Carmen et Error reprises Ovid's tragic aetion - or origin story - of the diving bird in a parable that commemorates the revocation of Ovid's exile by Rome 2,000 years after he was banished by Emperor Augustus to a remote coastal town by the Dead Sea in 8 AD.

It is therefore - in circumstance, as in subject - a negotiation of urgency, regret and the power of speech. 

As a libretto adaptation of Anthony Coxeter's dramatic poem Prologue to the Euthanasia of Aesacus, the work will be performed by a choreographed choir based on an unfinished story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. 


The result is the collision of a traditional palinode (a formal poetic ‘taking-back’ or apology in ancient Greek poetry) with a contemporary immersive experience through vocal, digital and physical theatre.

The Ninney Rise Commissions

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Opening 2019


Original Excerpt from Ovid: Metamorphoses, XI. 747-795




            Beginning after the story of Ceyx and Alcyone, the two birds and lovers mentioned in the first lines.


An old man watched these birds once wing to wing

Over the open sea and praised their love,

Steadfast until the end. His neighbour said

(Or maybe the same man) ‘This bird as well

With trailing legs, you see, that skims the waves’

(He pointed to a long-necked diver) ‘came

Of royal stock, and if you seek to trace

Down in unbroken line his forebears were

Ilus, Assaracus and Ganymede,

Jove’s stolen lad, and old Laomedon

And Priam who was destined for defeat

In Troy’s last days. That bird was Hector’s brother

And, had he not in his first manhood found

A weird new fate, his name might well have been

No less than Hector’s. Hecuba indeed

Gave Hector birth, while Alexiroe,

Daughter of horned Granicus, secrectly,

It’s said, on Ida’s shady mountainside

Bore Aesacus. He hated towns and dwelt

Remote from glittering palaces among

Deep-hidden hills in countryside that slept

Without ambition, rarely visiting

The throngs of Ilium. Yet he was not

A boor at heart nor unassailable

By love, and many a time through all the woods

Pursued Hesperie. He saw her by

Her father Cebren’s river bank, her hair

Loose on her shoulders drying in the sun.

The nymph, observed, took flight, as a frightened hind

Flees from a grizzled wolf, or a mallard caught

Far from the lake she’s left flies from a hawk.

He followed in pursuit, she swift in fear,

He swift in love, when lurking in the grass

A snake, look, struck her as she fled and fanged

Her foot and left its venom in her veins –

Her flight, her life cut short! Beside himself

He held her lifeless in his arms and cried

“I chased you! Oh, it breaks, it breaks my heart!

But this I never feared! Oh, never worth

So much to win you! Two of us, poor soul,

Have laid you low: the viper gave you wound,

And I the cause. The greater guilt have I:

For your death’s solace I myself shall die.”

            Then from a cliff-top that the booming waves

Had eaten out below he flung himself

Into the sea. In pity as he fell

Tethys received him gently, and as he swam

Clothed him with featheres; thus the golden chance

Of death so much desired was never given.

The lover, outraged to be forced to live

Against his will, to find his soul that longed

To leave its lamentable home restrained,

With new wings on his shoulders flew aloft

And once more launched himself into the waves.

His feathers broke his fall. In fury then

Poor Aesacus dived down into the deep

Trying endlessly to take the road to death.

Love made him lean: his jointed legs are long,

And long his neck, and long his head extends.

He loves the sea; that name of his he keeps,

A diver, for he dives into its deeps.