BMCR 2015.09.26

An Ovid Reader: Selections from Seven Works. BC Latin readers

, An Ovid Reader: Selections from Seven Works. BC Latin readers. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2014. xxvi, 196. ISBN 9780865167223. $19.00 (pb).


This book is part of the Bolchazy-Carducci Latin Readers series, designed to provide affordable texts with introduction, brief commentary, and vocabulary for intermediate/advanced college Latin students. Newlands organizes the book into 4 sections: Introduction, Latin Text, Commentary, and Complete Vocabulary. Five illustrations are interspersed in the Commentary section.

The ten-page Introduction contains four sections: Life of the poet and overview of his work; The Selection; Style and Meter; and Suggested reading. Newlands begins with a two-page overview of Ovid’s poetry and life, stressing the range of his work and placing him in the political context of his time. Here she also notes his influence on later art and literature and includes mention, at the end, of several modern novels and adaptations based on the poet and his work. Students not already familiar with the Augustan period will probably want more background, but her summary is a good, clear beginning. Her discussion of each genre in The Selection should be required as students begin to read the Latin texts, since she makes clear why she has chosen each selection and what is distinctive about it. This is the strongest part of the Introduction, and provides a wealth of good information for readers new to Ovid.

The last two pages on Style and Meter also make important points that should not be missed. Newlands is especially good here at explaining why a particular feature matters. Unfortunately, this section does not include basic information on rhetorical figures or scansion that might have been useful, especially for intermediate level students. Newlands uses Ars Amatoria 1.99-102 to “illustrate many features of Ovid’s style” (xx). She provides the four Latin lines followed by an English translation, then proceeds with an analysis of their style: “Repetition of various kinds is frequent in Ovid’s work, but verbal repetition, such as we find in line 99, is rather rare. Here we have an artistic patterning of verbs in interlocking word order that emphasizes sharp contrast. Polyptoton, repetition of the same word in a different case, is used ….” (xxi). If they have learned any rhetorical devices, most students will understand “interlocking word order” as synchysis, while the pattern in line 99 ( spectatum veniunt, veniunt spectentur) will appear as chiastic. Similarly, her metrical points, both here and in the commentary, will need supplementing for students who are not already familiar with terms such as “elegiac couplet,” “enjambment,” “hemistich,” “hendiadys,” and “strong caesura”. It would be a shame for readers not to understand such notes as that on Amores 1.9.11-12, “enjambment mimics the rain-swollen rivers flowing over their banks” (35). A short review on the scansion of different meters and a list of important metrical terms and rhetorical devices with definitions would be helpful additions to the book. Nonetheless, students will benefit from going over this section more than once. Useful grammatical points like, “A peculiarity of elegiac style is the frequent use of the perfect infinitive after present verbs instead of present; e.g. Amores 1.13.5 iuvat … iacuisse,” (xxii) are not always repeated in the commentary. The Suggested reading includes general resources as well as books and articles on individual works. These are all in English and represent a good list for further study.

Newlands organizes the Latin texts, which comprise 556 unadapted lines, by genre (Love elegy, Didactic elegy, Epic, Aetiological elegy, and Exile poetry). She includes 30 selections from Amores, Heroides, Ars Amatoria, Metamorphoses, Fasti, Tristia, and Epistulae ex Ponto. Although the texts do not include macra, the vocabulary at the end has vowel quantities marked. The organization by genre is an especially nice feature of this edition, as is the manageable length of each text, which ranges from 4 lines ( Amores 1.1-4) to 38 (selected lines from Tristia 4), but is usually c. 15-25 lines. My own preference would have been to put the line notes with each selection, but placing the commentary after the text section is consistent throughout the entire series. Each commentary begins with an introduction to the lines that expands on the summary points made in the general Introduction. Here Newlands is beautifully concise and clear, while providing information a student needs to understand both the selected lines and, where useful, their context within the poem. She avoids jargon, and where she uses a technical term, e.g. Paraclausithyron (29), she also defines it.

The line notes themselves are very good and show that Newlands has the students’ perspective firmly in mind. With a full vocabulary at the back of the book, she does not gloss many words unless there is an interesting point to make. This useful ‘less is more’ strategy should encourage students to read what she does say. For unusual or dual meanings, she does provide help, as on ferreus at Amores 1.6.27, “a pun on the dual meaning ‘made of iron’ and ‘hard-hearted’; the doorkeeper is as stubborn as his door” (30). At lines 30 and 31 of the same poem, she glosses quid in each line, since the first use means “why?” and the second “what?” (31). When something about a word use is interesting, she notes that too, as on bella puella at Amores 1.9.6, “ bellus, a, um is rare in Augustan poetry apart from Catullus, but here it allows for a pun on bellum …” (34), or indelebile at Metamorphoses 15.876, “the first time this rare word appears in Latin literature; only in Ovid till late Antiquity” (127).

There is a nice mix of grammatical help, background explanations and interpretation throughout the commentary. At Amores 1.1-4, for instance, her first note points out the allusion of arma gravi numero to the opening of Vergil’s Aeneid, as well as explaining, “A ‘weighty meter’ means the epic hexameter; Ovid suggests that he was set to challenge Vergil by writing martial epic. But the poem’s first line is entirely dactylic, suggesting Ovid is better suited to the ‘lighter’ genre of elegy” (28). On lines 3-4 risisse Cupido / dictitur, she takes only two sentences to explain 1) Cupid’s reputation for mischief-making, 2) the meaning of stealing a metrical foot, and 3) the effect of omitting conjunctions between the previous sentence and this one. These are all things many students might otherwise miss as they focus on translating. At Amores 1.6.34, she identifies the mixed condition as such and explains why eram appears instead of essem. She clarifies syncopated forms succinctly without translating them “ petiere = petierunt, a common pf. ending in poetry” (34), notes forms used for the sake of meter, reminds students when a verb takes its object in the dative or ablative, marks word order that may cause trouble, and usually explains the more complex syntax, such as subjunctive clauses.

The selections Newlands has chosen illustrate well the range and influence of Ovid’s poetry that she discusses in her Introduction. For some, favorite passages will inevitably be missing or truncated. The Pyramus and Thisbe story ( Metamorphoses 4.55-166) illustrates her fine handling of an excerpt. The reader includes a 35-line selection (lines 93-127), but Newlands’ introduction to the selection summarizes the beginning of the story before talking about its possible origin and its influence on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Just before the notes begin, she adds “Our excerpt begins when Thisbe approaches the place for their rendezvous at the tree-shaded tomb” (100). The final line note on line 127 then concludes with a brief summary of the end of the story (106).

This book is a welcome addition to the series. It is well-produced and remarkably free of typographical errors. Although I have not used it with students, I think it is a good choice for advanced intermediate to advanced classes.