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Ovid, Fasti

Ovid, Fasti

From Book I

A young ass, too, is slain in the honour of the stiff guardian of the country-side: the cause is shameful, but beseems the god. A feast of ivy-berried Bacchus, thou wast wont to hold, O Greece, a feast which the third winter brought about at the appointed time. Thither came, too, the gods who wait upon Lyaeus and the jocund crew, Pans and young amorous Satyrs, and goddesses that haunt rivers and lonely wilds. Thither, too, came old Silenus on an ass with hollow back, and the Crimson One who by his lewd image scares the timid birds. They lit upon a dingle meet for joyous wassails, and there they laid them down on grassy beds. Liber bestowed the wine: each had brought his garland: a stream supplied water in plenty to dilute the wine. Naiads were there, some with flowing locks uncombed, others with tresses neatly bound. One waits upon the revellers with tunic tucked above the knee; another through her ripped robe reveals her breast; another bares her shoulder; one trails her skirt along the grass; no shoes cumber their dainty feet. So some in Satyrs kindle amorous fires, and some in thee, whose brows are wreathed with pine. Thou too, Silenus, burnest for the nymphs, insatiate lecher! ‘Tis wantonness alone forbids thee to grow old. But crimson Priapus, glory and guard of gardens, lost his heart to Lotis, singled out of the whole bevy. For her he longs, for her he prays, for her alone he sighs; he gives her signs by nodding and woos by making marks. But the lovely are disdainful, and pride on beauty waits: she flouted him and cast at him a scornful look. ‘Twas night, and wine makes drowsy, so here and there they lay overcome with sleep. Weary with frolic, Lotis, the farthest of them all, sank to her rest on the grassy ground under the maple boughs. Up rose her lover, and holding his breath stole secretly and silently on tiptoe to the fair. When he reached the lonely pallet of the snow-white nymph, he drew his breath so warily that not a sound escaped. And now upon the sward fast by he balanced on his toes, but still the nymph slept sound. He joyed, and drawing from off her feet the quilt, he set himself, happy lover! to snatch the wished-for hour. But lo, Silenus’ saddle-ass, with raucous weasand braying, gave out an ill-timed roar! The nymph in terror started up, pushed off Priapus, and flying gave the alarm to the whole grove; but, ready to enter the lists of love, the god in the moonlight was laughed at by all. The author of the hubbub paid for it with his life, and he is now the victim dear to the Hellespontine god.

From Book IV

Shall I pass over or relate thy disgrace, rubicund Priapus? It is a short story, but a very merry one. Cybele, whose brow is crowned with a coronet of towers, invited the eternal gods to her feast. She invited also satyrs and those rural divinities, the nymphs. Silenus came, though nobody asked him. It is unlawful, and it would be tedious, to narrate the banquet of the gods: the livelong night was passed in deep potations. Some roamed at haphazard in the vales of shady Ida; some lay and stretched their limbs at ease on the soft grass; some played; some slept; some, arm linked in arm, thrice beat with rapid foot the verdant ground. Vesta lay and careless took her peaceful rest, just as she was, her head low laid and propped upon a sod. But the ruddy guardian of gardens courted nymphs and goddesses, and to and fro he turned his roving steps. He spied Vesta too; it is doubtful whether he took her for a nymph or knew her be to be Vesta; he himself said that he know her not. He conceived a wanton hope, and tried to approach her furtively; he walked on tiptoe with throbbing heart. It chanced that old Silenus had left the ass, on which he rode, on the banks of a babbling brook. The god of the long Hellespont was going to begin when the ass uttered an ill-timed bray. Frightened by the deep voice, the goddess started up; the whole troop flocked together; Priapus made his escape between hands that would have stopped him. Lampsacus is wont to sacrifice this animal to Priapus, saying: “We give to the flames the inwards of the tell-tale ass.” That animal, goddess, thou dost adorn with necklaces of loves in memory of the vent: work come to a stop: the mills are empty and silent.


Reprinted by permission of the publisher from Ovid, Volume V: Fasti, Loeb Classical Library Volume 253, translated by James G. Frazer, pp. 29, 31, 33; 343, 345, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931. Loeb Classical Library ® is a registered trademark of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.