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Posts Tagged ‘Ovid’

Iris Murdoch’s Favorite Painting

July 15, 2015 | by

Titian, The Flaying of Marsyas, ca. 1570–76, oil on canvas, 83" × 81".

Iris Murdoch, who would be ninety-six today, thrilled to paintings of every stripe, but she was compelled by one work in particular: Titian’s The Flaying of Marsyas, from the late sixteenth century. She mentions it in her 1990 Art of Fiction interview:

INTERVIEWER

Do you see a painting you are particularly interested in and think, I might be able to use that some day in a novel, or I’d like to use it because it attracts and interests me?

MURDOCH

The novel often indicates a painting during the process of creating the characters. Somehow the character will lead to the painting. A great painting that I have only recently seen—it lives in Czechoslovakia—is Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas. He was over ninety when he painted it. This painting gives me very much, though I have only referred to it indirectly.

Elsewhere, Murdoch has called the painting the greatest in the Western canon. It makes prominent appearances in her novels A Fairly Honourable Defeat, The Black Prince, and Jackson’s Dilemma; she even went so far as to include it in the background of her portrait, which hangs at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The Flaying of Marsyas has “something to do with human life and all its ambiguities and all its horrors and terrors and misery,” she told the BBC, “and at the same time there’s something beautiful, the picture is beautiful, and something also to do with the entry of the spiritual into the human situation and the closeness of the gods … I regard Dionysus in a sense as a part of Apollo’s mind … and want to exalt Apollo as a god who is a terrible god, but also a great artist and thinker and a great source of life.” Read More »

Ovid Is Not a Safe Space, and Other News

May 18, 2015 | by

Virgil_Solis_-_Deucalion_Pyrrha

Deucalion and Pyrrha in an engraving by Virgil Solis for Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I.

  • Dag Solstad will appear at our Norwegian-American Literary Festival this week—isn’t it time you get to know him? “A literary provocateur and a national icon, an experimental writer who is also a favorite with the country’s top comedians, Dag Solstad’s belated international breakthrough is in curious contrast to his position in his native country. Only three of his books have been translated into English (a fourth is on its way), but in Norway, Solstad has, at least since the mid 80s, been held up as a paragon of literary merit, his style a kind of gold standard of prose fiction.”
  • Columbia students believe that Ovid’s Metamorphoses should come with trigger warnings—the myths of Persephone and Daphne, after all, include rape. “But the core [curriculum] is not a form of therapy; it’s a form of exposure to diverse ideas, and it should not have the aim of making people feel ‘safe.’ In fact, that’s precisely the opposite of its aim.”
  • Rare book experts are assembling a kind of scholarly justice league to stop the theft and vandalism of historic books worldwide. “Lawyers and librarians, booksellers and auctioneers will descend on the British Library next month for a major conference whose title—‘The Written Heritage of Mankind in Peril’—conveys the seriousness of the problem.”
  • Émilie Du Châtelet, a seventeenth-century scholar of Newton, religion, science, and mathematics, earned plaudits from Kant and had a very visible relationship with Voltaire—but today no one reads her. “It is possible to major in philosophy without hearing anything about the historical contributions of women philosophers. The canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that some say still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender.”
  • How to turn fifty if you’re Rob Pruitt: have a barbecue, just like everyone else. But your barbecue will be art. “Pruitt has been able to embrace a peculiar irony that is omnipresent in the art world today: the paradox of a crass, hypervalued luxury market for the world’s super rich, wedded to a left-leaning ideology that sees art as a public good for the common folk … In this curious art world of limousine liberalism, Mr. Pruitt is happy to play chauffeur, more interested in reflecting modern culture than critiquing it.”

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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