‘The context demands that I present The Virgin’s Rape.
You will learn some things and recognize more.’
(trans. Boyle and Woodard)
Context, context… A few Fridays ago, a small band of undergrad Latinists (aided by me) tackled these lines when translating their prescribed dose of Ovid’s Fasti. I scribbled ‘Readers!’ in the margin of my copy and thankfully the reminder stuck.
For someone interested in narratives, their narrators and their readers, there’s an obvious appeal. Even a cursory glance at Boyle and Woodard’s translation offers the narratorial ‘I’ as the narrator intrudes to announce the narrative’s next topic and, in the following verse, an address to the reader.
Having added the line reference to an ongoing collection of narrator-addresses, I decided I’d use this blog to scribble down some of the thoughts triggered by reading this couplet (before they drifted away).
Context, context… Ovid’s Fasti (incomplete, composed 2 AD(-ish) onwards) is a poem in elegiac couplets on the Roman Calendar and these lines occur in the entry for April 12th, the day that the festival of Ceres, the Cerialia, begins (4.393-620). 228 lines in total, and of that total 200 (4.419-618) relate The Virgin’s Rape. The virgin is Proserpina (Greek Persephone), daughter of goddess Ceres (Greek Demeter). The rapist is the god Pluto (Greek Hades/Dis). The location is Enna in Sicily.
Immediately preceding our couplet is a short list of suitable sacrifices to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, culminating in an injunction to leave the oxen to plough (lazy pigs are a suitable alternative). This context demands The Virgin’s Rape.
A few starter questions. Why the italics and what is the Latin for ‘context’?
Exigit ipse locus raptus ut uirginis edam:
plura recognosces, pauca docendus eris.
Regarding (re-)arrangement, two things immediately stand out to me when looking at the Latin text. The word-order of the first verse has been turned inside out by Boyle and Woodard’s translation – nouns now frame the line whereas the verbs frame it in the Latin. Then, their rendering of the second verse reverses the original clauses in which comment on recognition precedes comment on learning.
Some selected meanings (taken from Lewis and Short’s Latin dictionary) for the vocabulary in the first verse. For the verb ‘exigo’ – ‘I drive out, demand, require’. For the noun ‘locus’ – ‘place, topic, region, time, occasion’. For the noun ‘raptus’ – ‘robbing, abduction, rape’. For the verb ‘edo’ – ‘I bring forth, publish, perform, announce’.
A literal and garbled translation of the couplet (apologies for ‘Yoda-speak’):
‘It demands itself the place rapes that of the virgin/maiden I publish/relate
Many (things) you will recognise, a few (things) must-be-taught/told you will be.’
That’s a very ‘thumb over the words as we read’ translation. Still, bear with me whilst we rearrange the first line, putting the syntax in a tidy prose order (and ruining the verse).
Ipse locus exigit ut edam raptus uirginis.
Main clause: ‘ipse locus exigit’
Subordinate clause (Indirect Command): ‘ut edam raptus uirginis’.
‘The very place demands that I relate the virgin’s rapes.’ We’ve moved closer to Boyle and Woodard’s translation. Introducing an Indirect Command, ‘demands’ seems a reasonable choice for ‘exigit’. Still, what’s informing their use of italics?
The text and commentary that we’re using in class is Fantham’s 1998 edition so let’s consult her entry on line 417.
That’s a dense lemma, but the opening line does explain those italics for us – the rape narrative contained within the Homeric Hymn (anonymous author, date 640 BC?) has now become the title of the work. The range from ‘formal religious narrative’ to ‘modern title’ so casually swept open can be explored another time! And whilst the italics are explained, we should remember what the title glosses: ‘When scholars can bring themselves to utter the word “rape,” it is employed as a noun and in a most imprecise sense, with connotations suggesting anything from a love affair to seduction to abduction: thus we find “the rape of Europa,” rather than “Europa’s rape by Jupiter” or “Jupiter raped Europa,” wording which would carry some intimation that rape is a most intimate violation of a woman’s person’ (Curran 1978: 215).
I checked Fantham’s note on Fasti 4.318 on the tone of ‘edam’: ‘grandiose epic diction’. Our verb ‘edere’ then brings with it a pose. The narrator sweeps onto the stage and there proclaims the ‘Rape of the Maiden’. There’s a posture and a presentation.
However, it’s not a spontaneous undertaking. He’s being coerced into this for his narration is subordinate to the demand of the ‘locus’. Well, at one level, this is in itself a posture: as though this narrative were not already composed (we’re reading it!), the narrator has suddenly found himself at a point where/when/at which he has no option but to relate a version of this myth.
Where/when/at which? Fantham offers three options for ‘locus’.
- The Date – April 12th, the Cerialia.
- The Narrative – A narrative on the goddess of agriculture must contain ‘The Rape of the Maiden’ and this is the moment for it.
- The Location – contra the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Ovid places the rape narrative at Enna in Sicily, a Sicily sacred to and made fertile by Ceres (4.419-422). Slightly proleptically then, Enna itself demands.
- Something else?
Boyle and Woodard’s ‘context’ indicates a preference for 1 (and 2) but what about 3 (or 4)? I started to think more generally about ‘location’. Ovid’s Metamorphoses (also being composed first decade AD) contains over fifty rape narratives, his Fasti ten. Within the first two books of the former, the god Jupiter rapes three women: Io (Met. 1.568-746), Callisto (Met. 2.401-530), and Europa (Met. 2.833-75). All three rapes occur in similarly picturesque locations.
Two extracts from Anderson’s commentary on the Callisto rape narrative:
If someone could explain the ‘irony’ I’d be grateful, but what I want to draw attention to is a process of reader-conditioning. For the attentive reader of the Metamorphoses, the setting of the scene comes, with increasing familiarity, to function as a signpost that a rape narrative is imminent. The two are linked: ‘The fate of the body in the poem resembles the fate of the landscape. In both cases beautiful, innocent forms are evoked, only to be unexpectedly violated or transformed into suffering, loss, and sorrow’ (Segal 1998: 37).
I italicised the qualification in Segal’s elegant expression because I would suggest the opposite, that, as Anderson notes, there’s a pattern. For the reader who moves sequentially through the Metamorphoses from the narrative of Io to Callisto to Europa (and eventually on to Pluto’s rape of Proserpina at Met. 5.341-408), the pictorial description of a location generates an expectation of a specific subject-matter.
Similarly in the Fasti, the failed rape of Lotis by Priapus occurs in a grove by a brook (Fasti 1.391-440, cf. 1.349-50 for another couplet on Ceres and sows!) and Mars sees and rapes Rhea Silvia as she sleeps by a stream (Fasti 3.11f.). What’s in a ‘locus’? Rape?
Exigit ipse locus raptus ut uirginis edam:
plura recognosces, pauca docendus eris.
A look at the couplet again. The verbs encircle that first verse – request and the nature of the request, and in the centre those two nouns, the subject issuing command and the subject-matter imposed upon the narrator. Thinking back to the prose reconstruction, why has ‘raptus’ been pulled from its ‘proper’ place in the subordinate clause? Metrical convenience? Because it sounds better? Or because the ‘locus’ attracts the ‘raptus’ and that there is a pull of expectation too strong for the syntax?
Why is ‘raptus’ plural? Metrical convenience again? Fantham notes that it is ‘unprecedented’ but it looks to its precedents just as the reader is encouraged to look to them. ‘Many (things) you will recognise.’ The verb is future and addressed to a singular reader but it’s a future that has that reader reaching into the past. [In which direction a subtle reinforcement can be felt in the prefixes of the verbs: ‘ex’ and ‘e’ – ‘out of/from’ (sources?).]
‘plura recognosces’ points to other versions, both by other authors and, if we’ve read Met. 5.341-408 before this text, by this same poet. ‘We’ve been here (this ‘locus’) before,’ he says. The address constructs for itself a reader ‘who knows stuff’. There is a collusive familiarity in a call to shared experience.
‘plura’ and ‘pauca’ – the two parallel clauses occupy equal halves of the pentameter, balancing the scales of similarity and difference. As the first clause looks to the past, the second projects the reader into the future. ‘Be alert,’ he says, ‘I’ve changed a few things.’
This narrative has yet to begin but we’re already being asked to make notes, to read with those narratives in mind, to note dissonance, to find consonance. ‘You will learn’ doesn’t carry the force of ‘docendus eris.’ ‘You must be told/taught.’ Bring your books. Who/what is applying the greater force? The ‘locus’ on the narrator? The narrator on the reader? The ‘locus’ via the narrator on the reader?
Lots of questions! What I’m attempting to do here is to structure and verbalise what happens within what Joseph Pucci terms ‘the allusive space.’ In his monograph The Full-Knowing Reader, Pucci defines this as the place in the mind where the active reader interrupts the reading-process and engages in ‘interpretive free-play’ and ‘makes meaning’ (Pucci 1998: 43). He is there concerned with the referential fields between two constitutive works. His working examples are Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’ and Donne’s ‘The Relic’. On this analogy, we might supply the Homeric Hymn to Demeter as our ‘Relic’. Cf. Fantham’s note on Fasti 4.418: ‘Hinds (1987a) 39-40, 71, takes the verb as a pointer alerting the reader to recall and compare the well known Homeric Hymn. Combined with docendus eris this introduction promises O.’s imperial reader a narrative both familiar and novel.’
My approach is much broader. Would I privilege that text? Most probably. Would I limit what happens in my own ‘allusive space’ to it? Unlikely. Pucci’s focus is also on how the verbalisation found in one verse triggers for the reader the memory of another verse whereas my concern is with the vaguer/broader linking of entire narratives. However, I believe a like process is being activated by our couplet. I believe that ‘locus raptus’ syntactically unconnected, nevertheless, by arrangement, can open up a referential field ‘place rapes’. Proserpina is about to be raped but she has been raped before. The Homeric Hymn is the locus classicus of the rape narrative. The rape occurs in Nysa whilst she is picking flowers. Nysa is the paradigm of the locus amoenus in future rape narratives. Other places, other texts, other women, other rapes.
In Ovid’s text, the ‘locus’ of Enna replaces the ‘locus’ of Nysa. In contending the unwelcome claim, we can bring in a lawyer.
Henna autem, ubi ea quae dico gesta esse memorantur, est loco perexcelso atque edito, quo in summo est aequata agri planities et aquae perennes, tota vero ab omni aditu circumcisa atque directa est; quam circa lacus lucique sunt plurimi atque laetissimi flores omni tempore anni, locus ut ipse raptum illum virginis, quem iam a pueris accepimus, declarare videatur.
Cicero, Ver. 2.4.107
Yonge’s 1903 translation (link to passage and his effusive footnote):
But Enna, where those things which I am speaking of are said to have been done, is in a high and lofty situation, on the top of which is a large level plain, and springs of water which are never dry. And the whole of the plain is cut off and separated, so as to be difficult of approach. Around it are many lakes and groves, and beautiful flowers at every season of the year; so that the place itself appears to testify to that abduction of the virgin which we have heard of from our boyhood.
‘for we have heard the story from our boyhood’ – ‘a few things you must learn’. Back to the classroom…
Within allusive space (within the ‘locus’), ‘raptus’ is not singular but ‘plura’. Within allusive space, the answer to the multiple-choice question posed above is potentially option 5: Everything.
Anderson, W. S. (2000) Ovid Metamorphoses Books 1-5, OK and London.
Boyle, A. J. and Woodward, R D. (2000) Ovid Fasti, London.
Curran, L. (1978) ‘Rape and rape victims in Ovid’s Metamorphoses’, Arethusa 11: 213-41.
Fantham, E. (1998) Ovid Fasti Book IV, Cambridge.
Hinds, S. (1987) The Metamorphosis of Persephone: Ovid and the Self-Conscious Muse, Cambridge.
Pucci, J. (1998) The Full-Knowing Reader: Allusion and the Power of the Reader in the Western Literary Tradition, New Haven and London.
Segal, C. (1998) ‘Ovid’s metamorphic bodies: art, gender and violence in the Metamorphoses’, Arion 5: 9-41.
Yonge, C. D. (1903). The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero, London.