Sunday Salon: Books for the Summertime, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses in English Verse

The skies are still rich in hue, and the night air still sultry, so before summer passes away I want to read as many books as I can from my Summer Reading list. This month, I’ll be reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book and A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. All delicious books that I want to dig my teeth into. Sat down in the shade of the lime trees outside the library and peeked at a few pages of the Jansson and the Gruen; both are filled with lovely writing and lovely pictures. The Mayle is mine own, from my newest batch of Popular Penguins. Must stop buying those. Each one might only be $9.95, but all up – who knows how much they’ve cost me over the weeks? Anyhow, here’s the remainder of my reading list for February:

  • Metamorphoses, Ovid
  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  • Tender is the Night, F Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Waves, Virginia Woolf

Am having difficulty tracing recent and decent translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I don’t read Latin, so there’s no hope of reading the original text, even though the words do look vaguely familiar (gee, I wonder why):

In nova fert animus muatatas dicere formas
corpora; di, coeptis (nam vos mutastis et illas)
adspirate meis primaque ab origine mundi
ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen!

Then there’s Arthur Golding, who inspired Shakespeare.

Of shapes transformed to bodies strange, I
purpose to entreat,
Ye gods vouchsafe, for you are they that
wrought this wondrous feat
To further this mine enterprise, and from the
word begun,
Grant that my verse may to my time, his
course directly run

It is sort of tempting. Ezra Pound described it as “the most beautiful book in the English language.” But wait –

Pound was exaggerating. Golding’s Metamorphoses still makes for majestic reading, but those long lines and high tone take some of the fun out of it. Golding was a religious man and for him Ovid’s work was a series of morality tales.

And translation from 1567, regardless of how beautiful it is, is going to be a little painful – and, needless to say, archaic. While I thoroughly enjoyed Chapman’s rendition of Homer, I’d like to keep reading Elizabethan translations a once in a lifetime experience.

I suppose there’s always A D Melville’s 1986 translation.

Of bodies changed to other forms I tell;
You Gods, who have yourselves wrought every
change,
Inspire my enterprise and dead my lay
In one continuous song from nature’s first
Remote beginnings to our modern times.

The Melville has been described as accurate, well foot-noted and dull. This is the translation that Oxford classics publishes. If all else fails, I think Melville is a safe option. Safer than Slavitt, for sure. His Metamorphoses is “wild” and “translated freely”. There’s always the chance that his is more alike to Ovid than that of Golding’s, but I’ve heard also that he likes to put his own spin on things, to say it euphemistically.

Two more: Charles Martin, and Allan Mendelbaum.

The Martin translation begins

My mind leads me to speak now of forms changed
into new bodies; O gods above, inspire
this undertaking (which you’ve changed as well)
and guide my poem in its epic sweep
from the world’s beginning to the present day.

And the Mendelbaum like this:

My soul would sing of metamorphoses,
But since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes: may
the song I sing be seamless as its way
weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.

So, which to read? Golding’s is archaic, Melville’s dull, Martin’s clear and straightforward, but I think I like Mendelbaum best. How beautiful are the opening lines? I only hope I’ll be able to find a copy. If not, I’ll be content with either Martin’s or Melville’s. And I suppose Goldings, if it gets to that.

Oh, and almost forgot to mention that I managed to finish Soul Mountain, very late last night. Still not completely sure how I feel about the book, but I’ll have my thoughts up soon – Tuesday, at the latest.

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21 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Books for the Summertime, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses in English Verse

  1. I, perhaps somewhat foolishly, picked up a copy of Soul Mountain when I was at the used bookstore this evening. It was only $2! How could I say no? (To be fair, lots of books are $2 at this used bookstore and I say no to plenty of them) Perhaps I should have waited until your review goes up, as I have no idea when I’m actually ever going to find the time to read it, but I am optimistic that some time will wind up being the right time.

    As for translations of Ovid, I really can’t offer up any personal experience to aid you. I did take three years of Latin, but that was many years ago, and even in my height of studying it, I doubt I ever would have been sufficiently proficient to tackle Ovid! I’d go with the Mendelbaum as well.

  2. Wow, Steph, $2 is such a great bargain! Soul Mountain is a great book, once you become accustomed to it; although with some books, I believe it’s necessary to make time instead of waiting for the right time to come. That’s me and Dickens. And more recently, me and Anna Karenina.

    I have a similar optimism to yours when purchasing books. In fact, I no longer even care whether or not I have time to read them, because I know I am “building a library” :)

  3. I envy you for being summer over there. I really have had enough of winter. The Summer Book is in my reading list in the summer (here) too. I agree, it sounds lovely (I read the first page).

    Ovid intimidates me although I have often thought of reading him. Will have to wait for your review and see..

    And also, I love your Sunday Salon posts. I’ve been thinking of joining.. maybe today.. hehe. I’ll see if I can come up with a reading summary for my week (or month) too.

    Btw, I’m glad you left the newspaper layout.. it didn’t seem to fit the beautiful images in your posts. :)

    1. claire – Sorry to say this, but I don’t envy you too much for having winter! I was never a cold-weather person. I mean, if we had snow it would be a different story, but Australian winters are just drab and dreary, with not much to see.

      As for Ovid, I’m not sure I know enough about his work to be intimidated; I’m just blindly plunging in. But from what I’ve heard about Metamorphoses, it sounds wonderful. Beautiful characters, and beautiful stories, in beautiful verse. What’s there to be worried about?

      Ugh, layouts. See, here’s what I want: something minimal and white and pretty, with a tidy font/line-spacing and crisp, professional presentation. So. Hard. To. Find. On WordPress. I’m thinking of moving to Blogger, but is it possible to transfer all my WordPress files onto Blogger, or would I have to start my blog from scratch? Also, I’ve heard that Blogger doesn’t have pages, which would be a real disadvantage, b/c I’m really dependent on those.

  4. Oh summertime – how I miss you so! :( Seattle is currently at a frigid 40 degrees F.

    I think it’s great that you care about which translation you read. Few of the devoted readers I’m acquainted with think it makes a difference whom it is that translated the piece.

    Learning Latin wasn’t so bad by the way! I spent two full years studying the language with a professor and it was the best class I’ve ever taken. Latin is useful for everything.

    1. lena – the real reason why I care so much about translations is because I don’t want to struggle through the books I’m reading! Latin does sound interesting, but even if I had learnt it, I think I would still prefer to read Ovid in English! Thanks for dropping by :)

    1. gautami – thanks! Looks like you had a great month in reading. January was pretty productive for me too, even though I didn’t manage to complete Anna Karenina

  5. Yes, I too have to make time for Dickens. I’ve never read any of him, and have built up a bit of a mental resistance to him. But I have Great Expectations in my pile, and I’ve vowed that 2009 will be the year I conquer it!

    1. Steph – I would like to advise you to stay away, but by the majority of the world he is considered a master, so I’ll leave you to it! To be honest, I haven’t read all that much of him either so I’m not sure I can say I hate him (his style does seem to vary from novel to novel). Let’s see, read A Christmas Carol and loved it b/c of the Quentin Blake illustrations. LOVED OLIVER TWIST. Tried Great Expectations; gave up halfway (that was when I was about 10, but I never picked it up again). Recently attempted Little Dorrit, but put it down after about 400 pages. But I’ll be trying him again for sure. Maybe Bleak House, or David Copperfield. And I’ll definitely be re-reading Great Expectations this year, so hurrah. Good luck to us.

  6. Thanks for the translation rundown for Ovid. Another book for my “some day” pile!

    I still am planning on reading Odyssey soon, although it will probably be Fagles. I just liked Fagles’ Iliad, so I think I’ll stick with it.

    Oh please don’t go to blogger, I can’t imagine their templates are better! I dislike the blogger interface format.

    Using WordPress.com, can you tweak templates? If so, you can upload/rewrite them any way you want. I can’t picture what you describe. It seems you keep changing it to something just like you described….

    I self-host using wordpress, so I’m not sure how it compares.

    1. No, you can’t tweak them, and that’s the worst bit! You have to pay to edit the CSS, and I suppose I could do that, but if I’m only going to tweak little things here and there, I’m not going to pay money to do that. I think on Blogger you can upload your own templates and fully edit the HTML etc.. But I really hate their Dashboard. Maybe I should just get my own domain and be in supreme control of everything?!

      ps. we don’t have school cafetarias in Australia, but yes, it was something like that. My year 5 teacher handed out a list of books we should read over the summer, and they were all by Dickens, and other dead Victorian men :)

  7. I agree with Rebecca.. DON’T move to Blogger! Stay where you are! If I had started with WordPress I wouldn’t have minded the inflexibility of the templates. As such, when I tried to import my posts from Blogger to WordPress, everything became compressed, without the blank lines in between paragraphs, and if I wanted to fix them I had to either type everything all over again or put a period on every blank line and color them white, just to make them appear like blank lines. It was soo tedious that I gave up after trying to fix about 5 posts and decided to stay with Blogger because of that.

    WordPress does look a lot better than Blogger most time for the reason that, as you can’t tweak your CSS, everyone has professional-lookig templates.

    With Blogger, as you can see, everyone just goes crazy with their designs ha ha. Although this is an advantage, being able to totally control your CSS, if you have good design taste (which you do). One other thing I like about Blogger is the amount of images you can upload is way bigger than the space given in WordPress.

    Anyway, I suggest you stick to WordPress. I’m still thinking of moving except like I told you before, I’m a little (okay, a lot) obsessed with fonts and it makes me crazy that I can’t choose my font in WordPress. Also, when I find the font I like, it turns out that the layout doesn’t have a header where you can put an image in he he.

    Anyway, just to let you know.. my favourite layouts in WordPress are: Treba, Sapphire and Journalist 1.3 (although only Sapphire has an option for a header image). Tarski also is okay. And, this layout that you have right now is also nice. Was this the layout you had before new year? I remember loving that..

    1. claire – I’m not sure which one I had before; I change templates so often these days.
      Ooh, Sapphire’s pretty nice, except that the background is a bit dark for my liking. I really, really have this thing for white templates, which is why I liked Journalist and Tarski for a while.
      I think what I dislike most about Blogger is the Dashboard. It’s a bit clunky and hard to navigate, unlike WordPress’ gorgeous new one. That, and the fact that I can’t leave comments sometimes – like, on other peoples’ Blogspot blogs? Maybe this has something to do with the fact that my PC uses XP, but my laptop has Vista. I have no idea.
      Conclusively, I think I will stay with WordPress. Purely b/c I can’t be bothered to start from scratch, and I don’t like the hassle of HTML editing anyway.

  8. Before Tony & I switched to our own hosting, we totally used the template you’re using now (Cutline) and liked it a good deal. Note that if you do swap to hosting your own site (but continue to “power it” through WordPress) a whole new world of templates make themselves available to you. The primary reason we made the swap to self-hosting is so that we could make our site far more customizable… as much as I liked Cutline, I was frustrated by my lack of ability to add any “reading” widgets (like the “Currently Reading” widget I have on our page now), and also how after a while all wordpress blogs start to look the same. I think Cutline is a really slick layout though – visually appealing, but not cluttered. I like it best of all the different looks you’ve been trying out here of late (though I have made my own personal bias known! ;) ).

    As for Dickens, I vaguely recall reading Oliver Twist when I was perhaps 11 or 12, but don’t remember much about the experience, to be honest. I have always held it against Dickens that his writing screams “I am paid by the word”, but I’m going to try to get over it and read “Great Expectations” now that I’m all grown up (or something). Then if I hate it I can say with conviction that I don’t like Dickens and move on with my life! ;)

    1. Steph – yes! That has also frustrated me in the past – the fact that the Goodreads widget is available to everyone except poor wordpress.com users. Right now, I think I’ll stick with it though. I’m afraid I don’t have the money to self host right now.
      Interesting. I’ve never thought of it as screaming “I am paid by the word” but that’s certainly a valid explanation for why his sentences are so long and proud and superfluous and garbled.

  9. Oh Steph.. I hope you don’t hate Dickens! I noticed a lot of the people who don’t like him had read Great Expectations when they were very young. I read Great Expectations in my late 20s and I really loved it, mostly because I was expecting to hate it.. lol.

    1. claire – that’s definitely me, but I’m willing to give it another chance. I’m hoping I’ll like Great Expectations, but I don’t think that means I’ll start liking Dickens!

    1. You’re very random sometimes! I once read a collection of short stories by Faulkner, but I have not read any of his novels. To be honest, he’s not really a writer I’m interested in, despite the Nobel prize and all.

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