IN a complex bureaucratic civilization, that of Augustan Rome or our own, a ritual system incorporates elements of myth to which credence is assigned; and this kind of religion coexists with verbal manipulations of myth and investigations of the nature of myth. In Rome these manipulations and investigations included quasi-positivistic rejections of religion and theology; the treatise of Lucretius was a notable early example. While at the midpoint of Ovid’s career one extreme of the Empire served as the location for a radical transformation of religion and theology, and so of history, the process of conversion on which the Christian revelation had to begin found in the Roman Empire only parallel social forms (Nock). A religion more primitive in some aspects of its practices than anything in Homeric Greece still flourished in Rome, systematically resuscitated in the institutional revivals of Julius Caesar and Augustus.
A poet like Vergil or Horace or Ovid was expected, by both his audience and himself, to reconcile his thick array of somewhat atavistic cults with the elaborate repository of Greek myth, itself somewhat differently belief-charged, and also with the tradition of intricate theological discussions that ran from Hesiod through the Roman Stoics. In Ovid’s library Cicero’s De Natura Deorum would have lain side-by-side on the shelf with Varro’s encyclopedic Antiquitates Rerum Humanarum et Divinarum. This compendium would have been amply supplemented by the broad spectrum of Greek writers from Homer and Aeschylus to Theocritus and Callimachus who, over a period longer than the significant history of Rome, had already put into poised form treatments of nearly all the myths Ovid would himself rephrase.
Pre-Roman Italy was inhabited by a congeries of disparate peoples and their cults. The range was broad: from the cults of the pre-Roman Aborigines (Cato, cited by Servius on Aeneid, 1.6), the Ligurians, the Umbrians, the Sabines, the Etruscans, the Falerians, and the cremating Celts, all the way to those of the sophisticated Greek cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily where Pythagoras, Empedocles, and Zeno had been systematizing some elements of the religion into philosophy. The development in Rome itself, from the various primitive rituals of these peoples to philosophy, was unprecedentedly rapid. Ovid was the heir of this development. The Romans, once they became politically dominant, acknowledged the syncretic, layered character of their cults, distinguishing the Di novensiles from the Di indigites. From the latter they derived such preliterate ghost worship as the cult of the Manes and Lares (Fasti II, 411; II, 616; V, 147) and the animism of Jupiter Feretrius (Fasti II, 69; III, 383), etc. There were also such adopted gods as the Magna Mater of the Near East, whose introduction into Rome was a historic event (204 B.C., Fasti IV, 182-349). The Roman religion, in fact, underwent a pervasive acculturative process; it was Hellenized in general (Wissowa, pp. 63ff).
As Ovid has the vaguely known indigenous goddess Carmentis say to the early legendary king Evander:
“Di” que “petitorum” dixit, “salvete locorum
tuque novos caelo terra datura deos”
Hail to the gods of the sought-for lands,
And you, earth, who will give the sky new gods.
(Fasti I, 509-10)
Ovid says of his own eclecticism, “add, my Muse, Latin causes to the foreign ones,” “Adde peregrinis causas, mea Musa, Latinas” (Fasti II, 359).
In the poeticized religious calendar of Ovid’s Fasti these gods derived from various stages of social development are put on a par with different stages or aspects of the same god compressed into one. Janus, with whom Ovid opens the Fasti, is a rudimentary god as primitive as Terminus (I, 95-101) and, at the same time, a comprehensive, quasi-monotheistic, quasi-pantheistic deity identifiable with almost any force or thing in nature (I, 103-14).
Vesta is one of those moderately rudimentary; perhaps correspondingly, her temple has no statue (Fasti VI, 245-60). In the second book of the Fasti, for example, the rudimentary Terminus exists side-by-side with the personified earth spirit Faunus (540ff); the ghostly Manes (535), and the Lares (616). The eponymous founder Romulus becomes Quirinus, Dumézil’s god of the third agricultural-management function. Here, too, are the ruling god Jupiter himself (509); the deified Augustus (passim); the personified Tacita, Iuturna, and Fornax (525); and Juno-Lucina, a general goddess specified into a function (436). Each of these gods has an ontological status distinct from that of any other, and so do the persons with whom they occasionally identify or interact: Romulus, Augustus, the miraculously surviving legendary Arion (83ff), Callisto who becomes a constellation (156-188), and finally the type of the Virtuous Matron, Lucretia, whose rape by the legendary king Tarquin provided the occasion for the founding of the Roman Republic (741-852). This rape culminates the book not only by introducing a political focus but also by performing what may be called a simplification. Its earlier parallel in the book, Faunus’ failure to rape a Hercules dressed in the clothes of Omphale as he sleeps beside “her” (335-44), puts an earthly spirit into interaction with a deified hero and a legendary woman-earth sun goddess. Broad humor and strong piety mingle strangely here. The acts Ovid describes we may identify as the vestiges of rites: the legendary queen is shaded from the sun by an umbrella (311-12) and honored by a combination of transvestism and Holy Marriage (319-34). Faunus, transfixed while groping for the groin of the recumbent, skirt-clad Hercules, may be taken to travesty all this, but Ovid is serious about Faunus at the same time.
Ovid’s two supreme and contrasting works, the Metamorphoses and the Fasti, take two different, complementary approaches to the syncretic and historically layered Roman awareness of mythic beings. The Fasti, more complex in material and simpler in organization, sets itself the task of accounting at varied length for the diachronie multiplicity of Roman religious practice on a synchronic plan; it treats the festivals of the Roman religious calendar taken day by day. The Metamorphoses, climaxing in the apotheosis of Julius Caesar (XV, 745-870), centers on myth rather than religion, and literature rather than cult, coordinating the stories that the poets and tragedians had re-elaborated over many centuries, and with a predominantly Greek focus that is almost exclusive until the last two books. Even there, in Book XIV, Ovid emphasizes a Greek connection to Circe for the Roman Picus (XIV, 320ff; Haupt II, 389). While he does give an account of the Roman version of the Muses, the Camenae (XIV, 430-34), his prevailing reference is to the nine Muses of Greek, and literary, association. The Greek Muses themselves were systematized as to their functions only in Roman times. Ennius, on the other hand, had already fused the Camenae with the Greek Muses two centuries before in order to exalt the native and the local (Badian).1
Ovid’s own relation to the past, worked out in this implied, clean opposition of his culminating twenty years, was sensitized and ambivalent, befitting someone whose modality to the past’s central mythic inheritance remained problematic and quasi-ironic. His own ambivalence of belief appears in his very attitude towards the primal past from which the myths came. On the one hand he revels in his modernity:
Prisca iuvent alios, ego me nunc denique natum
gratulor: haec aetas moribus apta meis.
Let the atavistic please others, I congratulate myself
For being born now so late; this age suits my ways.
(Ars Amatoria II, 121)
(I have taken the liberty of emphasizing one aspect of priscus and underplaying its connotation of venerability.) On the other hand Ovid has Janus use the word priscus to describe his godhead, and in a sense that cannot be other than laudatory: “sum res prisca,” “I am an atavistic thing,” (Fasti I, 103). The whole of the Fasti glories in the old, and as early as the Amores Ovid saw an access to the past as a solution even in love: “Tolle tuos, tecum, pauper amator, avos!” “Carry your grand-fathers with you, poor lover!” (Amores I, viii, 66). The balance between these two attitudes, however, is clearly stated in the Fasti:
Laudamus veteres, sed nostris utimur annis;
mos tamen est aeque dignus uterque coli
We praise the old but use our own years;
Each custom is equally worthy to be fostered.
(Fasti I, 225-26)
Ovid has Janus, himself, seen fictively enough to stand in some ironic light, declare Ovid to be in error with his times:
risit et “о quam te fallunt tua saecula,” dixit,
“qui stipe mel sumpta dulcius esse putes!”
he laughed, “О how your age deceives you,” he said,
“If you think honey is sweeter than money in hand.”
And Janus is made to go on to say how even in Saturn’s time money was sweet, when the love for it kept growing. However, Ovid preserves the ambivalence by having Janus somewhat reverse this picture of the golden age, and he paints (197-214) a picture of modern Rome in which Rome has a glory that “has touched at its crest the topmost gods” (“tetigit summos vertice Roma deos,” 210), blending in the positive side of his negative assertion about greed. The positive, indeed, can be felt as ambiguously underlying the negative in his opening statement. “Pluris opes nunc sunt quam prisci temporis annis,’’ “Wealth is of more account now than in the years of atavistic time” (197); the same word, priscus, is here repeated.
It is old usage that vindicates the identification of Juno with the moon in Rome, “Vindicat Ausonias Iunonis cura kalendas,” “The cult of Juno vindicates [also “claims”] the Ausonian kalends” (I, 55). Ovid participates, personally but at soine diminished distance, in the rites at the grove of Nemi, speaking of the stream that flows there, “saepe sed exiguis haustibus, inde bibi,” “Often, but in scanty draughts, have I drunk therefrom” (Fasti III, 274).
Ovid, then, qualifies a contrast between past and present that is already encompassing and insistent in Lucretius, who uses the very cult of Venus to assert atomic analysis against the fear-ridden religio of old Rome.
The Thucydidean consciousness about history, explicitly adapted and paraphrased in Lucretius’ analysis of the plague (VI, 1120-1286), is freed from its cyclic implications for humanity and given a one-way direction by Lucretius, who insists on the ultimate dissolution of all things living and dead. This Roman attitude towards direction in history, implied also by Sallust, makes possible the unique assimilation of non-Romans into the legal status of Roman citizenship, and it may be seen to inform the whole abstract system of Roman laws and imperial administration—providing more detachment from the tribal and the mythic than Greece ever knew. The very syncretism of the Fasti allows for an equivalence of mythic beings, without their being qualified out of existence, and without their being accorded the dominance of maximum credence. The Metamorphoses, too, offers a one-way movement from past into present, since rarely is anyone transformed back from bear into woman or from corpse into person—Tiresias (III, 316-38) is a case whose re-metamorphosis makes him share something of the objectivity of the poet of the Metamorphoses himself. Proteus, who might have been given one of the longest episodes in a poem dwelling on Metamorphosis, is handled quite briefly (VIII, 728-37). Just as the atoms in Lucretius recombine but people die, so strange and terrible metamorphoses take place while the principle of metamorphosis remains constant.
Pythagoras is made to transmit to the Roman king Numa a doctrine of metempsychosis (XV, 60-479) that would virtualize the multiple procedures of change we have been shown; taken schematically rather than narratively, they place the past and the present on a par, just as the Metamorphoses set an idealized Greek permanent present against the layered Roman past of the Fasti.
The aetiological myths of the Fasti, too, as Ovid handles them poetically, are at once proto-anthropological and sub-satiric, since Ovid does not take the alternate “scholarly” accounts of origins which he offers as seriously as, say, Herodotus does his. In this respect, too, Ovid may be said neither to believe in his myths nor to disbelieve them, but rather to modulate their elements for his purposes.
A story is admitted to the Metamorphoses only if it involves a transformation of its central subject or can be construed, often quite arbitrarily, as involving such a transformation. All of the other multiple points of analogy between one myth and another are arbitrarily subordinated to this principle of metamorphosis, yet once the metamorphosis has been dealt with, the whole attention of the writer can be directed to the other items of the story and their structured presentation.
Transformation in myth, and its lingering literary manifestations, evokes awe at the crossing of so seemingly impassable a barrier as that of the kinds of living things (Massey), an awe akin to that before human mortality itself. This awe clings to metamorphoses in the myths of primitive peoples all over the world. Taken more philosophically, the idea of transformation serves for Empedocles or Lucretius as a profound principle, the basic one, in the scientific explanation of the universe. And since almost any tale has a point that could make it qualify, while the length of treatment given a particular tale can be arbitrarily lengthened just because the metamorphosis need not be given major emphasis, the principle may serve as a simple rhetorical one for both sorting and amplifying stories in any order at all; it advertises its arbitrariness. It can be a carmen perpetuum, as Ovid calls it in his first lines, echoing and exceeding the phrase of Callimachus, aeisma dienekes, an “unbroken song.” The blend of myth-awe and scientific abstraction with the fictiveness of an arbitrary rhetorical-presentational strategy corresponds to, and expresses, Ovid’s own problematic state of belief in the myths which he both easily manipulates and treats as sources of a shared religion. He saves till the end, and for the subordinating dramatization of an opinion delivered from Pythagoras to Numa, the exposition of the largely Lucretian doctrines that expand the poem without really serving to inform or explain it:
omnia mutantur, nihil interit: errat et illinc
huc venit, hinc illuc, et quoslibet occupat artus
spiritus eque feris humana in corpora transit
inque feras noster, nес tempore deperit ullo,
utque novis facilis signatur cera figuris
All things change, nothing perishes: the spirit wanders,
Comes here thence, hence there, and takes up any frames
It pleases, and goes from beasts into human bodies
And ours into beasts’, equally, and at no time loses,
As with new figures wax is easily stamped.
This does not describe any of the changes that have happened in the poem, exactly, but rather it presents a metempsychosis which would be a new, and much less violent, version of metamorphosis. The doctrine it presents would be of no help to the suffering Io or the melting Narcissus, nor does the even more Lucretian doctrine into which Pythagoras is imagined as swelling serve as other than a sort of virtual qualification for the poem’s events: “cuncta fluunt, omnisque vagans formatur imago;” “All things flow, and every image is formed while in transit” (XV, 178).
The first clause is also Heraclitean,2 though Lucretius in other respects refutes Heraclitus; but in no case is any figure in the Metamorphoses an imago in this sense. What Michel Serres characterizes as Lucretius’ revision into an eidolon of the Platonic eidos is here allowed only a kind of faint analogy to the tone of the poem, rather than a defining force over its figures.
Consequently, Otis’s assertion (p. viii) about metamorphosis as a principle of order must be qualified. “Not the linking, but the order or succession of episodes, motifs and ideas . . . constitutes the real unity of the poem.” Actually, order in the sense of succession, and order in the sense of linking, are equally operative in the poem. Its achievement is to take the principle of linkage, at once arbitrary and profound, and make it work to equalize the events whose elaborate structure of analogy Otis has so amply demonstrated. Arbitrariness holds sway over Ovid’s showily casual transitions. And the arbitrariness enters the tone of Ovid’s initial invocation of his quasi-philosophic principle:
In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas
corpora; di, coeptis (nam vos mutastis et illas)
adspirate meis primaque ab origine mundi
ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen!
My spirit is born to speak of forms changed into new
bodies; gods, on what I have begun (for you
changed even those forms) breathe, and from the start
of the world,
lead a perpetual song down to my times.
It is notably the masculine “gods” rather than the feminine Muses (sometimes, deae, as Fasti, V, 9), whom he invokes. While both continuity and variety are brought in by this expression, as Otis notes (p. 45), the question of unity seems to be left hanging. It is precisely the shift between what may be called the high philosophic or Pythagorean sense of “forms” here, and the low or narrative sense of blind bodies caught in a plot that is lightly retold, which makes this invocation hyperbolic rather than sublime. Between unity and variety, between philosophy and rhetoric, between credence and fiction, the poet weaves his web of words.3
The Aitia of Callimachus differed in its tonal range from the Metamorphoses, so far as we can judge from its fragments and from Catullus’ translation of one of its episodes (Catullus LXVI, Callimachus Fgt. 110 Pfeiffer). It simply expounded the origins of its myth, being encyclopedic-euphuistic without any hint of philosophical qualification or abstraction. The Fasti, too, abounds in raw data of diverse origins, and it celebrates that diversity, whereas the Aitia would seem to have assumed a parity of origin and a common Greek past for its myths. The Heteroieumena of Nicander, which may have suggested the topic of metamorphosis to Ovid by its title and to some degree by its procedures, seems to have combined the procedures of both the Fasti and Metamorphoses, and so to lack the unifying conception of either.
In the Metamorphoses the connection between episodes is accidental, not only theoretically but also in the mode of their transition. To take but one example, Ovid introduces the Orpheus story tangentially through the seemingly less important Iphis (X, 5ff). The contingency of connection reinforces the contingency of choice of episodes and even the contingency of the form a metamorphosis may take. All these contingencies become an undogmatic equivalent for the philosophy of the Epicureans about the gods and of the Stoics about the progression of events; though Ovid, again, does not enunciate, or refuse, a particular doctrine. If he follows Lucretius in the culminating doctrine he assigns to Pythagoras, he does not do so by assigning the gods to an Epicurean limbo detached from human events—except by providing an equivalent for the Epicurean ataraxia in his tone.
Ovid occasionally offers some smaller-scale chronological and topographical organizations, but he also has an overall chronological organization from the origin of the world to the presently ruling deified emperor, and an implied topographical one from early Greece to present Rome. Still, this sequential principle undergoes abstraction and qualification in the systematic similarity of the episodes: all involve metamorphosis. The likeness-in-difference of episodes, indeed, provides another principle, parallel to and derived from metamorphosis, which leads logically as well as temporally from one into another, as the sacrilege against the tree of Ceres of the devouring Erysichthon corresponds to, and leads into, the visage of the famished Fames. This in turn corresponds to, and before long leads into, the fate of the too violent Meleager, expiring because the flames devour a piece of wood in which his life is magically tied up (VIII, 338-525). Or to follow one of Otis’ multiple correspondences (p. 226), Byblis who was changed into a fountain, as punishment for her guilty, incestuous love (IX, 453ff) offers a contrast with the innocent unnatural love of Iphis (IX, 668ff), who is rewarded by being changed into a man. These are both set in analogous contrast to the loves, themselves both alike and different, of Ganymede (X, 155), Orpheus (X, 72ff), Hyacinthus (X, 162ff), and Cyparissus (X, 106ff). As a beloved of Apollo changed into a cypress tree, Cyparissus is also analogous to Daphne (I, 452ff). All these human figures whose unnatural loves involving gods are partially justified by metamorphosis find further analogues in the Propoetides, who were turned into prostitutes out of vengeance for their scorn of Venus, and then into stones (X, 221, 238; they are analogous to any other petrified figure in the poem). These are analogous to Pygmalion (X, 243), whose innocent, unnatural love for an ivory sculpture was rewarded by its metamorphosis into a woman; and to Myrrha (X, 312f), whose guilty incestuous love for her father is punished, as Byblis’ for her brother was, by metamorphosis into a tree. Still, there is a different benign issue in her birth of Adonis (X, 524ff)—himself loved by a goddess (unlike Ganymede, etc.), but with the fatal consequences of dying under attack from a boar; his blood itself, however, metamorphoses into a flower.
Another set of analogies in the third book—any of which could be correlated to this set—would establish correspondences among Actaeon, torn to pieces by hounds for glimpsing the naked Diana; Semeie, giving birth to Bacchus after being consumed by Jupiter’s thunderbolt on unwisely following the advice of the disguised Juno; Tiresias, turned into a woman for separating snakes; Narcissus, pining away at his own image; and Pentheus, torn to pieces by his mother for spurning Bacchus.
Ovid does not juxtapose these episodes schematically, and the analogies may be seen to stand out in even stronger relief. With artful casualness the narratives are intertwined and framed, as in the fourth book a daughter of Minyas unnamed in the text (38ff) tells several stories: Pyramus and Thisbe, Mars and Venus, and Leucothoe and Salmacis-Hermaphrodite; all of which could in turn be coordinated with the two sets of stories discussed so far.
Such correspondences, of course, pervade the poem. But they operate at a level both of complexity of difference and simplicity of likeness which keeps them just below the possibility of Lévi-Straussian factoring. If this were applied to the myths, it would detach them from Ovid’s text, which always verbalizes its elements without either deducing conclusions or subjecting a given mythic pattern to the profound examination which Aeschylus accords Prometheus or Sophocles Oedipus. The mythemes Ovid presents receive the constant, abstracting mediation of his verbal manipulation. He also, in effect, juxtaposes them in the sort of arbitrary equivalences I have discussed above. Both procedures would render merely subliminal any other mediations which might be performed upon them.
There is, further, a large-scale pattern; and, because the analogies among single episodes are themselves multiplex, possibly more than one large-scale pattern. Otis offers one (pp. 84-85), with a first section mostly involving divine amours (I-II), a second section of love episodes framed by episodes of divine vengeance (III-VI, 400), a broad third section wholly occupied with amatory pathos (VI, 401-XI), and a final fourth section balancing the exemplary history of Troy with the cresting history of Rome (XII-XV).
Given the arbitrariness of analogy by which Ovid presents the myths in both the Metamorphoses and the Fasti, the idealized pastoral landscape of loca amoena, while constant in its attributes as Segal (4) maintains, still does not have imposed on it a closed order of significations. Theocritus is not possible as a final equivalent for either long poem, though both poems adapt Theocritan procedures and refrain from directly transcending Theocritus in a Vergilian direction.4
Instead of trying for Vergil’s depth, Ovid in his very diction (Börner and Kenney) turns Vergil’s practices into a common, standardized formal resource. The subjectivity in landscape and elsewhere that Vergil discovered is, it would seem, taken for granted by Ovid, who combines it with a narrative that runs at a faster and simpler pace than Vergil’s.5
The corresponding lightness of his bearing towards mythical materials gives Ovid a freedom far greater than Vergil had, to transpose the special qualities of Callimachus which Capovila delineates (II, 404-54): the lepton (“subtlety”), poikilia (“delicate variation”), and drosos prokios (“fine freshness,” literally “early dew”). But these qualities are made adaptive to the tensile implications of the central conception. Or as La Faye puts it (p. 95) there is a “general . . . contrast” between the “ease (aisance) of the style and the studied irregularity of the composition.” All this fine manipulation is put at the service of an ironized suspension of devotion to the area for which the myths stand. Ovid drops personages from, or adds them to, the Metamorphoses with a deliberate abruptness, as though insisting on his power to name or keep silent, as he chooses. As Bernbeck says (pp. 40-41), “Juno and Tisiphone, marginal figures from the viewpoint of the original saga, possess greater weight than the chief figures Athamas and Io.” Bernbeck contrasts this procedure with the normal one in epic, when in Ovid’s poem “there is lacking the usual information on the provenance and destination of personages. And the scenic background is often only sketchily delineated, so that the presentation often appears to run off into empty space.” There are, further, missing conclusions to scenes (pp. 64-67) and missing intervals in the known sequence of events for the myth (pp. 68-69). All these procedures extend the arbitrariness of the writer into the constantly worked-over foreshortening or expansion of episodes: he seems never to be leaving them alone.
In both the Fasti and the Metamorphoses Ovid’s tone ranges all the way from jocosity approaching frivolity to dead earnest.6 This range makes accidental Heinze’s derivation of the formers tone from the elegy of its elegiacs and the latters from the epic meter of its hexameters. Indeed, one could reverse his equation and find awe in the Fasti, tenderness in the Metamorphoses. In both poems the super-Callimachean surface acts to neutralize in tone and to modulate in idea whatever is presented; one need only contrast the dramatized Lucretian matter, relatively earnest in tone, of Metamorphoses XV with the dire urgency of Lucretius himself, to catch the highlight of the Ovidian fictiveness. Ovid himself plays with the idea that the Fasti changes tone from his other elegies (Fasti II, 3-16). Comparing the presentation of Cacus in the Fasti to that in Propertius and Vergil, Otis (p. 34) finds in Ovid “a reduction of the epic scale and tone,” which I would rather characterize as a transposition of mythic force, or as a virtualization, present in the pointed playfulness of the style. A line from the slightly earlier Ars Amatoria will illustrate the ironization of a dire myth. The Minotaur, born to Pasiphae after she has intercourse with a bull, is described as “semibovemque virum semivirumque bovem,” “a half-ox man, a half-man ox” (Ars Amatoria II, 24).
These words, alternate additions of the same monstrous figure, seem to cancel each other out by balancing exactly; they mock their own attempt to apply, as it were, some syntactic equivalent of Lévi-Strauss’s binary categories to the Minotaur. Ovid invokes Thalia, who is said to move with the “uneven wheels” of the elegiac couplet, in touching on the comic side of the Ars Amatoria:
Hactenus, unde legas quod ames, ubi retia ponas,
Praecipit imparibus vecta Thalia rotis
Thus far, whence you would choose what you love, where you put nets
Thalia teaches, carried on unequal wheels
(Ars Amatoria I, 263-64)
Here, too, we are given a version of what Marouzeau calls Ovid’s characteristic stylistic procedure of interweaving verbs, which applies even more flamboyantly when he is quoting, as in a passage cited above (Fasti I, 509-10).7
As Albrecht well says (p. 419), Ovid’s dicacitas or sprightly verbosity “appears directly to destroy the reality of the gods” (italics Albrecht’s). In diction Ovid adheres to the middle-range selection classes of normative nouns and verbs along the lines I have defined elsewhere as characterizing “the refined style” (Cook, 1966). But his syntax is not normative; it performs an excess of manipulation upon this style, diverting it from its balancing view of a delimited universe. Narrative, calling for linear presentation, resists such embroidery. But he uses it notably in the flow of the narrative to which he turned in both the Metamorphoses and the Fasti after the set-piece letters of the Amores and the Heroides, and the versified treatise of the Ars Amatoria. Take this passage from late in the Metamorphoses, rendering Glaucus’ arrival at the courts of Circe:
inde manu magna Tyrrhena per aequora vectus
herbiferos adiit colles atque atria Glaucus
Sole satae Circes vanarum plena ferarum.
thence with a great hand coursing through Tyrrhene seas
Glaucus arrived at the grass-bearing hills and courts
of sun-born Circe, full of vacuous beasts.
The words are general ones, vectus and aequora being conventional, and Sole satae itself part of a standard epic repertoire. “Manu magna” however combines metaphor (one is normally vectus in a ship), metonymy (the hand is attached to the arm, which does the swimming), and double synecdoche (hand for hand-plus-arm-plus-body; one hand for two). Two strong genitive phrases entirely make up the six words of the last line here, of which the first, Sole satae Circes, is not attached to what we are waiting for, the modifier of atria, but the second is, vanarum plena ferarum. The word vanarum is logically climactic as well; it implies what threatens Glaucus, and it anticipates a failed version of the metempsychosis Pythagoras will expound, as well as a striking version of his doctrine that forms are vain and changing anyway. Vanarum can also be said to condense the whole plot of Circe’s treatment of those she seduces.
Amplification and condensation, indeed, are the constant resource of these large poems of Ovid. For example, this couplet:
dicite, quae fontes Aganippidos Hippocrene,
grata Medusaei signa tenetis equi
Speak, you who hold the fountains of Aganippe’s Hippocrene,
the pleasing marks of the Medusean horse.
(Fasti V, 8-9)
Here there is a relatively low incidence of syntactic manipulation. But the first line is quite amplified, since Aganippe and Hippocrene are nearly synonymous as fountains on Mount Helicon, and they mean no more than instances of reference to what the general word “fontes” already names, associated with the very activity which “dicite,” addressed to the Muses, implies; the line has the amplification of high redundancy. The second line, however, is quite condensed. It refers to one story, the striking of the springs on the mountain under the hooves of Pegasus, through still another, the release of Pegasus from the blood of the neck of Medusa as Perseus was slaying her (“Medusean” in that sense). And the phrase also includes the birth of Pegasus through a secret amour with Poseidon (“Medusean” in that sense too). The trope “Medusean horse” would normally imply a genitive of possession, as “Herculean strength.” Here it is grammatically double, a genitive of origin and also a sort of metonymy.
What these two words condense the Metamorphoses in turn amplifies—one of the many correspondences of myth between it and the Fasti—where the whole Perseus story is told at great length (IV, 476-V, 279).
Myths, insofar as they reflect kinship systems, emphasize woman, on Lévi-Strauss’s showing, because women are mediators between nature and culture. Women are at once the sources of reproduction and the key commodities of social exchange within and between the generations. Myths, insofar as they reflect the Freudian unconscious, deploy a sexual force into the kinship pattern of the nuclear family.
A tribal society needs no more than its myths for the categorization of the sexual life. But in more complex societies the sexual life, along with the reflections that accompany highly developed sublimations, requires acts of more strategic understanding: a further transposition of myth into literature. Sophocles and Euripides plumbed the sexual life more deeply than did Aeschylus, for whom the Suppliants and Io were largely victims, and Clytemnestra largely a scandal. By Hellenistic times pastoral poetry and New Comedy confined themselves to a generally demythicized universe of staple interactions that focussed on the delicate problems the sexual life might present. The Ovid of the Amores and the Heroides stayed pretty much within those conventions, and the mythical figures in those works function as exempla, types for contemplation. The sharp discriminations of Propertius and the soft subjectivity of Vergil are still beyond Ovid, as is the modulated, personalized savagery of Catullus. But none of these poets catches so much of the myth-mystery in the nets of his verse.
Ovid takes as his ground in the Ars Amatoria the sophisticated code of the erotic intrigue, leaving behind the whole piety-charged and tradition-defined family basis to the Roman gens, built around the Roman matrona. Thus he produces a principle which retains extremer versions of myths as exempla, Pasiphae or Mars and Venus. He orders this material on the time-line of the gestures that might lead to a consummation detached from past and future. He deals with the sexes “psychologically” as detached individuals engaged in an enterprise of mutual but temporary interest. In his objectivity he resembles Lucretius and echoes him in drawing the effect of infatuation on the lover, though Lucretius had gone much further in identifying love and death as processes that deeply revealed the principle of the flow of atoms (since the sight that leads to infatuation is dependent on such movements).
In Lucretius, too, there is an overriding ambivalence (Schrijvers) that Ovid has so far found no way to approximate. Venus is an urgent force—at the origin of Rome—and a source of delight for men and gods, as the first line of De Rerum Natura declares, “Aeneadum genetrix, hominum divomque voluptas.” And yet the religion of which Venus might be a prime example is to be shunned as a savage terror; human sacrifice, like that of Iphigenia, is a direct result thereof: “tantum religio potuit suadere malorum,” “So much of evil did superstition induce” (De Rerum Natura, I. 100). Still, Mother Earth and Cybele, too, come in for a kind of awe (De Rerum Natura, II, 575-600).
Lucretius’ Venus is an impulse, a general force, an idea, and at the same time something like an allegorized figure (De Rerum Natura, IV, 105ff).8 “Pursue,” “celebrate,” “cause to abound,” and “publish abroad” are all relevant senses of the first verb he gives the fostering Venus whom he invokes at the beginning of the poem, concelebras,9 an action she performs on ship-bearing seas and fruit-bearing earth (nature and culture thus coupled) under the gliding signs of the sky:
alma Venus, caeli subter labentia signa
quae mare navigerum, quae terras frugiferentis
In his longer poems Ovid finally approaches the Lucretian ambivalence by fusing the effects of love and of death in the myths he narrates. He re-renders the inexplicability of the myth as the awe therein, not as a special posture but as a common denominator to mythic events. The Metamorphoses shows that a common action typically underlies and causes the mystery of the miraculous transformations it takes as its announced subject. Often involved therein is the treacherous uncontrollability of the erotic impulse and its strange drift, phrased by legend, towards boundary-crossing. A sexual involvement that gets phrased into a myth tends to have crossed natural lines (incest, self-love, hermaphroditism, human and divine, even patriotism in the case of Scylla). A recursion of atavistic horror here takes over from the sophistication of the Ars Amaioria. What crops up regularly in the Metamorphoses is a random risk in the Fasti. Characteristically, it may either be left unmentioned (the fact that Aristaeus is in trouble because he attacked Eurydice) or given extended treatment (the crucial change of Roman government occasioned by Tarquin’s rape of Lucretia). The almost daily presence of atavistic figures for worship in the Roman calendar can robustly accommodate, we may infer, what evidently obsesses the abstracted network of the mythology that serves as the raw material for literature. The rawness of the material is tamed not by being diluted or redirected, but by the overcontrol of a literary manipulation that holds it in check by magnificent means and by an arbitrary leading idea.
As Segal says (4, p. 8), there is, for the very landscape of the poems, “erotic coloring even of metamorphoses which are presented as successful escapes from love.” Even in this escape, as always in this chief activity, there remains a psychologized but impersonally presented version of the Lucretian ambivalence, “a polarity of urbanity and violence” (p. 1). Even in the Fasti Castor and Pollux are seen in the role of tragic suitors (V, 699-719). Love involves what Bernbeck calls a pervasive paradox (p. 111). Daphne’s wish and her body are at odds: “votoque tuo tua forma repugnat,” “your form fights against your prayer” (I, 488). The maiestas of the gods, declared to be their central quality in Book V of the Fasti, is also declared to be incongruous with the love which the gods also obsessively pursue:
non bene conveniunt пес in una sede morantur maiestas et amor
they do not go together nor dwell long in one site, majesty and love
(Metamorphoses II, 846-47).
It is as a patron of prostitutes that Flora urges women to gather ye rosebuds while ye may (Fasti V, 353-54). Even at the crescendo of the Roman sections that conclude the Metamorphoses the deeply pervading erotic troubles have not been banished. Vertumnus woos Pomona in a sort of idyll. Still, to induce in her “greater fear” (magis timeas XIV, 694) for Venus and Nemesis—significantly coupled!—he disguises himself as an old woman and tells her the tale wherein Iphis died of love for Anaxarete, who then turned to stone.
The very inception of the love is described in terms that suggest the strangeness and pain that will later befall them both:
viderat et totis perceperat ossibus aestum
luctatusque diu, postquam ratione furorem
vineere non potuit, supplex ad limina venit
et modo nutrici miserum confessus amorem
He saw her and perceived a burning in all his bones,
and long strivings, and after he could not conquer
the furor with reason came suppliant to her door,
and now confessing his sad love to the nurse
The act of poetic perception puts us, through Ovid, in the position of Vertumnus and Pomona, between whom this tale is exchanged. We are presumptive sharers in the mastery that a Roman citizen has access to, which includes mastery over those very forces in the myth that the disguised Vertumnus tells Pomona. Ovid codes all this into the poem as a means for dealing with what in myth is essentially uncontrollable.
Ovid’s triumph is a tour-de-force of suggestiveness, wherein a lightness of touch and a total control of literary means, by suspending credence without mocking it, bring the phases of myth into overlay, without either Vergil’s engulfing fusion or Dante’s distinct levels.