composed in the form in which Juno the troublesome held the fingers of her hands entwined to prevent the childbirth of Alcmene



composed in the form in which Juno the troublesome held the fingers of her hands entwined to prevent the childbirth of Alcmene, mother of Hercules.

Original French:  composez a la forme que Iuno la faſcheuſe tenoit les doigtz de ſes mains liez pour empeſcher l’enfantement de Alcmene mere de Hercules.

Modern French:  composez à la forme que Iuno la fascheuse tenoit les doigtz de ses mains liez pour empescher l’enfantement de Alcmène mère de Hercules.



285. namque laboriferi cum iam natalis adesset
Herculis et decimum premeretur sidere signum,
tendebat gravitas uterum mihi, quodque ferebam,
tantum erat, ut posses auctorem dicere tecti
ponderis esse Iovem. nec iam tolerare labores
ulterius poteram. quin nunc quoque frigidus artus,
dum loquor, horror habet, parsque est meminisse
septem ego per noctes, totidem cruciata diebus,
fessa malis, tendensque ad caelum bracchia, magno
Lucinam Nixosque pares clamore vocabam.
illa quidem venit, sed praecorrupta, meumque
quae donare caput Iunoni vellet iniquae.
utque meos audit gemitus, subsedit in illa
ante fores ara, dextroque a poplite laevum
pressa genu et digitis inter se pectine iunctis
300sustinuit partus. tacita quoque carmina voce
dixit, et inceptos tenuerunt carmina partus.
nitor, et ingrato facio convicia demens
vana Iovi, cupioque mori, moturaque duros
verba queror silices. matres Cadmeïdes adsunt,
305votaque suscipiunt, exhortanturque dolentem.
una ministrarum, media de plebe, Galanthis,
flava comas, aderat, faciendis strenua iussis,
officiis dilecta suis. ea sensit iniqua
nescio quid Iunone geri, dumque exit et intrat
310saepe fores, divam residentem vidit in ara
bracchiaque in genibus digitis conexa tenentem,
et ‘quaecumque es,’ ait ‘dominae gratare. levata est
Argolis Alcmene, potiturque puerpera voto.’
exsiluit, iunctasque manus pavefacta remisit
315diva potens uteri: vinclis levor ipsa remissis

For when the natal hour of toil-bearing Hercules was near and the tenth sign was being traversed by the sun, my burden was so heavy and what I bore so great that you could know Jove was the father of the unborn child; nor could I longer bear my pangs. Nay, even now as I tell it, cold horror holds my limbs and my pains return even as I think of it. For seven nights and days I was in torture; then, spent with anguish, I stretched my arms to heaven and with a mighty wail I called upon Lucina and her fellow guardian deities of birth. Lucina came, indeed, but pledged in advance to give my life to cruel Juno. There she sat upon the altar before the door, listening to my groans, with her right knee crossed over her left, and with her fingers interlocked; and so she stayed the birth. Charms also, in low muttered words, she chanted, and the charms prevented my deliverance. I fiercely strove and, mad with pain, I shrieked out vain revilings against ungrateful Jove. I longed to die, and my words would have moved the unfeeling rocks. The Theban matrons stood around me, appealed to heaven, and strove to stay my grief. There was one of my attendants born of the common folk, Galanthis, with hair of reddish hue, active always in obedience to my commands, well loved by me for her faithful services. She felt assured that unjust Juno was working some spell against me; and as she was passing in and out the house, she saw the goddess seated on the altar holding her clinched hands upon her knees, and said to her: ‘Whoever you are, congratulate our mistress: Argive Alcmena is relieved; her prayers are answered and her child is born.’ Up leaped the goddess of birth, unclinched her hands and spread them wide in consternation; my bonds were loosed and I was delivered of my child.

Ovid (43 BC-AD 17/18), Metamorphoses. Volume II: Books 9-15. Frank Justus Miller (1858–1938), translator. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1916. 9.285-315, p. 23. Loeb Classical Library


Hominum monstrificas naturas et veneficos aspectus diximus in portentis gentium et multas animalium proprietates, quae repeti supervacuum est. quorundam hominum tota corpora prosunt, ut ex his familiis quae sunt terrori serpentibus tactu ipso levant percussos suctuve madido, quorum e genere sunt Psylli Marsique et qui Ophiogenes vocantur in insula Cypro, ex qua familia legatus Evagon nomine a consulibus Romae in dolium serpentium coniectus experimenti causa circummulcentibus linguis miraculum praebuit. signum eius familiae est, si modo adhuc durat, vernis temporibus odoris virus. atque eorum sudor quoque medebatur, non modo saliva. nam in insula Nili Tentyri nascentes tanto sunt crocodilis terrori ut vocem quoque eorum fugiant. horum omnium generum insita repugn a interventum quoque mederi constat, sicuti adgravari vulnera introitu eorum qui umquam fuerint serpentium canisve dente laesi. iidem gallinarum incubitus, pecorum fetus abortu vitiant. tantum remanet virus ex accepto semel malo ut venefici fiant venena passi. remedio est ablui prius manus eorum aquaque illa eos quibus medearis inspergi. rursus a scorpione aliquando percussi numquam postea a crabronibus, vespis apibusve feriuntur. minus miretur hoc qui sciat vestem a tineis non attingi quae fuerit in funere, serpentes aegre praeterquam laeva manu extrahi. e Pythagorae inventis non temere fallere, inpositivorum nominum inparem vocalium numerum clauditates oculive orbitatem ac similes casus dextris adsignare partibus, parem laevis. ferunt difficiles partus statim solvi, cum quis tectum in quo sit gravida transmiserit lapide vel missili ex his qui tria animalia singulis ictibus interfecerint, hominem, aprum, ursum. probabilius id facit hasta velitaris evulsa corpori hominis, si terram non attigerit. eosdem enim inlata effectus habet. sic et sagittas corpori eductas, si terram non attigerint, subiectas cubantibus amatorium esse Orpheus et Archelaus scribunt, quin et comitiales morbos sanari cibo e carne ferae occisae eodem ferro quo homo interfectus sit. quorundam partes medicae sunt, sicuti diximus de Pyrrhi regis pollice, et Elide solebat ostendi Pelopis scapula,1 quam eburneam adfirmabant. naevos in facie tondere religiosum habent etiam nunc multi.

Persons possessed of powers of witchcraft and of the evil eye, along with many peculiar characteristics of animals, I have spoken ofc when dealing with marvels of the nations; it is superfluous to go over the ground again. Of certain men the whole bodies are beneficent, for example the members of those families that frighten serpents. These by a mere touch or by wet suction relieve bitten victims. In this class are the Psylli, the Marsi, and the Ophiogenes, as they are called, in the island of Cyprus. An envoy from this family, by name Evagon, was at Rome thrown by the consuls as a test into a cask of serpents, which to the general amazement licked him all over. A feature of this family, if it still survives, is the foul smell of its members in spring. Their sweat also, not only their saliva, had curative powers. But the natives of Tentyris, an island on the Nile, are such a terror to the crocodiles that these run away at the mere sound of their voice. All these peoples, so strong their natural antipathy, can, as is well known, effect a cure by their very arrival, just as wounds grow worse on the entry of those who have ever been bitten by the tooth of snake or dog. The latter also addle the eggs of a sitting hen, and make cattle miscarry; so much venom remains from the injury once received that the poisoned are turned into poisoners. The remedy is for their hands to be first washed in water, which is then used to sprinkle on the patients. On the other hand, those who have once been stung by a scorpion are never afterwards attacked by hornets, wasps or bees. He may be less surprised at this who knows that moths do not touch a garment that has been worn at a funeral, and that snakes are with difficulty pulled out of theirVarious kinds of magic power. holes except with the left hand. One of the discoveries of Pythagoras will not readily deceive you: that an uneven number of vowels in given names portends lameness, blindness, or similar disability, on the right side, an even number of vowels the same disabilities on the left. It is said that difficult labour ends in delivery at once, if over the house where is the lying-in woman there be thrown a stone or missile that has killed with one stroke each three living creatures—a human being, a boar, and a bear. A successful result is more likely if a light-cavalry spear is used, pulled out from a human body without the ground being touched. The result indeed is the same if the spear is carried indoors. So too, as Orpheus and Archelaus write, arrows drawn out of a body and not allowed to touch the ground act as a love-charm upon those under whom when in bed they have been placed. Moreover, add these authorities, epilepsy is cured by food taken from the flesh of a wild beast killed by the same iron weapon that has killed a human being. Some men have healing powers confined to parts of their body. We have mentioned the thumb of King Pyrrhus, and at Elis there used to be shown a shoulder bladed of Pelops, which was stated to be of ivory. Many men even today have scruples about cutting hair from moles on the face.

Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD), The Natural History. Volume 8: Books 28–32. William Henry Samuel Jones (1876–1963), translator. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1956. 28.06. Loeb Classical Library


Adsidere gravidis, vel cum remedium alicui adhibeatur, digitis pectinatim inter se inplexis veneficium est, idque conpertum tradunt Alcmena Herculem pariente, peius, si circa unum ambove genua, item poplites alternis genibus inponi. ideo haec in consiliis ducum potestatiumve fieri vetuere maiores velut omnem actum inpedientia, vetuere vero et sacris votisve simili modo interesse, capita autem aperiri aspectu magistratuum non venerationis causa iussere, sed, ut Varro auctor est, valetudinis,
quoniam firmiora consuetudine ea fierent. cum quid oculo inciderit, alterum conprimi prodest, cum aqua dextrae auriculae, sinistro pede exultari capite in dextrum umerum devexo, invicem e diversa aure. si tussim concitet saliva, in fronte ab alio adflari, si iaceat uva verticem morsu alterius suspendi, in cervicium dolore poplites fricare aut cervicem in poplitum, pedes in humo deponi, si nervi in his cruribusve tendantur in lectulo, aut si in laeva parte id accidat, sinistrae plantae pollicem dextra manu adprehendi, item e diverso, extremitates corporis velleribus perstringi contra horrores sanguinemve narium inmodicum, . . . lino vel papyro principia genitalium, femur medium ad cohibenda urinae profluvia, in stomachi solutione pedes pressare aut manus in ferventem aquam demitti. iam et sermoni parci multis de causis salutare est. triennio Maecenatem Melissum accepimus silentium sibi imperavisse a convolsione reddito sanguine. nam eversos scandentesque ac iacentes si quid ingruat contraque ictus spiritum cohibere singularis praesidii est, quod inventum esse animalis docuimus. clavum ferreum defigere in quo loco primum caput fixerit corruens morbo comitiali absolutorium eius mali dicitur. contra renum aut lumborum, vesicae cruciatus in balnearum soliis pronos urinam reddere mitigatorium habetur. vulnera nodo Herculis praeligare mirum quantum ocior medicina est, atque etiam cottidiani cinctus tali nodo vim quandam habere utilem dicuntur, quippe cum Herculaneum prodiderit numerum quoque quaternarium Demetrius condito volumine, et quare quaterni cyathi sextariive non essent potandi. contra lippitudines retro aures fricare prodest et lacrimosis oculis frontem. augurium ex homine ipso est non timendi mortem in aegritudine quamdiu oculorum pupillae imaginem reddant.

To sit in the presence of pregnant women, or when medicine is being given to patients, with the fingers interlaced comb-wise, is to be guilty of sorcery, a discovery made, it is said, when Alcmena was giving birth to Hercules. The sorcery is worse if the hands are clasped round one knee or both, and also to cross the knees first in one way and then in the other. For this reason our ancestors forbade such postures at councils of war or of officials, on the ground that they were an obstacle to the transaction of all business. They also forbade them, indeed, to those attending sacred rites and prayers; but to uncover the head at the sight of magistrates they ordered, not as a mark of respect, but (our authority is Varro) for the sake of health, for the habit of baring the head gives it greater strength. When something has fallen into the eye, it does good to press down the other; when water gets into the right ear, to jump with the left leg, leaning the head towards the right shoulder; if into the left ear, to jump in the contrary way; if saliva provokes a cough, for another person to blow on the forehead; if the uvula is relaxed, for another to hold up the top of the head with his teeth; if there is pain in the neck, to rub the back of the knees, and to rub the neck for pain in the back of the knees; to plant the feet on the ground for cramp in feet or legs when in bed; or if the cramp is on the left side to seize with the right hand the big toe of the left foot and vice versa; to rub the extremities with pieces of fleece to step shivers or violent nose-bleeding; . . . with linen or papyrus the tip of the genitals and the middle of the thigh to check incontinence of urine; for weakness of the stomach to press together the feet or dip the hands into very hot water. Moreover, to refrain from talking is healthful for many reasons. Maecenas Melissus, we are told, imposed a three-year silence on himself because of spitting of blood after convulsions. But if any danger threatens those thrown down, climbing, or prostrate, and as a guard against blows, to hold the breath is an excellent protection, a discovery which, I have stated, we owe to an animal. To drive an iron nail into the place first struck by the head of an epileptic in his fall is said to be deliverance from that malady. For severe pain in the kidneys, loins or bladder, it is supposed to be soothing if the patient voids his urine while lying on his face in the tub of the bath. To tie up wounds with the Hercules knot [A difficult knot with no ends to be seen] makes the healing wonderfully more rapid, and even to tie daily the girdle with this knot is said to have a certain usefulness, for Demetrius wrote a treatise in which he states that the number four is one of the prerogatives of Hercules, giving reasons why four cyathi or sextarii at a time should not be drunk. For ophthalmia it is good to rub behind the ears, and for watery eyes the forehead. From the patient himself it is a reliable omen that, as long as the pupils of his eyes reflect an image, a fatal end to an illness is not to be feared.

Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD), The Natural History. Volume 8: Books 28–32. William Henry Samuel Jones (1876–1963), translator. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1956. 28.17. Loeb Classical Library

Les doitz de ses mains liez

Voiez Pline, l. 28 chap. 6.

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), Œuvres de Maitre François Rabelais. Publiées sous le titre de : Faits et dits du géant Gargantua et de son fils Pantagruel, avec la Prognostication pantagrueline, l’épître de Limosin, la Crême philosophale et deux épîtres à deux vieilles de moeurs et d’humeurs différentes. Nouvelle édition, où l’on a ajouté des remarques historiques et critiques. Tome Troisieme. Jacob Le Duchat (1658–1735), editor. Amsterdam: Henri Bordesius, 1711. p. 256. Google Books

Juno’s fingers

See Pliny, l. 28, c. 6.

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), The Works of Francis Rabelais, M.D. The Third Book. Now carefully revised, and compared throughout with the late new edition of M. Le du Chat. John Ozell (d. 1743), editor. London: J. Brindley, 1737.

mains liez

Voyez Pline, liv. XXVIII, chapl VI. (L.)

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), Œuvres de Rabelais (Edition Variorum). Tome Cinquième. Charles Esmangart (1736–1793), editor. Paris: Chez Dalibon, 1823. p. 265. Google Books


Voy. Pline, l. XXVIII, c. VI.

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), Œuvres de F. Rabelais. Nouvelle edition augmentée de plusieurs extraits des chroniques admirables du puissant roi Gargantua… et accompagnée de notes explicatives…. L. Jacob (pseud. of Paul Lacroix) (1806–1884), editor. Paris: Charpentier, 1840. p. 306.


Sir T. Browne Pseudodox Ep., v. 22. 9. Cf. Ov. Met. ix 297-301; 311; Pliny xxviii 6 § 17.

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), The Five Books and Minor Writings. Volume 1: Books I-III. William Francis Smith (1842–1919), translator. London: Alexader P. Watt, 1893. Internet Archive


Cf. Ovide, Metamorphoses, IX, 297-301, et Pline, XXVIII, 17 : « Adsidere gravidis, … digitis pectinatim inter se implexis, veneficium est ; idque compertum tradunt, Alcmene Herculem pariente. »

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), Oeuvres. Édition critique. Tome Cinquieme: Tiers Livre. Abel Lefranc (1863-1952), editor. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1931. p. 346. Internet Archive

l’enfantement de Alcmene

Cf. Ovide, Metam, IX, 297 seq.; Pline, XXVIII, 6

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), Le Tiers Livre. Edition critique. Michael Andrew Screech (1926-2018), editor. Paris-Genève: Librarie Droz, 1964.


Ovide, Métamorphoses, IX, v. 297-313.

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), Œuvres complètes. Mireille Huchon, editor. Paris: Gallimard, 1994. p. 503, n. 1.

instrumens catharactes

Des «instrumens catharactes» sont proprement des instruments qui s’abaissent pour rompre ou déchirer. Selon Ovide, Lucine tenta de contrecarrer l’accouchement d’Alcmène en croisant les doigts (Métamorphoses, IX, 297-301); Pline signale ce charme dans son Hist. naturelle, XXXVIII, 6, a l’aide d’un adverbe rare, pectinatim (en forme de peigne): rappelant le cas d’Alcmène, it dit que cet empêchement se fait «digitis inter se pectinatim implexis».

Rabelais, François (1483?–1553), Le Tiers Livre. Edition critique. Jean Céard, editor. Librarie Général Français, 1995. p. 452.



Posted 27 January 2013. Modified 15 April 2020.

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