Saturday, November 6, 2010

Kate Brassel : “Hymnic Time in Ovid’s Metamorphoses”


Princeton University

“Hymnic Time in Ovid’s Metamorphoses”


The Greek hymnic vehicle of myth offers a wealth of useful counterpoints for understanding the temporal and political values of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. At face value, of course, are the many fabulaethemselves. But there is a further hymnic quality that Ovid engages in his work: a paradoxical sense of time sustainable only in the understanding of mythic synchronicity. The feature of hymn that perhaps most distinguishes it from other forms of discourse is the appearance of the god. The legacy of the moment of divine appearance in the midst of the hymners, registered within the hymn itself, may even be interpreted as a model for the vivid Ovidian quality of mise en scène through out the poem. Ovid’s treatment of time has been a topic of interest in recent scholarship. Feeney has elucidated Ovid’s essential subversion of teleological (Augustan) chronology, exhibiting the way in which the opening mea tempora is characteristic of the sense of time in the work as a whole. Similarly, Wheeler has observed that, while Ovid’s poem is a cosmogony, theogony, and aitia all at once, the reader’s sense of chronology is most frequently compromised. This paper will show how reading the variances of hymnic discourse in the politically significant Apollo episodes in the Metamorphoses throws into relief Ovid’s scheme of synchronizing and reintegrating the Roman historical present with a universal time.

Bakker has brought to our attention the presence of the stories told in the Greek hymns. Through attention to verb forms and representations of remembering in the Homeric works, we can see that the legacy of the pre-literate period to the hymnic genres is that the activity of remembering creates a constant and synchronic present out of the time of the stories and the time of the story-telling. Myths told in hymns are layers of time, and diachronicity, therefore, is mostly irrelevant to the purposes of the hymn-maker. The Delphic and Pythian stories in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, though deriving from different sources, culminate in a unity of time and an eternally relevant work. Bakker’s demonstration that the fusion of aorists and presents in Greek hymns conflates narrative time provides a model for understanding the concept of time proposed by the Pythian and Daphne episodes in the Metamorphoses. But whereas in the hymnic sphere this conflation is created by the act of remembering in both the poet’s composition of the hymn and the community’s will to transmit myths, the conflation of times in the Metamorphoses creates an ultimately subversive and fugitive anti-teleology to which the poem’s politics are pinned.

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