Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a work about transience, and perhaps no two things in the natural world are more fleeting than life and beauty. Artists aim to preserve these two qualities in their work by simultaneously imitating the natural world to give the appearance of life to static creations and also looking to transcend and outlast nature’s beauty. Within the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of such an artist, Pygmalion, whose statue blurs the boundaries between art and nature. The tale of Pygmalion demonstrates that the artist, paradoxically both an imitator and an innovator, assumes the unique role of mediator between nature and art.Initially, Pygmalion’s attitude implies he has created the perfect woman, thereby rejecting nature’s imperfection. After witnessing the Propoetides, the first women to become prostitutes, and whose shamelessness hardens them into stone, he chooses to “have no woman in his bed” (Metamorphoses X:247). His vow subtly accuses nature of blundering when it bestows vices “only too often” on real females, forcing Pygmalion to find a better alternative (10:246). After witnessing prostitutes turning into stone, Pygmalion performs the reverse: he sculpts an ivory statue to be his perfectly chaste companion. This statue is also described as more beautiful than any human “could” be, implying nature is actually incapable of ever equaling the artist’s skill (X:252). Essentially, Pygmalion creates a superior work of art because he possesses the artist’s imagination. In accordance with his own ideas, the artist can specify exactly how beautiful and virtuous to make his masterpiece, whereas nature worships reality and is confined by the physically and organically possible.At the same time, the passage paradoxically focuses on art’s imitation of nature, something supposedly inferior to it. Ovid’s observation, “The best art, they say, / Is that which conceals art,” summarizes the concept of mimesis, by which art attempts to mimic reality (X:254-55). By definition, the understudy for his statue was a natural woman, and the statue’s remarkably “almost lifelike”—or natural—qualities captivate him (X:252). In fact, Pygmalion’s one complaint is that his art is not alive. This makes sense, as Pygmalion is torn between the two identities of artist and lover. He has fallen in love with his artwork, but he is also a man and hungry for human contact. In an attempt to simulate courtship, he covers the statue’s naked body with dresses, brings it with flowers, shells, pet birds, and other baubles, and fawns over it (X:258-68). These scenes to any onlooker would appear the acts of a lunatic. Yet Pygmalion’s questioning arguably betrays a willful denial: “…Was it ivory only? / No, it could not be ivory” (X:258). He treats the statue like a living being that could respond to his advances “as if she felt it” (X:267), and even believes “his fingers almost leave / An imprint on her limbs” (X:261-62). The tentative uses of “as if” and “almost” again mirror his self-deception. He knows this is not a living girl, that she will never reciprocate his love, but dotes on her anyway. During the festival of Venus, Pygmalion ultimately reveals his desire for a living woman when he asks the gods to make him a wife “like his ivory girl” (X:277). When he admits a living girl would satisfy him more than his statue, Pygmalion at last discovers the tension between being an artist and being human. At this point, Pygmalion comes full circle. He finds nature cannot create a perfect woman, but neither can he, the artist alone, achieve the extra dimension of life. In order for nature and art to fulfill each other’s potential, they must join hands. The artist’s power lies partly in imitating nature, but also in being able to improve upon it with his own imagination, which transcends the beauty and chastity found in reality. Meanwhile, nature’s unique gift is that of giving life. The following scene, in which the statue is transformed into a living being, illustrates the combined power of nature and artistry. Significantly, the repetitious structure of Pygmalion’s action and the statue’s reaction demonstrates Pygmalion is a direct participant: “And lay beside her, / And kissed her, and she seemed to glow, and kissed her, / And stroked her breast, and felt the ivory soften” (X:281-84). The sculpture imagery depicts Pygmalion creating alongside natural forces, together morphing the simulacrum into a pulsing being. Overall, the transformation of art into the realm of the living retains the beauty and chastity of his sculpture. He can hardly believe she is a real woman now (“It is a body!”), proving that she has not changed in appearance and is still preternaturally beautiful (X:257). She even blushes, and, in a vision of starry-eyed innocence, turns her virgin gaze on “lover and heaven” (X:263). This near-perfect transfer of art’s virtues into reality affirms the artist’s ability to comment on how nature ought to be. The natural world also provides the setting for artwork to fulfill not only artists, but also human beings. Together, art and nature contribute something more meaningful than their independent efforts.In the end, Pygmalion gained a human companion in addition to his ideal creation. His resolution presents one theory of appreciating art, namely that a piece is meant to imitate and also expand the possibilities of the world; but as a social being a person can never find existential satisfaction in artwork alone. That said, merging art with life still has its drawback of mortality. Pygmalion’s living woman will not survive forever, as the ivory statue would have. Therefore, although nature and art fashion a fine woman, they still cannot achieve a permanent, perfect product. But this of course is the central idea of Metamorphoses. People and things always become something else, everything is in the process of becoming, and nothing stands on its own. Using this story and many more, Ovid gradually unveils his fundamental philosophy that life and beauty are transient.Works CitedOvid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Rolfe Humphries. New York: Indiana UP, 1955. Print.
At the end of the Metamorphoses, Ovid boldly states “I will be borne, /The finer part of me, above the stars, /Immortal, and my name shall never die” (XV. 877-78). For Ovid, metamorphosis is a path to eternity and the preservation of time. Characters no longer remain permanent in his stories. Instead, their physical and emotional changes immediately reshape their natural environment. He makes the actions of mortals and gods unforgettable by writing about the morphing of memorable figures into common objects, which the readers can easily recall. He utilizes metamorphosis as a powerful tool to change our perception of the world. More specifically, his stories enable us to understand the reasons for the existence and placement of natural objects. These tales give previously unrelated and random events profound connections and shape the fundamental structures of both culture and nature. Ovid challenges traditional notions of the world by using transformations to establish order, teach lessons, and explain natural phenomena. His originality in writing about transformations also transcends philosophy-driven poetic imitations. Neglecting Ovid’s careful arrangements, some readers find spurious metamorphoses ephemeral and random. Professor Elizabeth Drumm concludes that Ovid is mainly concerned with instability and disorderly changes. By relating his myths to distinct symbols, however, Ovid orders a chaotic world and links mankind to its roots in nature. The broad system of symbols makes his work accessible to readers at different cultures and time periods. The transformations of Leucothoe and Clytie, for example, emphasize a deep connection to the natural world (IV. 170-284). When people see frankincense and violet in nature, their memories inevitably trace to Ovid’s work. The aroma of frankincense is no longer a natural coincidence but a representation of the Sun’s love for Leucothoe. These symbols, moreover, are most people’s familiar daily objects and patterns. Ask the readers to take a close look at their surroundings, Ovid defines previously insignificant objects. The tear drops of Phaethon’s sisters, as another example, “[d]rip and are hardened in the sun to form /Amber” (II. 367-68). After this change, amber has a new meaning to Roman brides, who used it as decorative jewelry. Ovid’s transformation stories paint a monumentum with interrelated documents. Readers can never completely escape his stories because they connect directly to the familiar natural environment. Ovid’s brilliance lies in that he does not only transforms the characters he writes about but also changes his audience’s perception of the world. Through the stories of transformations, Ovid can draw the boundaries of acceptable religious behaviors and attitudes toward the divine. Transformations result in a more peaceful relationship between mortals and gods. After Arachne boasts, “My own advice is all I need. Don’t think /Your words have any weight. My mind’s unchanged,” Pallas punishes her by turning her into a spider (VI. 42-3). In a similar case, Juno suppresses Ino’s seductive beauty by making her “crazed /By grief or by the sprinkled poison’s power” (IV. 20-21). Also, she turns Ino’s attendants into birds, thereby admonishing their impiety. These punishments control unruly behaviors to create stability in the divine and earthly worlds. With tales about physical changes, Ovid expounds the principle that humans must accept their inferiority to the gods. The Muses, as another example, says to the Pierides “you add /Insult to injury. Our patience has /Its limits; we’ll process to punishment” (V. 666-68). Magpies, then, symbolize the dire consequences for sacrilege. As a result, his stories serve as lessons and models for proper behaviors. By guiding people’s interactions with the immortal forces, Ovid delineates the appropriate relationship between humans and the divine. Besides religion-based organization, Ovid uses symbols to reshape the way people perceive political authority. The myth of Apollo and Daphne has significant implications on Augustus’ reign. The laurel tree symbolically represents not simply a virtuous woman but admirable peace and honor. Apollo says to Daphne, “You shall attend conquering lords of Rome /When joys shouts triumph…you shall stand /Beside Augustus’ gates” (I. 559-62). Ovid turns a previously insignificant laurel tree into a symbol for the sanctity and authority of the emperor. After reading Ovid’s story, the Roman audience’s perception of the laurel tree differs from the uninformed reader. In addition to the laurel tree, the apotheosis of Julius Caesar profoundly impacts the political order. Venus, ordained by Jove, saves Julius’ soul “[s]o that great Julius, a god divine, /From his high throne in heaven may ever shine /Upon the Forum and our Capitol” (XV. 40-42). Ovid’s original account of Julius’ transformation probes the Roman citizens to question Augustus’ political authority. Ovid not only literally deifies Julius but also figuratively mocks Augustus’ illegitimate heritage. This refiguring of the transfer of power from Julius to Augustus allows Ovid to express his opinion on Rome’s political order. Thus, Ovid, through original stories of metamorphoses, actively shapes both the Romans’ and modern readers’ views on the political atmosphere in Augustan Rome.Another way Ovid reshapes a culture, in addition to religious and political structures, is the institution of a social order by mediating conflicts between two sexes. His stories draw sexual boundaries by emphasizing women’s unfaltering devotion to chastity. For example, avenging Actaeon’s violation of her virtue, Diana turns him into a stag and “not until so many countless wounds /Had drained away his lifeblood, was the wrath…of chaste Diana satisfied” (III. 237-39). Such a punishment exposes the repercussion of violating the sphere of the opposite sex. The love story of Pyramus and Thisbe shows another type of sacrifice. Thisbe’s unwavering loyalty made her a heroine for women to emulate. She bravely states, “Love will give strength to strike. To death I’ll follow!…Death now shall have no power to part us ever” (IV. 149-53). The color of the mulberry tree serves as an eternal reminder of the price paid for love. Ovid employs natural objects, such as the mulberries, to catch readers’ attention because they can relate his stories to the familiar natural world. Ovid carefully chooses the end product of a transformation so that the character gains a new identity but still traces back to the original story. The mulberry tree, again, permanently bears red berries to symbolize the two lovers’ bloody sacrifice. Ovid sets up a memory palace, allowing the readers to see beyond the superficial appearance and remember the distinct origin of each natural object. The products transformations that end gender strife significantly alter readers’ conceptualizations of the world. Despite creating a social order, Ovid often problematizes the relationship between men and women. He takes advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate the power of metamorphoses by resolving the problems associated with the disruption of gender roles. Although Ovid shows that a distinct social sphere confines women’s activities, he recognizes that irrational eros often cause clash of the two genders. The Thracian family is one prominent example that shows the destructive nature of inappropriate sexual bonds. Ovid tries to impose order on the family through a series of transformations. He compares Tereus, charmed by Procne’s sister Philomela, to “bird of prey has caught a hare…/To his high nest, the captive has no chance /Of flight, the captor gloats over his prize” (VI. 518-21). Tereus’ attempt to debilitate Philomela fails and he eventually consumes his son’s flesh. The family’s tragic end reveals the difficulty for women to live up to the highest moral standards, especially under men’s unpredictable eros. Furthermore, Ovid starkly shows the consequences of crossing inviolable boundaries. To relieve this tension involving betrayal, cannibalism, and taboo relations, Ovid changes the characters into birds with distinct characteristics. To this day, “[t]he marks of murder show upon a breast /And feathers carry still the stamp of blood” (VI. 672-73). In several stories, Ovid reveals women’s vulnerability and difficulty in maintaining their dignity. Through transformations, these conflicts among men and women can terminate peacefully. Thus, Ovid lessens the inconsistencies in gender roles, which helps to foster healthy domestic relationships. In addition to the various foundations of order, Ovid explains the existence of common natural phenomena, thereby helping his readers grasp the significance and causation of natural events. Although Perseus tamed the frenzied Gorgon, gods’ irrationality constantly threatens the mortal realm. Ovid, however, turns disorder into a peaceful hierarchy of forces governing the world. For instance, he utilizes the story of the rape of Proserpine to show how the fundamental pattern of seasonal changes originated. Through compromises, Ceres and Pluto agree that Proserpine “spends with her mother half /The year’s twelve months and with her husband half” (V. 563-64). This incident starts chaotically but ends by profoundly affecting people’s lives in terms of agricultural production and seasonal habits. As a result of this change, definitive and predictable patterns replace arbitrary natural events in influencing human actions. Metamorphoses intricately blend characters in Ovid’s tales into the readers’ environment and rationalize why certain natural phenomena persist. Beyond the originality of directly linking nature with the products of changes, Ovid adopts metamorphosis as a means to solely direct the writing of poetry. Often, poets depend heavily on philosophical ideas to justify their work. Ovid, on the other hand, demonstrates originality because he manipulates Pythagoreanism to reflect Metamorphoses’ major themes. He shapes an assortment of philosophical ideas to mirror the diverse array of genres in his stories. Pythagoras, speaking through Ovid, endorses the theme of immortality through changes and rearrangements. He states, “In all creation, be assured, /There is no death—no death, but only change” (XV. 251-52). Unlike poets such as Lucretius and Virgil, Ovid does not accept particular philosophical doctrines. Without persistent ideology, the poet becomes the principal director of his own spectacle, which challenges the readers’ world view. Instead of remaining faithful to traditional philosophy, Ovid creates a kaleidoscopic poetic tradition where the poet rises above the rapid changes. Ovid prevents the erosion of human deeds by time’s progression. He documents transformations to illustrate religious, political, and social order. In addition, he shows that certain events are destined to repeat but every mortal will fall into his or her proper place. The same principle applies to Ovid, whose work makes his name everlasting. “As not the wrath of Jove, nor fire nor sword /Nor the devouring age can destroy,” Ovid crosses the threshold between death and eternity (XV. 872-73). By profoundly restructuring people’s interactions and recognitions of objects and patterns in nature, he justifies his conspicuous claim of immortality. His stories, with strong associations to the natural world, were easily transmitted from generation to generation. Centuries later, Ovid’s narratives influenced numerous writers and artists around the world. More importantly, just before the dawn of Christianity, the Metamorphoses transformed Romans in Ovid’s era to a higher degree of spirituality.
Jordan Reid BerkowFinal PaperRome of AugustusApril 17, 2003″Make Panic Look Fetching”: The Eroticization of Rape by Ovid In both the Ars Armatoria and Metamorphoses, Ovid presents highly detailed, compelling scenes of rape, crafting these moments with an almost exquisite attention to detail that reveals their value to him as a writer. Two of the most notable rape scenes in Ovid’s repertoire are that of the rape of the Sabine women, in the Ars Armatoria, and the story of the Arcadian Girl (also known as the Callisto myth) in Metamorphoses. While one may imagine that the ancient Roman conception of rape may have been fairly simplistic and accommodating to the male perspective, Ovid’s portrayals are, to the contrary, quite complex and cast the women not as mere faceless victims, but rather as individuals with highly distinctive personalities and characteristics. Additionally, Ovid pays a great deal of attention to the negative effects that the rapes have on the victims, describing their sorrow, their tears, and their cries, as in the Ars Armatoria, for their mother (124). This remarkably sympathetic portrayal of women, however, while perhaps intended to elicit sympathy from the reader, is overwhelmed by Ovid’s attraction to the fantasy of male dominance and by the extreme eroticization of the act that reveals Ovid’s true perception of rape. Indeed, the compassionate, tear-stained depiction of the women is the very mechanism through which Ovid eroticizes the brutal scenes. His compassionate portrayal of the women is thus invalidated by his determination to cast these women as clear objects of desire and arousal, reveling in the beauty that is found in their misery. The Rape of the Sabine Women is a tale so integral to Roman history and mythology that it has found its ways into the oeuvres of a number of prominent authors. Livy tells the story of the young Roman men who, finding it more difficult than they had expected to secure a wife, attack the Sabine women during a festival at the bequest of their ruler, Romulus (SB 53). The Rape of the Sabine Women is not generally cast as a moment of shame in Roman history, but rather as the crucial moment in the development of the race. It was, as Mary Beard writes in “The Erotics of Rape: Livy, Ovid and the Sabine Women”, an “originary moment for the Romans” (1). Beard goes on to note that Livy’s telling of the story of the Sabine women “emphasizes the honourable motives for the rape…[and] admits no questioning at all of what is, at first sight, a most questionable founding act” (4). In many renditions of the story, then, the rape is viewed as a political act, not one in which the emotions or identities of the victimized women are given a great deal of consideration, and certainly not one involving any significant component of sympathy. The Callisto myth is another story that has been taken up by a number of classical authors, from Hesiod and Apollodorus to Pausanias and Ovid (Wall 10). Ovid’s rendition is a fascinating and highly complex portrayal of the nymph dedicated to Diana who catches the eye of Jove. Jove approaches Callisto (referred to in Ovid as simply the “Arcadian girl” or “Lycaon’s daughter”, but who will here be referred to as Callisto for the sake of simplicity) in the guise of Diana, and then rapes and impregnates her. When Callisto’s pregnancy is discovered by Diana, she is banished. Upon the birth of her son, Arcas, she is transformed into a bear by the jealous Juno, wife of Jove. This rape scene, as well, is often viewed as a moment of political change more than a brutal, invasive act, for as Kathleen Wall writes in The Callisto Myth From Ovid to Atwood, the rape takes place in a “wasteland” that is later renewed by the birth of the illegitimate son, Arcas, the savior of the country (16). While many versions of both stories focus on the political impact, as opposed to the emotional or psychological trauma of the act of rape, Ovid’s accounts again contain a great deal of complexity and a surprising degree of attention to the female characters. In the story of the Sabine women, Ovid does not, as Livy does, attempt to deny the individuality of the women involved (Beard 9). Ovid takes care to describe the unique ways in which each woman responded to the trauma: The same nightmare for all, though terror’s features varied: Some tore their hair, some just froze Where they sat; some, dismayed, kept silence, others vainly Yelled for Mamma; some wailed; some gaped; Some fled, some just stood there. (121-125) The women are not grouped into a singular body of “rape victims”, but are treated as individuals, with distinct personalities and responses to assault. Ovid’s description of the rape of the Sabine women further appears to relate to the feminine perspective through its insistence on conveying the horror of the situation. In the above quote, the dismay with which the women greet their rapists is made abundantly clear, in contrast to Livy, where little attention is paid to the responses of the women, with the strongest reference to their attitude towards their rapists coming in the line “the stolen maidens were no more hopeful about their own situation [than the parents], nor less indignant” – hardly a compelling description of the emotional consequences of rape. Ovid, however, pays a great deal of attention to the fact that the girls are left “panic-stricken, / Not one had the same colour in her cheeks as before” (119-120), and portrays the relationship between the victims and the rapists as “timorous doves flee[ing] eagles” (117) and baby lambs running when they lay eyes upon “the hated wolf” (117-118). Furthermore, by referring to the scene as a “nightmare” (121) Ovid clearly instructs the audience’s response to the scene: as a spectacle of horror. In Metamorphoses, the scene of Callisto’s rape is similar to the account of the rape of the Sabines in the Ars Armatoria in that Callisto is endowed with a significant degree of individuality, and the reader is clearly intended to look upon the scene with a sense of horror and a deep sympathy for the violated woman. Callisto’s most striking characteristic is her fierce independence and, as a huntress, disinterest in typically feminine pursuits: “She had no need / To spin the wool to softness, nor to vary / The way she wore her hair” (410-412). Perhaps the most startling evidence of her strong personality comes when Jove appears to her in the guise of Diana, and Callisto cries, “All hail, great goddess! / Greater, I think, than Jove, and he might hear me / For all I care” (428-430). She is unafraid of the wrath of even the most powerful of all gods, the ultimate strong, masculine figure. Callisto is no nameless, faceless woman, but a notably original character with a personality that rivals even Jove’s in its distinctiveness and strength. Like the rape of the Sabine women, Callisto’s rape in Metamorphoses is portrayed with an eye towards eliciting the sympathy of the reader. Ovid writes that Callisto “really struggled against” Jove, noting that the struggle was so fierce that even Juno might have been moved to sympathy for the girl, and describes the aftermath of the rape by writing that “she loathed the forest, / The knowing woods, and fled, almost forgetting / To take her bow, her quiver, and her arrows” (438-440). Callisto is so traumatized that she, like many rape victims, cannot stand to even be in the physical area where the violation took place. She is so emotionally wounded that she nearly forgets her greatest passion, hunting, in her desire to flee the scene of the crime. The audience’s sympathy for Callisto is further evoked during the scene of Diana’s discovery of the girl’s pregnancy. When Diana orders her to jump into a pool of water, Callisto refuses out of fear that her condition will be discovered. In response, Diana’s other attendants literally strip Callisto naked, leaving her exposed and vulnerable: “So the others / Stripped her, and saw the truth. She stood in terror / Trying to move her hands to hide her belly” (461-463). After this second violation, Callisto is not received into the warm arms of her companions, but is banished as a “pollutant” (465). To add to this punishment for an act that was forced upon her, Juno takes vengeance on Callisto by transforming her into a bear. Ovid describes the transformation in horrible detail, as Juno “flung her down to the ground, and the girl, reaching / Her arms towards her in pleading, saw them blacken / Grow rough with shaggy hair” (480-482). The heart-rending way in which Callisto is treated, in conjunction with Ovid’s clear characterization of her as an independent, strong character combine to infuse this episode with a surprising degree of complexity and humanity. While both stories may appear, then, to pay a surprising amount of attention to the feminine perspective in their determination to convey the individuality of the victims and the fact that the reader is intended to sympathize with them, Ovid cannot be construed as a feminist because his true conception of the act as an erotic show of male dominance is made clear in both myths. Examining, first, the story of the rape of the Sabines, we can see that Ovid’s true perspective on the story is revealed through its very placement in the Ars Armatoria. No matter how much sensitivity is invested into the story, the fact that the story is but one scene in a text on love advice cannot be ignored (Beard 7). Ovid’s account of the rape thus takes on aspects of a hilarious joke, as when he declares that “Project Rape was on” (114). The rape scene is therefore not a serious description of a highly significant moment of political change, nor is it a sensitive portrayal of the emotional aftermath for the victims of rape. It is, rather, but one more moment of flippancy in a humorous treatise on how to get a woman. Rape, it is implied, is just one of the many means by which to secure yourself an heir. The tentatively feminist tone that we have noted in the Callisto myth is invalidated when, upon closer examination, the story is revealed as an emphatic declaration of male dominance. Callisto can be viewed as the very prototype of the independent, self-sufficient huntress who has no need for male companionship, and her violation is thus a resolutely misogynistic assertion of the inevitability of male dominance over even the strongest woman: “She really struggled against him (even Juno / Had she been there to see, might have forgiven) / But girls are frail, and anyway, who could conquer the might of Jove?” (434-437). Ovid’s determination to portray Callisto as a strong female character can therefore be seen as underscoring the theme of male dominance – no matter how strong or independent the woman, in the face of male power she must ultimately fall victim to his wishes. Kathleen Wall writes that the strange rejection of Callisto by Diana can be seen as further evidence of Ovid’s misogyny. Diana’s condemnation of her companion is odd, considering the fact that most modern studies insist that the goddess “was not originally characterized by physical virginity” (Wall 12) and thus would not have reacted with such reproach to Callisto’s rape and pregnancy. “The goddess’s moral or social condemnation of the nymph’s behavior is, like the meaning of the word ‘virgin’, a patriarchal imposition, for the matriarchal goddess of fecundity, maternity, and childbirth would not have treated her votary in this way” (Wall 13). Ovid, through Diana’s rejection of Callisto, elicits further sympathy for the young girl, but also demonstrates an inaccurate rendition of how a mother goddess figure would have responded to the violation of her protÃ©gÃ©, thereby revealing his true attitude towards the matter. Ovid’s real perspective on these brutal scenes of rape is revealed most strikingly through his determination to eroticize the act even while describing the horror and fear experienced by the victims. Mary Beard describes how, during the scene of the rape of the Sabine women, Ovid lavishes great attention on the beauty and desirability of the Sabines, conveying that their sadness renders them even more attractive. “What, after all,” writes Beard, “could be more erotic than tears and fears? Hit her and have her; she looks so gorgeous when she’s all upset” (9). Ovid writes that even in their terror, “many contrived / To make panic look fetching” (126-127). Rape, then, is not so much a brutal act as a sexual farce, a contrivance by the women to appear unwilling and reluctant so that they may be taken through no fault of their own. The male attackers take on a paternalistic tone, almost being cast as rescuers of the Sabine women: Any girl who resisted her pursuerToo vigorously would find herself picked upAnd borne off regardless. ‘Why spoil those pretty eyes with weeping?’She’ll hear, ‘I’ll be all to youThat your Dad ever was to your Mum.'(127-131) The fact that the rape takes on a humorous light thus reveals Ovid’s true perception of the act, invalidating the claim that some may imagine he has on presenting a feminist account. The rape of Callisto is similarly eroticized, both through the attention lavished on Callisto’s physical beauty and desirability and through the very scene of the “seduction”. Callisto is a purely natural beauty, and her transformation into a bear symbolizes the fact that her character brings to mind “the untamed side of our personalities” (Wall 14), a savage, wild, free – and highly sexualized – object of desire. Additionally, when Jove seduces Callisto, he does so in the guise of a woman, Diana, kissing her “The way a maiden does not kiss, or should not” (430). Through these elements, Ovid creates a male fantasy: the strong, independent, desirable ice woman who is overcome through intervention by another, equally sexually aloof woman, yet who eventually must fall, submissive, to the inescapable power of a man. Though Ovid, in both the “Rape of the Sabine Women” in the Ars Armatoria and the Callisto myth in Metamorphoses appears to infuse brutal scenes of rape with surprising sensitivity and attention to the feminine perspective, the feminist slant is entirely invalidated as a result of his inability or unwillingness to divorce himself from fantasies of male dominance and the erotic aspects of the rape scenes. Rather than truly portray the emotional trauma that results from rape, he instead creates sexual farces that only serve to underscore the apparent inevitability of male dominance that is pervasive throughout his works.
In Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, there are a great many instances that link love and war, thus creating a disconcerting antithetical comparison prominent throughout the canon of literature. In particular, this theme can be seen in and around the region of Thrace: home to a “primitive, warlike, and ferocious” people (Oxford Classical Dictionary, 1515). This description of the Thracians is elaborated on by Ovid, who pairs Thrace with brutal acts of dismemberment and revenge, and eliminates any possibility of divine intervention. One of the most memorable instances of dismemberment in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is that of Orpheus, the much-loved and sought-after poet. “Many women wanted this poet for their own, and many grieved over their rejection” (Ovid, 236), thus bringing about feelings of resentment and jealousy. Eventually, lust and desire for Orpheus lead the women to an act of incredible violence:…and then the women rushed back to murder Orpheus, who stretched out his hands in supplication, and whose voice, for the first time, moved no one…The poet’s limbs lay scattered where they were flung in cruelty or madness. (Ovid, 260)First, one must address the irony of this dismemberment. Orpheus is a figure of harmony, uniting the different worlds he encounters; therefore, it is extremely ironic that his death occurs through dismemberment, a form of division. Secondly, one must note the nature of this act of brutality. The Thracian women call Orpheus their “despiser” (Ovid, 259), and since they are upset, they transfer that feeling of destruction onto Orpheus by killing him. The mercilessness of the Thracian women leads us to believe in the idea of “madness” triumphing over “cruelty”, which is characteristic of these Bacchanalian women. This unreasonable lust is seen again in a description of the faults of Tereus, the king of Thrace: “all the Thracians are too quick at loving” (Ovid, 144). Indeed, Tereus haste to love causes him much grief. Before analyzing the story of Tereus and Procne, however, let us consider the fact that Procne is a spoil of war, thereby strengthening again the antithetical link between war and marriage. However, one war prize does not seem to be enough; Tereus violently rapes his wife’s sister, who “shook and trembled as a frightened lamb which a gray wolf has mangled and cast aside” (Ovid, 146) Ovid uses animalistic terms to describe sexual acts, revealing the natural bond between violence and sexuality. Also, the word “mangled” not only describes the mutilation of Philomela, but also foreshadows the second act of mutilation in this story. As we have seen in the past, women, especially women in groups, do not take very kindly to being pushed around, and frequently employ deformation as their mode of revenge:Without more words, a tigress with a young fawn, she dragged the youngster to a dark corner somewhere in the palace, and Itys, who seemed to see his doom approaching, screamed, and held out his hands, with Mother, Mother!…but she, with never a change in her expression drove the knife home through breast…And they cut up the body, still living, still keeping something of the spirit, and part of the flesh leaped in the boiling kettles. (Ovid, 150)However, Itys does not raise his hands up in prayer to the gods as Orpheus does, and as Philomela does “in vain” (Ovid,146), supporting the notion that Thrace remains untouched by the gods. We must also note the parallel between the two dismemberments in this story, in regards to the parent-child relationship. When in danger, the instinct of both Philomela and young Itys is to call for a parent figure, showing the Thracian need for mortal support in the absence of divine intervention. Cruel irony also plays a part in this parallel: Tereus’ violation of his promise to King Pandion [to protect Philomela “with a father’s love” (Ovid, 146) and ensure her safe return) is punished with the death of Itys. There is even irony in the name “Tereus”, which means “watcher” (Graves, V2, 410); a term that is definitely not applicable to Tereus – unless it refers to his lustful nature towards women. Tereus does not understand a “father’s love” until he experiences the loss of his own son. This instance is even more frightening than the mob murder of Orpheus: a mother whose rage is so extreme that she is driven to murder her own son. Again, one wonders why the gods have not intervened. This murder is calm and calculated, unlike the wild slaughter of Orpheus, thus revealing a different form of sexual madness found in Thrace. Interestingly enough, having eaten the stew and realized the trick, Tereus’ metamorphosis is into a “hoopoe, the bird who looks like war” (Ovid, 151), further strengthening the bond between love and war. However, there is some confusion surrounding the transformation of the two women. Some sources claim that Procne becomes a swallow and Philomela a nightingale, but others insist on the inverse, which hearkens back to the older story of Aedon (www.perseus.tufts.edu), where the mourning wails of the nightingale are attributed to the mother figure. Furthermore, the tie between Philomela and the nightingale adds another point of irony, since the nightingale is known for its sad song. The name “Philomela” means “sweet melody”, thus refuting the established role of the nightingale. (Graves, V2, 405) Similar to the tale of Tereus is the story of Medea, who also kills her own son to punish a man. Sexual jealousy drives her to murder her son in order to inflict the most severe punishment possible on Jason. Even before this act, Medea has used violence as an expression of her love: she murdered her little brother, Apsyrtus, and scattered pieces of his body into the Black Sea in order to help her lover, Jason, and his Argonauts. Each of Medea’s violent acts of dismemberment stems from her own sense of “dismemberment”. When she is separated from Jason, she feels incomplete, and assumes that she needs to somehow unleash her feelings in order to be closer to Jason. Interestingly, the pieces of Apsyrtus’ dismembered body are brought back for burial in a place called Tomi, which just happens to be the part of Thrace (www.perseus.tufts.edu) where Ovid was sent in exile (Bulfinch, www.bulfinch.org). In some ways, Ovid was dismembered by his exile; his voice was taken from him. One of the possible reasons for his exile was the message about love that his writings conveyed to the people; the emperor did not want Ovid perpetuating these ideas, so he cut the writer loose and sent him to Thrace. It is to be expected, then, that the one place that Ovid depicts most negatively in his work is the location of his exile. Perhaps the “Metamorphoses” influenced Ovid’s decision about where to spend his exile. Whatever the case may be, Ovid was, indeed, in Hell:My situation has been clouded over by unexpected evils.Unwritten poetry wants solitude and leisure: the wild winter tosses me about, the waves and the winds.All sorts of fears prevent my writing: one moment I fearA sword will slit my throat, the next that I am dead. (Ovid, http://www.forumromanum.org)This excerpt from Ovid’s “Tristia” expresses both his discomfort and restlessness in this location, along with his fear of being killed for expressing his opinions. Ovid sees Thrace as an unsettling place centered around mortal violence. Even in this text, poetry – which to some extent relates to love and harmony – seems to be linked with violence and discord.Works CitedBulfinch, Thomas, Bulfinch’s Mythology.
In Book X of The Metamorphoses, Ovid recounts the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It is the well-known story of a Thracian poet, Orpheus, who travels into the underworld seeking return of his new bride, Eurydice, who had been bitten by a serpent and died on their wedding day. Brought to tears by OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ singing an emotional plea for her return, the king and queen of the underworld agree to release Eurydice. However, her reprieve depends upon the condition that Orpheus not look back at her until they are completely out of the underworld. Orpheus does not meet this condition, and upon his turning around, Eurydice sinks back Ã¢ÂÂinto the same place from which she had come.Ã¢Â?In his version, Ovid does not offer much in the way of descriptions of EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs character. She is merely that which Orpheus longs for; she is his unobtainable desire. In fact, her second chance at life is referred to as Ã¢ÂÂthe gift that had been givenÃ¢Â? to Orpheus, not as a gift for herself. Ovid apparently expects the reader to disregard any possible wishes and desires that EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs holds for herself and instead, focus on the how his loss of her affects Orpheus alone.The reader of OvidÃ¢ÂÂs version is provided with a rare insight into Eurydice thoughts as she dies a second time. At this point Ovid claims that she Ã¢ÂÂuttered no complaint against her husband. What was there to complain of, but that she had been loved?Ã¢Â? This glimpse into EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs thoughts is not meant to provide much revelation about her character, but rather to provide a justification for OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ descent into the underworld. Her thoughts serve both to verify OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ strong love for her and to eliminate any potential guilt on his part for causing her second death. His strong love for her brought him to the underworld in the first place; as Ovid seems to claim, one could not possibly judge him guilty for this. And how can he be held accountable, when the victim herself doesnÃ¢ÂÂt even feel she was victimized?EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs thoughts allow OvidÃ¢ÂÂs audience to infer that she had accepted her death and therefore wasnÃ¢ÂÂt angry that a chance to live again had been lost. Yet this inference only brings forth the question that if she had truly accepted her death, what feelings did she have about Orpheus bringing her back to life? Was she opposed? Or perhaps her death was so complete, that she was already forever numb to the events surrounding her and, had her husband not turned around, would have existed in a Ã¢ÂÂzombie-likeÃ¢Â? state even in her second life.The reader could infer that OvidÃ¢ÂÂs failure, or perhaps refusal, to develop EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs character to the same extent that he does OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ indicates that he believes the female perspective to bear no importance. The reader could also further infer that this hypothetical belief of OvidÃ¢ÂÂs is reflective of the time in which Ovid wrote. The Greek culture was most likely male-dominated; the thoughts and feelings of women were not essential. While this conclusion would be an easy one to make, it is more likely that Ovid omits EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs voice, not because she is female, but because she is merely a symbol of loss.The central theme in OvidÃ¢ÂÂs tale is obsession over that which is unobtainable or lost. Eurydice is merely that for Orpheus; expounding on her own thoughts is not necessary for Ovid to demonstrate that OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ eventual murder by the Maenads is directly caused by his over-obsession. (OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ great love for his wife caused him to lament endlessly over his loss. He never slept with another woman and this angered the female Maenads, who greatly desired to sleep with him. The offense incensed them to the point that they subsequently tore his body limb from limb and cast his head on the island of Lesbos, where it continued to sing.) While OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ quest to regain his wife was justified, his inability to move past his loss, after this failed quest, was not excusedÃ¢Â”thus the dangers of over-obsession.In her poems Ã¢ÂÂOrpheus (1)Ã¢Â?, Ã¢ÂÂEurydiceÃ¢Â?, and Ã¢ÂÂOrpheus (2)Ã¢Â?, Margaret Atwood recounts a version of this myth that includes EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs perceptions. In her translation, Atwood comments on the conditions of life and death and the notion of love in each of these realms. She grants Eurydice a voice in order to accomplish this. She does not lend a voice to Orpheus directly, but uses the voices of Eurydice and Hermes (who in this version retrieves Eurydice for Orpheus and accompanies her on her journey out of the underworld) to covey OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ thoughts. In AtwoodÃ¢ÂÂs version, Eurydice does not choose to return to life, but does so out of loyalty to her husband. She says to Orpheus, Ã¢ÂÂI was obedient, but numb, like an arm gone to sleep; the return to time was not my choice.Ã¢Â? She goes on, Ã¢ÂÂbefore your eyes you held steady the image of what you wanted me to become: living again. It was this hope of yours that kept me following.Ã¢Â? The words Ã¢ÂÂwhat you wanted,Ã¢Â? insinuate that this was not want Eurydice wanted; she did not wish to live again. The reader is again confronted with EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs state of content in death in HermesÃ¢ÂÂ speaking to her. His confirmation of her desire to remain dead suggests that it is not just caused by her numbness, but also by her wish to avoid the negative aspects of life: Ã¢ÂÂYou would rather have gone on feeling nothing, emptiness, and silence; the stagnant peace of the deepest sea, which is easier than the noise and flesh of the surface.Ã¢Â?In AtwoodÃ¢ÂÂs version, the world of the living is presented in negative terms. Eurydice describes this world as Ã¢ÂÂthe green light that had once grown fangs and killed me.Ã¢Â? During the journey back to this world, her body begins to change back into a physical form. This physical state is not depicted as pleasant: Ã¢ÂÂAlready there was dirt on my hands and I was thirsty.Ã¢Â? In his announcement to Eurydice that Orpheus has come to take her back, Hermes suggests that her previous life was unpleasant. He tells her that Orpheus is offering Ã¢ÂÂa promise: that things will be different up there than they were last time.Ã¢Â?However, it is not just the idea of living that keeps Eurydice from wishing to return. Atwood hints that OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ love for Eurydice is not true: Eurydice speaks of his love for her as constricting, Ã¢ÂÂYou had your old leash with you, love you might call it.Ã¢Â? OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ love is not true because he does not actually love her, but rather the person he wishes her to be. Orpheus cannot conceive that Eurydice is more than her physical body. He identifies her personality with her past, physical self and without the presence of that body, he does not know her; how could he possibly truly love someone that he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt even know? Hermes provides an even clearer description of the conditions of OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ love. Ã¢ÂÂHe says he is singing to you because he loves you, not as you are now [Ã¢ÂÂ¦] He wants you to be what he calls real […] This love of his is not something he can do if you arenÃ¢ÂÂt there.Ã¢Â? Hermes clearly points out that OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ love is dependent upon the physical. Remember that even Eurydice says to Orpheus, Ã¢ÂÂyou held steady the image of what you wanted me to become.Ã¢Â? Orpheus is not only incapable of loving her without being able to look upon her, but he also needs her to look exactly as she did when she was alive. Only in her previous body, can she represent that person whom Orpheus believes her to be.Atwood uses EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs experience in death to expound on the notion of true love. She claims that love is above physical boundaries and the realms of life and death. As Hermes says to Eurydice, who in death is Ã¢ÂÂchilled and minimal,Ã¢Â? Ã¢ÂÂyou knew suddenly as you left your body [Ã¢ÂÂ¦] that you love him anywhere, even in this land of no memory, even in this domain of hunger.Ã¢Â? As Hermes describes it, love is not restricted to being expressed physically. Furthermore, he states, Ã¢ÂÂYou hold love in your hand, a red seed you had forgotten you were holding.Ã¢Â? True love is expressed without purposeful intent; it is done instinctively and can be forgotten, just as one does not dwell on the blinking of their eyes, their breathing, or the beating of their heart. HermesÃ¢ÂÂ description of EurydiceÃ¢ÂÂs love of Orpheus explains that, while she does possess love for Orpheus, she does not dwell upon it. Her love for Orpheus, the Ã¢ÂÂred seedÃ¢Â? in her hand, is always with her. However, this love is so much a part of her character that she need not remember to love him; Eurydice loves Orpheus unconsciously.On the surface, Margaret AtwoodÃ¢ÂÂs translation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth simply aims to provide a more solid characterization of Eurydice. However, this characterization completely alters the argument of the myth. In OvidÃ¢ÂÂs version, OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ failure to bring his Ã¢ÂÂlove into existenceÃ¢Â? rests on his inability to follow the orders of the king of the underworld and his subsequent demise is brought about by his refusal to move past this loss. In Margaret AtwoodÃ¢ÂÂs translation, OrpheusÃ¢ÂÂ failure to bring his Ã¢ÂÂlove into existenceÃ¢Â? rests on his inability to understand the true nature of love. His subsequent downfall is not his murder, but rather the fact that Ã¢ÂÂhe will go on singing,Ã¢Â? attempting to defy the notion that he never truly loved Eurydice at all.
The Breton lai Sir Orfeo is an English reworking of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. In contrast to the classical tale, this anonymously authored text replaces tragedy with comedy while also including a didactic function for a medieval Christian audience. Within the poem are two examples of a ruler: Sir Orfeo and the Fairy King. Orfeo’s reaction to the loss of his wife, Dame Heurodis, serves as a narrative device by which the poet allows Orfeo to develop into the construction of a truly ‘good’ king. On the other hand, though very little is known about the Fairy King, the poet’s descriptions of him and his actions reveal that he does not conform to the title of ‘king’ in the same way as Orfeo and thus should not be considered as a model of kingship. Rather, he and the entire fairy realm by extension operate as a symbol of external forces which test Orfeo to determine if he possesses the necessary wisdom to be an effective leader. Therefore, the model represented by Orfeo is one that forgoes all preconceived notions of leadership and is instead one reliant upon the king’s unique talents rather than the luxuries accorded to his position – a king that embodies the greatness of the human spirit.
In a literal sense, the Fairy King and all he represents is very much an external force because he must breach the borders of the kingdom, Orfeo’s castle, and Heurodis’s garden in order to capture her. In a metaphorical sense, he aligns more with a larger symbol of adversity and catastrophe that might plague a ruling king. Therefore, the poet uses the Fairy King to direct his illustration of a wise and capable king. For example, the Fairy King’s delay in abducting Heurodis seems questionable and frankly odd. Andrea Babich argues that his allowance of Heurodis to tell Orfeo of her impending abduction and his threat of violence are both designed simply to gain Orfeo’s attention (478). The Fairy King is not interested in Heurodis for love nor other less savory intentions as he permits his private act to become a public one, then keeps Heurodis as little other than a collectible in his castle. The reason for this delay, then, can only be understood as an interest in Orfeo’s response to a threat levied against the woman he deeply loves. Orfeo’s response, rooted in his kingly powers, is not adequate enough to deter the Fairy King. Considering the presumed Christianity of the audience, it could be argued that the Fairy King is a medieval adaptation of God’s test to Abraham in the sacrifice of Isaac.
Babich also argues that the physical resemblance of the Fairy King’s castle to that of Orfeo’s suggests he is attempting to establish a kingdom to rival Orfeo’s Traciens (479). As further evidence, Babich gives the Fairy’s adherence to trouthe as demonstrative of an ‘eagerness to become a noble king’ (479). But these two instances are the only modes of direct comparison between Sir Orfeo and the Fairy King. Anne Marie D’Arcy, in contrast, states that a ‘principal demonic preoccupation is the emulation of the divine’ (26). D’Arcy’s statement is more strongly supported than Babich’s because, as Orfeo walks through the fairy country, he does not observe it to be comparable to his own. Instead, the plains, hills, and castle adorned with precious stones causes Orfeo ‘By alle thing [to think] it is / The proude court of Paradis’ (‘Sir Orfeo’ ll. 375-376). Though a fantastic sight, the poet constructs this Otherworld palace as ‘very dazzling, and very artificial’ (Gros Louis 251). The castle may look like some heavenly spectacle from the outside, but the horrible state of other captives is hidden behind its walls. The artificiality of physical looks is emphasized again in the Fairy King’s response to Orfeo’s request of Heurodis as his boon. He denies Orfeo on the grounds that they would not be suitable because Orfeo is ‘…lene, rowe, and blak, / And she is lovesome, withoute lak’ (‘Sir Orfeo’ ll. 459-460). Sir Orfeo, of course, is truly a king, and therefore his disguise, like the display of the fairy castle, cannot be trusted. Taken together, the Fairy King’s threat and his court seem to function as an effort to emphasize this realm as a superior, previously unforeseen power more than a supernatural entity.
The Fairy King, however, makes no delay in displaying that power. Heurodis tells Orfeo that the crown he wears is not made of silver or gold, but a single precious stone (ll. 149-151). This headpiece of only one stone is representative of the orphan stone motif, which was associated with imperial magnificence (D’Arcy 22). Another curiosity is his warning of dismemberment, since it seems Heurodis would still be worthy of capture despite being reduced to a torso. The Fairy King does not make empty threats, as his less fortunate victims stand exhibited in their mutilated states – some wounded, some strangled, some drowned, some burned and even some without heads (‘Sir Orfeo’ ll. 391-400). D’Arcy remarks on the persistent belief in the ‘ensoulment’ of statues, which is the belief that souls can become locked within their stone likenesses (20). Consequently, it is not Heurodis’ physicality which the Fairy King deems valuable, but her human soul. Finally, the Fairy King makes no indication that he is done ‘collecting’ despite the unprecedented encounter with Orfeo. His final words, ‘Of hire ich wol that thou be blithe’ (‘Sir Orfeo’ l. 473), could be read as a curse, but also as an acknowledgment of Orfeo having passed the test originally set ten years ago. Orfeo has finally come full circle, but not easily and not without significantly shaking his understanding of the world.
At the poem’s outset, Orfeo is described as a noble king (l. 25). He is valiant, hardy, generous, and refined – all the expectations accorded to a high lord in England (ll. 26-28). Such descriptions illustrate Orfeo as an ideal ruler at the time and immediately position him as the protagonist of the poem. Furthermore, though Orfeo possesses all the valued chivalric qualities, it is problematic when the poet reveals Orfeo is most notable for his skill at harping. In fact, Orfeo loves the music of harping to such an extent that he applied himself to become the best of any man, and plays so well that all men who hear his music think of Orfeo as one of the joys of Paradise (ll. 40-50). Orfeo’s love for and skill at harping adds a layer of intrigue and paints him as an unorthodox king as well. These facets of Orfeo’s character are hints that Orfeo will not conduct himself in the manner expected of kings, therefore implying that these standards of behavior do not make for a good leader. They also signify that traditional uses of this kingly power will not hold much significance in Orfeo’s tale. For example, in the high Middle Ages good kingship involved being dependent on counsel from advisors. But though Orfeo ‘asked conseil at eech a man, / But no man him helpe can’ (ll. 179-180). And again, though Orfeo takes one thousand knights, ‘Eech y-armed, stout and grim’ (l. 184), with him to guard Heurodis, they prove ineffectual at preventing the Fairy King’s abduction. Orfeo’s return of Heurodis to the grafted tree points to a consciousness of avoiding her dismemberment, but he is not aware enough to realize a conventional army will be useless (Babich 481). He already possesses the skills of harping and reason to keep Heurodis from being captured, but has become too accustomed to a king’s might and prestige to realize it.
Even more unsettling is the lack of a ‘long search’ for Heurodis once she has been taken, but Orfeo never intends to embark on one (Gros Louis 245-246). Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis observes that when announcing his exile to his lords, Orfeo does not express any wish or hope of recovering Heurodis (246). Furthermore, Orfeo ‘does not share the Phaeton-like boldness of earlier Orpheus figures’ but harbors a ‘deep humility’ (247). Thus Orfeo’s tale is not one of a daring heroic quest – he does not expect his fortunes to change by any means of his own making. Orfeo learned how little value the power and wealth of kingship held in his attempt to save Heurodis and is so affected by her kidnapping that he swoons to his chamber floor, laments on her capture, and considers his life finished (‘Sir Orfeo’ ll. 196-200). In response, Orfeo renounces the kingdom and position which failed him, and resolves himself to living, then dying, without Heurodis (Gros Louis 249).
Yet despite no effort from Orfeo, Heurodis suddenly reappears in front of him, and the reasons for her doing so point to Orfeo’s status as a pilgrim. Here, the poet makes a list of point for point contrasts between Orfeo’s previous and current circumstances to emphasize Orfeo’s realization of the ultimate worthlessness of his kingly possessions. He spends ten long years in the wilderness scrounging for roots, berries, and bark while using leaves and moss for a bed (‘Sir Orfeo’ ll. 255-260, 247-248). As a result, ‘Al his body away was dwined / For misaise, and al tochined’ (ll. 261-262), and ‘His heer of his beerd, black and rowe, / To his girdle-stede was growe’ (ll. 265-266). He has often witnessed the Fairy King riding with a large company ‘come to hunte him al aboute,’ but they never seem to take any beast (ll. 281-288). He might also occasionally see a great host of well-armed knights or ladies dancing through the wood, but never knew where they marched or why they danced (ll. 289-302). Similarly, none of the Fairy King’s people seem aware of Orfeo’s presence nor do they ever deign to acknowledge him. According to Gros Louis, this ‘purgatory of repetitious, purposeless activity’ allows Orfeo to experience a kind of purification whereby the ineffectiveness of his kingly position is further reinforced (248). After this has been completed, Orfeo is rewarded with the sudden reappearance of Heurodis. This is not a mistake, nor is it simple coincidence, and Heurodis has been brought to Orfeo after his time in the woods. Exile, therefore, was a necessity to demonstrate Orfeo’s misguided reliance on kingly acquisitions rather than true kingly attributes.
Once Orfeo has thoroughly rid himself of all indications of his former life, save for his harp, the potential for rescuing Heurodis is presented to him. Having ‘proved his worth as a Christian man’ (250), Orfeo uses his natural skill at harping to enter the Fairy King’s castle as a minstrel (‘Sir Orfeo’ ll. 382-387). As Orfeo enchanted the beasts in the wood, so is he able to enchant the fairy court (ll. 439-446), and the King is so pleased that he offers Orfeo a boon. Though he initially denies Orfeo’s request for Heurodis, the Fairy King relents when Orfeo responds, ‘Yit were it a wel fouler thing / To heere a lesing of thy mouthe…A kinges word moot needes be holde’ (ll. 464-465, 468). As previously stated, Orfeo’s skill at harping is a product of his own interest in learning. His use of it in combination with another learned ability explicitly conveys Orfeo’s assumption of the values of a truly ideal king. It is important to note that when holding the Fairy King to his word, Orfeo does not become outraged nor does he make an attempt at taking Heurodis by force. He remains in his ‘deep humility,’ is again rewarded for it, and responds with gratitude (ll. 474). A final reiteration of Orfeo’s realization is the test of his steward. Upon his return he does not question the quantity of his power but its quality, and is satisfied with the steward’s fidelity.
In examination of kingship in Sir Orfeo, it is only Orfeo who is actually constructed as a king. The Fairy King’s artificiality and statement of imperial might portray him not as a king, but a larger force which Orfeo must overcome to ensure the longevity of his kingdom during his reign. Crucial to that longevity is a reminder of Orfeo’s worth as a clever and musically talented man. By abandoning a king’s material pleasures, Orfeo is forced to make use of his wits and finds them to be more successful in rescuing Heurodis than any number of armed knights. His ability and success as a leader is not dependent on how many knights he can arm or the number of lords that pay him homage, but the recognition that a king’s possessions do not make for a true king.
‘Sir Orfeo.’ The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9th ed., ed. by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2012, pp. 169-182.
Babich, Andrea G. Pisani. ‘The Power of the Kingdom and the Ties that Bind in ‘Sir Orfeo.” Neophilologus, vol. 82, no. 3, 1998, pp. 477-486.
D’Arcy, Anne Marie. ‘The Faerie King’s Kunstkammer: Imperial Discourse and the Wondrous in ‘Sir Orfeo.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 58, no. 233, 2007, pp. 10-33.
Gros Louis, Kenneth R. R. ‘The Significance of Sir Orfeo’s Self-Exile.’ The Review of English Studies, vol. 18, no. 71, 1967, pp. 245-252.
In the Metamorphoses, Ovid discusses tales of transformations and reveals a system of justice within them. Generally, the gods either grant transformations in response to prayers, but for those transformed unwillingly, the change was normally cast as a punishment. In some instances, the person transformed neither wished for it, nor deserved it as punishment. In these instances, the person that was transformed gains justice by eventually benefiting from the alteration. In the end, those transformed against their will received justice, whether it was through punishment or through reward.
Starting with the story of Jove and Io, Ovid shows the system of justice and metamorphosis. Lusting after Io, Jupiter decided to pursue her and in an attempt to hide the affair from his wife, Juno, Jupiter turned Io into a beautiful heifer. Juno saw through this trick and asked to have the cow as a gift, (Book 1, lines 846-856). Jupiter obliged and Juno placed Io under the many watchful eyes of Argus. Io suffered greatly during her time as a cow. She was forced from living her normal, comfortable life to now having to live as an animal, (Book 1, lines 868-880). Jupiter pitied Io and in an endeavor to save her, he sent his son to kill Argus. As a reward for serving her, Juno saved the many eyes of Argus, and placed them on the tail of peacocks in order for him to see forever. Still outraged over his death, Juno called for Io to be tormented more, sending her running throughout the world until she reached the Nile River, (Book 1, lines 991-1007). Seeing her immense suffering, Jupiter begged Juno to end Io’s punishment, swearing to never pursue her again. Juno was appeased and allowed Io to regain her former self (Book 1, lines 1014-1022). Since she was undeserving of punishment, as her only crime was to attract Jove, Io’s transformation was unjust. To make up for this injustice, Io and her son of Jove were granted the honor of being gods and Io lived on as Isis, worshipped by the Egyptians, (Book 1, lines 1032-1037). In the end, Io was rewarded for dealing with her unjust transformation and justice was served.
The next form of justice that Ovid illustrates is the story of the Muses and the daughters of Pierus. The setting reflects that of a court, with the two sides pitted against each other, the daughters representing the prosecutors, accusing the Muses of not being the best in song and the Muses having to defend their title, (Book 5, line 448). Picked as the judges, river Nymphs came to observe the case, (Book 5, line 466). The daughter of Pierus sang first, telling a narrative of the Olympian gods in a negative light, (Book 5, line 469). Next, Calliope sang alone on the behalf of the Muses’, (Book 5, lines 503). She sang the story of Venus and Cupid, who made Dis fall in love with Proserpina. As Calliope’s song goes, Venus asked Cupid to force Dis to fall in love with Proserpina and he rapes her and then takes her to his underworld kingdom, (Book 5, lines 545 and 562). Ceres, Proserpina’s mother, searches everywhere for her daughter. During her travels, Ceres came across a hovel where she asked for a drink of water. She was given a drink with toasted barley in it and she gratefully drank it, (Book 5, lines 616-620). As she drank, a boy of the household “mocked her and said she was greedy,” (Book 5, line 622). Outraged at the boy’s unjust remark, Ceres punished him by turning him into a lizard, (Book 5, line 628). Continuing on with her search, Ceres discovered that her daughter had been stolen by Dis. In her rage, Ceres makes the earth feel her wrath as she destroys all of the crops and makes it impossible for anything to grow, (Book 5, lines 645-567). After grieving, Ceres speaks to Jupiter, the father of Proserpina and the brother of her captor. Initially, Jupiter says that Dis took Proserpina out of love, and that since Proserpina has married well, that Ceres should be grateful. Ceres counters him stating that their daughter deserves to be married to someone better than a thief, (Book 5, lines 685-695). Finally, Jupiter says that if Ceres really wants Proserpina back, then she may return, as long as Proserpina has not eaten anything from the underworld, (Book 5, lines 704-706). To Ceres’ dismay, Proserpina had been seen eating some fruit in the Underworld, so she is unable to return. Outraged at the one that gave her away, Proserpina turned him into an owl, a symbol of ill omen, (Book 5, line 725). Caught between Ceres and Dis, Jupiter offered a compromise, and divided the year in two, allowing Proserpina to spend equal time with her mother and with her husband, (Book 5, lines 739-742).
The song of the Muse exposes another of Ovid’s tales that displays the system of metamorphosis and justice. Having been stolen away, Proserpina was unjustly turned from a virgin into the Queen of the Underworld. While in the Underworld, Proserpina displays that she is more than sunshine and flowers, by transforming her snitch into a bad omen. This indicates that she rightfully should be queen by revealing that she also possesses dark power. Though she proved that she should remain there as queen, Proserpina had still been unfairly brought to the Underworld. To create balance, Jupiter allows Proserpina to spend half of the year above ground with her mother, and half of the year in the underworld with her husband. This time split created the seasons, with spring and summer being when Proserpina is on Earth, and fall and winter occur when she returns the Underworld. Calliope’s song continues with the story of a fountain and then concludes with the Nymphs awarded victory to the Muses, (Book 5, line 648). Even after their loss, the daughters of Pierus continued to criticize the Muses, mocking them and shouting obscenities. Outraged by the insults given to them by the sore losers, the Muses decided to cast punishment on the disrespectful daughters by turning them into magpies, (Book 5, lines 857-867). Changing into magpies was a fitting penalty as “they are famous for their noisiness as well as for their love of argument,” (Book 5, line 870). The transformation is a just one since the Muses had won fairly but the daughters still claimed to be better.
The final display of justice and metamorphosis seen in the text, is the transformation of Atalanta and Hippomenes. During their travels, the pair came across a temple dedicated in honor of Cybele. While taking a rest in the temple, the couple defiled it by performing forbidden behavior inside of its walls, (Book 10, line 810). Cybele punished the guilty pair by turning them into lions, a fitting punishment since now as lions, “the forest now is their bedroom,” (Book 10, line 818). Since Atalanta and Hippomenes had broken a sacred rule, their punishment was justified, as now they are forced to live in the forest and performed their scandalous behavior in the open rather than in shelter.
Throughout the Metamorphoses, Ovid reviews stories of transformations and reveals a system of justice within them, but he also shows the difference between justice and revenge. Juno’s jealousy driven revenge was not seen as justice since Io had not done anything against Juno. None of the events were Io’s fault since it was Jupiter that had sought out and raped her, then transformed her into a cow and lied about the affair. Ceres transformation of the boy into a lizard was also not seen as revenge since the boy had acted unjustly and disrespectful to her as a goddess. Next was the punishment of the daughter of Pierus by the Muses. This act was not seen as revenge because the Muses had fairly won the contest and the daughters had continued to claim dominance over them. Finally was the punishment given to Atalanta and Hippomenes by Cybele. Again this was not seen as revenge since the pair had broken sacred rules. While most of the transformations in the book were in response to prayers, some characters were transformed unwillingly. The change was normally cast as a punishment, but in some instances, the person transformed neither wished for it nor deserved it as punishment. In these instances, the person that was transformed gains justice by eventually benefiting from the alteration. Whether punished or rewarded, those transformed against their will received justice.
Ovid made a strange decision when he wrote his story about Arachne in Book VI, “Of Praise and Punishment.” After all, her story literally describes her spinning and weaving her art, so one would assume that Ovid would place his story about her in Book IV, “Spinning Yarns and Weaving Tales.” Yet simultaneously, it comes as no surprise that Ovid likes to complicate things – he crafts his stories intricately and expertly. Perhaps Ovid separated this particular narrative from the “Spinning Yarns and Weaving Tales” section of the Metamorphoses in order for readers to exercise their brains a bit. Ovid’s placement decisions force the reader to draw parallels from the Book IV stories to the one about Arachne in Book VI. Vulcan’s story about Mars and Venus in Book IV most directly mirrors Arachne’s in terms of language. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Vulcan and Arachne parallel each other in their specific episodes.
Through very similar language, Ovid emphasises just how talented both Vulcan and Arachne are in their respective artistic disciplines. For instance, Ovid describes the net that Vulcan weaves for Mars and Venus as, “a net of bronze links/ so finely woven that it fooled the eye” (Metamorphoses IV. 242-3). Upon first glance it seems as though Ovid simply wants to praise Vulcan’s fine craftsmanship when he describes the net as fooling “the eye.” However, upon a closer reading of Arachne’s story in Book VI, it becomes clear that Ovid wants the reader to connect the two stories in his or her mind.
Ovid’s intentions become exceptionally clear when comparing the description of Vulcan’s art to that of Arachne’s in Book VI. For example, when describing the bull in Arachne’s tapestry, Ovid writes that it was, “done so naturally you would have thought/ the bull and the waves he breasted were both real” (Metamorphoses VI. 147-8). Arachne’s tapestry “fooled the eye” in the same way that Vulcan’s net does. Additionally, Ovid makes sure to compliment both works using the same type of emphasis before writing that they “fooled the eye” or made whoever looked upon the art believe that it looked “real.” Ovid writes that Arachne’s tapestry was “done so naturally,” and that Vulcan’s work was “so finely woven.” Ovid uses the word “so” very infrequently in the Metamorphoses to avoid extraneousness, but here he writes “so” twice in a row to exemplify the quality of the works. Additionally, Ovid uses two adverbs in his individual praises for Arachne and Vulcan. These adverbs, “naturally” and “finely,” further link the two images. Ovid could have described these works of art in so many different ways, yet he structures his compliments for them almost identically in order to link Arachne and Vulcan to one another.
Ovid even goes so far as to compare both Arachne and Vulcan to the same animal, connecting them even further. In reference to Vulcan’s net, Ovid writes that, “no thread of mortal weaving was as slender/ as this one was: finer than a spider’s” (Metamorphoses IV. 244-5). Ovid makes such an obvious reference to Arachne in this quotation that it would be difficult not to associate these two characters after reading that sentence. After Arachne challenges the goddess, for the rest of her life, she, “as a spider, carries on/ the art of weaving as she used to do” as a sort of punishment for her arrogance (Metamorphoses VI. 207-8). Upon a closer reading, one might wonder why Ovid used a spider instead of a more attractive animal in reference to both of these characters.
Perhaps Ovid chose the spider as the animal responsible for linking Vulcan and Arachne’s stories because both of their narratives involve this strange balance between fear and the motif of being overlooked. For instance, Vulcan and Arachne are both metaphorically small characters in the Metamorphoses. Like a spider, people tend to step on them a lot. Vulcan is crippled, so his beautiful wife Venus thinks that she can cheat on him whenever she pleases. Arachne grew up in rough circumstances, so she feels angry at the gods for smiting her (Metamorphoses VI. 10-20). Yet although Vulcan and Arachne both had a rough time in life when compared to many other characters in the Metamorphoses, people fear them, too. They both have supreme mastery and talent in their respective arts. Arachne has the courage to challenge the gods, and even though Vulcan is deformed, he still has enough pride to stand up for himself when his wife, Venus, cheats on him so openly. Like spiders catching prey in their webs, both of these two characters use their talents to attempt to catch their prey in different webs of sorts. Perhaps the ironic fear that these two underdog characters bring about explains why Ovid chose the spider image to link them together.
Ovid’s purpose in using such similar language for both Arachne and Vulcan was to connect the characters and force the reader to compare them with each other. From their nature as underdogs to their talents as artists, Arachne and Vulcan are very similar people. Eventually, Arachne gets punished because she is not a goddess, and Vulcan claims victory in his task due to his status as a god, keeping in theme with Ovid’s larger narrative in the Metamorphoses. However, if not for the very specific verbal techniques that Ovid uses in his stories about both of these characters, one would be much less likely to notice just how similar they really are.
Throughout the ages, the theme of impossible love in literature has prevailed. Impossible love is an overall broad theme; generally speaking, it is a love that is forbidden, unrequired, or unable to flourish. Somewhere between 29 and 19 B.C. the legendary Roman author Virgil wrote his epic: The Aenid. The Aenid chronicles the journey of the great hero Aeneas, who falls in love with the queen of Carthage, Dido—resulting in a tragic spell of impossible love. Some years after Virgil, surfaced Ovid with his classic Metamorphoses which links a stunning array of mythological tales through the common theme of change or transformation. Many of the tales told by Ovid interact with the theme of impossible love—but especially the story of Pygmalion and his ivory maiden. The theme of impossible love is timeless because it is incredibly relatable, the heart wants what the heart wants, and therein negative consequences and drama forever ensue.
In fourth book of The Aeneid, the theme of impossible love presents itself when Dido and Aeneas fall deeply in love. Initially, Dido does not want to marry Aeneas. Dido is busy being a strong and well-liked leader for her people, she is aware of his journey, and knows that in the future the Trojan descendants of Aeneas will ruin her beautiful city of Carthage. Loyal to both her people and her deceased husband, Dido is an admirable woman. From the very first moments of Dido’s infatuation with Aeneas, the poet foreshadows to the readers that her love will be her destruction. However, Juno, who openly detests Aeneas, convinces Dido to marry Aeneas to interfere with his quest. Juno’s devious plan to distract Aeneas works for a while. Aeneas is content with his lovely queen, until Jupiter hears of the union. Jupiter then dispatches Mercury to remind Aeneas of his duty, to found the great city of Rome. Aeneas is a slave to his duty, he must stick to the Roman Cardinal Values: prudentia, fortitudo, justicia, and temperanta. Though Aeneas does love Dido, he understands that the Gods through their divine intervention have called upon him, he has a grand and divine purpose, which he ultimately knew all along—but he was distracted by Dido’s impossible love. Before Aeneas arrived in Carthage, Dido was already a somewhat tragic character. She was a widowed woman in charge of a kingdom that will certainly be overthrown. As Aeneas tells Dido he must resume his journey, Dido becomes a lovesick wreck: So Dido pleads and so her desolate sister takes him the tale of tears again and again. But no tears move Aeneas now. He is deaf to all appeals. He won’t relent. The Fates bar the way. and heaven blocks his gentle, human ears. (Virgil 142-143, lines 549-554) After being pressured by Jupiter to complete his quest, Aeneas can no longer sympathize with Dido; he knows he no longer has time for his love. The strong and intelligent queen cannot bear to lose another husband and therefore throws herself upon a blade as Aeneas sails on. Even for a work of fiction, Dido’s sudden irrationality and act of suicide is puzzling. According to Mike McCool author of the article, “The Tragedy of Dido: An Unresolved Epistemological Crisis” Dido was, “drawn irresistibly into the world of intrigue between Gods and men.” (McCool). Dido was used as a tool for Juno’s plan to distract Aeneas; their love was not natural for it was formed through the Gods, Cupid’s poison specifically. Unlike many others, especially most characters in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Dido did not openly defy the Gods or do anything to spite them, resulting in Dido and Aeneas’ relationship being one of the most tragic and impossible in all literature.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the sculptor Pygmalion manufactures his own impossible love. Displeased by the imperfections of real earthly women, Pygmalion decides to fashion his own vision of a perfect woman out of ivory. Pygmalion falls madly in love with his ivory maiden, he kisses her, caresses her, dresses her, and even speaks to her. But, it is obviously impossible to love and marry an ivory statue. His ivory maiden is not a real human, and therefore does not exist in real life, yet she still exists in the realm of art. His beloved statue is, “white as snow,” (Ovid 394, line 49), and it is very interesting that Ovid picked ivory instead of marble for Pygmalion’s medium, signifying that his maiden is pure—a perfect image of feminine beauty. In a sense, Pygmalion began to live inside his own head, when he touched the statue he thought to himself, “flesh or ivory? No, it couldn’t be ivory now!” (255). Pygmalion wished so badly for his inanimate love to stir, so he prayed to the Gods to marry a woman like his statue. Luckily for Pygmalion, Venus heard his prayers, and knew that he really wanted his statue to live so he could marry it, and so she turned his impossible love into a reality. When Pygmalion returned home he went to his statue and, “fondled that longed-for body again and/ again.” (286-287). Pygmalion’s unattainable woman is now standing before him, as a real human. Jane O’Sullivan author of the scholarly article, “Virtual Metamorphoses: Cosmetic and Cybernetic Revisions of Pygmalion’s ‘Living Doll’” argues that, “here fetishism is taken to be a process by which a concurrently feared and desired object—in this case, a woman—refashioned to conform to idealized notions of femininity in a bid to render her a compliant and familiar substitute for that unruly object and, in so doing, to tame her.” (O’Sullivan 134). Taking O’Sullivan’s argument into context, she is saying that Pygmalion was afraid of women, and of their rejection, so to hide his resentment for women, he created his own perfect woman, who would not talk back to him, displease him, or reject him. What was once a fetishized and quite frankly, unsettling, love is now a thing of reality. Pygmalion’s maiden is a real living human being. Though the tension of impossible love is relieved in terms of Pygmalion, it is now present regarding his ivory maiden.
In Metamorphoses, Pygmalion’s statue is not given a name, she is completely Pygmalion’s possession, she is not her own person, and she belongs to him. Thanks to Venus, now that the statue is a real woman she has absolutely no free will, she is forever indebted to Pygmalion and essentially turned into his own personal sex slave. She is unable to make her own decisions and is overall unable to choose whom she is able to love, which leads to another layer of unrequited, and impossible love. In both Virgil’s The Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the theme of impossible love dominates the plots of the stories and essentially terrorizes the characters affected.
In The Aeneid, both Dido and Aeneas are forever changed by their brief relation, Dido gave up her life for the man that she loved and Aeneas had to live with the regret of knowing that he caused his beloved’s suicide due to the fact that he had to complete his God given duty. On the other hand, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses Pygmalion’s impossible love with his statue reaches a satisfying solution… for him, however his ivory maiden is forced into a life not of her choosing, therefore resulting in an unrequited and impossible love. Though it is tragic, impossible love will forever be a timeless staple of literature.
In Metamorphoses, Ovid attempts the great task of recounting the history of the world, from its creation to the death of Julius Caesar. However, Ovid’s work is not solely an encyclopaedia of mythology; it is also the source of much standard figurative language. Similarly, Dante Alighieri attempts to achieve the great task of assembling a visionary narrative. The Inferno is a highly structured vision of the future that not only highlights the Christian religion, but also integrates many mythological figures of the past. But the genius of Dante lies not in the grand vision he has dreamed of, but in the way that he has presented it. Through his poem, Dante aims to inspire fear in his readers; he hopes to create a future that is more real than the present so that his readers will repent. To achieve this goal, Dante employs highly concrete imagery. Ovid strives towards an opposite purpose; in his portrayal of specific myths, Ovid aims to evoke a past that is identical to the present. He aims to convince readers that the glorious warriors and fantastical gods of the past are very much like themselves, and thus aims to disenchant his readers. Much like Dante, Ovid also exploits imagery to achieve his goal. However, the ways that these two poets use imagery are different because their purposes are so radically different.
Ovid’s imagery tends to focus on emotions and abstract concepts, rather than physical details. This is particularly true in the case of the myth of Medea. Often described as a vindictive witch, Medea is presented as a sympathetic character by Ovid. Instead of focusing on the shocking acts that Medea commits, Ovid spotlights her great affection for Jason.
as when a spark that has been hidden under
a crust of ash is nourished by a breeze
and comes to life again as it’s stirred up,
regaining all the vigor it once had;
just so her smoldering love, which you’d have thought
was almost out, came blazing up anew (226)
By illustrating Medea’s love as fire, Ovid helps the reader to imagine Medea’s emotions. Like a fire, Medea’s love is wild, spontaneous, and dangerous. Her infatuation is a spark that catches onto anything, and then spreads wildly. By using diction like “vigor”, “smoldering”, and “blazing”, Ovid reinforces the notion that her love is intense and strong. The image of an irrepressible flame is a powerful one; more importantly, it is realistic. In reality, emotions are uncontrollable, and this concept can be easily identified with. Any horrifying acts that Medea commits afterwards seem explainable in consideration of this dangerous love. Medea is no longer an ultimate mythical warning for infidelity, but an abandoned wife who has lost all hope. She is no longer the mother who murdered her own children, but one who has undeniable human emotions. Often, Ovid must work with characters who are often fantastical in all aspects, like Medea. The only things that connect these characters to readers are emotions and abstract concepts. By creating emotionally charged imagery, Ovid is able to convince the reader that these fantastical characters are actually not very different from the reader, and that the myths are much like reality.
Dante, like Ovid, aims to create vivid imagery in order to convince the reader that the world of Inferno is genuine. Unlike Ovid, Dante focuses on the physicals details. Dante attempts to create a world that his readers can easily imagine, a world that is concrete. After all, Dante’s purpose is to compel his readers to realize that the future is more important than the present. Dante does by creating lucid images of the physical appearance of hell.
There is in Hell a vast and sloping ground
called Malebolge, a lost place of stone
as black as the great cliff that seals it round.
Precisely in the center of that place
there yawns a well extremely wide and deep.
I shall discuss it in its proper place. (158)
At each new site that the journey passes, Dante takes time to describe where everything is and how everything looks physically. He does so in order to create a definite and substantial image for the reader. Naturally, the reader knows exactly what the ground is like – “sloping…[yawning] a well”, what colour the stone is – “black”, how it is spatially – “wide and deep.” Dante describes each new creature, each new situation in the same way as well. Although Dante does describe abstract ideas such as emotion, they are absent from the imagery. Through the use of physical imagery, Dante is able to mould his extraordinary world into something tangible and compelling for the reader.
Also in pursuit of the creation of a concrete world, Ovid faces different challenges. The stories that he writes are often exotic relative to everyday life. Consequently, Ovid inserts details into the imagery to inspire a sense of familiarity in the reader. Ovid concentrates detail on ordinary things, as opposed to focusing on dramatic things, such as death. Many myths in Metamorphoses convey a depressing vision of life. Ovid tries to neutralize this potentially bleak aspect of his narrative by creating detailed imagery of the beauty, of the people. In treating the myth of Daphne, Ovid is particularly successful. Instead of highlighting the fact that Daphne dies by transforming into a tree, Ovid concentrates on the splendour of Daphne herself.
Her prayer was scarcely finished when she feels
a torpor take possession of her limbs –
her supple trunk is girdled with a thin
layer of fine bark over her smooth skin;
her hair turns into foliage, her arms
grow into branches, sluggish roots adhere
to feet that were so recently so swift,
her head becomes the summit of a tree;
all that remains of her is a warm glow. (37)
Daphne is stripped of her freedom and human form; this is not a pleasant situation. The attention of the reader, however, diverges from her death as a human being, and is instead caught up with the erotic beauty of the girl. The imagery greatly lessens the brutality of the situation. Ovid pays special attention to the details of each minute transformation to make this beauty seem more real. The reader can easily picture every feature, whether that is the “thin layer of fine bark”, or the “sluggish roots”. In addition, details such as the “supple trunk” and “smooth skin” help enhance the cozy and sultry tone. Overall, the imagery creates a sensual story as opposed to a brutal one. Thus, the story of Daphne becomes less mythical and more relatable.
Dante, on the other hand, does not try to distract us from the suffering. Instead, according to the purpose of his composition, he uses details to enhance the brutality of the situation. The reader is treated to cringe-worthy, detailed description of physical torture.
From every mouth a sinner’s leg stuck out
as far as the calf. The soles were all ablaze
and the joints of the leg quivered and writhed about.
Withes and tethers would have snapped in their throes.
As oiled things blaze upon the surface only,
so did they burn from the heels to the points of their toes.
In this passage, the tactile imagery is very specific. The reader knows precisely what the torture feels like. The burning sensation is strictly identical to “oiled things [ablaze].” The pain is so intense that sinners “[quiver] and [writhe] about” so wildly that “withes and tethers would have snapped in their throes.” The details that are described allow readers are able to feel as if they are standing there on the ground of hell with the characters. Readers are able to imagine that they have truly witnessed the various punishments. Nothing is vague. No feature is unimagined. The gravity of each punishment, the terrible conditions of the environment affect the reader much more because they seem so authentic. Thus, Dante easily achieves his goal of inspiring fear in his readers. This future that he has projected – this frightening experience of hell – becomes even more concrete than the present through the use of detailed physical imagery.
Both Ovid and Dante use imagery to achieve their ideological goals in Metamorphoses and Inferno. Ovid uses emotionally charged imagery to create sympathetic characters, and generate details with positive diction to prevent a focus on cruelty. Through these two techniques, Ovid effectively inserts small slices of reality into his encyclopedia of mythology, making his creation a very honest portrayal of present life. Dante, in contrast, utilizes physical imagery to sculpt a world that he thinks is more important than the present. Dante also creates details, as Ovid does, but instead of preventing a focus on suffering, Dante concentrates his detail on suffering. The conditions of this extraordinary world that Dante creates become more concrete through the detailed physical imagery. By using imagery, both Ovid and Dante are able to convince the reader of opposing ideas: one being that the past was no larger than the present, and the other being that the future is more important than the present.