Ordering wonderland : Ovid's Pythagoras and the Augustan vision

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Modern scholarly assessments of Pythagoras' speech in the final book of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' have been mixed. Some have seen it as a philosopical counterpoint to a mythical discourse; for others, a perceived superficility renders its interpretation more complex. In addition, assessments of the speech have often been coupled to readings of the 'Augustan' tone of the end of the poem: interpration of he speech as lightweight are held to promote a satirical reading of the Augustan tone, while more serious interpretations have suggested genuine endorsement or flattery of the imperial regime.This paper argues that such parallels should be abandoned: it suggests that the speech takes a deliberately 'unphilosophical' approach to philosophy, which does not, however, undermine its seriousness or indeed any comment on the Augustan regime, positive or negative. Pythagoras' cosmic vision of perpetual flux and instability instead offers a disturbing alternative to the Augustan restructing and ordering of Rome. However, it creates more than a straightforward antithesis betwen the two. Eschewing philosophical rationale to create a complex relationship between wonder and reality, the speech itself is a paradox. Pythagoras' message is that reality is wondrous rather than rational: his examples, especially in the catalogue of regeneration, suggest that change is stability and abnormality is the norm. It is not the wonder-struck Pythagoras but the ostensibly rational and orderly Augustus who is living in a wonderland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationParadox and the Marvellous in Augustan Literature and Culture
EditorsPhilip Hardie
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780199231249
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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