Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

Synopsis

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 fresh understanding of Ovid's unique and elusive vision of reality.

Excerpt

The elation of comedy is saying hooray for life in its own terms, however incongruous and absurd. Donald Davie

When the present writer was at school, the proposition that Ovid was a better poet than Virgil, or even that the Metamorphoses was fit to stand alongside the Aeneid, would not have been generally entertained. It had not always been so. In 1873 James Henry, the great commentator, who devoted his life (to say nothing of the life of his daughter Katharine) to the explication of the Aeneid, could write of Ovid that he was 'a more natural, more genial, more cordial, more imaginative, more playful poet . . . than [Virgil] or any other Latin poet'. Few more comprehensive tributes have come his way. In 1799 Gilbert Wakefield, writing to Charles James Fox from Dorchester gaol (where he was undergoing imprisonment for seditious libel), called Ovid 'to my fancy, the first Poet of all Antiquity'; and half a century earlier than that the young Edward Gibbon had 'derived more pleasure from Ovid's Metamorphoses' than from the Aeneid. The word 'pleasure', of course, gives the game away: in Gibbon's day and for long afterwards English boys were not sent to school to enjoy themselves, and the Metamorphoses is not in any obvious sense edifying literature. It is only in recent years that critics, having conceded that the poem is, after all, entertaining, have also turned to enquire seriously what, if anything, it is about. Some of the obstacles encountered by such an enquiry are of Ovid's making, for his love of teasing is almost Nabokovian.

The quality in which Wakefield thought that 'no poet of antiquity seems capable of supporting the contest with Ovid' was invention. This is a technical term of classical rhetoric meaning, not the faculty of making things up, but that of finding them: the art of discovering and combining the materials from which an argument could most effectively be constructed. This faculty Wakefield bracketed with 'copiousness of thought' as the 'first endowment' of a poet, in which he judged Ovid preeminent. The resources of material at Ovid's disposal for this undertaking were immense--the whole field of Greek and (what . . .

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