Ovid's Metamorphoses


The Content of the Metamorphoses

Since the Metamorphoses contains over 250 mythical-historical episodes, it is impossible to give a thorough breakdown of the contents of each book. The style and structure of the Metamorphoses are discussed in detail elsewhere. A brief summary of the overall structure and main stories is given below, in a breakdown of the contents of each book :

  1. After the brief proem, the narrative begins with the birth of the world from formless chaos, and the creation of man. The universal flood, and the regeneration of the human race from Deucalion and Pyrrha, the sole survivors, mark the passage from primordial events to those of mythology. The events of mythology deal with divinities and semi-divinities, their passions and whims : Apollo and Daphne, who is metamorphosed into a laurel tree; Jupiter and Io, guarded by the hundred-eyed Argos. After the brief proem, the narrative begins with the birth of the world from formless chaos, and the creation of man. The universal flood, and the regeneration of the human race from Deucalion and Pyrrha, the sole survivors, mark the passage from primordial events to those of mythology. The events of mythology deal with divinities and semi-divinities, their passions and whims : Apollo and Daphne, who is metamorphosed into a laurel tree; Jupiter and Io, guarded by the hundred-eyed Argos.


  2. 2. Phaethon, the son of Apollo, who tries to drive the chariot of the sun and falls to earth setting the world on fire. (Left : Scylla offers her father's lock to Minos (Book8). Wall painting from Pompeii)
  3. Actaeon, transformed by Diana into a stag as a penalty for seeing her bathing, and torn to pieces by his own dogs; Narcissus who spurns Echo's love and who wastes away after falling in love with his own reflection; the punishment of the impious Pentheus by Bacchus.
  4. The daughters of Minyas relate to one another the loves of the sun; the tragic love of Pyramus and Thisbe and that of Salmaic for Hermaphroditus, before being transformed; the tragedy of Ino and the transformation of Cadmus; Perseus' rescue of Andromeda from the sea monster.
  5. The end of the Perseus myth; the rape of Proserpina and the metamorhoses of Cyane and Arethusa
  6. The jealousy of the gods, with Minerva's revenge on Arachne who enters a weaving competition with the goddess and is changed into a spider; the slaying of Niobe's children; the grim story of Tereus, Procne and Philomena.
  7. The incantations of Medea; the tragic error of Cephalus and Procris.
  8. The escape of Daedalus and Icarus from the labyrinth, and their fatal flight; the tale of Scylla; Meleager and the Caledonian boar hunt; the piety of Philemon and Baucis and their reward; the impiety of Erisichthon and his punishment. (Right : Daedalus and Icarus on a 2nd century A.D. relief)
  9. The labors of Hercules and Byblis' incenstuous passion.
  10. Book 10 : The story of Orpheus and Eurydice, including within it a number of other stories of love, such as Cyparissus, Hyacinthus, Pygmalion, Myrrha, Venus and Adonis, as well as others.
  11. The marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and that of the conjugal love of Ceyx and Alcyone brings the poem to the border between myth and history : the characters of the Trojan war begin the historical period, which concludes with the age of Augustus.
  12. The labors of Achilles and the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs.
  13. The contest for the arms of Achilles between Ajax and Ulysses; the series of Trojan losses; Polyphemus' love for Galatea.
  14. Following the trail of the Odyssey and then the episodes with Aeneas (Ovid is careful not to overlap with Virgil, instead concentrating on different scenes to those of the Aeneid) the scene shifts to ancient Latium, with tales of local rural gods : Pomona and Vertumnus. This brings the poem up to the kings of Rome.
  15. Numa introduces Pythagoras, who gives a lengthy discourse on metamorphosis as the law of the universe (which can be taken to constitute the philosophical basis of the poem); the poem then deals with the apotheosis of Caesar, the last of Aeneas' descendants (see Trojan genealogical tree); and the celebration of Augustus concludes the 'history of the world'. The last verses proclaim the poet's certainty that he has achieved immortal fame. (Right : Bust of Caesar)



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