The passage closely examines what seems to be a chasing of a young and beautiful female by a lustful male God in the mythical times. It presents a detailed description of the girl in the process of fleeing in terror to avoid the Gods intrusive passion. The female is seen from his prospective and both her body and movements are described lasciviously and poetically at the same time as if she was both the object of ones carnal desire and ones true love. As a reader I felt sympathetic to the running girl partly because she was presented as an innocent victim and partly because she was shown as someone strikingly beautiful and with extreme animal magnetism:
The winds bared her body, the opposing breezes in her way fluttered her clothes, and the light airs threw her streaming hair behind her, her beauty enhanced by flight. (Ovid, 2AD, p.57)
The climax of the passage (quite capable of passing for a short story) is what makes the story unusual and even shocking for a present-day reader. After the female understands that she has been caught and now in the power of her chaser who can now breathe on the hair flying round her neck (Ovid, 2AD, p.58), she asks for help from her father and, as a result, something supernatural happens and her body parts are transformed into leaves and branches and she becomes some kind of a plant. I suppose transformation into a completely different essence was quite a common way to resolve a conflict in the times of mythical perception of the universe and on a certain metaphorical level it still happens and works in the modern world too.
The historical context is crucially important during any attempt to proper understand a literary piece written at some point in the worlds history. It is impossible to grasp true authors intentions and message without at least superficial research about his or her life circumstances that can definitely shed some light on both the general meaning of the piece and the implications it contains between the lines. Ovids Metamorphoses were for the lager part written during Ovids life in Rome where he could closely observe the emperor Augustus totalitarian policy concerning marriage and sexual culture. Researchers find it critically important that Ovid started his adult life in the relatively calm and stable period in the Roman history (Lively, 2010) unlike other Roman poets such as Horace, Vergil, Propertius who had witnessed chaotic and bloody transition from democracy to monarchy under Augustus Octavian or suffered from civil war in the Roman Empire. Therefore, Ovid had no personal experience of the civil strife that had dominated life of the generation before him and it sounds to be a plausible explanation for the comparative irreverence and playful disrespect for all things political (Lively, 2010, p.6) that Ovid often demonstrates in his poetry. Taking into account that Metamorphoses for the bigger part were written during Ovids life in the capital before his cruel exile by Augustus to Tomis, a barbarian and cold west outpost of the Black Sea, one can surmise that the description of the gods behavior in Ovids epic poem had been largely inspired by that of the Roman monarch of that time, Augustus. Thus, Augustus was notorious for introducing harsh laws prohibiting marriages between certain classes of Roman population as well as imposing marriages on other types of groups. In this light, the story of Apollo, the warrior God, who, having treated Cupid, the God of love, disrespectfully, is punished with unrequited passionate love for the nymph Daphne, can be interpreted as a metaphor and generalization of every Roman citizen whose love life was subject to strict control and manipulation. Strong and brave Apollo appears to be a helpless puppet in the power of vindictive and cruel God, to say nothing of the nymph, whom Cupid just used as an instrument for punishing Apollo.
As for the central theme that the excerpt raises, it is a very common (for mythical times) narrative about seduction and rape. However, it seems that Ovids portrayal of it differs greatly from the ones of his predecessors. In the research called Patterns of Rape in Ovid Metamorphoses Nikki Bloch argues that female victims of rape in Ovids narrative are always shown as the one suffering from emotional trauma, even those who managed to evade being raped (Bloch, 2014, p.2). Thus, Daphne, having been inoculated with hatred and disgust towards love-stricken Apollo, is running driven by utter terror and is ready to destroy her beauty that pleases too well (Ovid, 2AD, p. 58) rather than succumb to Apollos blandishments.
Another prominent theme in Ovids Metamorphoses is love. However, it is not the same inspirational and wonderful feeling (as most people tend to perceive love in the modern time): love for ancient Greeks was more like a curse, something that could generate a lot of trouble and misfortune. Therefore, the worst punishment Cupid can think of for Phoebus Apollo is to fall in love passionately with someone who will never be able to reciprocate these feelings.
The literary form Ovid chose for Metamorphoses is epic poetry unlike elegiac poetry that he used before in his earlier works. However, the excerpt where Daphne flees from Apollo and then transforms into a laurel bough reminds an elegy a lot. According to the research conducted by Joseph B. Solodov, Metamorphoses employ all existing kinds of literature (Solodov, 2014, p. 18). The hexameter verse and overall narrative of the stories in Metamorphoses suggest that the dominant style is epic while the use of similes (Like a hound of Gaul starting a hare in an empty field (Ovid, 2AD, p. 57)) renders the excerpt more poetic and resembling earlier texts by Ovid.
Despite being written more than two thousand years ago, The Metamorphoses preserves its topicality for a modern reader. The portrayal of Gods that behave a lot like ordinary people while retaining to some degree their divine powers (a method called split divinity joke (Solodov, 2014, p.94)) can explain a lot about mythical perception of the universe. The gods used to be considered something natural, therefore, humanized to a great degree. For instance, Apollo falls in love and behaves as stupid as any other human would do in his place. Another significant importance of Ovids text for a present-day reader lies in the fact that Ovid undoubtedly draws parallels between the Greek Gods conduct and the Roman Emperor of his time Augustus Octavian.
The perception of the excerpt where Daphne us running away from Apollo greatly changes after one gets familiar with the larger context. What seemed to be an act of simply violent passion becomes a complicated personal tragedy involving several beings. Apollo is not just full of lust, but also hopelessly in love. Not only Daphne appears to be a victim in this situation but Apollo as well whom Cupid cursed with overwhelming love for the nymph. In her turn, Daphne is made to feel an utter aversion and disgust to Apollo. In such a way these two represent the greatest misfortune for the ancient Greeks unrequited love and all the trouble it brings. Another noteworthy connotation that the excerpt acquires upon deeper analysis is the parallel between a mightier God, Cupid, and Ovids own ruler, Augustus who like the cruel God of love was the one who regulated and controlled the love relationships of his citizens.
Bloch, N. (2014). Patterns of rape in Ovid's Metamorphoses (Master's thesis, University of Colorado Boulder). Retrieved from http://scholar.colorado.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1047&context=honr_thesesLiveley, G. (2010). Ovid's 'Metamorphoses': A reader's guide. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Ovid. (2000). The metamorphoses. Retrieved from http://tikaboo.com/library/Ovid-Metamorphosis.pdf
Solodov, J. B. (2014). The world of Ovid's Metamorphoses. UNC Press Books.
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