From Metamorphoses, one of the most influential works in Western Culture, the above quotation reminds us that we cannot escape the ravages of time.
It chews through everything we are and all that we possess. The phrase heralds impermanence and is reminiscent of the Zen Buddhist notion that all of existence, without exception, is transient and in a constant state of flux. All will be dissipated under the corroding effects of time.
Our culture too is a devouring one, focused on consumerism, on an insatiable hunger for possessions. Time devours our most precious relationships and possessions and we, in the rush to outwit time, devour the very earth to shore up our synthesised world.
This shows the absurdity at the heart of our culture, which encourages us to believe that our children matter and that we have an obligation to protect them, but which at the same time urges us to compete with one another and conspicuously consume.
We know that our possessions will be dispersed as soon as we die, but this does not stop us from hoarding whatever we can for as long as can and justifying our compulsion as inheritance.
Ovid said that nothing would survive the teeth of time except his poem – not even the Roman Empire. Perhaps his foresight is what gives these words their power.