Encyclopedia

Texts : Ovid

All Metamorphoses quotes are from the Kline translation.


Book 6:129-145: Arachne is turned into a spider

Neither Pallas nor Envy itself could fault that work. The golden-haired warrior goddess was grieved by its success, and tore the tapestry, embroidered with the gods’ crimes, and as she held her shuttle made of boxwood from Mount Cytorus, she struck Idmonian Arachne, three or four times, on the forehead. The unfortunate girl could not bear it, and courageously slipped a noose around her neck: Pallas, in pity, lifted her, as she hung there, and said these words, ‘Live on then, and yet hang, condemned one, but, lest you are careless in future, this same condition is declared, in punishment, against your descendants, to the last generation!’ Departing after saying this, she sprinkled her with the juice of Hecate’s herb, and immediately at the touch of this dark poison, Arachne’s hair fell out. With it went her nose and ears, her head shrank to the smallest size, and her whole body became tiny. Her slender fingers stuck to her sides as legs, the rest is belly, from which she still spins a thread, and, as a spider, weaves her ancient web.


Book 6, 653-674: They are transformed into birds

You might think the Athenian women have taken wing: they have taken wings. One of them, a nightingale, Procne, makes for the woods. The other, a swallow, Philomela, flies to the eaves of the palace, and even now her throat has not lost the stain of that murder, and the soft down bears witness to the blood. Tereus swift in his grief and desire for revenge, is himself changed to a bird, with a feathered crest on its head. An immoderate, elongated, beak juts out, like a long spear. The name of the bird is the hoopoe, and it looks as though it is armed.


Book 7, 234-293: Medea Rejuvenates Aeson

Then she returned, after nine days and nine nights surveying all the lands she had crossed, from her chariot, drawn by the winged dragons. The dragons had only smelt the herbs, yet they shed their skins of many years. Reaching her door and threshold, she stopped on the outside, and under the open sky, avoiding contact with any man, she set up two altars of turf, one on the right to Hecate, one on the left to Youth. She wreathed them with sacred boughs from the wildwood, then dug two trenches near by in the earth, and performed the sacrifice, plunging her knife into the throat of a black-fleeced sheep, and drenching the wide ditches with blood. She poured over it cups of pure honey, and again she poured over it cups of warm milk, uttering words as she did so, calling on the spirits of the earth, and begging the shadowy king and his stolen bride, not to be too quick to steal life from the old man’s limbs. When she had appeased the gods by prayer and murmured a while, she ordered Aeson’s exhausted body to be carried into the air, and freeing him to deep sleep with her spells, she stretched him out like a corpse on a bed of herbs. She ordered Jason, his son, to go far off, and the attendants to go far off, and warned them to keep profane eyes away from the mysteries. They went as she had ordered. Medea, with streaming hair, circled the burning altars, like a Bacchante, and dipping many branched torches into the black ditches filled with blood, she lit them, once they were darkened, at the twin altars. Three times with fire, three times with water, three times with sulphur, she purified the old man. Meanwhile a potent mixture is heating in a bronze cauldron set on the flames, bubbling, and seething, white with turbulent froth. She boils there, roots dug from a Thessalian valley, seeds, flowerheads, and dark juices. She throws in precious stones searched for in the distant east, and sands that the ebbing tide of ocean washes. She adds hoar-frost collected by night under the moon, the wings and flesh of a vile screech-owl, and the slavering foam of a sacrificed were-wolf, that can change its savage features to those of a man. She does not forget the scaly skin of a thin Cinyphian watersnake, the liver of a long-lived stag, the eggs and the head of a crow that has lived for nine human life-times. With these, and a thousand other nameless things, the barbarian witch pursued her greater than mortal purpose. She stirred it all with a long-dry branch of a fruitful olive, mixing the depths with the surface. Look! The ancient staff turned in the hot cauldron, first grew green again, then in a short time sprouted leaves, and was, suddenly, heavily loaded with olives. And whenever the flames caused froth to spatter from the hollow bronze, and warm drops to fall on the earth, the soil blossomed, and flowers and soft grasses grew.


Book 15, 453-478: Pythagoras’s Teachings: The Sanctity of Life

Now (lest I stray too far off course, my horses forgetting to aim towards their goal), the heavens, and whatever is under them, change their form, and the earth, and whatever is within it. We, as well, who are a part of the universe, because we are not merely flesh, but in truth, winged spirits, and can enter into the family of wild creatures, and be imprisoned in the minds of animals. We should allow those beings to live in safety, and honour, that the spirits of our parents, or brothers, or those joined to us by some other bond, certainly human, might have inhabited: and not fill our bellies as if at a Thyestean feast [p. 667]! What evil they contrive, how impiously they prepare to shed human blood itself, who rip at a calf’s throat with the knife, and listen unmoved to its bleating, or can kill a kid to eat, that cries like a child, or feed on a bird that they themselves have fed! How far does that fall short of actual murder? Where does the way lead on from there? Let the ox plough, or owe his death to old age: let the sheep yield wool, to protect against the chill north wind: let the she-goats give you full udders for milking! Have done with nets and traps, snares and the arts of deception! Do not trick the birds with limed twigs, or imprison the deer, scaring them with feathered ropes, or hide barbed hooks in treacherous bait. Kill them, if they harm you, but even then let killing be enough. Let your mouth be free of their blood, enjoy milder food!


Book 15, 871-879 Ovid’s Envoi

And now the work is done that Jupiter’s anger, fire or sword cannot erase, nor the gnawing tooth of time. Let that day, that only has power over my body, end when it will, my uncertain span of years: yet the best part of me will be borne, immortal, beyond the distant stars. Wherever Rome’s influence extends, over the lands it has civilized, I will be spoken, on people’s lips: and, famous through all the ages, if there is truth in poets’ prophecies, vivam - I shall live.