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The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses


by Ovid

The Metamorphoses Transformation 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

That said, before she left, the goddess sprinkled
the juices of the herbs of Hecate
over Arachne; at that venom's touch,
her hair and then her eyes and ears fell off
and all her body sank. And at her sides,
her slender fingers clung to her as legs.
The rest is belly; but from this, Arachne
spins out a thread; again, she practices
her weaver's art, as once she fashioned webs. (6.139-145)

In the story of Arachne, Ovid combines the standard explain-the-present-by-the-past routine (lady who used to weave becomes a spider, etc.) with some grisly details thrown in for their own sake. Talking about her hair and eyes and ears falling off is excessive enough – but then telling us that her fingers reattached themselves and became spider legs? Did he have to go there? We're betting Ovid would probably say, "Nope. And that's exactly the point."

Quote #8

Meanwhile, whatever Vulcan could destroy,
he did. Though Hercules' immortal part
remained, he was unrecognizable;
for nothing of his mother's image now
was left; the traces that he kept were Jove's.
Just as a serpent, when it sheds its skin
casts off old age and is resplendent in
its glittering scales and now, made new again,
rejoices; so did the Tyrinthian,
when he had put aside his mortal limbs,
attain new power in his better part,
for he began to seem more large, more tall –
majestic, godly, grave and venerable. (9.262-270)

Ovid's description of how Hercules became a god is similar to other points in The Metamorphoses where humans acquire divine status. Typically, the idea is not that they are completely transformed, but rather that part of them (the mortal part) disappears, while another, immortal part remains and becomes dominant. We think that Ovid does a pretty good job of illustrating this with his nifty snake image. What's your take?

Quote #9

(The Sibyl:)
"[Apollo] said: "Now, just
express your wish – and that, Cumaean virgin,
will be the gift I give.' I gathered up
a little heap of dust and, holding that,
I asked that I be granted years to match
the number of those grains; but I forgot
to ask that I stay young through all that span –
I was a fool. Yet even then he would
have given me that, too – unending youth –
if I had yielded to him. I did not. […]
The day will come when this long life
will leave me shriveled; worn away by age,
my limbs will shrink to trifles; no one then
will dream that I'd been loved – and pleased a god." (14.135-142, 147-150)

Here, once again, Ovid blends natural and supernatural types of transformation. The natural type of transformation is, of course, aging – but this comes about in a supernatural way, thanks to the gift Apollo promises the Sibyl. Like the Flood passage from Book 1 (see above), here it almost seems like Ovid is just using the supernatural elements of his story to bring ordinary, natural processes into clearer focus. Do you agree with this assessment? If so, can you think of other passages in The Metamorphoses where Ovid does something similar?

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