1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Sunday, May 28, 2006

2. Ovid - Metamophoses (composed year 2-8 ce)

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Francisco: Okay, this should probably have been read in Latin, and mine is a bit rusty. Well too rusty for epic poetry anyway, I can probably read shopping lists... Ovid writes an encyclopedia of mythology in this book, connecting some 250 stories chronologically into one single story. It starts with the creation of the world and ends with the apoteosis of Julius Caesar.

Ovid was an interesting guy, and in his writing there is no squemishness, the fight scenes are like a gore film. When Actaeon gets shred to pieces by his dogs after seeing the naked Artemis bathing for example. Or in several hunt scenes or battle involving Perseus where he basically kills everyone by turning them to stone in a completely disproportionate display of power.

Power, along with metamorphosis, is the theme of the book itself. Power, and more important misuse of power. If I took anything away from this book it was than whenever any one or any god got a bit of power they completely fucked up. Even the supposedly heroic stories come across are barbaric acts of abuse. Even so, it reads as a very proper epic poem. It works within its formal constraints etc.. and Ovid himself comes off as a cynical narrator, as he never condems what are clearly random acts of violence, rape, vengance and so on. He does it in dead-pan style. The reader is the one that winces. This is, until you reach the last book, where Pythagoras has a monologue, which seems to state the author's point of view. But you've already endured 9/10ths of the book by then. Actually this is really what I found more interesting in the book, much more than the metamorphosing quality of all the tales. Which seem to demonstrate obvious moral points more than anything.

Vanda: First of all, I'm sorry this review took so long - it was entirely my fault.

There were times where I loved this book, and other times when I was so tired of it I didn't pick it up for days. It's one of those experiences where if you actually start something, you enjoy it. It's the starting again that is problematic.

I loved this book because I love mythology, and the Roman Gods in particular were my passion as a child - it made, in my mind, more sense in terms of worldview that the gods were flawed, and cruel, and liked tricking or helping mortals according to their mood. Now, this might have had a heavy influence on the reviewing of Metamorphoses: I knew most of the stories, I already loved most of the "characters", and so I did love the book. It is, however, bloody long. If you think you can manage to multitask, keep it by your bedside, and read it intermitently with other books. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be surprised at the graphic descriptions of violence in battles and brawls, and you'll start looking at birds differently (well, trees and other animals too, but especially birds). If you are a Neo-Pagan, pay attention - you'll enjoy this and will wonder why the hell you haven't read this book before. If you're vegetarian, you'll be able to start sentences with "Yes, well, but as Ovid puts it in the last book of the Metamorphoses..." which will undoubtedly earn you some points in cafe converstaions.

I promise I'll try to get through the next books a lot quicker - and get Cisco off my back for 5 minutes..

Final Grade

Francisco: 7/10
Vanda: 7/10


GORE GORE GORE! Yay! Romans made perversion like no one else...

From Wikipedia:

Augustus banished Ovid in AD 8 to Tomis on the Black Sea for reasons that remain mysterious. Ovid himself wrote that it was because of carmen et error – "a poem and a mistake" (Tr. 2.207). The error itself is uncertain. Ovid may have had an affair with a female relative of Augustus, or withheld knowledge of such an affair. The carmen, however, is probably his Ars Amatoria, a didactic poem offering amatory advice to Roman men and women, which had been in circulation for several years.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

1. Aesop - Aesop's Fables (first edition 4 BCE)

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Francisco: Fun little booky. Strangely enough I knew about 90% of the very short tales contained in this book. You're brought up on them, at least in Portugal. But disregarding that and looking at the book with non-5 year old eyes I have to say it is an interesting bit of storytelling.

Firstly, the tales are not all written by the same person. This happens with all these ancient collections but it is completely obvious in the Fables. There are stories which are all about freedom from oppression and bringing down the system, while others are all about upholding the Status Quo (not the band, which is probably contemporary to Aesop). Of course, lefty as I am I find the "stick it to the man stories" much more interesting.

In terms of form, it's the kind of book you read in one sitting, each story is usually less than a page long and there's about 203 of them. All stories end with a little moral teaching, either explicit in italics or implicit, some of them however just look they were written by a shroom-head. And it's not all about talking animals either. There's stories about people and even some about inanimate speaking objects.

All in all, an easy read that is readily available everywhere (kind of copyright free) and that won't make you lose to much time reading it.

Vanda: We all grew up with these stories, in one version or another, so it was no big surprise that I already knew most of them. I had never read them in the "original" format (no such thing, I'm aware, but indulge me), however, and what DID surprise me was how condensed they originally are. There are no embellishments, or any kind of back story - the tales are simply presented in a way that they get as quickly as possible to the moral lesson it was meant to convey.

Some of them made me go "ah, yes, how true", some of them are quite pedestrian in their obviousness, and some of them make me believe that mushrooms were in plentiful supply when of the penning of some of the tales. Some have contradictory morals, and a fairly big percentage are only concerned with perpetuating the status quo, in the "stick to your place in life, stop being uppity" sense. The best ones, however, and the most probable to have actually been written by Aesop (if there are indeed any) are the ones which concern personal freedom, and the sillyness and cruelty of authority figures.

It has to be read, I think. It gains a new dimension with age a better understanding of human nature that comes with it.

Final Grade

6/10 Francisco
6/10 Vanda (how original)


The number of the tales is uncertain it goes form 55 in some versions to 359 in the biggest available one. I read the Penguin one, which contains 203.

For the heck of it, a William Caxton published tale (first version in English) here you go:

Men ought not to leue that thynge whiche is sure & certayne / for hope to haue the vncertayn / as to vs reherceth this fable of a fyssher whiche with his lyne toke a lytyll fysshe whiche sayd to hym / My frend I pray the / doo to me none euylle / ne putte me not to dethe / For now I am nought / for to be eten / but whanne I shalle be grete / yf thow come ageyne hyther / of me shalt thow mowe haue grete auaylle / For thenne I shalle goo with the a good whyle / And the Fyssher sayd to the fysshe Syn I hold the now / thou shalt not scape fro me / For grete foly hit were to me for to seke the here another tyme.

Wasn't that fun?

Can you tell that we'd talked about the book before we reviewed it? We have just now made the decision that we will not discuss the book before the next review. But hey! Great minds....


I bought a book called 1001 Books You Must Read Before you Die:

You too can buy it at Amazon US or UK

Well in the now long established tradition of 1001 albums and 1001 flicks I'll do the same for books! yay!

Should be finished in 80 years!

But this one will be different. It will actually be in two voices. Both me and my girlfriend will read the books and give two reviews for each. So under Francisco are my reviews and under Vanda are her's... get it? You will.