The Metamorphoses of Ovid: A New Verse Translation

Allen Mandelbaum, Translator, Ovid, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P $40 (559p) ISBN 978-0-15-170529-0
Mandelbaum, whose translation of The Aeneid won the National Book Award, has rendered Ovid's compilation of classical myths into verse. And the poem is as flowing and metamorphic as the gods and heroes who fill its pages. For example, Book IV tells the story of Bacchus, who was spurned by the daughters of Minyus. They sit weaving and telling stories of the gods, the better to ignore a Bacchic orgy: ``Some sisters said such things could never be, / while others were convinced that anything / was in the power of true deities-- / but surely Bacchus was not one of these.'' When their incredible stories are done, they themselves metamorphose into bats. Mandelbaum's blank verse, which sometimes breaks into rhyme for emphasis or ironic effect as above, is stately without being either precious or dull. It recalls the wit of neoclassical English poetry, as when Envy looks upon the glory of Athens: ``it is hard for Envy not to weep, / since there is nothing there that calls for tears.'' Other passages show a romantic realism; borne off by Jove in the shape of a bull, Europa ``turns to glance / back at the shore, so distant now. Her robes / are fluttering--they swell in the sea breeze.'' The obsession with metamorphosis so evident in Ovid reflects the Greek cosmos, in which chaos and order forever struggle and ``discordant concord is the path life needs.'' (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1993
Release date: 11/01/1993
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 576 pages - 978-0-15-600126-7
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