Metamorphoses: Ovid vs. Kafka

Metamorphoses: Ovid vs. Kafka
Isabel del Rio
Egyptian goddess

Egyptian goddess

For Western art and literature, The Metamorphoses by Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 BC – 18AD) is one of the best classical sources. It is a poem of 250 myths which has inspired Dante, Brueghel, Bernini, Shakespeare, Rubens… and Kafka.

Although the majority of the myths that Ovid related are much older than his poem (for example, the famous story of Daedalus and Icarus in Book 8 has been found on 6th century BP vases), it was his poem which popularized them for ever. We must not forget that he was the most popular writer in his time, much more than Virgil, and a graffiti about Ovid has been found on the walls of Pompeii.

In the first verses, Ovid maintains to be writing one continuous poem, not an anthology of myths. For this reason and in spite of several anachronisms, the poem has chronological progression: it begins with the story of creation and finishes with Augustus on the throne. Furthermore, Ovid’s central idea is always the same: nothing is permanent. This principle is much more important than the own metamorphosis and some stories only try metamorphoses as an incidental element.

We could see the organization of the poem as a first part (books 1-2) where gods act like humans, a second part (books 3-6) where mankind suffers a cause of gods, a third part (books 6-11) where mankind is suffering a cause of themselves and a forth part where humans become gods. The introduction is the story of the creation.

Many centuries after, in 1912, Ovid’s chronological progression continued in Franz Kafka’s pen. His metamorphosis (only one) tells the story of Gregor Samsa who found himself transformed into a horrible vermin. However, Kafka’s central idea is really different to Ovid’s one: nothing change and reality is dreadful.

Gregor Samsa, as insect, will try to behave correct while his family will not have any consideration of his troubles. They had decided to live of Gregor’s earnings for as long as they could and, of course, Gregor will never become a god dying as a sad insect and accepting his fate.

Metamorphosis? What is this? What is the reason so that a human being turns into an animal? It is a difficult answer but it could be a creative one.

Old Egyptian gods where half humans half animals; Druids believed (as the Indians of the Amazon river) that everybody has an interior animal who helps him or her; the majority of the rites of passage we know consisted of discovering the animal which lives in our interior; Alexander the Great thought he was an eagle; and so on.

Maybe we are nearer of animals that we believe, maybe this is the moment of discovering this evidence as ecological ideas are now spreading, maybe is wonderful to feel connected with the rest of the universe.

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Isabel del Rio

Managing Editor at Yareah® Magazine. Author of ‘Ariza’ (2008) and ‘The Girls of Oil’ (2010)

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