Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Summary
Analysis
The Muses’ song first introduces Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and plenty. Then the song explains how the island of Sicily is built on the back of one of the fallen giants who had tried to usurp heaven. The giant vomits lava and flame and causes earthquakes. Fearing that the giant will erupt the earth, Pluto—the lord of Hades—leaves his underground realm in his chariot to inspect the land.
The opening of the Muses’ song shows how even the landscape is the result of the metamorphosis of creatures. As a result, the landscape is personified; many natural occurrences are due to the animal or human nature that is incarnated inside that landform. 
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Nature  Theme Icon
As Pluto is inspecting, Venus catches sight of him. Venus tells her son Cupid to shoot Pluto with one of his arrows and make him fall in love with Ceres’s daughter. She is angry that none of the female goddesses worship her and wants to overpower Ceres before she also scorns Venus. At his mother’s request, Cupid strikes Pluto in the heart with an arrow.
Once again, jealousy and revenge lead one of the gods to tamper with human affairs. Although the gods are always demanding humility from humans, they are rarely humble themselves. In this light, the gods’ use of power is not very just.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
One day, Ceres’s daughter Proserpina is picking flowers beside a shady lake. Pluto sees her and falls in love with her. Impatient with desire, he snatches her, causing her picked flowers to fall. A nymph recognizes Ceres’s daughter in Pluto’s chariot and rises from her pool to rebuke him for abducting Proserpina instead of asking her mother for permission to marry her. The nymph tries to bar Pluto’s way, but he hurls his staff into the pool and opens a path to Hades. The disempowered nymph loses her form and becomes water.
The nymph who intercepts Pluto as he is kidnapping Proserpina suggests that the right way to pursue someone is to ask the girl’s parent for her hand in marriage. Throughout the Metamorphoses thus far, however, the passion one feels for a love interest has been so intense that it always results in kidnap and rape. Here again, Pluto destroys the lives of Proserpina and her mother as a result of his passion.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Ceres searches anxiously for her daughter far and wide. At last, she stops at a cottage to beg a glass of water. A kind woman brings her a glass, but as Ceres is drinking, the woman’s son jeers at her greediness. Furious, Ceres turns the boy into a spotted newt. As she returns discouraged to Sicily, she notices Proserpina’s cloak in the nymph’s pool. Ceres tears at her hair in grief and curses the whole of Sicily, making it go barren of crops.
While Ceres looks for Proserpina, she disguises herself as a human. She even gets tired out and has human needs, such as thirst. This humanness leads the people that Ceres encounters to think that she is no more than a mortal. Not expecting divine punishment, some people are mean to her as they would be to anyone else.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
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Another water nymph—Arethusa—rises from her pool and begs Ceres not to take her anger out on the land. The nymph tells Ceres that she recently traveled to Hades and spotted Proserpina there. Although Proserpina looked sad and afraid, she was queen of the underworld. Still in grief, Ceres goes to heaven to visit Jupiter. She begs him to rescue Proserpina—their daughter—from her kidnapper husband.
Arethusa points out that Proserpina has been made the queen of the underworld, suggesting that, although she is clearly unhappy, her status makes up for the wrong that was done to her. Ceres does not seem to agree with Arethusa and focuses on the fact that Pluto is a kidnapper—not fit to be a husband.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Jupiter explains to Ceres that Pluto has not committed a crime but an act of love. Even though he is lord of Hades, Pluto is Jupiter’s brother, and therefore a worthy match for Proserpina. However, Jupiter says that he will rescue Proserpina as long as she hasn’t eaten any food yet in Hades. Unfortunately, however, Prosperina has eaten seeds from a pomegranate tree in Hades and was observed by a nymph who tattled on her. Furious, Ceres turns the tattler into an ugly bird.
Jupiter claims that Pluto has committed an act of love rather than a crime. Jupiter—who has kidnapped and raped many women before—thinks that the forcefulness of these actions is excused because they are done in the name of love. Jupiter also points out that Pluto, as a god, is a worthy husband, believing that a person’s status as a god makes up for their raping a woman. These misogynistic views, coming from the head of all the gods, perpetuates a world in which love is a destructive force.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Quotes
Similar to the tattling nymph, Proserpina’s friends are given bird’s wings and feet. However, they requested the gods for these so they could fly over the ocean to worship Proserpina’s memory. The gods heeded their wish and turned them into Sirens—birds with human faces. Jupiter decides to settle the conflict between Pluto and Ceres by allowing Proserpina to split her time between Hades and earth. In Hades, she is always sad, but on land, she is radiantly happy.
Proserpina’s mood—which fluctuates between happiness when she is on land with her mother and sorrow when she is in the underworld with Pluto— shows that neither Pluto’s love nor his status as the god of the underworld makes up for his taking Proserpina against her will, as Jupiter had claimed they would.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon