.xv. Bookes of P. Ouidius Naso, entytuled Metamorphosis, translated oute of Latin into English meeter, by Arthur Golding

As translated by Arthur Golding, Ovid concludes the last book of Metamorphoses with “…And all the world shall never / Be able for too quench my name … …And tyme without all end / (If Poets as by prophesie about the truth may ame) / My life should everlastingly be lengthened still by fame.” He hoped for immortality with his eloquent, imaginative collection of stories, drawn from Greek mythology and depicting transformation. Never forgotten, Metamorphoses attracted the keen interest of late medieval and Renaissance humanists and inspired poets and artists. Editions of Ovid’s works abounded with the invention of the printing press.

In England, Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower drew stories from the fifteen books, and William Caxton is known to have rendered a prose translation of at least six of the books from a surviving manuscript dated 1480. If he printed his English Metamorphose, the book was so well read that no copies survive. Another eloquent, imaginative immortal loved the book: William Shakespeare. A copy appears on stage in Titus Andronicus. The poet draws on stories from nearly all fifteen books in writing his histories, tragedies, and comedies. For example, Pyramus and Thisbe, the play within play Midsummer Night’s Dream, comes from the fourth book.

Shakespeare probably met Metamorphoses in his youth in grammar school, where the book was widely used as an aid to teaching Latin. Scholars agree that he read Ovid in Latin and in Arthur Golding’s translation into English, Metamorphosis. In the seventh book, sorceress Medea prays to prolong the life Aeson, Jason’s father, and chants “ye Elves of Hilles, of Brookes, of Woods alone, / Of standing Lakes…” Other phrases in her prayers are found in Prospero’s resignation of magic as The Tempest draws to a close.

A translator of many works from Latin to English, Golding was a strict Puritan and likely found value in the moral lessons in many of Metamorphoses’s transformations. His translation of the first four books was published in 1565, and the complete translation followed two years later. It was an inspiration to many English poets and dramatists at the time. The translation is still widely read. Ezra Pound claimed it to be “The most beautiful book in the language.” C. S. Lewis, on the other hand, offered that “He can be read with a simple pleasure which is very unlike the total pleasure given by Ovid…”

Chrzanowski 1567o *

STC 18956

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675