Metamorphoses

Influence

No work from classical antiquity, either Greek or Roman, has exerted such a continuing and decisive influence on European literature as Ovid's Metamorphoses. The emergence of French, English, and Italian national literatures in the late Middle Ages simply cannot be fully understood without taking into account the effect of this extraordinary poem. ... The only rival we have in our tradition which we can find to match the pervasiveness of the literary influence of the Metamorphoses is perhaps (and I stress perhaps) the Old Testament and the works of Shakespeare.

—Ian Johnston[25]

The Metamorphoses has exerted a considerable influence on literature and the arts, particularly of the West; scholar A. D. Melville says that "It may be doubted whether any poem has had so great an influence on the literature and art of Western civilization as the Metamorphoses."[31] Although a majority of its stories do not originate with Ovid himself, but with such writers as Hesiod and Homer, for others the poem is their sole source.[25]

The influence of the poem on the works of Geoffrey Chaucer is extensive. In The Canterbury Tales, the story of Coronis and Phoebus Apollo (Book II 531–632) is adapted to form the basis for The Manciple's Tale.[32] The story of Midas (Book XI 174–193) is referred to and appears—though much altered—in The Wife of Bath's Tale.[33] The story of Ceyx and Alcyone (from Book IX) is adapted by Chaucer in his poem The Book of the Duchess, written to commemorate the death of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster and wife of John of Gaunt.[34]

The Metamorphoses was a considerable influence on English playwright William Shakespeare.[35] His Romeo and Juliet is influenced by the story of Pyramus and Thisbe (Metamorphoses Book IV);[36] and, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a band of amateur actors performs a play about Pyramus and Thisbe.[37] Shakespeare's early erotic poem Venus and Adonis expands on the myth in Book X of the Metamorphoses.[38] In Titus Andronicus, the story of Lavinia's rape is drawn from Tereus' rape of Philomela, and the text of the Metamorphoses is used within the play to enable Titus to interpret his daughter's story.[39] Most of Prospero's renunciative speech in Act V of The Tempest is taken word-for-word from a speech by Medea in Book VII of the Metamorphoses.[40] Among other English writers for whom the Metamorphoses was an inspiration are John Milton—who made use of it in Paradise Lost, his magnum opus, and evidently knew it well[41][42]—and Edmund Spenser.[43] In Europe, the poem was an influence on Giovanni Boccaccio (the story of Pyramus and Thisbe appears in his poem L'Amorosa Fiammetta)[25] and Dante.[44][45]

During the Renaissance period, mythological subjects were frequently depicted in art. The Metamorphoses was the greatest source of these narratives, such that the term "Ovidian" in this context is synonymous for mythological, in spite of some frequently represented myths not being found in the work.[46][47] Many of the stories from the Metamorphoses have been the subject of paintings and sculptures, particularly during this period.[35][48] Some of the most well-known paintings by Titian depict scenes from the poem, including Diana and Callisto,[49] Diana and Actaeon,[50] and Death of Actaeon.[51] Other famous works inspired by it include Pieter Brueghel's painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus[52] and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's sculpture Apollo and Daphne.[35] The Metamorphoses also permeated the theory of art during the Renaissance and the Baroque style, with its idea of transformation and the relation of the myths of Pygmalion and Narcissus to the role of the artist.[53]

Popular for many centuries, interest in Ovid began to wane after the Renaissance, and his influence on the nineteenth century was minimal.[35] Towards the end of the twentieth century his work began to be appreciated once more. Ted Hughes collected together and retold twenty-four passages from the Metamorphoses in his Tales from Ovid, published in 1997.[54] In 1998, Mary Zimmerman's stage adaptation Metamorphoses premiered at the Lookingglass Theatre,[55] and the following year there was an adaptation of Tales from Ovid by the Royal Shakespeare Company.[56] In the early twenty-first century, the poem continues to inspire and be retold through books,[57] films,[58] and plays.[59]


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