Saturday, June 09, 2007

Metamorphoses XI (1820): Midas

Ovid in English. Edited by Christopher Martin.
Poets in Translation. London: Penguin, 1998. 308-09:

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley:
Midas: A Drama in two acts. 2: 83-120
[from Metamorphoses 11.106-30] Midas’s epiphany

Mid. (lifting up the cover) This is to be a king! to touch pure gold!
Would that by touching thee, Zopyrion, I could
transmute thee to a golden man;
A crowd of golden slaves to wait on me!
(Pours the water on his hands)
But how is this? the water that I touch
Falls down a stream of yellow, liquid gold.
And hardens as it falls. I cannot wash —
Pray Bacchus I may Drink! And the soft towel
With which I’d wipe my hands transmutes itself
Into a sheet of heavy gold. — No more!
I’ll sit and eat — I have not tasted food
For many hours, I have been so wrapt
In golden dreams of all that I possess,
I had not time to eat; now hunger calls
And makes me feel, though not remote in power
From the Immortal Gods, that I need food,
The only remnant of mortality!
(In vain attempts to eat of several dishes)
Alas! my fate! ‘tis gold! this peach is gold!
This bread, these grapes, & all I touch! this meat
Which by its scent quickened my appetite
Has lost its scent, its taste, — ‘tis useless gold.

Zopyrion. (aside) He’d better now have followed my advice
He starves by gold yet keeps his asses’ ears.

Midas. Asphalon, put that apple to my mouth;
If my hands touch it out perhaps I eat.
Also! I cannot bite! as it approached
I felt its fragrance, thought it would be mine,
But by the touch of my life-killing lips
‘Tis changed from a sweet fruit to tasteless gold.
Bacchus will out refresh me by his gifts,
The liquid wine congeals and flies my taste.
Go, miserable slaves! Oh, wretched king!
Away with food! its sight now makes me sick.
Bring in my couch! I will sleep off my care,
And when I wake I’ll coin some remedy
I dare not bathe this sultry day, for fear
I be enclosed in gold. Begone!
I will to rest: — Oh, miserable king!

(1820, pub. 1922)

Written two years after Frankenstein; or, The New Prometheus (1818), Mary Shelley's two-act drama "Midas" wasn't published in full until 1922 (though the short lyric "Arethusa" her husband Percy Bysshe wrote for inclusion in it has become a fabourite anthology piece).

What was it that attracted her in the theme? Frankenstein has been linked to everything from fantasies of the Shelley's first child, Clara, who died shortly before that famous "haunted summer" on Lake Geneva, to sexual jealousy of her half-sister Claire Clairmont, lover of Lord Byron (cast as the Bride of Frankenstein?) It's hard to escape the idea that Midas is, somehow, a version of her poet husband.

Consider the parallels: a man who turns everything he touches to gold, but who thereby renders himself impervious to human touch. Midas is finally cured by immersing himself in a river, thus passing on his gold-bearing gift. Shelley's own trial by water proved less favourable. He drowned at sea in 1822.

Walter Crane, “King Midas and His Daughter Who has Turned to Gold” (1892)

The book I borrowed this extract from, Ovid in English, is one of the excellent Penguin Poets in Translation Series. To date the following volumes have appeared. If you see them in a secondhand shop near you (strangely enough, they seem to go out of print almost as soon as they appear), don't buy it - leave it for me instead ...

I've marked in italics the ones I don't yet own (and have therefore had to consult in library copies):

1. Homer in English, ed. George Steiner & Aminadav Dykman (1996)
2. Horace in English, ed. D. S. Carne-Ross & Kenneth Haynes (1996)
3. Martial in English, ed. John P. Sullivan & Anthony J. Boyle (1996)
4. The Psalms in English, ed. Donald Davie (1996)
5. Virgil in English, ed. K. W. Gransden (1996)
6. Baudelaire in English, ed. Carol Clark & Robert Sykes (1998)
7. Ovid in English, ed. Christopher Martin (1998)
8. Seneca in English, ed. Don Share (1998)
9. Catullus in English, ed. Julia Haig Gaisser (2001)
10. Juvenal in English, ed. Martin M. Winkler (2001)
11. Dante in English, ed. Eric Griffiths & Matthew Reynolds (2005)
12. Petrarch in English, ed. Thomas P. Roche (2005)
13. [Rilke in English , ed. Michael Hofmann (overdue from 2008)]

Peter Sharpe, “Midas” (1999)


Richard said...

Jack that play is marvelous - I dont know much about the biograhies of the Romantics but I was reading some great esays by Hazlitt last year (who knew Coleridge as you will know of course.).

I think I have Martial, Horace and Rilke in English. The turn up also on Trade Me under Books and Classics. I was a bit addicted to getting the various classics from there etc). Even reading a percntage of them! - I love the Greek plays. I read the (is it Melville?) edition of the Penguin Metamorhposes - they are wonderful.

I also think that Pounds version of the transformation of Dionysius in his Cantos is superb.

Richard said...

The Peter Sharpe image is great.