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Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid: 43 BC – 17 AD Highly regarded by the emperor Augustus, until he was banished from Rome under mysterious circumstances in 8 A.D. Despite public and private entreaties, Augustus refused to forgive Ovid, who finished out his days in Tobis.

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ovid s metamorphoses

Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Ovid: 43 BC – 17 AD

Highly regarded by the emperor Augustus, until he was banished from Rome under mysterious circumstances in 8 A.D.

Despite public and private entreaties, Augustus refused to forgive Ovid, who finished out his days in Tobis.

Possibly because he felt Ovid's work was not conforming to conservative views in Rome at that time [tales of love and sexuality too racy]

Also felt that Ovid mocked the ideal of Rome

narrative connections
Narrative Connections
  • Ovid claims to write one continuous epic, not an anthology of myths. Unlike the Odyssey, however, there is no central hero, thus no simple Aristotelian unity to the work.
  • However he does do these three things to tie the stories together
    • Metamorphosis
    • Apparent Chronological Progression
    • Occasionally will follow a hero like Hercules through several tales
pattern of the metamorphoses
Pattern of the Metamorphoses
  • "Divine Comedy" or Gods in Love: Books 1-2
  • "Avenging Gods": Books 3-6
  • "Pathos of Love": the rest of Book 6-11
  • "History of Rome & the Deified Caesar": Books 12-15
    • Following this outline, we see a general movement from gods acting like humans (sect I), to humans suffering at the hands of gods (II), to humans suffering at the hands of humans (III), to humans becoming gods (IV). 
book one prologue creation
BOOK ONE: PrologueCreation
  • Ovid presents a philosophical rather than mythological creation account, avoiding the popular myth of Earth mating with Sky (as in Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek myths).
  • Chaos is merely raw material from which the Demiurge (Plato's name for the divine artisan) shapes the cosmos.
  • From the beginning we see change and conflict as an inherent quality of nature, warring elements (earth, air, water, fire) in collision. Note that the god brings order to chaos.
  • By separating and delineating elements, the creator god imposes rational design on unruly matter, but this order does not remain fixed for long.
  • As the multiple metamorphoses begin to occur, change is once again the rule.
creation of man
Creation of Man

In this first book, Ovid gives three accounts of human origins. 

  • The first version is the most positive, saying we were "made in God's image," literally "from divine seeds" (a Stoic idea). Ovid slips from philosophy to mythology as he refers to the first named god in the work, Prometheus, as the creator of humanity. Socrates taught that man's erect posture indicated his superiority over the other animals.
  • The second connects man's beginnings with the source of evil, as he sprung up from the giants' blood after their defeat by the gods.
  • In the third, humanity is re-created after the flood out of stones.
the final book
The Final Book

Events of contemporary Rome:

  • The death of Caesar is seen from the gods' perspective, elevating its significance to heavenly status. Note Augustus' act of deifying Caesar only brings more honor to himself
    • Is Ovid being facetious, comparing Julius and Augustus to mythical heroes whom he clearly does not believe in?
  • Difference in Greek and Roman mythology: whereas Greek myth with the aftermath of the Trojan War, Roman myth becomes "history" (Aeneas, Romulus), bringing the story into the present age. Everything that has occurred before was destined to produce this new Golden Age of Augustus
    • (an idea which Ovid mocks).