Study Guide

The Metamorphoses Book 14

By Ovid

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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.

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