In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, a tale existed about a certain Cínyras whose family ran afoul of the gods, ending with the man’s daughters being cruelly punished by the wrathful entities. His tale could be connected to (or be an alternative telling of) a similar Cinyras character based out of Cyprus, whose sons and daughters, and finally himself, fell victim to the gods over various sleights and crimes. Yet, the many tales of that Cinyras of Cyprus do not match with the particular tale that will be featured below about a Cínyras whose daughters were punished by magically being transformed into parts of a temple.
It was the Roman poet, Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE), who recorded the tale in question about a mysterious Cínyras and the temple of his daughters. Narrating as if Cínyras’ myth was featured on an artwork, Ovid wrote:
“[The] design showed Cínyras in his bereavement,
embracing the temple steps which had once been the limbs of his beautiful
daughters, and seeming to weep as he lay prostrate on the marble.”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, book 6, approximately lines 98-100).
Ovid’s passage is the only one of its kind about a Cínyras whose daughters were turned into marble components of a temple. Unfortunately, Ovid divulged no further information about where this particular Cínyras lived or why his daughters were transformed. Again, it is tempting to connect this man to the aforementioned Cínyras of Cyprus, whose daughters were similarly transformed by the gods as punishment (in the case of the Cyprian daughters, their transformation was usually said to have been into halcyons or kingfishers). Nevertheless, even Ovid, himself, treated the tales of these two Cínyras characters separately—for the story about the man whose daughters were turned into temple stones occurred in book 6 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, whereas the different tales of the family on Cyprus were covered by Ovid in book 10 of his long poem. Such are the difficulties of trying to differentiate or piece together vague ancient tales.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Stage Design, Temple Atrium, by Angelo Toselli (c. 1765? – 1826), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian).
- Metamorphoses by Ovid. Translated by David Raeburn. Penguin Classics; Revised Edition, 2004.
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.
We read ‘Metamorphoses’ in the Latin back when it was still taught in High School. Thanks for refreshing the memory.