Study Guide

The Metamorphoses Book 13

By Ovid

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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.

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