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Transitions in the Tenth Book of Ovid's Metamorphoses

Ovid's Metamorphoses has stood to rival the epic poetry of its time since its reception in the
first century of the common era. Yet the structure of Ovid's epic serves to distinguish it from other
works, as the Metamorphoses provides one continuous myth without the need for a main character or
overseeing plot. This unique format requires transitions to link each individual metamorphosis, and
Ovid has found clever ways to move the reader from one myth of his epic to the next. The tenth book
of Ovid's Metamorphoses illustrates this by providing transitions from the story of Orpheus and
Eurydice into tales of boys loved by gods, from these tales into the theme of life becoming stone – or
vice versa – and from this theme into the genelogical myths of Pygmalion's offspring.
The first evident section of the tenth book of the Metamorphoses is the tale of Orpheus and
Eurydice, which transitions into the tales of boys loved by gods. Ovid tells the story of the lovers
powerfully, describing the second death of Eurydice as Orpheus' reason for scorning the world of
women and turning to boys instead. Orpheus' newfound dislike of women provides an opportunity for
the transition into the next tale, as Orpheus states that he wishes to “sing of boys loved by the gods”
(238). Thus, Ovid employs a kind of thematic transition – the feelings of his character dictates where
the story will go, as Orpheus takes over the narration and relates only what he desires to discuss. The
epic then moves into a description of Ganymede, the object of Zeus's lust, and this short myth serves to
create an even more gradual flow from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice into that of Apollo and
Hyacinthus. Ganymede's tale sets Ovid up to move into the myth of Hyacinthus by merely stating that
“there was another boy” who was desired by a god (239). Thus, Ovid employs two transitions – both
thematically and through the insertion of a short myth – to move the story past that of Orpheus and
The second section of the tenth book is the transition from the tales of boys loved by gods into
the theme of stone transforming into life (or life turning into stone). The transition from the story of
Apollo and Hyacinthus does not contain an obvious transition into the tales of Venus's anger, yet it does
transition in the sense that Orpheus remains the narrator. Ovid relates the story of a town in Cyprus
which used “murder...of innocent guests” as its sacrifice to the gods, angering Venus with its impious
tribute (241). As punishment, Venus turned the girls into stone, which Orpheus states was no real
change “from what they were to actual rock and stone,” as their nature was already so coarse (241).
This myth powerfully sets up for the introduction of the tale of Pygmalion, as it shares an inverted
theme with this tale. In the story of Venus' anger, the girls are turned from human flesh to stone by
divine will. In Pygmalion, the sculptor's statue becomes living flesh from the bare stone which was
originally her form. Thus, the tales are transitioned from one to the next thematically. They also employ
another transition, as Ovid writes that “Pygmalion...had seen these women leading their shameful
lives” (241). The poet hence relates the two stories by stating that Pygmalion had witnessed the events
of the previous myth, and thus transitions even more gradually into the tale of the sculptor.
The final section of Book X contains the stories of Pygmalion's descendents. This thematic
relation allows for easy transitions from one story into the next. The story of Pygmalion ends with the
birth of his daughter, Paphos – the child of the sculptor and the statue. This provides the basis for the
story of Cinyras and Myrrha, as the tale starts by stating that Paphos' son was Cinyras. Thus, Ovid
begins to employ genelogical transitions – he maintains the flow of the story by moving from the
tranformation of one figure to that of his/her offspring, hence relating each metamorphosis that pertains
to Pygmalion's descendents. After Ovid finishes the tale of Cinyras and Myrrha – the father and the
daughter whom he unknowingly impregnated – he transitions by stating that the child of that unholy
union was Adonis, whose tale is then related. The story begins with Venus' warning that Adonis must
not attempt to kill any wild beast who possesses natural weapons, as animals are not deceived by
features such as Adonis' beauty. This transitions into the story of Atalanta, which is told by Venus to
reinforce her warning in Adonis' mind. Through the story of this girl, whom was defeated in a race and
hence made to be married, Venus' tells how she created lions from men after Atalanta's newly found
husband failed to offer a tribute to Venus. Hence, the goddess uses this tale to scare Adonis by showing
how beasts came to be. This transitions powerfully into the tale of Adonis' ultimate death, as the next
story contains the tale of how Adonis scorned Venus' warning and attempted to kill a wild boar, who in
return caused him a grave injury and forced Venus to transform him into a flower. Thus, this section of
the tenth book transition from one myth to the next with a genelogical connection, and moreover, in the
case of the last three myths, relate to the same person, who is also Pygmalion's descendent.
Upon first consideration, the reader may expect Ovid's Metamorphoses to lack a fluid
connection, as it combines so many myths into a single epic poem. Yet the poet employs connections to
solve this problem, linking one story to the next with transitional narratives, shared themes, and other
devices. The tenth book of the Metamorphoses links the story of Orpheus and Eurydice into tales of
boys loved by gods, from these tales into the theme of life becoming stone – or vice versa – and from
this theme into the genelogical myths of Pygmalion's offspring. Ovid does this so that the reader hardly
notices the gradual change from one myth to the next, and thus creates a masterful epic which rivals the
other renowned poetry of its time.
Humphries, Rolfe. Metamorphoses. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955.

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