Chapter Five: Assignments and Readings

Assignments on Chapter Five

The level of complexity ranges from Assignment 1 to Assignment 7. Recommended articles follow.

ASSIGNMENT 1: Close reading of Greek myth “Daphne and Apollo” in Book I, Ch. XII

GOAL: To build from familiarity with to analysis of the characterizations of mythological figures by Ovid. This short writing activity builds on critical reading and thinking skills to succeed in the learning process of interpreting a piece of literature with theoretical approaches.

INSTRUCTIONS: To build on Ovid’s representation of Greek mythological figures a) Read and identify the figures Daphne and Apollo, and b) Review notes, re-read story , and list and compare their characteristics and associations. *Be mindful of gender identifications and definitions, according to the text. OER Ovid’s Metamorphosis

ASSIGNMENT 2: A Closereading of “Orpheus and Eurydice” in Book X, Chapter 1

GOAL: This short writing activity on your close-reading of “Orpheus and Eurydice” in Book X, Chapter 1 of Ovid’s Metamorphosis builds on critical reading and thinking skills to succeed in the learning process of interpreting a piece of literature with theoretical approaches.

INSTRUCTIONS: Frank Bloom argues that Ovid’s version of Orpheus shows the consequences of the human/nonhuman binary, which privileges humans over the nonhuman. A close reading of Orpheus also can inform us on today’s sustainability policies that uphold the ideological value system of privileging human over the nonhuman. Taken to the extreme, “the ideological underpinnings of sustainability serve to reinforce the hierarchical configuration that privileges human over nonhuman” (Bloom). OER Metamorphosis by Ovid


My design leads me to speak of forms changed into new bodies.[1] Ye

Gods, (for you it was who changed them,) favor my attempts,[2] and bring

down the lengthened narrative from the very beginning of the world,

{even} to my own times.[3]


FABLE I. [X.1-85]

Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus, while sporting in the fields, with

other Nymphs, is bitten by a serpent, which causes her death. After

having mourned for her, Orpheus resolves to go down to the Infernal

Regions in quest of her. Pluto and the Fates consent to her return,

on condition that Orpheus shall not look on her till he is out of

their dominions. His curiosity prevailing, he neglects this

injunction, on which she is immediately snatched away from him,

beyond the possibility of recovery. Upon this occasion, the Poet

relates the story of a shepherd, who was turned into a rock by a

look of Cerberus; and that of Olenus and Lethæa, who were

transformed into stones.

Thence Hymenæus, clad in a saffron-coloured[1] robe, passed through the

unmeasured tract of air, and directed his course to the regions of the

Ciconians[2], and, in vain, was invoked by the voice of Orpheus. He

presented himself indeed, but he brought with him neither auspicious

words, nor joyful looks, nor {yet} a happy omen. The torch, too, which

he held, was hissing with a smoke that brought tears to the eyes, and as

it was, it found no flames amid its waving. The issue was more

disastrous than the omens; for the newmade bride, while she was

strolling along the grass, attended by a train of Naiads, was killed,

having received the sting of a serpent on her ankle.

After the Rhodopeïan bard had sufficiently bewailed her in the upper

{realms of} air, that he might try the shades below as well, he dared to

descend to Styx by the Tænarian gate, and amid the phantom inhabitants

and ghosts that had enjoyed the tomb, he went to Persephone, and him

that held these unpleasing realms, the Ruler of the shades; and touching

his strings in concert with his words, he thus said, “O ye Deities of

the world that lies beneath the earth, to which we {all} come {at last},

each that is born to mortality; if I may be allowed, and you suffer me

to speak the truth, laying aside[3] the artful expressions of a

deceitful tongue; I have not descended hither {from curiosity} to see

dark Tartarus, nor to bind the threefold throat of the Medusæan monster,

bristling with serpents. {But} my wife was the cause of my coming; into

whom a serpent, trodden upon {by her}, diffused its poison, and cut

short her growing years. I was wishful to be able to endure {this}, and

I will not deny that I have endeavoured {to do so}. Love has proved the

stronger. That God is well known in the regions above. Whether he be so

here, too, I am uncertain; but yet I imagine that even here he is; and

if the story of the rape of former days is not untrue, ’twas love that

united you {two} together. By these places filled with horrors, by this

vast Chaos, and by the silence of these boundless realms, I entreat you,

weave over again the quick-spun thread {of the life} of Eurydice.

“To you we all belong; and having staid but a little while {above},

sooner or later we {all} hasten to one abode. Hither are we all

hastening. This is our last home; and you possess the most lasting

dominion over the human race. She, too, when, in due season she shall

have completed her allotted {number of} years, will be under your sway.

The enjoyment {of her} I beg as a favour. But if the Fates deny me this

privilege in behalf of my wife, I have determined that I will not

return. Triumph in the death of us both.”

As he said such things, and touched the strings to his words, the

bloodless spirits wept. Tantalus did not catch at the retreating water,

and the wheel of Ixion stood still, {as though} in amazement; the birds

did not tear the liver {of Tityus}; and the granddaughters of Belus

paused at their urns; thou, too, Sisyphus, didst seat thyself on thy

stone. The story is, that then, for the first time, the cheeks of the

Eumenides, overcome by his music, were wet with tears; nor could the

royal consort, nor he who rules the infernal regions, endure to deny him

his request; and they called for Eurydice. She was among the shades

newly arrived, and she advanced with a slow pace, by reason of her


The Rhodopeïan hero receives her, and, at the same time, {this}

condition, that he turn not back his eyes until he has passed the

Avernian vallies, or else that the grant will be revoked. The ascending

path is mounted in deep silence, steep, dark, and enveloped in deepening

gloom. And {now} they were not far from the verge of the upper earth.

He, enamoured, fearing lest she should flag, and impatient to behold

her, turned his eyes; and immediately she sank back again. She, hapless

one! both stretching out her arms, and struggling to be grasped, and to

grasp him, caught nothing but the fleeting air. And now, dying a second

time, she did not at all complain of her husband; for why should she

complain of being beloved? And now she pronounced the last farewell,

which scarcely did he catch with his ears; and again was she hurried

back to the same place.

No otherwise was Orpheus amazed at this twofold death of his wife, than

he who, trembling, beheld the three necks[4] of the dog, the middle one

supporting chains; whom fear did not forsake, before his former nature

{deserted him}, as stone gathered over his body: and {than} Olenus,[5]

who took on himself the crime {of another}, and was willing to appear

guilty; and {than} thou, unhappy Lethæa, confiding in thy beauty;

breasts, once most united, now rocks, which the watery Ida supports. The

ferryman drove him away entreating, and, in vain, desiring again to

cross {the stream}. Still, for seven days, in squalid guise[6] did he

sit on the banks without the gifts of Ceres. Vexation, and sorrow of

mind, and tears were his sustenance. Complaining that the Deities of

Erebus[7] were cruel, he betook himself to lofty Rhodope, and Hæmus,[8]

buffeted by the North winds. The third Titan had {now} ended the year

bounded by the Fishes of the ocean;[9] and Orpheus had avoided all

intercourse with woman, either because it had ended in misfortune to

him, or because he had given a promise {to that effect}. Yet a passion

possessed many a female to unite herself to the bard, {and} many a one

grieved when repulsed. He also was the {first} adviser of the people of

Thrace to transfer their affections to tender youths; and, on this side

of manhood, to enjoy the short spring of life, and its early flowers.

[Footnote 1: _Saffron-coloured._–Ver. 1. This was in order to be

dressed in a colour similar to that of the ‘flammeum,’ which was a

veil of a bright yellow colour, worn by the bride. This custom

prevailed among the Romans, among whom the shoes worn by the bride

were of the same colour with the veil.]

[Footnote 2: _Ciconians._–Ver. 2. These were a people of Thrace,

near the river Hebrus and the Bistonian Lake.]

[Footnote 3: _Laying aside._–Ver. 19. ‘Falsi positis ambagibus

oris,’ is rendered by Clarke, ‘Laying aside all the long-winded

fetches of a false tongue.’]

[Footnote 4: _The three necks._–Ver. 65. There was a story among

the ancients, that when Cerberus was dragged by Hercules from the

Infernal Regions, a certain man, through fear of Hercules, hid

himself in a cave; and that on peeping out, and beholding

Cerberus, he was changed into a stone by his fright. Suidas says,

that in his time the stone was still to be seen, and that the

story gave rise to a proverb.]

[Footnote 5: _Olenus._–Ver. 69. Olenus, who was supposed to be

the son of Vulcan, had a beautiful wife, whose name was Lethæa.

When about to be punished for comparing her own beauty to that of

the Goddesses, Olenus offered to submit to the penalty in her

stead, on which they were both changed into stones.]

[Footnote 6: _In squalid guise._–Ver. 74. ‘Squallidus in

ripa–sedit,’ is rendered by Clarke, ‘He sat in a sorry pickle on

the bank.’]

[Footnote 7: _Erebus._–Ver. 76. Erebus was the son of Chaos and

Darkness; but his name is often used to signify the Infernal


[Footnote 8: _Hæmus._–Ver. 77. This was a mountain of Thrace,

which was much exposed to the North winds.]

[Footnote 9: _Fishes of the ocean._–Ver. 78. ‘Pisces,’ ‘the

Fishes,’ being the last sign of the Zodiac, when the sun has

passed through it, the year is completed.]


Though Ovid has separated the adventures of Orpheus, whose death he

does not relate till the beginning of the eleventh Book, we will

here shortly enter upon an examination of some of the more important

points of his history.

As, in his time, Poetry and Music were in a very low state of

perfection, and as he excelled in both of those arts, it was said

that he was the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope; and it was

added, that he charmed lions and tigers, and made even the trees

sensible of the melodious tones of his lyre. These were mere

hyperbolical expressions, which signified the wondrous charms of his

eloquence and of his music combined, which he employed in

cultivating the genius of a savage and uncouth people. Some

conjecture that this personage originally came from Asia into

Thrace, and suppose that he, together with Linus and Eumolpus,

brought poetry and music into Greece, the use of which, till then,

was unknown in that country; and that they introduced, at the same

time, the worship of Ceres, Mars, and the orgies of Bacchus, which,

from him who instituted them, received their name of ‘Orphica.’

Orpheus, too, is supposed to have united the office of high priest

with that of king. Horace styles him the interpreter of the Gods;

and he was said to have interposed with the Deities for the

deliverance of the Argonauts from a dangerous tempest. It is thought

that he passed some part of his life in Egypt, and became acquainted

with many particulars of the ancient religion of the Egyptians,

which he introduced into the theology of Greece. Some modern writers

even go so far as to suggest that he learned from the Hebrews, who

were then sojourning in Egypt, the knowledge of the true God.

His wife, Eurydice, dying very young, he was inconsolable for her

loss. To alleviate his grief, he went to Thesprotia, in Epirus, the

natives of which region were said to possess incantations, for the

purpose of raising the ghosts of the departed. Here, according to

some accounts, being deceived by a phantom, which was made to appear

before him, he died of sorrow; but, according to other writers,

he renounced the society of mankind for ever and retired to the

mountains of Thrace. His journey to that distant country gave

occasion to say, that he descended to the Infernal Regions. This is

the more likely, as he is supposed to have there promulgated his

notions of the infernal world, which, according to Diodorus Siculus,

he had learned among the Egyptians.

Tzetzes, however, assures us that this part of his history is

founded on the circumstance, that Orpheus cured his wife of the bite

of a serpent, which had till then been considered to be mortal; and

that the poets gave an hyperbolical version of the story, in saying

that he had rescued her from Hell. He says, too, that he had learned

in Egypt the art of magic, which was much cultivated there, and

especially the method of charming serpents.

After the loss of his wife, he retired to mount Rhodope, to assuage

the violence of his grief. There, according to Ovid and other poets,

the Mænades, or Bacchanals, to be revenged for his contempt of them

and their rites, tore him in pieces; which story is somewhat

diversified by the writers who relate that Venus, exasperated

against Calliope, the mother of Orpheus, for having adjudged to

Proserpine the possession of Adonis, caused the women of Thrace to

become enamoured of her son, and to tear him in pieces while

disputing the possession of him. An ancient author, quoted by

Hyginus, says that Orpheus was killed by the stroke of a

thunderbolt, while he was accompanying the Argonauts; and

Apollodorus says the same. Diodorus Siculus calls him one of the

kings of Thrace; while other writers, among whom are Cicero and

Aristotle, assert that there never was such a person as Orpheus. The

learned Vossius says, that the Phœnician word ‘ariph,’ which

signifies ‘learned,’ gave rise to the story of Orpheus. Le Clerc

thinks that in consequence of the same Greek word signifying ‘an

enchanter,’ and also meaning ‘a singer,’ he acquired the reputation

of having been a most skilful magician.

We may, perhaps, safely conclude, that Orpheus really did introduce

the worship of many Gods into Greece; and that, possibly, while he

promulgated the necessity of expiating crimes, he introduced

exorcism, and brought magic into fashion in Greece. Lucian affirms

that he was also the first to teach the elements of astronomy.

Several works were attributed to him, which are now no longer in

existence; among which were a Poem on the Expedition of the

Argonauts, one on the War of the Giants, another on the Rape of

Proserpine, and a fourth upon the Labours of Hercules. The Poem on

the Argonautic Expedition, which now exists, and is attributed to

him, is supposed to have been really written by a poet named

Onomacritus, who lived in the sixth century B.C., in the time of


After his death, Orpheus was reckoned in the number of Heroes or

Demigods; and we are informed by Philostratus that his head was

preserved at Lesbos, where it gave oracular responses. Orpheus is

not mentioned by Homer or Hesiod. The learned scholar Lobeck, in his

Aglaophamus, has entered very deeply into an investigation of the

real nature of the discoveries and institutions ascribed to him.

ASSIGNMENT 3: An ecocritical Comparison on “Niobe” by Ovid & Phillis Wheatley

GOAL: To gain experience with the subgenre of poetry ‘ecopoetry’. This short writing activity builds on critical reading and thinking skills to succeed in the learning process of ‘interpreting’ a piece of literature with theoretical approaches.

INSTRUCTIONS: Jennifer Thorn’s article on Wheatley and Ovid’s Niobe argues that her version empowers mothers everywhere. Verify Thorn’s claim. Re-read “Niobe” in Ovid’s Book 6 of Metamorphosis, and then compare its representation of “Niobe” with Phillis Wheatley’s poem. How does Wheatley’s version of Niobe empower women, including Black women? Does Wheatley’s version offer an ecopoetics ideal that avoids or dismantles ‘otherness’?

ASSIGNMENT 4: “Pyramus and Thisbe” in Book 4 on Forbidden Love and Shakespeare

GOAL: To gain experience with plot & the ‘forbidden love’ trope. This short writing activity builds on critical reading and thinking skills to succeed in the learning process of interpreting a piece of literature with theoretical approaches.

INSTRUCTIONS: In Book 4 Ovid’s “Pyramus and Thisbe” is an example of the literary trope of ‘forbidden love’. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1597) parodies this trope in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1607), a trope also made popular by Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (1961). Focus on Ovid’s version and write out the sequence of episodes of the plot of “Pyramus and Thisbe.” What drives the plot’s ‘conflict’?

When Pyramus and Thisbe, who were known

the one most handsome of all youthful men,

the other loveliest of all eastern girls,—

lived in adjoining houses, near the walls

that Queen Semiramis had built of brick

around her famous city, they grew fond,

and loved each other—meeting often there—

and as the days went by their love increased.

They wished to join in marriage, but that joy
their fathers had forbidden them to hope;
and yet the passion that with equal strength
inflamed their minds no parents could forbid.
No relatives had guessed their secret love,
for all their converse was by nods and signs;
and as a smoldering fire may gather heat,
the more ’tis smothered, so their love increased.

ASSIGNMENT 5: An ecocritical reading of Ovid and Aesop’s Fables

GOAL: To engage with performances and the epic to familiarize its form. This short writing activity builds on critical reading and thinking skills to succeed in the learning process of interpreting a piece of literature with theoretical approaches.

INSTRUCTION: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8 CE) is a written poetic narrative on Greek and Roman legends and mythology, while other collections of fables, like Aesop’s Fables and 1001 Nights, are compilations of stories from different regions and languages and religious doctrine with no identified author. Like the epic’s common form of en media res, folklore and its genres – tales, myth, legends, proverbs, poems, jokes – also share characteristics in form – of the narrative or poetry: character, setting, plot, protagonist, antagonist, irony, and theme.

FABLE XIV. [I.601-688]

Jupiter, having changed Io into a cow, to conceal her from the

jealousy of Juno, is obliged to give her to that Goddess, who commits

her to the charge of the watchful Argus. Jupiter sends Mercury with an

injunction to cast Argus into a deep sleep, and to take away his life.


The story of the Metamorphosis of Io has been already enlarged upon in

the Explanation of the preceding Fable. It may, however, not be

irrelevant to observe, that myths, or mythological stories or fables,

are frequently based upon some true history, corrupted by tradition in

lapse of time. The poets, too, giving loose to their fancy in their

love of the marvellous, have still further disfigured the original

story; so that it is in most instances extremely difficult to trace

back the facts to their primitive simplicity, by a satisfactory

explanation of each circumstance attending them, either upon a

philosophical, or an historical principle of solution.

ASSIGNMENT 6: Continue ‘ecocritical readings’

GOAL: To practice ‘ecocritical readings in Ovid’s mythology, through textual analysis and poetic devices, and aspects of adaptation. This short writing activity builds on critical reading and thinking skills to succeed in the learning process of interpreting a piece of literature with theoretical approaches.

INSTRUCTIONS: On Orpheus and ecocriticism, Barry argues that “for the ecocritic, nature really exists, out there beyond ourselves, not needing to be ironised as a concept, but actually present as an entity which affects us, and which we can affect, perhaps fatally, if we mistreat it” (Barry qtd. Adler 11).

Work with Ovid’s version of Orpheus in Metamorphoses, 2) Choose two quotes that associates Orpheus with nature, and 3) Then, explain the representation of nature through this mythological figure, Orpheus. What do you learn? What questions do you have about the role of Orpheus in nature?

ASSIGNMENT 7: Comparative Literature 

GOAL: To learn from modern poets whose works revise earlier creation and origin stories. This short writing activity builds on critical reading and thinking skills to succeed in the learning process of interpreting a piece of literature with theoretical approaches.

INSTRUCTIONS: Comparative Literature: Compare ekphrasis in the following two quotes:

FABLE VIII. [VII.794-865]

Procris, jealous of Cephalus, in her turn, goes to the forest, which

she supposes to be the scene of his infidelity, to surprise him.

Hearing the rustling noise which she makes in the thicket, where she

lies concealed, he imagines it is a wild beast, and, hurling the

javelin, which she has formerly given to him, he kills her.

Thus far {did he speak}; and {then} he was silent. “But,” said Phocus,

“what fault is there in that javelin?” {whereupon} he thus informed him

of the demerits of the javelin. “Let my joys, Phocus, be the first

portion of my sorrowful story. These will I first relate. O son of

Æacus, I delight to remember the happy time, during which, for the first

years {after my marriage}, I was completely blessed in my wife, {and}

she was happy in her husband. A mutual kindness and social love

possessed us both. Neither would she have preferred the bed of Jupiter

before my love; nor was there any woman that could have captivated me,

not {even} if Venus herself had come. Equal flames fired the breasts {of

us both}. The Sun striking the tops of the mountains with his early

rays, I was wont generally to go with youthful ardor into the woods, to

hunt; but I neither suffered my servants, nor my horses, nor my

quick-scented hounds to go {with me}, nor the knotty nets to attend me;

I was safe with my javelin.


FABLE II. [X.86-105]

Orpheus, retiring to Mount Rhodope, by the charms of his music,

attracts to himself all kinds of creatures, rocks, and trees; among

the latter is the pine tree, only known since the transformation of


There was a hill, and upon the hill a most level space of a plain, which

the blades of grass made green: {all} shade was wanting in the spot.

After the bard, sprung from the Gods, had seated himself in this place,

and touched his tuneful strings, a shade came over the spot. The tree of

Chaonia[10] was not absent, nor the grove of the Heliades,[11] nor the

mast-tree with its lofty branches, nor the tender lime-trees, nor yet

the beech, and the virgin laurel,[12] and the brittle hazels, and the

oak, adapted for making spears, and the fir without knots, and the holm

bending beneath its acorns, and the genial plane-tree,[13] and the

parti-coloured maple,[14] and, together with them, the willows growing

by the rivers, and the watery lotus, and the evergreen box, and the

slender tamarisks, and the two-coloured myrtle, and the tine-tree,[15]

with its azure berries.

You, too, the ivy-trees, with your creeping tendrils, came, and

together, the branching vines, and the elms clothed with vines; the

ashes, too, and the pitch-trees, and the arbute, laden with its blushing

fruit, and the bending palm,[16] the reward of the conqueror; the pine,

too, with its tufted foliage,[17] and bristling at the top, pleasing to

the Mother of the Gods; since for this the Cybeleïan Attis put off the

human form, and hardened into that trunk.

[Footnote 10: _Tree of Chaonia._–Ver. 90. This was the oak, for

the growth of which Chaonia, a province of Epirus, was famous.]

[Footnote 11: _Grove of the Heliades._–Ver. 91. He alludes to the

poplars, into which tree, as we have already seen, the Heliades,

or daughters of the sun, were changed after the death of Phaëton.]

[Footnote 12: _Virgin laurel._–Ver. 92. The laurel is so styled

from the Virgin Daphne, who refused to listen to the solicitations

of Apollo.]

[Footnote 13: _Genial plane-tree._–Ver. 95. The plane tree was

much valued by the ancients, as affording, by its extending

branches, a pleasant shade to festive parties. Virgil says, in the

Fourth Book of the Georgics, line 146, ‘Atque ministrantem

platanum potantibus umbram,’ ‘And the plane-tree that gives its

shade for those that carouse.’]

[Footnote 14: _Parti-coloured maple._–Ver. 95. The grain of the

maple being of a varying colour, it was much valued by the

ancients, for the purpose of making articles of furniture.]

[Footnote 15: _The tine tree._–Ver. 98. The ‘tinus,’ or ‘tine

tree,’ according to Pliny the Elder, was a wild laurel, with green


[Footnote 16: _The bending palm._–Ver. 102. The branches of the

palm were remarkable for their flexibility, while no

superincumbent weight could break them. On this account they were

considered as emblematical of victory.]

[Footnote 17: _Tufted foliage._–Ver. 103. The pine is called

‘succincta,’ because it sends forth its branches from the top, and

not from the sides.]


The story of Attis, or Athis, here briefly referred to, is related

by the ancient writers in many different ways; so much so, that it

is not possible to reconcile the discrepancy that exists between

them. From Diodorus Siculus we learn that Cybele, the daughter of

Mæon, King of Phrygia, falling in love with a young shepherd named

Attis, her father ordered him to be put to death. In despair, at the

loss of her lover, Cybele left her father’s abode, and, accompanied

by Marsyas, crossed the mountains of Phrygia. Apollo, (or, as

Vossius supposes, some priest of that God,) touched with the

misfortunes of the damsel, took her to the country of the

Hyperboreans in Scythia, where she died. Some time after, the plague

ravaging Phrygia, and the oracle being consulted, an answer was

returned, that, to ensure the ceasing of the contagion, they must

look for the body of Attis, and give it funeral rites, and render to

Cybele the same honour which they were wont to pay to the Gods: all

which was done with such scrupulous care, that in time she became

one of the most esteemed Divinities.

Arnobius, says that Attis was a shepherd, with whom Cybele fell in

love in her old age. Unmoved by her rank, and repelled by her faded

charms, he despised her advances. Midas, King of Pessinus, on seeing

this, destined his own daughter, Agdistis, for the young Attis.

Fearing the resentment of Cybele, he caused the gates of the city to

be shut on the day on which the marriage was to be solemnized.

Cybele being informed of this, hastened to Pessinus, and, destroying

the gates, met with Attis, who had concealed himself behind a pine

tree, and caused him to be emasculated; on which Agdistis committed

self-destruction in a fit of sorrow.

Servius, Lactantius, and St. Augustine, give another version of the

story, which it is not necessary here to enlarge upon, any farther

than to say, that it depicts the love of a powerful queen for a

young man who repulsed her advances. Ovid, also, gives a similar

account in the fourth Book of the Fasti, line 220. Other authors,

quoted by Arnobius, have given some additional circumstances, the

origin of which it is almost impossible to guess at. They say that a

female called Nana, by touching a pomegranate or an almond tree,

which grew from the blood of Agdistis whom Bacchus had slain,

conceived Attis, who afterwards became very dear to Cybele.

All that we can conclude from these accounts, and more especially

from that given by Ovid in the Fasti, is, that the worship of Cybele

being established in Phrygia, Attis was one of her priests; and

that, as he led the example of mutilating himself, all her other

priests, who were called Galli, submitted to a similar operation,

to the great surprise of the uninitiated, who were not slow in

inventing some wonderful story to account for an act so


FABLE III. [X.106-142]

Cyparissus is about to kill himself for having slain, by accident,

a favourite deer; but, before he is able to execute his design,

Apollo transforms him into a Cypress.

Amid this throng was present the cypress, resembling the cone,[18] now a

tree, {but} once a youth, beloved by that God who fits the lyre with the

strings, and the bow with strings. For there was a large stag, sacred to

the Nymphs who inhabit the Carthæan fields; and, with his horns

extending afar, he himself afforded an ample shade to his own head. His

horns were shining with gold, and a necklace studded with gems,[19]

falling upon his shoulders, hung down from his smooth round neck;

a silver ball,[20] fastened with little straps, played upon his

forehead; and pendants of brass,[21] of equal size, shone on either ear

around his hollow temples. He, too, void of fear, and laying aside his

natural timorousness, used to frequent the houses, and to offer his neck

to be patted by any hands, even though unknown {to him}.

But yet, above all others, he was pleasing to thee, Cyparissus, most

beauteous of the nation of Cea.[22] Thou wast wont to lead the stag to

new pastures, and to the streams of running waters; sometimes thou didst

wreathe flowers of various colours about his horns, and at other times,

seated on his back, {like} a horseman, {first} in this direction and

{then} in that, thou didst guide his easy mouth with the purple bridle.

’Twas summer and the middle of the day, and the bending arms of the

Crab, that loves the sea-shore, were glowing with the heat of the sun;

the stag, fatigued, was reclining his body on the grassy earth, and was

enjoying the coolness from the shade of a tree. By inadvertence the boy

Cyparissus pierced him with a sharp javelin; and, when he saw him dying

from the cruel wound, he resolved to attempt to die {as well}. What

consolations did not Phœbus apply? and he advised him to grieve with

moderation, and according to the occasion. Still did he lament, and as a

last favour, he requested this of the Gods above, that he might mourn

for ever. And now, his blood quite exhausted by incessant weeping, his

limbs began to be changed into a green colour, and the hair, which but

lately hung from his snow-white forehead, to become a rough bush, and,

a stiffness being assumed, to point to the starry heavens with a

tapering top. The God {Phœbus} lamented deeply, and in his sorrow he

said, “Thou shalt be mourned by me, and shalt mourn for others, and

shalt {ever} attend upon those who are sorrowing[23] {for the dead}.”

[Footnote 18: _Resembling the cone._–Ver. 106. In the Roman

Circus for the chariot races, a low wall ran lengthways down the

course, which, from its resemblance in position to the spinal

bone, was called by the name of ‘spina.’ At each extremity of this

‘spina,’ there were placed upon a base, three large cones, or

pyramids of wood, in shape very much like cypress trees, to which

fact allusion is here made. They were called ‘metæ,’ ‘goals.’]

[Footnote 19: _Studded with gems._–Ver. 113. Necklaces were much

worn in ancient times by the Indians, Persians, and Egyptians.

They were more especially used by the Greek and Roman females as

bridal ornaments. The ‘monile baccatum,’ or ‘bead necklace,’ was

the most common, being made of berries, glass, or other materials,

strung together. They were so strung with thread, silk, or wire,

and links of gold. Emeralds seem to have been much used for this

purpose, and amber was also similarly employed. Thus Ovid says,

in the second Book of the Metamorphoses, line 366, that the amber

distilled from the trees, into which the sisters of Phaëton were

changed, was sent to be worn by the Latian matrons. Horses and

favourite animals, as in the present instance, were decked with

‘monilia,’ or necklaces.]

[Footnote 20: _A silver ball._–Ver. 114. The ‘bulla’ was a ball

of metal, so called from its resemblance in shape to a bubble of

water. These were especially worn by the Roman children, suspended

from the neck, and were mostly made of thin plates of gold, being

of about the size of a walnut. The use of these ornaments was

derived from the people of Etruria; and though originally worn

only by the children of the Patricians, they were subsequently

used by all of free birth. The children of the Libertini, or

‘freedmen,’ indeed wore ‘bullæ,’ but they were only made of

leather. The ‘bulla’ was laid aside at the same time as the ‘toga

prætexta,’ and was on that occasion consecrated to the Lares. The

bulls of the Popes of Rome, received their names from this word;

the ornament which was pendent from the rescript or decree being

used to signify the document itself.]

[Footnote 21: _Pendants of brass._–Ver. 116. The ear-ring was

called among the Greeks ἐνώτιον, and by the Romans ‘inauris.’ The

Greeks also called it ἐλλόβιον, from its being inserted in the

lobe of the ear. Earrings were worn by both sexes among the

Lydians, Persians, Libyans, Carthaginians, and other nations.

Among the Greeks and Romans, the females alone were in the habit

of wearing them. As with us, the ear-ring consisted of a ring and

drop, the ring being generally of gold, though bronze was

sometimes used by the common people. Pearls, especially those of

elongated form, which were called ‘elenchi,’ were very much valued

for pendants.]

[Footnote 22: _Nation of Cea._–Ver. 120. Cea was one of the

Cyclades, and Carthæa was one of its four cities.]

[Footnote 23: _Who are sorrowing._–Ver. 142. The Poet in this

manner accounts for the Roman custom of placing branches of

Cypress before the doors of houses in which a dead body lay. Pliny

the Elder says, that the Cypress was sacred to Pluto, and that for

that reason it was used at funerals, and was placed upon the pile.

Varro says, that it was used for the purpose of removing, by its

own strong scent, the bad smell of the spot where the bodies were

burnt, and also of the bodies themselves. It was also said to be

so used, because, when once its bark is cut, it withers, and is

consequently emblematical of the frail tenure of human life.]


Cyparissus, who, according to Ovid was born at Carthæa, a town in

the isle of Cea, was probably a youth of considerable poetical

talent and proficiency in the polite arts, which caused him to be

deemed the favourite of Apollo. His transformation into a Cypress is

founded on the resemblance between their names, that tree being

called by the Greeks κυπάρισσος. The conclusion of the story is that

Apollo, to console himself, enjoined that the Cypress tree should be

the symbol of sorrow, or in other words that it should be used at

funerals and be planted near graves and sepulchers; which fiction

was most likely founded on the fact, that the tree was employed for

those purposes; perhaps because its branches, almost destitute of

leaves, have a somewhat melancholy aspect.

Some ancient writers also tell us that Cyparissus was a youth

beloved by the God Sylvanus, for which reason that God is often

represented with branches of Cypress in his hand.

OER Ovid’s Book 10 & 11 on Orpheus and Cyparissus


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