Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Dryden's "Ceyx and Alcyone": Metamorphosing Ovid

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Dryden's "Ceyx and Alcyone": Metamorphosing Ovid

Article excerpt

"Ceyx and Alcyone" is perhaps the least commented upon of all Dryden's Fables. This is not surprising in some ways because compared to other parts of the collection, such as the extensive altered passages in "Palamon and Arcite" or the greatly enlarged "The Character of a Good Parson," Dryden made seemingly few substantive changes to Ovid's original story. But Dryden does alter this tale in three subtle yet fundamental ways: by reworking and enhancing the battle metaphor of the storm in the first section; by intensifying the question of the gods' alienation from the suffering of the couple; and by altering the ending. These, however, are only the intrinsic alterations; the extrinsic alteration is Fables itself. The reader should never forget the presence of the tale within the massive collection of Fables, which contains its own thematic preoccupations--anti-militarism, anti-materialism, and anti-Williamite politics--and its own intricate unity. A particularly relevant context for "Ceyx and Alcyone" is the three other tales that immediately surround it: "The Cock and the Fox," "Theodore and Honoria," and "The Flower and the Leaf." These also concern visions, and looking at these tales and how they deal with this theme sheds light on how Dryden aligns "Ceyx and Alcyone" to cohere within the greater unity of Fables.

Some twenty years before Fables, Dryden had not only published translations but also famously theorized about translation in his "Preface Concerning Ovid's Epistles" (1680), where he divided it into three types: metaphrase, or "turning an Author word by word"; paraphrase, where an author's "words are not so strictly follow'd as his sense"; and imitation, where the translator "assumes the liberty, not only to vary from the words and sence, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion." (1) Even at this early point in his translating career, he privileges the transformative aspect of what a translator could do. Borrowing an image from a poem of Denham's, Dryden is harshest on metaphrase, or literal translation, as being merely the "Ashes" of the originals, wanting the "Flame" (115) of poetry, and he applauds the greater latitude of paraphrase and, with some reservations, of imitation. This liberty with translations he mined to greater purpose in the 1690s, where he drifted more customarily into imitation than paraphrase perhaps largely for political reasons. In 1685, fifteen years before the publication of Fables, Dryden converted to Catholicism in what seemed to his contemporaries a gross act of time-serving just after the Catholic James II had ascended to the throne. Yet when William and Mary came to power, Dryden stuck to his faith and consequently found himself in the awkward position of being a target of hostility as the prop of the former regime, despite his sometimes unenthusiastic support of it, as witnessed in his criticisms of and warnings to his fellow Catholics in The Hind and the Panther. While Dryden did not remain silent on the issues of the day nor about his hatred of William and all he represented, he was cautious in his criticism. In his original works he did not avoid subtle attacks on William. (2) Yet he performed some of his most subtle attacks as translations, where he could disguise himself behind another author's authority. Even his translation of the Aeneis presented an attack on Williamite England. (3) Yet when he came to write Fables, these political and aesthetic reasons joined to form his most elaborate translations, where Dryden reanimates theses ashes not only within each of the parts, but also among them, giving a new spark that the originals never had. Even within just a small slice of Fables, Dryden is able to transform Ovid's "Ceyx and Alcyone" for his present political and philosophical purposes.

Ovid's "Ceyx and Alcyone" is one of the longest episodes in The Metamorphoses. Generally, critics of Ovid look upon it as a celebration of this couple's love, with their metamorphosis into birds being a reward for their love. …

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