Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One endless night

From Arthur Golding's 1567 Metamorphoses, Bk I.712 ff:

But as Cyllenius would have tolde this tale, he cast his sight
On Argus, and beholde his eyes had bid him all good night.
There was not one that did not sleepe, and fast he gan to nodde,
Immediately he ceast his talke, and with his charmed rodde,
So stroked all his heavie eyes that earnestly they slept.
Then with his Woodknife by and by he lightly to him stept,
And lent him such a perlous blowe, where as the shoulders grue
Unto the necke, that straight his heade quite from the bodie flue.
Then tombling downe the headlong hill his bloudie coarse he sent,
That all the way by which he rolde was stayned and besprent.
There lyest thou Argus under foote, with all thy hundreth lights,
And all the light is cleane extinct that was within those sights.
One endelesse night thy hundred eyes hath nowe bereft for aye,

Fábula de Mercurio y Argos, Diego Velázquez, 1659

Monday, March 28, 2011

Elements of Book II

If Book I of Metamorphoses foregrounded rivers, water, earth, and a surfeit of embracing wetness, Book II is far more concerned with fire and air, with an excess of heat, and with those who think to "rise too high."

Theoi's table of contents for Book II -- click on the numbers to go to the tales:


1. Phaethon
2. Callisto & Jupiter
3. Coronis & Apollo
4. Ocyroe & Aesculapius
5. Battus & Mercury
6. Aglauros & Mercury
7. Europa & Jupiter

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The wild ride of Phaethon

The tale of Phaethon refusing to listen to his father, Helios, whose arguments against supplanting the Sun would naturally persuade any balanced mind, offers Ovid the opportunity to pull out all the stops. Anyone reading this and not experiencing the vertigo of a very wild roller coaster is missing all the fun. (Hint: If it's not disorienting enough, read it again - it gets more dizzying with each reading).

The story is a literal dis-orientation - a loss of the track of the sun, with lethal consequences.Worth pondering, among much else, is the description of the doors of the sun's palace, and the figures of time, the seasons, that appear to either side of Helios's throne.

More about Helios - according to Homeric Hymn #31, he is the son of Hyperion ("he who goes above") and Thea (seeing) or Euryphaessa (wide-shining):
Sing of glowing Helios whom mild-eyed Euryphaessa, the far-shining one, bare to the Son of Earth and starry Heaven. For Hyperion wedded glorious Euryphaessa, [5] his own sister, who bare him lovely children, rosy-armed Eos and rich-tressed Selene and tireless Helios who is like the deathless gods. As he rides in his chariot, he shines upon men and deathless gods, and piercingly he gazes with his eyes [10] from his golden helmet. Bright rays beam dazzlingly from him, and his bright locks streaming from the temples of his head gracefully enclose his far-seen face: a rich, fine-spun garment glows upon his body and flutters in the wind: and stallions carry him. [15] Then, when he has stayed his golden-yoked chariot and horses, [15a] he rests there upon the highest point of heaven, until he marvelously drives them down again through heaven to Ocean

Also: why does the story end in certain changes -- to poplar and amber, for the Heliades, and to a swan, for Cycnus?

A note about Helios and Apollo:

HELIUS EQUATED WITH APOLLON (found here - scroll down quite a bit)

Apollon was identified with the sun-god Helios by a few early Greek poets and philosophers. However, it was really only the Latin poets, such as Ovid, Virgil and Seneca, who truly conflated the gods. Even in poets like Ovid, however, it is worth noting that the sun-god is often titled "Phoebus," but never directly referred to as "Apollo." Further, the same poets who mention Phoebus the sun, often call him "Hyperionides" (the son of Hyperion), and "Titan" (the Titan god) in the same passage. The name "Apollo," on the other hand, is used almost exclusively for non-solar references, i.e. Apollon as the god of music, oracles and poetry.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Springer on Ovid

Classics Prof Carl Springer offers a five-minute intro to Ovid and the Metamorphoses:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Not Ovid but ...

Correggio's Io

Jupiter and Io (c. 1531)

Antonio Allegri da Correggio (August 1489 – March 5, 1534), usually known as Correggio, was the foremost painter of the Parma school of the Italian Renaissance, who was responsible for some of the most vigorous and sensuous works of the 16th century. In his use of dynamic composition, illusionistic perspective and dramatic foreshortening, Correggio prefigured the Rococo art of the 18th century.
...Aside from his religious output, Correggio conceived a now-famous set of paintings depicting the Loves of Jupiter as described in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The voluptuous series was commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga of Mantua, probably to decorate his private Ovid Room in the Palazzo Te. However, they were given to the visiting Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and thus left Italy within years of their completion.
Arline shared this and a few other Renaissance works I'll be posting as we go along.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Heilig's Interlinear Trot

Back in the days of high school Latin, "trots" were all the rage. These interlinear translations, available for the major Roman authors -- Virgil in particular -- were much sought after and prized.

For those interested in the intricacies of Ovid's native tongue, it seems there's an 1889 trot for several selections from the Metamorphoses by George W. Heilig, available, praised be Google, here as a Google book that can be accessed online and searched, or downloaded to your hard drive as a .pdf file.

For some reason I find that a trot helps me "see" certain words that previously were somehow invisible - not only in the English translators, but also somehow I've missed them in the Latin text. One example is the word sollertia (skill, shrewdness, ingenuity, dexterity, adroitness, expertness) in the passage about Deucalion and Pyrrha. I've checked a few translators, and none has captured Deucalion's use of sollertia here:
More's rendering (on the Perseus site) seems closest (compare your translation):
Oracles are just
and urge not evil deeds, or naught avails
the skill of thought.
Deucalion is saying humans have a gift, or skill, or adroitness, which if truly a gift ought not to be useless. But such a skill would be useless if the Oracle were telling us literally to find our actual mothers' bones and toss them behind our heads. So we must use our sollertia to find another way to understand this. Trusting the Oracle, in other words, means submitting to the necessity of discovering her meaning "in other words" - which happens to be the root meaning of allegory.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cryptic Crossroads: Deucalion's Dilemma

Deucalion's speech to Pyrrha is remarkable for several reasons. In it one hears a note that will return at various moments in later centuries. The flood, reaching its maximum, has erased everything -- all life, and all landmarks, except the muddy peak of Parnassus.
when Deucalion saw its emptiness, and the deep silence of the desolate lands, he spoke to Pyrrha,
Ovid's concision here is remarkable -- in a few words, he conveys the isolation and uncertainty of human beings in a vast world which is now not merely empty, but deeply silent and contingent:
And even now there is no certain assurance of our lives; even yet do the clouds terrify my mind.
terrent etiam nunc nubila mentem.
The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread, Pascal will say, echoed a few hundred years later in the "nothingness" of the Existentialists.

What Deucalion does is orient his whole being away from this vast unspeaking solitude and toward the only thing in it that offers the possibility of a familiar reflection, a response -- humanity itself.

It falls to Deucalion in his speech to find in Pyrrha the locus, or symmetric other of his own being:
Wife, cousin, sole surviving woman, joined to me by our shared race, our family origins,
The Latin underscores the symmetry of their yoke:
deinde torus iunxit, nunc ipsa pericula iungunt
then by the marriage bed, and now joined to me in danger,
The touchstones of what is familiar are, for him, this woman bound to him by genes and by marriage, by origins and race, by bed (one thinks of the bed of Odysseus and Penelope) and by shared experience, in this case, of danger. These are the elements of human bonds, the roots of our familiarity to one another. Into them is woven speech, the memory of shared history. It's in this that Deucalion locates, again with elegant parallel clauses, the reason and core of his being:
si te quoque pontus haberet,
te sequerer, coniunx, et me quoque pontus haberet.
if the sea had you,
I would follow you, and the sea would have me too

(Hear a trace of Milton's Adam , who gives up a world for Eve?)

These humans are unlike the animals, or the demi-gods that Zeus worried about when he said, in justifying his decision to exterminate the human race:
Mine are the demigods, the wild spirits, nymphs, fauns and satyrs, and sylvan deities of the hills. Since we have not yet thought them worth a place in heaven let us at least allow them to live in safety in the lands we have given them.
Ovid's polytheistic world is full of varied creatures who seem at home in it. They live, play, don't fall afoul of just laws, and deserve Zeus's protection from violent, godless brutes like Lycaon. Humans born of the blood of the giants failed to find a niche in which they could live in harmony with all else.

Deucalion here is at a fatal ontological crossroads. His father was Prometheus, but he can't "make" men by breathing upon their shapes as his father had done. Nor can he expect to find any giant's blood. He's at a loss how to proceed, but happens to be at the temple of his grandmother, Themis, at Delphi, the omphalos of the world. It's she who'll tell him how to make a new beginning of yet a third skein of humans, from the bones (ossa) of Earth. Strangely, Deucalion and Pyrrha -- so richly intertwined by blood and marriage bed and shared danger, so fully necessary to each other that neither would choose to remain in this vast world without the other -- neither make love nor gestate progeny. They reverently throw stones.

What we must note is, they only throw stones after construing the cryptic speech of the Oracle in a way that doesn't involve the literal bones of their literal mothers -- which would be a desecration. The continuation of the human race here rests upon an act of reading -- close reading -- that metamorphoses from the literally unspeakable into a figural divination of meaning.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blog in Prog

I want to underscore a couple of things in Deucalion's speech to Pyrrha, and will do so [update: it's here - directly above this post] - meanwhile, here's the speech in question, with English below:

Redditus orbis erat. Quem postquam vidit inanem
et desolatas agere alta silentia terras,
350Deucalion lacrimis ita Pyrrham adfatur obortis:

O soror, o coniunx, o femina sola superstes,
quam commune mihi genus et patruelis origo,
deinde torus iunxit, nunc ipsa pericula iungunt,
terrarum, quascumque vident occasus et ortus,
355nos duo turba sumus; possedit cetera pontus.
Haec quoque adhuc vitae non est fiducia nostrae
certa satis; terrent etiam nunc nubila mentem.
Quis tibi, si sine me fatis erepta fuisses,
nunc animus, miseranda, foret? quo sola timorem
360ferre modo posses? quo consolante doleres?
Namque ego (crede mihi) si te quoque pontus haberet,
te sequerer, coniunx, et me quoque pontus haberet.

O utinam possim populos reparare paternis
artibus atque animas formatae infundere terrae!
365Nunc genus in nobis restat mortale duobus
(sic visum superis) hominumque exempla manemus.”

Dixerat, et flebant. Meta 1. 370 ff

The world was restored. But when Deucalion saw its emptiness, and the deep silence of the desolate lands, he spoke to Pyrrha, through welling tears.
‘Wife, cousin, sole surviving woman, joined to me by our shared race, our family origins, then by the marriage bed, and now joined to me in danger, we two are the people of all the countries seen by the setting and the rising sun, the sea took all the rest. Even now our lives are not guaranteed with certainty: the storm clouds still terrify my mind. How would you feel now, poor soul, if the fates had willed you to be saved, but not me? How could you endure your fear alone? Who would comfort your tears? Believe me, dear wife, if the sea had you, I would follow you, and the sea would have me too.

If only I, by my father’s arts, could recreate earth’s peoples, and breathe life into the shaping clay! The human race remains in us. The gods willed it that we are the only examples of mankind left behind.’
He spoke and they wept . . . Kline

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hermes: spellbinder and unbinder

Ovid puts the story of Hermes and Argus within the story of Jupiter, Hera and Io at the end of Metamorphoses I:

Lewis Hyde offers a book-length meditation on the figure of Hermes / Mercury in his Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. Here he's talking about Hermes as the boundary-crosser, "poised on the threshold . . . ambiguous, androgynous":
It is this double motion that makes Hermes at once an enchanter and a disenchanter. In his enchanting phase, he often begins by going after the border guards, for if they have their wits about them he cannot operate. Earlier we saw how he cast a lazy forgetfulness over the watchdogs guarding Apollo's cattle. In speaking of shame, we saw how he mesmerized Argus with song and story, then sealed the giant's sleeping eyes with a magic wand. Hermes drops the sentinels who watch the peripheries into a stupor, and impermeable boundaries become porous.

This is only the beginning of his enchanting /disenchanting power . . .. He carries his charges into the underworld or out of it, into dreams or into wakefulness, into mythologies or out of them.

Among those guided across borders by Hermes Hyde includes Persephone, the suitors killed by Odysseus, and Odysseus himself as he approaches Circe's home. He also enables Priam to safely cross the battleground at Troy to reach Achilles and reclaim the body of Hektor.

For Hyde, Hermes is neither simply an enchanter or a disenchanter, but both at once:
Hermes of the Dark is the weaver of dreams, the charmer who spins a compelling tale, the orator who speaks your mother tongue with fluid conviction.. . . Hermes of the Light translates dreams into analytic language; he rubs the charm from old stories until they seem hopelessly made up and mechanical. He walks you inland until you stop dreaming in your mother tongue. (Trickster 208-209)
As modern analogues of Hermes, Hyde suggests Picasso, Nabokov, or Freud, ". . .'explaining' Moses while simultaneously retelling the old story of Oedipus in a manner so compelling that, decades after his death, Ivy League literary critics can't get it out of their heads."

One might also think of the loom of Penelope, woven by day, unwoven by night -- the only trick suspending the final act of the suitors, whom Hermes guides to Hades.

John Flaxman: Hermes conducting the souls of the dead suitors
to the land of the dead