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Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I - Kings, Empires, Bigotries and Victories

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Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I
Kings, Empires, Bigotries and Victories

There are two parts in this essay: the former part Kings and Empires compares the beginning of the universe with the formation of empires and looks at the several transformations of the world as the manifestations of the great power of the ruler; whilst the latter part Bigotries and Victories takes reference from the the quote “History is written by the victors” and the bias narrations in some stories to bring out the darker attributes of the worldly reality and its celebrated protagonists.

Kings and Empires
It is said that an unknown god commanded the jumbled elements in the universe to fall into order. Then, he assigned characteristics to these elements; fire is the lightest while water is the heaviest. To this mighty god, the world without boundaries was chaotic and restless. By being powerful enough to command and order these rudiments, he laid out systems and set up the foundations of the universe itself. His values became ‘the order’ and his words became ‘the law’. The creator and Jupiter are thus similar, as both at one time, ruled the cosmos and wielded this great power of the king.

However, they should not be confused as the gravity of influence new rulers can bring to the world could have been another analogy that Ovid may have wanted to make through his retelling of the banishment of Saturn, Jupiter’s father. Throughout the text, the kingship of the universe has changed several hands, and each revolution brought significant alterations; order created by the maker, the golden age ruled by Saturn and finally the end of eternal spring that marked the beginning of Jupiter’s reign. We see transformation from chaos to cosmos, then from the age of gold to the age of silver; such progressions, and sometimes declinations, were often initiated by a change in rule. Ovid can be said to have first hand experience of such massive reforms brought in by a change of monarch, as during his lifetime, he saw both the fall of Julius Caesar and the coronation of Octavian to Augustus. Once again, the extent of power a ruler wields is shown in these transformations; their ability to revoke old edicts and rewrite new decrees allows them to bend the world to their will.

Bigotries and Victories
In the text, little is known of the Giants, except that they tried to overthrow the current rulers of Olympus. According to Roman mythology, Saturn had ruled before Jupiter, and the Giants before Saturn. With this knowledge at hand, we can see that the Giants were simply fighting to get back what they think had been rightfully been theirs. However, readers were only presented with one side of the story, which was the God’s view.

This partiality in Ovid’s stories occurs once again during the war between Lycaon and Jupiter. The narrative follows Jupiter closely as he goes on to tell of the wickedness of Lycaon, all from his own experience; while little is told of the incident from Lycaon’s perspective. Throughout Book I, the gods have been shown to be bigoted existences: they see only what they want to see and hear only what they want to hear; maybe that is why, the readers, looking at the story from Jupiter’s viewpoint, only read of the iniquitousness of Lycaon, hear only his evil words and only see the atrocious acts of the Giants; as those would be the only things that Jupiter would have noticed.

Then, when Jupiter finally passed the solemn judgment to destroy the entire human race simply based on his subjective opinion towards one single individual, the unquestioning support he received from his council may strike some as odd because his council seemed to be keen on ignorance and lacking a judgment of its own. However, such phenomenon could have occurred frequently during the Augustan Society that advocated strict hierarchy and rigid class system. As a third person, the readers can observe that the voice of the powerful, symbolized by Jupiter in the story, is so overwhelming to the extent that all those of lesser significance would simply echo his words, as represented by the other gods in Jupiter’s council; or face peril in his wrath, as epitomized by the demise of Lycaon and the Giants.

Ovid also allegorizes the story of Lycaon with the death of Julius Caesar. The House of Lycaon could be an emblem to the ungodly crowd that successfully murdered Julius Caesar, whilst Jupiter could be analogous to Augustus, who gained the support of the people seeking retribution for Caesar’s death. Both in the story of Lycaon and the tragic death of Julius Caesar, the vanquished are named as the sinners, while the victors are hailed as heroes. However, if we look back into history, Julius Caesar’s conspirators had their own justification for seeking his death. The Senate feared that Caesar wanted more power and even desired to be crowned the King of Rome; hence, they murdered Julius Caesar on the grounds to protect Rome’s Republic and for the sake of the people. If they had not failed to Octavian, then history may have looked at them and the tragedy differently.

Similarly, Apollo can also be thought as the final victor in the story between Daphne and him for he got to decide on how the story should be told in myths and legends. Thus, despite losing to the Cupid and failing to win Daphne’s love, Apollo still successfully transformed the tale into an anecdote mostly associated with the origin of the laurel tree, which is ironically his symbol of triumph.

Throughout Ovid’s Metamorphoses, there have been many allegories where morality had been twisted to Gods’ favor and the powerful while unfair punishments were borne by the wronged and the weak. The king, a perfect representation of power and authority, is shown to hold immense dominance over outcome to the extent that can even distort true righteousness and justice. In fact, Ovid has shown us that even history is at the mercy of the prevailing conquerors that hold the quill dipped in timeless ink.

[ 1 ]. Ovid. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Trans. Michael Simpson. Amherst; University of Massachusetts Press, 2001. 9-10. Print.
[ 2 ]. Ovid. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Trans. Michael Simpson. Amherst; University of Massachusetts Press, 2001. 9-12. Print.
[ 3 ]. Heim, Otto. “Transformation and power.” Lecture notes.
CCHU9055 Metamorphoses. The University of Hong Kong. 3 Feb. 2016. 3.
[ 4 ]. Atsma, A.J. “Kronos.” Theoi Greek Mythology. The Theoi Project. n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
[ 5 ]. Fife, Steven. “Augustus' Political, Social, and Moral Reforms.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2012. Ancient History Encyclopedia, Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
[ 6 ]. Wasson, D. L. “The Murder of Julius Caesar.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. /article/803/.…...

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