In the Metamorphoses, Ovid portrays humanity’s attempt to wield power over nature. Significantly, this tendency to control nature seems to stem from the unique position in which human beings were created. In contrast to the earth’s landscape and animals, the gods create human beings as “holier creature[s] […] which could hold dominion over the rest.” Even so, although human beings are made to be capable of dominion over nature, they don’t wield it right away. During the Golden Age, the earth is “unscathed by the ploughshare.” However, the Iron Age soon follows, in which humanity fells trees and dares to cross the sea to explore new lands. In other words, human beings soon feel that they are more powerful than nature and attempt to control it. Yet their attempt leads to corruption and dissension, and so displeases the gods that they cause a massive flood to obliterate humanity’s creations. This flood is a reminder that nature is indomitable: the two human survivors of the flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha, are humbled by the natural disaster and supplicate the gods—forces more powerful than themselves. Near the end of the Metamorphoses, Pythagoras presents another argument for humanity’s humility in the face of nature. Pythagoras urges people not to eat meat, claiming first that nature provides sufficient resources to make killing unnecessary, and second that many animals are an incarnation of a human soul. The world Ovid presents further illustrates this claim that nature and humanity aren’t strictly separate: nature sometimes yields human beings, such as when the dragon’s teeth become soldiers, and human beings countless times become animals or elements of nature. The Metamorphoses, in both illustrating nature’s power and sometimes personifying it, provides a strong indictment of human attempts to overpower it. Instead, humans should wield their god-given dominion with humility.
Humanity vs. Nature ThemeTracker
Humanity vs. Nature Quotes in Metamorphoses
Yet a holier living creature, more able to think high thoughts,
which could hold dominion over the rest, was still to be found.
So Man came into the world. […]
Thus clay, so lately no more than a crude and formless substance,
was metamorphosed to assume the strange new figure of Man.
No pine tree had yet been felled from its home on the mountains and come down
into flowing waves for journeys to lands afar;
mortals were careful and never forsook the shores of their homeland.
No cities were yet ringed round with deep, precipitous earthworks; […]
swords were not carried nor helmets worn; no need for armies,
but nations were free to practice the gentle arts of peace.
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.
I wonder, for daughterly duty
cannot condemn this love. All other creatures can mate
as they choose for themselves. It isn’t considered a scandal for bulls
to mount the heifers they’ve sired […] and even a bird
can conceive her chicks by a mate who happens to be her father.
How lucky they are to do as they please! How spitefully human
morality governs our lives!
The earth supplies nourishing food in lavish
abundance; she offers you feasts that demand no slaughter or bloodshed.
Here is the wondrous wealth which the earth, the kindest of mothers,
produces; and yet you are happy to bite cruel wounds in your victims,
chomping them up with your teeth in the grisly style of the cyclops.
You have no way of relieving the hunger-pangs of your greedy,
uncivilized bellies except by destroying the life of another.