The English Enlightenment Reads Ovid: Dryden and Jacob Tonson's 1717 "Metamorphoses" by Richard Morton (review)
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The English Enlightenment Reads Ovid: Dryden and Jacob Tonson's 1717 "Metamorphoses" by Richard Morton New York: AMS Press, 2013. xxix+166pp. US$82.50. ISBN 978-0-404-64862-6.

In the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, miscellany translation emerged as a major phenomenon that helped authors to experiment in generic form, particularly the novel. These miscellanies eroded traditional hierarchies and shifted emphasis from the lessons embedded in great works of the past to psychological motivation. Ovid was a favourite alike among the most eminent poets and the least capable, and many attempted translations. Richard Morton's fine in-depth study of the traditions of Ovid translation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries traces shifts in authors' perceptions of the ancient and Ovid's place in contemporary culture.

Morton first observes that the magnificent translation by various "Eminent hands" and embellished with plates became enshrined in the minds of the century as "Dryden's Ovid's Metamorphosis." This was the victor in ongoing publishing wars that had begun as far back as Dryden's Ovid's Epistles in 1680 and culminated through a series of miscellanies in a competition between Garth and Curll in 1717. Like the Sandys Ovid it replaced, "Jacob Tonson's Ovid's Metamorphoses in Fifteen Books is one of the masterpieces of English book production" (xv). Tonson's translation reflects the modish glamour of the new century. Morton stresses variety and female influence, while also highlighting Dryden on the modernity of translation with Dryden's recognition of difference in approaches. What these miscellanies capture is mixed delights and an audience bent on entertainment rather than instruction. Ancient characters come to life, and the translation changes the presentation of the ancient world for posterity through its "humanizing realism" (xxv). Morton's argument makes for compelling reading, though his contexts could have been better framed with Barbara Benedict's extensive work on the miscellanies and their impact.

In his first chapter, Morton reviews the "Early Modern Ovid Moralisé" through Golding, Renouard, and Sandys. Horatian delight and instructive elements are taken very seriously in Golding's Elizabethan translation. Golding warns of the evil involved in misreading the layers of allegory [End Page 663] in Ovid's mythology. Renouard's early seventeenth-century French prose translation moralizes Ovid with interpolated "judgmental asides," going further than other translators in the ethical lessons he draws. Sandys prefigures hypertext and is an Ovid for his age.

As he directly addresses the 1717 Dryden Ovid, Morton points out that Dryden's translations from Examen Poeticum and Fables Ancient and Modern make up the bulk of it. In contrast to the moralizing tradition of the earlier translators, Dryden makes Ovid "patently comic." His prefatory essays engage in comparisons between authors, which was Dryden's signature contribution to criticism and thinking. Morton remarks that Dryden's intention, as it was increasingly in his translations, was "to identify common human sensibility" through the act of translation. Dryden's greater emphasis on psychology than on morality would help shape the poetry of the century to follow him. Morton uses as an example of this influence Pope's Rape of the Lock (1712), which features the kind of humour and psychology that Dryden was laying the groundwork for in these translations (25–26).

In his third chapter, Morton sketches the variety and styles of poets and playwrights who attempted Ovid and got caught up in the translation industry, as it had become. The more serious and classically oriented translations by Joseph Addison of books 2 and 3 of Metamorphoses feature in Poetical Miscellanies (1704), not in the 1717 edition with its focus on Ovid's deficiency of "Words" (61). Addison's goal is to sharpen imagery and heighten the universality of the ancient. Gay's version of Arachne appears in the 1717 Curll Metamorphoses.

Nahum Tate, the playwright and, from 1692, poet laureate, supplies a version of book 7 of the Metamorphoses in Tonson's 1717 edition as "the culmination of a long career" (89). As proof of how complex the translation culture had become, Tate's version was later "shamelessly plagiarized in the 1717 complete Metamorphoses of Sewell and Curll...


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