The Metamorphoses of Ovid Themes



(Poetry for Students)


A large portion of the first book centers on the theme of the creation of the universe, the Earth, and humankind. Ovid describes the nothingness of Chaos as the Metamorphoses opens and how Prometheus formed man from the ground. After Jove and Neptune nearly destroy all humanity with the great floods, Deucalion and Pyrrha are able to save it with the help of the prophetess Themis. Beyond the literal acts of creation, many of the stories in the Metamorphoses explain how certain living beings and traditions came to be. For instance, in Book 1, Ovid explains the origin of the design of the peacock feathers in the story of Io, and in the story of Daphne he explains how laurel wreaths came to represent victory.


The major theme of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is metamorphosis itself. “I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms,” the poet declares in the first sentence of the poem. Throughout the twelve thousand lines of the Metamorphoses, Ovid describes how change continually occurs in the universe; how the gods, out of revenge or capricious desires, endlessly exert their transformative powers on the world. Metamorphosis is the recurring theme throughout all the stories in the Metamorphoses, and it is the theme that artists and writers have drawn from Ovid over the centuries.


When read in the light of Ovid’s own banishment from Rome, much of the Metamorphoses can be interpreted as an allegory about the capricious nature of power. Like Augustus who...

(The entire section is 661 words.)