Several posts for this first Unit will be “supplemental” material; just extra information. Today’s is on the famous Ancient Roman Poets!
The first Ancient Roman poet you should know is Virgil, or Publius Vergilius Maro (October 15, 70 BCE – September 21, 19 BCE). He wrote many minor poems, but he most remember for his major works, Ecologues (or Bucolics), Georgics, and the Aeneid. The Aeneid is a national epic of Rome, following the literary model of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The story focuses on Aeneas’s search for a homeland (and the war he must wage to do so). Aeneas is supposed to be a sort of model for many Western heroes in the books of people such as Owen Wister and Louis L’Amour.
The Aeneid is often referred to as one of the most important or influential poems in the history of western literature. It took ten years to write/compose, and was commissioned (according to legend) by Augustus. The final product is twelve books or poetry that follows Aeneas from the destruction of Troy to Italy where he battles a prince and founds the city that becomes Rome. The first six books focus on the journey from Troy to Rome, and while it follows the at that point “traditional” conventions of epic, but Virgil incorporated other genres such as tragedy and narrative poetry. According to contemporary reviewers of Virgil, the first six books used the Odyssey as a model, and the last six use the Iliad as a model. So, the first six were focused more on Aeneas’s journey and the last six were focused more on the war and then founding of the new city.
During this time of Augustus, Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) was the leading lyrical poet. Horace wrote Odes, Epodes, Satires, Ars Poetica, Epistles, and Carmen Saeculare. Horace is responsible for a great many themes recurring in later poetry, such as beatus ille (an appraisal of simple life) and carpe diem (seize the day). His Ars Poetica was studied by poets and considered a guide of how-to write poetry through the romanticism period.
Publius Ovidius Naso was probably best known in his time period for being the author of three collections of erotic poetry. However, he was also the author of Metamorphoses, a narrative poem in fifteen books. Metamorphoses was the most-read classical work during the Middle Ages. Because Metamorphoses is on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, I have blogged about it before. I am reprinting that blog entry from 2/4/2010 below:
Book 2 in the 1001 Books is Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Its importance is explained as because it questions tradition and power and could be considered a precursor to the novel because it has the elements of a novel, including dialog “along with its wit, playfulness, and sheer sense of fun.” An additional reason for its inclusion is cited as its “impact on a dazzling array of contemporary novelists, from Salman Rushdie and A. S. Byatt to Cees Nooteboom and Marina Warner” (25).
I was introduced to Ovid’s Metamorphoses when I fell in love with mythology as an undergrad after being assigned Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, a tattered and taped together paperback still on my shelf today. Metamorphoses is available online at many sites, but I suggest this one: http://www.mythology.us/ if you do not have a hard copy.
Metamorphoses is 15 books of narrative poems describing the creation of the world. It has been called a mock epic because it begins as a traditional epic with an invocation to the muse and uses traditional devises such as epithets and circumlocutions. Instead of focusing on a hero and his exploits, though, it moves from story to story with little connection other than a recurring theme of love and that each story features some form of transformation or metamorphosis.
Having said that, I must say that the lack of connection among the stories doesn’t take away from the read. This creation myth tells of the power of the gods, Rome’s greatness, revenge, violence, and offers an intense ride for the reader. It is a lot of fun to read at points, though certainly misogyny runs rampantly through it as rape is often eroticized. It is also, though, a work full of moral and philosophical ideas that serve well for the basis of debate and conversation.
Metamorphoses has not always been available. In the Middle Ages, few would have seen it. In fact, Alan Cameron writes, “A dangerously pagan work, the Metamorphoses was fortunate to survive Christianization, and the vitriolic voices of Augustine and Jerome, who believed the only metamorphosis worth reading about was the transubstantiation” (Greek Mythography in the Roman World. Oxford University Press, 2004).
Honestly, I am all about recovering pagan stories and story-telling traditions. I have actually taught English 101 with creation stories as our theme. Every culture has stories it tells to explain how the world was created and where people come from. I enjoy the creation stories with mythological beings, like Metamorphoses. These characters are some of the most interesting.
Major Character list (Alphabetical)
- Achilles: Son of Peleus and Thetis.
- Aeolus: God of the winds, Father of Alcyone.
- Aesculapius: Apollo’s son, God of medicine.
- Apollo (Phoebus): Son of Latona and Jove, God of sight of the past, present, and future, song, and healing.
- Athene (Pallas, Minerva): Daughter of Jove, goddess of wisdom, virgin goddess, patron goddess of Athens.
- Atlas: A giant, the son of Iapetos, father of the Pleiads.
- Bacchus: God of wine; son of Jove and Semele.
- Ceres: Goddess of agriculture, sister of Jove, mother of Proserpine.
- Circe: Goddess, Enchantress, Daughter of the sun.
- Cupid: Son of Venus, God of love.
- Cybele: Mother of the gods.
- Dawn: Personification of sunrise.
- Diana: Daughter of Latona and Jove, Apollo’s twin sister, Virgin huntress, Moon goddess.
- Furies, Fates: Allecto, Megaere, and Tisiphone are three sisters who live in the underworld and seek to avenge and punish.
- Graie: Twin daughters of Phorcys, Medusa’s guardians.
- Hebe: Youth.
- Hecate: Goddess of enchantments.
- Hercules: Son of Jove and Alcmena.
- Hunger: Personification of hunger.
- Ilithya: Goddess of childbirth.
- Isis: Egyptian goddess.
- Juno: Queen of the gods, sister and wife of Jove.
- Jupiter (Jove): Chief of the gods, Son of Saturn, Husband of Juno.
- Latona (Leto): Mother of twins Apollo and Diana.
- Mars: God of war, Son of Jove and Juno.
- Medusa: One of the three Gorgons.
- Mercury: Son of Jove and Maia, Messenger of the gods.
- Neptune: Jupiter’s brother, God of the sea.
- Pan: God of woods and shepherds.
- Pegasus: Winged horse, sprouted from the blood of Medusa.
- Pluto: Brother of Jupiter and Neptune, God of the Underworld.
- Proteus: Sea god of many forms.
- Rumour: Personification of rumor.
- Saturn: Ruler of the world before Jove, Father of Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto.
- Sleep: Personification of sleep.
- The Muses: Nine sisters who are patron saints of the arts.
- Themis: Goddess of justice, oracular powers.
- Thetis: Sea-nymph, daughter of Nereus, wife of Peleus, mother of Achilles.
- Venus (Aphrodite): goddess of love, mother of Cupid and of Aeneas, wife of Vulcan.
- Vulcan (Hephaestus): Husband of Venus, God of fire, blacksmith god.