Macareus continues his story, explaining that he and the Trojans stayed in Circe’s palace for a year. One day, while Ulysses was with Circe, one of Circe’s nymphs showed Macareus a statue of a man with a woodpecker on his head. The nymph said that this man’s name was Picus, the son of Saturn. Picus was a talented horseman and very handsome. Many nymphs tried to woo Picus, but he rejected them all because he was in love with a girl named Canens, who could sing beautifully. When Canens came of age, she and Picus married.
Macareus’s conversation with Circe’s nymph reveals other transformations that occurred in the world. Circe’s nymph also explains that Picus is the son of Saturn—the god who was also Jupiter’s father. This suggests that Picus must have lived a long time ago, before Saturn was banished and the world was flooded. This shows both how history isn’t a strictly linear series of events, and how many transformations have occurred throughout the world’s history.
One day, the nymph continues, Picus rides his horse into the fields in pursuit of a wild boar. Circe, who happens to be nearby, notices him and burns with passion. She wants to tell Picus how she feels, but he is riding too fast for her to follow. So, she creates a phantom boar with magic. She has the boar run through close-set trees so that when Picus gallops after it, he is forced to dismount his horse and pursue the boar on foot. Circe causes a mist to fall so that no gods can see to protect Picus, then goes to confront him. Circe confesses her desire and presses Picus to return her love.
Circe’s action of drawing mist around Picus is similar to how Jupiter waylaid Callisto before raping her. Here, Circe also pressures Picus, and gives the impression that she would rape him if she could. She does not rape Picus either because she knows she can’t overpower him the way a man can a woman, or because women, in pursuing men, seek something other than sex. Either way, both men and women are demanding in what they want from their love interests.
Picus rejects Circe, saying that his heart belongs to Canens, a girl he will never betray. Circe tries to change Picus’s mind, to no avail. Angered, she threatens that he will pay for rejecting a woman in love. She strikes Picus with her wand and utters some spells. Frightened, Picus runs away, but he transforms suddenly into a woodpecker angrily pecking at tree trunks. Picus’s companions search for Picus everywhere. They come upon Circe and demand to know what she’s done to Picus. They draw their swords, but Circe sprays a poison that causes the earth to tremble. Picus’s companions turn into wild beasts.
In previous stories, Jupiter and other gods have ignored their love interests’ refusals or struggles to resist them and raped them. In this way, these gods forcefully avoided the slight of a rejection. Circe, who either cannot or won’t force a connection with Picus, suffers rejection, threatens revenge, and transforms Picus into a woodpecker. In this way, refusing a person’s advances is always dangerous: it always leads to rape or revenge.
As night falls, Canens waits anxiously for Picus. When he doesn’t return, she tears at her clothes in anguish and sets out wandering in the woods. She wanders for six days until she comes to a riverbank where she lies down and weeps. She slowly transforms into water, and the riverbank is named after her. Macareus concludes the story Circe’s nymph told him. He explains that, after a year, the Greeks were bored and decided to set sail again. Circe warned them of the dangers they would face on their journey and sent them on their way.
Canens seems to dissolve naturally into water because she is dissolved by her grief. Her transformation is not a punishment or a concealment. Canens is so overcome by her grief that she passes beyond hope of returning to her former state. In this way, she transforms as the result of a natural change that takes place in her. Instead of dying, she becomes an element that more closely resembles her new emotional state.