Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ovid and Art

Ovid is the one writer anyone interested in Western Art really ought to know, along with the Bible, of course. He is as great a storyteller as Homer, though in an advisedly less grand manner; he takes most of Greek and Roman mythology as his subject in The Metamorphoses. The relative amounts of pleasure we take from reading Ovid as opposed, say, to reading Virgil, must also account for the astonishing variety of artistic creations Ovid has let loose. Homer and Virgil and the rest of Greek and Roman mythology are responsible for some pretty fine illustrations, but nobody has Ovid beat. In my classes lately I have focused more on Homer, especially when I have not been able to use one of those wonderful Smart Rooms to teach with. Also, I had a bad time with Ovid in the classroom last time I brought him up.

To start, I recommend reading both the Phaethon and the Proserpina stories--finding different translations of the same story can be a useful exercise--and looking at artworks associated with the boy and the girl. Think about them as myths, as stories of a particular kind. Think about how they are similar and different, that is, compare and contrast them. See if you can find ways of describing them in terms of gendered growing-up narratives, as "what boys do" and "what girls do." Where does that get you?