Study Guide

The Metamorphoses Love

By Ovid


"How would you feel, sad heart, if you'd survived
the fatal flood, but I had lost my life?
How would you, all alone, have borne the fear?
With whom would you—alone—have shared your tears?
For if the sea had swallowed you, dear wife,
I, too—believe me—would have followed you
and let the deluge drown me, too." (1.358–362)

The story of Deucalion and Pyrrha contains one of Ovid's sure-fire signs of true love; both members of the couple are convinced that they can't live apart from each other.

What should [Jupiter] do?
It would be cruel to consign his love;
but if he kept her, he would just raise doubts.
On one side, shame keeps urging: Give her up.
Love, on the other side, insists: Do not.
Love could have overcome his shame, but if
he should refuse so slight, so poor a gift
to one who was his sister and his wife,
he'd have to run a disconcerting risk,
since Juno could conclude that, after all,
this heifer was no cow. So, in the end,
the goddess got her rival as a present. (1.617-621)

Uhh, so how about this example? Any signs of true love here? Well, Ovid does claim that it was love that was holding Jupiter back... on the other hand, we at Shmoop think the fact that Jupiter turned Io into a cow in the first place didn't speak well for the future of the relationship. Your take?

Apollo does repent—but it's too late:
A lover, he now hates his harsh revenge;
he curses his own self for having let
his anger lash; he hates the bird who forced
upon him knowledge of the crime that brought
such grief; he hates his bow, he hates his hand,
and, with that hand, he hates his hasty shafts.
He tries to warm Coronis' lifeless body;
he turns in vain to useless remedies,
the arts of medicine—as if he could
inflict defeat on death. No thing could help;
and when Apollo saw that they were set
to light the pyre, to let the final fire
consume Coronis' flesh, from his heart's depth
the lover moaned (but did not weep, for tears
must never bathe the faces of the gods) (2.612–624)

The context of these lines is that Apollo has just killed his girlfriend, Coronis, after a raven told him that she had been unfaithful. By modern standards (which we at Shmoop wholeheartedly agree with), Apollo's act is unspeakably evil. And yet, Ovid doesn't leave things at that; He also shows us how Apollo is consumed with grief for what he has done, and tries to take it back (of course, it's too late). Can we possibly say that Apollo truly loved Coronis? If yes, what might Ovid be telling us about the relationship between love and hatred? If not, how would you characterize Apollo's emotions towards her? Is he driven by simple possessiveness?

(The daughter of Minyas:)
"[Pyramus and Thisbe] owed
their first encounters to their living close
beside each other—but with time, love grows.
Theirs did—indeed they wanted to be wed,
but marriage was forbidden by their parents;
yet there's one thing that parents can't prevent:
the flame of love that burned in both of them.
They had no confidant—and so used signs:
with these each lover read the other's mind:
when covered, fire acquires still more force." (4.59–64)

These lines are the polar opposite of the obsessive, violent imagery associated with the story of Apollo and Coronis. Here, Ovid portrays love as something completely natural and harmless, that "grows" like a plant "with time." That said, what about the end of Pyramus and Thisbe's story later in Book 4, when Pyramus commits suicide because he thinks Thisbe's dead, and Thisbe commits suicide because Pyramus did so first? Can we still say love is natural when it can lead to something like this? Or should love come with a warning label, like a toxic plant? On another note, do you notice any parallels between the story of Pyramus and Thisbe and Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet?

"Meanwhile, the heartsick Ceres seeks her daughter:
she searches every land, all waves and waters.
No one—not Dawn with her dew-laden hair,
nor Hesperus—saw Ceres pause. She kindled
two pinewood torches in the flames of Etna.
Through nights of frost, a torch in either hand,
she wandered. Ceres never rested. When
the gracious day had dimmed the stars, again
the goddess searched from west to east, from where the sun would set to where the sun ascends." (5.438–445)

Here Ovid shows us a completely different kind of love: the love between a mother (Ceres) and her daughter (Proserpina). The love of Ceres is portrayed as selfless and devoted. How typical is this of the other parent-child relationships depicted in Ovid's poem?

But when the wretched Philomela sees
the dwelling of the man of infamy,
she shudders, pale as death. But patient Procne,
once she has found a proper place, removes
the poor girl's Bacchic costume; she uncovers
her shamefaced sister and embraces her. (6.601–605)

Here we find another positive example of familial love. Even though Philomela has repeatedly been raped by her sister Procne's husband, Procne doesn't look down upon her. (This might not sound all that significant, but you have to remember just how often characters in Ovid's poem engage in "blaming the victim" of rape. The goddess Juno is the most guilty of this.) How do you think this episode reflects Ovid's view of family relationships more generally?

If I don't take his part,
he will be blasted by the bulls' hot breath,
and then face foes that he himself begets—
sprung from the very soil that he will sow—
or else fall prey to the voracious dragon.
If I let him become their victim, then
I must confess that I'm a tigress' daughter,
who carries steel and stones within her breast.
And why don't I look on as Jason dies—
why would that sacrifice defile my eyes?
Why not incite the bulls, and savage foes
the earth engenders, and the sleepless dragon? (7.28–37)

Here, once again, Ovid shows a character walking a tightrope between love and hatred: At first, Medea says that she has to help Jason in his task of yoking the fire-breathing bulls; then, the very next moment, she says that she should urge them on to destroy him. Is there some connection between these two powerful emotions?

Their upward path
was dark and steep; the mists they met were thick;
the silences, unbroken. But at last,
they'd almost reached the upper world, when he,
afraid that she might disappear again
and longing so to see her, turned to gaze
back at his wife. At once she slipped away—
and down. His arms stretched out convulsively
to clasp and to be clasped in turn, but there
was nothing but the unresisting air.
And as she died again, Eurydice
did not reproach her husband. (How could she
have faulted him except to say that he
loved her indeed?) One final, faint "Farewell"—
so weak it scarcely reached his ears—was all
she said. Then, back to the abyss, she fell. (10.53–63)

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is another example of Ovid's positive portrayal of married love—even though it doesn't turn out so well. Still, even if he makes the mistake of looking back at the very end, we at Shmoop still admire Orpheus's devotion; even his mistake is the result of love, after all. To get a full understanding of what Ovid's doing here, compare his retelling of this myth with that of Virgil, from Book 4 of his poem The Georgics. In Virgil's poem, Eurydice criticizes Orpheus just before she vanishes back into the Underworld; thus, when Ovid asks, "How could she / have faulted him except to say that he / loved her indeed," he is really criticizing his fellow poet. Which version of the myth do you think is more persuasive?

"And Venus is now taken by the mortal
Adonis' beauty: she no longer cares
for her Cythera's shores; she cannot spare
the time to visit sea-encircled Paphos
and Cnidos, rich with fish; and she neglects
her Amathus, the city rich with ores.
She even finds the skies too tedious:
she much prefers Adonis. She stays close
to him; it is with him she always goes;
and she, who always used to seek the shade—
there she could rest at ease and cultivate
her beauty—now frequents the mountain slopes,
the woods, the rocks beset by spiny thorns
as if she were Diana." (10.529–536)

Have you ever been so head-over-heels for someone that you stopped doing the things you ordinarily do? Maybe you even started picking up some new hobbies – hobbies you wouldn't have been caught dead doing before – just to bring you closer to your special someone? If so, then you should have a pretty clear understanding of what Venus is going through here.

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