Metamorphoses by Ovid – Book Review

Title: Metamorphoses

Author: Ovid

Translator: David Raeburn

Genre/Themes: Classic Literature, Narrative Poem, Greek Mythology, Roman Mythology

Blurb from Penguin Classics

Ovid’s sensuous and witty poem, in an accessible translation by David Raeburn

In Metamorphoses, Ovid brings together a dazzling array of mythological tales, ingeniously linked by the idea of transformation, often as a result of love or lust, where men and women find themselves magically changed into new and sometimes extraordinary beings.

Beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the deification of Augustus, Ovid interweaves many of the best-known myths and legends of ancient Greece and Rome, including Daedalus and Icarus, Pyramus and Thisbe, Pygmalion, Perseus and Andromeda, and the fall of Troy.

Erudite but light-hearted, dramatic and yet playful, Metamorphoses has influenced writers and artists throughout the centuries from Shakespeare and Titian to Picasso and Ted Hughes.

My Review

I’d always wanted to read Ovid’s Metamorphoses for as long as I can remember but I was always held back by the enormity of the size of the book. The Penguin Classics edition I own clocks in at a rather daunting 700 odd pages.

But I somehow found myself taking part in a reading challenge organised by the book group I was a member of… even though I utterly despise the concept of reading challenges because I HATE the idea of being told what to read even if the reading prompt is vague at best. What can I say I’m a loud and proud mood reader! … but things happened and I was challenged to read all 700+ pages of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

And I am ever so glad that taking part in that challenge finally gave me the impetus to read Metamorphoses because I AM OBSESSED WITH IT!!!

Honestly, I breezed through this book as if it was half its length. Metamorphoses is an utterly accessible reading experience for which I heap humongous or bucketloads even of praise upon the translator David Raeburn.

His translation is flawless.

Metamorphoses is pacy, rhythmic, and also is filled with the most fantastically helpful reading notes which made it utterly engaging for this incredibly lay classicist reader!

And as for Ovid himself. The dude was born in 43BC, and he died circa AD17….

YET YOU WOULD HAVE NO CLUE THAT THIS IS SO OLD!!

Because Metamorphoses really doesn’t feel like an ancient piece of clunky and overly dense literature. Much to my surprise I found that instead this book, or more accurately described this narrative poem, is laden with incredible wit. I was so taken by Ovid’s droll style of crafting many of the stories. There was also an abundance of immense empathy; the depth of feeling and emotion from many of the stories was utterly affecting and perfectly poignant.

Metamorphoses is filled with stories that will both haunt and disturb in good ways and bad, and you could seriously argue that on occasion Ovid is quite the feminist with his depiction of some of the female characters. They aren’t just reduced to bit-piece parts à la Homer. Instead many of the female mythological characters feel more vital and intrinsically relevant to the storytelling. Sorry Homer buddy. I do love you but feminism often doesn’t feel as if it were one of your strong suits! You can read more about Homer and how his female characters are represented on the page by clicking here to check out my review of The Odyssey.

I think the stories that appeared about Medea might have been my favourites; I definitely enjoyed seeing her from Ovid’s angle as opposed to Euripides’ interpretation.

The Rape of Philomela was hugely stomach churning but wow! I was shaken to my core.

Then there was getting to read about my girl Circe. Ovid’s take on this much maligned female character from Greek mythology was incredibly interesting especially after recently reading Madeline Miller’s spin on her life. (For my review of Madeline Miller’s Circe click here.)

Another high point was reading the story of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. Absolutely compelling on every level.

But perhaps, even despite all these wonderful highlights I’ve mentioned, my favourite parts of the narrative featured my beloved Orpheus and Eurydice. Their story has quite simply ensnared my heart for eternity. I read about them first when I was 9 or 10 years old and oooof, all of the feels. Basically I just cry every single time I read their life stories. Their story was my entryway into Greek Mythology and for that reason Orpheus and Eurydice will always be special to me.

Absolutely all of the myths of ancient Greece and Rome are contained within Ovid’s Metamorphoses and each one is utterly fabulous! Every single second I spent reading it was compelling and utterly enjoyable. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Greek and Roman Mythology.

My Socials 

3 thoughts on “Metamorphoses by Ovid – Book Review

    1. I’ve read The Iliad also: I read the penguin classics translation and also the version available on Project Gutenberg. For the record I preferred how the Project Gutenberg translation was written.
      But to me, this particular Raeburn translation of Metamorphoses reads so much better than my experience with the Iliad. It doesn’t have that clunky prose that you frequently get with translations of the ancient classics and is just such an engrossing read because of that; another example being the Emily Wilson translation of The Odyssey that reads entirely differently than the popular Fagles’ translation as it doesn’t get bogged down in heavy language.
      Highly highly recommend the Raeburn Metamorphoses translation.

      Liked by 1 person

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