Ovids Metamorphoses Book 1: Proem: first 4 lines: a piece thats important because it marks Ovids place in the literary tradition, his own (a change from elegy, love poetry, to epic) and the larger picture (Callimachean literary concerns: hes going to unite epic a la Virgils Aeneid and shorter, more refined pieces of poetry a la Theocritus, Callimachus, et al.; in other words hes going to write the most original poem ever by honoring the heroic/historical/cyclic epic tradition of the best epicist ever (Homer) and the didactic/catalogic epic tradition of the best of the self-conscious muse (Hesiod), all in very beautiful poetry, and telling a history of the world (starting and ending with cosmogonic/theogonic perspective) and the entire wealth of human history / mythology along the way.
Ovids Metamorphoses 1. Cosmogony 1.4-150: An interesting beginning, much like Hesiods Theogony; more like Aratus Phaenomena in that it is explaining the order of the universe. God or better nature (1.21 or so) is the cause of this order … Ovids prime mover is not one of the pantheon, and that may say something about his theology. Prometheus is somehow involved in the creation of man (cf. Hesiod again), which leads us to the ages of man, a clear signal to Hesiods Works and days. Instead of Hesiods digression to the age of heroes, though, this is where Ovid gives us a gigantomachy (which well hear sung in poetic form again in Book 5 by the Pierides in their contest with the muses).
Ovids Metamorphoses 2. Gigantomachy 1.151-176. This is again a signal to ancient Greek epics (Hesiod et al.). It serves to introduce the divine machinery that will run the show from now on, Jupiter and his fellow gods (who especially are meddling with this new world in Books 1-5). 3. The picture of the Palatine 1.170 ff. This piece is particularly Roman topographical: Jupiter is Augustus here; his fellow gods are his imperial retinue or senate. Jupiter will destroy mankind in flood, a divine do-over particularly related to the sin of Lycaons unholy feast of human flesh – Jupiter tells the story to the gods (and they react like pious Romans did when Caesar got assassinated!), and Lycaons transformation into Wolf is just the tip of the iceberg: all humankind will pay for their abrogation of xenia.
Ovids Metamorphoses 4. 1.244ff: the flood. Gods need people, and Jupiter assuages the concerns of the other divinities. We see a massive undoing of what took 150 lines to put together; again this is epic in form. Divine machinery, including the winds and the sea gods (including Neptune), transform earth and sea into just sea … the world is drowned and Ovids reversals highlight the chaos of the event (dolphins brush by oak trees, etc.; notice bronze age people leaving their plows and homes for boats and the tops of trees). Everyone is dead or dying soon.
Ovids Metamorphoses 5. 1.313-415: Deucalion and Pyrrha. These are the old couple who piously obey the gods commands to repopulate the earth. Not knowing how, they pray to Themis (ancient prophetic goddess of justice) and throw their mothers bones (stones, the bones of their mother earth) over their shoulders, and they divinely become new people: the Deucalionids, descended from Deucalion. Our rocky origins are where humans get their hardiness. Get it? 6. 1.415-438 Mud and muck makes new things – ah, Pythagorean and Heraclitean genesis! And one of those things is ….
Ovids Metamorphoses 7. 1.438-472 Epic monster Python. Not only do the giants get put down (supra) but now Apollo gets gloriously to defeat the Python! And from this we get the Pythian, the site of Apollos oracles at Delphi, etc. This is an important epic battle. But his victory is not to last because Ovids epic has an elegiac interruption here: Cupid will steal some glory and infect Apollo with love (just like the first song of Ovids Amores, where Cupid, laughing, steals one of Ovids poetic lines feet, making it not an epic, but a lilting love poem – Ovid goes on in Amores 1.1 to abuse Cupid, saying, who gave you this power, what if every god changed their place, Aphrodite went hunting, Athena went on the prowl for men, where would the world be then? But alas, the poet is infected with love and must do as Cupid demands …) so it is with Ovids epic Apollo here in Met 1. He sees Peneus daughter Daphne and must have her. This is rape scene number 1.
Ovids Metamorphoses 8. 1.473-567 Apollo and Daphne. Celebrated 100-line episode, nice rhetoric here (notice the apostrophe) – notice the similes (Gallic hound and a hare). And the elegiac formulae (the blazon, her unkempt look, etc.). Even after transformation she belongs to him … its his tree (laurel garland, award of the Pythian games). Interesting result of a rape, no?
Ovids Metamorphoses 9. 1.568-721 Io and Jupiter. Still in Thessaly (Haemonia), the part of northern Greece where the flood ended and near Delphi, Jupiter sees a virgin he wants to rape, seduces her away from her father the river Inachus, and rapes her. Juno is jealous and forces Jupiters hasty decision to turn Io into a heifer and hand her over as a gift; Juno is not fooled; she guards the poor girl with the 100-eyed monster Argus so she cannot escape. Heavy pathos in the scene with her dad – all she can do is moo and scratch her name in the sand with her hooves. Mercury is sent to kill the monster, and how does he do it?
Ovids Metamorphoses By telling a story (the auto-deictic force of this narrative move is obvious … we have a storyteller telling a story about storytelling – poetry and song no less – and a story weve heard before, about a god who sees a maiden and decides on rape, yada yada yada. Bored yet? Argus is. So bored he falls asleep – all 100 of his eyes!). Incidentally, these eyes will end up on the peacocks feathers (which we hear about in Book 2). This is one of those points that keeps you reading and rereading Ovids Met – there are points of connection in so many of these stories. Callisto (Book 2) for example is of the line of Lycaon. But how can this be, since the flood wiped out everyone … ah, isnt mythology fun?
Ovids Metamorphoses 10. 722-779 Io restored and Phaethon introduced. She keeps the heifers whiteness and is worshiped in Egypt as Isis – many images show her retaining the heifers horns, too, by the way. The story leads to the son, Epaphus, whose friend Phaethon has a problem: born of the sun-god/titan Helios, Epaphus doesnt believe his parentage. So Phaethon goes to the palace of the Sun to prove it.
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 2 2.1-30: Major ecphrasis of the Palace of the Sun (one of several in Ovid – palace of Sleep, Palace of Fama (rumor), and one other I cant recall off the top of my head. Itll come. So we have a nice picture here also of some problems of TIME in Ovid – it is, after all, an HISTORICAL epic, and we have hours, seasons, and all manner of things here on and in the palace. And time itself is about to get wacky with Phaethons joy ride. And Ive already mentioned time being wacky as regards geneaology (Lycaon/Callisto) … its worth asking whether Ovids got a point to all this. I think he does: to unite many traditions in a playful, but ever thoughtful (and even scientific, think natural-scientific a la Lucretius, Aratus, king-list chronologies, etc.) way.
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.31-149 Phaethon and Phoebus/Sol/Helios. This is great stuff. Gods should NOT swear on the river Styx – bad shit always happens, because they cant go back on their word. But youll see it happen again way too many times in this epic. Also, notice the Suns warnings: the middle path, thats what to aim for (cf. sophrosyne in Greek philosophy; thisll come up again in the Icarus/Daedalus myth, and its certainly rife through the Greek poetic tradition and Horace too).
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.150-300 Joyride: this is a mirror image of the flood – notice some of the same rhetorical turns that Ovid includes; weve even got an Ethiopian ethnography in there. 2.301-328 Phaethons death: Jupiter finally blasts him from the sky, again, hes keeping order in the world. 2.329-401 Phaethons funeral: a nice aetiology of the poplars and the first ever swan … but there are 2 OTHER Cycni (swans) in the Metamorphoses – it seems that there were more than just one Cycnus myth in the ancient world, and they were all too good to pass up treatment somewhere in Ovids magnum opus. Sol finally gets along with his task again.
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.401-507 Callisto. Thank goodness theres still sunlight, because it allows Jupiter to find his next rape victim, a maiden from Dianas fold. Dianas a virgin huntress goddess, and this is important – shes a vicious bitch when shes crossed, even by Jupiter. She kicks out Callisto when shes found to be with child, and Juno turns her into a bear – her child with Jupiter ends up hunting her (Arcas), and they both get catasterized (big dipper, little dipper)
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.508-533 Junos vengeance: thats why the big dipper never dips below the horizon! Love this aetiology stuff. And this is where we hear the nod to Argus eyes ending up on the peacock. Speaking of birds ….
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.533-633 Crow, Raven, etc. This is a convoluted series of stories, like Chinese boxes all stacked and folded. Heres the deal: Raven is going to tell Apollo that Corone (whose name means crow-lady) has been sleeping around on him; Crow (another bird) catches up with Raven to say, hey, dont be a blabbermouth. Its gotten me into trouble. I tattled to Athena once, and she repaid her messenger by banishing me from the Parthenon! Observe, please, how Ovid is moving geographically now to Athens. Anyhow, Crow then goes on to tell of her attempted rape by Neptune, her transformation into a crow, and complains about the Owl getting better treatment than her, even though she was involved with incest.
Ovids Metamorphoses By the way, in the ancient sources, this Owl was not a willing victim – Crow is just being kind of bitchy here, spreading smut about someone else – sour grapes about being out of favor with Athena. In any case, Raven doesnt listen, goes to Apollo and blabs about Corone, Apollo gets angry, shoots the girl, and turns the Raven from white to black. All this is a firm warning about the power of the vox, human speech (report, rumor, gossip, and its interesting parallel in storytelling, the craft of poetry, etc.). Corone is carrying Aesculapius, by the way – a very important deity for the history of Rome – and so we get another pretty complicated bit about his prophecy, which wont be fulfilled until Book 15 and 293bc!
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.633-675 Aesculapius prophecy: this is the bit where we hear about how Aesculapius will heal the people of Rome (notice substitution agenda of Ovid), and Ocyrhoe gets turned into a horse.
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.676-751 Mercury. This is the stuff from the Homeric hymn to Hermes, the story of the stolen cattle. Another story about the power of the vox – Battus gets turned into the flint. But not just epic or hymnic; once again, Ovid makes it elegiac, with Mercury falling in love with Herse, one of the three sisters, daughters of Cecrops, who by the way are involved with a basket with Ericthonius inside it – this is ancient Athenian stuff, with references to the Panathenaic festival and all.
Ovids Metamorphoses Remember this story? Hephaistos/Vulcan tried to rape Athena, she avoided him, he Onanized his man-goo on her thigh, it fell to the dust and Athena put the snaky-embryo in a box and gave it to the sisters for safekeeping, saying, Dont open the box. (By the way, when they opened the box, guess who tattled on them? The CROW, thats who. Thats why she told that story 300 lines earlier.) So anyhoo, thats why Athena gets mad at Aglauros also, and we have to go down to the house of Envy (is THAT the other ecphrasis I was thinking of?)
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.752-832 Envy. Yup, this is the other major palace ecphrasis in the Met. Its an ugly place, and Athena (Minerva) gets Invidia (Envy) to poison Aglauros as a punishment for viewing the snaky baby Erichthonius. Wonderful personification here, no? Aglauros then envies Herse her sister, the object of Mercurys affection, and is therefore cursed by Mercury and eventually turns to stone (all this again relating to the power of the human voice).
Ovids Metamorphoses 2.833-875 Europa. If theres a major rape of Jupiter, this ones it. He turns into a bull and carts her off to Crete. This is where the line of Minos comes from. Funny how bulls work into that mythology too…
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 3 … Which leads us to the Theban cycle, because Cadmus has to find his sister. 3.1-49 Cadmus has to find his sister, but founds Thebes instead 3.50-137 Cadmus founds Thebes. He kills a dragon and sows its teeth – a nice chthonic myth (much like the snaky Athenians) … notice once again how weve shifted geographies? Notice also the prophecy that Cadmus and Harmonia (his wife) will become snakes at the end of their life. And the internecine warfare that marks the first citizens of this new city bodes ill for the rest of the Theban cycle – this is tragedy waiting to happen.
Ovids Metamorphoses 3.138-252 Actaeon. Again, Diana is a bitch, even when its an accidental stumbling into the girls locker room. Notice the brilliant catalogue of hunting hounds and these great names of the dogs, and the pathos of the sparagmos and omophagia of this poor unlucky seed of Cadmus. 3.253-315 Semele. Again, gods shouldnt swear on the river Styx. And Jupiter cant keep it in his pants. One wonders whether Ovid isnt trying to make some sort of comment on the human side of a rather capricious divine machinery – Semele was sort of doomed from the start. Besides this, Bacchus is extremely important to the Theban cycle – he is the new god who runs the Pentheus myth at the end of Book 3. Notice that Ino (Semeles sister) is given charge of the new god.
Ovids Metamorphoses 3.316-338 Tiresias. The context of the next bit (Narcissus) is the Apollonian know thyself, and so we have this delightful bi-sexual story. 3.339-510 Narcissus and Echo. The celebrated episode, rife with psychoanalytic possibilities. I leave you to your own devices – this one pretty much teaches itself. One further note – this is the point at which we would expect to see a mention of the Oedipus myth. Instead we get this (Ovidian, and inventive) substitution.
Ovids Metamorphoses 3.511-733 Pentheus. Speaking of sparagmos and omophagia, the delightful story of Pentheus, control versus the wild side of human nature, and the triumph of Dionysus (with the inset tale of Acoetes to drive the point home). It follows the basic tale from Euripides Bacchae, and is a disturbing tragedy. Dont eff with Bacchus.
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 4 4.1-54 The power of Bacchus continued. Again, the theme is dont eff with Bacchus, but now we have a mise-en-abyme wherein we will hear tales from the Minyades, as they spin (notice the auto-deictic storytelling metaphor) and tell tales that are rather obscure, a veritable catalogue of metamorphoses.
Ovids Metamorphoses 4.55-166 Pyramis and Thisbe. Delightful elegiac tragedy (wherefore Shakespeares Romeo and the nod in Midsummer). This is probably invented by Ovid. Notice here and through the Minyades stories the recusationes – a chance for Ovid to signal various myths treated here and there by other Alexandrian poets (much like the geographical catalogue of Medea in Book 7).
Ovids Metamorphoses 4.167-273 Various stories. Mars and Venus is the famous one; Leucothoe and Clytie are interesting too. Notice these are elegiac fancies once again. 4.274-388 Hermaphroditus. Weird, right? 4.389-415 Dont eff with Bacchus. The Minyades become bats. Maybe better than getting your head ripped off by your mom?
Ovids Metamorphoses 4.416-562 Madness. Ino goes mad, so does Athamas, they kill their son. Yikes! This is one of the most painful pieces in the Met. Ick. By the way, there are other kids in this story that end up being important: Helle and Phrixus, who escape on the back of a flying golden ram (the product of Neptune and a girl who turned herself into a sheep to escape his rape); they fly east, though, over the Black Sea (thats where Helle fell off, hence Hellespont), but Phrixus made it to Colchis, sacrificed the ram (the constellation Aries), and gave the Golden Fleece to Aeetes of Colchis. Remember Jason and the Argonauts? Well hear about them in Book 7.
Ovids Metamorphoses 4.563-603 The end of Thebes (at least of Cadmus). What a pain, looking at your sons, daughters, and grandchildren, and seeing that theyre all a bunch of failures who are punished by the gods. Nothing left but to become snakes and leave. 4.604-803 The Perseid. The wonderful story of Perseus. Have fun! Notice how weve gone now from Thebes to Argos.
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 5 The Perseid continued and concluded 5.1-249 The Perseid concluded. This is a great battle scene and lots of people turn to stone. The most interesting bits of this book follow though.
Ovids Metamorphoses 5.250-293 Helicon. So mount Helicon is growing fast like an erect phallus, until Pegasus (born from Medusas head-severed corpse) flies over to it and bashes its vulgar phallic top with his divine hoof. Helicon stops growing, and an inspirational stream flows from the top, and theres babbling brook, flowers, nice shade, all the things that make a locus amoenus, just the spot youd expect to find HESIOD (thats where hes from) and of course, the muses. So thats where Athena goes and finds the muses and asks about the garrulous jackdaws, and the muses get to tell the story about a poetic contest.
Ovids Metamorphoses The rest of this book is devoted to the poetic contest. 1. The Pierides sing about the Gigantomachy – notice how the gods take the forms of Egyptian animal totems. 2. The muses sing about the rape of Proserpina, the myth recounted in the Homeric hymn to Demeter. The details of the hymn comprise the song in Ovid, and they are also the details recounted in the mysteries of Demeter at Eleusis (the Eleusinian Mysteries).
Ovids Metamorphoses 3. Its a rape – Dis (Hades) steals Proserpina, daughter of Ceres (Demeter) 4. She searches far and wide, ends up in Eleusis, various things happen 5. Proserpina ate some pomegranate seeds, has to spend some time in Hades, some up top. Wonderful myth to describe death/life cycle, etc. Inset story of Arethusa Story ends, the muses punish the Pierides, and now they chatter.
Ovids Metamorphoses Athena goes on from here to Book 6 where she wants to do some punishing herself with Arachne.
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 6: – Athena vs Arachne Contest with Poseidon Catalogue of amours – Niobe and her 14 children – Leto and the Lycians (frogs) – Marsyas (satyr) defeated by Apollo – Procne, Tereus, and Philomela – Boreas and Orithyia (Calais and Zetes = Boreads)
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 7 – Argonautica: major points (Phineus, harpies, Colcis, Fleece, Phrixus, Medea: soliloquy) – Bronze bulls, chthonic enemies, dragon guardian – Aeson and Pelias – Flight and rest in Athens – Hymn to Theseus – Minos, avenging his son Androgeos, demands alliances in war against Attica – History of Aegina (Aeacus and the Myrmidons) – Cephalus, Aurora, and Procris; Laelaps, the Teumessian fox, and Aura
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 8 – Scylla and Nisus of Megara (the Ciris myth) – Daedalus labyrinth: Theseus, Minotaur, Ariadne and Bacchus – Daedalus and Icarus – Daedalus and Perdix – Calydonian Boar hunt: major points (Meleager, the generation of Argonauts including Heracles, Atalanta, Althaeas brothers, the burning brand)
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 8 – Achelous and Theseus, Pirithous, and Lelex – Perimele; Pirithous doesnt believe it – Lelexs proof: Baucis and Philemon of Phrygia (an oak and a lime-tree entwined) – Achelous tells of shapeshifters: Proteus, Mestra (Erysichthons daughter)
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 9 – Achelous and Hercules wrestle for Deianeira – Nessus the centaur, the rumor about Iole, and Deianeiras decision – Agony and death of Hercules – Hercules birth and Galanthis – Dryope and Amphissus – A sequence of events that refers to old age and death: a harbinger of the end of an age (the predecessor of the age of Trojan heroes) – Byblis and Caunus (brother and sister incest) – Iphis and Ianthe (Cymbeline)
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 10 – Orpheus and Eurydice – Catalogue of trees – Cyparissus, Ganymede, and Hyacinthus, the Propoetides – Pygmalion and Galatea; Cinyras and Myrrha – Venus and Adonis, Hippomenes and Atalanta
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 11 – Orpheus dies; Maenads transformed to oaks – Silenus, Midas, and the golden touch – Pactolus river turns yellow; Pan loses to Apollo according to Mt. Tmolus; Apollo gives Midas asss ears – Apollo and Neptune help Laomedon build Troy – Peleus and Thetis – Peleus goes to Ceyx, hears about Daedalion and Chione (and Apollo and Mercury, and Philammon and Autolycus)
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 11 – The wolf from the Nereid Psamathe – Psamathe appeased by prayers of Thetis – Peleus finally wanders to Magnesia and is absolved of Phocus murder there – Ceyx and Alcyone; the house of Sleep – Morpheus – Aesacus, brother of Hector
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 12 – Iphigenia at Aulis – House of Rumor: the Trojans are ready – Achilles versus Cycnus – Nestor tells of Caeneus / Caenis; Lapiths and Centaurs; Periclymenus – Neptune and Apollo help Paris kill Achilles
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 13 – The debate over the arms: Ajax, Ulysses (rhetoric wins the day); Ajax turns into a Hyacinth (AIAI) – Fall of Troy; the Trojan women – Polydorus, Polyxena, and Hecubas fate – Aurora and the Memnonides – Aeneas goes to Delos (Anius and the Aniads) – Ecphrasis of the cup of Anius – Excursus: Sicilian tales (Acis and Galatea and Polyphemus; Glaucus and Scylla part 1)
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 14 – Glaucus and Scylla part 2: Circe – From Sicily to Cumae: the Sibyl – Macareus (Greek) recognizes Achaemenides (Greek); recounts the story of Ulysses (Polyphemus and Circe); the story of Picus and Canens – War in Latium (Turnus); Diomedes cannot help Turnus (story of Acmon) – The Messapian nymphs and the wild olive tree
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 14 – Aeneas ships burn and are transformed into Naiads – Ardea burns and turns into a heron – Aeneas is deified as Indiges, the Roman national deity – Alban kings coming out of Ascanius – Vertumnus and Pomona; Iphis and Anaxarete – Romulus reinstates Numitor in Alba Longa; founds Rome; conquers Sabines – Romulus is deified with Hersilia his wife (Quirinus and Hora)
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 15 – Numa hears about the foundation of Crotona; introduction of Pythagoras – Pythagoras on vegetarianism, metempsychosis, the eternal flux, the ages of man, the elements, lots of geographical and physical changes, autogenesis, the Phoenix, power flux, and above all the sanctity of life – Hippolytus transformed to Virbius – Cipus grows horns
Ovids Metamorphoses Book 15 – Aesculapius saves Rome from plague – Caesar deified – Promise of Augustus immortality – Assurance of Ovids immortality