Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 1: “The Metamorphoses” and Genesis: A Comparison of Creation-Flood Stories

Created November 7, 2014


The Lesson


Metamorpheses unit image Apollo and Daphne

Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Apollo and Daphne

Credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876

A comparison can cast light on the contrasting values of two civilizations or, conversely, point out that despite differences in the details, we humans all share certain universal constructs and personality traits.

In this lesson, students compare the stories of creation as told by Ovid in Book I of The Metamorphoses with the Biblical narrative of creation as told in Genesis: 1–2. They identify the significance of those elements and the emphasis placed on them.

“The Bible is the cultural heritage of the nation we live in, and also the heritage of the creation of literature in English,” states Robert Polhemus, Stanford University's English department. Many 21st-century students lack even basic layman’s Biblical literacy which can handicap them in discussing recurrent themes in Western cultural discourse. In order to fully engage students in Lesson 1, you may need to offer them background and context for the creation-flood stories in Genesis. (See Preparation and Resources)

The lesson’s initial comparison of creation narratives will be reinforced through a further comparison of the Biblical story of destruction by flood with Ovid’s story of destruction by flood.

This lesson is one part of a three lesson unit on The Metamorphoses. The three lessons may be taught in sequence, or each lesson can stand on its own. Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, College and Career Readiness standards and Background. Lesson 1 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2

Learning Objectives

Compare creation and destruction narratives found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I, and in the biblical accounts in Genesis.

Preparation and Resources


The following sections from Book I of The Metamorphoses:

Lines 1–88 (The Creation)

Bk I: 1–20 The Primal Chaos. 1
Bk I: 21–31 Separation of the elements. 2
Bk I: 32–51 The earth and sea. The five zones. 2
Bk I: 52–68 The four winds. 2
Bk I: 68–88 Humankind. 3

Lines 244–415 (The Flood)

Bk I:244–273 Jupiter invokes the floodwaters. 6
Bk I:274–292 The Flood. 6
Bk I:293–312 The world is drowned. 7
Bk I:313–347 Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. 7
Bk I:348–380 They ask Themis for help. 8
Bk I:381–415 The human race is recreated. 8

An easy-to-use (but out of print) translation by A. S. Kline, available online from the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center, is the version that is referenced in this unit. If you wish to use other translations of The Metamorphoses, many are available. Allen Mandelbaum’s version is particularly graceful. If you print the selections from Kline, you may wish to copy them into a word processing program to enlarge the type for your students.

A version of Genesis: 1–11

There are many versions of the Bible online that offer access to the Book of Genesis, from the King James Bible online at Barleby.com to the Torah in English. If your students wish to use their own copies of the Bible or Torah, allow it; this will give you a variety of translations to compare, and students can practice locating information using chapter and verse rather than page numbers.

Biblical passages

There is a common misconception that teachers in public schools are not allowed to mention religion in the classroom; however, most teachers of literature and history know that their students need to grasp at least the basic tenets of many world religions or sacred texts to make sense of the more modern texts grounded in them.

The Common Core State Standards reference the Bible in at least four standards for grades 8–12. You may wish to familiarize yourself with basic principles of teaching about religion, especially if you are in a public school. For a simple but very useful booklet on the subject from the Madison Center, download “A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools.” For a more thorough discussion, see the Center’s free pdf version of Charles C. Haynes and Oliver Thomas, Finding Common Ground.

If this is a first encounter with Biblical textual passages in English class, you will find that students often bring a whole set of preconceptions either from religious training, or because they do not have religious training. For the purpose of arriving at the comparison in Lesson 1, you may need to provide a basic overview of the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis: 1–11.

Refer to “Preparation for Introducing Genesis”

For assessment:

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Metamorphoses and Genesis: A Comparison of Creation-Flood Stories

Introduce students to Ovid using the information given in the Background section of this unit.

Point out that The Metamorphoses is divided into books and lines, rather than chapters and paragraphs.

Distribute Worksheet 1 and tell students to read The Metamorphoses, Bk I: 1–88,which depicts Ovid’s version of creation.

Bk I:1–20 The Primal Chaos
Bk I:21–31 Separation of the elements
Bk I:32–51 The earth and sea. The five zones
Bk I: 52–68 The four winds
Bk I: 68–88 Humankind

Have them work individually or in pairs to answer the questions on Worksheet 1. Discuss the answers with the full class when they have had time to complete their worksheets. (See Worksheet 1. Teacher version)

Review with students the concept of a Venn diagram (two or more overlapping circles that together contain all the elements of a set). Explain that students will use a Venn diagram to compare the creation story in The Metamorphoses with the one they will now read in Genesis.

Distribute Worksheet 2.Then ask students to read Genesis, chapters 1 and 2. After they have read the passage, ask them to work with a partner to populate the Venn diagram on the worksheet identifying the ways that creation stories found in The Metamorphoses and Genesis have similarities as well as differences. (See Worksheet 2. Teacher version)

When students are finished, have them compare their diagrams and discuss their findings.

Ask students: What is the effect of the differences between the two texts? What is each author trying to emphasize?  Be sure that they cite evidence from the texts for their contentions.  

Suggested answers:

  • Genesis most pronouncedly includes the emphasis on the creator Himself in Genesis vs. Ovid’s emphasis on the creation in Metamorphoses. Ovid goes so far as to blur the issue of the creator, attributing the work ambivalently to "God, or kindlier Nature" or "Whatever god it was." 
  • Ovid's account on this score is more "scientific" and worldlier than Genesis and apt to sound more familiar to us.
  • There is a greater emphasis on man’s status in Genesis, different time frames, etc.


Have students read the following passages:

The Metamorphoses, Bk I: 244–415

Bk I:244–273 Jupiter invokes the floodwaters. 6
Bk I:274–292 The Flood. 6
Bk I:293–312 The world is drowned. 7
Bk I:313–347 Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. 7
Bk I:348–380 They ask Themis for help. 8
Bk I:381–415 The human race is recreated. 8 

Genesis flood narrative chapters 6–9

Then have students show the similarities and differences in the patterns of destruction by flood stories within the two texts, Ovid’s The Metamorphoses and Genesis. (A Venn diagram has been provided in Worksheet 3.) Have them write a paragraph in which they explain what each author is trying to emphasize and cite evidence from the texts to support their ideas.

(Worksheet 3. Teacher version is available.)

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Ancient World
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > AP Literature
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Fables, Fairy tales and Folklore
  • Literature and Language Arts
  • Auditory analysis
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Discussion
  • Fairy tale analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Literary analysis
  • Online research
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Summarizing
  • Textual analysis
  • Visual analysis
  • Visual art analysis
  • Writing skills
  • Eileen Mattingly, Director of Education for Journeys in Film, former chair of the Humanities Department at Indian Creek Upper School (Annapolis, MD)

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