Breaking my chronological sequence to drop back to classical Latin, this is the most influential poem
of the Western European literary and artistic tradition. This semi-epic relates Greco-Roman myths that include changes of form, linked together in roughly chronological order from the creation of the world to the apotheosis of Julius Caesar. If there are multiple versions of a Greek myth you know, the version you know best is almost always Ovid's. This translation is by Rolfe Humphries. Metamorphoses
My intention is to tell of bodies changed
To different forms; the gods, who made the changes,
Will help me--or I hope so--with a poem
That runs from the world's beginning to our own days.
Before the ocean was, or earth, or heaven,
Nature was all alike, a shapelessness,
Chaos, so-called, all rude and lumpy matter,
Nothing but bulk, inert, in whose confusion
Discordant atoms warred: there was no sun
To light the universe; there was no moon
With slender silver crescents filling slowly;
No earth hung balanced in surrounding air;
No sea reached far along the fringe of shore.
Land, to be sure, there was, and air, and ocean,
But land on which no man could stand, and water
No man could swim in, air no man could breathe,
Air without light, substance forever changing,
Forever at war: within a single body
Heat fought with cold, wet fought with dry, the hard
Fought with the soft, things having weight contended
With weightless things.
Till God, or kindlier Nature,
Settled all argument, and separated
Heaven from earth, water from land, our air
From the high stratosphere, a liberation
So things evolved, and out of blind confusion
Found each its place, bound in eternal order.( The force of fire, that weightless element, leaped up and claimed the highest place in heaven ... )
You can continue reading the full text of this translation here
. There are, of course, umpteen-dozen translations out there, going back to Arthur Golding
's Elizabethan rendition. Humphries is the most modern one I've found online that I can actively recommend -- my go-to reading copy is Melville's (Oxford World Classics).