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The Flood and Creation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Genesis

These are questions that mankind has sought to answer from the beginning of existence as it is known today. Many stories and fables have been told and passed down from generation to generation, yet two have survived the test of time and criticism. The Biblical account in Genesis, probably written by Moses around 1500 B. C. , and the story of creation and flood in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, written somewhere between 8 and 17 A. D. , have weathered the criticism and become the most famous. The Genesis account, however, may be the most prominent of the two accounts.

Within these accounts, are many imilarities, as well as differences, which make these two writings well respected, while holding their own in the literary world. Though both accounts of the creation and flood are well respected on their own, when compared side to side, they are drastically different. Ovid’s purpose for writing the creation story is geared more towards explaining creation as it happens, in his opinion, whereas the Bible stresses the fact that the God of the Hebrews is responsible for the world’s existence today.

Overall, Ovid is very detailed in explaining the formless mass, creation of the earth, waters and land metaphorically. The Biblical account seems to be more plain, simple, and organized; not spending time on intricate detail. There seems to be no specific time frame for creation in Ovid’s writing, whereas, the Bible states that it takes God six days to complete His creation; resting on the seventh. In Metamorphoses, the creation story is seven stanzas, a compilation of eighty lines. It takes Moses thirty- one verses of Old Testament history to complete his story of creation.

There are a few discrepancies in detail as well. The water, in Ovid’s, “[holds] up, [holds] in the land,” while, in Genesis, the land “[separates] the aters from the waters” (549; 1:9). In Metamorphoses the air, land, light and water (as humans know it) seems to form at one instant when “God, or kindlier Nature, [settles] all”(549). In Genesis however, light; heaven; land and vegetation; stars, sun and moon; fish; animals and man are created on separate days. Though these two writings are different in many respects, they are strikingly similar as well.

Both are great and beautiful poems that contiue to stand the test of time. They are also written for the purpose of explaining or answering some question, whether that be who, what, or how time and existence, s it is known today, came to pass. Both poems give credit for creation to a supreme being or supernatural beings. Ovid states that “the gods, who [make] the changes, will help me–or I hope so–with a poem”(548).

Genesis 1:1 states, “In the beginning God [creates] the heavens and the earth. In both accounts, each describe a “shapelessness” and the earth being “formless and void”(549;1:2). There is also “no sun to light the universe,”(Ovid, 549) so “darkness [is] over the surface of the deep”(Genesis 1:2). There is also water, but “water, which no man [can] swim,” in both accounts(Ovid, 549). In Genesis, the “Spirit of God [is] moving over the surface of the water,” before any of creation exists(1:2). Much like the stories of creation in the Bible and Metamorphoses, the accounts of the flood in each are very similar while holding firmly to their differences.

Like the creation story in Metamorphoses, the flood story gives no specific time frame for the length of the flood. However, Genesis gives a detailed time frame for this event. The rains last “forty days and forty nights”(7:12). When the rain stops, “the water [prevails] upon the earth for one hundred and fifty days”(7:24). After ten months, the mountain tops [become] visible(8:5). At the end of one year, one month, and twenty- seven days, Noah, his family, and the various animals exit the ark(8:13-18).

Another very obvious difference is the descriptiveness in Ovid’s story, whereas Moses simply explains that all are breathing creation dies, except for those set aside by God. The biggest difference between these two account comes in explaining existence after the flood. In Metamorphoses, Deucalion and Pyrrha, the two survivors, throw stones over each of his and her shoulder. The stones that Deucalion throw become men, and the ones that Pyrrha toss, turn into women(Ovid 559). In Genesis all of the earth is populated by Noah, his wife, Shem, Ham, Japheth, along with their wives(9:1,7).

In Ovid’s tale, the animals of the earth form, or evolve, from heat and water amongst the mud(559). The creatures of the earth repopulate themselves in Genesis(8:17). Just as these stories have had their differences, they also share features and qualities. The flood, in each story, is sent upon mankind because of immorality and disobedience to God or the gods in which the subjects worship. It is also very strange that the deity, or deities, in control, decide to destroy mankind with flooding. In both accounts, only one family is “chosen” or “spared” to continue existence of the human race.

In Metamorphoses it was Deucalion and Phyrrha. And Noah’s family is chosen by God in Genesis. Both families seem to be in a right standing with God, or the gods, when the flood occurs. It is very interesting to notice that in both accounts, as soon as the families are delivered safely from the flood, each worship and show reverence to God, or the gods, in ultimate control(556; 8:20-22). Also, both accounts of the flood, give some explanation, though very different, for the survival of the human race and animal species.

As one can see, when comparing each of the accounts of the flood and creation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Genesis, there are some very similar actions or events that take place in each of these accounts, while separating themselves a great deal by putting emphasis on very different messages. It is because of these variations in writing and technique that each of these poems have acquired and maintained the respect they truly deserve through many years of evaluation and criticism.

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