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Meaning of Death in Metamorphoses

In the contemporary world, death marks the end of life. However, various theological studies, as well as philosophers, tend to provide different meanings of it. According to Ovid, demise is just a transformation that occurs in the life of a human being. Melville further states that nothing in the universe retains its original form, new form emerges from the old one (359).Therefore, from Melville’s perspective, death does not exist. In Metamorphoses, Ovid suggest that dying represents a phase of immortalization rather than loss of life. Ovid attempts to articulate explicitly that there is no death. Hence, this assertion offers an insight into philosopher’s tales of transformation. In the latter, Ovid argues that all living things are in a constant state of evolution meaning that all creations are immortal, but they always changing. BY his book, Metamorphoses, Ovid displays the idea that humans and gods are alike, further connecting the former to immortality via direct relationships with divine beings. This paper will endeavour to elaborate the meaning of death according to Metamorphoses by Ovid.

Ovid considers death a stage that marks transformation of mortal creatures to the immortal form (12). Nothing in the universe is capable of maintaining its original form; living souls acquire new shapes through death. The philosopher argues that all creatures should be assured that there is no end of life. However, only conversion and innovation in the life cycle, thus, changing one form to another through several phases, is called metamorphosis. Ovid further asserts that what people famously call birth is nothing but a mere beginning of metamorphosis while death is just the end of metamorphosis. According to Ovid, creatures may undergo the stages of birth and death, but in the long run they remain the same (359).


In Metamorphoses, the philosopher develops a link between mortal characters and gods by exhibiting direct relationship between all living things and deities. The latter present the features commonly associated with lust in Ovid’s stories, which results in subsequent transformation and immortalization of mortals. While divine beings reveal passionate ardor, humans contrarily tend to display the feeling of hatred or fear. Thus, this emotional polarisation generates almost immediate magnetic attraction between the mortal and immortal as well as drives subsequent immortalization of human character.

For example, in the story of Daphne and Apollo, Daphne’s fear unrestricted lust from Apollo making her request Peneus to obliterate her “baleful beauty” (Ovid 17). In order to demonstrate transformation rather than elimination Ovid has Daphne changed a laurel tree capable of exhibiting “shining loveliness” (18). The philosopher is able to highlight continuity, which is maintained in Daphne in spite of physical changes. Ovid immortalised Daphne by conversion to the laurel tree but retained her beauty that kept gaining attention of Apollo. Ovid eternalized Daphne by linking her emotionally to gods as well as displaying transformation as opposed to destruction. Melville observes that in the form of the laurel tree, Daphne will forever attend a ceremony marking conquering of the lords of Rome.

Another instance of death through transformation is captured in the story of Lo. Lo turned into a god due to the lust of a divine being. Even with these changes Ovid retains the basic aspects of Lo’s character in her new state, “a sleek white heifer” that was still attractive even if it was a cow according to Melville (19). Ovid’s alteration serves to make two issues clear to the reader as a major feature of Lo, her magnetic loveliness. Contrary to the case of Daphne, Lo undergoes secondary transformation by Jove whereby from a sleek white heifer she becomes a “divine” goddess (Ovid 24). Again, the philosopher upholds the main qualities of Lo’s character in the transformation process. Melville states that, “the sleek heifer has disappeared, preserve her white grace” (25). By maintaining fundamental peculiarities of Lo in the entire period of modifications, Ovid subtly implied Lo’s immortality existence. Transformation of the mortal character to immortal one reinforces the primary concept of death just as a phase in the life of all living souls.

According to Ovid, lust is the driving force, which impels metamorphosis of all creatures in his tales. Another emotional medium that the philosopher applies to justify that there is no death is the use of pride. Instead of displaying it as an emotion that triggers lust of gods as in the case of Daphne and Lo, Ovid regards conceitedness as an emotional force within humans. Therefore, this psychological force acts as an emotional catalyst, which results in transformation of mortal beings to the immortal form.

Furthermore, to elaborate the meaning of death, Ovid provides a story of Phaeton (37). Phaeton had a desire of riding a chariot to his father, the Sun that eventually led to his death and near-destruction of the universe. Changes instigated by Phaeton’s pride induced transformation of humans into plants or animals. Ovid argues that Phaeton’s conceit directed him to brag about his paternity while ignoring the sound advice from his father, causing Phaeton’s conversion into a flaming body that descended from the sky. At the same time, his vanity led to transformation of his sisters into ambers, which were used by Roman brides. Finally, Phaeton’s arrogance prompted transformation of his close ally, Cycnus, whom the divine beings turned into a swan that was distrustful of Jove as well as the sky. Clearly, Ovid demonstrates that emotional catalyst of pride as exhibited by characters such as Phaeton generates a much more complex range of transformations of living creatures. According to Melville, apart from gods being mainly the force of mortal metamorphosis, humans are also responsible for the latter. In displaying continuous changes rather than demise only, Ovid enhances his assertion that death does not exist.

Likewise, Ovid offers other cases that justify that dying is just metamorphosis. The story of Echo and Narcissus’ pride and “self-obsession” resulted in the collapse of his attractive body, and Narcissus’ subsequent demise as a person and his transformation to a flower. Again, Ovid exhibits death as mere metamorphosis rather than the end of life, alluding that immortality is a product of continuous changes and dying is one of the stages. Another tale that demonstrates death as metamorphosis in the life cycle is the narrative of Arachne, which advocates the same concept of the transformational force of human pride as the cause of mortality (Ovid 122). Arachne’s vanity is displayed when she arrogantly challenged Pallas and attempted to surpass Athena’s skills that eventually led to demise of Arachne. The gods retain her capability to weave despite turning Arachne’ into a spider. Throughout the transformation period, she maintains her ability, thus showing that the essence of humans is always preserved. Hence, in the entire period of conversion of the mortal characters, the Roman philosopher proves the existence of immortality of all creatures.

Ovid is a passionate believer that there is no death. For instance, at some point in his Metamorphoses he says that his name will never die (Ovid 379). Implying that even if his body faces metamorphosis to another form, his fundamental character, as well as identity, will remain. At the same time, Ovid manages to develop a link between mortals and immortality by discussing various causes of death. Clearly, he indicats that mortal characters meet their end as a consequence of wrongdoings which lead to their transformation into other forms such as heifers, cows, trees or even flowers. In demonstrating continuous conversion of creatures rather than admitting demise, Ovid strengthens his argument that there is no death.

In conclusion, no matter whether death is inspired by human pride or gods’ lust, to Ovid it is just a stage of passage. Transformation of mortal characters through death does not affect fundamental aspects of their characters despite physical changes. Therefore, Ovid views dying as a way for mortal characters to become immortal. The philosopher supports his assertion about absence of death in several narrations that present that demise is a mere metamorphosis that marks transition to another stage. Ovid argues that what people famously call birth is just a beginning of another metamorphosis while death is nothing but the end of metamorphosis. According to Ovid, creatures may encounter both birth and death, but eventually they remain the same still. Moreover, development of the relationship between gods and mortals further links the latter to their mortality. Through his numerous stories, Ovid vividly proves that death does not exist. He concludes his book with the wish of prophesizing his own immortality by claiming that he will be born again. Thus, judging from his strong believes, to Ovid death means the mere Metamorphosis.

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