Monday, January 29, 2007

Ovidian Envy

Here is Ovid's portrait of Envy, taken from the story of Aglauros in Book II of the Metamorphoses. Pallas Athena has gone to Envy's cave to command Envy to poison Aglauros:
Envy could be seen, eating vipers’ meat that fed her venom, and at the sight the goddess averted her eyes. But the other got up slowly from the ground, leaving the half-eaten snake flesh, and came forward with sluggish steps. When she saw the goddess dressed in her armour and her beauty, she moaned and frowned as she sighed. Pallor spreads over her face, and all her body shrivels.

Her sight is skewed, her teeth are livid with decay, her breast is green with bile, and her tongue is suffused with venom. She only smiles at the sight of suffering. She never sleeps, excited by watchful cares. She finds men’s successes disagreeable, and pines away at the sight. She gnaws and being gnawed is also her own punishment. Though she hated her so, nevertheless Tritonia spoke briefly to her. ‘Poison one of Cecrops’s daughters with your venom. That is the task. Aglauros is the one.’Without more words she fled and with a thrust of her spear sprang from the earth.

Envy, squinting at her as she flees, gives out low mutterings, sorry to think of Minerva’s coming success. She takes her staff bound with strands of briar, and sets out, shrouded in gloomy clouds. Wherever she passes she tramples the flower-filled fields, withers the grass, blasts the highest treetops and poisons homes, cities and peoples with her breath. At last she sees Athens, Tritonia’s city, flourishing with arts and riches and leisured peace. She can hardly hold back her tears because she sees nothing tearful.

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