Published in Papers of the
Leeds International Seminar
THE SPEECH OF PYTHAGORAS IN OVID'S METAMORPHOSES
Reprinted with the gracious permission of the author. Original document found here.
by KARL GALINSKY
(University of Texas at Austin)
Befitting Ovid's carmen perpetuum, interest in the exact function of
Pythagoras' speech in Metamorphoses 15 continues to be unceasing. Recent
discussions have provided some valuable new perspectives,1 but it seems
useful at this point to take another comprehensive look at this important
part of Ovid's chef d'oeuvre. By "comprehensive" I do not mean a detailed
recital of previous interpretations prima ab origine mundi. Rather, my
concern will be totality of the various aspects of the passage. I will begin
with a brief survey of some of the obvious givens and then explore some of
First, with over 400 lines, this is one of the longest episodes in the
Metamorphoses. As it comes in the final book, we can assume that it has some
kind of programmatic purpose or, as is always the case with Ovid, several
purposes. In terms of literary traditions alone, Ovid has regaled us in the
preceding 14 books with a vast array of styles and genres; it is clear that
this variety, rather than interpretation in terms of generic constraints, is
the real significance of the role of genre in the Metamorphoses.2 Absent,
until the last book, have been a long philosophical disquisition and a
speech yet longer than that of Ulysses in Book 13. One of the reasons,
therefore, for Ovid's inclusion of this philosophical rodomontade is simply
to round out his whole bravura collection with yet another bravura piece.
Secondly, the choice of Pythagoras was congenial for that purpose and
several others. By Ovid's time, "Pythagoreanism" stood for a syncretistic
collection of the teachings of various philosophical schools, mysticism,
pseudo-scientific speculation, and religious and spiritual dispensations. 3
Accordingly, Ovid's Pythagoras offers an eclectic farrago indebted to all
kinds of philosophical teachings: his own, Heracleitus', Empedocles', and
the Stoics', along with frequent allusions, mostly for the sake of
counterargument, to Lucretius and the Epicureans. The procedure finds its
fitting analogue in Ovid's choice of material for the Metamorphoses, which
is similarly varied, not doctrinaire, and not consistent. Ovid's poem is,
"among other things, an anthology of genres" and styles; 4 Pythagoras'
speech is an anthology of philosophies.
And more than that. Philip Hardie, with his typical learning and astuteness,
has recently argued that through the speech of Pythagoras, in conjunction
with the cosmogony in Book 1 and the historical passages in the second part
of Book 15, Ovid is claiming his place in the Roman epic tradition,
exemplified by Ennius and Vergil. 5 According to Hardie, Ovid does so by
linking philosophy and history in an Empedoclean key, and I will come back
to this argument later. For right now, let me simply state the obvious fact,
acknowledged by Hardie in a footnote, 6 that Empedoclean coloring is absent
from fully half of Pythagoras' speech, the catalogue of yaumastã and
parãdoja (15.259-452). Not surprisingly, we are dealing again with the
typically Ovidian invitation, which in this case was facilitated by the very
nature of the phenomenon of Pythagoreanism, to reader response. 7 Some
highbrow readers may concentrate on the philosophical evocations and pursue
them beyond the text. For differently oriented readers, what is memorable is
the vignettes from Pythagoras' version of Ripley's Believe or Not, such as
the birth of green frogs from mud (15.375-77), dead people's spine marrow
mutating into snakes (15.389-90), and putrefying war horses generating
Thirdly, then, there is the question of the relationship between the
philosophical and scientific mode on the one hand, and mythological and
poetic on the other, as indicated especially in Ovid's cabinet of mirabilia
that are proffered by the same philosopher Pythagoras. Are these modes of
explanation merely juxtaposed or is one privileged over the other? A similar
issue is raised by the pendant to Pythagoras' speech in Book 1, the
cosmogony-is Ovid there indebted to philosophy rather than poetry? These
dichotomies, which have often been used to frame the discussion, may in fact
have to be modified in view of the low content of science and philosophy
proper in Roman Pythagoreanism. Fourthly, given the fact that the
Metamorphoses in many ways was meant to be an alternative to the Aeneid, how
does Ovid's treatment of philosophy contrast with Vergil's? Vergil's most
sustained use of philosophical models, including Pythagoreanism, occurred of
course in Book 6 or, to put it with Ovidian insouciance, in hell from where
Ovid studiously omits it. 8 Moreover, Vergil studied philosophy with
Philodemus and that fact is relevant to some of his characterizations in the
Aeneid. 9 Vergil's integration of myth and philosophy was in many ways a
response to Lucretius, whom we must also consider in this context. Finally,
and without my going into all the details of narratology, Pythagoras'
presentation of the subject and of exempla of change clearly calls for a
comparison with Ovid's own narrative presentation in the rest of the
Metamophoses. Is the philosopher a foil for the poet or a complement?
2. Why Pythagoras?
For the Roman audience, Ovid's choice of Pythagoras as the archetypal
philosopher made excellent sense. Since the time of Aristotle, he was
credited with being the eÍretÆw of the very word filÒsofow. 10 Modern
scholarship suggests scepticism about the claim, but it found huge resonance
in antiquity and became a staple in handbooks up to the time of Isidore of
Seville; Cicero furnishes one of the lengthier attestions in Tusc. 5.8-9.
Secondly, Pythagoras had a Roman affiliation that was particularly suitable
for one of the main themes of the last book of the Metamorphoses, the
transfer from Greece to Rome. The theme is continued with the story of
Asclepius' arrival in Rome and, for that matter, with Julius Caesar's
catasterism; a further link is that one of the appellations (coined at
Croton) of Pythagoras was "Hyperborean Apollo"11-Apollo was, of course, the
father of Asclepius and the patron god of Augustus.
The Roman component of Pythagoras needs some further comment. One aspect is
the development of Pythagoreanism in Italy and Rome. The other is the
association of Pythagoras and Numa. My aim, in both instances, is to work
towards defining the horizon of expectations of Ovid's contemporaries.
Pythagoras, ortu Samius (15.60), migrated to Croton and in Magna Graecia was
reputed to have taught the Romans along with Lucanians, Messapians, and
Peucetians. 12 Testimonia of continuing Roman interest in him include,
besides the link with Numa, the Romans' selection of Pythagoras as "the
wisest Greek" to be honored with a statue in the Comitium sometime in the
fourth century B.C., 13 and the gens Aemilia's deriving its name from one of
Pythagoras' sons. 14 As for Pythagoreanism, Aristotle called it simply "the
Italian philosophy." 15 But what was it? The ancient sources acknowledge
that the old, authentic Pythagoreanism became extinct. That, however, did
not mean the end of a thriving production of pseudo-Pythagorica especially
in Hellenistic times that obviously responded to considerable demand. There
was, in Walter Burkert's words, a flood of Pythagorean writings, but there
were no Pythagoreans. 16 By the late Republic, that had changed: Varro
wanted to be buried Pythagorio modo (Pliny NH 35.160), Nigidius Figulus was
exiled; and Sextius was credited with establishing a Pythagorean sect that,
however shortlived, was roboris Romani (Sen. NQ 7.32.2). 17
The character of this new and Roman Pythagoreanism, however, was quite
different from the old. It shared, as I briefly noted earlier, a trend
toward syncretistic convergence as it incorporated aspects of Platonism and
Stoicism, due to the influence of Posidonios in particular. 18 The
phenomenon is part of a yet wider panorama. On the one hand, it relates to
the kind of poetic and intellectual eclecticism that informs, for instance,
Horace's thought in the first Roman Ode, 19 i.e. a sort of philosophical
Allgemeinbildung. 20 On the other, and on a more popular level-in contrast
to Horace, Ovid never proclaimed odi profanum vulgus et arceo-hard science
never had any appeal in Rome and serious philosophy had a limited audience.
What was in demand was the "popular, the watered down, and the coarsened . .
. A Roman, who inquired about the cosmos, and the forces and laws that ruled
it, did not come upon Plato's Timaeus, nor upon Archimedes and Eratosthenes,
but upon an extract from Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic cosmology which,
in combination with some isolated and half-understood insights into science,
had been melded into a pseudoscientific whole and been put under the name of
Pythagoras." 21 In so many words, Ovid's audience would not look to
"Pythagoras" for hard science or philosophy, and we should not either. This
does not mean that (Neo)Pythagoreanism and its titular founder were being
held in low, derisive regard. Rather, the gibes of Horace and Laberius, just
like those directed by Aristophanes at Socrates, further confirm that
Pythagoras and his supposed teachings were a matter of topical fascination
among a large public. If Ovid wanted to mix some "philosophy" into the
Metamorphoses, he could not have made a better choice. Further confirmation
of its suitability comes from the mythological decorations, 28 in all, of
the Pythagorean underground "basilica" at the Porta Maggiore: "La singulière
architecture et la proliférante richesse du décor semblent avoir été conçues
pour défier à jamais toute tentative d'exégèse systématique"22-an apt
characterization of the Metamorphoses, too.
3. Pythagoras and Numa
The association of Pythagoras and Numa was an equally fascinating topic. The
earliest testimonium is that of Aristoxenos, 23 which should not lead us to
believe that Aristoxenos' writings reached Rome in the fourth century and
forthwith led to the acceptance of the story there. It accords well with the
Hellenistic fascination for things Pythagorean. There can be little doubt,
however, that the tale gained further currency and was well established in
Rome by the early second century. It was hard to dislodge; as has been
observed correctly, the vehement attacks on it by Cicero, Dionysius, Livy,
and others are indicative of the legend's strength. There was no need for
these writers to pound away at its chronological absurdity if only a few
misguided souls believed that Numa had been taught by Pythagoras. Plutarch's
account is a good example of the stubborn longevity of the story. He
confronts the problem in the very first chapter of his Life of Numa, offers
various explanations and justifications, and then proceeds, in chapter 8,
with a recital of Numa's relation to Pythagoras, including a list of his
Roman institutions that were due to the philosopher's precepts. Much as he
likes the traditional story, Plutarch is forced to restate, in he concluding
sentence, that there is a great deal of dispute (émfisbhtÆseiw) about "these
matters" and that it would be contentious to pursue them further.
One of the most clamorous incidents in the tradition of the tale took place
in 181 B.C. According to the earliest account, that of Cassius Hemina, 24
the stone arca of Numa turned up on the Janiculum in the course of
excavation. It also contained several books, and in his libris scripta erant
philosophiae Pythagoricae-eosque combustos a Q. Petilio praetore, quia
philosophiae scripta essent. In the subsequent annalistic tradition, the
usual accretions occur: the books, varying in number, are now said to
consist equally of Numa's pontifical laws and philosophical (Graecos or
Pythagoricos) writings. In Livy's account (40.29.2-14), there are two arcae
and both sets of books are burned, whereas Valerius Maximus (1.1.12) has it
that only the Greek books were burned quia aliqua ex parte ad solvendam
religionem pertinere existimabantur, a version followed by Lactantius (Div.
Inst. 1.22.1, 5-6). Plutarch (Numa 22.2-3) does not miss the opportunity to
point out that Numa followed Pythagorean practice in commanding that the
(pontifical) books he wrote should be buried with him while their precepts
should be memorized and passed on by the living. Accordingly, when the books
were found in conjunction with "twelve others of Greek philosophy," the
praetor has them burned because it was not ius or fas that they should be
made public (Numa 22.8).
As can be expected, the episode has received different, and sometimes
elaborate, interpretations. My own inclination would be to rely mostly on
Hemina's report, which is closest in time to the event and free from
embroidery. He speaks only of the Pythagorean books found with Numa.
Subsequent authors added the pontifical books because they were de rigueur
for Numa, and this could lead to the absurdity of both sets of books having
to be burned. Hemina's version, and the action taken by the Roman
magistrate, makes sense in the context of the quackery that produced
pseudo-Pythagorica en masse. What is important for our purposes is that the
tradition linking Pythagoras and Numa was widespread, lively, and
Ovid wrote his own version against this backdrop and could expect his
readers to be familiar with much of it. Therefore he did not have to subject
the legend to the same overt, rationalist, and chronological critique as
other late Republican and Augustan writers; his readers could do so for
themselves. The conclusion that Ovid disregards the problem or even accepted
the legend ignores the implied reader and the more nuanced nature of poetry.
As so often, Ovid's own hints are unobtrusive but plentiful.
He disassociates himself from most versions of the legend by not speaking of
Numa as actually meeting with Pythagoras. In his quest of rerum natura
(15.6), Numa journeys to Magna Graecia. One of the indigenous seniores
(15.10)-a favorite Ovidian narrator especially when distance from a tale is
sought25-tells him about the foundation of Croton. The events belong to
veteris aevi (15.11); Numa and Pythagoras are not contemporaries. The
addressee, therefore, of Pythagoras' speech is not Numa, but coetus silentum
(15.66); the shift from Numa to them is emphasized by the repetition of
rerum causas (15.68), now a theme in Pythagoras' discourse to that group.
But what group is it? Elsewhere in Ovid and Latin poetry, silentes are the
defunct. 26 The reader again has the choice to understand the phrase in that
sense or as referring to the proverbial silence preached by the
Pythagoreans. In addition to not being the original listener, Numa qualifies
on both counts. From the temporal perspective of Ovid's readers, Numa was,
of course, long dead and, as for his silence, we do not hear a word from or
about him for the duration of his informant's recital of Pythagoras'
disquisition. He reappears at the very end as the purported recipient of
Pythagoras' instructions (15.479-84):
talibus atque aliis instructum pectora dictis in patriam remeasse ferunt
ultroque petitum accepisse Numam populi Latiaris habenas. coniuge qui felix
nympha ducibusque Camenis sacrificos docuit ritus gentemque feroci adsuetam
bello pacis traduxit ad artes.
Not only do these few compact lines deliberately contrast with the
verboseness of Pythagoras, but they do nothing to establish Numa as his
follower. The Romans' main interest in philosophy was in ethics and there
was plenty of relevant Pythagorean material around. Ovid systematically
ignores all of that, relegating it, at best, to the unarticulated aliis
dictis. He reduces Pythagorean ethics to vegetarianism-this is the subject
of the peroratio in lines 459-78 to which talibus dictis refers-and, yet
more important, "presents it in a position more extreme than that usually
ascribed to Pythagoras." 27 This does not make Pythagoras' speech a
parody-such labels are too facile because the speech is more than
one-dimensional-but it reduces Pythagoras' credibility qua philosopher.
Furthermore, strident vegetarianism, of course, was not one of Numa's
teachings nor is it likely to have figured in the writings of Castor of
Rhodes, a pro-Roman chronographer (1st cent. B.C.), who "accepted that early
Roman institutions had been influenced by Pythagoreanism." 28 Once more,
Ovid deliberately passes up a connection that could have been made, as we
know from Plutarch. Plutarch (Numa 8.8) relates that Numa's sacrifices "had
great similitude to the ceremonials of Pythagoras, for they were not
celebrated with effusion of blood, but consisted of flour, wine, and the
least costly offerings." Ovid rejects this tradition in two ways. In the
first instance he credits Egeria and the Camenae, and not Pythagoras, with
helping Numa establish sacrificos ritus for the ferocious Romans. 29
Secondly, he says nothing about their bloodlessness, nor, in the parallel
version in the Fasti (Book 1.337), does he attribute the origin of bloodless
sacrifices to Pythagoras. In fact, later in the Fasti, in connection with
the incubation oracle of Faunus, Numa is shown to be sacrificing sheep and a
pregnant cow (4.652, 671).
Ferunt, as has been noted, 30 serves both for distancing and for giving the
story the patina of antiquity. In this instance, the former effect appears
to be predominant: in his catalogue of teacher and disciple pairs in Ex
Ponto 3.3.41-44, Ovid uses the same qualifying expression only for Numa and
Pythagoras. At the same time, and as throughout the Metamorphoses, Ovid
leaves enough latitude even for the true believer. 31 While he does not make
Pythagoras and Numa coevals, he refrains from pointing out, as Dionysius had
done at some length (Ant. Rom. 2.59.3-4), that Croton was founded four years
after Numa's accession. In addition, the determination of the range of aliis
dictis is left entirely to the reader. It is elastic enough to allow for the
inclusion of the philosophical-scientific topics which Pythagoras outlines
initially (Met. 15.66-72), but completely fails to develop. 32
4. "Philosophy" in Pythagoras' speech
Ovid does not take long to disabuse the reader of any expectations for
serious philosophical discourse. The primary theme, concisely rendered in
lines 177-78 (nihil est toto, quod perstet in orbe. cuncta fluunt) is, of
course, Heraclitean, though it belonged to popular philosophy, if not simply
the realm of proverbial expression, by Ovid's time. 33 At the first
opportunity (15.186-236), moreover, Ovid ignores the actual cosmic tenets of
the Pythagoreans and others and instead has Pythagoras present some routine,
if not banal, examples of change: i.e. night, day, the seasons, and the ages
of man. The issue is not a complex philosophical doctrine, but an everyday
insight into the obvious. The equation of the ages with the seasons may go
back to Pythagoras, 34 but clearly was one of his least challenging
intellectual properties. The narrator happens to be a philosopher; we are
dealing, to use Quintilian's phrase for the impressionistic unity of the
Metamophoses (Inst. Or. 4.1.77), with a species, with the appearance of
philosophy rather than anything of substance.
Similarly, the subsequent discussion of the elements (237-51) had become the
common property of just about any philosophical school. This is reflected by
the variety of sources modern scholars have identified, such as "peripatetic
eclecticism", "jungepikureisch," and Stoic, especially Posidonian. 35
Empedocles figures in the mix, too, but hardly in a privileged position. 36
We are dealing with an eclecticism-a very Augustan characteristic-that
implies the convergence of different philosophical schools. In Horace's
first Roman Ode, they could be summoned in support of the mos maiorum; in
Pythagoras' speech, they illustrate that change is a topic common to all
philosophical schools. In both cases, the effort is to produce some
philosophical coloring and not a sectarian attempt to deal thoroughly with
the specific tenets of one philosophy or the other. It has been well noted
that Ovid, in this passage, "uses (philosophical) terms without being
concerned about the meaning they had in previous literature." 37 The lack of
concern about terminology, however, is only a result of the more fundamental
lack of concern about the subject itself: no sooner has Pythagoras
proclaimed that haec quoque non perstant (15.237), echoing the theme of
cuncta fluunt (15.178), than he promptly speaks of the aether as aeternus
(15.239), which may be a witticism. Fittingly, he had used aether in line
195 devoid of the numerous connotations the term had acquired in previous
philosophy and science. 38
The remainder of Pythagoras' "philosophy" is his injunctions, with which he
brackets his speech, against animal sacrifices and the consumption of animal
meat. It appears that in the teachings of the Sextii, the reason for the
emphasis on vegetarianism was not metempsychosis, but hygiene and the
avoidance of cruelty to animals. 39 Ovid follows that emphasis: his
depiction of the sacrificial victim (15.130-40) is rendered with unusual
sympathy as is Pythagoras' concluding appeal (462-9). 40 But we are not
dealing with philosophy here. Spirituality and metaphysics are eschewed and
while Ovid strikes a humanitarian note, this extreme vegetarianism was, as
we saw earlier, not part of the Roman mainstream or of Numa's legacy.
Ovid's refusal to develop Pythagorean philosophy proper has been prepared
for in the preceding books and belongs in the general context of his
endeavor to distance himself from philosophical creeds. For instance, in
contrast to Lucretius' rationalist critique that denied the existence of
mythical portenta such as Scylla and Centaurs, Ovid of course makes them the
centerpieces of some of his own stories. 41 Similarly, Lucretius (2.700-703,
707) had rejected the possibility of Metamorphoses of humans into trees; in
the Metamorphoses, the transformations of Daphne and Phaethon's sisters
figure prominently near the beginning of the poem. Ovid deliberately chose
these exempla for contrast because they showed Lucretius at his most
doctrinaire, an attitude that does not consistently inform the Epicurean
poet's treatment of myth. 42 We should keep in mind, of course, that Ovid is
uncanonical all around and not just vis-a-vis philosophers and philosopher
poets: whereas the depiction, for instance, of dolphins in trees and boars
in the waters is the hallmark of the bad artist in Horace's Ars Poetica
(29-30), it does not take long for these vignettes to materialize in Ovid's
description of the deluge (Met. 1.302-3, 305).
5. Poetry and philosophy: the paradoxa and the cosmogony
As most commentators have noted, almost half of Pythagoras' discourse, the
catalogue of mirabilia and paradoxa (15.259-452), has next to no basis in
Pythagoreanism, whether old or new. The closest connection we can make is
(Pseudo)Sotion's treatise on the paradoxa of rivers, springs, and pools, 43
but the more important point is that Ovid's preceding treatment of
Pythagoreanism has set the tone: we should not now expect an exploration of
the phenomena in terms of probing science and philosophy. The relation of
paradoxography to Greek science corresponds to that of the pantomime to
Greek tragedy: anything serious and substantive is eliminated in favor of
small, easily digestible snippets concentrating on the fascinating and the
sensational. 44 Both developments are the result of the taste of a large
public, and Ovid knew his audience. By his times, pseudoscience and science
were intermingled in Hellenistic Greece and Rome, and the elder Pliny's
massive collection provides continuing attestation. 45 Even if the
distinction between the two may be clearer to us than to Ovid's
contemporaries, Lucretius' De Rerum Natura had shown that rational,
scientific thought was not incompatible with poetry. The presentation of an
elaborate contrast, then, between philosophical and poetic modes is not one
of the objectives of Pythagoras' speech. In its first part, Ovid flattens
out philosophy to the point where it is indistinguishable from generalized,
popular ideas, while in the second part he simply juxtaposes, rather than
opposes, scientific-philosophical and poetical-mythical explanations in his
large catalogue of miraculous happenings.
Franz Bömer and Sara Myers have thoroughly documented this procedure with
example after example. 46 I will limit myself, therefore, to a few
additional comments. One involves the mention of the spring of wondrous
waters near the town of Clitor in Arcadia (15.324-8). Whoever drank from
them would abstain from drinking wine in perpetuity. Ovid compresses the
scientific explanation into one line; in fact, it is not an explanation as
much as it is a matter-of-fact observation: seu vis est in aqua calido
contraria vino (324) ["there is some force in the water that is opposed to
the warmth of wine"]. He then goes on to summarize the mythological tale
sive, quod indigenae memorant, Amythaone natus, Proetidas attonitas postquam
per carmen et herbas eripuit furiis, purgamina mentis in illas misit aquas
odiumque meri permansit in undis.
The mythological explanation is four times the length of the scientific one.
Before we construe this, however, as Ovid's privileging poetry over natural
philosophy, we need to look only at Vitruvius. Vitruvius treats such
phenomena in the first part of Book 8, which deals with hydrology. In many
cases, including that of the wine-blocking springs of Clitor, he does not
even bother to suggest a scientific cause. Instead, he simply tells the
tale, expanding it, in the case of Clitor, to cite in full the ten-line
epigram that was inscribed at the site (8.3.21). If a prosaic,
nuts-and-bolts writer like Vitruvius, who stressed that an architect should
diligently study philosophy (1.1.3), could come to the realization that
natural philosophy would not go very far in such instances, so would Ovid.
Moreover, the mention of alternative explanations for wondrous phenomena has
ample precedent in Metamorphoses 1-14, even if they are not immediately
collocated with another. 47 Ovid tips off the attentive reader in his very
introduction of Pythagoras. The sage's subjects include quae fulminis esset
origo, / Iuppiter an venti discussa nube tonarent (15.69-70). As for the
cause of lightning, Ovid already provided a naturalistic cause at 1.56 (cum
fulminibus facientes fulgora ventos) only to proceed to depict it as the
traditional mythological accoutrement of Jupiter (1.197, 253); the
thunderbolts now are tela . . . manibus fabricata Cyclopum (1.259). Small
wonder, then, that Pythagoras really has nothing more to say about the
subject. Similar dual explanations are given for the creation of man
(1.78-83, cf. 1.363-4), the support of the aether and air above the earth
(1.26-31, 2.293-7), and the cause of the rainbow (6.61-4, 11.589-90). One
explanation is no better than the other.
Nor is their credibility, and this produces another commonality of poetry
and philosophy. Just before the philosopher starts speaking, Ovid comments
that his teachings may be learned, but not altogether believed: primus
quoque talibus ora / docta quidem solvit, sed non et credita, verbis
(15.73-4). 48 In their position, the lines refer to the entire speech, and
not just Pythagoras' injunctions about vegetarianism or metempsychosis.
Ovid, in turn, in his apologia to Augustus explicitly characterizes the
titular subject of the Metamorphoses as not to be believed (Trist. 2.63-4):
inspice maius opus, quod adhuc sine fine tenetur, in non credendos corpora
versa modos. (Look at my major work, which is still unfinished, look at the
bodies who were transformed unbelievably).
The assertion is reinforced by the enumeration of mirabilia asadynata in
Tristia, 4.7.11-20: the majority are myths that occur in the Metamorphoses.
49 To be sure, there is a distinction between natural wonders, such as the
spring of Clitor, and transformations of human bodies, as the former
verifiably exist and call for an explanation, whether scientific or
mythological. But Ovid deliberately blurs the line by sprinkling, throughout
Pythagoras' speech, references to myths he had told earlier and by failing,
in the case of the Symplegades (15.337-9), to give a "scientific" reason
altogether. Similarly included are transformations from inanimate to animate
(375-7), and decomposing to live matter (368, 389-90). Several assertions of
disbelief, therefore, are a constituent part of Pythagoras' speech (282-3,
359, 389-90). It is not possible to put stock either in the fides poetica or
the fides philosophica. As a result, Ovid's poetic immortality, to which I
will return, is not based on the traditional claim of the vates to have
revealed the truth, but on the truthful prediction of the vates-and that is
the only truth they may possess-that Ovid and his fame will be immortal
perque omnia saecula fama, siquid habent veri vatum praesagia, vivam.
To turn from the end of the poem to its beginning: as it is Ovid's overture
to the Metamorphoses, the cosmogony (1.5-75) is poetic rather than
philosophical. This introductory passage and the speech of Pythagoras have
rightly been considered thematic pendants, 50 but it is important to be
alert to the differences, too. Like the discourse of Pythagoras, the
cosmogony does not fit the simple matrix of (mythological) poetry vs.
(natural) philosophy. Its suggestive model is far more emphatically poetic:
it is Homer's description of Achilles' shield, imago mundi, as Stephen
Wheeler has recently argued. 51 Two brief observations may be added to his
cumulative argument. First, reading Ovid's cosmogony to some extent as
poetology, he identifies deus et melior natura (1.21)with "a figure for the
poet" (117); I would argue that this notion is picked up by Ovid's phrase in
the sphragis (15.875) that melior pars mei, exactly his esprit créateur and
the works produced by it, 52 will escape oblivion and live on forever.
Secondly, as Wheeler points out, by Ovid's time there had been a joining of
poetry and philosophy in the interpretation of Hephaestus' shield, which had
come to be considered as an allegory of the creation of the universe by a
demiurge. The primacy, of course, belonged to Homer, just in purely
chronological terms. "As a result of this type of exegesis, Roman poets came
to regard the shield as a primary model for describing the origin and
structure of the universe." 53 I would add that Ovid's choice of the Homeric
shield as a model, therefore, suggestively enhances his placement of the
Metamorphoses directly in the Homeric, rather than the Empedoclean,
tradition. The ancient view was that all the literary forms took their
origin with Homer. He was the "Ocean"-how curiously relevant this is to the
shield description-from which all literary streams flowed. 54 Over time,
they had been disjoined, but the Metamorphoses was Ovid's grand attempt to
bring them back together. In this light, Ovid's procedure of presenting "not
merely one cosmogony, but a series" and "suggesting that the cosmogonic
process is one that will continue throughout the poem: ad mea tempora"55
takes on its true dimension. It is his poetic program of recreating and
reuniting the various literary forms, which originated with Homer.
Philosophy is assimilated and subordinated to this purpose. As in the case
of the discourse of Pythagoras, numerous attempts have been made to identify
philosophical sources in Ovid's cosmogony. Once again, Ovid includes enough
allusions to lend philosophical coloring to the piece. At the same time, and
befitting the poet of metamorphosis who changed many poetic traditions, he
makes some changes in the received philosophical tenets. Significantly,
these changes apply to Empedocles and his doctrine of Love and Strife. 56 In
the first instance and in contrast, too, to Orpheus' song in Apollonius'
Argonautica 1.497-511, Ovid presents Strife not as triggering the evolution
of the cosmos, but as perpetuating chaos. What creates order is not an
abstract philosophical principle, but a benevolent creator who is easily
assimilable, as we have seen, to the pohtÆw: deus et melior natura (1.21).
Similarly, despite all the importance of love as a theme in the
Metamorphoses, Ovid excludes it as a natural-philosophical agent from his
cosmogony. The avoidance of emphasis on serious philosophy is the same here
as in Pythagoras' discourse.
6. Ovid, Vergil, and Lucretius
As can be expected, the speech of Pythagoras is relevant to another major
aspect of the Metamorphoses, i.e. the constant comparison Ovid asks the
reader to make between his poem and Vergil's Aeneid. One dimension, as we
have seen, is that the Metamorphoses is an even more comprehensive heir to
Homer than is the Aeneid because Ovid was able to incorporate into it genres
such as comedy, pantomime, and burlesque that were not suitable for the
Roman national epic. Another dimension is the usual inversion. In Aeneid 6,
Vergil had to make up for the incredibility of myth by infusing it with a
heavy dose of serious philosophy. We know from Cicero, Propertius, and
others that credence in the actual mythology of the underworld, such the
ferryman, the frogs, and swamps, was at a low ebb among the Roman
intelligentsia. 57 Hence Vergil drew heavily on various philosophical
traditions to make Hades meaningful while providing another hint at the very
end, through the conundrum of the Gate of False Dreams, that not all of his
account, and especially the less spiritual yaumastã, was to be taken
literally. 58 Ovid, by contrast, completely humanizes the underworld in Book
4, 59 has Pythagoras engage in a lengthy recitation of yaumastã, and
absolutely minimizes any heaviness and significance of philosophy in the
discourse of Pythagoras. Pythagoras' pointed dismissal (15.154-5) of the
underworld as an "empty name" (nomina vana) and "stuff for poets" (materiem
vatum)-all while he is addressing coetus silentum, which was bound to recall
the underworld- applies equally to Vergil's brave remythologizing of Hades
and to Ovid's repeated choice of it as a subject; besides Book 4, it appears
in Books 5, 10, and 14. 60 Further, as we have seen, Ovid blithely concedes
Pythagoras' point by stating that the myths he tells "are not to be
believed," 61 but of course he tells them anyway and announces that he will
be immortal for it.
By raising issues that are central to his work, Ovid appeals to the reader
to reflect on the nature of mythological poetry and to compare him, in this
important respect, with his two major Roman predecessors, Vergil and
Lucretius. I have already commented on Vergil; what about Lucretius?
It has traditionally been argued that Lucretius, because of his ostensible
attacks on myths, demythologized myth and that Vergil and Ovid subsequently
remythologized it. In actuality Lucretius' attitude is more complex. 62 He
wanted to be an Epicurean and a poet, and being a poet meant he had to use
myth, which seems to have been precisely one of the reasons Epicurus had
rejected poetry. Lucretius proceeded to combine the two hitherto
irreconcilables by devising his own, Epicurean "theory" of myth on the basis
of several differentiations. Parallel to the Epicurean theory that
sensations bear some relation to (external) reality, he posited that myths
have a hyponoia, an underlying phenomenon that needed to be explained. In
both cases, the problem is not reality or the phenomenon itself, but faulty
inferences and interpretations, in this case, the traditional myths. Myth,
therefore, can be retained for its power to attract and charm readers,
provided the vera ratio is pointed out at the same time. "The mythological
passages in the DRN," therefore, "act as a powerful polemical and didactic
tool: at one and the same time, Lucretius is able to dispose of rival
theories of myth satisfactorily by substituting his own account of its
origins and nature; and to use myth didactically to illustrate and enhance
his own argumentation." 63 Lucretius, then, appropriates myth, which was
formerly deceptive, for his own philosophical purposes; hence his use of the
"myths" of Venus and the plague to bracket his poem-just as Ovid does with
the ostensibly "philosophical" episodes of the cosmogony and Pythagoras.
This is only part of Ovid's response to Lucretius. Another involves the
juxtapositions we have observed of mythical-poetical and
natural-philosophical explanations. Such juxtapositions are frequent in
Lucretius, and they have a deeper reason: the demonstration of vera ratio.
The theme is sounded in his apologia for poetry (1.921-50, repeated at
4.1-25): id quoque enim non ab nulla ratione videtur (1.935). We reencounter
it in the pivotal exempla of Magna Mater (2.596-645) and Phaethon
(5.396-415). Both times, the traditional mythological version is ascribed to
veteres Graium poetae (2.600, 5.405). Both times Lucretius emphasizes that
longe sunt tamen a vera ratione repulsa (2.645) and procul a vera nimis est
ratione repulsum (5.405-6). The difference from Ovid is clear: for Ovid,
there is no vera ratio of myth and serious philosophy is next to
non-existent in Pythagoras' discourse. In the catalogue of yaumastã the
juxtapositions, therefore, become a mere literary device without any
profound significance. 64 And just as Lucretius had appropriated the
language and evocativeness of mythology for his philosophical tenets, Ovid
uses the Lucretian language of natural philosophy for some of his most
fantastic transformations. 65 The inversion is complete: these portenta now
are dressed up as if they were phenomena that can be explained in terms of
rationalist science. A paradigm is the transformation of Lichas (9.216-25):
dicentem genibusque manus adhibere parantem corripit Alcides et ter
quaterque rotatum mittit in Euboicas tormento fortius undas. ille per aerias
pendens induruit auras, utque ferunt imbres gelidis conscrescere ventis,
inde nives fieri, nivibusque molle rotatis adstringi et spissa glomerari
grandine corpus, sic illum validis iactum per inane lacertis exsanguemque
metu nec quicquam umoris habentem in rigidos versum silices prior edidit
We are looking at multiple appropriations and inversions from Lucretius. The
slingshot in line 218 recalls a bit of "pseudo-science taken on trust by
Lucretius (DRN 6.177-9, 306-7)," 66 with a venerable pedigree that included
Leucippus, Democritus, and, possibly, Anaxagoras. 67 Ovid treats this
"scientific fact" accordingly by turning it inside out: he has the slingshot
freeze and harden rather than heat up. 68 Ovid proceeds to explain the
actual petrifaction of Lichas as a meteorological phenomenon; the model is
Lucretius 6.495-523 and 527-34. Moreover, he mimics and inverts Lucretius by
distancing himself from this event that is now garbed in natural philosophy:
ferunt (220), which hints at the borrowing of the explanation from
Lucretius, and prior edidit aetas (225) correspond to Lucretius' distancing
himself from the mythological stories of the Graeci vates. This also
provides the larger context for Ovid's use of ferunt to disavow Pythagoras'
influence on Numa (15.480).
Some conclusions can be drawn at this point. Ovid's treatment of the
discourse of Pythagoras is viewed best not as a unifying philosophical pivot
of the Metamorphoses, but as a contribution to an ongoing discussion about
the roles of myth and philosophy in the grand poetic tradition. One of
Ovid's uses of this extended passage is to call attention to his poetic aims
and to his place in the poetic tradition. 69 He does not limit himself to
writing Empedoclean epic; if anything, he places his poem in the tradition
originating with Homer, a tradition that he Metamorphoses throughout his
poem by numerous innovations. The speech of Pythagoras and related passages
in the Metamorphoses highlight the nature of Ovid's contribution and his
differences both from Lucretius' insistence on vera ratio and Vergil's
reinvestment of myth with great spiritual, moral, and historical meaning.
Ovid downplays the historical component, i.e. the connection of Pythagoras
and Numa, and banalizes philosophy. The didacticism of Lucretius and
philosophy in general are deflated by the jarring disjunction of the
"hyperdicactic" mode of the speech, 70 which is marked by a profusion of
protreptic injunctions and didactic pronouncements, 71 and the minimalism of
both philosophical content and a substantial addressee-the latter, as we
have seen, is not Numa, who receives Pythagoras' ramblings only second- or
third-hand, but the shadowy coetus silentum (15.66). Pythagoras's discourse
itself, therefore, is a dubious vehicle for the poet to lay a serious claim
to Empedoclean epic. At the same time, Ovid uses the speech of Pythagoras,
by way of contrast, to call attention once more to his distinctive
contribution to mythological poetry on a grand scale. It lies, to restate
stubbornly what I said more than a score of years ago, in the realm of
In terms of narrative, Pythagoras' presentation of change is designed to
invite comparison with Ovid's in the previous books of the poem. To be sure,
Pythagoras' speech is not a deliberately bad piece of poetry; Dryden and
others singled it out for praise, and E.J. Kenney has observed that "the
speed and fluency of the writing match the theme." 73 The reason is simple
and does not have to be over-determined by narratologists "carried away by
[their] hyperfunctionalist enthusiasm." 74 As always, Ovid has it both ways
(although, as we could see from Lucretius' utilization of myth, Ovid was not
alone). He is the narrator al fondo who demonstrates, through his handling
of Pythagoras' discourse, that he can assimilate "philosophy" to his
mythological poem just as easily as any other subject, genre, style, or
tradition. The up-front narrator is Pythagoras. The basic point is that
Ovid, by presenting the subject through Pythagoras in this particular
manner, alerts us to the fact that the material could be presented in other
ways. This is true, as we have seen, of his failure to develop the multiple
connections, discussed by other writers, between Pythagoras and early Rome,
and it is implicit in his refusal to develop a significant philosophical
discourse. Ovid makes no more than a bow to both traditions: he also knew
that, as Cicero had pointed out, 75 philosophy and oratory were thought of
as being united; hence the length of Pythagoras' speech is a running
contrapposto to the thinness of its philosophical content proper. But, as we
have already seen on several occasions, the speech looks back to the first
14 books as well. There is reference after reference to stories that Ovid
had told earlier: the Cyclops, Lucifer, Hercules, Scylla, Salmacis, the
Centaurs, Phoebus, Myrrha, Phaethon, Aurora, the underworld. They are a
constant reminder of how differently stories such as these could be told. Or
take a subject like sex change: Pythagoras baldly mentions the hyena
(15.408-10); Ovid tells the stories of Iphis and Caeneus at length and with
gusto. Ovidian polyphony is replaced by the monotone of Pythagorean
Simultaneously, Ovid uses Pythagoras' discourse as a reminder of the
challenge he himself faced in stringing together a mass of often
heterogeneous material. Ovid's solution was to create imaginative and,
sometimes, deliberately outrageous transitions, whereas those of Pythagoras
lack such brio and can be artless and mechanical, an aspect that has been
repeatedly commented upon; the connective et quoniam, for instance, is used
twice here (15.143, 176) and does not occur elsewhere in the Metamorphoses.
Along the same lines, I am still convinced that Pythagoras, or Ovid through
Pythagoras, articulates the realization that the listener's attention may be
flagging due to Pythagoras' narrative mode. At least this is the strong
implication of lines 418-20: "The day will wane, the Sun beneath the waves
will plunge his panting steeds before my tale recounts the sum of things
that take new forms" (Melville transl.):
desinet ante dies, et in alto Phoebus anhelos aequore tinguet equos, quam
consequar omnia verbis in species translata novas.
Taking issue with my observation, Bömer in his commentary (ad 418) avers
that it is not boredom that is suggested here. Rather, and borrowing a
phrase from the Italian scholar Cupaiulo, he writes that we are dealing, in
the Ovidian trope, with "accorgimenti tecnici e stilistici consueti nella
prosa retorica." That is an even better way of making my point.
One of the main differences is, of course, that Pythagoras' speech deals
single-mindedly with change whereas most of the stories in the Metamorphoses
do not; Kenney's observation is still on the mark that love or, as I would
put it, love in all its variations (or Metamorphoses in that sense), rather
than metamorphosis pure and simple, is the principal theme of the poem. Just
as important, while the philosopher, represented by Pythagoras, proclaims
change to be the controlling principle of the world, Ovid ends Book 15 and
the Metamorphoses by emphasizing that he and his poetry will be impervious
to it. /i>Nihil est toto, quod perstet, in orbe: cuncta fluunt, says
Pythagoras (177-8). Ovid, by contrast, will transcend /i>theorbis terrarum:
super alta perennis / astra ferar, nomenque erit indelebile nostrum
(875-76). 76 The contrast is played out yet further in the phrase Pythagoras
had used to introduce his maxim. He employs a well-known metaphor for
poetry: magno feror aequore followed by i>plena ventis vela dedi, but his
poetic pretensions are subverted from the start by yet another et quoniam,
his second such use of that connective within less than 35 lines. It is a
formula that is at home, e.g., in Cicero's De Officiis, 77 but not in
The speech of Pythagoras has several purposes. Pythagoras personifies the
confluence of Greece and Rome, a theme that shapes Book 15 and, in a larger
sense, the entire Metamorphoses and the culture of the Augustan age.
Pythagoras and his discourse also stand for the synthesis of various
philosophies; Pythagoreanism, in fact, had evolved into such a synthesis,
especially in Rome, by the first cent. B.C. In that sense, Pythagoras is the
compleat philosopher; after all, he was credited with inventing the term.
Further, Pythagoras' speech is a tour de force, just like Ovid's poem, but
it is a very different tour de force. It is a demonstration of what Ovid
could have done throughout the Metamorphoses, but did not. It also suggests
what Pythagoras could have done and did not, both in terms of treating
philosophy and narrative. The passage is also part of Ovid's ongoing
dialogue with his Roman predecessors: with Ennius by recall of the earlier
poet's Pythagorean coloring of the beginning of the Annales, 78 and,
especially with Lucretius and Vergil. Overall, the passage is a final
demonstration of Ovid's inversion of Lucretius by Lucretian means. Lucretius
had assimilated myth to his philosophical poem by stripping it of its
traditional perspectives. Ovid reciprocates by assimilating philosophy to
his mythological poem by divesting it of its real content. As in the case of
any Augustan creation-and the Metamorphoses is very Augustan, unless one
buys into the usual dichotomies-the main task for the interpreter of
Pythagoras' discourse is to be attentive to the multiplicity of aspects and
to consider each individual aspect, such as the philosophical coloring,
within this totality.
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1 Esp. Myers (1994) and Hardie (1995).
2 For the combination and interaction of genres in the Metamorphoses see the
useful articles by Horsfall (1979) and Farrell (1992); cf. Solodow (1988)
18-25. W.S. Anderson's review of S. Hinds, The Metamorphosis of Persephone
(Cambridge 1987) in Gnomon 61 (1989) 356-8 puts the issue of genre into
perspective relative to other issues with which Ovidian scholars should be
3 See Burkert (1961) 236-46 for a concise and substantive summary; more
detail in Ferrero (1955) and, with an excellent collection of the ancient
sources, Garbarino (1973)
4 Kenney (1986) xviii.
5 Hardie (1995).
6 Hardie (1995) 205 n.7.
7 A study of the Metamorphoses from this aspect is still a desideratum; for
such approaches and their application to Roman literature, cf. Woodman
(1992) 208 with n.17.
8 Metamorphoses 4.432-80; see Bernbeck (1967) 4-30 and Galinsky (1989) 82-6.
9 Cairns (1989) chs. 1-3.
10 By Heracleides of Pontus; the various sources are listed and discussed by
11 Aelian Var. Hist. 2.26 (citing Aristotle); cf. Iambl. Vita Pythag. 140.
Another connection would be Pythagoras' claim to be the reincarnated
Euphorbus (Met. 15.261), who was prominently associated with Apollo in the
Iliad. According to Diogenes Laertius 8.21, Pythagoras received his
teachings from the Delphic priestess; hence Delphos meos . . . recludam . .
. et augustae reserabo oracula mentis (Met. 15.144-5). On augustae, see
Bömer ad loc.
12 Aristoxenos fr. 17 (Wehrli) = Porph. Vita Pythag. 22; Iambl. Vita Pythag.
241; Diog. Laert. 8.14.
13 Pliny, NH 34.26; Plut. Numa 8.10; cf. Coarelli (1985) 119-23.
14 Plut. Aem. 2.2; Festus p. 23 L.; cf. Burkert (1961) 237 n.5 and Maltby
15 oþ ÉItaliko¤: Met. 987a10, 31; 988a26.
16 Burkert (1961) 234.
17 On the Sextii, see Ferrero (1955) 360-78; cf. von Arnim in RE
II.4.2040-41. 18 Ferrero (1955) 268-80; Segl (1970) 103-4 (with reference to
Lafaye); Bömer (1986) 269-70.
19 Cairns (1995) 122.
20 Cf. Bömer (1986) 270-71; Due (1974) 30; Segl (1970) 94-6.
21 Burkert (1961) 245; cf. Hirzel (1891) 1308-11.
22 Sauron (1994) 630.
23 See note 11, above. Garbarino (1973) 63-72 has conveniently assembled the
ancient sources (20 in all). For extensive discussions see Ferrero (1955)
142-7; Garbarino (1973) 230-38; Gruen (1990) 158-70.
24 Fr. 37 Peter = Pliny NH 13.84-6. The testimonia (12 altogether) again in
Garbarino (1973) 64-9. The most recent discussion, which proceeds along
different lines from mine, is Gruen (1990) 163-70; cf. Gruen (1992) 259.
25 Cf. Met. 8.721-2, with my comments in Augustan Culture (1996) 232-3.
26 Met. 13.25; cf. Hor. Epod. 5.51; Lucan 6.513; Sen. Med. 740; Verg. Aen.
6.432; Prop. 3.12.33. I follow Barchiesi (1989) 76-7 rather than Bömer ad
loc. There may be more to it yet: Plato (Phaedo 64 a and b) mentions a
(comic?) tradition according to which philosophers were endemically
enamoured of death; cf. Middle Comedies entitled "Pythagorists" (Diels-Kranz
27 Rawson (1985) 294.
28 Rawson (1985) 293 on the basis of Plutarch Quaest. Rom. 10.
29 Cf. Barchiesi (1989) 79.
30 By Bömer ad loc.
31 The story of Philemon and Baucis is another paradigm; see Galinsky (1975)
32 Cf. Myers (1994) 141-2.
33 Detailed documentation in Segl (1970) 43-4 and Bömer ad loc.
34 Diog. Laert. Vita Pythag. 8.10; full discussion in Segl (1970) 51 and
Bömer ad loc.
35 See Haupt/Ehwald/von Albrecht (1966) and Bömer ad loc.
36 Segl (1970) 136 n.223; cf. Bömer ad 252-3.
37 Segl (1970) 47 (with reference, e.g., to quattuor genitalia in line 239).
38 Segl (1970) 45-7.
39 Sen. Epist. 108.18; see Haussleiter (1935) 296-9 and Ferrero (1955)
40 Galinsky (1975) 141-3.
41 Lucr. 2.700-29; 4.732-45; 5.878-924; see Myers (1994) 145-7.
42 Gale (1994); cf. below, Section 6.
43 Segl (1970) 57 with n.265; Crahay and Hubaux (1958) 286.
44 See the collections of the Greek paradoxographers by Westermann
(Amsterdam 1963) and Giannini (Milan 1965). Cf. Galinsky (1996) 265-6 on the
affinities of pantomime and Metamorphoses; from there the road leads to the
Ovide bouffon of the 17th century (Moog-Grünewald  124-56).
45 Cf. Myers (1994) 150-52 with n. 79.
46 Bömer (1986), esp. ad 15.324; Myers (1994) 152-9.
47 Cf. Little (1970) 349-55. A kindred procedure is Ovid's frequent use of
"the language of physics to describe myths of the most fabulous nature"
(Myers  49, with a discussion of several examples on pp. 47-9; cf.
Section 6 below).
48 Primus may be a reference to the tradition that Pythagoras was the
eÍretÆw of the word "philosopher"; see note 10, above. Also relevant may be
Callimachus Iambus 1 (fr. 191) lines 62-3: oi d ar oux uphkousan, ou pantew
with the poignant emendation by H. Lloyd-Jones: oi Italoi d uphkousan, ou
pantew, with the further remarks by M. L. West in CR 21 (1971) 330-1.
49 Cf. Little (1970) 347-8.
50 Cf. Pythagoras' reference to magni primordia mundi at Met. 15.67.
51 Wheeler (1995), with extensive references to previous scholarship. As
always in Augustan poetry, several inspirations coexist; see Helzle (1993)
for the Callimachean aspect of the cosmogony. The cosmogony then becomes an
immediate illustration of the poetic program announced in lines 1-4: the
combination of carmen perpetuum with carmen deductum.
52 See Bömer ad loc.
53 Wheeler (1995) 98, summarizing Hardie (1986) 66-70, 346-58.
54 Documentation in Williams (1978) 87-9, 98-9; cf. Galinsky (1996) 262.
Cf., with reference to the Aeneid, Cairns (1989) 150 and Hardie (1986) 22-4
55 Myers (1994) 27.
56 Wheeler (1995) 95-7.
57 Cic., Tusc. 1.48; Prop. 2.34.53-4, only a few lines before Propertius'
famous reference to the Aeneid (61-66).
58 Cf. Wlosok (1990) 386-7.
59 See the insightful and delightful discussion by Bernbeck (1967) 10-26.
60 Book 5: Ceres and Proserpina (341ff.); 10.40-48 (Orpheus); 14.101-53:
Aeneas and the Sibyl. Only 20 lines after his dismissive remarks, Pythagoras
lays claim to being vates (15.174: vaticinor); his topic, vegetarianism, is
consigned to materies vatum.
61 Trist. 2.63-4, cited above, p. 13. The phrase cannot be restricted to
mean "bodies transformed in amazing ways"; cf. Luck ad loc. and Little
(1970) 347-8. Ovid was taking no great risk as there was a strong tradition
that "veracity" was not to be expected of poets; for documentation and
discussion see Feeney (1991) 5-56 and Myers (1994) 49-51.
62 See the sensible study by Gale (1994) on which my following remarks are
based. Cf. Myers (1994) 53-9.
63 Gale (1994) 230.
64 Aristotle's comment tÚ de yaumastÒn ¾dÊ (Poet. 1460a17) is apropos.
65 See Myers (1994) 47-9.
66 Kenney in Melville (1986) 390.
67 See Leonard and Smith (1961) ad loc. As Bömer points out (ad Met. 9.218),
there is also an element of anachronism.
68 See Bömer ad Met. 9.220 with reference to Met. 2.727-9.
69 I cannot emphasize strongly enough that this is only one aspect of the
passage. It is legitimate for academics to be attentive to aspects of
poetology, genre, and the like in the Metamorphoses, provided we realize
that these are not the immediate reasons for the popularity and appeal of
the poem through the ages. The increasing interest in this aspect of the
Metamorphoses is gratifying; see the recent the collections of Martindale
(1988), Anderson (1995), and Walter and Horn (1995). As I stated initially,
the entertainment value of the mirabilia and the topicality of "Pythagoras"
would assure Ovid a broad public.
70 Barchiesi (1989) 77, 80-82.
71 E.g., animos advertite (140); animos adhibete (238); mihi credite (254);
tollite . . . nec fallite . . . nec includite . . . nec celate . . . perdite
. . . perdite (473-8); nonne vides (361, 382); magna. . . canam (146-7);
doceo (172); vaticinor (174); docebo (238).
72 Galinsky (1975) 104-7. Cf. Kenney (1982) 435: "If the Metamorphoses is in
some sense significant . . . it can only be on the strength of Ovid's
treatment of his material, the myths themselves."
73 Kenney (1986) 460.
74 Genette (1988) 48. For a plain exposition of levels of narration and
embedded narrative texts see Bal (1985) 134-48.
75 Orator 11-19, cf. 113-19.
76 Paratore (1959) 193 has briefly adverted to the echo of Horace C.
2.20.1-4 (ferar . . . per liquidum aethera . . .neque in terris morabor),
but the associations between the ode and the sphragis of the Metamorphoses
are more extensive. In addition to dealing with the topos of poetic
immortality (cf. the reference to C. 3.30.1 in Met. 15.871), the ode was con
genial because of its graphic description of metamorphosis, which
anticipates several of the Ovidian depictions. There is also the usual
alteration of the model: Horace, who is being transformed into a bird,
becomes biformis vates, pretending to immortality, whereas Ovid, the poet of
metamorphosis, concedes to the vates the power of predicting his
immortality. Another connection is Horace's claim that he will be known
among the barbarians at the fringes of the Roman Empire-precisely the kind
of place where Ovid completed the Metamorphoses. Similarly, there is yet
another point to Ovid's ascent super astra: his deification will be even
greater than Julius Caesar's, whom Venus simplycaelestibus intulit astris
(15.846); cf. Feeney (1991) 249. Fittingly, Ovid ends the Metamorphoses with
a blaze of allusions that add perspective to his achievement; the topic of
Ovidian closures bears revisiting.
77 Off. 122, 132, 138; see Haupt/Ehwald/von Albrecht (1966) ad 15.75 and
78 It should be clear from Ovid's treatment of "Pythagoras" and
Pythagoreanism that the passage in the Metamorphoses provides no basis for
any inferences about Ennius' Pythagoreanism, whatever its nature. Ennius'
principal point was to be Homer's reincarnation. By recalling Ennius, Ovid,
therefore, also recalls Homer, an aspect that is central to the
A very preliminary version of this paper was delivered at the Leeds
International Latin Seminar in February 1996. A more extensive version was
presented at the Universities of Budapest, Szeged, and Verona later that
year. Im grateful to these audiences and, in particular, to Alessandro
Barchiesi and my colleague Stephen A. White, for some helpful suggestions.