Building an intertextual network with lions – Part 1

Sir Peter Paul Rubens - Daniel in the Lions' Den - Google Art Project

Picking up from my last post on Ovid, this is another journey into ‘allusive space’. It will involve lions, but first, a few quotations (and accompanying observations) taken from Virginia Knight’s monograph The Renewal of Epic to help situate my approach here to network-building.

Generally a reader can suggest there is an allusion if recollection of the Homeric context contributes (by similarity or difference) to a reading of the poem. My usage of ‘allusion’ thus corresponds to Conte’s ‘emulation’. Another area where interpretation remains open-ended is how many associations the reader is to take from the Homeric passage.
(Knight 1995: 15)

Situating the extract in its context, it’s taken from a section headed Lexical Similarity. The Homeric epics provide not only narrative models but also the diction and phraseology, the ‘building blocks’ for Apollonius Rhodius’ Hellenistic epic, the Argonautica.

So, one dilemma for the reader who knows their Homer (and the more they know the worse it can get) and spots a lexical similarity whilst reading the Argonautica, is how to decide what’s allusion, what’s ‘epic flavour’, what’s accidental and so on. Knight suggests ‘context’ and ‘contribution’ as aids in this decision-making process and I agree (and will try and better define the latter term using the lions). But how many ‘associations’ is enough? And what do we do with them all?

The range and purpose of the allusion are left to the reader to work out. What need not be disputed is the potential in each case to tap into the reader’s intellectual and emotional response to Homer.
(Knight 1995: 15)

How do we limit this ‘range’ and how do we assign ‘purpose’ to an allusion?

The importance of specific verbal allusions by means of shared lexical items, which is stressed by Campbell, Giangrande and some commentators, should not overshadow the role of similarity of subject matter, situation, character, scene structure and other types of Homeric influence.
(Knight 1995: 17)

We don’t. The potential is there, latent in a phrase or a word, waiting for its reader to trigger it and have their allusive space cluttered with ‘similarities’. We don’t even need that trigger word as a similarity of circumstance can be enough or a mapping of the narrative structure recognised in the text onto a narrative structure recognised in the intertext. It can get very messy in allusive space.

Knight imposes order in the analysis by privileging the obvious and dominant intertexts for Apollonius: Homeric Epic. I did the same in my thesis. But there are others, as Knight noted earlier in the intertextual discussion: ‘This special relationship does not exclude the possibility of alluding to other poetry. In particular, the references to the later developments enacted in Euripides’ Medea form another pattern which is interwoven into the matrix of allusion to Homer without detracting from it or interfering with it’ (Knight 1995: 8).

I italicised what is for me a problem clause. On the one hand, there is a throwing open of the range of allusion into all manner of similarities, and on the other a suggestion at least that the introduction of intertexts besides Homer (and we should surely apply the same openness of approach to them) will not interfere. I think things can (and do) get a lot messier. In part one of this blog, I’m interested in exploring the ‘range’ and then in part two, will work more on ‘purpose’.

Time for some lions.

Nostrum diuellite corpus
Et scelerata fero consumite uiscera morsu,
o quicumque sub hac habitatis rupe leones.
Met. 4.112-4

‘Tear my body to pieces,
And eat my insides with your feral bite,
Whatever lions you are that live under this rock!’

And some lion context. The fourth book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses – more narrative(s), more hexameters and more epic, but we’ve switched to Latin. The setting for the opening of Met. 4 is Thebes, a Thebes whose inhabitants have all accepted the divinity of Bacchus and are all out of town celebrating the god. All but three – the daughters of Minyas. Instead, they sit at home in voluntary seclusion, denying the new god Bacchus, weaving at their looms and whilst they weave, they entertain one another with stories.

Quick points to keep in mind. The tale from which my extract is taken is given in direct speech by an unnamed daughter of Minyas. It’s a character-narration embedded within that surrounding narrative of Bacchus told by the poem’s main narrator. That narrator sets up the daughter’s story as one of a number of possibles she had in mind, and gives the reader explicit motivation for her selection ‘since this story was not well known’ (haec quoniam uulgaris fabula non est, Met. 4.53). She chose it for its obscurity.

And preceding that motivation, an initial summary ‘how a tree which used to bear white fruit now bears black since it was touched by blood’ (quae poma alba ferebat, | ut nunc nigra ferat contact sanguinis arbor, Met. 4.51-2). An aetiological tale then – an explanation of why the berries of the mulberry tree which once were white are now red. ‘Touched by blood’ is a fairly obvious prompt for the reader (if not already conditioned to expect gloomy conclusions from the narratives of the preceding three books!) that for someone or something this story will not end well.

Preliminaries done, the storyteller unfolds her tale of two young lovers (the opening ‘Pyramus et Thisbe’ is straight to the point) who lived once upon a time in distant Babylon and grew up in adjoining homes. Unfortunately (and no motivation is offered for this), their parents frowned on the union and only a crack in the wall between the properties allowed the two young lovers to converse. Finally deciding enough is enough, they plot through the crack to elope in the night. Unfortunately (again), they sneak out separately. Thisbe arrives first at the rendezvous point (the mulberry tree near a tomb), spots a lioness and runs away. Unfortunately (yet again), she drops her shawl for the lioness to wipe with the blood of a recent kill. Exit lioness and enter Pyramus to examine the scene, reach the wrong conclusion and announce his intentions in a short speech.

Pyramus’ monologue (immediately prior to his suicide) spans eleven lines (Met. 4.108-118) and within it, three addressees. Firstly, his absent lover Thisbe (alive but presumed dead), secondly these lions (her ‘killers’), thirdly and finally the mulberry tree (the location agreed upon for that night’s fateful rendezvous). Then he stabs himself.

I want to talk about the lions in the middle. Every reader’s allusive space is different. On reading verse 114, one lion padded into mine. Then another.

My first lion.

νῦν ἔγνων τὸν  ̓́Ερωτα· βαρὺς θεός· ἦ ῥα λεαίνας
μαζὸν ἐθήλαζε, δρυμῷ τέ νιν ἔτρεφε μάτηρ,
ὅς με κατασμύχων καὶ ἐς ὀστίον ἄχρις ἰάπτει.

Theoc. 3.15-7

‘Now I know Love – a heavy god – for sure, a lioness’
breast he sucked, and in the forest his mother reared him,
the god who burns me up and pierces me right to the bone.’

We read, we notice things, they remind us of other things. I’ve moved from one language to another, from one genre to another, from one century to another – from Latin back to Greek, from epic to pastoral, and from Augustan Rome to Ptolemaic Egypt.

What came into my head when reading? ‘Now I know love – a lioness reared him.’ Perhaps. I’m already involved in a process of imaginative reconstruction – attempting to order the flashes of images or phrases, the partial recalls that sends the (modern) reader back to consult the texts.

Let’s firm up possible points of contact. Grammar? The noun in the text is a Latin vocative masculine plural: ‘O, Lions’. The noun in the intertext is a Greek genitive feminine singular – ‘of the lioness’. Beyond both nouns functioning as signifiers for a specific animal, there’s not much more there. Positioning? Both nouns occur at line-end of hexameters. Sound-echoes? ‘leōnes – leainas’.

Pyramus himself does not see any lions at all. He only sees their tracks ‘uestigia’ (105) and despite the qualification ‘certa’ (106), does not see ‘clearly’.

The reader knows it was a lioness – she was pointed out earlier in the text ‘ecce… leaena’ (96-7). Pyramus says ‘leones’, I read ‘leaena’? Maybe. Dealing with a poem as intertextual as the Metamorphoses, the reader might want to treat such deictic markers as more than lively interjections (or stage prompts given the number of entries and exits in the episode), but also as reminders to be alert. Am I thinking of amor or am I thinking of Amor now that (ecce) I recognise Love?

This raises the question/objection – who wants us to be alert to the echo? I like to note direct speech because it helps to remind me to keep in mind ‘who is speaking?’ Pyramus says this. Pyramus is quoted as saying this by the unnamed daughter of Minyas. Her narration is also quoted, embedded within the narration of ‘Ovid’, the extradiegetic narrator of the Metamorphoses. Which one of them has been reading (and adapting) Theocritus’ third Idyll?

νῦν ἔγνων τὸν  ̓́Ερωτα· βαρὺς θεός· ἦ ῥα λεαίνας
μαζὸν ἐθήλαζε

audacem faciebat amor. Uenit ecce recenti
caede leaena boum spumantes oblita rictus
Met. 4.96-7

Love made her [Thisbe] bold. Look a lioness comes,
Mouth foaming, smeared with the recent slaughter of cattle.

In translation, I’ve had to bring the lioness forward to avoid garbling the sense but there’s another similarity between the goatherd’s self-expressed recognition and the narrator’s comment on the source of Thisbe’s impetuousness –  (dis)similarities of structure and sound.

auda | cem | faci | ebat | a | mor. | Uenit || ecce re | centi
(spondee | dactyl | dactyl | dactyl | dactyl | spondee)

νῦν ἔ | γνων | τὸν  ̓́Ε | ρωτα: | βα | ρὺς θεός || ἦ ῥα λε | αίνας
(spondee | dactyl | dactyl | dactyl | dactyl | spondee)

In scanning the six feet of these two hexameters, I’ve used | to note end of a foot and | for the caesurae (word-endings within a foot that offer a place to pause for delivery (and sense). The double || indicates diaeresis, the coincidence of foot and word-ending (here, both have a ‘bucolic’ diaeresis preceding the fifth feet ‘ecce re/ēra le’).

Structure and sense do not map precisely e.g. ‘a-mor’ split following a caesura in the third foot and corresponding ‘Ε-ρωτα’ split preceding the same caesura. Yet both, as punctuated, suggest a strong sense pause after ‘love’ (there’s a case for reading amōr I think, see below), both lie in the same central ‘zone’, both draw the eye. And the ear.. ‘ēbat amor – erōta barus’ – ‘ēbatamerōtaba’ – and repeat until sense is lost and only sound remains.

And back to making sense. Love and lionesses were already in play but I hadn’t yet made the connection. I looked back to the ‘leaena’ found my own ‘uestigia’ but they are still not ‘certa’.

Why am I thinking of the Theocritean lioness in particular? A savage mother for savage Love. Love burns. Love pierces. Love is cliché.

Returning to my preamble, let’s expand lexical similarity into context. Within allusive space, we can recall situations. The narrator of Theocritus’ third Idyll is an unnamed goatherd who serenades the nymph Amaryllis outside her cave.

It is a dramatic monologue that announces in its first word (κωμάζω) that it is to be a komos, a revelling, singing procession to serenade a lover… His address is replete with the topoi of the paraclausithyron, the lover’s serenade outside a locked door, but the transposition of this practice of the city to the rustic world makes the performance ironically inappropriate for the setting – the hindrance to his approach, for example, is provided not by a locked door, but by a cave’s surrounding of ferns and ivy.
(Goldhill 1991: 247)

Expanding the intertext into its own context, the points of contact increase: lions and love, lovers and suicides. Every reader brings to their reading the experience of reading other texts. I couldn’t say with any accuracy when I first encountered Theocritus’ hapless lover but I know when I last interacted with him; in a thesis on Catullus 64, the source of Lioness 2.

quaenam te genuit sola sub rupe leaena
quod mare conceptum spumantibus exspuit undis,
quae Syrtis, quae Scylla rapax, quae uasta Carybdis,
talia qui reddis pro dulci praemia uita?
Cat. 64.154-7

‘What manner of lioness bore you under a lonely rock?
What sea conceived and spat you from its frothing waters?
What Syrtes, what ravenous Scylla, what desolate Charybdis?
You who return such gifts in exchange for your sweet life?’

From third century BC Alexandria back to Rome and a generation before Ovid. My own memories aren’t following a strict chronology of composition. Then my angle of approach was the speaker’s (the abandoned Ariadne) indictment of her ‘forgetful’ lover Theseus and the intertextual evidence she was herself accumulating in making her case against him. Her invective against Theseus’ parentage has further intertexts of its own (and would take us all the way back to Homer and Patroclus rebuking Achilles) but it also looks back in our text to the fathers of the Ovidian duo who forbade any union and it looks forward to the last words spoken in the episode and spoken by Thisbe. She prays for the two of them to be united in death. She prays to their parents.

O multum miseri, meus illiusque parentes,
Ut quos certus amor, quos hora nouissima iunxit,
componi tumulo non inuideatis eodem.
Met. 4.155-7

‘O most wretched parents, mine and his,
do not begrudge that those whose love is sure,
those who their last hour has united, be placed in the same tomb.’

It is again imprecise. The two intertexts concern mothers whilst this episode is framed by references to first fathers (4.61) and then here in closing to a more general ‘parentes’ (qualified by ‘miseri’) who had previously denied them their ‘certus amor’. Enough still I think, in cruelty, indifference and parents, for dotted lines to be traced both from and back to my lions.

Allusive space is the place where the reader is diverted after spotting an allusion. It’s where the reading process is interrupted whilst we explore connections. In practice, I’ve been popping in and out constantly whilst trying to secure some protean links.

Pyramus saw Thisbe’s bloodied cloak and concluded (wrongly) that she has been killed by lions. At that point, Thisbe was alive and hiding in a cave ‘in antrum’ (4.100, like the goatherd’s Amaryllis?). Much has been made of the simile (4.122-24) which follows Pyramus’ self-impalement. The incident might have given rise to some expression of love’s figurative wound made actual. It didn’t. The daughter of Minyas opted for a comparison to water ‘ejaculating’ from a broken lead pipe when his blood stained red the mulberries. It’s certainly striking but perhaps if there’s already a goatherd in my mind complaining of a headache, reeling off inappropriate exempla, threatening to just lie down and die and let (in his case) wolves eat him, I might be more open to incongruities.

I want to finish this part on ‘range’ by bringing in a third intertext. Having moved from the goatherd’s lion to Ariadne’s lion and found a closer lexical similarity, I’m reminded of another dying of love. No lions in this text but rather via Ariadne’s speech, I’ve arrived at someone else lying beneath a lonely rock. The poet Gallus in Vergil’s tenth Eclogue.

pinifer illum etiam sola sub rupe iacentem
Maenalus, et gelidi fleuerunt saxa Lycaei.
Ecl. 10.14

For him as he lay beneath a lonely rock, even pine-bearing Maenalus wept, and the stones of cold Lycaeus.

From Catullus’ lioness giving birth beneath it to Love’s victim lying beneath it. Another absent lover (here Lycoris). A shift back to pastoral but within it Gallus the elegiac lover. The close lexical correspondence has certainly been noted. Flicking through two commentaries on the Eclogues offers ‘Catull. 64. 154’ (Clausen 1994: 298) and slightly more expansively ‘hypallage for solum sub rupe cf. Cat. 64.154 sola sub rupe leaena’ (Coleman 1977: 279).

Cruel Love. Cruel parents. Pyramus as goatherd serenading his Amaryllis? Pyramus as Ariadne abandoned? As Catullus abandoned? As Gallus abandoned? An elegiac poet lost in a pastoral world? Genres crossed in the night?

Lots of questions and in part two, I want to look at firming up the network and how it affects a reading of the Pyramus and Thisbe. In closing (for now) I want to return to why I might be thinking of Amor when I read amor: Eclogue 10.

audacem faciebat amor
Met. 4.96

omnia uincit Amōr
Ecl. 10.69

audacem faciebat Amōr
Met. 4.96

Love conquers all. Even love.


Anderson, W. S. (2000) Ovid Metamorphoses Books 1-5, OK and London.
Clausen, W. (1994) Virgil Eclogues, Oxford.
Coleman, R. (1977) Vergil Eclogues, Cambridge.
Goldhill, S. (1991) The Poet’s Voice, Cambridge.
Knight, V. (1995) The Renewal of Epic, Leiden.
Pucci, J. (1998) The Full-Knowing Reader, New Haven and London.

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