Books XIII and XIV of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The read-along of Ovid's Metamorphoses is approaching the end: this week Book XIII, the longest section of Metamorphoses, and Book XIV, possibly the densest section.


The Judgement of Arms | Ajax's Suicide | The Fall of Troy | The Sufferings of Hecuba
Memnon | The Wanderings of Aeneas [I] | The Daughters of Anius | The Daughters of Orion
The Wanderings of Aeneas [II] | Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus | Glaucus and Scylla [I]

The Judgement of Arms

The Quarrel between Ajax and Odysseus by Leonaert Bramer (1625 - 1630).
We left Book XII of Metamorphoses with the death of Achilles and the question of who will inherit his armour - Ajax or Odysseus? Agamemnon had summoned the Argive chiefs to make the decision, and in 'The Judgement of Arms' both Ajax and Odysseus give their reasons to the council why they believe they ought to be the one who inherits. Ajax speaks of his strength and victories, and points to Odysseus' shame - Philoctetes (which Sophocles wrote about in Philoctetes, 409 B.C.). Odysseus emphasises his intelligence, pointing to the time when Thetis disguised Achilles as a girl to avoid him going to war, and how he, Odysseus, saw through this trick when Ajax didn't. Odysseus concludes that if he does not win the armour, then it must only go to Athena.

Ajax's Suicide

The Death of Ajax by Antonio Zanchi (1660).
Ajax's blood → flowers

The decision is made: the armour will go to Odysseus. Ajax cries out, "No one shall have the power to conquer Ajax, but Ajax!" and he falls on his sword. His blood gives rise to the familiar purple flower - the Hyacinth (first seen in 'Hyacinthus', Book X of Metamorphoses), with the same inscription on the petal - AIAI (αιαι), an exclamation of grief.

Ajax's suicide is a very small section: again, Sophocles writes in detail in his play Ajax (450 - 430 B.C.).

The Fall of Troy

The Burning of Troy by Johann Georg Trautmann (1759 - 1762).
Ulysses, "The Victor", retrieves Hercules' arrows from Philoctetes (the entire play of Sophocles summed up by Ovid in a single sentence!) and returns to Troy ("Ilium"). Troy is at last conquered and the Greeks burn it to the ground and enslave its women. Ulysses drags Hécuba away, the mother of Hector and wife of Priam. She manages to secure Hector's ashes (hiding them in her clothes), and leaves a lock of her hair on his tomb,

The Sufferings of Hecuba

Hecuba and Polyxena by Merry-Joseph Blondel (after 1814).
Hecuba → Hound

In this we see the fate of Hecuba's children: Polydorus is killed by the Thracian king Polymestor, and then Polyxena is sacrificed to Achilles. She dies with great and touching dignity, bringing tears even to her Neoptolemus who plunges his sword into her breast. No sooner has Hecuba learned of her death she sees the body of Polydorus floating in the water. Seeking revenge, she sees Polymestor and tells him she has gold to offer. He, a greedy king, grants her an audience and she savagely kills him, gouging his eyes out and ripping his face. She is then attacked by the Thracians, however metamorphoses into a dog. 


The Funeral Pyre of Memnon by Jean Lepautre.
Smoke from Memnon's pyre →  Birds

Of all the gods and goddesses, only Aurora, the goddess of dawn expresses no sadness at the fate of Hecuba. She is in mourning for her son Memnon, killed by Achilles. She asks of Jupiter that he will honour her son, and as Memnon's pyre burns birds (thought by some to be Ruffs) emerge from the ashes and divide into two parties, then they fight and kill each other. This ritual then takes place annually. Ovid then writes that Aurora still cries to this day and the morning dew is her tears.

The Wanderings of Aeneas [I]

Aeneas Flees Burning Troy by Federico Barocci (1598).
From the sufferings of Hecuba and Aurora, Ovid takes us to Aeneas the son of Venus. He has survived the war, and we see him, his father Anchíses and his son Ascánius in search of a new homeland. They arrive first in Thrace, and quickly leave and go to Delos. 

The Daughters of Anius

Landscape with Aeneas at Delos by Claude Lorrain (1672).
Daughters of Anius → Doves

Aeneas and his family arrive in Delos and are welcomed by Anius, the king and a priest of Apollo. After making sacrifices to Apollo they ask Anius about his five daughters and son, and Anius tells them of how his son Andros founded a new city however his daughters were kidnapped by Agamemnon. One by one they escaped to Andros however Agamemnon caught them. The daughters begged Bacchus for help, and they were all turned into doves.

The Daughters of Orion

Filles d'Orion.
Ashes of the Daughters of Orion →  Coroni

Before they leave, Anchises is given a staff, Ascanius a cloak, and Aeneas a decorated bowl. The decoration tells the story of the daughters of Orion who had sacrificed themselves for the good of the people. Ovid writes,
... from out of the maiden's
ashes there rose two youths, whom legend knows as Coróni,
and these were portrayed as leading a second solemn procession
to carry the ashes from which they had sprung from pyre to tomb.
So much for the gleaming figures embossed on the ancient bronzework;
the rim of the bowl was adorned in relief with gilded acanthus.
In return Anius is given a casket for his incense, a libation bowl. and a bejewelled golden crown.

The Wanderings of Aeneas [II]

The Metamorphosis of Scylla by Rubens (1636).
Scylla → Monster

The band then travel further around the Greek isles before heading for Italy. However they get blown off course and get caught up in the strait of Messina where Scylla (a monster) and Charybdis (a whirlpool) dwell. Ovid goes on to tell of how Scylla was once a girl courted by many suitors, however she rejected them all and spent her time with the ocean nymphs. One day, as she sits combing the hair of one of the nymphs, Galatéa, the nymph begins to tell her a story.

Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus

The Cyclops Polyphemus by Annibale Carracci (1595 - 1605).
Acis → River

The nymph tells Scylla of how she was in love with Acis, however a cyclops, Polyphemus, was in love with her and he murdered Acis. Galatéa then turned him into a river, and she still remains heartbroken.

Glaucus and Scylla [I]

Scylla Flying Inward from the Advances of Glaucus by J.M.W. Turner (1841).
Glaucus →  Sea god

In the final tale of Book XIII Ovid begins the story of Glaucus and Scylla, and how Glaucus pursued Scylla. He tells her that Oceanus and Tethys transformed him into a sea god and make him immortal. He then tells her how much he loves her, but she runs away and he goes to seek help from Circe.

Book XIV

Glaucus and Scylla [II] | The Wanderings of Aeneas [III] | The Sibyl of Cumae
Achaemenides' Story: Ulysses' Men in Polyphemus' Cave 
Macareus' Story: Ulysses and Circe; Picus, Canens and Circe 
The Wanderings of Aeneas [IV] | The Mutinous Companions of Diomedes | The Apulian Shepherd
The Ships of Aeneas | Ardea | The Apotheosis of Aeneas | Aeneas' Descendents
Pomona and Vertumnus | Iphis and Anaxarete | Romulus | The Apotheosis of Romulus

Glaucus and Scylla [II]

Odysseus in front of Scylla and Charybdis by Henry Fuseli (1794 - 1796).
Scylla → Monster

The story picks up where we left it in Book XIII: Glaucus finds Circe and tells him of his love for Scylla. Jealous, Circe then punishes Scylla by turning her into a monster by turning the waters in which she bathed into poison. Scylla would later try and get her revenge by trying to kill Odysseus, who Circe loved, but she failed.

The Wanderings of Aeneas [III]

Énée racontant à Didon les malheurs de la ville de Troie by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1815).
Cercópians  Apes

Returning to Aeneas: he successfully passes Scylla, now the monster, but are blown far off their course to Italy and end up in Africa. There they meet Dido, and she falls in love with Aeneas and when they leave she kills herself. We learn that Aeneas' father has died (Virgil gives a full account of this in The Aeneid, 29 - 19 B.C.), and Aeneas offers a sacrifice. After much perilous travelling they see Apetown; the people there were formerly known as the Cercópians Jupiter, angry with their lies and treachery, turned them into apes, now all they can do is screech.

The Sibyl of Cumae

Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld by Jan Brueghel the Younger (1630s).
Eventually they reach Italy and Aeneas meets the prophetess Sibyl and he asks her to take him to the Underworld to see his father. She assents, and they travel to the Underworld. On their return Aeneas thanks her, saying,
'You may be truly a goddess,
or merely beloved of the gods: but by me you shall always be counted
a spirit divine...'
She tells him she is not a goddess, but one day she was the beloved of Apollo, and he offered to grant her any wish. She wished for the number of her birthdays to equal the grains in a pile of sand she had showed him, but did not ask for eternal youth. He did, however, offer eternal youth if she slept him, however she refused him, and now she grows older and older but does not die.

Achaemenides' Story: Ulysses' Men in Polyphemus' Cave

Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus by William Turner (1829).
Aeneas and his men travel to Caieta (also in Italy) and they encounter Achaemenides and he tells them the story of how Ulysses (Odysseus) escaped Polyphemus the Cyclops (this story is in Book XI of The Odyssey). He then asks Macareus, who also sailed with Odysseus, what had happened to him.

Macareus' Story: Ulysses and Circe; Picus, Canens and Circe

Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses by John William Waterhouse (1891).
Ulysses' men → Pigs

Macareaus tells the group of how they sailed to the island of Circe and that she turned them all into pigs, but Ulysses demanded she turned them back into humans, and, once she did, the two became lovers.

Macareus' Story: Ulysses and Circe; Picus, Canens and Circe

Circe Transforms Picus into a Woodpecker by Johann Wilhelm Baur (1640).
Picus → Woodpecker

Macareus then relays a story told to him by a nymph about Picus, the king of Latium, who was in love with Canens and married her. However Circe fell for Picus, and first tried to get his attention by creating the illusion of a boar which would run in his path. Then she bewitched the forest so that he would get lost in it, and when she found him alone in the forest she made advancements however he rejected her. She then turned him into a woodpecker and Picus' men into monstrous woodland animals. Canens is heartbroken without Picus and fades away into nothing.

The Wanderings of Aeneas [IV]

Latinus Offering His Daughter Lavinia to Aeneas in Marriage by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1753 - 1754).
In this very short passage Aeneas buries his nurse Caieta (again, for a full account see Virgils' The Aeneid) and the Trojans set sail again, careful to avoid Circe's island. They travel to Latium (Italy) where Aeneas marries Lavinia following a ferocious war against Turnus who wants Lavina himself.

The Mutinous Companions of Diomedes

Venus, Supported by Iris, Complaining to Mars by George Hayter (1820).
Sailors → Birds

Aeneas and the Trojans then try and persuade King Diomedes (with whom Cressida betrayed Troilus) to join their army, but he explains he is unable to: after the fall of Troy he and his men were punished at sea by Venus who he wounded in battle (this is explained in The Iliad). Acmon, one of the sailors, taunted Venus and the whole crew were turned into birds ("while they were different to swans, they resembled the swan very closely").

The Apulian Shepherd

Nymphs Turning the Apulian Shepherd into an Olive Tree by Francisco Collantes (17th Century).
Shepherd →  Olive tree

Ventulus, who had been sent to speak with Diomedes, leaves, and he soon passes the grove where once a shepherd jeered and mocked the nymphs, and as his punishment, the nymphs changed him into an olive tree.

The Ships of Aeneas

The Sea Nymphs come to Aneas by G. C. Eimmart (1688).
Ships →   Nymphs

The war with Turnus continues: Turnus attacks and burns Aeneas' fleet, however Cybele, a goddess, intervenes by sending rain and turning the ships into nymphs.


Ardea →  Heron

Nevertheless the war rages on, and the cause is lost: men care only for victory, Turnus has all but forgotten the reason for the fight - Lavinia. Venus (Aeneas' mother) then intervenes to secure Aeneas' victory. The Trojans then set fire to to the city of Ardea and a heron rises from the ashes and mourns the loss of the city.

The Apotheosis of Aeneas

Aeneas Defeats Turnus by Luca Giordano (17th Century).
Aeneas →  A god

Venus then asks Jupiter to make Aeneas a god. He assents, and so Aeneas is cleansed of his mortality and becomes a god.

Aeneas' Descendents

In this small section Ovid writes a few words on the Descendents of Aeneas from Iulis to Acrota (mentioning also Remulus, his brother, who died in the attempt to mimic thunder and lightning.

Pomona and Vertumnus

Pomona und Vertumnus by Juan van der Hamen (1626).
Ovid then tells the story of Pomona, the goddess of the fruits, whose only interest was in her garden and orchard. She refused all suitors, no matter how much she was pursued, however the god of the seasons, Vertumnus, disguises himself as an old woman so Pomona lets him into her garden and 'she' tells Pomona what a suitable suitor Vertumnus would be. To illustrate the point, Vertumnus, disguised as the old woman, tells a tale:

Iphis and Anaxarete

Iphis and Anaxarete by John Everett Millais and Joseph Swain (1861).
Anaxarete →  Stone

The tale is about Iphis, a young impoverished man, and Anaxarete, a princess and one of the descendent of Teucer. Iphis tried desperately to see her and make her love him but failed each time, and, frustrated and broken, he hung himself outside her house. A few days later as the funeral procession passed, Anaxarete curiously looked out and she turned to stone, the stone her heart had always been.

And so, Vertumnus argued, Pomona should not be so cold, and he discarded his disguise, but, as Ovid wrote, none of this was needed - Pomona fell in love with him instantly.


Romulus, Victor over Acron, hauls the rich booty to the temple of Jupiter by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1812).
Here begins the myth of the foundation of Rome. King Proca was followed by King Amúlius, and when his brother Númitor tried to usurp him his grandson Romulus came to the rescue and "the walls of the city of Rome were founded". A war breaks out between Tátius the Sabine and Romulus and his men, and Tarpeia tells the Sabines a secret way into the city however she crushed by their shields. The Sabines then pass through a gate which has been opened by Juno. Ovid then writes that Venus wanted to close it "but gods are never allowed to undo the work of each other" so she seeks the help of the nymphs who flood the path of the Sabines with sulphur. The Romans use this time to prepare for battle, however eventually peace is made and they form a unified state.

The Apotheosis of Romulus

Romulus and Hersilia → Quirinus and Hora

When Tatius dies Romulus becomes king, and Mars, Romulus' father, asks Jupiter that Romulus be made into a god. Jupiter consents, and later, sent by Juno, Isis takes Romulus' wife Hersilia to the hill of Quirinus (one of the seven hills of Rome). A shooting star comes down from the heavens and carries her off to Romulus. She becomes Hora, and Romulus is known as Quirinus.

And that is the end of Book XIV. Next week, Book XV, the final section of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Books XI & XII
Book XV →

Further Reading


  1. It's becoming a little laborious at the end, isn't it? Ovid is certainly packing lots of Latin history into a very small space. With such packing, there isn't much room for development. I can't shake the feeling that he deliberately leaves out very important parts (Dido, etc. ---- in my translation, he doesn't even name her). Was it really because people were so familiar with these tales, he didn't feel he needed to go into them, or was he trying to carve out his own legacy, or was he making some sort of statement? I wonder ......

    1. Hey, I missed your comment! Sorry for not replying sooner. Yes, there was certainly a lot of packing - Book XIV was ... well, as I said, so dense. Made it all very difficult and not so enlightening. As for making a statement... I don't know... I'm mulling it all over :) Even now I'm finished I'm finding it tough to get my head around it!


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