A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce
Analysis: What’s Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes
– Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII, 18
This line from Ovid’s (a big shot Roman poet from the 1st century CE) Latin poem translates to, "And he applied his spirit to obscure arts." This "he" is Daedalus, a master craftsman who appears in Greek and Roman mythology. He’s famous for creating the Labyrinth (a giant maze/prison) to house the Minotaur and for building wax wings to escape from that Labyrinth. Unfortunately, the escape plan didn’t work out so well for the builder’s son, Icarus – more on that later. For now, just bear in mind that Daedalus is a stand-in for the ultimate, ideal Artist. If that sounds religious, it’s for a reason – after Stephen’s break with the Catholic Church (in which the ultimate Artist is God himself), the figure of Daedalus takes on elements of mystical divinity. In the context of Joyce’s book, the "he" of Ovid’s line also applies to Stephen Dedalus, the book’s (only) main character. Get used to these two guys being lumped together, because it happens throughout the book… after all, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Daedalus = Dedalus.