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The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses


by Ovid

The Metamorphoses Memory and the Past 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

Agamemnon slighted
Diana when he killed her sacred stag;
and to appease the virgin goddess' wrath,
the Greeks must offer up a virgin's blood.
Now pity yields unto the public cause,
and kingship overcomes a father's love;
Iphigenia stands before the altar,
among attendants all in tears. But just
about to spill such dear chaste blood, Diana
relents: she screens the scene with a dark cloud;
and at the climax of the sacrifice,
amid the pleas and outcries of the crowd,
the goddess substitutes – they say – a hind
in place of the young virgin of Mycenae. (12.29-34)

In this case, Ovid wades into the arguing-over-different-versions-of-myths muck. In many versions of this story, Iphigenia is indeed sacrificed by the Greeks in order to get better weather. For example, in a poem by the earlier Roman poet, Lucretius, entitled On The Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura), the girl is definitely sacrificed – though in that case her name is slightly different: "Iphianassa." In his version, though, Ovid mixes things up, saying that Diana replaced Iphigenia with a "hind" (female deer) at the last minute. By sticking in that little "they say," he gets to claim that he is just following a different tradition. Do you think he's telling the truth? If not, why would he lie about it?

Quote #8

And so the other gods were stirred to pity
on seeing Hecuba compelled to bark;
but one, Aurora, was too taken up
with her own sorrow. Even to this day,
the goddess still sheds tears for her dear son:
the dew she scatters on the world at dawn. (13.620-622)

In this passage, Ovid explains the origin of dew as the tears shed by Aurora, the goddess of the Dawn. Aurora is in mourning because her son, Memnon, was killed in the Trojan War.

Quote #9

Aeneas sailed along Inarime
and Prochyte, and rocky Pythecusae,
the barren island that derives its name
from its inhabitants, a pack of knaves:
[…] for the Cecropes
were changed to pithekoi, the Greek for "monkeys."
Jove gave them shorter limbs; and as old age
will furrow faces, so he furrowed theirs;
and having clothed their forms with yellow hair,
he sent them off to dwell on that bare isle.
But first he stripped them of the power of words,
for perjury was all their tongues had served;
the only thing he left them free to utter
were harsh and hoarse complaints – their scrannel chatter. (14.89-100)

Now, if you were an inhabitant of Pythecusae – also spelled Pithecusae – you would probably be pretty offended at this remark of Ovid's. (This is a real place, by the way – an island in the Bay of Naples.) But then again, think of how modern humans first felt when Charles Darwin came along and said that we all were descended from monkeys, a metamorphosis that Ovid would have loved? Ever heard of an early hominid called "Australopithecus"? (The most famous is the so-called "Lucy"; you can read more about her here). Anyway, the "pithecus" in "Australopithecus" comes from the same Greek word that Ovid is playing off here.

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