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Erysichthon Goes to Town: James Lasdun’s Modern American Re-telling of Ovid

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:31 authored by Ström, Pippa J.

The Erysichthon of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is given, in James Lasdun’s re-telling of the story, a repeat performance of chopping down a sacred tree, receiving the punishment of insatiable hunger, selling his daughter, and eating himself. Transgressive greed, impiety, and environmental destruction are elements appearing already amongst the Greek sources of this ancient myth, but Lasdun adds new weight to the environmental issues he brings out of the story, turning Erysichthon into a corrupt property developer. The modern American setting of “Erisychthon” lets the poem’s themes roam a long distance down the roads of selfimprovement, consumption, and future-centredness, which contrast with Greek ideas about moderation, and perfection being located in the past. These themes lead us to the eternally unfulfilled American Dream. Backing up our ideas with other sources from or about America, we discover how well the Erysichthon myth fits some of the prevailing approaches to living in America, which seem to have stemmed from the idea that making the journey there would lead to a better life. We encounter not only the relationship between Ovid and Lasdun’s versions of the story, but between the earth and its human inhabitants, and find that some attitudes can be traced back a long way.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Classical Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Davidson, John