Study Guide

The Metamorphoses Book 10

By Ovid

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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.

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