Metamorphoses Book 5 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

29 May
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses


Started in February 2013, 17 poets, 15 months,  creating 1 contemporary reworking of Ovid‘s Metamorphoses

See the Transformations Page For More Details

Here we are in the middle of May with our deadline for Book 4 poems for this Thursday 30th May.

This post sets to provide an overview for Book 5 with a deadline for the poems of Thursday 27th June. The last batch of Book 3 poems are being posted out next week with the rest of June filled with Book 4 poems.

This month the Book 3 poems have rolled out smoothly with great diversity again. If you missed any of the Book 3 poems you can find them here, here, here, here  I’ve also created a Transformations poems tab on the menu for ease of access. 

Please note that from now on I will combine the overview post with the prompt, deadline and optional verse form post. This seems to make more sense. Keeps it all in one place.


Overview of Book 5:

Rape of Persephone

‘No, to be sure’, said Pallas; ‘ sing your song,

‘Sing it right through’, and took her seat beneath

The trees’ light shade. The Muse resumed her tale.

We appointed one of us our champion,

Calliope. She rose, her flowing hair

Bound in an ivy wreath, and with her thumb

Turning the plaintive chords, began this song,

Accompanying her voice with sweeping strings.

Book 5 is a game of two halves; the first half of the book is full of panoramic battle scenes, death, and bubbling chaos just underneath the surface. In the second half Ovid, juxtaposes the turmoil of battle with the blissful world of Minerva (the goddess of wisdom and sponsor of the arts). A world filled with Muses. In so doing he introduces one of the oldest myths in Mediterranean mythic history that of Ceres and Proserpine (Demeter and Persephone). Ceres gave mankind laws and agriculture (great combination) and therefore gave humankind one of its means of survival. The word cereal came from her name, with her story depicting the spread of Agriculture. Apparently, originally the tale of these two helped to explain the notion of infertile and fertile seasons and the origins of various animals. In narrative terms the book is driven by ‘a chinese box-style’ story telling mode. Also in Book 5 Ovid gives us a fine articulation of  the difference between amor (love) and arma (weapons); and he does so through the depiction of rape and battle.


 Summary of the Tales in Book 5:


The Myths and Key Characters: Perseus’ fight in the Palace of Cepheus; Minerva Meets the Muses of Helicon; The Rape of Proserpine; Arethusa, Triptolemus

Perseus and Andromeda

Perseus’ Fight in the Palace of Cepheus

The wedding of Perseus (the son of Jove and Danae) and Andromeda  (daughter of Cassiope and Cepheus) is interupted by Phineus Andromeda’s uncle stipulating that Andromeda had been previously promised to him. A fight ensues between Perseus and Phineus. The whole wedding turns into a massive battleground with untold injuries. Perseus only survives thanks to the intervention of his half-sister Minerva. The battle is only concluded when Perseus tricks Phineus and his allies into looking at the Gorgon Medusa which turns them into stone. Perseus returns victorious with his bride and he reclaims his home from his attackers. With this story Ovid moves us from the world of love to a world of war and force. This story allows us to debate whether Ovid is actually a great epic story teller or just a good writer of parodies. 

The Muses of Helcion

Minerva Meets the Muses of Helcion

Ovid gives us an epic tale of love in this story flagging up the power of Venus, Cupid and Amor and in so doing paves the way for the story of Ceres.  Minerva flies to Helicon in Thebes where the Muses reside. She asks her half-sisters to show her a particular fountain which came into being from under the hoof of the winged horse Pegasus (who was born from the blood of Medusa). Their conversation is interrupted by 9 magpies whose stories are told by one of the Muses. The magpies were once women who had committed a crime against the Muses by challenging them to a singing contest. The Muses share what they sang in the contest with Minerva and that is the story of Ceres, the inventor of Agriculture.

Bernini, Rape of Persephone, sculpture

The Rape of Proserpine

Cere’s virgin daughter is aggressively ravished by Pluto, who then kidnaps her and whisks her off in his chariot to the underworld. Nymph Cyane tries to stop him but is turned into a pool. Ceres searches for her daughter and is mocked by a youth who she turns into a newt. When Ceres finds out that her daughter has been taken to the underworld in her anger she curses the land of Sicily and destroys its fertility. Ceres then drives her chariot to Heaven and demands justice from her husband/brother Jove. Jove tries to defend his brother Pluto. Ceres is also told that Proserpine’s return is furthermore blocked by the fates who have stipulated that she must remain in the underworld. Enraged Cere’s turns various helpers into Sirens (birds with beautiful voices and women’s faces forever looking out to sea).

Calliope’s retelling of the rape has been considered a complex and chaotic one, with a fine use of an internal narrator seeing things differently from the narration itself. The rape is troubling-swift and horrific and described vicariously through a surrogate rape. Dealing with such an important subject matter as rape through Calliope’s storytelling allows Ovid to engage with profound material and sexual dynamics with a veiled lightness of touch. But it’s all too apparent what is going on. 


Arethusa and Triptolemus:

Ovid also tells, through the vehicle of Calliope’s song, the tale of Arethusa who is pursued by Alpheus, a river God. Arethusa is helped by Diana who puts an impenetrable cloud around Arethusa so Alpheus cannot see her. She then transports her to some secret caves where she sees Proserpine in the Underworld. 

Meanwhile, Jove has decided that Proserpine can live half the year with Ceres, her mother, and the other half with Pluto in the Underworld. Ceres now happy returns to Arethusa where she gives Triptolemus some grain and instructions on how to sew it abroad. He successfully cultivates Europe and part of Asia. King Lyncus tries to take credit for Triptolemus’ work and he is turned into a Lynx.


Themes, Analysis and Relevance

Here are some of  the primary themes flowing through Book 5: the creation of agriculture; challenging preceding narrative epic structures such as Homer and Virgil; an overt celebration of poetry as a form and an engagement with love versus war. 

Some specific themes highlighted in brief for you:

  • Agriculture: In this particular book we see Ovid through the vehicle of his tales engage with a movement within culture- the spread of agriculture in the ancient world. 
  • Celebration of Poetic and Narrative Form- in his depiction of the battle of Perseus Ovid facilitates a debate between between not only the merits of the epic form and the poetic form and between parody and storytelling.
  • Amor versus Arma (Love versus War)  Ovid states through the depiction of the Rape of Proserpine that storytelling is a serious business. It’s not light and frothy all the time and it can engage with serious themes and hold within it, importantly a feminist perspective.

Book 5 is a rich fusion of lightness and dark, between epic and parody, between war and love. 

Things of Interest:

A solo performance by Todd Conner– an Interpretation of Metamorphoses, engaging in the nature of storytelling:





Prompts: Reclaiming, Challenge, Interconnectedness, Light, Proportion, Guest, Slow, Irony, Civilisation, Sense, Spoon 

 Here’s an audio of ‘Arethusa’ story in case anyone is too busy to read the whole book:


Verse Form: The Burns Stanza/The Scottish Stanza/Six Line Stave.

Stanzas have 6 lines. Rhyming aaabab. The a lines have 4 feet each and the b lines 2 feet each.

See here for more details

And watch out for the poetry inspired by Book 4 which will be posted out during June.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 5 poems is Thursday 27th June



References :

Brunauer, Dalma. H (1996) The Metamorphoses of Ovid, New Jersey Research and Education Association

Hughes, T (1997) Tales from Ovid, London: Faber and Faber

Liveley, G. (2011) Ovid’s Metamorphoses, A Reader’s Guide, London: contiuum

 Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press




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