On Thursday 6th December 2018, members of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland gathered in the McClay Library at Queen’s University Belfast to read aloud selected sections of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The CANI public reading has become an annual event at which we read an ancient text and raise funds for a worthwhile cause: the Simon Community NI.
The Metamorphoses is a single poem covering some 11,995 lines. It was written by Publius Ovidius Naso and completed around AD 8. Ovid was the most distinguished poet of his time and his other works include Amores, a collection of short love poems; Heroides, verse-letters written by mythological heroines to their lovers; Ars Amatoria and its sequel Remedia Amoris, satirical handbooks on love. He was exiled by Augustus in AD 8 to the Black Sea. He never returned to Rome and died in exile in AD 17 or 18.
The poem takes the form of a collection of approximately 250 independent stories taken from myth and connected by the theme of transformation. These stories are taken from both Greek and Roman myth and the poem has had a profound cultural influence, inspiring Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Titian, to name only a few. A flyer containing the background to the poem and its author, the event and CANI was distributed in the coffee lounge.
Shortly after 10am, CANI Chair, Helen McVeigh, welcomed those listeners and readers who had braved the winter weather to hear the first words of the Metamorphoses. The poem begins with the words…
Changes of shape, new forms, are the theme which my spirit impels me
Now to recite. Inspire me, O gods (it is you who have even
transformed my art), and spin me a thread from the world’s beginning
down to my own lifetime, in one continuous poem.
Dr Laura Pfuntner, lecturer in Ancient History at QUB and CANI board member, selected sections of books 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 11 for the reading. Beginning with the Creation, the Four Ages and the Flood, we continued with the timeless myths of Io, Pyramus and Thisbe, Arachne, Niobe, and Pelops. By lunchtime we had reached book 8 and the tale of the Minotaur and Ariadne. Then came the well-known stories of Daedalus and Icarus, Meleager and the Calydonian Boar, Orpheus and Euridice, and Atalanta and Hippomenes. At 3.10pm, another successful CANI public reading was brought to a close by Dr Pfuntner, concluding with the legendary King Midas.
31 reading slots were filled by 18 readers who came to Belfast from as far as L/Derry and Co Clare. We were delighted by the support from readers who took time off work to join in, the teachers who came to read in their lunch-hours, and all those who joined us, read, or donated. Thanks to the generosity of all those who donated, both readers and those who were just passing through the coffee lounge, £170 was raised for the Simon Community NI.
I would especially like to thank CANI board members Dr Laura Pfuntner, Dr Peter Crawford, Dr John Curran and Dr Raoul McLaughlin for their help in preparing for the reading and on the day.