Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished Mythologized and Represented in Figures
Translated by George Sandys
The Images from the 1640 Edition
Plate from Book 4 (detail)
Alcithoe, daughter of King Minyas, consents not to the orgies of the God; denies that Bacchus is the son of Jove, and her two sisters join her in that crime.
'Twas festal-day when matrons and their maids, keeping it sacred, had forbade all toil. -- And having draped their bosoms with wild skins, they loosed their long hair for the sacred wreaths, and took the leafy thyrsus in their hands; -- for so the priest commanded them. Austere the wrath of Bacchus if his power be scorned.
Mothers and youthful brides obeyed the priest; and putting by their wickers and their webs, dropped their unfinished toils to offer up frankincense to the God; invoking him with many names: -- "O Bacchus! O Twice-born! O Fire-begot! You only child Twice-mothered! God of all those who plant the luscious grape! O Liber!" All these names and many more, for ages known -- throughout the lands of Greece.
"Your youth is not consumed by wasting time; and lo, you are an ever-youthful boy, most beautiful of all the Gods of Heaven, smooth as a virgin when your horns are hid. -- The distant east to tawny India's clime, where rolls remotest Ganges to the sea, was conquered by your might. -- O Most-revered! You did destroy the doubting Pentheus, and hurled the sailors' bodies in the deep, and smote Lycurgus, wielder of the ax.
"And you do guide your lynxes, double-yoked, with showy harness. -- Satyrs follow you; and Bacchanals, and old Silenus, drunk, unsteady on his staff; jolting so rough on his small back-bent ass; and all the way resounds a youthful clamor; and the screams of women! and the noise of tambourines! And the hollow cymbals! and the boxwood flutes, -- fitted with measured holes. -- You are implored by all Ismenian women to appear peaceful and mild; and they perform your rites."
Only the daughters of King Minyas are carding wool within their fastened doors, or twisting with their thumbs the fleecy yarn, or working at the web. So they corrupt the sacred festival with needless toil, keeping their hand-maids busy at the work.
And one of them, while drawing out the thread with nimble thumb, anon began to speak; "While others loiter and frequent these rites fantastic, we the wards of Pallas Athena, much to be preferred, by speaking novel thoughts may lighten labor. Let us each in turn, relate to an attentive audience, a novel tale; and so the hours may glide." it pleased her sisters, and they ordered her to tell the story that she loved the most.
So, as she counted in her well-stored mind the many tales she knew, first doubted she whether to tell the tale of Derceto, -- that Babylonian, who, aver the tribes of Palestine, in limpid ponds yet lives, -- her body changed, and scales upon her limbs; or how her daughter, having taken wings, passed her declining years in whitened towers. Or should she tell of Nais, who with herbs, too potent, into fishes had transformed the bodies of her lovers, till she met herself the same sad fate; or of that tree which sometime bore white fruit, but now is changed and darkened by the blood that stained its roots. -- Pleased with the novelty of this, at once she tells the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe; -- and swiftly as she told it unto them, the fleecy wool was twisted into threads. (...)
Now though the daughters of King Minyas have made an end of telling tales, they make no end of labor; for they so despise the deity, and desecrate his feast.
While busily engaged, with sudden beat they hear resounding tambourines; and pipes and crooked horns and tinkling brass renew, unseen, the note; saffron and myrrh dissolve in dulcet odors; and, beyond belief, the woven webs, dependent on the loom, take tints of green, put forth new ivy leaves, or change to grape-vines verdant. There the thread is twisted into tendrils, there the warp is fashioned into many-moving leaves -- the purple lends its splendor to the grape.
And now the day is past; it is the hour when night ambiguous merges into day, which dubious owns nor light nor dun obscure; and suddenly the house begins to shake, and torches oil-dipped seem to flare around, and fires a-glow to shine in every room, and phantoms, feigned of savage beasts, to howl. --
Full of affright amid the smoking halls the sisters vainly hide, and wheresoever they deem security from flaming fires, fearfully flit. And while they seek to hide, a membrane stretches over every limb, and light wings open from their slender arms.
In the weird darkness they are unaware
what measure wrought to change their wonted shape. No plumous vans avail
to lift their flight, yet fair they balance on membranous wing. Whenever
they would speak a tiny voice, diminutive, apportioned to their size, in
squeaking note complains. Adread the light, their haunts avoid by day the
leafy woods, for sombre attics, where secure they rest till forth the dun
obscure their wings may stretch at hour of Vesper; -- this accords their
name -- the bats.
Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 BCE - 17 CE)
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