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A note on Ovid, 'Metamorphoses' 11.48.

[..............] obstrusaque carbasa pullo

naides et dryades passosque habuere capillos.

These lines come from the passage describing the mourning of the natural world following the death of Orpheus. A. D. Melville (Ovid, Metamorphoses [Oxford, 1986]) translates as follows:

[`........................] and naiads wore,

and Dryads too, their mourning robes of black

And hair dishevelled.'

The MS. evidence is set out in W. S. Anderson's Teubner edition of the Metamorphoses (Leipzig, 1977). Anderson reads obstrusaque ([FLMN.sup.1]e). The use of the word obstrusaque at Met. 11.48 is described as `rare and striking' by G. M. H. Murphy (Ovid, Metamorphoses Book XI [Oxford, 1972]), who interprets obstrusaque carbasa pullo as `linen robes edged with black (as a sign of mourning)'. Obstrusaque, however, is gibberish, a vox nihili, as E. J. Kenney has described it in conversation with me. The verb obtrudo means `to thrust violently' and its participle obtrusa, found in one manuscript (see Hugo Magnus' edition of the Metamorphoses [Berlin, 1914]), does not make sense here.

Emend obstrusaque to abstrusaque. Abstrudo means `to hide / conceal'. We can translate abstrusaque carbasa pullo /... habuere as `they wore their linen garments hidden beneath a dark robe'. Pullum is a neuter singular adjective used here as a noun. Examples of pullum meaning `a dark garment' can be found at Liv. 45.7.4 (pullo + amictus illo + Perseus ingressus est castra) and at Ov. Ars 3.189 (pulla decent niveas). A dark cloak or mantle (worn over other garments) was a conventional sign of mourning or sorrow (OLD s.v. pullus b). Carbasus is the usual word to describe the linen garb traditionally worn by water-deities (CARPASUS, pallium quo Fluvii amiciuntur Non. p. 541M). The River-God Tiber wore a `linen robe' (carbasus) at Virg. A. 8.33-4 (eum tenuis glauco velabat amictu / carbasus). Carbasa (p1.) means `linen clothes'. The sorrowing nymphs put on a dark mantle over their customary linen clothes, thereby hiding their carbasa from view.

The use of the singular pullo alongside the plural carbasa requires some comment. Pullis (p1.) might seem more appropriate since the talk is of the mourning garments worn by a number of nymphs. Ovid, however, moves easily between singular and plural forms when the meaning is not in doubt (the same wound is referred to as vulnera and vulnus at Met. 10.187 and 189) and there is a parallel to carbasa pullo (p1. / s.) in velamina filo at Ars 3.267. There is also the possibility that Ovid is using pullum in the singular here as a colour term ('their linen robes concealed in black'): compare Virg. Ecl. 2.41 (sparsis... pellibus albo) and G. 3.56 (maculis insignia et albo). `Linen robes concealed in black' still refers, of course, to sombre-coloured mantles on top of the nymphs' carbasa. The singular pullo is also attractive as implying uniformity of dress on the part of the mourning nymphs.

The variant reading obscuraque ([EN.sup.2]PUW) looks like an attempt to replace the meaningless obstrusaque with a word which makes sense in a context where the talk is of mourning (obscuraque carbasa pullo / ... habuere `they wore their linen garments hidden by a dark robe'). Obscuraque, however, is less attractive than abstrusaque palaeographically and the participial abstrusa balances passos in a way that obscura (adj.) does not. The verbal aspects of abstrusa and passos also emphasize the actions of the nymphs in an appropriate way. Ovid almost certainly thought of water nymphs as chic females dressed in stylish carbasa. The beautiful nymphs are so upset at the death of Orpheus that the first thing they do is to hide their normal alluring garb. Abstrusa (participle) nicely draws attention to the nymphs' act of concealing their carbasa in a way that obscura (adj.) does not.
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Author:Griffin, Alan H.F.
Publication:The Classical Quarterly
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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