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Comprising fifteen books and over two hundred and fifty myths, Ovid's Metamorphoses is one of the longest extant Latin poems from the ancient world and one of the most influential works in Western culture. It is an epic on desire and transgression that became a gateway to the entire world of pagan mythology and visual imagination. This, the first complete commentary in English, covers all aspects of the text – from textual interpretation to poetics, imagination, and ideology – and will be useful as a teaching aid and an orientation for those who are interested in the text and its reception. Historically, the poem's audience includes readers interested in opera and ballet, psychology and sexuality, myth and painting, feminism and posthumanism, vegetarianism and metempsychosis (to name just a few outside the area of Classical Studies).
If the adjective ‘Cyclic’ describes a kind of epic that aspires to be universal, all-inclusive, that is to say, based on an essentially anti-Homeric aesthetic, then it is difficult to imagine a more Cyclic oeuvre than Ovid's. Throughout his whole career, Ovid remained an ecumenical and inclusive writer. He is the only elegiac poet who refused to restrict himself to this single literary genre. Instead, he experimented with many others, even those that seem incompatible with elegiac sensibility, such as tragedy and epic, and he is nowhere more inclusive than in his major poem. The Metamorphoses is a decidedly comprehensive, omnivorous, non-selective, all-encompassing epic that accumulates, and does not exclude, anything that is narrabile. As the proem states, the narrative style of the poem is continuous (perpetuum, 1.4), that is to say: not Homeric, but Hesiodic, or, rather, Cyclic. After all, the notion of ‘continuity’ had long since been linked to the name of Hesiod, both because the genealogical Theogony was structured in this manner and because it was perceived as part of a Hesiodic Theogony–Catalogue–Erga sequence. In turn, scholars have often pointed out the evident influence of the Epic Cycle on the structural organization of the Trojan section of the Metamorphoses. More generally speaking, the idea of cyclicity is a necessary presupposition for the kind of ‘universal history’ that Ovid's poem presents. Its structure openly contradicts Aristotle's norm (Poet. chap. 23) that epic needs to be selective – like the Homeric and unlike the Cyclic model – and needs to make some a priori exclusions.3 Ovid in fact goes well beyond the scriptor Cyclicus who, as Horace deplores, gemino bellum Troianum orditur ab ovo (Ars 147: ‘begin[s] … the war of Troy from the twin eggs’): he begins much earlier, and ends much later, delineating the broadest narrative arc imaginable (prima … ab origine mundi ad mea … tempora ‘from nature's first remote beginning to our modern times’, Met. 1.3–4). In Ovidian as in Cyclic epic, there is no well-defined, circumscribed, ‘Homeric’ narrative arc, or any functional organization that assigns to the single narrative unit a role subordinate to the hierarchic structure that governs the larger story.
Of all the works attributed to Ovid but of disputed authenticity, the epistle of Sappho to Phaon is notoriously the one which has most perplexed scholars. Most philologists at the end of the 19th century asserted the Ovidian paternity of the epistle; but in recent years the discussion has flared up once again, especially following an important contribution, tending in the opposite direction, by R. J. Tarrant, and today, above all in Anglo-American studies, the pendulum seems to be swinging more in the direction of inauthenticity, according to the movement typical in debates of this kind. The present article obviously does not intend to discuss the whole question once again nor to reaffirm tout court the attribution to Ovid, but brings to the attention of scholars certain arguments which should not be neglected in the discussion (and which point in the direction of authenticity). I do not mean to underestimate the linguistic, stylistic, and metrical anomalies which scholars up to Tarrant and beyond have imputed to the epistula Sapphus, but rather to indicate some characteristics, above all of compositional technique, which have not been considered but which I think have a not insignificant weight in the debate on authenticity.
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