The first female translator of the epic into English in over sixty years, Stephanie McCarter addresses accuracy in translation and its representation of women, gendered dynamics of power, and sexual violence in Ovid’s classic. To celebrate the publication of this exciting new translation Elda Rotor, the Vice President and Publisher of Penguin Classics, will lead a discussion with Stephanie, the writer Nina McLaughlin, and visual artist Elizabeth Columba, around the process of translation of classics, in all its different forms, and the process of bringing these texts into the modern era.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is an epic poem, but one that upturns almost every convention. There is no main hero, no central conflict, and no sustained objective. What it is about (power, defiance, art, love, abuse, grief, rape, war, beauty, and so on) is as changeable as the beings that inhabit its pages. The sustained thread is power and how it transforms us, both those of us who have it and those of us who do not. For those who are brutalized and traumatized, transformation is often the outward manifestation of their trauma. A beautiful virgin is caught in the gaze of someone more powerful who rapes or tries to rape them, and they ultimately are turned into a tree or a lake or a stone or a bird. The victim’s objectification is clear: They are first a visual object, then a sexual object, and finally simply an object. Around 50 of the epic’s tales involve rape or attempted rape of women. Past translations have obscured or mitigated Ovid’s language so that rape appears to be consensual sex. Through her translation, McCarter considers the responsibility of handling sexual and social dynamics.
Then why continue to read Ovid? McCarter proposes Ovid should be read because he gives us stories through which we can better explore ourselves and our world, and he illuminates problems that humans have been grappling with for millennia. Careful translation of rape and the body allows readers to see Ovid’s nuances clearly and to better appreciate how ideas about sexuality, beauty, and gender are constructed over time. This is especially important since so many of our own ideas about these phenomena are themselves undergoing rapid metamorphosis, and Ovid can help us see and understand this progression. The Metamorphoses holds up a kaleidoscopic lens to the modern world, one that offers us the opportunity to reflect on contemporary discussions about gender, sexuality, race, violence, art, and identity.
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Stephanie McCarter is a professor of Classics at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. She has previously published two books on Latin poetry, including a translation of Horace’s Epodes, Odes, and Carmen Saeculare. Her writing has appeared in The Sewanee Review, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, The Millions, Lapham’s Quarterly, Hyperallergic, Psyche, Eidolon, and elsewhere.
From Martinique descent, born and raised in Paris, France, Elizabeth Colomba is a representational artist living in New York City. Her aesthetic draws inspiration from Old masters and refers to mythological, allegorical, historical narratives mixed with her cinematic skills. Depicting stories featuring black characters, is rising a complex issue about what it means for people to define themselves through images and the impact it has on one’s psyche. Elizabeth Colomba generates a space for her subjects to inhabit the re-writing of their history, in that sense, she analyses the construction of identity and tangled interrelationship between past, present in our collective identity today. Colomba’s works have been exhibited at the LACMA, the Park Avenue Armory and is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Colomba is in the permanent collection of the Studio museum in Harlem, the Park Armory Avenue, Yale, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and JP Morgan.
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung (FSG Originals), Summer Solstice (Black Sparrow), and Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter (W.W. Norton). She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Elda Rotor is Vice President and Publisher of Penguin Classics. She oversees the U.S. editorial program including the works of John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller, Shirley Jackson, William Golding, Amy Tan, and the Pelican Shakespeare series. She acquires nonfiction for Viking and Penguin. Elda is a board member for the Academy of American Poets and Kundiman, a national organization dedicated to Asian American creative writing.
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