Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Summary
Analysis
Aeneas and the Trojans land on the shore of Cumae, a marshy land. Aeneas visits Sybil—a woman who possesses long life—to ask her if he can visit Hades to see his father. Sybil grants his wish and tells him to break off a golden branch from a nearby tree. Aeneas breaks off the branch, then descends through the trunk to Hades. There, he sees his ancestors and the ghost of Anchises. He then climbs back to land and thanks Cumae, telling her that he’ll build her a temple even if she isn’t really a goddess.
The fact that Aeneas can visit his deceased ancestors proves that no one in the Metamorphoses ever truly passes away. When a character dies, they either transform into another animal or element of nature, or they travel to Hades where they live as a spirit who can still be visited and consulted. In this sense, things in the world change, but they never die.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
Cumae explains that she isn’t a goddess. However, Apollo once gave her the opportunity to become immortal. Trying to seduce Cumae, Apollo had promised to grant her whatever she wished. Cumae had asked that she live as many years as there were grains of dust in a pile at her feet. Apollo granted her wish and said he’d give her eternal youth as well if she would sleep with him. Cumae rejected Apollo, and now she has 300 more years to live, shrinking and growing decrepit.
Sybil realizes that there is no reason to desire long life unless it also comes with agelessness. Although she has 300 more years to live, she is steadily decaying by the minute. This shows how nothing ever remains the same. Even when something remains untransformed—remains, like Sybil, in the same form for centuries—they are still transformed by the decay of time.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon