value rests in your body, mine in my mind. As much as the one who
directs the ship is greater than the one who rows it and as much
as the general excels the common soldier, I am greater than you.
For in our bodies the mind is of more value than the body, and our
real strength is our mind.”
In this quotation, from lines 65–69 of
Book XIII, Ulysses concludes his speech on the subject of why he,
rather than Ajax, should get Achilles’ arms. Ulysses says that brains
are more valuable than brawn. He wins the contest thanks to his
clever rhetoric, a victory that proves his point. More broadly,
though, the Metamorphoses as a whole confirms Ulysses’
thesis. Ovid repeatedly stresses the importance of speech. In many
of the transformations that take place, the most painful byproduct
is the inability to speak. When Callisto is changed into a bear,
she cannot speak to her son or beseech Jupiter for help. As a cow,
Io cannot speak to her father and must spell out her name with her
hoof. Actaeon, a deer, cannot call off his dogs when they attack
him. These characters are separated from their loved ones, or even
killed, because of the loss of speech. Ineffective speech can also
be painful. While lecturing herself about her incestuous love for
her father, Myrrha gets lost in a tangle of words. She asks herself,
“Will you be the rival of your mother and the mistress of your father?
Will you be a sister to your son and a mother to your brother?”
she can’t give a name to her feelings, Myrrha suffers.