Tales from Ovid: 24 Passages from the Metamorphoses


A powerful version of the Latin classic by England's late Poet Laureate, now in paperback.When it was published in 1997, Tales from Ovid was immediately recognized as a classic in its own right, as the best rering of Ovid in generations, and as a major book in Ted Hughes's oeuvre. The Metamorphoses of Ovid stands with the works of Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton as a classic of world poetry; Hughes translated twenty-four of its stories with great power and directness. The result is the liveliest ...

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A powerful version of the Latin classic by England's late Poet Laureate, now in paperback.When it was published in 1997, Tales from Ovid was immediately recognized as a classic in its own right, as the best rering of Ovid in generations, and as a major book in Ted Hughes's oeuvre. The Metamorphoses of Ovid stands with the works of Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton as a classic of world poetry; Hughes translated twenty-four of its stories with great power and directness. The result is the liveliest twentieth-century version of the classic, at once a delight for the Latinist and an appealing introduction to Ovid for the general reader.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brilliantly succeeds at bringing Ovid's passionate and disturbing stories to life."—James Shapiro, The New York Times Book Review

"One of the few unquestionable successes in the revolutionary vein Pound opened at the start of the century."—Donald Lyons, The Wall Street Journal

"Hughes is as broad as Ovid and as subtle, as violent and as erotic, as elegant and as folksy-and often all at the same time. It is simply a beautiful match."—Michael Hofmann, The Times (London)

The New Yorker
Ovid's Metamorphoses, says Madeleine Foray, "changes in the hands of each new translator and adapter." Her introduction to a new edition of Arthur Golding's 1567 English translation of the Metamorphoses shows how he Christianizes Ovid, transforming his temples into churches with spires. The translation was influential with Shakespeare and Spenser, but its bombastic style later fell out of fashion. One recent editor complains that Golding turned "the sophisticated Roman into a ruddy country gentleman with tremendous gusto and a gift for energetic doggerel."

A few years ago, the sensual savagery of Ted Hughes's Tales from Ovid won wide acclaim. Meanwhile, novels like David Malouf's An Imaginary Life and Jane Alison's The Love Artist have built their narratives on what little we know of Ovid's actual biography. In Malouf's book, Ovid finds and civilizes a feral child, in a clever reversal of the people-to-animal transformations of the Metamorphoses. Most recently, Mary Zimmerman's award-winning play Metamorphoses presents the work as a parable about the healing power of love.

By contrast, Alessandro Boffa's comic novel, You're An Animal, Viskovitz!, sees metamorphosis as a cosmic bad joke; the hero is figured as a different animal in each chapter. During his time as a snail, he acts out an undignified parody of the Narcissus myth; Viskovitz is attracted by his own reflection in water, but the consummation makes for one of the oddest sex scenes of recent years: "I felt the warm pressure of the rhinophor slipping under my shell, and a strong agitation froze the center of my being."(Leo Carey)

Library Journal
Hughes, the renowned author of innumerable works of poetry, prose, and children's literature and currently the poet laureate of England, offers a lively, readable, rendering of 24 tales from Ovid's Metamorphosis. The translations are unrhymed poems in their own right, but this collection is most welcome for making the most popular book of the classical eraa veritable source-book for writers during the Middle Ages, not to mention Chaucer and Shakespeareso pleasantly accessible to the general reader. A fine addition to all libraries; highly recommended.Thomas F. Merrill, Univ. of Delaware, Newark
James Shapiro
This book brilliantly succeeds at bringing Ovid's passionate and disturbing stories to life.
The New York Times Book Review, 1997
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374525873
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 344,924
  • Product dimensions: 5.45 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ted Hughes was Poet Laureate of England and the author of many books of poetry. His works include Phedre, Birthday Letters, and Oresteia of Aeschylus, among others. He died in 1998.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Tales From Ovid by Ted Hughes. Copyright © 1999 by Ted Hughes. To be published in March, 1999 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creation; Four Ages;

Lycaon; Flood

Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed

Into different bodies.

I summon the supernatural beings

Who first contrived

The transmogrifications

In the stuff of life.

You did it for your own amusement.

Descend again, be pleased to reanimate

This revival of those marvels.

Reveal, now, exactly

How they were performed

From the beginning

Up to this moment.

Before sea or land, before even sky

Which contains all,

Nature wore only one mask—

Since called Chaos.

A huge agglomeration of upset.

A bolus of everything—but

As if aborted.

And the total arsenal of entropy

Already at war within it.

No sun showed one thing to another,

No moon

Played her phases in heaven,

No earth

Spun in empty air on her own magnet,

No ocean

Basked or roamed on the long beaches.

Land, sea, air, were all there

But not to be trodden, or swum in.

Air was simply darkness.

Everything fluid or vapour, form formless.

Each thing hostile

To every other thing: at every point

Hot fought cold, moist dry, soft hard, and the weightless

Resisted weight.

God, or some such artist as resourceful,

Began to sort it out.

Land here, sky there,

And sea there.

Up there, the heavenly stratosphere.

Down here, the cloudy, the windy.

He gave to each its place,

Independent, gazing about freshly.

Also resonating—

Each one a harmonic of the others,

Just like the strings

That would resound, one day, in the dome of the tortoise.

The fiery aspiration that makes heaven

Took it to the top.

The air, happy to be idle,

Lay between that and the earth

Which rested at the bottom

Engorged with heavy metals,

Embraced by delicate waters.

When the ingenious one

Had gained control of the mass

And decided the cosmic divisions

He rolled earth into a ball.

Then he commanded the water to spread out flat,

To lift itself into waves

According to the whim of the wind,

And to hurl itself at the land's edges.

He conjured springs to rise and be manifest,

Deep and gloomy ponds,

Flashing delicious lakes.

He educated

Headstrong electrifying rivers

To observe their banks—and to pour

Part of their delight into earth's dark

And to donate the remainder to ocean

Swelling the uproar on shores.

Then he instructed the plains

How to roll sweetly to the horizon.

He directed the valleys

To go deep.

And the mountains to rear up

Humping their backs.

Everywhere he taught

The tree its leaf.

Having made a pattern in heaven—

Two zones to the left, two to the right

And a fifth zone, fierier, between—

lSo did the Wisdom

Divide the earth's orb with the same:

A middle zone uninhabitable

Under the fire,

The outermost two zones beneath deep snow,

And between them, two temperate zones

Alternating cold and heat.

Air hung over the earth

By just so much heavier than fire

As water is lighter than earth.

There the Creator deployed cloud,

Thunder to awe the hearts of men,

And winds

To polish the bolt and the lightning.

Yet he forbade the winds

To use the air as they pleased.

Even now, as they are, within their wards,

These madhouse brothers, fighting each other,

All but shake the globe to pieces.

The East is given to Eurus—

Arabia, Persia, all that the morning star

Sees from the Himalayas.

Zephyr lives in the sunset.

Far to the North, beyond Scythia,

Beneath the Great Bear, Boreas

Bristles and turns.

Opposite, in the South,

Auster's home

Is hidden in dripping fog.

Over them all

Weightless, liquid, ether floats, pure,

Purged of every earthly taint.

Hardly had he, the wise one, ordered all this

Than the stars

Clogged before in the dark huddle of Chaos

Alit glittering in their positions.

And now to bring quick life

Into every corner

He gave the bright ground of heaven

To the gods, the stars and the planets.

To the fish he gave the waters.

To beasts the earth, to birds the air.

Nothing was any closer to the gods

Than these humble beings,

None with ampler mind,

None with a will masterful and able

To rule all the others.r

Till man came.

Either the Maker

Conceiving a holier revision

Of what he had already created

Sculpted man from his own ectoplasm,

Or earth

Being such a new precipitate

Of the etheric heaven

Cradled in its dust unearthly crystals.

Then Prometheus

Gathered that fiery dust and slaked it

With the pure spring water,

And rolled it under his hands,

Pounded it, thumbed it, moulded it

Into a body shaped like that of a god.

Though all the beasts

Hang their heads from horizontal backbones

And study the earth

Beneath their feet, Prometheus

Upended man into the vertical—

So to comprehend balance.

Then tipped up his chin

So to widen his outlook on heaven.

In this way the heap of all disorder


Was altered.

It was adorned with the godlike novelty

Of man.

And the first age was Gold.

Without laws, without law's enforcers,

This age understood and obeyed

What had created it.

Listening deeply, man kept faith with the source.

None dreaded judgement.

For no table of crimes measured out

The degrees of torture allotted

Between dismissal and death.

No plaintiff

Prayed in panic to the tyrant's puppet.

Undefended all felt safe and were happy.

Then the great conifers

Ruffled at home on the high hills.

They had no premonition of the axe

Hurtling towards them on its parabola.

Or of the shipyards. Or of what other lands

They would glimpse from the lift of the ocean swell.

No man had crossed salt water.

Cities had not dug themselves in

Behind deep moats, guarded by towers.

No sword had bitten its own

Reflection in the shield. No trumpets

Magnified the battle-cries

Of lions and bulls

Out through the mouth-holes in helmets.

Men needed no weapons.

Nations loved one another.

And the earth, unbroken by plough or by hoe,

Piled the table high. Mankind

Was content to gather the abundance

Of whatever ripened.

Blackberry or strawberry, mushroom or truffle,

Every kind of nut, figs, apples, cherries,

Apricots and pears, and, ankle deep,

Acorns under the tree of the Thunderer.

Spring weather, the airs of spring,

All year long brought blossom.

The unworked earth

Whitened beneath the bowed wealth of the corn.

Rivers of milk mingled with rivers of nectar.

And out of the black oak oozed amber honey.

After Jove had castrated Saturn,

Under the new reign the Age of Silver—

(Lower than the Gold, but better

Than the coming Age of Brass)—

Fell into four seasons.

Now, as never before,

All colour burnt out of it, the air

Wavered into flame. Or icicles

Strummed in the wind that made them.

Not in a cave, not in a half-snug thicket,

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Table of Contents

Creation; Four Ages; Lycaon; Flood 3
Phaethon 22
Callisto and Arcas 42
The Rape of Proserpina 49
Arethusa 63
Tiresias 67
Echo and Narcissus 69
Erysichthon 79
Semele 88
Peleus and Thetis 93
Actaeon 97
Myrrha 104
Venus and Adonis (and Atalanta) 118
Pygmalion 133
Hercules and Deianira 140
The Birth of Hercules 152
The Death of Cygnus 156
Arachne 162
Bacchus and Pentheus 171
Midas 188
Niobe 198
Salmacis and Hermaphroditus 209
Tereus 214
Pyramus and Thisbe 230
Glossary of Names and Places 241
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