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Young Ovid: An Unfinished Posthumous Biography

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Original Language: English (USA) | Approx. 200 pp. | January 2015

2 Seas Represents: French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish rights


BIOGRAPHY | NON-FICTION

Discovering the author of the epic Metamorphoses.

When biographer and poet Middlebrook (Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, a Marriage, 2003, etc.) died in 2007, she was in the midst of writing a biography of Ovid, whose poetry she had taught in her literature classes at Stanford. Knowing she would be unable to complete the project, she wrote an introduction to the first four chapters, bringing Ovid to the age of 20. She focused on a few crucial points in his life: birth in a small town in the Apennines; his move to Rome for his education when he was 12; the toga ceremony that marked his status as a man; an early marriage that ended in divorce when he was 18, possibly as a result of his wife’s infidelities; and his embrace of poetry as a vocation, encouraged by an aristocratic patron. With no historical evidence for the particulars of Ovid’s life, Middlebrook relies on histories of society, politics and culture in ancient Rome, as well as the poet’s writings, to draw intriguing inferences about his experiences, personality and especially his motivation to become a poet instead of a magistrate, as his father intended. “The search for answers,” she writes, “requires establishing the psychological validity of speculation about emotional dynamics to be found in Ovid’s work.” Middlebrook’s speculations result in her fictionalizing some scenes, which account for about one-quarter of her narrative; half of the book contains annotated selections from Ovid’s poetry that have biographical relevance. Also included are excerpts from his early Amores, “urbane love elegies” that reflected his own relationship with a mistress; Tristia, written after he was exiled by Augustus; and especially the Metamorphoses, his longest and most innovative poem, about supernatural transformations.

In this inventive, hybrid biography, Middlebrook grounds Ovid’s poetry in an insightful reconstruction of his life.Kirkus, November 1st 2014

Though he has been dead for over two thousand years and had left no personal records—not even the name of his mother—Ovid’s poetry endures. Middlebrook was convinced that her intimate knowledge of his poetry and the approach she used in Her Husband (winner of the Prix Du Meilleur Livre Estranger), combined with a deep immersion into the Rome of Ovid’s time, would enable her to write what could, without bragging, be called an Ovidian biography. However, severe health issues interfered with Middlebrook’s work, and she was ultimately unable to complete this ambitious project before her death in 2007. She left behind an extraordinary look at the conditions and customs to which Ovid was exposed as a young Roman, as well as an acute interpretation of his family and personal life, gleaned from close readings of his poetry and letters from exile. Exhaustively researched and carefully constructed, Middlebrook’s portrayal of Ovid is certain to be studied by scholars and read by historians for year to come.
The work was shaped and refined under the watchful and exacting eye of the Middlebrook estate, resulting in this authoritative biography of the younger years of the much-admired poet.

Diane Middlebrook was an American biographer, poet, and teacher. She taught feminist studies for many years at Stanford University. She is best known for New York Times Bestseller Anne Sexton: A Biography, the critically acclaimed Her Husband: Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath, A Marriage, and Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton. Her previous books have been published in Italy, Greece, Poland, Korea, Brazil, Spain, the UK, Holland and Germany.