"Waters of the Fountain Salmacis": Metamorphosis and the Ovidian Subtext in William Faulkner's Sanctuary

By Camastra, Nicole J. | The Mississippi Quarterly, Summer-Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

"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). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Waters of the Fountain Salmacis": Metamorphosis and the Ovidian Subtext in William Faulkner's Sanctuary
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.