Forms of Astonishment: Greek Myths of Metamorphosis

ISBN : 9780198706991

Richard Buxton
304 Pages
138 x 216 mm
Pub date
Sep 2017
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In this illustrated study Richard Buxton analyses Greek literary narratives and visual representations of the metamorphosis of humans and gods, as evidenced from Homer to Nonnos. Such tales have become familiar in their Ovidian dress, as in the best-selling translation by Ted Hughes; Buxton explores their Greek antecedents. He investigates such issues as: How do different contexts shape the way in which metamorphosis is narrated? How do the assumptions of commentators about 'strangeness' affect how metamorphosis is interpreted? How far should an interpreter allow 'contextual charity' to render more acceptable a belief such as that in metamorphosis? What are the implications of the notions of 'astonishment' (Greek: thambos) in a range of narratives about transformation? Throughout Forms of Astonishment Buxton draws comparisons between the Greek evidence and data from other religious traditions, ancient and modern; he also introduces comparative material from the sciences, from modern painting and literature, and from the cinema and computer graphics. In investigating metamorphoses of gods Buxton revisits the concept of anthropomorphism, arguing that the fact that Greek divinities were believed to change shape does not undermine the fundamentally humanlike form of Greek divinity. He also examines certain strands of Greek tradition, particularly among the philosophers, which called metamorphosis into question, whether in relation to the gods or to humans. Individual chapters deal with transformations into the landscape and into plants or trees-in the latter case transformation stories are set against a background of cultural beliefs about 'seminal' substances such as blood and tears. Overall, Forms of Astonishment raises issues relevant to an understanding of broad aspects of Greek culture, and illuminates issues explored by anthropologists and students of religion.


1. Narratives and Their Contexts
1 The Odyssey
2 Athenian Drama
3 Visual Arts
4 Hellenistic Transformations
5 Post-Hellenistic Narratives
2. The Logic of Transformation
6 Shapes of the Gods
7 The Human Aetiology of Landscape
8 Plants, Trees, and Human Form
9 Challenges to the Metamorphic Tradition
10 Final Thoughts on Contexts

About the author: 

Richard Buxton is Emeritus Professor of Greek Language and Literature at the University of Bristol.

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