BMCR 2001.11.02

Ovid: Metamorphoses Book XIII

, , Metamorphoses. Book XIII. Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. vii, 252 pages : map ; 20 cm.. ISBN 0521554217 $22.95.

The last fifteen years or so have seen an explosion of critical interest in Ovid—especially the Metamorphoses but including as well every part of his vast elegiac corpus—in Anglo-American scholarship and a resulting proliferation of commentaries on his poetry.1 This renewed interest in the Metamorphoses can be seen, at least in part, as a response to the impetus given Ovidian studies with the publication over the course of seventeen years (1969-86) of the monumental German commentary in seven volumes by Franz Bömer.2 Long rather neglected by commentators in the English-speaking academic world, the Metamorphoses are now finally beginning to receive their share of scholarly and school commentaries.3 W.S. Anderson has recently put out a commentary on Met. 1-5 to complement his popular school edition of books 6-10;4 D.E. Hill has just completed a text of the poem with English translation and commentary (keyed to the translation) in four volumes for Aris & Phillips;5 the projected multi-author Fondazione Valla commentary on the poem under the direction of Alessandro Barchiesi is eagerly awaited; and now Cambridge University Press has issued Neil Hopkinson’s commentary on Metamorphoses 13, a welcome addition to the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series which published three Ovid commentaries in the 1990s and currently has three more under contract.6

The new volume by Hopkinson (hereafter H.) contains a helpful map of Italy, Greece and Asia Minor; a very interesting Introduction with discussions of “Metamorphosis,” “Structure and themes” and the literary background of each of the individual episodes in book 13 (the Judgement of Arms; Hecuba; Memnon; Anius and his daughters; Acis, Galatea and Polyphemus; Scylla, Glaucus and Circe); a brief account of the principles by which he established his text and apparatus criticus; a text of Met. 13; the commentary; a short bibliography including (1) abbreviations, (2) editions, translations and commentaries, and (3) other works; and indexes of subjects, Latin words and passages discussed.

The Introduction represents something of a departure from those of recent Cambridge commentaries on Ovidian works since it contains neither a sketch of the poet’s life and works in relation to the Metamorphoses nor any analysis of Ovid’s style and metre in his sole (extant) essay into hexameter poetry. One can hardly be blamed for feeling that the sheer number and range of introductory volumes available on Ovid and his poetry, to say nothing of the celebrated discussion of the style of the Metamorphoses by E.J. Kenney,7 make further discussion of these subjects unnecessary, but as the bibliography does not contain some of the more accessible of these reference works, it will perhaps be a convenience for those who wish to use the commentary as a teaching text to list them here.8

What the Introduction lacks in the way of traditional features, however, it more than makes up for in H.’s innovative opening sketch of the literary history of the theme of metamorphosis and its relationship to philosophy, rhetoric and politics. Particularly exciting is H.’s discussion of the connections “between the style and rhetoric of the poem and its subject” (5), and his proposal that “it would be possible to construct a [rhetorical] grammar of Ovidian narrative” (6). He brings classical rhetoric alive for the student of Ovid by suggesting that “rhetorical variation and figurative expression … pervade not only individual sentences, but also episodes and the relations between them” (5), and his examples, drawn from the whole of the poem, are compelling: Narcissus and Echo exemplify “gemination or anaphora, syllepsis or zeugma” (5), Niobe’s transformation into silent stone figures aposiopesis, inset narratives enact parentheses, etc. (5-6). By contrast in the next section, a rather bland discussion of “Structures and themes,” H. restricts his focus to the structural and thematic relations among stories in Met. 13.9 He shows no interest in current debate about the role of book division in the poem,10 but takes up the perennially fascinating question of transitions between episodes and proposes the metaphor of a journey (well chosen in the light of the contents of book 13) as an organisational principle, at least for Aeneas’ journey from Troy to Italy (13.622-14,608) “where Ovid’s narrative travels alongside that of Virgil” (7). In general, however, H. is not interested in narratological issues and consistently ignores the critical literature on Ovidian narrative technique.11

The heart of the Introduction lies in the detailed analyses of the sources of the myths Ovid narrates in Met. 13. H. offers brief summarises of each episode followed by full discussion of the literary and artistic traditions on which Ovid draws. Here, and in many individual notes in the commentary, H.’s strengths as a commentator on Ovid come sharply into focus: his deep knowledge of Greek literature enables him to demonstrate, again and again, Ovid’s own consummate mastery of the Greek literary traditions which he transmutes into Roman poetry. As a Hellenist H. pays close attention not only to Homer and the tragic playwrights but also to the epic cycle and the rhetorical schools, and he is always sensitive to the nuances which a similarly careful reader of Greek literature such as Ovid might be expected to hear. H.’s attention to Greek rhetoric, in particular, supplies a context for his discussion of the impact of Ovid’s rhetorical training in the Metamorphoses, a standard feature of commentaries on Ovid that generally goes unrelated to the literary traditions, both Greek and Roman, that inform Ovidian poetry. While the focus in these surveys of the work’s sources is on the Greek mythological background, H. does full justice to the impact of Latin epic, tragic and rhetorical conventions on the shape of the poem, and he frequently cites Vergil and the Roman rhetorical writers. The volume thus offers an excellent introduction to current scholarly interest in allusion and intertextuality in Ovidian studies, and especially to the question of Ovid as a reader of Vergil.12 H. is not as interested in issues of genre and genre-blending, which have been central to Ovidian scholarship since Heinze’s seminal study of 1919.13 He offers no explicit analysis in the Introduction of the role generic conventions play in shaping Ovid’s use of sources, although many individual notes in the commentary will be fruitfully employed in such analysis by others.

H. has established his own (very readable) text and apparatus criticus on the basis of the work of earlier editors and, conveniently, he has been able to consult R.J. Tarrant’s forthcoming OCT edition of the Metamorphoses in advance of publication. H. gives only the merest summary of the text and transmission of the poem but refers the reader to Tarrant’s standard discussion of the issues14 and has explained his own editorial practices succinctly. Although he keeps textual notes to a minimum in the commentary, he occasionally addresses textual problems and is always scrupulously clear, concise and fair in outlining the problem and his preference for its solution.

The commentary itself is admirably lucid and judicious, and will constitute a helpful introduction not only to Met. 13 but also to many areas of current scholarly interest in the Metamorphoses as a whole and Ovidian poetry more generally. The care and attention H. devotes to Ovid’s use of sources, allusion and intertextuality in the Introduction continues to be a prominent focus in his notes. He has excellent detailed comments on Ovid’s use of Homer (primarily the Iliad but occasionally also the Odyssey) and Sophocles ( Philoctetes and Ajax) in the Judgement of Arms, Euripides ( Hecuba and Troades) in the Hecuba panel, Theocritus ( Idylls 6 and 11) in the Acis and Galatea episode, and of course Vergil throughout (particularly the Aeneid, but the Eclogues and even the Georgics are also shown to have contributed to Ovid’s treatment of certain tales), especially in connection with Aeneas’ travels from 6.622 on, where H. plots Ovid’s close and careful use of Aeneid 3. H. also has some very fine analyses of Ovid’s use of Homer mediated through Vergil in Met. 13 (e.g., 13.257-8, 289, 292-4, 395, 409-10, 417, 449, 579-80, 679, 681, 865, 876-7). A particularly exciting strand of discussion in the commentary considers Ovid’s debt to the tradition of Homeric exegesis in his treatment of the aftermath of the Trojan War (e.g., 13.223-4, 292-4, 295, 620, 683-4); this material suggests a fruitful line for further study à la Schlunk (and now Schmit-Neuerburg) on Vergil.15 Although I have stressed H.’s contribution to an understanding of Ovid’s use of Greek sources, the commentary is by no means deficient in its treatment of Ovid’s Latin models besides Vergil and even includes some discussion of the use that later Latin authors made of parts of Met. 13. Thus there is judicious treatment of Ovid’s use of Roman tragedy in the Judgement of Arms (e.g., 13.3-4, 31, 52-4), and interesting comment not only on Ovid’s use of the Roman rhetorical tradition in the same episode (the debt to Porcius Latro at 13.120-2) but also on the Roman rhetorical tradition’s later use of the Ovidian episode (Quintilian’s citation of 13.5-8 at Inst. Or. 5.10.41). H. even notices Statius’ debt to Ovid in the Achilleid (13.166-7).

Other highlights of the commentary include H.’s attention to Ovid’s interest in wordplay and aetiology, two areas which have been extensively studied in recent years.16 H. is also sensitive to the poet’s predilection for foreshadowing, early in an episode, a character’s metamorphosis at its conclusion (e.g., 13.693-4, 902, 903, 910-11, 920-1; he is especially good on Ovid’s anticipation of Hecuba’s canine transformation in the similes at 13.540, 547-8). In similar vein H. notes the careful responsion between the speeches of Ajax and Ulysses that structures the Judgement of Arms. Finally, there are good notes on Roman anachronisms in the book, especially in connection with Ovid’s account of the Greek leaders’ decision in the Judgement of Arms (13.318) and his use of gladiatorial metaphor in the bird-fight above Memnon’s tomb (13.612-19).

The Bibliography is highly selective, as the endnotes to this review imply. The Indexes, however, are very generous and constitute an invaluable resource for quick reference to the themes of H.’s commentary (and much of current scholarly discussion of Ovidian poetry).

H. has benefitted from the indefatigable labours of Boemer, but his commentary is far more readable and much more easily used. H. has clearly devoted considerable effort not only to slimming the long lists of parallels that daunt any reader of Boemer, but also, crucially, to the serious analysis of their relative importance for the passage at hand that Boemer so signally failed to conduct. In this, H. has performed a great service to his readers. At most points where I cross-checked H. against Boemer, I felt that the advantage lay with H.

The Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series’ style limits quotation of Greek in the notes—not unfairly in a commentary on a Latin poem perhaps, except that Ovid (like Vergil) draws so extensively on Greek sources and models. H. must therefore make do for the most part with lengthy translations from Homer, the tragedians, and other Greek authors to document his case for Ovidian borrowings from Greek literature. Fortunately, he has been able to include extensive quotations from Latin authors, especially Vergil. Another limitation of the series (from the perspective of the North American classroom) is the preference (in the interest of brevity) for glossing the Latin rather than explaining basic grammatical matters. Too often the intermediate language student (who may well be in a position to appreciate H.’s sensitivity to Ovid’s literary games) is left to (fail to) construe the syntax on her own. Indeed the commentary assumes a relatively advanced level of language preparation (the target audience includes graduate students and professional classicists), and if used in the undergraduate classroom will require supplement; but that, of course, is our job. Nonetheless, the richness of the literary discussion on offer here make this an important contribution to Ovidian studies which will prove indispensable for teaching and research alike.


1. On current trends in Ovidian scholarship see S. Myers, “The Metamorphosis of a Poet: Recent Work on Ovid,” JRS 89 (1999) 190-204.

2. P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphosen, 7 vols (Heidelberg 1969-86). Bömer’s labours have not entirely superseded the commentary of M. Haupt and R. Ehwald (eds.), P. Ovidius Naso: Metamorphosen, vols. 1 (9th edn) and 2 (4th edn.), rev. M. von Albrecht (Zurich and Dublin, 1966).

3. Commentaries on single books of the poem which predate the millennial boom in Ovidian studies include A.G. Lee (ed.), Ovid, Metamorphoses I (Cambridge 1953); J.J. Moore-Blunt, A Commentary on Ovid, Metamorphoses II (Vithoorn 1977); A.A.R. Henderson (ed.), Ovid, Metamorphoses III (Bristol 1979); H.E. Gould and J.L. Whiteley (eds.), P. Ovidi Nasonis Metamorphoseon Liber Octavus (London 1940); A.S. Hollis (ed.), Ovid, Metamorphoses Book VIII (Oxford 1970); G.M.H. Murphy (ed.), Ovid, Metamorphoses XI (Oxford 1972).

4. W.S. Anderson (ed.), Ovid’s Metamorphoses: books 6-10 (Norman OK 1972); Ovid’s Metamorphoses: books 1-5 (Norman OK 1997).

5. D.E. Hill (ed.), Ovid, Metamorphoses I-IV (Warminster 1985); Ovid, Metamorphoses V-VIII (Warminster 1992); Ovid, Metamorphoses IX-XII (Warminster 1999); Ovid, Metamorphoses XIII-XV and Indexes to Metamorphoses I-XV (Warminster 2000).

6. E.J. Kenney (ed.), Ovid, Heroides XVI-XXI (Cambridge 1996); P.E. Knox (ed.), Ovid, Heroides: Select Epistles (Cambridge 1995); E. Fantham (ed.), Ovid, Fasti Book IV (Cambridge 1998). Commentaries on Tristia I (by Stephen Hinds), Met. 14 (by Sara Myers), and Met. 4 (by this reviewer) are currently in preparation for Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics.

7. E.J. Kenney, “The Style of the Metamorphoses,” in J.W. Binns (ed.), Ovid (London 1973), 116-53.

8. Binns (above n. 7); N. Holzberg, Ovid: Dichter und Werk (Munich 1997; forthcoming in English translation); S. Mack, Ovid (New Haven and London, 1988); see also now M. von Albrecht, Das Buch der Verwandlungen: Ovid-Interpretationen (Düsseldorf und Zürich, 2000).

9. Two valuable studies that consider the structure and thematics of the Metamorphoses as a whole are R.G.G. Coleman, “Structure and Intention in the Metamorphoses,” CQ 21 (1971) 461-77 and A. Crabbe, “Structure and Content in Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” ANRW II 31.4.2274-327.

10. See most recently N. Holzberg, ” Ter quinque volumina as carmen perpetuum : The Division into Books in Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” MD 40 (1998) 77-98.

11. See most recently S.M. Wheeler, A Discourse of Wonders: Audience and Performance in Ovid”s Metamorphoses (Philadelphia 1999), and now his Narrative Dynamics in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Tübingen 2000), both with full bibliography.

12. In addition to S. Hinds, Allusion and Intertextuality (Cambridge 1998), cited by H., see G.B. Conte, The Rhetoric of Imitation, trans. C.P. Segal (Ithaca 1986); J.J. O’Hara, “Vergil’s Best Reader? Ovidian Commentary on Vergilian Etymological Wordplay,” CJ 91 (1996) 255-76; and R.A. Smith, Poetic Allusion and Poetic Embrace in Ovid and Virgil (Ann Arbor 1997); further bibliography in Myers (above n. 1) 194-6.

13. R. Heinze, Ovids elegische Erzählung (Leipzig 1919); cf. S.E. Hinds, The Metamorphosis of Persephone (Cambridge 1987): further bibliography in Myers (above n. 1) 191-4.

14. R.J. Tarrant, “Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” in L.D. Reynolds (ed.), Texts and Transmission (Oxford 1983), 276-82; cf. also R.J. Tarrant, “Editing Ovid’s Metamorphoses : Problems and Possibilities,” CP 77 (1982) 342-60.

15. R. Schlunk, The Homeric Scholia and the Aeneid (Ann Arbor 1974); T. Schmit-Neuerburg, Vergils Aeneas und die antike Untersuchungen zum Einfluss ethischer und kritischer Homerrezeption auf imitatio und aemulatio Vergils (Berlin and New York, 1999).

16. On wordplay see J. André, “Ovide helléniste et linguiste,” RPh 49 (1975) 191-5; F. Ahl, Metaformations (Ithaca 1985); D. Porte, L’Étiologie religieuse dans les Fastes d’Ovide (Paris 1985) 197-264; J.C. McKeown, Ovid: Amores, Vol. 1 (Leeds 1987) 45-62; A.M. Keith, The Play of Fictions: Studies in Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book 2 (Ann Arbor 1992); O’Hara (above n. 12); G. Tissol, The Face of Nature (Princeton 1997) 11-88, 167-77; S.M. Wheeler, “Changing names: the miracle of Iphis in Ovid, Metamorphoses 9,” Phoenix 51 (1997) 190-202. On aetiology see Porte (above); K.S. Myers, Ovid’s Causes (Ann Arbor 1994); and Tissol (above).