A fragmented commentary
Ovid lived in a time defined by benevolent despotism, the era of Augustus in the Roman Republic--31 B. C.
Metamorphosis means change. We will begin with a discussion of "change" as a concept.
Mythology of Direction
Does the first cosmogony in Genesis suggest a direction for change? Upward? Descent? The Descent of Man (as Darwin's title suggests) has been in contemporary times transformed into the ascent of man. A tree sends down roots as it rises to the light, BUT. . . . Examine the metaphors of our lives. What direction do we continually emphasize? Why?
The poet Robert Bly suggests Growing downward has no legitimacy
in our culture. Can you give some Examples?
What direction indicates success? Why?
What direction does Ovid suggest we are traveling in "The Four Ages of Mankind"?
In Metamorphoses creation takes on a mythology of
And while the other creatures on all fours
Look downward, man was made to hold his head
Erect in majesty and see the sky,
And raise his eyes to the bright stars above.
Thus earth, once crude and featureless, now changed
Put on the unknown form of humankind.
Metamorphosis begins with the appearance of order out of chaos, but is equally concerned with the reversion of order to Chaos. Perhaps the first way we can approach the creation accounts inOvid's epic begins with thinking about our connection to the earth for more than ten minutes, the parent of the next century. In the second creation, the return of the feminine face of god is linked with a new responsibility to ourselves and the planet. The "unknown form" takes shape as the anima.
"Deucalion and Pyrrha":
We children of the earth. . . .
All other forms of life earth brought forth,
In diverse species, of her own accord,
when heat and moisture/ blend in due balance, they conceive; these two,
These, are the origin of everything.
Genesis and contemporary American perspectives--including psychology--emphasize human parentage as an initial source of trauma. So the myth goes, we are our parents' children and the primary instrument of our fate is the behavior of our mother and father. In addition, we insist that "Family Values" are the single most important set of ideas for understanding societal dysfunction--family is the archetypal breast to which we tenaciously cling even as we watch everything about the American family change right before our eyes.
Does Ovid suggest alternatives to the tradition view of human relationships? Is the Power of the parent ever confused with the power of the world at large--the home of the world? If so what might be the consequences?
The more I believe my nature comes directly from my parents the less open I am to the ruling influences around me?
The earth influences my identity, my open and erotic understanding of the world/home that surrounds me. In Ovid, "Ancestors" are not confined to physical antecedents whose decent into your sphere, allowed only via your natural family.
The Father figure in "Apollo and Daphne":
Often her father said, "My dearest daughter,
It is my due to have a son-in-law."
Often her father said, "It is my due,
Child of my heart, to be given grandchildren."
"My dear, dear father grant I may enjoy
Virginity for ever; this Diana
Was granted by her father." He, indeed,
Yielded. . . .
In the study guide, Books I-V, I ask you to consider the evolution of the natrual rights of children. We can contrast, for instance, the actions of Agamemnon or Medea to the actions of these fathers in Ovid's tales. What is different and what are the implications of these differences?
Now look at Dads in TV sitcoms. Can we make any generalization about the image of contemporary American father? Is the Father sometimes made to look foolish and antiquated--not quite with it? Why?
Do some sitcoms attempt to deflate the patriarchal stuffed-shirt? Do some sitcoms re-represent the equality of the mother, while blurring the hierarchical differences between the father and the child?
Mothers are practical and connected while Dad is a little dumb and "absent"?
His job is elsewhere? Father is absent in the dysfunctional family? And absence is shaming even criminal?
Does the image of father as working, home at dusk, earning, sharing, caring, quality time, loving Disney and kid's food fit real American life?
What do you think would be the father's fatal solution: "more" instead of "beyond." More money, more work, more drinks, more weight, more infotainment, a fanatic dedication to his kid's happiness. When your child becomes the reason for your life, what is the worst thing that can happen?
Contrast: In other cultures, an ancestor could be a tree, a bear, a salmon, a spirit, a special place. Consider myth as the invisible world touching the living. Never could the state of your soul be completely attributed to what your mother and father did thirty years ago. Our rituals wither to Hallmark cards and phone calls on special days and still we attribute immense determining power to our parents' magical influence over our intimate lives. But a voice inside whispers: "Religion is a world loyalty."
Such a hypothesis appears to go against everything we have been taught about the significance of family--the mythology of mom and dad. So by all means honor thy mother and father, but also consider alternatives.
Ovid and the Natural World
Consider our connections to the earth. That is, what is the difference between pornography and eroticism? Voyeurism and intimacy?
In "The Erotic Landscape," Terry Tempest Williams discusses human experience. Contemporary Americans, it seems to her, ought to be warned about stories of conquest which teach us to tame our true erotic nature. According to Williams, the world we surrender to "defies our participation and seduces us into believing that our only place in nature is as spectator, onlooker." She suggests that this "onlooker" relationship with the land is perhaps no different than the voyeurism men or women luxuriate in when they view pornography.
Eroticism is being in relationship and calls an inner life into play. The pornographic suppresses true feeling and directly denies the power of the erotic. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling. We have, perhaps in western myth, remained reticent about the power of the erotic: Williams writes: "The erotic world is silenced, reduced to a collection of objects we can curate and control, be it a vase, a woman, or wilderness."
Without eroticism--without connection--we cannot begin to understand our abuse of each other and our abuse of the land: "Our lives become a piece of the puzzle of pornography as we go through the motions of daily intercourse without any engagement of the soul." Ovid's text perhaps help us engage the soul, "the unknown form of humankind."