Squaring the Cycle: Ovid’s Rewriting of the Epic Tradition in the Metamorphoses

Marie Louise von Glinski

If one trusts ’s advice in the , writing epic is mostly a matter of starting out on the right foot. He warns: Nec sic incipies, ut scriptor cyclicus olim: / Fortunam Priami cantabo et nobile bellum (“Do not start thus, like a cyclic once: ‘I will sing about Priam’s fate and the famous war’”, Ars P. 136– 137). The cyclic aims at totality and fails. The impulse towards telling the whole story, inherent in the epic claim itself, characterizes especially those who are seen to complete the Homeric poems, the of the .1 If one considers Ovid’s epic continuations, the problem lies less in how than where to begin. The Heroides spring to mind as the model continuation in the margins of Trojan epics. They present not only an explicit hypertext but one in a lesser genre, epistolography; their style is that of elegiac decline (hexameter to pentameter, male to female voice); and their marginality is emphasized by the moments chosen as the dramatic for the letters. These letters are (mostly) one-offs without continuity; their role as dead ends in a hypothetical side development of the mainstream thus marks their impotence as potential hypotexts in their own right.2 Similar sideways entrances into the tradition of the Trojan epics can be detected throughout the Ovidian corpus, such as the trip to Rome by Dido’s sister Anna in the Fasti (Fast. 3.545–656). Ovid’s entire corpus should therefore be considered a complex matrix of continuations. For the purposes of this chapter, however, epic continuation will be limited to Ovid’s epic poem. In writing the Metamorphoses, Ovid naturally asserts himself as the epic successor of , yet the poem occupies a slant position to the epic tradi- tion itself, more akin to commentary than continuation. Most noticeably, Ovid disrupts the epic tradition by dispensing with a central or . This results in multiple continuations that themselves will merge into the overall layout of the poem (e.g. Argonautica, , Perseid). While the Metamor- phoses contain epic plot elements (such as the founding or the fall of cities,

1 Genette (1997) 177–181. The relation of the epic cyle and is subject of considerable scholarly debate, see Burgess (2001). For the Roman context in this chapter, the negative view of the cyclic poets from Aristotle onward has greater relevance. 2 Genette’s terms (1997) 5 and n. 13.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi: 10.1163/9789004360921_014 228 von glinski journeys and heroic exploits), none dominates the poem as a whole. Instead, metamorphosis is a deliberately universal ; one that Ovid enjoys tracing and amplifying in dealing with his predecessors and whose constant permuta- tions mark his approach to their works.3 The Metamorphoses frequently foreground the concept of continuation.The poem presents a universal cycle, from the beginning of time down to the poet’s own (ad meatempora, Met. 1.4), in a deliberately unstable amalgam of episodes. The famous paradox of writing a carmen that is both perpetuum (continuous) and deductum (finely wrought) applies especially to Ovid’s integration of Virgil and Homer in his poem, whittling down their epics and making them contin- uous. This chapter discusses Ovid’s engagement with the epic cycle in relation to Virgil and Homer in the so-called “Little ”(Met. 12.1–13.622) and “Little ”(Met. 13.623–14.582) sections of the poem.4 Ovid does more than draw- ing on the epic cycle for source material: he also leverages the criticism of the epic cycle as epigonal and inferior in formulating his own role in literary his- tory. Ovid does in fact claim the universality of Horace’s cyclic poet—but he does not begin at the beginning. At first sight, however, the Metamorphoses reject continuation. The begin- ning of the poem assertively declares its independence from tradition: In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora (“My mind brings me to speak of forms changed into new bodies”, Met. 1.1–2). The emphasis lies heavily on inno- vation, even in the of beginning twice over after a proem that labours under the mass of intertextual allusions. Ovid thus pointedly violates the Horatian dictum of starting (Ars P. 148). In terms of both the narrative and his role as epic poet, Ovid positions himself as a prequel to Virgil and Homer. Continuation stands in obvious relation to the closure of a previous work. Ovid’s predecessor Virgil presents a notoriously difficult example in the death of Turnus as the end of his poem. As Hardie has demonstrated, death, while a seemingly natural stopping point, may not be sufficient for closure, marking the Aeneid’s last scene as a truncated, premature ending.5 In both the Iliad and the , the death of Hector and the suitors, respectively, is resolved through ritual. Virgil also closes with death, but not with ritual. His deliberate

3 Myers (1994) 100 observes that Ovid repeats stories from the Aeneid when they involve metamorphosis. 4 For extensive treatment of these sections and secondary literature see Papaioannou (2005) and (2007). Rosati (2015) discusses more generally Ovid’s proximity to the epic cycle in both the content and the style of the Metamorphoses. 5 Hardie (1997) 142–151.