All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com.
Page revised in October 2020.
All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page revised in October 2020.
Of bodies chang'd to various forms, I sing is the opening line of the Metamorphoses (Transformations), a poem by Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso - 43 BC:17/18 AD).
Detail of the Golden Age, a fresco by Pietro da Cortona in Palazzo Pitti
The subject of the poem as indicated by its opening line and title does not seem suited to be discussed in fifteen books for a total of more than 12,000 lines. As a matter of fact the poem is not a treatise on plastic surgery, but a sort of History of the World from its creation (The Primal Chaos, The Separation of the Elements, The Four Ages of Man, The Flood, etc.) to the years of Emperor Augustus.
Exhibits from the Archaeological Museum of Constanta (Romania), ancient Tomis, the town on the Black Sea where Ovid spent his last eight years: (left) small statue of Venus; (right) Greek inscription reporting a decree by Emperor Tiberius, with provisions to protect the town from raids of Barbarian tribes
The poem was completed before the poet was banished from Rome in 8 AD (you may wish to read his farewell to the City) and it soon became very popular as Ovid predicted in the closing lines: Wherever Rome’s influence extends, over the lands it has civilised, I will be spoken, on people’s lips: and, famous through all the ages, if there is truth in poet’s prophecies, –vivam - I shall live (prose translation by A. S. Kline).
(left) Orpheus and Eurydice (Book X), mosaic at the Archaeological Museum of El-Djem, Tunisia; (right) Meleager and the Calydonian Boar (Book VIII), mosaic at the Museum of Tripoli, Libya
Ovid based the events narrated in his poem mainly on Greek sources. The origin of the constellations, the loves of Jupiter, the adventures of Jason, Perseus and Theseus and other myths were already popular in the Hellenistic world, but the Metamorphoses made them known in provinces of the Roman Empire which had no Greek background, such as Africa.
When Ovid wrote his poem Jupiter, Juno and the other Olympian gods were worshipped in temples, but the way the poet described their actions was not exactly that of a believer. If Paganism had had an Inquisition the Metamorphoses would have been banned and its author burnt at the stake. Thus the poem was regarded as a mockery of the ancient gods by the Christians and it continued to be popular throughout the Middle Ages.
Cathedral of Orvieto: Cappella di S. Brizio: fresco by Luca Signorelli portraying Ovid and in the tondo Orpheus and Eurydice (1504)
At the beginning of the XIVth century Dante ranked Ovid among the greatest poets of the Ancient World together with Homer, Virgil, Horace and Lucan (Hell, Canto IV). He also claimed to be better than Ovid in describing transformations (Hell, Canto XXV). In that same century in France Pierre Bersuire, a Benedictine monk, wrote Ovidius Moralizatus in which the Metamorphoses was made readable by a Christian audience by censoring some details.
One pretty odd thing is observable among the Basso-Relievo's
on the Brazen Gates, at the entrance. There are some Figures of
Heathen Story intermix'd with the Foliage; Ganymede and the
Eagle, Jupiter and Leda, etc. Whether they were taken from
some Heathen Temple, I know not; but certainly they had
been more suitable there.
Edward Wright - Some Observations made in France, Italy etc. in the years 1720, 1721 and 1722, .
During the XVth century the renewed interest for the Ancient World led Antonio di Pietro Averlino, better known as il Filarete, to include references to the Metamorphoses in a new bronze door for S. Pietro he was commissioned by Pope Eugenius IV in 1433 (see a panel portraying the Pope and St. Peter).
Detail of the decorative frame showing (among many other things) Nessus, a centaur, carrying Deianira, Hercules' wife, across a river (Book IX)
Lavorare di cesello is an Italian idiom for fine-tuning. English chisel corresponds to Italian words scalpello and cesello, the latter being smaller and used for jewels, medals and small objects, whereas the former is used in marble working. In the large decorative frame Filarete showed all his skill in handling the cesello. He enriched the traditional acanthus leaf motif with flowers, butterflies, lizards, heads of Roman emperors and episodes taken from the Metamorphoses and (Aesop's) fables. It took him twelve years to complete the door.
(left) Bacchus/Dionysus turns pirates into dolphins (Book III) (see a floor mosaic from Thugga); (right) Cadmus kills a dragon (Book III)
In the choice of the episodes and in their placement in the frieze Filarete followed only aesthetical criteria. This lack of order, reminiscent of the decoration of some medieval portals, was eventually criticized. Filarete complained about the poor recognition of his work in a small inscription on the door itself: CETERIS / OPERE / PRETIUM / FASTUS /...MUS / VE / MIHI / HILARITAS (Others receive money and glory for their works .. for me there is hilarity). In the XVIth century Giorgio Vasari defined the band a guazzabuglio (hotchpotch).
(left) Narcissus (Book III); (right) Echo (Book III)
In some episodes Filarete made an attempt to show the actual transformation described by Ovid in the moment it occurred. The face of Narcissus is still shown with human elements whereas the back of the head is already a flower. The result however is not very satisfactory. The myth of Echo (who was turned into a rock) is associated to that of Narcissus and Filarete portrayed them next to each other, similar to what can be noticed in ancient floor mosaics.
Deucalion repopulating the Earth (Book I)
The Classics have lately lost so much ground in schools and universities that an educated person is now no longer expected to know (for instance) who Deucalion may have been. Robert Graves - The Greek Myths Penguin Books 1955. What Robert Graves wrote in 1955 is even truer today (and for the foreseeable future, unless a computer game is developed featuring Deucalion among its heroes).
Perhaps Filarete should have avoided depicting this episode because it gives an alternative account to that of the Bible of how the Earth was repopulated after the Great Flood. Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha survived the Flood in a chest, rather than in an ark and they landed on Mount Parnassus rather than on Mount Ararat. They repopulated the Earth by throwing stones behind them which became human beings.
Two episodes related to Io: (left) Io (a nymph turned into a cow), Inachus (her father, a river god), Argus (a naked warden with 100 eyes sent by Juno), Mercury (trying to make Argus fall asleep); (right) Juno placing the eyes of Argus on the
peacock's feathers and Mercury killing Argus (Book I)
Filarete dedicated two reliefs to the story of Io, a nymph turned into a cow by Jupiter after the god had raped her. It is a moving episode worth being read in its entirety. The left column contains the Latin text followed by a short explanatory summary in italics based on the prose translation by A. S. Kline. The right column is the 1717 free verse translation by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden and others, which was the most popular one for a long time.
|Inachus unus abest imoque reconditus antro|
fletibus auget aquas natamque miserrimus Io
luget ut amissam: nescit, vitane fruatur
an sit apud manes; sed quam non invenit usquam,
esse putat nusquam atque animo peiora veretur.
Viderat a patrio redeuntem Iuppiter illam
flumine et 'o virgo Iove digna tuoque beatum
nescio quem factura toro, pete' dixerat 'umbras
altorum nemorum' (et nemorum monstraverat umbras)
'dum calet, et medio sol est altissimus orbe!
quodsi sola times latebras intrare ferarum,
praeside tuta deo nemorum secreta subibis,
nec de plebe deo, sed qui caelestia magna
sceptra manu teneo, sed qui vaga fulmina mitto.
ne fuge me!' fugiebat enim. iam pascua Lernae
consitaque arboribus Lyrcea reliquerat arva,
cum deus inducta latas caligine terras
occuluit tenuitque fugam rapuitque pudorem.
Inachus, a river god laments his lost daughter, Io, not knowing if she is alive or not. Jupiter saw her coming from her father’s stream and he showed her the woods’ shade. "You can go into the remote woods in safety, protected by me. Do not fly from me!" She was already in flight, when the god hid the wide earth in a covering of fog, caught the fleeing girl, and raped her.
Interea medios Iuno despexit in Argos
et noctis faciem nebulas fecisse volucres
sub nitido mirata die, non fluminis illas
esse, nec umenti sensit tellure remitti;
atque suus coniunx ubi sit circumspicit, ut quae
deprensi totiens iam nosset furta mariti.
quem postquam caelo non repperit, 'aut ego fallor
aut ego laedor' ait delapsaque ab aethere summo
constitit in terris nebulasque recedere iussit
coniugis adventum praesenserat inque nitentem
Inachidos vultus mutaverat ille iuvencam;
Meanwhile Juno looked down, surprised that rapid mists had created night in shining daylight. She looked around to see where her husband was. When she could not find him in the skies, she stood on earth ordering the clouds to melt. Jupiter had a presage of his wife’s arrival and had changed Io into a heifer.
bos quoque formosa est. speciem Saturnia vaccae,
quamquam invita, probat nec non, et cuius et unde
quove sit armento, veri quasi nescia quaerit.
Iuppiter e terra genitam mentitur, ut auctor
desinat inquiri: petit hanc Saturnia munus.
quid faciat? crudele suos addicere amores,
non dare suspectum est: Pudor est, qui suadeat illinc,
hinc dissuadet Amor. victus Pudor esset Amore,
sed leve si munus sociae generisque torique
vacca negaretur, poterat non vacca videri!
Paelice donata non protinus exuit omnem
diva metum timuitque Iovem et fuit anxia furti,
donec Arestoridae servandam tradidit Argo.
Juno approved the animal’s looks, asking who she was, where from, what herd, as if she did not know. When Jupiter said she had been born from earth Juno claimed her as a gift. If Jupiter refused so slight a gift as a heifer to the companion of his race and bed, it might appear no heifer! Though her rival was given up the goddess did not abandon her fears at once, cautious of Jupiter and afraid of his trickery, until she had given Io into Argus’s keeping.
centum luminibus cinctum caput Argus habebat
inde suis vicibus capiebant bina quietem,
cetera servabant atque in statione manebant.
constiterat quocumque modo, spectabat ad Io,
ante oculos Io, quamvis aversus, habebat.
luce sinit pasci; cum sol tellure sub alta est,
claudit et indigno circumdat vincula collo.
frondibus arboreis et amara pascitur herba.
proque toro terrae non semper gramen habenti
incubat infelix limosaque flumina potat.
illa etiam supplex Argo cum bracchia vellet
tendere, non habuit, quae bracchia tenderet Argo,
conatoque queri mugitus edidit ore
pertimuitque sonos propriaque exterrita voce est.
Argus had a hundred eyes round his head, that took their rest two at a time while the others kept watch. Wherever he stood he was looking at Io. He fastened a rope round her innocent neck. She grazed on the leaves of trees and bitter herbs. When she wished to stretch her arms, she had no arms to stretch. She was alarmed and frightened by the sound of her own voice.
venit et ad ripas, ubi ludere saepe solebat,
Inachidas: rictus novaque ut conspexit in unda
cornua, pertimuit seque exsternata refugit.
naides ignorant, ignorat et Inachus ipse,
quae sit; at illa patrem sequitur sequiturque sorores
et patitur tangi seque admirantibus offert.
decerptas senior porrexerat Inachus herbas:
illa manus lambit patriisque dat oscula palmis
nec retinet lacrimas et, si modo verba sequantur,
oret opem nomenque suum casusque loquatur;
littera pro verbis, quam pes in pulvere duxit,
corporis indicium mutati triste peregit.
When she came to Inachus’s riverbanks where she used to play and saw her gaping mouth and her horns in the water, she grew frightened and fled terrified of herself. Inachus did not know her, but pulled some grasses and held them out to her: she licked her father’s hand and could not hold back her tears. With letters drawn in the dust with her hoof she explained her changed form.
'me miserum!' exclamat pater Inachus inque gementis
cornibus et nivea pendens cervice iuvencae
'me miserum!' ingeminat; 'tune es quaesita per omnes
nata mihi terras? tu non inventa reperta
luctus eras levior! retices nec mutua nostris
dicta refers, alto tantum suspiria ducis
pectore, quodque unum potes, ad mea verba remugis!
at tibi ego ignarus thalamos taedasque parabam,
spesque fuit generi mihi prima, secunda nepotum.
de grege nunc tibi vir, nunc de grege natus habendus.
nec finire licet tantos mihi morte dolores;
sed nocet esse deum, praeclusaque ianua leti
aeternum nostros luctus extendit in aevum.'
talia maerenti stellatus submovet Argus
ereptamque patri diversa in pascua natam
abstrahit. ipse procul montis sublime cacumen
occupat, unde sedens partes speculatur in omnes.
‘Pity me!’ said Inachus, he sighed; ‘Are you really my daughter I searched the wide world for? Unknowingly I was arranging marriage and a marriage-bed for you, hoping for a son-in-law first and then grandchildren. I am not allowed by dying to end such sorrow.
Nec superum rector mala tanta Phoronidos ultra
ferre potest natumque vocat, quem lucida partu
Pleias enixa est letoque det imperat Argum.
parva mora est alas pedibus virgamque potenti
somniferam sumpsisse manu tegumenque capillis.
haec ubi disposuit, patria Iove natus ab arce
desilit in terras; illic tegumenque removit
et posuit pennas, tantummodo virga retenta est:
hac agit, ut pastor, per devia rura capellas
dum venit abductas, et structis cantat avenis.
voce nova captus custos Iunonius 'at tu,
quisquis es, hoc poteras mecum considere saxo'
Argus ait; 'neque enim pecori fecundior ullo
herba loco est, aptamque vides pastoribus umbram.'
Sedit Atlantiades et euntem multa loquendo
detinuit sermone diem iunctisque canendo
vincere harundinibus servantia lumina temptat.
ille tamen pugnat molles evincere somnos
et, quamvis sopor est oculorum parte receptus,
parte tamen vigilat.
Now Jupiter can no longer stand Inachus’s great sufferings, and he orders Mercury to kill Argus. Mercury, disguised as a shepherd, drives she-goats through solitary lanes, and plays his reed pipe as he goes. ‘You there’ Argus calls ‘you could sit here beside me.’ Mercury sits down, and passes the day in conversation and playing on his reed pipe. Argus fights to overcome sleep, and though he allows some of his eyes to close, the rest stay vigilant.
talia dicturus vidit Cyllenius omnes
subcubuisse oculos adopertaque lumina somno;
supprimit extemplo vocem firmatque soporem
languida permulcens medicata lumina virga.
nec mora, falcato nutantem vulnerat ense,
qua collo est confine caput, saxoque cruentum
deicit et maculat praeruptam sanguine rupem.
Arge, iaces, quodque in tot lumina lumen habebas,
exstinctum est, centumque oculos nox occupat una.
Excipit hos volucrisque suae Saturnia pennis
collocat et gemmis caudam stellantibus inplet.
Mercury saw that every eye had succumbed and their light was lost in sleep. Then straightaway he strikes the nodding head, where it joins the neck, with his curved sword. Argus, you are overthrown, the light of your many eyes is extinguished, and one dark sleeps under so many eyelids. Juno took his eyes and set them into the feathers of her own bird.
vv. 583-687 and 713-723
|But Inachus, who in his cave, alone,
Wept not another's losses, but his own,
For his dear Io, whether stray'd, or dead,
To him uncertain, doubtful tears he shed.
He sought her through the world; but sought in vain;
And no where finding, rather fear'd her slain.
Her, just returning from her father's brook,
Jove had beheld, with a desiring look:
And, Oh fair daughter of the flood, he said,
Worthy alone of Jove's imperial bed,
Happy whoever shall those charms possess;
The king of Gods (nor is thy lover less)
Invites thee to yon cooler shades; to shun
The scorching rays of the meridian sun.
Nor shalt thou tempt the dangers of the grove
Alone, without a guide; thy guide is Jove.
No puny Pow'r, but he whose high command
Is unconfin'd, who rules the seas and land;
And tempers thunder in his awful hand,
Oh fly not: for she fled from his embrace
O'er Lerna's pastures: he pursu'd the chace
Along the shades of the Lyrcaean plain;
At length the God, who never asks in vain,
Involv'd with vapours, imitating night,
Both Air, and Earth; and then suppress'd her flight,
And mingling force with love, enjoy'd the full delight.
Mean-time the jealous Juno, from on high,
Survey'd the fruitful fields of Arcady;
And wonder'd that the mist shou'd over-run
The face of day-light, and obscure the sun.
No nat'ral cause she found, from brooks, or bogs,
Or marshy lowlands, to produce the fogs;
Then round the skies she sought for Jupiter,
Her faithless husband; but no Jove was there:
Suspecting now the worst, Or I, she said,
Am much mistaken, or am much betray'd.
With fury she precipitates her flight:
Dispels the shadows of dissembled night;
And to the day restores his native light.
Th' Almighty Leacher, careful to prevent
The consequence, foreseeing her descent,
Transforms his mistress in a trice; and now
In Io's place appears a lovely cow.
So sleek her skin, so faultless was her make,
Ev'n Juno did unwilling pleasure take
To see so fair a rival of her love;
And what she was, and whence, enquir'd of Jove:
Of what fair herd, and from what pedigree?
The God, half caught, was forc'd upon a lye:
And said she sprung from Earth. She took the word,
And begg'd the beauteous heyfer of her lord.
What should he do? 'twas equal shame to Jove
Or to relinquish, or betray his love:
Yet to refuse so slight a gift, wou'd be
But more t' increase his consort's jealousie:
Thus fear, and love, by turns, his heart assail'd;
And stronger love had sure, at length, prevail'd:
But some faint hope remain'd, his jealous queen
Had not the mistress through the heyfer seen.
The cautious Goddess, of her gift possest,
Yet harbour'd anxious thoughts within her breast;
As she who knew the falshood of her Jove;
And justly fear'd some new relapse of love.
Which to prevent, and to secure her care,
To trusty Argus she commits the fair.
The head of Argus (as with stars the skies)
Was compass'd round, and wore an hundred eyes.
But two by turns their lids in slumber steep;
The rest on duty still their station keep;
Nor cou'd the total constellation sleep.
Thus, ever present, to his eyes, and mind,
His charge was still before him, tho' behind.
In fields he suffer'd her to feed by Day,
But when the setting sun to night gave way,
The captive cow he summon'd with a call;
And drove her back, and ty'd her to the stall.
On leaves of trees, and bitter herbs she fed,
Heav'n was her canopy, bare earth her bed:
So hardly lodg'd, and to digest her food,
She drank from troubled streams, defil'd with mud.
Her woeful story fain she wou'd have told,
With hands upheld, but had no hands to hold.
Her head to her ungentle keeper bow'd,
She strove to speak, she spoke not, but she low'd:
Affrighted with the noise, she look'd around,
And seem'd t' inquire the author of the sound.
Once on the banks where often she had play'd
(Her father's banks), she came, and there survey'd
Her alter'd visage, and her branching head;
And starting, from her self she wou'd have fled.
Her fellow nymphs, familiar to her eyes,
Beheld, but knew her not in this disguise.
Ev'n Inachus himself was ignorant;
And in his daughter, did his daughter want.
She follow'd where her fellows went, as she
Were still a partner of the company:
They stroak her neck; the gentle heyfer stands,
And her neck offers to their stroaking hands.
Her father gave her grass; the grass she took;
And lick'd his palms, and cast a piteous look;
And in the language of her eyes, she spoke.
She wou'd have told her name, and ask'd relief,
But wanting words, in tears she tells her grief.
Which, with her foot she makes him understand;
And prints the name of Io in the sand.
Ah wretched me! her mournful father cry'd;
She, with a sigh, to wretched me reply'd:
About her milk-white neck, his arms he threw;
And wept, and then these tender words ensue.
And art thou she, whom I have sought around
The world, and have at length so sadly found?
So found, is worse than lost: with mutual words
Thou answer'st not, no voice thy tongue affords:
But sighs are deeply drawn from out thy breast;
And speech deny'd, by lowing is express'd.
Unknowing, I prepar'd thy bridal bed;
With empty hopes of happy issue fed.
But now the husband of a herd must be
Thy mate, and bell'wing sons thy progeny.
Oh, were I mortal, death might bring relief:
But now my God-head but extends my grief:
Prolongs my woes, of which no end I see,
And makes me curse my immortality!
More had he said, but fearful of her stay,
The starry guardian drove his charge away,
To some fresh pasture; on a hilly height
He sate himself, and kept her still in sight.
Now Jove no longer cou'd her suff'rings bear;
But call'd in haste his airy messenger,
The son of Maia, with severe decree
To kill the keeper, and to set her free.
With all his harness soon the God was sped,
His flying hat was fastned on his head,
Wings on his heels were hung, and in his hand
He holds the vertue of the snaky wand.
The liquid air his moving pinions wound,
And, in the moment, shoot him on the ground.
Before he came in sight, the crafty God
His wings dismiss'd, but still retain'd his rod:
That sleep-procuring wand wise Hermes took,
But made it seem to sight a sherpherd's hook.
With this, he did a herd of goats controul;
Which by the way he met, and slily stole.
Clad like a country swain, he pip'd, and sung;
And playing, drove his jolly troop along.
With pleasure, Argus the musician heeds;
But wonders much at those new vocal reeds.
And whosoe'er thou art, my friend, said he,
Up hither drive thy goats, and play by me:
This hill has browz for them, and shade for thee.
The God, who was with ease induc'd to climb,
Began discourse to pass away the time;
And still betwixt, his tuneful pipe he plies;
And watch'd his hour, to close the keeper's eyes.
With much ado, he partly kept awake;
Not suff'ring all his eyes repose to take:
While Hermes pip'd, and sung, and told his tale,
The keeper's winking eyes began to fail,
And drowsie slumber on the lids to creep;
'Till all the watchman was at length asleep.
Then soon the God his voice, and song supprest;
And with his pow'rful rod confirm'd his rest:
Without delay his crooked faulchion drew,
And at one fatal stroke the keeper slew.
Down from the rock fell the dissever'd head,
Opening its eyes in death; and falling, bled;
And mark'd the passage with a crimson trail:
Thus Argus lies in pieces, cold, and pale;
And all his hundred eyes, with all their light,
Are clos'd at once, in one perpetual night.
These Juno takes, that they no more may fail,
And spreads them in her peacock's gaudy tail.
Translation by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al
(left) Phrixus and Helle (Fasti - Book III, another work by Ovid). Helle is about to fall off the ram into the
Hellespont (Dardanelles); (right) Pyramus and Thisbe (Book IV)
Each book has some 700 lines which were to be read taking into account prosody, the dividing of the verse into long and short syllables. A performance in an odeon, a small covered theatre for poetry and music, could well have been dedicated to reading aloud one of the books. The most popular ones were those containing love stories, in particular those relating to ordinary people and ending with the death of the lovers, such as that of Pyramus and Thisbe, the Romeo and Juliet of the Ancient World. Filarete showed the dramatic end of the couple with Thisbe throwing herself on the sword by which Pyramus had killed himself (more on this story in a page showing a mosaic at Paphos on Cyprus).
The Rape of Europa (Book II - left) and that of Proserpina (Book V - right)
Notwithstanding the criticism by Vasari and other artists/art historians when Pope Paul V decided to demolish the façade of S. Pietro Vecchio and to replace it with a new one, the door by Filarete was kept, with the addition of two small stripes to adapt it to the new size of the opening. It is very likely that the decision was suggested by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of the Pope, who later on commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini a statue of Apollo and Daphne, another myth described by Ovid, (you can see it in the image used as background for this page).
Villa la Farnesina: (above) Sleep of Endymion (Ars Amatoria - Book III, another work by Ovid) (left) and Death of Procris (Book VII) (right) by Giulio Romano; (below) Scilla and Nisos (Book VIII) (left) and Daedalus and Icarus (Book VIII) (right) by Sebastiano del Piombo
The depiction of ancient myths in the bronze door by Filarete was one of many decorative elements, but a few decades later it became the main subject of important works of art. This occurred in particular in Florence at the court of Lorenzo il Magnifico. Cardinal Giuliano de' Medici, son of Lorenzo, became Pope Leo X in 1513 and he brought the spirit of the Florentine court to Rome. During his pontificate Agostino Chigi, a very rich banker, entirely decorated his villa with subjects taken from the works of Ovid and other Latin writers.
The Fall of Phaeton (Book I) at Palazzo Farnese di Caprarola
Almost all the 48 constellations identified by Ptolemy, a IInd century AD astronomer and mathematician, have names associated with myths described by Ovid. In 1575 Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III, had one of the largest halls of his palace at Caprarola decorated with a map of the world on one wall and that of the sky on the ceiling. The constellations were depicted according to the myths of the Metamorphoses.
(left/centre) Perseus (Book IV) by Benvenuto Cellini at Piazza della Signoria in Florence (see details of its pedestal); (right) Perseus by Antonio Canova at Museo Pio-Clementino
Some of the myths described by Ovid acquired a new significance during the Renaissance and afterwards. Perseus killing Medusa became a symbol of victory over an enemy (either a military or a political one). The statue by Cellini was meant to celebrate the victory of Cosimo I de' Medici over his Florentine opponents, that by Canova the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte. The latter was eventually bought by Pope Pius VII for its artistic value, rather than its symbolic meaning.
The Rape of Proserpina (Book V) by Pietro da Cortona at Palazzo Pitti in Florence
Not all the myths of the Metamorphoses lent themselves well to being depicted. Those most frequent in works of art generally included some nudity such as Diana at the bath and various scenes of abductions (female nudity) or Ganymede and Endymion (male nudity).
Details of Fontana del Tritone by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Book I)
The fountain was commissioned in 1642 by Pope Urban VIII to celebrate the achievements of his long pontificate which had started in 1623. Yet, although not formally stated, the inspiration for the statue came from an episode of the Metamorphoses: Triton, a minor sea god, announces the end of the Great Flood by blowing into a conch shell. The fountain ought to be called Fontana di (of) Tritone, rather than Fontana del (of a) Tritone.
caeruleum Tritona vocat conchaeque sonanti
inspirare iubet fluctusque et flumina signo
iam revocare dato: cava bucina sumitur illi,
tortilis in latum quae turbine crescit ab imo,
bucina, quae medio concepit ubi aera ponto,
litora voce replet sub utroque iacentia Phoebo;
tum quoque, ut ora dei madida rorantia barba
contigit et cecinit iussos inflata receptus,
omnibus audita est telluris et aequoris undis,
et quibus est undis audita, coercuit omnes.
Already Triton, at his call, appears
Above the waves; a Tyrian robe he wears;
And in his hand a crooked trumpet bears.
The soveraign bids him peaceful sounds inspire,
And give the waves the signal to retire.
His writhen shell he takes; whose narrow vent
Grows by degrees into a large extent,
Then gives it breath; the blast with doubling sound,
Runs the wide circuit of the world around:
The sun first heard it, in his early east,
And met the rattling ecchos in the west.
The waters, listning to the trumpet's roar,
Obey the summons, and forsake the shore.
Translation by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al
(left) Actaeon (Book III), the hunter turned into a stag by Diana (Filarete's Door); (right) a bloodhound standing atop a stag by Jacques Houzeau (1687) - Fontaine du Point du Jour, Versailles
Fontana del Tritone is not the only example of work of art not directly named after a myth described by Ovid, but clearly influenced by it. You may wish to see the fountaind depicting the myth of Diana and Actaeon at Reggia di Caserta.
dat sparso capiti vivacis cornua cervi,
dat spatium collo summasque cacuminat aures
cum pedibusque manus, cum longis bracchia mutat
cruribus et velat maculoso vellere corpus;
additus et pavor est: fugit Autonoeius heros
et se tam celerem cursu miratur in ipso.
ut vero vultus et cornua vidit in unda,
'me miserum!' dicturus erat: vox nulla secuta est!
ingemuit: vox illa fuit, lacrimaeque per ora
non sua fluxerunt; mens tantum pristina mansit.
quid faciat? repetatne domum et regalia tecta
an lateat silvis? pudor hoc, timor inpedit illud.
Dum dubitat, videre canes, primique Melampus
Ichnobatesque sagax latratu signa dedere,
Cnosius Ichnobates, Spartana gente Melampus.
inde ruunt alii rapida velocius aura,
Pamphagos et Dorceus et Oribasos, Arcades omnes,
Nebrophonosque valens et trux cum Laelape Theron
et pedibus Pterelas et naribus utilis Agre
Hylaeusque ferox nuper percussus ab apro
deque lupo concepta Nape pecudesque secuta
Poemenis et natis comitata Harpyia duobus
et substricta gerens Sicyonius ilia Ladon
et Dromas et Canache Sticteque et Tigris et Alce
et niveis Leucon et villis Asbolos atris
praevalidusque Lacon et cursu fortis Aello
et Thoos et Cyprio velox cum fratre Lycisce
et nigram medio frontem distinctus ab albo
Harpalos et Melaneus hirsutaque corpore Lachne
et patre Dictaeo, sed matre Laconide nati
Labros et Argiodus et acutae vocis Hylactor
quosque referre mora est: ea turba cupidine praedae
per rupes scopulosque adituque carentia saxa,
quaque est difficilis quaque est via nulla, sequuntur.
ille fugit per quae fuerat loca saepe secutus,
heu! famulos fugit ipse suos. clamare libebat:
'Actaeon ego sum: dominum cognoscite vestrum!'
verba animo desunt; resonat latratibus aether.
prima Melanchaetes in tergo vulnera fecit,
proxima Theridamas, Oresitrophos haesit in armo:
tardius exierant, sed per conpendia montis
anticipata via est; dominum retinentibus illis,
cetera turba coit confertque in corpore dentes.
iam loca vulneribus desunt; gemit ille sonumque,
etsi non hominis, quem non tamen edere possit
cervus, habet maestisque replet iuga nota querellis
et genibus pronis supplex similisque roganti
circumfert tacitos tamquam sua bracchia vultus.
at comites rapidum solitis hortatibus agmen
ignari instigant oculisque Actaeona quaerunt
et velut absentem certatim Actaeona clamant
(ad nomen caput ille refert) et abesse queruntur
nec capere oblatae segnem spectacula praedae.
vellet abesse quidem, sed adest; velletque videre,
non etiam sentire canum fera facta suorum.
undique circumstant, mersisque in corpore rostris
dilacerant falsi dominum sub imagine cervi,
nec nisi finita per plurima vulnera vita
ira pharetratae fertur satiata Dianae.
This said, the man begun to disappear
By slow degrees, and ended in a deer.
A rising horn on either brow he wears,
And stretches out his neck, and pricks his ears;
Rough is his skin, with sudden hairs o'er-grown,
His bosom pants with fears before unknown:
Transform'd at length, he flies away in haste,
And wonders why he flies away so fast.
But as by chance, within a neighb'ring brook,
He saw his branching horns and alter'd look.
Wretched Actaeon! in a doleful tone
He try'd to speak, but only gave a groan;
And as he wept, within the watry glass
He saw the big round drops, with silent pace,
Run trickling down a savage hairy face.
What should he do? Or seek his old abodes,
Or herd among the deer, and sculk in woods!
Here shame dissuades him, there his fear prevails,
And each by turns his aking heart assails.
As he thus ponders, he behind him spies
His op'ning hounds, and now he hears their cries:
A gen'rous pack, or to maintain the chace,
Or snuff the vapour from the scented grass.
He bounded off with fear, and swiftly ran
O'er craggy mountains, and the flow'ry plain;
Through brakes and thickets forc'd his way, and flew
Through many a ring, where once he did pursue.
In vain he oft endeavour'd to proclaim
His new misfortune, and to tell his name;
Nor voice nor words the brutal tongue supplies;
From shouting men, and horns, and dogs he flies,
Deafen'd and stunn'd with their promiscuous cries.
When now the fleetest of the pack, that prest
Close at his heels, and sprung before the rest,
Had fasten'd on him, straight another pair,
Hung on his wounded haunch, and held him there,
'Till all the pack came up, and ev'ry hound
Tore the sad huntsman grov'ling on the ground,
Who now appear'd but one continu'd wound.
With dropping tears his bitter fate he moans,
And fills the mountain with his dying groans.
His servants with a piteous look he spies,
And turns about his supplicating eyes.
His servants, ignorant of what had chanc'd,
With eager haste and joyful shouts advanc'd,
And call'd their lord Actaeon to the game.
He shook his head in answer to the name;
He heard, but wish'd he had indeed been gone,
Or only to have stood a looker-on.
But to his grief he finds himself too near,
And feels his rav'nous dogs with fury tear
Their wretched master panting in a deer.
Translation by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al
It omits the names of dogs (Melampus, Ichnobates, Pamphagos, Dorceus, Oribasos, Nebrophonos, Laelaps, Theron, Pterelas, Hylaeus, Ladon, Dromas, Tigris, Leucon, Asbolos, Lacon, Aello, Thoos, Harpalos, Melaneus, Labros, Arcas, Argiodus, Hylactor) and bitches (Agre, Nape, Poemenis, Harpyia, Canache, Sticte, Alce, Lycisce, Lachne, Melanchaetes, Therodamas, Oresitrophos).
Other Days of Peace pages:
A Sunny Day in Villa Borghese
At the Flea Market
At the Beach
Voicing Your Views ..... and feeling better
Christmas in Rome
Celebrating the Foundation of Rome
A visit to Roseto di Roma
The procession of La Madonna de Noantri
Running the Marathon
Watching the Parade
Finding Solace at the Protestant Cemetery
Attending 2007 July Events
Rome's Sleepless Night
Attending Winter Ceremonies
Jogging at Valle delle Camene
Sailing on the River to see the Bridges of Roma
An October Outing to Marino
A Special Spring Weekend
Embassy-hunting in Parioli
Attending a Funeral ...and enjoying it!
Celebrating Eritrean Michaelmas in Rome
Visiting Rome at Dawn
Visiting Rome in the Moonlight
Visiting Rome on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus
Visiting Multi-ethnic Rome
Playing in the Snow at the Janiculum
Watching the Pride Parade
Reading Memoirs of Hadrian at Villa Adriana
Visiting the Movie Sets at Cinecittà
Looking up at the Ceilings of the Vatican Palaces
Spending the Last Roman Day at St. John Lateran's Cloister
Reading Seneca at Caracalla's Baths
Walking the Dog at Valle della Caffarella
Keeping up with new discoveries at Museo Ninfeo