Started in February 2013, 17 poets, 15 months, creating 1 contemporary reworking of Ovid‘s Metamorphoses
See the Transformations Page For More Details
Here we are at the end of February with our deadline for Book 13 poetry being today Thursday 27th February
This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 14 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this book being Thursday 27th March. I can hardly believe that we’re nearly at the end of this epic poetic journey.
The latest batch of Book 12 poems went out on Wednesday and featured KATE GARRETT and ELEANOR PERRY (here). The last poem from book 12 poems will be posted out next week and then the book 13 poems will be posted out across our new season of work starting on Monday.
Overview of Book 14:
Book 14 continues the story of Glaucus and Syclla started in Book 13 with the transformation of Scylla into rock. It also continues the story of the aftermath of the Trojan War and the settling of Rome by Aeneas and his followers. As per usual, in contrast to his predecessors and their ‘take’ on this epic battle, Ovid focuses on the minor stories of the journey of Aeneas. In particular the book famously features a reverse transformation: of Aeneas’ ships into nymphs. The book also has within it the last love story in Metamorphoses that of ‘Pomona and Vertumnus’. This tale is significant for its handling of the themes of violence, deception, victimhood and the objectification of women.
Summary of the Tales in Book 14
‘Goddess’, he said,
‘Have pity on a god. I beg of you.
For you alone can ease this love of mine.
If only I am worthy. No one knows
Better than I the power of herbs,
for I was changed by herbs..
The Myths and Key Characters: Glaucus and Syclla, The Wanderings of Aeneas II, Aeneas’ Descendants, Romulus
Glaucus and Syclla:
Circe (goddess of magic) encounters Glaucus (sea-god, born mortal and turned immortal) and Syclla (a monster that lived on one side of a narrow channel of water). Circe falls head over heals in love with Glaucus when he, ironically, visits her to get a love-potion so that Syclla can fall for him. Glaucus pushes Circe away and she is angered hugely, and seeks revenge on Syclla. She puts poison in one of Syclla’s favourite pools and sprinkles magic herbs in it to lure her in. Sycllla cannot resist, and she goes into the pool waste deep only to find that the lower half of her body has been transformed into a mass of horrific barking dogs’ heads. Horrified, Syclla tries to escape from the dogs, but to her dismay she can’t as they follow. The transformation in itself symbolises the fate of her life now as a victim.
The Wanderings of Aeneas II
Ovid briefly mentions bits of the story of Aeneas’ (Trojan hero, the son of the prince Anchises) journey to Italy. He only focuses on the parts of the story that make reference to transformations. He almost sidelines Aeneas’ hero importance unlike Virgil’s version of the events. Ovid does make some extended reference to Aeneas’ meeting with the Sibyl Cumae though.
However, by preference, Ovid focuses on two comrades of Ulysses. These tales are outlined by Achaemenides (son of Adamastus of Ithaca, and one of Odysseus‘ crew) ranging from the story of him hiding from the horrific Polyphemus (giant son of Poseidon and Thoosa) whilst watching his peers being eaten alive by the Cyclops, to his tale of being rescued by Aeneas. The character of Macareus (one of the Heliadae, sons of Helios and Rhodos) then takes up the tale of his encounters with Aeolus (son of Poseidon) and his time on Ulysses’ ship as well as the flesh eating Laestrygonians (tribe of giant cannibals).
After this Ovid takes us to the island where Circe lives. He retells the story of Circe’s most famous transformation of Ulysses’ men into pigs, (this is the oldest tale of human transformation in the canon of western literature (137)). We hear this tale through Macareus. However Ulysses manages to persuade Circe to undo her spell and the metamorphosis is reversed.
Ovid follows Aeneas through his fight against Turnus ( King of the Rutuli, and the chief antagonist of the hero Aeneas) for the hand of Lavinia in marriage. (the daughter of Latinus and Amata, and the last wife of Aeneas) He tells a sequence of tales and ends up focusing on the tale of Venulus (a representative of Evander) within which he tells the tale of a local shepherd who had mocked some local nymphs and been turned into a wild olive tree (the bitterness of his words represented by the bitter berries of the tree).
Even the reverse transformation and the warning of the shepherd being turned into an olive tree does not stop Turnus from pursuing Aeneas to the death. Ovid briefly touches on this tragedy, and we are left at the end of this tale seeing Aeneas firmly rooted in Italy with a large Trojan settlement. All the gods democratically agree that Aeneas should be deified and he becomes a god.
Ovid then takes us on a little journey through the other kings of Rome before Aeneas, and settles down to tell the love story of Pomona (goddess of fruitful abundance) and Vertumnus (the god of the seasons) which is the last love story in Metamorphoses as a whole. It is a tale within a tale like many of the others we’ve seen previously.
Vertumnus attempts to seduce Pomona through the power of his words alone. He even tries to dress himself as a woman to fool her. But none of his efforts have any real effect and he eventually resorts to force as like many of the gods before him. Brutality wins out. However, the rape proves unnecessary when Pomona eventually sees how attractive he is without his disguise. This tale is significant for its handling of the themes of violence, deception and the objectification of women and the notion of victimhood. These themes, having been established, are then followed through in the next story.
After the ‘love story’ of Pomona and Vertumnus Ovid returns to the history of Rome. He covers the conflict between Proca’s (one of the Latin kings of Alba Longa ) sons; the rise of Romulous’ to power; and the rape of the Sabine Women. Ovid then recounts Romulous’ deification and how he became founder of Rome and joined the gods under the new identity of the name Quirinus. His wife Hersilia also joins him with the gods ,,,which leads us into book 15……
Themes, Analysis and Relevance
In Book 14 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:
- Refocusing on the detail: Throughout the books overtly dealing with the Trojan war (12-), Ovid very deliberately, in direct contrast to say Virgil, focuses our attention on minor stories and occurrences putting the major battle and its calamity into a form of relief. Preferring to focus our attention on emotional issues and their texture, which by their very contrast force us to question the nature of war.
- Reverse Transformation: In this book we see for the first time the metamorphoses of inanimate objects back into human form in the tale of how Aeneas’ ships were turned into nymphs. At this late stage in the sequence of books he puts a twist on the patterns of transformations.
nb. In this book we are also introduced to the oldest tale of human transformation in the cannon of western culture, in the form of how Ulysses men were turned into pigs.
- The Last Love Story: In the story of Pomona and Vertumnus we see how Ovid questions and addresses notions of power (whether by word or physical force). He does so, once again by focusing on the rape of Pomona. In so doing he questions the notion of love subtly and foregrounds the brutality which underpins much of Metamorphoses’ depiction of love.
Things of Interest:
Dido and Aeneas:
by Henry Purcell
A weekly podcast tracing the history of the Roman Empire, beginning with Aeneas’s arrival in Italy and ending with the exile of Romulus Augustulus, last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.
You can scroll through and find some interesting audios on the Trojan War.
Odysseus and Circe:
Optional Prompts and Verse Form
An ode has more than one stanza. There are 10-line per stanza rhyming ababcdecde, with the 8th line iambic trimeter and all the others iambic pentameter
See here for more information.
Here is an audio of the tale of Syclla and Glaucus in case any of you are too busy to read the book.
Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book 13 and 14 coming out throughout March.
To confirm: the deadline for Book 13 Poetry is today Thursday 27th February.
Brunauer, Dalma H (1996) The Metamorphoses of Ovid, New Jersey Research and Education Association
Hughes, T (1997) Tales from Ovid, London: Faber and Faber
Liveley, G. (2011) Ovid’s Metamorphoses, A Reader’s Guide, London: continuum
Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D. Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press