"Metamorphoses," Vocabulary from Book 1

Ovid's "Metamorphoses" are tales full of shape-shifters and the supernatural, but the storytelling is grounded in a realism which transcends the mythology. (etext found here).

Learn these word lists for the tales: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Book 4, Book 5, Book 6, Book 7.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. perpetual
    continuing forever or indefinitely
    Of bodies chang'd to various forms, I sing:
    Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring,
    Inspire my numbers with celestial heat;
    'Till I my long laborious work complete:
    And add perpetual tenour to my rhymes,
    Deduc'd from Nature's birth, to Caesar's times.
  2. terrestrial
    of or relating to or characteristic of the planet Earth
    Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball,
    And Heav'n's high canopy, that covers all,
    One was the face of Nature; if a face:
    Rather a rude and indigested mass:
  3. contiguous
    having a common boundary or edge
    The next of kin, contiguously embrace;
    And foes are sunder'd, by a larger space.
  4. unwieldy
    difficult to use or handle because of size or weight
    Earth sinks beneath, and draws a num'rous throng
    Of pondrous, thick, unwieldy seeds along.
  5. ample
    fairly large
    Some part, in Earth are swallow'd up, the most
    In ample oceans, disembogu'd, are lost.
  6. zephyr
    a slight wind
    Westward, the wanton Zephyr wings his flight;
    Pleas'd with the remnants of departing light:
  7. dregs
    sediment that has settled at the bottom of a liquid
    High o'er the clouds, and empty realms of wind,
    The God a clearer space for Heav'n design'd;
    Where fields of light, and liquid aether flow;
    Purg'd from the pondrous dregs of Earth below.
    "Dregs" refers to the lowest part--like the dregs of society. Here, "dregs" doesn't seem so low, because once purged of its ponderous ("having great mass and weight and unwieldiness") parts, it can ascend to Heaven as stars.
  8. metamorphose
    change completely the nature or appearance of
    Thus, while the mute creation downward bend
    Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
    Man looks aloft; and with erected eyes
    Beholds his own hereditary skies.
    From such rude principles our form began;
    And earth was metamorphos'd into Man.
  9. brazen
    made of or resembling brass, as in color or hardness
    To this came next in course, the brazen age:
    A warlike offspring, prompt to bloody rage,
    Not impious yet...
    In this section, Ovid describes the different ages (golden, silver, bronze, iron). "Brazen" refers to the bronze age, but the example sentence suggests that the word is also being used to describe the nature of the men during that age--their warlike rage could be "unrestrained by convention or propriety" but not yet to the point of being disrespectful to the gods.
  10. beleaguer
    surround so as to force to give up
    Nor were the Gods themselves more safe above;
    Against beleaguer'd Heav'n the giants move.
  11. inviolable
    having to be kept sacred
    Let me this holy protestation make,
    By Hell, and Hell's inviolable lake,
    I try'd whatever in the godhead lay:
    But gangren'd members must be lopt away,
    Before the nobler parts are tainted to decay.
  12. pious
    having or showing or expressing reverence for a deity
    The nations trembled with a pious fear;
    All anxious for their earthly Thunderer:
  13. dire
    causing fear or dread or terror
    This dire experiment he chose, to prove
    If I were mortal, or undoubted Jove:
  14. cleave
    stick or hold together and resist separation
    His mantle, now his hide, with rugged hairs
    Cleaves to his back; a famish'd face he bears;
    His arms descend, his shoulders sink away
    To multiply his legs for chase of prey.
  15. deluge
    a heavy rain
    His dire artill'ry thus dismist, he bent
    His thoughts to some securer punishment:
    Concludes to pour a watery deluge down;
    And what he durst not burn, resolves to drown.
  16. impetuous
    marked by violent force
    Then, clad in colours of a various dye,
    Junonian Iris breeds a new supply
    To feed the clouds: impetuous rain descends;
    The bearded corn beneath the burden bends:
  17. exhortation
    an earnest attempt at persuasion
    Small exhortation needs; your pow'rs employ:
    And this bad world, so Jove requires, destroy.
  18. visage
    the appearance conveyed by a person's face
    A thin circumference of land appears;
    And Earth, but not at once, her visage rears,
    And peeps upon the seas from upper grounds;
  19. sepulcher
    a chamber that is used as a grave
    Forbid it Heav'n, said she, that I shou'd tear
    Those holy reliques from the sepulcher.
  20. rudiment
    the elementary stage of any subject
    Then swell'd, and swelling, by degrees grew warm;
    And took the rudiments of human form.
  21. promiscuous
    not selective of a single class or person
    But every green alike by Phoebus worn,
    Did, with promiscuous grace, his flowing locks adorn.
    "Promiscuous" also means "casual and unrestrained in sexual behavior"--this would be a fitting description of Phoebus/Apollo that sets the mood for the next story. But the example sentence is using the word to describe how every plant that is green has been used to decorate the hair of both Apollo and the winners of the Pythian games.
  22. lascivious
    driven by lust
    He sees the stripling, while his bow he bends,
    And thus insults him: Thou lascivious boy,
    Are arms like these for children to employ?
  23. refulgent
    radiating or as if radiating light
    One shaft is pointed with refulgent gold:
    To bribe the love, and make the lover bold:
  24. espouse
    choose and follow a theory, idea, policy, etc.
    Because thou canst not be
    My mistress, I espouse thee for my tree:
    Be thou the prize of honour, and renown;
    The deathless poet, and the poem, crown.
    "Espouse" also means "take in marriage" but since Daphne is now a tree, Apollo can't marry her, so instead, he chooses her to be the symbol of victory, which seems odd, since he was defeated in her pursuit of her and she didn't exactly get the help she wanted. But "the grateful tree was pleas'd with what he said; And shook the shady honours of her head."
  25. homage
    respectful deference
    On this occasion hither they resort;
    To pay their homage, and to make their court.
  26. imperial
    belonging to or befitting a supreme ruler
    Her, just returning from her father's brook,
    Jove had beheld, with a desiring look:
    And, Oh fair daughter of the flood, he said,
    Worthy alone of Jove's imperial bed,
  27. obscure
    make less visible or unclear
    Mean-time the jealous Juno, from on high,
    Survey'd the fruitful fields of Arcady;
    And wonder'd that the mist shou'd over-run
    The face of day-light, and obscure the sun.
  28. progeny
    the immediate descendants of a person
    But now the husband of a herd must be
    Thy mate, and bell'wing sons thy progeny.
    Oh, were I mortal, death might bring relief:
    But now my God-head but extends my grief:
  29. gaudy
    tastelessly showy
    Thus Argus lies in pieces, cold, and pale;
    And all his hundred eyes, with all their light,
    Are clos'd at once, in one perpetual night.
    These Juno takes, that they no more may fail,
    And spreads them in her peacock's gaudy tail.
  30. vindicate
    clear of accusation, blame, or doubt with supporting proof
    He spoke in public, told it to my face;
    Nor durst I vindicate the dire disgrace:
    Even I, the bold, the sensible of wrong,
    Restrain'd by shame, was forc'd to hold my tongue.

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