SALMACIS AND HERMAPHRODITUS
by: Ovid (43 BC-17 AD?)
- OW Salmacis
with weak enfeebling streams
- Softens the body, and unnerves the limbs,
- And what the secret cause shall here be shown;
- The cause is secret, but the effect is known.
- The Naiads nurst an infant heretofore,
- That Cytherea once to Hermes bore;
- From both the illustrious authors of his race
- The child was named; nor was it hard to trace
- Both the bright parents through the infant's face;
- When fifteen years, in Ida's cool retreat,
- The boy had told, he left his native seat,
- And sought fresh fountains in a foreign soil;
- The pleasure lessened the attending toil.
- With eager steps the Lycian fields he crossed,
- And fields that border on the Lycian coast;
- A River here he viewed so lovely bright,
- It showed the bottom in a fairer light,
- Nor kept a sand concealed from human sight.
- The stream produced, nor slimy ooze, nor weeds,
- Nor miry rushes nor the spiky reeds:
- But dealt encircling moisture all around,
- The fruitful banks with cheerful verdure crowned,
- And kept the spring eternal on the ground
- A nymph presides, nor practised in the chase,
- Nor skilful at the bow, nor at the race;
- Of all the blue-eyed daughters of the main.
- The only stranger to Diana's train;
- Her sisters, often, as 'tis said, would cry,
- "Fie, Salmacis, what, always idle! Fie!
- Or take thy quiver or thy arrows seize,
- And mix the toils of hunting with thy ease."
- But oft would bathe her in the crystal tide,
- Oft with a comb her dewy locks divide;
- Now in the limpid streams she viewed her face,
- And drest her image in the floating glass:
- On beds of leaves she now reposed her limbs,
- Now gathered flowers that grew about her streams;
- And then by chance was gathering, as she stood
- To view the boy, and longed for what she viewed.
- Fain would she meet the youth with hasty feet,
- She fain would meet him, but refused to meet
- Before her looks were set with nicest care,
- And well deserved to be reputed fair.
- "Bright youth," she cries, "whom all thy features
- A God, and, if a God, the God of Love;
- But if a mortal, blest thy nurse's breast,
- Blest are thy parents, and thy sisters blest:
- But, oh! how blest! how more than blest thy bride,
- Allied in bliss, if any get allied:
- If so, let mine the stolen enjoyment be;
- If not, behold a willing bride to me."
- The boy knew nought of love, and, touched with shame,
- He strove, and blushed, but still the blush became;
- In rising blushes still fresh beauties rose;
- The sunny side of fruit such blushes shows,
- And such the moon, when all her silver white
- Turns in eclipses to a ruddy light.
- The Nymph still begs, if not a nobler bliss,
- A cold salute at least, a sister's kiss;
- And now prepares to take the lovely boy
- Between her arms. He, innocently coy,
- Replies, "Oh leave me to myself alone,
- You rude, uncivil nymph, or I'll begone."
- "Fair stranger then," says she; "it shall
- And, for she feared his threats, she feigned to go;
- But hid within a covert's neighboring green,
- She kept him still in sight, herself unseen.
- The boy now fancies all the danger o'er,
- And innocently sports about the shore,
- Playful and wanton to the stream he trips,
- And dips his foot, and shivers as he dips,
- The coolness pleases him, and with eager haste
- His airy garments on the banks he cast;
- His godlike features and his heavenly hue,
- And all his beauties were exposed to view.
- His naked limbs the nymph with rapture spies,
- While hotter passions in her bosom rise,
- Flush in her cheeks, and sparkle in her eyes.
- She longs, she burns to clasp him in her arms,
- And loves, and sighs, and kindles at his charms.
- Now all undrest upon the banks he stood,
- And clapt his sides and leapt into the flood:
- His lovely limbs the silver waves divide,
- His limbs appear more lovely through the tide;
- As lilies shut within a crystal case,
- Receive a glossy lustre from the glass.
- "He's mine, he's all my own," the Naiad cries,
- And flings off all, and after him she flies.
- And now she fastens on him as he swims,
- And holds him close, and wraps about his limbs.
- The more the boy resisted and was coy,
- The more she kissed and clipt the strippling boy.
- So when the wriggling snake is hatched on high
- In eagle's claws, and hisses in the sky,
- Around the foe his twirling tail he flings,
- And twists her legs, and writhes about her wings.
- The restless boy still obstinately strove
- To free himself and still refused her love.
- Amidst his limbs she kept her limbs entwined,
- "And why, coy youth," she cries, "why thus
- Oh, may the Gods thus keep us ever joined!
- Oh, may we never, never part again!"
- So prayed the nymph, nor did she pray in vain:
- For now she finds him, as his limbs she prest,
- Grow nearer still, and nearer to her breast;
- Till, piercing each the other's flesh, they run
- Together, and incorporate in one:
- Last in one face are both their faces joined,
- As when the stock and grafter twig combined
- Shoot up the same, and wear a common mind:
- Both bodies in a single body mix,
- A single body with a double sex.
- The boy, thus lost in woman, now surveyed
- The river's guilty stream, and thus he prayed.
- (He prayed, but wondered at his softer tone,
- Surprised to hear a voice but half his own.)
- You parent gods, whose heavenly names I bear,
- Hear your Hermaphrodite, and grant my prayer;
- Oh, grant that--whom so'er these streams contain,
- If man he entered, he may rise again
- Supple, unsinewed, and but half a man!
- The heavenly parents answered, from on high
- Their two-shaped son, the double votary;
- Then gave a secret virtue to the flood,
- And tinged its source to make his wishes good.
- TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH BY
POEMS BY OVID
"Salmacis and Hermaphroditus"
is reprinted from Poetica Erotica. Ed. T.R. Smith. New
York: Crown Publishers, 1921.