CLA 54 — The Tale of Tales: Ovid's Metamorphoses
Mar 29—May 17
Narcissus, as beautiful as should be the son of a mighty river god and a lithe nymph, falls hopelessly in love with his own reflection. Unable to obtain himself, he pines away until “sad night closes his eyes.” In death he transmogrifies into a daffodil and soon reappears as the medical term for self-fixation (Narcissist). Centuries later, he also starts to appear in countless paintings, such as Caravaggio’s evocative Narcissus oil painting on canvas from 1599. His metamorphosis is one of hundreds in Ovid’s tale of tales: the “Metamorphoses,” which were composed during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus. Moving in time from the formation of the cosmos to Ovid’s own age, they wittily, learnedly, and seamlessly weave into one huge wall-canvas the stories of Greek mythology to become, arguably, the most influential classical text in the history of art. But they are much more than often-entertaining stories: They engage (dis)respectfully with Greek and Roman poets, such as Virgil, and provide a commentary on the political scene of their day. In this course, we will read the “Metamorphoses” in selection, study a few of its tales in detail, look into Ovid’s innovative changes to the literary tradition and his “argument” with Virgil, and reflect on his political relationship with Augustus, who banished him from Rome. A very brief look at the tales’ astonishing afterlife will round off the course.
Christopher Krebs, Associate Professor of Classics, StanfordChristopher Krebs studied classics and philosophy in Berlin, Kiel, and Oxford and taught at Harvard before coming to Stanford. He is the author of A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich, which received the 2012 Christian Gauss Award. Krebs has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, and History Today.
Textbooks for this course:
(Required) by Ovid (Author), A. D. Melville (Translator), E. J. Kenney (Introduction), Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics) (ISBN 978-0199537372)