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Loeb Classical Library Foundation Research Grant Proposal for academic year 2005-06
Janice Siegel, “Ovid and the Art of the Inverted Allusion: the Procne as Case Study”

(Successful, $30,000)

A Loeb Classical Library Foundation Research Fellowship would allow me to make significant progress on a monograph tentatively entitled “Ovid and the Art of the Inverted Allusion: the Procne as Case Study.” The Metamorphoses has long been noted for its jumble of literary genres and for the extensive range of source material discernable in many of its episodes. However, rather than approach the subject from the broad perspective of the poem as a whole (the choice of many Ovidians since Brook Otis’ seminal Ovid as an Epic Poet was first published by Cambridge in 1966 and then revised in 1970), my study focuses on a single episode, the Procne (Met. 6.424-674). My goal is to uncover the network of allusion and contrast that makes it one of the most interesting (and written about) but least understood tales in the poem. In short, the Procne offers an opportunity to unpack the multi-layered work of an author whose own credo might have been ars adeo latet arte sua (Met. 10.252).

In his introduction to A. D. Melville’s translation of the Metamorphoses (Oxford 1986, xxii), E. J. Kenney notes, “The poet’s art lay in combining, varying, and embellishing the available materials and in the manner of his doing so – wittily, obliquely, allusively, piquantly, and above all unexpectedly.” My study sets out to explore Ovid’s use of his two most signature techniques: contrast, by which he “create[s] associations (by difference) with other stories on a like theme or with similar characters and actions” (Richard Spencer, Contrast as Narrative Technique in Ovid’s Metamorphoses [Lewiston 1997], 63) and inverted allusion, by which he manipulates well-known model texts of different genres (epic, elegiac, tragedy), different philosophies, and even different languages (Greek/Roman). With these two techniques, Ovid transforms a hackneyed plot into a cleverly coded commentary about how in the human realm, power always corrupts.

In the introduction, I define the terms most central to my study: allusion, intertext, contrast, and inversion. In doing so, I rely on those whose work in Latin intertexuality has most influenced me: Brooks Otis, E. J. Kenney, Charles Segal, Stephen Hinds, Joseph Farrell, Kathleen Morgan, L. P. Wilkinson, Peter Knox, Otto Steen Due, Stephen Wheeler, et alii. I also provide the necessary context for understanding Ovid’s presentation: how it fits into the established mythographic tradition of this tale (conclusions from this study explain his curious divergences from that tradition), why it belongs in Book 6 among other tales of divine punishment (I reject the popular view that the Procne is thematically distinct from the rest of the book), how it is central to the Metamorphoses not only structurally but also thematically, and how Ovid’s interest in this tale is not limited to this one episode of the Metamorphoses (he returns to it often in other works as well).

In Chapter 1, “The Poetics of Power,” I reveal through a careful philological explication how Ovid’s Procne explores the multi-dimensional (cultural, social, personal, psychological, gendered, and sexual) use, abuse, and manifestation of power in the human realm. The gods’ abandonment of these characters to the vagaries of human nature without the guidance or wisdom of divine justice is their divine punishment.

In “The Divine Counter-Context” (Chapter 2), I compare other passages in Ovid’s poem that are either reflected in or anticipated by the Procne, intricacies Otis (1970, 311) calls “the ingenious counterpoint and cross-harmony” of the poem. The goal is to uncover not only the existence of parallels and contrasts, echoes and ironies, but to determine what these resonances add to our understanding of the episode. I argue that Ovid draws on an established verbal and dramatic repertoire from similar scenes of rape, Dionysian revenge, and mother-murder in his poem through a technique Stephen Wheeler calls Ovid’s “intertextual strategy” (A Discourse of Wonders [Philadelphia 1999], 104). The differences between the episodes emphasize the lack of supernatural motive, method, and means of the crimes and punishments of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela.

Chapter 3, “Elegiac Distortions,” considers the presentation of the manifestation and abuse of human power in the Procne as a collection of distorted reflections of similar scenes from Ovid’s own elegies. Peter Knox (Ovid's Metamorphoses and the Traditions of Augustan Poetry [Cambridge 1986], 20) rightly notes that “Ovid’s interest in the pathology of passion has its roots in the neoteric and elegiac traditions.” My observations go beyond identifying the distorted tropes of lover as soldier, hunter, and imprisoner to identifying specific poems as inverted models for scenes in the Procne. In each example, verbal resonances make the connection unmistakable. Ars Amatoria 2, for example, teaches Tereus how to cheat and Procne how to avenge. Unlike the victim of domestic abuse in Amores 1.7, the empowered Philomela stands up to her attacker (and does so in the exact way the remorseful lover wishes his girlfriend would stand up to him). The comic scene of sexual disappointment in Amores 3.7 is an inverted model for the final scene of revelation in the Procne, presented in Chapter 1 as the stylized castration and permanent sexual disempowerment of Tereus.

The remaining chapters examine the connection between Ovid’s work and that of other poets. Charles Segal (“Philomela's Web and the Pleasure of the Text: Reader and Violence in the Metamorphoses of Ovid,” Mnemosyne 1994, 257-279; 277) notes the episode’s “self-conscious allusiveness (particularly in its echoes of Greek tragedy and Virgil).” I explore this claim not by pointing out the occasional stray allusions or superficial similarities of plot and theme, but by suggesting two particular sustained inverted models for Ovid’s Procne, one Roman and one Greek: Aeneid IV and Euripides’ Bacchae. I argue that Ovid’s imitatio of both Virgilian and Euripidean imagery, technique, and diction is not arbitrary, but follows a pattern of purposeful allusion.

In Chapter 4, I show how Ovid’s Procne is a re-contextualization of Virgil’s Aeneid IV. Dido and Aeneas’ world is noble, tragic, and divinely manipulated (for good or for bad). In contrast, Ovid presents a godless world whose inhabitants are doomed to suffer the reckless abuse of unbridled power and perverted piety with no hope of salvation or greatness. The point of departure for every comparison is always a strong verbal echo. But my study goes far beyond noting isolated echoes of Virgil’s text such as can be found in almost any commentary on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The episodes share the same general structure and poetic techniques used to define dis/empowerment. The plot development and character roles are perfect inversions of one another.

In Chapter 5, “Ovid’s Procne as a Play,” I argue that Met. 6.424-674 is in fact a play-within-a-poem, written in accordance with the rules set forth by Horace in his Ars Poetica, but presented with the goal of mocking them. First, I establish the suitability of the tale to the dramatic form and outline the dramatic tradition concerning the story. The bulk of the chapter identifies its dramatic elements as presented by Ovid: the poetic unity of the piece, the five-act structure, the requisite number of speaking characters in each scene, the use of dramatization over narration, the avoidance of the deus ex machina to resolve the conflict, and the absorption of the chorus into the heart of the each act. In the end, I identify Ovid’s Procne as the dramatic link between the Tereus of Accius and the Thyestes of Seneca (often suspected by scholars but now demonstrable).

In Chapter 6, I argue that Euripides’ Bacchae is the dramatic model for Ovid’s play-within-a-poem. The two plays have similar plot progression and theme. Using his signature poetic techniques, Ovid inverts the context (divine becomes human). By doing so, he transforms what were straight allusions to Dionysian myth and cult in the Bacchae into ironic reflections of Dionysian myth and cult in his Procne (subtle differences that myth and ritualist scholars have ignored): the nature of the aggressor’s crime (hubris against the god becomes sexual violence against a girl), the jail-break (by a human without magic, not by divine intervention), the false maenadization scene (to help, not to harm the target), the murder and sparagmos of the child (a crime committed with a sound mind, not under the maddening influence of the god), and a decapitated head standing as evidence of a terrible punishment for a crime of impiety (but while Dionysus doles out a harsh justice, Procne simply settles a score). A large number of linguistic correspondences prove Ovid’s knowledge of the play in Greek (providing evidence that Ovid follows his own advice, for he himself encourages the study of these “linguas…duasin Ars 2.121-22).

My goal with this book project is ambitious but attainable. I have completed the foundation of my study, my own interpretation of the Procne. I have completed my study of critical literature on the episode and I have integrated significant observations of other scholars into my discussion (the bibliography of recent articles and books on the topic is quite large). I have determined how the tale fits within Book 6, within the Metamorphoses, and within Ovid's corpus. I have also mapped out in-depth studies identifying the exact correspondences between the Procne and each of its model texts, accounting for the elements of various genres mixed into his final product.

The fellowship period would fund the next and final stage of my research, which will entail reading through secondary literature on Virgil's Aeneid IV, on Euripides' Bacchae, and on Ovid's elegies. (By the time the fellowship period is set to begin, the bibliography lists will have been compiled). As I begin my exploration of secondary literature on the model texts, I am already finding that scholars’ observations concerning specific lines of these other texts often illuminate Ovid’s reason for inverting the line (to articulate his message as it applies to human beings, not gods), or explain his chosen method of inversion (keeping the same rhetorical device of a simile but inverting its imagery, for example, to stress the theme of abuse of power). I need time to read through this body of secondary literature, to note observations significant to the focus of my project, and to synthesize the material and ideas collected.

I hope that this study will contribute to our understanding of the technical aspects of Ovid’s poetry. I have been delighted to find that the multiple inverse models I have identified all work together to support the view of the Procne I set forth in my first chapter. A lateral comparative analysis suggests an extraordinarily complicated schema – the deliberate mirroring of not one, but of a series of texts all manipulated to suit Ovid’s thematic purpose. The study also will explain the curious poetic choices that have contributed both to this episode’s popularity and to its mystery. And finally, it may provide incentive to re-visit the Aeneid and the Bacchae in ways that might reveal things about those texts we might never have seen had Ovid’s playful and skillful re-interpretation never come to light.

Arguments pursued in this book project have all benefited from discussions generated by my presentations at state (ICC 2002 and 2003), regional (CAAS 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1999 and CAMWS 2002, 2003, 2004), and national (APA 1997, 2000, 2005) conferences, as well as from question and answer periods following presentations at university colloquia (UIUC and ISU)..

NOTE: "The Poetics of Power in Ovid's Procne," an article culled from chapter 1, has been accepted for publication by Classical Philology.


copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 08/02/2005
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