In wolf's clothing: a psychoanalytic reading of the Lycaon episode in Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.
This is not to deny the importance of interpretive approaches based on such considerations as narrative voice or focalization; a great deal of very good work on the epistemologically troubling Lycaon episode begins with questions about speakers, witnesses, and their motivations. (5) Nor is it a plea to discard the hermeneutics of suspicion. Rather, this paper attempts to demonstrate, first, that the locus of suspicion can be shifted to good effect--from suspicion over individual events within the narrative (that is, accepting some as 'real' and rejecting others as 'false' or 'biased') to suspicion at the level of the narrative discourse itself (and thus acceptance of all narrative episodes, not because they are 'real' but because they all contribute to characterizing that discourse); and second, that such a shift represents a methodologically rigorous alternative that does not sacrifice a careful regard for context. My method here will in orientation be basically Lacanian, since that psychoanalytic approach is the most engaged with language. But it bears remembering that Lacan insisted that he himself was no Lacanian, but a Freudian, and that his own method was developed through an uncompromising return to the Freudian text. I shall follow suit in having recourse to Freud's Totem and Taboo in a later section, though in the Lacanian reinterpretation of that text as a myth of the origins of personality, rather than as any kind of genuine memory of the beginnings of civilization. Furthermore, in the spirit of suspicion and Lacan's work on psychoanalysis and detective fiction in his "Seminar on the 'Purloined Letter,'" it seems best to start with a Lacanian analyst's remarks on crime fiction, not least because of the obvious fact that if the text is taken at face value, somebody was murdered (the hostage, at first, and slightly later the bulk of humankind). But first one final clarification: the days of psychoanalyzing literary characters, on the one hand, and authors based on their works, on the other, have long been over. I am concerned here with drawing out the anxieties of the text as a document written at a crucial moment in Roman history; Jupiter is a fiction the text gives us, and I begin by taking up that fiction. But in the end this can be neither about Jupiter, who does not exist, nor about Ovid, whom we cannot reach.
Turning, then, to the crime at hand: Those who would, through their suspicion, outwit a wily character like Ovid's Jupiter run a risk, one summed up admirably well in Slavoj Zizek's discussion of psychoanalytic method in terms of detective fiction. (6) Zizek (1991, 53) describes how "the scene of the crime with which the detective is confronted is also, as a rule, a false image put together by the murderer in order to efface the traces of his act." That is to say, the extraordinary criminal, as opposed to the common criminal, uses structural expectations as a weapon, staying one step ahead of 'official' knowledge (generally represented in detective fiction by the police): "The crucial thing about the distance separating the false scene staged by the murderer and the true course of events is the structural necessity of the false solution toward which we are enticed because of the 'convincing' character of the staged scene." (7) The mistrust represented by starting from structure (rather than taking the scene at face value), by reading 'by the book,' could then be a way precisely of playing into the criminal's hands. The analyst/detective operates differently:
The key to the detective's procedure is that the relation to the first, false solutions is not simply an external one: the detective does not apprehend them as simple obstacles to be cast away in order to obtain the truth, rather it is only through them that he can arrive at the truth, for there is no path leading immediately to the truth. (8)
Thus, donning the detective's mantle in our own right, it is to the "false solution" of Jupiter's self-serving speech that we must turn to find clues or jarring inconsistencies. (9) Rather than dismissing these inconsistencies, however, as mere confirmations of the problems exposed by the narrative structure (that is, by saying "How natural that he should lie, we knew it all along"), I shall take them seriously and pursue them as evidence of the split subject's inevitable self-betrayal in language, while tracing the chain of evidence backwards from the micro-frame to the macro. Such an approach, even in the midst of all the levity inherent in pretending to be a detective and treating a character in an ancient poem like the villain in a modern-day crime drama, is well warranted for two reasons. First, it is, after all, a case of murder; and second, and perhaps more to the point, this psychoanalytic approach, however playful, will end by exposing not merely the tensions and contradictions in a fictional character's story, but the anxieties desperately concealed in the text itself with regard to metamorphosis, change, and Roman power.
I. Exhibit (a): The Victim's Lacanian autre
In the course of finding the innermost fiction with which to begin such an analysis, one is bound to notice the fact that contrary to Jupiter's suppressing agency (and all approaches that unduly privilege that agency), the supposedly 'voiceless' wolf man does, in fact, speak. The text presents an indisputable instance of direct quotation in lines 221-3: inridet primo pia vota Lycaon, / mox ait 'experiar deus hie discrimine aperto / an sit mortalis: nec erit dubitabile verum' (First Lycaon laughed at their pious prayers, and then said, "This god I shall try in open attempt, whether he be mortal: nor will the truth be open to doubt"). (10) For an all-too-brief moment Lycaon is present as speaking subject, if only through the medium of Jupiter's fantastical narrative, and so the Lacanian question arises: Whence precisely does he speak? The answer is to be framed in terms of the by-now-familiar RSI, the triad of key Lacanian concepts for visualizing subject formation. (11) To briefly trace the drama, a subject comes into being by entering into the Symbolic order, a determinative socio-linguistic realm that names and delineates the world and the things and people in it. Thus the-subject-to-be-known-as-Lycaon is drawn in as Lycaon (by his name), as king (by his title/birth), as member of a certain people, speaker of a particular language, and so on. Of course, for this to be anything but the most artificial participation, the subject must internalize it thoroughly through Imaginary projections of various sorts (such as his self-image, the images of his ideal self, ideal mate, etc.). The Real is all that does not fall neatly into these structures and that constantly threatens to overturn them. I use the term structures because Lacan's model is, at its heart, structuralist, which is to say that the meaning of terms within it is derived from their place in a network of relationships, especially through oppositions. Thus 'king' gains its value by comparison to other social positions; the traits of being Arcadian are set off by the traits of various non-Arcadians; to be human is defined as against animals and gods; and so forth. The figure of 'the other' therefore becomes a key concept at every level of the Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary (sometimes shortened to RSI), and by the place of the subject it is really a placement vis-a-vis the other/Other (12) that is meant.
In order to understand Lycaon we must understand the other in general and his other in particular. The Lacanian other serves a number of functions. First, there is the other of the mirror stage, the other who constitutes the locus for the assumption of an imaginary 'external,' or seemingly objective, self-regard. (13) The subject sees, or fails to see, her correspondence to the decrees of the Symbolic order from the vantage of an internalized other; after all, one needs to assume the role, in one's imagination, of an objective, outside viewer if one is to properly assess whether one 'really' is a king, acting properly as a king, etc. In this way the locus of the imagined other becomes a site of judgment, and thus it is impossible that this judging, ideal other should remain a mere empty place. In order to pass judgment, the other must be endowed with a measure of authority, which is deeply implicated in its second function, which is to guarantee the Symbolic system and the Law (one sees how the empty place of objective viewing and judgment becomes filled with an Imaginary answer to the natural question, "Who are you to judge?"). The Symbolic system, as an interlocking structure, requires a guarantor in the face of the potentially vertiginous sliding of the chain of signification that constitutes it. This is the other's function as Father or, more accurately, the Name-of-the-Father, who upholds the Symbolic system (14) with the implicit or explicit promise that not only is the system stable, but it is also good, that is, it will provide every member with its desire. The dark flipside to this is the anxiety raised by the figure of an omnipotent Father who shares one's Desire, namely that he will monopolize all enjoyment, which he possesses in plenitude, and arbitrarily keep all others from it. (15) One aspect of the internalization of such an arbitrary, domineering authority figure is the bullying superego. Yet whether in its positive or negative aspect, the other as ideal judging agent is both an object of jubilation and aggressiveness: jubilation when it is seen as corresponding to the subject (as in a mirror, as in positive self-evaluation); but aggressiveness when seen as external to the subject, as a threatening challenger for the subject's desired position. (16)
It should by now be perfectly obvious that Lycaon's other is none other than Jupiter. As long, he is closely identified with Jupiter as guarantor of both his place in society and the law that he administers. (17) The very name of the god in his Arcadian cubic association, Jupiter or Zeus Lykaios, symbolically inscribes the interrelatedness of the two figures as mirror doubles. Furthermore, Lycaon's self-stated motivation as the desire to prove that the putative god is actually a charlatan could be seen as the drive towards a pious act on Jupiter's behalf; from this perspective Lycaon puts himself in the place of Jupiter both as aggrieved party and as dispenser of retribution. And what else should we expect, knowing that Lycaon owes everything he is to Jupiter, father of gods and humans, patron of kings, and guarantor of the Law, a role that literally comes to the fore in the Lycaon story, which begins: quae pater ut summa vidit Saturnius arce, / ingemit ... conciliumque vocat (When the Saturnian father saw these things from his high citadel, he groaned ... and called together a council). (18) In lines 209-10, he embarks on the specifics of the tale in this way: 'ille quidem poenas (curam hanc dimittite) solvit; / quod tamen admissum, quae sit vindicta docebo' ("Have no fear on this account, he has paid the penalty; having said that, let me tell you his crime and its punishment"). All the Lacanian strands come together here: the Father, the alter-ego, the lawgiver and preserver of order in the face of chaos, and the anxiety-inducing Saturnian father with his harsh prejudgments and limitless might. It is not surprising that he inspires resentment as well as reverence, or that Lycaon should act on his behalf.
Yet the method employed to test the god surely belies a simple piety defense. Lycaon decides to attempt both the coldblooded murder of his guest (a violation of the protection Jupiter supposedly guarantees guests), and the typical Atreidean motif of attempting to feed him human flesh, also an action associated with blasphemy against the person of Jupiter. While the basic impulse to test may seem understandable, the aggressiveness of the response is clearly pathological and can only be explained through the enmity accorded a certain type of mirroring other who threatens to usurp one's place. It is all very well to worship a Jupiter up in heaven so long as one gets to be Jupiter on earth (the positive side of the mirror stage); having a second Jupiter in one's kingdom is an entirely different matter.
A number of conclusions follow from this observation. First, Lycaon at some level recognizes the 'man' as Jupiter (no surprise in view of the fact that everybody else seems to do so, since Jupiter gave signa ... venisse deum [signs ... that a god was come, 1.220; is it not suspicious that Lycaon should be the only one not fooled?]). (19) Second, the appeal to law is a mere cover or pretext for the murderous actions that this recognition of a competing other sets in motion. Third, viewed in terms of identity, self-image, and the other, the attempt to murder Jupiter-on-earth is not so much an attempt to do away with Jupiter entirely as it is the fulfillment of a wish to supplant him. This last point is particularly clear: if kingship, legitimacy, and law come from Jupiter, then the attempted murder is either an effort to maintain these things based on a misrecognition, in which case Lycaon is literally taking Jupiter's place as guarantor of the system, or, if he senses Jupiter's true nature, he is not attempting to do away with everything Jupiter represents, including his own kingship, but is rather vying with him for a single position of supremacy. In favor of this latter possibility is the viciousness with which Lycaon reacts, for it is clear that the aggressive response to the external mirrored other is based on the wish to keep that position entirely for oneself. It is, however, perhaps the small slip or ambiguity in his reported speech that most strongly betrays this last point: experiar deus, which I translated above as "god I shall try," could also be glossed as "I, god, shall try," (20) and literally displaces Jupiter while relegating him to the subordinate clause an sit mortalis, which contains the wish that Jupiter be made mortal. (21) By putting himself in the place of the testing god and Jupiter in the place of the mortal, Lycaon has reversed not only their positions in the abstract realm of the Symbolic, but even their positions within the actual situation of Jupiter's testing of humanity. Yet on the face of things, even the murderous aggressiveness unleashed by seeing one's other incarnate does not seem sufficient to explain Lycaon's actions, which go far beyond the mere effort to unmask or even assassinate his rival. The murder of an innocent hostage, and the violation of the taboo on cannibalism, are acts of such viciousness that they seem to fully justify Jupiter's outraged description of Lycaon at 1.198 as notus feritate (infamous for his savagery), as well as the king's eventual transformation into a bloodthirsty beast. (22)
What Lycaon's actions and transformation obliquely indicate is the truth of his Desire, namely that it is murderous. (23) The other plays a key role as guarantor of the Lacanian economy of Desire; by tying down the Symbolic order, the Father claims that everyone's Desire will be fulfilled. Not only that, but the subject projects her Desire onto the Father, with twofold consequences. First, the Father legitimates the subject's Desire by adopting it; but in his imagined omnipotence, a Father who shares his subject's Desire is also threatening, and thus requires the leash of Law lest he monopolize Desire. For Lycaon, along with all his murderous models, the perfect situation is one in which the Law simultaneously demands that they kill and prevents the Father from committing murder (as opposed to justified killings). Jupiter and the Law demand that he kill this upstart, and thus open the floodgates to a tenuously justifiable orgy of wanton murder and more.
Why, then, one might ask, the farce (if one could call it that) with the cooked human remains? Surely successfully murdering 'Jupiter' in his bed would have been sufficient proof of his mortality. This episode represents one of the most glaring inconsistencies of the entire story, and is worth exploring in some depth. (24) The relevant lines are:
nocte gravem somno necopina perdere morte me parat: haec illi placet experientia veri! nec contentus eo est; missi de gente Molossa obsidis unius iugulum mucrone resolvit. (1.224-7) He made ready to slay me by night in secret, while I was heavy with sleep; this was the test of truth that he favored! Nor was he satisfied with that, but he slaughtered A hostage, Molossian, slitting his throat with his sword ...
One explanation for this bizarre inconsistency of actions is to return to Lycaon's original 'statement of purpose,' namely, to test the so-called god discrimine aperto ... nec erit duhitahile verum. Yet this reason fails, since the corpse of the dead Jupiter could have been publicly displayed to remove popular doubt (one presumes that Jupiter's mortality is already anything but duhitahile to Lycaon, and so his [literally] ostensible object must be to convince the populace and not himself). Jupiter's exclamation, naming the projected murder a "test," further betrays this inconcinnity. Indeed, it would be a mistake to expend too much cleverness in papering over what is so obviously a hole in the story, a loose end, if one will, for unraveling the entire weave Jupiter has so laboriously been fabricating. After all, Jupiter himself admits that the attempted murder and nothing else (haec) is Lycaon's experientia veri, and precisely at the point at which his story is most vulnerable to charges of partiality, since Jupiter has here gone from relating public events and direct quotations to reporting on Lycaon's secret deeds and motivations. If we recall Lacan's formulation of the hidden as what is out of place, not only will we realize that this is the symptom/clue for which we have been searching, but we will also realize that the order of events simply does not fit, logically or temporally: (25) murder and then feast? What does this represent? (26)
The paradigmatic psychoanalytic text dealing with parricide and feasting is, of course, Freud's Totem and Taboo. (27) In Totem and Taboo Freud (1995, 871-94) suggests that at the root of our societal arrangements lies a terrible crime--the murder of the oppressive primal father by his male children. The father had been keeping all the women for himself, and so the sons wished to replace him. The murder was only a partial success, however, since none of the sons could take the father's place, prevented as they were by the jealousy of the other brothers; all this despite the ritualistic cannibal feast they made of the father's corpse in an attempt to identify with him/absorb his standing. Instead, they incurred an incalculable guilt, which is figured and expiated in a number of ways. For instance, the tradition that humans descended from Titans recognizes their inherent (and inherited) guilt. (28) Meanwhile, prohibitions on sacrifice (the titular taboos) are set in place, yet communally reenacted on certain occasions in the form of human or (totem) animal sacrifice and a corresponding feast, thus expiating and re-creating the primal drama. While nobody, including Lacan, believes that the murder of the father was an actual historical event, it is clear that notions such as the Nom/Non-du-Pere (the authoritative role of the absent, dead father within the Symbolic field, as described above) are derived from this powerful myth, which Lacan reinterprets as a story of subject-formation. (29) Since Lacan saw his project as a return to Freud and based precisely those structures, with which this paper is most engaged, in part on Totem and Taboo, let us examine more closely the Freudian text to see what light it might shed here.
Father-figures do not get much more fatherly than Jupiter, whose name prominently displays the trace of the archetypal father-figure in the form of the ending piter (recall that he is introduced in this episode as Satumius pater), and our reading has shown Lycaon's identification with, hostility to, and especially his desire to supplant Jupiter for what it is, namely, the normal progress of internalizing the figure of the Father as one's ideal (mirrored) other. But ancient sources also support this specifically Freudian reading, with its ties between the Father and cannibalism. Pausanias (8.2) describes the tradition of Arcadian kings sacrificing a child to Zeus Lykaios (and then becoming wolves (30)), while Flesiod and Eratosthenes record stories linking Lycaon to cannibalistic feasts. (31) Finally, Arcadia itself potentially offers two more pieces for the puzzle, first through its well-known association with "primitivism," (32) which, when combined with events taking place at the earliest levels of human occupation in the Metamorphoses, could be seen as strongly signaling a primal narrative; and then as the site of Jupiter's birth, a tradition found not only in Callimachus's first Hymn, but also (and more importantly) at Met. 2.405-6 (Arcadiae tamen est impensior illi / cura suae [Yet his solicitude for his Arcadia is great indeed]), (33) which would make Jupiter a primal Arcadian father in particular. That the taboo/cannibalism portion of the Lycaon story was based on accounts of Arcadian ritual practice is not at all farfetched, or even particularly controversial; what Freud's account adds to the story is an explanatory element that helps account for the exaggerated love/hate reactions Lycaon seems to experience vis-a-vis the authoritarian figure of Jupiter within the context of attempted murder and cannibalism.
This explanation goes far beyond the relations between Lycaon and 'Father' Zeus, however, as it gets to the very heart of the Symbolic system and the Law. From this point of view, the cannibalistic moment is both transgressive (taboo) and legal--transgressive because it represents the breaking of one of the absolute taboos that in the unquestionable authority they represent are the foundation of the Law (killing hostages, cannibalism, etc.), yet within the ritual context of sacrificial practice, a contradictory space is carved out within the Law for just such actions. The contradictions in ancient accounts of Lycaon's character are thus no aberration, but unavoidable in view of his associations with troubling but sanctioned ritual, and an expression of the anxiety raised by an act that seems to clearly reveal the stain or lack at the heart of the Law; the cannibalistic transgression is a symptom not only for Lycaon, but for the Symbolic system as a whole, representing a gap or break in the system where the naked and frightening Real emerges. (34) The Law, normally so systematic and reassuring (and based on the reassuring power of the [Name of the] Father), here shows its sinister and arbitrary side, and this in turn points to the cruel and arbitrary Real (Saturnian) Father who condones it. (35) At this point it might be all too tempting for the amateur detective to turn triumphantly towards Jupiter, pointing an accusing finger at the bad father who, we know, goes on to punish cruelly and arbitrarily the entire world for Lycaon's misdeed. Our prejudices have been confirmed--of course he lies, of course the system of Law he represents with his council of the gods is a mere sham. (36) Yet aside from the (incidentally, true) objection that nobody could possibly be interested in yet another repetition of such a string of tired cliches, it would be more to the point to remark that something has literally escaped our eager dilettante's attention, running off into the woods during his well-rehearsed diatribe, for in so athletically jumping to conclusions he has simultaneously overleapt the still-unexplained gap in the order of sacrificial events, as well as the full explanatory power of Freud's essay, which does not, after all, begin and end with the idea of Taboo. (37)
II. Totem, or the Wolf-Man Speaks Again
Lest we seem as eager to rush on as the imaginary amateur above, let us stay on course and first examine the wolf metamorphosis on 'its own' terms, just as Jupiter describes it. The sacrificial meal is the pivotal moment for Jupiter's limited involvement: quod simul imposuit mensis, ego vindice Jlamma / in domino dignos everti tecta Penates (The moment he laid [the feast] on the table, I overturned with avenging fire / the eaves on the household gods, unworthy as their master, 1.230-1). After that, matters take their own course (1.232-5):
territus ipse fugit nactusque silentia ruris exululat frustraque loqui conatur; ab ipso colligit os rabiem, solitaeque cupidine caedis utitur in pecudes et nunc quoque sanguine gaudet. But he flees, terrified, and having reached the silent wilderness He howls, attempts in vain to speak; instead, his mouth Lapped up his inmost rage, unleashed wonted desire For slaughter on the flocks, and even now revels in blood.
Lycaon becomes all mouth, though the more he tries to speak the less he says. It is not until line 237 that he is designated as wolf; for now he is os, (not) speaking, howling, tasting, devouring. There is thus a very specific link to the cannibalistic aspect of the feast, one that goes far beyond the mere identification of a wolf with common, everyday murder: Lycaon's desire for blood is slaked by killing and eating. (38)
But is there really none of Lycaon's speech here, as Jupiter would have it, or is the bestial howling a kind of communication too? As Lacan would have it, "Fantasy is really the 'stuff' of the / that is primally repressed, because it can be indicated only in the fading of enunciation." (39) This is more intuitive than it might seem on first reading: uncontrollable sobs, howls of rage, pain, or joy are expressions of something primal in the personality, in the ego or I; to deny this would be to unduly privilege the spoken word. It is only a seeming paradox that certain things are most truly communicated when they are least articulated; but what does it mean to tie this fading enunciation to fantasy? I think that this is merely a way of acknowledging the related facts that primally repressed material is unconscious and so exists on a different level of consciousness, and that conscious thought is, for Lacan, indissolubly tied to language and so again what cannot be spoken can barely be thought. Rather, this material merely emerges from somewhere inside the subject, as Lacan goes on to explain:
It is difficult to designate that subject [i.e., the subject of the unconscious] anywhere as subject of a statement--and therefore as articulating it--when he does not even know he is speaking. Hence the concept of the drive, in which the subject is designated on the basis of a pinpointing that is organic, oral, anal, and so on, which satisfies the requirement that the more he speaks, the further he is from speaking. (2006, 691-2)
Something in the subject "speaks" without speaking; this can be a vocalization such as a scream, but also be a symptom, such as overeating, refusing food, and vomiting, all of which may be ways of 'communicating' a problem or a frustrated desire. To return to the text: at this fantastic level of primal repression (and the primal stage has been amply set, as described above), the subject, whoever he might be (presumably Lycaon), dwindles away, leaving only the quasi-organic physicality of a devouring mouth; yet the howls and meals say something altogether essential about the unconscious economy of the 'subject,' even though they are not speech.
This economy at its fantasy level builds on the drama of subject formation described in terms of the RSI above, literally so in Lacan's (2006, 692) complete graph of the now famous point-de-capiton. (40) There fantasy is stacked above the Imaginary and Symbolic levels to represent a more mysterious and primal layer of the process (primal in this case is a word somewhat analogous to unconscious, although Lacan prefers the former). Since the subject requires a guarantee that joining the system of signification (by agreeing to occupy the place cleared for it in language, as, say, 'father,' 'son,' 'long,' etc.) will result in the fulfillment of its desire, and because its desire is so very important to the subject, this guarantee must be rock solid; that is to say, it must itself be grounded on something else beneath it, at a more fundamental level than the Symbolic. The subject's demand for an ultimate, transcendent surety for the Other's guarantee is, in a sense, impossible, since, theoretically, every guarantee needs to be backed up by another, more fundamental guarantee in an endless chain; the only alternative is to backstop this infinite slippage by the simple assertion of a truly massive authority. This radically prior condition and its impossibility are together signified by an authoritative lack, the Nom (Non)-du-Pere (literally, the Name/Nothing-of-the-Father). Since the purpose of this function of the Father is to provide a prior level of surety for the subject's desire in the Symbolic order, it is logical that this prior surety be located at a more primal level than the Symbolic, and that it be made in terms appropriate to its pre-Symbolic character, namely, by promising to fulfill the primal analogue of desire, that is, the raw, unmediated needs of the organic drive. Thus the primal level intimately binds the Nom-du-Pere (significantly glossed in Lacan 1997, 693 as "the dead Father in the Freudian myth. But a myth is nothing if it props up no rites ...") and the organic drive that splits off from the vanishing subject as she is drawn into the Symbolic system (a process that could be understood as one of primal repression); once more, then, the close links between Lacanian subject-formation and Freud's Totem and Taboo come to the fore.
The puzzle begins to fall into place in the following way: Lycaon comes face-to-face with the terrifying Dead Father at the traumatic moment when the sacrificial feast is laid upon the table, which opens up vertiginous vistas of the arbitrariness of the Law (the Penates, the very institution of the home, are shattered, everything is stained with moral corruption); the Symbolic system, language itself, begins to crumble and this can only be stopped through a process of fantasy formation that would paper over the lack of the Dead Father, beginning, naturally, at a prelinguistic level with the satisfaction of the drive. Indeed, off runs the mouth to be amply satisfied at the very moment when Lycaon comes to be constituted in the Symbolic system by becoming what he is named, that is, to the extent that it is possible he embodies the signifier 'Lycaon' (wolf man). It should be noticed that there is an odd temporal displacement in the narrative whereby teiritus ipse fugit and colligit os rahiem (the mouth, the nameless subject) have their preverbal 'say' before the lines that describe (rationalize) the transformation by drawing it into a sensible Symbolic order:
in villos abeunt vestes, in crura lacerti; fit lupus et veteris servat vestigia formae: canities eadem est, eadem violentia vultus, idem oculi lucent, eadem feritatis imago est. (1.236-9) His clothes vanish in hair, his arms into forelegs; Wolf is made, and preserves the traces of prior appearance: There is still the same grizzled hair, the same violent expression, The same shining eyes, and the very same semblance of savagery.
Immediately afterwards, the Law is restored in the form of its omnipotent guarantor, Jupiter, who is suddenly before the gods again 'making his case' for the destruction of all--or, more accurately, he has made his case--and demands swift action.
Too swift, perhaps, and we should not follow Lycaon in his rushing, for the method has not yet had its due. It becomes clear now why Jupiter cannot take credit for Lycaon's transformation, as he acts here primarily in his capacity as nothing, as absence, rather failing to uphold the king's house and Penates than wrecking them, and terrifying both populace and Lycaon with empty signs and rituals. The true agent for the transformation, if that is what it is, must be impersonal, the Other with a big 'O,' the Symbolic system that has always already drawn the speaking subject into its web of signifiers and thus irrevocably split the subject, since there must always be a gap between signifier and signified. And yet Jupiter, even in his 'absence,' is deeply implicated, since the primal drama of unconscious repression that is so necessary to the process of subject formation is in large part driven by the reaction to his non-presence. The temporal displacement of the wolf transformation (not to mention the baffling lack of an agent of that change (41)), acts, much like the one at the banquet scene previously, once more as a symptom or clue to the anxiety of the text. Here again is the sign of a crime, and the question becomes, Just how deeply is Jupiter implicated in it?
Freud's treatment of the Totem is instructive here. According to Freud (1995, 876), the totem animal is a stand-in for the primal father-figure: "In doing so we have taken no new or especially daring step. For primitive men say it themselves and ... the totem is called ancestor and primal father." As described above, Zeus Lykaios had powerful wolfish associations, both personally and in terms of ritual practice. The tradition of Arcadian kings performing human sacrifice to Zeus and becoming wolves is particularly relevant in this connection; although it is unquestionably the human king who becomes a wolf, the transformation is not random or purely bestial--rather, the king, through his piety and observance, embodies an attribute of the cult figure, and thus may be seen as paradoxically coming closer to both the subhuman and divine at the same moment. In becoming a wolf, the Arcadian king also becomes wolfish Zeus Lykaios. By the same token, the god's requirement that a human sacrifice be made draws the divine simultaneously down to the human level (human agent, human sacrifice), and even below that, down to the level of the murderous wolf. (42) What results, then, is a blurring of the boundaries of identity which is further complicated by the nomenclature: of course Lycaon is etymologically a wolf, but then so is Zeus/Jupiter Lykaios. The text becomes complicit in this confusion. After Lycaon's house is brought down, the text changes focus with the ambiguous territus ipse fugit, and nowhere in the description of the metamorphosis is Lycaon clearly indicated, whether by name, title, or even description. After all, couldn't the suspect's description equally well apply to Jupiter? Grizzled hair, shining eyes, a violent expression, a fierce face, a desire for slaughter--all these could be traits of the god who so fervently desires humanity's destruction. (43)
Our clues have finally led us to the true scene of the crime, where it is not so much a question of what has happened, as who did it, since there are in fact two suspects present matching the description, two 'Lycaons.' And it is precisely this fact that Jupiter has been trying so hard to cover up by faking a different crime. He began by overtly stacking the deck with his rhetorical question, an satis, o superi, tutos fore creditis illos, / cum mihi, qui fulmen, qui vos habeoque regoque, / struxerit insidias notus feritate Lycaon? (Can you, immortals, believe they'll be safe, when Lycaon, famous for savagery, plotted against me, me! "Your lord and master, and lightning's? 1.196-8); then with the assurance that ille quidem poenas (curam hanc dimittite) solvit; / quod tamen admissum, quae sint vindicta docebo (1.209-10); and finally, with the description of the inhospita tecta tyranni (the tyrant's inhospitable home, 1.218). Only then did Jupiter actually recount the events. He then proceeded with a blatantly partial account, thus asking the casual inspector to believe that the crime was Jupiter's biased partiality vis-a-vis his hated opponent Lycaon. What better way to highlight the difference between the two, to separate them into two opposite poles or warring camps, at the small price of being seen as capricious and arbitrary? But in telling the story, Jupiter cannot help but leave traces of what he would so desperately like to conceal--his implication with Lycaon, an association that runs so deep it can be difficult to tell the two apart.
III. Will the Real (God) Father Please Stand Up?
We now have all the evidence necessary to solve the case of Jupiter and Lycaon based on two pivotal clues that our psychoanalytic reading has pulled from the text. One (the latter of the two) was the inconsistency regarding the wolf, which can be interpreted in Lacanian terms as the most primal level of subject formation, a preverbal level implicated with the naked organic functions of the drive (it is 'all mouth'). At the outermost point of logic, the psyche reaches for an ultimate guarantor of the system and finds an infinite regress--someone must always stand surety for the previous guarantor, ad infinitum. (44) There is a vertiginous lack of authority in the place where the Father should be. Thus Fantasy steps in to construct an omnipotent guarantor around the mere Name-of-the-Father, and the split Subject is drawn into the Symbolic system on the strength of His guarantee. The latter portion of the Lycaon story thus plumbs the psychic depths, but at a prior stage there appeared our first inconsistency/clue, centering on the moment of sacrifice and murder. The trick, as always in a psychoanalytic reading, is to take the text at its word, not to paper over the inconsistency. The way the text presents the sequence of events is that first the murder is plotted, then the sacrifice occurs. In light of the primal drama revealed in Freud's Totem and Taboo, the significance of this chain of events is clear: the sacrifices, the transformations, are ritual reenactments of a murder that previously occurred; (45) they presuppose it. By serving the cannibal feast and becoming a wolf, the king reenacts something prior, namely, the primal murder, and thus the text does not lie in its supposed temporal displacement: before the feast is served (lines 224-5), a murder has actually occurred and been subsequently covered up. When this is combined with the revelation from our second clue, namely, that there is nothing but a lack where the Father should be, we are drawn irrevocably toward the only possible conclusion: the murder that the text has been hysterically covering up all along with its excessive protestations and apotropaic evasions is precisely the murder of Jupiter by Lycaon, which, 'Jupiter' swears up and down, never happened. Nec contentus eo est, the text continues; indeed, for in the sacrificial feast that follows Lycaon ritually assumes the power and place of Jupiter. Is this symbolized by his transformation into the Jupiter wolf in lines 232-9, or does the fleeing wolf represent the banishment of Jupiter himself, killed and reduced to a mere totem incarnation? Either, or both; but given the narrator's unreliability, who can tell?
An objection naturally arises: How can this be both the scene of the primal crime itself and the ritual reenactment of that crime? What such a question misrecognizes, however, is that fantasies and texts are not given to such simple either/or identifications, often acting, as they do, in accordance with principles of condensation and over-determination (much like the rituals themselves). The central fact stands, however, and the circumstantial evidence for Lycaon's murder and replacement of Jupiter is very strong. Signs of the conflation of Jupiter and Lycaon stubbornly appear and reappear throughout the text. Some of these have been mentioned: the lack of firm identification (ipse is terribly ambiguous) for the fleeing wolf in lines 232-9; the Freudian slip in Lycaon's reported speech, experiar deus; and the psychoanalytically crucial fact that they share a name (Lycaon and Zeus Lykaios). Other signs have not. How does Jupiter know so much about Lycaon's actions and motivations, when it is clear elsewhere that he is not an omniscient narrator? (46) Does Jupiter not just share Lycaon's passion for slaughter, but even go so far as to replicate his precise methods when he exclaims at 1.190-1: immedicabile corpus ense reddendum est (A body, incurable, must be cut up with a sword), (47) and when he punishes humanity alternately by means of fire (Lycaon's house is attacked vindice flamma, literally, "by avenging fire," in line 230) and water, poena placet diversa, genus mortale sub undis perdere (A different penalty pleases him, (48) namely, to drown humankind 'neath the waves, 260-1)? This is in a sense a reenactment of Lycaon's sacrifice, in which he butchered the hostage mucrone (with a sword) and then at 1.228-9 semineces partim ferventibus artus / mollit aquis, partim subiecto torruit igni (Part of the half-dead limbs he boiled in water, part he roasted over a flame). Further hints of identity slippage abound. From the very beginning of the Lycaon episode we have the following:
quae pater ut summa vidit Saturnius arce, ingemit et, facto nondum vulgata recenti foeda Lycaoniae referens convivia mensae, ingentes animo et dignas love concipit iras conciliumque vocat. (1.163-7) When the Saturnian father saw these things from his high citadel He groaned, and, bringing back the foul feasts at Lycaon's table, Which, having recently taken place, still remained secret, He conceived a terrible wrath in his soul, wrath worthy of Jupiter, And convened the council.
This translation, of course, plays off the possible range of the verb referens in line 165; but in view of the fact that Jupiter's eventual actions do precisely bring back the events of Lycaon's sacrifice, it is hardly unwarranted. The terrible wrath is mysteriously figured as "worthy of Jupiter," making its performative or imitative nature plain (would not any wrath experienced by Jupiter be by definition worthy of Jupiter? Why call attention to this fact if it is indeed Jupiter who feels the wrath, and not an impostor? The text protests too much ...), and the secrecy regarding the events at Lycaon's house, long explained as highlighting a narrative disjunction between the gods' ignorance and the familiarity of the story to the audience, (49) could be interpreted in precisely the opposite way--as erasing the disjunction between the mortal and the divine insofar as neither the audience nor the gods know the true story of what happened that night at Lycaon's house. (50) In this case, the text would again be acting to dispel the artificial wall that Jupiter would like to erect between himself and Lycaon by means of his narrative, and thus it calls into question both that narrative and the putative god's identity. (51)
All well and good, the reader may say. After all, one is quite willing to accept that from the beginning of the story there has been a strange mirroring in the characters of Lycaon and Jupiter; and that, furthermore, when the story of Lycaon's sacrifice/attempted murder is put in the context of Arcadian ritual practice (or, more importantly, what was thought in Ovid's time to have been Arcadian ritual practice), one can see it as enacting a series of murders of primal father figures stretching back to Uranus, Saturn, and, of course, Jupiter himself. But why, in the face of this shifting, murderous polysemy, insist that Lycaon's attempt to assassinate Jupiter is successful, or somehow primary? The answer: if nothing else, to get us to this point in questioning the text. It is true that, after first suggesting the possibility that Jupiter was successfully murdered, and unequivocally tying that episode to the long and scandalous family history of the gods (alluded to briefly already at line 113), the text suddenly becomes reticent and confused at the catastrophic moment of the ultimate encounter between Lycaon and Jupiter. It is enough that we have arrived at that traumatic kernel and acknowledged that the logic of the text strongly suggests both murder and identification in a cover-up or masquerade, for it is in fact part of the anxiety of the text that the members in the vertiginous sequences of murderous power grabs are entirely interchangeable. (52)
Lest I be accused of concentrating too narrowly on the interaction between Lycaon and Jupiter in proving my point, it might be well to trace briefly the larger pattern of events in Book 1 that bring us to this point; this might also help allay fears that a psychoanalytic 'deep' reading of the text means ignoring the broader poetic context. I have several times referred to the anxiety-inducing succession of power grabs in which 'Father' Zeus is implicated; other causes of anxiety include the evil of humanity in general, and of Lycaon in particular. The surrounding narrative had already begun linking these events together as early as 1.113-24, where Jupiter's rise is explicitly tied to the decline of humanity, especially lines 113-4 (postquam Saturno tenebrosa in Tartara misso / sub love mundus erat, subiit argentea proles [After Saturn had been sent to dusky Tartarus, Jupiter ruled the world, and the silver offspring arose]), since these place the emphasis on Saturn's overthrow and replacement. After the merest mentions of the bronze race comes the narrative of the iron race (or, again, 'offspring' [proles]--the cycle of familial succession comes once more to the fore as one generation replaces the last), which ends with similar notes of anxiety over succession figured in terms of parricide:
filius ante diem patrios inquirit in annos; victa iacet pietas, et virgo caede madentes ultima caelestum terras Astraea reliquit. (1.148-50) The son checked into his father's age prematurely; Pietas lay vanquished, and virgin Astraea, The last of the gods remaining, abandoned at last the blood-drenched earth.
I do not translate pietas simply as 'piety' because here it clearly indicates familial bonds, just as much as 'religious' ties, as in the case of Aeneas. (53) Here, as in the Lycaon description, we have the elements of slaughter and blood, which form a link with the next evolutionary stage of humankind, namely, the offspring of giants in lines 151-62.
The passage is over-determined with the same anxieties revealed in the Lycaon story, as we return to the heavens and Jupiter's threatened power, since adfectasse ferunt regnum caeleste Gigantas (They say that the Giants aspired to the kingdom of heaven, 1.152). One might be tempted in this particular instance to wonder who "they" are, since the authority of reported speech is one of the major issues in the Lycaon narrative; but however that may be, this is a violent power grab, which Jupiter crushes bloodily in the literal sense:
perfusam multo natorum sanguine Terram immaduisse ferunt calidumque animasse cruorem et, ne nulla suae stirpis monimenta manerent, in faciem vertisse hominum. sed et ilia propago contemptrix superum saevaeque avidissima caedis et violenta fuit; scires e sanguine natos. (1.157-62) They say Earth was drenched with bucketfuls of her children's blood And that she breathed life into this warm gore And gave it a human semblance, lest no trace Be left of her seed. But that offspring, too, Proved impious, eager for savage slaughter, And violent. It was clear they were born of blood.
Jupiter proves even here no less bloodthirsty than Lycaon's wolf as he wreaks his murderous justice upon upstart challengers. These images of blood, retribution, and guilt, with all their associations of parentage and descent, resolve into a new threat on Jupiter's watch, much like the impious iron race for which he also seems, in some obscure manner, responsible. (It is well to remember that the giants are in fact related to Jupiter, being children of Uranus and Terra, born of his blood when he was castrated; and so Terra's reshaping of the giants' blood is a veritable repetition and return of the repressed, linked to the multiple castrations and power grabs in the divine generations. (54)) There is a sense in which these are Jupiter's children, and they therefore carry impiety, parricide, and primal guilt in their veins--like father, like son, over and over again, even down to the eventual bloody-minded destruction of this offspring in the form of the flood, the language of which has been briefly analyzed above.
It is against this background that the farce of divine/Augustan power in the depiction of the Council of the Gods in lines 171-6 ("I'd scarcely hesitate to name it heaven's Palatine") and 199-205 ("Nor was piety to your own less dear to you, o Augustus, than it was to Jupiter") is to be understood. (55) In this connection, (56) it might be best to quote lines 199-205 in full, which describe the reaction of the gods to Jupiter's revelation that Lycaon had attempted to murder him by stealth:
confremuere omnes studiisque ardentibus ausum talia deposcunt. sic, cum manus impia saevit sanguine Caesareo Romanum exstinguere nomen, attonitum tanto subitae terrore ruinae humanum genus est totusque perhorruit orbis. nec tibi grata minus pietas, Auguste, tuorum est quam fuit ilia Iovi. They railed, every one, and fired with zeal they demanded The man who had dared such a deed. Thus, when an impious band Raged to extinguish the name of Rome with Caesarian blood, Dumb stood the human race from the fear of such sudden Ruin, and the whole earth thrilled, hair standing on end. Nor was piety to your own less dear to you, o Augustus, Than it was to Jupiter.
Here, as at the lines about the Palatine, the roll of murders and father figures is expanded to include Julius Caesar and Augustus, with a particular identification of Jupiter and Augustus around the concept of pietas. Yet any mention of Jupiter's pietas towards his father, Saturn, is tremendously fraught, especially in this context, where the conspirators are glossed as "raging to extinguish the name of Rome" and where the whole earth feared its ruin, both circumstances resulting from Jupiter's supposedly pious act, that is, the destruction of humanity. In fact, this description also draws the assassins of 'Caesar' (57) into the sequence, conflating them with Jupiter but also with Lycaon as the ritual re-enactor of the primal murder that facilitates the transfer of power to a new generation. Again, no possible resolution can be obtained from this complex polysemy; instead, the murky nexus of identifications is itself precisely the point, as the nexus highlights the interchangeable nature of the position of Father not just in heaven but especially in Rome and accuses that position of being secured by murderous means and thus of subverting the very Law it pretends to uphold. The main ramifications of this central anxiety, which the text attempts to evade or cover up but cannot, are twofold in nature: political and literary.
On the political plane, it is clear that this anxiety reflects a deep ambivalence about the figure of Augustus. While this observation is neither new nor unexpected, (58) there is far more at stake than simple suspicion of the character of the princeps and his reign. At the moment of the writing of the Metamorphoses, usually thought to encompass the period of from 2 to 8 CE, (59) several things had become clear that may not have been so from the perspective of the early Principate (a time period that, due to the central position of Vergil for scholars of Augustan culture and literature, tends to form the default for assumptions about contemporary attitudes to Augustus (60)). First, the princeps had indeed brought about a lasting peace and stability missing in the preceding period of political strife and civil wars. Second, despite assurances that the primacy of Augustus lay in his own personal qualities and auctoritas, he was working hard to secure the succession of a suitable heir, an act that undermines the notion that the princeps was unique, essentially Augustus. (61) And third, there was a realization that had Augustus not been working to secure the succession, someone else would surely have done so, by quasi-legal means or by violence. Thus the central power in the state was revealed in its character of transcendent formal function as generic pater patriae, a slot into which almost any individual could be inserted, and which had taken on a life of its own such that it demanded to be filled. The beginning of the Metamoiphoses reflects a fundamental anxiety over the state's attempt to reconcile these irreconcilables and thus ensure the empire's continuing stability. How could the identity of the Father, supposedly the paramount element in securing both his own authority and the safety and prosperity of the citizens, now suddenly be recast as subject to change in the person of another ruler? Did not such a move render the Father's identity as shifting, arbitrary, and perhaps even largely irrelevant? These questions, and the anxiety they generate, form an essential element in the text's depiction of the primordial crime on which the destruction or salvation of humanity depends. (62)
In fact--and this brings us to the literary ramifications of this central anxiety--the whole program of the Metamorphoses can be seen as reflective of, and deeply implicated in, this anxiety over identity and individuality. (63) In its concern with the thematic of a world of shifting forms, Ovid's epic may be viewed as embodying (often literally) the changes and upheavals of the late Principate, particularly in their superficial character (heirs apparent can shift identity as easily as people become trees or rocks). After all, when Daphne becomes a laurel, or Lycaon a wolf (if it is, indeed, he who becomes the wolf), the narrative subverts the change by establishing identifiability and essential identity at the same time as it alleges metamorphosis. (64) We know it is still Daphne and Lycaon about whom we are reading, and their change reflects their story and their choices. It is important to note, however, that if Augustan change is called into question in Ovid's narrative, this is hardly a revolutionary stance. Something in the text resists such conclusions and asserts, instead, the ultimate validity of change, whether it is an ironic attempt to evade censorship or a hysterical defense mechanism of sorts which insists on the reality of change all the more aggressively as it becomes the more clear that no change is forthcoming--perhaps it was never possible from the time of Julius Caesar's death; (65) but that road leads to (auto) biography and positivism. Let it be enough for us now to see the text enacting the social contradictions of the late Principate in the form of Jupiter, or Lycaon, or whatever upstart chooses to murder their way to the top, lie about it, and call themselves a god.
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(1.) See Barkan 1986, 24-7; Forbes-lrving 1990, 90-5, 216-8; and Feldherr 2010, 37-40, which builds on earlier work in Feldherr 2002, 169-72.
(2.) Recently by Feldherr 2010, 37-40; but cf. also Bomer 1969, 74-5; Anderson 1989 and 1997, ad 1.210; Wheeler 1999, 171-81.
(3.) Cf. Bretzigheimer 1993 on the topic of Ovid's Jupiter, esp. on his relationship to Augustus.
(4.) See, e.g., Miller 2004, 210-36 and Janan 2009. Oliensis (2009) employs Freud rather than Lacan. Porter and Buchan 2004 is a broader overview of Lacan and the Classics, as the title indicates.
(5.) This has become a hallmark of much scholarship on the Lycaon passage, whether explicitly narratological or not, with a special focus on the Council of the Gods as framing device; see, e.g., Feeney 1991, 198-200; cf. Anderson 1989, 2 and Otis 1970, 100.
(6.) Zizek 1991, 50-9. The comparison is a commonplace, but one acknowledged by Freud himself, who told one of his patients that he read Sherlock Holmes stories because of the fascinating parallel between the detective's procedures and his own (50). The source of this information is almost too delightful in the current context--it is the memoirs of Freud's famous patient, the "Wolf Man." Lacan, too, recommended that students of his work begin with his "Seminar on the 'Purloined Letter,' " a psychoanalytic exegesis of a detective story by Poe; cf. Lacan 2006, 4, and 6-48 for the seminar itself. Interestingly, for Wheeler 1999, 177, it is Jupiter who "poses as a private investigator to find out the truth."
(7.) Zizek 1991, 54; Lacan (2006, 15) made a similar point about the Prefect of Police in Poe's "The Purloined Letter."
(8.) Zizek 1991, 54. Zizek's use of "truth" here is not as naive or problematic as it might first seem; rather, it reveals fundamental issues with any pretense of mistrusting, reading behind, or second-guessing the "superficial," given level of the text. Whereas clearly there is a level of mistrust involved in reading as a detective, it is mistrust of Jupiter, that is, a radical trust in the text. It is also instructive to cite Lacan's distinction between reality and truth in Lacan 2006, 213; "Let's be categorical: in psychoanalytic anamnesis, what is at stake is not reality, but truth, because the effect of full speech is to reorder past contingencies by conferring on them the sense of necessities to come, such as they are constituted by the scant freedom through which the subject makes them present." That this is precisely how Jupiter's speech operates should be immediately clear.
(9.) Lacan 2006, 17: "What is hidden is never but what is not in its place [manque a sa place]."
(10.) The text is Barchiesi's version of Tarrant's as published in his 2005 commentary; translations are my own.
(11.) Janan 2009, 33-45 and Miller 2004, 5.
(12.) The lower-case autre, or other, encompasses a variety of more-or-less personalized "beings" with whom the subject identifies to various degrees, while the upper-case (Big) Other is an alternative conception of the Symbolic system itself; both are, of course, key to the subject's formation; cf. Lacan 2006, 357-8.
(13.) See Lacan's essay, "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function," in Lacan 2006, 75-81.
(14.) Hence his other name, the "Symbolic Father." Cf. Lacan 2006, 230: "It is in the name of the father that we must recognize the basis of the symbolic function which, since the dawn of historical time, has identified his person with the figure of the law. This conception allows us to clearly distinguish, in the analysis of a case, the unconscious effects of this function from the narcissistic relations, or even real relations, that the subject has with the image and actions of the person who embodies this function." Thus the name of the father is distinguished from, e.g., the ideal double that the subject constructs on the model of a father figure.
(15.) Hence the names "Father of Enjoyment" and "Real Father."
(16.) Cf., e.g., the essays on "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the T Function," in Lacan 2006, 75-81, and "Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis," in Lacan 2006, 82-101, esp. 95 where Lacan writes about "the notion of aggressiveness as a tension correlated with narcissistic structure in the subject's becoming."
(17.) Not to mention that, according to sources like Pausanias (8.2.1), he is the founder of the cult of Zeus Lykaios. The significance of this combined name, which at the very least draws the two figures together into a common divine realm, and at its utmost bound suggests an identity, can hardly be understated. Ovid's readers would have been aware of the cult.
(18.) Met. 1.163-7. Anderson (1997, ad loc.) points out that the adjective Saturnius "reminds us ironically of Jupiter's unfilial treatment of his father." There may be more to it than simple irony, however; it may prefigure certain aspects of the Lycaon story as developed later in this paper. It certainly strengthens the motif of fatherhood by recalling the father's father. On Ovid's Jupiter as father in both its positive and negative connotations, see Janan 2009, 25-9.
(19.) That the question of conscious recognition is completely beside the point is highlighted by the action of the paradigmatic modern version of this drama, namely the story of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. There, of course, the Inquisitor both knows very well and readily admits that it is an incarnate god he is imprisoning/persecuting, but this is immaterial to the plot of the allegory, which continues to unfold in the typical manner.
(20.) It may also echo Jupiter's own ambiguating admission et deus humana lustro sub imagine terras in line 213, which, as Anderson (1997, ad loc.) points out, carefully juxtaposes the two key, but slippery, terms. Regardless, the word order of experiar deus and what follows requires explanation; Lee (1992, ad 222) notes that "such complication of the word order is rare in O." and feels the need to put forth a tentative hypothesis.
(21.) Of course, it is no surprise to anyone raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition that to test god should be considered as inherently an act of attempted domination or supplantation, and thus blasphemous, since it would put the deity in the inferior position of an object; in the Greco-Roman world, testing gods also rarely turns out well. Ovid, of course, takes this theme up again at the end of Metamorphoses 3, in the story of Pentheus and Bacchus; see Janan 2009, 63-4.
(22.) Cf. Anderson 1997, ad 226-7, in which he points out that this is "a unique variant," which some scholars trace back to traditions of prehistoric sacrifice in Arcadia; Bomer (1969, ad 227) exhaustively catalogues previous versions of the tale, which vary in attribution of guilt as well as in the object of sacrifice. It does seem clear that the Molossian hostage is Ovid's creation, one meant to add the dimension of hospitality to the mix.
(23.) Glossed later in the text, after Lycaon's transformation, as solitae cupidine caedis (1.234).
(24.) O'Hara (2007, 116-7) deals with these and other inconsistencies, but interprets them in the more usual way as acting "to create a portrait of an unreliable narrator."
(25.) This temporal displacement in particular is part and parcel of the symptom properly understood: "Thus we find again here the constitutive condition that Freud imposes on a symptom for it to deserve to be called a "symptom" in the analytic sense of the term, which is that a memory from a special, earlier situation be taken up anew in order to articulate the current situation--in other words, that this memory element be unconsciously employed in it as a signifying element, with the effect of shaping the indeterminacy of the lived experience into a tendentious signification": Lacan 2006, 373. Tissol (1997, 157) points out how "the sequential clarity of Book 1 [is] ... less than complete" due to what he calls "inversion," e.g., the interruption of Jupiter's Lycaon story by the Council of the Gods.
(26.) Due (1974, 106-7) also points outs the logical absurdity of this sequence, but explains it away as a rhetorical ploy designed to sway the emotions of the gods in council; in addition to all the other objections I have mustered to this line of thinking, there is something naive in Due's assertion that the gods' unanimous assent and expressions of outrage are proof that they were genuinely moved by Jupiter's clever rhetorical appeal, and that Jupiter needs this approval to carry out his plan.
(27.) On Totem and Taboo, see Shepherdson 2000, 115-52; Blackell 2001; and Janan 2009, 31-3 and 42-4. For an entirely different approach to sacrifice, the Law, and the place of gods and humans in the socially constituted scheme of the cosmos, see Feldherr 2010, 131-49, where he draws on Vernant, Girard, and Burkert for his structural models. While this account has a great deal of merit, it runs into the usual narratological impasses; on p. 139, for instance, Feldherr asserts that "to recognize such a device at work [i.e., Jupiter's biased narration] is also to recognize its reversibility." Yet, if it is unreliable, the testimony will not remain in place while merely switching directions; it will vanish altogether.
(28.) Vian (1952, 238-40) describes Lycaon's potential ties to the giants, a possible reflection of primordial guilt as described by Freud; it may not be insignificant that the Lycaon episode occurs shortly after the war with the giants, or that Jupiter's wrath carries over from that story to this one. His desire to destroy humanity might very well also support a reading of humanity incurring the guilt of this primal transgression as represented by Lycaon's misdeed.
(29.) Cf. Lacan 2006, 95, which simultaneously recognizes "the import that Freud's work, Totem and Taboo, still has" and "the mythical circularity that vitiates it, insofar as from a mythological event--the killing of the father--it derives the subjective dimension that gives this event its meaning: guilt." Oliensis (2009, 1-5) mounts a strong defense for using Freud in spite of his flaws.
(30.) Forbes-Irving 1990, 53-7.
(31.) Sale 1962.
(32.) Barchiesi 2005, ad 216-9.
(33.) Cf. Barchiesi 2005, ad 2.405-6.
(34.) Shepherdson 2000, 199, 144 and Janan 2009, 33.
(35.) Lacan 2006, 361: "Will we turn our attention away from the mainsprings that, in the broken link of the symbolic chain, raise from the imaginary the obscene, ferocious figure in which the true signification of the superego must be seen?"
(36.) It is also worth noting that the similes used in the passage create an Augustan subtext: if Jupiter's system of shared governance is a sham, it seems to say, then Augustus's similar system must be a sham as well.
(37.) Lacan (1993, 21-2) puts it best: "This is where the illusion starts to emerge--
since it's a question of understanding, we understand. Well, no, precisely not. .. You will observe in the training we give to our students that this is always a good place to stop them. It's always at the point where they have understood, where they have rushed to fill the case in with understanding, that they have missed the interpretation that it's appropriate to make or not to make. This is generally naively expressed in the expression--This is what the subject meant. How do you know? What is certain is that he didn't say it."
(38.) This passage incidentally confirms our earlier reading of Lycaon's desire as murderous, solitae ... cupidine caedis.
(39.) Lacan 2006, 691; cf. also on the same page that the structure of fantasy must be linked to "the moment of a fading or eclipse of the subject--which is closely tied to the Spaltung or splitting that he undergoes due to his subordination to the signifier--to the condition of an object." That this is precisely the sort of situation with which we are concerned in this analysis should hardly be open to question.
(40.) Lacan 2006, 692.
(41.) Barchiesi (2005, ad 1.232-9) writes: "Dopo la punizione del fulmine, ci si aspetterebbe una motivazione divina della metamorfosi di Licaone in lupo, tanto piu che Giove e il narratore onnisciente della vicenda: invece, impredivilmente, la metamorfosi procede come una sorte di necessita interiore, espressa da una serie di omologie fisiche e morali tra l'uomo e la bestia selvaggia, ed evoca come riferimento le leggende arcadi sul lupo mannaro." Cf. also Solodow 1988, 175-6.
(42.) Many authors comment on Jupiter's wrath and destructiveness in the council; of course, that locus classicus serves only to highlight his incongruous anger. See, e.g., Janan 2009, 4; Feeney 1991, 200; and Anderson 1989, 3.
(43.) Cf. Anderson 1997, 168, ad 1.240-1, and ad 1.244-5.
(44.) The text itself establishes this telescoping effect: before Lycaon (glossed by Bomer 1969, 74 as "Urkonig der Arkader," with references), himself a primal king/ father, there was Jupiter, who in turn is Satumius, and so on.
(45.) One is tempted to say "always-already occurred" in light of the sacrificial displacements of father by son in the tales of Jupiter and Saturn, which stretch all the way back to the dawn of recorded myth. It is well worth pointing out, too, that Jupiter's speech ends with a call to "justice" and the specter of the Erinyes: occidit una domus, sed non domus una perire / digna fuit; qua terra patet, fera regnat Erinys. / in facinus iurasse putes; dent ocius omnes / quas meruere pati, sic stat sentential, poenas (1.240-3). The establishment of justice/the Law by the absence/presence of the Father has been discussed; the Erinys is best understood here as a sign of the familial nature of the murder/sacrifice and the crushing burden of guilt which accompanies it. It also raises the question of the domus that fell: Could it be Jupiter's "house," indeed, which has thus fallen, in the sense of his dynasty? The implications of such an idea for the late Augustan context will be discussed below.
(46.) For instance, he must descend to earth to investigate reports of humanity's wickedness at 1.211-4; on Jupiter's alleged omniscience, see also Wheeler 1999, 178-9 and Anderson 1989, 96. Of course, it is always possible to object that Jupiter "knows" so much because he invented it; this would be deeply problematic from the perspective of narratological focalization, since then there is no way of knowing if he even went down to Earth, and the whole story must be set aside. For psychoanalysis, which works on the principle that no association is, strictly speaking, "free," the "facticity" of the story does not matter, for its message of anxiety over parricide is equally applicable to the text's Augustan context and Jupiter's own succession from Saturn.
(47.) Literally, at least; clearly something like a surgical knife is meant (Anderson 1997, ad loc.), but the literal word is sword, which happens to have "hier die ungewohnliche Bedeutung (nicht im Thes.) 'culter'" (Bomer 1969, ad loc.).
(48.) The verb placet is surely significant in establishing Jupiter's ferocity and murderous desire, closely akin to Lycaon's.
(49.) Wheeler 1999, 174-7. For slightly different takes, see Tissol 1997, 157 and Barchiesi 2005, ad loc.
(50.) Much depends on one's interpretation of the timeframe for the nondum in line 164. Does it mean that, within the timeframe of the narrative, the foul deed has not yet been disclosed, because the meeting has not yet been called? Or does the word briefly hint, before 'taking it back,' as it were, with the adjective recenti, that from the reader's timeframe, hundreds if not thousands of years after the fact, the foul deed has even not yet been disclosed, and that thus the crime is something other than what seems to emerge naturally in the course of the narrative? In fact, the nature of the ablative facto recenti is also ambiguous, and could support Wheeler's (1999, 175) disjunctive reading if taken as causal, but a "conjunctive" reading if taken, say, instrumentally; cf. Bretzigheimer 1993, 67.
(51.) In fact, the only strongly drawn contrast is not that between Jupiter and Lycaon, but rather between the "Jupiter" of the Metamorphoses and the Jupiters and Zeuses of the previous epic traditions. All the major commentaries note the strongly drawn allusion to Homer and especially Vergil's Aeneid from the very beginning of the Lycaon episode, in the description of the divine council, with the phrase conciliumque vocat in 1.167 in particular standing as an exact repetition of Aen. 10.2. Anderson (1997, ad loc.) sums up the consensus: the parallel "invites us to compare throughout the scene the egotistical and domineering Jupiter of Ovid with the impersonal and judicious Jupiter of the Aeneid." Cf. also Anderson 1989, 92-6, where he goes further into the contrast with the Homeric Zeus. Barchiesi (2005, 178-81 and ad 166) represents similar conclusions: "II contrasto con questi modelli e notevole ... l'uso che fa [Giove] dei suoi poteri assoluti non rassicura ne il narratore ne i lettori"; and "Ovidio pone il suo Giove in parallelo con l'irata Giunone di Virgilio ... e in contrasto con il Giove virgiliano." Intertextually, this Jupiter rings false, and is clearly but a second-rate, murderous, tyrannical imitation of the 'real deal' of tradition. Again, this could be explained away as Ovid's commentary on Augustus; but does it not also play perfectly into our reading, in which Jupiter rings false because he is false, because he is playing at being the Jupiter of epic but failing to conceal his murderous nature? As in Lacan, there is no father but in the old myths, there is only a name.
(52.) A slightly different perspective would lead to the conclusion that the true crime is metaphysical in nature; that is, it is not so much the case that Lycaon murders Jupiter, as that Jupiter/Lycaon murders individuality itself, just as "MacBeth does murder sleep." In this case the primal murder that he/they reenact would have occurred at the textual level, in the very fabric of the Metamorphoses itself.
(53.) Cf. Anderson 1997, ad 149-50.
(54.) Anderson 1997, ad 157-8; the full story appears in Hesiod, Theog. 185. Barchiesi (2005, ad 113) notes that Ovid "omette i racconti delle successive generazioni divine e delle loro lotte di successione," and that this is "uno dei primi grandi vuoti di questo poema 'perpetuo.'" The giants thus represent a literal return of the repressed.
(55.) Cf., e.g., Buchheit 1966; Muller 1987; Feeney 1991, 198-224. A full list would be very, very long.
(56.) Though as Barchiesi (2005, ad 151-62) points out, "Ovidio non chiarisce del tutto la connessione tra questo episodio [the Gigantomachy] e il successivo mito del crudele Licaone ... ma delega alle parole di Giove la spiegazione di un nesso fra l'assalto al cielo dei Giganti e la successiva punizione dell'umanita attraverso il diluvio." Here perhaps we have more textual repression, but it is revealing that it is Jupiter "himself" who forms the connection or line of filiation between the passages.
(57.) Most commentators agree that the word is ambiguous: cf. Bomer 1968, ad loc.; Lee 1992, Barchiesi 2005. Anderson (1997) claims that it must be Augustus. Barchiesi's discussion is particularly insightful, pointing out as it does Augustus's role in establishing this ambiguity between father and son, although he does not read further dynastic dimensions into it, choosing instead to concentrate on the theme of political conspiracies. The language of pietas, among many other things, invites comparison with the Aeneid. Here again Barchiesi is particularly enlightening, but Anderson 1997 is worth reading as well. Buchheit (1996, 89), Davis (1980), and White (2002, 14-5) all note parallels between the Lycaon story and Ovid's account of the assassination of Julius Caesar in Met. 15.
(58.) See, e.g., Hinds 1992 and Johnson 1996; but contra Galinsky 1975, esp. in Chapter 5 (210-61).
(59.) Syme (1978, 1-47) summarizes the chronological data.
(60.) Cf., e.g., Habinek 2002, 46, 61, et passim; such studies tend to emphasize a common "spirit of the age." Conversely, Feeney (1992, 1-4) emphasizes the difficulties inherent in asserting any such monolithic image of Augustus or Augustanism, or of always looking "to the catastrophe of 8 [BCE] to provide a setting for our interpretations" of Ovid (1992, 4).
(61.) Habinek (2002, 55-7) brings up succession issues, only to discard them wholesale as too centered on the figure of Augustus. Meanwhile Feldherr (2010, 44-6) traces the text's political anxiety not to the figure of Augustus but to social and class change and mobility in Roman culture during the Principate.
(62.) Jameson 1981, esp. 79-89.
(63.) Feldherr (2010, 26-46) makes excellent points about the cognitive and epistemological issues that metamorphosis raises in Ovid's work, although he makes the case for taking each instance on its own terms rather than reading an overarching "law of metamorphosis" into Ovid's text. He deals (37-40) with Lycaon specifically as a paradigm instance of the puzzles of metamorphosis, but relies on Jupiter's role as narrator to provide the key to the mystery.
(64.) Solodow (1988, 174) makes a similar point.
(65.) Dorrie 1959; but Feldherr (2002, 171-2) ascribes such "univocality" to, e.g., Jupiter in the Lycaon story.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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