Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
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T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
 
Salmacis and Hermaphroditus
By Ovid (43 B.C.–18 A.D.)
 
(From Metamorphoses, Book IV; translated by Joseph Addison)

HOW Salmacis with weak enfeebling streams,
Softens the body and unnerves the limbs,
And what the secret cause, shall here be shown;
The cause is secret, but the effect is known.
      The Naïads nurs’d an infant heretofore,        5
That Cytherea once to Hermes bore;
From both the’ illustrious authors of his race
The child was nam’d; nor was it hard to trace
Both the bright parents through the infant’s face.
When fifteen years, in Ida’s cool retreat,        10
The boy had told, he left his native seat,
And sought fresh fountains in a foreign soil;
The pleasure lessen’d the attending toil.
With eager steps the Lycian fields he crost,
And fields that border on the Lycian coast;        15
A river here he view’d so lovely bright,
It show’d the bottom in a fairer light,
Nor kept a sand conceal’d from human sight"
The stream produc’d nor slimy ooze nor weeds,
Nor miry rushes nor the spiky reeds,        20
But dealt enriching moisture all around,
The fruitful banks with cheerful verdure crown’d,
And kept the spring eternal on the ground.
A nymph presides, nor practis’d in the chase,
Nor skilful at the bow nor at the race,        25
Of all the blue-eyed daughters of the Main,
The only stranger to Diana’s train:
Her sisters often, as ’tis said, would cry,
“Fie! Salmacis, what, always idle? fie!
Or take thy quiver, or thy arrows seize,        30
And mix the toils of hunting with thy ease.”
Nor quiver she nor arrows e’er would seize,
Nor mix the toils of hunting with her ease,
But oft would bathe her in the crystal tide,
Oft with a comb her dewy locks divide:        35
Now in the limpid streams she view’d her face,
And dress’d her image in the floating glass:
On beds of leaves she now repos’d her limbs,
Now gather’d flowers that grew about her streams,
And then by chance was gathering, as she stood        40
To view the boy, and long’d for what she view’d.
      Fain would she meet the youth with hasty feet,
She fain would meet him, but refus’d to meet
Before her looks were set with nicest care,
And well deserv’d to be reputed fair.        45
“Bright youth,” she cries, “whom all thy features prove
A God, and, if a God, the God of Love;
But if a mortal, bless’d thy nurse’s breast,
Bless’d are thy parents, and thy sisters blest;
But, oh, how bless’d! how more than bless’d thy bride,        50
Allied in bliss, if any get allied:
If so, let mine the stol’n enjoyments be;
If not, behold a willing bride in me.”
      The boy knew nought of love, and, touch’d with shame,
He strove, and blush’d, but still the blush became;        55
In rising blushes still fresh beauties rose;
The sunny side of fruit such blushes shows,
And such the moon, when all her silver white
Turns in eclipses to a ruddy light.
The nymph still begs if not a nobler bliss,        60
A cold salute at least, a sister’s kiss;
And now prepares to take the lovely boy
Between her arms. He, innocently coy,
Replies, “Or leave me to myself alone,
You rude, uncivil nymph! or I’ll be gone.”        65
“Fair Stranger! then,” says she, “it shall be so”;
And, for she fear’d his threats, she feign’d to go;
But hid within a covert’s neighbouring green,
She kept him still in sight, herself unseen.
The boy now fancies all the danger o’er,        70
And innocently sports about the shore;
Playful and wanton to the stream he trips,
And dips his foot, and shivers as he dips.
The coolness pleas’d him, and with eager haste
His airy garments on the banks he cast;        75
His godlike features and his heavenly hue,
And all his beauties, were expos’d to view.
His naked limbs the nymph with rapture spies,
While hotter passions in her bosom rise,
Flush in her cheeks, and sparkle in her eyes.        80
She longs, she burns, to clasp him in her arms,
And looks and sighs, and kindles at his charms.
      Now all undress’d upon the banks he stood,
And clapp’d his sides, and leap’d into the flood;
His lovely limbs the silver waves divide,        85
His limbs appear more lovely through the tide,
As lilies shut within a crystal case
Receive a glossy lustre from the glass.
“He’s mine, he’s all my own,” The Naïad cries,
And flings off all, and after him she flies.        90
And now she fastens on him as he swims,
And holds him close, and wraps about his limbs.
The more the boy resisted, and was coy,
The more she clasp’d and kiss’d the struggling boy.
So when the wriggling snake is snatch’d on high        95
In eagle’s claws, and hisses in the sky,
Around the foe his twirling tail he flings,
And twists her legs, and writhes about her wings.
      The restless boy still obstinately strove
To free himself, and still refus’d her love.        100
Amidst his limbs she kept her limbs entwin’d,
“And why, coy youth!” she cries, “why thus unkind?
Oh, may the gods thus keep us ever join’d!
Oh, may we never, never part again!”
So pray’d the nymph, nor did she pray in vain;        105
For now she finds him, as his limbs she prest,
Grow nearer still, and nearer to her breast,
Till piercing each the other’s flesh, they run
Together, and incorporate in one:
Last in one face are both their faces join’d,        110
As when the stock and grafted twig combin’d
Shoot up the same, and wear a common rind:
Both bodies in a single body mix,
A single body with a double sex.
      The boy, thus lost in woman, now survey’d        115
The river’s guilty stream, and thus he pray’d,
(He pray’d, but wonder’d at his softer tone,
Surpris’d to hear a voice but half his own)
“You parent gods, whose heavenly names I bear,
Hear your Hermaphrodite, and grant my pray’r;        120
Oh, grant that whomso’er these streams contain,
If man he enter’d, he may rise again
Supple, unsinew’d, and but half a man!”
      The heavenly parents answer’d, from on high,
Their two-shap’d son, the double votary;        125
Then gave a secret virtue to the flood,
And ting’d its source to make his wishes good.
 
 
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