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Procul este parentes: mothers is Ovid's Metamorphoses.


Mothers are marginal or invisible in many genres of Greek and Roman literature. They are less visible than casual sex partners like the Thespian paramours of "fifty-in-one-night" Hercules (1) or battered, betrayed, and abandoned wives such as the goddess Juno and the mortals Oenone, Deianeira, and Medea. Ovid's narcissistic amatory poetry continues this pattern, as it versifies flirting and seducing, not familial pietas.

Ovid, a respectable eques from a family long rich (Tr. 4.10.7-8, 29), wrote an elegiac memoir in a land far away from his beloved Rome. It seems more an autoepitaph than autobiography, perhaps his own Res gestae. It supplies the final, epigraphic poem of the fourth book of the Tristia. This version of his life story, his connections and achievements, provides an auto-rehabilitation for a Roman world in which he had been disgraced.

It is only in Tr. 4.10, part of an extensive five-volume collection of reflections in old age translatable as My Sorrow, that Ovid mentions his own mother, and then when she is dead: "Soon after I carried death sacrifices to my mother's grave" (matris proxima busta tuli, 4.10.80). In contrast, Ovid had mentioned earlier his father, fatherland, equestrian forefathers, and brother (parens/pater, patria, proavi, frater, 4.10.3, 7, 9, 15, 21). He characterizes, justly or not, his elderly father from Sulmona (about forty years of age at Ovid's birth) (2) as a learned Philistine in a precious, stereotypically paternal quotation: "The Maionian himself [sc. Homer] left behind no money-pile" (Maeonides nullas ipse reliquit opes, 4.10.22). Students today report the same parental disapproval, usually followed by "what my father told me to do," as what Ovid's father told him: study something more practical, like the law--anything but poetry. Ovid's father died old, after "twice nine lustra," that is, prosaically phrased, at age ninety (Tr. 4.10.77-8). Ovid amusingly refutes his father's materialist, businessman's scorn for artistic achievement. He declares that his wife will share his, a poet's, enduring fame, while "a rich man's ghost takes nothing to the dead spirits" (nil feret ad Manes divitis umbra suos, Tr. 5.14.12). His older brother's early death at twenty (Tr. 4.10.31-2) left Ovid sole heir to his family's considerable fortune (Tr. 4.10.7-8).

Ovid's birth on 20 March 43 implies his mother's existence, but he mentions her briefly and explicitly only at her death (Tr. 4.10.80). She died soon after his father. Ovid performed the last rites, an opportunity to display his pietas for his mother. Her death thankfully, he feels, preceded his humiliation and disgrace, his internal banishment (relegatio) for laesa maiestas (Tr. 2.123-4, 5.11.21; cf. Pont. 1.4.44: perstiterit laesi si gravis ira dei). Ovid, briefly and cutely, apostrophizes his parents, now that his mother and father are resident and strolling in the Stygian forum, to explain once again the undeserved cause of his imperial exile: error, non scelus (Tr. 4.10.87-92). His suppressed scandalous misstep (error) perhaps involved a woman, perhaps Augustus's difficult daughter (filia familias), who was the mother of the adulterous younger Julia. (3) Paterfamilias Augustus, in the year 8 C.E., maliciously but not without reasons, relegated the urbane poet to remote and bleak Rumania, full of unpoetic barbarians, although Ovid wildly exaggerates the mean, nonarctic temperature there. (4)

Ovid's legitimate, nonconsanguineous female connections were his three wives, at least one of them the mother of his daughter. First, he married young, a poor choice, the praeceptor amoris thought and wrote (Tr. 4.10.69-70), the marriage lasting per breve. His second marriage also was a short-lived union (non ... firma), but at least scandal-free this time (Tr. 4.10.71-2). The third nuptials produced a "keeper," a Fabian female perhaps not fortuitously connected to the household of Augustus (Tr. 4.10.73-4; Pont. 1.2.135-40). From one of these marriages came a daughter (Fast. 6.219), presumably named Ovidia. She herself twice married and bore two grandchildren of undetermined sex (Tr. 4.10.69-70). While sexual liaisons with many partners may appear to have been his poetic persona's favorite game, Ovid admits, not surprisingly, only to honorable uxoriousness in "real life." Hermann Frankel (1945, 132) discreetly defends his subject, describing him as one who "could boast a heart responsive to Cupid's darts" (a reminiscence of Tr. 4.10.65-6). (5)

Ovid addresses his vaunt and epilogue, the last poem of the Tristia (5.14), to his third, loyal wife. Ovid burns both ends of his prophetic candle, promising material goods and poetic fame. His wife will enjoy both sole guardianship of his (still unconfiscated) estate and her name will remain alive forever (perpetui fructum donavi nominis, 5.14.13). He further compares his suffering but loyal spouse to the legendary Penelope, Andromache, Alcestis, Evadne, and Laodamia of yore (5.14.35-40). Who are these women? They are paragons of motherhood and marital fidelity unto death--and beyond. While he identifies the first heroine by her proper name, he specifies all the others only by andronymic periphrases, namely: Penelopea fides, Admeti ... et Hectoris uxor, Iphias, Phylaceia. We may translate these as Mrs. Hector, Mrs. Admetus, Daughter of Iphis (that is, Evadne), and one bizarrely (or Alexandrian-like) obscure metonomy: the marital, patrifocal, ethnic circumlocution, "the Phylacaean"--that is, the nomen inextinctum (Tr. 5.14.36) of the well-known Laodamia carries the name of her husband's father or his political foundation of Phylace in Thessaly. Three of these legendary wives died with, or because of, extreme loyalty (a hint?) to their cowardly, berserk, or scapegoated husbands. Their self-sacrifice gained their nomen inextinctum. These Greek wives (and mothers) died by substitution, suttee, or suicide.

The Roman mother who was not under indefinite guardianship (tutela mulierum perpetua) or under the power of her husband (in manu mariti) could maneuver quite well in the realms of commerce, personal finance, and the transmission of wealth. This freedom of action existed despite their legal limitations due to the "weakness of sex." (6) Roman matrons, such as Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, or Servilia, mother of Brutus the liberator, involved themselves extensively and invested heavily in their sons' careers. (7) Ovid's Romanization, or Roman coloring for Hellenic heroines, reflects this greater Roman freedom for women. In brief, some of his matres familiae in both the Heroides and the Metamorphoses act more assertively than their Greek namesakes had, in both their loves and their hates. (8)

Other Mothers in Earlier Literature

Mothers in Homeric epic come across as exceptionally tough as well as conventionally tender. Mother-goddess Thetis sympathizes with Achilles' tears but also provides Hephaestus's lethal weapons to him. Penelope, exercising her wiles in her role as house-guardian wife, deceives the lusting, unmannered suitors for three years; in her role as mother, she has successfully protected her clueless young son's life and his hopes for inheritance for more than twenty years. Andromache recognizes the narrow limits of her effective protection for tiny, vulnerable Astyanax and tries, by unwelcome strategic advice, to restrain Hector within Troy's walls. Anticleia, encountered by Odysseus in the Underworld, provides her questing son Odysseus with useful worldly knowledge and a lonely mother's grief (Od. 2.106; Il. 6.406-39; Od. 11.180-203). Mothers in Attic tragedy are certainly central, but often murderous, incapacitated, estranged from their children, or unhelpful. A glance at certain playwrights' representations of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Medea, or Agave suggests as much. (9) Aeschylus's Clytemnestra, Sophocles' Antigone, and Euripides' Medea are plainly strong women, but no one's role models for healthy family dynamics. (10) Clytemnestra and Medea portray abused, but finally malevolent, wives, women almost beyond human sympathy. (11) This extremity of human reaction does hold true for some of Ovid's human mothers, since Procne and Althaea hew close to their Hellenic origins, but not for others such as Niobe, Alcmena, and Dryope. These women are victims of the unforgiving gods, while the climactic Hecuba is a victim of sadistic and greedy humans.

Mothers appear primarily as decor or minor blocking figures in Greek historiography and other prose (Herodotus, perhaps, excepted). (12) Pericles' funeral oration, the well-known Epitaphios (2.45.2), presents Thucydides' woman-unfriendly version of the political expression of personal grief. The statesman infamously pigeonholes women, urging them into noble silences, the bereaved mothers along with the widowed wives. Similarly, Plato's manly philosophical dialogues suppress women, or allow them only minor roles; we may recall the weepy, shrieking mother of Socrates' children hustled from the prison at the beginning of the Phaedo (60A). Indeed, we know even less of Socrates' mother Phaenarete (Tht. 149A) than of his sorely neglected wife Xanthippe.

In the fictional ancient Greek novels, some perhaps written by women and probably designed to appeal to the younger ones among them, mothers enjoy only insubstantial roles. In the honeymoon departure scene prior to the inevitable shipwreck that haunts the earlier Greek novels, Xenophon's newlyweds wave mother goodbye with a kiss, (13) and that is pretty much the end of these boring blocking figures. In later novel texts, savage mothers in Apuleius's Metamorphoses require a new yardstick of perverse malignity, such as viperous Venus with Cupid, the nasty peasant boy's mother with a flaming stick (a wicked reference to Ovid's Althaea: Ovid, Met. 8.454-525), and the climactic murderess of five, including her own child (Met. 5.29-31, 7.27-8, 10.24-8).

Heliodorus's black Ethiopian Queen Persinna has to expose or dispose of her daughter, born unexpectedly white. She delivers her to the convenient and clever middleman, Calasiris, accompanied by decisive royal tokens, to be sure (Aeth. 4.8). Her demented intervention to prevent human sacrifice becomes important at the denouement (10.14, 29, 38), but she remains a stereotypical, only pity-worthy, middle-aged weeper. Relations between the novels' mothers and their teenaged children appear strained, negative, and sometimes malevolent. This difficulty holds, a fortiori, for literature's wicked and lustful stepmothers, e.g., Euripides' or Ovid's Phaedra, and Apuleius's poisoner of her chaste stepson, and the witch who kills her husband (Met. 9.30-1, 10.2-5). Heliodorus's stepmother, Attic Demainete, murders her kin, and the Machiavellian mother and "princess," Egyptian Arsake, nearly executes her male rejecter and her female rival (Aeth. 1.9-12, 7.20, 8.8-9). This novel presentation of parental relationships with teenaged children as rarely nurturing, attractive, or even mutually comprehensible is refreshingly unsentimental--even if stereotypical for nasty stepmothers (contra, Chariclea's doting foster-father Charicles).

Mothers in Vergil's Aeneid briefly affect the action. Aeneas's unpredictable, divine mother, Venus, remains notoriously distant and inexpressive, even when present (1.402-10). Creusa, abandoned wife and mother of Aeneas's son Iulus, fulfills the positive image of sacrifice and self-sacrifice (2.673-9, 736-41, 771-90) which is central in Roman legends about mother, wife, and daughter. (14) Grieving Latin mother Amata fails to obtain her intended, right son-in-law for Lavinia and commits suicide after trying (12.54-63, 595-604).

Prominent Mothers in Ovid's Metamorphoses

Ovid's capacious gallery of transformational narratives in the Metamorphoses mentions many mothers. Some of them are merely genealogical links, like Symaethis, mother of Acis (Met. 13.750), while Liriope gets to ask only one anxious question about her adorable but Delphically doomed, teenaged son Narcissus (Met. 3.344-8). Indeed, nearly every book of the Metamorphoses has a mother spotlit for anxiety, devotion, pride, or cruelty, or all the above. What do these Ovidian mothers do? They scoff, maneuver, seethe, suffer, and inflict serious revenge. I have selected for close examination here seven notable examples of mothers in the Metamorphoses: Niobe, Latona, Procne, Althaea, Alcmena, Dryope, and Hecuba.

1. At Met. 6.146-312, mother Niobe's absurdly trumpeted pride in her ancestors (Tantalus, Atlas, and indeed Jupiter!), her husband, her own earthly station, her beauty (digna dea facies, 6.182), and her parturient capacities--her fourteen healthy children and their expected spouses (mox generosque nurusque, 6.183)--directly causes their nasty, ghastly, and varied deaths. She boasts that she is superior to Latona (6.190-4). The archers Apollo and Artemis, wrathful mother Latona's mere two but twin offspring (6.146-312), brusquely reestablish the significance of quality over perishable quantity (tutam me [sc. Niobe] copia fecit). Latona's lethal maternal wish is their command (6.215). They shoot dead all fourteen boys and girls before Niobe fully realizes her error (6.284-5). They disregard Niobe's pathetic request to leave the last (dumque rogat, pro qua rogat, occidit. / Orba resedit, 6.301-2). Latona here resembles the frequently angry, frequently cheated upon, Juno/Hera in her relentless rage. Niobe loses every child because of foolish pride in her merely mortal motherhood.

2. At Met. 6.313-81, this same Latona had earlier become a new mother and breast-feeder in an exile imposed by divine sexual competitor Juno (haughty Niobe described Latona at 6.185-9, culminating in the jibe: exsul erat mundi). Then she had need of drinking water to nourish her twin brood. In human (dis)guise, the goddess politely supplicates unperceptive humans for this minimal privilege (supplex peto, 6.352). For her, the goddess, the water would truly be like nectar (haustus aquae mihi nectar erit, 6.356). Lycian peasants at their local pond insisted, however, that nature's general bounty (usus communis aquarum est, 6.349--a legal phrase) was less relevant than their private "water rights." They refuse, they threaten, and they kick up mud (6.361-5). The boors' arrogant refusal to entertain an angel unawares goads the mother as goddess to punish them forever, to transform her selfish mortal tormentors into squalid, raucous frogs who continue, despite their blocked human utterance, to badmouth her in the pond (6.317-81, esp. 376: quamvis sint sub aqua, sub aqua maledicere temptant). The protective goddess-mother destroys all her children's powerful enemies, a nice revenge fantasy so rarely achieved by humans.

3. Although she is a doting and affectionate mother, the Athenian princess Procne (Met. 6.412-674) becomes distraught after her sister Philomela's gross revelations of her husband Tereus's incestuous rapes of his sister-in-law. In revenge, she kills their beloved only son Itys--unfortunately "so like his father" (6.621-2). Ovid developed her soliloquy of maternal vacillation (610-41) either from Sophocles' and Accius's treatments of Procne or from Medea's analogous husband-punishing quandary. (15) Both conflicts of marital kin paradoxically result in filicide (cf. the concluding 6.635: scelus est pietas). Procne soon, with clear eyes (nec vultum vertit, 6.642), chooses child-murder and boiled meat as the only punishment suited to her husband's repeated rape and glottal mutilation of her sister (for Ovid, a kind of female castration). (16) Her child becomes her best, cruelest weapon to emasculate her husband.

4. After Meleager's homicidal quarrel with his maternal uncles over the spoils of the huge Calydonian boar (8.445-525), his mother Althaea provides another paradigm of confused blood-bonding hierarchies. (17) Meleager's killing of her brothers enrages her so much that she knowingly triggers her son's painful death by curse and by burning the fatal brand. This well-known tale-type (18) explores an issue central to the intergenerational experience of every tribe and culture--how to weigh competing obligations among consanguines, affines, and their own progeny (pugnat materque sororque, 8.463). (19) Althaea elegantly laments her dilemma (8.499-500): (20)
  'mens ubi materna est? Ubi sunt pia iura parentum
  et quos sustinui bis mensum quinque labores?'

  "Where is my maternal spirit? Where are my obligations as parent, And
  what labors [pun] did I endure for twice five months?"

Althaea follows her imprecations on son, home, and country (patris ... patriaeque, 8.498) with vacillating oscillation. Ovid presents the passion and conscience of her dilemma: avenge her extinct (8.446) brothers--perhaps, on a Roman view, her legal guardians--or spare her only son? Ovid's touch here is characteristically light and brief; consequently, some unperceptive critics wrongly think him superficial. Ovid has her review her "issues." She mentions in her soliloquy the arguments against child-murder, especially her expected emotional attachment to the boy for whom her original "gift" of life lasts only so long as she preserves the fatal brand unburnt. She trippingly adds her own numerous bonds of pietas to child, marital family, gods, and nation (8.498; cf. 8.477: impietate pia est). She closes with her literally visceral argument (8.478, 516, 532; Anderson 1972, ad loc.) about her body's painful experience (8.502) of her son's heroic gestation in utero and birth. (21) She burns the brand; her son dies for destroying her nearest and dearest family--evidently not him.

5. Alcmena herself tells the oldwives' tale of her birthing of Hercules (Met. 9.273-323). She describes her dreadful labor pains when Jupiter's seed, Hercules, strained her womb--her time had come. Parodying Vergil (Met. 9.291 ~ Aen. 1.203), Ovid has her say: parsque est meminisse doloris. Because of the intentional divine duress, her birthing labor continued a week (9.292-300). (22) Lucina and the Roman birth-assisting sprites (Nixae, 9.294) could not help the groaning, suffering Alcmena. Jealous Juno, also the birth-goddess supreme, had put spells on her and kept her own arms, knees, and fingers interlocked and interlaced in order to prevent the birth of the baby. (23) Juno is guarding, as usual, her own dynastic succession, more than a little reminiscent of Augustus's second spouse, Livia. The helpful maid Galanthis's trick disrupts her strategy and Hercules emerges. Hercules' mother tells her laborious birthing story to Iole, more or less her daughter-in-law.

6. At Met. 9.324-93, Apollo rapes Dryope, sister of Iole, the one-woman audience for Alcmena. She bore a son, since divine semen never spurts in vain. One day, when the son Amphissus was twelve months old, still nursing, Dryope ignorantly picked some untouchable lotus for him. It was untouchable because into lotus the nymph Lotis reputedly morphed in order to escape from the lecherous Priapus. Ignorant Dryope drew blood from the branches and was consequently morphed into vegetal poplar or lotus herself, described by herself as a divine although unjust (non meruisse nefas, 9.372) punishment. The morphing process moves from the ground, up her legs, but slowly. Her baby found out the hard way that he could no longer suck milk at her woody teat. (24) Before the nurturer's innocent face was covered with bark, however, Dryope begs her family to lift up her baby boy (parvumque attollite natum, 9.387) for a mother's final, pathetic kiss. Dryope is the simplest Ovidian paradigm of innocuous, undeservedly suffering motherhood.

7. At Met. 13.422-575, Hecuba, like Thetis (11.221-8), emblematizes every war-mother's grief for her gore-clotted, dead, and mutilated mortal children--here, nineteen sons, one virginal daughter Polyxena (13.449-575), and still more to be counted. The cruel ghost of Achilles (inmiti umbrae) returns to earth to demand Polyxena's sacrifice (13.449). The last unreal wish of the girl "with a spirit greater than a woman's" (plus quam femina virgo, 13.451) is that her mother might remain ignorant of her religiose butchery (13.462). Her noble, stoical behavior forces the invading Greeks themselves and the knife-wielding priest to weep (13.474-5)--a concluding contrast to, and ring with, the rejoicing augur-priest Calchas at the earlier, initiatory sacrifice of another virgin daughter, Iphigenia, in the presence of other weeping Greek priests (12.19-31). Whereas there the pietas of the father Agamemnon voluntarily yielded to political necessity, here the love of the mother Hecuba cannot prevent the slaughter of her last daughter, presumed secure from steel by her very sex (13.497-8).

Hecuba represents all bereaved, nonvoting mothers of soldiers and the civilian casualties of war, both women and children. While lamenting at the margins of Troy, she finds the unburied corpse of Polydorus, her youngest son and last hope, washed ashore. Her Thracian ally Polymestor had betrayed her after she thought she had sent her child to safety in Thrace, away from the war zone. In revenge, she gouges out the eyeballs of the double-crossing, greedy Thracian. The prophecy of the barking, dehumanized Trojan bitch, known from Greek myth, becomes an actual canine transformation in Ovid's epic. (25) Since the Trojans were touted by Vergil and Augustus's court as being the ancestors of the Romans, Hecuba becomes a Roman "pre-echo" of the many Italian mothers who had lost their children to recent civil and foreign wars.

In the Ovidian epic, replete with family feuding, miscellaneous other mothers also face dire parental problems. The most prominent is arrogant Phaethon's unmarried mother Clymene, who is stung to anger by her son's pestering questions about his impertinently doubted paternity (Met. 1.747-79). His pestering embraces and her perhaps angry (26) directions for voyaging to the absent father and his car lead to his crisp vehicular death in the chariot of the Sun (2.325-8).

Other mothers include Andromeda's imprudently boastful mother (maternae ... fiducia formae, 4.687), (27) who is directly responsible for her modest (4.682) daughter's shameful, naked bondage and pornographic doom (ambo misere, sed iustius illa, 4.692). Ceres grieves and rages for her raped daughter Proserpina (5.356-571). The goddess manages to recover her daughter in a fifty-fifty timeshare after Jupiter divinely sanctions Pluto's abduction of her progeny (cum matre est totidem, totidem cum coniuge menses, 5.567). Yet another Olympian mother, angry Venus, initiates the imperial family's problem, goading her son Cupid to wound erotically Hades, the underworld lord. This divine imperial scheme of marriage arising from gross flattery consciously echoes mother Venus's matchmaking machinations in the Aeneid (arma manusque meae, mea, nate, potential ... cur non matrisque tuumque / imperium profers?, 5.365-79; cf. Aen. 1.664). Further, Ovid's power-avid Venus foreshadows Apuleius's Venus's unmotherly competitive fury unleashed against Psyche in the other Metamorphoses.

At Met. 10.298-502, Cinyras misses the sexual pleasures of his wife's concupiscible body for nine nights during a Ceres festival. Their daughter Myrrha tells him, when he asks what husband she would like, "someone like you" (similem tibi, 10.365). His enforced but impatient abstinence from her chaste and pious mother gives this attractive daughter Myrrha, sex-crazed every night for her father, a chance to consummate her incestuous longing in the dark (noctis erat medium, 10.368; tempus erat quo cuncta silent, 10.446). Cinyras naturally surmises that the young woman attracted to him is an unrelated nymphet (10.311-7, 465-8). Cinyras's daughter becomes pregnant (plena patris, 10.469) and then wanders wretchedly. Myrrha eventually changes into a tree, here a change specified by the narrator as a rare, mitigating grace of the gods. (28) Her birthing, like Alcmena's, is painful, necessarily delivered through her myrrh tree bark. She has incestuously conceived the early-to-die, handsome Adonis (10.431-514). Myrrha is doomed as both daughter (a sexual rival of her mother) and mother.


Ovid's human mothers experience terrifying suffering. The loss of a child has always been emblematic of the most severe parental (especially maternal) emotional trauma. (29) Women endured the pain that characterized the ancient birthing experience; birthing was a dangerous procedure in the absence of anesthetic substances or modern surgical assistance. While many mortal characters in Ovid's epic are driven to despair, tortured, and killed condignly or unworthily, such as the foolish Marsyas or unlucky Actaeon, the loss of a child that a mother experiences cannot be equaled, as medieval and renaissance images of the Pieta never fail to remind us.

Goddess mothers in Ovid's epic, however, such as the competitive Juno and Latona, gain types of maternal or spousal revenge which are questionable, even repellent, at least from the human perspective. Similarly, the elegiac poets, including Ovid, in their persona as subject or slave, often portray their dominatrix as equal in perceived power to a goddess--as both a consummate threat to their peace of mind or life itself and a potential solace. Here, Ovid perhaps unleashes his unconscious fears of the capabilities of the powerful, seemingly omnipotent female (as Gold's paper on Propertius in this volume suggests).

Mothers more actively participated in Roman public affairs than in Greek. Hallett's examinations of the historical records of Cornelia, Servilia, Fulvia, and Livia, inter alias, demonstrate this important fact. One Roman characteristic of Ovid's originally Greek mothers is their publicly displayed maternal pride in their children's accomplishments. Doomed queens Ino and Niobe are described thus: natis ... sublimes animos (4.420); felicissima matrum / dicta foret Niobe, si non sibi visa fuisset (6.155-6). Also Roman is their maternal advice urgently offered to their children, their use of them as dynastic pawns, and their limited options for protecting them from male and/or divine superior force. Such crushing force, often divine in this poem's murderous myths recycled with historical referents, was all too humanly bloody in the savage Triumvirs's pseudolegal proscriptions and extralegal executions during Ovid's impressionable childhood and early adulthood (43-19 B.C.E.).

Works Cited

Aarne, A., and S. Thompson. 1987. Types of the Folktale. 2d ed. Helsinki.

Anderson, William. 1972. Ovid's Metamorphoses, Books 6-10. Edited, with Introduction and Commentary. Norman, OK.

Balsdon, John Percy Vivian Dacre. 1962. Roman Women: Their History and Habits. London.

Corbeill, Anthony. 2004. Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome. Princeton.

Dewald, Carolyn. 1981. "Women and Culture in Herodotus' Histories." Women's Studies 8: 93-127.

Dixon, Suzanne. 1988. The Roman Mother. Norman.

Dowden, Ken. 1989. Death and the Maiden. London.

Fitton Brown, A. D. 1985. "The Unreality of Ovid's Tomitan Exile." LCM 10: 19-22.

Frankel, Hermann. 1945. Ovid: A Poet between Two Worlds. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Green, Peter. 1982. "Ovid in Tomis." Grand Street 2: 116-30.

Hallett, Judith P. 1984. Fathers and Daughters in Roman Society: Women and the Elite Family. Princeton.

______. 1990. "Contextualizing the Text: The Journey to Ovid." Helios 17.2: 187-95.

Hemelrijk, Emily. 1999. Matrona docta: Educated Women in the Roman Elite from Cornelia to Julia Domna. London.

Holt, Phillip. 1999. "Polis and Tragedy in the Antigone." Mnemosyne 52: 658-90.

Petrocelli, Corrado. 2001. "Cornelia the Matron." In Augusto Fraschetti, ed., Roman Women. New ed. and trans. Linda Lappin. Chicago. 34-65.

Sater, Phillip. 1968. The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and the Greek Family. Boston.

Syme, Ronald. 1978. History in Ovid. Oxford.

Thibault, John C. 1964. The Mystery of Ovid's Exile. Berkeley and Los Angeles.


(1) Apollodorus, Bibl. 2.4.10; Diodorus 4.29.2ff.; Pausanias 9.27.6ff.; Athenaeus 13.4, 556f; Tzetzes, Chil. 2.221ff.

(2) Ovid was born in March 43 B.C.E., before Cicero died (Tr. 4.10.6, 13). He mentions in his Amores (published in 23 B.C.E.) three wives seriatim (one couplet each!) and a daughter who married two husbands and produced two grandchildren who were born before his own parents' deaths and his banishment (Tr. 4.10.60-78). His parents' deaths apparently occurred shortly before Ovid's relegation in 8 C.E.

(3) Suetonius, Aug. 65. Thilbaut (1964) lists over one hundred "hypotheses" through 1964, recording the "attentions of the erudite, the ingenious, the frivolous": thus Syme 1978, 216. Syme assumes, as most do, that the offending carmen was the Ars amatoria. The unspecified text may, in fact, have been the Metamorphoses with its unflattering portraits of Augustus as Jupiter and (by implication) Livia as Hera, the harrowing harrier of his adulteries.

(4) See, inter alios, Green 1982; Fitton Brown 1985 for a bizarre climatological discussion. Ira Caesaris, as Syme (1978, 223) notes, ominously suggests "the wrath of deities unrelenting"--behavior discrepant from Augustus's dignity (Syme, 224) and claims of clemency.

(5) "Perilla" (Tr. 3.7), his chaste poetic apprentice and protegee (Hallett 1990, 191), perhaps was his stepdaughter from his third wife: Hemelrijk 1999, 149-50. Their magister-discipula relationship seems echoed in that of the French abbot and Ovidian enthusiast Baudri with the nun Constance of Angers; see my "Poetry of Constance," <> (July 27, 2006).

(6) Perceived infirmitas sexus often resulted in a wife's legal position of filia familias: Dixon 1988, 15, 48, 173; see also Newlands's essay on Statius in this volume. The Roman elite female had more power and political elbowroom than her Athenian or other Greek counterparts. In some realms, such as politics and the courts, those Greek women could only catch gossip and/or complain when and if their husbands came home (cf. Aristophanes, Lys. 507-20 for Athens).

(7) Cf. Hallett 1984, 45-52; Petrocelli (2001, 52-3) cites Tacitus, Dial. 28.4-6 for the disciplina ac severitas of the univirae Cornelia, Aurelia, and Atia (mothers of Caesar and Augustus). So, too, the Romans lauded Papiria, mother of Africanus: Polybius 31.23-8; Balsdon 1962, 187.

(8) His Heroides include mothers as well as wives, fiancees, and lovers, all of whom are women in trouble. Penelope, Hypsipyle, Dido, Canace, and Medea mention their own or others' children, appropriate topics for a Roman mother and her maternal duties. Phaedra mocks all maternal conventions. Hermione's remarks, a kind of negative eulogy (8.89-100), condemn her bad mother Helen.

(9) Slater (1968) explains this tragic situation of claustrophobic family dynamics in psychoanalytical terms.

(10) Holt (1999, 670) discusses tragic audiences' pleasure in women's imagined defiance of the orthodoxies.

(11) Euripides' young misogynist Hippolytus imagines male-only reproduction in a once or future wombless world, as Hesiod and Greek tradition had fantasized: Theognis 585ff.; Hesiod, Op. 93ff.; Euripides, Hipp. 616-29.

(12) Recall the nosy Alcmaeonid mother of Peisistratus's second wife (1.61); also Intaphrenes' wife, mother of several sons (3.119); and Artaynte's savaged mother (9.108-13). Cf., further, Dewald's (1981) comprehensive study of women in Herodotus.

(13) Xenophon Ephesius 1.10. Leucippe's mother is more forceful: Achilles Tatius 2.24.

(14) For daughter, consider the paradigm legends of Lucretia and Verginia.; cf. Hallett 1984. For Greek female sacrifice and self-sacrifice, see Dowden 1989, passim.

(15) See Anderson 1972, 230, 232: mater repeated at 6.620, 624, 627, 629, 633, 640 (bis). Medea's filicide (7.396-7) gets minimal shrift, because Ovid prefers not to repeat what others already imagined in detail.

(16) Medea is perhaps the archetypal black widow mother, in Ovid (7.394-7) as elsewhere. Ovid spends few verses on her fratricide and vengeful murder of her sons. He concentrates rather on her purely (?) sadistic persuasion of Pelias's daughters to commit patricide.

(17) Matricides are rare in ancient literature; notable cases include Orestes (Am. 1.7.9; Tr. 4.4.69) and Eriphyle's son Alcmaeon (Met. 9.407-12). I find no extended description of the act in Ovid's poetry.

(18) See Aarne and Thompson 1987, #1187.

(19) The son is cognate in Roman law to his mother, not agnate as to his father: Dixon 1988, 45, citing Gaius, Inst. 3.3.

(20) Note the tricolon ascendens: seven, twelve, fourteen syllables.

(21) Contrast Althaea's curse to Aurora's fostering prayer for honors for her slaughtered son Memnon: Met. 13.583-99.

(22) Such a period of labor is horribly too long, although far less than that inflicted on the enchanted, officiously intermeddling woman in Apuleius Met. 1.9, who continued perpetually pregnant for at least eight years.

(23) For the magical similia similibus, cf. Corbeill 2004, 36-7.

(24) Met. 9.357-8: materna rigescere sentit / ubera. The story recalls Vergil's story of Polydorus's transformation into a bloody bush (Aen. 3.49ff.).

(25) She obtains the ennobling but animal simile of a lioness bereaved of her whelps: Met. 13.547-9. Ovid, in his minimized Trojan antiepic (books 12-3), imitates Homer's ugly and disturbing omen of mother-bird, babies, and a greedy, bird-gobbling snake at Aulis. The serpent attacks a nest and devours a mother-bird's eight fledglings. Their mother cannot prevent the eradicating avicide, and eventually suffers the same fate (12.13-7), arousing the military chaplain Calchas's militant joy

(26) Met. 1.765: an ira mota. Ira is dangerous for the powerful and also unbecoming to royalty Ovid often attributes it to Augustus in the Tristia. Syme (1978) counts thirty-six such sly attributions in that collection. The royal mother Agave is both angry and crazy when she tears off her supplicating son Pentheus's head (Met. 3.701; cf. 4.424).

(27) Dangerous and premonitory is such trust in form or beauty for any human, male or female, in Ovid's Metamorphoses: Semele, 3.270; Atalanta, 8.434, Glaucus, 14.32; cf. divine Mercury, 2.731.

(28) One may compare both Daphne's arboreal semi-salvation and lovely Dryope's punishment: Met. 10.488-502; 1.547-56, 9.346-58.

(29) Semele's fruit of the womb, above all, is delivered premature and with her own self entirely blasted (Met. 3.305-12); Coronis's son Asclepius also (2.628-30).
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Author:Lateiner, Donald
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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