• Iphis & Ianthe: from the Metamorphoses

    Stephanie McCarter

    Summer 2021

    from Ovid’s Metamorphoses 9.669-797

    The land of Phaestum, near the realm of Cnossos,
    once bore an undistinguished man named Ligdus,
    a freeborn pleb. Though he was no more rich
    than he was noble, he was true and blameless.
    And when his wife was pregnant, nearly due,
    he gave her this command: “I have two prayers—
    that you give birth with little pain and bear 
    a male. The other sex is too expensive,
    and fortune makes us poor. Heaven forbid,
    but if by chance you give birth to a female
    (I order this unwillingly—forgive 
    me, Duty!), she’ll be put to death.” He’d spoken.
    Tears washed their faces, his who gave the order
    and hers to whom the order had been given.
    Yet Telethusa never stops entreating
    her husband not to dash her hopes—in vain.
    Ligdus’ mind is firm. And when her womb
    had grown so heavy with its full-term burden
    that she could scarcely carry it, she dreamed
    deep in the night that Isis stood or seemed
    to stand before her bed in holy pomp.
    Her brow wore lunar horns and golden grain
    that shimmered and a regal diadem. 
    Barking Anubis joined her, as did sacred
    Bubastis, dappled Apis, and that god
    who holds his finger to his lips for silence.
    And there were rattles and Osiris, who
    was never fully found, and an Egyptian
    serpent that swelled with soporific venom.
    The goddess spoke to her as if she were
    awake and seeing clearly: “Telethusa,
    my devotee, dismiss your heavy cares
    and foil your husband’s orders. When Lucina
    assists this birth, don’t hesitate to raise
    the child, whatever sex it is. I am 
    your patron goddess. When you call, I help.
    You’ll not lament that you revere a thankless
    divinity.” She gave her this command,
    then left the room. In joy, the Cretan woman
    rose from her bed and, as a suppliant, 
    raised pure hands to the stars, praying the dream
    would come to pass.

    Stephanie McCarter has just completed a translation of Horace’s Epodes and Odes and is now translating Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Her writing has appeared in Electric Literature, the Millions, and the Brooklyn Rail’s “InTranslation.” She teaches at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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