Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.07.33

Gianpiero Rosati (ed.), Ovidio: Metamorfosi. Volume iii, libri v-vi (traduzione di Gioachino Chiarini). Scrittori greci e latini.   Roma/Milano:  Fondazione Lorenzo Valla; Arnoldo Mondadori editore, 2009.  Pp. xxxvii, 359.  ISBN 9788804583486.  €30.00.  

Reviewed by Karen Sara Myers, University of Virginia (

It is a great pleasure to welcome the publication of a new volume (the third) of this highly praised series of Italian commentaries on Ovid’s Metamorphoses.1 Gianpiero Rosati is the editor of this latest volume on Metamorphoses books five and six, which fulfills the expectations generated by the excellent first two volumes by Barchiesi and Barchiesi and Rosati. Each of the eventual commentaries by the five individual authors assigned three books of the poem will no doubt have their own ‘flavor.’ Rosati’s rich commentary fully explicates and displays Ovid’s dense and complex intertextuality, amply documents Ovid’s use of multiple literary sources, and provides impressively extensive and wide-ranging bibliography. The commentary is distinguished throughout by his expert and sensitive readings. Rosati is especially finely attuned to Ovid’s narrative and thematic dynamics. A keen attention to the potential for etymological wordplay is also in evidence, along with detailed explanation of Ovid’s often recherché mythological references and names. New episodes are introduced by extensive discussion (main literary sources, themes, bibliography) and individual sections (often 2-6 lines) are singled out for comment (often with discussion of linguistic choices and parallels). The text follows Tarrant’s 2004 OCT with only a few alterations (collected in a “nota al testo” XLII), mainly restoring six lines suspected by Tarrant (6.282, 514, 532, 537-8, 674). Textual problems are discussed in detail where necessary (e.g. 5.181, 6.343 (where the attractive reading Melitensis (Verheykius)2 adds erudite mythological color), 482, 281-2, 582). The first three volumes of these commentaries serve largely as helpful and insightful interpretive and bibliographic guides to the Metamorphoses; grammatical and syntactical assistance for the reader of the Latin text is not supplied (there are stylistic observations). The lack of an index for these volumes is to be lamented. The audience assumed for these commentaries is perhaps unclear; the Italian translation provided (and not reviewed here) assumes a more general audience than will have access to the books in this country. Nevertheless, anyone interested in Ovid will benefit from this commentary and its wealth of observations and bibliography, and we can look forward to the English version (evidently in the works) for the benefit of our Italian-less undergraduates as well.

Many of the episodes in Metamorphoses 5-6 are among those from the poem most extensively treated in scholarship: the Contest of the Muses and Pierides, the Rape of Proserpina, the contest of Minerva and Arachne, and the gruesome tale of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela. Rosati exhibits complete mastery over the scholarly discussions and bibliography. He is an expert in the art of Ovid’s narrative techniques, especially his complex internal narratives, which are especially prominent in these two books.3 Rosati is also particularly adept at pointing out the many themes prominent in/central to the two books: artistic contests, the conflict between mortal and divine, the punishment of those who do not recognize or respect divinity, and sexual violence. Rosati stresses the important programmatic position of Metamorphoses 5, marking the end of the first pentad of the poem (cf. book 10 and the song of Orpheus) and signaling in book 6 (with the episode of Procne, Philomela, and Tereus) “l’ingresso in una nuova fase del poema, nel mondo post-divino” (243). He also points out that Sicily as the geographical location for book 5 signals the gradual progression in poem from Greece to Rome.

The spectacular episode of Perseus and Phineus’ battle at Perseus’ wedding opens Metamorphoses 5 (1-249). The episode, in which Perseus uses Medusa’s head to petrify his enemies, introduces a number of important themes to which Rosati draws attention, such as the tendency of metamorphosis and art to monumentalize the victory of divine power over mortal challenges. This nexus of art and power is central to the two books (and the poem as a whole). Detailed attention is paid to the many Vergilian features of Ovid’s language in the scene and Rosati further suggests that there may be “una lettura politica dell’episodio” (121) in Perseus’ role as avenger against enemies identified with the East (see 5.135, 211nn.). The following Contest between the Muses and Pierides (5.250-678) is one of the most narratologically complex and discussed episodes in the poem and is linked thematically with the artistic contests of Arachne and Minerva and Apollo and Marsyas in book 6. Rosati nicely connects the preceding episode of Pirenaeus’ attempted assault on the Muses (5.274-93) with the themes of Gigantomachy that follow in the songs of the Contest. In his extensive introduction to the Contest (pp. 173-8) Rosati draws attention to the importance of recognizing the power dynamics involved in the role of the Nymphs as judges, which shape the Muses’ song.4 He comments on the implications of the multiple internal narrators in the episode: “il potere che essa conferisce alle diverse voci in conflitto per affirmare una propria verità” (177). In his commentary on individual lines he interestingly stresses the rhetorical features of these narratives (5.333-4 nn.). Rosati points out the use of voyage imagery as a closural device at the end of book 5 (as in book 6).

The weaving contest between Minerva and Arachne, which opens Metamorphoses 6 , continues and complements the themes of art and power and the punishment for arrogant challenges to the divine (also prominent in the following tales of Niobe, the Lycian peasants, and Marsyas). Arachne’s tapestry depicting sexual violence prefigures Tereus’ brutality later in the book. Rosati is sensitive to the gender dynamics in a book dominated by female figures. He also comments on the possible political implications of Arachne’s bid for artistic autonomy (242) In his discussion of the two competing tapestries Rosati is good at drawing out the possible political, poetical, and theological implications. Interesting is his suggestion, based on the detection of echoes of Posidonius, that “Ovidio sia in qualche modo debitore per questo episodio al filosofo stoico” (6.23-4n., cf. 61 n.). The following episode of Niobe (6.146-312) constitutes ‘una spettacolare . . . dimostrazione di forza del potere divino (274), in which Ovid thematizes the troubling theological issue of the punishment of innocents. Rosati suggests that ‘in generale, il tema dell’aspirazione alla divinità da parte del sovrano, e degli incerti confini del suo potere, poteva sollecitare nel lettore qualche associazione con gli sviluppi del tardo principato augusteo” (275). His suggestion that Niobe’s fate may have recalled that of Sulla felix (275, cf. 6.177-8 n.) is perhaps less convincing. On the last extensive episode of Met. 6 “il mito piu truce e sanguinario del poema” (316), that of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela (6.401-674), Rosati does an excellent job making thematic connections with previous episodes (rape, mothers, children, lament) and those following (esp. Medea in book 7). He points out how Tereus is represented as a tyrant (modelled to some extent on the story of Tarquinius and Lucretia, perhaps following Accius’ earlier tragedy, p. 318). Also acknowledged is the way in which “l’escogitazione di Filomela, dunque, èanche una risposta delle donne al potere maschile che afferma i suoi diritti imponendo il silenzio” (321). This gendered perspective on power, speech, written language, and civilization has been widely explored in secondary literature on the episode (cited by Rosati). Rosati has, in short, done an excellent job in introducing the reader to the major interpretive issues involved in Metamorphoses 5 and 6.


1.   Alessandro Barchiesi (ed.), Ovidio: Metamorfosi, Volume I (Libri I-II). Traduzione di Ludovica Koch. Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla/Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2005. Pp. cxc, 310. ISBN 88-04-54481-3. €27.00."BMCR 2006.07.38." Alessandro Barchiesi, Gianpiero Rosati, Ovidio Metamorfosi. Volume II, Libri III-IV. Translation by Ludovica Koch. Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2007. Pp. 354. ISBN 978-88-04-56234-4. €27.00. “BMCR 2007.10.55.” (For those looking at the dustcovers, the attractive cover of the most recent volume addresses the gender imbalance of the two previous covers, both with nude women, by providing one with two nude males.)
2.   See F. Gaertner in Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 150, 2007, 93-5.
3.   Rosati “Narrative Techniques and narrative structures in his Metamorphoses in B. W. Boyd (ed.), Brill’s Companion to Ovid, 271-304. Leiden, 2002.
4.   Johnson, P., and M. Malamud, “Ovid’s Musomachia,” Pacific Coast Philology 23 (1988) 30-8.

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