Wednesday 16 March 2016

Metamorphoses ~ Book XI

Book XI

Orpheus / The Bacchantes / Midas / Troy / Peleus & Thetis / Ceyx / Daedalion The Wolf / Ceyx & Alcyone / Aesacus

Orpheus charms the beasts and trees with his songs, and even the stones pause to listen.  But the Thracian women, the Bacchantes, are enraged, accusing Orpheus of scorning them.  They hurl staffs and rocks at him, intent on murder but when a stone is flung,

" cleaved the air, it yielded to the spell
of his enchanting voice and lyre: it fell
at Orpheus' feet as if compelled to seek 
forgiveness for its mad audacity ...... "

Circling him, the women attack, and all of their weapons would have been tamed by his sweet music, if their "shrieks and caterwauls" had not drowned it out, and they murder and dismember him.  Mournful sounds fill the air as his body is carried by the Hebrus river to the coast.  There, a snake attempts to attack the head, but before it can, Phoebus turns it into stone.  As the Shade of Orpheus descends to the Underworld, he meets Eurydice.  Side by side, they walk and they can now gaze at each other without fear.

Nymphs finding the head of Orpheus (1900)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

Bacchus intends to punish the criminals for their profane act, and the Bacchantes find themselves bound to the ground.  Roots spread from their feet, bark begins to cover their bodies, as they are transformed into oak trees.

König Midas (1670)
Andrea Vaccaro
source Wikimedia Commons
Bacchus leaves Thrace for his Lydian land and own vineyards in Tmolus.  His satyrs and bacchantes crowd around him, but Silenus (his tutor) is missing, yet he finds him with King Midas who has him in his care.  Bacchus rewards Midas with one wish, and the king requests that everything he touches will turn to gold.  Delighted, Midas begins to touch everything, but soon realizes the curse of his request, repents, and Bacchus instructs him to go to a river near Sardis to wash his sin away.  Midas complies and even today, as Ovid tells us, the Pactolus' shores can be streaked with gold.  Midas, however, now hates riches and roams the hillside, but his wits were never clever and he continue to seek stupid things which will bring harm.  While watching a musical contest between Pan and Phoebus, upon Tmolus judging Phoebus Apollo the winner, Midas disagrees and for his ill-judgement, Phoebus turns Midas' ears into those of an ass.  He wraps those ears to his head with a purple turban and when his slave discovers his secret, the slave whispers it into a hole in the ground.  But when the reeds there grow tall, they whisper the secret to the winds, betraying the servant.

Apollo departs for Troy where Laomedon had accepted the offered of Phoebus and Neptune to build the walls of Troy for payment in gold and then reneged on his debt. The sea god caused a flood to bury the fields of Troy.  In payment, they demanded the daughter of the king, Hesione, who was chained to a reef for the prey of monsters, but Hercules saved her.  For his payment, he was promised horses, but again Troy was faithless and Hercules razed its walls.

Apollo and Poseidon Punishing Troy (c. 1590)
Paolo Fiammingo
source Wikimedia Commons

Hercules gives Hesione to Telamon as a royal bride but he is busy fighting with his brother, Peleus.  Peleus is famous for his goddess wife, and we learn of his "courtship". Zeus had an ardent desire fot Thetis, the goddess of the waves," but it was prophesied by Proteus that her son would be greater than his father, so Zeus blessed his grandson, Peleus, to pursue her.  Peleus attempted to rape her in her grotto but Thetis transformed into a bird, a tree and then a spotted tigress, so Peleus wisely abandoned his plans.   He prayed to the gods for success and was counselled by Proteus, who rose from the sea, to tie her up, which he did and made her pregnant with Achilles.

The Feast of Peleus (1872-81)
Edward Burne-Jones
source Wikimedia Commons

Peleus accidentally kills his half-brother, Phocus, and for this treachery he is exiled to the land of Trachin, recounting a lie as to his crime.  Ceyx, the king of Trachin, welcomes him, then weeps, whereupon Peleus and his men ask the cause of his sadness.

Ceyx tells of his brother, Daedalion, who had a lovely fourteen-year-old daughter, Chione.  She was raped by both Phoebus and Mercury, bearing twin sons but one from each god: Autolycus, "a connoisseur of wiles and guiles", and Phillamon, Apollo's son, "famed for lyre and song."  Chione, because of this glory bestowed on her, now considered herself surpassing Diana's beauty, and, for her insult, she was killed by an arrow of the goddess.  At her funeral (burning), Daedalion overcome with grief, ran senselessly around, finally leaping from Parnassus' peak, where Apollo changed him into a hawk, and "aggrieved, he makes all others mourn."

As Ceyx relates this story, Peleus' Phocian cowherd rushes in to announce that a wolf is ravaging the herds of oxen and terrifying the people.  Peleus silently believes this event to be his penance for his crime.  As they prepare to leave to deal with the wolf, Alcyone, the wife of Ceyx, begs him not to go, foreseeing his death.  Thetis intervenes to pardon Peleus and helps him, changing the wolf into a marble statue.  But the fates cause Peleus to travel to the land of Magnesia and King Acastus, where he is cleansed of his guilt.

Meanwhile Ceyx is still puzzled by his brother's fate and these strange happenings, so he decides to consult an oracle on the isle of Clarus.  Alcyone begs him not to go, but, while trying to calm her fears, he departs and his boat encounters a momentous storm. Before he drowns, he prays that his body will return to his wife for burial, and she finally spots it floating in the water, confirmation of her husband's death that she had received in a dream conducted by Morpheus.  As she tries to reach the body, she is changed into a bird (a kingfisher), and when she tries to cover her husband with her wings, he too changes:

"...... Their love remained; they shared one fate.
Once wed, they still were wed: they kept their bond.
They mate; they rear their young; when winter comes,
for seven peaceful days Alcyone --- 
upon a cliff that overlooks the sea ---
broods on her nest.  The surge is quiet then,
for Aeolus won't let his winds run free;
he keeps them under guard, so that the sea
maintain the peace his fledgling grandsons need."

Halcyone seeking her husband Ceyx (1914)
Herbert James Draper
source Wikimedia Commons

An old man, as he watches the pair of birds, is reminded of another bird, a swift merganser.  The bird is of the line of Ilus and Assaracus, then Ganymede, then Laomedeon, and finally Priam, who was the last king of Troy.  Aesacus, half-brother of Hector (son of Priam) pursued the nymph, Hesperie, who was bitten by a serpent as she fled.  Distraught, Aesacus offered his life for hers.  As he leapt into the sea, Thetis pitied him and clothed him in feathers, but Aesacus so diligently sought death, he continually attempts to plunge in the sea, only to rise again.  He is the diving bird, the merganser.


❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀  ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ 

In this book, I noticed varying motifs on music, sound and hearing.  Orpheus communicates by music, yet is drowned out by the Bacchantes' shrieks; Apollo and Pan have a musical contest; Mt Tmolus must brush away the forest to hear; Midas for hearing 'incorrectly' has his ears changed to those of an ass; Proteus' words are stopped/finished as he sinks into the sea; on Ceyx's ship, the captain's voice in drowned out by the "blustering winds"; Ceyx's words are impeded by the waves; and the Cimmerian cave is a place of complete silence yet for the Lethe.

While the stories often seem random, we can experience a non-linear telling of some of the history of Troy and its heroes.  The scattering make up a puzzle, if we can only pick up the pieces and fit them into the whole.


Snake  ❥  stone
Thracian women  ❥  oak trees
Midas' touch  ❥  gold
Midas' ears  ❥  ears of an ass
Thetis  ❥  bird/tree/spotted tigress
Thetis  ❥  various shapes  ❥ Thetis
Daedalion  ❥  hawk
Wolf  ❥  marble statue
Ceyx & Alcyone  ❥  birds (kingfishers)
Aesacus  ❥  merganser ("diving bird")


  1. I am stuck! I cannot seem to get moving on this one anymore...seems like Ovid has become monotonous! But I will try and finish! Have not read the review as yet...will come back and re-visit once I have read this book!

    1. Surprisingly, the more I read, the more I begin to enjoy it. I was ready to exile Ovid around chapter 7, but as I read, I'm starting to see themes and strands of interesting ideas through the poetry. Dare I say, I'll be sad when I'm finished? In any case, I hope that you can get going again. Many of the people in these myths have been mentioned in many of my other reads, so at least there is some value to reading it!

  2. I plod on while I'm up to my armpits in births, battles, wild boars. I'm tripping over mortals/nymphs/sytars/demi-gods turned in to birds, trees and streams. My audio book keeps pushing me to the next chapter while my Kindle glows in the screen. Avid for Ovid.

    1. Oh, fun! I would have probably been overwhelmed to go as fas as you are. Ovid doesn't let up for a minute and it becomes a rollercoaster ride, even going slowly! Good luck!

  3. I loved Ceyx & Alcyone - definitely a favourite tale.

    And, by the way, your analysis is perfect - "The scattering make up a puzzle, if we can only pick up the pieces and fit them into the whole" - that, for me, is one of the beauties of Metamorphoses.

    1. I loved their story too, but soooo sad!!! And it was a drawn-out sad story ---- Ovid is usually quick with the anguish.

      I think the puzzle pieces make such a long poem more enjoyable, but I would like some more flow at times, and I am so curious as to why there is so little mention of very important mythical and historic episodes. But I must be content with ignorance in this case. ;-)