Classical Texts Library >> Nonnus, Dionysiaca >> Book 10




Love of Zeus & Europa
Typhoeus & Cadmus


Battle of Zeus & Typhoeus


Cadmus on Samothrace


Winning of Harmonia
The Founding of Thebes


Wedding of Harmonia
Death of Actaeon


Birth & Death of Zagreus
The Great Deluge


Love of Zeus & Semele


Death of Semele


Birth & Fostering of Dionysus
Madness of Ino


Madness of Athamas
Love of Dionysus & Ampelus


Death of Ampelus
Love of Calamus & Carpus


Tablets of Phanes
Discovery of Wine


Human Army of Dionysus


Divine Army of Dionysus

BOOKS 15 - 48


In the tenth also, you will see the madness of Athamas and Ino’s flight, how she fled into the swell of the sea with newborn Melicertes.

[1] So the murderous mother killed her sons in madness. Athamas their father, under the punishment which attested that he had beside his hearth Themisto the destroyer of her own offspring, was tormented by the maddening lash of Pan; he rushed among his flocks, and harried the innocent troops of woolly bleaters while he believed himself to be flogging his servants. One he lifted, thinking her to be his wedded wife – it was a nannygoat he found, with a pair of newborn kids at her milky udder. He tied her hairy legs tight with two ropes; and undoing the belt that ran round his loins, he flogged the body of the false Ino there held fast, without noticing the changeling form, for always in his ear sounded the thuds of the lash of Cronian Pan.1 Often he leapt from his seat restless, hearing with terrified ears the hiss of serpents. Many a time he bent his bow, and setting an arrow to the drawn string, he drew at an imaginary mark and struck the unwounded air. He would see the serpentine image of the goddess of Tartaros,2 and leap up scared at the many-coloured vision of the spectre, spitting snowy foam to witness his frenzy, rolling eyes drunken and full of threats. His eyes grew bloodshot as he stared about under vagrant impulses; inside his wagging head the flimsy brains rolled about behind his brows.

[25] A third part of his soul was lost3; steady thoughts were gone from his crazy brain; the glances of the maddened man went wildly round with flickering movements; the hair of his untended head shook disordered over his back. His mouth moved stammering; when he opened his lips he sent out into the air meaningless words of strange outlandish sound. The blasts of the Eumenides had carried away the troubles of mortal life, and his tongue was laden with the cries of madness. When he moved his face about he saw as his forehead turned a false transformed shape of the unseen Megaira.4 So the madman shook with a distracted spasm, and tried to tear the whip of snakes from the grim hand of the reason-destroying goddess; he bared his sword in the face of the Avenger, and tried to cut the viper-curls of Tisiphone.5 And he babbled nonsense to the wall before him, for he saw a shadow-shape, a deceitful phantom of the shape of Artemis6; this empty form his eyes beheld and the imitated shapes made him want to go hunting.

[45] At last after the fourth year, after many tears, Ino returned to her home; but when the wife saw husband mad, and Themisto mother of men children, she received a double shock. The husband did not know his wife when he saw Ino, recovered after so long a time; but in his passion for the staghunting chase, he was off to the heights nimbleknee with stormswift boot. He saw his son as if he were an antlered beast; holding the bow ready bent he leapt unchecked on Learchos, whom he saw in the false form of a stag with lofty antlers, his limbs like a wild beast. The boy fled in fear running with quicker knees; the father with frenzied hands drew and shot through the air, and stopt his young son with childslaying bolt. He cut off the head with his knife and knew it not, turned stag by his fancy; laughing he felt the hair at the top of the bloodstained cheek of the face unmarked, and pawed over his game, as he thought, then rushed with mad leaps and rolling eyes to find the mother, while the boy Learchos was gasping still, and still unburied. None of the servants came near him; with quick foot he went wandering through the seven chambers of his house, calling aloud for the son whom he had killed. In the hall he espied little Melicertes who had just been brought in, and setting a cauldron over the hearth, a steaming cauldron, he laid his son in it: the fire blazed up, the murderous cauldron bubbled with boiling water.

[72] His son called out for “papa!” but none of the servants could help. Ino his mother came in like a stormwind, and snatched him from the cauldron parboiled and half consumed. Then she ran out bounding with wild-roaming feet swift as the wind; she traversed the dust of the White Plain,6 and for that reason she was named after it Leucothea, the White Goddess.

[77] Athamas mad was out of the hall, stirring his knees like the wind and pursuing Ino over the hills in vain, – she was too quick for him. But when the raving husband with restless staggering foot caught her up, at that moment the unhappy woman had halted by the sea which washed her foot, moaning in plaintive tones over her crying child, while she upbraided Cronion and Maia’s son his messenger:

[85] “A fine reward you have given me, Flashthunderbolt, for the care of Bacchos! See this boy, Lyaios’ agemate, half burnt to death! If it please you, strike down with your merciless bolt mother and son together, the little one I nursed in one bosom with your divine Dionysos! Child, Necessity is a great god! – where will you flee? What mountain will receive you, now you have fled to the sea? What Cithairon will hide you in a dark hollow? What mortal man will pity you, when your father has no mercy? Either sword or water shall receive you: if needs must, better to perish in the sea than by the sword.

[96] “I know where this disaster came from, rolling upon your mother: I know! It is Nephele7 sends the Erinyes after me, that I may die in this sea where maiden Helle fell. I have heard that Phrixos was carried through the air to the Colchian country, guiding aloft the Ram who took him off, and he still lives in a distant land. O that my son Melicertes too might escape to another country, and travel the high path of the goldfleece ram! O that Poseidon, the hospitable friend of Glaucos,8 might save you, pitying your Ino as once he pitied Phoibos! I fear that after the fate of unburied Learchos I may see you also dead, unburied, unwept, undone, panting under the bloody knife of your father. Make haste! escape from mad Athamas, and then you will not see the father who murdered his child, murder the mother.

[111] “Receive me you too, O sea! I have done with earth. Receive Melicertes also with hospitable hand, O Nereus, as you received Perseus!9 Receive Ino, as once Danaë in her floating hutch! I have been justly punished for my impiety. As I made seedless the earth’s lifegiving furrow, so Cronion has made my family seedless. A kind of stepmother, I planned to mow down the bastard plants of Athamas, and Hera, the real stepmother of newly nurtured Dionysos, is angry with me.”

[120] She spoke, and with trembling feet sprang into the sea, swiftly diving with her son. Seabluehair opened his arms to receive Leucothea, and took her into the divine company in the deep waters. She helps ever sine the seamen who lose their way, and now she is Ino of the Sea, a Nereïd who has charge of untumultuous calm.

[126] So Cronides pointed her out to the mother of Lyaios, because she owed it to Bromios that she was a goddess. Semele in her joy addressed her seafaring sister in mockery: “Ino, you have the sea, Semele has gained the round heavens! Give me place! I had an immortal husband in Cronides the plower of my field, who brought forth the fruit of my birth instead of me; but you were wedded to a mortal mate Athamas, the murderer of your family. Your son’s lot is the sea, but my son will come to the house of Zeus to dwell in the sky. I will not compass heavenly Dionysos with Melicertes down in the water!”

[137] That is how Semele the heavenly bride yelled out in mockery of her sister Ino’s life who dwelt in the sea.

[139] Meanwhile Dionysos, in the latitude of Lydia’s fields, grew into a youthful bloom as tall as he wished, shaking the Euian gear of Cybeleïd Rheia. To escape the midday lash of Helios moving on high, he cleansed his body in the stream of the Meionian River bubbling gently; Pactolos glad to gratify Lyaios murmured as he poured the goldsowing water upon the purple sands, and the gilded fish went swimming in wealthy soundings where the rich ore lay deep. Playful Satyrs lifted their heels in air, and tumbled plunging headover into the river; one selfpropelled swam with paddling hands prone on the waves, and imprinted a footstep on the swell, as he pushed with backstretching legs and cut the water rolling in riches10; one dived deep down in to the underwater caves and hunted for speckled fishy prey down below, stretching a groping hand over the swimming fry – left the deeps again and offered to Bacchos the fish purpled with the slime of the opulent river. Seilenos the old vagabond, challenging a Satyr, entwined hands and feet together, and rolling himself into a ball stooped and dived head first into the stream, from the heights into the deeps, till his hair stuck in the slime; then he trod his two feet firmly into the glittering sand hunting for good nuggets of ore in the river. Another left shoulder unwetted and showed his back out of the water in the air as he stood in the deep stream over the hips, immovable. Another lifted the ears bare and plunged the shaggy thighs in the transparent flood, while the tail flogged the water in circles of its own.

[169] The god lifting his head and spreading his chest, paddled his hand and cut the golden calm. The banks free of waves spirted up self-growing roses, the lily sprouted, the Seasons crowned the shores while Bacchos bathed, and the flowing locks of his dark hair were reddened in the sparkling stream.

[175] Once while hunting in the shady lurking wood he was delighted by the rosy form of a young comrade. For Ampelos11 was a merry boy who had grown up already on the Phrygian hills, a new sprout of the Loves. No dainty bloom was yet on a reddening chin, no down yet marked the snowy circles of his cheeks, the golden flower of youth: curling clusters of hair ran loose behind over his silvery-glistering shoulders, and floated in the whispering wind that lifted them with its breath. As the hair blew aside the neck showed above rising bare in the middle. Unshadowed light flashed from him, like the shining moon when she pierces a damp cloud and shows within it. From his rosy lips escaped a voice breathing honey. Spring itself shone from his limbs; where his silvery foot stept the meadow blushed with roses; if he turned his eyes, the gleam of the bright eyeballs as soft a s a cow’s eye was like the light of the full moon.

[193] Dionysos took him as playmate in his dainty sports. Then in admiration of his beauty he spoke to him as a man, artfully concealing his divine nature, and asked him: “What father begat you? What immortal womb brought you forth? Which of the Graces gave you birth? What handsome Apollo made you? Tell me, my friend, do not hide your kin. If you come another Eros, unwinged, without arrows, without quiver, which of the Blessed slept with Aphrodite and bred you? But indeed I Tremble to name Cypris as your mother, for I would not call Hephaistos or Ares your father. Of if you are the one they call Hermes come from the sky, show me your light wings, and the lively soles of your shoes. How is it you wear the hair uncut falling along your neck? Can you be Phoibos himself come to me without harp, without bow, Phoibos shaking the locks of his unshorn hair unbound! If Cronides begat me, and you are from a mortal stock, if you have the shortliving blood of the horned Satyrs, be king at my side, a mortal with a god; for your looks will not disgrace the heavenly blood of Lyaios. But why do I call you one of the creatures of a day? I recognize your blood even if you wish to hide it; Selene slept with Helios and brought you to birth wholly like the gracious Narcissos; for you have a like heavenly beauty, the image of horned Selene.”

[217] So he spoke, and the youth was delighted with his words, and proud that he surpassed the beauty of his young agemates by a more brilliant display. And in the mountain coppice if the boy made melody Bacchos listened with pleasure; no smile was on his face if the boy stayed away. If at his caperloving board a Satyr beat the drums with his hands and struck out his rattling tune, while they boy was away on stag-hunting quest, Bacchos refused the doubled sound so long as he was not there. If ever he lingered by the flowery stream of Pactolos, that he might bring himself sweeter water for the supper of his king, Bacchos was lashed with trouble so long as the boy stayed away.

[230] If he took up the bold hoboy, the instrument of Libyan Echo, and blew a light breath with swollen cheek, Bacchos thought he heard the Mygdonian flotist12 whom divine Hyagnis begat, who to his cost challenged Phoibos as he pressed the fingerholes on Athena’s double pipe. If he sat with the young man at one table, when the boy spoke he lent delighted ear, when he ceased, melancholy spread over his cheeks. If Ampelos, carried away by wild passion for high capers, twirled with dancing paces and joined hands with a sporting Satyr in the round, stepping across foot over foot, Bacchos looked on shaken with envious feeling. If he ever conversed with the Satyrs, if he joined with a yearsmate hunter to follow chase, Dionysos jealous held him back, lest another be struck like himself with a heartbewitching shaft, and now enslaved by love should seduce the fickle boy’s fancy and estrange the lovely youth from Lyaios, as a freshblooming boy might well charm a comrade of his own age.

[250] When Bacchos lifted his thyrsus against a maddened bear, or cast his stout fennel javelin-like at a lioness, he looked aside watchfully toward the west; for fear the deathbringing breath of Zephyros might blow again, as it did once before when the bitter blast killed a young man while it turned the hurtling quoit against Hyacinthos.13 He feared Cronides might suddenly appear over Tmolos as a love-bird on amorous wing unapproachable, carrying off the boy with harmless talons into the air, as once he did the Trojan boy to serve his cups.14 He feared also the lovestricken ruler of the sea, that as once he took up Tantalides15 in his golden car, so now he might drive a winged wagon coursing through the air and ravish Ampelos – the Earthshaker mad with love!

[264] He had a sweet dream on his dreambreeding bed, beheld the shadowy phantom of a counterfeit shape and whispered loving words to the mocking vision of the boy. If his passionate gaze saw any blemish,16 this appeared lovely to lovesick Dionysos, even more dear than the whole young body; if the end of the tail which grew on him hung slack by his loins, this was sweeter than honey to Bacchos. Matted hair on an unkempt head even so gave more pleasure to his impassioned gaze. By day he was charmed to be with him; when night came he was troubled to part from him, when he no longer heard the familiar voice enchanting his hears, as he slept in the grotto of Rheia mother of mighty sons.

[278] A Satyr saw the boy, and enchanted with his divine beauty he whispered, concealing his words – "Allfriendly Persuasion, manager of the human heart! Grant only that this lovely boy be gracious to me! If I can have him to play with me like Bacchos, I wish not to be translated into the sky, I would not be a god – not Phaëthon the light of mankind, I covert not the nectar, I want no ambrosia! I care nothing, if Ampelos loves me, even if Cronion hates me!”

[287] So much he said to himself in envious tone, hugging the lovepoison in his heart, drunk with the magic potion of adoration. But Euios himself, periced by the sting of the young man’s sweetness, smiled as he cried out to Cronides his father, another unhappy lover:

[292] “Grant one grace to me the lover, O Phrygian Zeus! When I was a little one, Rheia who is still my nurse told me that you gave lightning to Zagreus, the first Dionysos, before he could speak plain – gave him your fiery lance and rattling thunder and showers of rain out of the sky, and he was another Rainy Zeus while yet a babbling baby! But I do not ask the heavenly fire of your lightning, nor the cloud, nor the thunderclap. If it please you, give fiery Hephaistos the spark of your thunderbolt; let Ares have a corselet of your clouds to cover his chest with; give the pouring rainshower of Zeus as largess to Hermaon; let Apollo, if you will, wield his father’s lightning. My ambition is not so high, dear father! I am springheel Dionysos! A fine thing it would be for me to wield Semele’s manikin lightning! The sparks of thunderbolt that killed my mother are no pleasure to me. Maionia is my dwelling-place; what is the sky to Dionysos? My Satyr’s beauty is dearer to me than Olympos. Tell me, father, do not hide it, swear by your own young friend – when you were an Eagle, when you picked up the boy on the slopes of Teucrian Ida with greedy gentle claw, and brought him to heaven, had the clown such beauty as this, when you made him one of the heavenly table still smelling of the byre? Forgive me, Father Longwing! Don’t talk to me of your Trojan winepourer, the servant of your cups. Lovely Ampelos outshines Ganymedes, he has a brilliancy in his countenance more radiant – the Tmolian beasts the Idaian! There are plenty more beautiful lads in troops – court them all if you like, and leave one boy to Lyaios!”

[321] So he spoke, shaken by the sting of desire. Not Apollo in the thick Magnesian woods, when he was herdsman to Admetos and tended his cattle, was pierced by the sweet sting of love for a winsome boy, as Bacchos rejoiced in heart sporting with the youth.17 Both played in the woods together, now throwing the thyrsus to travel through the air, now on some unshaded flat, or again they tramped the rocks hunting the hillbred lion’s cubs. Sometimes alone on a deserted bank, they played on the sands of a pebbly river and had a wrestling-bout in friendly sport; no tripod was their prize, no flowergraven cauldron lay ready for the victory, no horses from the grass, but a double pipe of love with clearsounding notes. It was a delightsome strife for both, for mad Love stood between them, a winged Hermes in the Ring,18 wreathing a lovegarland of daffodil and iris.

[339] Both stood forward as love’s athletes. They joined their palms garlandwise over each other’s back, packed at the waist with a knot of the hands, squeezed the ribs tight with the muscles of their two forearms, lifted each other from the ground alternately. Bacchos was in heaven amid this honeysweet wrestling, and love gave him a double joy, lifting and lifted19 . . . Ampelos enclosed the wrist of Bromios in his palm, then joining hands and tightening that intruding grip interlaced his fingers and brought them together in a double knot, squeezing the right hand of willing Dionysos. Next Bacchos ran his two hands round the young man’s waist squeezing his body with a loving grip, and lifted Ampelos high; but the other kicked Bromios neatly behind the knee; and Euios laughing merrily at the blow from his young comrade’s tender foot, let himself fall on his back in the dust. Thus while Bacchos lay willingly on the ground the boy sat across his naked belly, and Bacchos in delight lay stretched at full length on the ground sustaining the sweet burden on his paunch. Now raising on of his legs he set the sole of the foot firmly upon the sand and raised his overturned back; but he showed mercy in his strength, as with a rival movement of a reluctant hand he dislodged the beloved burden. The young man, no novice at the game, turned sideways and rested his elbow on the ground, then jumped across on his adversary’s back, then over his flanks with a foot behind one knee and another set on the other ankle he encircled the waist with a double bond and squeezed the ribs and pressed flat and straight out the lifted leg under his knee.20 Both rolled in the dust, and the sweat poured out to tell that they were tired.

[373] Thus Dionysos was conquered with his own consent, like his father as an athlete, who was conquered at last though invincible: for mighty Zeus himself, wrestling with Heracles beside the Alpheios, bent willing knees and fell of his own accord.

[378] Se ended the playful bout: the young man held out a happy hand and lifted his prize, the double pipes. He cleansed the sweat from his limbs in the river and washed off the damp dust; as he bathed, a pleasant brightness shone from the sweating skin.

[383] After the victory in wrestling strongi’thelimb, Bacchos did not cease his games with his young comrade, but proposed a windswift contest of footrunning. To bring in other fleet wooers of the game for love, he offered for the first, Cybelid Rheia’s instruments as a prize, bronzeplated cymbals and the speckled skins of fawns. The second prize for victory was Pan’s comrade, – panspipes sweet utterance, and a resounding tomtom in a heavy bronze frame. For the third in his games, Dionysos offered ruddy sand from the river so ready and willing.

[393] Then Bromios measured the ground for the furlong race. He measured the stretch between the two ends of the course, and set up a tall stake in the ground, ten palms high, to make the finish of the race; at the other end he raised and planted a thyrsus on the river-bank to show the turning-point. Then he urged the Satyrs to go in and win.

[399] Springheel Lyaios cried his summons aloud, and first up leapt windfoot Leneus, then on either side of him highstepping Cissos and charming Ampelos stood up.21 They stood in a row, confident in the quick soles of their straightfaring feet. Cissos flew with stormy movement of his feet just skimming the top of the ground as he touched it. Leneus was running behind him quick as the winds of heaven and warming the back of the sprinter with his breath, close behind the leader, and he touched footstep with footstep on the dust as it dropped, with following feet: the space between them both was no more than the rod leaves open before the bosom of a girl working at the loom, close to the firm breast. Ampelos came third and last. Dionysos saw them out of the corner of his eye, and melted with jealousy that the two competitors should be in front, afraid they might win and Ampelos come in behind them; so the god helped him, breathed strength into him, and made the boy swifter than the spinning gale. Then Cissos, first of the two in the race, striving so hard for the prize, stumbled over a wet place on the shore, slipt and fell in the sandy slush; Leneus had to check the course of his feet, and his knees lost their swing: so both competitors were passed and Ampelos carried off the victory.22

[425] The old Seilenoi23 shouted Euoi! amazed at the victory of the youth. He received the first prize with soft hair flowing, Leneus took the second full of envy, for he understood the jealous trick of Lyaios and his passion; Cissos eyed his comrades with look abashed, as he held out his hand for the last prize discontented.

1. As son of Cronos, or of one of his sons; see Rose, Handbook of Gk. Myth., p. 168. The episode seems modelled on the madness of Aias, see Soph. Ai. 284 ff.
2. i.e. one of the Erinyes.
3. Platonic; the reason, which is seated in the brain (Plato, Tim. 44D) is lost, but the thumos and the desiderative part remain.
4. An Erinys.
5. Here = Hecate also.
6. Apparently near Thebes.
7. See note on ix. 304. Ino plotted to kill Phrixos and Helle; she roasted the seed-corn, and when famine resulted forged an oracle which bade the Thebans sacrifice them. Their mother sent them the golden-fleeced ram which took them on its back and swam (as Ovid, Fasti iii. 868) or flew (as here) away with them to Colchis on the Black Sea. Helle dropped off its back at the Dardanelles, which thence got the name of Helle’s sea, Hellespontos.
8. See on i. 111.
9. When set adrift in a chest with his mother Danaë.
10. This neatly gives a literal sense to the colloquial phrase rhudon aphneioio “rolling in riches,” Hom. Od. xv. 426.

11. In the succeeding narrative, Ampelos, Calamos, and Carpso, and in bk. xviii. Staphylos, Botrys, Pithon, Methe, are only personifications of things connected with vines and drinking.
12. Marsyas. He picked up the auloi which Athena had thrown away after inventing them, because her face looked ugly when blowing them. Having become a proficient player, he challenged Apollo to a musical contest. The god out-did him and flayed him alive.
13. Of Amyclai, loved by Apollo, and, in some versions, by the West-wind also. When Apollo threw a discus, it struck Hyacinthos on the head (either by accident or because the West-wind blew it awry) and killed him.
14. Ganymede.
15. Pelops. Here Nonnos follows Pindar’s version of the story, by which Poseidon fell in love with Pelops and carried him off to be the cupbearer in Olympos before Ganymede; Pindar, Ol. i. 40.
16. In the real boy.
17. Apollo, when banished from heaven for killing the Cyclopes (see Eur. Alc. 1 ff.), was received by Admetos, king of Pherai in Thessaly (and so near enough to Magnesia to be called loosely Magnesian), and either from gratitude for his kindness or love for his beauty, befriended him thereafter.
18. Hermes was patron of athletic contests under this title.
19. Something is missing here.
20. The scissors-hold of to-day.

21. Leneus is a personification invented by Nonnos of lênos, the winepress. Cissos is the ivy, Ampelos the vine.
22. This contest recalls the race at the funeral of Patroclos, Hom. Il. xxxiii. 764.
23. Here, as often, the older Satyrs.