Saturday, September 22, 2018

Book #67 - Metamorphoses (Ovid)

Wow, it's been nine months since my last post.  It's been so long that I'm not even sure if people still blog anymore.  These kids today, with their Instagrams and Spotifys and Snapchats, do they even know what blogs are?  Or books?  Hell, I'm still reading books printed on paper!  Yes, paper...made from trees!!  Do they even make paper any more, or do they just release books as billions ofd electronic bits on Kindles and similar devices, shoveled through the tubes of the internet?  Fuck, everything is changing except that I'm still drinking gin.  Sweet, sweet reliable gin.  Mmmmm, in fact, I'm drinking an ice cold Gibson made with Sipsmith London Dry Gin.  The drink is ice cold, and smooth, and delicious, and well-deserved after a hard day at work.  Except that now I've reached the age where if I don't take an antacid before I drink a cocktail there will be big, big trouble...and even an antacid is no guarantee that gastro-esophageal horrors will not be visited on me.  Fuck, I'm so fucked, and things are only going to get worse.  I have to wear reading glasses to type this fucking blog now.  I never really thought about reading glasses until a few years back...they were always something old people wore for reasons I didn't ponder.  Then one evening I was in a dark restaurant and I was like "WTF, I can't read the goddamn menu...and I haven't even ordered a martini yet!"  Sigh...I have one foot in the grave and I'm getting deeper and things are only changing for the worse.

Which brings us to my latest read, Ovid's "Metamorphoses", which is pretty much all about change (hence the title).  Ovid was a Roman poet who was born in 43 BC, the year after Julius Caesar's death, and died sometime around 17 AD.  His epic poem, "Metamorphoses", differs from the other epic poem I read from this era, namely Virgil's "Aeneid", because it is not a single long story, but rather a set of about 250 stories, all taken from classical mythology.  In fact, the poem is pretty much an anthology of classical mythological tales, with every story having the theme of change.  People get changed into trees, deer, pigs, iPhones, you-name-it.  And of course the Gods are somehow involved in all of this.  It makes one realize how easier things are these days, with only one God.  Back in Ovid's day, the Gods seemed to play havoc with lots of people's lives, which really made things complicated!  Imagine the difficulty of trying to catch and Uber after you've been turned into a tree.  Yep, you didn't want to fuck with the Gods, or fuck the Gods, that's for sure.  OMG, and all the raping!  Jupiter raped Io, and Callisto, among many others, while Apollo tries to rape Daphne, etc. etc.  So much rape, and attempted rape, and sometimes even consensual sex!  The old Gods sure were horny, like a bunch of randy teenagers.

Ovid's poem goes through many, many famous classical myths, such as Jason and the Argonauts, Odysseus, Achilles, Icarus, Perseus, Aeneas, and such, and he also throws in some historical characters like Pythagoras and Julius Caesar.  Some of the stories in the poem I recognized, while many others I did not.  And some of them I would read and think "Wait a minute, even my rapidly aging and decaying brain remembers that this story was depicted in [insert name of classical work of art here].  For example, a few years back I visited Rom and saw this great sculpture in the Galleria Borghese (a fantastic museum if you ever get to Rome...highly recommended) by Bernini called "Apollo and Daphne".  The statue depicts the God Apollo chasing the nymph Daphne who is turning into a tree as Apollo catches her.  When I saw the statue I thought "That's cool, but there's gotta be a story behind this".  Well, Ovid tells that story.  It seems that Apollo was obsessed by Daphne and totally wanted her bad, whether she wanted him or not (she emphatically did not).  This was all due to Eros, who Apollo had insulted, so Eros took his revvenge by shooting Apollo with an arrow that made him fall in love with Daphne, while shooting Daphne with another arrow that would make her hate Apollo.  So Apollo chased her around like an animal in a frenzied heat, and as he coaught Daphne, she pleaded with her father, a river God, to help her.  So her father turns her into a laurel tree just as Apollo gats his arms around her and that's that.  I've never tried to make love to a tree, because it doesn't seem like it would be very erotic, and apparently Apollo felt the same way.  However, Apollo vows to love her forever, which is why the laurel tree's leaves are ever green.

This illustrates my main recommendation for reading this book: you will forever appreciate all the references to the mythological tales you'll read in this book, which permeate literate Western culture.  The Gods, the Trojan War, the founding of's all here.  This is the West's cultural heritage, and it's good to get a refresher course!  That's the upside.  The downside is that I found this book to be a bit of a slog.  I just couldn't get into it like I would a novel.  I'd read a few pages, then get distracted and put the book down.  In contrast I've also been currently reading a science fiction series called "The Expanse", which, although I wouldn't call it great literature, is fun and fast-paced and hard to put down, like cotton candy, while reading Ovid seems more like work.  Valuable work, to be sure, but work nonetheless.  Am I being lazy, or is that due to my ever-changing, ever-decaying brain?  Time will tell.