Comments on Ovid’s Absurd Tragedy


SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

In Book II of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, after Phaethon has lost control of the chariot of the Sun, scorched much of the planet, and himself died in a horrible blaze, Ovid recounts the grief showered upon him, beginning (here) with his funerary inscription. In what is supposed to be a mournful scene, Ovid slyly inserts raillery, scepticism, and criticism of social convention in such an artful way that it is difficult to determine whether the scene is sad or hilarious. Ovid is the consummate artist, and everything he writes is so thoroughly steeped in self-conscious literary awareness that even his scenes of true pathos seem to conceal some joke upon the reader’s willingness to react appropriately to purple passages. Here is the text (with italics added to the notable parts), below which is a brief set of comments.

“HERE LIES PHAETHON, THE DRIVER OF HIS FATHER’S CHARIOT.

IF HE…

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