Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Metamorphoses ~ Book XIII


Ajax and Achilles' Armor / Ulysses and Achilles' Armor / Ajax / The Fall of Troy / Polymestor and Polydorus / Polyxena / Polyxena & Hecuba / Hecuba, Polydorus, Polymestor / Aurora & Memnon / The Voyage of Aeneas / The Daughters of Anius / The Daughters of Orion / The Voyage of Aeneas / Galatea & Acis / Glaucus & Scylla

Ajax and Ulysses contend for the armour of the fallen hero, Achilles.  In spite of proclaiming himself a man of action and not one for florid speech, Ajax commences a rhetorical banquet, listing all his ancestors and spewing vitriol against Ulysses.  Ajax's father is Telamon, who was friend to Hercules as he destroyed Troy's walls, sailed in the ship with Jason and was born of Aecus.  In fact, he is a descendant of Jove, a honour he shares with Achilles, etc., etc.  Ulysses is nothing but a smooth talking, lily-livered, cowardly, sneaky, dishonest fraud.  Oh, and all his feats are minor.  In fact, he, Ajax, should be the winner of the armour because his own shield is so damaged with fighting, yet Ulysses' shield is so little used.  He suggests that the armour be thrown among the Trojans and whoever reclaims it, be it him or Ulysses, will be the victor.

The Quarrel Between Ajax and Odysseus (1625-30)
Leonaert Bramer
[Public Domain] source

With his renowned eloquence and gracious speech, Ulysses counters the argument of Ajax, contending that lineage should not be the judge of greatness, but instead a man's own deeds.  He disputes Ajax's deprecation of his lineage, saying that he has an equal ancestry to him, and furthermore, none of his ancestors are criminals.  As for deeds, what has Ajax really done?  However, he, on the other hand, has worked wonders, such as finding Achilles for the War, and therefore, all Achilles' feats are due to him.  He also brought about Agamemnon's change of heart with regard to the sacrifice of his daughter, and he was responsible for asking for the return of Helen.  For nine years the Trojans stayed within their walls, so open war was impossible, but while Ajax did nothing, he was busy planning objectives.  It was he who turned the troops back to war after they were going to disperse prompted by Agamemnon's dream.  His further rhetorical examples, reverse Ajax's argument with stunning guile and perception.  The Greek chieftains are so moved by Ulysses' reasoning that they award Achilles' armour to him.

Thetis Bringing Armor to Achilles (1806)
Benjamin West
source Wikimedia Commons

This decision is too much for the undefeated hero's pride and he encounters the first enemy that will be his destruction:  his own unmitigated anger.  Grabbing his blade, Ajax cries that he is the only one who can claim victory over himself, driving the shaft into his own chest.  As his blood seeps into the rich soil, up springs a purple flower, the same flower from Hyacinth's wound, with the letters, "AI-AI", echoing both of Ajax (often spelt Aias, therefore the "AI") and the lament of Hyacinth. (See Book X)

Ulysses retrieves his arrows from Lemnos, the arrows Hercules gave to Philoctetes, and brought back they haunt the skies of Troy.  The fall of Troy was swift, and with Ilium ablaze, the Trojan women embrace their gods for the last time.  They kiss the soil as they are born away, captive, and Hecuba is found at the graves of her sons.  Ulysses carries her off, clutching ashes of Hector to her bosom.

Dead Hector (1892)
Briton Riviere
source Wikiart

In Thrace lies Polymestor's magnificent palace and there he is covertly keeping Polydorus, son of Priam.  But there was gold given in payment and when the fall of Troy begins, the king slits the throat of the boy and tosses him from a cliff into the sea, to hide the body.

Agamemnon's fleet is moored along the Thracian coast when the ghost of Achilles bursts up, awesome and threatening, incensed that the Greeks would leave without honouring him.  He requests the daughter of Priam and Hecuba, Polyxena, as a sacrifice.  She dies with dignity, asking only that no rough hands touch her and that her body will be given to her suffering mother.  Every one weeps at her sacrifice.

The Sacrifice of Polyxena (1733-34)
Giovanni Battista Pittoni
source Getty Open Content

The Trojan women mourn.  Ulysses has won Hecuba but does not really want her, only accepting her because she gave birth to the great Hector.  Hecuba thought that after Achilles death he could threaten them no more, but he has proved her wrong.  Her speech is a dirge:

".... I gave birth to a funeral offering
to our destroyer.  I must have a heart 
of iron if I still resist, still live.
What am I waiting for?  Endless old age --
what can it hold in store?  O cruel gods
why do you let me live --- unless it be
that you have savd saved still other griefs for me? ...."

Priam should be glad he's gone, unable to witness the atrocity.  She cannot even give her daughter a respectable burial; the only honour Polyxena receives is her mother's tears on foreign soil.  At least, Polydorus, Hecuba's son, is sheltered by the Thracian king.  This fact is her only consolation.

Hecuba and Polyxena (c. 1814)
Merry-Joseph Blondel
source Wikimedia Commons

Hecuba moves towards the shore but suddenly sees the corpse of her son, Polydorus. The Trojan women wail in lament but Hecuba is arrested in her grief, the tragedy almost too much to bear.  As she views his fate, anger inflames her, burning to revenge.  She meets with Polymestor and promises gold for her son which he agrees to give him. False, lying Polymestor!!  Hecuba grips him and calls her Trojan women, and as she does, she digs her nails into his eyeballs and plucks his flesh.  The Thracians attack the women with stones and lances, but Hecuba attempts to catch the stones, her voice transforming into barks and howls and even the gods admit that Hecuba did not deserve such sorrow.

Hecuba (c. 18th century)
Guiseppe Crespi
source Wikimedia Commons

Aurora did not lament the Trojans' demise as expected because she was devastated by the death of her son Memnon at the hands of Achilles.  She pleads with Jove for a gift for the honour of her son and from his pyre, flames and ashes soar high then from it a bird ascends, then many.  After circling the pyre three times, they split into two flocks and begin to battle, falling into the ashes of Memnon as an offering.  They do this every time the sun rises but even to this day, Aurora mourns her son with her tears.

Aurora (1614)
Guido Reni
source Wikiart

Even though Troy was destroyed, part of it survived in the figure of Aeneas, hence the voyage of Aeneas begins.  Fleeing his city with his old father, Anchises, his son, Ascanius, and sacred images, he sails first to Thrace, then to Delos.  The kind, Anius, welcomes Aeneas, and it was here that the two tree-trunks opened and Latona gave birth to her twins.  (See Book VI)

Aeneas and his Father Fleeing Troy (c. 1635)
Simon Vouet
source Wikimedia Commons

Aeneas asks if he saw a son and four daughters of Anius when he last visited his city and Anius tells a tale of woe.  His son, Andros, is king of an island that bears his name, but Bacchus gave to his daughters the power to turn anything they touched into wheat, wine, or oil.  Realizing their value, Agamemnon dragged off the girls, to use them to feed the Grecian fleet.  Two daughters escaped to Euboea, and two to Andros, but their brother, fearing war, relinquished them to their fate.  About to be chained, the two girls lifted their arms in plea to Bacchus and were turned into snow-white doves.

At daybreak, the Trojans visit the oracle which tells them to seek out their "ancient mother" --- their land of origin.  Anius sees them off with gifts, and an engraved cup he brings tells its own story.  The seven gated city of Thebes was in a disasterous state with fires and pyres and wailing women, bare trees, stony fields and a mighty funeral pyre where Orion's daughters sacrificed themselves to save the people from the plague.  Out of their virgin ashes rose the Coroni, two youths, the final scene on the cup to commemorate their origin ---- their mothers.  The Trojans give fine gifts in return.

The voyage of Aeneas begins.  Seeking the land of Crete, where their ancestor, Teucer came from, an early king of Troy, upon landing they find the land too harsh and sail for Italy.  Sailing on and on, they reach Sicily and land on the sands of Messina.

The Wanderings of Aeneas
source Googlemap

In the straits of Messina, Scylla is watching the east and Charybdis never sleeps in the west.  The latter preys on ships by sucking them into her depths but Scylla's waist is populated by snapping dogs.  She once was a young girl but disdained her suitors and when the sea nymph, Galatea, heard Scylla's tale, she related her own story of her interactions with the Cyclops.  She loved Acis, son of a woodland Faun, but Polyphemus the Cyclops wished to possess her, although she hated him with a passion. He composed odes to her beauty, then disparaged her, spewing barely cloaked threats. With a menacing tirade directed towards Acis, he discovered the lovers. Pursuing Acis, he hurled a massive rock and even though it only grazed Acis, its size pressed him into the ground.  But then the rock split and from it came a green reed, then a river rushing and from the waters sprung a river-god .... Acis.  (I hope this is a different Galatea than Pygmalion's Galatea in Book X)

Galatea (1896)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Scylla continued on, stopping to rest in a pool to refresh herself.  Glaucus, its inhabitant, desired the girl and pursued her though she fled.  Reaching a mountain peak that rose from the sea, she turned to see that he was part man and part fish, not sure whether to marvel or be terrified.  He was a god as important as Triton or Proteus, but  he used to be a man who worked always near the sea.  One day as he saw fish leave his net and walk back into the sea, he suspected the grass they had laid upon to be the source of their powers.  Chewing it, he felt himself metamorphosing, a desire welling up within him for the ocean.  He would have said more but Scylla had fled and he set out for the isle of Circe.  (See also Scylla in Book VIII)

Glaucus and Scylla (1580-82)
Bartholomäus Spranger
source Wikimedia Commons

With the sparring between Ajax and Ulysses, we seem to get more questions than answers.  The reader, as well as the chieftains, are trying to discover who has the most kleos (glory) to be worthy of the armour of Achilles.  Instead, we get two sides of action ---- the physical (Ajax) and the mental (Ulysses), and which one is most important?  An answer doesn't seem to be possible, and in the end, it is Ulysses' smooth tongue and not kleos that secures the prize.

Ovid does not seem to care for Thracians.  Not much good seems to come from them or be said about them.


Ajax's blood  ❥  purple flower
Hecuba's speech  ❥  barks/howls
Memnon  ❥  birds {Memnonides}
Daughter's of Anius' touch  ❥  wheat, wine, oil
Anius' daughters  ❥  snow-white doves
Orion's daughters' ashes  ❥  Coroni
Acis  ❥  river-god
Glaucus' lower body  ❥  fish


  1. a remarkable post. with gorgeous pictures. somewhat confusing, though. one would think, in 600 b.c. the story would be told a bit at a time, while sitting around a campfire, or rapt in a royal hall, so as not to overwhelm the listeners... no?

    1. Ovid can be really confusing! I'm so glad that I have the base of the "big three" (The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid) or I'd probably be somewhat lost. And he skips over important points. In the next post he barely gives Dido a mention. Odd. I just can't figure him out.

  2. Oh, this was a long book, boys squabbling about a shield in long speeches! Enjoyed this post and especially the image of the wanderings of Aeneas and the feisty Hecuba!

    1. The squabblings of Ulysses and Ajax was my favourite story in this book. Ulysses' rhetorical excellence is rather stunning. He reminded me of Cicero. Hecuba's grief was very poignant too. I can't even imagine the suffering she experienced.

      I was so glad to find that map. It's always nice to have a visual when Ovid is saying, "he went here, and then he went there, and he passed here ....." It makes much more sense if you're able to look at a map!