Metamorphoses

By Ovid

60,064 ratings - 4.07* vote

Prized through the ages for its splendor and its savage, sophisticated wit, The Metamorphoses is a masterpiece of Western culture--the first attempt to link all the Greek myths, before and after Homer, in a cohesive whole, to the Roman myths of Ovid's day. Horace Gregory, in this modern translation, turns his poetic gifts toward a deft reconstruction of Ovid's ancient them Prized through the ages for its splendor and its savage, sophisticated wit, The Metamorphoses is a masterpiece

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Book details

Paperback, 723 pages
August 3rd 2004 by Penguin

(first published 8)

Original Title
Metamorphoseon libri XV
ISBN
014044789X (ISBN13: 9780140447897)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Rachel Smalter Hall

I bought this copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses when I was living in Rome. It's the book I was reading on the plane when I left Rome, as the realization sunk in that an awesome and strange adventure was drawing to a close, and it's the book I was still reading when I moved back to Minneapolis and attempted to readjust to life as a Midwestern college undergrad.

I was reading Metamorphoses at the cafe a few blocks away from my apartment when a strange man gave me that little terror of a kitten, Monster. And Monster used to bite my toes when I was reading Metamorphoses in bed.

I was in love, so much in love, when I read Metamorphoses, with someone I would surely never meet again. And I was so lonely. And Metamorphoses was just beautiful, all the forlorn humans going up against the gods, only to be transformed into plants, animals, birds~

To read the great Roman poet while living in Rome, and to continue reading him while you are in mourning for the city once it's gone ~ was outrageous. In the best way. Grand. Epic. Eternal.

Vit Babenco

Book the First: “Of bodies chang’d to various forms, I sing” The world is a constant changes… Everything moves and one thing always changes into the other.
The earth was created by the god unknown as a sphere hanging in space… And life there was an idyll: no crimes, no enmity no wars… “From veins of vallies, milk and nectar broke; And honey sweating through the pores of oak.”
But then the human history started and the deterioration began… “Truth, modesty, and shame, the world forsook: Fraud, avarice, and force, their places took.”
Sins multiply and on observing the cases of cannibalism, Jove decides to destroy the sinful seed with the global deluge and to plant new generation of human beings sowing stones and turning them into males and females… “What the man threw, assum’d a manly face; And what the wife, renew’d the female race.” And then the multiple, fantastic and fabulous metamorphoses of deities commenced…
Changes, alterations, transformations…

Book the Second: Now it’s time for incompetent Phaeton to take his disastrous trip through the sky… “Th’ astonisht youth, where-e’er his eyes cou’d turn, Beheld the universe around him burn…” And the corresponding place in the Bible: “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven…” Genesis 19:24. Both events are probably the references to the Minoan eruption of Thera, which was a major catastrophic volcanic eruption in recorded history.
Arrogant deities keep intriguing, fornicating and stealing shamelessly… They are ready to use any means… “Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye In foul distorted glances turn’d awry; A hoard of gall her inward parts possess’d, And spread a greenness o’er her canker’d breast; Her teeth were brown with rust, and from her tongue, In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.” This description of Envy is flowery and magnificent.
Deception and revenge are the way of Gods…

Book the Third: No one, except the major deities, is safe from a pernicious metamorphosis and fatal perishment. Transformations are miraculous and unpredictable: Actaeon into a stag; Tiresias into a woman; Narcissus into a flower; Echo into an incorporeal voice and mariners into dolphins…
The archetype of dragon seems to have been known since the most ancient times… And the sowing of the dragon’s teeth have afterwards become the attribute of many fairytales: “He sows the teeth at Pallas’s command, And flings the future people from his hand.”
The story of Tiresias as an arbiter of male and female sexual pleasures is the most picturesque: “‘The sense of pleasure in the male is far More dull and dead, than what you females share.’ Juno the truth of what was said deny’d; Tiresias therefore must the cause decide, For he the pleasure of each sex had try’d.”
Much earlier Tiresias appears in Homer’s Odyssey as a prophetic ghost in the land of the dead.
In the last century Tiresias was mentioned in the progressive rock song The Cinema Show by Genesis: “Once a man, like the sea I raged, Once a woman, like the earth I gave.”
The tale of Narcissus is an allegory of egocentrism and the story of Pentheus is a fable of the foolish obduracy.

Book the Fourth: An intrigue of The Story of Pyramus and Thisbe, especially in the end, reminds of that in Romeo and Juliet: “Then in his breast his shining sword he drown’d, And fell supine, extended on the ground. As out again the blade lie dying drew, Out spun the blood, and streaming upwards flew.” Now it is clear where the inspiration came from.
“As when the stock and grafted twig combin’d Shoot up the same, and wear a common rind: Both bodies in a single body mix, A single body with a double sex.” The image of Hermaphroditus was integrated both in poetry and in modern pop culture. “Where between sleep and life some brief space is, With love like gold bound round about the head, Sex to sweet sex with lips and limbs is wed, Turning the fruitful feud of hers and his To the waste wedlock of a sterile kiss…” Algernon Charles SwinburneHermaphroditus
“From a dense forest of tall dark pinewood, Mount Ida rises like an island. Within a hidden cave, nymphs had kept a child; Hermaphroditus, son of gods, so afraid of their love.” GenesisThe Fountain of Salmacis
The gods have a rich imagination and a wry sense of humour so the miraculous changes they work on the others are unpredictable.

Book the Fifth: The description of the massacre at the feast is a pure satire… Who can be a match for Perseus possessing such a mighty weapon of mass destruction as Medusa’s head?
“Weak was th’ usurper, as his cause was wrong; Where Gorgon’s head appears, what arms are strong? When Perseus to his host the monster held, They soon were statues, and their king expell’d.”
Lewd Pyreneus decided to keep all the Muses in his private harem but they turned into birds and flew away while the unlucky libertine lacking creative imagination just fell from a tower: “Then, in a flying posture wildly plac’d, And daring from that height himself to cast, The wretch fell headlong, and the ground bestrew’d With broken bones, and stains of guilty blood.”
And the tale of Ceres and Proserpine is one of the archetypal myths explaining the existence of seasons: “Jove some amends for Ceres lost to make, Yet willing Pluto shou’d the joy partake, Gives ’em of Proserpine an equal share, Who, claim’d by both, with both divides the year. The Goddess now in either empire sways, Six moons in Hell, and six with Ceres stays.”

Book the Sixth: In the tales of Arachne and Niobe Ovid just ridicules the vainglory and smugness of gods and their unmotivated cruelty too: “Next she design’d Asteria’s fabled rape, When Jove assum’d a soaring eagle’s shape: And shew’d how Leda lay supinely press’d, Whilst the soft snowy swan sate hov’ring o’er her breast, How in a satyr’s form the God beguil’d, When fair Antiope with twins he fill’d. Then, like Amphytrion, but a real Jove, In fair Alcmena’s arms he cool’d his love.” Arachne’s tapestry is a set of sheer evidences against gods’ lechery and she has obviously won but Goddess in fury destroyed the masterpiece and turned Arachne into a spider: “This the bright Goddess passionately mov’d, With envy saw, yet inwardly approv’d. The scene of heav’nly guilt with haste she tore, Nor longer the affront with patience bore; A boxen shuttle in her hand she took, And more than once Arachne’s forehead struck.”
And so it is with a coldblooded murder of Niobe’s children.
The tale of Tereus, Procne and Philomela is something like a horror mystery told in the goriest hues: “But soon her tongue the girding pinchers strain, With anguish, soon she feels the piercing pain: Oh father! father! would fain have spoke, But the sharp torture her intention broke; In vain she tries, for now the blade has cut Her tongue sheer off, close to the trembling root.”
This book is a very sanguinary one.

Book the Seventh: Medea knows her witchcraft: “In a large cauldron now the med’cine boils, Compounded of her late-collected spoils, Blending into the mesh the various pow’rs Of wonder-working juices, roots, and flow’rs; With gems i’ th’ eastern ocean’s cell refin’d, And such as ebbing tides had left behind; To them the midnight’s pearly dew she flings, A scretch-owl’s carcase, and ill boding wings; Nor could the wizard wolf’s warm entrails scape (That wolf who counterfeits a human shape).”
“Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing, For a charm of pow’rful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.” William ShakespeareMacbeth
The methods of witches and their cooking recipes hardly changed since Ovid’s time.
This book seems to be less impressive than the previous ones.

Book the Eighth: The greater part of the book is the tales of traitorous Scylla and hunting for the ferocious boar.
The most famous legends of Minotaur: “These private walls the Minotaur include, Who twice was glutted with Athenian blood: But the third tribute more successful prov’d, Slew the foul monster, and the plague remov’d. When Theseus, aided by the virgin’s art, Had trac’d the guiding thread thro’ ev’ry part, He took the gentle maid, that set him free, And, bound for Dias, cut the briny sea. There, quickly cloy’d, ungrateful, and unkind, Left his fair consort in the isle behind…” and Icarus: “When now the boy, whose childish thoughts aspire To loftier aims, and make him ramble high’r, Grown wild, and wanton, more embolden’d flies Far from his guide, and soars among the skies. The soft’ning wax, that felt a nearer sun, Dissolv’d apace, and soon began to run. The youth in vain his melting pinions shakes, His feathers gone, no longer air he takes: Oh! Father, father, as he strove to cry, Down to the sea he tumbled from on high, And found his Fate; yet still subsists by fame, Among those waters that retain his name.” are told just en passant…
And the beautiful story of Philemon and Baucis is most warmhearted and even romantic.

Book the Ninth: Vicissitudes of love keep ruling over both gods and mortals…
I liked how an origin of cornucopia was described: “Nor yet his fury cool’d; ’twixt rage and scorn, From my maim’d front he tore the stubborn horn: This, heap’d with flow’rs, and fruits, the Naiads bear, Sacred to plenty, and the bounteous year.”
And the process of turning of Heracles into a constellation was beautiful: “So when Alcides mortal mold resign’d, His better part enlarg’d, and grew refin’d; August his visage shone; almighty Jove In his swift carr his honour’d offspring drove; High o’er the hollow clouds the coursers fly, And lodge the hero in the starry sky.”
I especially enjoyed the tale of Iphis and Ianthe. Even Egyptian goddess Isis had her finger in the pie – she assisted two girls in love with each other transforming one of them into a youth making thus their love legal: “Not much in fear, nor fully satisfy’d; But Iphis follow’d with a larger stride: The whiteness of her skin forsook her face; Her looks embolden’d with an awful grace; Her features, and her strength together grew, And her long hair to curling locks withdrew. Her sparkling eyes with manly vigour shone, Big was her voice, audacious was her tone. The latent parts, at length reveal’d, began To shoot, and spread, and burnish into man. The maid becomes a youth; no more delay Your vows, but look, and confidently pay.”
All we need is love…

Book the Tenth: Story of Orpheus and Eurydice seems to be most popular in the world of poetry, arts, literature and even music. And “Never look back” is also an archetypal motif in myths, the Bible (Lot’s wife) and many fairytales all over the world: “They well-nigh now had pass’d the bounds of night, And just approach’d the margin of the light, When he, mistrusting lest her steps might stray, And gladsome of the glympse of dawning day, His longing eyes, impatient, backward cast To catch a lover’s look, but look’d his last; For, instant dying, she again descends, While he to empty air his arms extends.”
Pygmalion carved his statue in ivory: “Yet fearing idleness, the nurse of ill, In sculpture exercis’d his happy skill; And carv’d in iv’ry such a maid, so fair, As Nature could not with his art compare…” so it couldn’t be bigger than a figurine or a statuette but the story goes as if it were lifesize.
And the clinical case of Myrrha’s incestual lust is told in a weird psychoanalytical style of Sigmund Freud.
And anemone is an extremely anemic flower: “Still here the Fate of lovely forms we see, So sudden fades the sweet Anemonie. The feeble stems, to stormy blasts a prey, Their sickly beauties droop, and pine away.”

Book the Eleventh: Orpheus has met the bitter end – he was ripped to shreds by drunken Maenads: “His mangled limbs lay scatter’d all around, His head, and harp a better fortune found; In Hebrus’ streams they gently roul’d along, And sooth’d the waters with a mournful song.” Somehow, this reminded me of the mass hysteria of the Beatles’ concerts in the middle of the sixties…
Ever since my childhood I was fascinated with the fable of King Midas – I enjoyed both his golden touch foolishness: “He pluck’d the corn, and strait his grasp appears Fill’d with a bending tuft of golden ears,” and his award of ass’s ears: “Fix’d on his noddle an unseemly pair, Flagging, and large, and full of whitish hair; Without a total change from what he was, Still in the man preserves the simple ass.”
“Pan tun’d the pipe, and with his rural song Pleas’d the low taste of all the vulgar throng; Such songs a vulgar judgment mostly please, Midas was there, and Midas judg’d with these.” It reads exactly as if Ovid portrayed the showbiz and music critics of today.
And Ceyx’s hapless attempt at seafaring is in a way quite antithetical to The Odyssey: “An universal cry resounds aloud, The sailors run in heaps, a helpless crowd; Art fails, and courage falls, no succour near; As many waves, as many deaths appear.” The sea always was a merciless widow-maker.

Book the Twelfth: This book is of war and warriors. One strangled warrior was turned into a swan and one raped maiden was turned into male warrior… The incessant descriptions of battles are too monotonous and tedious and even the death of Achilles seems to be unimpressive: “Of all the mighty man, the small remains
A little urn, and scarcely fill’d, contains.”

Book the Thirteenth: Troy fell. Ajax and Ulysses compete for dead Achilles’ magical armor. “Brawn without brain is thine: my prudent care Foresees, provides, administers the war…” Ulysses declares and wins… “Now cannot his unmaster’d grief sustain, But yields to rage, to madness, and disdain…” Unable to endure his dishonor, Ajax falls upon his own sword… War is evil… Make love, not war.

Book the Fourteenth: Nymphomaniac sorceress Circe embarks on a spree of malicious alterations: out of jealousy she turns Scylla into a bloodthirsty monster: “Soon as the nymph wades in, her nether parts Turn into dogs; then at her self she starts…” and she turns innocent sailors into beasts: “Soon, in a length of face, our head extends; Our chine stiff bristles bears, and forward bends: A breadth of brawn new burnishes our neck; Anon we grunt, as we begin to speak.” And with many adventures Ulysses sails on and on…

Book the Fifteenth: Rome is founded and caesars begin to reign trying to usurp divine power of their gods…
“The work is finish’d, which nor dreads the rage Of tempests, fire, or war, or wasting age…”
Gods are like humans but they are more vainglorious, more powerful, more cunning, more perfidious, more libidinous and much more vengeful.

Ahmad Sharabiani

(1000 From 1001 Books) - Metamorphōseōn Librī = The Metamorphoses = Books of Transformations, Ovid

The Metamorphoses is a Latin narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid, considered his magnum opus. Comprising 11,995 lines, 15 books and over 250 myths, the poem chronicles the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar within a loose mythic-historical framework.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و نهم ژانویه سال 2014میلادی

‏عنوان: افسانه‌های دگردیسی اوید، اثر: پوبلیوس اویدیوس نسو؛ برگردان: میرجلال‌ الدین کزازی، نشر تهران، معین، چاپ نخست سال 1389، در 622صفحه، شابک 9789641650348، ‏موضوع آثار نویسندگا رومی (لاتین) - ترجمه شده به فارسی - سده نخست پیش از میلاد

اووید، یکی از نام‌ آورترین سخنوران «رومی»، یا همان «لاتین» است، و می‌توان ایشان را، پس از «ویرژیل»، و «هومر»، پرآوازه‌ ترین سخن‌سرای لاتین نامید؛ «افسانه‌ های دگردیسی»، در «پنجاه بخش» به نظم درآمده، که «اووید» هر بخش را، کتاب نامیده، و کوشیده افسانه‌ هایی از انواع «دگردیسی» را، در آن شرح دهد؛ در این افسانه‌ ها به همه‌ گونه دگردیسی برمی‌خوریم، از دگردیسی آدم به جانداری دیگر، تا دگردیسی انسان به سنگ و کانی بی جان؛ کتاب، برگردان سروده‌ های «اووید»، و شرح «افسانه‌ های دگردیسی اووید» به زبان پارسایی این مرز و بوم همیشه جاوید است

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 20/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

Lisa

"Throughout all ages,
If poets have vision to prophesy truth, I shall live in my
Fame."

Thus the closing lines of Ovid's "Metamorphoses". He was certainly right in his statement, but it feels like an appropriate irony that his work has been transformed, metamorphosed, over the millennia since he wrote his compilation of Roman and Greek literature. I have known most of the collected stories since my early days at university, but only now finished reading the "Metamorphoses" as a whole, from cover to cover, and my impression is that Ovid's fame is mostly due to the brilliant interpretation of his text by European visual artists over the centuries.

Through the metamorphosis from text to visual art, Ovid has stayed famous. Bernini's "Apollo and Daphne" symbolises it more accurately than any other myth retold in the collection: a god chasing a young nymph, who slowly transforms into a laurel tree to avoid sexual assault, only to find herself the eternal symbol of Apollo's high status, and the honorable prize for literary or artistic fame. Ovid is resting on those laurels, wearing his Apollonian laurel wreath - as is Bernini, who can proudly compete with Pygmalion in the skill with which he made the marble leaves come alive, transforming hard stone into delicate art.



I knew I would be going on a tour through art history when I embarked on the Ovid journey, and I enjoyed every minute of it, often reading with a pile of art books next to me. As a pleasant extra surprise, I found myself revisiting several favourite Greek plays from a different narrative perspective, focusing on the transforming powers of dramatic storytelling rather than on unity of time, place and action. Hercules' story unfolded from a new angle, as did many of the Trojan and Minoan adventures.

After finishing Virgil's The Aeneid a couple of months ago, the short summary of Aeneas' adventures was welcome as well. Generally speaking, the "Metamorphoses" can be viewed as a Who's Who in the Ancient Roman and Greek cosmos, with a clear bias in favour of the Roman empire and its virtues. There are fewer long fight scenes than in the Iliad or the Aeneid, which makes it a more pleasant, less repetitive narrative, once the Centaurs and Lapiths are done with their violent duties.

After decades of immersing myself in the world of ancient mythology, I found the "Metamorphoses" to be an easy and lighthearted reading experience. When I read excerpts from it during my early university years, I struggled to recognise and place all those famous characters. It is a matter of being able to see the context, and background knowledge is a clear advantage.

I just wish my Latin was strong enough- it must be a special pleasure to read it in original!

Claude opus!

Michelle

The great thing about Ovid's “Metamorphoses” is that it doesn't force you to take it so seriously. It’s still remarkably vivid, considering its age, and there is hardly a dull moment in it. You can actually read it just for pure pleasure. Its wild stories about transformations from one shape to another can be so entertaining, that your first reaction in reading it probably won't be to ask yourself weighty questions like "Hmm, I wonder what insights this ancient book offers into the structure of the cosmos, or the essence of existence, or the development of the human imagination?" Well… it just so happens that Ovid's poem does offer insights into all of these things -- but you can think of the deeper levels as an added bonus!

Basically, the poem's answer lies in its central theme of "change". For Ovid, the physical world is constantly changing, and so is human life (through birth and death, love, hatred, achievement, and failure). Most important, however, is his portrayal of the human imagination – not so much because of anything he says about it, but because of how he puts it into action. You'd be hard-pressed to find any other author, ancient or modern, who is so bursting with ideas about how to tell a story.

“Metamorphoses” is a wide-ranging account of Greek and Roman mythology, and this epic of transformations is itself -- one continuous transformation. One moment you’re reading one story, and then realize with a start, that you’re in the middle of the next one. By the slightest of hand, Ovid has used one character,or location, or detail in the first tale to segue into the next. Like the stones rising into men and women, or Arachne’s shrinking into a spider, the poem is in a constant state of flux. It is a technique that, irony of ironies --gives the work its permanence and coherence.

Being familiar with most of the stories, I have noticed that Ovid isn't giving a straightforward retelling of the myths. Instead, he is constantly twisting them around to his own purposes, making them look ridiculous, or fixating on details that are strange or grotesque. I think he pulled this off quite well with a witty and humorous tone. By keeping things light, he lets the reader in on the joke. At the same time, however, Ovid also deals with some pretty heavy stuff, and sometimes he does seem to take a strange amount of pleasure in his characters' suffering. I rarely witness comedy and tragedy work so well together as in this book.

I think this is one of the books you need to read in your lifetime. Don’t let its heft intimidate you, you don't even have to read it all the way through. If you want a taste of what it's about, you can pretty much start anywhere you want, or just look in the index to find your favorite myths, and go straight to those. In this way, it's sort of like an all-you-can-eat buffet -- with the difference that, once you get hooked, you're likely to go ahead and eat the whole thing.

C

What the fuck Ovid. Save some brilliance for the rest of us.

Petra-X is bored with reading & not having a life

I just had to quote this from a review I read: "DNF at almost halfway through. Too much depravity and immorality for me." There's a lot of depravity and immorality around now too. How does one cope? lol

Perhaps they would have disagreed with the author of Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free ? (I don't think I should recommend one of my favourite dirty books, the beautifully-written, utterly depraved (although surprisingly moral, depending on your point of view) Story of O

Darwin8u

“Happy is the man who has broken the chains which hurt the mind, and has given up worrying once and for all.”
― Ovid, Metamorphoses

description

Ovid -- the David Bowie of Latin literature. I chewed on this book of myth-poems the entire time I was tramping around Rome. I was looking for the right words to describe my feelings about it. It isn't that I didn't like it. It is an unequivocal masterpiece. I'm amazed by it. I see Ovid's genes in everything (paintings, sculptures, poems and prose). He is both modern and classic, reverent and wicked, lovely and obscene all at once. It is just hard to wrestle him down. To pin my thoughts about 'the Metamorphoses' into words. Structure really fails me.

That I guess is the sign for me of a book's depth or success with me. It makes me wish I could read it in the original form. I'm not satisfied with Dante in English. I want him in Italian. I'm not satisfied with Ovid in English. I want to experience his poetry, his playfulness, his wit in Latin.

I still prefer the poetry of Homer and Dante, but Ovid isn't embarrassed by the company of the greats; so not Zeus or Neptune, but maybe Apollo.

Leonard Gaya

The Metamorphoses are Ovid’s masterpiece and one of the literary monuments of Antiquity, alongside the Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. As the title suggests, Ovid’s book is about change, transformation, mutation. Its scope is exceptionally ambitious, encyclopaedic even. It covers the whole of ancient mythology, from the creation of the world and the flood to the epic of Phaëton, from Jupiter’s rape of various nymphs to the abduction of Europa, from Narcissus in love with his own reflection to Perseus and Medusa, from the rape of Proserpina to Medea and Jason, from Theseus and the Minotaur to the fall of Icarus, from Meleäger and the Calydonian Boar to Byblis’ and Myrrha’s incestuous passions, from the works of Hercules to the doomed love of Orpheus and Eurydice in the underworld, from the desire of Venus for Adonis to King Midas turning everything into gold, from the shipwreck of Cëyx to the battle of the Centaurs and to the Trojan War, from the sufferings of Hecuba to the wanderings of Aeneas, from Ulysses in Polyphemus’ cave to Circe’s witchcraft, and last but not least, from Romulus down to Julius Caesar. In short, Ovid has it all figured out!

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, like Virgil’s Aeneid, was written under the reign of Augustus and both works are, in their way, a glorification of the Roman Empire. All prior tribulations of gods and men aim towards this apex of history, this ideal order of civilisation. But Virgil’s and Ovid’s ways are very different. While Virgil unfolds the story of Aeneas in a single grand narrative, taking inspiration from the Odyssey, Ovid seems to be jumping randomly from one legend to the next, sometimes arranged into a Russian doll structure, thus covering a vast body of material (several hundreds of tales borrowed mostly from Greek literature). Within this colourful poem, there is one obsessive idea: the metamorphose (other recurring themes are romantic passion and sexual obsession). In a way, Virgil and Ovid could be compared to the myth of Arachne, exposed in book 6: Virgil being the Minervean, elevated, distinguished bard and Ovid the Arachnean, careless, disorganised poet.

At first, it seems he has gathered together every legend where some magical transformation is involved (Jupiter turning himself into a white bull, Actaeon changed by Diana into a stag, and so on). But by the end of the epic, primarily through Pythagoras’ speech in book 15 (my fave section), we come to understand that Ovid has a sort of profound ontological idea in mind. His book illustrates some kind of Heraclitean world view, whereby everything is in constant transmutation and flux. In a way, while Virgil is putting forward a historical statement about the origins of Rome, placing everything in a genealogical line, Ovid suggests something much more unstable and uncertain. If Augustus’ Empire is the pinnacle of human history, the poem makes room for further transformations and alterations down the line — a non-dogmatic, almost modern vision of history. Ovid knows that the Augustinian Empire, like everything else under the moon, is condemned to decay and death. (Did this contribute to his later banishment to the Black Sea — see the fantastic Poems of Exile?) The only thing that will remain through time is, according to the Epilogue (15, 870 sqq.), the poem itself, a poem about growth, transformation, and degeneration.

Another surprising fact about the Metamorphoses, also in line with Ovid’s metaphysical view of an all changing universe, is the justification of vegetarianism in book 15: “What a heinous crime is committed when guts disappear inside a fellow-creature’s intestines” (15, 86-87). Indeed, if gods and men can mutate into animals, a meat-eating individual is in some way a barbaric cannibal or a sacrilegious god-eater. Note the similarities between Ovid’s pagan doctrine on this issue and modern religious practices based on the belief on reincarnation (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism). In a broader sense, this very much resonates with our contemporary concerns about animal suffering and climate change. (One last thing that resonates with me in that same book 15, during this present time of coronavirus global pandemic, is the mention of Aesculapius, the saviour of Rome during the plague.)

Ovid is always a delight to read, chiefly because his descriptions are still readable and to the point, often playful or emotional, and never shy away from graphic details, visceral or sexual. See, for instance, the gory wedding banquets at the beginning of book 5 and book 12 (possible influence to the “Red Wedding” in Game of Thrones). Also see the erotic and gruesome story of Tereus and Philomela (book 6) — incidentally a blueprint for Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (which is, in turn, a recipe for the episode of the “Frey Pies”, again in Game of Thrones!). Furthermore (considering that the little Latin I have ever known is gone forever), David Raeburn’s recent translation into English hexameters is extraordinarily readable and never draws the reader’s attention to itself.

The Metamorphoses have had an enormous influence on Western culture, not just on other Roman writers, such as Apuleius with his spicy Golden Ass. It has made a particular impression on numerous artists since the Renaissance. Think of Botticelli, of course. Think of Titian’s Poesie, ordered by King Felipe II of Spain. Think of Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (from book 8). Think of the Pre-Raphaelites (see below the exquisite Echo and Narcissus by Waterhouse — from book 3). Think of countless references made by Dante, Montaigne, Cervantes or Shakespeare in their works. Case in point: Pyramus and Thisbe (book 4) is inserted within A Midsummer Night's Dream and is the inspiration of Romeo and Juliet; the affliction of Hecuba (book 13) is slotted into Hamlet; Prospero’s late speech in The Tempest is inspired by Medea’s speech (book 7). Think too of all the plays based on the myth of Pygmalion (e.g. the Broadway musical and the film version of My Fair Lady). Think of the popular sword-and-sandal movies such as Jason and the Argonauts. And think nowadays of all the bestsellers that borrow from Greco-Roman myths — most of which are to be found chiefly in the Metamorphoses — indirectly, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, or more directly, Madeline Miller or Stephen Fry’s latest books.

In short, Ovid’s Metamorphoses is to Greco-Roman mythology more or less what Snorri Sturluson is to Norse myths. While Snorri is essential to understanding the culture of the Vikings, without some knowledge of Ovid’s book, it would be practically impossible to comprehend Mediterranean Antiquity and, indeed, Western culture.

John William Waterhouse - Echo and Narcissus

Elle (ellexamines)

There's honestly something deeply fascinating to me about reading the words of someone who lived 2000 years ago, who wrote these exact words 2000 years ago, and though I completely understand why reading translation is done - I think reading translated lit is amazing - it is undoubtedly more interesting to read this word-by-word, to see connotations and derivatives and line breaks and literary devices.

So yes, I read this in the original Latin! With the help of a lot of vocabulary lists because I don’t speak Latin as fluently as I would like to. (Shouldn’t passing an AP exam make you fluent? Anyway.)

Ovid’s language is... so good. Some story reviews follow:
Deucalion & Pyrrha, 1.348-415
This is the story of an apocalypse, or in this case, a failed apocalypse. This is the story of a world empty “inanem” and of two lovers at its fall, attempting to bring it back. The language of this is so sweepingly gorgeous; the image of Deucalion and Pyrrha in front of the Themis’ watered-down altar is deeply satisfying. Very Adam-and-Eve and very satisfying.

Daphne & Apollo, 1.452-657
Daphne and Apollo is a story that would be cool to see done by like, Catullus. (Poem 64 the only bitch in this house I respect!!) In general conceit, it is about a woman who does not want to get married being chased down by a man who just really wants to have sex with her until she turns herself into a tree. And there’s definitely an air of blaming her for beauty here: the line “but that beauty forbids you to be that which you wish, and your form [beauty] opposes your desire” is fucked up and sad, as well as the ending “destroy by changing my beauty by which I please too much”. The best thing that can be said about this is that the line “let your bow strike everything, oh Phoebus, but let my bow strike you” is so satisfying.

Jupiter & Io, 1.583-746
I absolutely hate this story. This is the one where I decided that he needs to avoid the women-being-chased and-maybe-raped but-I-will-mention-this-with-exactly-one-word thing (“rapuit”). In a situation even more egregious than that of Daphne and Apollo, she is given no character development whatsoever and the general story just angers me, up until around line 630, where she attempts to talk to her father Inachus: “She came to the riverbanks, where she was accustomed to play often, and when she saw in the water, her new horns, she grew frightened and fled having been terrified of herself” — the repetition of the riverbanks here is especially arresting.

I did find this line sort of satisfying:
“...It is cruel to surrender his love, but suspicious not to give; it is shame, what would urge him from that, Amor dissuades this. Shame would would have been conquered by Love, but if this trivial gift were refused to the companion of his race and bed as a heifer, it would be able to appear to be no heifer.” (617-621)

The Ride of Phaethon, 2.150-339
This one is wonderful. I really enjoyed the figurative language and dramatic, ironic setup of this story: the horses hit the doors with their feet (155) and then snatch the path (158). The chariot being shaken on high (166) is a great detail, and the journey into the rapidly-heating constellations is just incredible (and not just incredibly hard to translate). Lots of apostrophe and several rhetorical questions build this into a gorgeous story.

I absolutely adored this set of lines:
“I am bemoaning the lesser things: great cities destruct with their walls, / and with their peoples the fires [whole nations] / turn into ashes; and the forests along with the mountains burn” (214-216)

This section was so good that I forgave it for meaning I had to learn almost 200 lines of translation in a month for a test. Me & my 96 on the test say hi!!

Pyramus & Thisbe, 4.55-166
“Pyramus and Thisbe, the one the most handsome of youths, the other outstanding… that which they were not able to deny, equally they both burned with their minds captured.”
Ah, Pyramus and Thisbe, the original tragic lovers. The only context I have seen this story appear in previously is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a version that is deeply comedic. But this story is, despite some stupidity in plot, so well written. “This flaw had been noted by no one through the long years… but what does love not detect?” Ovid asks; this love affair seems almost inevitable, deeply wrapped around fate and tragedy. “How difficult would it be, that you could allow us to be joined with whole bodies, or, if this is too-much, that you should open this wall for kisses to be given?” Of course, this story ends badly. And it is Pyramus’ fault. Thisbe is a bitch with common sense and did nothing wrong.

The Fall of Icarus, 8.152-235
“The shame of the family had grown, and was exposing / the disgusting adultery of his mother by the novelty of the two-formed monster...”
THE FALL OF ICARUS!! Okay this has always been one of my favorite stories of all time, and reading it in Ovid’s original Latin was such a cool experience. This story is framed by a description and depiction of the tragedy of the minotaur and the abandonment of poor Ariadne (#Catulluspoem64). I loved Daedalus' intro for his plan: “it is permitted that he block the land and sea / but certainly the sky lies open; we will go that way...” And the fall of Icarus is equally emotional, beautifully conveyed through the image of a herder and fisherman watching him, up to its ending: “and his lips, shouting out the name of his father / are taken up by the blue water, water which has taken up its name from him.”

Anyway, I hope y’all appreciated my original Latin translation skills pouring into this review. I SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT LATIN AND I'M HONESTLY SO PROUD TO BE SHARING IT.

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