Ab origine mundi/ ad mea…tempora: Beginnings and Endings in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Alington House, 4 North Bailey



19th September 2018, 17:30 to 19:00,

The influences of Ovid's Metamorphoses can be found throughout later Western literature. This Late Summer Lecture, organised by the Department of English Studies, will take us back to the original poem, at the end of which Ovid remarkably suggests his work is bound to last forever. Free and open to the public.

“Ovid’s Metamorphoses was the book from which centuries of European culture drew their knowledge of Greek and Roman myth” [Graf 2002, 108]. In fifteen books the Latin poet Ovid tells, indeed, a huge range of myths: some of them have affected the work of such authors as Chaucer or Shakespeare and have been readapted into modern works by British contemporary writers (cf., e.g., Hughes 1997; Mitchell 2009), as well as playwrights (Zimmerman 2002). These myths go from the origin of the cosmos (ab origine mundi; Met. 1.3) to Ovid’s own contemporary historical context (ad mea ... tempora: “to the present time”; Met. 1.4). In the very last part of the poem, however, Ovid makes also a reference to the future time, by stating that his work is bound to last forever (15.878).

In this paper, I will focus on this coexistence of beginnings and endings in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, explaining how they represent the architecture on which the continuity of the poetic discourse is grounded. To do so, I will go through some selected passages of the poem, reading them in English translation: these passages show that Ovid was able to tell the story of humankind without interrupting his “continuous song” (perpetuum ... carmen; 1.4).

Such a process generates a sort of uninterrupted chain which gives unity and consistency to the sequence of small and scattered episodes of the poem. At the same time, this endless series makes the poem appear as though it continuously evolves in an everlasting process, such as Scheherazade’s tales in One Thousand and One Nights: the very last word of Metamorphoses is, in fact, vivam (“I will live”). This ending suggests that the metamorphic, ever-returning and everrepeated process of the poem will, in fact, never end.

Simona Martorana
Simona Martorana is a PhD Student (October 2017-) at Durham University’s Department of Classics & Ancient History. Her doctoral research, which is funded by the AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Studentship, focuses on Ovid’s Heroides.

She did both her BA (2011-2014) and MA (2014-2016) at the University of Trento (Italy); during her degrees, she also spent two semesters abroad, respectively in Germany (Freiburg i.B.) and in the US (Columbia University). Her research interests include Augustan poetry (Ovid), Senecan tragedy, Literary criticism and theories; Medieval Latin; Classical Reception.

On these topics, she has already published three articles, one book-review and three reports, and given many papers.

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