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Posts Tagged ‘Ovid’

Recapping Dante: Canto 30, or Triple X

May 26, 2014 | by

Canto-30

Gustave Doré, Canto XXX

We’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: flesh-eating, incest, the lute-man, and more!

Dante has shown that almost every canto in the Inferno obeys a certain logic. First, Dante and Virgil enter a new circle or ditch; Dante notices a small cluster of sinners being subjected to a gruesome, albeit clever punishment (shit-eating for the flatterers, amputation and disembowelment for the schism-makers); then Virgil will encourage him to approach a sinner, who inevitably ends up being an Italian eager to tell the story of his life in a way that downplays the gravity of his sin. Virgil and Dante move on afterward. Salt, pepper, and serve. This formula is so apparent that had Dante been less skilled, his stories less heartrending, the Inferno would’ve been a heavy-handed entertainment instead of a lyrical masterpiece.

The opening of canto 30 abandons this formula. We pick up where canto 29 left off, as Dante meets the alchemists and the Falsifiers of Others’ Persons. In order to convey exactly how psychotic these sinners are, Dante compares their violence to two famously macabre stories from the ancients. First he tells the story of the goddess Juno, who arranged the death of Ino by sending Ino’s lover into a fit of madness during which he took Ino’s son and “whirled him round and dashed him on a rock.” Ino jumped into the ocean after her dead son and drowned. That’s plenty gruesome, but then Dante tells a second story, this one about Hecuba of Troy, who saw her two sons killed and went mad with grief. These mad Thebans and Trojans, Dante writes, are nothing compared to the crazed sinner we encounter here, in the Tenth Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell, who bites into the neck of a fellow sinner.

Capocchio, one of Dante’s former classmates who was introduced in Canto 29, is the guy being bitten; Griffolino, another sinner who was introduced in 29, explains that the aggressor—the biter—is Gianni Schicchi, who, when he was on earth, pretended to be the late Buoso Donati in order to help his own family inherit a sum of money. Griffolino also points out Myrrha, who appears in The Metamorphoses as the daughter of the King of Cyprus. She so lusted for her father that she put on a disguise and seduced him. Oops! Read More »

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Ovid’s Ancient Beauty Elixirs

March 20, 2014 | by

The man knew his makeup. Ovid, in a woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

The rumors are true: it’s Publius Ovidius Naso’s 2,057th birthday. You can score some points with the classicists in your life by mentioning this in casual conversation, especially if you toss in a reference to the Metamorphoses. (“I was just thinking of Pyramus and Thisbe,” you might say, wiping a tear from your cheek as you gaze wanly upon a crack in the wall.) And if you’re wooing a classicist, or wooing anyone, really, be sure to heed the advice in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, his instructional elegy on romance—its efficacy has not been diminished by the passage of millennia. Mental Floss even has eleven dating tips from the poet himself. They include “the theatre is a great place to pick up girls,” “do not make a parade of your nocturnal exploits,” and “pay your lovers in poetry.”

But I write today with a more urgent, and more profitable, message. Even if readers still (occasionally) reach for the Metamorphoses or Ars Amatoria, there’s a massive blind spot in our modern view of Ovid. We’ve all but forgotten the man’s gifts as a beautician. Read More »

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Literary Halloween Costumes; Romantic Gestures

October 28, 2011 | by

What are the most successful romantic gestures in literature? I need to win someone back, stat. Failing that, can you recommend reading to mend a broken heart?

Levin wins back Kitty after behaving like a complete ass, but you may not have time to read Anna Karenina. There’s the moment when Little Miss No Name runs downstairs to say good-bye to Max de Winter, in Rebecca, and it happens early in the book, but maybe that’s not exactly a case of winning somebody back. I’m guessing swordplay and feats of derring-do are not to the point—so I would read Pursuits of Happiness, Stanley Cavell’s 1981 study of what he calls “remarriage comedies,” movies about couples falling apart and getting back together. First you’ll want to cue up the movies in question: The Lady Eve, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, Adams Rib, and The Awful Truth.

If that doesn’t give you any ideas, readers of this column will guess my first recommendation: the wacky but wise self-help book Love and Limerence, also Ovid’s Cure for Love—full of useful advice, like: focus on the beloved’s physical imperfections—and George Jones, opera omnia.

Do you think joining a private social club—a super old-fashioned one in a historic building whose members have all led long, literary lives—sounds (a) retro and totally cool, or (b) stodgy and a little weird, a misplaced desire for a twenty-something who might be the clubs only member under sixty, and only Jew in history?

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