The University of Wisconsin Press

Classics / Literature & Criticism / Poetry


The Image of the Poet in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Barbara Pavlock

Wisconsin Studies in Classics
Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, Laura McClure, and Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell, Series Editors

Voted one of the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2009 by Choice magazine

“The poet Ovid hiding behind famous figures from his Metamorphoses, be it a Narcissus or a Daedalus—this is a fascinating notion and one of particular interest to modern readers.”

—Niklas Holzberg, University of Munich

Barbara Pavlock unmasks major figures in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as surrogates for his narrative persona, highlighting the conflicted revisionist nature of the Metamorphoses. Although Ovid ostensibly validates traditional customs and institutions, instability is in fact a defining feature of both the core epic values and his own poetics.

The Image of the Poet explores issues central to Ovid’s poetics—the status of the image, the generation of plots, repetition, opposition between refined and inflated epic style, the reliability of the narrative voice, and the interrelation of rhetoric and poetry. The work explores the constructed author and complements recent criticism focusing on the reader in the text.

Ovid’s simultaneous play to and rebellion against epic tradition makes Narcissus both an idealized elegiac image through allusions to the poet’s own mistress in the Amores and an elegiac poet fixated on his own image. Through Narcissus’s demise, Ovid reflects the instability of visual images.

In Orpheus’s story of Venus and Adonis, an undercurrent of desire in Venus’s inset tale reveals a problematic self-involvement. The self-referential nature of Orpheus’s song then raises questions about his reliability as narrator, a theme that culminates in Ulysses’ contest with Ajax.

Here Ovid undercuts heroic views about lineage and valor, but also highlights the many clever strategies by which Ulysses elevates himself over his rival, undermining Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Ovid questions the authority of the narrator but also provides the means for understanding the problems at the core of his epic. Thus, in his time and ours, the reader ultimately emerges better equipped to assess inherited traditions in literary, social, and political spheres.

Barbara Pavlock is associate professor of classics at Lehigh University and author of Eros, Imitation, and the Epic Tradition.


“This engaging book explores the metapoetic relationship between Ovid and his characters, ranging from paradigmatic artists, such as Orpheus and Daedalus to more unusual ciphers for the poet’s voice, such as Ulysses and even Medea.”
—Alison Sharrock, University of Manchester

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The cover of Pavlock's book is dark blue, with an old engraving of what looks like a poet and his muse.

May 2009

LC: 2008040710 PA
208 pp.    6 x 9

Cloth $55.00 s
ISBN 978-0-299-23140-8 
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