Author: Ovid, translated by Daniel Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Additional resources used while reading Metamorphoses:
When I write about books, I strive more for commentary than recap or review. In the case of Metamorphoses, I am not qualified to give a close or technical read. This is some heavy going and I could easily take several classes about Roman literature, Ovid and Metamorphoses itself, just to learn more about the time and context. Not to mention the fun of taking art history and literature classes devoted to the impact Ovid had on Western art and literature.
Metamorphoses has been studied since first published in 8CE, just a few years before Ovid died. The body of work devoted to this epic poem is prodigious.
It seems to me that reading it at least once is worthy of the effort, if only to be exposed to this grand writing, and learn the origin stories of things we already know in our contemporary lives. Black ball, Midas touch, hyacinth and Pygmalion come to mind.
I encourage anyone who has wondered if they should read it, to give it a go. My views on what people should or shouldn’t read are pretty clear; people should read what they want.
At the start of Metamorphoses, Ovid states his ambition; to tell the story of the founding of Rome from chaos to the present. That is a lot of ground to cover. When I first looked at the page count, 636, I thought it would just take a couple of weeks. Hah! Two months later.
Raeburn’s translation helped, as did the trick I finally figured out of reading to the punctuation instead of the meter. I am horrible with meters and they just make the poem choppy and ugly to me. But ignoring the meter and reading to the punctuation made things so much easier.
There’s so much going on in this work. It is grand and sweeping, and sometimes choppy and even more difficult. I would like to have a better grounding in the literature of the time so that I could understand the allusions and homages more easily. Romans loved their blood and guts and adventure tales.
In fact, Metamorphoses is rife with violence, gruesome in its detail and astonishing in the litany of names of characters involved in all the “stabbity-stab-stab.” Rape is another prevalent topic, as is punishment by the gods and goddesses.
This is not a nice, tidy look at the story of Rome, fiction or not. There were numerous times when I had to stop and remind myself that Metamorphoses was written for an audience who had certain expectations for a great story, and for whom violence was nothing to be squeamish about.
The attitudes towards women are difficult, but again, this was written in first century CE, when the very idea of women speaking up for themselves and showing agency was frowned upon at best, punishable at worst. Ancient Rome was a very stratified society, even wealthy women were held to be barely better than the slave class. So it is no surprise this found its way into the literature.
There are very few happy endings in Metamorphoses. Love goes unrequited, and is frequently punished with grim results. Happy love stories are reserved for those who are pious in their thoughts and actions. Even those end sadly, as the characters nearly always die.
The parts I most enjoyed were the personifications of emotions and dreams. Envy, Rumour and Sleep are all represented here, imagined with entertaining lines.
I enjoyed reading the details of how Ulysses’s men turned into pigs on Circe’s island, from the point of view of one of the men. And, although Polyphemus was a monster in all meanings of the word, it was fun to read how he tried to make himself into something Galatea could love. Jove as a golden shower getting Danae pregnant is another favorite bit.
There’s so much to enjoy, and revile, in Metamorphoses, it’s impossible to recount them in any way that makes sense. I could comb back through each book’s commentary and look for things to write about here. But I won’t.
What I will say is that reading Metamorphoses was a journey worth taking. One which I am just as happy to have completed, leaving me to move on to less complicated books in my stacks. One lasting effect I am sure of, nothing I see or read will ever be the same since reading it.
If you’re up for an adventure, and don’t mind working for your read, give Metamorphoses a try. I can’t guarantee what you’ll get from it, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t get into it. There are far too many books to be read; don’t read the ones you can’t get into. As for me, I’m glad to have had the experience.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, I miss my platinum blonde streak.
Dinner with a friend who often asks very probing questions when trying to understand my thought processes. It’s something I really appreciate. This particular evening we fell to talking about data, ways to use it to the advantage of marketing efforts, etc.
As often happens, I will answer his questions with as much thoughtfulness as I can, and then realize I actually sound like I know what I’m talking about. How did I come to know this stuff, he queried. In all honesty, it’s observation and intuition of people. It just seems like common sense to me. And first hand experience as a season ticket holder at one point in time for the local NHL team and their efforts to keep me engaged as a fan.
My writing has not been a daily practice since I started work. It is not for lack of things to say or ways to say them. Nor is it even a lack of will. Simply, it is a lack of energy. I refuse to allow this to become habit and have been pondering ways I can adapt to the new schedule and keep my commitment to butt-in-chair every day.
Chuck Wendig, and his blog at terribleminds, keep me engaged with posts about writing. It no longer scares me to read this is hard work and that I will fall, repeatedly. And be rejected. And all those other things that go along with being a writer. I think there’s a longer post for 7Stillwell based on Chuck’s posts.
It probably also doesn’t hurt that I write because it makes me happy and that I don’t write to make others happy. Basically, it’s nice to have people read my writing and comment on it in a positive manner, but I really don’t give much of a shit if anyone reads it, or how they feel about it. I also know that the first deeply insulting, personal attack will make me want to go to my knees, which is also fine. I’m human, and approbation is what we crave.
Lastly, I watched a reality competition show called The Quest. It was a Survivor/Amazing Race kinda thing with the twist of having a fantasy story line. Twelve contestants went to a castle in Austria and bought into the story of saving EverRealm from Verlox the Dark. The setting was Elizabethan/Renaissance Faire sort of stuff.
The show itself was not much to get excited about. Which is probably why I kept wondering about what the actors had been told about interacting with the competitors. And what happened if they broke character or forgot their lines, or dropped their pseudo-British accents? How did they keep the competitors on task, and guide them to the next scene and stay in character? I would love to be hearing stories about this kind of behind the scenes stuff.
Every reader goes through this. We’re enjoying our book in a public space and someone walks up and starts a conversation because, clearly, we’re just waiting for them to talk to us. Usually these people are someone we don’t know.
Reading while traveling can be an exercise fraught with invasion of privacy. Some people don’t understand why I travel alone, and most really don’t recognize that I welcome the solitude.
I was a member of the local NHL team’s booster club, which was also on this trip, but I wasn’t traveling with them. We were on a cruise ship in Alaska, and I would often encounter someone I knew. When I’d traveled with them before, I would get comments about how sorry they were I was traveling alone. Sometimes people would try to “adopt” me so I wouldn’t be alone. It’s a completely foreign concept to them, this wanting to be alone.
One day I’d been sitting at a table in the pizza restaurant completely absorbed in Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush by Lael Morgan. I hadn’t been paying much to my surroundings until this guy from the booster club saw me and sat down at my table while saying, “Oh you’re not doing anything. I’ll sit here.” Like he was the gift of companionship I’d been anxiously awaiting.
As an introvert, I don’t think well on my feet to begin with. I could have said something like, “I am doing something, I’m reading.” But no, I didn’t say a word. I was also one of those women afraid to say anything for fear I’d be viewed as rude. No one taught me that other people were often being rude to me and I could say something.
So, mouth agape, I looked up from my book. Mind you, it is obvious that I’m reading, the book is wide open on the table and my head is inches from it as I read the salacious tales of the women making their living the only way they knew how during the Yukon Gold Rush. It has always surprised me when people think reading constitutes “doing nothing.”
He didn’t ask if he could join me or what I was reading. He just sat down and launched into talking. After a few awkward minutes, my pizza was ready and he wandered off.
People, seriously. If you see someone reading, and you do not know them, do not interrupt them. Readers are perfectly happy being left to their reading. Do not just walk up and start talking because it’s rude. Really rude. If you do know them but they aren’t expecting you, ask before you sit down and start talking.
While most readers appear mild-mannered, some will resent the interruption and make you forget who your mama is. It might be tempting to believe they’re really just waiting for someone to talk to. Don’t give into the temptation that you are just the person to rescue them. Trust me, you’re probably not.
Author: Ovid, translated by Daniel Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Book Fifteen has 879 has lines on 42 pages.
So here we are at the end of this epic poem, considered to be one of the most influential works in Western arts and literature. It’s easy to understand why, Ovid’s stories focus not only on change, he focuses on the humanness of his characters, even the gods. As much as I rail at men who won’t stay faithful to their spouses, and angry women who take it out on the victim, isn’t that what humans do? It isn’t easy to think about the flaws of us, but Ovid reflects us back to ourselves ultimately.
As an introduction to Croton and its famous citizen, Pythagoras, Ovid tells the story of the city’s founding. Myscelus is visited in his dreams by Hercules twice. Each time, Hercules exhorts Myscelus to leave his country and sail to the place where he would found Croton.
However, the laws in Myscelus’ country forbade anyone to leave. As he tried to sneak out, he is caught and put on trial. The vote is held by collecting white or black pebbles in an urn. If all the balls are black, he will be executed. Since Myscelus is breaking the law of his country, it’s a foregone conclusion that all the pebbles will be black.
He prays to Hercules basically saying, “It’s your fault I’m in this predicament, so help me out here.” When the urn is emptied, all the pebbles have turned white and Myscelus is released to leave the country.
Heard of the phrase “black balled?” The tradition of voting related in the story Myscelus is where that phrase comes from.
(Note: I was reminded of the Greek practice of ostracism which used pieces of pottery called ostracon to vote for the ostracism of a citizen from Athens. Although similar to being black balled, voters would write the name of the citizen they were voting to ostracize. The pot sherds were usually black, but it was the name that was counted, not the color of the pot sherd. For the time being, I stand by my presumption that “black balled” came from the story of Myscelus and Hercules. 31 August, 2015)
And so Croton is founded in Italy and Pythagoras, great philosopher and mathematician, becomes one of its citizens. Ovid uses Pythagoras as a mouthpiece to discuss how everything transforms, how humanity is connected to each other and everything else on the planet.
One of the more interesting themes here is that of reincarnation. Not in terms of whether it happens, it’s plainly stated that it does. But Pythagoras’ reasoning to be vegetarian and stop killing and eating animals is that we could very well be displacing the soul of a relative. In sum:
All of these nets and traps and snares and crafty devices –
have done with them! Cease to deceive the birds with your treacherous limed twigs,
duping the deer by stringing feathers on ropes to unnerve them,
luring the fish with bait on the hidden hooks of your lines.
If an animal harms you, destroy it; but do no more than destroy it.
Cleave to a diet that sheds no blood and is kind to all creatures.
(lines 473 ~ 468)
I have this image of a Roman warrior coming upon a crying woman in a grove of trees. She’s been crying so loud and so long that all the nymphs are telling her she needs to quiet down because Diana is being disturbed by all the ruckus. In all his well-meant platitudes, he awkwardly pats her on the shoulder and says, essentially, “Lady, you think you have it bad. Let me tell you about this one time …”
And off Hippolytus goes telling the story of how when he wouldn’t sleep with his stepmom, Phaedra, she accused him of rape to his father, Theseus. Of course, Theseus believes his wife over his son and curses him and exiles Hippolytus.
As Hippolytus is driving his chariot down the coast, a huge wave comes out of the ocean, turns into a gigantic bull and spooks the horses. Mayhem ensues, Hippolytus loses control of his horses and chariot which crashes and kills him.
My weary spirit at last gave out, and there wasn’t a part
of my body which could have been known as mine. It was all one wound.
Now can you, Egeria, dare you compare your misfortune with mine?
(lines 528 – 530)
Then he goes on to say, “’cause let me tell ya, that was just the beginning.” Just like the one annoying co-worker we’ve all had who just wants to tell his story and get your sympathy, under the guise of “cheering you up.”
After he dies, Hippolytus goes to the underworld to bathe in healing waters which bring him back to life all in one piece again. And then, and then, he can’t even be Hippolytus anymore, he has to become Virbius because Pluto was angry about Hippolytus coming back to life.
Of course, this story does nothing to make Egeria feel better about losing her husband. She lays down at the foot of a mountain and continues crying until Diana was moved enough to turn Egeria into a cooling spring.
The Epilogue to this grand work proves that Ovid was both arrogant and prescient. He ends his masterpiece by stating that nothing will ever destroy his work and that his name shall never be forgotten.
Wherever the might of Rome extends in the lands she has conquered,
the people shall read and recite my words. Throughout all ages,
if poets have vision to prophesy truth, I shall live in my fame.
(lines 877 – 879)
This past week was indeed full of awesome. It was yet another reminder of how my life should be and what I’m striving for.
Temping at the Computer History Museum is a wonderful thing. It reminds me of working in high-tech before the bubble in 2001. There’s no one setting me up for a fall, or as I told the person who trained me, “There’s no one looking at me like ‘What are YOU doing here and how is it going to hurt me?'” Everyone is very welcoming. And I’m back in cubicle land with 72″ purple walls. Thank goodness for no more open space offices, those really were the worst for me.
My schedule needs some adjusting. I’m still trying to figure out how everything fits in. My commitment to being creative every day remains, it’s just figuring out how to do that with two days in the middle of the week given to earning steady money. I don’t mind, it’s worth figuring out.
A friend sent a new, larger rice cooker. This one is 16-cups! Yes, that’s exciting to me too. Now I can make my meals ahead more easily knowing there’s enough rice already cooked.
Overall, a really good week. For which I am very grateful.
Author: Ovid, translated by Daniel Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Book Fourteen has 831 has lines on 43 pages.
As I come close to finishing this doorstop of a book, it’s not a bad time to remind myself that Ovid’s stated intent with his epic poem was to tell the story of Roman history from the beginning of time until Rome’s founding by Romulus.
That is a lot to write. As I said in my review of Book One, Ovid had an ambitious goal. I’m also discovering that while I may “know” some of the stories in Metamorphoses, I don’t know Ovid’s versions. I know Odysseus (Ulysses) from Homer. The same with the Trojan War. Ovid’s audience would have known Homer’s work well, so while Ovid pays homage to the authors who came before him, he does not tell the same stories. Which can be confusing.. To add to the confusion, Homer was Greek; Ovid Roman.
This book may be the most disjointed of all. The stories are all over the place, jumping from metamorphosis to metamorphosis without much plot cohesion.
It begins with a return to the story of Glaucus and Scylla. Book Thirteen ended with Scylla rebuffing Glaucus who, seemingly, went to Circe in a huff. Book Fourteen reveals that Glaucus was not seeking out Circe to heal his broken heart, but to plead for a spell or potion to be whipped up that would make Scylla love him. And, as we have become used to, jealousy rears its ugly head. Circe refuses Glaucus’ request, wanting him for herself. Instead, she turns Scylla’s lower half into dogs. Glaucus continues to spurn Circe, and no one ends up happy.
Ovid briefly mentions Scylla being turned into a headland of rock, just across the way from Charybdis’ whirlpool, making the strait of Messina difficult to navigate for sailors. Between Scylla and Charybdis is the origin of “between a rock and a hard place.” Scylla being the rock and Charybdis the hard place.
A poorly executed encounter between soldiers who once fought on opposite sides of The Trojan War, leads to the story of the aftermath of Ulysses’ men in Polyphemus‘ cave. Great care is taken with the details of a blind, angry cyclops who pulls Mt. Etna apart and grabs every human he can feel and eats them whole. This is some gory stuff which Ovid’s audience would have loved.
Now the other soldier in this encounter relates what it was like to be traveling with Ulysses and get stranded on Circe’s island. Entering her palace, twenty-two men are greeted by friendly animals of all kinds. The animals are wagging their tails and licking the hands of the new arrivals. Circe greets them kindly, while the men notice that her women are not carding wool or spinning thread, but rather sorting grasses, flowers and herbs.
Circe directs the women to make a potion for the visitors. As they drink, she taps each one on their head and they become pigs. Here again, Ovid dwells on the details of this transformation.
… I started to prickle all over
with bristles. My voice had deserted me, all the words I could utter
were snorting grunts. I was falling down to the earth, head first.
I could feel my nose and my mouth going hard in a long round snout;
my neck was swelling in folds of muscle; the hands which had lifted
the cup just now to my lips were marking the soil with hoof prints.
(lines 279 – 284)
One of the men, Eurylochus, does not drink the potion and is able to alert Ulysses, outside of the palace, who comes in and convinces Circe to return them all to human form.
While lingering at Circe’s, one of her maidens tells the story of the statue of Picus to Macareus. As is common in these tales, Picus is gorgeous and young. He is also married to Canens, a beautiful young woman who could move anyone and anything with her singing.
One day, while out picking herbs, Circe gets an eyeful of Picus and falls in love. She is determined to have him, but Picus keeps denying her because he’s married to Canens. Circe becomes so incensed she casts a spell and turns him into a woodpecker.
Picus is searched for but, of course, no one can find him. Canens wanders for six days and six nights and finds herself on the shore of the Tiber river. As Canens sings her sorrow, she wastes away to nothing.
Once again, I’m reminded of the Roman audience who would have loved this sort of gossipy story. That it also explains the name of a physical space called Canens is a bonus.
Pomona is the goddess of orchards, who cares only for trees which bear fruit and nuts. She’s decided to spend her life away from men, which is difficult because the males don’t take no for an answer.
One, Vertumnus, changes the seasons, and can change his appearance at will. He disguises himself as an old woman so he can go into the orchard and talk to Pomona. In this guise, he gives her many reasons why she should marry him.
He doesn’t wander all over the world in search of new women;
he sticks to his own patch. Nor does he fall in love with the latest
girl he has seen, like most of your suitors. You’ll be his passion,
his first and his last; he’ll devote his life entirely to you.
(lines 679 – 682)
Then old-lady-in-disguise Vertumnus tells her the story of Iphis and Anaxarete, which does not end well.
Iphis is a shepherd who falls in love with the lady Anaxarete. He fights his feelings because of their differences in class. When he can no longer fight them, he goes to her home and pleads with her. He asks her servants to help him woo her, but Anaxrete has a cold heart and spurns him repeatedly. She even makes fun of him.
In an act of desperation, he goes to her front door and beseeches her one last time. When Iphis is rebuffed yet again, from behind a closed door, he commits suicide where the servants find him.
Still Anaxarete is unmoved which makes “a vengeful” god angry and she is turned into a statue.
At the end of this story, Vertumnus changes form into his own beautiful self, ready to rape Pomona, if “necessary.” But his story has changed her mind about men and she gives herself willingly to him. At least it’s another rape avoided.
Which brings us, at last, to the founding of Rome by Romulus. Ovid does not mention the twin brother Remus or the myth of them being raised by a she-wolf here. As with most well-known stories written by other authors, Ovid either glosses over them or focuses on different details. As I’ve stated many times, his Roman audience would have been familiar with these stories, so Ovid didn’t need to retell them.
Rome has been founded during the festival of Pales, the god of shepherds. But war broke out with the neighboring Sabines, because the Roman men abducted and raped Sabine women for wives. After a sufficient amount of blood being spilled, peace is negotiated and Romulus rules over both Romans and Sabines.
The last story in Book Fourteen is brief and relates the story of how Romulus became a god. Mars fulfills his promise to Romulus who takes the name Quirinus once deified.
His wife Hersilie is left behind and grieves the loss of her husband. But Juno has plans for her and sends Iris to fetch her to Romulus’ Hill, where she is transformed into a goddess and joins her husband as Hora.
It was a tumultuous week. In the best of times, it’s not easy to ask for help. But there I was in a fluorescent lit, tile floored room filled with people of all ages and races, asking for help because I just couldn’t do it anymore. Taking care of myself nutritionally had become so difficult and made me feel so low. In many ways, asking for this sort of governmental help made me feel like a failure, a loser. I had been brought up in a home which believed asking for help was for “them.” And there I was, one of “them.”
But on Friday, when I could go buy groceries and put fresh produce and protein other than chicken in my refrigerator, I forgot about “them” and was simply grateful.
Mid-week, the temp agency called. I have become skeptical when they ask if I’m available to work. Two years of not being picked have made me jittery. But this time, it was my turn to be picked. Later this week, I will begin a part-time job doing data-entry in a facility not far from where my high-tech life began.
Evie Mae, she of the electric blue hair, has been talking to me so I guess we have some stories to tell. She’s very reluctant to tell it to me all at once and, as I’ve read many times, writers don’t necessarily need to be linear when they start the story. So I’ll take what she gives me when she gives it to me. I have so many questions for her!
It has been extremely hot the past few days, it’s hard to get anything done in this uninsulated stucco apartment which absorbs all the days’ heat. I took a couple of days off to reground myself from all the excitement of last week. I feel better able to work now, which is a thing I’m sure my stories appreciate.
This week has proven yet again that the universe watches out and provides for me. I must get back to my part. Who knows what good surprises are in store for me?
My mind works in funny ways. It always has. If I had to explain it, I’d probably say something about that’s just how the creative mind works. But since I don’t have to explain and I’m used to the idea of being what others consider quirky and odd, I’ll just say this, “Yup, I’m weird.”
A post on Facebook by author Baer Charlton, sparked an idea. Proving, to me at least, that inspiration comes from anywhere.
Baer was discussing the lack of character development in a book he’d just read and listed all the things he didn’t know about the protagonist, including what color her hair was. And I thought, “oh, her hair is electric blue,” like it was the most obvious thing on the planet.
I don’t much trust myself with fiction because I’m not sure I could bear the weight of consistency which fiction requires. But Baer’s list struck me as an interesting exercise. As did his quote about how bad the character development was in this book he’d read.
This book was the worst case of stick figures being pushed around in a story line.
What follows is my response to Baer’s post.
Her hair was electric blue, in a straight cut just below her ears. She hated when it was long enough to cover her neck, but not long enough to pin up out of the way. She also hated having to do anything other than wash and comb, so she kept it short.
She also kept her hair short so that it wasn’t awful to deal with when she hit the open road in her 1955 ruby red Thunderbird. At least the last guy she lived with had been good for something. His restoration job was gorgeous. But when she caught him online having some sort of weird sexual orgy with people from all over the world, she knew it was time to pack up and leave. Besides Nellie Belle, a box of books, a box of clothes and a laptop, was all she owned anymore.
Twiddling with the radio, looking for the comedy routine called church radio, which could only be found on the AM dial and was best enjoyed on the back-roads of Middle America, she heaved what used to be an ample bosom in a deep sigh.
The moonlight reflected off the deep burgundy color of her fingernails. She still hadn’t figured out a great story to tell when people asked why she was missing part of her right pinkie finger. Telling them her father thought it would be funny to see what else garden shears could cut was just too painful to relive. Mostly, she shrugged and smiled when asked.
Hating that she was nearly 60 and there was still so much she wanted to do, the trip from Ohio to New Mexico was yet another attempt at sorting things. She had a score to settle with her parents. Her mother died before the score had even been tallied, and one of the things on her long list of things to do before she died was to settle up with her father.
Grinning as yet another preacher profaned the word of God while making a plea for money, her stomach rumbled. “Oh, hungry,” she said out loud. Didn’t seem that long since the last bacon double cheeseburger with onion rings, and the cherry shake had gone down.
And now she was out on a two-lane in god knew where Indiana. A night owl by nature, it’d be another couple of hours before she would be ready to bed down somewhere. It was unlikely there’d be a burger place open at 2 or 3AM. Damn, she was going to have to settle for an energy bar stashed in the Wonder Woman lunch box on the seat next to her. When she stopped for the night, she’d look for WiFi and figure out where the next really great burger place was. The internet was good for things like that.
It was also good for things like talking to people in murky places with even murkier morals willing to help one quirky older woman settle her scores. Her father would never know what hit him. Too bad it wouldn’t get her the finger and the years he took from her back.