Metamorphoses (Latin: Metamorphōseōn librī: "Books of
Transformations") is a
Latin narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid,
considered his magnum opus. Comprising fifteen books and over 250
myths, the poem chronicles the history of the world from its creation
to the deification of
Julius Caesar within a loose mythico-historical
Although meeting the criteria for an epic, the poem defies simple
genre classification by its use of varying themes and tones.
inspiration from the genre of metamorphosis poetry, and some of the
Metamorphoses derives from earlier treatment of the same myths;
however, he diverged significantly from all of his models.
One of the most influential works in Western culture, the
Metamorphoses has inspired such authors as
Dante Alighieri, Giovanni
Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Shakespeare. Numerous
episodes from the poem have been depicted in acclaimed works of
sculpture, painting, and music. Although interest in
Ovid faded after
the Renaissance, there was a resurgence of attention to his work
towards the end of the 20th century. Today the
to inspire and be retold through various media. The work has been the
subject of numerous translations into English, the first by William
Caxton in 1480.
1 Sources and models
6 In English translation
7 See also
9.1 Modern translation
9.2 Secondary sources
10 Further reading
11 External links
Sources and models
Ovid's relation to the Hellenistic poets was similar to the attitude
of the Hellenistic poets themselves to their predecessors: he
demonstrated that he had read their versions ... but that he
could still treat the myths in his own way.
Ovid's decision to make myth the dominant subject of the Metamorphoses
was influenced by the predisposition of Alexandrian poetry.
However, whereas it served in that tradition as the cause for moral
reflection or insight, he made it instead the "object of play and
artful manipulation". The model for a collection of metamorphosis
myths derived from a pre-existing genre of metamorphosis poetry in the
Hellenistic tradition, of which the earliest known example is Boio(s)'
Ornithogonia — a now-fragmentary poem collecting myths about the
metamorphoses of humans into birds.
There are three examples of
Metamorphoses by later Hellenistic
writers, but little is known of their contents. The Heteroioumena
Nicander of Colophon is better known, and clearly an influence on
the poem — 21 of the stories from this work were treated in the
Metamorphoses. However, in a way that was typical for writers of
Ovid diverged significantly from his models. The
Metamorphoses was longer than any previous collection of metamorphosis
myths (Nicander's work consisted of probably four or five books)
and positioned itself within a historical framework.
Some of the
Metamorphoses derives from earlier literary and poetic
treatment of the same myths. This material was of varying quality and
comprehensiveness — while some of it was "finely worked", in other
Ovid may have been working from limited material. In the case
of an oft-used myth such as that of Io in Book I, which was the
subject of literary adaptation as early as the 5th century BC, and as
recently as a generation prior to his own,
Ovid reorganises and
innovates existing material in order to foreground his favoured topics
and to embody the key themes of the Metamorphoses.
A woodcut from
Virgil Solis, illustrating the apotheosis of Julius
Caesar, the final event of the poem (XV.745–850)
Scholars have found it difficult to place the
Metamorphoses in a
genre. The poem has been considered as an epic or a type of epic (for
example, an anti-epic or mock-epic); a Kollektivgedicht that pulls
together a series of examples in miniature form, such as the
epyllion; a sampling of one genre after another; or simply a
narrative that refuses categorization.
The poem is generally considered to meet the criteria for an epic; it
is considerably long, relating over 250 narratives across fifteen
books; it is composed in dactylic hexameter, the meter of both the
Iliad and Odyssey, and the more contemporary epic Aeneid; and
it treats the high literary subject of myth. However, the poem
"handles the themes and employs the tone of virtually every species of
literature", ranging from epic and elegy to tragedy and
pastoral. Commenting on the genre debate, G. Karl Galinsky has
opined that "... it would be misguided to pin the label of any
genre on the Metamorphoses."
Metamorphoses is comprehensive in its chronology, recounting the
creation of the world to the death of Julius Caesar, which had
occurred only a year before Ovid's birth; it has been compared to
works of universal history, which became important in the 1st century
BC. In spite of its apparently unbroken chronology, scholar Brooks
Otis has identified four divisions in the narrative:
Book I–Book II (end, line 875): The Divine Comedy
Book III–Book VI, 400: The Avenging Gods
Book VI, 401–Book XI (end, line 795): The Pathos of Love
Book XII–Book XV (end, line 879):
Rome and the Deified Ruler
Ovid works his way through his subject matter, often in an apparently
arbitrary fashion, by jumping from one transformation tale to another,
sometimes retelling what had come to be seen as central events in the
Greek mythology and sometimes straying in odd directions. It
begins with the ritual "invocation of the muse", and makes use of
traditional epithets and circumlocutions. But instead of following and
extolling the deeds of a human hero, it leaps from story to story with
The recurring theme, as with nearly all of Ovid's work, is love—be
it personal love or love personified in the figure of Amor (Cupid).
Indeed, the other Roman gods are repeatedly perplexed, humiliated, and
made ridiculous by Amor, an otherwise relatively minor god of the
pantheon, who is the closest thing this putative mock-epic has to a
Apollo comes in for particular ridicule as
Ovid shows how
irrational love can confound the god out of reason. The work as a
whole inverts the accepted order, elevating humans and human passions
while making the gods and their desires and conquests objects of low
Metamorphoses ends with an epilogue (Book XV.871–9), one of only
Latin epics to do so (the other being Statius'
Thebaid). The ending acts as a declaration that everything except
his poetry—even Rome—must give way to change:
"Now stands my task accomplished, such a work
As not the wrath of Jove, nor fire nor sword
Nor the devouring ages can destroy".
A depiction of the story of Pygmalion, Pygmalion adoring his statue by
Jean Raoux (1717)
Book I – The Creation, the Ages of Mankind, the flood,
Apollo and Daphne, Io, Phaëton.
Book II – Phaëton (cont.), Callisto, the raven and the crow,
Ocyrhoe, Mercury and Battus, the envy of Aglauros, Jupiter and Europa.
Book III – Cadmus, Diana and Actaeon,
Semele and the birth of
Bacchus, Tiresias, Narcissus and Echo,
Pentheus and Bacchus.
Book IV – The daughters of Minyas, Pyramus and Thisbe, the Sun in
Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, the daughters of Minyas
Athamas and Ino, the transformation of Cadmus, Perseus
Book V – Perseus' fight in the palace of Cepheus,
Minerva meets the
Muses on Helicon, the rape of Proserpina, Arethusa, Triptolemus.
Book VI – Arachne; Niobe; the Lycian peasants; Marsyas; Pelops;
Tereus, Procne, and Philomela; Boreas and Orithyia.
Book VII –
Medea and Jason,
Medea and Aeson,
Medea and Pelias,
Theseus, Minos, Aeacus, the plague at Aegina, the Myrmidons, Cephalus
Book VIII – Scylla and Minos, the Minotaur,
Daedalus and Icarus,
Meleager and the Calydonian Boar, Althaea and Meleager,
Achelous and the Nymphs, Philemon and Baucis, Erysichthon and his
Book IX –
Achelous and Hercules; Hercules, Nessus, and Deianira; the
death and apotheosis of Hercules; the birth of Hercules; Dryope;
Iolaus and the sons of Callirhoe; Byblis; Iphis and Ianthe.
Book X –
Orpheus and Eurydice, Cyparissus, Ganymede, Hyacinth,
Pygmalion, Myrrha, Venus and Adonis, Atalanta.
Book XI – The death of Orpheus, Midas, the foundation and
destruction of Troy,
Peleus and Thetis, Daedalion, the cattle of
Ceyx and Alcyone, Aesacus.
Book XII – The expedition against Troy,
Achilles and Cycnus, Caenis,
the battle of the
Lapiths and Centaurs, Nestor and Hercules, the death
Book XIII – Ajax, Ulysses, and the arms of Achilles; the Fall of
Troy; Hecuba, Polyxena, and Polydorus; Memnon; the pilgrimage of
Aeneas; Acis and Galatea; Scylla and Glaucus.
Book XIV – Scylla and
Glaucus (cont.), the pilgrimage of Aeneas
(cont.), the island of Circe,
Picus and Canens, the triumph and
apotheosis of Aeneas, Pomona and Vertumnus, legends of early Rome, the
apotheosis of Romulus.
Book XV – Numa and the foundation of Crotone, the doctrines of
Pythagoras, the death of Numa, Hippolytus, Cipus, Asclepius, the
apotheosis of Julius Caesar, epilogue.
Daphne by Antonio Pollaiuolo, one tale of transformation in
the Metamorphoses—he lusts after her and she escapes him by turning
into a bay laurel.
The different genres and divisions in the narrative allow the
Metamorphoses to display a wide range of themes. Scholar Stephen M.
Wheeler notes that "Metamorphosis, mutability, love, violence,
artistry, and power are just some of the unifying themes that critics
have proposed over the years." 
In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora;
— Ov., Met., Book I, lines 1–2.
Metamorphosis or transformation is a unifying theme amongst the
episodes of the Metamorphoses.
Ovid raises its significance explicitly
in the opening lines of the poem: In nova fert animus mutatas dicere
formas / corpora; ("I intend to speak of forms changed into new
entities;"). Accompanying this theme is often violence, inflicted
upon a victim whose transformation becomes part of the natural
landscape. This theme amalgamates the much-explored opposition
between the hunter and the hunted and the thematic tension between
art and nature.
There is a huge variety among the types of transformations that take
place: from human to inanimate object (Nileus), constellation
(Ariadne's Crown), animal (Perdix); from animal (Ants) and fungus
(Mushrooms) to human; of sex (Hyenas); and of colour (Pebbles).
The metamorphoses themselves are often located metatextually within
the poem, through grammatical or narratorial transformations. At other
times, transformations are developed into humour or absurdity, such
that, slowly, “the reader realizes he is being had”, or the
very nature of transformation is questioned or subverted. This
phenomenon is merely one aspect of Ovid's extensive use of illusion
Main article: Cultural influence of Metamorphoses
No work from classical antiquity, either Greek or Roman, has exerted
such a continuing and decisive influence on
European literature as
Ovid's Metamorphoses. The emergence of French, English, and Italian
national literatures in the late Middle Ages simply cannot be fully
understood without taking into account the effect of this
extraordinary poem. ... The only rival we have in our tradition
which we can find to match the pervasiveness of the literary influence
Metamorphoses is perhaps (and I stress perhaps) the Old
Testament and the works of Shakespeare.
Metamorphoses has exerted a considerable influence on literature
and the arts, particularly of the West; scholar A. D. Melville says
that "It may be doubted whether any poem has had so great an influence
on the literature and art of Western civilization as the
Metamorphoses." Although a majority of its stories do not
Ovid himself, but with such writers as
Homer, for others the poem is their sole source.
The influence of the poem on the works of
Geoffrey Chaucer is
extensive. In The Canterbury Tales, the story of Coronis and Phoebus
Apollo (Book II 531–632) is adapted to form the basis for The
Manciple's Tale. The story of
Midas (Book XI 174–193) is
referred to and appears—though much altered—in The Wife of Bath's
Tale. The story of
Alcyone (from Book IX) is adapted by
Chaucer in his poem The Book of the Duchess, written to commemorate
the death of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster and wife of John of
Metamorphoses was also a considerable influence on William
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is influenced by the story of
Pyramus and Thisbe
Pyramus and Thisbe (
Metamorphoses Book IV); and, in A Midsummer
Night's Dream, a band of amateur actors performs a play about Pyramus
and Thisbe. Shakespeare's early erotic poem Venus and Adonis
expands on the myth in Book X of the Metamorphoses. In Titus
Andronicus, the story of Lavinia's rape is drawn from Tereus' rape of
Philomela, and the text of the
Metamorphoses is used within the play
to enable Titus to interpret his daughter's story. Most of
Prospero's renunciative speech in Act V of
The Tempest is taken
word-for-word from a speech by
Medea in Book VII of the
Metamorphoses. Among other English writers for whom the
Metamorphoses was an inspiration are John Milton—who made use of it
in Paradise Lost, considered his magnum opus, and evidently knew it
well—and Edmund Spenser. In Europe, the poem was an
Giovanni Boccaccio (the story of Pyramus and Thisbe
appears in his poem L'Amorosa Fiammetta) and Dante.
Diana and Callisto
Diana and Callisto (1556-59) by Titian
Baroque periods, mythological subjects were
frequently depicted in art. The
Metamorphoses was the greatest source
of these narratives, such that the term "Ovidian" in this context is
synonymous for mythological, in spite of some frequently represented
myths not being found in the work. Many of the stories from
Metamorphoses have been the subject of paintings and sculptures,
particularly during this period. Some of the most well-known
Titian depict scenes from the poem, including Diana and
Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and Death of Actaeon. Other
famous works inspired by it include Pieter Brueghel's painting
Landscape with the Fall of
Icarus and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's sculpture
Apollo and Daphne. The
Metamorphoses also permeated the theory of
art during the
Renaissance and the
Baroque style, with its idea of
transformation and the relation of the myths of Pygmalion and
Narcissus to the role of the artist.
Ovid was popular for many centuries, interest in his work began
to wane after the Renaissance, and his influence on 19th century
writers was minimal. Towards the end of the 20th century his work
began to be appreciated once more.
Ted Hughes collected together and
retold twenty-four passages from the
Metamorphoses in his Tales from
Ovid, published in 1997. In 1998, Mary Zimmerman's stage
Metamorphoses premiered at the Lookingglass Theatre,
and the following year there was an adaptation of Tales from
the Royal Shakespeare Company. In the early 21st century, the poem
continues to inspire and be retold through books, films, and
This panel by
Bartolomeo di Giovanni
Bartolomeo di Giovanni relates the second half of the
story of Io. In the upper left, Jupiter emerges from clouds to order
Mercury to rescue Io.
In spite of the Metamorphoses' enduring popularity from its first
publication (around the time of Ovid's exile in 8 AD) no manuscript
survives from antiquity. From the 9th and 10th centuries there are
only fragments of the poem; it is only from the 11th century
onwards that manuscripts, of varying value, have been passed down.
Influential in the course of the poem's manuscript tradition is the
17th-century Dutch scholar Nikolaes Heinsius. During the years
1640–52, Heinsius collated more than a hundred manuscripts and was
informed of many others through correspondence.
But the poem's immense popularity in antiquity and the Middle Ages
belies the struggle for survival it faced in late antiquity. "A
dangerously pagan work," the
Metamorphoses was preserved through
the Roman period of Christianization, but was criticized by the voices
of Augustine and Jerome, who believed the only metamorphosis really
was the transubstantiation. Though the Metamorphoses
did not suffer the ignominious fate of the Medea, no ancient scholia
on the poem survive (although they did exist in antiquity), and
the earliest manuscript is very late, dating from the 11th century.
The poem retained its popularity throughout Late Antiquity and the
Middle Ages, and is represented by an extremely high number of
surviving manuscripts (more than 400); the earliest of these are
three fragmentary copies containing portions of Books 1-3, dating to
the 9th century.
Collaborative editorial effort has been investigating the various
manuscripts of the Metamorphoses, some forty-five complete texts or
substantial fragments, all deriving from a Gallic archetype.
The result of several centuries of critical reading is that the poet's
meaning is firmly established on the basis of the manuscript tradition
or restored by conjecture where the tradition is deficient. There are
two modern critical editions: William S. Anderson's, first published
in 1977 in the Teubner series, and R. J. Tarrant's, published in 2004
by the Oxford Clarendon Press.
In English translation
An illumination of the story of
Pyramus and Thisbe
Pyramus and Thisbe from a manuscript
of William Caxton's translation of the
first in the English language
The full appearance of the
Metamorphoses in English translation
(sections had appeared in the works of Chaucer and Gower)
coincides with the beginning of printing, and traces a path through
the history of publishing.
William Caxton produced the first
translation of the text on 22 April 1480; set in prose, it is a
literal rendering of a French translation known as the Ovide
Arthur Golding published a translation of the poem that would
become highly influential, the version read by Shakespeare and
Spenser. It was written in rhyming couplets of iambic heptameter.
The next significant translation was by George Sandys, produced from
1621–6, which set the poem in heroic couplets, a metre that
would subsequently become dominant in vernacular English epic and in
In 1717, a translation appeared from
Samuel Garth bringing together
work "by the most eminent hands": primarily John Dryden, but
several stories by Joseph Addison, one by Alexander Pope, and
contributions from Tate, Gay, Congreve, and Rowe, as well as those of
eleven others including Garth himself.
Translation of the
Metamorphoses after this period was comparatively limited in its
achievement; the Garth volume continued to be printed into the 1800s,
and had "no real rivals throughout the nineteenth century".
Around the later half of the 20th century a greater number of
translations appeared as literary translation underwent a
revival. This trend has continued into the late 20th century.
In 1994, a collection of translations and responses to the poem,
entitled After Ovid: New Metamorphoses, was produced by numerous
contributors in emulation of the process of the Garth volume.
Isis (Lully), a French opera based on the poem
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Elliot, Alison Goddard (1980). "Ovid's Metamorphoses: A Bibliography
1968–1978". The Classical World. 73 (7): 385–412.
doi:10.2307/4349232. JSTOR 4349232. (subscription required)
Charles Martindale, ed. (1988).
Ovid renewed: Ovidian influences on
literature and art from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Ovid Illustrated: The
Renaissance Reception of
Ovid in Image and Text
— An elaborate environment allowing simultaneous access to Latin
text, English translations, commentary from multiple sources along
with wood cut illustrations by
Latin edition and English translations from Perseus
— Hyperlinked commentary, mythological, and grammatical references)
University of Virginia:
Metamorphoses — Contains several versions of
Latin text and tools for a side-by-side comparison.
Latin Library: P. OVIDI NASONIS OPERA — Contains the Latin
version in several separate parts.
List of 16th-century printed editions
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Metamorphoses trans. by Sir Samuel Garth,
John Dryden et al.,
Metamorphoses trans. by George Sandys, 1632.
Metamorphoses trans. by Brookes More, 1922, revised edition
1978, with commentary by Wilmon Brewer. OCLC 715284718.
Ovid Project: Metamorphising the
Metamorphoses — Illustrations
by Johann Whilhelm Baur (1600 – 1640) and anonymous illustrations
from George Sandys's edition of 1640.
A Honeycomb for Aphrodite by A. S. Kline.
Ovid's Metamorphoses, An introduction and commentary by Larry A.
Metamorphoses ~ 08-2008 — Selections from Metamorphoses, read
Latin and English by Rafi Metz. Approximately 4½ hours.
Metamorphoses public domain audiobook at LibriVox
In pictures: Metamorphosis:
Titian 2012 — A slideshow of images from
the exhibition "Metamorphosis:
Titian 2012" from the BBC.
"Neapolitan Ovid" — An illustrated manuscript from 1000 CE – 1200
CE, hosted by the World Digital Library.
Poems by Ovid
Epistulae ex Ponto
Medicamina Faciei Femineae
Heroides (authorship uncertain)
Pygmalion from Ovid's Metamorphoses
Il Pigmalione (1816)
Die schöne Galathée
Die schöne Galathée (1863 operetta)
Pygmalion, ou La Statue de Chypre
Pygmalion and Galatea (1871)
Pygmalion; or, The Statue Fair (1872)
Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed (1883)
One Touch of Venus
One Touch of Venus (1943 musical)
My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady (1956)
Pygmalion and the Image series
Pygmalion and Galatea (Gérôme)
"If I Had a Hammer"
A Mulher Invisível
Fall Out Toy Works
Pygmalion and Galatea (1898)
One Touch of Venus
One Touch of Venus (1948)
My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady (1964)
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Comic Potential (1998)
Apollo and Daphne" from Ovid's Metamorphoses
Gli amori d'
Apollo e di
The Wood of Suicides
"Pyramus and Thisbe" from Ovid's Metamorphoses
Pirame et Thisbé (1726 Francoeur and Rebel)
Pyramus and Thisbe
Pyramus and Thisbe (1745 Lampe)
Piramo e Tisbe
Piramo e Tisbe (1768 Hasse)
"Amoryus and Cleopes" (poem)
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Romeo and Juliet
Ancient Roman religion and mythology
Castor and Pollux
Romulus and Remus
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
The Golden Ass
Concepts and practices
Religion in ancient Rome
Glossary of ancient Roman religion
Myth and ritual
Conversion to Christianity
Decline of Greco-Roman polytheism
BNF: cb120083304 (data)
Ancient Greece portal