The Metamorphoses of Ovid - Literally Translated into English Prose, with Copious Notes - and Explanations
by Publius Ovidius Naso
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"There is {now} a short pause;[88] the fire {then} sends up the warm repast; and wine kept no long time, is again put on; and {then}, set aside for a little time, it gives place to the second course. Here are nuts, {and} here are dried figs mixed with wrinkled dates, plums too, and fragrant apples in wide baskets, and grapes gathered from the purple vines. In the middle there is white honey-comb. Above all, there are welcome looks, and no indifferent and niggardly feelings. In the meanwhile, as oft as Baucis and the alarmed Philemon behold the goblet, {when} drunk off, replenish itself of its own accord, and the wine increase of itself, astonished at this singular event, they are frightened, and, with hands held up, they offer their prayers, and entreat pardon for their entertainment, and their want of preparation. There was a single goose, the guardian of their little cottage, which its owners were preparing to kill for the Deities, their guests. Swift with its wings, it wearied them, {rendered} slow by age, and it escaped them a long time, and at length seemed to fly for safety to the Gods themselves. The immortals forbade it[89] to be killed, and said, 'We are Divinities, and this impious neighbourhood shall suffer deserved punishment. To you it will be allowed to be free from this calamity; only leave your habitation, and attend our steps, and go together to the summit of the mountain.'

"They both obeyed; and, supported by staffs, they endeavoured to place their feet {on the top} of the high hill. They were {now} as far from the top, as an arrow discharged can go at once, {when} they turned their eyes, and beheld the other parts sinking in a morass, {and} their own abode alone remaining. While they were wondering at these things, {and} while they were bewailing the fate of their {fellow countrymen}, that old cottage of {theirs}, {too} little for even two owners, was changed into a temple. Columns took the place of forked stakes, the thatch grew yellow, and the earth was covered with marble; the doors appeared carved, and the roof to be of gold. Then, the son of Saturn uttered such words as these with benign lips: 'Tell us, good old man, and thou, wife, worthy of a husband {so} good, what it is you desire?' Having spoken a few words to Baucis, Philemon discovered their joint request to the Gods: 'We desire to be your priests, and to have the care of your temple; and, since we have passed our years in harmony, let the same hour take us off both together; and let me not ever see the tomb of my wife, nor let me be destined to be buried by her.' Fulfilment attended their wishes. So long as life was granted, they were the keepers of the temple; and when, enervated by years and old age, they were standing, by chance, before the sacred steps, and were relating the fortunes of the spot, Baucis beheld Philemon, and the aged Philemon saw Baucis, {too}, shooting into leaf. And now the tops of the trees growing above their two faces, so long as they could they exchanged words with each other, and said together, 'Farewell! my spouse;' and at the same moment the branches covered their concealed faces. The inhabitants of Tyana[90] still shew these adjoining trees, made of their two bodies. Old men, no romancers, (and there was no reason why they should wish to deceive me) told me this. I, indeed, saw garlands hanging on the branches, and placing {there} some fresh ones {myself}, I said, 'The good are the {peculiar} care of the Gods, and those who worshipped {the Gods}, are {now} worshipped {themselves}.'"

He had {now} ceased; and the thing {itself} and the relator {of it} had astonished them all; {and} especially Theseus, whom, desiring to hear of the wonderful actions of the Gods, the Calydonian river leaning on his elbow, addressed in words such as these: "There are, O most valiant {hero}, some things, whose form has been once changed, and {then} has continued under that change. There are some whose privilege it is to pass into many shapes, as thou, Proteus, inhabitant of the sea that embraces the earth. For people have seen thee one while a young man, and again a lion; at one time thou wast a furious boar, at another a serpent, which they dreaded to touch; {and} sometimes, horns rendered thee a bull. Ofttimes thou mightst be seen as a stone; often, too, as a tree. Sometimes imitating the appearance of flowing water, thou wast a river; sometimes fire, the {very} contrary of water."

[Footnote 82: Laughed at them.—Ver. 612. The Centaurs, from one of whom Pirithoues was sprung, were famed for their contempt of, and enmity to, the Gods.]

[Footnote 83: By a low wall.—Ver. 620. As a memorial of the wonderful events here related by Lelex.]

[Footnote 84: Thatched with straw.—Ver. 630. It was the custom with the ancients, when reaping, to take off only the heads of the corn, and to leave the stubble to be reaped at another time. From this passage, we see that straw was used for the purpose of thatching.]

[Footnote 85: Lifts down.—Ver. 647. The lifting down the flitch of bacon might induce us to believe that the account of this story was written yesterday, and not nearly two thousand years since. So true is it, that there is nothing new under the sun.]

[Footnote 86: Feet and frame.—Ver. 659. 'Sponda.' This was the frame of the bedstead, and more especially the sides of it. In the case of a bed used for two persons, the two sides were distinguished by different names; the side at which they entered was open, and was called 'sponda:' the other side, which was protected by a board, was called 'pluteus.' The two sides were also called 'torus exterior,' or 'sponda exterior,' and 'torus interior,' or 'sponda interior.']

[Footnote 87: Double-tinted berries.—Ver. 664. Green on one side, and swarthy on the other.]

[Footnote 88: A short pause.—Ver. 671. This was the second course. The Roman 'coena,' or chief meal, consisted of three stages. First, the 'promulsis,' 'antecoena,' or 'gustatio,' when they ate such things as served to stimulate the appetite. Then came the first course, which formed the substantial part of the meal; and next the second course, at which the 'bellaria,' consisting of pastry and fruits, such as are now used at dessert, were served.]

[Footnote 89: Immortals forbade it.—Ver. 688. This act of humanity reflects credit on the two Deities, and contrasts favourably with their usual cruel and revengeful disposition, in common with their fellow Divinities of the heathen Mythology.]

[Footnote 90: Of Tyana.—Ver. 719. This was a city of Cappadocia, in Asia Minor.]


The story of Baucis and Philemon, which is here so beautifully related by the Poet, is a moral tale, which shows the merit of hospitality, and how, in some cases at least, virtue speedily brings its own reward. If the story is based upon any actual facts, the history of its origin is entirely unknown. Huet, the theologian, indeed, supposes that it is founded on the history of the reception of the Angels by Abraham. This is a bold surmise, but entirely in accordance with his position, that the greatest part of the fictions of the heathen mythology were mere glosses or perversions of the histories of the Old Testament. If derived from Scripture, the story is just as likely to be founded on the hospitable reception of the Prophet Elijah by the woman of Zarephath; and the miraculous increase of the wine in the goblet, calls to mind 'the barrel of meal that wasted not, and the cruse of oil that did not fail.' The story of the wretched fate of the inhospitable neighbours of Baucis and Philemon is thought, by some modern writers, to be founded upon the Scriptural account of the destruction of the wicked cities of the plain.

Ancient writers have made many attempts to solve the wondrous story of Proteus. Some say that he was an elegant orator, who charmed his auditors by the force of his eloquence. Lucian says that he was an actor of pantomime, so supple that he could assume various postures. Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Clement of Alexandria, assert that he was an ancient king of Egypt, successor to Pheron, and that he lived at the time, of the Trojan war. Herodotus, who represents him as a prince of great wisdom and justice, does not make any allusion to his powers of transformation, which was his great merit in the eyes of the poets. Diodorus Siculus says that his alleged changes may have had their rise in a custom which Proteus had of adorning his helmet, sometimes with the skin of a panther, sometimes with that of a lion, and sometimes with that of a serpent, or of some other animal. When Lycophron states that Neptune saved Proteus from the fury of his children, by making him go through caverns from Pallene to Egypt, he follows the tradition which says that he originally came from that town in Thessaly, and that he retired thence to Egypt. Virgil, and Servius, his Commentator, assert that Proteus returned to Thessaly after the death of his children, who were slain by Hercules; in which assertion, however, they are not supported by Homer or Herodotus.

FABLE VII. [VIII.738-884]

Acheloues continues his narrative with the story of Metra, the daughter of Erisicthon, who is attacked with insatiable hunger, for having cut down an oak, in one of the groves of Ceres. Metra begs of Neptune, who was formerly in love with her, the power of transforming herself into different shapes; that she may be enabled, if possible, to satisfy the voracious appetite of her father. By these means, Erisicthon, being obliged to expose her for sale, in order to purchase himself food, always recovers her again; until, by his repeated sale of her, the fraud is discovered. He at last becomes the avenger of his own impiety, by devouring his own limbs.

"Nor has the wife of Autolycus,[91] the daughter of Erisicthon, less privileges {than he}. Her father was one who despised the majesty of the Gods; and he offered them no honours on their altars. He is likewise said to have profaned with an axe a grove of Ceres, and to have violated her ancient woods with the iron. In these there was standing an oak with an ancient trunk, a wood {in itself} alone, fillets and tablets, {as} memorials,[92] and garlands, proofs of wishes that had been granted, surrounded the middle of it. Often, beneath this {tree}, did the Dryads lead up the festive dance; often, too, with hands joined in order, did they go round the compass of its trunk; and the girth of the oak made up three times five ells. The rest of the wood, too, lay as much under this oak as the grass lay beneath the whole of the wood. Yet not on that account {even} did the son of Triopas[93] withhold the axe from it; and he ordered his servants to cut down the sacred oak; and when he saw them hesitate, {thus} ordered, the wicked {wretch}, snatching from one of them an axe, uttered these words: 'Were it not only beloved by a Goddess, but even were it a Goddess itself, it should now touch the ground with its leafy top.' {Thus} he said; and while he was poising his weapon for a side stroke, the Deoian oak[94] shuddered, and uttered a groan; and at once, its green leaves, and, with them, its acorns began to turn pale; and the long branches to be moistened with sweat. As soon as his impious hand had made an incision in its trunk, the blood flowed from the severed bark no otherwise than, as, at the time when the bull, a large victim, falls before the altars, the blood pours forth from his divided neck. All were amazed and one of the number attempted to hinder the wicked design, and to restrain the cruel axe. The Thessalian eyes him, and says, 'Take the reward of thy pious intentions,' and turns the axe from the tree upon the man, and hews off his head; and {then} hacks at the oak again; when such words as these are uttered from the middle of the oak: 'I, a Nymph,[95] most pleasing to Ceres, am beneath this wood; I, {now} dying, foretell to thee that the punishment of thy deeds, the solace of my death, is at hand.'

"He pursued his wicked design; and, at last, weakened by numberless blows, and pulled downward with ropes, the tree fell down, and with its weight levelled a great part of the wood. All her sisters, the Dryads, being shocked at the loss of the grove and their own, in their grief repaired to Ceres, in black array,[96] and requested the punishment of Erisicthon. She assented to their {request}, and the most beauteous Goddess, with the nodding of her head, shook the fields loaded with the heavy crops; and contrived {for him} a kind of punishment, lamentable, if he had not, for his crimes, been deserving of the sympathy of none, {namely}, to torment him with deadly Famine. And since that Goddess could not be approached by herself (for the Destinies do not allow Ceres and Famine to come together), in such words as these she addressed rustic Oreas, one of the mountain Deities: 'There is an icy region in the extreme part of Scythia, a dreary soil, a land, desolate, without corn {and} without trees; there dwell drowsy Cold, and Paleness, and Trembling, and famishing Hunger; order her to bury herself in the breast of this sacrilegious {wretch}. Let no abundance of provisions overcome her; and let her surpass my powers in the contest. And that the length of the road may not alarm thee, take my chariot, take the dragons, which thou mayst guide aloft with the reins;' and {then} she gave them to her.

"She, borne through the air on the chariot {thus} granted, arrived in Scythia; and, on the top of a steep mountain (they call it Caucasus), she unyoked the neck of the dragons, and beheld Famine, whom she was seeking, in a stony field, tearing up herbs, growing here and there, with her nails and with her teeth. Rough was her hair, her eyes hollow, paleness on her face, her lips white with scurf,[97] her jaws rough with rustiness; her skin hard, through which her bowels might be seen; her dry bones were projecting beneath her crooked loins; instead of a belly, there was {only} the place for a belly. You would think her breast was hanging, and was only supported from the chine[98] of the back. Leanness had, {to appearance}, increased her joints, and the caps of her knees were stiff, and excrescences projected from her overgrown ancles. Soon as {Oreas} beheld her at a distance (for she did not dare come near her), she delivered the commands of the Goddess; and, staying for so short a time, although she was at a distance from her, {and} although she had just come thither, still did she seem to feel hunger; and, turning the reins, she drove aloft the dragon's back to Haemonia.

"Famine executes the orders of Ceres (although she is ever opposing her operations), and is borne by the winds through the air to the assigned abode, and immediately enters the bedchamber of the sacrilegious {wretch}, and embraces him, sunk in a deep sleep ({for} it is night-time), with her two wings. She breathes herself into the man, and blows upon his jaws, and his breast, and his face; and she scatters hunger through his empty veins. And having {thus} executed her commission, she forsakes the fruitful world, and returns to her famished abode, her wonted fields. Gentle sleep is still soothing[99] Erisicthon with its balmy wings. In a vision of his sleep he craves for food, and moves his jaws to no purpose, and tires his teeth {grinding} upon teeth, and wearies his throat deluded with imaginary food; and, instead of victuals, he devours in vain the yielding air. But when sleep is banished, his desire for eating is outrageous, and holds sway over his craving jaws, and his insatiate entrails. And no delay {is there}; he calls what the sea, what the earth, what the air produces, and complains of hunger with the tables set before him, and requires food in {the midst of} food. And what might be enough for {whole} cities, and what {might be enough} for a {whole} people, is not sufficient for one man. The more, too, he swallows down into his stomach, the more does he desire. And just as the ocean receives rivers from the whole earth, and {yet} is not satiated with water, and drinks up the rivers of distant countries, and as the devouring fire never refuses fuel, and burns up beams of wood without number, and the greater the quantity that is given to it, the more does it crave, and it is the more voracious through the very abundance {of fuel}; so do the jaws of the impious Erisicthon receive all victuals {presented}, and at the same time ask for {more}. In him all food is {only} a ground for {more} food, and there is always room vacant for eating {still more}.

"And now, through his appetite, and the voracity of his capacious stomach, he had diminished his paternal estate; but yet, even then, did his shocking hunger remain undiminished, and the craving of his insatiable appetite continued in full vigour. At last, after he has swallowed down his estate into his paunch,[100] his daughter {alone} is remaining, undeserving of him for a father; her, too, he sells, pressed by want. Born of a noble race, she cannot brook a master; and stretching out her hands, over the neighbouring sea, she says, 'Deliver me from a master, thou who dost possess the prize of my ravished virginity.' This {prize} Neptune had {possessed himself of}. He, not despising her prayer, although, the moment before, she has been seen by her master in pursuit of her, both alters her form, and gives her the appearance of a man, and a habit befitting such as catch fish. Looking at her, her master says, 'O thou manager of the rod, who dost cover the brazen {hook}, as it hangs, with tiny morsels, even so may the sea be smooth {for thee}, even so may the fish in the water be {ever} credulous for thee, and may they perceive no hook till caught; tell me where she is, who this moment was standing upon this shore (for standing on the shore I saw her), with her hair dishevelled, {and} in humble garb; for no further do her footsteps extend.' She perceives that the favour of the God has turned to good purpose, and, well pleased that she is inquired after of herself, she replies to him, as he inquires, in these words: 'Whoever thou art, excuse me, {but} I have not turned my eyes on any side from this water, and, busily employed, I have been attending to my pursuit. And that thou mayst the less disbelieve {me}, may the God of the sea so aid this employment of mine, no man has been for some time standing on this shore, myself only excepted, nor has any woman been standing {here}.' Her master believed her, and, turning his feet {to go away}, he paced the sands, and, {thus} deceived, withdrew. Her own shape was restored to her.

"But when her father found that his {daughter} had a body capable of being transformed, he often sold the grand-daughter of Triopas to {other} masters. But she used to escape, sometimes as a mare, sometimes as a bird, now as a cow, now as a stag; and {so} provided a dishonest maintenance for her hungry parent. Yet, after this violence of his distemper had consumed all his provision, and had added fresh fuel to his dreadful malady: he himself, with mangling bites, began to tear his own limbs, and the miserable {wretch} used to feed his own body by diminishing it. {But} why do I dwell on the instances of others? I, too, O youths,[101] have a power of often changing my body, {though} limited in the number {of those changes}. For, one while, I appear what I now am, another while I am wreathed as a snake; then {as} the leader of a herd, I receive strength in my horns. In my horns, {I say}, so long as I could. Now, one side of my forehead is deprived of its weapons, as thou seest thyself." Sighs followed his words.

[Footnote 91: Autolycus.—Ver. 738. He was the father of Anticlea, the mother of Ulysses, and was instructed by Mercury in the art of thieving. His wife was Metra, whose transformations are here described by the Poet.]

[Footnote 92: Tablets as memorials.—Ver. 744. That is, they had inscribed on them the grateful thanks of the parties who placed them there to Ceres, for having granted their wishes.]

[Footnote 93: Son of Triopas.—Ver. 751. Erisicthon was the son of Triopas.]

[Footnote 94: Deoian oak.—Ver. 758. Belonging to Ceres. See Book vi. line 114.]

[Footnote 95: I, a Nymph.—Ver. 771. She was one of the Hamadryads, whose lives terminated with those of the trees which they respectively inhabited.]

[Footnote 96: In black array.—Ver. 778. The Romans wore mourning for the dead; which seems, in the time of the Republic, to have been black or dark blue for either sex. Under the Empire, the men continued to wear black, but the women wore white. On such occasions all ornaments were laid aside.]

[Footnote 97: With scurf.—Ver. 802. Clarke gives this translation of 'Labra incana situ:' 'Her lips very white with nasty stuff.']

[Footnote 98: From the chine.—Ver. 806. 'A spinae tantummodo crate teneri,' is translated by Clarke, 'Was only supported by the wattling of her backbone.']

[Footnote 99: Is still soothing.—Ver. 823. Clarke renders the words 'Lenis adhuc somnus—Erisicthona pennis mulcebat;' 'Gentle sleep as yet clapped Erisicthon with her wings.']

[Footnote 100: Into his paunch.—Ver. 846. Clarke translates 'Tandem, demisso in viscera censu;' 'at last, after he had swallowed down all his estate into his g—ts.']

[Footnote 101: I too, O youths.—Ver. 880. Acheloues is addressing Theseus, Pirithoues, and Lelex. The words, 'Etiam mihi saepe novandi Corporis, O Juvenes,' is rendered by Clarke, 'I too, gentlemen, have the power of changing my body.']


The story of Metra and Erisicthon has no other foundation, in all probability, than the diligent care which she took, as a dutiful daughter, to support her father, when he had ruined himself by his luxury and extravagance. She, probably, was a young woman, who, in the hour of need, could, in common parlance, 'turn her hand' to any useful employment. Some, however, suppose that, by her changes are meant the wages she received from those whom she served in the capacity of a slave, and which she gave to her father; and it must be remembered that, in ancient times, as money was scarce, the wages of domestics were often paid in kind. Other writers again suggest, less to the credit of the damsel, that her changes denote the price she received for her debaucheries. Ovid adds, that she married Autolycus, the robber, who stole the oxen of Eurytus. Callimachus also, in his Hymn to Ceres, gives the story of Erisicthon at length. He was the great grandfather of Ulysses, and was probably a man noted for his infidelity and impiety, as well as his riotous course of life. The story is probably of Eastern origin, and if a little expanded might vie with many of the interesting fictions which we read in the Arabian Night's Entertainments.


FABLE I. [IX.1-100]

Deianira, the daughter of Oeneus, having been wooed by several suitors, her father gives his consent that she shall marry him who proves to be the bravest of them. Her other suitors, having given way to Hercules and Acheloues, they engage in single combat. Acheloues, to gain the advantage over his rival, transforms himself into various shapes, and, at length, into that of a bull. These attempts are in vain, and Hercules overcomes him, and breaks off one of his horns. The Naiads, the daughters of Acheloues, take it up, and fill it with the variety of fruits which Autumn affords; on which it obtains the name of the Horn of Plenty.

Theseus, the Neptunian hero,[1] inquires what is the cause of his sighing, and of his forehead being mutilated; when thus begins the Calydonian river, having his unadorned hair crowned with reeds:

"A mournful task thou art exacting; for who, when overcome, is desirous to relate his own battles? yet I will relate them in order; nor was it so disgraceful to be overcome, as it is glorious to have engaged; and a conqueror so mighty affords me a great consolation. If, perchance, Deianira,[2] by her name, has at last reached thy ears, once she was a most beautiful maiden, and the envied hope of many a wooer; together with these, when the house of him, whom I desired as my father-in-law, was entered by me, I said, 'Receive me, O son of Parthaon,[3] for thy son-in-law.' Alcides, too, said {the same}; the others yielded to {us} two. He alleged that he was offering {to the damsel} both Jupiter as a father-in-law, and the glory of his labours; the orders, too, of his step-mother, successfully executed. On the other hand (I thought it disgraceful for a God to give way to a mortal, for then he was not a God), I said, 'Thou beholdest me, a king of the waters, flowing amid thy realms,[4] with my winding course; nor {am I some} stranger sent thee for a son-in-law, from foreign lands, but I shall be one of thy people, and a part of thy state. Only let it not be to my prejudice, that the royal Juno does not hate me, and that all punishment, by labours enjoined, is afar from me. For, since thou, {Hercules}, dost boast thyself born of Alcmena for thy mother; Jupiter is either thy pretended sire, or thy real one through a criminal deed: by the adultery of thy mother art thou claiming a father. Choose, {then}, whether thou wouldst rather have Jupiter {for thy} pretended {father}, or that thou art sprung {from him} through a disgraceful deed?'

"While I was saying such things as these, for some time he looked at me with a scowling eye, and did not very successfully check his inflamed wrath; and he returned me just as many words {as these}: 'My right hand is better than my tongue. If only I do but prevail in fighting, do thou get the better in talking;' and {then} he fiercely {attacked} me. I was ashamed, after having so lately spoken big words, to yield. I threw on one side my green garment from off my body, and opposed my arms {to his}, and I held my hands bent inwards,[5] from before my breast, on their guard, and I prepared my limbs for the combat. He sprinkled me with dust, taken up in the hollow of his hands, and, in his turn, grew yellow with the casting of yellow sand[6] {upon himself}. And at one moment he aimed at my neck, at another my legs, as they shifted about, or you would suppose he was aiming {at them}; and he assaulted me on every side. My bulk defended me, and I was attacked in vain; no otherwise than a mole, which the waves beat against with loud noise: it remains {unshaken}, and by its own weight is secure.

"We retire a little, and {then} again we rush together in conflict, and we stand firm, determined not to yield; foot, too, is joined to foot; and {then} I, bending forward full with my breast, press upon his fingers with my fingers, and his forehead with my forehead. In no different manner have I beheld the strong bulls engage, when the most beauteous mate[7] in all the pasture is sought as the reward of the combat; the herds look on and tremble, uncertain which the mastery of so great a domain awaits. Thrice without effect did Alcides attempt to hurl away from him my breast, as it bore hard against him; the fourth time, he shook off my hold, and loosened my arms clasped around him; and, striking me with his hand, (I am resolved to confess the truth) he turned me quite round, and clung, a mighty load, to my back. If any credit {is to be given me}, (and, indeed, no glory is sought by me through an untrue narration) I seemed to myself {as though} weighed down with a mountain placed upon me. Yet, with great difficulty, I disengaged my arms streaming with much perspiration, {and}, with great exertion, I unlocked his firm grasp from my body. He pressed on me as I panted for breath, and prevented me from recovering my strength, and {then} seized hold of my neck. Then, at last, was the earth pressed by my knee, and with my mouth I bit the sand. Inferior in strength, I had recourse to my arts,[8] and transformed into a long serpent, I escaped from the hero.

"After I had twisted my body into winding folds, and darted my forked tongue with dreadful hissings, the Tirynthian laughed, and deriding my arts, he said, 'It was the labour of my cradle to conquer serpents;[9] and although, Acheloues, thou shouldst excel other snakes, how large a part wilt thou, {but} one serpent, be of the Lernaean Echidna? By her {very} wounds was she multiplied, and not one head of her hundred in number[10] was cut off {by me} without danger {to myself}; but rather so that her neck became stronger, with two successors {to the former head}. {Yet} her I subdued, branching with serpents springing from {each} wound, and growing stronger by her disasters; and, {so} subdued, I slew her. What canst thou think will become of thee, who, changed into a fictitious serpent, art wielding arms that belong to another, and whom a form, obtained as a favour, is {now} disguising?' {Thus} he spoke; and he planted the grip of his fingers on the upper part of my neck. I was tortured, just as though my throat was squeezed with pincers; and I struggled hard to disengage my jaws from his fingers.

"Thus vanquished, too, there still remained for me my third form, {that} of a furious bull; with my limbs changed into {those of} a bull I renewed the fight. He threw his arms over my brawny neck, on the left side, and, dragging {at me}, followed me in my onward course; and seizing my horns, he fastened them in the hard ground, and felled me upon the deep sand. And that was not enough; while his relentless right hand was holding my stubborn horn, he broke it, and tore it away from my mutilated forehead. This, heaped with fruit and odoriferous flowers, the Naiads have consecrated, and the bounteous {Goddess}, Plenty, is enriched by my horn." {Thus} he said; but a Nymph, girt up after the manner of Diana, one of his handmaids, with her hair hanging loose on either side, came in, and brought the whole {of the produce} of Autumn in the most plentiful horn, and choice fruit for a second course.

Day comes on, and the rising sun striking the tops of the hills, the young men depart; nor do they stay till the stream has quiet {restored to it}, and a smooth course, and {till} the troubled waters subside. Acheloues conceals his rustic features, and his mutilated horn, in the midst of the waves; yet the loss of this honour, taken from him, {alone} affects him; in other respects, he is unhurt. The injury, too, which has befallen his head, is {now} concealed with willow branches, or with reeds placed upon it.

[Footnote 1: The Neptunian hero.—Ver. 1. Theseus was the grandson of Neptune, through his father AEgeus.]

[Footnote 2: Deianira.—Ver. 9. She was the daughter of Oeneus, king of AEtolia, and became the wife of Hercules.]

[Footnote 3: Parthaon.—Ver. 12. He was the son of Agenor and Epicaste. Homer, however, makes Portheus, and not Parthaon, to have been the father of Oeneus.]

[Footnote 4: Amid thy realms.—Ver. 18. The river Acheloues flowed between AEtolia and Acarnania.]

[Footnote 5: Bent inwards.—Ver. 33. 'Varus,' which we here translate 'bent inwards,' according to some authorities, means 'bent outwards.']

[Footnote 6: Casting of yellow sand.—Ver. 35. It was the custom of wrestlers, after they had anointed the body with 'ceroma' or wrestler's oil, in order to render the body supple and pliant, to sprinkle the body with sand, or dust, to enable the antagonist to take a firm hold. It was, however, considered more praiseworthy to conquer in a contest which was akoniti 'without the use of sand.']

[Footnote 7: Most beauteous mate.—Ver. 47. Clarke translates 'nitidissima conjux,' 'the neatest cow.']

[Footnote 8: Recourse to my arts.—Ver. 62. 'Devertor ad artes,' is rendered by Clarke, 'I fly to my tricks.']

[Footnote 9: To conquer serpents.—Ver. 67. Hercules, while an infant in his cradle, was said to have strangled two serpents, which Juno sent for the purpose of destroying him.]

[Footnote 10: Hundred in number.—Ver. 71. The number of heads of the Hydra varies in the accounts given by different writers. Seven, nine, fifty, and a hundred are the numbers mentioned. This, however, is not surprising, as we are told that where one was cut off, two sprang up in their place, until Hercules, to prevent such consequences, adopted the precaution of searing the neck, where the head had been cut off, with a red hot iron.]


The river Acheloues, which ran between Acarnania and AEtolia, often did considerable damage to those countries by its inundations, and, at the same time, by confounding or sweeping away the limits which separated those nations, it engaged them in continual warfare with each other. Hercules, who seems really to have been a person of great scientific skill, which he was ever ready to employ for the service of his fellow men, raised banks to it, and made its course so uniform and straight, that he was the means of establishing perpetual peace between these adjoining nations.

The early authors who recorded these events have narrated them under a thick and almost impenetrable veil of fiction. They say that Hercules engaged in combat with the God of that river, who immediately transformed himself into a serpent, by which was probably meant merely the serpentine windings of its course. Next they say, that the God changed himself into a bull, under which allegorical form they refer to the rapid and impetuous overflowing of its banks, ever rushing onwards, bearing down everything in its course, and leaving traces of its ravages throughout the country in its vicinity. This mode of description the more readily occurred to them in the case of Acheloues, as from the roaring noise which they often make in their course, rivers in general were frequently represented under the figure of a bull, and, of course, as wearing horns, the great instruments of the havoc which they created.

It was said, then, that Hercules at length overcame this bull, and broke off one of his horns; by which was meant, according to Strabo, that he brought both the branches of the river into one channel. Again, this horn became the Horn of Plenty in that region; or, in other words, being withdrawn from its bed, the river left a large track of very fertile ground for agricultural purposes. As to the Cornucopia, or Horn of Plenty of the heathen Mythology, there is some variation in the accounts respecting it. Some writers say that by it was meant the horn of the goat Amalthea, which suckled Jupiter, and that the Nymphs gave it to Acheloues, who again gave it in exchange for that of which Hercules afterwards deprived him. Deianira, having given her hand to Hercules, as the recompense of the important services which he had rendered to her father, Oeneus, it was fabled that she had been promised to Acheloues, who was vanquished by his rival; and on this foundation was built the superstructure of the famous combat which the Poet here describes. After having remained for some time at the court of his father-in-law, Hercules was obliged to leave it, in consequence of having killed the son of Architritilus, who was the cupbearer of that prince.

FABLE II. [IX.101-272]

Hercules, returning with Deianira, as the prize of his victory, entrusts her to the Centaur Nessus, to carry her over the river Evenus. Nessus seizes the opportunity of Hercules being on the other side of the river, and attempts to carry her off; on which Hercules, perceiving his design, shoots him with an arrow, and thus prevents its execution. The Centaur, when expiring, in order to gratify his revenge, gives Deianira his tunic dipped in his blood, assuring her that it contains an effectual charm against all infidelity on the part of her husband. Afterwards, on hearing that Hercules is in love with Iole, Deianira sends him the tunic, that it may have the supposed effect. As soon as he puts it on, he is affected with excruciating torments, and is seized with such violent fits of madness, that he throws Lychas, the bearer of the garment, into the sea, where he is changed into a rock. Hercules, then, in obedience to a response of the oracle, which he consults, prepares a funeral pile, and laying himself upon it, his friend Philoctetes applies the torch to it, on which the hero, having first recounted his labours, expires in the flames. After his body is consumed, Jupiter translates him to the heavens, and he is placed in the number of the Gods.

But a passion for this same maiden proved fatal to thee, fierce Nessus,[11] pierced through the back with a swift arrow. For the son of Jupiter, as he was returning to his native city with his new-made wife, had {now} come to the rapid waters of {the river} Evenus.[12] The stream was swollen to a greater extent than usual with the winter rains, and was full of whirlpools, and impassable. Nessus came up to him, regardless of himself, {but} feeling anxiety for his wife, both strong of limb,[13] and well acquainted with the fords, and said, "Alcides, she shall be landed on yonder bank through my services, do thou employ thy strength in swimming;" and the Aonian {hero} entrusted to Nessus the Calydonian damsel full of alarm, and pale with apprehension, and {equally} dreading both the river and {Nessus} himself. Immediately, just as he was, loaded both with his quiver and the spoil of the lion, (for he had thrown his club and his crooked bow to the opposite side), he said, "Since I have undertaken it, the stream must be passed."

And he does not hesitate; nor does he seek out where the stream is the smoothest, and he spurns to be borne over by the compliance of the river. And now having reached the bank, and as he is taking up the bow which he had thrown over, he recognizes the voice of his wife; and as Nessus is preparing to rob him of what he has entrusted to his care, he cries out, "Whither, thou ravisher, does thy vain confidence in thy feet hurry thee? to thee am I speaking, Nessus, thou two-shaped {monster}. Listen; and do not carry off my property. If no regard for myself influences thee, still the wheel of thy father[14] might have restrained thee from forbidden embraces. Thou shall not escape, however, although thou dost confide[15] in thy powers of a horse; with a wound, {and} not with my feet, will I overtake thee." {These} last words he confirms by deeds, and pierces him through the back, as he is flying, with an arrow discharged {at him}. The barbed steel stands out from his breast; soon as it is wrenched out, the blood gushes forth from both wounds, mingled with the venom of the Lernaean poison. Nessus takes it out, and says to himself, "And yet I shall not die unrevenged;" and gives his garment, dyed in the warm blood, as a present to her whom he is carrying off, as though an incentive to love.

Long was the space of intervening time, and the feats of the mighty Hercules and the hatred of his step-mother had filled the earth. {Returning} victorious from Oechalia, he is preparing a sacrifice which he had vowed to Cenaean Jupiter,[16] when tattling Rumour (who takes pleasure in adding false things to the truth, and from a very little {beginning}, swells to a great bulk by her lies) runs before to thy ears, Deianira, {to the effect} that the son of Amphitryon is seized with a passion for Iole. As she loves him, she believes it; and being alarmed with the report of this new amour, at first she indulges in tears and in her misery gives vent to her grief in weeping. Soon, however, she says, "But why do I weep? My rival will be delighted with these tears; and since she is coming I must make haste, and some contrivance must be resolved on while it is {still} possible, and while, as yet, another has not taken possession of my bed. Shall I complain, or shall I be silent? Shall I return to Calydon, or shall I stay here? Shall I depart from this abode? or, if nothing more, shall I oppose {their entrance}? What if, O Meleager, remembering that I am thy sister, I resolve on a desperate deed, and testify, by murdering my rival, how much, injury and a woman's grief can effect?"

Her mind wavers, amid various resolves. Before them all, she prefers to send the garment dyed in the blood of Nessus, to restore strength to his declining love. Not knowing herself what she is giving, she delivers {the cause of} her own sorrows to the unsuspecting Lichas,[17] and bids him, in gentle words, to deliver this most fatal gift to her husband. In his ignorance, the hero receives it, and places upon his shoulders the venom of the Lernaean Echidna. He is placing frankincense on the rising flames, and {is offering} the words of prayer, and pouring wine from the bowl upon the marble altars. The virulence of the bane waxes warm, and, melted by the flames, it runs, widely diffused over the limbs of Hercules. So long as he is able, he suppresses his groans with his wonted fortitude. After his endurance is overcome by his anguish, he pushes down the altars, and fills the woody Oeta with his cries. There is no {further} delay; he attempts to tear off the deadly garment; {but} where it is torn off, it tears away the skin, and, shocking to relate, it either sticks to his limbs, being tried in vain to be pulled off, or it lays bare his mangled limbs, and his huge bones. The blood itself hisses, just as when a red hot plate {of metal is} dipped in cold water; and it boils with the burning poison. There is no limit {to his misery}; the devouring flames prey upon his entrails, and a livid perspiration flows from his whole body; his half-burnt sinews also crack; and his marrow being {now} dissolved by the subtle poison, lifting his hands towards the stars {of heaven}, he exclaims, "Daughter of Saturn, satiate thyself with my anguish; satiate thyself, and look down from on high, O cruel {Goddess}, at this {my} destruction, and glut thy relentless heart. Or, if I am to be pitied even by an enemy (for an enemy I am to thee), take away a life insupportable through these dreadful agonies, hateful, too, {to myself}, and {only} destined to trouble. Death will be a gain to me. It becomes a stepmother to grant such a favour.

"And was it for this that I subdued Busiris, who polluted the temples {of the Gods} with the blood of strangers? And did I {for this}, withdraw from the savage Antaeus[18] the support given him by his mother? Did neither the triple shape of the Iberian shepherd[19], nor thy triple form, O Cerberus, alarm me? And did you, my hands, seize the horns of the mighty bull? Does Elis, {too}, possess {the result} of your labours, and the Stymphalian waters, and the Parthenian[20] grove {as well}? By your valour was it that the belt, inlaid with the gold of Thermodon[21], was gained, the apples too, guarded in vain by the wakeful dragon? And could neither the Centaurs resist me, nor yet the boar, the ravager of Arcadia? And was it not of no avail to the Hydra to grow through {its own} loss, and to recover double strength? And what besides? When I beheld the Thracian steeds fattened with human blood, and the mangers filled with mangled bodies, did I throw them down when {thus} beheld, and slay both the master and {the horses} themselves? {And} does the carcass of the Nemean {lion} lie crushed by these arms? With this neck did I support the heavens?[22] The unrelenting wife of Jupiter[23] was weary of commanding, {but} I was {still} unwearied with doing. But {now} a new calamity is come upon me, to which resistance can be made neither by valour, nor by weapons, nor by arms. A consuming flame is pervading the inmost recesses of my lungs, and is preying on all my limbs. But Eurystheus {still} survives. And are there," says he, "any who can believe that the Deities exist?"

And {then}, racked with pain, he ranges along the lofty Oeta, no otherwise than if a tiger should chance to carry the hunting spears fixed in his body, and the perpetrator of the deed should be taking to flight. Often might you have beheld him uttering groans, often shrieking aloud, often striving to tear away the whole of his garments, and levelling trees, and venting his fury against mountains, or stretching out his arms towards the heaven of his father. Lo! he espies Lichas, trembling and lying concealed in a hollow rock, and, as his pain has summoned together all his fury, he says, "Didst thou, Lichas, bring {this} fatal present; and shalt thou be the cause of my death?" He trembles, and {turning} pale, is alarmed, and timorously utters some words of excuse. As he is speaking, and endeavouring to clasp his knees with his hands, Alcides seizes hold of him, and whirling him round three or four times, he hurls him into the Euboean waves, with greater force than {if sent} from an engine of war. As he soars aloft in the aerial breeze he grows hard; and as they say that showers freeze with the cold winds, {and} that thence snow is formed, and that from the snow, revolving {in its descent}, the soft body is compressed, and is {then} made round in many a hailstone,[24] so have former ages declared, that, hurled through the air by the strong arms {of Hercules}, and bereft of blood through fear, and having no moisture left in him, he was transformed into hard stone. Even to this day, in the Euboean sea, a small rock projects to a height, and retains the traces of the human form. This, the sailors are afraid to tread upon, as though it could feel it; and they call it Lichas.

But thou, the famous offspring of Jupiter, having cut down, trees which lofty Oeta bore, and having raised them for a pile, dost order the son of Poeas[25] to take the bow and the capacious quiver, and the arrows which are again to visit[26] the Trojan realms; by whose assistance flames are put beneath the pile; and while the structure is being seized by the devouring fires, thou dost cover the summit of the heap of wood with the skin of the Nemean {lion}, and dost lie down with thy neck resting on thy club, with no other countenance than if thou art lying as a guest crowned with garlands, amid the full cups of wine.

And now, the flames, prevailing and spreading on every side, roared,[27] and reached the limbs {thus} undismayed, and him who despised them. The Gods were alarmed for {this} protector of the earth;[28] Saturnian Jupiter (for he perceived it) thus addressed them with joyful voice: "This fear of yours is my own delight, O ye Gods of heaven, and, with all my heart, I gladly congratulate myself that I am called the governor and the father of a grateful people, and that my progeny, too, is secure in your esteem. For, although this {concern} is given {in return} for his mighty exploits, {still} I myself am obliged {by} it. But, however, that your affectionate breasts may not be alarmed with vain fears, despise these flames of Oeta. He who has conquered all things, shall conquer the fires which you behold; nor shall he be sensible of the potency of the flame, but in the part {of him} which he derived from his mother. {That part of him}, which he derived from me, is immortal, and exempt and secure from death, and to be subdued by no flames. This, too, when disengaged from earth, I will receive into the celestial regions, and I trust that this act of mine will be agreeable to all the Deities. Yet if any one, if any one, {I say}, perchance should grieve at Hercules being a Divinity, {and} should be unwilling that this honour should be conferred on him; still he shall know that he deserves it to be bestowed {on him}, and {even} against his will, shall approve of it."

{To this} the Gods assented; his royal spouse, too, seemed to bear the rest {of his remarks} with no discontented {air}, but only the last words with a countenance of discontent, and to take it amiss that she was {so plainly} pointed at. In the mean time, whatever was liable to be destroyed by flame, Mulciber consumed; and the figure of Hercules remained, not to be recognized; nor did he have anything derived from the form of his mother, and he only retained the traces of {immortal} Jupiter. And as when a serpent revived, by throwing off old age with his slough, is wont to be instinct with fresh life, and to glisten in his new-made scales; so, when the Tirynthian {hero} has put off his mortal limbs, he flourishes in his more aethereal part, and begins to appear more majestic, and to become venerable in his august dignity. Him the omnipotent Father, taking up among encircling clouds, bears aloft amid the glittering stars, in his chariot drawn by {its} four steeds.

[Footnote 11: Nessus.—Ver. 101. He was one of the Centaurs which were begotten by Ixion the cloud sent by Jupiter, under the form of Juno.]

[Footnote 12: Evenus.—Ver. 104. This was a river of AEtolia, which was also called by the name of 'Lycormas.']

[Footnote 13: Strong of limb.—Ver. 108. 'Membrisque valens,' is rendered by Clarke, 'being an able-limbed fellow.']

[Footnote 14: Wheel of thy father.—Ver. 124. He alludes to the punishment of Ixion, the father of Nessus, who was fastened to a revolving wheel in the Infernal Regions, as a punishment for his attempt on the chastity of Juno.]

[Footnote 15: Thou dost confide.—Ver. 125. 'Quamvis ope fidis equina,' is translated by Clarke, 'Although thou trustest to the help of thy horse part.']

[Footnote 16: Cenaean Jupiter.—Ver. 136. Jupiter was called Cenaean, from Cenaeum, a promontory of Euboea, where Hercules, after having taken the town of Oechalia, built an altar in honour of Jupiter. Hercules slew Eurytus, the king of Oechalia, and carried away his daughter Iole.]

[Footnote 17: Lichas.—Ver. 155. This was the attendant of Hercules, whom he sent to Deianira for the garment which he used to wear while performing sacrifice.]

[Footnote 18: The savage Antaeus.—Ver. 183. He alludes to the fresh strength which the giant Antaeus gained each time he touched the earth.]

[Footnote 19: Iberian shepherd.—Ver. 184. Allusion is here made to Geryon, who had three bodies, and whom Hercules slew, and then carried away his herds. It has been suggested that the story of his triple form originated in the fact that he and his two brothers reigned amicably in conjunction over some portion of Spain, or the islands adjoining to it.]

[Footnote 20: Parthenian.—Ver. 188. A part of Arcadia was so called from Parthenium, a mountain which divided it from Argolis; there was also, according to Pliny the Elder, a town of the same name in Arcadia.]

[Footnote 21: Gold of Thermodon.—Ver. 189. The Thermodon was a river of Scythia, near which the Amazons were said to dwell. Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring to him the belt of Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons.]

[Footnote 22: Support the heavens.—Ver. 198. Atlas, king of Mauritania, was said to support the heavens on his shoulders, of which burden Hercules relieved him for a time, when he partook of his hospitality. It has been suggested that the meaning of this story is, that Hercules learned the study of astronomy from Atlas.]

[Footnote 23: Wife of Jupiter.—Ver. 199. Juno gave her commands to Hercules through Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus, king of Mycenae, who imposed upon him his various labours.]

[Footnote 24: Many a hailstone.—Ver. 222. Ovid here seems to think that snow is an intermediate state between rain and hail, and that hail is formed by the rapid motion of the snow as it falls.]

[Footnote 25: The son of Poeas.—Ver. 233. Philoctetes was the son of Poeas.]

[Footnote 26: Again to visit.—Ver. 232. It was decreed by the destinies that Troy should not be taken, unless the bow and arrows of Hercules were present; for which reason it was necessary to send for Philoctetes, who was the possessor of them. Troy had already seen them, when Hercules punished Laomedon, its king, for his perfidious conduct.]

[Footnote 27: Roared.—Ver. 239. 'Diffusa sonabat—flamma' is translated by Clarke, 'The flame, being diffused on all sides, rattled.']

[Footnote 28: Protector of the earth.—Ver. 241. Hercules merited this character, for having cleared the earth of monsters, robbers, and tyrants.]


Hercules, leaving the court of Calydon with his wife, proceeded on the road to the city of Trachyn, in Thessaly, to atone for the accidental death of Eunomus, and to be absolved from it by Ceyx, who was the king of that territory. Being obliged to cross the river Evenus, which had overflowed its banks, the adventure happened with the Centaur Nessus, which the Poet has here related. We learn from other writers, that after Nessus had expired, he was buried on Mount Taphiusa; and Strabo informs us, that his tomb (in which, probably, the ashes of other Centaurs were deposited) sent forth so offensive a smell, that the Locrians, who were the inhabitants of the adjacent country, were surnamed the 'Ozolae,' that is, the 'ill-smelling,' or 'stinking,' Locrians. Although the river Evenus lay in the road between Calydon and Trachyn, still it did not run through the middle of the latter city, as some authors have supposed; for in such case Hercules would have been more likely to have passed it by the aid of a bridge or of a boat, than to have recourse to the assistance of the Centaur Nessus, and to have availed himself of his acquaintance with the fords of the stream.

Hercules, in lapse of time, becoming tired of Deianira, by whom he had one son, named Hyllus, fell in love with Iole, the daughter of Eurytus; and that prince, refusing to give her to him, he made war upon Oechalia, and, having slain Eurytus, he bore off his daughter. Upon his return from that expedition, he sent Lychas for the vestments which he had occasion to use in a sacrifice which it was his intention to offer. Deianira, jealous on account of his passion for Iole, sent him either a philtre or love potion, which unintentionally caused his death, or else a tunic smeared on the inside with a certain kind of pitch, found near Babylon, which, when thoroughly warmed, stuck fast to his skin; and this it is, most probably, which has been termed by poets and historians, the tunic of Nessus. It seems, however, pretty clear that Hercules fell into a languishing distemper, without any hopes of recovery, and, probably, in a fit of madness, he threw Lychas into the sea, which circumstance was made by the poets to account for the existence there of a rock known by that name.

Proceeding afterwards to Trachyn, he caused Deianira to hang herself in despair; and, having consulted the oracle concerning his distemper, he was ordered to go with his friends to Mount Oeta, and there to raise a funeral pile. He understood the fatal answer, and immediately prepared to execute its commands. When the pile was ready, Hercules ascended it, and laid himself down with an air of resignation, on which Philoctetes kindled the fire, which consumed him. Some, however, of the ancient authors say, with more probability, that Hercules died at Trachyn, and that his corpse was burned on Mount Oeta. His apotheosis commenced at the ceremonial of his funeral, and, from the moment of his death, he was worshipped as a Demigod. Diodorus Siculus says that it was Iolus who first introduced this worship. It was also said that, as soon as Philoctetes had applied fire to the pile, it thundered, and the lightnings descending from heaven immediately consumed Hercules. A tomb was raised for him on Mount Oeta, with an altar, upon which a bull, a wild boar, and a he-goat were yearly sacrificed in his honour, at the time of his festival. The Thebans, and, after them, the other people of Greece, soon followed the example of the Trachinians, and temples and altars were raised to him in various places, where he was honoured as a Demigod.

FABLE III. [IX.273-323]

Juno, to be revenged on Alcmena for her amour with Jupiter, desires Ilithyia, the Goddess who presides over births, not to assist her on the occasion of the birth of Hercules. Lucina complies with her request, and places herself on an altar at the gate of Alcmena's abode, where, by a magic spell, she increases her pains and impedes her delivery. Galanthis, one of her maids, seeing the Goddess at the door, imagines that she may possibly exercise some bad influence on her mistress's labour, and, to make her retire, declares that Alcmena is already delivered. Upon Ilithyia withdrawing, Alcmena's pains are assuaged, and Hercules is born. The Goddess, to punish Galanthis for her officiousness, transforms her into a weazel, a creature which was supposed to bring forth its young through its mouth.

Atlas was sensible[29] of this burden. Nor, as yet, had Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus, laid aside his wrath {against Hercules}; and, in his fury, he vented his hatred for the father against his offspring. But the Argive Alcmena, disquieted with prolonged anxieties {for her son} has Iole, to whom to disclose the complaints of her old age, to whom to relate the achievements of her son attested by {all} the world, or to whom {to tell} her own misfortunes. At the command of Hercules, Hyllus had received her both into his bed and his affections, and had filled her womb with a noble offspring. To her, thus Alcmena began {her story}:—

"May the Gods be propitious to thee at least; and may they shorten the tedious hours, at the hour when, having accomplished thy time, thou shalt be invoking Ilithyia,[30] who presides over the trembling parturient women; her whom the influence of Juno rendered inexorable to myself. For, when now the natal hour of Hercules, destined for so many toils, was at hand, and the tenth sign {of the Zodiac} was laden with the {great} luminary, the heavy weight was extending my womb; and that which I bore was so great, that you might {easily} pronounce Jupiter to be the father of the concealed burden. And now I was no longer able to endure my labours: even now, too, as I am speaking, a cold shudder seizes my limbs, and a part of my pain is the remembrance of it. Tormented for seven nights, and during as many days, tired out with misery, and extending my arms towards heaven, with loud cries I used to invoke Lucina and the two Nixi.[31] She came, indeed, but corrupted beforehand, and she had the intention to give my life to the vengeful Juno. And when she heard my groans, she seated herself upon that altar before the door, and pressing her left knee with her right knee, her fingers being joined together in {form of} a comb,[32] she retarded my delivery; she uttered charms, too, in a low voice; and {those} charms impeded the birth {now} begun. I struggled hard, and, in my frenzy, I vainly uttered reproaches against the ungrateful Jupiter, and I desired to die, and complained in words that would have moved {even} the hard stones. The Cadmeian matrons attended me, and offered up vows, and encouraged me in my pains.

"There was present one of my hand-maids of the lower class of people, Galanthis {by name}, with yellow hair, {and} active in the execution of my orders; one beloved for her good services. She perceived that something unusual[33] was being done by the resentful Juno; and, while she was often going in and out of the door, she saw the Goddess, sitting upon the altar, and supporting her arms upon her knees, linked by the fingers; and {then} she said, 'Whoever thou art, congratulate my mistress; the Argive Alcmena is delivered, and, having brought forth, she has gained her wishes.' The Goddess who presides[34] over pregnancy leaped up, and, struck with surprise, loosened her joined hands. I, myself, on the loosening of those bonds, was delivered. The story is, that Galanthis laughed, upon deceiving the Divinity. The cruel Goddess dragged her along {thus} laughing and seized by her very hair, and she hindered her as she attempted to raise her body from the earth, and changed her arms into fore feet.

"Her former activity {still} remains, and her back has not lost its colour; {but} her shape is different from her former one. Because she had assisted me in labour by a lying mouth, she brings forth from the mouth,[35] and, just as before, she frequents my house."

[Footnote 29: Atlas was sensible.—Ver. 273. By reason of his supporting the heavens, to the inhabitants of which Hercules was now added.]

[Footnote 30: Ilithyia.—Ver. 283. This Goddess is said by some to have been the daughter of Jupiter and Juno, while other writers consider her to have been the same either with Diana, or Juno Lucina.]

[Footnote 31: The two Nixi.—Ver. 294. Festus says, 'the three statues in the Capitol, before the shrine of Minerva, were called the Gods Nixii.' Nothing whatever is known of these Gods, who appear to have been obstetrical Divinities. It has been suggested, as there were three of them, that the reading should be, not 'Nixosque pares,' but 'Nixosque Lares,' 'and the Lares the Nixi.']

[Footnote 32: Form of a comb.—Ver. 299. This charm probably was suggestive of difficult or impeded parturition, the bones of the pelvis being firmly knit together in manner somewhat resembling the fingers when inserted one between the other, instead of yielding for the passage of the infant. Pliny the Elder informs us how parturition may be impeded by the use of charms.]

[Footnote 33: Something unusual.—Ver. 309. 'Nescio quid.' This very indefinite phrase is repeatedly used by Ovid; and in such cases, it expresses either actual doubt or uncertainty, as in the present instance; or it is used to denote something remarkable or indescribable, or to show that a thing is insignificant, mean, and contemptible.]

[Footnote 34: Goddess who presides.—Ver. 315. This was Ilithyia, or Lucina, who was acting as the emissary of Juno.]

[Footnote 35: From the mouth.—Ver. 323. This notion is supposed to have been grounded on the fact of the weasel (like many other animals) carrying her young in her mouth from place to place.]


According to Diodorus Siculus and Apollodorus, Amphitryon was the son of Alceus, the son of Perseus, and his wife, Alcmena, was the daughter of Electryon, also the son of Perseus; and thus they were cousins. When their marriage was about to take place, an unforeseen accident prevented it. Electryon, who was king of Mycenae, being obliged to revenge the death of his children, whom the sons of Taphius, king of the Teleboans, had killed in combat, returned victorious, and brought back with him his flocks, which he had recovered from Taphius. Amphitryon, who went to meet his uncle, to congratulate him upon the success of his expedition, throwing his club at a cow, which happened to stray from the herd, unfortunately killed him. This accidental homicide lost him the kingdom of Mycenae, which was to have formed the dower of Alcmena. Sthenelus, the brother of Electryon, taking advantage of the public indignation, which was the result of the accident, drove Amphitryon out of the country of Argos, and made himself master of his brother's dominions, which he left, at his death, to his son Eurystheus, the inveterate persecutor of Hercules.

Amphitryon, obliged to retire to Thebes, was there absolved by Creon; but when, as he thought, he was about to receive the hand of Alcmena, who accompanied him to the court of that prince, she declared that, not being satisfied with the revenge which her father had taken on the Teleboans, she would consent to be the prize of him who would undertake to declare war against them. Amphitryon accepted these conditions, and, forming an alliance with Creon, Cephalus, and some other princes, made a descent upon the islands which the enemy possessed, and, making himself master of them, bestowed one of them on his ally, Cephalus.

It was during this war that Hercules came into the world; and whether Amphitryon had secretly consummated his marriage before his departure, or whether he had returned privately to Thebes, or to Tirynthus, where Hercules was said to have been born, it was published, that Jupiter, to deceive Alcmena, had taken the form of her husband, and was the father of the infant Hercules. If this is not the true explanation of the story, it may have been invented to conceal some intrigue in which Alcmena was detected; or, in process of time, to account for the extraordinary strength and valour of Hercules, it may have been said that Jupiter, and not Amphitryon, was the father of Hercules. Indeed, we find Seneca, in one of his Tragedies, putting these words into the mouth of Hercules:— 'Whether all that has been said upon this subject be held as undoubted truth, or whether it proves to be but a fable, and that my father was, after all, in reality, but a mortal; my mother's fault is sufficiently effaced by my valour, and I have merit sufficient to have had Jupiter for my father.' The more readily, perhaps, to account for the transcendent strength and prowess of Hercules, the story was invented, that Jupiter made the night on which he was received by Alcmena under the form of Amphitryon, as long as three, or, according to Plautus, Hyginus, and Seneca, nine nights. Some writers say that Alcmena brought forth twins, one of which, Iphiclus, was the son of Amphitryon, while Hercules had Jupiter for his father.

With respect to the metamorphosis of Galanthis, it is but a little episode here introduced by Ovid, to give greater plausibility to the other part of the story. It most probably originated in the resemblance of the names of that slave to that of the weazel, which the Greeks called gale. AElian, indeed, tells us that the Thebans paid honour to that animal, because it had helped Alcmena in her labour. The more ancient poets also added, that Juno retarded the birth of Hercules till the mother of Eurystheus was delivered, which was the cause of his being the subject of that king; though others state that this came to pass by the command of the oracle of Delphi. This king of Mycenae having ordered him to rid Greece of the numerous robbers and wild beasts that infested it, it is most probable that, as we learn from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, he performed this service at the head of the troops of Eurystheus. If this is the case, the persecutions which the poets have ascribed to the jealousy of Juno, really originated either in the policy or the jealousy of the court of Mycenae.

As Ovid has here cursorily taken notice of the labours of Hercules, we may observe, that it is very probable that his history is embellished with the pretended adventures of many persons who bore his name, and, perhaps, with those of others besides. Cicero, in his 'Treatise on the Nature of the Gods,' mentions six persons who bore the name of Hercules; and possibly, after a minute examination, a much greater number might be reckoned, many nations of antiquity having given the name to such great men of their own as had rendered themselves famous by their actions. Thus, we find one in Egypt in the time of Osiris, in Phoenicia, among the Gauls, in Spain, and in other countries. Confining ourselves to the Grecian Hercules, surnamed Alcides, we find that his exploits have generally been sung of by the poets, under the name of the Twelve Labours; but, on entering into the detail of them, we find them much more numerous. Killing some serpents in his youth, it was published, not only that he had done so, but that they had been sent by Juno for the purpose of destroying him. The forest of Nemea serving as a retreat for a great number of lions that ravaged the country, Hercules hunted them, and, killing the most furious of them, always wore his skin.

Several thieves, having made the neighbourhood of Lake Stymphalus, in Arcadia, their resort, he freed the country of them; the nails and wings which the poets gave them, in representing them as birds, being typical of their voracity and activity. The marshes of Lerna, near Argos, were infested by great numbers of serpents, which, as fast as they were destroyed, were replaced by new swarms; draining the marshes, and, probably, setting fire to the adjacent thickets or jungles, he destroyed these pestilent reptiles, on which it was fabled that he had destroyed the Hydra of Lerna, with its heads, which grew as fast as they were cut off. The forest of Erymanthus was full of wild boars, which laid waste all the neighbouring country: he destroyed them all, and brought one with him to the court of Eurystheus, of a size so monstrous, that the king was alarmed on seeing it, and was obliged to run and hide himself.

The stables of Augeas, king of Elis, were so filled with manure, by reason of the great quantity of oxen that he kept, that Hercules being called upon to cleanse them, employed his engineering skill in bringing the river Alpheus through them. Having pursued a hind for a whole year, which Eurystheus had commanded him to take, it was circulated, probably on account of her untiring swiftness, that she had feet of brass. The river Acheloues having overflowed the adjacent country, he raised banks to it, as already mentioned. Theseus was a prisoner in Epirus, where he had been with Pirithous, to bring away the daughter of Aidoneus. Hercules delivered him; and that was the foundation of the Fable which said that he had gone down to Hades, or Hell. In the cavern of Taenarus there was a monstrous serpent; this he was ordered to kill, and, probably, this gave rise to the story of Cerberus being chained by him. Pelias having been killed by his daughters, his son Acastus pursued them to the court of Admetus, who, refusing to deliver up Alcestis, of whom he was enamoured, was taken prisoner in an engagement, and was delivered by that princess, who herself offered to be his ransom. Hercules being then in Thessaly, he took her away from Acastus, who was about to put her to death, and returned her to Admetus. This, probably, was the foundation of the fable which stated, that he had recovered her from the Infernal Regions, after having vanquished death, and bound him in chains.

The Amazons were a nation of great celebrity in the time of Hercules, and their frequent victories had rendered them very formidable to their neighbours. Eurystheus ordered him to go and bring away the girdle of Hippolyta, or, in other words, to make war upon them, and to pillage their treasures. Embarking on the Euxine Sea, Hercules arrived on the banks of the Thermodon, and, giving battle to the female warriors, defeated them; killing some, and putting the rest to flight. He took Antiope, or Hippolyta, prisoner, whom he gave to Theseus; but her sister, Menalippa, redeemed herself by giving up the famous girdle, or, in other words, by paying a large ransom. It is very probable, that in that expedition, he slew Diomedes, the barbarous king of Thrace, and brought away his mares, which were said to have been fed by him on human flesh. In returning by way of Thessaly, he embarked in the expedition of the Argonauts; but, leaving them soon afterwards, he went to Troy, and delivered Hesione from the monster which was to have devoured her; but not receiving from Laomedon, the king, the recompense which had been promised him, he killed that prince, sacked the city, and brought away Hesione, whom he gave to Telamon, who had accompanied him on the expedition.

This is probably the extent of the labours of Hercules in Greece, Thrace, and Phrygia. The poets have made him engage in many other laborious undertakings in distant countries, which most probably ought not to be attributed to the Grecian Hercules. Among other stories told of him, it is said, that having set out to fight with Geryon, the king of Spain, he was so much incommoded by the heat of the sun, that his wrath was excited against the luminary, and he fired his arrows at it, on which, the Sun, struck with admiration at his spirited conduct, made him a present of a golden goblet. After this, embarking and arriving in Spain, he defeated Geryon, a prince who was famed for having three heads, which probably either meant that he reigned over the three Balearic islands of Maiorca, Minorca, and Iviza, or else that Hercules defeated three princes who were strictly allied. Having thence passed the straits of Gibraltar to go over to Africa, he fought with the Giant Antaeus, who sought to oppose his landing. That prince was said to be a son of the Earth, and was reported to recover fresh strength every time he was thrown on the ground; consequently, Hercules was obliged to hold him in his arms, till he had squeezed him to death. The solution of this fable is most probably that Antaeus, always finding succour in a country where he was known as a powerful monarch, Hercules took measures to deprive him of aid, by engaging him in a sea fight, and thereby defeated him, without much trouble, as well as the Pygmies, who were probably some African tribes of stunted stature, who came to his assistance.

Hercules, returning from these two expeditions, passed through Gaul with the herds of Geryon, and went into Italy, where Cacus, a celebrated robber, who had made the caverns of Mount Aventine his haunts, having stolen some of his oxen, he, with the assistance, according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, of Evander and Faunus, destroyed him, and shared his spoils with his allies. In his journey from Africa, Hercules delivered Atlas from the enmity of Busiris, the tyrant of Egypt, whom he killed; and gave such good advice to the Mauritanian king, that it was said that he supported the heavens for some time on his own shoulders, to relieve those of Atlas. The latter, by way of acknowledgment of his services, made him a present of several fine sheep, or rather, according to Diodorus Siculus, of some orange and lemon trees, which he carried with him into Greece. These were represented as the golden apples watched by a dragon in the garden of the Hesperides. As the ocean there terminated the scene of his conquests, he was said to have raised two pillars on those shores, to signify the fact of his having been there, and the impossibility of proceeding any further.

The deliverance of Prometheus, as already mentioned; the death of the two brothers, the Cercopes, famous robbers; the defeat of the Bull of Marathon; the death of Lygis, who disputed the passage of the Alps with him; that of the giant Alcyaneus, who hurled at him a stone so vast that it crushed twenty-four men to death; that of Eryx, king of Sicily, whom he killed with a blow of the cestus, for refusing to deliver to him the oxen which he had stolen; the combat with Cycnus, which was terminated by a peal of thunder, which separated the combatants; another combat against the Giants in Gaul, during which, as it was said, Jupiter rained down vast quantities of stones; all these are also attributed to Hercules, besides many more stories, which, if diligently collected, would swell to a large volume.

The foregoing remarks on the history of Hercules, give us an insight into the ideas which, based upon the explanations given by the authors of antiquity, the Abbe Banier, one of the most accomplished scholars of his age, entertained on this subject. We will conclude with some very able and instructive remarks on this mythus, which we extract from Mr. Keightley's Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy. He says—

"Various theories have been formed respecting the mythus of Hercules. It is evidently one of very remote antiquity, long perhaps, anterior to the times of Homer. We confess that we cannot see any very valid reason for supposing no such real personage to have existed; for it will, perhaps, be found that mythology not unfrequently prefers to absolute fiction, the assuming of some real historic character, and making it the object of the marvels devised by lively and exuberant imagination, in order thereby to obtain more ready credence for the strange events which it creates. Such, then, may the real Hercules have been,—a Dorian, a Theban, or an Argive hero, whose feats of strength lived in the traditions of the people, and whom national vanity raised to the rank of a son of Zeus [Jupiter], and poetic fancy, as geographic knowledge extended, sent on journies throughout the known world, and accumulated in his person the fabled exploits of similar heroes of other regions.

"We may perceive, by the twelve tasks, that the astronomical theory was applied to the mythus of the hero, and that he was regarded as a personification of the Sun, which passes through the twelve signs of the Zodiac. This, probably, took place during the Alexandrian period. Some resemblance between his attributes and those of the Deity, with whom the Egyptian priests were pleased to identify him, may have given occasion to this notion; and he also bore some similitude to the God whom the Phoenicians chiefly worshipped, and who, it is probable, was the Sun. But we must steadily bear in mind, that Hercules was a hero in the popular legend long before any intercourse was opened between Greece and Egypt; and that, however (which is certainly not very likely) a God might be introduced from Phoenicia, the same could hardly be the case with a popular hero.—A very ingenious theory on the mythus of Hercules is given by Buttmann (Mythologus, vol. i., p. 246). Though acknowledging that Perseus, Theseus, and Hercules may have been real persons, he is disposed, from an attentive consideration of all the circumstances in the mythus of the last, to regard him as one of those poetical persons or personifications, who, as he says, have obtained such firm footing in the dark periods of antiquity, as to have acquired the complete air of historic personages.

"In his view of the life of Hercules, it is a mythus of extreme antiquity and great beauty, setting forth the ideal of human perfection, consecrated to the weal of mankind, or rather, in its original form, to that of his own nation. This perfection, according to the ideas of the heroic age, consists in the greatest bodily strength, united with the advantages of mind and soul recognised by that age. Such a hero is, he says, a man; but these noble qualities in him are of divine origin. He is, therefore, the son of the king of the Gods by a mortal mother. To render his perfection the more manifest, the Poet makes him to have a twin brother, the child of a mortal sire. As virtue is not to be learned, Hercules exhibits his strength and courage in infancy; he strangles the snakes, which fills his brother with terror. The character of the hero throughout life, as that of the avenger of injustice and punisher of evil, must exhibit itself in the boy as the wild instinct of nature; and the mythus makes him kill his tutor Linus with a blow of the lyre. When sent away by Amphitryon, he prepares himself, in the stillness and solitude of the shepherd's life, by feats of strength and courage, for his future task of purifying the earth of violence.

"—The number of tasks may not originally have been twelve, though most accounts agree in that number, but they were all of a nature agreeable to the ideas of an heroic age—the destruction of monsters, and bringing home to his own country the valuable productions of other regions. These are, however, regarded by Buttmann as being chiefly allegorical. The Hydra, for instance, he takes to have been meant to represent the evils of democratic anarchy, with its numerous heads, against which, though one may not be able to effect anything, yet the union of even two may suffice to become dominant over it.

"The toils of the hero conclude with the greatest and most rare of all in the heroic age—the conquest over death. This is represented by his descent into the under world, and dragging Cerberus to light is a proof of his victory. In the old mythus, he was made to engage with and wound Hades; and the Alcestis of Euripides exhibits him in conflict with Death. But virtue, to be a useful example, must occasionally succumb to human weakness in the power of the evil principle. Hence, Hercules falls into fits of madness, sent on him by Hera [Juno]; and hence—he becomes the willing slave of Omphale, the fair queen of Lydia, and changes his club and lion's skin for the distaff and the female robe.

"The mythus concludes most nobly with the assumption of the hero into Olympus. His protecting Deity abandons him to the power of his persevering enemy; his mortal part is consumed by fire, the fiercest of elements; his shade (eidolon), like those of other men, descends to the realms of Hades, while the divine portion himself (autos) mounts from the pyre in a thunder-cloud, and the object of Hera's persecution being now accomplished, espouses youth, the daughter of his reconciled foe.

"Muller (Dorians, vol. i. part ii. ch. 11, 12) is also disposed to view in Hercules a personification of the highest powers of man in the heroic age. He regards him as having been the national hero of the Dorian race, and appropriates to him all the exploits of the hero in Thessaly, AEtolia, and Epirus, which last place he supposes to have been the original scene of the Geryoneia, which was afterwards transformed to the western stream of the ocean. He thinks, however, that the Argives had an ancient hero of perhaps the same name, to whom the Peloponnesus adventures belong, and whom the Dorians combined with their own hero. The servitude to Eurystheus, and the enmity of Hera, he looks on as inventions of the Dorians to justify their own invasion of the Peloponnesus. This critic also proves that the Theban Hercules had nothing to do with the Gods and traditions of the Cadmeians; and he thinks that it was the Dorian Heracleides who introduced the knowledge of him into Thebes, or that he came from Delphi with the worship of Apollo, a Deity with whom, as the tutelar God of the Dorians, he supposes their national hero to have been closely connected."

FABLE IV. [IX.324-425]

The Nymph Lotis, pursued by Priapus, in her flight, is changed into a tree. Dryope, going to sacrifice to the Naiads at the same spot, and ignorant of the circumstance, breaks a branch off the tree for her child, which she is carrying with her, and is subjected to a similar transformation. While Iole is relating these circumstances to Alcmena, she is surprised to see her brother Iolaues restored to youth. The Poet here introduces the prediction of Themis concerning the children of Calirrhoe.

Thus she said; and, moved by the remembrance of her old servant, she heaved a deep sigh. Her daughter-in-law[36] addressed her, thus grieving. "Even her form being taken away from one that was an alien to thy blood, affects thee, O mother. What if I were to relate to thee the wondrous fate of my own sister? although tears and sorrow hinder me, and forbid me to speak. Dryope, the most remarkable for her beauty of the Oechalian maids, was the only daughter of her mother ({for} my father had me by another {wife}). Deprived of her virginity, and having suffered violence from the God that owns Delphi and Delos, Andraemon married her, and he was esteemed fortunate in his wife.

"There is a lake that gives the appearance of a sloping shore, by its shelving border; groves of myrtle crown the upper part. Hither did Dryope come, unsuspecting of her fate; and, that thou mayst be the more indignant {at her lot}, she was about to offer garlands to the Nymphs. In her bosom, too, she was bearing her son, who had not yet completed his first year, a pleasing burden; and she was nursing him, with the help of {her} warm milk. Not far from the lake was blooming a watery lotus that vied with the Tyrian tints, in hope of {future} berries. Dryope had plucked thence some flowers, which she might give as playthings to her child; and I, too, was just on the point of doing the same; for I was present. I saw bloody drops fall from the flower, and the boughs shake with a tremulous quivering; for, as the swains say, now, at length, too late {in their information}, the Nymph Lotis, flying from the lust of Priapus,[37] had transferred her changed form into this {plant}, her name being {still} preserved.

"Of this my sister was ignorant. When, in her alarm, she is endeavouring to retire and to depart, having adored the Nymphs, her feet are held fast by a root. She strives hard to tear them up, but she moves nothing except her upper parts. From below, a bark slowly grows up, and, by degrees, it envelopes the whole of her groin. When she sees this, endeavouring to tear her hair with her hands, she fills her hand with leaves, {for} leaves are covering all her head. But the boy Amphissos (for his grandfather Eurytus gave him this name) feels his mother's breast growing hard; nor does the milky stream follow upon his sucking. I was a spectator of thy cruel destiny, and I could give thee no help, my sister; and {yet}, as long as I could, I delayed the growing trunk and branches by embracing them; and, I confess it, I was desirous to be hidden beneath the same bark. Behold! her husband Andraemon and her most wretched father[38] appear, and inquire for Dryope: on their inquiring for Dryope, I show them the lotus. They give kisses to the wood {still} warm {with life}, and, extended {on the ground}, they cling to the roots of their own tree. {And} now, dear sister, thou hadst nothing except thy face, that was not tree. Tears drop upon the leaves made out of thy changed body; and, while she can, and {while} her mouth gives passage to her voice, she pours forth such complaints {as these} into the air:—

"'If any credit {is to be given} to the wretched, I swear by the Deities that I merited not this cruel usage. I suffer punishment without a crime. I lived in innocence; if I am speaking false, withered away, may I lose the leaves which I bear, and, cut down with axes, may I be burnt. Yet take this infant away from the branches of his mother, and give him to his nurse; and often, beneath my tree, make him drink milk, and beneath my tree let him play; and, when he shall be able to speak, make him salute his mother, and let him in sadness say, 'Beneath this trunk is my mother concealed.' Yet let him dread the ponds, and let him not pluck flowers from the trees; and let him think that all shrubs are the bodies of Goddesses. Farewell, dear husband; and thou, sister; and, {thou} my father; in whom, if there is any affection {towards me}, protect my branches from the wounds of the sharp pruning-knife, {and} from the bite of the cattle. And since it is not allowed me to bend down towards you, stretch your limbs up hither, and come near for my kisses, while they can {still} be reached, and lift up my little son. More I cannot say. For the soft bark is now creeping along my white neck, and I am being enveloped at the top of my head. Remove your hands from my eyes;[39] {and}, without your help, let the bark, closing over them, cover my dying eyes.' Her mouth ceased at once to speak, at once to exist; and long after her body was changed, were her newly formed branches {still} warm."

And {now}, while Iole was relating the wretched fate of her sister, and while Alcmena was drying away the tears of the daughter of Eurytus, with her fingers applied {to her face}, and still she herself was weeping, a novel event hushed all their sorrow; for Iolaues[40] stood at the lofty threshold, almost a boy {again}, and covering his cheeks with a down almost imperceptible, having his visage changed to {that of} the first years {of manhood}. Hebe, the daughter of Juno had granted him this favour, overcome by the solicitations of her husband. When she was about to swear that she would hereafter grant such favours to no one, Themis did not allow her. "For now," said she, "Thebes is commencing civil warfare,[41] and Capaneus will not be able to be overcome, except by Jupiter, and the two brothers will engage in bloody combat, and the earth dividing, the prophet {Amphiaraues} will see his {destined} shades, while he still lives;[42] and the son avenging one parent, by {the death of} the {other} parent, will be dutiful and wicked in the same action; and confounded by his misfortunes, deprived both of his reason and of his home, he will be persecuted both by the features of the Eumenides, and by the ghost of his mother; until his wife shall call upon him for the fatal gold, and the Phegeian sword shall stab the side of their kinsman. Then, at last, shall Calirrhoe, the daughter of Acheloues, suppliantly ask of mighty Jupiter these years {of youth} for her infant sons. Jupiter, concerned {for them}, will prescribe for them the {peculiar} gift of her who is {both} his step-daughter and his daughter-in-law,[43] and will make them men in their years of childhood."

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