Metamorphoses Summary and Analysis of Book XIII - Book XIV


The Greeks gather to decide whether Ulysses or Ajax is more worthy of receiving Achilles' armor. Ajax represents his case first, emphasizing his role in battling Hector and his status as Achilles' cousin. Ajax suggests that the arms be set in the middle of the enemy's ranks and whoever can recover them be allowed to keep them. Ulysses brushes aside Ajax's claim, arguing that since he persuaded Achilles to join the fight he ought to receive some of the glory of Achilles' achievements. Ulysses recounts his triumphs as the brains of the Greeks, and belittles Ajax as a mere grunt, comparing himself to the ship captain and Ajax to the unthinking manpower. Finally, he suggests that if they do not give the armor to him, they ought to sacrifice it to Minerva, because they stole her statue from Troy. The Greeks grant Ulysses the armor, and Ajax is so angry that he kills himself with his own sword.

Ovid turns to the fall of Troy: Priam is killed, the Trojan women are siezed, Troy is burnt to the ground, and Cassandra is dragged away by Agamemnon. The Greeks sail away to their homelands. The Trojans, meanwhile, suffer further tragedy. Priam had sent his son, Polydorus, to be reared at the nearby court of Polymestor. But Polymestor robs and kills Polydorus and threw the body off a cliff. Priam's daughter Polyxena also meets a cruel end, as the ghost of Achilles demands her sacrifice to appease his spirit. She dies nobly and asks only that her body be returned to her mother without a ransom.

When Hecuba receives Polyxena's body she beats her breasts and tears her hair. To pile misfortune on misfortune, Hecuba goes to the shore for water to cleanse her daughters wounds and comes across Polydorus's body. Too numb to mourn at first, Hecuba is consumed with thoughts of vengeance. She seeks out Polymestor and tricks him into following her to a cave where he believes there is a hidden cache of gold. There, Hecuba's women attack him, ripping him to pieces. His followers attempt to exact their revenge, but as they do so Hecuba is transformed into a dog. Meanwhile, Aurora mourns her own son, Memnon, whom Achilles killed. She appeals to Jove, who agrees to commemorate Memnon's death with a display of four battling birds over his funeral pyre. These birds return every year and reenact the violence of the Trojan War.

One of Priam's sons, Aeneas, escapes the burning city with his household gods and his father. He takes to the seas, arriving at the city of Delos, where Anius receives him and tells the story of his five children. His son became king of an island while his daughters, followers of Bacchus, were blessed with the ability to conjure corn, or wine, or olives from everything they touched. When Agamemnon learned of these gifts, he tried to seize the girls to feed the Greeks. They fled to their brother's kingdom; however, facing the threat of Agamemnon's army, their brother betrayed them. Finally, Bacchus rescued the girls by changing them into white doves.

The next day Aeneas visits an oracle, who tells him to seek his ancestral lands. Thus Aeneas and his followers wander, searching for the site of their new home. They go to Crete, then Italy, then sail to Buthrotus to consult the Trojan seer Helenus. There they learn that Sicily is their destination, but to get there they must pass through Scylla and Charybdis. Charybdis is a whirlpool, Scylla a monster with the face of a beautiful girl. We hear Scylla's story: before she was a monster she would brag to the nymphs of her many suitors. One of these nymphs, Galatea, tells Scylla of her love affair with Acis. She loved Acis, but meanwhile Polyphemus the Cyclops (whom Ulysses later blinded) loved her; coming across the two of them one day, Polyphemus crushed Acis with a boulder. Galatea transformed him into a river god.

After hearing this story, Scylla meets Glaucus, a fisherman recently transformed into a sea god, who falls in love with her and pursues her. She runs to the top of a mountain where he cannot reach her. Attempting to calm her fears, Glaucus tells Scylla the story of his transformation. He was a mere fisherman before he discovered a magical, pristine beach. He tasted the grass of the beach and was filled with a desire to be in the water. The sea gods found him and purged him of his mortality, making him one of their number. Scylla continues to resist his wooing and Glaucus seeks out Circe, thinking to win Scylla with magic. Circe, though, falls in love with Glaucus and, jealous of Scylla, poisons a little pool that Scylla loves. When Scylla next enters it, she becomes a monster, covered by a skirt of barking, vicious dogs. Scylla later destroys some of Ulysses' companions, though she is changed to a rock before Aeneas sails by her.

Now Aeneas and his men sail to Carthage, where Queen Dido falls in love with Aeneas. Unable to bear his departure, she kills herself. Aeneas flees Carthage and goes to the land of his half-brother Acestes, where he pays honors to his dead father, and then departs once more. Aeneas goes to see the Sibyl at Cumae and with her help enters the Underworld; there he speaks to his father and learns what he must do to fulfill his destiny. As he and the Sibyl travel back to the earth, she tells him that she was once offered eternal life by Apollo himself. He loved her when she was young, and offered to grant her a wish; she asked to live as many years as there were specks of dust in a pile, meanwhile forgetting to ask for eternal youth. Apollo offered youth as well in return for her love, but she refused, and now lives out her days as her body disintegrates. Aeneas and the Sybil return to the shores of Cumae, where Macareus of Neritos, a past companion of Ulysses, has settled. Macareus recognizes that one of Aeneas' men, Achaemenides, is Greek, and asks him why he joined the Trojans. Achaemenides explains that Aeneas rescued him from Polyphemus, after Ulysses had abandoned some of his crew. Only Achaemenides survived.

Next, Macareus tells of how Aeolus the wind god gave Ulysses a bag containing all but one of the winds. Thus Ulysses traveled by this favorable wind until his greedy men, thinking the bag contained gold, opened it and released the winds. They were all blown back to Aeolus's harbor, where Aeolus shunned them, and then to the land of the man-eating Laestrygonians. Only one ship escaped and arrived on Circe's island, where the sorcerous turned Ulysses' men into pigs. Ulysses charmed Circe with a gift from Mercury and restored his men to human form. They stayed with Circe for a year.

We turn to the story of Circe and Picus, the son of Saturn, whom Circe turned into an ivory statue. Picus was truly beautiful and many were in love with him, though he loved Canens the nymph. They married and were very happy. Circe, spotted Picus while he was boar-hunting and pursued him. When Picus remained true to Canens, Circe turned him into a wood-pecker. Canens searched everywhere for Picus, but in vain; finally she cried until her body melted into a puddle. Macareus finishes by saying that he settled rather than continue with Ulysses, for Circe predicted many more disasters would befall him.

Before departing, Aeneas puts his dead nurse's ashes in a marble urn. Then, the Trojans reach the kingdom of Latinus, where Aeneas steals Lavinia from Turnus. A battle ensues and Aeneas sends for help from Evander; Turnus seeks help from Diomede, who refuses. He explains that following the Trojan War, his men insulted Venus, who turned the majority of them into birds. Turnus' messanger, Venulus, returns with the bad news, passing the first olive tree. We hear the story behind it: a shepherd came across dancing nymphs and scorned them; he was turned into the olive tree as punishment, which gives fruit as bitter as his words.

Aeneas' battle with Turnus continues. Turnus' men, the Ritulis, set fire to Aeneas's ship, but Cybele, mother of the gods, realizes that the ship is made from her sacred wood and douses the ship with a thunderstorm. The ship sinks in the deluge and, under the water, its pieces transform to Naiads, who retain the memories of their sea-journeys and help wrecked ships, except for those of the Greeks. Turnus is finally killed and the city of Ardea falls. Venus goes to Jove and asks him to grant Aeneas a portion of divinity. Jove agrees and Aeneas becomes a god. His son Julus is the first in a long line of kings.

Generations later, a nymph named Pomona cared for the orchards and fields of Latium. She cloistered herself in the orchards, though Vertumnus the satyr fell in love with her and tried to gain access to her through disguises. Disguised as an old woman, he tells Pomona that she ought to marry the honest and faithful Vertumnus. The "old woman" continues with a story: there was once a young man named Iphis who fell in love with the beautiful and noble Anaxarete. He did everything he could to win her, but she scorned him. Finally, one day hung himself on her doorstep. Witnessing his funeral procession, Anaxarete turned to stone. The story finished, Vertumnus throws off his disguise and stands before Pomona in all his glory. Thus he convinces Pomona to marry him.

Amulius unjustly seizes the kingdom, which is now called Ausonia, but Numitor and his grandson Romulus recapture the city and found Rome. The Sabines try to conquer Rome but are defeated. With Juno's help, the Sabines make a last effort at conquering Rome, but Venus aids Rome with a flood and they win. The Romans create a treaty with the Sabine leader Tatius, under the terms of which Tatius partially rules. After Tatius's death, Romulus becomes the sole king of Rome. Mars asks Jove to grant divinity to Romulus and Jove agrees, signaling his assent with a thunderbolt. Mars dissolves Romulus' mortal body and he becomes a god. Romulus's wife, Hersilia, mourns until Juno sends Iris to tell her that if she wishes to see her husband again, she must go to a certain grove. Here, Hersilia is defied as well and reunited with her husband.


Ovid gives a detailed and lively description of Ajax and Ulysses fight over Achilles' armor. While Ovid does a fair job of paying homage to both these heroes, his description of the two men (and their arguments) suggests that Ovid reveals his own belief about who is more worthy of the armor. Ajax and Ulysses don't fight for the armor: they make speeches supporting their claims and the matter is decided with a vote. Ovid suggests that this method is exemplary, and will result in the armor going to the hero who deserves it more. Yet this test is intrinsically biased in Ulysses' favor. If the two heroes were to fight Ajax would have the advantage. Similarly, it is simply unfair to pit Ajax against Ulysses in a battle of words. The fight is over before it has begun, a fact made obvious by a comparison of the two men's speeches. Ajax can only insist that if they pick Ulysses because he can speak better, they are acting unfairly. Ulysses, in contrast, is at his most eloquent, proudly describing his contributions to the fight and snidely belittling Ajax as all muscle and no strategy. It seems likely that Ajax kills himself not because he lost the armor, but because he has been set up for humiliation. He cannot abide this dishonor without action, and he certainly can't continue to fight for the Greeks after they have treated him so shabbily.

Though Ovid tells of Greece's victory, his focus shifts almost entirely to the perils and hardships of the remaining Trojans as they set out to found Italy. When Ulysses journey is described, hardships are minimized and Ulysses is portrayed as a bad leader who cannot control or protect his men. In contrast, Aeneas goes so far as to save a Greek abandoned to Polyphemus's violence. He persistently pursues his destiny even when it seems that he will never reach a final resting place, and he honors the gods and his forefathers at every opportunity.

Ovid contrasts others besides Ulysses and Aeneas. Polyxena's sacrifice is strangely parallel to Iphigenia's. Of course, one cannot be surprised that Agamemnon would sacrifice another person's daughter when he was willing to sacrifice his own. Nor can one be surprised by Achilles bloodthirsty desire to take yet another Trojan life. Ovid had earlier pointed out that Iphigenia may well have received a last-minute reprieve from the goddess Diana. Polyxena receives no such reprieve. Agamemnon condemned his daughter to death, and she had very little idea of what was going on. Polyxena is a model of bravery and humility, as she asks only that her body be released to her mother without ransom. Polyxena's death at the end of the war seems almost logical. How can she survive when almost her entire family has been wiped out? Hecuba survives, but in the end is transformed.

This section contrasts huge events - the Trojan War, the founding of Italy - with seemingly trivial love affairs. Do Scylla and Pomona's stories cast any light on the Trojan War? These stories seem to be placed largely to continue Ovid's repeated shift in focus between the macro and the micro-levels. He is very purposefully splitting the difference between epic and lyric poetry, writing of the creation of the laurel tree as well as the founding of Italy. Similarly, these love stories emphasize that importance in storytelling is a matter of relative scale. Certainly the founding of Italy is a story with broad historical ramifications for many people; yet to people in love, the most important story involves no more than two or three. Ovid justifies the monumental importance of love by placing it alongside traditionally "epic" events.

This shift in perspective amounts to a metamorphosis of its own; Ovid's story shifts shapes, takes on different people's points-of-view, assumes what is unspeakably important to them to be worth publishing at large. Meanwhile, his Metamorphoses metamorphosize into a hymn of praise for the Roman Empire at large, as we see in the final book.