Metamorphoses Book 8 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

13 Aug
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 August with our deadline of Book 7 poetry being Tuesday 20th August

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 8 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Wednesday 25th September. The first batch of Book 6  poems went out yesterday featuring  JAMES KNIGHT and RICHARD BIDDLE  (here).  The other great Book 6 poems will be posted out during the rest of  August. It’s a great book- inspiring and full of blood and gore! 

If you missed out on  Book 5  poems you can find them  here, here, here , here . I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

Overview of Book 8: 

Book 8’s narrative flags up ideas around continuity and change by following the path of  more  rebellious women who although follow in  Medea’s footsteps have strikingly different fates. In so doing,  Ovid explores the complexity of  what is considered a’ heroine’. In Book 8 much greater emphasis is also put back onto the theme of war , particularly  in  relation to Minos’ war with Athens.

In Book 8 Ovid uses a complex narrative style to mirror the complexity of his characters and the complexity and artistry of Metamorphoses as a book. This is particularly the case with Daedalus (a skilful craftsman and father of Icarus) whom Ovid uses to explore notions of nature and art.  Among other things Ovid also explores what  the nature of an ‘epic’ is  and  looks at the theme of betrayal for the sake of love (amor). Transformation is also used as the vehicle for both the punishment and reward in this book. We see the relationship of married couple Philemon and Baucis set up as an antidote to the more aggressive forms of love and transformation we have seen in previous books.  

Summary of the Tales in Book 8 


>>>>Philemon and Baucis

The morning star revealed the shining day,
Night fled, the east wind fell, the rain-clouds rose,
A steady south wind speeded the return
 Of Cephalus with the Aeginetan force.
Their passage prospered and the fair breeze brought
Them sooner than their hopes to Athens port.


The Myths and Key Characters: Scylla, Daedalus and Icarus, Daedalus and Perdix, Meleager and the Calydonian Boar, Philemon and Baucis, Erysichthon




Minos (King of Crete)  has been laying siege to Megara (a city ruled by King Nisus , King of Megara, who is known for the lock of hair he grows from his head that protects his power). King Nisus has a daughter called Scylla who has fallen madly in love with Minos whilst watching him from a palace tower.  Very much like Medea, she speaks in depth of her love for Minos. Scylla, like Medea (See Book 7) betrays her father’s trust for the love of Minos and dis-empowers her father by sacrificing the lock of his hair. She also sacrifices her city for the love of Minos. In contrast to Medea,  Scylla is transformed from a woman of disgrace into a woman with whom we can empathise. Although Scylla has betrayed, as Liveley puts it, ”her pater (father) and her patria (fatherland)’ (82) Ovid portrays her as a victim of love; a person of sympathy. Scylla gets her comeuppance though and is spurned by her love Minos,  even though she has helped return the city of Megara to him. He sails off into the sunset without Syclla,  leaving her with nothing. Scylla, distraught,  goes after Minos and clings to the prow of his ship but she is transformed into a bird called the Ciris  (from the Greek word ‘to cut’ which forever connects her to her betrayal). Nisus is transformed into an osprey and follows her seeking revenge.


Daedalus and Icarus


Daedalus and Icarus

Ovid introduces the character of Daedalus in this book who is King Minos’ architect, and  who created a massive labyrinth in which to house a Minotaur (half man half bull) created out of the union of a real bull and Pasiphae (the daughter of Helios, the Sun).  Minos, in the story of the labyrinth, is portrayed as tyrannical and oppressive, and Ovid foregrounds how much effort Daedalus made to leave his patron. We see Daedalus playing with his little son Icarus who puts on a pair of wings his father has made and then attempts to fly. This, to all intents and purposes, is a transformation but it is not like the normal sort of transformations we have seen in previous books. In attempting to fly both Daedalus and Icarus are changing the ‘proper’ order of things (for humans are not meant to fly) and as they enter a zone which is normally only for the gods they are challenging the natural order of life).  Daedalus advices his son to not fly too close to the sun . Icarus not paying attention  loses his wings and falls into the sea and dies. The sea which Icarus falls into takes his name and  so does the island where Daedalus buries him. 




Daedalus and Perdix

Daedalus is very jealous of his nephew Perdix’s natural talent, so much so that he tries to push him off a tower. Minerva (Goddess of wisdom and the arts)  stops this happening by turning Perdix into a partridge. In the fall we have a link to not only Icarus but Phaethon (youngest son of Helios) from  Book 1.  Through this story Ovid also flags up the danger of competition.

Meleager and The Calydonian Boar

Having taken us into the labyrinthine world of Daedalus Ovid throws us back into the world of  Theseus’ (founder king of Athens) . Theseus’ fame is widespread because  he  killed the Minotaur. Due to his defeat of the Minotaur  the Calydonian people are looking to him to kill another monster that has been sent down upon them by Diana  (Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt) because they had been neglecting her in their sacrifices.  They call upon all sorts of other heroes to help them defeat the monster, and they all go off an Calydonian Boar hunt in an attempt to slay it. Ovid fills the hunt with horror, comedy, violence and tribulations- the whole works! Meleager, who is the local hero,  eventually manages to kill the boar/monster. He offers the boar to a tomboy Atalanta (who’s come along on the hunt for entertainment) , but his offering to her is snapped away by other townsfolk  and Meleager , insulted, kills them.

The focus is then firmly placed on  Meleager’s mother Althaea who although is gleeful about her son’s victory in the hunt is also simultaneously mourning the death of her brothers (who were part of the clan who took the spoils from Meleager and whom he killed). She becomes extremely angry with Meleager because of her brothers’ deaths. She takes a piece of enchanted wood which the Fates decreed would last as long as her son’s life and decides to avenge the death of her brothers. Like Media and Scylla she becomes another woman with a huge dilemma. To kill or not to kill?  Yet again like Scylla and Medea we have lots of description and a soliloquy which establishes her dilemma profoundly.  Ovid portrays her as being torn between mother and sister.  In the end she throws the wood in the fire causing Meleager a horrible death. Althaea cannot bear what she’s done and commits suicide. Meleager’s father and sister are irretrievably upset.  The sisters are so upset that Diana turns them into guinea hens .




Achelous and Perimele

On Theseus’ way back to Athens Achelous (the swollen river and river god) makes it difficult for him to go on his way by blocking his path and inviting Theseus into his home. Achelous retells him the story of a  group of nymphs who he punished because they did not honour him sufficiently. Achelous also tells the story of Perimele (daughter of Hippodamas) who he once loved and who he also raped and then transformed into an island.


Philemon and Baucis


Philemon and Baucis

The story of Philemon and Baucis  is of particular importance as it rests right at the centre of Metamorphoses. Ovid having shown us time and time again the violent and torturous side of love and passion now shows us the flip side and he gives us a representation of a good marriage.  Pure and noble and completely different in feel to the other relationships we have seen. Lelex (a companion of Theseus tells this story – a tale of an older  husband and wife who get rewarded by the gods because of their kindness. Jupiter (king of the gods) and Mercury (patron god of financial gain, commerce and eloquence/poetry) disguise themselves  as humans and come down to earth and find that only Philemon and Baucis welcome them into their house wholeheartedly. They share their food and make them welcome. Eventually the couple realise they have gods in their midst, and they  try and find more luxurious sacrifices to meet the needs of their visitors. The gods punish all the other discourteous inhabitants  around by creating a flood, but they save the older couple to thank them. The older couple cry as they see the destruction  around them, only to see that their house has been turned into a  splendid temple where Jupiter offers them any wish they like.

The couple continue to live their pious lives and decide they both want to become priests. After years of service they find themselves turning into trees, whispering goodbye to each other as their mouths are sealed by bark. This story is in marked contrast to the others told about love…which makes a change and provides contrast.





In contrast to Philemon and Baucis,  Achelous tells a story of greedy Erysichthon who saws down a tree brutally killing the nymphs, transformed, within. He is punished by Ceres (goddess of agriculture)  for this act by being made to feel hungry all the time.  The glutton calls for a feast and sells his daughter time and time again so that he can have money for more and more food. The story culminates in Erysichthon eating himself.


As Achelous moans about the loss of the horn missing from his forehead he hints that this is another tale to be told,  and this prepares us for what will be told ………. in Book 9!


Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 8 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  • Continuity and Change:  The women Scylla and Althaea all follow in Medea’s shadow but are shown in a more sympathetic light by Ovid. Showing how moral dilemmas do not always have to follow in loss and horror but can also lead to positive transformation.
  • Reward and Punishment:  Once again Ovid shows the omnipresent power of the gods and how diversely metamorphoses is used as an acknowledgement of good behaviour and of bad. Like  Philemon and Baucis whom are turned into trees or Scylla who is changed into a bird.
  • Artistic Excellence,  Nature and Realism: Through Ovid’s portrayal of Daedalus and his attempt to imitate the act of flying with his son Icarusand the tragedy that follows, we are left with the very clear impression that flight in nature is far superior than man made attempts. Man cannot better what is in nature and should not  meddle with something that is already perfected naturally. 


Things of Interest:

 Here’s a video of the tale of Daedalus and Icarus….in Lego….




‘Ovid Rocks For sure…..’ An interesting article from The Guardian

The transformative effect of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on European art

>> >>>

Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Wrong, Voyage, Railway, Dipped, Hunting, Gratitude, Torn, Hidden, Golden, Blunder, Misfortunes,  Squashed, Footsteps

Verse Form: Onegin Stanza  – Stanzas have 14 lines of iambic tetrameter rhyming ababccddeffegg. The pink letters indicate feminine rhymes (i.e. the lines in question have an extra unstressed syllable) and the blue letters are for masculine rhymes.

See here for more information.


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


Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book 6 coming out throughout August and September.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 7 Poetry is Tuesday 20th August.  



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






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