Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros19Ovidian Linearities

Résumé

This paper considers some implications of Ovid’s concept of a perpetuum carmen by examining how the ‘narrative line’ of the poem takes shape. I focus on how the Metamorphoses can be described in terms of horizontality, or verticality, or both, and use the Cadmus and Achelous episodes to demonstrate how ‘linear’ entities, particularly snakes and rivers, can determine the progress of the stories in which they appear.

Haut de page

Entrées d’index

Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1 Kenney 1976 offers a definitive exploration of the transmitted reading, the emendation, and their i (...)
  • 2 Barchiesi 2005 devotes almost 13 densely packed pages to the proem. Previous helpful discussions of (...)
  • 3 The term ‘narrative line’ is probably best known to readers from the work of Miller 1976.

1 In four deceptively simple verses, Ovid opens the Metamorphoses with an announcement of his intent to move in a new direction—of style, of genre, of subject-matter—and asks the gods for inspiration to help him ‘spin out a perpetual song’ (perpetuum deducite … carmen, Met. 1.4). Not surprisingly, nearly every word of this proem has undergone scholarly scrutiny, since in it Ovid manages to confound his readers regarding not one but numerous and suggestive ambiguities, complicated in at least one instance by a significant emendation.1 In the most recent and authoritative commentary on these lines,2 Alessandro Barchiesi neatly condenses the many dimensions of earlier scholarly discussion and complements them with his own contributions; rather than rehearsing that discussion here, my modest goal in this paper is to pursue further some implications of Ovid’s concept of a perpetuum carmen by considering how the ‘narrative line’ of the poem takes shape.3

  • 4 Hardie 1986: 267-68.
  • 5 Hardie 1990; Cole 2004; Feeney 2007; Farrell 2020. See also, e.g., Rosati 2002: 276-82 on chronolog (...)
  • 6 Barchiesi 2005: cxliv-cxlv (‘A ogni dato momento, in un crescendo di tensione, i personaggi che agi (...)

2 My particular focus is on how Ovid’s poem can be described in terms of horizontality, or verticality, or both. I come to the topic inspired in part by Philip Hardie’s discussion of the ‘vertical axis’ of epic, particularly of panegyric epic, with its frequent use of hyperbole, often linked with a gigantomachic poetics in which a hero’s opponents are described not simply as powerful or intimidating but as embodiments of cosmic force.4 My reading is also informed by the many discussions of chronological linearity (and its violation) in the Metamorphoses.5 Finally, I note Barchiesi’s tantalizingly brief allusion to the way in which Ovid repeatedly transgresses the boundaries between narrative action and simile: ‘At any given moment, in a crescendo of tension, the characters who act can pass over into the natural world, and narration can be made dense by description.’6 With these observations serving as points on the compass, I focus on how metaphorical lines interact with the narrative; I will conclude with a few observations on how we might use this sort of analysis to think about the larger goals of the poem, as well as some other implications.

  • 7 The central placement of the book provides the raison d’être for Crabbe’s discussion of the Metamor (...)

3 I begin with a very familiar instance of how these metaphorical lines function in the poem. In the Daedalus episode in Metamorphoses 8, near the center of the poem,7 Ovid uses a simile about the river Maeander to describe the complex and convoluted twists and turns of the Minotaur’s inescapable prison (8.159-68):

Daedalus ingenio fabrae celeberrimus artis
ponit opus turbatque notas et lumina flexum                    160
ducit in errorem uariarum ambage uiarum.
non secus ac liquidus Phrygiis Maeandros in aruis
ludit et ambiguo lapsu refluitque fluitque
occurrensque sibi uenturas aspicit undas
et nunc ad fontes, nunc ad mare uersus apertum               165
incertas exercet aquas: ita Daedalus implet
innumeras errore uias uixque ipse reuerti
ad limen potuit: tanta est fallacia tecti.

Most renowned for his talent in the builder's craft, Daedalus sets up the project and confuses the recognizable signs, and with the twisted duplicity of various paths leads the eyes into confusion. In the same way, the Phrygian Meander plays in the liquid waters, and with dual gliding flows and flows back again, and as it looks at the waters approaching runs into itself; now it urges on the uncertain streams to their source, now again to the open sea. Just so does Daedalus fill the countless paths with confusion; indeed, he himself was scarcely able to return to the threshold, so great is the deceptiveness of the edifice.

  • 8 Kenney 2009: 147. Previously, Wolfgang Iser had used the metaphor of a flowing river to describe th (...)

4E.J. Kenney, focusing on the similarity between Daedalus and Ovid himself as creators of marvelous things, describes this simile as ‘an image of the poet’s management of his narrative and of his role as creator and guide … through a literary labyrinth.’ Kenney, like Ovid himself, then luxuriates in the simile as he describes the effect of Ovid’s style on the reader: ‘Like one traveling down a great river, the reader is borne effortlessly along by a narrative current which now broadens out into a placid pool, now divagates into a picturesque backwater, now suddenly breaks into rapids or whirlpools, as the joys and sorrows of the characters are reflected in their predicaments and emotions.’8 As Kenney suggests, there is a particular pleasure to be found in navigating the twists and turns of the poem; I would add to this that the Maeander, though archetypal, is not the only river that provides such surprises. In Ovid, rivers and their flow often serve as a linear link or bridge between separate stories—but they rarely flow in a straight line. After all, Ovid has promised his readers a carmen perpetuum; but by perpetuum he does not imply the same thing as, e.g., a carmen rectum or quadratum.

5 Earlier studies of the poem’s structure have looked at patterns of repetition and recurrence, as well as the so-called Chinese box technique, to analyze the complications of narrative progress in the Metamorphoses; here, I consider instead how the subject-matter itself is crucial to the progress of the narrative, as we saw with the Meander simile. My focus will be on certain recurring objects in the poem that have a linear shape; and yet their behavior as characters within specific stories often belies both their status as objects and their linear physicality. Instead, they can be seen as textual embodiments of Ovid’s narrative technique.

  • 9 A successor to Hercules’ lion-skin, won from the Nemean lion, is later appropriated by Aeneas: see (...)
  • 10 The fifth-century historian Pherecydes of Athens reports that Athena and Ares took the teeth from t (...)
  • 11 See Barchiesi and Rosati 2007 ad loc. for details, as well as Hardie 1990.

6 I begin with the myth of Cadmus’ foundation of Thebes. The story is one of the most ‘epic’ episodes in the poem: driven into exile, Cadmus obeys the oracle of Apollo that orders him to follow a heifer that will lead him to Boeotia; there, he is to establish a new home for himself and his companions. Ovid’s narrative is filled with the sort of details that bring out its epic character, such as patronymics (Agenorides, 8, 81, 90; Agenore natus, 51; cf. 97), and that make Cadmus, clad in a lion skin, a fitting successor to characters like Hercules and Aeneas.9 The epic connections here, particularly with the Aeneid, have been detailed by Hardie, who shows that Cadmus’ battle with the snake is clearly informed not only by Jason’s battle with the Colchian bulls10 but even more so by the cosmic strife between Hercules and Cacus in Aeneid 8.11

  • 12 On recent discussion of the similarities between Asclepius’ journey from Asia minor to the coast of (...)

7 In this epic adventure, narrative progress is repeatedly blocked by a creature whose very shape indicates a potential for loss of linear control over the narrative: the snake. Not all snakes present obstacles, of course: In Books 3 and 4, snakes frame the Theban cycle, explicitly embodying the temporal sequence that moves the narrative from Cadmus’ defeat of the monstrous serpent (Met. 3.97-98) to his and Harmonia’s eventual transformation into snakes (4.563-603). And in Book 15, the journey of a herpetiform Asclepius from Epidaurus to Rome follows in the footsteps of several epic heroes, particularly those of Aeneas, in a familiar, logical, and easily mappable journey leading to the poem’s successful conclusion.12 But a snake can also be a blocking device: Ovid briefly but cleverly anticipates this function with his description of Python’s emergence from the earth after the flood in Met. 1.438-40:

illa quidem nollet, sed te quoque, maxime Python,
tum genuit populisque nouis incognita serpens
terror eras; tantum spatii de monte tenebas.

Though [the earth] was unwilling, yet she bore even you, great Python, and you were a terror to the new people, previously unknown serpent as you were; you possessed so much of the space on the mountain.

  • 13 See especially Nicoll 1980: 181 and Knox 1986: 14-17. In his subsequent boast to Cupid, Apollo reit (...)

8These three hexameters constitute the entire description of Python: the next four lines are devoted to Apollo’s victorious assault and are followed in turn by seven verses on the foundation of the Pythian games. Apollo’s triumph over his foe, in other words, gets far more attention than does the foe himself, even though the epic potential of a battle with Python is suggested by the apostrophe of Python as maxime (438) and the mention of its vast size: tantum spatii de monte tenebas (440). The physical monster, in other words, is reduced to barely a footnote in the text, and so does not really block the linear narrative after all—a narrative that immediately moves from this thwarted epic episode to the elegiacally programmatic scene of Apollo and Daphne.13

9 But let us return to Cadmus in Metamorphoses 3. There, the role of the snake as a blocking device is far more effective. The serpent dwells in a cave, and from there it watches over a spring, thus making water for libations inaccessible to Cadmus’ beleaguered companions. The snake’s hissing is ominous, as is its general appearance: it has a gold crest, eyes that flash with fire, a body swollen with venom, and a triple tongue behind three rows of teeth (3.31-34). The description recalls in general many of the features of Hesiod’s Typhoeus (Th. 820-28), though on a less detailed scale:

                                           conditus antro
Martius anguis erat, cristis praesignis et auro;
igne micant oculi, corpus tumet omne uenenis,
tresque uibrant linguae, triplici stant ordine dentes.

Hidden in the cave was the snake of Mars, marked by a golden crest; its eyes glint with fire, its entire body swells with poison, its triple tongues vibrate, and its teeth stand three-deep.

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ Τιτῆνας ἀπ᾽ οὐρανοῦ ἐξέλασεν Ζεύς,
ὁπλότατον τέκε παῖδα Τυφωέα Γαῖα πελώρη
Ταρτάρου ἐν φιλότητι διὰ χρυσέην Ἀφροδίτην·
οὗ χεῖρες † μὲν ἔασιν ἐπ᾽ ἰσχύι ἔργματ᾽ ἔχουσαι,†
καὶ πόδες ἀκάματοι κρατεροῦ θεοῦ· ἐκ δέ οἱ ὤμων
ἣν ἑκατὸν κεφαλαὶ ὄφιος, δεινοῖο δράκοντος,
γλώσσῃσι δνοφερῇσι λελιχμότες· ἐκ δέ οἱ ὄσσων
θεσπεσίῃς κεφαλῇσιν ὑπ᾽ ὀφρύσι πῦρ ἀμάρυσσεν·
πασέων δ᾽ ἐκ κεφαλέων πῦρ καίετο δερκομένοιο·

  • 14 The text is corrupt: see West 1966 on Th. 823.

And then after Zeus drove the Titans from heaven, monstrous Gaia give birth to her youngest child, Typhon, in intercourse with Tartaros thanks to golden Aphrodite; he has hands [?doing deeds in strength?],14 and the untiring feet of a powerful god; out of his shoulders came the hundred heads of a snake, a fearsome monster, licking with dark tongues; from the eyes in the awful heads fire flashed beneath the brows; and as he looked about fire blazed from all his heads...

10The Hesiodic description then turns attention to the noises made by the monster, a feature to which I shall return; but I note first Ovid’s extravagant emphasis on the awesome, and awful, verticality of the snake (41-45):

ille uolubilibus squamosos nexibus orbes
torquet et inmensos saltu sinuatur in arcus
ac media plus parte leues erectus in auras
despicit omne nemus tantoque est corpore quanto,
si totum spectes, geminas qui separat Arctos.

That one twists his scaly rings in rolling coils and with a leap curves into vast arcs, and having raised himself by more than half his size into the light breezes he looks down upon the entire grove, and his body is of as great a size as the snake that separates the two bears, if you could see him in his entirety.

11The image of an erect snake is a familiar one to any reader of Latin poetry; but this one towers so loftily that it looks down from above on the grove it inhabits. In fact, the size and verticality of the snake are so great that the effect is virtually incomprehensible—so great, says Ovid, as he draws ‘you’ the reader into the poem (spectes), that if only you could see this serpent in its entirety you would realize that it is as big as the snake (i.e., the constellation Anguis) that lies between the two bears.

  • 15 Further on the variant versions of the myth, Gantz 1993: 726-29.
  • 16 See Barchiesi and Rosati 2007 on Met. 3.59 for a detailed discussion of the appearance of the Virgi (...)

12 The simile comparing the snake to a constellation effectively captures both the sheer vastness and the verticality of the snake; it is no surprise that this can block Cadmus’ path, as well as the ‘flow’ of the narrative. Simultaneously, the simile draws attention to its own blocking function: the reference to the twin Arctos creates a momentary misdirection back to the story of Callisto and her son Arcas (Met. 2.505-7, arcuit omnipotens pariterque ipsosque nefasque | sustulit et pariter raptos per inania uento | inposuit caelo uicinaque sidera fecit).15 It also draws attention to its own ability to distract us from the central narrative line—for we soon discover that, while the serpent noisily shreds Cadmus’ companions, Cadmus himself is unaware of what has been happening. Did he not hear all that hissing (horrenda sibila, 38)? In any case, our hero sets out to find them, only to come upon the snake looming over their corpses and licking their wounds. Again its size and verticality are prominent: uictoremque supra spatiosi tergoris hostem (56). In recognition of his opponent’s size and its altitude, Cadmus hurls a huge stone, a lapis molaris—an unusual and distinctly Virgilian weapon (Aen. 8.250)16 that enhances Cadmus’ heroic stature—but an implied comparison suggests that the snake is higher, and tougher, than city walls and towers (55-64):

ut nemus intrauit letataque corpora uidit
uictoremque supra spatiosi corporis hostem
tristia sanguinea lambentem uulnera lingua,
‘aut ultor uestrae, fidissima pectora, mortis,
aut comes’ inquit ‘ero.’ dixit dextraque molarem
sustulit et magnum magno conamine misit.
illius impulsu cum turribus ardua celsis
moenia mota forent
; serpens sine uulnere mansit,
loricaeque modo squamis defensus et atrae
duritia pellis ualidos cute reppulit ictus.

As he entered the grove and saw the murdered corpses and the victorious enemy, of vast size, on high, licking with his bloody tongue the pitiable wounds, he said, ‘I shall be either the avenger, faithful souls, of your death—or your companion.’ He spoke, and with his right hand he raised a massive millstone and with a massive effort threw it. At its impact, the steep walls of a city, along with their lofty towers, would have been moved; but the snake remained unharmed, and with the protection of scales like armor and the toughness of its dark skin it repelled the powerful blows from its hide.

13The hyperbolic comparison to city walls and machines of war, like the earlier comparison to the heavenly Anguis, underscores the threat posed by the snake. Immediately after this, however, the tide turns, as Cadmus strikes with a javelin, iaculum (65); because this, unlike the millstone, can penetrate the snake’s exterior, it is able to cause internal damage. The javelin, in its horizontality and linearity, serves to straighten out the narrative flow that had been contorted and effectively blocked by the snake, and to restore its epic progress; the snake, meanwhile, now blocks only itself, as it tries with only partial success to wrench the javelin out of its body. Similes again illustrate the effort, combining allusions to two other types of blocking devices that are now, conversely, unleashed (77-80):

ipse modo immensum spiris facientibus orbem
cingitur, interdum longa trabe rectior adstat,
impete nunc uasto ceu concitus imbribus amnis
fertur et obstantes proturbat pectore siluas.

Now the snake himself is encircled, his coils creating a vast ring, and now he stands straighter than the long shaft of a tree; now with vast force, like a river driven by rains, he is carried along, and with his chest pushes forward the forest of trees in his path.

  • 17 Fontenrose 1959: 311.

14First the snake is compared to a lofty tree, appearing to stand firm as it illustrates the rigidity of the erect snake—but now, the creature is undone by its own spirals, and is driven along like a flooding river that takes down the trees in its path. In place of a blocked narrative, the snake—and the story—are now pushing forward both the story and its readers, almost but not quite out of control. The comparison here comes close to suggesting a sort of shape-shifting on the snake’s part, as he appears first as a tree, and then as a river—as Joseph Fontenrose says in reference to Ovid’s snake (whom he calls Drakon), ‘Drakon’s watery nature is seen chiefly in the spring that he guards, but there is more than simile in Ovid’s comparison of the charging Drakon to a river in flood.’17 I offer a slight modification of Fontenrose’s comment, since the comparison in fact has a simile as its model, in Aratus (Ph. 45-47):

οἵη ποταμοῖο ἀπορρὼξ
εἰλεῖται μέγα θαῦμα, ΔΡΑΚΩΝ, περί τ᾿ ἀμφί τ᾿ ἐαγὼς
μυρίος·

As if it were the branch of a river
winds Draco, a great marvel,
infinite its twisting around and about …

  • 18 Kidd 1997 on Ph. 46-62.

15Interestingly, in his commentary on the Aratean passage D. Kidd notes that ‘the scholia variously identify [Draco] with the snakes killed by Cadmus and Apollo, and the snake that guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides’18; Ovid thus appears not only to be alluding to such a tradition but also inviting a slippage between simile and narrative, that creates even more opportunities for a kind of shape-shifting that goes on throughout the Metamorphoses.

16 I return to this observation shortly. But the story of Thebes’ founding is not quite finished—nor is Cadmus. Having lost his javelin he now turns to a spear (cuspide praetenta, 83) in another gesture that effectively reinstates linear narrative. The two opponents then go back and forth to little effect until Cadmus can make the snake’s size and shape work for him: as the snake tries to avoid the blows by pulling back, it finds its own path vertically blocked—by an oak tree. When the snake backs into the tree, Cadmus sends his spear home, through the snake’s neck and into the tree, so that they are fastened together and fixed in place (90-94):

donec Agenorides coniectum in guttura ferrum
usque sequens pressit, dum retro quercus eunti
obstitit et fixa est pariter cum robore ceruix.
pondere serpentis curuata est arbor et ima
parte flagellari gemuit sua robora caudae.

--until the son of Agenor, in pursuit, drove all the way into the snake’s throat the spear he had thrown, until from behind an oak obstructed the snake as he went; and his neck was pierced jointly with the wood. The tree was bent down by the snake’s weight, and groaned that its strength was being lashed by the lowest part of the tail.

  • 19 We might also be tempted to read the conclusion of 94 (sua robora caudae) as a pun, or even a set o (...)

17In other words, the epic linearity of Cadmus’ spear has forced the blocking device embodied by the snake to be thwarted by its very own twists and turns. The snake no longer controls the course of the narrative, and with its loss of blocking ability it allows the narrative to proceed. Now immobilized, the snake has instead become a sort of monimentum to its own defeat—as well as a recursive reminder of what lies in store for Cadmus himself.19

  • 20 Barchiesi 1989: 50-55; see also Hinds 1987. Note also tumet at Met. 3.33, describing the snake’s po (...)

18 No character in the Metamorphoses blocks the narrative, as well as other characters, more effectively than Achelous, the most demanding and insistent shape-shifter in the poem—although when the river-god is first introduced Ovid focuses not on his shape-shifting but on his paradoxically watery embodiment. The episode opens with a characterization of Achelous as imbre tumens (Met. 8.550), a description that, as both Barchiesi and Stephen Hinds have noted, immediately recalls Callimachus’ description of the Assyrian river at the close of the Hymn to Apollo: it is indeed a great river, but in the vastness of its flow it carries with it mud and every sort of debris (h. 2.108-9).20 In fact, Achelous confirms the appropriateness of this comparison with his speech inviting the young hero Theseus and his companions, homeward bound after the Calydonian boar hunt but delayed by the flooding river, to pass the long wait in the river’s cave (Met. 8.549-59):

clausit iter fecitque moras Achelous eunti
imbre tumens. ‘succede meis,’ ait, ‘inclite, tectis,         550
Cecropide, nec te committe rapacibus undis.
ferre trabes solidas obliquaque uoluere magno
murmure saxa solent. uidi contermina ripae
cum gregibus stabula alta trahi, nec fortibus illic
profuit armentis nec equis uelocibus esse.                  555
multa quoque hic torrens niuibus de monte solutis
corpora turbineo iuuenalia uertice mersit.
tutior est requies, solito dum flumina currant
limite, dum tenues capiat suus alueus undas.’

Achelous, swollen with rain, closed off their journey and caused a delay. ‘O famous descendant of Cecrops,’ he said, ‘withdraw into my home, and don’t entrust yourself to the rapacious waves. They have a habit of carrying away solid tree-trunks and of overturning stones sidelong with a great roar. I myself have seen lofty animal-pens adjacent to the bank being pulled along together with their flocks, and it didn’t help the oxen at all to be strong or the horses to be swift. When the mountain snows have melted, this flood has even drowned in its swirling whirlpool many young men. Rest is safer, until the rivers run along their usual bounds, and the water’s bed can contain the slender streams.’

  • 21 Hollis 1970 on Met. 8.549ff. In a discussion of the Pentheus episode of Metamorphoses 3, McNamara 2 (...)
  • 22 See also Aen. 1.101, of bodies floating in the rivers in Troy. On Met. 8.557 (iuuenalia), Hollis 19 (...)

19Two features of this speech are especially relevant to this discussion. First, while presenting itself as purely informative, Achelous’ speech is in fact a thinly-veiled threat: as he describes the flooding water’s dangerous ability to carry off all sorts of objects—trees, rocks, animals and their stalls—this river, even more forceful than the cyclic epic it recalls, carries off the very stuff of poetry itself. But he mentions all this as if he were simply a ‘detached spectator’ of the destruction, as Adrian Hollis puts it, rather than the destroyer himself—note uidi (553).21 And embedded within this general threat lies another that is far more pointed, albeit apparently unnoticed by the internal audience: his periphrastic mention of ‘youthful bodies,’ corpora iuuenalia (557) overwhelmed in the waves, could easily include, mutatis mutandis, Theseus and his companions themselves.22

  • 23 Kenney 2011 ad loc. (‘linguaggio epico formale’).

20 Achelous’ invitation is a brilliant example of how a talented rhetorician can say two very different things at once. His speech is framed by two pairs of hexameters that promise protection and safety, while ensuring that the young Theseus will submit: the vocative inclite … Cecropide (550-51), a ‘formal, epic’ expression,23 as Kenney comments, provides explicit acknowledgement of Theseus’ heroic status by singling him out—although, as we learn elsewhere in the episode, he is not alone, but with some fellow boar-hunters. And in suggesting that Theseus rest, Achelous is also simultaneously rationalizing the narrative blockage that he embodies, and so, at least temporarily, putting Theseus’ heroism on hold.

  • 24 Crabbe 1981: 2288-89; Myers 1994: 90-91.

21 After this initial indication of his narrative authority, the epic river proceeds to narrate an aetiological tale about his pursuit of the nymph Perimele and her transformation. Anna Crabbe has demonstrated that this tale, along with the following stories told as Theseus and his comrades wait out the flood, is very likely Callimachean in origin;24 with its erotic content, furthermore, this story is distinctively non-epic. Yet Achelous portrays his own involvement in ludicrously hyperbolic tones, effectively belying the pose of detachment in his earlier assertion of ‘objective bystander’ status vis-à-vis the flooding river (Met. 8.583-89):

‘intumui, quantusque feror cum plurimus umquam
tantus eram pariterque animis immanis et undis
a siluis siluas et ab aruis arua reuelli,      
cumque loco nymphas memores tum denique nostri
in freta prouolui. fluctus nosterque marisque
continuam diduxit humum partesque resoluit
in totidem, mediis quot cernis Echinadas undis.’

‘I swelled, and am carried along as great and as full as I have ever been, and equally fearsome in wrath and in flood-water I tore forests from forests and fields from fields, and together with their home I swept away into the waves the nymphs, now at last mindful of me. My water, with that of the sea, split the undivided earth and reformed it into as many separate parts as those of the Echinades islands which you now see in the middle of the sea.’

  • 25 An ‘inside joke’ on Ovid’s part—that is, a comment on his own fictive powers as a poet that is embe (...)

22The language of ‘swelling’ (intumuit) is both literal and figurative here: the river-god swells with rage and swells with water simultaneously, and so indicates what he is prepared to do to any would-be opponent who blocks his course or disrespects him. The risk of this happening flares up momentarily when Pirithous challenges not only the power of the god to change forms but fictionality itself (612-15),25 only to be silenced in turn by the pious Lelex, who restores the delicate balance of hospitality by narrating the miraculous transformation of Baucis and Philemon, rewarded for their piety (618-724). Theseus and his other comrades appear, wisely, to understand their own precarious situation, and through the remainder of Metamorphoses 8 Achelous controls the narrative.

  • 26 See Hopkinson 1984, Introduction, for a detailed analysis of the sources for this episode and of th (...)
  • 27 Like Cadmus’ snake, Achelous finds his prototype in Hesiod’s Typhoeus, who blocks the progress of a (...)

23 Indeed, Lelex’ tale of mortal piety appears to embolden the river-god, who takes up the narrative theme of ‘the miraculous deeds of the gods’ (facta …| mira deum, 726-27) by introducing several tales involving shape-shifting: first, the tale of Proteus (730-37), told briefly, and then, at much greater length, the tale of Mestra, daughter of one of the gods’ greatest detractors, Erysichthon (738-878).26 The latter of these in particular allows Achelous to develop his central theme, the power of the gods to avenge themselves when humans attempt to belittle them; it also provides an apparently natural segue to the book’s conclusion, in which Achelous describes his own shape-shifting abilities (Met. 8.879-84)27:

 ‘Quid moror externis? etiam mihi nempe nouandi est
corporis, o iuuenis, numero finita potestas.  
nam modo qui nunc sum uideor, modo flector in anguem,
armenti modo dux uires in cornua sumo—
cornua, dum potui. nunc pars caret altera telo
frontis, ut ipse uides.’ gemitus sunt uerba secuti.

‘Why do I delay on others’ business? Young man, I too have the power, albeit limited in scope, of transforming my shape. For now I appear as who I am, and now I twist into a snake, and now as leader of the herd I draw strength into my horns—horns, that is, while I could. Now one side of my forehead is missing its weapon, as you yourself see.’ Groans followed his speech.

  • 28 His ability to shift shapes is first described in some detail by Sophocles’ Deianira, noting his ch (...)

24His rhetorical question—’why do I delay?’—is a familiar transitional formula; simultaneously, the single word moror, echoing the phrase fecitque moras with which the entire episode had begun (Met. 8.549), confirms the means he has used to control the last third of the book. Yet even the suggestion that he intends now to allow the narrative to proceed is qualified by his comparison of himself to other shape-shifting characters: at times, he appears in aquatic form, as he does now, but on other occasions he has become a snake, and yet on others, a bull. The last of these is the form that creates a link to the opening of Book 9, his battle with Hercules over Deianira.28 But notice the linking here of water and snake as modes of deception and control: as we saw with the Cadmus tale, both can move the narrative forward in a linear manner, as their own bodies do; but both can also take vertical, or hyperbolic, form to block its progress, and make it difficult for the reader—and the narrative—to proceed.

25 I have used this linear mode of reading to make sense of how Ovid constructs his narrative in the context of a few individual stories; but its replication throughout the poem mirrors not only the way in which Ovid undermines his reader’s expectations, but also how he undercuts the possibility of a triumphalist reading of the poem as a whole. However convoluted their progress, in the end these individual narratives are not singular—and in the end, there is no end. The heroic drive forward—a drive represented in the Metamorphoses by a narrative that progresses from the beginning of time to the present in an apparently linear mode—is constantly compelled to stop and to recalibrate its own escape route. Often, in fact, Ovid sends us back in our tracks: the blocking that challenges characters within the poem similarly challenges the reader’s experience of the text, leaving us to doubt any expression of permanence that is not simultaneously an expression of defeat.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Barchiesi, A. 1989. ‘Voci e istanze narrative nelle Metamorfosi di Ovidio.’ MD 23: 55-97.

Barchiesi, A. 1994. Il poeta e il principe: Ovidio e il discorso augusteo. Rome and Bari: Laterza.

Barchiesi, A., ed. 2005. Ovidio, Metamorfosi. Vol. 1: Libri I–II. Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla.

Barchiesi, A. and G. Rosati, eds. 2007. Ovidio, Metamorfosi Volume II: Libri III-IV. Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla.

Boyd, B.W. 2006. ‘Two Rivers and the Reader in Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.’ TAPA 136: 171-206.

Boyd, B.W. 2018. Ovid’s Homer: Authority, Repetition, and Reception. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cole, T. 2004. ‘Ovid, Varro, and Castor of Rhodes: The Chronological Architecture of the Metamorphoses.’ HSCP 102: 355–422.

Coleman, R. 1971. ‘Structure and Intention in the Metamorphoses.’ CQ 21: 461-77.

Crabbe, A. 1981. ‘Structure and Content in Ovid's Metamorphoses.ANRW 2.31.4: 2274-2327.

Fantham, E. 1993. ‘Sunt quibus in plures ius est transire figuras: Ovid's Self-Transformers in the Metamorphoses.’ CW 87: 21-36.

Farrell, J. 2020. ‘Ovidian Synchronisms.’ CJ 115: 324-38.

Feeney, D.C. 2007. Caesar's Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Fontenrose, J. 1959. Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and Its Origins. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gransden, K.W., ed. 1976. Virgil, Aeneid Book VIII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hardie, P. 1986. Virgil’s Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hardie, P. 1990. ‘Ovid’s Theban History: The First ‘Anti-Aeneid’?’ CQ 40: 224-35.

Heyworth, S. 1994. ‘Some Allusions to Callimachus in Latin Poetry.’ MD 33: 51-79.

Hinds, S. 1987. ‘Generalising about Ovid.’ Ramus 16: 4-31.

Hollis, A., ed. 1970. Ovid, Metamorphoses Book VIII. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hopkinson, N., ed. 1984. Callimachus: Hymn to Demeter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hunter, R., ed. 1989. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica Book III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Iser, W. 1980. ‘The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.’ In J.P. Tompkins, ed., Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, 50-69. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kenney, E.J. 1976. ‘Ovidius Prooemians.’ PCPhS 22: 46-53.

Kenney, E.J. 2009. ‘The Metamorphoses: A Poet’s Poem.’ In P.E. Knox, ed., A Companion to Ovid, 140-53. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Kenney, E.J., ed. 2011. Ovidio, Metamorfosi Volume IV: Libri VII-IX. Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla.

Kidd, D., ed. 1997. Aratus: Phaenomena. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Knox, P.E. 1986. Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Traditions of Augustan Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Köhnken, L. 1981. ‘Apollo’s Retort to Envy’s Criticism (Two Questions of Relevance in Callimachus, Hymn 2, 105ff.).’ AJP 102: 411-22.

Ludwig, W. 1965. Struktur und Einheit der Metamorphosen Ovids. Berlin: De Gruyter.

McNamara, J. 2010. ‘The Frustration of Pentheus: Narrative Momentum in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 3.511-731.’ CQ 60: 173-93.

Miller, J.H. 1976. ‘Ariadne’s Thread: Repetition and the Narrative Line.’ Critical Inquiry 3: 57-77.

Myers, K.S. 1994. Ovid's Causes. Cosmogony and Aetiology in the Metamorphoses. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Nicoll, W.S.M. 1980. ‘Cupid, Apollo, and Daphne (Ovid, Met. 1.452ff.).’ CQ 30: 174-82.

Rosati, G. 2002. ‘Narrative Techniques and Narrative Structures in the Metamorphoses.’ In B.W. Boyd, ed., Brill's Companion to Ovid, 271-304. Leiden, Boston, and Cologne: Brill.

Tsitsiou-Chelidoni, C. 2003. Ovid Metamorphosen Buch VIII. Narrative Technik und literarische Kontext. Frankfurt: Lang.

West, M.L., ed. 1966. Hesiod: Theogony. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zissos, A. and I. Gildenhard. 1999. ‘Problems of Time in Metamorphoses 2.’ In P. Hardie, A. Barchiesi, and S. Hinds, eds., Ovidian Transformations. Essays on Ovid's Metamorphoses and Its Reception, 31-47. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Haut de page

Notes

1 Kenney 1976 offers a definitive exploration of the transmitted reading, the emendation, and their implications.

2 Barchiesi 2005 devotes almost 13 densely packed pages to the proem. Previous helpful discussions of the issues surrounding the term carmen perpetuum are presented by Ludwig 1965, Coleman 1971, and Heyworth 1994.

3 The term ‘narrative line’ is probably best known to readers from the work of Miller 1976.

4 Hardie 1986: 267-68.

5 Hardie 1990; Cole 2004; Feeney 2007; Farrell 2020. See also, e.g., Rosati 2002: 276-82 on chronological vs. analogical organization in the Metamorphoses, and Zissos and Gildenhard 1999 on temporal inconsistencies in Book 2.

6 Barchiesi 2005: cxliv-cxlv (‘A ogni dato momento, in un crescendo di tensione, i personaggi che agiscono possono trapassare nel mondo naturale, e la narrazione si può rapprendere in descrizione’).

7 The central placement of the book provides the raison d’être for Crabbe’s discussion of the Metamorphoses’ structure (1981); see further Tsitsiou-Chelidoni 2003 and Boyd 2006.

8 Kenney 2009: 147. Previously, Wolfgang Iser had used the metaphor of a flowing river to describe the fundamentals of storytelling, seeing in a river’s twists and turns a sort of frustration or blockage of narrative progress (1980: 54-55). Iser’s use of the metaphor of narrative flow, and its exceptional appropriateness to the blockage created by the river Maeander in Ovid’s simile, offers a model for reading the poem as a whole: see the more extensive discussion of this phenomenon in Book 8 in Boyd 2006. Cf. also Miller 1976: 60: ‘The motif, image, concept, or formal model of the line, … far from being a “clue” to the labyrinth, turns out … to be itself the labyrinth.’

9 A successor to Hercules’ lion-skin, won from the Nemean lion, is later appropriated by Aeneas: see Aen. 2.722, 8.177 with Gransden 1976 ad loc., and 8.552; on the lion-skin in Herculean iconography see Gantz 1993: 383-84.

10 The fifth-century historian Pherecydes of Athens reports that Athena and Ares took the teeth from the snake slain by Cadmus and gave half to Cadmus and half to Aeetes; the latter employed them in an attempt to prevent Jason from capturing the Golden Fleece (3 F 22). See also Apollonius, Argon. 3.1175-82, with Hunter 1989 on 3.1179-82.

11 See Barchiesi and Rosati 2007 ad loc. for details, as well as Hardie 1990.

12 On recent discussion of the similarities between Asclepius’ journey from Asia minor to the coast of Italy and that of Aeneas, see Boyd 2018: 139-41.

13 See especially Nicoll 1980: 181 and Knox 1986: 14-17. In his subsequent boast to Cupid, Apollo reiterates the central aspects of Python’s character, vast size and epic appropriateness: pestifero tot iugera uentre prementem |… tumidum Pythaona, Met. 1.459-60. On tumidus etc. as a mark of anti-Callimacheanism, see below, n. 20.

14 The text is corrupt: see West 1966 on Th. 823.

15 Further on the variant versions of the myth, Gantz 1993: 726-29.

16 See Barchiesi and Rosati 2007 on Met. 3.59 for a detailed discussion of the appearance of the Virgilian (lapis) molaris in the Ovidian episode.

17 Fontenrose 1959: 311.

18 Kidd 1997 on Ph. 46-62.

19 We might also be tempted to read the conclusion of 94 (sua robora caudae) as a pun, or even a set of puns: the very last word, ‘tail,’ can also indicate the very end of anything (OLD s.v. 3)—as it is here the end of the battle; but it is also cognate with the noun caudex, which can mean ‘book’ (OLD s.v. 2); cf. Barchiesi 1994: 256-58 for another example of etymological and reflexive wordplay involving snakes and books. Additionally, caudex is a word for a tree stump, to which in some instances delinquents might be fastened (Prop. 4.7.44; OLD s.v. 1b)—thus, a fitting ‘stopping point’ for this snake’s progress. Robur, meanwhile, here refers properly (and reflexively) to the strength of the tree’s trunk as it groans, but also hints at the strength of the snake, even as the tree is bent and tree and snake become one.

20 Barchiesi 1989: 50-55; see also Hinds 1987. Note also tumet at Met. 3.33, describing the snake’s poison-filled body, and tumidum in Apollo’s description of Python (Met. 1.460; see discussion above). On the interpretation of the Callimachean passage, see Köhnken 1981.

21 Hollis 1970 on Met. 8.549ff. In a discussion of the Pentheus episode of Metamorphoses 3, McNamara 2010: 191-92 comments on an unusual use of uidi by the poet-narrator as he recalls Pentheus’ rage at the Thebans’ reaction to Bacchus: the narrator recalls having witnessed a destructive river in flood, the violence of which resembles Pentheus’ growing anger (Met. 3.566-71). The combination of a simile and a claim of autopsy (uidi) provides a prototype for Achelous, which underscores the repetitiousness of the river-god’s narrative.

22 See also Aen. 1.101, of bodies floating in the rivers in Troy. On Met. 8.557 (iuuenalia), Hollis 1970 comments: ‘i.e. even men in the prime of life, as are the hunters,’ but he does not develop the irony.

23 Kenney 2011 ad loc. (‘linguaggio epico formale’).

24 Crabbe 1981: 2288-89; Myers 1994: 90-91.

25 An ‘inside joke’ on Ovid’s part—that is, a comment on his own fictive powers as a poet that is embedded within a story within a story at the center of the poem: see Kenney 2011 on Met. 8.614-15.

26 See Hopkinson 1984, Introduction, for a detailed analysis of the sources for this episode and of the way in which Ovid manipulates them. Generally on Ovid’s shapeshifters, see Fantham 1993.

27 Like Cadmus’ snake, Achelous finds his prototype in Hesiod’s Typhoeus, who blocks the progress of any would-be opponents through sound-shifting (Th. 829-35). Typhoeus does not in fact shift shapes, but his changing sounds are an invitation to imagine a shifting appearance: he sounds first like a roaring bull, then like a proud lion, then like dogs— ‘a pack of whelps,’ to quote West 1966 ad loc.—and last, he makes a hissing sound that is produced by his snakes’ heads (West 1966 notes ad loc. that a cognate of the verb meaning ‘to hiss’ is used of a snake by Apollonius at Argon. 4.138 and 1543). Again, there is a kind of implied simile here, with Typhoeus himself controlling the effect; at the very end of the list of sounds, furthermore, the snake’s monstrous size is emphasized anew along with his sound, as the mountains are said to resound beneath him.

28 His ability to shift shapes is first described in some detail by Sophocles’ Deianira, noting his changes from bull to snake to a man’s body with a bull’s head: Tr. 9-14.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Barbara Weiden Boyd, « Ovidian Linearities »Dictynna [En ligne], 19 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2022, consulté le 01 février 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/dictynna/2855 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/dictynna.2855

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0

Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search