Anyone who may have seen the brilliant Anthony Hopkins' movie, TITUS, a movie based on Shakespeare's most Ovidian play, 'Titus Andronicus,' and one which actually features Ovid's book, and who may now have a yen to read or re-read Ovid, could do worse than take a look at Ted Hughes' reworkings, in modern idiom, of Ovid's fascinating tales.
Hughes, in his brief but quite informative Preface, finds in both Shakespeare and Ovid a "common taste for tortured subjectivity and catastrophic extremes of passion." He continues : "Above all, Ovid was interested in passion. Or rather, in what a passion feels like to the one possessed of it. Not just ordinary passion either, but passion 'in extremis'" (pages viii-ix).
As a passionate man himself, one can understand the appeal that Ovid has for Hughes, and may suspect that he, if anyone, was the man to give us a modernized Ovid. Personally I found myself enthralled by Ted Hughes' versions of these tales. So what, if in furtherance of his poetic aims, he has reworked the tales to some extent? Hughes is an exceptionally talented poet, and I'll leave it to those who are his equals in poetic talent to argue with his procedures. I doubt there can be many.
Hughes' incredible skill as a poet is everywhere in evidence on these pages. His handling of image and sound and rhythm and line length, his lucid diction, and his stunning ability to find precisely the right word - as in such lines as "no earth / spun in empty air on her own magnet" (pages 3-4), or "Everwhere he taught / the tree its leaf" (page 5), or "Echo collapsed in sobs, / As her voice lurched among the mountains" (page 77), or "And there she was - the Arcadian beauty, Callisto. / He stared. Lust bristled up his thighs / And poured into the roots of his teeth" (page 46) - such skill leaves me in awe. Let purists rage, but if this isn't exactly what Ovid said, then perhaps it's what he should have said, or would have said if he too had been a vigorous Northerner like Hughes.
There are free translations of Ovid such as that of Ted Hughes. There are also more literal translations such as that of Rolfe Humphries. Both have their uses and it isn't the case that one is good and the other is bad. Hughes is good and Humphries is not bad either.
I suppose what it comes down to is whether you prefer major poet Ovid as filtered through the sensibility of another major poet, or Ovid as filtered through the mind of a Latin scholar (persons who are not usually noted for their poetic abilities, though Housman was an exception). But if it's 'poetry' you are interested in, you won't be going far wrong in plumping for Hughes. It's one of those golden books you'll want to return to often.