"Waters of the Fountain Salmacis": Metamorphosis and the Ovidian Subtext in William Faulkner's Sanctuary
Camastra, Nicole J., The Mississippi Quarterly
WILLIAM FAULKNER'S SANCTUARY STRONGLY ALLUDES TO OVID'S THE Metamorphoses, primarily through the myth of Narcissus. Horace sees both his and Popeye's reflections in the opening scene; Popeye obsesses about his hair, asking the sheriff to "fix" it just before he hangs for murder; and Temple's "painted" face repeatedly stares back at her from a compact mirror. Elements of the Narcissus myth help to establish the themes of self-love and self-loathing that course through the novel. (1) But the violent shift from innocence to knowledge experienced by Temple Drake and the center of the novel's concern with evil and violable sanctuary are more concretely rooted in the darker tale of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. Focusing on sexual and epistemological transformation, Ovid writes of a young man and a nymph forever fused into one being, "nor boy nor girl, / Neither yet both within a single body" (122). The girl, Salmacis, seems culpable since she articulates her mad desire to make love to the boy; but Hermaphroditus, "half innocent of love" (121), coyly dismisses the girl's assertive sexual overtures, encouraging her even more. After a violent struggle in a "tempting pool" (120) of water, the gods join the two irrevocably, granting the pool its "weird magic." Both figures succumb to impulses they only partially understand, and their own agency seems subordinate to that of the "fountained pool" (122) that devours them both.
The tale of Salmacis and others in The Metamorphoses indulge Ovid's fascination with the psychology of love and sex, and his consistent placing of "natural law above decorum" (Gregory xviii), as in his Art of Love along with The Metamorphoses, precipitated his exile. As a story teller, Ovid aimed to vivify, not judge, the human condition. The radical changes the characters experience in The Metamorphoses remind us that "they live and act within a world of irrational desires which are as vivid to them as things that happen in a dream" (Gregory xi). In Sanctuary, Horace and Temple wrestle with irrational and irreconcilable desires in a dark, dream-like world "filled with all the nightmare shapes" (222). They both court metamorphosis as a means to deal with sexual and sensual forces they neither consciously welcome nor completely understand. Horace and Temple remain "half innocent of love" and the Salmacis myth resonates with both of them. (2) Ovidian hermaphroditism, the shifts in identity resulting from natural impulses rather than moral consequences, figures prominently in the revised version of Sanctuary. Since the original text of the novel focuses mostly on Horace's story, the female element of the Ovidian androgyne seems poorly represented and, therefore, unconvincing. (3) In contrast, the revised text puts equal implicit weight on Temple's drama and provides more depth to the violent metamorphosis they both experience. More importantly, good evidence exists that Faulkner's idea for the novel originated with a vision of Temple Drake and her father in the Luxembourg Gardens, facing a fountain (316). Faulkner's early conception of what would become the final scene in both texts not only portends Temple's weightier presence in the revised version, but it also suggests that Ovidian waters nourish the allusive depth of Sanctuary. (4)
Water evokes pernicious desire in Ovid's myth. It is the fountain of Salmacis and not its namesake that has "earned an evil name" (Ovid 120). Similarly, spring imagery provides a primary key to the Ovidian subtext in Sanctuary. In the introductory scene of the novel, Horace and Popeye meet at a spring and are first acquainted through their reflections in the water. John T. Irwin sees this as decidedly Narcissistic imagery: "the presence of both images on the mirroring surface codes Horace and Popeye as mirror images of one another, as antithetical doubles" (545). Noel Polk also sees the two men as very much alike through the lens of Narcissus: "if Popeye is a mirror image of Horace, it is very significant that Horace drinks from the Narcissus-spring, and Popeye spits in it" ("Afterword" 304). …