Study Guide

The Metamorphoses Book 9

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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.

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