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The mythological stories in Ovid’s metamorphoses is a reflection of the link between Roman patriarchal society and the Greece’s past. In the Greek Tragedy, Aeschylus and Euripides emphasized the necessity of patriarchal power through the depiction of uncontrolled emotions and bloodthirsty nature excessive women, who perform conscious crimes and indifference about death. Therefore, to some extent, the stories of Medea and Clytemnestra are serve for cautionary purpose, that women without proper restriction and suppression will result in havoc in their families and even the society.
However, in the Metamorphoses, females are no longer the symbol of disorder and aggressiveness but rather display as victimized, innocent individuals who are suffered from intensive sexual assaults. By demonstrating the plights and the agonizing mental process that Io and Daphne have been through, Ovid tends to evoke the sympathy of his readers and highlight his doubt toward the validity of patriarchal social structure in Roman society.
In Greek Tragedy, Aeschylus portrays Clytemnestra as a cruel, scheming wife of Agamemnon in order to demonstrate the validity of patriarchal power.
At the time when Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon, she repetitively performs an action of self-determination and bloodlust consciousness which is highly uncontrollable even for Agamemnon, a hero who fights Trojan war:
You speak as to some thoughtless woman: you are wrong.
My pulse beats firm. I tell what you already known:
Praise or blame, as you will – it’s all the same to me.
This is my husband, Agamemnon, now stone dead;
His death the work of my right hand, whose craftsmanship
Justice acknowledges. There lies the simple truth. (1402-07)
In this particular scene, Clytemnestra depicts an indifference of her final destiny even though she has the foresight of her own death, so as the chorus rebukes her for the cold-blooded murder, she can logically manifest herself as the administration of justice since she believes that her daughter’s death makes the murder an ethical vengeance. Not surprisingly, although Clytemnestra views her murder as a rightful revenge for her daughter, the males consider it as disaster of endangered throne (1532), since the balance of sexual division is currently break and the overwhelming female force is beyond control. Orestes is the one who killed Clytemnestra and bring the chaos to an end, more importantly, the patriarchal power and his patrimony has been restored.
Another example is in Euripides’ tragedy, Medea’s insanity which is provoked by her conflict between Jason is the prominent cause of destruction and the loss of humanity, which is a persuasive reason that woman’s aggressiveness and irrational power must be suppressed, even though she performs some degree of justified actions. Medea, as a excessive female, demonstrating a common-accepted stereotype on female’s nature during her inner conflict for the decision of her revenge: ” You know what you must do. Besides,/ Women were born useless for honest purposes,/ But skilled partitioners in every kind of evil” (406-08). Medea’s self-determination provides her reinforced power which goes beyond the boundary of morality and result in destructive consequences to the innocence.
However, unlike the play Agamemnon, the proper patriarchal suppression is absent in this case. Jason, for example, has not been considered as the bearer of true patriarchal power by Euripides because his behaviors and responds are vacillating and immoral. To some degree, Jason is characterized as a feminized male since he does not obey the moral equipment of a conventional Greek hero supposed to have, which is to keep his own oath. Therefore, without the masculinized restriction upon the lack-of-control female force, there will be a negative expression on social orders in terms of morality and rationality. In order to maintain the necessary gender balance and positive social ideology, the preservation of rightful male prestige must be ensured.
Women are prominent in Ovid’s the Metamorphoses because they are no longer portrayed as aggressive and passionate individuals but rather as powerless victims who display innocent characteristics. Ovid expresses his disagreement on the extreme patriarchal power through the exhibition of improper sexuality of Greek gods. Daphne, for example, is an ideal representation of feminine and innocence who does not deserve any misfortune. When Apollo chased her and attempts to rape her, his misbehavior is enlarged by the fact that the perfect model of virginity has been disrupted, but from the words that Apollo has spoken to Daphne, he demonstrates fully unawareness of the horror occurs within himself:
O, daughter of Peneus, stay! Dear Daphne,
I don’t pursue you as an enemy!
Wait, nymph! You flee as would the lamb before
the wolf, the deer before the lion. (503-06)
Apollo’s tone does not even contain a speck of self-blame since he does not consider himself as any harmful figure, and even claims that he is the one who needs a herb to cure his passion (520-21). The over-confidence in his reasoning is a reflection negative gender ideology which leads to a rejection of morality in favors of passion. Daphne, on the other hand, responses to Apollo’s exceeding patriarchal power by tragically transforms herself into a tree, not only as a solid from for protection but also an embittered outpouring. Nor is her life free from danger even after she turns into a tree, for Apollo still gropes her bark. This particular scene is an
exaggeration of lust and irrationality created by Ovid in order to provides evidence for his doubt to the hierarchal structure in male dominated society.
Io is another character from the Metamorphoses who has suffered from her undeserved fate which caused by the irrational passionate outburst of Jupiter. Unlike Daphne, Io’s metamorphoses is against her willingness and intents for the protection of Jupiter rather than self-protection. After Jupiter rapes Io, he turns her into a cow and destroys her last chance for self-determination and identification:” if she could have uttered words, she would have told/ her name and wretched fate and begged for aid” (647-48).
Jupiter’s crime is more reprehensible than Apollo since he deprives Io’s words and ability to seek for help, and in order to comfort suspicious Juno, he agrees to send transformed Io to Argus, which leads to greater mental distress of Io. All the misdeed that Jupiter has performed is to satisfy his irrational passion and to disguise his betrayal toward Juno. Ironically, Jupiter is king of the gods and the central figure who represents the ruling class in patriarchal society, depicting overwhelming disgracefulness through the exploitation of a powerless female.
Ancient Greek tragedies, Agamemnon and Medea, illustrate the horrified consequence and violence which associated with irrational female force beyond the repression of patriarchal power, further emphasize the rightfulness of male supremacy, while the Metamorphoses of Ovid takes a skeptical attitude on the validity of extreme male power. As Clytemnestra murders her husband and Medea poisons her sons, their sympathetic characters seems to be ruled out by cautionary interpretations even though they are at least both motivated by desire of revenge, through the depiction of excessive females, the validity of necessary suppression held in a patriarchal social structure seems to be persuasive. However, in contrast with
Aeschylus and Euripides’ female characters, Ovid provides palpable examples of victimized females who are inflicted by tyrannical males. Io, who has been unwillingly transformed into a cow by Jupiter to disguise his own treachery. As the superior representation of patriarchal society, Jupiter only reveals irrationality in terms of passion. Daphne, on the other hand, can preserve her self-determination when she transforms into a tree for protection, but still face the potential persecution even in a form of tree. Therefore, by portraying Apollo and Jupiter as transgressive individuals, Ovid tends to express an explicit statement on the social suppression that females have experienced in Roman patriarchal society.
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