The Beast within Us
David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life is an extraordinary piece exploring the fictional life of a not so fictional poet, Publius Ovidius Naso, or Ovid. This tale takes place while he is exiled from the Roman Empire, to a place where no one speaks his language, and the people there seem exceedingly primitive. His world seems quite desolate, until he learns of the “Wild Child” living in the woods nearby. This child, this idea of a human raised by wild animals, seemed little more than myth to Ovid, and consequently he is captivated by it. Though this is a fictional tale, and a modern one at that, it has much to do with the Classical Literature class.
First of all are we all not captivated by the myths we hear in class? We become fascinated by them turning them over in our minds, contemplating their relativity to our everyday experiences. Ovid was consumed by this idea of a “Wild Child” and he wanted to know everything about this creature that was on the same playing level as a myth come to life for him. He worked and thought about the Child, and eventually brought him back to the village where he began to teach him how to speak, and the ways of humans. Are we not much the same? If we find something that is out of the ordinary, something of myth, would we not try to take it home with us, in our own mind maybe trying to make a better life for that same creature? The theme of our class is “all that is past possesses the present”, to me this means that we are related to that which his no longer here, and it also serves as a studying tool, so that we might learn from others past experiences.
The people in the town are much the same as people today, in that individuals are still wary of new ideas. For the town people it was the Child, for us it is Cloning. These people, these ideas are terrifying by nature, and for some simply mean demons. Some will go out of their way to rid the world of these things and ideas. But are not these “new” things a representation of our imagination. Our imagination is continually poked and prodded, others mock it, and still we continue on our set course to understand, and explore it more. Just as Ovid wanted to understand the child, so do we want to understand myths and our own imagination. By following his imagination and striving to understand the child Ovid learned so many things, and perhaps that is what actually saved him, the idea of something exciting something that could have jumped right out of the pages of one of his stories. Perhaps if we were to follow our imagination more we would live a more vibrant life, after all we would be learning something new (or remembering it as it were) and that in and of itself makes one want to get up in the morning, no matter how stressful the day is going to be.
This book, though not actually a Classical book, still is relevant to our class. If there is something to be learned from the past, something that we might understand (even if it is fictional) then we should know to follow our imagination and understanding myths is not a bad thing, especially when you are fascinated by them.