Sunday, June 7, 2015


I'm pretty sure I picked up this copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses when I was in Italy. I'm not sure about that but it has a funny price sticker on it and I have spent a fair number of my vacations in and around Ovid's hometown, Sulmona, in the Aquila region, in the eastern Alpines mountains west of Rome.

Publius Ovidius Naso, as he was known in Latin, or Ovidio to the Italians, was born in March, 43 BCE and died in exile in the year 17 or 18, so he was writing at around the same time as Virgil and Horace.

Metamorphoses is a series of related stories of the gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, naiads and monsters, who all go through a dramatic physical change or alteration. The theme is a popular one in the Greek and Roman myths, but I had no idea there were so many examples; which begs the question, how many of these stories did Ovid make up himself? there are something like 250 separate stories in this epic poem, and each one includes a metamorphosis! So Ovid's a busy guy. And he was pretty sure that this poem was going to make him famous. He even states near the end that people will be saying his name in thousands of years. point; Ovid

Its pretty well known that authors from this era 'borrowed' from one another and from whereever else they liked. Many of the tales Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses are indeed told by Virgil. But what he is known for is his sense of humor, but after reading this translation by A.D. Melville, I've concluded that either the jokes must be pretty subtle, Ovid must just be humorous compared to his contemporaries (which I haven't read), or Melville didn't do a great job translating the humor. imagine, a classics scholar without a good sense of humor. weird

There is a 20-odd page introduction by E.J. Kenney, and 8 pages of translator's notes in the front matter, along with the table of contents and a Historical Sketch of Ovid. Kenney also prepared the notes to the text. These are highlighted in the text of the poem with asterisks. Find as asterisk go to the 100 pages of notes at the back and hunt for your note by book and line number! There are 15 books, and the lines aren't numbered, just a note at the top of each page noting what numbers it contains. I'm sure if you're a scholar, having a system that doesn't intrude on the flow of the poem is nice, but if you need to read the notes, they're a little hard to manage. Talk about stopping up the flow. The only way to read like this is to read a whole story, and then go read the applicable notes and try to recall where they were. I think footnotes would be fine.

After a quick look around, I think I may look up David R. Slavitt's The Metamorphoses of Ovid which is touted as freely translated by this American poet. According to Eric McMillan, Slavitt's version is supposed to be "Thoroughly enjoyable." saying that "Slavitt manages to capture the sweep of the stories while getting in all the little jokes and aides." Looks like I should have done a little research first. McMillan calls Melville's translation "quite dull." doh!

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