After King Aeacus tells the stories of the plague and the Myrmidons, he and Cephalus sit down to a feast. The next morning, strong winds prevent Cephalus and his companions from going back to Athens. They go to find King Aeacus again and run into Phocus, one of King Aeacus’s sons. Phocus leads the Athenians to a courtyard where they sit down to talk. Phocus notices that Cephalus is carrying a beautiful wooden spear with a gold point. He asks Cephalus where he got such a beautiful spear. Cephalus explains that the spear never misses its target, and magically returns to its thrower after it strikes its target.
Because Ovid has made it his project to trace history from creation until the present day, the Metamorphoses takes on a non-linear form out of necessity. Each character involved in a given story has their own history and place of origin, and so Ovid often veers away from the current story he is telling to address another person’s history. The resulting embedded stories suggest that history isn’t strictly linear, and that sometimes it’s best relayed through storytelling.
Cephalus tells Phocus the story of the spear. A while ago, Cephalus married Procris, the sister of Orithyia. Procris was beautiful, and Cephalus was very happy with her. A month after their wedding, Cephalus is out hunting when Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, takes him into the sky. Cephalus doesn’t sleep with Aurora and thinks only of Procris. Aurora gets upset and tells Cephalus that he will soon regret marrying Procris. As Cephalus returns home, he thinks of Aurora’s warning and starts to wonder if Procris has been unfaithful to him. He trusts Procris’s character but distrusts her beauty. He decides to test her loyalty.
Although Cephalus and Procris are in love and happily married—something that is rare in the Metamorphoses—their relationship is thwarted by external factors right away. This suggests that love is never safe from destruction. Even when love is not born out of jealousy or force, jealousy and wickedness from others can nevertheless corrupt it. In general, the Metamorphoses portrays love as a fragile, corruptible state that rarely survives.
Sensing Cephalus’s plan, Aurora disguises Cephalus to look like a different man. When Cephalus enters his house, he finds no sign of Procris’s infidelity. When Procris comes up to him, he longs to kiss her and reveal his identity, but he determines to follow through with testing her loyalty. He tries to seduce her, but she maintains that she belongs to her husband who is missing. The disguised Cephalus brings Procris gifts, and at last her resistance fails. Cephalus reveals himself and calls Procris a harlot.
Corrupted by Aurora’s meddlesome notions of Procris’s infidelity, Cephalus decides to test Procis, goading her into committing a crime that she hadn’t yet committed. In this way, Cephalus’s suspicions cause him to create Procris’s infidelity where it didn’t exist before. This kind of testing and deceiving is another example of the corruptibility of love.
Procris resents Cephalus for his trick and joins Diana’s clan of chaste women. Cephalus is still in love with her and begs her for forgiveness. At last, he wins her back. Procris gifts Cephalus the fastest hunting dog in existence and the beautiful spear with the golden tip.
Procris joins Diana’s clan of chastity while she is angry at Cephalus, proving that she had no real desire to be with anyone but him. The fact that Procris and Cephalus return to each other after all that tries to push them apart is a testimony to the strength of their love.
Cephalus tells what happened to the hunting dog that Procris gave him: one day, a ferocious fox attacks Thebes, causing the citizens to fear for their herds. The men lay traps to catch the fox, but it escapes. The men then beg Cephalus to unleash his dog on the fox. Cephalus agrees and sets his dog loose. The dog chases the fox, repeatedly getting within inches of catching it, but it escapes. Cephalus reaches for his spear. Suddenly, the dog and the fox are turned to marble, neither winning nor losing the race.
Since this story is told from the perspective of Cephalus, it is left unknown which god transformed the dog and the fox or why. However, it seems that the dog and the fox are transformed into marble to commemorate what a good match they are for each other. The fox always escapes the dog, but the dog is always right on the fox’s heels, suggesting that neither would have won or lost.
Cephalus then tells the story of the spear: Cephalus and Procris are deeply in love and very happy together. In the mornings, Cephalus goes hunting by himself with his gold-tipped spear. When he gets tired, he stops to rest. He longs for a cool breeze and speaks to the wind to bring him pleasure and relieve him. One day, an eavesdropper hears him speaking to the wind and thinks he’s speaking to a nymph he’s having an affair with. The eavesdropper tells Procris that Cephalus is having an affair. Procris is devastated by the news but decides to get proof of Cephalus’s infidelity before she accuses him.
Cephalus and Procris’s love is thwarted again, this time by a misunderstanding. Cephalus is not really cheating on Procris, but it seems to an outsider that he is. This outsider then tattles to Procris and kindles her suspicions. This occurrence is reminiscent of the tattling raven who made a situation worse by tattling, and suggests that outsiders, in misunderstanding what they see, often become the death of love.
The next morning, when Cephalus finishes his hunt, he asks the wind to delight him as usual. Suddenly, he hears a sound in the trees nearby. Thinking it is a wild animal, he launches his spear. He hears Procris cry. He finds her and clutches her dying body, trying to staunch the wound in her chest. Procris murmurs that she loves Cephalus and asks him not to marry the breeze nymph after she dies. Realizing what had brought her into the woods, Cephalus tells Procris the truth. It is too late, and she dies in his arms.
Cephalus and Procris’s love story ends a lot like Pyramus and Thisbe’s love story ends. A misunderstanding causes Cephalus to kill Procris. However, Cephalus, unlike Thisbe, does not kill himself out of guilt and the desire to be with his wife. All the same, the story of Cephalus and Procris testifies to the tragic nature of love.