Metamorphoses – Book VI

Book VI

Arachne / Niobe / Latona and the Lycian Peasants / Marsyas / Pelops / Tereus, Prochne, Philomela / Boreas and Orithyia

The Fable of Arachne or The Spinner (1656)
Diego Velazquez
source Wikiart

Minerva is quite pleased by the Muses’ story, but, wanting to punish someone herself, she finds Arachne, a girl of lowly birth raised up by the renown of her artistic weaving. Minerva, in the guise of an old woman, attempts to warn her of her pride, but Arachne shows complete contempt for the goddess, who reveals herself and accepts the girl’s spinning challenge. As a warning, Minvera weaves in the four corners of her cloth:  Thracians, Rhodope and Haemus, who took names from the gods and were turned into mountains; the Pygmaean queen who defeated Juno and was transformed into a crane; Antigone, daughter of the Trojan king, for being Jove’s consort was changed into a stork; and because of the boasting of their beauty, King Cinyras’ daughters were tranformed into the marble steps of Juno’s temple.  In what appears to be a forceful indictment against the gods, Arachne weaves into her cloth various scenes of the gods, representing deceptions, manipulations and transformations of humans.  Furious, Minerva strikes her; Arachne takes a nooses and hangs herself but in pity, Minerva allows her to live but in the form of a spider.

The Destruction of Niobe’s Children (1760)
Richard Wilson
source Wikiart

Theban Queen Niobe is a noblewoman and another who takes pride in her husband and children (see the story of Ino and Athamas in Book IV), scorning the deity Latona.  In retaliation, Latona sends her own children, Diana and Apollo, to kill Niobe’s sons through accidents, but still Niobe taunts the goddess.  On their brothers grave, the daughters of Niobe drop dead one by one, and even though she tries to shield the final daughter, she too succumbs. Infused with unbearable grief, Niobe turns to stone.

The people now fear and respect Latona more, and one person recalls how she was exiled by Juno, giving birth to her babies on Delos, then fleeing. Wandering through hot and scorched Lycia, Latona came to a pool and tried to drink but some Lycian peasants denied her pleas, even going so far as to muddy the water with their feet.  Wrathfully, Latona lifted her arms to heaven, turning the peasants into frogs that would live in the pool forever.

Marsyas Flawed by Apollo (1625)
Jacob Jordaens
source Wikiart

Another person remembers a Satyr, Marsyas, who contended with Latona’s son, Apollo, on the flute and lost.  In punishment, Apollo flayed all the skin from the Satyr’s body and, as he died, his friend’s tears mixed together to form a river called by the Satyr’s name, the clearest stream in Phrygia.

The Thebans turn back to mourning, blaming Niobe, but her brother, Pelops, weeps for her. He bares his ivory shoulder; when his father had cut him up in pieces, the gods gathered him together but, not finding the piece between his throat and where the arm began, they filled it with ivory.

Philomena and Procne
Elizabeth Jane Gardner
source Wikimedia Commons

Many regions were urged to send Thebes their comfort and compassion.  All comply, except for Athens who is fighting her own battle with barbarians.  Tereus from Thrace and his troops save Athens and king Pandion gives his daughter, Procne, to Tereus as his bride.  But neither Hymen nor the Graces grace the wedding and instead only the Furies are in attendance.  Tereus and Procne have a son named, Itys, and five years pass when one day, Procne begs her husband to bring her sister to visit.  Tereus sets sail for Athens but immediately upon seeing Philomena, is prey to a flaming desire for her.  Returning to Thrace, he takes her to a hut, rapes her and then cuts out her tongue so she cannot reveal his crime.  He then tells his wife that her sister is dead.  A prisoner for a year, finally Philomena weaves her terrible story into a cloth and sends it with a servingwoman to her sister.  Rage greater than lightening fills Procne, and during a Bacchanalian festival she rescues Philomena and they return to the castle.  When little Itys sees his mother and with joy calls out to her, the two women grab him, kill him and then dismember the child, feeding him to an unsuspecting Tereus.  When Philomena finally enters the room clutching her nephews head, Tereus is horrified.  Unsheathing his sword, he chases his wife and his sister-in-law, but Procne transforms into a swallow, Philomena, a nightingale, and Tereus himself into a hoopoe.

The daughter of king Erectheus (who succeeded Pandion), Orithyia, was desired by Boreas of Thrace but was rejected because of the crime of Tereus. In a snit, Boreas spreads his wings and sails to Athens, captures Orithyia and marries her.  In time, she gives birth to twin sons, Calais and Zetes, who will become part of the Argonauts.

Boreas (1903)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

Okay, gross!  Just gross!  Ovid has outdone himself in his description of the dismembering of a six-year-old terrified child.  And for some reason I still get the feeling as if he’s just fooling around.

Twelve Olympians (1517-18)
source Wikipedia

Thracians Rhodope & Haemus  ❥  mountains
Pygmaean queen  ❥  crane
Antigone  ❥  stork
King Cinyras’ daughters  ❥  temple’s marble steps
Arachne  ❥  spider
Niobe  ❥  stone
Lycian peasants  ❥  frogs
Tears  ❥  Marsyas river
Procne  ❥  swallow
Philomena  ❥  nightingale
Tereus  ❥  hoopoe

Metamorphoses – Book V

Book V

Perseus and Phineus / Proetus / Polydectes / Minerva, the Muses, Pegasus / Pyreneus / The Pierides / Typhoeus / Ceres & Prosperina / Arethusa & Alpheus / Triptolemus & Lycnus / The Pierides — Again

Perseus turns Phineus and his followers to stone (early 1680s)
 Luca Giordano
source Wikipedia

In the middle of the wedding feast, uproar rises and it is Phineus, the brother of King Cepheus, coming to revenge himself on Perseus for stealing his bride. Curiously King Cepheus chastises his brother for not saving his bride himself and says that he has given her to Perseus for his deeds.  Not certain whether to aim his shaft at the king or Perseus, Phineus chooses the latter, but Perseus hurls it back, killing Rhoetus, and the wedding feast turns into a brawl.  Perseus battles nearly everyone at the feast until he is backed against a pillar and his strength is beginning to ebb.  He holds up his old, trusty weapon, the head of Medusa, which turns his enemies to marble statues and his one friend, Aconteus, into stone.  Phineus repents, but too late, as he too is transformed into marble.

Perseus returns to Argos with his bride, Andromeda, but discovers that Proetus has driven out Perseus’ grandfather from the citadel, whereupon he relies on Medusa once more for victory.
Polydectes belittles Perseus’ worth and implies that his slaying of Medusa is merely a tale.  Of course, Perseus employs Medusa’s head, turning the dissident into petrified stone.

Minerva with the Muses (1640-45)
Jacques Stella
source Wikiart

Now Minerva departs from her brother, Perseus, and journeys to the Virgin Muses’ home, the land of Thebes and Helicon, where a wondrous spring had formed when Pegasus had hit the ground with his hoof. She proclaims these daughters of Mnemosyne blessed.

The Muses tell Minerva of a savage, cruel king, Pyreneus, who lured them into his home, then tried to rape them, however they escaped on wings of flight.  Enraged, he ran to the top of his tower and, claiming he could follow them, jumped to his death.

Barely had their words dissolved into the air, when nine magpies alight on branches nearby.  The Muses reveal that these had once been the daughters of Pierus, a rich lord of Pella, and they had lost a singing contest to the Muses. The Pierides sang a rather impious song of the gods changing into animals, and the Muse, Calliope, was chosen as their storyteller; they relate her song to Minerva.

Proserpine (1874)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
source Wikiart

In the land of Sicily, Typhoeus lies underneath it.  Once a man, he was transformed into a volcano for daring to hope to receive heaven as his kingdom. Meanwhile,Venus decides that the daughter of Ceres, Prosperina (Persephone), is so intent on chastity, that it would weaken her rule over her, therefore she enlists Cupid to shoot Pluto with an arrow of love, and he becomes inflamed for the girl.  He kidnaps her whilst she picks white lilies and violets in the woods, escaping in his chariot like white light.  Cyane, a nymph in her pool, attempts to prevent the rape and, as Pluto strikes with his royal scepter, a crack opens in the earth, into which he disappears with his hostage-prize. Disconsolate, Cyane literally weeps herself into a pool of tears.

Ceres searches everywhere for her daughter, turning a rude boy into a newt during her travels, until eventually she reaches the pool of Cyane.  Seeing the girdle of her daughter floating there, she curses the earth, withdrawing its bountiful harvest, and famine infects the land.  Arethusa, a sacred spring, rises from the pool, pleading with Ceres to remove the curse, so Ceres petitions Zeus and it is agreed that Prosperina may return as long as she has not taken food.  But Ascalaphus has seen the maiden eat and for denouncing her, he is transformed into a screech owl. Aschelous’ daughters, who had been with Proserpina when she had been gathering flowers, after searching all lands for her are changed by the gods into golden birds with a girl’s features and voice. Zeus, trying to heal the breach between brother and sister decrees that Proserpine may spend six months with her husband and six with her mother.

Return of Persephone
Frederic Leighton
source Wikiart

Now Arethusa is asked by Ceres how she became a sacred spring:  one day while bathing in a pool, Alpheus, a river-god, calls to her and she flees. Taking on the form of a man, Alpheus pursues her and Arethusa, calling on Diana for help, is hidden in a cloud.  However, her fear is too great as Alpheus stalks around her and she sweats herself into a pool, whereupon Alpheus recognizes his prey and transforms back into his river form to join her.

Ceres departs in her chariot, landing in Athens and giving to Triptolemus both her chariot and seeds to scatter over many lands.  He makes a journey across Europe, landing in the Scythian kingdom where Lyncus is king.  The king, jealous of the boy’s means of travel, attempts to stab him, but Ceres transforms the king into a lynx, and Triptolemus escapes in the chariot.

And so with Calliope’s wonderful tales, the Nymphs wins the contest, and when insulted and jeered at by the Pierides, turn the nine sisters into insolent magpies.

❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈

The battle scene at the beginning of this book was so far from what I’d expect from a Greek battle that I still don’t know what to make of it.  The battles in the Iliad, while bloody and fierce, still held a type of dignity and honour; this brawl of Ovid’s is a free-for-all.  Perseus and his Medusa-head are almost becoming comical. Without it, he’d be quite a weak god.

More power-struggles and jealousy and competition and abductions.  Ovid’s “song” is certainly repetitive.

Ceres (Summer) – 1712
Antoine Watteau
Source Wikiart

Wedding feast  ❥  brawl
Enemies  ❥  marble and stone statues
Phineus  ❥  stone
Proteus & Polydectes  ❥  petrified stone
Typhoeus  ❥  volcano
Cyane  ❥  tears (water)
Rude boy  ❥  newt
Ascalaphus  ❥  screech owl
Achelous’ daughters  ❥  golden birds w/girl’s features & voice
Arethusa  ❥  sacred spring
Alpheus (man)  ❥ river ❥ man ❥ river
Lyncus, the Scythian king  ❥  lynx
Nine daughters of Pierus  ❥  magpies

Metamorphoses – Book IV

Book IV

The Daughters of Minyas / Pyramus & Thisbe / Mars, Venus, Vulcan, the Sun / Leucothoe & Clytie / Salmacis & Hermaphroditus / The Daughters of Minyas / Athamas & Ino / Cadmus & Harmonia / Acrisius / Perseus & Atlas Perseus & Andromeda / Perseus & Medusa

Minyas’ daughter Alcithoe and her sisters disdain Bacchus’ revelries and deride the god. The daughters of Minyas sit at home during the festivities, and as they weave their cloth, they also weave stories as they work, carefully choosing their tales.

Thisbe (1909)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikipedia

Handsome Pyramus lives next door to Thisbe, a girl as charming as she is lovely. Forbidden to marry by their parents, they can only converse through a crack in the wall between their two abodes.  One day, they devise a plan to meet outside the city beside Ninus’ tomb, beneath the mulberry tree.  Thisbe reaches the rendezvous first, but is startled by a prowling lioness who has just finished feeding.  Terrified, she flees but drops her shawl, and the lioness, finding it, worries it in her jaws.  When Pyramus arrives and finds the bloodstained garment, he is engulfed in despair.  Wishing to join his love, he thrusts his dagger into his abdomen, and the blood seeping from him is drawn by the roots of the mulberry tree, turning its white berries a dark red.  When Thisbe returns to find Pyramus fading into death, she too stabs herself, claiming that the berries of the mulberry will be a sign of this tragic conclusion.  The gods grant her wish.

Clytie (1687)
Charles de la Fosse
source Wikimedia Commons

Sister Leuconoe begins another story in which the Sun is a witness to the adulterous liaison between Venus and Mars.  When the husband of Venus, Vulcan is informed, he fashions chains of very thin bronze into a net, and snares the lovers during their next meeting.  Yet now Venus is hungry for revenge on the Sun and causes him to fall in love with Leucothoe.  Disguising himself as Eurynome, he gains entrance to her room and she submits, but her sister, Clytie, is jealous and informs their father.  Incensed and deaf to Leucothoe’s pleas of rape, he has her buried alive, but the Sun in his grief, leaves a sweet nectar around her body, turning it into a shrub of sweet incense.  Clytie is shunned by the sun and as she sits day by day in the same spot without food or drink, she transforms into a pale, yet also reddish plant (heliotrope).

Alcithoe takes over the storytelling, revealing that in the caves of Ida, a boy was raised called Hermaphroditus.  One day, he is passing by a pool and the nymph Salmacis, a lazy nymph who never joined Diana’s active company, spots him and decides that she must have him.  Engaging him in conversation, her words become more suggestive, and Hermaphroditus warns her to cease or he’ll leave.  Instead, she relinquishes the spot, disappearing into the bushes, but watches him as he decides to bath in the pool’s clear waters.  At last she has him, plunging into the pool and wrapping around him like a serpent, in spite of his struggles to spurn her.  Finally they become one, emerging as both and neither a man or woman.  Distraught, Hermaphroditus prays that the pool will have the same effect on anyone who enters it.  I’m not certain why, as the experience seemed most unpleasant!

Suddenly a roar is heard and Bacchus and his merrymakers arrive.  Suddenly their weaving mutates into twining grapevines, and while the daughters of Minyas rush to seek refuge, they shrink and transform into squeaking, shrieking bats, often called Vesperites.

Athamas taken by the Furies (1801)
Arcangelo Migliarini
source Wikimedia Commons

The reputation of Bacchus grows, and his aunt Ino sings his praises.  She is very proud of her husband, Athamas, and of her lovely children, but envy is brewing in the breast of Juno who travels to Hades as part of her plotting. Curiously, we find the daughters of Danaus here, who had apparently married their fifty “Egyptus” cousins, then murdered them and, in Hades, are endlessly filling cracked jars for their crime.  (In Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Maidens, they had evaded their cousins and were under the protection of King Pelasgus of Argos).  In any case, Juno summons the Furies, Ixion, Sisyphus and Tisiphone, to do her bidding.  Tisiphone arrives in Thebes with Sorrow, Terror, Dread and Madness at her side, terrifying Athamas and Ino with her serpent locks and, infusing them with a venomous potion, leaves them to go insane. Athamas, seeing his wife as a lioness, attacks her and the children.  Grabbing his son, Learchus, he whirls him around, dashing his head against the rocks. Ino is distraught and, clutching her son, Melicerta, she climbs a promontory near the sea, calling on Bacchus for help.  In her madness, she leaps from the top with her son, and Venus in her pity, begs Neptune to transform them into sea deities, Leucothoe and Palaemon.  He grants her wish.  The Theban women, friends of Ino, mourn her fate and Juno transfigures them into rocks and birds.

Unbeknownst to Cadmus that his daughter and grandson are now sea deities, he and Harmonia leave Thebes in sadness and suffering until they reach the region of Illyria.  He requests that if the snake whose teeth he had scattered on the ground had been sacred, that he too assume such a shape.  As he begins to change, Harmonia cries out, asking to join her husband and both of them become serpents, but ones who remember who they were.  Ironically Cadmus becomes what he used to start his kingdom.

Acrisius, from the line of Belus instead of Agenor, defies Bacchus and also, in his stubborn resolve, denies that Perseus was born of Jove in a shower of gold.  But soon the king reverses these claims.  Perseus, at this time, is flying over the deserts of Libya, carrying the Gorgon’s head, which is dripping rivulets of blood, and as each drop hits the sand it metamorphoses into a snake.  This is why Libya is infested with snakes.

Atlas and the Hesperides (1925)
John Singer Sargent
source Wikimedia Commons

From Libya, Perseus comes to Hesperia, the land of Altas, who raises sheep and cultivates a golden orchard.  Perseus, asking if he might rest from his travels, is blatantly refused hospitality by Atlas.  A prophecy has reached his ears, of a despoiling of his golden orchard by a son of Jove.  Perseus is annoyed with the refusal and struggles with the giant, but knowing that eventually his strength with be of no match, holds up the head of Medusa. Immediately Atlas is changed into an enormous, rugged mountain.

Perseus & Andromeda (1867-69)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Perseus continues his journey, intending to pass over Ethiopia until he spies a woman, Andromeda, tied to a rock.  Descending, he inquires of the maiden’s plight, discovering her punishment is for her mother’s boast of her own loveliness. Suddenly, a sea monster, Ammon, rises from the ocean, and her parents, Cepheus and Cassiope, plead for assistance, which Perseus promises in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage.  High up in the sky, Perseus rushes, then downward, plunging his sword into the monster again and again.  Victorious, he places the head of Medusa onto a bed of seaweed, which soaks up the power of the Gorgon, and transforms to coral.

The wedding celebrations now begin, yet one of Cepheus’ lords requests Perseus to recount the story of the Gorgon’s head.  Perseus describes how he travelled beneath Atlas, took the one eye of the Graeae sisters, and advanced until he found Medusa and her sister, Gorgons.  Using the Graeae eye in one hand for sight, he turned his own gaze away and lopped off Medusa’s head.  When asked why, of the two sisters, only Medusa had snakes for hair, he relates that she once had been a beauty renowned for her gorgeous hair, yet the Ruler of the Sea raped her in Minerva’s sanctuary, and the goddess made Medusa pay for her crime by turning her lovely hair into serpents.

Perseus and the Graiae
Edward Burne-Jones
source Wikiart

The Geneaology of the Argives

Boys  ❥  mute fishes
Naiad  ❥  fish
Mulberry = white berries  ❥  dark berries
Leucothoe  ❥  shrub of sweet incense
Clytie  ❥ part pale, part reddish plant (Heliotrope)
Hermanphroditus + Salmacis  ❥  hermaphrodite
Weaving  ❥  grapevines
Sisters  ❥  bats
Ino & son  ❥  Palaemon & Leucothoe (sea dieties)
Theban women  ❥  rocks & birds
Cadmus & Harmonia  ❥  serpents
Drops of blood  ❥  snakes
Altas  ❥  mountain
Seaweed  ❥  coral
Men & animals  ❥  stone
Medusa’s hair  ❥  snakes

Links to my other posts:

Metamorphoses:  Book I / Book II / Book III

Metamorphoses – Book III

Book III

Cadmus / Actaeon / Semele / Tiresias / Narcissus & Echo / Pentheus

Cadmus and Minerva (17th century)
Jacob Jordaens
source Wikimedia Commons

Agenor commands Cadmus to find his sister, Europa, yet while he wanders near and far, success eludes him, until the oracle of Apollo tells him to find a heifer who has never worn a yoke and there in Boeotia, he is to build his city, Thebes.  Cadmus kills a serpent and under Minerva’s orders, plants its teeth from which spring men, but warriors that, in their battle frenzy, kill each other until there are only five left: Echion and four others.  Together they build the walls of Thebes.

Cadmus’ first sorrow lay in his grandson, Actaeon, who when out hunting with his friends, came across Diana bathing in a pool, and for having viewed the sacred virgin, Actaeon is transformed into a stag by the goddess.  Yet the goddess is not satisfied with such a benign punishment, he is hunted by his own hunting dogs until,

“Upon all side, his hounds have hemmed him in;
they sink their muzzles into every limb —
the flesh of their own master in false guise
as stag.  Diana was not satisfied
until, so mangled, young Actaeon died …”

Thus, Juno’s rage against Europa, and all her blood, stemming from the house of Agenor, is assuaged.

Jove and Semele (1695)
Sebastiano Ricci
source Wikipedia

Juno learns that Cadmus’ daughter, Semele, is pregnant by Jove and, seeking revenge, she disguises herself as the girl’s nurse and counsels her to ask Jove to see him in all his powers. Unsuspecting, Semele makes this request of her lover and, unable to refuse her, she is killed by his bolts of light and turned to ash.  However, her unborn son, Bacchus, is rescued, sewen into the thigh of Jove and then given to Nysan nymphs upon his birth.

To settle an argument over whether men or women get more pleasure in love, Jove and Juno defer to Tiresias, who knew love as both genders (having been transformed by mating serpents to a woman and back again).  Furious at Tiresias siding with Jove, Juno steals away his sight, and Jove gives him the gift of prophecy for recompense.

Narcissus (1594-96)
source Wikipedia

Asked by the river nymph, Liriope, if her son, Narcissus, would live to see a long life, Tiresias’ answer “Yes, if he never knows himself,” was a cryptic puzzle.  Yet the boy, loved by youths and girls alike, has a disdain for them all, including a nymph, named Echo, whom he spurns, and she wastes away until only her voice remains.  Finally, a youth prays to the gods that Narcissus receive the same treatment as they, and one day, as he sees his reflection in a pool, he immediately falls in love.

” … he is the seeker and 
the sought, the longed-for and the one who longs;
he is the arsonist — and is the scorched.”

He pines away, as had Echo, and eventually dies, but instead of a body, only a white-petalled flower with a yellow centre remains.

Bacchus (1596-97)
source Wikipedia

Tiresias’ reputation grows but, Pentheus, Echion’s son, mocks Tiresias and his blindness, as he also scorns all the gods, especially refusing the rites of Bacchus.  The old man prophesies that Bacchus will soon come and if Pentheus does not accept him, he will be torn to pieces.

” ……………………. and then
you will complain that, in my blindness, I
saw far too well.”

Bacchus arrives and Pentheus is in a fury not even his grandfather, Cadmon, can assuage.  He captures a priest of Bacchus, Acoetes, who tells of his encounter with a young Bacchus on a ship, and of his god-like appearance.  When all the crew but Acoetes refused to take Bacchus to his destination, they were all turned into sea-monsters.  Enraged by the story, Pentheus finds the revellers on Mount Cithaeron, but tragically his mother is the first to see him.  Claiming that he is a boar, she incites her sisters to tear him to pieces, ripping off his head with her own hands.

Note:  Tiresias also dispenses his prophecies in Sophocles, Antigone, Oedipus the King, and in The Odyssey Book XI.

I’m noticing quite a bit of irony in this book: Cadmus’ warrior’s instead of killing an enemy, kill each other; Actaeon, the hunter, becomes the hunted; Semele is killed by the power/love of her lover, and in fact, unknowingly requests her own death; Narcissus rejects all, yet in the end also rejects himself; Tiresias’ knowledge causes his blindness; Pentheus, through rejecting sacred rites, becomes a sacrifice himself, and Pentheus’ mother kills her own son.  Ovid’s world is very bleak, and he ensures that we experience it to the fullest.

The Boy Bacchus (1615)
Guido Reni
source Wikiart


Viper’s Teeth ❥  New men
Actaeon  ❥  Stag
Semele  ❥  Ash
Echo = nymph w/voice ❥ nymph w/echo  ❥  echo
Narcissus alive  ❥  Narcissus dead  ❥ flower
Ship’s crew  ❥  Sea monsters

Metamorphoses – Book II

Book II

Phaeton / The Heliades / Cycnus / Phoebus / Callisto / Arcas The Raven / Coronis, the Raven, the Crow, Nyctimene / Ocyrohoe / Battus / Mercury, Herse, Aglauros / Europa & Jove

The Fall of Phaeton (c. 1604-05)
Peter Paul Ruebens
source Wikimedia Commons

Phaethon reaches the gorgeous palace of Phoebus, where his father confirms his birthright.  Arrogantly, Phaeton requests to drive his chariot, and sadly Phoebus concedes, giving instructions to his son for his safe journey. Thetis unbars the way for her grandson and the horses leap high in the air, but it’s as if they have no rider and control is lost.  Phaethon regrets his decision, yet is paralyzed and the chariot finally plunges down to earth destroying large swaths of it with fire.  The earth cries out and “the Almighty Father” (Jove) hurls a thunderbolt, unseating Phaeton, yet combatting fire with fire.  Phaeton, consumed by the fire, is buried by the river Po by the Naiads, while his father in grief buries his face and shuts out the sun for a day.  Clymene laments with her daughters, the Heliades, at her son’s grave, but her daughters metamorphosize into trees in spite of her attempts to save them.

Cycnus, a king of Liguria and a relative of Phaeton’s, goes to pay his respects and is transformed into a swan, a bird who does not trust to seek the sky because of Jove’s lightning bolts.

Jove then inspects the heavens and earth for damage from the fire, but spots a nymph, Callisto and, disguising himself as the goddess Diana before reappearing in his normal form, rapes her in spite of her frantic struggles. Diana discovers her shame and sends her away, and when Juno learns of Jove’s crime and of the son born to Callisto, Arcas, she transforms Callisto into a bear.  Later, Arcas encounters his mother and nearly kills her, but Jove intervenes, grabbing both and placing them in the sky as Ursa Major and Minor.

Plate 101 Raven
John James Audubon
source Wikiart

As Juno is enraged at the compliment given to Callisto, she travels to heaven in her chariot which is drawn by the peacocks who have recently changed hue.  We hear of another bird, Phoebus’ sacred bird, the Raven, who also gets his colour changed from white to black, as punishment for his talkative chatter. He refuses to listen to the Crow’s warning, whose feathers were transformed as he informed on the three daughters of the bi-form Cecrops, Pandrosos, Herse and Aglauros, when they looked into a basket and discovered a baby that had been formed by the seed of Vulcan, after he attempt to rape Minerva.  Minerva, however, turns him black for his snitching, and the poor crow relates that before this incident, he had been a princess, but was transformed into a crow while escaping from the sea-god who attempted to ravish her.  Yet now he is supplanted in the affections of Minerva by Nyctimene, the owl, oh woe is he!  The Raven, however, declines to heed the crow’s wise wisdom, and instead reveals to Apollo (Phoebus) that his love, Coronis had lain beside a Thessalian youth. Inflamed with hot fury, Apollo kills Coronis yet before she is burned, he snatches their unborn son, Aesculapius, from her womb and gives him to the centaur, Chiron, to raise.  The Raven, however, receives his due and is banished.  We learned of this same story in Chaucer’s The Manciple’s Tale.

The daughter of Chiron, Ocyrhoe, prophesies over Aesculapius, saying that he will become a great healer and god.  Her father’s immortality will also change to mortality, but as she speaks she is transfigured into the form of a horse with a new name, Hippe.

Landscape with Mercury and Battus (1618)
Jacob Pynas
source Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, bereft with grief, Phoebus is roaming the hills in the guise of a shepherd, but in his mourning over the fate of Coronis, his cows wander off and are hidden by Mercury.  Yet an old man named Battus witnesses the theft, but Mercury buys off his silence with a choice cow from the herd.  Battus promises a stone would give more information than he.  To test the old man’s resolve, Mercury disguises himself and returns asking for “his cows” and offering Battus a cow from the herd for information on the theft.  Battus reveals all and Mercury changes him into a stone (now called a touchstone or tellstone) in payment for his betrayal.

Mercury spots Herse, daughter of Cecrops, and is determined to possess her. He enlists the help of her sister, Aglauros, but Envy, spurred by Minerva, poisons Aglauros.  Infected with resentment of her sister’s happiness, she attempts to prevent Mercury from entering her bedroom, and he turns Aglauros into a statue.

Returning to heaven, Mercury is directed by Jove to drive the king Agenor’s cattle down to the shore, yet unbeknownst to him, Jove is planning the capture of the daughter of the king, Europa.  He disguises himself as a perfect white bull, entices the girl, and then rides away into the ocean with her on his back.

The Abductiion of Europa (1715)
Jean-François de Troy
source Wikipedia


The daughters of Clymene  ❥  Trees
Cycnus  ❥  Swan
Jove  ❥  Diana  ❥  Jove
Callisto  ❥  Bear  ❥  Ursa Major
Arcas  ❥  Ursa Minor
Raven:  White feathers  ❥  Black feathers
Princess  ❥  Crow: White feathers  ❥  Black feathers
Ocyrhoe’s Prophecy:  
Aesculapius  ❥   god  ❥  corpse  ❥  god
Immortal Chiron  ❥  Mortal Chiron
Phoebus  ❥  Shepherd
Battus  ❥ Stone
Aglauros  ❥ Statue
Jove  ❥  White Bull

Metamorphoses – Book I

“Sing, Ovid, to me of Metamorphoses, and breath all these stories into my mind as a remembrance of your fine craft” ……….  But since there are so many mythological stories in this book, and Metamorphoses is either referred to, or used as a basis for stories in so many other works of literature, I’ve decided to compile reasonably detailed posts.  My mind is certainly not going to hold such detail, so my blog will have to.

Book I

Prologue / The Creation / The Four Ages / The Giants / Lycaon / The Flood/ Deucalion & Pyrrha / Python / Apollo & Daphne / Io & Jove / Syrinx / Io & Jove / Phaeton

“My soul would sing of metamorphoses.
But since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes; may
the song I sing be seamless as its way
weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.”
Creation begins featureless and confused, both land and seas uninhabitable.  Opposites battle and there is chaos.  “A god” and nature come together to bring unity and organization to the world, and there are two possibilities as to the birth of man:

  1. He is created from a divine seed
  2. Prometheus made him from new-made earth and rainwater.  

To man, “he gave a face that is held high; he had man stand erect, his eyes upon the stars ….”

During the first or golden age, laws and punishment do not exist as all kept faith by righteousness. and man only needed to gather as the harvest was plentiful.

Saturn is banished and his son, Jove’s rule begins, starting the second or silver age.  Jove split the year into seasons, and the change of weather prompted men to build houses.  As the bullock groaned under their yokes we sense a decline in the ease of life.

The third bronze age begat more cruelty and battle, yet it was not sacrilegious.

The fourth and last age, the age of iron, began the foulest of all ages and “the earth saw the flight of faith and modesty and truth” and in their place sprang up wicked behaviour.  Instead of accepting the earth in an almost innocent way, only seeking to fulfill their basic needs, men instead began to seek beyond their needs to their wants, exploring and pursuing treasures which corrupted their simple faith.  The lust for gold and iron brought wars, and distrust and familial discontent and strife followed.
Jove must contend first with the Giants, who attempt to gain control of the sky, and then man who is now scattered all over the earth, doing what he will.  They are tainted and like a pestilence, and he longs to eradicate their infestation. Yet the other gods are worried; if Jove eradicates man, who will worship them, so Jove employs a new plan, enlisting different gods to create a flood and only two people survive:  Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and his wife, Pyrrha.
Deucalion & Pyrrha (1635)
Giovanni Maria Bottalla
source Wikimedia Commons

Deucalion is overcome when he sees the devastation of the earth and decides to pray to the oracle but is told that they need to throw behind them the bones of the great mother.  Pyrrha is terrified that she needs to offend the Shade of her mother, but her husband says the great mother is earth and they need only throw stones.  Amazingly the stones become the new race of men.

Apollo and Daphne (1908)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikimedia Commons

Python, a terrible serpent, slithers from the earth, but Phoebus (Apollo) kills him with his arrows, and the sacred Pythian games were establish in memory of the act.  Daphne, daughter of the river god, was Phoebus’ first love but Cupid, resentful at Phoebus’ mocking of him, shoots him with an arrow that ignites love and Daphne with one that spurns it. Apollo pursues, and as he catches her, in response to a prayer to her father, she is turned into a laurel tree.  Yet Apollo loves her still, and this is why the leaves of the laurel crown the heads of the Roman chieftains.

Juno Confiding Io to the Care of Argus (1660)
Claude Lorrain
source Wikimedia Commons

The river god, Inachus wept for his missing daughter Io. She is fleeing the god, Jove, who catches her and rapes her, yet to hide his deed from his wife, Juno, he turns Io into a beautiful white cow.  Yet Juno is not easily fooled and she sets a guard on Io, Argus of the hundred eyes, who never sleeps with all closed at once.  Jove finally feels compassion at Io’s plight and sends Mercury to lull Argus to sleep with his reed pipes with a song of Syrinx (who fleeing from Pan was turned into a reed), and then he cuts off his head. Juno set the eyes of Argus into the tale of a peacock, whereas Io returns to her original form in her refuge on the banks of the Nile and becomes the goddess, Isis.

Io’s son by Jove, Epaphus, mocked the son of Phoebus, Phaeton’s, claim that the Sun was his father.  Mortified, he asks Clymene, his mother, for proof and she confirms the truth, sending him across Ethiopia and India to Phoebus’ palace.

Mercury, Argus and Io (1592)
Abraham Bloemaert
source Wikimedia Commons

From O’s brilliant post, I realized that it would be fun and helpful to add the transformations in each book in a more obvious form than merely reading of them in the text.  So here they are!


Chaos  ❥  Creation
Golden Age ❥  Silver Age  ❥  Bronze Age  ❥  Iron Age
Giant’s Race  ❥  New Race
Lycaon  ❥  Wolf
Irreligious, Combative Men  ❥  Deucalion & Pyrrha ⇒ (via Rocks)  ❥  New Mankind
Daphne  ❥  Laurel Tree
Io  ❥  White Heifer  ❥  Io  ❥  Isis
Syrinx  ❥  Marsh Reeds  ❥  Panpipes
The Eyes of Argus  ❥  Peacock’s Tail

Metamorphoses – Book I