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.


  • At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm sorry to have missed this blog entry when it originally was posted. I have a different copy of Metomorphoses that I recently started reading.

    I will pay attention to Ovid's dispassionate narrative. Is that the right word? In fact, perhaps that might be an interesting theme for me in general to consider as I read through Greceo-Roman literature. I've seen a classicist address this from a more authorative perspective than I ever could, but I can't remember where I saw it.

  • At 4:12 PM, Blogger Francisco Silva said…

    I wouldn't really call it dispassionate. It is more like a comedian doing dead-pan, much more like Stephen Colbert, where he seems to be kissing Bush's ass while actually doing a damning criticism of him. Ovid sings the praises of big warriors while at the same time making them come across as brutes.


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