Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 7: The Plague at Aegina Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cephalus’s business in Aegina is to bring a message from Athens asking for King Aeacus’s help in the war that King Minos is threatening. Without hesitation, King Aeacus promises to aid Athens and says he has a strong army of young men. Cephalus remarks that he is pleased to see Aegina so full of strong young men but wonders where the familiar faces are.
Cephalus remarks that none of the faces he sees in Athens are familiar. At this point in the Metamorphoses, Athens is an old city, so the fact that it is full of young and unfamiliar men suggests that it has been rejuvenated or repopulated in some way recently.
Themes
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Aeacus sighs and explains that a terrible plague decimated Aegina. Queen Juno, angry that Aegina was named after one of Jupiter’s mistresses, had infected Aegina with the plague. This is how it began: a fog fills the city and the air becomes hot and toxic. Slithering snakes infect the lakes and fields. First birds and wild animals die, and then oxen, sheep, and horses. The carcasses rot in ditches, oozing contagious liquids.
Juno—who has been absent from the action of the Metamorphoses for a while—is still at work getting revenge for Jupiter’s infidelities. Her vengeful plague has the effect of a reverse transformation. The dead carcasses of the sick rot and liquify, seeping back into the earth—reminiscent of the flood that returned the world to its fundamental state of amorphous chaos.
Themes
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Next, the peasants and farmers come down with the plague. The sick people’s mouths dry out and they become insufferably hot. Unable to bear clothes, they lie around naked. They go mad, rolling out of their houses and roaming the streets. They are so thirsty that they crawl to the infected springs to drink and swiftly die. Aegina’s doctors try to fight the plague, but their medicine has no effect. Any doctor or devoted friend who cares for a sick person dies, too.
Although Juno does not explicitly transform the people of Aegina, her plague works to the same end. The disease alters whomever it infects, making them animalistic and deranged. In this way, the gods’ power to metamorphose can be seen as an explanation for real life instances of decay and transformation, such as plagues. 
Themes
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In his despair, King Aeacus wants to die with his people. Many times, he tries to make a sacrifice to Jupiter, but the victim dies before he can kill it. Losing all hope, people start killing themselves. Those still alive fight over the funeral pyres for their dead loved ones. Soon, no one performs the proper burial rites anymore, and corpses lie in the streets.
As the plague infects Aegina’s people and transforms them into almost inhuman creatures, humanity’s institutions also fall away. The ritual of burning the dead on a funeral pyre becomes futile. In this way, the gruesome plague returns humanity to a primitive state.
Themes
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