I watch Apollo’s lust grow. The golden arrow that struck him spurs his desire to have Daphne, to hold her. 


That desire, his wanton hope, forces his prophecies to fail. There’s no predicting what he’ll do next.


Like when the cornfields thin fibers burn, or sparks engulf a bush when a distracted traveler, forgetful in his morning rush, leaves a flame behind, the god was consumed by fire and tended to his lust with hope.


Apollo watches the unstyled coils lying on her neck and asks, “What if you straightened your hair?” He saw her eyes sparkling like burning stars; he saw her kissable lips, but just observing could not satisfy him. 


I heard his voice cry out in praise of her hands and fingers and arms — he was so flattering — and her bare shoulder, but anything unseen by Apollo, had to be more beautiful. 


I felt the gust of wind as she sped past us, not even stopping to hear what Apollo had to say. 




I heard a terrible echo rip through the untangled woods. 


The words rang out: “What if you straightened your hair?” The coiled hair on my back felt itchy; it prickled from the attention of nearby eyes. The voice called out again — “Hey! Nymph! Stop — Listen: I won’t chase you like the wolf chases the sheep, the lion, the stag, or the eagle chases the wing of the anxious dove. They are the predators, not me.”


My legs began to work without seeing who pursued. I felt no pain, and I did not consider the damage to my bare skin. My light feet did not disturb the untouched forest paths — and all the beasts cleared in unison, conspiring to assist in my escape, protecting our forest from the intrusion. His shouts continued, unbothered by my flight; he sang his own praises, but I could barely hear over the sound of my warm-bloodedness. 


The man is closing ground on me. As he names my limbs, my body is not mine; it is an object to have and to hold. I rip at the hair that he gazed at so fondly, discarding any trace of desire from me. 


I cry out for my father. 


Once light, my legs are now heavy with effort, and there is no one else to call upon.




I followed the scene close behind Apollo, wanting to see what would happen next. Daphne’s father answered her pleas — but he was too late. Apollo had caught up to her. 


He gripped her soft arm with his, but where he grabbed her, her flesh burst from its skin, revealing a rugged wooden interior. He tried again, reaching for her hand, but her fingers swelled and stretched past their limits; branches sprouted where Apollo had touched. 


Panicked, not wanting to lose her beauty, Apollo pawed at what he desired, and every part he touched became wooden. Her warmth faded, and her heart no longer thumped. Apollo raked his hands through her coiled hair, but it transformed, and his fingers snagged on the leaves and branches. 


With her last breath, Daphne cried again for someone to save her. Her wild eyes flitted, searching for salvation. She sees me, and her branches reach toward me with hope. I slink back into the forest to remain unseen. 


He grabbed at her beautiful feet, once untested and now blemished from her flight. Her toes curled away from his touch, digging into the dirt, rooting Daphne to the spot. Her transformation is complete. I hear Apollo kissing the limbs of the Daphne tree, as he had set out to do, excited by his latest victory. From this conquest, he takes a trophy; he yanks a branch from the Daphne-tree and wears her as a crown on his golden hair. Daphne’s branch fingers still reach out for help, but Apollo believes she is reaching for him.

Phoebus amat visaeque cupit conubia Daphnes,

quodque cupit, sperat, suaque illum oracula fallunt,

utque leves stipulae demptis adolentur aristis,

ut facibus saepes ardent, quas forte viator

vel nimis admovit vel iam sub luce reliquit,

sic deus in flammas abiit, sic pectore toto

uritur et sterilem sperando nutrit amorem.

spectat inornatos collo pendere capillos

et ‘quid, si comantur?’ ait. videt igne micantes

sideribus similes oculos, videt oscula, quae non

est vidisse satis; laudat digitosque manusque

bracchiaque et nudos media plus parte lacertos;

si qua latent, meliora putat. fugit ocior aura

illa levi neque ad haec revocantis verba resistit:

nympha, precor, Penei, mane! non insequor hostis;

nympha, mane! sic agna lupum, sic cerva leonem,

sic aquilam penna fugiunt trepidante columbae,

hostes quaeque suos: amor est mihi causa sequendi!

me miserum! ne prona cadas indignave laedi

crura notent sentes et sim tibi causa doloris!

aspera, qua properas, loca sunt: moderatius, oro,

curre fugamque inhibe, moderatius insequar ipse.

cui placeas, inquire tamen: non incola montis,

non ego sum pastor, non hic armenta gregesque

horridus observo. nescis, temeraria, nescis,

quem fugias, ideoque fugis: mihi Delphica tellus

et Claros et Tenedos Patareaque regia servit;

Iuppiter est genitor; per me, quod eritque fuitque

estque, patet; per me concordant carmina nervis.

certa quidem nostra est, nostra tamen una sagitta

certior, in vacuo quae vulnera pectore fecit!

inventum medicina meum est, opiferque per orbem

dicor, et herbarum subiecta potentia nobis.

ei mihi, quod nullis amor est sanabilis herbis

nec prosunt domino, quae prosunt omnibus, artes!




fer, pater, inquit opem! si flumina numen habetis,

qua nimium placui, mutando perde figuram!

[quae facit ut laedar mutando perde figuram.]

vix prece finita torpor gravis occupat artus,

mollia cinguntur tenui praecordia libro,

in frondem crines, in ramos bracchia crescunt,

pes modo tam velox pigris radicibus haeret,

ora cacumen habet: remanet nitor unus in illa.

Hanc quoque Phoebus amat positaque in stipite dextra

sentit adhuc trepidare novo sub cortice pectus

conplexusque suis ramos ut membra lacertis

oscula dat ligno; refugit tamen oscula lignum.

cui deus at, quoniam coniunx mea non potes esse,

arbor eris certe dixit mea! semper habebunt

te coma, te citharae, te nostrae, laure, pharetrae;

tu ducibus Latiis aderis, cum laeta Triumphum

vox canet et visent longas Capitolia pompas;

postibus Augustis eadem fidissima custos

ante fores stabis mediamque tuebere quercum,

utque meum intonsis caput est iuvenale capillis,

tu quoque perpetuos semper gere frondis honores!

finierat Paean: factis modo laurea ramis

adnuit utque caput visa est agitasse cacumen.

Translator's Note


TW: Sexual violence 


The semester I was raped, I was taking a Metamorphoses course. Ovid depicts several graphic episodes of sexual violence against women, including details of body horror, self-harm, and mutilation. I found it difficult to read such depictions of graphic sexual violence, especially when the professor treated the subject with little care—as if it were impossible for any students in the course to have experienced such things in real life; as if it were only a story or grammatical structures to be translated objectively. I often left the classroom overwhelmed by discussing sexual violence as a literary device versus a real thing that had happened to me. There’s a place for responsible discussions of difficult texts, but there needs to be an aftercare system for students.

Although I hated being in the class, and I hated Ovid, I did feel a certain kinship with Daphne, that her story was similar to mine. One line in the passage particularly struck me as a Black classicist: quid si comantur? or as I have translated it: What if your hair was straightened? 

While writing this translator’s note, I delved deeper into my own relationship to my hair as a mixed Black woman. I read Vanessa Stovall’s blog post “Quid, Si Comantur?”: Pic(k/t)ing out Entangled Epistemologies of Ex(cess) in (Em)bodied Techne. Stovall translates that same moment in the text (spectat inornatos collo pendere capillos / et ‘quid, si comantur?’ ait, 1.497-8) as “He peeps her natural hair hanging down her neck and says ‘What…if it were laid?’” Stovall argues that although Apollo is a critic of Daphne’s hair, it is an object of desire for him, and he ultimately crowns himself with laurel leaves, formerly her hair. This emulates real-life situations of misogynoir, where I’ve been targeted because of my status in both identities: I experience racial violence on behalf of my Blackness, but then, I become a sexual object based on my womanhood. 

For Apollo, Daphne’s hair was an object of desire and undesire, similarly experienced by Black women who regularly receive unsolicited comments on their hairstyling. I was Daphne, both an object of desire and undesire, escaping unsolicited and violent advances while minimizing my beauty to procure safety.

Apollo embodies the white supremacy associated with the desirability of straight hair. The media inundates us with messages on the desirability of straight hair. Advertisements for anti-frizz hair products or heated styling tools abound. And even movies like The Princess Diaries use makeover scenes, where the main character’s transformation to ‘beautiful’ is marked by efforts of brushing, combing, and dissolving her curls into pin-straight hair, more fitting for a princess.

While Daphne’s hair is initially undesirable, it is transformed into thin, straight branches. It ultimately becomes desirable for Apollo—something he can bend to his own will and wear as a trophy: “Apollo raked his hands through her coiled hair, but it transformed… From this conquest, he takes a trophy; he yanks a branch from the Daphne-tree and wears her as a crown on his golden hair.” 

Though Apollo perceives her coily hair as an object of undesire, Daphne is aware of her vulnerability. She seeks an oath from her father to protect her virginity and takes additional precautions to minimize her beauty. Daphne lives in a forest that’s ‘untouched’ and runs with wild beasts without changing her physical appearance. But as Apollo chases her and she becomes more desperate, she discards the traits that he compliments: she “rip[s] at the hair that he gazed at so fondly, discarding any trace of desire” and scratches her legs on the brambles as she’s running. Apollo plays as her opposite. If Daphne is savage, then Apollo is civilization, encroaching upon the natural haven which protects her. While reading the original Latin, we focus on Apollo’s experience of desire and undesire. However, in my translation, I represent Daphne’s state of mind, flipping the expectations of whose experiences of the rape we focus on. I purposefully switch to Daphne’s first-person perspective during the passage in which Apollo is speaking in the Latin. I did not view his defense of his intent to rape Daphne as necessary to drive the story forward. While I imagined the scene, I felt that Daphne would not have been able to hear him “over the sound of [my own] warm-bloodedness,” contrasting her humanity with his cold, divine power over her.

Daphne feels safest in the wilderness, away from others. Apollo’s defenses only further prove that he does not belong in the forest and that he means her harm. The only words that Daphne does understand from Apollo are when he uses the natural world as a metaphor: “I won’t chase you like the wolf chases the sheep, the lion, the stag, or the eagle chases the wing of the anxious dove. They are the predators, not me.” But, she does not view the animals as her predators, instead, as her allies: “conspiring… to protect [our] forest.” Though Apollo attempts to weaponize their surroundings and civilize Daphne, he fails to understand that this place is where she finds comfort, further alienating her.

Looking through Daphne’s eyes, large swaths of the original text are eliminated. Most of the exposition from the original Latin does not work to further Daphne’s experience of the pursuit. Although I wanted to spend lots of time with Daphne’s point of view, I also wanted the language to reflect her actual experience. Her thoughts are interrupted, primal, instinctual. She doesn’t have time to think about how her hair looks while running away. She does not have the luxury of defending herself against Apollo, with long-winded speeches of parentage and heroic deeds. Once she realizes that the witness has forced her into the victim role, the only thing she can do is run. 

The reader assigns Daphne as the victim because the witness has told of “Apollo’s lust” and his desire “to have to and hold her.” From our own perspective, the written account sealed her fate. We give up on saving her because she is immutably victimized by the words. Daphne unwittingly repeats the witness’ recollection of the events, describing Apollo’s desire to “have and to hold” her. If we translate this from Apollo’s point of view, as it is focalized in the Latin, it is romantic, even endearing: he only seeks Daphne for her hand in marriage. Yet in the same Latin, Daphne admits: the marriage torches were like a disgusting crime (Met. 1.483). As she realizes “my body is not mine” anymore, she begs her father to allow her to be like Diana, ironically Apollo’s twin sister, who is an eternal virgin. For whatever reason, maybe her undesirability, or her humanity, prevents her from remaining like Diana. 

I focus on the victim’s perspective, by creating Daphne’s first-person narrative. In this way, I explored my own trauma as the desired. I had filed a Title IX report against my rapist, and during this process, I was asked by lawyers and school administrators to furnish proof that this traumatic event had occurred. In essence, I needed witnesses. But when the verdict was delivered, I discovered no witnesses had agreed to speak with the lawyers. When I sought to absolve the witnesses and cope with what seemed like a betrayal, I came upon only one defense: they believed the experience to be desirable and not invasive. But if they had heard from my mouth that the experience was not wanted, how could they conclude that it was erotic? It was in their best interest to preserve the status quo and project desire onto the rapist, the one with power, and undesire onto me.

While emphasizing Daphne’s perspective in my translation, I diminished Apollo’s opportunities to defend himself by exploring the third-person perspective. I created a seemingly new character within this translation, the narrator or the witness. I chose to voice the witness’ perspective for two reasons: firstly, within the existing context of the piece, clearly, there already are witnesses, and secondly, to highlight the importance of witnesses’ action or inaction.

There are many witnesses at this scene, most of whom hold considerable power over Daphne. Cupid, a god, creates the conflict: “the golden arrow…spurs his desire to have Daphne.” Towards the end, Daphne calls out to her father, another god Peneus, her last resort. Peneus responds, albeit too late, meaning he could hear and see her. He uses his power as a god to transform Daphne, but it doesn’t protect her, nor does it preserve her maidenhood, given that she’s now a tree. 

There’s a power differential between Daphne’s father and the Olympian god Apollo, and by creating the ‘narrator/witness’ character, that power differential is preserved. Any witness has the option to stand up against the more powerful and transform outcomes, but often chooses to maintain the norm. I again highlight the witness’ passivity in the last paragraph. The narrator says that Daphne “Sees [me,] and her branches reach toward [me] with hope, but they “slink back into the forest to remain unseen.” I maintain the ambiguity of the line utque caput visa est agitasse cacumen (Met. 1.566), which might be translated as “it seems just like her head nodded.” Visa est is the feminine passive voice of videō, “I see.” It is unclear who or what visa est refers to. Does it refer to the tree (all words for trees are feminine in Latin) just swaying in the wind, or does it refer to Daphne finally giving her consent to Apollo? In my translation, the narrator knows it’s neither: “Daphne’s branch fingers still reach out for help, but Apollo believes she is reaching for him.” But, the narrator allows Apollo to continue believing that Daphne has consented. 

The third-person perspective is a daily choice, perhaps unconscious: how will we (not) intervene today? I’m sure that we all see forms of violation every day, whether systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, or personal: a seemingly random act of violence on the street, someone being robbed, or a child being bullied. Oftentimes, as witnesses, we stand idly by ‘minding our own business,’ pretending that we bear no responsibility for the lives of others. In this translation, the reader is no longer just a reader. Instead, the reader is forced into the perverse role of witness. By reading in the first person, they are suddenly in the forest, too, chasing Daphne alongside Apollo. But just like the witness, the reader has a choice. They can continue to read and watch what happens to Daphne, see the scene unfold before their eyes, or stop and avert their eyes in horrible protest. Maybe the story ends when their eyes aren’t pushing the scene to move forward.

But the witness’ (non)intervention will always favor the Apollos, for whom desire is not about desire but possession. The reader empowers his pursuit; each word they read is the kinetic energy he needs to keep running toward Daphne. And if the witness averts their eyes, their inertia abandons Daphne in the midst of a hopeless chase, her visage consumed by Apollo, never knowing safety. Though the witnesses expect Apollo’s brutality, it is an erotic experience—why else would they continue to read his narrative if they have already intuited how it ends? The witness reads that Apollo is “flattering” and that Daphne is “beautiful,” and their own curious greed pushes the narrative forward, resulting in Daphne’s violation, the only ending that could satisfy the witness: you.

Maia Lee-Chin


In the Classroom