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Metamorphoses: Book 14: The Ships of Aeneas Summary & Analysis

Even without the help of Diomedes, Turnus proceeds to challenge Aeneas to a war. After days of bloodshed, Turnus attacks the Trojan’s ships and lights them on fire. Cybele—the mother of the gods—notices the smoke and despairs because the Trojan ships are built from sacred wood. She shouts to Turnus that his efforts are in vain. Cybele gathers a sea-storm and plunges the burning ships into the waves. She transforms the vessels into giant sea-nymphs. These sea-nymphs live on in the ocean, supporting passing ships (except those that belong to Greeks) with their hands. Later, the nymphs rejoice when they see the wreckage of Ulysses’s ship.
Cybele helps Aeneas and the Trojans not because she thinks their case in the war is more just, but simply because their ships are made out of sacred wood. This shows how the gods’ concerns are not necessarily centered around the world’s overall justice, but about small details that usually have to do with personal preference. Cybele’s concern for the wood of the Trojan’s ships ultimately destroys Ulysses’s ships, showing that the gods’ arbitrary preferences change the course of major events.
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