UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Center for the Humanities

Past Faculty Development Seminars

Spring 2007: Ovidianism - The Metamorphosis of Ovid


Led by Carole Newlands (Classics)

The project of the seminar is a study of Ovid’s poetry, with a particular focus on its reception. How was this most protean of poets appropriated and transformed by different writers, artists and thinkers in different ages? What are the reasons for his enduring appeal now? Ovid is among the most influential of Roman poets, if not the most influential today. He had a major impact upon European intellectual history, literature, and art. The seminar will engage in a two-way process: the exploration of the influence his writings had upon later eras will shed fresh light on the original texts. The investigation moreover of why certain of his works were in vogue at various periods while others were excluded or marginalized, will tell us much about changing literary, social and political climates. But we will not deal only with Ovid’s works but with the poet himself as a figure of political exile around whom various myths accrued; hence we will be studying the phenomenon of ‘Ovidianism’. Clearly I am not an expert in all the disciplines upon which Ovid’s poetry had a major impact. I hope that the participation of an interdisciplinary group of faculty, for instance scholars in the disciplines of English, French and Italian, Art History, History, Comparative Literature and Classics, will shed new light upon and provide new directions for the study of this most protean of writers. The methods will differ from an ordinary seminar in that I will ask participating faculty to lead discussion in their particular areas of expertise. I envisage this seminar as a collaborative project under my guidance.

Scholars have called the twelfth century Aetas Ovidiana, ‘the age of Ovid.’ Equally we could call the late 20th C and the start of the 21st also an Ovidian age for it has been marked by an extraordinary resurgence of interest in Ovid, expressed both in scholarship and in literary culture. The reception of classical literature is probably the fastest growing area in the field of Classics today, particularly in the UK and the USA. This is a good time then for a faculty seminar, drawing on the rich and varied expertise of scholars in the Humanities at UW-Madison, to consider the place of ‘Ovid’ in our culture now and how a study of his reception can change our perception of his works.