Monday, September 17, 2007

Metamorphoses XV (1632): Hippolytus

Perhaps y' haue heard of one Hippolytus;
By Step-dames fraud, and fathers credulous
Beliefe bequeath'd to death. Admire you may
That I am he, if credit, what I say.
Whom Phoedra formerly solicited,
But vainely, to defile my fathers bed.
Fearing detection, or in that refus'd;
She turnes the crime, and me of her's accus'd.
My father, banishing the innocent,
Along with me his winged curses sent.
Toward Pitthean Troezen (1) me my charriot bore:
And driuing now by the Corinthian shore,
The smooth seas swell; a monstrous billow rose,
Which, rouling like a mountaine, greater growes;
Then, bellowing, at the top asunder rends:
When from the breach, brest high, a Bull ascends;
Who at his dreadfull mouth and nosthrills spouts
Part of the sea. Feare all my followers routs:
But my afflicted mind was all this while
Vnterrifi'd; intending my exile.
When the hot horses start, erect their eares:
With horror rapt, and chaced by their feares,
O'r ragged rocks the totterd charriot drew:
In vaine I striue their fury to subdew,
The bits all frotht with fome: with all my strength
Pull the stretcht raiynes, I lying at full length,
Nor had their heady fright my strength o'r-gon;
Had not the feruent wheele, which roules vpon
The bearing Axel-tree, rusht on a stump:
Which brake, and fell asunder with that iump.
Throwne from my charriot, in the raignes fast-bound,
My guts drag'd out aliue, my sinewes wound
About the stump, my limbs in peeces hal'd;
Some stuck behind, some at the charriot traild;
My bones then breaking crackt, not any whole,
While I exhal'd my faint and weary soule.
No part of all my parts you could haue found
That might be knowne: for all was but one wound.
Now say, selfe-tortred Nymph, (2) or can, or dare
You your calamities with ours compare?
I also saw those realmes, to Day vnknowne:
And bath'd my wounds in smoking Phlegeton. (3)
Had not Apollos Son (4) imploid the aid
Of his great Art; I with the dead had staid.
But when by potent hearbs, and Paeons skill, (5)
I was restor'd, against sterne Plutos will:
Least I, if seene, might enuie haue procur'd:
Me, friendly Cynthia (6) with a cloud immur'd:
And that, though seene, I might be hurt by none;
She added age, and left my face vnknowne.
Whether in Delos, doubting, or in Creet;
Reiecting Creet and Delos as vnmeet,
Shee plac't me here. Nor would I should retaine
The memory of One by horses slaine:
But said; hence forward Virbius (7) be thy name
That wer't Hippolytus; though thou the same.
One of the Lesser Gods, here, in this Groue,
I Cynthia serue; preserued by her loue.

(1) A city of Peloponesus, where Pittheus the Grandfather of Theseus by his mother Aethra once raigned.
(2) Aegeria.
(3) A burning river in Hell.
(4) Aesculapius.
(5) Physick; of Paeon an excellent Physitian.
(6) Diana, of Cynthus a mountaine in Delos.
(7) Twice a man.

George Sandys, Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologiz'd, and Represented in Figures. Oxford: John Lichfield, 1632.

Sandys' Marginal Note:

Virbius once Hypolitus, now a God of those groues, goes about to comfort Aegeria; and extenuate her sorrow with the relation of his former calamityes; torne in peices by his horses through his stepmothers fraud and fathers imprecations. The Curses of Parents fall heauy on their Children, allthough vndeserued, as this of credulous Theseus. Rash beleife is the author of much mischiefe, and vnsuspended rage of too late repentance. The chast youth suffers for anothers vnchastety. But virtue, though afflicted for a time, can neuer be finally suppressed: Eminent in the example of Bellerophon; but especially of Ioseph and his miraculous aduancement. Miserably disioynted Hypolitus is set together and restored to life by Aesculapius, Diana, his patronesse (changing his youth into age, and his former ominous name into Virbius, which signifies twice a man, the better to conceale him,) conueyed him hether and made him one of the Inferior Deities. But what saith Lactantius? Diana when she had allmost lost her louer, much bruised and torne by his vnruly horses, called Aesculapius, an excellent Phisitian (and therefore feigned to restore life vnto the Dead) to his timely helpe, whom she as soone as he was recouered, conueyed to those sequestred aboads. What showed this diligence in his concealed cure? these priuate retreates? his long conversation with a woman, and that in a place vnfrequented? the change of his name? and lastly her detestation of horses? but the guilt of her incontinency, and of such a loue as agreed not with a virgin. This Virbius, who boasted to haue beene Hipolytus was according to some authors a cunning Imposter, suborned by the Preists of Diana Aricina, to draw a greater concourse to that Groue, that their gaine might increase by more frequent deuotion. Nor haue others in latter ages serued their turnes with lesse incredible forgeries.

I've already discussed in my comments on the story of Aegeus and Medea in Metamorphoses Book VII how much an early reading of Mary Renault's The King Must Die affected me:

Horses go blindly to the sacrifice; but the gods give knowledge to men. When the King was dedicated, he knew his moira. In three years, or seven, or nine, or whatever the custom was, his term would end and the god would call him. And he went consenting, or he was no king ... When they came to choose among the Royal Kin, this was his sign; that he chose short life with glory, and to walk with the god, rather than live long unknown like the stall-fed oxen. (Renault, 24)

And what was Moira? "The finished shape of our fate, the line drawn around it. It is the task the gods allot us, and the share of glory they allow; the limits we must not pass; and our appointed end. Moira is all these." (23)

I looked eagerly for its sequel, The Bull from the Sea (1962), but when I finally read it, I found it disappointing. Renault seemed to have trouble with the figure of Hippolytos. He became a pious prig in her version. Nor did she seem particularly sympathetic towards Theseus's Cretan bride Phaedra. The impulsive child, sister to Ariadne, we meet in the first book has become a "little Cretan lady, just like the portrait I had been sent." The real loves of Theseus' life are the Amazon woman Hippolyta, mother of his son, and his buccaneering friend Pirithoos.

The main problem with the book, I guess, si the need to run through all the salient events of Theseus' life: the meeting with Oedipus at Colonus, the attempted abduction of Helen, and (of course) the death-curse put on his son.

Parents, as Sandys reminds us, should be more trusting of their offspring. Is that the whole meaning of the story, though. It's in the mould of other stories where ageing heroes destroy their own sons. Sohrab and Rustum, from Firdausi's Shah-Nameh, the epic of the Kings; Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster, and his son Connla; Zeus and his father Saturn ...

It's another denial, I suppose, of the cyclical nature of the things. Sons should grow to full strength to succeed their fathers, but it's not in the nature of the masculine ego to retire into the shadows gracefully - there's always that midlife temptation to reinvent oneself totally, try to recover one's own youth (perhaps with a new young partner) rather than moving on to the latter maturing stages of life.

And, as so often in Ovid, this attempt to arrest time leads to disaster. What Theseus sees as an attempt by his son to usurp him prematurely by raping the queen, is in fact his own inability to understand his son's more reflective nature.

Of course Phaedra, in this reading, comes out as the villain, but again it's not difficult to see how she might prefer Hippolytus, much closer to her in age, to the grizzled ferocious husband who killed her father Minos and abandoned her sister Ariadne despite all the help she'd given him.


Richard said...


I haven't been through all these Metamorphoses of yours (Ovid's also of course) - although I have read the Melville translation - but what you have done here is a great service to people who would or might want to read Ovid and it is brilliant - you also have some exquisite and fascinating images.

How do /will you promote your Blog? Ro Silliman - I recall when I was on the Poetics List (thru Buffalo) there was big debate about the merits or other of Bloging. R Silliman used to send out to (I presume ) various Poetic Lists etc - he only appeared on the Buffalo Poetics List occasionally and mostly to promote himself -now there is nothing wrong with that.

You are a poet-politicator-promotor etc - get onto it !?

[And you have done some great work - e.g. 'Nights with Giodorno Bruno' and 'The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis' and other things]

I know a lot of people lurk etc - don't comment. But in the light of what you are are doing and have done that is sad I feel.

Are we nation of morons? Sometimes I feel I was born in vile country amongst monstrous barbarians and uncultured & unread, unimaginative fools - rugger buggers and other bastards in this violent, barbaric far flung crap smelling nation - this stewed prune faced sewer pit(y) of culture - but then I recall a few writers and musicians etc.

And those cultured compassionate people I DO know and have met...

Of course very few comment on what I do and I publish less frequently perhaps than you and I have also been thinking of pushing my Blog a bit more (I don't expect much response though for now)...but that said...o.k. its good to "publish" but some response is also gratifying.

I'm thinking of joining some lists again - this time to advertise my Blog (mainly) but I will certainly also promote yours and Scott's etc

Silliman's Blog is very popular (and it is very interesting with a mass of information and stuff on it )but - well you are as gifted as he is (of course quite a diff. agenda) and he is I feel one of he major or at least very important (influential) writers in the US.
But I want to look at new Zealand writers more or at least as much as overseas bloggers etc.

But there needs to be some dialogue - it is sparse and often obtuse - vide Scott's Blog - - are we as literary people so egotistical and ungenerous as to give none or just absurd or cryptic or even puerile abusive or 'clever' comments (I don't mean good humoured ones) - that is not a sign of consideration or intelligence - silence is a form of stupidity - or can be - it is so 'clever' to be careful and NOT comment?

It can be a form of moral cowardice by the literatteur. [?] (There you are: I risked being wrong with French-English term!]

It somewhat angers me (not that I am ever very angry I am: "The Mouse that Roar[s]"!); your present 'neglect'.

But keep on.

Cheers, Richard.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

Well, I take your point. About the only thing I do to promote this blog is put a reference to it in the footer to all of my emails. But then, I don't really see it as everyone's cup of tea -- unlike all the politicos who follow Scott's -- so I'm actually quite happy with my little patch of cyberspace. After all, people can always access it if they want to.

"Fame is the spur," says Shakespeare -- for so much otherwise unmotivated behaviour. I can't say that I see the attraction, really.

The respect of one's friends and peers, though -- that's certainly something to strive for.

Richard said...


Yes it is small field - poetry and art - and particularly this area.

Too many of the politicos lurking on Scott's Blog lack knowledge and 'culture also - I read about Grieve (real name of Hugh MacDiarmid as you certainly know) (via Weinberger) he (Grieve) is an interesting case of the political mystical polymathic working class well educated poet..we need more such here...Scott's mates have too much faith in the working class; and others have too little.

It was some workers but also students and liberals - some wealthy (with wealth one can buy books and education if not always wisdom) whose lead many of the "revolutions" and protests of the sixties and on. The intelligentsia and more well to do - still do.

And my feeling is I should be "drowned out" on here ... compared to some who could be commenting my knowledge is very limited ...

More later.

kind regards, Richard