Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Apollo and Daphne
Credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Ovid’s mythical stories and characters in The Metamorphoses have been the source of inspiration for generations of visual artists in both painting and sculpture, through the ages. Since the Middle Ages, each generation of artists has re-interpreted the myths, seeing them through the lens of a particular era, art style, and commentary. Renaissance sculptors, the Baroque painters who decorated the walls and ceilings of Versailles, the Pre-Raphaelites at the end of the 19th century—all found inspiration in these tales written centuries before.
In this lesson, students will survey works of art based on myths from The Metamorphoses. The artworks are derived from many different eras and schools. Students will then compare them with the passages detailing Ovid’s original tales to understand the artists’ frames of reference and choices.
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 3 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7.
Various readings in The Metamorphoses
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 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
Depending on how one approaches this lesson and the size of the class, students will read various books of The Metamorphoses. See the list of the myths and the lines they can be found within Ovid’s books alongside the corresponding works of art. You may want to integrate them into a slide show format.
Slide show: Before the lesson, create a PowerPoint slide show of works that are based on stories from Ovid. Depending on which books in The Metamorphoses you plan to cover and the size of your class, put together some or all of the following images as a slide show. [Note: If the links below go out of date, the images can be found by a Google search using the name of the artwork and the artist.]
Student computer access to the slides or a color print of each artwork you plan to use will be necessary for the group work.
[Caution: many of these artwork contain images of figures in the nude. If you think it necessary, discuss with students the prevalence of nudes in Renaissance and later artwork and let them know your expectations for proper behavior.]
Myth: Apollo (Phoebus) and Daphne (lines 438–567)
Bk I:438–472 Phoebus kills the Python and sees Daphne. 9
Bk I: 473–503 Phoebus pursues Daphne. 10
Bk I:504–524 Phoebus begs Daphne to yield to him.. 10
Bk I:525–552 Daphne becomes the laurel bough. 11
Bk I:553–567 Phoebus honours Daphne. 11
Myth: Jupiter and Io (lines 587–667)
Bk I:587–600 Jupiter’s rape of Io. 12
Bk I:601–621 Jupiter transforms Io to a heifer 12
Bk I:622–641 Juno claims Io and Argus guards her 12
Bk I:642–667 Inachus finds Io and grieves for her 13
Bk I:668–688 Jupiter sends Mercury to kill Argus. 14
Myth: Narcissus and Echo (lines 402–510)
Myth: Cadmus and the Dragon (lines 1–137)
Artwork: Thisbe by John William Waterhouse
Myth: Pyramus and Thisbe (lines 55–166)
Myth: The Rape of Persephone (lines 385–57)
Bk V: 385–424 Calliope sings: Dis and the rape of Proserpine. 8
Bk V: 425–486 Calliope sings: Ceres searches for Proserpine. 9
Bk V: 487–532 Calliope sings: Ceres asks Jupiter’s help. 10
Bk V: 533–571 Calliope sings: Persephone’s fate. 11
Myth: The Story of Arachne (lines 1–145)
BkVI:1–25 Arachne rejects Minerva. 1
Bk VI:26–-69 Pallas Minerva challenges Arachne. 2
Bk VI:70–102 Pallas weaves her web. 2
Bk VI:103–128 Arachne weaves hers in reply. 3
Bk VI:129–145 Arachne is turned into a spider 3
Artwork: Jason and Medea by Gustave Moreau
Myth: Jason and Medea (lines 1–452)
Bk VII:1–73 Medea agonises over her love for Jason. 1
Bk VII:74–99 Jason promises to marry Medea2
Bk VII:100–158 Jason wins the Golden Fleece3
Bk VII:159–178 Jason asks Medea to lengthen Aeson’s life4
Bk VII:179–233 Medea summons the powers and gathers herbs4
Bk VII:234–293 Medea rejuvenates Aeson. 5
Bk VII:294–349 Medea’s destruction of Pelias6
Bk VII:350–403 Medea flees and reaches Athens7
Bk VII:404–424 Medea attempts Theseus’s life, then vanishes7
Bk VII:425–452 The praise for Theseus8
Myth: Daedalus and Icarus (lines 183–235)
Myth: Theseus and the Minotaur (lines 152–182)
Myth: Hercules and Achelous (lines 1–88)
Myth: The Fall of Troy (lines 399–428)
Explain to students that many of Ovid’s stories in The Metamorphoses have been read and cherished for millennia. Artists from many different eras have chosen scenes from these stories to illustrate.
Show your slideshow, allowing time for students to discuss what might be happening in each of the paintings and sculptures.
Divide the class into groups of three or four and assign each group a painting or sculpture. Distribute Worksheet 5 and ask each group to use it to analyze the artwork.
When the groups have finished, give them time to present their reports to the class. They should include:
To conclude, ask students whether they think artists today would have any interest in using these stories as inspiration for their work. Why or why not?
Have students write a paragraph on the following prompt:
Ovid’s work had an enormous appeal to artists for several centuries. Did the artists adhere closely to the stories or is their work more individualistic? Use evidence from at least two works of art as well as Ovid’s text to support your argument.
1-2 class periods