Foundations

3. The Metamorphoses.

“O gods, if any there be who will listen to my prayer, I do not refuse the dire punishment I have deserved; but lest, surviving, I offend the living, and, dying, I offend the dead, drive me from both realms; change me and refuse me both life and death!” [...] Even as she spoke the earth closed over her legs; roots burst forth from her toes [...] her blood changed to sap, her arms to long branches, her fingers to twigs, her skin to hard bark. And now the growing tree had closely bound her heavy womb, had buried her breast and was just covering her neck; but she could not endure the delay and, meeting the rising wood, she sank down and plunged her face in the bark. (Myrrha, at 10.483-498)

Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a long and curious poem, telling stories of people getting transformed into animals, plants, or stones; stones turning into people, and language getting perverted every which way. Suzanne and Chris talk about the issues in translation, the way language can be lost, creation and the natural world, Ovid’s ideas of gender and sexuality, and medieval (and later) interpretations of these stories. They also wrap up this first cluster—on so-called “foundational” texts that turned out to have an unexpected common theme—and announce the next cluster.

Show Notes.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses in three translations: Frank Justus Miller, Brookes More, and Arthur Golding.

The passages we discuss:

Some later works inspired by the Metamorphoses:

The Ovide moralisé is currently being translated into modern English. Meanwhile here’s a translation into Middle English done by William Caxton.

[Correction: Ovid was exiled in modern-day Romania.]

The next book we’ll discuss.

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2. The Symposium.

“Imagine that Hephaestus came with his tools and stood over them as they were lying together, and asked, ‘What is it you humans want from each other?’ And when they were unable to reply, suppose he asked them instead, ‘Do you want to be so thoroughly together that you’re never at any time apart? If that’s what you want, I’d be glad to weld you together, to fuse you into a single person, instead of being two separate people, so that during your lifetime as a single person the two of you share a single life; and then, when you die, you die as a single person, not as two separate people, and you share a single death there in Hades. Think about it: is this your heart’s desire?” (29; 192e)

Plato’s Symposium is a curious text: a philosophical treatise on love, a play about a dinner party in classical Athens where the guests are all flirty and catty, and a story-within-a-story that goes at least five layers deep. Suzanne and Chris consider what it means to get intellectually pregnant, to philosophically crash a party, and to find your missing half.

Show Notes.

The Symposium by Plato, Robin Waterfield’s translation.

Our friends at Dear Reader discussed some adaptations of ancient Greek material: Check it out!

Aristophanes’ myth of the origin of love inspired a striking song in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

When Alcibiades stumbles into the party, drunk and beautiful with flowers in his hair, he probably looks a little like Dionysius, the god of wine.

No Silenus states with effigies inside have survived, but Susan Woodford has argued that medieval “Vierges ouvrantes” statues were similar.

We do have depictions of Silenus as the (significantly older) tutor of Dionysus, however.

Next episode: The Metamorphoses by Ovid. (Use whatever translation you can find.)

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1. The Iliad.

For a young man all is decorous
when he is cut down in battle and torn with the sharp bronze, and lies there
dead, and though dead still all that shows about him is beautiful;
but when an old man is dead and down, and the dogs mutilate
the grey head and the grey beard and the parts that are secret,
this, for all sad mortality, is the sight most pitiful. (22.56-76)

Suzanne and Chris begin their conversations about great books with a very big and very old one: Homer’s Iliad. This Ancient Greek poem about the Trojan War is, of course, widely known, but if you haven’t read it (or if you haven’t read it in a while), you might not remember how complex (and downright strange) it gets with its reflections on war and the fallout of war. They also talk about the joys of dipping in and out of books, rather than reading them from cover to cover.

Show Notes.

The Iliad by Homer, in the Richmond Lattimore translation.

A review of English translations of the Iliad.

Another review of English translations.

A quick taste of what Ancient Greek might have sounded like.

“‘Homer can help you’: War veterans use ancient epics to cope.”

“‘The Iliad’ as illustration of epic struggle with post-Vietnam stress.”

Here, Bullet” by Iraq war veteran Brian Turner, along with a short bio and two podcasts on war poetry.

Teaching classics to convicts.

A lecture on “The Disordered Soul: Thémis and PTSD”.

Writers & Company interviews Pat Barker, author of a recent novel that retells the Iliad from Briseis’s perspective.

Christopher Logue’s War Music is a classic recent radical translation/retelling of the Iliad.

Next episode: The Symposium by Plato.

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