Ovid begins his Metamorphoses, “My soul would speak of bodies changed into new forms,” and it is the great theme of physical transformation that unites the poem’s many myths: humans becomes animals and plants, and vice versa; humans becomes stones and constellations; and humans change their sex. No poem from antiquity has so influenced Western European literature and art. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante creatively raided Ovid’s tales of transformation and terror, as did the artists Titian, Brueghel, and Bernini. The Metamorphoses present a compendium of Greek and Roman mythology, with heroes and heroines of prior myths transforming from figures of divine power to figures of aesthetic play, provocation, political charge, and critique. What sort of poem is the Metamorphoses: epic, tragedy, universal history? How does it compare to its Greek forebears—and why, arguably even more so than Homer, has it proven so massively influential?
In this class, we will read the whole of the Metamorphoses (as translated by Allen Mandelbaum), considering, as we go, their treatments of love and violence, of desire, horror, and the uncanny, and of the permeable boundaries between animals, humans, and gods. We’ll discuss the work’s influence, legacy, and contemporary meanings. And, we’ll ask after the political force of a poem about the mutability of all things. How might the transformations of the Metamorphoses present an oppositional voice to absolute power (and even to divinity) and to Rome’s claims of imperium sine fine—”empire without end”?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 06 — August 03, 2023
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Thursday, July 13th.