Ovid: Metamorphosis

Book 1, Plate 14

The Transformation of Syrinx into Reeds

Then Hermes thus: A nymph of late there was
Whose heav'nly form her fellows did surpass.

The pride and joy of fair Arcadia's plains,
Belov'd by deities, ador'd by swains:
Syrinx her name, by Sylvans oft pursu'd,
As oft she did the lustful Gods delude:
The rural, and the woodland Pow'rs disdain'd;
With Cynthia hunted, and her rites maintain'd:
Like Phoebe clad, even Phoebe's self she seems,
So tall, so streight, such well-proportion'd limbs:
The nicest eye did no distinction know,
But that the goddess bore a golden bow:
Distinguish'd thus, the sight she cheated too.

Descending from Lycaeus, Pan admires
The matchless nymph, and burns with new desires.

A crown of pine upon his head he wore;
And thus began her pity to implore.

But e'er he thus began, she took her flight
So swift, she was already out of sight.

Nor stay'd to hear the courtship of the God;
But bent her course to Ladon's gentle flood:
There by the river stopt, and tir'd before;
Relief from water nymphs her pray'rs implore.

Now while the lustful God, with speedy pace,
Just thought to strain her in a strict embrace,
He fill'd his arms with reeds, new rising on the place.

And while he sighs, his ill success to find,
The tender canes were shaken by the wind;
And breath'd a mournful air, unheard before;
That much surprizing Pan, yet pleas'd him more.

Admiring this new musick, Thou, he said,
Who canst not be the partner of my bed,
At least shall be the confort of my mind:
And often, often to my lips be joyn'd.

He form'd the reeds, proportion'd as they are,
Unequal in their length, and wax'd with care,
They still retain the name of his ungrateful fair.

While Hermes pip'd, and sung, and told his tale,
The keeper's winking eyes began to fail,
And drowsie slumber on the lids to creep;
'Till all the watchman was at length asleep.

Then soon the God his voice, and song supprest;
And with his pow'rful rod confirm'd his rest:
Without delay his crooked faulchion drew,
And at one fatal stroke the keeper slew.

Down from the rock fell the dissever'd head,
Opening its eyes in death; and falling, bled;
And mark'd the passage with a crimson trail:
Thus Argus lies in pieces, cold, and pale;
And all his hundred eyes, with all their light,
Are clos'd at once, in one perpetual night.

These Juno takes, that they no more may fail,
And spreads them in her peacock's gaudy tail.

Impatient to revenge her injur'd bed,
She wreaks her anger on her rival's head;
With Furies frights her from her native home;
And drives her gadding, round the world to roam:
Nor ceas'd her madness, and her flight, before
She touch'd the limits of the Pharian shore.

At length, arriving on the banks of Nile,
Wearied with length of ways, and worn with toil,
She laid her down; and leaning on her knees,
Invok'd the cause of all her miseries:
And cast her languishing regards above,
For help from Heav'n, and her ungrateful Jove.

She sigh'd, she wept, she low'd; 'twas all she cou'd;
And with unkindness seem'd to tax the God.

Last, with an humble pray'r, she beg'd repose,
Or death at least, to finish all her woes.

Jove heard her vows, and with a flatt'ring look,
In her behalf to jealous Juno spoke,
He cast his arms about her neck, and said,
Dame, rest secure; no more thy nuptial bed
This nymph shall violate; by Styx I swear,
And every oath that binds the Thunderer.

The Goddess was appeas'd; and at the word
Was Io to her former shape restor'd.

The rugged hair began to fall away;
The sweetness of her eyes did only stay,
Tho' not so large; her crooked horns decrease;
The wideness of her jaws and nostrils cease:
Her hoofs to hands return, in little space:
The five long taper fingers take their place,
And nothing of the heyfer now is seen,
Beside the native whiteness of the skin.

Erected on her feet she walks again:
And two the duty of the four sustain.

She tries her tongue; her silence softly breaks,
And fears her former lowings when she speaks:
A Goddess now, through all th' Aegyptian State:
And serv'd by priests, who in white linnen wait.

Her son was Epaphus, at length believ'd
The son of Jove, and as a God receiv'd;
With sacrifice ador'd, and publick pray'rs,
He common temples with his mother shares.

Equal in years, and rival in renown
With Epaphus, the youthful Phaeton
Like honour claims; and boasts his sire the sun.

His haughty looks, and his assuming air,
The son of Isis could no longer bear:
Thou tak'st thy mother's word too far, said he,
And hast usurp'd thy boasted pedigree.

Go, base pretender to a borrow'd name.

Thus tax'd, he blush'd with anger, and with shame;
But shame repress'd his rage: the daunted youth
Soon seeks his mother, and enquires the truth:
Mother, said he, this infamy was thrown
By Epaphus on you, and me your son.

He spoke in publick, told it to my face;
Nor durst I vindicate the dire disgrace:
Even I, the bold, the sensible of wrong,
Restrain'd by shame, was forc'd to hold my tongue.

To hear an open slander, is a curse:
But not to find an answer, is a worse.

If I am Heav'n-begot, assert your son
By some sure sign; and make my father known,
To right my honour, and redeem your own.

He said, and saying cast his arms about
Her neck, and beg'd her to resolve the doubt.

'Tis hard to judge if Clymene were mov'd
More by his pray'r, whom she so dearly lov'd,
Or more with fury fir'd, to find her name
Traduc'd, and made the sport of common fame.

She stretch'd her arms to Heav'n, and fix'd her eyes
On that fair planet that adorns the skies;
Now by those beams, said she, whose holy fires
Consume my breast, and kindle my desires;
By him, who sees us both, and clears our sight,
By him, the publick minister of light,
I swear that Sun begot thee; if I lye,
Let him his chearful influence deny:
Let him no more this perjur'd creature see;
And shine on all the world but only me.

If still you doubt your mother's innocence,
His eastern mansion is not far from hence;
With little pains you to his Leve go,
And from himself your parentage may know.

With joy th' ambitious youth his mother heard,
And eager, for the journey soon prepar'd.

He longs the world beneath him to survey;
To guide the chariot; and to give the day:
From Meroe's burning sands he bends his course,
Nor less in India feels his father's force:
His travel urging, till he came in sight;
And saw the palace by the purple light.

From here you may go to the text and image of Book 2, Plate 15, or to the complete page of Plates for Book 2, or to the Baur 1703 Title Page, or to the Ovid Title Page.

Hope Greenberg, University of Vermont, Last update: November 17, 1997.