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PUBLIUS OVIDIUS NASO was born at Sulmo, in Italy, on the 20th of March, B.C. 43, and died in exile at Tomi, on the Euxine Sea, in the sixtieth year of his age, A.D. 17. The main points of the story of his life are given in his Autobiography and need not be told here. It should be added that he studied in Athens, where he mastered the Greek language, and that he traveled extensively in Asia Minor and Sicily. He was a cultured Roman gentleman, fond of pleasure and society. He wrote with ease and in a strain in harmony with his life and character.
Ovid delighted in calling himself the poet of love, and the principal works of his earlier years were the Amores, consisting of forty-nine poems; the Heroides, composed of twenty-one letters, mostly represented to have been written by heroines of Greek poetry to their husbands; the Ars Amatoria; and the Remedia Amoris. These poems are all in the elegiac verse. Between his fortieth and fiftieth year he wrote the Metamorphoses and the Fasti. The latter, an elegiac poem of six books, a sort of calendar with a book for each of the first six months of the year, explaining the festal days and the religious rites and customs of the Romans, was not finished at the time of
his exile. The principal works written during his banishment were the Tristia, consisting of five books, and the Epistolae ex Ponto, of four. Both are elegiac poems and either tell of his sorrowful condition, or contain prayers for his deliverance. His Autobiography is the tenth elegy of the fourth book of the Tristia.
The Metamorphoses, written in the dactylic, or heroic, verse and almost an heroic poem in matter as well as in form, comprising about twelve thousand lines in fifteen books, is his most extensive and most important work. It is the great storehouse in the Latin language of Greek myth and legend. The ancients, intimate with nature and wondering at her mysteries, often felt that man or god was concealed beneath her visible appearance. Ovid gathers together the marvelous stories of the changes of man or god to other forms and, combining with them the accounts of natural phenomena and poetic legend, forms one continuous song from the creation of the world to the change of Julius Caesar to a star. The stories are joined together with great skill, for though the poet apparently follows an order of time, yet a suggestion of name, or character, or change easily and naturally leads him to another myth. This will be clearly shown by an analysis of the first and second books.
The first book comprises the story of the change from chaos to an orderly world and the formation of man; the four ages of deterioration; the wickedness of man, and especially of Lycaon, who was changed to a wolf; the destruction of mankind by the flood; the saving of Deucalion and Pyrrha, by whom the race was restored from the
stones; the evolution of living forms from the earth and of the serpent Python from the mud of the deluge; his slaughter by Apollo; the greater power of Cupid's arrows; Apollo's love for Daphne, the daughter of Peneus, and her transformation into the laurel; the failure of Inachus to sympathize with Peneus on account of the fate of his own daughter Io; the giving of Io changed to a heifer to Juno, who placed her under the care of the hundredeyed Argus; the slaughter of Argus by Mercury, who lulled him to sleep by the story of Syrinx; the banishment of Io to Egypt, where she became the goddess Isis; and finally the charge of Epaphus, the son of Io, that Phaethon was not the son of Apollo.
The second book comprises the visit of Phaëthon to Apollo; his unfortunate ride in his father's chariot; the search of Clymene, his mother, for Phaëthon's grave; the change of the Heliades into trees on account of their grief for Phaethon; the change of Cycnus into a swan for a like reason; the return of Phoebus to the control of his chariot at the command of Jupiter; the examination by Jupiter of the destruction caused by the disastrous ride, especially in Arcadia; the change of Callisto into a bear through the jealousy of Juno; the placing of Callisto and Arcas as constellations in the sky; the prevention of their bathing in the sea by Juno, who drove from the sea to the sky with her peacocks; the change of the raven from white to black for divulging the faithlessness of Coronis, suggested by the change in the peacock; the like change of the crow, and the change of Nyctimene to an owl; the carrying of the son of Coronis to the centaur Chiron; the
change of the centaur's daughter to a mare; the prayer of Chiron to Apollo, who was tending cattle in Elis; the stealing of the cattle by Mercury; the change of Battus, the witness of the theft, to a stone; the love of Mercury for Herse in Attica; the visit of Envy sent by Minerva to Aglauros, Herse's sister; the change of Aglauros to stone; the sending of Mercury by Jupiter to Sidon; and finally the carrying of Europa thence by Jupiter, who appeared in the form of a bull.
The myths, as related by Ovid, are often alluded to in English literature. Therefore the study of Ovid is of great value for a better understanding of these allusions, while on the other hand, the gathering and reading of the passages in English literature containing them add much to the interest in the study of Ovid. Spenser is rich in mythological allusions. References to the gods and heroes of the myths in Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope may be found by consulting the various dictionaries and concordances of those authors. Works that may be read with profit in connection with the first and second books of Ovid's Metamorphoses are James Russell Lowell's A Fable for Critics (story of Daphne in the Introduction), Fredrick Tennyson's Daphne, John G. Saxe's Phaethon, and Andrew Lang's Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus (story of Europa in Moschus). The myths form the starting points for Bayard Taylor's Prince Deukalion, and Lewis Morris's Epic of Hades. Versions of Ovid's legends, together with many other legends of the same gods and heroes, may be found in Gayley's Classic Myths in English Literature, where there are numerous references
to English authors and to works of art. The book should be a constant companion in the study of Ovid.
The meter of the Metamorphoses is the dactylic hexameter. It is the meter of Homer's Iliad and Vergil's Aeneid. It is occasionally employed in English, as in Longfellow's Evangeline.
Hálf-way down to the shore || E| vángeline | wáited in | sílence.
In English the rhythm of the verse depends upon the accent of the words; in Latin, upon the quantity of the syllables.
In nova | fert ani | mus || mū|tātās | dicere | fōrmās.
The dactyl (), so called from the Greek SáκTVXos, finger, as the syllables correspond in number and length to the joints of the finger, gives the rhythmic character to the verse. In the sixth foot the dactyl either is replaced by the spondee (___) or is incomplete and appears as an irrational spondee (__~). In the other feet the spondee may be used instead of the dactyl (though seldom in the fifth foot, when the verse is called spondaic). Whenever a word ends within a foot there is a slight pause, or caesura. The principal caesura is either in the third foot or in the fourth with a slighter one in the second. If the caesura is after the long syllable of a foot, it is called masculine; if between the two short syllables, feminine.
A correct quantitative pronunciation of the vowels and an appreciation of the effect of a combination of conso