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The Play of Fictions: Studies in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' Book 2.

Ovid's reputation as a poet has long suffered from critics' hybris; when connections between the episodes of the Metamorphoses have not been immediately apparent to the eye of modern critics, or when an episode does not fit into a critic's grand scheme, Ovid has been declared to have failed to achieve perfect clarity or unity. The poet is lacking, not the critic. The episodes in Met. 2.531-835, among others, have inspired such abuse. In The Play of Fictions, Keith explicitly declines to fit this passage into a grand scheme, but aims to examine the internal unity of 2.531-835. The passage, she says, is not a failure, not even an intentional one: "This study argues on the contrary that Ovid's control of, and commitment to, his material did not fail at this point in the poem." In other words, let us proceed as if we think Ovid knew what he was doing. Such an approach is a refreshing example for critics of other sections of the poem and of Ovid in general.

Keith's introduction explains why this particular passage of book 2 is worth studying so microscopically: the myths are all concerned with story telling, that most important Ovidian topic. Keith thus provides us with a reminder that book 5's story of the Muses is not the only significant story-telling section. She is clearly influenced by Hinds's discussion of book 5 in The Metamorphosis of Persephone (1987), but she reads the stories in book 2 as addressing not so much poetic production as narrative in general and the uses of the powers of speech. Hinds's influence can also be seen in Keith's frequent comparison of versions of stories in the Metamorphoses with similar versions or allusions in the Fasti. Although she emphasizes in her introduction the role that narratological theory plays in her analysis (5-6), readers with an aversion to narratology's jargon will find little of it in the book; the approach, rather than the terminology, is narratological.

The five chapters consider each of the stories in Met. 2.531-835. Each chapter follows a pattern of analyzing the logic of the transition from the previous story, the structure of the episode itself and its connection with the ongoing themes, and finally the etymologizing or wordplay which Ovid uses to reinforce these themes. The wordplay analysis follows the example of Ahl and others in reasonable moderation. The raven-crow-ocyroe sequence is bound together by repetition of words with the consonants c-r (corvus, cornix, Cecrops, Crops, Chiron, Chariclo, Ocyrob), and the Ocyrod-battus-aglauros sequence repetitively plays on the words fari and fatum. (These words reflect and support the thematic concern with speech and the gods' reaction to it.) Most admirable is Keith's frequent citation of etymologies from Varro et al., which show that these wordplays plausibly could have occurred to Ovid and his ancient readers.

Chapter 1, "The Crow's Tale," treats not the first story Ovid mentions in the passage, that of the raven, but the "embedded" story of the crow, who speaks at length to the raven, as the latter journeys to reveal Coronis' infidelity to Apollo. The most impressive part of this chapter is the analysis of the fragments of Callimachus' Hecale which appear to contain both of these birds' stories. Keith makes a point of first treating the Hecale independently, to avoid a circular comparison of the Metamorphoses with an Ovid-influenced reconstruction of Callimachus. From this analysis we see that Callimachus, like Ovid, used the crow as a first-person narrator, who gave an aetiology for Athena's hatred of crows, told the story of the Cecropids' illicit peek at the infant Erichthonius, and prophesied the raven's metamorphosis. Ovid appears, however, to have changed the context of the crow's speech and to have added a reference to the owl at the end. The question of the crow's interlocutor in Callimachus is especially troublesome: it is certainly not a raven, as in Ovid, but who is it? The attractive suggestion of Wilamowitz, followed by Lloyd-Jones and Rea, was that Callimachus' crow addresses an owl; then Ovid would have retained the same three birds in his version, but rearranged them for different narrative functions - one of his favorite games. Keith provides no new argument to support this theory and merely cites the work of these august scholars. More of her own discussion of this problem would have been helpful, especially as the matter is so crucial to her narratological parallel between Ovid and Callimachus. It is also disappointing to see her relying so exclusively on the work of previous critics at this point, without absolving them of the circularity against which she was on guard at the beginning of the discussion. (And indeed, Lloyd-Jones and Rea do use Ovid to reconstruct the Callimachus story [HSCPH 72 (1967) 141-42].) Nevertheless, Keith's observations of the structural similarities between Ovid and Callimachus are striking.

The remainder of chapter 1 analyzes the connections between the various stories told by the crow: all concern the relationship of a royal maiden with her divine patron and all emphasize the use of speech, for proper or improper purposes. Also in chapter 1, Keith notes the crow's tendency to play with words.

Chapter 2, "The Metamorphosis of the Raven," continues along many of the same lines as chapter 1, mainly analyzing the connections between the raven's situation and the crow's, with a particularly stimulating explanation (39-47) of the many birds which Ovid uses in the transition into the raven's story (2.531-41). Wordplay participates in this chapter, too: the crow notes that she is the daughter of one king Coroneus, while the raven is on his way to report on the actions of Apollo's lover Coronis. Given this similarity between the crow's own name and the subject of the raven's report (a story which we never hear directly), I would have liked to see a little more discussion of Coronis in this chapter. Her story is begun, then interrupted for more than fifty lines, then finished in indirect discourse (Met. 2.542-45, 598-99). Why is her story not told more fully? Is the crow's story a proxy for tlie Col ollis story, as Keith seems to suggest? Perhaps Coronis' is one of those tantalizing stories Ovid can never (choose to) get around to telling (see Mack, Ovid [1988] 124-25, 135-41).

Chapter 3, "Chiron's Daughter and the Art of Prophecy," contains an especially good explanation of the transition from the bird stories to the story of Chiron's daughter Ocyroe, who becomes a horse. Ocyroe, too, seems to be metamorphosed in punishment for speaking too much, although, like the crow and the raven, she speaks the truth. The discussion of Ovid's etymological games is most fully developed in this chapter.

Chapter 4, "Battus and the Rewards for Telling Tales," continues the same themes: a talkative character, hoping for a reward, tells too much to a god and is punished by metamorphosis. Keith's analysis of how Ovid may have combined earlier stories of Battus (or someone like him), from the Homeric Hymn to Hermes to Hesiod to Theocritus to Nicander, is quite impressive (106-14).

Chapter 5, "The Petrifaction of Aglauros," again sets the metamorphosed character into the sequence of others who reveal the secrets of the gods: Aglauros had not been punished for revealing Erichthonius (back in the crow's narrative), and now she threatens Mercury's furtive visit to Herse. Her metamorphosis by Minerva is punishment for both of these transgressions. Keith analyzes Ovid's extended description of Invidia (Met. 2.760-805) as tying together the stories of the crow, the raven, and Aglauros, all of whom saw something forbidden which aroused their envy (with etymological play on the vid- root in invidia). This chapter surveys the theme of envy in earlier poetry and suggests that Ovid might also be alluding to envious reactions to his own poetry: might his story telling be as risky as that of his mythological characters?

Keith's two-page epilogue proposes a political application of the stories treated in the book. Under the increasingly restrictive Principate, the proper use of speech would naturally have been a topic of concern to the poet. Ovid's eventual fate shows, at least in retrospect, that he was right to worry about the rewards and punishment for telling tales. (This argument, while obvious and uncontroversial to me, raises the murky topic of the Augustan political climate and might cause others to object.)

Appendix 1, "Swans in Metamorphoses 2," suggests that both the swan-like flumineae volucres at 2.252-53 and Cygnus himself are singing elegiac poetry of the mournful, tenue kind (Cygnus' voice is tenuata, 2.373). This argument might have been strengthened by bringing up Aen. 10.185-93 earlier. I also want to hear how the other Ovidian swan metamorphoses (Met. 7.371-81, 12.71-167) fit into this interpretation. Appendix 2, "The Cercopes," suggests a punning relationship between the Cecropides in book 2 and the Cercopes in 14.91-100. Appendix 3 reproduces the Greek text of the fragments of Callimachus' Hecale discussed in chapter 1 (Hollis frr. 70-74).

The Play of Fictions admirably and readably achieves its missions - several of which I have longed to see attempted. Its focus on a relatively short section avoids dangerous generalities. It profitably combines our old friend Philology with our new friend Narratology (perhaps they have been sisters all along). It bases its discussion of etymologizing word games on solid ancient evidence. It presents us with an approach which could be a useful model for analysis of other parts of the poem. And most importantly, it restores our enjoyment of a previously slighted section of the Metamorphoses.
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Author:Musgrove, Margaret Worsham
Publication:American Journal of Philology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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