Sunday, September 20, 2009
Book 36: Metamorphoses by Ovid
Title: Metamorphoses by Ovid
Pages: 416 (including literary introduction and criticism).
How it was obtained: I picked it up from Barnes and Noble.
Time spent on the "to read" shelf: Around 4 or 5 years.
Days spent reading it: 2 weeks.
Why I read it: I had been reading a number of books that referred to Greek mythology, and specifically stories told by Ovid. So I thought I might appreciate this book.
Brief review: Metamorphoses was certainly a difficult book to read. Not that I was looking for easy, but it was challenging to pay attention to this epic poem. I found the difficulties in a few areas:
1. The narrator changed often. I almost never knew who specifically was telling the story, and sometimes I did not even know what story I was reading. It was so hard to follow. And sometimes there would be a story within a story, and then you'd come out of the one story, back to the "main story" and then eventually leave that story as well. I think this poem would be easier to read if one had an outline of the stories in it with them. I wonder if anyone has done that? A quick search on google reveals that indeed it has been done. Maybe I should have printed one out before I started reading!
2. The stories become a little repetitive. Love found. Love pined for. Love lost. Change lover/lovee into animal/plant/exotic object of your choice. It becomes a little redundant in my opinion. More flowers and trees were created in the midst of the tale than it took to print it.
3. The use of the gods names in Roman, not Greek. I realize Ovid was writing as a Roman, but I mostly know my Greek mythology with Greek names. I found it hard to equate the Roman name with the Greek name. Add to that the difficultly of using multiple names or odd descriptors for someone and the task of figuring out who is being talked about can be rough (son of _____ was very common, actually there's an appendix in the front of the book for all of these, it's a few pages long).
4. The concept of love in this poem is ridiculous. Love at first sight is not so much love as lust. And that's about the extent of how love is portrayed in this work. I wish Ovid had a better understanding of what true love really was. The love he describes is selfish, greedy, and superficial. Throughout this poem people do crazy things because they saw someone beautiful. Well get over it, and stop being crazy!
So it was hard to appreciate this poem. Am I glad I read it? Yeah, probably. Some of the scenes were actually interesting. Like when Ajax and Ulysses make speeches for who should receive Achilles armaments. That was a fun chapter, the insults were flying. But for the most part, it was difficult to read, more difficult to follow, and the return for me was not as great as the investment. This is probably a great poem to study in college, not so great to manhandle for fun.
Favorite quote: Ajax talking smack...
"I own that it is a mighty prize I strive for, but such a rival takes away the honor of it. It is no honor for Ajax to have gained a prize, however great, to which Ulysses has aspired. Already he has gained reward enough in this contest because, when conquered, he still can say he strove with me."
Stars: 2 out of 5.
Final Word: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!