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review 2017-06-20 00:50
Ovid: Metamorphoses
Metamorphoses - Denis Feeney,Ovid,David Raeburn

This book is phenomenal.

 

I had read parts of the Metamorphoses in high school, and my focus then was on the language and structure of the text, not so much on the stories. That's just what happens when you're trying to learn how to translate texts from Latin. 

 

When I picked up the book again earlier this year, I had no such restrictions (and no deadline) and I was looking forward to reading Ovid's history of the world - from its creation to Julius Caesar.

 

What I was looking forward to even more, was to read about the myths and legends that have informed so many other works from Dante to our own contemporaries like Ali Smith, and find out more about Ovid's view of the world in 8 AD.

 

Yes, Ovid's view. The Metamorphoses may be a collection of ancient Greek and Roman myths, but there is a slant to them that is influenced by Ovid's view. Some of the myths differ from the earlier versions found in the works of Hesiod and Homer, and then there are stories about Julius Caesar and Pythagoras that are not based on ancient myths but are informed by Ovid's time. The book, or rather the last book of the 15 books of poems that make of the Metamorphoses, ends with Ovid praising Augustus. Incidentally, it was Augustus who banished Ovid from Rome at about the same time that the book was finished - the reason for this remains one of the unsolved mysteries of history.

 

 

Anyway, more about the book: The book starts with the creation of the world and tells of how the world was transformed by the elements and by man, going through different ages, and finally focusing on the stories of gods and men and the many transformations that take place when they interacts.

 

Transformation, as the title says, is the theme of the book: some are literal when people are transformed into plants or animals, some are less tangible, for example when Medea loses herself to witchcraft, and finally the philosophical theories that Ovid describes in the story about Pythagoras, who believes in a continuous and fluid world in which everything is temporary, and in which everything is in a state that changes into something else, and in which existence is thus infinite.

 

It's very zen for a 2000 year old book (that is not a major religious text) right?

 

This probably is what surprised me most about the book: how many times I caught myself being astounded to read about concepts that seem a lot more modern. 

 

Medea and mental illness, for example. Ovid does not tell the full story (and yes I will dig out Euripides' work to find out what drove her over the edge!) but by his leaving out such detail, I can't but marvel about what Ovid's audience would have made of it. Would they also have wondered about what caused her breakdown?

 

Or, the stories of individuals struggling against higher powers, fate, or society.

Ancient gods were assholes. Not many of the stories have happy endings, and in some, even happy-ish endings are pretty sad. However, all of them have a message, which is why Ovid selected them, and which is why so many of the stories have permeated Western culture. Even if they now only exist by reference to a name and most people won't know the story behind the reference.

My favourite of those, probably is the story of Arachne. I'm not a fan of spiders, and I had imagined all sorts of variations of a horrible monster to be the origin of all spider-related words. But no. Arachne was a master waver who dared to enter into a weaving contest with Athena. Long story short, in Ovid's version, Arachne dared to show how unfair the gods and goddesses are and she dared to defeat Athena. Athena throws a fit of rage and destroys Arachne's tapestry. Arachne hangs herself in a fit of rage. (Yeah, I don't get this part - revenge suicide???) Athena, again, out of rage over Arachne's suicide turns her and her into a spider.

Now, this is not the most logical of stories, granted, but I love that the story's metaphorical content is still applicable. I won't be able to look at spiders with quite the same level of aversion again. Well, some of them at least. Most will still freak me out.

 

So, yes, this book took me a few months to finish, but it was a lot to digest. A lot of stories that required some thought, a lot that just needed a break before getting to the next one. It was an amazing book. After 2000 years, this is still entertaining, thought provoking, and beautiful.

 

In his epilogue, Ovid proclaims that his work will make him immortal:

 

Ovid does still live in his fame, and for all the right reasons.

 

Lastly, a word on the Penguin 2004 edition with David Raeburn's translation: It rocks. There are plenty of free or cheap translations avaialble on the internet. I tried a few of them, but none really worked. I found those translations to be either too literal or too liberal. Raeburn's work combines a great balance of keeping close to the original text while still creating a work of poetry, and even keeping the original rhyme scheme.

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text 2017-06-18 12:51
Reading progress update: I've read 598 out of 723 pages.
Metamorphoses - Denis Feeney,Ovid,David Raeburn

Pythagoras was a vegetarian?

 

I did not know that.

 

According to Ovid, he was the first. Not a claim that seems realistic, but that is neither here nor there.  I'm more intrigued by the fact that Ovid actually includes that particular discussion in a narrative about Pythagoras, when I suppose there are plenty of other stories about Pythagoras whose, in Ovid's words,

"mind came close to the Gods,

remote as they are in the heavens above; what nature debarred

to human vision he saw with the eyes of the spirit within him.

All that this insight, backed by untiring effort, discovered,

he wanted to share with others. His audiences listened in wondering

silence while he explained how the universe first began,

discoursed at length upon causes, defined what Nature and God were,

showed how the snow was formed and what was the source of the lightning;

whether the winds or Jupiter thundered from clouds in collision;

the reason for earthquakes, the laws which govern the stars in their courses,

and all the secrets of nature.

Fascinating stuff.

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text 2017-05-31 10:42
Reading progress update: I've read 465 out of 723 pages.
Metamorphoses - Denis Feeney,Ovid,David Raeburn

I will need to post a picture of my paperback copy at some point to illustrate how much the stories have engaged me - my copy is now filled with notes, scribbles, and stickies to mark passages.

 

The part I have reached now - the last part of the book it seems - deals with the story of Troy, followed by the story of Aeneas. I am half tempted to dig out a copy of Homer's two books to read as companion pieces, but somehow I fear it may not do either work justice to read them in comparison because they are quite different. Tho, I do want to re-read The Illiad and The Odyssey at some point, too.

 

So, maybe the way to go is to read Ovid's take first and by itself, and then pull out The Metamorphoses and my notes on it again when I get to Homer.

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text 2017-05-28 10:57
Reading progress update: I've read 379 out of 723 pages.
Metamorphoses - Denis Feeney,Ovid,David Raeburn

Ancient Greek gods, goddesses and heroes were assholes.

 

Despite this, I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed reading a classical work so much as this one.

 

It's a slow read, but it is just wonderful to read about the stories behind so many names, and images, and phrases that have permeated western European culture - including the sad story of Europa herself. But then pretty much all the stories about women in these stories are horrible and sad.

 

I love this book. There is a lot to take away from these stories even if they are rather depressing.

 

Also, I have been a classical mood since Friday and so managed to read quite a few chapters since Friday night (from page 248 to 379). As Moonlight Reader announced that the BL-Opoly Jail Library is taking donations this weekend, I would like to donate 100 of the 131 pages to the Jail Library.

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text 2017-03-06 22:24
Ovid - The Metamorphoses - Reading progress update
Metamorphoses - Denis Feeney,Ovid,David Raeburn

Now that I have whittled down my currently reading shelf, I will start on my main reading project for this spring: Ovid's Metamorphoses

 

I dimly remember translating parts of this in Latin class in high school, but I can't say I truly appreciated Ovid's work other than for the sense of achievement that comes with slowly being able to translate a text from another language. 

 

It is time for a re-read.

 

I have no doubt that I will have lots of thoughts on this book. In fact, I believe this is the book that once already (when I first read parts of it) shattered my believe that people thought the world was flat until the age of the great explorers, when in fact, this notion of the flat earth had already been argued against, and a spherical shape widely accepted, by the Ancient Greeks. But such is the power of reading classical texts, isn't it?

It's not just a journey back in time to discover old stories, it's also a journey through the history of what is accepted as scientific knowledge.

 

Anyway, I will keep this as the main post and add updates of the 15 Books of the Metamorphoses as I sail through them.

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