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Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3.511-733

Ingo Gildenhard
Andrew Zissos


527–71: Pentheus’ Rejection of Bacchus

Texte intégral

1 527–30 dicta … feruntur. After the opening confrontation between Pentheus and Tiresias, designed to set the scene, these four transitional verses are all action. The syntax is paratactic throughout, with barely a whiff of subordination: sequitur, aguntur, adest, fremunt, ruit, feruntur — all are (indicative) verbs of main clauses; the whiff is the participle mixtae. Ovid manages to generate a sense of the spirit of the Bacchic revelry he is depicting by such touches as the polysyndetic profusion of -que and the matching choriambic openings of 528 (Liber adest) and 529 (turba ruit).

2 527. The initial dicta fides sequitur is a variation on verba fides sequitur at Fast. 1.359. In both cases fides means ‘proof, confirmation’ (OLD s.v. 4a). dicta is n. pl. acc. of the perf. pass. part. of dicere: ‘the things that have been said’, or ‘the pronouncement’ (the English noun ‘dictum’ has the same derivation). Note the playful word order: from a formal point of view, fides does what Ovid says it does: it ‘follows’ dicta in the verse. Derived from the perfect participle of respondere (‘answer’), the noun responsum can, as here, have the technical sense of ‘an answer given by an oracle or soothsayer’ (OLD s.v. 2a). Allow yourself a little leeway in translating aguntur: ‘actually happen’ or even ‘come true’.

3As at 511, the diction echoes the beginning of the Narcissus episode: Ille [sc. Tiresias] per Aonias fama celeberrimus urbes | inreprehensa dabat populo responsa petenti; | prima fide vocisque ratae temptamina sumpsit | caerula Liriope (‘he, of stellar renown through all the Boeotian towns, gave unerring responses to the people who sought them; the first to put his trustworthiness and truthful utterance to the test was the river-nymph Liriope’, 3.339–42). Tiresias, then, has an impressive ‘track record’ in prophecy. Ovid is telling you, he should be listened to.

4How much time has elapsed from Pentheus thrusting away of the prophesying Tiresias in 526 and the realization of the latter’s prophecy as announced in the following verse? Not much, judging from the present tense of sequitur and aguntur. Likewise, the emphatic Liber adest in 528 suggests the arrival of Bacchus is almost instantaneous, as sudden as an epiphany. The ‘prologue’ has come to an end; hey presto! The action starts.

5 528. The compact declaration Liber adest scans as a choriamb (–̮̮̮̮ ̮–), thus corresponding metrically to and recalling (as well, of course, as beginning to fulfil) the pithy opening of 524 eveniet! For Liber, designating Bacchus, see 520 n.

6The -que displaced onto festis links the verbs adest and fremunt. festis speaks to the festive, even joyful, atmosphere of the proceedings at this point. Onomatopoeic ululatibus is used here of ritual howling: when on earth, the god Bacchus was said to be accompanied by bands of women called Maenads (Greek μαινάδες or ‘raving ones’) who danced riotously and emitted frenzied cries (ululatus) in his honour. Add to this the clashing of cymbals and the beating of drums (532–34 n.), and it is safe to say that the region is abuzz with the arrival of Bacchus and his raucous entourage. The *alliteration festis… fremunt (continued by feruntur in 530) nicely reinforces this impression. As Weber (2002, 329) points out, the ‘verb fremere is something of a vox propria for the Bacchic roar; [it] is probably cognate with Greek βρέμειν and, hence, with Dionysus’epithet Bromius’. Note that agri is meant ‘locally’ here, i.e. the land in the vicinity of Thebes (as opposed to the city itself), but also more broadly the countryside as the characteristic location of Bacchic revelry and the scene for the showdown smithereens.

7 529 turba ruit. The Theban population rushes out of the city en masse, to welcome the new deity and join in the riotous cult activity. Note that the mood-setting verse opening is again choriambic (–̮̮̮̮ ̮–), rhythmically echoing the start of the previous line and reinforcing the relationship of cause (Liber adest) and effect (turba ruit). John Henderson adds: ‘Ovid adapts the epic hexameter to mood-set “release inhibitions” — and join (have us one and all join in with) the Bacchic choir (530). Pentheus is to become a text for worshippers to hymn the power of their awesome god for ever after, amen’.

8 529–30 mixtaeque … feruntur. The -que after mixtae links ruit and feruntur. Ovid creates something of a polysyndetic onslaught here, with the following two instances of correlating -que… -que linking, in the first instance, matres and nurus (‘mothers and young married women’ or, more specifically, ‘mothers and daughters-in-law’ being a poetic combination, tantamount to specifying ‘women’) and, in the second, vulgus and proceres. The keynote of the sentence is mixtae: under the influence of Bacchus social distinctions collapse. Ovid first focuses on gender (viris, matres, nurus), then on socio-economic status (vulgus, proceres). Note that the -que after vulgus scans long by position before the two consonants of the following word.

9The life- and culture-changing arrival of the new god inaugurates a hitherto unknown cult, whence the ignota… sacra to which the Thebans flock (in this sense, ignota harks back to 520 and Bacchus/Liber’s attribute novus). Passive forms of fero frequently have the ‘middle’ sense ‘carry oneself on’ (i.e. ‘proceed’), as here with feruntur; but there is often a hint of an external as well as internal impetus. Hence, in contrast to the active ruit of the previous line, the passive form suggests that the revellers are carried along in their ecstasy, i.e. have shed part of their rational agency. This is a subtle reminder that Bacchus, like few other divinities, will infiltrate the mind and induce altered states of consciousness — a quasi-metamorphic point that bears on the grim conclusion of the episode.

531–63 Pentheus’ speech

10Pentheus attempts to stem the Bacchic ‘invasion’ of his city — or, rather, the mass exodus of the Theban citizenry to the countryside to partake in the new rites. He launches into a passionate speech that rings the changes on various rhetorical registers. It falls into five parts: (i) Three rhetorical questions, addressed to the citizens of Thebes (531–32 Quis furor, anguigenae… attonuit mentes?; 532–37 aerane tantum… tympana vincant?; 538–42 vosne, senes, mirer… vosne, acrior aetas…?); (ii) Promotion of the dragon of Mars as exemplum, interspersed with imperatives (543 este, precor, memores; 545 sumite; 546 vincite; 547–48 pellite… et… retinete); (iii) A series of conditions, (counterfactual) wishes, (self-) exhortations, and normative statements (548 si… vetabant; 549–50 utinam… diruerent… sonarent; 551–52 essemus… querenda, non celanda foret,… carerent); (iv) Anticipation of the events to come in the indicative, with reference to Bacchus and himself, with a parenthetical imperative dismissing his audience (553 a puero Thebae capientur inermi …; 557 quem… ego… (modo vos absistite) cogam); (v) A final rhetorical question, which Pentheus addresses to himself, in the 3rd person, above all (561 Penthea terrebit cum totis advena Thebis?).

11Within the literary universe of the Metamorphoses the speech clearly fails to achieve its objective. The parenthetical imperative in 557 (modo vos absistite) all but admits defeat, as Pentheus has started to realize that he will be in this fight more or less on his own. The speech, then, indirectly chronicles Pentheus’ growing isolation from the rest of the citizen body and his desperate and delusional identification with Thebes, culminating in the final Caesarian gesture of speaking of himself in the 3rd person. Not only does Pentheus fail to win over his internal audience, but members of the latter actually endeavour to dissuade him from his intended course of action (as indicated at 564–65). The speech is thus not directly pertinent to the action; Ovid uses it rather to elucidate aspects of Pentheus’character. The literary inspiration for the speech comes from the opening of Euripides’ Bacchae, in which Pentheus, likewise without success, rebukes Cadmus (accompanied by Tiresias) as he leaves the city to join in the Bacchic rites (everyone else has evidently already left): ‘I see… my own grandfather — what a ridiculous sight! — playing the Bacchant, complete with wand! Sir, I am embarrassed by the very sight of you — you old fool\. Shake off that ivy! Rid your hands of the thyrsus, grandfather!’ (Eur. Bacch. 248–54).

12Ovid’s Pentheus addresses a much larger group: the male citizens of Thebes. The exclusion of women from this expanded group is noteworthy, for two reasons. As Ovid has just pointed out, the followers of Bacchus flooding out of the city are an indiscriminate mixture of all age groups and of both genders, across class boundaries (529–30); if anything, the spotlight is on the women. And in Euripides’ Bacchae, though the women have already left the city, Pentheus singles out the female population of his city for special attention (215–32, 260–63). As McNamara (2010, 180) notes, the switch in focus contributes to Ovid’s re-characterization of Pentheus and introduces a whiff of tragic irony: ‘Pentheus’ disregard of the female members of his audience parallels his argument… which urges the men to reject femininity in favour of masculinity. He dismisses women at his peril, of course; it is at their hands that he will meet his death (3.708–31)’.

Additional Information: To understand the extent of the civic crisis created by Pentheus’ rift with his fellow Thebans, we must bear in mind that the human world described by Ovid at this point (and found in ancient myth more broadly) consisted of independent city-states, such as Thebes, whose members were bound by shared laws and religious practices. Individual religious activity and differentiated belief were less significant than they are today: it was primarily collectively, as a socio-political unit, that members of city-states interacted with the divine sphere, with leading figures often ‘performing’ the interaction through collective ritual acts. Hence a major rift between a ruler and the broader citizen body in this domain would constitute a grievous problem — none more grave.

13 531–32 Quis … mentes? As an interrogative quis is usually substantival, but is sometimes found as a m. adjective, as here and again at 632 (quis clamor?). So quis modifies furor (on which more below), the subject of the sentence (cf. 3.641). The verb attonuit is present perfect (‘has thunderstruck’ your minds) rather than simple past (‘did thunderstrike’): the inhabitants are in the thrall of Bacchic possession while Pentheus attempts to reason with them. quis furor is a question that, as Hardie (1990, 225) points out, Pentheus ‘might with more propriety address to himself’ (cf. 577–78 with n.). The dramatic query has an epic antecedent at Virg. Aen. 5.670, where the young prince Ascanius addresses the flipped-out Trojan women who are trying to set fire to their own fleet with quis furor iste novus? (‘What strange madness is this?’).

14References to madness or insanity recur throughout the Pentheus episode, as here with furor (again at 641). Other signifiers belonging to the semantic field of madness include amens (628), demens (641), furor/ furens (623, 716), and insania/ insanus (536, 670, 711). The various attributions, however, show that madness is in the eyes of the beholder: the terms are applied indiscriminately by Pentheus to describe the conduct of the Maenads (as here), and by the narrator to describe Pentheus. The same is true of the inset tale that follows: the crew accuses Acoetes of madness (641–42), Acoetes the crew. This split reality poses a challenge for readers: we have to make up our own minds as to which of these attributions to accept. Ovid uses additional means to suggest that a given individual is out of his or her mind. In Pentheus’ case, he highlights the fact that the Theban king is in thrall to violent emotions, in particular anger (ira: 577, 693, 707; rabies: 567). In terms of genre, furor originally belongs to the world of tragedy — there is no equivalent to the ‘constitutional insanity’ so characteristic of the tragic stage in the Homeric epics (though Homeric heroes are of course emotionally incontinent, especially when their honour is at stake, and do ‘lose it’ at times). From 5th-century Athenian tragedy, the phenomenon or theme of ‘madness’ migrated into epic, not least Aeneid 4, which features the tragedy of Dido deranged.

15The two vocatives belong to lofty epic diction: anguigenae is a compound adjective (a composite of anguis, ‘snake’ and -gena, ‘born from’) and proles Mavortia a poetic formula (520 n.). Taken together they make for a highly evocative address to the citizenry, and one that recalls its legendary origins. The compound anguigenae refers back to the dragon of Mars that dwelled at the site of the future city, and speaks to the birth of the Thebans from the serpent’s teeth (513–14 n.); an equally appropriate compound is terrigenae, ‘earth-born’ (a composite of terra, ‘earth’ and-gena, ‘born from’), which Ovid uses at 3.118, when he recounts the birth of the Spartoi. As for proles Mavortia, it should probably be taken as roughly synonymous with anguigenae (‘the offspring of [the dragon of] Mars’), particularly as earlier accounts have Mars sire the dragon: Ovid would then be alluding to such traditions in the manner of a doctus poeta (‘learned poet’). An alternative might be to understand a reference to the fact that Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, married Harmonia, the daughter of Mars and Venus (Met. 3.132–33). For a Roman reader, such references to ‘Martian’ lineage would call to mind other founding figures who descended from Mars (and, not unlike the Spartoi, also perpetrated fratricide in the course of laying the foundation of a new city): the twins Romulus and Remus, with the former founding Rome after slaying the latter. According to hoary legend, their sire was Mars, who impregnated the Vestal Virgin Ilia. If it is hard to repress Roman analogies here, it will soon become well-nigh impossible (538–40 n.).

16 532–37 aerane … vincant? Pentheus here launches into a long rhetorical question to rally his Thebans. The main verb is valent, which takes three subjects: aera (in the participial phrase aere repulsa), tibia (with the further specification adunco… cornu), and fraudes (qualified by the adjective magicae). Then follows a consecutive ut-clause (set up by tantum). Its main verb is vincant; it takes four subjects: voces (qualified by the adjective femineae), insania (which comes with the participle phrase mota… vino), greges (qualified by the adjective obsceni), and tympana (qualified by the adjective inania). The accusative object of vincant is an implied vos, which functions as the antecedent of the relative pronoun quos. The verb of the relative clause is terruerit; it takes three subjects: ensis (qualified by the adjective bellicus), tuba, and agmina (with the further specification strictis… telis).

17For Pentheus, the situation is tantamount to an invasion, and his language sets conventional terminology of warfare, in which he reckons his Thebans to excel, against the perverse and effeminate (from his point of view) Bacchic incursion:

Regular warfare



bellicus ensis, strictis … telis

magicae fraudes, insania

Musical instruments


aera, tibia, tympana, femineae voces

Military Formation


obsceni greges

18Pentheus insists that the martial vigour of his compatriots (expressed with the resounding triple *anaphora of non in 534–35) ought to dispatch the effeminate and unwarlike Bacchic ‘invaders’. By his obsessive military logic, ensis and tela ought easily to rout magicae fraudes and insania, the tuba should easily drown out the cacophonous racket produced by Bacchic instruments (on which more below) and female shrieking, and a properly drawn-up army (agmina) ought to make short shrift of a disorganized effeminate hord (obsceni greges).

19 532–34 aerane … ut. The adverb tantum goes with valent and sets up the ut-clause: ‘Are x, y, and z so powerful that…’

20The formulation aerane… aere repulsa is very similar to Lucr. 2.636 pulsarent aeribus aera (‘they clashed bronze upon bronze’), which may have been Ovid’s inspiration (if this isn’t Ennius’epic resounding through both of them). Here, as often, aes (‘copper or bronze’) is used by metonymy for ‘a musical instrument made of bronze’ (cf. 586 calamus, 621 pinus with nn.). Since aera is nom. pl. and aere abl. sing., we have ‘bronze (instruments) struck by bronze (instruments)’. The instruments in question (fig. 5) are cymbals, which were used in the worship of Bacchus, along with the Phrygian flute (tibia, also mentioned here) and kettledrum (tympanum, mentioned at 537). The participle repulsa (‘beaten back’) neatly captures the action of the cymbals clashing. The *polyptoton, the enjambment, and the ‘echo’ in ae-rere-pulsa help to join in the rhythmic beat of the percussion.

Fig. 5 Musical instruments

21The musical instrument indicated by adunco tibia cornu is the so-called Phrygian (or Berecynthian) flute, used in the cult of Bacchus/ Dionysus as well as that of the goddess Cybele. adunco… cornu is ablative of description, a frequent construction in Ovid (we see it again at 607): the tibia was a straight wind instrument that ended in an upwards-bending horn (which magnified the sound produced).

22Literally rendered, magicae fraudes would yield ‘magical frauds’, but since fraudes cancels out the claim to supernatural power implied by magicae, a better rendering might be ‘charlatanry’. Pentheus regards any pretension to efficacious magic on the part of Bacchus as fraudulent — hardly surprising given his conviction that the latter is an impostor. The charge recalls a passage in Euripides’ Bacchae, where Pentheus comments scornfully on reports that a ‘wizard conjurer’ (γόης ἐπωιδὸς, 234) has arrived from Lydia. The Greek formulation is slightly more ambiguous since it leaves open the possibility that the alleged wizardry is genuine — an ambiguity reinforced by the equivocal focalization (the people whose report Pentheus is reporting most likely believe in the supernatural powers of the stranger, whereas Pentheus clearly does not). Charlatanry was no doubt a common charge levelled against various mystery cults in historical times (as Livy’s account of followers of Bacchus in early 2nd century BCE Italy illustrates: see Intro. §6). The sense of secrecy and, of course, mystery with which these cults shrouded their rites naturally suggested the idea of magic to outside observers.

23 534–35 quos … telis. In the middle of the long rhetorical question we get, buried in a relative clause, an evocation of the martial spirit of the Thebans, the overpowering of which by Bacchus is the immediate cause of Pentheus’ dismay. Ovid plays with the assonance of t (tuba — terruerit — strictis — telis), to recreate the sound of the tuba. This device is in the tradition of Ennius’Annals, where it was used to more extravagant effect: at tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit (‘and the trumpet in terrible tones blared “taratantara”’, Ann. 140 Sk); Africa terribili tremit horrida terra tumultu (‘Africa, a rough land, trembled with a terrible tumult’, Ann. 310 Sk).

24Note the progression from equipment (ensis) to the signal to attack (tuba) to the actual onslaught of the enemy in rank and file (agmina) with weapons drawn (strictis… telis). Pentheus here seems to refer to an occasion in which the Thebans faced an enemy army in regular battle without fear. It is difficult to match this occasion with any event in Thebes’ very young history: ancient myth records no such encounter, and Cadmus’ battle with the dragon or the civil war among the Spartoi (the military scenarios that defined the foundation of the city) do not fit the bill. terruerit is perfect subjunctive, an instance of ‘subjunctive by attraction’ arising from the fact that the relative clause containing terruerit is dependent on the subjunctive vincant in 537. Relative clauses that depend upon subjunctives and constitute an integral part of the thought will themselves take the subjunctive (AG §593).

25 536–37 femineae … vincant? Despite the fact that Pentheus blames Bacchus for upsetting the strict separation of male and female, the dominant group participating in Bacchic rites are women. As he makes clear later in his speech (esp. 553–56), Pentheus regards Bacchus as deficient in masculinity: the emphatic use of femineae calls into question the virility of any man in his entourage.

26We might translate mota insania vino as ‘wine-induced madness’. The participle mota has the sense ‘occasioned’ or ‘excited’ (OLD s.v. moveo, 16). Bacchus, god of the vine, was of course well known for inducing states of inebriation and ecstasy in his worshippers; Pentheus acknowledges the phenomenon, but deprives it of any religious significance by characterizing it as what we might now term ‘substance abuse’. In his view, Bacchus’ followers are intoxicated miscreants who conceal their sozzled antics under a veneer of ritual piety.

27Pentheus’ contempt is clearly expressed in obsceni… greges: the word grex, like English ‘herd’ is often disparaging when used of human beings. The original sense of obscenus seems to have been ‘ill omened’ (so Ovid has obscena puppis at Her. 5.119, of the ship that conveyed Helen to Troy), whence it came to mean ‘detestable, repulsive’, and eventually something like ‘obscene’ in the modern sense. Sexual license and like transgressions were widely attributed to Bacchic cult practice (see e.g. Eur. Bacch. 215–23; Liv. 39.8.7 stupra promiscua, ‘widespread adultery’ with Intro. §6).

28The tympanum is a kettledrum (fig. 5), basically a hollow circular frame with parchment stretched over it, held in one hand and struck with the other. The mention of this instrument, for which inanis (‘hollow’) is clearly an appropriate epithet (but perhaps a double entendre), completes the list of musical instruments associated with the cult (532–33 n.). As McNamara (2010, 179) observes, Pentheus ‘begins and ends his list with the actual musical paraphernalia of Bacchic worship (aera… tibia… tympana), while he places the more abstract Bacchic associations (fraudes… femineae voces… insania… obscenique greges) between these. He thus “buries” his less tangible concerns within the brackets of these “real” items. For these concerns (magic, insanity, obscenity, femininity) are the standard accusations levelled at Dionysiac/ Bacchic rites by those who often represent more traditional authoritative religion’.

29The force of vincant is — for the reader at any rate — metaphoric. The reference in context must be to religious conversion vel sim., but here and elsewhere the use of military language and martial imagery exemplifies Pentheus’ martial obsession. Rather more subtly, it could also involve mythographic play with an older version of the tale, predating Euripides’ Bacchae, in which Pentheus responds to the arrival of Dionysus by leading an army into the mountains, only to be defeated in battle by a troop of Maenads.

30 538–42 vosne … decebat? The main verb is mirer, a deliberative subjunctive (‘should I not wonder at…?’) taking a matched pair of accusative objects in *anaphora: vosne (538) and vosne (540). The interrogative particles-ne…-ne are attached to the words Pentheus wishes to emphasize: the two occurrences of vos. Taken literally, Pentheus is pondering which of the two age groups he should marvel at; but, as the alternatives are clearly not mutually exclusive, it is best to understand an implicit adverb such as magis: ‘should I be [more] bewildered at you … or at you?’Note that each vos is followed by a vocative (senes; acrior aetas, o iuvenes, propriorque meae) and a relative clause (qui… posuistis, sinitis …; quos… decebat).

31 538–40 vosne … capi? The first group Pentheus singles out from the citizen body is that of the older men who arrived with Cadmus from Tyre (Ovid may have had his eye on Pentheus’address to Cadmus and Tiresias at Eur. Bacch. 248–54: see 531–63 n.). This group cannot have been very large — in fact, it comes as something of a surprise that, excepting Cadmus, it exists at all. At the opening of Book 3, Ovid gave the impression that all of Cadmus’ companions were killed (3.46–59), before he went on to found an entirely autochthonous community by means of the dragon’s teeth. For the same reason, they are difficult to include among the anguigenae or a proles Mavortia that Pentheus addresses at the outset of his speech. These inconsistencies begin to make sense if we see them as a deliberate attempt on Ovid’s part to align the founding of Thebes with the founding of Rome, which also has a discrepant ‘double origin’: arrivals from elsewhere (Aeneas and his fellow Trojan refugees) and a founding hero descending from Mars (Romulus). Reminiscences of the Aeneid reinforce the parallel: (i) longa per aequora vecti: thematically Aen. 1.3 multum ille et terris iactatus et alto; lexically 1.375–76 diversa per aequora vectos, 1.379 (cited below); (ii) profugos… penates: Aen. 1.2 fato profugus; 1.68 (cited below); 1.378–79 sum pius Aeneas, raptos qui ex hoste penates | classe veho mecum; 3.86–88; penatibus et magnis dis; (iii) Tyron… posuistis: the notion of translatio imperii.

32The verses are rhetorically wrought: there is the emotional gemination hac… hac (both modifying sede), further reinforced by *hyperbaton; the powerful *alliteration profugos posuistis… penates; along with some subsidiary alliterative touches (vosne… vecti; sinitis sine).

33The participial phrase longa per aequora vecti is a variant on Cat. 101.1 multa per aequora vectus. The past participle vecti agrees with qui; Cadmus’ original companions, initially forming a search party, had sailed with him from Phoenicia (513–14 n.); but as just noted, none of these should still be alive at this point.

34With hac Tyron, hac profugos posuistis sede penates, Ovid evokes in particular Virgil’s description of Aeneas at Aen. 1.68 Ilium in Italiam portans victosque penates (‘bringing Ilium and his defeated household gods to Italy’), where Ilium is an alternate name for his native Troy. Tyre (Latin Tyrus; Tyron is the accusative form) was a city of Phoenicia, the original homeland of Cadmus and his followers. Pentheus’ meaning is that they have in this location founded a ‘new Tyre’ (i.e. Thebes). The penates were, properly speaking, the guardian deities of a Roman household, closely associated with Vesta, goddess of the hearth, and worshipped in the home; there was a corresponding cult of public penates as well. Note that profugos (much like victos in Aen. 1.68) is a transferred epithet: it is not the penates who were exiled (or defeated) but their human wards. All in all, Pentheus’ statement is decidedly odd: not only are penates a Roman rather than Greek religious notion, but there would have been little reason for Cadmus and his followers to bring their penates (in the form of statues, which stood in the penetralia, or central point of a Roman home) with them because they originally left Phoenicia to search for Europa, not to found a new homeland (for the ‘backstory’ to this episode, see Intro. §5). Ovid has clearly worked against the grain, then, to have his mythical founding of Thebes evoke that of Rome. Speaking more broadly, it is worth noting that elements of Roman culture show up in the strangest places in the Metamorphoses: early in Book 1, for example, Ovid rather audaciously ascribes penates or household gods to the domiciles of the Olympian gods (1.173–74) — one of his strategies for insinuating the Roman telos of his poem in the early stages of his narrative (see Intro. §3d, and, for Ovid’s ‘triangulation’ of Thebes-Troy-Rome, Intro. §5 n. 46).

35The (accusative) subjects of capi are Tyron and penates. Pentheus laments not merely the fact of capitulation, but that it comes sine Marte — without a violent struggle. Here, as often, Mars stands by metonymy for ‘war’, ‘battle’. This particular form of metonymy, in which a god stands for an activity or item with which he or she is associated (e.g. Bacchus = ‘wine’; Ceres = ‘bread’) is also known as denominatio.

36 540–42 vosne … decebat? The main verb continues to be mirer (538). Pentheus now turns to the younger generation of Theban men, and ratchets up the rhetorical effects. In poetry the interjection o (again in the set text at 579, 613, 641 and 713) inserted before a vocative — as here with iuvenes — creates a loftier form of address than the vocative by itself. The term iuvenis is a rather vague indicator of age, and one to which the English expression ‘young man’ does not exactly correspond. Roman thought generally divided a man’s life into four stages (ranges are approximate): infantia (0–2 years), pueritia (3–16), iuventus (17–45), senectus (46 +). Hence iuvenes can be thought of as designating men of fighting age. Both acrior and proprior (which takes a dative) contrast the younger men with the elderly; the former term (here in the comparative form) means something akin to ‘(more) warlike’. As acrior aetas stands in apposition to vos and o iuvenes, it must be abstract-for-concrete, a figure whereby a quality is abstracted from the concrete form in which it exists (similarly 617 tutela with n.). In English this can be rendered with the genitive: ‘young men of a more warlike age’. With meae supply aetati (a form of *ellipse common in Latin and English). With this fleeting personal aside, Pentheus bears out that he has come to the throne at a young age, but Ovid provides no further indications of his age (beyond what can be surmised from the mention that his grandfather Cadmus is still alive, and the fact that his mother and aunts are still sufficiently vigorous to tear him limb from limb with their bare hands). Euripides seems to make him a young man of about 20, or perhaps a bit less (see Bacch. 974, 1185–87, 1254).

37The relative pronoun quos (whose antecedent is iuvenes) functions both as accusative object of decebat and subject accusative of the indirect statement introduced by it (with tenere and tegi as infinitives; they are linked by the-que after galea and by alliteration). This construction can be retained in English translation: ‘whom it used to befit to…’ (note the reproachful force of the imperfect tense: ‘it used to befit…’). The indirect statement combines parallelism with variation: we get two antitheses along the pattern: alternative 1 (arma + galea) — verb (tenere + tegi) — negation (non + non) — alternative 2 (thyrsos + fronde). But the first is active (tenere) with accusative objects (arma, thyrsos), the second passive (tegi) with instrumental ablatives (galea, fronde).

38A thyrsus (fig. 6) is a wand twined with ivy and/or vine branches (both plants were sacred to Bacchus) carried by the god, as well as by his followers during the god’s rites. It was one of the most recognizable accoutrements of Bacchus and his cult. Along with carrying the thyrsus, the god and his worshippers would crown their heads (whence tegi, a pres. pass. infinitive) with wreaths of ivy leaves, or a combination of vine and ivy leaves (whence fronde, a ‘collective’ singular) during the god’s rites. Bacchus himself is later described as ‘wreathed with clustering grapes’ (666–67 with n.).

Fig. 6 A thyrsus (‘A staff tipped by a pine cone’)

39 543–48 este … decus. Pentheus continues to address the younger generation (s) — those, who, like himself, are descendants of the dragon’s teeth. He begins with an elaborate reminder of their serpentine ancestry (543–45); the overall design of the verses is chiastic: (a) imperative (este… memores) + (b) relative clause (qua… creati) ‹› (b) relative clause (qui… unus) + (a) imperative (sumite). Then he draws two contrasts to underscore the triviality of dealing with Bacchus by comparison with the high stakes faced by the serpent and the heroic feats required of it:



Contrast 1

pro fontibus ille lacuque interiit

at vos pro fama vincite vestra

Contrast 2

ille dedit leto fortes

vos pellite molles et patrium retinete decus

40Again *alliteration (in particular of ‘s’: sitis, stirpe, sumite, serpentis — reinforced by the endings in the same letter of memores, illius, animos, multos, unus, serpentis) generates formal coherence. McNamara (2010, 181) detects in the highly sibilant diction an evocation of the heroic serpent. Pentheus holds up the primordial monster as a civic role model for the Thebans to emulate. The appreciation of the monster that on its own (unus) slaughtered many (multos) companions of Cadmus illustrates Pentheus’ mindset: he values martial prowess and merciless butchery wherever and however they manifest themselves. Why does he not praise Cadmus? The killer of the serpent is still alive — indeed, he is present (564–65 n.). See Hardie (1990, 225 and 229–30) discussing the comparison with Rome, James (1991, 87–89), Feldherr (1997, 50).

41 543. The plea precor is ‘parenthetical’ and so does not affect the syntax of the clause, which is a command (este is 2nd pers. pl. pres. imperative of sum): ‘Be mindful!’ Note the interlaced word order of the indirect question (more regular would be qua stirpe creati sitis). The compound verb form sitis … creati is in the subjunctive (2nd pers. pl. perf. pass.) because of the indirect question, which is introduced by the interrogative adjective qua, modifying stirpe, an ablative of origin. Phaethon uses a like formulation at 1.760 si modo sum caelesti stirpe creatus (‘if I am indeed born of heavenly stock…’).

42 544–45 illiusque … serpentis! The-que after illius links the imperatives este and sumite. illius modifies serpentis in a striking instance of *hyperbaton: the ‘framing’ genitive encloses the noun on which it depends (i.e. animos, the object of the clause), the relative clause for which it is the antecedent, and the main verb (sumite).

43Variations on the theme of one against many (multos perdidit unus) recur throughout the set text, starting with Pentheus opposing the Bacchus-worship of the citizens of Thebes (513 ex omnibus unus with n.). Here the contrast between multos and unus subtly prepares the isolated position Pentheus finds himself in at the end of his speech.

44 545–48 pro fontibus… decus! After appealing to the Theban citizens’ serpentine genealogy, Pentheus develops an elegant *antithesis, reinforced by *anaphora, contrasting the heroics of the dragon (ille… ille, also picking up illius… serpentis) with the lesser feats he asks of the Theban men (at vos… vos). The -que after lacu links fontibus and lacu. For lower stakes (pro fontibus lacuque vs. pro fama vestra), the dragon undertook a more daunting task: he killed brave men (ille dedit leto fortes), whereas the Thebans merely have to drive away weaklings (vos pellite molles). Moreover, the dragon perished in defence of his realm (interiit), whereas the Thebans can expect to emerge victorious (vincite) and unscathed. Pentheus ends the sentence with an appeal to ancestral honour: patrium retinete decus. This is, as it were, Pentheus’variation on Horace’s well-known line dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (‘sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country’, Carm. 3.2.13): the ancestral dragon died in defence of his realm, a point made emphatic by enjambment of the crucial verb interiit and the trithemimeral *caesura that follows it.

45The declaration ille dedit leto fortes has an elevated, epic ring arising partly from the use of letum, an archaic and poetic synonym for mors (‘death’), and partly from the periphrastic formulation itself (‘gave over to death’ rather than simply ‘killed’). With fortes supply viros (referring to Cadmus’ companions): this is the direct object of dedit; leto is the indirect object. The account of the serpent’s slaughter of Cadmus’ companions was narrated earlier at 3.46–49.

46Like fortes, molles is used substantively: ‘weaklings’ or ‘softies’; Pentheus will apply the adjective to the cult again at 555. Speaking more generally, mollitia, a hallmark of Bacchic revellers and associated with Eastern culture more broadly, was a quality that Greeks, and the Romans after them, regarded with suspicion: see further 555–56 n. Pentheus’language is, in effect, attempting to appeal to a kind of ethnic boundary. For patrium… decus, see 591–92 n.

47 548–51 si fata … sonarent. Pentheus here utters a somewhat unusual conditional statement, featuring an imperfect indicative in the protasis si fata (vetabantstare diu Thebas), followed by a counterfactual wish for the present (utinam + imperf. subjunct.: diruerent, sonarent) as the apodosis. The imperfect indicative vetabant almost seems to endow Pentheus with tragic foreknowledge of Thebes’ fated destruction (cf. Met. 15.429 Oedipodioniae quid sunt, nisi nomina, Thebae? ‘What is the Thebes of Oedipus now except a name?’), and, in entertaining the possibility that Thebes might be doomed, he momentarily adopts a more reflective stance. This is a striking moment in Ovid’s text, but it must be remembered that Pentheus himself is merely engaging in an extravagant metaphor that equates the spread of Bacchic cult in Thebes with the city’s physical eradication by warfare. The latter scenario is, in Pentheus’ view, clearly more wholesome and honourable, and hence more desirable, than falling under the sway of Bacchus and his worshippers.

48The acc. + infin. combination stare diu Thebas is governed by vetabant. Note that, like ‘Athens’ (Athenae), ‘Thebes’ is a plural noun in Latin (Thebae) as in Greek (Θῆβαι), and so always has plural forms. The-que after viri connects the two subjects (tormenta and viri) of diruerent, the-que after ferrum connects the two verbs of the utinam-clause, i.e. diruerent and sonarent, and the-que after ignis connects the two subjects (ferrum and ignis) of sonarent. Overall, the picture is one of martial activity and clamour. tormenta are siege-engines; the choice of viri (here in the sense of ‘soldiers’) is loaded: Pentheus implies a contrast with the effeminate followers of Bacchus, whom he considers semiviri (‘half-men’) at best; ferrum and ignis seem to form a *zeugma with sonarent — only the clash of iron on iron generates a martial soundtrack, unless ignis refers to the collapse of buildings set on fire.

49 551–52 essemus… carerent. This is, in effect, the compound apodosis of a present contrary-to-fact condition, whose protasis is unstated but implied from what precedes: si viri moenia diruerent (‘if men were tearing down our walls…’) etc. As noted above, Pentheus would be less perturbed if Thebes were being sacked and razed to the ground by an invading army. The sense of sine crimine is sine culpa, i.e. if the city were duly sacked by superior forces, the Thebans would be wretched, but free from the imputation of cowardice for shamefully submitting to an unworthy adversary (a puer inermis, ‘an unarmed boy’, as Pentheus goes on to say in 553).

50Pentheus here evokes a thematic nexus typical of tragic discourse: ‘modes of guilt/ transgression’ + ‘an emotional state of wretchedness’. Ovid explores variants thereof throughout his Theban history. Thus he introduces the tale of Actaeon (Pentheus’ cousin), who accidentally stumbled upon the goddess Diana at her bath, only to be turned into a stag by the enraged divinity and torn apart by his own hounds, as follows: at bene si quaeras, Fortunae crimen in illo, | non scelus invenies; quod enim sceluserror habebat? (‘But if you seek the truth, you will find in this a fault of Fortune, not a crime; for what crime was there in a misstep?’, 3.141–42).

51The passive periphrastic sorsque querenda, non celanda foret elaborates on what preceded: a military defeat, since honourable, would not have to be hushed up in shame (a notion spelled out explicitly in the subsequent clause), it could be bewailed openly. foret is an alternate form of esset, so imperfect subjunctive (as befits a present contrary-tofact condition). lacrimae are the tears to be shed over the downfall of the city: they could pour forth without any sense of shame. pudore is an ablative of separation with carerent.

52 553–58 at nunc… fateri. The subject and verb of the main clause are Thebae capientur, with a puero… inermi an ablative of agent. puero is the antecedent of the two relative clauses that follow: (i) quem… aurum, with iuvant as verb and two antithetical sequences of nouns as subjects: first the things Bacchus does not like (bella, tela, usus equorum); then those he does (madidus… crinis, molles coronae, purpura, intextum… aurum). Pentheus dwells on the latter, devoting two lines to Bacchus’ ‘likes’ (some of which he pads out with graphic attributes) and only one to his ‘dislikes’; (ii) quem… fateri, with cogam as verb, quem as accusative object, and fateri as complementary infinitive. It is probably best to understand adsumptum (with patrem) and commenta (with sacra) as predicative, with esse as the infinitive to be supplied. (Alternatively fateri could be seen as introducing an indirect statement, with patrem and sacra as subject accusatives and adsumptum (sc. esse) and commenta (sc. esse) as infinitives.)

53 553. After the contrary-to-fact flight of fancy, at nunc (‘but as it is’) marks Pentheus’return to present reality. For Thebae (nom. pl.), see 548–51 n. The verb capientur is 3rd pers. pl. fut. indic. pass. Note the iconic word order, with noun (puero) and attribute (inermi) ‘enclosing’ the city as if putting it under siege. The phrase conveys a twofold indignity: not only is Bacchus a mere boy (puero), he is also unarmed (inermi), a fact underscored by the hyperbaton, the double verbal paradoxes in the juxtaposed puero — Thebae and capientur — inermi, and the position of the attribute at the end of the line. For Bacchus’youthfulness and boyish appearance, see Intro. §5b-iii.

54 554 quem… equorum. Bacchus’lack of bellicosity — which Pentheus here expresses with a scathing *tricolon — was a conventional attribute: cf. Eur. Bacch. 416 ὁ δαίμων… φιλεῖ δ᾽ ὀλβοδότειραν Εἰρήναν, κουροτρόφον θεάν (‘The god [sc. Dionysus/Bacchus]… loves Peace, giver of riches, goddess who nourishes youths’).

55 555–56 sed madidus … aurum. The combination madidus murra crinis is quasi-formulaic: Ovid has madidos murra… capillos (of Athis) at 5.53. Here crinis is a so-called ‘collective singular’. murra (myrrh) is a fragrant gum resin obtained from trees found predominantly in Arabia, used in unguents to produce a kind of scented hair oil (nicely conveyed here by the ‘dripping’ m-alliteration). Its use by men was unproblematic on festive occasions (see Gibson 2003, 280–81 on Ars 3.443–44); but habitual use was a sign of effeminacy, which the Romans associated with the Near East, in particular the regions of Phrygia (where Troy was situated) and Lydia. In the Aeneid, the titular hero is regarded as an effeminate dandy by both the African Iarbas and the Italian Turnus, with the latter speaking derisively of Aeneas’hair ‘curled with heated iron and drenched in myrrh’ (crinis | vibratos calido ferro murraque madentis, Aen. 12.99–100). In the Western cultural imaginary, ‘effeminacy’ and ‘eastern’ often go together in what Edward Said has labelled the discourse of ‘Orientalism’ (the nexus of preconceptions and prejudices that Western authors and thinkers have tended to project onto Eastern cultures).

56 mollesque coronae speaks to the crowns of ivy (or ivy and vine) leaves worn by Bacchus and his followers (for which see 540–42 n.). Pentheus scathingly attributes the same quality of mollitia (‘softness’) to the leafy crowns that he earlier attributed to those who wear them (547 with n.). For a Roman reader the epithet molles might have been particularly striking, as the Romans awarded a range of coronae for exceptional military service, including the corona civica (made of oakleaves) awarded for saving the life of a fellow-citizen and killing an enemy in the process, and the corona triumphalis (a small golden crown in the shape of a laurel wreath with dangling ribbons) that emperors awarded in imperial times to victorious generals (in lieu of a full-blown triumph).

57The purpura was a shellfish that yielded a purple dye, and the word came to be used both of the purple dye itself, and, as here, of purple-dyed cloth. The dye was expensive to make, and the colour purple therefore came to signify wealth and power, often in extravagant quantities. Kings and emperors used it; and, like myrrh, it carried connotations of Eastern decadence. The sense of pictis intextum vestibus aurum is ‘gold (i.e golden thread) woven into embroidered/ painted garments’. Note that pictis… vestibus is dat. pl. The assertion of Henderson (1979, 98) that pictis (perf. pass. part. of pingo, ‘adorn with colours, paint, embroider’) is ‘proleptic’ in sense is certainly correct if pictis is understood as speaking to embroidery (and so anticipating the result of intextum… aurum), but less clearly so otherwise, since the gold thread could merely be adding further colour to already dyed garments.

58An alert Roman reader might have caught in verse 556 a veiled reference to the so-called toga picta, a garment dyed entirely in purple and embroidered with gold, which was worn (so legend has it) by the original kings of Rome and also by triumphant generals and high magistrates on special occasions (including the emperor in imperial times). See Liv. 10.7.9 and 30.15.11–12 for generals wearing the toga picta during their triumph and Liv. 28.4.11, 30.15.11, and 31.11.12 for kings clad in purple. From the (anachronistic) perspective of Ovid’s contemporary readers, then, allusion to such a garment would subtly — and ironically — reinforce Pentheus’ framing of the advent of Bacchus in terms of military conquest and enhance the status of Thebes as a failed prefiguration of Rome.

59 557–58 quem … fateri. The archaic adverb actutum (‘forthwith, immediately, without delay’) is frequently found in comedy and the fragments of Republican tragedy, but is very rare in epic, found only once in Virgil’s Aeneid (9.255), and only here in the Metamorphoses. As Currie (1981, 2717) observes, ‘Ovid’ s handling of the Pentheus story owes something to Pacuvius… and the use of actutum … in the context of Pentheus and his misfortunes is possibly meant as a hint of color tragicus, perhaps recalling for the alert and informed reader Pacuvius, and maybe even an actual line or phrase from the dramatist’s treatment of this particular myth’. The alacrity Pentheus has in mind is neatly evoked by means of two elisions: quid(em) eg(o) actutum. This metrical peculiarity may also have specific generic evocations: as Henderson (1979, 98) points out, ‘nowhere else does Ovid construct an initial dactyl of three words which before elision amount to five syllables. The scansion smacks not of epic, but of dramatic poetry’. In short, there is a reasonable chance that Ovid here echoes a now lost Roman drama, such as Pacuvius’ Pentheus.

60The relative pronoun quem again takes puero… inermi (553), i.e. Bacchus, as its antecedent. The imperative clause modo vos absistite in parenthesis is more vivid than a subordinate conditional clause implied by modo (~ dum modo absistatis: ‘only provided that/ so long as…’: see OLD s.v. modo 3c). It is probably best to take adsumptum (from assumo, ‘lay false claim to’) and commenta (from comminiscor, ‘contrive, fabricate’) as predicative (see 553–58 n.). Pentheus dismisses Bacchus’ claim to Jovian paternity as false (as he does more expansively at Eur. Bacch. 242–45, identifying Semele, Bacchus’ mother, as the source of the ‘falsehood’) and the rites devised for his followers a religious sham, and intends to use force to compel a confession (cogam… fateri). Such ruinous scepticism regarding the authenticity of the new god recurs in the following book, where one of the daughters of Minyas makes the same charge in similar language: ‘dum cessant aliae commentaque sacra frequentant …’ (‘While other women shun work and participate in the fraudulent rites…’, Met. 4.37).

61 559–61 an satis… Thebis? Here an introduces a direct question and expresses indignation: ‘Can it really be that…?’The question falls into two adversative parts, which are (yet again) juxtaposed asyndetically: satis… portas (with est as verb and contemnere and claudere as epexegetic infinitives, as explained below), Penthea… Thebis (with advena as subject and terrebit as verb).

62Acrisius is a mythical king of Argos, father of Danaë and grandfather of Perseus (whose adventures are narrated in Book 4). According to legend he was initially, like Pentheus, resistant to Bacchus’ advent, shutting his gates and refusing to admit the god or his worship. In the transition from the Theban narrative to the Perseus episode Ovid offers what amounts to a gloss on Pentheus’ mention of Acrisius here, describing the latter as qui moenibus arceat urbis | Argolicae contraque deum ferat arma genusque | non putet esse Iovis (‘who forbade the entrance of the god [sc. Bacchus] within the walls of his city, Argos, who violently opposed the god, and did not admit that he was born of Jupiter’, 4.608–10). In having Pentheus adduce the case of Argos, Ovid unusually denies to Thebes the status of first Greek city visited on his return from Asia. This is in direct contradiction to the prologue of Euripides’ Bacchae, spoken by Dionysus himself, where the god identifies his mother-city Thebes as his first port of call in Greece (ἐς τήνδε πρώτην ἦλθον Ἑλλήνων πόλιν, ‘this is the first city of Greece I have come to’, Bacch. 20). Another version, reported at Apollod. 3.5.2, has Acrisius’twin brother Proetus behind the Argive resistance to and sacrilegious exclusion of Bacchus — but again this happens right after, rather than (as here in Ovid) before, events in Thebes.

63The subject of the first clause is satis (here used as a noun), with animi a partitive genitive dependent on it: one way to translate would be ‘sufficient courage’; Acrisio is dative of possession. contemnere and claudere are so-called ‘epexegetic’ infinitives (i.e. infinitives that ‘explain’ what Acrisius’ courage, according to Pentheus, consisted in), linked by alliteration and position in the verse. It should be noted that contemnere is the verb-equivalent to the noun contemptor, used earlier of Pentheus (514 with n.). For vanum numen we would say ‘ false god’(OLD s.v. vanus 3, though our passage is listed s.v. 2, ‘containing no real significance or force’, ‘empty’, ‘hollow’, ‘illusory’); for numen see 524 n. The participle venienti is dative (of disadvantage) with claudere portas; it refers to Bacchus and agrees with an implied ei.

64Note that Penthea is acc. sing., the appropriate form for a Greek 3rd declension noun, as again at 706 and 712; like other Roman poets, Ovid regularly retains the Greek declension for Greek names and loanwords (again at 595 Taygeten, Hyadas, Arcton; 636 Naxon). Pentheus’ scathing rhetorical question is made more forceful by reference to himself in the 3rd person, a device of emphasis: Penthea is more compelling here than me. The expression cum totis… Thebis is an alternative, and more striking, way of saying et [totas] Thebas. If the overall expression fleetingly constellates a vision of unity — of the king and his city as one — the verb terrebit attributes this imagined unity to shared fear, which Pentheus dubiously imputes to his fellow Thebans, who have in fact been swept away by genuine religious enthusiasm (527–30). advena picks up etymologically (~ ad-venio) on venienti in the previous line. Pentheus’use of the term (‘visitor from abroad’, ‘newcomer’, ‘stranger’) may have been inspired by Euripides, where Pentheus refers to Dionysus/Bacchus as ξένος (Bacch. 233 etc.), which has much the same sense. The scathing anonymity of advena stands in sharp contrast to the respectful cult name Liber used earlier by Tiresias and Ovid as narrator (519–20, 528).

65 562–63 ite… vinctum. Pentheus orders his servants to put ‘the leader’ (ducem) of the commotion in chains (vinctum is perf. pass. part. of vincio, ‘bind’). The same figure issues much the same command at Eur. Bacch. 352–55 οἳ δ᾽ ἀνὰ πόλιν στείχοντες ἐξιχνεύσατε τὸν θηλύμορφον | ξένον… κἄνπερ λάβητε, δέσμιον πορεύσατε 
 δεῦρ᾽ αὐτόν (‘Go through the town and track down the woman-like stranger… and once he is caught, bind him and bring him here…’). As with advena in the previous sentence, ducem is used scathingly here, suggesting a mortal rabble-rouser rather than a divinity. By avoiding the god’s names and cult titles, Pentheus implicitly rejects Bacchus’ claim to divinity.

66The parenthetical aside famulis hoc imperat (‘he gives this order to his attendants’) on the part of the poet reads almost like a stage direction (and perhaps enhances the dramatic-tragic qualities of the episode). The adjective citi (nom. m. pl. of citus, ‘fast’) is used here in lieu of an adverb (cite, celeriter). The-que after ducem connects the imperatives ite (second occurrence) and attrahite.

67Wills (1996, 101), in a discussion of the iteration of ite in sacral contexts, points to a possible irony in Pentheus employing ritual language (if it be such) in ordering an assault on a divinity. He also points out that Ovid has here reassigned to Pentheus words uttered by the Euripidean chorus at Bacch. 83–87 ἴτε βάκχαι, ἴτε βάκχαι, | Βρόμιον παῖδα θεὸν θεοῦ | Διόνυσον κατάγουσαι | Φρυγίων ἐξ ὀρέων Ἑλλάδος εἰς εὐ | ρυχόρους ἀγυιάς, τὸν Βρόμιον (‘Go, bacchants, go bacchants, bring the roaring son of a god, Dionysus, from the Phrygian mountains to the streets of Greece, broad for dancing! Bring Bromios!’). All told, then, Wills sees Pentheus inadvertently slipping into a religious register, while ventriloquizing the god’s female worshippers (Euripides’ chorus consisted of Asian bacchants). The boundary Pentheus erects between himself and the ‘other’ he seeks to annihilate seems already to be dissolving.

68 563 iussis… abesto. In Latin the future imperative is normally used when there is a distinct reference to future time (AG §449); here, however, the future imperative abesto (of absum, ‘be absent’) merely imparts a heightened authoritative tone. This supplementary command brings out Pentheus’ irritation and impatience, and perhaps hints at reluctance on the part of the famuli.

69 564–65. The two verses are elegantly constructed. In the first we have a *tricolon abundans of nominative subjects structured around the triple *anaphora of the pronoun hunc (= Pentheus) as recurring accusative object. This tricolon is arranged climactically in terms of length, but anti-climactically in terms of familial authority, as we move from grandfather (avus = Cadmus) to the maternal uncle (Athamas is the husband of Agave’s sister Ino) to an unspecified assortment of relatives (turba suorum). Line 565 is dominated by the two finite verbs that enclose it, and which operate on the subjects and objects of the preceding verse. The use of the present tense adds vividness and imparts a sense of urgency.

70The sense of corripiunt is ‘rebuke’ (OLD s.v. 6), a common poetic usage, also found in prose; the ablative dictis clarifies the discursive application of the verb (cf. Suet. Aug. 53 correptus voce magistri), but is not strictly necessary: Ovid has Acmona corripimus at Met. 14.497. The verb laborant is construed with the infinitive (inhibere).

71In terms of familial attempts at dissuasion, Ovid has here ‘upped the ante’ vis-à-vis Euripides, who records only the efforts of Cadmus from among Pentheus’ relatives to overcome the young king’s opposition to Dionysus/Bacchus (Bacch. 329–41). The elaboration of kinship terms and names in 564 calls to mind the genealogical structure of Ovid’s Theban History (see Intro. §4): Cadmus stands at the beginning and the end; the destruction of Ino and Athamas concludes the series of fatalities that hit his daughters and grandchildren. Note, finally, the subtle proleptic force of turba suorum: it is precisely a crowd of (female) relatives turned maenads — a turba furens (716) — that will tear Pentheus apart at the conclusion of the episode.

72 566–67. A rather unusual sequence, in which three verbs in the present (est, inritatur, crescit) are followed by an imperfect (nocebant) that sums up the series. The subject of est, inritatur, and crescit is rabies, which is modified by the attribute acrior and the past participle retenta. The-que after inritatur links est and inritatur, the -que after moderamina links crescit and nocebant (which takes moderamina ipsa as subject).

73 admonitu is ablative of cause with acrior est: the very attempts to restrain Pentheus fuel his anger: as often, Ovid proves himself a keen student of human nature. The *alliteration acrior admonitu underscores the thematic nexus stylistically. retenta is perf. pass. part. of retineo, modifying rabies. Just like the ablative admonitu, the participle has causal force, operating on both inritatur and crescit rabies: the efforts to make Pentheus see reason only worsen his condition: ‘his fury, because it has been detained, is roused and grows’. After admonitu and retenta, moderaminaque ipsa nocebant constitutes Ovid’s third and culminating articulation of the consequences of trying to constrain Pentheus.

74 568–71 sic ego… ibat. Ovid now proceeds to illustrate the psychological phenomenon by way of a simile drawn from the observation of nature. Comparing the irascible king to a river creates another subtle connection (526 n.) with the ancestral dragon, which was earlier likened to a river swollen with rain (3.79–80 inpete nunc vasto ceu concitus imbribus amnis | fertur: ‘now he moves on with huge rush like a river in flood’). The present simile features two scenarios, introduced by, respectively, qua and quacumque: (i) the river is unobstructed and flows freely; (ii) the river is obstructed and becomes fiercer as a result. The second scenario corresponds to the case of Pentheus, with his relatives’ attempt at dissuasion corresponding to the obstruction. The two halves of the simile are balanced across the adversative particle at, which functions as pivot. Each half reflects, with variation, the elements of its counterpart (qua nil obstabat eunti ~ quacumque trabes obstructaque saxa tenebant; qua ~ quacumque; nil ~ trabes obstructaque saxa; obstabat ~ tenebant; eunti ~ [implied object of tenebant]; lenius et modico strepitu ~ spumeus et fervens et ab obice saevior; lenius ~ saevior; modico strepitu ~ spumeus et fervens; decurrere ~ ibat). Note also that obstabat is also taken up by ab obice, and ibat harks back to eunti.

Additional Information: Shakespeare evidently felt great admiration for Ovid’s river simile, for he offers a beautiful, if less symmetrical, reworking of it in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, put in the mouth of Julia: ‘The current that with gentle murmur glides, | Thou know’ |‘The current that with gentle murmur glides, | Thou know’ st being stopped impatiently doth rage; | But when his fair course is not hindered, | He makes sweet music with th’enamell’d stones, | Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge | He overtaketh in his pilgrimage | And so by many winding nooks he strays | With willing sport to the wild ocean’(Two Gentlemen of Verona ii. vii. 25–34).

75 568–69 sic… vidi. Here ego is, technically speaking, superfluous and so emphatic: Ovid injects the authorial ‘personal voice’ into his narrative at an unusual moment (on which more below). vidi (in final position) introduces an indirect statement, with torrentem as subject accusative and decurrere as infinitive. Note that torrens, which functions here as a substantive, can mean ‘a rushing stream’ or ‘torrent’ or, as here, ‘the current (of a river)’; it is a graphic image that well captures Pentheus’ youthful rashness and lack of emotional self-control, an effect reinforced by strepitu. qua here means ‘where’; the subject of the relative clause is nil. With eunti (pres. act. dat. part. of eo, and indirect object of obstabat), supply torrenti.

76The intrusion of the narrator in the first person (ego… vidi) is highly unusual for the epic genre, which tends to avoid the authorial ‘personal voice’, outside of invocations, or apostrophes. In the Metamorphoses, however, such authorial intrusions, which take various forms, are relatively frequent, and some critics have seen them as imparting a sense of unity to the disparate narrative content of the poem. For Solodow (1988, 37) it is Ovid’s distinctive narrative voice that ‘we learn to recognize as we read the poem; we feel him present everywhere mediating the transmission of the stories, we rely on him as a kind of guide through the vast confusion of the world’ (see also Solodow 1988, 55 for discussion of the present passage). This approach yields valuable insights, but it is misguided to see these scattered authorial intrusions as the chief — or in Solodow’s insistent formulation the only — unifying feature of the poem (see further Intro. §3d).

77Looking beyond narrative epic, parallels for the present authorial intrusion can be found in Virgil’s didactic poem, the Georgics, in the first book of which, for instance, the narrator remarks that he has often seen a clash of winds at harvest time (saepe ego… omnia ventorum concurrere proelia vidi, G. 1.316–18).

78 570–71 at… ibat. Ovid is describing a dam constructed from timber and stone: obstructa (perf. pass. part. of obstruo, ‘build in the way of, obstruct’) modifies saxa, but bears on trabes as well by implication (the -que attached to the participle connects the two nouns). Classical Latin poetry, and epic in particular, frequently employs simplex verb forms that had been replaced by compounds in general usage, as here with tenebant (we would expect retinebant); later in the set text we have ducere for educere (587), mittere for omittere (614), ponere for deponere (634). With tenebant supply an accusative object, such as torrentem. In the *tricolon spumeus et fervens et… saevior all adjectives are used adverbially to qualify ibat, and all are deftly chosen to enhance the analogy between the natural and the psychological that underpins the simile. ab obice could be an ablative of cause (equivalent to propter obicem) or, perhaps less likely, an ablative of source (i.e. the preposition speaking to an origin or starting point).

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 5 Musical instruments
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Légende Fig. 6 A thyrsus (‘A staff tipped by a pine cone’)
Fichier image/jpeg, 51k


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