LIT Ovid Metamorphoses Lecture notes by mikesanye

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									                                   LIT 3341: Ovid's Metamorphoses (Lecture notes I)

Sophocles Philoctetes, the tragedy we have just finished and that dramatizes a portion of the myth of the Trojan War
was performed in Athens in 409 B.C. Ovid's Metamorphoses, which we shall be reading from now until the end of the
semester, was completed in Rome in 8 A.D.

In picking up Ovid's work, we are traveling several hundred miles in space (from Athens to Rome) and several hundred
years -- 417, to be exact -- in time. Both of these distances are highly significant. A lot changes in Greek myth in the
removal from one time and place to another time and place. I don't mean that the myths change, but the way they are
looked at, the way they are used, changes. We see this in Roman literature generally, but nowhere more clearly, more
obviously, than in Ovid's Metamorphoses, for this is a poem the subject of which is, for the most part, Greek myths,
particularly myths about metamorphosis or "bodies changed to different forms" (Humphries, p. 3)

What is perhaps most important is this: Although Ovid is relating Greek myths in the Metamorphoses, there is no
sense whatsoever that the stories Ovid tells represent the scriptures of Greek religion. Ovid is not wrestling, as Pindar
did, with the "correctness" of versions of myth, nor would he be morally outraged, as Pindar was, at Homer's
whitewash of Odysseus. Ovid does not involve himself, as Sophocles did, in profound moral questions about the tragic
injustice that is built into the scheme of things -- as in the Ajax -- or in the moral struggle of a young man torn between
a sophisticated, unprincipled, amoral pragmatist ready to abuse cruelly and to do violence to a decent, suffering idealist
in the name of the common good -- a young man torn between that amoral, cruel, and abusing pragmatist and the
decent, suffering idealist, as in the Philoctetes.

For Ovid, the old Greek myths are stories, not scriptures, therefore they are not freighted or charged or heavy with
meaning they way they are for Greek writers like Pindar and Sophocles. They do, however, constitute a rich legacy
from the Greeks, whom the Romans accepted as their cultural forebears (and superiors), but they are a legacy to Roman
literature, not Roman religion. For Ovid, Greek myths are fascinating stories that are part of his literary tradition, not a
part of his religious tradition. Ovid was not religious at all, as far as we know.

Ovid tells or retells many of these stories in the Metamorphoses, but his interest lies primarily in how well, how
interestingly, he, as a storyteller, can tell them. The Greek myths are for Ovid simply a literary apparatus; they are
plots. You remember my saying that Aristotle used the Greek word m–thos to mean "plot" in his work, the Poetics.
Maybe I should call the myths, for Ovid, "plots-plus." Greek myths are a collection of stories whose value lies in the
fact that they are stories, not in the religious truths they may convey nor in the moral lessons they may teach.

Now, Ovid's older contemporary Virgil -- he was 27 years older than Ovid -- did take the myth, or legend, of the
Trojan prince Aeneas' escape from a burning Troy and his emigration to Italy, where his descendants founded Rome, as
the basis for his profoundly philosophical, moral, and extremely serious poem, the Aeneid, which was published when
Ovid was about 24 or 25 and which became an instant classic and the national epic of Rome, primarily because of the
way Virgil presented his hero, Aeneas (the Roman Everyman) but also because Romans believed the legend, accepted
it as their foundation story, thought it was true. And Virgil's Aeneid uses the legend of Aeneas as the basis for a kind of
religion, but it isn't a religion about the gods, but, rather, about the state, about Rome.

If we had time to study the Metamorphoses in detail, we could see how Ovid, to put it crudely, parodies or satirizes
Virgil's religion of the state in several parts of the Metamorphoses. What Ovid believed in was, first of all, story-telling;
second, in himself as an artist. Third, as the Metamorphoses makes clear, he believed that nothing, nothing is ever
permanent, except change itself -- change and his own poem that narrates that change and the basis for it, which is the
nature of the universe, itself founded on change.

I would like now to give you some background on Ovid and his poem before we look at the stories in the
Metamorphoses, in much the same way that I earlier sketched a historical background for the story of the Judgment of
Arms and its treatment by several Greek writers. Ovid was born on March 20, 43 B.C., at Sulmo (now Sulmona) in
Italy (about 90 miles northwest of Rome) and grew up during the civil war into which Rome was plunged by the
assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., a year before Ovid's birth.

Julius Caesar's nephew Octavian (later named Augustus) emerged victorious from that war thirteen years later in 31
B.C. when he defeated Antony and Cleopatra in a naval battle off the west coast of Greece and ruled Rome and its


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empire for almost all of the rest of Ovid's life (until 14 A.D.; Ovid is thought to have died in 17 A.D.) Ovid went to
Rome for his education and was trained a lawyer, that is, in rhetoric and for a career in Roman government, but after
holding some minor positions he abandoned his career and dedicated himself to poetry.

The Metamorphoses, completed in 8 A.D., when Ovid was about 51, is his masterpiece. [Ovid's surviving works, in
addition to the Metamorphoses, include the Amores, three books of love poems; the Heroides, letters of mythological
heroines to absent husbands or lovers; the Ars Amatoria, a handbook of seduction; the Remedia Amoris (Remedies for
Love); the Fasti, a long poem on Roman festivals and cults (unfinished); and from the period of his exile, the Tristia
(Sorrows); the Epistulae ex Ponto (Letters from Pontus); and the Ibis, a curse directed against an unidentified and
probably fictitious enemy.]

In the Metamorphoses Ovid narrates some 250 stories drawn from Greek mythology -- and also from Roman legend --
beginning with the creation of the world and coming down to the founding of Rome and finally to the Rome of his own
time and the time of the Emperor Augustus. The ostensible connection among all these stories is, as I noted a moment
ago, metamorphosis, "bodies changed to different forms" (H 3).

Ovid's Metamorphoses is a major (or the only) source for many of the great stories from Greek mythology: Apollo and
Daphne, Jupiter and Io, Actaeon, Narcissus and Echo (combining them seems to have been Ovid's idea), Pyramus and
Thisbe, Daedalus and Icarus, Orpheus and Eurydice, Pygmalion, Venus and Adonis, and so on. The Metamorphoses is
almost 12,000 lines long (11,995) -- the longest Latin poem we have, about 2,000 lines longer than Virgil's Aeneid,
which has but a mere 10,000 lines (9,896). These works are the two great epics of ancient Rome, Virgil's poem
predating Ovid's by a little more than 25 years.

The Aeneid, as I said earlier, became an instant classic and was considered the national epic of Rome. Virgil, however,
was very unhappy with his poem and on his death bed (in 19 B.C) gave instructions that it should be burned after he
died. Augustus, who had commissioned it, who had had parts of it read to him, and who loved it, countermanded those
instructions and appointed editors to put it into its final shape and publish it. Now Ovid's Metamorphoses uses the same
poetic meter, the dactylic hexameter, the meter of epic poetry, as Virgil's Aeneid, and has the length of an epic poem --
it is longer than the Aeneid—but it is as different from Virgil's poem as night from day. Augustus would probably have
burned the Metamorphoses if he could have, because it is a subversive poem -- subversive of the established order,
Augustus' order. More on Ovid and Augustus below. I think it will help sharpen our focus on the Metamorphoses and
provide a context for our consideration of it if I first tell you something about the Aeneid.

Shortly after Augustus came to power in 31 B.C., he commissioned Virgil to write a poem celebrating his
achievements, the most notable of which were ending Rome's long and bloody civil war and establishing peace and
order in Italy and the Roman empire. Virgil's Aeneid was the result of that commission. In the Aeneid Virgil presents
the intertwined greatness and power of Augustus and his Rome as their heaven-blessed destiny. Composed in 12
books, the poem has a complex, highly symmetrical, almost architectural, structure. The first six books are modeled
on Homer's Odyssey and are called the Odyssean half, and books 7 through 12 are heavily influenced by Homer's Iliad
and are called the Iliadic half. In its structure and its debt to the tradition of Greek and Latin poetry, and, finally, in its
endorsement of order created by political power -- Augustus' power -- that is the earthly arm of divine will, the Aeneid
is the most classical Latin work we have. Virgil's and Ovid's very different attitudes toward power provide one of the
most useful ways to contrast the Aeneid and the Metamorphoses.

The Aeneid is, among other things, a meditation on power, but emphatically not the kind of personal, individual, heroic
power exercised, for example, by Achilles and other heroes in the Iliad. It is, rather the power of the state, that is, the
power of Rome, a power sanctioned by Rome's destiny, a destiny that is divinely ordained and that is anchored in and
justified by history, tradition, and religion and that demands total commitment and fealty from the individual and
brooks no opposition from him or her. Even Aeneas, the vessel of that power, the power of Rome, or the power that
will be Rome, is power-less to resist this destiny and sacrifices his humanness to it. Virgil, I think most would agree,
approves of this power, although he is not blind to the unfortunate suffering it causes.

Ovid's poem by contrast exhibits a brilliant awareness of the capriciousness and inhumanity of the established power of
the world, mainly, the power of Rome (and those who run it). Moreover, for Ovid the state and its destiny are
meaningless concepts, simply a facade or a rationalization for the use of power, which for Ovid seems only to cause
suffering in the world. Over and over Ovid shows the effect of power on the victims of power. And he has stunning


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insight into the psychology of those victims. And lest we forget, Ovid's vehicle for this is Greek myths. I want to go
back to the Emperor Augustus for a few minutes, for he ruined Ovid's life (and I want to tell you how that happened).

As I noted earlier, in 31 B. C. Augustus emerged victorious from the long and brutal civil war precipitated by the
murder of Julius Caesar, having defeated Antony and Cleopatra in a naval battle off the coast of western Greece near
the Greek town Actium. He was now able to consolidate his power as Rome's first emperor, power acquired by a
combination of intelligence, ruthless determination, and a willingness to shed as much blood as necessary to achieve
his ends.

As Rome's first emperor, Augustus welded together the unruly parts of Italy and the rebellious provinces in western,
northern, and eastern Europe and in the Middle East into the Roman Empire and established in the Mediterranean
world the Pax Romana, the Roman peace, that saw the birth of Jesus and made possible the spread of the new religion
he founded.

Augustus also enacted a program of moral reform for Rome, attempting, in Ronald Syme's words, "to curb licence,
establish morality and encourage the production of offspring," attempting, in short, the "regeneration" of the Roman
people (The Roman Revolution [1951], 443, 444.) Ovid's attitude toward this program of moral reform -- displayed in a
poem he wrote early in his career -- got him into trouble with Augustus, and the emperor banished Ovid from Rome
and sent him into exile to the ends of the Roman earth in 8 A.D., the year we think the poet completed the
Metamorphoses.

The poem Augustus was reacting to was called the Art of Love, and it was a tongue-in-cheek handbook on how to
seduce women. There was also something else involved in Augustus' banishment of Ovid that Ovid calls a "mistake"
and which has remained mysterious. Ovid may accidentally have learned about a plot to get rid of Augustus and have
been too frightened to report it (according to Peter Green, Introduction to Ovid: The Erotic Poems, 44ff.) At all events,
in Augustus' program of moral reform, which was Puritanical, the emperor had been trying to get the Romans -- the
Roman upper classes -- to clean up their sexually messy lives, and in his poem, The Art of Love, Ovid seemed to be
thumbing his nose at Augustus' program. When Augustus exiled Ovid, he had copies of the poet's The Art of Love
removed from Rome's three public libraries (Peter Green, Introduction to Ovid: The Erotic Poems, p. 46). Given the
coincidence that Ovid was sent into exile the same year that his Metamorphoses was completed, some scholars would
like to think that that poem, too, had something to do with Augustus' exiling of Ovid, as if the emperor, having read it,
said, "Enough is enough!" The place Augustus banished Ovid to was called Tomis and it was at the border of the
Roman Empire on the coast of the Black Sea in what is now Rumania. (The town is now called Constantza.)

READ A.L. Wheeler's description of Tomis: Loeb Tristia, Epistulae ex Ponto, pp. xxvi,
xxvi-xxvii.

The Metamorphoses

As I said a moment ago, the Metamorphoses is subversive. Ovid is a kind of anti-Virgil.
Where Virgil prophesies and celebrates eternal Rome, Ovid celebrates endless change as the nature of the universe. The
metamorphoses or transformations he describes in story after story occur in a universe that is itself endlessly
metamorphosing, changing, being transformed. Ergo, Rome and its power are not eternal, but will one day disappear,
for they are subject to the law of change like everything else in the world. Ovid announces the theme of his poem in the
first four lines: READ H 3.

He then at the end of the poem puts into the mouth of Pythagoras, one of the most revered Greek thinkers, a long
discourse on change. READ H 370-372
If the world is like this, then political and military power (which always assume their own permanence) are
meaningless. I mentioned earlier Ovid's insight into the psychology of the victims of power. Actually, he seems to me
to have an understanding of human psychology (not just that of victims) that is extraordinary. That understanding is
expressed through depiction of suffering (Io's, for example, in book one) and also through ridicule (as of Apollo, in
book one). But even when he is depicting suffering he is alive to the possibility of the comic: His depiction of suffering
can teeter on the brink of what I would call "comic bathos," an oxymoron or seeming contradiction in terms. He is a
very acute observer. His touch is light and he can be deceptive because of that, but his depictions of the human psyche
are very well observed. After the four lines announcing his theme (the "prologue"), Ovid describes the creation of the


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universe. READ p. 3-5, The Creation

NOTE: "Till god or kindlier nature, " "whatever god it was" (p. 4): The creation of the universe was not the assertion
of some one god's power or dominion.
Ovid is deliberately indifferent: Whether it was some god or other or nature, who cares?
Note the birth of the human race (p. 5):
Maybe humans have something of god in them, or maybe not.
Anyway, they are peculiarly situated between gods and other animals.
They can metamorphose either up or down, although it is usually down.
The first metamorphosis is the creation of the world from chaos.
That is a positive change.

Then come the Four Ages (pp. 5ff.)
Metamorphosis continues, but it is a change that is a decline, from gold to silver to bronze to iron.
It bottoms out with the iron age, but it is totally unacceptable: READ p. 7
A new breed of humans comes into being, "sons of blood" (p. 7)
Jove cannot accept this (pp. 8-9; Jove is another name for Jupiter, who is the Roman equivalent of Zeus).
He particularly remembers Lycaon, and calls an assembly of the gods.
Ovid makes his first identification between Jove and Augustus:
The gods, going to the assembly (p. 8) are like Roman senators trooping to Augustus' palace on the Palatine hill in
Rome. The gods react with indignation about Lycaon, even before they hear the story about him: They are yes men
(and women: some were female), just as the Roman senators were Augustus' yes men.
READ: p. 9

Jove then tells the story of Lycaon (pp. 9-10).
He is the original human sinner.
His name means "wolf," so, as a human, he is more animal than god, a predatory animal at that. He is a murderer and
would-be-cannibal, and tries to make Jove a cannibal. He is worse than Adam in the book of Genesis, whose original
sin was eating a bite of the apple Eve offered him. Lycaon in this poem's story of original sin is worse than Adam in the
Bible's story of original sin: Lycaon's eating involves human flesh. Lycaon changes into a wolf: READ p. 10
Note that Jove doesn't change Lycaon into a wolf; he blasts his house with a lightning bolt and Lycaon flees.

In the process of fleeing he changes into a wolf. This is a kind of evolution: He changes into what was always his true
nature. Jove says he has to destroy the human race (p. 10). The gods worry about this. Who will worship them? Not to
worry, Jove says, "he would give them another race, unlike the first, created out of a miracle; he would see to it" (p.
10). Jove was about to burn up the world, but was afraid heaven might catch fire (pp. 10-11), and so he decides to
destroy the world with a flood (pp. 11-12). This is a return to chaos, a watery chaos (and a metamorphosis). The
married couple, Deucalion and Pyrrha, are the only two human beings to survive the flood. They are a righteous couple:
p. 13: "There was no better man than this Deucalion, no one more fond of right; there was no woman more
scrupulously reverent than Pyrrha." Seeing them, Jove ends the flood (p. 13).

After Deucalion figures out the oracle of Themis to "throw your mother's bones behind you" (p. 14), he and Pyrrha re-
create human life by throwing stones over their shoulders, his stones making men, hers women (p. 15). This is another
metamorphosis and also defines the human race: "Hence we derive the hardness that we have and our endurance gives
proof of what we have come from" (p. 15). Other forms of life come into being as the earth dries out (more
metamorphoses): pp. 15-16. One of these is a "gigantic serpent" named Python (p. 16) that the god Apollo kills, in
memory of which the Pythian games are established (one of the Panhellenic athletic festivals, held at Delphi, the seat of
Apollo's oracle and historically second in prestige only to the Olympian games). The introduction of Apollo leads to the
story of Apollo and Daphne.

Note the characterization of Apollo and the tone of the exchange between Apollo and Cupid (p. 17): He's self-
important and blusters. Cupid makes him fall in love with Daphne (whose name in Greek means laurel) and makes
Daphne not fall in love with him, or anyone else: She wants to remain a virgin (pp. 17-18). Apollo pursues her
(literally: chases her), and tries to persuade her as he runs after her: READ pp. 18-19.




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Ovid obviously makes Apollo look ridiculous in this story. I mentioned earlier that the poet connects Jove and
Augustus when Jove calls an assembly of gods and they troop to his palace, located on the Palatine Hill of heaven (p.
8), just as Augustus would summon Roman senators to his palace on the Palatine Hill of Rome. In that earlier passage,
Jove addresses the gods in assembly, and they respond in a sycophantic way (eager to display indignation when they
see Jove is indignant) just as, presumably, Augustus addressed the Roman senators and they responded to him like yes-
men. It is natural enough to make allusions to Augustus, ruler of Rome (and president, so to speak, of the Roman senate
for form's sake, although he is in reality the sole power in Rome) -- to make allusions to Augustus through Jove,
supreme ruler of the gods. But Augustus had chosen Apollo as his patron god and had a statue of Apollo placed outside
his palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome.

So not only when Ovid mentions Jove (or puts him in a story) is he making an allusion to the emperor, but also when
he mentions Apollo. Apollo here is a lusty god and looks foolish in his lust. (Augustus, despite his moral reform, had
fancied the wife of one of his generals and taken her away from her husband and made her marry him, even though she
was pregnant with her former husband, the general's, baby.) He wanted others to be Puritans, but he had not been one
himself.

Apollo is about to seize Daphne when she sees her father, the river Peneus (and a divinity) and begs him to help her. He
turns her into the laurel tree at the last minute (pp. 19-20). Ovid now moves to the story of Jove and Io with a type of
transition that he frequently uses (pp. 20-21): Rivers come to Daphne's father, Peneus, not quite sure whether to
console him or to congratulate him -- all but the river Inachus, who was "mourning a daughter lost" (p. 21), that is, his
daughter Io.

Io had disappeared because Jove had turned her into a heifer to keep his wife Juno from discovering him with one of
the nymphs he was always lusting after. Jove comes on to Io somewhat the way Apollo came on to Daphne: READ p.
21. Notice the line: " O do not flee me!' She had fled already...," before, the implication is, he had finished giving her
his line. Never mind; he catches her and rapes her (p. 21) Juno, trying to keep tabs on her philandering husband ("she
knew his cheating!" exclamation point, Ovid says: p. 21), comes down to earth looking for him. And here is one of
Ovid's funniest scenes: READ p. 21, "But Jove ahead of time" THROUGH p. 22, "...perhaps it was no heifer!" Funny
except for poor Io, who, having just been raped, is now changed into a heifer.

Jove has to hand the heifer over to Juno or concede his guilt, and Juno, who doesn't trust Jove any further than she can
throw him, gives the heifer to the creature Argus to guard because Argus has a hundred eyes, no more than two of
which ever sleep at a time, and so he can watch Io 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And now we see Io's
metamorphosis from her perspective (READ p. 22, "And bitter grasses" THROUGH p. 23, "...fled in panic. She is a
young woman (or teen-aged girl) locked in the body of a heifer, and, worst of all, cannot speak, can only moo. The
Latin line (1.637) goes like this: c¢n t¢que-que r¡ m£ g¡t£s ‚didit ¢re. Mugitus is the word for a moo.

Many times in the Metamorphoses Ovid expresses the frustration of someone who tries to speak but whose ability to
speak has been cut off by the change he or she (usually she) has just undergone. Io follows her father and sisters around
(p. 23) but can only let them pet her, give her grass to eat, and lick their hands. The agony of being so near but yet so
far, of being with her family but unable to communicate with them, drives her to hit upon the idea of spelling her name
in the dust with her hoof: I-O. Thank god her name wasn't Andromeda.

This is the shortest short story on record: "...spelling her name, telling the story of her changed condition" (p. 23). Her
father -- and this is, again, typical of Ovid -- instead of feeling sorry for his daughter, feels sorry for himself: His son-
in-law will be a bull, and, worse yet, since he is a god and cannot die, his suffering -- his humiliation -- will never end:
"It hurts to be a god" (p. 23). Jove feels sorry for Io and sends his son Mercury to kill Argus, her guard. Mercury (pp.
24-25) comes to earth and takes the form of a shepherd carrying a reed pipe, plays on it for Argus and then literally
bores him to death with the story of where reeds (in Greek, syrinx) came from, a story that is a doublet of the Daphne
and Apollo story. Mercury is able to make all one hundred eyes of Argus go to sleep, and as soon as he's done that he
strikes off Argus' head (p. 25).

Juno took the eyes and put them in the tail of her bird, the peacock, which is why the peacock's tale looks the way it
does. Juno drives Io through the world with a Fury (Erinys, 1.725). Jove eventually takes pity on her -- Io is in Egypt
by now -- and promises Juno never to dally with Io again.




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Juno now allows Io to turn back into her human shape again: READ p. 25, "Io became" THROUGH p. 26, "...the use
of language." Io gives birth to a son (by Jove) named Ephapus, and the boy is friends with another boy, named
Phaethon, whose father is the Sun-god, or so he brags, but Epaphus doesn't believe him. Phaethon asks his mother
Clymene, who swears it's true and suggests Phaethon go to the palace of his father the Sun-god and ask him himself.
At the end of book one he has arrived there.

And so we're set up for the next story, or rather for the continuation of Phaethon's story, which, beginning at the end of
book one, continues in book two and so bridges them, a typical way for Ovid to end and begin two books. He also gets
Phaethon to his father the Sun-god's temple really fast (the last four lines on p. 27).But then he screeches the narrative
to a halt and describes in one full page what the outside of the Sun-god's palace looks like (p. 28). It is a splendid,
splendid exterior, gold, bronze, ivory, and silver: READ first five lines on p. 28. The silver doors have the entire world
carved on them in relief (by Vulcan = Hephaestus): READ p. 28, "Manner there" THROUGH "Six on the left." The
detail is so fine that you can see the features of the daughters of Doris and notice (as the narrator does) that they "seem
different, but alike, as sisters ought to do." Does Phaethon spend any time looking in awe at this?

No. He climbs the stairs to the palace and goes right inside, without lingering (bottoms of p. 28, top of p. 29). That is
not a good sign. Inside the palace he is stopped by the sheer brilliance of the Sun-god, described sitting on his throne:
"[H]e could not bear the radiance" Ovid says, of his father, who is wearing a crimson robe and a crown of light, seated
on a throne gleaming with emeralds, and surrounded by nymph-like figures who represent all the divisions of time:
Hours, Days, Months, Years, Centuries, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter (p. 29) The Sun (called Phoebus, that is,
Phoebus Apollo: He is the Sun-god) recognizes Phaethon and acknowledges him as his son immediately (p. 29).
Phaethon asks for proof. The Sun then offers him "any favor, whatever you will" and swears by Styx to grant it, an oath
that cannot be broken. This is a danger signal. You know right away that Phaethon will ask for something he ought not,
and the Sun will be obliged to give it to him. And Phaethon does: He asks to drive the Sun-god's chariot for one day
(bottom of p. 29 and top of p. 30).

As one critic says (V.M. Wise), Phaethon cannot accept verbal reassurance, even from the Sun, his father. The boy's
error lies in thinking if he can drive the chariot it will prove the Sun is his father. But he is confused. The "proof" he
seeks is really to be his father. The Sun-god tries to talk Phaethon out of accepting the favor he's been granted: "you
ask of power beyond your strength and years: your lot is mortal, but what you ask beyond the lot of mortals" (30).

Even Jove cannot drive that chariot -- and the Sun-god describes the journey (pp. 30-31): steep paths up and down,
dizzying heights, the sky and the stars spinning in the opposite direction, fearful monsters (the constellations), fire-
breathing, spirited horses that fight the bit His fear for Phaethon should be proof enough. But Phaethon won't change
his mind. The Sun's chariot is as brilliant and gleaming as everything else up there in the palace. Vulcan made it, too.

Phaethon does admire the chariot, but as he lingers, taking it in, it is time to go: READ p. 31, "And the boy"
THROUGH p. 32 "...rich ambrosial fodder." The Sun-god puts sun-screen on Phaethon's face, sets his radiant crown on
the boy's hair, gives him instructions on how to go, and begs him, one last time, to change his mind. But Phaethon is all
eager to go (top of p. 33). The horses take off once the barriers holding them back fall -- Phaethon didn't start them off.

He is in trouble immediately: The horses know he cannot control them and they "run away, beyond control" (p. 33) In
panic, Phaethon drops the reins and the horses bolt, taking the chariot too low and setting the earth on fire, and Ovid
describes the burning earth graphically and in detail (pp. 34-36). Finally, the Earth as a goddess, "raised up her stifled
face, and put a hand to shield her forehead" then "sank down again, lower than before" and prays to Jove to destroy her
himself if that is what he wants (p. 36).

Or if he won't save her and his brother Neptune (= the oceans), he should think about heaven itself: "If that fire
corrupts the heavens your palaces will topple" (p. 37). Jove blasts Phaethon out of the sky with a thunderbolt, the
chariot flies apart, and the boy falls burning to the earth (pp. 37-38). In grief, the Sun refuses to shine for a day (p. 38).
Phaethon's sisters turn into trees and their tears make amber (pp. 38-39). Jove checks the walls of heaven to make sure
they weren't damaged by the conflagration Phaethon caused (p. 40: "Jove in Arcady") and then looks at the earth and
restores his favorite place, Arcady, bringing back its springs, rivers, grass, and green forests (p. 41). As he was doing
this he caught sight of "an Arcadian girl" and, as Ovid says, "and fire ran through his marrow-bones" (p. 41).




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This girl, whose name is Callisto (Ovid never tells us; Apollodorus does: 3.8.2: G&H 167-168), is a virgin huntress,
devoted to Diana. What turns Jove on is the absence of adornment, make-up, and fancy dress. He watches her for a
while, as the text makes clear. That is, he has already seen her and lusted after her before this passage begins: READ
p. 41, "The sun was high in the heaven" THROUGH "...it might be worth it." Jove takes the form of Diana and greets
Callisto.

Why? He is capable of overpowering her and raping her (as he did with Io). Jove's disguise seems to be done for laughs
(that is, by Ovid, for laughs): Callisto jumps up and says (p. 41): " All hail, great goddess! "Greater, I think, than Jove,
and he might hear me for all I care.' "Jove, listening, laughed, rejoicing to be preferred even to himself, and kissed her
the way a maiden does not kiss, or should not...." So that's funny, up to a point. Then Callisto, ignoring the French kiss,
or whatever, starts telling Jove-as-Diana about her morning's hunting.

Jove can't wait, drops his disguise, and rapes Callisto. From Callisto's point of view, Jove in the guise of her patron
goddess Diana is a cruel trick that amounts, in a way, to betrayal. We'll notice the interaction between nine-months-
pregnant Callisto and the real Diana in a moment. Note that Callisto struggles, tries to resist the rape (p. 41-42): "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?

He won, and then, a victor, went back to Heaven...." From now to the end of the story, we see things through Callisto's
eyes: "...she loathed the forest, the knowing woods, and fled..." (p. 42) The place where she was raped is repugnant to
her. And now she meets up with Diana and her other nymph-followers (of whom Callisto is one), and when Diana calls
to her, Callisto "fled, at first,...: this might be Jove again!" Trust is gone.

But finally, realizing it is Diana, she rejoins the group. But she feels guilty: READ p. 42, "Alas! how hard it is"
THROUGH "...a pretty good idea." Why should she feel guilty? Why do victims of rape feel as if it's their fault? (Why
are they sometimes treated as if it's their fault?) Ovid has smoothly worked this into his fast-moving story. Nine months
later (still p. 42) Diana decides, when she and her nymphs are hot and tired from hunting, that they'll all go swimming
in a cool place in the woods, naked. All the nymphs undress, except Callisto, "who could not seem to hurry, so the
others stripped her, and saw the truth.

"She stood in terror trying to move her hands to hide her belly." Diana rejects her immediately: " Be off!...this pool is
holy, do not pollute it!' And the girl was banished." She is given no chance to explain. (But there is no explanation to
give: She herself is already convinced that it was all her fault. Diana merely ratifies Callisto's guilt, that is, her belief in
her own guilt and her profound sense of her own unworthiness.) But notice that Callisto was betrayed by the false
Diana, whom she trusted, and is now rejected by the real Diana.

Can it get worse? It can, and it does. Juno had known about Callisto all along, but had been waiting, had "put off her
vengeance," Ovid says (p. 42, bottom to p. 43, top), "to have it better when the right time had come. "And now that
time had surely come, for a boy was born, to make it so much the worse...." The "right time" means when Juno feels the
"insult" at its worst and can get the meanest revenge: READ p. 43, "Juno, with blazing mind" THROUGH "...is the
hunted."

Callisto has been raped. She has assumed the guilt for being raped. She has been rejected by those who ought to have
been a source of concern and consolation -- Diana and Callisto's sister nymphs. She is now violated again by the rapist's
wife -- thrown violently to the ground and turned into a bear: It's like another rape, almost worse than the first.

Like Io, she keeps her human consciousness. Also, as with Io, Ovid emphasizes her inability to speak: "the power of
speech might have been dangerous for her to plead with, so that was taken, and her voice became an angry threatening
growl" (p. 43). She is a human being trapped in a horrible form not her own, a form she loathes. Ovid again represents
a female's alienation from her body, uncannily similar to what the British psychiatrist R.D. Laing called a "false-self
system" in his book The Divided Self, an identity (or ego) that, for self-protection, separates itself from its physical
body and treats the body as if it were a thing apart, separate from consciousness.

Callisto's form keeps her in a constant state of terror. Not only does she legitimately fear the hounds that chase her,
"She would fear wild beasts, herself a beast, and hide from bears, forgetting she was one..." (p. 43). Ovid doesn't bother




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to tell us how or by whom Arcas, Callisto's son by Jove, was reared, for it's irrelevant to the story. Fifteen years pass;
Arcas is out hunting and comes upon his mother: READ p.44 "She stood still" THROUGH "...Jove stopped him."

Again, the pathos is unbearable: Callisto's hesitant approach to her son -- because he's her son and she naturally loves
him (Ovid says, "seemed to recognize him," not "almost seemed to": there is no "almost in the Latin) -- her hesitant
approach to her son is menacing for Arcas, because he sees a bear coming toward him. The "evil deed" referred to is
the about-to-happen crime of Arcas' shooting his mother. Callisto becomes the star known as the Great Bear (Ursa
Major), while Arcas becomes the star known as Arktophylax (or Arcturus), guardian of the Great Bear (see LaFaye, at
2.507, 1.54).

So Callisto is transformed again, to "save" her, a metamorphosis that "promotes" her out of human existence. Juno's
fury continues, and she prevails upon the sea deities, Ocean and Tethys, to prevent Callisto and Arcas, as stars, from
ever being able to dip into the sea. (Humphries translates as "...stars who sold themselves for Heaven" [p. 45] Latin that
means "...stars now put in heaven as payment for fornication.")

The next story we want to look at is in book three, that of Actaeon, son of Autono, the daughter of Cadmus. Book three
begins with Cadmus coming to Greece and founding Thebes, where he is the first king. But things go wrong for him.
His grandson, Actaeon, Ovid says (p. 61), was the "first cause of Cadmus' sorrow. "On his [Actaeon's] forehead horns
sprouted, and his hound-dogs came to drink the blood of their young master. "In the story you will find Actaeon
blameless; put the blame on luck, not crime: what crime is there in error?"

Actaeon has hunted in the woods all morning and is hot and tired (p. 61). Passing through an unfamiliar part of these
woods he wanders into a grove where Diana is bathing: READ p. 62, "And when he entered the cool dripping grotto"
THROUGH "...Tell them if you can!" Immediately he turns into a stag (p. 63).

Ovid describes the stag as Actaeon would have felt the change: "The arms were legs, the hands were feet, the skin a
dappled hide, and the hunter's heart was fearful" (p. 63). True stags bound through the woods, so (p. 63), "Away in
flight he goes" -- and here is where Ovid is so acute an observer of the human psyche -- "and, going, marvels at his
own speed" WOW! Look at me run!

But then he sees his reflection in a pool and the reality dawns on him. And again, Ovid describes Actaeon's condition
from the inside: " Alas!' he tries to say, but has no words. He groans, the only speech he has, and the tears run down
cheeks that are not his own. "There is only one thing left him, his former mind." Like Io (in book 1) and Callisto (in
book 2), Actaeon is trapped in a body not his own and cannot communicate.

His hounds discover him and run him down: "Actaeon, once pursuer over this very ground, is now pursued, fleeing his
own companions" (p. 63). Ovid now raises the frustration of Actaeon's inability to speak to an unbearable pitch: "He
would cry I am Actaeon: recognize your master!' But the words fail..." (p. 63), and his dogs pull him down and begin
tearing him apart, and once again Ovid focuses on speaking, or, rather, the inability to speak, to describe the worst,
most painful, human agony: READ p. 64 "He groans" THROUGH "...of quarry brought to bay."

Ovid now makes a transition to the next story, that of Semele, Actaeon's aunt. (This section is telling stories of the
House of Cadmus.) At the top of p. 65 Ovid refers to Juno's "rejoicing in the disaster to Agenor's household." Agenor,
king of Sidon (in modern-day Lebanon) is the father of Cadmus and Europa. Jove seduced Europa at the end of book
2 by taking the form of a beautiful white bull, enticing her onto his back, and then swimming away through the sea to
Crete with her. Agenor sent Cadmus to look for her and told him not to come home without her.

Unable to find Europa and so to return home, Cadmus eventually founds Thebes in Greece, marries, and has several
daughters, including Semele, the subject of the story coming now. Cadmus, by the way, also had a son Polydorus, who
was Oedipus' great-grandfather (and so Semele was Oedipus' great-great aunt and her son Dionysus a distant cousin).

Anyway, Juno, angry at Jove because of Europa, now has another reason -- more philandering on Jove's part -- to be
angry about. Now it's Semele. What particularly galls her is that Semele has gotten pregnant by Jove, something she
hasn't been able to do so far (p. 65)




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And so Juno comes to Semele's house and takes the form of the girl's nursemaid Beroe. And one day, when they are
gossiping, Juno, Ovid says (p. 65, bottom), "Sighed, in the way old women often do, saying: It really may be Jove; I
hope so, but, you know, I'm afraid of all such business." CONTINUE READING, p. 66, "Many have gotten"
THROUGH "...all his glory." Gullible Semele, then asks Jove for a favor, not naming it, and Jove promises to grant it,
swearing by the river Styx.

Uh-oh. "Too powerful in winning a lover over and doomed to die on that account," Ovid says (p. 66), Semele says, "
Come to me as you come in love to Juno!'" Jove has to do it. Still, he tries to bring smaller, less powerful thunderbolts:
READ p. 66 "He has others made" THROUGH "...burned utterly." This mixture of the comic and the tragic is pure
Ovid. No other ancient writer is like that. You know the rest of the story: Jove rescues the baby Dionysus from the
dead or dying Semele, and sews him up in his thigh "(if anybody can believe it)" Ovid says, the equivalent of, "Yeah.
Right."

And now we segue to the story of Echo and Narcissus through Tiresias, the seer whom Narcissus' mother Liriope
consults about her son. How did Tiresias get to be a seer? (p. 67; I didn't assign this): He stumbled upon two snakes
copulating, struck them apart, and was turned into a woman. (Cheaper, I guess, than an operation, but hard to find.)
Later he again saw the same two snakes copulating -- some snakes! -- struck them apart again, and was turned back
into a man. Jove and Juno, after a few drinks, are joking, or Jove is, anyway, and tells her he bets females enjoy sex
more than men do.

Pooh, she says. Let's ask Tiresias; he should know; he's been both sexes. So they ask him; he says women do. "And
Juno was a bad loser," Ovid says (p. 67), "and she said that umpires were always blind, and made him so forever."
Jove, to compensate Tiresias, gave him the gift of prophecy. So that's why Tiresias is a blind prophet. This isn't
Sophocles is it?

Ovid's sense of the comic, the absurd, takes all the seriousness, all the gravitas, out of the myths. When Liriope
(returning to Echo and Narcissus) asks Tiresias if Narcissus will live to a ripe old age (p. 68), Tiresias says,
paradoxically, "Yes, if he never knows himself." "Paradoxically," because Tiresias' statement is the reverse of the
famous statement on the temple of Apollo at Delphi: Know thyself."

Ovid is believed to have put the stories of Echo and Narcissus together. It was a brilliant stroke, because they go
together. Narcissus, who at sixteen "could be taken either for boy or man" (p. 68) is sought after by both boys and girls.
Ovid characterizes him swiftly but tellingly: "...but in that slender stripling was pride so fierce no boy, no girl, could
touch him. Next, Echo: Juno punished her for the practice of warning Jove, when he was making love to a nymph, that
Juno was coming.

That habit of giving warnings, if you think about it, involves the initiation of speech. Juno prevented her from ever
doing that again by depriving her of the power of speech "except the power to answer in the words she last had heard"
(p. 68). Now all she can do is "say the last thing she hears" (p. 68). With that set up, with Echo described, Ovid has her
see and fall in love with Narcissus (bottom of p. 68).

And now he uses her defect of speech -- she can only "echo" someone -- ingeniously in a dialogue between her and
Narcissus (p. 69), the last part of which is: Narcissus: " Keep your hands off,..and do not touch me! I would die
before I give you a chance at me.' " Echo: " I give you a chance at me....' "

When Narcissus rejects Echo, she pines away, wastes away, "till voice only and bones remain, and then she is voice
only for the bones are turned to stone" (p. 69) Since Narcissus never gives a would-be-lover a chance, someone he's
rejected prays, "May Narcissus love one day, so, himself, and not win over the creature whom he loves!" (p. 70) That
does not mean, May Narcissus so love himself one day, but, rather, May Narcissus himself so love one day, that is, love
in this way, without requital.

The Latin makes that clear: sic amet ipse licet, sic non potiatur amato! (3.405), literally, "May he himself love in this
way; so let him not possessed his beloved." Nemesis (whose name means "Retribution" in Greek) grants the prayer.
But since Narcissus disdains all who love him (or want to love him) with a "touch-me-not" attitude and so will never
himself fall in love with anyone else, the only way he can love without requital, the only way he can "not possess his




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beloved," is to fall in love with himself. Quenching his thirst at a beautiful, clear pool ("silver with shining water" Ovid
calls it), he sees his reflection and falls in love with it.

READ p. 70, "Lying prone" THOUGH p. 71 "...if you can go away."

Am I over interpreting to say that Narcissus, being narcissistic (hence his disdaining everyone who loves him), can love
only the surface, only an image, the physical attributes ("Love me for myself alone, and not my yellow hair," says a girl
in a poem by William Butler Yeats). His punishment, therefore, is to fall in love with what is only a surface, only an
image. And Ovid describes, or rather, presents in a quiet little drama, the dilemma of self-love. Through studying the
image carefully and describing what it does (which is what he does: he never lets anyone get close to him), Narcissus
finally recognizes it, recognizes himself, that is, knows himself, the one thing, Tiresias said, that would prevent
Narcissus from living to a ripe old age: "I know the truth at last," he says (p. 71, bottom, continuing to p. 72).

"He is myself!
"I feel it, I know my image now.
"I burn with love of my own self; I start the fire I suffer.
"What shall I do?
"Shall I give or take the asking?
"What shall I ask for?"

Those last two questions are one of the rare places the translator, Rolfe Humphries, stumbles. What the Latin means is:
"I don't know whether to woo or (let myself) be wooed?" OR, "I don't know whether to pursue or (let myself) be
pursued?" "But how am I to woo?"
(OR, "...pursue?")
Ovid exploits the paradox (p. 72): "What I want is with me, my riches make me poor. If I could only escape from my
own body! if I could only -- how curious a prayer from any lover -- be parted from my love!"
Realistically, this wouldn't work.

But Ovid is the most rhetorical of Roman poets, by which I mean the Roman poet who is most involved in the
rhetorical tricks of language, the Roman poet who performs verbal acrobatics, turns verbal cartwheels. Along with
that, he has a highly developed sense of the absurd. That last quotation combines Ovid's rhetorical tricks and his sense
of the absurd.

Narcissus' tears, falling in the water, ripple the surface and disturb the image (et lacrimis turbavit aquas, obscuraque
moto / reddita forma lacu est: 3.475-476) and Ovid gives us, in the boy's lament, more of the psychology of narcissism
(p. 72): "Stay:" (he says to the image) "do not desert me, I love you so. I cannot touch you; let me keep looking at you
always, and in looking nourish my wretched passion." Empty calories: looking and longing and never getting
satisfaction: the narcissist's hell. Narcissus wastes away just as Echo did (p. 72): He " wanes slowly, with the ruddy
color going, the strength and hardihood and comeliness, fading away, and even the very body Echo had loved."

As I said, Ovid is credited with combining the myth of Echo with that of Narcissus. My question is, or rather, my
comment, half question, is, They do belong together, don't they? Don't the dependent, clinging Echoes always love the
hyper-self-involved, don't-touch-me, self-loving Narcissuses? Narcissus changes into a flower. Both he and Echo turn
into something slight but pretty: a pretty flower, a pretty voice.

END, Ovid Met. lecture notes I




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