LIT 231
Prof. G. Steinberg


Response Paper:  Aeneid VI and Metamorphoses I

Just as Virgilís Aeneid is a reaction and response to Homerís Iliad and Odyssey, Ovidís Metamorphoses is a reaction and response to Virgilís Aeneid.  Virgil thought that he was correcting Homerís errors by telling the story of a Trojan who escaped the destruction of Troy in order to found Roman culture.  Ovid thinks that heís correcting Virgilís errors by telling stories ďof bodies changed / To different forms . . . from the worldís beginning to our own daysĒ (Book I, lines 1-4).

Choose one of the following areas as the focus of your response paper:

  1. In his descent into the underworld in the Aeneid, what does Aeneas learn from the dead?  What does he talk about with the dead?  What do we learn about Virgilís values based on his portrayal of the afterlife?  What does Virgil seem to think is important about life and how does life relate to death?  Aeneas leaves the underworld with a renewed sense of purpose.  Why?  What did he learn there that has given him new direction?  What does his trip to the underworld reveal about his values and his purpose?  What does it reveal about the values and purpose of Rome, Virgil, and Augustus?  (And keep all of this in mind for when we get to Dante later in the course, who also takes a trip through the underworld and learns from the dead.)
  2. How do the first four lines of the Metamorphoses compare to the first 12 lines of the Aeneid?  What seem to be the main ideas, issues, and themes that Ovid is going to develop (as opposed to those developed by Virgil in the Aeneid)?  What do we learn of Ovidís values and motives from the opening lines of his poem?  Why isnít Ovid as forthcoming as Virgil is in his poemís opening?  What does Ovidís reticence tell us about how his approach to life and the world differs from Virgilís?
  3. How do humans and the gods interact in Book I of the Metamorphoses?  Are the gods like the gods in the Aeneid?  What do the gods seem to value in the Metamorphoses (as opposed to in the Aeneid)?  What motivates them (especially in their transactions with mortals)?  How do mortals respond to the gods and their motives?  How do the godsí decrees affect mortals?  How does Ovid portray the gods initially?  Does his portrayal change in later stories?  Focus in particular on one or two stories, such as those of Lycaon, Deucalion and Pyrrha, or Daphne.
  4. Why would Ovid choose change as the theme for his response to Virgil?  How is focusing on change a fit response to Virgilís way of thinking in the Aeneid?  What kind of world does Ovid create in the Metamorphoses?  Is it like the world in the Aeneid?  Who prospers in Ovidís world?  Who loses?  How do the winners and losers in Ovidís world compare to the winners and losers in Virgil?  Would you want to live in Ovidís world?  Is it a safe place? a wicked place? a fun place? a wonderful place? a stable place? an unstable place?  Would you prefer to live in Virgilís world?

Click here to go to the syllabus.