Metamorphoses Book 1, lines 466-76 and 525-67

Apollo and Daphne

by Ovid

Early in his Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of Daphne, and how she came to be turned into a laurel tree. After the first extract, Apollo reveals himself to the startled Daphne, sets out his credentials and declares his love. As the second extract picks up the story, Daphne cuts Apollo short by taking to her heels in an attempt to escape.

Ovid’s shrewd compliments to Augustus and the glory of Rome at the end of this passage did not save him from falling out of favour and into banishment later on. The oak between the pillars of Augustus’s gates is not a tree, but the insignia of the civic crown, a military decoration bestowed for saving the lives of Roman citizens.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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inpiger umbrosa Parnasi constitit arce
eque sagittifera prompsit duo tela pharetra
diversorum operum: fugat hoc, facit illud amorem;
quod facit, auratum est et cuspide fulget acuta,
quod fugat, obtusum est et habet sub harundine plumbum.
hoc deus in nympha Peneide fixit, at illo
laesit Apollineas traiecta per ossa medullas;
protinus alter amat, fugit altera nomen amantis
silvarum latebris captivarumque ferarum
exuviis gaudens innuptaeque aemula Phoebes.
locuturum timido Peneia cursu
fugit cumque ipso verba inperfecta reliquit,
tum quoque visa decens; nudabant corpora venti,
obviaque adversas vibrabant flamina vestes,
et levis inpulsos retro dabat aura capillos,
auctaque forma fuga est. sed enim non sustinet ultra
perdere blanditias iuvenis deus, utque monebat
ipse Amor, admisso sequitur vestigia passu.
ut canis in vacuo leporem cum Gallicus arvo
vidit, et hic praedam pedibus petit, ille salutem;
alter inhaesuro similis iam iamque tenere
sperat et extento stringit vestigia rostro,
alter in ambiguo est, an sit conprensus, et ipsis
morsibus eripitur tangentiaque ora relinquit:
sic deus et virgo est hic spe celer, illa timore.
qui tamen insequitur pennis adiutus Amoris,
ocior est requiemque negat tergoque fugacis
inminet et crinem sparsum cervicibus adflat.
viribus absumptis expalluit illa citaeque
victa labore fugae spectans Peneidas undas
‘fer, pater,’ inquit ‘opem! si flumina numen habetis,
qua nimium placui, mutando perde figuram!’
vix prece finita torpor gravis occupat artus,
mollia cinguntur tenui praecordia libro,
in frondem crines, in ramos bracchia crescunt,
pes modo tam velox pigris radicibus haeret,
ora cacumen habet: remanet nitor unus in illa.
Hanc quoque Phoebus amat positaque in stipite dextra
sentit adhuc trepidare novo sub cortice pectus
conplexusque suis ramos ut membra lacertis
oscula dat ligno; refugit tamen oscula lignum.
cui deus ‘at, quoniam coniunx mea non potes esse,
arbor eris certe’ dixit ‘mea! semper habebunt
te coma, te citharae, te nostrae, laure, pharetrae;
tu ducibus Latiis aderis, cum laeta Triumphum
vox canet et visent longas Capitolia pompas;
postibus Augustis eadem fidissima custos
ante fores stabis mediamque tuebere quercum,
utque meum intonsis caput est iuvenale capillis,
tu quoque perpetuos semper gere frondis honores!’
finierat Paean: factis modo laurea ramis
adnuit utque caput visa est agitasse cacumen.


Swift Cupid touched down on the wooded peak of Parnassus and took from his quiver two arrows with opposite effects: one causes love, the other puts love to flight. The first is gilded, and glows at its sharp tip; the one that banishes love is blunt, and has lead at the end of its shaft. That, Cupid fixed in Daphne; with the other, he wounded Apollo through his bones to the marrow. One falls instantly in love, the other rejects the name of lover, joying in the deep shadows of woods and trophies of wild beasts that she has caught, emulating the virgin Diana.
He would have said more, but Daphne ran from him in fear, and even then was a lovely sight. Wind bared her limbs, the breeze she ran against set her clothes fluttering and a gentle draught caught her hair, streaming it behind her: her beauty was enhanced by flight. The young God will put up no longer with wasting his flattery, but follows her footsteps at top speed, prompted by Cupid himself. As when a Gallic hound has seen a hare in the open, one runs for prey, the other for safety: the hound, as though at the catching-point, time and again hopes that he has the hare, and presses on his tracks with his straining muzzle; the hare doesn’t know whether or not he is caught, but escapes the hound’s maw, pulling out of it even as it bites. So the God and the maiden run flat out, one in hope and the other in fear. But the pursuer, helped by the wings of Love, is quicker, gives the fleeing girl no rest, is right behind her back and his breath is on her hair, spread over her neck. She turned pale, strength exhausted by the speed of her flight, and turning to the River Peneus, “Help me, Father,” she said, “if you have divine power in your waters, change and destroy the beauty that made me please too well!” Hardly has she finished her prayer, when a heavy numbness pervades her joints, her tender body is covered by a thin coat of bark, her hair becomes leaves, her arms, boughs, her feet, so swift just now, are held by unyielding roots, the canopy of a tree takes over her face: only the splendour of her beauty remains in her. Phoebus loves the tree as well, with his hand on its top feels the heart still quivering under the new-grown bark, and, embracing the branches in his arms like limbs, plants on the wood kisses from which the wood shrinks back. “Though you cannot be my wife, you will certainly be my tree, Laurel,” said the God, “my hair, my lyres and quivers will possess you for ever. You will be there upon the generals of Rome when the joyful voice chants, ‘triumph’, and the Capitol gazes on the long procession. So too will you stand, the most faithful of guardians, before the gates of Augustus and look on the oak in between them, and as my head is young and my hair unshorn, so bear the glory of your leaves in perpetuity!” Apollo had spoken. The laurel nodded with her new-grown boughs, and seemed to wave her canopy like a head.