Wunderground and Reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Expect occasional thunderstorms to continue for the next several hours.”–Wunderground

Is that a prophecy?

I am so tired of rain.

I am jittery as the thunder roars. I kept shrieking when the lightning flashed, so closed the “blackout” curtains.

The storms have gone on for hours.

Ovid Metamorphoses 51QQ3C0NSYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I am reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Ovid’s lively account of the flood myth struck me as the logical thing to read when you have water in the basement.  This brilliant epic poem, a collection of myths linked by the theme of  metamorphosis, is a comic masterpiece.  The myths range from the creation of the universe, to the famous episode of Daphne’s preferring a transformation into a tree to having sex with the out-of-shape Apollo, to  Orpheus’s attempt to recover his wife  Eurydice from the Underworld, to the deification of Julius Caesar.

Think of Metamorphoses as science fiction/fantasy if you don’t like poetry.

Ovid’s account of the  flood, of course, is parallel to that of the Old Testament myth.  In Ovid’s myth, two good people survive,  Deucalion and Pyrrha.

One of the most extreme characters in Metamorphoses is Jove.  Jove floods the earth, furious at mankind.  He enjoys throwing  his thunderbolts around but is afraid of setting heavens on fire, so he locks up the thunder and sensibly lets the Southwind do the work. Here is an excerpt from the Brooks More translation (available free online):

the Southwind flies abroad with dripping wings,
concealing in the gloom his awful face:
the drenching rain descends from his wet beard
and hoary locks; dark clouds are on his brows
and from his wings and garments drip the dews:
his great hands press the overhanging clouds;
loudly the thunders roll; the torrents pour;
Iris, the messenger of Juno, clad
in many coloured raiment, upward draws
the steaming moisture to renew the clouds.
The standing grain is beaten to the ground,
the rustic’s crops are scattered in the mire,
and he bewails the long year’s fruitless toil.

There are of course many more modern translations,  Rolfe Humphries’s, Horace Gregory’s Allen Mandelbaum’s, David Raeburn’s, etc.  I am reading the Humphries.

Rolfe Humphries says in his short introduction,

The great virtue of this writer of fantasy, of improbable events, is that both his people and places are real, the landscape and motives credible, so that, in the end, the impossible event takes on the truth of symbol, becomes–of course!–perfectly natural. There is little abstraction in Ovid, and so much natural detail!

I love a good comedy, and there are few episodes funnier than Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne the nymph.  In Humphries’s translation, Apollo says,

The ground is rough here. Run a little slower,
And I will run, I promise, a little slower.

He says he wants to marry her.

It is not comical to Daphne, though.   She wants to remain a Diana-worshippping virgin always, is not a fashion plate, and even Apollo admits she would look better if she combed her hair.  The god’s love is repugnant and terrifying to her.  She prays to her father the river god to “change and destroy the body/which has given too much delight.”   He thinks Apollo would be a good match, but turns her into a laurel tree.  Then Apollo claims even the tree.  But at least he cannot “marry” her.  She remains autonymous.

Bernini's sculpture of Apollo and Daphne

Bernini’s sculpture of Apollo and Daphne

4 thoughts on “Wunderground and Reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses

  1. I share your love with most classic books and Classics you are reading and discussing. It more difficult for me to grab a recent novel, for instance. In this case of Ovid, it reminds our clumsy translations in highschool. We read him in our second year of Latin in France and I remember the difficuulties we all had to construe… But I remember as well that it gave me my love of the Latin anguage not as a “dead” language but as really living and kicking one. Thank you for this post.


    • I love Ovid! Our translations of the Latin were not elegant, either; I stubbornly kept it as literal as possible so I would be sure i understood the grammar. And actually that wa a pretty good way to learn an ancient language. Yes, he is so readable: much more amusing than so many of the new books. Thank God for classics!


      • I agree with you that it was the most interesting part of the Latin lecture when I was a child – much more than the part dedicated to the declensions for instance! And it was, as you say, a very clever way to make learn a “dead language” by turning it as “living” as our French. I have sometimes difficlties with contemporary novels: some will become classics, but so few! And so much will be forgotten! (fortuately…)


        • I used to teach Latin and Ovid was everybody’s favorite. Virgil may be the better poet, but Ovid is more amusing. Yes, translating is the most important thing–but of course we parsed and identified constructions as we went.:)


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