On poets and priests:

“The priest is rarely seen and is never of importance. In the Odyssey when a priest and a poet fall on their knees before Odysseus, praying him to spare their lives, the hero kills the priest without a thought, but saves the poet. Homer says that he felt awe to slay a man who had been taught his divine art by the gods. Not the priest, but the poet, had influence with heaven — and no one was ever afraid of a poet.”

-Edith Hamilton, Mythology. 

EPICS

epicpoetry1

No narcissism here. Nope.

Richard Kearney on Catharsis, Hauntings, Trauma:

“Writing can only work through traumas as traces revisited as hauntings. They can never fully retrieve experiences or tell the full story — fill in all the gaps….There is something always lost in translation…It was because it was too much that trauma repeats itself as lack.”

Latin Literature as Meta Literature:

“Latin literature was already self-conscious when Ennius described Homer appearing to him in a dream and declaring that his soul was now in Ennius’ body… And indeed Latin authors produced from their self-awareness some of their most fascinating effects. There is a charm in the sense of belatedness,  the interplay of tradition and the original talent, an author’s exploration of his relationship with the literature of the past. But this laid trap into which some Roman writers, and rather more modern scholars, were to fall: there was a risk of literature becoming more about literature than about life, and even of being pleased when that occurred. We should perhaps be surprised that so many Latin writers succeed in overcoming that danger. ”  – Classical Literature, Richard Jenkyns, 2016.

On Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

“It is hard to be sure how much Ovid is in control of his own effects. Is it that he cannot resist a clever turn of phrase, as some readers already thought in antiquity? Or is it the ethos of the poem that cheerfulness should keep breaking in? But perhaps this uncertainty is part of the tease.

The Metamorphoses was very widely read in the Middle Ages and after, and it thus became for many centuries Europe’s chief source for classical mythology: Ovid’s, essentially, are the gods who crowd those Renaissance canvases and sprawl across those Baroque ceilings. It is easy, therefore, to get the impression that classical mythology was normally like this, but it was no. Ovid’s way of handling the gods was new. We have seen Aristophanes making fun of them, but still with the sense that at the back of it all that they are real and powerful beings. Ovid turns them into counters in a game’ he invites the reader, as a sophisticate like himself, to look down upon them, a little as Theocritus invited his friend to look down on Polyphemus, but with less human sympathy. The game is to suck all the numen out of them. An Olympian god is turned into an awkwardly boastful swain, a goddess into a naive ingenue.

Some of the humour is cheerfully broad. When Daphne is fleeing from Apollo, he suggests to her that if she runs more slowly he will pursue more slowly too; it is as though the pursuit were a game played for the reader’s amusement. (Ovid also notices that she looks even prettier in flight.) Apollo also boasts of the important places where is is worshiped and points out that Jupiter is his father. Jupiter himself, courting the maiden Io, observes that he is not one of your plebeian gods but the one who holds the sceptre and launches the thunderbolts. Sometimes the humour is slyer: when one of the nymphs, ravished by a god, becomes pregnant, the virgin goddess Diana is too innocent to realize what has happened. Ovid adds wryly, ‘The nymphs are said to have noticed.’

His account of Daedalus and Icarus shows his narrative at its most engaging. The tale of the youth who flew too high, so that the wax of his wings melted and he fell to his death, lends itself to either of two morals: on disobedience (his father, Daedalus, had told him not to), or on pride (flying too high). For a moment it seems that Ovid will take the moral path: Daedalus tells his son to take the middle course, for whereas the sun is a danger if he goes too high, if he goes too low over the sea the spray will weigh the wings down. This sounds like a metaphor for the idea of virtue as the mean between two opposite virtues. But Ovid gestures at this possibility only to toss it aside. He makes Icarus a child, an innocent: the picture of him getting in his inventor father’s way as he works on the wings in charmingly done. And Icarus flies high because he is ‘touched with desire for heaven’; that is sheer glorious aspiration, and we can hardly resist it. But as we are preparing to shed a tear Ovid suddenly turns the tale into a just so story (why the partridge flies low to the ground), and Daedalus turns from sympathetic victim into a past murderer. There was a partridge in a bush by the place where he was burying his son; and by strange coincidence it had previously been his nephew, Partridge, whom he had killed from jealousy by throwing him from the Acropolis in Athens, which is why the bird avoids heights. The switch from heroic myth to animal fable, from sentiment to quaintness, is deliberately incongruous. It is easy to think of a smoother way of moving from Icarus to Partridge, but Ovid prefers the comic deflation.” – Classical Literature, Richard Jenkyns, 2016.