Sunday, January 15, 2017

TFBT: Random Notes on Metamorphesis, Chapters 12-13.

The Monthly Book Club at the Kosmos Society  is reading Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Chapters 12-13.  I haven’t read the book in years except when looking up references.   But I know enough of it that I’ve come  across confusing “errors” constantly.  My friend Helene suggests that Ovid follows different traditions that Homer.  Rather I see sloppy plagiarism and typos.

The Dark Green Snake
At Aulis the heart-broken Achaeans in route to Troy  were trapped by adverse winds.  In reading Ovid’s description of what happen next, it sounded a lot like Homer’s. 
First Ovid;  “The Greeks saw a dark-green snake sliding into a plane tree that stood near to where they had begun the sacrifice.   There was a nest with eight young birds in the crown of the tree, and these the serpent seized and swallowed in its eager jaws, together with the mother bird, who circled her doomed fledglings.   They looked at it wonderingly, but Calchas, the seer, son of Thestor, interpreted the truth, saying: ‘We will conquer, Greeks, rejoice! Troy will fall, though our efforts will be of long duration,’ and he divined nine years of war from the nine birds.  The snake, was turned to stone,  (Ovid Chapter 12)”
Now look at Homer; “Then we saw a sign; for Zeus sent a fearful serpent out of the ground, with blood-red stains upon its back, [310] and it darted from under the altar on to the plane-tree. Now there was a brood of young sparrows, quite small, upon the topmost bough, peeping out from under the leaves, eight in all, and their mother that hatched them made nine. The serpent ate the poor cheeping things, [315] while the old bird flew about lamenting her little ones; but the serpent threw his coils about her and caught her by the wing as she was screaming. Then, when he had eaten both the sparrow and her young, the god who had sent him made him become a sign; for the son of scheming Kronos turned him into stone,  we stood there wondering at that which had come to pass. Seeing, then, that such a fearful portent had broken in upon our hecatombs, Kalkhas right away declared to us the divine oracles. ‘Why, flowing-haired Achaeans,’ said he, ‘are you thus speechless? Zeus has sent us this sign, [325] long in coming, and long before it be fulfilled, though its fame [kleos] shall last forever. As the serpent ate the eight fledglings and the sparrow that hatched them, which makes nine, so shall we fight nine years at Troy, but in the tenth shall take the town” Iliad 1.135
Not exactly plagiarism; but the keys elements and where they appear in the tale makes me a little suspicious that Ovid didn’t have a copy of the Iliad in hand as he wrote his version

Next Ovid was bad mouthing the famously kind Nereus, which made me think he knew less  about Greek Mythology than I thought. “Nereus continued to be boisterous on the Aonian waters,”.  Ovid Book 12 Most mythologist over the millennia have followed Hesiod who says

  “Pontus,  the great sea, was father of truthful Nereus who tells no lies, eldest of his sons. They call him the Old Gentleman (Gerôn) because he is trustworthy, and gentle, and never forgetful of what is right, but the thoughts of his mind are mild and righteous.  Hesiod, Theogony 233 ff  

Plus let’s keep in mind that it is the winds that make the sea Boisterous not the sea-gods as mentioned by Virgil in the famous “Quo ego” scene at Aeneid 1:135

Achilles famous Pelion spears
Another error struck me with Ovid’s description of Achilles famous Pelion spears. “Achilles examined the spear to see if the iron point had not been dislodged.”  Shouldn’t that be bronze?

It’s Thebe with No “S”!
Then Achilles said,  “when I caused Tenedos and Thebes, the city of Eetion…"  Really?  Confounding King Eetion’s city of Thebe with “Thebes” is common but I expected better Ovid.   Eeetion is the King of Placian Thebe in Cilicia and father of Hector’s wife Andromache.  (Homer Iliad 6.396 & 417)

Finally, we read that Nestor is over two hundred years old.  Really? Nestor speaking “have lived for two centuries and now am living in my third.”  (Ovid, Meta. Chapter 12) Homer accurately, universally acknowledged and more logical is Homer’s statement. Two generations of men born and bred in sandy Pylos had passed away under his rule, and he was now reigning over the third (Iliad 1.250] This is clearly plagiarism of the worst sort, sloppy!
Nice lines
  • “Tell on, old man, eloquent wisdom of our age,.
  • “they drew out the night in talk, and valour was the theme of their conversation. Of battles was their talk, the “enemy's and their own, and 'twas joy to tell over and over again in turn the perils they had encountered and endured 





  1. I see that you are no fan of Ovid. (Poor Romans, nobody counts tham as poets or storytellers!)
    To defend him against the charges:
    1) We do not know how much you were allowed to copy from another poet's work into your own, while still considering it your own.
    2) There is an excuse for the sloppiness of his plagiarism: Ovid was forcibly separated from his books. He was exiled to just north of what is today Bulgaria, and in his time, as today, these places were considered "the edge of the civilised world".

    "Traditionally, it is argued that in the circumstances of being far from Rome, Ovid had no access to libraries and thus might have been forced to abandon his poem about the Roman calendar [i.e. the Fasti], of which only the first six books (January through June) exist. In addition both the Metamorphoses and Fasti seem to lack evidence of a final revision, as Ovid himself claims in the Tristia" (Wikipedia; it has a special article "Exile of Ovid" separate from that of Ovid).

    1. Maya,

      1) Excellent point. Plagarism was much more acceptable in previous ages. Guess, I can judge based on our standards
      2) Thanks for the explanation on his sloppiness. Are you attending the Book Club or Lenny's presentation on Friday?


    2. Most likely not, but... what time do they begin?

    3. Lenny's presentation starts at 11am EST (New York)

  2. I have just seen that plagiarism has already been a controversy in ancient Rome:

    1. Maya,

      "those uncultured and malignant fools" Not quite the start of a civil conversation!