Week 11 Recap Blog: Final

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Frontispiece from George Sandys’ 1632 edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, showing a portrait of Ovid flanked by the Greek gods Mercury and Dionysus

Week in Review: Summary of class activities in the previous week
Ovid vs. Chaucer: Recap of group presentations about Ovid’s version of the tales in The Legend of Good Women, and Chaucer’s version
Satire vs. Reinterpretation: Discussion of Chaucer’s motivation in writing the Legend of Good Women, and his purpose in writing
MediaWiki vs.Omeka: Discussion of which online platform should be used for the digital edition of the collaborative modern manuscript codex

Week in Review
On Monday the class divided into their groups formed on the previous Friday in order to continue working on their class presentations. The presentations were designed to compare/contrast a character’s portrayal in Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women with his or her portrayal in Ovid’s Heroides or Metamorphoses, as well as to find any modern interpretations of the characters.

Ovid vs. Chaucer
On Wednesday, the three groups presented their character analyses to the rest of the class. The first group did a Prezi presentation on the character Philomela, who was raped and mutilated by her sister’s husband, King Tereus of Thrace. The presentation mostly focused on the fact that Chaucer left out a good deal of the ending of Ovid’s tale, and otherwise omitted anything from the original that would have contradicted the image of a “good woman” he was trying to create. This would have caused some problems among learned readers even back in the Middle Ages, since the Philomela from the Metamorphoses decided to take revenge on her brother-in-law, and with the help of her sister Procne murdered Tereus’ son, fed the boy to the king, and finally presented him with the severed head. Chaucer decided instead to portray both women as passive sufferers of their fate, who decided to run away from Tereus at the first opportunity.

Exactly why Chaucer did this is open to debate. I think that Chaucer was trying to create something that would be pleasing to King Richard II and his wife, who most likely commissioned The Legend of Good Women (as suggested by the prologue). Because Richard was known for his love of the arts rather than a love for bloodshed and warfare, it is probable that he would not have approved of Ovid’s graphic version. Furthermore, writing tales of mothers committing infanticide would not have endeared Chaucer to the Queen, who was the likely recipient of this work.

The second group gave a Google presentation on the early Roman hero Aeneas, who is credited with rescuing some of his fellow Trojans from the fall of Troy, and founding Rome. The presentation centered on the fact that in most mythology, Aeneas is celebrated as a great hero, while both Ovid and Chaucer portray him as a “jerk” for abandoning Dido in Carthage in order to go on to Italy. Modern interpretations of Aeneas also focus on his heroic deeds, in which Dido is only mentioned for accommodating the fleeing Trojans on their journey, and not for Aeneas’ later betrayal of her love.

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Medea by Eugène Delacroix depicts Ovid’s version of the tale, where Medea is about to murder her two children who were fathered by Jason

The third and final group did their presentation on Jason, the mythical leader of the Argonauts and procurer of the golden fleece. The presentation focused on the different portrayals of Jason as seen in Greek and Roman mythology, Ovid’s Heroides and Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women. The mythological account of Jason focused on his exploits, specifically his adventures aboard the Argo, his romance with Medea, and his quest to acquire the golden fleece in order to win back his kingdom. His later betrayal of Medea takes a backseat to Medea’s revenge for said betrayal.

In both Ovid’s and Chaucer’s interpretation of Jason, Medea becomes the main reason why he manages to succeed in his endeavors. This makes his later betrayal seem even more cruel, which is why Jason is no longer victimized as much as in the mythology, and Medea becomes a more relatable character.

Satire vs. Reinterpretation
When Chaucer wrote The Legend of Good Women, I think his main motivation was to earn King Richard’s favor by rewriting famous legends into a kind of satire that would be entertaining for the King and civilized enough to be presented to the Queen.

Many of Chaucer’s contemporaries who were familiar with the source material would have probably felt the same way, since he portrayed characters of ambiguous morality in a saintly light, vilified famous heroes, and claimed that the successful outcome of their heroic deeds depended solely on the help of characters who are only mentioned on the side in the mythological source texts.

MediaWiki vs. Omeka
On Friday the class met in the Homer Rice classroom in the library, where Alison Valk gave us a presentation on various online platforms that we could use for our Digital Edition Manuscript Project. The two platforms that she demonstrated for us were MediaWiki and Omeka.

MediaWiki is the open source platform that Wikipedia is built on, and provides a beginner friendly way to collaboratively create a website for our manuscript. Besides ease-of-access, MediaWiki also has a large online support community, with a plethora of how-to guides and site templates.

Omeka, on the other hand, is designed for the specific purpose of showcasing image collections. Omeka is mostly used by libraries and museums to publish some of their collections online, especially photographs and scanned manuscripts. However, due to its specialized nature, community support for Omeka is less than for MediaWiki, and the software itself seems to be a bit less user friendly. Furthermore, Omeka does not support multiple writers as well as MediaWiki, and does not include a feature to track changes made by individual users. I therefore think that MediaWiki will be the most suited for the needs of our class. Please feel free to comment your own preference for an online platform.

Image Sources:
Ovid Frontispiece:




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