Ovid's Metamorphoses

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade October 2001

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In 8 AD, Ovid, author of Metamorphoses, was banished forever from Rome, and by order of the emperor Augustus, all his works were removed from the public libraries. In the years that followed, he never stopped pining for Rome, and his final works in exile are poems of supplication, which, while sincere and moving, failed to rewrite his past.

Mikhail Bulgakov toiled over his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, for over a decade. He lived for it, obsessed over it, and memorized it, but nevertheless also burned it and never stopped revising it until the day he died. Never did he seriously consider publishing it. If he had tried, not only would it have certainly been suppressed, but Bulgakov would almost certainly have come to a violent end.

The themes of the written word, its power and permanence, and of the opposition to its power from those it threatens, constantly informed the work and lives of these respective authors.

The texts of concern in this paper, The Story of Caunus and Byblis by Ovid and The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, are at their core meditations on these very subjects.

In Ovid's story, Byblis is in love with her brother Caunus and decides she must reveal her true feelings. "Can I speak out?" she wonders, and decides against it: "It might be better if I wrote a letter." Ovid then describes the tortured process of writing: "She starts, and stops, and writes, and makes corrections, rubs out, and changes"¦She had written sister: that required erasing"¦" (p. 224-5) This very brief passage is rich with insight on written language and its manipulation. We are first alerted that the form of Byblis' confession is significant in her indecision over it. We are not told explicitly why Byblis decides to write instead...

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