Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 9: Iphis Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Byblis’s transformation, a similar transformation occurs in Crete. A humble yet respectable man and his wife are expecting a baby. The man approaches his wife and tells her that he only wants a boy; if she gives birth to a girl, she must kill the baby. The man and wife weep. The wife tries to change her husband’s mind, but he is resolute.
This passage suggests that, during this time, male children were more favored than female ones. Because of the traditions of male inheritance and succession, only male children could carry on their father’s legacy and were therefore often sought by fathers.
Themes
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When she nears her due date, the woman dreams that Isis—the goddess of Help—is standing beside her bed, flanked by her sacred companions. Isis tells the woman that she will raise her baby no matter what gender it is. When the woman awakes, she prays that her dream will come true. The woman gives birth to a baby girl. She conceals the baby’s gender from everyone, including her husband. The man names his supposed son Iphis, and the baby is raised as a boy.
Iphis—although a girl—is raised like a boy. Her mother is able to conceal the baby’s true gender from Iphis’s father, and Iphis grows up looking and acting like a boy. At this point, it seems that Iphis accepts that she’s a boy, or at least is content to live as if she is. 
Themes
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Thirteen years later, Iphis’s father arranges for Iphis to marry a girl named Ianthe. Ianthe looks forward happily to her wedding night when she will go to bed with her husband Iphis, but Iphis frets because she knows she can’t perform a husband’s duty. She reflects that animals never mate with the same gender. Even Pasiphae, who had mated with a bull, had mated with a male bull. She wonders if Daedalus could change her into a boy, the way he disguised the bull, so that Pasiphae could have sex with it. She realizes that nothing is preventing her from marrying Ianthe except nature itself. She wants Ianthe to be her wife but knows that they’ll never truly be bonded.
Up to this point, it seems that Iphis’s life as a boy feels natural to her. But as she reaches maturity and her oblivious father arranges a marriage for her, an obvious problem emerges—she can’t fulfill the physical duty a husband is expected to fulfill. In this way, Iphis feels that nature—her sex—is the only thing that is preventing her from being with Ianthe.
Themes
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Iphis’s mother is as distraught as Iphis. She delays the wedding as long as she can, pretending to be ill. When she can’t delay any longer, she and Iphis go to Isis’s altar. Iphis’s mother begs the goddess for help. When she finishes her prayer, the altar trembles. As they leave the altar, Iphis feels herself become stronger and more vigorous. Iphis is transformed into a boy, and he and his mother bring gifts to Isis’s temple in thanks. Iphis than marries Ianthe.
Iphis’s sex was not changed by Isis when she was first born, but only now that she is about to marry Ianthe. It’s not clear why Isis delays until it’s time for Iphis to marry, but in any case, this metamorphosis—from female to male—seems to resolve happily for those involved.
Themes
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Love and Destruction Theme Icon
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