Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary

Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary



Introduction to Ovid’s Metamorphoses

One of the greatest poets of Rome, Publius Ovidius Naso, popularly known as Ovid, was born in 43B.C, after a year of the death of Julius Caesar, in Sulmo. He was a great writer and his works draws on the great literary traditions of Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman cultures. His writing owes a debt to the works of Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Theocritus, etc. Some critics even view his opus as the culmination of ancient poetry.

Ovid is most famous for the Metamorphoses, a single poem of 15 books and it was probably completed around 8A.D. By writing the Metamorphoses in dactyllic hexameter, the popular meter of Epics, Ovid intentionally invited comparisons with the greatest Roman poet of his age, Virgil, the author of The Aeneid.

In his Metamorphoses, Ovid drew on Greek mythology, Latin folklore and legend from even further afield to create a series of narrative poems, ingeniously linked by the common theme of ‘transformation’. Here a chaotic universe is subdued into a harmonious order-animals turn to stone, men and women become trees and stars. Ovid himself transformed the art of storytelling, infusing these stories with a new life through its subtlety, humour and understanding of human nature, and an elegantly woven tone and pace to fit a variety of subjects. The result is a treasure-house of myth and legend, which was read in Ovid’s own day with much delight and enthusiasm, and has continued to charm succeeding generations, providing a source from which the whole of western European literature has derived inspiration.

The skill with which Ovid links his tales is no less admirable than the variety of their presentation. The same gods are, of course, introduced over and over again, and have no sooner finished with one adventure than they become involved in the next. The danger of monotony is avoided partly by a variation of pace and partly by changes in the tone of the poem. By lingering over some stories, passing over others briefly, or merely alluding to them in passing, Ovid prevents the feeling that this is a mere mythological handbook. Thus, the work can be divided into following parts —

• Books I and II — The Divine Comedy

• Books III, IV, V, and VI (till line 400)— The Avenging Gods • Books VI (after line 400) to XI — The Pathos of Love

• Books XII to XV-Rome and the Deified Ruler

The Metamorphoses is comprehensive in its chronology, recounting the creation of the world to the death of Julius Caesar. In it, Ovid works his way through his subject matter leaping from one tale of transformation to another, often in an apparently arbitrary fashionsometimes retelling what had come to be seen as central events in the world of Greek mythology and sometimes straying in odd directions.

The poem begins with the ritual “invocation of the muse”, and makes use of traditional epithets and circumlocutions. It ends with an epilogue, one of only two surviving Latin epics to do so (besides Statius’s Thebaid). The ending of Metamorphoses acts as a declaration that everything, except his poetry-even Rome-must give way to change. “Now stands my task accomplished, such a work

As not the wrath of Jove, nor fire nor sword Nor the devouring ages can destroy.” (Metamor. XV, 871-9]

The Story and a Short Analysis of Book VI

The Book VI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses starts with the Muses’ story that reminds Minerva (a goddess herself) of another challenge to the gods. A mortal, Arachne, who was very good at weaving, deJared that she was better even than Pallas Athena. Disguised as an old woman, Athena gets Arachne to say that she would engage her in a contest and then, she shakes off her disguise and the contest begins. Athena represents her argument with Neptune over the right to name the city, which became Athens, and also weaves 4 scenes of hubristic mortals. Meanwhile, Arachne weaves images of Jove raping and seducing women, including Europa with Jove the bull, Asterie with Jove the Eagle, and Leda with Jove the swan. Arachne continues with images of Neptune, Apollo and Bacchus all raping mortals. Unable to defeat Arachne and also enraged at her choice of theme, Athena tears her weaving and strikes her. Arachne loops a piece of rope around her own neck to kill herself but Athena changes her into a spider instead.

Niobe, a childhood friend of Arachne, does not learn from her. The wife of Amphion and Queen of Thebes, Niobe, is proud of many things but proudest of all, of her children. One day Manto, Tiresia’s daughter, asks the women of Thebes to make sacrifices to Latona and her children-Diana and Apollo. All the women obey except proud Niobe. She declares that she is more fit for worship than Latona for her divine lineage. She especially emphasizes how many more children she had than Latona. Latona seeks justice for this hubris. Apollo kills Niobe’s seven sons with arrows and Niobe is informed of her sons’ deaths as also of the death of her husband, Amphion, who has killed himself in sorrow. Niobe taunts Latona further by saying that she is happier in her sorrow than Latona was ever in her joy. Then more arrows kill six of her daughters, leaving only the youngest, who is, too, killed in no time. Niobe’s body turns to stone in her grief and she is carried to the country of her birth, where tears still flow from her marble eyes. –

Then comes another tale about Latona. At a site in Lycia, an old altar commemorates the spot where Latona gave birth to Diana and Apollo. After giving birth at that place, Latona came to a lake where she tried to quench her thirst. The men of that place would not let her drink water from there, and in revenge, they were transformed into frogs. Another storyteller relates a flute-playing challenge to Apollo by the satyr Marsyas, who died after he had lost. So many wept for Marsyas’s fate that the river Marsya was formed from their tears.

The company mourns the loss of Amphion, their king and his children also. They blame Niobe, whose brother alone mourns for her. Kings from throughout the world come to pay their respects, except the king of Athens, as he is caught up in a war with the barbarians. Tereus of Thrace leads the defence of Athens, and Pandion, king of Athens, gives him his daughter, Procne, in marriage as a reward. Their wedding is a ghastly affair, as all the Graces are absent, but the Furies and the Eumenides are in attendance. Nonetheless, the pair marries and has children. Five years later, Procne asks her husband to bid her sister, Philomela, to come and visit them. Tereus goes to fetch her only to be overwhelmed with lust for Philomela upon seeing her. He convinces Philomela to come aboard with him under the pretence of visiting Procne, but takes her to a fortress in the woods instead, where he imprisons and rapes her. Afterwards, she asks why he does not kill her as she will surely reveal his crime otherwise. Tereus, thus, cuts out her tongue to keep her from talking. He even arrives home and tells Procne that her sister is dead. She, anyhow, believes him.

A year later, Philomela conceives a plan to reveal her fate. She weaves the tale onto a cloth and gets it delivered to Procne, who is overwhelmed with rage, though she manages to hide it and plans an act of revenge. That night is the festival of Bacchus, and Procne dresses herself up as a reveler, making her way to the fortress in the woods and rescues her sister. Procne is set on revenge, and she determines, despite her love for her son, to kill him and feed his father by his flesh. While Tereus eats, he calls out for his son, and Procne reveals her act to him. Tereus calls on the furies and attempts to kill both the women, but before he can do anything, Procne becomes a nightingale and Philomela, a swallow. Tereus, too, becomes a bird.

Pandion, the father of Procne and Philomela, dies upon hearing the news and the kingdom passes on to Erectheus, who has four sons and four daughters, two of them extremely beautiful. One of these, Cephalus, makes a happy marriage. The other, Orithyia, cannot have her beloved, Boreas, because of his connection to Tereus. One day, Boreas realizes that, as the God of the north wind, he must seize his love without any consent. He takes Orithyia up and marries her and they have twin boys who grow wings like their father. When these two boys are older, they sail as Argonauts in the quest for the golden fleece.

 The stories of this book continue to illustrate the key difference between gods and mortals—mortals continue to challenge the gods and the gods continue to smite the mortals. A competition is depicted here– Arachne challenges Athena to a weaving competition. Even if the mortal won, she could be certain of being punished. In depicting these irrational display of hubris, Ovid captures human stubbornness with perseverance.

The skilled, the wise and the loving among humanity do not accept the inferior status that gods demand of them, even though such resistance inevitably ends badly for the mortal. Thus, Ovid’s mortal challengers win the reader’s sympathy to some extent. Even against the hopeless odds of their own mortality, they strive to make themselves better than the gods. And in this light, the god’s lack of justice renders them quite tyrannically. Ovid certainly invites his readers to recognize that the challenging mortals are offensive to the gods only because of their arrogant nature, not because of their talent. A related theme, also introduced in this section, concerns mortal acts of revenge and rage. 

II. A General Note

 Although meeting the criteria for an epic, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, especially Book 6, defies simple genre classification by its use of varying themes and tones. Ovid took inspiration from the genre of metamorphosis poetry, and some stories of the Metamorphoses derive from earlier treatment of the same myths like the myths of Niobe, Thisbe, and Philomela. However, he diverged significantly from all of his models. Later references his stories in many writers can be seen enough. For instance, in William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the story of Lavinia’s rape is drawn from Tereus’s rape of Philomela, and the text of the Metamorphoses is used within the play to enable Titus to interpret his daughter’s story.

III. The Story of Philomela

a When leaders from neighboring cities were visiting Thebes toʻ offer their condolences, Athens was not among them. Athens was in a war, and Tereus and his army saved Athens from their foe. Procne, the king’s daughter, married Tereus as part of Athens’ gratitude for Tereus’ help. He took her back to Thrace, his home, and after a while (about 5 years) therein happiness, she missed her sister. Tereus went back to Athens to bring Philomela back for a visit. Their father, Pandion, was reluctant to let his only daughter leave him but he did allow finally. What Pandion did not know was that Tereus had fallen in desperate love with Philomela. When they arrived in Thrace, he took Philomela to a hidden cottage in the woods and raped her innumerable times. She, humiliated and furious at the betrayal of her brother-in-law, said that he will have to pay his ‘score’ one day as she will tell it to everyone. If she will have the chance, she will walk among the crowds and shout his wrongdoings to each one out there. If she will be locked in the woods, her voice shall fill the woods and move the rocks to pity. So, Tereus cut out her tongue and locked her away in such a place where none would ever find her.

Tereus went to his wife and told her that he had found out that Philomela was dead when he got to Athens. A year passed and Procne mourned for her sister. Meanwhile, Philomela wove the story of her kidnapping, rape and assault into a tapestry and got it delivered to her sister. Procne saw the tapestry and understood what had happened. So, during the Bacchus rituals, when women go into the woods to worship Bacchus, she rescued Philomela and took her back to the home that she shared with Tereus.

The sisters then killed Itys, Procne and Tereus’s son, and cooked his flesh. Procne called her husband in and served him the meal. When he called for his son, Philomela came out of the kitchen and presented him with the boy’s severed head. In his horror and fury, he chased the women with his sword, vowing to kill them for their treachery. But, unfortunately, Philomela was changed to a nightingale, Procne became a swallow, and Tereus was transformed to a hoopoe.

IV. The Myth of Philomela – Transformation to a Bird

The story of the ruined bird with a voice restored from incoherence has several sources in classical antiquity. Earlier Greek mythographers had made Philomela the swallow and her sister, Procne, the nightingale, but for many reasons the Ovidian story lasted on. The two sisters were, according to the sixth book of the Metamorphoses, the children of Pandion, king of Athens. Procne, the older, was married to Tereus, king of Thrace, who took her off to his country where she bore him a son, Itys. After five years, she began to pine for her sister Philomela, and Tereus sailed down to Athens and eloquently persuaded Pandion to allow Philomela to accompany him to Thrace. But throughout the entire journey back, Tereus lusted for the girl so desperately that, upon reaching the shores of Thrace, he took her off into a secluded forest and raped her, and after her threats of exposure, rather than killing her, he cut out her tongue.

Outraged and silenced, Philomela remained in captivity for a year, but she contrived to wear her horrible story in pictures and prevailed upon an old woman to take the finished fabric to the queen, her sister. Procne read the tapestry-work, and at the height of the Bacchanal festival, celebrated yearly by Thracian women, went and found out her sister, disguised her in the costume of the celebrants and brought her back to the palace. There, in a fit of hatred and the desire for revenge a inflamed by the Bacchic frenzies, Procne killed her son, Itys, cooked his corpse and served him up to his father, Tereus, for a ritual meal. When he called aloud for his son to be presented to him, Philomela flung the blood-smitten severed head at him and together the two sisters, ran away from the palace. Tereus followed them in a murderous rage L! followed Philomela through the woods, but before he could catch up with either of them, he was turned into a hoopoe, the crested, lapwing-like bird, who, as the later allegorists pointed out, befouls its own nest. Procne became a swallow and Philomela, a nightingale. This is not the definite case. Ovid makes his Philomela, a swallow as blood was still dripping from her body like a red-breasted swallow, and Procne, the nightingale (a soothing bird).

In later antiquity and thereafter, the myth became that of many a poet-writer’s adaptation.

V. A Critical Appreciation of the Verse

The Book VI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses not only deals with a clash between two artists but also a clash between two entirely different perspectives. Minerva, a goddess, has a divine perspective. Her tapestry *glorifies the Olympian gods’ majesty and their ability to punish anyone who crosses them. Arachne, a human, creates a tapestry that tells an entirely different story-the story of different rapacious acts undertaken by different gods. Neither of the women can claim complete victory. Both of their perspectives are born out. On the other hand, with the story of Niobe, Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book VI) returns to the theme of divine vengeance. By placing Niobe’s saga after Arachne’s contest with Minerva, Ovid invites us to compare the two women.

The most telling condition of all the three women who are portrayed in this Book is of Philomela. The story of Philomela, Procne and Tereus shows the difficulty of speaking the experience of being silenced”. The story conveys message of female silence and male power as seen when the sisters are silenced, either physically or emotionally. Today, silence around rape and other horrible events prevents society from effectively addressing these issues. Rape victims often do not report the crime for fear of retaliation and stigma in the society.

The story of Philomela provides a powerful warning, in this connection, to those persons who would silence their victims as the truth will definitely come out in the end. Philomela and Ovid offer examples of people who overcome censorship by communicating in ways other than vocal language – like weaving a tapestry (a form of – art, of course). Philomela weaves words and sings as a bird, while Ovid writes poems. In this way, Philomela visits terrible retribution on her rapist, and Ovid’s written words outlived the emperor who banished him-Emperor Augustus.

Apart from Philomela, there is another character, Tereus, whose brutality makes the former to suffer. The story of Tereus emphasizes art’s power to help people transcend even the worst difficulties. The tale of Tereus, Procne and Philomela is one of the bloodiest and most grotesque in all of the Metamorphoses. To the familiar broth of deception, rape and mutilation, it adds the murder of a child and cannibalism. These unspeakable acts are more horrifying because they take place not between any strangers, but within one whole family.

Tereus, the tyrant from Thrace, enters the narrative. He liberates Athens from barbarians and marries Procne, the daughter of the king of Athens, Pandion. The marriage is ill-fated. Juno, Hymanaeus and the Graces do not attend the wedding. After five years of marriage, Procne asks Tereus for permission to see her sister, Philomela. Tereus sets sail for Athens to fetch Philomela. As soon as he sees Philomela, lust grips him. Back in Thrace, he repeatedly rapes her and chops off her tongue to prohibit her from speaking. Philomela then weaves a portrait of Tereus’s crimes onto a cloth and sends it to Procne.

Thus is introduced the theme of revenge. When Procne discovers her husband’s betrayal, she feeds him his own son. This might seem unsuitable as it hurts Procne as much as Tereus. To get revenge, Procne slays Itys, her only child with Tereus, and serves him to her husband as a meal. Procne and Philomela tell Tereus that he has eaten his own son and Tereus gets mad at them. He wants to kill the sisters but they escape by turning into birds. Tereus, too, becomes a bird. 

However, Ovid presents emotional transformations as frequently as physical transformations in the verse and the destruction of Procne’s sister damages Procne beyond repair. It turns her family upside down, replacing hate for Tereus where she once felt love, and so, she expresses the replacement of love with hate by killing her son. Transformed by grief and revenge, Procne is an utterly new creature capable of unspeakable cruelty. Thus Tereus is transformed by love and Procne, by hate–the perfect ‘metamorphosis’. Both have, thus, abandoned both their family and humanity, and they both change into birds.

The most intimate bonds – between husband and wife, sister and sister, woman and brother-in-law, mother and son, and, father and son-are shown broken in this section. Yet, even in this unremittingly horrifying set of circumstances, art helps. When Philomela loses the ability to speak, she manages to communicate with her sister via art. Hence, art is used as a medium of communication here, and that too, the art of weaving-tapestry. Her artistic endeavours literally help her to escape by freeing her from her prison. This feat suggests the power of art to help people metaphorically, who are suffering, by giving them the consolation of self-expression. Thus, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which tells the pathetic story of Philomela with Procne and Tereus in Book VI, deals with a variety of subject matter. Though its foundation is in the ancient Greek mythology, it is relatable with the modern-day society even. 

VI. An Analytical Summary of the Story

In the wake of some horrible occurrences at Thebes, cities from all over Greece sent their condolences except for Athens. That was because it was too busy fighting off an attack by the barbarians. But then Tereus, the prince of Thrace, came to the rescue who fights the barbarians off. Due to this heroism, the king of Athens, Pandion, offered him his daughter Procne, in marriage.

Unfortunately, the wedding was doomed from the start. Instead of Juno, Hymen and the Graces, the Furies attended the festivities. The couple soon gave birth to a child called Itys. Five years pass, then one day, Procne asks her husband if they can go back to her hometown to meet her sister Philomela, whom she was dying to a see.

Instead, Tereus, in no time, had outforth a ship and sailed to Athens to receive her. Tereus got a warm welcoming from his father-inlaw, king Pandion. But as soon as Tereus has seen Philomela, his sister-in-law, he became inflamed with the passionate zeal of lust. He made his speech to Philomela, inviting her to visit them in Thrace. She was only too happy to accept and see her elder sister. Her father granted the permission. So, the next day, they sailed off. Before they go, Pandion makes Tereus promise to send Philomela back home soon.

When they reach Thrace, Tereus drags Philomela off to a hut in the woods. There, he ties her up and rapes her. Full of anger and shame, Philomela swears that she will tell everyone what Tereus has done to her. To prevent this from happening, he cuts out her tongue. Then Tereus goes home and has the audacity to look his wife in the eye and tell her that Philomela died along the way.

 A year passes. Philomela, unable to speak, remains in captivity in the woods, guarded by Tereus’s henchmen. But there just happens to be a loom in her room. She uses it tº weave a tapestry of symbols explaining what had happened to her. Then she gives the tapestry to a serving-woman who takes it to Procne,Procne is shocked at what she sees, and immediately begins plotting revenge. Instead of doing something immediately, she waits until the feast of Bacchus rolls around. Then, when she is wandering in the woods with that God’s other female worshippers, she passes by the hut where Philomela is being held, and rescues her. She dresses her up in the clothing of a worshipper and sneaks her back into the palace.

Now Procne thinks that it’s time for her revenge. She contemplates many means of doing it, but finally decides to take her anger out on Itys, her son with Tereus. Despite her maternal affection for him, Procne carries Itys off to the woods. There, she and Philomela cut him to death with knives. Then Procne takes what is left of Itys to home, cooks him, and serves him as dinner to Tereus, who is none the wiser. 

After the dinner, which Tereus enjoys very much, he asks where his son is, to Procne. Then Procne tells him that he is inside his stomach. Then Philomela walks in, covered in blood, and throwsItys’s head on Tereus’s face.

 Tereus is understandably shocked. When he gets his wits back, he grabs his sword and runs after Procne and Philomela, intended to kill them. Before he could catch them, however, Procne and Philomela turn into birds and fly away. Procne turns to a nightingale, whereas Philomela to a swallow. Then, Tereus turns into a bird as well — the hoopoe- but still could not catch them. Grieving over these events, the Athenian king, Pandion dies before his time and Pandion’s son, Erectheus, becomes the new king.

VII. Various Themes Interpreted within the Story

(a) Rape and Censoring :

According to the myth of Philomela, she was raped by her brother-in-law many a times after coming to Thrace. In addition to being raped, she was also violated by the mutilation of her tongue and attendant loss of speech. In a way, Tereus rapes Philomela’s speech by taking her ability to speak out against him. A fine instance from Metamorphoses itself justifies this Outraged and calling the name of her father repeatedly And struggling to speak, the tongue having been Seized with pincers, he removed with his savage blade. By taking Philomela’s tongue out, Tereus removes her ability to denounce him. This rape of Philomela’s voice functions as an act of censorship. The word ‘censor’ means to ‘remove parts of a book, film or behaviour’ and ‘censorship’, thus, means the ‘act or policy of censoring’. Here Tereus censors the tongue, the speech organ of Philomela, from her body. Tereus inhibits her from speaking the truth that would inevitably ruin his name and reputation. When Tereus cuts out Philomela’s tongue, he reenacts the rape, not simply making it a consequence of the rape. The cutting out of Philomela’s tongue is in itself an act of rape because it violates Philomela, again, while depriving her of the ability to speak.

(b) Silence :

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the story of Philomela’s rape and suppression of speech by Tereus reflects similar gender patterns of male domination that are found throughout classical literature.

The story of Philomela is especially important because it reflects the difficulty people have in talking about events that have silenced them. Often, those who hold positions of power and privilege in society are the ones who enforce the silencing. Although it is hard to speak the truth, either because of inability or reluctance, it is important that it be revealed because often communication is the only way to achieve change or improvement. Same goes for Philomela, too.

The silencing of Philomela reflects the silencing of women throughout history and reminds us that, even today, woman can be silenced and over-powered by their male counterparts.

The story of Philomela recalls Ovid’s exile by Augustus because, in both cases, a person in power silenced a weaker person. However, in the end, Philomela and Ovid, both overcame their silencing to produce beautiful and meaningful works of art—in the former case, a tapestry and in the latter, a weaving of mythological tales.

(c) Weaving and Colouring :

Although Philomela proclaims her intent to tell the world of Tereus’s wrong deeds, she is silenced. Philomela may be seen as changing the script for the victim by initially wanting to speak out against her assaulter. She is actively rebelling from male domination, and she herself became a threat to the male power-structure. By vowing to tell her story to all, Philomela rejects the oppression and constitutes a threat to Tereus’s power and name. Thus, the evil king cuts out her tongue. a 9

In response to Tereus’s efforts to censor her, Philomela weaves a tapestry to communicate the crime of Tereus. This bold act recalls Arachne, who weaves a tapestry depicting the ways in which gods abused mortals. In the stories of Arachne and Philomela, “weaving’is seen as a metaphor for poetic composition, since Ovid and these two women tell the same stories through different media.

The act of weaving is silent and the ‘experience’ was expressed in disarticulated speech-by a language that had no tongue. In this way, Philomela’s proclamation of Tereus’s rape is compelled by her loss of a tongue. She cannot speak, so she cleverly chooses to weave the story of how she was silenced. Tereus tries to censor Philomela by cutting out her tongue. However, Philomela has the wit and determination to overcome her censor by telling, rather weaving and colouring, her story in a tapestry.

The combination of red and white is connected with the act of ‘rape’ – male aggression against a defenceless female. The juxtaposition of the two colours is highly significant. ‘White’ is the colour of virginal innocence and ‘Red / Purple’symbolizes violence, especially of a sexual kind.

 (d) Rage and Revenge :

The language of rage and pain is the central theme throughout Ovid’s story of Philomela. It is often difficult to speak of times that cause anger, pain or grief. In the case of Philomela, she is physically unable to speak of her rage towards Tereus because her tongue has been cut out. When she displays the head of Itys to Tereus, she wishes more than anything that she could speak – Nor was there a time when she wished more strongly To be able to speak and to testify her joy in words Having been deserved.

Philomela is not able to communicate her rage and pain by actually speaking or articulating words.

In the case of Procne, she loses her ability to speak when she learns of the horrific act. When she wants to express her anger, disappointment, and shame, she is unable to because the acts of Tereus have silenced her.

When the two sisters — Procne and Philomela- wish to speak of their rage, they cannot because the language of rage is a language without a tongue, a language of disarticulation.’ Oftentimes, people in a rage are considered ‘beside themselves with anger’, i.e., they cannot speak of such outrage. Philomela depicts her rage at her rapist by weaving, and Ovid depicts the deep emotions prompted by his exile, in his poems.

Neither of these outlets include speaking. Henceforth, one of them-Philomela (and also Procne) took the path of revenge to support their rage. A related theme introduced in this section concerns normal acts of revenge. When Procne discovers her husband’s betrayal, she feeds him his own son. This might seem weird, as it hurts Procne as much as Tereus. However, Ovid presents emotional transformations as frequently as physical transformations, and the destruction of Procne’s sister damages Procne beyond repair. It destroys her family, replacing hate for Tereus where she once felt love, and so, she expresses the replacement of love with hate by taking revenge- by killing her own son with Tereus.

Transformed by grief and revenge, Procne is an utterly new creature capable of unspeakable cruelty. Not only Procne, Philomela, too, assists her in taking revenge upon Tereus. Thus, Tereus is served with his own son’s flesh as meal due to the sisters’ act of revenge.

(e) Cannibalism :

Silence being a recurring theme throughout the story of Philomela, in addition to her silencing, Procne is also speechless when she learns from the tapestry of the rape of her sister –

The wife of the king rolls out the cloth and reads the Miserable fate of her sister and is silent (to have been able is a miracle) : pain restrains her mother, and her Tongue cannot find sufficiently outraged words, Lacked them.

The actions of Tereus have made both the sisters silent. Up to this point, Tereus, the one who is actually guilty of the unspeakable crime, is still able to speak. Although he is the criminal, he has lost nothing and in fact, his power of persuasive speech is repeatedly emphasized.

When Procne punishes her husband, instead of taking out his tongue, she feeds Tereus the body of the child they had made together. Thus, the theme of ‘cannibalism’ enters the myth. She kills Itys and chops off his body to cook it into the dinner. After filling his stomach and mouth with his son, Tereus asks for Itys, only to realize that his son has filled his body. Procne thus uses her own child as a substitute for the tongue. 

The murder of Itys acts as the silencing of the father, delayed by a generation. Philomela and Procne also deprive Tereus of his son and make him guilty of cannibalism, which is a crime he was unaware of. He was committing it until it was over. Cannibalism means ‘eating human flesh by another human or eating another animal’s flesh of its own kind’. Tereus ‘s guilt as a cannibal recalls Philomela’s guilt as an adulteress because neither wanted to commit the crime. Thus, Ovid’s Metamorphoses draws a similar reference to Seneca’s Thyestes.

VIII. Imagery, Similes and Metaphors used by Ovid in the Story of Philomela

A number of scholars have studied the relationship between narrative and metamorphosis in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, suggesting that metamorphosis is a manifestation of some essential features described in the narrative—the character of a person, the passions that act upon a person, a person’s conduct, or the internal changes a person experiences. Thus, according to these scholars, narrative events somehow determine metamorphosis.

The multiple levels of meaning in figurative language, created by the presence of both the figurative and the literal, foreshadow the progression of real events with the narrative and anticipate the metamorphosis, which gives bodily form and substance to metaphors and similes. The imagery used in this verse narrative, specially in the story of Philomela, Procne and Tereus in Book VI, are of special significance.

The story of Tereus in the Metamorphoses (423-674 in Book VI) begins with his marriage to Procne. The wedding scene introduces two figures which the story will feature—birds and fire. The Eumenides hold out torches, and an ill-boding owl sits above are drawn in lines 430 to 434. More specifically, the bird (owl) introduces the motif of birds that are metamorphosed humans, and the torches introduce fires that are funerary.

The fire imagery become more emphatic as the plot progresses. Procne and her husband have a son, and after a while, Procne asks to see her sister. Tereus grants her request and sets out for Athens to fetch Philomela. When he arrives at Pandion’s home and sees the maiden, he is figuratively inflamed with passion. On a literal level, he burns, and a further metaphor in line 460, emphasizes this fiery image. Tereus, unable to bear the internal flame, burns more fiercely when he watches Philomela throwing her arms around her father’s neck.

9 When Pandion gives permission for the visit and the night falls, figuratively, Tereus is excited and agitated (line 491), and he nurtures and sustains the fires of his passion with thoughts of Philomela – After the feast, the guests retired to peaceful slumber. But the Thracian king, though he had gone to bed, was in a fever of love for the princess and lay, recalling her face, her movements, her hands, and imagining the parts he had not seen to be just as he would have them. So he fostered his love, too restless to sleep. [BK VI, 492-494)

On a literal level, however, Tereus boils—the verb that figuratively characterizes his passion also describes the Alpheus river boiling under the brutal heat of Phaethon’s fiery chariot ride-and feeds his desires. This multiplicity repeats the association between fire and food, and anticipates both the preparation of and the participation in the unspeakable banquet with which the narrative culminates.

Tereus sails away, happy with his successful acquisition of Philomela. But, after reaching Thrace, he drags her to a forest like a bird of prey who pounces over its food. The figurative fire yields to avian imagery, which recurs when Tereus drags Philomela to a hut in the woods.

Two similes describe Philomela’s fear. The first one as a beast. The second recalls the dove and the hawk from Book V, and shows Tereus, once again, as a bird. Indeed, the culmination of events will specifically recall the predatory nature of the bird in this simile. In addition, we see Tereus as a wolf in the first simile. While the bird imagery anticipates his metamorphosis, the wolf imagery is intimately connected to the events of the narrative.

Indeed, the narrative contains an explicit example of the objective incarnation of subjective perception. After presenting a winged image of the sisters, the text gives it a bodily form in lines 667-68. The narrative presents a subjective evaluation that is objectively realized by metamorphosis. The embodiment of metaphors and similes by metamorphosis needs to be distinguished, however, from the narrative reification of figurative language.

As the narrative progresses, we see another example in which the abstract figurative language appears to achieve an actual presence in the story. The fire imagery reappears in the plot, describing this time the enraged Procne. After completing his horrible deeds, Tereus returns to his wife and falsely reports to her the death of her sister. But Procne reads Philomela’s woven account, which reports Tereus’s true actions and her own sufferings later, and she burns with anger. And like her husband earlier, she boils over in her seething rage.

Procne rescues her sister and plots revenge upon her husband. The figurative fire almost becomes an objective reality when Procne contemplates burning the royal house with Tereus in it. Spying Itys and noting the similarity of the boy to his father, she kills him to serve as his father’s dinner. The play between the literal and the figurative is underscored by Procne’s insistence upon the morbid similarity between the father and the son.

The cooked flesh of Tereus’s son, which the combination of his fiery love and Procne’s fiery anger create, replaces the metaphorical nourishment for Tereus’s passion. The metaphorical verbs of eating and the metaphorical fires of passion correspond to the literal eating of flesh and the literal flames. The fire exists as a discrete entity, but the coincidence between the imagery and the external fire seems to suggest that the narrative treats the figure as if it were literal. There is a slide from the figurative to the real, and the figurative may be understood as literal when the metaphorical flames appear to cook. 

After discovering that he has eaten his son, Tereus weeps and calls himself a tomb. This image reflects both the phases (funeral fire) under which Tereus and Procne were married, and the figurative fire of passion that, after destroying Itys, is now extinguished. Tereus’s metaphor suggests that he is not only a tomb, but also a funeral pyre.

The burning king, who contributes to the cooking of his son becomes, when his passion is extinguished, a tomb that recalls the very burning. Any beast of prey is the tomb of its victims, and Procne’s words in tine 655 emphasize this gruesome phenomenonProcne could not conceal her cruel exultation. Eager to be the first to announce the catastrophe she had brought about, she told her husband : “The boy you are asking for is here, inside, with you.” Through this allusion here we are reminded of Tereus as the predatory bird of the similes.

At the end of the narrative, Tereus objectifies the similes that have proceeded by becoming a bird. In addition to bringing into material existence, the bird similes generically, the nature of the hoopoe has special relevance to the fire metaphors of the narrative.

Finally, it is worth noting one further consequence of the incarnation of similes and metaphors in metamorphosis of the three characters. Throughout the narrative we have seen Tereus as a bird figuratively. When he becomes one literally, it appears entirely fitting. In addition to manifesting physical features of the king, the bird also manifests the semantic features of the narrative.

However, as we have seen, it is not only Tereus’s warlike character that is made manifest in the armed appearance of the bird. The choice of bird is not only a recollection of the king’s physical attributes or of his character but also of the figures of speech within the narrative.

IX. Parallel Motifs in Ovid’s Metamorphoses : the Divine versus the Human Conditions

The very complexity of the poem Metamorphoses of Ovid, bearing coherence with epics, invites a search for common elements throughout the poem’s many myths, in order to establish a sense of definition. One thematic thread in the tapestry of the Metamorphoses might be considered as a significant topic of study, the parallel motifs of the Apollo-Daphne (in Book I) and Tereus-Procne-Philomela (in Book VI) myths, which ultimately reflect a particular difference between the Divine and the Human conditions. It also focuses on many aspects of Ovid’s erotic poetry like the range of passions, the sympathetic portrayal of women, the presentation and analysis of complex personalities and relationships. Such characteristics are presented in Ovid’s treatment of Apollo’s passion for Daphne as well as Tereus’s adultery with Philomela.

Lust, in this connection, is juxtaposed with familial affection, desire and enchantment with disgust and enmity. The women in both the stories are portrayed as innocent victims of male machinations. The minds of Apollo and Tereus are revealed to the audience, who enter into the imagination of both characters by means of Ovid’s description of their very thoughts and substance of each story. In essence, both myths are love-stories illustrating the common theme of passion’s power to cause either god or man to cast aside self-restraint in the pursuit of sexual fulfillment.

The thematic correspondence of the two stories becomes most apparent upon consideration of specific parallel motifs and imagery. These similarities are rooted in Ovid’s focus on Apollo and Tereus as he provides motivation for each character’s actions and then examines the outcome of their behavior. But as Apollo and Tereus are different characters in different stories, exact similitude should not be expected. Instead of retelling the earlier myth, the story of Tereus-ProcnePhilomela recalls the myth of Apollo-Daphne.

Ovid foreshadows conflict at the very beginning of both the stories. Cupid’s anger at Apollo is balanced by the presence of the Eumenides at the wedding of Tereus and Procne. Each myth has an inauspicious beginning which indicates the nature of the forthcoming tale-on the one hand, Apollo’s love for Daphne will be unrequited, a fact ensured by cupid’s wrath, on the other, the marriage of Tereus and Procne appears doomed to tragedy, a natural assumption based on the presence of the Eumenides and the absence of the benevolent deities of marriage at the wedding ceremony. 

It is physical beauty which impels Apollo to chase Daphne and leads Tereus astray from his marital bond. Both the women possess stunning beauty. Ovid’s picture of Philomela recalls Daphne’s natural loveliness as a nymph. Both Philomela and Daphne appear to have an abundant measure of natural beauty, which almost makes inevitable the captivation of any male person.

Further demonstrating the charms of Daphne and Philomela, Ovid includes, in both stories, poignant scenes between the maidens and their fathers. When Peneus repeatedly asks his daughter Daphne to get married and give him grandchildren, she attempts to persuade him otherwise. A familial approach is used by Philomela to convince her father, Pandion, to allow her to visit Procne, adding her own blandishments to the request being made by Tereus. Both scenes underscore the childlike innocence of the young women. The embraces between father and daughter, the effective use of feminine charm evoke sentiments of familial affection but at the same time, show off the daughters’s alluring nature. In both cases, however, the success of the maiden’s entreaty is tinged with irony-Peneus grants Daphne’s request, which eventually results in her transformation into the laurel tree, loss for Peneus as well as Apollo; whereas Pandion gives permission for Philomela’s departure with Tereus which begins the tragedy of Philomela’s rape and Procne’s revenge and finally afflicts Pandion with fatal grief.

As a contrast to the display of paternal affection and filial devotion, Ovid sets the impassioned lover. It is love at first sight when Apollo sees Daphne and Tereus meets Philomela, and in both stories, Ovid employs a simile of fire burning afield to characterize their emotions. Although Ovid has linked the passions of Apollo and Tereus with similes of an essentially like character, the imagery associated with Tereus is much more the harbinger of violence and destruction. Each simile appears to be constructed to complement the individual character, the fire of Apollo’s passion is less threatening than the burning emotion of Tereus.

As Ovid used a simile to link the reactions of Apollo to Daphne and Tereus to Philomela, another simile serves to indicate the corresponding plights and emotions of Daphne and Philomela when confronted by their respective suitors. Ovid employs a simile of predator and prey to underscore the victimization of each maiden as she attempts to escape her unwanted lover. Philomela is raped by Tereus, and she experiences the violence and bloodshed which usually result when a predator captures a prey. Ovid compares both the maidens to ‘lambs and doves’. Daphne’s terrified flight, however, ends in escape, while Philomela is caught and suffers accordingly.

2 A final echo of the Apollo-Daphne myth occurs as Philomela, while being raped by Tereus, calls out in vain to her father’s help. For Daphne, help is forthcoming-her father, as a river-god, possesses the power to metamorphose Daphne into a tree but Philomela’s father is a mere mortal and is unable to hear the cries of his daughter or do anything to aid her.

The differences in these final parallels between the myth of Apollo-Daphne and Tereus-Procne-Philomela illustrate the primary divergence of the two stories—the actual rape and the attendant sayagery realised by Tereus’s passion for Philomela. The major characters of each tale, with the exception of Procne who plays a major role only after the rape of Philomela, are presented in similar manner and possess certain traits in common.

Finally, the myths of Apollo-Daphne and Tereus-Procne- Philomela frequently are noted as pivotal points in the Metamorphoses. Critical consensus argues for some structural significance for these two myths, each story inaugurating a major thematic division. The usual distinction between the two tales is that the Apollo-Daphne myth begins a cycle of stories centered on the gods, while the Tereus-Procne-Philomela myth introduces stories of human passion or heroism. Ovid’s employment of parallel motifs in the two stories draws attention to this balance and contrast of the divine and human condition.

The comic behavior of Apollo in his pursuit of Daphne sets the tone for the romantic escapades of the other gods as love-struck deities behave like men and divine dignity is consistently undercut. Treachery, violence, betrayal, sorrow and pain dominate the story of Tereus and become characteristic of the subsequent myths of “human beings as victims of their own passions”. Humor becomes horror and indignity is replaced by suffering. By recalling the Apollo-Daphne myth in his account of Tereus-Procne-Philomela, Ovid demonstrates the essential difference between gods and men–the experience of tragic circumstances. Passions may motivate both gods and men, but only human beings suffer.

X. Philomela -the Female Voice / The Character of Philomela

The story of Philomela brings out the common way of torturing women prevalent from time to time in every society. Philomela symbolizes every woman who is meek, naïve, homely, caring and above all, very much beautiful. The attraction and the enraging lust they create in men result in raping and silencing of their body – physically as well as mentally.

In ancient literature, ‘weaving’ was a metaphor for poetic creation. However, as weaving was a female activity, it was often used as a way to convey female messages in texts. One of the most striking examples of this takes place in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in the story of Tereus and Philomela.

 The myth of Philomela is an extremely violent one. The tyrant Tereus has married Procne, the daughter of the king of Athens, and after five years away from home, Procne asks her husband to accompany her sister Philomela as she travels over for a visit. However, when Tereus sees Philomela, he is maddened by his desire for her. He kidnaps her and rapes her, and when she threatens to reveal his crime, he cuts out her tongue. He then keeps her hidden away in a forest and pretends that she has been killed. Philomela, however, weaves a record of what has happened to her, and through a servant, manages to send this message to her sister.

Procne rescues Philomela and plots a terrible revenge. She murders her own son and feeds him to an unwitting Tereus. The rape and mutilation of Philomela is described in a truly horrific way: The poor child trembled as a frightened lamb, Which, just delivered from the frothing jaws Of a gaunt wolf, dreads every moving twig.

She trembled as a timid injured dove, (her feathers dripping with her own life-blood) That dreads the ravening talons of a hawk From which some fortune has delivered her.


By silencing Philomela, Tereus rips her tale out of history. When he returns to Procne and tells an elaborate lie about the death of her sister, his male voice overrides and rewrites the female one. His action of chopping off Philomela’s tongue makes it more frightening:

When she first saw his sword above her head. Flashing and sharp, she wished only for death, and offered her bare thro? : but while she screamed, and, struggling, called upon her father’s name, He caught her tongue with pincers, pitiless, and cut it with his sword–The mangled root still quivered, but the bleeding tongue itself, fell murmuring on the blood-stained floor.

However, Philomela overcomes this tyranny and is able to express herself through the specifically ‘female medium’ of weaving. In this regard, when Procne receives her sister’s message, she too, is silent : The wife of that inhuman tyrant took the cloth, and after she unwrapped it saw and understood the mournful record sent. She pondered it in silence and her tongue could find no words to utter her despair;— her grief and frenzy were too great for tears.


Women are silenced by the deeds of men. But their vengeance is no less dreadful. Procne knows that the best way to avenge her sister is to kill her. In the scene preceding this murder, Ovid intensifies our pity for this little kid by depicting him at his most tender, “cunningly” using his mother’s love to try to change her mind. Ovid appears to delight in the horror of this myth with graphic descriptions of the violence and heart-rending portrayals of the victims.

It is clear enough that Ovid is playing with the tension between the male and female voices. The elaborate lies of Tereus and the clever poetry of Ovid are in tension with the hidden narrative of Philomela’s weaving and Procne’s silent response to this message. And yet, the female is no less effective for this, and it ultimately overthrows the controlling male tyrant.

A notable feminist critic argues that Philomela’s loom represents an assertion of the female will to survive, in spite of everything that threatens to silence it, including the male literary tradition. However, there is no clear or positive message to be taken from such a horrific story, and this is, perhaps, reflected in the end of Ovid’s tale. As Tereus rushes to murder his wife and sister-in-law, the three are transformed into birds. Philomela changes into a swallow, the red feathers on her chest standing for the murder she has committed. But Tereus is transformed into a large bird of prey with a sharp beak, a Hoopoe. Rather than any resolution, the three are doomed to an endless chase—the male forever hunting his prey, i.e. the female. 

 Ovid and His Literature

Ovid was born at Sulmo, east of Rome, in the year 43 B.C. He is one of the notable Latin authors who have appealed to a wider public or had more effect on later literature. He himself is the best source of information concerning his life and times, for he liked nothing better than talking about himself, and counted himself lucky to live when and where he did. In A.D. 17, he died in Tomis.

His first published work was the Amores, a collection of shorter poems, weaving different variations on the basic theme suggested by the title. It is in the Heroides, however, which followed soon after, that he first uses stories of earlier legendary lovers as material for his own poetry, giving a new vitality to the ancient myths. His next produc tion was Ars Amatoria (Art of Love), a handbook on the subject of  love. Whatever criticisms it may have aroused, the Art of Love does undoubtedly convey a fascinating picture of contemporary Rome and the daily life of its gay, pleasure-loving society. In any case, the Art of Love was a tour-de-force which could not be repeated; he published the Remedies of Love to provide an antidote for his own prescriptions. His next production was the Metamorphoses. For this, he abandoned the elegiac couplet, and employed the hexametric lines throughout. From its meter and its length- fifteen books in all — it can claim to be regarded as Ovid’s essay in epic verse. The poem has a certain chronological framework, beginning with the transformation of chaos into an ordered universe, then ranging at length, through Greek mythology to the Trojan war and the escape of Aeneas to Italy. Tristia and the Epistulae er Ponto are of his two last works. 

(b) Metamorphoses

In his Metamorphoses, Ovid drew on Greek mythology, Latin folklore and legend from even further afield to create a series of narrative poems, quite likely linked by the common theme of ‘transformation’. A chaotic universe is subdued into harmonious order here – animals turn to stone, men and women become trees and stars, etc.

Ovid himself transformed the art of storytelling, infusing these stories with new life through his subtlety, humour and understanding of human nature, and an elegantly tailoring tone and pace to fit a variety of subjects. The result is a lasting treasure-house of myth and legend. This epic verse, as it is called by Quintillian, coloured with rhetoric, is true and full of the freshness and charm of a newly born world. The Metamorphoses is the work of one who was, at the same time, among the most sophisticated of Latin writers.

(c) The Myth of Philomela

The story of Philomela has several sources in classical antiquity, but its basis is in the Greek mythology. Early Greek mythographers nad made Philomela the nightingale and her sister Procne, the swallow, for many reasons the Ovidian story lasted on where the transformation is reverse.

The two sisters – Philomela and Procne-were, according to the myth, the children of Pandion, king of Athens. Procne, the older, was married to Tereus, the king of Thrace, who took her off to his country where she bore him a son, ltys. After five years, she began to pine for her sister, and Tereus sailed down to Athens and persuaded Pandion to allow Philomela to come to his place. After Pandion gave his permission, Philomela started her journey to Thrace to see her sister with Tereus. Throughout the entire journey, Tereus lusted for the girl so desperately that upon reaching the shores of Thrace, he took her off into a secluded wood and raped her. After her threats of exposure, rather than killing her, he cut out her tongue. Outraged and silenced, Philomela remained in captivity for a year, but she contrived to weave her horrible story in pictures and prevailed upon an old woman to take the finished fabric to the queen, her sister. Procne read the tapestrywork, and at the night of the Bacchanal celebration, went and found her sister, disguised her in the costume of the celebrants, and brought her back to the palace. There, in a fit of hatred and revenge, both the sisters kill Itys and cook his flesh to serve it to Tereus. After finding out the truth, Tereus went in rage after them but could not catch them. Because they were transformed into birds till then, and after some time, Tereus also gets transformed into a hoopoe. 



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Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary

Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary Metamorphoses Book 6 Summary

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