Metamorphoses -- Ovid, Translation by Charles MartinIntroduction/Translator’s Note/Book One

I supposedly read Ovid’s Metamorphoses in college, but the truth is that I just read bits and pieces and skated by on my memories of Roman mythology from 6th grade.  (I did just fine, which says something a little sad about the class.)  After reading The Lightning Thief and Sea of Monsters, I decided it was time to Go Back.

It’s a big-ish book, and I don’t want to spew about it all in one go, so I’m going to space out my posts.  This will probably end up reading more like notes than a review, so feel free to skip the whole thing.  (Not that you all feel obligated to read anything I blather about, I’m sure, but you know what I mean.)


I usually make it through introductions, but not without my eyeballs glazing over a few times.  This time, that didn’t happen. 

Bernard Knox’s introduction was engaging and readable – his comparison of three different translations (Ted Hughes, David Slavitt and Charles Martin) of the same passage was especially interesting.  (It was the passage about Diana turning Actaeon into a stag – I’m sorry, but I’ve never liked Diana. She’s just such a BITCH. He saw her by mistake! And don’t even get me started on her treatment of poor Callisto. Beware: My tendency to treat classic works as episodes of Days will probably be in full effect throughout.)

Note on the Translation:

Martin includes three of his own versions of the same passage discussed in the introduction, showing his own personal progression and how different the same few lines can be, even translated by the same person.  This is where my inherent nerdiness really starts shining through, because I found the whole thing fascinating.  And again, accessible and readable to someone without any Classics training.  So, Yay, You! Charles Martin.  Good job.

Book One:

Martin breaks the first book down into sections -- Proem; The creation; The four ages; War with the Giants; Lycaon’s feast; The great flood; Deucalion and Pyrrha; The second creation; Apollo and the Python; Apollo and Daphne; Jove and Io (1); Pan and Syrinx; Jove and Io (2); Phaethon

• I’ve always liked creation stories (maybe because they’re all so different but also kind of the same).  The first time (pre-Jove’s-flood), either “the framer of all things” created us “out of his own divine substance” OR Prometheus took up a “clod”, mixed it with water and molded it into the shape of the gods.  (Later, a race of men was created by Mother Earth out of the “gore” left over from the War with the Giants, but that was somewhat minor.)  The second time around, after everyone but Deucalion (Isn’t that Scales' real name in Dark Lord of Derkholm?) and Pyrrha bite it in the Flood, Themis tells them to chuck rocks behind them, so they do and the rocks transform into people.

This bit is from the first go-round:

And even though all other animals
lean forward and look down toward the ground
he gave to man a face that is uplifted,
and ordered him to stand erect and look
directly up into the vaulted heavens
and turn his countenance to meet the stars;
the earth, that saw so lately rude and formless,
was changed by taking on the shapes of men. (118-125)

• Pre-Jove’s-flood, man is described as “securely indolent” (140), which I especially liked.

• Again, very accessible to the layperson.  Ovid makes a lot of references to politics in his time -- which I know NOTHING about, I only know that because Knox mentioned it in his introduction -- but Metamorphoses can be read without any knowledge of them.  At least, this version can.  I don’t know about other translations, but it seems like the references would just act as inside joke on another level for people who know the history -- kind of like how Shakespeare in Love is hysterically funny for people who are very well-versed in their Shakespeare history.

• The gods are always excellent at prioritizing -- this is in response to Jove’s plan to wipe humans out and start over again:

Nevertheless, all of them were saddened
by the proposed destruction of the human race
and wondered what the future form of earth
could possibly be like, without men on it:
why, who would bring the incense to their altars? (339-343)

• In my notes, my only comment on the next passage was “Apollo = Jerk”:

“What are you doing with such manly arms,
lascivious boy?  That bow befits our brawn,
wherewith we deal out wounds to savage beasts
and other mortal foes, unerringly:
just now with our innumerable arrows
we managed to lay low the mighty Python,
whose pestilential belly covered acres!
Content yourself with kindling love affairs
With your wee torch—and don’t claim our glory! (634-642)


A) Don’t mess with Cupid, because he’ll just make you miserable -- as evidenced by what happens next with Daphne -- although, as usual, the human involved had nothing to do with any of it and was just a victim in the whole thing. (But really, if I mention that every single time it happens, I’ll never stop typing.  So just assume that the human is getting a raw deal in pretty much every story.)

B) Jove doesn’t even (at least so far) talk about himself in the third person.  If Apollo was in a John Hughes movie, he would totally be James Spader’s character in Pretty in Pink.

• Again, I don’t know about other translations, but it seems like Martin is really playing Jove for laughs -- which is fine with me. His interaction with Io (up until he rapes her) is really funny -- he starts bragging about himself, trying to convince her to “come find some shade”, and he has to cut off his speech because she runs away in the middle of it.  Then, later, when he’s trying to convince Juno to turn Io back into a woman (she turned her into a cow – you know, because it was HER fault that Jove raped her, but whatever, I said I wasn’t going to do that anymore…), he says:

“In future,” he said, “put your fears aside:
never again will you have cause to worry—
about this one.” (1017-1019)