Q.1. What is the contemporary relevance of Ovid’s Metamorphosis?


What features of the work have led to its everlasting value?

Ans. The poem Metamorphosis certainly has a huge historical and mythological canvas. With its brilliant rhetorical strength, the book describes the creation of the world and in which the idea of transformation forms the connecting thread: the idea of bodies changed into new forms. To hold such a large body of text together with a single motif shows Ovid’s command over his art of representation.

It is usually considered to be a commendable feature of a literary piece that maintains an organic unity. Many critics have pointed out that good literature should have all its parts well integrated by a unifying element. As far as the III’d book of the poem is concerned, a single unifying theme is ‘change’

. However, certain other themes are also brought in to create reinforcements of the text. These themes include the themes of violence and unrequited love. One of the reasons for the enduring legacy of Metamorphoses, then becomes these universal themes of change, violence, revenge, Love, Loss of sight, the establishment of new order etc., with which we can all relate.

Frances Norwood in his article Unity in the Diversity of Ovid’s Metamorphoses writes, “… yet we feel instinctively … that it has a sectional unity and falls, as it were, into chapters.”

“… use of rhythm that Ovid has made us feel a sectional unity in his poem.” However, we must also honour an opposite view. Miss M. Marjorie Crump, in her dissertation (The Epyllion from Theocritus to Ovid [Oxford, 1931]), will not accept change as the “true basis of the construction” (pp. 197-98): It is true that a metamorphosis of some kind is introduced in connection with each long story and that the minor incidents all deal with the same subject; but often the change is a mere accessory or pendant to a long and elaborate tale which is quite independent of any such incident.

If we take up the first theme of change, which forms the core theme of the book, we could bring out a few examples. At the very beginning of the book, we find that Jupiter has taken the form of a bull. This change of the human or god into the images of animals is very common. We can assume some themes from this motif. First, we can assume that animals were an important part of Greco-Roman life.

Continuing the tradition of depicting animals in and around the human world, Ovid presents several animals in his poem. We can find something similar in Iliad as well. The next change that seems to have occurred is that of the teeth of the dragon/serpent becoming human figures. After Cadmus defeats and kills the snake, Phoebụs asks Cadmus to sow the teeth. From the teeth of the snake came out warlike people. The soldiers started fighting as soon as they were born.

They fought perhaps because of the two reasons. First, because they came out of the teeth of a snake which is usually considered to be a violent animal. Secondly, the snake was a favourite creature of the god of war – Mars. People coming out of the teeth of the pet of war god must be violent. We are taught that something that begins in violence ends with violence as well. Thus the poem in its simple way explains a lot about the philosophies of life. In this capacity, it approaches the condition of a tragedy which often forebodes the impending doom.

The next change comes when Acteon changes into a stag while Acteon is in the chase, he chances upon Diana taking a bath. Diana thinks that Acteon deliberately saw Diana taking a bath. Diana also thought that seeing her naked, Acteon’s passion must have had aroused. Bringing in the theme of punishment, Diana turns him int a stag. Acteon is pursued by his dogs and is killed. These dogs symbolise passions and desire which does not allow a person to rest in peace.

Here we realize that when a person is troubled with passion then one cannot rest and could ultimately be killed by his passions. While Tiresias is also changed into a woman, Narcissu into a flower, and Echo a nymph to just sound. The crew of the ship of Acoetes ar turned into various animals. Finally, Pentheus is killed by his mother and aunt because they mistook him to be a wild boar.

Metamorphosis focuses on both gods/goddess and mere mortals. It is this focus on humans that makes the readers identify and associate themselves with the characters of the story. According to Sanamack, “It is an answer to the great national epic created by Virgil, myth and the history of the origins in a more light vein.

It is an epic on a majestic scale that refuses to take epic seriously.” Thus we find that in the range of its themes, in the depth of its metaphoric abilities and its empathy for common people it has not only endured the test of time but will also endure the test of time in future.

Q.2. Compare Ovid’s treatments of Acteon’s error and Pentheus’ sin.

Ans. One of the main themes of Metamorphosis is divine punishment or common people. In Greek and Roman literature gods have often being presented as having common human attributes. One of the major attributes of God was anger. We can understand that the Greco-Roman religious system was based more on fear than on love.

This could very well be a commentary on the political system of Rome. Caesar demanded submission from the population and to make sure that he gets it, he often punished people. This punishment was often more serious than the crime. Again these punishments were often arbitrary.

Acteon, Cadmus’s grandson went hunting. After the hunt was over and he had done his share of work, he roamed about the forest. He chanced upon Diana taking a bath. Diana thinks that Acteon deliberately saw Diana taking a bath. Diana thought that looking at her body Acteon’s passions might have aroused.

Thus bringing into the theme of punishment, Diana turns him into a stag. Acteon is pursued by his dogs and is killed. These dogs symbolized passions and desire which does not allow a person to rest in peace. Here we realized that when a person is consumed by passion then one cannot rest and could ultimately be killed by his passions.

In the case of Pentheus, things are a little different. Pentheus is not ready to consider Bacchus to be a god. He insults Bacchus by calling him various names. He incites his men against Bacchus by calling into questions Bacchus’ godliness. Then, He tells his people that they belong to the god of war and should act like that.

Instead of singing songs and dancing in the streets, they should fight against a common enemy. Pentheus thought that if they follow the way of Bacchus then the entire nation will go to the dogs. First, he tries to stop the people from worshipping Bacchus by arresting and torturing his disciples. When it fails he tries to kill Bacchus.

However, he dies in a sacrificial ritual at the hand of his mother and aunts, in a rare example of female agency. Thus we can see that while Acteon was not at fault, Pentheus was very much aware of his aggression yet they both receive a similar fate.

Q.3. Discuss the story of Teiresias and recount its outcome?

Ans. There are two instances where Teiresias has been mentioned in book 3. Once Jupiter and Juno had a debate regarding which gender benefits more from a love relationship. While Jupiter was of the view that it was women who benefitted more, Juno thought that it was men who got more from love.

To settle the issue, Jupiter thought that Tiresias could answer the question well since Tiresias was changed into a woman for seven years for disturbing a pair of mating snakes. Though in itself it is not tragic that he became a woman but Tiersias having an experience of a life of a woman thought that women get more out of a relationship than men do. That resulted in his getting blind by a curse of Juno. Thus this episode where Tiresias has mentioned signals two issues – first, it highlights yet again the theme of divine punishment.

This divine punishment is seen again to be rather too harsh for the ‘crime’ that Tiresias commits. We find that godly punishment is too trivial a thing to be taken seriously. Ovid could also be hinting towards the blindness of fate which does not take into consideration the right or the wrong of the person concerned before dealing out the punishment. These kinds of punishments could also symbolize the kind of attitude that the Roman penal authority had towards the criminals…..







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