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

5 thoughts on “Metamorphoses – Book VI

  1. This part was GRIM. And the gods don't come out so well in this, do they?! All I would say (and I'm not trying to defend Ovid, just an observation) – Tereus and Pelops are not Ovid's creation, they're both old stories I think.

    Also – the hoopoe – I'd never heard of that bird but since January I've come across it at least twice if not three times in literature!

  2. I wasn't aware that any of the stories, so far, are considered Ovid's creation. I had assumed that the ones that are "new" are simply considered lost texts of Greek myths. After I finish, I'll have to read up more about it. I absoutely believe that all of these stories suffer (or benefit from) Ovid's embellishments. I could do without some of his detail though ……

    Re: the hoopoe, me too! At least now I know what one is!

  3. I think Ovid is enjoying himself a little, which I have to agree is somewhat alarming. That's what troubles me more about some of these tales – the enjoyment of them rather than simply the plot. Not that I mean the plot of some of them isn't grim enough!

  4. I have no words… gross! just plain gross. I echo both you and O that it is alarming how much of attention to detail has been made by Ovid of the horrific matters! I am still reeling!

  5. I can understand wanting to embellish to make things more interesting, but that second-to-last story was just sick, and I think, the way in which is was told, unnecessary. What O says is certainly probable — Ovid does appear to be enjoying relating such atrocities. I'm not longer surprised at Augustus banishing him from Rome.

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