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The epic poem by one of the canonical poets of Latin literature: "A self-conscious tour de force of poetic ingenuity" ( Apollo ). Through a panoply of the most famous Roman myths, Metamorphoses tells the story of the creation of the world. It is one of the most inspirational works in Western culture, stirring the imagination of such artists and writers as Mantegna, Botticelli, Titian, Velázquez, Shakespeare, and Salmon Rushdie. "It is astonishing for its sheer compendiousness. Running ab origine mundi right up to the time of Julius Caesar, Ovid's epic weaves around 250 different myths together into a single 'unbroken song.' No other classical text comes close. To medieval readers it looked like 'nothing less than the Bible and theology of the pagans'—the master key to all their culture and knowledge.... [Ovid's] epic is always pushing at the boundaries of what can and cannot be told; pushing his way into new methods of unfolding old tales. In its quest to do this, Ovid's narration weaves back and forth through mythic time, nesting tales within tales, and tellers of tales within tellers of tales, to the level where a given story might be occurring within as many as five sets of other stories." — Apollo "Ovid had the power to illuminate disturbing aspects of our contemporary culture.... In the same year that he was exiled, Ovid began the Metamorphoses, whose teeming chaos evokes the uncertain, shape-shifting mood of a country—a world—that is reimagining its sexual mores." — The New Yorker

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Book I.
My design leads me to speak of forms changed into new bodies.1 Ye Gods, (for you it was who changed them,) favor my attempts,2 and bring down the lengthened narrative from the very beginning of the world, even to my own times.3

1 Forms changed into new bodies.]—Ver. 1. Some commentators cite these words as an instance of Hypallage as being used for ‘corpora mutata in novas formas,’ ‘bodies changed into new forms;’ and they fancy that there is a certain beauty in the circumstance that the proposition of a subject which treats of the changes and variations of bodies should be framed with a transposition of words. This supposition is perhaps based rather on the exuberance of a fanciful imagination than on solid grounds, as if it is an instance of Hypallage, it is most probably quite accidental; while the passage may be explained without any reference to Hypallage, as the word ‘forma’ is sometimes used to signify the thing itself; thus the words ‘formæ deorum’ and ‘ferarum’ are used to signify ‘the Gods,’ or ‘the wild beasts’ themselves.
2 Favor my attempts.]—Ver. 3. This use of the word ‘adspirate’ is a metaphor taken from the winds, which, while they fill the ship’s sails, were properly said ‘adspirare.’ It has been remarked, with some justice, that this invocation is not sufficiently long or elaborate for a work of so grave and dignified a nature as the Metamorphoses.
3 To my own times.]—Ver. 4. That is, to the days of Augustus Cæsar.
God reduces Chaos into order. He separates the four elements, and disposes the several bodies, of which the universe is formed, into their proper situations.
At first, the sea, the earth, and the heaven, which covers all things, were the only face of nature throughout the whole universe, which men have named Chaos; a rude and undigested mass,4 and nothing more than an inert weight, and the discordant atoms of things not harmonizing, heaped together in the same spot. No Sun5 as yet gave light to the world; nor did the Moon,6 by increasing, recover her horns anew. The Earth did not as yet hang in the surrounding air, balanced by its own weight, nor had Amphitrite7 stretched out her arms along the lengthened margin of the coasts. Wherever, too, was the land, there also was the sea and the air; and thus was the earth without firmness, the sea unnavigable, the air void of light; in no one of them did its present form exist. And one was ever obstructing the other; because in the same body the cold was striving with the hot, the moist with the dry, the soft with the hard, things having weight with those devoid of weight.
To this discord God and bounteous Nature8 put an end; for he separated the earth from the heavens, and the waters from the earth, and distinguished the clear heavens from the gross atmosphere. And after he had unravelled these elements, and released them from that confused heap, he combined them, thus disjoined, in harmonious unison, each in its proper place. The element of the vaulted heaven,9 fiery and without weight, shone forth, and selected a place for itself in the highest region; next after it, both in lightness and in place, was the air; the Earth was more weighty than these, and drew with it the more ponderous atoms, and was pressed together by its own gravity. The encircling waters sank to the lowermost place,10 and surrounded the solid globe.
The ancient philosophers, unable to comprehend how something could be produced out of nothing, supposed a matter pre-existent to the Earth in its present shape, which afterwards received form and order from some powerful cause. According to them, God was not the Creator, but the Architect of the universe, in ranging and disposing the elements in situations most suitable to their respective qualities. This is the Chaos so often sung of by the poets, and which Hesiod was the first to mention.
It is clear that this system was but a confused and disfigured tradition of the creation of the world, as mentioned by Moses; and thus, beneath these fictions, there lies some faint glimmering of truth. The first two chapters of the book of Genesis will be found to throw considerable light on the foundation of this Mythological system of the world’s formation.
Hesiod, the most ancient of the heathen writers who have enlarged upon this subject, seems to have derived much of his information from the works of Sanchoniatho, who is supposed to have borrowed his ideas concerning Chaos from that passage in the second verse of the first Chapter of Genesis, which mentions the darkness that was spread over the whole universe—’and darkness was upon the face of the deep’—for he expresses himself almost in those words. Sanchoniatho lived before the Trojan war, and professed to have received his information respecting the original construction of the world from a priest of ‘Jehovah,’ named Jerombaal. He wrote in the Phœnician language; but we have only a translation of his works, by Philo Judæus, which is by many supposed to be spurious. It is, however, very probable, that from him the Greeks borrowed their notions regarding Chaos, which they mingled with fables of their own invention.

4 A rude and undigested mass.]—Ver. 7. This is very similar to the words of the Scriptures, ‘And the earth was without form and void,’ Genesis, ch. i. ver. 2.
5 No Sun.]—Ver. 10. Titan. The Sun is so called, on account of his supposed father, Hyperion, who was one of the Titans. Hyperion is thought to have been the first who, by assiduous observation, discovered the course of the Sun, Moon, and other luminaries. By them he regulated the time for the seasons, and imparted this knowledge to others. Being thus, as it were, the father of astronomy, he has been feigned by the poets to have been the father of the Sun and the Moon.
6 The Moon.]—Ver. 11. Phœbe. The Moon is so called from the Greek φοῖβος, ‘shining,’ and as being the sister of Phœbus, Apollo, or the Sun.
7 Amphitrite.]—Ver. 14. She was the daughter of Oceanus and Doris, and the wife of Neptune, God of the Sea. Being the Goddess of the Ocean, her name is here used to signify the ocean itself.
8 Nature.]—Ver. 21. ‘Natura’ is a word often used by the Poet without any determinate signification, and to its operations are ascribed all those phenomena which it is found difficult or impossible to explain upon known and established principles. In the present instance it may be considered to mean the invisible agency of the Deity in reducing Chaos into a form of order and consistency. ‘Et’ is therefore here, as grammarians term it, an expositive particle; as if the Poet had said, ‘Deus sive natura,’ ‘God, or in other words, nature.’
9 The element of the vaulted heaven.]—Ver. 26. This is a periphrasis, signifying the regions of the firmament or upper air, in which the sun and stars move; which was supposed to be of the purest fire and the source of all flame. The heavens are called ‘convex,’ from being supposed to assume the same shape as the terrestrial globe which they surround.
10 The lowermost place.]—Ver. 31. ‘Ultima’ must not be here understood in the presence of ‘infima,’ or as signifying ‘last,’ or ‘lowest,’ in a strict philosophical sense, for that would contradict the account of the formation of the world given by Hesiod, and which is here closely followed by Ovid; indeed, it would contradict his own words,—’Circumfluus humor coercuit solidum orbem.’ The meaning seems to be, that the waters possess the lowest place only in respect to the earth whereon we tread, and not relatively to the terrestrial globe, the supposed centre of the system, inasmuch as the external surface of the earth in some places rises considerably, and leaves the water to subside in channels.
After the separation of matter, God gives form and regularity to the universe; and all other living creatures being produced, Prometheus moulds earth tempered with water, into a human form, which is animated by Minerva.
When thus he, whoever of the Gods he was,11 had divided the mass so separated, and reduced it, so divided, into distinct members; in the first place, that it might not be unequal on any side, he gathered it up into the form of a vast globe; then he commanded the sea to be poured around it, and to grow boisterous with the raging winds, and to surround the shores of the Earth, encompassed by it; he added also springs, and numerous pools and lakes, and he bounded the rivers as they flowed downwards, with slanting banks. These, different in different places, are some of them swallowed up12 by the Earth itself; some of them reach the ocean, and, received in the expanse of waters that take a freer range, beat against shores instead of banks.
He commanded the plains,13 too, to be extended, the valleys to sink down, the woods to be clothed with green leaves, the craggy moun...

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Citation styles for Metamorphoses
APA 6 Citation
Ovid. (2020). Metamorphoses ([edition unavailable]). Open Road Media. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Ovid. (2020) 2020. Metamorphoses. [Edition unavailable]. Open Road Media.
Harvard Citation
Ovid (2020) Metamorphoses. [edition unavailable]. Open Road Media. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Ovid. Metamorphoses. [edition unavailable]. Open Road Media, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.