Lisa's Reviews > Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses by Ovid
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"Throughout all ages,
If poets have vision to prophesy truth, I shall live in my
Fame."

Thus the closing lines of Ovid's "Metamorphoses". He was certainly right in his statement, but it feels like an appropriate irony that his work has been transformed, metamorphosed, over the millennia since he wrote his compilation of Roman and Greek literature. I have known most of the collected stories since my early days at university, but only now finished reading the "Metamorphoses" as a whole, from cover to cover, and my impression is that Ovid's fame is mostly due to the brilliant interpretation of his text by European visual artists over the centuries.

Through the metamorphosis from text to visual art, Ovid has stayed famous. Bernini's "Apollo and Daphne" symbolises it more accurately than any other myth retold in the collection: a god chasing a young nymph, who slowly transforms into a laurel tree to avoid sexual assault, only to find herself the eternal symbol of Apollo's high status, and the honorable prize for literary or artistic fame. Ovid is resting on those laurels, wearing his Apollonian laurel wreath - as is Bernini, who can proudly compete with Pygmalion in the skill with which he made the marble leaves come alive, transforming hard stone into delicate art.



I knew I would be going on a tour through art history when I embarked on the Ovid journey, and I enjoyed every minute of it, often reading with a pile of art books next to me. As a pleasant extra surprise, I found myself revisiting several favourite Greek plays from a different narrative perspective, focusing on the transforming powers of dramatic storytelling rather than on unity of time, place and action. Hercules' story unfolded from a new angle, as did many of the Trojan and Minoan adventures.

After finishing Virgil's The Aeneid a couple of months ago, the short summary of Aeneas' adventures was welcome as well. Generally speaking, the "Metamorphoses" can be viewed as a Who's Who in the Ancient Roman and Greek cosmos, with a clear bias in favour of the Roman empire and its virtues. There are fewer long fight scenes than in the Iliad or the Aeneid, which makes it a more pleasant, less repetitive narrative, once the Centaurs and Lapiths are done with their violent duties.

After decades of immersing myself in the world of ancient mythology, I found the "Metamorphoses" to be an easy and lighthearted reading experience. When I read excerpts from it during my early university years, I struggled to recognise and place all those famous characters. It is a matter of being able to see the context, and background knowledge is a clear advantage.

I just wish my Latin was strong enough- it must be a special pleasure to read it in original!

Claude opus!
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Reading Progress

April 2, 2017 – Started Reading
April 2, 2017 – Shelved
April 2, 2017 –
page 5
0.69% ""Changes of shape, new forms, are the theme which my
spirit impels me
now to recite. Inspire me, O gods (it is you who have even
transformed my art), and spin me a thread from the
world's beginning
down to my own lifetime, in one continuous poem."

"
April 3, 2017 –
page 90
12.45% ""His frightened prize looked back at the shore
she was leaving behind, with her right hand clutching
one horn and her left
on his back for support, while her fluttering dress
swelled out in the sea-breeze."



It's fair to say that Europa has been on a dangerous ride since her mythological origins, trying to keep her balance ..."
April 10, 2017 –
page 170
23.51% ""He, however, had only looked on those terrible
features
as they were reflected in bronze, on the shield which he
held in his left hand;
and while Medusa as well as her adders lay buried in
sleep,
he had lopped her head from its neck."

"
April 16, 2017 –
page 217
30.01% "Arachne's transformation into a spider is a brilliantly graphic scene, but it works better in words than as an illustration, and I can see why Doré chose to let Dante meet a more human spider on his travels - what a Spiderwoman! The original Ovid version evokes more of a Kafkaesque metamorphosis, though.

"
May 8, 2017 –
page 225
31.12% ""Then childless, she sank to the earth by the corpses - her sons,
her daughters, her husband -
and there, in her sorrow, her body grew rigid. No lock
of her hair
could stir in the breeze, her complexion was bloodless,
the eyes never moved
in that sad, sad face."



Niobe a victim of the cruelty of gods!"
May 28, 2017 –
page 328
45.37% "After 100 pages of unspeakable atrocities, committed by men and women against closest family members and gods alike, I am relieved to get a break during the love story of Philemon and Baucis. Their care and hospitality saved them from the most popular punishment in the Ancient Intercelestial Court of Justice: Death By Flooding.

"
June 5, 2017 –
page 394
54.5% ""This heavenly woman appeared to be real; you'd surely
suppose her
alive and ready to move, if modesty didn't preclude it;
art was concealed by art to a rare degree. Pygmalion's
marvelling soul was inflamed by desire for a semblance of body.
Again and again his hands moved over his work to
explore it.
Flesh or ivory?"

"
June 6, 2017 –
page 475
65.7% ""The bowl was huge, but Theseus was huger;
he lifted it up and hurled it directly in Eurytus' face."

"
June 11, 2017 – Shelved as: 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die
June 11, 2017 – Shelved as: favorites
June 11, 2017 – Shelved as: monster-mash-of-a-mess
June 11, 2017 – Shelved as: unforgettable
June 11, 2017 – Shelved as: havanas-en-masse
June 11, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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Mackey I absolutely love this book. I read it first at University and have re-read it over and over again. It's so marvelous.


Ilse Your review couldn't emerge more timely for me, Lisa, I finished reading this a couple of hours ago and thorougly enjoyed your delighful write-up when still totally immersed in the atmosphere of the book and the images of works of art that indeed keep popping up in your mind when reading this. As I sometimes felt like visiting the Galleria Borghese all over again, your choice of Apollo and Daphne couldn't be more apt:).


Lisa Ilse wrote: "Your review couldn't emerge more timely for me, Lisa, I finished reading this a couple of hours ago and thorougly enjoyed your delighful write-up when still totally immersed in the atmosphere of th..."

We have indeed been distance buddy reading this, Ilse, as I closed the book in the morning as well. I must say, it was a visual adventure for me, more than anything, as most stories are just told in short anecdotes, almost like tableaux vivants!


Ilse Very well put, at times I was yearning for a particular story, like Semele's, and found it done in no more than 3 lines!


message 5: by Jasmine (new) - added it

Jasmine Lovely review, Lisa! I've had Ovid's work on-hold ever since I finished my Greek mythology course a couple of years ago.


Lisa Ilse wrote: "Very well put, at times I was yearning for a particular story, like Semele's, and found it done in no more than 3 lines!"

I know!! And Phaedra in a sideshow :-)


Ilse Jean-Paul wrote: "Semele in three lines! That's a terrible shame, chère amie. One of my favourite stories and one of my favourite Händel oratorios!
As it is one of mine, cher ami - I think you can understand a bit the disappointment (to comfort you, there is still Schiller's Semele we could read :)). Now you are aware of the brevity in which Ovid tells her story, and others you perhaps look forward to, it will not come as a shock anymore :).


Lisa Jasmine wrote: "Lovely review, Lisa! I've had Ovid's work on-hold ever since I finished my Greek mythology course a couple of years ago."

Thank you, Jasmine! I am happy I finally got to finish it.


message 9: by Lisa (last edited Jun 11, 2017 01:02PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Jean-Paul wrote: "Great review, Lisa. I look forward to reading this sometime soon."

I second all Ilse has said on the topic, but still think you will find the Metamorphoses interesting as they offer a panorama of mythology that suggest a whole universe of paintings to an art lover, Jean-Paul! As you are now aware of the narrative structure, I hope you won't be disappointed!


message 10: by Ivana (new)

Ivana Books Are Magic One of my professors once told me how surprised she had been when she had first learned how anxious her high schools students were to read ancient literature (Metamorphoses especially)...and then one of them said- you're kidding? Sex, incest, violence- it has it all. :) Joking aside, it is a must read classic. It is not as touching and profound as Aeneid or Odysseus/ Iliad but it is a very interesting read! I still remember many of the episodes and it's been ages since I've read it last time....I might reread it one of these days.


message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Ivana wrote: "One of my professors once told me how surprised she had been when she had first learned how anxious her high schools students were to read ancient literature (Metamorphoses especially)...and then o..."

Yes, you are right, Ivana! It has all the blockbuster ingredients. And what I interpreted as a tableau vivant, made for artists, could well be said to be cinematic in nature instead: dramatic episodes filling an entertaining, if somewhat shallow Friday night movie.


message 12: by Dolors (new)

Dolors I have been following your status updates with delight, Lisa, and now I can finally bask in this eloquent meditation on the Greek classics you've recently revisited.
I don't know why but I feel like travelling to Florence all of a sudden!:)


message 13: by Fionnuala (last edited Jun 12, 2017 01:45AM) (new) - added it

Fionnuala Once again, you give us a hugely erudite review, Lisa, but set out so clearly that we don't even notice how much learning you're passing on!
Your updates are a treat too - I loved being reminded of Cellini's Perseus and Daumier's Pygmalion - such a good contrast with the statue in the first update. Whose is that one?

And by the way, this comment thread is great!


message 14: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Dolors wrote: "I have been following your status updates with delight, Lisa, and now I can finally bask in this eloquent meditation on the Greek classics you've recently revisited.
I don't know why but I feel li..."


Oh, Florence is a great place to discover the visual metamorphosis of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Dolors. And probably less rainy than my Scandinavian sky as well!


message 15: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Fionnuala wrote: "Once again, you give us a hugely erudite review, Lisa, but set out so clearly that we don't even notice how much learning you're passing on!
Your updates are a treat too - I loved being reminded of..."


The Pygmalion in the first update was Falconet's. One of my favourite French Enlightenment sculptors. I love him and Daumier as two sides of the same medal. Beauty and humour!


David Sarkies Awesome review of an awesome book. I loved the art as well. Berlini's sculpture is a masterpiece.


message 17: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa David wrote: "Awesome review of an awesome book. I loved the art as well. Berlini's sculpture is a masterpiece."

Thank you, David! I had a lot of brilliant art to choose from as artists seem to love the Metamorphoses.


message 18: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Mackey wrote: "I absolutely love this book. I read it first at University and have re-read it over and over again. It's so marvelous."

I agree, Mackey - it is a book to return to over and over. And the episodic structure allows us to read bits and pieces of it as well.


message 19: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Jean-Paul wrote: "Ilse wrote: "Jean-Paul wrote: "Semele in three lines! That's a terrible shame, chère amie. One of my favourite stories and one of my favourite Händel oratorios!
As it is one of mine, cher ami - I ..."


It does not feature in my Schiller edition either. A rare piece, it seems!


message 20: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Ilse wrote: "Jean-Paul wrote: "Semele in three lines! That's a terrible shame, chère amie. One of my favourite stories and one of my favourite Händel oratorios!
As it is one of mine, cher ami - I think you can..."


I was quite pleased to find some unexpected stories in it, however. It didn't exactly compensate for the brevity, but made me stay engaged over time.


message 21: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro Superb, Lisa.
The books you've been reading lately...
Respect is due.


message 22: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Kevin wrote: "Superb, Lisa.
The books you've been reading lately...
Respect is due."


Thank you so much, Kevin!


Czarny Pies Thanks for reminding about this work which has been sitting on my Kobo for sometime. I have read the versions of Ovid's tales by Edith Hamilton and Bullfinch. It is clearly time for me to read it.
Your comment that it is not full of the repetitions that one encounters in the Aenid and the Odyssey is highly encouraging.


message 24: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Czarny wrote: "Thanks for reminding about this work which has been sitting on my Kobo for sometime. I have read the versions of Ovid's tales by Edith Hamilton and Bullfinch. It is clearly time for me to read it.
..."


Compared to the Aeneid and the Odyssey, it is a quick and easy read. All is relative, as you know :-)


Czarny Pies You are absolutely correct when you write: Through the metamorphosis from text to visual art, Ovid has stayed famous. He has had a stunning impact on the imagination of our painters and sculptors. Let us hope he will for another 2000 years.


message 26: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Czarny wrote: "You are absolutely correct when you write: Through the metamorphosis from text to visual art, Ovid has stayed famous. He has had a stunning impact on the imagination of our painters and sculptors. ..."
I hope so too, Czarny! Thank you for your kind comment!


message 27: by Sara (new)

Sara Jesus I have classes in the three years of my degreed that I the teacher talk about the greco-romano literature. One of the books that we know was this. And I loved!


message 28: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Sara wrote: "I have classes in the three years of my degreed that I the teacher talk about the greco-romano literature. One of the books that we know was this. And I loved!"

It feels like the world is metamorphosing back to the time of "heroic morons", Sara, so we better read Ovidius to know what we are in for... and the women in the story cry #USTOO


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