In spite of the Metamorphoses' enduring popularity from its first publication (around the time of Ovid's exile in 8 AD) no manuscript survives from antiquity. From the ninth and tenth centuries there are only fragments of the poem; it is only from the eleventh century onwards that manuscripts, of varying value, have been passed down.
Influential in the course of the poem's manuscript tradition is the seventeenth-century Dutch scholar Nikolaes Heinsius. During the years 1640–52, Heinsius collated more than a hundred manuscripts and was informed of many others through correspondence.
But the poem's immense popularity in antiquity and the Middle Ages belies the struggle for survival it faced in late antiquity. "A dangerously pagan work," the Metamorphoses was preserved through the Roman period of Christianization, but was criticized by the voices of Augustine and Jerome, who believed the only metamorphosis really was the transubstantiation. Though the Metamorphoses did not suffer the ignominious fate of the Medea, no ancient scholia on the poem survive (although they did exist in antiquity), and the earliest manuscript is very late, dating from the 11th century.
The poem retained its popularity throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and is represented by an extremely high number of surviving manuscripts (more than 400); the earliest of these are three fragmentary copies containing portions of Books 1-3, dating to the 9th century.
Collaborative editorial effort has been investigating the various manuscripts of the Metamorphoses, some forty-five complete texts or substantial fragments, all deriving from a Gallic archetype. The result of several centuries of critical reading is that the poet's meaning is firmly established on the basis of the manuscript tradition or restored by conjecture where the tradition is deficient. There are two modern critical editions: William S. Anderson's, first published in 1977 in the Teubner series, and R. J. Tarrant's, published in 2004 by the Oxford Clarendon Press.