Metamorphoses IX:324-393 – Dryope


Artist Johann Whilhelm Baur (1600-1640), Nuremberg edition, 1703.

Then Iole said to her mother-in-law Alcmene she grieved, “The changed appearance of one who’s not a member of your family moves you, mother. What if I described the awful fate of my sister to you? Although tears and grief choke and almost silence me…. 

My sister Dryope was the most renowned for beauty of the women of Oechalia. She was the only child of her mother–father got me on another woman. Apollo, who rules Delphi and Delos, had raped her of her virginity, but Andraemon married her and was happy with his wife.

There’s a lake whose margin rises like the seashore, crowned with a grove of myrtle. Dryope came here with no premonition of her fate–which was even more unjust, because she had come to bind wreaths for her friends the nymphs. She carried as a sweet burden on her bosom her little boy, not yet a year old, who sucked her warm milk.

Not far out in the shallows grew a water lotus, spreading bright purple flowers in hope of seeds. Dryope plucked the flowers and gave them to her son to amuse him. I was there with her and would’ve done the same thing, but I saw the blood dripping from the flower and the stem quivering with tremulous horror. Only then–too late!–did the men in the fields tell us that the nymph Lotis, while fleeing the lust of Priapus, had changed her form into this one while keeping the same name.

My sister didn’t know that. When in terror she tried to run back to the nymphs she worshipped, her feet clung by roots. She struggled to tear them loose, but her soles wouldn’t move. Bark slowly grew up from her feet and little by little covered her legs. When she saw that, she tried to tear her hair with her hands–and her hands sprouted leaves. More leaves covered her whole head. Her boy Amphissos–for this is the name her father Euytus had given the boy–felt his mother’s breasts growing hard, and her milk ceased to flow at his kneading.

I was only a spectator at my sister’s cruel fate, unable to help her. I embraced her trunk and branches, trying as hard as I could to delay their spread. Ah, I wished the same bark would engulf me.

Her husband Andraemon and her wretched father ran toward us, bewailing Dryope. In answer to their wails, Dryope held out the lotus. They kissed wood still warm with life and clung to the spreading roots of the tree she had become.

All of my dear sister but her face had become a tree. Tears dripped from her misterable body onto her fresh leaves. While her lips could still form words, she flooded the air with complaints of this nature: “If a victim can ever be believed, I swear by the gods tthat I did not deserve this terrible harm. I am punished without crime! I lived an innocent life. If I lie, then let drought wither my leaves, let axes cut me down and my wood be burned!

“Take this infant from his mother’s branches and give him to a nurse. Let him often drink milk and play beneath this tree. When he is able to talk, let him greet his mother and sadly say, ‘My mother hides beneath this bark.’ Let him avoid the lake nor pluck flowers from a tree, and let him treat all fruits as the bodies of the gods.

“Farewell, dear husband, and you my sister and my father. If you remember me, keep my limbs from the wounds of pruning hooks and my leaves from the teeth of the herds.

“But since I can no longer throw myself at your feet, brush aside my limbs and come to my kisses. While I am still able to be touched, hold out my little son to me. I can say no more. Over my white shoulders the thin bark climbs till it shrouds the very top of my head.

“Take your hands from my eyes! The bark will cover my dying face without need for you to offer that duty.”

With those words her lips ceased to move. For a long time the branches of her changed body remained warm.

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