Ovid’s Metamorphosis

I first read it sometime in the final year of my BA. Inspiring, subtly politicial, very sceptical collection of myths, that for me expressed the state of the disillusioned world around me at the time. Rereading it almost 20 years from then, I can see subtle layers of meaning, through the poem, that complicates my initial experience of it. What it means for me now is not the same as what it meant for me then. As I read more of the theory surrounding it, it becomes clear that at different historical times it was read radically different. Although it has never stoped fascinating artists and writers since the moment it was conceived, the meanings have shifted wildly. In the Middle Ages, for example, there was an attempt to read it as a somehow methaphore for Christian values.

The popularity of the poem continued and expanded in the renessance. The influence of the person commissioning the art work can not be overestimated. It poses questions of the role of power, the use of art to make some practices acceptable, to find a justification. The loves of Jove by Correggio were commisiond by Federico Gonzaga, “The circumstances of the commission are somewhat shadowy. It is quite possible, however, that this series may have been intended to pay sexual complement to Federico’s liaison with Isabella Boschetti – the mortal girl, as it were, to whom he could play amorous Jupiter.” (Barkan, p.194-5)  The court of nobleman would often include humanist intellectuals, equally employed to create cultural meaning, cultural lineage and justification for the family to remain in power.

The poem itself questions the stability of power, it explores fluidity and change. This fluidity is also explored in meaning of events, by changing points of view.

Ovid introduces a story, then comes back to the same story from another point of view reassessing,  changing the meaning sometimes more than once. A great example, also explored in visual art in the Rensseance, is the story of Europa. This story is introduced early in the poem. It is a story of awakening female sexuality and crossing the unknown, triumphantly arriving at the foreign coast. She was taken away from Asia by Jupiter transformed in a bull, over the sea, landing on the Greek coast.  Then we come back to it again and see it differently through Arachne as she weaves it in her tapistery, giving us more critical view – abuse of power by Jove.


This story is the subject  of Titian’s Rape of Europa, this painting is part of his  Poesie  painted for Philip II of Spain. Series of paintings at the height of Titian’s practise, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

Velasquez quotes this painting in his Story of Arachne. Elegantly mirroring the structure of the poem itself.


I find this poem very inspiring. I will work with material from this poem in the future.



BARKAN LEONARD, 1990. The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism. New Edition ed. Yale University Press

Ovid’s Metamorphosis