The Metamorphoses
The Metamorphoses
by Ovid
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The Metamorphoses Theme of Man and the Natural World

From the beginning of The Metamorphoses, Ovid portrays humans as having a special relationship with the natural world. This is because they are made in the image of the gods, out of mud that still preserves traces of heavenly "seeds" from when the universe was still mixed together. In the early years, the Golden Age, humans lived in perfect harmony with nature, and did not have to work for their food. As time passed, however, they became dependent on working the land, and on trading with each other. As a result, they developed technologies like ships, began employing currency, and making war on each other. That said, even though humans are now separated from nature, they still appeal to nature to account for their own actions, as when Myrrha claims (falsely) that animals practice incest as a way of justifying her desire for her own father. Towards the end of The Metamorphoses, Ovid makes the philosopher Pythagoras encourage humans to regain some features of Golden Age existence; in particular, he urges them to become vegetarians, so that they do not need to commit violence against nature in order to live.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Why does Ovid emphasize the fact that humans were made from mud that still had a heavenly component?
  2. Does Ovid portray modern (for him) life as connected in any way with the Golden Age, or are they fundamentally different?
  3. Does Ovid think human technological development is good or bad? Or is it somewhere in between?
  4. What does Ovid think are the essential differences between humans and animals? Does he even think there are such differences?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Ovid thinks that people should become closer to nature.

Ovid thinks that people often claim to be "getting closer to nature" as an excuse for their own actions.

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