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Metamorphoses: Book 5: Calliope’s Song: Arethusa Summary & Analysis

Once Ceres has her daughter back, she goes back to the nymph Arethusa to hear her life story. Arethusa explains that she used to be a brave huntress. However, she was known more for her beauty than her bravery, and this shamed her. One day, as she is coming back exhausted from a hunt, she comes across a perfectly still pool. She wades in and then, unable to resist, flings off her clothes and dives in the water. Suddenly, she hears a deep murmur beneath the water. Then, a water nymph named Alpheus appears. Not having time to grab her clothes, Arethusa flees naked and Alpheus chases her.
When Arethusa lets down her guard and swims carefree in the pool, she is noticed by Alpheus, who attempts to ambush her. Similarly, when Daphne shook off the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing and ran carefree through the woods, Apollo was tempted by her and became more tempted the more Daphne ran. In these cases, the female character’s empowerment tragically becomes her vulnerability.
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Arethusa runs and runs, but Alpheus starts to catch up to her. She sees his shadow looming in front of her and cries out to Diana for help. Diana surrounds Arethusa in a swirl of mist to conceal her from Alpheus. Alpheus circles around the mist, calling her name. Arethusa shifts a step and turns into a pool of water. Realizing that the water is Arethusa, Alpheus reverts to water form so he can unite with her. Diana creates a cleft in the earth and Arethusa plunges down to join Diana’s isle.
Diana is able to save Arethusa from being raped by Alpheus, but only by transforming her into a spring. Similarly, Daphne was only saved from Apollo’s advances by being transformed into a tree, unable to speak and live as she used to. In this way, transformation is a saving grace, but it comes at the cost of one’s former existence.
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