For being such a minor story, I thought that the fight between Achilles and Cycnus was a really interesting inclusion. Achilles is probably most famous for being completely invulnerable, except for his heel, since his mom held him by his heel when she dipped him in the river Styx as a baby. The Met doesn’t mention this at all. In fact, the Achilles versus Cycnus fight is almost like a role reversal, where Cycnus is the invulnerable one. Also, why does Cycnus get to be invulnerable? None of the other half-gods can do that. I guess that might be a Neptune specific power.

This is also the third guy named Cycnus to be transformed into a swan so far in the Met. So far, I’ve been reading a lot of the transformation myths to double as origin stories for different species. I thought that was why all the bird people get turned into different kinds of birds, to explain why so many different species exist. The three Cycnuses kind of throw a wrench in that idea, though. Why does Ovid write about three Cycnuses, who all have the same fate?

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(Pictured: Achilles vs. Cycnus)

The other story that stood out to me was Caeneus and Neptune, especially the part where, after he rapes them, Neptune offers Caeneus a wish. “Make your wish, without fear of refusal. Ask for what you most want!” What is this? Who does this? I’m not sure how to read it. Is the wish some sort of reparation for being raped? Or does Neptune see it more as a gift to someone he thinks is hot? Given that Caeneus basically wishes to never have to worry about being raped again, Neptune has to know that he did a bad thing, right? This plays into a bigger pattern, where Ovid can’t seem to decide how he feels about rape and rapists. On one hand, whenever he describes a rape, he doesn’t pull any punches. He does his best to make rape seem shocking and brutal. On the other hand, he usually describes the rapist as being motivated by love. There’s this weird pattern of portraying rape as violent and terrible, but also kind of letting rapists off the hook sometimes, or at least making them seem not as bad as they are with sympathetic motivations. He keeps giving rapists the benefit of the doubt when they really don’t deserve it. I think that’s why it was so weird for me to see Neptune hear Caeneus out and grant their wish. Ovid keeps showing rapists as being full of love towards their victims, which just doesn’t make any sense at all.

2 thoughts on “Down with the Cycnus

  1. Portraying rapists in this light as motivated by “love” is continuously used in media, for example just look at Netflix’s recent show “You” or the movie “Secret Obsession”. “You” gets one rooting for Joe, the main character, who is in love and tries to help his love interest, but the audience sees his actions as a stalker. However the way the show is written, even if one understands that all of his actions are bad, you start to root for this creepy main character.


  2. Something that is sticking with me from this post is the line ““Make your wish, without fear of refusal. Ask for what you most want!” What is this? Who does this? I’m not sure how to read it. Is the wish some sort of reparation for being raped?” I thought about this a little in the context of men being unable to apologize (this is a generalization, but I’ve found it true). I remember being shocked when my current boyfriend genuinely apologized for hurting my feelings at the beginning of our relationship. Is the bar really so low?
    This is a personal anecdote to mostly say that perhaps the offering of a wish granted is a way of apologizing for mistreatment? Obviously it’s not really enough to pay reparations for a rape or assault, but maybe?


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