Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 3: Acoetes and the Lydian Sailors Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Pentheus’s prisoner introduces himself as Acoetes. His parents were humble people who left him no material possessions after they died. Instead, Acoetes’s father left him with the skill for fishing. Over time, Acoetes learned how to sail a ship so he could use his skill for fishing in new regions.
Acoetes’s story stresses that he is humble, having been raised modestly by fishermen. Knowing that Acoetes becomes a follower of Bacchus, Acoetes’s modest character suggests that humility is a key characteristic of a devout (that is, god-honoring) person.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
One day, Acoetes’s fishing crew anchors their ship on an island called Chios where they spend the night. The next morning, as they board the ship, Acoetes notices that one of his men has captured a boy with a beautiful face who is stumbling in a drunken stupor. Looking at this boy, Acoetes is convinced that he is a god and not a mortal boy. Acoetes prays to the divine to forgive his men for capturing the god and not to ruin their voyage. Acoetes’s men rise up against their captain, trying to knock him overboard.
Acoetes’s story suggests that people who have a tendency towards cruelty generally do not feel inclined to worship the gods or even believe in their existence. Acoetes’s crew capture the young boy because they do not believe that it is possible for a god to inhabit a human form. Closed-minded in this regard, they stumble into being cruel to a god by being cruel to a human being.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Bacchus (the captured boy) wakes up from his drowsy state and asks what is happening and where the sailors are plotting to take him. One of the sailors asks Bacchus where he’d like to be taken. Bacchus replies that his homeland is Naxos, and if they take him there, he will be safe. Acoetes starts to sail right towards Naxos, but one of his men whispers maliciously for him to steer the other way and takes over the wheel.
Acoetes’s men believe that the boy (the disguised Bacchus) is no threat to them because he appears to be a child. They see only what is in front of them—a innocent, frail child—and don’t consider that he may be an incarnation of a god. Their lack of understanding of changes of form (metamorphoses) causes them to disregard Bacchus’s power.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Bacchus, realizing that the sailors are deceiving him, pretends to weep and asks why grown men enjoy playing a trick on a boy. Acoetes cries with him. Suddenly, the ship stops. Confused, the sailors try to row, but their oars have become overgrown with ivy. Bacchus is suddenly crowned with grape vines and surrounded by tigers and lynxes. The sailors jump up in fear, but their bodies start to turn black and scaly. Finally, they become dolphins and dive into the sea. Acoetes, who is untransformed, sails Bacchus to Naxos. There, he worships Bacchus and joins his religion.
Bacchus initiates a huge display of transformation in order to prove his power to Acoetes’s men and to punish them for mistreating a god. Acoetes, who instantly believed that the child was Bacchus and tried to protect him from his crew, remains untransformed. Therefore, in this instance, transformation is used as a punishment for neglecting to worship a god. Acoetes gets to remain in his human form because he was humble before Bacchus.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
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