Metamorphoses Book 2, lines 843 - 875

Europa and the bull

by Ovid

In his usual vivid style, Ovid tells the story of the abduction of the beautiful princess, Europa, by Jupiter in the form of a bull. To us the story has a dark side, but Ovid lived in less squeamish times.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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dixit, et expulsi iamdudum monte iuvenci
litora iussa petunt, ubi magni filia regis
ludere virginibus Tyriis comitata solebat.
non bene conveniunt nec in una sede morantur
maiestas et amor; sceptri gravitate relicta
ille pater rectorque deum, cui dextra trisulcis
ignibus armata est, qui nutu concutit orbem,
induitur faciem tauri mixtusque iuvencis
mugit et in teneris formosus obambulat herbis.
quippe color nivis est, quam nec vestigia duri
calcavere pedis nec solvit aquaticus auster.
colla toris exstant, armis palearia pendent,
cornua vara quidem, sed quae contendere possis
facta manu, puraque magis perlucida gemma.
nullae in fronte minae, nec formidabile lumen:
pacem vultus habet. miratur Agenore nata,
quod tam formosus, quod proelia nulla minetur;
sed quamvis mitem metuit contingere primo,
mox adit et flores ad candida porrigit ora.
gaudet amans et, dum veniat sperata voluptas,
oscula dat manibus; vix iam, vix cetera differt;
et nunc adludit viridique exsultat in herba,
nunc latus in fulvis niveum deponit harenis;
paulatimque metu dempto modo pectora praebet
virginea plaudenda manu, modo cornua sertis
inpedienda novis; ausa est quoque regia virgo
nescia, quem premeret, tergo considere tauri,
cum deus a terra siccoque a litore sensim
falsa pedum primis vestigia ponit in undis;
inde abit ulterius mediique per aequora ponti
fert praedam: pavet haec litusque ablata relictum
respicit et dextra cornum tenet, altera dorso
inposita est; tremulae sinuantur flamine vestes.

Now the cattle, driven down the hill, reach
the shore as bidden, where the great King’s
daughter used to play with her Tyrian maidens.
Majesty and love do not consort together or hold
the same place well. The guide and father of the Gods,
doffing the weight of his sceptre, whose right hand
is armed with triple flame, shakes the earth with a nod,
takes the form of – a bull, and, handsome and mingling
with the bullocks, strolls about the fresh-grown grass.
His colour is absolutely that of snow which rough feet
have not imprinted, nor the moist south wind thawed.
His neck swells with muscle, dewlaps on his shoulders;
his horns twisted, but you could say handmade and be
believed, more translucent than a flawless gem.
No threat on his brow, nothing to fear in his look:
his face is full of peace. Europa is amazed that
he is so lovely, shows not the least aggression;
though at first she feared to touch the gentle beast,
now she comes up, offers flowers to the snowy
mouth. The lover loves it; until the spasm he looks
forward to can come, kisses her hands: it’s hard, hard
to put off the rest! He sports and jumps in the
green grass: now he lays his pure white flank
on the golden sand, increasingly confident, now he offers
his breast to be patted, now his horns for twining
with more garlands; and the princess dares, unaware
what she touches, to sit on the back of the bull; but now
the God, bit by bit, plants his deceitful steps just in
the edge of the water, then is off, and further through
the waters of the sea takes his victim away: kidnapped,
she’s terrified, watching the shore she’s left recede,
holding a horn with her right hand, the other on its back;
her shimmering clothes flutter in the wind.