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Metamorphoses | Book 14 | Summary

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Summary

Glaucus asks the goddess Circe for help in wooing Scylla after she initially rebuffs him. Circe offers herself to him instead, but he declines, and Circe grows jealous. She concocts a potion and uses it to cast a spell on the bay where Scylla swims. Scylla looks down and discovers her lower half has been turned into a ring of raging dogs. Now a monster, she hides in a nearby cave. Circe is also in love with Ulysses, and Scylla gets revenge on Circe by eating Ulysses's men. As a result Scylla is transformed into a reef, which Aeneas is able to sail past safely.

Aeneas sails to Carthage, where the Queen Dido falls in love with him. When she realizes he must leave, she commits suicide. Aeneas flees to Sicily. He goes to see the sibyl, one of Apollo's priestesses. She tells him about how Apollo granted her wish to live a very long life, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. She is "seven centuries" old and now regrets her wish. The sibyl helps Aeneas enter the underworld to speak to his dead father and learn about his own future.

Two soldiers, Achaemenides and Macareus, who were separated after the Trojan War, are reunited. Achaemenides was accidentally left behind on Polyphemus's island before being rescued by Aeneas's passing ship. Macareus tells how he and Ulysses are turned into pigs by Circe by drinking a magic potion, and stayed on her island for a year. Another of their crew, Eurylochus, was protected by Mercury and did not drink the potion. He married Circe and made her return Ulysses and his men to human form.

One of Circe's acolytes tells Macareus the story of King Picus, the son of Saturn and the ruler of Latium. He marries Canens, a nymph. One day Picus goes hunting. Circe sees him and falls in love. Circe casts spells to make Picus lose his way in the forest. She offers herself to him, but he rejects her, telling her that he belongs to Canens. She threatens him, saying that Canens will never see him again, then transforms Picus into a woodpecker. His courtiers accuse Circe, but Circe turns them into beasts after they threaten her. Canens waits for Picus's return, while the townspeople search the forest. She then enters the forest but can't find him. She wastes away and vanishes in grief.

Meanwhile, Aeneas arrives in Latium, where King Latinus offers him his daughter to marry. This enrages one of the king's soldiers, Turnus, who had received the same promise from the king. War erupts. Turnus asks Diomede for help, but Diomede explains that he and his men have undergone great suffering and can't come to his aid. Turnus tries to burn Aeneas's ships, but before he can they are transformed into nymphs. Venus asks Jupiter to make Aeneas into a god for his efforts. Aeneas's son, Ascanius, takes over rule of the kingdom.

Pomona is a nymph with unparalleled gardening skills, and she walls off her garden to keep out men and the distractions of love. But Vertumnus, the god of changing seasons, is able to disguise himself as an old woman to gain access to her garden and argue that she should marry Vertumnus. He also tells her the story of the humble peasant Iphis, who loved the noble Anaxarete. She cruelly ignores Iphis, and he finally hangs himself above her front door. "Moved, despite herself," Iphis watches his funeral procession. When she sees Iphis's body pass by she is turned to stone. Vertumnus tells this story in vain, and so he resumes his real shape, likely about to rape her. He is so handsome, Pomona falls in love with him and "no force" is required.

A new war breaks out between the Romans and the Sabines, who try to conquer Rome. Romulus, the leader of Rome, is ultimately able to unite both sides under his rule. At Mars's request, Romulus is turned into a god. He ascends to the heavens in Mars's chariot. Romulus's wife, Hersilia, mourns for him. Juno sends Iris to take Hersilia to a grove. She rises on a shooting star to join Romulus. She becomes a goddess and is renamed Hora.

Analysis

Many of the stories in Book 14 revolve around the theme of transformation brought about by magic or enchantment. A sense of loss often results, especially for women. The sibyl recounts how she asked Apollo to allow her to live for hundreds of years but forgot to ask to stay young. As in Midas's case, she gets what she asks for, but it's more a curse than a blessing. Circe is a powerful magician. Her powers of enchantment produce amazing results as she turns Scylla into a monster and Ulysses and his men into pigs, but in the end her powers often backfire, and she remains unlucky in love. Scylla takes revenge on her. Glaucus and Picus reject her. When she marries Eurylochus, he forces her to reverse her enchantment of Ulysses and his men. Ovid shows yet again that transformations, especially as a result of power and revenge, have a ripple effect on other characters, whether they realize it or not.

But other stories show transformation in a more humorous light. The story of Pomona and Vertumnus, for example, sets up a familiar scenario: a god disguises himself in order to woo a nymph but will likely rape her if he doesn't get satisfaction. Vertumnus does everything he can to persuade Pomona, telling her a story about a woman who rejects a man who loves her and turns to stone. Nothing works until the god throws off his disguise and gets ready to take what he wants. Pomona, overcome by his beauty, falls in love. She gives herself to him freely, one of the rare instances in which rape is not the inevitable outcome.

Book 14 turns toward Aeneas, based on the hero of the same name in Virgil's Aeneid, another epic poem. But Aeneas's narrative, like that of other established epic heroes in Metamorphoses such as Perseus or Achilles, is not the sole focus. Aeneas's story is clearly important but, like that of the other epic heroes in Metamorphoses, it appears alongside those of decidedly more minor characters. These include Achaemenides and Macareus, Ulysses's men, who swap stories about their dangerous adventures with Polyphemus (in Achaemenides's case) and Circe (in Macareus's). There are also three love stories included. Previous books in Metamorphoses have a similar structure. Epic heroes, as important as their stories may be, are not the center of the poem's universe but part of its ever-changing kaleidoscope of metamorphoses.

Just because Aeneas's story is not the only one in Book 14 doesn't mean it is lacks purpose. Aeneas's victory over Turnus helps the gods "end their ancient anger," and Aeneas becomes a god. His story, as chopped up as it may be, eventually leads to the tale of the ascent of Romulus, the founder of Rome, which feels like a more traditional depiction of an epic hero. Nonetheless Romulus's story is actually shorter than the myth of Pomona and Vertumnus, despite the fact that Romulus and his wife become gods. Including Romulus's story also reminds the reader that Ovid is now blending epic poetry, mythology, and actual history together as Metamorphoses now includes myths of nymphs and gods alongside the founding of the city where Ovid actually lived and worked until his exile: Rome.

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