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Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses


Next, Jove tried a tribe he named the Bronze People,

always ready for a fight if you got on their wick,

and yet you couldn’t call them really wicked –

simply bad-tempered and thick as a brick.



Last came the Iron Age. Hard times.

The world boiled over with evil crimes.

Out went kindness, truth and reason –

in came trickery, lies and treason.

Greed for money, greed for power –

the Iron Ag was a poisonous flower.

(Did I say was? Is it safe to say

that the Iron Age has passed away?)


Rich men launch huge-sailed ships on the waves

before they know how the ocean behaves.

Graceful trees are hacked down and set afloat

in the shape of a clumsy, leaky boat

upon the unknown, dangerous sea.

The Earth, which belongs to everybody,

just like the sunlight or the air,

is measured out by a surveyor

and chopped up with walls and boundary lines,

fences, armed guards and Keep Out signs.


The greed of the Iron men never stops.

They strip the Earth bare of all her crops.

They dig and they tunnel down through Earth’s shell

to discover the wealth in the shadows of Hell

and drag it up into the light –

wealth Jove had hidden far from men’s sight,

wealth that transforms a gentle man of prayer

into a homicidal slayer.


Now lethal iron bends to Man’s will

and silver and gold, which are deadlier still.

Now War comes – crushing anyone who resists –

shaking iron and gold in his bloody fists.

War leaves no innocents alive –

only the cruel and cunning survive.


No guest is safe from his charming host

nor a friend from the friend who loves him most.

See the beloved sister and brother

spit and turn their backs on each other.

That husband’s plotting to strangle his wife

while she poisons his soup to end his life.

Goodness is sick and likely to die –

so what are the gods doing up in the sky?


From Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid's Metamorphosis. Retold by Adrian Mitchell and illustrated by Alan Lee. Copyright © Frances Lincoln Ltd 2009. This material may be used, reproduced, communicated and adapted free of charge for non-commercial educational purposes until 31 August 2018.