In the Beginning...
18 March 1997
"Where did man come from? Where did time begin? Who, or what, created
all things?" 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
similarities, 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
waters 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
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,
as 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
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.
New American Standard Bible. Nashville, TN: Broadman 1977.
Ovid. Metamorphoses. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard
Mack. 5th edition. New York: Norton 1987. 549-560.
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