20 Sep Ovid: Metamorphoses: Extracts from Book III: Echo and Narcissus
Readers are referred to Sabidius’ translation of Book VIII of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” which was published on his blog on 25th March 2010 for information about this great poem. The text of this extract is taken from the ‘Cambridge Latin Anthology’, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Ll. 354-360, 368-399. The story opens when Narcissus is out hunting one day.
A babbling nymph, who has learned neither to keep quiet for (someone) talking, nor to speak first herself, the answering Echo, espied him (i.e. Narcissus), driving some frightened deer into his net. Still, Echo was a body, not (only) a voice: and yet the chatterbox had no other use of her mouth than she now has, so that she could repeat (only) the very last words of many (words)…..Therefore, when she saw Narcissus wandering through the remote countryside, she burned with love (for him), she follows his footsteps stealthily, and the more she follows, with a closer flame does she burn, just as (lit. not otherwise than) when the lively sulphur smeared on the top of a torch catches the flames brought close (to it). O how often she wished to approach (him) with sweet words and to employ gentle prayers. Nature prevents (her) and does not allow (her) to begin, but, (something) which (her nature) allows, she was ready to await the sounds to which she returns his words. The boy, by chance having separated from the trusty band of his companions, had said, “Is anyone there?” and Echo had replied, “…one there?” He is astonished, and gazes (lit. distributes his glance) in all directions, (and) he shouts with a loud voice, “Come (here)! She calls (him) calling. He looks around, and, no one coming, says again, “Why are you avoiding me?” And as many (words) as he spoke, she had recourse to his words. He persists, and, having been deceived by the illusion of an answering voice, he says, “Let us meet hither,” and Echo, to no sound ever about to reply more gladly, answered “Let us meet,” and emphasises the words herself, and, coming out of the woods in accordance with her (words), she came (to him) in order to throw her arms around the desired neck. He flies, and, fleeing, he says, “Take your hands away from these embraces; may I die before you may have (lit. before there may be to you) enjoyment of me.” Spurned, she hides in the woods, and, ashamed, she covers her face with leaves, and from that (time) she lives in lonely caves, but yet her love persists and grows with the pain of rejection: the cares that keep one awake (lit. the wakeful cares) weaken her wretched body, and thinness shrivels her skin, and all the moisture of her body dissolves into the air; only her voice and bones survive: (then only) her voice remains: thence she hides in the woods and is seen on no mountain. She is heard by all: it is sound which lives in her.
Ll. 411-429. Narcissus rejected the love of many others, too; one of them prayed that Narcissus might himself fall in love without success. One day he found himself on a grassy bank beside a secluded, crystal-clear spring.
Here, the boy, tired both by his enthusiasm for hunting and by the heat, sat down, attracted both by the appearance of the place and its fountain; and, while he desired to quench his thirst, another thirst grew, and, while he drank, having been captivated by the image of beauty which he had seen (lit. having been seen), he loves a hope without a body, he thinks (something) which is a shadow to be a body, he himself is astonished at himself, and he clings to the unchanged countenance, motionless, as a statue shaped from Parian marble. Lying (lit. having been placed) on the ground, he looks at his twin stars, his own eyes (lit. lights), worthy of Bacchus (i.e. the god of wine) and worthy of Apollo (i.e. the god of youth and prophecy), and his youthful cheeks and ivory-coloured neck and the beauty of his face and its redness mixed in a snowy whiteness, and he admires everything, by which he is himself admired. Unknowingly, he desires himself, and (he) who fancies himself, is himself fancied, and, while he seeks, he is sought, and he burns and is burned at the same time. How often he gave futile kisses to the deceiving fountain! How often he plunged his arms in the middle of the water, trying to capture the apparent neck, but he does not catch himself in those things! He does not know what he sees, but for that which he sees he burns, and the same error which deceives his eyes arouses (him).
Ll. 484-508. Frustrated by his hopeless love for himself, Narcissus pines away, and, in his desperation, begins to inflict wounds upon himself.
And, as soon as he saw these things, in the water (which was) clear once again, he could not endure (it) any longer, but just as yellow wax (is accustomed) to melt in a gentle flame and the morning frosts are accustomed (to melt) in the warm sun, so, weakened by love, he wastes away and is gradually consumed by a hidden fire; and there is no longer (any) colour to his redness mixed with whiteness, nor vigour and strength and (the things) which, only just seen, were pleasing, nor did his body last, which Echo had once loved. Yet, when she saw these things, although angry when (lit. and) remembering, she felt pity, and whenever the wretched boy had said “alas”, she repeated “alas” in an echoing voice. And, when he had beaten his own arms with his hands, she also gave back the same sound of grief. The final words of him gazing into his accustomed water were these: “Alas, the boy beloved in vain!” The spot returned the same number of words, and “Farewell” having been said, Echo also said “Farewell.” He laid down his tired head on the green grass, (and) death closed his eyes still admiring the appearance of their owner. Even then, when he had been accepted into the resting place of the Underworld, he gazed at himself in the waters of the Styx (i.e. the river of death). His sisters, the Naiads (i.e the water nymphs) wailed, and , their tresses having been cut off, offered (them) to their brother, and the Dryads (i.e. the wood nymphs) lamented; Echo echoes their lamentations. And now, they were preparing his funeral pyre and the brandished torches and the bier. (But) his body was nowhere (to be seen); in place of his body, they find a yellow flower with white petals surrounding its centre.