Ovid Metamorphoses:Guide to The classics – Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Reading Rape
Some say love is what the world needs to rebuild and rejoice but in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” this is not the case. Throughout the book we see the opposite instead. Love is basically vile, and it dehumanizes most of those affected by it. Specially speak about the nature of love in the myths of Narcissus, Echo, Deucalion, and Pyrrha tells us that Ovid wanted people to think that is was a dangerous and a negative force. That once you catch the lovebug it’s takes over you completely, you’re so deep in it you can’t see past it. Even if you see that love is destroying everything, you ignore it because no one can resist its nature. In the myth’s above love often brings misery to those who endure it.
In Echo’s myth we see the constant theme of wanting something that you can’t have and how the effect of that want can be devastatingly dangerous. In the myth we come along a simple yet beautiful forest nymph who has already endured a lot in her life. In her past Echo was known for talking a lot and one day it changed her forever. Echo was telling tales to Juno while a nymph was with her husband Jupitar. The nymph escaped from the castle, which left Juno with no use her wrath on. Until she remembered who held her up, Echo. So, Juno ultimately made her live up to her name on the basis of having to repeat everything someone says. With the past discuss we move on to nature of love in this myth. One day Echo was walking through the forest when she sees Narcissus and suddenly its love at first sight, or obsession at first sight. Echo’s love for this man made her basically stalk him until her finally notices her. But once he does, she can’t talk back since Juno gave her the penalty of repeating others, ultimately Narcissus rejects her. This rejection doesn’t end her love or obsession for him, it just causes her more pain. Echo’s “…great love increases with neglect; her miserable body wastes away, wakeful with sorrows”. The power of love and how it can take over someone is apparent throughout Echo’s story. With Echo always wanting Narcissus even though the love she feels for him is destroying her being, she never gives up hope on fulfilling her dreams on being with him. Which causes her to slowly fade away with nothing, but her voice left.
The nature of love isn’t forgiving in Narcissus fate either. similar to Echo’s myth, Narcissus love is so powerful that it takes over everything he is. As it takes over him, we see how it destroys him as well. Echo wasn’t the only nymph to declare their undying love for him. It got to the point where Narcissus prayed to the gods about it “If he should love deny him what he loves!”. This prayer was answered by Nemesis but would be the end of him. There was an untouched fountain in hills of the forest, where Narcissus decided to rest after a grueling day of hunting. As he drank from the fountain he froze, there was the most beautiful angelic man looking right at him. He sees “All that is lovely in himself he loves”, which makes him want only himself. As he sits there looking at himself, he has an indescribable desire to be with himself. He tries to hold and kiss the reflection but every time he does it disappears. While staring at the water “He knows not what he there beholds, but what he sees inflames his longing, and error that deceives allures his eyes”. He doesn’t know what he has but he knows that just by looking at it he has an intense longing to love it, but this longing cause by love is detrimental error in his fate. Once he realizes that if he looks away, he will lose his love, he ignores his every need for his crazed love. In the end Narcissus dies because love was such a powerful but negative force that ended up destroying who he was.
Both myths of Echo and Narcissus nature of love was such a powerful force that they could not see past it or ignore how toxic and miserable it made them. The power of love took and left terrible affects that both could not see, only us as readers can see. Love hit these two like a freight with no end. The pain and misery of not being able to be with the one you love drives them to their demise. But at the same time, they still don’t give up on their love. It was terrible cycle for both to endure but they could not avoid due to the desirable features of it.
The myth containing Deucalion and Pyrrha is more on the side of the gods being affect by love, and how their love drove them to extreme circumstances. It all started when the Jupitar quickly realized that their beloved creations were not as innocent as they thought. The ones they were made to pray and love them weren’t doing what they were made to do. Jupitar made the connection that ” all men conspire in evil”, so he “Let them therefore feel the weight of dreadful penalties so justly earned”. So, Jupitar and the other gods were betrayed by the ones that they love the most, which angered them. The love and anger they felt towards man set them into a blind rage that they made man pay for. As Jupitar thought this through, he created a huge store to wipe out all of humanity. When the storm set off to do its purpose the humans went into turmoil. But as the destruction was happening, he saw an innocent man and woman still worshipping the gods as their world is being destroyed around them. As he watches these to pray to the gods his love and hope for humanity return because of these two. So being the almighty one that he was he stopped the flooding and dangers that where Deucalion and Pyrrha lay praying at. He gave them enough room to survive. After that whole ordeal the loyal creations decided to walk and as they walked, they noticed a temple. When going inside the temple they notice an oracle.
The oracle saw how dedicated to the gods they were and gave them some advice on rebuilding humanity. The oracle said to toss “the bones of your great mother”, both were confused at first until Deucalion realized that their great mother was. So, they threw rocks as the bones and suddenly humans started to appear. This myth shows more negatives to love, and how betrayal can turn love into an uncontrollable rage. We see that love basically dehumanized gods to their creations because what was in place of their creations weren’t the ones they loved. Which ultimately caused them to ignore how man changed to evil by destroying man completely, so all they remembered was the good parts they loved not the bad parts they hated. Until Jupitar saw how Deucalion and Pyrrha’s love for the gods caused them to ignore all that was happening around them. Basically, the gods wanted to wipe out humanity for their love of how it used to be, but Deucalion and Pyrrha changed their minds to rebuilding man to be like Deucalion and Pyrrha. So, the gods loved being worship and this loved caused them to take extreme measurement to fix their misery of not being worshipped. This misery almost caused them to ignore innocents that still loved and worshipped them.
In the end Ovid’s book really highlights the negatives that love can bring to those affected by it. Especially in the myths above we see the nature of love take everyone to point of ignoring the destruction of themselves or the world they created. In the myths we see the common theme of wanting the perfect kind of love even if it produces a negative force to those who endure it and are around it. Love causes people to ignore its destructive characteristics just to feel its superficial vibes.
Analysis Of Franz Kafka’s Short Story “The Metamorphosis”
Possessions, property, belongings and goods often give people a false sense of prioritization of what is truly important. Material objects have a sinister control over people since possessions have a tendency to present themselves as “essential” and many individuals believe that statement to be true. Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Metamorphosis”, offers a counter-argument of materialism by insisting that it needs to be prosecuted for negatively affecting the lives of many individuals by having them put money above all else. Kafka’s quaint story about Gregor Samsa who mysteriously awakens one morning to discover he has morphed into an insect as he and his family try to work around this strange occurrence offers much insight on how the story negatively perceives twentieth century materialism. Samsa’s gloomy thoughts about his work is an excellent example of how materialism is being critiqued. Samsa’s negative thoughts about his job can be seen near the start of the short story. Samsa contemplates that, “What a strenuous career I have chosen! Travelling day in and day out. Doing business like this takes much more effort than doing your own business at home, and top of that there’s the curse of travelling, worries about making train connections, bad and irregular food, contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly with them. It can all go to Hell!” (Kafa 2).
Samsa’s thoughts highlight an interesting feature and that is he the only character that realizes how meaningless it is to be promoting a materialistic lifestyle. Samsa’s occupation of a travelling salesman brings him no joy whatsoever and condemns him to constantly feeling miserable as a result. Examining Samsa’s thoughts more closely, he bluntly makes his feelings known about how exhausting it is to lead a materialistic lifestyle by shouting how much it tires him out to be selling people this terrible ideology. Gregor Samsa indicts materialism, even if he is not one who particularly believes in it wholeheartedly, for the fact that it has caused him to lead a dreadful life. Gregor cannot even feel elated when he is forced to travel as he finds it arduous and simply draining on his well-being. The most important section of Samsa’s thoughts is his words on meeting people everyday which expertly shows one of the biggest arguments against materialism. Samsa’s asserts that even seeing people is a chore as he is too focused on promoting materialism, since that is his job, and hardly has little time to make an effort to make a deep connection with the people he meets. This notion that material goods and possessions are more important than deep and meaningful connections with other individuals is worrisome and that is exactly the point Kafka is trying to make.
In Samsa’s case, it is understandable since he has to be constantly on the move and his work hardly allows him any leeway to form deep relationships with others. For other people, their material belongings often times become the focal point of their lives rather than their friends and family. Samsa not only condemns not only his career, but materialism as well. Gregor Samsa’s parents and their relationship is a prime example of how materialism can be detrimental among some people. Samsa’s connection to his parents is not that of the typical connection most people have with their parents, which is built on communication, trust, and affection. From what is depicted in the story, Samsa’s parents have been deeply affected by materialism that it poisons their opinions of their own son. Upon examining their relationship, it is truly disturbing to unearth how unequal and dreary the ways in how they interact with one another. The way Mr. Samsa treats his son, Gregor, throughout the story depicts how he was never really concerned with his son’s well-being whatsoever and almost every interaction the two have together results in Mr. Samsa abusing his son in some way or another. The description of Mr. Samsa, moments before he pelts his son with apples, perfectly encapsulates the two’s relationship. The description depicts that, “The same tired man as used to be laying there entombed in his bed when Gregor came back from his business trips, who would receive him sitting in the armchair in his nightgown when he came back in the evenings” (20).
What this description reveals about Mr. Samsa’s character is that he easily neglectful of his son and the material objects that are listed in this description, such as the bed, nightgown, and armchair, relays the sentiment that Mr. Samsa is more concerned of maintaining his materialistic lifestyle. The irony that occurs after this description is given where Mr. Samsa throws several apples at Gregor shows that, during a time of need, Mr. Samsa will easily turn on someone who is not assisting in the family’s living situation. Gregor is the opposite where he is the only one providing for his family and continues to do so and does not antagonize the family for not being able to support in some form or another. Materialism has infected the mind of Mr. Samsa as he cannot relate to his son’s way of thinking and turns on him the first chance he gets. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa’s materialistic priorities also end up affecting the way they view their daughter Grete.
Near the story’s conclusion, it shows a glimmer of hope of how the family have goals set to potentially live more comfortably than before. However, a disturbing glimpse of events yet to occur is shown when the thoughts of Mr. and Mrs. Samsa are exposed. The two view their daughter and contemplate “how their daughter was blossoming into a well built and beautiful young lady. Just from from each other’s glance and almost without knowing it they agreed that it would soon be time to find a good man for her” (31). What these lines indicate is that the parents are devising a plan to replace Gregor as the breadwinner of the family and have Grete take Gregor’s spot. The plan unfolds before the reader’s eyes as the parents notice Grete’s physical attributes as they believe this can be utilized as an effective way to earn money. They also consider that seeking a man is best for the parents, not Grete. Seeing as how Mr. and Mrs. Samsa use a materialistic mindset, it should come as no surprise that a top priority when finding a possible suitor for Grete is that the man is quite wealthy so that they can continue to live the way they did when Gregor was the breadwinner. All of this indicates a disturbing cycle as it can end up leading to another situation where they dispose the breadwinner who can no longer provide and move on to the next one. Kafka’s short story serves as an eye-opening experience for many as he expertly highlights the dangers of materialism and why it should have no place in society.
Metamorphoses: Mary Zimmerman’s Play Critique
Play Critique: Metamorphoses
Based on Ovid’s narrative poem, published in 8 AD, Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses is a transcendental work of art with themes of rebirth, romance, power, and consequence. The play is a collection of classical Greek myths, reinvented using contemporary language and featuring a pool as a majority of the set. The body of water, along with the simple yet elegant backdrop of a double door and steps emphasized the theme of transformation of the mind, body, and soul. The lighting accentuated aspects of the set, the actors, and their movements, making the entire piece more impactful. The costumes were simplistic, reflective of the time period, and completely functional despite all of the characters getting soaking wet at one point or another throughout the play. Overall, the design elements worked well together and created a beautifully-done, powerful production by Vanderbilt University Theatre.
The element which, in my opinion, makes this play stand out from most is the incorporation of the pool. As a run crew member, I am fully aware of how much effort went into building and maintaining the pool, and it was not an easy feat but without it the production would not have been nearly as impactful. In literature, passing through water represents a cleansing, or a baptism. The use of water works perfectly with this show because no character is the same at the beginning of their scene as they are at the end. Each transforms in some form, whether it’s just their way of thinking such as with Phaeton, or their entire physical being such as Baucis and Philemon. The water is used to symbolize many different things and add emphasis to the emotions of the characters, especially during moments of intense feelings. When Orpheus is pleading to Hades for his bride back, water rains down on him as he stands in the pool. I believe that in this instance, that since Orpheus is the only person in the pool, it represents the fact that he is neither on Earth nor in Hell because he’s still living, and his placement in the water shows that he is in the midst of a journey. The water that pours down on him is symbolic of his pain and all the tears he must have shed due to the loss of Eurydice. The use of water intensifies this scene, more than just the acting alone could have done. Another scene in which the pool makes a huge impact is Myrrha’s. I believe that in this scene the depth of the water represents the Myrrha’s internal struggle. When she sleeps with her father, they embrace in the shallow water but when she leaves for the night she goes into the deeper water. With her father wearing his blindfold she feels safe, and stable in her desire but when she is alone there is an element of instability. Finally, when her father finds out that he has sleep with his own daughter, she is forcefully submerged in the deepest end of the pool, as this is the breaking point. All emotions are at a peak. When she emerges she knows that she cannot continue on as she is, her baptism, and asks to be transformed into something else. The pool is used symbolically, like with Myrrha’s, and literally, such as the naval battle, and it is an integral part of this production because of all the things it represents and the novelty it adds to the entire show.
Another part of the production, which may not stand out as much as the pool to audience members, but definitely made a huge impact, is the lighting. There were over 160 lighting cues for this production, which is rare considering the length of the play. The lighting was used to draw attention to the speaker, underscore the mood of each scene, differentiate locations, and create symbolism. The lighting also created illusions, such as the gold light making Midas’s daughter look like solid gold despite the fact that she was wearing a white and pink dress. When I viewed the show without any special effects I had no clue as to how the director and the technical people would execute this change in form, but after seeing the final production it was flawlessly done. A scene in which the lighting added to the mood of the play was that of Alcyone and Ceyx. This scene had many different lighting cues, each doing something different to enhance the entire scene overall. The first major lighting change was during the naval battle when the lights were flashing to show how chaotic and intense this battle was. This relates to the themes of consequence and power. The battle was the consequence of Ceyx not listening to Alcyone and the chaotic lights and flashes showed how powerless he was against the natural elements of the ocean, Poseidon and his henchmen. Also in this scene, the light changes when Iris is in Sleep’s grotto. When Sleep is onstage, everything is very dark showing that this is a place that “the sun never can, even at midday, penetrate with the faintest beams.” The darkness contrasts greatly with the bright lighting once Alcyone begins speaking again, representing her place on Earth versus Sleep’s home in the gloomy caves. The lighting adds to the theme of transformation just as much as the pool and the plot. In the scene with Eros and Psyche, the lighting enriches the theme of romance. The entire set is given a red hue, which looks beautiful with Psyche’s red dress and the white wings of Eros. Red is symbolic of love, passion, and well as anger, three powerful emotions which are displayed during this scene. It helps to set the tone of the entire scene. The lighting is dark, without being disconsolate and bright enough to have made me feel a spark of hope for the couple. The balance of this scene really made it stand out, in my opinion. One lighting change that I would make would be during the final scene, when Midas is reunited with his daughter. The light was gold, which would have reflected the happy mood and remind the audience of the reason for Midas’s journey, but it made it hard to see the expressions of the actors. Being able to view the show with effects and without really allowed me to see the importance of the lighting in this show and how fundamental it is to making this an emotional, yet relatable production.
The costuming of Vanderbilt University Theatre’s Metamorphoses reflected the time period in which Ovid’s narrative would have been set, using elements of Ancient Greece. However the most impressive part of the costumes is that fact that they stood up so well to being drenched with water and there were no wardrobe malfunctions. The colors used made it difficult to discern between wet parts of the fabric and the dry. As I sat backstage, I was impressed by how dry some of the actors appeared despite being knee-deep in the water just a few scenes ago. I liked how the silhouette for most of the females was the same, with the lace/mesh bottoms and a short dress over the top, which made the outfits seem very loose and non-restricting such as with Greek drapery. The design also made the costumes easier to move in and less likely to be weighed down by the water. There was also cohesiveness present in the male costumes, with brown tops, ruffles, and the tan pants. These colors worked beautifully together and the simplicity allowed me to focus more on the actor’s movements, words, and expressions. Actors whose costumes stood out the most to me were Persephone’s and Poseidon’s. Each of them used colors other than the standard brown, cream, and orange. During Orpheus’ visit to Hell, the costumes were used to create contrast on stage. Everyone on the left side of the stage was wearing predominantly black, while the right side was wearing white. This was reversed with Hades, who was wearing all black but standing on the right, and Persephone who was in white. I really like the contrast just within Persephone’s ensemble. Her dress looked soft and elegant but was juxtaposed by the black, stiff neckpiece. I think this exemplifies the power she holds on Hades himself, especially knowing the story of how their marriage came to be. Poseidon’s costume stood out because of its unique color. He is the only character to wear blue and it looks especially nice during Erysichthon’s scene. When Poseidon enters to transform the mother, the stage is lit to the same hue as his skirt and it really emphasizes the color. The black offsets the brightness of the blue and really adds an aura of authority. One costume I didn’t like was Eurydice’s, especially as she followed behind Hermes. There were so many elements to her costume, the bottoms, the dress, and the robe, but none of them were cohesive, including the colors. The gray belt, with a black outline, on her cream dress didn’t exude the same simplicity as the other characters and the addition of the robe really offset everything. She was practically wallowing in the robe and it distracted me from actually enjoying the scene. I enjoyed the mix of contemporary fashions with ancient ideals. I am not sure that all of the costumes were designed to reflect the themes of the play, as I couldn’t make a connection with many of them, but they worked well with the use of water and did not hinder the actors from performing to their fullest capabilities.
Altogether, the design choices implemented in Metamorphoses created a cohesive, influential show, as made obvious by the numerous positive reviews. Being able to see everything come together from Crew View, to the final performance was a very unique experience for me. Being present at each showing made me realize how important audience participation is in this show as well, as the actors are able to feed off of the reactions of the audience. The set designer and director did a great job at including the audience because of the proximity of the seating to the set and the fact that the actors often used the floor space around the pool. This enabled the play to be more comedic and the actor-audience interaction balanced out much of the darker content. The entire script is built on metamorphosis, or the transformation of characters and places and ideals. The set, lighting, ad costuming made the themes of this production clear to me and made my entire experience working with this show enjoyable.
Minerva and Arachne. Transformation in the Book Metamorphoses and Velasquez’s Painting
Minerva and Arachne Metamorphoses
Art and literature are two very powerful ways of portraying stories. Interpretation has a huge impact on stories as well, depending on how the audience and the artist interpret the work. Through stories in the book Metamorphoses we see the use of enargeia, or ‘vividness’. This visual sensory detail allows for mental pictures to be formed rather than looking at a physical picture of the story. Art was highly contested because it was made with the hands, so this raised the question if paintings were really a form of art. Stories in art and literature go hand in hand, but it can often be confusing sometimes when it comes to deciphering what exactly they mean. Through in depth analysis we can derive meanings, although often subjective, through text and art.
Specifically, through the story of Minerva and Arachne, we see an example of a transformation. Arachne was from a poorer region in Lydia, but an excellent weaver. She was so well known for her weaving that she became boastful, claiming that she was even a better weaver than Minerva. Minerva hears this and appears at Arachne’s house in form of an old woman; she tells Arachne she must basically mend her ways and honor the goddess. Arachne responds boastfully and Minerva transformed back into her normal state ready to beat Arachne in a weaving challenge. This marks the first minor transformation that occurs in this story.
Minerva’s tapestry she weaves depicts heroic, epic scenes of the gods and the border contained images that represented the displeasure of the gods; which can be interpreted as a warning for Arachne to give up. Arachne’s piece however depicted explicit scenes of the gods, with a more sinister approach. After the weaving is complete there is a mutual agreement that Arachne’s work is flawless. Minerva is outraged by this and proceeds to tear Arachne’s work to shreds, and then begins to beat Arachne. Arachne attempts to hang herself, and Minerva decides that if she wants to hang that she can help her. She then transforms Arachne into a spider, so she can hang for eternity. Ovid describes this metamorphosis in the following way “her flowing hair fell to the ground, and left her temples bare; her body lessen’d all, but most her face. Her slender fingers, handing on each side with many joynts, the use of legs supply’d. “ Through this description of the transformation we can see the vividness and how even though Arachne is becoming a spider, there are still some human aspects to this transformation.
This weaving contest represents two very different perspectives; especially with Minerva’s work glorifying the gods while Arachne’s work shames them by depicting various scenes of rape and wrongdoing. As Minerva torments her, she commits suicide, eliminating the possibility for a clear victory. We then see Minerva, punishing Arachne, because as her tapestry depicted, it is a god’s right to do so. And vice versa, Arachne is tormented by a goddess, as also depicted in her tapestry, which conveys that mortals should be wary of the gods and their deceitful actions.
Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez was a Spanish Baroque painter who painted a scene of the fable of Arachne. At first glance one might not realize what this scene depicts, seeing as this painting is sometimes also referred to as ‘The Spinners’. However, we can immediately tell that the picture depicts two women weaving. The scene in the foreground has been painted with a darker set of colors than the separate scene in the background of the portrait. It has been speculated that the foreground represents before the weaving contest has begun and the background represents the end of the tale of Arachne. The background scene depicts just moments before Arachne was transformed into a spider by Minerva. This can be considered the most important scene in the picture because it represents the transformation that relates the tale back to the entirety of the book.
We can see similarities in the painting and the text of Metamorphoses, but at first glace one might not automatically know what the painting is of unless some background information was provided. However, the different perspectives of both Minerva and Arachne in the weaving contest can be seen throughout the painting by Velazquez, especially in the form of the use of the drastic difference in the foreground and background, which basically depicts light and dark. Also the ideals that Minerva and Arachne hold also represent a dark and light aspect. We see Minerva take on a more balanced approach, while Arachne has more of a dark, cynical view on the world. These foreground and the background of the painting provide a sense of balance throughout the piece of art.
More specifically, the background depicts a woman dressed in an antique helmet who is believed to be Athena and to her right we can see a very youthful Arachne. This scene is to be borrowed from another well-known piece of art by Titian. The background image depicts when Athena committed the sacrilegious act of deeming her work better than a god’s. There are an equal amount of women in the foreground and the background, which could lead us to believe that they are in fact the same women in both scenes. In the background we can see Minerva’s anger emphasized, with her arm extended in a ‘striking’ position. The light source coming from the upper left of this scene, falls directly on Minerva in her armor as well.
Through the strategic highlighting we see throughout Velazquez’s piece of art, we can basically determine the highlights of the story. Arachne is portrayed with much more highlighting than Minerva is, so we can assume she is the main subject of this story, especially in the means of the transformation. However, Arachne’s face is not shown in the foreground of the picture as she weaves. The piece that really pulls both pieces of this painting together is the woman in the background who is intently gazing into the foreground scene.
While the piece of work by Velazquez does not depict the actual metamorphosis of Arachne into a spider, it accurately reflects the events that are detrimental to the metamorphosis overall. The events that Velazquez decided to focus on highlight the characters and their overall values. Arachne views the gods as deceitful and unbalanced and this is reflected in the piece in the terms of ‘good versus evil’, which is a common theme found throughout literature and art. The good versus evil is exemplified in the use of the incredibly dark foreground and light, luminous background. In the end, Minerva proves what Arachne wove into her tapestry, that the gods are vengeful and take advantage of mortals in the world. These events are ironic in the sense that Minerva’s actions prove Arachne to be not only the winner of the contest, but also correct in her views on the gods. Once again, the tapestries themselves represent the depiction of good versus evil in the myth. All of these light and dark themes are illuminated in Velazquez’s piece of art, which visually create a dramatic difference.
In conclusion, we can see many parallels in the story of Arachne that are reflected through Velazquez’s piece of art, not only in literal characters, but also certain artistic elements that were used to provide emphasis on aspects of the story. The visual emphasis helps define the importance, mood and details about the characters. While the painting does not literally depict the actual metamorphosis of Arachne into the spider, it emphasizes the events pertaining to the metamorphosis itself. We can pull these ideas out, first off, by the background scene, which is very bright with Arachne in the center of the scene. This scene depicts Minerva in a striking pose, angered by Arachne’s boastfulness. This scene is detrimental to the competition that ensues afterwards, in order to determine who is the better weaver. The foreground, which is much darker, depicts the actual event of the weaving contest, which is the bulk of the story. It introduces a theme of good versus evil and the picture effectively ties that in with its color schemes and painting styles.
The attention to detail that Velazquez used in his painting is what really brings it to life, and makes it reflective of the myth Ovid told in Metamorphoses. When we analyze the two works separately, many of the elements do overlap, making it true to the story of Arachne and Minerva. Velazquez translates the use of enargeia by Ovid in his stylistic choices he used in the painting. Both of the works are done in two completely different elements, yet when further analyzed, there are a lot of similar parallels between the two that really link them together. The human elements Ovid did use to provide imagery were literally translated by Velazquez into the form of art. Overall, this painting accurately depicted the story of Arachne, especially by depicting two different scenes in the composition. It’s a different approach that includes a lot more of the story rather than Velazquez just using one scene.
The Unjust Laws in the Metamorphoses by Ovid and the Death Penalty
“Unjust laws exist”
Laws were created by people with a motive in keeping structure and class within a society for the benefit of others; nonetheless many laws are unjust and wrong. They were established by people who felt that citizens would gain a profit from the laws created, however laws such as the death penalty and laws found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses are not justified.
The death penalty is a debatable topic in countries and although many countries have banned it, others have not. The death penalty was created to punish people who have done terrible deeds. Osama Bin Laden was put on death penalty after his many attempts and attacks on United States soil. He was a very big criminal and therefore I am not against his sentence. The death penalty is also placed upon many innocent people and that creates the fine line between integrity and discrimination. The Troy Davis case was a 22 year long case involving a young man, Davis, and the death of a police officer. Davis was accused of killing the police officer, although “the gun that killed the officer was never found” according to New York Time article published on September 21, 2011. The young man was imprisoned for twenty two years and dealt with 11 court verdicts according to a CBN news article published on September 22, 2011. Davis pleaded guilty at every verdict and told investigators to look further into the case because he sure he was innocent. Troy’s lawyer requested a lie detector test which was denied and shortly after, he was put to death by lethal injection. This man was imprisoned for twenty years, pleaded and begged for his innocence and with no luck put on this death row. There were no solid evidence against the killing, yet the Davis was killed. Why was he denied of a lie detector test if investigators were sure that he was the killer? The death penalty should be used when necessary and can be a possible just law if used wisely; however if used foolishly innocent people could lose their lives.
There are also many unjust laws evident in literature such as Ovid’s Metamorphose one being Jove’s punishment to all of mankind when Lycaon is turned into a wolf and starts eating human flesh. Jove judged the character of one being to everyone else and killed off all of mankind leaving only two survivors. This was a reprehensible move that he made after taking the actions of a single being into account; he was able to end most of the human race. By judging the character of all humans, he committed an unlawful deed.
Unjust laws do exist and while many may support them, because they certainly were made for the public good, others are totally against them. They were made to keep a society balanced and there is a plan behind every law created; however not all laws are justified and many create chaos.
Love the Trigger of Transformation in Metamorphoses
The tile of Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses literally translates to mean “transformation.” The compendium is actually itself a transformational work, merging a multitude of Greek and Roman historical traditions into one massive epic poem. There are many different types of transformations that occur for different reasons throughout the poem: people and gods change into plants and animals, love into hate, chaos into being. Love is the catalyst that creates these changes in the stories that comprise the Metamorphoses. This love is portrayed as a turbulent force that possesses the power to create both positive and negative change. Those affected by this force are wholly in its power, to the exclusion of reason and often morality. Transformations in the Metamorphoses flow from the pursuit of or effects rendered by love. As noted, this love does not always have a positive result; in fact, often the case is quite the opposite. Five main sub-categorical causes stem from love-provoked transformations: sexual encounters, escape, sorrow, punishment, and romantic love.
Sexual encounters are various and common within the stories of the Metamorphoses. The two types of encounters that recur are those of rape and relationships resulting in pregnancy. Rapes are disconcertingly rampant in the plots of these stories. These instances occur in plots such as that found in Book X, which documents the rape of Caenis by Neptune. Thereafter, Caenis transforms into a male so that she may never again be sexually violated. In Book VI Tereus rapes his sister-in-law, Philomela, who eventually, along with her sister, turns into a bird to escape. When, in Book X, Myrrha satisfies her sexual appetite for her father and becomes impregnated, she runs from her home land and prays for transformation; thereafter, she is turned into a myrrh tree that produces the illegitimate child.
Many of the characters in these stories experience a transformation in their attempt to escape a person, god or a situation. In Book I, Apollo pursues Daphne, a follower of Diana who was determined to preserve her virginity. When Apollo persists against Daphne’s wishes, Daphne flees and calls on her father, the river god, to transform her beauty. Daphne becomes a laurel tree and successfully escapes by doing so. In the next example, we again see a human fleeing the unwanted affections of a god. In Book 5, Arethusa is transformed into a river by the goddess Diana to escape her pursuant, Alpheus. In both instances, the gods take pity on humans, modifying their physical composition.
Sorrow often becomes the cause of a transformative tale due to the fact that the human or god form that the character occupies becomes unbearable. By transforming, typically into a plant form, this character not only escapes their mourning, but preserves the memory of that for which they mourned forever. In Book X the young man Cyparissus accidentally brings about the death of his favorite deer, and in his inability to stop mourning, Apollo turns him into a cypress tree. Book VIII tells the story of Byblis, whose unrequited love so grieves her that she turns into a spring that is eternally fed by her teardrops.
Punishment is a consistent theme throughout the epic, usually inflicted by the gods on human beings or upon each other due to outrage over hubris or simply out of revenge. These types of punishment tie into love in that revenge is an act of self-love by the doer- it focuses on appeasing oneself. Similarly, hubris is also the act of self-love, to the exclusion of all others. Revenge is sometimes motivated by genuine grievances, but more often is carried out on a whim by one of the gods. We see this fickleness in Diana, who in Book 3 transforms Actaeon into a stag to be murdered by his own hounds and companions, due to the fact that he accidentally happened upon her while she was bathing. Hubris, however, is considered a very serious and fatal flaw that often causes a character’s downfall. This hubris always catches the attention of the gods and is punished. The gods, as portrayed by Ovid, are hostile to any human being who tries to be their equal. Arachne is transformed by Minerva into a spider after she proudly boasts that her weaving skills surpass that of the gods in Book VI. In the same chapter, the woman Niobe is punished for boasting her worth by the death of her nineteen children and is then turned into stone.
Finally, transformation may be the product of romantic love. Romantic love is a mutual force that may end in tragedy or joy, but focuses mainly upon emphasizing the power that that love held. In Book VIIII a girl named Iphis is transformed by the gods into a male so that she may marry her love, Ianthe. Book X documents the love of Venus and Adonis. When the latter dies, Venus preserves his blood in the anemone to represent her eternal love for him. The reader gets the impression that because this love was romantic love, it had already defied time and the anemone is simply a symbolic act that represents this defiance.
Transformations, then, occur in myriad forms and most of these transformations can be traced back to the predominant impetus, love. Love, being a turbulent force that overtakes its subjects wholly, is capable of producing good or evil. In the collection of Metamorphoses, Ovid recounts the legendary stories that result from the various types of love, conveying the idea that the world essentially is change and one of the greatest catalysts of this constant change is love, in its many forms.
Pygmalion: The Power of the Artist in Metamorphoses
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.
Giving Eurydice a Voice
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¢ 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¢into the same place from which she had come.Ã¢?In his version, Ovid does not offer much in the way of descriptions of EurydiceÃ¢s 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¢the gift that had been givenÃ¢? to Orpheus, not as a gift for herself. Ovid apparently expects the reader to disregard any possible wishes and desires that EurydiceÃ¢s holds for herself and instead, focus on the how his loss of her affects Orpheus alone.The reader of OvidÃ¢s version is provided with a rare insight into Eurydice thoughts as she dies a second time. At this point Ovid claims that she Ã¢uttered no complaint against her husband. What was there to complain of, but that she had been loved?Ã¢? This glimpse into EurydiceÃ¢s thoughts is not meant to provide much revelation about her character, but rather to provide a justification for OrpheusÃ¢ descent into the underworld. Her thoughts serve both to verify OrpheusÃ¢ 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¢t even feel she was victimized?EurydiceÃ¢s thoughts allow OvidÃ¢s audience to infer that she had accepted her death and therefore wasnÃ¢t 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¢zombie-likeÃ¢? state even in her second life.The reader could infer that OvidÃ¢s failure, or perhaps refusal, to develop EurydiceÃ¢s character to the same extent that he does OrpheusÃ¢ indicates that he believes the female perspective to bear no importance. The reader could also further infer that this hypothetical belief of OvidÃ¢s 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¢s voice, not because she is female, but because she is merely a symbol of loss.The central theme in OvidÃ¢s 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¢ eventual murder by the Maenads is directly caused by his over-obsession. (OrpheusÃ¢ 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¢ quest to regain his wife was justified, his inability to move past his loss, after this failed quest, was not excusedÃ¢”thus the dangers of over-obsession.In her poems Ã¢Orpheus (1)Ã¢?, Ã¢EurydiceÃ¢?, and Ã¢Orpheus (2)Ã¢?, Margaret Atwood recounts a version of this myth that includes EurydiceÃ¢s 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¢ thoughts. In AtwoodÃ¢s version, Eurydice does not choose to return to life, but does so out of loyalty to her husband. She says to Orpheus, Ã¢I was obedient, but numb, like an arm gone to sleep; the return to time was not my choice.Ã¢? She goes on, Ã¢before 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¢? The words Ã¢what you wanted,Ã¢? insinuate that this was not want Eurydice wanted; she did not wish to live again. The reader is again confronted with EurydiceÃ¢s state of content in death in HermesÃ¢ 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¢You 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¢?In AtwoodÃ¢s version, the world of the living is presented in negative terms. Eurydice describes this world as Ã¢the green light that had once grown fangs and killed me.Ã¢? 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¢Already there was dirt on my hands and I was thirsty.Ã¢? 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¢a promise: that things will be different up there than they were last time.Ã¢?However, it is not just the idea of living that keeps Eurydice from wishing to return. Atwood hints that OrpheusÃ¢ love for Eurydice is not true: Eurydice speaks of his love for her as constricting, Ã¢You had your old leash with you, love you might call it.Ã¢? OrpheusÃ¢ 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¢t even know? Hermes provides an even clearer description of the conditions of OrpheusÃ¢ love. Ã¢He says he is singing to you because he loves you, not as you are now [Ã¢¦] He wants you to be what he calls real […] This love of his is not something he can do if you arenÃ¢t there.Ã¢? Hermes clearly points out that OrpheusÃ¢ love is dependent upon the physical. Remember that even Eurydice says to Orpheus, Ã¢you held steady the image of what you wanted me to become.Ã¢? 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¢s 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¢chilled and minimal,Ã¢? Ã¢you knew suddenly as you left your body [Ã¢¦] that you love him anywhere, even in this land of no memory, even in this domain of hunger.Ã¢? As Hermes describes it, love is not restricted to being expressed physically. Furthermore, he states, Ã¢You hold love in your hand, a red seed you had forgotten you were holding.Ã¢? 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¢ description of EurydiceÃ¢s love of Orpheus explains that, while she does possess love for Orpheus, she does not dwell upon it. Her love for Orpheus, the Ã¢red seedÃ¢? 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¢s 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¢s version, OrpheusÃ¢ failure to bring his Ã¢love into existenceÃ¢? 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¢s translation, OrpheusÃ¢ failure to bring his Ã¢love into existenceÃ¢? rests on his inability to understand the true nature of love. His subsequent downfall is not his murder, but rather the fact that Ã¢he will go on singing,Ã¢? attempting to defy the notion that he never truly loved Eurydice at all.
Orfeo v. the Fairy King: Models of Kingship in Sir Orfeo
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.
Justice According to Ovid: The Logic Behind Transformations in the Metamorphoses
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.