Orpheus sings that Paphos gave birth to a son named Cinyras. Orpheus then warns of the shocking crime he is about to describe and instructs fathers and daughters to cover their ears. Myrrha, Cinyras’s daughter, is pursued by many suitors, but she is filled with incestuous desire for her father. Myrrha prays to the gods to remove her wicked desire. She resents that animals are allowed to mate as they please, but that human morality prevents her mating with her father. She wishes that her father wasn’t her father so that she could love him as she wants to. She considers running away but can’t stand to be away from Cinyras.
Myrrha’s tortured inner dialogue illustrates how desire has turned her against herself. She becomes unable to make decisions—whether to run away or to stay—because two parts of herself are wanting two different things. What is more, desire turns her against human morality, causing her to wish she were an animal so that no laws would forbid her following her desire. In this way, desire destroys Myrrha herself, turning her into a battlefield of two selves.
Cinyras approaches Myrrha to ask her which of her suitors she wants as a husband. Myrrha gazes at Cinyras with longing and tells him that she wants a husband like him. Mistaking her meaning for daughterly duty, Cinyras kisses her. That night, Myrrha lies awake tormented by passion. At last, she decides that it would be best to die. She gets up and prepares to hang herself with a belt from the rafters.
The inner torment that Myrrha’s incestuous desire creates leads her to attempt suicide. This extreme response shows how destructive an uncontrollable desire is: it leads a person into such a tortured state of indecision that they might contemplate ending their own life.
Overhearing movement, a nurse runs into the bedroom and prevents Myrrha’s suicide. The nurse weeps and embraces Myrrha, insisting on knowing why she wants to kill herself. Myrrha remains silent, but the nurse presses, suspecting that Myrrha is in love and promising to help. Myrrha buries her head in her pillow and says that what the nurse wants to know is a crime. Relentless, the nurse threatens to tell Cinyras that Myrrha tried to kill herself. At last, Myrrha whispers that her mother is lucky to have the husband she has. Appalled, the nurse tells Myrrha to abandon her passion. Myrrha maintains that she wants to die if she can’t have her father. Reluctantly, the nurse promises to get her what she wants.
The nurse, determined to prevent Myrrha killing herself at all costs, ultimately gives Myrrha the possibility of fulfilling her desire. In this way, the nurse’s timely arrival is a blessing and a curse. She saves Myrrha’s life—a commendable action—but to do so, she has to enable Myrrha to pursue incest. In this way, the nurse’s care for Myrrha leads her to nurture Myrrha’s bad desires. The nurse, in saving Myrrha’s life, prevents one of desire’s destructive consequences but enables another.
During this time, Cinyras is sleeping alone for nine nights while his wife participates in a festival for Ceres. The nurse goes to Cinyras and tells him that a girl Myrrha’s age is interested in being his mistress. Cinyras asks for the girl to be sent to his bedroom that night. When night comes, Myrrha guiltily leaves her bedroom. Ignoring several ominous signs, she goes to her father’s dark bedroom. She falters and wants to run, but the nurse presents her to Cinyras, and they have sex.
At this point, the nurse is a decidedly bad influence on Myrrha. Myrrha’s better nature makes her pause on her father’s doorstep, not wanting to go through with the plan. The nurse, perhaps thinking she is saving Myrrha’s life, urges her to continue. As a character, the nurse shows that when a person is in a place of indecision, others can easily influence them in the wrong ways.
Myrrha returns to Cinyras’s bedroom for several nights. One night, Cinyras decides he wants to see his mistress and comes into the room holding a torch. When he sees Myrrha, he grabs his sword, wanting to kill her. Myrrha flees and roams the land, her stomach growing big with Cinyras’s baby. At last she prays to the heavenly powers to neither let her live nor die because she deserves to be part of neither world. The gods grant her wish and transform her into the myrrh tree.
In Myrrha’s case, her transformation places her in a state of limbo between life and death. This means that she does not continue to live but that she also doesn’t descend into Hades. All the same, her decision about her fate reveals that no one really dies in this world, but only passes into another form or another place. In this way, the Metamorphoses suggests that there is no real death.