Episode One: One Poet to Rule Them All
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
So here we are at our first proper episode.
We kick off with a favourite of Abi and Sarah’s – the wordsmith, mythographer, love poet, and, quite frankly, utter bastard: Publius Ovidius Naso, known more commonly as the Latin poet, Ovid.
Born in Sulmo on 20th March 43 BCE, almost exactly one year after the assassination of Julius Caesar, Ovid was your fairly standard, well to-do young man. He sets out initially – as most standard, well to-do Roman young men do – on a career in politics. Luckily for us, though, he left that behind fairly swiftly, despite his father’s best efforts, and started writing poetry. In fact, if we believe Ovid (which is a bold thing to do really), the poetry was practically bursting out of him every time he picked up a stylus.
And thank goodness he did because Ovid has brought us (among many other wonderful poems), one of the greatest works of literature of all time – no bias here of course – the Metamorphoses. This text consists of an epic (in genre and grandeur), twisting and turning, grimly funny, horrifyingly dark, generally glorious compendium of Greco-Roman mythology. Ovid tells us that he will give us an account of the world from the very beginning of the cosmos up until the poet’s contemporary Rome, ruled by the very first Emperor, Augustus.
And boy does he.
With about 250 stories, 12000 lines, numerous narrators, abundant genre shifts, a mind-boggling chronological and geographical reach, and some crazy transformations, the Metamorphoses has become something of a canon for modern minds thirsty for myth. It has been called a ‘painters’ bible’ and, guaranteed, a large proportion of the Greek myths you have heard of (aside from the Trojan War) will be because Ovid wrote them down.
This seemed a good place to start, then, as one of the best places, in ancient literature, to immerse yourself straight away in the wonderful world of myth.
Modern engraving of Ovid
Ettore Ferrie, Statue of Ovid in Constanta, Romania, 1887
Robinet Testard, Briseis Writing to Achilles, 1510
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, 1622–1625
Ovid’s texts: Amores, Ars Amatoria, Heroides, Medicamina Faciei Femineae, Fasti, Metamorphoses, Tristia
Volk, K. (2010) Ovid (Blackwell Introductions to the Classical World), Malden and Chichester: ‘Ovid’s works are still being read, including in parts of the world that Ovid did not know existed and in languages that were not yet spoken when he wrote his verse.’
For information on the 1923 theory of J.J. Hartmann see B. van der Velden (2020), ‘J.J. Hartman on Ovid’s (Non-)Exile’, Mnemosyne, vol. 73.
For the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Ovid 2000 Trail see: https://ashmolean.org/ovid-2000-trail