The Metamorphoses Gender Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation, but these citations refer not to the lines in Mandelbaum's edition, but to the original Latin.
Now, to deceive her husband, Telethusa
gave orders to the nurse (for she alone
knew of this guile) to feed the newborn child
and to tell everyone it was a son.
And Ligdus thanked the gods, and to the child
he gave the name of Ligdus' father: Iphis.
And Telethusa was most pleased with this:
it was a name that suited male or female –
a neutral name, whose use involved no tricks.
No one unmasked the pious lie. She dressed
her Iphis as a boy – and whether one
assigned them to a daughter or a son,
the features of the child were surely handsome. (9.706-713)
Long before gender-neutral names became popular, Telethusa caught a lucky break when her husband gave their daughter the name "Iphis," which was also the name of his father. As it turned out, Iphis, who was raised as a boy, ended up being attracted to girls. What, if anything, do you think this story reveals about Ovid's views on gender?
(Latreus in Nestor's tale):
"Must I, o Caenis, suffer one like you!
For me, you'll always be a woman, you
are nothing more than Caenis. Yes, you seem
to have forgotten that your origins
were feminine; you don't remember what
you had to do to merit this reward,
the price you paid to earn yourself this false
appearance of a man! Remember then
just what you were at birth, what you went through:
now go, take up the distaff – that's your due:
take up the basket heaped with threads, the wool
your thumb can twist: let men attend to war!"
But when he heard such boasting, Caenus cast
a lance that pierced the side of Latreus (12.470-478)
There's no question about Latreus's views on gender. He thinks that, because Caenus started out as a woman named Caenis, he must still be a woman to this day. Also, he seems to hold gender stereotypes about women. He quickly learns his mistake, however, when Caenus spears him in the side.
"When Thetis, Nereid mother of Achilles,
foresaw her dear son's doom, she tricked you all;
she dressed him in the clothes of a young girl,
and Ajax, like the rest of you, was fooled.
But I slipped in – among the women's stuff
that lay about – some weapons, of the sort
to draw a man's attention. While still dressed
as girl, the hero gripped a shield and lance;
I said: 'O son of Thetis, Troy must face
her fate, her fall: it's you whom she awaits.
Why, then, delay the day when she must die?'
I placed my hands upon him, and I sent
the hero off to his heroic tasks." (13.162-170)
This story about Achilles seems to send a contradictory message to that about Iphis. OK, so the situations aren't exactly the same, because Achilles is only briefly disguised as a girl by his mother, instead of being raised that way from birth. Still, it is interesting that Ulysses guesses (correctly, in this instance) that the child dressed as a girl will be interested in typical manly pursuits like warfare. Too bad for Thetis. Achilles goes off to Troy, wins great fame as a warrior, and finds an early grave.