The Week in Books: Welcome back, Ovid - for English poets, you always were the champion

Plus - in search of the internet and the true colour of fiction

Which poem written in another language has given birth to the most, and best, offspring within English literature? Partisans might push the claims of the Odyssey, the Iliad and even Dante's Divine Comedy. But for the sheer scope and strength of its echoes over the six centuries that separate Geoffrey Chaucer and Ted Hughes, one answer alone suffices: the Metamorphoses of Ovid.

Written in the first years of the first millennium, before Ovid's taste for subversive sauce led the Emperor Augustus to banish the poet from Rome to the Black Sea coast in 8AD, these 15 books of changes – gods to humans; humans to beasts and plants; nature itself evolving from one form to another – put down deep roots in the Anglophone imagination during the Renaissance. Shakespeare would have known the Latin via his lessons at Stratford grammar school, but the Ovidian motifs that seed the plays – from the weaver-ass shift in A Midsummer Night's Dream to the living statue of The Winter's Tale – also owe a heavy debt to Arthur Golding's translation, in 1567. Its lolloping but oddly addictive seven-beat lines ("fourteeners") never quite caught on in English, but the poem itself sparked transformations of its own at regular intervals, right up to Ted Hughes's fleshy, rugged and bloodstained Tales from Ovid in 1997.

Now, at the National Gallery, the Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 project celebrates not just the Venetian maestro but the enduring power of Ovid's stories to mutate into new art of many kinds. A trio of contemporary visual artists – Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger - respond to the three great Ovid-inspired paintings on show: "Diana and Callisto", "Diana and Actaeon", and "The Death of Actaeon". Working with choreographers and composers such as Wayne McGregor and Mark-Anthony Turnage, the Royal Ballet is performing new works that create a dialogue with the paintings, and their stories. And in the book Metamorphosis: poems inspired by Titian, 15 distinguished British and Irish poets look both at the paintings and, inevitably, back to the ever-fertile poetry behind them.

Titian's pictures - and in particular the hunter Actaeon's dire fate, transformed into a stag and torn to pieces by his own hounds after he spies on the goddess Diana – may offer definitive images of the voyeurism that drives so much art. But the poets show that Titian didn't have the last word. "Diana, scorned by connoisseurs of scrawn/ punishes those who'd pimp her as plump porn", rhymes the inimitable Tony Harrison. As always, since Shakespeare, the ghost of Ovid invites poets to be not mere imitators but themselves in a new key.

Seamus Heaney balances the sacred and profane, will and fate, as Actaeon's rebel hounds "tore mouthfuls of hide and flesh and blood/ Out of what he was". Carol Ann Duffy voices a down-to-earth female conclave which scorns lofty interpretations of this débâcle: ""my point,/ ladies, is this – it's all about paint". Wendy Cope pinpoints a lover for Actaeon, the overlooked handmaiden who pines for "My secret love, who loved me too". Hugo Williams imagines the nymphs as an accusatory parade of past girlfriends, "But I fled from that tumble of looks and limbs,/ dogged by indecision and regret". And Patience Agbabi both focuses on Diana's African attendant ("I am her shadow/ black yet fairer than the mistress") and, in a virtuoso ploy, makes the two halves of her poem reflect each other line by line, like a lustful, or self-loving, viewer peering into a pool or else a glass: "Actaeon, you'll pay the price for looking".

These fresh changes rung on the West's bumper book of transformations prove that Ovid lives, and moves. For me, in this Olympic summer of cosmopolitan cultural jamborees in London and beyond, they tell one more unforgettable story. Look at that gold-medal procession of English poetry, from Chaucer to Hughes, and reflect on the diet that fed its champions. Without translation – that vital art of metamorphosis – they would stumble and limp.

When a dodgy server pulls the literary plug

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Andrew Blum's eye-opening book Tubes, which asks the question: where is the internet? Andrew Gallix, editor of the smart and sparky literary webzine 3:AM, has had reason to find out. His server went down and 3:AM, with its 12 years of archived articles, vanished. Who ran the server, and from where? Gallix's quest led to Dallas, to Missouri, and to some bloke called Florin in Bucharest, Romania – the zine's unwitting host. Florin seems to have switched it on again. O, brave new world…

Beyond grey: fiction's true colours

Even in old-fashioned print, EL James's Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is caning sales records. I have an idea for booksellers who might want to tie all these newcomers – or returnees – to reading more tightly to the habit. Offer a discounted copy of another colour-coded novel with every Fifty Shades. Plenty of options spring to mind: Jeanette Winterson's Oranges are not the Only Fruit; Mark Haddon's The Red House; Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun; Alice Walker's The Color Purple; Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger; Martin Amis's Yellow Dog; Monique Roffey's The White Woman on the Green Bicycle; Jennie Erdal's The Missing Shade of Blue; Susan Hill's The Woman in Black; or most of Orhan Pamuk, from The White Castle to My Name is Red. Who knows? Turned-on readers who fancy a gentler seducer than Mr Grey might even try Stendhal's Scarlet and Black.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas