Roman Mythology

Ovid and the Metamorphoses

Why do we speak of Greco-Roman mythology?

Because of Ovid’s work and his sometimes free use of his sources, we commonly speak of “Greco-Roman” mythology. When we consider the myth of Zeus and Europa told earlier, are we really considering a Greek or Minoan myth or is it a Greco-Roman myth because the version we learn in school is usually the one told by Ovid? Is the story of Narcissus a Greek myth or has it become in Ovid’s hands—now the story of Narcissus and Echo—a Greco-Roman one? The same question could be asked of most of the myths in the Metamorphoses, many of which we have already discussed, including, for example, the myth of the Rape of Europa in Book One and versions of the Perseus and Medusa myth and the story of Hades’s abduction of Proserpina (Persephone) in Books Four and Five, and the equally familiar stories in Books Seven and Eight of Jason and Medea, Minos, Theseus and the Minotaur, and Daedalus and Icarus. Other myths we know primarily from Ovid are the Hercules (Herakles) myths in Book Nine, and the Orpheus and Eurydice, Hyacinth and Apollo, and Ganymede and Jupiter myths in Book Ten. Books Eleven and Twelve tell of the death of Orpheus, of King Midas with his golden touch, and the Trojan War.

Ovid tells other familiar myths such as those of the great flood; Tiresias; Narcissus and Echo; Tereus, Procne, and Philomela; Pygmalion, Myrrha, Venus and Adonis; Midas; and Orpheus.


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