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Speech, Words, and Writing Symbol Analysis

Speech, Words, and Writing Symbol Icon

Throughout the Metamorphoses, words represent a character’s identity. In the early stages of the universe’s development, speech is all a character has with which to identify themselves. This becomes clear whenever a character is unable to speak, as often happens when they are transformed. When Callisto is transformed into a bear, she can’t speak to her son to let him know who she really is. As a result, her son tries to kill her with his hunting spear.

This loss of speech leads many characters to use the act of writing in order to identify themselves. The first instance of this is when Io—transformed into a cow and unable to tell her father who she is—writes her name in the dust with her hoof to inform him. This primitive form of writing evolves over the course of the Metamorphoses into more elaborate methods. Philomela—her tongue having been cut out—weaves a story into a tapestry to inform her sister Procne that Tereus raped her. In the story of Byblis and Caunus, Byblis—too ashamed of her incestuous feelings for her brother to tell him in person—inscribes her confession on a tablet instead. In this way, the loss of speech leads to the adoption of written language.

By the end of the Metamorphoses, written words are the only thing that endures through time. After a speech in which Pythagoras explains that everything decays over time and that nothing remains the same, Ovid asserts in his epilogue that his poetry will remain even after he dies. In other words, Ovid suggests that written words preserve a person’s identity. Therefore, writing throughout the Metamorphoses represents a person’s ability to not just express themselves, but even immortalize themselves.

Speech, Words, and Writing Quotes in Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses quotes below all refer to the symbol of Speech, Words, and Writing. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Book 1: Io (1) Quotes

If only words could have followed her tears, she’d have begged him for help;
she’d have told him her name and described her plight. Two letters were all
that could serve for words, two letters traced by a hoof in the dust,
which revealed her name and the sorry tale of her transformation.

Related Characters: Io
Related Symbols: Speech, Words, and Writing
Page Number: 647
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 6: Tereus, Procne and Philomela Quotes

But once she saw that maternal claims were making her purpose
waver, she turned away from her child to the face of her sister,
then looking at each in turn, she reflected: ‘Should Itys be able
to say that he loves me, when poor Philomela has lost her tongue?
He can call out to his mother, but she cannot call out to her sister.’

Related Characters: Procne (speaker), Itys , Philomela , Tereus
Related Symbols: Speech, Words, and Writing
Page Number: 629
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 9: Byblis Quotes

I have committed a wrong which I cannot undo.
I’ve written my letter and asked for his love; my intention’s exposed.
If I venture no more, my reputation’s already tarnished;
there’s little to lose by further appeals, but much to be gained.

Related Characters: Byblis (speaker), Caunus
Related Symbols: Speech, Words, and Writing
Page Number: 626
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 15: Epilogue Quotes

That day which has power over nothing except this body of mine
may come when it will and end the uncertain part of my life.
But the finer part of myself shall sweep me into eternity,
higher than all the stars. My name shall be never forgotten.
Wherever the might of Rome extends in the lands she has conquered,
the people shall read and recite my words.

Related Symbols: Speech, Words, and Writing
Page Number: 873
Explanation and Analysis:
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Speech, Words, and Writing Symbol Timeline in Metamorphoses

The timeline below shows where the symbol Speech, Words, and Writing appears in Metamorphoses. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1: Io (1)
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
...and she licks his hands, weeping because she can’t tell him who she is. She writes her name in the dust with her hoof to explain. Her father weeps, lamenting that... (full context)
Book 6: Tereus, Procne and Philomela
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
...speak, she fashions a loom and weaves a tapestry that tells her horrible story in writing. She then gives this tapestry to one of Procne’s maids with instructions to give it... (full context)
Book 9: Byblis
Love and Destruction Theme Icon love with her, she wouldn’t refuse him. After wrestling with herself, she decides to write Caunus a letter confessing her feelings. (full context)
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Byblis writes a message to Caunus on a tablet. She starts to call herself his sister, but... (full context)
Love and Destruction Theme Icon 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... (full context)
Book 15: The Apotheosis of Julius Caesar
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
Jupiter asks Venus why she is fighting Fate. He has read the tablets written with the destiny of the world and knows that Julius Caesar has come to the... (full context)
Book 15: Epilogue
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
Ovid concludes his poem, saying that nothing—not Jupiter’s anger, war, or time—can destroy his writing. One day, his body will die, but “the finer part” of him will live for... (full context)