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Metamorphoses (Norton Critical Editions) by…

Metamorphoses (Norton Critical Editions) (edition 2010)

by Ovid, Charles Martin (Translator)

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Ovid's epic poem--whose theme of change has resonated throughout the ages--is one of the most important texts of Western imagination, an inspiration from Dante's time to the present, when writers such as Salman Rushdie and Italo Calvino have found a living source in Ovid's work. The text is accompanied by a preface, A Note on the Translation, and detailed explanatory annotations."Sources and Backgrounds" includes Seneca's inspired commentary on Ovid, Charles Martin's essay on the ways in which pantomimic dancing--an art form popular in Ovid's time--may have been the model for Metamorphoses, as well as related works by Virgil, Callimachus, Hesiod, and Lucretius, among others.From the enormous body of scholarly writing on Metamorphoses, Charles Martin has chosen six major interpretations by Bernard Knox, J. R. R. Mackail, Norman O. Brown, Italo Calvino, Frederick Ahl, and Diane Middlebrook.A Glossary of Persons, Places, and Personifications in the Metamorphoses and a Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.… (more)
Title:Metamorphoses (Norton Critical Editions)
Other authors:Charles Martin (Translator)
Info:W. W. Norton & Co. (2010), Paperback, 580 pages
Collections:Your library

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Metamorphoses [Norton Critical Editions] by Ovid



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I've recently read several interesting short story collections from antiquity, namely The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. Each of them has inspired enough academic articles to fill a library, so I'm not going to delve into their historical import or the ways each has influenced future literature, but I think its valuable to consider how they compare to each other in approach and how I saw them as stories.

First, The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer's unfinished collection provides a great window into what life was like in the middle ages, more specifically England in the 1300s. By providing a diverse cast of story tellers as the vehicles for the stories themselves Chaucer is able to explore many professions and various points on the social hierarchy, satirizing and criticizing all the flaws he saw in his society. To an extent these are interesting, but social satire does not always age well. While it certainly gives you a sense of how England looked through Chaucer's eyes (a den of corruption and hypocrisy for the most part, especially when discussing the religious institutions), it can be hit or miss as to whether the critique has aged well. Critique on chivalry in The Knight's Tale? I'm in. Critique of alchemists wherein pages and pages of ingredients are listed? Yawn. Additionally, the majority of the tales aren't that deep, with many being raunchy stories of pure entertainment and others being morality tales with blatantly obvious messages (pride is bad and fortune is fickle, we get it). The message of one tale was flat out stated to be "beware of treachery." Was there someone at the time saying "don't beware of treachery, it's not that bad?"

In reverse chronological order the next up is Arabian Nights. This collection is amorphous enough that many tales pop up in one edition and not another, which in my opinion weakens the arguments I see about the collection having a set of coherent themes or messages. The sole theme that I found to be consistent was the power of storytelling- it appears in the frame narrative, of course, but also the stories themselves often showcase the ability of stories to trick the powerful, and oftentimes stories lead to sub-stories and so on, like nesting dolls. Toward the end of the collection the descriptions began to get to me: if I never see someone described as being "as beautiful as the moon" with "lips like coral" and other features like various gems I'll be a happy reader. The Norton Critical addition showed its worth by providing many additional pieces inspired by the Arabian Nights, as well as critical analyses of the text (some of which I found less than convincing, but always interesting). More so than the other two collections Arabian Nights just struck me as a bunch of stories, many of which of course were intended to edify, but mostly its purpose was to entertain. It more or less accomplished this.

The earliest, and also the best, of the three collections was Ovid's Metamorphoses. Chaucer references the classic explicitly several times in his work, and it's no wonder: Ovid is the master that Chaucer tried and failed to match. What put this collection above the others for me was that Ovid not only had a consistent theme to the stories (transformations, as the title would suggest), but also stories flow from one to the next, mostly with an organic feeling that makes the work take on a grander scale. Ovid's not just telling stories, he's tracing the history of the world, explaining how the world became populated with the birds and plants and animals that fill it, and connecting the past all up to what was then the present day. It also serves as the source for much of what we know of Greek/Roman mythology, as Ovid was also setting down an account of the actions and behavior of the gods. Framing narratives can be used to great effect, just look at If On a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino for a phenomenal example, but Canterbury Tales creates such a framing narrative only to leave it incomplete, and Arabian Nights slowly siphons away the importance of the frame narrative until it is forgotten entirely. In comparison, Ovid's Metamorphoses connection of his tales makes his work stand on a grander scale, and makes it feel like a more coherent whole. A note on translations, I found Charles Martin's work to be very strong in general, although he makes a few bizarre choices. Translating a singing contest into a rap battle was a clear mistake. Overall, though, I feel confident recommending him so long as you want a more modern take on the text.

All three collections have stood the test of time, and each is an essential read to understand the ages and cultures they arose out of. Between the three of them, though, Ovid's Metamorphoses is the most worthy of your time in my opinion. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Charles Martin's translation is very good. He was able to stick to the Latin poetic form. And I love all the extra context and essays available from a Norton Critical. Excellent work. ( )
  VivalaErin | Jun 18, 2011 |
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Please do not combine with the main entry for Ovid's Metamorphoses. This is a Norton Critical Edition (ca 500 pages) and contains substantial amounts of additional material (essays, notes, commentary etc).
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