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  • Metamorphosis: The Changing Face of Ovid in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
  • Lindsay Ann Reid (bio)
Alison Keith and Stephen Rupp, editors. Metamorphosis: The Changing Face of Ovid in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. CRRS Publications, Victoria University in the University of Toronto. 2007. x, 340. $37.00

Arising out of a conference of the same name held at the University of Toronto in 2005, Metamorphosis: The Changing Face of Ovid in Medieval and Early Modern Europe joins several recent studies of Ovid's literary influence. The fifteen essays in this edited collection examine 'the changing fortunes' of the Augustan poet, focusing particularly on the post-classical transmission of his epic-length Metamorphoses. Though its contents are wide-ranging (a great variety of subject matter fits under the collection's general rubric), most of the volume's essays would best be described as studies in later authors' reappropriation of Ovidian mythology. [End Page 273]

The collection opens with 'After Ovid: Classical, Medieval, and Early Modern Receptions of the Metamorphoses,' in which editors Alison Keith and Stephen Rupp lay contextual groundwork for the volume's subsequent essays by providing a brief overview of the poem's reception in antiquity and the early medieval era. The remainder of the essays are organized chronologically, and it is worth noting that the authors' interests are spread evenly between the medieval and early modern periods.

Frank T. Coulson's two-and-a-half-century overview of French commentaries on the Metamorphoses takes up the narrative of Ovid's reception more or less where Keith and Rupp leave off, in the so-called aetas Ovidiana of the 1100s. Subsequent essays by Marilynn Desmond, Suzanne Conklin Akbari, and Patricia Zalamea engage heavily with the fourteenth-century Ovide moralisé, an influential adaptation of Ovid's poem that traverses the boundaries between translation and commentary. Establishing the dominant pattern for the remaining essays in the collection, Akbari and Zalamea each read a later author's work against an Ovidian (or pseudo-Ovidian) source text; for both Akbari and Zalamea, this later author is Christine de Pizan.

Forging links between Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and the Metamorphoses, Jamie C. Fumo perceives trademark 'Ovidian' subversiveness in the narratological structure of the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. While Kathryn McKinley focuses on a contemporaneous text, Gower's Confessio Amantis, she takes up a strikingly different set of issues: the milieu of Ricardian political discourse. The contributions of Thomas Willard and Cora Fox link Ovid's poem to the early modern occult; respectively, their pieces explore the appearance of Ovidian fabulae in alchemical treatises and link the Metamorphoses' fascination with the transformative female body to demonological writings.

Although several contributors point to the dynamic relations between literary texts and visual representations (and the volume includes an appendix of twenty reproductions of images discussed in the essays), Julia Branna Perlman's contribution is the only essay that explicitly focuses on pictorial representations. Positing an interlinked triad of tales from Metamorphoses 10 as Michelangelo's source, Perlman examines the Italian artist's widely imitated Venus and Cupid. Amongst the other essays, Petrarch's relationship with Ovid is well represented. Gur Zak concentrates on his use of the Narcissus myth in the Secretum, and Cynthia Nazarian compares his use of the Diana and Actaeon leitmotif in Il Canzoniere with Scève's allusions to the same Ovidian tale in Délie. Both Sanda Munjic and R. John McCaw treat Ovid's Spanish reception, with Munjic reading the bird imagery of Go´ngora's Soledades in conjunction with Ovid's poem and McCaw constellating the Clavileño episode of Cervantes' Don Quijote with the mythological story of Phaethon. And [End Page 274] finally, Maggie Kilgour's suggestive exploration of the nature of metamorphosis in Ovid and Milton provides an appropriately strong finale.

One striking feature of this collection is that it acknowledges the Metamorphoses' permeability across national and linguistic borders and avoids limiting itself to a narrowly defined geographical focus. It is thus that Metamorphosis: The Changing Face of Ovid in Medieval and Early Modern Europe conveys the genuinely multifaceted and international nature of Ovidianism. Admittedly, however, a volume that sets out to...


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