Ovid Metamorphoses 3.368-99 (contributed by Rachel Carter)

I was captivated by this extract when I read it recently with a student: the clever echoing wordplay, and the heartbreaking pathos of the nymph’s hope and disappointment in love.

Rachel Carter


Ergo ubi Narcissum per devia rura vagantem

vidit et incaluit, sequitur vestigia furtim,

quoque magis sequitur, flamma propiore calescit,                          370

non aliter, quam cum summis circumlita taedis

admotas rapiunt vivacia sulphura flammas.

O quotiens voluit blandis accedere dictis

et molles adhibere preces: natura repugnat

nec sinit incipiat. Sed, quod sinit, illa parata est                              375

exspectare sonos, ad quos sua verba remittat.

Forte puer comitum seductus ab agmine fido,

dixerat “ecquis adest?” et “adest!” responderat Echo.

Hic stupet, utque aciem partes dimittit in omnes,

voce “veni!” magna clamat: vocat illa vocantem.                                380

Respicit et rursus nullo veniente “quid” inquit

“me fugis?” et totidem, quot dixit, verba recepit.

Perstat et, alternae deceptus imagine vocis,

“huc coeamus!” ait: nullique libentius umquam

responsura sono “coeamus” rettulit Echo                                           385

et verbis favet ipsa suis egressaque silva

ibat, ut iniceret sperato bracchia collo.

Ille fugit fugiensque “manus complexibus aufer:

ante” ait “emoriar, quam sit tibi copia nostri.”

Rettulit illa nihil nisi “sit tibi copia nostri.”                                        390

Spreta latet silvis pudibundaque frondibus ora

protegit et solis ex illo vivit in antris.

Sed tamen haeret amor crescitque dolore repulsae.

Extenuant vigiles corpus miserabile curae,

adducitque cutem macies et in aera sucus                                          395

corporis omnis abit. Vox tantum atque ossa supersunt:

vox manet; ossa ferunt lapidis traxisse figuram.

inde latet silvis nulloque in monte videtur;

omnibus auditur: sonus est, qui vivit in illa.



And so, when she saw Narcissus wandering through the pathless wilds,
she was fired with love for him. Furtively, she follows in his footsteps,
and the more closely she follows him, the more fiercely she burns with love
– just as when lively sulphur, smeared round the tops of torches,
catches onto an approaching flame.

How often she wished to come to him with sweet words
and soft prayers! Her nature holds her back
and does not allow her to begin – but she is ready for what is allowed
– to wait for words from him which she can answer back.

By chance the boy, separated from his loyal companions,
had called out ‘Is anyone here?’ ‘Here!’ Echo had answered.
He is amazed and as he directs his gaze all around,
cries, ‘Come!’ in a loud voice. She calls him calling her.

He looks back and again, when no one comes, says, ‘Why
do you flee from me?’ He received as many words as he had spoken.
He persists, and, deceived by the sound of her returning voice,
says, ‘Here, let’s come together!’  Echo, never more willing to answer a sound,
replied, ‘Let’s come together!’

Her own words please her and, having come out of the wood,
she went, longingly, to put her arms around his neck.
He fled from her and, fleeing, cried, ‘Take away your embracing arms!
I would rather die than be yours!’
‘Be yours!’ was all she could reply.

Spurned, she hides in the woods and covers her shamed face with leaves.
From that time on she lives alone in caves.
But still love grips her and grows stronger with the pain of rejection.
Sleepless cares waste away her poor body.
Leanness attacks her skin and the lifeblood of her body
evaporates into the air. Only her bones and her voice remain.
Her voice stays with us; they say that her bones became transformed into the shape of a stone.

From then on she stays hidden in the woods and is no longer seen on any mountain.
All hear her, though: the sound that lives in her.



John William Waterhouse, 1903

Chosen and translated by Rachel Carter, Latin teacher.

The above text is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.

Read more of this text at the Perseus site.

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  • Thanks for sharing your heartbreaking translation of Echo’s situation.

  • Ovid’s brilliance is truly on display here. Note the clever line 380, with its witty interplay of sounds and syllables: it is really at the heart of this account of Echo’s fall, which is told with great panache as well as pathos. The constant enjambment in the central parts gives the story energy and drives it on unremittingly. The broken up last four lines bring it to a neat closure.

    What an excellent translation!

    John Hazel

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