Transformations from one shape or form into another are the central theme in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The popularity and timelessness of this work stems from the manner of story telling. Ovid takes stories relevant to his culture and time period, and weaves them together into one work with a connecting theme of transformation throughout. The thread of humor that runs through Metamorphoses is consistent with the satire and commentary of the work. The theme is presented in the opening lines of Metamorphoses, where the poet invokes the gods, who are responsible for the changes, to look favorably on his efforts to compose. The changes are of many kinds: from human to animal, animal to human, thing to human, human to thing. Some changes are reversed: human to animal to human. Sometimes the transformations are partial, and physical features and personal qualities of the earlier being are preserved in mutated form.
In the story of Daphne and Apollo, the chief agent of transformation is love, represented by Venus and her youthful and mischievous son, Cupid. When the god Apollo brags to Cupid of his great might exemplified by his defeat of the python, Cupid humbles him by reducing the great god to a shameless lover with his gold-tipped arrow of love. A transformation of sorts takes place when the Cupid's arrow strikes Apollo. Apollo transforms from a bragging God who claims superiority over Cupid by saying, 'You be content with your torch to excite love, whatever that may be, and do not aspire to praises that are my prerogative,';(p. 41) to a man possessed by desire. Despite his powers of strength and domination, the God of War is humbled by Love. A lesson is being taught to Apollo by Cupid. A weakness is spotlighted and exposed, and the role of Apollo is almost completely reversed. He is transformed from a figurehead of power to a crazed lover with no power over his love.
Just after shooting Apollo, Cupid strikes Daphne with a blunt, lead-tipped arrow intended to put love to flight. The first transformation of Daphne occurs at this point. Not by her own choice but brought upon by the arrow, Daphne no longer is interested by the prospect of love. Although no physical changes take place, the character is obviously different than previous to being struck. At this point, Daphne and Apollo have both been transformed to t...
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...ses may be read and interpreted separately, taken together rather than apart, the stories can be more effectively linked. The use of repetition throughout the work and constant symbolism in each tale help connect the stories. The entire work is in poetic form, and the literary techniques used are consistent with the time period. Common symbols are used throughout. A common motif is the stretching out of arms preceding metamorphosis. Also, the imagery of hunting coincides with that of sexual passion. Daphne is a huntress and is associated strongly with the forest and nature. It is fitting then that she is the character pursued by Apollo. The vocabulary of hunger and thirst, or devouring and drinking are associated with acts of violence. The constant repetition and the imagery in Metamorphoses are key to interpreting what Ovid is trying to convey to the reader. The power of change is the central issue in each story and in all the stories combined. Change as a vehicle of escape, punishment, or any means to an end is apparent in virtually every story in the book.
Mandelbaum, Allen, trans. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. By Ovid. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & company, 2008.
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