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by Ovid
Title page of 1556 edition published by Joannes Gryphius (decorative border added subsequently). Hayden White Rare Book Collection, University of California, Santa Cruz.[1]
Original title Metamorphoseon libri
First published in 8 AD
Language Latin
Genre(s) Narrative poetry, epic, elegy, tragedy, pastoral (see Contents)

The Metamorphoses (Latin: Metamorphōseōn librī: "Books of Transformations") is a Latin narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid, considered his magnum opus. Comprising fifteen books and over 250 myths, the poem chronicles the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar within a loose mythico-historical framework.

Although meeting the criteria for an epic, the poem defies simple genre classification by its use of varying themes and tones. Ovid took inspiration from the genre of metamorphosis poetry, and some of the Metamorphoses derives from earlier treatment of the same myths; however, he diverged significantly from all of his models.

One of the most influential works in Western culture, the Metamorphoses has inspired such authors as Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. Numerous episodes from the poem have been depicted in acclaimed works of sculpture and painting by artists such as Titian. Although interest in Ovid faded after the Renaissance, towards the end of the twentieth century there was a resurgence of attention to his work; today, the Metamorphoses continues to inspire and be retold through various media. The work has been the subject of numerous translations into English, the first by William Caxton in 1480.[2]


  • Sources and models 1
  • Contents 2
    • Books 2.1
  • Themes 3
    • Metamorphosis 3.1
  • Influence 4
  • Manuscript tradition 5
  • In English translation 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
    • Modern translation 9.1
    • Secondary sources 9.2
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Sources and models

Ovid's relation to the Hellenistic poets was similar to the attitude of the Hellenistic poets themselves to their predecessors: he demonstrated that he had read their versions ... but that he could still treat the myths in his own way.

—Karl Galinsky[3]

Ovid's decision to make myth the dominant subject of the Metamorphoses was influenced by the predisposition of Alexandrian poetry.[4] However, whereas it served in that tradition as the cause for moral reflection or insight, he made it instead the "object of play and artful manipulation".[4] The model for a collection of metamorphosis myths derived from a pre-existing genre of metamorphosis poetry in the Hellenistic tradition, of which the earliest known example is Boio(s)' Ornithogonia — a now-fragmentary poem collecting myths about the metamorphoses of humans into birds.[5]

There are three examples of the Metamorphoses by later Hellenistic writers, but little is known of their contents.[3] The Heteroioumena by Nicander of Colophon is better known, and clearly an influence on the poem — 21 of the stories from this work were treated in the Metamorphoses.[3] However, in a way that was typical for writers of the period, Ovid diverged significantly from his models. The Metamorphoses was longer than any previous collection of metamorphosis myths (Nicander's work consisted of probably four or five books)[6] and positioned itself within a historical framework.[7]

Some of the Metamorphoses derives from earlier literary and poetic treatment of the same myths. This material was of varying quality and comprehensiveness — while some of it was "finely worked", in other cases Ovid may have been working from limited material.[8] In the case of an oft-used myth such as that of

  • : Titian 2012MetamorphosisIn pictures: — A slideshow of images from the exhibition "Metamorphosis: Titian 2012" from the BBC.
  • "Neapolitan Ovid" — An illustrated manuscript from 1000 CE – 1200 CE, hosted by the World Digital Library.


  • ~ 08-2008MetamorphosesOvid ~ — Selections from Metamorphoses, read in Latin and English by Rafi Metz. Approximately 4½ hours.

Audio reading

  • MetamorphosesThe Ovid Project: Metamorphising the — Illustrations by Johann Whilhelm Baur (1600 – 1640) and anonymous illustrations from George Sandys's edition of 1640.
  • A Honeycomb for Aphrodite by A. S. Kline.
  • , An introduction and commentaryMetamorphosesOvid's by Larry A. Brown.


  • MetamorphosesOvid's trans. by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden et al., 1717.
  • MetamorphosesOvid's trans. by George Sandys, 1632.
  • MetamorphosesOvid's trans. by Brookes More, 1922, revised edition 1978, with commentary by Wilmon Brewer. OCLC 715284718.

English translations

  • Ovid Illustrated: The Renaissance Reception of Ovid in Image and Text — An elaborate environment allowing simultaneous access to Latin text, English translations, commentary from multiple sources along with wood cut illustrations by Virgil Solis.
  • in Latin edition and English translationsMetamorphoses from Perseus — Hyperlinked commentary, mythological, and grammatical references)
  • MetamorphosesUniversity of Virginia: — Contains several versions of the Latin text and tools for a side-by-side comparison.
  • The Latin Library: P. OVIDI NASONIS OPERA — Contains the Latin version in several separate parts.

Latin versions

External links

Elliot, Alison Goddard (1980). : A Bibliography 1968–1978"Metamorphoses"Ovid's . The Classical World 73 (7): 385–412. (subscription required)  
Charles Martindale, ed. (1990). Ovid renewed: Ovidian influences on literature and art from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century (Reprinted ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Further reading

Allen, Christopher (2006). "Ovid and art". In Philip Hardie. The Cambridge companion to Ovid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
William S. Anderson, ed. (1998). Ovid's Metamorphoses, Books 1-5. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.  
William S. Anderson, ed. (1989). Ovid's Metamorphoses, Books 6-10. University of Oklahoma Press.  
Larry D. Benson, ed. (2008). The Riverside Chaucer (Third ed.). Oxford UP.  
Farrell, Joseph (1992). 13.719-897)"Metamorphoses"Dialogue of Genres in Ovid's "Lovesong of Polyphemus" (. The American Journal of Philology 113 (2): 23568.  (subscription required)
Galinsky, Karl (1975). Ovid's Metamorphoses: an introduction to the basic aspects. Berkeley: University of California Press.  
Gillespie, Stuart; Robert Cummings (2004). "A Bibliography of Ovidian Translations and Imitations in English". Translation and Literature 13 (2): 207–18. (subscription required)  
Harrison, Stephen (2006). "Ovid and genre: evolutions of an elegist". In Philip Hardie. The Cambridge companion to Ovid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
A. S. Hollis, ed. (1970). Ovid. Metamorphoses, Book VIII. Oxford: Oxford UP.  
Lyne, Raphael (2006). "Ovid in English translation". In Philip Hardie. The Cambridge companion to Ovid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
Otis, Brooks (2010). Ovid as an epic poet (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
Solodow, Joseph B. (1988). The World of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.  
Tarrant, R. J. (1982). "Review Article: Editing Ovid's Metamorphoses: Problems and Possibilities". Classical Philology 77 (4): 342–260. (subscription required)  
Wheeler, Stephen M. (1999). A Discourse of Wonders: Audience and Performance in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.  
Wheeler, Stephen M. (2000). Narrative dynamics in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Tübingen: Narr.  

Secondary sources

Metamorphoses. Translated by A. D. Melville; introduction and notes by E. J. Kenney. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.  

Modern translation


  1. ^ "The Hayden White Rare Book Collection". University of California, Santa Cruz. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  2. ^ More, Brookes. Commentary by Wilmon Brewer. Ovid's Metamorphoses (Translation), pp. 353-386, Marshall Jones Company, Francestown, NH, revised edition, 1978. ISBN 978-0-8338-0184-5, LCCN 77-20716.
  3. ^ a b c Galinsky 1975, p. 2.
  4. ^ a b Galinsky 1975, p. 1.
  5. ^ Fletcher, Kristopher F. B. (2009). as Hesiodic Didactic"Ornithogonia"Boios' (PDF). The Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS). 
  6. ^ Galinsky 1975, pp. 2–3.
  7. ^ Galinsky 1975, p. 3.
  8. ^ Anderson 1998, p. 14.
  9. ^ Anderson 1998, p. 19.
  10. ^ Farrell 1992, p. 235.
  11. ^ Wheeler 2000, p. 1.
  12. ^ a b Solodow 1988, pp. 17–8.
  13. ^ a b Galinsky 1975, p. 41.
  14. ^ Galinsky 1975, p. 4.
  15. ^ Harrison 2006, p. 87.
  16. ^ a b Solodow 1988, p. 18.
  17. ^ Harrison 2006, p. 88.
  18. ^ Otis 2010, p. 83.
  19. ^ Meville 2008, p. 466.
  20. ^ Melville 2008, p. xvi.
  21. ^ Melville 2008, p. 379.
  22. ^ Melville 2008, p. vii–viii.
  23. ^ Wheeler 1999, p. 40.
  24. ^ Swanson, Roy Arthur (1959). "Ovid's Theme of Change". The Classical Journal 54 (5).  (subscription required)
  25. ^ a b c d Johnston, Ian. "The Influence of Ovid's Metamorphoses". Project Silver Muse. University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  26. ^ Segal, C. P. Landscape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Wiesbaden, 1969) 45
  27. ^ Solodow, J. B. The World of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Chapel Hill, 1988) 208-213
  28. ^ Ian, Johnston. "Metamorphoses"The Transformations in Ovid's . Vancouver Island University. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  29. ^ Galinsky 1975, p. 181
  30. ^ Von Glinski, M. L. Simile and Identity in Ovid’s Metamorphoses . Cambridge: 2012. p. 120 inter alia
  31. ^ Melville 2008, pp. xxxvi–xxxvii.
  32. ^ Benson 2008, p. 952.
  33. ^ Benson 2008, p. 873.
  34. ^ "Influences". The World of Chaucer, Medieval Books and Manuscripts. University of Glasgow. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  35. ^ a b c d Melville 2008, p. xxxvii.
  36. ^ Halio, Jay (1998). Romeo and Juliet: A Guide to the Play. Westport:  
  37. ^ Marshall, David (1982). "A Midsummer Night's Dream"Exchanging Visions: Reading . ELH 49 (3): 557, 564.   (subscription required)
  38. ^   (subscription required)
  39. ^ West, Grace Starry (1982). "Titus Andronicus"Going by the Book: Classical Allusions in Shakespeare's . Studies in Philology 79 (1): 62–77.  (subscription required)
  40. ^ Vaughan, Virginia Mason; Vaughan, Alden T. (1999). The Tempest. The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series. The Arden Shakespeare. pp. 26, 58–9, 66.  
  41. ^ Meville 2008, p. xxxvii.
  42. ^ Meville 2008, pp. 392–3.
  43. ^ Cumming, William P. (1931). "The Influence of Ovid's "Metamorphoses" on Spenser's "Mutabilitie" Cantos". Studies in Philology 28 (2): 241–56. The indebtedness to Ovid of passages and ideas in Spenser's Mutabilite cantos has been pointed out by various commentators;  (subscription required)
  44. ^ Gross, Kenneth (1985). """Infernal Metamorphoses: An Interpretation of Dante's "Counterpass. MLN 100 (1): 42–69.   (subscription required)
  45. ^ Most, Glen W. (2006). "Dante's Greeks". Arion 13 (3): 33.  (subscription required)
  46. ^ Alpers, S. (1971). The Decoration of the Torre della Parada (Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard Part ix). London. p. 151. 
  47. ^ Allen 2006, p. 336.
  48. ^ "Who was Ovid?". The National Gallery. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  49. ^ "Diana and Callisto". The National Gallery. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  50. ^ "Diana and Actaeon". The National Gallery. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  51. ^ "Death of Actaeon". The National Gallery. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  52. ^ Wazzan, Suzanne A (2012). "A Study of Pieter Brueghel's Painting "Landscape with the fall of Icarus" As a Form of Ekphrasis" (PDF). American International Journal of Contemporary Research 2 (8): 52.  (subscription required)
  53. ^ Barolsky, Paul (1998). "As in Ovid, So in Renaissance Art". Renaissance Quarterly 51 (2): 451–74.   (subscription required)
  54. ^ Hughes, Ted (1997). Tales from Ovid: twenty-four passages from the metamorphose (2nd print. ed.). London: Faber and Faber.  
  55. ^ "Metamorphoses". Lookingglass Theatre Company. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  56. ^ "Archive Catalogue". Shakespeare birthplace trust. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  57. ^ Mitchell, Adrian (2010). Shapeshifters : tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Illustrated by Alan Lee. London: Frances Lincoln Children's Books.  
  58. ^ Beck, Jerry (2005). The Animated Movie Guide (1. ed.). Chicago: Chicago Review Pr. pp. 166–7.  
  59. ^ Nestruck, J. Kelly. "Onstage pools and lots of water: The NAC's Metamorphoses (mostly) makes a splash". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  60. ^ "The Myth of Io".  
  61. ^ a b Anderson 1989, p. 31.
  62. ^ Anderson 1989, pp. 31–2.
  63. ^ a b Tarrant 1982, p. 343.
  64. ^ Cameron, Alan (2004). Greek Mythography in the Roman World. Oxford University Press.  
  65. ^ Brooks Otis (1936). "The Argumenta of the So-Called Lactantius". Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 47: 131–163.  
  66. ^ Tarrant, R. J., P. Ouidi Nasonis Metamorphoses. Oxford. vi
  67. ^ Reynolds, L. D., ed., Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics, 277.
  68. ^ R. J. Tarrant, 2004. P. Ouidi Nasonis Metamorphoses. (Oxford Classical Texts) Oxford: Clarendon Press: praefatio.
  69. ^ Richard Treat Bruere (1939). "The Manuscript Tradition of Ovid's Metamorphoses". Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 50: 95–122.  
  70. ^ a b Lyne 2006, p. 249.
  71. ^ Gillespie et al. 2004, p. 207.
  72. ^ Blake, N. F. (1990). William Caxton and English literary culture. London: Hambledon. p. 298.  
  73. ^ Lyne 2006, pp. 250–1.
  74. ^ Lyne 2006, p. 252.
  75. ^ Gillespie et al. 2004, pp. 208–9.
  76. ^ Lyne 2006, p. 254.
  77. ^ Gillespie et al. 2004, p. 212.
  78. ^ Melville 2008, p. xxx.
  79. ^ Lyne 2006, p. 256.
  80. ^ a b Lyne 2006, p. 258.
  81. ^ Gillespie et al. 2004, pp. 216–18.
  82. ^ Gillespie et al. 2004 p. 218.
  83. ^ Lyne 2006, p. 259–60.


See also

Around the later half of the twentieth century a greater number of translations appeared[81] as literary translation underwent a revival.[80] This trend has continued into the early twenty-first century.[82] In 2004, a collection of translations and responses to the poem, entitled After Ovid: New Metamorphoses, was produced by numerous contributors in emulation of the process of the Garth volume.[83]

In 1717, a translation appeared from Samuel Garth bringing together work "by the most eminent hands":[77] primarily John Dryden, but several stories by Joseph Addison, one by Alexander Pope,[78] and contributions from Tate, Gay, Congreve, and Rowe, as well as those of eleven others including Garth himself.[79] Translation of the Metamorphoses after this period was comparatively limited in its achievement; having "no real rivals throughout the nineteenth century", the Garth volume continued to be printed into the 1800s.[80]

[76], a metre that would subsequently become dominant in vernacular English epic and in English translations.heroic couplets which set the poem in [75] In 1567,

The full appearance of the Metamorphoses in English translation (sections had appeared in the works of Chaucer and Gower)[70] coincides with the beginning of printing, and traces a path through the history of publishing.[70][71] William Caxton produced the first translation of the text on 22 April 1480;[72] set in prose, it is a literal rendering of a French translation known as the Ovide Moralisé.[73]

An illumination of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from a manuscript of William Caxton's translation of the Metamorphoses (1480)—the first in the English language.

In English translation

Collaborative editorial effort has been investigating the various manuscripts of the Metamorphoses, some forty-five complete texts or substantial fragments,[68] all deriving from a Gallic archetype.[69] The result of several centuries of critical reading is that the poet's meaning is firmly established on the basis of the manuscript tradition or restored by conjecture where the tradition is deficient. There are two modern critical editions: William S. Anderson's, first published in 1977 in the Teubner series, and R. J. Tarrant's, published in 2004 by the Oxford Clarendon Press.

The poem retained its popularity throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and is represented by an extremely high number of surviving manuscripts (more than 400);[66] the earliest of these are three fragmentary copies containing portions of Books 1-3, dating to the 9th century.[67]

But the poem's immense popularity in antiquity and the Middle Ages belies the struggle for survival it faced in late antiquity. "A dangerously pagan work,"[64] the Metamorphoses was preserved through the Roman period of Christianization, but was criticized by the voices of Augustine and Jerome, who believed the only metamorphosis really was the transubstantiation. Though the Metamorphoses did not suffer the ignominious fate of the Medea, no ancient scholia on the poem survive (although they did exist in antiquity[65]), and the earliest manuscript is very late, dating from the 11th century.

Influential in the course of the poem's manuscript tradition is the seventeenth-century Dutch scholar Nikolaes Heinsius.[63] During the years 1640–52, Heinsius collated more than a hundred manuscripts and was informed of many others through correspondence.[63]

In spite of the Metamorphoses' enduring popularity from its first publication (around the time of Ovid's exile in 8 AD) no manuscript survives from antiquity.[61] From the ninth and tenth centuries there are only fragments of the poem;[61] it is only from the eleventh century onwards that manuscripts, of varying value, have been passed down.[62]

This panel by Bartolomeo di Giovanni relates the second half of the story. In the upper left, Jupiter emerges from clouds to order Mercury to rescue Io.[60]

Manuscript tradition

Popular for many centuries, interest in Ovid began to wane after the Renaissance, and his influence on the nineteenth century was minimal.[35] Towards the end of the twentieth century his work began to be appreciated once more. Ted Hughes collected together and retold twenty-four passages from the Metamorphoses in his Tales from Ovid, published in 1997.[54] In 1998, Mary Zimmerman's stage adaptation Metamorphoses premiered at the Lookingglass Theatre,[55] and the following year there was an adaptation of Tales from Ovid by the Royal Shakespeare Company.[56] In the early twenty-first century, the poem continues to inspire and be retold through books,[57] films,[58] and plays.[59]

During the Renaissance period, mythological subjects were frequently depicted in art. The Metamorphoses was the greatest source of these narratives, such that the term "Ovidian" in this context is synonymous for mythological, in spite of some frequently represented myths not being found in the work.[46][47] Many of the stories from the Metamorphoses have been the subject of paintings and sculptures, particularly during this period.[35][48] Some of the most well-known paintings by Titian depict scenes from the poem, including Diana and Callisto,[49] Diana and Actaeon,[50] and Death of Actaeon.[51] Other famous works inspired by it include Pieter Brueghel's painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus[52] and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's sculpture Apollo and Daphne.[35] The Metamorphoses also permeated the theory of art during the Renaissance and the Baroque style, with its idea of transformation and the relation of the myths of Pygmalion and Narcissus to the role of the artist.[53]

Diana and Callisto (1556-59) by Titian.

The Metamorphoses was a considerable influence on English playwright William Shakespeare.[35] His Romeo and Juliet is influenced by the story of Pyramus and Thisbe (Metamorphoses Book IV);[36] and, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a band of amateur actors performs a play about Pyramus and Thisbe.[37] Shakespeare's early erotic poem Venus and Adonis expands on the myth in Book X of the Metamorphoses.[38] In Titus Andronicus, the story of Lavinia's rape is drawn from Tereus' rape of Philomela, and the text of the Metamorphoses is used within the play to enable Titus to interpret his daughter's story.[39] Most of Prospero's renunciative speech in Act V of The Tempest is taken word-for-word from a speech by Medea in Book VII of the Metamorphoses.[40] Among other English writers for whom the Metamorphoses was an inspiration are John Milton—who made use of it in Paradise Lost, his magnum opus, and evidently knew it well[41][42]—and Edmund Spenser.[43] In Europe, the poem was an influence on Giovanni Boccaccio (the story of Pyramus and Thisbe appears in his poem L'Amorosa Fiammetta)[25] and Dante.[44][45]

The influence of the poem on the works of Geoffrey Chaucer is extensive. In The Canterbury Tales, the story of Coronis and Phoebus Apollo (Book II 531–632) is adapted to form the basis for The Manciple's Tale.[32] The story of Midas (Book XI 174–193) is referred to and appears—though much altered—in The Wife of Bath's Tale.[33] The story of Ceyx and Alcyone (from Book IX) is adapted by Chaucer in his poem The Book of the Duchess, written to commemorate the death of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster and wife of John of Gaunt.[34]

The Metamorphoses has exerted a considerable influence on literature and the arts, particularly of the West; scholar A. D. Melville says that "It may be doubted whether any poem has had so great an influence on the literature and art of Western civilization as the Metamorphoses."[31] Although a majority of its stories do not originate with Ovid himself, but with such writers as Hesiod and Homer, for others the poem is their sole source.[25]

No work from classical antiquity, either Greek or Roman, has exerted such a continuing and decisive influence on European literature as Ovid's Metamorphoses. The emergence of French, English, and Italian national literatures in the late Middle Ages simply cannot be fully understood without taking into account the effect of this extraordinary poem. ... The only rival we have in our tradition which we can find to match the pervasiveness of the literary influence of the Metamorphoses is perhaps (and I stress perhaps) the Old Testament and the works of Shakespeare.

—Ian Johnston[25]


There is a huge variety among the types of transformations that take place: from human to inanimate object (Nileus), constellation (Ariadne's Crown), animal (Perdix); from animal (Ants) and fungus (Mushrooms) to human; of sex (Hyenas); and of colour (Pebbles).[28] The metamorphoses themselves are often located metatextually within the poem, through grammatical or narratorial transformations. At other times, transformations are developed into humour or absurdity, such that, slowly, “the reader realizes he is being had”,[29] or the very nature of transformation is questioned or subverted. This phenomenon is merely one aspect of Ovid's extensive use of illusion and disguise.[30]

Metamorphosis or transformation is a unifying theme amongst the episodes of the Metamorphoses. Ovid raises its significance explicitly in the opening lines of the poem: In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora; ("I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities;").[24] Accompanying this theme is often violence, inflicted upon a victim whose transformation becomes part of the natural landscape.[25] This theme amalgamates the much-explored opposition between the hunter and the hunted[26] and the thematic tension between art and nature.[27]


The different genres and divisions in the narrative allow the Metamorphoses to display a wide range of themes. Scholar Stephen M. Wheeler notes that "Metamorphosis, mutability, love, violence, artistry, and power are just some of the unifying themes that critics have proposed over the years." [23]

Apollo and Daphne by Antonio Pollaiuolo, one tale of transformation in the Metamorphoses—he lusts after her and she escapes him by turning into a bay laurel.


  • Book XIV – Scylla and Glaucus (cont.), the pilgrimage of Aeneas (cont.), the island of Circe, Picus and Canens, the triumph and apotheosis of Aeneas, Pomona and Vertumnus, legends of early Rome, the apotheosis of Romulus.
A depiction of the story of Pygmalion by Jean Raoux (1717).


"Now stands my task accomplished, such a work
As not the wrath of Jove, nor fire nor sword
Nor the devouring ages can destroy".[21]

The Metamorphoses ends with an epilogue (Book XV.871–9), one of only two surviving Latin epics to do so (the other being Statius' Thebiad).[19] The ending acts as a declaration that everything except his poetry—even Rome—must give way to change:[20]

The recurring theme, as with nearly all of Ovid's work, is love—be it personal love or love personified in the figure of Amor (Cupid). Indeed, the other Roman gods are repeatedly perplexed, humiliated, and made ridiculous by Amor, an otherwise relatively minor god of the pantheon, who is the closest thing this putative mock-epic has to a hero. Apollo comes in for particular ridicule as Ovid shows how irrational love can confound the god out of reason. The work as a whole inverts the accepted order, elevating humans and human passions while making the gods and their desires and conquests objects of low humor.

Ovid works his way through his subject matter, often in an apparently arbitrary fashion, by jumping from one transformation tale to another, sometimes retelling what had come to be seen as central events in the world of Greek mythology and sometimes straying in odd directions. It begins with the ritual "invocation of the muse", and makes use of traditional epithets and circumlocutions. But instead of following and extolling the deeds of a human hero, it leaps from story to story with little connection.

Section I Book I–Book II (end, line 875): The Divine Comedy
Section II Book III–Book VI, 400: The Avenging Gods
Section III Book VI, 401–Book XI (end, line 795): The Pathos of Love
Section IV Book XII–Book XV (end, line 879): Rome and the Deified Ruler

The Metamorphoses is comprehensive in its chronology, recounting the creation of the world to the death of Julius Caesar, which had occurred only a year before Ovid's birth;[12] it has been compared to works of universal history, which became important in the first century BC.[16] In spite of its apparently unbroken chronology, scholar Brooks Otis has identified four divisions in the narrative:[18]

The poem is generally considered to meet the criteria for an epic; it is considerably long, relating over 250 narratives across fifteen books;[14] it is composed in dactylic hexameter, the meter of both the ancient Iliad and Odyssey, and the more contemporary epic Aeneid; and it treats the high literary subject of myth.[15] However, the poem "handles the themes and employs the tone of virtually every species of literature",[16] ranging from epic and elegy to tragedy and pastoral.[17] Commenting on the genre debate, G. Karl Galinsky has opined that "... it would be misguided to pin the label of any genre on the Metamorphoses."[13]

Scholars have found it difficult to place the Metamorphoses in a genre. The poem has been considered as an epic or a type of epic (for example, an anti-epic or mock-epic);[10] a Kollektivgedicht that pulls together a series of examples in miniature form, such as the epyllion;[11] a sampling of one genre after another;[12] or a narrative that refuses categorization.[13]

A woodcut from Virgil Solis illustrating the apotheosis of Julius Caesar, the final event of the poem (XV.745–850).



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