Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.1-25: iamque deus posita fallacis imagine tauri

by Tom Gardner

iamque deus posita fallacis imagine tauri
se confessus erat Dictaeaque rura tenebat,
cum pater ignarus Cadmo perquirere raptam
imperat et poenam, si non invenerit, addit
exilium, facto pius et sceleratus eodem.
orbe pererrato (quis enim deprendere possit
furta Iovis?) profugus patriamque iramque parentis
vitat Agenorides Phoebique oracula supplex
consulit et, quae sit tellus habitanda, requirit.
‘bos tibi’ Phoebus ait ‘solis occurret in arvis,
nullum passa iugum curvique inmunis aratri.
hac duce carpe vias et, qua requieverit herba,
moenia fac condas Boeotiaque illa vocato.’
vix bene Castalio Cadmus descenderat antro,
incustoditam lente videt ire iuvencam
nullum servitii signum cervice gerentem.
subsequitur pressoque legit vestigia gressu
auctoremque viae Phoebum taciturnus adorat.
iam vada Cephisi Panopesque evaserat arva:
bos stetit et tollens speciosam cornibus altis
ad caelum frontem mugitibus inpulit auras
atque ita respiciens comites sua terga sequentis
procubuit teneraque latus submisit in herba.
Cadmus agit grates peregrinaeque oscula terrae
figit et ignotos montes agrosque salutat.

And now the god had lain aside his bull disguise and given himself up, and lived in the Cretan countryside; Cadmus’s father, unaware of this, ordered him to search for the girl, and added the penalty of exile if he not find her — a deed at once dutiful and wicked. Having roamed the globe (for who could find what Jupiter has concealed?), Cadmus as a fugitive evaded both his father’s country and his wrath, and as a supplicant consulted the Phoeban oracle and asked which land is to be settled.

‘A cow will come to meet you in the lone plains,’ Phoebus said, ‘which has never borne yoke, and is free from crooked plough. Wend your way by her guide, and wheresoever she lies to rest upon the grass, see to it you found a city there, and you shall call it Boeotia.’ Scarcely had Cadmus left the Castilian cavern when he saw a young heifer plodding unguarded, bearing no mark of servitude upon her neck. He followed, and tracked her path with checked paces, and silently revered Phoebus for showing the way.

Now that she had passed the fords of Cephisus and the fields of Panope, the cow stood, lifting to the heavens her beautiful head, with tall horns, and filled the air with lowing. And looking back to her partners following her, she kneeled and lowered her flank into the soft grass. Cadmus gave thanks and imprints kisses upon the foreign land, then greeted the unknown mountains and plains.