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This review is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

METAMORPHOSED INTO ENGLISH Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by A.D. Melville (OUP) £19.50

I doubt if any Roman poet has had so great an influence on English literature as Ovid. Born of the usual wealthy landowning family, he was already safely launched upon a political career when he threw it in and turned to poetry. There was nothing new in this, Virgil at an earlier stage and in different circumstances had done the same. Tibullus to whose circle Ovid now gravitated had never perhaps even started. What was remarkable about Ovid was that he seems not to have made even the most perfunctory peace with the political establishment, and now directed the ambition he might have applied to politics to literature. This may not be apparent at first sight. Until he began the Metamorphoses he confined himself to elegiac verse, but he managed to write even this in such a way that comparisons with other writers became inevitable - not just in the field of Roman love poetry but other genres, too. In the Amores he took on his fellow elegists. In the Heroides, a series of love letters written in elegiac metre, a form he seems to have invented himself, he matched himself against predecessors in epic and tragedy, as well as earlier elegists. In the Art of Love he made intermittent fun of his two great predecessors in didactic, Lucretius and Virgil. In a society where all literature took place in an echo-chamber, it must have amused Ovid's readers to see him matching himself against such distinguished predecessors. And the ...


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