Classical Texts Library >> Nonnus, Dionysiaca >> Book 12




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


With the twelfth, delight your heart, where Ampelos has shot up his own shape, a new flower of love, into the fruit of the vine.

[1] So these by the brows of western Oceanos took ship for the mansion of Helios their father. As they approached, Hesperos the Evening Star leapt up and went out of the hall to meet them. Selene herself also darted out newrisen, showing her light as she drove her cattle.

[6] The Sisters at the sight of the lifegiving Charioteer stayed their fruitful step. He had just finished his course and come down from the sky. Bright Phosphoros was ready for the fire-eyed driver, near his chariot and four. He put away the hot yokestraps and starry whip, and washed in the neighbouring Ocean stream the bodies of the firefed horses wet with sweat. The colts shook the dripping manes on their necks, and stamped with sparkling hooves the shining mangertrough. The four were greeted by the twelve circling Hours,1 daughters of Time, tripling round the fiery throne of the untiring Charioteer in a ring, servants of Helios that attend on his shining car, priestesses of the lichtgang each in her turn: for they bend a servile neck to the ancient manager of the universe.

[21] Then up and spoke the grapetending Season, holding out her hook of the fruitpining autumn as witness to her prayer: “Helios, giver of feason, plantdresser, lord of fruits! When will the soil make winemother grapes to grow? Which of the blessed will have this honour betrothed him by Time? Hide it not, I adjure you, because of all the Sisters I alone have no privilege of honour! I provide no fruit, nor corn, no meadow-hay, no rain from Zeus.”

[29] She spoke, and Helios cheered the nurse of the fruitage to come. He raised finger, and pointed out to his circling2 daughter close to a wall opposite the separated tablets of Harmonia.30 ff In these are recorded in one group all the oracles which the prophetic hand of Phanes first born3 engraved as ordained for the world, and drew with his pencil the house proper for each.4 And Hyperion, dispenser of fire, added these words: “In the third tablet, you shall know whence the fruitage of wine shall come – where is the Lion and the Virgin: in the fourth, who is the Prince of grapes – that is where Ganymedes draws the delicious nectar, and lifts cup in hand in the picture.”

[41] When the god had spoken, the wineloving maiden turned her eyes about, and ran to the place. Beside the oracular wall she saw the first tablet, old as the infinite past, containing all things in one: upon it was all that Ophion5 lord paramount had done, all that ancient Cronos accomplished: when he cut off his father’s male plowshare, and sowed the teeming deep with seed on the unsown back of the daughterbegetting sea; how he opened a gaping throat to receive a stony son, when he made a meal of the counterfeit body of a pretended Zeus; how the stone played midwife to the brood of imprisoned children, and shot out the burden of the parturient gullet.6

[52] But when the stormfoot Season, Phaëthon’s handmaid, had seen the fiery shining victory of Zeus at war and the hailstorm snowstorm conflict of Cronos,7 she looked at the next tablet in its turn. There was shown how the pine was in labour of the human race8– how the tree suddenly burst its tree-birth and disgorged a son unbegotten self-completed; how Raincloud Zeus brought the waters up in mountainous seas on high and flooded all cities, how Notos and Boreas, Euros and Lips in turn lashed Deucalion’s wandering hutch, lifted it castaway on waves in the air and left it harbourless near the moon.

[64] When the priestess of the lichtgang passed with nimble foot to the third tablet, the circling maiden stood gazing at the manifold oracles of the world’s fate, in letters of glowing colour engraved with the artist’s vermilion, all that elaborate story which the primeval mind had inscribed; and this was the prophecy that she read in the tablets:

[70] “Hera’s herdsman Argos9 shall change form to a bird,10 with the appearance of his grim eyes made bright. Harpalyce11 after the bed of criminal nuptials shall carve up her son for her incestuous father, and paddle a winged course through the air as a stormswift bird. Philomela12 the busy weaver shall be a twittering swallow with tuneful throat, and cry abroad the witness of her tongueless silence which once she skilfully inscribed like talking words upon a robe. Niobe13 shall remain a monument of sorrow on the slopes of Sipylos, a rock endowed with sense, and mourning the line of her children with stony tears. Near her shall be Pyrrhos,14 a Phrygian stone enamoured, still feeling the lawless lust for impossible union with Rheia. Thisbe shall be running water along with Pyramos,15 both of an age, each desiring the other. Crocos, in love with Smilax, that fairgarlanded girl, shall be the flower of love.16 And after the goal of the stormy marriage-race, after the Paphian’s apples, Artemis shall change Atalanta into a lioness and drive her mad.” 17

[90] The Season passed restless over all these on one tablet, until she came to the place where fiery Hyperion indicated the signs of prophecy to the wind-swept maiden. There was drawn the shining Lion, there the starry Virgin was depicted in mimic shape, holding a bunch of grapes, the summergrown flower of fruitage18: there the daughter of Time stayed her feet, and this is what she read:

[97] “Cissos, the lovely youth, shall creep into a plant,19 and he shall be the highflying ivy that entwines about the branches. From young Calamos will spring a reed rising straight and bending to the breeze, a delicate sprout of the fruitful soil, to support the tame vine. Ampelos shall change form into a plant and give his name to the fruit of the vine.”

[103] But when the harvest-home maiden had seen all these prophecies, she sought the place where hard by on the neighbouring wall was engraved the figure of Ganymedes pouring the nectar-juice into a golden cup. There was an oracle engraved in four lines of verse. There the grape-loving goddess revelled, for she found this prophecy, kept for Lyaios Ivy-bearer,

Zeus gave to Phoibos the prophetic laurel,
Red roses to the rosy Aphrodite,
The grayleaf olive to Athena Greyeyes,
Corn to Demeter, vine to Dionysos.

[114] That is what the Euain maiden saw on the tablets. She departed joyful, and with her Sisters was away to the stream of the eastern Ocean, moving along with Phaëthon’s team.

[117] But Dionysos had no healing physic for his comrade fallen, of dancing he thought no more. Shaken to the heart by his loving passion, he sounded bitter laments; he left to uncaring silence the bronze back of the timbrel unbeaten, and had no joy in the cithern. Before the unsmiling countenance of Dionysos, full of love and piteous pining, the reedy Lydian Hermos20 held up his course, and his fastrolling waves which poured on with weatherbeaten throb – he cared no more to flow; Pactolos21 yellow as saffron with the wealth deep under his flood, stayed his water in mourning, like the image of a sorrowful man; Sangarios22 the Phrygian stream, in honour of the dead, checked back the course of his banked fountains; the unbreathing image of Tantalos’s daughter, the unhappy mother drowned in sighs,23 wept double tears for mourning Dionysos. The fir whispered softly, moaning to its young friend the pine; even the tree of unshorn Phoibos himself, the laurel, shook her foliage to sorrowful winds; the glossy olive never felled24 shed her leaves on the ground, for all that she was Athena’s tree.

[138] Since then Dionysos, who never wept, lamented thus in his love, the awful threads of Fate were unloosened and turned back; and Atropos25 Neverturnback, whose word stands fast, uttered a voice divine to console Dionysos in sorrow:

[142] “He lives, I declare, Dionysos; your boy lives, and shall not pass the bitter water of Acheron. Your lamentation has found out how to undo the inflexible threads of unturning Fate, it has turned back the irrevocable. Ampelos is not dead, even if he died; for I will change your boy to a lovely drink, a delicious nectar. He shall be worshipt with dancing beat of tripling fingers, when the double-sounding pipe shall strike up harmony over the feast, be it in Phrygian rhythm of Dorian tune26; or on the boards a musical man shall sing him, pouring out the voice of Aonian reeds for Ismenians or the burghers of Marathon.27 The Muses shall cry triumph for Ampelos the lovely with Lyaios of the Vine. You shall throw off the twisting coronal of snakes from your head, and entwine your hair with tendrils of the vine; you shall make Phoibos jealous, that he holds out his melancholy iris with its leafy dirge.28 You too dispense a drink, the earthly image of heavenly nectar, the comfort of the human race, and your young friend shall eclipse the flowery glory of the Amyclaian boy: if his country produces the bronze of battle, your boy’s country too increases the shining torrent of red juice like a river – she is all proud of her gold, and she likes not steel. If one boasts of a roaring river, Pactolos has better water than Eurotas.29 Ampelos, you have brought mourning to Dionysos who never mourns – yes, that when your honeydropping wine shall grow, you may bring its delight to all the four quarters of the world, a libation for the Blessed, and for Dionysos a heart of merry cheer. Lord Bacchos has wept tears, that he may wipe away man’s tears!”

[172] Having spoken thus, the divinity departed with her sisters.

[173] Then a great miracle was shown to sorrowful Bacchos witnessing. For Ampelos the lovely dead rose of himself and took the form of a creeping snake, and became the healtrouble flower. As the body changed, his belly was a long long stalk, his fingers grew into toptendrils, his feet took root, his curlclusters were grapeclusters, his very fawnskin changed into the manycoloured bloom of the growing fruit, his long neck became a bunch of grapes, his elbow gave place to a bending twig swollen with berries, his head changed until the horns took the shape of twisted clumps of drupes. There grew rows of plants without end; there selfmade was an orchard of vines, twining green twigs round the neighbouring trees, with garlands of the unknown wineblushing fruit.

[188] And a new miracle was then seen! since young Cissos in his play, climbing with legs across the branches high in a leafy tree, changed his form and took the air as another plant; he became the twining ivy plant which bears his name, and encircled the newgrown orchard of tame vines with slanting knots.

[193] Then Dionysos triumphant covered his temples with the friendly shady foliage, and made his tresses drunken with the toper’s leaves. Now the boy grown plant was quickly ripening, and he plucked a fruit of the vintage. The god untaught, without winepress and without treading, squeezed the grapes firmly with hand against wrist, interlacing his fingers until he pressed out the inebriating issue, and disclosed the newflowing load of the purple fruitage, and discovered the sweet potation: Dionysos Tapster found his white fingers drenched in red! For goblet he held a curved oxhorn. Then Bacchos tasted the sweet sap with sipping lips, tasted also the fruit; and both so delighted his heart, that he broke out into speech with proud throat:

[207] “O Ampelos! this is the nectar and ambrosia of my Zeus which you have made! Apollo wears two favourite plants, but he never ate laurel fruit or drank of the iris! Corn brings forth no sweet potation, by your leave, Deo! I will provide not only drink but food for mortal men! Your fate also is enviable, O Ampelos! Verily even Moira’s threads have been turned womanish for you and your beauty; for you Hades himself has become merciful, for you Persephone herself has changed her hard temper, and saved you alive in death for brother Bacchos. You did not die as Atymnios30 is dead; you saw not the water of Styx, the fire of Tisiphone, the eye of Megaira!31 You are still alive, my boy, even if you died. The water of Lethe did not cover you, nor the tomb which is commont to all, but earth herself shrank from covering your form! No, my father made you a plant in honour of his son; Lord Cronion changed your body into sweet nectar. Nature has not graven Alas upon your tearless leaves, as on the inscribed clusters of Therapne.32 You keep your colour, my boy, even on your shoots. Your end proclaims the radiance of your limbs; your blushing body has not left you yet. But I will never cease avenging your death; I will pour your wine in libation to your murderous destroyer, the wine of his victim! Your lovely petals put the Hamadryads to shame; the juice of your fragrant bunches brings round me a breath of your love. Can I ever mix the applefruit in the bowl? Can I drop figjuice in the cup of nectar? Fig and apple have their grace as far as the teeth; but no other plant can rival your grapes – not the rose, not the tinted daffodil, not anemone, not lily, not iris is equal to the plant of Bacchos!33 For with the newfound streams of your crushed fruitage your drink will contain all flowers: that one drink will be a mixture of all, it will combine in one the scent of all the flowers that blow, your flowers will embellish all the spring-time herbs and grass of the meadow!

[245] “Give me best, Lord of Archery, because you wreathed your unmourning hair with your mourning chaplet of dolorous petals! Alas alas is graven on those leaves of yours; and if the Lord of Archery wears his wreath in the garden, I ladle my sweet wine, I put on a lovely wreath, I absorb Ampelos to be at home in my heart by that delicious draught. Brighthelm, give place to Finegrapes! The bloody pours out gore to Ares, the Viny pours to Dionysos the ruddy dew of the winesoaked grape!

[254] “Deo, you are defeated with Pallas! For olives do not bring forth merry cheer of heart, corn does not bewitch a man! The pear has a honeysweet fruit, the myrtle grows fragrant flowers, but they have no heart-bewitching fruit to shoot man’s cares to the winds! I am better than you all; for without my wine there is no pleasure in the tablefeast, without my wine the dance has no bewitchment. Brighteyes, drink the fruit of your olive if you can! My fruitage with its glorious gifts has beaten your tree. With your oily olive athletes rub their bodies, without delight; but the sadly afflicted who has given a wife or a daughter to the common fate, the man who mourns children dead, a mother or a father, when he shall taste of delicious wine will shake of the hateful burden of ever-increasing pain.

[270] “O Ampelos, you rejoice the heart of Bacchos even after death! I will soak your drink through all my limbs. All the trees of the forest bow their heads around, as one in prayer bends low the neck. The ancient palmtree inclines his soaring leaves, you stretch your feet round the apple-tree, you clasp your hands about the figtree and hold fast; they support your fruitage as slavewomen their mistress, while you climb over the shoulder of your maids with your tendrils pushing and winding and quivering, while the winds blow in your face the delicate many-coloured leaves of so many neighbouring trees with their widespread clusters, as if you slept and they cooled you with gentle breath. So the servingwoman waves a light fan as in duty bound, and makes a cool wind for her king. If you bring with you Phaëthon’s midday threats, yet the Etesian wind comes before your grapes, lulling the thirsty star of burning Maira,34 when the course of the summer season warms your ripening juice with the steam of Seirios.”

[290] So he spoke in his pride, and threw off his earlier cares, now he had found the fragrant fruitage as allheal for the youth.

[292] That is the song they sing about he grapecluster, how it got its name from the young man. But the poets have another and older legend, how once upon a time fruitful Olympian ichor fell down from heaven and produced the potion of Bacchic wine, when the fruit of its vintage grew among the rocks selfgrown, untended. It was not yet named grapevine; but among the bushes, wild and luxuriant with many-twining parsleyclusters, a plant grew which had in it good winestuff to make wine, being full to bursting with its burden of dewy juice. There was a great orchard of it springing up in rows, where bunch by bunch the grapes swung swaying and reddening in disorder. They ripened together, one letting its halfgrown nursery increase with different shades of purple upon the fruit, one spotted with white, in colour like foam; some of golden hue crowded thick neighbour on neighbour, others with dark bloom all over like pitch – and the wineteeming foliage intoxicated all the olives with their glorious fruit which grew beside them. Others were silvery white, but a dark mist newly made and selfsped seemed to be penetrating the unripe berries, bringing plump fruitage to the laden clusters. The twining growth of the fruit crowned the opposite pine, shading its own sheltered growth by its mass of twigs, and delighted the heart of Pan; the pine swayed by Boreas brought her branches near the bunches of grapes, and shook her fragrant leafage soaked in the blood.35 A serpent twisted his curving backbone about the tree, and sucked a strong draught of nectar trickling from the fruit; when he had milked the Bacchic potation with his ugly jaws, the draught of the vine turned and trickled out of his throat, reddening the creature’s beard with purple drops.

[324] The hillranging god marvelled, as he saw the snake and his chin dabbled with trickling wine; the speckled snake saw Euios, and went coiling away with his spotty scales and plunged into a deep hole in the rock hard by. When Bacchos saw the grapes with a bellyful of red juice, he bethought him of an oracle which prophetic Rheia had spoken long ago. He dug into the rock, he hollowed out a pit in the stone with the sharp prongs of his earth-burrowing pick, he smoothed the sides of the deepening hole and made an excavation like a winepress; then he made his sharp thyrsus into the cunning shape of the later sickle with curved edge, and reaped the newgrown grapes.

[337] A band of Satyrs was with him: one stooped to gather the clusters, one received them into an empty vessel as they were cut, one pulled off the masses of green leaves from the bibulous fruit and threw away the rubbish. Another without thyrsus or sharpened steel crouched bending forwards and spying for grapes, and put out his right hand towards the branches to pluck the fruit at the ends of the tangled vine, then Bacchos spread the fruitage in the pit he had dug, first heaping the grapes in the middle of the excavation, then arranging them in layers side by side like cornheaps on the threshingfloor, spread out the whole length of the hole. When he had got all into the hollowed place and filled it up to the brim, he trod the grapes with dancing steps. The Satyrs also, shaking their hair madly in the wind, learnt from Dionysos how to do the like. They pulled tight the dappled skins of fawns over the shoulder, they shouted the song of Bacchos sounding tongue with tongue, crushing the fruit with many a skip of the foot, crying “Euoi!” The wine spurted up in the grapefilled hollow, the runlets were empurpled; pressed by the alternating tread the fruit bubbled out red juice with white foam. They scooped it up with oxhorns, instead of cups which had not yet been seen, so that ever after the cup of mixed wine took this divine name of Winehorn.36

[363] And one went bubbling the mindcharming drops of Bacchos as he turned his wobbling feet in zigzag jerks, crossing right over left in confusion as he wetted his hairy cheeks with Bacchos’s drops. Another skipt up struck with a tippler’s madness when he heard the horrid boom of the beaten drumskin. One again who had drunk too deeply of caredispelling wine purpled his dark beard with the rosy liquor. Another, turning his unsteady look towards a tree espied a Nymph half-hidden ,unveiled, close at hand; and he would have crawled up the highest tree in the forest, feet slipping, hanging on by his toenails, had not Dionysos held him back. Near the fountains, another driven by the insane impulse of drunken excitement, chased a naked Naiad of the waters; he would have seized her with hairy hand as she swam, but she gave him the slip and dived into deep water. To Dionysos alone had Rheia given the amethyst, which preserves the winedrinker from the tyranny of madness.37

[382] Many of the horned Satyrs joined furiously in the festive dancing with sportive steps. One felt within him a new hot madness, the guide to love, and threw a hairy arm round a Bacchanal girl’s waist. One shaken by the madness of mindcrazing drink laid hold of the girdle of a modest unwedded maid, and as she would have no lovemaking pulled her back by the dress and touched her rosy thighs from behind. Another dragged back a struggling mystic maiden while kindling the torch for the god’s nightly dances, laid timid fingers upon her bosom and pressed the swelling circle of her firm breast.

[394] After the revels over his sweet fruit, Dionysos proudly entered the cave of Cybeleïd goddess Rheia, waving bunches of grapes in his flowerloving hand, and taught Maionia the vigil of his feast.

1. Here hôrai is hours of the day; in the last book and infra 21 it means seasons.
2. Being part of the year she circles or comes round with it.
3. A mystic divinity in the system of the Orphics, often called by this epithet, because he was the first-born of the primeval world-egg.
4. The astronomical house.
5. He and his wife Eurynome were a pair of primeval gods, before Cronos and Rheia, in the Orphic cosmogony.
6. Cronos mutilated his father Uranos. To prevent his sons doing the like to him, he swallowed them as fast as they were born. When Zeus was born, Rheia deceived him into swallowing a stone, and afterwards he disgorged the whole brood. The severed genitals of Uranos were thrown into the sea, which thus conceived and bore Aphrodite.
7. More astrology. The fight between Zeus and Cronos becomes a struggle between the two planets Jupiter and Saturn, whereof the latter is cold.
8. One of the commonest tales of the origin of man is that he was born from or made of a tree; see Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Litearture, i. (= Folklore Fellows Communications, vol. xxxix.), A 1236, 1251. Greek tradition usually names an oak, as in the Homeric saying ouk apo druos oud’ apo petrês, Od. xix. 163 and elsewhere. The second tablet shows the creation of man and the Deluge.
9. Argos, after his slaying by Hermes (see note on i. 334), was used by Hera to furnish the eyes on the peacock’s tail.
10. The peacock, in whose tail his eyes were set after his death.

11. Harpalyce, daughter of Clymenos, being raped by her own father, killed the child she had by him and served him up to Clymenos at a meal. She was turned into a night-bird, the chalkis; he killed himself.
12. See above, ii. 136 and note; see iv. 321 and note there.
13. ii. 159. Niobe, daughter of Tantalos, having a numerous family (the number is variously stated), boasted that she was better than Leto, who had but two children, Apollo and Artemis. Thereupon Leto’s children killed Niobe’s, and she mourned for them till she turned into stone with grief. A rock on Mt. Sipylos was shown to tourists in later times as being that stone; it was shaped not unlike a woman and water trickled down it.
14. Pyrrhos apparently tried to assault Rheia and was turned to stone; only Nonnos tells the story even thus briefly, though one or two other authors have probably or possible allusions to it. He has nothing to do with the son of Achilles.
15. This apparently is not the familiar story told in Ovid, Met. iv. 55 ff., for he says nothing about the lovers being or turning into rivers. There are rivers of these names and the story must have something to do with them.
16. Crocos (Saffron), being unhappy in his love-affair with Smilax (Bindweed), was turned into the plant bearing his name, and presumably the same thing happened to her. The story is very late and little known.
17. Atalanta, daughter of Schoineus, would marry no one who could not beat her at running. Hippomenes at length did so, by help of Aphrodite (“the Paphian”). He forgot to make the goddess any thank-offering, and she incited the pair to profane a shrine (here, apparently, one of Artemis) by lying with each other in it. They were then turned into lions, which were supposed not to copulate; see Hyginus, Fab. 185.
18. A star over the shoulder of Virgo is called protrugêtês, provindemiator.
19. A curious expression for “change into a creeping plant” (ivy, kissos).
20. See xi. 40.

21. See x. 144.
22. A large river flowing through Phrygia in to the Euxine.
23. Niobe, see on 79.
24. It was the practice not to cut down the olive trees even in war.
25. The Fates were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the Spinner, the Allotter, the Neverturnback.
26. Nonnos clearly knew nothing about music, for the Lydian or Hypolydian would be much likelier modes at a feast.
27. Ismenos was a river of Boeotia; the words mean “for Boeotians and Athenians too.”
28. See note on x. 255.
29. The river of Sparta.
30. Cf. note on xi. 131

31. Two Furies.
32. See note on iii. 153.
33. The list of flowers is imitated from Rufinus (Anthol. v. 74).
34. See note on v. 221.
35. The ichor-juice.
36. Nonnos derives keras from kerannumi, which is tempting no doubt but wrong; although the horn is common everywhere as a drinking vessel.
37. The name amethyst means “not drunken,” and the stone was supposed to be a talisman against drunkenness.

30 ff. Note on the Tablets of Harmonia.
For a full account of this very curious passage, see Stegemann, pp. 128 ff. For an understanding of the poem, sufficient to make it intelligible to the non-astrological reader, the following may be of service.
Helios has in his house an astrological calendar which foretells, not the evens of a year or some other short period, as a human work of that sort might, but those of a cosmic year, from the beginning of the universe till its new beginning. The year, like the ordinary solar one, is divided into twelve months, each with its own sign of the Zodiac, and these are arranged in groups of two, thus:
1. Aries and Taurus. 2. Gemini and Cancer. 3. Leo and Virgo. 4. Libra and Scorpius. 5. Sagittarius and Capricornus. 6. Aquarius and Pisces.
The end of a period of two cosmic months is approaching, and the influence of Virgo is nearly at an end; Libra is to succeed her. The poem so far has narrated the events foretold in the second table, the flood coming under Cancer. The next period is autumn of the cosmic year (Libra is the September sign). Dionysos was born under Leo, as he must be, for he is modelled on Alexander the Great, whose birth-sign that was. Now he is mature, and his great gift to mankind nearly ready. This is what the picture of Ganymede in the third table means; it has nothing to do with any constellation, but is a sort of hieroglyphic; we find him again, xxv. 431, as part of the devices on Dionysos’s shield. Under Scorpius, Dionysos got together his army, for the Pleiads were rising then, xiii. 412, and they rise in October, when the sun is in Scorpius. Presumably the fifth table, if Nonnos described it, would foretell the campaigns of Dionysos in Greece and his ascent to heaven, i.e., the remaining events to the end of the poem.