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Ovid's Metamorphoses - Book VII


"Drunk in the sea of grief I prayed to Jove:

'O Jupiter !    If rumours do not lie ---

If it is true your arms enfold Aegina,

Daughter of Asopus, and you, great father

Of our house, deny the shame of having us,

Your children, here on earth --- give back, O lord,

My people to my land, or let me follow

The dead I loved into their sepulchre.'

His answer was a bolt of fire and thunder.

'And this is your reply,'  I said,  'I take it

That your will toward us is good will, so shall I hold

You to a sacred promise.'   As I spoke,

I saw an oak spread branches over me,

The talking oak of Jove-Dodona's kind.

And there we noted that a trail of ants,

Each with a grain of wheat between his lips,

Marched in a single file through wrinkled bark.

Dazed at the sight of creatures beyond number,

I said 'Great Father, fill my empty cities,

Give me as many people as this army.'

As though a storm had burst in windless air,

The great oak shuddered and my body shook

With fears that made my flesh and hair rise up;

Falling, I kissed the oak down to its roots,

Nor dared to hope aloud, but kept thought hidden

In some dark channel of my mind. Night came

And with it sleep possessed our anxious bodies.

In that deep senselessness I had a vision:

There was the oak, as many-leaved as ever,

As many ants among its many branches ---

The great tree shaken by a sudden tremor

While ants dropped to the grassess at its feet,

Then seemed to grow, to stand upright, to lose

There shadow thinness and their black complexion

In human forms: I saw stout legs and arms.

When I awoke the vision seemed unreal;

I wept at lack of mercy from the gods,

And yet I heard strange noises in the palace,

Voices of men that had grown unfamiliar;

I thought they were another trick of sleep.

Then Telamon came running to my door

And cried out,  'Father, more than any hope

Or dream now walks before us.  Threshold waits

For you to step outside.'   And as I followed,

There was the multitude I saw in sleep

Who welcomed me and hailed me as their king.

Then I praised Jove and gave to my new people

Parts of my kingdom that had been deserted,

And called that army 'Human Myrmidons,'

Nor was I wrong, for you have seen their strength.

They keep to habits of their early being:

They are hardworking, thrifty, honest creatures,

Who harvest each grain of wheat they sow;

And they shall serve you in the wars to match

Their youthful energy with youthful courage.

They wait at your command and you shall have them

As soon as the East Wind that brought you here

Gives your ships over to his Southwest brother."


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