Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 9: Byblis Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Byblis and Caunus grow up, Byblis starts to desire and love her brother as more than a brother. She likes to kiss him on the lips and dresses up to visit him. She is jealous of the other girls who try to get his attention and hates that Caunus calls her his sister. She keeps her incestuous thoughts out of her head during the day, but at night she dreams that they have sex and become one body. When she wakes up, she rebukes herself for her incestuous thoughts, but decides that there is no harm in enjoying Caunus in dreams.
Byblis falls in love with Caunus as they grow up together and can’t keep him out of her dreams, as hard as she tries. This suggests that love is a passion that takes over a person against their will and can at times direct them towards a person they do not want or should not want to be in love with. In this regard, love is an uncontrollable and sometimes destructive force.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Byblis wishes that the gods’ rules and the world’s conventions would let her marry her brother. She dreads the day when another woman will give birth to Caunus’s child. She reflects how the gods often sleep with their siblings but recognizes that the gods live by different rules than humans. Byblis’s tormented desire makes her long to die. However, she knows that if Caunus fell in love with her, she wouldn’t refuse him. After wrestling with herself, she decides to write Caunus a letter confessing her feelings.
Byblis’s love for her brother Caunus causes her to break societal conventions and the rules of the gods and nature. In this way, love—as a passion that overcomes a person against their will and sometimes directs them badly—is a force that can be destructive to society and human laws. All in all, love is a lawless passion which can destroy a person and those around them.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Byblis writes a message to Caunus on a tablet. She starts to call herself his sister, but then calls herself his lover. She reveals her name and describes her shame. She explains that she can’t help her love, and that it’s tormenting her. Caunus has the power to save her from dying, as long as he is willing to disregard the rules. Byblis believes that rules have no bearing on two people in love. She says that she and Caunus can hide their relationship under the guise of brother and sister. When she finishes her message, she hands the tablet to a servant to bring to Caunus.
Like many characters in the Metamorphoses, Byblis loses her voice and therefore her ability to express herself. While in Byblis’s case she loses her voice due to shyness and shame, not having her voice literally taken away from her, her speechlessness still leads her to adopt the method of writing in order to convey her true feelings to Caunus. In this way, writing can be seen as a necessary development in society, as it is a way to communicate when speech won’t do or isn’t possible.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
When Caunus reads Byblis’s message, he is appalled and angry. He throws the tablet aside and threatens the servant who brought it to him. The servant runs to Byblis and relays Caunus’s refusal. Byblis feels cold with shame. She rebukes herself for writing the message. She wishes she had spoken to Caunus in person so that she could have embraced him and softened his resolve. Now, her incestuous intentions are revealed, and her mission is destroyed.
Although writing gave Byblis a way to get around her speechlessness due to shame, she now resents the act of writing. She feels that her written feelings were lifeless and ineffective in a way that speaking to Caunus in person would not have been. In this way, writing, instead of developing communication, actually allows for greater miscommunication, and does not fully succeed in substituting the voice’s ability to express one’s true self.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Quotes
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Byblis decides that she will beseech Caunus again and make him change his mind. Now that she has revealed her incestuous desire, she has nothing to lose by pursuing him. She wants Caunus to see that she loves him against her will. Byblis pursues Caunus, but he continuously rejects her and at last flees the city and sets up a new home in a faraway place.
Another consequence of Byblis writing her feelings on a tablet is that they are now permanent. There is a record of her feelings now that cannot be erased, meaning that Byblis cannot conceal her incestuous feelings. In this way, writing holds a person to their views for eternity. 
Themes
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
After Caunus flees, Byblis goes mad. She leaves her homeland and wanders the earth, tearing at her clothes and beating her breast. At last, she collapses on the ground and presses her face into the leaves. Some nymphs try to console her, but she is deaf and motionless with heartbreak. Finally, Byblis wastes away. The nymphs collect her tears and use them to feed a mountain spring that is named after her.
Byblis is so overcome with grief and madness that she is effectively no longer human—unable to move or speak. It is as if Byblis has already been transformed by her grief by the time she is transformed into a mountain spring. In this sense, transformation comes into play when a person is no longer capable of being fully human. 
Themes
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