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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 #1

"The pleasure love allots to you," he said,
"is greater than the pleasure given men."
But she contested that, and they agreed
To let Tiresias decide, for he
knew love both as a woman and a man.
Tiresias had once struck with his staff
two huge snakes as they mated in the forest;
for that, he had been changed – a thing of wonder –
from man to woman. Seven autumns passed,
and still that change held fast. But at the eighth,
he came upon those serpents once again.
He said: "If he who strikes you can be changed
into his counter-state, then this time, too,
I'll strike at you." His stout staff dealt a blow;
and he regained the shape he was before,
the shape the Theban had when he was born. (3.320-331)

Well, we don't really want to get into the deepest questions this passage raises, but we can point out that Ovid here anticipates some modern theorists who see gender as more fluid than fixed. Of course, he also views these changes as especially unusual and strange, and thus worth being talked about in his book of Metamorphoses.

Quote #2

"And in the face of his fair daughter's shame,
the king is cruel: though his daughter prays,
beseeching mercy, even as she claims –
her arms stretched to the Sun – that she was raped
against her will, he pays no heed, inflicts
a brutal burial in a deep ditch;
the sand heaped over her is heavy, thick." (4.237-240)

The punishment suffered by Leucothoe (not to be confused with Leuconoe, who is telling the story) reflects the gender power-dynamics in a patriarchal society. Even though she was raped, Leucothoe's father feels that his daughter's virtue has been stained, and so he takes violent revenge against her. It is very important that you distinguish the king's views from Ovid's, however. Ovid shows that he doesn't approve of this by explicitly calling the king "cruel" and his actions "brutal." He also makes us sympathetic for the victim by showing the true story from her point of view.

Quote #3

"As when one grafts a twig around a bough
and wraps the bark around them, he will see
those branches, growing to maturity,
unite: so were these bodies that had joined
no longer two but one – although biform:
one could have called that shape a woman or
a boy: for it seemed neither and seemed both." (4.375-379)

This story of Hermaphroditus, who is simultaneously a boy and a girl, is where we get our modern word "hermaphrodite." Once again, this story shows Ovid's interest in the possible fluidity of gender.

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