O Ovid!

So I’m reading the Metamorphoses right now. Good book. Recommend it highly. I’m reading the Penguin Classics translation by Mary M. Innes. I’m not one to seek out women’s issues in ancient literature or make feminist observations. But I am not a blind man. And thus the following.

The other day I was reading the story of Jupiter and a young nymph in Arcadia who was a follower of Diana, the virgin goddess of the hunt. Quite bluntly, he rapes her: “So far from complying, she resisted him as far as a woman could . . . but how could a girl overcome a man, and who could defeat Jupiter?” (61) The divine seed, of course, impregnates her. This becomes evident to Diana only after nine months.

What is interesting to me is how she and the deed are referred to. On several occasions, she is referred to as having guilt. As well, the deed becomes evident in this phrase, “the others pulled off her tunic, and at one and the same time revealed her body and her crime.” (62) Diana dismisses her so she won’t “defile this sacred spring!” (62)

Juno may almost be excused, since she doesn’t know that the nymph was unwilling. But Juno calls her “shameless” and a “minx”, and the nymph has no opportunity to tell the tale or to protest. She is voiceless. She, instead, is punished for Jupiter’s wrongdoing and turned into a bear.

The whole story is horribly unjust, even for the narrator’s point of view, since the nymph is counted guilty and as having committed a crime. It is unjust because she has no voice and suffers two punishments for the crime of another. It is unjust because the victim is made out by other characters as a villain and therefore deserves some sort of retributive justice.

It was just a really uncomfortable story to read. Unpleasant, really. Stupid virile Jupiter. It’s all his fault, and he suffers nothing, even though he has wronged the nymph and shamed his wife and the marriage bed.


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