Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.04.44 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.04.44

Laurel Fulkerson, Tim Stover (ed.), Repeat Performances: Ovidian Repetition and the Metamorphoses. Wisconsin studies in classics.   Madison; London:  University of Wisconsin Press, 2016.  Pp. vii, 328.  ISBN 9780299307509.  $75.00.  


Reviewed by Jo-Marie Claassen, Stellenbosch University (jmc@adept.co.za)

Table of Contents

From the subtitle, a reader may be led to believe that this collection of essays treats of aspects such as figura etymologica, polyptoton, epanalepsis and anaphora, as well as perhaps the type of formulaic phrases that are characteristic of epic composition. However, the concept of “repetition” is envisioned much more widely by the two editors of the book and the ten contributors of individual chapters, to cover anything from Ovidian intratextuality (re-use of his own words, plots or themes), to all aspects of Ovid’s intertextual allusion to Latin and Greek predecessors, both verbal and thematic, plus the earliest receptions of Ovid by other epicists. Ovid’s poetics appear to have set the norm against which his successors measured themselves.

An erudite “Introduction” by the two editors (“Echoes of the Past”) explains their approach to repetition, starting with various interpretations of an author’s “dynamic recycling of previous material” (4), such as Bloom’s idea of “appropriative hostility” in parody and pastiche, versus Deleuze’s idea of imitation as “either a theft or a gift,” implying a “hierarchical model” within which the imitator “admits inferiority” or “rehabilita[tes]… a lesser-known model” or “goes one better” (5). They touch briefly on early twentieth century denigration (as morally reprehensible) of authors who either unconsciously borrowed from predecessors or deliberately repeated themselves (6).

The editors place Ovidian repetition in three categories: revision of previously published work, re-use of his own words and “re-appropriation of his own work,” concluding that Ovid’s “own acquisitive habits” served as a model for his successors (8-9). A discussion of Ovid’s Echo and Narcissus tale from Metamorphoses 3.399-510 as a “case study” serves as illumination of Ovid’s multi-faceted approach (9-15). This ties in with the cover illustration featuring Salvador Dali’s 1937 Metamorphosis of Narcissus. The picture represents two different phases of the unfortunate youth’s “floralization,” as well as the reflections of both these phases in the pond that serves as his mirror, that is, repetitive duplication and reduplication, a subtle touch. The Narcissus tale essentially shows “the complicated nature of representation and reality… a topic closely related to repetition” (9-10). However, emphasis here is on Echo, the juxtaposition of whose tale with that of Narcissus is an Ovidian innovation, so the editors. “Repetition” is the Leitmotiv of Echo’s tale; her clever redeployment of Narcissus’ words in a successful attempt at conversation leads to what the editors term her “smutty double entendres” which, while “literally reappropriat[ing] Narcissus’ questions and exclamations, “…is also, on Ovid’s part, a kind of recycling,” serving as a “powerful model for intertextual relations” (11).

In Chapter One (“Nothing like the Sun: Repetition and Representation in Ovid’s Phaethon Narrative”) Andrew Feldherr starts with a short discussion of the more obvious aspects of duplication (a rape-and-paternity plot, verbal echoes, Augustan political comment) in the tale of Phaethon, who sought to find certainty about his paternity as son of the Sun (a delicious repetition in English, not available to our Roman predecessors) and whose temerity in assuming that he had inherited enough of his father’s characteristics to take over his duties for a day led to inevitable disaster. Feldherr considers that the story “comments on the hermeneutic consequences of repetition itself… [serving as] a kind of verbal metamorphosis capable of simultaneously suggesting sameness and difference” (27). In his discussion of the sculptures on the doors of Sol’s palace (which, incidentally, reprise Ovid’s account of the creation of the cosmos), Feldherr makes an important point about the function of ecphrasis in literature as another form of repetition: a verbal mirror of reality. The author’s metatextual interpretation of the tale as an almost Platonic metaphor for the common human search for identity cannot be re-argued here: a series of close analyses of the text throughout the chapter serves to elucidate how throughout this tale Ovid is concerned with repetition as paradoxically central in a poem about change.

Chapter Two (“Repeat after Me: the Loves of Venus and Mars in Ars Amatoria 2 and Metamorphoses 4,”) is the first of three chapters in which Ovid’s debt to (reception of) Homer is explored. Barbara Weiden Boyd’s discussion here of Ovid’s two-fold repetition of the tale he gleaned from Odyssey 8 later became part of her extensive monograph titled “Ovid’s Homer” (Oxford 2017). In the third chapter (“Ovid’s Cycnus and Homer’s Achilles Heel,” where the omission of a second possessive apostrophe indicates a subtle pun worthy of Ovid himself) Peter Heslin triangulates from the episode in Ovid’s “prequel” to the Iliad in Met 12 (where an apparently invincible Cycnus does battle with an apparently equally invincible Achilles) to Homer and subsequently to Statius’ Achilleid. The gist of Heslin’s argument is that Ovid’s mischievous hinting at the idea of Achilles’ vulnerability in the cut and thrust of this battle undercuts Homer’s apparently objectively epic depiction of his hero. This, so Heslin, directly influenced Statius’ version of the story of Achilles, which has always been considered as the first to feature the vulnerable heel.

The theme of Ovidian nuancing of the Homeric epic tradition also underlies Four (“Loca Luminis haurit: Ovid’s recycling of Hecuba,”) by Antony Augoustakis. In a complex nexus of arguments, the author delineates the line Ovid drew from Homer, via tragedy, to Vergil’s Aeneid, by focusing on Hecuba as both victim and perpetrator of violence, and, by extension, on Hecuba’s dual character as a metaphor for what the editors have termed the “mutilation and deformation of literary tradition that Ovid’s poetics of recycling entails” (18).

The next three chapters concentrate on Ovid’s re-use of his own material. Darcy Krasne (Five, “Succeeding Succession: Cosmic and Earthly Succession in the Fasti and Metamorphoses,”) compares Ovid’s rival cosmogonies, largely correspondent in the opening verses of both works, but with an alternative cosmogony in Fasti 5. The structure of this third version is neatly set out in Table 5.2. (127). Throughout, the divine “succession myth” parallels the imperial, as also in the 15th book of Ovid’s epic. Both divine and human “sons” are drawn as surpassing their fathers, but in the human sphere no overthrow of the father-figure is featured; yet in Fasti 5 the ramifications of the “complex of Jupiter, Mars, Augustus, Tiberius” (142) hint toward the potential supremacy of Tiberius over his adoptive “progenitor.”

Sharon James (Six, “Rape and Repetition in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Myth, History, Structure, Rome”) tackles the fraught topic of rape in the poem, and the fact that the occurrence of such stories tapers off during the course of the epic. As our poet’s narration of “world history” moves westward and ever closer to his own time, the uncomfortable aspects of the Roman founding myths are simply omitted: no Rhea Silvia, Sabines, Lucretia or Verginia are shown as violated during the course of the creation of the Roman state. James sees in this a political dimension: their omission causes these tales to become conspicuous by their very absence, an uncomfortable intrusion into Augustus’ much vaunted “re-founding” of Rome.

Until the end of his life Ovid continued to re-use his own material: in exile, much from his earlier poetry reappears, now with a new thrust, but often, too, illustrating how the poet’s life has become the final metamorphosis in his oeuvre. Peter Knox in Seven (“Metamorphoses in a Cold Climate,”) first concentrates on Ovid’s view of his relationship to his own poetry, reading the tale of Althaea’s vengeance on her own son for the death of his uncles as “a metaphor for negation of the creative act” (180). Next, Knox discusses the exiled Ovid’s frequent view of himself as an Actaeon, the victim of Fortune, punished for a mistake, rather than a crime, and, consequently, his view of Augustus as a vengeful Jupiter. “Repetitions of themes,” so Knox, “… activate the intertext in the Metamorphoses… [so that i]t becomes impossible to read [its] … epilogue without interpolating Augustus into the text.” Of a passage from the Tristia: “it is not Jupiter’s wrath that is at issue, but Caesar’s” (188). Verbatim repetition of 15.129 from the epilogue of the Metamorphoses in Tristia 4.10 signals Ovid’s view of his own death-defying renown as set against oppression. Knox’s concluding paragraph (191) has a more negative interpretation of the tone of Ovid’s last work, the Epistolae ex Ponto, than this reviewer finds in it.

Eight (“Ovidian Itineraries in Flavian Epic,”) by Alison Keith and Nine (“Revisiting Ovidian Silius, along with Lucretian, Vergilian, and Lucanian Silius,” 225-48) by Neil W. Bernstein together cover the major Flavian authors who show Ovidian influence: that is, the earliest receptions of our poet, that served to establish him as a normative predecessor. Both are writing against the more common assumption of the preeminence of Vergil as the paragon. The chapters differ vastly, yet complement each other: Keith gives a careful analysis of the manner in which Ovid serves to supplement Vergilian evocations in Valerius Flaccus, Statius and Silius Italicus. Bernstein examines the occurrence of “quotation” from predecessors in Silius. This is done in a novel way: a quantitive analysis (by means of a computer program called Tesserae) of “all matches of two-lexeme phrases in a database of more than three hundred poetic and prose texts from the Greco-Roman literary corpus” (226). A system of “weighting” ensures that such matching can be further refined to eliminate common and fortuitous similarities, leaving only those that are “interpretatively significant.” A series of tables shows the relationship between Ovid, his Flavian successors and Silius. Again Ovid stands second to Vergil, but is still a significant source for emulation on the lexical level.

Finally, in Ten (“Return to Enna: Ovid and Ovidianism in Claudian’s unfinished De raptu Proserpinae) Stephen Hinds shows how, by the late fourth century, Ovid had become established as the norm, and this poem appears as almost “Flavian” in its closely “Ovidian” feel. Claudian was a Greek who composed in both Latin and his own tongue. Hinds shows that his responsiveness to Ovid’s repetitive poetics is functional and essential to the fabric of his poem. A central philological issue has always been the question of whether the locus amoenus whence Proserpina was abducted was Enna (“Henna”) or Etna, a reading of DRP 2.71-5 which has been favored in various modern editions. Recourse to Ovid’s Met.5.385-6 and Cicero’s Verr. 4.107 indicates “Enna” as the correct reading. Also, so Hinds, as a bilingual “Greek [with] Alexandrian origins” (267), Claudian could not have resisted the punning play on the contrast between Hennaeae (= Greek “oneness”) and “numeric” Latin words “/ unica… secundam… / primos… / numeri damnum” in DRP 1.122-6. Hinds’ chapter is particularly rich and thought-provoking, but must be left here in favor of a more general discussion.

Particularly memorable in all considerations of the concept of repetition are Feldherr’s remarks (33) on ecphrasis as aiding the reader’s “understanding of the relationship between representation and reality”; also, contrast between “unchanging ecphrasis and the linear narrative of Ovid’s poem” illustrates the contrast between a “fixed picture” (as in visual art) versus “fluid narrative”. Memorable in a different way is Hind’s delicious praeteritio (276n.39) by means of which he manages to smuggle in a brief note on Claudian’s debt to Vergil.

Less memorable are a few linguistic solecisms or deviations from the academic register: “…tradition from which Hercules has been air-brushed out” (twice: 76, 77); “a Homeric red-herring” (86); “paint-by-numbers view of poetic composition” (89); “she refutes a deeper …connection” for, presumably, “…rejects…” (149n.48); “…none of the Flavians take it up” (197). Another quibble: the Preface refers to “the original conference” (vii) on, we must assume, the topic of Ovidian repetition, and, apparently, at one of the campuses of Florida State University, but nowhere is this explicitly stated, nor when the conference took place. Also, puzzlingly, the editors refer to the “ambience” of the conference, when the context shows that “atmosphere” or “feel” of the event is meant. However, my slightly negative reaction to this was soon dissipated by the quality of both their Introduction and the chapters that follow.

Endnotes are printed after each chapter, which renders them slightly less difficult to look up than at the end of a volume, but footnotes would still have been preferable. A combined bibliography comprises a list of “Works Cited”, starting with a list of common abbreviations. Thumbnail sketches of the twelve collaborators take up three pages, followed by a brief topical index of three double-columned pages and a similarly double-columned Index Locorum.

This volume of essays ranges widely and yet seems only to have touched on the theme of Ovidian repetition. Scholars can fruitfully take up the challenge to explore the topic in other directions.

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