Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Metamorphoses: Narcissus

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About the scene and clip:
This clip is drawn from the story of Narcissus who, having refused to love in return any of the young nymphs who loved him, was cursed by Echo to love in vain. Seeing his reflection in the mirror, he fell in love with himself and died of despair, becoming a flower (the narcissus) in death. The performer has drawn on the use of a mirror and video-recording as props to suggest Narcissus’ self-infatuation.

About the work:
The story of Narcissus is told in Book III of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a collection of tales of love and other human passions, in which men and women are transformed–“metamorphosed”–into animals, birds, and plants, and live on in these new forms. Some scholars argue that the Metamorphoses is an epic.

About the genre:
The tale, like the epic, is an ancient genre and one found everywhere in the world. Many tales are firmly rooted in oral tradition and are recited or told by amateur and professional storytellers and performers. Other tales are the work of literarily sophisticated authors and are often intended to be read aloud or silently from written texts. Some tales circulate separately, while others are part of collections which may be set in complex frames (as in the case of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). There are many sub-groups of tales with specific characteristics; see for example the “lai” and the “fabliau.”

The epic is an ancient genre and is found in almost every culture. It is a long heroic narrative which tells of war and great deeds. Epics are generally composed in verse, and sung from memory or improvised in performance by professional performers with instrumental accompaniment. These narratives are created from traditional elements, commonly without recourse to writing, by poets whose names are often unknown to us. Among the famous traditional epics are the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to Homer; the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf; and the Old French Song of Roland. Many known poets adopt epic forms and themes for their literary verse (such as Virgil in his Aeneid).

About the edition/translation:
Adapted from The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. A.E. Watts, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1954, Book III, pp.61ff. Original: Ovid, Metamorphoses, ed./trans. Frank Justus Miller, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library), 1976-1977, 2 vols.

About the performer/ensemble:
Adam Jones is a Drama student in the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2003).

About the production:
This scene was part of a volunteer project on performing Ovid’s Metamorphoses with Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in fall 2003. This performance took place in September 2003 at the Maison Française of New York University at an informal gathering of medievalists held under the auspices of the Colloquium for Orality, Writing and Culture, co-convenors Prof. Nancy Freeman Regalado and Prof. Vitz. The performance was videoed by NYU-TV.