Tag Archives: Tales From Ovid

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.  

  __________

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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paintedbunting>>>

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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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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Metamorphoses Book 6 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

19 Jun
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 June with our deadline of Book 5 poetry being Thursday 27th June. It comes around quickly!

This post sets out to provide an overview of Book 6 with a deadline for the poems inspired by that book being Wednesday 31st July. The second  batch of Book 4 poems went out yesterday and Book 4 poems will be posted out for the rest of this month.

If you missed out on Book 3 poems you can find them here, here, here and here. I’ve also created a ‘Transformations Poems Tab’ on the site menu for ease of access.

Please not 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 6: 

 

The_SpinnersDiego_Velazquez_014 Arachne and Minerva

Pallas [Minerva] had listened to the tale she told

With warm approval of the Muses’song

And of their righteous rage. Then to herself-

To praise is not enough; I should have praise

Myself, not suffer my divinity

To be despised unscathed’. 

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Book 6 is subtly connected to book five by the theme of contest/war/conflict. It also significantly drives the subject matter and thought of the previous books in a different direction. Ovid turns the placid goddess Minerva on her head and transforms her into a punishing deity who chastises  a mortal just for her gift of creating magnificent tapestries and for being proud of that fact. Ovid transforms  a seemingly slight tale into a story of conflict between two master weavers who both imbue  their work with their world view and biases. Indeed, the tapestry that Arachne  (a girl  of humble origins with amazing weaving skills) creates is used to  embody the themes of books 1-3 in its skeins. Ovid uses this scenario to  challenge the power of the gods; perhaps, suggesting their influence should be taken lightly.

Book 6 also has the tale of Niobe (Queen of Thebes and wife of Amphion) which embodies an important principle of Greek thinking- ‘that one must not tempt the gods by boasting of luck, good fortune or happiness’ (Brunauer: 64). Importantly, it is also in Book 6 that the epic crucially goes in a different direction:  away from the subject of mortals challenging gods towards a story of  ‘human lust’, brutality, and bloody vengeance within families’ (William S. Anderson in Brunauer: 64). The first part of the poem in Book 6 focuses on the Gods and the second part on mortal men and women.

Summary of the Tales in Book 6 

The Myths and Key Characters: Arachne; Niobe; The Lycian Peasants; Marsyas;  Pelops; Procne and Philomela; Boreas and Orithyia

Arachne

Arachne:

The goddess Minerva/Pallas disguises herself as an old woman in order to punish a young girl (Arachne) for boasting about her skills at weaving. Arachne refuses to pay any heed to what Minerva says. In order to undermine Arachne’s refutation Minerva reveals herself as a goddess but Arachne still refuses to listen challenging her to a weaving contest. They both produce phenomenal pieces . Minerva’s tapestry represents her win over Neptune’s (Roman God of freshwater) patronage over the city of Athens and the folly of mortals who challenge the gods’ power. In contrast, Arachne chooses to depict the way the god’s play with the lives of mortal girls. She particularly highlights Jove (Lord of Heaven). Minerva realises Arachne’s work is exceptional and batters her viciously and this so traumatises Arachne she tries to hang herself. Minerva takes pity on her and lets her live but transforms her into a spider.

325px-Niobe_JacquesLouisDavid_1772_Dallas_Museum_of_Art

 

Niobe

Niobe (Queen of Thebes, mother of 7 sons and 7 daughters)  tragically offends nymph Latona (Mother of Apollo and Diana) by thinking the thought that she was the’ happiest of mothers’. Latona calls upon her divine children to exact vengeance on Niobe by killing all her family with her children’s arrows. Grief-stricken at her children’s death she turns into stone. This transformation occurred in order to remind other mortals what can happen when mortal boasting affects Gods.

The Lycian Peasents:

An unnamed narrator now  tells the story of nymph Latona. The importance of this story becomes apparent when read in sequence with the Niobe story as their arrangement is part of the particular tapestry Ovid is creating. In this story Latona is driven into exile  by Juno (Queen of Heaven). Thirsty and unable to breast feed her children Lacona tries to drink from a village pond but is harassed by some villagers and she turns them into frogs out of vengeance. Ovid foregrounds the injustice of Latona’s treatment and the nastiness of the local’s behaviour. To turn them into frogs does not seem harsh enough he seems to suggest. The story acts as an example of how context shapes the nature of what is right and wrong and how this shapes meaning.

Marsayas

Marsayas

This story also presents us with a contest- a contest between artists and the punishment that results from it.  Marsayas (a satyr) is skinned alive for threatening Apollo in a music competition and not winning.  Here we have another example of an artist being punished for their art.  The tale is gruesome but it is butted up against a pastoral depiction of sadness at Marsayas’  fate.  The  tears of Marsayas’ kinsfolk  turning the blood of Marsayas into a river of the same name.   Despite Marsaya’s challenge to authority, and because of his punishment, he gains notoriety and fame and his art goes on forever.

Procne and Philomela

Tereus, Procne Philomela

The Lycian storytellers continue to tell a sequence of other stories which represent blasphemies in history. The tale of Tereus (King of Thrace)  is retold. The king who sent his army to aid Athens against a barbarian invasion. Out of gratitude Tereus is offered the daughter of Pandion (King of Athens)-  Procne as his wife. Procne asks Tereus if her sister Philomela can visit, he agrees but when he collects her he  is overcome with passion for her and he incestuously rapes her (some critics have seen this section as pornographic Liveley: 74). Philomela threatens to reveal his crime to Procne her sister. In order to prevent this happening Tereus cuts out her tongue and repeatedly rapes her. He leaves her abandoned and lies about why she has not returned with him.

However Philomela manages to get a message to her sister who swears vengeance on Tereus. During an orgy for Bacchus Philomela disguises Procne and removes her from Tereus’ clutches. In punishment for Tereus’ behaviour she serves him his own son in a meal. The two sisters afraid of Tereus’ rage flee and are turned into birds. Tereus is himself transformed into a hoopoe.

Boreas and Orithyia

Pandion (the father of Phiolmela and Procne) is heartbroken at the loss of his daughters. He recounts the story of the rape of his granddaughter Orithya  (daughter of Erechtheus) by Boreas (the North wind) who abducts her. Pandion goes in to decline and his throne is taken by Erechtheus. In this tale we see Erechtheus’ children grow into manhood, take wives and sail in the ship Argo across the seas in search of  The Golden Fleece. The story of their search is split between Book 6 and 7.

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

Here are some of the primary themes that run through Book 6:

  • The nature of right and wrong in relation to context and circumstance (e.g. Niobe). The first half of Book 6 flagging up the state of the Gods and the second mortal man.
  • Punishment: being punished for your art and how art can be seen as a way of immortalising yourself through time. The story of Marsayas highlights this.
  • Violence and Rape, the cruelty and horror of extreme violence. This is particularly exemplified by the story of Philomela and Procne.
  • Silence and Speech- and the impact either ‘withholding’ or ‘speaking out’  has; i.e. the ramifications of sticking up for yourself. An example of this again being Procne and Philomela.

Things of Interest: 

 

T.S Eliot

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T.S Eliot’s poem The Wasteland makes reference to the tale of Phiolmela:

Lines 97-103:

Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.

Eliot’s Note:

99. V. Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI, Philomela.
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Images from this story recur throughout the poem. In his note for line 100, Eliot directs us to an echo of the Philomela story in Part III. The swallow appears again at the end of the poem.
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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

Prompts: Bridge, Absorb, Accident, Fantasy, Eclipse, Playful, Truth, Dazzle, Bed, Steam, Argue , Inversion, Golden.
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Verse Form: Rhyme Royal – sometimes known as the Troilus stanza – has 7 lines of 10 syllables each (normally iambic pentameters) and a rhyming scheme of ababbcc.

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See here for more information.

Here’s an  audio of the tale of ‘Marsayas’ in case any of you are too busy to read the book:

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Watch out for more poetry inspired by book 4 coming out throughout June.

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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Metamorphoses Book 5 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

29 May
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 May with our deadline for Book 4 poems for this Thursday 30th May.

This post sets to provide an overview for Book 5 with a deadline for the poems of Thursday 27th June. The last batch of Book 3 poems are being posted out next week with the rest of June filled with Book 4 poems.

This month the Book 3 poems have rolled out smoothly with great diversity again. If you missed any of the Book 3 poems you can find them here, here, here, here  I’ve also created a Transformations poems tab on the 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. Keeps it all in one place.

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Overview of Book 5:

Rape of Persephone

‘No, to be sure’, said Pallas; ‘ sing your song,

‘Sing it right through’, and took her seat beneath

The trees’ light shade. The Muse resumed her tale.

We appointed one of us our champion,

Calliope. She rose, her flowing hair

Bound in an ivy wreath, and with her thumb

Turning the plaintive chords, began this song,

Accompanying her voice with sweeping strings.

Book 5 is a game of two halves; the first half of the book is full of panoramic battle scenes, death, and bubbling chaos just underneath the surface. In the second half Ovid, juxtaposes the turmoil of battle with the blissful world of Minerva (the goddess of wisdom and sponsor of the arts). A world filled with Muses. In so doing he introduces one of the oldest myths in Mediterranean mythic history that of Ceres and Proserpine (Demeter and Persephone). Ceres gave mankind laws and agriculture (great combination) and therefore gave humankind one of its means of survival. The word cereal came from her name, with her story depicting the spread of Agriculture. Apparently, originally the tale of these two helped to explain the notion of infertile and fertile seasons and the origins of various animals. In narrative terms the book is driven by ‘a chinese box-style’ story telling mode. Also in Book 5 Ovid gives us a fine articulation of  the difference between amor (love) and arma (weapons); and he does so through the depiction of rape and battle.

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 Summary of the Tales in Book 5:

 

The Myths and Key Characters: Perseus’ fight in the Palace of Cepheus; Minerva Meets the Muses of Helicon; The Rape of Proserpine; Arethusa, Triptolemus

Perseus and Andromeda

Perseus’ Fight in the Palace of Cepheus

The wedding of Perseus (the son of Jove and Danae) and Andromeda  (daughter of Cassiope and Cepheus) is interupted by Phineus Andromeda’s uncle stipulating that Andromeda had been previously promised to him. A fight ensues between Perseus and Phineus. The whole wedding turns into a massive battleground with untold injuries. Perseus only survives thanks to the intervention of his half-sister Minerva. The battle is only concluded when Perseus tricks Phineus and his allies into looking at the Gorgon Medusa which turns them into stone. Perseus returns victorious with his bride and he reclaims his home from his attackers. With this story Ovid moves us from the world of love to a world of war and force. This story allows us to debate whether Ovid is actually a great epic story teller or just a good writer of parodies. 

The Muses of Helcion

Minerva Meets the Muses of Helcion

Ovid gives us an epic tale of love in this story flagging up the power of Venus, Cupid and Amor and in so doing paves the way for the story of Ceres.  Minerva flies to Helicon in Thebes where the Muses reside. She asks her half-sisters to show her a particular fountain which came into being from under the hoof of the winged horse Pegasus (who was born from the blood of Medusa). Their conversation is interrupted by 9 magpies whose stories are told by one of the Muses. The magpies were once women who had committed a crime against the Muses by challenging them to a singing contest. The Muses share what they sang in the contest with Minerva and that is the story of Ceres, the inventor of Agriculture.

Bernini, Rape of Persephone, sculpture

The Rape of Proserpine

Cere’s virgin daughter is aggressively ravished by Pluto, who then kidnaps her and whisks her off in his chariot to the underworld. Nymph Cyane tries to stop him but is turned into a pool. Ceres searches for her daughter and is mocked by a youth who she turns into a newt. When Ceres finds out that her daughter has been taken to the underworld in her anger she curses the land of Sicily and destroys its fertility. Ceres then drives her chariot to Heaven and demands justice from her husband/brother Jove. Jove tries to defend his brother Pluto. Ceres is also told that Proserpine’s return is furthermore blocked by the fates who have stipulated that she must remain in the underworld. Enraged Cere’s turns various helpers into Sirens (birds with beautiful voices and women’s faces forever looking out to sea).

Calliope’s retelling of the rape has been considered a complex and chaotic one, with a fine use of an internal narrator seeing things differently from the narration itself. The rape is troubling-swift and horrific and described vicariously through a surrogate rape. Dealing with such an important subject matter as rape through Calliope’s storytelling allows Ovid to engage with profound material and sexual dynamics with a veiled lightness of touch. But it’s all too apparent what is going on. 

Triptolemus

Arethusa and Triptolemus:

Ovid also tells, through the vehicle of Calliope’s song, the tale of Arethusa who is pursued by Alpheus, a river God. Arethusa is helped by Diana who puts an impenetrable cloud around Arethusa so Alpheus cannot see her. She then transports her to some secret caves where she sees Proserpine in the Underworld. 

Meanwhile, Jove has decided that Proserpine can live half the year with Ceres, her mother, and the other half with Pluto in the Underworld. Ceres now happy returns to Arethusa where she gives Triptolemus some grain and instructions on how to sew it abroad. He successfully cultivates Europe and part of Asia. King Lyncus tries to take credit for Triptolemus’ work and he is turned into a Lynx.

 

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

Here are some of  the primary themes flowing through Book 5: the creation of agriculture; challenging preceding narrative epic structures such as Homer and Virgil; an overt celebration of poetry as a form and an engagement with love versus war. 

Some specific themes highlighted in brief for you:

  • Agriculture: In this particular book we see Ovid through the vehicle of his tales engage with a movement within culture- the spread of agriculture in the ancient world. 
  • Celebration of Poetic and Narrative Form- in his depiction of the battle of Perseus Ovid facilitates a debate between between not only the merits of the epic form and the poetic form and between parody and storytelling.
  • Amor versus Arma (Love versus War)  Ovid states through the depiction of the Rape of Proserpine that storytelling is a serious business. It’s not light and frothy all the time and it can engage with serious themes and hold within it, importantly a feminist perspective.

Book 5 is a rich fusion of lightness and dark, between epic and parody, between war and love. 

Things of Interest:

A solo performance by Todd Conner– an Interpretation of Metamorphoses, engaging in the nature of storytelling:

 

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OPTIONAL PROMPTS AND VERSE FORM:

Prompts: Reclaiming, Challenge, Interconnectedness, Light, Proportion, Guest, Slow, Irony, Civilisation, Sense, Spoon 

 Here’s an audio of ‘Arethusa’ story in case anyone is too busy to read the whole book:

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Verse Form: The Burns Stanza/The Scottish Stanza/Six Line Stave.

Stanzas have 6 lines. Rhyming aaabab. The a lines have 4 feet each and the b lines 2 feet each.

See here for more details

And watch out for the poetry inspired by Book 4 which will be posted out during June.

To confirm: the deadline for Book 5 poems is Thursday 27th June

 

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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: contiuum

 Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press

 SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/metamorphoses/section1.rhtml

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 4 Overview: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

22 Apr
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 April with our third deadline for Book 3 poems for this Thursday 25th April.

This post sets to provide an overview for Book 4 with a deadline for the poems of Thursday 30th MayBook 2 poems are still being posted out steadily over April; May will be filled with Book 3 poems.

This month it’s been a real joy to pick poems for the weekly posts that slightly contrast or compliment each other in texture and form. It’s also been a  real pleasure to see people experimenting!  If you missed any of the Book 2 poems you can find them here, here here   I’ve also created a Transformations poems tab on the menu for ease of access. 

I will be putting out the Book 4 Prompt and Deadline Details on Tuesday 30th April.

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Overview of Book 4:

Pyramus_&_Thisbe

While Danae’s heroic son enthralled

The chiefs of Cepheus’ court, a noisy mob

Crowded into the palace-not the sound

Of happy wedding songs, but heralding

Battle and blood, the banquet suddenly

Transformed to tumult, like a quiet sea

That winds in fury rouse to raging waves

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And so begins Book 4… 

Quite a few of the more well known tales which have been taken up by other authors can be found in this particular book, specifically that of Pyramus and Thisbe, the tale of whose love affected Shakespeare  explicitly in his creation of both Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this book we also see Ovid lifting from other epic writers such as Homer in the story of Mars and Venus.  

In Book 4 Ovid delves into some of the most ancient myths in recorded history , ones that were recorded on the tablets of Sumer in 300BC, specifically  Juno’s decent into hell which represents the descent of Inanna, Queen of the Heaven’s into the Under World.

In terms of narrative structure this book is also framed by the trope of a servant woman telling a sequence of tales as she and her friends weave. This weaving acts as a winding vehicle through which to explore the consequences of not showing appropriate respect and honour. Strikingly, in Book 4 there is also a depiction of sexual violence instigated by a woman;  and we are also reminded that the god’s follow their own codes of conduct.

The daughters of Minyas act as ‘internal narrators’ alongside Ovid as narrator and tales are told within tales. The stories also coalesce to explore the idea of passion thwarted and the ramifications of divine anger and do so quite often with comedy, particularly in the story of Perseus.

 

Summary of the Tales in Book 4:

 

The Myths and Key Characters: The Daughters of Minyas; Pyramus and Thisbe; The Sun Is Love; Salmacis and Hermaphroditus; The Daughters of Minyas Transformed; Athamas and Ino; The Transformation of Cadmus; Perseus and Andromeda


The Daughters of Minyas; Pyramus and Thisbe, The Sun Is Love 

Sunflowers

The Daughters of Minyas, alongside Pentheus also refused to worship Bacchus and showed this by continuing with their weaving and daily pursuits during the holidays ordered by Bacchus. Ovid interestingly explicitly sides against the daughters and with Bacchus in this instance.  During one of these weaving sessions one of the daughters’ serving-women tells them a stream of stories. She tells them of Pyramus and Thisbe and the death of the two lovers… She tells them of how Vulcan (the god of fire and metalwork ) corners his unfaithful wife Venus (the goddess of love) by trapping her in a chain he has fashioned out of metal whilst betraying him with Mars (the god of war). Venus punishes the sun god who informed Vulcan of her betrayal by punishing the god’s lover Leucothoe (the daugther of Eurynome ). Clytie, a rival of Leucothoe, reports her behaviour to her revival’s father and he turns her into a Frankincense bush. Clytie is transformed into a sunflower, constantly turning away from her faithless lover.

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus

Alcithoe (the serving woman of the Daughters of Minyas) then tells the tale of  Salmacis (a naiad), a  fountain who makes men weak (both a pool and a predatory female unlike Echo). She pursues Hermaphroditus (the child of Mercury and Venus) who rejects her. She wraps herself around him (serpent-like) trying to rape him. The description of this rape has been called one of the most disturbing in ancient literature, and I must say it’s more than a bit feisty and tenticular. To escape, Hermaphroditus  asks for a curse to be put on Salamacis’ pool.

The Furies

The Daughters of Minyas Transformed & Athamas and Ino

The divine power of Bacchus has been established by now and Bacchus punishes the Daughters of Minyas for their lack of worship by turning them into bats. In this story Ovid takes up the control of the narrative and borrows from Virgil’s Aeneid heavily in his depiction of Juno’s journey into the underworld.

Ino (the aunt of Bacchus) is very proud of Bacchus, but Juno, not liking the fact that this rival family should prosper, requests that the Furies should descend and destroy the happiness of Ino’s family. The Furies turn Ino and her husband Athamas insane and they kill their own children. Venus feels sorry for the couple and turns them into divinities.   

The Transformation of Cadmus

In this story the consequences of godly wrath are explored and we see the fulfilment of the prophecy that Cadmus would end his life as a snake. Cadmus and his wife, not knowing Venus had stepped in, mourn the loss of Ino’s and Athamas’ children. They flee from the city where they live to take up a life in exile. He accepts his fate having killed a sacred snake previously, and he and his wife are turned into benevolent serpents

Perseus and Andromeda

Ovid starts this story right in the middle of things: blood dropping from the sky and transforming into snakes. Ovid presents us, however, with a different Perseus one who is more concerned with love than war in contrast to the setting within which he finds himself.

Bacchus has  descended down to Olympus with all of India and Greece worshipping him. Only the King of Argos and Perseus (the child of Jove) are resisting Bacchus now. Perseus, who has come back with Medusa’s head, having killed her, tries to befriend Atlas but because of a past prophecy Atlas is suspicious of  Perseus. Perseus shows Atlas Medusa’s head and he is promptly turned into stone.

Perseus flies to Ethiopia and on his way he sees Andromeda (the princess and daughter of Cassiope and Cepheus) chained to a rock by her mother because of her vainity and beauty and he falls head over heals in love.  The  god Ammon  punishes Andromeda by letting a monster guard her. Perseus decides to attack the monster guarding her and in return for her freedom asks her parents if he can marry her. He defeats the monster by planting Medusa’s head in the ground and he retells the story of how he killed Medusa.

 

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

Here are some of  the primary themes flowing through Book 4: the power of the gods; their personal code of conduct; the ramifications of divine anger; sexual violence instigated by women; passion and unfulfilled love. 

Some specific themes highlighted in brief for you:

  • Unfulfilled Love- This book features a variety of characters all connected by the theme of unfulfilled love: Pyramus and Thisbe, separated by their family; The Sun only able to help Leucothoe by turning her into a Frankincense bush and the frustration of Salamacis’ one-sided love for Hermaphroditus. 
  • Divine Wrath- In Ovid’s focus on the story of Cadmus again he flags up the unrelenting nature of the god’s wrath through the continued  destruction of Cadmus’ family. Juno’s rage  over Ino’s worship of Bacchus is explicit. And wrath comes round in full circle (the story intimates) with Cadmus being turned into a serpent. What goes around comes around.
  • Hereoism/The nature of a hero:  Ovid examines the nature of heroism through his oft-times comic characterisation of Perseus. Perseus rather than being brave, is fearful and his fight with Atlas is not aggressive and does not involve  combat. In so doing he delicately questions the texture of violence and the intent of those that perpetrate it. This is also challengingly explored in the tale of Salmacis which disrupts our perception of the dynamics of violence by foregrounding female violence.

>Things of Interest:

>Below you’ll find a rather more modern engagement with Metamorphoses by ‘Pants On Fire’:

‘Before sea, land and sky are created, there exists only one form, chaos’

>>>

As I’ve put together this post I have kept coming across references to poet, novelist and thinker Robert Graves and his definitive book,The Greek Myths’. The quote below, although not directly about Metamorphoses, gives us something to think about in relation to the archetypal themes with which it engages.

Robert GravesMyth has two main functions, the first is to answer the sort of awkward questions that children ask, such as ‘Who made the world? How will it end? Who was the first man? Where do souls go after death?’ …The second function of myth is to justify an existing social system and account of traditional rites and customs.”

 Robert Graves, “Introduction,” New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (v)

 Nothing to do overtly with myth, but a poem by Graves engaging with religion (but maybe the two are actually closely linked??) A Boy in Church 

 

I’ll post out the prompt and deadlines post for Book 4 on Tuesday 30th May. I  will also include an audio recording of ‘The Daughters of Minyas’ story in case anyone is too busy to read the whole book. And watch out for the poetry inspired by Book 3 which will be posted out during May.

 

___________

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: contiuum

 Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press

 SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/metamorphoses/section1.rhtml

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 3 Overview: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

25 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

Well, here we are nearing the 3rd month of our project with the second set of Book 2 poems due in on Thursday 28th March. The Book 1 poems have been posted out steadily over March with one more posting out this week. It’s been brilliant to see which common themes have been taken up by the poets and the different verse forms and interpretations employed. All the poets involved have shown such care over their work and the quality has been absolutely fantastic. You can find their poems here, here here   

I will be putting out the Book 3 Prompt and Deadline Details on Saturday 30th March.

>>

Overview of Book 3:

‘Now, safe in Crete, Jove shed the bull’s disguise

And stood revealed before Europa’s eyes.

Meanwhile her father, baffled, bade his son

Cadmus, set out to find the stolen girl

And threatened exile should he fail- in one

Same act such warmth of love, such wickedness ‘

>>

NarcissusAnd so begins Book 3…  shifting emphasis and setting up a  dynamic between love and wickedness.

This book has a completely different feel to Book 2, and grounds itself in a less convoluted although slightly longer narrative structure. The book concentrates on the transformations in a specific place- the House of Cadmus (Cadmus being the brother of Europa). Like Jupiter in Book 2, as the quote above shows, Ovid leaves Europa safely behind him and focuses his beady eye on her brother (the legendary founder of Thebes) and the wrath that Juno (queen of heaven and wife of Jove) focuses on Europa’s family (consisting of brother Cadmus, Grandson Actaeon, Sister Semele). Within this book Ovid touches on the eternal subject matter of the power relationships between the gods and man. A two sided approach is taken up: looking at the specific belief that to look at a god actually merited death; and that equally, from the gods’ side, promises must be kept. A God’s word must be kept.  The book also delves into the concept of faith in the gods: faith in the gods… regardless, and in so doing touches upon the themes of belief and worship.


Summary of the Tales in Book 3:

 

The Myths and Key Characters: Cadmus; Diana and Actaeon; Semele and the Birth of Bacchus;  Tiresias; Narcissus and Echo;  Pentheus and Bacchus


Cadmus:

Europa’s father Agenor sends his son Cadmus on an epic search for Europa. Whilst looking for her, guided by oracles, he comes across a new homeland and whilst doing so violates a specific and ancient woodland’s sanctity. As punishment for this violation Cadmus has to battle a horrific serpent. He kills the beast and is told to plant the serpent’s teeth in the ground. He is also warned that he too will be turned into a snake. Regardless, Cadmus plants the teeth into the soil and an army of soldiers is born. They fight each other for survival and only 5 remain. The soldiers help Cadmus build the city of Thebes. Ovid warns them that the building of Thebes, although seemingly a good thing, may not bring happiness, and that man is not ultimately happy until his death.

Diana and Actaeon

 In this particular tale Ovid directly addresses the reader, deliberately bringing to the fore the idea of fate and luck. Don’t blame Actaeon, it was just his ‘misfortune’ to see what he saw he seems to be indicating… Actaeon sees Diana bathing naked one day and watches her; he is instantly turned into a stag. In this new guise Actaeon’s own dogs don’t recognise him and he is torn to shreds by them. Juno (being the lovely goddess that she is) rejoices in the fact that this has happened to Actaeon.

Semele and the birth of Bacchus

Juno has another grievance (misplaced) on the boil in relation to Semele (the daughter of Cadmus) because Semele has become pregnant by Jove. Instead of just chiding Jove she decides to actively employ some trickery to get back at him. She disguises herself as Semele’s servant and persuades Semele to persuade Jove to disclose himself to her in his full majesty and in so doing she is consumed by his fire (for a mortal is unable  to sustain contact with an immortal). The child that Semele is carrying is saved by Jove and sewn into his thigh until it is born. Io eventually cares for the child.

Tiresias

Tiresias

Tiresias:

Ovid creates a lighter feel in this tale (a change of air) and foregrounds the role Tiresias is going to play in the following tales. Tiresias is a dynamic and challenging character, having lived as both sexes giving him a particular understanding of the lives of both genders. Because of this particular insight Tiresias is asked to intervene when the Gods argue which gender enjoys sex more. Tiresias agrees with Jupiter (thus siding with the men) and Juno (Queen of Heaven, Wife of Jove) blinds him  in punishment of her divine authority. And, feeling sorry for Tiresias, Jupiter,  in an act of amelioration,  gives Tiresias prophetic sight. 

Narcissus and Echo:

Tiresias foretells the tale of a new born baby called Narcissus, who when asked if her son will live a long life replies ‘If he never knows himself’. This tale explores the idea of a ‘dangerous gaze’ as he looks at his reflection in a pool. It is inter-cut with the tale of Echo who sees Narcissus and instantaneously falls in love with him. However, Narcissus rejects her and she pines away due to this rejection. The story serves as a wry and witty love elegy with Echo and Narcissus bantering to and fro even though Echo’s calls are always one-sided. Echo eventually materially fades away with only her echos left as a reminder; and Narcissus is left, alone, with his reflection…

Pentheus and Bacchus:

Pentheus mocks Tiresias’ prophetic powers…and Tiresias predicts that Pentheus will meet a sticky end once Bacchus (also known as Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest) arrives in Thebes. Pentheus bans anyone from worshipping Bacchus and Bacchus declares war. Unsure of the power that Bacchus holds Pentheus wants to witness the revelry of Bacchus for himself and he goes undercover to watch the worship of Bacchus. As he watches Pentheus discovers he has been turned into a wild boar. In his boar-form Pentheus is not recognised and in a form of  sacred madness is torn to pieces by the out of control female worshippers. Neither his aunt or mother recognise him. 

 

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

Sins and errors, acts and their consequences, revenge, transgression, twists and boundaries: these are the primary themes flowing through Book 3 in a much less convoluted and overt way than Book 2.

Some specific themes highlighted in brief for you:

  •  Divine Revenge- Every major character is seen to be punished for their transgressions in this particular book. And there is a definite distinction made between ‘sins’ (Pentheus) and ‘errors’ (Actaeon).
  • Ironic Twists- In book 3 every act by God or mortal is accompanied by an ironic twist at the expense of the victim. For instance: Actaeon being mauled by his own dog’s, Tireasias and his blindness. As if the plight of both the transgressor and the transgressed are equally in danger, equally fragile. All actions have there consequences; life, Ovid seems to be suggesting,  is never straight.
  • The Danger of Transgression- Ovid puts a fine focus on the consequences of crossing boundaries (intentionally and unintentionally). We see this exemplified with Semele where she is destroyed by her contact with an immortal.

>>

 In Book 3 Ovid is clearly highlighting the dynamics of human and mortal behaviour, the dynamics of decision making and the consequences of crossing over boundaries that are clearly established. He is also exploring the texture of transgression and the profound and fatal impact that this can have on our lives. These themes are ever-more relevant to us today as boundaries are either swept away with gay abandon or inexplicably dropped upon us by the powers that be.

Below you’ll find another 2 movements of composer  Benjamin Britten’s  sequence of pieces for the Oboe entitled Six Metamorphoses After Ovid. This time his focus is on Narssisus and Bacchuand their moments of transformation. These two are mysterious, atmospheric and vibrant.

Britten 6 Metamorphoses After Ovid: Narsissus

Britten 6 Metamorphoses After Ovid: Bacchus

>>

And for inspiration and consolidation: Carl Springer, Professor of Classics Talking About Metamorphoses and Ovid 

>>

Shortly, a truncated version of this post will be placed onto the Transformations Resource Page (under the Collaborations Tab) so everything will be in one place. There will also be an audio recording of ‘Tiresias’ story and a list of all the main characters. And watch out for the poetry inspired by Book 2 which will be posted out during April.

 

___________

References :

Brunauer, Dalma. H (1996) The Metamorphoses of Ovid, New Jesey Research and Education Association

Hughes, T (1997) Tales from Ovid, London: Faber and Faber

 Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press

 SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/metamorphoses/section1.rhtml

 

 

Overview of Metamorphoses Book 2: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

21 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

Well, here we are nearly a month into the project with the first set of Book 1 poems due in on Thursday 28th February. All our poets, from what I can see and hear, have been busying away, and I’ve even had a few in already. It’s going to be exciting to see what everyone produces. Once the deadline has passed my plan is to release all the Book One poems in batches over the following three weeks. I’m so thrilled that such enthusiasm has been shown over this project and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone will make of Book 2 which is a very different kettle of fish!  

NB. You might have noticed that the number of poets has crept up from 15-17. We’ve had two more great poets come on board. Welcome Bid and Victoria. From this point onwards the group is 100% formerly closed. 

I will be putting out the Book 2 Prompt and Deadline Details on Wednesday 27th February.

Overview of Book 2:

Europa and the Bull

Europa and the Bull

Book 2 feels  somewhat ‘bitty’ in comparison to the expanse and vastness of Book 1. This bitty feel is the result of Ovid placing many ‘tales within tales’. This is particularly the case in the tale ‘The Raven and The Crow’. In a lot of the criticism of Book 2 much emphasis is put on Phaethon‘s tale because of its powerful engagement with the power of art and representation (through Phaeton’s lack of appreciation of the artwork in the Palace of the Sun). Taken in their entirety the group of stories show the after effects of inappropriate behaviour and selfishness (of both Gods and Humans). In other words, the consequences of overstepping the mark. A violation of Moira (fate) as Brunauer puts it (36).

Initially through the tale of Phaethon (one of the longest tales in the entire book) Ovid places us into a world of order and balance. However, this is also quickly juxtaposed against the dubious morality of both the gods and the humans. Other stories within the group as mentioned above explore narrative techniques and in Callisto the nature of LOVE (as expressed through rape) is explored.  As per usual the Book is filled with comedy and transformations ranging from bears, to constellations (some astrology here), to owls, to horses.

Summary of the Stories in Book 2:

Book 2:

 

The Myths: Phaethon (Continued); Callisto, The Raven and the Crow, Ocyrhoe, Mercury and Battus, The Envy of AglaurusJupiter and Europa

Key Characters: Phaethon,  Jove, Cygnus, Juno, Apollo, Raven, Crow, Ocyrhoe, Mercury, Battus, Aglaurus, Jupiter, Europa

Phaethon Falling

Phaethon Falling

Phaethon

  • Phaethon finds his father, Apollo (the sun god) in the Palace of the Sun. Apollo offers him anything he wants. Phaethon asks to drive his father’s chariot for one day. He does so and his ride is catastrophic; he loses control and falls skyward. As he falls everything burns and earth is put in danger. Jove (lord of heaven) kills Phaethon with a thunderbolt as a consequence.
  • Phaethon is mourned and his sisters (Phaethusa and Lamperia) are turned into trees, and another acquaintance is turned into a swan(Cygnus).

Callisto by Francois Boucher

Callisto by Francois Boucher

 Callisto

  • Jove visits Arcady and is attracted to a nymph, Callisto. Dressed as the Goddess Diana he seduces her and she becomes pregnant. Finding this out Diana banishes Callisto and Juno (wife of Jove) turns her into a bear.

  • Arcas (Callisto’s child) almost kills her mother in a hunting incident and Jove intercedes and turns both of them into constellations. The Big Bear and the Little Bear.

The Three Daughters of Cecrops

The Three Daughters of Cecrops

The Raven and the Crow

(The tale of how the raven, once white, became black)

  •  The Raven belonging to Apollo wants to tell his master that he has seen  Coronis (a nymph who Apollo had once seduced) with another lover.
  • The Crow (who was once an exquisite princess but turned into a Crow by Minerva to protect her from the ravishment of Poseidon tries to change the Raven’s mind by telling him the tale of the daughters of Cecrops (a legendary king of Athens)The sisters were entrusted by the Goddess Minerva (the Goddess of wisdom) to look after a boy who had lost his mother. The daughters were told not to look into the chest that contained the child. One of the daughters (Aglauros) ignored the warning and looked in. The Crow reported this to Minerva who rather than praising the Crow de-ranked him. 

  • The Raven ignores the Crow’s warning and tells Apollo, and consequently Coronis is killed by the angry Apollo with an arrow. Whilst dying Coronis reveals she’s with child. Apollo saves the child and gives it to a centaur Chiron for safekeeping. Apollo hated the Raven for telling him about Coronis’ betrayal and as punishment turns the Raven black.

Chiron and his daughter

Chiron and his daughter

 Ocychroe 

  • The centaur’s daughter Ocychroe foretells that Coronis’s child will bring great healing to the Roman world,  but in so doing suffers the consequences of ‘Heaven’s wrath’ and is turned into a horse despite Apollo’s efforts to save her from her fate.

Mercury and Battus

  • Mercury steals Apollo’s cattle and Battus (a herdsman) sees him.  Mercury tries to bribe him but he tricks Battus and turns him into stone.

The Envy of Aglauros

  • Mercury, the lusty fellow that he is, is enamoured with Cecrops’ daughter Herse, he tries to bribe the other sister Aglauros into letting him into Herse’s bedroom. She accepts the bribe but Minerva, angry, exacts a punishment and visits the goddess Envy and orders her to kill Aglauros. Envy inflicts a disease on her and she turns into black marble. Mercury flies off to heaven happy that greedy Aglaurus has been punished sufficiently.

Mercury and Europa 

  • Jove asks his son Mercury to steal some cattle in Sidon (an extremely important Phoenician  city specialising in glass and dye) which he does successfully. Jove then disguises himself as a bull and seduces the King of Sidon’s daughter Europa and he carries her across the sea.
Bull Protome found in Sidon

Bull Protome found in Sidon

 

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

As mentioned previously, Book 2 engages with a variety of themes which are still completely relevant to the texture of our life today; and, indeed, the debates that still operate within contemporary culture. We have:

  • the nature of art and representation (Phaethon);
  • the consequences of gossiping (The Raven and the Crow),
  • the nature of love, power and victim-hood (Callisto)
  • the nature of selfishness (both Gods and humans), (Jupiter and Europa),
  • and we see Ovid’s use of comedy as he engages with the consequences sometimes engendered by lust (The Envy of Aglauros). 

Below you’ll find another movement of composer  Benjamin Britten’s  sequence of pieces for the Oboe entitled Six Metamorphoses After Ovid. This time his focus is on Phaethon and his moment of transformation. This one is equally edgy and syncopated and embodies the energy of transformation perfectly. I have also discovered another composer who has been inspired by Ovid: Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1750-1819) who wrote ‘Symphony After Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ No. 2 in D Major. You’ll find Phaeton’s Movement below too. It’s beautiful and a link to the movement related to Book 1 follows it.

Brittain 6 Metamorphoses After Ovid: Phaethon

.

The Fall of Phaethon from Symphony After Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ No. 2 in D Major by Dittersdorf

.

 Here’s  another link to another movement of the piece that  relates to Book 1: Dittersdorf Sinfonia No.1 in C major The Four Ages of The World

http://youtu.be/opkglJziYCQ

Shortly, this post and more will be placed onto the Transformations Resource Page (under the Collaborations Tab) so everything will be in one place. There will also  be an audio recording of ‘The Raven and the Crow’ story and a list of all the main characters. And watch out for the poetry inspired by Book 1 which will be posted out during March.

___________

References :

Brunauer, Dalma. H (1996) The Metamorphoses of Ovid, New Jesey Research and Education Association

Hughes, T (1997) Tales from Ovid, London: Faber and Faber

 Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press

 SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/metamorphoses/section1.rhtml

 

 

Metamorphoses Book 1:Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project:

21 Jan

TRANSFORMATIONS

Starting in February, 15 poets, 15 months,  creating 1 contemporary reworking of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

See the Transformations Page For More Details

Metamorphoses Overview

In the introduction of Ted HughesTales from Ovid he states:

‘But the opening lines describe the very different kind of poem that Ovid set out to write: an account of how the beginning of the world right down to his own time bodies had been magically changed by the power of the gods into other bodies’ (Hughes 1997: vii) 

George Braque Metamorphoses

I George Braque Metamorphoses

Completed in 8 AD by Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid to you and me) Metamorphoses is first and foremost an extended narrative poem about change; change of all kinds: historical, religious (from the Roman multi-God form of worship to the birth of Christ within the Roman Empire); from human to inanimate object; from  human to animate object; from the mythic to the Christian. It forms a vaste canvas where mortals intertwine with Gods and are transformed.

With great beauty and vigour the text flings you into the ‘overworld and underworld’ (vii) of all creation and explores both Greek and Roman myth reinvigorating the old tales with humour, pathos and cheer and all through the notion of metamorphoses. CHANGE

Metamorphoses, as Ted Hughes points out in his introduction of his fantastic reworking of the tale Tales From Ovid, is a poem about ‘passion’ (ix), passion in its extreme- where passion ‘combusts, or levitates or mutates into the experience of the supernatural’ and each myth is reinvigorated and explored through that sense of passion. It’s always there bubbling underneath the surface as a life force. It is also a story about the tension between good and ‘the despicable’ (either godly or human.) 

The poem starts off explicitly outlining Ovid’s intention:

Of bodies changed to other forms I tell;

You Gods, who have yourself wrought every change.

Inspire my enterprise and lead my lay

In one continuous song from nature’s first

Remote beginnings to our modern times.

(Ovid 1986: 1)

 

And indeed Ovid’s tale takes us up to the point where Julius Caeser was deified in 42 BC after his assassination.

Book One Overview:

Book 1:

The Myths: The Creation; The Ages of Mankind, The Flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Apollo & Daphne, Io, Phaethon

Key Characters: Jove, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Pan, Apollo and Daphne, Io and Phaethon

 In Book 1, as they say, we begin at the beginning and are taken through the sequence of how the world came into being. Through chaos, the creation of the different elements, water, seas and the creation of man. We are then walked  through the 5 ages of man: Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron where all evil is let loose and warfare is prevalent, so much so that all immortals desert the earth and heaven is attacked by giants.

490px-Daphne_chased_by_ApolloJove, Lord of heaven, witnesses these Iron-Age atrocities and recalls the time when he turned Lycean a cannibal king into a wolf. This prompts him to take divine council and he suggests all mankind should be killed by a flood, to rid the world of evil. The God’s agree and all is destroyed.

Deucalion (Son of Prometheus) and Pyrrha (Wife of Deucalion) are  the only survivors of this destruction and are given permission by the goddess of Justice, Themis, to recreate mankind out of stones. This included the dangerous side of humanity too like Python, a serpent, who is eventually killed by Apollo, the God of the Sun.

  • Facilitated by Cupid Apollo falls in love with Daphne (Daughter of Peneus, the river God). However, Cupid being the naughty god of love that he is, complicates matters by shooting Daphne with a love repellent arrow. And in order to avoid Apollo’s attentions she asks Peneus to help her and he turns her into a Laurel Tree.
  • Io, also known as Isis, is ravished by Jove but Juno (his wife) finds out (don’t they always ;)) and in order to evade being found out turns Io into a beautiful heifer. Juno insists the heifer is given to her and asks Argus (a monster with 100 eyes) to guard her. Io is treated so badly by Argus that Jove intervenes and asks Mercury (Son of Jove and the messenger of the gods) to kill Argus.
  • Mercury kills Argus by telling him a tale of transformation whereby Pan changes Syrinx a nymph into a reed from which he makes his pipes. Argus falls asleep to this tale and Mercury kills him.
  • Juno follows Io to Africa and begs her forgiveness and as she does is changed back into human form. Io gives birth to a son Epaphus who becomes a friend of Phaethon (the son of Apollo).
  • Epaphus challenges the nature of Phaethon’s parentage and the two, supported by Clymene (mother of Phaethon) begin a journey to India to find Phaethon’s father.

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

In Metamorphoses as a whole and in Book 1 the theme of transformations is a broad one encompassing a diversity of transformation both elemental and physical: from chaos to the universe to Daphne into a Laurel Tree. However, the text goes beyond the surface of the myths to actually explore the dynamics of transformation investigating the very nature of power (not only between those who are transformed but also those who transform). As Spark Notes suggests Book 1 of Metamorphoses looks at the ‘relationships of POWER’. Transformation is often a punishment for a wrong doing (like Jove destroying the world with a flood for the depravity that man has reached in the Iron Age). And this wrong doing applies to both mankind and the Gods equally. In contrast, those (like Deucalion) who side with Gods, are allowed to live.

Love is seen as the kingpin of this power dynamic, with love and lust inextricably linked, and in Book 1 Spark Notes suggests love is unrequited (Daphne and Apollo, Pan and Syrinx). One transformation begets another (often ending in tragedy and serves to highlight the manner in which change affects mankind).

This engagement with the dynamics of power and change, betrayal and love, flood and war are clearly still relevant in contemporary society and culture today. Book 1 is a rich source from which to draw to lay the foundations of what is both good and bad about mankind, and has been drawn on by such composers as Benjamin Britten for inspiration, composing a sequence of pieces for the Oboe entitled Six Metamorphoses After OvidThe first one of which you’ll find below as it depicts Pan’s moment of transformation. They are sparky, energetic and capture the energy and dynamism of transformation perfectly. 

For a more extensive overview here’s the In Our Time Podcast with Melvyn Bragg on Metamorphoses

Brittain 6 Metamorphoses After Ovid: Pan

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References :

Brunauer, Dalma. H (1996) The Metamorphoses of Ovid, New Jesey Research and Education Association

Hughes, T (1997) Tales from Ovid, London: Faber and Faber

 Ovid (1986) Metamorphoses, World Classics, tr. A.D Melville, Oxford: Oxford University Press

 SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/metamorphoses/section1.rhtml

Shortly, this post and more will be placed onto the Transformations Resource Page (under the Collaborations Tab) so everything will be in one place. There will be an audio recording of Io’s story and a list of all the main characters. And watch out for the poetry inspired by Book 1 which will be posted as it comes in and and at the end of February in its entirety.


Let the transforming commence!

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