Study Guide

The Metamorphoses Summary

By Ovid

The Metamorphoses Summary

Summing up the plot of Ovid's Metamorphoses is easy. Why? Because it doesn't have one. There you have it, case closed; now go have a snack. What kind of snack did you get? Can we have some? On second thought, you keep it. We're already full of Ovidian goodness.

But how can we be full of the book that has no plot? So glad you asked. The thing is, just because The Metamorphoses doesn't have a recognizable storyline doesn't mean it isn't jam-packed with mythological goodies. (Of course, each of the myths Ovid tells has its own story, but, since there are over 200 of them, we can't really touch on them all here.) In fact, The Metamorphoses is so jam-packed that you don't even have to read it all the way through; if you want a taste of what it's about, you can pretty much start anywhere you want, or just look in the index to find your favorite myths, and go straight to those. In this way, it's sort of like an all-you-can-eat buffet—except once you get hooked, you're likely to go ahead and eat the whole thing.

OK, you're saying, but a buffet doesn't have everything all mixed together: you've got your spring-rolls over here, your rice over there, your salad there... surely there's got to be some sort of organizing principle! Well, you've twisted our arm, and you're right. Here's the breakdown.

Ovid's poem begins with the creation of the world, which he describes in a mixture of scientific and supernatural terms. Then he talks about the creation of human beings, the Four Ages of early humanity (Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron), followed by the Great Flood that wiped out all human life except for a Greek guy named Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. After Deucalion and Pyrrha repopulate the earth, Ovid starts talking about various strange occurrences involving gods, demigods, and mortals, all centering on moments of transformation from one physical state to another. In theory, these stories follow each other in time, though in practice it gets more complicated, as there are lots of flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks. This sounds confusing, but is actually really cool and fun to read.

In any case, a clearer historical narrative starts to take shape around Book 12, when Ovid starts telling about the Trojan War. (For more information about the Trojan War, check out Shmoop's guides to Homer's the Iliad and Odyssey, as well as Virgil's Aeneid.) Not only does the Trojan War contain the actions of many famous Greek heroes, it also provides the backdrop for the origins of Rome. The origins-of-Rome bit comes in the figure of Aeneas, the Trojan hero who Ovid follows as he journeys from the ruins of Troy, in modern Turkey, all the way to Italy, where he fights a war and founds a new city (Virgil's Aeneid is all about this). Then, Ovid follows the descendents of Aeneas—i.e., the first Romans—down to what was for him the present day: the age of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.

Ovid ends the poem with a prayer for the future of Rome and Augustus. He also expresses confidence that he will be remembered forever. In this way, Ovid's poem both stretches back into the distant past and forward into the equally distant future.

  • Book 1

    • Ovid asks the gods for help in singing a song about metamorphoses, starting at the beginning of the world and carrying through to the present day.
    • Then Ovid starts telling us about the beginning of the world.
    • In the beginning, everything was a total mess. Then some god (we aren't told who) came along and put everything in order.
    • He let fire, the lightest element, shoot up to its natural place at the furthest reaches of the universe. Below fire came air, a slightly heavier element.
    • Below that was where he put all the heavy elements—dirt, rocks, and so on. All this stuff collected at the center of the universe. (That's right, for Ovid the earth is the center of the universe.) Then he let water flow all over it.
    • Now that he had gotten everything on the right shelves, so to speak, it was time to put them in order.
    • He did some fancy decorating, made the mountains and fields, organized the different regions of the earth and sky, and sent all the different winds to their individual stations.
    • Now the stars thought it was safe to come out, so they did.
    • Then the god made animals to inhabit all the different regions of the world.
    • Then Ovid lets us pick what comes next—sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure story. He says that human beings definitely came next, but he isn't sure whether they were made by the same god who made everything, or instead by Prometheus, son of Iapetus.
    • He spends more time telling us the version where Prometheus gets the credit. According to Ovid, Prometheus made humans from a mixture of mud and rainwater. That might not sound too nice—except that the mud had only recently been part of the sky, and so it still had some fancy heavenly seeds in it. Oh yeah, and he made man in the shape of the gods.
    • The first age of human existence was the Age of Gold. At this time, life truly was a bowl of cherries—and strawberries, arbutus fruit, blackberries, and acorns... yes, acorns. Humans ate all of this stuff back then without having to work for it. They didn't even have to plow their fields to get wheat. Plus there was no war or strife of any kind and the steams were full of milk and honey. Sweet.
    • But then Saturn, the god who has in charge of the world at the time, got kicked out by Jupiter, who made himself the new king of the gods.
    • This kicked off the Age of Silver. The new administration brought in some changes, notably the four seasons. Since the world was now cold for half the year, humans started living in houses for the first time. They also started plowing the earth to get wheat.
    • Next came the Age of Bronze. It was a bit rougher than the Age of Silver, but not as bad as the Age of Iron.
    • Guess which age comes next? Yup, the Age of Iron. Now all hell breaks loose, with people killing each other left right and center. They also start chopping down trees to make ships and mining the earth for silver and gold. Those precious metals just give them another excuse to keep killing each other left, right, and center.
    • In the midst of all this chaos, Astraea, the goddess of justice, leaves the earth.
    • Then the Giants rose up in a war against Jupiter and piled Mount Pelion on top of Mount Ossa in an attempt to reach up to Olympus.
    • Jupiter knocked the stack of mountains over and also knocked the Giants out cold.
    • Then the Earth soaked up the blood of the Giants and made a new race in their image—that of humans. But wait, didn't we just hear that Prometheus (or possibly the god who created the world) made humans in the image of gods? What gives, Ovid?
    • Jupiter isn't pleased when he sees this; he calls the other gods together to discuss it.
    • He tells them that he plans to kill all the humans—apparently because he means to protect all the demigods like Nymphs, Satyrs, and Fauns that still live on earth.
    • He asks, "How can they be safe if Lycaon could pull such a trick on me, the king of the gods?"
    • But wait, who's Lycaon? The other gods don't know either. Now Jupiter explains it.
    • He had heard rumors about what jerks humans had turned out to be, and went down to earth, in disguise, just to see. Sure enough, he got treated terribly everywhere he went.
    • Finally, when he came to the land of Arcadia, he revealed himself as a god. This time, of course, all the Arcadians started worshiping him.
    • All of the Arcadians, that is, except for their tyrant, Lycaon.
    • Lycaon didn't believe that Jupiter was a god, but he decided to test him anyway. He planned to murder Jupiter in his sleep, to test out if he was immortal or not. Also, in secret—or so he thought—he killed an emissary from a neighboring tribe, butchered him, and served him to Jupiter for supper.
    • In response to this outrage, Jupiter got outraged. He flattened Lycaon's palace with a thunderbolt, and then drove Lycaon out into the wild. There, Lycaon was changed into a wolf. From now on, his savagery will be purely spent on ravaging sheep.
    • That is the end of Jupiter's story. He concludes by saying he wishes he had destroyed many more of the humans' houses than just the palace of Lycaon.
    • The other gods approve of Jupiter's decision to bring justice to bear against the ingrate humans, but they aren't so keen on the idea of wiping all the humans off the face of the planet. Where would they get sacrifices from, for one thing?
    • Their reservations don't end up mattering much in the end. Jupiter at first considers scorching the earth with fire, but then decides to flood it instead.
    • In addition to the water coming down from the heavens, he also enlists the help of his brother, Neptune, the god of the sea, who passes the message along to his subordinates—the river gods. Working together, these guys drown the entire world.
    • The entire world, that is, except for two people—Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. When Jupiter sees these two cowering on top of a mountain peak, he remembers how they were both always pious towards the gods. He calls off the waters, to spare their lives.
    • The sea-god Triton blows his conch-shell, the signal for all of the waters to retreat. The waters pull back, and the world is revealed again.
    • At this point, after they both pray to various gods, Deucalion turns to Pyrrha and says, "Wow. This totally sucks."
    • It turns out that Deucalion's dad is Prometheus; he says that he wishes he had Daddy's power to craft some more humans.
    • They go to the shrine of the goddess Themis and ask her what to do.
    • Themis tells them to veil their heads, loosen their belts, and walk around throwing "the bones / of the great mother" over their shoulders.
    • At first, Pyrrha freaks out, because she doesn't want to throw her mother's bones around.
    • But then Deucalion says he's figured out what the goddess was saying: "The great mother is the earth; her bones are rocks. We should walk around throwing rocks over our shoulders."
    • They figure they have nothing to lose, so they do just that.
    • Sure enough, wherever a rock lands, it changes into a person. The rocks that Deucalion throws turn into men, and those that Pyrrha throws turn into women.
    • Then the other animals are formed from the moist ground, warmed by the blazing sun.
    • Some of the creatures that the earth created had existed before the flood, but some were new. Among the new ones was the horrible Python.
    • The god Apollo, also known as Phoebus, didn't like the look of this varmint, and so he shot him the death with arrows. To commemorate this event, he instituted the Pythian athletic contests.
    • Pleased as punch with his victory, Apollo runs into Cupid, the god of sexual desire, who is stringing his own bow.
    • Apollo tells Cupid to stick to inflaming people with his torch, and leave shooting arrows to him.
    • Cupid says, "No way, man," and flutters off to Mount Parnassus. There, he draws two arrows from his quiver: One, made of gold, has a sharp tip. It kindles desire. The other, made of lead, has a blunt tip; whoever it strikes will reject all love.
    • Cupid shoots Apollo with the golden arrow, and shoots the nymph Daphne with the leaden one.
    • The result? Apollo totally gets the hots for Daphne, whereas she swears to remain a virgin forever.
    • One day, Apollo starts chasing Daphne, begging her to stop running and give herself to him. He tries the old, "I'm a god, you know" pick-up line, but it doesn't work.
    • Just when Apollo is about to catch her, however, Daphne prays to her father, the river god Peneus, for help.
    • Help is granted. All of a sudden, Daphne stops running and turns into… a laurel tree. Yep. (If this is a little hard to picture, you might want to check out this sculpture by the Italian renaissance sculptor Bernini; we're giving you pictures from multiple angles so you can take in the full awesomeness.)
    • But Apollo doesn't stop loving her. In fact, he tells her (in Mandelbaum's translation), "since / you cannot be my wife, you'll be my tree." With that, he swears to wear laurel leaves in his hair, and on his lyre and his quiver. He also institutes the tradition of Roman generals wearing laurel wreaths to celebrate their victories.
    • Daphne the laurel tree nods her branches in agreement.
    • Meanwhile, in the valley of Tempe in mainland Greece, the various river gods are gathering around Peneus, Daphne's father. They don't know whether the console him for his loss or comfort him for the new honor Daphne has won.
    • One river god isn't present: Inachus, who is worried sick about his daughter, Io. She hasn't come home, and she hasn't called, texted, emailed, tweeted, or sent a message by passenger pigeon (the original Twitter).
    • Now Ovid tells us what Inachus doesn't know. Apparently, Jupiter caught sight of her as she was wandering through the countryside.
    • He tried to convince her to sleep with him in the woods, but she kept on walking. In response, he veiled the land with a cloud of mist… and then raped her.
    • Up in the heavens, Juno, queen of the gods, and Jupiter's wife, noticed that a large tract of land down on the ground was covered with clouds. She suspected that her husband is up to no good.
    • But Jupiter saw her coming. Just before Juno dispersed the clouds, Jupiter turned Io into a white heifer (female cow).
    • After making some chit-chat about what a nice cow Jupiter had, Juno asked to keep it as a pet.
    • In his mind, Jupiter went back and forth over whether he should do it or not, but eventually he decided to give her over. He was worried that if he made too big a fuss about it, Juno would realize that Io wasn't really a cow.
    • In the end, he decided to give Io up.
    • But Juno still suspected something was up; she entrusted Io to the crazy giant Argus, who had a hundred eyes. When he slept, he would only close two eyes and use all the rest for watching.
    • Argus let Io graze by day, but at night he locked her up. To put it in the simplest terms, Io's life pretty much sucked from this point on.
    • Eventually, in her wanderings, she reached the river of Inachus, her father. She started hanging around there, but he didn't know who she was.
    • Speaking of not knowing things, it also seems that Ovid has now caught us up on the back-story, because what's happening now seems to be after the meeting of the river gods that Inachus missed. Are you with us on this? OK, agreed: back-story's over.
    • One day, Io succeeds in revealing her identity by scratching words in the dirt with her hoof.
    • Now her dad is majorly depressed—this is worse than anything he could have imagined. He says that he would kill himself—except that as an immortal, he can't.
    • Then the tearful reunion is cut short by Argus, who drives Io away to other pastures.
    • Eventually, however, Jupiter decides that enough is enough. He sends Mercury, the messenger god, down to earth. His mission? Kill Argus.
    • Mercury, disguised as a shepherd, finds Argus. He walks by, playing panpipes, and Argus is so enchanted by the music that he asks him to sit down.
    • It turns out that panpipes were only recently invented. Argus asks Mercury to tell him how they came into existence.
    • Mercury clears his throat and begins. He explains how in the land of Arcadia there lived a nymph named Syrinx who looked very similar to the huntress goddess, Diana. Like Diana, she had taken a vow of chastity.
    • One day, as Syrinx was going about her business, she was spotted by Pan—the weird half-goat god of the Greeks.
    • At this point, Mercury stops telling his story. Instead, Ovid steps in and tells what he would have told Argus but didn't.
    • Ovid explains that Pan chased Syrinx until she came to the banks of a river. There, she asked the water nymphs for help. They changed her into a bunch of reeds.
    • When Pan picked up the reeds, his sighs made them vibrate, and he decided to turn them into a musical instrument—the pan pipe, which, in ancient Greece and Rome, was known as a "syrinx," after the name of the unfortunate nymph. (Our modern word "syringe"—also a hollow tube, if you think about it—comes from the same word.)
    • That's the end of Ovid's story. Mercury would have told it, except that he noticed that Argus—who apparently thought stories about nymphs turning into musical instruments were boring—had just shut his hundred eyes.
    • Seeing his opportunity, Mercury first strikes Argus with his wand, which causes sleep (better safe than sorry); then, with a sword curved like a scythe, he cuts his head off.
    • When Juno sees what happened to her henchman, she takes his hundred eyes and puts them onto the tail-feathers of her favorite bird—the peacock.
    • Then she sends one the Furies down to torment Io.
    • The Fury chases Io all over the place, until she eventually comes to the Nile. There, Io lifts up her nose to the heavens and moos for help.
    • Jupiter hears her and begs Juno to relent, telling her that he won't have anything more to do with Io. (Note that he doesn't say he won't ever cheat again with women other than Io.)
    • Juno accepts and lets Io change back into a human. She regains her old form completely, except she preserves the striking whiteness of the cow. Ovid tells us that, in his own time, Io is celebrated as the goddess Isis.
    • Io ends up having a son, Epaphus. (Jupiter is suspected as the father.)
    • Epaphus is the same age as Phaethon, the son of the god of the Sun.
    • Before we move on to tell you what happened to Phaethon, however, we have to take a break to bring you an Urgent Mythological Update!
    • So what mythological misconception (or, "mythconception," as they're known in the biz) are we busting today? The idea that Apollo and the sun-god are the same guy. The truth? They're not. OK, OK, it's a little more complicated—there were different traditions floating around in ancient times, and some people did say that Apollo was the god of the sun, which is why modern readers tend to blur them together.
    • But this is missing the point. The point is, in Ovid's Metamorphoses, they are two different guys: Apollo is the god of poetry and healing and prophecy and archery, and all that nifty stuff. The sun-god is a guy called "Sol." Because "Sol" is just the Latin word for "sun," we at Shmoop (following the translator Allen Mandelbaum) will just refer to him as the "Sun."
    • Now, there's just one catch. To be sneaky, Ovid will sometimes use the name "Phoebus" to refer to both Apollo and the Sun. This might make you think they're the same guy—but that's not the idea. The root meaning of "Phoebus" is "radiant," a word that could obviously apply to the sun, as well as to a fancy-shmancy divinity like Apollo.
    • To keep things simple, here on Shmoop, we will use the name "Phoebus" to refer only to Apollo; whenever the Sun-god comes up, we will just call him "Sun." That said, when you're reading Ovid's poem and you come across the name "Phoebus," you should pay attention to the context to see which god is being referred to.
    • We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.
    • Having the Sun as your father definitely sets you apart from other kids your age; perhaps inevitably, Phaethon starts boasting that he's better than Epaphus, along the lines of "my dad can beat up your dad."
    • But Epaphus tells him that his mom lied to him, and somebody else was his dad. (This is a double insult, since it also implies that his mom was sleeping around.)
    • Phaethon doesn't like that one bit and runs crying home to his mom, whose name is Clymene.
    • He demands that she prove to him that the Sun was his father.
    • Clymene, eager to defend her honor, reaches her hands up to the sky and swears that the Sun was Phaethon's father. Then she tells him that he can go visit his dad's palace—it isn't far from where they are.
    • Phaethon says, "Hot diggity!" and sets out. After crossing Ethiopia and India, sure enough, he gets there in no time.
  • Book 2

    • The palace of the sun turns out to be made entirely of precious metals, and far superior to anything featured on MTV's Cribs.
    • Ovid tells us that what was most stupendously awesome, however, was the artwork on the doors. There, Vulcan, the god of fire and technology, had created a picture of the world through metal-working.
    • When Phaethon reaches the palace, he heads straight to see the Sun.
    • The Sun greets him, calling him his son. (Trust us, that sounds less confusing in the original Latin.) But Phaethon still demands proof.
    • The Sun reassures him that he is his father; he says, "Here's what, to prove it to you, ask me for anything and I'll give it to you. I swear it by the fearsome waters of Styx, the river of the underworld."
    • In response to this, Phaethon says, "Cool. Then let me drive the chariot of the sun for one day."
    • The Sun says, "Uh-oh. I really wish I hadn't made that promise. You don't even have your sun-chariot learner's permit yet! I know, I know, kids your age, they always think they're immortal—but trust me, you're not. I'm the only one who can drive this chariot—not even the other gods can do it! Please, ask for something else."
    • But Phaethon insists, and his dad has to keep his word.
    • The Sun leads him over to where the golden chariot is waiting, and helps him get ready.
    • Then, just before it's time for Phaethon to head out, the Sun gives him some advice. He tells him not to whip the horses; they'll be eager enough to be going. Also, he tells him to steer a middle course through the sky, and to keep his altitude at a medium level.
    • At the last minute, Phoebus tries once more to convince Phaethon to back down from his madness, but Phaethon doesn't answer. Instead, he whips up the horses and rides off.
    • The horses sense the difference—Phaethon holds the reins with a lot less strength—and they start running wild.
    • Various animals of the zodiac get scorched when he flies too close. Phaethon wishes he had never gotten proof of who his father was.
    • Then, when Phaethon is nearing the constellation Scorpio – the scorpion—he gets afraid that it will attack him. In terror, he drops the reins.
    • Not good. The horses of the sun run all over the place, completely out of control. They collide with stars, set clouds on fire, and then veer down towards earth and destroy a number of mortal cities.
    • But that isn't all; he also scorches numerous rivers; parches the earth so that deep cracks appear in it, shining light into the underworld; and dries up parts of the ocean.
    • In the midst of all this chaos, the goddess of Earth calls out to Jupiter for help. She tells him that he'd better act quickly; even if he doesn't care about everyone else's sufferings, he should at least be worried that heaven itself will be burned up in the flames.
    • Hearing her, Jupiter calls all the other gods to assembly. He makes them all—including the Sun—bear witness that he doesn't have any choice in what he's about to do.
    • Then, he climbs to the highest point of the heavens, aims his lightning bolt, and throws it, striking Phaethon and killing him.
    • Phaethon plummets to the earth. He is found by some Naiads (water-nymphs), who bury him near the Po, a river in Northern Italy.
    • Clymene, his mother, wanders the earth in grief, looking for her lost son. Eventually she finds him—and weeps over his grave.
    • Then the Heliades, Clymene's daughters (and Phaethon's sisters) join in the lament.
    • Then, for no particular reason, they turn into poplar trees and their tears turn to amber. Ovid tells us that the amber droplets end up becoming jewelry worn by fashionable Roman women of his day.
    • Then Cycnus, a friend of Phaethon's, also shows up to weep beside his grave. In no time, he turns into a swan. Ovid speculates that this bird's characteristics reflect the fact that Cycnus was traumatized by his friend's death: swans don't like flying (hence they avoid Jupiter's thunderbolts), and they stay close to water (the opposite of fire).
    • Meanwhile, the Sun is wracked with grief for Phaethon and threatens to stop driving the chariot of the sun. The other gods convince him not to be stupid, however.
    • Then Jupiter wanders around, trying to assess the damage from the fire. On his wanderings, he spies the nymph Callisto, the goddess Diana's favorite handmaiden. He immediately develops a crush on her.
    • He watches as she goes into the shade of a nearby forest.
    • Then, he approaches her in the shape of Diana, her mistress. In this disguise, he greets her, kisses her… and then rapes her. Callisto tries to resist, but isn't strong enough.
    • Jupiter then goes back to the heavens, while Callisto tries to pretend like nothing happened. Unfortunately, nine months later, when Diana and her other nymphs are about to go bathing, someone rips off Callisto's clothes and everyone can see she's pregnant. Because only virgins could hang out with Diana, Callisto becomes an outcast.
    • Soon afterward, Callisto gives birth to a son, Arcas.
    • After this, Juno reveals that it was she who had brought to pass Callisto's pregnancy and motherhood, as punishment for sleeping with her husband, Jupiter.
    • But that isn't all. As a final punishment for attracting her husband's eye, Juno turns Callisto into a bear.
    • Sixteen years later, Callisto's son, Arcas is out hunting.
    • He comes upon his mother, the bear. She vaguely recognizes him, and signals him to come closer. He obviously doesn't recognize her because, you know, she's a bear.
    • Before Arcas can kill her with his spear, however, Jupiter intervenes. He scoops both of them up and puts them in the sky—turning them into the constellations the Big and Little Bear, or, as we sometimes call them, the Big and Little Dipper.
    • Now Juno is really ticked off, because becoming a constellation is a high honor. (Get it? High? Heh.)
    • She goes down to complain to her friends: the god Ocean and his wife Tethys, a sea-goddess. She tells them that, in punishment, they should never let the skanky Great Bear touch their waters. (Of course, viewed from most regions in the Northern hemisphere, the stars of the Great Bear do never dip beneath the horizon into the ocean.)
    • Then Juno heads back up to the heavens. Ovid tells us that, around this time, the raven transformed from a white bird into a black bird. Here's the scoop: The god Apollo has a girlfriend, named Coronis, who lives in the region of Larissa. One day, Apollo's bird, the raven discovers that Coronis has been cheating on him. He immediately flies off to warn his master.
    • On his way, he is overtaken by a crow. The crow wants to know what's up. Once the raven tells him, however, the crow tells him to spare his effort—and not disturb his master with the bad news. Then she (the crow is a she) tells a story to explain why. Let's listen to the crow's story:
    • The crow says that a long time ago, the god Vulcan fathered a son, Erichthonius, under strange circumstances. (OK, we're not exactly sure how to put this, but, he tried to rape Minerva but didn't succeed. Instead, his "seed" fell down to earth; from where it landed, up sprang Erichthonius.)
    • Anyway, Minerva seemed to want to cover the whole thing up, so she hid the child in a basket. She then made this basket the responsibility of the three daughters of Cecrops, an ancient king of Athens. Then she made them swear never to look inside it.
    • Two of the daughters, Pandrosos and Herse, obeyed the goddess, but the third, Aglauros, peeked inside – and a saw a baby with a serpent curled up beside him.
    • The crow, as it turns out, had been watching this whole thing. Then she went to Minerva and tattled on Aglauros. Unfortunately, this was before the phrase "don't shoot the messenger" had become widely known. Minerva was so ticked off that she forbade the crow to be her special bird any longer; from that point on, she and owls were pals instead.
    • That's the end of the crow's story. Then she says to the raven, "Now, you might think that I never was Minerva's special bird in the first place. If you do, you're way wrong." To prove it, the crow now starts telling a second story. Here is the crow's second story:
    • The crow says that, a long time ago, she used to be a beautiful princess, with many suitors. But then, one day, while she was walking along the beach, the god the Ocean saw her and got all hot and bothered.
    • He pursued her, and she prayed to the gods for help. The only one who listened was Minerva, herself a virgin, who transformed the princess into a crow. This crow then became Minerva's bird.
    • That's the end of the crow's second story. She rounds it off by complaining that Minerva's new bird, the owl, also used to be a princess—who was super promiscuous.
    • In response to this, however, the raven says, "Whatever. I'm still going to deliver my message to Apollo."
    • The raven flies up and delivers his message. Apollo is so angry that he strings up his bow and immediately shoots an arrow into the breast of Coronis, his girlfriend.
    • Just before she dies, Coronis reveals that she was pregnant.
    • After this killing, Apollo becomes consumed with grief. He attends Coronis's funeral and mourns over her body. Then, he snatches the unborn child out of her womb and carries it off to the cave of the centaur, Chiron. He also turns the white raven black. So that's that.
    • Meanwhile, Chiron is happy to have received the unborn child—who apparently isn't dead. He is happy to raise this divine offspring, whose name is Aesculapius.
    • Then in walks Chiron's daughter, Ocyrhoe. She has been given the gift of prophecy, and now she busts it out.
    • She foretells that Aesculapius will become a great healer, able to raise the dead. In anger over this power, Jupiter will kill him with a thunderbolt; then, Aesculapius himself will be raised from the dead and will become a god.
    • As for Chiron, her father, he will one day suffer from poisoning so severe that he will wish he weren't immortal. Eventually, the gods will take away his immortality, so death can put an end to his suffering.
    • After delivering this prophecy, Ocyrhoe turns into a mare (female horse). Her new name is "Hippe," meaning "female horse."
    • Chiron laments this and calls out to Apollo for help. But even if Apollo could have done something about it, he's too busy right now crying about his girlfriend Coronis—whom he murdered.
    • Apollo is so consumed with grief that he doesn't even keep an eye on his herds of cattle.
    • That leaves a window of opportunity open for Mercury, who is, among other things, the god of trickery. Mercury steals all the cattle and hides them in the woods.
    • Only one person sees him do it: an old man named Battus.
    • Mercury goes up to Battus and promises him a cow if he keeps his mouth shut. Battus says, "No problem, your secret is safe with me."
    • Then, to test him out, Mercury walks off, and then comes back in disguise. Now he asks Battus if he's seen anyone pass by driving cattle; he promises a cow and a bull if he tells him.
    • Battus lets the cat out the bag—pointing out where the cattle are. Mercury is furious and turns Battus to stone. In particular, he turns him into the first "touchstone"—a stone used to determine the purity of precious metals. Hence, he becomes, appropriately, a stone that reveals the truth.
    • Then Mercury flies off. In his flight, he passes Athens, where he spots the daughters of Cecrops. He finds Herse especially beautiful, and immediately decides he has to have her.
    • After making sure his clothes are all in order, he sneaks into Cecrops's palace at night. Aglauros—the same daughter who had peeked in the basket and seen the infant Aesculapius—now sees Mercury coming.
    • Mercury reveals that he's there for Herse. Aglauros promises to keep her mouth shut—if Mercury will give her lots of riches.
    • Minerva, meanwhile, has been watching the whole thing. She is mad that Aglauros is getting away with yet another sleazy act.
    • Determined to punish her, Minerva goes off to see the goddess of personified Envy. Minerva tells Envy to infect Aglauros with venom.
    • Envy goes down to earth and does just that. Now, over the coming days and nights, Aglauros is consumed with jealousy for her sister Herse, and her little fling with Mercury.
    • One day, Aglauros sits in the doorway to Herse's room and refuses to get out of the way when Mercury arrives.
    • In response, Mercury turns her into a statue. Then, when he's finished his visit with Herse, he flies back up to the heavens.
    • When he gets up to heaven, Jupiter sends him on another mission. He tells him to go to the land of Sidon (in the Middle East); when he gets there, he will see a herd of cattle. He should then drive this herd into the sea. (Jupiter doesn't give any explanation for this.)
    • Mercury does as he's told, finds the cattle, and drives them into the sea.
    • Meanwhile, Jupiter turns himself into a bull and heads down to the beach. The cattle Mercury is driving belong to Agenor, the local king. Jupiter heads straight for Europa, the king's beautiful daughter.
    • He acts friendly and nuzzles her hand. Eventually, his gentleness makes Europa trust in him so much that she sits on his back.
    • That's just what he's been waiting for—now Jupiter races out into the open sea, carrying Europa away with him on his shoulders.
  • Book 3

    • When Jupiter arrives at Crete, still carrying the princess Europa, he abandons his bull shape and turns back into himself.
    • At the same time, King Agenor, whose daughter had just been carried off, sends Cadmus, his son, to bring her back.
    • Cadmus wanders over the entire world, but doesn't see any sign of his missing sister.
    • Eventually, realizing his search is futile, but knowing he can't go home, he asks the oracle of Apollo what he should do.
    • The oracle tells Cadmus to keep an eye out for a heifer (female cow) standing alone, one that has never pulled a plow. He should follow this heifer, and wherever she stops to rest, that's where he should found a settlement. He is instructed to call the region Boeotia. (The name "Boeotia," an actual region in Greece, sounds like the Latin word for cow, "bos." This word is related to the English word "bovine.")
    • When Cadmus leaves the shrine, sure enough, he sees a heifer matching that description walking by.
    • He follows the heifer and, after some time, it starts bellowing and lies down in the grass. Cadmus knows this was the spot.
    • At this point, the appropriate thing to do is offer a sacrifice to Jupiter. For this, however, he would need some fresh spring water. Accordingly, he sends his men out into the forest to get some.
    • Unfortunately, in the cave where they go to get their water, there lurks a giant snake, sacred to the god Mars. He kills all of Cadmus's men.
    • By the time noon rolls around, Cadmus is wondering where all his men went. Finally, he goes in search of them. When he gets to the cave, a grisly scene confronts him.
    • Cadmus battles the snake and eventually kills it, pinning it with his spear against an oak tree.
    • While Cadmus is staring at the snake, however, he suddenly hears a voice call out, "What do you think you're staring at? Don't you know that you'll be a snake too one day?"
    • Then, all of sudden, the goddess Minerva appears. She tells him to plow the ground and plant the snake's teeth in the furrows.
    • He does as he's commanded. When he's done, the snake's teeth germinate into a race of warriors who rise out of the soil. For apparent reason, these warriors all start killing each other, until only five are left. These five then make peace with each other.
    • Now Ovid tells us that Cadmus ended up having a pretty sweet life—beautiful wife, nice kids, and so on. But, he reminds us, don't consider a man happy until he's dead. He tells us that, in Cadmus's case, the trouble started when his grandson, Actaeon, was turned into a stag.
    • Now we flash forward a bunch of years to see what in the world Ovid is talking about.
    • On the day in question, young Actaeon and his buddies are out hunting in the forest. They kill lots of animals, and the ground is stained with blood. Nice.
    • Nearby, there is a valley containing a cave. In this cave, there is a spring, where Diana and her nymphs like to bathe.
    • It just so happens that Diana had picked this day to go there with her nymphs.
    • It also just so happens that Actaeon wanders into this cave just when Diana and the nymphs are all splashing around in their birthday suits.
    • When he walks in, they are shocked, and all crowd around Diana to hide her. Then, Diana splashes water on Actaeon.
    • At that instant, he transforms into a stag (male deer). He races out of the cave.
    • Now it isn't long before his own hunting dogs pick up his scent—though of course they don't know who he is.
    • Soon enough, the hounds catch up to him and start mauling him.
    • Actaeon's friends wonder where he is. They are sorry he is missing the action, and cheer on the dogs. Eventually, Actaeon dies from his wounds.
    • When Juno hears about this, she's glad. She's pleased so long as a descendent of King Agenor—the father of Europa, whom Jupiter carried away—is suffering. (Remember: Agenor's son was Cadmus; Cadmus's grandson was Actaeon.)
    • But then Juno gets another piece of bad news. It turns out that Jupiter has been fooling around with yet another mortal babe—the Theban princess Semele. The unfortunate girl is already sporting a baby-bump.
    • Juno considers punishing her husband for this, but decides to take out her wrath on Semele instead.
    • She goes down to Thebes, disguising herself in the shape of Semele's nurse, Beroe. In this shape, she asks Semele how she really knows that it was Jupiter who got her pregnant. She says that, when Jupiter sleeps with Juno, he appears in all his divine glory. She convinces Semele to demand equal treatment.
    • Poor Semele. The next time Jupiter visits him, she asks him to grant her a gift. He swears a solemn oath by the River Styx that he will grant whatever she wishes. She repeats what Juno told her—that he make love to her the way he would the queen of the gods. Jupiter doesn't want to comply, but he is bound by his oath—he does as he's told, and Semele is incinerated.
    • Ovid tells us that her unborn child is later extracted from her womb and implanted in Jupiter's thigh. When the time rolls around, that's where it's born from. This child ends up being Bacchus, the god of wine. Weird.
    • In any case, a short time later, Jupiter is up on Mt. Olympus chilling out with his wife, Juno. Maybe it was Semele's request reminding him of his love life with Juno, or maybe it was just the nectar he was downing. Whatever the cause, Jupiter now tries to get Juno to admit that women enjoy sex more than men.
    • Juno doesn't agree. They decide to ask a man named Tiresias, because he has been both a man and a woman.
    • Here's what happened: One day, Tiresias was walking in the forest, and he saw two snakes getting it on. For some reason, he whacked them with his stick. Immediately afterwards, he was transformed into a woman.
    • Eight years later, Tiresias came upon the same two snakes, and whacked them again. This time, he—or rather, she?—was transformed back into a man.
    • Anyhow, when Tiresias shows up, he sides with Jupiter: women enjoy sex more. So now you know.
    • But Juno doesn't agree with this verdict. In anger at Tiresias, she strikes him blind.
    • Jupiter, to make things a bit better, gives him the gift of prophecy in compensation.
    • As time passes, Tiresias gains a reputation for his future-telling abilities.
    • So, when the nymph Liriope is raped by the river-god Cephisus, she turns to Tiresias to find out the fate of her new child.
    • Tiresias answers (in Mandelbaum's translation), "Yes, if he never knows himself." No one can figure out what the heck he means.
    • Sixteen years later, her child, whose name is Narcissus, has matured into a handsome young man, beloved by both sexes. But he will have nothing to do with anyone.
    • One day, when he is out chasing a deer in the forest, he meets the nymph Echo. Echo can only repeat what other people say, and can never initiate a conversation.
    • Now Ovid tells us why Echo was like that.
    • It turns out that Echo used to act as the wing-nymph for the other nymphs who were getting it on with Jupiter. Every time Juno came along looking for her husband, Echo would stand in her way and engage in conversation—thus giving her friend and Jupiter time to make themselves scarce.
    • When Juno figured out what was going one, she deprived Echo of the ability to speak—except for "echoing" (get it?) the last words that other people say.
    • OK, so far so good. Now let's get back to the main story. Echo sees Narcissus roaming through the woods and instantly starts burning with desire for him. Because she can't initiate conversation, she has to wait for him to make the first move.
    • Time passes. Then, one day, Narcissus is out wandering again in the woods. Somehow, he gets separated from his friends. Worried, he calls out (in Mandelbaum's translation), "Is anyone nearby?"
    • To this, Echo replies, "Nearby." Then Narcissus says, "Come! Come!" But then Echo replies, "Come! Come!" Finally, Narcissus says, "Let's meet." And she replies, "Let's meet."
    • At that moment, Echo runs out to meet him. But Narcissus, when he sees her, wants nothing to do with her, and runs away.
    • Echo, full of grief, begins to waste away. Soon, nothing is left but her voice.
    • Narcissus, meanwhile, keeps going about his business, making every fall in love with him, and then rejecting them.
    • Finally, one of those rejected by Narcissus—a young man—prays that Narcissus himself will feel the pain he inflicted on others.
    • One day, while wandering in the forest (he sure likes to do this a lot), he comes to a pool of still water. He kneels to take a drink.
    • Then, all of a sudden, he sees his own reflection—and falls in love with it. He becomes fixated on the image in the pool, and spends long hours gazing at it, not even bothering to eat or drink.
    • Eventually, he figures out that it's his own image, but he doesn't care: He's too much in love. Instead, he just keeps lying there moping. Echo, nearby, echoes each of his groans.
    • Soon enough, Narcissus dies. His spirit goes down to Hades, where it keeps staring at its own reflection in a pool of water. His body turns in to the flower narcissus.
    • Sad as this story is, it definitely increases Tiresias's reputation as a seer.
    • The only person who doesn't respect Tiresias is Pentheus, prince of Thebes, who makes fun of him for being blind. In response, Tiresias prophesies that Pentheus will be killed for disrespecting the god Bacchus.
    • Shortly afterward, the god Bacchus comes to town. All the women of the town instantly sign themselves up as frantic devotees of the god, participating in wild, chaotic festivities.
    • Pentheus doesn't like this one bit. He orders his men to go capture Bacchus and bring him back in chains. His grandfather, Cadmus, and others try to dissuade him, but that just makes him even more eager.
    • So, his men go off, and come back a short time later with a prisoner—but not Bacchus. Instead, the captive claims to be called Acoetes. Acoetes now tells his own story.
    • Acoetes says that he is a sailor, the son of a poor fisherman. One day, when he and his men landed on the coast of Chios, they found a young boy on the shore and took him captive.
    • Something told Acoetes that the boy was a god in disguise. He prayed to the boy to forgive them for capturing him. But then the other sailors started laughing, and told Acoetes to knock it off. Acoetes tried and failed to get them to see reason.
    • After the boy—who was in fact the god Bacchus—told them he wanted to be dropped off at the island Naxos, the crew tried to convince Acoetes, who was manning the tiller, to sail the other way.
    • Eventually, however, Bacchus got tired of leading everyone along and revealed his true identity. Then, he made the ship stand still in midsea and wreathed all its masts with grapevines. At the same time, he transformed all of the crewmen into dolphins—all that is, except for Acoetes.
    • That's the end of Acoetes's story. The moral? Respect Bacchus.
    • But Pentheus isn't impressed. Instead, he orders his men to cart Acoetes off to a dungeon and torture him to death. What he doesn't know is that, once they get there, the doors mysteriously burst open and the chains slip off Acoetes—letting him escape.
    • But Pentheus's most ignorant act comes next: He climbs up the mountain to see what the women are doing in their crazy parties in honor of Bacchus.
    • When he gets there, his mother, Agave, catches sight of him. Unfortunately, she has been driven into a frenzy—and she mistakes him for a wild boar.
    • Agave leads the other women in a charge against her son. When they catch him, they tear him limb from limb. Agave deals the death blow—when she wrenches his head off.
  • Book 4

    • The Theban women take the death of Pentheus as a warning—and become even more devoted to the god Bacchus. In fact, all of them join his worshipers, except for the daughters of Minyas, a citizen of the town.
    • When the other women are off partying, Minyas's daughters stay home and weave. They do this because their favorite goddess is Minerva, the goddess of weaving. To pass the time, they decide to tell stories.
    • One of them begins to tell the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe. Here's how the story begins:
    • Pyramus and Thisbe lived in the city of ancient Babylon. In fact, they lived right next to each other. As they grew up, they slowly fell in love. Eventually, they decided they wanted to be married, but their parents forbade it. This just made them love each other more.
    • The two neighboring houses shared a wall. In this wall, there was a crack. Through this crack, the lovers would communicate. They longed to be able to join together, and wished that the wall did not separate them.
    • Finally, they decided to run away together. They would each slip out of their houses by night. Then, they would make their way separately to the tomb of a man named Ninus, outside the city. There, they would hide underneath a mulberry tree that grew beside the tomb.
    • Thisbe made it to the tomb first. But, while she was waiting, a lioness came by. The lioness had recently killed some oxen, and had a bloody snout. Thisbe ran away—and dropped her shawl in the process. After drinking from a stream, the lioness came over and started tearing up the shawl for no particular reason.
    • When Pyramus got there and saw the lioness, with her bloody jaws, chewing on Thisbe's shawl, he assumed the worst. Overcome with grief, he sat down beneath the mulberry tree and committed suicide by stabbing himself. His blood spurted all over the berries and sank down to the roots—the reason why the berries, which used to be white, now are red.
    • At this point, Thisbe came back to the tomb and found her lover bleeding to death. Pyramus looked up into her eyes, recognized her, and then died. Thisbe prayed that she and he would be given the same grave. Then, she stabbed herself to death with Pyramus's knife.
    • That's the end of the first daughter's story. Now another daughter, Leuconoe, starts telling a different tale.
    • Leuconoe says that, a long time ago, Venus, the goddess of love, was having an affair with Mars, the god of war.
    • When the Sun, who sees everything on earth, saw them in bed together, he quickly tattled on them to Vulcan, Venus's husband.
    • Vulcan didn't like this one bit. That said, being the god of craftsmanship (as well as the fire), he quickly went to work on a plan to trap them. In the end, he fashioned extremely thin wires made of gold—so thin that they were invisible to the naked eye.
    • They were also invisible to the naked lovers. So, when Venus and Mars got into bed together, Vulcan cinched the chains tightly around them, leaving them trapped. Then he invited all the other gods and goddesses into the room to witness their shame.
    • Vulcan's plan kind of backfired, however, when one of the gods (we aren't told who—got any guesses?) said, in front of everyone, that he wished he could be shamed in the same way!
    • After this incident, Venus decided to get revenge on the Sun for ratting her out.
    • She got revenge the way only she knew how—by making the Sun fall madly, painfully in love with a young woman named Leucothoe, the daughter of the King of Persia. (She is not to be confused with Leuconoe, the daughter of Minyas, who is telling this story.)
    • One night, when his duties were over, the Sun came down to earth, assuming the form of Eurynome, the mother of Leucothoe. In this disguise, he approached Leucothoe in her palace and told her he needed to speak to her in private. Once they were alone, he told her he has the hots for her (because he's the sun, get it?). Then he revealed his true form and they had sex. (It's unclear whether this was a rape or not—though modern standards would probably view it as such.)
    • After this incident, however, another girl, Clytie, one of the Sun's ex-girlfriends, decided to rat Leucothoe out, due to jealousy.
    • When Leucothoe's father found out that she was no longer a virgin, he commanded her to be buried alive.
    • When he got wind of this, the Sun shot rays of light down into the earth covering her grave, to blast out a breathing hole. But it was too late. Leucothoe was dead.
    • The Sun now entered a period of profound grief. Eventually, he spread divine nectar around the grave. Soon enough, a fragrant plant grew up out of it—Leucothoe in a new form.
    • As for Clytie, even though she had gotten revenge on her rival, she wasn't able to patch things up with the Sun. (He wouldn't have anything to do with her.) She started spending all day out side, not eating or drinking, staring at the sun. Eventually, she, too, turned into a plant—the flower known as the "heliotrope."
    • That's the end of Leuconoe's story. (Remember, don't confuse her with Leucothoe, the girl in the story.)
    • When she stops telling it, some of her sisters don't believe it. Others say, "Sure, why not? The true gods can do anything they want. But not stupid fake gods—like Bacchus."
    • The next to tell a story is Alcithoe. Here's how her story goes:
    • A long time ago, the god Hermes (a.k.a. Mercury, the messenger god, whom we've already met) had a child with the goddess Aphrodite (a.k.a. Venus, goddess of love, whom we've also already met). Their child, whose looks were a blend of both parents, was named Hermaphroditus.
    • When Hermaphroditus was fifteen years old, he left his home on Mt. Ida and started traveling the world.
    • One day, he came to a pool of fresh, clear water. This pool was inhabited by a Naiad (water nymph) named Salmacis.
    • When Salmacis saw Hermaphroditus, she instantly developed a crush on him. Unfortunately, he rejected her advances.
    • Then, Hermaphroditus went swimming in the pool. Now that Salmacis saw her crush without any clothes on, she couldn't restrain herself. She stripped off her own clothes and dived into the pool.
    • Even though Hermaphroditus tried to resist, she wrapped herself around him and wouldn't let go. When he still wouldn't have sex with her, she prayed to the gods to join them together forever. Her wish was granted: in a flash, they fused into a single being, half male and half female—or both at the same time. Thus, Hermaphroditus became the first hermaphrodite.
    • That's the end of Alcithoe's story. When she is done telling it, the sisters go on with their weaving, still not participating in the festivities of Bacchus.
    • Then, however, the god strikes back. He turns the threads of the sisters' looms into grapevines – and then turns the sisters into bats.
    • After this incident, Bacchus becomes very famous. His aunt, Ino (the sister of Semele), is very pleased with all this—and with her husband, Athamas.
    • Juno, probably still mad that Jupiter got Semele pregnant, decides to inflict pain on Ino.
    • First, she heads down to the underworld. There, she meets the Furies—the goddesses of vengeance. She asks for their help to strike at Ino. Tisiphone, the head Fury, says, "No problem."
    • Tisiphone heads to Thebes, finds Athamas and Ino, and infects them with madness.
    • Now, Athamas calls for nets to trap a lioness and her cubs. What he doesn't know is that the lioness is really Ino and their two children, Learchus and Melicerta.
    • Athamas catches Learchus, swings him around his head, and smashes his skull on a rock.
    • Then Ino, who has also become insane, clutches Melicerta close to her, runs to the top of a tall cliff, and jumps into the sea.
    • Seeing this, Venus has pity on Ino. She asks Neptune, the god of the sea, to turn both Ino and Melicerta into sea-goddesses. Neptune agrees, and makes it happen.
    • Some Theban women, who had followed Ino to the top of the cliff, and who have no idea about her recent transformation into a goddess, start grieving and calling Juno unjust. Juno's reaction is basically, "So you like crying, huh? Well, I'll give you something to cry about." She turns some of the women into rocks, and others into sea birds.
    • After these misfortunes, Cadmus, the old King of Thebes, decides to leave the city—which holds too many painful memories.
    • Cadmus and his wife, Harmonia, start wandering the earth. After they've traveled for some time, Cadmus starts wondering if maybe he's being punished by the gods because he killed that big snake (back in Book 3). Maybe the snake was holy?
    • He prays to the gods, saying, "If I'm being punished for killing that snake, then, gods, turn me into a snake too!"
    • Be careful what you wish for. No sooner has he spoken these words, than Cadmus turns into a snake. In terror, Harmonia prays that she, too, can become a snake and join her husband. No sooner said than done. Then they slither off together.
    • At this point, there remains only one king, Acrisius, who does not believe that Bacchus is a god. Acrisius also doesn't believe that his grandson, Perseus, is really the son of Jupiter. (Perseus's mother, Acrisius's daughter Danae, was supposedly impregnated when Jupiter rained down on her as a shower of gold, as shown in this painting by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.)
    • Ovid tells us that Acrisius eventually changed his mind on both fronts.
    • Then Ovid zooms in on Perseus, who has traveling the earth with his winged sandals. (For more info on Perseus check out this link.)
    • One evening, Perseus comes to the garden of the Titan Atlas—who lives further west than anybody else. Atlas's garden contains the famous "Apples of the Hesperides"—golden apples growing on a golden tree with golden leaves.
    • Because Atlas has heard a prophecy that his apples would be stolen by a son of Jupiter, he refuses to let Perseus come in. In response, Perseus reaches into his rucksack and pulls out… the head of Medusa, which turns whoever looks at it to stone. (Perseus had earlier killed and decapitated Medusa.)
    • When Atlas sees Medusa's head, he is instantly turned into a giant mountain. That mountain, Ovid tells us, now supports the heavens.
    • Then Perseus leaves. Why didn't he steal the apples? That's because, as Ovid would have expected his readers to know, the Apples of Hesperides were stolen by a different son of Jupiter, Hercules.
    • (That said, Ovid's version does lead to something of a time-paradox, since, in most versions of the story, Hercules gets the apples by tricking Atlas into stealing them for him – which he couldn't very easily do if he had already been turned into a mountain. Do you think Ovid made a mistake here, or was he just planting a little joke for a learned reader—i.e., you—to appreciate?)
    • As Perseus is flapping his way along (with his winged sandals), he comes to the land of the Ethiopians. On the beach, he sees that the Ethiopian princess, Andromeda, has been chained to a rock by her father, King Cepheus, to placate the god Ammon.
    • (The back-story is that Andromeda's mother, Cassiope, had boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, a.k.a. sea-nymphs. When Cepheus, the Ethiopian king, asked the oracle of Ammon what he should do, the oracle said to chain his daughter to a rock by the sea.)
    • Perseus quickly flies down to help Andromeda. At first, he tries to engage her in chit-chat, without much success. Then, all of a sudden, a huge monster arises out of the deep. It is coming to eat Andromeda!
    • Now Perseus sees his chance. He calls out to Andromeda's parents, the King and Queen, and says that, if he kills the monster, they have to accept him as their son-in-law. They agree to his terms.
    • As you might expect, Perseus battles the monster and kills it.
    • During the celebrations that follow, Perseus puts the head of Medusa on the sand. So that it isn't damaged, he makes a bed of plants underneath it; then he puts the head face-down on top of it. As it turns out, the plants soak up the power of Medusa's eyes, and turn to stone. When Perseus throws them into the sea, they become the first coral.
    • Then Perseus makes sacrifices in honor of the major gods, and claims Andromeda as his wife. At the wedding feast, someone asks him to tell how he killed Medusa.
    • Perseus clears his throat and starts telling about his adventures. Here's what he says:
    • First, Perseus stole the eye of the Graeae—three weird witch-like women who only had a single eye that they passed between them like a hot potato. Just when it was changing hands, Perseus reached in and stole it.
    • Then he went to find Medusa and kill her. He had figured out a way to look at her without turning to stone: by looking at her reflection in his shield. With this stratagem, Perseus successfully killed and decapitated Medusa.
    • Where Medusa's blood landed on the ground, two creatures sprang up: Chrysaor and Pegasus. Ovid doesn't tell us anything about Chrysaor, though according to tradition he was either a giant or a winged boar. Pegasus was a winged horse.
    • That's the end of the first part of Perseus's story. Then he goes on to tell about his other crazy adventures. At some point, one of the guests at the banquet interrupts him, wanting to know why Medusa had snakes for hair.
    • Perseus says that Medusa used to be a very beautiful woman. Her most beautiful feature was her hair. In fact, her hair was so beautiful that it made Neptune, the god of the sea, inflamed with lust—to such an extent that he raped her in the temple of Minerva.
    • Minerva didn't like this one bit, and decided to punish Medusa. Thus, she turned Medusa's hair into serpents.
    • From that day on, Minerva has worn an image of Medusa across her breast.
  • Book 5

    • Perseus and Andromeda's wedding banquet does not go as planned. In the midst of the festivities, the king's brother, Phineus, starts making an uproar.
    • He claims that Perseus has stolen his rightful bride, Andromeda (who is also his niece). Even though King Cepheus tries to talk him down, Phineus throws a spear at Perseus, but misses him.
    • Then all hell breaks loose, as the banquet erupts into a battle. Perseus kills various men in the battle.
    • Eventually, Perseus ends up without a weapon, facing hordes of incoming enemies. He decides that it's time to bust out the big guns—and lifts up the head of Medusa.
    • Now, everyone who tries to attack him turns to stone. Perseus also accidentally turns to stone somebody on his own side, his friend Aconteus.
    • Finally, when almost all of his friends have been turned to stone, Phineus throws himself at the mercy of Perseus, begging for his life. He averts his eyes, so as not to look at Medusa.
    • In response, Perseus says, "Don't worry; I want to keep you around my palace forever." Then he puts the Medusa head in front of Phineus's eyes and turns him to stone.
    • Next Perseus continues to wander the world. In his travels, he uses the Medusa head to turn various annoying people to stone.
    • At a certain point, the goddess Minerva, who has up until now been with Perseus every step of the way, checks out to visit the Muses on Mt. Helicon. There, the Muses gather around a spring of water emerging from a hole in the earth earlier struck by Pegasus's hoof.
    • The Muses graciously receive the goddess Minerva.
    • Then, one of the Muses tells her about how the evil King Pyreneus once tried to hold all the Muses prisoner. In this instance, the Muses escaped by flying away. Crazy old Pyreneus suddenly got it into his head that he could fly, too. He tried to chase after them, fell from the height of his fortress, cracked his head open, and died.
    • When the Muse stops telling her story, Minerva hears voices up above. She looks up and sees nine magpies perched on a tree-branch, imitating the voices of those below them.
    • One of the Muses explains that these were nine mortal sisters known as the Pierides (i.e., the daughters of Pierus) who challenged the Muses to a singing contest.
    • She says that the Muses thought such a contest was beneath them—but they thought if they refused the challenge they'd end up looking bad all the same.
    • The Pierides were up first. They sang about the battle between the gods and the Giants. According to the Muse telling the story, the Pierides' song was full of factual errors.
    • At this point, the Muse asks Minerva if she wants to hear the song the Muses sang in response to the Pierides. Minerva says she would love to hear it. With this encouragement, the Muse continues her story.
    • She says that the nine Muses nominated one of their number—Calliope – to sing for all of them. Then, when Calliope stood forward, she announced that she wanted to sing about Ceres, the goddess of grain. (Known in Greek as Demeter; you can read about her here.) Here's what Calliope recounted in her song:
    • One day, as Pluto, god of the underworld, was riding over the earth (he had left his kingdom to make sure there were no cracks in the earth's surface), he was spotted by Venus, the goddess of love.
    • She turned to her son, Cupid, and instructed him to shoot an arrow into Pluto to make him fall in love with Proserpina, Ceres's daughter. In this way, Venus would be able to extend her power even to the underworld.
    • At the moment when Cupid's arrow struck, Pluto was riding in his chariot past a field where Proserpina was picking flowers. Suddenly overpowered by love, he scooped up Proserpina into his chariot and carried her off to the underworld.
    • Their route takes them through a lake presided over by Cyane, a Sicilian nymph. Cyane tries to convince Pluto not to carry Proserpina off by force, but he ignores her. In shock, Cyane cries until she turns entirely to water, becoming one with the lake.
    • Meanwhile, Ceres, who did not know what had happened to her daughter, was searching for her all over the face of the earth.
    • One day she came to an old woman's cottage. The woman offered her a drink made of water mixed with barley. When a young boy came up and made fun of her for chugging it down too fast, Ceres threw the drink in his face. He instantly turned into a spotted newt.
    • After this breather, Ceres continued her quest.
    • Once day, she came to the pool in Sicily where Pluto and Proserpina had entered the underworld. Cyane, the nymph, couldn't tell Ceres what had happened, since she had been turned into water. But she did send a message of a different sort, when Ceres caught sight of Proserpina's girdle, floating on the surface of the water.
    • Seeing this, Ceres realized that her daughter had been kidnapped. She fell into profound grief. Because she was the goddess of the harvest, plants began dying all over the world—but especially in Sicily, the site of her daughter's abduction.
    • When things got really bad, Arethusa, the presiding goddess of a spring in Sicily, begged Ceres to come to her senses.
    • Then Arethusa told Ceres that, while she was flowing underground, she had caught a glimpse of Proserpina in the underworld. Arethusa told Ceres that Proserpina was now Pluto's queen.
    • After she heard this news, Ceres was momentarily stunned; then she headed up to the heavens, where she asked Jupiter to rescue Proserpina (their daughter).
    • Jupiter thought about it, then said, "OK. She can come back—but only if she hasn't eaten anything while in the underworld."
    • As it turned out, she had eaten seven pomegranate seeds. Only one person had seen her do it – a guy named Ascalaphus, the son of one of the nymphs of the underworld. Because Ascalaphus ratted her out, Prosperina transformed him into a screech-owl.
    • Then, Calliope (who has been telling us this story, remember?) revealed that the other girls who had been playing with Proserpina ended up being turned into the Sirens.
    • But what about Proserpina, you're wondering? Well, here's what happened. Jupiter worked out a deal: Proserpina would stay underground with her husband Pluto for six months of the year; the other six months she would spend with her mother Ceres. This is why we have seasons: the half of the year when Proserpina is gone corresponds to Fall and Winter, when Ceres's grief prevents plants from growing.
    • Now that everything was OK with Ceres, she went back to Sicily to resume her conversation with Arethusa. She wanted to know why Arethusa left Greece and became a spring in Sicily. Here is what Arethusa tells her:
    • Arethusa used to be a nymph living in the woods of Achaea, in Greece. One day, she came to a river that was remarkably clear, and decided to go swimming in it. The god inhabiting this river, Alpheus, instantly fell in love with her, and called out to her.
    • When Arethusa ran away, naked, he chased after her.
    • They ran over vast distances, until Arethusa suddenly ran out of strength. As she collapsed, she prayed to the goddess Diana to protect her. Diana heard her prayer, and wrapped her in mist, making her invisible to Alpheus.
    • But Alpheus didn't go away. Instead, he inspected the low-hanging cloud that had suddenly appeared before him. In fear, Arethusa began to sweat, turning into a puddle. Then, Alpheus turned himself back into his river form, so he could mingle with the puddle. In this way, Arethusa and Alpheus were joined in love.
    • In this new form, they plunged underneath the earth, eventually reappearing aboveground in Sicily. That was the end of Arethusa's story. (Explains everything, doesn't it?)
    • Then, with a final anecdote about how Ceres saved an Athenian named Triptolemus from being killed by the king of Scythians, Calliope finished her song.
    • The nymphs, who were judging the contest between the Pierides and the Muses, declared the Muses the winners.
    • But the nymphs wouldn't accept it; instead, they started spouting insults against the victors.
    • In response, the Muses turned the Pierides into magpies.
    • Wow, that was complicated. Before we move on to the next chapter, let's just get a recap on where we stand with all these stories-inside-stories. Basically, it goes like this:
    • (1) Minerva goes to the Muses and asks them what's up.
    • (2) The Muses tell Minerva about a singing contest they won.
    • (3) The Muses tell Minerva that, in that singing contest, Calliope told a story about Ceres.
    • (4) The Muses tell Minerva that, in that singing contest, Calliope told a story about Ceres in which Ceres met Arethusa, who told her own story.
    • Bear in mind that, when Book 5 ends, we're still in level (2), because it ends with the Muse still telling Minerva what happened.
  • Book 6

    • That's the end of the story the Muses told Minerva. (In case you forgot, the last book ended in the middle of a story about how the Muses beat the Pierides in a singing contest.)
    • The moral Minerva takes from the story is that it's important for gods to punish mortals who don't respect them. First on her agenda is bringing some vengeance down on Arachne; Minerva had heard rumors that Arachne claimed to be better than her at weaving.
    • Ovid tells us that Arachne came from the land of Lydia; this is in modern Turkey, though he doesn't tell us that part.
    • She is from a humble background, but has won great fame by her knitting—so much fame that she boasts that she could beat Minerva in a weaving contest. Hence Minerva's motivation to knock some sense into her.
    • Minerva first appears at Arachne's house in the shape of an old woman. In this disguise, she tells Arachne to mend her ways, and honor the goddess. But Arachne just repeats her boasting. At that moment, Minerva reveals her true form and says, "Bring it on."
    • While the others present all bow down to Minerva, Arachne remains defiant. (She does blush a little.) Very well: let the weaving contest commence!
    • Minerva weaves an image of the contest between herself and Neptune over who would be the patron god of Athens. She won this contest, of course. (In Greek, Minerva's name is Athena, so you can see the connection.) In the corners of her cloth, she weaves images of gods punishing uppity mortals. Hmm… might there be a message in these images?
    • As for Arachne, her tapestry shows scenes of Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, Bacchus, and Saturn seducing various ladies. (Hmm… she doesn't really show the gods in a good light, does she?)
    • When Arachne is finished, everyone—even Minerva—agrees that her work is flawless. Minerva loses it, and tears Arachne's work to shreds. Then she whacks her on the head with her shuttle. Out of shame, Arachne then hangs herself.
    • Seeing her hanging there, Minerva takes pity on her and lets her live—but turns her into the world's first spider.
    • Meanwhile, in Thebes, a childhood acquaintance of Arachne is also running into trouble with the gods. This is Niobe, who is incredibly proud of her children—seven sons and seven daughters.
    • One day, when the other citizens of her city are worshipping Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana, Niobe interrupts them and says that they should worship her, Niobe, instead. That's because she is also descended from gods, but has more children.
    • When Latona gets wind of this, she immediately tells her children, Apollo and Diana, so they can avenge her honor.
    • No sooner said than done: Apollo and Diana, who are both excellent archers, swoop down to the city of Thebes and shoot all of Niobe's sons dead.
    • When the sons' father, Amphion, learns of this, he kills himself. But Niobe remains defiant: through her tears, she boasts that she still has seven daughters to be proud of. Bad move. Arrows start raining down, and soon six of the daughters are dead, too.
    • Now Niobe's starting to get worried—she prays that the gods spare her last daughter at least. No such luck. Another arrow whizzes by and strikes her daughter dead.
    • At this point, Niobe starts weeping uncontrollably. She weeps for so long, in the same position, that she slowly turns to stone. Then, a strong wind comes, picks her up, and deposits her on top of Mount Sipylus, in modern Turkey, where she came from. To this day, Ovid tells us, she remains there as a rock with water streaming out of it.
    • After what happened to Niobe, the Thebans go on worshiping Latona, with even more devotion than before.
    • Then, one of the Thebans remembers a past occasion when their people suffered for not honoring Latona. Here's how his story goes:
    • The Theban says that, when he was younger, his father once gave him the task of driving his flock of cattle. He did as his father said, and took with him a Lycian (a native of Lycia, in modern Turkey) as a guide.
    • As the Theban and the Lycian were making their way through the countryside, they came upon a lake with an altar rising out of its waters.
    • The Lycian explained what it meant. He said that, a long time ago, when the goddess Latona was pregnant with Apollo and Diana, Juno drove her in exile over the face of the earth. Any guesses why? Yup, you got it. Jupiter was the father.
    • Eventually, she gave birth to the twins on the Greek island of Delos – but then had to keep wandering.
    • After some time, she came to the lake where they now stood. Latona was dying of thirst and she came forward to drink from the water. For some reason, however, the local inhabitants wouldn't let her drink from it; they even stirred up the lake's muddy floor to make the water dirty. In response to this rudeness, Latona turned the lot of them into frogs.
    • That's the end of the Theban's retelling of the Lycian's story.
    • Hearing it reminds one of the other Thebans about a story he once heard about a god punishing a mortal. This time, it was Marsyas, the flute-player (or, "flautist," for the band geeks among you).
    • Marsyas entered a flute-playing contest with Apollo and lost. Then, to add insult to injury—well, really the other way around—Apollo skinned him alive. Needless to say, Marsyas wasn't alive much longer.
    • After this story is done, another Theban, Pelops, the brother of Niobe, steps forward to tell his own story. "You think those guys had it bad?" he says, "Check out this!" At that, he sweeps aside his cloak to reveal that he has… an ivory shoulder.
    • It turns out that, when Pelops was a kid, his father chopped him up into bits; when the gods put him back together again, they couldn't find the shoulder (did they check under the sofa cushions?), so they just made him a new one out of ivory. Sweet.
    • In the wake of these horrible occurrences in Thebes, cities from all over Greece send their condolences. Only one city doesn't—Athens. That's because it's too busy fighting off an attack by barbarians.
    • But then who should come to the rescue but Tereus, the dashing prince of Thrace, who fights the barbarians off. Because of Tereus's heroism, the king of Athens—a man named Pandion—offers him his daughter, Procne, in marriage.
    • Unfortunately, the wedding is doomed from the start. Why? Because they didn't hire the right wedding planner.
    • That's right, instead of Juno, Hymen, and the Graces—your standard divinities of marriage—they got the Furies to stage-manage the festivities. Bad move. Let's see how things turn out.
    • At first, things went OK, and the couple soon produced a child. Five years pass. Then, one day, Procne asks her husband if they can go back to her hometown to pick up her sister, Philomela, whom she is dying to see.
    • Tereus says, "Sure thing," and in no time he outfits a ship and sail to Athens to pick her up.
    • When they get there, everything goes well, and Tereus gets a warm welcoming from his father-in-law, King Pandion. But the real warmth comes from another quarter: As soon as Tereus sees Philomela, his sister-in-law, he becomes inflamed with the fires of lust.
    • He makes his speech to Philomela, inviting her to visit them in Thrace. She is only too happy to accept; her father grants permission. So, the next day, they sail off. Before they go, Pandion makes Tereus promise to send Philomela back home soon.
    • Then they sail off. When they reach Thrace, Tereus drags Philomela off to a hut in the woods. There, he ties her up and rapes her. Full of anger and shame, Philomela swears that she will tell everyone what Tereus has done. To prevent this from happening, he cuts out her tongue.
    • Then Tereus goes home, has the audacity to look his wife in the eye and tell her that Philomela died along the way.
    • A year passes. Philomela remains in captivity in the woods, guarded by Tereus's henchmen, and unable to speak. But there just happens to be a loom in her room. She uses it to weave a tapestry of symbols explaining what happened to her. Then she gives the tapestry to a serving-woman, who takes it to Procne.
    • Procne is shocked by what she sees, and immediately begins plotting revenge. But she doesn't do anything immediately. Instead, she waits until the feast of Bacchus rolls around. Then, when she is wandering in the woods with that god's other female worshipers, she passes by the hut where Philomela is being held, and rescues her. She dresses her up in the clothing of a worshiper and sneaks her back into the palace.
    • Now Procne thinks it's time for her revenge. She contemplates many means of doing it, but finally decides to take her anger out on Itys, her son with Tereus.
    • Despite her maternal affection for him, Procne carries Itys off to the woods. There, she and Philomela hack him to death with knives.
    • Then, Procne takes what's left of Itys home, cooks him, and serves him as dinner to Tereus, who is none the wiser.
    • After the dinner—which Tereus enjoys very much—he asks where his son is. Then Philomela walks in, covered in blood, and throws Itys's head in Tereus's face.
    • Tereus is understandably shocked; when he gets his wits back, it is only to grab his sword and run after Procne and Philomela, intending to kill them. Before he can, however, Procne and Philomela turn into birds and fly away. Then, Tereus turns into a bird as well—the hoopoe—but doesn't catch them.
    • Grieving over these events, the Athenian King Pandion dies before his time.
    • Pandion's son, Erectheus, becomes the new king. Erectheus has eight kids: four sons and four daughters.
    • One of Erectheus's daughters is named Procris. She marries a guy named Cephalus. (We'll meet him again in Book 7.)
    • Another of Erectheus's daughters, Orithyia, is courted by Boreas, the god of the north wind. Or rather, Boreas would have courted her if he weren't forbidden to come near her – all because he hails from Thrace (Get it? "Hails," because he's the north wind?), the same northern region as the wicked Tereus.
    • Finally, Boreas says to himself, "What am I doing waiting around like a chump? I should use violence, my forte!"
    • Then, Boreas swoops down in a dark cloud, snatches up Orithyia, and carries her off.
    • Things actually seem to have worked out OK for Orithyia and Boreas. Ovid tells us that they made a home together in the north, had twin sons: Zetes and Calais.
    • Ovid tells us that these boys had their mother's looks—until, at puberty, they each grew wings like their father.
    • He says that, when they became men, they took part of the expedition of the Argo—the first ship built by humans—to recover the golden fleece. What's that all about? Well, you'll just have to wait until Book 7…
  • Book 7

    • When this book begins, the Argo, the first ship ever built, has reached its destination: the kingdom of Aeëtes, by the River Phasis. There, the Argo's captain, Jason, demands that Aeëtes surrender the Golden Fleece. (If you have no idea what any of this means, check out this website for background info on Jason's search for the Golden Fleece.)
    • Aeëtes tells Jason, "OK, I'll give you the Golden Fleece, but first you have to perform three tasks for me…" (Insert ominous music here.)
    • Ovid doesn't tell us what these tasks are, however, not right away, at least. Instead, he lets us know that Medea, King Aeëtes's daughter, has developed a major crush on Jason.
    • At this point, Medea delivers a long dramatic monologue, in which she reveals her feelings for him. She is particularly worried about the dangers Jason is about to face—the three tasks set by King Aeëtes, which we now learn are: (1) to put a yoke on a pair of fire-breathing oxen, (2) to sow (i.e., plant in a furrow) the teeth of the snake slain by Cadmus, and (3) to overcome the dragon that guards the Golden Fleece.
    • Medea's thoughts wander to and fro, as she considers helping Jason and running off with him. Eventually, however, she decides against it.
    • Then, however, she sets out for the shrine of the goddess Hecate. On the way, she encounters Jason, and instantly is overpowered by love. When she approaches him, he begs for her help in the coming tasks. She promises to give it, provided that he will marry her. He promises he will.
    • The next day, King Aeëtes and his people go out to the field to see Jason confront his challenges. First, Jason yokes the fire-breathing bulls – piece of cake. Then, he ploughs the field and throws the snake's teeth in the furrows. In no time, the snake's teeth germinate into a race of warriors, who spring up out of the earth fully armed—and ready to attack Jason.
    • Watching all this, Medea is afraid for Jason, and she casts a spell to help him. We aren't told what the spell is, but if might have something to do with what happens next: Jason throws a stone into the middle of the undead warriors. This distracts them, and they start fighting each other. They fight until they are all dead—again.
    • Last in the list of challenges is the dragon. Jason walks up to it and sprinkles some herb juices on it. We don't know what kind of, uh, herb, this was, but it sure makes the dragon fall asleep – thus giving Jason a window of opportunity to snag the Golden Fleece. He then sails away with his new treasure – plus Medea, his new girlfriend (but she thinks they're more serious than that).
    • When Jason and his crew get back home, everyone celebrates—except for Aeson, Jason's elderly father, who is at death's door. Saddened by this, Jason asks Medea if she can just, you know, take some of his years and give them to his father. Medea says no way is she going to take years from Jason—but she might just try to whip up some magic to make Aeson live longer.
    • That night, Medea goes out into the woods and prays to the various divinities of the earth and sky. She asks them for some juice that will prolong old Aeson's life.
    • When she is done praying, a chariot swoops down from the sky to pick her up. Medea's got connections, you see: her granddad is the Sun.
    • She gets into the chariot, which is pulled by two dragons. In it, she travels the world for nine days and nine nights. At the end of this period, she finds the herb she's looking for. Then she heads back to the palace of Aeson.
    • There, she performs some wacky purification rituals on Aeson. Then, she brews up a potion using the herb she had plucked. She knows its ready when the olive stick she stirs it with turns green and sprouts new leaves; then when she carries it over to Aeson, wherever droplets fall on the ground, grass springs up.
    • What does she do then? Why, she pulls out a sword and cuts Aeson's throat.
    • But that's just to drain his old blood out. Then she fills him up with the potion, and he is revived—forty years younger!
    • After this, Medea heads to the palace of King Pelias—Aeson's brother and Jason's uncle. In case you don't already know the story of Jason (not that you should)—or you didn't click on the link we posted earlier (OK, maybe that's your fault)—we'd better fill you in on the back-story.
    • Here's the scoop: In fact, the rightful king of Iolcus—Jason's ancestral home—wasn't Pelias at all, but his brother Aeson. The thing is, Pelias kicked his brother out of town, and took the throne for himself. As a result, Jason grew up in exile. (In fact, he was raised by a centaur, but let's not get into that.)
    • Years later, Jason went to Iolcus to claim his birthright. As the Jamaican reggae singer Jimmy Cliff would put it, "As sure as the sun will shine, I'm gonna get my share, what's mine." The problem is (and there's always a problem), Pelias recognized him. You see, Pelias had received a prophecy to beware of anyone who came wearing only one sandal—and Jason, for some reason, only had one.
    • So then Pelias decided to play a trick on Jason. He put it something like this: "Hey! Jason! My nephew! Great to see you after all these years! How's your dad? Exile treating him alright? Anyhow, about my kingdom. Here's what: you go bring me the Golden Fleece, and then the kingdom's yours!" (As you can imagine, Pelias didn't expect Jason would succeed.)
    • So that's the back-story. Now that Medea is heading for Pelias's palace, her plan is to help out her beloved Jason by settling his uncle's hash.
    • When she arrives at his palace, the first people she approaches are Pelias's daughters. She boasts to them of how she revived Aeson; this makes the girls excited that she can do the same for their own father.
    • At first, Medea plays hard to get, saying, "Hmm, I don't know. Let's make sure it still works first. Here: let me turn that old ram over there into a lamb." And that's exactly what she does, complete with the throat cutting, blood draining, and all.
    • The daughters of Pelias are so impressed by this that they insist Medea do the same for her father. She agrees, and three days later they start the ritual. This time, Medea gets the daughters to stab their father and drain his blood themselves.
    • Even though Pelias's daughters can't bear to watch what they're doing, they stab him anyway. Of course, this time Medea uses a placebo potion without any magic herbs. Guess what? Pelias dies.
    • Then Medea hops into her dragon chariot and says, "Let's blow this pop stand." And she's off!
    • Medea flies all over the world, passing various landmarks where weird transformations occurred. Finally, she comes back to Corinth—where she discovers that Jason has married someone else!
    • What's a wronged woman to do? Well, if you're a wronged woman and your name happens to be Medea, you start by killing your lover's new wife by setting her on fire. Then you kill your children with the creep (apparently Jason and Medea had children) and then you fly away again in your dragon-pulled sun chariot. Are you getting this all down?
    • Medea takes refuge in Athens, where she marries the local king, Aegeus.
    • One day, Aegeus's long lost son, Theseus, shows up at the palace. For no apparent reason Medea decides to kill Theseus.
    • She conspires with Aegeus to spike Theseus's drink with some slobber taken from Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the underworld. Yikes. But then, just as Theseus is about to put the drink to his lips, Aegeus recognizes the symbol embossed on the young man's sword-hilt, and realizes that he is about to poison his son. He smacks the drink out of the Theseus's hand.
    • At this point, Medea decides it's time to make herself scarce—so she disappears into a mist of invisibility. How convenient.
    • Then the people of Athens hold a great festival honoring Theseus.
    • Soon, however, more trouble arrives. Minos, the king of Crete, is determined to wage war on Athens. This is because the Athenians killed his son, Androgeos. First, however, Minos sails around Greece, rounding up allies for the coming fight.
    • Eventually, he comes to Aegina, an island city-state allied with Athens. Minos tries to get the Aeginetans (the inhabitants of Aegina) to break their treaty with Athens and join up with him. But Aeacus, the ruler of Aegina, brushes them off. Minos makes some empty threats in response, and then hits the road.
    • Just at this moment, who should sail into Aegina's port but Cephalus, the husband of Procris, daughter of the Athenian King Erectheus (we were briefly introduced to him back in Book 6).
    • Cephalus goes up to Aeacus and tells him, "Hey, that Minos character is a real jerk. Don't join up with him: stick with the Athenians and we'll kick his butt."
    • Then Aeacus says, "We Aeginetans are tight with you Athenians. Don't worry about us."
    • To this, Cephalus says, "Cool. But hey, what's the deal? A lot of the people I met last time I was in Aegina don't seem to be around anymore."
    • Aeacus sighs, and says it's a sad story; even so, he starts to explain what happened.
    • Here's what Aeacus says: Not long ago, the goddess Juno sent a horrible plague against the people of the Aegina. This is because Jupiter, her husband, had been fooling around with the nymph Aegina, the city's namesake.
    • At first, the plague infected only animals. Then it spread to the inhabitants of the countryside around Aegina, and, finally, to the city itself.
    • The plague made people experience burning sensations all through their bodies; they were also overcome with powerful thirst. The plague was so contagious that the doctors attempting to treat the sick soon fell sick themselves.
    • As more and more people died, all sense of order broke down.
    • Finally, Aeacus prayed to Jupiter for help. Jupiter sends down a flash of lightning, meaning "OK, I'm listening."
    • Then Aeacus caught sight of a nearby tree, swarming with ants. He asked Jupiter to fill his city with as many people as there were ants on that tree.
    • That night, Aeacus dreamed that he saw the same tree. The tree shook the ants onto the ground; there, they transformed into humans. Then Aeacus woke up to the sound of commotion. The dream had come true!
    • Aeacus repopulated his city with these new people. He called the new citizens "Myrmidons," after the Greek word "myrmex," which means "ant." Aeacus says that his new-citizens are hard-working and painstaking—just like the ants they used to be.
    • That's the end of Aeacus's story.
    • The next morning, Cephalus and the other Athenians go down to the port to sail off. But the weather is bad, so they head back to the palace. Aeacus's isn't awake yet, but his son, Phocus, welcomes the visitors.
    • While they're chilling out, Phocus notices that Cephalus is carrying an unusual looking spear—he can't tell what wood it's made of. He asks Cephalus, "What's the deal with your spear?"
    • Before Cephalus can answer, one of the Athenians replies that the spear has some wacky properties. For example, when you throw it, it can't miss—it's like a homing spear. Homing in two senses, that is. That's because, once it hits its target, it flies back to the hand that threw it. Pretty nifty, huh?
    • Phocus is impressed, and asks Cephalus where he got the spear. At this, however, Cephalus bursts into tears. All the same, he begins to tell the story. Here's what he says:
    • It all began when he married Procris, the daughter of Erectheus. They were incredibly happy together. Unfortunately, only a short time after their honeymoon, while Cephalus was hunting in the forest, Aurora, the goddess of dawn, swooped down, picked him up, and carried him away.
    • Throughout the time that Aurora held him prisoner, however, Cephalus kept insisting that he had eyes only for his wife. Finally, Aurora decided to let him go—but not without a little passive aggressive send-off. Basically, she said, "Fine: go home to your wife. I just think you'll regret it."
    • On the way home, Cephalus pondered Aurora's words. As he turned them around in his mind, he started to worry that his wife had been unfaithful. He decided to test this out by appearing to her in disguise. Aurora helped him out by changing his face.
    • When he got home, everything in the household seemed in order. Procris appeared sad without her husband around.
    • As the days passed, the disguised Cephalus began to pester her to sleep with him. She refused every time. Then, he started offering her lavish gifts, but she still refused. He kept piling on more and more and more gifts, however, until, finally, it seemed she was about to give in.
    • At that point, Cephalus suddenly revealed himself and cursed her as an unfaithful wife. (Even though, technically, nothing happened.)
    • In disgust at her husband's behavior, Procris fled into the woods, where she took up the life of a huntress.
    • Eventually, however, Cephalus came to his senses. He realized that he, too, might have cracked under so much pressure. He got in touch with Procris and apologized to her. Then she came home.
    • Once again, Procris and Cephalus settled into a happy life together. As an added bonus, when she came back from the woods, she gave him two gifts: first, the world's fastest hound, and, second, the magical spear.
    • After some time past, Cephalus got word of a crazy fox that was tormenting the people of Thebes. He joined up with a bunch of other warriors and went to hunt the fox.
    • Because the fox kept outwitting them, the other hunters asked Cephalus to release his special hound, whose name was Laelaps. Cephalus let Laelaps run free, and he took off like a speeding arrow. But even he couldn't catch the fox; it was just too wily.
    • Finally, Cephalus decided that enough was enough: he lifted up the spear and prepared to throw it at the fox. But then, before it left his grasp, both the fox and Laelaps turned to stone.
    • At this point, Phocus interrupts the story. He asks the question we've all been thinking: "OK Cephalus, great story about the fox and dog and all. But you still haven't explained why you're pissed at your spear!"
    • Cephalus clears his throat and begins talking again.
    • He says that, in the first years of his marriage with Procris (after they got back together), they were very happy. He would go out hunting in the woods, and have a great time. What he loved best about the woods was the gentle, refreshing breeze blowing through it. He would often pray for this breeze to come.
    • The Latin word for breeze is "aura." One day, somebody overheard him praying for "aura" to come and thought he was calling on a lady named "Aura." This spy reported back to Procris that Cephalus had taken a mistress.
    • Procris didn't believe him. Or at least that's what she said…
    • The next day, Cephalus went out hunting again. As usual, he prayed for the breeze—"aura"—to come. Then, he heard a rustling in the bushes. He lifted his spear and threw it.
    • But what it struck wasn't a beast of the forest—it was his wife, Procris, who had come to see if he was still faithful to her.
    • He raced to her side and cradled her in his arms. But it was too late. With her dying breath, she tried to make him swear that he wouldn't get together with "Aura" when she was gone. Then Cephalus realized what had happened.
    • That's the end of Cephalus's story. When he's finished, King Aeacus shows up with a bunch of soldiers he had rounded up to join in the fight against King Minos of Crete.
  • Book 8

    • The next morning, the weather is good, and Cephalus and company make it back to Athens.
    • In the meantime, however, King Minos is continuing his war against the cities of Greece. At the moment, he is besieging the city of Megara.
    • The king of Megara is a man named Nisus. Ovid tells us that his hair is all grey except for one purple tuft. Cool. Oh yeah, and this purple tuft also has the magical power of keeping his kingdom safe—so long as it's still on his head. Way cool. And… weird.
    • The king's daughter is named Scylla.
    • As the siege wears on, she spends her days watching the goings-on from the battlements. Over time, she develops a huge crush on Minos, the Cretan king. Uh-oh.
    • Scylla goes back and forth wondering what to do, but eventually decides that she has to be with him, come hell or high water. The only thing standing in her way is her father, Minos. She decides to sidestep his power—by taking his purple tuft of hair.
    • So, in the middle of the night, she sneaks into his room, and tears the purple tuft out by the roots. Then, she exits the fortress and goes to find Minos in the Cretan camp.
    • The thing is, Minos is a pretty stand-up guy—not the sort to look kindly on daughters who rip their fathers' magical purple hair out of their heads. He tells Scylla to scram. Then he conquers the city.
    • Once Minos has finished re-jiggering the Megarian constitution, he sails away with his army.
    • When Scylla sees them sailing away, she freaks out, and starts shrieking about what a jerk he is. She also makes fun of him because of his weird personal history involving bulls.
    • First of all, in case you didn't know, Minos is the son of Jupiter and Europa—whom he abducted when he took the shape of a bull. Now, Scylla makes fun of him, saying it wasn't Jupiter disguised as a bull, but just a straight up bull that impregnated his mama. Ooh, burn!
    • Then, she makes fun of him because his wife, Pasiphae, had an affair with a bull and gave birth to a half-human, half-bull baby. (This baby was the Minotaur; we'll be coming back to him.)
    • Despite all these insults, however, Scylla is still madly in love with Minos. She dives into the sea, swims up to Minos's ship, and grips it fast. Just at that moment, however, her father Nisus, who had apparently turned into a hawk, swoops down and starts attacking her. Then she turns into a bird as well. And that's the end of that.
    • Then Minos gets home to Crete, and life seems to be going as usual… except for, you know, the fact that his wife's half-human, half-bull baby has been growing up into a half-human, half-bull teenager.
    • Minos realizes he's got to keep this monstrosity far away from the public eye. So he hires the inventor and architect Daedalus to build a maze underneath his palace. In this labyrinth, he incarcerates the Minotaur.
    • Then Minos starts to demand that the Athenians send him young boys and girls for the Minotaur to eat. They are supposed to send them every nine years.
    • This happens twice. But the third time around, Theseus is one of the Athenian youths. He kills the Minotaur with the help of Minos's daughter, Ariadne. You see, Ariadne gives Theseus a thread, which he unwinds as he makes his way through the maze. That way, once he kills the beast, he is able to find his way back out by following the thread.
    • Unfortunately for Ariadne, Theseus was a jerk. On their voyage back to Athens, he abandoned her on the island of Naxos. A little while later, however, the god Bacchus came along and hooked up with her. Then Bacchus transformed her into the constellation Corona Borealis (a.k.a. the Northern Crown).
    • Meanwhile, back in Crete, the inventor Daedalus is getting antsy. It turns out that he is being held by Minos as a prisoner, against his will.
    • Eventually, however, he figures that, even though Minos can prevent him from leaving by sea, he has no control over the air. And so Daedalus gathers up some feathers and sets to work building two sets of wings—one for himself, and one for his son, Icarus.
    • When the wings are built, Daedalus puts them on himself and his son. Before they set out, he gives Icarus a solemn warning: "Fly in the middle of the sky," he says, "Don't fly too high or the sun will melt the wax that hold your wings together. Don't fly too low, or the moisture of the waves will destroy them."
    • Then they fly off. At first everything seems to be going fine—but then Icarus gets cocky. He starts doing all kinds of crazy maneuvers, and flies way too high. The sun melts the wax of his wings and he plummets into the sea.
    • Daedalus swoops down, rescues the corpse (apparently without damaging his wings), and buries him on a nearby island. From that point on, the land is known as Icaria.
    • While Daedalus was burying his son, who should turn up but a meddlesome partridge.
    • As it happens, this bird used to be Daedalus's nephew, whom his sister had entrusted to his care. The kid was extremely clever; during his stay with Daedalus, he invented both the saw and the geometrical compass. But this display of smarts just made Daedalus jealous—so he picked the kid up and hurled him off the nearest battlements.
    • But Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, didn't like to see intelligence punished in that way, so she turned the boy into a bird before he hit the ground.
    • To this day, however, the partridge sticks close to the ground. It doesn't fly high because that just reminds it of its fall.
    • Nothing much seems to have happened between Daedalus and the partridge. When he was done, the inventor flew off to Sicily, where he was taken in by the local King Cocalus. Cocalus immediately whipped an army together; he was worried that King Minos might attack him if he knew Daedalus was there.
    • Meanwhile, in Athens, great festivals were going on in honor of Theseus, because he killed the Cretan Minotaur.
    • This also solidified Theseus's street cred throughout Greece. As a result, when the land of Calydon was being laid to waste by a rampaging boar, its local hero Meleager asked Theseus for help.
    • Here's why the boar was attacking Calydon.
    • It turns out that Oenus, the king of the region, had made harvest-time offerings to Ceres, Bacchus, and Minerva, and all the other gods. With one exception: Diana.
    • It was she who, in revenge, sent the giant boar against the Calydonian countryside.
    • To fight against this intruder, Meleager rounds up a band of the roughest, toughest fighters in the land. These include: Castor and Pollux, Jason, Theseus and his close friend Pirithous, Phoenix (who plays a bit part in Homer's Iliad), Peleus, Nestor, and Atalanta, the famous huntress.
    • When Meleager sees Atalanta, he immediately falls in love with her. Still, he holds himself in check and doesn't make a move: they've got a job to do.
    • The band of hunters heads into the woods and encounters the boar. At first, things don't go so well; none of them can hit it with their spears, but it puts a number of them on the injured list.
    • Finally, however, Atalanta manages to hit it behind the ear. Meleager cheers her on.
    • The other men now feel ashamed that a woman has taken the honor of striking the boar. One of them, Ancaeus, recklessly attacks it at close quarters with an axe—but the boar disembowels him with its tusk. Ouch. The other warriors cast their spears recklessly, and miss.
    • But then Meleager succeeds in striking the boar with a spear, bringing it down. The other warriors cheer him on—if Meleager gets the credit, it will be less of an affront to their manhood. But Meleager insists that Atalanta share the credit. He even offers her the spoils.
    • Unfortunately, Meleager's two uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus, who were among the hunters, step in and say that he has no right to give these gifts to Atalanta. This sends Meleager into a rage—so he kills them. Yikes.
    • When the hunters are returning to the city, Althaea, Meleager's mother, is at first overjoyed to see that he has been victorious. Then she sees her dead brothers, and starts lamenting. She only stops lamenting when she learns who was responsible. Now is no time for tears: She wants revenge.
    • Here's how she plans to do it. As it turns out, when Meleager was born, the three Fates (goddesses of, well… fate) showed up. They put a log on the fire and said: "Your son will live as long as this log." Uh… right. Anyway, Althaea reacted quickly and snatched the log out of the fire. Now, however, she decides to burn it and kill her son.
    • And yet, she is torn between forgiving him and avenging her brothers. Eventually, she decides to throw the log over her shoulder into the flames, without looking at it. She also prays to the spirits of her dead brothers that she may join them in death soon after what she has done.
    • When the log begins to burn, Meleager, who is far away, begins to feel a burning sensation within him. At the moment the log crumbles to ash, he dies.
    • The death of its young hero sends the land of Calydon into deep despair. At the same time, Althaea kills herself by stabbing herself in the guts.
    • Meanwhile, Meleager's sisters are consumed with grief, and act out in quasi-incestuous, quasi-necrophiliac ways. For example, once his body has been cremated, they rub his ashes against their breasts. (That's pretty weird, right?) Then, when his body is buried, they hurl themselves onto his tomb and cover it with tears.
    • Seeing this, and deciding that her work is done, Diana turns the sisters of Meleager into hens. Go figure.
    • At the same time, Theseus is heading back to Athens. On his way, he comes to the River Achelous, which rains have turned into a raging torrent.
    • The river god speaks up at this point and tells Theseus not to bother trying to cross the stream—it's just too dangerous. Instead, he urges Theseus and his companions to stay in his house for the night.
    • Theseus decides this is a good idea, so he and his buddies enter the river's home. Once they are inside, nymphs appear and serve them a fancy meal.
    • After dinner, Theseus points to what looks like an island in the distance, beyond the river mouth. He asks Achelous to tell him about it. Achelous says that those are in fact five islands; they only look like one from this vantage point. He also says that the islands used to by five Naiads (sea-nymphs). Because these stuck-up ladies didn't invite him to a party once, he, Achelous, turned them into islands.
    • Then Achelous says that, beyond those five islands is another one. This island used to be a princess whom Achelous once loved. Loved so much that he… well, raped her. (Don't blame us: this is how Achelous tells it.)
    • When the girl's father found out, he felt so dishonored that he hurled her off a cliff. Achelous hurried to the rescue and prayed to Neptune, the god of the sea, for help. Neptune changed her into an island.
    • When Achelous is finished telling this story, however, Pirithous, Theseus's buddy, doesn't believe it. "Aw c'mon, Achelous," he says, "quit yanking my chain. We all know the gods aren't that powerful. They can't really change one thing into something else."
    • Everyone else is shocked to hear him say this. Then Lelex, the oldest among Theseus's group, starts telling a story to prove that the gods are powerful. Here's what Lelex says:
    • In the land of Phrygia, Lelex once saw two trees standing near each other: an oak and a linden. Lelex learned that a long time ago, the gods Jupiter and Mercury had visited that spot, disguised as mortals. They knocked on the doors of all the inhabitants there; everyone rejected them except for a poor, elderly couple: Baucis and her husband, Philemon.
    • Baucis and Philemon gave the gods a generous welcome, despite their poverty. In the middle of their supper, they noticed that the wine bowl was miraculously replenishing itself. Fearing the wrath of the gods, they prayed to be forgiven for their meager offerings.
    • All of this left Jupiter and Mercury deeply impressed. At the end of the supper, they revealed their true identities. Then they told Baucis and Philemon to follow them. Together they walked up to a hill outside of town. When they reached the top, Baucis and Philemon looked back—and saw that their entire town had been turned into a swamp. The only house saved was their own.
    • But then this house turned into a marble temple.
    • Now Jupiter asked Philemon what he most wanted. Philemon conferred with Baucis. Then, he spoke for both of them, telling the god that he and his wife wanted to be their priests. Also, they wanted to be together for the rest of their lives; when one of them died, they wanted the other to die also.
    • The gods granted this request. Baucis and Philemon lived out the rest of their days as priests in the temple. Then, one day, they both turned into trees—the oak and the linden Lelex saw in Phrygia.
    • That's the end of Lelex's story. Everyone is impressed.
    • Because Theseus wants to hear more stories about the gods, their host Achelous starts to spin out another tale. First he tells them about Proteus, the god of the sea (who makes an important guest appearance in Homer's Odyssey). What makes Proteus special is that he doesn't undergo just one change—he's constantly shape-shifting.
    • This reminds Achelous of another shape-shifter, the daughter of a guy called Erysichthon. Now Achelous starts telling about Erysichthon.
    • Now, this Erysichthon was one mean dude. He even went so far as to chop down an oak tree in a grove sacred to the goddess Ceres. But that wasn't the worst of it—it was how he did it that was truly atrocious.
    • You see, first he commanded his men to do it, but they refused. So he started chopping it down himself. When one of them tried to stop him by standing in front of the tree, Erysichthon just said, "Out of my way, you tree-hugger!" and chopped off his head.
    • Did we mention that blood started pouring out of the tree when he chopped it? Or that a voice cried out from within it saying, "I am the nymph who lives inside this tree; if you kill me, I foretell that you will die soon too!"? Well, both those things happened, but Erysichthon just kept chopping, until the tree came down. Timberrrrrrrrrrrrr! Ka-boom.
    • After this, the Dryads (forest nymphs) went to complain to Ceres. Ceres decided to punish Erysichthon, so she sent an Oread (mountain nymph) into Scythia to fetch Famine, the personification of Hunger. The Oread did as she was told, and in no time Famine had come to Greece and infected Erysichthon.
    • From that point on, Erysichthon was constantly hungry. He ate everything, ate himself out of house and home. He ate so much that he finally sold his daughter into slavery—just so he could pay for more food.
    • At her new home, Erysichthon's daughter prayed to Neptune, the god of the sea, who had taken her virginity, to save her. Neptune heard her prayer and gave her the form of a male fisherman. Then, when her master came by, she was all like, "Girl? I haven't seen any girl around here. I've just been focused on my fishing."
    • The master went away, perplexed. When he was gone, the girl turned back into her former form. She could transform her shape at will!
    • Then she went home to her father. For a man in Erysichthon's predicament, a shape-shifting daughter was a major asset. That's because he could sell her over and over again to different clients; she'd just take a different form every time: a horse, a bird, a deer; you name it.
    • Eventually, however, Erysichthon's hunger caught up with him—literally: He started eating his own flesh.
    • Then Achelous says: "But why am I going on about all these stories from the old days? I'm a shape-shifter too—sometimes I'm a snake, and sometimes a bull with fancy horns. Well, just one horn now." Then he takes off his wreath and shows a wound where one of his horns used to be.
    • Then he stops talking and moans.
  • Book 9

    • Theseus asks the river god Achelous how he lost his horn. Achelous says, "You're asking a lot if you want to relive all that…but I guess I'll tell it anyway." Here's what Achelous says:
    • There used to be this total babe named Deianira, whom everyone wanted to marry. Achelous joined the crowd of suitors at her father's house, asking for her hand. Another one of the suitors was the hero Hercules.
    • None of the other suitors wanted to compete with either Hercules or a river god, so they backed off. This left Achelous and Hercules to make their offers to Deianira's father.
    • Hercules spoke first, saying, "If you let me marry your daughter, she'll have my old man Jupiter for a father-in-law."
    • In response, Achelous said, "Hey, I'm a god; this Hercules character is a mortal. It would be an outrage if you picked him before me." Then he turned to Hercules himself, and really started laying it on thick: "As for you, even if you are the son of Jupiter, your mom Alcmene certainly isn't his wife. That makes you a bastard. C'mon, admit it: either you're lying about Jupiter being your dad, or your mom's been sleeping around."
    • To that, Hercules just said, "Hm. Nice words. Let's see how they stand up against my fists."
    • Then the two of them began wrestling. Even though they seemed evenly matched at first, slowly Hercules began to get the upper hand. Then Achelous changed himself into a snake—but Hercules just started choking him. Next Achelous transformed into a bull. But Hercules beat the bull as well, and, for good measure, wrenched off its horn.
    • That, Achelous explains, is how he got the scar on his head. And that's the end of his story.
    • After hearing Achelous's story, Theseus and his companions eat dessert and call it a night. In the morning, they continue on their way towards Athens.
    • Now, however, Ovid shifts the focus back in time to the era in which Achelous's story takes place. His narrative's camera zooms in on Hercules, who is leading his new bride Deianira back to his hometown of Tiryns.
    • Eventually, however, they find they path blocked by the swollen River Evenus. Hercules would have no problem crossing it himself, but he is worried for Deianira.
    • Just then, however, who should show up but a centaur named Nessus. Nessus says to Hercules: "Don't worry about a thing. Let me carry Deianira across, and you can swim it, no problem." Hercules agrees. (Ovid tells us that Deianira wasn't so sure about the arrangement.)
    • When he gets to the other side, however, he hears Deianira crying out—Nessus is carrying her off. Quickly, Hercules picks up his bow and shoots Nessus in the back. If the arrow wound itself wasn't fatal, the poison on the arrowhead would be: Hercules had dipped all his arrowheads in the venomous blood of the hydra after he killed it.
    • As Nessus is dying, however, he tells Deianira to take his bloodstained cloak. He tells her that if Hercules ever seems to lose his enthusiasm for making sweet love, she should make him wear it as an aphrodisiac (i.e., something that puts you in the mood for said love-making).
    • Years pass, and Hercules travels the land far and wide, doing great deeds and earning a serious reputation. One day, however, Rumor (the god of… rumors) reaches Deianira back home, and tells her that Hercules has fallen in love with a young woman named Iole.
    • Deianira is heartbroken to hear this and determines to get her husband back. So what does she do? She sends a servant to bring Hercules the cloak given her by Nessus, thinking it will kindle the fires of their romance.
    • "Kindle the fires" is right, but not the fires of romance. Instead, when Hercules puts the cloak on, it immediately bursts into flames!
    • Nothing can stop the fire, which keeps eating away at him. In vain, he asks Juno to kill him, just to make it stop. He starts wandering the forest, knocking things over in his rage, pain, and frustration. When he runs into a guy named Lichas, he picks him up and throws him into the sea. In mid-air, Lichas turns into a rock, which Ovid claims was still visible in his day.
    • None of this helps Hercules, however, and he eventually decides to simply burn himself to death with conventional fire on top of a funeral pyre. After he heaps up all the necessary logs, he reclines on top like a diner at a banquet and waits for death to come. (First he gives his bow and arrows to a mortal named Philoctetes, who will use them in the Trojan War.)
    • Up in heaven, meanwhile, the gods are looking down on what is happening. Jupiter tells them not to worry: The flame will only destroy the mortal part of Hercules—the part that came from his mother, Alcema. The immortal part will survive.
    • That's just what happens. After Hercules's mortality has been burned away, Jupiter descends to earth and takes his son up to heaven, where he will live as a god.
    • After Hercules's death, his son, Hyllus, marries the woman Iole. Soon afterwards, Iole becomes pregnant.
    • Hearing about this, Alcmena, Hercules's mother, reassures her that it will all be OK. Then she tells about her own labor pains when she gave birth to Hercules.
    • That was because Juno had schemed with Lucina, the goddess of childbirth, to prevent Alcmena from having a successful delivery. (Juno was jealous because Alcmena had been impregnated by Jupiter, Juno's husband.) Lucina did this by sitting near Alcmena with one leg crossed over the other.
    • Eventually, Galanthis, one of Alcmena's handmaidens, figured out what was up. She went to Lucina and told her, "Hey! You should congratulate Alcmena! She's just had a healthy baby boy!"
    • When Lucina heard this, she was outraged, and immediately leaped up—thereby uncrossing her legs, and permitting Alcmena to give birth to Hercules.
    • Things didn't turn out so well for Galanthis, however. In revenge, the gods turned her into a weasel. That's the end of Alcmena's story.
    • After hearing this story, Iole decides to tell a tale of her own—this one about a transformation that happened to her own half-sister, Dryope. Here's what Iole says:
    • Dryope lost her virginity to the god Apollo. Even so, the mortal Andraemon was happy to marry her. Not long afterwards, she gave birth to Andraemon's child.
    • Things were going well, until one fateful day when Dryope visiting a lake with her infant son. There she saw a lotus plant and picked some of its blossoms to give to the boy.
    • Iole—who was there too—also went to pick some blossoms, but then she saw that blood was dripping down the branches. (It turns out that this plant used to be the nymph Lotis, who changed into the flower when she was running away from the sex-addicted god Priapus.)
    • Dryope tried to run away from the scene, but suddenly turned into a lotus plant herself. What goes around comes around, apparently.
    • Dryope's head was the last part of her to transform. And so, when her husband and father came looking for her, she was able to tell them her last request: that her son be taught never to pick flowers from trees, because the tree might be a goddess. And that goes for you too, Shmoop readers!
    • That's the end of Iole's story. When she's finished telling it, who should walk in on her and Alcmena but Hercules's nephew Iolaus! And he looks way younger than he used to! What can this mean?
    • It seems that, when he got to heaven, Hercules married Hebe, the goddess of youth, and got her to sprinkle some of its goodness on his nephew.
    • Hebe was resistant to give the favor, but finally said, "OK, just this one time I'll do it."
    • To this, however, Themis, the goddess of sacred justice, says, "Not so fast. One day you will be called upon to do an opposite favor for the sons of a woman named Callirohe—you will turn them into full-grown men before they've even hit puberty."
    • When the other gods hear this prophecy, they all join in a big chorus of "No fair!" Each of them has some mortal he or she would like to see kept alive. But then Jupiter steps in to calm things down. "Calm down!" he says. "Whatever Hebe does is in accordance with fate. And that's final!"
    • At this point, the focus shifts to King Minos of Crete. Remember him? We met him back in Book 7. Minos is really afraid that a young man from his court, Miletus, is going to overthrow him and seize the Cretan throne. He considers banishing him—but then the young man leaves on his own.
    • Miletus sails to Asia (modern Turkey) and founds a city… named "Miletus." How original. There, he marries Cyanee, the daughter of the river Meander. Together, they have twins: Byblis (a girl) and Caunus (a son).
    • As time passes, however, trouble starts brewing. The problem is that Byblis has an incestuous crush on her brother Caunus.
    • For a long time, she doesn't know what to do, but eventually she writes him a long love note. She has this note delivered to him by a servant.
    • When Caunus receives the message, however, he is shocked. Naturally, he refuses to comply with Byblis's wishes.
    • But Byblis can't help herself; she keeps pleading with Caunus to love her until finally he can't take it anymore: he goes into a new country and founds a new city. Now that's rejection for you.
    • Now Byblis is really upset. She starts wandering the world, raging, trying to find Caunus. Eventually, she collapses, but keeps crying. Eventually, some Naiads (water nymphs) transform her into a spring; her waters keep flowing to this day.
    • Meanwhile, in Crete, there are other weird goings on. Here's the scoop:
    • In the city of Phaestus (on Crete), there is a man named Ligdus who is very poor. In fact, he's so poor that, when his wife got pregnant, he tells her he will kill their child if she gives birth to a daughter. (Girls were just much too expensive, what with dowries and all.)
    • When it is about time for Telethusa to give birth, however (Telethusa, it turns out, is the name of Ligdus's wife), she has a strange dream. In is, a variety of Egyptian deities appear, with Isis in the forefront. Isis tells Telethusa that everything's going to be OK.
    • And so it is, for a while. When the baby is born—and it's a girl – Telethusa enlists the help of the nurse to play a trick on Ligdus: they tell him that the baby was a boy.
    • Coincidentally, Ligdus picks out a name for it (his father's name) that works equally well for a girl or a boy: Iphis.
    • Time passes. When Iphis is thirteen, her father (who still thinks she's a boy) picks out a bride for her: a young girl named Ianthe.
    • Iphis knows Ianthe from school, and they have a lot in common. In fact, Iphis is deeply in love with Ianthe.
    • As it happens, Ianthe is also deeply in love with Iphis, but has no idea that she is a girl. Ianthe prays that their wedding day will come quickly. Telethusa, however, keeps putting it off, by pretending to be sick.
    • Eventually, however, Telethusa realizes that she can't delay matters any longer. At her wits' end, she goes to the temple of Isis and prays for help.
    • Isis answers her prayers, and turns Iphis into a boy.
    • The next day, Iphis and Ianthe are married without a hitch.
  • Book 10

    • Shortly after the wedding, however, Hymen, the god of marriage, had to speed off to Thrace. That was because the famous poet and singer Orpheus was calling for him. Orpheus wants Hymen to help out at his marriage.
    • When he gets there, however, he wears a sour expression that puts a damper on the wedding celebrations. This is a bad omen.
    • This bad omen plays out in real life, when Orpheus's new bride dies in a freak accident: She steps on a poisonous snake that bites her.
    • But Orpheus loves her so much that he goes down to the Underworld to get her back.
    • When he comes up to Proserpina and Pluto, he pulls out his lyre and begins to sing. In his song, he asks for his wife back; her name, we now learn, is Eurydice.
    • Orpheus reminds Pluto that it was love that made him carry of Proserpina, so why can't he have a heart now? After all, he says, she and I will die someday anyway; why not let us live a little longer together?
    • All of the terrible inhabitants of the Underworld are moved by Orpheus's song—including Pluto and Proserpina. They give the word for Eurydice to come forward.
    • When she arrives, they tell Orpheus he can lead her away—on one condition: he can't look back at her. If it does, she will be lost.
    • Orpheus and Eurydice make their way to the upper world. Just when they are almost home free, however, Orpheus looks back—he wants to make sure his wife is still there—and Eurydice vanishes once more into the Underworld.
    • At first, Orpheus is so stricken with grief that he can't move. Then he tries going back down to the Underworld to try again to bring Eurydice back. But Charon, the ferryman of the River Styx, won't let him cross. Finally, Orpheus goes wandering in the mountains.
    • When he would play music in the wilderness, the sound was so powerful that even the trees would gather round to listen more closely.
    • One of these was the cypress—who used to be a young man named Cyparissus. Here's what happened to him:
    • In the region of Carthaea, where Cyparissus came from, there used to be a very special stag that would wander in the woods. What made this stag distinguished was that its antlers were covered with jewels and gold. Also, it was gentle, and would let anyone pet it. Most of all, it loved Cyparissus.
    • One day, however, Cyparissus accidentally wounded the stag with his spear. Seeing his friend dying, Cyparissus prayed to Apollo to be able to mourn forever. Apollo heard the boy's prayer, and turned him into a cypress tree. And that's his story.
    • But let's get back to Orpheus in the woods – quickly, because he's about to start singing. Orpheus begins his song by revealing his subject matter: mortals that the gods have fallen in love with.
    • The first of these that Orpheus sings about is Ganymede.
    • Jupiter was burning with love for the young boy Ganymede. So what did he do? He turned himself into an eagle, swooped down, and carried the lad back up the heavens. To this day, Orpheus says, Ganymede is Jupiter's personal bartender in heaven.
    • The next mortal Orpheus sings about is Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved.
    • Apollo and Hyacinthus's favorite activities together were hunting and sports. One day, they decided to see who could throw a discus farther. Apollo went first and threw the discus an incredible distance. Hyacinthus ran after it to get it. He was too fast for his own good: Just as he arrived at the spot where the discus connected with the ground, it rebounded and hit him in the head, killing him.
    • In grief, Apollo turned Hyacinthus into a flower. Can you guess which one? That's right: the hyacinth. Then he wrote the letters "AI" on its petals. Wait, "Artificial Intelligence"? Well, you might think that would be what would happen when a plant starts its life as a human. Really, though, this is just a Greek expression of lamentation, like "Oh woe!"
    • Next Orpheus sings about some misbegotten ladies called the Propoetides. This disgusting dames came from the city of Amathus on the island of Cyprus. What was wrong with them? Well, let's put it this way: whenever guests came to visit them, the Propoetides's version of hospitality was to turn them into human sacrifices. Yup.
    • So, Venus, who was the patron goddess of Cyprus, didn't like this one bit. As punishment, she made the Propoetides grow horns. Ha! Take that!
    • But the Propoetides just became more mischievous. Now they started saying that Venus wasn't a goddess at all. (Uh, if she made horns grow on your head, then what do you think she is?) Anyway, in response to this, Venus turned them into the world's first prostitutes. After a few years of that, she turned them into stones.
    • On the island of Cyprus, there also lived a sculptor: Pygmalion. He was so disgusted by the Propoetides' activities that he swore not to take a wife. In the meantime, he set to work carving a statue of a woman out of ivory. The statue he made was incredibly lifelike—and incredibly beautiful. In fact, Pygmalion fell in love with it. He started giving it jewelry, caressing it, even taking it to bed with him.
    • When the festival of Venus rolled around, he went to her altar and prayed for a wife "like" the statue he had made. Instead, when he got home, Pygmalion discovered that Venus had in fact transformed the ivory statue into a real live woman.
    • After that, one thing led to another and, in nine months' time, Pygmalion's new wife gave birth to a son: Paphos.
    • When Paphos grew up, he had a son called Cinyras. Cinyras had a daughter named Myrrha, a real piece of work. What was her problem? Instead of wanting to marry any of the young men of Cyprus, she passionately lusted after her own father.
    • Eventually, her shame became so great that she decided to hang herself. At the very last minute, however, her nurse, who had heard her moaning, rushed into her room and prevented her from doing the deed. The nurse demanded to know what the matter was. At first, Myrrha resisted, but eventually the truth came out. Even though her nurse tried to talk her out of her crazy love, Myrrha said that she needed to have her father or die. Finally, begrudgingly, the nurse decided to help her.
    • The nurse's opportunity came during the festival of Ceres, during which most of the women of the city would leave their homes for a number of days to participate in the rituals. On one of these nights, she approached Cinyras, who was drunk and in the mood for love. She told him she knew a young lady who wanted to sleep with him. Cinyras, not using his best judgment, said, "Sure, bring her to me."
    • And that's just what the nurse did. For several nights, Cinyras and his daughter slept with each other—though of course Cinyras didn't know who it was. (If this sounds unbelievable, just remember that this was back in the days before electric lights, street lights, or any of that; so, unless there was a full moon—but, even then, the curtains could be drawn—it would be really dark inside at night.)
    • Eventually, however, Cinyras was simply too curious: he needed to know who the girl was. One night, he brought a lamp into the room. When he saw his daughter there, he was disgusted. He pulled out his sword and prepared to kill her. In the nick of time, Myrrha ran away.
    • She wandered the earth for a long time. Unfortunately, her father had gotten her pregnant. As the baby grew, eventually it became too hard to carry on. Finally, exhausted, she prayed to the gods to transform her, as punishment for her actions. Some god turned her into a tree. Her tears turned into sap. To this day, Orpheus explains, that sap is known as "myrrh."
    • What about Myrrha's baby? Thanks for reminding us. The baby boy was born out of the tree, with some help from the goddess Lucina. His name was Adonis. Adonis grew up to be the most handsome man in the world—so handsome that Venus, the goddess of love, fell head over heels for him. (This was also partly because, one day, Venus's son Cupid bent down to kiss her and accidentally scratched her with one of the arrows in his quiver.)
    • So Venus abandoned her usual haunts and started hanging out with Adonis. She dressed up as a huntress (like her sister Diana) and accompanied him in the forest. She warned him not to hunt dangerous animals: "Just kill the little fluffy ones," she told him.
    • One day, Venus invited Adonis to lie down with her under the shade of a nearby tree.
    • While they were lying there, Venus decided to tell Adonis a story. The story was about Atalanta. Remember her? We met her back in Book 8.
    • Venus told Adonis how Atalanta was an incredibly fast runner—she could beat any man who challenged her. One day, she went to ask an oracle whom she should marry.
    • The oracle told her that she shouldn't get married; it also said that she would ignore this advice, and it would turn out the worse for her. Weird. For some reason, she decided that the best course of action at this point would be to hold a running contest; whoever could beat her, she said, could have her as his wife. Oh yeah, and whoever didn't beat her would be killed.
    • The day of the contest arrived. Among the spectators was a guy called Hippomenes. He thought it was crazy that anyone would risk his life for a wife. Then he saw Atalanta strip in preparation for a race. Want to place bets on what happened next?
    • That's right, Hippomenes walked right up to her and challenged her to a race.
    • Atalanta wasn't sure what to do; she liked the look for Hippomenes, and would be sorry to see him killed. Then she decided to race him anyhow.
    • Venus told Adonis that, before the race, Hippomenes prayed to her for help. She explained that, at that time, she just happened to be carrying three golden apples; she gave these to Hippomenes.
    • On your marks… get set… go! For most of the race, Hippomenes and Atalanta are neck and neck—mostly because Atalanta feels sorry that he will have to die, and slackens her speed; then, however, her pride gets the better of her, and she speeds ahead again.
    • As they come down to the homestretch, however, Hippomenes busts out the big guns: he throws one of the golden apples on the ground. Atalanta, like a bird attracted to a shiny object, veers off course to pick it up. She catches back up to Hippomenes. Then he throws the second apple; the same thing happens. Then, when they are just about to cross the finish line, Hippomenes throws the last apple way off course. Atalanta heads for it, and Hippomenes wins the race.
    • As a result, Hippomenes got Atalanta as his wife.
    • The problem is, he was ungrateful: he didn't make any sacrifices to honor Venus. So she decided to get revenge on him. One day, as Hippomenes and Atalanta were walking past a shrine of Cybele, she made him crazy with desire for his wife. Immediately, he took her into a cell attached to the temple complex, and they started getting it on.
    • Cybele was shocked by what was going on, so she turned the two lovers into lions. Then she yoked them to her chariot. (Expect to see them on an upcoming episode of Pimp My Chariot.)
    • That was the end of Venus's story.
    • Then Venus flew up into the air and left Adonis alone. Left to his own devices, Adonis went hunting.
    • In a short time, he came upon a boar. He speared the boar, but wasn't able to kill it. Instead, the boar turned against him, ran him down, and gored him in the groin with its tusks.
    • Venus heard Adonis's dying groans and hurried back to him – but it was too late. And yet, goddesses have their ways. Venus turned Adonis's blood into the flower Anemone.
  • Book 11

    • That's the end of Orpheus's song. Just then, up come some Bacchantes, crazed female followers of the god Bacchus. Enraged that Orpheus wouldn't sleep with him, they kill him in brutal fashion.
    • Orpheus's head and lyre fall into the River Hebrus. As they float down its waters, the lyre keeps playing notes and the tongue keeps singing. Meanwhile, Orpheus's spirit is rejoined with that of Eurydice in the Underworld and they live—not the right word, we know—happily ever after.
    • Even though it was his groupies that did it, Bacchus is still mightily miffed that the Bacchantes killed Orpheus. In punishment, he turns them into oak trees.
    • Then Bacchus goes off into the land of Thrace, where he decrees some serious party time. But somebody is missing from the festivities! Where's Silenus, the elderly woodland god?
    • Don't worry, Ovid has the answer. Apparently, some farmers found Silenus stumbling around drunk, and did the only sensible thing: They tied him up and took him to see the local king, whose name was Midas. Let's see what happens.
    • As it happens, Midas is an old friend of Silenus. When he recognizes him, he decrees ten days of festivities in celebration of their reunion.
    • Back-to-back partying gets old fast, however; at the end of the ten days, Midas takes Silenus back to Bacchus.
    • Bacchus is so happy to have his friend back that he tells Midas he will grant him a wish. What does Midas choose? That everything he touches will turn to gold.
    • Even though he knows better, Bacchus grants the wish. Then Midas goes merrily on his way, touching various things and turning them to gold.
    • Things turn bad, though, that night, when Midas tries to eat dinner, and all of the food turns to gold in his mouth. Not cool. Eventually, the king sees the error of his ways, and prays to Bacchus to take the gift back.
    • Bacchus listens to Midas, and takes away his cursed power. "But," he tells him, "you still have to wash off your sin. Follow the river Pactolus to its source; when you get there, bathe in the spring." Midas does as he's told. Ovid tells us that, to this day, the Pactolus river turns up gold deposits on its shore; clearly it acquired this ability from Midas.
    • After these incidents, Midas decides he doesn't want wealth anymore; instead, he takes to wandering in the wilderness, and honoring the god Pan.
    • One day, as he's wandering upon Mount Tmolus, he happens upon a flute-playing contest: Pan versus Apollo. At the end of the contest, Tmolus (who is also the judge of the concert) decrees that Apollo is the winner.
    • But Midas disagrees. He pipes up that the rightful winner should have been Pan. This makes Apollo seriously angry. In revenge against what he perceives to be Midas's horrible taste in music, he turns his ears into donkey-ears; everything else about him remains unchanged.
    • Midas is seriously embarrassed by his new donkey-ears, so he starts wearing a turban to cover them. His secret is safe from everyone until, one day, he has to get a haircut—thus revealing his secret to the barber.
    • The barber realizes that he'd been in serious trouble if he told anyone... but you know how it is with secrets: If you don't tell someone, you think you might explode. Under the circumstances, the barber does the only sensible thing: he goes to a deserted area, digs a hole in the ground, and whispers the secret into it. Then he covers up the hole. Done.
    • As time passes, however, a bunch of reeds grows up out of the grave. As the wind blows through them, they whisper King Midas's secret to the world.
    • Meanwhile, satisfied with his revenge, Apollo flies off to Troy…or rather, to the empty site that will be Troy.
    • There he sees King Laomedon building walls for the new city. He's having a hard time of it: mortals can only do so much. So Apollo makes a deal with Laomedon: He and Neptune, the god of the sea, will build the walls for him. When they are done, they are to be paid in gold.
    • When the walls are finished, however, Laomedon says, "Gold? What gold? Contract? What contract? Who are you, anyway? Get lost!"
    • In anger at this, Neptune raises up huge waves and floods the countryside of Troy. Then he demands that Laomedon's daughter, Hesione, be offered as food for a sea-monster. As it turns out, however, Hercules rescues her at the last minute.
    • After saving the princess, Hercules asks the Trojans to give him some horses they promised. The Trojans refuse. Furious, Hercules makes war against the Trojans.
    • One of Hercules's allies in this war is a fellow called Peleus. Peleus is famous because he's a mortal who married an immortal—the sea goddess Thetis.
    • Here's how that came about. Some time before, Proteus, another sea-god, had prophesied that Thetis would give birth to a son who would be more powerful than his father.
    • Jupiter, as it so happened, had a crush on Thetis, but when he heard that, he was like "Uh-oh, no way." He was the one who convinced Peleus to make a move on her.
    • Peleus tracks Thetis to a cave where she hangs out. He tries to sweet-talk her, but she refuses. Then he tries to overpower her physically, but she's a shape-shifter—she turns into a number of different forms, last but not least a tiger.
    • Frustrated, Peleus goes out of the cave and prays to Proteus for help. Proteus tells him, "Wait until Thetis is asleep; then, tie her up. Once she's tied up, she'll start shape-shifting. Just hold on tight and don't give in. Eventually she'll surrender."
    • Peleus does as he's told. Things go just as Proteus had predicted. Finally, Thetis offers herself to Peleus. Soon, she is pregnant with their son: Achilles.
    • After this, things start going pretty well for Peleus... until he accidentally kills his half brother, Phocus, and gets banished from his homeland.
    • At this point, Peleus decides to hightail it to the land of Trachin, where a guy called Ceyx, the son of Lucifer (i.e., the morning star, not Satan) is king. The thing is, when he gets there, he finds Ceyx in mourning his own lost brother.
    • Peleus approaches him and asks for help. He tells the whole truth about who he is and where he comes from—except for the whole brother-killing bit. Ceyx tells him he can have everything he wants; then, he bursts out crying.
    • When Peleus asks Ceyx why he's crying, here's what he tells him:
    • Apparently, Ceyx's brother was a guy named Daedalion. He was also the son of Lucifer (the morning star). Whereas Ceyx was a nice guy, however, Daedalion was a total jerk, who loved nothing better than war.
    • Daedalion had a daughter, named Chione. Chione was only fourteen years old, but already a thousand men had asked for her hand in marriage. Then, one day, the gods Apollo and Mercury both caught sight of her and instantly fell in love.
    • Apollo decided to wait until nightfall before putting the moves on Chione. But Mercury, the god of trickery, couldn't resist. He made her fall asleep and then had his way with her. Later that night, Apollo snuck into her room disguised as an old woman, and did the same thing Mercury had done.
    • Nine months later, Chione gave birth to twin sons: Autolycus and Phillamon. Autolycus was Mercury's son and Phillamon was Apollo's. Autolycus became a trickster, and Phillamon became a musician.
    • Unfortunately, all this glory just went to Chione's head; she started claiming that she was more beautiful than the goddess Diana. Whether or not this was true, Diana was certainly more powerful. She shot an arrow through Chione's tongue, and the poor girl bled to death.
    • After this, Daedalion became maddened with grief. He ran to the top of a cliff and jumped off, intending to kill himself. But, before he could hit the ground, Apollo transformed him into a hawk. This is the end of Ceyx's story explaining why he's feeling in the dumps.
    • Just when he finishes telling it, however, a man named Onetor (the cowherd who takes care of Peleus's cattle) runs into the throne-room shouting that something terrible has happened. Peleus and Ceyx ask him to explain what the matter is. Here's what the cowherd says:
    • At noon, he was driving his cattle along the beach. On the beach was a temple devoted to the gods of the sea. Nearby was a swamp. Out of this swamp burst a wolf, which ravaged the herd and killed many of the other herdsmen.
    • The cowherd winds up his story by asking for help in killing the wolf. Peleus reflects that this wolf must have been sent by the sea-nymph Psamathe, as punishment for his killing of his brother Phocus. (Psamathe was Phocus's mother.)
    • Ceyx orders his men to get read; just then, however, Ceyx's wife runs in and begs him not to put himself in danger by joining the hunt.
    • Now Peleus speaks up, telling her not to worry; he can deal with the wolf simply by praying to Psamathe. As it turns out, Psamathe doesn't listen to his prayer; Thetis, however, hears it, and convinces Psamathe to forgive Peleus. Then Psamathe turns the wolf to stone.
    • After this, Peleus continues wandering the earth. Eventually he comes to the land of Magnesia, where the local king performs the necessary rituals to cleanse him completely of the sin of killing his brother.
    • In the meantime, King Ceyx, who's still pretty shaken up about everything that's been going on, decides to visit an oracle to ask for advice. Because the oracle of Delphi is being besieged by the evil King Phorbas, Ceyx decides to go to the far-away oracle of Clarus instead.
    • When his wife Alcyone finds out, however, she is very upset. She warns him about the dangers of sea-travel (she would know; her father is Aiolos, king of the winds). Is visiting the oracle really worth risking his life? Finally, she says: "Go if you must... but take me too!"
    • Ceyx refuses to do that, but promises that he'll be back in two months. Alcyone grudgingly agrees – though she's still worried for him.
    • Unfortunately, Ceyx and his men aren't long at sea when they are completely enveloped by a terrible storm. Mountainous waves crash upon the ship and splinter it into pieces. Clinging to a piece of wreckage, Ceyx spends his last breath calling out to Alcyone, praying that his body will wash ashore so she can bury him. Then another wave crashes down upon him, killing him.
    • Back at the ranch, Alcyone has no idea of her husband's fate. Every day, she prays to Juno to keep him safe. Finally, Juno decides she'd better break the news to her. She gets Iris, messenger of the gods, to tell Sleep, the god of.. sleep, to send Alcyone a dream revealing the truth.
    • Sleep sends his son Morpheus, who can assume various shapes in people's dreams, to Alcyone. He appears to her in the form of Ceyx, pale from death and drenched with water. He tells her that he (Ceyx) is dead, and that she should stop praying for his safety.
    • Then Alcyone wakes up, terribly distraught. She begins tearing at her hair in grief, saying she doesn't want to live any longer.
    • At dawn, she goes down to the shore. When she gets there, she sees a body floating on the water. She realizes that it is Ceyx! Quickly, she flies over to him. Flies? Yup. At that moment, Alcyone turned into a kingfisher.
    • Then the gods turn Ceyx into a kingfisher too, and bring him back to life in that form. He and Alcyone live happily together after, as birds.
    • One day, as the two birds are flying over the sea, they are spotted by an old man. Then another bird catches his eye. It is a merganser, a different type of waterfowl. He knows a story about this one.
    • He says that this bird used to be Aesacus, the half-brother of Hector, the great Trojan warrior.
    • This Aesacus character was not your average Trojan: He was anti-social, and preferred to live in the wilderness. He was also madly in love—with Hesperie, a nymph.
    • One day, as he was chasing her, she was bitten by a snake, and died. Lamenting what he had caused, Aesacus decided to die too.
    • He went up to a cliff and dived into the sea. But Thetis didn't want him to die; she changed him into a bird—the merganser. But he still didn't want to live; that's why, to this day, this bird always dives underwater. This is the end of the old man's story.
  • Book 12

    • Even though Aesacus has been turned into a bird, his father, King Priam of Troy, doesn't know this; he assumes that his son is dead. He builds an empty tomb for him. Together with Hector, his other son, he performs rituals at the tomb in honor of Aesacus.
    • But somebody is missing at the funeral: Paris. That's because he's in Greece seducing Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.
    • Soon enough, however, Paris comes home to Troy, with Helen. There's just one problem: A gigantic Greek fleet is sailing after him to bring her back.
    • Paris caught a break, however, when the Greek fleet gets held back by storms. The Greeks put in to port at Aulis, a port city in the region of Boeotia. As it turns out, this Aulis is a bit like Hotel California: Once the Greeks are there, they can't leave. This is because the weather is against them.
    • So the Greeks do the only sensible thing: They get ready to make sacrifices to the gods. While they making the sacrifice ready, however, they see something remarkable: A snake slithers up into a tree-branch and swallows eight hatchlings along with their mother.
    • At this point, Calchas, the resident soothsayer, interprets this to mean that the Greeks will succeed in conquering Troy—but only after besieging them for nine years.
    • But back to the point: The Greeks don't succeed in appeasing the gods, and the storms keep them in port. Finally, someone suggests that maybe it's Diana who's to blame. She must be punishing Agamemnon, the Greek High King, because he killed her favorite stag. Agamemnon decides to buy her off by making a special sacrifice to her: He will kill his daughter Iphigenia.
    • Agamemnon gets everything ready, but at the last minute Diana swoops down and replaces Iphigenia with a female deer. Diana is cool with this replacement sacrifice, and she calls off the storms that have been battering the Greeks.
    • Next Ovid tells us about Rumor, the god of... OK, just guess. Rumor has a brass palace at the intersection of the sky, the earth, and the sea. (It's brass so it can echo and amplify all the sounds it picks up on earth.) Rumor passes the word along to the Trojans that the Greeks are coming in force.
    • As a result, when the Greeks make it to Troy, the Trojans are ready for them. Protesilaus, the first of the Greeks to step onto Trojan shores, is the first to be killed.
    • A huge battle erupts on the beach.
    • The best of the Trojan fighters is Cycnus. He's so good, in fact, that he kills 1000 Greeks. The best of the Greek fighters, Achilles, decides he'd better put a stop to this. He gets in spear-throwing range of Cycnus, and throws a spear at him. It hits him—and bounces off!
    • Cycnus just laughs. He tells Achilles that his father was Neptune, and that, as a result, he is invulnerable. Then Cycnus throws a spear at Achilles; it gets stuck in his shield. Then Achilles throws another spear at Cycnus; it bounces off, and so does the next spear Achilles throws.
    • Achilles thinks he must be going crazy. So he throws a spear at another guy, Menoetes. Menoetes falls down dead. Achilles is like, "Well, at least my spear still works." He pulls the spear out of the dead guy, and throws it at Cycnus. Once again, no harm done.
    • Finally, Achilles finds a solution: If he can't kill Cycnus by stabbing him, he can still bludgeon him into dizziness. Then, when his enemy is sufficiently disoriented, Achilles chokes him to death.
    • When it comes time to plunder the dead guy's armor, however, Achilles makes a surprising discovery: There's no one inside it! Huh? That's because Cycnus had turned into a swan.
    • When the battle is over, both sides make a truce to gather their dead. That night, before the Greeks make their feast, Achilles offers sacrifices to Athena.
    • At the feast, the Greek chieftains pass their time telling stories of great deeds from the past. They also talk about Achilles's recent fight with Cycnus. Everybody is really weirded out by the fact that Cycnus's skin couldn't be pierced by weapons.
    • But then Nestor, the resident old fogey in the Greek army, says, "Oh, I've seen guys like that before. In my old day, there was this guy called Caenus who was invulnerable too. But what made him especially weird was that he used to be a woman!"
    • After Achilles asks him what that was all about, Nestor begins to tell the story:
    • This Caenus character used to be a girl named Caenis, the most beautiful girl in the region of Thessaly. Because she was so beautiful, the god Neptune developed a crush on her. One day, he raped her.
    • Afterwards, Neptune told her he would grant her one wish. Caenis said: "I don't want this ever to happen again. Turn me into a man." Neptune did just that, but threw in invulnerability to boot. Caenis had now become Caenus.
    • At around this time, Pirithous, king of the tribe of the Lapiths, got married to a woman called Hippodame.
    • When the wedding day rolled around, however, there was a problem. Pirithous had invited the centaurs—weird half-man, half-horse creatures. (He did this because they were actually his half brothers.) Why was this a problem? Because centaurs are uncivilized barbarians who can't hold their liquor.
    • The biggest troublemaker was a centaur called Eurytus. When Eurytus was good and loaded, he suddenly started lusting after the bride. So what did he do? He picked her up and ran off with her. Then, the other centaurs followed suit; each of them picked up a woman and ran off with her.
    • Pirithous's best buddy, Theseus, told Eurytus, "Not so fast!" Then he smashed his head in with a large vat.
    • At this point a raging battle began between the Lapiths and the centaurs. Ovid spends a long time describing, in gruesome fashion, who killed whom. Nestor, who was at the wedding, did his part in fighting on the Lapiths' behalf.
    • One of the centaurs, Cyllarus, was fighting alongside his wife, the female centaur Hylonome. When Cyllarus was killed by a spear, she threw herself on the same spear and also died.
    • Now Nestor reveals that Caenus was at the wedding too, and was on a centaur-killing rampage.
    • At one point, Latreus, one of the centaurs, rushed up to attack Caenus. First, though, he insulted him, reminding him how he used to be a woman, and telling him to go home and do "woman's work." In response, Caenus threw a spear at him, which struck him in the side.
    • Latreus still had enough strength to throw a spear back at Caenus—but it bounced off. (He was invulnerable, remember?) Then he came closer and attacked Caenus with his sword, but couldn't wound him. Then he tried again—and broke his sword. Now it was Caenus's turn. He stabbed Latreus again and again, killing him.
    • When the other centaurs saw this, they ganged up on Caenus, and found a way to defeat him: they buried him under tons and tons of rocks and trees.
    • Nestor says that some people think all that weight pushed him down to the black pit of Tartarus. He also says that a guy called Mopsus saw a golden-winged bird fluttering out of the heap that he assumed was Caenus. In any case, Nestor says that he and the Lapiths killed half of the centaurs in the battle that followed. And that's the end of his story.
    • When he's finished telling it, however, Tlepolemus, the son of Hercules, asks Nestor why he didn't tell about his father's great deeds against the centaurs.
    • Now Nestor reveals the truth: He hates Hercules. He hates him because he destroyed his homeland and killed all eleven of his brothers.
    • The most spectacular of these killings was when Hercules killed Nestor's brother Periclymenus. Periclymenus was a shape-shifter; when he turned into an eagle, Hercules shot him with an arrow.
    • All same, Nestor says that there are no hard feelings between himself and Tlepolemus.
    • And so the Trojan War continues. Throughout all of it, Neptune remains seriously pissed about the death of his son Cycnus at the hands of Achilles.
    • He tells Apollo to do something about it. Apollo goes and finds Paris. With Apollo's help, Paris shoots an arrow at Achilles, fatally wounding him.
    • After Achilles is dead, the Greeks hold funeral games in his honor. The centerpiece of these games is a competition over who will get Achilles's armor, which was made by the god Vulcan (see Book 18 of Homer's Iliad, or the Shmoop guide, for more info on this). Even though it's the centerpiece, there are only two competitors: Ulysses (a.k.a. Odysseus) and Ajax (the "bigger" Ajax, the son of Telamon).
    • To settle this dispute, Agamemnon calls all of the Greek leaders to order. To be continued...
  • Book 13

    • When all the Greek leaders are assembled, it's Ajax's turn to speak first. He basically says, "I'm courageous; Ulysses is a coward. My family is awesome and I'm related to Achilles; Ulysses comes from a family of weasels. Ulysses is a weasel. The armor would be wasted on him. Give the prize to me."
    • Next it's Ulysses turn. He says, "Sorry you guys had to listen to that dweeb. Why's he going on about his family connections? This is just about worth: mine versus his. As far as that goes, it's pretty obvious who's got more of it: me, of course." Then Ulysses starts to tell about all the awesome things he has done.
    • He starts by saying that he was the one who got Achilles to come to Troy in the first place.
    • Ulysses explains that when he and Ajax first went to pick Achilles up at his mom's house, they couldn't find him. This is because Thetis, who had foreseen that her son would die at Troy, disguised him in girl's clothing.
    • Thetis's trick worked on Ajax, but Ulysses was suspicious. He left some weapons lying around and, when Achilles picked them up and started playing with him, Ulysses knew that he wasn't a girl. (Way to trade in stereotypes, Ulysses.)
    • The rest of Ulysses's speech is made up of other examples of how he used his cleverness to save the day.
    • The Greek chieftains are convinced by Ulysses's words, and they give him Achilles's armor.
    • Ajax is so upset over this that he commits suicide by stabbing himself. Where his blood hits the ground, a flower springs up – the same flower that Hyacinthus turned into (the hyacinth).
    • The color-patterns of its leaves resemble the Greek letters "AI-AI." (These letters in Greek look just like our letters, actually.) These letters both spell out a grief-stricken cry and the first two letters of Ajax's name (in Greek he is known as "Aias").
    • A short time later, the Greeks capture Troy, slaughter most of its inhabitants, burn it to the ground, and enslave its women. Then they sail home.
    • Meanwhile, in Thrace, one of Priam's sons, Polydorus, is staying with the local king, Polymestor. His parents had sent him to Polymestor thinking he would be safe. The problem is, Polymestor is incredibly greedy; because Polydorus had come with lots of gold, the Thracian king kills him and steals it.
    • At the same time, it just so happens that the ships of King Agamemnon get stuck off the coast of Thrace because of bad weather.
    • While they are camped out there, on the beach, the ghost of Achilles appears out of a crack in the ground.
    • He accuses the Greeks of being ungrateful to him, and demands a blood sacrifice: They must kill Polyxena, daughter of Priam and Hecuba, the King and Queen of Troy.
    • While the Greeks are getting the sacrifice ready, however, Polyxena steps forward and makes a defiant speech, telling them that she goes to her death freely, not as a slave. The priest cries when he stabs her and kills her. As she dies, she holds her clothes close to herself, preserving her modesty.
    • Hecuba, who has been taken prisoner by the Greeks, laments over her daughter's body. She says that the only hope she has left is Polydorus, whom she still thinks is safe and sound at the court of Polymestor.
    • Just then, however, Hecuba sees the dead body of Polydorus floating near the shore.
    • Immediately, Hecuba goes with a group of Trojan women, to see King Polymestor. They are able to meet with him privately because Hecuba tells him she has gold to offer him.
    • Before telling you what happens next, we're warning you that a barf bag may be necessary. OK, you ready for this? Hecuba gouges out the king's eyes, and then drives her fingers into his brain, killing him.
    • The other Thracians try to attack Hecuba, but she fends them off. Then, she turns into a hound.
    • Meanwhile, Aurora, the goddess of the Dawn, is mourning because of her son, the Trojan warrior Memnon, who was killed by Achilles.
    • She goes to Jupiter and asks him to give some gift to honor her son.
    • Jupiter agrees. While Memnon's pyre is blazing, the smoke turns into a flock of black birds. These birds fly around, then, divide into two camps, and fight each other. They fight until they are all dead, and collapse upon Memnon's ashes. Ovid tells us that this same mysterious event recurs every twelve years, as a memorial to Memnon.
    • He also says that the morning dew is actually the tears Aurora sheds for Memnon. (Does that make it the "mourning dew"?)
    • Meanwhile, back at Troy, not everyone was dead. Aeneas, the great Trojan warrior, had escaped the wreckage of the burning city along with his father, Anchises, his son, Ascanius, and a small band of survivors. They now set sail in search of a new homeland.
    • First they sail to Thrace, then to the island of Delos. There, they are welcomed by Anius, the local king, who is also the priest of Apollo.
    • After they make sacrifices to the god, Aeneas asks him, "Hey, didn't you used to have a son and five daughters? Where are they?"
    • Anius says, "Ah, yes. There's a sad story about that." Here's what he tells Aeneas:
    • Anius's son, Andros, sailed off to an island to found a new city. His daughters, meanwhile, had received a magical gift from the god Bacchus: Whatever they touched turned to wheat, wine, or olive oil.
    • On his way home from Troy, Agamemnon came by and kidnapped the daughters, forcing them to feed the Greek fleet. But then, one by one, the daughters escaped and made their way to their brother's city on Andros.
    • Agamemnon caught up with them, however, and demanded that Andros give the daughters back. Because his city did not have any strong warriors to defend itself, he complied.
    • But then something amazing happened: The daughters prayed to Bacchus for help, and were turned into doves. Then they flew away. This is the end of Anius's story.
    • The next morning, the Trojans make sacrifices to Apollo, and ask him what they should do. He tells them that they should sail off to find their "ancient mother," i.e., the land their ancestors came from, which apparently wasn't Troy.
    • After making the appropriate sacrifices (using a nifty engraved cup that Ovid describes), the Trojans set off.
    • First they sail to Crete, but they don't like the weather and say, "Let's blow this popstand." Then they sail towards Italy, but get blown off course, and make a roundabout route through various weird locations.
    • Eventually, they come to Sicily, and camp out near the Strait of Messina—the itty bit of sea separating Sicily from mainland Italy.
    • The strait of Messina is guarded by two horrible monster-ladies: Charybdis, who is a giant whirlpool, and Scylla, who has six heads and dogs growing out of her waist.
    • Ovid tells us that Scylla used to be a girl. Here's what happened to her:
    • Scylla used to be very beautiful, and was courted by lots of young men. She scorned them all. however; what gave her more pleasure was laughing about them with her friends the nymphs.
    • One day, while Scylla was combing the hair of the nymph Galataea, the nymph began to cry. She complained because Scylla was sought after by so many young men, but her own love life was terrible. Here's how Galataea told her own story:
    • She, Galataea, used to be in to love with a young man named Acis. Meanwhile, Polyphemus the Cyclops was in love with her. Naturally, she wanted nothing to do with him.
    • One day, a soothsayer came up to Polyphemus and told him that one day he would be blinded by Ulysses. Polyphemus said only, "Impossible! I'm already blinded by love for Galataea."
    • Later, while Galataea was lying in Acis's arms, she heard Polyphemus singing a song for her, in which he started by saying how awesome and beautiful she was, then said how terrible and mean she was, then offered her a lot of stuff if she would live with him, then tried to play up his Cyclops looks, and then threatened to smash Acis to smithereens.
    • Unfortunately, that's just what he did. When he found the two lovers together, he chased Acis away, then threw a huge rock at him that crushed him. Since Galataea was a goddess (though a minor one), she was able to do one last thing for her beloved Acis: She changed him into a river god.
    • That was the end of Galataea's story.
    • When it was done, the nymphs scattered, and Scylla went walking along the shoreline. Did we mention that she was naked? She was. Anyway, who should catch sight of her at that moment but Glaucus, a sea-god. He instantly got the hots for her.
    • When Glaucus approached Scylla, however, she ran away. She kept running until she got to the top of a mountain overlooking the sea.
    • Then she turned around and saw Glaucus—and was shocked. From below the waist, he was a fish!
    • Glaucus said, "I can explain! You see, I used to be a fisherman. Then, one day, when I laid out my day's catch on the grass, they came alive again and jumped into the sea. I was like, 'How the heck did that happen? Was that some special grass? I'd better try some.' So I did. As soon as I did, I had an overwhelming urge to go live in the sea. I jumped in and swam over to Oceanus and his wife Tethys, the main sea-gods. They made me immortal, and gave me my current form. But all that is nothing compared to my love for you!"
    • But Scylla didn't care for Glaucus's speechifying; instead, she turned tail (not a real tail, in her case) and ran.
    • Frustrated, Glaucus decided to get some help from the witch Circe. Remember: when this book ends, we're still in flashback mode. We won't rejoin the main story, about Aeneas and his travels until sometime later.
  • Book 14

    • Book 14 begins in flashback mode, carried over from the last book. The main story, which we haven't caught up to yet, is about Aeneas and his wanderings.
    • Glaucus swam to the island of Circe, a crazy sorceress lady. Her signature move was transforming people into animals.
    • He asked her for help with his girl problem: Scylla.
    • Circe said, "Forget about Scylla. I'm in love with you too! Come, be with me!"
    • But Glaucus replied, "No can do, I have eyes only for Scylla."
    • So Circe decided to punish her rival. She put some weird herbs in the water where Scylla planned to go swimming. Then, when Scylla waded into the water, her entire body below the waist turned into dogs.
    • Ovid tells us that she got her revenge on Circe by trying to eat Ulysses (Odysseus), whom Circe loved, when he tried to sail through the straits of Messina. Of course, she didn't succeed in catching Ulysses.
    • He also says that she would have killed Aeneas too—except that she had been turned into stone before he sailed through the strait. Wait... what? When did that happen? No more questions. Flashback's over. Let's see what's up with Aeneas and his men.
    • After sailing through the Strait of Messina, Aeneas and his men are once again within range of Italy. But then, once again, a storm comes up and blows them of course. This time, they wind up in North Africa, where Queen Dido is building the city of Carthage. Dido and Aeneas have a fling, but then he has to go and she kills herself. Hoo boy.
    • Then, after sailing around some more, Aeneas eventually comes to Cumae, a city in Italy. There he meets the Sibyl, a prophetess. He asks her if she could take him to see his father, Anchises, in the Underworld. (Aeneas's father had died along the way, but Ovid neglected to tell us about it—you'll have to read Virgil's Aeneid to get the whole story.)
    • The Sibyl's response is, "Mmmm... OK."
    • She takes him down to the Underworld, he chats with his dad about life (so to speak) down there, and then the Sibyl takes him up again.
    • On their way back to daylight, Aeneas tells her "Hey, you're really awesome. You must be a goddess. You have to let me set up a temple for you."
    • But the Sibyl replies, "Nope, no can do. I'm just a mortal. I could have been immortal, the god Apollo offered me that—provided I would sleep with him. But I refused. Then he offered me a wish. I gathered up some dust and said, 'Give me as many years of life as there are grains of dust in my hand.' He gave me that wish—but I forgot to ask for youth to go with it. He probably would have given it to me if I'd asked, but I wanted to keep my virginity. I'm about seven centuries old now, and I just keep getting more and more wrinkly."
    • Next, Aeneas sails to Caieta, another region in Italy.
    • Ovid tells us that this is where a man called Macareus of Neritus, an old comrade of Ulysses, once landed. There he met Achaemenides, who was also an old comrade of Ulysses.
    • Macareus said, "Hey, man, how's it going? What brings you to these parts? I thought you were, like, dead and stuff."
    • Then Achaemenides told how he had been left behind when Ulysses escaped from the Cyclops, Polyphemus. (If you're wondering what the heck this is all about, check out Shmoop piece on The Odyssey, Book 9. Remember: Ulysses is the Latin name for Odysseus; they're the same guy.)
    • Achaemenides told Macareus that he was saved when Aeneas happened to show up, and he was able to hitch a ride away from there. Fancy that, a Trojan saving a Greek!
    • Then Macareus said, "Wow, that was a lucky break." Then he told what happened to him.
    • Macareus was with Ulysses when they sailed away from the Cyclops (and left Achaemenides behind, but he doesn't mention that fact), and when they reached the palace of Aeolus, king of the winds.
    • Aeolus stuffed all the winds into a bag—all except for one; the one that would take them homeward. Then he gave the bag to Ulysses. Everything went fine for nine days, until the men got curious about what was in the bag. They opened it and—whoops! Chaos. They were blown off course.
    • Then they went to the land of the Laestrygonians. Macareus was part of an expedition to meet with the king of the Laestrygonians. He lived to tell—barely. That's because the Laestrygonians were cannibals. Only one of Ulysses's ships escaped; Macareus was on it.
    • Then they sailed to the island of Circe, the sorceress. Macareus was part of a delegation to scope the lady out. She welcomed them nicely, and gave them a sweet drink. What they didn't know was that she had put a drug in it. So, when the Greeks drank, they all turned into hogs—all, that is, except one named Eurylochus: He hadn't touched the drink.
    • Eurylochus went and reported to Ulysses what had happened. He came to the rescue, aided by the gods who sent Mercury to give him the plant "moly" as protection against Circe's magic.
    • Ulysses defeated Circe and became her lover. As a favor, he asked her to turn his men back into humans. She did this.
    • The Greeks ended up spending a whole year at Circe's place. Macareus became friendly with one of the nymphs who helped Circe out. One day, she showed him a statue of a young man with a woodpecker on his head. Macareus said, "What's up with that?" Then the nymph explained it to him.
    • The nymph said that the statue was of Picus, the son of the Titan Saturn. Picus was the king of Latium, a region in Italy. He was very handsome, and all the ladies had crushes on him, but he was only interested in one nymph, called Canens, who had a lovely singing voice. Eventually, he married her.
    • One day, Picus was out hunting. Circe, who happened to be in the neighborhood, also happened to catch sight of him. Immediately, she started burning with desire for him.
    • To catch him, she created an illusion of a boar, which she sent across Picus's path; then, she made the boar run into the woods. Picus's attention was piqued. He ran after the beast. Then, Circe used some tricks to make the forest super-complicated and confusing, so he got lost and separated from his companions.
    • Now Circe thought she spied her chance. She appeared before him and demanded that he sleep with her. But Picus said, "No way: I'm staying faithful to my Canens." Furious, Circe turned him into a woodpecker.
    • When Picus's men showed up, they tried to punish Circe, but she spooked them with a powerful display of magic; then she turned them into animals.
    • Canens, meanwhile, was waiting at home for her husband. And waiting. And waiting. She waited so long that she wasted away to nothing. To this day, however, Macareus said, they call the place she died "Canens."
    • Then Macareus told Achaemenides about how the Greeks ended up leaving Circe's island.
    • That's the end of Ovid's little interlude about Macareus and Achaemenides. Now he shifts back to the main story: Aeneas.
    • Aeneas has just finished burying his nurse, Caieta. Wait... wasn't the place where Aeneas was called Caieta, too? Yes it was, but not yet (Ovid was being a little sneaky); it only got that name after Aeneas buried his nurse there. Why was his nurse with him? She was part of the expedition of Trojans. For those of you who have read Virgil's Aeneid, this will all be much less confusing. (For those of you who haven't, check out the Aeneid guide on Shmoop.)
    • Then the Trojans set sail again. This time, they sail to Latium, in Italy. There, Aeneas gets married to Lavinia, the daughter of the local king, Latinus. But first he has to fight a war against Turnus, a local chieftain who wants Lavinia for himself. (Once again, Virgil's Aeneid—or the relevant Shmoop guide—will make this all a lot clearer.)
    • Realizing they're in a tight spot, the Trojans try to round up all the allies they can get. One of the guys they try to get on their side was the Greek warrior Diomedes, who had by now emigrated to Italy. Unfortunately, Diomedes tells them that he can't spare any men. He explains why as follows:
    • After the fall of Troy, when most of the Greek warriors were given a hard time at sea by the goddess Minerva, Diomedes and his men made it home safely. Unfortunately, when he got there, the goddess Venus drove him to sea again
    • in punishment because he had wounded her in battle at Troy. (This detail is a reference to Homer's Iliad; check out Shmoop's guide for more info.)
    • Diomedes got some poor saps to go along with him. One day, however, one of his men named Acmon understandably started griping, and venting his anger against Venus. Then Acmon and the rest of Diomedes's men were turned into birds; Diomedes says that the kind of bird was like a swan, but wasn't a swan.
    • That's the end of Diomedes's story. The message is simple: "You see, I can't help you. My men are birds now. Sorry."
    • When he hears this message, Ventulus, the Trojan who had been sent to talk to Diomedes, leaves to continue traveling around the region.
    • On his travels, he passes by a grove where some shepherd once mocked the nymphs who were dancing there. In revenge, they turned him into an olive tree.
    • Eventually, Ventulus makes it back to Aeneas's army and tells them that they can't expect any help from Diomedes. Aeneas says, "Whatever. We'll fight Turnus anyway."
    • Then Turnus attacks; his first move is to try to burn Aeneas's ships, which have been drawn up on the beach.
    • Once they start burning, however, Cybele, the earth goddess, realizes that those ships were made of pine trees from her favorite forest. How can she sit idly by and watch them burn?
    • Immediately, rain starts pouring down, and puts out the flames. But that's not all. Now, the ships turn into nymphs and swim away. Cool.
    • After this, the Trojans defeat Turnus and his men in battle. Aeneas kills Turnus. Then the Trojans burn down the enemy city of Ardea. From its ashes a bird springs up: the heron.
    • Some time later, the goddess Venus, who was Aeneas's mother, decides that her son has lived as a mortal long enough; she asks Jupiter for permission to make him a god. Jupiter consents. So, with the help of the River Numicius, who cleansed Aeneas of his mortality, she makes him one.
    • Next, Ovid tells us of the various generations of Latin kings who came after Aeneas, beginning with his son Iulus, all the way down to a king named Proca. Now he tells about some events that happened during the reign of Proca.
    • At this time, in the region of Latium, there lives a nymph named Pomona. Unlike other nymphs, Pomona doesn't love playing in the water; instead, she is a devoted gardener. Also, she doesn't let any men into her garden. (You can take that however you want.)
    • Of course, just because Pomona doesn't want anyone to bother her doesn't stop all the local gods from trying. The most persistent is Vertumnus, the god of the seasons, who keeps putting on various disguises in an attempt to get close to her.
    • But the disguised Vertumnus isn't finished yet. Instead, he starts talking about a young man whom he thinks Pomona should love... a young man named Vertumnus. "Vertumnus is a really good guy," he (or she?) says, "and you guys have similar interests: You both like plants. Anyway, the gods don't look kindly on those who stifle love." Then he starts telling a story to prove this point. Here's what he says:
    • There used to be a young man named Iphis, who had a crush on a young woman named Anaxarete. Anaxarete was of noble birth, while Iphis was poor. As a result, it wasn't easy for them to get together.
    • He tried every possible way of getting a message to her, but nothing worked: she scorned him.
    • One day, Iphis couldn't take it anymore. He stood in front of her door and hung himself from a beam protruding from the house.
    • A few days later, Iphis's funeral wound its way past her house. Anaxarete leaned out of her balcony to watch it. Then, suddenly, she turned to stone—the same stone that her heart was made of.
    • That's Vertumnus's story. It isn't hard to see the moral. In any case, he now reveals his true form to Pomona. She is so overpowered with love for him that she gives herself to him.
    • This is the end of the story of Pomona; now Ovid brings us back to the political goings-on. After the death of Proca, the new king is supposed to be a man named Numitor. Unfortunately, his brother Aumalius takes the crown for himself and kicks Numitor out of town.
    • Numitor gets the crown back, however, with the help of his grandsons, Romulus and Remus.
    • Not long afterwards, Rome is founded. Not long after that, the Romans find themselves in a war with the neighboring Sabines.
    • One night, a Roman girl, Tarpeia, tells the Sabines about a secret way into the city, but all the thanks she gets is to be crushed to death by their shields. (Ovid doesn't flesh this story out, but his Roman readers would have recognized it instantly. The full idea is that Tarpeia wanted the armbands that the Sabines wore on their left arms; unfortunately, when she told them "Give me what you have on your left arms," they piled their shields on her.)
    • Then the Sabines pass through an open gate, further into the heart of the city. The gate had been opened for them in advance by the goddess Juno; now Venus wants to shut it, but can't because (as Ovid explains) one god can't undo what another god has done. Interesting.
    • So what's a gal like Venus to do? She calls on some of her friends, the nymphs who live around the temple of Janus. The nymphs open up the faucets on their springs, and water starts flowing all over the place. Then, the nymphs pour hot sulfur and pitch into the water, to make it scalding hot.
    • When this water flows across the path of the Sabines, they can't go any further. This buys the Roman enough time to get their weapons ready and fight back against the Sabines. The Romans are successful, and the two cities make peace with each other. In fact, they combine into a single state, with Tatius, the Sabine king, sharing control with Romulus.
    • After Tatius dies, however, Romulus becomes the king of the whole shebang.
    • Eventually, Mars, the god of war, who is also Romulus's father, asks Jupiter for permission to transform his son into a god. Jupiter is cool with the idea.
    • So Mars swoops down to earth in his chariot, picks up Romulus, and carries him into the sky. On the journey, the mortal parts of Romulus break up in the atmosphere, sort of like a spaceship returning to earth, but in reverse. (OK, Ovid doesn't put it in quite these terms.)
    • But Hersilia, Romulus's wife, doesn't seem to have gotten the memo. She is wracked with grief.
    • Taking pity on her, Juno sends Iris, the messenger of the gods, down to bring her a message. Iris tells her to climb the hill of Quirinus (one of the seven hills of Rome). Once Hersilia is there, all of a sudden a shooting star comes down and sets her hair on fire; then, she and the star shoot back up to the heavens.
    • There, she and Romulus live happily ever after, though they take on new names: Hersilia becomes Hora, while Romulus's identity becomes fused with that of the god Quirinus.
  • Book 15

    • Now that Romulus is gone, the Romans need a new king. They pick a guy called Numa Pompilius.
    • Numa is like, "That's cool; I mean, I know the laws of the city and all. But I need to bone up on the laws of nature." So he goes on a journey.
    • Numa goes to the town of Crotona, a Greek city in Italy where Hercules once stayed.
    • Once he gets there, Numa goes to the local tourist bureau (i.e., some old guy) and asks for information about the town.
    • The old man is only too happy to oblige. He tells Numa that, after capturing the cattle of Geryon, Hercules passed by that area. After setting his cattle to graze, the hero was hosted by a guy called Croton.
    • As he left the house, Hercules predicted that, after two generations, a new city would rise in that place.
    • Two generations passed. Then, in the city of Argos, in Greece, a guy named Myscelus was born. Myscelus grew up, and became very popular. One night, however, Hercules appeared to Myscelus in his sleep and told him that he had to leave his native land. "Go find the River Aesar," he said, "and if you don't, I'll kick your butt."
    • When Myscelus woke up, he was very confused. "Even if that really was Hercules," he thought, "I've got a problem." The problem is, you see, that there was a law in Argos prohibiting any of its citizens from traveling abroad.
    • So what did Myscelus do? He did nothing. But then the next night, Hercules appeared in his dream again, and gave him the same message. When he woke up this time, Myscelus said, "What the hey? I might as well."
    • When word of what he was doing spread through the town, however, the citizens became enraged. He was called before a court and tried on the charge of breaking the city's laws.
    • Here's how the trial worked: Each citizen was given two stones, one white and one black. At the end of the trial, they reached a verdict by dropping stones into an urn: a black stone if they wanted to condemn the defendant, a white one if they wanted to acquit. Then, at the end, they would decide the verdict by counting up the stones.
    • Just before the votes were cast, Myscelus prayed to Hercules. Good thing he did; even though every single stone placed into the urn was black, when they shook it out, they had all magically become white.
    • They let Myscelus go. After giving thanks to Hercules, he sailed off. Eventually, he found the River Aesar, in Italy, and built a city there, just as Hercules told him to, on the burial mound of Croton. Then, he named the city in the dead guy's honor: Crotona.
    • That's the story that the old man tells Numa. Now Ovid adds another story, in his own voice.
    • This story is about one of Crotona's most famous residents: the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras.
    • Among his many accomplishments, Pythagoras was also (according to Ovid) the first person to argue in favor if vegetarianism. Now, Ovid lets us tune in and listen to a lecture on this topic by the famous philosopher. Let's see what the guy has to say:
    • "Don't eat animals," he begins. "The earth offers plenty of other stuff to eat; why do you have to kill something so that you can live?
    • In the Golden Age, people didn't kill animals to eat them. But then, some sleaze-bag started to do so, and the trend caught on. They also started sacrificing animals—a disgusting practice. Mortals! Stop this madness immediately!
    • But listen up: I'm going to tell you the secrets of the universe. First off, life after death: the Underworld, the River Styx, and so on? Forget about it. That's poetic fluff. When you die, your body dies with you—but your soul lives on! In fact, in a past life, I was a guy called Euphorbus, a Trojan warrior; I was killed by the Greek King Menelaus!
    • That's right. Reincarnation is real folks, deal with it. That's why you shouldn't eat animals—heck, that bacon you're wolfing down could be your great uncle Charlie!
    • Anyway, now that I've got your attention, I might as well tell you some other cool secrets of the universe. How's this for starters: Everything is, like, always changing, man. Nothing ever stays the same. Whoa. Far out.
    • For example, the sun changes color based on how high it is in the sky, and the moon changes with the months. We all know how the seasons change; people change too, as they grow up and grow old.
    • But that isn't all. Even the elements change. As you know, there are four elements: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Earth melts into Water, Water evaporates into Air, and Air becomes purified into Fire—the highest level in existence. But then Fire can turn back into Air, Air turns back into Water, which rains on the earth and becomes mud, i.e., Earth.
    • With all this change going on, you could say that nothing is permanent—except the sum total of everything. But everything contained within that totality is very unstable.
    • Think about it: Even geography changes. You can find seashells inland and anchors on mountaintops. Floods have destroyed mountains. Places that used to be islands are now part of the mainland, and vice versa. Also, water comes in many different guises. Some is good to drink, and some sure isn't.
    • Personally, I think it makes most sense to think of the whole world as one big living being.
    • Now, I've heard some crazy stories about people in the far north—the Hyperboreans. I've heard that some men up there jump into a pool of water nine times and come out as birds. I don't believe that. I've also heard that the women of Scythians grow feathers.
    • But, let's just stick to facts we can all observe. We all know that when animals rot, smaller animals appear out of their carcasses.
    • All kinds of animals come from the strangest places: butterflies come from small worms, frogs come from spawn in mud and don't have legs at first, bear cubs are born shapeless, bees come from larvae, the peacock comes from an egg, and some people say that when a human body rots in the grave its spinal cord turns into a snake.
    • Like, seriously, there are weird changes going on everywhere. Think about the phoenix, which is reborn every five hundred years; or the hyena, which can change sex from male to female; or the chameleon, which eats air and changes color; or the lynx, whose bodily fluids turn to stone, or coral, which is a plant underwater, but hardens when exposed to air.
    • Human societies also undergo such changes. Many cities that once were great now are in ruins. But now I hear there's a new kid on the block: Rome! A long time ago, when Aeneas was leaving Troy, he received a prophecy from Helenus, the Trojan soothsayer. Helenus told him that Rome would become awesome and conquer the world.
    • But back to the point: Everything is changing, even we are changing. But inside of each of us is something eternal: the soul. So don't go around killing other creatures. It just isn't right. The exception is if an animal tries to kill you; then you're within your rights to kill it, in self-defense. But even then, don't eat its body. Eat food that doesn't require violence."
    • That's the end of Pythagoras's speech. Numa thinks it's pretty nifty, and we at Shmoop do, too. Now satisfied that he understands the laws of nature, he goes back to rule over Rome. He also marries a nymph, Egeria.
    • Numa teaches the Romans how to be peaceful (before him they knew only war), and the people love him very much. When he dies, the whole city mourns. Egeria goes to live in the woods.
    • In the woods, she is approached by many nymphs, who try to get her to stop weeping. She also meets Hippolytus, the son of Theseus. Hippolytus tells her a story to explain how he ended up in the woods:
    • Hippolytus says that his troubles started when his stepmother, Phaedra, tried to get him to sleep with her. When he refused, she told Theseus, her husband, that Hippolytus had been sexually harassing her. Theseus believed her and banished Hippolytus from his kingdom.
    • While Hippolytus was riding in his chariot on his way to Corinth, suddenly a huge wave rose up out of the sea and swept towards him. Riding the crest of the wave was a giant bull.
    • Hippolytus tried to maneuver his chariot to escape it, but then his chariot broke a wheel and he was hurled through the air. His body was shattered to smithereens, and he died.
    • Even though he went down to the Underworld, however, Hippolytus was miraculously saved by the healing arts of Aesculapius, the son of Apollo.
    • Then, Diana helped find him a new home on earth. So that no one would recognize him, she changed his body, making him old and withered, and also gave him a new name, Virbius. Now, Hippolytus explains, he lives in the woods as Virbius, a minor god.
    • The point of Hippolytus's story was supposed to be, "Hey, Egeria, things are tough all over. Get over your grief." But that didn't work. Egeria kept weeping for Numa; eventually, Diana stepped in and turned her into a spring.
    • Hippolytus is very surprised at this turn of events. In fact, Ovid tells us he's just as surprised as some Etruscan farmer once was when he saw a clod of earth in his field turn into a human being and start spouting prophecies. (We think that must have been pretty surprising.) Clod-boy's name turned out to be Tages.
    • But wait—Ovid isn't finished. He also tells us that Hippolytus is as surprised as Romulus was when, one day, he saw a spear he had stuck into the ground taking root and becoming a living plant.
    • But there's even more! Ovid also tells us that Hippolytus is as surprised as a fellow named Cipus was when, one day, he looked into a pool of water and saw that he had grown horns on his head. Here's what happened:
    • At the time when this antler incident happened, Cipus was coming back to Rome from fighting in a war. When he first caught sight of his unsightly reflection, he couldn't believe his eyes. But then he touched his forehead and realized, sure enough, the horns were there.
    • Not knowing what to do, Cipus went to consult a soothsayer. After some initial dilly-dallying, the soothsayer tells him: "You must go to Rome and become their king."
    • Cipus says, "Uh, OK." And off he goes.
    • When he got to Rome, however, he suddenly didn't feel right about the whole thing. Why would he, Cipus, want to be king of Rome? (This was in the era after Rome had kicked out its kings and was starting out as a republic. Kings at this time were regarded as bad news.)
    • So what did Cipus do? First, he wound wreaths around his head to hide his horns. Then, he called all of the Romans to assembly, outside the city.
    • Once they were assembled, Cipus gave a speech, telling them that somebody among them would rule over them as king if they didn't banish him. He said that they would know who this person was because he would have horns.
    • The people were very impressed by this speech, and started murmuring to each other, wondering who it could be.
    • Finally, Cipus whipped the wreaths off his head, revealing his horns. "It is me!" he shouted.
    • In response to this, the Roman people did, indeed, forbid Cipus from entering the city. But they also recognized the good he had done by turning himself in. As a reward, they gave him as much land outside the city as he could drive his plow around in a single day. They also sculpted horns on the gate into the city, to commemorate Cipus.
    • Now Ovid asks the Muses to tell him how the god Aesculapius got so popular in Rome. Here's what the Muses tell him:
    • A long time ago, there was a horrible plague in Rome. Delegates from the people were sent to the oracle of Apollo in Delphi to ask him what to do.
    • Apollo told them: "You guys could've saved yourselves a trip. You don't need me, you need my son, Aesculapius, and he's close to your home."
    • When the delegates reported back to the Roman Senate, the senators said, "Oh yeah, we forgot about that guy. Isn't he hanging out in the Greek city of Epidaurus at the moment?"
    • Sure enough, the Romans sent another set of delegates to Epidaurus, where they asked the local elders if they could borrow their god. (By this they meant the statue of the god.)
    • The Epidaurians started fiercely debating this. Their debate lasted all day and into the night, without coming to any conclusion. In the meantime, the Roman delegation went to sleep.
    • In one of the delegates' dreams, the god Aesculapius himself appeared and spoke: "Hey, I'm coming with you guys. But here's the catch: I'm going to change myself into a snake."
    • The next morning, the Epidaurians, who still hadn't reached a decision, went to the sanctuary to ask the god for a sign. Immediately, the sculpted serpent—part of the statue of the god—came to life. It hissed, and increased in size. Everybody was suitably impressed, and the Romans took the snake home with them in their ship.
    • The snake picked out an island in the middle of the Tiber: That became the Romans' temple to Aesculapius.
    • Next Ovid compares Aesculapius with Julius Caesar. He says, "Aesculapius thinks he's so cool, but he's a foreigner. Julius Caesar is a 100% local god. That makes him more awesome."
    • But Ovid isn't done sucking up to the Caesars yet. Now he throws in some words of praise for his own boss, Augustus: "But, you see, the most truly, stupendously, unbelievably amazing thing Julius Caesar did was being the father of Augustus Caesar!" (The fact that he was only Augustus's adoptive father doesn't factor into Ovid's account.)
    • After that interlude, Ovid tells us how Julius Caesar became a god. Wait, Julius Caesar became a god? "Oh yes, he did," says Ovid. Here's how, according to him:
    • When the goddess Venus learns that people are plotting to kill Julius Caesar, she asks all the other gods if they could make him a god. But their response is simply, "Naaah."
    • Right before the day of the assassination, there are horrible omens in Rome, like raining blood and the dead walking the streets, and such. Realizing that Caesar's death is imminent, Venus considers hiding him in a cloud of mist.
    • But then Jupiter stops her, saying, "What, you think you can stop fate or something? Hey, I've been to the house of the Fates and I've read their books. I know everything that's going to happen. Julius Caesar has to die so Augustus Caesar can become emperor and conquer the entire world."
    • Then Jupiter tells Venus to go and take Caesar's soul out of his murdered body and turn it into a star. That's exactly what she does.
    • But then Ovid tells us that Augustus is going to be even more awesome than his father. He prays to all the gods that Augustus will have a long life—longer than his own—before he becomes a god.
    • Ovid concludes the poem by announcing that his own life will have no conclusion. Because he has completed his poem, he will be higher than the stars. Even though his body may die, he will still live on as long as people keep reciting the poem.