Classical Texts Library >> Nonnus, Dionysiaca >> Book 8




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


The eight has a changeful tale, the fierce jealousy of Hera, and Semele’s fiery nuptials, and Zeus the slayer.

[1] With these words Zeus returned to Olympos; but in the highroofed hall his mind still wandered near his bride, empassioned for Thebes more than for heaven. For to Cronides Semele’s house was lovely heaven, and the quickfoot Seasons of Zeus became the attendants in the palace of Cadmos.

[6] By the espousal drop of the divine union Semele’s body swelled laden with a heavy burden. In witness of the birth of garlandloving Dionysos she took delight in wreaths. She plaited into her flowerdecked hair the natural tendrils of the maddening ivy like a prophetess of the Bassarids, and provided for the nymphs who were soon to be born, the later title of the ivy.1 As she carried the heavy burden of the divinely conceived child, if some old shepherd made melody with his panspipes, and she heard the tune repeated by countryloving Echo near, clad in tunic alone she went rushing wildly out of the house. If the mountainranging tones of the double pipe was to be heard, she leapt up, and out of the lofty halls went shoeless, uncalled, to the lonely woods on the hills. If there was clashing of cymbals, she tripled with dancing foot and shuffled a sidelong shoe in winding paces. If she heard the bellow of a broadhorned bull, her throat bellowed mimicry of the creature in reply. Oft on some hillside pasture she sang with Pan in maddened voice, and played harmonious Echo to him; she answered the tones of the herdsman’s pipe of horn by bending her steps to the dance, and the fruit of her womb (sensible, though yet unborn!) joined in his mother’s dance as if he also were maddened by the pipes, and although only half-made sounded a self-taught echo of tune from within her. So in the burden of the manchilding womb grew the messenger of merryhearted cheer, that understanding baby; and round about the boy, Cronion’s attendants the Seasons went their rounds about the sky.

[34] Now Envy, surveying the bed of lofty Zeus and Semele’s labour in the divine birth, was jealous of Bacchos while yet in the womb, Envy self-tormenting, loveless, stung with his own poison. In that crafty heart he conceived a crooked plan. He put on the false image of a counterfeit Ares, with armour like his; he scored the front of the shield with a liquid of his own made from a poisonous flower, to imitate smears of blood. He dipt his deceitful fingers in vermilion dye, staining his hands with red stuff which pretended to be gore (which it resembled) from his slain enemies. He belched out from his throat through his horrible mouth a nine-thousand power roar,2 a man-breaking voice indeed! He provoked Athena with seductive whispers, and goaded jealous Hera yet more to wrath, and irritated them both; and these are the words he said:

[50] “Find another bridegroom in the sky, Hera, yes another! for Semele has stolen yours! For her sake he renounces the sevenzoned sky and treads the bridal floor of sevengated Thebes! In your place he holds in his arms an earthly bride with child, and is happy! What has become of my mother’s jealousy! Has even Hera’s wrath become unmanned for this marriage with Semele? Where are the stings of your merciless gadfly? No heifer is now driven in seapanic over the deep – no herdsman Argos with a thick crop of eyes watches the latest bed of lecher Cronides?3

[61] “But what is this palace of Olympos to me? I will go down to earth, I will leave my father’s heaven and live in my own Thrace,4 I will no longer look on at my unhappy mother’s wrongs and Zeus the wife-spoiler! If he ever comes to my country because he wants a Bistonian girl, he shall know what Ares is like when he is angry. I will take my Titan-destroying deathdealing spear and chase womanmad Cronion out of Thrace! I will use the excuse that he drags this maiden to his bed, I will be avenger selfappoited of the bed where I was born, because he has frequented earthborn brides and filled the bespangled heavens with his loves!

[73] “Goodbye Heaven – where mortals are at home! Shall I climb the pole? But Callisto5 circles about Olympos, and there shines the ring named after the highcrested Arcadian Bear. I hate the seven Pleiads in their courses – for in Olympos it irks me that Electra shows her light with Selene. Now why are you quiet? You persecuted Apollo in the womb of his mother Leto,6 and you leave Dionysos in peace? Hephaistos, you helped in the painful birth of Tritogeneia,7 and Zeus shall be his own midwife for the bastard son of a drab, more mighty still than Athena, and he shall produce him from his manly thigh – no need now for the pole-axe! Give place, Athena! Cease to cry up that rounded forehead as your birthbed! Dionysos puts into the shade the clever delivery of that teeming head! Sprung form a mortal stock, he shall be an Olympian like Athena, but self-delivered, and eclipsing the boast of Pallas the motherless.

[88] “But I am ashamed myself far more, when some mortal man shall say: `Zeus granted battles to Ares, and merry-hearted cheer to Dionysos.’ Well, I will leave the sky to the bastard brats of Cronides, and quit the heavens a banished god. Let Istros with his frozen flood receive its homeless monarch, before I see Ganymedes come here to pour the wine, that long-haired cowdrover, first in Pergamos then domiciled in Olympos, usurping the untouched cup of heavenly Hebe; before I can see Semele and Bacchos denizens of Olympos, and Ariadne’s crown translated to the stars to run its course with Helios, to travel with misty Dawn. There I will stay, that I may never behold the sea-monster, the sickle of Perseus, the figure of Andromeda, the glare of Gorgon Medusa,8 whom Cronides will establish in Olympos by and by.”

[103] He spoke, and disquieted the mind of selfborn Athena, and the more increased the wrath of jealous Hera. Swift leapt up envy, and wagging his crooked knees passed on his sidelong roads through the lower air: he moved like smoke to human eyes and thoughts, arming his boggart’s9 mind for deceit and mischief.

[109] Nor did the consort of Zeus abate her heavy anger. She stormed with flying shoe through the heaven bespangled with its pattern of shining stars, she coursed through innumerable cities with travelling foot, seeking if anywhere she could find Deceit the crafty one.10 But when high above Corybantian Dicte11 she beheld the childbed water of neighbouring Amnisos,12 the fickle deity met her there on the hills; for she was fond of the Cretans because they are always liars, and she used to stay by the false tomb of Zeus.13 About her hips was a Cydonian14 cincture, which contains all the cunning bewitchments of mankind: trickery with its many shifts, cajoling seduction, all the shapes of guile, perjury itself which flies on the winds of heaven.15

[124] Then subtle-minded Hera began to coax wily Deceit with wily words, hoping to have revenge on her husband: “Good greeting, lady of wily mind and wily snares! Not Hermes Hoaxthewits himself can outdo you with his plausible prattle-prattle! Lend me also that girdle of many colours, which Rheia once bound about her flanks when she deceived her husband!16 I bring no petrified shape for my Cronion, I do not trick my husband with a wily stone. No! a woman of the earth compels me – whose bed makes furious Ares declare that he will house in heaven no more! What do I profit by being a goddess immortal? A worthless mortal woman has taken my husband, whom Leto a goddess could not steal. Zeus and his rain did not sleep a second time with Danaë; after the seals of the ironbound prison the bride went a-sailing and had to blame her golden wedding for her lovegift of the brine – her hutch sailing with her on the sea floated where the shifting winds did blow!17 After Crete the Olympian bull did not swim again, he did not see Europa after the bed; but Io was soaked in the wet, and swam with horns on her head plagued by the gadfly!

[144] “Even the goddess did not have a smooth course for her wedding; she also, Leto herself, carried the unborn babe by many a turn and twist, while she gazed at the shifting slopes of many a floating island, and the flood of the inhospitable sea that never stood still. Hardly at last she espied the wild olive-tree which harboured her childbed. All that Leto suffered, and her mate could not help her; but for the bed of one shortlived mortal woman he has renounced the couch of Hera his heavenly sister.

[152] “I am afraid Cronides, who is called my husband and brother, will banish me from heaven for a woman’s bed, afraid he may make Semele queen of his Olympos! If you favour Zeus Cronion more than Hera, if you will not give me your all-bewitching girdle to bring back again to Olympos my wandering son, I will leave heaven because of their earthly marriage, I will go to the uttermost bounds of Oceanos and share the hearth of primeval Tethys18; thence I will pass to the house of Harmonia19 and abide with Ophion. Come then, honour the mother of all,20 the bride of Zeus, and lend me the help of your girdle, that I may charm my runaway son furious Ares, to make heaven once more his home.”

[165] When she had finished, the goddess replied with obedient words: “Mother of Enyalios, bride first enthroned of Zeus! I will give my girdle and anything else you ask me; I obey, since you reign over the gods with Cronion. Receive this sash; bind it about your bosom, and you may bring back Ares to heaven. If you like, charm the mind of Zeus, and if it is necessary, charm Oceanos also from his anger. Zeus sovereign in the heights will leave his earthly loves and return selfbidden to heaven – he will change his mind by my guileful girdle. This one puts to shame the heartbewitching girdle of my Paphian!”

[176] This said, the wily-minded deity was off under the wind, cleaving the air with flying shoe.

[178] Now Hera left the shieldbeswingled cave of the Dictaean rock21 and the cavern where the goddess of childbirth was born, and came full of guile to Semele’s chamber, puffing with jealousy. She made herself like a honeyvoiced old dame, like the loving nurse whom Agenor22 himself had chosen to care for his children, and made much of her – gave her a holding, found her a husband as if she had been his daughter; and she paid him back for his care, nursed Cadmos at her own breast and dandled baby Europa in her loving arms. This was what Hera looked like when she passed into the house, hating Semele and Cypris, and Dionysos who had not yet seen the light; and as she came to the chamber of the recent bridal, she turned face and eyes away to the opposite wall, that she might not see the bed of Zeus. She was led and seated on a chair by Semele’s attendant Peisianassa, a maid of Tyrian race, and Thelxinoë spread the rugs over the gleaming seat. There sat the goddess close beside her, weaving her plot. She noticed how the girl carried a burden of ripening fruit; a birth which touched not yet the moon of delivery, but a pale cheek an the pallor of limbs once rosy told of a womb no longer sealed. As treacherous Hera sat, a simulated palsy passed over her false body, and the old neck bowed downwards, nodding over the bent shoulders. Scarce finding an excuse, she groaned aloud and wiped the well-feigned tear from her face, as she spoke her false words in heart-enchanting tone:

[207] “Tell me, my queen, why are your cheeks so pale? where is your beauty? Who has grudged that loveliness and dimmed the red sparkling colours of your face, changed the roses to quickfading anemones? Why are you downcast and languishing? Have you heard yourself those insults which the people are shouting? Curse the tongue of women, from which all troubles come! Tell me who laid rough hands on your girdle – hide it not! Which of the gods has besmirched you, which has ravished your maidenhood?

[216] “If Ares has wedded my girl in secret, if he has slept with Semele and neglected Aphrodite, let him come to your bed grasping his spear as a marriage-gift – your mother knows her begetter, the terrible warrior! If quickshoe Hermes has made merry bridal with you, if he has forgotten his own Peitho23 for Semele’s beauty, let him bring you his rod to herald your wedding, or let him fit you with his own golden shoes as a gift worthy of your bed, that you too may be goldshod24 like Hera the bedfellow of Zeus! If handsome Apollo has come from heaven to be your husband, if he has forgotten Daphne because of his love for Semele, let him away with furtive guile, and come to your through the air drawn in his car by singing swans, and dancing delicately let him offer his harp as a gift for your favours, to show a trusty proof of the wedding! Cadmos will know that heavenly harp at sight, for he saw it, and heard the melodious tones, when it made music at his festal board for the wedding of Harmonia with a mortal.

[235] “If Seabluehair25 went womanmad and forced you, preferring you to Melanippe the sage, sung by the poet,26 let him make merry in full view, and plant the prongs of his trident as a bridal gift before the gates of Cadmos; so let him bestow the same honour beside snakecherishing Dirce, as he gave to lionbreeding Lerna in the Argive country as a mark of his marriage with Amymone, where the place of the Lernaian nymph still bears the trident’s name.27 But why do I call you the bedfellow of Earthshaker? What tokens have you of Poseidon’s bed? Tyro was embraced in a flood by watery hands, when counterfeit Enipeus came with his deceitful bubbling stream.28

[247] “Or if as you say, Cronion is your bridegroom, let him come to your bed with amorous thunders, armed with bridal lightning, that people may say - `Hera and Semele both have thunders in waiting for the bedchamber!’ The consort of Zeus may be jealous, but she will not hurt you, for Ares your mother’s father will not allow it. Europa is more happy than Semele, for a horned Zeus carried her on his back; the hoof of the lovestricken bull ran unwetted on the top of the water, and one so mighty was Love’s boat. O what a great miracle! A maiden held the reins of him who holds the reins of heaven! I call Danaë happier than Semele, for into her bosom Zeus poured a shower of gold from the roof, torrents of mad love in abundant showers! But that most blessed bride asked no gifts of gold; her lovegift was her whole husband. But let us be quiet, or your father Cadmos will hear.” 29

[264] With these words Hera left the house, and the girl still in her grief, jealous of the inimitable state of Hera’s marriage and unsatisfied with Cronion. Hera returned to heaven and went indoors. There beside the heavenly throne she saw the weapons of Zeus lying without their owner; and as if they could hear, she addressed them in friendly cajoling words: “Dear Thunder, has Zeus my cloudgatherer deserted you too then? Who has stolen you again30 and left your owner naked? Thunder, you have been plundered! But Typhoeus has nothing to do with it. The same has happened to Hera, my comforter: Rainy Zeus ahs a bride to look after and neglects us both. The earth is no more sprinkled with showers: the downfall of rain has ceased, drought feeds on the plowland furrows and makes the crops worthless, the countryman speaks not more of Cloudy Zeus but Zeus Cloudless. My dear Lightnings, utter your fiery appeal to Cronion, call upon womanmad Zeus, my thunderbolts! Avenge the jealous pain of Hera, attend upon Semele’s wedding! Let her pray for a wedding-gift and receive her own fiery destroyers!”

[284] Such was the appeal of sorrowing Hera to the voiceless weapons, while the goddess was boiling with jealousy and fury.

[286] But Semele heavily fettered with this new distress for her temper, longed for the lightning to be the fiery escort of their loves; and she complained to Zeus, as the prayed for a show of fires about her bed like Hera: “By Danaë’s opulent wooing I pray, grant me this grace, horned husband of Europa! for I dare not call you Semele’s husband, when I have seen you only like a dream! Acrisios31 was more blessed than Cadmos; but I too should have been glad to see a wedding of gold, Zeus of the Rain, if the mother of Perseus had not first stolen that honour from thee. I should have been glad if you had carried me on your shoulders in the waters as a travelling bull, and my brother Polydoros like Cadmos could have hunted the robber of the wandering bride, Cronion who carried me. But what have I to do with wedlock in shape of a bull or a shower? I want no honour equal to some earthly bride. Leave Europa her bull, leave Danaë her shower of gold: Hera’s state is the only one I envy. If you hold me worthy of honour, deck out my chamber with your heavenly fire! Kindle a lovelight in the clouds, show incredulous Agauë the lightning as my lovegift. Let Autonoë in her room close by hear the thunderous tune of our attendant Loves, and tremble at the selfannouncing token of our unpublished marriage.

[310] “Give it – let me embrace the dear flame and rejoice my heart, touching the lightning and handling the thunderbolts! Give me the bridal flame of your own chamber; every bride has torches to escort her in the marriage procession. Am I not worthy of your bridal thunderbolts, when I have the blood of Ares and your Aphrodite? How wretched I am! Semele’s wedding has quickfading fire and earthly torches, – your Hera is a bride who grasps the thunderbolt and touches the lightning! Thunderhurling bridegroom! You go to Hera’s bed in divine shape, illuminating your bride with bridal lightnings until the chamber shines with many lights – fiery Zeus! but to Semele you come as dragon or a bull. She hears for her love the heavy Olympian rolling boom – Semele hears the sham bellow of a false bull under a vague shadowy shape. Soundless, cloudless, Zeus comes to my bed: Cloudgatherer he mingles with Hera. Well may she hold up her head! My father shrinks from insults for a daughter unhappily married, hides in the corners of the house – your Cadmos! avoids the place where men tread,32 ashamed to show himself to his people, because all the people deride this secret union with you, and blame Semele for having a furtive bedmate.

[333] “A fine wedding-fit you have found me – the sneers of women! The attendants about me slander me, and far above the rest I fear the rough tongue of this garrulous nurse. Remember who wove the wilywitted fate for Typhon, and brought back to you the stolen spark of your thunder! Show it to my father, who got it back, for old Cadmos demands of me a proof of your bed. Never yet have I seen the countenance of the true Cronion, never beheld the flashing gleam from his eyelids, or the rays from his face, or the lustrous beard! Your Olympian shape I have never seen, but I expect a panther or lion – I have seen no god as a husband. I see you something mortal, and I am to bring forth a god! Yet I heave heard of another fiery wedding: did not Helios embrace his bride Clymene with fiery nuptials?” 33

[348] Thus Semele prayed for her own fate: the shortlived bride hoped to be equal to Hera, and to see at her nuptials the spark of the thunderbolt gentle and peaceful.

[351] Father Zeus heard, and blamed the jealous Portioners, and pities Semele so soon to die; but he understood the scheming resentment of implacable Hera against Bacchos. Then he ordered Hermes to catch up his newborn son out of the thunderfire when it should strike Thyone.34 He spoke thus in answer to the highheaded girl: “Wife, the jealous mind of Hera has deceived you by a trick. Do you really think, wife, that my thunders are gentle? Be patient until another time, for now you carry a child. Be patient until next time, and first bring forth my son. Do not demand from me the murderous fire before that birth. I had no lightning in my hand when I took Danaë’s maidenhood; no booming thunder, no thunderbolts celebrated my union with your Europa, the Tyrian bride; the Inachian heifer saw no flames: you alone, a mortal, demand from me what a goddess Leto did not ask.”

[367] So he spoke, but he had no though of fighting against the threads of Fate. He passed from the bosom of the sky shooting fire, and Flashlighning Zeus the husband unwillingly fulfilled the prayer of his young wife. He danced into Semele’s chamber, shaking in a reluctant hand the bridegift, those fires of thunder which were to destroy his bride. The chamber was lit up with the lightning, the fiery breath made Ismenos35 to glitter and all Thebes to twinkle.

[375] When Semele saw her fiery murderers, she held up a proud neck and said with lofty arrogance: “I want no clearsounding cithern, I need no hoboy! Thunders are here for my panspipes of Zeus’s love, this boom is my Olympian hoboy, the firebrands of my bridal are the flashes of heavenly lightning! I care not for common torches, my torches are thunderbolts! I am the consort of Cronion, Agauë is only Echion’s. Let them call Autonoë Aristaios’s wife. Ino’s rival is only Nephele – Semele’s is Hera! I was not the wife of Athamas, I was not the mother of Actaion the forester, so quickly killed and torn by dogs. I want no lesser harp, for Cithara36 the heavenly harp makes music for Semele’s wedding!”

[389] So she spoke in her pride, and would have grasped the deadly lightning in her own hands – she touched the destroying thunderbolts with daring palm, careless of Fate. Then Semele’s wedding was her death, and in its celebration the Avenging Spirit made her bower serve for pyre and tomb. Zeus had no mercy; the breath of the bridal thunder with its fires of delivery burnt her all to ashes.

[396] Lightning was the midwife, thunder our Lady of childbed; the heavenly flames had mercy, and delivered Bacchos struggling from the mother’s burning lap when the married life was withered by the mothermurdering flash; the thunders tempered their breath to bathe the babe, untimely born but unhurt. Semele saw her fiery end, and perished rejoicing in a childbearing death. In one bridal chamber could be seen Love, Eileithyia, and the Avengers together. So the babe half-grown, and his limbs washed with heavenly fire, was carried by Hermes to his father for the lying-in.

[407] Zeus was able to change the mind of jealous Hera, to calm and undo the savage threatending resentment which burdened her. Semele consumed by the fire he translated into the starry vault; he gave the mother of Bacchos a home in the sky among the heavenly inhabitants, as one of Hera’s family, as daughter of Harmonia sprung from both Ares and Aphrodite. So her new body bathed in the purifying fire . . . she received the immortal life of the Olympians. Instead of Cadmos and the soil of earth, instead of Autonoë and Agauë, she found Artemis by her side, she had converse with Athena, she received the heavens as her wedding-gift, sitting at one table with Zeus and Hermaon and Ares and Cythereia.

1. Dionysos was called Cisseus.
2. Hom. Il. xiv. 148.
3. Hera sent a gadfly to torment Io in her heifer-shape (see note on viii. 117 ff.), and set Argos, who had eyes all over him, to watch her.
4. Ares was regarded, perhaps rightly, as a Thracian god.
5. The Great Bear. She was one of Zeus’s loves, Electra the Pleiad another. Arcas was Callisto’s son.
6. See Callim. Hymns iv. 55 ff.
7. Hephaistos cleft the head of Zeus and Athena issued from the place.
8. Constellations. The Northern Crown was the wedding garland of Ariadne when Dionysos married her, see xlviii. 971. Perseus (with the Gorgon’s head in his hand), Andromeda and Cetus together commemorate his rescue of her.
9. The Telchines, a sort of gnomes or dwarfs, were credited with skill in metal-working and envious, spiteful dispositions.
10. Deceit is a goddess in Hesiod, Theog. 224.

11. A mountain in Crete. For the Corybantes see note on ii. 695.
12. Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, was said to have been born in this place, and she had a sacred cave there: Od. xix. 188.
13. Krêtes aei pseustai, quoted by Callim. Hymn to Zeus 8, and St Paul, Titus i. 12. It was attributed to Epimenides. The tomb of Zeus was shown in Crete.
14. Cretan, from the city of Cydonia.
15. Closely imitated from the description of Aphrodite’s kestos in Hom. Il. xiv. 214 ff., and the whole scene is founded on that one.
16. When she gave Cronos the stone wrapt in swaddling-bands instead of the baby Zeus. The business of the girdle seems to be Nonnos’s own invention.
17. Danaë’s father set her and the baby Perseus adrift in a chest.
18. Cf. Hom. Il. xiv. 201.
19. Almost certainly a mistake for Eurynome, wife of Ophion, cf. ii. 573. [Or else correcty Harmonia, as Queen of the Islands of the Blessed in the river Oceanos].
20. Hera was the patron of marriage, Zugia, Teleia, and so forth, and the mother of the Eileithyiai.

21. Where the Corybants danced with swinging shields and lances.
22. Father of Cadmos, and so grandfather of Semele.
23. Cf. v. 574. It is to be remembered that ages pass between bks. v. and viii., giving plenty of time for Hermes to marry.
24. A stock poetical epithet of Hera.
25. Poseidon.
26. A purely literary allusion. Of Euripides’ two plays on Melanippe (loved by Poseidon, to whom she bore Aiolos and Boiotos) one was called Melanippê hê sophê, because of a long philosophical argument put into the heroine’s mouth. The title is of course anachronistic here.
27. Amymone was one of the daughters of Danaos. Poseidon, who had rescued her from a satyr, took her himself. His trident, which he threw at the satyr, struck a rock from which sprung a fountain named after Amymone. The place was Lerna, which Nonnos apparently confuses with Nemea, home of the Nemean lion. See Hyginus, Fab. 169, 169a.
28. See Hom. Od. xi. 235.
29. An echo of Hom. Il. xiv. 90.
30. As Typhoeus did in bk. i.

31. Father of Danaë.
32. A half-quotation of Hom. Il. vi. 202, paton anthrôpôn aleeinôn.
33. See note on vii. 301.
34. Another name for Semele, hence Dionysos was also called Thyoneus.
35. One of the two rivers of Thebes.
36. A constellation, properly Lyra.