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The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses

by Ovid

Memory and the Past Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #4

The father – though that word is hollow now –
cried: "Icarus! Where are you?" And that cry
echoed again, again till he caught sight
of feathers on the surface of the sea.
And Daedalus cursed his own artistry,
then built a tomb to house his dear son's body.
There, where the boy was buried, now his name
remains: that island is Icaria. (8.231-235)

Here, as usual, Ovid is interested in names that conceal a deeper history. In this case, the island of Icaria in Greece is revealed to be near the site where Icarus, the son of the inventor Daedalus, plummeted into the sea. Although it isn't necessarily an issue of cultural memory, it is interesting how closely the story about the name of the island follows Ovid's grim joke that Daedalus isn't a father anymore, now that his son is dead. This shows Ovid's general concern with giving things their correct names. Can you think of other examples where Ovid engages in this sort of wordplay?

Quote #5

As [Lichas] flies
high, through the air, he petrifies.
Even as rain – they say – grows more compact
when swept by icy winds, and turns to snow;
and those snow flakes, still soft, as they are whirled,
condense – and thicken into solid hail:
so, cast into the void by those stout arms,
frozen with fear, his body drained of sap,
dry Lichas is transformed into hard stone.
This is the way the tale – of old – was told.
And even now, in the Euboean sea,
a low shoal rises up, above deep eddies,
and keeps the traces of a human form.
And just as if this rock were sentient,
seamen are careful not to step in it;
and Lichas is the name they've given it. (9.216-229)

Here, Ovid seems to be up to the same tricks as in the other quotations for this theme. But why does he say that "Lichas is the name" that the seamen have "given it"? Why doesn't he just say that that rock is Lichas? Could this be a sign that Ovid is here criticizing some forms of cultural memory? Notice also how, earlier he says that "[t]his is the way the tale – of old – was told." Is this a way of washing his hands of responsibility for it? Hard to tell; Ovid is one slippery dude sometimes.

Quote #6

So Bacchus ordered, and the king obeyed.
He reached the source; and even as he bathed,
the waters – from the human form they washed –
took on the force that once lay in his touch:
the power to transform things into gold.
Even today, along Pactolus' shores,
the fields – which still receive the precious seed
from that old vein – are glittering, pale and cold: the stream that soaks the soil is streaked with gold. (11.142-145)

In ancient times, Asia (modern Turkey) was legendary for its wealth. One source of wealth was the River Pactolus, where people would pan for gold. Ovid's story connects this geographical feature – a river rich in ore – with the legendary King Midas, who had the power to turn whatever he touched to gold.

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