VENUS' STORY: ATALANTA IN THE RACE
'"Forsitan audieris aliquam certamine cursus 560
veloces superasse viros: non fabula rumor
ille fuit; superabat enim. nec dicere posses,
laude pedum formaene bono praestantior esset.
scitanti deus huic de coniuge 'coniuge' dixit
'nil opus est, Atalanta, tibi: fuge coniugis usum. 565
nec tamen effugies teque ipsa viva carebis.'
territa sorte dei per opacas innuba silvas
vivit et instantem turbam violenta procorum
condicione fugat, 'ne' c 'sum potiunda, nisi' inquit
'victa prius cursu. pedibus contendite mecum: 570
praemia veloci coniunx thalamique dabuntur,
mors pretium tardis: ea lex certaminis esto.'
illa quidem inmitis, sed (tanta potentia formae est)
venit ad hanc legem temeraria turba procorum.
sederat Hippomenes cursus spectator iniqui 575
et 'petitur cuiquam per tanta pericula coniunx?'
dixerat ac nimios iuvenum damnarat amores;
ut faciem et posito corpus velamine vidit,
quale meum, vel quale tuum, si femina fias,
obstipuit tollensque manus 'ignoscite,' dixit 580
'quos modo culpavi! nondum mihi praemia nota,
quae peteretis, erant.' laudando concipit ignes
et, ne quis iuvenum currat velocius, optat
invidiaque timet. 'sed cur certaminis huius
intemptata mihi fortuna relinquitur?' inquit 585
'audentes deus ipse iuvat!' dum talia secum
exigit Hippomenes, passu volat alite virgo.
quae quamquam Scythica non setius ire sagitta
Aonio visa est iuveni, tamen ille decorem
miratur magis: et cursus facit ipse decorem. 590
aura refert ablata citis talaria plantis,
tergaque iactantur crines per eburnea, quaeque
poplitibus suberant picto genualia limbo;
inque puellari corpus candore ruborem
traxerat, haud aliter, quam cum super atria velum 595
candida purpureum simulatas inficit umbras.
dum notat haec hospes, decursa novissima meta est,
et tegitur festa victrix Atalanta corona.
dant gemitum victi penduntque ex foedere poenas.
Perhaps you may have heard of a swift maid,
who ran much faster than swift-footed men
contesting in the race. What they have told
is not an idle tale.—She did excel
them all—and you could not have said
whether her swift speed or her beauty was
more worthy of your praise. When this maid once
consulted with an oracle, of her
fate after marriage, the god answered her:
“You, Atalanta, never will have need
of husband, who will only be your harm.
For your best good you should avoid the tie;
but surely you will not avoid your harm;
and while yet living you will lose yourself.”
She was so frightened by the oracle,
she lived unwedded in far shaded woods;
and with harsh terms repulsed insistent throngs
of suitors. “I will not be won,” she said,
“Till I am conquered first in speed. Contest
the race with me. A wife and couch shall both
be given to reward the swift, but death
must recompense the one who lags behind.
This must be the condition of a race.”
Indeed she was that pitiless, but such
the power of beauty, a rash multitude
agreed to her harsh terms.
Hippomenes had come, a stranger, to the cruel race,
with condemnation in his heart against
the racing young men for their headstrong love;
and said, “Why seek a wife at such a risk?”
But when he saw her face, and perfect form
disrobed for perfect running, such a form
as mine, Adonis, or as yours—if you
were woman—he was so astonished he
raised up his hands and said, “Oh pardon me
brave men whom I was blaming, I could not
then realize the value of the prize
you strove for.” And as he is praising her,
his own heart leaping with love's fire, he hopes
no young man may outstrip her in the race;
and, full of envy, fears for the result.
“But why,” he cries, “is my chance in the race
untried? Divinity helps those who dare.”
But while the hero weighed it in his mind
the virgin flew as if her feet had wings.
Although she seemed to him in flight as swift
as any Scythian arrow, he admired
her beauty more; and her swift speed appeared
in her most beautiful. The breeze bore back
the streamers on her flying ankles, while
her hair was tossed back over her white shoulders;
the bright trimmed ribbons at her knees were fluttering,
and over her white girlish body came
a pink flush, just as when a purple awning
across a marble hall gives it a wealth
of borrowed hues. And while Hippomenes
in wonder gazed at her, the goal was reached;
and Atalanta crowned victorious
with festal wreath.—But all the vanquished youths
paid the death-penalty with sighs and groans,
according to the stipulated bond.
Naso, Publius Ovidius. Metamorphoses. Liber X: 560-599. The Latin Library.
Naso, Publius Ovidius. Metamorphoses. Book X. Tr. Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922. Perseus.