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This article makes the case that the sublime plays a more important part in the poetry of Ovid, and its reception, than is generally acknowledged. It surveys Ovid's use of the word sublimis, from the early amatory to the exilic poetry, and argues that it often connotes sublimity as an aesthetic and ideological category. Within the Metamorphoses particular attention is given to the Phaethon episode (whose sublimity is well recognized) and to the storm in the Ceyx and Alcyone episode (which has less often been considered under the heading of the sublime). Ovid's lost Medea may have anticipated the sublimity of Senecan tragedy. In exile Ovid experiences a failed sublimity in the face of the overwhelming power of the 'storm-god' Augustus.

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  • 1 Versions of this paper were delivered as lectures at the second meeting of the International Ovidia (...)
  • 2 Porter 2016: 28 ‘Sublimis is already circulating as a literary-critical term by the time of Ovid’, (...)
  • 3 Another exception to the general avoidance of speaking of the sublime in connection with Ovid is Pa (...)

1Ovid gets just four index entries in James I. Porter’s monumental book on The sublime in antiquity.2 That, one might think, is not very surprising. ‘Ovidian’ and ‘sublime’ are terms which do not often appear in the same sentence. Nor is a positively valued sublimity one of the features which has been much enlisted in the rehabilitation, over the last half century, of Ovid as one of the greatest of Roman poets. The chief exception to this relative lack of interest in the Ovidian sublime has been the Phaethon episode in the Metamorphoses, on which more below.3

2 To provide some contexts: Porter’s 2016 book is a massive manifestation of something that has been going on for some time, the diagnosis of sublimity in a range of Greek and Roman texts outside of pseudo-Longinus. More particularly, in the field of Latin poetry, sublimity is a quality or effect for which recent studies have looked to Lucretius, Virgil, Manilius, Lucan, Statius, and Silius Italicus, if rarely to Ovid. Yet that list of Latin hexameter poets is marked by the glaring absence of the name of Ovid, who, in other ways, is inextricably woven in to the development of the Latin hexameter tradition, from Republic to Empire.

  • 4 Hardie 2002a.
  • 5 Morgan 2003.

3 To use the terminology of the now outdated ages of metal scheme, the Metamorphoses has often been seen as a late work of ‘Golden’ Latin poetry that anticipates, and is the model for, features of ‘Silver’ Latin poetry, in the matter of such things as rhetoric, spectacularity, descriptions of extreme violence, hyperbole, and paradox.4 A number of these features are rather negative labels for what, viewed in a more positive light, could be seen as sources of the sublime. For example, pseudo-Longinus takes hyperbole as productive of the sublime (9.5, 38), although a hyperbole taken too far can fall into the opposite of sublimity. One of the signs of Ovid’s interest in the sublime, and, I would suggest, his interest in an already well-developed literary-critical discourse on the sublime, is precisely his testing of the boundary between the sublime and the ridiculous, between hupsos and bathos, in the sense given to the latter word by Alexander Pope, in Peri Bathous, or the art of sinking in poetry (1727). The best analysis of Ovid’s knowing embrace of the puerility with which he is charged by later critics, in contexts that seem to demand a sustained grandeur, is Llewelyn Morgan’s article on ‘Child’s play: Ovid and his critics’.5 ‘Grandeur’ is a word used on several occasions by Morgan, in discussion of the younger Seneca’s charge that in his description of the Flood, Ovid reduces the magnitudo rei to pueriles ineptiae (NQ 3.27.13-15), but the words ‘sublime’ and ‘sublimity’ do not appear in his article. Nor does the name of Longinus, who comments that (Subl. 3.4) ‘while tumidity seeks to outdo the sublime, puerility (τὸ μειρακιῶδες) is the exact opposite of grandeur.’ Longinus observes of Isocrates’ use of hyperbole that (38.2) he ‘fell into unaccountable puerility through his ambition to amplify everything’ (ὁ γοῦν Ἰσοκράτης οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅπως παιδὸς πρᾶγμα ἔπαθεν διὰ τὴν τοῦ πάντα αὐξητικῶς ἐθέλειν λέγειν φιλοτιμίαν).

  • 6 Johnson 2010.

4 Or we could look to a book on hyperbole in baroque literature and thought, Christopher Johnson’s Hyperboles. The rhetoric of excess in Baroque literature and thought,6 which ‘reads Baroque hyperbole as a sophisticated, often sublime, frequently satiric means of making sense of worlds and selves in crisis and transformation.’ We shall see that the Baroque responds enthusiastically to hyperbolical passages in Ovid which in more recent centuries have drawn down opprobrium on the poet.

  • 7 Hardie 2009: chs 3, 5, 6.
  • 8 Schiesaro 2014.
  • 9 Hardie 2013.
  • 10 Delarue 2000; Leigh 2006; Schrijvers 2006.
  • 11 Day 2013.
  • 12 Lagière 2017.
  • 13 A taster in Chomse 2019.
  • 14 E.g. Schiesaro 2003: index s.v. ‘sublime’; Littlewood 2004: 121-7; Gunderson 2015.

5 With regard to my own previous work on the sublime in Latin poetry, the present paper is an extension of my discussion of the Lucretian sublime, with special reference to Virgil and Horace.7 Here there is an intersection with recent work by others on Ovid’s reception of Lucretius, most notably Alessandro Schiesaro’s very important article, ‘Materiam superabat opus: Lucretius metamorphosed’,8 to which I will turn on more than one occasion in what follows. In looking at Ovid, I am also reaching back in literary-historical time from a chapter that I published some years ago on ‘Flavian epic and the sublime’.9 There I noted that, with a few exceptions,10 the word ‘sublime’ had not frequently been used in the context of the tumidities and excesses of Flavian epic, nor, come to that, of Lucan’s Bellum civile. Since I wrote that essay, the picture has considerably altered with the publication of monographs by Henry Day on Lucan,11 and by Anne Lagière on Statius and the sublime.12 Siobhan Chomse is also producing important work on the sublime in Virgil, Lucan, and Tacitus.13 Rather more work has been done on Senecan tragedy and the sublime.14

  • 15 Hardie 2009: 197-202.

6I start with a lexicographical survey of Ovid’s use of the word sublimis. There are forty instances across the corpus. The majority of cases fall under one of the six senses in the Oxford Latin Dictionary that refer literally to spatial height, while only the last two of the eight senses are figurative, referring to (7) ‘Loftiness’ of ambition, ideals, character, style, experiences, and (8) ‘Exalted or illustrious’, in rank or position. But I will argue that many instances in Ovid of a non-figurative height or elevation carry a connotation of ‘sublime’ in the aesthetic or stylistic sense. This is an argument I have made elsewhere for the use of sublimis by Horace, programmatically in the last line of Odes 1.1.36, sublimi feriam sidera uertice: this is a comic image of the poet’s physical head proudly raised up on high and bumping against the stars, but it introduces a conflicted aspiration to poetic sublimity which plays out across the four books of Odes.15 That line is one of the intertexts for Ovid’s prediction in the Epilogue to the Metamorphoses, 15.875-6 parte tamen meliore mei super alta perennis | astra ferar (‘Yet with my better part I shall be borne everlasting above the lofty stars’).

7 It may, or may not, be coincidental that the first use of sublimis that we encounter in Ovid’s œuvre, at Amores 1.15.23 is also the first citation in OLD for sense 7c ‘(of a writer or his works) elevated in style or sentiments, sublime, majestic’: Am. 1.15.23-4 carmina sublimis tunc sunt peritura Lucreti, | exitio terras cum dabit una dies (‘The poems of sublime Lucretius will perish, when a single day commits the earth to destruction’). It is not coincidental that in this catalogue of poets whose work will enjoy long, if not eternal, life, sublimity is predicated of Lucretius, whose importance for the history of the sublime both in ancient Latin poetry, not least for Virgil and Horace, and in the post-classical world has become increasingly clearer in recent scholarship. Alessandro Schiesaro has shown in great detail that engagement with Lucretius is a central motivation in Ovid’s longest exercise in the sublime, the Phaethon story in Metamorphoses 2. Jim McKeown, on Am. 1.15.23-4, notes that Lucretius uses sublimis only in the form sublime, adverbially on three occasions, and in the phrase sublima … caeli (1.340), and McKeown makes the further intriguing suggestion that, through recollection of that Lucretian phrase, Ovid may hint that Lucretius has been honoured with catasterism. That may be a hint too far, but if it is accepted, Ovid perhaps remembers it in the grandest and most confident in the series of his forecasts of his future fame, a series that begins with Amores 1.15. I refer, again, to the (surely) sublime Epilogue to the Metamorphoses in which Ovid predicts that he will fly in fame even higher than the place of catasterism, super alta … astra.

  • 16 But perhaps alarmingly close in space: Phaethon falls into the Po, and the last in the catalogue of (...)
  • 17 Kant 2000: 144-5. This is the experience of Horace’s iustum et tenacem propositi uirum, whom si fra (...)
  • 18 Schiesaro 2020.

8 In exitio terras cum dabit una dies at Amores 1.15.24 Ovid makes a pentameter out of the passage in De rerum natura 5 in which Lucretius anticipates the day that will see the whole moles et machina mundi come crashing down, DRN 5.92-6 (… multosque per annos | sustentata ruet moles et machina mundi). Ovid refers to the same passage in the only other couplet in which he names Lucretius, in another catalogue of poets, Tr. 2.425-6 explicat ut causas rapidi Lucretius ignis, | casurumque triplex uaticinatur opus (‘As Lucretius unfolded the causes of consuming fire, and prophesied the fall of the threefold universe’). ‘High-flying’, ‘sublime’ Lucretius is here explicitly associated with a cosmic ‘fall’, an opposition which structures the Phaethon episode. The fall of Phaethon, which averts the threatened return of the world to chaos, is an example of sublime terror, which the reader may enjoy from the safety of distance in time.16 The final collapse of the world, perhaps closer than we might think, is something that Lucretius’ reader, fortified by Epicurean teaching, can contemplate with equanimity, and in keeping with the Kantian dynamic of the sublime, whereby experience of the overwhelming object ‘elevate[s] the strength of our soul above its usual level, and allow[s] us to discover within ourselves a capacity for resistance of quite another kind, which gives us the courage to measure ourselves against the apparent all-powerfulness of nature.’ (CJ §28)17 Finally, note that the passage of Lucretius chosen by Ovid as representative of Lucretian sublimity is, specifically, an example of the apocalyptic sublime, something that may well have enjoyed a wider circulation in the Mediterranean world of the first century BC, and which had its own fascination for the decades that followed the death of Lucretius, and on in to the Neronian and Flavian periods. Again this has been explored very thoroughly by Alessandro Schiesaro.18

  • 19 Schiesaro 2014: 78-9.
  • 20 See Feldherr 1998: 176 ‘the tragic [stage depicted] a distinctively royal palace’, referring to Gro (...)
  • 21 Cf. the complaint of the door in Prop. 1.16, contrasting its previous welcome of magni triumphi wit (...)
  • 22 The word chosen for the overwhelming and oppressive effect made on the elegist’s exiguae fores by T (...)

9 In Amores 1.15 ‘sublime Lucretius’ is adduced in support of Ovid’s own pretensions to something that exceeds the mortal, everlasting and worldwide fama: 7-8 (addressed to Liuor) mortale est, quod quaeris, opus; mihi fama perennis | quaeritur, in toto semper ut orbe canar (‘What you look for is a mortal achievement; I look for everlasting fame, so that I shall always be sung of in the whole world’). Schiesaro compares the words of the Sun to Phaethon at Met. 2.56 sors tua mortalis; non est mortale quod optas (‘Your condition is mortal; what you ask for is not mortal’), so making the link with Ovid’s own sublime aspirations.19 In Amores 3.1, however, Ovid contrasts his own unpretentious elegies with the sublimia carmina of Tragedy, 39-40 non ego contulerim sublimia carmina nostris: | obruit exiguas regia uestra fores (‘I would not compare your sublime poems to mine; your palace overwhelms my little door’). The architectural image contrasts the proud scenic backdrop of the tragic stage20 with the small door of elegy, with particular reference to the ‘stage-set’ for the paraclausithyron.21 The spatial contrast between the lofty regia and the humble doors of the elegist is an image for the aesthetic ‘elevation’ of tragic carmina.22

  • 23 See Chomse 2019: 174-5.
  • 24 The adjective regia and sublimis occur in close proximity at Met. 4.362-3 implicat ut serpens, quam (...)
  • 25 So Barchiesi 2005 ad loc.; cf. Pind. Ol. 6.1-4.
  • 26 Aen. 8.720 ipse sedens niueo candentis limine Phoebi: does limine look to an etymology of sublimis, (...)
  • 27 Other examples of sublimis in Ovid connoting a Roman, imperial, Augustan sublime: F. 4.859-62 [Roma (...)

10 Reference to a regia introduces a politico-social note into the idea of the sublime, with a hint of political oppression in obruit. One might think of the palace of Pelops in Seneca’s Thestes (641-7), with its Roman colouring, or, closer to home, the Palatine in Rome as experienced by the exiled Ovid and his timorous book: Tr. 3.1.59-60 inde tenore pari gradibus sublimia celsis | ducor ad intonsi candida templa dei (‘Thence at an even pace I am led to the shining temple of the unshorn god [Apollo], raised up high on its lofty steps’).23 The other example in Ovid of the noun regia and sublimis in near juxtaposition is the opening line of Metamorphoses 2, Regia Solis erat sublimibus alta columnis.24 The columns are literally ‘lofty’, and that spatial sense of sublimis is duplicated in the juxtaposed alta. But the Palace of the Sun is also a frontispiece or facade, in Pindaric manner,25 to the sublime episode of Phaethon. There is a dual sublimity in the episode: first, the sublimity of the Sun, whose dazzle is more than Phaethon’s mortal eyes can bear (22-3), framed in the sublime architecture of his palace; and, secondly, the vertiginous sublimity of Phaethon’s fall from the sky and the near return of Chaos as a result of his disastrous ride. The sublimities of both order and disorder also shadow forth a Roman imperial sublimity. The Regia Solis is a mythological image of the Palatine Temple of Apollo from whose threshold Augustus looks out over the peoples of the world in the final scene of the Virgilian ecphrasis of the Shield of Aeneas.26 I touch on the political allegory in the fall of Phaethon below. Virgil and Ovid inaugurate a line of the imperial sublime, that will continue in Statius, Martial, and down to Claudian.27

  • 28 For the elevation and grandeur of tragedy cf. also Am. 2.18.13-14 sceptra tamen sumpsi curaque Trag (...)
  • 29 Seidensticker 1985: 118.
  • 30 Bessone 1997: 14-19 ‘Una tragedia perduta e un’epistola sospetta’, on the epistle’s self-knowledge (...)

11 Amores 3.1 introduces the last book of love elegies, but Ovid looks forward to greater - more sublime - undertakings in the last line, 70 a tergo grandius urguet opus. This is a reference to Ovid’s tragedy, the Medea, what Ovid refers to as a scriptum regale at Tristia 2.553-4, et dedimus tragicis scriptum regale coturnis, | quaeque grauis debet uerba coturnus habet (‘I have also produced a royal work with tragic buskins, and it has the language owed to the weighty buskin’).28 One can only guess how far this lost work may have travelled in the direction of the sublime excesses of Senecan tragedy, but it may well have included an example or examples of a formulation that Gianpiero Rosati calls ‘quasi un marchio del “modello Medea”,’ commenting on Met. 6.618-19 (Procne) magnum quodcumque paraui; | quid sit, adhuc dubito (‘I have planned something great, whatever it is; what it is, as yet I am uncertain’). Rosati compares Medea’s words in the last couplet of Heroides 12, 211-12 uiderit ista deus, qui nunc mea pectora uersat! | nescio quid certe mens mea maius agit (‘Let the god who now stirs my breast see to it! For sure, my mind is now busy with something greater, I know not what’). Here the motif of a dimly perceived great action is combined with an example of what Seidensticker labels the comparativus Senecanus.29 As Federica Bessone richly documents in her commentary, the last words of Heroides 12 double up as the inspiration of a tragic poet, looking to something greater than an elegiac epistle.30

  • 31 See Ingleheart 2010 on Ov. Tr. 2.553-4 ‘The tyrant’s sceptrum, along with the coturnus, symbolizes (...)
  • 32 ipse sedens, perhaps surprisingly, has only five hits in the Brepolis Library of Latin Texts (Antiq (...)
  • 33 Kenney 2011: 245 ‘un’esaltazione che non è solo del corpo’.
  • 34 Cf. also Aen. 5.255 (the celestial elevation of Ganymede) sublimem pedibus rapuit Iouis armiger unc (...)
  • 35 See Hardie 2022: 54.

12 The story of Tereus, Philomela and Procne in Metamorphoses 6 functions in part as a substitute for the child-killing of Medea, an episode not narrated in the Metamorphoses, and it may contain elements of the sublime terror of the lost Medea. The word sublimis is used of the tragic tyrant31 Tereus enthroned on high, Met. 6.650-1 ipse sedens solio Tereus sublimis auito| uescitur inque suam sua uiscera congerit aluum. (‘Tereus himself, seated on high on his ancestral throne, feasts, and heaps his own flesh and blood into his belly’) : ipse sedens, like another ruler seated on high, in the last scene on the Shield of Aeneas, Aen. 8.720 ipse sedens niueo candentis limine Phoebi (‘[Augustus] himself, seated on the snow-white threshold of gleaming Apollo’).32 In the Metamorphoses Ovid chooses to expatiate on another side of Medea, but she does appear as literally, and, as Kenney ad loc. suggests,33 figuratively, sublimis when she ascends her serpent-drawn chariot to collect the simples for her rejuvenating drug, 7.220-3 (Medea) quo simul ascendit frenataque colla draconum | permulsit manibusque leues agitauit habenas | sublimis rapitur subiectaque Thessala Tempe | despicit (‘As soon as she climbed into the chariot, and stroked the necks of the bridled serpents, and shook the light reins with her hands, she was carried up on high and looked down on Thessalian Tempe beneath her’). The passive rapitur is a little surprising for one who has mollified the serpents, and who is in full control of the reins of her chariot ; it suggests the experience of the poet, or his audience, ‘swept away’ by an inspired sublimity.34 Further, the ‘view from above’ is a frequent marker of sublimity.35

13 In the exile poetry, Ovid uses the examples of Icarus and Phaethon as a warning to himself and others to avoid sublimia, programmatically in his warnings to his book as it journeys to the centre of Rome, in Tristia 1.1, 79-80 uitaret caelum Phaethon, si uiueret, et quos | optarat stulte, tangere nollet equos (‘Had Phaethon lived, he would shun the sky, and would shrink from touching the horses for which he had foolishly wished’) ; 89-90 dum petit infirmis nimium sublimia pinnis | Icarus, Icariis nomina fecit aquis (‘While Icarus made for regions too lofty on his feeble wings, he gave its name to the Icarian sea’). Ovid uses the examples of Icarus and Phaethon again in a letter of advice to a friend, Tristia 3.4a, concluding, 31-2, tu quoque formida nimium sublimia semper, | propositique, precor, contrahe uela tui (‘You too, always fear regions too lofty, and, I beg you, draw in the sails of your ambition’). Ovid issues a moral and political warning to his book and to his friend, but the allusion in Tristia 1 to Horace’s warning in Odes 4.2 (1-4) not to imitate Pindar, and risk the fate of Icarus, imports the poetological.

  • 36 The only two examples of sublime nomen in the Library of Latin Texts (Antiquitas).

14 But in the autobiographical Tristia 4.10, Ovid looks back to his inaugural expectation of posthumous poetic immortality in Amores 1.15, and also to the Epilogue of the Metamorphoses, and thanks the Muse because she has granted him, even before his funeral, a ‘sublime name’, 4.10.121-2 tu mihi, quod rarum est, uiuo sublime dedisti | nomen, ab exequiis quod dare fama solet. Jim McKeown, commenting on Am. 1.15.23-4 sublimis, sees in the phrase sublime nomen here a contrast with line 130 protinus ut moriar, non ero, terra, tuus (‘Should I die on the instant, earth, you will not claim me’), a contrast between sublimis and terra that is also found at Am. 1.15.23-4 carmina sublimis tunc sunt peritura Lucreti, | exitio terras cum dabit una dies. If McKeown is right, Ovid, in both places, introduces a connotation of literal, spatial height into a claim for a figurative sublimity or exaltation, where, elsewhere, a spatial use of sublimis also connotes the figurative. The claim to have been granted a sublime nomen is an allusion to the snatch of a song by Menalcas reported in Virgil’s ninth Eclogue, 9.27-9 ‘Vare, tuum nomen … cantantes sublime ferent ad sidera cycni’ (‘Varus, the swans will carry up your name on high to the stars, as they sing’.36 Remembering, in Tristia 4.10, the Epilogue to the Metamorphoses (parte tamen meliore mei super alta perennis | astra ferar), Ovid hints that his name has gone even higher than that of Varus, and now even before his physical death.

  • 37 Hannay 2016 offers a sustained reading of the sublimity of the Phaethon episode, guided by the cate (...)
  • 38 Barchiesi 2009: 178-80 ‘Towards a more vertical Rome’; developed by Chomse 2019.
  • 39 Berger 1993.
  • 40 Saumarez Smith 1990: 108.
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Castle_Howard_The_Great_Hall_Entra (...)

15The Phaethon episode (Met. 1.750 – 2.400), one of the longest in the Metamorphoses, is Ovid’s most sustained exercise in the sublime, and, as we have seen, is flagged as such by the presence of the adjective sublimis in the first line of book 2, applied to the columns of the Regia Solis.37 It is not, however, the architectural sublime in this episode that has drawn attention so much, although Alessandro Barchiesi has shown that the lofty and sublime palace of the Sun with its Augustan resonance exemplifies a wider discovery by ‘the poets of the Augustan generation … [of] a more vertical Rome.’38 Looking to later centuries, it has been argued that the Ovidian Palace of the Sun, a version of Augustus’ Palatine Temple of Apollo, is itself a model for some of the grandest baroque palaces: the Sun-King Louis XIV’s Versailles;39 and the Great Hall of Sir John Vanbrugh’s Castle Howard, with its dome bearing a painting of the fall of Phaethon, which, it has been suggested, is ‘an attempt to reconstruct the Palace of the Sun, with its lofty pillars, elaborate workmanship, marble-decked, surrounded by continents and elements, presided over by Phaeton [sic] and Apollo.’40

  • 41 Russell 1964: xviii.
  • 42 Hall 1652.

16 What has attracted more attention is the dynamic sublime of Phaethon’s disastrous ride through the heavens. Phaethon fails in his attempt to steer the technological marvel that is his father’s chariot, because of his inability to control a supernatural animal world: the fire-breathing horses of the Sun, and a zodiac that has metamorphosed back into the monstrous creatures of which the signs of the zodiac are the catasterized products. It has long been noted that the Naiades’ epitaph for Phaethon echoes a famous passage in Longinus: Met. 2.327-8 Hic situs est Phaethon currus auriga paterni, | quem si non tenuit, magnis tamen excidit ausis (‘Here lies Phaethon, driver of his father’s chariot; if he did not control it, yet he fell in a great venture’). Compare Subl. 3.3-4 ‘For all who aim at grandeur, in trying to avoid the charge of being feeble and arid, fall somehow into this fault, pinning their faith to the maxim that “to miss a high aim is to fail without shame.”’ (φύσει γὰρ ἅπαντες οἱ μεγέθους ἐφιέμενοι, φεύγοντες ἀσθενείας καὶ ξηρότητος κατάγνωσιν, οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅπως ἐπὶ τοῦθ᾿ ὑποφέρονται, πειθόμενοι τῷ “μεγάλων ἀπολισθαίνειν ὅμως εὐγενὲς ἁμάρτημα.”) Longinus also cites a number of passages from Euripides’ Phaethon in chapter 15, on the power of phantasia, ‘vivid description’, ‘to produce an impressive and impassioned effect’.41 Longinus makes the striking observation ‘Would you not say that the writer’s soul is aboard the chariot, and takes wing to share the horses’ peril? Never could it have visualized such things, had it not run beside those heavenly bodies.’ (ἆρ᾿ οὐκ ἂν εἴποις, ὅτι ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦ γράφοντος συνεπιβαίνει τοῦ ἅρματος καὶ συγκινδυνεύουσα τοῖς ἵπποις συνεπτέρωται; οὐ γὰρ ἄν, εἰ μὴ τοῖς οὐρανίοις ἐκείνοις ἔργοις ἰσοδρομοῦσα ἐφέρετο, τοιαῦτ᾿ ἄν ποτε ἐφαντάσθη.) Or, as the first English translation of Longinus, John Hall, pithily puts it, ‘Would not any man say the soul of Euripides hath here taken coach with Phaethon?’42

  • 43 See especially Schiesaro 2014: 86-7 ‘Striving for the sublime’.
  • 44 For a sustained reading of Ovid’s Phaethon narrative as a coded attack on Augustus’ pretension to d (...)
  • 45 See Duret 1988.
  • 46 Feldherr 2016: 29. For the heating effect of desire on the lover’s soul cf. Plt. Phaedr. 251b1-4, 2 (...)
  • 47 Hunter 2012: ch. 4 ‘Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the style of the Phaedrus’, esp. 172-8; Porter 2 (...)

17 To speak at length about the sublimity, and more particularly the Lucretian sublimity, of the Phaethon episode would be to repeat what Alessandro Schiesaro and Mark Hannay have said, eloquently and in detail.43 Among other things, Schiesaro draws out the metapoetics of Ovid’s version of Phaethon’s chariot-ride (‘Would you not say that the writer’s soul is aboard the chariot?’); and also the politics of Phaethon’s sublime ambition and sublime failure.44 This is one of the major points of intersection between the political, and more particularly the imperial-political, and the aesthetic in Ovid’s dealings with the sublime, and the starting-point for a long series of political applications of the Phaethon story, whether negatively or positively (‘positively’ in the sense of entertaining the possibility of a successful attempt to master the chariot of the Sun). The proem to Lucan’s Bellum civile is an early example.45 One aspect that Schiesaro touches on only very lightly is the philosophico-psychological, and Andrew Feldherr is surely right that the charioteer image in Plato’s Phaedrus is a major intertext for Ovid’s Phaethon: note in particular the hint of an allegory of desire in the ominous fire image at 2.104, flagratque cupidine currus.46 That Platonic text is another famous locus for the sublime: the language in which Socrates in the Phaedrus speaks of the madness of love and the flight of the soul ‘beyond the heavens’ (cf. perhaps Met. 15.874-5 super alta … astra) is marked by poeticisms and sublimity, a stylistic excess which was praised by some and criticized by others in antiquity.47

18 I will dwell only on two aspects of the Phaethontic sublime, firstly what Alessandro Schiesaro refers to as the failure of, or the critique of, the Lucretian sublime; and secondly some examples of the reception of the Phaethontic sublime.

  • 48 Hardie 2009: 208-12.

19 Schiesaro is fully aware that, folded into Ovid’s critique of the Lucretian sublime, is an Oedipally inflected desire on Ovid’s part to emulate ‘the rebellious epic of Lucretius’ (100). To this I would add the observation that a conflicted engagement with the attractions and perils of the sublime is one with a long history, and perhaps almost a defining feature of the history of the sublime. My own discussions of the response to the Lucretian sublime on the part of both Virgil and Horace have tried to bring out the combination of temptation and anxiety, and the fear of failure: for example in Virgil’s anxiety at the end of the second Georgic that the chill of the blood round his heart may ground him and prevent a natural-philosophical flight to the stars with the Muses; or Horace’s flirtation with a Pindaric-Lucretian sublime in Odes 4.2.48 Horace there uses the example of Icarus to figure his own anxiety about taking sublime poetic flight.

  • 49 See Clark 1970: ch. 2 on the ‘Icarian pattern’ in A Tale of a Tub, and in Pope’s bathos or sinking

20 In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British poetry the pattern of taking off in sublime flight, and then checking that flight, or being checked in flight, is so common that the phrase ‘Icarian pattern has been applied to it.49 I give a few examples. The first is from a close adaptation of the passage at the end of the second Georgic in which Virgil rests content with an inglorious life in the countryside, if he is unable to aspire to the poetry of the heavens (Geo. 2.475-86), in one of the most famous works of eighteenth-century English poetry, James Thomson’s The seasons. In Autumn, Thomson addresses Nature (1352-8):

Snatch me to heaven; thy rolling wonders there,
World beyond world, in infinite extent,
Profusely scatter’d o’er the blue immense,
Shew me; their motions, periods, and their laws,
Give me to scan …

  • 50 Soaring and diving, in search of respectively lofty and deep secrets, are often paired: see Hardie (...)

21Thomson proceeds to list the mysteries of the subterranean world, diving down after soaring up the vertical axis,50 and of the chain of being, before allowing the possibility that he may not be up to the task, 1367-71:

But if to that unequal; if the blood,
In sluggish streams about my heart, forbid
That best ambition; under closing shades,
Inglorious, lay me by the lowly brook,
And whisper to my dreams.

22‘Snatch me to heaven’ (for which the Latin sublimem rapere would be a close equivalent) makes explicit the celestial transport that is only implied in the Virgilian model, to which Thomson adds further notes of the Lucretian sublime (‘World beyond world’, ‘infinite extent’, ‘the blue immense’).

  • 51 Montagu 1690: 8.

23 The ambition of flight is inspired by themes of military panegyric, as well as of natural philosophy, for example in Charles Montagu’s (later the Earl of Halifax) Epistle to Dorset, a panegyric on William III’s victory over James II at the Battle of the Boyne:51

Stop! stop! brave Prince!—what does your Muse, Sir. faint?
Proceed, pursue his conquests—Faith, I can't:
My spirits shrink, and will no longer bear;
Rapture and fury carried me thus far
Transported and amazed.
That rage once spent, I can no more sustain
Your flights, your energies, and tragic strain,
But fall back to my nat’ral pace again.
In humble verse provoking you to rhyme,
I wish there were more Dorsets at this time.

24 Thomas Gray, in The progress of poesy. A Pindaric ode (1751-54), transfers the dangerous flight of Lucretian, and also biblical, sublimity to Milton (third antistrophe, 95-106):

  • 52 Cf. Milton, PL 4.935-7 ‘I therefore, I alone first undertook | To wing the desolate abyss, and spy (...)
  • 53 Gray gives as his source Lucr. 1.73-4.
  • 54 Gray gives as his source Ezekiel 1:20, 26, 28 ‘For the spirit of the living creature was in the whe (...)
  • 55 Cf. PL 1.593-4 ‘excess | Of glory obscured’; 3.380 ‘Dark with excessive bright’.

Nor second [to Shakespeare] he, that rode sublime       95
Upon the seraph-wings of ecstasy,
The secrets of the abyss to spy.52
He passed the flaming bounds of place and time:53
The living throne, the sapphire-blaze,54
Where angels tremble while they gaze,                        100
He saw; but blasted with excess of light,55
Closed his eyes in endless night.

  • 56 Quint 2014: 63-92 ‘Fear of falling: Icarus, Phaethon, and Lucretius’.
  • 57 Quint 2014: 92.

25 More recently, Thomas Gray’s analysis of Milton’s dangerous flight is echoed in David Quint’s brilliant discussion of Milton’s use of the Ovidian stories of Phaethon and Icarus, in Paradise Lost.56 Quint shows that Milton deploys the falls of Phaethon and Icarus in the service of a Christian attack on the materialist Epicurean universe of Lucretius, in which the atoms fall for ever through the boundless void. Quint also draws out Milton’s Icarian and Phaethontic metapoetics: ‘The soaring elevation of his verse approximates the Icarus-like Milton to the Phaethon-like heroism of the Son, and poetry offers him [Milton] its own kind of salvation.’57 Yet, as for Virgil and Horace, and, as Schiesaro shows, for Ovid, for Milton, so Quint concludes, confrontation with the sublimity of Lucretian rerum natura arouses unease and self-doubt about his own poetic ambitions.

  • 58 The parallel, not in Fowler 2007, is noted in Keightley’s 1859 edition of Milton, with reference to (...)

Ovid’s Phaethon and Icarus narratives indeed offer intertexts for some of the most sublime moments in Paradise Lost, both in Satan’s fall into the ‘vast vacuity’ of Chaos at PL 2.927-38, as he sets off on his flight from Pandemonium to the newly created world (more Icarus there than Phaethon); and in the original fall of the rebel angels down into Hell at the end of the war in heaven in book 6 of Paradise Lost. This is the fitting end to an extended use of Phaethon as a model for Satan’s attempt to usurp supreme power. At the beginning of the war in heaven, 6.99-102 ‘High in the midst, exalted as a God, | The Apostate in his sun-bright chariot sat, | Idol of majesty divine, enclosed | With flaming Cherubim, and golden shields.’ We have first seen Satan exalted at the beginning of book 2, ‘High on a throne of royal state, which far | Outshone the wealth or Ormus and of Ind, | Or where the gorgeous east with richest hand | Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold, | Satan exalted sat.’ One of the many intertexts for these lines is the shining Palace of the Sun, in the east, at the beginning of book 2 of the Metamorphoses.58 But Milton’s pretender is sent into free fall by the Son, who shows himself the true child of his Father, and who, on the last day of the war in heaven, goes into battle against Satan in ‘The chariot of Paternal Deity, | Flashing thick flames.’The fall of the rebel angels begins, 6.856-66:

The overthrown he raised, and as a herd
Of goats or timorous flock together thronged
Drove them before him thunderstruck, pursued
With terrors, and with furies, to the bounds
And crystal wall of Heaven; which, opening wide,
Rolled inward, and a spacious gap disclosed
Into the wasteful deep: the monstrous sight
Struck them with horror backward, but far worse
Urged them behind: headlong themselves they threw
Down from the verge of Heaven; eternal wrath
Burnt after them to the bottomless pit.

  • 59 Phoebus will imitate his son’s fall in Milton’s imitation of the Ovidian passage in Naturam non pat (...)

26They hurl themselves falling headlong, like Phaethon, Met. 2.319-20 At Phaethon rutilos flamma populante capillos | uoluitur in praeceps longoque per aera tractu | fertur (‘But as the flames ravage his red hair, Phaethon tumbles headlong, and is carried through the air in a long train [of fire]’).59 Phaethon is struck down in flames by the thunderbolt of Jupiter. The rebel angels are ‘thunderstruck’, but only figuratively, since, in a pointed correction of the Ovidian model, we have been told that the Son ‘checked | His thunder in mid-volley, for he meant | Not to destroy, but root them out of heaven’ (853-5).

27 Milton’s use of Phaethon as a model for Satan (Lucifer) is in keeping with the late medieval allegorization of Phaethon as fall of Satan.60 Renaissance and baroque paintings of the fall of Phaethon naturally use a schema akin to that for the fall of the angels, or the fall of the damned, as in Rubens’ paintings of the two subjects (or ‘Fall of the damned’, at the Last Judgement), grand exercises in the baroque sublime.61

  • 62 Bussels 2016.

28 The flight of Phaethon is used as an example of the sublime in an important work of early modern art criticism, Franciscus Junius’ De pictura veterum (1637, translated as On the painting of the ancients, 1638), a work which introduced Longinus into Western art theory.62 Junius applies to the visual arts Longinus’ discussion of phantasia, the power of creating mental images, as productive of the sublime. Junius transfers to Ovid’s Phaethon narrative what Longinus says about Euripides’ Phaethon:

When Ovid doth describe that same temerary ladde that foolishly longed to tread upon his Fathers fiery chariot, would you not thinke then that the Poet stepping with Phaeton upon the waggon hath noted from the beginning to the end every particular accident which could fall out in such a horrible confusion? Neither could he ever have conceived the least shadow of this dangerous enterprise, if he had not been as if it were present with the unfortunate youth.

29Phaethon and Icarus fall to earth through their failure to sustain flight through the sky. But they are counter-examples to a series of successful ascensions to the heavens in the Metamorphoses, some in chariots and some through other means, beginning with the apotheosis of Hercules in Met. 9 and concluding with the apotheosis of Julius Caesar in Met. 15. That is the last major episode in Ovid’s narrative prima ab origine mundi ad mea tempora, an event that took place the year before the birth of Ovid, the era of the aetas Ouidiana. The series is then capped with the paratextual ascension of the poet himself, in fame, higher even than the stars, in the Epilogue to the poem. Virgil was largely responsible for the poetic formulation of the imagery and ideology of the divinity of the Roman emperor, but it was Ovid who supplied the major texts for illustrations of the physical ascents of Hercules, and then, in the track of Hercules, the apotheoses of Aeneas, Romulus, and Julius Caesar, the first in a series of Caesars raised to the heavens, models for representations of the apotheosis of the ruler extending into the post-classical world.

  • 63 Hardie 2002b.
  • 64 Schiesaro 2014: 87.

30 Ovid does not use the adjective sublimis in his narratives of apotheosis, but Virgil does, both in Jupiter’s promise to Venus of her son’s final celestial destination, at Aen. 1.259-60 sublimemque feres ad sidera caeli | magnanimum Aenean (‘You will bear great-souled Aeneas aloft to the stars of heaven’), and in the ecphrasis of the rape of Ganymede by Jupiter’s eagle at 5.254-5 quem praepes ab Ida | sublimem pedibus rapuit Iouis armiger uncis (‘Whom Jupiter’s swift arms-bearer snatched aloft from Ida in his curved talons’). I have elsewhere argued that the ascension of Ganymede here is a prefiguration of the apotheosis of Romulus.63 In these two passages the primary sense of sublimis is ‘on high’, predicatively with feres and rapuit, but these are also subjects of sublimity, the physical elevation in the first instance matched by the loftiness of ‘great-souled’ Aeneas, and in the second by the agency of the supreme god Jupiter. magnanimus is the epithet used of Phaethon by Lucretius when he meets the irresistible force of the all-powerful father, 5.399-401 at pater omnipotens ira tum percitus acri | magnanimum Phaethonta repenti fulminis ictu | deturbauit equis (‘But the omnipotent father was then stirred by fierce anger, and cast down great-souled Phaethon from his chariot with a sudden stroke of lightning’). Schiesaro notes that ‘A clear marker of sublimity, magnanimus translates μεγαλόφρων ([Sublim.] 9.2 “highminded”); sublimity, according to Longinus, is τὸ μεγαλόφρον, or μεγαλοφροσύνης πήχημα  (9.2), “the echo of a great soul”, rooted in “the greatness of conceptions”, τὸ μεγαλοφυές  (9.1).᾽64

  • 65 Bate 2004.

31For a second extended passage of sublimity in the Metamorphoses I turn to an episode that has attracted less attention recently than the Phaethon episode, the storm in the Ceyx and Alcyone story in Met. 11, 474-572. This is the major example in the Met. of the clichéd epic topos of the storm, and more particularly it is a rewriting, and overgoing, of the storm in Aeneid 1. The terms in which it has been considered include ‘hyperbolical’ (Reed 2013), ‘rhetorical’ (Griffin 1997, referring to previous criticism), ‘a bravura piece of literary wit and allusiveness’ (Galinsky 1975: 145). But ‘sublime’ is not an adjective that seems to have been much used; sublimity does not figure in a fairly recent article on Ovidian storms.65 This may partly be due to a lingering (or more than lingering) feeling that Ovid’s storm is over the top, and not quite respectable enough to count as an example of a positively valued sublime. I propose that we should read it as a full-blown exercise in what Kant was to label the dynamic sublime. It is an example of the terrifying scenes of nature that Kant identified as productive of the sublime:

  • 66 Kant 2000: 144; cited by Porter 2007: 178, for its close overlap with DRN 6.

Bold, overhanging, as it were, threatening cliffs, thunder clouds towering up into the heavens, bringing with them flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder, volcanoes with their all-destroying violence, hurricanes with the devastation they leave behind, the boundless ocean set into a rage, a lofty waterfall on a might river, etc., make our capacity to resist into an insignificant trifle in comparison with their power.
(CJ §28)66

  • 67 See also Reed 2013 on 11.497-8.

32 Ovid’s storm picks up on and magnifies some of the aspects of the storm in Aeneid 1 that make Virgil’s storm a liminary powerhouse of the natural and supernatural sublime that pulses through the poem. Virgil’s mountainous seas (Aen. 1.105 praeruptus aquae mons) are reinforced with an allusion to the mountain-hurling of Gigantomachy, Met.11.552-6 spoliisque animosa superstes | unda uelut uictrix sinuataque despicit undas: | nec leuius, quam si quis Atho Pindumue reuulsos | sede sua totos in apertum euerterit aequor, | praecipitata cadit (‘One last wave, like a victor rejoicing in his spoils, heaves itself high and looks down upon the other waves; and, as if one should tear from their foundations Athos and Pindus and hurl them bodily into the open sea, so fell this wave headlong’). Virgil’s intimation that the winds, if given their head, could return the universe to chaos is developed in the image of the confusion of sea and sky at 516-18 ecce cadunt largi resolutis nubibus imbres | inque fretum credas totum descendere caelum | inque plagas caeli tumefactum ascendere pontum (‘Behold, the rain falls in sheets from the bursting clouds; and you would think that the whole heavens were falling down into the sea and that the swollen sea was leaping up into the regions of the sky’).67 Furthermore, Ovid greatly expands Virgil’s references to the emotional reactions of those caught in the storm.

33 The word sublimis occurs in the reworking of Aen. 1.106-7 (hi summo in fluctu pendent; his unda dehiscens | terram inter fluctus aperit, furit aestus harenis, ‘Some are suspended on the crest of a wave; for others the water gapes open and reveals earth between the waves; the surge boils with sand’), at Met. 11.502-6:

ipsa quoque his agitur uicibus Trachinia puppis
et nunc sublimis ueluti de uertice montis
despicere in ualles imumque Acheronta uidetur,
nunc, ubi demissam curuum circumstetit aequor,
suspicere inferno summum de gurgite caelum.

The Trachinian ship herself also is driven on in the grasp of chance. Now, lifted high, as from a mountain-top she seems to look down into deep valleys and the pit of Acheron; now, as she sinks far down and the writhing waters close her in, she seems to be looking up to the top of heaven from the infernal pools.

  • 68 Griffin 1997: 201.
  • 69 Met. 11.503-4 is the immediate model for Lucan 5.638-40 quantum Leucadio placidus de uertice pontus (...)
  • 70 For the Lucretian gaze here see Hardie 2009: 161-2.

34Griffin sees this as a moment where Ovid uses the topos of sky-reaching waves ‘with greater restraint’ than Virgil.68 I see rather an intensification of the Virgilian model: Ovid’s sublime addition is the view from above (despicere), paired with the view from below (suspicere).69 The view from below seems to span the distance from the underworld to the heavens (Acheronta, inferno … de gurgite); the language of 503-4 echoes Jupiter’s view from the supreme height of heaven, immediately following the Virgilian storm, Aen. 1.223-6 … Iuppiter aethere summo | despiciens … uertice caeli | constitit (‘Looking down from the heights of heaven, Jupiter took his stand at the summit of the sky’).70 Behind Virgil lie Lucretian models for the downward gaze, DRN 2.1-13 (the view down from the sapientum templa serena), and 3.25-7, where Acheron is pointedly not visible. The view upwards from the underworld has precedent in the simile at Aeneid 8.243-6, comparing Hercules’ opening of the cave of Cacus to a seismic opening of the Underworld, at a climactic point in the hyperbolical and sublime Hercules and Cacus narrative: the vast infernal pit is now visible from above, and, in turn, the shades of the dead tremble at the admission of light. Virgil’s simile has a Homeric model, Iliad 20.61-5, describing Hades’ fear that Poseidon’s earthquake might break open the earth and reveal the Underworld, one of Longinus’ examples of the Homeric sublime (Sublim. 9.6).

  • 71 Cf. also the reaction of Icarus at Ov. Ars 2.87, territus a summo despexit in aequora caelo.

35 The view downwards from a great height and the view upwards from the underworld below are also found in the Phaethon episode. The view from above, Met. 2.178-80: ut uero summo despexit ab aethere terras | infelix Phaethon penitus penitusque patentes, | palluit (‘But when the unfortunate Phaethon looked down from the heavens on the earth displayed far, far below, he turned pale’),71 a reaction very unlike the calm and sovereign gaze of the Virgilian Jupiter, Aen. 1.223-4 aethere summo | despiciens mare ueliuolum terrasque iacentis (‘Looking down from the heights of heaven on to the sea winged with sails, and the earth spread out below’). The view from below, Met. 2.260-1: dissilit omne solum, penetratque in Tartara rimis | lumen et infernum terret cum coniuge regem (‘All the ground sprung apart, and, through the cracks, light penetrated Tartarus, and terrified the ruler of the Underworld and his wife). These two lines look to the simile at Aeneid 8.243-6, and through that to its Homeric model at Iliad 20.61-5.

  • 72 Otis 1970: 246-51; see also Griffin 1997: 199.
  • 73 Tarrant however deletes 600-1.

36 Ceyx’ steersman is as incapable of steering the ship in the storm (11.492-4) as Phaethon is incapable of steering the chariot of the Sun (2.169-70), and, in a simile (184-6), is swept off course like a ship blown headlong by the north wind. Chariot and ship are both common symbols of poetic journeying. Alessandro Schiesaro has explored the metapoetic dimension of Phaethon’s chariot-ride at length. Is there any mileage in looking for metapoetics in Ovid’s storm? A starting-point might be the observation, first made by Brooks Otis, that, within the architecture of the complex narrative of Ceyx and Alcyone, the storm (474-572) is balanced by the Sleep and Morpheus episode (583-676).72 There is a marked contrast between the sound and fury of the storm, and the muta quies (602) of the House of Sleep, where no winds blow (600 non moti flamine rami),73 and the only sound to be heard is the lullaby of the murmurings of the waters of Lethe.

37 Let us think of these two episodes as exercises in epics of two different kinds. The storm takes us back to the beginning of Virgil’s Aeneid, as if, at this late stage of the Metamorphoses, Ovid is setting out on an epic of hyper-Virgilian sublimity. We are in fact almost at the point when the perpetuum carmen is about to catch up with the central subject-matter of Homero-Virgilian epic, at the beginning of book 12. But that plot will turn out not to be continuous with the energies released with the storm of the previous book. This is not a storm motivated by divine anger, nor is it unleashed by Aeolus, agent of the goddess who sets in motion the whole plot of the Aeneid. The Aeneid would have come to a screeching halt had its hero Aeneas died in the storm. Ceyx does die in the storm, 568-9 ecce super medios fluctus niger arcus aquarum | frangitur et rupta mersum caput obruit unda (‘See, a dark billow of waters breaks over the surrounding floods, overwhelming and submerging his head beneath the seething waves’). This is also the end of his futile attempt to conjure up the presence of his absent wife Alcyone, 561-7, 566-7 absentem … Alcyonen, her name murmured into the unheeding waves of the sea, 567 immurmurat undis.

  • 74 Farrell 2021: 52-6.

38 By contrast, the murmuring waters of Lethe (603-4 murmure … unda) are the place for a new beginning, in a very Ovidian setting, the House of a personification. Sleep, the brother of Death, drowses in a version of the Underworld from which, miraculously, will come new life, mediated through Sleep’s agent Morpheus, himself virtually a personification of the Meta-morphoses. Morpheus morphs into a phantom which gives an illusion of presence far more convincing than the empty name uttered by the drowning Ceyx. What Morpheus-Ceyx tells the sleeping Alcyone motivates her return to the shore and to the final reunion, in presence, with a Ceyx brought back to life and then metamorphosed into the halcyon. A showpiece, then, of a thoroughly Ovidian epic, in contrast to the Virgilian sublime of the storm. Furthermore, the whole story ends with the annual seven-day shutting down by Aeolus (the father of Alcyone) of the Virgilian storm-machine, 747-8 tum iacet unda maris; uentos custodit et arcet | Aeolus egressu praestatque nepotibus aequor (‘Then the waters of the sea lie still; Aeolus keeps a guard on the winds, preventing them from issuing forth, and gives his grandchildren free range of the sea’). There is perhaps a further twist: the beginning of the Aeneid, so emphatically present in Ovid’s storm, also hovers behind the Somnus and Morpheus episode. Juno’s approach to Somnus, through the intermediary of Iris, alludes to Hera’s approach to Hupnos in the Dios apate in Iliad 14, which is the model for Juno’s approach to Aeolus at the beginning of Aeneid 1.74 Two versions, then, of the Virgilian beginning.

39 If this metapoetic reading for a contrast between a Virgilian sublime and an Ovidian metamorphics is at all plausible, where does this leave us with Ovid and the sublime? When Ovid dichotomizes, it is usually to draw sharp distinctions where none exist. This is most apparent, perhaps, in the weaving contest between Minerva and Arachne in Met. 6, where it is too simple to say that Arachne’s tapestry is exclusively the mise-en-abyme of the Metamorphoses. Minerva’s tapestry also reflects themes and registers of Ovid’s poem, which is as Virgilian as it is Alexandrian. The sublime storm is as much a part of the Metamorphoses as is Morpheus, and Virgil, or Virgil squared, is as integral to the poem as is the Lucretian Phaethon. Phaethon’s crash may be a critique of the Lucretian sublime, but the catastrophic failure itself is the most sublime part of Ovid’s story. Ovid’s rewriting of the stormy Virgilian beginning may be going nowhere, but it has left in the poem a tour-de-force of the epic sublime.

40 The storm also leaves its traces in the later tradition. Much later, it is the inspiration for the romantic and sublime Ceyx and Alcyone of the Welsh landscape painter Richard Wilson (1768).75 Richard Wilson was an important influence on Turner’s landscapes, and a significant figure in the development of the sublime in British art.76

41 More immediately the storm in Met. 11 blows into the storms that assail Ovid on his journey into exile in Tristia 1. Tristia 1.1, the prologue to the Tristia that takes the form of the address to the paruus liber as it makes its way to Rome, incorporates an image of storm in its programmatic application to Ovid’s own situation of two of the Metamorphoses’ myths of sublime failure, Phaethon and Icarus (see above), 79-90:

uitaret caelum Phaëthon, si uiueret, et quos
    optarat stulte, tangere nollet equos.                 80
me quoque, quae sensi, fateor Iouis arma timere:
    me reor infesto, cum tonat, igne peti.
quicumque Argolica de classe Capherea fugit,
    semper ab Euboicis uela retorquet aquis;
et mea cumba semel uasta percussa procella         85
    illum, quo laesa est, horret adire locum.
ergo caue, liber, et timida circumspice mente,
    ut satis a media sit tibi plebe legi.
dum petit infirmis nimium sublimia pennis
    Icarus, aequoreis nomina fecit aquis.                90

Had he lived, Phaëthon would shun the sky; the steeds which in his folly he desired, he would refuse to touch. I too admit—for I have felt it—that I fear the weapon of Jupiter: I believe myself the target of a hostile bolt whenever the thunder roars. Every man of the Argive fleet who escaped the Capherean rocks always turns his sails away from the waters of Euboea; and even so my bark, once shattered by a mighty storm, dreads to approach that place where it was wrecked. Therefore be careful, my book, and look all around with timid heart, so as to find content in being read by ordinary folk. By seeking too lofty heights on weak wings Icarus gave a name to waters of the sea.
(Loeb transl. A. L. Wheeler)

42The adjective sublimis occurs in line 89, in the context of allusion to Horace’s warning in Odes 4.2 not to venture on the Pindaric sublime. References to Phaethon and Icarus frame the image of a uasta procella, here linked to the shipwreck (not in a storm) of the returning Greeks at Cape Caphareus.

  • 77 Echoes of Ceyx and Alcyone in the exile poetry: Hardie 2002c: 285-92. For a political and allegoric (...)

43 It is when we get to Tristia 1.2, the first of the poems that form a quasi-chronological narrative of Ovid’s journey into exile, that an opening storm, equivalent in terms of structural placement to the opening storm of the Aeneid, alludes heavily to the storm of Met. 11, opening a series of identifications by Ovid with the experience of Ceyx that reaches down into book 3 of the Tristia, and which retrospectively alert the reader to what seem to be premonitions, in the storm in Metamorphoses 11, of Ovid’s exilic complaints in the Tristia and Ex Ponto:77 427 aequora me terrent et ponti tristis imago; 700-2 … sine me me pontus habet.

  • 78 On the ‘eternity’ of the ‘storm’ of punishment that oppresses Ovid in exile see now Schiesaro 2022: (...)

44 For Ovid, there can be no vicarious thrill at the experience of the sublime storm, as there is for the reader of the storm in Met. 11. Ovid himself is in the thick of it, and can feel only fear and despair. Furthermore, the thunderbolt impends over Ovid’s head not just in the inaugural storm of the Tristia, but as a constant presence in his experience of exile. For Ovid, in his new life (or ‘death’), the sublime terror of a hostile nature is felt not just in the moment of a storm at sea, but as the enduring and inescapable expression of the overwhelming power of Augustus, the anthropomorphic Jupiter who wields the force of the storm in his thunderbolt.78

45 It is as if Ovid has regressed to the starting point of the Lucretian sublime, at the beginning of the De rerum natura. Ovid experiences a return to the condition of mankind before the heroics of Epicurus, oppressed by a stormy sky and a threatening sky-god, whose anger is incomprehensible. Of course, we, and Ovid, know that this Jupiter is no more a real Jupiter than is the angry, thunderbolt-hurling, Jupiter from whom Epicurus delivers mankind. Ovid can make a break for freedom, of a kind, in the sublime mental flights in which he tracks the Lucretian Epicurus in the figure of the Pythagoras of Metamorphoses 15, and in his escape from the Iouis ira in the Epilogue. However, the brute fact of the oppression of imperial power remains, and, since this oppression is political not intellectual, the only true liberator could be the emperor himself. But Ovid is left waiting for the sublime heroics of a Hercules who never comes to save. For Ovid in exile, the ‘overwhelming object’, in Kant’s phrase remains overwhelming. A lasting exilic depression is the consequence of an inability, in Kant’s words, to ‘elevate the strength of our soul above its usual level, and allow us to discover within ourselves a capacity for resistance of quite another kind, which gives us the courage to measure ourselves against the apparent all-powerfulness of nature.’ For Ovid, the omnipotence of Augustus is all too real and irresistible.

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Bibliographie

Barchiesi, A. (2009) ‘Phaethon and the monsters’, in P. Hardie (ed.) Paradox and the marvellous in Augustan literature and culture (Oxford) 163-88

Barchiesi, A. (2005) Ovidio Metamorfosi vol. 1, Libri I-II (Rome)

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Notes

1 Versions of this paper were delivered as lectures at the second meeting of the International Ovidian Society in Geneva, and at the Institute of Classical Philology at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań. I am grateful to the audiences on both occasions for their helpful comments.

2 Porter 2016: 28 ‘Sublimis is already circulating as a literary-critical term by the time of Ovid’, with reference to OLD s.v. 7c, where Am. 1.15.23 (in the praise of Lucretius) is the earliest citation; 415 (in a list of didactic poets attuned to the wonders of nature); 463 (with reference to Am. 1.15.23); 493 n. 324 (on the use of per inani- in imitation of Lucretius, in Virgil, Lucan, Ovid etc.).

3 Another exception to the general avoidance of speaking of the sublime in connection with Ovid is Paul Allen Miller’s article (2004) on ‘The parodic sublime: Ovid’s reception of Virgil in Heroides 7’, which employs a very specific definition of the sublime: 61 ‘The effect [of Her. 7’s parody of Aen.] is both to relativize Virgil’s discourse and to make it the site of a sublime encounter with that which transcends the very coherence of the speaking subject.’ Here the Kantian/Burkean moment of terror is supplied by the dissolution of the speaking subject.

4 Hardie 2002a.

5 Morgan 2003.

6 Johnson 2010.

7 Hardie 2009: chs 3, 5, 6.

8 Schiesaro 2014.

9 Hardie 2013.

10 Delarue 2000; Leigh 2006; Schrijvers 2006.

11 Day 2013.

12 Lagière 2017.

13 A taster in Chomse 2019.

14 E.g. Schiesaro 2003: index s.v. ‘sublime’; Littlewood 2004: 121-7; Gunderson 2015.

15 Hardie 2009: 197-202.

16 But perhaps alarmingly close in space: Phaethon falls into the Po, and the last in the catalogue of rivers threatened with being burned up is the Tiber, 2.259 cuique fuit rerum promissa potentia, Thybrin.

17 Kant 2000: 144-5. This is the experience of Horace’s iustum et tenacem propositi uirum, whom si fractus illabatur orbis, | impauidum ferient ruinae, C. 3.3.7-8; on the Lucretian echoes in C. 3.3 see Hardie 2009: 195.

18 Schiesaro 2020.

19 Schiesaro 2014: 78-9.

20 See Feldherr 1998: 176 ‘the tragic [stage depicted] a distinctively royal palace’, referring to Gros 1985: 338.

21 Cf. the complaint of the door in Prop. 1.16, contrasting its previous welcome of magni triumphi with the turpes corollae now left hanging on it by the exclusus amator.

22 The word chosen for the overwhelming and oppressive effect made on the elegist’s exiguae fores by Tragedy’s ‘palace’ is obruit, a compound of ruo, whose derivative noun ruina is used by Lucretius of the end of the world.

23 See Chomse 2019: 174-5.

24 The adjective regia and sublimis occur in close proximity at Met. 4.362-3 implicat ut serpens, quam regia sustinet ales | sublimemque rapit (sublimity of Jupiter). Ovid’s regia Solis also looks to the palace of Latinus at Aen. 7.170 tectum augustum, ingens, centum sublime columnis.

25 So Barchiesi 2005 ad loc.; cf. Pind. Ol. 6.1-4.

26 Aen. 8.720 ipse sedens niueo candentis limine Phoebi: does limine look to an etymology of sublimis, from sub limen? Cf. Cat. 64.271 Aurora exoriente uagi sub limina Solis; Aen. 6.255 ecce autem primi sub limina solis et ortus.

27 Other examples of sublimis in Ovid connoting a Roman, imperial, Augustan sublime: F. 4.859-62 [Roma] cuncta regas et sis magno sub Caesare semper, | saepe etiam plures nominis huius habe; | et, quotiens steteris domito sublimis in orbe, | omnia sint humeris inferiora tuis; F. 5.27-8 (Maiestas, a very Roman divinity) nec mora, consedit medio sublimis Olympo | aurea, purpureo conspicienda sinu; Met. 1.168-71 (the road to the magni … Palatia caeli) est uia sublimis caelo manifesta sereno: | lactea nomen habet candore notabilis ipso. | hac iter est superis ad magna tecta Tonantis | regalemque domum; Tr. 2.215-16 (Augustus compared to Jupiter) utque deos caelumque simul sublime tuenti | non uacat exiguis rebus adesse Ioui.

28 For the elevation and grandeur of tragedy cf. also Am. 2.18.13-14 sceptra tamen sumpsi curaque Tragoedia nostra | creuit (Ovid’s futile attempt to escape from the poetry of love); 3.1.3 sceptro … altoque cothurno.

29 Seidensticker 1985: 118.

30 Bessone 1997: 14-19 ‘Una tragedia perduta e un’epistola sospetta’, on the epistle’s self-knowledge of the tragedy to come; 32-41 ‘L’annuncio della tragedia’, comparing v. 211 deus, qui nunc mea pectora uersat with Ov. Medea fr. 2 feror huc illuc, uae, plena deo (a Dionysiac possession); with nescioquid … maius cf. Prop. 2.34b.66 … nescioquid maius nascitur Iliade, a formula on which Bessone comments (p. 34) ‘“un non so che/qualcosa di grande” è formula che suggerisce sublime grandezza poetica’; p. 36 on the ambiguity of deus, qui nunc mea pectora uersat: Amor, or a god of tragic furor?

31 See Ingleheart 2010 on Ov. Tr. 2.553-4 ‘The tyrant’s sceptrum, along with the coturnus, symbolizes the genre, Sen. Epist. 76.31.’

32 ipse sedens, perhaps surprisingly, has only five hits in the Brepolis Library of Latin Texts (Antiquitas): these two, and Aen. 10.217-18 Aeneas … | ipse sedens clauumque regit uelisque ministrat; Stat. Theb. 7.752-3; Stat. Achill. 2.126.

33 Kenney 2011: 245 ‘un’esaltazione che non è solo del corpo’.

34 Cf. also Aen. 5.255 (the celestial elevation of Ganymede) sublimem pedibus rapuit Iouis armiger uncis (for parallels see Hardie 2009: 200); Ovid imitates the line at Met. 4.362-3 ut serpens, quam regia sustinet ales sublimemque rapit. Further hints of a tragic Medea in Met. 7: Bessone 1997: 27 compares Met. 7.55 maximus intra me deus est with Medea fr. 2 feror huc illuc, uae, plena deo, and Her. 2.211 uiderit ista deus, qui nunc mea pectora uersat. For the elevation to the tragic height of the cothurnus Bessone 1997: 41 compares Dracontius’ recourse to the image of Medea swept up in her serpent chariot, Romul. 10.16-25 … uel quod grande boans longis sublata cothurnis | pallida Melpomene, tragicis cum surgit iambis, | quando cruentatam fecit de matre nouercam | mixtus amore furor dotata paelice flammis, squamea uiperei subdentes colla dracones | cum rapuere rotis post funera tanta nocentem.

35 See Hardie 2022: 54.

36 The only two examples of sublime nomen in the Library of Latin Texts (Antiquitas).

37 Hannay 2016 offers a sustained reading of the sublimity of the Phaethon episode, guided by the categories and aesthetics of Longinus.

38 Barchiesi 2009: 178-80 ‘Towards a more vertical Rome’; developed by Chomse 2019.

39 Berger 1993.

40 Saumarez Smith 1990: 108.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Castle_Howard_The_Great_Hall_Entrance.jpg

41 Russell 1964: xviii.

42 Hall 1652.

43 See especially Schiesaro 2014: 86-7 ‘Striving for the sublime’.

44 For a sustained reading of Ovid’s Phaethon narrative as a coded attack on Augustus’ pretension to divine parentage and on his rise to power see Schmitzer 1990: 89-107.

45 See Duret 1988.

46 Feldherr 2016: 29. For the heating effect of desire on the lover’s soul cf. Plt. Phaedr. 251b1-4, 251d1

47 Hunter 2012: ch. 4 ‘Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the style of the Phaedrus’, esp. 172-8; Porter 2016: 576-94 ‘“Beyond the heavens” in the Phaedrus’.

48 Hardie 2009: 208-12.

49 See Clark 1970: ch. 2 on the ‘Icarian pattern’ in A Tale of a Tub, and in Pope’s bathos or sinking

50 Soaring and diving, in search of respectively lofty and deep secrets, are often paired: see Hardie 2022: 32, with n. 8.

51 Montagu 1690: 8.

52 Cf. Milton, PL 4.935-7 ‘I therefore, I alone first undertook | To wing the desolate abyss, and spy | This new created world.’

53 Gray gives as his source Lucr. 1.73-4.

54 Gray gives as his source Ezekiel 1:20, 26, 28 ‘For the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels – And above the firmament, that was over their head, was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire-stone. – This was the appearance of the glory of the Lord.’ – a passage imitated by Milton at PL 6.750-9.

55 Cf. PL 1.593-4 ‘excess | Of glory obscured’; 3.380 ‘Dark with excessive bright’.

56 Quint 2014: 63-92 ‘Fear of falling: Icarus, Phaethon, and Lucretius’.

57 Quint 2014: 92.

58 The parallel, not in Fowler 2007, is noted in Keightley’s 1859 edition of Milton, with reference to George Sandys’ translation of the Metamorphoses, ‘Sol’s loftie Palace on high Pillars rais’d, | Shone all with gold, and stones that flamelike blaz’d’ (cited in Miner 2004: 99).

59 Phoebus will imitate his son’s fall in Milton’s imitation of the Ovidian passage in Naturam non pati senium 25-7 Tu quoque Phoebe tui casus imitabere nati | Praecipiti curru, subitaque ferere ruina | Pronus, et extincta fumabit lampade Nereus; the fall of Phaethon is also echoed, together with biblical and Homeric allusion, in the summary account of Satan’s fall at PL 1.44-5 ‘Him the almighty power | Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky.’

60 Quint 2014: 256 n. 1, with further references.

61 Fall of Phaethon: https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.71349.html
Fall of the damned: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fall_of_the_Damned

62 Bussels 2016.

63 Hardie 2002b.

64 Schiesaro 2014: 87.

65 Bate 2004.

66 Kant 2000: 144; cited by Porter 2007: 178, for its close overlap with DRN 6.

67 See also Reed 2013 on 11.497-8.

68 Griffin 1997: 201.

69 Met. 11.503-4 is the immediate model for Lucan 5.638-40 quantum Leucadio placidus de uertice pontus | despicitur, tantum nautae uidere trementes | fluctibus e summis praeceps mare, where the terror of the sailors sets in relief the sublimity of Caesar’s egotistical exultation in the storm; for discussion see Day 2013: 153.

70 For the Lucretian gaze here see Hardie 2009: 161-2.

71 Cf. also the reaction of Icarus at Ov. Ars 2.87, territus a summo despexit in aequora caelo.

72 Otis 1970: 246-51; see also Griffin 1997: 199.

73 Tarrant however deletes 600-1.

74 Farrell 2021: 52-6.

75 https://museum.wales/art/online/?action=show_item&item=2034 (The frontispiece to A. H. F. Griffin’s commentary on Met. 11.)

76 https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/richard-wilson-llyn-y-cau-cader-idris-r1105618

77 Echoes of Ceyx and Alcyone in the exile poetry: Hardie 2002c: 285-92. For a political and allegorical reading of the storm in Tristia 1.2 see Ingleheart 2006. Kröner 1970 analyses the differences between epic and elegiac storms.

78 On the ‘eternity’ of the ‘storm’ of punishment that oppresses Ovid in exile see now Schiesaro 2022: 297-300.

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Philip Hardie, « The Ovidian Sublime. Antiquity and After »Dictynna [En ligne], 19 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2022, consulté le 01 février 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/dictynna/2793 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/dictynna.2793

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Philip Hardie

Philip Hardie is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge

prh1004@cam.ac.uk

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