cu sith mythology dogDetranslating Metamorphoses:
Telling Ted Hughes to Leave Well Enough Alone

Ted Hughes has entitled his translation of Ovid's Classic work Metamorphoses simply Tales from Ovid. Forgive me for being blunt, but isn't that a bit dull? We might as well rename The Oddysey something like Guys Killing Each Other in Asia Minor. Ovid's work has survived for 2,000 years. You'd think we could leave his title alone. I'm a bit suspicious of a translator who can't even get the title right.

Accessible Classic

Besides, I don't buy the idea that Metamorphoses really needs a new translation. Most people assume that "the classics" are difficult to read, but usually that's not the case. Metamorphoses is quite simply written, with some lyrical style, but not so much as to get in the way of the modern day reader.

Most of us read for substance anyway. To read for style alone is missing the point. The old translations of Metamorphoses suit me just fine, Mr. Hughes. To anyone who's interested in this work, I highly suggest buying a used copy of the Penguin edition - it'll easily cost half as much as the brand new translation.

Flood Myth Debunks the Creationists

I have a particular love of Metamorphoses because of the flood story that Ovid includes in the early pages. Creation Science fanatics like to go a bit coo-coo about insisting that the Bible tells the literal truth in stories such as the one about Noah and the flood. Well, right here in Metamorphoses is another version of the Noah story, a version from a different culture which is just as old as the Hebrew version that made it into the Bible. Guess what? Ovid writes the story differently, showing that the whole Flood legend is nothing more than just another myth transmitted from culture to culture, possibly reflecting an historical event but quite inaccurate in the details. I'm sure Ovid didn't mean to write Metamorphoses future forward as a jab at modern day fundamentalists, but boy does the shoe fit!

Changing Themes

A really good reason to keep the title Metamorphoses for this work is that metamorphosis is the theme of all the stories told in its pages. Metamorphoses is nothing but a collection of legends, all retold by Ovid in such a way that they involve the transformation of characters, settings, or the natural world.

Instead of dividing the stories from one another, Ovid makes sure that they blend into one another, in keeping with the theme of metamorphosis. The effect is reminiscent of Sheherezad's way of transforming the end of one story into the beginning of another in order to keep the attention of her demanding audience.

As much as transformation is the unifying theme of the book, there are some things that seem not to change enough. After a few pages, for example, I really had enough of the stories about maidens fleeing from sex-hungry gods who, in order to escape become transformed into something non-human.

Well, what are you gonna do? Like the stand-up comedians of today, Ovid knew a good schtick when he saw it, so who can blame him for using it over and over. All in all, Metamorphoses come out just great.

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