When Cephalus finishes his story, King Aeacus appears with the soldiers he’s gathered for Athens. A few mornings later, Cephalus sets sail for Athens with the soldiers from Aegina. Meanwhile, King Minos is attacking cities along the coast. He arrives at Alcathoe where King Nisus reigns. Nisus has a daughter named Scylla who likes to climb to a tall tower in the city and throw pebbles on the wall to make music.
The ongoing war between Minos and the allies of Athens guides the Metamorphoses to new places and new characters. In this way, war has the effect—somewhat like a transformation—of altering the reality of characters all over the world and moving history forward.
When King Minos arrives, Scylla climbs the tower and watches the enemy troops assemble outside the city gates. When her gaze falls on King Minos, she falls in love, thinking he is strong and handsome enough to be Apollo. She desires to leap into the enemy encampment and open the gates to King Minos.
Scylla—who has probably never seen anyone outside of her own kingdom before—is utterly astounded by Minos and falls deeply in love with him. This love makes her feel reckless, fantasizing about leaping from the tower and betraying her kingdom.
In her passion for King Minos, Scylla can’t decide if she loves or hates war for bringing Minos to her. She wants to confess her love to him and give him whatever he wants. She decides that King Minos is justified in wanting to avenge his murdered son. She then decides it would be best for her to surrender her city to Minos so as to end the war without bloodshed. She could steal her father’s key and open the gates in exchange for becoming Minos’s wife. She wishes she had no father to betray but decides she must be brave.
Scylla’s love for Minos makes her consider whether war is a good thing. However, her love for Minos is also causing her to consider betraying her father’s kingdom to the enemy. In this way, although war seems like a gift to Scylla, it is actually responsible for a love that threatens to destroy everything she values. Love, in this case, is part of war’s destructive nature.
When night comes, Scylla sneaks into her father’s bedroom and takes the gate key from around his neck. Then she makes her way through the enemy troops to King Minos. She surrenders her city to Minos and asks him to marry her as a reward. King Minos is disgusted by her betrayal of her father and her kingdom. He says that he won’t endanger Crete by bringing her to live there as his wife. He introduces himself to the captured Alcathoe citizens as their new just lawgiver, then sets sail back to Crete.
Scylla’s decision to betray her father’s kingdom in hopes of marrying Minos is similar to the way that Medea betrays her father for Jason. However, Scylla, unlike Medea, waits for Minos to proposition her with marriage before she proceeds with her betrayal. Because Scylla boldly proposes the betrayal, Minos finds her appalling and can’t trust her.
Scylla screams after Minos, rebuking him for leaving her when he owes her his success in capturing Alcothoe. She wonders where she can live now that she has betrayed her kingdom and has been denied Crete. She tells Minos that Jupiter wasn’t the bull who seduced his mother, Europa, but that Minos was born from a purebred bull. Minos deserves his wife, Pasiphae (who recently deceived a bull and had sex with it) because he is truly a beast by nature.
Although Scylla committed an awful betrayal, Minos’s rejection of her also seems cruel. Scylla’s betrayal of her father’s kingdom is extremely helpful to Minos, but he also finds it deplorable. To get around this problem, Minos takes advantage of the betrayal but then abandons Scylla. Ultimately, Scylla’s passion for Minos destroys her life.
In her anger, Scylla jumps into the water and grabs hold of the stern of Minos’s ship. Her father Nisus (who was just transformed into a falcon) notices her and swoops to stab at his traitorous daughter with his beak. Scylla releases the stern and a wind lifts her into the air where she is also turned into a bird.
Because Scylla’s father and Scylla are in the depths of degradation, the former having just lost his entire kingdom without a fight and the latter having betrayed her father and been rejected by her lover, they are transformed into birds: they have nothing left.