Metamorphoses

by: Ovid

Book VIII

Ovid invites us to assume that the boar hunt, which marks the center of the Metamorphoses, will be a grand set piece. The list of heroes participating in the hunt suggests that impressive feats will be performed. However, in a reversal typical of Ovid, the hunt turns out to be a farce. The heroes may have great reputations, but they are comically bad at hunting. The only person with a modicum of skill is Atalanta, a woman hunter, who barely wounds the boar. Another reversal occurs when the honor of the hunt, a traditionally male prize, goes to Atalanta.

The final set of stories in Book VIII tackles the theme of reward and punishment. The gods reward Baucis and Philemon for their piety and punish Erysichthon for his impiety. On a deeper level, the rewards and punishments meted out are merely extensions, and exaggerations, of the characters’ lives. Baucis and Philemon are given the honor of being priests of Jupiter, but they are already acting as priests might, living existences characterized by piety and hospitality. They ask to be together in life and death, but again, that unity is something they already enjoy. They ask for and receive what they already possess. The same is true of Erysichthon. He has an insatiable appetite for destruction, as evidenced by his cruel murder of the sacred tree. His punishment merely literalizes that appetite and eventually turns it inward.