Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Transformation of Caeneus, Ovid, Metamorphoses XII.168 - 209

 Trigger Warning: Rape

hoc ipse Aeacides, hoc mirabantur Achivi,
cum sic Nestor ait: 'vestro fuit unicus aevo
contemptor ferri nulloque forabilis ictu               170
Cycnus. at ipse olim patientem vulnera mille
corpore non laeso Perrhaebum Caenea vidi,
Caenea Perrhaebum, qui factis inclitus Othryn
incoluit, quoque id mirum magis esset in illo,
femina natus erat.' monstri novitate moventur               175
quisquis adest, narretque rogant: quos inter Achilles:
'dic age! nam cunctis eadem est audire voluntas,
o facunde senex, aevi prudentia nostri,
quis fuerit Caeneus, cur in contraria versus,
qua tibi militia, cuius certamine pugnae               180
cognitus, a quo sit victus, si victus ab ullo est.'
tum senior: 'quamvis obstet mihi tarda vetustas,
multaque me fugiant primis spectata sub annis,
plura tamen memini. nec quae magis haereat ulla
pectore res nostro est inter bellique domique               185
acta tot, ac si quem potuit spatiosa senectus
spectatorem operum multorum reddere, vixi
annos bis centum; nunc tertia vivitur aetas.
     'Clara decore fuit proles Elateia Caenis,
Thessalidum virgo pulcherrima, perque propinquas               190
perque tuas urbes (tibi enim popularis, Achille),
multorum frustra votis optata procorum.
temptasset Peleus thalamos quoque forsitan illos:
sed iam aut contigerant illi conubia matris
aut fuerant promissa tuae, nec Caenis in ullos               195
denupsit thalamos secretaque litora carpens
aequorei vim passa dei est (ita fama ferebat),
utque novae Veneris Neptunus gaudia cepit,
"sint tua vota licet" dixit "secura repulsae:
elige, quid voveas!" (eadem hoc quoque fama ferebat)               200
"magnum" Caenis ait "facit haec iniuria votum,
tale pati iam posse nihil; da, femina ne sim:
omnia praestiteris." graviore novissima dixit
verba sono poteratque viri vox illa videri,
sicut erat; nam iam voto deus aequoris alti               205
adnuerat dederatque super, nec saucius ullis
vulneribus fieri ferrove occumbere posset.
munere laetus abit studiisque virilibus aevum
exigit Atracides Peneiaque arva pererrat.

--Ovid, Metamorphoses XII.168 – 209


Nestor Tells a Story to the Greeks:

While Achilles and the Greeks were marveling at this, Nestor told them:

“Cycnus was the best of your generation

to despise the blade, and yet not be wounded by one.

But with my own eyes I saw the Thessalian Caeneus

struck with a thousand blows, yet remain unharmed.

Caeneus, a man famous for his deeds in Othrys,

had something even more special about him:

he was born a woman [femina natus erat].

Moved by the unusual story, the Greeks asked

for Nestor to explain who Caeneus was.

Among them was Achilles, who said,

“Come on, old man, tell us! Give your wisdom to our generation!

We all want to hear about this!

Tell us who Caeneus was,

how he changed his gender [cur in contraria versus],

what military campaign you got to know him in,

how he fell in battle (if he could be taken down by anyone).”

Nestor replied, “Although old age has slowed me down,

and I can’t recall everything from my early years,

I do remember quite a lot.

Of all the things I did at home and on campaign,

this is the thing that sticks in my memory the most.

If old age can allow us to recall a lot of our deeds,

I have lived two hundred years, and now

I’m entering my third century.

Caenis was a pretty daughter of Elatus.

She was the prettiest maiden in all of Thessaly,

and many men from around the area

and around your towns (she was from your neighborhood, Achilles!)

sought to woo her in vain.

Your father Peleus might have even tried to woo her,

but either he was already engaged with your mother

or he had already gotten married.

But Caenis did not marry any of these men.

Instead, while walking on the beach one day,

she was raped by the Sea God (or so the story goes).

Neptune, delighted in taking her virginity, told her

“I’ll not refuse whatever you wish—just tell me what you’d like!”

And Caenis said (again, as the story continues),

“Your assault requires a great restitution. Give to me

The power to never be hurt that way again.

Make me no longer a woman,

and you’ll have fulfilled my every wish.”

The last words of the wish sounded deeper,  

as if they were spoken by a man.

and so he was. For the god of the high sea granted his prayer,

and what’s more, Neptune added

that Caeneus could no longer be susceptible to any wounds,

nor succumb to any blade.

And so Caeneus went away happily, and spent the remainder of his life

in manly pursuits as he wandered the lands of Thessaly.



Name: Publius Ovidius Naso  

Date:  43 BCE – 18 CE

Works:  Ars Amatoria


              Tristia, etc.



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



Ovid was one of the most famous love poets of Rome’s Golden Age. His most famous work, the Metamorphoses, provides a history of the world through a series of interwoven myths. Most of his poetry is erotic in nature; for this reason, he fell into trouble during the conservative social reforms under the reign of the emperor Augustus. In 8 CE he was banished to Bithynia, where he spent the remainder of his life pining for his native homeland.


Early Roman Lit: through 2nd c BCE: Republican Rome: through 1st c. BCE; Golden Age: 70 BCE to 18 CE; Silver Age: 18 CE to 150 CE; Age of Conflict: 150 CE - 410 CE; Byzantine and Late Latin: after 410 CE


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