In Ovid's Metamorphosis, Zeus, thoroughly freaked out* by his encounter with Lycaon, returns to Olympus, determined to rid the world of the evil race of men.

A few lines later, Ovid relates that:

"And now his thunder bolts would Jove wide scatter, but he feared the flames, unnumbered, (the) sacred ether might ignite and burn the axle of the universe: and he remembered in the scroll of fate, there is a time appointed when the sea and earth and Heavens shall melt, and fire destroy the universe..."
Source: Perseus

I can't recall a Greek source for this, aside from Plato:

"...a destruction of the things on the earth by fierce fire, which recurs at long intervals."
Source: Timeaus, 22d

But this very specifically references the destruction of earth (γῆς), and does not include heaven, per the oracle Zeus refers to in Ovid ("ignibus aether" and so forth).

I find it interesting that such a prophecy appears only in the Latin canon, in Ovid, who was born a year after Julius Caesar was assassinated, by which I mean to say, during a period when there had been documented contact with the Germanic tribes for well over a century.

Q: Are there any Greek sources for the destruction of the Universe by fire? Is it possible this prophecy derives from Germanic sources?

I say freaked out because Zeus is "anxious" about his future sovereignty over the world, and goes on to suggest that nothing is safe if he himself can be "ensnared" by a psychopath such as Lycaon.

1 Answer 1


The Stoics had a doctrine about 'ekpyrosis' - a recurrent world conflagration. It was well in antiquity, Chrysippus being credited for its original exposition. Details are given in David E. Hahm. The Origins of Stoic Cosmology, Ohio State University Press, 1977. or AA Long, Stoics on world conflagration, Southern journal of philosophy 23 (1985): 13-37 (and a rejoinder in a later issue 28.1 (1990): 149-58).

Actually the ekpyrosis was modelled as the beginning of a 'cosmic summer' in the Great Year: after very long interval all planets gather at the start of Cancer (the next important gathering is at the start of Capricorn and flood occurs).

  • Welcome to Mythology! (Props for bringing up the great year.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 21:57

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