Saturday, 26 April 2008

Ovid spoke English

Mediaeval Christian scholars deduced from the following lines in Ovid's Metamorphoses, about a/the Great Flood, that Ovid knew the Old Testament:

Occupat hic collem, cumba sedet alter adunca
et ducit remos illic, ubi nuper ararat
(Met 293-4).

'One man perches on a hilltop, another sits in a curved boat and pulls on his oars in the place where he had just been ploughing.'

Ararat is of course the name of the hill upon which Noah's Ark came to rest. (see Ryder, 'Ovid, the Flood, and Ararat', G&R14 (1967) 126-9).

We can now extend this to the discovery that Ovid spoke English. In Book 3, Narcissus - a model of inverted desire, like many others in the poem - addresses himself as follows:

quid faciam? roger anne rogem? quid deinde rogabo? (Met 3.465)

'What do I do? Do I get propositioned, or proposition? And what do I ask for?'

Ovid verbally signals the paradox of erotic self-pursuit with the words 'roger anne', a boy's name next to a girl's name.


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