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Ovidius Christianus?

For those who have read certain of Ovid’s love elegies, he might seem an odd choice for Christian repurposing, but it does happen. Book 1 of his Metamorphoses, with its account of creation, has some sections that especially lend themselves to Christian appropriation.

Thus Francis Turretin, in discussing in what the imago Dei consists in man, writes:

Nor does it consist in any figure of the body or external bearing in which man resembles God (the delirium of the Anthropomorphites of old). For although we do not think that every relation of that image should be altogether denied of the body and see some rays of it glittering there, whether we regard man’s immortality of which his body is also in its own manner a partaker; or that majesty of bearing which Ovid thus elegantly expresses…. (tr. George Musgrave Geiger)

He then goes on to cite Met. 1.84-6:

…pronaque cum spectent animalia cetera terram,
os homini sublime dedit caelumque videre               85
iussit et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus…

…and, though all other animals look down upon the earth,
the face of humankind he made to behold the sky above,
commanding it to raise aloft its gaze to the stars…  (tr. Z. Philip Ambrose)

We find Ovid showing up in other interesting places as well. For instance, he wrote a series of verse-epistles, the Heroides, mostly from mythical heroines to their lovers (e.g., Penelope to Ulysses, Dido to Aeneas, etc.). In the sixteenth century, we find the Lutheran Helius Eobanus Hessus, a fascinating figure about whom I may post more in the future, writing his own set of Christian Heroides, including letters from women of the New Testament, in addition to Helena to Constantine and Monica to Augustine.

 

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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