Metamorphoses Book 7 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

17 Jul
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 July with our deadline of Book 6 poetry being Wednesday 31st July

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 7 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Tuesday 20th August. The first batch of Book 5 poems went out yesterday featuring KATE GARRETT and RICHARD BIDDLE (here).  The other great Book 5 poems will be posted out during the rest of  July.

If you missed out on Book 4  poems you can find them  here, here, here , here and here. I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site 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 and keeps it all in one place.

Overview of Book 7: 

The focus of Book 7 firmly places itself on Medea and her psychology. The book leaps into the story of Jason and the  Argonauts and  the well known tale of the Golden Fleece  but Ovid skirts over much of the detail of this story, assuming his audience is familiar with the details.  In this particular book Ovid uses his skills of rhetoric to define much of the substance of Medeas’ story. The story of Jason and Medea in this book is considered one of the finest in Metamorphoses– a true mixture of poetic skill and psychological insight. In  Book 7  Ovid gives Medea a beautiful soliloquy outlining the painful choice she has to make between Jason and her father.

‘My heart for sure is moved! Unless I help,
The bulls’ hot breath will blast him; he will meet
Fierce foes of his own sowing, earth-created,
Or to the dragon be cast for pray and prize.
If I permit such things, I’ll surely own
A tigress was my dam and in my heart’
I nurture iron and stone! 

Through the breadth and depth of Ovid’s portrayal of Medea’s tortured psychology Ovid touches upon the themes of love (amor) and loyalty; and through Jason- bravery and heroism.

Book 7 also marks a profound shift in Ovid’s narrative moving us away from a tale concerned with the Gods to a tale which considers mortals and their relationships. Also in this book Ovid  plays with the relationship  between our ideas and preconceptions about certain topics. Themes such as destruction are initially presented to us with harshness, cruelty and blood and then subtly imbued  with tenderness, turning meaning on its head and  playfully offering us another perspective on the tale/issue. In so doing he plays with our understanding of the nature of destruction and/or love and makes us question the texture of our understanding of these themes.


Summary of the Tales in Book 7




And now the Argonauts from Thessaly
Were cutting through the billows. They had seen
Old Phineus dragging out his hapless age
In endless night and Boreas’ two sons
Had driven the Harpies from his piteus lips.
At last Jason and his men
Reached after many travails the swift stream.
Of muddy Phasis


The Myths and Key Characters: Medea and Jason; Theseus and Aegeus, Minos, Aecus and the Plague at Aegina


Medea by J .W Waterhouse

Medea and Jason:

The Argonauts arrive at Colchis where they ask for the return of the Golden Fleece.  King Aeetes makes a serious of ludicrous demands for the  return of the fleece.  Medea (his daughter), falls hopelessly in love with Jason and  offers to help him get the fleece back. Medea battles with her conscience as to whether she should betray her father for Jason in his hour of need so he can possess the fleece again .  Her conscience goes back and forth but finally she sides with Jason. Jason, in return, offers to marry Medea if she helps him. Medea provides Jason with various potions and magic herbs so he can steal the fleece back from its secret hiding place and from the clutches of  the dragon who protects it.

Jason takes Medea home with him and puts her powers to good use restoring Aeson (deposed king of Thessaly and Jason’s father) to his youth again, and she also finds a way to get rid of King Pelias (who usurped Aeson).   As Medea returns in her chariot drawn by dragons  from her murder of Pelias Ovid, as we look down from Medea’s perspective upon the lands below, takes us delicately through a series of mini-metamorphoses including the killing of her own children. On Medea’s return from dealing with Pelias she finds that in her absence Jason has taken a new wife. Medea kills the bride and escapes to Athens.

In this story Ovid takes us on a journey in relation to our response to Medea:  making us initially feel sympathy and compassion and then as she morphs  from an innocent girl into a horrific, cruel  witch who can kill heartlessly, makes our feelings transform into those of disdain.



Theseus and Aegeus

King Aegeus (King of Athens) marries Medea. But her position is threatened when Aegeus’ son Theseus arrives. (Theseus  grew  up in another country and so was  unknown to his father). Medea, in contrast,  realises his son’s  threat to Aegeus as ruler and she tries to poison Theseus.  However  in the end,  Aegeus recognises Theseus and knocks the poisoned cup Medea has given him away from his son  and saves his life.  Medea is forced to flee once more.


The Plague of Aegina


Minos, Aeacus and the Plague at Aegina

Theseus eventually becomes King of Athens and his reign is successful until King Minos (King of Crete and son of Jove and Europa) is killed during a visit to Athens. Minos then declares war on Athens. King Minos prepares for war and he casts around for allies to support him. He gets much support from various states around him all apart from Aegina which  has an allegiance with Athens.  Cephalus (an envoy of Athens) arrives in Aegina to affirm their allegiance only to find that the Aeginian land has recently been blighted.  King Aeacus (the King of Aegina)  narrates a truly horrific story of death, plague  and disease. This story  is awash with  doctors dying, animal sacrifices, well people committing suicide. The whole works! 

During the plague King Aeacus prays to Jupiter (King of the Gods and the Sky) in the hope that he can provide people to repopulate the land. He has a prophetic dream where he sees ants growing larger and larger  and then finally take human form. The next day he finds that his dreams have become real and a new race is born: The Myrimidions (from the Greek word for ant).

In this story Ovid turns epic preparations for war and destruction cleverly into a tale of Metamorphoses and hope.




Cephalus and Procris

Phocus (son of Aeacus) takes up where is father left off and entertains the envoys. He notices that one of the envoys (Cephalus) has a javelin and he asks him the story behind it.  Cephalus, clearly upset, recounts the the story of his wife Procris  who gave him the weapon as a gift.  (Procris, daughter of one of the kings of Athens –Erechtheus)   He recounts how she dies in an untimely fashion.  The telling of this story is unusual in contrast to the the normal epic stories told before war. Liveley describes it as ”elegiac’ (p80). She goes on to say that the roots of elegy etymologically rest  in the Greek ‘to cry woe’ (ibid) and how fitting this is as Cephalus weeps for his wife .

The story is in two parts separated by a metamorphoses in which Cephalus’ dog is turned into a marble statue.  The first half  tells of Cephalus after he has got married; when he goes off hunting. Out on an expedition he is to all intents and purposes raped by the Goddess Aurora. Once home, triggered by the rape,  Cephalus becomes jealous of Procris and thinks she has been unfaithful. In order to test her he disguises himself and makes an indecent proposal to her. She dithers and Cephalus reveals himself to Procris and  accuses her of adultery.  She runs to the hills and becomes a follower of Diana (Goddess of the moon, the hunt and birthing) until Cephalus begs for her forgiveness and she says she will come home. On her return he presents her with her own spear and her own dog.

Cephalus and Procris  live happily for awhile but  then Cephalus is overheard calling upon the wind by the name ‘aura‘. This is mistakenly heard as ‘Aura‘ Cephalus’ previous lover, and heartbroken Procris goes to spy on him to find out the truth. Cephalus mistakes her for a wild animal and kills her.

There has been much debate over Ovid’s intentions with this particular story- whether it is indeed a comedy of errors or a tale of tragedy (81). Ovid almost leaves this up to the reader to decide.


Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 7 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  • Psychology and Mental States:  Through Ovid’s portrayal of Medea we are taken into the depths of a woman’s psychology when she is pulled between family loyalty and love.  Liveley calls Medea’s story a vehicle  through which Ovid explores ‘the psychology and pathology of human love’ (77).  The tension is only too apparent as we watch Medea thrown from innocence to witchery. How we judge this is up to us but he profoundly depicts her crisis of conscience.
  • The Challenging of Expectations (playfully): Again the Medea tale can be seen as an example of this as can the story of the Aegian plague-turned from a tale of utter devastation into a tale of hope. Thus challenging our preconceptions.
  • Male and Female Relationships: Ovid, in Book 7, turns this matter on its head again, particularly in the tale of Cephalus and another striking male rape by the Goddess Aurora. In so doing questions of power are challenged and of right and wrong. Indeed, this can also be said of the Medea story too.
  • The Use of Rhetoric/ways of Storytelling:  Ovid in this particular book plays with our feelings towards certain characters through the narrative techniques he uses.  Giving us the dynamics of  an argument, the dilemmas,  letting Medea present them to us via her soliloquies, and then turning it all on its head via Medea’s transformation from innocent girl to witch.  Ovid gives us  all the information we need to understand Medea’s behaviour and then leaves the judgement ultimately up to us.  Equally in the story of the Plague of Aegina we can see a similar occurrence happen where we see Ovid create a picture of pure destruction only to have him then turn it into a story with a silver lining.  In both these cases Ovid uses his power of description to subtly give depth to  the well know themes  of love and fidelity and destruction and in so doing invigorates and innovates them.

Things of Interest:

 Here’s a video of a scene from Medea by Euripides:



And here’s a bit of background on the art of Rhetoric touching on Artistotle’s definition:

The 3 Pillars of Persuasion:


‘What It takes to persuade human beings to do something’



Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Concentration, Hermetically sealed, Squirming, Muse, Radiating, Anathema, Dog-ends, Motionless, Belts, Democracy, Bumpy , Remonstrate, Blood.

Verse Form: Ronsardian Ode with the specified rhyming scheme of  ababccddc, with syllable counts of 10, 4, 10, 4, 10, 10, 4, 4, 8.

See here for more information.

Here is an   audio of the tale of ‘Theseus’ in case any of you are too busy to read the book.




Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book 5 coming out throughout July/August.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 6 Poetry is Wednesday 31st July  





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: continuum

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





2 Responses to “Metamorphoses Book 7 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project”

  1. Carol Robson July 31, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Hi Nicky

    Put something together for book 6 Hope it is ok 🙂

    Carol x

    Carol Robson BMedSci(Hons) Poetry and Poetry Performance Tel: 07932 875470


    • ArtiPeep August 1, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      I’ll look forward to receiving it Carol. Wondering if it’s going to be a bit gory… 😉


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