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Metamorphoses Book 15 Last Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

27 Mar
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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 March with our deadline for Book 14  poetry being today Thursday 27th March

This post sets out to provide an overview of the last book of Metamorphoses Book 15 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Wednesday 30th April.  This is the last overview I’ll be writing for this particular collaboration. I’ve learned a lot from doing them.

The latest batch of Book 13 poems went out yesterday and featured KARIN HEYER and ELEANOR PERRY  (here).  Book 14 and 15 poems will be posted out across April and May.

If you missed out on some of the other  Book 13 poems you can find them  here, here, here . I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access if you want to see more.

Thank you to all those who have taken an interest in these overviews, and to all those in the Transformations project who have stuck with it through until the end. It means a lot. Here’s to the next one!

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Overview of Book 15: 

In this book we are transported into the present time of Ovid’s world. It is a space where mortals are turned into Gods, and imperial order is established and where battle is transformed into peace.  Ovid initially, rather than moving forward chronologically leaps forward in time to focus on Romulus’ successor Numa (where he is told the tale of Myscelus and Hercules). In  book 15 notions of morality are questioned (Mysecelus); the character of Pythagoras is foregrounded so the origins and causes of life can be explored retrospectively; and Ovid uses the character of Hippolytus to re-introduce notions of heroism. The book is finished with an Epilogue which serves to delve into the relationship between poet, poem and longevity.

 Summary of the Tales in Book 15

Pythagoras

Pythagoras

 Meanwhile the question is who will sustain
The burden of so great a charge, who can
Succeed so great a monarch. For the throne
Fame, truths prophetic herald nominates
Illustrious Numa
 
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The Myths and Key Characters: Myscelus, Pythagoras, Egeria and Hippolytus, Cipus, Aesculapius, The Apotheosis of Julius Ceasar, Epilogue

.Hercules

..

Myscelus

 In a dream Myscelus (a descendent of Hercules) sees a vision of Hercules (the son of Zeus). He tells him to leave the city (which was at the time an act with a penalty of death attached to it). As he prepares to leave he is captured and tried for his crime. However, a serendipitous transformation occurs  as the voting pebbles used in the court change from black (guilt) to white (innocence) occurs, and he is allowed to leave. He departs to build a new city.

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Pythagoras 2

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Pythagoras

We move on to see Pythagoras (greek philosopher and mathematician) describe at length to Numa (second king of Rome) , how the universe came into being. He covers such themes as divinity and  the origin and causes of life.

Over the previous two books in Metamorphoses we have seen Hercules, Aeneas and Romulus deified; transformed from mortals to gods.  Pythagoras’ speech almost acts as a long recapitulation of everything that we have read previously. The speech ranges from touching on: vegetarianism (Cyclops in book 13 and Lycaon in book 1 in the Iron Age); the idea of sacrifice (to fulfil the desires of the gods); and notions of the human soul (which can just as easily be held in a non-human form).

Pythagoras goes on to address the theme of death and old age (which we are not to dread). Neither are we to fear the Underworld as our souls are immortal. He indicates that all is in flux including time:

All is in flux. Any shape that is formed is constantly shifting (Lively:146)

We then move on to the concept of cosmology. In book one we saw chaos and disorder, and here at the end we are once again thrown into a similar cosmic chaos where the elements are thrown into asunder.  There is a perpetual state of flux between earth, air, fire and water. Pythagoras posits that the cosmos is in eternal competition with its elements. Once again this description could be describing Metamorphoses, the book, itself.  Pythagoras takes us through creation and the formation of bodies of water and transformations of geography. He then takes us through a list of cities and their fate: ‘the rise and fall of civilisations and cultures’ (147). They range from Sparta to Rome with Aeneas’ power transforming the city into a super-power.  Pythagoras makes a prophecy that Rome will be the greatest of all cities and the most powerful. However, if everything is flux, surely this cannot be permanently true? Ovid does not declare that this power will be permanent. Rome can still be transformed. It’s power may not last.

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Egeria and Hippolytus 

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Egeria and Hippolytus

Numa took Pythagoras’ tenets and used them to reign over the states he ruled over- in peace and in war, until he died.  Egeria, his wife flees into the woods full of sorrow where he meets Hippolytus (son of Theseus)  worshipping at an alter for Diana (goddess of the hunt, moon and birthing). Hippolytus tells of his own troubles in order to salve Egeria’s grief.

In bringing in Hippolytus at this time he re-introduces the notion of a Roman hero and transformation (as Hippolytus, wounded is healed and resurrected by Apollo (god of light, sun, truth and prophecy) and Diana. Once changed he reigned over Latium in Italy under the name of Virbius. Hippolytus’ journey represents great strength and fortitude.

As Philip Hardie puts it, this movement is:

‘one of the culminating moments in the accelerating movement of the last books of the poem from the Greek to the Roman world. ‘ (Liveley: 140)

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Cipus

Cipus

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Cipus

Even though Hippolytus has tried to cheer Egeria up, her sorrow is still not assuaged.  She weeps so much that she dissolves into her own tears. Both Diana and Hippolytus are amazed at this. Ovid uses this story to jump into a sequence of transformations and tales which involve amazement, particularly that of Cipus (a famous Roman general) who one day found horns growing out of his head. This tale seems oddly placed within the narrative as Ovid uses it to  jump to the telling of a later period of Roman history.

Cipus returns from a battle conquest and finds horns coming out of his head, confused he goes to a seer and is told  he is Rome’s new king.  However, Cipus is a republican and rejects the kingship. He is exiled and lives outside the city walls. By way of thanks the people of the land give him as a reward as much land as he can plough; and a memorial is carved on the city gates.

It is Cipus, within this tale, that finally brings in the figure of Julius Ceasar who also had refused to accept his crown, and in so doing Ovid brings the story nearer to his own times.

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220px-Asklepios_-_Epidauros

Aesculapius

Aesculapius

Ovid calls to the Muses as he begins to tell the story of Aesculapius (a man-made God) celebrated in Rome for healing a devastating illness that fell upon the people and which brought about their destruction.

In the form of a snake, the god is welcomed into Rome with great verve comparable to those welcomes of the great generals like Julius Caesar. The masses  gather to welcome him. As Aescalapius sheds his snake skin the people are healed of their disease. As Julius Caesar would heal the politics of Rome.

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Augustus Caesar

Augustus Caesar

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The Apotheosis of Julius Caesar

We enter the age of Augustus (founder of the Roman Empire).

In this section of Metamorphoses Ovid ignores Caesar’s deeds in preference to focusing on his metamorphosis.  He reminds us that it is in fact Augustus that made Caesar a god. This is a reversal of the deifications we have seen previously, where mortals were made gods for their great acts of bravery (Hercules, Aeneas, Romulus).  Caesar is made god because of the divinity of his chikdren. Ovid argues that Augustus must be the son of god, therefore Caesar must be that god. Ovid then turns to Venus, as the mother of Rome, who has concerns for Caesar. She tries to save Caesar from the murderous plotting that surrounds him. However she cannot save him as the Fates will not allow it.  Jupiter reassures Venus of her destiny. He states that Caesarr will die, be made a god and Augustus will take over. Augustus is praised on high.  The same level of attention to the Caesars is given in the final book as in book 1 in order to balance the tale at its conclusion.

Ovid returns us to the beginning. The whole continuous poem has been an exploration of the causes that have lead up to this moment- to the Age of Augustus.

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Ovid Rocks

Ovid

Epilogue

Here in the epilogue we are treated to one, final, concluding transformation, that of Ovid himself: that with the existence of Metamorphoses his life will be perpetuated. He will be immortalised by his work. As Lively puts it: ‘the poet will become his own poetry’ (153).  And as the ages pass and change so will he, in flux- his identity and life embeded in his poem.

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Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 15 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  •  Overview of History:  In conclusion Ovid takes on an eclectic journey engaging with both battle and quietude. Giving us a very particular take on the journey he has lead us through.
  • Origins and Causes of Life: Through the character of Pythagoras Ovid engages with the impermanence and flux of life and how this connects to notions of mortality. How men are made immortal through deification and the ramifications of this. He looks back through the previous books to do so.
  • Notions of Heroism: In this last book Hippolytus, a great Roman hero, wounded badly,  is saved by Apollo from dying bringing into question the exact nature of heroism.  Is Hippolytus really a hero if he has been saved by a god? Hippolytus endures and prevails against all odds, but what is the real value of this?
  • The immortality of a Poet through his Poem: The relation between a writer and their work has been explored perpetually by writers themselves and by critics. By creating a poem about creation, renewal and death that embodies prehistory and history Ovid immortalises himself for the rest of time by his endeavour.

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Things of Interest:

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The Importance of Ovid

http://www.editoreric.com/greatlit/authors/Ovid.html

 

Hippolytus by Euripides

http://classics.mit.edu/Euripides/hippolytus.html

 

Magic

by Ovid:

YE elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back, you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,
Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,
And ‘twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault
Set roaring water; to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With hiw own bolt; the strong-bas’d promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck’d up
The pine and cedar; graves at my command
Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let ’em forth
By my so potent art.

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/magic-58/

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts:  Storm, Hero, Sins, Mystery, Filaments, Dreams, Mountains, Violin, Perishing, Childhood

 

Verse Form:  

Hir a Thoddaid

Is the most common form of a welsh form of verse called the Awdl

Each line has 10 syllables – in no particular metre, though I seem to have lapsed into iambic pentameter here. All lines of each stanza, except for the penultimate one, rhyme together in the conventional way. The penultimate line rhymes with them all in an unconventional way – its seventh, eighth or ninth syllable contains the rhyme. Furthermore, the word at the end of the penultimate line rhymes with a word somewhere in the middle of the last line.

The first 4 lines are the hir, and the last two are the toddaid (which mutates to thoddaid when you put the phrase together, due to the endearing peculiarities of the Welsh language). The hir can have 2 lines or 6, rather than the 4 used here, but all its lines must always rhyme together.

See here for more information.

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n.b. I will shortly put up  an audio of the Epilogue in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book  14 and 15  coming out throughout March and April.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 1 Poetry is today Wednesday 30th April

 

 

  __________

References:

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

 

 >>>>

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 14 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

27 Feb
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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.

If you missed out on some of the other  Book 12 poems you can find them  here, here, here . I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access if you want to see more.

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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

. Circe by John William Waterhouse

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‘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..
 
 
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The Myths and Key Characters: Glaucus and Syclla, The Wanderings of Aeneas II, Aeneas’ Descendants, Romulus

.Glaucus and Syclla Book 14

..

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.

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Aeneas_and_Turnus

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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.

 

Pomona and Vertumnous 

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Aeneas’ Descendents

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. 

Romulous and  Remus Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres

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Romulus

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……

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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.

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Things of Interest:

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Dido and Aeneas:

by Henry Purcell

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The History of Rome

 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. 

http://www.revolutionspodcast.com/the-history-of-rome

You can scroll through and find some interesting audios on the Trojan War.

Odysseus and Circe:

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts:  Mirrors, Moon, Sighs, Divinity, Remembering, Consequences, Battle, Desire, Spirit, Friendship
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Verse Form:  

Ode

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.

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Here is  an  audio of the tale of Syclla and Glaucus in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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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.

  __________

References:

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

 

 >>>>

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 13 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

31 Jan
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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 January with our deadline for Book 12 poetry being yesterday, Thursday 30th January 

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 13 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Thursday 27th February.

The fourth batch of Book 11 poems went out  this Wednesday featuring  NAT HALL and GREG MACKIE  (here).  There’s one more great Book 11 poem and then Book 12 poetry will be posted out for the rest of February.

If you missed out on  Book 11 poems you can find them  here, here, here . I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

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Overview of Book 13: 

Book 13 is the longest of all of the books in Metamorphoses.  It endeavours to embrace, at great length, as many of the same stories and characters as are featured in either  The Illiad or The Aeneid.  Ovid, in a similar fashion,  also creates an ‘epic cycle’. However Ovid, in contrast to his predecessors, also attempts to  challenge and  transform the actual epic form at the same time. As in previous books Ovid does so once again by engaging with a variety of different forms of narratives, creating his own textual transformations. In so doing  he retells and reshapes many of the tales therein. He focuses particularly on the small happenings between the large scale events, in contrast to those usually featured in the Greek and Roman tradition. Ovid picks on unfamiliar aspects of some tales in a micro manner. He formerly uses a particular rhetorical technique called ‘variato’ which was often deployed in a variety of  rhetorical debates (Lively: 127) to serve this purpose. You can see this particularly at work in the debate between Ajax and Ulysses (Odysseus).  He is in effect creating a new form of storytelling which subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) subverts the classic tradition.  The themes of elegy and lament (Ajax and Ulysses) are also touched upon, as is an exploration of heroism- feminised  in ‘The Sorrows of Hecuba’.

 

Summary of the Tales in Book 13

. The Fall of Troy

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The captains took their seats; the rank and file
Stood in a circle round. Then Ajax rose,
Lord of the sevenfold shield, now quick as ever
To anger, and turned his smouldering gaze towards
The fleet that lay along Sigeum’s shore,
And, pointing to them cried ‘Before these ships,
By Jupitor I plead my cause-and my
Opponent is Ulysses!
 
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The Myths and Key Characters: The Debate Over the Arms of Achilles,The Sorrows of Hecuba, Memnon, The Wanderings of Aeneas, Galatea and Polyphemus

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..Odysseus

The Debate Over the Arms of Achilles

In this particular story Ovid wryly squishes the whole of the Trojan war into a few lines in order to focus on the more micro elements of the tale.  The narrative starts off with Ajax (the son of Telemon and Penboea) and Ulysses (Greek King of Ithaca) listing  the events of the Trojan war in their own fashion. Each also outlines why they should inherit Achilles’ armour instead of the other.

Characterised as a man of action Ajax eventually suggests to Ulysses that they should fight over who inherits the armour. Ulysses, rather than attacking Ajax directly with his words, instead targets his reply to the Greek leaders who are around him,  through their response moves his argument towards ‘us’ the readers. Ulysses’  eloquence is well known and the leaders are persuaded by his argument. They award him Achilles’ armour, which exemplifies the fact that:

‘Words carry more weight than deeds’ in Metamorphoses. (Lively 129).

This is in direct contrast to the tone of the other epic narratives.  Instead of depicting the full breadth of the heroes’ action, Ovid  gives us the power of their words;  he lets them speak. In this particular section Ajax is foregrounded as a more traditional hero, and Ulysses as a more dynamic, new version. Ovid lets the latter win as the better storyteller. He takes on the rhetoric of elegy and we are met with the themes of commemoration and lament. 

As the fight climaxes Ajax  commits suicide by falling on Achilles’ sword, and a purple hyacinth springs up from his blood. The petals in a pattern of AIAI. The flower then acts as a memorial lament for this epic hero (130).

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Hecuba

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The Sorrows of Hecuba

Book 13 then goes on to  commemorate the heroism of the Trojan survivors of war as they similarly honour their dead.  Ovid places much more emphasis on the act of this commemoration than on the actual deaths of Priam (King of Troy during the Trojan war)  and Paris his son.  Side-lining the entrapment of the Trojan women,  he Instead focuses on the Trojan queen Hecuba (wife of King Priam).  Ovid highlights the particulars of this and uses it as a metaphor for the fall of Troy. 

In an example of how the moral  weight of the dead  place a heavy burden on the living , Achilles (greatest Greek hero of the Trojan war) initially comes out of his grave and states that he wants a share of the Trojan women. In order to assert himself he also orders the slaying of Hecuba’s only surviving daughter (Polyxena) to commemorate his death. This imitates the sacrifice of Iphigenia (daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra)  at the beginning of the Trojan war. Polyxena is ripped from her mother’s arms and accordingly meets her death. She is depicted very much like an epic hero who courageously meets their foreshortened life (unlike Ajax and Ulyssses who fight against their deaths). She is, as Lively puts it,  a hero  in a ‘new-and improved-feminine form’ (131).  This in itself is a transformation of epic heroism.

Polyxena gives a very moving speech before she dies, and Hecuba in parallel  also lists her own burdens. Both women move everyone to tears.  As Hecuba then goes to clean her now dead daughter’s feet, she also happens up her dead son (Polydorus) and woe is piled upon more sorrow.  Hecuba cannot bear the torment of these two deaths and is stunned dumb -frozen. Hecuba transforms emotionally from grief to anger. She becomes livid and  snarls and rages and in so doing is transformed into a dog. Her transformation takes place so she can snarl and rage for the rest of her life. She does so at a place named Cynossema (the Dog’s tomb). A memorial to her strife.

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Aurora 

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Memnon

Everybody:  enemies, gods and the greek people around are overwhelmed and moved by the story of Hecuba, all apart from Aurora (goddess of the dawn) who has her own burdens of motherhood in the form of her son Memnon.  Ovid once again spotlights a minor story foregoing the bigger tales of an epic nature.

Aurora is still devastated by the death of her son who was killed years before in the Trojan war.  She pleads to Jupiter (god of the sky and thunder) to allow her to commemorate her son in some way. Jupiter agrees to Memnon’s body being burned on a funeral pyre. The fire appears to take on the shape of a bird. A metaphor becomes a metamorphosis and turns into real birds. This metaphor prepares us for the next retelling…

.Aeneas_and_Turnus

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The Wanderings of Aeneas

 In this particular part of book 13 we now follow Aeneas (son of the prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite (Venus))  as he founds a new Troy (Rome). Aeneas flees, along with other evictees  and his father and son (Ascanius). He leaves his wife Creusa behind him, failing to pay her due regard (which is typical of an epic hero). This imbalance is then something that Ovid attempts to rectify.

The story continues to follow Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius to Delos where an  old friend (Delian king Anius) lays on a party for them. Anius tells the story of how his 4 daughters, who despite having the symbolic power to turn whatever they touched into wine, corn and oil had been turned into doves. Agamemnon  had forced the 4 daughters to use their powers against the might of Troy. Anius presents Aeneas with a gift of a delicate bowl depicting the story of his daughters. The tale depicted on the bowl parallels that of Anius’ daughters exactly. He also recalls the fate of Memnon and Polyxena and in so doing once again highlights the theme of female self-sacrifice and re-birth in Metamorphoses

Ovid then follows the refugees as they leave Crete and a variety of other places, finally ending up in Sicily where Syclla (not the Syclla in Book 8)  attempts to destroy their ship. Ovid details the terrifying nature of this new beast who was once a beautiful girl and is now a snarling dog

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Acis and Galatea

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Galatea and Polyphemus

Before the telling of Syclla’s love stories (a monster that lived on one side of a narrow channel of water) we are given the story of her sister Galatea  (sea-nymph and daughter of Nereus and Doris) . Syclla tells of a three way love story between Galatea’s lover Acis and the horrific Cyclops Polyphemus ( the giant son of Poseidon and Thoosa). In Ovid’s interpretation of this story, Polyphemus is transformed by Venus. His personage  starts to change moving away from his  beast-like appearance.  He even rejects his violent ways and sings and plays the pipes.  The Cyclops sings of Galatea, and he promises his love to her. He gives her gifts of fruit and cheese and a pair of small bears (which will (ironically) grow up to be as wild as him in their nature).  In his song he also threatens to hurt Acis his rival. And slowly his gentleness vanishes and he is transformed into something violent once again.  Polyphemus sees Galatea in Acis’ hands and crushes him to death with a huge rock. Galatea saves Acis by transforming him into a river god. She then swims away to join her sister Syclla in the sea.

The story then swaps to Syclla and we see her wandering the coastline. She is wooed by Glaucus (a sea god ). Syclla finds Glaucus abhorrent and runs away.  Glaucus then tries to get a love potion from Circe to change Syclla’s feelings.  Thje story of these two characters spreads into Book 14…

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Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 13 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  •  Engagement With the Notion of Epic Texts: In Book 13, Ovid most overtly engages with the diverse range of epics that have preceded him and knowingly plays and transforms them. He plays with the notion of telling and re-telling in an overt way too. He focuses on smaller more micro happenings instead of the larger more epic narratives usually foregrounded  and in so doing draws our attention to the more subtle emotional aspects that bring depth. See the story of Ajax and Ulysses for this. 
  • Exploration of heroism and female self-sacrifice : In  ‘The Sorrows of Hecuba’ we are given a whole different take on the nature of heroism.  We have Polyxena who  embodies the male traits of heroism but in a transformed, feminised way. This juxtaposes against Hecuba’s soulful outpouring. Both are brave but in a different way that challenges our notions of what bravery and heroism is.

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Things of Interest:

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Greek Tragedy, Women and War, with Nancy Rabinowitz

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 Hecuba

by Euripides

Click the link and you’ll find the text of the play

http://classics.mit.edu/Euripides/hecuba.html

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts:  Whistle, Murder, Wonder, Yelling, Speckled, Linoleum, Breaking, Triumph, Mountain, Beaten
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Verse Form:  

Rictameter

Form of syllable counting verse. It has the syllable count of  2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and the first and last lines are identical.

See here for more information.

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Here is  an  audio of the tale of ‘The Fall Of Troy’ in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book  11 and 12  coming out throughout February.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 12 Poetry was Thursday 30th January.

  __________

References:

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

 

 >>>>

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 12 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

12 Dec
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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 in the middle of December with our deadline of Book 11 poetry being Thursday 26th December

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 12 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Thursday 30th January.

The second poetic batch of Book 10  poems went out  this Tuesday featuring  NAT HALL and RICHARD BIDDLE   (here).  The other great Book 10 poems will be posted out during the rest of December and January.

If you missed out on  Book 9 poems you can find them here, here, here, here I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

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Overview of Book 12: 

In this book Ovid focuses on the telling of the Trojan War. He consciously transforms this well known epic story and  stretches his reworking across two books : books 12  (often known as Ovid’s ‘little Iliad’ (Lively:119) and book  13 (often known as Ovid’s ‘little Aeneid’ (119).

In book 11 Ovid gave us a sequence of stories focusing on married love. In book 12 he follows on with this theme of love  BUT within the context of the epic, Trojan  war. Rather than starting at the beginning he throws the reader right into the middle of the war through the re-telling of the story of Paris and his stolen wife Helen.

The classic theme of the  moral dilemma between duty and family is also dealt within Book 11. In the story ‘The Greeks of Aulis’ Agamemnon  (the son of King Altreus) is faced with a choice between is responsibilities as a father and his responsibilities as a king.  In this book too Ovid directly challenges the past  narrative heritage of the telling of the trojan war. For instance he overtly parodies Homer and Virgil and rather focusing on the male warriors as victims of war, puts a focus on the impact of war on the females in the stories. This is in direct contrast to tradition.  Ovid also engages with a representation of the dynamic between civilisation and barbarismvia the story of ‘The Battle of Lapiths‘.

Summary of the Tales in Book 12

. Ceyx and Alcyone

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In the broad ring that with his frightful horns
Charges the scarlet cloak that baits his wrath
And finds his wounds eluded. The iron point
Perhaps was loose and lost; but no, he found
It fixed fast to the shaft. ‘Then is my hand
‘So weak’, he said
 
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The Myths and Key Characters: The Greeks at Aulis, Rumour, Cycnus, Caeneus, The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, The Death of Achilles.

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Priam

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The Greeks at Aulis

Ovid begins by tacking the tale of Helen  and Paris (son of King Priam of Troy) onto the tale of Aesacus (another son of King Priam). We see Priam is holding a funeral for Aesacus unaware that he is still alive but in the form of a birdAll of Priam’s sons are attending the funeral  apart from Paris (who is busy off somewhere seducing Menelaus’ wife Helen).

Ovid draws our attention to Aulis  (a greek port town) where a massive fleet of ships is about to set sail to find the adulterous couple (Paris and Helen).  Amidst this setting instead of focusing on the war aspect of the story in the traditional way (like Homer) Ovid homes in on the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia to appease Diana (the Goddess of the Hunt).  Agamemnon attempts to make this sacrifice so that Diana calms the tumultuous sea which is impeding the search for Aesacus. Agamemnon is completely  torn between the duty of a father and the duty of a king.  Diana recognises this and substitutes the soon to be sacrificed Iphigenia for a deer. This story is traditionaly told with lightness but Ovid, in contrast, focuses on the darker side: on the real intentions of Diana’s intervention. Ovid’s highlighting of Iphigenia as the centre of this story exposes his  real intention of focusing on the female victims of war. This is in direct contrast to tradition which focuses on male heroes and epic narratives.

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Rumour

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Rumour

In this section of the book Ovid directly challenges Virgil ‘s narrative version of the Trojan war by completely re-staging (in every sense) the battle. In so doing, Ovid makes the re-telling of the war a narrative battle as well.  As the fleet of ships crosses the sea Ovid establishes a personification of Rumour which is entirely based on Virgil’s Book 4 of The Aeneid.  However, directly in contrast to Virgil,  ‘the cave of sleep’  is consistently noisy. ‘The House of rumour’, as Lively puts it, ‘becomes a good representations of Ovid’s approach to the retelling of his stories’:

 ‘ a flimsy throng of a thousand rumours, true and fictitious/wandering far and wide in a turbulent tangle of language’ (121).

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Cycnus 

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Cycnus

Rumour’ not only makes sure everybody is ready to commence battle but  also acts as a springboard for Ovid to launch into the scenes of war. Uniquely and challengingly instead of foregrounding the exploits of  Achilles (Son of Peleus) he initially highlights the exploits of  Cycnus (Neptune’s son) who is also known to be a great fighter.

In the original story it is Achilles who has been looking for Hector (favourite son of King Priam) but Ovid, in direct contrast,  replaces the figure of Hector with Cycnus. And instead of giving Cycnus an epic fight (like a Homeric hero) he lets Cycnus tease Achillies by taking off his armour and in so doing Achilles is unable to harm him. Achilles is furious at the fact he can’t hurt Cycnus and he becomes overwhelmingly angry. He jumps down from his chariot and eventually manages to kill him by strangulation with his helmet straps. This form of death is most definitely not a heroic. To top this off Achilles goes to claim Cycnus’ armour only to find that Cycnus has been transformed into a white swan.  He shares his name with the swan.

Ovid challenges epic narration and the usual tropes attached to heroism by transforming Homeric anger into a temper fit.  After the death of Cycnus a truce is forged between the Greeks . They tell stories to each other.  Achilles  is foregrounded in the telling of these stories initially, but the narrative ignores the bravery attached to his exploits. Nestor then takes over and becomes the internal narrator and tells a series of strange stories which fill the rest of book 12.

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Caeneus_by_DustpanGirl

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Caeneus

 Nestor tells the strange story of Caeneus (formerly Caenis, a woman who was transformed into a man and then became a warrior). Like Cycnus,  Caeneus lived through a  merciless attack unscathed. The story is told as a tale of hearsay. According to the story Caeneus was born a girl (Caenis) renowned for her beauty. She was raped by the god Neptune who asks her what she would like in recompense. She asks to be turned into a man so she can never suffer in the same way again, and in so doing Caenis becomes Caeneus.  Fuelled by his/her background the warrior Caenus emasculates  all those he fights against: the attackers swords and weapons become redundant.  In a similar way to Cycnus the only way Caeneus is killed is by suffocation.  And this feeds into the next tale….

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The Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs

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The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs

Nestor, using evidence from a first-hand account, tells of Caeneus’ skills as a warrior at a wedding celebration of Pirithous (King of the Lapiths) to Hippodamia. There are a mixture of guests including Centaurs attending and the wedding guests are all reclining and enjoying themselves but chaos begins to break out.  Eurytus (son of Menelaus)  becomes drunk and grabs the bride and attempts to rape her. Each of the centaurs then follow suit. In so doing ‘the battle of the Lapiths’ is unleashed, as is  a representation of the forces of civilisation overcoming barbarism. Order defeats chaos ‘all over a girl’, just like in the Trojan war.

Theseus (son of Aegeus) throws a bowl at Eurytus’ face causing blood and gore to ooze out; the other wedding guests follow suit and use wedding utensils as weapons. A centaur uses a chandelier to smash into a face of a Lapith; an alter is used to crush someone and a burning log is used to set someone else on fire. And there are also a number of  disembowelments.

Amidst all of the mayhem and horror Nestor tells another tale of the death of two young centaur- lovers: Cyllarus and Hylonome. This brings in an elegiac feeling into the epic (as relief).  The characterisation of Hylonome  follows Ovid’s description of  the trope of a  ‘sophisticated lady’ (as he outlines in Ars Amatoria, his book on the art of love). The two lovers love equally (countering the usual behaviour of Roman lovers). The depiction also mirrors the love shown by other characters previously like Baucis and Philemon in Book 8 and Iphis and Ianthe (in book 9) (125). Cyllarus is killed by a javelin and Hylonome throws herself on the very same sword. They unite in death.

This story serves as a break for the reader from the aggression and violence of the wedding mayhem. It offers an ‘alternate world of peace and domesticity. ‘(125).  Nestor, as the narrator, then questions the validity of his own narration and  muses on how good his memory is.  Tlepolemus (son of Hercules) asks Nestor why Hercules and his heroic acts have not been mentioned in the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs. Nestor explains and  acknowledges that he hates Hercules for the murder of his brothers and the destruction of his home.

‘All narratives are unreliable it seems , subject to biases and prejudices, inventions and exclusions.’ (226)

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Death of Achilles

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The Death of Achilles

Just as Nestor selectively chooses what he shows of the Trojan war so does Ovid and he skips a swathe of stories crossing a number of years (unlike the Iliad).  He then drops us once again straight into the story of the death of Achilles. Ovid tells of the anger of Neptune  at the death of his son Cycnus.  He tells how Neptune persuaded Apollo to send one of Paris’ arrows into Achilles and in so doing insured that a great warrior gets killed by the wimpy  adulterer Paris (See book 12).  Equally, going against tradition again, Ovid does not spend any time detailing Achilles’ funeral and just mentions that this once great hero is now merely a mound of dust (128). However,as the book concludes Achilles’ fame does live on and the other great fighters argue as to who shall have his armour.

 

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 12 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  • Different Focus to Traditional Narratives:  In this particular book it is apparent that Ovid is playing and re-working the usual narrative texture represented by the texts written by  Homer and Virgil. By choosing to exclude certain stories, flag up others, he undermines and refreshes notions of heroism and  gender and the very heritage of the narrative tradition he is re-working.
  • Civilisation versus Barbarism In ‘the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs’ Ovid depicts the dismantling of what appears to be one of the embodiments of civilisation- marriage  (which holds within it notions of  love and communion). He does so by knowingly, flipping this notion of civilisation on it’s head, and turning it into a depiction of rape, blood and gore (barbarism). The two sides of the coin are represented and we can see how swiftly civility can be fractured into chaos and mayhem. 
  • Love versus War Within the context of the Trojan war Ovid also chooses to focus on love within war and the problematics of that. He shows us the tensions embodied by a father torn between duty and family, and the consequences of adultery in war. This serves as an interesting contrast to the bloody, physical consequences of war and creates a powerful contrast to the blood and gore and traditional, detailed battle scenes. 

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Things of Interest:

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  • BBC Documentary On The Trojan War

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Christopher Hitchens on The Odyssey

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 The Myth of the Trojan War: The British Museum  Online Tour

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http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/online_tours/greece/the_myth_of_the_trojan_war/the_myth_of_the_trojan_war.aspx

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Knots, Appearance,Divinity, Stories, Dinner party, Murder, Warrior, Shards, Candlestick
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Verse Form:  Lai -The syllable count in each triplet of lines is 5, 5, 2, and each triplet rhymes aab. The number of such triplets must be the same in each stanza, and at least two. It’s a version of  virelai ancien, with the stanzas not linked by rhyme. In fact the virelai is just the same as the lai with a couple of extra rules:

  • There must be nine lines – three triplets – per stanza.
  • The short lines in one stanza rhyme with the long lines of the next. Similarly, the short lines in the last stanza rhyme with the long lines of the first.

See here for more information.

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Here is an audio  an  audio of the tale of ‘Caenis’ in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book  10  coming out throughout November and December.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 11 Poetry is Thursday 26th December.  

  __________

References:

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

 

 >>>>

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 11 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

18 Nov
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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 in the middle of November with our deadline of Book 10 poetry being Thursday 28th November

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 11 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Thursday 26th December.

The second batch of Book 9  poems went out today featuring  ELEANOR PERRY and KATE GARRETT (here).  The other great Book 9 and 10 poems will be posted out during the rest of  November and December

If you missed out on  Book 8 poems you can find them here, here, here . I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

Overview of Book 11: 

The dynamics of narration,   the relationship between a storyteller and his tale and the character who is telling the tale, is constantly highlighted in Metamorphoses. This is  particularly the case in book 11 where we are once again dropped into the ongoing tale of Orpheus and his demise (having been set up in book 10). Within this framework of tales within tales  Ovid’s voice can clearly be heard- supporting or castigating the character’s he has created. 

Within book 11 Ovid  develops and embellishes very well known tales such as king Midas. The story of Ceyx and Alcyone is also to be found here with its engagement with the sadness and complexity of death and dying, and the nature of sorrow. The principle of the Golden Mean is suggested, where nothing should be taken to extremes. Book 11 also paves the way for our introduction into the Trojan war which is engaged with more heartily by the books to come.

Ovid also touches upon the theme of love and marriage via the story Peleus and Thetis. Ovid once again prepares the way for this through his retelling of the tale of Midas and the consequences of his foolish, greedy requests to the gods. The story of Laomedon delves into the  nature of betrayal. And famously, there is a beautiful personification and embodiment of sleep in the tale of Ceyx. There is a constant layering of stories which all have a sequential impact- one on the other.

Summary of the Tales in Book 11

. Ceyx and Alcyone

The sorrowing birds, the creatures of the wild,
The woods that often followed as he sang,
The flinty rocks and stones, all wept and mourned
For Orpheus; forest trees cast down their leaves,
Tonsured in grief, and rivers too, men say,
Were swollen with their tears.
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The Myths and Key Characters: The Death of Orpheus, Midas, The Song of Orpheus, Laomedon’s Treachery, Peleus and Thetis, Peleus and Ceyx, Pygmalion, Ceyx and Alcyone, Aesacus.

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The Death of Orpheus

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The Death of Orpheus

Orpheus’ voice and Ovid’s voice blend in this story, with the more critical of the two voices (Ovid’s) ringing through. The Women of Thrace are mortified by Orpheus’ treatment of women (Eurydice, the Propoetides, Myrrha, and Atalanta, and his rejection of women for boys). The women are disempowered initially because Orpheus’ music makes the weapons the women throw harmless. However, angered, in retaliation they begin to drown out his music with their own raised voices and music. They become a mass of caterwauling  maenads (female followers of Dionysus).  The Thracian women rip Orpheus apart. His head and lyre  drift off down the river Hebrus still producing music- – a lament.  Orpheus  finally joins Eurydice in the Underworld. However, Ovid’s real focus is on the punishment of  the Thracian women for Orpheus’ death. They are transformed into an oak tree.  This transformation is imbued with a ‘jokey’ feel  as Ovid takes us back to our first introduction to Orpheus in book 10 where he plays to an audience of trees. 

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King Midas

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Midas

Ovid throws us right into the middle of the story of Midas  (King of Phrygia) who requests that whatever he touches be turned to gold. The trope of a character coming to regret asking something of the gods (like Phaethon in book 2 and Semele in book 3) is repeated.  We hear the cries of Midas suffering amidst all his wealth (as we have heard Narsissus in book 3, Byblis in book 9, Iphis in book 9, Myrrha in book 10 and Pygmallion in book 10). King Midas prays to give up his gift and the gods show kindness and remove his ability to turn things into gold. The gods ask Midas to wash the gold away in the river Pactolus.  Midas is then asked to judge a music competition between Pan and Apollo, and he stupidly judges the rustic music of Pan’s pipes better than the god Apollo’s lyre. He is punished for this by being given donkey’s ears. Midas tries to keep his donkey’s ears a secret but they are exposed when he has his hair cut at the barbers.  The barber is forbidden to discloses his find and has to whisper it into a hole for good measure.

 Laomedon

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Laomedon’s Treachery

In this sequence of tales Ovid explores the nature of betrayal via the telling of two specific stories.  Firstly, Laomedon  (Trojan King, son of Ilus) who withholds payment from Apollo and Neptune for the building of the walls of Troy. The two gods come after Laomedon  but he chases them away therefore betraying their trust. For this error the god’s ask that Laomedon’s daughter be sacrificed.  The second tale recounts how Laomedon tried to cheat Hercules out of his prize for rescuing his daughter from a sea monster. To fight back against Laomedon’s deception Hercules leads an army against Troy aided by his brothers Telemon and Peleus.  

Ovid then takes us back in time and launches into the tale of  Peleus and Thetis who are the parents of Achilles. In so doing, Ovid re-roots Metamorphoses back in time and casts a new light on what has been and what is to come. 

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Peleus and Thetis

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Peleus and Thetis

 Ovid tells the tale of how Peleus (son of Aeacus king of Aegina) forces Thetis (a sea nymph  able to shape-shift and daughter of Proteus) to be his bride.  This story is very reminiscent of the other aggressive couplings we have seen in previous books. Thetis tries to escape from Peleus’ forceful attention. Peleus tries to rape Thetis while she sleeps and she transforms herself into various shapes to escape. But despite this Peleus eventually ties her up and  unable to retaliate has to yield to Peleus. At this point in Metamorphoses particularly, questions have always been raised as to Ovid’s portrayal of women and violence against women. What does Ovid actually feel about these women, is his portrayal pornographic or empathetic?  Amazingly, Peleus and Thetis actually get married. However Ovid focuses his attention much more on the rape than the marriage. It is from this difficult joining  that Achilles (hero of the Trojan War) is born. 

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Peleus-and-Thetis

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Peleus and Ceyx

This story follows Peleus and Thetis into exile. In the city of Trachin King Ceyx welcomes them and he tells them the story of his brother Daedalion (Athenian architect)  and his neice Chione.  Chione was raped by two gods and then killed by Diana (goddess of the hunt) on the same day. As Ceyx tells this tale a report comes in of a vicious wolf who has killed Peleus’ herd (punishment, perhaps, for the death of Phocus (son of Aeacus). The wolf is turned into stone. Ceyx also tells of how Daedalion was turned into a bird. Both these transformations prefigure the famous story to come- Ceyx and Alcyone.

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Ceyx and Alcyone

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Ceyx and Alcyone:

We are introduced to Ceyx (the son of Esophyrus, king of Thessaly) and Alcyone (daughter of Aeolus, married to Ceyx). Ceyx, troubled by the previous sequences of transformations visits the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. Alcyone begs Ceyx not to go. He ignores her and goes off to sea. A storm wreaks havoc and drowns all those on board, including Ceyx. Juno (chief goddess, daughter of Saturn  and partner to Jupiter) feels sorry for Alcyone and decides to tell her of Ceyx’s death via a dream.  In the telling of this moment ~Ovid creates a metamorphic rendering of sleep in the formation of ‘the cave of sleep’. Within the words he uses he creates a feeling of  sleepiness as he forms the cave. He tells how Iris (personification of the rainbow and messenger of the gods) brushes away cobwebs like dreams. Shape-shifter Morpheus (has the power to take any person’s shape and appear in dreams) is also brought into life. Morpheus transforms into the likeness of Ceyx. He appears to Alcyone in a dream and as she reaches out to him he vanishes. She begs Ceyx to take her with him. Her lament echoes those of the myriad of other female laments we have heard before.

Alcyone then decides she will join Ceyx in death. Alcyone goes to the shore where she said goodbye to Ceyx  and she sees Ceyx’s body washed up upon the shore. She runs into the ocean ready to embrace the body and is turned into  a sea-bird. The two lovers are then reunited in death to bring their children up together on the calm seas. The overall atmosphere in this story is one of ultimate quiet before the storm; a moment of respite before recalling the horror of Troy. Comparisons can be made between Peleus and Thetis (Lively: 118).


Aesacus

Aesacus

An old man who sees the sea-birds that Ceyx and Alcyonae have been transformed into (the Alcyonae) is inspired to tell the tale of  Aesacus (the grandson of Laomedon, (son of Priam). He tells of how Aesacus falls in love with a  nymph Hesperia (one of the Hesperides) who tries to flee from him.  Whilst Aesacus chases after her a snake hidden in the grass bites Hesperia in the foot and she dies. Aesacus holds Hesperia in his arms after death (mirroring Ceyx and Alcyone). and  Aesacus traumatised asks that his his life be taken also. However, the goddess Tethys (goddess of the waters of the world) feels sorry for him, and as he throws himself off a cliff transforms him into a diving sea bird. In so doing we see the metamorphoses of a Trojan prince who might, had he not undergone this metamorphoses, have been as famous as Hector (greatest fighter in the Trojan war).

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Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 11 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  • The dynamics of Narration- Within Book 11 Ovid clearly plays with the dynamics of narration, sometimes placing his bias in direct contrast to that of his characters and sometimes aligning them with his opinions. In so doing this challenges the relationship between the story teller and his stories. This technique allows Ovid to challenge the morality of his tales. The morality can either be underpinned or challenged, leaving it unclear as to what Ovid’s actual opinion is.  This feels very modern.
  • Love, Marriage and Betrayal– Aggression is generally the thread that runs through Ovid’s depiction of love and marriage. This book is filled, once again, with  problematised depictions of love (‘amor). But the reader is also given tender depictions of real connection, love and despair- Ceyx and Alcyone and Aesacus.
  • Preparation for the Retelling  of the Trojan war in books to come: Ovid  reintroduces the heroic tales of Hercules and Achilles in the form of flashbacks. We are taken to the foundation of Troy in the story of  ‘Laomedon’s Treachery’. This fits in with Ovid’s intention to chart the history of the world.  However Ovid shifts the tales around sequentially  therefore taking history and the origins of creation in his own hands giving them a new point of origin (115).

 

Things of Interest:

Edith_Hamilton

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  • Edith Hamilton’s ‘Mythology’ Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

A fascinating woman….well worth checking out…

“Recognized as the greatest woman Classicist”. She was sixty-two years old when The Greek Way, her first book, was published in 1930 and Mythology came out in 1942.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Hamilton

For an online version of  Mythology go to: http://www.scribd.com/doc/88808169/Mythology-Edith-Hamilton-1942

 

  • King Midas and his Lust for Gold…

1953 puppet animated tale of King Midas. Early Ray Harryhausen film:

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Daughter, Time, Flicked, Inevitability, Sanctuary, Damnation, Ceiling, Massacre, Tower, Eddy
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Verse Form:  Pantoum  -The pantoum is a Malay verse form that reached us via France and is said to be one of the hardest verse forms to master.  The stanzas rhyme abab, with the second and fourth lines of each stanza reappearing as the first and third lines of the next. To complete the loop, the second and fourth lines of the final stanza are the same as the first and third lines of the first stanza.

See here for more information.

Here is an  audio of the tale of ‘King Midas’ in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book  9 coming out throughout November and December.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 10 Poetry is Thursday 28th December.  

  __________

References:

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

 

 >>>>

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 10 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

14 Oct
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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 in the middle of October with our deadline of Book 9 poetry being Wednesday 30th October

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 10 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Thursday 28th November.

The last  batch of Book 7  poems went out last week featuring  NAT HALL, JAMES KNIGHT and KARIN HEYER (here).  The other great Book 8 poems will be posted out during the rest of  October and  November.

If you missed out on  Book 7 poems you can find them here, here, here . I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

Overview of Book 10: 

 ‘boys whom the gods have loved and girls punished for their lustful desires’  

In Book 10 Ovid throws us with great glee into a  sequence of tales of  doom and misery in marriage  via Hymen (the god of marriage ceremonies), and in so doing gives us an exploration of the problematics of marriage and conjugation. Book 10 is often perceived to be the darkest book of Metamorphoses’ 15,  because any happiness granted is immediately retracted. The book starts with the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Here we have a tale of conquest and ruin which Ovid uses to draw us down into a sequence of other challenging relationships that are deeply entrenched in the sexual. It is also  the book which explores notions of guilt and guilt by association. All the tales are of ‘unnatural love‘ (picking up on the threads of Book 9). Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the most famous tales from Metamorphoses;  one that has inspired many an opera; as has the tale of Pygmalion and its confrontation with reality and  fantasy and Galatea (the name usually given to Pygmalion’s statue)  which inspired George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. In contrast to these tales of discord and otherness is also, an engagement with the connectedness of life and its inter-relations.

Summary of the Tales in Book 10

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Rape of Ganymede by Rembrandt

Thence Hymen came, in saffron mantle clad,
At Orpheus’ summons through the boundless sky
To Thessaly, but vain the summons proved.
True he was present, but no hallowed words
He brought nor happy smiles nor lucky sign
Even the torch he held sputtered throughout
With smarting smoke, and caught no living flame
For all his brandishing.
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The Myths and Key Characters: Orpheus and Eurydice, Cyparissus, The Song of Orpheus, Ganymede and Hyacinthus, Cerastae and Propoetides, Pygmalion, Myrrha and Venus and Adonis.

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Orpheus_SpencerStanhope

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Orpheus and Eurydice

In direct contrast to the joyous marriage of Iphis (daughter of Telethusa) and Ianthe (Cretian girl who married Ianthe, See Book 9)  the marriage of Orpheus (musician, poet and prophet) and Eurydice (one of the daughters of Apollo)  is truly problematic, and eventually culminates in her being bitten by a snake and dying. Ovid tells this part of the story in a very matter of fact way with no emotion. Orpheus then travels to the underworld to persuade the gods to give her back. Permission is given to him but only if he does not look back at her as she follows behind him. Orpheus can’t control his ardour and he does look back-only to see Eurydice sliding into Hell.  What we have in this tale is Orpheus setting out to conquer the underworld and what we see by the end is something ruinous.  We get the two sides of the coin. This movement from conquest to ruin is is practically  the only transformation in this particular story. Ovid’s depiction of this tale is in direct contrast to Virgil’s version (Lively:100) and can also  be considered a transformation by Ovid of Virgil’s take on the subject matter.  After Eurydice’s death Orpheus mourns for 7 days. Eventually Orpheus dies and his decapitated head floats down a stream with his lyre mystically playing as he goes.

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Cyparissus

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.Cyparissus

Orpheus overwhelmed by the grief of Eurydice goes through what could be called a psychological transformation – spurning the love of women and seeking solace in boys. It is worth noting, Liveley says, ‘that same sex sexual relationships were not viewed negatively in ancient Greece or Rome’ (100). However, Ovid was not overtly in agreement with this and this impacts on his depiction of Orpheus in relation to Cyparissus (a boy beloved by Apollo).

Orpheus sits down to sing on top of a hill surrounded by some trees which he turns into his audience. Ovid describes these trees in a form of ‘epic catalogue’ (101). For instance Heliades (one of the daughters of Helios) who was transformed into a poplar tree (Book 2), and Daphne (a female nymph, Niad) who was transformed into a laurel tree (Book 1),  and the metamorphoses into a  Lotus refers back to Lotis  (the daughter of Neptune)  (Book 9). The catalogue concludes with the transformation of Cyparissus (who was well-known for the inconsolable grief he showed for his beloved pet deer. In butting these two tales up against each other Ovid finds a means to explore Orpheus’ psychological metamorphoses in an innovative manner.

 

The Song of Orpheus

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The Song of Orpheus

As Orpheus sings all the animals and trees are transfixed by his music and voice. He enchants them as he sings of Ganymede, Hyacinthus, Pygmalion, Myrrha and Adonis, All the tales that form his song. He calls upon Jupiter (the king of the gods) and the Muse Calliope (muse of epic poetry and daughter of Zeus) to inspire him.

 

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Ganymede and Hyacinthus

 Orpheus begins his sequence of songs with Jupiter’s rape of Ganymede (the son of Tros)  a young boy. Finishing this song  he moves onto the story of how Apollo (god of light and the sun) accidently killed his beloved  Hyacinthus (a divine hero) with a discus. Apollo, despite his divine arts, can’t manage to save him and he mourns Hyacinthus, holding him in his arms crying.  Apollo, like Orpheus, promises to remember his love in song. He also pledges to mark Hyacinthus’ death by the creation of a flower which also serves to later commemorate the hero Ajax (son of Telamon) as well. From the blood that pours out from the wound caused by the discus, grows a flower- the hyacinth.

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propoetides3

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Cerastae and Propoetides

The next song Orpheus sings is of the Cerastae (horn wearers-). They are a dangerous, murdering race of both men and women who are transformed into bulls by Venus (the goddess of love, beauty and sex) for their profanity.  This is followed by the tale of Propoetides (the daughters of Propetus) , who deny the rulership of Venus and turn to prostitution and then are transformed into statutes for their misdemeanour.  Interestingly, the Propoetides, are not turned to stone because they have turned to prostitution, but more for their impiety to Venus. The turning into stone can be seen as a second transformation- a reflection of what they have had to do to their psyche to undergo this life of prostitution: ie. become ‘as hard (as) stones (103).

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Pygmalion

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Pygmalion


The tale of Pygmalion (Cypriot sculptor) is told next. He so abhors the behaviour of the Propoetides that he  turns to celibacy and the rejection of women. Rejecting the flesh  he shapes an ivory sculpture of what he sees as the perfect woman. The sculpture is so realistic it appears as if it is alive. Pygmalion falls in love with the statue  and caresses the figure as if it were his mistress. He also believes that the figure is returning his favours. He buys her gifts and flatters her. Pygmalion behaves very similarly to the ‘art of love’ Ovid lays out in
Ars Amatoria which sets out in detail how to woo a woman.

As this continues Pygmalion confuses fantasy with reality and this all escalates at a festival for Venus. He prays to Venus for a wife exactly like his statue and it is clear he is truly confused between what is real and what is not. He returns to his house from his prayers and finds that his prayers have been granted and a wife exactly like the statue has been given to him.  Because of this he is filled with affection for his statue and he handles her like she is ‘a work of art’. He caresses her body not like a woman, but  ‘as a sculptor would mould wax’ (Liveley 105). The sclupture is transformed into something living but aesthetic  and then into something real and tangible from an ‘art object’ into a ‘love object’ (105).

.Myrrha

Myrrha

Ovid then tells the story of Myrrha and her incestuous relationship with her father. Orpheus abhors the behaviour of Myrrha-rejecting the lure of women and their wily ways.  Myrrha’s behaviour has nothing to do with love or ‘amor’ rather than passion. There is no sympathy for her like Ovid had for Byblis (See Book 9). Here we are given another  measured soliloquy (like we had from Medea) . Myrrha calls upon examples from nature and other societies to justify her actions and ‘unnatural love’. Indeed, matters get very complex when Cinyras (Myrrha’s father)  asks her what sort of husband she would like and she replies- ‘someone like you’.  A nurse helps Myrrha into her father’s bed chamber and tells him she has a young girl for him of a similar age to Myrrha. Night upon night of incest follows. Cinyras eventually wants to really know who he has been sleeping with and he brings in a lamp to look properly upon his lover.  When all is illuminated he grabs a sword to kill her. Myrrha escapes from her home petrified, and in so doing is transformed from villain to victim. She roams around for 9 months pregnant and then she asks to be released from her mental and physical agony. A random god feels sorry for her and turns her into a tree where you can see Myrrha’s tears trickling down the bark. The tree was called a Myrrh tree.

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Venus and Adonis 

Venus and Adonis

Myrrha, trapped within the tree, still has to give birth to her child, Adonis. Lucina (the goddess of childbirth) helps Myrrha and she gives birth to a baby boy. Adonis grows up and gets some retribution for what has happened to his mother by making Venus (the goddess of love) fall in love with him. Cupid (Venus’ son)  accidentally grazes her breast with one of Cupid’s  magic arrows and she falls in love with Adonis.

Ovid then creates a story within a story as Venus then tells the story of Atalanta (daughter of Iasus and virgin huntress)  and Hippomenes (descendant of Poseidon).  Atalanta, trying to evade getting married, challenges her suitors to a running race. She offers herself as the prize for success and their death if they fail.  Venus helps Hippomenes trick Atalanta so he wins the race. However, Hippomenes forgets to thank Venus for her help and she inflames the pairs passions so much they desecrate a sacred spot of Cybele’s (Anatoian mother goddess) and they are turned into Lions as punishment.

Adonis is mortally wounded by a boar, and a flower, the anemone sprang up from his blood to commemorate Venus’ grief.

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Anenome

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Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 10 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  • ‘Unnatural’ Love: There is a strong undercurrent of subversiveness in this book-particularly in relation to sexual love. This is in direct contrast to the examples we have seen of ‘amor’ in previous books. We have Orpheus assuaging the loss of Eurydice with his new love of young boys, and we have Myrrha in her incestuous relationship with her father. Judgement of these unnatural acts is often veiled or masked.
  • Moral Transformations: There are relatively few actual metamorphoses in this particular book, rather we are given depictions of ‘moral transformations’. We have firstly the Propoetides and their moral  ‘metamorphoses’ into prostitutes:  and then the even more catastrophic moral impiety of ignoring Venus, which actually is the act that turns them into stone- not the prostitution. It is the change in morality that is flagged up as more important than the physical calcification. And secondly in  Pygmalion we have love for an object, ‘aesthetic love’ turned into ‘real’ love; from  aesthetic objectification, to fantasy,  to reality.
  • Reality Versus Fantasy: In this book Ovid challenges the notion of the boarders between reality and fantasy, and the notion of subject and object. This is subtly depicted by the transforming relationship Pygmalion has with the sculpture he has created. As his involvement with his art transforms from aesthetic love into the world of his imagination, to the moment with his fantasy becomes real. In this depiction Ovid blurs and challenges the lines of reality and fantasy asking which is the better?

 

Things of Interest:

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Orpheus and Eurydice by C.W. Gluck (1774) 

Dance of the Blessed Spirits

 

George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion

“I can’t turn your soul on. Leave me those feelings; and you can take away the voice and the face. They are not you.”  (From Pygmallion by George Bernard Shaw) 

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Theatre Guild Radio Production


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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Love, Remembering, city, extermination, prophesy, Stone, Pleasure, Water, Attachment, Guilt, Photograph
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Verse Form:  Urjuzah  – The rajaz metre calls for lines of 24 syllables, divided into two hemistichs (or half-lines) of 12 syllables, with a caesura (or break) between them. Each hemistich contains three similar feet, of 4 syllables each. The third syllable is unstressed, and all the others are stressed – “dum-dum-di-dum”. In Western prosody, such a foot (which doesn’t arise all that often) would be called a third epitrite.

See here for more information.

n.b. Here is an  audio of the tale of ‘Hyacinth’ in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book 8 coming out throughout October and November.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 9 Poetry is Wednesday 30th October.  

  __________

References:

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

 

 >>>>

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 9 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

17 Sep
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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 in the middle of September with our deadline of Book 8 poetry being Wednesday 25th September

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 9 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Wednesday 30th October.

The last  batch of Book 6  poems went out last week featuring  REBECCA AUDRA SMITH, SADAF FATIMA and KARIN HEYER (here).  The other great Book 7 poems will be posted out during the rest of  September and October.

If you missed out on  Book 6  poems you can find them  here, here, here . I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

Overview of Book 9: 

Book 9 picks up where Book 8 left us with the tale of Achelous (God of the ‘silver swirling’, the largest fresh-water river in Greece) and the comical quizzing about the horn on his forehead. Theseus (hero of Athens) pursues this issue with him and in so doing sets forth the comic and satirical tone of this particular book. We are  taken on a journey through a sequence of tales focusing around Hercules, and in particular Achelous’ jealousy of Hercules.

In book 9 Ovid swaps the narrative between himself and his characters consistently.  He also touches on and explores the notion of heroism through the stories of Hercules and Alcmenia (female heroism) and he does so within the constraints of  his dramatic tradition. He also  relates heroism to love and how ‘Amor’ can drive people to death in its pursuit. We also find that Ovid uses the technique of personification(Rumour) to embolden his narrative (The Death of Hercules), and he peppers the stories within Book 9 with various metamorphoses which provide a light motif to the blood and gore.  The dynamics of relationships are also explored within families: parents and children (Iolaus, Callirhoe’s Sons and Miletus) and siblings (Byblis). Also in this book we find an engagement with the power of words and their ability to create forms of reality and fantasy.  Ovid leads us to question the dynamics between the two. He emphasis the way in which words have the ability to transform and transmogrify.

Summary of the Tales in Book 9 

Abduction of Deianeira
Why the god groaned and how his brow was maimed
Theseus enquired and Caldon’s great river,
His tangled tresses bound with reeds, began;
“Sad is the task you set. For who would wish
To chronicle the battles that he lost?
Yet the whole tale. I’ll tell. It was less shame
To lose than glory to have fought the fight” ‘

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The Myths and Key Characters: Achelous and Hercules, Hercules and Nessus, The Death of Hercules, Alcmena and Galanthis, Dryope, Iolaus, Callirhoe’s Sons and Miletus, Byblis, Iphis

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achelous-and-hercules-by-thomas-hart-benton-1947

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Achelous and Hercules

The feast that was  started at the end of Book 8 continues and Achelous tells the story of how he fought Hercules for the hand of Deianira (Hercules’ second wife).  He recounts a bawdy, unheroic tale of their fight. Achelous viciously taunts Hercules and forces him to retaliate. They have a wrestling match and Hercules is teased about his ability to be a hero. Achelous knows that Hercules is stronger than him and therefore uses his power to transform and escapes Hercules’ grasp by transforming himself into a snake. However Hercules is famous for his snake strangling skills and makes short shrift of Achelous. But Achelous transforms himself once more into a bull and therefore does not die. Hercules in a fury of retribution tears off the horn in the centre of  Achelous’ forehead.  He does so as a means to assert his power. As another example of metamorphoses Achelous turns his ripped horn into a ‘horn of plenty’ (Liveley: 92) and lets his dinner guests sup from it to end their feast. 

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Nessus

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Hercules and Nessus

This particular story sits in stark contrast to the previous story Achelous and Hercules where only a horn is lost.  Here Nessus loses his life.  Nessus (a centaur, son of Centaurus) , like Achelous,  also falls in love with Deianira (he is shot in the back by Cupid’s arrow).  He comes across Hercules and Deianira near Calydon. However their way back home is still blocked by the waters that had also blocked the boar hunt in Book 8.  Nessus offers to help them cross the river. Hercules refuses thinking he doesn’t need any help, but lets Nessus help Deianira across. Hercules’ attention is solely focused on crossing the river, so much so he doesn’t notice Nessus attempting to rape his wife. However, he eventually hears her screams and kills Nessus via a tainted arrow in his back. However, Nessus, before he dies, out of revenge, offers Deianira a  blood soaked and poison-ridden cloak pretending it is a love token. This also signals an atmosphere of foreboding pre-empting Hercules’ death.

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The death of Hercules

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The Death of Hercules

Fama (the goddess of Rumour) tells Deinara that she has heard that Hercules is in love with another woman. In the hope that she can win back Hercules she sends him the poisoned cape that Nessus gave her and unwittingly kills her own husband. Ovid, in a blow-by-blow manner shows us Hercules’ agonising death. He dies, burned on an alter. As he dies Hercules rages at the goddess Juno (sister and wife of Jupiter) listing all his heroic acts but to no avail.

In the middle of all this anguish Ovid slots in a metamorphoses which has a contrasting intensity. Hercules spies Lichas (the messenger who brought him the cloak) and he flings him skyward and he falls into the icy sea turning (horribly) into human-shaped rock.

Hercules then builds himself a funeral pyre and awaits his own death and is turned from someone dis-empowered to a hero preparing for his own mortality. He transforms himself into a hero once more.

This noble act is appreciated by Jupiter (the King of the Gods) and he assures us and Hercules that his death will not be the end – Hercules is transformed into a god.

This is the first transformation like this we have seen thus far in Metamorphoses. This deification sets up a paradigm which is replicated later by Aeneas (Trojan hero) , Julius Caesar (Roman General, 100 BC-44 BC ) and Augustus Caesar (63BC-14AD). This is particularly significant as the deification of Augustus marks the end of ‘Metamorphoses’  in Book 15.

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Alcemena and Galanthis

 Ovid then takes us time travelling back to Hercules’ birth, therefore confirming his death as a point of re-birth. Herecules’ mother Alcmena tells Iole (her daughter-in-law) about how Juno (the goddess of childbirth) tried to impede Hercules’ birth (as Hercules was another example of Jove’s roving eye). Alcmena labours for 7 days and 7 nights. Ovid uses this as an example of female heroism. This heroic birth acts as a parallel to Hercules’ labours and Galanthis (one of Juno’s attendants) tricks her into freeing the spell she has put over the baby.  Galanthis is punished for her trickery by being turned into a weasel

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Drylope

Dryope

Iole then tells a story of a mother and a son which mirrors the combination of rape and transformation we have seen in other books. She tells of a nymph Lotis who evades the passionate attentions of  Priapus (god of fertility) by turning herself into a lotus flower. Dryope (a nymph) tries to pick the lotus flower and finds it dripping blood from its stems. She gradually turns into a lotus tree. Her family cry out at her metamorphosis and she asks them to use her as an example to her son so he does not inadvertently hurt a nymph trapped within nature either.  This is another example in Metamorphoses of a human morphing into a tree (following Daphne (1), Heliades (2), Baucis and Philemon (8), Cyparcissus (10), and Myrhha (10) )  Liveley states  that humans are ‘peculiarly tree-like’ (95). Quoting Robin Nisbet:

‘Trees are like people. They have a head (vertex)., a trunk (truncus), arms (bracchia). They stand tall like a soldier as a bridegroom…Their life moves in human rhythms…’

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Iolaus

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Iolaus, Callirhoe’s Sons and Miletus

Iolaus (Hercules’ nephew and oft-time companion)  re-appears to help Hercules’ sons defend themselves against one of his old enemies Eurystheus (King of Tyrins) .  A tale is told of how Callirhoe’s (a nyaid nymph) young sons were aged quickly so they could kill their own father.  This tale is then used to outline how the gods can choose to rejuvenate their favourite mortals.  A present example of this is given by foregrounding  Minos (one of the Kings of Crete)  who lives in immanent fear of Miletus’ usurpation with his twins Caunus and Byblis.

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Byblis

Byblis

In this tale Ovid concentrates on notions of ‘unnatural love’ within families. He focuses on Byblis (daughter of Miletus) and her ardour for her twin brother (Caunus, son of Miletus) . She is presented as a warning and as an example of other girls in a series of tales who also break the law in terms of love.

In Byblis’ case affection is transformed in dangerous desire. And like Medea before her,  she explores this in a soliloquy.  She then decides to write a letter to Caunus and he replies horrified at her feelings for him. Caunus leaves the family home and Byblis, grief stricken, is turned into a stream that weeps for a life-time.  Byblis in her wish to accept the incestuous nature of her feelings holds the gods up as an example. She sites Aeolidae,  in particular, as an example who married his sisters.  Byblis also places a lot of faith in the ability of words to explain her dilemma (the letter) .  She can use words knowingly to shape her reality and desires. Lively says ‘In fact Byblis sees language rather than law or morality as posing her main obstacle to her incestuous desires ‘(97).

 The-Three-Graces-detail

Iphis

Language, and its ability to transform, is once again explored in this story. The power of names to determine characters is considered:  just like Narcissus became a flower in Book 3.  So the story begins with a couple accepting the fact that they will have to kill the child they are expecting if she is a girl (in line with Greek tradition).  When the child is born the mother pretends the child is a boy and the father names her Iphis. The girl Iphis is then raised as a boy. She/he is raised up alongside Ianthe to whom she eventually becomes engaged. Unlike Byblis who rails against her ‘curious’ feelings for her twin brother, Iphis just accepts hers hopelessly. Instead of exploring she reasons.  What appears to be repeated in this tale is that lesbianism is unnatural. Iphis and Ianthe can’t live naturally side by side in this story. A  miracle and a reversal of genders has to occur before it is acceptable. as the wedding nears Iphis undergoes a transformation and becomes a man.

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Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 9 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  • Heroism and Deification:  Embodied within the stories related to Hercules we explore the relationship between strength and weakness and god and man;  how man can rise above all of humankind (with the help of the gods) to exist beyond human constraints. And in the story of Alcmenia we have, for the sake of balance, an example of female heroics.
  • Language and Transformation: In the two stories of Byblis and Iphis we see how they use language to attempt to come to grips with their individual struggles with their sexuality. Both use language in different ways to cope with the reality of their situations. And in so doing we can see how powerful word construction is in the defining of our reality or our fantasy.  How we use language creates strikingly different results.
  • ‘Unnatural Love’: In this Book we also see Ovid engage with unlawful love within the confines of the Greek tradition. Two ‘women’ struggling to come to terms with their feelings in two strikingly different ways. And even though Ovid’s conclusions rest within the confines of his own tradition, he nevertheless engages with these contemporary issues in a strikingly bold and provocative manner. 

 

Things of Interest:

Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss:

A live recording from 1968 by George Szell

An elegy written in response to the devastation of  Munich in world war two. An articulation of the bestiality of man, and in the transcendence of man to the divine (like Hercules.

C.S Lewis and the notion of Deification

C.S. Lewis

http://www.cslewis.org/journal/shine-as-the-sun-cs-lewis-and-the-doctrine-of-deification/

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for a bird to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
― C.S. LewisMere Christianity 

(From Goodreads)

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Lengthen, Metamorphic, Permanence, Crackling, Elements, Hybrid, Rotating, Kisses, Squabble,  Flesh, Suffering
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Verse Form: Ballade  – Three 8 line stanzas rhyming ababbcbC followed by followed by a 4-line envoi rhyming bcbC, the same rhymes being used throughout. The capital C’s indicate that the same line is repeated at the end of each stanza as a refrain.

See here for more information.

Here is an audio of the tale  ‘The Birth of Hercules’, in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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.Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book 7 coming out throughout August and September.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 8 Poetry is Wednesday 25th September.  

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References:

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

 

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Metamorphoses Book 8 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

13 Aug
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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 in the middle of August with our deadline of Book 7 poetry being Tuesday 20th August

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 8 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Wednesday 25th September. The first batch of Book 6  poems went out yesterday featuring  JAMES KNIGHT and RICHARD BIDDLE  (here).  The other great Book 6 poems will be posted out during the rest of  August. It’s a great book- inspiring and full of blood and gore! 

If you missed out on  Book 5  poems you can find them  here, here, here , here . I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

Overview of Book 8: 

Book 8’s narrative flags up ideas around continuity and change by following the path of  more  rebellious women who although follow in  Medea’s footsteps have strikingly different fates. In so doing,  Ovid explores the complexity of  what is considered a’ heroine’. In Book 8 much greater emphasis is also put back onto the theme of war , particularly  in  relation to Minos’ war with Athens.

In Book 8 Ovid uses a complex narrative style to mirror the complexity of his characters and the complexity and artistry of Metamorphoses as a book. This is particularly the case with Daedalus (a skilful craftsman and father of Icarus) whom Ovid uses to explore notions of nature and art.  Among other things Ovid also explores what  the nature of an ‘epic’ is  and  looks at the theme of betrayal for the sake of love (amor). Transformation is also used as the vehicle for both the punishment and reward in this book. We see the relationship of married couple Philemon and Baucis set up as an antidote to the more aggressive forms of love and transformation we have seen in previous books.  

Summary of the Tales in Book 8 

 

>>>>Philemon and Baucis

The morning star revealed the shining day,
Night fled, the east wind fell, the rain-clouds rose,
A steady south wind speeded the return
 Of Cephalus with the Aeginetan force.
Their passage prospered and the fair breeze brought
Them sooner than their hopes to Athens port.

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The Myths and Key Characters: Scylla, Daedalus and Icarus, Daedalus and Perdix, Meleager and the Calydonian Boar, Philemon and Baucis, Erysichthon

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Scylla

Minos (King of Crete)  has been laying siege to Megara (a city ruled by King Nisus , King of Megara, who is known for the lock of hair he grows from his head that protects his power). King Nisus has a daughter called Scylla who has fallen madly in love with Minos whilst watching him from a palace tower.  Very much like Medea, she speaks in depth of her love for Minos. Scylla, like Medea (See Book 7) betrays her father’s trust for the love of Minos and dis-empowers her father by sacrificing the lock of his hair. She also sacrifices her city for the love of Minos. In contrast to Medea,  Scylla is transformed from a woman of disgrace into a woman with whom we can empathise. Although Scylla has betrayed, as Liveley puts it, ”her pater (father) and her patria (fatherland)’ (82) Ovid portrays her as a victim of love; a person of sympathy. Scylla gets her comeuppance though and is spurned by her love Minos,  even though she has helped return the city of Megara to him. He sails off into the sunset without Syclla,  leaving her with nothing. Scylla, distraught,  goes after Minos and clings to the prow of his ship but she is transformed into a bird called the Ciris  (from the Greek word ‘to cut’ which forever connects her to her betrayal). Nisus is transformed into an osprey and follows her seeking revenge.

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Daedalus and Icarus

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Daedalus and Icarus

Ovid introduces the character of Daedalus in this book who is King Minos’ architect, and  who created a massive labyrinth in which to house a Minotaur (half man half bull) created out of the union of a real bull and Pasiphae (the daughter of Helios, the Sun).  Minos, in the story of the labyrinth, is portrayed as tyrannical and oppressive, and Ovid foregrounds how much effort Daedalus made to leave his patron. We see Daedalus playing with his little son Icarus who puts on a pair of wings his father has made and then attempts to fly. This, to all intents and purposes, is a transformation but it is not like the normal sort of transformations we have seen in previous books. In attempting to fly both Daedalus and Icarus are changing the ‘proper’ order of things (for humans are not meant to fly) and as they enter a zone which is normally only for the gods they are challenging the natural order of life).  Daedalus advices his son to not fly too close to the sun . Icarus not paying attention  loses his wings and falls into the sea and dies. The sea which Icarus falls into takes his name and  so does the island where Daedalus buries him. 

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perdix_vs8

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Daedalus and Perdix

Daedalus is very jealous of his nephew Perdix’s natural talent, so much so that he tries to push him off a tower. Minerva (Goddess of wisdom and the arts)  stops this happening by turning Perdix into a partridge. In the fall we have a link to not only Icarus but Phaethon (youngest son of Helios) from  Book 1.  Through this story Ovid also flags up the danger of competition.

Meleager and The Calydonian Boar

Having taken us into the labyrinthine world of Daedalus Ovid throws us back into the world of  Theseus’ (founder king of Athens) . Theseus’ fame is widespread because  he  killed the Minotaur. Due to his defeat of the Minotaur  the Calydonian people are looking to him to kill another monster that has been sent down upon them by Diana  (Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt) because they had been neglecting her in their sacrifices.  They call upon all sorts of other heroes to help them defeat the monster, and they all go off an Calydonian Boar hunt in an attempt to slay it. Ovid fills the hunt with horror, comedy, violence and tribulations- the whole works! Meleager, who is the local hero,  eventually manages to kill the boar/monster. He offers the boar to a tomboy Atalanta (who’s come along on the hunt for entertainment) , but his offering to her is snapped away by other townsfolk  and Meleager , insulted, kills them.

The focus is then firmly placed on  Meleager’s mother Althaea who although is gleeful about her son’s victory in the hunt is also simultaneously mourning the death of her brothers (who were part of the clan who took the spoils from Meleager and whom he killed). She becomes extremely angry with Meleager because of her brothers’ deaths. She takes a piece of enchanted wood which the Fates decreed would last as long as her son’s life and decides to avenge the death of her brothers. Like Media and Scylla she becomes another woman with a huge dilemma. To kill or not to kill?  Yet again like Scylla and Medea we have lots of description and a soliloquy which establishes her dilemma profoundly.  Ovid portrays her as being torn between mother and sister.  In the end she throws the wood in the fire causing Meleager a horrible death. Althaea cannot bear what she’s done and commits suicide. Meleager’s father and sister are irretrievably upset.  The sisters are so upset that Diana turns them into guinea hens .

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perimele-2

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Achelous and Perimele

On Theseus’ way back to Athens Achelous (the swollen river and river god) makes it difficult for him to go on his way by blocking his path and inviting Theseus into his home. Achelous retells him the story of a  group of nymphs who he punished because they did not honour him sufficiently. Achelous also tells the story of Perimele (daughter of Hippodamas) who he once loved and who he also raped and then transformed into an island.

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Philemon and Baucis

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Philemon and Baucis

The story of Philemon and Baucis  is of particular importance as it rests right at the centre of Metamorphoses. Ovid having shown us time and time again the violent and torturous side of love and passion now shows us the flip side and he gives us a representation of a good marriage.  Pure and noble and completely different in feel to the other relationships we have seen. Lelex (a companion of Theseus tells this story – a tale of an older  husband and wife who get rewarded by the gods because of their kindness. Jupiter (king of the gods) and Mercury (patron god of financial gain, commerce and eloquence/poetry) disguise themselves  as humans and come down to earth and find that only Philemon and Baucis welcome them into their house wholeheartedly. They share their food and make them welcome. Eventually the couple realise they have gods in their midst, and they  try and find more luxurious sacrifices to meet the needs of their visitors. The gods punish all the other discourteous inhabitants  around by creating a flood, but they save the older couple to thank them. The older couple cry as they see the destruction  around them, only to see that their house has been turned into a  splendid temple where Jupiter offers them any wish they like.

The couple continue to live their pious lives and decide they both want to become priests. After years of service they find themselves turning into trees, whispering goodbye to each other as their mouths are sealed by bark. This story is in marked contrast to the others told about love…which makes a change and provides contrast.

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Erysichthon

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Erysichthon

In contrast to Philemon and Baucis,  Achelous tells a story of greedy Erysichthon who saws down a tree brutally killing the nymphs, transformed, within. He is punished by Ceres (goddess of agriculture)  for this act by being made to feel hungry all the time.  The glutton calls for a feast and sells his daughter time and time again so that he can have money for more and more food. The story culminates in Erysichthon eating himself.

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As Achelous moans about the loss of the horn missing from his forehead he hints that this is another tale to be told,  and this prepares us for what will be told ………. in Book 9!

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Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 8 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  • Continuity and Change:  The women Scylla and Althaea all follow in Medea’s shadow but are shown in a more sympathetic light by Ovid. Showing how moral dilemmas do not always have to follow in loss and horror but can also lead to positive transformation.
  • Reward and Punishment:  Once again Ovid shows the omnipresent power of the gods and how diversely metamorphoses is used as an acknowledgement of good behaviour and of bad. Like  Philemon and Baucis whom are turned into trees or Scylla who is changed into a bird.
  • Artistic Excellence,  Nature and Realism: Through Ovid’s portrayal of Daedalus and his attempt to imitate the act of flying with his son Icarusand the tragedy that follows, we are left with the very clear impression that flight in nature is far superior than man made attempts. Man cannot better what is in nature and should not  meddle with something that is already perfected naturally. 

 

Things of Interest:

 Here’s a video of the tale of Daedalus and Icarus….in Lego….

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and

‘Ovid Rocks For sure…..’ An interesting article from The Guardian

The transformative effect of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on European art

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Wrong, Voyage, Railway, Dipped, Hunting, Gratitude, Torn, Hidden, Golden, Blunder, Misfortunes,  Squashed, Footsteps
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Verse Form: Onegin Stanza  – Stanzas have 14 lines of iambic tetrameter rhyming ababccddeffegg. The pink letters indicate feminine rhymes (i.e. the lines in question have an extra unstressed syllable) and the blue letters are for masculine rhymes.

See here for more information.

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Here is an  audio of the tale of ‘The Minotaur’ in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book 6 coming out throughout August and September.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 7 Poetry is Tuesday 20th August.  

  __________

References:

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

 

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‘Classic Friday’: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

26 Jul

Classic Friday

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into Classic authors and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

http://nmwritersbloq.wordpress.com

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back next month for some more.

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ivanhoe-penguin-classicsTITLE: IVANHOE
AUTHOR: Sir Walter Scott
GENRE: Historical fiction
DATE PUBLISHED: 1820
NO.OF PAGES: 550 (My copy: Penguin Classics)

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This novel has been credited for influencing our current perceptions of the Middle Ages. A romantic medieval indulgence, Ivanhoe is also noted for perpetuating the famous Robin Hood legend and giving us the now popular attributes assigned to the famous outlaw. As a result Ivanhoe is probably the single most influential novel in the historical fiction genre.

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Brief Synopsis

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Set in the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart returns from the Crusades in the Holy Land but is captured and taken prisoner on his way home. Of his favourite knight, Wilfred of Ivanhoe (who fought by his side), there is no news. Prior to leaving England, Ivanhoe was disowned by his father Cedric the Saxon for pledging allegiance to Richard, a Norman king, and for falling in love with Cedric’s ward, Lady Rowena.

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In Richard’s absence his brother Prince John is plotting to take over the English thrown. With the King’s imprisonment, the avaricious John is confident of his plans and makes progress in trying to secure the Crown for himself. But when Ivanhoe returns to England and makes a dramatic reappearance in a jousting tournament hosted by Prince John, the tables start to turn. And when Reginald de Front-Beouf, a Norman nobleman, and his henchmen kidnap Cedric and Rowena for ransom, the enmity between the Saxons and the Normans comes to a head.

*****

Ivanhoe is a story set 600 years before Walter Scott’s time and despite scholars verifying the historical accuracy of certain aspects of the novel, they also agree that the author did exercise poetic licence and the result is a romanticized fictional tale. It’s important to note that Scott himself did explicitly state that Ivanhoe was not meant to be read as a historical treatise but as a work of fiction.

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However it would not be a surprise if one had to hear that every cliché about the Middle Ages was borne out of this novel. From beautiful damsels-in-distress to jousting tournaments to comical, witty jesters, it’s all in there. However, saying that, Scott’s portrayal of a medieval jousting tournament was
one of the best scenes in the book. Beautifully descriptive, the difficult prose does not prevent us from imagining exactly what is happening in the tournament.

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Gehrts_IvanhoeIn the novel we also encounter numerous colourful characters, the most famous of which (for many reasons) is Locksley, the Lincoln-green clad outlaw, along with his forest-dwelling band of followers. The story might be entitled Ivanhoe but it is the character of the dashing Locksley (or Robin Hood) who
stands out.

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The damsels in the story might find themselves in distress much of the time but from a modern, feminist point of view, it’s refreshing to see how they stand their own. Rebecca, the beautiful Jewish healer, in particular, is definitely one of the most memorable characters in the book.

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On first impressions, Ivanhoe comes across as a typical romance, possibly an out-dated morality tale that harps on about the codes of chivalry. But thematic references to religion and the Norman-Saxon feuds points to something far more poignant and universal. The apparent racist, and religiously intolerant dialogue between the characters may be unsettling to some readers but the extreme prejudices portrayed in the novel provide some important messages (albeit subtly). Reading between the lines, Scott seems to be hitting out against racial and religious discrimination. One of the most memorable quotes from one of the characters:

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‘Will future ages believe that such stupid bigotry ever existed?”

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Even though Scott, in the process, perpetuates some awful stereotypes himself it was slightly reassuring to see that he didn’t take any sides, choosing instead to show the mindset and prejudices of each person in relation to each other. The message seems eerily relevant and familiar for a story set so long ago.

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Is this book for you? Since Ivanhoe is considered the benchmark of historical fiction, it therefore goes without saying that if you love History then the answer would be an absolute YES! Although I would not recommend you substitute this novel for a reference book, Scott does paint a vivid (some would say romanticized) picture of 12th century England and he does pass off certain passages as if they were a History lesson. But as stated above, Ivanhoe is a fictional story whose beauty lies in Scott’s re-creation of Medieval England.

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The language however might prove problematic. Scott’s English prose can be difficult to follow sometimes. You will end up re-reading passages for clarity. It’s not what you would call ‘light-reading’. It does require concentration and variant spellings of common English words needs getting used to. If you’re used to reading old Classic novels however, then I would highly recommend this novel.

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NM

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About the Author

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Walter Scott was born in 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He trained as a lawyer after leaving school but started writing professionally at the age of 25. Scott achieved fame as a poet first before turning to full-length fiction. His first novel Waverly was published anonymously in 1814. Many more novels were to follow, most notably Rob Roy (1817), Ivanhoe and Redgauntlet (1824). In 1820, the same year Ivanhoe was published, he was knighted by King George IV. One of Scotland’s most celebrated writers, since his death in 1832, numerous monuments and plaques have been constructed in honour of Sir Walter Scott, not only in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but across the Atlantic in New York as well.

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Metamorphoses Book 7 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

17 Jul
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

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 in the middle of July with our deadline of Book 6 poetry being Wednesday 31st July

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 7 with a deadline for the poems inspired by this  book being Tuesday 20th August. The first batch of Book 5 poems went out yesterday featuring KATE GARRETT and RICHARD BIDDLE (here).  The other great Book 5 poems will be posted out during the rest of  July.

If you missed out on Book 4  poems you can find them  here, here, here , here and here. I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

Please note that from now on I will combine the overview post with the prompt, deadline and optional verse form post. This seems to make more sense and keeps it all in one place.

Overview of Book 7: 

The focus of Book 7 firmly places itself on Medea and her psychology. The book leaps into the story of Jason and the  Argonauts and  the well known tale of the Golden Fleece  but Ovid skirts over much of the detail of this story, assuming his audience is familiar with the details.  In this particular book Ovid uses his skills of rhetoric to define much of the substance of Medeas’ story. The story of Jason and Medea in this book is considered one of the finest in Metamorphoses– a true mixture of poetic skill and psychological insight. In  Book 7  Ovid gives Medea a beautiful soliloquy outlining the painful choice she has to make between Jason and her father.

‘My heart for sure is moved! Unless I help,
The bulls’ hot breath will blast him; he will meet
Fierce foes of his own sowing, earth-created,
Or to the dragon be cast for pray and prize.
If I permit such things, I’ll surely own
A tigress was my dam and in my heart’
I nurture iron and stone! 

Through the breadth and depth of Ovid’s portrayal of Medea’s tortured psychology Ovid touches upon the themes of love (amor) and loyalty; and through Jason- bravery and heroism.

Book 7 also marks a profound shift in Ovid’s narrative moving us away from a tale concerned with the Gods to a tale which considers mortals and their relationships. Also in this book Ovid  plays with the relationship  between our ideas and preconceptions about certain topics. Themes such as destruction are initially presented to us with harshness, cruelty and blood and then subtly imbued  with tenderness, turning meaning on its head and  playfully offering us another perspective on the tale/issue. In so doing he plays with our understanding of the nature of destruction and/or love and makes us question the texture of our understanding of these themes.

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Summary of the Tales in Book 7

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JasonandMedea

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And now the Argonauts from Thessaly
Were cutting through the billows. They had seen
Old Phineus dragging out his hapless age
In endless night and Boreas’ two sons
Had driven the Harpies from his piteus lips.
At last Jason and his men
Reached after many travails the swift stream.
Of muddy Phasis

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The Myths and Key Characters: Medea and Jason; Theseus and Aegeus, Minos, Aecus and the Plague at Aegina

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Medea by J .W Waterhouse

Medea and Jason:

The Argonauts arrive at Colchis where they ask for the return of the Golden Fleece.  King Aeetes makes a serious of ludicrous demands for the  return of the fleece.  Medea (his daughter), falls hopelessly in love with Jason and  offers to help him get the fleece back. Medea battles with her conscience as to whether she should betray her father for Jason in his hour of need so he can possess the fleece again .  Her conscience goes back and forth but finally she sides with Jason. Jason, in return, offers to marry Medea if she helps him. Medea provides Jason with various potions and magic herbs so he can steal the fleece back from its secret hiding place and from the clutches of  the dragon who protects it.

Jason takes Medea home with him and puts her powers to good use restoring Aeson (deposed king of Thessaly and Jason’s father) to his youth again, and she also finds a way to get rid of King Pelias (who usurped Aeson).   As Medea returns in her chariot drawn by dragons  from her murder of Pelias Ovid, as we look down from Medea’s perspective upon the lands below, takes us delicately through a series of mini-metamorphoses including the killing of her own children. On Medea’s return from dealing with Pelias she finds that in her absence Jason has taken a new wife. Medea kills the bride and escapes to Athens.

In this story Ovid takes us on a journey in relation to our response to Medea:  making us initially feel sympathy and compassion and then as she morphs  from an innocent girl into a horrific, cruel  witch who can kill heartlessly, makes our feelings transform into those of disdain.

theseus-and-aegeus-rock

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Theseus and Aegeus

King Aegeus (King of Athens) marries Medea. But her position is threatened when Aegeus’ son Theseus arrives. (Theseus  grew  up in another country and so was  unknown to his father). Medea, in contrast,  realises his son’s  threat to Aegeus as ruler and she tries to poison Theseus.  However  in the end,  Aegeus recognises Theseus and knocks the poisoned cup Medea has given him away from his son  and saves his life.  Medea is forced to flee once more.

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The Plague of Aegina

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Minos, Aeacus and the Plague at Aegina

Theseus eventually becomes King of Athens and his reign is successful until King Minos (King of Crete and son of Jove and Europa) is killed during a visit to Athens. Minos then declares war on Athens. King Minos prepares for war and he casts around for allies to support him. He gets much support from various states around him all apart from Aegina which  has an allegiance with Athens.  Cephalus (an envoy of Athens) arrives in Aegina to affirm their allegiance only to find that the Aeginian land has recently been blighted.  King Aeacus (the King of Aegina)  narrates a truly horrific story of death, plague  and disease. This story  is awash with  doctors dying, animal sacrifices, well people committing suicide. The whole works! 

During the plague King Aeacus prays to Jupiter (King of the Gods and the Sky) in the hope that he can provide people to repopulate the land. He has a prophetic dream where he sees ants growing larger and larger  and then finally take human form. The next day he finds that his dreams have become real and a new race is born: The Myrimidions (from the Greek word for ant).

In this story Ovid turns epic preparations for war and destruction cleverly into a tale of Metamorphoses and hope.

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cephalus_procris_pic

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Cephalus and Procris

Phocus (son of Aeacus) takes up where is father left off and entertains the envoys. He notices that one of the envoys (Cephalus) has a javelin and he asks him the story behind it.  Cephalus, clearly upset, recounts the the story of his wife Procris  who gave him the weapon as a gift.  (Procris, daughter of one of the kings of Athens –Erechtheus)   He recounts how she dies in an untimely fashion.  The telling of this story is unusual in contrast to the the normal epic stories told before war. Liveley describes it as ”elegiac’ (p80). She goes on to say that the roots of elegy etymologically rest  in the Greek ‘to cry woe’ (ibid) and how fitting this is as Cephalus weeps for his wife .

The story is in two parts separated by a metamorphoses in which Cephalus’ dog is turned into a marble statue.  The first half  tells of Cephalus after he has got married; when he goes off hunting. Out on an expedition he is to all intents and purposes raped by the Goddess Aurora. Once home, triggered by the rape,  Cephalus becomes jealous of Procris and thinks she has been unfaithful. In order to test her he disguises himself and makes an indecent proposal to her. She dithers and Cephalus reveals himself to Procris and  accuses her of adultery.  She runs to the hills and becomes a follower of Diana (Goddess of the moon, the hunt and birthing) until Cephalus begs for her forgiveness and she says she will come home. On her return he presents her with her own spear and her own dog.

Cephalus and Procris  live happily for awhile but  then Cephalus is overheard calling upon the wind by the name ‘aura‘. This is mistakenly heard as ‘Aura‘ Cephalus’ previous lover, and heartbroken Procris goes to spy on him to find out the truth. Cephalus mistakes her for a wild animal and kills her.

There has been much debate over Ovid’s intentions with this particular story- whether it is indeed a comedy of errors or a tale of tragedy (81). Ovid almost leaves this up to the reader to decide.

 

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Book 7 some of the following ideas and themes are explored:

  • Psychology and Mental States:  Through Ovid’s portrayal of Medea we are taken into the depths of a woman’s psychology when she is pulled between family loyalty and love.  Liveley calls Medea’s story a vehicle  through which Ovid explores ‘the psychology and pathology of human love’ (77).  The tension is only too apparent as we watch Medea thrown from innocence to witchery. How we judge this is up to us but he profoundly depicts her crisis of conscience.
  • The Challenging of Expectations (playfully): Again the Medea tale can be seen as an example of this as can the story of the Aegian plague-turned from a tale of utter devastation into a tale of hope. Thus challenging our preconceptions.
  • Male and Female Relationships: Ovid, in Book 7, turns this matter on its head again, particularly in the tale of Cephalus and another striking male rape by the Goddess Aurora. In so doing questions of power are challenged and of right and wrong. Indeed, this can also be said of the Medea story too.
  • The Use of Rhetoric/ways of Storytelling:  Ovid in this particular book plays with our feelings towards certain characters through the narrative techniques he uses.  Giving us the dynamics of  an argument, the dilemmas,  letting Medea present them to us via her soliloquies, and then turning it all on its head via Medea’s transformation from innocent girl to witch.  Ovid gives us  all the information we need to understand Medea’s behaviour and then leaves the judgement ultimately up to us.  Equally in the story of the Plague of Aegina we can see a similar occurrence happen where we see Ovid create a picture of pure destruction only to have him then turn it into a story with a silver lining.  In both these cases Ovid uses his power of description to subtly give depth to  the well know themes  of love and fidelity and destruction and in so doing invigorates and innovates them.

Things of Interest:

 Here’s a video of a scene from Medea by Euripides:

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And here’s a bit of background on the art of Rhetoric touching on Artistotle’s definition:

The 3 Pillars of Persuasion:

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‘What It takes to persuade human beings to do something’

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Concentration, Hermetically sealed, Squirming, Muse, Radiating, Anathema, Dog-ends, Motionless, Belts, Democracy, Bumpy , Remonstrate, Blood.
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Verse Form: Ronsardian Ode with the specified rhyming scheme of  ababccddc, with syllable counts of 10, 4, 10, 4, 10, 10, 4, 4, 8.

See here for more information.

Here is an   audio of the tale of ‘Theseus’ in case any of you are too busy to read the book.

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Watch out for more poetry inspired by Book 5 coming out throughout July/August.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 6 Poetry is Wednesday 31st July  

 

 

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References:

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

 

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