Week 6: Ovid's Metamorphoses

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Background Reading

Depending on the week's assignment, you may have several pages of Background Reading. This week, you have TWO PAGES of Background reading.

  1. Ovid and the Metamorphoses
  2. Characters You Will Meet

Characters You Will Meet

Ovid is sometimes difficult to read because he assumes that his readers are already familiar with these myths and all the gods and goddesses, and the many heroes and heroines, who populate his poem.

Another confusing thing is that the gods often have nicknames. So Athena-Minerva is often referred to as "Pallas" and Apollo is often referred to as "Phoebus." The gods take many other kinds of nicknames as well. Aphrodite-Venus can be called "Cytherea" since she was closely associated with cult worship on the island of Cythera. So, don't be surprised if you find many nicknames for the gods in the readings for this week. If you pay close attention to the plot of each story, you should not have any trouble guessing which god Ovid means when he uses these nicknames.

In order to get ready for this week's reading, you should be familiar with some of the major characters, whom you may know better by their Greek names rather than by the Roman names that Ovid uses. Here are some names to watch for:

The Immortals

Zeus = Jupiter or Jove. The supreme god of the Greek pantheon of Gods who live on Mount Olympus (Olympos).

Hera = Juno. The wife of Zeus / Jupiter and often jealous of his many extramarital affairs.

Poseidon = Neptune. The god who rules over the seas; he is the brother of Zeus / Jupiter.

Dionysus (Dionysos) = Bacchus. The son of Zeus, and the god of wine and revelry.

Athena = Minerva. This daughter of Zeus was the goddess of wisdom, war, and various handicrafts.

Hermes = Mercury. The god who is a trickster and a magician.

Aphrodite = Venus. The goddess of love. She is associated with the Near Eastern goddess Ishtar. Ishtar's lover Tammuz is equivalent to Adonis.

Eros = Cupid. The son of Aphrodite-Venus whose arrows cause his victims to fall in love.

Leto = Latona. The mother of the twins Apollo and Artemis-Diana. Because Hera-Juno was jealous of her affair with Zeus-Jupiter, she tried to prevent Leto-Latona from giving birth to her twin children.

Artemis = Diana. The virgin goddess skilled in hunting and archery; sister of Apollo.

Apollo. The archer god; brother of Diana.

Demeter = Ceres. A goddess of fertility worshipped especially by women; she was the mother of Persephone, who was Queen of the Dead.

Cybele. The Great Mother goddess, to whom lions were sacred.

Boreas. The cold North Wind.

The Mortals

Adonis: The son of Myrrha and lover of the goddess Aphrodite-Venus.

Arachne. A woman with a talent for weaving, who challenged Athena-Minerva to a contest.

Atalanta. The fastest person alive; a man who wanted to marry her had to beat her in a foot-race... or die.

Cyparissus. A beautiful young boy who had a stag as a pet.

Ganymede. A beautiful young boy whom Zeus-Jupiter took up into heaven to serve the gods there.

Hippomenes. A young man who wanted to marry Atalanta.

Hyacinth. A beautiful young boy whom Apollo loved, and who died in a sporting accident.

Maenads = Bacchants. The women worshippers of Dionysus-Bacchus.

Marsyas. A great musician who challenged Apollo to a contest.

Myrrha. A woman who fell in love with her father, Cinyras, and became pregnant with his child.

Niobe. A queen who boasted because she had more children than the goddess Latona.

Orpheus. A legendary musician, and husband of Eurydice.

Pygmalion. A sculpture who fell in love with one of his own statues.

Pythagoras. A famous mystical and religious thinker in ancient Greece, who is most famous today for his work in mathematics, such as the famous "Pythagorean Theorem" ("The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares of the two other sides.")

Tereus. The king of Thrace who married Procne, the daughter of King Pandion of Athens. He later raped Procne's sister, Philomela. His son was named Itys.

  1. Ovid and the Metamorphoses
  2. Characters You Will Meet

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM