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723 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 8
All is subject to change and nothing to death. // All is in flux.Metamorphoses is more than a collection of stories of mythical adventures, it is a mediation on the theme of transformation in all its myriad forms. Ovid uses this motif as the unifying thread of his tales, emphasising it as a universal principle which explains the ever-changing nature of the world. Moreover, across the fifteen books that form Metamorphoses, Ovid examines a large number of themes such as poetry, politics, identity, immortality, love and lust, violence, morality, and even art.
If wishes were horses, though, beggars would ride.In many ways, Ovid’s gods are like the gods in other classical epic poems – anthropomorphic, omnipotent, and meddling in human affairs. However, Ovid’s gods differ from the usual epic gods in their behavior. In Metamorphoses, the gods lack moral authority in regard to their interactions with humans and among themselves. The gods are a ‘divine machine’ of metamorphosis. Even though on a few occasions this change inflicted upon humans is the result of a just reward or punishment, on most occasions, it is caused by anger, jealousy, lust, or simple cruelty.
“Help, father!” she called. “If your streams have divine powers! Destroy the shape, which pleases too well, with transformation!”Peneus answers his daughter’s entreaty, and Daphne is transformed into a laurel tree. Where does a modern audience begin with a story such as Daphne and Apollo? How do we begin to unravel the hundreds of other such tales that follow it?
She stretched out her arms to him, struggled to feel his hands on her own, but all she was able to catch, poor soul, was the yielding air. / And now, as she died for the second time, she never complained that her husband had failed her – what could she complain of, except that he’d loved her?I know, it's not the most feminist, but I could actually tear up about that part. How beautifully tragic is that? I also loved that Ovid then proceeded on telling the story how Orpheus turned from all womankind after that ordeal and became gay – what an icon!
As yellow wax melts in a gentle flame, or the frost on a winter morning thaws in the rays of the sunshine, so Narcissus faded away and melted, slowly consumed by the fire inside him.Another example would be Echo and Narcissus. Theirs is an immensely popular story nowadays, but it's one we probably wouldn't know had Ovid not written it down in his Metamorphoses. The introduction of the myth of the mountain nymph Echo into the story of Narcissus, the beautiful youth who rejected Echo and fell in love with his own reflection, appears to have been his invention. And so, Ovid's version influenced the presentation of the myth in later Western art and literature.
And now, his taurine imitation ended,
the god exposed himself for what he was
to cowed Europa on the isle of Crete.
In an action both paternal and perverse,
the captured maiden's baffled father bids
her brother Cadmus to locate the girl
or face an endless term of banishment.
Now they had landed on the Cretan soil, when Jupiter dropped
the disguise of a bull, to reveal himself as the god who he
Anxious for news, Europa's father commanded Cadmus
to search for his kidnapped sister. 'Find her, or go into
he said--an iniquitous action, if also inspired by devotion.
But his false semblance soon is set aside:
on reaching Crete, Jove shows his own true guise.
Meanwhile the father of the ravished girl,
not knowing what had taken place, commands
Cadmus, his son, to find Europa or
to suffer exile from Agenor's land--
a cruel threat, but born of love!
Now safe in Crete, Jove shed the bull's disguise
And stood revealed before Europa's eyes.
Meanwhile her father, baffled, bade his son
Cadmus, set out to find the stolen girl
And threatened exile should he fail--in one
Same act such warmth of love, such wickedness!
Changes of shape, new forms, are the theme which my
spirit impels me
now to recite. Inspire me, O gods (it is you who have even transformed my art), and spin me a thread from the
down to my own lifetime, in one continuous poem.
Where other animals walk on all four and look to the
man was given a towering head and commanded to stand
erect, with his face uplifted to gaze on the stars of heaven.
Thus clay, so lately no more than a crude and formless
was metamorphosed to assume the strange new figure of
Gathered that fiery dust and slaked it
With the pure spring water,
And rolled it under his hands,
Pounded it, thumbed it, moulded it
Into a body shaped like that of a god.
He ceased to follow his leader; he'd fallen in love with the sky,
and soared up higher and higher. The scorching rays of
grew closer and softened the fragrant wax which fastened
The wax dissolved; and as Icarus flapped his naked arms,
deprived of the wings which had caught the air that was
buoying them upwards,
'Father!' he shouted, again and again. But the boy and his
were drowned in the blue-green main which is called the
His unhappy father, no longer a father, called out, 'Icarus!
Where are you, Icarus? Where on earth shall I find you?
he kept crying. And then he caught sight of the wings in the
Daedalus cursed the skill of his hands and buried his dear son's
corpse in a grave. The land where he lies is known as
Not far to go now; the exit to earth and the light was
But Orpheus was frightened his love was falling behind;
he was desperate
to see her. He turned, and at once she sank back into
She stretched out her arms to him, struggled to feel his
hands in her own,
but all she was able to catch, poor soul, was the
And now, as she died for the second time, she never
that her husband had failed her—what could she complain
of, except that he'd loved her?
She only uttered her last 'farewell', so faintly he hardly
could hear it, and then she was swept once more to the land
of the shadows.
[...] She had hardly ended her prayer when a
came over her body; her soft white bosom was ringed
in a layer
of bark, her hair was turned into foliage, her arms into
The feet that had run so nimbly were sunk into sluggish
her head was confined in a treetop; and all that remained
was her beauty.
So saying, he pointed the hero out, still hacking the
down; then turning Paris' bow in the same direction
he guided an arrow with deadly aim at Achilles' heel.
If Priam, after the death of Hector, had cause for rejoicing,
this surely was it. So Achilles who'd vanquished the
was vanquished himself by a coward who'd stolen the wife
of his Greek host.
If he was destined to die at the hands of a woman in war,
he'd rather be cut down by the axe of Penthesilea.