How effective do you find Ovid's blend of comedy and tragedy in his treatment of his mythical material? I really require some guidance. To be honest I do not know where to start, I really do not...

How effective do you find Ovid's blend of comedy and tragedy in his treatment of his mythical material?

I really require some guidance. To be honest I do not know where to start, I really do not fully understand how to go about answering this question. Is it a case of reading the stories within the books of Metamorphoses? I am not sure how to locate humor/satire/irony/parody within the stories. I have to choose up to three stories but have not written one word yet.

Any guidance would be very much appreciated as to how to approach this question.

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What sparked my interest about your question was not your query about tragedy, but your query about humor.  In answer to your question, I find Ovid's blend of humor and tragedy absolutely superb! In my opinion, one needs to look no further than the story of Bacchus and Pentheus to find this superb blend of tragedy and humor and, in fact, tragedy and irony.  This story would be a perfect place for you to start!  First, I will analyze this one story and then suggest a completely separate quote that combines humor and tragedy (in order to explain that humor and tragedy can even be found within one sentence).  Let's begin with the story of Pentheus.

Pentheus, of course, is trying to stop his family and his friends from worshipping Bacchus.  (Most of us can understand this because the people in this story who end up in a drunken frenzy are not to be admired.)  At first, Pentheus simply watches with a look of disgust while his friends try to get him to convert.  Even Acoetes, Pentheus' really good friend, gives it a try, but Pentheus still doesn't convert. 

Now we come to the first incidence of situational irony and humor.  Pentheus decides to become a spy and, in spying, find out who on Mount Cithaeron is worshiping Bacchus and who is not.  Quite frankly, this is none of his business.  Still, as readers, we are not expecting the next event to happen (because it leads to tragedy).  Pentheus' mother and his aunt arrive and end up killing Pentheus in the pandemonium that ensues.  The specifics of this particular tragedy are gruesome.  They literally hunt Pentheus down like he's some sort of animal.  Once found, Pentheus' aunt rips his arms off while his own mother cuts off his head!  Talk about a blend of tragedy and irony there!

There is more in the context, however, that is important to mention.  Pentheus' close kin is Actaeon because they are both members of the Cadmus family.  Now the "humor" or the "irony" here is that Actaeon is actually transformed into an animal (a deer) by Diana when she catches him spying on her bathing.  Similar to Pentheus, Actaeon is also killed although not by his mother and his aunt, but by his own hunting hounds.  Can you see how this blends humor and tragedy?  Tragedy, yes, in that Pentheus and Actaeon both die horribly gruesome deaths.  However, it is humorous that Pentheus is THOUGHT to be a deer and killed brutally while Actaeon is ACTUALLY a deer and killed brutally.

So as you can see, in the context of this particular story, there is both tragedy and humor as is the case with many in Ovid's Metamorphoses.  As a final thought, let me share with you a quote from Ovid that always makes me giggle:

I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth.

Yet again, humor and tragedy!  Why tragedy?  Many years are spent in decrepit old age and ill health.  Why humor?  Because it's FUNNY that he didn't think enough about the KIND of birthdays and the number in that pile of dust!

Read the study guide:
The Metamorphoses of Ovid

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