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Translator's Note: The Rape of Europa

by Daryl Hine


These, the concluding lines of Book II of The Metamorphoses, detail, with a brevity unusual in Ovid, one of a series of "loves" of Jove, and one of his transformations. In other instances it is his victim who is transformed. The passage begins with a gnomic sentence which is illustrated in the following passage with all the visual elaboration so typical of Ovid, including a rather gratuitous simile. Perhaps the most striking of these lines is the last, a conclusion that has no parallel among all the fifteen books of The Metamorphoses, inconclusive, kinetic, and pictorial, in effect a moving picture, iconic in many paintings and mosaics before as well as after Ovid's time.

I have translated these dactylic hexameters, the most common of Latin measures, and indeed all of the poem which I have so far completed, with as much attention to the sound as to the sense, the meter as well as the meaning, and with care primarily for the overall effect. The meter of The Metamorphoses fortunately lends itself to easy imitation in English, if one substitutes stress for length of syllable and exploits the variety afforded by the ambiguities of English scansion. The other obvious candidate, blank verse, lacks length of line as well as the disyllabic closure of each line, and also elides the strong caesura. No iambic pentameter could convey the fluttering in the breeze of Europa's scarves as do these dactyls.

Ovid's Metamorphoses, the most popular and entertaining of extant ancient poems, is a loosely affiliated farrago of generally discreditable stories about the Greco-Roman gods, which provides, or perhaps I should say provided, a skewed and partial compendium of classical mythology for Renaissance painters and writers (e.g., Pyramus and Thisbe in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream) as well as such handbooks as Bullfinch's Mythology. Read rather than recited to select audiences before Ovid's exile from Rome in 8 ce, it was subsequently disseminated in many copies.

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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