Last on your list of best history books of 2020 is Ovid: A Very Short Introduction by Llewellyn Morgan. Why is this a great book?
I’m not a classicist, but in the three months of this year that I was allowed out, I just kept coming across Ovid quite a lot—for instance, the Titian exhibition at the National Gallery, which was absolutely astounding. Only six paintings, but the first time that the collection of paintings based upon Metamorphoses, which Titian painted for Philip II, have been assembled in a single room for 300 years. Quite extraordinary.
Delving into this, you realise that everyone steals from Ovid—Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, James Joyce mentions him, Ted Hughes, Margaret Atwood has a short story about him. Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel, Middlesex, was based upon Metamorphoses. Even Enid Blyton adapted him for a children’s book about tales of Ancient Greece. In the world of music, Handel, Gluck, Lully, Benjamin Britten—they’ve all adapted tales from Ovid. So, just at a time when I thought I really should know a little bit more about Ovid, Llewellyn Morgan comes up with this book.
The Very Short Introductions, at their best, are really excellent. I’m thinking of John Arnold’s introduction to history, for example. It’s a really superb, very personal account, of the attractions and meaning of history as a discipline. That’s a fascinating one. Sadly, because they’re part of a collection, they’re not often reviewed. But there are some real gems within them, lots of good ones.
This one is a really loving account of Ovid, with a very simple structure. It takes you through his major works, with the Metamorphoses obviously at the centre. It’s also, to a certain extent, a meditation on exile. Ovid is one of the great figures of exile. It’s very good on that perspective. It’s a wonderful little book. I can’t think of a better introduction to the work of this figure who is, arguably, the single most influential poet of antiquity.
So, even if you don’t want to read Ovid, it’s super helpful if you want to read Shakespeare or Dante or indeed pretty much anyone else. Is that the point?
Yes. And going back to what we were talking about before, this is extremely useful when looking at Milton. It confirms one of my worries about history at the moment. I’ve talked about language and religion here and the two are often bound up. Unless you really have some grasp of foreign languages, or the vocabulary of religions—both of which are rather neglected in Britain today—you can’t really have any geographical or chronological depth in history. You’re stuck with the 20th century, the 19th century and probably just the West.
If you really want to practise history, then you need languages and you need an understanding of religion and I think all the books we have talked about, these five books, which range from Ovid, to Jews in the Reformation, to the Aztec world, to Milton, this great poet, and to Beethoven—music being a language in itself—all of them represent the idea that, unless one has some kind of facility in these languages in all their variety, then you’re lost as a historian
As “Metamorfoses” de Ovídio ganham tradução integral para o português, e em versos **Ovídio ** *Metamorfoses* TRAD. Domingos Lucas Dias; APRES. João Angelo Oliva Neto Editora 34 • 912 pp • R$ 110
Além de ser um clássico da literatura latina, Metamorfoses, do romano Públio Ovídio Naso (43 a.C.-17/18 d.C.), é um dos mais maravilhosos e mais estranhos poemas jamais escritos. A princípio, essa longa peça, composta de quinze seções, inscreve-se no gênero das cosmogonias, comum na Antiguidade clássica, dedicado ao relato da origem das coisas, do mundo, dos deuses, dos animais, do homem. E a primeira seção da obra de fato confirma essa expectativa:
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