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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.

Quote #7

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?

Quote #8

(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.

Quote #9

(Ulysses):
"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.

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