Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 1: Lycaön Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jupiter, also known as Jove, looks down from heaven and sighs, thinking of a gruesome visit he paid to Lycaön—a corrupt king. Jove calls for the gods, and they walk the Milky Way to assemble at Jove’s palace. Jove vents his anger to the gods, saying that he fears for the universe even more than he feared the giants who tried to capture the heavens. The giants were one enemy, but Jove now fears he’ll have to destroy the whole world to punish its corruption. He wants to populate the earth with demigods but knows they won’t be safe around Lycaön, who wants to kill Jove. The assembly roars for Lycaön to be killed.
Lycaön not only refuses to worship the gods but also desires to kill Jupiter. This suggests that Lycaön believes he does not owe anything to the gods, and that he desires to be the most powerful man in existence. In contrast to the monstrous giants who sought to usurp the heavens, Lycaön is merely a human being. Lycaön’s humanity unsettles Jupiter even more than the giants because it indicates that the whole human race is becoming corrupted.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Jupiter assures the gods that Lycaön has been punished and recounts the story to them: Jove heard of the evil times on earth, and so he dressed as a mortal and went to investigate. After travelling and witnessing the evil, Jove arrives at Lycaön’s palace. He reveals to the people there that he is a god. Lycaön mocks him and plans to test Jove’s immortality by trying to murder him later that night. Unable to wait, Lycaön murders Jove’s companion, roasts his flesh, and serves it at the banquet. Then Jove strikes the palace with lightning. Lycaön flees to the country where he transforms into a wolf but maintains his savage expression.
The story of Lycaön’s punishment involves the first human transformation that the gods enact on the earth following creation. To punish Lycaön for his sin, Jupiter transforms him into an animal—into a creature lower and with less dominion than a human being. Lycaön’s transformation at the outset of the world shows two things: that nothing in the universe remains the same, and that the gods are all-powerful.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Jupiter explains to the assembly that Lycaön is only one of many evil men who deserve to die. Madness and evil govern the earth. Jove plans to punish everyone. Most of the gods agree, but some don’t want to end the human race; they wonder who will honor the gods when only animals are left. Jove tells them he will breed a new human race, better than the one before it.
Human beings occupy a complicated place in the universe that confuses the gods when they gather to discuss the world’s affairs. While human beings are uniquely able to upset the gods with their corruption, they are also the most pleasing to the gods, since they’re the only creatures that recognize the divine world.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon