for she favors ingenuity and innovative minds.

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THE CALYDONIAN HUNT

Theseus is called to assist the Calydonians with killing a large boar. This boar was sent by the goddess Diana, as retribution for the lack of offerings in the harvest festivals. Ceres, Bacchus, and Minerva all received gifts, but not Diana. The boar kills the livestock without mercy, and all the farmers flee to the city. To stop this beast, a hunting party is formed (like a superhero team), some of the highlights include Peleus (father of Achilles), Jason, Theseus, Caenus, Atlanta, and Nestor, along with many others. Meleager is Calydon’s own resident hero, and he is stricken with love for Atlanta. This will come into play later.

Peter Paul Rubens rendition of this famous hunt.

Peter Paul Rubens rendition of this famous hunt.

The hunt begins, and despite numerous hurled spears and fired arrows, little to no damage is done against such a beast. Atlanta strikes in just the right spot to draw some blood, and it is the first spilled, which Meleager cannot help but point out excitedly. The beast manages to kill Ancaeus, Enaesimus, and Hippasus. Ancaeus dies for his overzealous methods, and the others are smart enough to stay back. Oeneus strikes a mighty blow with his lance, and Meleager moves in for the final strike. Meleager offers to share his victory with Atlanta, and offers her the tusks and bristles of the beast. Meleager’s uncles are jealous, and they take the gifts from Atlanta. Meleager refuses to stand for this, and kills the both of them.

 

ALTHAEA AND MELEAGER

Althaea is pleased by the success of the hunters, but upon learning of her brother’s deaths, she vows vengeance.

First however, we must learn of her son’s interesting origins. While Athaea is giving birth, she sees the three Fates place a log on the hearth, and the life of the newborn is tied to that of the burning log. Althaea puts the fire out to spare her son’s life; so long as the log does not burn, her son will continue to live.

Now that Althaea demands vengeance, she moves to retrieve the log to end her son’s life. She launches into another speech of vacillating loyalties and emotions, like Medea and Scylla before her. She decides to kill her son to avenge her brothers, and she plans to end her own life afterwards to join the three men in the afterlife.

Death by wood proxy

Death by wood proxy

Althaea kindles the log once more, and Meleager’s soul begins to burn, as he dies a slow inglorious death. Meleager’s father Oeneus calls his life cursed, in light of his son’s death and his wife’s suicide. Meleager’s sisters are consumed with grief, and cry over his body, ashes, and tomb with heartbreaking enthusiasm. Diana’s vengeance is complete, and to comfort Meleager’s sisters, Diana transforms them into Guinea-hens.

 

THESEUS AND ACHELOUS

Theseus is returning home after the Calydonian hunt, and finds his way blocked by the Achelous river, swollen by rains. The river-god offers Theseus and his posse refuge in his home until the waters recede. Wine and comfort are offered, and the men swap stories with Achelous.

 

THE ECHINADES AND PERIMELE

Theseus points out some islands in the distance, and Achelous recounts their origins. The first are five islands, that were once five naiads, who invited the rural gods to their ceremonies but neglected to invite Achelous. Achelous becomes angry, and floods the land where their rituals are being held. This piece of land breaks off into the sea, and becomes the Echinades. The second isle is called Perimele, named after a girl whose virginity was taken by Achelous. Perimele’s father Hippodamus tossed her into the ocean after this act, and Achelous saved the girl. He prayed to Neptune to make her into a place so she would not drown, and his prayer is answered.

 

BAUCIS AND PHILEMON

One of Theseus’ company scoffs at these tales and the power of the gods: Pirithous. Lelex, the most old and wise of the group, tells a tale to teach the young man proper reverence.

The goose was spared, but not the residents of the town.

The goose was spared, but not the residents of the town.

Baucis and Philemon are an ideal; an old couple together since youth, living modestly and honestly, with proper reverence for the gods. Mercury and Jove come by their home in mortal guise, and the old couple offer all they have to these mystery guests. In all the land of Troezen, the gods in disguise had been turned away by thousands of others, but this old modest couple takes them in. As the wine bowl continues to refill magically, the couple decides to sacrifice their best goose. Jove stops them beforehand, and reveals his own true identity as well as Mercury’s. Jove reveals that they plan to destroy all their impious neighbors, but spare the old couple. Jove takes them to the top of a hill, and the whole land except Baucis and Philemon’s home is engulfed by a swamp, killing everyone. Their home is transformed into a temple to Jupiter, Jove grants the couple one wish: they desire to spend their lives serving the gods in safety at the temple, and that they will perish together, so that one will not have to live on without the other. Years pass, and as the coupe nears the end of their lives, they each are transformed into trees together. There are still two trees in that land which stand right next to each other, all that is left of the pious Baucis and Philemon.

Ain't it so cute?

Ain’t it so cute?

 

ERYSICHTHON’S SIN

Dracaena cinnabari, or the "dragon blood tree," which has a sap that looks like blood. But no nymphs inside these trees.

Dracaena cinnabari, or the “dragon blood tree,” which has a sap that looks like blood. But no nymphs inside these trees.

Achelous takes his turn to tell another story. The sacred grove of Ceres contains an ancient oak, venerated in ritual by local Dryads and other demigods. Erysichthon orders his men to cut down the massive ancient tree. His men back away, and Erysichthon commands them to chop it down, even if it were Ceres herself! As Erysichthon raises the axe, the tree groons and bends, and when he strikes blood gushes from the wound in the bark. One of his men tries to stop Erysichthon, and he decapitates the loyal servant. The tree then speaks, proclaiming that Ceres favorite nymph resides within, and that Erysichthon will pay for his crimes. These words do not deter him, and he chops the tree down. When it falls, it crushes many other trees in the process.

 

ERYSICHTHON AND FAMINE

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Ceres cannot travel to frozen Scythia herself to enlist the aid of Famine, and sends a nymph to retrieve her. The nymph instructs Famine to infect Erysichthon, and to fill him with want no matter how much food he consumes. The description of Famine is deliciously morbid and disturbing.

Her hair was straggly and her eyes deep sunk; her face was pale; her lips were wan and stale, unused; her jaws were rough with scurf; her skin so hard and thin, one saw through to her guts; her dry bones jutted from her hollowed loins; she had no belly, just the empty space where bellies often are; you would have called her chest suspended, since its only peg was her frail spine; her thinness made her joints protrude: her kneecaps swelled, her ankles bulged incredibly.”

Famine goes to Erysichthon and breathes “her very essence” into him as he sleeps. In his sleep he teeth grind, and when he awakens he consumes and consumes and finds no relief. His hunger is compared to a fire, raging more and more with each log added to the blaze, as it consumes it is never satisfied.

 

ERYSICHTHON’S DAUGHTER

Erysichthon eats away all he has, selling everything for more food to sate his endless hunger, including his daughter. She prays to Neptune to deliver her from slavery, as Neptune once raped the girl. Neptune grants her the gift of transformation as a payment for his aggressive brand of romance. The girl escapes her new master, but Erysichthon sees this, and exploits her gift to continue selling her over and over to different masters. Eventually, even these sales cannot provide what his hunger needs, and he begins to feed on his own limbs.

If only I didn't have these damn arms!

If only I didn’t have these damn arms!

 

ACHELOUS

We return to Achelous, and he compares his own ability to transform into a serpent or a bull with Erysichthon’s daughter’s ability. The river-god then laments his lost horn on his head, and he removes the wreath of reeds from his head to reveal the one horn that remains after his former battle with Hercules.

Metamorphoses Book 7

MEDEA AND JASON

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The ‘raging flame of love” has struck Medea at the book’s opening; the object of her affections is Jason. She is possessed by love at first sight, but the love is forbidden because helping Jason will mean betraying her father, the king. She monologues openly, and we see her vacillating loyalties and emotions. This will become a common occurrence throughout the rest of the Metamorphoses. She decides (reluctantly) to remain loyal to her country and her father, only until she spots Jason on her way to the shrine of Hecate. Jason pleads for her assistance overcoming her father’s challenges, and in return he promises to marry Medea.

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Medea decides to help Jason so long as he keeps his promise. She uses the herbs of Hecate and her sorcery to create what Jason needs to succeed. Jason is able to approach the raging bulls in the field and pass through their exhaled flames. He successfully yokes a bull, and uses it to plow a field that has never been plowed before. He then plants the snake’s teeth on the field as seeds, which begin to grow from mud into men, fully armed and armored. The men turn to assault Jason, but he casts a rock into their midst and they attack each other instead. This could have been because Medea was also chanting some spells from afar. Finally Jason must overcome the dragon which guards the golden tree. He sprinkles “hypnagogic” herbs over the serpent, along with the prescribed incantations which “bring sleep,” and Jason is able to take the golden fleece.

 

MEDEA AND AESON

Jason returns home with his new bride and the golden fleece, but a damper is put on Jason’s good cheer when he realizes his father is old and may not live much longer. He implores Medea to use her magic to transfer some of Jason’s remaining years to Aeson’s account.

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Medea goes into the woods at night, immersed in the wilds, and calls out for aid from Hecate. Medea thanks the goddess for all that she has granted Medea thus far, and is humble is asking for fruther assistance. The goddess sends a chariot drawn by dragons (serpents?) to serve her needs. For some time Medea gathers all the herbs she needs, and under the night sky erects two altars: one to Hecate and one to Youth. She sacrifices two black sheep to appease the gods of the underworld for her transgressions against the natural order. Aeson is laid on the grass, and his body is purified three times with fire, water, and sulphur. All the herbs she gathered boil in a pot, along with several special animals (screech owl bits, werewolf guts, and a 900 year old crow to name a few). The potion is brewed with an olive branch, and as the potion turns green, the branch grows leaves and sprouts plump olives. Aeson’s throat is cut, and the “stale” blood is drawn out, to be replaced by this new potion. Aeson becomes 40 years younger, and this potion is gifted to Bacchus for his maidens as well.

 

MEDEA AND PELIAS

Medea feigns an argument with her husband as an excuse to flee to Pelias’ place, where she tells of her work in saving Aeson. The daughters of Pelias’ want this for their father, but they also want proof that it can be done. Medea kills their oldest ram, and throws the carcass into a pot full of potions. A lamb emerges, and this convinces the daughters of Pelias.

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A false cauldron of herbs is prepared for Pelias three days later, and Medea places the king into a sleep-like trance. She instructs the daughters to stab their father to drain his blood. The girls obey, but cannot look, and hack away wildly, blindly at their father. Pelias asks his daughters why they are stabbing him (seems a difficult task all things considered) but his words are cut short as Medea hurls him into the boiling cauldron.

 

THE FLIGHT OF MEDEA

Medea escapes the wrath of Pelias’ daughter on her dragon-dwan chariot. She flies over many lands, and we get small bits of story related to each land as she passes over. In Corinth, Medea kills Jason’s new wife with poison, burns the royal halls, and kills her two children. Terrible stuff. Medea flees on her chariot once more, this time to Athens and King Aegus.

 

THESEUS AND AEGEUS

Aegeus welcomes his son Theseus home, but Medea plots to kill Theseus. She used the herb aconitum to poison his drink (apparently it comes from Cerberus’ saliva, or slaver), but Aegeus knocks the cup out of his son’s hand at the last moment. Medea flees her death by created a cloud conjured with spells. We then hear a list of Theseus’ accomplishments at a banquet held in his honor. He killed the minotaur, the cretan Bull, and many other dangerous creatures/people.

 

MINOS

Minos seeks to make war on Athens, as retribution for the death of his son Androgenos. He seeks allies, and sets sail to recruit as many as possible to his cause. He eventually sails for Oenopia (aka Aegina), the realm of King Aeacus. Aeacus meets Minos on the shore, and Aeacus informs Minos that the Athenians are close allies of the Aeginians. Minos threatens war, but does not wage it, for he wants to save his full might for Athens. Perhaps he will return later to sack the island of Aegina.

 

CEPHALUS

Almost immediately after Minos leaves, Cephalus arrives on behalf of the Athenians to enlist the aid of King Aeacus. Cephalus starts to talk about Inos affecting the fate of all Greece, but Aeacus silences his entreaties, citing their alliance as good enough reason to combine forces. Cephalus comments that the island is full of strong young men, which is great for the conflict to come, but that many of those he saw on his last visit are gone. Aeacus begins the tale of the fate of those young men.

 

THE PLAGUE

Juno sends a plague upon the island, as retribution for the comments of her rival Aegina (Aeacus’ mother). This plague is brought about by a south-wind that brings the pestilence to the lakes and springs, and thousands of serpents spread the sickness to the rivers and streams. Dogs, sheep, oxen, horses, and boars feel the effects first, each withering away and dying slowly of fatigue and skin ulcers. The plague spreads to the people, and the suffering and chaos described is intense. People are stricken with fever, and attempt to quench their thirst by immersing themselves in water, effectively drowning themselves. Even as these corpses are floating in the water, other living souls continue to soak and drink the same water in desperation.

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The streets are littered with the dead and dying. Jupiter’s shrine even has the corpses of men holding incense in their hands, their final act of prayer as the plague finally overtakes them. There are so many dead, that the bodies cannot be effectively transferred out of the streets for proper burial and funeral rites. Those left fight each other for flames to burn the bodies, and for places to gather cadavers away from the city.

 

THE MYRMIDONS

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Aeacus desperately prays to Jove for relief from the plague. A lightning flash and thunder signal Jove’s reply. An enormous sacred oak tree is nearby, and Aeacus asks that his land be populated by as many ants as there are climbing up and down that great oak. The oak moves, despite no wind. Aeacus falls asleep, and when he awakens the tree sway and the ants fall on the ground, transforming into people. Aeacus gives thanks to Jove, and the new people behave as their former forms did “patient workers, men who gather grains with zeal—and keep all they accumulate.”

 

CEPHALUS, PROCRIS, AURORA

The next day, Cephalus cannot leave on account of the wind, and Phocus entertains Cephalus as a guest until he can set sail. Phocus inquires about Cephalus’ lance, one that hits its mark every time, and comes back to the thrower of its own accord. Phocus wants to know who gave the staff to Cephalus and where its power comes from.

Cephalus was married to Procris, and he loved his wife exclusively. Aurora abducts Cephalus, and despite the lovely nature of the goddess, Cephalus denies her advances, citing his love for Procris. However, Cephalus becomes suspicious of his wife’s fidelity, as he has been away for some time and in the company of one who is “famed for infidelities.” Aurora helps Cephalus to test his wife’s virtue by disguising him as an different man.

Cephalus tests his wife’s faith by making advances toward her in a different guise, to which she refuses, pledging her devotion to her husband. This is not good enough for Cephalus, and he continues to make advances. Eventually, after endless gifts and entreaties, Procris is about to cave in, and Cephalus reveals his identity. Procris is ashamed and goes to the mountains to atone for her shame. Cephalus realizes he went too far, and admits he likely would have faltered in the wake of such forceful amorous advances. He requests Procris’ return, she obliges, and they spend “sweet years” together.

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In her time in the mountains with Diana, Procris received the javelin and a hound that could outrace all the rest. She gives these objects to Cephalus. Cephalus recounts the tale of the hound that always catches its prey. There was a fox that could never be caught, and it is pitted against the hound that never loses its prey. Both animals could never defeat the other, and as such, the gods transform each into marble statues; preserving their eternal struggle for the ages.

Getting back to the story of the javelin, Cephalus was keen on hunting in the mountains. But on this particular day it was hot, and he prayed for cool winds to relieve his fatigue. He calls the wind Aura, and sings songs to her and how she comforts his body and soul. Some person overhears these words, and reports that to Procris that Cephalus is meeting some nymph out in the woods secretly. Procris is struck dumb by this information, and plunges into a deep sadness; but she wants to see the infidelity with her own eyes first. The next day, Cephalus goes hunting once more, singing his song praising the cool winds. Procris hears this and makes a noise in the bushes, as she has been following her husband to prove the infidelity. Cephalus mistakes this noise for an animal, and hurls his javelin into his wife. As she dies, she wishes that Aura will not be his wife after she is gone. Cephalus realizes the error, and grief overtakes him. Thus ends the story of Cephalus’ javelin.

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Metamorphoses book 6

ARACHNE

Minerva has finally decided that she’s done listening to the Muses and takes their advice on how to effectovely deal with challenegers. Minerva’s challenger is a young woman called Arachne, who boasts that her weaving is better than Pallas Minveva’s. Arachne doesn’t have much, so she takes too much pride in her weaving, despite the fact that such a gift must have come from divine inspiration, namely Minerva’s. Minerva allows Arachne one last chance for redemption, and appears as an old woman, who begs that Arachne take back her boastful words. Arachne insults the old woman’s advice, claiming “if Minerva is so great and I should be so afraid of her, why doesn’t she come and accept my challenge?

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Minerva accepts Arachne’s challenege. The two weave like the wind, and each chooses a different theme for their tapestry. Minerva chooses to display an instance of her own triumph, naturally. The competition between the gods for the right to the temple at Athens is her subject, wherein Minerva once competed with Neptune and Jove for the honor. Of course she won, with the gift of the olive tree. Because illustrating her glory is not enough,, the corners are adorned with the likes of Cynarus and Antigone, who suffered at the hands of the gods for their transgressions, as a stern warning to Arachne, and a foreshadowing of her inevitable fate when she loses to Minerva’s mighty loom.

Arachne decides to take an equally audacious route, and her work details all the embarrassing actions of the gods. So many instances of forced sex, and insidious deceptions to exploit mortals for carnal gain, adorn Arachne’s work.

Surprisingly, Arachne wins the contest! Minerva can’t find a single flaw in her blasphemous work, and she strikes Arachne four times with a boxwood shuttle (ouch). Arachne moves to hang herself suddenly, and Minerva then takes pity on her, transforming Arachne into a spider, so she may yet continue her gift forever. I personally find these transformations to be a worse fate than death but that’s just me.

Quelaag from Dark Souls. Not quite what happens to Arachne but still a creepy idea for a transformation.

Quelaag from Dark Souls. Not quite what happens to Arachne but still a creepy idea for a transformation.

Niobe

Here begins another tale of blind pride flaunted in the face of the gods. Mortals are so reckless. The daughter of Tiresias, Manto, is divinely inspired and runs through the streets, decalring that prayers are owed to Latona in her temples. While the population gathers inscense and prepares to please Latona, Niobe is appalled by the lack of attention paid to her. Niobe claims her divine ancestry makes her equally important to Latona, along with the added benefit of being physically present and her many children making her thereby superior. Niobe’s arrogance fails to register the fact that she just insulted not just one god, but three, in the forms of Apollo and Diana, the offspring of Latona. Apollo and Diana are upset by this in and of itself, but their mother’s hurt feelings only add fuel to the fire.

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Apollo must be thinking “Your 14 children are greater than a god? I laugh at your weakness!” Apollo simply lets the arrows fly, slaughtering all of Niobes 7 sons. Even though the last one begs for his life and divine mercy, Apollo’s misgivings for this one last child are moot as his arrow is already in mid-flight.

Upon hearing this news, Niobe’s husband Amphion impales himself on his own sword. Niobe is saddened, but her anger outweighs the sadness, and over the corpses of her seven dead sons she claims STILL that she is more deserving of praise than Latona. Niobe’s seven daughters then all meet death in turn. Niobe holds her last daughter and begs the gods to spare just one child, her youngest. This request is denied. Niobe is carried by winds to the peak of Sipylus, where she is a stone formation that weeps still.

LATONA AND THE LYCIAN PEASANTS

The followers of Latona, in the wake of the horrible fate of Niobe, tell a tale of others who also scorned the goddess and met their doom at her hand.

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Latona is exiled from the world by Juno, and gives birth to two divine children, Diana and Apollo. She is wandering endlessly, and stops at a lake to get a drink and rest. The peasants refuse to let Latona and her children drink. She begs them, and the children reach out their arms in a gesture so sad that no one should be capable of refusing. The peasants simply get angrier, and begin to throw insults at Latona, and stir up dirt in the pond so she cannot drink from it. Latona has had enough, and she transforms those who love the pond so much into frogs, so they may never leave it. Still they bicker with one another in and out of the water.

MARSYAS

Another contest between a boastful person and a god. This time, the satyr Marysas and Apollo are engaged in a flute contest. The satyr loses, and immediately wishes he hadn’t undertaken the contest at all. “Why do you tear me from myself? Oh, I repent! A flute is not worth such a price.” Marysas skin is flayed off. The Olympians, fauns, satyrs, and woodland deities all mourn his death, and the earth drinks his blood. The blood is turned into a stream that bears his name, the clearest in Phrygia.

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PELOPS

A random side story, Pelops is the brother of Niobe, who mourns epically at her fate. He tears off his robe in anguish, and her ivory left shoulder is laid bare. Pelop’s father had cut him up when he was a boy, and the gods put him back together, but they filled the missing piece with ivory.

TEREUS, PROCNE, PHILOMELA

Easily one of the most disturbing stories in the Metamorphoses. Tereus of Thrace saved Athens from invaders, and the grateful king Pandion granted his daughter Pronce to him in marriage as repayment. But this marriage is not blessed, by Juno or Hymen. Instead the furies attend with torches stolen from a funeral, they prepare the bed, and a screech owl built its nest on the rooftop. A child is conceived under these circumstances.

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These chicks hanging around during your honeymoon… it’s a wonder anyone could sleep at all, let alone consummate the damn thing.

Procne returns to Thrace, but soon misses her sister, and requests that Tereus bring Philomela back to visit, or that Procne may visit her at home. Tereus goes back to Athens to request the company of Philomela to appease his wife, but he sees Philomela and immediately is beset by love. Not the kind of love we covet, but a venal, lustful love. There is nothing Tereus wion;t do for a night with Philomela, bribrery, deception, or a direct carnal assault followed by years of war in defense of the rape. The desire makes Tereus eloquent, and he “granishes his plea with tears” to have a chance to ravish Philomela. Philomela requests that she be allowed to go, and as sge hugs her father Tereus imagines himself in Pandion’s position, so that he may feel her touch. “Indeed if he were Philomela’s father he’d not be less sacrilegious than he is.

The next day, Pandion tearfully bids his daughter farewell. He requests that Tereus remember the bonds of loyalty between the two men, and that he return his daughter safely. Pandion’s daughters are his most precious things in the world, and he wants nothing more than for Procne, Philomela, and his grandchildren, to be happy and healthy. Tereus has other plans, and in spite of these impassioned words still conspires to defile Philomela.

Upon reaching Thrace, Tereus drags Philomela to a hut in the woods, and rapes her repeatedly despite her cires for her sister, her father, and the gods to save her. she is stricken with grief and shock, near a breaking point. She decrees that she will tell the tale of her suffering and his atrocious deeds to anyone who will listen, including the gods and nature itself. Tereus grabs Philomela by the hair, and binds her. He draws his sword as if to kill her, and she gladly awaits her fate. Instead, Tereus cuts her tongue out. Her tongue continues to writhe despite its separation. Tereus then rapes her “magled body” again and again.

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Tereus manufactures a story of Philomela’s demise, and gives it all the tears needed for credibility.

A year passes, and Philomela is still trapped in the hut in the woods, under constant gaurd. Desperation can indeed invent,” and despite her inability to speak Philomela conjures a way to tell her story to Procne. She weaves a cloth as a “gift” to the queen, but inlays her tale in the threads. The servant takes the gift to Procne, who now knows her sister’s true fate.

During the festival of Bacchus, Procne conspires the free her sister. She is dressed in laurels and a deer-skin, and feigns a Bacchan frenzy so she could find her sister and break down the door. Procne then conceals her sister within ritualistic garb to steal her away to the palace in secret. Upon their reunion, Procne wants nothing more than swift, brutal vengeance against her husband. Her anger drives her toward a heinous act of revenge.

Procne’s son Itys is enraged by her son’s resemblance to his horrible father. Itys hugs her, and procne is moved to tears. But her gaze wanders toward her sister, and her rage is stirred once more. Procne seizes her son, and he knows his fate, crying for her to stop. Procne stabs and butchers her son, filling a boiling copper kettle with his remains.

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Procne serves this meal to her husband. When he calls for Itys, she states “The one yoou want is with you now – inside.” Philomela rushes in covered in gore, and flings the head of Itys at Tereus. As Tereus grabs his sword to sate his new bloodlust driven by rage and grief, all three are transformed into birds. Tereus becomes the Hoopoe “ever ready to attack.”

BOREAS AND ORITHYIA

In the wake of Tereus’ crimes, Athens rejects any marriage proposals from those hailing from Thrace. Boreas, one of the winds, hails from there, and still tries to use words to persuade the King for Orithyia’s hand in marriage. He soon gives up on this, and instead resorts to force, as it has worked for him always in the past when he wants anything. He rushes forth on the air, concealed by a dark cloud, and abducts Orithyia, taking her far north to the Cicones. Orithyia gives birth to twins, two sons who inherit their father’s wings. They were not born with wings, but gained them during adolescence. Their names were Zetes and Calais, and they went with Jason and the Argonauts on the quest for the Golden Fleece.

Metamorphoses Book 5

PERSEUS AND PHINEAS

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So begins the madness of the Perseus and Andromeda wedding. It all stems from a dissatisfied Phineas, brother of the king, who is upset that Perseus has been promised Andromeda, formerly promised to him. I’ll skip the fact that the king promised to wed his daughter to his brother, but this change in plans is well justified; as Phineas merely watched while Andromeda was chained to the rock and Perseus saved her. Basically, it was Perseus get to marry Andromeda, or she dies. Phineas is unmoved by this argument, and hurls a spear at Perseus. Perseus hurls the same spear back at its master, but Phineas has already taken refuge behind the altar, and the spear hits Rhoetus square in the face. As Rhoetus lays dying, all the guests clamor for the death of Perseus and the king, and the guests take sides in an all-out battle for survival.

Many old grudges are settled, and many characters receive several lines of backstory only to meet their death immediately afterwards. This storytelling technique seems a jarring and oblique one by modern standards, ruining the pacing, but it has its purpose. I view it as a way of making the deaths of these characters matter to a certain extent; they become more than just bodies for Perseus to slaughter. While this interrupts the ebb and flow of the story, I recall reading Tolkien in 8th grade and all the pages of descriptions and history of the land got in the way of the story plenty, but I don’t recall anyone getting upset about that except me.

Anywho, Perseus eventually is backed against a wall, and he has grown weary of fighting. He whips out the Gorgon’s head (I think he just wants to go to bed) and turns all the remaining fighters to stone; some mocking his use of such a trinket as they are transformed. It’s the equivalent of an ancient Greek smart-bomb. Foresight on Perseus’ part helps, as he warns his allies to avert their gaze just before the head is revealed. He finds Phineas with his eyes closed, hiding from Perseus. Phineas pleads for his life, and Perseus grants that he will not kill him, but will not spare him, and Phineas becomes a sobbing statue.

POLYDECTES

A mini-story featuring dual petrifications. First, Perseus returns to Argos to avenge his father’s father. Proetus had driven out Acrisius, his brother, and of course he can’t stop the head of Medusa (Perseus had nothing to do with his own victory). The second victim, Polydectes, declares all of Perseus’ deeds to be false. Of course, Perseus shows him proof of this with the handy dandy Gorgon head.

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MINERVA, THE MUSES, PEGASUS

Another mini-story, Minerva leaves Perseus’ side to meet the Muses. She comments of the majesty of their land Helicon, and the new fount which recently had been broken out of the ground by Pegasus’ hoof. This fount has blessed the home of the Muses.

PYRENEUS

The Muses recount to Minerva one of their trials. Pyreneus was a man who offered the Muses shelter once as they passed by, for rain was about to fall. As the Muses prepare to leave after the storm, Pyreneus attempts to rape them (all of them?). The Muses put on their wings and fly away. Apparently Pyreneus was insane, because he thought he could follow them, and he jumps off the top of his fortress only to smash his skull against the ground.

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THE PIERIDES

Minerva contemplates the Muses’ brief tale, and spies 9 magpies in the tree boughs. The Muses regale Minerva with the origin story of said magpies. They used to be nine sisters known as the Pierides, daughters of Pierus. They were highly talented in song and challenged the goddesses of Thespia (the Muses) to a battle of the bands. The stakes: The Muses will hand over the spring of Pegasus, and the Pierides will concede their land (wouldn’t that be their father’s land?). The nymphs set up their 3 judge panel a la American Idol, and they get to work. The Pierides perform admirably, and their words insult the gods, calling them cowards in the battles with the Giants and Typhoeus. The Muses are not a-mused (puns are fun) with this effort, and blast the Pierides with their mightiest tune!

CERES AND PROSERPINA

The Muses sing the tale of Ceres and Proserpina, and the tragedy within. The story begins with Venus and Cupid conspiring together for more power (a fascinating idea) and that while Jove in the sky and Neptune in the sea are ruled by passionate love, Pluto of the Underworld is at present immune to such control. Athena and Diana are mortal enemies of passionate love with their vows of chastity, and Venus fears that Ceres daughter Proserpina will choose a similar path if they do not intervene. Killing two birds with one stone, Cupid nails Pluto right through the chest with an arrow of love, and he proceeds to abduct Proserpina and whisk her off to the Underworld. The abduction of Proserpina is swift, violating her innocent game of flower gathering at Lake Pergus.

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On the way back to his realm, Pluto is blocked by Cynae, nymph of the Sicilian spring. She cannot watch as Proserpina is violated against her will. Pluto strikes the sea floor with his mighty scepter to create a hole into the underworld, bypassing Cynae entirely. Cynae cannot contain her grief at Proserpina’s loss of innocence, and she is transformed by her grief into the waters of the spring she presided over.

This might seem irrelevant, but check out the detail Bernini sculpted into the statue. That's the hand of Pluto on Proserpina's thigh. Very impressive work!

This might seem irrelevant, but check out the detail Bernini sculpted into the statue. That’s the hand of Pluto on Proserpina’s thigh. Very impressive work!

Ceres wanders through the land for days to find her daughter, and finally stops to rest at the home of an old woman. A nice barely-drink is given to Ceres to quench her thirst, but some random boy walks up an insults her. As foolish mortals seem to endlessly enrage immortals, Ceres throws the drink in the boy’s face, and he transforms into a sparkling newt.

Ceres wanders to Cynae’s spring, and spies her daughter’s girdle floating in the waters. In her anger, Ceres sees fit to punish the land that took her daughter from her by making all the land barren; no crops will grow there. Ceres is beseeched by Arethusa to spare the land of Siciliy, as the land had done no harm and is her favorite. Oh, and also she saw Proserpina in the Underworld as she passed by. Ceres is frozen with the calm before grief’s storm. When she regains her senses, she begs Jupiter to bring back their daughter from the hellish place of… Hell. Jupiter informs Ceres that so long as she hasn’t eaten anything down there, she may see the sun again, and by the way Pluto is a pretty good catch for her don’t you think?

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Proserpina had already eaten seven pomegranate seeds, for Ascalapus had seen this and doomed her. For this deed, Ascalapus is transformed into the screech owl, the bird of evil omens. Jupiter cannot undo the fate’s decree, but he can issue an edict to share Proserpina between the two realms. Proserpina must spend 6 months in Hades and 6 months with her mother, and the seasons change accordingly with her proximity to her mother, for Ceres decides the weather for harvest.

ARETHUSA AND ALPHEUS

The Muses backtrack to Arethusa’s story. Arethusa was a nymph who one day decided to bathe in a crystal clear stream, and from the depths Alpheus rises to make a rape attempt.

Arethusa flees, leaving her clothes behind, but this only incites the god more. She eventually runs out of strength and calls to Diana for aid. Diana conceals Arethusa in a cloud of mist. The river god is tenacious in his pursuit, and Arethusa begins to sweat and transform into a mass of water, a spring. This does not stop Alpheus, as he transforms into his water form to try and “mingle” with her. Diana creates a chasm for Arethusa to escape into the earth, and this is how she happened to travel past the underworld and spy Proserpina down there.

TRIPTOLEMUS AND LYNCUS

Ceres decides to travel to Athens after her daughter’s terrible ordeal, and she gives seeds of grain to Triptolemus, instructing him to spread them over many lands. He reaches Scythia, and speaks with the king there, Lyncus. Triptolemus offers the seeds of Ceres to the king, and the king is stricken by envy. Lyncus attempts to kill Triptolemus in his sleep so he can keep the seeds for himself, but Ceres intervenes and transforms the evil king into a lynx.

THE PIERIDES PART DEUX

The Grecian Idol panel of Nymphs decree the Calliope is the winner, and thereby all the Muses are champions. The Pierides have lost, but they hurl insults at the Muses in the bitterness of defeat. These insults are punished with a transformation, and all become magpies. These birds repeat what they hear, mocking those in the woods with their calls; “their endless need for sharp, impulsive, harsh, derisive speech remains: their old loquacity – they keep.”

Apparently, Magpies are known to swoop down on folks in Austrailia. Be warned!

Apparently, Magpies are known to swoop down on folks in Austrailia. Be warned!

Poor kid

Poor kid

Metamorphoses book IV

THE DAUGHTERS OF MINYAS PART I

            The priests of the land have instructed all to take part in the festival of Bacchus, and participate in mandatory depravity or face the god’s wrath. Minyas’ daughters stay home from the festivities, for they are not fans of Bacchus, and much prefer Minerva and her virtues. They are weaving to escape the rituals outside, and begin to tell stories to each other to aid in their escapism. This is the frame for the rest of book III.

PYRAMUS AND THISBE

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            Pyramus and Thisbe are the original Romeo and Juliet. They live next to each other and develop passionate love for each other, but such love is forbidden by their parents. They communicate through a hole in the wall between them, whispering to each other each day. They kiss this whole in the wall, for it is the closest they can be to each other. They conspire to meet outside in the woods near Ninus’ tomb next to the mulberry bush (still featuring white berries). Thisbe is the first to arrive after nightfall, and she comes across a lioness covered in blood, having just eaten some supper. Thisbe runs to hide, and her shawl falls off in her haste. The lioness rips the shawl up, transferring blood all over it. Pyramus shows up and finds the bloody shawl, assuming his love Thisbe is dead. He laments her passing with the unbridled passions of youth. Also like overly emotional youths, he believes that life without his love is not worth living and stabs himself. The blood of Pyramus stains the roots and fruits of the mulberry bush.

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Thisbe emerges from her hiding place just in time to witness Pyramus’ final breath, and she puts the pieces together in short order. Naturally she is just as young and passionate, and consumed with emotional anguish she decides to join her lover in death. “Men will say that I – unfortunate – was both the cause and comrade of your fate.”

MARS, VENUS, VULCAN, THE SUN

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            Apollo the sun-god is a witness to a great infidelity. Through his daily chore, where he is high in the sky and can see almost everything, he witnesses Mars and Venus in coitus. Apollo decides to inform Venus’ wife, Vulcan, of this fact. Vulcan hatches a plan to catch his wife and her lover in the act, and fashions a net made of bronze so thin it cannot be seen. The net is draped on the bed, and when Venus and Mars return for more carnal delights, the net snares them both. Vulcan throws open the doors to the room, so all the gods can bear witness. A god (I assume Bacchus) comments that “he would hope and pray that such obscenity and shame might be his lot.” The gods all laugh merrily at this sentiment (who knew gods could feel shame) and of course, Venus vows vengeance (I’m proud of that alliteration, you’re welcome).

LEUCOTHOE AND CLYTIE

            The next story from the daughters of Minyas revolves around Apollos’ romantic passions, as he revolves around the earth, so the roles are reversed (that was terrible). Apollo has many women who want him, but the object of his obsessive love in this story is Leucothoe. To get close to her, he takes the guise of her mother Eurynome, and orders the servants out. Upon witnessing her in such close quarters, he loses all self-control and she becomes a victim of his lust.

Clytie is another of Apollo’s potential suitors, and she thinks that ridding the world of Leucothoe will free Apollo for the taking, by her of course. By informing Leucothoe’s father of his daughter’s impurity, Clytie dooms her competitor. Leuchotoe’s father buries his daughter alive in the sands. Apollo attempts to burn away the dirt around his dying love, but fails to provide any oxygen (even if she lived, she likely would be horribly burned beyond recognition). Apollo mourns this loss, coming so soon after the death of Phaeton, and still continues to spurn Clytie’s advances. Clytie gives up, and lays naked upon the Earth, watching the sun’s journey across the sky. She does not eat or sleep, and withers away until the Earth takes hold of her, and she transforms into a plant that watches the sun. Interestingly, the plant was originally a turnsole, but in modern interpretations has been altered so she becomes a sunflower instead; “Her love intact.”

SALAMACIS AND HERMAPHRODOTUS

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            Hermaphrodotus was the son of Mercury and a Cytherean goddess (so he’s a knockout 10 out of 10) and he loves to adventure. When he’s 15, he finds a perfectly clear pool, where one can see down into the very bottom. Unfortunately, this is the haunt of Salamacis the naiad. Salamacis finds Hermaphrodotus irresistible and compliments his beauty, and propositions marriage between the two. Hermaphrodotus is”ignorant of love,” (I’m assuming virginity) and he rejects her advances, promising to yield the spot to her if his presence bothers her so. Salamacis pretends to leave, and instead hides in the bushes to watch him bathe. He swims naked, and this drives Salamacis into a lustful frenzy. “The light shines through the limpid pool, revealing him – as if, within clear glass, one had encased white lilies with the white of ivory shapes.” Salamacis dives into the pool and aggressively “fondles” the boy, and yet he continues to deny her. However, Salamacis will not let him go, and she beseeches the gods with her plea: “do grant my plea: may no day dawn that sunders him from me, or me from him.” The two bodies are merged together at the behest of the gods, and the result is neither man nor woman. The androgynous form loses its former strength in the process, and the voice is no longer one of a man. The pool then gains a new attribute, and the waters curse anyone who touches them by sapping the victim’s strength, making them “weakened, softened.”

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THE DAUGHTERS OF MINYAS PART II

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            As twilight comes for the daughters of Minyas, so does the procession of the Bacchantes to invade their sanctuary away from the madness. The horde charges forth, and the house begins to transform. The hanging cloth in the home becomes ridden with boughs and grapevines, and the oil lamps flare up, while phantom beasts appear and roar among the cacophony. The change spreads even to the daughters of Minyas, as their arms shrink and grow membranes, forming wings; they are now the bats which swarm the woods at night.

ATHAMAS AND INO

            Ino is the sister of Semele, mother of Bacchus and victim of Juno’s scorn. Athamas is her fabulous husband, and she has many children to be proud of, including her nephew Bacchus. This whole affair just rubs Juno the wrong way, and she seeks to destroy the happy family, claiming she is doing as Bacchus would to his own enemies (an ironic sentiment!). Juno ventures into Hades, to ask the furies for their aid in her nefarious plan. The furies are terrible to behold, with hair as snakes, and Hades itself is a land of eternal suffering and gloom for the deceased. Tisiphone “at once seized a torch – it was blood soaked; then, putting on a bloodied crimson cloak, she wrapped a snake around her waist and left.” Tisiphone confronts Ino and Athamus, and their terror soon becomes insanity. Tisiphone hurls twin vipers at them, and these snakes inflict a “dread assault” on their minds.

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            Ino flees the palace, and Athamus calls for a hunt for a “wild lioness” in the forest. In actuality, he is pursuing his own wife. Athamus tracks down his wife, and believes her to be a lioness with two cubs. He smashes one of his son’s head against a rock in his madness. Ino’s madness or grief (or both) drive her to shout Bacchus’ name, and she dives off a cliff face into the ocean with her second son. Venus takes pity on her granddaughter Ino, and requests that Neptune make Ino and her son into new sea deities. Neptune grants this request, and the son becomes Palaemon, and Ino becomes Leucothoe.

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CADMUS AND HARMONIA

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            Cadmus is the father of Ino, and all around him his family has suffered at the hands of the gods. Cadmus wonders aloud whether this whole course of events is divine retribution for his slaying of Mars’ favored serpent when he founded Thebes long ago. “If the gods’ intent in all they have inflicted is revenge for that, then may I, too, become a snake: let me be stretched into a serpent’s shape.” The gods oblige, confirming his fatalistic theory. Cadmus’ dear wife holds onto him as he transforms, and eventually they both are fully formed snakes bound together. They are mild serpents, and to this day do not attack humans.

ACRISUS

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            A minor detail: Acrisus is related to Cadmus, and first denies the authority of Bacchus, and the divine origins of Perseus (from his own daughter Danae and a golden Jovian shower no less), but he soon changes his tune and accepts all of the above. As Perseus flies above Libya with the head of Medusa, the drops of her fresh blood rain down upon the land, and that is why Libya is snake infested.

PERSUES AND ATLAS

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            Perseus continues his flight from the previous entry, and comes to the land of Hesperia to rest. This is the land of Atlas, son of Iapetus, and bearer of the weight of the world. Perseus wants a place to rest, and requests to be a guest of Atlas. Atlas has heard a prophecy previously, that a “son of Jove” would “despoil” the Hesperian trees of all their gold. Atlas claims that Perseus’ deeds and divine lineage are fabrications, and tries to push Perseus away. Perseus does what Perseus does best: “I shall requite you with this gift!” *shows Gorgon head to Atlas* Atlas is transformed into a mountain instead rather than a stone version of himself, so that the Heavens and Earth may still rest on his mighty bulk.

PERSEUS AND ANDROMEDA

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            Perseus is flying around once more with the gift from Mercury and Medusa’s head on his belt for quick access. He flies over Cepheus’ realm, the land of Ethiopians, and finds Andromeda chained to a rock in the ocean. He descends to investigate, and Andromeda informs Perseus that she is to be the sacrifice that will save her country from the wrath her mother brought upon their family. Andromeda’s mother “Cassiope had claimed that she surpassed even the beauty of the Nereids,” and such punishment had been inflicted on their realm by for her mother’s words. A huge dragon emerges from the sea to take Andromeda, and her parents only watch with tears in their eyes. Perseus, seeing an opportunity, takes the time to broker Andromeda’s hand in marriage before springing into action to slay the beast. Perseus defeats the beast without using Medusa’s head (good for you man) and instead flies with his enchanted sandals and stabs mercilessly with his sword. The battle ends in a climax on a shoal in the ocean, as his winged footwear becomes too wet to rely on, and he slays the beast standing on solid ground.

Perseus receives victory, and the lovely Andromeda, as his rewards. When he goes to wash up after the battle, he rests Medusa’s head face-down in the sand with some weeds underneath to preserve the face that turns men to stone. The weeds under her gaze harden, and sea nymphs spread these hardened plants throughout the sea; the origin of all coral.

PERSEUS AND MEDUSA

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         One of the best things made by Ray Harryhausen: stop motion king!

         Perseus makes the necessary sacrifices to appease the gods after his victory, and his new friends in Cepheus’ house want to hear how he killed Medusa. First Perseus stole the single eye shared by the Graeae, Phorcys’ daughters, by waiting until they were passing it between themselves and nabbing it. Then he trekked to the land of Medusa and her sister gorgons, finding the petrified remains of all who had come before him. Perseus had a plan: to use his bronze shield to reflect her “dread form” so he could get close enough to make a fatal wound. Perseus awaits her slumber (including the slumber of the snakes on her head) and with the shield reflecting her form, he decapitates her. Medusa’s blood gives rise to two new creatures: Chrysaor and Pegasus. Medusa’s origins are told as well by Perseus on request. Medusa came about tragically, as she was once a beautiful mortal, and her hair was the jewel of her beauty. She was raped by Neptune in Minerva’s sanctuary. While Minerva averts her eyes, she punishes Medusa with a head of snake hair. Minerva cannot punish Neptune for his deeds, but someone must pay for violating her sanctuary in such a way. A virgin goddess cannot have impure sex in her temple.

Metamorphoses Book III

CADMUS

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            Cadmus’s father commands him to find his sister, Europa, whom Jove had recently taken for his unique brand of carnal predation. Cadmus is instructed by an oracle that a heifer pure of human use will guide him to the location for his new great city. After the heifer is found, Cadmus needs some water for the sacrifice to Jove, and his men meet a mighty serpent in the woods (sacred to Mars no less) that kills many of them. Cadmus kills the beast, stabbing it through with his lance and sticking it to an oak tree. Cadmus hears Minerva come, and she orders him to plant the serpent’s teeth in the ground. Men begin to sprout from said teeth in earth, and Cadmus watches as they fight and kill one another. Minerva instructs one of the brothers to lay down his weapons, and peace is brokered between the survivors. The five brothers are with Cadmus as he founds Thebes!

ACTAEON

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Awesome sculpture in Caserta, Italy

           Actaeon, the grand-son of Cadmus, is tired after a long day of successful hunting with his armada of hunting dogs. Diana and her posse of nymphs are relaxing in a pond nearby, devoid of most clothing and at their most vulnerable. Actaeon stumbles on the pool hidden in the grove, and Diana flings the “waters of revenge” at him with intense malice. “Now go, feel free to say that you have seen the goddess without veils – if you can speak.” Actaeon has become a wild stag! Actaeon is ripped apart in a brutal fashion, but Ovid ensures that we know the names of every last dog as it bites. Diana is pleased, as is Juno, for she wants anyone related to Europa to suffer.

The sculpture at Caserta is one of two, depicting the entire story:

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SEMELE

            Semele happens to be another victim of Jove’s wanton lust, and she is pregnant with his child. Juno seeks vengeance once more, and she appears before Semele as Semele’s nurse Epidaurus, a kindly old woman. Juno proposes to Semele that Jove may not actually be divine but one of many men who claim Jove’s name to get into the pants of mortal women. To prove his divinity, Juno asks Semele to tell Jove to “embrace her as he embraces Juno.” When Jove returns to Semele, he once again foolishly promises her anything she desires on the River Styx, and we’ve seen how that works out. So Jove appears in his mighty form, and he even tones it down a shade, but Semele is still burned away to ash. Or blown up; I like the zing of the second option. In a grand paternal gesture, Jove takes it upon himself to spare the unborn child from the blast. This child is Bacchus, the god of wine, debauchery, madness, and other fun past-times.

Melty-tohtMortals CAN’T LOOK UPON GOD!!!

TIRESIAS

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            Jove and Juno are having an argument over whether men or women derive more pleasure from sex. What fun! They seek the help of Tiresias, one of the few who has changed genders. Tiresias found two snakes mating in the woods and hit them with his staff, transforming him into a woman. Eight years later, he found the same snakes, and hit them with his staff once again, transforming back into a man. Of course the eight years gave him plenty of time for carnal delights and therefore an authority on the topic of debate. Tiresias sides with Jove, so women apparently do have more fun with sex than men. Juno takes away his sight “condemned to never-ending night,” and as a gift of apology, Jove grants him the ability to prophesy.

NARCISSUS AND ECHO

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            One of Tiresias’s first prophecies comes to Liriope, a river nymph. She inquires if her son Narcissus (born of a nymph AND a river god Cephius, so naturally he’s GORGEOUS) will live to see old age. “Yes, if he never knows himself,” is Tiresias’s reply.

Echo was a nymph who would often cover for Jove’s philandering by talking to Juno just long enough for him to get away clean (relatively speaking). Her curse from Juno was this: “From now on, you’ll not have much use of the voice that tricked me so.” Echo can now only repeat what she hears.

Narcissus is now 16, wandering through the woods, and Echo has been watching him. She slowly starts to burn with love for him. Narcissus calls for his friends, and she mimes back all he says. As Echo approaches Narcissus, he shouts “I’d sooner die than say I’m yours!” Her reply? “I’m Yours!” Of course, Narcissus gets the Hell out of there as fast as he can. Echo hides in caves, ashamed, and withers away. The sound of echoes in caves and hidden places comes from this unrequited love story.

Apparently, Narcissus has spurned the love of one too many. One of his “fans” is hurt enough to beseech the gods that Narcissus should suffer as others have suffered him; let him fall in love and be denied. Narcissus seeks refuge from the heat via a crystal clear, ripple-less pool deep in the woods. He quenches one thirst, only to be trapped by another insatiable one! He laments that he cannot have this person before him, and cannot turn away even for a moment. His gaze is locked on the object of his dreams, and so consumed by love for himself that he wastes away in the forest staring into the mirror-like pool. The Naiads and Dryads search for his body after Narcissus dies, but they find only the white narcissus flower in his place.

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PENTHEUS (aka the origins of Bacchus)

            Pentheus is a skeptic of magical powers, to say the least. He openly mocks Tiresias, and the old seer predicts that his lack of faith and loyalty will cost him dearly; for Pentheus will be ripped into a thousand pieces.

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            Pentheus hears of men and women in the land of Thebes (Cadmus is his father) falling victim to a singular madness. They forsake their duties and run about ranting and raving, producing music and drinking heavily (sounds about right for party-animals). Pentheus sees this as a threat to the realm, more insidious and dangerous than any invading army. He demands that his men retrieve the man responsible so he can prove that this man is counterfeit, and no being of divinity.

One of the captured slaves is Acoetes, and he regales Pentheus with the tale of how he encountered Bacchus.

(Origins of Bacchus)

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          Acoetes is a fisherman/sailor with a large crew. On their travels, they find a beautiful, mysterious boy wandering the fields as a drunk. Immediately, Acoetes can sense something divine in the boy’s nature, and he wants to ask the boy for forgiveness and to let him go. The crew wants to sell the boy (or perform other deeds with him, they say his “form could match the loveliness of a young girl”) against Acoetes wishes. Acoetes uses his authority as captain, and is met with fists and almost topples into the ocean. Bacchus then comes into a sober state, and demands to know what’s happening. The crew were surprised I think, but quick on their feet, as they simply tell him they will take Bacchus to any place he wants to go and release him. Acoetes will have no part in this, and the crew sets sail for another place, in an attempt to fool the god-child. Bacchus can tell quickly the direction is false, and he punishes the men for their evil intentions. “What did I do to earn this punishment? What glory can you sailors win in tricking me – a boy?” The ship stops, and Ivy begins to climb up the oars. Bacchus now has his traditional garlands and grape clusters. Phantom tigers, lynxes, and panthers chase the men off the ship, and all the men are transformed into whales or dolphins of some variety in a grotesque fashion. Bacchus asks to be taken to Naxos, and a horrified Acoetes agrees to man the ship.

Pentheus displays naught but anger at this story, and locks Acoetes up for future torture. Acoetes’ chains fall off magically, as Pentheus rides his horse to confront Bacchus and the Bacchantes. Pentheus sees Bacchus, but his charge is interrupted by his own mother’s charge in his direction! She believes he is a huge boar intruding on the proceedings. Pentheus’ dread levels spike, and he sees his aunt Ino charging him as well. Pentheus attempts to bring the women to their senses, but they tear Pentheus apart with mad screams, scattering pieces of him in all directions.

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