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Ovid's Heroidos

Ovid's Heroidos

Howard Jacobson
Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 452
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    Ovid's Heroidos
    Book Description:

    A series of letters purportedly written by Penelope, Dido, Medea, and other heroines to their lovers, theHeroidesrepresents Ovid's initial attempt to revitalize myth as a subject for literature. In this book, Howard Jacobson examines the first fifteen elegaic letters of theHeroides.

    In his critical evaluation, Professor Jacobson takes into consideration the twofold nature of the work: its existence as a single entity with uniform poetic structure and coherent goals, and its existence as a collection of fifteen individual poems. Thus, fifteen chapters are devoted to a thorough analysis and interpretation of the particular poems, while six additional chapters are concerned with problems that pertain to the work as a whole, such as the nature of the genre, the role of rhetoric, theme, and variation, and the originality of Ovid.

    Special attention is given to the application of modern psychological criticism to the delineations of the pathological psyche in the letters. In an additional chapter on the chronology of Ovid's early amatory poetry, the author challenges and revises the traditional dating of theHeroides.

    Originally published in 1974.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7239-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations and Short Titles
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    Few would now agree with Willa Cather’s Niel who “read theHeroidesover and over, and felt that they were the most glowing love stories ever told.”¹ Yet similar opinions have periodically been expressed from the Renaissance to the present century. J. C. Scaliger called thempolitissimaeof all Ovid’s works and the seventeenth century scholar, Rapin, thought themflorem elegantiae Romanae.² Of equal or greater significance is the high valuation set on theHeroidesby eminent poets: Seneca’s plays are heavily influenced by them;Chaucer’s Legend of Good Womenis nearly a re-creation of theHeroides,and many other...

  7. I Heroides 3: Briseis
    (pp. 12-42)

    Two of the first threeepistulaecome from the pens of Homeric heroines, the one illustrious, the other of small repute. It is with the letter of Briseis that I shall begin, a poem which exquisitely exhibits Ovid’s purposes and aims, his achievements and failings, while at the same time being free of the burden that too often oppresses the student of both theHeroidesand theMetamorphoses,the problem of lost sources.¹

    There is no arguing that Vergil’s familiarity with theIliadand theOdysseywas extraordinary.² Nevertheless, the role of Homer in the educational curriculum and his great...

  8. II Heroides 8: Hermione
    (pp. 43-57)

    To read Hermione’s letter hard upon Euripides’Andromacheis at once a shocking and illuminating experience. There is no trace in Ovid of Euripides’ arrogant and villainous bitch, no hint of the wanton shrew and unconscionable murderess.¹ The fairly neutral statement,parcius Andromachen vexavit Achaia victrix(13), even if Ovid intends some irony here, shows just how far we are from Euripides’ play with its stridently emotional invective and its bitter conflict between Hermione and Andromache. It is almost as if Euripides’ play never existed, at least insofar as the conception of Hermione goes (to be sure, the poem does...

  9. III Heroides 2: Phyllis
    (pp. 58-75)

    Comparison is fruitful, as we have seen from setting Homer’s Briseis and Euripides’ Hermione by Ovid’s singular creations. Theoretically, perhaps, the critic should be dependent only on the substance of the poem, without recourse to anything external. But, in fact, having a second treatment greatly facilitates the discrimination of highlights, emphases, techniques, shadings, and nuances, which might otherwise be missed. With Phyllis, however, no such work exists, which is doubly unfortunate since it seems that this myth—or perhaps Callimachus' rendition of it—was of great popularity in antiquity,¹ a fact especially noteworthy if, as seems likely, the tale has...

  10. IV Heroides 7: Dido
    (pp. 76-93)

    One need not agree with Austin’s dismissal of this poem as a “bland rehash” ofAeneid Four(ad Aen.4.305-330) to be surprised by A. G. Lee’s laudatory evaluation, “In theHeroidesOvid was not afraid to put his Dido in competition with Virgil’s, and to my mind in that competition the honours are even.”¹ But lest one be seduced by the thought that Ovid’s poem could not but pale before Vergil’s masterpiece and that we would view it in a much more favorable light did it not, standing in the shadow ofAeneid Four,suffer invidious comparison, let us...

  11. V Heroides 6: Hypsipyle
    (pp. 94-108)

    The short-lived romance of Hypsipyle and Jason exists at the point of convergence of two myths of remote antiquity, those of the Lemnian women and of the Argonautic expedition, each rich in its many tellings with variation upon variation. Three distinct areas interest us: (1) Hypsipyle and Jason; (2) Hypsipyle's life before Jason; (3) Hypsipyle’s life after Jason (accounts of which are often important for the story of Jason and Hypsipyle, by virtue of recollections and “flashbacks,” e.g., in Statius’Thebaidand Euripides’Hypsipyle). Unfortunately, the large number of treatments makes source-hunting a rather futile task, especially considering the relative...

  12. VI Heroides 12: Medea
    (pp. 109-123)

    Ovid returned to Medea again and again in his poetic career. The loss of his tragedyMedeais likely one of the most significant gaps in our treasure of works from antiquity and is but scarcely repaired by the relatively extensive treatments of Medea in theHeroidesandMetamorphosesand the numerous allusions to her in virtually every work Ovid wrote. Ovid's willingness, nay tendency, to repeat legends and to reintroduce heroes and heroines in his poetry in completely different, even contradictory, fashions makes it foolhardy to attempt an evaluation of his lostMedeaon the basis of his handling...

  13. VII Heroides 14: Hypermestra
    (pp. 124-141)

    Everyone, Pausanias points out (2.16.1), knows of the crime of the Danaids. And, we might want to add, nearly everyone had his own peculiar version of what happened. Disagreement exists at almost every point. Why do Danaus and Aegyptus quarrel? Why do the Danaids and Danaus object to the marriage? What does Danaus instruct his daughters to do? Why does Hypermestra spare Lynceus? What happens to Hypermestra and Lynceus after the infamous night? Depending upon where one looks, each of these questions can be answered in a variety of ways.¹ Unfortunately, almost all our information comes in the form of...

  14. VIII Heroides 4: Phaedra
    (pp. 142-158)

    The historians and the tragedians, in the words of Plutarch (Thes.28), are in agreement when it comes to the misfortunes of Hippolytus and Phaedra. The critic, as he approaches Euripides, Sophocles, Ovid, and Seneca, can only smile bitterly and wonder. Without further ado, we must admit that the student ofHeroides4, charting the relationship between Ovid and the Greek sources, must run aground on the rocks of conjecture and insufficient evidence.¹ Barrett has gone a long way in sorting out the bits and pieces of information, but in the end progress is slow and meager. For Ovid, it...

  15. IX Heroides 11: Canace
    (pp. 159-175)

    The letter of Canace has long been judged among the most successful and appealing of theHeroides.Palmer’s appraisal (381), “the poem is the most finished of the whole series” was supported by his exposition that “the subject was one of those in which the soft genius of Ovid luxuriated, and there is nothing forced or unnatural in it.” In his introduction Purser sympathetically wrote that “the agony of the mother’s grief for her innocent little one . . . is the greatest achievement of theHeroides” (p. xix). Even Wilamowitz, in a passing mention, deigned to call the poem...

  16. X Heroides 5: Oenone
    (pp. 176-194)

    With the exception ofHeroides5 and the tenth book of Quintus Smyrnaeus (259-489)¹ no literary treatment of the myth of Paris and Oenone has survived. Our pre-Ovidian sources for this Romance are largely scholia and mythographic accounts, purely of a narrative nature, generally schematic and concerned with the bare exposition of the plot.² Thus, the kind of comparative analysis that is fruitful in, e.g., the letters of Briseis, Phaedra, Dido is not possible here. We are compelled to take the poem in virtual isolation, though, to be sure, a degree of insight is provided by our access to information...

  17. XI Heroides 13: Laodamia
    (pp. 195-212)

    We seem to know so much about the myth of Laodamia and Protesilaus, from the broad anthropological and religious implications that inhere in it to the smallest details of action and motivation, that it comes as something of a shock to contemplate how little we know of the myth’s literary history. We are regularly told that Euripides’Protesilausis the turning point in the literary development. This play, elaborating on the vague shapes of the folktale while also tightening them to dramatic succinctness, proved the model and standard for all its successors. Yet, we would be hard-pressed to tell exactly...

  18. XII Heroides 10: Ariadne
    (pp. 213-227)

    It is routine, if not totally reasonable, to relate Ovid’s Ariadne-Epistle to Catullus 64 and assume that this takes care of the problem of sources. This is the position that I will, by and large, adopt, and consequently I think it only fair to notice its deficiencies. When Palmer (373) writes that Catullus 64 is Ovid’s source and he probably had none other, he is no doubt thinking along the same lines as Anderson who states that (1) Catullus’ was the best-known treatment of the myth in Ovid’s day and (2) Ovid always used the best-known source.¹ Neither premise is...

  19. XIII Heroides 9: Deianira
    (pp. 228-242)

    In recent years the Deianira letter has once again come under attack. Resurrecting the view of Lachmann, Courtney and Vessey have energetically maintained that the poem is not the work of Ovid.¹ It is, I think, indisputable that this epistle is in many ways different from the others, and that one might easily gain a consensus opinion that it is a flawed piece, inferior to many of the poems in the corpus. True as this may be, it remains important to remember that neither divergence nor inferiority is equivalent to spuriousness.² It is largely for this reason that Vessey’s strongly...

  20. XIV Heroides 1: Penelope
    (pp. 243-276)

    There can be no doubt that Ovid’s Penelope is shaped against the ever-present backdrop of theOdysseyand the Homeric Penelope. By the phrase “Homeric Penelope” I mean not merely Penelope as she is in theOdyssey,but at least equally the Penelope whom interpreters and readers of Homer generally claimed as the Odyssean Penelope, that is, περίφρων ΐίψελόπεια,, that paragon of wifely devotion and loyalty. It would serve no purpose here to argue whether the characterization of Penelope in theOdysseyfits this limited model. For all intents and purposes we shall assume it does, for, by and large,...

  21. XV Heroides 15: Sappho
    (pp. 277-299)

    Of theHeroidestheEpistula Sapphushas easily been the most discussed.¹ Two motives predominate, neither of which will be of great concern to us. First, the hazards of transmission have afflicted this poem with ambiguous paternity and the result has been a long-standing dispute as to its authenticity. Suffice it, for our purposes, to say that I consider the poem genuine—no courageous assertion at a time when consensus has come around to this opinion.² 1 recognize that there exist, in addition to the questions of transmission, internal problems. But none of the metrical, stylistic, and syntactic obstacles seem...

  22. XVI The Date of the Heroides
    (pp. 300-318)

    Surely Wilkinson’s should have been the last word on the frustrating problem of early Ovidian chronology. The difficulties, as he puts it directly, are “insuperable.”¹ It needs scarcely be added that such strictures have not deterred scholars from proceeding apace in their relentless pursuit of the solution. This essay is but further testimony to the stubbornness—one resists saying blindness—of the scholarly temperament. Yet, by way of apology, let me add that my main purpose here is not to offer any strikingly original and revolutionary system, but to oppose some recent developments which seem to me to stretch the...

  23. XVII The Nature of the Genre: Ovid’s Originality
    (pp. 319-348)

    Ovid laid claim to theHeroidesas his own invention. Although nothing that survives of Greek and Latin literature belies this claim, his originality has commonly been questioned. The evidence and argumentation has never really gone beyond KaIkmann¹ and Dilthey,² who supposed Hellenistic models for theHeroides,³ on the basis of (1) the existence of ancient works of art showing the exchange of letters between mythological figures;⁴ (2) love letters in the Greek Romances and in other erotic narratives (e.g., Ovid’s Byblis); (3) an elegiac love letter by Rufinus (AP 5.9); (4) a letter from Medea to Jason by the...

  24. XVIII The Role of Perspective
    (pp. 349-362)

    TheHeroidesare subjective poetry as is perhaps no other work of antiquity. Although it is commonplace to call Latin erotic elegy subjective, in fact we mean little more than personal. But Ovid’s introduction of mythic material within the exclusively first-person format creates the necessary duality: “objective” events and individual perspective. The role of narrative is transformed. Formerly the province of the poet at one remove from his characters, once the objective mode of literature par excellence, Vergil had infused it with a degree of subjectivity and empathy. But in theHeroidesOvid radically transformed it into a mirror of...

  25. XIX Dramatic Structure
    (pp. 363-370)

    In the epistolary form Ovid was able to achieve his desired poetic goals, including a number of novel effects. But he also encountered the one great disadvantage that the genre-form inevitably entailed. In freezing the poem at one particular moment, he seemingly condemned it to bear a static character. Neither unexpectedly nor without reason, critics have often found fault with theHeroideson just these grounds. Otis’ comment is well-put and representative:

    The chief inspiration of theHeroidesis the neoteric short epic, and the device of the letter served to enhance and focus the fundamental weakness of this model...

  26. XX The Heroides: Myth and Psychology
    (pp. 371-380)

    TheHeroidesare not rarely praised as acute portraits of the female psyche. Ovid’s main goal in theHeroideswas, according to Giomini, “l’approfondito studio dell’animo femminile nelle sue varie manifestazioni,”¹ and, as Dorrie has recently written, in reading these poems “erregt zweierlei Staunen und Bewunderung: Erstens, mit welcher Einfuhlungskraft Ovid die seelische Situation von Frauen zu schildern vermag, die—sei es durch eigene, sei es durch fremde Schuld—in ihrenamor,und das heisst in ihrer Existenz bedroht sind.”² That they are indeed studies, so to speak, in psychology cannot be reasonably denied. That is determined by—or perhaps...

  27. XXI Variatio
    (pp. 381-406)

    TheHeroidesare in two important respects the precursors of theMetamorphoses.They are the earliest manifestation of Ovid’s special interest in the world of myth which attains its culmination in the Metamorphoses, and they are, in one sense, the same kind of composition as the later epic. Each work is a collection of “variations on a theme” (so too are theTristia and Epistulae ex Ponto,but these more by necessity than choice), but each in its own way. In theMetamorphosesthe theme, miraculous transformation, is often submerged and subservient to larger issues, while the theme of the...

  28. Appendix: The Order of the Heroides
    (pp. 407-409)
  29. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 410-418)
  30. Index Locorum
    (pp. 419-437)
  31. Back Matter
    (pp. 438-438)