Reviews /

The Golden Age: Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Authored by Heinz Janisch, translated by David Henry Wilson
Illustrated by Ana Sender
Published by NorthSouth Books

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The term ‘cultural capital’ has appeared regularly in recent education publications, and it would be hard to see key stories from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ as providing anything other than cultural capital when so many of its myths inform western literature and civilisation, from Shakespeare to popular culture (you only need think of ‘the Midas touch’). Janisch has provided a short explanation of the Metamorphosis and his adaptation at the rear of the book, but (when he has chosen 17 out of the over 250 original myths) I wonder on what basis he made his choices beyond ‘some well-known and others less familiar’. In the same way that Ovid presented his work as a mythological chronology (from the creation of the world to Julius Caesar’s becoming a god), Janisch retells his chosen stories in sequential order starting from the act of creation but ending earlier than Ovid with his final story being ‘The Open house – The Story Of Fama’. Fama is the goddess of rumour, and the doors of her home are always open. Janisch says, ‘Stories come to her from everywhere [and] The same applies to this book.

Heinz Janisch’s style in this book is compact and concentrates on action rather than description, and in this way echoes the original text. Lacking detailed textual description, the book often has the feeling of a non-fiction text and would be ideal for readers who struggle with a denser style.  The sparse text is, however, supported by Sender’s gorgeous but muted illustrations, which give shape to settings and characters and fill out the mythical world. My initial reaction to Sender’s illustrations was that they add a dreamlike quality to the book – and having chosen ’dreamlike’ as my description here, I was delighted to then read that her illustrations have often been inspired by dreams. This is a book suited to Upper Key Stage Two readers and above.