Sunday, March 17, 2013

Venus Prospiciens

The story of Vertumnus and Pomona, which frames the chilling tale of Iphis and Anaxarete (as told by Vertumnus-as-elder-woman) comes near the end of Book 14, and stands in a key, cumulative position in the Metamorphoses. It richly resonates with many tales told earlier in the poem. 

The relationship of the two tales is worth close attention -- once again, as we've seen with Circe and Pomona, we have the opposition of two women, one a wealthy lady of Cyprus, the other an Italian goddess of the orchard - as well as the curious pairing of Iphis, who hangs himself at Anaxarete's door, with Vertumnus, master of disguises -- figuras or formas -- who is telling the story of Iphis to Pomona.

The stories offer an abundance of polar oppositions: vertical/horizontal, city/nature, stone/trees, death/life, love rejected/love requited, social stratification/social equality, exclusion/inclusion, Cyprus/Italy, irrigation/dessication, theatricality/literality, etc. (Many more interrelations on the linguistic level.)

There are some suggestive thoughts on the Iphis tale and especially on the Venus Prospiciens in Maurizio Bettini's The Portrait of the Lover, in his chapter entitled The Gaze. In his discussion, he makes the point that statues only look forward, into the distance, prospiciens. A piece of statuary, no matter how lifelike, cannot return a gaze, or look back at the eyes that gaze upon it -- respiciens -- unless of course that statue were fashioned by Pygmalion.

Nec tibi fama mei ventura est nuntia leti:
ipse egone dubitesadero praesensque videbor,
corpore ut exanimi crudelia lumina pascas.
No mere rumour will come to you to announce my death: have no doubt, I myself will be there, visibly present, so you can feast your savage eyes on my lifeless corpse. 

Iphis and Anaxarete
miserere ardentis et ipsum,
quod petitore meo praesentem crede precari 691-2 ff 
Take pity on his ardour, and believe that he, who seeks you, is begging you, in person, through my mouth. 
Vertumnus and Pomona
mota tamen "videamus" ait "miserabile funus"
et patulis iniit tectum sublime fenestris
vixque bene inpositum lecto prospexerat Iphin:
deriguere oculi, calidusque e corpore sanguis
inducto pallore fugit, conataque retro                      755
ferre pedes haesit, conata avertere vultus
hoc quoque non potuit, paulatimque occupat artus,
quod fuit in duro iam pridem pectore, saxum. 
Still, she was roused, and said: “Let us see this miserable funeral” and went to a rooftop room with open windows. She had barely looked at Iphis, lying on the bier, when her eyes grew fixed, and the warm blood left her pallid body. Trying to step backwards she was rooted: trying to turn her face away, also, she could not.

Anaxarete glimpsing Iphis

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