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"Stanley Lombardo successfully matches Ovid's human drama, imaginative brio, and irresistible momentum; and Ralph Johnson's superb Introduction to Ovid's 'narratological paradise' is a bonus to this new and vigorous translation that should not be missed. Together, Introduction and text bring out the delightful unpredictability of Ovid's 'history of the world' down to his times."---Elaine Fantham, Giger Professor of Latin, Emerita, Princeton University" "Mercury was poised to tell the whole story, When he saw that all of the eyes had closed. He Stopped speaking and deepened Argus' slumber, By waving his wand over those languid orbs. And then he brought his sickled sword down, On that nodding head where it joined the neck, And sent it spattering down the steep rocks. Now you lie low, Argus, and all your lights are out, Those hundred eyes mastered by one dark night. (1.766-74)" "Ovid's Metamorphoses gains its ideal twenty-first-century herald in Stanley Lombardo's bracing translation of a wellspring of Western art and literature that is too often treated, even by poets, as a mere vehicle for the scores of myths it recasts and transmits rather than as a unified work of art with epicscale ambitions of its own. Such misconceptions are unlikely to survive a reading of Lombardo's rendering, which vividly mirrors the brutality, sadness, comedy, irony, tenderness, and eeriness of Ovid's vast world as well as the poem's effortless pacing. Under Lombardo's spell, neither Argus nor anyone else need fear nodding off." The translation is accompanied by an exhilarating Introduction by W. R. Johnson that unweaves and reweaves many of the poem's most important themes while showing how the poet achieves some of his most brilliant effects.

This new translation reproduces in modern idiom the graceful, fluent style of one of the great poets of classical antiquity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Reading Mandelbaum’s extraordinary translation, one imagines Ovid in his darkest moods with the heart of Baudelaire . . . Mandelbaum’s translation is brilliant. It throws off the stiff and mild homogeneity of former translations and exposes the vivid colors of mockery, laughter, and poison woven so beautifully by the master.” —Booklist
“Mandelbaum’s Ovid, like his Dante, is unlikely to be equalled for years to come.” —Bloomsbury Review
“The Metamorphoses is conceived on the grandest possible scale . . . The number and variety of the metamorphoses are stunning: gods and goddesses, heroes and nymphs, mortal men and women are changed into wolves and bears, frogs and pigs, bulls and cows, deer and birds, trees and flowers, rocks and rivers, spiders and snakes, mountains and stars, while ships become sea nymphs, ants and stones and statues become people, men become women and vice versa . . . An elegantly entertaining and enthralling narrative.”
—from the Introduction by  J. C. McKeown
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781853267901
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions, Limited
  • Publication date: 1/28/1998
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 4.94 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Martin is a poet, critic, and translator. His translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses received the Harold Morton Landon Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2004. In 2005, he received an Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the author of Signs & Wonders and Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems.

Charles Martin is a poet, critic, and translator. His translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses received the Harold Morton Landon Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2004. In 2005, he received an Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the author of Signs & Wonders and Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems.

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Ovid Metamorphoses

By Rolfe Humphries

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1983 Winifred Davies
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-33755-9


My intention is to tell of bodies changed To different forms; the gods, who made the changes, Will help me—or I hope so—with a poem That runs from the world's beginning to our own days.

The Creation

Before the ocean was, or earth, or heaven, Nature was all alike, a shapelessness, Chaos, so-called, all rude and lumpy matter, Nothing but bulk, inert, in whose confusion Discordant atoms warred: there was no sun To light the universe; there was no moon With slender silver crescents filling slowly; No earth hung balanced in surrounding air; No sea reached far along the fringe of shore. Land, to be sure, there was, and air, and ocean, But land on which no man could stand, and water No man could swim in, air no man could breathe, Air without light, substance forever changing, Forever at war: within a single body Heat fought with cold, wet fought with dry, the hard Fought with the soft, things having weight contended With weightless things.

Till God, or kindlier Nature, Settled all argument, and separated Heaven from earth, water from land, our air From the high stratosphere, a liberation So things evolved, and out of blind confusion Found each its place, bound in eternal order. The force of fire, that weightless element, Leaped up and claimed the highest place in heaven; Below it, air; and under them the earth Sank with its grosser portions; and the water, Lowest of all, held up, held in, the land.

Whatever god it was, who out of chaos Brought order to the universe, and gave it Division, subdivision, he molded earth, In the beginning, into a great globe, Even on every side, and bade the waters To spread and rise, under the rushing winds, Surrounding earth; he added ponds and marshes, He banked the river-channels, and the waters Feed earth or run to sea, and that great flood Washes on shores, not banks. He made the plains Spread wide, the valleys settle, and the forest Be dressed in leaves; he made the rocky mountains Rise to full height, and as the vault of Heaven Has two zones, left and right, and one between them Hotter than these, the Lord of all Creation Marked on the earth the same design and pattern. The torrid zone too hot for men to live in, The north and south too cold, but in the middle Varying climate, temperature and season.

Above all things the air, lighter than earth, Lighter than water, heavier than fire, Towers and spreads; there mist and cloud assemble, And fearful thunder and lightning and cold winds, But these, by the Creator's order, held No general dominion; even as it is, These brothers brawl and quarrel; though each one Has his own quarter, still, they come near tearing The universe apart. Eurus is monarch Of the lands of dawn, the realms of Arahy, The Persian ridges under the rays of morning. Zephyrus holds the west that glows at sunset, Boreas, who makes men shiver, holds the north, Warm Auster governs in the misty southland, And over them all presides the weightless ether, Pure without taint of earth.

These boundaries given, Behold, the stars, long hidden under darkness, Broke through and shone, all over the spangled heaven, Their home forever, and the gods lived there, And shining fish were given the waves for dwelling And beasts the earth, and birds the moving air.

But something else was needed, a finer being, More capable of mind, a sage, a ruler, So Man was born, it may be, in God's image, Or Earth, perhaps, so newly separated From the old fire of Heaven, still retained Some seed of the celestial force which fashioned Gods out of living clay and running water. All other animals look downward; Man, Alone, erect, can raise his face toward Heaven.

The Four Ages

The Golden Age was first, a time that cherished Of its own will, justice and right; no law. No punishment, was called for; fearfulness Was quite unknown, and the bronze tablets held No legal threatening; no suppliant throng Studied a judge's face; there were no judges, There did not need to be. Trees had not yet Been cut and hollowed, to visit other shores. Men were content at home, and had no towns With moats and walls around them; and no trumpets Blared out alarums; things like swords and helmets Had not been heard of. No one needed soldiers. People were unaggressive, and unanxious; The years went by in peace. And Earth, untroubled, Unharried by hoe or plowshare, brought forth all That men had need for, and those men were happy, Gathering berries from the mountain sides, Cherries, or blackcaps, and the edible acorns. Spring was forever, with a west wind blowing Softly across the flowers no man had planted, And Earth, unplowed, brought forth rich grain; the field, Unfallowed, whitened with wheat, and there were rivers Of milk, and rivers of honey, and golden nectar Dripped from the dark-green oak-trees.

After Saturn Was driven to the shadowy land of death, And the world was under Jove, the Age of Silver Came in, lower than gold, better than bronze. Jove made the springtime shorter, added winter, Summer, and autumn, the seasons as we know them. That was the first time when the burnt air glowed White-hot, or icicles hung down in winter. And men built houses for themselves; the caverns, The woodland thickets, and the bark-bound shelters No longer served; and the seeds of grain were planted In the long furrows, and the oxen struggled Groaning and laboring under the heavy yoke.

Then came the Age of Bronze, and dispositions Took on aggressive instincts, quick to arm, Yet not entirely evil. And last of all The Iron Age succeeded, whose base vein Let loose all evil: modesty and truth And righteousness fled earth, and in their place Came trickery and slyness, plotting, swindling, Violence and the damned desire of having. Men spread their sails to winds unknown to sailors, The pines came down their mountain-sides, to revel And leap in the deep waters, and the ground, Free, once, to everyone, like air and sunshine, Was stepped off by surveyors. The rich earth, Good giver of all the bounty of the harvest, Was asked for more; they dug into her vitals, Pried out the wealth a kinder lord had hidden In Stygian shadow, all that precious metal, The root of evil. They found the guilt of iron, And gold, more guilty still. And War came forth That uses both to fight with; bloody hands Brandished the clashing weapons. Men lived on plunder. Guest was not safe from host, nor brother from brother, A man would kill his wife, a wife her husband, Stepmothers, dire and dreadful, stirred their brews With poisonous aconite, and sons would hustle Fathers to death, and Piety lay vanquished, And the maiden Justice, last of all immortals, Fled from the bloody earth.

Heaven was no safer. Giants attacked the very throne of Heaven, Piled Pelion on Ossa, mountain on mountain Up to the very stars. Jove struck them down With thunderbolts, and the bulk of those huge bodies Lay on the earth, and bled, and Mother Earth, Made pregnant by that blood, brought forth new bodies, And gave them, to recall her older offspring, The forms of men. And this new stock was also Contemptuous of gods, and murder-hungry And violent. You would know they were sons of blood.

Jove's Intervention

And Jove was witness from his lofty throne Of all this evil, and groaned as he remembered The wicked revels of Lycaon's table, The latest guilt, a story still unknown To the high gods. In awful indignation He summoned them to council. No one dawdled. Easily seen when the night skies are clear, The Milky Way shines white. Along this road The gods move toward the palace of the Thunderer, His royal halls, and, right and left, the dwellings Of other gods are open, and guests come thronging. The lesser gods live in a meaner section, An area not reserved, as this one is, For the illustrious Great Wheels of Heaven. (Their Palatine Hill, if I might call it so.)

They took their places in the marble chamber Where high above them all their king was seated, Holding his ivory sceptre, shaking out Thrice, and again, his awful locks, the sign That made the earth and stars and ocean tremble, And then he spoke, in outrage: "I was troubled Less for the sovereignty of all the world In that old time when the snake-footed giants Laid each his hundred hands on captive Heaven. Monstrous they were, and hostile, but their warfare Sprung from one source, one body. Now, wherever The sea-gods roar around the earth, a race Must be destroyed, the race of men. I swear it! I swear by all the Stygian rivers gliding Under the world, I have tried all other measures. The knife must cut the cancer out, infection Averted while it can be, from our numbers. Those demigods, those rustic presences, Nymphs, fauns, and satyrs, wood and mountain dwellers, We have not yet honored with a place in Heaven, But they should have some decent place to dwell in, In peace and safety. Safety? Do you reckon They will be safe, when I, who wield the thunder, Who rule you all as subjects, am subjected To the plottings of the barbarous Lycaon?"

They burned, they trembled. Who was this Lycaon, Guilty of such rank infamy? They shuddered In horror, with a fear of sudden ruin, As the whole world did later, when assassins Struck Julius Caesar down, and Prince Augustus Found satisfaction in the great devotion That cried for vengeance, even as Jove took pleasure, Then, in the gods' response. By word and gesture He calmed them down, awed them again to silence, And spoke once more:

The Story of Lycaon

"He has indeed been punished. On that score have no worry. But what he did, And how he paid, are things that I must tell you. I had heard the age was desperately wicked, I had heard, or so I hoped, a lie, a falsehood, So I came down, as man, from high Olympus, Wandered about the world. It would take too long To tell you how widespread was all that evil. All I had heard was grievous understatement! I had crossed Maenala, a country bristling With dens of animals, and crossed Cyllene, And cold Lycaeus' pine woods. Then I came At evening, with the shadows growing longer, To an Arcadian palace, where the tyrant Was anything but royal in his welcome. I gave a sign that a god had come, and people Began to worship, and Lycaon mocked them, Laughed at their prayers, and said: 'Watch me find out Whether this fellow is a god or mortal, I can tell quickly, and no doubt about it.' He planned, that night, to kill me while I slumbered; That was his way to test the truth. Moreover, And not content with that, he took a hostage, One sent by the Molossians, cut his throat, Boiled pieces of his flesh, still warm with life, Broiled others, and set them before me on the table. That was enough. I struck, and the bolt of lightning Blasted the household of that guilty monarch. He fled in terror, reached the silent fields, And howled, and tried to speak. No use at all! Foam dripped from his mouth; bloodthirsty still, he turned Against the sheep, delighting still in slaughter, And his arms were legs, and his robes were shaggy hair, Yet he is still Lycaon, the same gray ness, The same fierce face, the same red eyes, a picture Of bestial savagery. One house has fallen, But more than one deserves to. Fury reigns Over all the fields of Earth. They are sworn to evil, Believe it. Let them pay for it, and quickly! So stands my purpose."

Part of them approved With words and added fuel to his anger, And part approved with silence, and yet all Were grieving at the loss of humankind, Were asking what the world would be, bereft Of mortals: who would bring their altars incense? Would earth be given the beasts, to spoil and ravage? Jove told them not to worry; he would give them Another race, unlike the first, created Out of a miracle; he would see to it.

He was about to hurl his thunderbolts At the whole world, but halted, fearing Heaven Would burn from fire so vast, and pole to pole Break out in flame and smoke, and he remembered The fates had said that some day land and ocean, The vault of Heaven, the whole world's mighty fortress, Besieged by fire, would perish. He put aside The bolts made in Cyclopean workshops; better, He thought, to drown the world by flooding water.

The Flood

So, in the cave of Aeolus, he prisoned The North-wind, and the West-wind, and such others As ever banish cloud, and he turned loose The South-wind, and the South-wind came out streaming With dripping wings, and pitch-black darkness veiling His terrible countenance. His beard is heavy With rain-cloud, and his hoary locks a torrent, Mists are his chaplet, and his wings and garments Run with the rain. His broad hands squeeze together Low-hanging clouds, and crash and rumble follow Before the cloudburst, and the rainbow, Iris, Draws water from the teeming earth, and feeds it Into the clouds again. The crops are ruined, The farmers' prayers all wasted, all the labor Of a long year, comes to nothing.

And Jove's anger, Unbounded by his own domain, was given Help by his dark-blue brother. Neptune called His rivers all, and told them, very briefly, To loose their violence, open their houses, Pour over embankments, let the river horses Run wild as ever they would. And they obeyed him. His trident struck the shuddering earth; it opened Way for the rush of waters. The leaping rivers Flood over the great plains. Not only orchards Are swept away, not only grain and cattle, Not only men and houses, but altars, temples, And shrines with holy fires. If any building Stands firm, the waves keep rising over its roof-top, Its towers are under water, and land and ocean Are all alike, and everything is ocean, An ocean with no shore-line.

Some poor fellow Seizes a hill-top; another, in a dinghy, Rows where he used to plough, and one goes sailing Over his fields of grain or over the chimney Of what was once his cottage. Someone catches Fish in the top of an elm-tree, or an anchor Drags in green meadow-land, or the curved keel brushes Grape-arbors under water. Ugly sea-cows Float where the slender she-goats used to nibble The tender grass, and the Nereids come swimming With curious wonder, looking, under water, At houses, cities, parks, and groves. The dolphins Invade the woods and brush against the oak-trees; The wolf swims with the lamb; lion and tiger Are borne along together; the wild boar Finds all his strength is useless, and the deer Cannot outspeed that torrent; wandering birds Look long, in vain, for landing-place, and tumble, Exhausted, into the sea. The deep's great license Has buried all the hills, and new waves thunder Against the mountain-tops. The flood has taken All things, or nearly all, and those whom water, By chance, has spared, starvation slowly conquers.

Deucalion and Pyrrha

Phocis, a fertile land, while there was land, Marked off Oetean from Boeotian fields. It was ocean now, a plain of sudden waters. There Mount Parnassus lifts its twin peaks skyward, High, steep, cloud-piercing. And Deucalion came there Rowing his wife. There was no other land, The sea had drowned it all. And here they worshipped First the Corycian nymphs and native powers, Then Themis, oracle and fate-revealer. There was no better man than this Deucalion, No one more fond of right; there was no woman More scrupulously reverent than Pyrrha. So, when Jove saw the world was one great ocean, Only one woman left of all those thousands, And only one man left of all those thousands, Both innocent and worshipful, he parted The clouds, turned loose the North-wind, swept them off, Showed earth to heaven again, and sky to land, And the sea's anger dwindled, and King Neptune Put down his trident, calmed the waves, and Triton, Summoned from far down under, with his shoulders Barnacle-strewn, loomed up above the waters, The blue-green sea-god, whose resounding horn Is heard from shore to shore. Wet-bearded, Triton Set lip to that great shell, as Neptune ordered, Sounding retreat, and all the lands and waters Heard and obeyed. The sea has shores; the rivers, Still running high, have channels; the floods dwindle, Hill-tops are seen again; the trees, long buried, Rise with their leaves still muddy. The world returns.

Deucalion saw that world, all desolation, All emptiness, all silence, and his tears Rose as he spoke to Pyrrha: "O my wife, The only woman, now, on all this earth, My consort and my cousin and my partner In these immediate dangers, look! Of all the lands To East or West, we two, we two alone, Are all the population. Ocean holds Everything else; our foothold, our assurance, Are small as they can be, the clouds still frightful. Poor woman—well, we are not all alone— Suppose you had been, how would you bear your fear? Who would console your grief? My wife, believe me, Had the sea taken you, I would have followed. If only I had the power, I would restore The nations as my father did, bring clay To life with breathing. As it is, we two Are all the human race, so Heaven has willed it, Samples of men, mere specimens."

They wept, And prayed together, and having wept and prayed, Resolved to make petition to the goddess To seek her aid through oracles. Together They went to the river-water, the stream Cephisus, Still far from clear, but flowing down its channel, And they took river-water, sprinkled foreheads, Sprinkled their garments, and they turned their steps To the temple of the goddess, where the altars Stood with the fires gone dead, and ugly moss Stained pediment and column. At the stairs They both fell prone, kissed the chill stone in prayer: "If the gods' anger ever listens To righteous prayers, O Themis, we implore you, Tell us by what device our wreck and ruin May be repaired. Bring aid, most gentle goddess, To sunken circumstance."


Excerpted from Ovid Metamorphoses by Rolfe Humphries. Copyright © 1983 Winifred Davies. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Analytical Table of Contents


Translator's Note

Note on the Text

Suggestions for Further Reading


Catalog of Transformations 446

Glossary of Names 461

Book 1

Invocation 1

Origin of the World 5

The Four Ages 90

The Giants 154

The Council of the Gods 167

Lycaon Zeus 216

The Flood 262

Deucalion and Pyrrha 324

Python 454

Apollo and Daphne 470

Io 602

Pan and Syrinx (as told by Mercury to Argus) 739

Phaethon and Clymene 803

Book 2

Phaethon and Phoebus 1

Epitaph for Phaethon 360

Callisto 445

Apollo and Coronis 593

The Crow and Minerva (as told by the Crow) 616

The Princess and the Sea God (as told by the Crow) 635

Nyctimene (as told by the Crow) 660

Ocyrhoe 709

Mercury and Battus 756

Mercury, Herse, and Aglauros 791

Jupiter and Europa 925

Book 3

Cadmus and the Earthborn People 1

Diana and Actaeon 148

Jupiter and Semele 268

Tiresias 343

Echo and Narcissus 371

Pentheus and Bacchus 562

Acoetes (as told by himself) 641

Book 4

The Daughters of Minyas 1

Pyramus and Thisbe (as told by a Daughter of Minyas) 65

Mars and Venus Leuconoe 189

Leucothoe and the Sun Leuconoe 212

Clytie and the Sun Leuconoe 262

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus Alcithoe 321

The Daughters of Minyas Become Bats 425

Athamas and Ino 454

Juno and the Theban Women 602

Cadmus and Harmonia 623

Perseus and Andromeda 669

Book 5

Perseus and Phineus 1

Minerva and the Muses 290

Pegasus and the Spring of the Muses Urania 296

Pyreneus and the Muses Urania 313

The Contest of the Muses and the Daughters of Pierus Urania 342

Song of Typhoeus (as sung by a Daughter of Pierus, as summarized by Urania) 373

Hymn to Ceres Urania 387

Arethusa and Alpheus Urania 659

Book 6

The Contest of Arachne and Minerva 1

"The Hill of Mars" Minerva 80

"The Rape of Europa" Arachne 115

Niobe and Latona 163

Thebes Responds to Niobe's Calamity 355

The Altar in the Pond Theban 361

Latona and the Lycians Theban 378

Marsyas and Apollo Theban 435

Pelops 458

Procne and Philomela 472

"The Rape of Philomela" Philomela 665

Boreas and Orithyia 781

Book 7

Jason and Medea 1

Hymn to Theseus Athenians 486

Minos' Embassy to Aegina 504

Cephalus' Embassy to Aegina 542

The Plague at Aegina Aeacus 570

The Origin of the Myrmidons Aeacus 670

Procris and Cephalus Cephalus 756

Book 8

Nisus and Scylla 1

Minos and the Minotaur 184

Daedalus and Icarus 221

Daedalus and His Nephew 279

Meleager and the Calydonian Boar 304

Tales from Achelous' Feast 626

Achelous and the Echinades Achelous 656

Achelous and Perimele Achelous 676

Philemon and Baucis Lelex 697

Erysichthon Achelous 818

Book 9

[Tales from Achelous' Feast (continued)]

Achelous and Hercules Achelous 1

Nessus and Deianeira 95

The Death of Hercules 147

The Grief of Alcmena and Iole 305

Alcmena and Galanthis Alcmena 316

Dryope Iole 366

Iolaus and the Bickering of the Gods 446

Byblis and Her Brother 519

Iphis and Ianthe 765

Inscription for Iphis 912

Book 10

Orpheus and Eurydice 1

Cyparissus and the Stag 110

The Songs of Orpheus 149

Jupiter and Ganymede Orpheus 162

Apollo and Hyacinthus Orpheus 170

The Cerastae Orpheus 234

The Daughters of Propoetus Orpheus 259

Pygmalion Orpheus 266

Myrrha and Cinryas Orpheus 332

Venus and Adonis Orpheus 594

Atalanta and Hippomenes Orpheus 645

Book 11

The Death of Orpheus 1

Midas 92

Laomedon 221

Peleus and Thetis 261

Peleus and the Wolf of the Marsh 314

Daedalion and Chione Ceyx 341

Ceyx and Alcyone 481

The Bird Sightings 863

Aesacus and Hesperia (as told by an Observer of birds) 867

Book 12

The Greeks at Aulis 1

The House of Rumor 51

Cygnus and Achilles 81

Tales from the Truce 173

The Origin of Caeneus Nestor 198

The Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs Nestor 247

Hercules and Periclymenus Nestor 617

The Death of Achilles 664

Book 13

The Contest for Achilles' Arms 1

Ajax's Speech 6

Ulysses' Speech 148

The Fall of Troy 481

Polydorus and Polyxena 516

Hecuba 576

Memnon 694

Aeneas Comes to Delos 752

The Daughters of Anius Anius 774

"The Daughters of Orion" Alcon 814

Aeneas Comes to Scylla and Charybdis 848

Galatea and Polyphemus Galatea 899

Polyphemus' Song to Galatea Galatea 945

Glaucus' Transformation Glaucus 1069

Book 14

Glaucus, Circe, Scylla 1

Aeneas Comes to Cumae 81

Phoebus and the Sybil of Cumae Sybil 150

Two of Ulysses' Crewmembers Reunite 178

Stranded on the Isle of the Cyclopes Achaemenides 194

Aeolus, The Lastrygonians, and Circe Macareus 254

Picus (as told by an attendant of Circe, as relayed by Macareus) 369

Epitaph for Caieta 514

Aeneas Comes to Latium 521

Acmon Diomedes 540

The Apulian Shepherd 595

Aeneas' Ships 613

Ardea 652

The Death of Aeneas 671

Pomona and Vertumnus 716

Iphis and Anaxarete Vertumnus 804

The Sabines 891

Romulus 928

Hersilia 954

Book 15

Numa 1

The Founding of Croton Croton 13

The Teachings of Pythagoras 69

Hippolytus and Egeria 516

Hippolytus (as told by himself) 529

Cipus 603

Aesculapius 683

The Deification of Caesar 828

Envoi 981

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