Metamorphoses | Ovid, translation by Charles Martin

Monumental Work, Good Translation

How does one review such a titanic work? Maybe by mirroring its structure and transitioning between topics with more or less elegance. Ovid mostly is successful in weaving elegant transitions between the stories he tells. The reader is pulled along and—were it not for the chapter headings that the translation adds—would sometimes even miss the point where one tale ends and another begins.

Similar to the segues the translation itself flows quite nicely. Written in blank verse (i.e. 10 syllables per verse, no rhymes) the rhythm can pull the reader along even through the occasional uninteresting tale. Because, as should be expected, not every little tale in this work can be as gripping as the best of them.

Which are “the best” then? Obviously it's going to depend on the reader and their tastes, but there are many famous tales, like those of Icarus or Hercules. There's some other ancient celebrities like Cerberus, Julius Caesar, Pythagoras, Achilles, Apollo and Orpheus. Some stories explain the creation of the world, cities, sunflowers, and more audacious origins.

These tales most always contain transformations of some kind (hence the name), but apart from that they touch on themes of love, identity, honour, shame, ambition, duty, and desire. These themes are so timeless that the modern reader will find a great deal of value and not much of an issue in relating to the action. The only issue one might encounter is with the amount of physical violence and rape, which these myths are infamous for.

Another hiccup might be this translation's very occasional strange choice of words. Only a couple of times was I startled by a word that seemed too modern or otherwise too out of place. I have not read other translations nor the original Latin to verify how true to the original text it is, but had to mention it here.

Let me close with answering this question: Should we still read Ovid today? The answer is simple: Yes! Beautiful and thought provoking in its form and content, this truly is a timeless classic. I would not advocate strongly for this translation in particular, but it's also not a wrong choice.

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