But as always, you must wait to see the end of a person, and no one ought to be called blessed until he dies and his funeral is over.
This quotation, from III.135–138, comes after Cadmus’s victory over the serpent and his miraculous founding of Thebes. It expresses a dark sentiment, and its inclusion in the midst of Cadmus’s successes reminds us that happiness, prosperity, and good fortune may not last. Present blessings do not guarantee future prosperity. Ovid packs two meanings into this quotation. First, he suggests that we should wait until people have died to assess their lives, since disasters might befall them at the last minute. But the phrase “no one ought to be called blessed until he dies” has another, bleaker meaning. It suggests that we are better off dead and in our graves than alive and subject to the gods’ whims. This certainly proves true in Cadmus’s case. In Books III and IV, horrors are rained down on Cadmus’s family. Actaeon turns into a deer and is savagely torn apart by his own dogs; Semele is killed by Jupiter in the act of copulation; Pentheus is ripped to pieces by his own mother and aunt; Athamas bashes his grandson’s head into a rock and chases his last daughter, Ino, and her son over a cliff; and Cadmus and his wife are turned into snakes. Neither is Cadmus’s life exceptionally dreadful. The extent of the devastation is unusual, but most of the mortals in the poem suffer similar fates.