Poetry News

Ovid's Bacterial Metamorphoses

By Harriet Staff
Ovid, Metamorphoses

The Guardian's Maev Kennedy reports on a "bio-artist" who is raising library patrons' awareness of the "human stains" present in many second-hand volumes. The artist, Sarah Craske, created a series of collages that reveal blood, sweat, and tears on pages from a 300-year-old copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Craske donated her own blood for the purpose of spawning the organisms, "star and flower shapes of hugely magnified bacteria blooming in crimson smears." "Craske found the rare early English translation of Ovid’s epic Latin poem, published in London in 1735, in a junk shop in Margate," Kennedy writes. Let's pick up with her there: 

She paid just £3 for it. By the time her curiosity about its history, and Ovid’s theme of transformations of animals, objects and humans had suggested the project – “I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities”, the poem begins – she had discovered to her dismay that the book was actually worth £1,500.

“Book lovers will hate me, because I had to tear out some of the pages to create the biological map – but we did first establish that this was not the only surviving copy, the Bodleian has one and so has Harvard.”

The bizarrely beautiful images she created, star and flower shapes of hugely magnified bacteria blooming in crimson smears of her own blood, will go on display this week, in an exhibition opening at Chetham’s Library in Manchester, a free public library since 1665. Visitors, having inspected the scores of bacteria cultured from just one chapter of the Ovid volume, may well look nervously at the thousands of surrounding volumes.

Read more at The Guardian.

Originally Published: July 25th, 2017