Selections from the Metamorphoses of Ovid

Book I


My mind intends to speak of forms changed into new bodies.

O gods, inspire the work which I begin—for you changed yourselves and those things—
And establish my poem perpetual
From the first source of the world to my time.

The Four Ages (I.89-150)

Golden did it first arise, the age which with no vindicator

But of its own accord and without law was cultivating faith and moral rectitude.
Punishments and fear were absent; neither were threatening words joined to fixed bronze,
Nor did the suppliant crowd fear the words of his judge,
But they were safe without a champion.
The pine tree, fallen from its mountain, that it might see foreign world,
Had not yet descended from its mountains into the bright waves,
And nothing save his own shores had mortal man known.
Not yet did deep ditches seal towns.
There were no trumpets of straight bronze nor horns of bent bronze,
There were no helmets, no swords; without the use of a soldier,
The carefree nations continued their peaceful repose.
Also herself, free from rake and untouched nor wounded by any plow,
Through herself the earth gave all things,
And contented with food produced with no cultivating,
Men were gathering the fruits of strawberry trees and mountain strawberries,
Cornel berries and mulberries stuck in hard brambles,
And the acorns which had fallen from Jupiter’s broad-leafed trees.

Spring was eternal and with warm vapors,

Placid Zephyrs were fondling the flowers born without seed.
Likewise, the unplowed earth was producing fruit
Nor was the renewed field aging with bountiful harvests.
At one time the rivers were flowing with milk, at another with nectar,
And golden honey was dripping from the green oak.

After that, with Saturn sent into gloomy Tartarus,

The world was under the power of Jupiter, the silver generation succeeded,
Worse than the golden, more precious than tawny bronze.
Jupiter contracted the time of ancient spring,
And through winter, summer, changeable autumn, and short spring
In seasons four he measured the year.
Then first with dry heat did the burnt air shine,
And icicles hang.
Then first did men enter homes; their homes were caves,
Dense shrubs and twigs entwined by bark.
Then first were cereal seeds covered in long rows,
And bowed  under the yoke, young oxen groaned.

A third one followed after that,

A bronze generation, more fierce in tempers and to horrible weapons quicker,
Nevertheless not a criminal age; the last is of hard iron.
Immediately, every evil broke into an age of a lesser ore.
Propriety, truth, and faith fled,
In whose place entered fraud, trickery, deceits,
Strength and wicked lust of possessions.
They gave sails to the winds and the sailor had not yet known them well,
And the keels which long had stood in the high mountains
Leapt in strange waves.
A thing previously common like the lights of the Sun and the breezes before,
A careful surveyor has measured the earth with long lines.
Nor for crops and nourishment due was the rich earth being asked,
But there was a journey into the inmost parts of the earth.
Those riches which the earth had hidden and moved into Stygian shadows,
Were excavated, the stimuli of evil deeds.
Now had harmful iron produced gold more criminal than the sword.
It produces war which fights everywhere
And brandishes clattering weapons with a bloody hand.
One lives by plunder; host is not safe from guest nor guest from host,
Father-in-law is not safe from son-in-law; even the affection of brothers is rare.
A man threatens the death of his wife, the wife of her husband.
Terrible stepmothers mix ghastly aconite,
The son seeks his father’s years before his time.
Piety lies conquered, and the Virgin, the last of the gods,
Astraea leaves an earth dripping with slaughter.

The Flood (I.253-312)

Then Jupiter was about to shower lightening onto the whole earth

And he feared lest perchance the heavens totally absorb the flames
From the fires on earth and the length of the world burn.
He also remembers that it is in the fates
That that the time will appear when the sea, the Earth, and the throne of heaven
Burns—seized by flames—and the bulk of the universe, having been attacked, suffer.
The bolts are returned, by the hands of the Cyclopes fabricated.
A different punishment is pleasing: to destroy the mortal race under the waves
And to drop storm clouds from the entire sky.
Next he seals off the North Wind in the Aeolian caves
As well as whatever winds dispel the drawn-up storm clouds,
And he sends forth the South Wind.  On wet wings the South Wind flies forth,
A terrible visage covered in pitch-black fog.
A beard heavy with rain, a wave flows from his hoary whiskers,
Mists are sitting on his forehead, his wings and breast drip dew.
And when Jupiter presses the hanging rainclouds with a wide hand,
A crash is made; hence from the heavens are cast heavy rain.
The messenger of Juno, dressed in various colors,
Iris draws up water and brings nourishment to the clouds.
Crops are flattened and the prayers of the husbandman lie in ruins,
The vain labor of long years perishes.
Nor is Jupiter’s ire contained in his heavens,
But his blue brother aids him with helpful waves
He calls the rivers here, after they have entered the homes of their tyrant,
“Now is not the time,” he said, “for an extended explanation,
Pour forth your strength: such is the task.
Break open houses and with the dyke removed,
Drop all restraint from your courses.”
He had commanded.  They return and open their mouths at the sources
They roll themselves in unbridled flight onto the plains.

The one himself struck the earth with his own trident,

But it trembled and from the motion it made a waterway.
The extended river rushed through the open fields,
It seizes the orchards along with their crops, the sheep, the men,
And homes, and despoils the shrines with their sacred things.
If any house remained and standing firm was able to resist
The whole evil, still higher waves cover
This roof and towers lie hidden sunken under the whirling waters.
Now the sea and the land had no distinction:
Everything was the sea, shores were also absent from the sea.

One man occupies a hill, in a hooked boat sits another

And he rows there, where recently he plowed.
That man over crops or the tops of a submerged farmhouse
Sails, here seeks a fish in the top of an elm.
Fixed in a green meadow, if chance has it, is the anchor
Or curved keels caress vineyards below.
And where just recently graceful nannies ate grass,
Now there ugly sea-cows place their bodies.
The Nereids marvel at the sacred groves, cities, and homes under the sea,
Dolphins hold the forests and brush against high branches,
They hit the tumbling oaks.
A wolf floats among sheep; the waves bear tigers and tawny lions;
The strength of a tusk was not useful to the carried away boar
Nor swift legs to the swept away stag.
With land long sought, when he is able to stop
On wearied wings he falls into the wandering seas.
The immense power of the sea had covered hills,
Strange waves were beating upon the pointed mountains.
The greatest part of creatures are seized by a wave; whatever the waves spare,
Long starvation subdues those through weak nourishment.

Daphne and Apollo (I.452-507)

The first love of Phoebus was Peneus’ Daphne,
which not slothful chance but Cupid’s savage rage gave.
Delius recently, proud because he overcame the serpent,
Had seen this one bending the curved bows strung with a string
“What good is it to you, wanton boy, with your strong weapons?”
He had said, “Such burdens are fitting for our shoulders,
We who are able to bestow sure wounds on the wild beast and the enemy
Who just now covered swollen Python, pressing so many fields with his pestilential belly
with innumerable arrows.
Be content to stir up some lovers with your marriage-torch,
Do not claim our honors!”
Venus’ son to him “Phoebus, let your bow pierce all things
Let mine hit you and as much as animals yield to a god,
So is your glory less than ours.”
He said, and with feathers ruffled by crushed air,
The energetic one halts at the shadowy citadel of Parnassus
And from an arrow-bearing quiver produces two arrows
Of many functions: one causes flight from love, the other causes love.
The latter is gold-gilt and shines at the sharp tip;
The former is dull and has lead below the shaft.
The god fixed the latter in the Peneid nymph; but with the former
He strikes Apollo’s marrow, through bone transfixed.
Now the one loves, the other flees the name of a lover.
In forest retreats, captive animals’ lairs
And in hides the rival of unwed Phoebe rejoices.
She was restraining her lawless hair with a band.
Many sought her.  The girl, intolerant of those seeking the unattainable
And desiring no part of men, roams unknown lands,
Nor did she care for what Hymen is, Love is, or what marriages are.
Often her father said, “Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law;”
Often her father said, “Child, you owe me grandsons.”
That woman, hating the marriage torch as if a crime
Had covered her beautiful face with a modest blush
And hanging on the neck of her father with fawning arms,
“Allow me, beloved father,” she said,
“To enjoy perpetual virginity.  A father gave this before to Diana.”
He certainly yields.  But that beauty of yours forbids that you be what you desire.
Your form is incompatible with your vow.
Phoebus loves and desires the marriage of Daphne since he has seen her,
Whatever he desires, for that he hopes, and his oracular powers deceive him.
As the light burdens are burned from the ears of grain
As the hedges burn by torches, which the traveler
Either moved too much or already abandoned by the light,
Thus the god leaves enflamed, thus his breast
Is totally burnt and he nourishes sterile love with hope.
He sees that the unadorned hair hangs on a branch,
“How, if they should be arranged?” he says; he sees the eyes
Glittering with sidereal fire, and the lips, which are not sufficient to have seen;
He praises the hands, the fingers, and the arms
He praises the bare upper arms, the middle more than the part;
If anything escapes notice, he supposes it better.
More swiftly she flees than a gentle breeze lest she pause at these recalling words:
“Nymph, I pray, daughter of Peleus, remain!  An enemy does not pursue you;
Nymph, remain!  As a lamb flees a wolf, as a hind flees a lion
As a dove flees an eagle on trembling wing,
Each flees an enemy; love is the cause of my pursuit!

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