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iii) Ovid Metamorphosis

 

Jason and Medea

        Jason and the Argonauts sail to Colchis to get the Golden Fleece from King Aeetes.

        Medea, the King’s daughter “…was seized by an overwhelming passion of love…” for Jason.

        In order to get the Golden Fleece, Jason has to pass fire breathing bulls, escape foemen and retrieve it from the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece.

        Medea offered him her help in exchange for his hand in marriage.

        His first task was to yolk some fire-breathing bulls into a field and plough it

        Secondly sow some serpent’s teeth out of a brazen helmet from these seeds soldiers grew up which Jason had to fight.

        He was loosing but ingeniously, “…tossed a heavy stone in the midst of the enemy” and they began fighting each other.

        Finally he had to defeat the dragon. He sprinkled the dragon with magic drugs, which then fell asleep allowing Jason to get the Fleece.  

 

Medea and Aeson

        Jason then went to Iolcus with Medea where they were greeted by their parents by sacrificing a sheep.

        Aeson, Jason’s father, was old and dying, so Jason asked Medea to take some years of himself and give them to his father. But Medea refused

        Instead she mixed a potion of youth and emptied the old king's veins of his blood. When she refilled his body with the potion, he was younger.

 

Medea and Pelias: her flight

        Medea went to Pelias, who usurped Jason’s father’s throne, and pretended that Jason and her weren’t getting along. Meanwhile she was plotting against him.

        She told his daughters how she restored Aeson’s youth and they asked if it was possible to do the same for their dad.

        She showed them the ritual with a sheep and made it young again

        She then told the daughters to do the same with Pelias, their father

        They drained the blood from his body, and he awoke as they were cutting him. Medea let him die, leaving his daughters as his murderers.

        Medea returned to Jason where he had a new wife and she burnt down the palace and killed their children he had borne with her.

        Medea went off and married Aegeus

 

Theseus

        Theseus was “…establishing peace and order…” throughout Greece .

        Theseus was the son of Aegeus but Aegeus did not know this.

        Medea deciding to kill him with a glass of aconite.

        Aegeus offered the poison to his own son thinking he was an enemy

        As Theseus went to drink, Aegeus recognized his son's royal crest and knocked the cup from his hand.

        Medea fled and Aegeus declared a feast to celebrate that day

 

Minos, Aeacus, The Plague at Aegina , The Myrmidons

        Minos, King of Crete, was preparing for war to avenge the death of his son Aegeus.

        He made alliances with “…Anaphe and of Astypalaea, winning the former by promises and the latter by force…Myconus joined him, and Cimolus… Syros …” and “… Paros …”

        Army of Aegina did not join forces with Minos because the King Aeacus was allied with Athens .   

        As Minos' Cretan ships were leaving Aegina , Cephalus came to seek help for Athens . Aeacus agreed.

        Cephalus was wondering why the men in Aegina were so young and many that he knew of previously were missing.

        Aeacus explained how “Cruel Juno visited her wrath upon our land…and a dreadful plague fell upon my people.” She had done this because the island is named after her enemy, Aegina

        Unusual for Ovid, he describes the Plague seriously and with realist imaginary. No metamorphoses are used in the Plague and it includes a detailed account of, the Plague, its symptoms, spreads and effect on the people. The sombre mood makes an extremely effective piece of writing

Through the woods…lay decaying corpses. A foul stench filled the air…the dogs did not touch these bodies nor did grey wolves or greedy vultures. They were left to rot… First of all the inner organs of the victim became burning hot: a flushed skin and panting breath were symptoms of internal fever. The tongue was rough and swollen, dry lips gaped open to catch breaths of warm air, as men gaspingly tried to gulp in an atmosphere heavy with pollutions. The sick…lay face downwards on the hard ground, and even so their bodies found no coolness from the earth, but rather the earth became fevered with their bodies. No one could check the disease: it broke out fiercely among the doctors themselves, and medical skills only seemed to harm it’s own practitioners…the hope of being cured left them, and then men saw that the sickness must end in death, they abandoned themselves to their desires, and paid no attention to what was good for them: since nothing was, in fact, for their good. Everywhere…they attached themselves to springs or rivers or deep wells, suffering from a thirst that was only quenched when life was gone. Many of them were too weak to rise again, and died in the very waters. Even so, men still drank from those streams! Other poor wretches grew so tired of lying on their hated sickbeds that they leapt out of them or, lacking the strength to stand, rolled themselves on to the floor and one and all fled from their homes…Wherever I turned my eyes, bodies lay strewn on the ground, like overripe apples, that fall from trees when the boughs are shaken, or like acorns beneath a storm tossed oak

        Aeacus asks Jupiter, “…restore my people or lay me too to rest in my tomb.” Jupiter accepted the pledge.

        Aeacus had a dream that at a nearby oak tree, with widely spaced branches, that was sacred to Jupiter, a long column of ants gathered grain and went up the trunk. Aeacus asked Jupiter if he could have as many citizens as ants.

        Everything trembled and shook the ants. “Suddenly the creatures began to grow…and stood upright.”

        When Aeacus awoke, he saw the dream had come true. The men approached and hailed him as King.

Cephalus and Procris    

        Cephalus and his men woke before Aeacus, and so the king's youngest son, Phocus, talked with them. The boy noticed Cephalus' javelin and asked him where he'd gotten it. Although it was a sore subject with Cephalus, he told the boy the story behind the javelin.

        The “…javelin was made from some unknown wood and tipped with gold”

        Cephalus married Procris, but two months after they were married, Dawn kidnapped him from the woods where he was hunting. Cephalus pined away for his wife, and so Dawn let him go, but warned him that he'd be sorry.

        From her warning, Cephalus believed that Procris had been unfaithful to him while he was gone or that she would be in the future. He decided to disguise himself and test her faithfulness, and Dawn changed his features so that Procris wouldn't recognize her husband.

        Although Cephalus found Procris pining away, he kept his disguise and tempted her. She didn't give in, but he kept trying to find her. Finally she faltered in her fidelity, and he revealed himself. She fled their home in anger and joined Diana's cult in the woods as a huntress. Cephalus finally apologized to her and she came back to him giving him the javelin that Diana had given her and a hunting hound.

        The hound was so great that he almost caught the great fox that plagued Thebes . Just before the hound's teeth caught the fox, Jove changed both the fox and the dog to marble out of some sense of justice that determined that two creatures so equally great should not destroy each other.

        So Cephalus and Procris were happy together. Each day he would go hunting in the woods, and when his hunting was done, he'd lie down in a clearing and let the breeze soothe him. Someone overheard him calling out to zephyr, the breeze, and thought that he was having an affair with a nymph named zephyr.

        The eavesdropper told Procris about zephyr, and she had to see for herself that her husband was cheating on her, so she followed him to the woods the next morning. When he called out to zephyr, she was in the woods nearby, and her movement made a noise.

        Cephalus thought she was a dangerous animal and threw his javelin into the brush. He heard Procris cry out and found that he'd stabbed his wife in the heart with the javelin she'd given him. She asked him not to marry zephyr and he realized the misunderstanding. Although he explained the mistake and tried to bandage her wound, she died.

Book VIII (the five main stories)

Scylla and Minos

        “Minos was plundering the shores of Megara , and trying out his military strength”

        During that time, Scylla, King Nixus’ daughter, fell in love with Minos. She gave into her love and killed her father to help Minos. This story is similar to Jason and Medea and Ariadne and Theseus as they both betray their fathers.

        She took his purple lock of hair, the source of his powers, to Minos and presented herself as his bride and her country that he'd been fighting to conquer as her dowry. Minos was horrified by her treachery and told her that she was “…a disgrace to our times”

        He took his fleet and left. Scylla realized that she would be shunned from her own country and all others for her betrayal, and so she swam after Minos' ships. She was clinging to the bow of one ship when her father, who had been transformed to an osprey, attacked her and made her fall from the ship. She, too, was transformed into a bird.        

Deadalus and Icarus

        “Deadalus, an architect famous for his skill” who constructed a labyrinth where the Minotaur cold be held captive, was sent into exile with his son

        He decided to build wings for him and Icarus to escape by air as although “Minos may possess all the rest…he does not possess the air.”

        He laid down all the feathers “…beginning with tiny ones, and gradually increasing their length…Then he fastened the feathers together in the middle with thread and at the bottom with wax”

        The only people that saw them were fishers, Shepard or a peasant that were amazed thinking that these creatures who could fly through the air must be gods.

        Deadalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun as the wax may melt. However, Icarus was so overjoyed at being free and being able to fly, “…he left his guide and soared upwards…” but he flew too close to the son causing the wax to melt and he fell into the sea which now bears his name as a remembrance.  

Meleager and the Calydonian Boar-Hunt       

        Theseus had killed the Minotaur and for his bravery, Meleager, the Prince, asked him to help him get rid of the boar that was terrorising Calydon ,

        Diana had sent the great boar as a plague to the city, and it was destroying the crops. So Meleager called together a great assembly of heroes, among them a woman named Atalanta. Meleager was impressed by her looks, but he focused on the task at hand.

        The boar had “…a fiery gleam in its bloodshot eyes… bellowed loud harshly…and its teeth were like elephants’ tusks: fires issued from its jaws.”

        Many of the great warriors fell to the boar. For supposedly skilled hunters some of the party are a bit farcical; the Great hero Nestor is forced to vault up into a tree.

        Atalanta gave the boar his first wound. Meleager, after many tries, finished the animal off. He shared the spoils of the defeat with Atalanta, and two brothers jealously took away the prize he'd given Atalanta. Meleager's wrath overcame him and he killed them both.

        Meleager, for once is a true gentleman and Atalanta, a noble Amazon Queen.  

Philemon and Baucis

        One day, Jupiter and Mercury visited a place disguised as mortals. The two gods went to thousands of homes looking for somewhere to rest, but no one would have them.

        One couple let them in “…Baucis by name, and her husband Philemon…” let them in. The house was of a “…humble dwelling roof with thatch and reeds from the marsh.

        They were a poor old couple, but offered the strangers the best of all they had, not knowing that they were serving as gods.

        They kindled the fire, cooked some vegetables which they picked from their garden, “…a small piece of long cherished meat”

        There was “…wild cherries…preserved in lees of wine, endives…radishes…a piece of cheese, and eggs lightly roasted…all set out in clay dishes...” this was followed by dessert which consisted of “…nuts, a mixture of figs and wrinkled dates, plums and fragrant apples…and black grapes”

        As the dinner went on, the old man and women realised that the wine was refilling itself and they became afraid. They were ready to kill their goose “…which acted as a guardian of their little croft…” when they announced “We are gods”.

        The gods told them that this neighbourhood was a wicked one and they would destroy it except for their two hosts who would follow them up the mountain side.

        Everything was destroyed “only their own home left standing…and their old cottage…was changed into a temple”

        The gods offered to give the couple anything they wanted, and the two asked to be temple guards and to die at the same time. When their time came, the two became two trees that shared a trunk     

        “Whom the gods love are gods themselves, and those who have worshipped, should be worshipped too” (These are the last words of the man who told the story)  

Erysichthon and his daughter

        After hearing the first story, the guests were eager to here more.

        Erysichthon despised the gods and one day, he destroyed the sacred tree of Ceres.

        It was a “…huge oak, which had grown sturdy and strong...” and often had the Dryads danced round it hand in hand who lived there.       

        But for all that, Erysichthon saw no reason why he should spare it and he ordered his servants to cut it down. When he saw them hesitate he snatched an axe from one.

        As he was about to strike, the tree started to tremble and groan. “The leaves and acorns began to turn white and long branches lost their colour.” When he struck the tree, it began to bleed

        All the bystanders were horror-struck, and one of them ventured to remonstrate and hold back the fatal axe. Erysichthon turned against him the weapon which he had held aside from the tree, gashed his body with many wounds, and cut off his head.   

        A nymph from inside the tree warned him that he would be punished. But he ignored them and the tree fell.

        The dryads were deeply distraught at the loss of their home, and urged Ceres to punish him and decided “…to torment him with deadly Hunger”

        An oread, a mountain spirit, was ordered by Ceres to get Hunger and tell her to live inside the stomach of Erysichthon and let no amount of food defeat her.

        “The creatures face was colourless, hollow-eyed, her hair uncared for, her lips bleached and cracked…her skin was hard and transparent revealing her inner organs. The brittle bones hung out beneath her hollow loins…” and her bones were all out of proportion.

        Hunger obeyed the goddesses orders, she found Erysichthon fast asleep. She breathed into his lips, throat and heart and spreading huger throughout his veins and body   

        Even in his sleep, he dreamt of food and his jaw was moving as if he was eating. When he woke, he was “…furiously hungry” and he ordered as much food as was possible. Food for an entire nation would not have filled his hunger. The more he ate, the hungrier he became.

        Once he had eaten all his wealth, all that was left was his daughter. So he sold her but she was a spirited child and prayed to Neptune to save her.

        He listened to her prayers and turned her into a fisherman and escaped her master.

        She returned back to her original form and when her father realised that she could perform such transformations, he repeatedly sold her and she repeatedly escaped.

        Soon “…in his violence of malady…the wretch began to bite and gnaw at his own limbs, and fed his body by eating it away.”  

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