Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 10: Venus’ Story: Atalanta and Hippomenes Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Venus tells Adonis about Atalanta, a girl who could run faster than any man. Atalanta was very beautiful, and all the men wanted to marry her, but the gods had warned her never to marry. Atalanta devised a game for turning away all her suitors, telling them that they could marry her if they beat her at a running race. If they lost, however, Atalanta would kill them. Many men tried to beat her, but they all lost.
The gods warn Atalanta never to marry, as if to save her from something destructive. However, Atalanta’s unattainability also causes a lot of damage, as she kills every suitor who fails to outrun her. In this way, both marrying and resisting marriage cause trouble.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
During one of these races, a spectator named Hippomenes scoffs at the foolishness of the men who try to outrun Atalanta. However, when he sees Atalanta, he gasps with desire and instantly decides to join the race. When all the suitors are outrun and Atalanta crowned victor, Hippomenes steps forward. He tells Atalanta that she won’t be sad if she loses to him because he is so courageous.
Before Hippomenes sees Atalanta, he is able to think rationally, seeing how joining the race only leads to death. However, when he sees Atalanta and feels desire for her, he instantly joins the race, showing how desire acts against rationality and makes a person reckless.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Atalanta is moved by Hippomenes’s youth, bravery, and determination to marry her. She wishes he would find another woman to marry so that he won’t have to die for losing the race. She doesn’t think he should be punished for loving her and wishes she had not been told to never take a husband.
Having sworn off love, Atalanta is moved against her will by Hippomenes. She then recognizes the predicament that love places her in: losing to Hippomenes will displease the gods, but winning will make her kill a person she likes.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
As Hippomenes and Atalanta prepare to race, a friend of Hippomenes prays to Venus to assist his friend. Moved, Venus picks three golden apples from a sacred tree. She goes to Hippomenes and gives him the apples with instructions. As the race begins, Atalanta quickly overtakes Hippomenes. Then, Hippomenes throws one of the apples. Distracted, Atalanta goes after the apple and falls behind. She catches back up, but Hippomenes throws the second apple. Just before the finish line, he throws the final apple (which Venus makes heavy), distracting Atalanta again and winning the race.
Although the gods originally warned Atalanta never to marry, Venus is now supporting Hippomenes in his effort to change Atalanta’s mind by winning and forcing her to marry him. Venus is moved to help Hippomenes when his friend prays to her, showing how the gods act upon whims and spontaneous emotions. What is more, the gods rarely act in unison with each other and go against one another’s intentions.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Get the entire Metamorphoses LitChart as a printable PDF.
Metamorphoses PDF
After Hippomenes and Atalanta marry, Hippomenes forgets to thank Venus for her assistance. Offended, Venus determines to punish him and make an example out of him. As Hippomenes and Atalanta are walking one day, Venus excites them with lust. They go into an ancient cavern and have sex, defiling the sacred space. To punish them, Venus transforms them into lions with faces of anger. Venus ends her story by begging Adonis to avoid lions.
Venus is angry that Atalanta and Hippomenes are ungrateful, but she doesn’t punish them simply for this. Instead, she manipulates them into committing a crime: infecting them with lust, thereby leading them to defile the sacred cave. In this way, Venus pettily forces them to commit a universal crime so she can punish them for a personal offense. 
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon