Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.692-733

by Tom Gardner

“Praebuimus longis” Pentheus “ambagibus aures”
inquit “ut ira mora vires absumere posset.
Praecipitem famuli rapite hunc cruciataque diris
corpora tormentis Stygiae demittite nocti.”
Protinus abstractus solidis Tyrrhenus Acoetes
clauditur in tectis; et dum crudelia iussae
instrumenta necis ferrumque ignesque parantur,
sponte sua patuisse fores lapsasque lacertis
sponte sua fama est nullo solvente catenas.

Perstat Echionides. Nec iam iubet ire, sed ipse
vadit, ubi electus facienda ad sacra Cithaeron
cantibus et clara bacchantum voce sonabat.
Ut fremit acer equus, cum bellicus aere canoro
signa dedit tubicen, pugnaeque adsumit amorem,
Penthea sic ictus longis ululatibus aether
movit, et audito clamore recanduit ira.

Monte fere medio est, cingentibus ultima silvis,
purus ab arboribus, spectabilis undique campus.
Hic oculis illum cernentem sacra profanis
prima videt, prima est insano concita cursu,
prima suum misso violavit Penthea thyrso
mater. “Io, geminae” clamavit “adeste sorores!
ille aper, in nostris errat qui maximus agris,
ille mihi feriendus aper.” Ruit omnis in unum
turba furens; cunctae coeunt trepidumque sequuntur,
iam trepidum, iam verba minus violenta loquentem,
iam se damnantem, iam se peccasse fatentem.

Saucius ille tamen “fer opem, matertera” dixit
“Autonoe! moveant animos Actaeonis umbrae.”
Illa, quis Actaeon, nescit dextramque precantis
abstulit: Inoo lacerata est altera raptu.
Non habet infelix quae matri bracchia tendat,
trunca sed ostendens deiectis vulnera membris
“adspice, mater!” ait. Visis ululavit Agaue
collaque iactavit movitque per aera crinem
avulsumque caput digitis complexa cruentis
clamat “io comites, opus haec victoria nostrum est!”
Non citius frondes autumni frigore tactas
iamque male haerentes alta rapit arbore ventus,
quam sunt membra viri manibus direpta nefandis.
Talibus exemplis monitae nova sacra frequentant
turaque dant sanctasque colunt Ismenides aras.

Then Pentheus said: “We have lent our ears to these rambling stories, such that anger can take away its strength by delay. Snatch this man right away, slaves, and send him down to the Stygian night after racking his body with terrible torture!” At once, Acoetes the Tyrian was dragged out and shut away in a dungeon. And while they were preparing the cruel instruments of death, the sword and the fire, as instructed, all by themselves, the doors opened up; and all by themselves, the chains, so they say, fell away from the prisoner’s arms, without anyone unfettering them.

Pentheus persists, and does not order anyone to go, but he himself proceeds himself to where Cithaeron, chosen for the performance of sacral rites, was resounding with songs and the bright voices of worshippers. As a keen horse snorts when the trumpeter of war gives the signal with resounding brass, and he takes eagerness for battle, so the air, stung by long cries, stirred Pentheus, and his anger glowed white as he heard the uproar.

In the middle of the wild mountain, bordered by forests, there a plain which is free from trees, in view from every side. Here, as Pentheus was spying on the sacral rites with blasphemous eyes, his mother was the first to see him, the first to be roused onto him in a mad rush, the first to violate her own Pentheus with a hurled staff. “O, twin sisters,” he cried, “come! There is a huge boar, wandering through our fields—that boar I must strike.” The whole raging throng rush upon him alone; from all sides the women mass together to persue the anxious man—anxious now, and now speaking less vehement words, now condemning himself and confessing that he has done wrong.

Wounded, he nonetheless says: “Bring help, aunt Autonoë! May the ghost of Actaeon move your heart.” She does not know who Actaeon is, and tears his right arm from him as he begs her: the other arm is mutilated by Ino’s snatching. The wretched man has no arms to reach out to his mother, but he says “look, mother!” showing the mangled wounds where his limbs were torn away. “Mother, see!” he says. On seeing them, Agave howls and tosses head and shakes her hair and, grasping his head in the bloodied fingers which tear it off, she cries: “O companions, my deed is our victory!” No more quickly than how leaves on lofty trees, touched by autumn cold and now slightly clinging, are snatched by the wind, are the man’s limbs rent by those impious hands.

Warned by such an examples, the Theban women celebrate the new rites and burn incense and keep sacred altars.