Metamorphoses

by: Ovid

Book IV

Summary Book IV

When Ovid returns to the story of Cadmus’s household after several intervening stories, it suggests that divine wrath is unrelenting. What the gods start, they will finish. They decided to destroy Cadmus’s family, and they will do so. Ino’s downfall seems particularly unfair. She is a zealous worshipper of the gods in general and Bacchus in particular. She suffers not for her own sins, but for Jupiter’s. Juno does not hate Ino in particular. Rather, she hates Ino’s enthusiastic worship of Bacchus, who is the fruit of one of Jupiter’s extramarital affairs. Ino’s punishment is not only unfair, but also bloody, cruel, and ironic. Bacchus inspires madness, and Ino, his zealous follower, is killed by her maddened husband. The story of Cadmus comes full circle: He witnesses the last of his line fall, and he becomes a serpent, the very beast he killed to establish Thebes. This tidy ending points to the thorough, methodical way in which the gods exercise their wrath.

With the introduction of Perseus, Ovid shifts directions, moving away from tragedy and toward comedy. Perseus is no hero. Rather, he is a cautious man who is afraid to fly at night. His fight with Atlas is less than impressive. It doesn’t feature punches or hand-to-hand combat. In truth, it doesn’t feature danger. Knowing he cannot hope to defeat Atlas fairly, Perseus resorts to his secret weapon: the head of Medusa. He is equally unheroic in his battle with the sea monster. Only after settling on a contract with Andromeda’s parents does he engage in battle. Again, the fight is anticlimactic. Defeating the sea monster by his own hand is impossible, so Perseus again whips out Medusa’s head. He may resemble a savvy, meek businessman more than he resembles a mighty hero, but Perseus’s sneaky tactics work.