Week 6: Ovid's Metamorphoses

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Book 6: Boreas and Orithyia

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 500 words.

In order to make a transition to the next story, Ovid tells us about the children of King Pandion, who was the father of the sisters Procne and Philomela. Their brother, Erechtheus, became the king of Athens when Pandion died. Erechtheus had several children, including a daugther named Orithyia. Boreas, the god of the cold North wind, was in love with Orithyia, but she rejected his attentions. This made Boreas angry, and he took Orithyia by force. They had two boys, and as the boys grew into men they turned into creatures that shared something of their father's nature.

This tragedy sent Pandion down to the shadows of Tartarus before his time, before the last years of old age. His rule over the kingdom, and his wealth passed to Erectheus, whose ability for sound government, and superiority in warfare, was never in doubt. He had four sons and the same number of daughters, and two of the daughters were rivals in beauty. Of these two, Procris made you happy in marriage, Cephalus, grandson of Aeolus. But you, Boreas, god of the north wind, were long denied your beloved, Orithyia, harmed by your origins, with Tereus, among the Thracians.

This was so while Boreas wooed her, and preferred prayers to force. But when charm got him nowhere, he bristled with anger, which is his usual mood for too much of the time, and said 'I deserve it! Why have I relinquished my own weapons, force and ferocity, and anger and menacing moods, and turned to prayers, that are unbecoming for me to use? Force is fitting for me. By force, I drive forward the mists, by force move the sea. I overturn knotted oaks, harden the snow, and strike earth with hail. And, when I meet my brothers under the open sky (since that is my battleground) I struggle so fiercely with them that the midst of the heavens echoes with our collisions, and lightnings leap, hurled from the vaulted clouds. So, when I penetrate the hollow openings of the earth, and apply my proud back to the deepest cave roofs, I trouble the shades, and the whole world with the tremors. That is how I should have sought a wife, and not become Erectheus's son-in-law by prayer but by action.'

With these, or other equally forceful words, Boreas unfurled his wings, by whose beating the whole world is stirred, and made the wide ocean tremble. Trailing his cloak of dust over the mountain summits, he swept the land, and, shrouded in darkness, the lover embraced his Orythia, with his dusky wings, as she shivered with fear. As he flew, his own flames of passion were fanned, and burned fiercer. Nor did the thief halt in his flight through the air, till he reached the walls of the city and people of Thrace, the Cicones.

There the girl from Attica married the chilly tyrant, and became a mother, giving birth to twin brothers, who took after their mother, in everything else but their father's wings. Yet they say the wings were not present, on their bodies, when they were born, but while they still were lacking beards, to match their red hair, Calais, and Zetes, as boys, were wingless. But both alike, soon after, began to sprout the pinions of birds on their shoulders, and both their jaws and cheeks grew tawny. And, when their boyhood was over, the youths sailed, as Argonauts, with the Minyans, in that first ship, through unknown seas, to seek the glittering wool of a golden fleece.

[This is the end of Book 6 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, and Book 7 picks up on this thread of the story, telling about Jason and the Argonauts, and their quest for the golden fleece. We are going to skip ahead to Book 12 of the Metamorphoses in order to read the famous story of Orpheus and Eurydice.]

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • who was Boreas?
  • how did the princess Orithyia react to his advances?
  • what happened when the children of Boreas and Orithyia grew up?

Source: Ovid's Metamorphoses. English translation by A.S.Kline. 2000. "This work MAY be FREELY reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any NON-COMMERCIAL purpose." Website: Ovid and Others.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM