Academic journal article Helios

Pleasure, Failure, and Danger: Reading Circe in the Remedia

Academic journal article Helios

Pleasure, Failure, and Danger: Reading Circe in the Remedia

Article excerpt

Thanks to recent literary scholarship, a number of characters in Augustan poetry have been gaining greater power over the texts in which they appear. No longer content to act their part for the pleasure of the reader, they now take on the role of reader themselves, thus offering us guidance or advice in our own acts of interpretation. James J. O'Hara (1993) sees Vergil's Dido as a model for the reader: Dido's difficulties in predicting the future parallel the reader's difficulty in assigning motivation to Vergil's characters, and by limiting her interpretive abilities Vergil suggests that we too should curb our desire to uncover the right interpretation of the Aeneid. Alden Smith analyzes Ovidian intertextuality in the light of characters as readers: Ariadne in the Fasti seems to have read Catullus, and Ulysses, Venus, and Jupiter in the Metamorphoses all show their familiarity with the Aeneid. (1) David Konstan shows that Argus, who dies for his improper response to Mercury's story (Met. 1.689-719), offers a humorous and "not so subtle message to the reader on his or her responsibility to the text." (2) Literary humor often requires an acknowledgement of the variety of possible responses to a text, and Ovid's well-known irony in general may be said to depend on the interconnected reactions of reader and character. In this essay, I offer a similar investigation of a short scene in the Remedia amoris to corr oborate Ovid's use of interpretive characters in one of his less famous didactic poems. In addition, I shall elucidate the ways in which the effect of Ovid's technique is altered by the didactic context, which privileges the interaction between narrator and student audience.

quid tibi profuerunt, Circe, Perseides herbae,
  cum sua Neritias abstulit aura rates?
Omnia fecisti, ne callidus hospes abiret:       265
  ille dedit certae lintea plena fugae;
omnia fecisti, ne te ferus ureret ignis:
  longus et invito pectore sedit Amor.
vertere tu poteras homines in mille figuras;
  non poteras animi vertere jura tui.            270
diceris his etiam, cum iam discedere vellet,
  Dulichium verbis detinuisse ducem:
'non ego, quod primo, memini, sperare solebam,
  iam precor, ut coniunx tu meus esse velis.
et tamen, ut coniunx essem tua, digna videbar,       275
  quod dea, quod magni filia Solis eram.
ne properes oro: spatium pro munere posco;
  quid minus optari per mea vota potest?
et freta mota vides, et debes illa timere:
  utilior velis postmodo ventus erit.                 280
quae tibi causa fugae? non hic nova Troia resurgit,
  non aliquis socios rursus ad arma vocat.
hic amor et pax est, in qua male vulneror una,
  tutaque sub regno terra futura tuo est.'
illa loquebatur, navem solvebat Ulixes;              285
  irrita cum velis verba tulere Noti.
ardet et assuetas Circe decurrit ad artes;
  nec tamen est illis attenuatus amor.
ergo, quisquis opem nostra tibi poscis ab arte,
  deme veneficiis carminibusque fidem.                290

What help did you get from magic herbs, Circe, when Ulysses' raft sailed away in a tailwind? You did everything to stop your crafty guest from leaving, hut he set sail, and his escape was sure. You did everything to stop wild passion from scorching you, but Love took up residence in your unwilling breast. You could change mortals into a thousand forms, but you could not change the laws of your own spirit. Even when Ulysses was already eager to leave, you held him back, they say, with these words: "At first I used to hope--I haven't forgotten--but I no longer ask you to be my willing spouse. And yet I thought I was worthy to be your spouse, because I am a goddess, the daughter of the mighty Sun. I beg you not to hurry; the gift I request is time. What less could I pray for? The waves are rough, you see, and you should be afraid; the wind will better fill your sails later on. What is your reason for escape? Here is no New Troy on the rise; no one is calling your allies back to battle. …

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