Started in February 2013, 17 poets, 15 months, creating 1 contemporary reworking of Ovid‘s Metamorphoses
See the Transformations Page For More Details
Well, here we are nearly a month into the project with the first set of Book 1 poems due in on Thursday 28th February. All our poets, from what I can see and hear, have been busying away, and I’ve even had a few in already. It’s going to be exciting to see what everyone produces. Once the deadline has passed my plan is to release all the Book One poems in batches over the following three weeks. I’m so thrilled that such enthusiasm has been shown over this project and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone will make of Book 2 which is a very different kettle of fish!
NB. You might have noticed that the number of poets has crept up from 15-17. We’ve had two more great poets come on board. Welcome Bid and Victoria. From this point onwards the group is 100% formerly closed.
I will be putting out the Book 2 Prompt and Deadline Details on Wednesday 27th February.
Overview of Book 2:
Book 2 feels somewhat ‘bitty’ in comparison to the expanse and vastness of Book 1. This bitty feel is the result of Ovid placing many ‘tales within tales’. This is particularly the case in the tale ‘The Raven and The Crow’. In a lot of the criticism of Book 2 much emphasis is put on Phaethon‘s tale because of its powerful engagement with the power of art and representation (through Phaeton’s lack of appreciation of the artwork in the Palace of the Sun). Taken in their entirety the group of stories show the after effects of inappropriate behaviour and selfishness (of both Gods and Humans). In other words, the consequences of overstepping the mark. A violation of Moira (fate) as Brunauer puts it (36).
Initially through the tale of Phaethon (one of the longest tales in the entire book) Ovid places us into a world of order and balance. However, this is also quickly juxtaposed against the dubious morality of both the gods and the humans. Other stories within the group as mentioned above explore narrative techniques and in Callisto the nature of LOVE (as expressed through rape) is explored. As per usual the Book is filled with comedy and transformations ranging from bears, to constellations (some astrology here), to owls, to horses.
Summary of the Stories in Book 2:
Key Characters: Phaethon, Jove, Cygnus, Juno, Apollo, Raven, Crow, Ocyrhoe, Mercury, Battus, Aglaurus, Jupiter, Europa
- Phaethon finds his father, Apollo (the sun god) in the Palace of the Sun. Apollo offers him anything he wants. Phaethon asks to drive his father’s chariot for one day. He does so and his ride is catastrophic; he loses control and falls skyward. As he falls everything burns and earth is put in danger. Jove (lord of heaven) kills Phaethon with a thunderbolt as a consequence.
Phaethon is mourned and his sisters (Phaethusa and Lamperia) are turned into trees, and another acquaintance is turned into a swan(Cygnus).
Jove visits Arcady and is attracted to a nymph, Callisto. Dressed as the Goddess Diana he seduces her and she becomes pregnant. Finding this out Diana banishes Callisto and Juno (wife of Jove) turns her into a bear.
Arcas (Callisto’s child) almost kills her mother in a hunting incident and Jove intercedes and turns both of them into constellations. The Big Bear and the Little Bear.
The Raven and the Crow
(The tale of how the raven, once white, became black)
- The Raven belonging to Apollo wants to tell his master that he has seen Coronis (a nymph who Apollo had once seduced) with another lover.
The Crow (who was once an exquisite princess but turned into a Crow by Minerva to protect her from the ravishment of Poseidon tries to change the Raven’s mind by telling him the tale of the daughters of Cecrops (a legendary king of Athens)The sisters were entrusted by the Goddess Minerva (the Goddess of wisdom) to look after a boy who had lost his mother. The daughters were told not to look into the chest that contained the child. One of the daughters (Aglauros) ignored the warning and looked in. The Crow reported this to Minerva who rather than praising the Crow de-ranked him.
The Raven ignores the Crow’s warning and tells Apollo, and consequently Coronis is killed by the angry Apollo with an arrow. Whilst dying Coronis reveals she’s with child. Apollo saves the child and gives it to a centaur Chiron for safekeeping. Apollo hated the Raven for telling him about Coronis’ betrayal and as punishment turns the Raven black.
- The centaur’s daughter Ocychroe foretells that Coronis’s child will bring great healing to the Roman world, but in so doing suffers the consequences of ‘Heaven’s wrath’ and is turned into a horse despite Apollo’s efforts to save her from her fate.
Mercury and Battus
Mercury steals Apollo’s cattle and Battus (a herdsman) sees him. Mercury tries to bribe him but he tricks Battus and turns him into stone.
The Envy of Aglauros
Mercury, the lusty fellow that he is, is enamoured with Cecrops’ daughter Herse, he tries to bribe the other sister Aglauros into letting him into Herse’s bedroom. She accepts the bribe but Minerva, angry, exacts a punishment and visits the goddess Envy and orders her to kill Aglauros. Envy inflicts a disease on her and she turns into black marble. Mercury flies off to heaven happy that greedy Aglaurus has been punished sufficiently.
Mercury and Europa
- Jove asks his son Mercury to steal some cattle in Sidon (an extremely important Phoenician city specialising in glass and dye) which he does successfully. Jove then disguises himself as a bull and seduces the King of Sidon’s daughter Europa and he carries her across the sea.
Themes, Analysis and Relevance
As mentioned previously, Book 2 engages with a variety of themes which are still completely relevant to the texture of our life today; and, indeed, the debates that still operate within contemporary culture. We have:
- the nature of art and representation (Phaethon);
- the consequences of gossiping (The Raven and the Crow),
- the nature of love, power and victim-hood (Callisto)
- the nature of selfishness (both Gods and humans), (Jupiter and Europa),
- and we see Ovid’s use of comedy as he engages with the consequences sometimes engendered by lust (The Envy of Aglauros).
Below you’ll find another movement of composer Benjamin Britten’s sequence of pieces for the Oboe entitled Six Metamorphoses After Ovid. This time his focus is on Phaethon and his moment of transformation. This one is equally edgy and syncopated and embodies the energy of transformation perfectly. I have also discovered another composer who has been inspired by Ovid: Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1750-1819) who wrote ‘Symphony After Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ No. 2 in D Major. You’ll find Phaeton’s Movement below too. It’s beautiful and a link to the movement related to Book 1 follows it.
Brittain 6 Metamorphoses After Ovid: Phaethon
The Fall of Phaethon from Symphony After Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ No. 2 in D Major by Dittersdorf
Here’s another link to another movement of the piece that relates to Book 1: Dittersdorf Sinfonia No.1 in C major The Four Ages of The World
Shortly, this post and more will be placed onto the Transformations Resource Page (under the Collaborations Tab) so everything will be in one place. There will also be an audio recording of ‘The Raven and the Crow’ story and a list of all the main characters. And watch out for the poetry inspired by Book 1 which will be posted out during March.
Brunauer, Dalma. H (1996) The Metamorphoses of Ovid, New Jesey Research and Education Association
Hughes, T (1997) Tales from Ovid, London: Faber and Faber
Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press