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1001 Stories Collection

Metamorphoses

Added on 11th June 2020

Author Ovid
First published 8th century AD

A Roman collection of myths and stories written in Latin.

Story

The Metamorphoses are a series of 250 different myths and stories, written by the Roman poet Ovid. The scale of the work and the fact that it is written in in dactylic hexameters fit the genre of epic poetry but the subject matter and Ovid's often subversive approach sit outside this tradition. The stories start with the creation of the world and cover well-known myths and stories in a fictional timeline that finishes with the death of Julius Caesar.

Whilst there is no central narrative to the work, the overriding theme is love - and the changes caused by love. In many of the stories these changes are often literal, eg Daphne is changed into a tree, Arachne is turned into a spider and Actaeon is turned into a deer.

Why we chose it

The Metamorphoses is a major source for many different classical myths. It has had a great influence on many writers including Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, as well as artists and musicians inspired to illustrate the mythical stories featured.

Where it came from

The Metamorphoses draws on a wide range of Greek and Roman mythology. Many of the stories were the subject of other epics such as the Fall of Troy, whilst others are smaller scale such as the shepherd Narcissus who falls in love with his own reflection, rejecting the nymph Echo. Throughout the work, Ovid subtly undermines the epic tradition in his treatment of the stories where love rarely turns out well for any of those involved and the Gods are presented as foolish and petty in contrast to the mortals.

Where it went next

Ovid was sent into exile by the Roman Emperor Augustus and his books were banned in Rome for their subversive tone. His work was widely translated over the years, including an English translation first published in 1480 by William Caxton as one of the earliest printed books in England.

Associated stories

As well as the individual stories from the Metamorphoses inspiring many writers since, many of the myths have become well known through interpretation in other artforms such as Gluck's opera Orpheus and Eurydice, Bruegel's painting The Fall of Icarus and Shakespeare's inclusion of the story of Pyramis and Thisbe within A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Added on 11th June 2020

Author Ovid
First published 8th century AD