A Hundred and One Uses For a Dead Poet.


Simone Witney and Stephen Cullis.

Greek Mythology is full of bizarre tales of humans becoming animals, plants and even stones. They gave the poet Ovid, born in Italy in 43BCE, a rich resource for a beautiful poem which links the disparate stories by the theme of transformation: a hunter is changed into a stag and is attacked by his own hounds, a nymph eludes a satyr’s embrace by becoming reeds. Young men turn into birds, women into trees and stones, and stones into human beings. Ovid liked to imagine how the victims would feel: the indignation as they try to use hands which have become twigs, bafflement as they try to speak and can only growl or bellow, terror as they see their reflections in ponds and streams. The changes are always in a context of emotional stress and are often symbolic of that stress. “Gradually the stone that had long lain in her heart took possession of her limbs.”

In its turn,  the poem became a constantly renewable resource for writers and artists.

You might want to translate its beauty into equally beautiful English, as Dryden did (adding little improvements of his own).
You might mine its psychological depths, like Jung, who used its imagery for his theory of archetypes.
You might think it so extraordinary that it has a healing and transformative power itself, like Ted Hughes, and you might record yourself reciting a version on You Tube in appropriately sonorous tones.
You might be inspired by the examples of petrification, and, like Camille Claudel, make sculptures which express an imprisoning loss of creativity, and of love.
Or, you can just take on the idea of a no holds barred metamorphosis and run with it, as in this ‘Spitting Image’ style riff. Go Stephen!

“Poring recently over Ovid’s Metamorphoses – its fantastic and often terrifying transformations of mortals and heroes into stags, rivers, trees, in fact an astounding cornucopia of psychedelic grotesqueries – my mind turns to a grotesquerie of our time- our old friend Mr. Trump. Could we stretch our imagination and our credulity at this living conundrum, and speculate whether his over-generous and curiously gesticulating frame could be squeakily shoe-horned into the Metamorphoses of Ovid – and if so..what sort of transformation would he, should he, undergo to satisfy our fervid imaginations?

A candyfloss quiffed buffoon bird? Or perhaps a lesser orange spotted Booby? A radioactive striped golden sloth with night-vison enhanced purple cranial plumage? I am tempted to see in him a Narcissus figure – increasingly enamoured with his high-volume facial tan and winsome panda like white eye patches as he teeters on trotter feet. Ecstatic at the sound of his own voice and belching forth increasingly surreal and destructive orders, he finally loses his centre of gravity and plunges headlong into a deep pool of glowing molten executive ordure.”

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