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The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses

by Ovid

The Metamorphoses Book 2 Summary

  • The palace of the sun turns out to be made entirely of previous metals, and far superior to anything featured on MTV's Cribs.
  • Ovid tells us that what was most stupendously awesome, however, was the artwork on the doors. There, Vulcan, the god of fire and technology, had created a picture of the world through metal-working.
  • When Phaethon reaches the palace, he heads straight to see the Sun.
  • The Sun greets him, calling him his son. (Trust us, that sounds less confusing in the original Latin.) But Phaethon still demands proof.
  • The Sun reassures him that he is his father; he says, "Here's what, to prove it to you, ask me for anything and I'll give it to you. I swear it by the fearsome waters of Styx, the river of the underworld."
  • In response to this, Phaethon says, "Cool. Then let me drive the chariot of the sun for one day."
  • The Sun says, "Uh-oh. I really wish I hadn't made that promise. You don't even have your sun-chariot learner's permit yet! I know, I know, kids your age, they always think they're immortal – but trust me, you're not. I'm the only one who can drive this chariot – not even the other gods can do it! Please, ask for something else."
  • But Phaethon insists, and his dad has to keep his word.
  • The Sun leads him over to where the golden chariot is waiting, and helps him get ready.
  • Then, just before it's time for Phaethon to head out, the Sun gives him some advice. He tells him not to whip the horses; they'll be eager enough to be going. Also, he tells him to steer a middle course through the sky, and to keep his altitude at a medium level.
  • At the last minute, Phoebus tries once more to convince Phaethon to back down from his madness, but Phaethon doesn't answer. Instead, he whips up the horses and rides off.
  • The horses sense the difference – Phaethon holds the reins with a lot less strength – and they start running wild.
  • Various animals of the zodiac get scorched when he flies too close. Phaethon wishes he had never gotten proof of who his father was.
  • Then, when Phaethon is nearing the constellation Scorpio – the scorpion – he gets afraid that it will attack him. In terror, he drops the reins.
  • Not good. The horses of the sun run all over the place, completely out of control. They collide with stars, set clouds on fire, and then veer down towards earth and destroy a number of mortal cities.
  • But that isn't all; he also scorches numerous rivers; parches the earth so that deep cracks appear in it, shining light into the underworld; and dries up parts of the ocean.
  • In the midst of all this chaos, the goddess of Earth calls out to Jupiter for help. She tells him that he'd better act quickly; even if he doesn't care about everyone else's sufferings, he should at least be worried that heaven itself will be burned up in the flames.
  • Hearing her, Jupiter calls all the other gods to assembly. He makes them all – including the Sun – bear witness that he doesn't have any choice in what he's about to do.
  • Then, he climbs to the highest point of the heavens, aims his lightning bolt, and throws it, striking Phaethon and killing him.
  • Phaethon plummets to the earth. He is found by some Naiads (water-nymphs), who bury him near the Po, a river in Northern Italy.
  • Clymene, his mother, wanders the earth in grief, looking for her lost son. Eventually she finds him – and weeps over his grave.
  • Then the Heliades, Clymene's daughters (and Phaethon's sisters) join in the lament.
  • Then, for no particular reason, they turn into poplar trees and their tears turn to amber. Ovid tells us that the amber droplets end up becoming jewelry worn by fashionable Roman women of his day.
  • Then Cycnus, a friend of Phaethon's, also shows up to weep beside his grave. In no time, he turns into a swan. Ovid speculates that this bird's characteristics reflect the fact that Cycnus was traumatized by his friend's death: swans don't like flying (hence they avoid Jupiter's thunderbolts), and they stay close to water (the opposite of fire).
  • Meanwhile, the Sun is wracked with grief for Phaethon and threatens to stop driving the chariot of the sun. The other gods convince him not to be stupid, however.
  • Then Jupiter wanders around, trying to assess the damage from the fire. On his wanderings, he spies the nymph Callisto, the goddess Diana's favorite handmaiden. He immediately develops a crush on her.
  • He watches as she goes into the shade of a nearby forest.
  • Then, he approaches her in the shape of Diana, her mistress. In this disguise, he greets her, kisses her…and then rapes her. Callisto tries to resist, but isn't strong enough.
  • Jupiter then goes back to the heavens, while Callisto tries to pretend like nothing happened. Unfortunately, nine months later, when Diana and her other nymphs are about to go bathing, someone rips off Callisto's clothes and everyone can see she's pregnant. Because only virgins could hang out with Diana, Callisto becomes an outcast.
  • Soon afterward, Callisto gives birth to a son, Arcas.
  • After this, Juno reveals that it was she who had brought to pass Callisto's pregnancy and motherhood, as punishment for sleeping with her husband, Jupiter.
  • But that isn't all. As a final punishment for attracting her husband's eye, Juno turns Callisto into a bear.
  • Sixteen years later, Callisto's son, Arcas is out hunting.
  • He comes upon his mother, the bear. She vaguely recognizes him, and signals him to come closer. He obviously doesn't recognize her because, you know, she's a bear.
  • Before Arcas can kill her with his spear, however, Jupiter intervenes. He scoops both of them up and puts them in the sky – turning them into the constellations the Big and Little Bear, or, as we sometimes call them, the Big and Little Dipper.
  • Now Juno is really ticked off, because becoming a constellation is a high honor. (Get it, high? Heh.)
  • She goes down to complain to her friends, the god Ocean and his wife Tethys, a sea-goddess. She tells them that, in punishment, they should never let the skanky Great Bear touch their waters. (Of course, viewed from most regions in the Northern hemisphere, the stars of the Great Bear do never dip beneath the horizon into the ocean.)
  • Then Juno heads back up to the heavens. Ovid tells us that, around this time, the raven transformed from a white bird into a black bird. Here's the scoop: the god Apollo has a girlfriend, named Coronis, who lives in the region of Larissa. One day, Apollo's bird, the raven discovers that Coronis has been cheating on him. He immediately flies off to warn his master.
  • On his way, he is overtaken by a crow. The crow wants to know what's up. Once the raven tells him, however, the crow tells him to spare his effort – and not disturb his master with the bad news. Then she (the crow is a she) tells a story to explain why. Let's listen to the crow's story:
  • The crow says that a long time ago, the god Vulcan fathered a son, Erichthonius, under strange circumstances. (OK, we're not exactly sure how to put this, but, he tried to rape Minerva but didn't succeed. Instead, his "seed" fell down to earth; from where it landed, up sprang Erichthonius.)
  • Anyway, Minerva seemed to want to cover the whole thing up, so she hid the child in a basket. She then made this basket the responsibility of the three daughters of Cecrops, an ancient king of Athens. Then she made them swear never to look inside it.
  • Two of the daughters, Pandrosos and Herse, obeyed the goddess, but the third, Aglauros, peeked inside – and a saw a baby with a serpent curled up beside him.
  • The crow, as it turns out, had been watching this whole thing. Then she went to Minerva and tattled on Aglauros. Unfortunately, this was before the phrase "don't shoot the messenger" had become widely known. Minerva was so ticked off that she forbade the crow to be her special bird any longer; from that point on, she and owls were pals instead.
  • That's the end of the crow's story. Then she says to the raven, "Now, you might think that I never was Minerva's special bird in the first place. If you do, you're way wrong." To prove it, the crow now starts telling a second story. Here is the crow's second story:
  • The crow says that, a long time ago, she used to be a beautiful princess, with many suitors. But then, one day, while she was walking along the beach, the god the Ocean saw her and got all hot and bothered.
  • He pursued her, and she prayed to the gods for help. The only one who listened was Minerva, herself a virgin, who transformed the princess into a crow. This crow then became Minerva's bird.
  • That's the end of the crow's second story. She rounds it off by complaining that Minerva's new bird, the owl, also used to be a princess – who was a total slut.
  • In response to this, however, the raven says, "Whatever. I'm still going to deliver my message to Apollo."
  • The raven flies up and delivers his message. Apollo is so angry that he strings up his bow and immediately shoots an arrow into the breast of Coronis, his girlfriend.
  • Just before she dies, Coronis reveals that she was pregnant.
  • After this killing, Apollo becomes consumed with grief. He attends Coronis's funeral and mourns over her body. Then, he snatches the unborn child out of her womb and carries it off to the cave of the centaur, Chiron. He also turns the white raven black. So that's that.
  • Meanwhile, Chiron is happy to have received the unborn child – who apparently isn't dead. He is happy to raise this divine offspring, whose name is Aesculapius.
  • Then in walks Chiron's daughter, Ocyrhoe. She has been given the gift of prophecy, and now she busts it out.
  • She foretells that Aesculapius will become a great healer, able to raise the dead. In anger over this power, Jupiter will kill him with a thunderbolt; then, Aesculapius himself will be raised from the dead and will become a god.
  • As for Chiron, her father, he will one day suffer from poisoning so severe that he will wish he weren't immortal. Eventually, the gods will take away his immortality, so death can put an end to his suffering.
  • After delivering this prophecy, Ocyrhoe turns into a mare (female horse). Her new name is "Hippe," meaning…"female horse."
  • Chiron laments this and calls out to Apollo for help. But even if Apollo could have done something about it, he's too busy right now crying about his girlfriend Coronis – whom he murdered.
  • Apollo is so consumed with grief that he doesn't even keep an eye on his herds of cattle.
  • That leaves a window of opportunity open for Mercury, who is, among other things, the god of trickery. Mercury steals all the cattle and hides them in the woods.
  • Only one person sees him do it: an old man named Battus.
  • Mercury goes up to Battus and promises him a cow if he keeps his mouth shut. Battus says, "No problem, your secret is safe with me."
  • Then, to test him out, Mercury walks off, and then comes back in disguise. Now he asks Battus if he's seen anyone pass by driving cattle; he promises a cow and a bull if he tells him.
  • Battus lets the cat out the bag – pointing out where the cattle are. Mercury is furious and turns Battus to stone. In particular, he turns him into the first "touchstone" – a stone used to determine the purity of precious metals. Hence, he becomes, appropriately, a stone that reveals the truth.
  • Then Mercury flies off. In his flight, he passes Athens, where he spots the daughters of Cecrops. He finds Herse especially beautiful, and immediately decides he has to have her.
  • After making sure his clothes are all in order, he sneaks into Cecrops's palace at night. Aglauros – the same daughter who had peeked in the basket and seen the infant Aesculapius – now sees Mercury coming.
  • Mercury reveals that he's there for Herse. Aglauros promises to keep her mouth shut – if Mercury will give her lots of riches.
  • Minerva, meanwhile, has been watching the whole thing. She is mad that Aglauros is getting away with yet another sleazy act.
  • Determined to punish her, Minerva goes off to see the goddess of personified Envy. Minerva tells Envy to infect Aglauros with venom.
  • Envy goes down to earth and does just that. Now, over the coming days and nights, Aglauros is consumed with jealousy for her sister Herse, and her little fling with Mercury.
  • One day, Aglauros sits in the doorway to Herse's room and refuses to get out of the way when Mercury arrives.
  • In response, Mercury turns her into a statue. Then, when he's finished his visit with Herse, he flies back up to the heavens.
  • When he gets up to heaven, Jupiter sends him on another mission. He tells him to go to the land of Sidon (in the Middle East); when he gets there, he will see a herd of cattle. He should then drive this herd into the sea. (Jupiter doesn't give any explanation for this.)
  • Mercury does as he's told, finds the cattle, and drives them into the sea.
  • Meanwhile, Jupiter turns himself into a bull and heads down to the beach. The cattle Mercury is driving belong to Agenor, the local king. Jupiter heads straight for Europa, the king's beautiful daughter.
  • He acts friendly and nuzzles her hand. Eventually, his gentleness makes Europa trust in him so much that she sits on his back.
  • That's just what he's been waiting for – now Jupiter races out into the open sea, carrying Europa away with him on his shoulders.

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