By Sailko - Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link The opening lines of the Metamorphoses from Plut. (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) 36.8 Date: c. 1390-1400.
Translation and Notes
The Miraculous Statue Ovid, Metamorphoses book 10, lines 247 - 297
[Pygmalion] niveum mira feliciter arte sculpsit ebur formamque dedit, qua femina nasci nulla potest, operisque sui concepit amorem. virginis est verae facies, quam vivere credas, et, si non obstet reverentia, velle moveri: 5 ars adeo latet arte sua. miratur et haurit pectore Pygmalion simulati corporis ignes. saepe manus operi temptantes admovet, an sit corpus an illud ebur, nec adhuc ebur esse fatetur. oscula dat reddique putat loquiturque tenetque 10 et credit tactis digitos insidere membris et metuit, pressos veniat ne livor in artus, et modo blanditias adhibet, modo grata puellis munera fert illi conchas teretesque lapillos et parvas volucres et flores mille colorum 15 liliaque pictasque pilas et ab arbore lapsas Heliadum lacrimas; ornat quoque vestibus artus, dat digitis gemmas, dat longa monilia collo, aure leves bacae, redimicula pectore pendent. Festa dies Veneris tota celeberrima Cypro 20 venerat, et pandis inductae cornibus aurum conciderant ictae nivea cervice iuvencae, turaque fumabant, cum munere functus ad aras constitit et timide ‘si di dare cuncta potestis, sit coniunx, opto,’ non ausus ‘eburnea virgo’ 25 dicere, Pygmalion ‘similis mea’ dixit ‘eburnae.’ sensit, ut ipsa suis aderat Venus aurea festis, vota quid illa velint et, amici numinis omen, flamma ter accensa est apicemque per aera duxit. ut rediit, simulacra suae petit ille puellae 30 incumbensque toro dedit oscula,: visa tepere est; temptatum mollescit ebur positoque rigore subsidit digitis ceditque, ut Hymettia sole cera remollescit tractataque pollice multas flectitur in facies ipsoque fit utilis usu. 35 dum stupet et dubie gaudet fallique veretur, rursus amans rursusque manu sua vota retractat. corpus erat! saliunt temptatae pollice venae. tum vero Paphius plenissima concipit heros verba, quibus Veneri grates agat, oraque tandem 40 ore suo non falsa premit, dataque oscula virgo sensit et erubuit timidumque ad lumina lumen attollens pariter cum caelo vidit amantem. coniugio, quod fecit, adest dea, iamque coactis cornibus in plenum noviens lunaribus orbem 45 illa Paphon genuit, de qua tenet insula nomen.
The Miraculous Statue niveum = snow-white feliciter = successfully ebur = ivory nasci = be born operis = his work concepit = he fell in facies = her appearance obstet = hold you back velle = you would expect it to latet = is concealed haurit = he drank in pectore = in his heart ignes = the flame of passion simulati = made-up, not real temptantes = tentative, exploring an sit = to find out whether nec adhuc = no longer fatetur = he admits oscula = kisses reddi = they are returned tactis...membris = when he touches her limbs digitos = his fingers insidere = sink in metuit = he is afraid livor = a bruise artus = limbs blanditias = flattery, compliments adhibet = he addresses to her modo = sometimes munera = gifts conchas = shells teretes = polished volucres = birds pictas = coloured pilas = balls lapsas = fallen Heliadum = of the daughters of Helios, the Sun vestibus = with clothes monilia = necklaces collo = neck aure = from her ear(s) bacae = drops redimicula = chains celeberrima = attended by crowds pandis … cornibus = on their spreading horns inductae = gilded conciderant = had been sacrificed ictae = stricken cervice = neck(s) iuvencae = heifers (young cows) tura = incense munere functus = after he had offered his gift aras = altars opto = I beg, pray eburnea = (made of) ivory sensit = (Venus) understood vota = prayers velint = meant numinis = divine power ter = three times accensa = blazed up apicem = the tip of the flame aera = air simulacra = statue incumbens = leaning over toro = her couch tepere = to grow warm temptatum = when he touched it mollescit = grew soft posito = lost rigore = its stiffness subsidit = it yielded cedit = gave way Hymettia = from Hymettus, a mountain near Athens famous even today for its honey cera = wax tractata = moulded pollice = thumb flectitur = can be modelled facies = shapes fit = becomes usu = by being used dubie = doubtfully falli = of being deceived veretur = he is afraid rursus = again amans = the lover (Pygmalion) retractat = draws back from sua vota = the object of his prayers (i.e. the statue) saliunt = leap, pulsate venae = veins concipit = poured out Paphius = from Paphos,the birthplace of Venus in Cyprus plenissima = fulsome, a flood of grates = thanks ora = her lips premit = he presses data = (which) she is given erubuit = blushes lumen/lumina = eye(s) attollens = raising pariter = at the same time as coniugio = at the wedding coactis … cornibus = having joined her horns noviens = nine times lunaribus = the moon in plenum = to the full phase (the whole of this last phrase means simply “Nine months later …”) genuit = gave birth to tenet = takes, is given
Ovid: The Miraculous Statue This poem is taken from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. The word means “changes” and each of the myths re-told by Ovid in the 15 books of poems contains some sort of ‘transformation scene.' In some of the stories—such as Pyramus and Thisbe—the change is of minor importance: mulberries are changed from white to red. In other stories, such as the story of Pygmalion, the change is of major importance. The hero, disillusioned with the women of his native Cyprus, carves his ideal lady in ivory and prays to Venus that she, or somebody like her, may come to life. His prayer is granted and this is the climax of the story. The name Pygmalion is more familiar than the story itself, largely through Bernard Shaw's well-known play and its even better-known musical version, My Fair Lady. But it is important to realise that Shaw owed little to Ovid except the germ of an idea, just as Shakespeare may have derived from Ovid the idea of a statue coming to life in the final act of A Winter's Tale. In a sense Shaw begins where Ovid ends, for his ‘statue’ is already alive in the person of Eliza Doolittle, and his plot, with all its social satire and phonetics, is concerned with her launching into high society. Ovid tells his story in his own way, simply and for its own sake: Pygmalion is just a sculptor in love with his masterpiece; his statue has no name (for Galatea is a later invention), and never utters a word.
Pygmalion successfully carved snow-white ivory with amazing skill, and gave it the shape that no woman born could ever possess, then fell in love with his own work.
It really looked like a girl, whom you would really believe alive, and if modesty did not hold it back, you would expect to move: to such an extent did art conceal art.
Pygmalion is a prince of Cyprus, birthplace of the goddess Venus. Lately, however, the women of the island have been indulging in a festival to the goddess which included human sacrifice - the goddess was revolted by this, and took her revenge by turning the women into hard-hearted prostitutes, then, the logical progress from this, into stones. Poor Pygmalion, looking for a wife, could not find a single woman by whom he was not repelled, so took matters into his own hands.
He marvelled at her, and his breast was inflamed by the fires of love for his artificial creation. Often he would move tentative hands towards his work, to see whether she was real flesh or only ivory, and could not admit that she really was only ivory.
He kisses her, and believes that she returns his kisses. He talks to her, and holds her in his arms, and believes that his fingers sink into her flesh as he touches it. He is afraid that a bruise may appear where he pressed her flesh.
Sometimes he offers her compliments, sometimes he brings her gifts of the sort that will please a young girl - shells, polished stones, little birds and flowers of a thousand colours, lilies, painted balls, and the tears of the daughters of Helios fallen from the trees. He also adorns her limbs with clothes, gives her jewels for her fingers, long necklaces for her throat, and delicate drops for her ears; chains hang at her breast.
This simple tale doesn't seem to need many notes - it is self-explanatory. However there are a few typically Ovidian mythological references, such as the one to the daughters of Helios here. Helios- the sun god - had rashly allowed his son Phaethon to drive his chariot across the sky one day. He drove too fast, lost control of the powerful horses, and would have crashed into the Earth, burning the whole planet up in a terrible conflagration, had not Helios destroyed the chariot, with Phaethon still in it, after making the dreadful decision to sacrifice his son and save the Earth. Phaethon's sisters - the Heliades in the text - wept so much for their brother that they were turned into pine-trees, which continued to weep even after the transformation - their tears are amber, with which the Romans were familiar through trade links with the Baltic from which the amber came. It was a costly material, and believed to have magical powers because of the static electricity which it can generate.
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