Students survey works of art derived from many different eras and schools based on myths from The Metamorphoses. They compare the imagery in the artworks with the passages detailing Ovid’s original tales to understand the artists’ frame of reference and choices.
Students compare two versions of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Ovid’s version in (Bk X: 1–85) tells the story primarily from an androcentric point of view through the character, Orpheus. In the version expressed by 20th –century a poet H.D. offers the story from a woman’s point of view and articulates the emotions of a broken-hearted, and downright angry, Eurydice.
Students compare the stories of creation as told by Ovid in Book I. of The Metamorphoses with the Biblical narrative of creation as told in Genesis: 1–2. They identify the significance of those elements and the emphasis placed on them.
Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Apollo and Daphne
Credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
The Metamorphoses by Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid) is considered one of the most influential books in the Western canon and an extremely important source for classical mythology. Since the Middle Ages, writers, painters, and sculptors have been drawing on Ovid’s stories of the passions, adventures, and battles of the gods and heroes for inspiration. Even modern filmmakers use these myths as the foundation for their screenplays (i.e. the portrayal of Achilles in Troy and the 1930s-style retelling of Odysseus’ wanderings in O Brother Where Art Thou?) Despite his popularity in his own lifetime, this Latin author was exiled from Rome in 8 CE by the Emperor Augustus. Thanks to Ovid’s imaginative rendering of these mythological figures and events, the stories still continue to have meaning for us today.
The lessons in this unit comprise a series of comparisons. The first lesson compares similarities between Genesis and The Metamorphoses. Students consider the creative elements within two stories of creation and the destructive elements within two stories of a great flood that all but obliterated humankind. The second lesson has students consider the story of Orpheus, the lover who tries to rescue his beloved wife from death itself. They then compare Ovid’s mythic passages with the poem entitled “Eurydice” by H.D., a twentieth-century poet. In the third lesson, students turn from Ovid’s legacy in literature to visual art. They explore great art works that drew inspiration from Ovid and compare how the same story can be rendered in two different mediums.
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Grade level standards:
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).
Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and Breughel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).
Born near Rome in 43 BCE, Ovid studied rhetoric to prepare for a career in politics but abandoned his studies to pursue poetry. His early works were collections of poems that were both passionate and erotic. His major text, the one for which he is best known, was The Metamorphoses (literally, “the changes”), in which he set down tales of the Roman divinities and heroes from creation to the deification of Julius Caesar. Frequently, those stories entail physical changes: a god changing into a swan; a girl changing into a heifer; a nymph becoming a tree. For a reason unknown to history, Ovid was exiled in 8 CE by the Emperor Augustus and was forced to live away from Rome until his death in 17 CE. Ovid’s Metamorphoses continued to be very popular, however, and his stories continued to inspire writers and artists from the Middle Ages to the present.
The Metamorphoses appears on the Common Core State Standards in Appendix B as a grade 9–10 Text Exemplar under the category: “Stories.” The unit maybe adapted for different grade and ability levels.
Read more background about The Metamorphoses of Ovid including the structure and significance of the poem and the influence Greece had on this work.
Have students write an essay using the following prompt:
Select another short work of literature: a poem, a painting, a musical work, or a film that interprets a myth found in Ovid. Write a report which covers (a) general information about the author/artist; (b) a description of the tale(s) from Ovid that the author/artist used as inspiration; and (c) a discussion of how the author/artist shaped those ideas to create a work that is distinctively his or her own.
For item (d), your teacher may suggest a work of art or sculpture, or you can locate one yourself using websites such as:
EDSITEment-reviewed Metropolitan Museum of Art's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, which has a feature devoted to Ovid’s Metamorphosis with a number of works derived from it.
EDSITEment-reviewed National Gallery of Art has a remarkable array of works derived from classical literature. The collection is particularly rich in imagery from Ovid’s The Metamorphoses—the stirring stories of Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, Narcissus, Pomona, Phaeton, Philemon and Baucis, and Cupid and Psyche are found in paintings, sculptures, ceramics, prints, and drawings. Here are five examples:
Worksheet 5. Rubric for Final Assessment provides a tool for both student writing and teacher evaluation.
1. Analyze the hero’s journey archetype as described by an American mythologist, Joseph Campbell. Campbell refers to a “monomyth” (a word he borrowed from James Joyce), a universal pattern that he sees as the essence of, and common to, heroic tales in every culture. This appears in his seminal work in comparative mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) but there are many online sources that disseminate Campbell’s monomyth.
Veteran journalist Bill Moyers sat down with Campbell in 1988 for a series of six PBS interviews entitled The Power of Myth. In “Episode 1: The Hero's Adventure” Campbell explains this archetype and offers examples of it in mythology, literature and film. The Power of Myth videos and its companion text are widely available in libraries, though the full episodes are not online.
Students may analyze one of Ovid’s hero stories to see to how well it fits Campbell’s formula (i.e. Perseus, Jason, Theseus, and Hercules.)
2. Analyze the interpretation of the Orpheus myth as it appears in the 1959 classic film Black Orpheus (originally Orfeu Negro) directed and with screenplay by Albert Camus. It was filmed largely in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and uses their annual pre-Lenten Carnival as a backdrop for a modern retelling of the classic myth. Have students compare Ovid’s telling of the myth in The Metamorphoses with the film version. They may look for similarities and differences between the two versions of the stories told through different mediums.
3. Ovid’s collection of letters in his Heroides represent 15 aggrieved heroines of Greek and Roman mythology who address their heroic lovers. One letter is written in the voice of Penelope to her husband Ulysses, long overdue from the Trojan War. Contemporary Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood’s novella, the Penelopia retells the story of the long-suffering wife, from Penelope’s perspective. Have students read both Ovid’s letter poem and Atwood’s short novel to compare and contrast the two versions.
In this triumph of magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude chronicles a century of the remarkable Buendía family’s history in the fictional Colombian town of Macondo. The three lessons presented here explore the fantastic elements of this imaginary world, the real history that lies behind them, and García Márquez’s own philosophical musings on writing about Latin America.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1984.
Today’s students live in an online and literary world dominated by fantasy. The wildly popular book and film series: Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, all capture young imaginations and give students an escape from the pressures of academic reality, parental expectations, difficult economic times, and a world that seems filled with war, climate change, and human suffering.
This unit provides an opportunity for students to explore magical realism in the hands of one of the world’s most gifted authors. Through these lessons they will discover how Gabriel García Márquez meshes magical elements with a reality which is, in his view, fantastical in its own right. García Márquez actually recapitulates episodes in the history of Latin America through the story of real and fantastical events experienced over the course of one century by the Buendía family. The fictional village of Macondo is modeled on García Márquez's hometown, Aracataca, Columbia.
Magical realism, for which García Márquez has been rightly acclaimed, has been defined by many critics. However, there is still much disagreement about its meaning. English-speaking critics tend to place emphasis on the magical elements, while Spanish-speakers tend to stress the reality that underlies the novel. García Márquez himself defended the latter view when he articulated Latin America’s “outsized reality” in his Nobel Prize in Literature (1982) lecture, “The Solitude of Latin America.”
In Lesson 1, students are introduced to the term “magical realism” and go on to investigate how García Márquez used magical and fantastical elements to enrich his story of the Buendía family and the history of Macondo. In Lesson 2, students ascertain the realistic elements in this author’s style. They trace how García Márquez used actual events and people from his own life and factual incidents from Colombian history to create his epic. In Lesson 3, students turn to an informational text, García Márquez’s 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “The Solitude of Latin America.” They pay witness to the author’s observations on how the lines between the fantastic and realistic intersect in the culture and history of Latin America so vividly depicted in this novel.
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
Gabriel García Márquez said that everything he wrote is drawn from the first eight years of his life, a period when he lived with his maternal grandparents. His grandmother was a storyteller whose superstitions, legends, and realistic tone provided him with much source material. His grandfather, a veteran of the civil wars that had shaken Colombia over the years, gave García Márquez a foundation for the many wars fought by Colonel Aureliano Buendía. The town where his grandparents lived, Aracateca, served as a model for Macondo; in fact, “Macondo” was the name of a nearby banana plantation. The massacre described in his book was also nearby and actually occurred in 1928, the year he was born.
At the age of eight, García Márquez left Aracateca to rejoin his parents and they then sent him to boarding school. At twelve he won a scholarship to a Jesuit high school in Bogotá, where he showed his love of literature, stories, and drawing; however, upon graduation, he followed his parents’ wishes and began the study of law at the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá. He loathed law school, however, and began instead to write short stories, a number of which were published; he also used the time to catch up on his reading of both modern literature and the classics. He felt liberated by Kafka’s Metamorphosis and was particularly influenced by Faulkner’s creation of the world of Yoknapatawpha County.
García Márquez finally dropped out of law school to take a position as a writer for a Colombian newspaper. When he wrote an exposé that annoyed the government, the paper sent him to cover a story in Europe. He parlayed this assignment into a role as a foreign correspondent and roamed Europe as a journalist; he later said that this journalistic training was extremely important in shaping his fiction writing. Eventually his career took him to Cuba to cover the revolution there. He became friends with Fidel Castro and flirted with socialism himself. Although some of his writing was published, he was not a great success.
Then, in 1965, García Márquez revisited his hometown and felt an inspiration. He wrote daily for eighteen months, almost bankrupting his family, and finally finished One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel was an immediate success, becoming one of the most popular works of magical realism, selling half a million copies in a few years. García Márquez once said that he tried to tap “the magic in commonplace events.”
García Márquez continued to write, moved to Mexico, and began to support numerous leftist causes with the proceeds of his books. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. He continued to write and teach for many years; his death in 2014 was mourned throughout the world.
Have students write an essay using the following prompt:
There are repeated magic incidents and fantastic descriptions of events, many of them with a factual basis in Latin American history, in García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. How does the author’s frequent use of “magical realism,” as this technique has been labeled, color and shape the reader’s experience of this novel?
In their essays, students should include a definition of magical realism, examples of this technique, and textual evidence to support their arguments.
You may use the Final Assessment Rubric provided for both student self-assessment and your own final assessment.
1. Circularity of Time
A part of the fantastic elements García Márquez used to structure his novel is inherent in the old adage: History repeats itself. Rather than employing strict chronological order, the plot of the narrative is marked by constant shifts of time, often to the past, sometimes even to the future.
Have students consider the effect of the circular and repetitive structure found in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Identify episodes from the text where García Márquez employs the following literary devices:
Take one of these literary devices and write a short essay explaining how effective García Márquez was in using it to suspend chronological time in those episodes.
Compare García Márquez’s use of circular time structure in One Hundred Years of Solitude with another writer you have studied who has applied circularity in his/her work. (i.e., Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury; Toni Morrison’s Beloved; Tim O'Brien’s The Things They Carried;Kurt Vonnegut’sSlaughterhouse-Five.)
2. Re-telling an Event with Magical Realism
Have students respond to the following prompt:
Take a current event from the news or historical event that you are familiar with and write a short story retelling the event in the style of magical realism. In your narrative, employ the literary devices used in One Hundred Years of Solitude such as magical events; occurrences and supernatural figures told with specific detail and matter-of-fact tone; factual incidents and persons; circular time structure; repetition; hyperbole; extended paragraphs, etc.