Metamorphoses

by: Ovid

Symbols

Lost Speech

The loss of speech, a frequent byproduct of metamorphosis, stands for the loss of identity and life. In Ovid’s poem, to speak is to be alive and to create one’s reality. Characters like Orpheus and Ulysses survive and triumph solely because of their powers of rhetoric. When characters are transformed and can no longer speak, they are often doomed to death. On a literal level, characters like Callisto and Actaeon are susceptible to disasters that could have been averted through speech. Callisto cannot pray to the gods for help, and Actaeon cannot call off his hunting dogs. On a metaphorical level, the loss of speech erases one’s identity and makes death inevitable. When characters can no longer express themselves, they no longer have a way of existing in the world. Only those characters who find an alternate way of communicating have any hope of survival. Philomela may lose her voice, but she saves herself, at least for a time, by devising a new way to speak. Ovid suggests that those who speak live, and those who do not die.