Ovid in the Time of Covid: Locked Down

Even as parts of the world emerge from lockdowns imposed in the wake of the second and third waves of the coronavirus, it appears that yet another variant and wave could threaten to send us scurrying back indoors. Between trying to get back to life as we knew it and severe restrictions, we are having to navigate a tricky future.

Are we condemned to live a life of immobility, or of limited mobility, then? A stony world where we aren’t going to experience the freedoms that we once knew? For this month’s edition of Ovid in the Time of Covid, I have chosen the story of Perseus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses as the inspiration, likening the spiky coronavirus to the gorgon, Medusa’s head which, when viewed directly turned people to stone.

Locked Down

Many a month flew by in every land

From Wuhan in China to Europe and America;

Yet time stood still, unmoved its frozen hand

Similarly in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

For, while people thought the virus gone,

It was back in a new variant before long;

And so it was that Covid-19 was born

Several times, in waves, sweeping the world along

People began to tire of all the tests,

And keeping track of the daily new cases;

They stayed home since it was best

To avoid catching the virus,

Or passing it on,

Even if inadvertently;

No one could think it gone

Not even unwittingly.

And Perseus answering told

How ‘neath the snows of Atlas lay a spot,

Fenced round with solid rampart of thick wall,

Beside whose entrance dwelt the sisters, twain

Of Phorcys born, who with alternate use

Between them shared but one sole eye, and how

That orb, from one to other passed, his hand…

And rugged rock, and shaggy wood, to where

Their Sister-Gorgon dwelt; and, on that path

What lifeless shapes of men and beasts he saw

By glance of Medusa petrified…

The Story of Perseus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book IV, Lines 919-931

The world had to find names for the variants,

For how else could anyone tell which was which;

Alpha, beta, gamma, delta,

The last one like a spell cast by a witch.

It’s been galloping around the world

Since being detected in India, March 2021

And infecting people in its whirl;

Oh, it simply won’t leave folks alone.

Vaccines are the only hope of keeping it at bay,

But not all countries and people have the jab;

So, we just stay home and stay away

While pharma scientists work away at their labs.

It has taken our freedoms away,

Turned us into creatures of stone

By the time it has had its way

It would have worn us down to the bone.

The Baleful Head by Edward Burne-Jones (1887) depicting Perseus and Andromeda, viewing Medusa’s head reflected in a well; Image: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart on Wikimedia Commons

“Yourselves will have it so! ” He cried

“Then meet your fate! What was my foe

Must friend me now. Comrades! If comrades yet

I have turned hence your eyes!”

And from its shroud The Gorgon-Head he drew. “Hence! Mountebank!”

Cried Thescalus, “On fools and children try “

These juggling tricks!” And, as his lance he poised,

In act to whirl, the man a statue stood!

The Story of Perseus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book V, Lines 226-233

Countries are trying to find a way around it,

Lockdowns are local, and restrictions eased;

With every slight improvement in the numbers affected

The general mood rises, thinking at last, peace.

Till some new outbreak strikes terror in people’s hearts

And crestfallen, they retreat into their shells

Frozen in time and space; no, this is no frieze art,

Everyone wonders when the end of this hell.

Imagine some countries in perpetual lockdown,

With no hope of vaccines ever reaching;

Not enough at any rate for every town

And every person help beseeching.

They will perhaps be locked down forever

Stuck in their homes, condemned

To live their lives out hereafter

Frozen in time, in lands damned.

Nileus, who from old Egypt’s seven-fold flood

Claimed lying origin, and on his shield,

In silver part wrought and part in gold,

Seven rivers bore, came next. “Behold ” he cried

“The badge that speaks my parentage! And bear

To Hades all such solace as thy Death

From hand like mine may yield!” The later words

Were choked in utterance; and the marble lips,

Open to speak, to no more speech gave way.

The Story of Perseus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book V, Lines 238-246

A virus so deadly and yet never seen

Except under the microscope

Can ravage entire lands, so mean

Is its effect, no matter your horoscope;

Initially, people thought it worse on the elderly;

Later as it continued to spread

It attacked people of all ages cleverly,

People lived in constant dread.

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