The first clause of the Metamorphoses goes,

In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora;

My mind inclines me to speak of bodies changed into new forms.

As an English speaker, this seems backward. Why isn't "corpora" used as the object of "dicere", and "formas" as the object of "in"? This is the more logical choice for an English speaker learning Latin. Would the Romans have shared my confusion? Or do I misunderstand the primary sense and connotations of these words?

  • 2
    @sumelic No, I think that "corpora" means "forms", here, since it agrees in gender and number with "nova".
    – ktm5124
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 21:27
  • That seems to be correct. Found a book that just says "they're synonyms." books.google.com/…
    – Asteroides
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 21:43

1 Answer 1


You're parsing the line correctly -- a more literal translation would be "...to speak of forms changed into new bodies". Doesn't it come to the same thing? Io's form was changed into the new body of a cow, or her body was changed into the new form of a cow. Maybe the latter sounds a bit more natural, but I wouldn't say the former is backward. And of course with Ovid you can never rule out the possibility that he's being playful -- beginning a poem about change, maybe he decided to change his wording around from the more expected form into a new body...

  • Good point. It does come to the same thing.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 1:02
  • Could Ovid be playing with or referring to Aristotelian philosophy, sc. form and matter?
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 2:11

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