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Metamorphoses is a narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid. It tells the epic story of over 15 books on the history of the world. Read this text that chronicles the world from creation through the reign of Julius Ceasar. The poem has influenced many artists in Western culture since its creation. Chaucer and Shakespeare, along with famous works of art and music, have cited the ancient text as a source of inspiration.


P. Ovidius Naso

Translated by Brookes More


Book 1



My soul is wrought to sing of forms transformed
to bodies new and strange! Immortal Gods
inspire my heart, for ye have changed yourselves
and all things you have changed! Oh lead my song
in smooth and measured strains, from olden days
when earth began to this completed time!

The Creation

Mundi Origo

Before the ocean and the earth appeared —
before the skies had overspread them all —
the face of Nature in a vast expanse
was naught but Chaos uniformly waste.
It was a rude and undeveloped mass,
that nothing made except a ponderous weight;
and all discordant elements confused,
were there congested in a shapeless heap.

As yet the sun afforded earth no light,
nor did the moon renew her crescent horns;
the earth was not suspended in the air
exactly balanced by her heavy weight.
Not far along the margin of the shores
had Amphitrite stretched her lengthened arms, —
for all the land was mixed with sea and air.
The land was soft, the sea unfit to sail,
the atmosphere opaque, to naught was given
a proper form, in everything was strife,
and all was mingled in a seething mass —
with hot the cold parts strove, and wet with dry
and soft with hard, and weight with empty void.

But God, or kindly Nature, ended strife —
he cut the land from skies, the sea from land,
the heavens ethereal from material air;
and when were all evolved from that dark mass
he bound the fractious parts in tranquil peace.
The fiery element of convex heaven
leaped from the mass devoid of dragging weight,
and chose the summit arch to which the air
as next in quality was next in place.
The earth more dense attracted grosser parts
and moved by gravity sank underneath;
and last of all the wide surrounding waves
in deeper channels rolled around the globe.

And when this God — which one is yet unknown —
had carved asunder that discordant mass,
had thus reduced it to its elements,
that every part should equally combine,
when time began He rounded out the earth
and moulded it to form a mighty globe.
Then poured He forth the deeps and gave command
that they should billow in the rapid winds,
that they should compass every shore of earth.
he also added fountains, pools and lakes,
and bound with shelving banks the slanting streams,
which partly are absorbed and partly join
the boundless ocean. Thus received amid
the wide expanse of uncontrolled waves,
they beat the shores instead of crooked banks.

At His command the boundless plains extend,
the valleys are depressed, the woods are clothed
in green, the stony mountains rise. And as
the heavens are intersected on the right
by two broad zones, by two that cut the left,
and by a fifth consumed with ardent heat,
with such a number did the careful God
mark off the compassed weight, and thus the earth
received as many climes. — Such heat consumes
the middle zone that none may dwell therein;
and two extremes are covered with deep snow;
and two are placed betwixt the hot and cold,
which mixed together give a temperate clime;
and over all the atmosphere suspends
with weight proportioned to the fiery sky,
exactly as the weight of earth compares
with weight of water.

And He ordered mist
to gather in the air and spread the clouds.
He fixed the thunders that disturb our souls,
and brought the lightning on destructive winds
that also waft the cold. Nor did the great
Artificer permit these mighty winds
to blow unbounded in the pathless skies,
but each discordant brother fixed in space,
although His power can scarce restrain their rage
to rend the universe. At His command
to far Aurora, Eurus took his way,
to Nabath, Persia, and that mountain range
first gilded by the dawn; and Zephyr’s flight
was towards the evening star and peaceful shores,
warm with the setting sun; and Boreas
invaded Scythia and the northern snows;
and Auster wafted to the distant south
where clouds and rain encompass his abode. —
and over these He fixed the liquid sky,
devoid of weight and free from earthly dross.

And scarcely had He separated these
and fixed their certain bounds, when all the stars,
which long were pressed and hidden in the mass,
began to gleam out from the plains of heaven,
and traversed, with the Gods, bright ether fields:
and lest some part might be bereft of life
the gleaming waves were filled with twinkling fish;
the earth was covered with wild animals;
the agitated air was filled with birds.

But one more perfect and more sanctified,
a being capable of lofty thought,
intelligent to rule, was wanting still
man was created! Did the Unknown God
designing then a better world make man
of seed divine? or did Prometheus
take the new soil of earth (that still contained
some godly element of Heaven’s Life)
and use it to create the race of man;
first mingling it with water of new streams;
so that his new creation, upright man,
was made in image of commanding Gods?
On earth the brute creation bends its gaze,
but man was given a lofty countenance
and was commanded to behold the skies;
and with an upright face may view the stars: —
and so it was that shapeless clay put on
the form of man till then unknown to earth.

Quattuor Aetates. Gigantes

The Four Ages

First was the Golden Age. Then rectitude
spontaneous in the heart prevailed, and faith.
Avengers were not seen, for laws unframed
were all unknown and needless. Punishment
and fear of penalties existed not.
No harsh decrees were fixed on brazen plates.
No suppliant multitude the countenance
of Justice feared, averting, for they dwelt
without a judge in peace. Descended not
the steeps, shorn from its height, the lofty pine,
cleaving the trackless waves of alien shores,
nor distant realms were known to wandering men.
The towns were not entrenched for time of war;
they had no brazen trumpets, straight, nor horns
of curving brass, nor helmets, shields nor swords.
There was no thought of martial pomp — secure
a happy multitude enjoyed repose.

Then of her own accord the earth produced
a store of every fruit. The harrow touched
her not, nor did the plowshare wound
her fields. And man content with given food,
and none compelling, gathered arbute fruits
and wild strawberries on the mountain sides,
and ripe blackberries clinging to the bush,
and corners and sweet acorns on the ground,
down fallen from the spreading tree of Jove.
Eternal Spring! Soft breathing zephyrs soothed
and warmly cherished buds and blooms, produced
without a seed. The valleys though unplowed
gave many fruits; the fields though not renewed
white glistened with the heavy bearded wheat:
rivers flowed milk and nectar, and the trees,
the very oak trees, then gave honey of themselves.

When Saturn had been banished into night
and all the world was ruled by Jove supreme,
the Silver Age, though not so good as gold
but still surpassing yellow brass, prevailed.

Jove first reduced to years the Primal Spring,
by him divided into periods four,
unequal, — summer, autumn, winter, spring. —
then glowed with tawny heat the parched air,
or pendent icicles in winter froze
and man stopped crouching in crude caverns, while
he built his homes of tree rods, bark entwined.
Then were the cereals planted in long rows,
and bullocks groaned beneath the heavy yoke.

The third Age followed, called The Age of Bronze,
when cruel people were inclined to arms
but not to impious crimes. And last of all
the ruthless and hard Age of Iron prevailed,
from which malignant vein great evil sprung;
and modesty and faith and truth took flight,
and in their stead deceits and snares and frauds
and violence and wicked love of gain,
succeeded. — Then the sailor spread his sails
to winds unknown, and keels that long had stood
on lofty mountains pierced uncharted waves.
Surveyors anxious marked with metes and bounds
the lands, created free as light and air:
nor need the rich ground furnish only crops,
and give due nourishment by right required, —
they penetrated to the bowels of earth
and dug up wealth, bad cause of all our ills, —
rich ores which long ago the earth had hid
and deep removed to gloomy Stygian caves:
and soon destructive iron and harmful gold
were brought to light; and War, which uses both,
came forth and shook with sanguinary grip
his clashing arms. Rapacity broke forth —
the guest was not protected from his host,
the father in law from his own son in law;
even brothers seldom could abide in peace.
The husband threatened to destroy his wife,
and she her husband: horrid step dames mixed
the deadly henbane: eager sons inquired
their fathers, ages. Piety was slain:
and last of all the virgin deity,
Astraea vanished from the blood-stained earth.


And lest ethereal heights should long remain
less troubled than the earth, the throne of Heaven
was threatened by the Giants; and they piled
mountain on mountain to the lofty stars.
But Jove, omnipotent, shot thunderbolts
through Mount Olympus, and he overturned
from Ossa huge, enormous Pelion.
And while these dreadful bodies lay overwhelmed
in their tremendous bulk, (so fame reports)
the Earth was reeking with the copious blood
of her gigantic sons; and thus replete
with moisture she infused the steaming gore
with life renewed. So that a monument
of such ferocious stock should be retained,
she made that offspring in the shape of man;
but this new race alike despised the Gods,
and by the greed of savage slaughter proved
a sanguinary birth.


Lycaon Changed to a Wolf

When, from his throne
supreme, the Son of Saturn viewed their deeds,
he deeply groaned: and calling to his mind
the loathsome feast Lycaon had prepared,
a recent deed not common to report,
his soul conceived great anger — worthy Jove —
and he convened a council. No delay
detained the chosen Gods.

When skies are clear
a path is well defined on high, which men,
because so white, have named the Milky Way.
It makes a passage for the deities
and leads to mansions of the Thunder God,
to Jove’s imperial home. On either side
of its wide way the noble Gods are seen,

inferior Gods in other parts abide,
but there the potent and renowned of Heaven
have fixed their homes. — It is a glorious place,
our most audacious verse might designate
the “Palace of High Heaven.” When the Gods
were seated, therefore, in its marble halls
the King of all above the throng sat high,
and leaning on his ivory scepter, thrice,
and once again he shook his awful locks,
wherewith he moved the earth, and seas and stars, —
and thus indignantly began to speak;
“The time when serpent footed giants strove
to fix their hundred arms on captive Heaven,
not more than this event could cause alarm
for my dominion of the universe.
Although it was a savage enemy,
yet warred we with a single source derived
of one. Now must I utterly destroy
this mortal race wherever Nereus roars
around the world. Yea, by the Infernal Streams
that glide through Stygian groves beneath the world,
I swear it. Every method has been tried.
The knife must cut immedicable wounds,
lest maladies infect untainted parts.
“Beneath my sway are demi gods and fauns,
nymphs, rustic deities, sylvans of the hills,
satyrs; — all these, unworthy Heaven’s abodes,
we should at least permit to dwell on earth
which we to them bequeathed. What think ye, Gods,
is safety theirs when I, your sovereign lord,
the Thunder-bolt Controller, am ensnared
by fierce Lycaon?” Ardent in their wrath,
the astonished Gods demand revenge overtake
this miscreant; he who dared commit such crimes.
‘Twas even thus when raged that impious band
to blot the Roman name in sacred blood
of Caesar, sudden apprehensive fears
of ruin absolute astonished man,
and all the world convulsed. Nor is the love
thy people bear to thee, Augustus, less
than these displayed to Jupiter whose voice
and gesture all the murmuring host restrained:
and as indignant clamour ceased, suppressed
by regnant majesty, Jove once again
broke the deep silence with imperial words;
“Dismiss your cares; he paid the penalty
however all the crime and punishment
now learn from this: — An infamous report
of this unholy age had reached my ears,
and wishing it were false, I sloped my course
from high Olympus, and — although a God —
disguised in human form I viewed the world.
It would delay us to recount the crimes
unnumbered, for reports were less than truth.

“I traversed Maenalus where fearful dens
abound, over Lycaeus, wintry slopes
of pine tree groves, across Cyllene steep;
and as the twilight warned of night’s approach,
I stopped in that Arcadian tyrant’s realms
and entered his inhospitable home: —
and when I showed his people that a God
had come, the lowly prayed and worshiped me,
but this Lycaon mocked their pious vows
and scoffing said; ‘A fair experiment
will prove the truth if this be god or man.’
and he prepared to slay me in the night, —
to end my slumbers in the sleep of death.
So made he merry with his impious proof;
but not content with this he cut the throat
of a Molossian hostage sent to him,
and partly softened his still quivering limbs
in boiling water, partly roasted them
on fires that burned beneath. And when this flesh
was served to me on tables, I destroyed
his dwelling and his worthless Household Gods,
with thunder bolts avenging. Terror struck
he took to flight, and on the silent plains
is howling in his vain attempts to speak;
he raves and rages and his greedy jaws,
desiring their accustomed slaughter, turn
against the sheep — still eager for their blood.
His vesture separates in shaggy hair,
his arms are changed to legs; and as a wolf
he has the same grey locks, the same hard face,
the same bright eyes, the same ferocious look.

The Deluge

“Thus fell one house, but not one house alone
deserved to perish; over all the earth
ferocious deeds prevail, — all men conspire
in evil. Let them therefore feel the weight
of dreadful penalties so justly earned,
for such hath my unchanging will ordained.”

With exclamations some approved the words
of Jove and added fuel to his wrath,
while others gave assent: but all deplored
and questioned the estate of earth deprived
of mortals. Who could offer frankincense
upon the altars? Would he suffer earth
to be despoiled by hungry beasts of prey?
Such idle questions of the state of man
the King of Gods forbade, but granted soon
to people earth with race miraculous,
unlike the first.

Deucalion et Pyrrha

And now his thunder bolts
would Jove wide scatter, but he feared the flames,
unnumbered, sacred ether might ignite
and burn the axle of the universe:
and he remembered in the scroll of fate,
there is a time appointed when the sea
and earth and Heavens shall melt, and fire destroy
the universe of mighty labour wrought.
Such weapons by the skill of Cyclops forged,
for different punishment he laid aside —
for straightway he preferred to overwhelm
the mortal race beneath deep waves and storms
from every raining sky. And instantly
he shut the Northwind in Aeolian caves,
and every other wind that might dispel
the gathering clouds. He bade the Southwind blow: —

the Southwind flies abroad with dripping wings,
concealing in the gloom his awful face:
the drenching rain descends from his wet beard
and hoary locks; dark clouds are on his brows
and from his wings and garments drip the dews:
his great hands press the overhanging clouds;
loudly the thunders roll; the torrents pour;
Iris, the messenger of Juno, clad
in many coloured raiment, upward draws
the steaming moisture to renew the clouds.

The standing grain is beaten to the ground,
the rustic’s crops are scattered in the mire,
and he bewails the long year’s fruitless toil.

The wrath of Jove was not content with powers
that emanate from Heaven; he brought to aid
his azure brother, lord of flowing waves,
who called upon the Rivers and the Streams:
and when they entered his impearled abode,
Neptune, their ancient ruler, thus began;
“A long appeal is needless; pour ye forth
in rage of power; open up your fountains;
rush over obstacles; let every stream
pour forth in boundless floods.” Thus he commands,
and none dissenting all the River Gods
return, and opening up their fountains roll
tumultuous to the deep unfruitful sea.

And Neptune with his trident smote the Earth,
which trembling with unwonted throes heaved up
the sources of her waters bare; and through
her open plains the rapid rivers rushed
resistless, onward bearing the waving grain,

the budding groves, the houses, sheep and men, —
and holy temples, and their sacred urns.
The mansions that remained, resisting vast
and total ruin, deepening waves concealed
and whelmed their tottering turrets in the flood
and whirling gulf. And now one vast expanse,
the land and sea were mingled in the waste
of endless waves — a sea without a shore.

One desperate man seized on the nearest hill;
another sitting in his curved boat,
plied the long oar where he was wont to plow;
another sailed above his grain, above
his hidden dwelling; and another hooked
a fish that sported in a leafy elm.
Perchance an anchor dropped in verdant fields,
or curving keels were pushed through tangled vines;
and where the gracile goat enjoyed the green,
unsightly seals reposed. Beneath the waves
were wondering Nereids, viewing cities, groves
and houses. Dolphins darting mid the trees,
meshed in the twisted branches, beat against
the shaken oak trees. There the sheep, affrayed,
swim with the frightened wolf, the surging waves
float tigers and lions: availeth naught
his lightning shock the wild boar, nor avails
the stag’s fleet footed speed. The wandering bird,
seeking umbrageous groves and hidden vales,
with wearied pinion droops into the sea.
The waves increasing surge above the hills,
and rising waters dash on mountain tops.
Myriads by the waves are swept away,
and those the waters spare, for lack of food,
starvation slowly overcomes at last.

A fruitful land and fair but now submerged
beneath a wilderness of rising waves,
‘Twixt Oeta and Aonia, Phocis lies,
where through the clouds Parnassus’ summits twain
point upward to the stars, unmeasured height,
save which the rolling billows covered all:
there in a small and fragile boat, arrived,
Deucalion and the consort of his couch,
prepared to worship the Corycian Nymphs,
the mountain deities, and Themis kind,
who in that age revealed in oracles
the voice of fate. As he no other lived
so good and just, as she no other feared
the Gods.

When Jupiter beheld the globe
in ruin covered, swept with wasting waves,
and when he saw one man of myriads left,
one helpless woman left of myriads lone,
both innocent and worshiping the Gods,
he scattered all the clouds; he blew away
the great storms by the cold northwind.

Once more
the earth appeared to heaven and the skies
appeared to earth. The fury of the main
abated, for the Ocean ruler laid
his trident down and pacified the waves,
and called on azure Triton. — Triton arose
above the waving seas, his shoulders mailed
in purple shells. — He bade the Triton blow,
blow in his sounding shell, the wandering streams
and rivers to recall with signal known:
a hollow wreathed trumpet, tapering wide
and slender stemmed, the Triton took amain
and wound the pearly shell at midmost sea.
Betwixt the rising and the setting suns
the wildered notes resounded shore to shore,
and as it touched his lips, wet with the brine
beneath his dripping beard, sounded retreat:
and all the waters of the land and sea
obeyed. Their fountains heard and ceased to flow;
their waves subsided; hidden hills uprose;
emerged the shores of ocean; channels filled
with flowing streams; the soil appeared; the land
increased its surface as the waves decreased:
and after length of days the trees put forth,
with ooze on bending boughs, their naked tops.

And all the wasted globe was now restored,
but as he viewed the vast and silent world
Deucalion wept and thus to Pyrrha spoke;
“O sister! wife! alone of woman left!
My kindred in descent and origin!
Dearest companion of my marriage bed,
doubly endeared by deepening dangers borne, —
of all the dawn and eve behold of earth,
but you and I are left — for the deep sea
has kept the rest! And what prevents the tide
from overwhelming us? Remaining clouds
affright us. How could you endure your fears
if you alone were rescued by this fate,
and who would then console your bitter grief?
Oh be assured, if you were buried in the waves,
that I would follow you and be with you!
Oh would that by my father’s art I might
restore the people, and inspire this clay
to take the form of man. Alas, the Gods
decreed and only we are living!”, Thus
Deucalion’s plaint to Pyrrha; — and they wept.

And after he had spoken, they resolved
to ask the aid of sacred oracles, —
and so they hastened to Cephissian waves
which rolled a turbid flood in channels known.
Thence when their robes and brows were sprinkled well,
they turned their footsteps to the goddess’ fane:
its gables were befouled with reeking moss
and on its altars every fire was cold.
But when the twain had reached the temple steps
they fell upon the earth, inspired with awe,
and kissed the cold stone with their trembling lips,
and said; “If righteous prayers appease the Gods,
and if the wrath of high celestial powers
may thus be turned, declare, O Themis! whence
and what the art may raise humanity?
O gentle goddess help the dying world!”

Moved by their supplications, she replied;
“Depart from me and veil your brows; ungird
your robes, and cast behind you as you go,
the bones of your great mother.” Long they stood
in dumb amazement: Pyrrha, first of voice,
refused the mandate and with trembling lips
implored the goddess to forgive — she feared
to violate her mother’s bones and vex
her sacred spirit. Often pondered they
the words involved in such obscurity,
repeating oft: and thus Deucalion
to Epimetheus’ daughter uttered speech
of soothing import; “Oracles are just
and urge not evil deeds, or naught avails
the skill of thought. Our mother is the Earth,
and I may judge the stones of earth are bones
that we should cast behind us as we go.”

And although Pyrrha by his words was moved
she hesitated to comply; and both amazed
doubted the purpose of the oracle,
but deemed no harm to come of trial. They,
descending from the temple, veiled their heads
and loosed their robes and threw some stones
behind them. It is much beyond belief,
were not receding ages witness, hard
and rigid stones assumed a softer form,
enlarging as their brittle nature changed
to milder substance, — till the shape of man
appeared, imperfect, faintly outlined first,
as marble statue chiseled in the rough.
The soft moist parts were changed to softer flesh,
the hard and brittle substance into bones,
the veins retained their ancient name. And now
the Gods supreme ordained that every stone
Deucalion threw should take the form of man,
and those by Pyrrha cast should woman’s form
assume: so are we hardy to endure
and prove by toil and deeds from what we sprung.


The Pythian Games

And after this the Earth spontaneous
produced the world of animals, when all
remaining moistures of the mirey fens
fermented in the sun, and fruitful seeds
in soils nutritious grew to shapes ordained.
So when the seven streamed Nile from oozy fields
returneth duly to her ancient bed,
the sun’s ethereal rays impregn the slime,
that haply as the peasants turn the soil
they find strange animals unknown before:
some in the moment of their birth, and some
deprived of limbs, imperfect; often part
alive and part of slime inanimate
are fashioned in one body. Heat combined
with moisture so conceives and life results
from these two things. For though the flames may be
the foes of water, everything that lives
begins in humid vapour, and it seems
discordant concord is the means of life.

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