Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome

By Amy Richlin | Go to book overview

8
Reading Ovid's Rapes

Amy Richlin

You are the inspiration for a poet, he seemed to say. If you think you are being spied on, tell your parents. They will think you are silly and hysterical. They will tell you how great art is made.

-- Laurie Colwin, "A Girl Skating" ( 1982)

He gives kisses to the wood; still the wood shrinks from his kisses. To which Apollo said: "But since you will not be able to be my wife, you will surely be my tree."

-- Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.556-58 ( Apollo and Daphne)

I don't particularly want to chop up women but it seems to work.

-- Brian De Palma (quoted in Pally 1984)

A woman reading Ovid faces difficulties. In the tradition of Western literature his influence has been great, yet even in his lifetime critics found his poetry disturbing because of the way he applied his wit to unfunny circumstances. Is his style a virtue or a flaw? Like an audience watching a magician saw a lady in half, they have stared to see how it was done. I would like to draw attention to the lady.

Consider Ovid's Metamorphoses, cast as a mythic history of the world: more than fifty tales of rape in its fifteen books (nineteen told at some length). Compare his Fasti, a verse treatment of the Roman religious calendar: ten tales of rape in six books. These vary in their treatment; some are comic. In general, critics have ignored them, or traced their literary origins, or said they stood for something else or evidenced the poet's sympathy with women.

But we must ask how we are to read texts, like those of Ovid, that take pleasure in violence--a question that challenges not only the canon of Western literature but all representations. If the pornographic is that which converts living beings into objects, such texts are certainly pornographic. Why is it a lady in the magician's box? Why do we watch a pretended evisceration?

-158-

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Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Time Line of Events, Sources, and Persons Discussed xxiv
  • 1: Pornography and Persuasion on Attic Pottery 3
  • Notes 34
  • 2: Tragedy and the Politics of Containment 36
  • Notes 51
  • 3: Eros in Love: Pederasty and Pornography in Greece 53
  • Notes 72
  • 4: The Mute Nude Female Characters in Aristophanes' Plays 73
  • Notes 88
  • Appendix Texts Relating to the Writers of Sexual Handbooks 108
  • Notes 109
  • 6: The Body Female and the Body Politic: Livy's Lucretia and Verginia 112
  • Notes 129
  • 7: The Domestication of Desire: Ovid's Parva Tabella and the Theater of Love 131
  • Notes 155
  • Notes 158
  • Notes 178
  • Notes 179
  • 9: Death as Decoration: Scenes from the Arena on Roman Domestic Mosaics 180
  • Notes 208
  • 10: Callirhoe 212
  • 11: Sweet and Pleasant Passion: Female and Male Fantasy in Ancient Romance Novels 231
  • Notes 249
  • 12: The Edible Woman: Athenaeus's Concept of the Pornographic 250
  • Conclusion 266
  • Notes 269
  • Notes 269
  • Notes 283
  • Bibliography 285
  • Contributors 313
  • Index 315
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