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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

14-and-under, commended

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Maddy Cummins

by Ovid

And now the citizens and her father,
Are demanding that the usual race be held
When Neptune’s descendant, Hippomenes,
Invoked my aid, praying anxiously:
‘O Lady of Cythera I beg you,
Help me in my daring adventure,
And nurture the love which you have set alight!’
The kindly breeze brought me his pleading;
I confess that I was moved by this,
And I lent him my aid without delay.
There’s a field which islanders call Tamasus,
The best part of the island of Cyprus,
Which was given to me by the elders,
As a gift in addition to my temple.
In the centre of this field there is a tree,
With golden leaves and tinkling golden branches.
It so happened that I was coming from there,
Carrying three golden apples I had picked:
So I went up to Hippomenes,
Invisible to all but the youth himself,
And gave him the shining, golden apples
And I told him what to do with them.
Then the trumpets gave the loud signal,
Both runners shot forward and started to run,
They were crouching low at the starting post
They launched their feet onto the sandy ground,
Looking like they could skim the sea’s surface.
Or race over white fields of standing corn.
The enthusiastic spectators shouted;
Encouraging the young man, they cried:
‘Now’s the time to press on! Run, Hippomenes!
Put forth all your strength! Be quick and you will win!’
It’s hard to say whether Atalanta
Herself was more delighted by their cries.
How often, when she could have passed him,
Did Atalanta slow down, and gaze at him,
Before reluctantly leaving him behind.
Hippomenes’ breath came panting from his lips,
And the turning post lay far ahead.
He rolled forward one of the three apples.
The girl still absorbed in her astonishment
And in her want to secure the shining fruit,
Ran off course, and picked up the golden ball.
With a burst of speed, she caught up time
And once again left the young man behind.
He slowed her down with another apple.
She passed the man, with still a lap to go!
‘Now,’ he asked, ‘you who gave me the talent.’
And into the side of the race track,
In order that she might return slower,
And using all of his youthful strength
He threw the golden apple sideways.
The girl was seen to hesitate; I compelled
To raise it and I weighted the apple
And may my words be slower than the running:
The winner’s prize is the virgin girl;
And the victor led away his prize.

Translated from the Latin by Maddy Cummins


eam solitos poscunt cursus populusque paterque,
cum me solicita proles Neptunia voce
invocat Hippomenes. “Cythereia, comprecor, ausis
adsit,” ait, “nostris et quos dedit adiuvet ignes.”
detulit aura preces ad me non invida blandas;
motaque sum, fateor; nec opis mora longa dabatur.
est ager, indigenae Tamaseum nomine dicunt;
tell uris Cypriae pars optima; quem mihi prisci
sacravere senes, templisque accedere dotem
hanc iussere meis. medio nitet arbor in arvo,
fulva com am, fulvo ramis crepitantibus auro.
hinc tria forte mea veniens decerpta ferebam
aurea poma manu. nulique videnda, nisi ipsi,
Hippomenen adii, docuique quis usus in illis.
signa tubae dederant, cum carcere pronus uterque
emicat et summam celeri pede libat arenam.
adiciunt animos iuveni clamorque favorque
verbaque dicentum, “nunc, nunc incumbere tempus,
Hippomene; propera. nunc viribus utere totis.”
arid us e lasso veniebat anhelitus ore,
metaque erat longe. tum denique de tribus unum
fetibus arboreis proles Neptunia misit.
obstipuit virgo; nitidique cupidine pomi
declinat cursus aurumque volubile toll it.
lila moram celeri cessataque tempora cursu
corrigit, atque iterum iuvenem post terga relinquit.
et rursus pomi iactu remorata secundi,
consequitur transitque virum. pars ultima cursus
restabat. “nunc”, inquit, “ades, dea muneris auctor!”
inque latus campi, quo tardius ilia rediret,
an pete ret virgo visa est dubitare; coegi
tollere et adieci sublato pondera malo.
neve meus sermo cursu sit tardior iIIo,
praeterita est virgo; duxit sua praemia victor.


Translation commentary

In the beginning of this poem we can tell that Hippomenes is very confident about the race and is apathetic about what happened to the other men who had lost to Atalanta. Like the other men, he is also overcome by Atalanta’s presence, but Atalanta wishes that Hippomenes had never been captured by her beauty because she knows that she will overcome him with speed. She is in denial about the fact that she loves him and thinks that she is only touched by his young age. She hopes that Hippomenes will overcome her because if he loses, he dies. However if she loses and is forced to marry him, she will then die herself, according to the Oracle. The Goddess Venus tells Hippomenes that there is a field on the island of Cyprus in which a golden tree stands. She had picked three apples and given them to him, telling him what to do with them. Therefore, he dropped the apples one by one during the race, in order to distract Atalanta so that she would lose. Atalanta is tom between being victorious and disobeying the Oracle.

This poem stood out from the others when I saw it because of the enchanting literature and exciting story. Through Venus’ eyes it describes the romance between Atalanta, who is famous for her fleetness of foot and her great beauty, and Hippomenes. For the first time ever Atalanta feels true love and decides to disobey the warnings of the Oracle. The story shows the struggle and the obstacles they have to overcome to be together. This poem is unusual because it uses the fact that Atalanta, a woman, is better at running and more powerful than all men. Another aspect of the poem which shows its age is the actual concept of having a race over a woman. In my eyes, Atalanta is a great love story with a twist that should be read and enjoyed by all.

Maddy Cummins