I have long desired to take on a “real” classic. That is not to say that the likes of Jane Austen do not write real classics. Simply that I wanted to read a book that Jane Austen would have called a classic. Play Book Tag, an online reading group on the website Shelfari, gave me just the impetus that I needed through a game that they are hosting. For many reasons, I am thankful that I stretched myself and took the challenge, as it taught me much. To meet the rules of the game, I chose Ovid's Metamorphoses.
On an off note, my copy of Metamorphoses traveled a number of fun places with me during the month I spent reading it. Included here are some beautiful pictures of Ovid’s Alaskan experience.
|Montana Creek, Alaska|
Went to sleep in our RV at a roadside pull-off in
the pouring rain...woke up to this view of Mt. Drum.
Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska
One reason that Ovid met the criteria for the above mentioned game on my reading group was his link to William Shakespeare. Shakespeare acknowledged Ovid as one of his favorite sources for plot ideas, and many, especially the link between "Pyramus and Thisbe" and Romeo and Juliet are readily apparent. Personally, having spent a great deal of time in the art museums of Europe (a special predilection learned at my art loving mother’s feet) as a child and young adult, I visualized as I read-one great masterpiece after another, through many mediums-painting, sculpture, and even architecture.
|Ahtna native salmon fishing wheel|
Copper River, Alaska
The thing that surprised me the most was the fact that while the book deals primarily with the immoral and often spiteful behavior of the pantheon of Ovid’s immortals, there where definite points of thought provoking enlightenment from which even our mono-theistic age can learn. One of my favorite sections had to be the brief segment of Book 12 entitled “Rumour”, in which specious gossip becomes personified, and the reader comes to see that some things, despite the passage of two thousand years, remain unchanged in humanity’s forward progress. Another section that resonated with me came in the second half of the section entitled “Pythagoras”, in Book 15. Here a lovely description of the passage of time is given:
Time itself flows steadily by in perpetual motion. Think of a river: no river can ever arrest its current, nor can the fleeting hour. But as water is forced downstream by the water behind it and presses no less on the water ahead, so time is in constant flight and pursuit, continually new. The present time turns into the past and the future replaces the present; Every moment that passes is new and eternally changing.
(David Raeburn translation, Penguin Classics edition)
|Native peoples are allowed wheels for|
subsistence fishing. Everyone else gets
the joy of "combat fishing".
Susitna River, Alaska
While the vast majority of the book is composed of stories, and it is their entertaining and even riveting nature which keeps the reader engaged, moments like the quote above are what gives this work enduring nature. Throughout the ages, mankind has attempted in vain to pin down fleeting time and has felt the corrosive nature of rumour’s virulent tongue; these are elements of existence which define the human condition.
This is a far easier read than you might expect. My 16 year old son will be reading it this year as part of his Ancient History/Literature/Theology course, albeit in a different translation. I have awarded this book four stars, mostly because I am unlikely to ever tackle it again (although I will read parts of Aspen’s translation to gage the differences), and because I found the endnotes, a very important element in a work of this nature, to be hugely inadequate. I highly recommend this translation to anyone looking to take on Ovid. In addition, this is a book which, given its format of division into fifteen books and sub-division into short stories, could very easily be read in segments, a little bit each day, which is often a good way to conquer an otherwise daunting read.