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Theseus and Achelous

Welcome to my 2023 Ovid Project

by Declan Dolorico-McPeake



The immediate story before "Theseus and Achelous" is "The Brand of Meleager." It's the tale of Meleager's mother Althaea, who, after her son's victory in a boar hunting competition, goes to a temple to pray and celebrate. However, upon seeing her brother's dead body being brought in, she experiences a breakdown. When Meleager was born, prophets predicted that he would only live as long as a log burned. Althaea grabbed the log, extinguished it, and stored it in a safe place. Later, when she discovered that Meleager had killed his uncle during the competition, she was torn between rage and disappointment. She grabbed the log and prepared to burn it but waited, racked with guilt, between killing her son in revenge for her brother or saving him and caring for him. In the end, she burns the log but kills herself with a dagger to the heart.

This leads to the story of "Theseus and Achelous." It's a tale of the hero Theseus returning to Athens, and approaching a flooded river. The god of the river, Achelous, offers Theseus shelter in his home to wait out the flood. While Theseus is there, he talks to Achelous about a group of islands far out into the ocean, and Achelous tells him the story of the islands. He talks about the Naiads, who once held a sacrifice for the local gods, but Achelous was left out, so he was enraged. Consumed with anger, he flooded the area, sweeping the Naiads to the sea with the help of the rivers, and dividing the Naiads into five islands. Behind those islands, there was a special island called Perimele, who was the daughter of Hippodamus, a king. He was angry when Achelous and Perimele fell in love, so he pushed Perimele off a cliff. Achelous caught her body and prayed to Neptune to turn her into an island, and he did.

After Achelous's story, one of the other heroes there, Pirithous, said that the gods did not have that much power. However, an older man, Lelex, rebuked him and told him the story of "Baucis and Philemon." In this tale, the couple let the wandering gods in who had been turned away from the whole village. The couple served them dinner, and when the gods revealed themselves, they proclaimed that all the wicked neighbors would burn. They gave the couple one wish, and they wished to die together. The gods showed mercy while granting their wish, turning the couple into trees next to each other.

In terms of the overall arc of the poem, these three stories showcase a progression of tragedy. In "The Brand of Meleager," three people die. In "Theseus and Achelous," five Naiads and Perimele die. In "Baucis and Philemon," the entire village is destroyed, and eventually, the old couple dies. Overall, these stories explore the theme of mortality, the power of the gods, and the consequences of human actions. They also demonstrate the tradition of Greco-Roman mythology and how Ovid drew upon earlier stories to create his own versions with unique twists and turns.

Latin + Notes

inmemorēs nostrī fēstās dūxēre chorēās.

intumuī, quantusque feror, cum plūrimus umquam,

tantus eram, pariterque animīs inmānīs et undīs

ā silvīs silvās et ab arvīs arva revellī               585

cumque locō nymphās, memorēs tum dēnique nostrī,

in freta prōvolvī. flūctus nosterque marisque

continuam dīdūxit humum partēsque resolvit

in totidem, mediīs quot cernis Echinadās undīs.

ut tamen ipse vidēs, procul, ēn procul ūna recessit               590

īnsula, grāta mihi; Perimēlēn nāvita dīcit:

huic ego virgineum dīlēctae nōmen adēmī;

quod pater Hippodamās aegrē tulit inque profundum

prōpulit ē scopulō peritūrae corpora nātae.

excēpī nantemque ferēns "ō proxima mundī               595

rēgna vagae" dīxī "sortītē, Tridentifer, undae,

adfer opem, mersaeque, precor, feritāte paternā               601

dā, Neptūne, locum, vel sit locus ipsa licēbit!"

dum loquor, amplexa est artus nova terra natantēs               

et gravis incrēvit mūtātīs īnsula membrīs.' 610

     Amnis ab hīs tacuit. factum mīrābile cūnctōs

mōverat: inrīdet crēdentēs, utque deōrum

sprētor erat mentisque ferōx, Ixīone nātus

'ficta refers nimiumque putās, Achelōe, potentēs

esse deōs,' dīxit 'sī dant adimuntque figūrās.'               615

obstipuēre omnēs nec tālia dicta probārunt,

ante omnēsque Lelex animō mātūrus et aevō,

sīc ait: 'inmēnsa est fīnemque potentia caelī

nōn habet, et quicquid superī voluēre, perāctum est,

quoque minus dubitēs, tiliae contermina quercus               620

collibus est Phrygiīs modicō circumdata mūrō;

ipse locum vīdī; nam mē Pelopēia Pitthēus

mīsit in arvā suō quondam rēgnāta parentī.

haud procul hinc stāgnum est, tellūs habitābilis ōlim,

nunc celebrēs mergīs fulicīsque palūstribus undae;               625

Iuppiter hūc speciē mortālī cumque parente

venit Atlantiadēs positīs cādūcifer ālīs.

mīlle domōs adiēre locum requiemque petentēs,

mīlle domōs clausēre serae; tamen ūna recēpit,.

582- inmemores - adj. "inmemor" which means "forgetful" or "unmindful."

582- chorēās- acc. pl.l of "chorus," meaning "dance" or "chorus."

583- umquam -  adverb "ever" or "at any time."

584- pariter - adverb "equally" or "simultaneously."

584- animis - abl. pl. "animus," meaning "soul," "spirit," or "mind."

584- inmanis - adj.  "huge," "monstrous," or "inhuman."

585- revelli - 1st person sing. "I tore away" or "I uprooted."

585: The use of the word "pariterque" in conjunction with "animīs inmānīs et undīs" creates a chiasmus, a figure of speech in which two or more clauses are balanced against each other by the reversal of their structures

586- nymphas - acc. pl.  "nympha," meaning "nymph."

587- freta  - acc. pl.  "frons," meaning "sea" or "straits."

588- continum - adj. meaning "continuous" or "uninterrupted."

589- mediis - abl. pl. "medius," meaning "middle" or "center."

589- Echinadas - acc. pl. "Echinades," the name of a group of islands in the Ionian Sea.

590: The repetition of "procul" emphasizes the distance of the island and creates a sense of longing.

591- Perimele - acc. form of "Perimela," the name of a nymph.

591: The use of the epithet "Tridentifer" to describe Neptune is an example of a Homeric epithet, a formulaic phrase used to describe a person or thing that is frequently repeated throughout a work.

595- natae - genitive singular of "nata," meaning "daughter."

595: The use of the phrase "ō proxima mundī / rēgna vagae" creates alliteration, the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of multiple words.

601: The use of the phrase "feritāte paternā" creates assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds within words.

606: The use of the phrase "factum mīrābile" creates alliteration.

608: The use of the phrase "sprētor erat mentisque ferōx" creates asyndeton, the omission of conjunctions between clauses.

609: The use of the patronymic "Ixīone nātus" is an example of an epic device that connects a hero to his father, emphasizing his lineage and heroic status.

612: The use of the phrase "nimiumque putās" creates alliteration.

614: The use of the phrase "adimuntque figūrās" creates consonance, the repetition of consonant sounds within words.

617: The use of the phrase "obstipuēre omnēs" creates alliteration.

619: The use of the phrase "nōn habet" creates anaphora, the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple clauses.

622: The use of the phrase "Phrygiīs modicō circumdata mūrō" creates a prepositional phrase that describes the location of the oak tree.

624: The use of the phrase "cādūcifer ālīs" creates alliteration.

625- mergis - abl. pl. of "mergus," meaning "diver" or "sea bird."

626: The use of the phrase "celebrēs mergīs fulicīsque palūstribus undae" creates a hendiadys, a figure of speech in which two words are used to express a single idea.


In forgetfulness of us, they enjoyed festive dances. I swelled, and how much I was carried away, as much as ever before. I was equally fierce in my spirit and in the waves, and I tore forests from the forests and fields from the fields. And finally, when the nymphs remembered me, I was thrown into the sea. Our waves and the sea separated the continuous land into as many parts as the Echinades you see in the middle of the waves. But as you can see for yourself, far away, a single island retreated, dear to me; the sailor calls it Perimele: the name of my beloved virginity was taken away from her, which her father Hippodamas reluctantly accepted and cast into the sea from a cliff, when she was about to die. I caught her as she was swimming and said, 'O realms nearest to the world, sort yourselves out, waves bearing the trident, bring help, and, I pray, give a place to the drowned one, Neptune; or even the place itself will do!' While I was speaking, new land embraced my swimming limbs and the island grew heavier with its altered parts."

The river was silent after these words. The miracle that had happened had moved everyone. Those who believed laughed, and as he was a despiser of the gods and fierce in his spirit, Ixion's son said, "You tell lies and think that the gods are too powerful, Achelous, if they give and take away shapes." Everyone was amazed and did not approve of such words, especially Lelex, mature in mind and age, who said, "The power of the sky is immense and has no end, and whatever the gods will, is done. And to make you doubt less, the oak tree next to the lime tree is surrounded by a small wall on the Phrygian hills. I have seen the place myself, for Pelopeian Pittheus sent me there, once ruled by his father. Not far from here is a lake, once habitable land, now with famous birds and marshy waters. Jupiter, in mortal form, and with his parent, the son of Atlas, came here with his wings laid aside. They approached a thousand homes, seeking rest, a thousand homes were closed; yet one received them.


  1. What is the tense of the verb "duxere" in the sentence "inmemores nostri festas duxere choreas"?

a. Present

b. Future

c. Perfect

d. Imperfect

  1. What is the subject of the sentence "tantus eram, pariterque animis inmanis et undis"?

a. Tantus

b. Eram

c. animis

d. undis

  1. What is the relative pronoun before "quod" in the sentence "huic ego virgineum dilectae nomen ademi; quod pater Hippodamas aegre tulit inque profundum propulit e scopulo periturae corpora natae"?

a. Hippodamas

b. Nomen

c. virgineum

d. ademi

  1. What case is the noun "insula" in the sentence "dum loquor, amplexa est artus nova terra natantes et gravis increvit mutatis insula membris"?

a. Nominative

b. Genitive

c. Dative

d. Accusative

  1. What is the function of the conjunction "ut" in the sentence "utque deorum spretor erat mentisque ferox"?

a. Conjunction

b. Relative pronoun

c. Subordinating conjunction

d. Subjunctive

  1. What is the case and number of "nymphas" in line 587?

a. Nominative, plural

b. Accusative, plural

c. Genitive, plural

d. Dative, plural

  1. What tense and voice is "ademi" in line 594?

a. Present, active

b. Present, passive

c. Perfect, active

d. Perfect, passive

  1. What is the gender, case, and number of "locum" in line 601?

a. Masculine, accusative, singular

b. Masculine, nominative, singular

c. Neuter, accusative, singular

d. Neuter, nominative, singular

  1. What is the form and gender of "mutatis" in line 609?

a. Perfect participle, masculine, plural

b. Perfect participle, neuter, plural

c. Present participle, masculine, plural

d. Present participle, neuter, plural

  1. What is the tense and voice of "clausere" in line 628?

a. Present, active

b. Present, passive

c. Perfect, active

d. Perfect, passive

AAAAnswer key

  1. c (perfect)

  2. a (tantus)

  3. b (nomen)

  4. d (accusative)

  5. c (subordinating conjunction)

  1. b (accusative, plural)

  2. d (perfect, passive)

  3. c (neuter, accusative, singular)

  4. b (perfect participle, neuter, plural)

  5. c (perfect, active)

Art Analysis



Jan Steen's painting from 1659, depicts a fascinating moment in Greek mythology where Theseus, Achelous, Lelex, and Pirithous come together for a drinking party while seeking shelter from a flooding river This work of art is a testament to Steen's incredible talent as a Dutch Golden Age painter. His use of colors and attention to detail is remarkable.


The first thing that stands out in the painting is the river god Achelous, who is easily identifiable by his beard and festive straw crown. Achelous was often associated with water bodies such as rivers and oceans. In the painting, he is shown telling a story to traveling heroes seeking shelter from the flooding river.


The background of the painting shows slaves preparing a feast, which adds to the festive atmosphere of the gathering. Furthermore, the presence of a cornucopia in the right foreground of the painting, brimming with grapes and other fruits associated with partying, is a clear indication that this is a celebration. The setting of the party is a cave, and Steen has made sure to include moss and dirt on the roof, adding to the authenticity of the setting.


In the background, we can see various objects such as vases, a fishing net, and a fishing pole. These objects add to the overall theme of water and its significance to Achelous. The painting also features a lobster in the foreground, which could be a reference to the exotic and luxurious nature of the feast. The dog in the foreground is possibly a travel companion, which is another nod to the theme of exploration and adventure.

Overall, Jan Steen's painting is a masterpiece that captures the essence of Achelous in a single frame. The use of color, attention to detail, and symbolism make it a work of art that is admirable. The painting is a reminder of the importance of storytelling, celebration, and exploration in our lives.

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