178. Metamorphoses by Ovid (c. 8 AD)

Plot: Hundreds of Greek myths, all sharing some story of transformation of human into animal, tree, flower, rock or God, lined up together like a string of pearls, and artfully linked so very little break in story is apparent. An epic poem which is not an epic so much as an encyclopedia of mythology.

My version was the Penguin Black Classic translated by Mary Innes (ISBN 0140440585)

My thoughts : Beautifully rendered by Innes, this was a very easy classic to read, but not in just a few sittings. The prose flows from story to story in enough detail to really provide enjoyment of each myth, yet can be exhausting after just a little time; it would make an ideal addition to the reference library of lovers of mythology and literature, so it can be dived into at will or to refresh memory, aided by the index of characters.
So many stories (the Wikipedia entry claims nearly 250 myths mentioned) that it is hard for me to single out the most memorable. Just about any Greek myth I could think of is mentioned (I hadn’t realised how prevalent the idea of metamorphosis was in ancient mythology), so it is perhaps the ones I didn’t know so well that were of most interest : Narcissus and Echo, Ariadne, Hermaphroditus (son of Hermes and Aphrodite as the name suggests), and Iphis (a girl masquerading as a boy falling in love with another girl until the Gods hear her prayers and turn her into a man before the wedding night), and many more.
The story of the battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths in book 12 is atypically bloodthirsty, and hard to believe it is the same author as the rest of the poems, let alone the Amores and his other erotic stories. Likewise the last book takes an odd tangent to dwell on arguments for vegetarianism, as human souls may temporarily inhabit the beasts destined for our tables, which again is more Stoic philosophy than Ovidian epic poetry, before becoming a rather obvious flattery of Augustus and his father Julius Caesar.

Personal rating: 8/10

Next : Ovid’s Fasti, his uncompleted tour of the Roman festival calendar

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