Metamorphoses by Ovid

Metamorphoses (''Transformations'')Metamorphoses by Ovid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One downside to ebooks: if you’ve never seen a physical copy of the book you’re starting, when you break out your ereader and flip that first page you have no idea what you’re getting in to. Did you know Metamorphoses is huge? I didn’t! It’s 15 books long! I guess Ovid sat down one day and banged out a chronological list of every transformation in Roman mythology, and then wrote a poem for each one. And then wove them together like some massive, wordy scarf. Everything rhymes. He even includes things you wouldn’t typically think of as transformations, like Caesar being deified. Metamorphoses includes such classics as Orpheus and Eurydice, and Narcissus. The Trojan war shows up in segments too, as does the Odyssey. And plenty of myths I’d never heard before, all wrapped in a rich cloth of descriptive imagery. Unfortunately, because in the earlier myths transformation was typically a way for a woman to escape an assaulting god, or a punishment for failing to, the first half of the book is loaded with sexual assaults and victim blaming. There’s also some passages of gory violence. Mainly pitched battles, but also a boar hunt. Surprisingly, there’s a sizable monologue towards the end by a guy espousing the virtues of vegetarianism, specifically to stop cruelty to animals. Not an attitude I was expecting to see displayed after so many pages of sword fights. One of my favourite poems came towards the end of the epic; in the Trojan war segment. The Greeks are discussing who should get Achilles’ armor now that he’s been killed. It’s down to Ulysses (Odysseus) and Ajax, neither of whom will budge. The solution winds up being a trash-talking contest; the one whose accomplishments are the most impressive and who can make his opponent seem the weakest wins the armor. Ajax accuses Ulysses of being a coward and Ulysses claims that since he persuaded Achilles to join them in the war the armor is rightfully his. Ovid really makes you see how invested each man is in winning the right to wear the armor of their greatest warrior, how they try to be nonchalant while brimming with emotion. In fact, this poem is suffused with men feeling every emotion: sadness, rage, embarrassment, pride, love, desire, you name it. I’m not sure where people got the idea that men don’t have emotions, but it couldn’t have been from this. Furthermore, it’s a giant poem. You can’t write poetry without having emotions. It just doesn’t work. And unless it turns out Metamorphoses was ghost-written by one of Ovid’s wives, this means not just that men write poetry, but that they have a full range of complex human emotions! So the next time someone tries to tell you men don’t cry, grab your copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and smack them with it. Ovid earned us all that right.

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