Religion in The Metamorphoses is not a very complicated affair. Basically, in the worldview Ovid depicts, the relationship between mortals and the gods goes as follows: the mortals respect the gods, give them offerings and prayers, and so on. In return, the gods (a) don't utterly destroy mortals, and (b) might actually help them out. If the mortals disrespect the gods, they're in for a world of pain – just look at what happened to Arachne and Marsyas, who challenged gods to weaving and musical contests, or to Hippomenes, who forgot to thank Venus for winning him his wife. Note that at the beginning we said "the worldview Ovid depicts"; this does not mean that these practices were necessarily his own. There's always the possibility that Ovid's own views might have been closer to the philosophical and scientific perspective of Pythagoras, as articulated in Book 15. What do you think?
Questions About Religion
- Who is the least pious character in Ovid's poem?
- Does Ovid portray the gods as deserving of respect, or can they simply command respect because they are so powerful?
- If you could be a devotee of one god from Ovid's Metamorphoses, which god would it be, and why?
- Gods sometimes appear in human form as a way of testing mortals. Is this fundamentally about testing their attitudes towards the gods, or is it a way of seeing how they treat each other?
Chew on This
In the world Ovid portrays, humans worship the gods more out of fear than love.
Ovid portrays the gods as unjust.