Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 4: Salmacis and Hermaphroditus Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is now Minyas’s third daughter’s turn to tell her story. She says that she wants no more tales of transformations due to love and jealousy, and embarks on the story of Hermaphroditus, Mercury, and Venus’s son: Hermaphroditus is raised by a naiad in a cave until he is 15 when he leaves home to explore the unknown. One day while travelling, he discovers a perfectly clear pool surrounded by green grass. The pool belongs to a nymph, Salmacis, who rejects Diana’s lifestyle of hunting and virginity and likes to bathe naked in pools and stare at herself in the mirror.
Minyas’s daughter notices that love and jealousy cause most transformations. She determines to tell a story about a transformation that does not come from either love or jealousy, but her story is nevertheless unable to avoid the elements of a relationship between a man and a woman. This suggests that most transformations—and most of the action in human reality—comes from the interaction of men and women.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
When Salmacis sees Hermaphroditus, she desires to possess him. She preens herself, then calls to Hermaphroditus, telling him he is so beautiful that he must be a god. She demands that he kiss her and take her to his bed right away. Hermaphroditus blushes and tells her to stop or he’ll run away. Salmacis pretends to leave but hides in the trees, spying on him. She watches him undress for a swim and becomes wild with excitement and desire.
This story is distinct from other stories of desire in the Metamorphoses in that, in this one, the female character is pursuing the male. This reversal of the standard shows that female characters are also capable of being predatory towards their love interests, and that they also use deceptions in order to force men to be with them.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Hermaphroditus jumps into the pool. Salmacis jumps in after him and grabs hold of his body. He tries to get away, but she wraps her limbs around him and holds on. Salmacis prays to the gods that she and Hermaphroditus will become one, and they grant her wish. The two’s bodies and faces merge. This new person can be described neither as male nor female but resembles both. The new Hermaphroditus asks Venus and Mercury that this pool make whoever enters it androgynous. They grant his wish.
Salmacis’s desire for Hermaphroditus leads to her desire to be one with him. While Minyas’s daughter’s story doesn’t deal with love or jealousy as the cause of a transformation, it does seem to explain, by means of a transformation, what the end goal of desire is—that is, union between two people. Altogether, Minyas’s daughters’ stories portray different aspects of love and the metamorphoses they inspire.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Love and Destruction Theme Icon