Study Guide

The Metamorphoses Book 12

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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...

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