Metamorphoses Study Guide

"Metamorphoses" means transformations, and transformation is the governming theme of the text. But, Metamorphoses is also a compilation of myths, some complimentary and some almost contradictory, that were well-known in Ovid's society. Indeed, one might compare Metamorphoses to a modern-day collection of fables, though fables often have clear morals or meanings, which cannot be said of Ovid's ambiguous subjects. As a poem, Ovid also saw Metamorphoses as an offering to the gods: he asked for their help in making the poem worthy of being dedicated to them and focused on the gods in his subject matter.

Most of the stories in Metamorphoses address the transformative power of love. Ovid does not believe that love conquers all or that love is always a positive thing, but he clearly believes that love changes people, for better or worse, and that love operates with an irrational power that cannot be simply ignored. Ovid treats love differently in Metamorphoses than elsewhere in his oeuvre. Indeed, Metamorphoses can be thought of as an epic about love. The collection is composed in dactylic hexameter, the classic meter of epic, and not in Ovid's customary elegiac couplets, the standard meter of love poetry.

The stories compiled in Metamorphoses are great in scope and in detail, covering everything from the creation of the universe to why mullberry trees have red berries. They were incredibly popular in their own time and for centuries afterwards. Even today, this work is a favorite of those who study ancient life or languages. The work has also had a tremendous influence on other works of art, especially during the European Renaissance. Most notably, Metamorphoses is widely considered to be Shakespeare's favorite literary work, as it influenced many of his plays. For instance, Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe greatly influenced Romeo and Juliet, and moreover Shakespeare includes a send-p of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night's Dream).

Metamorphoses continues to be translated and re-interpreted by modern poets and writers. Most notably, Ted Hughes' translation met with great acclaim; it is considered a modern classic in its own right. Also, Mary Zimmerman's production of "The Metamorphes," which stages a group of Ovid's myths around a pool of water, has been an hit both on and off-Broadway and has led to a resurgance of interest in Ovid's poem.