Sunday, June 23, 2013

The chase

It was in February of 2011 that our small group began reading Ovid's Metamorphoses. In the time since then, we've encountered more than 200 characters in some 250 mythic tales rendered by a variety of translators, tales told told by a poet who knew a good story when he heard one. It's a natural human impulse to want to sum it up, put it all together, master the whole ball of wax with pith and brevity.

Yet as Stephen Michael Wheeler says in his Narrative Dynamics in Ovid's Metamorphoses, "from hindsight, the vastness of the Metamorphoses is difficult to grasp in overview." Reading a bit of Wheeler suggests that we are far from alone in finding the text rich in intricate pattern and elusive in unifying structure:

In our final meeting, we'll explore some of the recurrent themes, motifs, structures, and gestures of Ovid's work. It would not surprise to find that our poet foretells this very problem of mastery. As with Apollo's straining for Daphne, as with Augustus' grappling with the synthesis of empire, grasping the poem as a totality in which form embodies meaning, and meaning is produced and rendered intelligible through richly integrated form, is no easy pursuit.

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