Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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

Metamorphoses: Book 12: Cycnus Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rumour spreads word to Troy that Greece is coming to start war with them. The Trojan army assembles to wait for the Greeks. As soon as the Greeks arrive, HectorAeacus’s brother—and Cycnus—son of Neptune—kill many of them. On the Greek side, Achilles kills many Trojans. Achilles then sets his sight on Cycnus and casts his spear at him, boasting that he will kill him. Although his aim is perfect, the spear only bruises Cycnus. Cycnus boasts that as the son of Neptune, he is invincible, and that his armor is merely for show. He tries to kill Achilles, but his spear is blocked by Achilles’s shield.
Achilles and Cycnus are two war heroes on either side of the Trojan War. They represent the confrontation of two heroes who are equal in lineage. They are both the sons of gods or goddesses—Cycnus of Neptune and Achilles of Thetis. As soldiers, however, Achilles behaves as a mortal, blocking Cycnus’s blows only with his own skill and tools, whereas Cycnus behaves more as a god, having the power to avoid being impaled.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Achilles tries several more times to kill Cycnus, but his weapons have no effect. Furious, he asks how he can fail to kill one man when he is such an excellent war hero. He flings his spear at another Trojan and kills him. Triumphant, he casts his spear at Cycnus again, but it bounces off. Yelling with rage, Achilles pulls out his sword, but his blows only dent its blade. He starts beating Cycnus with his shield, chasing him until he trips. He pins Cycnus to the ground and strangles him with the straps of his helmet. Then, Neptune transforms Cycnus into a swan.
Achilles’s victory over Cycnus shows that a war hero with no special divine powers can beat another war hero endowed with divine powers. Although Cycnus is surrounded by a force that protects him from all sharp points, Achilles finds a way around this with sheer rage and brute force, beating and strangling Cycnus to death. This conflict proves human strength can at times be stronger than divine power.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon