Ovid Met. 7 -- Cephalus and Procris

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Hylander
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Ovid Met. 7 -- Cephalus and Procris

Post by Hylander »

This is one narrative I found somewhat less than scintillating. Two reciprocal tales of imagined infidelity that ended badly -- first Cephalus testing Procris in disguise à la Così fan tutte, then Procris mistaking Cephalus' innocent song as addressed to a paramour -- framing the briefly told metamorphosis of the dog and boar into stone. But I found the stories jejune and too long, and the last almost bathetic.

Perhaps I'm missing something. Maybe the silliness of Cephalus's song to the breeze is meant to be ironic.

This is one of the stories of marital love, alongside Deucalion and Pyrrha, Cadmus and Harmonia, and the most poignant, Ceyx and Alcyone.
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Re: Ovid Met. 7 -- Cephalus and Procris

Post by seanjonesbw »

I won't try to justify this with a close reading because I haven't read the Latin, but I wonder whether the whole sequence should be read as a parody?

We have Cephalus as the internal narrator telling a story which miraculously absolves him of all guilt apart from the admission of his small lapse in pushing Procris too far when he was testing her fidelity. I see that in the version of the story in Pseudo-Apollodorus, Procris is less than chaste and gets the javelin and Laelaps by sleeping with Minos, so might it be that Ovid is playing with the commonly-known version of the myth by having Cephalus put on his rose-tinted glasses for comic effect? The dissonance between "ego Procrin amabam; pectore Procris erat, Procris mihi semper in ore" one minute and gleefully tricking her into infidelity with ever larger gifts the next minute I find particularly farcical.

It seems to me that the story is being told by a bit of a bore (droning on about his dog) who wants to make himself out to be the deserved object of his listeners' pity, when the facts of his story, even as he tries to sanitise them, make him look like a bit of a prat. The result is a sort of ridiculous melodrama interspersed with bloated self-congratulation, like if Frank Sinatra had tried to tell you about his many decades of fidelity and conjugal bliss.

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seneca2008
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Re: Ovid Met. 7 -- Cephalus and Procris

Post by seneca2008 »

Ovid is astonishing so thank you for your post which led me to to investigate this passage.

Cephalus' song is maybe not ironic but certainly it is allusive. According to John F. Miller (in "Ovidian Allusion and memory) "One of the most famous examples of Ovidian self-imitation is the story of Procris’ death, told in both Ars Amatoria 3 and Metamorphoses 7. The earlier, third-person narrative is poignantly retold in the Metamorphoses by the recollecting Cephalus, the husband falsely suspected of adultery who accidentally killed his eavesdropping wife. In the many studies of these two versions of the tale, there has been almost no attention to Ovid’s subtle but unmistakable comments on his imitatio sui. Perhaps the most striking instance involves yet again a parenthetical reference to memory. Cephalus’ report of his fateful idle song to the breeze follows closely the version in the Ars Amatoria (Met. 7.813–15; Ars 3.697–8):

‘aura’ (recordor enim) ‘venias’ cantare solebam,
‘meque iuves intresque sinus, gratissima, nostros,
utque facis, relevare velis, quibus urimur, aestus.’

Come, Aura,’ I would call (you see, I remember), ‘soothe me and come to my breast, most welcome; and as is your way, relieve the heat with which I burn.

‘quae’que ‘meos releves aestus’, cantare solebat ‘accipienda sinu, mobilis aura, veni’.

And he would call, ‘Come, wandering Aura, and relieve the heat, come nestle in my breast.’

This is imitation, not repetition. Note the elegantly reversed order of the two commands verbally echoed, which is a common mark of Ovidian imitative artistry. At the same time, the echoes of course evoke the earlier context—this is, in fact, the first cluster of strong echoes of the elegiac version. What is more, the narrator’s explicit reference to his memory insists on that evocation of the previous context. To some extent, the voice of Cephalus as recollecting narrator has been virtually superimposed on Ovid’s own narrative voice in the Ars. For even the distinctive phrase of citation (cantare solebat) has been adapted. On the other hand, Cephalus here recollects what he himself has lived some time ago—in another Ovidian poem. The parenthetical remark points up the relationship of the two poetic worlds to one another. And lest we miss the point, there follows immediately another gloss on the process of imitation. Cephalus expands his account of his customary words to the breeze by next ‘quoting’ a hymnic praise of the aura (7.816–20):

forsitan addiderim (sic me mea fata trahebant)
blanditias plures et ‘tu mihi magna voluptas’
dicere sim solitus, ‘tu me reficisque fovesque,
tu facis, ut silvas, ut amem loca sola, meoque
spiritus iste tuus semper capiatur ab ore’.

And perhaps I might add (so my fates led me on) more blandishments and say, ‘You are my great joy. You refresh me and comfort me; you are the reason I love the forests and the lonely places. Your breath I always seek on my lips.’

But he is careful to qualify this quotation from the start: forsitan addiderim (‘perhaps I might add...’). Since readers of Ars 3 know that the tired huntsman did not in that version add such blanditiae, there is perhaps a playful comment here on the old man’s over-active imagination. Be that as it may, on another level Cephalus’ qualification of his second quoted speech surely glosses that speech as an elaboration of Ovid’s earlier version of the event. This further underscores the self-referential force of recordor enim just above. Confidence in memory coincides with, and points to, allusion to an earlier text; the lesser surety of forsitan addiderim points to an elaboration of the same text. Overall in Cephalus’ long narrative, the theme of recollection adds a depth and poignancy that are absent from the version of Ars 3. At least in the present instance, however, reference to the old man’s memories has as well a metaliterary dimension. "

Anderson describes this story as the "finest" of Book 7. I wonder whether with a bit more work we could tie the metamorphosis of the dog and the beast (which he characterises as having little to do with the passionate love of Cephalus and Procris) as somehow related to the conflict between jealousy and love of the main story. I think it is suggestive that Procris' gifts of the Javelin and the dog come from the virginal Cynthia (Diana ?). The phallic Javelin also needs some investigation, but I guess that won't interest some. Like wise the oppositions between the hunt and marriage, love and jealousy etc interest me here.
Persuade tibi hoc sic esse, ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura, quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, maxima pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, magna nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus.

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Re: Ovid Met. 7 -- Cephalus and Procris

Post by mwh »

What an excellent treatment by John Miller, reading the epic account against the elegiac one. The thrust of the tale is different in either case, of course, but this must be the supreme example of a largish-scale imitatio cum variatione by a poet of himself rather than of Homer or Vergil. An exclusively Ovidian tour de force. Yet I have to wonder how many readers of the Mett. would have been in a position to make such a close comparison, how many would even have known which came first—though it’s obvious enough when you do know (so from that point of view imitation is a more suitable term than intertextuality).

I may venture some comments when I’ve refreshed my acquaintance with Roy Gibson’s comm. on Ars Am. 3 (which I was privileged to read in draft, but that was twenty-odd years ago). I remember there’s subtle play with cito credere.

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Re: Ovid Met. 7 -- Cephalus and Procris

Post by Hylander »

The finest story in a book that includes Medea?

I share mwh's doubt that readers of the Mett. would have be expected to have recalled the Ars passage, but I suspect that this is a private joke of Ovid's that has been exposed and that we can now enjoy.

I should have noted that there are actually four stories in this sequence: (1) Cephalus' abduction by Dawn; (2) Cephalus' attempt to seduce his own wife in disguise; (3) the metamorphosis of the dog and the monster into stone (the only metamorphosis in the sequence); and (4) Procris' death. The sequence begins and ends with the magic javelin. As often in the Mett., the entire sequence is generated out of a minor incident (a random conversation between Cephalus and Phocus) in the framework of a larger story (Minos' war against Athens) that Ovid passes over in a few lines.

(2) and (4) are complementary and reciprocal tales of unfounded suspicions of marital infidelity. The abduction by Dawn and the death of Procris seem to antedate Ovid (though the javelin that never misses its target is not part of the story in the Ars). Could Ovid himself have invented (2) and possibly the metamorphosis in (3) or attached these stories to Cephalus to fill out the sequence? The Procris story is told in the Ars as a cautionary exemplum warning the ladies not to indulge in excessive suspicions of infidelity (told not in first person but from Procris' point of view); in the Mett., (2) seems deliberately calculated to balance (4) on the other side of the gender divide.

Maybe this sequence isn't as flat as I first thought. The interlocking tales hang together neatly. Maybe there's an element of "unreliable narrator" in Cephalus, as Sean suggests -- Cephalus certainly seems much less troubled by his own behavior in (2) than one might expect -- but this is a narrative device that didn't come into its own until the 19th century.
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mwh
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Re: Ovid Met. 7 -- Cephalus and Procris

Post by mwh »

I can't think any reader, let alone Cephalus himself, would have been much troubled by his behavior, when his mistaken belief in Procris’ infidelity (mirroring hers in his) is motivated by the goddess’s prophecy, and is what the tale is premised on. We all know that what a god prophesies will come to pass, one way or another. Cephalus’ felicity is to be short-lived, he tells us up front (“felix dicebar eramque. | non ita dis visumst, aut nunc quoque forsitan essem”). The blame is squarely laid at the feet of the gods.

I admit to finding something appealing about Sean’s take: the narrator a bit of a bore, to reveal himself as a bit of a prat. But that’s to read the tale in terms of character, while Ovid, true to Aristotle, sees it more in terms of plot. And I don’t see anything at all gleeful in Cephalus’ testing of Procris’ fidelity. He was compelled, against his better judgment (prohibant credere mores), by the vengeful goddess he’d spurned.

seneca’s post is suggestive independently of John Miller. But the thing about the “phallic” javelin is that it’s lethal, as we are expressly told in advance. It’s not like Seneca’s presentation of Jocasta’s uterine self-stabbing in his Oedipus. Javelins are not automatically phallic. As a wise man once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

There is in fact another metamorphosis in addition to the embedded dual petrification that Bill mentions, this one within the main tale itself: Aurora’s transformation of Cephalus: “immutatque meam (videor sensisse) figuram” (722, cf. 1.1 mutatas formas). Divine beautification is a standard Homeric and Vergilian trope, to the sure, but Ovid presents it as if it were an actual metamorphosis.

I’ll mention one other small thing that tickles me, at the conclusion of the tale. Procris is allowed "a few" dying words, then:
"dixit, et errorem tum denique nominis esse
et sensi et docui. (sed quid docuisse iuvabat?)" (858)
Cephalus “taught” (her) the error of the name (of Aura). Neat.

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Re: Ovid Met. 7 -- Cephalus and Procris

Post by Hylander »

et sensi et docui -- Ovid's black humor, poker face, utterly out of place touches in narratives of excruciating tragedy.

The labors of Hercules narrated by Hercules himself as he's being destroyed by the robe with the Centaur's blood.

The exuberant catalogue of Actaeon's dogs, complete with Homeric epithets (and just after he seems to conclude with "and others whom it would take to long to name", he adds a few more), and the summation: some thought his punishment was excessive, but others that it was consistent with Diana's severe dignity, and both had valid arguments.

Ovid is constantly playing with his readers, for example, by using confusing patronymics to refer to major and minor figures.

The Trojan War gets folded into the story of the Lapiths and the Centaurs via Nestor's long-winded narrative framed by the Cygnus story. Then the salient events of the Iliad and the Epic Cycle are rehearsed allusively by Ajax and Ulysses in the Quarrel of Arms, a parody of a rhetorical exercise, where both are disingenuous and rhetorical, though Ulysses bests Ajax in both categories.

I just finished reading through last week for I think the fourth time. Soon to turn 75, I hope I get to do it at least once more. Ovid the consummate storyteller, the absolute master of the Latin hexameter, the underminer of epic heroism.
Bill Walderman

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