Tears and the leaky vessel: Permeable and fluid bodies in Ovid and Lucretius

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, many characters dissolve into fluid bodies. The shedding of tears often anticipates and instigates this form of transformation. On the one hand, tears indicate the porous or permeable nature of the human body and the capacity for the boundaries of the body to be transgressed. Tears, like sweat and other bodily fluids, pass from the interior to the exterior of the body; this presupposes an opposition between inner and outer and the dualist concept that the body may be considered a container of the mind or soul. On the other hand, the shedding of tears in the Metamorphoses is depicted as a reduction of the physical substance of the body as a whole, especially when weeping leads to liquefaction. This suggests a different identity model where there is no opposition between inner and outer, and the mind and the body together constitute an undifferentiated psychosomatic whole. The first may be seen as the Homeric model, while the second is the concept of mind-body dualism developed by Lucretius, especially in book 3 of De rerum natura. This chapter will argue that Ovid combines these two theories of identity in order to depict a concept of the body which is itself in flux, while also emphasising the fluid boundaries between myth and natural philosophy. This chapter will use the stories of Leucothoe from book 4 and Cyane from book 5 of the Metamorphoses as case studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBodily Fluids in Antiquity
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780429798603
ISBN (Print)9781138343726
StatePublished - Apr 27 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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