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Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes

Tales from Ovid (1997)

by Ted Hughes (Translator), Ovid

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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889715,499 (4.1)28
A powerful version of the Latin classic by England's late Poet Laureate, now in paperback.When it was published in 1997, Tales from Ovid was immediately recognized as a classic in its own right, as the best rering of Ovid in generations, and as a major book in Ted Hughes's oeuvre. The Metamorphoses of Ovid stands with the works of Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton as a classic of world poetry; Hughes translated twenty-four of its stories with great power and directness. The result is the liveliest twentieth-century version of the classic, at once a delight for the Latinist and an appealing introduction to Ovid for the general reader.… (more)



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» See also 28 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Ted Hughes' translation/interpretation of some of the tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses is a really good example of the way translation is always an interpretation -- he's played to that, and used anachronistic images and modern language, and created something dynamic and energetic and entirely his. It's much like the way Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage took Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and used their own dialects to flavour it, bringing in what felt appropriate to them and what might make the old stories more interesting to a modern audience. You might disagree with the decision, but the vitality is undeniable.

The stories themselves, well, they've always been some of my favourite mythology. Ted Hughes didn't translate all of these stories -- I really need a good version that does, perhaps for my Kindle -- but he translates some good ones. I love the story of Arachne, and there's a lot to be said for the story of Pygmalion or Midas or... Yeah, I just kind of love Ovid. ( )
1 vote shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
*Gruesome Alert*

"Think of it.
Your expensive coiffure
With your face wrapped in it
Wrenched off like a cork, at the neck,
Your blood
Poured out over your mother and sisters,
Your pedigree carcase
Ripped by unthinking fingers
Into portions, and your blue entrails,
Tangled in thorns and draped over dusty rocks,
Tugged at by foxes."

Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes takes 24 stories from the Metamorphoses and liberally translates them with vivid, powerful imagery. It is a rare one of these poems that doesn't contain violent and gruesome acts, albeit beautifully and lyrically rendered. Even in Pygmalion the Crestae "butchered their guests." You'll recall that these stories typically feature humans transformed by the Gods into animals, flowers, stone and so on (Pygmalion features the reverse). You're familiar with many of the stories in one way or another - greedy Midas wanting all he touches turned to gold, Hermaphroditas ("And there in the giddy boil/Two bodies melting into a single body/Seamless as the water"), Venus, Adonis, Atalanta, and the golden apples, etc. The stories are beautifully written and compelling, even as many of them make you squirm in discomfort.

Some critics have said Hughes selected many of the most violent and gruesome ones from the 250 or so that Ovid wrote. Ovid scholars could comment on that better than I can, but the ones he selected certainly match up well with his talents (he unfortunately died in 1998). In his hands, these ancient Greek stories come to life, threatening to reach off the page and pull you in by your expensive coiffure. ( )
3 vote jnwelch | Jan 30, 2012 |
At first blush, the marriage between Ovid that most latin of poets and Ted Hughes would seem as unlikely a match as any you could imagine. Not in ability, of course, but in language and temperament.

Hughes as a poet has always seemed to me one of the most earthy, physical, and Anglo-Saxon of all contemporary poets. Classical Ovid and the dactylic hexameter (the poetic meter form used in classical epic poems such as Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Odyssey and Illiad, often called the “heroic” hexameter) would seem to be polar opposite of Hughes. Yet Hughes pulls it off, creating one of the best books of poetry I have read in a very long time.

When I think of Hughes I think of poems like “February 17th” which is about a farmer struggling to help a still-born lamb to be delivered to save the mother. Such lines as these seem so earthy, so removed in style and substance from what we think of when we think of the heroic:

The corpse that would not come. Till it came.
And after it the long, sudden, yolk-yellow
Parcel of life
In a smoking slither of oils and soups and syrups –
And the body lay born, beside the hacked-off head.

Yet in these lines we also see what Hughes does best, perhaps better than anyone ever: he sees and gives voice to the natural and nature in a way simultaneously factual and mythic.

In Tales from Ovid, Hughes picks and chooses which of Ovid’s many stories he wants to translate and re-tell. His choices include some of the most violent and disturbing stories that Ovid wrote: ‘Echo and Narcissus,’ ‘Bacchus and Pentheus,’ and ‘Jove’s rape of Semele’. But in the same way that the language of “February 17th” transfigures the brutality and tragedy of a still-born lamb, in Hughes’s poetry even Ovid’s most violent stories and images become transcendent as in these lines from the story of Semele:

Her eyes opened wide, saw him
And burst into flame.
Her whole body lit up
With the glare
That explodes the lamp –

In that splinter of a second,
Before her blazing shape
Became a silhouette of sooty ashes
The foetus was snatched from her womb.

Ovid’s stories are of change, metamorphosis. In the late 20th and early part of the 21st century, it is a theme that seems most relevant… and obviously one that attracted Hughes the poet/prophet. But beneath the theme of change runs the deeper current of love. Ovid, even in the most violent and brutal of his stories, is always writing about love. It is after all love (sometimes broken and warped love in the form of lust and jealousy) that creates the action between the gods and the people in these familiar stories. Certainly in the late 20th and first part of the 21st century the theme of love remains as relevant as when Ovid first penned these stories centuries ago.

(This review has also been published at www.montanawriter.com) ( )
  Broadwater43 | Sep 1, 2010 |
Indispensable reading. An ancient postmodern masterpiece. Hughes translation is top notch. ( )
  stacyesch | Jun 10, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hughes, TedTranslatorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ovidmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Nijmeijer, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed
into different bodies.
I summon the supernatural beings
Who first contrived
The transmogrifications
In the stuff of life.
You did it for your own amusement.
Descend again, be pleased to reanimate
This revival of marvels.
Reveal, now, exactly
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Up to this moment.
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