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.

 

 

REFERENCES

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.

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