Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ovid's Metamorphoses: Myrrha and the Nurse

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


Orpheus sings: Myrrha and her nurse

She spoke; Cinyras, however, who was made doubtful of what to do by the crowd of noble suitors, naming them, asked her whom she wanted, as a husband.

At first she is silent and, staring at her father’s face, hesitates, her eyes filling with warm tears. Cinyras thinking this to be virgin shyness, forbids her to cry, dries her cheeks, and kisses her on the lips.

Myrrha is overjoyed at this gift and, being consulted as to what kind of husband she might choose, says: “Someone like you”

Not understanding this, however, he praises her, saying: “Always be so loving.” At the word “loving,” the girl lowers her glance, conscious of her sin.

It was midnight, and sleep had released mortal flesh from worldly cares, but Cinyras’s daughter, wakeful, stirring the embers, reawakens her ungovernable desires, one moment despairing, at another willing to try, ashamed and eager, not yet discovering what to do. As a tall tree, struck by the axe, the last blow remaining, uncertain how it will fall, causes fear on all sides, so her fickle mind, swayed this way and that, her thought taking both directions, seeing no rest for or end to her passion, but death.

She felt ready to die. She got up, determined, to fix a noose round her throat, and, fastening a cord to the doorway’s crossbeam, she said: “Goodbye, dear Cinyras, and realize the reason for my death!” And she tied the rope around her bloodless neck. They say that the murmured words came to the ears of her loyal nurse, who watched at her foster-child’s threshold.

The old woman gets up, opens the door, and, seeing the equipment of death, cries out, and in the same moment, strikes her breast, snatches at the folds of her robe and, tearing the noose from the girl’s neck, pulls it apart. Then, finally, she has time to cry, to embrace her, and demand the reason for the rope.

The girl is mute and still, looking, fixedly, at the ground, and unhappy that her belated attempt at death has been discovered. The old woman insists on knowing, baring her white hair and withered breasts, and begs her to say what grieves her, invoking her infant cradle, and first nurturing.

The girl turns away from her pleading, with a sigh. The nurse is determined to know, and promises more than loyalty.

“Tell me,” she says, “and let me bring you some help: age does not slow me. If it is some frenzy, I have herbs and charms that heal: if someone is seeking your harm, I will purify you with magic rites: if the gods are angry, anger is appeased by sacrifice. What else could it be? The destiny of your house is fortunate, and on course: they are well, your mother and father.”

Hearing the word “father,” Myrrha sighed deeply. Even then the nurse had no idea of the sin in her mind, though she guessed it might be some love affair. She begged her, tenaciously, to tell her what it was, and took the weeping girl to her aged breast and, holding her with trembling arms, she said: “I know, you are in love! And in this matter (have no fear) my diligence can serve you; your father will never know.”

The frenzied girl leapt from her arms and, burying her face in the bed, said, urgently: “Go, I beg you, and forgo the knowledge of my wretched shame! Go, or stop asking why I am grieving. What you are striving to know, is wickedness.”

The old woman shuddered and, stretching out her hands that trembled with age and fear, she fell at her foster-child’s feet, pleading, then coaxing, then frightening her, into making her party to it. She threatens her with the evidence of the noose and the attempt on her life, and promises her help in her love affair. The girl raises her head, and her welling tears rain on her nurse’s breast. She often tries to confess, and often stops herself, and hides her face, in shame, in her clothing, then gets as far as “Mother, you are happy in your husband!” and sighs.

A shudder of cold penetrated the nurse’s flesh and bone (now she understood) and her white hair stiffened all over her head. She told her at length, to banish, if she could, this fatal passion. Though the girl knew she was being advised rightly, she was still determined to die, if she could not possess her love.

“Live,” said the nurse; “possess your....” - and did not dare say: “father.”

She was silent, and confirmed her promise in the sight of heaven.’





(800 words)










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