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The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses


by Ovid

The Metamorphoses Religion 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

"I'd heard about this age of infamy;
and hoping to disprove such tidings, I
descended from Olympus' heights; I went
from land to land, a god in human guise.
Just now, it would be useless to describe
each sacrilege I found, upon all sides:
the truth was far, far worse than what I'd heard.
And I had crossed Mount Maenala's dread slopes,
home of wild beasts; I passed Cyllene's peak
and chill Lycaeus' pine grove. So I reached
the region and the uninviting home
of the Arcadian tyrant. Dusk had fallen,
and night was soon to follow. I'd made known
I was a god, and an Arcadian crowd
began to worship me. At first Lycaon
just sneered at all their pious prayers, but then
he said: 'I mean to test him; let us see
if he, beyond all doubt – infallibly –
is god or man.'" (1.211-223)

In this passage, Jupiter descends to earth to see what the mortals are up to – and doesn't like what he sees. The icing on the cake is when a guy called Lycaon refuses to believe that he is a god, even after he's explicitly told them he is. Evidently, religious doubt is as old as religion itself.

Quote #2

And here (the only place the flood had spared)
Deucalion and his wife, in their small skiff,
had landed. First, they prayed unto the nymphs
of the Corycian cave, the mountain gods,
and Themis – she, the goddess who foretells
the future, in those early days, was still
the keeper of the Delphic oracle.
One could not point to any better man,
a man with deeper love for justice, than
Deucalion; and of all women, none
matched Pyrrha in devotion to the gods. (1.316-323)

In Ovid's poem, good things come to those who pray to the gods (usually). This is certainly the case for Deucalion and Pyrrha, the only two humans to be spared when a giant flood washes over the earth.

Quote #3

Now Io, with the goddess' rage appeased,
regains the form she had before: she sheds
the rough hairs on her body, and her horns
recede; her round eyes shrink, her mouth retracts,
her arms and hands appear again; and each
of Io's hoofs is changed into five nails.
There's no trace of the heifer that is left,
except the lovely whiteness of her flesh.
Content that just two feet now meet her needs,
the nymph stands up but hesitates to speak
for fear that, like a heifer, she will low;
then, timidly, she once again employs
the power of speech she had – for so long – lost.
And now she is a celebrated goddess,
revered by crowds clothed in white linen: Isis. (1.738-747)

In this passage, Ovid portrays the origin of the goddess Isis. Isis was an Egyptian goddess who also became wildly popular at Rome. She was typically depicted with horns, and cow imagery was also associated with her. Even if this true, however, it does also seem like Ovid could be poking fun at the goddess a bit, by depicting her as starting life off as a cow. What do you think?

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