BMCR 2006.07.38

Ovidio: Metamorfosi, Volume I (Libri I-II). Traduzione di Ludovica Koch

, , , , , , , , , , Metamorfosi. Scrittori greci e latini. Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 2005-2015. 6 volumes ; 21 cm.. ISBN 8804544813. €27.00.

This is the lead instalment of a multi-authored commentary on the whole of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Alessandro Barchiesi is the general editor of the entire project and the principal author of the volume under review. Volume II of the work will include commentaries by Barchiesi on book 3 and Gianpiero Rosati on book 4; Rosati will also comment on books 5 and 6 (vol. III); then come E. J. Kenney on books 7-9 (vol. IV); J. D. Reed on books 10-12 (vol. V); and P. Hardie on books 13-15 (vol. VI). The outstanding quality of this first volume and the past accomplishments of the editorial team as a whole inspire confidence that the final product will be an extremely rewarding reading for all the three readerships envisaged by the Valla series, that is scholars, students, and the somehow less reliable, and perhaps slightly mythical, “cultivated reader.”

Barchiesi himself is responsible for the general introduction to the poem and the commentary on books 1-2 that constitute the core of this initial volume. In keeping with the tradition of the Lorenzo Valla series, the Latin text (reproducing, with a few corrections, Tarrant’s recent OCT, reviewed in BMCR 2005.06.27) is faced by an Italian translation by the late Ludovica Koch. In addition, the volume opens with an essay by the late Charles Segal on body and identity in Ovid’s poem. As the editor says in the preface (p. xii Charles Segal was meant to be one of the commentators, but illness sadly prevented him from participating in this project. He did, however, contribute this substantial introductory piece, entitled “Il corpo e l’io nelle ‘Metamorfosi’ di Ovidio” (pp. XV-CI). Segal reads Ovid’s metamorphic bodies in terms of gender, sexuality, and violence, as he partly anticipated in his article in Arion 5.3 (1998) 9-41. Segal’s is a dark, anxiety-inducing reading of Ovid’s poem. Sexuality is usually associated with violence, sadism, victimizing. The metamorphic body is used by the poet as a means to demonstrate how men and women are subjugated to an undeserved and absurd violence, and the loss of form and language points out human helplessness in a meaningless world, dominated by cruel, even psychopathic, figures of power. The essay ends on a political note, suggesting that the anxiety generated by the metamorphosis theme may be connected with Ovid’s own anxiety in front of his loss of personal autonomy under the ever-increasing reduction of the political independence of the Republican institutions during Augustus’ principate. The Austrian novelist Christoph Ransmayr, in his Ovidian best-seller Die letzte Welt (1989), did reveal, in Segal’s view, a deep understanding of the Metamorphoses’ dark vision of political power (p. C-CI).

Barchiesi’s “Introduzione” (pp. CIII-CLXI) is just what one expects from this author: an insightful, brilliant walk in Ovid’s fictional woods (the reference to Eco is not fortuitous) in which first-hand quotations from Hegel happily coexist with references, in the name of Morpheus, to “la delirante trilogia cinematografica The Matrix.” But witticism and brilliant style are not the only merits of this introduction. Barchiesi succeeds in giving the inexperienced reader all the essential information, but from a fresh perspective which makes even the most basic paragraphs sound somehow “new” even to the experienced reader. Moreover, he almost offhandedly provides scholars with a quantity of new insights. Especially interesting are the sections on Romanization and Hellenization (“Romanizzare, ellenizzare,” pp. CXXIV-CXXIX and on genealogy and chronology (“Genealogia, cronologia: ordine e disordine,” pp. cxxxi which takes as its starting point Thomas Cole’s recent and important article (“Ovid, Varro and Castor of Rhodes: the Chronological Architecture of Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” HSCP 102 (2004) 355-422). Among the many issues discussed in detail in the introduction are the poem’s models, its narratological strategies, its moral impact, and, in the last section, the problem of the poem’s reception in the light of its relationship with Augustan politics.

There follows an extremely rich and useful annotated bibliography on Ovid’s poem (“Nota bibliografica,” pp. clx which gives special consideration to works on the reception of the Metamorphoses from antiquity to modern times.

After a select bibliography of the works most frequently quoted in the commentary, we have the sigla codicum, and Tarrant’s text and apparatus, accompanied by the beautiful verse translation of Ludovica Koch. Koch, who died suddenly in Copenhagen in 1993, was a Germanist, and a famous translator and interpreter of Norse epics. As Barchiesi says in the preface (p. xiii the very fact that Koch was able to look at Ovid from a rather eccentric perspective gives her translation a special flavor. Koch left her translation unfinished, and in the following volumes, starting from book 5, the text will be translated by Gioachino (not “Gioacchino” as named in the blurb) Chiarini.

The commentary is of course the meat of the volume, and on the Metamorphoses there are already a number of important commentaries that differ widely in scale and purpose. A starting point for every commentator is inevitably F. Bmer’s monumental commentary in 6 volumes (Heidelberg 1969-86) — in Barchiesi’s own words, “a work at the same time fundamental and eccentric, both painstaking as regards the collection of data and reactionary in his cultural inspiration” (p. CLXVII). W. S. Anderson’s commentaries on books 1-5 (Norman, OK and London 1996) and books 6-10 (Norman, OK 1972) are more interested in literary analyses, but rather lacking in erudite materials and discussion of intertextuality. An excellent 875-page commentary in Italian on the whole poem has been recently produced by Luigi Galasso (Turin 2000, in the Einaudi “Biblioteca della Pliade” series). Commentaries on single books include A. Hollis on book 8 (Oxford 1970) and N. Hopkinson’s “green and yellow” on book 13 (Cambridge 2000).

Barchiesi’s commentary does not really resemble any of these; at most, its scale and organization may recall the “green and yellow” style. Notwithstanding the relative brevity of the commentary (102 pp. for book 1, 76 pp. for the longer book 2), Barchiesi ranges widely and brilliantly over all the aspects (textual, literary, mythological, intertextual, stylistic) of Ovid’s text. Every section and subsection of the poem is prefaced by an introductory mini-essay designed to clarify the structure and the literary and mythological background of the following narrative (with no space wasted in useless paraphrase). Erudition is properly digested and distilled in order to give the reader (in sharp contrast with Bömer’s practice) the really useful information. Here we also find collected the main bibliographical references concerning the section. Barchiesi exhibits an encyclopedic knowledge of secondary literature: the Ovidian bibliography intentionally gives priority to the most recent (and often even forthcoming) contributions. Even more impressive is Barchiesi’s apparent mastery of the non-Ovidian bibliography on almost every cultural, literary, or erudite issue raised by Ovid’s text.

The commentary begins with an outstanding analysis of the proem (13 pages for the first four lines), in which every ambiguity and implication of this most dense passage is thoroughly examined. A real tour-de-force is the introductory note to 5-88, the origin of the cosmos (pp. 145-8). In general, the commentary on the cosmogonic introduction to the poem (1.5-162) is impressive for thoroughness, erudition, and originality.

Since a detailed examination is obviously impossible, I will limit myself to some highlights that are typical of Barchiesi’s approach. Among the features I most like in Barchiesi’s commentaries (I think also of his commentary on Heroides 1-3, Florence 1992) are his notes on what he calls “l’uso pungente,” “provocatorio,” “sorprendente,” “paradossale,” of words and expressions, and on the subtle ironies and ambiguities of Ovid’s text. I signal just a few examples (there are instances of this feature on almost every page): e.g. 1.10 Titan : the mythological name is striking in this naturalistic context; 1.192-3: the “ironiche ambiguit” of semidei Siluani; 1.226-7: Lycaon, soon to be transformed into a wolf, kills a man de gente Molossa : Molossi is also the name of a famous breed of dogs, specialized in defense against wolves; 1.623: ambiguity of furtum (cattle-stealing/adultery); 1.779 ortus : a word pointedly out of place for the closure of a book; 2.92-4: not only is it impossible to look into the Sun’s soul, it is also impossible to look at his face; and so on. Bilingual word-plays, and in general the linguistic interactions between Greek and Latin cultures, are also given special attention: see e.g. on 1.7 quem dixere Chaos; 1.198 on Lykaon; 1.400 and 414-5 on the “renunciation” of the laos/laas etymology; 1.649-54 on Io; 1.720 on Arge, iaces; 2.706 on Battus/ index. In general, Barchiesi, not surprisingly, pays special attention to the more general intersections between Greek and Roman/Augustan cultures: see e.g. pp. 238-9 on Apollo/Helios and Augustus’ religious politics; 2.709-10 on culti … Lycei (with the shrewd suggestion that the mention of the Lyceum might have a metaliterary function, announcing the cultural matrix — philosophical, if not Peripatetic — of the theme of envy).

Intertextual links are most often seen as generating ironic and paradoxical effects; the multifaceted implications of Lucretian intertextuality are fully explored in the cosmogonic section (e.g. on 1.9, 25, 68); and, to limit myself to the Aeneid, cf. e.g. 1.199: confremuere omnes in many ways reverses Aen. 2.1 conticuere omnes; 1.166: Ovid’s angry Jupiter parallels Vergil’s angry Juno; the excellent note on the simile at 1.200-5, seen as a reworking, an interpretation, and a dark development, of the first simile of the Aeneid (1.148-53); again 1.201, on the ambiguous Caesareo as alluding to the notorious ambiguity of the first mention of Caesar in Aen. 1.286; 1.234 sic stat sententia, a significant reversal of Aen. 10.6 (again with dark political implications: “sembra quasi di leggere una profezia epica della rappresentazione che Tacito fa del senato sotto i Cesari”); 1.292 and Aen. 3.193: an expression for normal navigation becomes a Waterworld description; 2.178 summo despexit ab aethere cleverly reverses the meaning of the Vergilian model ( Aen. 1.223-4): there Jupiter exercises his majestic control over the world, here Phaethon for the first time looks down and is caught by a panic which leads to chaos. Constant attention is also given to the influence of Hellenistic poetry, with references to the most up-to-date works on the field (see e.g. the note on 445-51; the introductory note to Apollo and Daphne, pp. 203-6, and passim), and of archaic Greek poetry (esp., but not only, in the cosmogonic section). The stylistic notes focus on lexical register, on Ovid’s creative innovations in language, and on the poetic background of words and expressions.

Barchiesi’s text presents thirteen divergences from Tarrant’s OCT (listed at p. CXC): 1.92 legebantur (B.) ~ ligabantur (T.); 1.190 temptata ~ temptanda; 1.235 utitur ~ uertitur; 1.344 [in the text] ~ [expunction]; 1.638 [in the text] ~ [expunction]; 2.226 [in the text] ~ [expunction]; 2.278 siccaque ~ fractaque; 2.366 gestanda ~ spectanda; 2.400 [in the text] ~ [expunction]; 2.518 et uero quisquam ~ + est uero quisquam; 2.520 [in the text] ~ [expunction]; 2.611 [in the text] ~ [expunction]; 2.792 papauera ~ cacumina. All these textual problems (as many others: see e.g. on the difficult problem of 1.544-7) are sensibly and convincingly discussed.

I would like to make some comments on only one of these textual discussions, which demonstrates how Barchiesi’s attention to Ovid’s subtle metaliterary and self-reflexive strategies can provide solid ground for the establishment of the text, and at the same time stimulate further reflection on the text itself. At 2.272-303 Tellus, dried up by Phaethon’s chariot, raises an energetic protest against Jupiter. At 278 the mss. have sacraque ita uoce locuta est (retained by Galasso); only U has siccaque (printed by Anderson). Tarrant prints Housman’s fractaque. Barchiesi defends siccaque adducing an elegant metaliterary explanation: since Ovid in the whole context exploits a series of ambiguities connected with Tellus’ double nature, as both character and physical element, “by saying that her voice is ‘dry’ owing to the heat, he also wants to imply a rhetorical-stylistic ambiguity.” Barchiesi notes that being siccus is also a flaw typical of the so-called “thin” style, as opposed to ubertas : now Tellus has lost her natural ubertas and is sicca because of the fierce heat of the sun. Barchiesi connects this to Tellus’ following speech, where commentators have often noted stylistic anomalies, such as the repetitive argumentation, and the use of a terminology and a style uncharacteristic of poetic usage or elevated style: “maybe then the connotation of sicca is that of a comic justification of the fact that, given her situation, Tellus has a style inferior to her normal standards; in fact, Ovid has just said that she was below of herself, subsedit et infra / quam solet esse fuit.” This is in my view a highly interesting defense of sicca que. Inspired by Barchiesi’s note, one might add to the many ambiguities of the passages that, in this context, sicca as applied to Tellus’ uox is appropriate in further regards: on the most literal level, the uox is sicca because it is “made hoarse” by the heat of the sun ( OLD s.v. 4b); but this particular, contextualized meaning of sicca is already pointed in referring to Tellus, since the earth is sicca by nature ( siccum the “dry element” as opposed to the aquatic one: OLD s.v. 4a; e.g. Verg. Ge. 3.433): here the earth’s voice is especially sicca, but this “abnormal” condition of hers merely replicates her normal nature. I am wholly convinced that sicca in connection with ore to introduce a speech must have a rhetorical-stylistic resonance. But, notwithstanding Barchiesi’s stylistic references, I wonder whether Tellus’ speech is really “below the standard” one would expect from a Tellus in normal conditions. In fact, Barchiesi notes that apparently there are no instances of the technical “negative” use of siccus before the imperial age, even if Greek xeros is used in this sense by Demetrius, De eloc. 236-9 (probably before the first century CE). On the other hand, siccus in a stylistic sense can be used in a positive way ( OLD s.v. 9 “(of speech, style, etc.) lacking luxuriance, unadorned, dry (whether as a virtue or carried to excess)”). A siccus style can be a “sober, (positively) dry” style; cf. Cic. Brut. 202 nihil erat in eius (sc. Cottae) oratione nisi sincerum, nihil nisi siccum atque sanum, where a siccus style is the positive characteristic of those who speak attenuate presseque, and avoid the style of those who, speaking sublate ampleque, run the risk of falling into an inflatum et corruptum orationis genus (cf. also Opt. Gen. 8; Sen. Epist. 114; Quint. Inst. 11.1.32). Now, it is possible that the stylistic anomalies in Tellus’ speech Barchiesi refers to are to be seen as characteristic of the negative “dry” style. In my view, however, the twenty-line, highly rhetorical speech of Tellus seems to be rather an example of an inflatus et corruptus style of speaking, typical of those who speak sublate ampleque. It may be, then, that the metaliterary connotation of sicca detected by Barchiesi is paradoxical: Tellus, with a sicca uox, pronounces a bombastic speech that is far from being siccus, “sober and dry.” Furthermore, this reading would imply another paradoxical aspect of sicca uox : Tellus, with her dry mouth, must make a desperate effort in order to speak, as she says in 282 uix equidem fauces haec ipsa in uerba resoluo; the following parenthesis ( presserat ora uapor) gives the impression that her speech is finished; but instead she goes on speaking for another 18 lines! In spite of her sicca uox, Tellus is paradoxically not sicca as regards the style of her speech, and she is not concise in spite of her utterance problems.

The book is carefully edited, and I did not notice any significant misprint (just note “Strzlecki” for “Strzelecki” in the references to Naevius). A very minor point about bibliographical references: while one would have expected the surname-year method used for works cited more than once, and full references limited to works quoted only once, we find that sometimes the same work is quoted with full references more than once (for example, P. Mantovanelli, Profundus is cited three times: pp. 196, 255, 258).

In conclusion, this is a wonderful book, as witty and elegant as the text it is devoted to; a pleasure to read, and, thanks also to its price — really quite reasonable for such a refined production — a book that everyone interested in classical literature and culture will want to possess.