Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ovid (43BC-17AD): Background for reading Augustine (354AD-430AD).

The first major portion of Augustine's City of God is a critique of the Roman pagan religion.  Much of this comes from Homer's writings, but some from Virgil and a bit from Ovid.  Librivox.org has recordings of Ovid's Heroides and Metamorphoses, of which I am nearly to the end of Heroides.  This is a series of imaginary love letters written by characters of Roman and Greek literature.  Think of it as classical Trashy Novels with a strong pagan religious element.  This isn't my preferred reading material, however, my project (i.e. personal hobby) involves having as complete a familiarity as possible with classical literature and Ovid is a loose end, so we will listen to these anyway.

The most curious thing I learned so far is that Hero was a female priestess in Abydos who doesn't seem to have done much heroic.  A synopsis is here.  The important thing is that her lover would swim the mile or so across the Hellespont every evening to be with her, giving us the first inspiration for Open Water Swimming which I am quite fond of ... although not for the same reasons that Leander was fond of the sport.  Now I am feeling guilty for only having swum one kilometer this morning before work.

Augustine's complaint is that the stories that Roman school children were required to memorize glorified one immoral act after another.  These acts were actually encouraged by the gods, so that adulterers would proudly compare themselves to the gods while boasting of their exploits.

A separate note is with regard to my effort to trace the notion of a Just War:

"Let your father-in-law, Menelaus, be your example in reclaiming
a lost wife, a girl who was the cause of a just war:
if my father had wept in his empty palace like a coward,
my mother would be married to Paris as before." - Heroides, VIII, Hermione to Orestes

It isn't quite what I had expected ... that the original just war notion should involve a ten year siege, countless deaths, and an attempt to stamp out an entire nation all over a runaway wife.



2 comments:

Delirious said...

I'm sure that if your wife was on the other side of the bay, and you had no other way to get there, you would swim that distance too. ;)

Looney said...

I am glad she didn't make me swim to Singapore!