Classical Texts Library >> Nonnus, Dionysiaca >> Book 14




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


Turn your mind to the fourteenth: there Rheia arms all the ranks of heaven for the Indian War.

[1] Then swiftshoe Rheia haltered the hairy necks of her lions beside their highland manger. She lifted her windfaring foot to run with the breezes, and paddled with her shoes through the airy spaces. So like a wing or a thought1 she traversed the firmament to south, to north, to west, to the turning-place of dawn, gathering the divine battalions for Lyaios: one all-comprehending summons was sounded for trees and for rivers, one call for Naiads and Hadryads, the troops of the forest. All the divine generations heard the summons of Cybele, and they came together from all sides. From high heaven to Lydian land Rheia passed aloft with unerring foot, and returning lifted again the mystic torch in the night, warming the air a second time with Mygdonian2 fire.

[15] Now once more, ye breaths of Phoibos, after the tale of mortal heroes and warriors teach me also the host divine!

[17] First from the firepeak rock of Lemnos the two Cabeiroi in arms answered the stormy call beside the mystic torch of Samos,3 two sons of Hephaistos whom Thracian Cabeiro had borne to the heavenly smith, Alcon and Eurymedon well skilled at the forge, who bore their mother’s tribal name.

[23] From Crete came grim warriors to join them, the Idaian Dactyloi, dwellers on a rocky crag, earthborn Corybants, a generation which grew up for Rheia selfmade out of the ground in the olden time. These had surrounded Zeus a newborn babe in the cavern which fostered his breeding, and danced about him shield in hand, the deceivers, raising wild songs which echoes among the rocks and maddened the air – the noise of the clanging brass resounded in the ears of Cronos high among the clouds, and concealed the infancy of Cronion with drummings. The chief and leader of the dancing Corybants was Pyrrhichos and shake-a-shield Idaios; and with them came Cnossian Cyrbas, and armed his motley troops, their namefellow.

[36] The spiteful Telchines came also to the Indian War, gathering out of the cavernous deeps of the sea. Lycos came, shaking with his long arm a very long spear; Scelmis came, following Damnameneus, guiding the seachariot of his father Poseidon. These were wanderers who had left Tlepolemos’s land4 and taken to the sea, furious demons of the waters, who long ago had been cut off reluctant from their father’s land by Thrinax with Macareus and glorious Auges, sons of Helios; driven from their nursing-mother they took up the water of Styx with their spiteful hands, and made barren the soil of fruitful Rhodes, by drenching the fields with water of Tartaros.

[49] After them came the gentle5 tribe of twiform Centaurs. Beside Pholos in horse’s form was Cheiron, himself of that strange nature, untamed, with mouth unbridled.

[52] Battalions of Cyclopians came like a flood. In battle, these with weaponless hands cast hills for their stony spears, and their shields were cliffs; a peak from some mountain-ravine was their crested helmet, Sicilian sparks were their fiery arrows.6 They went into battle holding burning brands and blazing with light from the forge they knew so well – Brontes and Steropes, Euryalos and Elatreus, Arges and Trachios and proud Halimedes. One alone was left behind from the war, Polyphemos, tall as the clouds, so mighty and so great, the Earthshaker’s own son; he was kept in his placee by another love, dearer than war, under the watery ways, for he had seen Galateia7 half-hidden, and made the neighbouring sea resound as he pouredc out his love for a maiden in the wooing tones of his pipes.

[67] The rockdwellers came also from their selfvaulted caves, bearing all the name of Pan their father the ranger of the wilderness, all armed to join the host; they have human form, and a shaggy goat’s-head upon it with horns. Twelve horned Pans there were, with his changeling shape and hornbearing head, who were begotten of the one ancestral Pan their mountainranging father. One they named Celaineus, Blackie, as his looks bore witness, and one Argennos, Whitely, after his colour; Aigicoros was well dubbed Goatgluts, because he glutted himself with goat’s-milk which he pressed from the nannies’ udders in the flock. Another masterly Pan was called Longbear Eugeneios, from a throat and chin which was a thick meadow of hair. Daphnoineus the Bloody came along with Omester, Eatemraw; Phobos the Frightaway with shaggy-legged Philamnos the Lamb’s Friend. Glaucos came with Xanthos, Glaucos glaring like the bright sea, with a complexion to match. Xanthos had a mane of hair like a bayard, which gave that name to the horned frequenter of the rocks. Then there was bold Argos with a shock of hair as white as snow. With these were two other Pans, the sons of Hermes, who divided his love between two Nymphs: for one he visited the bed of Sose, the highland prophetess, and begat a son inspired with the divine voice of prophecy, Agreus, well versed in the beast-slaying sport of the hunt; the other was Nomios, whom the pasturing sheep loved well, one practised in the shepherd’s pipe, for whom Hermes sought the bed of Penelope, the country Nymph.8 Along with these came Phorbas to join the march, savage and insatiate.

[96] Old Seilenos also was ready for the fray, holding the fennel-stalk, that horned son of the soil with twiform shape. He brought three festive sons: Astraios was armed for battle; Maron came too, and Leneus followed, each with a staff to support the hands of their old father in his travels over the hills. These ancients already weak had vinebranches to support their slow bodies; many were the years of their time, from these had sprung the hot twiform generation of the muchmarried Satyrs.

[105] And the horned Satyrs were commanded by these leaders: Poemenios and Thiasos, Hypsiceros and Orestes, and Phlegraios with horned Napaios. There was Gemon, there was bold Lycon armed; playful Phereus followed laughing tippling Petraios, hillranging Lamis marched with Lenobios, and Scirtos tripping along beside Oistos.9 With Pherespondos walked Lycos the loudvoiced herald, and Pronomos renowned for intelligence – all sons of Hermes, when he had joined Iphthime10 to himself in secret union. She was the daughter of Doros, himself sprung from Zeus and a root of the race of Hellen, and Doros was ancestor whence came the Achaian blood of the Dorian tribe. To these three, Eiraphiotes11 entrusted the dignity of the staff of the heavenly herald, their father the source of wisdom. The whole tribe of Satyrs is boldhearted while they are drunken with bumpers of wine; but in battle they are but braggarts who run away from the fight – hares in the battlefield, lions outside, clever dancers, who know better than all the world how to ladle strong drink from the bull mixing-bowl. Few of these have been men of war, to whom bold Ares has taught all the practice of the fray and how to manage a battalion. Here when Lyaios prepared for war, some of them covered their bodies with raw oxhides, others fortified themselves with skins of shaggy lions, others put on the grim pelts of panthers, others equipped themselves with long pointed staves, others girt about their chests the skins of long-antlered stags dappled like stars in the sky. With these creatures, the two horns on the temples right and left lengthened their sharp points, and a scanty fluff grew on the top of the pointed skull over the crooked eyes. When they ran, the winged breezes blew back their two ears, stretched out straight and flapping against their hairy cheeks: behind them a horse’s tail stuck out straight and lashed round their loins on either side.

[143] 12 Another kind of the twiform Centaurs also appeared, the shaggy tribe of the horned Pheres, to whom Hera had given a different sort of human shape with horns. These were sons of the water-naiads in mortal body, whom men call Hyads, offspring of the river Lamos. They had played the nurses for the babe that Zeus had so happily brought forth, Bacchos, while he still had a breath of the sewn-up birth-pocket. They were the cherishing saviours of Dionysos when he was hidden from every eye, and then they had nothing strange in their shape; in that dark cellar they often dandled the child in bended arms, as he cried Daddy to the sky, the seat of his father Zeus, still a child a play, but a clever babe. Of the would mimic a newborn kid; hiding in the fold, he covered his body with long hair, and in this strange shape let out a deceptive bleat between his teeth, and pretended to walk on hooves in goatlike steps. Of the would show himself like a young girl in saffron robes and take on the feigned shape of a woman; to mislead the mind of spiteful Hera, he moulded his lips to speak in a girlish voice, tied a scented veil on his hair. He put on all a woman’s manycoloured garments: fastened a maiden’s vest about his chest and the firm circle of his bosom, and fitted a purple girdle over his hips like a band of maidenhood.

[168] But his guile was useless. Hera, who turns her all-seeing ye to every place, saw from on high the ever-changing shape of Lyaios, and knew all. Then she was angry with the guardians of Bromios. She procured from Thesalian Achlys13 treacherous flowers of the field, and shed a sleep of enchantment over their heads; she distilled poisoned drugs over their hair, she smeared a subtle magical ointment over their faces, and changed their earlier human shape. Then they took the form of a creature with long ears, and a horse’s tail sticking out straight from the loins and flogging the flanks of its shaggy-crested owner; from the temples cow’s horns sprouted out, their eyes widened under the horned forehead, the hair ran across their heads in tufts, long white teeth grew out of their jaws, a strange kind of mane grew of itself, covering their neck with rough hair, and ran down from the loins to the feet underneath.

[186] Twelve captains commanded them all: Spargeus and Gleneus the dancer, and beside Eurybios the strange figure of Ceteus the winedresser; Petraios with Rhiphonos, Aisacos the deep drinker and Orthaon, with whom marched both Amphithemis and Phaunos,14 and Nomeion side by side with wellhorned Phanes.

[193] Another tribe of twiform Centaurs was ready, the Cyprian. Once when Cypris fled like the wind from the pursuit of her lascivious father, that she might not see an unhallowed bedfellow in her own begetter, Zeus the Father gave up the chase and left the union unattempted, because unwilling Aphrodite was too fast and he could not catch her: instead of the Cyprian’s bed, he drops on the ground the loveshower of seed from the generative plow. Earth received Cronion’s fruitful dew, and shot up a strangelooking horned generation.

[203] These combatants were joined by the Bacchai, some coming from the Meionian rocks, some from the mountain above the precipitous peaks of Sipylos. Nymphs hastened to join the soldiers of the thyrsus, the wild Oreads with hearts of men trailing their long robes. Many a year had they seen roll round the turning-point as they lived out their long lives. Some were the Medlars who lived on the heights near the shepherds; some were from the woodland glades and the ridges of the wild forest, nymphs of the mountain Ash coeval with their tree. All these pressed onwards together to the fray, some with brassbacked drums, the instruments of Cybelid Rheia, others with overhanging ivy-tendrils wreathed in their hair, or girt with rings of snakes. They carried the sharpened thyrsus which the mad Lydian women then took with them fearless to the Indian War.

[219] Stronger than these then came the nurses of Dionysos, troops f Bassarids well skilled in their art: Aigle and Callichore, Eupetale and Ione, laughing Calyce, Bryusa companion of the Seasons, Seilene and Rhode, Ocynoë and Ereutho, Acrete and Methe, rosy Oinanthe with Harpe and silverfoot Lycaste, Stesichore and Prothoë; last of all came ready for the fray Trygië too, that grinning old gammer, heavy with wine.15

[228] Each army was brought to Bacchos by its own separate leader, but the commander-in-chief was Eiraphiotes,16 roaring with fire, flashing, all-conspicuous. Dancing to battle he came, holding no shield, no furious lance, no sword on shoulder, no helmet on his untrimmed locks, or metal to cover his inviolate head. He only tied his loose tresses with serpent-knots, a grim garland for his head; instead of fine-wrought greaves, from ankle to thigh he wore purple buskins on his silvery feet. He hung a furry fawnskin over his chest, a chestpiece dappled with spots like stars, and he fitted a golden kilt round his loins. In his left hand he held a horn full of delicious wine, cunningly wrought of gold; from this pitcher-horn poured a straight stream of flowing wine. In his right hand he bore a pointed thyrsus wound about with purple ivy, at the end a heavy bronze head covered with leaves.

[247] As soon as Dionysos had donned the well wrought golden gear of war in the Corybantian courtyard, he left the peaceful precincts of danceloving Rheia and went past Meionia: the warriors with the hillranging Bacchants hastened to meet the lord of the vine. The drivers of wheeled wagons carried shoots of the new plant of Bacchos. Many lines of mules went by, with jars of the viney nectar packed on their backs: slow asses had loads of purple rugs and manycoloured fawnskins on their patient backs. Winedrinkers besides carried silver mixingbowls with golden cups, the furniture of the feast. The Corybants were busy about the bright manger of the panthers, passing the yokestraps over their necks, and entrusted their lions to ivybound harness when they had fastened this threatening bit in their mouths. One Centaur with a bristling beard stretched his neck into the yoke willingly, unbidden; and the man mingled with horse half and half, craving the delicious wine even more than a Satyr, whinnied eager to carry Dionysos on his withers.

[269] The god seated at the rail of his leaf-entwined car passed the stream of Sangarios, passed the bosom of the Phrygian land, passed the mourning rock of stony Niobe17; and the stone, seeing the Indian host warring against Lyaios, shed tears and spoke again with human voice: “Make not war against a god, foolish Indians! the son of Zeus! lest Bacchos turn you also, threatening battle, into stone, as Apollo did to me; lest you have to lament a shape like my stony shape; lest you see the goodson of Deriades, Indian Orontes, fallen beside the stream of the river that bears his name. Rheia in wrath is stronger than the Archeress. Flee from Bacchos, Apollo’s brother! It would be a shame, if I must see Indians being slain and weep for strangers!”

[283] So the stone spoke, then silence sealed it again.

[284] Now the vinegod left the Phrygian plain, and entered Ascania. All the people gathered there, to whom Iobacchos offered his fruitage, accepted his rites and welcomed his dances, bowing the neck to invincible Dionysos, wishing for the quietude of peace without bloodshed. So mighty was the horned host of Bacchos, with the Bacchant women beside them armed for war. But Lyaios kept vigil; all night long heaven thundered, threading fiery streaks among the stars; since Rheia then foretold with witnessing flash the bloodshed of the Indian victory.

[295] In the morning, the god went forth to war, driving before him the violence of the black men, that he might free the neck of the Lycians and those who dwelt in Phrygia and Ascania from the yoke of cruel tyranny. Then Bacchos sent two heralds to give proclamation of war, either to fight or to fly: and with them went goatfoot Pan, his long-haired beard shadowing his whole-chest.

[303] But swiftshoe Hera, likening herself to an Indian, the curly-headed Melaneus, warned Astraëis, the spearshaking captain of men, not to uplift the thyrsus nor to heed the yell of drunken Satyrs, but to raise war to the death against Dionysos. She spoke these words to move the Indian chief: “You’re a nice one, to fear a feeble troop of women! Fight, Astraëis! Arm yourself too, Celaineus, and take a sharp blade to cut down Dionysos and his ivy-bunches! Thyrsus is no match for spear! No, no, look out for Deriades! He will be mad, and make an end of you, if you shrink from a weak unarmed woman!”

[315] She spoke, the stepmother furious against indomitable Dionysos. The goddess got her way, and hid in darkness.

[317] Then the heralds of Bromios departed, for Astraëis drew near them contemptuous, with pitiless menace on his tongue. Furiously he chased away Pan, and the oxhorned Satyrs, despising the heralds of Dionysos when he was gentle. They turned with timid foot, and made their way back in flight to Dionysos now in warlike mood.

[323] No Bacchos made ready his army against the hostile troops of Indians. Nor did swarthy Celaineus fail to see the womanish warriors. He leapt up with all speed and called to arms the whole Indian host; while bold Astraëis with ever-growing martial rage took his stand beside the murmuring waves of the Astacid lake, and awaited the attack of Dionysos the vinegod.

[329] When the captains of the two armies of the two peoples had mustered their troops in two opposing lines, the swarthy Indians advanced to battle with loud cries: like Thracian cranes, when they fly from the scourge of winter and floods of stormy rain to throw their great flocks against the heads of pygmies round the water of Tethys, and when with sharp beaks they have destroyed that weak helpless race, they wing their way like a cloud over the horn of Ocean.

[338] 18 On the other side, the fighting host madly rushed at the call, the unbending servants of warstirring Dionysos. The battalions of Bassarids also moved like a flood. As they gathered, one twined a rope of snakes about her head, one knotted her hair with scented ivy; another madly caught up her bronze-headed thyrsus, another let down loose tresses of long hair over her neck, a Mainalid unveiled, while the wind blew the unbound locks over her shoulders; another clapped the pair of brazen cymbals, and shook the ringlets upon her head; another driven by the impulse of madness, beat the heavybooming drumskin with her hands, and sounded a loud echo of the battle-din. Then thyrsus did for spear, and hidden under vineleaves was the metal head of the shaft. Another yearning for bloody battle, bound round her neck a rope of raw-fed serpents. One again covered her chest with the spotted skin of a panther, another put on like tunic the dappled skins of mountain fawns, and wrapt herself round with the gay dress which had covered a deer. Another held the cub of a shaggy lioness, and gave it a milky human breast in exchange. There was one who coiled a serpent thrice round under her breast unharmed, a girdle next the skin, while it gaped at her thigh so close, hissing gently, and sleepless gazed at the maiden secrets of the girl who was sleeping off her wine. Another went barefoot over the hills, treading on brambles and sharp bristling thorns, and standing firm on a prickly pear. One attacked a longlegged camel, and sheared through its curving neck with a sweep of her thyrsus: then half to be seen, went stumbling over the path with blind feet the headless body of the camel staggering about in winding ways, until a hoof sank into a slippery hole and the creature rolled over helpless on its back in the dust. Another turned her step to a stretch of pasture in the forest, and caught hold of the fell of a maddened bull, then scoring the bull’s neck with savage nails tore off the impenetrable skin, while another tore away all his bowels. You might have seen a girl unveiled, unshod, leaping about on the jagged rocks above a precipice; no fear had she of the sheer fall, no sharp point of stone scratched the girl’s naked foot.

[386] At the mouth of the Astacid lake many a son of India was cut up by the steel of the Curetes. The warriors surrounded the battalions of the foe with blow for blow, and imitated the rhythms of the armour-dance in the wheeling movements of their feet. Leneus broke off a crested peak from a mountain, and lifting this in his hairy hand, he cast the jagged mass among the enemy: the Bacchant yelled in triumph, the Bassarid cast her vinewreathed point, the heads of many men in that blackskin crowd were brought down by the womanish thyrsus. Eupetale was ready, and pierced a bold man with her deadly shaft, then let fly her pointed ivy covered with vineleaves to smash the steal. Stesichore with her bunches of grapes skipt into the mellay, and shooed off a tribe of enemies with manbreaking bullroarer, waving a brazen pair of loudclashing cymbals.

[403] There was hard fighting on both sides. Thee was the sound of the syrinx – the syrinx awaking the battle! There was drooling of pipes – the shepherd’s pipes calling to war! There were the Bassarids’ howlings: and as the turmoil arose, the black air bellowed with thunderclaps from Zeus, presaging victory for Bromios to come. A great swarm fell; all the thirsty earth was reddened with running blood, and the mouth of the Astacid lake was a bubbling bloodbath mingled with Indian gore.

[411] But the god pitied his foes in his heart of merry cheer, and he poured the treasure of wine into the waters. So he changed the snowywhite waters to yellow, and the river swept along bubbling streams of honey intoxicating the waters. When this change came upon the waters, the breezes blew perfumed by the newly-poured wine, the banks were empurpled. A noble Indian drank, and spoke his wonder in these words:

[419] “Here is a strange and incredible drink I have seen! This is not the white milk of goats, not dark like water, nor is it like what I have seen in the riddled hives, what the buzzing bee brings forth with sweet wax. No – this delights the mind with a fragrant scent. A man is thirsty in the steam of this sultry heat – but if he scoops up a few drops of running water in his palms, he shakes off at once the whirlwind of parching thirst! Honey surfeits you sooner – O here’s a great miracle! When I drink this I want to drink more! For this had both merits – it is sweet, and it does not surfeit. Hebe, come this way! take up your pitcher, and bring your Trojan cupbearer who serves with cups the divine company – let Ganymedes draw honeyed drops from this river and fill all the mixing-bowls of Zeus! This way, friends, have a taste of a honeydistilling river! Here I see an image of the heavens; for that nectar of Olympos which they say is the drink of Zeus, the Naiads are pouring out in natural streams on the earth!”

1. From Hom. Od. vii. 36; cf. bk. vii. 316.
2. Lydian.
3. Samothrace.
4. Rhodes. The Telchines are gnomes or dwarfs, who lived in Rhodes till they were driven out, but no two authors tell their story alike. Tlepolemos has nothing to do with them; he was the leader of the Dorian colonists on the island.
5. The epithet does not fit Centaurs and the construction is loose. Probably the text is corrupt. Perhaps trêcheia (E.H. Warmington).
6. They had their forge under Etna.
7. A sea-nymph with whom he fell in love. Polyphemos the shepherd-Cyclops and Brontes the smith-Cyclops have really nothing to do with each other.
8. Usually identified with Odysseus’s wife; it is doubtful if they really have anything but the name in common.
9. Many of these names have no mythogical or other importance and need be due to nothing except Nonnos’s own fancy. Here and elsewhere he finds names appropriate to the nature of the beings who bear them; thus, the first four satyrs are called Pastoral, Cult-association, Tall-horn and Mountain-dweller, the last name giving incidentally Nonnos’s opinion of what the famous name Orestes meant.
10. Otherwise unknown.

11. Dionysos.
12. No one but Nonnos seems to have heard of this and the next class of Centaurs, and where he got the stories of their origins, or if he invented them himself, is unknown.
13. Here a witch; in Hesiod, Shield 264 ff., a personification of grief.
14. Faunus in another guise, cf. xiii. 327.
15. All these names mean something: as Shiny and Dancer, Petalled and Viola, Flowercup, Teeming, Mooney and Rosy, Sharpwit and Belchy, Neatwine and Drinky, Vineflower and Sickler and Thorny (?), Dancemistress and Runout, and old Leesdame.
16. A name of Bacchos.
17. See on xii. 79.
18. Another Homeric paraphrase, this time from Il. iii. 1 ff. It is to be remembered that Nonnos was above all things a rhetorician, and variation, the saying of the same thing in as many ways as possible, was one of their favourite exercises.