Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Ovid
Editor: Hardin. Aasand
Not Peer Reviewed

Ovid's Metamorphoses (Selections)


Ovid, Metamorphoses

Ovid's Metamorphoses was a seminal text for the grammar school curriculum that Shakespeare most likely studied in Stratford. This collection of myths records the often violent intervention of the gods into the lives of mortals, a collision of immortal and mortal lives that typically resulted in the metamorphosis or transformation of humans as they fled from their godly pursuers. Arthur Golding published an English translation of all fifteen books in 1567, a popular edition reprinted numerous times in the late sixteenth- and early-seventeenth centuries which proved influential for Shakespeare and his fellow writers. Francis Meres is perhaps the earliest critic of Shakespeare's devotion to Ovid. Writing in 1598, Meres comments that 'the sweet wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonts among his private friends." As Jonathan Bate observes, "The soul that has been metamorphosed into Shakespeare is that of Ovid, the poet of metamorphosis" (3). Indeed, the various myths presented below are Ovidian instances of metamorphoses that inform Shakespeare's own poetic modulations of myth into dramatic form that allows its readers to experience the human dimension of metamorphosis that is as much psychological and emotional as it is corporeal.

Book 10 contains the tale of Pygmalion, a sculptor who falls in love with the ivory statue he fashions to compensate for his disgust over feminine libertines. The goddess Venus takes pity on Pygmalion and his devotion to his statue and animates it to provide a resolution that fulfills Pygmalion's desire for a perfect love. While Shakespeare clearly draws on Pygmalion's myth as the subtext for this play, Hermione's own restoration is more nuanced: Hermione's "statue" is not the creation of a masculine wish fulfillment but rather a product of Hermione's and Paulina's feminine collusion. Shakespeare uses this myth to demonstrate the enforced artifice of Hermione's privation and later restoration to a Leontes responsible for her isolation and purposeful deprivation.

Source: Shakespeare's Ovid: being Arthur Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses. Ed. W.H.Rouse. London: De la More Press,1904. [http://archive.org/stream/shakespearesovid00oviduoft/shakespearesovid00oviduoft_djvu.txt]

a. Pygmalion

And the time shall come ere many years be spent,
That in thy flower a valiant prince shall join himself with thee,
And leave his name upon the leaves for men to read and see.
While Phoebus thus did prophesy, behold the blood of him
Which dyed the grass, ceased blood to be, and up there sprang a trim
And goodly flower, more orient than the purple cloth ingrain,
In shape a lily, were it not that lillies do remain
Of silver color, whereas these of purple hue are seen.
Although that Phoebus had the cause of this great honor been,
Yet thought he not the same enough. And therefore did he write
His sighs upon the leaves thereof: and so in color bright
The flower hath a writ thereon, which letters are of grief.
So small the Spartans thought the birth of Hyacinth reproof
Unto them, that they worship him from that day unto this.
And as their fathers did before, so they do never miss
With solemn pomp to celebrate his feast from year to year.
But if perchance that Amathus the rich in metals, were
Demanded if it would have bred the prophets it would swear,
Yea even as gladly as the folk whose brews sometime did bear
A pair of welked horns: whereof they Cerastes named are.
Before their door an Altar stood of Jove that takes the care
Of alyents and of travelers, which loathsome was to see,
For lewdness wrought thereon. If one that had a stranger be
Had looked thereon, he would have thought there had on it been killed
Some sucking calves or lambs. The blood of strangers there was spilled.
Dame Venus sore offended at this wicked sacrifice,
To leave her cities and the land of Cyprus did devise
But then bethinking her, she said: What hath my pleasant ground,
What have my cities trespassed? what fault in them is found?
Nay rather let this wicked race by exile punished been,
Or death, or by some other thing that is a mean between
Both death and exile. What is that? save only for to change
Their shape. In musing with herself what figure were most strange,
She cast her eye upon a horn. And there withal she thought
The same to be a shape right meet upon them to be brought:
And so she from their mighty limbs their native figure took,
And turned them into boisterous bulls with grim and cruel look.
Yet durst the filthy prophets stand in stiff opinion that
Dame Venus was no goddess till she being wroth thereat,
To make their bodies common first compelled them everychone
And after changed their former kind. For when that shame was gone,
And that they waxed brazen fast, she turned them to stone,
In which between their former shape was difference small or none. [X.260]
Whom for because Pygmalion saw to lead their life in sin
Offended with the vice whereof great store is packed within
The nature of the womankind, he led a single life.
And long it was ere he could find in heart to take a wife.
Now in the while by wondrous art an image he did grave
Of such proportion, shape, and grace as nature never gave
Nor can to any woman give. In this his work he took
A certain love. The look of it was right a maiden's look,
And such a one as that ye would believe had life, and that
Would moved be, if womanhood and reverence letted not. [X.270]
So artificial was the work. He wondreth at his art
And of his counterfeited coarse conceiveth love in heart.
He often touched it, feeling if the work that he had made
Were very flesh or ivory still. Yet could he not persuade
Himself to think it ivory, for he oftentimes it kissed
And thought it kissed him again. He held it by the fist,
And talked to it. He believed his fingers made a dint
Upon her flesh, and feared lest some black or bruised print
Should come by touching over hard. Sometime with pleasant bourds
And wanton toys he dallyingly doth cast forth amorous words. [X.280]
Sometime (the gifts wherein young maids are wonted to delight)
He brought her ouches, fine round stones, and lillies fair and white,
And pretty singing birds, and flower of thousand sorts and hue,
In gorgeous garments furthermore he did her also deck,
And painted balls, and amber from the tree distilled new.
And on her fingers put me rings, and chains about her neck.
Rich pearls were hanging at her ears, and tablets at her breast.
All kind of things became her well. And when she was undressed,
She seemed not less beautiful. He laid her in a bed
The which with scarlet dyed in tyre was richly overspread, [X.290]
And terming her his bedfellow, he couched down her head
Upon a pillow soft, as though she could have felt the same.
The feast of Venus hallowed through the isle of Cyprus, came
And bullocks white with gilden horns were slain for sacrifice,
And up to heaven of frankincense the smoky fume did rise.
When as Pygmalion having done his duty that same day,
Before the altar standing, thus with fearful heart did say:
"If that you goddess can all things give, then let my wife (I pray)
(He durst not say be yon same wench of ivory, but) be like
My wench of ivory. Venus (who was nought at all to seek ... [X.300]
What such a wish as that did mean) then present at her feast,
For handsel of her friendly help did cause three times, at least
The fire to kindle and to spire thrice upward in the air.
As soon as he came home, straightway Pygmalion did repair
Unto the image of his wench, and leaning on the bed,
Did kiss her. In her body straight a warmness seemed to spread.
He put his mouth again to hers, and on her breast did lay
His hand. The ivory waxed soft: and putting quite away
All hardness, yielded underneath his fingers, as wee see
A piece of wax made soft against the sun, or drawn to be ... [X.310]
In divers shapes by chafing it between one's hands, and so
To serve to uses. He amazed stood wavering to and fro
Tween joy, and fear to be beguiled, again he burnt in love,
Agene with feeling he began his wished hope to prove.
He felt it very flesh in deed. By laying on his thumb,
He felt her pulses beating. Then he stood no longer dumb
But thanked Venus with his hart, and at the length he laid
His mouth to hers who was as then become a perfect maid.
She felt the kiss, and blushed thereat: and lifting fearfully
Her eyelids up, her lover and the light at once did spy. [X.320]
The marriage that herself had made the goddess blessed so,
That when the moon with fulsome light nine times her course had go,
This lady was delivered of a son that Paphos hight,
Of whom the island takes that name.

b. Ceres and Proserpina

The myth of a mother and daughter forcefully separated and reunited forms a major analogue for Shakespeare's account of Hermione and Perdita's sixteen-year separation. In Ovid, Proserpina's abduction by the god of the underworld, Dis, compels Ceres to search above and below the waters to find her daughter. She is assisted in her search by a number of nymphs who themselves are metamorphosed figures, the fountains Cyan and Arethusa. Though the god Jove exercises his power to restore Ceres and Proserpina, the reunion is limited to a six-month period, spring-time, when Ceres's fertility holds sway over the earth; Dis claims her for the remainder of the year, winter, when Ceres is dormant and estranged from her daughter.

While in this garden Proserpine was taking her pastime,
In gathering either violets blue, or lillies white as lime,
And while of maidenly desire she filled her maundy and lap,
Endeavoring to outgather her companions there, by hap
Dis spied her: loved her: caught her up: and all at once well near,
So hasty, hot, and swift a thing is love as may appear.
The lady with a wailing voice affright did often call
Her mother and her waiting maids, but mother most of all.
And as she from the upper part her garment would have rent,
By chance she let her lap slip down, and out her flowers went. ... [V.500]
And such a silly simpleness her childish age yet bear,
That even the very loss of them did move her more to tears.
The catcher drives his chariot forth, and calling every horse
By name, to make away apace he doth them still enforce:
And shakes about their necks and manes their rusty bridle reins
And through the deepest of the lake perforce he them constrains.
And through the Palic pools, the which from broken ground do boil
And smell of brimstone very rank: and also by the soil
Where as the Bacchies, folk of Corinth with the double seas,
Between unequal havens twain did rear a town for ease. ... [V.510]
Between the fountains of Cyan and Arethuse of Pise
An arm of sea that meets enclosed with narrow horns there lies.
Of this the pool called Cyan which beareth greatest fame
Among the nymphs of Sicily did algates take the name.
Who vauncing her unto the waste amid her pool did know
Dame Proserpine, and said to Dis: Ye shall no further go:
You cannot Ceres' son-in-law be, will she so or no.
You should have sought her courteously and not enforst her so.
And if I may with great estates my simple things compare,
Anapus was in love with me: but yet he did not fare ... [V.520]
As you do now with Proserpine. He was content to woo
And I unforst and unconstrained consented him unto.
This said, she spreaded forth her arms and stopt him of his way.
His hastier wrath Saturnus's son no longer then could stay.
But cheering up his dreadful steeds did smite his royal mace
With violence in the bottom of the pool in that same place.
The ground straight yielded to his stroke and made him way to Hell,
And down the open gap both horse and chariot headlong fell.
Dame Cyan taking sore to heart as well the ravishment
Of Proserpine against her will, as also the contempt ... [V.530]
Against her fountain's privilege, did shroud in secret hart
An inward corsie comfortless, which never did depart
Until she melting into tears consumed away with smart.
The selfsame waters of the which she was but late ago
The mighty goddess, now she pines and wastes herself into.
Ye might have seen her limbs wax lithe, ye might have bent her bones.
Her nails waxed soft: and first of all did melt the smallest ones:
As hair and fingers, legs and feet: for these same slender parts
Do quickly into water turn, and afterward converts
To water, shoulder, back, breast, side: and finally in stead ... [V.540]
Of lively blood, within her veins corrupted there was spread
Thin water: so that nothing now remained whereupon
Ye might take hold, to water all consumed was anon.
The careful mother in the while did seek her daughter dear
Through all the world both sea and land, and yet was near the near.
The morning with her dewy hair her slugging never found,
Nor yet the evening star that brings the night upon the ground.
Two seasoned pine trees at the mount of Aetna did she light
And bare them restless in her hands through all the dankest night.
Again as soon as cheerful day did dim the stars, she sought ... [V.550]
Her daughter still from east to west. And being overwrought
She caught a thirst: no liquor yet had come within her throat.
By chance she spied near at hand a thatched cote
With peevish doors: she knockt thereat, and out there comes a trot.
The goddess asked her some drink and she denied it not:
But out she brought her by and by a draught of merry go down
And therewithal a hotchpotch made of steeped barley brown
And flax and coriander seed and other simples more
The which she in an earthen pot together sod before.
While Ceres was a eating this, before her gazing stood ... [V.560]
A hard fast boy, a shrewd pert wag, that could no manners good:
He laughed at her and in scorn did call her greedy gut.
The goddess being wroth therewith did on the hotchpotch put
The liquor ere that all was eat, and in his face it threw.
Immediately the skin thereof became of speckled hew,
And into legs his arms did turn: and in his altered hide
A wriggling tail straight to his limbs was added more beside.
And to th' intent he should not have much power to worken scathe,
His body in a little room together knit she hath.
For as with pretty lizard he in fashion doth agree: [V.570]
So than the lizard somewhat less in every point is he.
The poor old woman was amazed: and bitterly she wept:
She durst not touch the uncouth worm, which into corners crept.
And of the flecked spots like stars that on his hide are set
A name agreeing thereunto in Latin doth he get.
It is our swift whose skin with gray and yellow specks is fret.
What lands and seas the goddess sought it were too long to sayen.
The world did want. And so she went to Sicill back again.
And is in going every where she searched busily,
She also came to Cyane: who would assuredly [V.580]
Have told her all things, had she not transformed been before.
But mouth and tongue for utterance now would serve her turn no more.
Howbeit a token manifest she gave her for to know
What was become of Proserpine. Her girdle she did show
Still hovering on her holy pool, which slightly from her fell
As she that way did pass: and that her mother knew too well.
For when she saw it, by and by as though she had but then
Been new advertised of her chance, she piteously began
To rend her ruffled hair, and beat her hands against her breast.
As yet she knew not where she was. But yet with rage opprest, [V.590]
She curst all lands, and said they were unthankful everych one,
Yea and unworthy of the fruits bestowed them upon.
But bitterly above the rest she banned Sicilie,
In which the mention of her loss she plainly did espy.
And therefore there with cruel hand the earing ploughs she brake,
And man and beast that tilde the ground to death in anger strake.
She marred the seed, and eke forbade the fields to yield their fruit.
The plenteousness of that same Ile of which there went such bruit
Through all the world, lay dead: the corn was killed in the blade:
Now too much drought, now too much wet did make it for to fade. [V.600]
The stars and blasting winds did hurt, the hungry fowls did eat
The corn to ground: the tines and briars did overgrow the wheat.
And other wicked weeds the corn continually annoy,
Which neither tilth nor toil of man was able to destroy.
Then Arethuse, flood Alphey's love, lifts from her Elean waves
Her head, and shedding to her ears her dewy hair that waves
About her forehead said: O thou that art the mother dear
Both of the maiden sought through all the world both far and near,
And eke of all the earthly fruits, forbear thine endless toil,
And be not wroth without a cause with this thy faithful soil: [V.610]
The land deserves no punishment. Unwillingly, God wot,
She opened to the ravisher that violently her smote.
It is not sure my native soil for which I thus entreat.
I am but here a sojourner, my native soil and seat
In Pisa and from Ely town I fetch my first descent.
I dwell but as a stranger here: but sure to my intent
This country likes me better far than any other land.
Here now I Arethusa dwell: here am I settled: and
I humbly you beseech extend your favor to the same.
A time will one day come when you to mirth may better frame, ... [V.620]
And have your heart more free from care, which better serve me may
To tell you why I from my place so great a space do stray,
And unto Ortygy am brought through so great seas and waves.
The ground doth give me passage free, and by the lowest caves
Of all the earth I make my way, and here I raise my head,
And look upon the stars again neared out of knowledge fled.
Now while I underneath the earth the lake of Styx did pass,
I saw your daughter Proserpine with these same eyes. She was
Not merry, neither rid of fear as seemed by her cheer.
But yet a queen, but yet of great god Dis the stately fere; [V.630]
But yet of that same droopy realm the chief and sovereign peer.
Her mother stood as stark as stone, when she these news did hear,
And long she was like one that in another world had been.
But when her great amazedness by greatness of her teen
Was put aside, she gets her to her chariot by and by
And up to heaven in all post haste immediately doth sty.
And there beslubbered all her face: her hair about her ears,
To royal Jove in way of plaint this spiteful tale she bear:
As well for thy blood as for mine a suitor unto thee
I hither come. If no regard may of the mother be ... [V.640]
Yet let the childe her father move, and have not lesser care
Of her (I pray) because that I her in my body bare.
Behold our daughter whom I sought so long is found at last:
If finding you it term, when of recovery means is past.
Or if you finding do it call to have a knowledge where
She is become. Her ravishment we might consent to bear,
So restitution might be made. And though there were to me
No interest in her at all, yet forasmuch as she
Is yours, it is unmeet she be bestowed upon a thief.
Jove answered thus: My daughter is a jewel dear and life, [V.650]
A collop of mine own flesh cut as well as out of thine.
But if we in our hearts can find things rightly to define,
This is not spite but love. And yet madam in faith I see
No cause of such a son in law ashamed for to be,
So you contented were therewith. For put the case that he
Were destitute of all things else, how great a matter ist
Jove's brother for to be? but sure in him is nothing mist.
Nor he inferior is to me save only that by lot
The Heavens to me, the Hells to him the destinies did allot.
But if you have so sore desire your daughter to divorce, [V.660]
Though she again to Heaven repair I do not greatly force.
But yet conditionly that she have tasted there no food:
For so the destinies have decreed. He ceased: and Ceres stood
Full bent to fetch her daughter out: but destinies her withstood,
Because the maid had broke her fast. For as she happed one day
In Pluto's orchard recklessly from place to place to stray,
She gathering from a bowing tree a ripe powngarnet, took
Seven kernels out and sucked them. None chanced hereon to look,
Save only one Ascalaphus whom Orphne, erst a dame
Among the other elves of Hell not of the basest fame, ... [V.670]
Bare to her husband Acheron within her dusky den.
He sawed it, and by blabbing it ungraciously as then,
Did let her from returning thence. A grievous sigh the queen
Of Hell did fetch, and of that wight that had a witness been
Against her made a cursed bird. Upon his head she shed
The water of the Phlegeton: and by and by his head
Was nothing else but beak and down, and mighty glaring eyes.
Quite altered from himself between two yellow wings he flies.
He groweth chiefly into head and hooked talons long
And much ado he hath to flask his lazy wings among. [V.680]
The messenger of morning was he made, a filthy fowl,
A sign of mischief unto men, the sluggish screeching owl.
This person for his lavish tongue and telling tales might seem
To have deserved punishment. But what should men esteem
To be the very cause why you, Acheloy's daughters, wear
Both feet and feathers like to birds, considering that you bear
The upper parts of maidens still? And comes it so to pass
Because when Lady Proserpine a gathering flowers was,
Ye mermaids kept her company? Whom after you had sought
Through all the earth in vain, anon of purpose that your thought [V.690]
Might also to the seas be known, ye wished that ye might
Upon the waves with hovering wings at pleasure rule your flight.
And had the gods to your request so pliant, that ye found
With yellow feathers out of hand your bodies clothed round:
Yet lest that pleasant tune of yours ordained to delight
The hearing, and so high a gift of music perish might
For want of utterance, human voice to utter things at will
And countenance of virginity remained to you still.
But mean between his brother and his heavy sister go'th
God Jove, and parteth equally the years between them both. [V.700]
And now the goddess Proserpine indifferently doth reign
Above and underneath the earth, and so doth she remain
One half year with her mother and the residue with her fere.
Immediately she altered is as well in outward cheer
As inward mined. For where her look might late before appear
Sad even to Dis, her countenance now is full of mirth and grace
Even like as Phoebus having put the watery clouds to chase,
Doth show himself a conqueror with bright and shining face.
Then fruitful Ceres void of care in that she did recover
Her daughter, prayed thee, Arethuse, the story to discover. ... [V.710]
What caused thee to fleet so far and wherefore thou became
A sacred spring? The waters whist.

c. Callisto

Callisto was a nymph of chastity—a devotee of the huntress Diana-- who, after being forcibly taken by Jove and impregnated by the god in his disguise as Diana, is further victimized by both Diana and Juno, the former by banishing Callisto when the pregnancy is discovered and the latter in transforming Callisto into a bear in the heat of her wrath caused by her husband's infidelity. Callisto's son, Arcas, later confronts his mother while he is hunting, and despite Callisto's desire to embrace her son, Arcas fearfully seeks to slay this approaching beast of the forest. Jove, in the throes of pity, transforms Callisto into the Ursa Major constellation and her son into the Ursa Minor constellation in order that mother and son may be reunited. Within this myth, Shakespeare may have found a number of analogues for THE WINTER'S TALE: mother and child reunited after a prolonged separation; the bear as a victimized object of a hunt more deserving of pity than vengeance.

There is no cause of further stay. To spite her heart withal, [II.580]
Her husbands leman bare a boy that Arcas men did call.
On whom she casting louring look with fell and cruel mind
Said: was there, arrant strumpet thou, none other shift to find
But that thou needs must be with bairn? that all the world must see
My husband's open shame and thine in doing wrong to me?
But neither unto heaven nor hell this trespass salt thou bear.
I will bereave the of thy shape through pride whereof thou were
So hardy to entice my fere. Immediately with that
She raught her by the foretop fast and fiercely threw her flat
Against the ground. The wretched wench her arms up meekly cast, [II.590]
Her arms began with grisly hair to wax all rugged fast.
Her hands gan warp and into paws ill-favoredly to grow,
And for to serve instead of feet. The lips that late ago
Did like the mighty Jove so well, with side and flaring flaps
Became a wide deformed mouth. And further lest perhaps
Her prayers and her humble words might cause her to relent:
She did bereave her of her speech. Instead whereof there went
An ireful, hoarse, and dreadful voice out from a threatening throat:
But yet the selfsame mind that was before she turned her cote,
Was in her still in shape of bear. The grief whereof she shows [II.600]
By thrusting forth continual sighs, and up she ghastly throws
Such kind of hands as then remained unto the starry sky.
And for because she could not speak she thought Jove inwardly
To be unthankful. Oh how oft she daring not abide
Alone among the desert woods, full many a time and tide
Would stalk before her house in grounds that were her own erewhile?
How oft oh did she in the hills the barking hounds beguile
And in the lands where she herself had chased erst her game,
Now fly herself to save her life when hunters sought the same?
Full oft at sight of other beasts she hid her head for fear, [II.610]
Forgetting what she was herself. For though she were a bear,
Yet when she spied other bear she quooked for very pain:
And feared wolves although her sire among them did remain.