Heroides - Ovid

Heroides - Harold Isbell, Ovid

Ovid's Heroides is kind of like Carol Ann Duffy's World's Wife, except, you know, about two thousand years older. There are twenty-one poems, all written in the form of letters, mostly from wronged women in mythology to the men who have wronged them. We have Penelope henpecking Ulysses to come home right away; Dido lamenting over Aeneas; Briseis begging Achilles to take her back.

 

The poems are, for the most part, reasonably unobjectionable (although INCEST). I won't say I enjoyed them, though: like quite a lot of Latin poetry, I found them a bit...meh. Possibly this is a translation issue. For some reason you can always tell when something has been translated from Latin or Ancient Greek because it sounds a bit off.

 

But what I really objected to in this edition was translator Harold Isbell's introductions, both to the book as a whole and to individual poems. He comes down quite clearly on the side of the men, even when the women are obviously the wronged party. Variously, he describes women as "pathetic", "despicable" and "passive", while, apparently, the men are free to go on their own merry ways without censure.

 

Setting misogyny aside, these introductions are, not to put too fine a point on it, crap. They read like A-level essays. They say almost nothing revealing or interesting about the poems and are frankly insulting to everyone's intelligence.

 

I'm giving this two stars because of the poems. If it were only Isbell's work, it would have none.