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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 #1

An animal with higher intellect,
more noble, able – one to rule the rest:
such was the living thing the earth still lacked.
Then man was born. Either the Architect
of All, the author of the universe,
in order to beget a better world,
created man from seed divine – or else
Prometheus, son of Iapetus, made man
by mixing new-made earth with fresh rainwater
(for earth had only recently been set
apart from heaven, and the earth still kept
seeds of the sky – remains of their shared birth);
and when he fashioned man, his mold recalled
the masters of all things, the gods. And while
all other animals are bent, head down,
and fix their gaze upon the ground, to man
he gave a face that is held high; he had
man stand erect, his eyes upon the stars.
So was the earth, which until then had been
so rough and indistinct, transformed: it wore
a thing unknown before – the human form. (1.76-88)

This is the first entrance onto the scene of "man" (this is meant to refer to all of humanity, including both men and women). From the very beginning, this new creature is depicted as fundamentally different from the other creatures on earth because of its partially divine nature and shape. This difference is symbolized by the fact that humans stand upright, thus bringing them closer to the stars.

Quote #2

Earth of itself – and uncompelled – untouched
by hoes, not torn by ploughshares, offered all
that one might need: men did not have to seek:
they simply gathered mountain strawberries
and the arbutus' fruit and cornel cherries;
and thick upon their prickly stems, blackberries;
and acorns fallen from Jove's sacred tree.
There spring was never-ending. The soft breeze
of tender zephyrs wafted and caressed
the flowers that sprang unplanted, without seed.
The earth, untilled, brought forth abundant yields;
and though they never had lain fallow, fields
were yellow with the heavy stalks of wheat.
And streams of milk and streams of nectar flowed,
and golden honey dripped from the holm oak. (1.101-112)

This passage describes the first Age of human existence, also known as the Golden Age. Ovid's description of this era is typical to that of other Roman writers. The basic idea is that, in this period, people didn't have to do any work because the Earth spontaneously produced their food for them. (Sweet.) The Golden Age as imagined by classical authors has many parallels with the Garden of Eden in the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

Quote #3

Men spread their sails before the winds,
whose ways the mariner had scarcely learned:
the wooden keels, which once had stood as trunks
upon the mountain slopes, now danced upon
the unfamiliar waves. And now the ground,
which once – just like the sunlight and the air –
had been a common good, one all could share,
was marked and measured by the keen surveyor –
he drew the long confines, the boundaries.
Not only did men ask of earth its wealth,
its harvest crops and foods that nourish us,
they also delved into the bowels of earth:
there they began to dig for what was hid
deep underground beside the shades of Styx:
the treasures that spur men to sacrilege. (1.132-140)

Uh-oh, party's over folks. We're in the Iron Age now. The main idea of the Iron Age is that people have to work; this also means that they have to manipulate the environment, by plowing the earth, chopping down trees, and so on. Shipping is a major symbol of the Iron Age for two reasons: (1) as a symbol of man violating natural laws, by cutting down trees and setting out across the water, which isn't his habitat, and (2) as a symbol of the fact that the Earth doesn't give you everything you need. (If it did, you wouldn't have to go out in a boat to trade your stuff for somebody else's stuff.) These two ideas (violation and trade) also come up in the motif of mining. Is the Age of Iron the age we live in today?

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