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Metamorphoses [in translation]
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I read this at the wrong time, but I enjoyed the book. Ovid isn't my favorite poet. I read this mainly because I saw a play version of this in high school. All I remember there was pools and a bunch of hot shirtless guys. Then I saw a French movie of this that was basically erotic fantasy. I knew what I was getting myself into. This isn't your PG or even PG-13 mythology. This is more R or NC-17 mythology, which I'm glad because too much of it is watered down. Will I read more Ovid? I'm not sure. Like I said I didn't care for his writing as much.
This translation is, on occasion, a bit ridiculous.
A lovely and effortlessly readable translation, though I did miss having little notes from the translator on particularly tricky puns, idioms, turns of phrase as I found in Hejduk's The Offense of Love. Perhaps there aren't any in Metamorphoses? Certainly, none of the various translations I was able to compare online seemed to have any such footnotes.
And while I missed having the translator double as Ovid scholar, as Hejduk does, Johnson's introduction to the text proved helpful and insightful, especially given the vast gulf between Ovid's time and my own. Taken together with Lombardo's translation, it has only reinforced my interest in reading more of Ovid's work—and perhaps discovering more of Ovid, himself, in the process.
Ovid's mythology classic begins so beautifully with Creation,
then delves into harrowing, mostly gruesome and horrifying details of bleeding entrails,
murders, rapes, revenge...
with only a few good tales woven in.
It also ends beautifully with the surprise of Pythagoras!
Belongs to Publisher Series
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Goldmann Klassiker (7513)
Penguin Classics (L058)
Penguin Clothbound Classics (2014)
Perpetua reeks (19)
Reclam Taschenbuch (20637)
Is contained in
The Library of Latin Literature Collection Ovid: Metamorphoses, Juvenal: The Satires, Virgil: The Aeneid, Ovid: The art of love by Ovid
Tusculum : Ovid : Metamorphosen by Gerhard Fink (indirect)
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Is an adaptation of
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References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (12)
Metamorphoses--the best-known poem by one of the wittiest poets of classical antiquity--takes as its theme change and transformation, as illustrated by Greco-Roman myth and legend. Melville's new translation reproduces the grace and fluency of Ovid's style, and its modern idiom offers a freshunderstanding of Ovid's unique and elusive vision of reality.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)873.01Literature Latin Epic poetry, Latin to ca. 499, Roman period
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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.
Editions: 014044789X, 0140422307
Indiana University Press
An edition of this book was published by Indiana University Press.
An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.
Way way back 40 years ago, I studied Latin for what were then called O-levels, and one of the set texts was a Belfast-teenager-friendly translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I loved it. If you don’t know, it’s a narrative poem in fifteen books re-telling classical legends, concentrating in particular on those where there is a change of shape – usually humans turned into animals, vegetables or minerals, though with other variations too. It’s breezy, vivid and sometimes funny, and it’s been a store of easily accessible ancient lore for centuries.
I’d always meant to get back to it properly, and it finally popped up on my list of books that I owned but had not yet blogged here. However, my 40-year-old copy is safely in Northern Ireland, so I acquired both the latest Penguin translation, by Stephanie McCarter, and Ted Hughes’ selection of twenty-four choice chapters, and read them – I took the McCarter translation in sequence, and then jumped across to read the relevant sections if Hughes had translated them, though he put them in a different order.
I do find Ovid fascinating. In some ways he speaks to the present day reader very directly – a lot of the emotions in the Ars Amatoria could be expressed by lovers two thousand years later. But here he’s taking material that was already very well known, the Greek and Roman classical legendarium, and repackaging it for a sophisticated audience in the greatest city in the world. The book ends (McCarter’s translation):
Where Roman power spreads through conquered lands,
I will be read on people’s lips. My fame
will last across the centuries. If poets’
prophecies can hold any truth, I’ll live.
And he did. I have been particularly struck by Ovid’s popularity among the patrons of my favourite 17th-century stuccador, Jan Christiaan Hansche. A number of his most interesting ceilings feature stories from Ovid, some of them well known, some less so. Sixteen centuries after Ovid laid down his pen, his work was still part of the standard canon of literature known to all educated Western Europeans.
So. The two translations are different and serve different purposes. McCarter’s mandate was to translate the whole of the Metamorphoses into iambic pentameter in English. She is necessarily constrained to giving us an interpretation of Ovid’s text, with all of its limitations, and confining her own original thoughts to footnotes and other supporting material.
In a very interesting introduction, she is clear about the many scenes of rape in the story. But she also makes it clear that Ovid has a lot more active female characters than are in his sources, and they get more to do. She gives some telling examples of previous translators projecting later concepts of femininity onto Ovid’s fairly unambiguous original words.
Given the contemporary debate, it’s also interesting that Ovid has several examples of gender fluidity – not really presented as a standard part of everyday life, but nonetheless as a phenomenon that happens. For Ovid, we must simply accept that someone’s current gender may not be the one that they were born with.
Ted Hughes, on the other hand, was translating favourite bits of Ovid because he had reached the stage of his career where he could do what he wanted. He could leave out all the bits he found boring (I haven’t counted, but I think he translates about only 40% of Ovid’s text), and he could add his own flourishes at will. Inevitably this makes for a more satisfactory reading experience, though it is incomplete.
Both translations bring to life Ovid’s vivid imagery, which really throws you into the narrative. For a compare and contrast passage, here is the beginning of their treatment of the story of Phaethon, the son of the Sun who crashed to disaster trying to drive his father’s chariot (a favourite topic for Hansche). I think that the differences speak for themselves:
The Sun’s child Phaethon equaled him in age
and mind. But Epaphus could not endure
his boasts, his smugness, and his arrogance
that Phoebus was his father and declared,
“You crazily trust all your mother says!
Your head is swollen by a phony father!”
Phaethon blushed as shame repressed his wrath.
He took these taunts to Clymene, his mother,
and told her, “Mother, to upset you more,
although I am free-spoken and quick-tempered,
I could not speak, ashamed these insults could
be uttered and that I could not refute them.
If I am truly born of holy stock,
give me a sign and claim me for the heavens!”
Wrapping his arms around his mother’s neck,
he begged—by his life, Merops’ life, his sisters’
weddings—that she give proof of his true father.
When Phaethon bragged about his father, Phoebus
His friends mocked him.
‘Your mother must be crazy
Or you’re crazy to believe her.
How could the sun be anybody’s father?’
In a rage of humiliation
Phaethon came to his mother, Clymene.
‘They’re all laughing at me,
And I can’t answer. What can I say? It’s horrible.
I have to stand like a dumb fool and be laughed at.
‘If it’s true, Mother,’ he cried, ‘if the sun,
The high god Phoebus, if he is my father,
Give me proof.
Give me evidence that I belong to heaven.’
Then he embraced her. ‘I beg you,
‘On my life, on your husband Merops’ life,
And on the marriage hopes of my sisters,
Only give me proof that the sun is my father.’
I think I’d recommend that a reader unfaniliar with Ovid start with Hughes and then go on to McCarter to get the full story. You can get the McCarter translation here and Hughes here. ( )