Philomela's Tongue: Speech, Silence, and the Voice of Gender

Daniel Libatique, College of the Holy Cross
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October 22, 2021 | UMass Amherst

Passages | Bibliography


1. Prof. Dan-El Padilla Peralta (Princeton University) on race in Classics:

I should have been hired because I was black: because my Afro-Latinity is the rock-solid foundation upon which the edifice of what I have accomplished and everything I hope to accomplish rests; because my black body’s vulnerability challenges and chastizes the universalizing pretensions of color-blind classics; because my black being-in-the-world makes it possible for me to ask new and different questions within the field, to inhabit new and different approaches to answering them, and to forge alliances with other scholars past and present whose black being-in-the-world has cleared the way for my leap into the breach.

2. Prof. Hannah Čulík-Baird (Boston University) on Classics in the #MeToo era:

In the #MeToo era, we are now becoming much more sensitive to the fact that the majority of our texts from the ancient world depict violence towards women…In this world where we are realizing how bad a problem of rape that we have in our own culture, we’re not being so cavalier about how we talk about these issues in the ancient context. … We make it clear that this is not a handbook, we’re not teaching this as a behavior, but rather, we’re studying what this tells us about the culture that produced it. … It’s a way for us to work through the cultural trends that create these kinds of power structures.

3. Tarana Burke (founder of #MeToo) on Asia Argento:

4. Prof. Katharina Volk (Columbia University) on Ovid:

One possibility is to view Ovid as a proto-feminist. He’s trying to give women a voice. The other way to think about it is that he’s an extreme sexist.

5. Student on whether Ovid is a proto-feminist or an extreme sexist:

After analyzing his writings, it is nearly impossible to view Ovid as anything but an extreme sexist as a female in the #MeToo era. The #MeToo movement aims to combat nearly everything that is included in Ovid’s teachings for how a man [can] find a woman. Ovid’s explicitly misogynistic views of women and ghastly beliefs on how to treat them … classify him as an extreme sexist.

6. Prof. Ed Saunders (Birkbeck University of London) on Ovid’s attitude towards women:

the Ovid who is presenting these perspectives is perhaps one who actually understands the rather sexist social system of his time. Instead of himself being each of those different personas (the flatterer, the tormented lover, the adulterer, the typical protagonists of love poetry) Ovid is perhaps a criticiser of the oppression and sexual exploitation of women that was inherent in relationships at that time. It was under the Augustan rule that Ovid wrote the Amores, amid reforms that attempted to instil in the citizens principles of loyalty in relationships and counter the adultery that had become commonplace. It is possible that Ovid wrote this poetry not only to express but to highlight to the people the outrageousness of such behaviour and the general acceptance of adultery which had become so widespread at the time.

7. Three questions for analyzing Ovid’s violent narratives:

A) Who has the power? -or- Who is deprived of power?
B) How do they gain that power? -or- How are they deprived of power?
C) Who grants them power? -or- Who deprives them of power?

8. Tereus’ vision.

A) ecce uenit magno diues Philomela paratu,
diuitior forma; quales audire solemus
Naidas et Dryadas mediis incedere siluis,
si modo des illis
cultus similesque paratus.
non secus exarsit conspecta uirgine Tereus
quam si quis canis ignem supponat aristis
aut frondem positasque cremet faenilibus herbas.
digna quidem
facies, sed et hunc innata libido
exstimulat, pronumque genus regionibus illis
in Venerem est; flagrat uitio gentisque suoque.
(Ovid Metamorphoses 6.451-460)

Look, Philomela comes, rich in her grand adornment, richer in her shape, like the Naiads or Dryads that we’re accustomed to hear march along in the middle of the forests, if only you’d give them similar cultivation and adornment. No differently did Tereus burn when he saw the maiden than when someone places fire underneath dry old grain or sets fire to foliage or grass near the haylofts. Her face was indeed worthy, but innate lasciviousness goaded him, and his stock from those regions is inclined towards Venus; he burns with both his lineage’s and his own vice.

B) quid quod idem Philomela cupit patriosque lacertis
blanda tenens umeros, ut eat
uisura sororem,
perque suam contraque suam petit ipsa salutem.

spectat eam Tereus praecontrectatque uidendo,
osculaque et collo circumdata bracchia cernens
omnia pro stimulis facibusque ciboque furoris
(Ov. Met. 6.475-481)

What is more, Philomela desires the same thing — she hugs her father’s shoulders coaxingly, so that she might go and see her sister, and she asks both for and against her own safety. Tereus watches her, and by watching her, he senses what it would be like to touch her, and he sees her kisses and her arms thrown around her father’s neck, and he takes it all in as goads and torches and food for his frenzy.

C) at rex Odrysius, quamuis secessit, in illa
aestuat et,
repetens faciem motusque manusque,
qualia uult fingit quae nondum uidit et ignes
ipse suos nutrit cura remouente soporem.
(Ov. Met. 6.490-493)

But although he has withdrawn, the Odrysian king burns for her and, seeking again her face and her movements and her hands, he imagines what he wants which he has not yet seen, and he nourishes his own fires, his anxiety removing his sleepiness.

D) … nusquam lumen detorquet ab illa,
non aliter quam cum pedibus praedator obuncis
deposuit nido leporem Iouis ales in alto;
nulla fuga est capto,
spectat sua praemia raptor. (Ov. Met. 6.515-518)

At no point does he turn his sight away from her, no differently than when a predator, the bird of Jove, with hooked talons has placed a hare in his lofty nest; there is no escape for the captured, the raptor watches his own prize.

9. Philomela’s speech: Ov. Met. 6.531-548.

mox ubi mens rediit, passos laniata capillos,
[lugenti similis, caesis plangore lacertis,]
intendens palmas ‘o diris barbare factis,
o crudelis’ ait,
nec te mandata parentis
cum lacrimis mouere piis
nec cura sororis (535)
nec mea uirginitas nec coniugalia iura?
[omnia turbasti; paelex ego facta sororis,
tu geminus coniunx, hostis mihi debita poena.]
quin animam hanc, ne quod facinus tibi, perfide, restet,
eripis? atque utinam fecisses ante nefandos
concubitus; uacuas habuissem criminis umbras.
si tamen haec superi cernunt, si numina diuum
sunt aliquid,
si non perierunt omnia mecum,
quandocumque mihi poenas
dabis. ipsa pudore
proiecto tua facta
loquar. si copia detur, (545)
in populos ueniam; si siluis clausa tenebor,
implebo siluas et conscia saxa mouebo.
audiet haec aether et si deus ullus in illo est.’

Soon, when her mental state was restored, she rent her disheveled hair [like someone grieving, her arms ripped up by the beating,] and holding out her hands, she said, “Oh barbarian of horrible deeds, oh cruel one, did not my father’s orders with his dutiful tears move you? Nor care for my sister, nor my virginity, nor the bonds of marriage? [You have thrown everything into turmoil; I have become my sister’s rival, you a double husband, and the punishment of an enemy is owed to me.] Why don’t you take my life too, treacherous one, lest any disgraceful act remain for you? And if only you had done it before these unspeakable couplings; I would have had shades innocent of crime. Nevertheless, if the gods see these acts, if the powers of the gods are anything, if everything hasn’t perished along with me, at some point you will pay a penalty to me. I’ll throw away my shame and speak your deeds. If the opportunity is given, I will go among the people; if I’ll be held, closed in by these woods, I will fill up the woods and I will move the stones as accomplices. The aether will hear these things too, if there is any god in it.”

10. Tereus’ Direct Speech.

A) “uicimus!” exclamat “mecum mea uota feruntur.” (Ov. Met. 6.513)
“We have won!” he exclaims; “my prayers are carried along with me.”

B) tantaque nox animi est, “Ityn huc accersite!” dixit. (Ov. Met. 6.652)
So great is the darkness in his mind; he said, “Summon Itys here!”

11. Tereus’ “eloquence”: Ov. Met. 6.469.

facundum faciebat amor.
Love made [Tereus] eloquent.

12. Tereus’ other 19 verbs of speech.

This list notes verbs or nouns that indicate that the act of speaking or communicating verbally is being attributed to Tereus, either as a sole speaker or as a participant in a conversation: disque ipsi grates egere (435, with Procne); iussere (437); iubet ille carinas / in freta deduci (444); fausto committitur omine sermo (448); coeperat aduentus causam, mandata referre / coniugis (449-450); [coeperat] celeres missae spondere recursus (450); cupidoque reuertitur ore (467); agit sua uota sub illa (468); quotiensque rogabat / ulterius iusto (469-470); Procnen ita uelle ferebat (470); fassusque nefas (524); dat gemitus fictos (565); commentaque funera narrat (565); ubi sit quaerit (656); quaerenti (656); iterumque uocanti (656); ingenti mensas clamore repellit (661); uipereasque ciet Stygia de ualle sorores (662); seque uocat bustum miserabile nati (665).

13. Philomela weaves her tapestry: Ov. Met. 6.576-578

stamina barbarica suspendit callida tela
purpureas notas filis intexuit albis,
indicium sceleris.

She hung the ingenious warp from the barbaric loom and wove into the white threads red markings, an indictment of the crime.

14. Procne reads the tapestry: Ov. Met. 6.581-582.

euoluit uestes saeui matrona tyranni
germanaeque suae
carmen miserabile legit.

The wife of the savage tyrant unrolled the tapestry and read the miserable poem of her sister.

15. Procne reacts to the tapestry: Ov. Met. 6.583-586.

et (mirum potuisse) silet. dolor ora repressit,
uerbaque quaerenti satis indignantia linguae
defuerunt; nec flere uacat, sed fasque nefasque
confusura ruit poenaeque in imagine tota est.

and (a wonder that she was able) she is silent. Grief checked her tongue, and words sufficiently scornful failed her tongue as it searched; nor could she cry, but she rushes to commingle what is right and what is forbidden, and she is entirely engulfed in the image of punishment.

16. The glossectomy of Philomela: Ov. Met. 6.555-557.

ille indignantem et nomen patris usque vocantem
luctantemque loqui conprensam forcipe
abstulit ense fero.

The protesting and calling out the name of her father and struggling to speak, gripped by the forceps, tongue — that man cut it out with the feral sword.

17. Procne’s soliloquy: Ov. Met. 6.611-619.

‘non est lacrimis hoc’ inquit ‘agendum,
sed ferro, sed si quid habes, quod vincere ferrum
possit. in omne nefas ego me, germana, paravi:
aut ego, cum facibus regalia tecta cremabo,
artificem mediis inmittam Terea flammis,
aut linguam atque oculos et quae tibi membra pudorem
abstulerunt ferro rapiam, aut per vulnera mille
sontem animam expellam! magnum quodcumque paravi;
quid sit, adhuc dubito.’

She says, “This is no time for tears, but for a sword, or whatever you have that can outdo a sword. Sister, I have prepared myself for every kind of unspeakable deed. Either I will set fire to the regal home with torches and send Tereus, the artificer, into the middle of the flames, or I will rip out his tongue and eyes and what parts of his body stole your chastity, or through a thousand wounds I will drive out his guilty soul! I have prepared for something great; what it is, I’m still in doubt.”

18. Ovid’s Narratorial Insertions

A) Sententious exclamations
6.437: usque adeo latet utilitas! “To such an extent is usefulness hidden!
6.472-3: pro superi, quantum mortalia pectora caecae / noctis habent! “By the gods, how much blind night do mortals hold!

B) Narrative comments
6.482: neque enim minus impius esset! “And he would be no less wicked!”
6.484-5: successisse duabus / id putat infelix, quod erit lugubre duabus, “She, the unlucky one, thinks that that which will be a source or grief for both went well for them.”
6.561: uix ausim credere, “I hardly dare believe”
6.575: miserisque uenit sollertia rebus, “And ingenuity comes in miserable circumstances”
6.583: mirum potuisse, “It is a wonder she was able”

C) First- and second-person addresses
6.452: solemus; 6.561: ausim 6.454: des; 6.667: putares

19. Ovid’s reasons for exile: Ov. Tristia 2.207.

duo crimina, carmen et error…
Two crimes, a poem and a mistake…


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