Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Ovid, Metamorphoses




Orpheus is stoned and ripped apart by the crazed Maenads, and the natural world is saddened. His head and lyre float on the river’s current and have a few adventures. His spirit is reunited in the Underworld with Eurydice. Bacchus is annoyed and turns the frenzied women into oaks.


Illustrating the wisdom of the clich√© “be careful what you wish for,” the story of King Midas and the golden touch interestingly does not focus on avarice; instead, Midas seems truly charmed aesthetically by shiny gold things (252). But it makes eating difficult, so he prays for a reversal and the gods take back this “gift.” Midas then disagrees with divine judgment in a musical contest, so Apollo gives him jackass’s ears (254). Only his barber knew about this embarrassment, but since barbers apparently cannot keep secrets, he dug a hole and whispered this secret into the ground. Reeds grew and one can still hear them whispering (or hissing): “Midas has asses’ ears” (255).

Building the Walls of Troy:

Apollo and Neptune help build Troy but when it’s done King Laomedon stiffs them (255). The King earns the wrath of Hercules also.


Proteus foretold that Thetis would give birth to a son (Achilles) who was destined to become greater than his father. Jove quickly loses interest in Thetis, naturally, and the mortal Peleus is granted her once he is able to restrain her from her protean shape-shiftings (256-257).

Daedalion and Chione:

Daedalion is the father of Chione whom the gods Mercury and Apollo impregnate. She boasts that she is more beautiful than Diana and is therefore killed. Dad repeatedly tries rushing onto her funeral pyre but is repelled. Apollo pities his grief and turns him into a hawk.

Peleus’ Cattle:

A wolf tears through Peleus’ cattle until it turns to marble.

Ceyx and Alcyone:

His wife Alcione fears for Ceyx, but he sets off anyway and is drowned in a seastorm. An imposter corpse brings word to Alcione. The two are turned into seabirds (271). [Note: this story is used by Chaucer in The Book of the Duchess.]

Aesacus and Hesperia:

Hesperia flees from the pursuing Aesacus but is bitten in the ankle by a serpent and dies. He is grief-stricken and throws himself off a cliff, diving into the ocean. Aesacus is turned into a diving bird (273).

Metamorphoses Book XII
Ovid Index
Orpheus: Roman Mythology