The Trojan saga was not the only mythic cycle with which ancient mythology and mythography dealt. The Greek city of Thebes was the cite of a rich variety of myths, some of them dealing with the foundation of the city, others with the ill-starred house of Labdacus (the Oedipus saga), and others with the arrival of the god Dionysus. Other mythic cycles concern the family of Deucalion, Labors of Heracles, the voyage of the Argonauts, to name a few.
These and other cycles had been organized into a chronological continuum before Ovid composed the Metamorphoses, and his arrangement of topics reflects this organization. Like Apollodorus, he begins with theogonic material and then passes to human affairs. But Apollodorus pays a lot of attention to the very early heroic period in Arcadia, Argos and the Peloponnesus - stories that express Greek views about their national origins at the local and the Panhellenic levels, as we have seen - and to the myths of Athens, which in the classical period established itself as the most important center through which earlier Greek culture was transmitted to later times. Ovid does not ignore this material, but he does deal with it in a rather summary fashion. Beginning with the story of the flood in Book 1, Ovid fashions a somewhat miscellaneous sequence of stories. OF the major episodes in Books 1 and 2 (Apollo and Daphne, Io, Phaethon, Callisto, The Raven and the Crow, Ocyrhoe, Battus, Aglauros, and Europa), only three (Io, Callisto, and Europa) follow the pattern that we find in Apollodorus. The others represent Ovid's arbitrary insertion of external material into the established sequence. This represents a kind of violation of an established structural principle, similar to the violation of the poem's book-by-book structure at the end of Book 1, where the stroy of Phaethon, which has really just begun at that point, runs over into Book 2.
What is the effect of these structural violations? We can point to at least 2:
Theban material formally occupies almost all of books 3 and 4. Notably, however, a great deal of material that we know from other sources is omitted by Ovid. Notably, the name of Oedipus does not occur in the Metamorphoses. Nor does the story of the seven against Thebes or other famous Theban stories. In fact, Ovid's Theban saga is framed by the figure of Cadmus, who arrives at the site of Thebes and founds the city at the beginning of Book 3, and who dies near the end of Book 4.
This treatment of Theban material is notably different from the treatment of Arcadian and Argive material in Books 1-2, as is the respect that Ovid now begins to show for boundaries between books. The Theban material begins with the beginning of Book 3 and the arrival of Cadmus in Thebes. The story of Europa concludes with the end of that book. The beginning of Book 4 returns our attention to Cadmus, and the Theban saga, as noted above, eventually concludes with his death later in the book. This is a much more orderly structural approach than what we saw in Books 1 and 2.
It also seems significant that the Theban saga is about the foundation, rise to greatness, and ultimate collapse of a city. As we have seen, mythic discourse often equates the structure, stability, and governance of the cosmos with that of the state. In the Metamorphoses, the emergence of cosmic order out of chaos results very soon in the establishment of an elaborate political structure, the city of Thebes. In a poem that extends from the dim antiquity of Greek myth to recent historical events in the modern Roman state, the story of Thebes' rise and fall would seem to be full of implication for Rome as well.
As was noted above, Ovid's handling of the Theban saga is quite curtailed. He does not even mention the name of Oedipus, who is from our perspective one of the most imposing figures of Greek mythology. We have seen that earlier Greek treatments of the Oedipus story differ from what a modern reader might expect, focussing not on the psychological implications of the incest motif, but rather (as is also true of other myths) on the theme of the generational curse, the problem of human knowledge, and the inevitability of divine retribution. Ovid does not even tell the story; is he then even less interested in the incest motif than his Greek predecessors?
This is obviously not the case, since incest figures prominently in at least two important stories: that of Byblis in Book 9 and that of Myrrha in Book 10. It is intstructive top compare Ovid's handling of these incest stories in comparison to that of Oedipus and to Ovid's telling of the loves of the gods. In both types of comparative story, the transgressor is male (a powerful god forces himself sexually on a less powerful goddess or mortal woman; a son murders his father and marries his mother). In Ovid's incest stories, however, the transgressor is female: Byblis falls in love with her brother Caunus, Myrrha with her father Cinyras. These stories do not easily conform to any universal psychological principle that would tie them to the Oedipus story, nor do they agree with the Ovidian stories that figure female characters is passive in matters of love. On the other hand, it may be important that in the loves of the gods and in the incest stories, Ovid is consistent in representing the female characters as suffering because of someone's lust, even if it is their own.