Tuesday, June 2, 2009

As the goddess spoke, it thundered...

This past two weeks, I've been reading "Metamorphoses" by Ovid. Specifically, I was reading a new translation by Charles Martin (here is his Queensborough faculty page)*

Here's what I walk away with from the reading: Ovid's idea is that transformations occur for one of two reasons: as a punishment, or as protection.** Of these two, I'm most interested in the transformation for protection idea. The concept of a god/goddess/sorcerer transforming someone/something in order to protect them from something interests me a great deal. The most interesting of these events to me is the transformation of Aeneas' ships into nymphs to protect them from being destroyed (because it's a personification of a ship--that always makes me perk up). Though, this tension between the two ideas is frustrating. I suppose that it makes a difference what one is being transformed into as to whether or not it is a punishment or a helpful thing.

I'm sort of leaving out the entire category of transformations due to overwhelming emotion (grief, usually). I haven't quite wrapped my head around those, yet. When someone/thing is forcing the transformation on another person/object, I understand in some small way what's happening. However, the idea that someone's overwhelming sadness or anger could simply transform them? Much harder for me to understand. Especially when, not many pages later, Pythagoras comes along and says that transformations are the norm, and not solid states (which Martin addresses in a note, but is still perplexing) while the whole book has been about quite a number of solid-state people being very upset about their transformations. *sigh*

Still, this is what good books do. And this is one of the best. I'm still much more of a Homer guy than a Virgil or Ovid lover, but this is a fantastic book. In the end, I can't speak to it from a translation standpoint; I don't know Latin. However, after reading the translator's rationale, and then reading the book, I was much more moved than I was reading the older Mary Innes translation. I wish my grasp of the more "minor" tales had been better so that I could have really enjoyed Ovid's incessant name-dropping; instead, it became a constant movement back and forth between the lines, the notes, and the glossary. I don't think this translation would work well for the casual reader, but if you're into the idea of reading Ovid, this is the translation you want.

*= I had already read a fairly okay, more prose-y translation by Mary Innes.
**= trust me, I'm aware I'm not treading any new ground, here; I'm sure that someone much smarter than me said this already at least a thousand years before I came along. I'm mostly interested in recording my own reaction here while it is fresh to come back to in the future.

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