Friday, 10 January 2014

Metamorphoses Book I, by Ovid.

From 'The Flood'. 
So he put the lightening, forged in the Cyclops' workshop, aside
and chose a different method of punishing mortals, by massing
his storm-clouds over the sky and destroying the race
in a great flood.
All of the gales which scatter the gathering clouds,
and among them
the north wind Aquilo, Jupiter promptly imprisoned inside
the caverns of Aéolus. Notus, the wind of the south, he released/
Notus flew out on his soaking wings, his terrible visage
covered in pitchy gloom; his beard was a bundle of rain-storms;
water streamed from his hoary locks, his forehead a cushion
for mists; his wings and the folds of his garments were sodden and dripping.
He squeezed the bank of menacing clouds like a sponge, and a thunderclap
followed. Instantly rain poured from the sky in torrents.
Juno's messanger, decked in her mantle of many
Isis the rainbow, sucked up moisture to thicken the clouds.
The corn was flattened; the farmer wept for his wasted prayers;
and all the fruits of a long year's labour were gone to no purpose.
Jupiter's anger did not stop short in the sky, his own kingdom;
Neptune the sea god deployed his waters to aid his brother.
He summoned the rivers and, when they arrived at their master's palace,
he spoke to the meeting: 'No need for a lengthy harangue,'
he said;
'Pour forth in the strength that is yours - it is needed! Open
the floodgates,
down with the barriers, give full reign to the steeds of your streams!'
He had spoken.
1556 edition.
I've just finished Book I of Metamorphoses and I'm very much enjoying it, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts as I read it (I'll be saving the proper 'review' for when I've finished, so these thoughts are pretty unstructured!).

As the title suggests, the book is about transformation (the Latin Metamorphoseon means 'the book of transformation'). In the Prologue, Ovid writes,
Changes of shape, new forms, are the themes 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
worlds beginning
down to my own lifetime, in one continuous poem.
He goes on to write about The Creation, the Ages of Mankind, The Flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Apollo and Daphne, Io, Phaëton. The Creation and The Flood (partially quoted above) are a sort of re-write of the Bible (I hadn't realised this when I began reading), and as I love a creation myth, the universe born out of chaos and all was a brilliant read for me. And I enjoyed the Ages of Mankind - gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Of course, the golden age will stay in my heart for ever;
Spring was the only season. Flowers which had never been planted
were kissed into life by the warming breath of the
gentle zephyrs;
and soon the earth, untilled by the plough, was
yielding her fruits,
and without renewal the fields grew white with the
swelling corn blades.
River of milk and rivers of nectar flowed in abundance,
and yellow honey, distilled like dew from the leaves of
the ilex. 
The golden age was an age of trust and love, an age I would like to believe in, myth or no myth! The Creation and The Flood are truly beautiful, full of warmth and light, airy almost (you can read it online here). It reads like spring; it makes me ache for spring. But, it was not to last. The Silver Age brings summer, autumn, and winter, and too the 'agricultural age' where the land is tilled, and the people and animals begin to suffer. Following that, the Bronze Age, "crueller by nature, more ready to take up menacing weapons / but still not vile to the core", and finally the Iron Age:
... the floodgates opened and all the forces of evil invaded
a breed of inferior mettle. Loyalty, truth and conscience
went into exile, their throne usurped by guile and
treacherous plots, brute force and a criminal lust for
"A criminal lust for possession": that I love. That I will remember.

After the Four Ages of Mankind, we see an argument between Jupiter and the gods, The Flood (instigated by Jupiter), the attempted rape of Daphne (who turns into a tree) by Apollo, the divine rape of Io by Jupiter (who then turns her into a cow so his wife doesn't get jealous), and then the introduction of Phaëton, who is determined to prove that the sun god Phoebus is his father.

This is, so far, a brilliant read - the drama of irrational, immoral gods, chaos and creation, the four ages, all highly enjoyable, and I do like the stories I haven't mentioned as well! It's fun and tragic; quite buoyant, then suddenly very dark. A wonderful book so far, and, happily, this is no where near as hard as I expected it to be!


  1. Hey, I was just talking about Ovid. How nice to see him here.

    Metamorphoses stays this good all the way through.

    1. Which translation did you read? I'm reading the one by David Raeburn (Penguin Classic).

      Glad it stays this good!

  2. This is one of the books I am deadly afraid of. Long and rhymed and ancient... I think it was spoilt for me because I had to read it in Latin and Ovid is not easy to translate.
    If your good opinion of it continues I might give it another try though. Someday.

    1. I was afraid of it as well but it's absolutely fine! It is just not scary at all :)

      So impressed you read it in Latin!


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