Metamorphoses Book 8, Lines 780 - 816

Ceres takes revenge

by Ovid

In his pride and savagery, the Thessalian chieftain Erysichthon has blasphemed Ceres, the Goddess of corn and plenty, and felled her sacred oak. In this continuation of the story, Ceres decides on the form that her revenge will take, and we meet the dread agent who will carry it out.

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“Attonitae dryades damno nemorumque suoque,
omnes germanae, Cererem cum vestibus atris
maerentes adeunt poenamque Erysichthonis orant.
adnuit his capitisque sui pulcherrima motu
concussit gravidis oneratos messibus agros.
moliturque genus poenae miserabile, si non
ille suis esset nulli miserabilis actis,
pestifera lacerare Fame. quae quatenus ipsi
non adeunda deae est (neque enim Cereremque Famemque
fata coire sinunt), montani numinis unam
talibus agrestem compellat oreada dictis:
“Est locus extremis Scythiae glacialis in oris,
triste solum, sterilis, sine fruge, sine arbore tellus;
Frigus iners illic habitant Pallorque Tremorque
et ieiuna Fames. ea se in praecordia condat
sacrilegi scelerata iube; nec copia rerum
vincat eam, superetque meas certamine vires.
neve viae spatium te terreat, accipe currus,
accipe quos frenis alte moderere dracones.”
et dedit. illa dato subvecta per aera curru
devenit in Scythiam rigidique cacumine montis
(Caucason appellant) serpentum colla levavit
quaesitamque Famem lapidoso vidit in agro
unguibus et raras vellentem dentibus herbas.
hirtus erat crinis, cava lumina, pallor in ore,
labra incana situ, scabrae rubigine fauces,
dura cutis, per quam spectari viscera possent;
ossa sub incurvis exstabant arida lumbis,
ventris erat pro ventre locus, pendere putares
pectus et a spinae tantummodo crate teneri.
auxerat articulos macies, genuumque tumebat
orbis, et inmodico prodibant tubere tali.
hanc procul ut vidit (neque enim est accedere iuxta
ausa), refert mandata deae: paulumque morata,
quamquam aberat longe, quamquam modo venerat illuc,
visa tamen sensisse famem retroque dracones
egit in Haemoniam, versis sublimis habenis.”

“The Dryads, all sisters, stunned at the damage done to the woods and to their own, went to Ceres, mourning and dressed in black, and begged her to punish Erysichthon. Sublime in her beauty, Ceres consented: the nod of her head shook the fields, burdened with their ripe crops of grain. She devised a punishment which would have been pitiful, if Erysichthon had not already put himself beyond anyone’s pity by his actions – to be torn apart by the plague of Hunger. As it is not fitting for Hunger to approach the Goddess of grain, and the fates do not allow Hunger and the Goddess to meet, she addresses a country Dryad, one of the deities of the hills: “There is an icy place on the farthest rim of Scythia: the soil is harsh, the land is barren and grows neither crops nor trees. There Pallor and Ague live in the frozen waste, along with Hunger. Tell her to take the crimes of the blasphemer into her heart. Let no amount of plenty defeat her, and let her be the winner in the contest between my power and hers. Don’t let the distance daunt you: take my team of dragons: you can control them with my sky-reins.” She gave her the chariot: in it the Oread was carried up into the air, and, coming to earth in Scythia, slackened her serpents’ reins on the peak of a stony mountain called Caucasus, where she saw what she was looking for – Hunger, scratching up the sparse grass in a rocky field with her nails and teeth. Her hair was matted, her eyes hollow, a pale cast on her face, her lips grey and her mouth scabby with decay; her innards were visible through her hard skin. The dry bones stood out on her crooked loins, her belly was more of a void, you would have thought her breast was hanging off, just held on by the wickerwork of her spine. Wasting had puffed out her joints, her kneecaps were swollen and her ankle-bones projected in a tremendous bulge. Seeing her at a distance, and not daring to come closer, the Oread passed on the Goddess’s orders. She had stayed only briefly, a long way off, and had only just arrived, but she herself seemed to feel Hunger, and, turning round the aerial reins, she drove the dragons back to Thessaly.”