Creation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses Summary

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Ovid’s Metamorphoses begins by promising to describe the way in which bodies change into new forms, but immediately follows into a primal myth of the creation of the world. Indeed, the poem as a whole is seemingly obsessed with myths of creation, human and divine. I would like to examine three particular episodes in Ovid’s epic — the myths of Arachne and Daedalus in Books VI and VIII, and the speech of Pythagoras in the final book (XV) — in order to examine Ovid’s handling of myths of creation. I hope to demonstrate by way of conclusion that although Ovid interestingly explores the correspondences between craftsmanship (a way of creating things) and parentage (a way of creating human beings), his ultimate concern is with his own medium, which is poetry. In some sense, the proliferation of creation myths within Ovid’s poem are all directed toward a covert self-analysis by the poet of his own art.

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Creation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses Summary
Just from $9/Page
Order Essay

Ovid’s handling of Arachne would seem to have a relatively obvious moral: creation here is figured as a form of hubris. Arachne’s downfall in this story is caused by her own pride, although the poet is careful to give the reader as much mitigating circumstance to make Arachne’s pride seem justifiable. We are told, for example, that she comes from humble parentage, from an out-of-the-way place, and that her parents were of humble birth as well and her mother is dead. Despite all this, Arachne has become famous in such a way that even attracts divine attention: Ovid tells us that river and mountain nymphs would come to take a look at what Arachne creates. We must recall, of course, what precisely Arachne’s creativity is directed towards: she is a weaver, she creates elegant cloth with woven designs. This makes Ovid’s detail about Arachne’s deceased mother a more interesting character note: weaving is historically a woman’s art, of course, but one taught by mother to daughter. Arachne’s amazing talent at producing woven cloth — which has made her famous in her region of Greece (Lydia) and also managed to attract the attention of nymphs, and ultimately of a more powerful goddess — seems to be a natural gift.

Certainly that is how Arachne herself would like it to be seen, because what sets the story into motion is the issue of who taught Arachne how to weave. This is why Ovid’s detail about Arachne’s parents — “Her mother now was dead” (Mandelbaum 177) — seems so be frontloaded in the story. We might imagine most girls who learn to weave are taught by an older woman, if they are not indeed taught by their own mothers. But Arachne’s preternatural skill, according to Ovid, gave the viewer a different sense of where her talent had come from: “one knew that she was surely Pallas’ pupil.” This is slightly odd, because Pallas (Athena or Minerva) is a goddess and we are not told Arachne received divine lessons — instead this seems to be a reference to the goddess’s patronage over such things as craftsmanship and wisdom. What Arachne’s story devolves into is a contest between girl and goddess over who is the better weaver. Minerva comes in disguise to warn Arachne to exhibit more gratitude toward the goddess, and Arachne speaks slightingly of the goddess, without realizing that she is doing it to the goddess’ own face. Yet there is a more interesting dramatic irony to Arachne’s taunts here beyond the obvious dramatic irony that she is insulting a disguised goddess:

Old age has addled you; your wits are gone; too long a life has left you anile, stale, undone.

Your drivel might appeal to your dear daughter-

in-law, if you have one, or else your daughter, if you have one. As for advice, I can advise myself. And lest you think your warning changed anything, be sure of this: I am still sure of what I said before. Your goddess why doesn’t she come here? Why not accept my challenge?” Pallas answered: “She has come!” (Mandelbaum 178)

The actual phrasing of Arachne’s taunt to Minerva, with its repetiation for rhetorical emphasis — “your dear daughter-in-law, if you have one, or else your daughter, if you have one” — surely bears extra weight when we consider that Minerva was, indeed, the virgin goddess. Obviously virginity is subject to a variety of different cultural constructions that can give it all sorts of meanings. But one thing that it does not have outside of Christian mythography is the notion that a virgin might have children: the virgin is, by necessity, not a being that creates other beings. This is interesting again because — in this story about female creativity and creation — we are again seeing hints of the most obvious thing that women create (which is children). The seeming substitution of Minerva for the girl’s absent mother is the first sidelong reference, but Arachne’s rhetorically-highlighted reference to this old women’s putative children — not knowing she is talking to a childless divine virgin (and patroness of wars) — seems again to raise the same issue obliquely. And indeed sexuality and parentage resurface throughout the rest of Ovid’s handling of the myth. When Arachne and Minerva compete, Ovid gives descriptions of each of their tapestries — I will return to this fact in my conclusion, but it is enough to note that there are two enormous shocks for the reader regarding Arachne’s work. The first is that it is directly embarrassing to the gods themselves, and apparently depicts in detail a number of the more lurid sexual seductions that the gods accomplished with women, usually after the god has taken an animal form first:

The kind mother of harvests, golden-haired, knew you as stallion;

Whereas the mother of the winged horse — she

Whose hair was wreathed with snakes — knew you as bird;

And when you took Melantho, you were dolphin.

And each of these — the actors and the settings

Is rendered to perfection by Arachne. (Mandelbaum 182)

This seems like the most deliberate form of hubris possible (depicting the gods in the medium of cloth-based bestiality-porn) however the bigger shock arguably comes when we learn that even Minerva acknowledges Arachne has won this contest at weaving. This does not mean that Arachne will go unpunished, however, and once again the issue of childbirth and parentage is included by Ovid in the very language of Minerva’s curse upon the girl:

Live then, but, for your perfidy, still hang, and let this punishment pursue all who descend from you: thus, you must fear the future — down to far posterity. (Mandelbaum 182)

This serves an obvious function on the most basic level of relating the myth. Arachne is turned into the first spider, and so the story becomes a story about where spiders (and their marvelous skill at weaving) come from. But it is again worth noting that Minerva’s parting shot deliberately brings up the issue of childbirth: it is as though Ovid cannot describe female creators (neither of whom actually have children) without incorporating the idea of parenthood.

Many of the same motifs are repeated, in different ways, in another story of a preternaturally skilled creator in Book VIII. This is Daedalus, the famed inventor, who is introduced into Ovid’s story as the builder of the labyrinth that will contain the monstrous child, the Minotaur, of King Minos. Having used his phenomenal creativity to build a prison for the king’s child, Daedalus finds himself the king’s prisoner too, effectively speaking. The only escape from Minos’s island kingdom of Crete would be through the air, and so Daedalus uses his skill at inventing things in order to escape through the only route possible, which is the sky. Ovid describes how Daedalus builds wings using wax and feathers, layering them in different length so they resemble pipes that country people used to fashion where from unequal reed to reed the rise is gradual. And these he held together with twine around the center, at the base he fastened them with wax, and thus arranged he’d bent them slightly — they could imitate the wings of true birds.

As he worked at this, his young son, Icarus, inquisitive, stood by and — unaware that what he did involved a thing that would imperil him delighted, grabbed the feathers that the wind tossed, fluttering, about; or he would ply the blond wax with his thumb; and as he played, the boy disturbed his father’s wonder-work. (Mandelbaum 255)

The imagery here, comparing the wings Daedalus builds for himself and his son to pan-pipes played by shepherds, is an accurate way of describing the layering of feathers on actual bird’s wings, but it also seems to serve the function of likening this form of creativity — the invention of a technological device whose results seem almost magical — to artistic creativity. The pan-pipes are an image of song and, by extension, even of poetry itself. However, Daedalus’s creativity works with physical substance here — the innocent child’s play in his father’s workshop emphasizes the malleability of the wax, and the wind that scatters the feathers, emphasizing their physicality. It is also an example of dramatic irony, because of what will happen to Icarus shortly. Here, the father-son relationship is compared to the parental relationships in nature, as Daedalus teaching his son to fly is compared in a simile to (…the bird who, from her nest on high,

leads out her tender fledglings to the sky).

He urges on his son, saying he must keep up, not fall behind; so he instructs the boy in flight, an art most dangerous; and while his father beats his wings, he turns to watch his son, to see what he has done. (Mandelbaum 256)

This myth remains perennially popular and is well-known today, where Icarus fails to head his father’s instructions and flies too close to the sun, allowing the wax to melt. However, what is a shock to Ovid’s reader is that — in much the same way that Athena and Arachne seem to engage with each other as a substitute mother and substitute daughter — the story of Daedalus and the tragic death of a young boy is doubled, with Daedalus playing a much less sympathetic role in the second version of the story, which regards his nephew Talus. Talus, it seems, was also an inventor like his famous uncle:

He also was the first to twin a pair of metal arms joined by the hinge they shared;

and while the first stood firm — erect and central the second, moving arm described a circle.

And Daedalus, in envy, threw him headlong down from Minerva’s sacred citadel and — lying — said he’d fallen. But Minerva,

who favors those with ingenuity, caught up the boy before he struck the earth;

while he was in midair, the goddess clothed his form with feathers; he became a bird

And yet that bird will never fly too high up from the ground

That bird recalls its ancient fall, and so it shuns the high and always seeks the low. (Mandelbaum 257-8)

For readers who were already familiar with the more famous myth of Daedalus and Icarus, we basically get a horrifying parody of the story, in which the same motifs are rearranged — but not to Daedalus’s credit. Instead, Daedalus sees a younger child and family-member who is also capable of inventing miraculous technological substitutes for physical things — Talus has built a mechanical arm — and kills him for sheer envy, then lies about the deed. But if Icarus in the first story does plummet to impact and dies, Talus is saved by the gods and turned into an actual bird — moreover, a bird that “recalls its ancient fall” and “shuns the high.” In other words, Ovid tells the two Daedalus myths out of chronological sequence, but the second one told seems to answer the first one point for point: the son Icarus flies too high and falls to his death because he does not have actual bird-wings, the nephew Talus is thrown to his death as a rival but is granted real bird-wings and thus learns never to fly too high. But the interrelation between the two stories is fascinating mostly because they suggest a parallelism between Daedalus as inventor and Daedalus as parent. His inventions have earned him immortality — especially the one he built for a parent to cage a monstrous child — but his own parentage seems defined by his own inventions, whether by their failure (as with Icarus) or by the younger competition (as with Talus).

The episodes of Daedalus and Arachne both show Ovid putting creativity and artistic or technological creation in a complicated relationship to actual parenthood. But the poem goes on, in its concluding book, to offer a larger philosophical theory of natural creation, delivered as a speech by the sage Pythagoras. This is one of the more surprising elements of Ovid’s overall construction in the poem, because ultimately Pythagoras’s speech takes on an explicitly religious character, that includes things we might expect (like a prophetic description of the rise of Rome as the pre-eminent world empire of its time) but also thinks that we would not (like lengthy exhortations on the virtues of vegetarianism). Yet Pythagoras is presented as one who knows about the secrets of the origins and the creations of the natural world — “what nature had denied to human sight / he saw with intellect, his mental eye” (Mandelbaum 515) — and he ultimately offers a kind of theory of existence about what underlies the mythology of changing bodies that Ovid has repeatedly sketched out throughout the fifteen books of the poem:

For all things change, but no thing dies.

The spirit wanders: here and there, at will,

The soul can journey from an animal

Into a human body, and from us

To beasts; it occupies a body, but It never perishes. As pliant wax

Is still the selfsame wax, so do I say

That soul, however much it may mitigate,

Is still the same. And thus, lest piety

Suffer defeat when faced with belly’s greed,

Do not expel — so I, a prophet, teach

The soul of others by your butchery:

Those souls are kin to your own souls; don’t feed

Your blood upon another’s blood. (Mandelbaum 519)

Thus the earlier myths — Arachne turned by Minerva into a spider, Talus killed by Daedalus but turned into a partridge before hitting the ground — are shown to be a universal principle, whereby human souls can end up in animals. As a result, bodies in Pythagoras’s speech are like temporary vessels that are occupied by a universal and immortal soul. When Pythagoras comes down to an actual account of childbirth — how humans create other humans — he interestingly uses natural metaphors. The child in his mother’s womb is like a plant and the child’s passage from birth to recognizable human has a stage in which it resembles a four-footed animal:

…our bodies undergo the never-resting changes: what we were and what we are today is not to be tomorrow. Once we were but simple seeds, the germ from which — one hoped — a man might spring;

we dwelled within our mother’s womb until, with hands expert and wily, nature willed that we not lie so cramped in narrow walls, within our mother’s bowels; she drew us out into the open air from our first house.

Brought forth into the light, the infant lay

Helpless; then on all fours, much like a beast,

He hauled his body up and, with his knees

Unsteady, wobbling still, gradually,

Although in need of props, stood on his feet. (Mandelbaum 521)

What is interesting, then, is that the Pythagorean vision implies a sort of hierarchy within creation itself — a newborn human moves from plantlike (as a seed) to beastlike (on all fours) to the thing that walks on two legs (which makes it recognizably human). But at the same time this hierarchy is undercut by a radical democratization, in which the soul is present in everything: whatever form wax is shaped into, it is still wax. And thus whatever physical form a soul is currently animating, it is always the same soul-substance.

What is most interesting here, though, is the nature of this animating force in Ovid’s imagination. We can actually learn something crucial by looking up the etymology of the word “animating” in an English dictionary: it derives from the Latin word (“anima”) for “soul” which is also the same word for “breath” or “wind” — these beliefs are indicated in various other vocabulary words that persist in English, such that the English word “spirit” is related to the English word “respiration,” and both actually indicate an overlap between the movement of air in breathing, and the presence of a soul. Thus if we look back at the description of little Icarus from the vantage of having listened to the long speech of Pythagoras at the poem’s end, we have a different sense of what it means when the boy delighted, grabbed the feathers that the wind tossed, fluttering, about; or he would ply the blond wax with his thumb

The wind that is animating the lifeless feathers here is a sort of universal soul that pervades all things, and the wax that Icarus enjoys squashing and re-forming is the same that forms Pythagoras’s metaphor of the soul. We might additionally note that, for Ovid as a poet, these were also the tools of his trade: poets in the ancient world would compose their first drafts on wax tablets (in the same way that colonial Americans used slates with chalk, because they were easy to erase) and the poetry would be recited out loud, it was not a silent experience but an experience with breath, or soul, behind it. That is why Ovid’s last lines in the Metamorphoses predict his own immortality but also define that immortality through his presence on people’s lips:

But, with the better part of me, I’ll gain

A place that’s higher than the stars: my name,

Indelible, eternal, will remain.

And everywhere that Roman power has sway

In all domains the Latins gain, my lines

Will be on people’s lips, and through all time

If poet’s prophecies are ever right

My name and fame are sure: I shall have life. (Mandelbaum 549)

The same idea from the poem’s closing lines in Book XV is also reflected, we might note, in the opening lines of Book I, where soul and breath are similarly combined (in the way that, etymologically, they still are in English, in “animal” or “anemometer,” “spirit” or “respiration”). It is the breath of the gods that brings Ovid’s own words to life:

My soul would sing of metamorphoses.

But since, o gods, you were the source of these

Bodies becoming other bodies, breathe

Your breath into my book of changes: may

The song I sing be seamless as its way

Weaves from the world’s beginning to our day (Mandelbaum 3)

Creation myths in Ovid therefore always seem to point back to Ovid’s own creation in the Metamorphoses. The tapestries of Minerva and Arachne in Book VI sound, of course, like the Metamorphoses themselves — with their descriptions of the physical transformations (and bad behavior) of the gods. The workshop of Daedalus and the philosophy of Pythagoras both toy with imagery of wax and wind, but the wax is also a poet’s notepad and the wind is a poet’s voice or soul. In some sense, Ovid’s myths of creation seem inevitably to point back to Ovid’s own work as a creator. But it is superior to the creativity of a parent, and respectful to the divine creativity of the gods, because ultimately it requires the reader to put his or her own soul or breath into reading the verses — thus it is the reader’s lips that provide the animating force to Ovid’s creation, making us as readers part of the overall structure of his world and its immortal soul as it is described by Pythagoras in the concluding book.

Works Cited

Allen Mandelbaum (translator). The Metamorphoses of Ovid. New York: Harcourt, 1993. Print.

Get Professional Assignment Help Cheaply

Buy Custom Essay

Are you busy and do not have time to handle your assignment? Are you scared that your paper will not make the grade? Do you have responsibilities that may hinder you from turning in your assignment on time? Are you tired and can barely handle your assignment? Are your grades inconsistent?

Whichever your reason is, it is valid! You can get professional academic help from our service at affordable rates. We have a team of professional academic writers who can handle all your assignments.

Why Choose Our Academic Writing Service?

  • Plagiarism free papers
  • Timely delivery
  • Any deadline
  • Skilled, Experienced Native English Writers
  • Subject-relevant academic writer
  • Adherence to paper instructions
  • Ability to tackle bulk assignments
  • Reasonable prices
  • 24/7 Customer Support
  • Get superb grades consistently

Online Academic Help With Different Subjects


Students barely have time to read. We got you! Have your literature essay or book review written without having the hassle of reading the book. You can get your literature paper custom-written for you by our literature specialists.


Do you struggle with finance? No need to torture yourself if finance is not your cup of tea. You can order your finance paper from our academic writing service and get 100% original work from competent finance experts.

Computer science

Computer science is a tough subject. Fortunately, our computer science experts are up to the match. No need to stress and have sleepless nights. Our academic writers will tackle all your computer science assignments and deliver them on time. Let us handle all your python, java, ruby, JavaScript, php , C+ assignments!


While psychology may be an interesting subject, you may lack sufficient time to handle your assignments. Don’t despair; by using our academic writing service, you can be assured of perfect grades. Moreover, your grades will be consistent.


Engineering is quite a demanding subject. Students face a lot of pressure and barely have enough time to do what they love to do. Our academic writing service got you covered! Our engineering specialists follow the paper instructions and ensure timely delivery of the paper.


In the nursing course, you may have difficulties with literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, critical essays, and other assignments. Our nursing assignment writers will offer you professional nursing paper help at low prices.


Truth be told, sociology papers can be quite exhausting. Our academic writing service relieves you of fatigue, pressure, and stress. You can relax and have peace of mind as our academic writers handle your sociology assignment.


We take pride in having some of the best business writers in the industry. Our business writers have a lot of experience in the field. They are reliable, and you can be assured of a high-grade paper. They are able to handle business papers of any subject, length, deadline, and difficulty!


We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.


Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.

What discipline/subjects do you deal in?

We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.

Are your writers competent enough to handle my paper?

Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.

What if I don’t like the paper?

There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.

Reasons being:

  • When assigning your order, we match the paper’s discipline with the writer’s field/specialization. Since all our writers are graduates, we match the paper’s subject with the field the writer studied. For instance, if it’s a nursing paper, only a nursing graduate and writer will handle it. Furthermore, all our writers have academic writing experience and top-notch research skills.
  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

smile and order essay GET A PERFECT SCORE!!! smile and order essay Buy Custom Essay

Place your order
(550 words)

Approximate price: $22

Calculate the price of your order

550 words
We'll send you the first draft for approval by September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
Total price:
The price is based on these factors:
Academic level
Number of pages
Basic features
  • Free title page and bibliography
  • Unlimited revisions
  • Plagiarism-free guarantee
  • Money-back guarantee
  • 24/7 support
On-demand options
  • Writer’s samples
  • Part-by-part delivery
  • Overnight delivery
  • Copies of used sources
  • Expert Proofreading
Paper format
  • 275 words per page
  • 12 pt Arial/Times New Roman
  • Double line spacing
  • Any citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard)

Our guarantees

Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.

Read more

Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

Read more

Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

Read more

Privacy policy

Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.

Read more

Fair-cooperation guarantee

By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.

Read more
Open chat
Need assignment help? You can contact our live agent via WhatsApp using +1 718 717 2861

Feel free to ask questions, clarifications, or discounts available when placing an order.
  +1 718 717 2861           + 44 161 818 7126           [email protected]
  ++1 718 717 2861         [email protected]