31 May 2013

The Influence of Ovid

Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments (London: Constable, 1914), pp. 226-227:
The pages of Ovid, as one glances across them, are like a gay southern meadow in June, variegated and brilliant, sweet and pensive and rather luxuriant, and here and there even a little rank. Yet they are swept by the air and the light and the rain of Nature, and so their seduction never grew stale. During sixteen centuries, while the world was spiritually revolutionised again and yet again, the influence of Ovid never failed; it entered even the unlikeliest places. Homer might be an obscure forgotten bard and Virgil become a fantastic magician, but Ovid, lifted beyond the measure of his genius, was for ever a gracious and exalted Influence, yet human enough to be beloved and with the pathos of exile clinging to his memory, filling the dreams of fainting monks at the feet of the Virgin, arousing the veneration of the Humanists, even inspiring the superb and exuberant poets of the English Renaissance, Marlowe and Shakespeare and Milton.
It has sometimes seemed to me that if it were given to the ghosts of the Great Dead to follow with sensitive eyes the life after life of their fame on earth, there would be none, not even the greatest — to whom indeed the vision could often bring only bitterness, — to find more reasonable ground for prolonged bliss than Ovid.