“Just” a list: Ovid’s gathering of trees

This post inaugurates a new Listology series entitled “’Just’ a list.” Each of the posts in this series will offer a list without commentary or analysis, just the list, which will be drawn from (or be added to) our list of literary lists. The quotation marks around “just” in the series’ title is meant to register our opinion that a list is never “just” or “merely” a list, as our posts that comment on lists always show. Timed to celebrate the grand leafing out of trees in the northeast of the US and in other regions of a similar latitude, our selection for this inaugural post in the “’Just’ a list” series is the list of trees that concludes Ovid’s story of Orpheus in his Metamorphoses.

At this point in the story, three years have passed since the bard Orpheus lost his beloved Eurydice for the second time, and he is living alone in the wilderness. We offer the list to our readers’ own commentary and pleasure:

There was a hill, and, on the hill, a wide 
Level of open ground, all green with grass.
The place lacked any shade. But when the bard,
The heaven-born bard, sat there and touched his strings, 
Shade came in plenty. Every tree was there:
Dodona’s holy durmast, poplars once
The Sun’s sad daughters, oaks with lofty leaves,
Soft limes, the virgin laurel and the beech;
The ash, choice wood for spearshafts, brittle hazels,
The knotless fir, the ilex curving down
With weight of acorns, many-coloured maples, 
The social plane, the river-loving willow,
The water-lotus, box for ever green,
Thin tamarisks and myrtles double-hued, 
Viburnums bearing berries of rich blue.
Twist-footed ivy came and tendrilled vines,
And vine-clad elms, pitch-pines and mountain ash,
Arbutus laden with its blushing fruit, 
Lithe lofty palms, the prize of victory,
And pines, high-girdled, in a leafy crest,
The favorite of Cybele, the gods’ 
Great mother, since in this tree Attis doffed
His human shape and stiffened in its trunk.

Ovid, Metamorphoses, Bk. 10, lines 85-108. Trans. A. D. Melville (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 227-28.

Coming in June: a post on Bernard Sève’s book-length exploration of lists, De haut en bas.

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