In this episode of Literary Tales we explore Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the juxtapositional dialectic of love and violence relating to metamorphosis (change or transformation) in the great mytho-poetic masterpiece of one of Rome’s great sensual poets. This lecture, in particular, focuses on the stories of Perseus and Andromeda; Pygmalion and the Statue; and Acis and Galatea.

Ovid - Chaos
George Frederic Watts, “Chaos,” 1875. Owing to the sublime origins of ancient poetry, Chaos is the starting point of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The transformation, metamorphosis, from chaos to order is the start of Ovid’s great epic.
Ovid - Perseus and Andromeda
Peter Paul Rubens, “Perseus Freeing Andromeda,” 1620. The sensuality and eroticism of the masculine hero defeating chaos (the sea-monster) and winning the beautiful woman in marriage is clearly evoked in the story of Perseus and Andromeda and in Rubens’ painting. According to Giambattista Vico, poetic metaphysics begins in “chaos” because of sexual promiscuity. Chaos is defeated through marriage, bringing rationality and order to poetic metaphysics which later philosophers rationalized through natural law. Ovid’s Metamorphoses occurs in the throes of a great transformation in Western metaphysics: away from the chaotic and toward the orderly and rational. The stories of Ovid, nevertheless, show traces of the sublime and chaotic past as well as the new rational order of the future.
Ovid - Perseus_Turning_Phineus_and_his_followers_to_Stone
Luca Giordano, “Perseus Turning Phineas and his Followers to Stone,” ca. 1680s. Color symbolism is important to note in Renaissance and Baroque art. Red is the color of love; blue the color of faith; white the color of purity. Note how Perseus is draped in these colors. Red (the feather on his cap) signifies his rational love for Perseus; white (his undergarments) symbolizes his purity in love and faith; blue (his overcoat and armor) signifies his trust in the revelations of Athena/Minerva who informed Perseus how to slay the gorgon Medusa and avoid being turned to stone. Perseus remains trusting (faithful) of Athena’s advice and is looking away from Medusa’s head as he wields it.
Ovid - Pygmalion_and_his_Statue
Louis-Jean Francois, “Pygmalion and His Statue,” 1777. Note, again the color symbolism of the painting. Pygmalion is draped in red (love) and orange (authority) while his statue has broken free of its dead marble mold (decayed remains all around) and is now alive to the touch, she is covered in white (purity) and her naked voluptuousness signifies her newly acquired liveliness. Consider her coloration from red blushing cheeks to silky skin.
Ovid - Acis and Galatea
Nicholas Poussin, “Acis and Galatea,” 1630. Polyphemus, the cyclops, is playing the pan-flute in the background. Note, again, the kissing Acis and Galatea being flanked by a red covering.
Ovid - Acis and Galatea2
Pompeo Batoni, “Polythemus about to kill Acis who runs from Galathea,” 1761. Love, sex, and violence are often governing the movement of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Ovid - Triumph of Venus
Francois Boucher, “The Triumph of Venus,” 1740.

 

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