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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 #1

Those parts that bore some moisture from the earth
became the flesh; whereas the solid parts –
whatever could not bend – became the bones.
What had been veins remained, with the same name.
And since the gods had willed it so, quite soon
the stones that man had thrown were changed to men,
and those the woman cast took women's forms.
From this, our race is tough, tenacious; we
work-hard – proof of our stony ancestry. (1.407-415)

In these lines, Ovid tries to explain something about the world he lives in by pointing to its origin. In this case, he ascribes the toughness of the age he lives in to the fact that this race of humans originated as stones. We have already seen plenty of examples of this when looking at the theme of "Transformations." What makes this passage slightly different, however, is its focus on language – when he says that humans' veins originated as "veins" in rock. In this way, Ovid is also investigating part of human culture and memory.

Quote #2

To keep the memory of that great feat
alive, the god established sacred games;
and after the defeated serpent's name
they were called Pythian. (1.445-446)

Here, once again, Ovid ties a human custom to an event from the mythological past. In this case, the god Apollo starts a tradition of athletic contests – the "Pythian Games" – to commemorate his killing of a giant python.

Quote #3

The oracle replies: "You'll meet a heifer
in a deserted place – a cow that never
has worn the yoke or drawn a curving plow.
You are to follow in that heifer's tracks;
and where she stops to rest upon the grass,
you are to build your walls and call that land
Boeotia." (3.10-13)

These instructions given to Cadmus explain how he came to found the land of Boeotia. But why was he supposed to call it that, exactly? This is because, in Greek, the word for "cow" is "bous." Because he would know which land to settle by following a heifer (female cow), it made sense for him to call it "Cow-land" ("Boeotia"). The Greek word "bous" is related to the Latin word "bovis," which is the origin of our word "bovine," which refers to things having to do with cows.

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