Thursday, June 21, 2007


I have the Loeb Edition, along with Charles Martin’s poetic translation, Ted Hughes “Tales From Ovid,” “After Ovid: New Metamorphosis” edited by Michael Hofmann, and a few poems by Frieda Hughes. Perhaps this is an appropriate time to be cliché and say that this work is a veritable goldmine…human failing, disappointment with the gods, all human emotions, evil, comedy, tragedy…any story I’ve ever read seems to have its basis in these writings. One can imagine Shakespeare poring over Pyramus and Thisbe, ……“I wonder if I could get them to move to Verona…”

From Charles Martin…as Minerva pays a call on Envy to ask her for a little “favor.”

She headed straight to Envy’s squalid quarters,
black with corruption, hidden deep within
a sunless valley where no breezes blow,
a sad and sluggish place, richly frigid,
where cheerful fires die upon the hearth
and fog that never lifts embraces all…..

The object of her visit sluggishly
arises from the ground where she’d been sitting,
leaving behind her interrupted dinner
of half-eaten reptiles. Stiffly she advances,
and when she sees the beauty of the goddess
and of her armor, she cannot help but groan,
and makes a face, and sighs a wretched sigh.

Then she grows pale, and her body shrivels up.
Her glance is sidewise and her teeth are black;
her nipples drip with poisonous green bile,
and venom from her dinner coats her tongue;
she only smiles at sight of another’s grief,
nor does she know, disturbed by wakeful cares,
the benefits of slumber; when she beholds
another’s joy, she falls into decay,
and rips down only to be ripped apart,
herself the punishment for being her.

Same passage in Loeb:
Straightaway Minerva sought out the cave of Envy, filthy with black gore. Her home was hidden away win a deep valley, where no sun shines and no breeze blows; a gruesome place and full of numbing chill. No cheerful fire burns there, and the place is wrapped in thick, black fog. …there, sitting within, was Envy, eating snakes’ flesh, the proper food of her venom. At the horrid sight, the goddess turned away her eyes. But the other rose heavily from the ground, leaving the snakes’ carcasses half consumed, and came forward with sluggish step. When she saw the goddess, glorious in form and armour, she groaned aloud and pulled a face and therewith heaved a sigh. Pallor overspreads her face and her whole body seems to shrivel up. He eyes are all awry, her teeth are foul with mould; green, poisonous gall overflows her breast, and venom drips down from her tongue. She never smiles, save at the sight of another’s troubles; she never sleeps, disturbed with wakeful cares; unwelcome to her is the sight of men’s success, and witht eh sight she pines away; she gnaws and is gnawed, herself her own punishment….

Here is Ted Hughes writing about the four ages of man. There is a feeling of longing in his description of the Golden Age:

And the first age was gold.
Without laws, without law’s enforcers,
The age understood and obeyed
What had created it.
Listening deeply, man kept faith with the source.

Hughes injects a certain bitterness into his writing on the Age of Iron. Ovid simply writes “victa iacet pietas , et virgo caeded madentis ultima caelestum terras Astraea reliquit” (piety lay conquered and the last of the immortals, the virgin Astraea abandoned the earth). Martin writes, “piety lies vanquished here below./ Virgin Astraea, the last immortal left/on the bloodstained earth, withdraws from it in horror.” But Hughes (!)…

The inward ear, attuned to the Creator,
Is underfoot like a dog’s turd. Astraea,
The Virgin
Of Justice---the incorruptible
Last of the immortals---
Abandons the blood-fouled earth.

Gotta love Hughes' earthiness.

(As an aside re Nabokov: finished “The Real Story of Sebastian Knight”, “The Gift”, “ Invitation to a Beheading.” (I think “Pnin” is still the favorite.) Also reading “Natasha’s Dance” by Orlando Figes, which seems to be proving an interesting vantage point on the works of Mr. Nabokov. Very helpful in understanding Nabokov the émigré.)