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Ovid Metamorph. Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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Give an analysis of the "uses of myth" in the set sections from Ovid's Metamorphoses The set sections from the Metamorphoses give a good representation of the uses of myth throughout the entire work. They show well how Ovid makes aetiological use of myth, as well as how he makes it more approachable and accessible to his Roman public with humour and adaptation of older myths, while still at the same time showing how Ovid likes to show off his talent and knowledge. In Ovid myth is not used in the same way as it is in Virgil because he does not give it the same religious meaning or deal with it in an overly serious way. The gods especially are brought down to Earth and humanized in such a way that they become to be dominated by human emotions, rather than being the paradigms of any sort of morality. This is what they are in the Aeneid as they guide Aeneas to Italy so that his duty and pietas may be fulfilled. In stark contrast in Ovid they are shown as, "victims of capricious power." (Conte, page 384) For example Diana severely and horribly punishes Actaeon who was guilty of little or no real crime against her, "But if you seek the truth, you will not find the cause of this in fortune's fault and not in any crime of his."(3.141) However her response to him seeing her naked is full of bitterness and sarcasm, "Now you are free to tell that you have seen me all unrobed-if you can tell."(3.190). She then proceeds to cruelly punish by turning him into a stag who is killed by his own dogs; "They throng around him on every side and, plunging their muzzles in his flesh, mangle their master."(3.249).In this way, according to Solodow, the gods have a "split divinity". They retain their superhuman powers, but they loose all the majesty which made them respected by men, and now they are simply objects of fear. This process of humanization of the gods serves to make the stories more relevant and seem more familiar, Ovid is making a statement about the mythological world, it is not so austere and the mythological heroes were not any different to the men that exist today. He does this same thing in another way was well, by modernizing the myths that he tells. This he does by subtle details which probably would have been familiar to a Roman audience but not to such an extent that they would have seemed out of place or even noticeable at all. For example in the scene with the bath of Diana, where the emphasis is on the domestic and the familiar, showing her as a Roman maiden with a large retinue of attendants, among which is a hierarchy. "But Theban Crocale, defter than the rest, binds into a knot the locks which have fallen down her mistress' neck, her own locks streaming free the while." (3.165) The description is bereft of the grand epithets and hyperbole which usually accompany descriptions of gods in literature and the point is that this could be any Roman woman about to take a bath. Same details of anachronism also make the myths more contemporary. In book 8 Minos' men at the siege set up in tents rather than huts, at Achelous' dinner the guests recline at couches(567) and in book 3 there are similes involving artillery, which wasn't invented until long after the heroic age. These small touches adapt the old myths and make them more applicable to the Roman audience.

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