BMCR 2011.05.11

Approaches to Teaching the Works of Ovid and the Ovidian Tradition. Approaches to Teaching World Literature 113

, , Approaches to Teaching the Works of Ovid and the Ovidian Tradition. Approaches to Teaching World Literature 113. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2010. vii, 294. ISBN 9781603290630. $19.75 (pb).

Table of Contents

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

“Teaching well really does matter,” the ultimate sentence of the “Acknowledgements,” nicely summarizes both the content and tone of Boyd and Fox’s collection of essays Approaches to Teaching the Works of Ovid and the Ovidian Tradition, a recent volume of the MLA series on teaching world literature. (Ovidians will be pleased to see their favorite author in the company of Homer, Vergil, Euripides, and the Bible as one of the four volumes in the series that treat an ancient literature.) Indeed, this book delivers fully on its promise of offering creative strategies for teaching Ovid in broad variety of contexts: from the more obvious courses in general literature, mythology, and gender to a themed writing intensive course on infanticide (Harris, 102) and even a course on human-animal hybridity (Palmeri, 95). The book’s well-written essays are consistently short and to the point; the best of them stick to the overall theme of the book and focus on pedagogy. Taken together, they underline, as Boyd writes (56), “Ovid’s versatility and adaptability” in a variety of classroom settings. At the same time, they remind us that in today’s academic environment, most professors in the humanities, Classicists included, must operate with a protean flexibility recalling characters of Ovid’s own Metamorphoses.

Most essays are refreshingly redolent of the classroom realities challenging today’s college teachers; their overall tone is engagingly that of ‘shop talk’ among professors of Classics, English, Romance languages, German, comparative literature and other humanists who for the most part teach Ovid in translation. This is a book by teachers for teachers and therein lies its strength. For this reason, the few essays that stick to the more traditional form and tone of the scholarly paper (e.g., Anderson’s “Ovid’s Genial and Ingenious Story of King Midas, Miller’s “Sex and Violence in Amores ” and Hallett’s “Ovid’s Thisbe and a Roman Woman Love Poet”) however illuminating, don’t quite fit the general context and tone of the book; they read more like “guest lectures” than pedagogical exchange.

The emphasis on pedagogy also means that readers of the several recent anthologies of Ovidian scholarship (e.g. The Cambridge Companion to Ovid [BMCR 2004.12.21 ] and Brill’s Companion to Ovid [BMCR 2003.01.34]) will welcome new names here in a volume that presents Ovidian scholarship through the perspective of the real-life wisdom and experience of those who spend their days ‘in the trenches’ (some deeper than others) teaching Ovid. Collectively, the essays cover ideas for courses and syllabi, teaching strategies, even sample essay topics for exams. As a rule, notes are pared down only to those sources useful for teaching. The best are informed by a real passion for teaching: English professor Scott Maisano, for example, offers a learned discussion of the role of annotations in early translations as a way to direct readers to morally salubrious interpretations of Biblical and classical texts. But he applies his theory to the classroom by choosing to expose his UMass students (“humble to a fault,” 142) to the sola scriptura of the Golding translation of the Metamorphoses. The opening and closing lines of his essay nicely capture the author’s neat integration of theory and practice and above all his commitment to his students (“Reforming Metamorphoses : The Epic in Translation as a ‘Major Work’ of the English Renaissance,” 142, 150):

It begins with Chaos. The class is laughing at two students’ comments on the transformation of Daphne: the first has observed, “Apollo is the original tree hugger,” and the next, “Apollo gets wood!” I could be upset by the casualness, the anachronism, and in the latter example, the sexual slang on display in these remarks, but I am secretly delighted. That’s because, only a few weeks into the semester, I know two things that the students do not know at this point. First, the liberties they are taking with Ovid’s epic are relatively innocent and innocuous by comparison with what the writers of the English Renaissance were willing, and able, to do. Second, Ovid, instead of being the victim of such ransacking and rereading of classical materials—not to mention lowly witticisms and puns—actually sets the gold standard for such indecorous transgressions… …My student taught me that day something that I thought I had already taught him: sometimes the best way to convince students that a text is worth reading is to let them read it for themselves, without supplying all the trappings of expertise and explanation in advance.

The book is conveniently divided into two main parts: “Materials” and “Approaches.” The briefer “Materials” part includes two sections. The first on “Ovid’s Life and Legacy” includes four overviews for nonspecialists: an introduction (Ralph Hexter), followed by discussions of Ovid and Roman religion (McDonough), Ovid’s Nachleben in the Christian Middle Ages (Raymond Cormier, and, an especially readable contribution from Bruce Redford on “Ovid and the Visual Arts.” Section Two, “Ovid’s Texts in the Classroom” covers commentaries on Ovid (Peter Knox), premodern English Translations (Cora Fox) Modern Translations (Barbara Weiden Boyd) and a report on the MLA Survey of on teaching of Ovid in the classroom (Boyd and Fox). Boyd’s essay on modern translations is probably the most useful for nonspecialist teachers who are shopping for accessible translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Ovidian work (not surprisingly) at the top of the charts in the classroom according to the MLA survey.

Part Two of the book contains the bulk of the essays and includes an introduction by Boyd and Fox, followed by sections of more or less equivalent length on “Ovid’s Classrooms” (Peek, Quartarone, Huskey, Endres, Stapleton, Palmeri, Harris); “Political Ovid” (Hanning, McGowan, Ellis, Fox, Masiano, Anderson); “Gendered and Embodied Ovid” (Miller, Hallett, Keith, Stanivukovic, Cheney, Katz), and “Metatextual Ovid” (Fumo, Keilen, Boyd, Sowell, De Armas, Sanderson and Jaeger). The diverse disciplines of the authors from ( inter alia Classics, Comparative Literature, English, Art History, Italian, Women’s Studies, Romance Languages, German, French) are reflected in the breadth of their subjects. There will be something for everyone here. Most essays start with a statement on the course and its audience, e.g., a required general education course introducing first-year students to critical reading and writing (Peek, 57; cf. Harris,102), an undergraduate survey course on Latin literature through the Augustan Age (Huskey,73), comparative mythology (Endres, 80), gender studies (Keith, 179), an undergraduate survey of exile literature and classical tradition in contemporary fiction and film (McGowan, 117), an advanced undergraduate special-topics course on Ovid and Shakespeare (Fox, 133). Classics majors not withstanding, the majority of students are probably there, as Stapleton (88) bluntly puts it, “merely to fulfill a requirement.” With this in mind, the most useful essays are those that are most broadly applicable to a general audience. The best of them recognize the challenges of classroom realities in contemporary colleges and universities. A few seem to overshoot the mark. Few teachers, I wager, will be able to elicit the kinds of nuanced readings that Huskey does of Tristia 1.1 (75-76) in a survey of Latin literature for Latinless students or to cover as much cross cultural classical and modern literature as does Endres in an undergraduate divisional offering in mythology (86).

Thus while the essays in this volume are uniformly good, some are better than others. In addition to Maisano mentioned above, among the many excellent essays, I can single out but a few of the best for discussion. In the section called “Ovid in the Classroom” Wendy Chapman Peak’s charming “Caveat Lector: Learning to Read Through Ovid” deserves special notice. Peak is an English professor who uses selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses as the first reading in a required general education course entitled “Critical Encounters.” To a teacher, Peak’s description of how she uses close readings of episodes from the Metamorphoses to introduce students to critical reading was downright enthralling.

Lorina Quartarone’s piece on “Genre Transformed: The ‘Heroes’ of Ovid’s Epic,” offers another especially strong example of what is best about this book. To read Quartarone’s essay is to sit in the classroom of a master teacher as she virtually walks readers through a class on the Metamorphoses and presents her pedagogical framework for introducing first-time readers to the poem. For the many like me who find teaching Latin works in translation far more challenging than their Greek counterparts, her lesson was an eye-opener. Quartarone acknowledges that the connection between the stories is the most baffling aspect of the poem to neophyte students and then demonstrates how she leads students through a series of creative writing exercises, comparative readings in Ovid and earlier epic, and class discussions to discover the way in which Ovid’s Metamorphoses both stretches the limits of traditional epic poetry while at the same time recalling earlier traditions. Through her masterful teaching, students in Quartarone’s course soon recognize the importance of speech as a unifying theme in the poem (68) and with it the recognition of the many ways (apostrophe, rhetorical questions, use of first-person-plural verb form, anachronistic remarks) in which Ovid interrupts the text to draw attention to his own authorial voice (69). As the epic’s hero turns out to be the poet himself, so the heroine of this collection might be the teacher herself who in this essay provides an stellar example of teaching in translation at its finest.

Another exemplary essay, this time under “Metatextual Ovid,” is Sean Keilen’s “ Metamorphoses, Its Tradition, and the Work of Art” (219-224). Keilen, an English professor, describes a team taught, interdisciplinary course that could serve in many teaching contexts. (I think immediately of a general literature course for an honors program.) His course situates Ovid’s epic squarely at the center of an exploration of the Roman poet as a paradigm for the relationship of the artist to his materials. Keilen’s essay is thoroughly pedagogical: it includes a (huge) reading list that covers in addition to the Metamorphoses, literature (Apuleius, Boccacio, Shakespeare), art (Renaissance majolica plates depicting myths, Parmigianno’s frescoes of Diana and Actaeon, Vanvitelli’s gardens, illustrated editions through the seventeenth century). The author even provides his (creative) grading scheme: “Reading, looking, listening and communicating with us and with other students about Ovid were the most important assignments in the course” (221). Keilen’s ideas are big ones; he describes a course that virtually anyone would love to take or to teach.

In summary, this is a volume that will be used and reused many times by all who teach Ovid. It offers many new, creative, and interesting ways to incorporate Ovid into the classroom within a broad spectrum of courses. With its infectious emphasis on the real excitement and pleasures of teaching, this book made me eager to go back and teach Ovid yet once again.


Part One: Materials

Ovid’s Life and Legacy:

“Introduction,” Ralph Hexter (7-12);

“Roman Religion and Ovid,” Christopher M. McDonough (13-17);

Ovide moralisé,” Raymond Cormier (18-22);

“Speaking Pictures: Ovid and the Visual Arts” (23-26)

Ovid’s Texts in the Classroom:

“Commentaries on Ovid,” Peter Knox (27-30);

“Ovid in Premodern English Translation, Cora Fox (31-33);

“Ovid in Modern Translation,” Barbara Weiden Boyd (34-38);

“Surveying Pedagogy and Practice: A Report on the MLA Survey,” Barbara Weiden Boyd and Cora Fox (39-46).

Part Two: Approaches

“Introduction,” Barbara Weiden Boyd and Cora Fox (49-56)

Ovid’s Classrooms:

“Caveat Lector: Learning to Read through Ovid,” Wendy Chapman Peek (57-63);

“Genre Transformed: The ‘Heroes’ of Ovid’s Epic,” Lorina N. Quartarone (64-72);

“Approaches to Teaching Ovid’s Tristia,” Samuel Huskey (73-79);

“From Ovid to Elvis: Teaching Mythology in the Classical Tradition,” Nikolai Endres (80-87);

“Reading and Teaching Ovid’s Amores and Ars amatoria in a Conservative Christian Context,” M. L. Stapleton (88-94);

“Ovid and His Human Animals,” Frank Palmeri (95-101);

“Teaching Medea to Freshman: Ovid, Thematic Criticism, and General Education,” Ronald W. Harris (102-108).

Political Ovid:

“R.W. Hanning, “Always Hopeless, Never Serious: Wit and Wordplay in Ovid’s Amores,” R.W. Hanning (109-116);

“Transforming Exile: Teaching Ovid in Tomis,” Matthew McGowan (117-125);

“Teaching the Really Minor Epic: Literature, Sexuality, and National Belonging in Thomas Edwards’s ‘Narcissus’,” Jim Ellis (126-132);

“Teaching the Ovidian Shakespeare and the Politics of Emotion,” Cora Fox (133-141);

“Reforming Metamorphoses : The Epic in Translation as a ‘Major Work’ of the English Renaissance,” Scott Maisano (142-150);

“Ovid’s Genial and Ingenious Story of King Midas,” William S. Anderson (151-160).

3.Gendered and Embodied Ovid

“Sex and Violence in Amores,” Paul Allen Miler (161-169);

“Ovid’s Thisbe and a Roman Woman Love Poet,” Judith P. Hallett (170-177);

“The Lay of the Land: The Rhetoric of Gender in Ovid’s ‘Perseid’,” Alison Keith (178-188);

“Teaching Ovidian Sexualities in English Renaissance Literature,” Goran V. Stanivukovic (189-196);

“Teaching Marlowe’s Translation of Amores,” Patrick Cheney (197-203);

“Teaching Tiresias: Issues of Gender and Sexuality in Ovid and Beyond,” Phyllis Katz (204-211).

Metatextual Ovid:

Metamorphoses Metamorphosed: Teaching the Ovidian Tradition,” Jamie C. Fumo (212-218);

Metamorphoses, Its Tradition, and the Work of Art,” Sean Keilen (219-224);

“Island Hopping: Ovid’s Ariadne and Her Texts,” Barbara Weiden Boyd (225-233);

“The Case of Ovid in Dante,” Madison U. Sowell (234-240);

“Captured in Ekphrasis: Cervantes and Ovid,” Frederick A. De Armas (241-249);

“Ovid and Ransmayr: Translating across Cultures and Times,” Susan C. Anderson and Mary Jaeger (250-256).