Philip Hardie (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ovid. Cambridge: Cambridge. University Press 2002. Pp. xvi+408. ISBN 0-521-77528-0.
Review by Martin Brady
Arguably the first ?Companion to Ovid? was produced by the author himself from exile circa 9 CE, in a piece which has passed to posterity as Tristia 2. In the second half of this 578-line poem Ovid attempts tactfully to explain to the princeps, who lacks the time to devote to the reading and interpretation of literature, the frame of mind in which his earlier poems ought to be approached. Left to his own devices, Augustus has regrettably misconstrued the tone of Ovid?s erotic verse; the poet therefore feels it is his duty to map out the basic precepts he ought to bring to a reading of the text, in order to persuade him that the poems are no more depraved than more conventional classics of literary history such as Virgil, Ennius or Homer. Ovid?s Tomis Companion to Myself therefore pursues two main objectives. Firstly, the poet presumes to do some of the basic literary critical spadework for Augustus, to save him the tiresome task of reading these works and thinking through the major interpretative issues for himself. Secondly, he seeks to show how his writings are in tone with the literary orthodoxy of the day, recentering his works within the approved canon of supposedly more ?serious? authors and demonstrating how the Amores, the Ars Amatoria et al., far from promoting dangerously dissident views, actually conform closely to the themes and conventions of Virgil?s ?Augustan? epic, the grandest and most canonical literary work of all.
We may or may not find such casuistry persuasive and Augustus himself was presumably unmoved, in that he disregarded the poet?s pleas for a more civilized place of exile. Nevertheless Ovid?s approach in Tristia 2 points the way for more modern Companions, not least the volume under review here, which performs a number of valuable services for stressed-out undergraduates and researchers. The critical surveys of the major poems and summaries of contemporary Ovidian scholarship will be an invaluable boon to students battling essay deadlines; and indeed some chapters, such as Alison Sharrock ?Ovid and the discourse of love? (Chapter 9) and Gareth Williams ?Ovid?s exile poetry? (Chapter 14), look to have been written with just such a readership in mind. Likewise the further reading provided at the end of each chapter will provide a useful baseline for researchers seeking to construct more detailed bibliographies on various aspects of Ovidian poetics. All in all the twenty essays combine to provide a concise overview of the prevailing orthodoxy in Ovidian studies an orthodoxy which, true to the title and publisher of the volume, is very much centred on Cambridge (eight of the 17 contributors can boast a doctoral degree from the university, and the editor himself is presently based at New Hall). The volume therefore provides in a nutshell, for students and scholars alike, a comprehensive guide to how Ovid ought to be read and interpreted at the start of the twenty-first century.
If Tristia 2 provides the archetype for the aims and objectives of a literary companion, however, it is the Metamorphoses which most closely parallels the structure of this volume. Ovid?s great epic promised to encompass all of history ?from the first beginnings of the world right up to our own day?, and this book is equally broad in scope. The twenty essays are divided into three sections. The first, entitled ?Contexts and History?, contains four essays on the cultural, political and social milieu of Ovid?s own day; the eleven contributions of Part Two, entitled ?Themes and Works?, analyse the progression and development of Ovid?s poetic career; and the final section, entitled ?Reception?, takes the story up to contemporary times with six pieces on various post-classical approaches to Ovid, validating Ovid?s proud boast that ?I shall live in fame through all the ages?. Within this ?epic? superstructure emerge various subplots, as several chapters touch on different aspects of the same theme. Space precludes a more extensive discussion, but the contributions by Stephen Hinds (Chapter 8, ?Landscape with figures?) and Christopher Allen (Chapter 20, ?Ovid in art?) are required reading both separately and side by side for anyone interested in the visual aspects of Ovid?s literary art, while Allen?s admiration of Ovid as a ?storyteller?, peripheral to his main scholarly interests, finds a more sophisticated theoretical expression in the outstanding essay by Alessandro Barchiesi (Chapter 11, ?Narrative technique and narratology in the Metamorphoses?).
In this respect it is a pity, perhaps, that the book is not more imaginatively structured, the more so since the chronological progression of the essays from the first beginnings of Ovid?s literary career to our own day seems tacitly to suggest that once we arrive at the present day our knowledge of Ovid is ?complete?, that the history of Ovidian scholarship culminates in this very volume, which holds the key to unlocking the final mysteries of his poetics. It is true that the late twentieth century, concerned as it has been with probing the boundaries between ?representations? and ?reality?, has made Ovid out to be something of a kindred spirit, a fellow postmodernist avant la lettre, and Hardie himself makes some cogent remarks on this topic in his editorial introduction. However, Duncan Kennedy, during an illuminating discussion of twentieth-century responses to the Metamorphoses (Chapter 19, ?Recent receptions of Ovid?), cautions us against assuming any of our perceptions of the poet to have universal validity: ?In his reception, Ovid has after all been ?moralized? and ?Christianized?, which can seem every bit as bizarre to some minds as an Ovid ?magically realized? can, no doubt, to others? (p.327). ?Continuity within change? is the watchword of Ovidian metamorphosis and a favourite theme among contributors to this volume: as much as this book will benefit students seeking prescriptive analyses of the major themes in Ovidian scholarship, the present dogma will gradually yield to the evolving orthodoxies of a new generation of critics, and it would have been interesting to see some more ideas about where interpretations of Ovid might be heading in the not-too-distant future.
Nevertheless, Hardie has produced a congenial Companion which easily surpasses the exiled Ovid?s own efforts at placing the poet?s works at the centre of critical debate. Aspiring undergraduates and advancing graduates alike will benefit from thinking about the issues discussed in the essays and from following up on the suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter. All the contributors to this volume have played a part in bringing the author to the forefront of Latin studies, and the Cambridge Companion to Ovid is an appropriate monument to their work.