How to Read Ovid (a Guide to Ovidian Style)

by Maggie S.

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Whether coming to the Metamorphoses for the first or thirtieth time, a reader will find in Ovid a style that is simultaneously consistent and entertainingly varying. Crucially, the Met. is a work unlike others in that it does not fit easily into a characteristic epic or elegiac genre. Acknowledging the long-running controversy regarding genre of the Met. cannot be ignored. As Kenney notes, one of Ovid’s greatest successes is the originality of the Met’s unprecedented blending of elegy and epic (57–58). Virgilian epic references are abundant throughout Ovid, but the central voice in the Met. is entirely Ovid’s own.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Ovid’s style, though characteristic in its own certain ways, is as nuanced as the ambiguous genre and widely varying subject matter upon which his work is established. The first striking stylistic marker is the use of transitions between passages in the Met., which can be examined closely with the additionally fundamental topic of narrating perspective. The way that the author chooses to relate the many stories told in the Metamorphoses is where the reader can perceive the choices Ovid made while crafting this work. The broad map of the tales follows a mortal chronology, beginning with genesis and ending with Caesar’s ascension, but the hearty middle section of books leaves more room for Ovid to play with his mythological characters. How Ovid lets one story tumble into the next, while sometimes working through a geographical pathway (Miller, 1921 466–467), often hinges on who is narrating. Some passages are complexly layered with multiple narrative perspectives and smaller digressions within those stories. Ovid’s own voice is never lost, however, and the voice of the author himself occasionally interjects during these complex passages, sometimes for excited, dramatic effect (Miller 1921, 425). Variance of narrator within smaller episodes makes for a consistently entertaining work that simultaneously keeps track of Ovid’s telling of the Met. as a whole (Kenney 60).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The Met. provides a playground for Ovid to showcase his most characteristic storytelling devices. There are long catalogues that inform the reader of essential canine and arboreal vocabulary. Other passages detail characters in miraculously grotesque detail, making for memorable images of personas and places that frame a story precisely how Ovid would like it to be framed (Miller 1916). The vocabulary itself is unique in the many hapax legomena that, while perhaps frustrating to a first-time reader, provide a good example of Ovid’s creativity and artistic vision manifested in the text itself. When taken as a whole, the last characteristic of Ovid that is most striking is the strange humor that somehow prevails through passages that portray grave abductions, murders, and sexual assaults. However, given the seriousness of these affronts, a modern reader might have an especially troubled time finding the humor in Ovid.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The varying subject matter and narrators within the wide scope of stories Ovid attempts to tell in the Met. are achieved through a complex narrative style of Ovid’s own. A first-time reader particularly might take a particularly strong liking or distaste towards the unique storytelling of Ovid, but it is important to keep an open mind through repeated readings, as Ovid’s multi-variable narrative framework lends itself to many diversely valid critiques. 


5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Anderson, William S. 1997. Ovid’s Metamorphoses Books 1–5. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Kenney, E.J. 2002. “Ovid’s Language and Style,” in Brill’s Companion to Ovid, ed. Barbara Weiden Boyd. Leiden: Brill, 27–89.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Miller, Frank J. 1916. “Some Features of Ovid’s Style: I. Personification of Abstractions.” The Classical Association of the Middle West and South 11.9: 516–534

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 — . 1920. “Some Features of Ovid’s Style: II. The Dramatic Element in the Metamorphoses.” The Classical Association of the Middle West and South 15.7: 417–435.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0  — . 1921. “Some Features of Ovid’s Style: III. Ovid’s Methods of Ordering and Transition in the Metamorphoses.” The Classical Association of the Middle West and South 16.8: 464–476.

Source: https://iris.haverford.edu/echo/how-to-read-ovid-a-guide-to-ovidian-style/