Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Metamorphoses can help.

Metamorphoses: Book 1: The Creation Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ovid starts by explaining what the universe was like before Earth came into being. Before creation, the universe is one face, called Chaos. This face has no distinct parts and is a jumble of incompatible elements. The gods Titan (the sun), Phoebe (the moon), and Amphitrite (the ocean) don’t exist. The land, sea, and sky are all present in Chaos, but they are indistinguishable. None of these elements has a shape, and they all conflict with each other.
Ovid’s account of the creation of the universe is not so much a creation as an organization. Instead of asserting that the universe is created out of nothing, Ovid asserts that the materials of the universe already existed and only needed to be set in order. This suggests that the materials that make up the universe have always existed and therefore didn’t come into being in a particular moment.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Then, the kind god of nature settles the conflict of the elements by separating them. Fire, the lightest element, rises to the heavens; air settles between the fire and earth, the heaviest element. Water, lighter than earth by as much as fire is lighter than air, surrounds the earth. Then, the god who did this forms the earth into a sphere so it hangs in balance. He adds springs to the ocean and rivers to the land. Then he makes plains, valleys, mountains, and forests.
When Ovid explains the organization that creates the universe, he specifies that the god of nature who initiates it is kind. This suggests that giving form to disorganized material is a generous action, creating a more peaceful, constituted world out of chaos. In this way, Ovid introduces the act of transforming as an act of benevolence.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
This wise god traces five zones on the earth’s surface. The central zone is too hot to live in, and the top and bottom zone are buried in snow. Between the snow and heat two zones blend the hot and cold into a livable temperature. The god puts the mists, winds, and thunder in the air. The winds—gods Eurus, Zephyr, Boreas, and Auster—would tear the earth to pieces if they didn’t counteract each other. The creator puts a pure ether above the air. Stars shine that were hidden before in Chaos’s darkness.
Ovid also explains that the act of organizing the world is an act of wisdom. Separating the elements and organizing the gods of the winds has a balancing effect. Without this organization, where the winds are set up to counteract each other, the winds would destroy everything. In this way, form and organization stabilize the powerful forces of the universe.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
The god fills the universe with creatures. He puts fish in the sea, animals on the land, and birds in the air. But the world needs a “holier creature” and so Man comes. Man was either made by the creator in hopes of a better universe or by the god Prometheus sprinkling divine raindrops on earth to create the likenesses of gods. Animals walk on four feet and look down, but Man stands up and looks at the sky. In this way, dirt was metamorphosed into Man.
In the creation of the universe, Man is created to have dominion over animals. Significantly, however, exactly how and why human beings are superior is left unknown. Ovid provides several possible explanations for their superiority, suggesting that their exact disposition and their future experience will be somewhat enigmatic.
Themes
Humanity vs. Nature  Theme Icon
Quotes
Get the entire Metamorphoses LitChart as a printable PDF.
Metamorphoses PDF