This is a 400-page poem. It’s over 2000 years old to boot. If ancient poetry grabs you, this is your thing. Is it mine?
Well, no. In a word, no. I found this a bit of a trial from beginning to end actually.
I think the translation’s done really well in the edition I read but notwithstanding that, it had a number of things which put me off. It’s multilayered for a start. Ovid begins telling a story about someone, that character then begins a story who then begins a story and you’re in so deep you can’t find your way out after about 30 pages.
Then there’s the incredible panoply of characters, many of whom Ovid presumes you already know about. Fair enough, he was writing for his contemporaries but now, you need a degree in Classical History to follow the thread.
Finally, the stories are just downright boring for the most part. These are stories of myth and legend. Some of them we’re familiar with e.g. Cupid and some we’re not e.g. The Story of the Calydonian Boar. A great many people turn into trees for some reason. It must have been fashionable. The end of the book really drags as references to the Oddysey and the Iliad come up and this moves on to early Roman history and the obligatory, I suppose for the writer of the time, praise of Caesar.
And Ovid really thought he was something. Check out that closing line below.
Occasionally, it was worth reading. There’s some really gory stuff in this. But mostly the thing that kept me going was the fact that I was learning the real stories behind the myths I thought I knew. Take Cupid for instance. He was a nasty piece of work, a far cry from the cuddly Valentinian cherub. He had two arrows, one to cause love and one to cause repulsion. Using both his arrows on a couple resulted in their torment.
But these tidbits weren’t enough to keep me from falling asleep on the bus every time I opened it.
My intention is to tell of bodies changed
To different forms; the gods, who made the changes,
Will help me – or I hope so – with a poem
That runs from the world’s beginnings to our own days.
Still, part of me,
The better part, immortal, will be borne
Above the stars; my name will be remembered
Wherever Roman power rules conquered lands,
I shall be read, and through all centuries,
If prophecies of bards are ever truthful,
I shall be living, always.
terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good> excellent > superb