Tag Archives: Trojan War

Metamorphoses Book 12 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

12 Dec
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

Started in February 2013, 17 poets, 15 months,  creating 1 contemporary reworking of Ovid‘s Metamorphoses

See the Transformations Page For More Details

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

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

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

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

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Overview of Book 12: 

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

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

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

Summary of the Tales in Book 12

. Ceyx and Alcyone

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

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Priam

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The Greeks at Aulis

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

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

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Rumour

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Rumour

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

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

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Cycnus 

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Cycnus

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

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

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

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Caeneus_by_DustpanGirl

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Caeneus

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

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The Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs

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The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs

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

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

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

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

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

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Death of Achilles

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The Death of Achilles

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

 

Themes, Analysis and Relevance

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

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

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Things of Interest:

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  • BBC Documentary On The Trojan War

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Christopher Hitchens on The Odyssey

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

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

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

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

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

See here for more information.

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

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

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

  __________

References:

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

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

Liveley, G. (2011) Ovid’s Metamorphoses, A Reader’s Guide,  London: continuum

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

 

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Metamorphoses Book 11 Overview and Prompts: Transformations Collaborative Poetry Project

18 Nov
George Braque Metamorphoses

George Braque Metamorphoses

TRANSFORMATIONS

Started in February 2013, 17 poets, 15 months,  creating 1 contemporary reworking of Ovid‘s Metamorphoses

See the Transformations Page For More Details

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

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

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

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

Overview of Book 11: 

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

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

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

Summary of the Tales in Book 11

. Ceyx and Alcyone

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

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The Death of Orpheus

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The Death of Orpheus

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

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King Midas

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Midas

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

 Laomedon

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Laomedon’s Treachery

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

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

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Peleus and Thetis

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Peleus and Thetis

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

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Peleus-and-Thetis

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Peleus and Ceyx

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

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Ceyx and Alcyone

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Ceyx and Alcyone:

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

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


Aesacus

Aesacus

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

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Themes, Analysis and Relevance

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

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

 

Things of Interest:

Edith_Hamilton

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

A fascinating woman….well worth checking out…

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

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

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

 

  • King Midas and his Lust for Gold…

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

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Optional Prompts and Verse Form

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

See here for more information.

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

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

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

  __________

References:

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

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

Liveley, G. (2011) Ovid’s Metamorphoses, A Reader’s Guide,  London: continuum

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

 

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