Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Ovid, Metamorphoses




1) Besides the Pythagorean Theorem of mathematics, what else did Pythagoras teach? Ovid says, “He was the first to say that…?”

vegetarianism / animal rights (3)
reincarnation / metempsychosis (3)
the earth as an organism / our interconnectedness with it (3)
music of the spheres / spontaneous generation (1)

2) Besides his murder, what does Ovid discuss as having happened ultimately to Julius Caesar?

deification / became star in heaven (or constellation) (3)
lives on in son Augustus (3)
lives on (1)
inspired us all, turned into a bird (0)

3) Now you’re done with Metamorphoses. Now what do you think Ovid’s point may have been? (4)

no forced morality
not enough to say “change” is theme
yes, interconnectedness, environmental appreciation [see Final Perspective]

Numa and Myscelus:

King Numa (in the Roman line of kings) travels about and is told how Hercules saved Myscelus at his trial by turning the black pebbles, signifying the votes of “guilty,” into white pebbles. Myscelus’ travels afterwards bring us to a town associated with Pythagoras.


Ovid goes out of his way to spend a significant amount of space on this philosopher in the final book of his masterpiece (354-366). See this special section on Pythagoras.

Numa Returns:

We return to hearing about King Numa who came back and taught his people the ways of peaceful living. Ovid implies that he was influenced by Pythagoreanism. Numa’s death brings about much grief on the part of his widow Egeria. She is told the story of Hippolytus.


Phaedra, Hippolytus’ step-mother, tried to seduce him. When he rejected her she accused him of the illicit overtures so that dad cursed and banished Hippolytus. A roaring sea phenomenon spooked his horses and his chariot crashed, dashing him into pieces so that he became “all one huge wound” (367). One of Apollo’s sons resurrected him though, and Diana changed his appearance. He is now renamed Virbius, “The Twice-Born Man.”

Egeria is not soothed by the story. She weeps by the base of a mountain and turns into a fountain there.


With the slimmest connection, “No less amazed was Cipus,” we zip into the story of this guy who saw horns growing on his head when he looked at his reflection. He makes an offering of sheep — “sought / The guidance of the victim’s twitching guts” (369) — so that augurs can study the entrails (despite Pythagoras some few pages ago). His horns are hidden by laurels, but he reveals the embarrassment and so feels he must reject honors in Rome.


A complete break, instead of even a strained connection, and a separate invocation brings the story of Apollo’s son Asculapius who, when appealed to, adopts the appearance of a golden serpent and alleviates Latium of its pestilence. We hear about the slaying of bulls as sacrificial offerings (373), again despite Pythagoras some pages ago. Good times are characterized by “The scent of crackling incense filled the air / And victims warmed the knife of sacrifice” (374).

The Deification of Caesar:

The work winds down with a tribute to Julius Caesar, the newest star in the heavens since he has been deified. His adopted son, Augustus Caesar, is now Emperor or Rome. Venus tried to stop Julius Caesar’s assassination, or slaughter, but it was fated. All nature sensed the horror and weird omens burst out. Jove reasons with Venus by telling her of the future glories of Rome under Augustus.


Now stands my task accomplished, such a work
As not the wrath of Jove,nor fire nor sword
Nor the devouring ages can destroy. (379)

Is it intentionally ironic that after an entire fifteen books insisting on the fact that everything changes, Ovid finally says: except this!
Ovid knows that he too will die one day.

. . . Yet I’ll be borne
The finer part of me, above the stars,
Immortal, and my name shall never die.
Wherever through the lands beneath her sway
The might of Rome extends, my words shall be
Upon the lips of men. If truth at all
Is stablished by poetic prophecy,
My fame shall live to all eternity.

Even this final cheeky claim to immortality of the poet contains the ambiguous “If.” But again, Ovid ironically makes himself the exception to his own cosmological vision.

Ovid Index
Orpheus: Roman Mythology