Transformations Resources Page
1. Metamorphoses Overview.2.Recommended Reads; Book 1 Overview; 2A. Themes & Analysis; 3 . List of Main Characters; 4. Audio Reading of Io’s Story; 5. Book 2. Overview and Analysis; 6. List of Main Characters; 7. Audio Reading of The Raven and the Crow
1. Metamorphoses Overview
In the introduction of Ted Hughes‘ Tales from Ovid he states:
‘But the opening lines describe the very different kind of poem that Ovid set out to write: an account of how the beginning of the world right down to his own time bodies had been magically changed by the power of the gods into other bodies’ (Hughes 1997: vii)
Completed in 8 AD by Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid to you and me) Metamorphoses is first and foremost an extended narrative poem about change; change of all kinds: historical, religious (from the Roman multi-God form of worship to the birth of Christ within the Roman Empire); from human to inanimate object; from human to animate object; from the mythic to the Christian. It forms a vaste canvas where mortals intertwine with Gods and are transformed.
With great beauty and vigour the text flings you into the ‘overworld and underworld’ (vii) of all creation and explores both Greek and Roman myth reinvigorating the old tales with humour, pathos and cheer and all through the notion of metamorphoses. CHANGE
Metamorphoses, as Ted Hughes points out in his introduction of his fantastic reworking of the tale Tales From Ovid, is a poem about ‘passion’ (ix), passion in its extreme- where passion ‘combusts, or levitates or mutates into the experience of the supernatural’ and each myth is reinvigorated and explored through that sense of passion. It’s always there bubbling underneath the surface as a life force. It is also a story about the tension between good and ‘the despicable’ (either godly or human.).
The poem starts off explicitly outlining Ovid’s intention:
Of bodies changed to other forms I tell;
You Gods, who have yourself wrought every change.
Inspire my enterprise and lead my lay
In one continuous song from nature’s first
Remote beginnings to our modern times.
(Ovid 1986: 1)
And indeed Ovid’s tale takes us up to the point where Julius Caeser was deified in 42 BC after his assassination.
2. Recommended Reads:
(We’ll add to this as we go along)
- Tales of Ovid by Ted Hughes, Hughes’ own interpretation of Metamorphoses, Whitbread Book of the year Award Winner 1997- a breathtaking book that accompanies and enhances Ovid’s version perfectly.
Available from Amazon
3. Book One Overview:
The Myths: The Creation; The Ages of Mankind, The Flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Apollo & Daphne, Io, Phaethon
Key Characters: Jove, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Pan, Apollo and Daphne, Io and Phaethon
In Book 1, as they say, we begin at the beginning and are taken through the sequence of how the world came into being. Through chaos, the creation of the different elements, water, seas and the creation of man. We are then walked through the 5 ages of man: Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron where all evil is let loose and warfare is prevalent, so much so that all immortals desert the earth and heaven is attacked by giants.
Jove, Lord of heaven, witnesses these Iron-Age atrocities and recalls the time when he turned Lycean a cannibal king into a wolf. This prompts him to take divine council and he suggests all mankind should be killed by a flood, to rid the world of evil. The God’s agree and all is destroyed.
Deucalion (Son of Prometheus) and Pyrrha (Wife of Deucalion) are the only survivors of this destruction and are given permission by the goddess of Justice, Themis, to recreate mankind out of stones. This included the dangerous side of humanity too like Python, a serpent, who is eventually killed by Apollo, the God of the Sun.
- Facilitated by Cupid Apollo falls in love with Daphne (Daughter of Peneus, the river God). However, Cupid being the naughty god of love that he is, complicates matters by shooting Daphne with a love repellent arrow. And in order to avoid Apollo’s attentions she asks Peneus to help her and he turns her into a Laurel Tree.
- Io, also known as Isis, is ravished by Jove but Juno (his wife) finds out (don’t they always ;)) and in order to evade being found out turns Io into a beautiful heifer. Juno insists the heifer is given to her and asks Argus (a monster with 100 eyes) to guard her. Io is treated so badly by Argus that Jove intervenes and asks Mercury (Son of Jove and the messenger of the gods) to kill Argus.
- Mercury kills Argus by telling him a tale of transformation whereby Pan changes Syrinx a nymph into a reed from which he makes his pipes. Argus falls asleep to this tale and Mercury kills him.
- Juno follows Io to Africa and begs her forgiveness and as she does is changed back into human form. Io gives birth to a son Epaphus who becomes a friend of Phaethon (the son of Apollo).
- Epaphus challenges the nature of Phaethon’s parentage and the two, supported by Clymene (mother of Phaethon) begin a journey to India to find Phaethon’s father.
2A. Themes, Analysis and Relevance
In Metamorphoses as a whole and in Book 1 the theme of transformations is a broad one encompassing a diversity of transformation both elemental and physical: from chaos to the universe to Daphne into a Laurel Tree. However, the text goes beyond the surface of the myths to actually explore the dynamics of transformation investigating the very nature of power (not only between those who are transformed but also those who transform). As Spark Notes suggests Book 1 of Metamorphoses looks at the ‘relationships of POWER’. Transformation is often a punishment for a wrong doing (like Jove destroying the world with a flood for the depravity that man has reached in the Iron Age). And this wrong doing applies to both mankind and the Gods equally. In contrast, those (like Deucalion) who side with Gods, are allowed to live.
Love is seen as the kingpin of this power dynamic, with love and lust inextricably linked, and in Book 1 Spark Notes suggests love is unrequited (Daphne and Apollo, Pan and Syrinx). One transformation begets another (often ending in tragedy and serves to highlight the manner in which change affects mankind).
This engagement with the dynamics of power and change, betrayal and love, flood and war are clearly still relevant in contemporary society and culture today. Book 1 is a rich source from which to draw to lay the foundations of what is both good and bad about mankind, and has been drawn on by such composers as Benjamin Britten for inspiration, composing a sequence of pieces for the Oboe entitled Six Metamorphoses After Ovid. The first one of which you’ll find below as it depicts Pan’s moment of transformation. They are sparky, energetic and capture the energy and dynamism of transformation perfectly.
For a more extensive overview here’s the In Our Time Podcast with Melvyn Bragg on Metamorphoses
Brittain 6 Metamorphoses After Ovid: Pan
Brunauer, Dalma. H (1996) The Metamorphoses of Ovid, New Jesey Research and Education Association
Hughes, T (1997) Tales from Ovid, London: Faber and Faber
Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press
3. Book 1 Character List
The Winds- Includes Zephyr god of the warm west; Boreas, god of the cold North Wind
Earth- the planet ruled by the gods
Jove- Lord of Heaven, Son of Saturn and Rhea, husband of Juno
Saturn– Son of Heaven and Earth, and the father of Jove, Neptune and Pluto. Also has three daughters: Juno, Ceres and Vesta
Giants- attempted an attack on Heaven
Lycaon- A barbarous King, Turned into a wolf
Deucalion- Son of Prometheus, husband of Pyrrha, saved from the flood by Jove
Pyrrha, Wife of Deucalion
Themis- Goddess of Justice (hears the prayers of Deucalion and Pyrrha)
Python, A Monstrous Snake
Apollo (Phoebus)- God of the Sun, music, poetry, healing, archery, prophecy. Father of Phaeton with Clymene. Kills Python
Clymene– Mother of Phaeton with Apollo; Wife of Merops
Daphne- First love of Apollo, Daughter of the River God Peneus, Turned into a Laurel Tree
Cupid, God of Love
Diana (Artemis) Daughter of Jove and Latona, Sister of Apollo; Moon Goddess, Goddess of the Hunt; Patron of Young Unmarried Women
Io- Daughter of Inachus, worshipped as Isis, desired by Jove, changed into a heifer, Mother of Epaphus
Juno- Queen of Heaven, sister and wife of Jove; aware of his philandering
Argus-Monster of 100 eyes, serves Juno; keeps watch over Juno
Mercury- Messenger of the Gods, Son of Jove and Maia, slays Argus
Syrinx- Nymph chased by Pan, turned into a reed, from which Pan shapes his pipes
Phaethon- Son of Apollo, sets out to prove his parentage and dies driving his father’s chariot, friend of Epaphus
4. Audio reading of Io’s Story :
5. Book 2 Overview & Analysis
Overview of Book 2:
Book 2 feels somewhat ‘bitty’ in comparison to the expanse and vastness of Book 1. This bitty feel is the result of Ovid placing many ‘tales within tales’. This is particularly the case in the tale ‘The Raven and The Crow’. In a lot of the criticism of Book 2 much emphasis is put on Phaethon‘s tale because of its powerful engagement with the power of art and representation (through Phaeton’s lack of appreciation of the artwork in the Palace of the Sun). Taken in their entirety the group of stories show the after effects of inappropriate behaviour and selfishness (of both Gods and Humans). In other words, the consequences of overstepping the mark. A violation of Moira (fate) as Brunauer puts it (36).
Initially through the tale of Phaethon (one of the longest tales in the entire book) Ovid places us into a world of order and balance. However, this is also quickly juxtaposed against the dubious morality of both the gods and the humans. Other stories within the group as mentioned above explore narrative techniques and in Callisto the nature of LOVE (as expressed through rape) is explored. As per usual the Book is filled with comedy and transformations ranging from bears, to constellations (some astrology here), to owls, to horses.
Summary of the Stories in Book 2:
Key Characters: Phaethon, Jove, Cygnus, Juno, Apollo, Raven, Crow, Ocyrhoe, Mercury, Battus, Aglaurus, Jupiter, Europa
Phaethon finds his father, Apollo (the sun god) in the Palace of the Sun. Apollo offers him anything he wants. Phaethon asks to drive his father’s chariot for one day. He does so and his ride is catastrophic; he loses control and falls skyward. As he falls everything burns and earth is put in danger. Jove (lord of heaven) kills Phaethon with a thunderbolt as a consequence.
Phaethon is mourned and his sisters (Phaethusa and Lamperia) are turned into trees, and another acquaintance is turned into a swan (Cygnus).
Jove visits Arcady and is attracted to a nymph, Callisto. Dressed as the Goddess Diana he seduces her and she becomes pregnant. Finding this out Diana banishes Callisto and Juno (wife of Jove) turns her into a bear.
Arcas (Callisto’s child) almost kills her mother in a hunting incident and Jove intercedes and turns both of them into constellations. The Big Bear and the Little Bear.
The Raven and the Crow
(The tale of how the raven, once white, became black)
- The Raven belonging to Apollo wants to tell his master that he has seen Coronis (a nymph who Apollo had once seduced) with another lover.
The Crow (who was once an exquisite princess but turned into a Crow by Minerva to protect her from the ravishment of Poseidon tries to change the Raven’s mind by telling him the tale of the daughters of Cecrops (a legendary king of Athens)The sisters were entrusted by the Goddess Minerva (the Goddess of wisdom) to look after a boy who had lost his mother. The daughters were told not to look into the chest that contained the child. One of the daughters (Aglauros) ignored the warning and looked in. The Crow reported this to Minerva who rather than praising the Crow de-ranked him.
The Raven ignores the Crow’s warning and tells Apollo, and consequently Coronis is killed by the angry Apollo with an arrow. Whilst dying Coronis reveals she’s with child. Apollo saves the child and gives it to a centaur Chiron for safekeeping. Apollo hated the Raven for telling him about Coronis’ betrayal and as punishment turns the Raven black.
The centaur’s daughter Ocychroe foretells that Coronis’s child will bring great healing to the Roman world, but in so doing suffers the consequences of ‘Heaven’s wrath’ and is turned into a horse despite Apollo’s efforts to save her from her fate.
Mercury and Battus
Mercury steals Apollo’s cattle and Battus (a herdsman) sees him. Mercury tries to bribe him but he tricks Battus and turns him into stone.
The Envy of Aglauros
Mercury, the lusty fellow that he is, is enamoured with Cecrops’ daughter Herse, he tries to bribe the other sister Aglauros into letting him into Herse’s bedroom. She accepts the bribe but Minerva, angry, exacts a punishment and visits the goddess Envy and orders her to kill Aglauros. Envy inflicts a disease on her and she turns into black marble. Mercury flies off to heaven happy that greedy Aglaurus has been punished sufficiently.
Mercury and Europa
Jove asks his son Mercury to steal some cattle in Sidon (an extremely important Phoenician city specialising in glass and dye) which he does successfully. Jove then disguises himself as a bull and seduces the King of Sidon’s daughter Europa and he carries her across the sea.
Themes, Analysis and Relevance
As mentioned previously, Book 2 engages with a variety of themes which are still completely relevant to the texture of our life today; and, indeed, the debates that still operate within contemporary culture. We have:
- the nature of art and representation (Phaethon);
- the consequences of gossiping (The Raven and the Crow),
- the nature of love, power and victim-hood (Callisto)
- the nature of selfishness (both Gods and humans), (Jupiter and Europa),
- and we see Ovid’s use of comedy as he engages with the consequences sometimes engendered by lust (The Envy of Aglauros).
Below you’ll find another movement of composer Benjamin Britten’s sequence of pieces for the Oboe entitled Six Metamorphoses After Ovid. This time his focus is on Phaethon and his moment of transformation. This one is equally edgy and syncopated and embodies the energy of transformation perfectly. I have also discovered another composer who has been inspired by Ovid: Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1750-1819) who wrote ‘Symphony After Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ No. 2 in D Major. You’ll find Phaeton’s Movement below too. It’s beautiful and a link to the movement related to Book 1 follows it.
Brittain 6 Metamorphoses After Ovid: Phaethon
The Fall of Phaethon from Symphony After Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ No. 2 in D Major by Dittersdorf
Here’s another link to another movement of the piece that relates to Book 1: Dittersdorf Sinfonia No.1 in C major The Four Ages of The World
6. Book 2 List of New Characters:
Vulcan- God of fire and metalworking, Son of Juno
Lucifer-The Morning Star
Phaethusa and Lamperia, Sisters of Phaethon
Cygnus, King of Liguria, turned into a swan; placed amidst the stars.
Callisto, nymph, turned into a bear by Diana
Arcas, Son of Callisto by Jove
Thetis- A sea nymph, daughter of Neresu and Doris; wife of Peleus
Coronis of Larissa– Nymph pursued by Apollo
Erichthonius, boy without a mother
Pallas Athena also known as Minerva. Goddess of wisdom, craftmanship, daughter of Jove, patron goddess of Athens
Pandrosos, Herese, Aglorous, Three sisters, daughters of Cecrops
Chiron– Educated centaur, father of Ocyrhoe
Envy- Green fleshed monster with a tongue that drips venom.
Europa-Abducted princess, mother of Minos the king of Crete
7. Audio Recording of ‘The Raven and the Crow’