Books VII & VIII of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Continuing the read-along of Ovid's Metamorphoses and reaching the half-way point!

Book VII

Medea and Jason | The Rejuvenation of Aeson | The Punishment of Pelias | Medea's Flight
Theseus and Aegeus | Minos and Aeacus | The Plague at Aegina 
The Birth of the Myrmidons | Cephalus and Procris

Medea and Jason

Jason Swearing Eternal Affection to Medea by Jean-François de Troy (1742 - 1743). 
In this Ovid tells the first part of the Medea myth, in which Medea helps Jason capture the Golden Fleece (a ram with a golden fleece). Aeëtes consents to give Jason the fleece if he completes three tasks, but before we learn of the tasks Medea is introduced: she is deeply in love with Jason, and she worries about these tasks, and it is she who reveals them as she plans to assist him:
But unless I assist him, those fire-breathing bulls will blast him to ashes;
the warriors sprung from the seeds which he sows in the earth will fight
and destroy him; or else the greedy dragon will make him its prey.
As she goes to the shrine of Hecate she encounters Jason who asks for her help. She tells him she will help him on condition that he marries her. He agrees, and with the spells she has learned from Hecate she helps him fulfil his challenges and capture the fleece. They leave for Iólcos' harbour. 

The Rejuvenation of Aeson

La Métamorphose d'Aeson by Domenicus van Wynen (17th Century).
Old Aeson → Young Aeson

When Jason, Medea, and the fleet arrive home Jason finds his father Aeson dying. He begs Medea to intervene and with dark witchcraft: a lengthy spell and potions she rejuvenates him, making him appear forty years younger.

The Punishment of Pelias

Medea by Frederick Sandys (1868).
Old sheep → Lamb

This section simply opens with "Black treachery next": in this Medea seeks revenge against Pelias (Jason's uncle) who (N.B. Ovid doesn't tell the story) has tricked Jason into giving him the Golden Fleece in exchange for his kingdom. And so Medea arrives, pretending she is estranged from her husband, and she tells the daughters of Pelias how she rejuvenated Aeson, even showing them her spell with an old sheep. She then teaches the daughters the trick to revive their aged father, and it is the daughters who cut the throat of their father as Medea had cut the throat of Aeson, however her potion is nothing but water and herbs, and so Pelias is killed.

Medea's Flight

Dragon Chariot of Medea (4th Century B.C.)
Medea escapes, and as she flies in her chariot she passes over lands where many transformations have occurred:

  • Bullock → Stag (by Bacchus to conceal his thieving)
  • Maera → Dog
  • Women of Cos → Cows
  • Ctesýlla → Dove
  • Cycnus → Swan
  • Hyrië → Pool of Tears
  • Combe (grew wings to escape attack)
  • Cephíus → seal
When she returns to Jason she finds he has remarried, and so she kills their children, leaves again in her chariot, and goes to King Aégeus.

Theseus and Aegeus

In this Medea's murderous streak continues: she attempts to kill Theseus by tricking Aegeus into giving him a cup of poison. As Aegeus realises at the last second that Theseus is his son he swipes the cup out of his hand. Theseus lives and the kingdom celebrates as Medea is once again forced to flee.

Minos and Aeacus

Arne → Jackdaw

As the festival celebrating the return of Theseus takes place King Minos announces his intention to wage war on Athens for revenge against the Athenians for killing his son Androgeos. He asks Aegeus and the Aeginetans to break their treaty with Athens however they refuse. As Minos threatens that their refusal will dearly cost them Cephalus, an Athenian nobleman, returns with Clytus and Butes, the latter of whom was the son of Pallas.

The Plague at Aegina

Aegina Awaiting the Arrival of Zeus by Ferdinand Bol (17th Century).
In this Ovid describes the plague sent by Juno out of revenge against the people of Aegina; the namesake of this city, Aegina, was a nymph whom Jupiter had abducted. As people died of the plague the city became lawless.

The Birth of the Myrmidons

Ants → Humans

In this, Ovid tells of how Aeacus, the son of Jupiter and Aegina, is distraught about the city and so prays to Jupiter, "either restore me my people or send me to my grave!". A flash of lightening - a sign from Jupiter, is seen and Aeacus observes ants on the oak tree where he stands. That night he dreams the ants then transform into humans; he awakes, and discovers they have. He calls this new race the 'Myrmidons'. 

Cephalus and Procris

Procris and Cephalus by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1872).

The final tale of Book VII is about the lance of Cephalus: this lance never misses it's target, and furthermore it always returns to he who threw it. When asked to tell the tale of its origin Cephalus bursts into tears and tells of how Cephalus was once abducted by Aurora however he refused ehr advances, saying he loved his wife Procris. Aurora implies she has been unfaithful, so, with Aurora's help he disguises himself and tries to seduce Procris. One day it appears she may submit to this stranger and Cephalus reveals himself and curses her. She runs away but returns when he apologises, and they go on to live happily. However Procris begins to suspect her husband and hides, watching him. Mistaking her for a hidden boar he throws his spear and strikes her. She dies. Book VII ends,
The hero had ended. His audience, like him, was in tears. Then Aeacus
came on the scene with a pair of his sons and a party of fresh-raised
soldiers. Cephalus quickly took charge of the armed contingent.


Scylla and Minos | The Minotaur and Ariadne | Daedalus and Icarus | Daedalus and Perdix
Meleager and the Calydonian Boar | Achelous, the Naids and Perimele
Philemon and Baucis | Erysichthon

Scylla and Minos

Scylla et Glaucus by Rubens (1636).
Ninus → Hawk
Scylla → Hawk

As Cephalus departs to Athens King Minos continues to plan his war against Greece; at this stage there is a war in Megara, but the king of Megara, Nisus, is protected by his lock of purple hair and Minos is unable to advance. However Scylla, the daughter of Nisus, falls in love with Minos and to win his affection she cuts this purple tuft from his head and presents it to Minos. He is horrified and rejects her in no uncertain terms, and Scylla reacts by hurling insults at him. As she attacks Minos' boat Nisus, who has metamorphosed into a hawk, arrives and turns her into a hawk also.

The Minotaur and Ariadne

Ariadne by John William Waterhouse (1898).
Ariadne → Corona Borealis

One of Scylla's insults to Minos was that he was not the offspring of Jupiter disguised as a bull (see the story of Europa, Book II) but merely a bull, and furthermore his wife Pasiphae had also slept with a bull producing a half-human half-bull - the Minotaur. He hides the Minotaur in a maze designed by Daedalus and every nine years it is fed on the children of Athens. The third time one of the Athenian youths sent to be eaten by the Minotaur is Theseus, however he is helped by Ariadne, Minos' daughter. She gives him a thread so that he may find is way back out of the maze. She is in love with him, but despite helping him he abandons her. She weeps, heartbroken, but Bacchus arrives and transforms her into a constellation: the Corona Borealis. Ariadne's story is also told by Chaucer in his Legend of Good Women (1386-88).

Hercules and Corona Borealis by Sidney Hall (1825).
Daedalus and Icarus

The Fall of Icarus by Rubens (1636).
This is the sad story of Icarus: his father Daedalus (whose name James Joyce uses for his character Stephen Dedalus in Stephen HeroA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses) wishes to escape Crete where Minos is holding him prisoner so he fashions wings made of feathers and wax, and uses them for him and his son to fly away. Despite his father's warning Icarus flies too close to the sun; the wax melts and he crashes into the sea where he drowns. Daedalus buries him in a place now known as Icária (a Greek island in the Aegean Sea).

Daedalus and Perdix

Perdix → Partridge

As he buries his son Daedalus encounters a partridge, seemingly pleased. It transpires that this partridge was once the nephew of Daedalus entrusted to his care by his sister, however Daedalus was jealous of the boy's talents as a craftsman and hurled him off a cliff. Athena intervened and turned him into a partridge to save him, and from then on the partridge is a bird who always stays close to the ground.

Meleager and the Calydonian Boar

The Calydonian Boar Hunt by Rubens (1641).
Meleager's sisters → Guinea-fowl

As the celebrations for Theseus' defeat of the Minotaur go on the goddess Diana, in fury that King Oenus had not paid tribute to her, releases a wild boar which runs rampant through the city. A group of the strongest men, including Meleager, are sent to kill it, and they are joined by Atlanta, a huntress. She strikes it, but ultimately it is Meleager who kills it, though he wishes to share the honour with Atlanta. This enrages his uncles Plexippus and Toxeus; they argue, and Meleager kills them too. His mother mourns the death of her brothers, but remembers a prophecy from the Eumenides - as long as a certain log burns Meleager will live. She throws the log into the fire and as it turns to ash Meleager dies. His sisters mourn and Diana turns them into guinea-fowl: a turkey, or 'meleagris' (μελεαγρίς), meaning a female relative of Meleager.

Achelous, the Naids and Perimele

The Banquet of Achelous by Rubens (1614).
Naiads → Islands
Princess → Island

In this short tale Ovid tells of how the Echínades (a group of islands) came to be: five sea nymphs (Naiads) did not incite Achelous to a banquet so in revenge he turned them into an island. Then, Achelous goes on, the island was owned by a princess with whom, he says, he was in love. He raped her and her father punished her by throwing her off a cliff. Achelous prayed to Neptune for help and he turned the princess into an island too.

Philemon and Baucis

Old Philemon and Old Baucis by Arthur Rackham (1922).
Philemon and Baucis → Oak and Linden trees

One of the company, Pirithous ("a young tearaway") expresses his doubt that gods can be so powerful, so Lelex tells him the story of Philemon and Baucis: one day Jupiter and Mercury visited the village in Phrygia, both disguised, and all the residents except Philemon and Baucis turned them away. They soon realise that their guests are in fact Jupiter and Mercury, who then lead them away from the village before turning it into a swamp, with the exception of the couple's house which is turned into a marble temple. The gods then grant Philemon and Baucis' request: that they may live as priests in the temple and then never have to see the other die. And so, at the end of their lives, Philemon and Baucis are turned into oak and linden trees.


Theseus is in wonder at all the strength of the gods and asks Achelous to tell more stories. He obliges, telling of a few metamorphoses before he turns to the subject of Erysichthon who once ordered the sacred oak tree of Ceres to be chopped down, even beheading one of the men who refused. The forest nymphs (the Dryads) tell Ceres who curses him with hunger - no matter how much he ate he was constantly hungry (he gives his name to Erysichthon syndrome - insatiable hunger). Eventually he eats his own flesh. At the same time Achelous tells of Erysichthon's daughter who is able to shape-shift at will. Achelous then reveals he too has this gift, and here Book VIII ends.

Books V & VI

Further Reading


  1. I continue to be fascinated by the differences in our translations. Your translation often names a specific type of bird when mine just says bird, or gives a Latin name for it. For example, I have Ninus as an osprey and Scylla as a "ciris", which when I look it up, the only thing I can find with that name is a cardinal ....??? I ate a guinea fowl when I was in France and it was nothing like a turkey. :-Z As for other differences, I have Baucis and Philemon as a linden and an oak tree. I have one other translation of Metamorphoses so if I get time, I'll take a look at that out of curiosity, but honestly I'm exhausted after these posts. ;-)

    I absolutely love the pictures you come up with. I never even found some of them that you have. I think we can safely say that you are the Illustration Queen! :-)

    1. Baucis and Philemon turned into a linden and an oak tree in mine too - I made a mistake :S I'll go correct it... As for the turkey - that one I googled (my edition said "meleagris" or "guinea fowl", but a meleagris is a turkey I believe :)

      I love the pics too - nice to get to know Rubens when I'm doing this :) They're all top results on Google - when I Google a name or name of a story I just add "painting" and they come up that way :)

  2. the pictures are indeed amazing; O must have access to a museum or some such... it must be a remarkable lot of work putting all these posts together... very interesting stuff!

    1. It does take a while so I'm glad you're enjoying them :)


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