"Metamorphoses," Vocabulary from Book 1

June 15, 2013
Ovid's "Metamorphoses" are tales full of shape-shifters and the supernatural, but the storytelling is grounded in a realism which transcends the mythology. (etext found here).

Learn these word lists for the tales: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Book 4, Book 5, Book 6, Book 7.
Of bodies chang'd to various forms, I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring,
Inspire my numbers with celestial heat;
'Till I my long laborious work complete:
And add perpetual tenour to my rhymes,
Deduc'd from Nature's birth, to Caesar's times.
Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball,
And Heav'n's high canopy, that covers all,
One was the face of Nature; if a face:
Rather a rude and indigested mass:
The next of kin, contiguously embrace;
And foes are sunder'd, by a larger space.
Earth sinks beneath, and draws a num'rous throng
Of pondrous, thick, unwieldy seeds along.
Some part, in Earth are swallow'd up, the most
In ample oceans, disembogu'd, are lost.
Westward, the wanton Zephyr wings his flight;
Pleas'd with the remnants of departing light:
"Dregs" refers to the lowest part--like the dregs of society. Here, "dregs" doesn't seem so low, because once purged of its ponderous ("having great mass and weight and unwieldiness") parts, it can ascend to Heaven as stars.
High o'er the clouds, and empty realms of wind,
The God a clearer space for Heav'n design'd;
Where fields of light, and liquid aether flow;
Purg'd from the pondrous dregs of Earth below.
Thus, while the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft; and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies.
From such rude principles our form began;
And earth was metamorphos'd into Man.
In this section, Ovid describes the different ages (golden, silver, bronze, iron). "Brazen" refers to the bronze age, but the example sentence suggests that the word is also being used to describe the nature of the men during that age--their warlike rage could be "unrestrained by convention or propriety" but not yet to the point of being disrespectful to the gods.
To this came next in course, the brazen age:
A warlike offspring, prompt to bloody rage,
Not impious yet...
Nor were the Gods themselves more safe above;
Against beleaguer'd Heav'n the giants move.
Let me this holy protestation make,
By Hell, and Hell's inviolable lake,
I try'd whatever in the godhead lay:
But gangren'd members must be lopt away,
Before the nobler parts are tainted to decay.
The nations trembled with a pious fear;
All anxious for their earthly Thunderer:
This dire experiment he chose, to prove
If I were mortal, or undoubted Jove:
His mantle, now his hide, with rugged hairs
Cleaves to his back; a famish'd face he bears;
His arms descend, his shoulders sink away
To multiply his legs for chase of prey.
His dire artill'ry thus dismist, he bent
His thoughts to some securer punishment:
Concludes to pour a watery deluge down;
And what he durst not burn, resolves to drown.
Then, clad in colours of a various dye,
Junonian Iris breeds a new supply
To feed the clouds: impetuous rain descends;
The bearded corn beneath the burden bends:
Small exhortation needs; your pow'rs employ:
And this bad world, so Jove requires, destroy.
A thin circumference of land appears;
And Earth, but not at once, her visage rears,
And peeps upon the seas from upper grounds;
Forbid it Heav'n, said she, that I shou'd tear
Those holy reliques from the sepulcher.
Then swell'd, and swelling, by degrees grew warm;
And took the rudiments of human form.
"Promiscuous" also means "casual and unrestrained in sexual behavior"--this would be a fitting description of Phoebus/Apollo that sets the mood for the next story. But the example sentence is using the word to describe how every plant that is green has been used to decorate the hair of both Apollo and the winners of the Pythian games.
But every green alike by Phoebus worn,
Did, with promiscuous grace, his flowing locks adorn.
He sees the stripling, while his bow he bends,
And thus insults him: Thou lascivious boy,
Are arms like these for children to employ?
One shaft is pointed with refulgent gold:
To bribe the love, and make the lover bold:
"Espouse" also means "take in marriage" but since Daphne is now a tree, Apollo can't marry her, so instead, he chooses her to be the symbol of victory, which seems odd, since he was defeated in her pursuit of her and she didn't exactly get the help she wanted. But "the grateful tree was pleas'd with what he said; And shook the shady honours of her head."
Because thou canst not be
My mistress, I espouse thee for my tree:
Be thou the prize of honour, and renown;
The deathless poet, and the poem, crown.
On this occasion hither they resort;
To pay their homage, and to make their court.
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,
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.
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:
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.
He spoke in public, told it to my face;
Nor durst I vindicate the dire disgrace:
Even I, the bold, the sensible of wrong,
Restrain'd by shame, was forc'd to hold my tongue.

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