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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Metamorphoses (8 AD) by Ovid

Bernini's The Rape of Prosperina (commonly called "The Rape of Persephone" illustrates a scene from Greek and Roman mythology that Ovid narrates in his Metamorphoses.

Book Review
Metamorphoses (8 AD)
 by Ovid

  The pre-18th century section of the 1001 Books list seems more arbitrary then the rest of the time periods, perhaps because so few books were selected.  The Odyssey and the Iliad are absent, as is the Aeneid.   There are no Greek plays included, and Plato's The Republic doesn't make the cut.  Perhaps it is because the Editors assume that anyone interested in a list of "1001 Books to Read Before You Die" will have already read The Odyssey and that The Republic isn't "literary" enough to merit inclusion. 

  Metamorphoses is a late Roman period compilation of Greek and Roman mythos, with a nod to historical and current events.  It contains everything from creation myths, to tales of war and adventure between humans and centaurs, to familiar "Greek" myths like those of Hercules and Perseus, to retellings of The Odyssey, The Iliad AND The Aeneid.   There is a loose chronological path from pre-human times of the Gods, through mythological times featuring interactions between gods and men, to historic times and current events.   There is no framing narrative by the author, the stories are just lumped together in a series of "Books."
Titian's Death of Actaeon is a familiar tale from Metamorphoses, where Actaeon is turned into a stag because he saw the Goddess Diana naked.

  It's worth reproducing the Wikipedia description of each book, I found myself looking at it consistently so I could figure out what was going on in each story. (1)  As I was reading this book, I gradually became aware that Metamorphoses is one of those key documents that inform the imagination of hundreds of years worth of artistic inspiration.

  Metamorphoses was never "lost" and so it was there at the beginning of the Renaissance when people were looking for a new ascetic.  Metamorphoses would have been fashionable, as it were, and it would have been a foundational text for any printing press in terms of a book that the public would want to purchase.   Although written as a lengthy poem, the text is readable as prose.  In this regard the Librivox version was sub-optimal and was just read as prose, not poetry.  I'm sure I liked the prose version more than I would have liked a version which attempted to preserve the pentameter of the Latin. 

  You can use Metamorphoses as a kind of handbook for artistic inspiration and tony sounding cultural references- in this regard the special Wikipedia page just for the characters in Metamorphoses would be useful.  In fact, I think Metamorphoses is more of a one-stop shop for a book on Greek and Roman mythology, and in that way it's maybe more crucial than The Odyssey or The Iliad.

  • Book IThe Creation, the Ages of Mankind, the flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Apollo and Daphne, Io, Phaëton.
    • Book XIV – Scylla and Glaucus (cont.), the pilgrimage of Aeneas (cont.), the island of Circe, Picus and Canens, the triumph and apotheosis of Aeneas, Pomona and Vertumnus, legends of early Rome, the apotheosis of Romulus.

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