Ovid - The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Book VII (Fable. 5)

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Minos, having engaged several powers in his interest, and having been refused by others, goes to the island of Ægina, where Æacus reigns, to endeavor to secure an alliance with that prince; but without success. Upon his departure, Cephalus arrives, as amba**ador, from Athens, and obtains succors from the king; who gives him an account of the desolation which a pestilence had formerly made in his country, and of the surprising manner in which it had been re-peopled.

But Oliaros,90 and Didyme, and Tenos,91 and Andros,92 and Gyaros,93 and Peparethos, fruitful in the smooth olive,94 do not aid the Gnossian ships. Then Minos makes for Œnopia,95 the kingdom of Æacus, lying to the left. The ancients called it Œnopia, but Æacus himself called it Ægina, from the name of his mother. The multitude rushes forth, and desires greatly to know a man of so great celebrity. Both Telamon,96 and Peleus, younger than Telamon, and Phocus, the kings third son, go to meet him. Æacus himself, too, though slow through the infirmity of old age, goes forth, and asks him what is the reason of his coming? The ruler of a hundred cities, being put in mind of his fatherly sorrow for his son, sighs, and gives him this answer: “I beg thee to a**ist arms taken up on account of my son; and be a party in a war of affection. For his shades do I demand satisfaction.” To him the grandson of Asopus says, “Thou askest in vain, and for a thing not to be done by my city; for, indeed, there is no land more closely allied to the people of Cecropia. Such are the terms of our compact.” Minos goes away in sadness, and says, “This compact of thine will cost thee a dear price;” and he thinks it more expedient to threaten war than to wage it, and to waste his forces there prematurely.

Even yet may the Lyctian97 fleet be beheld from the Œnopian walls, when an Attic ship, speeding onward with full sail, appears, and enters the friendly harbor, which is carrying Cephalus, and together with him the request of his native country. The youthful sons of Æacus recognize Cephalus, although seen but after a long period, and give their right hands, and lead him into the house of their father. The graceful hero, even still retaining some traces of his former beauty, enters; and, holding a branch of his countrys olive, being the elder, he has on his right and left hand the two younger in age, Clytus and Butes, the sons of Pallas.98 After their first meeting has had words suitable thereto, Cephalus relates the request of the people of Cecrops, and begs a**istance, and recounts the treaties and alliances of their forefathers; and he adds, that the subjection of the whole of Achaia is aimed at. After the eloquence of Cephalus has thus promoted the cause entrusted to him, Æacus, leaning with his left hand on the handle of his sceptre, says—

“Ask not for a**istance, O Athens, but take it, and consider, beyond doubt, the resources which this island possesses, as thy own, and let all the forces of my kingdom go along with thee. Strength is not wanting. I have soldiers enough both for my defence, and for opposing the enemy. Thanks to the Gods; this is a prosperous time, and one that can excuse no refusal of mine.” “Yes, and be it so,” says Cephalus:99 “and I pray that thy power may increase along with thy citizens. Indeed, as I came along just now, I received much pleasure, when a number of youths, so comely and so equal in their ages, came forward to meet me. Yet I miss many from among them, whom I once saw when I was formerly entertained in this city.” Æacus heaves a sigh, and thus he says, with mournful voice: “A better fortune will be following a lamentable beginning; I only wish I could relate this to you. I will now tell it you without any order, that I may not be detaining you by any long preamble.100 They are now lying as bones and ashes, for whom thou art inquiring with tenacious memory. And how great a part were they of my resources that perished! A dreadful pestilence fell upon my people, through the anger of the vengeful Juno, who hated a country named101 from her rival. While the calamity seemed natural, and the baneful cause of so great destruction was unknown, it was opposed by the resources of medicine. But the havoc exceeded all help, which now lay baffled. At first the heaven encompa**ed the earth with a thick darkness, and enclosed within its clouds a drowsy heat. And while the Moon was four times filling her orb by joining her horns, and, four times decreasing, was diminishing her full orb, the hot South winds were blowing with their deadly blasts. It is known for a fact that the infection came even into fountains and lakes, and that many thousands of serpents were wandering over the uncultivated fields, and were tainting the rivers with their venom. The violence of this sudden distemper was first discovered by the destruction of dogs, and birds, and sheep, and oxen, and among the wild beasts. The unfortunate ploughman wonders that strong oxen fall down at their work, and lie stretched in the middle of the furrow. And while the wool-bearing flocks utter weakly bleatings, both their wool falls off spontaneously, and their bodies pine away. The horse, once of high mettle, and of great fame on the course, degenerates for the purposes of victory; and, forgetting his ancient honors, he groans at the manger, doomed to perish by an inglorious distemper. The boar remembers not to be angry, nor the hind to trust to her speed, nor the bears to rush upon the powerful herds.

“A faintness seizes all animals; both in the woods, in the fields, and in the roads, loathsome carcases lie strewed. The air is corrupted with the smell of them. I am relating strange events. The dogs, and the ravenous birds, and the hoary wolves, touch them not; falling away, they rot, and, by their exhalations, produce baneful effects, and spread the contagion far and wide. With more dreadful destruction the pestilence reaches the wretched husbandmen, and riots within the walls of the extensive city. At first, the bowels are scorched,102 and a redness, and the breath drawn with difficulty, is a sign of the latent flame. The tongue, grown rough, swells; and the parched mouth gapes, with its throbbing veins; the noxious air, too, is inhaled by the breathing. The infected cannot endure a bed, or any coverings; but they lay their hardened breasts upon the earth, and their bodies are not made cool by the ground, but the ground is made hot by their bodies. There is no physician at hand; the cruel malady breaks out upon even those who administer remedies; and their own arts become an injury to their owners. The nearer at hand any one is, and the more faithfully he attends on the sick, the sooner does he come in for his share of the fatality. And when the hope of recovery is departed, and they see the end of their malady only in d**h, they indulge their humors, and there is no concern as to what is to their advantage; for, indeed, nothing is to their advantage. All sense, too, of shame being banished, they lie promiscuously close to the fountains and rivers, and deep wells; and their thirst is not extinguished by drinking, before their life is. Many, overpowered with the disease, are unable to arise thence, and die amid the very water; and yet another even drinks that water. So great, too, is the irksomeness for the wretched creatures of their hated beds, that they leap out, or, if their strength forbids them standing, they roll their bodies upon the ground, and every man flies from his own dwelling; each ones house seems fatal to him: and since the cause of the calamity is unknown, the place that is known is blamed. You might see persons, half dead, wandering about the roads, as long as they were able to stand; others, weeping and lying about on the ground, and rolling their wearied eyes with the dying movement. They stretch, too, their limbs towards the stars of the overhanging heavens, breathing forth their lives here and there, where d**h has overtaken them.

“What were my feelings then? Were they not such as they ought to be, to hate life, and to desire to be a sharer with my people? On whichever side my eyes were turned, there was the multitude strewed on the earth, just as when rotten apples fall from the moved branches, and acorns from the shaken holm-oak. Thou seest103 a lofty temple, opposite thee, raised on high with long steps: Jupiter has it as his own. Who did not offer incense at those altars in vain? how often did the husband, while he was uttering words of entreaty for his wife, or the father for his son, end his life at the altars without prevailing? in his hand, too, was part of the frankincense found unconsumed! How often did the bulls, when brought to the temples, while the priest was making his supplications, and pouring the pure wine between their horns, fall without waiting for the wound! While I myself was offering sacrifice to Jupiter, for myself, and my country, and my three sons, the victim sent forth dismal lowings, and suddenly falling down without any blow, stained the knives thrust into it, with its scanty blood; the diseased entrails, too, had lost all marks of truth, and the warnings of the Gods. The baneful malady penetrated to the entrails. I have seen the carcases lying, thrown out before the sacred doors; before the very altars, too, that d**h might become more odious104 to the Gods. Some finish their lives with the halter, and by d**h dispel the apprehension of d**h, and voluntarily invite approaching fate. The bodies of the dead are not borne out with any funeral rites, according to the custom; for the city gates cannot receive the multitude of the processions. Either unburied they lie upon the ground, or they are laid on the lofty pyres without the usual honors. And now there is no distinction, and they struggle for the piles; and they are burnt on fires that belong to others. They who should weep are wanting; and the souls of sons, and of husbands, of old and of young, wander about unlamented: there is not room sufficient for the tombs, nor trees for the fires.”


89. Sithonian.]—Ver. 466. This was Arne, whose story is referred to in the Explanation, p. 242 (p. 270).

90. Oliaros.]—Ver. 469. This was one of the Cyclades, in the Ægean sea; it was colonized by the Sidonians.

91. Tenos.]—Ver. 469. This island was famous for a temple there, sacred to Neptune.

92. Andros.]—Ver. 469. This was an island in the Ægean Sea, near Eubœa. It received its name from Andros, the son of Anius. The Andrian slave, who gives his name to one of the comedies of Terence, was supposed to be a native of this island.

93. Gyaros.]—Ver. 470. This was a sterile island among the Cyclades; in later times, the Romans made it a penal settlement for their criminals. The mice of this island were said to be able to gnaw iron; perhaps, because they were starved by reason of its unfruitfulness.

94. Smooth olive.]—Ver. 470. Clarke translates ‘nitidæ olivæ ‘the neat olive. ‘Nitidus here means ‘smooth and shining.

95. Œnopia.]—Ver. 473. This was the ancient name of the isle of Ægina, in the Saronic Gulf, famous as being the native place of the family of the Æacidæ. It obtained its later name from Ægina, the daughter of Asopus, and the mother of Æacus, whom Jupiter carried thither.

96. Telamon.]—Ver. 476. Telamon, Peleus, and Phocus, were the three sons of Æacus.

97. Lyctian.]—Ver. 490. Lyctus was the name of one of the cities of Crete.

98. Pallas.]—Ver. 500. This was either Pallas the son of Pandion, king of Athens, or of Neleus, the brother of Theseus. This Pallas, together with his sons, was afterwards slain by Theseus.

99. Cephalus.]—Ver. 512. He was the son of Deioneus, or according to some writers, of Mercury and Herse, the daughter of Cecrops.

100. Long preamble.]—Ver. 520. Clarke translates ‘neu longâ ambage morer vos, ‘that I may not detain you with a long-winded detail of it.

101. Country named.]—Ver. 524. This was the island of Ægina, so called from the Nymph who was carried thither by Jupiter.

102. Bowels are scorched.]—Ver. 554. Clarke quaintly renders the words ‘viscera torrentur primo. ‘first peoples bowels are searched; perhaps, however, the latter word is a misprint for ‘scorched.

103. Thou seest.]—Ver. 587. As Æacus says this, he must be supposed to point with his finger towards the temple.

104. More odious.]—Ver. 603. Dead bodies were supposed to be particularly offensive to the Gods.

Date of text publication: 16.01.2021 at 10:04