Ovid. Metamorphoses

Book III 509-579


Pentheus and Bacchus


Narcissus' fate, when known throughout the land

and cities of Achaia, added fame

deserved, to blind Tiresias,—mighty seer.

Yet Pentheus, bold despiser of the Gods, son of Echion, scoffed at all his praise,

and, sole of man deriding the great seer,

upbraided him his hapless loss of sight.

And shaking his white temples, hoar with age.

Tiresias of Pentheus prophesied,

“Oh glad the day to thee, if, light denied,

thine eyes, most fortunate, should not behold

the Bacchanalian rites! The day will come,

and soon the light will dawn, when Bacchus, born

of Semele, shall make his advent known—

all hail the new god Bacchus! Either thou

must build a temple to this Deity,

or shalt be torn asunder; thy remains,

throughout the forest scattered, will pollute

the wood with sanguinary streams; and thy

life-blood bespatter with corrupting blots

thy frenzied mother and her sisters twain.

And all shall come to pass, as I have told,

because thou wilt not honour the New God.

And thou shalt wail and marvel at the sight

of blind Tiresias, though veiled in night.”

And as he spoke, lo, Pentheus drove the seer:

but all his words, prophetic, were fulfilled,

and confirmation followed in his steps.—

Bacchus at once appears, and all the fields

resound with shouts of everybody there.—

men, brides and matrons, and a howling rout—

nobles and commons and the most refined—

a motley multitude—resistless borne

to join those rites of Bacchus, there begun.

Then Pentheus cries; “What madness, O ye brave

descendants of the Dragon! Sons of Mars!

What frenzy has confounded you? Can sounds

of clanging brass prevail; and pipes and horns,

and magical delusions, drunkenness,

and yelling women, and obscene displays,

and hollow drums, overcome you, whom the sword,

nor troops of war, nor trumpet could affright?

“How shall I wonder at these ancient men,

who, crossing boundless seas from distant Tyre,

hither transferred their exiled Household Gods,

and founded a new Tyre; but now are shorn,

and even as captives would be led away

without appeal to Mars? And, O young men,

of active prime whose vigor equals mine!

Cast down your ivy scepters; take up arms;

put on your helmets; strip your brows of leaves;

be mindful of the mighty stock you are,

and let your souls be animated with

the spirit of that dauntless dragon, which,

unaided, slew so many, and at last

died to defend his fountain and his lake.—

so ye may conquer in the hope of fame.

“He gave the brave to death, but with your arms

ye shall expel the worthless, and enhance

the glory of your land. If Fate decree

the fall of Thebes, Oh, let the engines

of war and men pull down its walls, and let

the clash of steel and roaring flames resound.

Thus, blameless in great misery, our woes

would be the theme of lamentations, known

to story; and our tears would shame us not.

“But now an unarmed boy will conquer Thebes:

a lad whom neither weapons, wars nor steeds

delight; whose ringlets reek with myrrh; adorned

with chaplets, purple and embroidered robes

of interwoven gold. Make way for me!

And I will soon compel him to confess

his father is assumed and all his rites are frauds.

“If in days gone Acrisius

so held this vain god in deserved contempt,

and shut the Argive gates against his face,

why, therefore, should not Pentheus close the gates

of Thebes, with equal courage—Hence! Away!

Fetch the vile leader of these rioters

in chains! Let not my mandate be delayed.”

Him to restrain his grandsire, Cadmus, strove;

and Athamas, and many of his trusted friends

united in vain efforts to rebuke

his reckless rage; but greater violence

was gained from every admonition.—

his rage increased the more it was restrained,

and injury resulted from his friends.

So have I seen a stream in open course,

run gently on its way with pleasant noise,

but whensoever logs and rocks detained,

it foamed, with violence increased, against obstruction.

Presently returning came

his servants stained with blood, to whom he said,

“What have ye done with Bacchus?” And to him

they made reply; “Not Bacchus have we seen,

but we have taken his attendant lad,

the chosen servant of his sacred rites.”

And they delivered to the noble king,

a youth whose hands were lashed behind his back.

Then Pentheus, terrible in anger, turned

his awful gaze upon the lad, and though

he scarce deferred his doom, addressed him thus;

“Doomed to destruction, thou art soon to give

example to my people by thy death:

tell me thy name; what are thy parents called;

where is thy land; and wherefore art thou found

attendant on these Bacchanalian rites.”


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