Metamorphoses

by: Ovid

Book XIV

If Ovid’s treatment of Aeneas and Dido’s love affair is anticlimactic, his treatment of Aeneas’s descent to the underworld is positively tongue-in-cheek. He strips it of all mystery, solemnity, gravity, and sense of destiny. In Virgil, Aeneas spends 637 lines in Dis’s realm; in Ovid, he spends four. Ovid has Aeneas pop in and out of the underworld with remarkable speed. Ovid divests Virgil’s underworld experience of its nationalistic overtones. Instead of focusing on Rome, Ovid sticks to the stories of individuals. Aeneas does not meet Anchises, and he has no sense of the glories the Roman people will achieve in the future. Rather, he is enlightened about yet another rape attempt. Ovid also declines in general to focus on Aeneas, the titular hero of Virgil’s Aeneid. He compresses Books VII–XII of Virgil’s poem into 130 lines. Even in these scant lines, Ovid often drifts away from the topic of Aeneas. In Ovid’s account, Aeneas hardly speaks. Indeed, he hardly acts. He is a silent and nearly inert hero.

Ovid closes this book with another story of rape. After thirteen books filled with countless rapes, this theme may seem well-worn. From a structural point of view, however, the placement of this rape is crucial, because it parallels the story of Apollo and Daphne. Ovid’s Metamorphoses begins with an account of the world and ends in Book XV with another account of the world. Before each of these accounts, Ovid places a rape scene. He creates a double frame. The larger frame concerns the principles of the world; the smaller frame concerns the sexual violence of the gods.