The Metamorphoses of Ovid

by Ovid

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According to "The Creation" in Ovid's Metamorphoses, how do human beings differ from the animals?

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Book One of Ovid's Metamorphoses begins with the creation of the world out of formless chaos. After having created the world, the Metamorphoses proceeds with the creation of life, ultimately culminating in the creation of humanity, which is set apart by its possession of conscious thought. In a way, one might even say that the creation of mankind represents not just the culmination of God's efforts to create life, but also the represents a kind of culmination for the entire act of creation of divine creation: consider Ovid's closing lines for this first section of the poem: "earth was metamorphos'd into man."

Throughout this section of the Metamorphoses, Ovid reflects on one of the critical themes of ancient mythology: the imposition of order over chaos. The world begins with formless chaos, and from that chaos God instills order. That's what the act of creation here is ultimately about, and the same theme is reflected in the creation of humanity. Upon creating the world, God creates the various animals to live upon it, each according to its own proper place (birds are juxtaposed with air, "herds of beasts" with fields, and fish with "oozy beds"). However, order implies rationality, and hence it requires the creation of a rational creature "to rule the rest," as Ovid says. Thus humanity is exalted above all other creatures.

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According to Ovid's account of creation in Book I, when God first created the Earth and all the things on it, there were no human beings.  All the other animals had been made, but not human beings.  So, at that point, God made human beings.  They were animals too, of course, but they were different from all the other kinds of animals.

Ovid says that man was "of a more exalted kind" than the other animals.  Man was made with "particles of heavenly fire."  In other words, God put parts of his own divinity into human beings and this distinguished them from the other animals.  It made them able to think, more caring, and it made them fit to rule over the rest of creation.

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