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Playing Gods:
Ovid's Metamorphoses and the Politics of Fiction
Andrew Feldherr

Hardcover | 2010 | $67.50 | £56.95 | ISBN: 9780691138145
384 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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This book offers a novel interpretation of politics and identity in Ovid's epic poem of transformations, the Metamorphoses. Reexamining the emphatically fictional character of the poem, Playing Gods argues that Ovid uses the problem of fiction in the text to redefine the power of poetry in Augustan Rome. The book also provides the fullest account yet of how the poem relates to the range of cultural phenomena that defined and projected Augustan authority, including spectacle, theater, and the visual arts.

Andrew Feldherr argues that a key to the political as well as literary power of the Metamorphoses is the way it manipulates its readers' awareness that its stories cannot possibly be true. By continually juxtaposing the imaginary and the real, Ovid shows how a poem made up of fictions can and cannot acquire the authority and presence of other discursive forms. One important way that the poem does this is through narratives that create a "double vision" by casting characters as both mythical figures and enduring presences in the physical landscapes of its readers. This narrative device creates the kind of tensions between identification and distance that Augustan Romans would have felt when experiencing imperial spectacle and other contemporary cultural forms.

Full of original interpretations, Playing Gods constructs a model for political readings of fiction that will be useful not only to classicists but to literary theorists and cultural historians in other fields.


"[Playing Gods] ranges widely over some important aspects of Roman culture and history and offers detailed and penetrating readings of Ovid's text. Most impressively, it allows cultural institutions and poetry to interpret each other reciprocally, often to fruitful effect. . . . [Feldherr] has gone a long way to explaining the potential and relevance of metamorphosis, the theme of classical antiquity's most influential book."--William Fitzgerald, Times Literary Supplement

"Feldherr's most influential work to date, this book sheds light on how, in ancient Roman literature, narrative viewpoint constructs and reconstructs power relations in the real world."--Choice

"Andrew Feldherr has produced a complex and sophisticated new reading of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Make no mistake, this is a dense and difficult book to read, but it offers many rewards to the assiduous reader. . . . Close readings throughout the work especially reveal Feldherr's theoretical sophistication, philological expertise, and literary sensitivity."--Sara Myers, New England Classical Journal

"Feldherr's nuanced close readings and original insights are entirely persuasive. Like Ovid's carmen perpetuum, while it can be sampled usefully for individual stories, readings or chapters, it is far better read--and re-read--as an interconnected whole. And the story it tells about the politics of Ovidian fiction makes highly rewarding reading."--Genevieve Liveley, Phoenix

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1

Part One: Fiction and Empire 13
Chapter 1: Metamorphosis and Fiction 15
Io and Syrinx 15
Metamorphosis 26
Beyond Belief 46
Chapter 2: Wavering Identity 60
Imitations of Immortality 63
Reception and Social Identity 83
Upward Mobility? 106

Part Two: Spectacle 123
Chapter 3: Homo Spectator: Sacrifice and the Making of Man 125
Creations 125
Pythagoras 149
Chapter 4: Poets in the Arena 160
Chapter 5: Philomela Again? 199

Part Three: Ovid and the Visual Arts 241
Chapter 6: Faith in Images 243
Pygmalion 257
Domestic Goddesses 276
Chapter 7: "Songs the Greater Image" 293
Reconciling Niobe 295
Perseus: The Shadow 313
Conclusion 342
References 351
Index of Passages Cited 365
General Index 373

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