Beginnings and Endings in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

“Vivam!” “I will live.” The final word of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, proclaiming the poet’s hope that he will continue to be known through his great work. It’s a prediction that of course turns out to be true, as we’re still reading and influenced by the Metamorphoses 2000 years after it was written. In this podcast, Simona Martorana helps us to appreciate why the cast of mythical characters that inhabit the Metamorphoses still survive in our imagination and culture today.

“Ovid’s Metamorphoses was the book from which centuries of European culture drew their knowledge of Greek and Roman myth”, according to Fritz Graf. In fifteen books the Latin poet Ovid tells, indeed, a huge range of myths: some of them have affected the work of such authors as Chaucer or Shakespeare and have been readapted into modern works by British contemporary writers, as well as playwrights. These myths go from the origin of the cosmos to Ovid’s own contemporary historical context. In the very last part of the poem, however, Ovid makes also a reference to the future time, by stating that his work is bound to last forever.

In this talk, Simona Martorana focuses on this coexistence of beginnings and endings in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, explaining how they represent the architecture on which the continuity of the poetic discourse is grounded. She illustrates this with some selected passages of the poem, which show that Ovid was able to tell the story of humankind without interrupting his “continuous song”.

Such a process generates a sort of uninterrupted chain which gives unity and consistency to the sequence of small and scattered episodes of the poem. At the same time, this endless series makes the poem appear as though it continuously evolves in an everlasting process, such as Scheherazade’s tales in One Thousand and One Nights: the very last word of Metamorphoses is, in fact, vivam (“I will live”). This ending suggests that the metamorphic, ever-returning and ever-repeated process of the poem will, in fact, never end.

From snake women to Islamic mythology, the beginnings of sound film to the burning of Shakespeare’s globe, Late Summer Lectures in 2018 explored the theme of ‘Beginnings and Endings’ in literature.

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