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Ovid’s sensuous and witty poem, in an accessible translation by David Raeburn

In Metamophoses, Ovid brings together a dazzling array of mythological tales, ingeniously linked by the idea of transformation—often as a result of love or lust—where men and women find themselves magically changed into new and sometimes extraordinary beings. Beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the deification of Augustus, Ovid interweaves many of the best-known myths and legends of ancient Greece and Rome, including Daedalus and Icarus, Pyramus and Thisbe, Pygmalion, Perseus and Andromeda, and the fall of Troy. Erudite but light-hearted, dramatic and yet playful, Metamorphoses has influenced writers and artists throughout the centuries from Shakespeare and Titian to Picasso and Ted Hughes.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

723 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 8

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1,617 books1,474 followers
Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BCE – CE 17/18), known as Ovid (/ˈɒvɪd/) in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet best known for the Metamorphoses, a 15-book continuous mythological narrative written in the meter of epic, and for collections of love poetry in elegiac couplets, especially the Amores ("Love Affairs") and Ars Amatoria ("Art of Love"). His poetry was much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and greatly influenced Western art and literature. The Metamorphoses remains one of the most important sources of classical mythology.

Ovid is traditionally ranked alongside Virgil and Horace, his older contemporaries, as one of the three canonic poets of Latin literature. He was the first major Roman poet to begin his career during the reign of Augustus, and the Imperial scholar Quintilian considered him the last of the Latin love elegists. He enjoyed enormous popularity, but in one of the mysteries of literary history he was sent by Augustus into exile in a remote province on the Black Sea, where he remained until his death. Ovid himself attributes his exile to carmen et error, "a poem and a mistake", but his discretion in discussing the causes has resulted in much speculation among scholars.

Ovid's prolific poetry includes the Heroides, a collection of verse epistles written as by mythological heroines to the lovers who abandoned them; the Fasti, an incomplete six-book exploration of Roman religion with a calendar structure; and the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, two collections of elegies in the form of complaining letters from his exile. His shorter works include the Remedia Amoris ("Cure for Love"), the curse-poem Ibis, and an advice poem on women's cosmetics. He wrote a lost tragedy, Medea, and mentions that some of his other works were adapted for staged performance.

See also Ovide.

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Profile Image for Rachel Smalter Hall.
355 reviews218 followers
July 27, 2007
I bought this copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses when I was living in Rome. It's the book I was reading on the plane when I left Rome, as the realization sunk in that an awesome and strange adventure was drawing to a close, and it's the book I was still reading when I moved back to Minneapolis and attempted to readjust to life as a Midwestern college undergrad.

I was reading Metamorphoses at the cafe a few blocks away from my apartment when a strange man gave me that little terror of a kitten, Monster. And Monster used to bite my toes when I was reading Metamorphoses in bed.

I was in love, so much in love, when I read Metamorphoses, with someone I would surely never meet again. And I was so lonely. And Metamorphoses was just beautiful, all the forlorn humans going up against the gods, only to be transformed into plants, animals, birds~

To read the great Roman poet while living in Rome, and to continue reading him while you are in mourning for the city once it's gone ~ was outrageous. In the best way. Grand. Epic. Eternal.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,466 reviews3,620 followers
October 9, 2022
Book the First: “Of bodies chang’d to various forms, I sing” The world is a constant changes… Everything moves and one thing always changes into the other.
The earth was created by the god unknown as a sphere hanging in space… And life there was an idyll: no crimes, no enmity no wars… “From veins of vallies, milk and nectar broke; And honey sweating through the pores of oak.”
But then the human history started and the deterioration began… “Truth, modesty, and shame, the world forsook: Fraud, avarice, and force, their places took.”
Sins multiply and on observing the cases of cannibalism, Jove decides to destroy the sinful seed with the global deluge and to plant new generation of human beings sowing stones and turning them into males and females… “What the man threw, assum’d a manly face; And what the wife, renew’d the female race.” And then the multiple, fantastic and fabulous metamorphoses of deities commenced…
Changes, alterations, transformations…

Book the Second: Now it’s time for incompetent Phaeton to take his disastrous trip through the sky… “Th’ astonisht youth, where-e’er his eyes cou’d turn, Beheld the universe around him burn…” And the corresponding place in the Bible: “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven…” Genesis 19:24. Both events are probably the references to the Minoan eruption of Thera, which was a major catastrophic volcanic eruption in recorded history.
Arrogant deities keep intriguing, fornicating and stealing shamelessly… They are ready to use any means… “Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye In foul distorted glances turn’d awry; A hoard of gall her inward parts possess’d, And spread a greenness o’er her canker’d breast; Her teeth were brown with rust, and from her tongue, In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.” This description of Envy is flowery and magnificent.
Deception and revenge are the way of Gods…

Book the Third: No one, except the major deities, is safe from a pernicious metamorphosis and fatal perishment. Transformations are miraculous and unpredictable: Actaeon into a stag; Tiresias into a woman; Narcissus into a flower; Echo into an incorporeal voice and mariners into dolphins…
The archetype of dragon seems to have been known since the most ancient times… And the sowing of the dragon’s teeth have afterwards become the attribute of many fairytales: “He sows the teeth at Pallas’s command, And flings the future people from his hand.”
The story of Tiresias as an arbiter of male and female sexual pleasures is the most picturesque: “‘The sense of pleasure in the male is far More dull and dead, than what you females share.’ Juno the truth of what was said deny’d; Tiresias therefore must the cause decide, For he the pleasure of each sex had try’d.”
Much earlier Tiresias appears in Homer’s Odyssey as a prophetic ghost in the land of the dead.
In the last century Tiresias was mentioned in the progressive rock song The Cinema Show by Genesis: “Once a man, like the sea I raged, Once a woman, like the earth I gave.”
The tale of Narcissus is an allegory of egocentrism and the story of Pentheus is a fable of the foolish obduracy.

Book the Fourth: An intrigue of The Story of Pyramus and Thisbe, especially in the end, reminds of that in Romeo and Juliet: “Then in his breast his shining sword he drown’d, And fell supine, extended on the ground. As out again the blade lie dying drew, Out spun the blood, and streaming upwards flew.” Now it is clear where the inspiration came from.
“As when the stock and grafted twig combin’d Shoot up the same, and wear a common rind: Both bodies in a single body mix, A single body with a double sex.” The image of Hermaphroditus was integrated both in poetry and in modern pop culture. “Where between sleep and life some brief space is, With love like gold bound round about the head, Sex to sweet sex with lips and limbs is wed, Turning the fruitful feud of hers and his To the waste wedlock of a sterile kiss…” Algernon Charles SwinburneHermaphroditus
“From a dense forest of tall dark pinewood, Mount Ida rises like an island. Within a hidden cave, nymphs had kept a child; Hermaphroditus, son of gods, so afraid of their love.” GenesisThe Fountain of Salmacis
The gods have a rich imagination and a wry sense of humour so the miraculous changes they work on the others are unpredictable.

Book the Fifth: The description of the massacre at the feast is a pure satire… Who can be a match for Perseus possessing such a mighty weapon of mass destruction as Medusa’s head?
“Weak was th’ usurper, as his cause was wrong; Where Gorgon’s head appears, what arms are strong? When Perseus to his host the monster held, They soon were statues, and their king expell’d.”
Lewd Pyreneus decided to keep all the Muses in his private harem but they turned into birds and flew away while the unlucky libertine lacking creative imagination just fell from a tower: “Then, in a flying posture wildly plac’d, And daring from that height himself to cast, The wretch fell headlong, and the ground bestrew’d With broken bones, and stains of guilty blood.”
And the tale of Ceres and Proserpine is one of the archetypal myths explaining the existence of seasons: “Jove some amends for Ceres lost to make, Yet willing Pluto shou’d the joy partake, Gives ’em of Proserpine an equal share, Who, claim’d by both, with both divides the year. The Goddess now in either empire sways, Six moons in Hell, and six with Ceres stays.”

Book the Sixth: In the tales of Arachne and Niobe Ovid just ridicules the vainglory and smugness of gods and their unmotivated cruelty too: “Next she design’d Asteria’s fabled rape, When Jove assum’d a soaring eagle’s shape: And shew’d how Leda lay supinely press’d, Whilst the soft snowy swan sate hov’ring o’er her breast, How in a satyr’s form the God beguil’d, When fair Antiope with twins he fill’d. Then, like Amphytrion, but a real Jove, In fair Alcmena’s arms he cool’d his love.” Arachne’s tapestry is a set of sheer evidences against gods’ lechery and she has obviously won but Goddess in fury destroyed the masterpiece and turned Arachne into a spider: “This the bright Goddess passionately mov’d, With envy saw, yet inwardly approv’d. The scene of heav’nly guilt with haste she tore, Nor longer the affront with patience bore; A boxen shuttle in her hand she took, And more than once Arachne’s forehead struck.”
And so it is with a coldblooded murder of Niobe’s children.
The tale of Tereus, Procne and Philomela is something like a horror mystery told in the goriest hues: “But soon her tongue the girding pinchers strain, With anguish, soon she feels the piercing pain: Oh father! father! would fain have spoke, But the sharp torture her intention broke; In vain she tries, for now the blade has cut Her tongue sheer off, close to the trembling root.”
This book is a very sanguinary one.

Book the Seventh: Medea knows her witchcraft: “In a large cauldron now the med’cine boils, Compounded of her late-collected spoils, Blending into the mesh the various pow’rs Of wonder-working juices, roots, and flow’rs; With gems i’ th’ eastern ocean’s cell refin’d, And such as ebbing tides had left behind; To them the midnight’s pearly dew she flings, A scretch-owl’s carcase, and ill boding wings; Nor could the wizard wolf’s warm entrails scape (That wolf who counterfeits a human shape).”
“Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing, For a charm of pow’rful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.” William ShakespeareMacbeth
The methods of witches and their cooking recipes hardly changed since Ovid’s time.
This book seems to be less impressive than the previous ones.

Book the Eighth: The greater part of the book is the tales of traitorous Scylla and hunting for the ferocious boar.
The most famous legends of Minotaur: “These private walls the Minotaur include, Who twice was glutted with Athenian blood: But the third tribute more successful prov’d, Slew the foul monster, and the plague remov’d. When Theseus, aided by the virgin’s art, Had trac’d the guiding thread thro’ ev’ry part, He took the gentle maid, that set him free, And, bound for Dias, cut the briny sea. There, quickly cloy’d, ungrateful, and unkind, Left his fair consort in the isle behind…” and Icarus: “When now the boy, whose childish thoughts aspire To loftier aims, and make him ramble high’r, Grown wild, and wanton, more embolden’d flies Far from his guide, and soars among the skies. The soft’ning wax, that felt a nearer sun, Dissolv’d apace, and soon began to run. The youth in vain his melting pinions shakes, His feathers gone, no longer air he takes: Oh! Father, father, as he strove to cry, Down to the sea he tumbled from on high, And found his Fate; yet still subsists by fame, Among those waters that retain his name.” are told just en passant…
And the beautiful story of Philemon and Baucis is most warmhearted and even romantic.

Book the Ninth: Vicissitudes of love keep ruling over both gods and mortals…
I liked how an origin of cornucopia was described: “Nor yet his fury cool’d; ’twixt rage and scorn, From my maim’d front he tore the stubborn horn: This, heap’d with flow’rs, and fruits, the Naiads bear, Sacred to plenty, and the bounteous year.”
And the process of turning of Heracles into a constellation was beautiful: “So when Alcides mortal mold resign’d, His better part enlarg’d, and grew refin’d; August his visage shone; almighty Jove In his swift carr his honour’d offspring drove; High o’er the hollow clouds the coursers fly, And lodge the hero in the starry sky.”
I especially enjoyed the tale of Iphis and Ianthe. Even Egyptian goddess Isis had her finger in the pie – she assisted two girls in love with each other transforming one of them into a youth making thus their love legal: “Not much in fear, nor fully satisfy’d; But Iphis follow’d with a larger stride: The whiteness of her skin forsook her face; Her looks embolden’d with an awful grace; Her features, and her strength together grew, And her long hair to curling locks withdrew. Her sparkling eyes with manly vigour shone, Big was her voice, audacious was her tone. The latent parts, at length reveal’d, began To shoot, and spread, and burnish into man. The maid becomes a youth; no more delay Your vows, but look, and confidently pay.”
All we need is love…

Book the Tenth: Story of Orpheus and Eurydice seems to be most popular in the world of poetry, arts, literature and even music. And “Never look back” is also an archetypal motif in myths, the Bible (Lot’s wife) and many fairytales all over the world: “They well-nigh now had pass’d the bounds of night, And just approach’d the margin of the light, When he, mistrusting lest her steps might stray, And gladsome of the glympse of dawning day, His longing eyes, impatient, backward cast To catch a lover’s look, but look’d his last; For, instant dying, she again descends, While he to empty air his arms extends.”
Pygmalion carved his statue in ivory: “Yet fearing idleness, the nurse of ill, In sculpture exercis’d his happy skill; And carv’d in iv’ry such a maid, so fair, As Nature could not with his art compare…” so it couldn’t be bigger than a figurine or a statuette but the story goes as if it were lifesize.
And the clinical case of Myrrha’s incestual lust is told in a weird psychoanalytical style of Sigmund Freud.
And anemone is an extremely anemic flower: “Still here the Fate of lovely forms we see, So sudden fades the sweet Anemonie. The feeble stems, to stormy blasts a prey, Their sickly beauties droop, and pine away.”

Book the Eleventh: Orpheus has met the bitter end – he was ripped to shreds by drunken Maenads: “His mangled limbs lay scatter’d all around, His head, and harp a better fortune found; In Hebrus’ streams they gently roul’d along, And sooth’d the waters with a mournful song.” Somehow, this reminded me of the mass hysteria of the Beatles’ concerts in the middle of the sixties…
Ever since my childhood I was fascinated with the fable of King Midas – I enjoyed both his golden touch foolishness: “He pluck’d the corn, and strait his grasp appears Fill’d with a bending tuft of golden ears,” and his award of ass’s ears: “Fix’d on his noddle an unseemly pair, Flagging, and large, and full of whitish hair; Without a total change from what he was, Still in the man preserves the simple ass.”
“Pan tun’d the pipe, and with his rural song Pleas’d the low taste of all the vulgar throng; Such songs a vulgar judgment mostly please, Midas was there, and Midas judg’d with these.” It reads exactly as if Ovid portrayed the showbiz and music critics of today.
And Ceyx’s hapless attempt at seafaring is in a way quite antithetical to The Odyssey: “An universal cry resounds aloud, The sailors run in heaps, a helpless crowd; Art fails, and courage falls, no succour near; As many waves, as many deaths appear.” The sea always was a merciless widow-maker.

Book the Twelfth: This book is of war and warriors. One strangled warrior was turned into a swan and one raped maiden was turned into male warrior… The incessant descriptions of battles are too monotonous and tedious and even the death of Achilles seems to be unimpressive: “Of all the mighty man, the small remains
A little urn, and scarcely fill’d, contains.”

Book the Thirteenth: Troy fell. Ajax and Ulysses compete for dead Achilles’ magical armor. “Brawn without brain is thine: my prudent care Foresees, provides, administers the war…” Ulysses declares and wins… ��Now cannot his unmaster’d grief sustain, But yields to rage, to madness, and disdain…” Unable to endure his dishonor, Ajax falls upon his own sword… War is evil… Make love, not war.

Book the Fourteenth: Nymphomaniac sorceress Circe embarks on a spree of malicious alterations: out of jealousy she turns Scylla into a bloodthirsty monster: “Soon as the nymph wades in, her nether parts Turn into dogs; then at her self she starts…” and she turns innocent sailors into beasts: “Soon, in a length of face, our head extends; Our chine stiff bristles bears, and forward bends: A breadth of brawn new burnishes our neck; Anon we grunt, as we begin to speak.” And with many adventures Ulysses sails on and on…

Book the Fifteenth: Rome is founded and caesars begin to reign trying to usurp divine power of their gods…
“The work is finish’d, which nor dreads the rage Of tempests, fire, or war, or wasting age…”
Gods are like humans but they are more vainglorious, more powerful, more cunning, more perfidious, more libidinous and much more vengeful.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews27 followers
September 17, 2021
(Book 1000 from 1001 books) - Metamorphōseōn Librī = The Metamorphoses = Books of Transformations, Ovid

The Metamorphoses is a Latin narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid, considered his magnum opus. Comprising 11,995 lines, 15 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 mythic-historical framework.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و نهم ژانویه سال 2014میلادی

‏عنوان: افسانه‌های دگردیسی اوید، اثر: پوبلیوس اویدیوس نسو؛ برگردان: میرجلال‌ الدین کزازی، نشر تهران، معین، چاپ نخست سال 1389، در622صفحه، شابک 9789641650348، ‏موضوع آثار نویسندگان رومی (لاتین) - ترجمه شده به فارسی - سده نخست پیش از میلاد

اووید، یکی از نام‌ آورترین سخنوران «رومی»، یا همان «لاتین» است، و می‌توان ایشان را، پس از «ویرژیل»، و «هومر»، پرآوازه‌ ترین سخن‌سرای «لاتین» نامید؛ «افسانه‌ های دگردیسی»، در «پنجاه بخش» به نظم درآمده، که «اووید» هر بخش را، کتاب نامیده، و کوشیده افسانه‌ هایی از انواع «دگردیسی» را، در آنها بازگو کند؛ در این افسانه‌ ها به همه‌ گونه دگردیسی برمی‌خ��ریم، از دگردیسی آدم به جانداری دیگر، تا دگردیسی انسان به سنگ و کانی بی جان؛ کتاب، برگردان سروده‌ های «اووید»، و شرح «افسانه‌ های دگردیسی اووید» به زبان پارسایی این مرز و بوم همیشه جاوید است

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 20/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 25/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
January 2, 2022
I just had to quote this from a review I read: "DNF at almost halfway through. Too much depravity and immorality for me." There's a lot of depravity and immorality around now too. How does one cope? lol

Perhaps they would have disagreed with the author of Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free ? (I don't think I should recommend one of my favourite dirty books, the beautifully-written, utterly depraved (although surprisingly moral, depending on your point of view) Story of O
Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
March 1, 2018
"Throughout all ages,
If poets have vision to prophesy truth, I shall live in my

Thus the closing lines of Ovid's "Metamorphoses". He was certainly right in his statement, but it feels like an appropriate irony that his work has been transformed, metamorphosed, over the millennia since he wrote his compilation of Roman and Greek literature. I have known most of the collected stories since my early days at university, but only now finished reading the "Metamorphoses" as a whole, from cover to cover, and my impression is that Ovid's fame is mostly due to the brilliant interpretation of his text by European visual artists over the centuries.

Through the metamorphosis from text to visual art, Ovid has stayed famous. Bernini's "Apollo and Daphne" symbolises it more accurately than any other myth retold in the collection: a god chasing a young nymph, who slowly transforms into a laurel tree to avoid sexual assault, only to find herself the eternal symbol of Apollo's high status, and the honorable prize for literary or artistic fame. Ovid is resting on those laurels, wearing his Apollonian laurel wreath - as is Bernini, who can proudly compete with Pygmalion in the skill with which he made the marble leaves come alive, transforming hard stone into delicate art.

I knew I would be going on a tour through art history when I embarked on the Ovid journey, and I enjoyed every minute of it, often reading with a pile of art books next to me. As a pleasant extra surprise, I found myself revisiting several favourite Greek plays from a different narrative perspective, focusing on the transforming powers of dramatic storytelling rather than on unity of time, place and action. Hercules' story unfolded from a new angle, as did many of the Trojan and Minoan adventures.

After finishing Virgil's The Aeneid a couple of months ago, the short summary of Aeneas' adventures was welcome as well. Generally speaking, the "Metamorphoses" can be viewed as a Who's Who in the Ancient Roman and Greek cosmos, with a clear bias in favour of the Roman empire and its virtues. There are fewer long fight scenes than in the Iliad or the Aeneid, which makes it a more pleasant, less repetitive narrative, once the Centaurs and Lapiths are done with their violent duties.

After decades of immersing myself in the world of ancient mythology, I found the "Metamorphoses" to be an easy and lighthearted reading experience. When I read excerpts from it during my early university years, I struggled to recognise and place all those famous characters. It is a matter of being able to see the context, and background knowledge is a clear advantage.

I just wish my Latin was strong enough- it must be a special pleasure to read it in original!

Claude opus!
Profile Image for Michelle.
147 reviews239 followers
November 6, 2019
The great thing about Ovid's “Metamorphoses” is that it doesn't force you to take it so seriously. It’s still remarkably vivid, considering its age, and there is hardly a dull moment in it. You can actually read it just for pure pleasure. Its wild stories about transformations from one shape to another can be so entertaining, that your first reaction in reading it probably won't be to ask yourself weighty questions like "Hmm, I wonder what insights this ancient book offers into the structure of the cosmos, or the essence of existence, or the development of the human imagination?" Well… it just so happens that Ovid's poem does offer insights into all of these things -- but you can think of the deeper levels as an added bonus!

Basically, the poem's answer lies in its central theme of "change". For Ovid, the physical world is constantly changing, and so is human life (through birth and death, love, hatred, achievement, and failure). Most important, however, is his portrayal of the human imagination – not so much because of anything he says about it, but because of how he puts it into action. You'd be hard-pressed to find any other author, ancient or modern, who is so bursting with ideas about how to tell a story.

“Metamorphoses” is a wide-ranging account of Greek and Roman mythology, and this epic of transformations is itself -- one continuous transformation. One moment you’re reading one story, and then realize with a start, that you’re in the middle of the next one. By the slightest of hand, Ovid has used one character,or location, or detail in the first tale to segue into the next. Like the stones rising into men and women, or Arachne’s shrinking into a spider, the poem is in a constant state of flux. It is a technique that, irony of ironies --gives the work its permanence and coherence.

Being familiar with most of the stories, I have noticed that Ovid isn't giving a straightforward retelling of the myths. Instead, he is constantly twisting them around to his own purposes, making them look ridiculous, or fixating on details that are strange or grotesque. I think he pulled this off quite well with a witty and humorous tone. By keeping things light, he lets the reader in on the joke. At the same time, however, Ovid also deals with some pretty heavy stuff, and sometimes he does seem to take a strange amount of pleasure in his characters' suffering. I rarely witness comedy and tragedy work so well together as in this book.

I think this is one of the books you need to read in your lifetime. Don’t let its heft intimidate you, you don't even have to read it all the way through. If you want a taste of what it's about, you can pretty much start anywhere you want, or just look in the index to find your favorite myths, and go straight to those. In this way, it's sort of like an all-you-can-eat buffet -- with the difference that, once you get hooked, you're likely to go ahead and eat the whole thing.
Profile Image for C.
447 reviews19 followers
October 24, 2012
What the fuck Ovid. Save some brilliance for the rest of us.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book936 followers
May 22, 2020
The Metamorphoses are Ovid’s masterpiece and one of the literary monuments of Antiquity, alongside the Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. As the title suggests, Ovid’s book is about change, transformation, mutation. Its scope is exceptionally ambitious, encyclopaedic even. It covers the whole of ancient mythology, from the creation of the world and the flood to the epic of Phaëton, from Jupiter’s rape of various nymphs to the abduction of Europa, from Narcissus in love with his own reflection to Perseus and Medusa, from the rape of Proserpina to Medea and Jason, from Theseus and the Minotaur to the fall of Icarus, from Meleäger and the Calydonian Boar to Byblis’ and Myrrha’s incestuous passions, from the works of Hercules to the doomed love of Orpheus and Eurydice in the underworld, from the desire of Venus for Adonis to King Midas turning everything into gold, from the shipwreck of Cëyx to the battle of the Centaurs and to the Trojan War, from the sufferings of Hecuba to the wanderings of Aeneas, from Ulysses in Polyphemus’ cave to Circe’s witchcraft, and last but not least, from Romulus down to Julius Caesar. In short, Ovid has it all figured out!

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, like Virgil’s Aeneid, was written under the reign of Augustus and both works are, in their way, a glorification of the Roman Empire. All prior tribulations of gods and men aim towards this apex of history, this ideal order of civilisation. But Virgil’s and Ovid’s ways are very different. While Virgil unfolds the story of Aeneas in a single grand narrative, taking inspiration from the Odyssey, Ovid seems to be jumping randomly from one legend to the next, sometimes arranged into a Russian doll structure, thus covering a vast body of material (several hundreds of tales borrowed mostly from Greek literature). Within this colourful poem, there is one obsessive idea: the metamorphose (other recurring themes are romantic passion and sexual obsession). In a way, Virgil and Ovid could be compared to the myth of Arachne, exposed in book 6: Virgil being the Minervean, elevated, distinguished bard and Ovid the Arachnean, careless, disorganised poet.

At first, it seems he has gathered together every legend where some magical transformation is involved (Jupiter turning himself into a white bull, Actaeon changed by Diana into a stag, and so on). But by the end of the epic, primarily through Pythagoras’ speech in book 15 (my fave section), we come to understand that Ovid has a sort of profound ontological idea in mind. His book illustrates some kind of Heraclitean world view, whereby everything is in constant transmutation and flux. In a way, while Virgil is putting forward a historical statement about the origins of Rome, placing everything in a genealogical line, Ovid suggests something much more unstable and uncertain. If Augustus’ Empire is the pinnacle of human history, the poem makes room for further transformations and alterations down the line — a non-dogmatic, almost modern vision of history. Ovid knows that the Augustinian Empire, like everything else under the moon, is condemned to decay and death. (Did this contribute to his later banishment to the Black Sea — see the fantastic Poems of Exile?) The only thing that will remain through time is, according to the Epilogue (15, 870 sqq.), the poem itself, a poem about growth, transformation, and degeneration.

Another surprising fact about the Metamorphoses, also in line with Ovid’s metaphysical view of an all changing universe, is the justification of vegetarianism in book 15: “What a heinous crime is committed when guts disappear inside a fellow-creature’s intestines” (15, 86-87). Indeed, if gods and men can mutate into animals, a meat-eating individual is in some way a barbaric cannibal or a sacrilegious god-eater. Note the similarities between Ovid’s pagan doctrine on this issue and modern religious practices based on the belief on reincarnation (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism). In a broader sense, this very much resonates with our contemporary concerns about animal suffering and climate change. (One last thing that resonates with me in that same book 15, during this present time of coronavirus global pandemic, is the mention of Aesculapius, the saviour of Rome during the plague.)

Ovid is always a delight to read, chiefly because his descriptions are still readable and to the point, often playful or emotional, and never shy away from graphic details, visceral or sexual. See, for instance, the gory wedding banquets at the beginning of book 5 and book 12 (possible influence to the “Red Wedding” in Game of Thrones). Also see the erotic and gruesome story of Tereus and Philomela (book 6) — incidentally a blueprint for Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (which is, in turn, a recipe for the episode of the “Frey Pies”, again in Game of Thrones!). Furthermore (considering that the little Latin I have ever known is gone forever), David Raeburn’s recent translation into English hexameters is extraordinarily readable and never draws the reader’s attention to itself.

The Metamorphoses have had an enormous influence on Western culture, not just on other Roman writers, such as Apuleius with his spicy Golden Ass. It has made a particular impression on numerous artists since the Renaissance. Think of Botticelli, of course. Think of Titian’s Poesie, ordered by King Felipe II of Spain. Think of Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (from book 8). Think of the Pre-Raphaelites (see below the exquisite Echo and Narcissus by Waterhouse — from book 3). Think of countless references made by Dante, Montaigne, Cervantes or Shakespeare in their works. Case in point: Pyramus and Thisbe (book 4) is inserted within A Midsummer Night's Dream and is the inspiration of Romeo and Juliet; the affliction of Hecuba (book 13) is slotted into Hamlet; Prospero’s late speech in The Tempest is inspired by Medea’s speech (book 7). Think too of all the plays based on the myth of Pygmalion (e.g. the Broadway musical and the film version of My Fair Lady). Think of the popular sword-and-sandal movies such as Jason and the Argonauts. And think nowadays of all the bestsellers that borrow from Greco-Roman myths — most of which are to be found chiefly in the Metamorphoses — indirectly, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, or more directly, Madeline Miller or Stephen Fry’s latest books.

In short, Ovid’s Metamorphoses is to Greco-Roman mythology more or less what Snorri Sturluson is to Norse myths. While Snorri is essential to understanding the culture of the Vikings, without some knowledge of Ovid’s book, it would be practically impossible to comprehend Mediterranean Antiquity and, indeed, Western culture.

John William Waterhouse - Echo and Narcissus
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
April 14, 2016
“Happy is the man who has broken the chains which hurt the mind, and has given up worrying once and for all.”
― Ovid, Metamorphoses


Ovid -- the David Bowie of Latin literature. I chewed on this book of myth-poems the entire time I was tramping around Rome. I was looking for the right words to describe my feelings about it. It isn't that I didn't like it. It is an unequivocal masterpiece. I'm amazed by it. I see Ovid's genes in everything (paintings, sculptures, poems and prose). He is both modern and classic, reverent and wicked, lovely and obscene all at once. It is just hard to wrestle him down. To pin my thoughts about 'the Metamorphoses' into words. Structure really fails me.

That I guess is the sign for me of a book's depth or success with me. It makes me wish I could read it in the original form. I'm not satisfied with Dante in English. I want him in Italian. I'm not satisfied with Ovid in English. I want to experience his poetry, his playfulness, his wit in Latin.

I still prefer the poetry of Homer and Dante, but Ovid isn't embarrassed by the company of the greats; so not Zeus or Neptune, but maybe Apollo.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,096 reviews17.7k followers
April 9, 2019
There's honestly something deeply fascinating to me about reading the words of someone who lived 2000 years ago, who wrote these exact words 2000 years ago, and though I completely understand why reading translation is done - I think reading translated lit is amazing - it is undoubtedly more interesting to read this word-by-word, to see connotations and derivatives and line breaks and literary devices.

So yes, I read this in the original Latin! With the help of a lot of vocabulary lists because I don’t speak Latin as fluently as I would like to. (Shouldn’t passing an AP exam make you fluent? Anyway.)

Ovid’s language is... so good. Some story reviews follow:
Deucalion & Pyrrha, 1.348-415
This is the story of an apocalypse, or in this case, a failed apocalypse. This is the story of a world empty “inanem” and of two lovers at its fall, attempting to bring it back. The language of this is so sweepingly gorgeous; the image of Deucalion and Pyrrha in front of the Themis’ watered-down altar is deeply satisfying. Very Adam-and-Eve and very satisfying.

Daphne & Apollo, 1.452-657
Daphne and Apollo is a story that would be cool to see done by like, Catullus. (Poem 64 the only bitch in this house I respect!!) In general conceit, it is about a woman who does not want to get married being chased down by a man who just really wants to have sex with her until she turns herself into a tree. And there’s definitely an air of blaming her for beauty here: the line “but that beauty forbids you to be that which you wish, and your form [beauty] opposes your desire” is fucked up and sad, as well as the ending “destroy by changing my beauty by which I please too much”. The best thing that can be said about this is that the line “let your bow strike everything, oh Phoebus, but let my bow strike you” is so satisfying.

Jupiter & Io, 1.583-746
I absolutely hate this story. This is the one where I decided that he needs to avoid the women-being-chased and-maybe-raped but-I-will-mention-this-with-exactly-one-word thing (“rapuit”). In a situation even more egregious than that of Daphne and Apollo, she is given no character development whatsoever and the general story just angers me, up until around line 630, where she attempts to talk to her father Inachus: “She came to the riverbanks, where she was accustomed to play often, and when she saw in the water, her new horns, she grew frightened and fled having been terrified of herself” — the repetition of the riverbanks here is especially arresting.

I did find this line sort of satisfying:
“...It is cruel to surrender his love, but suspicious not to give; it is shame, what would urge him from that, Amor dissuades this. Shame would would have been conquered by Love, but if this trivial gift were refused to the companion of his race and bed as a heifer, it would be able to appear to be no heifer.” (617-621)

The Ride of Phaethon, 2.150-339
This one is wonderful. I really enjoyed the figurative language and dramatic, ironic setup of this story: the horses hit the doors with their feet (155) and then snatch the path (158). The chariot being shaken on high (166) is a great detail, and the journey into the rapidly-heating constellations is just incredible (and not just incredibly hard to translate). Lots of apostrophe and several rhetorical questions build this into a gorgeous story.

I absolutely adored this set of lines:
“I am bemoaning the lesser things: great cities destruct with their walls, / and with their peoples the fires [whole nations] / turn into ashes; and the forests along with the mountains burn” (214-216)

This section was so good that I forgave it for meaning I had to learn almost 200 lines of translation in a month for a test. Me & my 96 on the test say hi!!

Pyramus & Thisbe, 4.55-166
“Pyramus and Thisbe, the one the most handsome of youths, the other outstanding… that which they were not able to deny, equally they both burned with their minds captured.”
Ah, Pyramus and Thisbe, the original tragic lovers. The only context I have seen this story appear in previously is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a version that is deeply comedic. But this story is, despite some stupidity in plot, so well written. “This flaw had been noted by no one through the long years… but what does love not detect?” Ovid asks; this love affair seems almost inevitable, deeply wrapped around fate and tragedy. “How difficult would it be, that you could allow us to be joined with whole bodies, or, if this is too-much, that you should open this wall for kisses to be given?” Of course, this story ends badly. And it is Pyramus’ fault. Thisbe is a bitch with common sense and did nothing wrong.

The Fall of Icarus, 8.152-235
“The shame of the family had grown, and was exposing / the disgusting adultery of his mother by the novelty of the two-formed monster...”
THE FALL OF ICARUS!! Okay this has always been one of my favorite stories of all time, and reading it in Ovid’s original Latin was such a cool experience. This story is framed by a description and depiction of the tragedy of the minotaur and the abandonment of poor Ariadne (#Catulluspoem64). I loved Daedalus' intro for his plan: “it is permitted that he block the land and sea / but certainly the sky lies open; we will go that way...” And the fall of Icarus is equally emotional, beautifully conveyed through the image of a herder and fisherman watching him, up to its ending: “and his lips, shouting out the name of his father / are taken up by the blue water, water which has taken up its name from him.”

Anyway, I hope y’all appreciated my original Latin translation skills pouring into this review. I SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT LATIN AND I'M HONESTLY SO PROUD TO BE SHARING IT.

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Profile Image for Fernando.
684 reviews1,127 followers
August 19, 2020
Siempre es vital, en todo lector de clásicos que se precie de tal, recorrer las páginas de los pioneros, los creadores, los que antecedieron a toda la literatura moderna, tal es el caso de Ovidio como también lo son Virgilio, Homero, Sófocles, Esquilo, Eurípides y tantos otros. He leído con interés la mayoría de las transformaciones narradas en Las Metamorfosis y por supuesto, algunas me gustaron más que otras; por eso enumero la galería de mitos que desfilan por sus gloriosas páginas.

Todos ellos me han maravillado con sus variadas transformaciones, a saber:
Apolo, Europa, Júpiter, Dafne, Narciso, Perseo, Medusa, Teseo, Proserpina, Palas, Jasón, Medea, Minotauro, Dédalo, Ícaro, Aquiles, Ulises, Orfeo, Eurídice, Ganímedes, Pigmalión, Ifigenia y sobre todo mi admiradísimo Eneas.

Para finalizar, debo remarcar cómo Ovidio aseguró su nombre en letras de oro para la posteridad a través del Epílogo. Es como si él mismo hubiera sido Tiresias, el sabio ciego que podía adivinar el futuro (algo que Edipo no logró entender):

“Y ya he dado fin a una obra a la que no podrán destruir ni la cólera de Júpiter, ni el fuego, ni el hierro, ni el tiempo voraz. Que aquel día que no tiene ningún derecho más que sobre mi cuerpo, cuando quiera, ponga término a curso incierto de mi vida; sin embargo, inmortal en la parte más noble de mi persona, seré llevado sobre la alta región de los astros y mi nombre será indeleble; y por cualquier parte por donde aparezca el dominio de Roma sobre la tierra seré leído por los pueblos y por todos los siglos; viviré, si algo de verdad existe en el presentimiento de los poetas, gloriosamente.”
Profile Image for leynes.
1,115 reviews3,029 followers
August 23, 2022
My thoughts on this book can be summed up in one simple GIF:


But let's get deeper into this phenomenal book, shall we? Metamorphoses is an 8 AD Latin narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid. Comprising 11,995 lines, 15 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 framework. It is probably the book with the largest scope that I've ever read:
beginning with the creation of the world from Chaos, and ending with Rome in Ovid's own lifetime, Metamorphoses is one rollercoaster of a read.

There's many things you can say about good ole Ovid but not that he wasn't ambitious! He drags his readers through time and space, from beginnings to endings, from life to death, from moments of delicious joy to episodes of depravity and abjection.

Metamorphosis or transformation is a unifying theme amongst the episodes of the the epic. 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. There is a great 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 that Ovid plays his audience for a good laugh.
All is subject to change and nothing to death. // All is in flux.
Metamorphoses is more than a collection of stories of mythical adventures, it is a mediation on the theme of transformation in all its myriad forms. Ovid uses this motif as the unifying thread of his tales, emphasising it as a universal principle which explains the ever-changing nature of the world. Moreover, across the fifteen books that form Metamorphoses, Ovid examines a large number of themes such as poetry, politics, identity, immortality, love and lust, violence, morality, and even art.

Ovid’s graphic tales of metamorphosis begin with the story of Primal Chaos; a messy lump of discordant atoms, and shapeless prototypes of land, sea and air. This unruly form floated about in nothingness until some unnamed being disentangled it. Voilà! The earth is fashioned in the form of a perfectly round ball. Oceans take shape and rise in waves spurred on by winds. Springs, pools and lakes appear and above the valleys and plains and mountains is the sky. Lastly, humankind is made and so begins the mythical Ages of Man. And, as each Age progresses – from Gold, to Silver, to Bronze and finally to Iron – humankind becomes increasingly corrupt.

Drawing on the Greek mythology inherited by the Romans, Ovid directs his dramas one after another, relentlessly bombarding his readers with beautiful metrics and awe-inspiring imagery as that of Deucalion and Pyrrha, Arachne, Daphne and Apollo, Europa and the Bull, Leda and the Swan. Hundreds of hapless mortals, heroes, heroines, gods and goddesses rise victorious, experience defeat, endure rape, and inevitably metamorphose into something other than their original forms. Chaos begins the world, and so into Chaos we are born, live and die. As the offspring of the Age of Iron, we must endure and struggle against corruption, brutality and injustice.
If wishes were horses, though, beggars would ride.
In many ways, Ovid’s gods are like the gods in other classical epic poems – anthropomorphic, omnipotent, and meddling in human affairs. However, Ovid’s gods differ from the usual epic gods in their behavior. In Metamorphoses, the gods lack moral authority in regard to their interactions with humans and among themselves. The gods are a ‘divine machine’ of metamorphosis. Even though on a few occasions this change inflicted upon humans is the result of a just reward or punishment, on most occasions, it is caused by anger, jealousy, lust, or simple cruelty.

Metamorphoses is an epic about the act of silencing. Jealousy, spite, lust and punishment are consistently present in Ovid’s chaotic world. So is rape. Rape is undoubtedly the most controversial and confronting theme of the Metamorphoses. It is the ultimate manifestation of male power in the poem and the hundreds of transformations that occur are often the means of escaping it.

An early tale of attempted rape is narrated in Book I, involving the nymph, Daphne and the god, Apollo. Intent on raping Daphne, Apollo chases her through the forest until, utterly exhausted, she calls out to her father, the river god Peneus to rescue her:
“Help, father!” she called. “If your streams have divine powers! Destroy the shape, which pleases too well, with transformation!”
Peneus answers his daughter’s entreaty, and Daphne is transformed into a laurel tree. Where does a modern audience begin with a story such as Daphne and Apollo? How do we begin to unravel the hundreds of other such tales that follow it?

When Daphne begs her father to alter her body to avoid the advances of the god Apollo, she ends up removing herself from human society. Once her transformation is complete she will no longer be able to possess her human body again. Her active rejection of the god's sexual advances, therefore, directly condemns her to an eternity of Otherness and utter lack of agency.

Because Daphne’s transformation was in an attempt to defend herself from Apollo, her figure was kept as close to living human beings as possible, while being removed from the sensible experience that could render them vulnerable to pain or undesired sex. Although Apollo could not rape her, as she was in the form of a tree, she was still vulnerable to his touch and caress.

In Ovid's tales physical metamorphosis becomes an example of "proper" female behavior. This is why when a woman in transformed within an Ovidian tale the transformation is permanent. In cases when the girl herself is transformed because of her attempt to resist the sexual advance, she faces exclusion from society. Metamorphoses presents a bleak, possibly authentic, analysis of the role of women in society, and what happens when they have no agency.

Nonetheless, for modern readers, and I'd assume especially women, the constant rape scenes in Metamorphoses can be challenging to read. They don't take away from the book's brilliance, but they are something that should be kept in mind before jumping into Ovid's world!

When reading Metamorphoses you will recall many names and myths. I was happy to see how much Homer influenced Ovid. It was good to see the gang was all here, the gang being Odysseus and his crew, Circe, Achilles, Ajax, the Trojan War ("We gave our youth to our loved ones, the rest of our lives to Greece."). It's incredible how effortlessly Ovid manages to pack Homer's massive poems into the last books of his own epic. We love successful fanfiction!

One of my favorite mythical couples that I'd love seeing in Ovid's book were Orpheus and Eurydice. Ever since we did a gymnastics show about this particular myth back in 2011, these two have never left me. When I fell in love with the musical Hadestown last year, I couldn't help but think about them and the fate they shared. Theirs is just such a tragic tale. And I kept asking myself: why did he turn around? The answer Ovid gives isn't all that satisfying: "But Orpheus was frightened his love was falling behind; he was desperate to see her. He turned, and at once she sank back into the dark." But it's a possibility. What I loved most about their tale in Metamorphoses is what follows after:
She stretched out her arms to him, struggled to feel his hands on her own, but all she was able to catch, poor soul, was the yielding air. / And now, as she died for the second time, she never complained that her husband had failed her – what could she complain of, except that he’d loved her?
I know, it's not the most feminist, but I could actually tear up about that part. How beautifully tragic is that? I also loved that Ovid then proceeded on telling the story how Orpheus turned from all womankind after that ordeal and became gay – what an icon!

The ending these two get in the end, in the tale about Orpheus' death, is also beautiful: "Orpheus’ shade passed under the earth. He recognised all the places he’d seen before. As he searched the Elysian Fields, he found the wife he had lost and held her close in his arms. / At last the lovers could stroll together, side by side – or she went ahead and he followed, then Orpheus ventured in front and knew he could now look back on his own Eurydice safely."

Another fan-favorite I loved to encounter is Lucifer Morningstar. In Metamorphoses, Ovid describes him as "the last to leave the heavens": "Aurora, watchful in the reddening dawn, threw wide her crimson doors and rose-filled halls; the Stellae took flight, in marshaled order set by Lucifer who left his station last." I'm pretty sure that Lucifer=Satan was not a thing yet when Ovid was writing his tales but I'd be curious to see how his texts (and others of the period) influenced Christian beliefs.

Another thing I'd like to research is how Ovid influenced artists of subsequent centuries and millennia to come. In some cases his legacy is more than clear: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet wouldn't exist without Ovid's tale about Pyramus and Thisbe (two young lovers forbidden to wed because of a long-standing rivalry between their families), same with Ted Hughes' 1997 Tales from Ovid. No Dante without Ovid. Furthermore, there are countless paintings and sculptures immortalising Ovid's Metamorphoses, like the 17th-century sculpture Apollo and Daphne by Gianlorenzo Bernini, or Bacchus and Ariadne, an oil painting by Titian produced in 1523. But I'm sure that there are hundreds of instances where I missed a reference or am not aware of how that particular tale has influenced the writers I came to admire and love.
As yellow wax melts in a gentle flame, or the frost on a winter morning thaws in the rays of the sunshine, so Narcissus faded away and melted, slowly consumed by the fire inside him.
Another example would be Echo and Narcissus. Theirs is an immensely popular story nowadays, but it's one we probably wouldn't know had Ovid not written it down in his Metamorphoses. The introduction of the myth of the mountain nymph Echo into the story of Narcissus, the beautiful youth who rejected Echo and fell in love with his own reflection, appears to have been his invention. And so, Ovid's version influenced the presentation of the myth in later Western art and literature.

As I can't go over all of my favorite myths, I though I'd leave you with a list of them:

Book I: The Creation; The Four Ages; The Giants; The Flood; Daphne; Io
Book II: Europa
Book III: Narcissus and Echo
Book IV: Mars and Venus; Perseus
Book V: Minerva and the Muses; The Rape of Proserpina
Book VI: Arachne; Niobe; Tereus, Procne and Philomela
Book VII: Medea and Jason; Theseus and Aegeus; Minos and Aeacus
Book VIII: Scylla and Minos; The Minotaur and Ariadne; Daedalus and Icarus; Erysichthon
Book IX: Acheloüs and Hercules; The Death of Hercules
Book X: Orpheus and Eurydice; Ganymede; Myrrha; Venus and Adonis
Book XI: Midas; Ceyx and Alcyone
Book XII: The Greeks at Aulis; Rumour; The Death of Achilles
Book XIII: The Judgment of Arms; The Sufferings of Hecuba; Acis, Galatea and Polyphemus; Glaucus and Syclla
Book XIV: Ulysses’ Men and Polyphemus’ Cave; Ulysses and Circe; Picus, Canens and Circe; The Apotheosis of Aeneas
Book XV: Pythagoras; The Apotheosis of Julius Caesar; Epilogue

Ovid's Metamorphoses has had a long and fascinating history. Its presence among the Western literary canon has functioned as a strange but valuable mirror that has, for over two millennia, reflected social, moral and artistic customs. As David Raeburn so brilliantly recalls in his introduction to the text in this Penguin Classics edition: if you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, you will return intoxicated after discovering that "It's all Ovid!"
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
August 31, 2016
Sex, violence, and humor are often painted as low and primitive: the signs of a failing culture. Yet it is only in cultures with a strong economy and a substantial underclass that such practices can rise from duty to pastime. As Knox's introduction reminds us, Ovid's time was one of pervasive divorce, permissive laws, and open adultery, and our humble author participated in all of them.

Eventually, the grand tyrant closed his fist over the upper classes, exerting social controls and invoking the moral standard of an imagined 'golden age' in order to snatch power and discredit his rivals. Though already a popular and influential author and speaker, Ovid was exiled for being wanton and clever--either one he could have gotten away with, but both was too much.

Both he and Virgil were sent to the extremities of the empire by Augustus, and both wrote epics to equal Homer's. While Virgil's was a capitulation to the emperor, honoring his fictitious lineage and equating heroism with duty, Ovid's was a sly, labyrinthine re-imagining of classic tales, drawing equally on the gold of Olympus' brow and the muck between a harlot's toes.

Ovid remained more coy about his dirt than Apuleius or Seneca, maintaining plausible deniability with irony and entendre throughout the complex work. Every view, vision, and opinion is put forth at some point, and very rarely are they played straight. Ovid's characters are remarkable creations, each one a subversion of the familiar legend that surrounds them. Of course, by this point many of us are more familiar with Ovid's versions than the ones he was making light of.

Virgil inspired the proud, righteous men of words: Dante, Tasso, Milton. Ovid created a style for the tricksters and the conflicted: Petrarch, Donne, Shakespeare, Ariosto, Rabelais. Each of Ovid's myths was a discrete vision, not only by plot, but by theme. His tales were not simply presentations of ideas, but explorations that turned back on themselves over and over.

The metaphysical poets would come to adopt this style, creating short works that explored themes, even ritualizing the idea's reversal in the sonnet's volta. The active, visual nature of Ovid was a progression from the extended metaphors of the philosophers to what could be called a true conceit: a symbolic representation at once supportive of and in conflict with the idea it bears.

Each of Ovid's tales flows, one into the next, building meaning by relations, counterpoints, repetition, and structure. Each small part builds into a grander whole. Just as all the sundry stories become a mythology, the many symbolic arguments become a philosophy.

Instead of the Virgilian heroic mode, where one man wins, thereby vindicating his philosophy, Ovid shows a hundred victories and losses, creating an aggregate meaning. Virgil was writing of what he thought one man should be: loyal, pious, righteous, strong, noble. Ovid was more interested in asking what it is possible for a man to be--what are the limits of the mind?

The Greek myths are an attempt to understand the mind, to observe what we do and create types, to develop a system for understanding man. In collecting these various tales, Ovid was creating the first psychological diagnostic manual, of which the DSM is the modern child. The Greeks invented everything, after all, and here, a few thousand years before Freud, is a remarkably coherent and accurate picture of the mind and its disorders.

Freud did little more than reintroduce the Greek system, which is why his theories--the Psyche, the Oedipus Conflict, Narcissism--are drawn directly from that source. Of course, to any student of literature, it's clear that this is how the terms have always been used. All the great works alluded to these Greek ideas because this was the central collection of knowledge about the mind, a set of terms, phrases, and examples which formed the basis of any discussion of the mind.

Indeed, the Greeks were much better at it than Freud was--he even screwed up the Oedipal Theory, the thing he's best known for, despite the fact that the Greeks had it right from the very beginning.

Freud's patients, being middle-class Europeans, were raised by nannies and nursemaids until they were of age, and had fairly little interaction with their parents. Human beings imprint on people who we are around a great deal before about age six as 'family', and therefore, out of bounds sexually. Since his patients were not around their parents much before this age, they did not imprint correctly. Now: what's the first thing that happens to Oedipus in the story? That's right, he's taken away from his parents and raised elsewhere. Cause, disorder, symptom--it was all right there, and Freud still missed it.

So, Ovid was indeed tackling a grand theme in his tales: the mapping of the human mind as it was known to Greece and Rome. That isn't to say that there isn't depth and conflict between characters and ideas in Virgil, but his centralized, political theme deprived him of the freedom to move from one idea to the next, as Ovid did.

This lack of freedom is a boon for most authors: structure gives tangible boundaries and tools with which to create. With no boundaries, the author has no place to start, and no markers to guide his path.

Imagine a man is given all the parts to a lawnmower. His chances of building a lawnmower are pretty high--but that's all he can do. Now give the same man all the uncut materials and tools in a shop. He could build a lawnmower, or nearly any other machine, but it's going to take a lot of doing. That kind of freedom--real freedom--tends to paralyze most people.

Likewise, it's easier to write good poetry when the rhyme scheme, scansion, and meter are pre-determined than to create a beauty and flow in blank verse. Yet Ovid deconstructed his stories, starting and stopping them between books and moving always back and forth. He provided himself with absolute freedom, but maintained his flow and progression, even without the crutches of tradition.

While his irony and satire are the clearest signs of his remarkable mind, the most impressive is probably this: that he flaunted tradition, style, and form, but never faltered in his grand work.

Virgil knew what he did when he attached himself to Augustus' train; likewise Ovid recognized how his simultaneous praise and subversion of Augustus' legacy would play: none could openly accuse him of treason, but anyone with a solid mind would see the dangerous game Ovid played with his king and patron.

He did not shy from critiquing Augustus even as he wrote for him, for his nation, and for history. Ovid's parting shot is the famous assertion that as long as Rome's name is spoken aloud, so will be Ovid's. This has been echoed since by Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, so that what Ovid realized we would never doubt today.

Even banished to the wilderness, out of favor, the only way to silence the artist is to kill him, and this must be done long before he has an audience. Augustus got his month, but his empire fell. Ovid's empire grows by books and minds each year, and its capital is still The Metamorphoses.

I researched long trying to decide on a translation. Though there are many competent versions out there, I chose Martin's. I recall seeing the cover and coveting it, but distrusting the unknown translation. Imagine my surprise when my research turned up my whim.

I enjoyed Martin's translation for the same reason I appreciate Fagles': the vibrancy, wit, and drive of the language. Both are poetic, exciting, risk-taking--but also knowledgeable and deliberate. Every translation is a new work of art, all its own, and I respect translators who don't pretend otherwise.

The translators of the fifties were more staunchly academic, capturing meaning and precision, but in enshrining the classics, they fail to take the sorts of risks that make a work bold and artful. Contrarily, the early translators, like Pope, recreated the work in their own vernacular--not merely as a translation, but as a completely new vision, as Shakespeare's plays are to Plutarch's Lives.

Martin (and Fagles) take the more modern approach, championed by the literary style of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, whose works are solidly grounded in their tradition, deliberately and knowledgeably drawn, but with the verve and novelty of the iconoclast. There is something particularly fitting in this, since Ovid himself was an iconoclast who mixed formalized tradition with subversion and irony.

Martin proved himself utterly fearless in the altercation between the Pierides and the Muses: he styles their competing songs as a poetry jam, drawing on the vocal forms of rap music. I must admit I was shocked at first, and unable to reconcile, but as I kept reading, I came to realize that it was not my place to question.

Translation is the adaptation of one style to another, one word or phrase or invocation to something more familiar. In his desire to capture the competition and skill of song in these early contests, he drew on what may be the only recognizable parallel to modern man. What is remarkable is not how different the two styles are, but how similar.

It is comical, it is a bit absurd, but so was the original--and in any case, he is altering the original purpose less than Pope, who translated all of the poetry into anachronism. I never thought I would prefer a translation of Ovid which contained the word 'homie', but if Martin can be true enough to the poetry to write it, I must be brave enough to laud it.

I still laugh, but only because Martin has revealed to me something of the impossibility and oddity inherent to translation. This certainly isn't your grandfather's Ovid, but then, your grandfather's Ovid wasn't the real one, either.

I also appreciated Knox's introduction in both Martin's and Fagle's work, though Knox's Homeric background is stronger. I found the end-notes insightful and useful, though they are never quite numerous enough to suit me--but such is the nature of reading a work in translation.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,103 followers
January 30, 2013
To read this in English is to not have read it. The few Latin verses I could read and understand were more pleasurable than all the wonderful myths and twisted fates. The verses take the form of what it describes, they flow or pause or rear up along with its subject. The translation feels beautiful at those rare times when I can call to mind some of the great works of art inspired by those artists who loved and lived these verses. No statues were made by artists inspired by translations.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,099 followers
April 28, 2018
I read this for one of those bucket-list reasons, having read a bunch of scholarly articles in college that constantly quote from Ovid... but I had NEVER READ THE ORIGINAL.

Alas. How many years has it been, with that guilt slowly creeping up on me?

So I did it. I read Ovid.

And I fell in love.

What the hell was I thinking? Avoiding this? I mean, how many damn mythology books have I read that go on and on about all the Greek classics, touted for their clear and concise styles, but really what I should have been doing is read the damn book of prose/poetry by the first-century master!

Even in translation, it's clear, entertaining, full of action and wit and subversiveness and plain JOY. And get this: it's not much longer than those full mythology books.

SO SILLY! Enjoy the ART! The action! The joy of beautiful text!

We even get poetical treatments of segments of the Illiad and Odyssey! But my favorites were Orpheus and the whole damn slew of the poor mortals getting f***ed over by the gods. :)

Granted, if you're not already familiar with the kind of name-dropping that comes with a world that normally knowns all these legends, it might seem rather overwhelming, but for all of you who've read at least one book on the Greeks and are tolerant of learning on the fly, I TOTALLY recommend Ovid.

I fairly danced with fun as I read this. I felt like I was watching the original Clash of the Titans for the first time. This had some really bloody sequences! The funny ones and the clever ones and even the LGBTQ ones are spread throughout, too! :) I'm frankly amazed we don't just have THIS to read in school. It's much better than most!

lol *shakes head*
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
May 6, 2020
This took me a while because of the more than 600 characters and less depth on the individual myths than I imagined upfront. Still nice to have this behind the belt when visiting a museum - 2.5 stars rounded up
Bernini’s famous transformation of marble in flesh, inspired by a tale in the first book of the Methamorphoses:

Metamorphoses is a treasure trove on myths of the Greek and Romans. Ovid takes us from the creation of the world to the murder on Julius Caesar. Don't expect something chronological like the History of Herodotus, but prepare on being buffeted by more than 250 distinct narratives divided over 15 books. I personally would have like more depth on some myths, like Theseus, Perseus and Jason their adventures. Also the book felt a bit fragmented for me, and I had trouble with keeping my attention with it at times.

Is it overall about conformity? Following higher forces (and the state in the time of Ovid) or else be punished/killed/transformed in a horrible manner? Being humble, except if you are a descendent to the powers that be, like Perseus as son of Jupiter, seems to be the only option in the stories Ovid narrates. This is especially true for women, in Metamorphosis you have an extraordinary high chance of being literally and figuratively screwed, with Medusa at the end of book IV being the sad highlight. After being raped by Neptune in a temple of Minerva she is turned into a monster by the goddess and later beheaded by Perseus.

Some highlights per book
Book I: The whole set up of the poem, from creation to current time, reminded met of The Silmarillion of J.R.R. Tolkien, interesting to see where his inspiration came from.
The reminiscing on a lost golden age is also interesting given Rome was the force of the day and it’s fall heralded the “dark” middle ages. The described golden age reminded me of Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, where the foraging men was seen as most blissful in the human history till after the industrial revolution.

Then as a bonus there is Lycaon as a proto werewolf and ah, a primordial flood to punish us humans for our sins, how familiar. Deucalion and Pyrrha as Adam and Eve.

Myths as an understanding of the world, convenient explanations on why Ethiopians are dark skinned (burned by the Sun wagon coming to close to earth), laurels (a rivernymph trying to escape Apollo) and Egyptians worshipping gods that have animal forms (a lover of Zeus changed into a cow to avoid Juno).
Did people really believe that or where this just tales told to children?

Book II
Phaeton as epitome of youthful over ambition

In strophe 252 we have swans being toasted by the sun and in 377 we have a mourning relative, Cycnus, of Phaeton transform in a new bird species, the swan, which seems a bit conflicting.

Crows and old men being punished for their nosiness and gossiping

Wishes go as awry as in Alladin for Semele

Because no deity can negate the actions of an other deity, interesting concept, this explains a lot about The Iliad

Narcissus being popular with men and girls before turning into a flower.

Book IV
Piramus and Thisbe being the Babylonian predecessors to Romeo and Juliet

Book V
The wedding of Andromeda and Perseus ends up being described as a scene from 300, when her fiancee and uncle shows up to the party and get gruesomely killed.

Book VII
Medea is still hard to understand for me, thought this might be a full account of the journey of the Argonauts but it turned out quite fragmented and short.

VIII has Scylla betray her father for love of king Minos, and has her cutting a string of hair from him as show of betrayal, quite reminiscent to the story of Delilah and Samson.

Book X is the gay book with Orpheus, Ganymede and Hyacinthus (who dies rather stupidly in a friendly match of disc throwing with his lover Apollo)
Pygmalion meanwhile invents the first sexdoll from ivory.

In book XI Alcyone and Ceyx, transforming into kingfishers, has an emotional impact.

Book XII has an invincible transgender Caenis/Caeneus (who got the body and strength of a man after being raped by Neptune) and a fight scene between Centaurs and men that would make Quentin Tarantino jealous. Brainpudding is pushed out of cracked skulls like its a sieve. Wow!

Book XIII has Ajax his “I don’t like words but action” speech four pages in an epic burn of Odysseus
Which is than eloquently returned (“not because my father did not kill his own brother I claim these weapons”) by the master of deception and words himself.
Hecuba ripping someones eyes out (and the general misery of the women of Troy) is quite touching.
And not to forget: nymph Galatea being compared to swan down and white cheese by her cyclops admirer.

Book XIV has the founding of Rome and the many wars preceding and following this event (parties are lambasted for fighting because they just want to win and are ashamed of peace).

In XV we have Pythagoras as first vegetarian, with a speech against eating meat due to the belief the soul reincarnates in an ever repeating manner, maybe influenced from stories from India after the conquests of Alexander?
Interesting that he says that ancient anchors have been found on mountains as well. Father of archeological research besides mathematics?
Profile Image for Akemi G..
Author 9 books125 followers
June 26, 2016
I've been reading retelling of Greek mythology all my life, so it's probably time to read it in a more authentic form. There are many English translations for Metamorphoses. I think the enjoyment of reading depends very much on the quality of translation, so this review compares the various versions.

Translated by Charles Martin (Norton) 2004
I bought this after reading this comparison. It's subtly but undeniable frustrating to me. I guess the first paragraph (invocation) is not the best passage to get a good idea. So here is the beginning of Book 3, the story of Cadmus:
And now, his taurine imitation ended,
the god exposed himself for what he was
to cowed Europa on the isle of Crete.
In an action both paternal and perverse,
the captured maiden's baffled father bids
her brother Cadmus to locate the girl
or face an endless term of banishment.

by David Raeburn (new Penguin edition) 2004
Same passage:

Now they had landed on the Cretan soil, when Jupiter dropped
the disguise of a bull, to reveal himself as the god who he
Anxious for news, Europa's father commanded Cadmus
to search for his kidnapped sister. 'Find her, or go into
he said--an iniquitous action, if also inspired by devotion.

Hmm . . . some readers might find the line breaks annoying. Not sure if it's any better or worse than Martin translation . . .

by Allen Mandelbaum, 1993
But his false semblance soon is set aside:
on reaching Crete, Jove shows his own true guise.
Meanwhile the father of the ravished girl,
not knowing what had taken place, commands
Cadmus, his son, to find Europa or
to suffer exile from Agenor's land--
a cruel threat, but born of love!

A notable feature of this edition is that it has no Introduction, Translator's Notes, and annotations. It only has modest Afterword. So you jump in, just as you would when you read contemporary books. I like it--I read for fun, so the less hassle, the better. However, because all explanatory points are incorporated in the main text, some people might find it slow.

by A.D. Melville (Oxford World's Classic) 1986
Now safe in Crete, Jove shed the bull's disguise
And stood revealed before Europa's eyes.
Meanwhile her father, baffled, bade his son
Cadmus, set out to find the stolen girl
And threatened exile should he fail--in one
Same act such warmth of love, such wickedness!

I like this, too. Simple and elegant, and I like how it flows. It sounds more literary and slightly antiquated, which may or may not suit your preference.
(The Kindle eBook has a strange format, with wide margin on the left.)

No clear winner. I'd say, if you like poetic language and have no problem figuring out what is happening in poetically abbreviated and slightly classic language, go for Melville. If you'd rather read it like a novel, Mandelbaum (although it is a verse translation). Or you might like the newest translation.

I only read two languages, and Latin is not one of them. So I cannot tell how accurate these translation may be.

P.S. Oh, the content. In case you don't know, it's filled with murders, rapes, and treacheries.

Being a Roman, and being a creative mind, Ovid edits some myths. For instance, he skips the part about Cronus (Saturn) killing his children, and Zeus (Jove/Jupiter) killing him, his father. This way, Ovid makes it sound as if all evils started with humans.

I wonder how Ovid really felt about Greek/Roman mythology. Rome conquered Greece about 150 years before his time, but culturally, Greeks influenced the Romans and their empire. Did he feel indignant about the strong Greek influence?
Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
766 reviews660 followers
March 23, 2021
I read this about two months after my second stay in Rome in 2019, so sadly never had the book itself in the city. The city though, was of course, on my mind, throughout.

The Metamorphoses is an 8 AD Latin narrative poem which consists of 11,995 lines, 15 books and over 250 myths. It is known as one of the most influential works in Western Literature, influencing the likes of Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer. It is accredited with having over 200 characters. My edition stands at over 700 pages long. Elements from the poem have been depicted throughout art forms for centuries. On a beach in St Ives, Cornwall, one year, I read Ted Hughes' Tales From Ovid, his brilliant retelling of twenty-four of the tales. (For a taster of the myths, it is certainly a good place to start, at only 250 pages.)


Most of the myths are familiar: Apollo and Daphne, Narcissus and Echo, the Rape of Proserpina, Arachne - Niobe, Medea and Jason, Theseus and Aegeus, Scylla and Minos, the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, Hercules, Venus and Adonis, Orpheus and Eurydice, Midas, the Death of Achilles, the Ships of Aeneas, Ajax, the Fall of Troy, Ulysses and Circe, and countless more. It ends with the apotheosis of Julius Caesar.

The short prologue reads, and distinguishes the theme of the entire poem:
Changes of shape, new forms, are the theme which my
spirit impels me
now to recite. Inspire me, O gods (it is you who have even transformed my art), and spin me a thread from the
world's beginning
down to my own lifetime, in one continuous poem.

Ovid says so himself; the art of transformation is the crux of this giant work. And it is true, we witness the Gods turning men into animals, stones, constellations. It is about love; it is violent; it is also witty, Ovid does not write without humour at times. I remember to this day the humour spinning from the absurdity of some of the events, made absurd by Ovid, who is always seemingly self-aware. At the end of "The Creation" in Book 1, from line 84, the first mention of a metamorphosis occurs, that of man:
Where other animals walk on all four and look to the
man was given a towering head and commanded to stand
erect, with his face uplifted to gaze on the stars of heaven.
Thus clay, so lately no more than a crude and formless
was metamorphosed to assume the strange new figure of

Where Ovid calls Man "strange", Hughes, to compare, likens us to Gods:
Then Prometheus
Gathered that fiery dust and slaked it
With the pure spring water,
And rolled it under his hands,
Pounded it, thumbed it, moulded it
Into a body shaped like that of a god.

"The Untangling of Chaos, or the Creation of the Four Elements", Hendrik Goltzius—1589

The gods are mischievous throughout. At times their actions seemed completely unprovoked, uncalled for, at other times, they were cruelly fair. Over the 250 myths we see gods and men fight, gods and gods fight, men v. man, heroes against creatures and gods, we see almost everything pitted against one another. And despite the humour, there are poignant moments of feeling, beauty and emotion.

Like in one of my many favourite passages in the poem, the fall of Icarus in Book 8:
He ceased to follow his leader; he'd fallen in love with the sky,
and soared up higher and higher. The scorching rays of
the sun
grew closer and softened the fragrant wax which fastened
his plumage.
The wax dissolved; and as Icarus flapped his naked arms,
deprived of the wings which had caught the air that was
buoying them upwards,
'Father!' he shouted, again and again. But the boy and his
were drowned in the blue-green main which is called the
Icárian Sea.
His unhappy father, no longer a father, called out, 'Icarus!
Where are you, Icarus? Where on earth shall I find you?
he kept crying. And then he caught sight of the wings in the
Daedalus cursed the skill of his hands and buried his dear son's
corpse in a grave. The land where he lies is known as

"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus", Pieter Bruegel the Elder—c. 1560
[Icarus' legs can be seen in the bottom right of the painting, protruding from the sea, surrounded by feathers.]

Or, in Book 10, Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld, which has always been one of my favourite myths; Ovid tells it hauntingly:
Not far to go now; the exit to earth and the light was
But Orpheus was frightened his love was falling behind;
he was desperate
to see her. He turned, and at once she sank back into
the dark.
She stretched out her arms to him, struggled to feel his
hands in her own,
but all she was able to catch, poor soul, was the
yielding air.
And now, as she died for the second time, she never
that her husband had failed her—what could she complain
of, except that he'd loved her?
She only uttered her last 'farewell', so faintly he hardly
could hear it, and then she was swept once more to the land
of the shadows.

And because I've somehow managed to avoid any of the metamorphoses in the book, the transformation of Daphne into a tree in Book 1:
[...] She had hardly ended her prayer when a
heavy numbness
came over her body; her soft white bosom was ringed
in a layer
of bark, her hair was turned into foliage, her arms into
The feet that had run so nimbly were sunk into sluggish
her head was confined in a treetop; and all that remained
was her beauty.

"Apollo and Daphne", Gian Lorenzo Bernini—1622–1625
[This is one of my favourite statues ever, life-sized and made from marble. It is housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, which I have never seen. It is my priority, on my next trip to the city, to finally see the sculpture in person.]

Ovid's report of Achilles' death is short and intriguing in Book 12:
So saying, he pointed the hero out, still hacking the
down; then turning Paris' bow in the same direction
he guided an arrow with deadly aim at Achilles' heel.
If Priam, after the death of Hector, had cause for rejoicing,
this surely was it. So Achilles who'd vanquished the
mightiest heroes
was vanquished himself by a coward who'd stolen the wife
of his Greek host.
If he was destined to die at the hands of a woman in war,
he'd rather be cut down by the axe of Penthesilea.

(The most popular recent depiction of Achilles and the story of Troy is Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, which actually chooses to omit the concept of Achilles' heel as she used principally Homer's Iliad as her inspiration, where it is not mentioned as it is here in Ovid.)

I could continue quoting elements of the poem forever. The myths are immortal, of course, and this new verse translation by Raeburn is stunning: it is fresh, readable, but maintains a beautiful poetic voice. Hughes' retellings are also brilliant and I recommend them. I read them after Ovid's original, which I preferred, though it is a long-haul. Any lovers of myth should flock here. Ovid is witty, profound and above all, genius. Of the Roman texts I've read, studying Classical Civilisation in college, this is still the greatest to date.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,891 followers
October 16, 2020
Now since the sea's great surges sweep me on,
All canvas spread, hear me! In all creation
Nothing endures, all is in endless flux,
Each wandering shape a pilgrim passing up
And time itself glides on in ceaseless flow,
A rolling stream- and streams can never stay,
nor lightfoot hours, as wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies and follows,
Always, for ever new. What was before
Is left behind; what never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed

The Melville translation was recommended to me. I have not read any others and have no idea how varied the field is. In this epic around the theme of metamorphoses Ovid weaves a continuing narrative of classical myth, each one transforming into the next, it could be a good book to read for an introduction to the ancient myths of classical Greece, but really maybe more as a companion to European renaissance art, or occasional operas like Handel's Acis and Galatea

It is an impetuous, non-stop rush from creation - here an act of division and separation - from adventure to adventure and narratives nesting inside each other down to the apotheosis of Julius Caesar and the triumph of his (adopted) son Augustus.

In places as Ovid rushes through time and space he alludes through people and places to other stories, not included in Metamorphoses giving a sense of a universe of narrative that Ovid's poem is relentlessly driving through.

The unifying theme is of change - people becoming trees, or rocks, women becoming monsters (or men), people becoming birds and other animals, frequently as a result of contact with gods or semi or demi divine beings, often as a result of the lust of said divine persons, repeating the subversive message of Ovid's love poems that desire is the driving force of history.

It is often violent - retelling sections of the Trojan war for instance and the centre of the poem is the hunt for an epic boar in Scilly when Nestor was a young man and helpfully for him still capable of vaulting into a tree, toward the end of the poem is the really grisly and horrifying battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs which I hope was not based too much on Ovid's personal experience of weddings. And yet in the final of the poem's fifteen books we have the figure of Pythagoras, not telling us about triangles, but promoting vegetarianism - because of, as he also taught, the transmigration of souls which feeds back to the poem's theme of change, it is not just that arbitrary gods may turn us from ants into unusually hard working men, or from men and women into snakes, but that changes is part of the nature of existence in a fundamental way, in this life we may be humans, in the next life we may be chickens or sheep.
Although the poem ends with the triumph of Roman power and the deification of Rome's rulers, the poem has a subversive energy. Earlier great powers had fallen, even gods have been toppled, while new gods and new great powers rise and have their day too, why then will Roma and its Caesars be any different?

Jupiter decries disorder and sin, but he overthrew his father and pursues girls and boys insatiably . The victims are blamed, persecuted and then left voiceless - but here Ovid memorialises them in to a fabric as complex as Ariadne wove, or now might still weave in her transformed state.

Profile Image for nastya .
448 reviews287 followers
January 17, 2022
So previously I read the Horace Gregory translation and adored it. This time I decided to try David Raeburn's for Penguin classics and I’m afraid it failed to capture the magic I felt before. It is a much easier read, for sure, but I think poetry was missed in this translation. Which makes sense considering Gregory was a poet and Raeburn was into the performance aspects of classical poetry but apparently reading about Jove raping poor women and then Juno punishing said women for it is not doing it for me without the magic of poetry.

I was curious if we were getting new translations and according to the article on lithub, Jhumpa Lahiri has teamed up with Princeton classics professor Yelena Baraz on a new translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses for Penguin and I’m definitely reading it when it comes out. I’m so curious to see how these women will tackle the material.

So my advice would be to try different translations and find the one that works for you.
P.S. I know nothing about poetry, translations or Latin.
If you love mythology you need to read this. P.S. Gods are horny...
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews166 followers
December 22, 2020
If we accept as true the idea that great literature can be read again and again and still yield new insight, then the ancient Greek and Roman myths might be the greatest writing of all. Read 'em for fun, read 'em for philosophy, read 'em from different schools of critical theory - they are gifts that keep on giving!

Familiar stories, these myths are given new life through Charles Martin's excellent translation which is (take your pick) energetic, vivid, dramatic, cheeky, but above all: memorable. 5 stars.
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews684 followers
April 7, 2017
Introduction & Notes
Further Reading
Translator's Note


Glossary Index
Map of Ovid's Mediterranean World
484 reviews29 followers
January 2, 2022
What a master piece. This is a great comglomeration of the old Greek myths along with the Roman myths of this time period. It is very sharp and whitty.
This translation is so good and easy to understand. I recommend this to all.
Profile Image for Praj.
314 reviews811 followers
April 26, 2011
Gods and their love affairs. Gods and their love affairs with mortals. Fate, covetousness, allegiance, brutalities, treachery and chastisements metamorphosing from the cocoon of mighty love. The discordant waves of love dangerously destabilizing romantic notions; overwhelming morality and raison d'être of Gods and mortals alike. Ovid makes you want to write intense poetry and feel affectionate to the idea of love as a device of alteration for better or worse. Love does not conquer all; it destroys and alters everything it touches. That is the best part in Ovid’s poems. They do not have happy endings. Lust or romantic love or ardent worship, acquired in any form changes a person, landscapes, communities mutating elements of fate and tragedies.

Metamorphoses elucidates the consequence of origin and transformation in its entirety.

My soul is wrought to sing of forms transformed to bodies new and strange! Immortal Gods inspire my heart, for ye have changed yourselves and all things you have changed! Oh lead my song in smooth and measured strains, from olden days when earth began to this completed time!

Ovid commences his poems by showing appreciation to God (which he says is yet unknown) for carving a loose mass of earth into a picturesque bounty of nature. The amorphous chaos changed into a convex ecstasy of pathless skies, terrains, rivers, the color and prototypes of birds and animals came through a process of love and hate. Ovid represents the mythical world of story telling and repeating fables with morality lessons. The justifications of rape or incest in Ovid’s works segregate the idea of faithful devotion from the viciousness of powerful acquisition that overcomes delusional love. Betrayals are penalized and loyalties are commended. The treatment of love is sagacious and didactic in this book as compared to his other works in the relating genre. It moves onto a broader scenario, becoming a defining factor in wars, altering powers between constituencies, breaking and making of civilizations. Ovid intends the reader to see the probable metaphoric significance of change as a crucial and homogeneous factor in life itself.

And now, I have completed a great work, which not Jove's anger, and not fire nor steel, nor fast-consuming time can sweep away. Whenever it will, let the day come, which has dominion only over this mortal frame, and end for me the uncertain course of life. Yet in my better part I shall be borne immortal, far above the stars on high, and mine shall be a name indelible. Wherever Roman power extends her sway over the conquered lands, I shall be read by lips of men. If Poets' prophecies have any truth, through all the coming years of future ages, I shall live in fame.

As he concludes this epic of transforming love, he credits the survival of Rome to his own prominence making it one of the most influential and renowned works over centuries. Metamorphoses is translated frequently by several modern poets and literary elites.
Profile Image for Yules.
167 reviews15 followers
June 22, 2023
Every bird, animal, fountain, or object we see was once something else. In Ovid, they were all once people – in love, or grieving, or trying to escape from rape (see below) – who were transformed. It doesn’t take much for us to anthropomorphize. When I look at trees and their twisting branches, they seem emotional. But they’ll always be something else, and something else, and something else again.

In 15 books, Ovid takes us from primordial chaos (“No shape was fixed”) through creation and recreation, to the future of Rome, and even further, into ever-shifting eternity.

It is Pythagoras who gives a speech on metamorphosis in the final book. But first he makes some interesting comments on vegetarianism:

“How wicked it is for guts to be entombed in guts” (what a way with words!)

Pythagoras believes in reincarnation. If souls do not die, but move from post to post, then humans can also become animals; animals, humans.

“Since we, part of this world, are not just bodies but also winged souls and can inhabit wild beasts and dwell inside the hearts of herds, let bodies be revered, unharmed. They might have held the souls of parents, siblings, others bonded to us”

Ages change, so do places (sea to land, land to sea), so do nations, so will the Rome of Ovid’s time, and so will every empire we see today.

“In all creation there is nothing constant. Everything flows. Each likeness forms in flux. Time too glides by in endless motion, like a river. Both the river and swift hour can never stop.”

Finally, and there is no way around it: after metamorphosis, rape is probably the second most common theme in this poem. About 50 of the stories in this poem involve sexual assault. After reading so many chapters featuring the plotline, I could no longer keep track, and just came to assume that:
If the character is attractive, they will likely get assaulted.
If the character is a virgin, they will likely get assaulted.
If the character is a woman, they will likely get assaulted.
If it’s Tuesday, someone will likely get assaulted.
Most disturbing of all is how routine and normalized it becomes in your mind chapter after chapter. Usually, the victim must birth the product of the rape, and/or is metamorphosed into an animal or object (as translator Stephanie McCarter points out, literally objectified). As though the act collapses into the main theme, the lack of agency over the ever-changing mortal body.

NB: The entire poem contains over 250 myths and over 200 characters. Even though I knew many of them already, it was still hard to keep track, so I read with a notebook and took notes on who is who, which I’d highly recommend doing if your memory is a sieve like mine.
Profile Image for Patrizia.
506 reviews141 followers
January 21, 2021
Ovidio è un fiume in piena, i miti raccontati sono tantissimi. Nel caos apparente ci sono un paio di fili conduttori: gli amori e i tradimenti; il tipo di metamorfosi; lo scorrere ineluttabile del tempo, scandito da Lucifero, da Aurora, da Febo e dalla Luna; le stagioni nate dal rapimento di Persefone; i sentimenti degli dei, uguali anche se forse più intensi di quelli degli uomini; la vendetta, spesso cruenta; la violenza delle armi e delle guerre, spesso scatenate per un nonnulla e alle quali gli dei non sono mai estranei. Anzi assistono, parteggiano, proteggono e distruggono.
Metamorfosi è un fatto che riguarda tutto il creato, cielo, terra, dei, uomini, oggetti inanimati. Nulla resta uguale a se stesso. Nemmeno il mare, che separa terre come Zancle (la nostra Messina), un tempo attaccata all’Italia, dalla penisola. Le acque dei fiumi possono improvvisamente diventare salmastre; le pianure sparire, le città inabissarsi. La morte stessa trasforma gli esseri riportandoli all’origine e il ciclo ricomincia, insieme alle stagioni, al giorno e alla notte.
Dalla creazione all’avvento di Augusto è un continuo susseguirsi di immagini e storie, di azioni e conseguenze anche tragiche. I volti si accavallano, le vite si compiono sotto gli occhi di dei che amano confondersi con gli uomini, assumendo le forme più diverse per ingannare giovani donne o giovani uomini la cui bellezza li ha stregati. Sono amori che non durano. Sono tante le donne abbandonate e la vendetta è spesso tremenda. Medea, Circe, Giunone, Diana non hanno pietà e nemmeno rimorsi.
Nascono fiori dalla morte di Adone e Narciso; nascono città sulle ossa di persone ospitali; nascono guerrieri dai denti di drago; nascono amori incestuosi, a lungo repressi, ma poi senza possibilità di controllo. È di notte che i desideri si fanno insistenti; il giorno porta il pentimento e la vergogna.
Il Sonno manda in giro i suoi figli, in grado anch’essi di trasformarsi, a influenzare i sogni degli uomini. L’Invidia avvelena gli animi; la Fame conduce alla pazzia. E le Parche tessono e tagliano il filo della vita.
Quindici capitoli, circa 250 miti per raccontare e cantare le età dell’uomo e della storia fino alla morte di Cesare e all’avvento di Augusto in un’opera che, Ovidio ne è certo, varrà al poeta la Fama che trionfa sulla morte.
Profile Image for Inkspill.
411 reviews39 followers
July 12, 2023
2023 Review
Having gotten more familiar with Greek myths I returned to this translation by David Raeburn, published by Penguin in 2004.

This is an incredible feat of work that catalogue’s Ovid’s interpretation of Greek Myths. It’s also a daunting read that can seem disjoined if they were not all tied by one theme, transformation. Back in 2018 I guessed there were 100 myths but coming back to this again – 200 plus seems more likely.

I enjoyed reading this but many times it was hard to know how to take the violence, which felt like double violence when compounded by injustices.

This edition comes with a very informative essay by Dennis Feeney, and also reading other articles, I understand Ovid wrote Metamorphoses to showcase his storytelling skills, and this is not to be read too seriously, but I’m left with the question: how?

I’m guessing this answer will come to me as I keep reading. I found many wonderful poetical descriptions of scenes and moments in this edition. And there were many times I was absorbed and wanted to know how the story would unfold, though I knew that myth.

So, it’s difficult to know how to take this, more so, when the last part, book 15, where Julius Caesar is transformed to a god, and where Augustus will also follow, seems mocking. It’s like Ovid is having a joke and sharing it. I did not notice this when I read it back in 2018.

Now I’m left intrigued by what I have just read. If I had no other books to read, I would go back and read this from the start. Instead, the best I can do is put it on my growing pile of books to read again.

2018 Review

Raeburn’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a Penguin publication and is dubbed as a New Translation. This complemented my reading of a translation written in older English by Arthur Golding my review is posted here https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....

Told in a selected collection of assorted Greek and Roman myths, Ovid takes the reader on a journey leaving the notion that Augustus, the ruling Roman emperor of his day, is a descendent of the gods. It’s a big finish; one of the last stories is about Augustus’s adoptive father, Julius Caesar, being transformed to a god.

This story is divided into 15 books and tells over 100 classical myths. It sounds disjointed but what ties them together is each has a transformation to a living thing or inanimate object. The stories read like a warning or a moral message with an occasional happy tale. The last two books are a wrap up of the myth tales, drawing a fantastical lineage from Aeneas, the son of Venus who survives Troy, to Augustus. And along the way Pythagorean philosophy on reincarnation and reasons to be vegetarian are thrown in.

Reading this work for the first time, some myths (Midas, Proserpina, Icarus, Arachne, Medea) I kind of new. Others (story of Hercules, Odysseus, Echo, Orpheus) were familiar only by name but were really new to me. In scratching the surface of these stories I discovered different temperaments of pride, loss, revenge, heartache, love, jealousy, betrayal and happiness. What made this an enjoyable read is how Ovid connected the stories for me. I also liked how the last few books added textures to my reading of Iliad which I read a few months back and I will soon read another translation The Iliad: A New Translation by Peter Green.

I also liked how Raeburn’s translation came with no expectations for me to know any of these myths. As a read it’s engaging and easy to follow, I felt the full force when it got gruesome, happy or sad. I found the notes, introductory essay, map of Ovid’s Mediterranean world and a chronology added to my reading.

On Kindle the poem the poem is easy to read and handled the different font types and size well. All the links were activated and worked, so I could flick back and forth with ease. I also found the hyperlinks in the contents helpful, letting me go to any book or any story in that book easily. The introductory essay concentrated on the text, giving a rundown of the story and themes.

Being new to this work, I found this a handy book which was strengthened by how well it worked as a kindle book and one I can see myself referring back to again and again.
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
754 reviews206 followers
June 20, 2017
This book is phenomenal.

I had read parts of the Metamorphoses in high school, and my focus then was on the language and structure of the text, not so much on the stories. That's just what happens when you're trying to learn how to translate texts from Latin.

When I picked up the book again earlier this year, I had no such restrictions (and no deadline) and I was looking forward to reading Ovid's history of the world - from its creation to Julius Caesar.

What I was looking forward to even more, was to read about the myths and legends that have informed so many other works from Dante to our own contemporaries like Ali Smith, and find out more about Ovid's view of the world in 8 AD.

Yes, Ovid's view. The Metamorphoses may be a collection of ancient Greek and Roman myths, but there is a slant to them that is influenced by Ovid's view. Some of the myths differ from the earlier versions found in the works of Hesiod and Homer, and then there are stories about Julius Caesar and Pythagoras that are not based on ancient myths but are informed by Ovid's time. The book, or rather the last book of the 15 books of poems that make of the Metamorphoses, ends with Ovid praising Augustus. Incidentally, it was Augustus who banished Ovid from Rome at about the same time that the book was finished - the reason for this remains one of the unsolved mysteries of history.

Anyway, more about the book: The book starts with the creation of the world and tells of how the world was transformed by the elements and by man, going through different ages, and finally focusing on the stories of gods and men and the many transformations that take place when they interacts.

Transformation, as the title says, is the theme of the book: some are literal when people are transformed into plants or animals, some are less tangible, for example when Medea loses herself to witchcraft, and finally the philosophical theories that Ovid describes in the story about Pythagoras, who believes in a continuous and fluid world in which everything is temporary, and in which everything is in a state that changes into something else, and in which existence is thus infinite.

It's very zen for a 2000 year old book (that is not a major religious text) right?

This probably is what surprised me most about the book: how many times I caught myself being astounded to read about concepts that seem a lot more modern.

Medea and mental illness, for example. Ovid does not tell the full story (and yes I will dig out Euripides' work to find out what drove her over the edge!) but by his leaving out such detail, I can't but marvel about what Ovid's audience would have made of it. Would they also have wondered about what caused her breakdown?

Or, the stories of individuals struggling against higher powers, fate, or society.

Ancient gods were assholes. Not many of the stories have happy endings, and in some, even happy-ish endings are pretty sad. However, all of them have a message, which is why Ovid selected them, and which is why so many of the stories have permeated Western culture. Even if they now only exist by reference to a name and most people won't know the story behind the reference.

My favourite of those, probably is the story of Arachne. I'm not a fan of spiders, and I had imagined all sorts of variations of a horrible monster to be the origin of all spider-related words. But no. Arachne was a master waver who dared to enter into a weaving contest with Athena. Long story short, in Ovid's version, Arachne dared to show how unfair the gods and goddesses are and she dared to defeat Athena. Athena throws a fit of rage and destroys Arachne's tapestry. Arachne hangs herself in a fit of rage. (Yeah, I don't get this part - revenge suicide???) Athena, again, out of rage over Arachne's suicide turns her and her into a spider.

Now, this is not the most logical of stories, granted, but I love that the story's metaphorical content is still applicable. I won't be able to look at spiders with quite the same level of aversion again. Well, some of them at least. Most will still freak me out.

So, yes, this book took me a few months to finish, but it was a lot to digest. A lot of stories that required some thought, a lot that just needed a break before getting to the next one. It was an amazing book. After 2000 years, this is still entertaining, thought provoking, and beautiful.

In his epilogue, Ovid proclaims that his work will make him immortal.
Ovid does still live in his fame, and for all the right reasons.

Lastly, a word on the Penguin 2004 edition with David Raeburn's translation: It rocks. There are plenty of free or cheap translations avaialble on the internet. I tried a few of them, but none really worked. I found those translations to be either too literal or too liberal. Raeburn's work combines a great balance of keeping close to the original text while still creating a work of poetry, and even keeping the original rhyme scheme.
Profile Image for Evan Leach.
462 reviews143 followers
February 16, 2016
The Romans have a reputation as the great copycats of antiquity. After all, these were a people who borrowed a large amount of their culture, including most of their gods, from their neighbors. This reputation for imitation certainly holds true when looking at Roman literature. Plautus and Terence borrowed wholesale from Menander and other Greek playwrights. Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, for all of its merits, is basically restating the views of Epicurus. Catullus and Propertius imitated Callimachus. Horace imitated the Greek lyric poets (the Odes) and Archilochus (the Epodes). Virgil was inspired by Theocritus (the Eclogues), Hesiod (the Georgics), and Homer (the Aeneid).

Img: Icarus

“In all this world, no thing can keep its form. For all things flow; all things are born to change their shapes. And time itself is like a river, flowing on an endless course.” Ovid, Metamorphoses

And then there’s Ovid. By 8 BC, Virgil, Horace, and Propertius were all dead, leaving Ovid as the foremost living poet in Rome. By the time of Ovid’s death around 17/18 AD, Ovid’s poetic output was more than that of Lucretius, Catullus, Virgil, and Horace combined. Ovid wrote in a variety of poetic genres, and while some of his early love poetry was imitative he also showed an originality that was unique among his peers. First in the Heroides, and later with his masterpiece the Metamorphoses Ovid showed an originality of thought that causes him to stand out amongst his contemporaries to this day.

Img: The Rape of Europa

The Metamorphoses is a long poem divided into 15 books. The poem recites a history of Greco-Roman mythology, from the creation of the universe to the deification of Julius Caesar, and mostly moves in chronological order. However, the poem is not simply a catalogue of familiar myths and legends. Although the poem touches almost all of Greek mythology’s high points (Perseus, Theseus, Hercules, Jason, Achilles, and all the rest appear at some point), the Metamorphoses is not interested in telling the full story for all of its characters. The poem assumes that its readers have some background knowledge of these stories anyway, and instead weaves a long mythological history using the concepts of metamorphosis and change as a unifying theme. It’s an incredibly ambitious idea, but Ovid pulls it off beautifully. I mentioned in my review of the Heroides that I think Ovid has a real gift for getting inside the heads of these mythological characters and treating them as real people with genuine emotions and depth. Those skills are on full display here. This book may not be the best introduction to Greek mythology (although you could do far worse), as it does assume a certain level of familiarity and skips over some things. But the Metamorphoses is on par with Homer’s epics as the most impressive retelling of Greek mythology I’ve ever read.

I’m not the only person to gush so shamelessly over this poem, which was wildly popular in Roman times. There were a few dicey years towards the end of the Roman Empire, when Christian leaders condemned the poem as shamelessly pagan, but the brilliance of Ovid won out and the poem survived to influence thinkers in the Middle Ages and beyond. The poem continued to be extremely popular throughout this time, and the Metamorphoses was one of the most popular books in the Western world for over a thousand years (over 400 manuscripts survive from the Middle Ages alone, which is a lot). It has inspired countless artists, poets, and writers throughout this time. W.R. Johnson pretty much summed it up in stating that “no other poem from antiquity has so influenced the literature and art of Western Europe as has the Metamorphoses.” That’s a pretty good legacy, and one that Ovid predicted in the final lines of his poem:

“And now my work is done: no wrath of Jove nor fire nor sword nor time, which would erode all things, has power to blot out this poem…my name and fame are sure: I shall have life.”

Img: Orpheus

To sum up, this was an incredible book and, in my humble opinion, the only truly original piece of literature surviving from the Roman Republic/early Roman Empire*. If somebody wanted to read just one book from this period, I’d still probably recommend The Aeneid, which is the “most Roman” book in a lot of ways and a little more representative of the period. But I think the Metamorphoses was the best work of its era. 6 stars, a must read for anyone with an interest in classical literature (both for the poem's own merits and for the influence it has had throughout the centuries).

I read the Mandelbaum translation, which was stellar.

*Certainly the stories within the Metamorphoses are not original. They had been told countless times for hundreds of years before Ovid’s birth. And you could point to the Theogony of Hesiod as an example of an earlier catalogue of mythology. But this goes far beyond the Theogony in size and scope, and the idea of linking all of these stories with the theme of metamorphosis and change is so novel that I don’t think you can really compare the Metamorphoses to anything that had come before.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
965 reviews6,830 followers
Want to read
November 16, 2022
So the hardback of this new translation is beautiful. I should buy this yes?
It will look great on the shelf.
It’s also long and will I ever actually read it? Maybe?
But it will look great on the shelf.
And I should probably read it which will be easier if I have it looking gorgeous on my shelf, right?
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