Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On to Hippolytus

More to say about Ovid, but for now, we're over here reading Euripides' Hippolytus.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Blog for latest project: Hippolytus

As our group has turned to Euripides' Hippolytus, blogging about that text will occur on the somewhat spiffed-up old Sarasota Classics Blog. So far, it has two posts:
Some words in Euripides' Hippolytus 

Troezen, Argos and the Peloponnese

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The eyes of Argus: Three illustrations

Mercury, Argus, and Io - Rubens

Hera decorating peacock with Argus's eyes - 17th c.

Io, Argus and Hermes - Velazquez

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A colorful Kinyras

A retelling of the tale of Kinyras, whom we know as Cinyras - we met this king of Cyprus in Metamorphoses 10; it's one of the tales sung by Orpheus. Cinyras was tricked into having sex with his daughter Myrrha, from which union comes Adonis.

This "graphic article" was produced by two classic scholars, Glynnis Fawkes and John Franklin, drawing upon research for a forthcoming book.

This excerpt of the book is on The Appendix. It seems Kinyras belonged to a rich set of stories, many of which we no longer have.

Theologica tripertita

Here's something related to Ovid's Fasti that came up in some of the scholarship. Varro (116-17 BC) was a hugely productive intellectual of early Rome, and apparently was the source of the later formalization of the liberal arts into the trivium and quadrivium:
Varro . . . turned out more than 74 Latin works on a variety of topics. Among his many works, two stand out for historians; Nine Books of Disciplines and his compilation of the Varronian chronology. His "Nine Books of Disciplines" became a model for later encyclopedists, especially Pliny the Elder. The most noteworthy portion of the Nine Books of Disciplines is its use of the liberal arts as organizing principles.[1] Varro decided to focus on identifying nine of these arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical theory, medicine, and architecture. Using Varro's list, subsequent writers defined the seven classical "liberal arts of the medieval schools".[1]
The article below discusses Varro's notion of "tripartite theology" -- cosmic, political, fabulous. From in Religions of the Ancient World, ed. by Sara Iles Johnson.

Varro was very interested in the calendar, (the structuring form of Fasti), and in working out the chronology of Roman history:

Pre-Julian Calendar

Sunday, July 14, 2013

After Metamorphoses

Ovid finished Metamorphoses before his expulsion from Rome, but reportedly burned his manuscript. The book survived because friends had copies -- imperfect, perhaps, but better than nothing. From afar he directed them to protect the poem, even as he continued working on Fasti, his effort to fill in the key days of the Roman Calendar as revised by Caesar and ordered by Augustus.

The Fasti has received more scholarly attention of late, and a new prose translation arrived in April, appropriately the month of Venus. Anne and Peter Wiseman's version of the poem, done for Oxford World Classics, is in prose and annotated with a good introduction, situating the poem and its material in context.

Scholars are divided over whether the poem is wholly invested in the Roman traditions and myth as set forth under the new imperial order, or whether Ovid, being Ovid, is least in part conducting an indirect but radical critique of that order. (Some of the more recent work on the poem is discussed herehere and here, and much more can be found with a simple search.)

The question of the poem's vision of Rome and its new order is one major issue. Another would be the relationship of the many stories and mythic tales in the Fasti to the Metamorphoses. We saw many examples of Ovid's consciousness of earlier poets in the latter poem, usually in relation to Virgil, Homer, and the Greek tragedians.  Fasti seems to bear the additional dimension of writing with his own prior masterpiece in view.

For example near the very beginning of Fasti there's a retelling of the origin of the world tale as told in Metamorphoses I. Except now the purely Roman god Janus is equated with Chaos as well as with the order that arises from it. Not only is Janus affirmed to be the first and most powerful god, but he then puts in an appearance, visiting Ovid as he's writing about Janus, and willingly answers several questions the poet puts to him. Ovid is having fun, but he's also setting his book of days in relation to the Metamorphoses, and expects us to be cognizant of their intertextual play.

I'm enjoying reading the Wiseman version of the poem, and am also looking at Tony Kline's free online version, and the older translation by Frazer used in the Loeb edition and available in Theoi.

It is worth pondering what necessitated that this poet of Amor be placed at the very edge of the Roman empire by order of Augustus. Ovid himself knew how troublesome love can be to those who rule:
Non bene conveniunt nec in una sede morantur 
maiestas et amor:
Royalty and love
do not sit well together, nor stay long in the same house
Ovid never stopped writing. Fasti ends with June -- something disrupted that project -- but Ovid kept going -- the Tristia, the Ibis, and more. It's doubtful whether, in the millennia since his residence in Tomis, real poetry has managed more than a marginal relation to the centers of power in the West.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ovid as reading teacher 2: Sequence

tu face nescio quos esto contentus amores
inritare tua, nec laudes adsere nostras!' 1.461-2

One of the very Italian things about Ovid is his sprezzatura -- his art of concealing art. Every time we blithely skate from one tale to the next as though we were changing channels on TV, we run the risk of missing some degree of pertinence arising from the relation of one tale to the next.

At least we might ask, as we run, say, from the tale of the flood in Metamorphoses 1 to that of Apollo slaying the Python to the vivid pursuit of Daphne, whether there is some connection to be made, some relation worth considering, between these tales. Are they just individual items on a chain, or could they form segments of a larger semantic structure?

Heracles & Hydra: Louvre

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ovid as reading teacher

Ovid is not just a great teller of myths, he's also a fine reader of them. To read them as he read them is to be introduced to the classical sensibility of a Roman under Augustus. He is not just presenting an anthology of myth, he's sharing his understanding of them.

A few things Ovid has taught me about reading:

1. No reference is too small, too slight, to ignore. I learned this by blithely ignoring allusions only to later realize how they served as cues, pointers. For example, here's the doors of the Palace of the Sun -- a Helios-eye-view of the world. In some ways they're like the shield of Achilles:
. . . the twin doors radiated light from polished silver. The work of art was finer than the material: on the doors Mulciber had engraved the waters that surround the earth’s centre, the earthly globe, and the overarching sky. The dark blue sea contains the gods, melodious Triton, shifting Proteus, Aegaeon crushing two huge whales together, his arms across their backs, and Doris with her daughters, some seen swimming, some sitting on rocks drying their sea-green hair, some riding the backs of fish. They are neither all alike, nor all different, just as sisters should be. The land shows men and towns, woods and creatures, rivers and nymphs and other rural gods. Above them was an image of the glowing sky, with six signs of the zodiac on the right hand door and the same number on the left. (Kline trans.)
 Most of the figures are familiar, but I hadn't bothered to look up Aegaeon the whale crusher (a curious detail that might catch the eye). It turns out this fellow is either Briareos, or the father of Briareos. We're brought back to the text of the Theogony, where this 100-armed, 50-headed son of Uranus was a key helper in Zeus's overthrow of Cronos. He also appears in Homer:
"The creature of the hundred hands to tall Olympos, that creature the gods name Briareos, but all men Aigaios' (Aegaeus') son, but he is far greater in strength than his father." Iliad 1. 397 ff (trans. Lattimore).
The text offers the name among others as a mere detail of the giant door. We can choose to treat it as a bit of local color, or decoration, or we can ponder how apt that this figure, titanic in every way, is singled out at the moment we are to cross a threshold to view another of the Titans, a father viewed from the perspective of his son. Phaethon is about to challenge his dad and himself -- to see if he's up to snuff as the (alleged) offspring of Helios.

Behind the surface of the scene is a series of subtexts dealing with fathers and sons, the contention and defining power of the relationship, the questions and ambiguities of paternity, authority, origin, filiation. The theme is important, and returns over and over in Metamorphoses. We're about the read the longest story of the poem. The enriching detail brings into view vast stories that have everything to do with this scene and with a key preoccupation of the poem: the nature of Greece as the putative father, author, and guiding light of Rome.

It's easy to point to many other examples of this attention to detail in Ovid -- it tells me he wanted us to repay his with our own careful attention.

To be continued . . . part 2