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Overview

Ovid’s famous mock epic—a treasury of myth and magic that is one of the greatest literary works of classical antiquity—is rendered into fluidly poetic English by world-renowned translator Allen Mandelbaum.

Roman poet Ovid’s dazzling cycle of tales begins with the creation of the world and ends with the deification of Caesar Augustus. In between is a glorious panoply of the most famous myths and legends of the ancient Greek and Roman world—from Echo’s passion for Narcissus to Pygmalion’s living statue, from Perseus’s defeat of Medusa to the fall of Troy. Retold with Ovid’s irreverent flair, these tales are united by the theme of metamorphosis, as men and women are rendered alien to themselves, turned variously to flowers, trees, animals, and stones. The closest thing to a central character is love itself—a confounding, transforming, irrational force that makes fools of gods and mortals alike.

The poem’s playful verses, both sensually earthy and wittily sophisticated, have reverberated through the centuries, inspiring countless artists and writers from Shakespeare to the present. Frequently translated, imitated, and adapted, The Metamorphoses has lost none of its power to provoke and entertain.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375712319
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/10/2013
Pages: 568
Sales rank: 529,977
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

The Roman poet PUBLIUS OVIDIUS NASO, known to the English-speaking world as Ovid, was born in 43 BC and died in 17 AD. His major works, Ars amatoria and Metamophorses, were famed both for their technical mastery and their innovative interpretations of classical myth. His verses were immensely influential on European art and literature, and remain important source texts of Greek and Roman mythology.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR: Allen Mandelbaum was born in 1926 and died in 2011. His translations of Homer, Dante, Virgil, Quasimodo, and Ungaretti were all published to great acclaim. His rendering of The Aeneid won the National Book Award. He was the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Humanities at Wake Forest University, North Carolina.

ABOUT THE INTRODUCER:  J. C. McKeown has served as a Research Fellow and Senior Tutor at the University of Cambridge and is now Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His publications include a commentary on Ovid's Amores and A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities. He is currently working on The Oxford Anthology of Literature in the Roman World, which will be published in summer 2013.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the Introduction


THE POETRY OF THE AUGUSTAN AGE

Many periods in Rome’s long history produced great poets.From the end of the Republic in the mid-first century BC , we have Lucretius’s Epicurean masterpiece, On the Nature of Things, and the kaleidoscopic variety of Catullus’s oeuvre, ranging from the coarse obscenities of political epigram, through beautiful love lyrics, to the sophistication of epicizing mythological narrative. Nero (ruled AD 54 –68 ) had a high opinion of his own poetic talents, but they were quite eclipsed by the tragedies of his adviser, Seneca the Younger, and by the Civil War , the political epic of Seneca’s nephew, Lucan. The years before and after the richly deserved assassination of Domitian in AD 96  produced the stiletto wit of Martial’s epigrams and the powerful satires of Juvenal, as marvellously trenchant and memorable as they are intolerant and appalling. It is universally agreed, however, that the poetic achievements of no other period can stand comparison with those of the age of Augustus, the first emperor, who attained sole rule with his victory over Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC , and maintained it ever more firmly throughout his long reign – longer than that of any later emperor – eventually to die peacefully in his bed, a privilege enjoyed by very few of his rivals and enemies,

in AD 14 , at the age of seventy-five. In the 20 s BC , the literary salons controlled by Augustus’s chief political adviser, Maecenas, and by his military commander, Messalla Corvinus, provided a galaxy of great poets with a venue for the recitation of their latest works. Virgil had already established his reputation with his Eclogues , pastoral poetry in imitation of the third-century BC  Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus, and with his Georgics , a didactic poem on farming in four books, modelled on theWorks and Days , composed in the eighth century BC  by Hesiod, Greece’s earliest literate poet. He was now at work on his last and greatest poem, the Aeneid , an epic to rival both the Iliad  and the Odyssey . Horace had published his Satires  and Epodes  in the 30 s, and was to publish the  first three of his four books of Odes  in 23 BC . Love elegy also flourished in this decade. The genre appears to have been invented by Cornelius Gallus, a friend of Virgil and one of Octavian/Augustus’s most trusted lieutenants. In the late 40 s and early 30 s, Gallus had written four books of elegies, now almost entirely lost. He is the only one of the great Augustan poets to suff er this misfortune, which must be connected to some extent with his fall from favour with Augustus as a resultof his arrogance as the first Roman governor of Egypt, behaviour which compelled him to commit suicide in 27  or 26 . Gallus’s genre, however, lived on and prospered, first with Tibullus and Propertius, both of whom will have started to compose at about the beginning of the decade, and then with Ovid, for it was with love elegy that he began his poetic career, perhaps in 26  or 25 BC , when he was seventeen or eighteen years old.


OVID’S OTHER POETRY

The Amores  –Ovid’s earliest love poetry – follow the conventions laid down by his predecessors and older contemporaries, in that they are collections of poems recounting the vicissitudes of his relationship with his mistress. The elegies of both Tibullus and Propertius display a wide range of emotional levels, from the wittily whimsical to the passionately tragic, suggestive of the suff erings of the lover. Ovid, by contrast, achieves originality by narrowing the focus of his elegies very drastically, presenting the misfortunes he endures in his persona  as the elegiac lover in a consistently humorous manner that sometimes falls very little short of parody of the genre.

To give just one example of this approach:  whereas Propertius tries to convince Cynthia that she has no need of expensive jewellery to enhance her natural charms, Ovid pushes this theme of beauty unadorned to ridiculous but logical limits: when Corinna quite unnecessarily dyes her gorgeous hair, the procedure goes wrong and now she is completely bald. Such exploitation of already established conventions was to be a hallmark of all of Ovid’s later poetry, and of the Metamorphoses  in particular. One short elegy in the Amores  might indeed be viewed as a prototype for the Metamorphoses . In 2 .15 , Ovid  daydreams about how he would like to be transformed into the ring that he is sending as a gift to his mistress, for then he could always be with her. The fantasy ends abruptly when he says, with typical euphemism, that ‘if she wears me in the bath, my limbs will rise with lust’:  Ovid the ring will react to the situation as if it were still Ovid the man. The Narcissus episode in Metamorphoses  III is a nice illustration of the way in which he was to exploit these two typically Ovidian techniques, the deployment of conventional themes in unconventional contexts and the unusual perspective achieved, most often to witty effect, by splitting the personality and characteristics of the individual whose story is being narrated. Narcissus has fallen in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, and will remain at the water’s edge till he is transformed into the flower that bears his name. Ovid has adapted to the myth that most typical scenario in love elegy:  the lover’s pleading for the door of his beloved’s house to be opened so that he may be with her. Narcissus is cast in the role not only of the lover, but also of the beloved, and the surface of the water represents the closed door. The same scenario recurs in the Metamorphoses  in the tales of Pyramus and Thisbe, separated by the wall made famous by Shakespeare, and of Polyphemus and Galatea, separated by the sea. Love and the conventions of love elegy are never far away in the Metamorphoses .

There is little firm evidence about the chronology of Ovid’s poetry, but we should perhaps assume that he continued writing Amores  poems for a decade or more, and that he was also engaged throughout much of this same period on his Heroides , letters from various mythological heroines to their absent husbands or lovers (e.g. Penelope to Ulysses, Dido to Aeneas), followed by a series of such pairs written between lovers (e.g. Paris and Helen). The Heroides  transformed and extended the elegiac genre by casting mythological figures in the roles more familiarly played by the elegiac poets and their mistresses;  for example, the exchange of letters between Helen and Paris focuses on the banquet given in Sparta in honour of Paris by Helen’s husband, Menelaus, reworking the scenario played out between the lover, his mistress, and her dull-witted husband in Amores 1 .4  and 2 .5 . The Amores  generally make very little use  of mythology, and it is the Heroides  that foreshadow the wealth of such tales in the Metamorphoses .

Ovid devised a further development of the conventions of love elegy when he wrote his Art of Love , a didactic poem providing instructions on how to ensure success in love affairs;  for example, the instructions which he gives to his mistress in Amores 1 .4  and 2 .5  on how to conduct herself at a banquet are turned into a general set of rules to be followed in such a context. The Art of Love  would seem to have been planned initially as a two-book work, offering advice to men, but its success induced Ovid to add a third book, offering corresponding advice to women. He even managed yet another variation on the conventional themes of love elegy, when, as a corollary to the Art of Love , he wrote his Remedies for Love;  whereas the Art  gives advice on winning and keeping a lover, Remedies  explains how to cure oneself of love, and the two poems thus form a didactic pair in much the same way as do the Poisonous Creatures  and the Cures for Poisons  by the Hellenistic Greek poet Nicander. Ovid was reluctant to give up his preoccupation with love elegy, which he evidently found so congenial. As late as 1 BC – AD 1 , at the fairly advanced age of forty-two or forty-three, he was still engaged with the genre, for that is when he published the third book of the Art of Love  and a second edition of the Amores , reduced from five books to three.

Even if he had restricted himself to love elegy, his reputation would have been assured, but he had higher literary aspirations. At some unknown date, perhaps around 15 BC , he wrote a tragedy, the Medea , of which only two short fragments, a total of twelve words, have survived. Apart from a translation of the Phaenomena , a poem on astronomy and weather signs by the Hellenistic court poet Aratus, it is his only substantial work known to be lost to us. This loss is a serious one, for all that the assessment ‘Ovid’s Medea  shows what he might have achieved if he had been willing to control his genius rather than indulge it’ comes from Quintilian, the great teacher of oratory, who is not remarkable for his literary critical acumen. It is perhaps surprising that Ovid, the master of subversive wit, should have been successful as a tragedian, and perhaps equally surprising that, as far as we know, the Medea  was his  only attempt at the genre. Why should he have abandoned tragedy after one initial success? Maybe it was simply ousted from his agenda by other, more attractive, projects. Whatever the reason, by AD 8 , Ovid had been working for an indeterminable number of years on two large-scale works, the Fasti  and the Metamorphoses . The Fasti  is a calendar of Roman festivals and history, written in elegiac couplets, on the model of Callimachus’s Aetia  (Causes), an account of the customs and rituals of various Greek states, which now survives mostly in distressingly brief fragments. Substantial as are the merits of the Fasti , no one would regard it quite so highly as the Metamorphoses , and it is our great good fortune that Ovid gave more attention to composing the latter poem, for by AD 8 , its fifteen books were almost complete, whereas only the first six books of the Fasti , treating the months of January to June, had been composed.

In that fatal year, Ovid’s life was changed utterly and forever. Augustus relegated him to the Greek trading post of Tomi on the coast of the Black Sea, modern day Costanza in Romania, at the edge of the empire, as far removed as possible from the sophisticated and cultured life of Rome, the milieu in which Ovid had thrived. For all that the reasons for his exile have been discussed voluminously by scholars, we shall probably never know why Augustus imposed this exquisitely sadistic punishment. Ovid felt unable to tell us anything, beyond saying that ‘two things destroyed me, a poem and a mistake’. The poem was the Art of Love , which ran counter to the spirit of Augustus’s moral reforms, and it is reasonable to assume that the mistake was political in nature. We know from the poetry he wrote from exile that he had friends who were very highly placed. It may be that Ovid did not merely enjoy the literary patronage of such people, but rather that he himself belonged to the elite of Roman society. At any rate, his stepdaughter was to marry a Senator:  her husband, Cornelius Fidus, once burst into tears in the Senate when Domitius Corbulo, Nero’s great general, called him a ‘plucked ostrich’ [struthocamelus depilatus ] (Seneca, On the Constancy of the Wise Man , 17 .1 ). Ovid languished at Tomi for at least a decade, and died there, a broken man whose every effort to obtain a recall was in vain.  To gain sympathy and a pardon, the Tristia  (Sad Things) and the Letters from the Black Sea  exaggerate the harshness of his new life:  it was not always winter, Tomi was not entirely barbaric, the natives were not forever shooting poisoned arrows over the walls. Though it is not entirely lacking in the familiar Ovidian wit, nevertheless his exile poetry makes for very sombre and depressing reading, for we are constantly aware of the disaster that had so suddenly befallen its author;  this was not the sort of poetry he should have felt forced to write. For a decade and a half, he had been unchallenged as Rome’s leading poet:  Virgil had died in 19 BC , Tibullus perhaps in the same year, there are no references in Propertius’s poetry to any event later than 16 , and with the death of Horace in 8 BC  Ovid was left as the sole survivor of the great Augustan poets. There is some evidence that he revised the Metamorphoses  and Fasti  at Tomi, but his heart was not in it. Being the compulsive poet that he was, he continued to write, but we are left to wonder what great works he might have composed had he been allowed to remain in Rome.

Table of Contents

MetamorphosesPreface
Chronology
Introduction
Further Reading
Translator's Note

Metamorphoses

Book 1
Prologue - The Creation - The Four Ages - The Giants - Lycaön - The Flood - Deucalion and Pyrrha - Python - Daphne - Io (1) - Interlude: Pan and Syrinx - Io (2) - Phaëton (1)

Book 2
Phaëton (2) - Callisto - The Raven and the Crow - Ocyrho#235; - Battus - Aglauros - Europa

Book 3
Cadmus - Actaeon - Semele - Teiresias - Narcissus and Echo - Pentheus and Bacchus (1) - Acotetes and the Lydian Sailors - Pentheus and Bacchus (2)

Book 4
The Daughters of Miniyas (1) - Pyramus and Thisbe - Mars and Venus - Leucotho#235; and Lyti#235; - Slmacis and Hermaphroditus - The Daughters of Miniyas (2) - Ino and Athamas - Cadmus and Harmonia - Perseus (1)

Book 5
Perseus (2) - Minerva and the Muses - Calliope's Song: The Rape of Proserpina; Arethusa; Triptolemus and Lyncus - The Daughters of Pierus

Book 6
Arachne - Niobe - The Lycian Peasants - Marsyas - Pelops - Tereus, Procne and Philomela - Boreas and Orithyia

Book 7
Medea and Jason - The Rejuvenation of Aeson - The Punishment of Pelias - Medea's Flight - Theseus and Aegeus - Minos and Aeacus - The Plague at Aegina - The Birth of the Myrmidons - Cephalus and Procris

Book 8
Scylla and Minos - The Minotaur and Ariadne - Daedalus and Perdix - Meleäger and the Calyydonian Boar - Acheloüs, the Naiads and Perimele - Philemon and Baucis - Erysichthon

Book 9
Acheloüs and Hercules - Hercules and Nessus - The Death of Hercules - Alcmena and Galanthis - Dryope - Iolaüs and Callirhoë's Sons - Miletus - Byblis - Iphis

Book 10
Orpheus and Eurydice - Cyparissus - Orpheus' Song: Introduction; Ganymede; Hyacinthus; The Cerastae and Propoetides; Pygmalion; Myrrha; Venus and Adonis (1) - Venus' Story: Atalanta and Hippomenes - Orpheus' Song: Venus and Adonis (2)

Book 11
The Death of Orpheus - The Punishment of the Maenads - Midas - Laömedon's Treachery - Peleus and Thetis - Peleus at the Court of Ceÿx (1) - Ceÿx's Story: Daedalion - Peleus at the Court of Ceÿx (2) - Ceÿx and Alcyone - Aesacus

Book 12
The Greeks at Aulis - Rumour - Cycnus - Achilles' Victory Celebration - Caenis - The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs - Periclymenus - The Death of Achilles

Book 13
The Judgement of Arms - Ajax's Suicide - The Fall of Troy - The Sufferings of Hecuba - Memnon - The Wanderings of Aeneas (1) - The Daughters of Anius - The Daughters of Orion - The Wanderings of Aeneas (2) - Acis, Galatea and Polyphemus - Glaucus and Scylla (1)

Book 14
Glaucus and Scylla (2) - The Wanderings of Aeneas (3) - The Sibyl of Cumae - Achaemenides' Story: Ulysses' Men in Plyphemus' Cave - Macareus' Story: Ulysses and Circe; Picus, Canens and Circe - The Wanderings of Aeneus (4) - The Mutinous Companions of Diomedes - The Apulian Shepherd - The Ships of Aeneus - Ardea - The Apotheosis of Aeneus - Aeneus' Descendants - Pomona and Vertumnus - Iphis and Anaxarete - Romulus - The Apotheosis of Romulus

Book 15
Myscelus - Pythagoras - Egeria and Hippolytus - Tages, Romulus' Spear, Cipus - Aesculapius - The Apotheosis of Julius Caesar- Epilogue

Notes
Glossary Index
Map of Ovid's Mediterranean World

What People are Saying About This

Elaine Fantham

"Stanley Lombardo successfully matches Ovid’s human drama, imaginative brio, and irresistible momentum; and Ralph Johnson’s superb Introduction to Ovid's 'narratological paradise' is a bonus to this new and vigorous translation that should not be missed. Together, Introduction and text bring out the delightful unpredictability of Ovid’s 'history of the world' down to his times."      —Elaine Fantham, Giger Professor of Latin, Emerita, Princeton University

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The Metamorphoses 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have trouble with the 'endless poem' format used in so many classic translations. This is much much better. Miller's prose is FANTASTIC. I found myself going back over the text numerous times from being so impressed. Not to mention the timeless beauty of Ovid's mythology.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the most beautiful pieces of literature ever written, in my opinion. This translation was perfect, fluid, and what I believe to be easy for all to fall in love with.
Dierckx More than 1 year ago
Publius Ovidius Naso was born in 43 B.C and died in 18 A.D. He was banished for unknown reasons to Tomi, a barren place near the coast of the Black Sea. A few scholars believe that this was a literary hoax created by Ovid himself. It would enable him to write the 'Tristia' and 'Letters From The Black Sea'. 'Metamorphoses' is his main achievement. It contains 250 stories from the Greek Mythology and they all have in common that the principal character changes into another form. Most of the time they turn into an animal or a tree but also in a river, a constellation of stars, a rock or a flower and other pleasant surprises. If you read this book you won't find many happy endings. The ancient Greeks didn't know the meaning of that expression. It's not an easy read but if you persist it will be a rewarding literary experience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Barnes and Noble puts the same review and description on most of the translations of Ovid's Metamorphoses. I only just got my copy of this book so I won't rank it but please do not rely on Barnes and Noble's review and commentary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Definitely a great read. The translation is wonderful, and I loved the way Ovid skims through all of his stories. It is pretty different from such classical writers like Virgil and Homer, but overall I think this makes it an easier read. Not to mention it's a must read if you like Greek/Roman mythology. The only complaint I have is regarding the citation for the cover image. It's cited as "Pygmallion and Galatea" by Francios Boucher, but it's really "Jupiter and Callisto" (though it's by the same artist). Not a big deal, but it puzzeled me for a while.
Aston More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book. It's a great way to experience a large compilation of stories about the greek gods. It is extremely entertaining, even if you're just reading it for school.
wendlz23 More than 1 year ago
Ovid wrote this when people still believed in the stories of the gods. Whether its was good story telling or the true beliefs this is a book to add to your collection. The writing is a little different. It is concidered poetry but in this particular barnes and noble classic it is written more like a novel. I say definetly worth the reading.
Choccy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I would've given this book four stars if it's more organized. The frequent jumps from one story to another really annoyed me. I think I like Bulfinch's Mythology better.Anyway, the title is damn right accurate since many people/deities here were turned into birds, rivers, stones, etc whether as forms of punishments or pity from the gods. Speaking about the gods, yes, I should repeat this: they're a bunch of vengeful, petty, envious rapists/douche bags. I don't think I can find any favorite. Definitely don't wanna live in a world full of those scumbags.Some stories are great, some are downright boring, if not repetitive. But, still worth to read, I guess.
gbsallery on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A surprisingly pacey read; whilst somewhat lacking in structure, there is at least some overall thematic cohesion, and the writing itself is superb. If girls being turned into trees is your thing, then this is the epic poem for you. Also, rape.
markbstephenson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Was Ovid the most talented poet of all time? Who outdid him?
ron_benson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't find the original version that I read in my classical civilization course. This is still the same. Ovid is an excellent writer and this compendium of translated "stories" is a beautiful read for those looking for a slice of classical mythology. My favorite is still Orpheus and Eurydice.
TheBooknerd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Metamorphoses -- it's on my list of books everyone should read. I generally prefer the Greek writers over the Romans, but Ovid is one you don't want to miss. The myths included range from the popular tales that we all know and love to more obscure events that are like gems to mythology buffs. I do have to say, though, that the Penguin Classics version that I have is a prose translation, and I don't care for that at all. It's one clunky paragraph after the next, and I find it hard to read. I recommend finding a more verse-like translation.
ponder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Metamorphoses by Ovid is a captivating collection of myths. Am I the only person to wish for a flow chart of events and relationships? I loved it, however, I found myself obsessed with researching many of the stories on the internet. Not that I ever have a problem with this but it started to feel compulsive. So many brutalities due to spurned god love.
CaptainBroadchurch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Were Metamorphoses contemporary it would be a tv clip show called "World's Most Amazing Transformations!", would be aired during the graveyard slot on a Tuesday night, and would be narrated by Jamie Theakston or some other washed up has-been whose one marketable quality lies in having a voice people might recognise. What's more, it would still be a thousand times better than this horrible book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
djsupremeroll More than 1 year ago
As far as translations go, this is a good one. I read this book once before (different publication) and had trouble getting through it. Not this time. I was rapt. I love reading such old texts and finding that some many of their interests and problems match our own. That defines a classic. It is timeless.
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The translation of the book is actually not that bad of a translation, but why is the ebook slightly different from the regular text - cover included?
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