Academic journal article Antichthon

Procne, Philomela, Tereus in Ovid's Metamorphoses: A Narratological Approach

Academic journal article Antichthon

Procne, Philomela, Tereus in Ovid's Metamorphoses: A Narratological Approach

Article excerpt

A text is a device conceived in order to produce its Model Reader. I repeat that this reader is not the one who makes the 'only right' conjecture. A text can foresee a Model Reader entitled to try infinite conjectures. The empirical reader is only an actor who makes conjectures about the kind of Model Reader postulated by the text. Since the intention of the text is basically to produce a Model Reader able to make conjectures about it, the initiative of the Model Reader consists in figuring out a Model Author that is not the empirical one and that, at the end, coincides with the intention of the text. (Eco)1

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

In considering the tone of Ovid's Metamorphoses, scholars most commonly see it as mixed: 'some parts will prove pathetic, some grotesque, some stark, some comic - in fact, a great deal of the essential variety of tone will result automatically". Wilkinson sees the strands as discrete - comic sections or tragic sections, for example. An extreme example of this sectioning is Albrecht's article which outlines books and their parts according to whether they are serious or comic in tone.2 Others, however, see Ovid's tone as equally variable, bul view the strands themselves as mixed: 'Abrupt change from epic seriousness to irreverent humour in the same passage is typical of the Metamorphoses1 r Discrepant interpretations of stories, such as those of Actaeon, Pentheus, Perseus, Niobe, Cephalus and Procris, Philemon and Baucis, Pygmalion, Orpheus, Alcyone and Ceyx, Hecuba, often turn on whether the scholar sees the story's tone as serious, comic, or mixed. Though Ovid's comic tone, irreverent or otherwise, has long been recognised as central to understanding the work, there is seldom agreement on what is comic and what is not. Scholarship is also split on the conclusion to be drawn about the function of humour in the work: some see it as superficial and inhumane; others see it as the opposite.4 A prime example of these discrepancies is the Procne, Philomela, and Tereus tale, provoking among Ovid scholars, perhaps, the most vehement disagreement. AhI calls the tale one of 'unrelieved horror', which does not 'allow us to escape with a laugh.'5 In agreement with him are Curran, Jacobsen, and Pavlock, who see it as a tragedy of brutality and vengeance that displays man's cruelty to man." Though he does note a few comical elements in the passage, Anderson, perhaps most responsible for recent scholarship on Ovid's use of irreverent humour, mostly sees poignancy and irony - Vergilian and tragic - at work.7 For these scholars Ovid's story is deep and humane. Coming to the opposite conclusion, Galinsky finds humour in the tale, charging Ovid with 'cruelty and a loving depiction even of the smallest sadistic detail.'8 Richlin deplores in the story the mix 'of clever style with gruesome subject matter', and views the work as an exemplar of what is wrong with art.9 Though he does not mention humour, Humphries cites this story - as well as that of Perseus and the Centaurs - as violent and ugly, reflective of a sadistic streak in Ovid.10 For these scholars the mixture of violence and humour, or simply the violence of the tale, mars Ovid and his work. Up to this point, then, scholarship has argued that the tale is tragic and therefore deep (AhJ, Curran, Jacobsen, Pavlock, Anderson) or wrongly comic and therefore sadistic (Galinsky, Richlin) or excessively violent and therefore sadistic (Humphries). This paper argues against these three views, suggesting that the tone is mixed and that the mixed tone, rather than reflective of sadism in Ovid or his work, offers the reader a seriocomic viewpoint of a world that is many things at once: pathetic and bathetic; cruel and kind; wonderful and horrorful.

Although discrepant interpretations are to be expected in any discipline, one may wonder how the same passage can be viewed so very differently. In answer I suggest the reason is that in the tale Ovid frequently uses black humour. …

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