Vergil and the death of Pentheus in Ovid, Metamorphoses III

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In a pivotal article in 1990, P. Hardie illustrated that the Theban narrative of Ovid Metamorphoses 3 and 4 was the first anti-Aeneid. He did not include discussion of the death of Pentheus at the end of Book 3. In this article I show that the depiction of the Theban king’s death is bound up with key Vergilian intertexts which have a profound impact both on reading the pathos of the scene, but more importantly, on Ovid’s reconstruction of the end of the Aeneid and the death of Turnus. A seemingly clichéd simile comparing Pentheus’ sparagmos with the falling of leaves from a tree evokes the famous passage from the underworld in Aeneid 6 in which the souls of those who died prematurely are described. More importantly, in relation to Ovid’s narrative of the Theban ktisis, careful allusions to the final lines of the Aeneid in Pentheus’ death-scene act as a critical commentary on the Aeneid and the actions of Aeneas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-161
Number of pages17
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Turnus
  • similes
  • Vergilian intertextuality


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