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Greek and Roman legends in Ovid's poetry

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Claesson Welsh

Chapter 25 Greek and Roman legends in Ovids poetryEvery district in the Greek world has its local heroes and heroines whose legends were often associated with local cults while a few became famous throughout the Greek world and were the subjects of Greek tragedies epics and other poems many of which are no longer extantOvid is by far the most important of the classical authors in the transmission of Greek Roman and Near Eastern legendsHis unparalleled imaginative and narrative powers his rhetorical skill and his deep sympathy with the emotions and sufferings of his characters have made his poems the dominant influence in the transmission of classical legends in the Roman empire and in medieval and modern times In his early poetry Ovid used mythological legends more for decorative or allusive purposesLater when he wrote Heroides fifteen letters from mythological heroines to their absent loves to which he added three pairs of letters in which the lovers replied the poetry displayed still more Ovids understandingof women in love and the hardships of separationHero and LeanderFirst is the story of Hero and Leander told in the second pair of letters added to the original fifteen whose setting is the Hellespont the straits that divided Europe from Asia Leander a young man from the city of Abydos on the Asiatic shore loved Hero priestess of Aphrodite in Sestos on the European shore He swam the Hellespont each night to visit her guided by a light that she placed in a tower on the shore One stormy night the lamp was extinguished and Leander bereft of its guidance drownedNext say his body was washed up on the shore near the tower and Hero in grief threw herself from the tower to join her lover in deathCydippe and AcontiusThe second story comes from the Aegean island of Ceos and is told in the third pair of lettersA Cean girl Cydippe was loved by Acontius a youth who was not her social equalUnable to appraoch her and declare his love he left in her path an apple on which were inscribed the wordsI swear before Artemis to marry only AcontiusShe picked it up and read the words out loud thus binding herself by the vowEach time her parents found a suitable husband for her she fell so ill that she could not be married eventually the truth was revealed and she and Acontius were united The Fasti and the MetamorphosesOvid was exiled on the orders of the emperor Augustus in AD 8 and spent the rest of his life at TomisWhen he left Rome he had almost completed work on his greatest poem Metamorphoses and he had written the first half of Fasti a poem on the festivals and customs in the Roman calendar which he organized by months one book to each monthThe six completed books cover January to June and they are important as a source for our knowledge of Roman religious customs and their related mythsIn them Ovid developed his poetic technique of letting the mythological characters speak for themselves often in response to an enquiry from the poet Flora and ZephyrusThe italian fertility goddess Flora was the goddess of flowering especially of grain and the vine
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