Lucretian stillness and motion as political metaphors in Ovid’s Metamorphoses




Kahane, Rebecca

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My dissertation examines the contrast between stillness and motion in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as well as its connection to two other polarities in the poem: silence–sound and stagnation–fluidity. I argue that Ovid treats these three polarities as analogous and gives them political meaning, with stillness representing political sleepiness and suppression, and motion representing political freedom. Moreover, Ovid accomplishes this by politicizing Lucretius’s naturalistic treatment of stillness and motion. In Chapter 1, I demonstrate that Ovid inserts Lucretian conceptions of stillness and motion into his Houses of Sleep and Fama in Met. 1 and Met. 12 to generate political meanings in addition to traditional metapoetic ones. In my second chapter, I show that Ovid’s House of Sleep has three similarities with his still pool episodes in Met. 3-5: extreme stillness, a lethargic forcefield, and a Lucretian-inspired isolated flicker of motion. I argue that these combinations of stillness and lethargy symbolize political sleepiness and silencing. In Chapter 3, I demonstrate that Ovid’s House of Fama shares with his Pyramus and Thisbe story in Met. 4 the incorporation of Lucretian flows of sound. In the latter episode, I identify two Lucretian-style flows—one of words and one of water—which Ovid treats as corrosive to Augustan power and infrastructure respectively. In Chapter 4, I extrapolate from Ovid’s analogous treatment of stillness and silence to argue that he regarded the individual’s loss of motion, as well as of speech, as a metaphor for political silencing. In my final chapter, I show that Ovid links stillness and motion to power more directly in the first and last books of his poem. In Met. 1, he endows the Augustan Jupiter with extraordinary control over stillness, motion, silence, and sound. In Met. 15, Ovid’s Pythagoras uses the Heraclitean doctrine of flux to highlight the impermanence of all such political regimes. By combining the traditional poetic use of flowing water as a symbol of literary and political expression with the traditional philosophic use of flowing water as a symbol of change, Ovid suggests that, in time, political expression will cause regime change. His use of the stillness–motion binary and its analogues not only serves a political function, but also gives readers the opportunity to gambol in the playground of Ovid’s political imagination