Ovid Metamorphoses Essay Topic

The final will ask you to write on two of the following:

1. The Metamorphoses teems with speakers and poets, craftspeople and inventors. To what extent do these internal artists, and the reactions of characters to these makers, influence how we understand—or how Ovid might intend us to understand—the Metamorphoses.

2. Describe the genre of the Metamorphoses. Your discussion should situate the poem within the constellation of Roman literary genres (or at least more than one) and may include discussion of Ovid’s narrative and rhetorical strategies, as well as the structure of the work.

3. Until its concluding books, the world of Ovidian myth seems impossibly remote from contemporary Rome. Yet most of Ovid’s other works are quintessentially Roman poems, either in setting or their self-conscious separation from the city and its urban culture. Do the final books of the Metamorphoses represent a nostos, a return to Rome for a reader set adrift in Greek myth? Or are Roman concerns present throughout the work?

4. Describe the role of landscape and space in the Metamorphoses. You may wish to consider some or all of the following: Why does Ovid begin (end nearly conclude) with a detailed cosmogony? What are the typical—and atypical—settings for Ovidian myth? Is landscape merely a stage on which Ovidian myth takes place or can it function as a narrative agent in its own right?

5. Ovid is on trial. In the spring of 2015, students at Columbia University penned an opinion essay that questioned whether the Metamorphoses should continue to have a place in the university’s required Core. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, they wrote:

“is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background” (Johnson, Kai et al. “Our Identities Matter in Core Classrooms”, Columbia Spectator,4/30/2105).

Defend the reading of the Metamorphoses by undergraduate students. An effective essay will aim to convince readers skeptical of Ovid’s durable value. Note this need not be a defense of Ovid but a defense of the value of reading his work.

Book I
1. Book I of the Metamorphoses presents numerous similarities to the Judeo-Christian traditions of the Creation and the early history of mankind. What are some of them?

2. There are many contrasts between the Greek traditions and the Judeo-Christian traditions. What are some of them? Specifically, comment on the different conceptions of divinity. What are some of the characteristics of Graeco-Roman gods which set them apart from the Judeo-Christian conception of God?

Book II
1. In several of the tales of seduction and/or rape by a god, the victim gets blamed, called ugly names, and punished or at least abandoned. Comment on this attitude of “blaming the victim” in the light of attitudes toward rape victims today.

2. Which of the myths in this book may be used to illustrate: a) nature myths; b) moral instruction; c) politico-religious history?

Book III
1. Juno’s hatred and jealousy of Europa and Semele eventually extended to all of their relatives and even the whole community of Thebes. How do you feel about this concept of collective guilt or “guilt by association?” Are there examples of this concept still alive today?

2. Serpents are mentioned several times in this Book. Give examples of the many roles they play in the lives of the characters. Compare them with modern attitudes toward serpents.

Book IV
1. In each book, Ovid introduced us to more and more of Jove’s far-flung offspring. If we accept Graves’ theory of the symbolic meaning of these “rapes” and the resulting offspring, how do these myths show the expansion of the patriarchal system with its primacy of the worship of the sun over the older matriarchal system and its moon-worship? Be specific by identifying some of the geographical designations found in the poem. (For example, Europa is taken by Jove from Sidon to Crete. Trace this on the map.)

2. This book, more than the previous ones, employs casual, colloquial speech. Give examples and discuss whether in your opinion they are appropriate to the speaker and situation or not, and why.

Book V
1. Comment on Perseus’ behavior during his wedding “festivities.” Granted that Phineus attacked him first, can you justify the savagery of his subsequent deeds? Note especially the fates of the innocent bystanders. Comment also on his behavior immediately following his victory.

2. The song of the woman who turned into a magpie gives an interesting twist to the characterization of the Olympian gods. Analyze the text by comparing each “portrait” to the orthodox image of each divinity. What does this section tell you about Ovid’s own belief in the Olympians?

Book VI
1. If you compare this book with the earliest ones, do you find an increasing complexity of characterization? Give examples.

2. This Book is...

(The entire section is 1203 words.)

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