Wednesday, September 26, 2012

History and Theater in Metamorphoses 11

(Apologies for length - this sort of got away from what was intended to be a relatively brief comment.)

"Of all the cities that men live under the sun and the starry sky, the nearest to my heart was Troy, with Priam and the people of Priam." (Zeus to Hera. Homer, Iliad 4.45).

If one has little tolerance for non-linear stories, narratives that dawdle, derail, drop threads, or make leaps of little seeming consequence, then Metamorphoses might frustrate. "What's the story?" one can hear certain kinds of readers mutter. Or, "What's it all MEAN?"

Whether it's left brain tilt, or a resistance to certain sorts of complexity, the reader who expects a text to go on a quest of some sort, and via its protagonist to discover some single answer or masterfully unifying solution, thereby satisfying all cravings raised by the peculiarities of the (intentionally mystifying) plot is bound to be frustrated by narratives that abound in multiple elements that do not seem consequential.

Apparently one of the elements found in nonlinear systems is chaos, which might explain why some readers, craving order in an upset world, might offer some resistance to a text like Ovid's. Some turn to books to escape from disorder, rather than to experience it textually.

Aeneas, Sibyl at the Gates

If we're looking for a quest or question in Ovid, we'll find them there, though not under the auspices of some watchful author. Yet somehow questions occur. This needs some explaining.

Book 11 offers a specific case to look at. As we've seen, the narrative scatters characters, antecedents, initial moments in the epic tale of Troy. That story in itself is a highly significant one for Ovid's audience, who were living in the wake of Virgil's Aeneid. Virgil's epic placed Augustus's nascent empire within a coherent, linear account of a difficult, but god-sanctioned quest from Troy to Rome.

Troy was a sacred city (not unlike Thebes) -- founded and even constructed by blessed men and the gods that blessed them, a family with children so favored that one of them, Ganymede, was rapt by Zeus himself. Yet for all its strength and divine backing, Troy did fall, thanks to a complex series of events that fulfilled a highly unlikely set of fatal conditions, noted in prior posts here.

Now Book 11 seems virtually unconscious of all this, meandering as it does from Orpheus getting dismembered (speaking of chaos) to Midas, then a bit of Laomedon before stumbling off to Proteus and Peleus, Ceyx and Alcyone, to shipwreck and the sleepy thespians Morpheus, Icelos and Phantasos.

Yet within this seemingly random, loopily dissociative path, bits and pieces of the fate of Troy can be found. We learn of heroes who sired several key destroyers of Troy: Telamon, father of Telamonian Ajax (wall of the Acheans) and of Teucros; Peleus and Thetis, parents of Achilles, who had the most glorious wedding ever; Phocus, grandfather of Epeius, (builder of the Trojan Horse) -- each of these fathers happens to be a son of Aeacus, son of Zeus, strong ally of Athens, and opponent of Minos, as we saw in Book 7.

Wedding of Peleus and Thetis

Peleus's visit to Ceyx allows Ovid to speak of Chione, the beautiful but proud daughter of Daedalion, who bears Autolycus to Hermes (as well as Philammon, father of Eumolpus, to Apollo).

In brief, seedlings of forebears of some of the key contrivers of the fall of Troy -- Ajax, Teucros, Achilles, Epeius, and Odysseus -- are disseminated among the disparate tales of Book 11.

Ovid, then, is not offering a linear genealogy of the architects of the fall of Troy. But he is offering a series of stories about other people and their fates, seemingly unrelated to Troy, within which these seeds are sown. For the casual reader of Metamorphoses, the might seem random events. From the "later" vantage point of the Iliad and the Aeneid, these apparently happenstance intersections of parental units take on an ominous dimension. (If anyone is in doubt that Troy is looming, see the opening scene of Book 12 -- Aulis.)

One one level, this gives the Metamorphoses a temporal, figural dimension (not unlike how the Old Testament was read -- later -- as the prefiguration of the New Testament). On another, it suggests a kind of sideways unfolding of history -- events in the foreground often are the least significant, while little noticed births or decisions take on great importance seen from a retrospective light. History in the act of becoming is not visible, tellable, or understandable. But from the (future) point at which it can be seen as a great tapestry that is past, those things that actually "made history" begin to emerge from the welter of foreground events.

A couple of sidelong speculations on Ovid's technique:

Emergence: Telling a series of tales that don't seem to interrelate, but nonetheless offer unaccented lineaments of a story that is not utterable now, but will come to be told, is not unlike what is described by the concept of emergence -- a non-linear process by which a multiplicity of simple interactions give rise to complex wholes, or systems. In our case, a series of seemingly random interactions gives rise to just the right agents in the next generation, who are required by Fate to destroy the city beloved of the gods.

Anamorphic perspective: The light, or position, from which something is seen is a recurrent element of Ovid's narrative. Recall the wolf that bursts with inexplicable violence upon Peleus's cattle:
. . . there is a swamp, choked with dense willows, which the salt flood has turned into marshland. From it, a wolf, a huge beast, terrifies the places round about with its heavy crashing noises. It came out of the marsh reeds, its deadly jaws smeared with foam and clots of blood, and its eyes filled with red flame. It was savage with rage and hunger, more with rage; since though hungry it did not bother with the dead cattle, or with satisfying its deadly appetite, but wounded the whole herd, slaughtering them all in its hostility.
Seen from one angle, a wolf is a wolf (as the Calydonian boar in Book 8 is "just a boar"). But in Ovid, there is always another perspective:
There was a high tower; a beacon (focus) on top of the citadel; a welcome sight for labouring vessels. They climbed up, and looked out, with murmuring sighs, at the cattle lying on the shore, seeing their rampaging killer with bloody jaws, its shaggy pelt dripping gore. There, stretching his hands out towards the shores of the open sea, Peleus prayed to sea-born Psamathe to forget her anger, and to aid him. (Kline)
Seen from the high tower upon which a fire (focus) is blazing, the same wolf comes to signify the wrath of Psamathe, the mother of PhocusOvid is using his lively acoustic imagination to turn the crux of the story into a good pun (two things in one sound). By the light of the tower, the unfolding events make a different kind of sense. We can call this an anamorphic narrative.

Given that the eventually discernible history of Troy is emerging from Ovid's tales about other matters, one is then tempted to ferret out underlying reasons. Why for example did the gods give Thetis to Peleus, when they so favored the family of Dardanus and Tros? The question doesn't come up in the narrative, nor does Ovid address it thematically. The fact that Ovid neither asks nor answers the question, however, doesn't mean it's not posed by the text.

If one is to follow the story of the fall of Troy, one needs to ask whether there is a discernible design behind apparent accidents of history. Peleus was instructed in how to "win" Thetis, and his brother Telemon won Hesione, at least in part because they were (relatively) blameless sons of an honorable son of Zeus. Let's not forget that Aeacus built the third side of Troy. In seeking to scam Apollo and Poseidon (dressed as mortals), Laomedon unwittingly set a trap that would spring -- later. Neither he nor anyone else saw it coming. By promising to purchase the labor of the gods and the heroism of Heracles, and  by reneging on both debts, and by calling the gods liars in the bargain, the king in fact was devising his people's doom. His speaking triggered his and his people's fate. As we've noted previously, Ovid includes speech acts among the forces that shape history.

Heracles saves Hesione
The contractual language of commerce in Laomedon's bargains gathers even more significance when we learn how his sole surviving son, Podarces, gained the name by which history knows him. It seems Heracles was willing to save Hesione, who was being sacrificed to save the city from enraged Poseidon's flood, if Laomedon would give him the horses which Zeus had given him as compensation for the rape of Ganymede. But, after a terrific struggle with a sea monster in which Heracles was swallowed for three days, lost all his hair yet saved the girl, Laomedon reneged on the deal.

That provoked Heracles to sack Troy and to kill Laomedon and his whole family, except for one son:
. . . when he had taken the city and shot down Laomedon and his sons, except Podarces, he assigned Laomedon's daughter Hesione as a prize to Telamon and allowed her to take with her whomsoever of the captives she would. When she chose her brother Podarces, Hercules said that he must first be a slave and then be ransomed by her. So when he was being sold she took the veil from her head and gave it as a ransom; hence Podarces was called Priam - from priamai, "to buy." 183  (Apollodorus, Library).
For Ovid, a pun is not only wittily telling, it's a pregnant naming.

To make an end:

Book 11 lurches from the death of Apollo's poet to an avaricious king who repents only to gain asses' ears. From the vivid pathos of Ceyx's perishing amid the sublime and terrible forces of  nature, it veers into a vast storehouse of sleeping dreams. If this is history, why is it stumbling about like a drunken satyr? If it's mere fable (i.e., "literary"), why is it inwoven with important characters, sacred gods, and events of Roman history?

I think a question that Ovid's text does not directly ask, but always is posing, is, "What does history look like?" To this question, which is asked at every moment of this text, Ovid brings all his art of storytelling: the tricks of temporality, the shadings of emotion, the echoic sounds and mirroring images, the machinations of language articulating the world. Even as the story of Troy emerges from the welter, it's seen from other angles, lit by other lights. If history is institched to the tapestry of the Metamorphoses, it emerges bi-focally, via horn and ivory gates. Theatricality is its impresario at every turn.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some Motifs in Metamorphoses 11

Book 11 of Ovid's poem brings us some of the most vivid tales of the Metamorphoses -- from the savage dismemberment of Orpheus, to the twice-told folly of Midas, to the origins of Troy and of Achilles, to the harrowing seawreck of Ceyx and the dream of Alcyone that brings us to the cave of Somnus, before ending with the semi-frustrated suicide of Aesacus.

One would think Ovid is striving to yoke the strangest assortment of irrelevancies. But there are patterning motifs, and it's not a bad thing to notice these, as they can reveal the vestigia of the most careful artistry.

At least, it's best to look closely before assuming that Ovid has indulged in arbitrarily concatenating random tales.

A few examples of these patterns or motifs would include:

1. Audibility and inaudibility.
-- From the outset, we learn that Orpheus's voice could sway even stones. Clearly anyone within the sound of his voice is enchanted, yet the Bacchantes manage to destroy him. Ovid says they were able to drown him out with drums and flutes, breast beatings and howls, such that:
                            tum denique saxa
non exauditi rubuerunt sanguine vatis.
         Then, finally, the stones grew red, with the blood of the poet, to whom they were deaf.
-- Mt. Tmolus, before judging the music contest between Pan and Apollo, brushes away the forests so he may hear:
The aged judge was seated on his mountain-top and shook his ears free of the trees.
-- The ears of Midas, on the other hand, are disfigured when he fails to hear properly (at least by Apollo's lights), preferring Pan's crude melodies to the splendor of Apollo.  
-- As Proteus advises Peleus on how to win Thetis, his novissima verba, his last words, sink with him into the sea. 
-- The voice of the captain of Ceyx's ship is drowned out as he tries to give orders to counter the gale. 
-- All sound is deadened in the muta quies of Somnus' Cimmerian cave. 
-- As Ceyx calls upon Lucifer, Aeolus, and Alcyone, his novissima verba are drowned with him in the stormy seas.

2. Uncontrollable violence:
-- The Bacchantes tear apart not only the birds and creatures, but the farmers' oxen and the poet.
-- The wolf who attacks Peleus's cattle does not kill from hunger, but boundless rage, instilled by Psamathe, the mother of Phocus, Peleus's younger brother. 
-- The storm that destroys Ceyx's ship and all its crew evokes the relentless attack of an army besieging a city.

3. Absence/presence:
-- The tale of Ceyx and Alcyone takes pains to describe a relationship of mutual reciprocity -- the two are in one (duas ut servet in una 387), thanks to the complementary symmetry of their love. Alcyone uses terms of presence and absence throughout her speech. Space and Time are their enemies, leading to paradoxes as when Alcyone rebukes him by saying "Am I dearer to you when absent?" 
-- The tale of Ceyx and Alcyone is bookended by mirroring descriptions of spatial expansion and contraction: We see his ship depart, little-by-little, from Alcyone as she stands on the shore. After the storm and her dream there's a dire reversal: Ceyx's corpse floats back, as she stands on the same shore. From immediacy to remoteness to absence and back again, Ovid is vividly conjuring the gradations of presence and absence. 
- The moment Ceyx is entirely outside the realm of sense perception, Alcyone is racked by the violence of excess imaginings, rushing in to fill the void of his absence.
-- The imaginative abundance in the void left by her missing husband is then rendered in the mode of the fantastic, in the cave of Somnus, an Underworld filled with images of all things. Somnus sleeps amid a synchronic infinity of simulacra.

4. Heads floating/drowning while speaking.
-- Ceyx, of course, calling upon Lucifer, Aeolus, and Alcyone.
-- Proteus, returning to his underwater home, speaking as he sinks under the waves.
-- The head of Orpheus floats down the Hebrus, singing.

5. Aggressors turned to stone
-- The snake that is about to attack the head of Orpheus, turned to stone by Apollo.
-- The wolf attacking Peleus's cattle, turned to marble by Psamathe at Thetis's behest.

6. Shape shifters
-- Thetis and Proteus
-- Hermes and Apollo seducing Chione
-- Autolycus
-- Morpheus, Icelos, Phobetor, Phantasos.

7. Humans turned to birds
-- Daedalion - suicide
-- Ceyx and Alcyone
-- Aesacus - suicide

 8. Bloodguilt
-- Bacchantes for death of Orpheus
-- Peleus for Phocus
-- Aesacus for Hesperie

9. Fateful elements of the Trojan story
-- Laomedon refuses to pay Apollo and Poseidon and calls them liars (flood attacks city)
-- Laomedon refuse to give Heracles the horses of Tros for saving Hesione
-- Peleus and Thetis
-- Phocus is the grandfather of Epeius, builder of the Wooden Horse.
-- Hermes and Chione beget Autolycus.
-- Storm and shipwreck (water as army attacking city: ship of state)
-- Aesacus and the line of Trojan kings.

Note on method:

These motifs are not meant to be an exhaustive survey. They're simply those that came forward during our reading of this book. While suggestive, they are not necessarily the most important or thematically central elements. But they are there, and that's part of what is entailed in close reading, a first step. The next step would move to looking at how they interrelate, what themes resonate, and then, later on, looking at how the patterns of Book 11 relate to the larger tapestry of the total work.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Trachis under Heracles and Ceyx

Trachis lay in Central Greece - on this map, it's the area marked as "Malis." At its north is Mt. Orthys, scene of the primordial war of Titans and Olympians. To its south is Phocis, associated with Phocus, the son of Aeacus for whom Peleus and Telemon bear blood guilt. Phocis is the land that contains Parnassus and Delphi.

Trachis is also where Heracles and Deianeira lived, and is the setting of Sophocles' Women of Trachis. Mt. Oeta, where the hero built his own funeral pyre, is in the southern part of Trachis.

Ceyx ruled Trachis at the time Peleus arrived, seeking a place to live, but after the wolf appeared, he went on to Iolcus, ruled by Acastus.

Alcyone weeping for loss of Ceyx

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A quiz on the Fall of Troy

Note: I've added several new elements here to fill out the essentials of the Fall of Troy story.
Update 11.19.12: I've added a few more details at bottom.

Here's a nice quiz, a number of whose questions have to do with the fall of Troy. Have fun, and after choosing your answers, hit "submit answers for grading" to get your "grade."

Quiz or no quiz, you'll find here the conditions that had to be met before Troy would fall. It's a nice summary based strictly upon classical sources.

[Updates]: I've added a link on the right to Quintus Smyrnaeus's late classical epic, the Posthomerica, or The Fall of Troy, which purports to tell what happened after the Iliad ends.

Yet another condition that had to be met before Troy could fall is reason for the fame of the fisherman Damarmenus. He it was who, after the Trojan War, recovered from the sea the bone of Pelops 1. During the war it was prophesied to the Achaeans that Troy could not be taken unless, among other things, they could bring the bone of Pelops 1. From Pisa in Elis was brought the bone of Pelops 1, the ivory shoulder blade that replaced the part that Demeter had absent mindedly eaten at the time of Tantalus's grisly feast. As they were returning home from Troy, the ship carrying the bone was wrecked off Euboea in a storm. Many years later, Damarmenus, a fisherman from Eretria, drew up the bone. Amazed at its size he kept it hidden in the sand. Later the bone was given to the Eleans following an oracle from Delphi [Pau.5.13.4ff.].

The key source for knowing the conditions of vulnerability for Troy was Helenus, son of Priam and twin brother of Cassandra. He was said to be the wisest of the Trojans, and a seer. Parada:
only he knew the oracles that protected the city, which he revealed to the enemy so that the Achaeans could finally take Troy. For when Paris died, Helenus and his brother Deiphobus quarrelled for the hand of Helen; and when Deiphobus was preferred, Helenus left the city and established his residence on Mount Ida, where Odysseus captured him. And after having displayed the excellent seer in the Achaean camp, they forced this glorious prey to tell how Troy could be taken. That is why Helenus 1 prophesied whatever matter they asked, instructing them to bring the Bone of Pelops 1, to fetch Neoptolemus from Scyros, to persuade Philoctetes (in whose power were the Bow and Arrows of Heracles) to come from Lemnos, and also to steal the Palladium, a wooden statue that once had fallen from Heaven, since if it were carried off Troy could not survive.
There's a bit more to the story of Philoctetes and Heracles' arrows - here taken from notes found on the Perseus site:
When Hercules, through the imprudence of his wife Deianira, was seized with that cruel disease from which he had no release to hope for but death, he was carried to mount Oeta, and having ascended the funeral pile he obtained a promise from Philoctetes, the son of Poeas, that he would set fire to the pile, on condition of receiving his divine arrows as a reward for this last office. When the Greeks were on their voyage to Troy, it was foretold to them that they would never be able to overthrow llium, unless they discovered the altar of Chryse, erected on an island of the same name, and offered sacrifice thereon. While Philoctetes was showing where the altar was, he was wounded in the foot by a serpent which guarded it, and from that cause left at Lemnos. In the tenth year of the war Helenus, the Trojan prophet, being captured by Ulysses, predicted that Troy could never be taken but by the arrows of Hercules; upon this, messengers were sent to Lemnos in order to bring back Philoctetes with his arrows to Troy.
Helenus will appear in Metamorphoses 15 to provide Aeneas with crucial information for accomplishing the task of founding Rome. He also appears in Aeneid 3:
In Buthrotum, Aeneas met Andromache, the widow of Hector. She still laments for the loss of her valiant husband and beloved child. There, too, Aeneas saw and met Helenus, one of Priam's sons, who had the gift of prophecy. Through him, Aeneas learned the destiny laid out for him: he was divinely advised to seek out the land of Italy (also known as Ausonia or Hesperia), where his descendants would not only prosper, but in time rule the entire known world. In addition, Helenus also bade him go to the Sibyl in Cumae.

Another condition:
. . . when Achilles was nine years old, the seer Calchas, whom Agamemnon has called "prophet of evil," declared that Troy could not be taken without him. This is one of the reasons why Achilles came to Troy; for he, who had not been among the SUITORS OF HELEN, was not bound by the Oath of Tyndareus.

[Added 11.19.12] It turns out there were six famous conditions for the fall of Troy - Plautus cites three of them in a humorous scene of his Bacchides:
“I have heard there were three destinies attending Troy, which were fatal to it; if the statue should be lost from the citadel -- [it was carried off by Odysseus and Diomedes] -  whereas the second was the death of Troilus; the third was when the upper lintel of the Phrygian (aka Scaean gate) gate should be demolished.”

According to the commentary in Perseus by Charles Simmons: 
This last involved the disturbance of the tomb of Laomedon, and was brought about when the [Scaean] gate was widened to bring in the horse. A fourth condition was the presence of an Aeacid. This was satisfied by bringing to the war the young son of Achilles, Pyrrhus (cf. 155 n.), who thence got the name Neoptolemus. For fatis = ‘destruction,’ see 180 n.

A note on p. 196-197 of this edition of Plautus mentions three more conditions: 
If the horses of Rhesus should be captured before they had tasted of the pastures of Troy and the waters of Xanthus; if the bow and arrow of Hercules should be employed in the siege; and if one of the posterity of Achilles should be present (the Aeacid, Neoptolemos). 

The Horses of Rhesus

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Troy - Maps and Genealogies

With the story of Laomedon's scam of the gods, Ovid touches on the tale of Troy:

Sigeum, Rhoeteum, Troy
Latona’s son left Mount Tmolus and, flying through the clear air, he came to earth in the country of Laomedon, this side of the narrows of the Hellespont, named from Helle, daughter of Nephele. To the right of the deeps of Sigeum, and to the left of those of Rhoeteum, there was an ancient altar of Jupiter the Thunderer, ‘source of all oracles’. There, Apollo saw Laomedon building the foundations of the new city of Troy. The great undertaking prospering with difficulty, and demanding no little resources, he, and Neptune, trident-bearing father of the swelling sea, put on mortal form, and built the walls of the city for the Phrygian king for an agreed amount in gold. The edifice stood there.

But the king denied them payment, and as a crowning treachery, perjured himself by claiming they were lying.

A few links perhaps helpful for the site of the city and its ruling family:

Troy - Parada has fine maps and a fairly detailed genealogy from Dardanus down through the Roman kings.

Hesione - adds some details to the Troy story.

Peleus - for the background of Aeacus's sons. More on Peleus here.
There is no city so barbarous or so strange in its speech that it does not know the fame of the hero Peleus, the fortunate in-law of gods, or of Aias and his father Telamon.
"The fate destined by Zeus Peleus made his own: devouring flames, and the sharp claws of fearless lions, and tearing teeth safely endured, his Nereis bride he won from her high seat, and saw, round him enthroned, the gods of sky and sea proffer their gifts, foretelling the kingdom he and his race should rule."
  Pindar on Peleus.

Dardanus - sire of Erichthonius, who was father of Tros.

The Dardanians split into two ruling houses of Troy:
Ilus - Founder of Troy, a story very much in part like that of Cadmus: 
Ilus founded the city of Ilium (Troy) that he called after himself. Ilus went to Phrygia, and taking part in games that at the time were held by the king, he won victory in wrestling. As a prize he received fifty youths and as many maidens; and the king, obeying an oracle, gave him also a cow and asked him to found a city wherever the cow should lie down. This took place when the cow came to the hill of Ate, and in that spot Ilus built the city which he called Ilium. Then he prayed to Zeus that a sign might be shown to him and he saw the Palladium, fallen from heaven and lying before his tent. Ilus was blinded, since the Palladium was not to be looked upon by any man. But later, when he had made offerings to the goddess, he recovered his sight
Assaracus - brother of Ilus and Ganymede, father of Capys, grandfather of Anchises.

Parada situates the Trojans within the descendants of Atlas (father of Electra and the other Pleiades). Parada's charts arguing that nearly everyone (except Athenians) can be traced back to one of three ancestors -- Atlas, Deucalion, or Io -- can be found here.

Model of Troy layer 1000 years before its destruction

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Speaking of eros

My friend Patricia Kaufman has been making books and art for many years. She recently shared a look at her new book, currently in production, entitled Frighten the Horses! Words by Women for Women. The title derives from a famous mot by Mrs Patrick Campbell, (Shaw's starring actress, by the way, in Pygmalion.)

I was struck by this quote from Marilyn French, which accompanies one of Pat's paintings - it just seemed like something Ovid, or a good reader of Ovid, might say. Click to enlarge the image.

Pat Kaufman

Motus vocis and ancient acoustics

As a footnote to our discussion the other day of acoustics and to what extent the properties of sound were understood and used in the ancient world (as well as in the Renaissance), see Vitruvius, De Architectura, Book V, Chapter 5: "On sounding vases in theaters" - a remarkable system of placing bronze vases upside down, according to mathematical ratios, at certain intervals in theaters. Also, Book 5 Chapter 8, "On Acoustics," offers a brief discussion of the dissonant, the circumsonant, the resonant, and the consonant. As any technical notion of sound waves seems unknown to Vitruvius, he speaks in terms of the vocis motus  -- the motions of the voice.

Leon Battista Alberti, who was interested in everything, spoke about acoustics in his Renaissance treatise On Building, says Elihu Rubin, an architectural historian:

To prepare for the Urban Design course at Yale that I teach with Alan Plattus and Andrei Harwell, I was re-reading the architectural treatise of Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, written in fifteenth century Florence.  Like his Renaissance peers, Alberti was busy rediscovering the architectural principles and urban practices of ancient Rome. He took inspiration from Vitruvius, the Roman architectural theorist writing in the first century BC.  Like him, Alberti was interested in acoustics, each public building calling for its own reverberative ceiling treatment. 
Acoustics supports the role of architecture as information technology: the building as mechanism for the diffusion of information, propelled by the voice. Acoustics is still an important area of design, especially for concert halls. But electronic amplification has removed, to some degree, that element of building performance that was so crucial to Alberti.
And a recent book explores the configurations of churches in Venice, which employed, according to authors Deborah Howard and Laura Moretti, "knowledge of acoustics derived from Virtuvius, Leon Battista Alberti, and ... Aristotelian-Stoic theories of the spherical soundwave propagation (undulatory theory); and the musical innovation of choral polyphony introduced in Venice by the doge Andrea Grilli."

Also: "Acoustics in the sixteenth century was imperfectly understood because it embraced the undulatory model of the spherical propagation of sound waves. It was not until Sir Isaac Newton that the geometric or optical model, which argued for the linear propagation of sound similar to that of light, became established."

While this may seem well removed from Ovid, in a subsequent post I hope to explore the relevance of his interest in voice and hearing. A warm thanks to our friend Peter D'Epiro for pointing to precisely the sources relevant for our purposes here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A few notes on Midas

According to Hyginus, Fab. 46, Zeus killed Erechtheus with a thunderbolt at the request of Poseidon, who was enraged at the Athenians for killing his son Eumolpus.

Ovid says in passing that Midas, along with Eumolpus, was tutored by Orpheus:
King Midas, to whom, with Athenian Eumolpus, Orpheus of Thrace had taught the Bacchic rites.
If one looks into Eumolpus a little, it is immediately clear he's a major culture hero -- son of Poseidon, a teacher of Heracles (as Theocritus notes in Idyll 24), and a bridge between Silenus, Dionysus and Orpheus, and the Eleusinian Mysteries.* As Wikipedia notes,

Triptolemos,Demeter, Persephone

The Eleusinian Mysteries (Greek: Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια) were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. Of all the mysteries celebrated in ancient times, these were held to be the ones of greatest importance.
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter signals Eumolpus's importance:
She to Triptolemus taught, and to Diocles, driver of horses,
Also to mighty Eumolpus, to Celeus, leader of peoples,
Cult of the holy rites, to them all her mystery telling. HH Dem. 474-476
As a son of Poseidon, Eumolpus is also linked to the pre-Athena days of Athens - before the contest by which the city chose Athena over the sea God, as depicted by Athena in Book 6.

The point here is that Midas, although he has come down to us in fables as the prototypical fool, is linked with Eumolpus as learning Bacchic rites directly from Orpheus. Midas recognizes Silenus, the tutor of Bacchus, and entertains him for 10 days, then returns him to his ward, who allows him any wish.

Bacchus and Midas: Poussin

We then get two familiar stories about Midas -- the golden touch and the ears of the ass -- and we might consider why, in the course of describing the dissemination of the Orphic tradition, Ovid puts them together here. Midas seems to indicate a decline, a possibly errant or degenerate path of the Orphic tradition -- quite different from what Eumolpus taught at Eleusis.

In part, this would be Ovid's way of indicating differences between the central Greek tradition and that which perhaps got bowdlerized in Anatolia. If so -- and this is just speculation -- is Ovid suggesting something about the background of Troy, something in the roots of Rome? How might this relate to the tale of Peleus and Thetis, both of whom bring into play their own complex histories?

Peleus and Thetis: Leonard Porter 

*The Eumolpidae: (Greek: Ευμολπιδαι) were a family of priests at Eleusis who maintained the Eleusinian Mysteries during the Hellenic era. As hierophants, they popularized the cult and allowed many more to be initiated into the secrets of Demeter and Persephone. The legendary genealogy of the Eumolpidae cast them as descendants of Eumolpus, one of the first priests of Demeter at Eleusis, through his second son, Herald-Keryx.