Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Delahoyde & Hughes


Achelous vs. Hercules for Deianera:

Achelous the river-god recounts his rivalry with Hercules in courting Deianera and their fight. Achelous transformed into a serpent (reminding Hercules of his triumph over the Hydra), and then a bull, but lost.

Hercules, Nessus, and Deianera:

Nessus is a centaur, lusting for Deianera, and offers to help her cross a river. When Hercules realizes the intended betrayal, he shoots Nessus, who gives “His shirt soaked in warm gore to Deianera, / A talisman, he said, to kindle love” (203). Years later, after Hercules’ many adventures, Deianera, fearing the loss of Hercules’ love and unaware of the shirt’s nature, sends it to Hercules. It burns into his flesh. He tears at himself and provides a litany of his deeds before dying. His funeral pyre burns away his mortal flesh, leaving his Jove-fathered self. The gods agree to deify him. Then Alcmena flashes back to the story of Hercules’ birth, requiring the foiling of Juno.


Dryope, another of Apollo’s rape victims, picks a lotus and transforms into a tree and asks that her son be taught to say sadly,

“My mother’s hidden in this trunk.”
Let him beware of pools and never pick
Blossoms from trees, but fancy every bush
A goddess in disguise. (211)

Caunus and Byblis:

After some intervening commentary from Jove on old age and fate comes one of many stories in which Ovid can focus on abnormal psychology. The tale supposedly “shows that girls should love / As law allows” (213). Byblis has incestuous longings for her brother Caunus. Her behavior registers this during the day, but her semi-subconscious desires appear more directly in her dreams. She acknowldges that “kinship ruins me” (214) and rationalizes about this forbidden desire: after all, the gods marry their kin, and understanding rules is for old people (216). She writes her brother a love letter and has a servant deliver it, but Caunus is disgusted and homicidal. Byblis regrets putting her feelings into writing. “In short I’ve sinned and can’t unsin my sin; / I wrote, I wooed, I wanted wickedness” (218). She imagines Caunus will come and kiss her dead body, so we are reminded of the myth of Sleeping Beauty. But she tries again; Caunus rebuffs her and flees the country in shame. She runs mad and evntually turns into a bubbling fountain.

Iphis and Ianthe:

Daddy wants a boy and threatens to have a girl killed: “Girls are more burdensome” (220). The kid, Iphis, turns out a girl, so she is disguised and brought up as a boy. When marriage is arranged with old childhood friend Ianthe, Iphis agonizes about how the whole natural world seems hetero. Fortunately, divine intervention turns Iphis into a real boy, so all is fine, right?

Metamorphoses Book X
Ovid Index
Orpheus: Roman Mythology