Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ovid's Metamorphoses: Myrrha and Cinyras

This story is part of the Ovid's Metamorphoses unit. Story source: Ovid's Metamorphoses, translated by Tony Kline (2000).


Orpheus sings: Myrrha’s incestuous love for Cinyras

Cinyras was the son of Paphos, and he might have been counted amongst the fortunate, if he, in turn, had been childless. I speak of terrible things. Fathers and daughters, keep away: or if your mind takes pleasure in my song, put no faith in this story of mine, and imagine it did not happen. Or, if you do believe it, believe in the punishment also, that it brought. If nature, however, allows such crimes to be visible, then I give thanks that the people of Thrace, this city, and this land, are far from the regions where such sin is born. Let the land of Panchaia, beyond Araby, produce its balsam, cinnamon, costmary; its incense, exuded from the trees; its flowers different from ours; if it produces myrrh: a strange tree is not worth such a price.

Cupid denies that his arrows hurt you, Myrrha, and clears his fires of blame for your crime. One of the three sisters, the Furies, with her swollen snakes, and firebrand from the Styx, breathed on you.


It is wrong to hate your father, but that love was a greater wrong than hatred. The pick of the princes, from everywhere, desire you; young men, from the whole of the East, come to win you in marriage. Out of the many, choose one for your husband, Myrrha, but let one man not be amongst the many.

Indeed, she knows it, and fights against her disgraceful passion, and says, to herself: “Where is my thought leading? What am I creating? You gods, I pray, and the duty and sacred laws respecting parents, prevent this wickedness, and oppose my sin, indeed, if sin it is. But it can be said that duty declines to condemn such love. Other creatures mate indiscriminately; it is no disgrace for a heifer to have her sire mount her, for his filly to be a stallion’s mate; the goat goes with the flocks he has made, and the birds themselves conceive, by him whose seed conceived them. Happy the creatures who are allowed to do so! Human concern has made malign laws, and what nature allows, jealous duty forbids.

“Yet they say there are races where mother and son, and father and daughter, pair off, and affection is increased by a double bond. Alas for me, that I did not happen to be born there, and that I am made to suffer by an accident of place! – Why do I repeat these things? Forbidden hopes, vanish! He is worth loving, but only as a father. – I could lie with Cinyras, if I were not Cinyras’s already. Now, he is not mine, because he is already mine, and the nearness of our relationship damns me: I would be better off as a stranger. I would be happy to go far away, and leave the borders of my homeland behind me, if I might run from evil: but even if nothing more is permitted, a wicked desire to see Cinyras, touch him, speak to him, and kiss him, face to face, prevents my leaving.

“But then, what more might you look to have, impious girl? Do you realise how many names and ties you are throwing into confusion? Would you be, then, your mother’s rival, and your father’s mistress? Would you be known, then, as your son’s sister, your brother’s mother?  Do you not fear the three sisters, with black snaky hair, that those with guilty hearts, their eyes and mouths attacked with cruel torches, see?

“Since you have still not committed sin in the flesh, do not conceive it in your mind, or disregard the prohibitions of mighty nature, in vile congress! Grant that you want it: the reality itself forbids it. He is a good man, and mindful of the moral law – but, O, how I wish the same passion were in him!”


(700 words)










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