Delahoyde & Hughes
Orpheus

OVID
METAMORPHOSES
BOOK II


Phaethon:

  • With the story of Phaethon, Ovid tells us the difference between fathers and sons or the difference between being old and being young. What is the difference between the Sun God and his son Phaethon?
  • What do young people want? What do older people want?

Dad supplies "The Rash Promise" from which he cannot back out -- a common folklore motif: his son may ask any favor and it will be granted. D'oh! -- anything but that! Phaethon wants to drive the chariot of the sun, and despite Phoebus' lengthy appeal to reconsider the dangers, his son insists.

  • Why does Phaethon disregard his father's warning?
[Read "George Sand Defines Happiness" (1852). George Sand was a French Novelist and a Romantic Idealist. She writes that complete happiness requires the happiness of the society; the happiness of others is absolutely necessary to our own.]

  • Once again Ovid voices the science of Rome. What earth's properties does Ovid acknowledge? What do we see cosmologically?
Note reference to constellations: Scorpio, Leo, Cancer, Taurus (31).
  • What are the sun's stallions--Eous, Aethon, Pyrois, and Phlegan--like? Flying horses?
  • If no one had imagined this already, then in what era might we as humans come up with such a fantastical cross between steeds and birds? Why?
... the team can sense the difference; those four
berserk--desert their customary course:
no rule, no order governs their wild rush....

  • What is Ovid saying about humans? About government or leadership?
In Plato's "Apology," Socrates creates the metaphor of the gadfly and the great horse which is allegorically the Athenian State:
For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the God; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you.

  • Is Ovid using horses in the same metaphorical fashion as Socrates? What is the difference between Socrates' story of the gadfly (and the horse) and Ovid's story of Phaethon and the stallions?
  • What does George Sand add to this discussion? How might these stories help us understand the differences in attitudes about individualism between the Greeks and the Romans?
  • What is the American perspective?

Mother Earth pleads for help from the Great Lord of Gods: "is this how you repay me--the reward/ for my fertility, my patient work?/ It's I who bear the harrow and hooked plow;/ yearlong I get no rest; I furnish leaves/ to feed the beasts and harvests for mankind,/their peaceful food; and I, for you, provide/incense."

Ovid gives us the Mother as the great provider. The queen of resources now feels the plight, the confounded chaos of old. With sea and land and sky ruined, Mother Earth "fell silent.... And she withdrew into her deepest caves...."

  • In what ways is Mother Earth still silenced?
  • In what ways do we continue to forbid the earth to speak of its ruin?
  • How can we best communicate with the earth?
We are given a different story of humans and nature in Terry Tempest Williams' "The Erotic Landscape."

  • Phaethon's Epitaph: what does it suggest about the boy's choice?
So despite everything, Phaethon goes out like a shooting star, which remains a deadly if glamorous myth about reckless youth (38). (The 1939 Ford Phaeton seems a particularly poor choice of names for a car! But then, the Toyota Cressida is named after literature's archetypal inconstant and unreliable woman.)

  • Phaethon's mother Clymene and her daughters mourn Phaethon. What happens to Phaethons' sisters?
  • Ovid again explicitly expands the human community to include trees. What is Ovid saying about trees?
"When you rip this tree, it is my body that you tear."

  • What is the connection between Ovid's characters and the erotic in Williams' essay?
  • What is the difference between eroticism and pornography?

The Story of the Raven:
The history of the raven in narrative goes back to antiquity with the story of the flood in Gilgamesh (2700 bce). In this Summerian epic, the survivor of the flood Utnapishtim--the precursor to Noah--releases a swallow which failing to find land returns to the ark. He then releases a raven and "she" does not return. In Genesis, at the end of forty days Noah opens the window in the ark and releases a raven that "went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth (Genesis 8:7). In the ancient stories, these birds are present at the apocalypse and yet do not return to the ark, preferring a kind of abandonment or freedom independent of the human survivors. In contemporary wildlife studies, we learn that the raven prefers to live in the wild, in the untrammeled places called wilderness where human populations are transitory and temporary; the crow on the other hand, often seeks out the rural and urban habitat in close occupancy with humans. Consequently these two birds become a measure of change for as we domesticate the wild the raven moves on and is replaced by the crow.

Ravens and crows belong to the Crovine family which includes jays. Among other things, this family of birds is associated with trickery. The Steller's Jay, for instance, can imitate the call of a Redtail Hawk.

  • What does the crow tell the Raven?
  • Does the crow understand humans and their gods better than the Raven?
  • What is the origin of the crow in this story?
  • Nyctimene becomes a night-owl. Why?
  • Raven disregards crow's warning and goes on to tell Apollo about Coronis' infidelity. What does Apollo do? What happens to the raven?


Book 2 contains numerous etiologies: why Africans are dark-skinned, why Libya is a desert, why the Nile's beginning is hidden (35-36). It also reveals the origin of amber (39), the swan (Cygnus, cousin of Phaethon), and certain constellations (Ursa Major and Minor -- a bear and Arcus/arctic son/hunter).

Towards the larger meaning of Ovid's Metamorphoses, take note of these moments:

* "earth, our mother" (36).
* earth being outraged, reminding us of her beneficence (37).
* breaking twigs = bloodletting (39).
* a bear might be your mother (44).
* the odd and nasty butchery simile that doesn't really apply to Apollo's mourning. hmmm.... (48).


Metamorphoses Book III
Ovid Index
Orpheus: Roman Mythology