Connecting An Imaginary Life to Classical Foundations of Literature
An Imaginary Life is a perfect demonstration of our class theme, "all that is past posses the present.” The lack of history based around a classical authors demise fascinates a post-modern author “and then one day something happens…” The post-modern author becomes possessed and enthusiastically writes a fictional novel depicting one of his favorite classical writers possible final years. He writes this for people to read eternally, in reflection of the way he has read Ovid’s Metamorphosis. He is not trying to compete but rather trying to introduce a novel length introduction or guide to reading Ovid’s tales. In this he gives us two instances of the past possessing the present and one example of a person reading the eternities and not the times, hoping to write a continuance that will become, itself, eternal.
Publius Ovidius Naso was the author of Metamorphosis, which is, thankfully, one of the main choices of Classical Literature professors when discussing Roman mythological literature. Metamorphosis is entirely filled with stories depicting transformations. As such, the book itself has a fitting title since many of the stories are altered versions of Greek origination. “The names have been changed to protect…” those who had delicate cultural and religious sensibilities.
An Imaginary Life by David Malouf is fitting for Classical Foundations of Literature because of the way Ovid connects with the Child as a representation of nature, as Jillian said in class “…nature as a constantly changing force.” Ovid’s past Child existed only for him unlike his present Child that is very physical and existent to everyone. This Child is an element that seems to have spanned the ages, unchanged by time into Ovid’s final years. He is a guide or even a metaphor for something lost in the time when, as the Sphinx would have said, we are two legged. He is a knowledge of something innately naturalistic. He is as Jesus in Footsteps, the guide carrying Ovid full circle. Akin to one of his stories, he comes to a completion where everything empirical is cast aside and every cause for enthusiasm is cherished. The very Ovidian moral subtly inserted into An Imaginary Life is this: remember that which is truly important.
It is interesting to me that Ovid tries so hard to capture and tame the Child even though it seems that on multiple occasions he feels the wrongness of his attempts. Ovid is in many parts worried about what his actions are doing to the Child, as one might have felt hearing about the mother who had signed away her child as a surrogate parent. We connected with the laws like Socrates, choosing society over the natural and instinctual love of Phoebus and what he would, since I’m “speaking Greek,” represent: life; to walk in the sunlight. Ovid finally is placed in a situation where he has to release himself from his understanding of life and relents to the elemental knowledge, wisdom and world of the Child.
Ovid’s troubles, desires, challenges, failures and successes in An Imaginary Life are likewise demonstrative of Classical Literature. They are all moving towards a goal of Ovid’s that is eventually shown to be ignominious. Since that is the case at the finale of so many of Ovid’s own tales one might wonder how his character would not have caught on to his own fate sooner. Though if he had, we would not have had the story, and the law of the past possessing the present would have been broken. This tribulation Ovid endures in order to bring meaning to his story in the end is a fantastic time spanned representation of Classical Literature.
The final thing I will point out that connects this reading in relevance to our class is that it is an amazing and eternal piece of literature which one must read “…as though they are reading George Steiner,” which is exactly how all of our assigned readings have thus far deserved to be read.