Metamorphoses Book 8, lines 817 - 845

Erysichthon the Glutton

by Ovid

As Ovid’s tale of crime and punishment continues, Erysichthon the blasphemer  has cut down the Goddess Ceres’s sacred oak and caused the death of the dryad within. Now as he sleeps he receives a dreadful gift from a visitor whose appalling hideousness has already been described in the preceding extract – Hunger personified, the agent of Ceres’s revenge.

You can follow the story of Erysichthon from the beginning here

or see and hear the next and final episode here.

See the illustrated blog post here.

To listen, press play:

To scroll the original and English translation of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.

Dicta Fames Cereris, quamvis contraria semper
illius est operi, peragit perque aera vento
ad iussam delata domum est et protinus intrat
sacrilegi thalamos altoque sopore solutum
(noctis enim tempus) geminis amplectitur ulnis:
seque viro inspirat faucesque et pectus et ora
adflat et in vacuis spargit ieiunia venis.
functaque mandato fecundum deserit orbem
inque domos inopes adsueta revertitur antra.
lenis adhuc somnus placidis Erysichthona pennis
mulcebat: petit ille dapes sub imagine somni
oraque vana movet dentemque in dente fatigat
exercetque cibo delusum guttur inani
proque epulis tenues nequiquam devorat auras.
ut vero est expulsa quies, furit ardor edendi
perque avidas fauces incensaque viscera regnat.
nec mora, quod pontus, quod terra, quod educat aer,
poscit et adpositis queritur ieiunia mensis
inque epulis epulas quaerit; quodque urbibus esse
quodque satis poterat populo, non sufficit uni,
plusque cupit, quo plura suam demittit in alvum.
utque fretum recipit de tota flumina terra
nec satiatur aquis peregrinosque ebibit amnes,
utque rapax ignis non umquam alimenta recusat
innumerasque faces cremat et, quo copia maior
est data, plura petit turbaque voracior ipsa est:
sic epulas omnes Erysichthonis ora profani
accipiunt poscuntque simul. cibus omnis in illo
causa cibi est, semperque locus fit inanis edendo.

Although she is always in conflict with Ceres’s works, Hunger does her bidding. Carried down on the wind to Erysichthon’s house, as ordered she goes straight into the blasphemer’s bedchamber, as it is night. Finding him slumbering deeply, she hugs him in both arms and breathes herself into him, blows on his mouth and breast and face and spreads hunger in his hollow veins. Her task done, she leaves the world of fertility and goes back to her impoverished home and accustomed cave. Sleep was still soothing Erysichthon with gentle wings: under its illusions he reaches out for food, works his empty mouth, champs his teeth together, turns his deluded maw to phantom food and, in place of a feast, vainly devours the empty air. No sooner is he awake, than the raging compulsion to eat reigns throughout his greedy jaws and burning innards. As fast as he can, he calls for all that the sea, the land and the air can provide, complains of his hunger even as he is at table, and, while he is still eating one feast, calls for another. What would be enough for cities, or a nation, is not sufficient  for him alone, and the more he gets down into his belly, the more he wants. And as the sea receives the rivers from the whole of the earth and is not sated with water, but drinks up the wandering streams; and as grasping fire never refuses to be fed, burns up endless timber and, when given more, seeks more still, and great quantities of fuel make it ever greedier, just so evil Erysichthon’s mouth first swallows every dish then wants it again. Everything he eats makes him eat more, and as he eats, the emptiness in him constantly grows.