Series comparing three ancient accounts of the Great Flood in the literature of the Western cultural tradition.
Category: The Great Flood in Literature (page 1 of 2)
In the previous installment in this series on the Great Flood in the literary tradition, we saw that the Biblical flood story, unlike its analogs in pagan literature, emphasizes the God who saves, rather than on the man who is saved. The survival of Moses and his family is part of a pattern that marks the relations of God and Man. We’ll come back to that later, but today I want to take a closer look at the man who is saved from the divine destruction that wipes out the rest of humankind.
All three ancient writers were interpreting the same primeval events, trying to probe the same mystery to answer the question: Why? Why would God (the gods) cause or allow such a cataclysmic event as a worldwide flood? And why would He (they) save one particular man while allowing everyone and everything else to perish? The answer to the first question in all three cases is similar: God (the gods) was displeased with the way mankind had turned out, and thought it better to wipe the slate clean, rather than to allow things to go on as they had. Thus the deluge.
WHY THIS MAN?
In the answer to the second question, however, we see more clearly how the perspectives and the intentions of the three writers differ.
The Mesopotamian poet who composed the Epic of Gilgamesh lived in an age when the power of kings made them seem different from ordinary men, almost like gods. He imagined that the man who was saved must have been a powerful king, like Gilgamesh himself. Why else would any god even have noticed him, much less cared enough about him to save him? So Utnapishtim, a godlike king, is given the means to save himself and those of his household, thanks to one god’s warning. Yet the council of the gods as a whole are displeased with his survival and he is “rewarded” by being forced into a godlike, unending exile, far from the new human race that re-peoples the earth. It is almost as if the gods have said to him, “Ha! Think you’re special? Think you can fool us, as if you were one of us? Let’s see how you like living in godlike isolation from mere mortals.” And, as we know, Utnapishtim did not like it much at all. The blessing seemed more like a curse, and this was what he tried to convey to Gilgamesh, striving vainly for godlike immortality.
Ovid wrote his Metamorphoses in a very different age, for a very different audience. He and his readers were jaded sophisticates who probably regarded the Graeco-Roman pantheon of gods as more of a metaphor than a literal reality. We know that Ovid was also at odds with the overweening ruler of his day, and embedded in his poem a warning against rulers who act as if they are gods. In the Metamporphoses, the gods are capricious, often monstrous, in their dealings with mere mortals, particularly in the decision of Jupiter to erase mankind and all living things from the face of the earth. Still, Ovid knew that someone must have survived the flood, two individuals whom his own mythic tradition identified as Deukalion and Pyrrha. The fund of myth from which Ovid drew his story material made it clear that these two were no “mere” mortals, they were demigods, each the offspring of a divine father (the Titans Prometheus and Epimetheus). This, however, did not make them un-killable. They barely survived in their tiny, unprovisioned boat, and only fate preserved them long enough to find themselves stranded on a mountaintop as the flood waters finally receded. In Ovid’s account, no divine hand saves them, but only dumb luck. They survived because they were tough old birds. How fitting, then, that they should restore the human race from stones, so that their posterity would be as tough as stones to survive the vicissitudes of gods and kings.
What about Noah, then? An ordinary man, neither king nor hero, distinguished only by being a “righteous” man, one who didn’t engage in the excesses and depravities of other men. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. […] But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 65-6, 8, RSV-CE). We know that Noah was a family man, with three married sons whom he had raised also to be righteous men. Certainly they were obedient and respectful of their father and cooperated fully with his project to build the huge vessel that we know as the Ark. So Noah is a moral man, a decent chap who behaves as the Lord God intends mankind to behave. He is a good apple, whom God plucks out of a barrel full of rotten apples.
Noah was not outstanding as the world measures such things — not a king nor a demigod — but this story is not being told from a human perspective. God’s judgment, not human judgment, is the measure of a man in this story. As we saw last time, even Joe Blow, our naive reader, could see that Genesis is all about how God views mankind, how He works patiently to remold the human race into something pleasing to Him. As often as human beings deviate from His plan for them (and they’ve done that from the very beginning), he provides a course correction for those who are willing to follow his instructions. Noah, clearly, is one of these. When God says, “Build a gigantic ship and fill it with samples of every living thing,” Noah doesn’t say, “How can I possibly?” Or “What’s in it for me?” Instead, he simply does “all that the Lord commanded Him” — without trying to “improve” on the divine instructions, as Utnapishtim did. Noah alone, of all his generation, obeys the commands of the Lord, and this is what saves him. Not fame, not worldly power or wealth, not divine parentage, but simple obedience to the Lord who made him. He is not godlike, but he is godly.
These simple acts of obedience bear an enormous benefit, not only for the man Noah, but for all living things. Through the obedience of this one man, all of human posterity and every living thing upon the earth is given a fresh, new chance. The slate, truly, has been wiped clean. When the flood waters subside and God instructs Noah to venture out onto dry land, He says to him, as he had said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” But He goes farther this time, telling Noah:
“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:9-11, RSV-CE)
And He leaves the sign of the rainbow as a reminder of this unbreakable promise.
NO ONE IS PERFECT BUT GOD ALONE
Immediately after this, Genesis shows us that human nature may have been given a fresh chance, but it has not been changed. Man can still go astray. Noah, the righteous man, is far from perfect. Now, lording it over the earth as the patriarch of the renewed human race and as the first “tiller of the soil,” celebrating the ability to grow his own food rather than living off of what God provides, Noah literally becomes intoxicated with power, overindulging in the fruit of the vine his hand has planted. He falls down drunk — and naked.
Really? This man was the best of all mankind, the only one worth saving? How quickly he has fallen from the heights of virtue. Even worse, he now seems to think himself godlike rather than godly, for when his sons cover his nakedness to shield him from shame, Noah rouses from his drunkenness long enough to curse one and bless the other, a godlike prerogative hitherto unclaimed by the humbler, antediluvian Noah.
Not so godlike, perhaps, because the true God remembers his covenant and does not punish Noah or his posterity. Noah lives on for three hundred and fifty years after the flood, long enough to see the prosperity of his sons and his sons’ sons, until the earth is filled with his offspring.
If Noah had been the hero of this story, the author might well have pruned out the unflattering account of his drunkenness. Why leave it in? First, I believe, to show precisely this: that Noah is not a hero, but an ordinary man. When he trusts in the power of God, he is saved; when he grows drunk with his own power, he falls into disgrace. Second, the author reminds us that Noah is just one man among many in the long history of mankind — he dies, and life goes on. After him there will be good men and bad and, often enough, there will be good men who go bad and wicked men who repent. What does not change is God and His determination to give Mankind another chance, and another, and another. The rest of Genesis, the “prehistory” of mankind, shows this pattern of God repeatedly rewarding those who trust in Him and allowing those who do not to fall through their own wickedness.
WHAT IS A HERO?
Here, then is the great difference between the book of Genesis and the poems of the Gilgamesh poet and Roman Ovid: the hero of the story is God Himself. He it is who must patiently endure the vicissitudes of Man, rather than the other way around. He has the upper hand, yet He uses it only to correct, not to torment. He alone remains true to His promises. The man who would be godlike must be like God in this: His steadfast love for humankind.
Next time, this perspective will become clearer as we situate the story of Noah and the flood in the larger context of the Bible and, particularly, the role that typology plays in understanding the Bible as a whole and this story in particular.
When I started this reading exercise that I call “adventures in comparative mythology,” nearly two years ago, I said that one of the things I hoped to achieve was to get readers to be able to read the story of the Flood in the Bible “with fresh eyes.” So let’s imagine someone doing just that — picking up the Bible for the first time and reading this story, much as we have read the flood accounts in the two long, narrative works we’ve already examined, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Metamorphoses.
Let’s give our reader a name — Joe Blow — and an occupation – a traveling salesman. Joe spends a lot of times in hotel rooms — cheap hotel rooms, at that, where the TV is often out of order, so he does a lot of reading and thinking. He has read, for instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh (better than anything on TV!) and even Ovid’s Metamorphoses (it was free on Kindle). Tonight, Joe checks into his motel and flips through 72 cable channels of nothing, berating himself for leaving his Kindle at home on this trip. After a long day of trying to convince people to buy more widgets, he needs something to read before bedtime. So he rummages around in the bedside table and finds a Gideons’ Bible. He has heard of the Bible, of course, but this is the first time he has cracked the cover on one.
God and Man in Genesis
He flips past the table of contents, the introduction, and all the other boring front matter, looking for the beginning of the story. And there it is – chapter 1, Genesis. The beginning of … everything. When the story starts, there is nothing and no one except God. God speaks and says, “Light!” And there is light, where before there was nothing. Who is God talking to when He speaks? Himself. There isn’t anyone else yet. He is thinking aloud. He is pronouncing facts, which come to be even as He says them.
So speaking things into being — that’s one of God’s super-powers, which He uses to create an orderly – and good – world. Joe knows it’s good because, after He makes each thing, God admires His own work and says, “That’s good.” After He has created the heavens and the earth, the sea and the land, all sorts of vegetation and animals – all good – He makes a Man and a Woman, and these two are good, as well, made in the very image of God. God is so pleased with them that He gives them all the other good things He has made. It’s all good! So He takes a rest.
Joe figures he’ll go to bed, too. Maybe he’ll read some more tomorrow night, to find out what else God does, after His rest.
The next night, Joe returns to his motel room, flops back onto the bed, and picks up the Bible again. He thought he had marked the place where he left off last night, but when he resumes reading tonight, he has to double check the bookmark, because the next part is the story of creation all over again. This time, when God makes the man, He breathes His own life into him. Then He makes the woman to be the man’s companion. God gives the pair complete freedom in the beautiful world He has made, even though you might expect Him to want to keep it, since it’s so good and beautiful. (Pretty cushy set-up, Joe thinks. They’ll never have to work for a living or sleep on lumpy motel mattresses.)
But they manage to mess things up right away. God warned these two brand-new people that, although they have all of creation to lord over — and it’s all good stuff — eating fruit of one particular tree will make them know not only good but also evil. So, of course, that’s the first thing they do. Pretty stupid move, Joe thinks, but that’s human nature, ain’t it? And who could help but listen to a talking snake, anyway?
It turns out God was not kidding (neither was the snake) when He said that, once they tried the forbidden fruit, the man and woman would know evil as well as good. Bad things start to happen to them — and not just them, but their sons as well. And the next generation, and the next … (Joe knows that every decent story runs on conflict, and suddenly there’s plenty of it). Things get worse and worse until everything gets so bad that God (Joe had kind of forgotten about Him) asks Himself why He ever thought making free human beings was a good idea. The world of man has become a stinking mess, so God decides to cause a great flood that will wash away all the badness …
Joe stops and puts the book down for a minute. This sounds a lot like a story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. That story also started with a god making the world (although it didn’t really say much about the first man and woman). And later on, there was a god (a different one?) who didn’t like the way human beings were behaving, so he decided to destroy them all with a flood. Hmm, is there some plagiarism going on here?
He reads ahead to see if things turn out the same in this version: sure enough, one man and his wife survive the flood, which wipes out everything else. Unlike Deukalion and Pyrrha in Ovid’s story, though, this man, Noah, is warned ahead of time about the coming flood. God wants Noah to survive, so He tells him how to build a boat that will allow him and his family to live through the flood. So now Noah sounds more like Utnapishtim than Deukalion. God even tells him to put all kinds of animals in the boat, so that they’ll survive, too, just as Ea instructed Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh. And, like Utnapishtim, Noah uses birds to find dry land, after the flood waters start to recede.
At this point, Joe wonders if whoever wrote the story of Noah was just creating a mash-up of the other two – there are so many details in common, some like the Gilgamesh story and others like the one in Metamorphoses. But he remembers that the authors of those two flood stories seemed to be getting at different meanings — one was saying that human beings shouldn’t try to be immortal like the gods, and the other emphasized that you’ve got to be tough if you’re going to survive all the trouble that the gods throw at you.
This Bible story doesn’t seem to be saying either of those things. Instead of either sending Noah away into exile, as Enlil did Utnapishtim, or leaving him to figure stuff out on his own, as the gods did in the Metamorphoses, in this story God gives the Earth to Noah, as clean and good as it was in the beginning, and He makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants, promising never to flood the Earth that way again. He even gives him a sign to remind them of His promise. That’s something Joe never saw in the other stories — in those, the gods never would have bothered to try to make friends with mortals. And God keeps his promise, even though Noah gets falling-down drunk right after God saves him. (Wasn’t drunken revelry one of the things that convinced God that most of humankind should be washed away?)
a rocky friendship
Joe reads on to the end of Genesis, noticing that this covenant God makes with Noah is just one of many. From time to time, things turn bad and God has to clean up another mess, but He keeps His promise about not flooding the Earth again. But no matter how bad people get, God keeps making new covenants with them, and sometimes human characters even make a covenant with each other, as if that’s something they’ve learned from God.
When he gets to the end of Genesis, Joe is still trying to figure out if this story has a hero, or if it’s just one of those generational sagas where, right when you get interested in one character, the next thing you know you’re reading all about his great-great grandson. As he puzzles over this, he realizes it might be both. It’s certainly a human story, but there’s not really any single human protagonist. It’s more as if the whole human race were the protagonist, except that every time one of them starts acting like he’s in charge, God reminds him that they are all secondary characters in the overarching plot — God’s plan for humankind.
In fact, the more he thinks about it, the clearer it becomes to Joe what the big difference is between this story and the other two ancient accounts of a Great Flood. In the others, the gods seemed to regard human beings as insignificant, pests even, whom they try to exterminate by flooding the whole Earth. But in Genesis, God floods the Earth to save the decent people (Noah and his family) from all the filthy behavior of the others. He cleans things up and then puts Noah and his family back in charge — pretty much the way He had done with the first man and woman back at the beginning, when everything was good. Back when God walked with them in the Garden.
Then it hits Joe — this is a story about a friendship. A pretty rocky friendship, where one friend is faithful and forgiving, and the other is pretty fickle, but some friendships are like that. In this story, though, the faithful friend never gives up — no matter how many times the fickle friend acts like a jerk, the faithful one is ready, not only to forgive, but to make new promises of faithful friendship. Joe scratches his head. How realistic is that? Shouldn’t it be the fickle friend who promises to be good in the future, not the good friend? And why would anyone in his right mind keep taking back someone who has ignored him and done him dirt so many times?
Maybe putting up with a lot of bad behavior from His friends is another of God’s super-powers. And the fickle friend? Well, that’s a lot of people, maybe all of them. You might say that the fickle friend is Man with a capital M. But while some individuals in this story seem to be truly rotten, taken altogether humankind is not totally faithless, because they keep trying to get back into God’s good graces, even after they’ve really messed up. This thought reminds Joe of a scene right at the end of Genesis, when Joseph, the son of Jacob, faces his brothers (who had sold him into slavery when he was a youngster). Now that he is an important man, right-hand man to the Pharoah, they are trembling with fear that he will his revenge on them. But he says, “Don’t be afraid. All the evil that you intended, God has used to bring about good. So I won’t hold it against you, either.” Joseph, at least, has learned to be faithful to his brothers, even when they don’t seem to deserve it. So even though he says, “Who am I, God?” he really does seem a little bit like Him. A faithful friend, even when others are fickle.
Joe closes the book for the night. Why didn’t anyone ever tell him that the Bible was a buddy story? Because if the first chapter is anything to go on, that’s exactly what it is.
Next time: the Flood in the context of the whole Bible
We’ll let Joe get some sleep now. Next time, we’ll see if he’s right about this being a buddy story, by examining how the Flood account relates to the meaning of the Bible as a whole. If you’re not as well-read as Joe, you can catch up by reading the earlier part of this series, about the flood stories in the Epic of Gilgamesh and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Just click the link below.
Yesterday, by a piece of serendipity, I discovered that there’s a revised edition of Charles Rowan Beye’s Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil, which now contains a chapter on Gilgamesh. I want it! I read the earlier edition years ago when I was in graduate school at the University of Dallas, and it made an indelible impression on me, as well as my teaching. The key idea I took away from it was an understanding of what it means to be “literary.” I mention this now because it has a bearing on my reading of the flood accounts I’ve been discussing, particularly the ones in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Metamorphoses.
What does it mean to be “literary”?
As the original edition of Beye’s book points out, Homer’s epics are regarded as marking the beginning of the Western literary tradition because they were the first great stories in fixed, written form to survive and influence later poets. Scholars agree that Homer was drawing on a long oral tradition of myths and legend. Because they had no literary predecessors, neither of Homer’s great epics is “literary” in the sense of making allusion to a previous written tradition. Or at least, that’s what I would have said before I read the Epic of Gilgamesh. Now it seems pretty clear to me that Homer must have been familiar with some version of that earlier, Mesopotamian epic. And Greek scholar Charles Rowan Beye seems to agree. In commenting on the second edition of his book on ancient epic, he says:
The important addition in this 2006 book is the chapter on the Gilgamesh poems. I spent a considerable time gathering the results of the latest research in order to present a full account of these Sumerian-Akkadian texts. There is no doubt in my mind although it cannot be proven other than by inference, that they had real influence on the Iliad and Odyssey texts. This connection means that students and teachers of so-called western literature have to enlarge the canon certainly to include these narratives. Literature can no longer be said to begin with Homer. [Emphasis added.]
However, we can never know to what extent Homer expected his readers to be familiar with Gilgamesh, or to recognize the way in which he (apparently) appropriated some of its themes and tropes for his own poems, so perhaps Homer’s epics really are not “literary” in the narrow, specialized sense in which I am using that term. I believe it’s likely that Homer would have expected his readers to be familiar, not with Gilgamesh, but with the many Greek heroes who appear in his poems — their character, their milieux, their deeds — as depicted in myriad stories passed down from (even more) ancient times in the oral tradition.
There is a reason I make a sharp distinction between the oral and the literary traditions. This is because stories passed down orally change with each retelling, thus there were many (often conflicting) versions of many Greek myths. And because of this fluidity, there was no canonical, set, “correct” version of any of them. By writing down his own stories of Achilles during the Trojan War, and of Odysseus in the years following the conclusion of that war, Homer set the stories in a fixed form. Because his versions were so beautifully crafted and deeply meaningful, they are the versions that people wanted to hear and read, time and again. The oral versions faded and died, but Homer’s epics lived on. Later poets studied and imitated the masterful examples that Homer presented. Thus was born a “literary” tradition, that grew out of a previous, oral tradition.
Tradition’s bad rap
The term tradition, however, is another which is often misunderstood. “Tradition” simply refers to whatever gets handed on from one generation to another, whether that be stories, beliefs, customs, or something else. The iconoclastic modern world, from Francis Bacon on, has often treated “tradition” as an idol that must be smashed — and it must be admitted that there is a danger in worshiping the past unreflexively. However, this handing-on that we call tradition is an essential element of culture — no tradition, no culture.
Without getting into a whole critique of modern culture, let’s just acknowledge that in most cultures, throughout history and throughout the world, anything or anyone that achieves great age is revered as possessing wisdom and value. Such cultures are called “traditional.” (This is not particularly true of our modern culture, which glorifies youth and novelty.) Thus Homer’s epics, because they were so greatly prized, got handed down through the centuries and eventually their great age lent them a patina of authority. The Greeks came to view Homer almost as the ancient Jews regarded Moses, educating their children out of his epics, as if The Iliad and The Odyssey were great encyclopedias of Greek history and culture — almost as if they were sacred texts filled with divine truth and wisdom, like the Bible.
In fact, one of the reasons the people of Athens condemned and executed Socrates was that he apparently held that Homer’s stories about how the gods behaved were unworthy of belief. Socrates was interested in Truth with a capital T, but to him Homer’s epics were simply imaginative renderings of human truth (with a lower case t), and therefore unworthy of dogmatic belief. Later, in his great philosophical dialogue on the nature of justice, which we call The Republic, Socrates’ great pupil, Plato, had his (fictionalized version of) Socrates declare that poets such as Homer should not be allowed into the perfectly just city, because their stories of the gods would warp the impressionable souls of the young, making them unfit to govern the city. Such an idea was deeply shocking to traditional Athenians, which is one reason why they convicted Socrates of atheism and put him to death — to reject Homer’s depictions of the gods was tantamount to not believing in the gods at all.
Literature can be another way of learning the truth
As I’ve argued elsewhere, however, this does not mean that Plato was against all made-up stories, just those that misrepresent Truth. Later still, Plato’s own disciple, Aristotle, wrote in his Poetics that that poetry (i.e., fiction) can be philosophical, meaning that it can help us contemplate immutable truths. In this way, I suppose, Aristotle goes a long way toward rescuing Homer from Socrates’ condemnation of him and other “lying poets.” As many modern readers can attest, the stories of Achilles and Odysseus certainly capture some enduring truths about human nature, which is why we still read them with such enjoyment and appreciation — although I’d wager few people (if any) would feel moved to piety by Homer’s depictions of the gods.
At any rate, as Beye points out in his book, by the time of the reign of Caesar Augustus — when Virgil wrote his Aeneid (and Ovid wrote his Metamorphoses) — there had accumulated a long, literary tradition of heroic epic. This means that there was a huge fund of received practice, including not only characters and stories, but also poetic technique and tropes, upon which poets drew to compose their own poems. They expected their readers to be well-read enough to recognize the clever, artful, and meaningful ways in which they made use of these traditional elements. And we too should recognize these deliberate literary allusions, if we wish to understand properly the works of such poets.
Oh, how I wish my high school English teachers had understood this! I remember one class when, after we had studied some excerpts from The Odyssey (a bad practice in itself — always read the whole work, not excerpts taken out of context!), someone asked the teacher why we weren’t going to study Virgil’s Aeneid. The teacher replied that there was no point, since the Aeneid was just a slavish (and inferior) imitation of Homer’s epics. It makes me grind my teeth now to remember this, because this pronouncement colored my views on ancient epic, and on Virgil, for decades thereafter.
Tradition does not stunt creativity
The reason my teacher’s dismissal of Virgil grates on me so is that I now understand (thanks in part to Charles Rowan Beye’s book) that Virgil’s constant allusion to, and imitation of, both The Iliad and The Odyssey was not “slavish” at all, but a creative, deliberate, and sophisticated manipulation of his highly literate audience’s imaginations, in order to bring out the meaning of his story that he wanted them to perceive. His epic about Aeneas was a Roman story, written for a Roman audience, containing a distinctly Roman meaning. It was intended, in part, to address very present concerns of his contemporary audience. But these were things the poet did not wish to discuss directly, discursively, openly. Instead, he explored them indirectly, poetically, allusively, creating an analogy not only between Trojan Aeneas and the Greek heroes Achilles and Odysseus, but also between ancient Aeneas, the legendary “father of Rome,” and Caesar Augustus, the recent savior of the country whose own adoptive father, the dictator Julius Caesar, had been declared pater patriae, “father of the nation.”
Focus on Caesar Augustus
All of Rome waited with bated breath to see what kind of “father” Augustus himself would prove to be. He held enormous power, and Romans were deeply distrustful of allowing any one man supreme power over the nation. Augustus was careful not to allow himself to be styled a king (that, after all, was one of the things that got Julius assassinated), but he was, in fact, essentially a monarch, over the most expansive and powerful realm the world had ever seen. And, of course, too much power can make a man go a bit mad (as later inheritors of the title Caesar made plain). So there were many who wished (but hardly dared) to admonish and advise the great Augustus, as well as to warn and reassure the Roman people. Some of them, poets, found that the safest, and perhaps the most effective, way was to convey these ideas indirectly — that is, poetically.
This is, to a great extent, what Virgil was doing in The Aeneid. I believe it is also, to a somewhat lesser extent, what Ovid was doing in the Metamorphoses. Both relied heavily on their readers’ familiarity with the long Graeco-Roman mythopoetic literary tradition to do so. In a coming post, I’ll try to explain a bit of how I believe Ovid made use of the literary tradition in his Metamorphoses in order to convey meaning to his contemporary audience, and how this can help us today, at least those of us who are well-read enough to be able to recognize the early works to which Ovid alludes. I wish Charles Beye had written a chapter on the Metamorphoses, but he admits that this would have been beyond the scope of his expertise:
What the book truly lacked, however, is a chapter on Ovid’s Metamorphoses since it is abundantly clear that Ovid is probably self-consciously playing Apollonius [author of the Argonautica] to Virgil’s Homer. It would have been a great chapter but, since I am a Hellenist, and even working up the Aeneid taxed my faculties for appreciating Latin poetry, I had to let well enough alone.
So perhaps, at least, I shall have to go back and re-read his chapter on the Argonautica, as a way of understanding better what Ovid was up to in the Metamorphoses. Ah, well, there are worse fates.
I will leave you with this very modern take on some quite ancient material — a Japanese anime rendering of the exploits of Alexander the Great. It just goes to show that traditional material continues to inspire modern storytellers.
the exploits of Alexander the Great — although perhaps in an alternate universe!
Until next time — read well, and prosper!