Ovid's Metamorphoses: Persephone's Fate

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


Calliope sings: Persephone’s fate   

He spoke, and Ceres felt sure of regaining her daughter. But the Fates would not allow it, for the girl had broken her fast, and wandering, innocently, in a well-tended garden, she had pulled down a reddish-purple pomegranate fruit, hanging from a tree, and, taking seven seeds from its yellow rind, squeezed them in her mouth. Ascalaphus was the only one to see it, whom, it is said, Orphne bore, to her Acheron, in the dark woods, she not the least known of the nymphs of Avernus. He saw, and by his cruel disclosure, prevented Proserpine’s return.

Then the queen of Erebus grieved, and changed the informant into a bird of ill omen: she sprinkled his head with water from the Phlegethon, and changed him to a beak, plumage, and a pair of huge eyes. Losing his own form he is covered by his tawny wings, and looks like a head, and long, curving claws. He scarcely stirs the feathers growing on his idle wings. He has become an odious bird, a messenger of future disaster, the screech owl, torpid by day, a fearful omen to mortal creatures.

He indeed can be seen to have deserved his punishment, because of his disclosure and his words. But why have you, Sirens, skilled in song, daughters of Acheloüs, the feathers and claws of birds, while still bearing human faces? Is it because you were numbered among the companions, when Proserpine gathered the flowers of Spring? When you had searched in vain for her on land, you wanted, then, to cross the waves on beating wings, so that the waters would also know of your trouble. The gods were willing, and suddenly you saw your limbs covered with golden plumage. But, so that your song, born, sweetly, in our ears, and your rich vocal gift, might not be lost with your tongues, each virgin face and human voice remained.

Now Jupiter, intervening, between his brother and grieving sister, divides the turning year, equally. And now the goddess, Persephone, shared divinity of the two kingdoms, spends so many months with her mother, so many months with her husband. The aspect of her face and mind alters in a moment. Now the goddess’s looks are glad that even Dis could see were sad, a moment ago. Just as the sun, hidden, before, by clouds of rain, wins through and leaves the clouds.


(500 words)

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