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Dionysus - Dionysus Dionysus is closely associated with the...

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Unformatted text preview: Dionysus Dionysus is closely associated with the Greek city of Thebes, which was founded by his grandfather, Cadmus (see the genealogy chart, next page.) The story begins with the myth of the abduction of the Asian (Phoenician) princess, Europa, by Zeus. The Roman poet Ovid is an excellent source of the story of the Theban royal family. Ovid takes us, in just a few pages of The Metamorphoses, from the story of Europa, through the birth of Dionysus. That gives us all the background we need to get the most out of Euripides’ The Bacchae. For the stories of Europa and Cadmus, the source is David Slavitt’s recent “free” translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The story is then continued by Ted Hughes’ adaptation of selected poems from Metamorphoses called Tales from Ovid. Hughesl takes us through the stories of Actaeon, a cousin of Dionysus; Semele, the mother of Dionysus; and of Tiresias, the archetypal seer of Greek myth. Though not part of the Theban family, Tiresias is an important character in both Euripides’ The Bacchae and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. 1Hughes was Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II from 1984 until his death in 1998. ZZS Cadmus m. Harmonia l'_1'—"l'l"-"'I"'"""i lno Autonoé Semele Agave m. Athamas m. Aristaeus m. Zeus m. Echion I fl I I | (Polydorus m. Nycteis) Learchus Melicertes Actaeon Dionysus ‘Pentheus Labdacus Menoeceus I Laius Eurydice m. Creon Jocasta m. I Oedipus Haemon Menoeceus II Megara Antigqne Ismene Eteocles Polyhices m. Heracles I Laodamas Figure 15.2. The Dynasties of Thebes The . Metamorphoses .. O f O Vid ' I 21:31::{253 Hopkins University Press Printed in the United States of America on acid—free paper 9876543 TRANSLATED FREELY INTO VERSE The johns Hopkins University Press 27r5 North Charles Street Baltimore, Maryland 212x8-4363 The johns Hopkins Press Ltd.. London wwwpressjhuedu BY DAVID R. SLAVlTT - ! Part of this poem appeared in the following magazines, to which the ' translator and the publisher extend their thanks: Boulevard, Grand Street, Michigan Quarterly Review, New England Review/Breadloaf Qurartefly, and Texas Review: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data will be found at the end of this book. A catalog record for this book is available fromithe British Library. The Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore and London [W was called away, flew up to heaven to answer his father’s summons and do his bidding. Jove does not confide the reason for this commission, but orders his son to proceed to Sidon, way to the East. Mercury knows where it is. “Go then,” the lord of Olympus instructs. “You will find on a hillside a herd of cattle grazing, rare and wonderful cattle, the king’s, in fact. Drive them down to the shore where a spit of land extends to make a cove.” He did not have to specify further where the king’s daughter took the air with her maidens-in-waiting. But that was the place and purpose he had in mind, that young and unbearably beautiful girl he had seen. The grandeur of gods is all very well but makes for awkwardnesses in love. The delicate (or sometimes indelicate) business is further muddled—as jupiter’s lessons had so often demonstrated. The august god therefore put down his lightning—bolt trident and stowed away the impressive paraphernalia of p0wer, assuming instead a different and most unlikely guise, getting himself to look, for the nonce, . . . like a bull, handsome as bulls go, but one of the herd. He lowed like all the rest as he grazed, nibbling delicate morsels of grass. He was snowy white, dazzling, and his strength was eloquent in the carved musculature of his neck and shoulders. A noble dewlap hung down under his chin, and the elegant twist of his horns suggested some mannerist artist had carved them as his idea of what might adorn a bull. His expression was altogether gentle and tranquil. Agenor’s daughter Europa noticed—could not help it—the striking creature and felt drawn to hold out a timorous hand. Frightened, of course, by his size and presence, she nonetheless was fascinated. She offered clover for him to nibble and felt the enormous lips that nuzzled her open palm. The bull frisks like a calf on the sand, rolls on his back, allows her to pat him and deck his horns with the blossoms she’s braided in garlands. It is a dance, their small steps forming a pattern that seems in retrospect fated, her little forays, his responses, the way she is bolder and Clasps with delicate arms his huge 1a TYVI‘. IlfiTAIlnhn'Vfihfifl 830 840 850 860 neck, which is yet so soft and tame. . . . She lolls on his flank, and thrills to the silky steel of a power she’s never imagined, exhilarating and making it hard to breathe for her laughter-— or whatever it is that bubbles up from the depths of her spirit. She climbs on the bull’s back, and he ambles gently along, taking the girl into shallow water and then farther out, and faster, and, terrified now, she looks way back at the distant shoreline and holds on tight to the great beast’s horn as the wind, freshening, whips her tunic, which streams into pennants behind her. 870 @[email protected] BOOK III Qasg-NW At Crete, he came ashore, wading out of the surf not as a bull any longer, but naked, himself, a god! Back in Sidon, King Agenor had no idea what had become of his daughter and ordered his son Cadmus to go in search of his lost sister—and not to return without her. So crazed with grief was the king that no one could say whether he was a doting father or cruel beyond belief. Surely Cadmus could not, who traveled the world trying to learn details of Jupiter’s love life, a daunting task. At length he admitted defeat and became an exile, IO hating his father’s anger and land, and now ready to settle wherever the god’s whim might dictate. Therefore he went to a sacred cave in Castalia, close to Phocis, to seek the oracle’s suggestion. There Phoebus gave him this’answer: “Where you will meet a heifer that never has worn the yoke or drawn the crooked blade of the plow, but ambles free, there you will go and follow wherever she leads until she pauses to graze and lies down to rest. That will be the place to build your city, which you shall name, after the heifer: Boeotia.” Thus he spoke, and Cadmus left the grotto 20 to blink in the midday glare and rub his eyes . . . for there a heifer ambled by as the god had specified. Her neck bore no sign of a yoke or tether. He offered thanks to the heavens and followed the beast wherever she wanted to go, this way and that, as the vegetation and lay of the land prompted, across the fords of Cephisus, over the fields of Panope, where she paused, lifted her head toward the sky, bellowed, and then sank down into the succulent grass. Cadmus also knelt and kissed the ground with his lips, greeting the mountains and plains that had signified thus their welcome. 30 In gratitude for the gods’ gift, he resolves to offer appropriate thanks and tells his companions to search out a spring with the waters of which they may offer libations according to pious . custom. There, in a grove of the virgin forest no axe has ever touched, they notice a cave covered with vines, dense with greenery, rich in that promising loamy smell. It is, indeed, a spring that bubbles up in a grotto that is almost like a shrine beneath its natural arch. This breathlessly tranquil place, they soon discover, is home to a mighty reptile sacred to Mars, a fearsome creature 40 with a gaudy crest on its head, eyes that gleam in the darkness, and a body that coils on itself like the twined roots of a banyan. Its forked tongue flashes out in the gloom, and its mouth gapes to show an astounding array of serried and poisonous fangs. The Phoenician adventurers had lowered their buckets into the spring, and the Clank of the metal had roused this drowsing monster. It moved, yawned, flicked its tongue, and hissed, chilling their blood in horror, freezing their muscles and nerves, which at once surrendered, for nothing was clearer than that they had met their death. In a merciful trance they watch as the creature writhes and coils, so rears and prepares to strike. It’s as high as a fair-sized tree, and mortality is its crop. It poses, looms for an instant, and then it moves, a violent blur with a spoor of gore of those it has bitten, those it has crushed in its powerful coils, and those whom the venomous droplets of its exhalations have slain. Cadmus, growing impatient, wonders where they have gone and why they are taking so long. He takes up his lion—skin shield, his javelin, and a spear with its head of iron forged and then honed—but the rarest and best weapon of any hero is valor, and this he has in abundance, and needs it, 60 for quickly he finds the wood, the grotto, the corpses, and then that serpent or lizard, or dragon, which now is sunning itself on the broken bodies, its trophies and also its feast. He sees how it licks their blood with a greedy tongue, laps it like nectar, and he groans aloud and swears to avenge his friends or else join them there where they lie on the bloody ground. In rage, he seizes a stone, a massive boulder really, hefts it, and heaves it toward the monster. It lands with such a thud as one hears on battlement walls of a city that’s under siege, and the soldiers in towers quake at the sound of the mangonels 70 and then‘inspect for damage. The serpent is not even bruised, those scales on its skin are hard as armor plate. Now Cadmus takes his javelin, hurls it, strikes in one of the folds where the scales meet, and pierces its point deep in the side of the flailing dragon. Mad with pain, it writhes, bites at the javelin shaft, and tears it out, but leaves the point still in its flesh, embedded and hurting. In fury, the creature hisses and spits a spray of deadly froth, which flecks its jaws and spatters out, tainting the air around it. The earth resounds as the creature heaves, thrashes, coils, So and suddenly stretches out like the spring of some deadly machine, except that it’s huge and turns tall trees in the wood to toys, which it knocks down in its frenzy, sidewinding in pain and hate. Cadmus retreats, astonished. The serpent charges, its scales resounding upon the taut lion skin of his shield. Cadmus holds out his spear, and the serpent snaps at it, bites but in vain, and there’s purple blood gushing out on the grass. The serpent now gives way, and Cadmus advances, pressing whatever advantage that spearpoint in the monster’s palate can give him, until there’s a trunk of a tree, and the serpent can’t retreat further, 90 but the iron spearpoint continues, going through flesh now and pinning ' the beast by his throat to the trunk. It writhes and lashes. The tree waves in the air like the frond of some delicate river reed, and the wood groans, or is it the serpent? But then they are still, the tree, the dead beast, and the man, who stands there breathing hard and not quite sure it’s over. From thin air he hears a voice that tells him: “Cadmus, why do you stand there gloating? You shall be that one day, a serpent for men to gaze on.” His hackles rise in terror, and the blood drains from his cheeks at the very thought. He looks down in despair and loathing, but then 100 Minerva, his faithful protectress, descends from the air to help him. She tells him to plow the earth and sow it with dragon’s teeth, which will grow up into men. He can’t understand but dare not disobey the goddess and does as he’s bidden. A farmer, he puts in his curious planting, and then—miraculousl—watches as the furrows begin to quiver and tiny spearpoints emerge like the first leaves of a crop coming out of the ground; then helmets, with colored plumes that wave in the gentle breeze; then heads and shoulders of men in arms, and all with the weapons of war. Just as on our feast days, when we go to the theater and see no the curtain that hangs across the stage and is taken down for the action, we see first heads, then shoulders, torsos, and legs, so did Cadmus watch as these characters little by little appeared before him. Friends or enemies, were they? Uncertain, he drew his sword to prepare for the worst, but one of them told him, “Keep your distance. Our quarrels have nothing to do with you.” Turning away, he raised his sword and then, with a mighty blow to the man beside him, sliced his head in two, whereupon a bloodied javelin point abruptly bloomed out of his chest, the result of someone’s stroke 120 from behind. The man with the javelin heaved a satisfied sigh that became a fearsome rale as he felt a spearpoint ending his own brief life. They were all savage and crazed as they hacked this way and that in a frenzy that littered the ground with corpses. Here and there a mortally wounded soldier twitched and quivered or beat with a weakening fist on his mother, the earth, which welcomed them gravely home—all but the last five. Echion, one of these, Minerva commanded to stop, drop his weapons, declare a truce, and arrange a peace. Cadmus and this quintet should establish the city Apollo 130 had by his oracle promised. And this was the founding of Thebes. A happy man you might call him, even in exile: he married Harmonia, daughter of Mars and Venus, a noble and lovely wife who bore him children, pledges of love and the gods’ benevolence, and, in time, grandsons and granddaughters, too. Still, one can never be sure, and a man’s life is at risk even until the end (as Cadmus would later learn). But Actaeon, a grandson of Cadmus, first came to grief, and the story was dreadful for him to hear of what had become of his child’s child. . . Fur", 3mm and Gina: 19 Union Sgure War, New York 10003 Comb: O 1997 by Ted High“ All right: merml Distributed in Canada by Deng!“ (r McIntyre 114. Printed in :be Unitel State: ofAnim'u Firs publitbed in 3b: United Kingdom in 1997 by bib! and Faber Bl, Landon Hm American edition publixbed in 1997 by Fumr. Same: Md Gina-x Hm paperback edition, I 999 Librbry 4!chan CailltuiM-t'n-Publieuion Dun ’ Ovid, 43 LC.-l7 or 18 4.0. [Meme-earpiece“. English Selenium] Talafrui Ovid / ("undated by] Ted Hugbex. - In American ed. p. m. Originally published: bulb", Faber (r Huber, 1997. Campfire: 24 mn'erfion Mernmarpbm. Ineludee bibliqgupbieal references. ISBN 0-374-52587-0 QM.) 1. Meumrpbmb—Mythalogy—Pom'y. 2. Mythology, Clam'cal- Putry. I. Huber, Tel, 1930- . 11. Title. PAMJDJUS 1997 873’.01—4c21 97-36061 Acmeon 8%...) Destiny, not guilt, was enough For Actaeon. It is no crime To lose your way in a dark wood. It happened on a mountain where hunters Had slaughtered so many animals The slopes were patched red with the butchering places. When shadows were shortest and the sun’s heat hardest Young Actaeon called a halt: “We have killed more than enough for the day. “Our nets are stifi' with blood, Our Spears are caked, and our knives Are clogged in their sheaths with the blood of a glorious hunt. “Let’s be up again in the grey dawn— Back to the game afresh. This noon heat Has baked the stones too hot for a human foot.” All concurred. And the hunt was over for the day. A deep cleft at the bottom of the mountain Dark with matted pine and spiky cypress Was known as Gargaphie, sacred to Diana, Goddess of the hunt. In the depths of this goyle was the mouth of a cavern That might have been carved out with deliberate art From the soft volcanic rock. It half—hid a broad pool, perpetually shaken By a waterfall inside the mountain, Noisy but hidden. Often to that grotto, Aching and burning from her hunting, Diana came To cool the naked beauty she hid from the world. All her nymphs would attend her. One held her javelin, Her quiverful of arrows and her unstrung bow. Another folded her cape. Two others took off her sandals, while Crocale The daughter of Ismenus Whose hands were the most artful, combing out The goddess’ long hair, that the hunt had tangled, Bunched it into a thick knot, Though her own hair stayed as the hunt had scattered it. Five others, Nephele, Hyale, Phiale . Psecas and Rhanis, filled great jars with water And sluiced it over Diana’s head and shoulders. The goddess was there, in her secret pool, Naked and bowed Under those cascades from the mouths of jars 98 In the fastness of Gargaphie, when Actaeon, Making a beeline home from the hunt Stumbled on this gorge. Surprised to find it, He pushed into it, apprehensive, but Steered by a pitiless fate—whose nudgings he felt Only as surges of curiosity. So he came to the clearing. And saw ripples Flocking across the pool out of the cavern. He edged into the cavern, under ferns That dripped with spray. He peered Into the gloom to see the waterfall— But what he saw were nymphs, their wild faces Screaming at him in a commotion of water. And as his eyes adjusted, he saw they were naked, Beating their breasts as they screamed at him. And he saw they were crowding together To hide something from him. He stared harder. Those nymphs could not conceal Diana’s whiteness, The tallest barely reached her navel. Actaeon Stared at the goddess, who stared at him. She twisted her breasts away, showing him her back. Glaring at him over her shoulder \ She blushed like a dawn cloud In that twilit grotto of winking reflections, And raged for a weapon—for her arrows To drive through his body. No weapon was to hand—only water. 99 [ Acmeon So she scooped up a handfiil and dashed it Into his astonished eyes, as she shouted: “Now, if you can, tell how you saw me naked.” That was all she said, but as she said it Out of his forehead burst a rack of antlers. His neck lengthened, narrowed, and his ears Folded to whiskery points, his hands were hooves, His arms long slender legs. His hunter’s tunic Slid from his dappled hide. With all this The goddess Poured a shocking stream of panic terror Through his heart like blood. Actaeon Bounded out across the cave’s pool In plunging leaps, amazed at his own lightness. And there Clear in the bulging mirror of his bow-wave He glimpsed his antlered head, And cried: “What has happened to me?” No words came. No sound came but a groan. His only voice was a groan. Human tears shone on his stag’s face From the grief of a mind that was still human. He veered first this way, then that. . Should he run away home to the royal palace? Or hide in the forest? The thought of the first Dizzied him with shame. The thought of the second Flurried him with terrors. 100 But then, as he circled, his own hounds found him. The first to give tongue were Melampus And the deep-thinking Ichnobates. Melampus a Spartan, Ichnobates a Cretan. The whole pack piled in after. It was like a squall crossing a forest. Dorceus, Pamphagus and Oribasus— Pure Arcadians. Nebrophonus, Strong as a wild boar, Theras, as fierce. And Laelaps never far from them. Pterelas Swiftest in the pack, and Agre The keenest nose. And Hylaeus Still lame from the rip of a boar’s tusk. Nape whose mother was a wolf, and Poemenis— Pure sheep-dog. Harpyia with her grown pups, Who still would never leave her. The lanky hound Ladon, from Sicyon, With Tigris, Dromas, Canace, Sticte and Alce, And Asbolus, all black, and all-white Leuca. Lacon was there, with shoulders like a lion. Aello, who could outrun wolves, and Thous, Lycise, at her best in a tight corner, Her brother Cyprius, and black Harpalus With a white star on his forehead. Lachne, like a shaggy bear-cub. Melaneus And the Spartan-Cretan crossbreeds Lebros and Agriodus. Hylactor, 101 [ Actaeon With the high, cracked voice, and a host of others, Too many to name. The strung-out pack, Locked onto their quarry, Flowed across the landscape, over crags, Over clilfs where no man could have followed, Through places that seemed impossible. Where Actaeon had so often strained Every hound to catch and kill the quarry, Now he strained to shake the same hounds off— His own hounds. He tried to cry out: “I am Actaeon—remember your master,” But his tongue lolled wordless, while the air Belaboured his ears with hounds’ voices. Suddenly three hounds appeared, ah...
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