The Wax and the River Metaphors in Ovid's Speech of Pythagoras and Plato's Theaetetus

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In the Speech of Pythagoras from Metamorphoses 15, Ovid uses a metaphor of how wax can be stamped with new images to illustrate how the anima can remain substantially the same while altering in shape when undergoing transmigration. Shortly after he describes how all things are in a state of flux, and compares the flow of time to the movement of a river. In Plato's Theaetetus, Socrates, in an extended analogy, tells us to imagine that the ψυχ« contains a block of wax, upon which are imprinted our memories, while the dialogue also contains a lengthy criticism of the Heraclitean doctrine of flux. This article will argue that Ovid adapts the wax-metaphor from the Theaetetus and that the dialogue also provides the context for Ovid's allusion to the Heraclitean principle that πντα¥ ϵ. It will analyse how the wax and river metaphors were transformed in the epistemological theories of the Stoics and the Epicureans in order to demonstrate how Ovid reformulates this series of philosophical discussions for poetic purposes. The final part of this article will discuss how the wax and river metaphors can be read in term of the wider intertextual agenda of the Speech of Pythagoras.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Metamorphoses
  • Ovid
  • Plato
  • Theaetetus
  • wax-metaphor


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