Week 6: Ovid's Metamorphoses

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Book 10: Orpheus sings of Venus and Adonis

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

Myrrha has turned into a tree, but her child has yet to be born. Orpheus now moves on to the story of Myrrha's child, Adonis - who will become the lover of the goddess of lover herself, Venus (Aphrodite), when Cupid accidentally scratches her with one of his arrows. Adonis is a hunter, which worries Venus, and she warns him to be careful!

'The child, conceived in sin, had grown within the tree, and was now searching for a way to leave its mother, and reveal itself. The pregnant womb swells within the tree trunk, the burden stretching the mother. The pain cannot form words, nor can Lucina be called on, in the voice of a woman in labour. Nevertheless the tree bends, like one straining, and groans constantly, and is wet with falling tears. Gentle Lucina stood by the suffering branches, and laid her hands on them, speaking words that aid childbirth. At this the tree split open, and, from the torn bark, gave up its living burden, and the child cried. The naiads laid him on the soft grass, and anointed him with his mother's tears. Even Envy would praise his beauty, being so like one of the torsos of naked Amor painted on boards. But to stop them differing in attributes, you must add a light quiver, for him, or take theirs away from them.

'Transient time slips by us unnoticed, betrays us, and nothing outpaces the years. That son of his grandfather, sister, now hid in a tree, and now born, then a most beautiful child, then a boy, now a man, now more beautiful than he was before, now interests Venus herself, and avenges his mother's desire. For while the boy, Cupid, with quiver on shoulder, was kissing his mother, he innocently scratched her breast with a loose arrow. The injured goddess pushed her son away: but the wound he had given was deeper than it seemed, and deceived her at first. Now captured by mortal beauty, she cares no more for Cythera's shores, nor revisits Paphos, surrounded by its deep waters, nor Cnidos, the haunt of fish, nor Amathus, rich in mines: she even forgoes the heavens: preferring Adonis to heaven.

'She holds him, and is his companion, and though she is used to always idling in the shade, and, by cultivating it, enhancing her beauty, she roams mountain ridges, and forests, and thorny cliff-sides, her clothing caught up to the knee, like Diana. And she cheers on the hounds, chasing things safe to hunt, hares flying headlong, stags with deep horns, or their hinds. She avoids the strong wild boars, the ravening wolves, and shuns the bears armed with claws, and the lions glutted with the slaughter of cattle.

'She warns you Adonis, as if it were ever effective to warn, to fear them too, saying: "Be bold when they run, but bravery is unsafe when faced with the brave. Do not be foolish, beware of endangering me, and do not provoke the creatures nature has armed, lest your glory is to my great cost. Neither youth nor beauty, nor the charms that affect Venus, affect lions or bristling boars or the eyes and minds of other wild creatures. Boars have the force of a fierce lightning bolt in their curving tusks, and so does the attack of tawny lions, in their huge anger: the whole tribe are hateful to me."

When he asks her why, she says: "I will tell, and you will wonder, at the monstrous result of an ancient crime. But now the unaccustomed effort tires me, and, look, a poplar tree entices us with its welcome shade, and the turf yields a bed. I should like to rest here on the ground," (and she rested) "with you." She hugged the grass, and him, and leaning her head against the breast of the reclining youth, she spoke these words, interspersing them with kisses.

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

  • how was Myrrha's child Adonis born?
  • how did Venus fall in love with Adonis?
  • why was Venus worried about Adonis?

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