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The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses


by Ovid

The Metamorphoses Man and the Natural World 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 #4

[Juno] caught Callisto by the hair
in front and pulled her, face down, to the ground.
The girl stretched out her arms, imploring pity:
but those same arms began to sprout rough, shaggy
black hairs; her hands began to curve and lengthen
into hooked claws – they now were feet; the face
that Jove had so admired now was changed
to lumpish jaws; that she might not implore,
the gift of speech was taken from her: hoarse,
her throat could only utter angry growls –
a frightening sound. And yet, though now a bear,
she still retains the mind she had before,
and shows her suffering with endless moans (2.476-486)

Ovid uses scenes of transformation for many symbolic purposes. One of these is to explore the connections and differences between the human and natural worlds. Here, when Callisto is transformed into a bear, she loses two important aspects of her humanity, but preserves one. The two she loses are (1) her shape, and (2) the capacity to speak. The third she keeps is her mind, her sense of her own personal identity. In a way, Ovid suggests that preserving (3) is an added form of torture, since Callisto is tormented by the knowledge that she is not in the right body – but can't express that fact.

Quote #5

An ancient forest lay at hand: no ax
had ever violated it. A mass
of rocks, a grotto forming a low arch,
stood there among dense shrubs and pliant boughs;
and from that cave abundant waters gushed. (3.28-31)

Even in Ovid's day, the Mediterranean world was fairly well-explored and developed. The fact that Cadmus encounters a forest that has never been touched by human hands shows that this story takes place at a comparatively early date in the history of the universe.

Quote #6

A valley lay nearby. In its dense woods,
the pointed cypress and the pitch-pine stood.
That site was called Gargaphia, a grove
Diana, goddess who wears tucked-up robes,
held sacred. And within the deepest shade,
the innermost recess, there lay a cave
most perfect. Nature's craft can imitate
the ways of art; here she had shaped an arch
of what was native there – of porous rock
and of light tufa. (3.155-160)

What do you think Ovid really means here when he says "Nature's craft can imitate / the ways of art"? One meaning of art would be transforming nature into something humanly useful. Do you think that is what he means here – that Nature has formed the rock into something humanly useful (an arch) under which one can take shelter? Can you think of other examples (either in life or in Ovid's poem) where Nature helps humans out? If Nature still helps humans out, is that a hold-over from the Golden Age? Or are these instances just too rare the count? We're just throwing out some ideas here. You got any others?

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