Iphis’ Hair, Io’s Reflection, and the Gender Dysphoria of the Metamorphoses
Sep 10, ISBN The closest thing to a central character is love itself—a confounding, transforming, irrational force that makes fools of gods and mortals alike. Frequently translated, imitated, and adapted, The Metamorphoses has lost none of its power to provoke and entertain.
Ovid—Publius Ovidius Naso— 43 bce—ce 17 or 18 was born into a wealthy Roman family and became the most distinguished poet of his time. He died in exile on the Black Sea, far from Rome and his literary life. It throws off the stiff and mild homogeneity of former translations and exposes the vivid colors of mockery, laughter, and poison woven so beautifully by the master. The number and variety of the metamorphoses are stunning: gods and goddesses, heroes and nymphs, mortal men and women are changed into wolves and bears, frogs and pigs, bulls and cows, deer and birds, trees and flowers, rocks and rivers, spiders and snakes, mountains and stars, while ships become sea nymphs, ants and stones and statues become people, men become women and vice versa.
An elegantly entertaining and enthralling narrative. As the offspring of the Age of Iron, we must endure and struggle against corruption, brutality and injustice. Ovid experienced a world of chaos and iron firsthand when, in AD 8, he was banished by Augustus. Interestingly, the third volume was written for women — quite a revolutionary move in view of the gender inequality in the twilight years of the 1st century BC.
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What irritated Augustus sufficiently enough to relegate the poet to the middle of nowhere was his perception that the Ars Amatoria made a mockery of his moral reforms. Not one for frolic, Augustus had spearheaded and implemented a series of legislative campaigns that raised the moral bar for the goodly citizens of Rome. Adultery, while always illegal in Rome, was made especially so under the watchful eye of the emperor and legal ramifications were more actively enforced than in previous decades. The mistake that Ovid mentions is more difficult to identify — with scholarly opinions differing on what it was Ovid actually did to offend Augustus.
Tomis, at the very edges of the Roman Empire, was regarded as a barbaric, frightening and uncivilised place. For the optimal punishment of Ovid, Augustus chose his location well, and he never reneged on his decision.
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This may not initially appear to have any bearing on its content or intent, yet Richlin suggests a profound relevance:. Rape is undoubtedly the most controversial and confronting theme of the Metamorphoses. It is the ultimate manifestation of male power in the poem and the hundreds of transformations that occur are often the means of escaping it. An early tale of attempted rape is narrated in Book I, involving the nymph, Daphne and the god, Apollo.
Intent on raping Daphne, Apollo chases her through the forest until, utterly exhausted, she calls out to her father, the river god Peneus to rescue her:. Destroy the shape, which pleases too well, with transformation! The tale of Daphne and Apollo, like so many stories in the Metamorphoses, is classified as an aetiological myth; that is, a narrative that explains an origin. But, as the excerpt above testifies, it is so much more than that.
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During the last few years, the Metamorphoses has been challenged as a legitimate text for tertiary Humanities students. Defying the hundreds of years of pedagogical tradition that has seen the poem set for both Latin students and, more recently, literary students who study it in translation, the Metamorphoses has not only been interrogated by scholars such as Richlin, but has also been the subject of increased student complaints and calls for trigger-warnings. In response to the growing number of objections to the work, academic and university executives have been called on to take a position — not only in relation to the Metamorphoses, but in response to other materials that are perceived to render the tertiary experience unsafe.
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The Chancellor at Oxford, Chris Patten, has been quoted as saying that history cannot be rewritten to suit contemporary western morals. Equally as important to the debate, and the decisions that may ultimately result from it, is the life-experience of every individual in the classroom. Amid a class of students taking notes from a lecture on the Metamorphoses, for example, may be a rape survivor. Current statistics from the United States in particular suggest that the likelihood of this is exceptionally high. Emerging statistics from across Australia are painting a similar picture.
Such a situation requires alertness and sensitivity when handling texts such as the Metamorphoses. What would such measures ultimately achieve? Would it augment safe spaces? The work is a collection of mythological and legendary stories, many taken from Greek sources, in which transformation metamorphosis plays a role, however minor.
The stories, which are unrelated, are told in chronological order from the creation of the world the first metamorphosis , of chaos into order to the death and deification of Julius Caesar the culminating metamorphosis.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3.511-733
The importance of the theme of metamorphosis is more apparent than real; passion is the essential theme of the poem, and passion imparts more unity to the work than do the transformation devices employed by Ovid. The work is noted for its wit, rhetorical brilliance, and narrative and descriptive qualities. Article Media. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback.
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