from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 4

Athamas et Ino.


Throughout the land of Thebes miraculous
the power of Bacchus waxed; and far and wide
Ino, his aunt, reported the great deeds
by this divinity performed. Of all
her sisters only she escaped unharmed,
when Fate destroyed them, and she knew not grief--
only for sorrow of her sisters' woes.--

While Ino vaunted of her mother-joys,
and of her kingly husband, Athamas,
and of the mighty God, her foster-child;
Juno, disdaining her in secret, said;
“How shall the offspring of a concubine
transform Maeonian mariners, overwhelm
them in the ocean, sacrifice a son
to his deluded mother, who insane,
tears out his entrails; how shall he invent
wings for three daughters of King Minyas,
while Juno unavenged, bewails despite?--
Is it the end? the utmost of my power?
His deeds instruct the way; true wisdom heeds
an enemy's device; by the strange death
of Pentheus, all that madness could perform
was well revealed to all; what then denies
a frenzy may unravel Ino's course
to such a fate as wrought her sisters' woe?”

A shelving path in shadows of sad yew
through utter silence to the deep descends,
infernal, where the languid Styx exhales
vapours; and there the shadows of the dead,
descend, after they leave their sacred urns,
and ghostly forms invade: and far and wide,
those dreary regions Horror and bleak Cold obtain.

The ghosts, arrived, not know the way,--
which leadeth to the Stygian city-gates,--
not know the melancholy palace where
the swarthy Pluto stays, though streets and ways
a thousand to that city lead, and gates
out-swing from every side: and as the sea
with never-seen increase engulfs the streams
unnumbered of the world, that realm enfolds
the souls of men, nor ever is it filled.

Around the shadowy spirits go; bloodless
boneless and bodiless; they throng the place
of judgment, or they haunt the mansion where
abides the Utmost Tyrant, or they tend
to various callings, as their whilom way; --
appropriate punishment confines to pain
the multitude condemned.


To this abode,
impelled by rage and hate, from habitation
celestial, Juno, of Saturn born, descends,
submissive to its dreadful element.

No sooner had she entered the sad gates,
than groans were uttered by the threshold, pressed
by her immortal form, and Cerberus
upraising his three-visaged mouths gave vent
to triple-barking howls.--She called to her
the sisters, Night-begot, implacable,
terrific Furies. They did sit before
the prison portals, adamant confined,
combing black vipers from their horrid hair.

When her amid the night-surrounding shades
they recognized, those Deities uprose.
O dread confines! dark seat of wretched vice!
Where stretched athwart nine acres, Tityus,
must thou endure thine entrails to be torn!
O Tantalus, thou canst not touch the wave,
and from thy clutch the hanging branches rise!
O Sisyphus, thou canst not stay the stone,
catching or pushing, it must fall again!
O thou Ixion! whirled around, around,
thyself must follow to escape thyself!
And, O Belides, (plotter of sad death
upon thy cousins) thou art always doomed
to dip forever ever-spilling waves!

When that the daughter of Saturnus fixed
a stern look on those wretches, first her glance
arrested on Ixion; but the next
on Sisyphus; and thus the goddess spoke;--


“For why should he alone of all his kin
suffer eternal doom, while Athamas,
luxurious in a sumptuous palace reigns;
and, haughty with his wife, despises me.”
So grieved she, and expressed the rage of hate
that such descent inspired, beseeching thus,
no longer should the House of Cadmus stand,
so that the sister Furies plunge in crime
overweening Athamas.--Entreating them,
she mingled promises with her commands.--

When Juno ended speech, Tisiphone,
whose locks entangled are not ever smooth,
tossed them around, that backward from her face
such crawling snakes were thrown;--then answered she:
“Since what thy will decrees may well be done,
why need we to consult with many words?
Leave thou this hateful region and convey
thyself, contented, to a better realm.”

Rejoicing Juno hastens to the clouds--
before she enters her celestial home,
Iris, the child of Thaumas, purifies
her limbs in sprinkled water.

Waiting not,
Tisiphone, revengeful, takes a torch;--
besmeared with blood, and vested in a robe,
dripping with crimson gore, and twisting-snakes
engirdled, she departs her dire abode--
with twitching Madness, Terror, Fear and Woe:
and when she had arrived the destined house,
the door-posts shrank from her, the maple doors
turned ashen grey: the Sun amazed fled.

Affrighted, Athamas and Ino viewed
and fled these prodigies; but suddenly
that baneful Fury stood across the way,
blocking the passage-- There she stands with arms
extended, and alive with twisting vipers.--
She shakes her hair; the moving serpents hiss;
they cling upon her shoulders, and they glide
around her temples, dart their fangs, and vomit
corruption.--Plucking from the midst two snakes,
she hurls them with her pestilential hand
upon her victims, Athamas and Ino, whom,
although the vipers strike upon their breasts,
not in jury attacks their mortal parts;--
only their minds are stricken with wild rage,
inciting to mad violence and crime.

And with a monstrous composite of foam--
once gathered from the mouth of Cerberus,
the venom of Echidna, purposeless
aberrances, crimes, tears, hatred--the lust
of homicide, and the dark vapourings
of foolish brains; a liquid poison, mixed,
and mingled with fresh blood, in hollow brass,
and boiled, and stirred up with a slip of hemlock--
she took of it, and as they trembled, threw
that mad-mixed poison on them; and it scorched
their inmost vitals--and she waved her torch
repeatedly, within a circle's rim--
and added flame to flame.--

Then, confident
of having executed her commands,
the Fury hastened to the void expanse
where Pluto reigns, and swiftly put aside
the serpents that were wreathed around her robes.

At once, the son of Aeolus, enraged,
shouts loudly in his palace; “Ho, my lads!
Spread out your nets! a savage lioness
and her twin whelps are lurking in the wood;--
behold them!” In his madness he believes
his wife a savage beast. He follows her,
and quickly from her bosom snatches up
her smiling babe, Learchus, holding forth
his tiny arms, and whirls him in the air,
times twice and thrice, as whirls the whizzing sling,
and dashes him in pieces on the rocks; --
cracking his infant bones.

The mother, roused
to frenzy (who can tell if grief the cause,
or fires of scattered poison?) yells aloud,
and with her torn hair tangled, running mad,
she carries swiftly in her clutching arms,
her little Melicerta! and begins
to shout, “Evoe, Bacche!”--Juno hears
the shouted name of Bacchus, and she laughs,
and taunts her;--“Let thy foster-child award!”

There is a crag, out-jutting on the deep,
worn hollow at the base by many waves,
where not the rain may ripple on that pool;--
high up the rugged summit overhangs
its ragged brows above the open sea:
there, Ino climbs with frenzy-given strength,
and fearless, with her burden in her arms,
leaps in the waves where whitening foams arise.

Venus takes pity on her guiltless child,
unfortunate grand-daughter, and begins
to soothe her uncle Neptune with these words;--
“O Neptune, ruler of the deep, to whom,
next to the Power in Heaven, was given sway,
consider my request! Open thy heart
to my descendants, which thine eyes behold,
tossed on the wild Ionian Sea! I do implore thee,
remember they are thy true Deities--
are thine as well as mine--for it is known
my birth was from the white foam of thy sea;--
a truth made certain by my Grecian name.”

Neptune regards her prayer: he takes from them
their mortal dross: he clothes in majesty,
and hallows their appearance. Even their names
and forms are altered; Melicerta, changed,
is now Palaemon called, and Ino, changed,
Leucothoe called, are known as Deities.

When her Sidonian attendants traced
fresh footprints to the last verge of the rock,
and found no further vestige, they declared
her dead, nor had they any doubt of it.
They tore their garments and their hair--and wailed
the House of Cadmus-- and they cursed at Juno,
for the sad fate of the wretched concubine.

That goddess could no longer brook their words,
and thus made answer, “I will make of you
eternal monuments of my revenge!”

Her words were instantly confirmed--The one
whose love for Ino was the greatest, cried;
“Into the deep; look--look--I seek my queen.”
But even as she tried to leap, she stood
fast-rooted to the ever-living rock;
another, as she tried to beat her breast
with blows repeated, noticed that her arms
grew stiff and hard; another, as by chance,
was petrified with hands stretched over the waves:
another could be seen, as suddenly
her fingers hardened, clutching at her hair
to tear it from the roots.--And each remained
forever in the posture first assumed.--
But others of those women, sprung from Cadmus,
were changed to birds, that always with wide wings
skim lightly the dark surface of that sea.

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