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The Metamorphoses: Selected Stories in Verse

The Metamorphoses: Selected Stories in Verse

3.7 16
by Ovid

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One of ancient Rome's most celebrated poets, Ovid (43 B.C.–A.D. 18) wrote during the reign of Augustus. His works reflect a sentiment of art for pleasure's sake, without the ethical or moral overtones, which perhaps accounts for his enduring popularity. For more than two thousand years, readers have delighted in Ovid's playful eloquence; his influence on


One of ancient Rome's most celebrated poets, Ovid (43 B.C.–A.D. 18) wrote during the reign of Augustus. His works reflect a sentiment of art for pleasure's sake, without the ethical or moral overtones, which perhaps accounts for his enduring popularity. For more than two thousand years, readers have delighted in Ovid's playful eloquence; his influence on other writers has ranged from Dante and Chaucer to Shakespeare and Milton, and scenes from his stories have inspired many great works by Western artists.
This selection of thirty stories from the verse translation by F. A. Wright of Ovid's famous work, The Metamorphoses, does full justice to the poet's elegance and wit. All of the tales involve a form of metamorphosis, or transformation, and are peopled by mythological gods, demigods, and mortals: Venus and Adonis, Pygmalion, Apollo and Daphne, Narcissus, Perseus, and Andromeda, Orpheus and Eurydice, the Cyclops, and Circe, among others.
Although most of the stories did not originate with Ovid, it is quite possible that had he not written them down, these oral traditions would have been lost forever — and with them, a vast and valuable amount of Greco-Roman culture. This collection of the poet's best and most beloved narrative verses reflects the vitality of classical mythology.
A selection of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

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The Metamorphoses

Selected Stories in Verse


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15362-9



APOLLO, fresh from slaying the Python with his arrows, mocks at his brother Cupid's puny bow. The little god in revenge fires him with love for Daphne, daughter of the river god Peneus, who rejects his suit, and is by her father changed into a laurel.

THEN from his quiver Cupid took two darts:
One kindles love, one hate in mortal hearts.
The first, sharp-pointed, with a golden head,
The other dull, and blunt, and tipped with lead.
With this he Daphne smote, and then he drew
The golden shaft and pierced Apollo through,
Who straightway burned with passion, while the maid
Was of the very name of love afraid.
Within the woods she dwelt, and in her toils
Caught the wild deer, rejoicing in their spoils,
Like chaste Diana with her hair unbound,
Her home the forest brake, her bed the ground.

Full many a lover sought her for his bride;
But all she drove unheeded from her side,
Impatient of a man, nor cared to know
The joys that Hymen and young Love allow.
Oft would her father say: 'A husband take—
It is your due—and me a grandsire make.'
But still she shrank from wedlock as a thing
Of evil concupiscence and would fling
Her arms about him and with burning face
In coaxing guise would ask him thus for grace:—
'As Jove Diana, so permit thou me
To live unwedded and a virgin be.'

But though her father yielded to her prayer,
Her own soft body and her visage fair
Forbade what she desired. On a day
Apollo saw the maiden, and straightway
Longed to possess her; and too soon believed
Possession certain, by himself deceived.
As burns the stubble in a corn field dry;
As hedges blaze, when travellers passing by

Have built a fire too close or at the dawn
Have left it smouldering; so the god was thrawn
By fiery passion, and with fancies vain
Must seek at first love's burden to sustain.

He sees her unkempt hair, and fondly cries:—
'What if it were arrayed?' He sees her eyes
Gleaming like stars; he sees her rosy lips
And with another sense would fain eclipse
That lovely vision. And, while he admires
Her hands and naked arms, his hot desires
Imagine hidden beauties in his dear,
Which when unveiled shall yet more fair appear.
But still she flies him, swifter than the breeze,
Nor cares when Phoebus calls with words like these:—

"Stay, river maiden, stay; I am no foe;
Not as a wolf do I a lamb pursue,
Nor as an eagle hunts the timid dove:
The cause of my pursuit's not rage, but love.

How do I fear lest in the thorns you fall,
With bleeding limbs, and I be cause of all.
Rash girl, you do not know from whom you fly:
You do not know; that is the reason why.
Nay, do not run with such excessive speed,
And then I too shall not such effort need.

I am no common swain, nor do I keep
Upon these hills a flock of bleating sheep.
I am the son of the All Highest; mine
The realm of Patara, and Delphi's shrine,
Claros, and Tenedos: by me men see
What is, what has been, what is yet to be.
By me the lyre responds to tuneful song.
To me the bow and its sure darts belong:
Ah, that Love's shaft more certain than my own,
Has pierced my heart and to my vitals flown.
Throughout the world all herbs obey my call,
Who did invent the art medicinal:
Alas, that love cannot by herbs be healed,
Or those kind drugs that I to men revealed."

More would he say; but lo, the timid maid
Fled from his side and left the words unsaid
Yet even than she seemed surpassing fair
As the soft breeze showed all her body bare,
With garments fluttering in the wanton wind,
Her hair unbound and streaming loose behind.
"No more," he cries, "of loving words I'll waste."
Flight spurs desire. He follows hot in haste;
E'en as a greyhound, when a hare's in sight,
Seeks out his prey, while she in headlong flight
Herself seeks safety, and can scarcely know
Whether she be already caught or no;
So close the muzzle to her flying heels,
So near the fangs that closing round she feels.

Thus ran the god and maid, she sped by fear
And he by hope, on love's wings drawing near,
Nor gave her time for rest, but with hot breath
Fanned her loose hair and her white neck beneath.

At last her strength was spent, and loud she cried,
O'ercome with terror, to her father's tide:—
" Help me, dear father, by thy power divine,
And change the fateful beauty that is mine."
Scarce had she spoken when a torpor fell
Upon her limbs; a thin and bark-like shell
Begirt her bosom; where her hair had been
Sprang forth a maze of boughs and foliage green.
Her face, so fair, took on a leafy dress;
Her flying feet the clinging tree roots press;
All, all is changed, except her loveliness.

Metam., I, 468-552.



Goat-footed Pan, falling enamoured of Syrinx, pursued the reluctant nymph, who, unable to escape from him, in distress called on her river sisters for aid, and was thereupon by them changed into a tuft of reeds. The story is told briefly by Ovid in the Metamorphoses in his most lively and vivid manner, but, curiously enough, it is made there to serve the purpose of a soporific. Mercury, sent by his father Jove to slay the hundred-eyed Argus and deliver Io from the bondage laid upon her by wrathful Juno, succeeds with this tale in putting the watchful herdsman to sleep, and then kills him.

THEN spake the god:—" On Arcady's cool heights
Among the nymphs whom Nonacris delights
One naiad was there, Syrinx called by name,
Fairest of all and most renowned in fame.
Oft would she fly the satyrs, when they wooed here,
And gods of wood and field who swift pursued her;

For she a virgin was, of Dian's band,
And girt in Dian's fashion well might stand
For Dian's self, save that her bow was made
Of horn, a bow of gold her queen arrayed:
And even thus she was so passing fair
That it was hard to choose between the pair.

One day, as from Lycaeus she came down,
Pan garlanded with spiky pine cone crown
Beheld her and began to woo the maid "—
Here the god stopped nor then to Argus said
How the fair virgin spurned the rustic god,
And flying o'er the wastes by men untrod
Came to the bank where Ladon's waters gleam
And saw her way barred by the sandy stream.
How then she begged the nymphs to change her form,
And Pan, who thought to clasp a bosom warm,
Found but a tuft of reeds which to his sighs
Touched by the wind with plaintive note replys.

Nor told he how charmed by the music sweet
Pan cried:—"In union here at least we meet."
And so the pipes unequal, made of reed,
And joined with wax, took then in very deed
The maiden's name, and "syrinx" still are called—
All this he said not; for by sleep enthralled
He saw those Argus eyes fast closed at length,
And took his wand, and with its magic strength
Deepened their slumber, and while fast he slept,
His curved falchion from its sheath he swept,
And smote between the neck and nodding head.
Forth gushed the blood and Argus falls down dead,
Staining the rocks with gore: his hundred eyes
Can see no more, and sightless there he lies.

Metam., I, 689-721.



In no legend does the amoral character of the old Greek mythology appear more clearly than in the tale of Jupiter and Callisto. After the great conflagration that follows Phaethon's rash attempt to drive the chariot of the sun, the father of the gods descends to earth to repair the destruction that the fire has caused. He sees there a virgin nymph Callisto, himself assumes the form of her patron goddess Diana, and in this disguise takes advantage of her innocence. She bears a child, but is left by the god to be shamefully expelled from Diana's company, and then by the jealousy of Juno transformed into a she-bear. Only when her son, grown to manhood, is about to kill his own mother in her beast shape does Jupiter intervene and change them both into stars. The story is told by Ovid with his usual light gaiety; but in itself it is far from being humorous, and is a typical example of those fables that seemed to Plato so objectionable.

AND now great Jove surveys his walls on high,
If that the fire had marred their symmetry.
But his firm citadel untarnished stands,
And straight he turns his eyes to mortal lands.
First for Arcadia, his chiefest care,
He wakes afresh the streams that scarcely dare
As yet to flow and bids new grass grow green
And verdant forests deck the ravaged scene.
In eager haste he hurries to and fro
Intent upon his kindly task, when lo
He sees a virgin in the Arcadian glade
And burns with sudden passion for the maid.
She was in truth a nymph most wondrous fair;
No need had she with art to tire her hair
Or spin soft wool to make her raiment fine;
Her flowing locks one fillet did entwine,
One clasp her tunic fastened when with bow
Or spear in hand she to the chase would go.
Of all the maids on the Maenalian height
None was more pleasing in Diana's sight,
None had more title to the goddess' love,
Ah, that such favours ever fleeting prove!

'Twas midnoon past: the sun in heaven stood
As the nymph came into the virgin wood.
She doffed her arrows, her stout bow unstrung
And on the grassy sward her body flung
Then of her quiver there a pillow made
And wearied slept, alone, yet unafraid.
The god beheld her, as at ease she lay,
And cried, intent at once on amorous play:—
'My wife of my deceit will never know.
But even if she sees me here below
And in her jealous spite begins to bawl,
I shall not care: the wench is worth it all.'

At once he takes the visage and the ways
Of chaste Diana and approaching says:
'Dear nymph, the best beloved of all my train,
Where hast to-day been hunting? I am fain
To hear of all thy doings.' 'Mistress mine,'
Replied the maid, 'I greet thee, queen divine,
Who art to me more mighty e'en than Jove;
I say it, though he hear me there above.'

Jove smiled to see himself preferred like this
In woman's guise to Jove, and gave a kiss
More ardent than a girl's; then, when she tried
To tell her tale, he drew her to his side,
Holding her closely lest she should escape,
And by his acts betrayed his own true shape.

Callisto strove with all a maiden's power—
Juno had been more kind, if at that hour
She had beheld her—but how with a male
Can a girl wrestle or 'gainst Jove prevail?
The god was victor, and, his triumph won,
Went back to heaven and left the maid undone.

Metam., II, 401-438.



The various changes of form that Jove assumed in pursuit of his amours are briefly catalogued in the Sixth Book of the Metamorphoses. Arachne there upon her tapestry tells how the god as an eagle beguiled Asterië, as a swan Leda, as a satyr Antiopë, as Amphitryon Alcmena, as golden rain Danaë, as fire Aegina, as a shepherd Mnemosynë, and as a snake Proserpina. But, strangely enough, none of these stories is taken as the subject for a separate episode in the poem; and even the tale of Europa, so favourite a subject for sculptors and painters, is scarcely treated with that wealth of pictorial detail which Ovid frequently employs. According to Herodotus, Europa, daughter of Agenor, king of Sidon, was carried off by a Cretan pirate, perhaps the same Captain Bull who seduced Pasiphae, in revenge for the rape of Io from Argos. But Ovid prefers the more romantic version of the story.

THEN did great Jove call Mercury to his side,
And, fain his amorous purpose still to hide,
Said to him: "Son, my dear confederate,
Who on my bidding ever loves to wait,
Go now, and quickly, in your wonted flight
And seek the land that Maia holds in sight
Upon the leftward hand: 'tis Sidon named
By those who dwell within its borders famed.
There you will see along the grassy hill,
The royal cattle, grazing, each his fill.
It is my wish that they should driven be,
Down from their mountain pastures to the sea."

So spake the god; and soon at his command
He saw the cattle heading to the sand
Along the margin of a sheltered bay,
Where the king's daughter oft was wont to play
With her dear Syrian maids. He knew full well
That love and dignity can never dwell
For long together or at ease agree;
And so he laid aside his majesty,

And ceased to be great heaven's almighty god,
Who makes the world to tremble at his nod,
With three-forked lightning and with sceptre dread,
But turned himself into a bull instead.

Thus to the royal kine he did repair,
And with them lowed and cropped the grass, most fair
Of all the herd; his skin as white as snow
Untrodden and unmelted, ere it flow
Beneath the rainy south; his muscles strong
Upon a rounded neck; his dewlap long;
His horns, though small, in shape most perfect grown
And more transparent than a topaz stone.
Gentle his eyes, not flashing fiercely keen;
And on his forehead Peace abode serene.

Agenor's daughter looks with wondering eye
On the kind beast; nor dares at first draw nigh
To touch him, though so placid he appears.
But soon emboldened she forgets her fears,

And gives him flowers to taste. Presaging bliss
On her white hands he lays a gentle kiss,
And rapt with pleasure scarcely can endure
To check his onset and make triumph sure.
Now he desports upon the grassy plain,
And now, returning to the shore again,
He rolls upon the sand and lets her press
Her hands upon him in a soft caress
And round his horns fresh rosy garlands cast,
Until she climbs upon his back at last,
Unwitting whom she rides. Then from the strand
Slowly the god moves out and leaves the land
And soon, the shallows past, speeds on his way
Across deep ocean carrying his prey.
One hand upon his back, one on his horn
She rests and trembling from the land is borne;
While as she leaves her native shore behind
Her filmy tunic flutters in the wind.

Metam., II, 836-875.



Actaeon, grandson of Cadmus, king of Thebes, while wandering in the woods unwittingly discovered Diana at the bath. The goddess in cruel revenge turned the youth into a stag, and in that shape he was torn to pieces by his own hounds.

A VALE Gargaphië lay within that land
Thick set with pines and dark with cypress wood.
And in its depths, not made by craftsman's hand,
But due to Nature's art, a grotto stood.
For from the living rock and porous stone
She had carved out its arches all alone.

'Twas Dian's sacred haunt, and on one side
A bubbling spring sent forth a silver wave
Which made a pool with grassy banks set wide
Wherein the goddess loved her limbs to lave
When she was weary of the sun and heat
And from the chase was fain to make retreat.

That day into the grotto she did go,
And gave her armour-bearer there to hold
Her hunting-spear, her quiver, and her bow,
Its string relaxed, fashioned of shining gold.
One nymph stood helping till she was ungowned,
Two more her sandals from her feet unbound.

Then Theban Crocalë with fingers deft
Ties in a knot her lady's loosened hair,
Albeit her own to stream at ease is left;
While others in their urns fresh water bear;
Psecas, and Rhanis, and young Hyalë
And with them Nephelë and Phialë.

But as Diana the cool wave was cleaving
Actaeon wandered through the unknown grove
With doubtful steps, his wonted labours leaving,
And came into the cave. The fates above
Decreed it should be so; nor did he know
What thing that grotto to his eyes would show.

Loud shrieked the nymphs when they the stranger sighted.
And beating their bare breasts in terror cried
And thronging round their queen, a band affrighted,
Sought from his gaze her nakedness to hide.
But 'twas in vain: the goddess was too tall
And head and shoulders stood above them all.

Red as the clouds upon a summer evening,
Red as the dawn was fair Diana's cheek
As there she stood, no veils her beauty screening,
And turning back looked round her shafts to seek.
No arrows had she near; so in their place
She threw bright drops of water in his face.

And as she cast the vengeful stream upon him
And saw his visage moistened by the foam
She turned again and looking sternly on him
Spoke him these words in presage of his doom:—
"Go—if you can—and say that you have seen
The naked body of the huntress queen."

No more she said: the water's touch he felt
And from his head stag's horns at once did grow;
His ears grew sharp, his skin a dappled pelt,
Arms turned to legs, and hands to hoofs below;
While on his heart a beast-like terror fell
And swift in flight he bounded down the dell.

In a clear pool he sees his transformed face.
'Alas' he tries to say; but no words come.
A muffled groan of utterance takes the place;
And yet his mind remains. Shall he go home
Or lurk concealed within the forest drear?
Shame bars the one way and the other fear.

But as he stands perplexed, he sights the hounds
And flies before those whom so oft he led.
With their fierce baying the wide wood resounds,
And swift the pack upon their master sped
And tore him limb from limb while all the air
Rang with his cries of terror and despair.

Metam., III, 155-209,


Excerpted from The Metamorphoses by Ovid, TOM CRAWFORD. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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