When watching the Coen Brothers' film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, it becomes immediately apparent that the film is meant to be a creative adaptation of The Odyssey by Homer. Rather than a straightforward mimicking of The Odyssey, however, the film makes use of Homer's plot to tell a very different story about escaped convicts in the southern United States in the late 1930s.
The most obvious parallel between the original and the Coen brothers' adaptation is the main character, played by George Clooney. While he is called by his middle name, Everett, throughout most of the film, the full name of Clooney's character is Ulysses Everett McGill. "Ulysses" is, of course, the Latin translation of the name "Odysseus." By giving him an Irish last name, it could even be suggested that the Coen brothers are also making reference to another famous adaptation of The Odyssey, James Joyce's novel Ulysses, which takes place in the course of a single day in Dublin, Ireland.
There is another intriguing parallel between The Odyssey's Penelope and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?'s equivalent, Penny. While there are many similarities between the two characters, in some ways they are also very different. For instance, Penelope is desperate for her husband to come home, and is overjoyed when she finally gets to see him after such a long time. Penny, on the other hand, is not exactly pleased when her Odysseus, Everett, comes home. While Penelope was approached by a number of suitors following Odysseus's absence, Penny was only approached by one. He happens to have a job and be in a much better social position than her husband, an escaped convict. Considering the fact that the country is in the midst of a major economic depression when Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? takes place, it makes sense that she is not exactly overjoyed by her husband's return.
Finally, the Soggy Bottom Boys in the film manage to score a hit song with "Man of Many Sorrows." This is a direct ironic reference to Odysseus, as Homer constantly describes his main character as a "man of many sorrows" throughout The Odyssey. This definitely represents a creative integration of Homer's text in to the adaptation. Rather than merely referring to Everett as a "man of many sorrows" throughout the movie, the Coen Brothers decided to have him and his friends "sing" Homer's text, thus giving an extra layer of interpretative texture to the film.
Like other parts of Metamorphoses, the third and fourth books of the epic retain Ovid's interest in novelty, rather than better known mythical stories, such as those imparted by Euripides and Sophocles. The third book thus begins with the story of Cadmus, who is a fifth generation descendant of Oedipus. Ovid effectively turns a minor character from mythology into a major character in the course of this part.
Much of Metamorphoses is concerned with the contrast between gods and mortals, and books three and four are no different in this regard. In the story of Cadmus (3.1-137), we chart Cadmus's transition from a mere mortal to the founder of Thebes, who thus attains divine status in the course of his adventure. All of the hardships that Cadmus must endure thus turn out to be worthwhile in the end.
Ovid then turns his attention to several descendants of Cadmus. The first of these is Cadmus's grandson, Actaeon. Again, we find the recurring theme of the conflict between the mortal world and the divine world in the story of Actaeon. Actaeon accidentally sees a goddess naked, and is thus punished for his sin. Ovid portrays him as innocent for this relatively minor crime. Still, he is punished severely for it. This even leads the gods in Ovid's text to argue over Actaeon's harsh treatment. Still, Actaeon must undergo a metamorphosis like all the other major characters in Ovid's tale. But Actaeon's metamorphosis is ironic - he begins as a hunter, but winds up as the hunted.
The story then segues in to Semele and Jupiter. This story is a continuance - and conclusion - of a story begun in the second book, and thus provides further texture to the Metamorphoses. Their story feeds in to the Echo and Narcissus section of book three, which is the famous story of Echo and Narcissus.
Book three concludes with the story of Pentheus and Bacchus. It can be said, then, that the third book develops a thread of mortals witnessing things they are not supposed to be seeing. Diana is seen bathing by Actaeon, and is punished for it. The deadly glory of Jupiter is encountered by Semele. Teiresias becomes the witness of two serpents mating. Narcissus, of course, sees his own reflection and falls in love with it. And finally, the women's rites are spied upon by Pentheus.
This leads us in to the fourth book of Metamorphoses. The structure of much of book four consists of stories within stories, further adding to the overall texture of the whole. The book continues where the last book left off, with Bacchus. Instead of staying at home and worshiping the god, the Minyads would rather stay home and tell each other stories. The overall theme of much of these stories is concerned with love and divine vengeance.
Perhaps the most famous story told in the fourth book is that of the star crossed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. This story anticipates such famous works as William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
The narrative then moves on to the story of Venus and Mars, in which the Sun figures prominently. The Salmacis story effectively reverses the traditional romance tale, giving us a vision of female, rather than male, aggression in a romantic encounter. Finally, the story returns to various sundry goings-on in the house of Cadmus - where book three began - effectively proving that these two sections comprise a circular structure.
Ovid's Metamorphoses brings together a variety of different mythological stories in to one poetic whole. Each story presented by the author in the course of his work deals with some sort of change. Since all of the stories are different, and, unlike other epics, there is no one single hero, it could be said that the theme of change is the hero of Metamorphoses
In the course of his work, Ovid makes use of a number of different sources, ranging from Homer to Virgil. While a lot of the stories that have been told before remain similar to their original plots, Ovid also takes a number of liberties throughout Metamorphoses, effectively creating his own fiction out of many of the mythological characters that fill the work. He also focuses on a lot of minor characters from Greek mythology that typically were not explored in the major works of such authors as Homer.
Furthermore, Ovid's great work also represented a major change in literature. While previous epics had glorified the powers of the gods, Ovid's work travels along a similar route, but he also focuses a lot of the narrative on the great powers and glory of ordinary mortals, thus breaking with traditional concerns. Overall, one can detect a shift when reading Metamorphoses from beginning to end. The story starts out glorifying the powers of the gods, but towards the end, the greatness of Rome and its rulers comes to be emphasized. This marks the transition of civilization from ancient Greece to ancient Rome.
Many of the changes that take place throughout Metamorphoses have to do with changes that mortals must weather as punishment from the gods for bad behavior. There are also instances, however, when a god will thrust a change upon a mortal in order to save him or her from the threat of death. Thus, while Ovid is not radical enough to completely deny the superiority of the gods, his work is daring in that he challenges their authority throughout the work.
Ovid structures the Metamorphoses through his effective use of characters, which he links from one myth to the next. This chain of interlinking characters - and their interactions with various gods - forms the primary focus of the work. Ovid's work must have seemed rather revolutionary, perhaps even amoral, when it first came in to existence. Unlike other great epic works, Metamorphoses is infused with instances of rape, violence, and numerous revenge strategies. And while the text is densely textured, referring to other stories throughout in a novelistic fashion, each story contributes something completely unique to the whole.
On a more complex level, the Metamorphoses are structured according to themes with slight variations. One example of this is in books one and two, in which the theme of a virgin being pursued by gods is repeated throughout. In books three and four, there is the theme of mortals witnessing things that they are not allowed to see, and being punished by the gods for their mistakes.
The overall structure of the work is meant to be chronological. Ovid intends to tell the…