He woke her with a kiss.
First she was astonished, then furious.
He applied all his cunning to seduce her.
He exhausted his resources. None of it worked.
As is the way of these things, it begins with a prophecy – Proteus tells Thetis that she will bear a son who will be the ‘wonder of the world’. Fearful that her son might challenge his rule, Zeus has Peleus seduce Thetis. Presumably he believes that this mere mortal could never sire a hero. Peleus’ first attempt fails as Thetis changes her shape from one animal form to another before striking him with her tiger’s paw. Determined to bring the prophecy about, Proteus tells Peleus to bind her arms and feet, and hold on until she submits. Peleus does and wins the day.
… he undid her bonds. As he massaged
The circulation into her hands and feet
His caresses included her whole body.
She was content to let them take possesion
Of her skin, her heart, and, at last, of her womb
Where now he planted Achilles.
The story of Peleus and Thetis is as disturbing as it is exciting, especially from Thetis’ point-of-view. One can only imagine (if one dares) what imagination or historical event lies behind it. The brevity of Ted Hughes’ translation foregrounds this lack of knowledge very well. It is a frustration but also a thrill for it gives us the space to imagine the story anew for ourselves, perhaps to make good the harm done in the earlier version. One more reason why story telling is so good.
Quotations from Peleus and Thetis in “Tales of Ovid” translated by Ted Hughes
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