Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Ovid is chosen by Malouf, as he suggests in his afterword, because he stands in his high sophistication and civility between the barbaric animalism of the past and the ultimate refinements of our own time, when rationality and all that it stands for has come to fruition. Ovid is also chosen because his great work, the Metamorphoses (c. A.D. 8), explores the notion of fluid boundaries between the spiritual, the animal, and the human world.

Malouf offers an Ovid expelled from his civilized world and determined to construct another in its place, in ways which are to be read as examples of the admirable courage which man needs to tame his environment, and which Ovid sees as vital to all civilizations. It was thus, he believes, that Rome came to be the center of the world, and ultimately how a greater civilization will be achieved centuries later. If Augustus, the rational and efficient man, does not want the artist present, so be it. Ovid does not allow exile to destroy him as a poet, and he proves that he is not simply an effete darling of the Roman smart set.

Yet he goes further. In his attempts to civilize the village inhabitants and in seeking to draw the Child out of his animality, Ovid learns from them as well. His memory of the wild child of his early years, his imaginary playmate, leads him inexorably to the real thing, the boy brought up in the natural world, and as such, a step closer than the villagers to the world of spiritual...

(The entire section is 562 words.)