Classics Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Lee Fratantuono
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0251


Ovid’s Metamorphoses is an epic poem in fifteen books that offers a panoramic vision of classical mythology from the creation of the world through the apotheosis of Julius Caesar. The hexameter epic was composed in the last years before the poet’s exile in 8 CE; the text that has survived is complete, though now and again it shows evidence of a lack of final revision. Ovid refers to his own work at Tristia 1.1.117–120, where he speaks of the fifteen books of his epic that have been saved from the metaphorical funeral pyre, books that reflect the poet’s own changing fortunes in the wake of his banishment to Tomis. Ovid’s magnum opus is deeply invested in intertextual relationships with the literary achievements of his predecessors, including the tradition of metamorphic myth that was popular in the Hellenistic Age. It is also very much a product of the political and social milieu of Augustan Rome, with attendant reflection and commentary on the nature of the Augustan principate and the place of the poet in the nascent new order. Ovid’s epic of transformation and wondrous metamorphosis has had a profound influence on later art and literature, inspiring works as diverse as the 14th-century Old French Ovide moralisé, the paintings of the Italian Renaissance master Titian, and the first opera of Mozart (Apollo et Hyacinthus, K. 38).

Latin Texts

The text of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is preserved in a tradition of relatively late date and abundant medieval manuscript witnesses. The dearth of ancient evidence and lack of survival of scholia for the epic have contributed to a sometimes challenging textual environment that is replete with doublets, possible interpolations, and occasional significant cruxes. Tarrant 2004 offers the best available text, though it does not completely supplant Anderson 1977. Goold 1977–1984 offers a valuable appraisal of the problems by a master Latinist.

  • Anderson, W. S. 1977. Ovidius Metamorphoses. Leipzig and Stuttgart: Teubner.

    A conservative edition based on the primary witnesses. Second edition 1981.

  • Goold, G. P., ed. 1977–1984. Ovid: Metamorphoses. 2 vols. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Goold’s revision of the Loeb edition of the Metamorphoses offers a serviceable text (without apparatus) and translation, with some bibliographical and ancillary material.

  • Tarrant, R. J. 2004. P. Ovidi Nasonis Metamorphoses. Oxford Classical Texts. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The standard critical edition of the poem, with a full report of the manuscript tradition.

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