Thursday, July 02, 2009

Confessions of an Ovid Addict

Every summer The University of X Classics Alumni Newsletter arrives. Every summer I swoop upon it, wondering how many of my professors have survived, what’s happening in the idyllic university town, and what amusing subjects my former professors have written about. Coincidentally I was jotting a few notes in my journal about my years of studying Classics (Greek and Latin) when the mail came.

I've been called a witch, but it really is a coincidence that I was contemplating the classics. I’m not Circe or Medea: no magic incantations here. I sprawled in the Adirondack chair, read the newsletter cover-to- cover, and crunched a Snow White-style apple, a kind of brainwashing agent that inspired a sentimentalization of my own classics days.

This year one of my professors writes about a Japanese animated version of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The original soundtrack of the 1978 film was by the Rolling Stones, but it flopped anyway. How is that possible? In 1979 it was re-released with a disco soundtrack and apparently thrives. The English title is Winds of Change, Hoshi no Orpheus in Japanese (Orpheus of the Stars). You can watch excerpts on YouTube.

I study the photographs of three of my former professors. I’m relieved to see familiar faces: so many are gone. The gawky ex-prodigy, now middle-aged, wears a neat vest, blouse, and slacks, no-nonsense and unshowy as ever, but a brilliant Latinist able to quote Julius Caesar at the dinner table. The courteous Horace enthusiast has looked the same for years, whimsical, kind, her head lifted up, her hair white now, in a full skirt and cardigan that could be from yesterday or today. My former Greek tragedy professor, now retired, looks as canny, original, and slightly cynical as ever. He once asked, confusing me with someone else (all graduate students look alike), "Were you the Puckish one?"

"No,." Oh dear. Not how I remember myself at all.

Another time he quipped, "Mr. _ doesn't take controlled substances" when a fellow grad student admitted he didn't drink coffee.

An excellent teacher, one of the best, but yes, we put up with a lot.

Studying classics was an opportunity and a luxury. I dearly love my Greek and Latin and reread Metamorphoses last summer.

I’ll have to rent Hoshi no Orpheus at Netflix. But I think it was a mistake to change the soundtrack from the Rollng Stones.

If you like the Orpheus myth, or love Ovid, I recommend two famous, powerful films: Cocteau’s Orpheus trilogy, of which I only know Orphee (but there's a boxed set out now so I can see the rest), and Marcel Camus’s Academy Award-winning Black Orpheus (set in Brazil).

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