The Story of Erisichthon and The Transformations of Erisichthon's DaughterBack to Chapter 7
From The Metamorphoses by Ovid, Book Eight
The Story of ErisichthonIn various shapes thus to deceive the eyes,
Without a settled stint of her disguise,
Rash Erisichthon's daughter had the pow'r,
And brought it to Autolicus in dow'r.
Her atheist sire the slighted Gods defy'd,
And ritual honours to their shrines deny'd.
As fame reports, his hand an ax sustain'd,
Which Ceres' consecrated grove prophan'd;
Which durst the venerable gloom invade,
And violate with light the awful shade.
An ancient oak in the dark center stood,
The covert's glory, and itself a wood:
Garlands embrac'd its shaft, and from the boughs
Hung tablets, monuments of prosp'rous vows.
In the cool dusk its unpierc'd verdure spread,
The Dryads oft their hallow'd dances led;
And oft, when round their gaging arms they cast,
Full fifteen ells it measu'rd in the waste:
Its height all under standards did surpass,
As they aspir'd above the humbler grass.
These motives, which would gentler minds restrain,
Could not make Triope's bold son abstain;
He sternly charg'd his slaves with strict decree,
To fell with gashing steel the sacred tree.
But whilst they, lingring, his commands delay'd,
He snatch'd an Ax, and thus blaspheming said:
Was this no oak, nor Ceres' favourite care,
But Ceres' self, this arm, unaw'd, shou'd dare
Its leafy honours in the dust to spread,
And level with the earth its airy head.
He spoke, and as he poiz'd a slanting stroak,
Sighs heav'd, and tremblings shook the frighted oak;
Its leaves look'd sickly, pale its acorns grew,
And its long branches sweat a chilly dew.
But when his impious hand a wound bestow'd,
Blood from the mangled bark in currents flow'd.
When a devoted bull of mighty size,
A sinning nation's grand atonement, dies;
With such a plenty from the spouting veins,
A crimson stream the turfy altars stains.
The wonder all amaz'd; yet one more bold,
The fact dissuading, strove his ax to hold.
But the Thessalian, obstinately bent,
Too proud to change, too harden'd to repent,
On his kind monitor, his eyes, which burn'd
With rage, and with his eyes his weapon turn'd;
Take the reward, says he, of pious dread:
Then with a blow lopp'd off his parted head.
No longer check'd, the wretch his crime pursu'd,
Doubled his strokes, and sacrilege renew'd;
When from the groaning trunk a voice was heard,
A Dryad I, by Ceres' love preferr'd,
Within the circle of this clasping rind
Coeval grew, and now in ruin join'd;
But instant vengeance shall thy sin pursue,
And death is chear'd with this prophetick view.
At last the oak with cords enforc'd to bow,
Strain'd from the top, and sap'd with wounds below,
The humbler wood, partaker of its fate,
Crush'd with its fall, and shiver'd with its weight.
The grove destroy'd, the sister Dryads moan,
Griev'd at its loss, and frighted at their own.
Strait, suppliants for revenge to Ceres go,
In sable weeds, expressive of their woe.
The beauteous Goddess with a graceful air
Bow'd in consent, and nodded to their pray'r.
The awful motion shook the fruitful ground,
And wav'd the fields with golden harvests crown'd.
Soon she contriv'd in her projecting mind
A plague severe, and piteous in its kind
(If plagues for crimes of such presumptuous height
Could pity in the softest breast create).
With pinching want, and hunger's keenest smart,
To tear his vitals, and corrode his heart.
But since her near approach by Fate's deny'd
To famine, and broad climes their pow'rs divide,
A nymph, the mountain's ranger, she address'd,
And thus resolv'd, her high commands express'd.
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Transformations of Erisichthon's DaughterNow riches hoarded by paternal care
Were sunk, the glutton swallowing up the heir.
Yet the devouring flame no stores abate,
Nor less his hunger grew with his estate.
One daughter left, as left his keen desire,
A daughter worthy of a better sire:
Her too he sold, spent Nature to sustain;
She scorn'd a lord with generous disdain,
And flying, spread her hand upon the main.
Then pray'd: Grant, thou, I bondage may escape,
And with my liberty reward thy rape;
Repay my virgin treasure with thy aid
('Twas Neptune who deflower'd the beauteous maid).
The God was mov'd, at what the fair had su'd,
When she so lately by her master view'd
In her known figure, on a sudden took
A fisher's habit, and a manly look.
To whom her owner hasted to enquire;
O thou, said he, whose baits hide treach'rous wire;
Whose art can manage, and experienc'd skill
The taper angle, and the bobbing quill,
So may the sea be ruffled with no storm,
But smooth with calms, as you the truth inform;
So your deceit may no shy fishes feel,
'Till struck, and fasten'd on the bearded steel.
Did not you standing view upon the strand,
A wand'ring maid? I'm sure I saw her stand;
Her hair disorder'd, and her homely dress
Betray'd her want, and witness'd her distress.
Me heedless, she reply'd, whoe'er you are,
Excuse, attentive to another care.
I settled on the deep my steady eye;
Fix'd on my float, and bent on my employ.
And that you may not doubt what I impart,
So may the ocean's God assist my art,
If on the beach since I my sport pursu'd,
Or man, or woman but my self I view'd.
Back o'er the sands, deluded, he withdrew,
Whilst she for her old form put off her new.
Her sire her shifting pow'r to change perceiv'd;
And various chapmen by her sale deceiv'd.
A fowl with spangled plumes, a brinded steer,
Sometimes a crested mare, or antler'd deer:
Sold for a price, she parted, to maintain
Her starving parent with dishonest gain.
At last all means, as all provisions, fail'd;
For the disease by remedies prevail'd;
His muscles with a furious bite he tore,
Gorg'd his own tatter'd flesh, and gulph'd his gore.
Wounds were his feast, his life to life a prey,
Supporting Nature by its own decay.
But foreign stories why shou'd I relate?
I too my self can to new forms translate,
Tho' the variety's not unconfin'd,
But fix'd, in number, and restrain'd in kind:
For often I this present shape retain,
Oft curl a snake the volumes of my train.
Sometimes my strength into my horns transfer'd,
A bull I march, the captain of the herd.
But whilst I once those goring weapons wore,
Vast wresting force one from my forehead tore.
Lo, my maim'd brows the injury still own;
He ceas'd; his words concluding with a groan.