Metamorphoses Book 8, lines 846 - 884

Erysichthon’s end

by Ovid

The grim story of Erysichthon comes to a grim end. He sells his daughter in his desperation for food. Her resourcefulness saves her from the attentions of her new owner, while Erysichthon’s hunger becomes so great that he is compelled to consume his own body. The moral – fear the Gods!

Follow the story of Erysichthon from the beginning here.

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“Iamque fame patrias altaque voragine ventris
attenuarat opes, sed inattenuata manebat
tum quoque dira fames, implacataeque vigebat
flamma gulae. tandem, demisso in viscera censu,
filia restabat, non illo digna parente.
Hanc quoque vendit inops. dominum generosa recusat
et vicina suas tendens super aequora palmas
“eripe me domino; qui raptae praemia nobis
virginitatis habes” ait. haec Neptunus habebat,
qui prece non spreta, quamvis modo visa sequenti
esset ero, formamque novat vultumque virilem
induit et cultus piscem capientibus aptos.
hanc dominus spectans “o qui pendentia parvo
aera cibo celas, moderator harundinis,” inquit
“sic mare compositum, sic sit tibi piscis in unda
credulus et nullos, nisi fixus, sentiat hamos:
quae modo cum vili turbatis veste capillis
litore in hoc steterat (nam stantem in litore vidi),
dic ubi sit: neque enim vestigia longius exstant.”
illa dei munus bene cedere sensit et a se
se quaeri gaudens, his est resecuta rogantem:
“Quisquis es, ignoscas; in nullam lumina partem
gurgite ab hoc flexi studioque operatus inhaesi.
quoque minus dubites, sic has deus aequoris artes
adiuvet, ut nemo iamdudum litore in isto,
me tamen excepto, nec femina constitit ulla.”
credidit et verso dominus pede pressit harenam
elususque abiit: illi sua reddita forma est.
ast ubi habere suam transformia corpora sensit,
saepe pater dominis Triopeida tradit. at illa
nunc equa, nunc ales, modo bos, modo cervus abibat
praebebatque avido non iusta alimenta parenti.
vis tamen illa mali postquam consumpserat omnem
materiam dederatque gravi nova pabula morbo,
ipse suos artus lacero divellere morsu
coepit et infelix minuendo corpus alebat.”

Soon he had run through his birthright thanks to his hunger and the bottomless gulf in his belly, but his terrible pangs never grew less, and the fire in his insatiable maw grew stronger. In the end, when he had sent all he had down his throat, he was left with a daughter, who did not deserve such a parent. Destitute, he sold her too. She was well-born, and not prepared to be owned. The sea was close by, and stretching her hands out to it, she said: “O you who have the prize of my virginity, stolen from me, save me from my owner!” And it was Neptune who had that prize. He, although her master was following and had seen her, changed her shape, gave her a man’s face and garments like a fisherman’s. The master saw her and said: “Angler, hiding your dangling hook in a morsel of bait, may your sea be calm, the fishes in it be trustful and not spot your hooks until they are caught on them! The woman who was standing on the shore here just now – I saw her – with poor clothing and dishevelled hair – tell me, where is she? Her tracks stop here!” The girl saw that it was best to play along with the form of help the God had given, and, delighted to be asked about her own whereabouts, answered “Excuse me, whoever you are, I haven’t been looking anywhere but at this water here, wrapped up in my work: to dispel any doubt, so may the God of the sea help my fishing, except for me, no man has stood here on this shore, and no woman either.” Her owner believed her: deceived, he walked off along the sand, and she was given her original shape back. But when her father realised his daughter could change her shape, he used to sell her all the time. Off she went, now as a mare, now a bird, sometimes an ox, sometimes a stag, and provided ill-gotten nourishment for her greedy father. But the power of his affliction was such that when he had consumed everything there was and given strange new nourishment to his sickness, the miserable man himself began to tear his limbs apart, lacerating them with his teeth, and fed himself by eating his own body away.”