Reading Ovid: Metamorphoses – Book Five

Metamorphoses
Ovid
Translated by David Raeburn

Title: Metamorphoses
Author: Ovid, translated by Daniel Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0140447897
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Book OneBook TwoBook ThreeBook FourBook SixBook SevenBook EightBook NineBook Ten Book Eleven Book TwelveBook ThirteenBook FourteenBook Fifteen

Book Five has 678 lines on 33 pages.

A writer reflects the times in which they are writing.  It’s all too easy to apply modern sensitivities to earlier times.

Ovid’s Rome was patriarchal, with  slave and class systems in place.  Metamorphoses has been a very influential piece since the time it was written.  It should come as no surprise that the attitudes of ancient Rome have been spread across the globe, and can still be found in contemporary society.

Ovid’s treatment of the characters in his epic poem resonate deeply with what one has experienced or observed from a 21st century perspective.  So much work left to do.

The epic story of Perseus continues with a wedding banquet turned brawl thanks to Andromeda‘s first intended.  Phineus insists on taking Andromeda back and leads a sword swinging fest that is gore and blood and anguish defined.  It isn’t until after much stabby-stabbity that Perseus remembers he has Medusa‘s head and begins using it to literally stop his foes in their tracks.

Why he waited so long is a question only Ovid can answer.  Friends keep telling me not to ruin a good story by trying to make sense of it.  So I’ll let it be.

In all of the words about fighting comes an object lesson about death coming to you no matter your class or status.

Dorylas rich in land, whose estates of cornfields and mounting
heaps of imported incense were larger than anyone else’s.
Rich as he was, he was struck by a javelin thrown from the side
in the groin, that sensitive place.
(lines 129 – 132)

Not only did the rich man die in a brawl, he died from a javelin to the groin.

A prime example of a mother’s love is the story of Proserpina.

…when Pluto espied her,
no sooner espied than he loved her and swept her away, so impatient is passion.
(lines 394 – 396)

They wind up in Hades.  Meanwhile, Ceres searches for her daughter.  Finding evidence of Prosperina’s girdle in Sicily, Ceres (goddess of agriculture) lays waste to Sicily until Arethusa talks her down and tells her Prosperina is queen of the underworld.

Jupiter, of course sticks up for Pluto:

… Lord Pluto hasn’t committed a crime
but an act of love.  No need for us to feel shame at the marriage,
if only you will accept it, Ceres.
(lines 524 – 526)

So long as Prosperina has not eaten anything in Hades, she is free to return home.  Sadly, she ate seven seeds and was sentenced to spending six months in the underworld, the other six at home.  (Thus, the mythological reason for seasons.)

Book Five is one third of the way through, and it continues to fascinate and appall with plenty of aha! moments, giving me lots to think about,  A lifetime of reading is being recast as I continue.

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